The 16th Royal Rumble was the first one under the World Wrestling Entertainment name. The Stone Cold era was coming to a close while The Rock had a budding movie career that would cause him to leave the company on a permanent basis in the near future.
They were building the company around new stars like Brock Lesnar, third generation superstar Randy Orton, the animal Batista and this rapper kid named John Cena. Also, Shawn Michaels was making his Royal Rumble return after not being in a Rumble match since 1996. There was a lot to look forward to. Would it deliver?
WWE Royal Rumble
January 19, 2003
The announcers are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. The intervals are at two minutes, according to them, but they don’t really hold to that. They are closer to 90 seconds. Yes, they lie sometimes! Crazy, I know. Jim Ross also calls this the 15th Royal Rumble at several points during the match. I guess they’re not counting the 1988 Rumble that was on USA Network while the 1989 Rumble was the first one to be on PPV. It’s the 15th Royal Rumble on PPV, so let’s go with that.
It’s Shawn Michaels at #1, who is of course a babyface. At this point he had only wrestled a few matches since his August 2002 comeback and we didn’t know how often he’d be wrestling. The #2 person is Chris Jericho, but it’s his tag partner Christian in the aisle. Jericho sneaks up from behind. He’s in evil heel mode. He hits HBK with a low blow and then he crushes him in the head with a steel chair. You can see Michaels on his back about to blade himself as the camera moves away. He comes up bleeding. Michaels did block it with his hand, so that’s good to see. Speaking of head shots, here’s Chris Nowinski the Harvard grad at #3. His career would be cut short due to concussions and now he’s the president of the Sports Legacy Institute that studies brain injuries of athletes. Jericho dumps out Michaels, who is battered, bloody and in a lot of pain. I remember being so excited about Michaels in a Rumble again. His short tenure is disappointing, but I loved this as an angle. It did a great job in building up to their match at WrestleMania 19. Making his Rumble debut at #4 is Rey Mysterio. He comes in with a lot of energy and takes it to Jericho who nearly eliminates Rey, but he holds onto the ring post. Springboard dropkick to Jericho as Nowinski finally gets in the ring. It’s Edge at #5, who was an energetic babyface at this point. He hits spears on Jericho & Nowinski, who rolls out to the floor. Edge and Rey double team Jericho, throwing him into the ring post. Even though they’re friends Edge and Rey start fighting while Jericho & Nowinski remain on the floor.
“Christian! Christian! At last you’re on your own!” It’s Christian at #6. Christian comes in to hug his brother Edge. They were still called brothers here although with Edge as a face he wasn’t going for it. We’re not allowed to remember that they were billed as brothers anymore. Rey goes on Edge’s shoulder to do a double team move, Nowinski shoves them and they are able to hang on to avoid elimination. They go for a double dropkick spot, Rey hits Nowinski first and Edge lands on his face with his legs. Maybe that’s a concussion for Nowinski? Rey hits the Bronco Buster. Very glad he stopped doing that move. It’s Chavo Guerrero at #7, who goes right after Rey. They immediately bust out some awesome moves as Rey hits the 619 on Chavo and Christian. Mysterio eliminates Nowinski with a hurricanrana while Jericho clotheslines Rey out of there. I’m really surprised Rey didn’t last longer in his Rumble debut considering how popular he was. Tajiri is #8, who comes in with a lot of offense on Christian and Chavo. It’s a bit of a dead spot as we await the next competitor. A disturbed and dangerous man is #9, according to JR, Bill DeMott. He was also known as Hugh Morrus in WCW as well in his early WWE days. There are no eliminations during his time in the match either. It’s Tommy Dreamer at #10, who is entering with a trash can full of weapons to a big pop. He beats on people with a kendo stick including a shot to Jericho’s face, which I assume was accidental. Edge and Dreamer take turns destroying DeMott with kendo sticks, so DeMott is gone. Jericho and Christian double team Dreamer with trash can lids. They eliminate Dreamer. Tajiri hits a lovely springboard elbow and then he goes for the Tarantula on Jericho, but Chris shoves him out.
It’s B-Squared aka Bull Buchanan at #11. This is not a gimmick that would last very long for B2. He charges in at Edge, who avoids him and tosses him out after 24 seconds of fun. Chavo gets eliminated by Edge via spear while he’s standing on the apron. We’re down to Edge, Christian and Jericho while I have a Canadagasm. Edge and Christian are fighting by the ropes, so Jericho throws out Edge & Christian at the same time even though Christian is his buddy. Jericho’s got a nasty cut on his head from that kendo stick shot from Dreamer. He’s all alone in the ring until #12 comes out and it’s Rob Van Dam, who is a very popular babyface of course. He dominates Jericho with kicks, leg drops and the Rolling Thunder. RVD does a slingshot to Jericho and Jericho avoids elimination by holding onto the top rope. That was an awesome job by Jericho hanging on. It’s heel Matt Hardy at #13 with Shannon Moore by his side and the Matt Fact is that Matt strongly dislikes mustard. I hear he loves grapes. Hardy takes down RVD while Jericho dropkicks RVD. Jericho hits the bulldog on RVD and misses the Lionsault. RVD counters with a spinning kick and Five Star Frog Splash on Jericho. That was an awesome one. It’s Latino Heat Eddie Guerrero at #14, who was a heel tag champ with Chavo Guerrero at this point. RVD gives Eddie a monkey flip and nearly eliminates him, but Eddie holds on. Hardy slams RVD, Eddie hits a frog splash on RVD, and Hardy hits a Twist of Fate on Eddie leaving Matt the only guy left standing. It’s Jeff Hardy at #15, who is a babyface of course. The Hardy brothers were on different shows at this point with Jeff on Raw and Matt on Smackdown. Jeff takes control and Shannon Moore saves Matt by using his feet to keep him on the apron. Jeff hits the Twist of Fate, but Shannon goes in the ring to prevent it. Then Shannon lies on Matt, so Jeff Swanton’s both of them. Why would you lie down on a guy to prevent somebody from jumping? Why not just hit him? I guess he was sacrificing.
Rosey from 3 Minute Warning is in at #16. It’s a slow time period as Eddie hits a nice back suplex on Hardy. There’s Test at #17 with Stacy Keibler, who was his actual girlfriend at the time. He busts out the power moves on everybody while nearly eliminating Jericho, who hangs on by the turnbuckle. The big story of this match has been Jericho’s ability to keep himself from being eliminated. “Yo yo yo” it’s John Cena in the #18 spot coming out to his rapping gimmick. He cuts a rap on his way to the ring. He was only doing this for a couple of months at this point and getting a lot of attention for it. I’m not going to write it out. He’s a heel here and the last line of his rap has him say: “My style’s like a swollen penis – you can’t beat me.” Now he claims he gets fined for saying the word ass. How time flies, huh? King: “Did you like the rap JR?” JR: “90 seconds of what the hell did he say? Word to your mother.” Haha. Ross calls him a future main event player who is a top prospect. Cena’s wrestling in jeans. It’s Team Angle member Charlie Haas at #19, who comes in on fire except he doesn’t really eliminate anybody. Jeff Hardy jumps to the top, RVD chases him and pushes him to the floor to eliminate him. Eddie hits a great hurricanrana on Jericho. It’s Rikishi at #20 as JR mentions that he’s in his 8th Rumble. If you’re counting other gimmicks for him then he is because he had a few different incarnations over the years. Anybody miss The Sultan? No? Okay. Rikishi knocks everybody down with kicks and then has a showdown with Rosey who is a part of that huge Samoan family tree that exists in wrestling. Rosey helps him take down Matt and Moore, who was interfering, but then Rosey turns on Rikishi with a clothesline.
The #21 spot belongs to Jamal, who we would later know as Umaga. He goes after Rikishi, but he eats a kick and so does Rosey. Rikishi hits a Stinkface on Jamal, which is the way we all should treat our family members (they are cousins). Jericho eliminates RVD, but he hangs on. You know it’s a big name because they go to a wide camera shot as Kane graces us at #22. The ring is full of people, so Kane attacks everybody. He’s still in mask wearing mode, by the way. He eliminates Rosey with a backdrop. Double chokeslam on Matt and Moore. Jericho barely hangs on again. Shelton Benjamin gets the #23 spot as Team Angle does some double teaming. Matt Hardy avoids elimination too. The ring is getting pretty full while nothing major is happening. It’s Booker T at #24, who was now a babyface getting a good pop. He hits the Scissors Kick on Kane. Flapjack to Matt Hardy leads to a Spinarooni. Booker eliminates Eddie with a backdrop. He goes to work on Rikishi. Cena hasn’t done a whole lot in the match. It must be the jeans fault. It’s A-Train at #25 as JR throws in the usual comment about his head size being 8 and 3/8. He loves saying that. A-Train hits his power moves on three of the guys, but never eliminates anybody. Jericho saves himself from Rikishi with an eye rake. Here comes a bloody Shawn Michaels to go after Jericho. Others jump in to help Jericho. Test boots Jericho in the gut and throws Jericho out. Of all people to throw him out they pick Test? Michaels uses the ropes to propel himself over the top, crashing onto Jericho on the floor.
We’ve got Maven in the #26 spot as the announcers reference the fact that he eliminated Undertaker the year before. Kane beats on him with punches. By my count there are 13 guys in the ring right now. The #27 spot belongs to Goldust, who hits a nice powerslam on Benjamin. He hits the Shattered Dreams kick on A-Train. Goldust goes after Benjamin, so Haas clubs him from behind to get Goldust out of the match. Team Angle works together to stomp Booker T out of the ring. It’s a 317 pound Animal at #28 Batista, who is a heel. JR goes over his size as he drills Cena with a clothesline. Those two might have a bright future. He looks so awkward with that much hair. Test hits a Full Nelson slam on Batista. Test tries to boot Batista out, but Batista hangs on and Test falls out. Sorry Testicles – that’s the name of Test’s fans. Batista hits an awkward spear on Benjamin and then he clotheslines Rikishi out. Here Comes The Pain at #29 Brock Lesnar, who is making his Rumble debut and he’s a babyface now after being a heel for much of his 2002 debut year. Team Angle tries to throw Lesnar out, but Brock throws them out at the same time. Lesnar hits the F5 finisher on Matt Hardy to eliminate him. Wow that was an awesome move and bump as Hardy crashed onto Team Angle on the floor. The #30 spot belongs to The Undertaker, who is back to being a babyface after I enjoyed his heel character so much in 2002. He got taken out by Big Show, so this was a return. When doesn’t he make returns?
He goes right after Cena and eliminates him. Cena didn’t have an impact in this match at all. Undertaker clotheslines Jamal out of there. Maven dropkicks Undertaker in the back like he did the year and he celebrates. He doesn’t eliminate him this time. Big chokeslam for Maven. He gets thrown out by Undertaker. A-Train hits the A-Train Bomb on Undertaker. Kane hits a chokeslam on Lesnar as we have five big dudes left plus RVD. He hits spin kicks on A-Train and Batista. Kane and RVD team up to clothesline A-Train out of there. Kane goes to press slam RVD on Batista, but he changes his mind and throws RVD out.
Final four are Undertaker, Kane, Batista and Lesnar. Big guys only, fella. It’s a hoss-fest! Double clothesline spot by Batista and Kane. Now it’s time for a Lesnar-Undertaker showdown. They had a feud in the autumn of 2002 when Lesnar beat Undertaker in a very good Hell in a Cell match. Batista hits a spinebuster on Undertaker in an impressive move. The crowd’s not reacting to Batista much at all. Lesnar hits an overhead belly to belly and a F5 on Kane. The F5 is one of my favorite finishers ever. Undertaker gets the big boot on Lesnar. Brock nearly eliminates Undertaker, but he hangs on. Undertaker hits a Tombstone on Lesnar that looked sloppy. Undertaker clotheslines Batista out. Undertaker pulls Kane up to his feet as JR didn’t think we’d see them working together again. Kane walks in front of Undertaker, Taker grabs him by the neck and throws him out. Batista comes in with a chair, but Undertaker avoids it. Stiff chair shot to Batista’s head. Lesnar sneaks in from behind, picks up Undertaker by the legs and dumps him out for the win.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
The match ended at 53:41.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS
– It felt very average a lot of the way and didn’t have the same excitement that the last three Rumbles (all very good to great matches) had. The winner was pretty obvious like a lot of the Rumbles are, but having more than 10 guys in the ring for as much as they did really slowed down the action to the point that it hurt the match a bit.
– The finish was weak. It would have been nicer to see Lesnar knock out Undertaker with some power move rather than a cheap elimination after a heel tries to cheapshot Undertaker. I guess it’s typical WWE booking in that they want to protect Undertaker, but at this time you were banking your future on Lesnar. He should have been more impressive.
– It’s interesting to see Cena and Batista before they were stars. I don’t even remember Batista in this match. You could tell they were high on him if they booked him into the final four this early into his career.
– I’m pretty sure this is the first Rumble ever to reference a swollen penis. Thanks Cena.
– The Maven/Undertaker spot was a lot of fun because of what happened the previous year. Well done.
FACTS & OPINIONS
Person that lasted the longest: Chris Jericho at 38:54.
Most Eliminations: Chris Jericho with 6.
Best Performers (3): Chris Jericho – Easily the best. His near eliminations were great, the attack on Michaels early was fantastic, he had the most eliminations and he was in the ring the longest. Star of the match by far.
Rob Van Dam – He was in second longest at 33 minutes and did a good job bringing energy to the match.
Brock Lesnar – Impressed by his power as always.
Best Elimination: Brock Lesnar hitting the F5 on Matt Hardy to eliminate him.
Match Rating: ***1/4 A good match, but I liked the previous three better. You can tell their booking for these matches got a lot better as we entered into the 2000s.
Ranking the Rumble matches in terms of star ratings:
The guy that won the 2004 Royal Rumble isn’t remembered in WWE for obvious reasons. It was still an awesome match. That’s up next.