Ways to heighten drama in Royal Rumble match
In its 29th incarnation, the WWE Royal Rumble comes to the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on January 24th, 2016.
What began as one of the Big Fed’s original “Big Four” pay-per-views and most innovative events in sports entertainment, the Rumble has suffered from awkward landings in recent years.
Will this year’s card redeem the Rumble?
On January 24th 1988, Vince McMahon aired the inaugural edition of the Royal Rumble on television (not on pay-per-view, incidentally).
It was the same night that Jim Crockett Promotions presented the Bunkhouse Stampede, and was meant to grab more wrestling fans away from AWA.
The concept of an incremental innovation on the battle royal format was conceived by Hall of Famer and legendary booker Pat Patterson.
From 1988 to 1991, the honour of being declared the Royal Rumble winner was its own reward.
In 1992, the vacated WWF Heavyweight Championship was awarded to Rumble winner Ric Flair.
From 1993 on, the winner of the Royal Rumble match was guaranteed a championship match at WrestleMania as a reward. This arrangement has provided the framework upon and around which the main storyline is built on the “Road to WrestleMania”.
In recent years, the Royal Rumble has been met with odd controversy.
Batista returned to action in 2014 to win the Rumble. While the Animal’s return was adequately built, it was poorly received. The “Yes!” movement was in full swing and fans were invested in seeing Daniel Bryan in the main event, souring Batista’s victory.
Similarly in 2015, Bryan was the crowd favourite. Roman Reigns wound up with the big W, and was booed out of the building for his efforts.
Who is to blame for increasingly unsatisfying Rumble results?
A certain amount of blame can be placed on the modern climate: increased prevalence of dirt sheets, smart marks and industry rumours combined with the changing face of kayfabe.
If the audience goes into the event with an inkling who is going to win, all suspense and dramatic tension is gone. If said expected winner is not the popular choice, fan investment tanks.
While fan savvy can take some of the onus, booking of the Royal Rumble match is ultimately at fault. The event simply hasn’t been handled properly in years.
There are certain ways in which to heighten the enjoyment and drama of the Royal Rumble, as can be observed from past years. If WWE wants to redeem the Rumble pay-per-view, they will have to remember what has worked before.
Tease a Big Draw Dream Match
Hulk Hogan was top of the WWF heap in 1989/1990. At the same time, the Ultimate Warrior was fast becoming everyone’s favourite babyface. They had yet to square off in the squared circle, and fans were hot for the eventual showdown.
The first time the two gladiators met one-on-one was in the Royal Rumble. All other participants were eliminated from action, leaving Hogan and the Warrior to preview their epic encounter at WrestleMania VI.
Teasing a big-draw main event is an effective angle to weave into the battle royal format. Steve Austin and The Rock did it in 2001 as well, and it helped build anticipation for their showdown at WrestleMania X7.
Imagine the Rumble in 2016:
Kevin Owens makes his presence known. He establishes himself as a major player by eliminating a string of participants, effectively cleaning house. He picks off every new entrant, and looks to be unstoppable.
Then the clock counts down, and the next participant is unleashed.
It’s Brock Lesnar. For the first time, Lesnar and Owens face off in the ring.
Even if such a match never eventually comes to full fruition, the iconic moment would stand out forever in people’s minds.
There have been many stables of wrestlers who have asserted themselves in previous Rumbles.
The most notable came during the 40-participant Rumble in 2011. The Nexus, led by CM Punk, took control of the match and sent anyone who opposed them packing. They dominated for an impressive stretch of time before John Cena entered and successfully broke their streak.
This year going into the Royal Rumble, two factions are asserting dominance on the roster: The League of Nations and The Wyatt Family.
Recently, the LON has been closely associated with the Authority and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship scene, which makes them prime candidates to become an influential presence in the main event.
However, the Wyatts possess a far more imposing physical and psychological presence. It is highly likely they will make that presence felt this year.
Could they dominate so effectively that Bray Wyatt himself stands tall as the ultimate winner?
Anything is possible – which brings us to the next item…
Create a Level Playing Field
When the Rumble first began and no titles or main event matches were on the line, the honour of winning was not relegated to the company’s next top dog.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who never held a title in his entire WWF career, won the first Rumble match. He was and remained a mid-card talent. Ditto Rumble #2, 1989, which was won by Big John Stud.
The excitement of the Rumble match was intimately linked with its unpredictable nature. Success in the Rumble is largely determined by the luck of the draw, meaning that all participants have an equal shot at stealing victory.
WWE has failed to adequately push this gimmick. Instead, they have chosen to push a select few stars, allowing all others to become fodder.
Sometimes, as with the minimally exceptional Rumble of 2013, the roster depth is so shallow that the short list is very short indeed.
To increase suspense and drama, WWE could invest more time in building up its less regarded talent in the weeks leading to the pay-per-view.
People like Heath Ledger or Zack Ryder pulling off upset wins on RAW would raise their profile and raise possible X-factors in the Rumble match.
Use the Rumble to Advance Storylines
To make the battle royal more intriguing, it is always good to inter-weave multiple running plot-lines throughout the match. There are 30 participants, each with their own motives, feuds and programs, and plenty of opportunities for conflict.
These can be story-lines which begin and end well beyond the Rumble, a la Macho Man Randy Savage and Jake Roberts.
It could also be a story that spans the length of the pay-per-view alone.
In 1992, Rowdy Roddy Piper won the Intercontinental Championship earlier in the night. He proclaimed afterwards that his goal was to follow by winning the Rumble match and become a two-time champ in a single night.
In 1994, Bret Hart was severely injured in a tag match on the undercard. The drama which followed hinged on whether or not he would be able to participate in the Rumble match. He did, and ended up as one of the winners, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.
Use the Available Roster
The Royal Rumble has created a tradition around surprise entrants, ranging from celebrities & announcers, to Divas & Hall of Famers.
When this is done well and does no harm, it goes over.
If an able-bodied member of the roster is conspicuously excluded to make room for a comedy spot or celebrity gimmick, the integrity of the show is compromised.
If one reviews the poorly-received 2014 affair, one cannot blame fans from raising ire. Why would Daniel Bryan be denied a slot in the Rumble match when El Torito and JBL found their way in?