Luck Isn't Real in Professional Wrestling: Entering the Royal Rumble First and Last
It’s that time of year again. The holidays are over, and it’s time to jump into the car and head down the Road to WrestleMania. The road looks a little muddier this year. In years past portions of the card have been quite clear from even this early stage in the whole year. This year however, it’s still all rumor and pure guesswork. The first major stop on the road will give us some clues as to what we can expect at The Showcase of the Immortals.
This is just one of the reasons that I think the Royal Rumble might be my favorite event of the year. It gives a taste of what you can expect, and wrestling fans would be lying if they said they didn’t try to imagine what the future would be like. Then there are the comebacks, the stand offs, the innovative avoidance of elimination, the nostalgia and much more. There is no other match in wrestling that touches it for inner-world storytelling.
I would also argue that it perfectly sums up the world of professional wrestling, all within a single hour. Heck, for an entire month leading up to the event, we are constantly told and led to believe that entering the Rumble early is a disadvantage. That makes sense, logical sense. A fresh man entering the Rumble at 28 stands a much better chance of winning than a guy who has been in from the start, right? Well, obviously, if this was the real world. But this is not the real world; this is the world of professional wrestling. It is theatre at it’s finest. Logic can often be thrown out of the window, and this is why every superstar waiting to break through the glass ceiling should be praying the draw number one or two at the end of this month.
Because let’s face it, drawing number one historically means you are going to have a long night, a decent showcase and should leave the Rumble with a higher profile. Well, that is if the profile could be improved in the first place, because the list of guys that have entered number one in the Royal Rumble is essentially a who’s who of the company and it’s recent history. Just look at this list of names; Bret Hart (twice), Undertaker, Eddie Guerrero, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels (twice), Steve Austin, Triple H (twice), Rey Mysterio. CM Punk, Mick Foley. If number one wasn’t a top star already, the chances were that it was someone on the fringes of the main event. Dolph Ziggler has been there twice in the last few years, and we’ve also had The Miz and Jeff Hardy. Only on a couple of occasions has the first entrant just been someone, as opposed to SOMEONE. Crush was first in at the 1997 Rumble. Crush. It seems that if you’re in first, you’re in a good position within the company.
Drawing number one also seems to mean you are going to be in there for a while. In the history of the Rumble, only eight number one entrants have lasted less than 10 minutes. These include Mick Foley, who was due to enter two more times that very Rumble, Shawn Michaels who in 2003 was eliminated by his WrestleMania opponent Chris Jericho, and Jeff Hardy, who lost the battle of the Hardy Boys in 2001. A total of 15 numero unos have lasted more than 20 minutes. Heck, seven have lasted more than 45 minutes, with Ted DiBiase coming within 13 seconds of doing the same in 1990. If your music hits after Fink has done his introduction, more often than not you are gonna have to buckle in for a long ride.
Of course, you also have that statistical wonder that the WWE likes to push each year. The first entrant has as much historical success in winning the whole thing, as does the man who enters last. This statistic is enhanced by the fact that the number of competitors who have entered one or two and won the match is the same as the number who have entered 29 or 30 (four). Despite this, the second entrant rarely has the same name value, future potential or wow factor as the first. More often than not, the second man down the ramp is the first man to walk back up it. This is where Bull Buchanan, Samu and Alex Riley come into the equation. Arguably another on this level is Demolition man Smash, who came in at number two in 1989. This is different though, as number one was his tag partner, Ax. It’s every man for himself though, and they went at it. As a small child watching on, this was absolutely insane to see. We’ve seen it since with the Hardy Boys and Cactus Jack/Chainsaw Charlie, but the Demolition face off is still my favorite Rumble start of all time.
Still, many a great superstar has entered second, be it Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton or, most famously, Rey Mysterio in 2006. That year, Mysterio lasted a record one hour and two minutes on his way to victory.
The other winner from number two was Mr. McMahon by the way. Despite this, the number two entrant averages 22 minutes a rumble, as opposed to 27 for number one. This five-minute discrepancy might not seem huge, but for competitors entering at the same mark in the match, it is quite telling.
So drawing number one is better than drawing number two, but what about the mirror opposites at the end of the match? If we’re in the world of logic, each combatant putting his hand into the tumbler must be praying for 29 or 30, surely?
As mentioned, number 29 has produced only two winners, Brock Lesnar (2003) and Edge (2010). It’s also produced thee runners up in Sid Justice (1992), Triple H (2008) and Chris Jericho in 2012. In wrestling however coming second counts for nothing, unless you’re Steve Austin in the 1999 Rumble of course. Outside of these five, 29 has produced a whole lot of nothing. Pretty much all of the high profile entrants at this number have been in the final two. The rest is made up of superstars such as Chainz, Henry Godwinn, Marty Jannetty and, one of my personal favorite superstars, Repo Man. The penultimate entrant averages a whopping five minutes in the ring, which even when taking into account their late arrival, is a poor show.
The number 30 entrant averages just a second less than the number 29, but has had a much bigger impact on the match in the process. Again, only the two winners, The Undertaker and John Cena in consecutive years (2007/08), but number 30 has provided a whopping six runners up. Ted DiBiase and Mr. Perfect entered last and were eliminated last in the first two Rumbles. Yokozuna thwarted Randy Savage at the last in 1993. Undertaker (2003), Randy Orton 2006) and Ryback (2013) round out the group. Similar to the situation of one and two, number 30 has rounded out the eliminations with a bang as opposed to the whimper of number 29. Undertaker (three times), Goldberg, Ric Flair, John Cena, The Big Show (twice), Vader, Batista and Randy Orton have all popped out from behind the curtain last at this event. Number 30 also provided the first-ever female entrant in the Rumble, in the shape of the Ninth Wonder of the World Chyna in 1999. Sure, she only managed to survive for 35 seconds, but she’s got a place in the pre-Rumble video package for life out of it. Indeed, you have to go back to 1996 for the last time a genuine also-ran entered the Rumble last, and even then you’ve got Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese.
You have a clear disparity between the types of worker at both ends of the match, as to be expected. The first two men in are usually more refined in-ring, what some would call high quality wrestlers. If you’re heading out there after being told you’re in there for 45 minutes, you’ve got to know exactly what you’re doing, hence the early arrivals of Hart, Michaels, Guerrero and the like. The big names that have come out at 30? In the last six years, with the exception of Cena in 2008, have all been physically imposing men. You have Batista, you have Ryback.
This has often been the rule. 1991 saw Bret Hart in first and Tugboat in last. 1995 had Shawn Michaels at one, Crush at 30. When Jeff Hardy entered at one in 2001, Rikishi would be the last man out. The run continues recently, with Mysterio/Big Show in 2009, Ziggler/Batista in 2010, Miz/Big Show in 2012 and Ziggler/Ryback last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it followed this year.
What’s the conclusion of all this? Well, not much. Sitting in the niche that it does, Wrestling is a sport that isn’t about winning and losing at the end of the day. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone impress by entering at one or two and lasting a good while. I also won’t be surprised when a physically imposing superstar strides out of the curtain at number 30.
Who will they be? Well, the resurgence of the tag division means there are less guys bubbling under the surface waiting to break out. Someone like Seth Rollins or Fandango is maybe in the best place for a one/two performance. I wouldn’t be shocked if Cody and Goldust do a Demolition and start it out, sparking off the fuse that will hopefully lead to a Rhodes boys WrestleMania showdown. As for the last man, Ryback could double up, Brodus could back up his ‘Main event playa’ piffle, or the Beast Incarnate might just break out the curtain and demolish everything in front of him. I can’t wait to find out.
That’ll do for now. What do you think? Should we put any stock in the numbers that guys enter at? Is anyone waiting to make a breakout performance from the start? What about from the end? Drop a comment in the lonely comment box below, and we’ll duke it out. I have a new computer (YES), so stalk me out on twitter (@pingvinorkestra) or on the email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Grand job.