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    May 2018

    Half Luck, Half Skul: January Madness - The Greatest Royal Rumble Match (R2)

    Hope you all had a great Christmas and hope you're all once again ready to Rumble! Today, we continue our quest to whittle down the competition in the search for the greatest match in Royal Rumble history. With the likes of Ziggler/Punk and the Glamour Girls/Jumping Bomb Angels posting major upsets in Round 1, will more high seeds fall? Can any of the matches that swept the first round continue their dominance and go 14-0 in the voting?

    Once again, I have the fortune of being joined by mizfan, Oliver, Mazza, Prime Time, Samuel 'Plan, and The Doc. Let's get right into this thing!

    Bracket A

    (1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit ('03) vs. (9) Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon ('93)

    Mazza: Today I am in the mood to eradicate the whole of the New Generation for this tournament. You can place the blame squarely on Planís shoulders for getting rid of the Harts vs the Quebecers. In all honesty though, Bret and Scott canít mess with the classic between Kurt and Chris. In fact, not many matches will be able to at all. Thereís a reason itís a #1 seed.

    The Doc: Truly, I do love the Bret vs. Razor match. If you have not done so recently, I would highly recommend a rewatch because it is so much more nuanced than today's top-tier work. In the event that you dislike the "big move-big move-big move, lay around, repeat sort of style" (and I suspect there are more than a few lurking around who do but are hesitant to express that for fear of being overwhelmed with that style's many supporters), then Bret and Razor's counter-fest and psychology-driven affair is going to watch so much more engagingly than it did a decade ago, I promise. That said, Angle vs. Benoit is the ultimate match between one of the ultimate pairings in WWE history, a greatest ever candidate that doubles as one of the two best matches in Rumble lore. It too is very nuanced, but it also features the best kind of the move-trading style - that which focuses on submission holds and near tap outs. The drama that can be derived from submission wrestling is underrated in an era that features too few submission-based grapplers, but when we get a fresh crop of tap-out-seeking stars at the forefront of the WWE machine, Benoit and Angle's body of work will be there as a reminder of how to do it in the most dramatic way possible.

    Prime Time: At some level the Kurt and Benoit match might suffer from the sheer number of times that they ran it, and that happening later so many of these matches blur into one. Go back into the 1990s and things tended to stand out and be more immediately memorable, and Iíve got a lot more of the 1993 bout seared into my memory. So yeah, Bret and Scott Hall.

    Samuel 'Plan: As fond as I am of the Hitman's title defence against the Bad Guy, the 2003 encounter between Benoit and Angle really is just on a whole other level. I'll be holding back a lot of my thoughts this round for later in the tournament Ė just to say that it wasn't easy for me to vote against a fine forgotten New Gen vintage still worth checking out!

    mizfan: I still think Angle/Benoit might be slightly overrated as a #1 seed but it should skate by easily here, Bret/Razor is very good but I donít think it stands much of a chance on this one.

    Oliver: You remember last time, I voted for Benoit vs Angle because they basically performed CPR on a crowd that was roadkill after Triple H and Scott Steiner put together one of the worst WWE title matches of all time. Iíve actually put a bit more time into this match since, and I think it might be only nearly perfect. I know, I know, sacrilege and all that. It gets a little bit leaden in the middle stages which, I think, hurts it overall. I imagine weíll have time to discuss that further on in this tournament, as otherwise it pretty much rocks and dominates against Hart and Ramon Ė whoís name I will one day stop misspelling as ĎRomaní. Maybe Roman Reigns is just the spirit of Scott Hall, reenergised as a beautiful Samoan man? More on this breaking story as we have it.

    Skulduggery: The championship match in '03 was, on paper, clearly a pit stop for Kurt Angle along his way to a high-caliber showdown with Lesnar at WrestleMania. Despite that, Kurt and Benoit shredded that paper, putting on a spectacular wrestling match that stood up and shouted that it was not merely a piece of highway pre-Mania. Benoit looked like he could legitimately win multiple times. Bret and Razor are massively outweighed here.

    (1) Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit ('03) wins 6-1

    (4) Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty ('93) vs. (5) The Rock vs. Mankind ('99)

    Oliver: It really is incredibly hard work to watch the end of that Rock vs Mankind match now, especially knowing the Beyond The Mat stuff from behind the scenes and what an awful condition this put Foley in straight afterwards. ItísÖalmost a shame, I suppose, that those events colour my watching of the match so much. But itís enough to make me give the edge to Michaels vs Janetty here, despite the Sherri antics at the end which I found a little unbearable and overwrought. Shawn Michaels, overwrought. Whoíd have thought it?!?

    Samuel 'Plan: Michaels and Jannetty's Intercontinental Championship Match is their highest profile bout against one another and is a perfectly solid slice of IC legacy. It's not one of the greats, but consider how high that bar is for that title. Any other belt, it may very well have become just that: a classic. It isn't as brutal, compelling, important or iconic as its opponent though. So Rock and Mankind it is.

    mizfan: Iíll say it again, as good as the majority of Rock/Mankind is, I donít know how to watch the finishing stretch in 2018 without feeling very uncomfortable, not to mention the finish itself is rather lousy to boot. Shawn and Jannetty is a great match all by itself and doesnít feature a beloved performer nearly killing himself.

    The Doc: This match-up provides what I would consider to be a fascinating debate, which I just wrote an entire book defining: what does it mean to be better vs. what does it mean to be greater? Greatness is a combination of a variety of factors that includes the basics of performance on which we are typically focused when we talk about the best match. Being better is only one aspect of greatness. Is the Rockers clash better? I think you could make the argument that it is, but it is not greater; greatness was achieved by Rock and Mankind, despite the fact that it largely has been regarded in hindsight that they pushed the envelope a little too far. The violence was unprecedented, the entertainment value with Rock's histrionics on the mic throughout the performance was unparalleled, and through this match Foley and Rock capped off the first truly great main-event rivalry of WWE lore's most celebrated era. HBK vs. Marty cannot compare to the "I Quit" in my opinion because this, to me, is ultimately a conversation not of what might have been better, but of what was greater; and, frankly, if it makes it through, the match-up with Angle and Benoit, as it was in my research for the book, will once again be fascinating too because then you're talking about greatness vs. greatness among a panel of smart people.

    Prime Time: Itís a tough one, this. I think a lot of people have raised the issue of the chairs and I wouldnít be surprised if that hurt 1999 here, or if it survives, in the next round. Itís an interesting pair of matches in a way, because Shawn and Marty are better than Rocky and Mick at their best, but neither is the star, or has the sympathy, of the two in the later match. Iím going to opt for Shawn and Marty but wouldnít completely object to it going the other way.

    Skulduggery: I get the uneasiness at watching old matches that took place in a time where the culture differs from today Ė in the case of Rock/Mankind, seeing a sequence of uncontaminated chairshots to Foleyís head, when the knowledge in 1999 is not the same as it is today. I totally get that. In my case, I guess it doesnít faze me as much Ė Iím sure glad something of that ilk isnít happening today, but whether itís compartmentalization or simply coldness or whatever else a psychologist may find in my gem of a head, I guess Iím just able to view this match as a product of its time.

    That said, even by 1999 standards, Rock/Mankind dances dangerously on the line of thrill and stomach-churning horror. But from a strictly entertainment standpoint, I have to give something of a tip of the cap to that. Itís heinous actions from a villainous character that makes the viewer ask how Foley could ever avoid defeat given his locked hands, but also how he could ever say ďI QuitĒ given his unshakeable determination. That The Rock goes remorselessly on the journey to find out is equally as chilling. Iíll take this over the Rockersí implosion, albeit great in its own right, with hardly a second thought.

    Mazza: Laters, New Gen. Seriously this is a tough choice. I mentioned in round one the awkwardness of watching the I Quit match these days. It is still a great match however and a huge part of the Attitude Era. For that reason I have it edge out the battle of the former Rockers here even if I do get the impression I wonít be forcing this one through.

    (5) The Rock vs. Mankind ('99) wins 4-3

    (3) Royal Rumble Match ('01) vs. (6) Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker ('98)

    The Doc: I just do not care for the Casket Match honestly, so this is an easy choice for me. The '01 Rumble is by no means one of my favorite iterations of WWE's all-time best gimmick creation, but I cannot think of any logical reason to move the weakest HBK-Taker effort onto the next round ahead of it.

    mizfan: This was actually very tough for me, I discovered I had a much bigger love for the casket match that I thought, both for Shawnís gutsy performance and the way they wove a lot of great and even somewhat cinematic moments into the match. But the í01 Rumble is one of the best and I donít think I can vote against it here, give me the Rumble!

    Skulduggery: Michaels/Taker is hurt by the interference in that match, while Austin's win only benefits from the Triple H interference. Though the Rattlesnake and the Game had different agendas on Rumble day, their corrosive magnetism drew them together, beautifully weaving one of the greatest comeback stories - from Austin's return in late '00 all the way to the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven. Throw in Kane's career performance, and it's an easy W for 2001.

    Mazza: HBK and The Deadman have a whole host of classic and memorable bouts. This one will forever be remembered for the ďcareer-endingĒ injury to Michaels. Even without that you arenít looking at a vintage bout between the two however. Theyíre best chance to take home the victory together will be coming up momentarily. 2001 Rumble is a comfy winner here.

    Oliver: Michaels vs Taker is, obviously, historically important as a match, but not really that great Ė certainly not for these two. Meanwhile, the titular 2001 match is absolutely excellent from start to finish, blending everything that made wrestling during that period so vital Ė from the fast high flying Hardyz, to the hardcore action, to Stone Cold cleaning house, to Billy Gunn being an overpushed piece of shit and failing to make an impact Ė into a single hour. Itís great. I vote for that. And every vote for it is a vote for Meng! #Justice4Meng

    Prime Time: Royal Rumble matches in the Attitude Era were chaotic affairs and were largely silly, but 2001 still does work for some reason. I think Kane probably has a lot to do with that and itíll go down as one of the great markers on his CV. Anyway, whichever way you look at it I think itís good enough to get past what is probably the weakest of the Michaels and Undertaker matches.

    Samuel 'Plan: I just don't find much to enjoy about that Casket Match, as vitally historically important as it is. Even the ending is a head-scratcher. That's offset a little, because I have a lot of nostalgic affection for the 1998 pay-per-view in general, but that's not enough for me to vote against one of the greatest Rumbles ever. I pick the 2001 Rumble Ė to the Attitude Era what 1990 was to the Golden Age.

    (3) Royal Rumble Match ('01) wins 7-0

    (2) Royal Rumble Match ('07) vs. (7) Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens ('16)

    Oliver: In the last entry for the Rumble in 2007, the vote got split between it and 1994, to the point where I ended up going back to see if Iíd missed anything in the 1994 version that I hadnít seen before. I hadnít, it still wasnít as good as some seem to think Ė or maybe they were just voting against 2007 which, closing sequence besides, isnít the excellent match I said it was, in truth. And Ambrose vs Owens is a surprisingly killer opening match, even with the awful last man standing rules (which might just be the worst stipulation match WWE has). So my nod here goes to the IC title renaissance, and Owens vs Ambrose.

    The Doc: Call it the jaded modern WWE effect, but I see the names Ambrose and Owens and I'm reminded of how much greater their careers should be by now. Well, that's not fair. Their Last Man Standing Match was tremendous and, perhaps matched up with a different opponent, I would feel a bit differently about my choice and have different reasons for making said choice. That said, I look back at the '07 Rumble very fondly. HBK had rounded into form as Mr. WrestleMania and it was very clear that he was heading to The Show of Shows to face John Cena for the WWE Title; Taker vs. Batista, despite beginning its hype before The Streak Within The Streak began, was very intriguing on paper as battles between all-star hosses will always be; which one of them would win the Rumble?

    When Rated RKO was eliminated after a very entertaining, short-lived attempt to deny us of the Taker vs. HBK finale, and the match within the match began between the legends, it was enthralling. Given the history between them and the history they would go on to forge in the annals of WrestleMania lore, that mini-match during the '07 Rumble's climax is just incredible. The rest of that Rumble might be fairly bland, but the exploits of Orton and Edge leading into the Rumble Match's all-time best closing sequence? To me, that is enough to go over Ambrose and Owens, which I suspect will pull the upset rather easily here.

    Samuel 'Plan: I have already gone on record with my cynicism towards the popular consideration of the 2007 edition of the Rumble, which remains a whole heap of nothing until the closing five minutes. In a sixty-minute match filled with thirty participants, frankly, that just doesn't measure up to standard for my liking. The Last Man Standing Match is an early milestone in the IC title's renaissance though, and great character work Ė it gets my vote.

    Skulduggery: Ambrose and KO wage war brilliantly against each other, with each man's strengths highlighted. The Last Man Standing setting is favorable for both Owens' violent creativity and Dean's brawling. But the 2007 Rumble is delicious. Edge enters at #5 like a house on fire, throwing multiple Spears before being foiled by the cleverly selected Matt Hardy. Kenny Dykstra's fanboying of Rated RKO bites him in the ass as he turns his back to the Ultimate Opportunist. Khali's involvement is smartly limited, time-wise, but it allows for the Undertaker to look that much more of a badass when he stares evil in the face and eliminates him cleanly. And, of course, the Final 4 and eventual Final 2 are absolute studs.

    Prime Time: Not sure this is even a question. 2007 Rumble for me.

    Mazza: Ambrose vs Owens was an excellent match. However so was Taker vs Shawn, and that actually had a whole rumble leading up to it. I think thatís the key here and may see 2007 warrant its #2 seed in the long run. It may not be the greatest rumble start to final 4 but it really delivered at the sharp end and I will be interested to see how that stacks up against a potential battle with 2001 in the next round.

    mizfan: Similar to the last one, you have a very good match against a very good Rumble, and as a big Rumble lover, Iím likely to go with the Rumble every time. í07 it is!

    (2) Royal Rumble Match ('07) wins 5-2

    Bracket B

    (1) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins ('15) vs. (9) Royal Rumble Match ('90)

    Skulduggery: Given some of the comments on the triple threat in Round 1, Iím a little nervous for it here. Brock/Cena/Rollins should absolutely go through, though. Itís a virtual how-to for displaying a competitor like Lesnar as close to as invulnerable as WWE has seen, and yet having it entirely plausible that he could lose his championship. Reminds me a bit of the Punk/Lesnar match that came within one vote of winning the SummerSlam Madness tournament!

    I mean, in the span of a year (SummerSlam í14 to SummerSlam í15), you had three one-on-one PPV matches between the three combatants in this one. Cena/Rollins at ĎSlam was almost universally considered the best, thus the two mixing it up while Lesnar is floored at ringside continues the electric pulse of the temporarily vacated triple threat formula. The fact that their Rumble encounter is widely considered superior to either Lesnar/Cena at SummerSlam or Lesnar/Rollins at Battleground makes a pretty strong case for both Cena and Rollinsí necessity to push the triple threat through the stratosphere, rather than the presence of just one. I still maintain that Brock and the Architect overtly appear as the stars of this match, but it doesnít get nearly as thrilling as it does without Cena playing the straight man.

    The í90 Rumble is a fun one to watch, especially as the crowd is biting on nearly every entrance. But that 2015 triple threat is on another level.

    mizfan: I voted for it last time in protest of Jim Duggan, but hereís where I start throwing down against the #1 seed from 2015. Itís a very good match, donít get me wrong, but Iíve never seen it as the classic that others do. Brockís modern strengths are emphasized and his weaknesses hidden pretty well, as he takes a lengthy nap at ringside, but I still say some of his issues shine through, and the Cena/Rollins part of the match just doesnít inspire me. The í90 Rumble, on the other hand, is one of the best incarnations of the match, chock to the brim full of star power and crowd pleasing in the extreme, and I always love watching through it. Give me the Rumble for the upset here!

    The Doc: The 1990 Royal Rumble Match is incredibly rewatchable; the triple threat from 2015 lost its luster the very moment it ended. Even in 2015, doing my annual Match of the Year analysis, the triple threat scored well by my metrics, but I was yawning through most of the first 15 minutes. The fact of the matter is this: the Beast Mode formula developed by Lesnar is, at its best, utterly enthralling on initial viewing, but very rarely does that routine maintain a rewatchable quality after the fact. It might be another five years before I can stand to watch that triple threat again; it will take that kind of distance to reinvigorate the appeal for me. Rumble '90, meanwhile, is the blueprint for how the Rumble Match functions, so I watch it annually. Do not get me wrong; Rollins knocked it out of the park at Rumble '15 with what was at the time a career-best performance without which he may not have gotten the nod for "The Heist of the Century," but Lesnar was sloppy as hell. Is there some bias against it right now because Lesnar is involved and I literally hate what he stands for in modern WWE? Sure...but this is more of a philosophical choice to go with the match I know holds up on replay versus the match that absolutely doesn't hold up replay. I'd watch half the original field of 64 before I'd watch the triple threat again.

    Mazza: Ooh here we go. This is a tougher choice than the seeds show. You have one of the elite title matches in rumble history going up against one of the better rumble matches. There is a lot to love about the 1990 version but 25 years is a very long time. The business evolved a lot so a top level match in 2015 puts a strong and star studded but relatively basic rumble on the back foot. Iíve got to follow through with the #1 seed here. The triple threat to advance.

    Prime Time: I still donít like triple threat matches. Theyíre more than an insult to wrestling, they are poison to the concept. Happy to cast another vote for a Rumble match here.

    Oliver: The 2015 Rumble Pay Per View has probably my favourite Brie Bella botch of all time, where she tries to reverse DDT (I think) Natalya and ends up just falling on her backside. But thatís not this match. This is the match where all three guys just go ape shit for 20 minutes to try and win the match Ė thereís no lengthy feeling out process, itís just quick, hard hitting action. I think the formula for that has diminishing returns, for sure, but here it worked because a) Brock Lesnar is superhuman anyway, b) John Cena is literally just a computer character with infinite specials, and c) Seth Rollins is a wrestling magician.

    Samuel 'Plan: For me, this was by some distance the most difficult pick to make in this entire round. I have a whole lot of love for both of these magnificent matches, both of which are important in the history of their respective genre's growth and change over the years. Ultimately, what clinched it for me was the simple fact one has my favourite ever wrestler in and the other doesn't. That's literally all I could separate them with. So I go for the Triple Threat.

    (1) Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins ('15) wins 4-3

    (4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express ('91) vs. (5) Royal Rumble Match ('03)

    Oliver: Iím going to throw this one at The Rockers vs The Orient Express without extra comment, mainly because Iím bitter it took out The Quebecers vs The Harts last time out. Being petty is fun.

    Prime Time: It might be time I went back and gave the 2003 Rumble another viewing, which I havenít done for a few years now. But you know, Iíd go back and watch the other match right now if I had the time and the choice? And doesnít that just say it all. Rockers vs Orient Express.

    Skulduggery: Close one here. I really dig the 1991 tag team bout for how ahead of its time it was. It plays out as a lot of fun and would not look out of place ten or twenty years in its future. But the 2003 Rumble is likewise a blast. Everything Jericho touches is gold, and the match accelerates the fire between he and HBK for a great WrestleMania journey. Guys like Edge and Mysterio rev the pace in the first third, while you have your monsters like Kane, Batista, Lesnar and Taker to close things out. I think I'll ultimately plump for the Rockers' win, mainly because I'm a sucker for tag team wrestling. That finish is excellent, while Lesnar's somewhat cheap elimination of Taker is a little odd given how dominant he was being billed as.

    Samuel 'Plan: That Rockers tag match really is going to persist, isn't it? So I revisited it for this round. It's got a little more psychological meat to it than I at first recalled, but it's still horribly spotty stuff for my tastes. It's probably the stronger match from a dispassionate viewpoint, in consideration of context anyway, but it's my least favourite. I'm sticking with the Rumble Match here.

    mizfan: This is a close one for me, both matches appeal to me quite a bit in different ways. I see that whenever I have a chance to vote for a Rumble so far Iíve taken it, and I donít think Iím going to stop now. Both matches are great and I wonít be upset if I lose this one, but once again give me the underrated í03 Rumble for the win.

    Mazza: Another tough one here as the seeds suggest. A better rumble and I think it would see off an excellent but ultimately filler tag bout. I am not the biggest fan on 2003 however. Not a terrible rumble by any stretch of the imagination but not the best. You know what, I went against Shawn and Marty in a 4 vs 5 encounter in Bracket A, I will even it up by giving them the nod this time.

    The Doc: Fourth seed vs. fifth seed should inherently be good match-ups; I do not feel that this one, however, is even close. The tag match is aesthetic magic, one of the most underappreciated examples in pro wrestling's entire history of a match that exemplifies the idea of the in-ring performance being comparable to a dance. That said, I'd like to take the analogy in a different direction and instead compare pro wrestling to a floor routine in gymnastics and cite Rockers vs. Orient Express as a hallmark achievement. It may not have been flawlessly executed, but the degree of difficulty in the spot sequencing was so high that a few negative marks for poor execution could not possibly weigh down its score that much. When I think of tag team wrestling, I think of matches like this one. Rumble '03 is quite good, but it's not that level of good; it's not a legitimate contender for one of the best in the history of its genre.

    (4) The Rockers vs. The Orient Express ('91) wins 5-2

    (3) John Cena vs. Umaga ('07) vs. (6) Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns ('17)

    Mazza: If the Kevin Owens vs Dean Ambrose match was in this place, I would have a real dilemma. However, I think Cena and Umagaís Last Man Standing comfortably defeatís KOís match against the other Shield member. It is actually one of my very favourite John Cena performances.

    Skulduggery: Absolute slam dunk for the Last Man Standing match. Owens/Reigns is a decently fun watch, but it reeks of creativity for the sake of creativity. Cena and Umagaís dangerous and innovative spots tell a harrowing story. Massive difference.

    The Doc: This is a tougher choice than I expected it to be. I have a lot of appreciation for Reigns vs. Owens; I thought it was the most underrated awesome match of 2017 in fact. KO was unleashed in that No-DQ environment and we got to see him take the creativity that he brought to the table against Ambrose a year earlier to the next highest hardcore level (that bump on the chairs is nuts). The further removed we are from it, I tend to think of it more and more like KO's equivalent of Jericho's Rumble '02 match with Rock - basically the pinnacle achievement of his rather disappointing title reign. I always forget, by the way, that Jericho was in a shark cage above the ring until I rewatch it.

    All of that said, Cena vs. Umaga is one of the most underrated awesome matches of all-time, not just of a particular year. It is exceptionally violent and nothing is held back, the crimson suit worn by Cena adding a dynamic that no modern match will unfortunately ever be able to duplicate until WWE drops the PG element or at least opens up the playbook to allow blood when appropriate. It also gets a historical boost by it being Cena's first great performance without the assistance of a first ballot Hall of Famer; they lined up Angle, Jericho, Triple H, and Edge for him in his initial years as the top guy, but he had to step up against a first-time headliner and deliver the goods at the '07 Rumble...and he damn sure delivered the goods. Last Man Standing has arguably never been done any better either, so there's a lot going for the Cena-Umaga match that honestly should make it a tough out in this tournament.

    Prime Time: Off the top of my head I honestly donít care, and I donít have time to rewatch them both. Wait a minuteÖ OK, Cena and Umaga is heads, Owens and Reigns is tails.

    Itís heads, weíll cast our vote for Big Match John and the reactionary stereotype.

    mizfan: If this isnít a 7-0 stomping, I donít know what Iíll do. One of the best Cena matches ever against a mediocre, muddled 2017 affair. Enough said!!

    Samuel 'Plan: This one is incredibly easy for me. I already mentioned what I think of the Shark Cage Match from a couple of years ago, so certainly compared to one of Cena's finest outings, one of Umaga's most flattering productions and one of the Last Man Standing's most colourful outings the Universal Championship Match doesn't stand a chance. It's got to be Cena / Umaga.

    Oliver: You know when you play a video game Ė I donít know if any of you have heard of Ďvideo gamesí, theyíre like Monopoly but on tape Ė and you get to the big bad boss at the end and have to throw everything at them just to, like, dent their armour so you can poke them in the eye and win or something? Thatís how I feel about Cena vs Umaga, which is the start of John Cena being the most John Cena he ever did in a calendar year, I think. Sweet Jesus, that guy was on something else that year. He doesnít even have Edge around to beat him every other month. The only thing that stops him beating people is his own body falling apart, otherwise heíd probably have just kept winning untilÖI dunno, WrestleMania 24 and beyond, probably. Anyway, itís good, is that match. Itís up against a match I really like but has the daftest stipulations around it Ė itís a No DQ match, so does it even matter if Jericho is in a shark cage? Plus, itís Roman Reigns being the most Roman Reigns ever, just taking the most offense anybody has and powering up to hit his shit and nearly win, only to end up being Ďprotectedí in defeat or whatever. And Owens absolutely killed himself in that match to get Reigns over as the big powerful. But none of it mattered.

    Ultimately, I think Cena vs Umaga is the least stressful conversation, so Iím awarding it victory on those grounds. Both are about equal for me in terms of in match quality.

    (3) John Cena vs. Umaga ('07) wins 7-0

    (2) Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit ('01) vs. (7) Royal Rumble Match ('05)

    The Doc: It has just dawned on me the number of higher seeds that I seem to be picking, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions of course. In exploring that dynamic in my head, I'm struck by the idea that higher seeds are higher seeds for a reason and unless there's a very compelling reason not to, picking the higher seed makes sense more often than not. Here we are with another example. I love the '05 Rumble, not just the match itself but the show top to bottom. I think that it's easily one of the ten best in gimmick lore and, thus, deserves to be around past the 32 mark in its own way. That said, it's all about seeding sometimes, and in this case it runs up against one of the best mid-card matches in Rumble lore. Can I make a compelling case that Jericho-Benoit should be upended before testing itself against the higher overall seeds? I don't think that I can, honestly. I want, as a fan of anything for a tournament setting, to see the best against the best so that the conversations we get to have expand and get more detailed. I want Jericho/Benoit vs. Cena/Umaga and match-ups of that kind in the Sweet 16.

    Oliver: Shall we just say Jericho vs Benoit and be done with it? Yeah? Good.

    Mazza: As good as the ladder match between the Canadians is, when I think of it I always remember Benoit just leaning on the apron and watching Jericho climb to victory. That never really sat well with me. I mean it doesnít make it a bad match, or even just a good one. It remains a great match but itís things like that which can make a difference in this kind of setting. I love a lot about 2005. Itís a guilt pleasure of mine and I give it my vote here.

    mizfan: Iím actually going to continue my Rumble lovefest here, both of these matches rock but I am such a sucker for good Rumbles, and I think í05 is low key one of the best. The photo finish actually makes the whole thing even more fun, botch or no.

    Skulduggery: Eddie and Benoit commencing 2005 was a tremendous start, but things heated up further as the first third of the match roared on. Entrants 7 through 11 are as strong a streak as youíll ever see that early into the Rumble, and that the entire field, heroes and villains alike, comes to a standstill upon the matchís welcome of Muhammad Hassan is one of those ďmatch within the matchĒ moments that make this Rumble bursting with fun. That even Edge and Luther Reigns immediately join in on the group mauling of Hassan is an excellent advancement from mere face/heel alignment to character interaction.

    Throw in the RAW vs. SmackDown showdown, Shawn Michaelsí Simon Dean-esque celebration after the elimination of the fitness guru himself, Haas and Benjaminís brief reunion, and every second of Kurt Angleís time, and the middle stretch of the match is a blast. What follows is the dynamite conclusion, and as good as Jericho/Benoit is, Iíll say again that the 2005 Rumble better advance so that I can talk about it even more!

    Prime Time: I can keep this one short and sweet, and with a double helping of Canadian Chrisís.

    Samuel 'Plan: Much like the immediately preceding pairing, this is another default win for me. I know the 2005 Rumble has a lot of fans, and I know my fellow participant Mazza is one of them, but I really do find it bland at best, uncomfortable at worst. That '01 Ladder Match mind Ė even for a critic of the genre like myself Ė really is fantastic, and of the story-focused variety I most enjoy. I'll plump for the IC bout.

    (2) Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit ('01) wins 4-3

    Bracket C

    (1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack ('00) vs. (9) Jeff Jarrett vs. Razor Ramon ('95)

    mizfan: Another massive stomping, please. Cactus/Foley should annihilate in this round!

    Skulduggery: Lamb, meet slaughter. The Intercontinental Championship match is solid but looks downright pedestrian when consumed by the monstrous shadow pitched by the Street Fight. Everything about this match is spectacular and feels like a massive deal. The pre-match promo is amongst the best youíll see Ė with the champion handily decimating Mankind, causing the latter to bring about Cactus Jack. Triple Hís change from smugness to fear instantly sells the threat. Even the referrals to the big stage on which they are competing Ė ďYou want me at the Garden? You want me at the Rumble?Ē, ďMick Foley, your blood will stain New York City, I promise you that!Ē, and especially JRís ďAnd for a man that has wrestled on nails, in barbed wire, thisíll be a day at Central Park!Ē Ė contribute to giving this one a big fight feel. And then, of course, the match clobbers the already sky-high expectations.

    Samuel 'Plan: With a kinder draw, Jarrett vs. Ramon might have fared well. It's a sleeper hit for sure, but a hit nonetheless, and one of Ramon's trilogy of great Intercontinental title defences on Rumble cards during the New Generation Era. Sadly, here it finds itself against one of the true all-time greats, and a nostalgic favourite of mine too. Jack and The Game get my vote.

    The Doc: Fair thee well, Razor vs. Double J. As underrated Rumble hits go, few are better than the '95 IC Title bout and if you have anything other than fond memories of it, then I encourage you to give it a rewatch. It is not going to be mistaken for a tremendous match of that 4-star or greater quality that so many of us have become obsessed with in the modern age, but it was not tasked with being one, you must remember. Razor vs. Jarrett was a show-maker by trade, not a show-stealer. It was the kind of match that set the tone for headliners, giving them a rock solid baseline achievement to top. That said, HHH vs. Cactus is amazing and there is no reason why it shouldn't advance. The first challenge it should face ought to be in the Sweet 16 against Bryan vs. Wyatt; that's a sexy round 3 match-up.

    Oliver: Never vote for Double J, ever. Trips vs Cactus for the win.

    Mazza: Come on now, easy peasy one even without my New Gen bias. Street Fight to move on.

    Prime Time: I donít dislike the matches Hall had with Jarrett at all but itís going to take more than this to take down the legendary streetfight.

    (1) Triple H vs. Cactus Jack ('00) wins 7-0

    (4) Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan ('14) vs. (12) CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler ('12)

    Oliver: Sadly I canít vote for People Power again here, because Punk and Zigglerís effort is completely outgunned by Wyatt vs Bryan.

    The Doc: If this is not a sweep, then I look forward to the reasons why not. Bryan vs. Wyatt is a fringe contender for the one of the greatest matches of all-time and no doubt will find itself right smack dab in the middle of the hunt for greatest mid-card match when Maverick and I get that far on our countdown. I was trying to think of characters whose arcs peaked at the Royal Rumble even if they ended up having more famous matches at WrestleMania, and Wyatt along with Goldust (in '96) struck me as two of the best examples. Wyatt was so good in the cult leader role before WWE lost interest in further developing him beyond his peak and it was the effectiveness of his persona combined with the overwhelming might of the Yes! Movement that allowed Bryan's brief run as a "Family" member to end so gloriously in that Cage Match on Raw, leading into this bonafide mid-card classic at the Rumble. I have so few treasured WWE memories since that 'Mania Season, and Bryan turning on Wyatt to the thunderous ovation of the audience, unified in their support of him and his journey, is right near the top of my 2014-to-present day list. It has been a long time since I felt as bummed for a wrestler as I did that night in January 2014, not just because Bryan was not in the Rumble, but because he lost to Wyatt as well. This match was modern WWE at close to its finest.

    Prime Time: I sort of remember them both as being OK but I donít recall feeling more fond of one than the other. Itís another coin flip but this time tails leads us to Punk and Ziggler.

    Mazza: Punk vs Bryan. The eternal smark battle for supremacy. Bryan won out in the SummerSlam version of this, and he wins out in this particular section of the rumble one. I have a lot of love for the match between Bryan and Wyatt even if the quality does sometimes get forgotten in the controversy of the night.

    Samuel 'Plan: Of all the matches remaining in this tournament, these two probably evoke the most lukewarm reaction from me. I know the Bryan / Wyatt match is a deserved cult favourite, and I adored it on the night, but for a multitude of reasons it's lost a lot of its charm for me since it happened. Punk vs. Ziggler, though, is an outright flop, and I remember being awfully disappointed with it on the night. I'll go for the 2014 curtain jerker I guess, but not with much conviction.

    Skulduggery: Ziggler's seemingly annual peak at the Rumble before grounding come Mania was a fun one in 2012, as he tangled with a CM Punk at the absolute top of his game. But the Cinderella pumpkin wheels derail here, at the hands of a chillingly dangerous Bray Wyatt and a game Daniel Bryan.

    mizfan: It was fun to relive some super hot CM Punk, but all that farting around with Laurinaitis was a drag. Give me Bray and Bryan tearing down the house with ease here.

    (4) Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan ('14) wins 6-1

    (3) Diesel vs. Bret Hart ('95) vs. (11) Women's Royal Rumble Match ('18)

    Skulduggery: I needed yet another rewatch of both matches in order to pick a winner here. I find both matches have an absolute bulk of positives that nevertheless surround some worms, like a delicious cobbler with just that one burnt corner. When considering Diesel/Bret, you have the straight wrestling action between the two, a cerebral toss-up between the scary power of the champion and the lethal execution of the challenger, marred by the absolute train of interference. With the Womenís Royal Rumble, you have a stream of excitement in the names and the terrific action, plucked by the far too frequent unknowing of the match status Ė there are so many times when active competitors have gone to the floor via bottom-rope escape. Itís tough to keep track of whoís in the match.

    In the end, I think I barely side with the Womenís Rumble, as it provides more overall excitement. It does slow down toward the end, particularly with the likes of the Bellas and Nia Jax, but its spark up until that point is considerable. I wouldnít hesitate to call Kevin Nash and the Hitman the smarter match, but doing a Sudoku puzzle doesnít always carry the same thrill as a low-brow Mario Kart race between friends. Remove the doggy pile of extra-curriculars, and Iím likely casting a vote for the 1995 match. Lots of the time, the logical string sewn through a match also provides the electric current I seek, but in this case, thereís just a little too many worms in the bulk of positivity of Bret/Nash.

    Side rant: Would you believe that a WWE crowd roundly booed Becky Lynch in 2018? It happened when she eliminated Lita in this match. Shortly before, a good chunk of the crowd chanted one of my least favorite chants Ė ďYou still got itĒ Ė to a wrestler that performed a couple of half-assed DDTs and scored, scarily, the least air on a moonsault Iíve ever seen. I shit you not, Evan Bourne regularly got more air on his moonsault from the mat than Lita got on that one from the top rope. Crowd: There were so many wrestlers in this Royal Rumble match that showed up for the first time in years and wrestled really well. Beth Phoenix. Michelle McCool. Trish Stratus. Lita was NOT one of them. Bite your fucking tongue on the ďYou still got itĒ chants. Christ. The one or two times a year itís actually warranted, it is swallowed up into nothingness because it gets broken out when Lita hits a couple of half-assed moves or when Shane McMahon dances. Yeesh.

    Samuel 'Plan: Shall I prepare myself for disappointment, or hope for another 2008 Rumble Match-like upset? I hope my pick of Diesel vs. Hart succeeds here. I know that the Women's Rumble has historic achievement, and to be fair not a complete lack of quality either, both on its side, but that 1995 World title bout is a ferociously infectious piece of work. I know there's aspects to it some will find off-putting, but I absolutely love it, and vote again for it here. I genuinely believe it's the better match anyway.

    Oliver: Iím erring towards voting for the womenís bout here, but I think Bret getting something watchable out of Diesel is a far bigger achievement than having a good Rumble with a bunch of talented women in it, so Iíll throw it a bone.

    mizfan: Really hoping people make the right decision here. Nash/Bret is overlong, overbooked, and overrated, a pale companion to their legitimately great Survivor Series match later that year. The womenís Rumble overachieved by a mile and was a tremendously fun experience, masterfully blending old and new and telling a layered story of the whole modern history of womenís wrestling in the WWE. Do the right thing, put the women through here!

    Mazza: A lot of big New Gen fans involved in this, so I am not holding out much hope of a seeding upset. Give me a decent rumble over a match I care little for every time. I very much enjoyed the first womenís rumble. It was nostalgia heavy for sure but still a very good showcase for todayís ladies and that is enough for it to win out for me.

    Prime Time: Iíd like to give another vote for the womenís rumble which I really liked and think it does deserve to outlast some other matches which I think will go through, but Iíd be lying if I said that Big Daddy Cool and Bret wasnít obviously better. There are very few matches in this thing that it isnít clearly head and shoulders better than, if weíre being truthful about it.

    The Doc: The 2-3 combo in this bracket are on upset alert if you ask me. The Women's Rumble has present time consciousness-fueled energy behind it, enough to knock off one of the most underrated title bouts in January Classic lore. Diesel vs. Bret is also one of the most underrated title bouts in Rumble history, so it's going to be interesting to me to see if the same kind of reasons that favored the Women's Rumble over Edge-Hardy work against Diesel-Bret. It was decisive in Round 1 for the Asuka-won battle royal and there is certainly part of me that understands it; I've seen it like 15 times since my daughter loves it so much at the tender age of six and there is a lot to like about it as a dude in his mid-30s even though it is far from perfect or even far from anywhere near the quality of its male counterpart from the same show. That said, Bret vs. Diesel is - like the New Generation itself - one of those types of performances that so far outshines its reputation. I don't know about you, but I love matches that challenge previously held thought processes and flip them on their heads. Diesel-Bret is a head-flipper, the kind of match that surprises you with its quality from the word "go." I'd like the chance to test it against some of the generally regarded best of the best, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was it for it.

    (3) Diesel vs. Bret Hart ('95) wins 4-3

    (2) John Cena vs. AJ Styles ('17) vs. (7) Royal Rumble Match ('09)

    Mazza: This is exactly the type of headache matchup that is going to be key to crowning a winner in this thing. An elite singles match against an elite rumble match. Itís quite early to be having this dilemma. AJ and Cena put on one hell of a show. 2009 seems seriously underseeded to me. We are talking a top 3 rumble match going up against a top 3 January title match here. Iíve got to go purely on mood and that tells me to go with Ď09 right now.

    The Doc: I had to think about this one. I remain adamant that the Cena-Styles Rumble bout was the best of their series, and I absolutely take stock of the fact that it was heralded as one of the all-time great series in WWE history by a lot of critical thinkers. That said, if we think critically about it and start comparing it to its top-tier peers, I think it struggles in a way that, frankly, HBK vs. Taker at Mania 25 has started to struggle in recent times. What makes it so much better than the rest of the matches that are like it? Because, let's face it, there are now a lot of matches wrestled in that, as 'Plan and I dubbed it, "EPIC" style. I guess that depends in part on how you feel about the history and how much that history is able to resonate with you from viewing to viewing, for to wrestle an epic there has to be something pretty epic backing it up in story. For some, Styles was the ultimate indy guy, so his arc connects with them in a comparable if not grander way than did Cena's matches with Punk and Bryan. Not for me, though, with all due respect; it came in a distant third on my list of Cena vs. the indy guys.

    Styles vs. Cena, as a sequel to its Summerslam predecessor, is just pretty good, but where it shines is in its attempt to avoid classic tropes; I think that a match that good staying in the ring for its entirety is a very impressive achievement. Essentially, it was the main-event of WrestleMania wrestled in front of a WrestleMania type crowd that just didn't actually happen at WrestleMania. Rumble '09 tells a very good story and has many of the qualities that I endorse in a good to great version of the gimmick, but to me it's a fringe Top 10 Rumble Match competing against a fringe Top 10 all-time match at the Rumble.

    Oliver: Probably the toughest vote to decide in this bracket, for me. The Rumble from 2009 is, I think, the best Rumble match since the early 2000s, and if not before. I love it from start to finish, and think it gets a bit of a bad rep for some reason. The 2014 version, I think, pushed it close but didnít quite get there Ė otherwise itís definitely on top of recent years. But opposite it is Styles vs Cena, which is ridonkers. Like, stuff that shit into the Wrestle Kingdom 13 card and nobody would blink an eye. Meltzer would line up his stars and weíd have months of conversations about how it wouldnít have got five stars in America or some shit. But that thing is great.

    In the end, though, Iím going to be sentimental Ė give the nod to the Rumble match from 2009. I strongly suspect my fellow columnists wonít agree, but Iíd make them wrong.

    Prime Time: The 2009 Rumble match Ė the last one you could watch with your brain engaged Ė surely needs to go a long, long way in this thing.

    Samuel 'Plan: Had the Cena / Styles match eventuated in the intriguing character development Cena's portrayal hinted at during bell time and not just kick-started arguably the single most inexplicably bizarre year in the long history of the WWE Championship, maybe I could be tempted into considering it more. Not here though. Not against the single greatest Rumble Match to have ever been put together. I go 2009, every time.

    mizfan: Well this is a no brainer for me, and hopefully for everyone else involved! Cena/Styles did their best dance in 2017 but they never came together like many fans hoped they would. The í09 Rumble is one of the very best and is ludicrously underseeded, so I hope it pounds itís way through here and gets the recognition that it deserves!

    Skulduggery: Even though I voted for it in the first round, I said Cena/Styles was not getting much love from me this tournament. And as early as Round 2, the blood flow from my stingy heart has rapidly dried up for John and AJ. There are some impressive sequences, but it just seems like theyíre throwing moves back and forth until getting to the completely unsurprising number of finisher-kickouts. Others have applauded the fact that this match takes place completely within the ring. I guess I shrug at that praise? I donít see the use of ringside as a crutch. If it makes the match better, why limit yourself? I mean, itís fine that Cena and Styles keep it between the ropes Ė Iím sure there are many matches that I love that do the same thing Ė but Iíve never thought of it as a point of hurrah.

    I may not find Ortonís first Rumble win as captivating as some of the other voters, but it still has enough strengths to comfortably dethrone Cenaís Flair-tying championship triumph, Santinoís quick elimination being one of them. Itís not only the mere 1 second which he lasted, itís his afterward determination that heíll be able to convince the referee to legitimately give him a second chance. ďNo, I wasnít ready!Ē

    Still a bit bummed about the landslide defeat of Triple H/Shawn Michaels, but there are far worse opponents to which it could have lost!

    (7) Royal Rumble Match ('09) wins 6-1

    Bracket D

    (1) Royal Rumble Match ('92) vs. (8) Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler ('11)

    Oliver: Going to stick with the short and sweet verdict on 1992 that was established in the first round. A clear winner.

    mizfan: Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuh. í92.

    Prime Time: The 1992 Royal Rumble is tremendous, though perhaps not quite so tremendous as it was made into by the WWEís own lore in the 1990s. But itís hard to see anything knocking it out this early.

    Mazza: 92 will get more words once it gets at least a little competition.

    The Doc: Edge vs. Ziggler is a sneaky good match. Dolph's work with my third favorite of all-time really was what made me jump on the Ziggler bandwagon and champion him as a Top 5 guy for the future. Though that upper-echelon status never came, the Rumble bout with Edge remains one of those matches on Ziggler's resume that cannot be denied, in terms of its importance to his strong career and "what-if" credentials. That said, it's up against the '92 Rumble, which overwhelms you with star power and the unbelievably entertaining duo of Flair and Heenan, plus gives you moments like Randy Savage flying out from the back to an awesome pop to go after Jake Roberts. I think it's a contest here, but Rumble '92 is just too strong.

    Skulduggery: Iím going to guess that this will be a 7-0 decision for the 1992 Rumble. And if Iím right, Iím fairly confident that Iíll have the slimmest gulf by how much Flairís win defeats Edge/Ziggler. Iím a BIG fan of the 2011 match. Edge did for Ziggler nearly the same favor that Angle did for Edge in their series of 2002 matches Ė an established main eventer believably having a back-and-forth match with a midcarder that allowed the two to look like equals without ever suggesting that the main eventer moved whatsoever from that top tier. So this decision is not a blowout on my voting card by any means. That said, you canít look past the incredible assortment of talent in the 1992 Rumble. Heenanís commentary provides a perfect undercurrent for the barrel of fun going on between the ropes. Like ĎPlan, I donít view this Rumble as the all-time best, but it is still very strong.

    Samuel 'Plan: I'm going to be the controversial one here, as I expect this will otherwise be 6 votes for the 1992 coming of age of the Rumble. 1992's Rumble is vitally important in the event's history and it's a really fun watch even now. Is it as good as people say it is? I'm not so sure. Outside of some big names, there's little about it you won't find executed better elsewhere other than Heenan's commentary track, and that's not going to win any votes for me in a tourney about matches. On the other hand, Edge vs. Ziggler is better than it gets given credit for and is massively deserving of far greater infamy. There have been few World title bouts on Rumble cards quite so exhilarating or elevating. I'll vote for the Rated R Superstar and the Show Off for that reason.

    (1) Royal Rumble Match ('92) wins 6-1

    (5) The Rock vs. CM Punk ('13) vs. (13) Jumping Bomb Angels vs. Glamour Girls ('88)

    The Doc: Ladies and gentlemen, you have in Chad Matthews an ardent defender of the Rock vs. Punk match. If you never have, check out 'Plan's book and in particular his write-up on this match, which I think did a great job of championing the bout for what it was rather than what many hoped it might have been. Six years is plenty of time to allow the sting of Punk's loss to wear off and, respectfully to an incredibly fun women's tag match, it's time to give Punk-Rock the credit its due historically. I hope very much to see it advance.

    mizfan: My problems with Rock/Punk are almost too many to name. For every good thing that happens (and there are some, to be sure), I can name at least 2 bad things. The never explained pure nonsense of the finish is enough to make me choke. The women of í88 kicked ass and absolutely deserve to go on here.

    Prime Time: I was really glad the JBAís got through the first round but they are probably going to fall at this stage. I donít know that this [The Rock vs. CM Punk] is the most critically acclaimed match of all time but I donít doubt itís got enough to pull off the victory here.

    Oliver: Iím sticking with my first round opinion Ė Jumping Bomb Angels vs Glamour Girls over everything. Thereís a hell of a lot they do right in that match, the workrate is superb and speedy, and didnít really overwork itís audience. The crowd reacts to everything with purity, McMahon loses his mind about it all on commentary (even though he canít determine which Bomb Angle is which), and everything about it is atypical for the era itís in. I love it.

    Skulduggery: This is actually a really tricky one for me. I praised the Angels/Glamour match in the first round and dumped on the Rock/Punk bout. Truth be told, there is an element of expectations playing into both assessments. CM Punk was sheer fire in early 2013, and so I had massive hopes for his championship defense on Day 434, but I was a little underwhelmed with a decent match. On the other hand, the first time I watched the tag team match from 1988, I went into it expecting very little, and was pleasantly surprised with how fun it turned out to be. But putting both matches on the same shelf, and comparing them without expectations, I have to begrudgingly admit that Rocky and Punk is a narrowly better watch overall.

    Samuel 'Plan: Not much to say here. I am absolutely delighted that the overhyped 2008 Rumble Match got voted out of the first round, but this pairing really shouldn't be much of a contest. The women's tag is fun enough, but has a lot of flaws. I guess you could say the same for Rock and Punk, but they earn my vote because I love the entire 2013 Rumble pay-per-view, I love the emotive line Rocky draws under the match (which really plumps up the subtext) and I just love the way the match plays out.

    Mazza: So we have a new underdog story. I am not sure I get quite what is going on here but it is tradition in these things. I mean the Jumping Bomb Angels cameos in the WWE were extremely exciting at the time but I think the seeding is just about spot on. Which means it shouldnít really be beating higher end matches. This is no exception. Phil and Dwayne FTW.

    (5) The Rock vs. CM Punk ('13) wins 5-2

    (3) Royal Rumble Match ('04) vs. (6) Royal Rumble Match ('02)

    Mazza: Here we go. This is where I swear blind that 2002 is the better rumble but nobody believes me. I just think it is a fantastically rounded rumble. We have the Taker stuff early on with the Hardys and then Maven being a huge first half highlight. The second half has one of Austinís last big moments as he dominates before being confronted with a returning Triple H. There is prime rumble comedy as the former 2 Man Power Trip take on The Hurricane. And of course there is Mr Perfectís final awesome cameo for the company. It doesnít hurt that Hunter won too of course. Iíd take that every time over a rumble I donít think has much going on outside a popular ironman winner. 2002.

    Skulduggery: Reading Mazzaís thoughts in the last round about a possible í04 vs. í02 match-up had me smiling, because Iím of the same mind. 2004 is a good Rumble, but there must be something Iím missing for it to be lauded so highly in terms of its depth and storytelling. Goldberg is explosive for the time heís in it, and Foleyís duration is riveting as well Ė but both guysí stays are brief. Sure, youíve got the Benoit iron man thing, but appearances of the likes of Jericho and Angle, what ought to be game changers, seem just a bit too standard. Riddle this with the minor timing/setup things I mentioned last time, and youíve still got a good Rumble, but by my money, not a great one.

    In the other corner we have 2002. Take Stone Cold Steve Austin, for instance. He won three of these things and was a massive player in 1999, so in strict terms of kayfabe success, this is like his 5th best Rumble. But what an outing! He obliterates a field of midcarders, reverts back to his watch-checking days of í97, and isnít satisfied with the time. What to do to stave off boredom? Gather the discarded jetsam, throw them back into the ring, and eliminate them all over again! Add his post-elimination temper tantrum, and itís about a perfect character match for the Rattlesnake. Plus, Undertaker disposing of a pile of curtain jerkers in his own right, having a match within the match with the Hardys, all to get eliminated by a Tough Enough kid? Picture-perfect use of unpredictability that lies comfortably within the window of plausibility. Strong performances from Triple H, Angle, and Kane help conclude the match well. í02 is just a bundle of fun, capitalizes on multiple unique advantages this structure of match has to offer, and has to advance here.

    Prime Time: Battle of two Rumbleís, close apart. The 2002 Rumble is a real test of taste Ė that is, if you like it, you donít really have any! OK, so thatís a little harsh Ė but the whole thing is basically a confidence trick, and a fairly fucking transparent one at that. It's the Nigerian Prince of Rumble matches. Thereís really not much thatís any good in the entire second half of the match and it relies almost completely on star-power and spectacle. Itís a junk food match. There is at the very least a lot of steak in the 2004 event, rather than being mere sizzle.

    mizfan: Thereís very little I would vote as better than the í04 Rumble, which was a triumph of storytelling, interlacing plots, and engaging actions. í02 is fun but itís just too bloody long to reach the top echelon. Give me í04 all the way!

    The Doc: This is not tough for me because I think 2004 was the best Royal Rumble Match ever, but I can see how it might be tough for some. The '02 Rumble is another personal favorite, but 2004 is superior in every way. 2004 is the most swiftly paced Rumble ever; something just clicked that night which allowed the entire run-time to fly by like never before from sequence to sequence and from entrant to entrant and, thus, is the Rumble that historically featured the least amount of downtime. I mentioned in the Round 1 voting process how the set-up for WrestleMania from this Rumble was the best ever (all of the Top 7 matches were hyped through the Rumble), and I'll add that the climax was just unbelievably stacked, creating a wonderful dichotomy among the talents involved - hell, even their gear created an aesthetic palate unmatched in the gimmick's rich history (you've got Angle's red, white, and blue, Jericho's eye-popping garb, RVD's air-brushed mastery). I love everything about that match.

    Oliver: A Rumble battle here between two of the better early 2000s versions, and for me 2004 gets the nod. Itís a bit less melodramatic than the 2002 version of the titular match. And unlike with Reyís coast to coast work in 2006, Benoit is front and centre for all of it, the star of the match.

    Samuel 'Plan: My opinion on the 2002 Rumble Match has a tendency to fly around a little like a squash ball. I go back and forth on it a lot. I think its conclusion is oddly structured and the match itself lasts far too long. But I love the powerful sense of character that drives it, I love some of its set-pieces and I love the Austin / Helmsley stare down. 2004, however, is structured a lot more effectively, has just as many Ė if not more Ė fun set-pieces and signs off with an emotional victory for a powerhouse performance. I have to go for 2004.

    (3) Royal Rumble Match ('04) wins 5-2

    (2) Chris Jericho vs. The Rock ('02) vs. (7) Men's Royal Rumble Match ('18)

    mizfan: I thought the í18 menís Rumble was good, albeit a little contrived towards the end, but still Iím going to hold all the way down the line to my pattern and vote for it over a non-Rumble match, as I thought Jericho/Rock was grossly overrated when I rewatched it for this series. Iíll take those í18 boys for the upset!

    Mazza: I might as well complete the set here, right? Title match from 2002 to go along with the rumble match. We will not be mentioning the feud that came of them however.

    Samuel 'Plan: While not quite as tough as Bracket B's opener, this one is a toughie for me too. The chemistry between Jericho and Rocky was always remarkable to see and it is out in full force during their high-octane, bristling Undisputed Championship Match more so than in perhaps any other example they offered up. But this year's Rumble.... I have revisited twice recently, once for this series, once for Match(es) of the Year purposes and it continues to blow me away. I may need to write a full Performance Art Review of it because it really does need considering as one of the all-time best versions of the genre. I'll vote for the 2018 Rumble I guess.

    Skulduggery: The Undisputed Championship match is prime Rocky. Sure, broken down mechanically, it doesn't do a ton in terms of innovative maneuvers or "work rate", but stuff it. This match crackles with electricity, has a vilely hated heel and a babyface that has the crowd solidly behind him, and mixes the chemistry between the two to whip up an excellent show of Attitude Era-esque fun. The 2018 Rumble has a lot of great stuff, but some stinky parts, too. The Class of 2002 vs. Balor/Shinsuke/Roman was cool, but I think they went to the well a time too often when they reframed it as indy geeks vs. WWE golden geese only 2 eliminations later. Plus, I can't put aside my bias of my favorites - Bray Wyatt and the New Day - getting ensnared in the awfulness of Matt Hardy and Jinder Mahal. Rock and Y2J, comfortably.

    Prime Time: This wasnít my favourite spell of Jerichoís career but I have very little good to say about this yearís menís Rumble, so Jericho and Rock can easily progress here as far as Iím concerned.

    The Doc: The Rock vs. Chris Jericho at the '02 Rumble was the match that essentially earned the Rock-Y2J rivalry a spot in the Top 100 that shaped my new book, but after giving it a lot of thought, the 2018 men's Rumble should go down as one of the Top 5 editions in gimmick lore and, as mentioned earlier in the process, I go with the Rumble Match when push comes to shove. The seeding was so important here, because I don't believe that there's much question that Rock vs. Jericho is one of the 16 greatest efforts in Royal Rumble lore, but to face what might end up being a 3-seed or higher a half decade down the road puts the '02 classic at a distinct disadvantage. Chemistry is so important to the pro wrestling performance and, though Rock vs. Y2J is in-ring chemistry exemplified, the '18 Rumble tells such an emotionally engaging story that goes beyond visuals. Whenever emotions are involved - whenever a match resonates on a deeper psychological level - it's hard for that match not to get the nod in a tournament so long as the quality of the action is not significantly lesser; the quality on display in the 2018 Rumble is fantastic, frankly, so combine that with the higher-powered resonance and I honestly feel like we could be looking at this tournament's Cinderella story.

    Oliver: Jericho and Rock have always struck me as being an underrated in ring pairing, and I think they deliver here far more than the 2018 Rumble does, even though I think the latter is pretty strong. Sticking with the 2002 title bout.

    (2) Chris Jericho vs. The Rock ('02) wins 4-3

    You know how sometimes WWE pulls a swerve by not pulling a swerve? A match ripe for hijinks goes about its way cleanly, and that stuns the audience? That's what I feel we have here with nary an upset! The 2009 Royal Rumble is the only match left that has a seed higher than 5, and I've been told by a few people how under-seeded it is! Nothing wrong with the fact that we don't really have any Cinderellas left this tournament - just means we have monsters battling it out in the Sweet 16 and beyond.

    5 Royal Rumble matches and 11 non-Rumble matches comprise the Sweet 16. 2001 and 2007 are the only years that still boast multiple matches surviving - and with their respective Royal Rumbles going head-to-head in one of my most anticipated Round 3 match-ups, that will definitively change! Speaking of the '01 Rumble, only it and HHH/Foley went through the first two rounds at a perfect 14-0. Can anything make a dent in those next round?

    More Madness, still to come!

  2. #2
    Senior Member
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    May 2018
    I've said this before but it bears repeating. You have my utmost respect for organizing this thing, Skul. It's essentially what I go through when coding collabs.

    Loved Dug's rant on the chants and Lita's sloppiness. Couldn't agree more on her gravity-deflating moonsault in the Women's Rumble. It was like she attempted the world's worst reverse Swanton Bomb on a dare. Most of the New Gen matches have been eliminated thanks to an assist from Maz so I've actually seen the bulk of the remaining bouts. A bit surprised that the 2001 Rumble hasn't had a strike against it yet but I still expect Trips/Cactus to last longer. Wyatt and Bryan could go on quite the Cinderella run if they weren't in the same bracket. Also, Rock/Punk didn't grab me the night of (or on the rewatch) and thus I look forward to the '92 Rumble kicking the shit out of it in the next round.

  3. #3
    Forgotten Ponder Super Hoody's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Alright, back again so I'll type my choices and maybe why as I read through this *cracks knuckles and grabs a cuppa*

    Bracket A

    Benoit/Angle - I'll pick this till the cows come home to be honest.
    Rock/Mankind - Don't think this will get much further due to the brutality.
    Rumble '01 - The Kane run. Nuff said.
    Rumble '07 - Memorable for the Taker/HBK "match" & for Taker winning at 30 (first time ever).

    Bracket B

    Lesnar/Cena/Rollins - This was tough because once you've seen one Lesnar performance, you've seen them all now.
    Rumble '03 - Agree with Mizfan, underrated Rumble.
    Cena/Umanga - Fuck Roman Reigns.
    Jericho/Benoit - This was tough as I love the '05 Rumble but the two Chris lads had the greatest ladder match ever.

    Bracket C

    HHH/Jack - Bit of a no brainer.
    Wyatt/Bryan - Another slaughtering.
    Diesel/Hart - The Women's Rumble was fun but that's about it.
    Rumble '09 - I nearly went for Styles/Cena due to the fuck up that was Orton's failure at Mania.

    Bracket D

    Rock/Punk - I hate it though, but it's significant so I'll let it slide for now.
    Rumble '04 - I really am biased when it comes to Benoit. Then again, that's how you do an ironman effort.
    Jericho/Rock - I was a supporter of the Jericho Undisputed run, even if he was treated like shit.

    Phew, glad I didn't have to do two comments this time round lol. Love the work lads.

  4. #4
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Bitterly disappointed at Oliver knocking the women's Rumble just because it was a miracle that Nash didn't lay a complete stinkbomb like he usually did. People complain about interference in Taker/HBK but give this match a pass??

    Also sad that Rock/Punk continues on. Curious what this emotional subtext of the Rock is meant to be, that his daddy Vince came in to save his butt after the Shield helped Punk for reasons that will never be explained?

    The 2002 Rumble is a real test of taste – that is, if you like it, you don’t really have any!
    My favorite line, for sure! So glad the '04 Rumble continued, at least.

    Super fun Skul, looking forward to next round!

  5. #5
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2018
    It's not just a rigid black and white matter of if there's interference - it's about context, and tone. Both make the interference in the 95 bout work tremendously well. Both help the 98 Casket make considerably less sense.

    In other news, that Rockers tag seriously needs to just fuck right off already.

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Quote Originally Posted by Skulduggery View Post
    one of my least favorite chants – “You still got it”
    Totally agree. It's occasionally deserved, but I remember watching an episode of Impact several years ago when Jim Neidhart turned up looking very overweight. He punched someone once and got that very chant. That was the moment I started hating it.

    FACT or FICTION: Ladies and Gentlemen, Elias.
    PM me to get involved.

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Quite amusing to me that a coin toss prevented a clean sheet for Bryan/Wyatt....

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  8. #8

  9. #9
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    I.... I think you must have misread.

    Easily done, mind.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  10. #10

  11. #11
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Quote Originally Posted by Samuel 'Plan View Post
    It's not just a rigid black and white matter of if there's interference - it's about context, and tone. Both make the interference in the 95 bout work tremendously well. Both help the 98 Casket make considerably less sense.
    At least the Casket match is a type of match that allows for people to interfere, and I'm not following which bits didn't make sense for that matter. Very hard for me to swallow the referee looking at blatant interference right in the face and arbitrarily allowing the match to roll on! It's much worse for me if a match fails to follow its own rules.

  12. #12
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    May 2018
    There is a thing that looks a bit weird in hindsight about older wrestling which was the idea that referees would give more leeway in big matches because they didn't want to see them end in a shit finish unless they really had to - and while that can now make the whole thing look like bullshit and you probably can't 'un-see' it if you've come to wrestling in an era where bullshit happens not just on a weekly basis but often several times in the same fifteen-minute segment, but it is worth pointing out that the idea was something that was just widely accepted. So yeah, I can remember sort of going with it, and I think this is one of those examples that proves you can get away with far more silliness if you only ask people to swallow it every so often.

    For the record, there's no real principle like the interference thing behind my voting for that match and not for the HBK/Undertaker match. I don't think Bret and Diesel ever had a bad match together to be honest (though I do agree with you that the Survivor Series match is better), while the casket match would be completely forgettable if not for the injury and the post-match shenanigans. I just don't think it's particularly good, and had the misfortune of coming up against a great Rumble, while I think the Diesel/Bret match is better, and comes up against decent but not stellar competition. Simple as that, really!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  13. #13
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I actually do fully buy into the extra lee-way for big matches theory, but the intereference in '95 is just so blatant, even after the first outside attack I don't see how any referee could justify the match as having any integrity under it's original rules. Just the way it struck me!

  14. #14
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2018
    Skittish - Thanks man! Lots of work for sure, but way more fun. Yeah, if you had told me before we started that the '92 Rumble got a vote against before the '01 Rumble, I would've...been mildly surprised, I guess! Thanks for checking it out, man.

    Hoody - Benoit/Jericho best ladder match ever, hey? Interesting take, probably not that unpopular, but it doesn't even crack my top 5. Great match, no doubt, though! Loving your feedback on each match-up, keep it coming!

    miz - With regards to Prime's line on the '02 Rumble, bah! Haha. It's such a good Rumble. I can see what he means by "junk food match", but honestly, if there's one match genre I want to be junk food, it's probably the Rumble. I have so much fun with 2002.

    'Plan - Rockers/Orient is such a hoot! Still can't believe you don't like it.

    Dyno - I hate most chants, but that one has to be at the top of the list. Or at least near the top.

    PT - Ha, better that than it deciding an otherwise 3-3 tie, I guess!

    Also, re: the general feeling of interference and especially it being given some lee-way in big matches, I think that's a good point because it can kind of mirror real life sports. Penalties are called way more infrequently in the NHL playoffs when compared to regular season, because refs want to "let them play". Personally, it irritates me way more in the NHL than in WWE, because it's legit and some teams can get shit on by the refs when they swallow their whistles. WWE often can tell a story with it. I honestly just take it on a match-by-match basis and see how I like how it's presented. But sometimes it bugs me there too. And it did a little bit in Nash/Bret. Not as much as mizfan, of course! I still like that match a lot.

    Thanks for all of the feedback, everyone!

  15. #15
    The Brain
    Join Date
    May 2018
    I should make it clear I still think Nash/Bret is a good match. I just think it's reached the end of it's relevance at this level of competition!

  16. #16
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
    I feel like Benoit/Angle will be going a long way as it is an extremely well received match. The only thing that could set it back are people's feelings toward Benoit.

    I don't think Rock/Mankind makes it past the Sweet 16 due to the uncomfortable chair shots that Foley takes. Perhaps if Benoit didn't happen it would have still held a special place in most fans hearts.

    I'm saddened by Ambrose/Owens getting eliminated as a I really love that match. It kick-started the renaissance of the I.C Title. If not for the final 2 of 07 perhaps KO/Dean would have won.

    Cena/Umaga holds a special place in my heart and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that it can go much deeper into this tournament. I'd go as far as saying that this is my dark horse for winner of this entire thing.

    Bray/Bryan was an absolute midcard classic without a shadow of a doubt so no surprise that the match goes through.

    I don't have too many memories of Punk/Rocky so I'd have to rewatch it. The only thing I remember was the aftermath where the entire IWC shat on the result.

    Always enjoyable. It's just so damn long it took me 3 viewings to finish the entire column! Still alot of fun though. Thanks Skull.

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