Every January, fans eagerly anticipate the arrival of WWE’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Much of that excitement usually centers around the event’s eponymous match — a 30-person over-the-top-rope battle royal — as the potential for huge returns and big surprises along with the curiosity of seeing who gets a world title shot at WrestleMania make for an intriguing mix for fans.
As such, WWE tends to hold off on booking huge matches on the rest of the show since it understands that the Rumble matches are the primary draws of the show. However, that doesn’t mean these Rumble shows haven’t had some non-Rumble bangers.
In fact, let’s take a look at three such matches.
These are three non-Rumble Royal Rumble matches that are worth checking out (or re-watching).
John Cena (c) vs. Umaga- WWE Championship (Last Man Standing) (2007)
This was a rematch from New Year’s Revolution 2007 (embedded above), which ended with John Cena executing a schoolboy rollup to retain the WWE Championship and end Umaga’s nine-month unpinned streak. The Last Man Standing stipulation came about due to Armando Estrada not wanting Cena to get another “fluke” win over his charge.
The combination of the match conditions and Cena’s storyline abdominal injury — caused by Umaga splashing Cena through a table — created a situation where fans believed that his title reign was in serious jeopardy.
That story continued throughout the match’s 23-minute runtime, and between Cena’s amazing work fighting from underneath, Umaga’s timely cutoffs, and a finish that positioned Cena as a valiant, resourceful warrior while maintaining “The Samoan Bulldozer’s” monster aura — Cena applied the STFU (now known as simply the STF) while using the loosened ropes to choke Umaga to the point where the challenger couldn’t answer the 10-count — the two put together an outstanding match.
Now, the match still suffered from the “wrestler hits a move and then stands around for an extended period of time” that often plagues WWE Last Man Standing matches, but that didn’t dull the interest for the San Antonio crowd; in fact, Cena’s kayfabe injury made the referee’s counts more dramatic than they would’ve otherwise been.
Triple H (c) vs. Cactus Jack- WWF Championship (Street Fight) (2000)
Triple H’s lengthy tenure as a main eventer in WWE can be largely attributed to his two matches with Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) in early 2000. The Street Fight the two participated in at the 2000 Royal Rumble was the tamer of those two matches (and a bit tamer than I remember), but it still delivered on the level of carnage that fans expected at the time.
This being a match from 2000, there are elements that haven’t aged well — particularly the two unprotected chair shots to the head — but the match never reached a point where it got too gruesome. It wasn’t just mindless violence, either, as the two mixed in a number of clever spots (like Helmsley being ready for the second Cactus Knee, hip tossing Jack into steps and ramming Jack’s knee into the same steps, and a handcuffed Jack headbutting Helmsley in the groin) and the nearfalls in this one were very dramatic throughout.
Even the finish — Triple H Pedigreeing Jack on the into thumbtacks after Jack survived the first one — effectively put Jack over as this horror movie monster (as the babyface) that kept coming until “The Game” took drastic measures to finally put him away for good. Yeah, there’s a reason why many regard this as a classic.
Edge (c) vs. Rey Mysterio- World Heavyweight Championship (2008)
For as good of a match as this was (though not an all-timer), there isn’t much to say about this one. It was simply a smooth 12-and-a-half-minute match between Rey Mysterio and Edge: Two guys who had great in-ring chemistry with one another (though their encounters as part of respective Elimination Chamber matches in 2009 and 2011 speak to this better).
Looking back, this felt like watching a television main event match on a modern wrestling show, which speaks more to the dearth of options for quality wrestling today. Edge and Mysterio did some fun stuff early before the then-World Heavyweight Champion worked over Mysterio’s knee for the heat. Again, not groundbreaking stuff, but still good.
Given that this match took place in the midst of the La Familia stanza of Edge’s career, it was surprising to see so little outside interference in this match. Instead, WWE saved the nonsense for the finish, as Vickie Guerrero pulled the referee’s leg when it looked like Mysterio had the match won and took the bullet for her betrothed on another 619 attempt, which allowed Edge to hit a spear and retain.
There are better matches from the Rumble to look at, but that shouldn’t negate how fun this one is to watch, especially if you’re pressed for time.