By: Ryan Thompson (Commissioner of the Wrestling League)
The Royal Rumble is my favorite WWE pay per view of the year. Full Stop.
That could’ve been the end of the article, but I’ll explain. My earliest experience with professional wrestling was a live event in mid-1995, my dad took me on a whim and from there I was hooked. I started to watch Monday Night Raw every single week. When January 1996 rolled around, they started talking about the upcoming Royal Rumble, an annual event involving a 30 man over the top rope battle royal. The idea of it grabbed me, and I asked my dad if we could order it. There was no WWE Network at the time, it cost upwards of $50 to order from your cable company, so it wasn’t an easy thing to ask for. My dad, not being someone that would dash his son’s dreams, called the number so we could watch together. Looking back, that year’s edition was by no means the best. Ahmed Johnson defeated Jeff Jarrett by disqualification, Brett Hart retained his WWF Championship against the Undertaker by, you guessed it, disqualification. The saving grace being Shawn Michaels winning the Rumble and setting up the Boyhood Dream at Wrestlemania 12.
I took a long break from wrestling around 2001. I’m really not sure what it was, it might have been because I didn’t really have any other friends that watched, or maybe because I was in middle school and had more pressing things to worry about, like playing guitar and skateboarding. I didn’t watch Raw or Smackdown or any of the other shows. Every now and then, I would go online and watch clips of matches I liked when I was a kid, like The Undertaker vs The Undertaker from Summerslam 1994, or The Undertaker vs Mankind at King Of The Ring 1998 (ok, I would just watch Undertaker matches)
Right around the tail end of 2015, I found out about the WWE Network, where for just $9.99 I could rewatch all the Undertaker matches I wanted in higher quality than the YouTube rips I had grown accustomed to. As I watched more of the old stuff, I thought maybe I should see what’s happening in the business now. Then I remember, it was almost time for the Royal Rumble. I was suddenly filled with the same excitement that I had in 1996. Watching the 2016 Rumble felt no different than watching my first one, except this time I didn’t have to ask my dad to pay for it.
The matches themselves were more entertaining than in 1996, even if I was unfamiliar with the characters. The Dean Ambrose versus Kevin Owens Last Man Standing Match still sticks out; even though I didn’t know who they were (I remember at the time describing Owens at the time as looking “like someone who loves Breaking Benjamin”), I was able to see the story they were telling, that this had been a long feud, and they were willing to do whatever it takes to win the Intercontinental Championship. And the Rumble match itself was exciting since it was for the WWE Championship, Roman Reigns had to face 29 other people or else he would lose his title, which he eventually did to Triple H.
With Sunday fast approaching, I keep thinking about the Royal Rumble. The excitement of who is coming through the curtain when the countdown ends, the unlikely alliances that form, and the Road To Wrestlemania officially kicking off.