Traditionally, the Royal Rumble has been sold as an event that could help any WWE Superstar’s career. The winner gets his choice of champion to face at WrestleMania. This means a main-event spot on the biggest show of the year.
Yet the reality has been different for some years now.
The last Royal Rumble winner to get the final match on the card—therefore the actual main event—was Randy Orton back in 2009. He lost that match, leading to the statistic that four out of the last five Rumble winners have failed to capitalize on their victory.
It is easy to see why some fans see the Royal Rumble reputation as misleading.
However, there are many ways that the Rumble can help lift a wrestler’s career. Beneficiaries can range from those athletes who are trying to break into title contention to newcomers just trying to make a name for themselves.
As a concept, the Rumble is really flexible, so it can cater for anyone the WWE’s creative team wish to push.
Here are seven ways the Royal Rumble can be used to help a wrestler’s career.
Clearly the most obvious way someone can be helped is by winning the Royal Rumble itself.
If the winner is given his due respect by the WWE, then he will be a high-profile character right through the Road to WrestleMania. This gives that performer plenty of time to showcase his talent to the world, culminating in a shot at the title. There are few greater opportunities, if the character’s progression is given due diligence from the creative team.
However, this opportunity is really limited to a small proportion of the roster. WWE’s creative team have to feel comfortable that the particular performer is technically skilled enough to be showcased on the biggest show of the year.
Preferably, that Superstar also needs to be over with the crowd—as either a face or heel—so he will garner a big reaction upon winning. No one wants the muted response that Alberto Del Rio received after his victory in 2011.
Winning the Rumble gives that particular talent a great chance at becoming a star. However, the wrestler in question must have already impressed to be be given such a golden opportunity.
Simply showing that a wrestler can survive for a long time in the Rumble matchup could form a career launching point for someone who hasn't made his name in the industry.
If nothing else, it shows that particular individual is tough. Yet it also has the potential to display that performer’s versatility, smarts or cunning as well. These character traits flesh out a wrestler into a more rounded individual that fans can start to embrace.
An added bonus of being seen as tough should be avoiding squash matches. Many lower-card wrestlers suffer badly from underexposure on television, and when they are seen, it is in short matches where they are made to look weak.
Any youngster in this position who has proved himself in the rumble will get more time to show what he can do on television. This is his chance to prove to the world that he possesses something special.
Of course, this idea has been taken to extremes on several occasions, where the No. 1 or No. 2 pick for the Rumble has gone on to win it. No doubt is left in fans’ minds that the wrestler who does this is going to be a big star. The only problem is that this tale has been told several times, so it should not be repeated for some time.
Some may consider this a small and unimportant way that someone can be helped by the Rumble, but careers have to start somewhere.
This is as good a way to get a break as any in the highly competitive world of WWE.
One unusual way a wrestler can get a boost in their career is by being the final person eliminated from the Rumble match.
Getting so close to a chance at the title but then being so far away appears to give that wrestler momentum. Often—such as with Triple H and John Cena in recent years—it will mean going to the main event of WrestleMania anyway.
Lower-level competitors can also benefit from being the last to go. Santino Marella was in that position in 2011, giving him the momentum that saw his comedy gimmick become a big part of Raw for over a year.
Dolph Ziggler looks destined for this spot this year. He has been the “nearly man” for over a year, and being the athlete who is the last removed from the Rumble would solidify that notion. Whether this role will have the same positive effect for Ziggler is unclear. Too much time spent as the “nearly man” can be detrimental to a career.
Regardless, the final person eliminated from the Royal Rumble can often find himself on a positive career trajectory.
A great way for a Superstar to show his dominance is to go on an elimination spree during the Royal Rumble match.
Throwing opponents out of the ring looks impressive. Such a basic idea may seem overly simplified, but it really does impress the majority of the crowd. When one person is capable of repeatedly showing such strength, then fans sit up and take notice.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin brutalized opponents in his Rumble victories, and this reinforced the idea that he was a naturally devastating presence. Kane has never won the Rumble, but his exploits have made him both synonymous with the match. If anything, he is now known as the one man who can eliminate anyone.
Whenever a wrestler eliminates a lot of people, it is an indicator that the athlete is likely to be pushed as the year continues.
This year will see more power-based wrestlers in the mix than in recent times. There could be up to 10 competitors who weigh in excess of 275 pounds.
The ring will be filled with giants.
So it is the perfect opportunity for just one man to stand tall and become king of the big men. This could come in the form of Big E Langston or Brodus Clay, both of whom need to prove that they can use their size. Or an established figure such as Kane or Big Show could remind everyone that they are still the best big men around.
A really tantalizing option would be to include Brock Lesnar in the Rumble match and have him dominate. This would reaffirm his position as one of the scariest men in wrestling.
In any given year, the Superstar who appears most dominant is likely to help elevate his position with WWE.
Sometimes a show-stealing moment is enough to kickstart a Superstar’s career.
The Royal Rumble has proven to be a great opportunity to show off abilities that would be rarely useful in a wrestling ring but are still highly memorable.
John Morrison managed to stop himself being eliminated by clinging to the guardrail and then wall-walking himself back into the ring. A year later, Kofi Kingston was thought to be out, only to walk on his hands for a considerable length of time before being able to make his way into the ring again.
Both men’s spots were repeated for the next few weeks on WWE television. This resulted in them gaining many fans, which has led to them both being considered underutilized.
Shawn Michaels took his highlight-reel moment a step further in 1995 when he skinned the cat to avoid touching the floor. He was then able to use this move to blindside The British Bulldog and become the winner of that year’s event.
Moments like that defined Michaels’ career.
Stealing the show with a highlight does not guarantee success. However, the result of such actions is usually increased fan support, and that is always helpful to a career.
A classic trick utilized well in the early 2000s, the elimination of a top contender can spark off a rivalry between anyone in the WWE.
This opens up a multitude of options that is almost inexhaustible.
Two top contenders can eliminate each other, starting a feud that progresses to a big match at WrestleMania. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels started this way, and that led to one of the greatest matches of the 21st century.
The chaotic nature of the Rumble match also means that an up-and-comer can claim a shocking scalp. Maven taking out Undertaker in the 2002 Royal Rumble will always go down as one of the biggest upsets that the event has ever produced.
A repeat of such an occurrence could well lead to a lesser-known individual getting a big boost to their career.
The 2013 Rumble is particularly primed for tag team partners to eliminate each other, starting a feud between two former cohorts. Team Hell No, Team Rhodes Scholars and even Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara could all come into conflict if such an occasion arose. All these teams are comprised of top stars who could vie for a major championship on their own.
A high-profile elimination of a possible championship contender is a great way to start a feud. It is able to start someone’s rise in the company or can confirm two men’s positions as legends of the sport.
This is an incredibly versatile way of using the Rumble that could help almost anyone.
Sometimes a disastrous result can kickstart a career. Being eliminated in an ignominious fashion from the Royal Rumble is certainly one way to do this.
On the whole, this is only really a tactic that is useful for lower-tier competitors or wrestlers who have lost their way in recent years. Yet the idea that one truly embarrassing moment can rekindle an individual’s passion is a strong starting point for a character overhaul.
These rejuvenations have been very successful in the past, as Mark Henry proved—after returning from injury—in 2011.
Zack Ryder may well be a leading candidate for this tactic. “The Long Island Ice-Z” has closed up his YouTube show, and his character looks completely aimless at this point. Being eliminated from the Rumble without ever getting going—or by a non-wrestling personality—could be the chance for Zack Ryder to completely change tact.
Choosing such a route can be risky for a wrestler as well, though.
Both Ted DiBiase and Jack Swagger have gone on long losing runs that have jeopardized their promising careers. Having a bad elimination at the Rumble could send a character into that downward spiral as easily as elevating them back up the roster.
Still, coming back strong from a bad elimination is definitely an option for a wrestler needing to revitalize his career.