This Sunday, at the 2013 Royal Rumble, The Rock will return to the annual January pay-per-view for the first time in 11 years. Also for the first time in that same stretch of time, he will compete for the WWE Championship when he challenges CM Punk in the main event of the show.
Prior appearances at the Royal Rumble have been, at best, a mixed bag for "the Great One." Mostly a featured performer at the show, he has seen great success but has also been on the losing end of a number of his battles.
Whether it was for the Intercontinental Championship, the WWE title, the Undisputed Championship or as an entrant into the Rumble match itself, The Rock has left a lasting impression on one of World Wrestling Entertainment's premiere presentations, competing the very best the industry had to offer at the time.
This Sunday, he has the opportunity to alter his history at the Royal Rumble, either for the better or the worse, depending on the outcome of his title bout. Regardless, there is no denying that The Rock is one of the great competitors the Royal Rumble pay-per-view has ever seen.
This is his Royal Rumble history revisited.
In his first Royal Rumble pay-per-view appearance, Rocky Maivia entered the 1997 Royal Rumble match. A young blue chipper who had been on quite the roll since his debut two months earlier at the Survivor Series, Maivia entered the match at No. 25. He lasted 13:01 before Mankind, a future rival and tag team championship-winning partner, eliminated him from the contest.
It was a disappointing first exposure to the Rumble match but it was clear from his placement in the match, mixing it up with the likes of the aforementioned Mankind, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Terry Funk and The Undertaker, that there were big plans in place for the third-generation competitor.
By the time the 1998 edition of the Royal Rumble hit the pay-per-view airwaves, Rocky Maivia had undergone a transformation. No longer was he the smiling, happy-go-lucky babyface that was just happy to be a part of the show. Instead, he was an egotistical competitor who was good and wanted to make sure everyone else knew just how good he was.
He was loud, brash and cocky. He was The Rock. And before he could think about stepping foot in the Royal Rumble match, he would have to defend his Intercontinental Championship against Ken Shamrock. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” would dominate the majority of the match but, ultimately, would lose his cool and be disqualified, costing himself the chance to take the title from Rock.
Later in the evening, The Rock would enter the 1998 Royal Rumble match at No. 4, a clear disadvantage for someone who had already competed earlier in the broadcast and would now have to outlast 29 opponents if he wanted to headline WrestleMania XIV. The Intercontinental Champion proved to be up to the task, however, lasting just over fifty-one minutes. One of the last two men remaining in the bout, he fell victim to a Stone Cold Stunner from Steve Austin before being dumped, coming just shy of winning his first Royal Rumble match.
By the time next January rolled around, The Rock would have graduated from the Intercontinental Championship to the company’s top prize, the next logical step on his way to becoming one of professional wrestling’s all-time greats.
The Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California was the setting for a match that has become iconic, thanks to the behind the scenes footage included in the acclaimed documentary Beyond the Mat. Mankind was the WWE Champion having defeated The Rock for the title on the January 4 edition of Raw.
The former champion was desperate to reclaim his title, so desperate in fact that he gave in to Mankind’s demands of an “I Quit” match for the title at the Royal Rumble. There would be no rules, no outside interference from the Corporation and no other way to win than by making your utter those two humbling words.
The match was a brutal affair that saw Mankind beaten, battered, smashed and crashed around the arena before falling victim to, at least, a dozen steel chair shots directly to his unprotected head. The Rock would win the match in controversial fashion but his rivalry with Mankind would not conclude with this Attitude Era classic.
Later in the night’s event, the man event of WrestleMania XV would be hinted upon as The Rock made his way to ringside, distracted Stone Cold Steve Austin and allowed Mr. McMahon to win the 1999 Royal Rumble match.
When Stone Cold Steve Austin was sidelined following neck surgery in late-1999, the then-World Wrestling Federation was in desperate need of a Superstar to step up and fill his spot as the top babyface in the industry. Luckily for them, The Rock had made a successful babyface turn and had been electrifying audiences with his brand of humor and intensity. Easily the most popular star in the industry as the 2000 Royal Rumble approached, he was a shoe-in to win the annual battle royal.
Entering at No. 24 and lasting 14:47, The Rock tore through his competition, eliminating the Big Bossman, Crash Holly and Al Snow. The match would come down to him and his top rival at the time, The Big Show.
The giant competitor had just come off a WWE Championship reign and did not believe he was receiving the respect he deserved heading into the Rumble. Show allowed his determination to defeat The Rock get the best of him and, as he attempted to toss “The Great One”, his momentum was used against him. Rock grabbed the top rope and sent Big Show tumbling over.
It was The Rock’s first—and, as of 2013, only—Royal Rumble win. It would set up what many believed to be a WrestleMania showdown with Triple H over the WWE Championship. Questionable booking, however, would result in a Fatal Four Way match for the title, pushing back the anticipated singles bout until April’s Backlash.
When the 2001 Royal Rumble pay-per-view kicked off from New Orleans, Louisiana, the majority of wrestling fans understood that WrestleMania X-7 would be headlined by a WWE Championship clash between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. They were the two top stars of their generation and, despite having met on a number of occasions prior, the match was expected to do big business for the company.
The only question was which man would win the Royal Rumble match and which man would have to wait until February’s No Way Out to capture the WWE title.
The Royal Rumble match itself was one of the best in the history of the match. The monstrous Kane entered early in the match and lasted nearly an hour, collecting a record eleven eliminations and delivering one of the best individual performances in the history of the popular match.
The Rock lasted the second longest of the WWE Superstars, lasting 38:42 and eliminating three of his competitors. Drawing inspiration from the prior year’s Royal Rumble, The Big Show made his return and delivered a choke slam through an announce table to wrestling’s most electrifying performer, sidelining him for a portion of the match.
The fans enjoyed a brief exchange between Rock and Steve Austin but it would be Kane who would eliminate Rock from the Rumble match. It was a disappointing conclusion to an impressive performance by the third-generation Superstar.
Luckily for him, he would defeat Kurt Angle at the aforementioned No Way Out pay-per-view to become WWE Champion. At WrestleMania, he defended that title against Steve Austin in what is widely considered one of the greatest main events in the history of WrestleMania and the definitive end of the Attitude Era as fans had known it.
In what would be his final Royal Rumble appearance, The Rock would challenge Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho for the title. The match would become one of the truly under-appreciated matches of either man’s career.
Jericho was the textbook heel, taking control of the match and repeatedly cheating in an attempt to maintain it. The Rock was determined to capture the gold, overcoming or countering each of Jericho’s villainous attempts to escape with a victory.
As Christian and Lance Storm interfered on behalf of the champion and the numbers game was at The Rock’s disadvantage, it became clear that it simply was not his night.
Chris Jericho would retain the Undisputed Championship and head to WrestleMania to defend it against Royal Rumble match winner Triple H. It worked out well for The Rock, however, as he was not left without a dance partner for the biggest show the business has to offer.
At WrestleMania X8, he would clash with an icon of a generation past in the form of Hulk Hogan. One of the greatest examples of sports-entertainment at its finest, the match will live forever in the annals of professional wrestling history.
Sunday, at the Royal Rumble, The Rock could add to his Royal Rumble legacy by capturing yet another WWE Championship. He could also earn the label of "greatest runner-up in Royal Rumble history" should he manage not to pick up another victory at the event. Only time will tell which side of the argument The Rock ends up on. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that two of the all-time great champions in company history will stop at nothing to deliver a legendary match.
The US Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona is sold out so the only way to catch the WWE title match, as well as all of the action from this year's Royal Rumble, will be via pay-per-view broadcast.
As always, Bleacher Report will be your home for instant and post-show result and analysis for The Rock vs. CM Punk and the entire Royal Rumble card.
Until then, enjoy the first show on the road to WrestleMania 29.