Over the course of the Royal Rumble’s long and illustrious history, there have been a number of WWE or World Heavyweight Championship bouts that have stolen the show away from the event’s namesake match.
At the 1995 Rumble event, Bret Hart challenged “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel for the World Wrestling Federation Championship in a match that solidified Hart as the business’ greatest performer and proved Diesel could rise to the occasion when matched up with talented in-ring workers. Even a messy ending, leading to a draw, could not hurt what had until that point been the best title match in Royal Rumble lore.
The 2000 show featured a tremendous Street Fight that saw Triple H retain his World Wrestling Federation Championship by defeating Cactus Jack following a Pedigree onto a pile of thumbtacks. The match silenced any doubt there may have been about “The Game” and his place as the top heel in the industry. It would remain the unquestioned greatest non-Rumble match in the history of the show for three years before it received stiff competition from two of the all-time great in-ring competitors.
At Royal Rumble 2003, Kurt Angle defended the WWE Championship against Chris Benoit in a match that was voted “Match of the Year” by the majority of wrestling websites and publications. Trading chain wrestling and submission holds, the two very talented workers kept the Boston crowd so absolutely engrossed with their every move that by the time Angle forced Benoit to tap out to the ankle lock, they could not help but give a standing ovation to both competitors.
John Cena entered the 2007 show as the WWE Champion and delivered one of the greatest performances of his career against the late Umaga. A Last Man Standing match, Cena was beaten, battered, bruised and bloodied as he wrapped the ring ropes around his opponent’s neck and choked him unconscious. It was a defining performance from the sport’s most controversial stars.
In the years since, CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker and Edge have been involved in tremendous title bouts. Sunday night, at the 2013 Royal Rumble, The Rock and CM Punk added to the legacy of tremendous non-Rumble matches.
Each man put in performances worthy of a major pay-per-view main event. The match itself was a hybrid of a traditional wrestling match and an Attitude Era brawl, with the competitors fighting to the outside and onto the Spanish announce table. Unfortunately, the table did not cooperate and both men crashed to it before they had planned.
That one mishap could not take away from the fact that each man performed up to each other’s level and a quality championship match was to be had.
So where does it rank among the greatest matches in the history of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view?
As good as it was, it did fail to meet lofty expectations. While the match had the potential to reach Triple H-Cactus Jack or Benoit-Angle levels, it settled comfortably into Edge-Ziggler or Undertaker-Mysterio territory in that it was a high-quality match, but it lacked that one ingredient to make it all-time great.
Perhaps if The Rock had not had the ring rust to shake off early in the match, it would have achieved the greatness it was capable of. Maybe if the false finish had not existed and Rock would have simply defeated Punk for the gold, it would have left a better impression.
But it did not. And as a result, the match will be remembered as an entertaining one that did not quite reach the level expected of it but still made for a quality main event bout on one of wrestling’s most prestigious events.