WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Most Underrated Individual Performances in Battle Royal
Throughout the long and illustrious history of World Wrestling Entertainment's Royal Rumble match, some of the greatest Superstars in professional wrestling have delivered match-stealing performances that have become the stuff of legend.
Ric Flair's performance in 1992, outlasting some of the biggest stars the industry has ever seen to become WWE champion and Bob Backlund's hour-long run in 1993 are two examples of extremely fit Superstars running the equivalent of a marathon with one goal in mind: leaving with their arms raised in victory. Flair was able to achieve that goal while Backlund fell just short.
Diesel's dominant run in 1994 and Kane's unprecedented, history-making performance in 2001 were two cases where a single Superstar tore through the competition, piling up eliminations and creating a buzz about their roles in the matches the next morning.
Those are four examples of Superstars whose performances are talked about to this day.
But what about the competitors whose performances have gone overlooked or have been underrated over the last 26 years?
In anticipation for this year's Royal Rumble match and what are hopefully more enduring performances from some of the most talented and popular Superstars in professional wrestling, here is a look back at the most underrated performances in Rumble history.
Rick Martel (1991)
Throughout his career in World Wrestling Entertainment, Rick Martel was a wrestler's wrestler.
He may never have gotten the big push to the top of the card nor was he the most marketable or complete performer that others on the roster at the time were, but Martel could be trusted by management to go to the ring and have a solid wrestling match against any opponent.
An above-average, fundamentally sound wrestler, it was no surprise that he would excel in the role of "marathon man" in the 1991 Royal Rumble.
In the middle of a lava-hot feud with Jake "The Snake" Roberts that saw him blind the popular star with his Arrogance perfume, Martel was as over as he was in his career with the Vince McMahon-owned company. His interactions with Roberts only added to the story, which would culminate in the Blindfold match at WrestleMania VII.
Martel would last a then-record 52-plus minutes in the Rumble match and eliminate four Superstars (Saba Simba, Roberts, Road Warrior Hawk and Jim Neidhart) before being eliminated by "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith.
It was arguably the finest performance of the former AWA champion's World Wrestling Entertainment career.
A lot is made of Bob Backlund, Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit's hour-long runs in the match, but Martel was the first Superstar to really near an hour in Rumble history.
Even more impressively is the fact that he did it at a time when wrestlers were conditioned to go a few minutes for television job matches and rarely, if ever, saw more than 20 minutes on house shows.
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin (1997)
Lost in the shuffle of his 1998 and 2001 wins is Steve Austin's 1997 win.
In that win, which came in controversial fashion, Austin entered the ring fifth and eliminated 10 Superstars during his 45 minutes of action.
The aforementioned controversy came when Austin was tossed over the top rope and to the arena floor by rival Bret Hart, only to re-enter the squared circle behind the backs of the officials surrounding the ring and dump Hart to win the match.
It was the last time that Austin was really portrayed as a sneaky, desperate heel until 2001.
One of the iconic images of Austin's performance in 1997 is that of the Texas Rattlesnake sitting on the top turnbuckle, glancing at an imaginary watch and waiting for his next opponent to hit the ring. It perfectly encapsulates Austin's dominant performance in the early portion of the bout while highlighting the cocky, confident badass he was at that point in his career.
Austin would go on to become the first Superstar since Big John Studd in 1989 to win a Rumble and not compete in the Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania.
Mick Foley (1998)
The 1998 Royal Rumble match may be best remembered for Steve Austin's second win and The Rock's lengthy stint in the bout, but Mick Foley's work as three different characters during the match makes his performance in that year's match not only one of the most underrated in Rumble history but one of the most memorable as well.
Foley kicked off the match by drawing No. 1 and brawling around the ring with friend and mentor Terry Funk, who was wrestling as Chainsaw Charlie, under the Cactus Jack moniker. After nine minutes of action, Jack was eliminated by his tag team partner.
The Hardcore Legend would return at No. 16 as Mankind. His stay in the match was much shorter this time, as he lasted just over two minutes before being dumped by the bizarre Artist Formerly Known as Goldust.
It was as 1970's reject Dude Love that Foley enjoyed his greatest success in the match.
Love entered the match at No. 28 and would last nearly eight minutes. He was one of the final four competitors in the match, capping off Foley's busy night.
It is not often that the 2013 Hall of Famer is confused with being a workhorse, but at a time when the roster lacked legitimate stars and on a night when Undertaker and Shawn Michaels' involvement in the main event further limited the available Superstars for the Rumble match itself, Foley stepped up to the plate, did triple duty and continued to prove his worth to the company.
By the end of 1998, he would be involved in a major rivalry with The Rock and was eyeing his first WWE Championship.
In January of 2000, Rikishi had just recently returned to World Wrestling Entertainment. His first few matches featured him as an agile super-heavyweight but little more.
Then he became aligned with Too Cool (Scotty Too Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay) and began incorporating dancing into his act. Soon, he became the fun-loving big man who took care of business between bells and celebrated by busting a move afterward.
He entered the 2000 Royal Rumble match at No. 5 and went on a dominant streak that was reminiscent of Diesel's run six years earlier. Gone immediately were Christian, Mosh and D'Lo Brown, leaving the massive Samoan and his dance partner Grandmaster Sexay.
Next out was Scott Too Hotty, and for the first time in Rumble history, the match stopped and a dance session ensued. The fans jam-packed into Madison Square Garden popped as the trio entertained.
Then, without warning, Rikishi tossed his friends over the top rope and to the arena floor.
Steve Blackman and Viscera would follow shortly thereafter before Rikishi's reign of dominance came to an end at the hands of a collection of Superstars, including Big Boss Man, Bob Backlund, Test, Edge and Gangrel.
He was unsuccessful in his attempt to win the Rumble and really put an exclamation on his comeback, but Rikishi did provide fans with one of the most dominant and, more importantly, entertaining underrated performances in Rumble history.
CM Punk (2010)
CM Punk introduced his Straight Edge Savior gimmick to the 2010 Royal Rumble match and nearly stole the whole bout right out from underneath some of the biggest stars in wrestling history.
Punk drew No. 3 and wasted little time clearing the ring and spreading the word of the Straight Edge Society.
He eliminated Dolph Ziggler and Evan Bourne, then took to the microphone to preach to the masses. He tried to convince every one of his competitors to join the Straight Edge movement but ultimately ended up eliminating them one-by-one before waiting for the next potential convert to arrive.
Eventually, the entrances of the Great Khali and Beth Phoenix slowed his momentum. Beth seduced Khali out of the ring, then actually managed to get a few good shots in on Punk before getting caught and put to sleep by Punk, who tossed her over the top rope seconds later.
The future Best in the World's streak of five eliminations and 10 minutes of ring time came to an end as "The Game" played over the PA system and Triple H made his way to the ring.
Punk was eliminated shortly thereafter, exiting the match before the likes of John Cena, Batista, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and Edge could enter, robbing fans of interactions between he and some of the biggest stars of the last 10 years.
Santino Marella (2011)
The majority of Santino Marella's 12-plus minutes in the 2011 Royal Rumble were spent lying outside the ring, but by night's end, he made one of the biggest impacts of the entire show and delivered one of the most underrated and undervalued performances in Rumble history, even if it only lasted for a brief moment.
Seconds after it appeared as though Alberto Del Rio had eliminated Randy Orton and won the Rumble, Marella rose from the floor and re-entered the ring. The fans in Boston's TD Garden erupted as they realized that the master of the Cobra had never been officially eliminated from the match.
He set up his finisher and delivered it to Del Rio, popping the crowd. He strutted around the ring, the arena completely believing that the comedy act midcard Superstar had a chance at winning a shot at either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship.
As everyone knows by now, Del Rio recovered and dumped Marella for the win.
But his win was almost secondary to the segment of the match that preceded it. It is a testament to Marella's performance, which actually showed great passion and energy, as well as the booking of the match that fans reacted so strongly to a situation, despite knowing there was not a chance in hell that the goofy babyface would win the match.
Santino would go on to deliver another outstanding performance the following year at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, having fans believing that he could knock off Daniel Bryan and win the World Heavyweight Championship.