WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Kane, Triple H and the Greatest Marathon Men

Erik BeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Kane, Triple H and the Greatest Marathon Men

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    There is a ton of glory in winning the Royal Rumble match.

    The winner has his arm raised in victory and stands inside the squared circle as a huge pyrotechnic display explodes and confetti rains from the ceiling. He will forever be able to claim that he outlasted 29 other Superstars and, if he is able, might even cap off his outstanding start to the new year with championship gold at WrestleMania.

    Less glorious but more respected, however, are the Superstars who have become known as "marathon men." They are the Superstars who enter early in the bout and last long periods of time, sometimes winning the bout and other times falling just short of their goal to headline WrestleMania.

    Many times, they are underappreciated for being the workhorses of the Rumble. In some cases, they are the glue that holds the entire match together.

    In celebration of those men, and with the 2014 Royal Rumble rapidly approaching, here is a look back at the greatest marathon men in Rumble match history.

Ted DiBiase

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    "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase was the first Superstar in Royal Rumble history to be considered a marathon man.

    DiBiase created controversy in 1989 when he bought the rights to the No. 30 spot from manager Slick. He nearly won that match but could not convince Big John Studd to accept a payoff and let him capture the victory.

    A year later, an edict handed down by fictional WWE president Jack Tunney barred DiBiase from selling his spot in the Rumble, ensuring that he would enter the match at the position determined by pre-match draw.

    Unfortunately for DiBiase, that meant that he would enter the 1990 match at No. 1 and be forced to outlast 29 other Superstars if he wanted to win the biggest battle royal of the year.

    The future Hall of Famer lasted nearly 45 minutes despite squaring off against the likes of former and future WWE and World Heavyweight champions Bret Hart, Randy Savage and Dusty Rhodes, not to mention all-time greats like Roddy Piper and Jake Roberts.

    His night would come to an end when the unstoppable Ultimate Warrior exploded into the ring and tore through the competition, eventually making DiBiase the 18th Superstar eliminated from the match.

    The 1990 Rumble was the first time WWE tried the marathon-man concept in the match and over the years, the Battle Royal has produced some of the best individual performances of the year.

Ric Flair

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    In September of 1991, Ric Flair made his debut in World Wrestling Entertainment and wasted little time becoming the most hated villain in the company.

    When he became embroiled in a war of words with Hulk Hogan over who the real world's champion was, it seemed as though the two iconic stars were well on their way to a showdown to settle the argument at WrestleMania VIII.

    Then, Flair cost Hogan his WWE title at the 1991 Survivor Series and, again, found himself involved in the rematch, as Hogan questionably regained the title from Undertaker a few weeks later.

    WWE president Jack Tunney officially vacated the title and announced that the 1992 Royal Rumble match would determine the new champion.

    With commentator and manager Bobby Heenan constantly hyping him up on commentary and in interviews, Flair immediately became a favorite to win the bout. That is, until he entered at No. 3 and Heenan had a very audible panic attack on commentary.

    The brilliance of Flair's performance was not solely in what he did in the ring, which saw him last 59:26 and eliminate five Superstars, it was also Heenan's work with Gorilla Monsoon, as he lived and breathed with every near elimination of the Nature Boy.

    Flair would win the match, and the title, by eliminating Sid Justice while the big man was distracted by Hulk Hogan.

    It would be the finest performance of Flair's WWE career (either stint) and one of the more iconic moments in Royal Rumble history.

Bob Backlund

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    A huge star for World Wrestling Entertainment during the late '70s and early '80s, Bob Backlund was WWE champion for five years and was the embodiment of the All-American boy.

    He was handsome, athletic and had high morals. He was everything a promoter could want in his champion.

    If it were 1978.

    As the wrestling boom neared in 1983, Vince McMahon made the decision to venture far from the realistic, athletic nature of professional wrestling that Bob Backlund championed, and he would do so with the bleach-blond, muscle-bound ball of charisma known as Hulk Hogan.

    Backlund lost the WWE title in 1983 to the Iron Sheik, who very quickly turned around and lost it to Hogan.

    It would be 10 years before Backlund would appear in WWE.

    Fast forward to the 1993 Royal Rumble, where Backlund entered the match at No. 2 and squared off with "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Backlund, who was new to most fans at the time, gained their respect and admiration as the 44-year-old competitor lasted 1:01:10, setting a Royal Rumble record that would last over a decade.

    Backlund was the third-to-last Superstar eliminated from the match but would go on to enjoy a career renaissance in the days, weeks, months and year that followed.

    In 1994, he underwent a character makeover, becoming a mentally unstable Superstar who captured his second WWE title from Bret Hart at the Survivor Series that November.

Stone Cold Steve Austin

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    There is a ton of attention paid to Steve Austin's wins in the 1998 and 2001 Royal Rumble matches, not to mention his loss in 1999, but the 1997 match seems to be the redheaded stepchild of the lot.

    The fact that the match was not very good may play a role in that, but Austin's performance in the contest was outstanding and easily one of the most underrated in his iconic career.

    He entered the bout in the No. 5 position and tore through the competition, eliminating eight Superstars and surviving for 45 minutes.

    In many ways, he was the glue that held together a very subpar Rumble match. His heel antics were phenomenal as he was part of many teased eliminations. The crowd in San Antonio, to its credit, did an excellent job of reacting to those teases.

    In one of the more iconic moments of the match, Austin sat on the top rope, staring at an imaginary watch and waiting for the next Superstar to come to the ring.

    His facial expressions were also superb, especially when Bret Hart's music played and the Hitman, whom he had been feuding with for the better part of six months, made his way to the ring.

    Austin would be eliminated by Hart late in the match, but because the officials around ringside were distracted by a brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, he was able to slide back into the squared circle and toss Hart over the top to win the match.

Kane

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    The Big Red Monster Kane is not necessarily associated with long-distance wrestling. Heck, most fans would very much appreciate that he not wrestle longer than 15 minutes. In 2001, however, he changed fans' perception of his ability to compete for long periods of time and still remain interesting while doing so.

    Kane entered the Royal Rumble at No. 6 and found himself face to face with Hollywood celebrity Drew Carey. He grabbed hold of the comedic, but Raven would make the save, touching off a portion of the match that saw Kane brutalize the opposition with weapons, all the while racking up five eliminations.

    The body language he displayed as Honky Tonk Man sang along to his theme music was outstanding, and his elimination of the legendary competitor following a guitar shot to the head was a high spot in the match.

    Kane's interactions with The Rock and Steve Austin provided the match with some substance. By the end of the evening, fans were voicing their support for the Big Red Monster. Unfortunately, a steel chair and a Stone Cold Stunner would spell the end for him, as Austin went on to win the match.

    The match really was a showcase for one of the most loyal members of the WWE roster. Kane had changed from heel to babyface a number of times in his career to that point, did everything asked of him and was a hard worker.

    On one night in January of 2001, in one 53-minute performance, Kane proved that he could be effective as the dominant monster, the comedic straight man or a hardcore wrestling specialist. He also proved himself to have great stamina and to be one of the most physically fit big men in wrestling history.

    He earned the respect of fans across the globe and most certainly deserved it.

Chris Benoit

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    Chris Benoit was the best wrestler in the world, bar none, for a very long time when the 2004 Royal Rumble rolled around.

    For years, fans waited for the moment that his hard work and dedication to the art of professional wrestling would pay off with a major push and a Heavyweight title run. With an older, staler roster and young talent not quite ready to make the jump to the main event scene, the company opted to turn to the Rabid Wolverine and finally gave him a chance to run with the proverbial ball.

    Benoit had angered SmackDown general manager Paul Heyman and, as a result, found himself stuck in the No. 1 spot in the annual Battle Royal.

    He squared off with Randy Orton to start the match, then embarked on a 1:01:30 journey that saw him share the ring with the likes of Booker T, Kane, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Chris Jericho and John Cena. He withstood an onslaught from all of them and managed to slay the massive, dominant Big Show en route to his first Royal Rumble win, a record for length in the match and a guaranteed shot at either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX.

    A year later, he returned to the Rumble match and competed for 47 minutes. He would be less successful in 2005 than he was a year earlier, but he can lay claim to having what may be the most impressive consecutive Royal Rumble appearances in WWE history.

Rey Mysterio

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    Riding a wave of emotion following the death of friend Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio dedicated the 2006 Royal Rumble match to Guerrero and set out to win the one match in which he is a bigger underdog than any other.

    Mysterio entered the match at No. 2 and was faced with a tremendous task right out of the gate: withstand the cerebral assault of Triple H.

    He did and would go on to eliminate five WWE Superstars, including Triple H, to win the match.

    Mysterio broke the record previously held by Chris Benoit, competing in the match for 1:02:12 and showing great resiliency in doing so.

    One of the smallest competitors in match history, Mysterio was able to battle in the land of giants, and as he has done for the majority of his career, he thrived, survived and succeeded.

    He rode a wave of momentum coming out of Royal Rumble into WrestleMania 22, where he entered the arena to a live performance from POD and captured his first World Heavyweight Championship.

    Regardless of the reasons Mysterio was awarded the win, it is hard to find another Superstar who overcame what Rey did to win the Royal Rumble and shatter records along the way.