Winning the WWE Royal Rumble shifts a superstar's career trajectory like few other victories.
The effect of winning the event can either be that of holding tight to a rocket ship heading skyward or adding a new wing to a castle: It either launches a superstar's career forward or cements one's already established legacy.
Underdogs, opportunists and dominating monsters have had the honor of being the last man standing at the Royal Rumble.
That moment has elevated some wrestlers more than others, but it has always pushed them upward. How that push has differed from case to case has depended on one's resume going into the 30-man match and the opportunity waiting once the celebration ends.
Hype for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin surged as he entered the 1997 Royal Rumble. The previous year's King of the Ring tournament served as a coronation for the rising star. He not only tore through the opposition, including walloping Jake Roberts in the finals, but he coined his now-famous "Austin 3:16" catchphrase.
The Rumble further showcased him as a tough, dangerous foe.
No one saw Bret Hart eliminate Austin. That allowed him to come back into the ring, take Vader, Undertaker and Hart out en route to victory. Opportunities came rolling in for Austin afterward.
A month later, he was challenging for the WWE Championship in a four-man match. In May, he battled The Undertaker at the In Your House: A Cold Day in Hell pay-per-view. The Rumble alone didn't propel him to the top tier he eventually occupied, but it was a major contributor.
Winning the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam 1997 and showing grit in his feud with Hart helped as well, but winning the Rumble made him feel like an elite star. He won it again in 1998, followed by winning the WWE title at WrestleMania XIV.
This is when the Austin era officially began as Jim Ross screamed, "Stone Cold, Stone Cold, Stone Cold."
Brock Lesnar also followed, winning the King of the Ring tournament while outlasting his enemies at the Royal Rumble. Lesnar had already won the WWE Championship when he won the 2003 event.
He didn't headline a WrestleMania until after that victory, though.
Even a world champ has room to climb upward. The Rumble helped catapult him from titleholder to an elite class that is warmed by the WrestleMania's spotlight.
The brand split eventually robbed the Rumble of some of that prestige. Once, winning that 30-man match meant a guaranteed spot as a headliner at "The Showcase of the Immortals." Eventually, it just meant that one would be assured a championship match somewhere on the card.
Rey Mysterio was the first victim of this situation.
Mysterio's career was certainly elevated by winning the 2006 Rumble, but it didn't earn him a spot in the main event. His world title match went on third-to-last at WrestleMania 22. It was John Cena and Triple H who were the true headliners.
That meant that the Rumble now pushed one forward, but not as far as it did for Lesnar, Batista and Chris Benoit.
Alberto Del Rio's win in 2011 and Sheamus' win in 2012 led to being in WrestleMania's opening match. The Rumble win essentially guaranteed one a push close to the center of the spotlight, but not one that promised the company's top spot.
For some Superstars, the Rumble hasn't thrust them forward as much as it has reinforced their position. For those men, a Rumble victory was proof that they were already sitting in WWE's throne.
There was little doubt who was king in 1990. Hulk Hogan had not only been WWE champ for much of the '80s, he was the undisputed biggest star of the company. He was the subject of a WWE-themed cartoon, had headlined all but one WrestleMania up to that point and was the most recognizable wrestler in the world.
He didn't need the Rumble. For him, it was a proclamation that he was still on top, one that happened again the next year as well.
That was true for Austin's third win too. By 2001, there was really no room for Austin's stardom to grow. He'd already served as the company's most popular superstar for years, the centerpiece of the Attitude Era.
His win that year was him reclaiming his crown. At WrestleMania X-Seven, he returned to the main event and dethroned The Rock.
This fortification of one's already-stout resume is something fans have seen from the last two Rumble winners, Cena in 2013 and Batista in 2014.
Cena didn't need to win the Rumble for a second time to climb into a higher tier. He needed it to set up a rematch with The Rock. WWE used the triumph in the 30-man match to arrange a marquee match more than affect Cena's career in any significant way.
He had already won the WWE Championship 10 times by the time he ousted Ryback from the ring to earn a shot at The Rock.
The company didn't look to make new stars at this year's event either. Instead, Batista's win was used as an announcement that he was back, and that he would be nestled in WWE's top tier as he was when he left.
That's part of the reason that so many fans griped about the outcome. The Rumble would have an ideal launching point for Daniel Bryan to take the next step forward, or for someone like Roman Reigns, it would move a rising star to headliner status.
Seeing a superstar's legacy shift so significantly is thrilling. Austin's first win, Shawn Michaels winning in 1995 and Benoit surviving in 2004 were cases of history being composed right in front of us. Batista winning for the second time had far less impact.
He moves up a notch, joining a select group to win multiple Rumbles. Seeing a king add one crown atop another is not as exciting as seeing someone become royalty for the first time.
For some, the Rumble is the entry point to being elite. For others, it offers assurance that a wrestler is still in that class.
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