5 Tips for Surviving the Royal Rumble Match
In the Royal Rumble Match, there is no such thing as a clear path to victory. No amount of strategizing, video study or scouting can adequately prepare a wide-eyed rookie for the obstacles he'll encounter in his first 30-Superstar spectacular, nor can it guarantee a winning performance for even the craftiest of veterans. With 29 other ring warriors to factor in, as well as the ever-unpredictable luck of the draw to consider, the best that most competitors can hope for is a respectable showing and minimal bodily harm.
Though an answer for quelling the Rumble nerves is hard to come by, WWE.com caught up with veterans of the 30-participant melee, as well as analyzed past Rumble Matches, to lay out five survival tips that — at the very least — might make all the difference between walking out, limping out and standing out in the Rumble.
Form partnerships … selectively
It’s every man for himself inside the Royal Rumble Match, but that doesn’t mean Superstars don’t forge pacts. As counterintuitive as it sounds, there are distinct advantages to building bridges, even if you plan on torching them within the hour.
History shows alliances are particularly useful when a superheavyweight needs to be ousted from competition. In 1990, it took Jimmy Snuka, Smash, Haku, Ted DiBiase and Jim Neidhart — an unusual hodgepodge of rule-breakers and fan favorites — to dump the 400-plus-pound Earthquake over the top rope. ( PHOTOS) Four years later, Kurrgan the Interrogator’s dreams of headlining WrestleMania XIV were dashed when a collection of Superstars, including rivals The Rock and Ken Shamrock, banded together to hoist the giant out of the ring. ( PHOTOS) Working with fellow Rumblers to toss out big men is a tradition that still lives on today, according to Kofi Kingston.
“For a guy like me to throw someone the size of The Great Khali over, I’m going to need some help,” The Dreadlocked Dynamo admitted. “Usually, everyone is smart enough to realize that if you get stuck in the ring with one of those big guys, you’re going to have a really hard time.”
Shawn Michaels, a two-time Rumble Match winner, is an authority on managing relationships inside the 30-man match. Had it not been for HBK and six other Superstars joining forces to eliminate him, Mabel may have gone the distance in 1994. As Michaels demonstrated in later Rumbles, however, he had no qualms about superkicking Kliq pals Diesel and Triple H over the top rope.
“In the Rumble, everybody is your potential friend and your potential enemy,” The Showstopper told WWE.com in 2012. “You make alliances that you wouldn’t normally make, and you stab anybody in the back that you want to stab in the back.”
Ultimately, all partnerships in the Rumble Match are short-term, and anticipating the breaking point in an alliance is key. The transformation can happen in the blink of an eye. With one quick pivot, Ric Flair went from high-fiving The Barbarian to chopping him in the chest during the 1992 contest.
“You should be the one to break an alliance before it gets broken on you,” Kingston cautioned.
Wise men say only fools rush in — a piece of sagacity that holds true for Royal Rumble Match participants. If a Superstar draws an early entry number, winning the Rumble Match immediately becomes a test of endurance. Energy conservation is the name of the game.
“The most important thing in the Royal Rumble is saving as much energy as you can,” said Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett, who has upped his cardio workout in preparation for his expected entrance into the 2013 contest. “The guy who’s going to win is usually going to be the guy who can defend himself the longest.”
Yet even if a Superstar is fortunate enough to enter at No. 30, there is still precious little upside to hurrying into the fight. Accounting for even the smallest of details, some past Rumblers have even turned to milking their entrances to the ring. When Repo Man slowly stalked his way into the 1992 Rumble Match, color commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan applauded the shady Superstar’s strategy. ( WATCH THE FULL 1992 RUMBLE MATCH)
“Why get in there and get your clock cleaned?” the managerial messiah asked rhetorically. “Take your time.”
Conversely, being too eager can get the better of some competitors. Just ask Bushwhacker Luke, who blindly bush-wacked his way in and out of competition in 1991 ( WATCH), or Santino Marella, who marched speedily to the ring in 2009, only to be tossed in less than a second.
Know the lay of the land
With Battle Royals of any kind — let alone the most dangerous variant of all, the Royal Rumble Match — few details impact a competitor’s well-being more than ring positioning. After all, fending off the attackers you see is only half the challenge. If the number of entries outstrips the rate of eliminations, the ring can swell quickly with competitors, creating an entirely different hazard.
“Not only can you get hurt facing off with someone, but if someone falls into the back of your leg or the side of your knee, you’re still going to get messed up,” Rumble Match veteran Jake “The Snake” Roberts explained to WWE.com in 2011. “The fact that there are so many people in that small of a space makes it very dangerous.”
Roberts, the consummate ring mastermind, had a solution: “I tried to get into a corner so my back was covered.”
Keeping your back to the wall is the “obvious answer,” said Wade Barrett. Except, when it’s not.
“The problem is, that’s where you’re going to get eliminated,” The Bare-Knuckle Brawler said. “But in the center of the ring, you’ll always have somebody behind you. It’s a very difficult balance to take. There’s no right answer.”
It’s a conundrum any Rumble Match participant, from Roberts to Barrett, knows all too well. Do you risk elimination by seeking refuge in the corner, or do you jeopardize your physical health by distancing yourself from the perimeter of the squared circle?
Whatever you do, don’t dillydally on the ring apron. It might seem obvious, but Rumblers would be well-advised to spend as little time on the apron as possible. Nasty Boy Jerry Sags celebrated dodging a near elimination in 1992 by standing on the ring apron and jawing with fans, to which Davey Boy Smith responded by dropkicking him out of action. Paul London learned the same lesson in 2005, when a prolonged stay on the apron ended with one of the most painful eliminations of all time. ( WATCH)
Pick your spots
Every Superstar wants to stand out from the pack, but in the Royal Rumble Match, there’s no shame in keeping a low profile. Realizing that discretion is the better part of valor, Jerry Lawler mustered an impressive outing in 1996 by spending roughly 30 minutes hiding under the ring. Mr. McMahon entered the 1999 Royal Rumble Match at No. 2 and lasted until the very end — thanks, in part, to his (legally) fleeing the ring in the early going.
Short of rolling beneath the ropes and biding one’s time in a dark nook of the arena, Superstars can still take advantage of a ring thick with competitors by finding a quiet corner and catching their breath.
“You want to try to lay low, try to stay small and put the occasional guy out of there if you can,” Justin Gabriel said. “What I want to do is let the big guys go at it first and then I’ll just pick the bones after that.”
That was a strategy employed by Shawn Michaels in 1996. As Vader and Yokozuna tussled near the ropes, HBK rushed over and dumped both superheavyweights in one fell swoop. ( PHOTOS) R-Truth used a similar trick to toss Big Show and Mark Henry, two of the biggest fighters in the 2010 Rumble Match. Even Kane — who holds the records for most Rumble appearances (13) and most eliminations in a single match (11) — sees the value in flying below the radar.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to play possum and lay low until you get your opportunity,” the 7-footer said, adding, “It’s not necessarily something I’m really good at.”
Let the Rumble come to you
You can work on grip strength and practice “skinning the cat” all you want. At the end of the day, no amount of physical conditioning will ensure victory for a Superstar if he is not attuned to the ebb and flow of a Royal Rumble Match. Being sentient of who’s hot and who’s cold at any given moment is a must.
Royal Rumble Zen masters have always had a way of letting the Rumble Match to come to them, rather than the other way around. Just as jiu-jitsu players exercise patience and use leverage-based techniques to dismantle attackers, Rumblers need to know how to exploit their opponents’ flaws. Sometimes, that means using a foe’s momentum against him.
“You’ve got to wait for the others to make a mistake, and you’ve got to capitalize on those mistakes,” Justin Gabriel said. “If they slip up one time — try to throw me out and I duck under — they fall out. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. A big guy pulls on the top rope, and the whole rope will just bend and he’ll fall out. For me, I don’t even have to throw him over the top rope; I can just kind of push him out and that will work.”
Going against the grain, meanwhile, can be counterproductive. Did John Cena just thin out the herd by eliminating three consecutive Superstars? Smart money says you’re well-served to give the Cenation leader space.
“Probably the biggest danger is getting overzealous and trying to eliminate someone, only to end up being eliminated yourself,” Kane said.
Much like eating a peanut butter cup, competing in the Royal Rumble Match is a highly personal experience, and everyone has a preferred method for getting the job done. Regardless of the degree of tailoring involved, danger is a constant in the Rumble Match.
“In a regular match, you’ve got one eye on your opponent, at least,” Wade Barrett explained. “In this kind of matchup, you can have 10 to 15 guys in the ring at the same time. It’s absolutely impossible to defend yourself from that kind of attack.”
When all else fails, cross your fingers.