The Rock's Five Greatest Royal Rumble Moments
Finally, The Rock is WWE Champion again after dethroning CM Punk at the Royal Rumble, bringing the champion’s 434-day reign to a crashing halt after an epic contest that saw The Brahma Bull thwart each and every underhanded trick in Punk’s playbook to claim his first World Title in 10 years. That The Great One was able to scale the mountaintop after so long a sojourn from the ring may seem incredible on paper, but it’s really just par for the course for the now-eight-time WWE Champion. When one considers The Rock’s history at the Royal Rumble — both the event itself and its eponymous battle royal — one realizes just how much of an odd home-field advantage The People’s Champion has racked up in that particular arena. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic: The man simply cannot lose at the Royal Rumble. So in celebration of The Brahma Bull’s latest ascension to sports-entertainment glory, we look back at his greatest moments at the January classic. Maybe CM Punk should have known better.
1998: Retains the Intercontinental Championship against Ken Shamrock
When The Rock made his first trip to the Royal Rumble, he was the fresh-faced blue-chipper Rocky Maivia, replete with arm tassels and that infamous haircut. For his follow-up trip to the January dance, however, he was The Rock, a cocky muscleman who would exploit any and all avenues available to him to achieve victory. That is exactly what he did in his Intercontinental Championship defense against UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock. We should mention here that Shamrock is relatively petrifying, and a lesser Superstar would have simply thrown in the towel when faced with the mixed martial arts legend. But true to form, The Brahma Bull had no such scruples when it came to blatantly screwing Shamrock, thwarting The World’s Most Dangerous Man with some good old-fashioned chicanery involving a pair of brass knuckles to keep the coveted title secured around his own electrifying waist.
And believe it or not, The Rock’s evening was just getting started …
1998: Comes in second in the Royal Rumble Match
On the same night The People’s Champion retained his Intercontinental Championship against Ken Shamrock, he also threw his hat into the Royal Rumble Match itself in an attempt to secure a World Title opportunity at WrestleMania. And while the WWE Universe might think Rock would be a bit winded following one full-length bout already, it turned out The Great One had more in the tank than anyone could have imagined.
The People’s Champion stormed into the mad melee at No. 4, and while he only secured two eliminations in the contest (adding insult to various injuries, one was Shamrock and the other was Faarooq, who Rock would soon depose as the leader of The Nation of Domination), he logged the most time in the contest with 51 minutes and came in second. That the Superstar to send Rock packing was future WWE Hall of Famer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is hardly a mark against Rock. Quite the opposite, really; that The Great One was able to hang with The Bionic Redneck after an hour and a half of competition over the course of a night spoke multitudes about his capabilities as a Superstar.
1999: Retains the WWE Championship against Mankind in an “I Quit” Match
These days The Rock is known as The People’s Champion, but during his rivalry with Mankind over the WWE Championship, The Brahma Bull took a perverse glee in plumbing the depths of his own humanity to achieve glory of the most dubious kind. Perhaps his most animalistic moment came at the expense of Mankind in the kind of “I Quit” Match that never happens anymore because there aren’t any Superstars willing to dish out (or absorb) the kind of punishment that unfolded throughout the course of this carnal classic.
Faced with the near impossible challenge of forcing Mick Foley to cry uncle at the 1999 Royal Rumble, Rock took the soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer to hell and back, finally incapacitating The Hardcore Legend with a pair of handcuffs and demanding Foley throw in the towel. And as haunting as Foley’s response was (“go to hell”), The Rock’s reply was even worse. Showeing no mercy, The Brahma Bull teed off on Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy with a steel chair, bashing the challenger to such a degree that even Shane McMahon begged The People’s Champion to let up.
Rock, of course, refused and bashed Mankind a few times more until The Hardcore Legend was knocked out cold. With Foley face-down in a messy heap, The Great One snaked his way to triumph by playing a recording of Foley saying “I QUIT!” to dupe the referee into awarding him the victory. Can you believe these legends ended up being friends?
2000: Wins the Royal Rumble Match
By the time 2000 rolled around, The Great One had undergone a change of heart and largely abandoned his chicaneries, embracing honest competition in the ring (though humility was still a stretch, but hey, he wouldn’t be The Rock otherwise) and even forging a friendship with Mick Foley as The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection. But his greatest test in pursuit of the WWE Championship came at the 2000 Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden, when The Great One entered the frenzied free-for-all for the second time in his career with a bull’s-eye seemingly planted on his back by the mighty Big Show.
The Brahma Bull (who had attempted to aid Cactus Jack in his WWE Title bout against Triple H earlier in the evening) had been poking the proverbial bear and engaging in a war of words with the giant for some time. So it seemed only fitting that, after entering at No. 24 and scoring three eliminations, The People’s Champion found himself face to face with his colossal opponent. And it seemed even more fitting when, in the very arena where he made his WWE debut, The Rock triumphed over his own personal Goliath, expelling The World’s Largest Athlete from the free-for-all and earning Royal Rumble Match glory all to himself. Some things are just meant to be.
2013: Defeats CM Punk for the WWE Championship
What’s a decade between WWE Title reigns? The Brahma Bull promised to reclaim the WWE Championship at the 2013 Royal Rumble, and he made good on his promise when he unseated Punk and ended The Straight Edge Superstar’s 434-day reign atop the throne ( RESULTS | PHOTOS). The bout brought out the best in both Superstars, as the two titans decimated each other in pursuit of victory. Rock’s triumph did not come without its controversy, though, as an apparent interference by The Shield under cover of darkness allowed Punk to retain until Mr. McMahon restarted the match. But far greater was the glory of Rock’s triumph — 10 years in the making, and every bit as sweet as the first time.