Pat Patterson tells the story behind the Royal Rumble Match in this excerpt from his new book
The first Royal Rumble was on January 24, 1988, in Hamilton, Ontario. The difference between WWE’s Royal Rumble and a traditional over-the-top rope battle royal is that the participants come into the match at two-minute intervals — not all at the same time at the beginning of the match. I wanted to create something special, something just like we had in San Francisco where it had been such a hot event.
The more I kept running the idea over in my mind, the more it took shape and I was sure I was on to something. I felt it: every instinct in my body told me it would work. So I finally brought the idea to Vince. He laughed at the concept at first, saying that an hour was way too long to keep fans interested.
I didn’t get upset; I knew sometimes he needed time for ideas to sink in. But I made sure to say, “All right, but keep it in mind, will you? Because I know this can work.”
Sometime later, we had a meeting with the USA Network about doing a special. We worked on the special with Dick Ebersol, who did the Saturday Night Main Event shows with us for NBC. It was going to be a three-hour live show, but it needed something to take it to the level of a WrestleMania or Survivor Series. In desperation, Vince threw my idea out there.
“Pat, tell Dick about your stupid idea for that battle royal.”
“First, it’s not stupid. I think it’s a good idea. G****** it, I think it’s a great idea.”
Ebersol loved the concept right away. He immediately imagined the drama of the clock ticking down onscreen and the audience’s anxious anticipation of who was going enter the ring next being played out every two minutes.
“Vince, it’s great TV,” he said.
Vince told me to start putting it together, and I programmed the first Rumble all by myself. The final touches were completed at the arena on the morning of the show because I kept expecting Vince to give me some direction on where he wanted things to go. But he never did.
“It’s your match,” he told me when we got to the building.
We didn’t want to simply call it a battle royal. We had people at the office who came up with names and they submitted something like fifty of them to us. As soon as we read “Royal Rumble,” we knew we had the name. Personally, though, I didn’t care what it was called: I just wanted to see my idea to come to life.
The talent was freaking out on the morning of the show because of all of my detailed instructions. None of them had ever done a match quite like this before. When it was all said and done, I think they loved it. I was happy, too.
The first Royal Rumble was a success, but until it was over, we didn’t really know if it would work. I knew it was a unique idea, but until a crowd responds, it’s hard to know for sure.
When Ric Flair won the match...
[he] was crying like a little kid
That first Rumble had only twenty participants; I feel that thirty is the ideal number. At times, the match has expanded to forty participants and it’s been too many. You need to have main-event wrestlers in there, to really drive home the importance of the match, but people have to feel that just about anyone can win — just as was the case in 1992 when Ric Flair won the match and the vacant WWE Championship. That show took place in Albany, New York. When I came back to the locker room, Flair was crying like a little kid. He was so happy.
“Thank you so much, you guys. Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening.”
Imagine a man that celebrated and decorated freaking out. It was one hell of a night. I’m repeating myself here, but I don’t care. People can say what they want about the business, but to us, the performers, it’s as real as real can be. Ric had done everything that could be done in wrestling twice, but winning the WWE Championship in the Royal Rumble was real for him.
Moments like that validate what we do. That’s the passion I try to share with our Superstars today. You need to think about and believe in what you are going to do out there to make it special.
Some friends of mine tell me that their kids, who are into WWE Superstars today, love watching classic Royal Rumble matches on WWE Network and that they don’t care if they don’t know all the characters. They still find the match interesting and surprising. In a way, most of the Royal Rumble matches have, in this manner, passed the test of time. They are like a good movie you can watch over and over again. It has now become WWE’s second biggest event of the year, and I believe it’s going to remain there forever.
Now, if I could just get a few more of my ideas in before I go . . .
You know what I would like to see done every year? I’d love to be introduced as the creator of the match and give a cup to the winner at ringside. It would be just like the Stanley Cup in hockey. You would have all the past winners’ names on it and people could look for the names of their favorite Superstars on there. The winner could celebrate by drinking champagne from it. (We would need to go back in time and have the winner of every edition of the match engraved on it.) People could get their picture taken with the Cup when we do Fan Axxess at WrestleMania. You could sell replicas as well.
Maybe for the thirtieth anniversary in 2018? The Patterson Cup?
What do you think?