Lately, it seems that winning the match itself isn’t the hardest part of being a Royal Rumble Match winner. Since 1993, the winner has received a guaranteed main event championship match at WrestleMania. That used to mean a chance at the WWE Championship; once the World Heavyweight Championship was established in late 2002, however, the Royal Rumble Match winner was given a choice to make: which championship should they challenge for?
Four men have had to make the decision before, one that Undertaker must make as WWE continues down the road to WrestleMania 23. You see, there is a loophole in the Royal Rumble contract that says the winner gets to choose which championship he will go after. Undertaker may have already made his choice, as his appearance on Raw to stare down John Cena may suggest that the Phenom wants the WWE Championship. Nothing is official yet, but regardless of which title Undertaker chooses to challenge for, he will be following in some successful footsteps.
2003 was the first Royal Rumble Match that gave the winner two options for WrestleMania. No one knew the loophole existed at that point, as winner Brock Lesnar’s intentions were clear from the get-go; Lesnar wanted revenge on former ally turned bitter rival Kurt Angle, so he stayed on SmackDown and went after the WWE Championship. In a classic battle at WrestleMania XIX, Brock handily regained the gold he had been screwed out of five months earlier.
The following year, the loophole was brought to attention by winner Chris Benoit. Benoit was a SmackDown Superstar, so everyone assumed he would challenge Lesnar for the WWE Championship. But after winning the Royal Rumble Match, the Rabid Wolverine shocked everyone by appearing on Raw and making it known that he would challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. Shawn Michaels got involved and the match became a Triple Threat Match, but it was no matter; Benoit made The Game tap out at WrestleMania XX to become champion. That set the stage for one of the most memorable scenes in WWE history, as Benoit and his best friend, then-WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero (who defeated Lesnar at No Way Out, benefiting from Benoit’s jump to Raw), shared an embrace in the middle of the ring as confetti fell from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden.
In 2005, Batista won the Royal Rumble Match; with everyone now aware that he could choose his WrestleMania opponent, the mind games started. Batista was a part of Evolution at the time, and leader (and then-World Heavyweight Champion) Triple H did everything in his power to convince Batista to go to SmackDown and challenge JBL for the WWE Championship. He tried to sell Batista on the move by telling him that Evolution would rule WWE; in reality, WWE fans (and possibly The Animal, as well) were convinced that The Game was in fact scared of facing his teammate.
When Batista showed up at No Way Out in February and attacked JBL and Orlando Jordan, it seemed that The Game’s coercion may have helped Batista choose SmackDown. Unfortunately, The Animal had overheard derogatory conversations between The Game and Ric Flair, and when he made his decision on Raw the following night, Triple H ended up getting Batista Bombed through a table. The Animal gave his former mentor the thumbs-down, announcing that he was staying “right here on Raw.” At WrestleMania 21, Batista finished the job he started that night, once again Batista Bombing The Game to become World Heavyweight Champion.
That brings us to 2006, and Rey Mysterio’s improbable Royal Rumble victory. Whether he chose to stay on SmackDown and challenge Kurt Angle or move to Raw and face good friend John Cena for the WWE Championship, WWE fans knew they would be getting a great match. Unfortunately, before Rey could make his choice, he lost his WrestleMania title opportunity to Randy Orton. Theodore Long stepped in, however, and announced that it would be Angle vs. Orton vs. Mysterio in a Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22. Just like his predecessors, Rey was successful, pinning Orton to claim the gold.
This year, Undertaker has a harder decision than Lesnar, Benoit, Batista and Mysterio; in addition to the World Heavyweight and WWE Championships, he can also choose to challenge the ECW World Champion. As it stands, Undertaker vs. John Cena, Batista or Bobby Lashley would be a “dream match” for WWE fans. The Royal Rumble Match winner is 4-0 at WrestleMania since the brand extension, so regardless of the choice the Phenom makes, he will bring two streaks into Detroit.
Undertaker is 14-0 at WrestleMania…which champion will end up being the one who could become unlucky No. 15?