This Sunday is the 30th WWE Royal Rumble event and it's still quite the toss up on who will have their hands raised as the winner and going on to WrestleMania with a title opportunity. Several Hall of Famers and legends have won the Rumble and even gone on to win a world champion shortly after.
Recently at ComicBook we talked about if the Rumble is even relevant for this generation (and looking at the odds of the winner, there's a good chance it could be), but looking back there's one Rumble, in particular, that seems all too familiar these days and after thinking about it, it really is the most important Rumble of all time.
We're talking about the 1995 Royal Rumble.
In 1995, business was way down and there was this feeling of indifference towards the product. Big Daddy Cool Diesel as picked to be the next big thing having won the WWE Championship a month prior and already in a feud with marquee superstar Bret Hart for the title. The roster was all over the place and having top stars of the past generation jump to WCW, it was time for the WWE to start making new ones. It's the nature of the business after all.
Shawn Michaels was on his way to megastardom. Having already won the Intercontinental Championship a couple of times already, the Heartbreak Kid had set his sights on the biggest prize in professional wrestling. There's one problem: he entered the Rumble at the dreaded number one slot. Until then, nobody had won the Rumble from that position. The closest thing was Ric Flair's victory in '92 entering at number three and he also lasted just over an hour. With Michaels' victory, it came slightly easier as entrants came in at a minute instead of two (it's now 90 seconds, which is a solid compromise) so it's one of the shortest Rumbles ever at under 40 minutes.
Saying his victory was "easier" though doesn't mean it wasn't deserved.
Scrolling through the names of the participants of that year, it's a who's who of "who?". Kwang, Timothy Well, Mantaur, and of course "Gigolo" Jimmy Del Ray all entered the Rumble and eventually eliminated. The thing that made Michaels' journey in the match so glorious was that he was one of the top heels of the company. Having him enter at one gave something the audience to follow along with as there were multiple times it seemed that HBK had gone over the top, only to bounce his way back into the ring. Each time he came close to being tossed out, the crowd cheered, just waiting for Michaels' name to be called as being finished with the match. That moment never came, though.
This was the start of his push from mid-carder to main eventer and this match gave the idea that Michaels could be in the top spot. The fact he was able to survive in this type of match was that spark of credibility that showed that he could go the distance and carve out his own path. In a sea of mediocrity, Shawn Michaels was able to sail through it all and overcome to be the winner. Props should also be given to Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldog, who followed Michaels at number two.
The finish of the match was classic WWE drama with Bulldog seemingly winning the match. His music had already started to play but cut to the camera angle and you could see that Michaels had only one foot on the floor and was able to come back and take out Davey Boy. Nothing like that had been seen before and Michaels had just given the performance of his career at the time; it was HBK at his very best.
The 1995 Royal Rumble, even though full of questionable characters, was the beginning of Shawn Michaels' journey into the legend he would become. Even with a dearth of talent involved with the Rumble itself, there's something to be said about how WWE managed to make something out of it and made a new star in the process. Even though HBK didn't capture the WWE Championship at WrestleMania that year, he already proved himself worthy of the title and for the rest of the year found himself all that much closer to his boyhood dream.
Shawn would win the Rumble again the following year, and subsequently winning the WWE Championship in one of the greatest matches of all time. While 1995 has been considered one of the lowest points of the company, Micheals winning the Rumble was the beginning of finding their groove once again.