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The show is built around the Royal Rumble match, a special battle royal featuring competitors from WWE's full roster that usually serves as the show's main event (due to the match's length and its importance to the build towards WrestleMania). Other matches are also put on, however, and world championships are usually defended. The rules of the Royal Rumble match are as follows:
- Each wrestler draws a number that determines when they enter the Rumble; the competitors who draw the #1 and #2 slots start the match in the ring.
- Once the match has begun, after a specified time period, the next wrestler in the match will enter the ring. This continues until all of the entrants have entered the Rumble.
- A wrestler is eliminated after going over the top rope and touching the floor with both feet. (Something Shawn Michaels knows about all too well.)
- The last wrestler left in the match is declared the winner.
Until 1992, there was no official "prize" for winning the Rumble match, although the feat itself was considered a big honor, and it was implied that there was a large cash prize for the taking. In 1992, the winner of the Royal Rumble - Ric Flair - was given the vacated WWE Championship; the following year, the match became an important part of the "Road to Wrestlemania" - 1993 was the first year the winner of the Rumble was granted a guaranteed shot at the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. Since 2005 - the year after Chris Benoit exploited a loophole in the Royal Rumble winner's contract and jumped brands from SmackDown! to Raw to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship - the Rumble winner has had the choice of using his guaranteed title shot to go after either the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship, regardless of brand affiliation.
The first Royal Rumble, held in 1988 had only twenty participants. From 1989 to 2010, the match featured thirty participants. In 2011, the match roster was expanded to forty (and they used the extra space to include every member of The Nexus and The Corre). The 2012 Rumble went back to thirty participants.
Royal Rumble winners:
- 1988 - Hacksaw Jim Duggan
- 1989 - Big John Studd
- 1990 and 1991 - Hulk Hogan
- 1992 - Ric Flair (won the vacated WWF Championship)
- 1993 - Yokozuna
- 1994 - Lex Luger and Bret Hart (having eliminated each other at the exact same time)
- 1995 and 1996 - Shawn Michaels
- 1997, 1998 and 2001 - Stone Cold Steve Austin
- 1999 - Vince McMahon
- 2000 - The Rock
- 2002 - Triple H
- 2003 - Brock Lesnar
- 2004 - Chris Benoit
- 2005 - Batista
- 2006 - Rey Mysterio
- 2007 - The Undertaker
- 2008 - John Cena
- 2009 - Randy Orton
- 2010 - Edge
- 2011 - Alberto Del Rio
- 2012 - Sheamus
This event has examples of:
- Big "What?": Jerry Lawler got a couple in when the winner of Tough Enough season 1, Maven, eliminated The Undertaker from behind.
- Brick Joke: In the 2011 Rumble, Santino Marella, who at this point had averaged about 15 seconds in two Rumble matches, would get knocked out by Sheamus within 20 seconds of his appearance and would have the fortune to fall under the bottom rope. Later on, Alberto Del Rio would be celebrating his apparent victory only to turn around and get hit the with The Cobra! Unfortunately for Santino, he would take a few seconds too long to celebrate, and would instead go home as the runner up when Del Rio reversed his elimination attempt.
- Continuity Nod: The Three Month Rule often gets put on the backburner during the Royal Rumble match; because of the sheer number of superstars involved (and the fact that the bookers probably do this on purpose), two wrestlers who had feuded some months back are bound to run into each other at some point during the Rumble. This can often result in some Oh Crap moments for heels, particularly when the returning wrestler in question hasn't been seen on TV for a while.
- Curb Stomp Battle: Jobbers tend to get eliminated very quickly.
- Dark Horse Victory: Steve Austin's 1997 victory, in which he caught everyone by surprise and eliminated Vader, Undertaker and Bret Hart despite having gone over the top rope. The refs didn't see him go over.
- Ditto Alberto Del Rio.
- Double Knockout: First happened in 1994 when Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminated each other. The event has been repeated itself a few times since (in 2005, for example, the match was simply restarted when John Cena and Batista eliminated each other). It is one of the few times that instant replay can be used to decide a match in WWE.
- Enemy Mine: Feuding wrestlers may put aside their differences momentarily to work together and defeat a bigger and more powerful foe.
- He's Back: The Rumble has been used as a re-launching pad for various wrestlers for a while now. The 2002 event had a number of returns advertised beforehand, but they have occasionally thrown in some surprises since.
- Invincible Hero: Not that there's never been a heel winner of course, but it's kind of suspicious how the person who wins the Royal Rumble is always a main eventer in the middle of getting a big push. It's pretty rare for an actual underdog to win, and a lower card wrestler never wins, despite the fact that logically you'd think almost everyone would have a pretty equal chance of winning. This becomes pretty Egregious when, for instance, a wrestler wins multiple years in a row.
- Joke Character: One of the popular ways of structuring the Rumble is to have one or two of these to show up partway through. Examples include Bob Backlund in 2000, Drew Carey and Honky Tonk Man in 2001, Ernest Miller in 2004 and Santino Marella in a couple of the more recent events. Tough Enough rookie Maven ended up becoming a Lethal Joke Character in 2002 by eliminating The Undertaker.
- Large Ham: Long-time announcer Howard Finkel counts in general anyway, but some of his Rumble introductions crank the hamminess Up to Eleven. His year-after-year summaries of the rules have sometimes seeped into the territory of Overly Long Gag.
- Literal Cliff Hanger: Expect to see a lot of wrestlers hanging to the ropes for dear life.
- Loophole Abuse: Because you're only eliminated if you go over the top rope, some of the more Genre Savvy wrestlers will use this clause to stay out of the ring (or hide under it) until later in the match if knocked out through the middle or bottom rope, only to jump back in when everyone else involved is fatigued.
- Benoit used a loophole to jump ship from Smackdown to Raw and compete for the World Heavyweight Title instead of the WWE title, partly because then-GM Paul Heyman had been making his life hell at the time.
- Subverted in 2000 when, after weeks of arguing his case, The Big Show proved that The Rock, the official victor of the match, did not deserve the win, as at the end he was thrown over the top rope and though he held on and came back in to win, his feet still touched the mat and he would have been eliminated if a ref saw it, the loophole being that such decisions can't be reversed so long after a bout. This resulted in a match at No Way Out over who got to challenge Triple H at Wrestlemania, and The Rock lost. Double Subverted when Vince McMahon teamed up with Rocky to make it a Triple Threat Match so Rock main evented anyway.
- Massive Multiplayer Crossover: Particularly during the brand extension years when it was rare to see wrestlers from Raw and Smackdown in the ring together, though it always brought together wrestlers who would otherwise not be likely to fight one another, being higher or lower on the card.
- New Rules as the Plot Demands: Whether or not an elimination counts if the person doing the eliminating has already gone over the top rope himself depends on how Vince is feeling that year.
- Oh Crap: Whenever a main eventer enters. The effect is often sweetened by delaying the wrestler's entrance music for a few moments after the countdown.
- This can also happen whenever a huge wrestler like Great Khali or The Big Show enters the rumble. They may eliminate a lot of people when they first get in, although as the past has shown, giants have a lesser chance of winning due to being ganged up on by everyone else.
- In the 2001 Royal Rumble, the Oh Crap moment came from the one who enters the ring. In that case, Scotty 2 Hotty waited by The Undertaker and Kane!
- Ring Oldies[/]The Cameo: It's almost tradition now for one of the surprise participants in the Rumble to be a legend from a bygone era. Of course, they never actually win the event, but they almost always get a huge pop and often notch an elimination or two before going over the top rope themselves.
- Running Gag: Jerry Lawler's predictions turning out badly. Has been repeated with a few other commentators like Tazz also.
- Sore Loser: Some wrestlers (Kurt Angle in 2005, Booker T in 2009) have responded to getting eliminated very badly.
- There Can Only Be One: Averted in 1994, but played straight since.
- Unnecessary Roughness: At the 1999 event, Mick Foley took ten unprotected chairshots to the head during his "I Quit" Match with The Rock. The Rock wasn't supposed to keep on hitting him, and Mick himself classified the match as "having gotten away" from both of them; i.e. they both got caught up in the drama and neither was willing to end it before the scheduled finish. This was made worse by the fact that Foley's family was at ringside, and were clearly traumatized. The Rock didn't apologize to Foley for his actions, and this later became a bitter sticking point on Foley's part, though he said that when he eventually confronted The Rock about it, The Rock thought that he had checked on Foley after the match, and was very upset upon realizing he hadn't.
- In his second book, Foley admits both did wrong in the scenario but he was more in the wrong. Once the Rock was made aware of the situation, he apologized immediately. Foley was aware of the slight for several months but let it simmer unknown and lead him into bitterness (mostly as fuel for a Face Heel Turn during the Rock 'n' Sock Connection days against the Rock that never materialized.)
- ↑ usually two minutes, but it's been as low as one minute in the past
- ↑ The Big Show actually eliminated him to technically win the match, but no ref saw it, so Rock came back and eliminated him. Big Show in compensation got a match with the Rock for his main event prize, and Show won.
- ↑ later Fatal Four Way with Mick Foley joining