Saturday, January 20, 2024

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (2004)

In 2004 we got one of the greatest Rumble matches ever, which now no longer exists.....

Royal Rumble 2004 - Wachovia Center - 1/25/04

This here's another one-match Rumble card.  Well maybe one-and-a-half.  But that one match was one of the best Rumbles in the entire series and told an amazing story, even if its legacy is forever tarnished.

The show opened with a hastily-thrown-together Tables match for the World Tag belts, as Ric Flair and Batista got a forgettable four-minute win over The Dudleyz.  Not sure why this last-minute inclusion was necessary given how rushed some of the other matches were.

Next was a criminally-abbreviated Cruiserweight Title match, as Rey Mysterio defended against Jamie Noble.  What could've been a strong undercard bout was given three minutes and change.

In the third slot was a match meant to settle a pretty major feud, as the estranged Guerrero cousins locked up for the first time in WWE.  This had been building for about two months, as Los Guerreros fell into a slump and Chavo had teased turning on Eddie several times.  Finally in early January he turned heel and this match was signed.  Unfortunately it was only given eight minutes and was not at all remarkable, and the feud was basically scrapped right after.  So why book the match in the first place?  Why not put Eddie and Chavo in the Rumble instead?

Alright, remember how in 1998 and 2002 the company opted to have the World Champ defend against an established main eventer rather than a slight underdog challenger, and how that pissed me off?  Well in 2004 they took it to the other extreme, as Brock Lesnar defended the WWE Title against, wait for it......Bob Holly.  Yeah that's right, ol' Thurman "Sparky" Plugg himself.  This non-feud stemmed from an incident in Sept. 2002 when Lesnar and Holly faced off on an episode of Smackdown.  Holly, notorious for giving the younger talent a hard time in the ring, sandbagged Lesnar during a powerbomb attempt, and Lesnar dropped him on his head, sidelining Holly with a neck injury.  A year later Holly returned to attack Lesnar, and this half-assed rivalry was born.  Nevermind that Holly was in no way a credible threat to the WWE Champion, nor was he even a popular babyface.  The company was by God gonna treat us all to this horribly unworthy PPV Title match.  Six or so minutes later Lesnar was still the Champ.  What in the name of all things holy, THE FUCK, were they thinking giving Bob Holly a Title match at the Royal Rumble??  Chrissakes.

If ever a match should've just been one-move-and-done, it's this one.

The World Title match was approximately the 38th meeting between real-life best friends but onscreen archrivals Triple H and Shawn Michaels.  While these two had a handful of strong matches including their SummerSlam '02 and December 29th, 2003 RAW encounters, this ranks very high among the most forced feuds in history.  Their offscreen friendship was such common knowledge that this feud had no urgency and simply felt like another case of Hunter not wanting to elevate any new stars.  The match itself is a great example of why I generally don't like Last Man Standing matches.  After nearly every big move the referee started counting one or both men down, and it totally interrupted the flow.  This bout consisted almost entirely of big move-rest-ref count-repeat, and then ended in a double knockout.  Super.

Jeezus, how many Advil did you two take before you bladed?

The Rumble match literally saved this entire show.  Had it not been for these 61 minutes of awesome, this PPV would get a 3/10 at best.  But fortunately this Rumble match had star power, drama, high-impact moves, and superb storytelling.  Chris Benoit had been feuding with both Brock Lesnar and then-Smackdown GM Paul Heyman for two months, and Heyman had constantly put obstacles in Benoit's path to the WWE Title.  Benoit earned a spot in the Rumble match but due to his animosity with Heyman was given the #1 spot.  What followed was the first real instance of a wrestler running the table in the Royal Rumble.  While Shawn Michaels had accomplished that feat in 1995, the format of the match was much shorter and therefore he only spent 38 minutes in the ring.  Benoit on the other hand clocked 61 full minutes, becoming the first guy to wrestle a full-length Rumble from start to finish.  Benoit outlasted an impressive field including Angle, Jericho, Goldberg, Booker T, RVD, Mick Foley, and rising stars John Cena and Randy Orton, and won the match by pulling Big Show over the top rope using a front facelock.  For me this Rumble match ranks right up there with the 1992 one.  One of the best matches of 2004.

Participants: Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, Mark henry, Tajiri, Bradshaw, Rhyno, Matt hardy, Scott Steiner, Matt Morgan, The Hurricane, Booker T, Kane, Spike Dudley, Rikishi, Rene Dupree, A-Train, Shelton Benjmain, Ernest Miller, Kurt Angle, Rico, Mick Foley, Christian, Nunzio, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Charlie Haas, Billy Gunn, John Cena, Rob Van Dam, Goldberg
Final FourChris Benoit, Big Show, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho
Long Man: Chris Benoit (61:30)

The 2004 Rumble had one of the crappier undercards in the event's history but fortunately the Rumble was good enough and historic enough to elevate the show into slight Thumbs Up territory.  Again, the final days of Benoit's life have forever stained what should still be a career highlight, but on this particular night he turned in an amazing performance.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Flair/Batista vs. Dudleyz
What I'd Change: Skip the Eddie-Chavo match and put them in the Rumble.  Save their singles match for an episode of Smackdown where it could be given ample time.  As for Hunter-Shawn, give them a match type that isn't boring as fuck.
Most Disappointing Match: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Benoit, Angle and Jericho all made the Final Four
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XX, SummerSlam '04, and/or Survivor Series 2004? - Nah.

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