Mike’s Memories: Statistically, who’s the best Royal Rumble wrestler ever?

wwe royal rumble 2012 poster-6
It’s not Steve Austin. Mike 2018: But one day it might be Roman Reigns.

Intro: Most of my media work is in video now, but I used to write a lot more when I had the time. A lot of it was bad. But a few things still hold up, so I’m bringing those back in Mike’s Memories: republished blogs with new commentary from me, and we can all relive some of my past words through a new lens.

Mike 2018: Time to update one of the nerdiest posts I ever wrote. The Royal Rumble has always lended itself the best to statistical analysis of any WWE event, and I created this rubric a few years ago to try and crown the best statistical Rumbler of all-time. Three more Royal Rumbles have come and gone, which means this list is due for an update. Guys who have changed spots will be noted in the “Mike 2018” commentary below.

*****

I love pro wrestling and what I also love is the Royal Rumble, my favorite WWE event of the year. I, too, love stats and research and being a huge nerd. So, on a recent lazy afternoon, I decided to dig into the numbers to find out who’s the best Royal Rumble wrestler ever. Some background:

  • I did 90% of my research on Wikipedia, then sites like WWE.com and ProFightDB.com to fill in any blanks Wikipedia couldn’t. So, if anything doesn’t check out numerically, don’t blame me — blame the Internet’s biggest user-populated encyclopedia being wrong about a fake sport.
  • Spoiler alert: Steve Austin is not No. 1. Just because he’s the only wrestler to win it three times doesn’t make him the best Rumble performer ever. Bill Russell’s got 11 rings, but he’s not necessarily the best basketball player of all time.
  • I think I covered every wrestler who’d be even considerable for contention in my research. I didn’t look at a Tatanka or Rick Martel, for example, because they’d be a waste of time. But I did crunch the stats for 23 different guys, which seemed sufficient.
  • Kayfabe only. Kane only gets counted as Kane, not as a Kane/Isaac Yankem/Diesel II combo.

Ok, now how did I allocate points? (Mike 2018: As we’ll see when we get to the end, this system might need tweaking. Also, the images in this piece are only big enough to be mobile-friendly. Mike of 2016, you’re an idiot.)

  • Appearing in a Royal Rumble: 5 points
  • Every minute spent in a Royal Rumble: 0.5 points
  • Every elimination in a Royal Rumble: 5 points
  • A final four finish: 15 points
  • A top two finish: 20 points
  • A Royal Rumble win: 30 points

The biggest challenge was not overvaluing any one thing, since you could play devil’s advocate on everything. What’s more impressive, entering at No. 1 and lasting an hour but not eliminating anyone and finishg third? Or coming in fresh at No. 30, cleaning house, and winning? Hopefully I found a good balance (Mike 2018: Ehhhh).

Without further ado, here’s how the Top 5 shake out based on the scoring system, with honorable mentions first and observations at the end:

HONORABLE MENTION (2016)

10. Batista: 254 points

9. (Name redacted, rhymes with Smulk Smogan): 257.5 points

8. Randy Orton: 298 points

7. Big Show: 306.5 points

6. John Cena: 312.5 points

HONORABLE MENTION (2018)

10. Big Show: 329 points

9. Chris Jericho: 351 points

8. Roman Reigns: 353 points

7. John Cena: 361.5 points

6. Randy Orton: 364.5 points

Mike 2018: Goodbye, Big Dave and Smulk Smogan. A surprise win for Randy Orton and a 62-minute marathon by Chris Jericho in 2017 cemented them both in the Top 10 and as members of the 300-point club. My personal favorite wrestler of this or any era, Roman Reigns, continues to be on pace for the greatest Rumble performer ever. He already sat within shouting distance of the Top 10 (see the end of this post) after just two appearances when I wrote this in 2016. Now five Rumbles into his career, Roman has finished 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and 2nd. Guys, it’s his yard. Get over it. 

5. THE UNDERTAKER: 390 points (also No. 5 in 2016)

Entries: 11

Minutes: 150

Eliminations: 39

Wins: 1

2nd: 1

Final four: 1

I was surprised to realize Taker entered double-digit Rumbles. Felt like he would’ve spent more time involved in other matches on the card. Nothing insanely flashy here, just enough solid production over a long enough time to break him away from the honorable mention pack.

Mike 2018: Taker appeared in last year’s Rumble and did just enough to stave off dropping out of the Top 5.  I don’t think we’ll ever see him in one of these again, though.

4. STEVE AUSTIN: 417.5 points (drops from No. 3 in 2016)

Entries: 6

Minutes: 165

Eliminations: 36

Wins: 3

2nd: 1

Final four: 1

Pretty low for the only man to have a career Rumble hat trick, but the numbers don’t lie. What hurts Stone Cold is he just wasn’t in that many Rumbles. It’s actually a reminder to really respect just how insanely over Austin was as the rattlesnake. He only had the gimmick for 7 years. Seven! That’s half as long as John Cena’s been around. Austin burned bright but burned fast. To make the final four in 5 of his 6 Rumble appearances (and to have been booked to do so in the other)* and win 3 of them is astounding. He’s the Jim Brown or Gale Sayers of pro wrestling. We deserved Austin for longer than we got him.

(*Two notes: I’m counting the “Ringmaster” days as part of the Steve Austin canon because they still referenced his name and used the Ringmaster as nickname/prefix. And the botch in question is the 1996 Royal Rumble, which he’s mentioned on his podcast was meant to be a push for him, only to accidentally lose his grip on the ropes and get knocked out with 8 men to go).

Mike 2018: So this is where my metrics start to fall apart. Or do they? To think of Steve Austin as only the fourth-best Royal Rumble participant of all-time sounds absurd. But this is what statistics do. By some measures, Charles Barkley is the 5th-greatest player since the NBA-ABA merger. Austin was a comet. His Rumble career reflects his real one: in terms of pure peak, the greatest ever. Laid out over time: he doesn’t quite measure up.

3. TRIPLE H: 440 points (rises from No. 4 in 2016)

Entries: 9

Minutes: 240

Eliminations: 32

Wins: 2

2nd: 2

Final four: 1

Helped immensely by his Rumble-record 240+ career minutes. Who books this crap anyway? Fun fact: the 200-minute club for a single gimmick is only HHH, Shawn Michaels, and Rey Mysterio. Kane would’ve made it, if not for 7 minutes as Yankem in 1996 and 17 as “Diesel” in 1997. The theory of Triple H as a “surprise” entrant in this year’s Rumble and putting himself over is gaining a lot of steam. So with a win, one elimination and at least 5 minutes in the ring in Orlando, Trips would jump into the number 3(:16) spot, currently occupied by…

Mike 2018: This joke worked better when Austin sat ahead of Triple H in the standings. Not anymore. The “who books this crap anyway?” joke still slays, though, since Triple H leapfrogged Austin after doing exactly what we expected in 2016: booking himself to win that year’s Rumble. Also, the “fun fact” about career minutes is now useless thanks to some Chris Jericho marathon performances and WWE retconning. Jericho, Triple H, Michaels, Kane, and Mysterio are all officially members of the 3 Hours Club.

2. SHAWN MICHAELS: 476 points(drops from No. 1 in 2016)

Entries: 12

Minutes: 222

Eliminations: 35

Wins: 2

2nd: 1

Final four: 2

A perfectly symmetrical, consistent, poetic, total package: second-most career entries. Second-most career minutes. Second-most career eliminations.  Second-most career wins. And then three more final fours as garnish. This isn’t a Kane situation where longevity becomes statistically undeniable. HBK was the man and everybody knew it at the time. The fact the numbers now back it up is sweet chin justification. To think he missed up to four more potential Rumbles because of his 1998-2002 retirement makes you wonder if he could’ve cracked the 500-point barrier.

Mike 2018: Feels really, really wrong to drop HBK from No. 1 for a guy who’s never won the thing.

1. KANE: 487.5 points(rises from No. 2 in 2016)

Entries: 17

Minutes: 195

Eliminations: 43

Wins: 0

2nd: 1

Final four: 4

The Karl Malone of the Royal Rumble. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Kane’s this high thanks solely to sheer volume. You can’t deny the most career eliminations thanks to being in the most career Rumbles. But you can only fly so high without ever winning the thing.

Mike 2018: Karl Malone remains an apt comparison. And, again, this feels like if I named Karl Malone the greatest NBA player of all-time.

OBSERVATIONS (all written in 2016)

  • 400 points turned out to be like hitting 600 home runs in baseball. After the honorable mentions, only three other wrestlers cracked 200: Edge, Chris Jericho, and Mysterio.
  • If you’re looking at per-Rumble performance (PRP), the three best ever are Hogan (64.38 PRP in four Rumbles), Austin (69.58 PRP in six Rumbles), and Roman Reigns (an insane 90.25 PRP in his first two Rumbles). Reigns already has more career points than Bret Hart and Ric Flair, and they both wrestled in five of them. At his current pace, if Reigns participants in a conservative eight Rumbles, he’d have an absurd career 722 points. Set to be the focal point of this year’s Rumble, I don’t see that trend changing soon. (Mike 2018: Yep! By the way, Reigns’ career PRP is now “only” 70.6. Still the best ever, but not lapping the field anymore.)
  • Very surprising The Rock wasn’t utilized more in Rumbles. I guess you don’t want to stick a supernova in a ring full of other superstars, lest he act as some sort of black hole sucking all the attention and energy. Now that I’m done with my mixed astrology metaphors, Rocky only participated in four Rumbles and finished with 194 points in my metric.
  • A lot of guys who might’ve done well couldn’t compare thanks to WCW defections. Would’ve been interesting to see where Diesel ended on the list if he didn’t leave.
  • It’s troubling how much fun I had doing all this research.
*****

Mike 2018 recap: Again, when I did this in 2016, the numbers and the eye test matched. HBK: a legitimate No. 1. Kane: felt like maybe didn’t belong in the stratosphere, but as long as he wasn’t the top guy, you could debate it. Now, I wonder if the formula needs tweaking.

The counterarguments: A.) you can’t deny longevity and staying power, B.) this won’t last long, as Reigns will assuredly overtake him within 3-5 years.

Counterargument to the counterargument: how can you have a guy at No. 1 who’s never won the match?

To conclude: numbers never lie, but that certainly doesn’t mean I have to agree with them. At least until Roman eventually takes that top spot.

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