There’s nothing better than a good comeback story. Looking over the history of the Rumble you see a lot of winners who were returning from injuries. It’s just perfect booking when you have a hero who has struggled through setbacks return to reach the top of the mountain.
The 2002 Royal Rumble exemplified this trope. Triple H tore his quadricep in May 2001. He sat on the shelf for the rest of the year until returning to Madison Square Garden in January 2002. He received one of the biggest reactions in wrestling history. The Game was no longer a villain. He had become a hero. And this would be his triumph.
A lot has happened since the last Rumble. Steve Austin turned heel, The Rock became a movie star, the invasion of WCW and ECW has come and gone. Ric Flair has become the kayfabe co-owner of the WWF. The roster has grown substantially, as we’ll see in the match tonight. This is right in the middle of the transition period where it’s sort of still the Attitude Era but not really and they hadn’t quite moved on to a new period.
The Rest of the Card:
-Spike Dudley and Tazz defeated The Dudley Boyz to retain the World Tag Team Championship
-William Regal defeated Edge to win the Intercontinental Championship
-Trish Stratus defeated Jazz to win the Women’s Championship
-Ric Flair defeated Vince McMahon in a Street Fight
-Chris Jericho defeated The Rock to retain the Undisputed Championship
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are our commentators
Rikishi is #1 and being the #30 entrant last year. That’s definitely happened a few times. #2 is Goldust, making his return after being gone since 1999. That’s one of four returns they hyped for this match, along with Mr. Perfect, The Godfather, and Val Venis. Not spoilers since they spoiled them during the build-up.
#3 is the Big Boss Man. He’s still got heat. Bradshaw is #4. Boss Man ends up getting a Stinkface, at which point Rikishi has fulfilled his purpose in this match. Boss Man is eliminated by Rikishi shortly thereafter. #5 is Lance Storm. #6 is Al Snow. Big “Head” chant. That gimmick never went cold. #7 is Billy Gunn, now a member of the “Billy and Chuck” tag team. I don’t know if they had really given them the gay gimmick at this point. Storm is eliminated by a Superkick from Al Snow. Billy eliminates Bradshaw from behind.
#8 is Undertaker. He’s a heel now, in the “Big Evil” persona. He turned when he forced Jim Ross to kiss Vince McMahon’s ass, saying that he had kissed Vince’s ass more than anyone over the years. Crowd still pops for him though. Chokeslam on Billy Gunn. Chokeslam on Goldust over the top rope to the floor. Al Snow is gone next. Clothesline sends Rikishi to the floor. Then Billy Gunn gets tossed. Taker clears the ring and the crowd goes wild. Matt Hardy is #9. Lita is with him and she gets involved too, scoring with a kick to the Undertaker’s balls. Twist of Fate on Taker and he’s reeling. #10 is Jeff Hardy. I think they had been teasing a Hardy Boyz split, but that’s been dropped by this point.
All three members of Team Extreme stomp Taker. Matt and Jeff control until Taker catches Jeff on Poetry in Motion and dumps him. Last Ride on Matt. He’s gone too. #11 is Maven, the winner of the inaugural “Tough Enough.” Matt and Jeff return to attack Taker and their distraction allows Maven to Dropkick Taker over the top rope. Crowd is absolutely wild. Maven has an awesome reaction when he realizes the mess he’s in. Taker gets back in the ring and destroys him, eventually eliminating him. Scotty 2 Hotty is #12 and he gets KOed by Undertaker on his way down the ramp. #13 is Christian, the reigning European Champion. That belt really outlasted its relevance.
Diamond Dallas Page is #14. He hits Christian with a Diamond Cutter. Scotty attempts The Worm but gets tossed by Page. #15 is Chuck. #16 is the return of The Godfather, along with a big Ho Train. Biggest pop of the match so far. He’s actually in great shape here, not that anyone really cares. DDP gets tossed while the camera is on the Ho Train. #17 is Albert, the “Hip Hop Hippo.” He was teaming with Scotty 2 Hotty at this time. He lasts about 30 seconds before being tossed by Godfather. Godfather is the next man to go after being double teamed by Christian and Chuck.
#18 is Saturn. I had forgotten he was still around at this point. Based on the way the announcers talk about him he didn’t seem to have a storyline going at the time. #19 is Steve Austin. This is peak “What?” time as the crowd is screaming it at everything he does. Christian is gone right away. Saturn gets Stunned. Chuck gets tossed. Saturn is gone. Ring cleared. Austin goes out to the floor to grab Christian, throw him back into the ring, and Stun him. Then does the same to Chuck.
#20 is Val Venis. This was his return to the porn star gimmick after being part of the Right to Censor. #21 is Test. He has immunity from being fired because he won a battle royal at the end of the invasion. Don’t remember that storyline going far. Austin ends up Stunning and tossing both Val and Test. That clears the ring for the entrant of #22, Triple H. Business is picking up.
He’s in amazing shape. I believe he hadn’t wrestled in the weeks leading up to this. Him and Austin square off as The Hurricane enters #23. Hurricane tries to Double Chokeslam Triple H and Austin in a hilarious spot, then gets tossed. Faarooq is #24, he lasts about 30 seconds. #25 is Mr. Perfect, making his WWF return. Kurt Angle is #26. He’s back to being a heel after having a great face run against Austin in 2001. They did a face/heel revolving door with him at the end of the invasion that really hurt him.
Big Show is #27. He really didn’t have much of anything going on at this point. Kane is out #28. He goes after Big Show and Body Slams him over the top rope! Same move Cesaro pulled off at Wrestlemania 30. Austin Stuns Kane, which allows Angle to sneak in and dump the Big Red Machine. Pretty weak run for Kane after dominating last year. #29 is Rob Van Dam, and he gets a huge pop. He immediately scores with a big Five Star Frog Splash on Angle.
The final entrant is Booker T at #30. He immediately eliminates RVD and then breaks out the Spinaroonie. That leads to a Stone Cold Stunner and being tossed by Austin. We’re down to four: Austin, Triple H, Angle, and Perfect. Rolling German Suplexes from Angle on Austin. I was always surprised they let Angle do that since it was Benoit’s move. Angle manages to sneak up behind Austin and dump him. Austin returns and levels everyone with chair shots.
Once they’ve recovered Perfect hits Angle with the PerfectPlex to a big pop. Triple H dumps Perfect and we’re down to two. Angle Back Drops Triple H over but The Game hangs on. Kurt thinks he’s won, but Triple H comes back and Clotheslines him over to win the match.
Rating: ****¼. Really good Rumble. Only complaint is they probably backloaded the entrances a little too much. Kane, Big Show, RVD, and Booker all got tossed in two minutes or less. Would have been nice to spread things out a little more and let them shine. Other than that, pretty awesome. Undertaker’s run and elimination by Maven was a classic moment. Austin was on fire, Triple H came back huge. Right decision not to do anything wacky with the winner.
The Aftermath: Of course, there had to be shenanigans. Kurt Angle challenged Triple H to a match at No Way Out with the Wrestlemania title shot on the line. Kurt pulled a shocker and won the match with the assistance of Stephanie McMahon. HHH would subsequently win back his title shot the next night and go on to defeat Chris Jericho to win the Undisputed Championship at Wrestlemania.