By: Alex Correa
In my youth, there were only a handful of wrestling-related moments that have stuck with me even until today. Sure, one of them was watching Papa Shango cast a spell on the Ultimate Warrior that made him violently ill, forcing him to throw up on the medical help. However, another moment was the 1992 Royal Rumble, considered by many to be the best in its over-25 year history. As I reflect on it, I can’t help but see the similarities between my mindset back then and my mindset now looking forward to the 2013 Royal Rumble.
By the time early 1992 came around, I was already over the whole Hulkamania craze and wanted something new from this “sport”. Hulk Hogan had aged. His loose skin got looser, his midsection got paunchier, the bald head surrounded by the dead dangling remains of decayed, yet still bleached, hair suddenly looked comical. The only thing that stayed the same was that ridiculous orange skin. So who did I choose to be my champion in the ’92 Rumble? Sid Justice, of course. He was bigger than Hogan, taller and built with REAL muscles like the guys from American Gladiators (thank you, steroids). Also, add the fact that he had this strange charisma I hadn’t seen before. His whispered and halting way of talking combined to create symphonic promos that you almost had to strain to hear properly; it was like Bob Dylan warbling about chokeslams and powerbombs. It actually made him seem as psychopathic as his later moniker of “Psycho Sid” would imply. It was the kind of superficial mentality in booking a winner that led Vince McMahon to earn his immense fortune. Fairly confident in his prediction, little Alex Correa didn’t even consider the potential of a monkey wrench in WWF’s recently hired wrestler: a white haired old man who called himself the “Nature Boy”.
Wooing and chopping and strutting his way to the top of the main event picture, the self proclaimed “real world’s champion” could not be a contender in my mind. In my mind, a wrestler that looked like my father couldn’t toss Sid out of the ring, let alone outlast 29 opponents. In my mind, whatever company he came from must have lowered the bar if this crooked-toothed geezer claimed to be its world champion. In my mind – as one dimensional and childishly biased as it was – Ric Flair was undeserving of winning the 1992 Royal Rumble.
Dismay befell my wee yet chubby self at the end of the pay per view when there stood Ric Flair, the suddenly real “real world’s champion”, celebrating to a soundtrack consisting of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, commentator Bobby Heenan’s celebratory chorus of the word “yes” said about a dozen times, and shockingly to me at the time, an epic crowd reaction of cheers for the villain who snuck out with the victory. “This is bullshit, man” were the only words I could muster at the time.
Looking back, it was revolutionary in that it marked the first time a heel stood victorious with the world title at the end of a pay-per-view (a big deal when you stop to consider that most of the audience at the time thought it was real). With my hopes crushed and predictions down the drain, it took several years for me to realize how close to flawless the entire show was; from the strong undercard of matches to Bobby Heenan’s show stealing performance on commentary to the always great pre-Rumble promos to Hulk Hogan’s heel turn that wasn’t, to Ric Flair’s dynamic performance living up to his self-given description of being a “sixty minute man” – proven in the ring rather than between the sheets, as the innuendo always suggested. It turned Flair into a major competitor in the WWF landscape and ramped up various storylines heading into Wrestlemania, as every Royal Rumble show should.
Going into this year’s Rumble, I’m in a similar yet more discerning state of opinion. I should first clarify that since 1992 I’ve discovered that yes, the results are predetermined and no, I don’t care. I now approach predictions with a head for storytelling and booking purposes, as in who would come out the better through certain types of losses and victories. That said, there is no one deserving of winning at this year’s show.
To clarify, I see various possible scenarios and several different outcomes and none of them are as overall beneficial to the company as Ric Flair’s victory 21 years ago. The problem this year is mostly the fact that all the top contenders to win already have a Rumble win to their names. John Cena (2008), Randy Orton (2009) and Sheamus (2012) are the three (kayfabe) favourites and the names most likely to be called out the victor (that is, of course, barring surprise entrants who are also prior winners like Undertaker or Brock Lesnar (a.k.a BRAWK or Bork Laser). The annual ham-fisted foreshadowing began recently on RAW when commentator Michael Cole’s attempt at subtlety led him to mention the statistics of repeat winners. By subtle, I mean he mentioned it twice in the span of an hour, with the first being when Orton and Cena shared the same ring. Similar to 1992 when I at first deemed Ric Flair to not be Royal Rumble-worthy, these three just aren’t worth the push considering they don’t need it as much as the talents who find themselves lower on the card.
As for the actual talents in the company – the small number of grapplers actually worth pushing – they are in the unfortunate position of being stuck in that midcard limbo of feuds and title bouts that no longer matter. These men – Antonio Cesaro, Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, Damien Sandow and Dolph Ziggler – are the wrestlers who are actually deserving of winning this year’s Royal Rumble. This is the only “sport” I follow and I have no qualms about parading my favourites.
Sure, you can say that the evolution of Alex Correa as Rumble predictor in the past 21 years has gradually shifted from being superficially biased to having more of a smart mark (a.k.a smark) bias. The difficulty in predicting a winner is that I’d not only have to pick a Rumble winner but also what the Wrestlemania card will be, which is a task all on its own as it’s over two months away and the number of variables are too high to count. Will BRAWK return to challenge the Undertaker, have a rematch with Triple H or challenge for the WWE championship against whoever that may be at the time? Will CM Punk still be champion and face a new challenger or will the loss of his most beloved possession lead him to challenge Undertaker’s streak to prove that he is truly “Best in the World”? Is the Rock’s return to the Wrestlemania landscape going to have him go in as champ and defend in a rematch against the face of the company, John Cena? All these questions and year after year I let my fan bias take control with, at times, satisfying results like cheering on Steve Austin in 1997 and He Who Shall Not Be Named in 2004.
In the end, if you have money riding on this, the safe picks are the three guys I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back. In the just as likely case that a long-absent wrestler enters and wins it due to the momentum of their return, just do what I do and just call bullshit and not pay a thing. It’s fake after all, right?
 Cut me some slack. It was a change of pace from the Ultimate Warrior’s hijacking promo.
 If you WOO’d after reading that, I’d like to be your friend.
 Remember, Toronto programming didn’t air WCW television until a few years later.
 After getting eliminated, Hogan threw a tantrum that ended up helping “bad guy” Flair win.
 Chris Benoit.