By John Napolitano
1988 — A time period that is further away from this very second than the year 2039. It was a year that witnessed the birth of global warming apprehension, the last time the Los Angeles Dodgers would win a World Series, and most importantly, the launching of the fourth major WWE pay-per-view, the Royal Rumble. The brainchild of WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson, the Royal Rumble is twenty-six years old.
So what’s the problem? The Royal Rumble is one of the most anticipated spectacles on the WWE calendar and delivers electrifying action each and every year. Crucially, the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View has produced a WrestleMania main event between its victor and the WWE or World Heavyweight Champion for the better half of the last three decades. In an industry that survives solely on the evolution of creative content, how has a concept like the Royal Rumble stayed relevant?
Don’t get me wrong. The Royal Rumble is my second favorite WWE pay-per-view behind WrestleMania. It fosters some of the most entertaining action all year and is highlighted by the Royal Rumble Match, which is a modified 30-man Battle Royal, but imagine having the same dinner for twenty-six years, listening to the same song for twenty-six years, or having a WWE Superstar cut the same promos and hit the same spots in the ring for twenty-six years.
Albeit, every Royal Rumble is unique to the previous one, it’s not as if the original participants have been entering the match every year since 1988 only to fall short to “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan once again. But the concept of the winner of the Royal Rumble Match headlining WrestleMania is almost as old as the concept of the match itself. (Winning the Royal Rumble did not always entail a title shot at WrestleMania)
I would not go as far to say that the Royal Rumble and its implications have become jaded. To its credit, the concept has endured three different White House Administrations and still feels captivating by the time late January rolls around.
But how much longer will the Royal Rumble’s tenure as a pay-per-view last? Will the concept evolve slightly by 2039? The Money in the Bank cash-in concept is just nine years old and, in my opinion, is on its way out. It would not surprise me if we witnessed the death of the Hell in a Cell Pay-Per-View in one year’s time. No one even cared about or remembers the Fatal Four-Way Pay-Per-View from 2010.
Although evolution of creative content is the modus operandi of WWE, I do not foresee the final days of the Royal Rumble. Unlike subsequent concepts, the Rumble is a staple of the WWE calendar. As one of the core four WWE events, it’s virtually bulletproof; the death of the Royal Rumble would be similar to the nixing of WrestleMania due to antiquity, highly improbable.
The real question in the grand scheme of professional wrestling, is what will be the next concept to hit a homerun with the WWE Universe.