With a hot crowd, a very good Rumble match with some good character moments, a tremendous ladder match for the Intercontinental title, a frenetic Tag Team title opener, and a heel vs. heel World title match that wove several angles together, the 2001 Royal Rumble made a strong case as one of the better WWE pay-per-views to that point. Actually, 18 years later, it's still easily resting in the pantheon tiers, but there's a problem - it's overshadowed by the event from two months later.
While it's true that the 2001 Rumble is overshadowed by what is accepted as the greatest WrestleMania that has ever taken place, the fact is that the show in question might just be, as noted, the best Rumble that has ever been held. The year 2001 was rife with gems, wasn't it?
10. Not So Big Easy
The 2001 Royal Rumble marked the first time WWE pay-per-view had ever come to New Orleans, the first of (so far) six WWE PPV events that have taken place on the Bayou (including two WrestleManias). The crowd was quite fiery for much of the evening, reflecting the high level of excitement that WWE was pumping out at the time, with a reported 16,056 filling the New Orleans Arena to capacity.
But it wasn't the easiest of sell-outs. The Wrestling Observer reported that 13,481 of those were paid, and that five days before the event, only 9,749 tickets had been purchased. Usually an event the magnitude of the Rumble sees tickets go pretty quickly, but for whatever reason, they moved much more slowly for this Rumble. Still, they got their capacity crowd at the end, so all was well.
9. A Fast Start
The match was only 10 minutes long, and given the participants, there was a noticeable dearth of tables and associated weaponry, but The Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian delivered a fast-paced, energetic kickoff to the night. After lots of creative counters, spots, and double-teams, The Dudleyz won their second set of WWE World Tag Team titles, when D-Von pinned Edge following the 3D.
With the loss, Edge and Christian became the first men's team to lose a set of Tag belts at the Rumble. Previously, there had been five men's Tag Team title matches at the Rumble in which there was a defending champion, with no changes. And the wording of this entry had to be specific - in 1988, WWE's *Women's* Tag belts changed hands when The Jumping Bomb Angels defeated The Glamour Girls, and in 1995, 123 Kid and Bob Holly won the vacant belts in a match against Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka, so there were no defending champs.
8. Climb To Glory
Among the seemingly-endless list of Match of the Year candidates that WWE put out in 2001, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho's IC Title ladder match was the first genuine hopeful. Combining brutality, technique, eye-catching creativity, and real drama, Benoit and Jericho had their usual hard-hitting competitive fight, except with a ladder to climb. If it's not five stars, it's damn close.
In terms of the actual Royal Rumble chronology (meaning, Greatest Royal Rumble doesn't count, nor should it), this was the only ladder match to have ever taken place at any Rumble. Ladder matches, in general, have been somewhat watered down due to their overuse, though it's surprising that the Rumble events have only seen one kick at the ladder can. But hey, what a ladder match it was.
7. Building Walls Together
Perhaps the most memorable visual of the ladder match came when Jericho bent Benoit's lower back over the apex of the ladder, hooking his ankles and arms for a horizontal variation of the Walls of Jericho. Though Benoit's hooking of Jericho's legs was a clear cooperation for safety purposes, there's no denying that it was a really cool spot, the highlight of a great match.
According to Jericho, it was Benoit who came up with the spot. Neither man had much experience in ladder matches (Benoit had done a couple with Jeff Jarrett in late-era WCW), so coming up with high-risk spots to go along with their hard-nosed wrestling would be a challenge. That spot, along with Benoit's chest-pressing of a Jericho-occupied ladder, helped the match achieve legendary status.
6. Absence Of Heat
On the heels of Bob Backlund's well-executed cameo in the 2000 Rumble match, WWE loaded up on a few surprise entrants for the 2001 edition, including some faces from the not-too-distant past (which we'll get to), and amiable comedian Drew Carey, who had an improv-comedy pay-per-view to plug. There was apparently another possible return in the cards, though it did not come to fruition.
According to Jim Ross in his Ross Report shortly before the Rumble, Eddie Guerrero (who had been out with a hamstring injury since earlier in December) was "questionable" for the match, which indicates that there was interest in including him. Guerrero would not make his Royal Rumble debut until the 2003 event, and in this time frame, would not return to WWE action until the first week of February, teaming with Perry Saturn in a house show defeat against The Hardy Boyz.
5. Ravaged Regal
The Rumble match was certainly a fast-paced affair, as 14 of the 30 entrants failed to last even three minutes in the gauntlet, mostly thanks to Kane, Undertaker, and The Rock dispatching competitors in a matter of minutes or seconds. One of those who didn't last particularly long was European Champion William Regal, who barely reached two minutes in the fray.
The Wrestling Observer noted that Regal was working with herniated discs in his back, and had just had an epidural shot three days before the pay-per-view. Regal would drop the European title one night after the Rumble to Test (the man that eliminated him in the match). From there, Regal would mostly work in a non-wrestling capacity before returning to the ring in late-February.
4. The Show Goes On
One of the surprise entrants was Big Show, who was making his return to WWE after more than five months away. It didn't take long for Show (whose return caused Jim Ross to cry out, "THAT'S THE BIGGEST SON OF A B*TCH IN THE WWF!") to begin doling out Chokeslams, whilst renewing his old rivalry with The Rock.
The reason for Show's absence was due to him being sent down to Ohio Valley, where the big man was ordered to improve his conditioning and lose some weight. Attitude reasons were also cited, so the demotion may have also been done as a humbling experience. It must be noted, however, that Show didn't appear to be all that svelte when compared to his frame upon his August 2000 exit, so maybe WWE was just jones'ing to get him back on the show anyway.
3. Wherever He Damn Well Pleases
It was a bit of a surprise when it came time for the number 29 draw to enter, and the old Headshrinkers theme music began echoing. That's when Cultaholic's own Uncle Haku, Epcot-sized afro and all, emerged from the locker room, hitting the ring for his first WWE match in nine years.
Interesting, Haku had just wrestled on a WCW PPV, Sin, seven nights earlier, and even won the company's Hardcore title in a three-way match against Terry Funk and Crowbar. Reportedly, Haku, who was working for WCW without a contract, simply handed the belt to longtime comrade The Barbarian some time during the week between Sin and the Rumble, and was WWE bound. Haku (known as Meng in WCW) would be WCW's final Hardcore Champion, and realistically, it makes sense.
2. Putting Up Points
The star of the 2001 Royal Rumble match was unquestionably Kane, who entered the fray from the number six spot, and lasted 54 minutes to the end, before being bounded out by Stone Cold Steve Austin. Kane had several runs of sheer dominance in the match - one amid a fray of midcarders near the halfway point, and one later on when he and Undertaker decimated the field.
Kane set a new record for most eliminations in one Rumble match, getting rid of 11 wrestlers either by himself or with Undertaker's assistance. The total list of victims includes Raven, Al Snow, Perry Saturn, Steve Blackman, Grand Masta Sexay, The Honky Tonk Man, Tazz, Albert, Crash Holly, Scotty 2 Hotty, and The Rock. That record would stand for more than a decade.
1. Three-Time, Three-Time, Three-Time
With blood caking his face, Steve Austin overcame a sneak attack from Triple H, a heated brawl with The Rock, and a one-on-one battle with Kane in order to eliminate "The Big Red Monster" and stake his victory. It marked the third time in five Rumbles that Stone Cold reigned victorious, a mark that has never been equalled.
At the time of Austin's 1998 victory, he was one of only three men with multiple Rumble match wins, joining Hulk Hogan (1990 and 1991) and Shawn Michaels (1995 and 1996). While nobody else has reached three Rumble victories before or since, it would take another 12 years for any other wrestler to even win their second, when John Cena won the 2013 match. Since then, three other men have won a second Rumble, and it's got an Evolutionary feel: Batista in 2014, Triple H in 2016, and Randy Orton in 2017. But no thirds for any of them.