Benoit's gruelling jaunt through 60-plus minutes of non-stop brawling was one half of a set of angles that would be music to many diehard fans' ears in early 2004. After Benoit jumped to Raw to challenge for Triple H's World Heavyweight title, fellow Radical and good friend Eddie Guerrero suddenly ascended to the top of the SmackDown side, felling Brock Lesnar at No Way Out to win the WWE Championship. Benoit and Guerrero's tearful celebration beneath the confetti at WrestleMania 20 was a landmark sight in 2004, but is understandably tarnished today.
The 2004 Royal Rumble was essentially a one-match show, buoyed only by an excellent Rumble match, after a disappointing and disjointed undercard that mostly felt unworthy of even a B-show. But perhaps it's just as well - the rest of the show is as forgettable as the Rumble match needed to be forgotten in story canon.
10. What About Bob?
Longtime midcarder Hardcore Holly received a WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar at 2004 Rumble, and it wasn't like the result was in very much doubt. The match was spawned by a real-life injury Holly sustained from a botched Lesnar powerbomb 16 months earlier, and the hard-nosed veteran was out for revenge.
The result was a match unsatisfying to all parties. Lesnar had little interest in the match, nor working with an undercarder like Holly, just another gripe of his in a series of them (hectic schedule, constant pains that he would dull with vodka and pills, etc). Holly agrees that Lesnar wasn't up for the match, and concedes that he too was underwhelmed by the contest, as he feels WWE didn't do enough to build him up prior to Lesnar's clean win, meaning that the match was basically just filler. And it was for the WWE World title, to boot.
9. Let's Do The Time Warp
The last man standing match for the World Heavyweight title pitting Triple H against Shawn Michaels didn't exactly match up to some of their prior epics. Their unsanctioned war at SummerSlam 2002 is A-number-one on their shared match list, while their title match on the 2003 year-end Raw is close to that neighbourhood. This match, complete with double-knockout, was a B+ at best.
It took nearly 23 minutes to reach that underwhelming finish (which the Philly crowd mercilessly booed), wheres Lesnar and Holly's match went less than seven minutes. According to Holly, he and Lesnar were originally given 15 minutes (including entrances) for their match and didn't find out until they were in the Gorilla position that their time was cut in half so that Michaels and Helmsley could have more time. For that finish.
8. Staggering Imbalance
There's a reason why the undercard of the 2004 Royal Rumble is about as memorable as a round of hiccups you had 15 years ago. While some matches looked promising (Rey Mysterio vs. Jamie Noble for the Cruiserweight title, Eddie Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero in a grudge match), the first four matches of the night were criminally short. Though to be fair, it's probably for the best that the table match opener was brief.
If you add up the times for the first four matches (Tag title match at 4:23, Cruiserweight title match at 3:12, Eddie/Chavo at 8:03, WWE title match at 6:30), their combined ring time is 22 minutes and eight seconds, which is still 38 seconds less than what Michaels and Helmsley got for their match (22:46). And, again, it was a slower match (for their standards) that ended with a double-knockout. Think somebody may have gotten greedy in asking for more time?
7. Helluva Debut
Chris Benoit was forced to enter the Royal Rumble from the number one spot, the classic trope of evil authority figure (in this case, Paul Heyman) stacking the deck against a valiant babyface, thinking that they couldn't possibly overcome the odds. This kind of gave away that Benoit was going to make a major splash in the match, but whatever - his fanbase was excited to see it anyway.
Though he'd been with WWE for four years by this point, this actually marked Benoit's first Rumble match appearance. Debuting the week following the 2000 Rumble event, Benoit would go on to face Chris Jericho in an IC title ladder match in 2001, miss 2002 while mending from spinal surgery, and face WWE Champion Kurt Angle in another match of the year candidate in 2003. That's among the better Rumble resumes you'll ever see, with three genuine classics.
6. Quite A Turnaround
For only the second time in Royal Rumble history, a wrestler that didn't draw numbers one, two, or three would be the first man eliminated. Bradshaw, still in the APA despite having cut his hair into the familiar JBL look, would eat dust in just 38 seconds, having been leveraged over the ropes quickly after entering at number five.
Nobody would have guessed it at the time, but Bradshaw was just five months away from winning his first career World title. This would make Bradshaw the only person in Rumble history that would go on to win a World title in the same year *after* being the first man to be eliminated. The likes of The Miz, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, and Great Khali would be eliminated first in various Rumbles, but some time after each man's last World title reign.
5. Representing The Family
Spike Dudley was to have been the match's thirteenth entrant, but his entrance was preceded by an Undertaker gong, meant to get the attention of Undertaker's evil brother Kane. Kane was summarily distracted by the sound, and then quickly eliminated by Booker T. As Spike made his entrance moments later, Kane savagely beat him down, Chokeslamming him on the steel ramp. Needless to say, Spike never made it into the match.
Amazingly, up until 2015, this would mark the only appearance by any Dudley relative in a Royal Rumble match. From 2000 through 2004, Bubba Ray and D-Von were always preoccupied in an undercard tag team match (Hardyz, Edge and Christian, Spike and Tazz, Storm and Regal, Flair and Batista). Neither of the two Hall of Fame Dudleyz would take part in the match until Bubba Ray made a guest appearance in the 2015 bout.
4. Not A Nice Day
One of the most memorable spots of the Rumble involved the in-ring return of certified legend Mick Foley. After taking out Test backstage in order to usurp his number 21 draw, Foley stormed the ring to do battle with new nemesis Randy Orton. The two engaged in a brief brawl that would see Foley eliminate the two of them together, before continuing the scuffle at ringside.
While most regarded the sequence as one of the highlights of the match, it was less so for Foley. The "Hardcore Legend" admits to have blown up during the short fight, despite working on his cardio in the time before the match appearance. Additionally, he and Orton threw legit punches (as opposed to worked) at each other to try and add realism to the feud. Foley says that nobody seemed to notice, so not only were the punches painful, but they were a waste of time.
3. Thuganomics Needs A Doctor
Sometimes a wrestler gets hurt during a match and you don't even know it until after the fact. Other times, you see somebody get absolutely wrecked, and it's obvious in the moment that something's gone awry. John Cena's elimination from the Rumble match saw him being flung over the ropes by Big Show, and Cena's left knee would contort at a very awkward angle.
As it turns out, Cena legitimately tore the MCL in his left knee on that scary landing. While an MCL tear is usually an injury that requires a long recovery period, Cena remained active, albeit with a somewhat limited schedule for a number of weeks. Considering that Cena worked SummerSlam 2013 with the nastiest triceps injury you've ever seen, are you surprised?
2. World's Biggest Bridesmaid
In his familiar role as scrappy and determined underdog, Benoit found a way to eliminate the 500-pound Big Show all by himself. It was somewhat convoluted, but no matter - Benoit was placed on the apron while holding Show in a front facelock, choking Show into a dizzy-enough state to drop down and use the top rope to leverage Show's weight over. As far as Rumble finishes go, it was one of the more dramatic and spectacular.
As for Show, he became the first man in Rumble history to be the match's runner-up more than once. Show previously came in second place in the 2000 match, falling just short to The Rock in controversial fashion. Since then, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, John Cena, and Roman Reigns have all been runner-up more than once each.
1. Iron Man
Benoit's first man in/last man standing act was considered one of the top performances in Rumble history, putting him up there with Ric Flair's gruelling 1992 performance, and Shawn Michaels' energetic 1995 run (one-minute intervals and all). Benoit set a new high mark for Rumble duration, something that hadn't been done in a good number of years.
At one hour, one minute, and 35 seconds, Benoit became the match's new duration king, breaking Bob Backlund's 1993 mark of one hour, one minute, and 10 seconds. What's amazing is that, from every Rumble from 1988 through 1993, there would be a new high mark established each year, with Backlund having beaten Flair's 1992 time by a full minute. Since then, nobody could top Backlund's mark (due in part to the 90-second intervals as opposed to the two minutes from his match), until Benoit finally did it in 2004.