There were only three actual surprises on the night - the debut of a confused reporter, two geriatric icons brawling mid-Rumble to New York's delight, and a genuinely-shocking return of a main event star. Said returnee had a tendency to get booed out of the building in matches against ruthless dictators and white-collar criminals, and yet the Garden crowd was so stunned by his unexpected comeback that they temporarily cheered. Sorry, New York, WWE heard you, no take-backsies.
Without that finish, the 2008 Rumble probably rolls into that median groove when looking at every Rumble historically, not memorable for any good reasons, nor for any bad ones. But as far as leaving a lasting impression goes, the surprise of seeing John Cena in those closing stages gives the event the only memorable moment that it needed, really.
10. A Harv-Day's Night
Given WWE's propensity for (mostly) hiring lifeless Kens and Barbies to play the role of backstage interviewer, it was pretty cool to see legendary sportscaster (and American Gladiators host!) Mike Adamle pop up as the roving on-site reporter at the Royal Rumble. Adamle seemed like a good choice to lend a bit of gravitas and credibility to a part of the show that had been neglected in favour of shallow window-dressing.
The Rumble marked the night that Adamle debuted on the job, and boy did it go south quickly once he said "Jeff Harvey" in front of the live crowd. His entire WWE tenure would be marked by foul-ups, to the point where "well-meaning loose cannon" became his persona before long. Would it have been as bad had he debuted on a taped show instead of the live Rumble, before an unforgiving New York crowd? Eh, maybe.
9. Flair For The City
In a rather bizarre and forgettable angle, Ric Flair had to continue winning matches, or else he would be forced into retirement. The gravity of such a situation played out in, of all things, the opening match of a major pay-per-view. Because if Flair's going to be retired, it's going to be in the opener of the Royal Rumble.
The match against MVP, which Flair won in under eight minutes, would mark the only singles PPV match that Flair would ever have inside Madison Square Garden. His only other PPV bout inside MSG came at WrestleMania 20 in 2004, when he teamed up with Randy Orton and Batista to face Mick Foley and The Rock. Flair's had other milestone moments at the Garden (debuting there in 1976, facing Hogan and Piper there in 1991), making this fact all the more curious.
8. Plans Change
The "second coming" of Chris Jericho didn't exactly get off to an auspicious start, fizzling a tad before a disinterested crowd on Raw, and later failing to gain much traction as a pale version of the Jericho that thrilled us all earlier in the decade. A feud with JBL, who had just returned to the ring, didn't do much to ignite the comeback kid's prospects, either.
According to Jericho, the feud with JBL was supposed to extend to WrestleMania 24, before being cut short pretty much after the Rumble. JBL was instead plugged in with the rapidly-dying Vince/Finlay/Hornswoggle mess. Jericho, meanwhile, would reign as IC Champion before embarking on perhaps the greatest heel run of his career, as a surlier, more diabolical take on an intellectual Nick Bockwinkel type.
7. Other Plans Change
While I stand by my original description of this Rumble as comfortably-plain, I will say that the two World title matches were pretty good - Edge vs. Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight, and Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy for the WWE gold. The latter match was the culmination of Hardy's sudden rise as a singles stud, and for many, it was genuinely surprising to see Orton eke out the win that night.
Originally, Hardy wasn't even Orton's intended opponent. Triple H was originally set to face Orton for the belt, as a tie-in to the early WrestleMania plans. Hardy was given the match as kind of a "hey, why not?", since the event is sold on the Rumble match anyhow. His surging popularity made it an easier one-off to give a try, and there was reportedly a handful of backstage officials (including Michael Hayes) pushing to have Hardy win. But it wasn't to be.
6. Dead Rises Again
It made perfect sense to begin the Rumble match with The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels - if you're going to pay Michael Buffer seven jillion dollars to announce three wrestlers' names (winner John Cena included), you better make sure that they're top guys. Though frankly, I'd have been happier seeing Buffer's brother Bruce out there, just to hear the phrase, "FIGH-TINGGGGG...out of Death Vall-ey...."
Undertaker's placement as the number one entrant seems to fly in the face of earlier plans, which as of a few weeks before the Rumble was for Undertaker to win the match for the second year in a row, en route to battling Edge at WrestleMania, according to Bryan Alvarez. Those plans seemed to change once they knew Cena was free and clear to return ahead of schedule.
5. Hampered Breathing Kid
Jim Cornette's Twitter mentions seemingly fill past the brim with random fans showing him gifs and videos of "shindy" stunts gone wrong, in an attempt to draw a fiery tangent from "The Louisville Lip" about what unsafe morons those "goddamn outlaw mud-show jackoffs" are. Hey, accidents can happen from simple moves as well. Like, say, a routine stomp.
Early on in the Rumble match, Hardcore Holly went to stomp the face of a downed Shawn Michaels, and in a bit of misfortune, Michaels turned his face into Holly's boot a bit too suddenly. Michaels sustained a broken nose as a result of the minute miscue and was noticeably sporting blood on the lower half of his face. And yet, he still managed to work for about a half hour after the accident.
4. Lone Mic Performance
Mr. Kennedy was riding fairly high as a member of WWE's new guard, owed to a solid upper-midcard feud with Shawn Michaels, and prominent placement on the Raw brand. He also had a decent showing in the 2008 Rumble match, lasting 13-plus minutes from the number 23 spot, and eliminating Michaels.
Despite the high hopes that WWE once held in Kennedy as a perfectly-obnoxious main event villain, this would mark Kennedy's only Rumble match appearance. He missed both the 2006 and 2009 matches due to injuries, and lost to Batista in a World Heavyweight title match at the 2007 event. Kennedy was suddenly bumped from the company in May 2009 following a comeback from yet another long-term injury, making the 2008 Rumble really one of his last high-profile matches in WWE.
3. Late Registration
Beginning in the mid-2000s, WWE would run Royal Rumble qualifying matches to determine who would be among the 30 entrants. Such matches occurred both on TV and at house shows, perhaps as a way to add some meaningful zest to the latter. One such qualifier took place the night before the Rumble, at a live event in Providence, RI.
It was there that CM Punk, the recently-overthrown ECW Champion, defeating new titleholder Chavo Guerrero to get into the match. Yes, one of the top rising stars in the company wasn't even set for the Rumble until 24 hours before the pay-per-view. Punk lasted 24 minutes in the match from number 12 draw, before beginning eliminated by....Chavo Guerrero, who lost his qualifier, but still entered anyway at number 26. Well, how about that.
2. Never Too Old To Fly
The fans in Madison Square Garden were quite bewildered when the classic theme music of "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka blared over the sound system at the number 18 spot. The action inside the ring came to a stop one spot later, when Rowdy Roddy Piper entered the fray, renewing old hostilities with the man whose noggin he smashed with a coconut in 1984.
Though Snuka's time in the match was brief (less than three minutes), he made history by becoming the first Rumble entrant over the age of 60, as he was 64 years, eight months old at the time of the match. The only other Rumble contestant that was known to be over age 60 was Jerry Lawler, when he left the commentary desk to join the 2012 Rumble at age 62.
1. Kicking Out Of Recovery
The utter shock at hearing the opening chord of John Cena's entrance music at the number 30 spot is simply unforgettable, even more than a decade later. Fans may have been booing as soon as Cena began duking it out with Mark Henry, but it doesn't take away that feeling of surprise, because nobody thought Cena was coming back any time soon.
After tearing his pectoral muscle on the first day of October 2007, it was estimated that Cena would be out of action for eight to 12 months, with the most optimistic prognoses having him returning as early as May 2008. WrestleMania 24 would've been out of the question, even in the supposed best-case scenario. But as we've learned over time, John Cena simply is not human, returning in less than four months from the initial injury.