Flashback: WWE Royal Rumble 2004
The end of 2003 saw the heel stable Evolution consisting of Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista and Ric Flair dominating the RAW side by holding all the gold on the brand. Meanwhile, Smackdown! saw a heated rivalry between Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero come to an end at this show. The Royal Rumble match itself is one of the more fondly remembered matches since it was the moment that a longtime favorite got recognition for his ability once and for all.
January 25th, 2004 from Philadelphia, PA was the home for the 2004 Royal Rumble. The buy-rate for the event was a .98.
1.) WWE Tag Team Champions Ric Flair & Batista defeated The Dudley Boys in a tables match to retain the titles
2.) WWE Cruiserweight Champion Rey Mysterio Jr. defeated Jamie Noble to retain the title
3.) Eddie Guerrero defeated Chavo Guerrero Jr.
4.) WWE Champion Brock Lesnar defeated Hardcore Holly to retain the title
5.) WWE World Heavyweight Champion Triple H fought Shawn Michaels to a no contest in a Last Man Standing match
6.) Chris Benoit won the 2004 Royal Rumble last eliminating Big Show
Just looking at the lineup for the undercard, it doesn’t look like a stellar show. Perhaps you could think that Rey/Noble would be a show stealing match, but as you’ll soon see that was never a true possibility. The main focus appeared to be around the Triple H/Shawn Michaels title match, which had and would continue to be a main feud for the RAW brand over the course of three years. But, even by this point, it was on its last legs of interest despite their ability to produce compelling matches.
Speaking of tired acts, the Dudley Boys attempted to reclaim the WWE Tag Team Championships. A tables match for the tag titles on pay per view gets under five minutes and the top face team is left laying in defeat in their own trademark match. The lack of time for the matches on the undercard is understandable and will be noticeable in the other matches since the main event and the world title matches would be set to have a lot of time, but still. It doesn’t help the Dudley Boys to lose in such short order at a time when they needed a spark and a reason for fans to actually care about them again. A harder fount contest but still being defeated wouldn’t have been nearly as bad considering they’d likely still want Evolution to be a top priority.
Back in 2002 Jamie Noble was consistently putting on great matches with the likes of Billy Kidman and Tajiri on Smackdown and on pay per view. His ability was overlooked and would be put in ridiculous story lines throughout the year such as a feud with Billy Gunn. Anyway, he continued to be a top heel as he used a “blind” Nidia to help him win matches and earn a title shot against Rey Mysterio Jr. This match got just over three minutes of time. Even with the lack of time it’s an enjoyable match, but come on. If these guys were given eight minutes it would have tore the house down. But, HHH and HBK need nearly a half hour, damn it!
Dating back to WCW circa 1998, Eddie Guerrero had treated his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. like dirt. However, they formed a team in 2002 on Smackdown and quickly became a top act in the company winning the WWE Tag Team Championships in the process. However, by the end of 2003, Chavo Guerrero Jr. was mad at losing to the Basham Brothers and would eventually turn on Eddue Guerrero hitting Eddie with a chair after he was beaten down by the Basham Brothers. Thus, it led to a showdown at the Royal Rumble. The match gets eight minutes and signals the end of the Los Guerrero tag team with Eddie Guerrero destined for main event success and Chavo Guerrero is left in then mid card ranks.
In 2002, Hardcore Holly broke his neck at the hands of Brock Lesnar. After thirteen months, Holly would return to the Smackdown brand and get the biggest push of his career albeit a short one at that. Holly would rise to the number one contender spot with a victory over Big Show in a street fight and for constant attacks on Lesnar leading to the Royal Rumble match. Lesnar proved his dominance by prevailing over Holly with the F5 and Holly would never get any closer to the top title in the WWE.
Triple H and Shawn Michaels had a classic match to end 2003 on RAW where fans were craving for a title change, but it didn’t happen. Now, on pay per view with such a brutal stipulation, many were looking for a bloody, hard hitting match with Michaels finally managing to prevail and win the title that had eluded him since the end of 2002. There is blood and there are chair shots, but brutality to warrant the draw finish doesn’t appear to be suitable for the match. The major spot of the match is Michaels missing a springboard moonsault and hitting the Spanish announce table. Meanwhile, a super kick to HHH prevented him from getting up before the count of ten. If the match at the end of 2003 doesn’t happen, maybe the expectations for this match wouldn’t have been so high, however, that’s what they did and while it’s an entertaining encounter it is not the classic that they were trying to present.
For nearly a decade on a national stage whether it was in WCW or in WWE, fans had been heavily behind Benoit as he was never given the chance to be the top champion in either company. Benoit had been at the top of popularity in WCW starting in 1998 with his feud with Booker T and by the end of 1999 he was on the cusp of winning the title. He would win it in 2000 and then leave the company the next day for the WWE where he experienced the same treatment he had received in WCW. However, after countless classic battles in the WWE, there was no ignoring Benoit and his quest to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and that quest began as the number one entrant in the match and lasted over an hour before eliminating Big Show to win the match and main event WrestleMania XX.
Personally, this is one of the last times I was very emotionally invested in a wrestler or an angle. I had been a huge fan of Benoit and always wanted him to be the champion. With his victory here I knew that I’d have to watch live as he won the championship at WrestleMania XX. I don’t think I’m the only one who had that reaction upon his winning of the Royal Rumble.
Also, Mick Foley entered as the 21st entrant and eliminated Randy Orton from the match. This interaction was after Orton had spat in Foley’s face weeks prior and a feud between the two would go on for the first half of 2004.
It’s not a memorable overall event due to the matches not getting enough time to truly become anything. However, the Royal Rumble match itself is memorable for myself because it was the beginning of vindication of the career of Chris Benoit and his goal to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. That’s the only memorable part of the show.
What are your memories of 2004 Royal Rumble event?
Thanks for reading.