PPV REVIEW: WWE Royal Rumble 2004

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - event poster

January 25, 2004
Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Royal Rumble 2004 was the first time (other than the inaugural rumble in the late 80s), that no previous winners were participating in the Rumble match, meaning we were guaranteed to have a first-time winner.

Going into the show, it was obvious that WWE expected us to believe Goldberg was going to smash his way to victory. Fans had taken a while to warm to the former WCW Champion, but he was finally as over as he was ever going to get with WWE fans.

Combine that with video montages which positioned him as the biggest threat to the over 29 competitors, and the fact that Big Bill had the coveted number 30 spot, it seemed inevitable. 

However, as we all know, Goldberg's time with the company was almost up, meaning somebody else would be winning the 30-man battle royal for the first time.

Let's get into it and check this show out. 

What is Life, Anyway?

This year’s Royal Rumble started on a philosophical note as a voiceover lamented on the uncertainty of life while clips played showcasing tonight’s marquee matchups.

From there, we went to a sold-out Wachovia Center as Jim Ross welcomed us to the 17th annual Royal Rumble.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - Jerry Lawler, Jonathan Coachman, and Jim Ross called the action for Raw


JR was accompanied by Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and a brooding Jonathan Coachman.

Coach was excited to see his rivals, The Dudleyz, go down in their upcoming world tag team title fight, but first we had greetings from Michael Cole & Tazz and the Spanish Announce Team to deal with.

WWE World Tag Team Championship Table Match
World Tag Team Champions Evolution (Ric Flair & Batista) vs. The DudleyBoyz (Bubba Ray & D’Von Dudley)

I don’t think it’s unfair to call this one of the worst PPV openers WWE had presented us with for some time.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - The Dudleyz wait on Batista and Ric Flair


Things began with Batista cutting the music early so that he could insult both The Dudleyz and the local Philly sports team in an effort to get some cheap heat.

It didn’t really work.

The crowd wasn’t that into this one, and that’s not much of a surprise when you consider what a half-assed mess it was.

After the better part of five boring minutes, Jonathan Coachman came down to stop Bubba Ray & D’Von from putting their opponents through a table.

Predictably, Coach ate some wood, then, seconds later, Batista sauntered into the ring, dropped D’Von through a table, and that was that.

This wasn’t very good.
Your Winners and Still World Tag Team Champions: Batista & Ric Flair

Post-match, a battered Jonathan Coachman shoved a microphone in Ric Flair’s face.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Jonathan Coachman celebrates with Batista and Ric Flair

Flair was so erratic here that even the subtitles on Peacock say ‘indecipherable’ for most of his promo.

From what I could make out, Nature Boy yelled, “DUDLEYZ! Nananajibbawabba EVOLUTION! wibbydabbynabba TABLES! WOOO!”

Great work there from one of the all-time greats.

Word Life

Backstage, Josh Matthews asked John Cena about his chances in tonight’s Royal Rumble match.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - RVD interupts John Cena's promo with Josh Matthews

Cena started rapping, only for Rob Van Dam to pop up and rhyme Cena’s ‘you can’t see me’ with ‘ RVD.’

It was pretty funny and a great way to cheer this writer up after that shoddy opener.

Anyway, Van Dam left, and Cena finished his promo, promising, in charismatic fashion, to win tonight’s rumble.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Rey Mysterio vs. Jamie Noble (w/ Nidia)

This was another short match, albeit much better than the first.

Jamie Noble quickly used his toughness and brawling skills to counter Rey Mysterio’s speed and agility, but it wasn’t to be Noble’s night.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - Rey Mysterio vs. Jamie Noble

His girlfriend, Nidia, was on the outside feigning blindness after Noble had recently used her as a human shield to protect himself from Tajiri’s mist on an episode of Smackdown.

As Noble ran the ropes, Nidia ‘accidentally’ tripped him, setting Rey up to deliver the 619 and win the match.

This could’ve been better had it been given more time, but it was still a good effort all round.
Your Winner and Still Cruiserweight Champion: Rey Mysterio

Afterward, Noble berated Nidia as the two walked to the back, leaving Mysterio to celebrate his big win in the ring.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - Rey Mysterio celebrates his cruiserweight championship victory

Up next, we got a look back at the falling out between Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero Jr., their subsequent rivalry and, ultimately, our next match.

Chavo Guerrero Jr. (w/ Chavo Guerrero Sr.) vs. Eddie Guerrero

This was another short match. I mean, OK, it went at least as long as the last two matches combined, but when you’ve got two talents like Eddie and Chavo going at it, the match could’ve easily gone another five or ten minutes with no dip in quality.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - Eddie Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr

As it happened, this was still the best thing on the card up to this point, a solid, back-and-forth battle between two skilled wrestlers who knew each other better than anybody.

After a great effort, Eddie hit the frog splash for the win.
Your Winner: Eddie Guerrero

Post-match, Eddie got revenge on both Chavo Jr. and Chavo Sr. for their recent attacks on him by beating both men to a pulp.

It was awesome.

Who Will Win the Royal Rumble?

Backstage, Josh Matthews attempted to interview Chris Benoit about being the number one entrant into tonight’s Rumble match.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 Review - Evolution interrupt Chris Benoit's interview

Before he could get very far, however, The Rabid Wolverine was interrupted by his former Four Horsemen boss, Ric Flair.

With his allies, Batista and Randy Orton, in tow, Naitch put Benoit over as the greatest technical wrestler of all time but still insisted that it would be Orton who won the 30-man battle royal.

Flair reminded Benoit that he’d had multiple opportunities yet never won ‘the big one,’ playing up to the story that was following Benoit into the rumble.

Feeling excited, Flair finished his rambling by throwing champagne onto Matthews. Wooo indeed.

WWE Championship
WWE Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Hardcore Holly

As someone who was completely tuned out from wrestling in 2004, it blows my mind to see Sparky Plug facing Brock Lesnar in a title match, but here we are.
WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Brock Lesnar vs. Hardcore Holly


Lesnar had broken Hardcore Holly’s neck back in 2002. Now, Holly was back and seeking revenge.

In a pre-match video, he had promised that he wasn’t here to wrestle Lesnar or even fight him, he was here to break the WWE Champion’s neck and end his career.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Holly got in about 30 seconds of offense before the bell and then was promptly destroyed in a tedious six-minute match, about five minutes of which seemed to involve Lesnar holding his rival in a bear hug.

An F5 ended both the match and Holly’s shot at the main event.
Your Winner and Still WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar

Prior to the next match, we got a long and detailed look at the relationship between Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Starting all the way back with their time in the Kliq and DX up to their current rivalry, this was an excellent way to set the scene for the two’s upcoming title fight.

Last Man Standing Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels

I really wanted to like this match.

After I returned from my hiatus as a wrestling fan sometime in ‘07/‘08, I spent so many years hearing about how much it sucked.

Royal Rumble 2004 - Shawn Michaels stares down Triple H

Yet as a big fan of both men and the sort of wrestling fan who likes matches others tend not to, I still remained optimistic that I would enjoy it.

And I did…eventually.

The first half of this match was slow and pretty lifeless, hardly what you’d expect from two of the best around at the time.

It was only when things spilled to the outside for the inevitable ‘fighting on and around the announcers’ table’ spots that things started to get interesting, and even then, it took until Michaels’ was covered in blood for the match to really grab this fan’s attention.

The rest of the match was actually solid, a captivating effort in which a battered and bloody HBK refused to die no matter what his nefarious opponent threw at him.

Royal Rumble 2004 - Shawn Michaels vs Triple H

Shawn’s comeback saw him bust The Game open so that both men spent the final minutes of the match staggering around the ring, expending every last ounce of energy to keep the other one down for the ten count.

It was compelling stuff. Not quite compelling enough to make up for a very lackluster first half of the match, but enjoyable all the same.

Eventually, after the two men had beaten one another to a lifeless pulp, HBK caught HHH with Sweet Chin Music but couldn’t capitalize and promptly fell to the mat.

Neither man could answer the referee’s ten count, and this one was over.
Draw (Triple H)

As the crowds greeted this unpopular decision with a loud chorus of ‘Bulls**t! Bulls**t!,’ a gaggle of officials and medical personnel came out to tend to the fallen stars, quickly followed by The Game’s teammates, Ric Flair and Batista.

Both men were placed on stretchers, but Michaels, being the valiant babyface that he was, refused to go out like that and demanded to walk to the back on his own strength.

It was a cool moment, sure, but the underwhelming match and its unsatisfactory conclusion had already turned off most of the live crowd.

With all that done, Ross and Lawler introduced a final hype video for tonight’s Rumble match, which showcased every competing superstar and told us the story of how Chris Benoit had been forced to enter in the number one spot.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Taz & Jr called the rumble match

The video gave JR the opportunity to leave the Raw announce table and join Tazz at the Smackdown booth, ensuring both brands would be represented in our final match of the evening.

Battle of the Brands

Just as Howard Finkle was about to kick off the Rumble match, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff made his presence felt, hitting the ring to boast about Rae’s superiority over Smackdown.

Naturally, this led to Bischoff taking shots at Smackdown GM Paul Heyman, who came to the ring for a quick brawl between the former WCW and ECW bosses.

Not that it lasted long.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Steve Austin confronts Eric Bischoff & Paul Heyman

Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had been exiled from WWE after Survivor Series 2003 but was now back in the role of ‘Sherrif,’ rode to the ring on a Zamboni, dished out stunners to both of his former bosses, then had a short beer bash and left again.

This wasn’t the most exciting thing on the card, but the fans were clearly delighted to see Austin raising hell.

A Word With Goldberg

Even though the Rumble match had been due to commence before Bischoff, Heyman, and Austin interrupted things, we now somehow had time for Terri to interview Goldberg about his first Royal Rumble appearance.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Brock Lesnar confronts Goldberg

Not that Terri was able to get very far.

Goldberg was interrupted by Lesnar for a brief but important showdown that would take them one step further to a match at Wrestlemania.

With all that finally out of the way, Tazz gave us some final pre-match analysis before Chris Benoit came down to kick this one off.

2004 Royal Rumble Match
Featuring: Chris Benoit, WWE Intercontinental Champion Randy Orton,
Mark Henry, Tajiri, Bradshaw, Rhyno, Matt Hardy, Scott Steiner, Matt Morgan, The Hurricane, Booker T, Kane, Spike Dudley, Rikishi, Rene Dupre, A-Train, Shelton Benjamin, Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller, Kurt Angle, Rico, Mick Foley, Christian, Nunzio, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Charlie Haas, Billy Gunn, John Cena, Rob Van Dam, and Goldberg

Benoit was joined in the ring by number two entrant, Randy Orton, and the two wasted no time going at until manager Teddy Long presented our third participant, Mark Henry.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Rumble match graphic

Tajiri was out at number four and fared only marginally better than JBL.

The APA member quickly cleaned house when he arrived in the number five spot, but then he immediately succumbed to a Crippler Crossface and was dumped over the ropes.

The Japanese Buzzsaw was then promptly disposed of, leaving Benoit and Orton alone to continue their brawl.

Rhyno and Matt Hardy we’re our next two combatants. They spent most of their time duking it out with each other, as Orton and Benoit battled in the corner, creating a lull in the excitement that was only slighted lifted by wrestler number eight, Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner.

Steiner got a quick shine, but was nowhere near as impressive as his future TNA roster-mate Matt Morgan, who dominated everyone he came into contact with and eliminated The Hurricane mere seconds after WWE’s resident superhero had arrived on the scene.

All the while, the in-ring action remained decent, better than the lifeless affairs that some rumbles could be, but void of many genuinely memorable moments.

Of course, that began to change as Booker T came down to fill spot number 11.

Heralded by JR as one of the favorites to win the whole thing, Mr Five-Time received a loud pop from the crowd and went right to work on his former WCW nemesis, Scott Steiner.

Kane was out next, bringing with him the match’s first major moment.

The Big Red Machine stormed the ring and welcomed one and all to an epic chokeslam party.

However, before he could add to his then-standing record for most eliminations, he was distracted by The Undertaker’s famous and ominous gong.

If you recall, Kane had assisted Vince McMahon to victory in a Buried Alice match against ‘Taker back at Survivor Series 2003 and now The Dead Man was clearly out for revenge.

Taking advantage of the confusion, Booker T hoisted Kane over the ropes to one of the biggest ovations of the match.

This was good news for Booker, bad news for Kane, and bad news for little Spike Dudley too.

The 13th Royal Rumble entrant was met on his way to the ring by a furious Big Red Machine, who obliterated him right there on the ramp.

Rikishi was out next, throwing Super Kicks left and right like he was auditioning for The Young Bucks then rubbing his bumhole in Matt Morgan’s mush.

Renee Dupre put in a brief appearance next, looking good as he tossed Matt Hardy out, only to have his post-elimination celebration dance cut short by a cornrow-sporting ‘Kishi.

The one-time Headshrinker sent Dupree over the top with yet another superkick but was eliminated shortly after by Randy Orton. This began an impressive showing by the Intercontinental Champion as he then immediately got rid of Booker T before taking a short breather and disposing of number 15 participant Shelton Benjamin.

While all this was going on, A-Train made his way out to complete apathy, battered Chris Benoit for a bit, and then got dumped by The Rabid Wolverine, meaning only our two original entrants were still in this thing.

Orton and Benoit floored one another and lay prone on the mat. As they did so, a small man in an Afro wig ran to the ring to introduce our next wrestler, one of my favorites from the dying days of World Championship Wrestling, Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller.

In a moment of comedic relief, Miller and his buddy danced around the ring while Tazz shouted “somebody call my momma!” repeatedly.

However, before they could do anything else, Benoit threw Afro Man out like yesterday’s garbage while Orton took care of The Cat.

Our two original entrants slogged it out some more until Kurt Angle arrived, and he and Benoit once again showed by The Olympic Gold Medalist still lists Benoit as his favorite opponent.

While this was going on, Orton beautifully sold the toll the match was taking on him, playing dead in the corner and falling victim to a brief assault by Rico before tossing the wrestling hair stylist and promptly collapsing to the mat.

Alas, Randy’s star-making performance in this match was about to end.

Test was supposed be our number 21 entrant, but when he failed to appear, cameras went backstage to find him knocked out cold.

Sherrif Austin came to check on the fallen grappler -more out of concern for the match going on than for Test himself- and began yelling at some unseen, offscreen character presumed to be the mystery attacker.

Stone Cold questioned the person’s reasoning before sending them to the ring and ordering them to take Test’s place.

At that point, Mick Foley’s music struck, and the Hardcore Legend rushed to the ring.

WWE Royal Rumble 2004 - Mick Foley

In the run-up to this event, Randy Orton had spat in Foley's face, but Mick merely walked away instead of retaliating. That led to Steve Austin inviting Foley to the show, and for most of the night, the announcers had discussed whether no-showing instead of coming for Orton would mean The Hardcore Legend was a coward.

Here, Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy proved that he ain’t no coward by going right after arch-rival Orton as the crowd erupted.

A few moments later, Foley did his patented spot where he clotheslines a guy over the ropes but takes himself out, too, ultimately meaning both men were out of the competition.

As Christian made his way out at number 22, Foley continued to batter Orton until the IC champ fought back and attacked with a chair.

The two brawled to the ramp, where Mick stopped our 23rd entrant, Nunzio, in his tracks with Mr. Socko.

Nunzio eventually staggered to ringside but parked his arse against the crowd barrier and refused to compete as Orton and Foley disappeared backstage.

Heading into the final stretch, The Big Show, Chris Jericho, and Charlie Haas all arrived before Billy Gunn made what was supposed to be a big return, only to be greeted by total silence.

All the whole, Nunzio watched on from the ringside until John Cena showed up and threw him into the ring.

There, Lil Nunz joined Big Show in going after Cena, but when he double-crossed the giant, Show broke his back with a vicious slap, and the action continued with Y2J tossing his former tag team partner Christian from the ring.

Not long after, it was time for our 30th entrant, Goldberg.

More over with the crowd than he had been at any other time in his first WWE run, the former World Heavyweight Champion hit the ring and laid waste to anyone in sight, ejecting Billy Gunn and Nunzio before setting up Big Show for a Jackhammer.

At that point, Brock Lesnar hit the ring and took out Goldberg, making the first official declaration of war between the two and setting up their ill-fated Wrestlemania match.

The resulting stare-down between the two gave Kurt Angle an opportunity to throw Bill over the ropes, and it was down to our final six.

Identified as a threat, Big Show was ganged up on by a remaining crew of John Cena, RVD, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, but even a five-on-one assault couldn’t hold the giant back.

Despite absorbing an ankle lock, a Walls of Jericho, a Five Knuckle Shuffle, Five Star Frog Splash and a Benoit diving headbutt, Show fought back and single-handily eliminated Cena, RVD, and Jericho, leading into a thrilling final three between him, Angle, and Benoit.

To the surprise of most, Show also eliminated The Olympic Gold Medalist before serving as one final boss battle for Benoit to overcome on his journey to victory.

The ending was the highlight of the whole match, at least from an in-ring standpoint, and proved that WWE really did know how to book Big Show properly when they wanted to.

He looked impressive here, but not as much as Benoit, who, after well over an hour action, finally got rid of Big Show and secured his place in a championship match at Wrestlemania.
Your Winner: Chris Benoit

Jim Ross gave an impassioned speech praising our victor as Benoit looked positively overcome with emotion and the 2004 Royal Rumble came to an end.

For the most part, Royal Rumble 2004 was a good effort from WWE. Sure, the opening tables match wasn't much, the Lesnar/Holly clash was as bizarre as it was pointless, and HBK/HHH took a while to get good, but Mysterio/Noble, Eddie/Chavo, and the Rumble match all delivered in their own way. 
Of course, as he head into Chris Benoit's journey to Wrestlemania, I find myself troubled more and more by a problem I've had many times writing this blog, and a problem that I'm sure many fans and wrestlers alike also deal with: Separating what Benoit did in the ring from what he did on that terrible night in 2007. 
Still, I may save that rant for another time. 

For more Royal Rumble reviews, see:

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  1. I always thought Angle should have won it since he was going one-on-obe with Eddie at WrestleMania for the WWE title while the World Title match was a three-way.