In the lead up to this year's Royal Rumble, we'll be counting down the 20 greatest moments in the history of WWE's most famous match. This list was determined by a panel that included Geno Mrosko, Bill Hanstock and me. We tried to keep it diverse, with a mix of comedy, emotion, story, and wrestling.
This one has a lot to do with feelings.
Eddie Guerrero passed away in November of 2005.
Royal Rumble wasn't the next pay-per-view (PPV) on WWE's calendar - in the brand split era, there were several - but it was the one where they decided to bring his death into kayfabe. And it wasn't subtle.
Throughout the night, there were vignettes with participants pulling numbers from a tumbler to determine their entrance order. Rey Mysterio, wearing an Eddie t-shirt, and an 'EG' armband, speaks to the heavens after learning when he'll start.
That number turns out to be two, which means that Rey starts the match along with the first entrant, Triple H. On the broadcast, it's a little bit before the timekeeper gets to ring the bell. Not only is there a full Spirit Squad Rumble-themed cheer, but The Game takes his usual, almost-as-much-as-supernatural-Taker time before stepping through the ropes. Mysterio arrives in a low-rider, and gives the Miami crowd a little Latino Heat shoulder shimmy.
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler (who were actually not announce partners at this time, with The King on Raw and Cole on SmackDown) can't stop reminding us that Rey is "doing this for Eddie". The crowd agrees, and "Eddie" chants accompany any Mysterio comeback or offense throughout the match.
In a surprising bit of storytelling here in the pre-'Reality' Era, WWE sells the Guerrero sentiment while also trolling it. Hunter mockingly points to the sky and screams at Rey to focus on him at the start. When Eddie's nephew Chavo (rescued from the Kerwin White gimmick by his uncle's death) appears, the crowd erupts for him. He pulls off Three Amigos on Joey Mercury, but is quickly eliminated by Trips when he goes for a Frog Splash.
Attempting Eddie's finish is a harbinger of elimination again later, as Rob Van Dam is inadvertently dumped by Mysterio when he heads up top for the move.
The Mexican cruiserweight both is and isn't the story of the match. Rey is only the second person to win from second position (after Vince McMahon in 1999), but he is ancillary to the action for long stretches of his record hour and two minute stay in the Rumble. Most of his mentions until we get to the final four have to do with him narrowly escaping elimination, often accompanied by Cole saying "maybe someone is looking out for Mysterio tonight".
With about ten minutes left in the bout, Lawler declares "sometimes I forget Rey Mysterio is still in there". This wasn't exactly Chris Benoit's 2004 wire-to-wire win where it seemed like he was constantly wrestling for an hour.
In a lot of ways, there's nothing Rey could do about that fact. WWE in 2006 was a promotion in transition, and there are a whole bunch of doofs in this Rumble. The surprise entrant is Tatanka for crying out loud ... and he lasts almost fifteen minutes!
The agents do a pretty masterful job of spacing out the appearances of the big names, but mostly their strategy to get you to not notice the lack of star power is to limit exits. There are at least ten men in the ring for much of the duration, and that succeeds in hiding the fact that Simon Dean, Sylvan, a 46 year old Road Warrior Animal, Eugene and Orlando Jordan are among the cast.
But here's the thing. For all its flaws - which, in addition to those mentioned above, include an over-emphasis on Vince's program with Shawn Michaels and the unfortunate truth that Triple H goes on to main event WrestleMania instead of Mysterio anyway - once we get to those final four men, this match is G-D electric.
Mysterio & RVD vs. The Game & Randy Orton is a smarks vs. establishment dream match. You have to remember this isn't the Rey fans were tired of when he was booed as the 30th man in 2014. In 2006, he represented the fan favorites who couldn't get a fair shake because of their size. And not just in WWE, but going back to WCW as well.
Even the finish emphasizes this. The fans haven't even had time to catch their breath from cheering Triple H's exit via 619 and clothesline before he yanks Rey out of the ring and throws him into the steel steps, softening him up for Orton and triggering hands to be thrown in the air. "Here we go again."
Then the Legend Killer rag dolls Mysterio onto his shoulder, looking like not only will he eliminate our hero to win and further his McMahon-decreed push (think Roman Reigns in February of 2015, but if they'd turned him), but do it in the same way that Kevin Nash once launched Rey into the side of a trailer.
In true lucha libre-style, however, Rey counters. Turning into electric chair position, he flips backwards to toss Randy with a hurricanrana. Watching, your excitement at the little guy having done the unthinkable changes when you hear him cry "EDDIE" and realize this wasn't just a worked-shoot victory.
Even if you were feeling cyncial earlier, and questioning the use of a man's death as in-story motivation, real emotion sweeps over you, just as it does Mysterio. Rey pointing to heaven and talking to Guerrero seemed cheesy earlier, but now you find yourself doing it, too.
That was for you, Eddie.
Thank you, Eddie.
We miss you, Eddie.