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Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?

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Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?

How does McMahon’s law of momentum affect Royal Rumble winners at WrestleMania?

The 2022 Royal Rumble has come and gone, meaning we are officially in WrestleMania season! WWE is sprinting toward the two-night “Showcase of the Immortals,” and after this year’s Rumble, we know who two of the headliners are going to be: Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar.

Now, I have some (mostly negative) thoughts about the winners we ended up with and how we got there, but today, we’re not talking about opinions at all. I want to talk strictly about the facts, and the facts that I’m most interested in are Rousey and Lesnar’s entry numbers at #28 and #30, respectively.

Every year, WWE spends the weeks pre-Rumble explaining the same old statistics to us. Yes, we understand that number 27 is supposedly the luckiest number in the Royal Rumble (though Lesnar and Rousey did just change that fact). Sure, up until 2021, only two wrestlers had ever won the Royal Rumble from the #1 spot, “and one of them is Shawn Michaels!” Now there are three men who’ve won from the #1 position, which was the same number of wrestlers who have won from #30 before this past Sunday. Austin won thrice, no one wins from #4, and so on.

But while WWE mentions those entry numbers incessantly for the bulk of the video package, the goal of the Royal Rumble has, for most of its existence, been about going to the main event of WrestleMania and getting a guaranteed championship match. They only talk about the WrestleMania win percentage a little bit, though. As of WrestleMania 37, 19 Royal Rumble winners went on to win world championships at WrestleMania, including five of the last six winners.

Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?
John Cena won the 2013 Royal Rumble before beating the Rock at WWE WrestleMania 29.

That’s an enticing fact for the Rumble competitors to hear, as it gives them a compelling reason to work their tails off fighting 29 other competitors, but how do we entice those in the earlier slots? They’re certainly at a numerical disadvantage, but if someone were to win from, say, the #1 spot, they’re bound to get that win at WrestleMania, right? It’s momentum! Vince McMahon loves when his Superstars™ have momentum!

As I had this thought, however, I realized that of those six recent Royal Rumble winners, the only one to lose at WrestleMania was Edge, the man who won from #1 in 2021. Still, I was steadfast in my belief. Edge losing at WrestleMania despite winning the Royal Rumble from super early HAD to have been an outlier. Why else would the WWE video package highlight it so much?

But I couldn’t leave this half-baked assumption alone.

The hypothesis

There is a link between Royal Rumble entry numbers and the eventual WrestleMania match outcome: winning the Royal Rumble from an early number will likely lead to a WrestleMania victory.

Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?
(From left to right) Mr. McMahon and Steve Austin were the first two and the last two in the 1999 WWE Royal Rumble, kicking off weeks of controversy.

Data collection

It should be easy to look at every Royal Rumble winner, their entry numbers, and the results of their WrestleMania main events, but it didn’t take much digging before I knew I’d need to omit some.

The sixth Royal Rumble in 1993 was the first time that a WWE (then WWF) championship match at WrestleMania was the official prize for winning the Royal Rumble, so anyone who won before that wouldn’t be part of the data. Triple H’s win in 2016 had to be omitted for similar reasons, as that Rumble wasn’t for a WWE championship match, but rather the championship itself.

The last person I have to exclude is “whoever won the 1999 Royal Rumble.” Mr. McMahon technically won from spot #2, but he tried to give up his WrestleMania match the next night on Raw. Commissioner Shawn Michaels told McMahon that, if the Rumble winner gave up his match, the Rumble runner-up — #1 entrant Steve Austin — would get his WrestleMania slot, so McMahon officially put his ’Mania match on the line at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 1999 in a steel cage match, which Steve Austin won.

Finally, the Greatest Royal Rumble is non-canon. That’s all.

So, with those eight Rumbles out of the way — along with the 2022 Royal Rumble winners, as neither has had their WrestleMania championship match yet — here are all of the qualifying Rumble winners, their entry numbers, and their results from that year’s WrestleMania.

The data

  • Yokozuna, entrant 27 of 30, won
  • Bret Hart, entrant 23 of 30, won | Lex Luger, entrant 27 of 30, lost
  • Shawn Michaels, entrant 1 of 30, lost
  • Shawn Michaels, entrant 18 of 30, won
  • Steve Austin, entrant 5 of 30, lost
  • Steve Austin, entrant 24 of 30, won
  • The Rock, entrant 24 of 30, lost
  • Steve Austin, entrant 27 of 30, won
  • Triple H, entrant 22 of 30, won
  • Brock Lesnar, entrant 29 of 30, won
  • Chris Benoit, entrant 1 of 30, won
  • Batista, entrant 28 of 30, won
  • Rey Mysterio, entrant 2 of 30, won
  • Undertaker, entrant 30 of 30, won
  • John Cena, entrant 30 of 30, lost
  • Randy Orton, entrant 8 of 30, lost
  • Edge, entrant 29 of 30, lost
  • Alberto Del Rio, entrant 38 of 40, lost
  • Sheamus, entrant 22 of 30, won
  • John Cena, entrant 19 of 30, won
  • Batista, entrant 28 of 30, lost
  • Roman Reigns, entrant 19 of 30, lost
  • Randy Orton, entrant 23 of 30, won
  • Shinsuke Nakamura, entrant 14 of 30, lost
  • Asuka, entrant 25 of 30, lost
  • Becky Lynch, entrant 28 of 30, won
  • Seth Rollins, entrant 10 of 30, won
  • Charlotte Flair, entrant 17 of 30, won
  • Drew McIntyre, entrant 16 of 30, won
  • Bianca Belair, entrant 3 of 30, won
  • Edge, entrant 1 of 30, lost
Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?
(From left to right) WWE Champion Diesel throws 1995 Royal Rumble winner Shawn Michaels around en route to retaining his championship at WWE WrestleMania XI.

Results and analysis

The first thing I tried to do was split the Rumble in half and assume that every entrant from 15 and earlier (or 20 and earlier with the 2011 Rumble) counted as an “early” Royal Rumble winner, leaving me with nine people in this cohort: Shawn Michaels (1995), Steve Austin (1997), Chris Benoit (2004), Rey Mysterio (2006), Randy Orton (2009), Shinsuke Nakamura (2018), Seth Rollins (2019), Bianca Belair (2021), and Edge (2021).

However, setting the “low” bar at #15 resulted in a pretty small sample size. Pooling together all of the Rumble winners and taking their average entry number lands a higher average Rumble entrance of 19.313. In other words, if you enter at 19 or lower, that’s considered a low position for our purposes, which does track based on how often Royal Rumbles seem to kick into a higher gear around entrant 20.

[Note: While I did remove the 50-man “Greatest Royal Rumble” from 2018, Alberto winning at 38 in 2011’s 40-man Rumble still affects the rest of the math. I did figure out the average without his win, and the average entry number does lower to 18.710, which would round up to 19 anyways.]

Finding the average entry number still didn’t make for an even split since the four non-McMahon wrestlers who’ve won from the starting positions of #1 and #2 are still outliers, but a 14/18 split is better than the proposed 9/23 split that using 15 as our midpoint would have brought us. So, not only do we have the nine wrestlers mentioned earlier, but we can add Shawn Michaels (1996), John Cena (2013), Roman Reigns (2015), Charlotte Flair (2020), and Drew McIntyre (2020), all of whom won from entry numbers 16-19.

With the data squared away, let’s bring up our fancy bar graph!

Does winning the Royal Rumble from a low number help you win at WrestleMania?
Figure 1: The WrestleMania win-loss records of Royal Rumble entrants who’ve entered before and after #19 in their respective Rumble matches.

One immediately clear thing to note based on Figure 1 is that Royal Rumble winners are more likely to win their championship matches at WrestleMania regardless of whether they entered high or low. Eight of the 14 Rumble winners who entered the match at #19 or lower went on to win their championships, and likewise 11 of the 18 winners who entered their Rumbles in the final 11 spots went on to win at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

Percentage-wise, though Royal Rumble winners in general have a 59.375% chance of winning at WrestleMania, entrants who win from the first 19 spots of their Rumble have a 57.143% chance of winning their eventual WrestleMania match, whereas entrants who win past #19 have walked out of WrestleMania as champions 61.111% of the time.

Conclusion

Though I began this experiment thinking, “Well, if someone’s going to run through the whole Royal Rumble, it’s such a strong look that they HAVE to win at WrestleMania,” that turned out to be wrong.

Every January, I’m told that Shawn Michaels won the Royal Rumble from #1, and every April, I’m reminded that Shawn Michaels made “the boyhood dream come true” when he won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Over time, I conflated those two facts to be related, but those are two different Rumble wins with two different WrestleMania outcomes.

Not only did Shawn lose to Diesel at WrestleMania XI after winning the ’95 Rumble from #1, but he only won the WWE Championship the following year after winning the Rumble from a spot 17 entries later. Sure, #18 is still considered below average, but it’s one of multiple examples of a wrestler losing their first shot after winning from a low entry number, then winning their second shot from a higher number.

Not only did Steve Austin pull the same trick in back-to-back years — losing at WrestleMania after his ’97 Rumble victory from #5 but then winning the belt next year after winning the Rumble from #24 — but he one-upped Michaels by winning another Rumble from the famed #27 spot in 2001. Randy Orton lost to Triple H after winning the Rumble from #8, then beat Bray Wyatt after winning from 23. Edge actually bucks the trend, but that’s because he lost at WrestleManias 26 and 37 after winning from #29 and from #1, respectively.

Royal Rumble 2022 winner, Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar won the 2022 Royal Rumble, likely to face Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 38.

 

And while winning from #1 spot is definitely an impressive feat, since both Shawn Michaels and Edge lost their follow-up WrestleMania matches, it means only Chris Benoit has capitalized on the “huge momentum” that such a Rumble win would give a WWE Superstar™.

Maybe momentum is overrated. Maybe, as Edge and Bianca Belair learned last year, no two victories are built the same. Maybe the only thing that matters come WrestleMania Sunday and/or Saturday is being the better competitor on the night.

Best of luck to Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey on April 2 and 3, because while the odds are in their favor, it’s still only a little more than a coin flip.

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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