The countdown begins. The buzzer blares. After a few moments of anticipation, Jeff Hardy’s entrance music hits. It’s the 2001 Royal Rumble: a match that would soon define the Attitude Era!
The Attitude Era
With a roster packed with legendary names such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Mick Foley, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kane, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Rikishi, Booker T, Edge, Christian, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Trish Stratus, Lita, and more, commercially, WWE’s Attitude Era was the most successful period in company history.
Very few wrestlers sat idle during this period, and almost every wrestler in the company was entangled in a storyline.
At the time, the face of the company was Steve Austin, whose rival, The Rock, was right behind him, sharing those prestigious top spots on the roster.
If you wanted to get a whiff of the essence of wrestling at this time, to feel its electricity, there exists a match that exemplifies everything that was the Attitude Era: the 2001 Royal Rumble.
Backstory Leading into the 2001 Royal Rumble
Unpredictability is one of the significant factors that make a Royal Rumble successful in terms of building suspense. There have been several Royal Rumbles in the past where fans had a good idea already who the winner was going to be. The 2001 Royal Rumble, however, was an exception.
Although the favorites to win were Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, the involvement of several other wrestlers in the WWF Championship picture didn’t make the winner seem so obvious.
At Armageddon 2000, WWF Champion Kurt Angle successfully defended his title against Triple H, Steve Austin, The Rock, Undertaker, and Rikishi in a Hell in a Cell match.
Rivalries amongst these men were at their climax as each maintained their pursuit of the WWF Championship going into the 2001 Royal Rumble.
On the January 11, 2001 edition of Raw is War, Triple H interfered in the WWF Championship match between Austin and Angle, attacking Austin with a steel pipe and costing him the match.
For his efforts, Triple H received a WWF title shot at the upcoming Royal Rumble pay-per-view, while Austin was added to the thirty-man Royal Rumble match by Chairman Vince McMahon.
The 2001 Royal Rumble
The 2001 Royal Rumble match took place at the New Orleans Centre on January 21st, 2001. It was the fourteenth Royal Rumble event, and its simple tagline was enough to send a wave of anticipation through a wrestling fan’s body: "30 men. Every man for himself. One victor."
The pay-per-view was stacked, with matches such as Edge and Christian (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz for the Tag Team Championship, Kurt Angle (c) vs. Triple H for the WWF Championship, and Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (c) in a ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship, which went on to become a classic.
While the entire pay-per-view was highly entertaining, the main focus was on the main event of the evening – the Royal Rumble match.
Before getting into the Rumble match itself, it’s important to look at the WWF Championship status.
At the 2001 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, WWF Champion Kurt Angle and the number one contender Triple H fought a very physical match.
During the match, both competitors accidentally bumped into the referee Earl Hebner, knocking him out of the ring. After unsuccessful attempts to hit each other with the WWF Championship belt, Triple H got the upper hand by nailing Angle down with a Pedigree.
As Triple H tried to get Hebner back into the ring, he was attacked by Stone Cold Steve Austin as payback for costing him his championship match earlier that month.
The Texas Rattlesnake laid Triple H out with the Stone Cold Stunner, allowing The Olympic Gold Medallist to retain his title with a pinfall.
After the match, an irate Triple H vowed to get his revenge on Austin.
With that lead-in out of the way, let us now dive into the main event: the 30-man Royal Rumble match.
The first entrant of the 2001 Royal Rumble match was Jeff Hardy, followed by Right to Censor’s Bull Buchanan in the number 2 spot.
Matt Hardy would become the next entrant, and The Hardy Boyz were united, if only for a moment.
After both brothers eliminated Buchanan and the fourth entrant, Faarooq, things got interesting as the only two men left in the ring were Matt and Jeff.
The brothers went toe-to-toe against each other, complying with one of the themes of the Royal Rumble – "every man for himself."
The next entrant was actor and comedian Drew Carey, the first-ever celebrity entrant in Royal Rumble history. This was the comic relief in the match.
Carey maintained his distance from the Hardy Boyz, who ended up eliminating each other in the melee.
Drew Carey was the only man in the ring, and he celebrated his safe position, much to the delight of the crowd. But the comedian’s celebration was put to an end with a deafening explosion of hellfire!
The arena was bathed in red, and the Devil’s Favorite Demon, Kane, made his way to the ring.
Looking as intimidating as ever, Kane would soon create history, delivering on one of the most impressive performances in Royal Rumble history.
Carey, scared for his life, tried to "buy out" Kane with some money.
Kane responded in the best way that he could (with a chokehold, of course), but Carey was saved by the next entrant, WWF Hardcore Champion Raven, who ran into the ring with a kendo stick and immediately hit Kane on the back.
As Kane and Raven fought, Drew Carey stepped over the top rope and eliminated himself.
Each participant engaged in a classic ECW brawl using kendo sticks, wooden rods, and trashcans. The ring filled up with debris, though nothing was able to stop the Big Red Machine. He’d eliminated all of the participants and stand tall in the ring, awaiting his next victim.
Surprise entrants are major attractions of the Royal Rumble. And entering next, to everyone’s surprise, was The Honky Tonk Man.
The self-proclaimed "greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time" made his way to the ring, carrying his acoustic guitar, grooving to his theme music.
A legend making a brief return into the wrestling ring has always been a special moment. But The Honky Tonk Man’s timing couldn’t be any worse, for standing in the ring was the Devil’s Favorite Demon himself, who was determined to win the Royal Rumble and main event WrestleMania.
Kane didn’t care for the Honky Tonk Man’s vocal performance, and as the legend sang along to his theme song, Kane called for the curtains by smashing his guitar over his head.
The Honky Tonk Man soon later was thrown over the top rope, and Kane was ready for the next entrant.
"If you smeeeelllll!"
The crowd erupted as the winner of the previous year’s Royal Rumble match, The Rock, made his way to the ring.
Determined to win his second Rumble in a row, The Rock quickly began to lay the smackdown on the Big Red Machine.
For a moment, it looked like the Brahma Bull got the upper hand. But Kane fought right back, stopping The Rock in his tracks.
The next entrants were The Godfather and Tazz.
Both men were quickly eliminated by The Rock and Kane, respectively. These eliminations, although not given much importance in the match, were quite interesting in perspective.
The Godfather was a part of the heel faction Right to Censor, but his days in the Nation of Domination as Kama were not forgotten by the fans.
Seeing The Rock, also a former member of the Nation, eliminate his old teammate was an interesting sight.
As for Tazz, the ECW legend was eliminated within 10 seconds of entering into the ring! This angered many ECW fans, but there was good reason behind the Human Suplex Machine’s quick elimination.
It was revealed by Jim Ross, years later, that many of the wrestlers back then refused to work with Tazz, considering him "dangerous." When Vince McMahon was made aware of the situation, he, in J.R.’s words, "finally took it to heart."
It’s worth stating here that Bradshaw’s performance in the match was quite impressive. Although he didn’t eliminate anybody, he lasted for over seventeen minutes. This feat, unfortunately, was overshadowed by the bigger names involved in the match. But it helped to increase Bradshaw’s credibility as a dominant singles competitor.
William Regal was eliminated by Test, much to the dismay of the live audience. But the fans didn’t get much time to feel bad for Regal, as the next entrant shocked and shook the arena.
Welllllll, it was the Big Show, making his return to WWF after several months of absence.
During his absence, he sent to WWF’s developmental, Ohio Valley Wrestling, for additional training and physical conditioning. And by the looks of it, his physical training was a success.
Big Show ran into the ring and quickly eliminated Test and K-Kwik.
With Kane and The Rock brawling at one corner of the ring, Big Show slammed every other superstar with one-armed chokeslams. He then grabbed Kane by the throat, and the crowd went wild. Could he do it? Yes, he did! Big Show demonstrated his unreal strength, Chokeslamming the Demon Kane onto the mat!
There was only one man left in the ring to suffer his wrath. And it also happened to be the man who screwed his Royal Rumble victory the previous year – The Rock.
Everybody remembered the ending of the 2000 Royal Rumble match, where both the final two competitors, The Rock and the Big Show, tumbled over the top rope, with The Rock’s feet hitting the floor before the Big Show’s.
The referees, however, only saw Big Show’s feet touch the floor, and The Rock was declared the winner. Big Show had carried the grudge for a long time, and now he had the opportunity to set the record straight.
Big Show went for a Chokeslam, but The Rock set himself free with a low blow. He followed with a series of right hands, which got Big Show all groggy near the ropes. And with a huge running Clothesline, the Brahma Bull eliminated the World’s Largest Athlete from the Rumble match.
The livid Big Show pulled The Rock out of the ring (under the bottom rope) and chokeslammed him through the announce table. It seemed like The Rock was done for.
Meanwhile, the other competitors in the ring were joined by Crash Holly, who teamed up against Kane. As the men tried to eliminate the Big Red Machine, there was a gong.
Showered by the crowd’s cheers, The American Badass made his way to the ring on his motorbike.
Soon later, The Brothers of Destruction united and eliminated all the competitors.
Meanwhile, The Rock was still lying unconscious outside the ring, and the Brothers of Destruction stood face-to-face. It had to be "every man for himself," after all.
The Hardy Boyz had gone at it earlier in the match. Would The Brothers of Destruction do the same?
The fans anticipated a brawl, but the brothers decided to work together instead.
Sometimes, even in the Royal Rumble, two heads could be better than one.
The next entrant was Scotty 2 Hotty. The Brothers of Destruction welcomed him with a double chokeslam and tossed him over the top rope.
Undertaker and Kane, instead of fighting each other, stood tall in the ring, awaiting their next victim.
The crowd cheered The Rock, who was trying to recuperate. But it didn’t look like he could make it back into the ring. Who could possibly stop the Brothers of Destruction?
The glass shattered, and the New Orleans arena came unglued! Good old J.R. screamed, "It’s Stone Cold!" The two-time Royal Rumble winner Stone Cold Steve Austin was finally here.
Trash-talking, he made his way to the ring to an ovation that only his presence could cause.
Austin’s appearance was poignant because he could not participate in the previous year’s Rumble and had to miss WrestleMania 2000 due to a career-threatening injury. The fact that he had recovered was miraculous enough. And it was the time for the Texas Rattlesnake to redeem himself.
But before he could get into the ring, Triple H attacked him from behind.
Austin and Triple H exchanged blows outside the ring as the Brothers of Destruction looked on.
Meanwhile, The Rock had rolled back into the ring.
With whatever was left in him, he tried to bring the fight to Kane and the Undertaker.
Two brawls were going on simultaneously – one inside the ring and one on the ramp.
Triple H sent Stone Cold head-first into the metal railings of the barricade, busting him open. He continued his assault, targeting Stone Cold’s busted head.
On the other side, the Brothers of Destruction were ganging up on The Rock.
Amidst all the action, the fans didn’t count along for the 28th entrant, Billy Gunn.
Gunn went straight for the brothers but was quickly taken down.
Meanwhile, Triple H was still beating up an unconscious Steve Austin. Several officials intervened and pulled The Game away from the man who had cost him his WWF Championship match earlier that night.
The 29th entrant was another surprise entrant: Haku, who also went straight after the Brothers of Destruction.
But all eyes were on Stone Cold, who lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood.
The hopes of seeing him win his third Royal Rumble turned bleak, though the fans still cheered him on.
"Austin" chants filled up the air. But the Rattlesnake could barely move.
In the ring, the Brothers of Destruction were back in control.
Austin tried to drag himself into the ring when the final entrant of the 2001 Royal Rumble walked in. It was none other than his long-time foe: Rikishi.
On his way, Rikishi tried to attack Austin, but the Rattlesnake fought back. Austin, drenched in blood, fought through the big Samoan and finally entered the ring.
Stone Cold was officially in the Royal Rumble, to everyone’s delight and bewilderment. Despite his bleeding skull, Austin was on fire. Eliminating Haku, he turned his attention to Kane.
Meanwhile, Undertaker fought Rikishi, and The Rock fought Billy Gunn.
Old rivalries were ignited once again in the Royal Rumble match. After some back-and-forth action, Rikishi finally eliminated the Undertaker with a side kick. Everybody was in utter shock at The Phenom’s elimination.
The Rock quickly brought the fight to his cousin Rikishi.
Eventually, Rikishi went for the Banzai Drop on The Rock, who hit him with a low blow.
As Rikishi teetered on the second rope, The Rock shoved him, sending him over the top rope.
It was down to the final four – Kane, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Billy Gunn.
Gunn tried to eliminate Austin after hitting him with a Fameasser, but the Texas Rattlesnake, taking advantage of Gunn’s momentum, tossed him over the top rope. And then, there were three.
The final three competitors lay exhausted at three corners of the ring. Here, fans witnessed one of the greatest moments not only in Royal Rumble history but in the history of professional wrestling.
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin lay on the opposite corners of the ring. Up until this moment in the match, they hadn’t fought each other. But the moment was here at last. They finally locked eyes.
The physically exhausted Rock and the blood-bathed Austin stood up, staring down each other, and the crowd went absolutely crazy.
The megastars of professional wrestling went back and forth, raining blows upon each other.
They also hit each other with their respective finishing maneuvers.
As the two men struggled against the ropes attempting to eliminate each other, Kane hurled both men over the top rope.
It looked as if both Austin and Rock would get eliminated simultaneously, but it was only The Rock whose feet hit the floor. Steve Austin somehow managed to keep his feet away from the floor, and the Rattlesnake slithered back inside the ring.
It was down to two men now. One of them would go on to the main event of WrestleMania. But who would it be?
At this point, Kane looked like the obvious victor. He was unstoppable. Eliminating eleven men in the match, he set the record for the most number of eliminations in Royal Rumble history.
Austin, by then, had lost a lot of blood. But there was still a flickering hope for the toughest SOB in the WWF.
What ensued was a classic bout between the final two competitors. Two of the toughest men in the business gave all they had for securing the coveted spot at the main event of WrestleMania.
In the match’s final moments, Stone Cold escaped a Tombstone Piledriver attempt by hitting a low blow on Kane.
The Big Red Machine rolled out of the ring and grabbed a steel chair.
He tried to hit Austin with the chair, but Austin stopped the demon in his tracks with a hard kick to the gut and a flurry of right hands.
Kane went for the Tombstone again, but Austin countered with the Stone Cold Stunner!
He then picked up the chair. Kane got back up to his feet, and Stone Cold cracked him on the skull with the steel chair (a premonition of what would happen at the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven) while Jerry Lawler implored, "Austin, you’re not a monster!"
Stone Cold hit Kane square on the skull with another resounding chair shot as Jim Ross screamed, "Good God Almighty!"
Austin then cracked the chair on Kane’s skull for the third time. Kane leaned back on the ropes, probably knocked out cold. Austin bounced off the opposite ropes, and with a huge Clothesline, sent the Big Red Machine over the top rope.
"Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold is going to WrestleMania!" J.R. yelled, delighted at his friend’s Royal Rumble victory.
The fans in attendance held up signs of "Austin 3:16." Everybody was on their feet.
Soaking in the deafening cheers and applauds, with Disturbed’s "Glass Shatters" playing along, the bloodied and battered Rattlesnake celebrated his victory, cracking open a few cans of beer at the turnbuckle – the classic and representative symbol of the Attitude Era.
The 2001 Royal Rumble was a full package of wrestling entertainment and a textbook example of the Attitude Era.
There were matches of all kinds that evening – one-on-one, tag team, hardcore, and handicap, along with the historic 30-man Royal Rumble.
Not only did it provide the stage for setting up one of the biggest wrestling matches in history (The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven for the WWF Championship), it also turned Kane into an even bigger star.
From then onwards, Kane’s presence in a Royal Rumble meant only one thing – trouble for everybody else. And his record of eleven eliminations in the match remained unmatched and unbroken for the next thirteen years.
In terms of wrestling, storytelling, and entertainment, the 2001 Royal Rumble stands unmatched, even by today’s standards. It epitomizes an era that was marked with not just a boom in the wrestling business but a boom in the quality of sports entertainment – the era of the wrestling megastars, the era that will be etched in the history books forever – the Attitude Era.
These stories may also interest you:
- The Rock and Steve Austin – Rivals in the Ring, Brothers in Life
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- 6 Wrestling Careers Enhanced By the Royal Rumble
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