Whereas Royal Rumble 2000 ended with the disappoint of not being able to attend the event live, I was hoping for a different outcome come 2008 when the Royal Rumble returned to Madison Square Garden in 2008. In the years leading up to 2008 I had became pretty good friends with my biggest wrestling friend growing up who i had drifted apart from during my early college years. In 2006, I noticed that he and his girlfriend had become really big wrestling fans and were attending conventions and shows almost weekly. We ended up going to a smackdown taping together in 2006 and I remember we had an absolute blast booing Tatanka during his ill fated return. We ended up becoming good friends again from this moment and literally started attending local wrestling shows regularly. Whether it was Ring of honor, Dragon Gate USA, WWE, TNA or even local independents on the tip of New Jersey to see Hardcore Holly, we were finding ways and reasons to attend wrestling events live. I had to give my buddy credit too because we often had good seats to WWE events which weren’t always easy to get as a three pack. When Royal Rumble 2008 rolled around, it seemed we had really met our match as tickets for that event sold out instantly.
Something that was really cool back then, was that the WWE was doing a tour of their Axxess fan festival events in the surrounding areas of the live events leading up to Wrestlemania. In New York that year there were a series of Axxess festivals running out of South Street Seaport. The events were hosted by HillBilly Jim and had appearances by WWE superstars as well as different types of contests, games and WWE memorabilia. My friends weren’t working at the time and so they attended every Axxess event prior to the Rumble that weekend as these festivals were also free. I went to work on Thursday and Friday that week and was unbelievably jealous as my friend texted me photos with Matt Striker and the like. I attended Axxess with them on Royal Rumble Sunday. My buddy’s girlfriend and I had pretty much accepted that we were not going to be attending the Rumble as the cheapest seats on the secondary market were $500 each. My buddy on the other hand was hell bent on going to the show and wouldn’t accept no for an answer.
Also at Axxess that day Ric Flair was signing autographs from 12-2 which was huge not only because it was Ric Flair but this was during the last leg of Flairs active wrestling career for WWE. Unfortunately with the line so long for Ric ( people were lined up outside since 6am) we didn’t make it anywhere close to see the Nature Boy. Thus, at 2pm, while we were on the line,Ric was replaced with The Highlanders. Though this could be viewed as about as bit of a downgrade, as you could imagine, the highlanders were some of the nicest superstars I could remember. They asked us if we were ready for the Rumble that night and if we were going. I said “I’m afraid not, we can’t get any tickets”. I remember Rory specifically encouraging us and saying don’t give up you can make it and telling us to go to the venue and sometimes tickets were released prior to the show.
Before we got to that point, there was a wrestler impression contest where five people were picked from the crowd to do impressions and the winner got two tickets to the Rumble while second place got the new Steve Austin DVD. (This reminded me of a similar contest that the WWF did for Wrestlemania 13 but that’s a story for my Mania retrospectives) In any event I was chosen to participate in the contest and after three people were awful, I got up and did my very best Jim Ross. The crowd loved it and ate it up. My friends were going bananas mouthing ” Holy Shit you’re going to win”! Then the final contestant went up and did a picture perfect Joey Styles that he couldn’t even finish his impression without people going absolutely nuts for him. He won the contest and I got the Austin DVD for my troubles.
Upon the completion of Axxess, in which HillBilly Jim refused to take a photo with me and only took one with my buddy’s girlfriend. It was off to the races as we raced to Madison Square Garden to hope for the best in getting tickets for the Rumble.
It was absolute torture waiting on that line, as we waited for about three hours with tickets getting released little by little up to the show. To add insult to circumstance, we all noticed one of our friends at the show passing us by who had stopped watching wwe years earlier. Finally tickets were released, for $156 a pop. My friends were excited but I knew I couldn’t pay for it. I had left my debit card at home and didn’t have enough cash.
Dejected, I made my way back to the train and called my parents to order the show. I waited on the train about five minutes feeling like I wasted the whole day and all I got was a highlanders autograph. Just then my phone rang and it was my friend, he explained that while he didn’t have the money to cover my ticket, his girlfriend did and couldn’t let me watch from home. I couldn’t believe it, it was truly one of the nicest things someone had done for me and so I ran off the train and all the way back to the arena. I was so excited I forgot to tell my family to cancel the event order on ppv. I was finally going to the Royal Rumble!
What a Rumble this was too, I remember the great Rumble commercial and poster that took place in a New York City subway. The big story other than the Rumble that night was Jeff Hardy challenging for the world title against Randy Orton. I loved the story going into this match as Jeff was finally getting a shot at the big title. Unfortunately, Jeff lost that night and I honestly thought he could have been given a run with the title. He was had a ton of momentum going into this match and I think a moment on this show at MSG would have been great for him. It sadly was not to be and to add insult, this was the night Mike Adamle called him “Jeff Harvey”.
As for the Rumble, this was probably my favorite Royal Rumble match. The talk before the match amongst my friends were we had no clue who was going to win the Rumble because John Cena was injured at the time. As for surprises that year, this Rumble had some of the best ones ever when you consider the MSG connection. You first had Mick Foley who grew up going to shows at the Garden. From there you had back to back surprise entrants as SuperFly Jimmy Snuka came out followed by Rowdy Roddy Piper who were on opposite sides of the first Wrestlemania which took place at MSG and then came time for Number 30.
The big rumor of the night was that the Big Show was returning after an 18 month absence. We were so prepared for Shows return that we were prepared to do the big chokeslam hand as we counted down with the countdown. When the clock struck zero it was huge pause and then a familiar rattle. It was John Cena! Now typically, the MSG crowd was pretty hard on Cena booing him time and time again during his run on top. Well, on this night it became clear that everyone forgot they were supposed to hate John. This was by far the biggest pop of the night and the biggest I’ve heard in my history of attending shows at MSG. The crowd went nuts as it was a huge return as Cena was supposed to be out of action another nine months. Cena went on to win the rumble to celebrations from the crowd that included grown men hugging each other. Such a great live experience.
After the show, we went to the area where the superstars were leaving and it was a who’s who of people we saw. Anyone from John McEnroe to Darryl Strawberry to Mean Street Posse’s Pete Gas to R Truth who didn’t re debut for WWE until later that year. Then as Ric Flair exited the building, a small child ran under the barricade right at the Nature Boy. Flair put his hand out to stop the youngster and said “control your child” while walking passed the kid no selling the kid entirely. The crowd began to boo Ric until he let out a signature “Whoo” and got a huge pop. Only in wrestling!
Well that’s gonna do it for now but next up I’ll be traveling live to Atlanta, Georgia for the Royal Rumble 2010.