The 2008 Royal Rumble was one of the least predictable in years. John Cena had dropped the WWE Championship just months prior, after suffering an injury that was said to keep him out for a year with no no chance of wrestling at the Rumble. The belt has since been picked up by Randy Orton (via Triple H during an incredibly complicated No Mercy 2007) and was defended at the event against Jeff Hardy in a brilliant match.
There were rumours over who could face him at Wrestlemania, but it was still up in the air. A match against Triple seemed likely, although they hadn’t long traded the championship back and forth. Orton had already defended against Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho in the build up to the rumble, in two multi-month feuds that saw fans disappointed that Orton retained the championship.
Batista could have been a surprise opponent for the Viper. The two Evolution members had been separated for years but could have put on an excellent feud for Wrestlemania 24. Batista would end up in a meaningless match with Umaga at the event, a far cry from his battle with The Undertaker the year previous. There seemed nobody, yet endless options, for Orton to take on at Wrestlemania which made the 2008 Royal Rumble incredibly unpredictable.
John Cena’s Injury In 2007
John Cena’s dreams of Wrestlemania 24 seemed to have been extinguished when he suffered an injury prior to No Mercy 2007.
A torn pectoral suffered in a match with Mr Kennedy in 2007 put him on the shelf for what was expected to be up for a year. He was forced to vacate the WWE Championship, which he had held for a year at that point, and watch as fierce rival Randy Orton was handed the title and gloated over his injury.
It ended the longest reigning title reign of his career. He held the WWE Championship for 380 days (his third reign with the belt, after winning it from Edge the year prior) and stopped just 54 days short of CM Punk’s record-setting reign just 5 years later. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest WWE title runs of all time, but the disappointing way it ended meant it lost some of it’s lustre in the eyes of the fans.
Cena’s pectoral muscle was completely torn of the bone and was one of the most horrific injuries in WWE history. It is the same injury that Cody Rhodes suffered at Hell in a Cell, showing just how long he was to be expected out the ring. Returning at Wrestlemania seemed an impossibility, with the Royal Rumble being nothing but a pipedream.
However, nobody seemed to inform John Cena how impossible it was.
2008 Royal Rumble Winner
John Cena returned from injury to win the 2008 Royal Rumble, 6 months before he was expected to come back from his torn pectoral. He entered at number 30, as many wrestlers stood in the ring in shock and horror as a new favourite appeared to win the match. Triple H in particular, who was gunning for Randy Orton’s WWE Championship, looked particularly angry and went for Cena as soon as he could.
Entering at number 29, Triple H seemed like the favourite for the match. He had previously won the 2002 Royal Rumble and was a multiple time World Champion. Entering so late kept him fresh and put him in prime position. Given that nobody had won from number 30 before 2007 (when the Undertaker entered last to eliminate Shawn Michaels), it seemed unlikely they would pull that trick twice in a row.
However, John Cena had Wrestlemania 24 in his sights. He took the 2008 Royal Rumble by storm, going on a rampage and throwing men out left and right. He immediately tossed Chavo Guerrero, Carlito and Mark Henry over the top rope and soon enough, only three men stood in the ring – John Cena, Batista and Triple H. Three former World Champions aiming for the main event of Wrestlemania.
Triple H threw out Batista before the final two showdown. Cena and Triple H shared various wrestling moves, with each man coming close to coming over the top rope and out of the match. In the end, Cena went for the FU, which was countered into a pedigree, which was then countered into another FU by Cena, who launched The Game over the top rope and earned himself his first ever Royal Rumble victory.
The fans were in shock.
It had been a fantastic Royal Rumble, and booked to perfection by Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson. It opened with the last two from the year prior – Shawn Michaels and Undertaker – and had some brilliant wrestling as each new man came in and added something new to the fray.
It had all the top stars from all three brands (Raw, Smackdown and ECW) as well as two excellent legends who weaved their legendary feud into the match. Seeing “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper face off one last time was a treat for the Madison Square Garden Crowd, who had seen Snuka leap off the top of the cage oh so many years ago.
To top it off, the surprise, almost superhuman, return of the former WWE Champion and WWE’s top star John Cena was a sight to behold. Coming back to regain the title he never lost and to do so in such impressive fashion, so soon after a crippling injury, just showed the talent and dedication of one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
The aftermath was less impressive. Cena gambled his Wrestlemania shot at No Way Out 2008, losing by DQ to Orton. He would eventually be put back into the match at Wrestlemania 24, but this time in a triple threat bout. John Cena vs Randy Orton vs Triple H was the match for the WWE Championship, although it was pipped to the main event by the Edge vs Undertaker match for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Despite having a long reign that was ready to end, Randy Orton won the match. Even more bafflingly, he dropped it the next month, at Backlash. He lost in a Fatal 4 Way match, also involving Triple H, JBL and John Cena when Triple H regained the title and became the number one face on Raw. John Cena would not win the WWE Championship after his Royal Rumble return in 2008, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the greatest Royal Rumbles, and best surprise returns, in the history of wrestling.
You can watch the full 2008 Royal Rumble match on Youtube below
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.