This is part one of our list ranking all of the Royal Rumble matches.
Pretty much since the invention of the match as the center of a stand alone show, the Royal Rumble has been my favorite match and most looked forward to event. I could name all the winners of the Royal Rumble until about the year 2008 and then it starts to get hazy. But I still enjoy the show very much.
With the 30th Royal Rumble nearly upon us, I decided to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m ranking all of the Royal Rumbles, one through twenty nine. I’m not going to rank the actual PPVs. I’m just going to rank the actual Royal Rumble matches.
The Royal Rumble match went in about three different waves. The early Rumbles were just fancy battle royals. There was nothing at stake. At that time, the battle royal wasn’t that far removed from being a special attraction and this was the remix.
In 1992, the WWF title was vacant and the winner was going to become the WWF champion. There was now a prize for the winner of the Royal Rumble.
You can’t duplicate that moment and make the title vacant every year, but the next best way to do that is to make the winner the number one contender to the title, which was generally the top match at WrestleMania. That was the second wave. It’s arguable as to when that second wave ended, but it’s probably somewhere in the mid 2000s, when there were brand champions.
The third wave isn’t that far off from the second wave, but it’s exactly where we are today. The winner is still the number one contender to the title, but the title match isn’t always the main event any longer in today’s WrestleMania. In 2006, Rey Mysterio won the Royal Rumble, but his match was third from the top. In 2012, Sheamus won, and he opened WrestleMania 28.
Since the winner wasn’t always in the biggest match on the show, the winner was not as important. But WWE builds up the Royal Rumble as the first step in the road to WrestleMania, so it’s still a pretty big deal today.
In addition to ranking the matches from last to best, I’ll also talk a bit about the booking of the match and give each match a MVP. The MVP of the match isn’t necessarily the winner, or who is most over with the crowd. It may also be the person who kept the match most interesting.
Let’s begin with the worst nine.
29. 1993 Royal Rumble
This is the sixth Royal Rumble and has the unfortunate luck of following the 1992 version of the Royal Rumble which is the most memorable version. It was the first Rumble to have the stipulation that the winner would become the number one contender to the WWF title.
Bret Hart’s the champion and there was a ton of intrigue in what the main event would be in the post-Hulk Hogan WWF. The star power in the match is much lower compared to 1992.
– Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan are on the call. They would only call two Royal Rumbles together.
– Ric Flair, who won the entire event the previous year, and Bob Backlund are the first two entrants and they’re wearing the exact same shade of red on their trunks.
– Max Moon is in this match!
– Mr. Perfect eliminates Flair and would go on to beat him and force him to retire the next night on Raw. Flair wouldn’t show back up in the Royal Rumble match until 2005.
– Giant Gonzalez attacks the Undertaker in the match, which was a lowlight WWF moment if there ever was one.
– Carlos Colon is in the Rumble and Monsoon says, “There’s a lot of fire in this youngster.”
Final four: Rick Martel, Bob Backlund, Yokozuna, and Randy Savage
When it comes to star power, this is one of the worst final fours in Rumble history. At the time, Yokozuna was up and coming, but I wasn’t so sure he was winning this match. I thought Savage was the way to go for WrestleMania, even if both Savage and Hart were babyfaces. Martel is great, but he wasn’t more than midcard in 1993. Backlund wasn’t pushed as a main eventer until the following year.
It came down to Savage and Yokozuna and Savage finally knocked him off his feet, and went to the top rope and hit his patented flying elbow. For some reason, he went for the pin and Yoko kicked out so hard that Savage went over the top rope.
Most of the action was boring throughout the match once Flair was eliminated. Also, the lack of starpower and the weird finish puts this one at the very bottom for me. I hated it when I watched it live and it holds about just as much.
MVP: Randy Savage
You could argue that Backlund was the MVP based on being in the match for over an hour, but he didn’t do much in his hour. Once Savage entered at number 30, it kicked the match up a notch. He did more in his 14 minutes than Backlund did in his hour.
28. 1989 Royal Rumble
This is the second Royal Rumble and the first Royal Rumble to be shown on PPV as a standalone event. The idea was fresh, but it was an all-entrance match. The match was still worked like the old battle royals where everyone grabs a hold and stands in the corner.
Randy Savage was the champion and this was right smack dab in the middle of the Mega Powers exploding.
– This is the only Royal Rumble that Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura would call together.
– Ax and Smash are the first two entrants, which gave you the intrigue of seeing every man for himself.
– Andre The Giant, always marketed as the king of the battle royal, enters at number three and isn’t eliminated by a person. He leaves when Jake Roberts dumps his snake in the ring after he was already eliminated by Andre. What a petty Jake.
– The Brain Busters, in their only Royal Rumble, tried their best to keep this boring match together.
– Hulk Hogan dumps The Warlord very quickly in a memorable moment.
– He also “tries” dumping out Bad News Brown, but at the same time, dumps his buddy Savage out. What a great friend.
– Akeem and the Big Bossman make short work of Hogan, dumping him out.
Final four: Rick Martel, Akeem (second year in a row), Ted DiBiase, and Big John Studd
The problem with the final four is that the crowd was pretty much out of it after Hogan and Savage were eliminated.
Martel went out first, followed by Akeem who was dumped by Studd. Finally, DiBiase was tossed by Studd. It was very anticlimactic.
MVP: Hulk Hogan
Mr. Perfect had a great run and is one of the more “perfect” Rumble wrestlers because of his ability to make it seem like he was going over the top, but not actually do so. He also set the new record for being in the longest. Shawn Michaels, in his first Rumble, had a nice little run. The Macho Man brought the tenacity. Rick Martel had a fun run. But it’s Hogan. The crowd was behind him the entire way. He tossed out nine guys and once he was eliminated, the crowd was deflated.
27. 1999 Royal Rumble
They were heavy into The Corporation storyline, which meant that Mr. McMahon was able to finagle the Rumble order, making Austin number one and him number thirty. But Commissioner Shawn Michaels overrode his decision, gave number two to Mr. McMahon and Chyna won a mini-Rumble on Raw to get the thirty spot.
This Rumble is often remembered for being very boring, lacking in star power, and goofy with Mr. McMahon winning the match. There was an injury angle to Austin, meaning he was out for a lot of the match and the heat with the crowd was gone while he was out.
– Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are calling the match as Jim Ross isn’t there.
– The roster is pretty bad at this point with guys like Droz and the Blue Meanie in the match.
– Nothing really happens in the match until Kane comes in and dumps everyone, but then leaves.
– Vince, who was never eliminated but left the ring, comes back, and rather than get in the ring, goes to the announcer’s desk like old times.
– Austin comes back from his injury, but it’s pretty dumb. He doesn’t even show signs of an injury and he just lets Vince sit at ringside without going after him.
– Chyna is the first woman to enter the match (and there have been only three all-time).
Final four: Vince McMahon, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Big Bossman, and D-Lo
Even though everyone realized Vince was still in the match, Michael Cole tried to sell Owen Hart as being in the final four.
D-Lo was dumped by Bossman who was dumped by Austin. Austin had eight eliminations. The Rock came out to distract Austin after Austin hit McMahon with a stunner. Surprisingly, Vince took it well. Austin tried to hit Rock, who jumped to the apron and Vince tossed him out.
MVP: Stone Cold Steve Austin
There were few candidates here. Austin was hot as flames, but he spent a lot of the match being “injured” and outside the ring. There were only a few guys who were even in the match for ten minutes. Kane had the best couple minutes of the night, but wasn’t in nearly long enough.
26. 2012 Royal Rumble
At some point in the 90s, there was a clear way for the Royal Rumble match to be successful. You put in some of the really good wrestlers early to carry the match, including possibly some of your best workers as the first two. Bring in the stars to pop the crowd periodically, though generally saving the biggest for the end. Not every Rumble is the same, though, the best ones have a lot of that formula in tact. But sometimes, that formula doesn’t work. This was one of those.
This Rumble led into the most successful WrestleMania ever. But it wasn’t because of this match.
– The Miz and his former protege Alex Riley start the match.
– Mick Foley, who is really heavy here and can barely move, is in the match as well. He’s mostly in there to do a spot with Santino Marella where Socko battled the Cobra.
– The great Ricardo Rodriguez has a ton of charisma, but is dumped because of a wedgie.
– To show you how little star power there is in this match, Jerry Lawler, Booker T, and Michael Cole (who were all broadcasting the match), Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Kharma (who is the third woman ever in the Rumble) and Road Dogg take up six spots in this match.
– Kofi does a cool spot in which he is nearly eliminated but lands on his hands and walks on his hands to get back in the ring, making sure his feet don’t hit the floor.
Final four: The Big Show, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and Sheamus
This is a poor final four in that there’s no big babyface to either win, or be spoiled in winning. As hard as they were pushing Sheamus, he just didn’t fit.
Show goes out thanks to Orton, who goes out thanks to Jericho. It’s down to Sheamus and Jericho. Sheamus and Jericho actually have a really good final two sequence (maybe the best since the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at), but the crowd wasn’t really too hot on either guy.
MVP: Chris Jericho
Jericho entered at number 29, but he was still fairly new in his return after being gone for a year. And he tried mightily to make the ending sequence with Sheamus as great as possible. If not for that great final two sequence, this might be the worst Rumble ever.
25. 1988 Royal Rumble
Even though the very first Royal Rumble is low on my list, it’s not because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with it. It just wasn’t that interesting of a match and the big stars weren’t involved.
The original Rumble was a counter to Jim Crockett Promotions’ second PPV, Bunkhouse Stampede. The last time Crockett ran a PPV on Thanksgiving the year prior, the WWF countered with their own PPV, the inaugural Survivor Series. This time, WWE didn’t run a PPV because the PPV companies were upset with the PPV feuding (meaning less money for them). Instead, they did something that was probably more harmful to Crockett; ran a live cable special which was seen by a lot of eyeballs.
Crockett would get the WWF back by running the very first Clash Of The Champions a few months later to go head to head with WrestleMania IV.
– Vince McMahon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura are on the call.
– Bret Hart and Tito Santana are the first two Royal Rumble (as long as you don’t count the first house show version) entrants ever.
– “The Natural” Butch Reed is the first guy ever eliminated (by Jake Roberts) in a Royal Rumble.
– Sam Houston and Jake are the first two brothers in the Royal Rumble. Cody Rhodes and Goldust would face off in the same Royal Rumble match four times.
Final four: One Man Gang, “The Rock” Don Muraco, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Dino Bravo
Muraco goes out first. The Gang (who would be in the final four the next year as well as Akeem) accidentally clotheslines Bravo out. Then he charges Duggan and Duggan pulls the top rope down and wins the match.
MVP: Bret Hart
Like I mentioned earlier, this match wasn’t all that exciting. It was a bunch of guys grabbing holds in the corner. But Bret Hart really did a good job and keeping the match as interesting as he possibly could.
24. 2011 Royal Rumble
The 2011 and 2012 Royal Rumbles might be the worst back-to-back Rumbles ever. They’re both bad for similar reasons; lack of real star power. Except in the case of 2011, they decided to add 10 more guys. They even called it the biggest Royal Rumble in history. All it did was give fans 10 more guys they didn’t care about who were eliminated very quickly.
There were some fun spots in the match, but they were too few and far between. When those spots weren’t happening, the show was very boring.
– The match started strongly with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan as the first two entrants.
– William Regal, Punk, and Bryan were in together for a little while and it was fantastic.
– John Morrison had a fun spot when he was thrown over the top rope, but hung onto the barricade like Spider-man and used the barricade to run back into the ring.
– The New Nexxus came in and help Punk clear the ring multiple times.
– Well, until John Cena came in. He squashed them all.
– Diesel was a surprise and came in, jacked to the gills.
Final four: John Cena, Wade Barrett, Alberto Del Rio, and Randy Orton
The trick here was that Santino Marella was still in the match, but everyone forgot about him. So really, Marella was in the final four and not Cena.
Miz was sitting ringside and dumped Cena out. That’s my least favorite Royal Rumble spot that always gets repeated. How someone can get eliminated by someone not in the match? The crowd was absolutely disinterested when Cena was dumped. Orton quickly throws out Barrett and Del Rio immediately tosses Orton. Santino comes from outside the ring, hits Del Rio with the Cobra, and then tries to throw him out, but he’s reversed. The crowd went bananas during the Santino spot. Del Rio is the winner.
MVP: John Cena
Cena’s a funny one in that he’s awful at throwing punches. In just about every Rumble he’s in, tons of guys feed into him, and he throws punches and jumps from guy to guy in just about the most awkward way possible. He’s just not smooth at all.
However, in this match, he was the best of the bad. Plus, the crowd was right with him until the end.
23. 1995 Royal Rumble
This Royal Rumble is often highlighted by WWE to showcase Shawn Michael’s bell-to-bell victory (the first ever in Rumble history), which was also his first of back-to-back wins. The main issue with this match is mostly the length, which makes it less than 40 minutes long. Rather than the 90 or 120 second intervals (and really, these intervals are often all over the place), there were only 60 second intervals.
But it also has one of the worst Rumble rosters ever. There were maybe four believable winners throughout the match, which kind of gives the finish away which is that the first two combatants were the last two combatants.
– Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler are on the mic.
– Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog are the first two entrants.
– Bret Hart attacked Owen Hart on his way to the ring as payback for interfering in his match with Diesel earlier.
– Mo from Men On A Mission runs at King Kong Bundy, Bundy ducks, and Mo goes right over. Why is Mo’s quick elimination never shown in the highlights?
– Pamela Anderson was ringside and had to be so bored.
– Bret also returned to brawl with Bob Backlund and wasn’t even in the match. Poor sport Bret.
– Vince’s constant selling of HBK being in a no-win situation gives away the probable finish.
– The great Dick Murdoch nearly makes it to the final five.
Final four: Lex Luger, Crush, Shawn Michaels, and British Bulldog
Luger was the co-winner the prior year. HBK eliminated Luger. Bulldog eliminated Crush. Smith threw Michaels over the top, but Michaels skinned the cat with only one of his feet touching the floor, came back in and eliminated Bulldog. Vince called it for Bulldog and his music played before Michaels’ came back in. Can you imagine Pamela Anderson coming out with Bulldog after the match?
MVP: Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog
The entire match was set up for both guys to look strong all the way until the finish.
22. 2005 Royal Rumble
I was personally in attendance for this one. From a storyline perspective, the ending of this match boded well for the future. But that ending was botched.
Also, they were in an in between stage with the roster. There were lots of new guys, but mostly guys who were never that big of a deal.
– In a nice touch to the previous year, Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit are the first two entrants.
– Daniel Puder is in the match, but is only there so Guerrero, Benoit, and Bob Holly can chop him up.
– With 4 Raw and 4 Smackdown guys in the ring, they face off as teams against each other. Well, until Muhammad Hassan comes in. Then everyone just tees off on him. Racism is alive.
– Chris Jericho, Guerrero, Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and Edge keep the match together.
– HBK and a scary Kurt Angle come in. HBK super kicks him out to set up their WrestleMania 21 match.
– John Cena comes in throwing the worst punches.
– Paul London gets his head taken off by Gene Snitsky in a bump that looked fantastic live.
– Batista comes in to a great pop and tosses Snitsky and Jericho.
– Flair is back at 30! It was a nice thirteen year break between Rumbles.
Final four: Edge, Batista, John Cena and Rey Mysterio
Edge spears Rey out. Cena and Batista dump out Edge, which leads to the faceoff between both guys. Batista is supposed to toss Cena out, but he goes out as well. They both touch the floor at the same time. That causes Vince McMahon to angrily come out. He jumps into the ring and blows out both of his quads and he’s unable to stand up.
Cena throws out Batista. Then Batista throws out Cena. Finally, the match restarts and Batista throws Cena out to win.
MVP: Chris Benoit
Cena was too clumsy. Batista was solid and had a ton of fire, but he came in very late. Benoit kept the match together pretty much all the way until the end.
21. 2013 Royal Rumble
WWE was about to rematch John Cena vs The Rock at WrestleMania 29. Just about everyone knew that. It meant that Cena was probably winning the Rumble. Rock was facing CM Punk for his WWE title and was probably winning.
In this case, the Rumble seemed anticlimactic, which is the opposite of how it should feel. One of the things that makes the Rumble exciting is wondering who is going to win. In this case, fans were pretty sure they knew.
– Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho (in his return) were the first two in.
– Kofi Kingston is tossed out, but lands on the announcer’s table. He uses JBL’s chair to hop back toward the ring.
– The “Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks” chants are pretty loud.
– The “Yes” chants for Daniel Bryan and very loud.
– It’s Cesaro’s first Rumble.
– Bryan dumps out his tag team partner Kane. Cesaro knocks Bryan out, but he lands in the arms of Kane. Kane teases that he’s going to put him back on the apron, but dumps him on the back of his head instead and Bryan is eliminated.
– Ziggler and Jericho last until the 30th man comes in, but Ziggler dumps Jericho.
Final four: Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, John Cena, and Ryback
It’s Ryback’s first Rumble. Sheamus dumps out Ziggler with a Brogue Kick. Ryback dumps Sheamus. Ryback is over like crazy at this point. Cena dumps Ryback to win for the second time.
MVP: John Cena
In Ryback’s 9 minutes, he had the most impact you could possibly have and was white hot. But Cena’s the MVP because the match was booked to get him back in the main event at WrestleMania, and he made sure it worked out.
In the next part, we’ll go from 20 to 11.