The month of January means something very special to lifelong fans of World Wrestling Entertainment: The Royal Rumble. It is headlined by a battle royal match that takes place only once per year, which the event itself is named after.
The Royal Rumble started back in 1988 as a special on USA Network. In 1989, it became a pay-per-view event and now it’s a WWE Network event. I feel as though WWE has done a poor job in pushing the idea that this event is 30 years old. It’s arguably the second-most important show of the year after WrestleMania, although I think SummerSlam is really WWE’s No. 2 event of the year. I like the Royal Rumble a lot too. For the most part, it’s a fun show unlike anything else WWE produces, so that’s what makes it a favorite among the fans as well.
For 27 of the past 29 Royal Rumbles, it’s been a match that has featured 30 male competitors with a few females joining the mix as well. The first Rumble in 1988 featured only 20 competitors and was won by Jim Duggan. WWE tried to make the event even bigger in 2011 by doing the first-ever 40-man Rumble match, won by Alberto Del Rio. That wasn’t well received because it was too long, so they went back to the 30-man Rumble and thankfully it looks like it’s going to be that way forever.
I have a lot of fond memories of Royal Rumbles. I have watched all of them live and a few years ago, I reviewed them all for my site. I’m fascinated by the way WWE puts these matches together because there are so many intricacies involved in deciding who comes out at which number, who eliminates who, how you can build a story off an elimination and ultimately who gets to be crowned the winner. Some of the booking decisions they make in Royal Rumble matches are brilliant. Other times, not so much.
There are also times where I’m fascinated by how badly WWE can book a Rumble match, such as the way they completely ignored the fans’ desire to see Daniel Bryan win the 2014 Rumble. They ignored it by not even booking the guy in the Rumble match, which led to massive boos by the end of the match.
When ranking the actual Rumble, I try to think about the booking of the match. The best stories are the ones where the winner has to overcome the odds, find a way to keep surviving, and ultimately end up outlasting everybody. When the match is predictable in terms of the winner, it can often be boring. However, there have been some excellent Rumble matches even when the outcome was predictable.
The main reason I’m writing this is because I know that as the Rumble gets closer, fans like to relive some past Rumbles. If you’re going to do that, you might as well watch the best ones. Remember, these are mostly matches that take about an hour, so give yourself some time to watch them.
Here’s a look back at 10 of the best Royal Rumble matches over the past 29 years.
10. 2010 Royal Rumble Won By Edge
Surprise endings have happened a few times in the Rumble. When John Cena returned in 2008 as No. 30, it was a big shock to people because he was supposed to be out for much longer. That wasn’t a particularly great match, but the moment was cool as Cena went on to win. Edge made his surprising return in 2010 after a torn Achilles tendon sidelined him about six months earlier. I didn’t expect it to happen, but there he was at No. 29 and he received a thunderous ovation from the crowd, even though he was top heel for about five years before that. It was cool to see him back in the ring again.
There was a great story going into the match as well. Shawn Michaels really wanted to win because he wanted to face The Undertaker at WrestleMania 26 to avenge his loss to Undertaker from WrestleMania 25. At the time, Undertaker was the World Heavyweight Champion. Michaels figured if he won the Rumble, he would get the win. Michaels was incredible in terms of showing desperation to try to eliminate people (he had the most eliminations with 10) and survive. When Batista eliminated Michaels, he was stunned and the crowd was silent because they wanted him to win. Michaels was so mad he hit a superkick on referee Charles Robinson.
Edge was left in the ring with Batista and John Cena. I thought the final sequence could have been a lot better if they got more time, but instead they kept it simple. Cena eliminated Batista easily while Edge got rid of Cena to complete Edge’s comeback as the Rumble winner.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: John Cena at 22:11.
Most Eliminations: Shawn Michaels with 10.
9. 1990 Royal Rumble Won By Hulk Hogan
This was the first and only time that a Rumble match was won by the current WWE Champion. It didn’t make sense to me back then and it still doesn’t make sense to me. There is some story out there about how Mr. Perfect was supposed to win this match to give Hogan and Ultimate Warrior a credible opponent to feud with later in the year. Instead, Hogan got it changed and he got the win. What a great company guy, huh?
In terms of memorable moments, the showdown between Hogan and Warrior was legendary. At the time, Warrior was the face on the rise who was the Intercontinental Champion while Hogan was the face of the company as the WWE Champion. As you can see in the video above, the crowd was going crazy when they had a staredown. It was a teaser to their WrestleMania 6 match a few months later.
The match was a lot of fun to watch, mainly because of one of my favorite guys from that era, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. He started the match, went nearly 45 minutes and when he got eliminated by Warrior near the end of the match, the crowd reacted to it in a big way. He showed that even though somebody may lose a match, they should still be credited for carrying a lot of it.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Ted Dibiase at 44:47.
Most Eliminations: Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior with six each.
8. 1997 Royal Rumble Won By Steve Austin
The 1997 Royal Rumble was The Steve Austin Show. It may not be the best Rumble ever in terms of star power, but it elevated “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a big way at a time when WWE was smart enough to realize he was going to be a breakthrough superstar who would carry them over the next few years. Austin was a heel at the time, but he was starting to earn the respect of the fans. Plus, he was cool as a cocky guy that talked trash and backed it up in the ring. “Austin 3:16” was a phenomenon that showed no signs of slowing down.
Austin was the fifth man in the match, he cleared the ring and waited for No. 21, which was Bret Hart. Austin’s reaction when Hart entered was priceless because it was the perfect “oh s**t” face at the sight of his rival. Hart prevented Austin from dominating the rest of the match, but he didn’t stop his victory.
I thought the controversial finish was brilliant. Mankind and Terry Funk were brawling on the floor so the refs were busy with them. Bret Hart dumped Austin out with the refs missing it. Austin went back in the ring and dumped out Undertaker and Vader at the same time. Hart eliminated the fake Diesel (played by current star Kane) on the other side of the ring and Austin dumped Hart. The referees saw the last few eliminations, so Austin was declared the winner. Hart was furious about it. That set off Hart to become a heel leading to his incredible victory over Austin at WrestleMania 13, which is one of WWE’s best matches ever.
As a final note, I listened to a recent episode of the Bruce Prichard podcast (former Brother Love, who spent two decades as a key backstage decision maker in WWE) and he said that Bret Hart was originally booked to win this match. They changed the finish after Vince Russo (former WWE writer) said Bret was going to win on WWF Livewire, even though he had no idea at that time because he wasn’t on the creative team. Vince McMahon got mad at Russo for saying the finish on the air and changed it to the controversial win for Austin.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Steve Austin at 45:07.
Most Eliminations: Steve Austin with 10.
7. 2004 Royal Rumble Won By Chris Benoit
This was a Rumble that WWE isn’t going to celebrate because of the double murder-suicide that Chris Benoit committed in 2007. But as an actual match, it’s good. Benoit dominated this match as the first entrant that started with Randy Orton. At the time, Orton was a heel on the rise while Benoit was a face trying to overcome the odds of being the first guy in the match. Orton got eliminated by Mick Foley about halfway through the match to set up their tag match at WrestleMania 20.
One of the more memorable moments of the match was when Goldberg entered at No. 30. He was cleaning house until Brock Lesnar, who was the heel WWE Champion that wasn’t even in the match, showed up and dropped Goldberg with a F5. Goldberg yelled at Lesnar about how he was next. Angle dumped Goldberg out to eliminate him from the match. Goldberg and Lesnar have never been actual participants in the same Rumble match until this year’s event less than two weeks away.
The final two came down to Benoit and Big Show, who had a dominant performance in the match as a big guy that was hard to beat. It proved to be a tough task for Benoit, who synched in a tight headlock and yanked Show over the top to the floor to eliminate. At the time, it was one of the happiest moments for long time fans of Benoit because it meant that this long time midcarder from WCW and WWE had finally broken through to earn himself a shot at what was Raw’s World Title at the time.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Chris Benoit at 61:30.
Most Eliminations: Chris Benoit with six.
6. 2006 Royal Rumble Won By Rey Mysterio
The 2006 Rumble was an event that acted as a bit of a tribute for Eddie Guerrero, who died a few months earlier, and a way to put over Rey Mysterio as the “ultimate underdog.” Mysterio started the match at No. 2 with Triple H at No. 1. Both guys went over an hour in the match with Mysterio eliminating Triple H and then Randy Orton to win the match with a record time of 62:12.
When watching this match at the time, I wasn’t sure who was going to win. I know the Mysterio win seems obvious now, but at the time it was hard to believe that Vince McMahon would pick the 5-foot-6 Mysterio to win the match when Vince had a history of choosing the bigger wrestlers in these situations. It made sense from an emotional standpoint because Mysterio was very close with Guerrero, but I really didn’t believe he was going to win until it happened.
The finish was well done with Mysterio, Triple H and Orton as the final three. I loved the way Rey eliminated both guys. I kept thinking the finish would see Orton dump out Mysterio after the Triple H elimination, but Rey found a way to get it done. Will that 62:12 time of Mysterio ever be broken? Most likely because Mysterio isn’t a part of WWE anymore. Could be this year. Then again, if it lasts another decade that would be cool too.