5. 2002 Royal Rumble Won By Triple H
Can you have a great Rumble match when the winner is obvious? Yes, my friends, I believe you can. Triple H missed about seven months of action in late 2001 due to a torn quadriceps muscle. His return was a big deal in early 2002 as he received a massive ovation on Raw in New York City. He went into this match as the overwhelming favorite and went on to be the victor.
There were also two moments that I’ll never forget. The first one involved the rookie Maven eliminating the legendary Undertaker after Undertaker had to deal with Matt & Jeff Hardy. When Maven hit that dropkick that sent Undertaker over the top to the floor it was a huge upset. Jim Ross went crazy on commentary: “MY GOD MY GOD I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” Ross was right in calling it the biggest shocker in Rumble history. Undertaker, who was a heel at the time, went back in the ring, beat the crap out of Maven and left him bloody. Maven didn’t become a big superstar in WWE, but that moment was awesome.
The other very memorable moment was a comedy spot. The Hurricane was in the ring with Triple H and Steve Austin. Hurricane grabbed them by the throat to tease a double chokeslam. Triple H and Austin looked at eachother as if to wonder “who is this guy?” and dumped him out immediately. It was a funny moment that reminded us how entertaining the Rumble could be.
The final four was strong with Steve Austin (a three-time Rumble winner at that point), Kurt Angle, Mr. Perfect and Triple H. I loved that Mr. Perfect was put in that position with three top guys. Austin got dumped by Angle, Hunter got rid of Perfect and then Hunter eliminated Angle to win the match.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Steve Austin at 26:46.
Most Eliminations: Steve Austin with seven.
4. 2005 Royal Rumble Won By Batista
There are two reasons why the 2005 Royal Rumble was memorable: 1) The tie finish that wasn’t supposed to be a tie. 2) WWE Chairman Vince McMahon tearing his quadriceps entering the ring. We’ll never forget those moments, although neither one is something WWE is going to celebrate.
Before I get to discussing the finish, my favorite part of the match was when Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle set up their legendary WrestleMania 21 match. Up to this point, these two performers were on separate shows with Michaels as a Raw guy and Angle as a Smackdown guy. Their paths didn’t cross prior to the 2005 Rumble. Angle was No. 20 in this match with Michaels already in the ring. Angle went after him right away, but Michaels avoided the Ankle Lock and hit a Superkick to eliminate Angle. Shortly after, Angle went back in the ring, attacked Michaels, eliminated him from the match and slapped on the Ankle Lock. I can remember marking out (the wrestling term for fan excitement) because that meant we would get to see Angle vs. Michaels for the first time ever. That’s the best example of using a Rumble match to set up a WrestleMania match. I wish WWE did it more often.
The final two men in the match were Batista and John Cena. It was obvious that both guys were heading to the main event level at WrestleMania 21. The finish was supposed to be Batista eliminating Cena with Batista holding the ropes as the winner. Here’s former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas, who was ringside for the match, explaining it:
“John Cena was supposed to be landing on the floor and Dave (Batista) was going to be hanging on to the rope but it was just so… I can’t explain exactly what happened for Dave not to hook that top rope like he wanted to but it didn’t happen that way. When you watch the replay it’s incredible that they almost landed precisely at the same time.”
That led to an irate Vince McMahon walking out to the ring and when he tried to get into the ring, he tore his quad muscle. He ended up sitting against the rope to order the refs to restart the match. It was so awkward. Batista ended up winning shortly after.
You may recall the tie finish in 1994 between Lex Luger and Bret Hart. That was a boring match with a memorable match. This was a better match with another memorable finish although it was never intended to be a tie.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Chris Benoit at 47:26.
Most Eliminations: Batista & Edge with five.
3. 2007 Royal Rumble Won By The Undertaker
The previous Rumble that I wrote about was 2005 when it was about building to the future with Cena and Batista. Two years later, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were the final two competitors. They were both in their early 40s at the time, so it wasn’t as if WWE was building to the long-term future with that ending. But that’s okay because it was fantastic to watch. I remember writing a column after it was over called “what’s old is new again” because Undertaker and Michaels reminded us how good they were.
There were other things in the match that were good such as Edge’s dominating performance and Great Khali getting booked as the monster in the match. I’m not a Khali fan by any means, but he eliminated seven guys in under four minutes. That’s how you are supposed to book the biggest guy in the match. He was eliminated by Undertaker. After Michaels eliminated Edge and Randy Orton, it led to the showdown.
The finishing sequence with Undertaker and Michaels was incredible. They went about eight minutes, which is the longest final two matchup in Rumble history. The Undertaker was busted open after two chair shots, which is why WWE made the video black and white. They hit eachother with everything and you could hear the crowd really getting into it. Undertaker hit a Chokeslam, so Michaels came back with a superkick. Undertaker ended up avoiding another superkick and dumped the smaller Michaels over the top.
It was the only time that The Undertaker won the Royal Rumble match. It also reminded us of how good his chemistry was with Michaels. Two years later, he had that epic WrestleMania 25 match with Michaels, which I think is WWE’s best match ever.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Edge at 44:02.
Most Eliminations: The Great Khali with seven.
2. 2001 Royal Rumble Won By Steve Austin
I have always said that the best period of WWE content took place from January 2000 to WrestleMania 17 on April 1, 2001. The 2001 Rumble is a part of that greatness because it featured a stacked WWE roster led by Steve Austin, who had returned a few months earlier after missing most of 2000 following major neck surgery.
One of the highlights of the match was the epic staredown between Steve Austin and The Rock. They had matches together before, but it had been a while. When they went face to face near the end of the match, the crowd went crazy. I’ll never forget it. They went on to main event WrestleMania 17 together.
Kane was a huge factor in this match. I’ve never been a huge Kane fan, but I admire his durability and consistency as a performer for two decades. The way he was booked in this match was the perfect example of using a big guy as a dominating presence in the Rumble. He lasted the longest in the match (he went nearly an hour) and eliminated 11 people, which was a record that lasted until 2014 when Roman Reigns eliminated 12 people. There was even a funny moment with Kane and Drew Carey, which somehow led to Carey being inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame as well.
Austin was a bloody mess before he even entered the match at No. 27. He was attacked by Triple H, who was his main rival at the time. That’s what I really liked about this Rumble. They used weapons early in the match to tell the story, there was the blood of Austin and there was a chair used at the end as well. Kane was so dominant, that Austin was only able to beat him after hitting him with three chair shots leading to a clothesline that sent Kane out of the ring. I thought it was a great ending to a fantastic match that made Austin’s return from neck surgery feel complete.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Kane at 53:46.
Most Eliminations: Kane with 11.
1. 1992 Royal Rumble Won By Ric Flair
I smile when I think of Royal Rumble 1992 because it’s about as perfect as you can book a Rumble match and it’s going to be tough to top it. In terms of star power, shocking moments, strong rivalries and a hot crowd it’s a special match to me. For one thing, they had the unique stipulation where the WWE Title was on the line because it was vacated. In 2016, WWE had Roman Reigns defending the title in the Rumble match, so it was similar in that the winner got to leave with the gold. I liked this stipulation a lot better because as a kid I had no idea who was going to win. It ended up becoming the Ric Flair show.
Regarding the star power in the match, here’s a list of WWE Hall of Famers that were a part of it: Ted Dibiase, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Tito Santana, Texas Tornado (Kerry Von Erich), Greg Valentine, Nikolai Volkoff, Big Boss Man, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Snuka, Randy Savage, Col. Mustafa (The Iron Sheik), Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. The Undertaker was also a part of it, although he’s not in the Hall of Fame yet. Obviously, he will be one day. That’s 17 names right there. I know WWE’s Hall of Fame isn’t perfect, but the point remains that this match was loaded with big names.
The story of the match was about Ric Flair, who entered at No. 3 with his buddy and heel announcer Bobby Heenan freaking about how “it’s not fair to Flair” all match long. During the entire match, people kept going at Flair to try to eliminate him. He kept hanging on. Eventually, he was in the final three with Hulk Hogan and Sid. After Hogan was dumped out by Sid, Hogan was mad about it and grabbed Sid’s arms. Flair capitalized on that by dumping Sid over the top to eliminate him.
The greatness continued even after the match with Flair’s famous “tear in my eye” speech where it called the greatest moment of his life. He was a lying heel, but it sure felt genuine to me.
Wrestler In Match The Longest: Ric Flair at 59:26.
Most Eliminations: Sid Justice with six.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at the 10 greatest Royal Rumble matches ever. As always in a case like this, it’s about personal opinion and what memories you have about a particular match. Let’s hope that the 2017 Rumble is good enough that we talk about it as one of the best ever. I’ll be back Tuesday with a look at this week’s Raw.