The Royal Rumble is one of the most exciting special events that World Wrestling Entertainment holds every January. The first Royal Rumble match was a USA Network special won by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan with 20 men participating in the match. A year later, it became an annual pay-per-view event with 30 people competing in the match (in 2011 there was 40 people) as a way to kick off WrestleMania season.
The rules of the Rumble match are complicated for non-WWE fans, but any WWE fan knows the rules. Two guys start out the match, then every 90 seconds another wrestler comes out of the back to fill the ring. Originally intervals were at two minutes, then they even did them at 60 seconds one year, but they have settled on 90 second intervals most years. The only way to be eliminated is to go over the top rope with both feet touching the floor. The match runs until all 30 participants have entered the ring and one final competitor is left as the winner.
What does the winner get? Usually the prize is pretty big – a WWE Title match at WrestleMania. When they had the WWE and World Title from 2003 to 2012, wrestlers had the option of picking what title they could go for.
Since the match only happens once per year and the prize awarded to the winner is a headlining spot at WestleMania—and all the build up that entails—the Rumble is one of the most popular matches on the WWE calendar.
This year’s Rumble match will see Roman Reigns defend the WWE Title against 29 other stars, which is the first time the WWE Title has been defended in a Rumble, though the belt has been up for grabs in a Rumble match before (more on that later). I’ll be previewing that at the end of the week. For now, it’s a time to reflect back on the previous 28 editions of the Rumble match to remind fans of some of the best moments in the history of the match.
There are so many great moments in the history of the Royal Rumble and it’s tough to narrow it down, but if you’re in the mood to relive some awesome moments on WWE Network this week, these are some memories worth checking out again.
10. Santino Is Eliminated Faster Than Anybody In Rumble History (2009)
Comedy is necessary in a Royal Rumble match because you have to find ways to keep the audience interested for an hour or however long the match is going to run for. It can be argued that Santino is the funniest wrestler in WWE history, so that’s what makes his appearance in the 2009 Rumble so great.
The ring was full of big name stars as Santino entered as #28. He slid under the bottom rope, stood up and before he could do anything, Kane met him with a clothesline that eliminated him in a record one second.
The previous record for fastest elimination was two seconds by The Warlord at the hands of Hulk Hogan in 1989. It took twenty years, but Santino beat him for a record that will likely never be broken.
9. Kofi Kingston’s Creative Ways To Avoid Elimination
No wrestler has taken the “both feet must touch the floor” stipulation to heart better than Kofi Kingston, who is currently one of the Tag Team Champions as part of The New Day. Since 2012, it’s become an annual tradition where Kofi Kingston – one of WWE’s most athletic performers ever – finds a creative way to avoid being eliminated from the Royal Rumble match.
The first miracle save in 2012 was when he was pushed out of the ring by The Miz, but Kingston was able to do a handstand and walked on his hands to get to the ring steps. Both feet didn’t touch the floor at that moment, so he was safe. In 2013, he jumped on the back of Tensai, sat on the announce table and then used a chair from announcer JBL to hop back to the apron. It was very creative and earned a huge reaction.
In 2014, CM Punk sent Kingston out of the match only for him to be caught by Rusev. That led to Rusev placing Kingston on the barrier at ringside only for Kingston to get back to his feet and jump off the barricade onto side of the ring apron. Last year, Kofi was tossed over the top by Rusev and landed onto Adam Rose’s buddies The Rosebuds at ringside.
What will Kingston do to save himself at this year’s Royal Rumble? Don’t be surprised if he uses his New Day buddies to help stay alive in the match.
8. Steve Austin Cheats To Win (1997)
Steve Austin put on an amazing performance in the 1997 Royal Rumble, which was at a time when his career really began to take off. He was the 4th man in the match that went on to win after 45:07 although it wasn’t what you might call a clean win.
With five men left in the match, all the referees at ringside were dealing with Terry Funk and Mankind fighting outside the ring. Austin was tossed out by his rival Bret Hart, but none of the refs saw it, so he went back into the ring. Austin eliminated The Undertaker and Vader (the refs saw that), Hart sent out fake Diesel (later to be known as Kane) and Austin dumped out Hart to win. Post match, Austin walked out proud of himself while Hart was furious about it.
It was one of the most creative ways to end a Rumble because they can’t book something like that for a finish that often without it getting old. You could only really do it once and it worked perfectly. Austin went on to legitimately win the Rumble two more times in 1998 and 2001.
7. Randy Savage Is “Accidentally” Eliminated By Hulk Hogan (1989)
The moments that we remember as children tend to last with us forever. For me, as a diehard “Macho Man” Randy Savage fan, I’ll never forget how sad I was with what happened to him in the 1989 Royal Rumble.
Savage was the WWE Champion that was best friends with Hulk Hogan. In the middle portion of the match, after Hogan sent The Warlord out of the ring in two seconds, Savage was battling against Bad News Brown against the ropes. Hogan went over, dumped Brown over the top and the momentum also sent Savage over the top to the floor. If you watch it closely, you can see that Hogan never even touched Savage.
After it was over, Savage shoved Hogan in the back. He felt betrayed by his best friend while Hogan said that it was just an accident. With Savage out of the way, Hogan went on to win the match.
As an eight-year-old kid, I was furious about it because I wanted Savage to win. Looking back on it now, it was a brilliant angle to set up Savage’s heel turn, which led to them main eventing WrestleMania 5 two months later.
6. Rey Mysterio Sets The Endurance Record (2006)
Rey Mysterio is the smallest man to win the Royal Rumble match and he’s also the man that holds the record for most time spent in the Rumble.
Mysterio started the match at number two with Triple H in the number one spot. Mysterio dedicated the match to the late great Eddie Guerrero, who died a few months before the match. It was obvious going into the Rumble that year that Mysterio was likely going to win because of his popularity and the way they mentioned Eddie’s death constantly.
The manner in which Mysterio won is what was really impressive. He countered a Triple H spinebuster by hooking his legs around Triple H’s body and sent him over the top. Randy Orton was cocky as he tried to prey on the smaller Mysterio. He put him on his shoulder, but Mysterio used the momentum to flip Orton out of the ring with a hurricanrana.
Mysterio was in the match for 62:12. While it’s possible that somebody may break the record one day, it may be difficult because they may want to keep Mysterio as the record holder forever. Then again, he isn’t in WWE anymore, so the record could fall this year.
5. John Cena’s Shocking Return Leads To A Royal Rumble Win (2008)
John Cena wasn’t advertised for the 2008 Royal Rumble match in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. That might sound strange, but the reason for it is because Cena suffered a torn pectoral injury in October 2007 that required surgery. The belief was that he’d be out for about seven months at least. Instead, he was back in less than four months.
The ovation that Cena received when his music hit as the 30th entrant was massive. It showed that even though some fans may boo him because they’re sick of him, they also had a lot of respect for him as WWE’s marquee performer over the last decade.
Cena ended up outlasting Batista and Triple H in the final three to win the match. He celebrated the victory by pointing at his arm as if to show the world that he was back and arguably better than ever.
4. The Rookie Maven Surprisingly Eliminates The Undertaker (2002)
The beauty of the Rumble match is that you can book upsets and it doesn’t mean that a big name wrestler has to take a costly pinfall. As the evil biker known as “Big Evil” at that point in his career, The Undertaker was dominating the early portion of the 2002 Rumble by getting rid of the popular Hardy Boyz.
After Taker disposed of the Hardys, Tough Enough winner Maven entered the match at #11 and it looked like Maven would be eliminated quickly. Instead, the Hardys and Lita went after Taker again. He got rid of them a second time, which allowed Maven to hit a dropkick to the back that sent Undertaker over the top to the floor.
Following his elimination, The Undertaker was furious. The look on Undertaker’s face was classic. He was so angry. He beat up Maven all around the ringside area, put him back in the ring, tossed him over the top (even though Undertaker technically was out of the match) and beat him up throughout the arena.
It was the biggest upset in Rumble history. They may never be able to top that one unless somebody like a Heath Slater eliminated Brock Lesnar this year. Good luck with that.
3. The Best Final Two Sequence Ever With The Undertaker And Shawn Michaels (2007)
There have been a lot of great final two sequences in Rumble history, but nothing can top what WWE icons The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels did in 2007. They were both 42 years old at the time and at a point in their careers where they had reached legendary status. They also really didn’t interact match for about a decade, so it felt fresh when they had this battle to end the 2007 Rumble.
Each guy was on point as they hit their signature spots in front of a raucous crowd. When Undertaker hit a Chokeslam it wasn’t enough. When Michaels hit a superkick it wasn’t enough. They battled for about eight minutes. In the end, The Undertaker avoided another superkick and sent Michaels over the top to the floor to win the Rumble match for the first time in his career.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the 2007 Rumble led to these two starting off the 2008 Rumble and also having what is arguably the best match ever at WrestleMania 25 in 2009. Their chemistry was amazing.
2. Shawn Michaels Hangs On To Win The Royal Rumble (1995)
The 1995 Royal Rumble match wasn’t that great because the talent pool in WWE at the time was pretty bad. It was a quick Rumble match since they brought wrestlers in the ring every 60 seconds as opposed to 90 seconds or two minutes like we were used to.
Shawn Michaels started the match from the number one spot with the British Bulldog in at number two. They were both able to stay alive for the entire match until it came down to them at the end.
Bulldog nailed Michaels with a clothesline that sent Michaels over the top to the floor…or so we thought. They even played Bulldog’s music as if he won. However, Michaels did an amazing job of hanging on with only one of his feet touching the floor. The replays of the spot showed how incredible it was that he didn’t touch the floor. Michaels went back into the ring to send Bulldog over the top rope and Michaels ended up as the winner of the match.
It was a true “how did he do that?” type of moment.
1. Ric Flair Wins The WWE Title During The Best Rumble Match Ever (1992)
This year’s Royal Rumble is the first time the WWE Champion will defend the title in the Rumble match. However, it’s not the first time the WWE Title was on the line in a Rumble match because in 1992 the title was vacated and the Rumble winner was awarded the WWE Championship.
Ric Flair, who only debuted in WWE a few months earlier after being the top star in NWA/WCW, was the third participant. Heel announcer Bobby Heenan was freaking out all match long about how unfair it was. Flair was the target of everybody in the match because they thought of him as a cocky guy that they didn’t like. He didn’t even eliminate that many people, but he found a way to last 60:02 in the match.
In the final three, Flair was in there with Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice, who was nearly 7 feet tall. Sid dumped Hogan out while Hogan was trying to get rid of Flair. Then Hogan was furious about it, so he yelled at Sid and grabbed his arm. Flair was smart enough to take advantage of the situation by dumping Sid over the top and Flair won the WWE Title as a result of Hogan being the biggest poor sport in the world.
It’s the best Rumble match ever due to the star power in the match, but also the way that Flair was booked as the smartest wrestler in the match and the creative ending. If you want to re-watch one Royal Rumble again, that’s the one you should pick.
After the win, Flair delivered one of the best promos of his life as he was handed the WWE Title: “With a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment in my life.”
Will the 2016 Royal Rumble have any memorable moments that can top these? The WWE Universe hope so. We’ll find out this Sunday January 24 on WWE Network.