The first of the WWE’s big four PPVs in the calendar year, Royal Rumble, takes place in the month of January. The 30-man battle royal (with the exception of 2011, when there were 40 people) awards the victor of the match an opportunity at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Depending on the belts implemented by WWE, this has sometimes meant the victor has a choice at the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship. In 2017, the victor will have his choice at the WWE World Championship or the WWE Universal Championship.
Throughout the event’s 28-year history, fans have seen many talented wrestlers win the event. There have been those who have one on multiple occasions, and those who have won back-to-back years. There have been winners from multiple slot positions. While it is sometimes easy to determine who the winner of the match will be before it even begins due to WWE’s storylines, it isn’t easy to determine the surprises WWE will hit its fans with.
Here, we take a look at the eight best and seven worst Royal Rumble winners.
15. BEST: Rey Mysterio (2006)
The number two entry in the 2006 Royal Rumble, Mysterio lasted a record long 1:02:12 as he eliminated Triple H and Randy Orton who were the first and last entrants respectively of the match to become the 2006 Rumble winner. Mysterio also eliminated the likes of Psicosis, Rob Van Dam and Super Crazy. Mysterio who stood a minuscule 5’6″ and weighed in at 175 pounds was an outside of the box choice to win the Rumble. When the innovator of the 619 claimed victory, many were surprised. This made for a feel good moment as Mysterio’s good friend, Eddie Guerrero, had passed away two months prior. Mysterio seized the opportunity and became World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania as he defeated Kurt Angle (champion) and Randy Orton in a triple threat by way of pinning Orton.
14. WORST: Roman Reigns (2015)
The Philadelphia faithful were firmly behind Daniel Bryan to win the 2015 Royal Rumble. Bryan, the number eleven entry, was eliminated after lasting 10:36. The Wells Fargo Center attendees vehemently vocalized their anger once the crowd favorite was eliminated. It had become clear to them at that moment that Roman Reigns would be headlining against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31. It became so bad that the crowd was firmly behind a foreign heel that degrades America nightly, Rusev when he was the last competitor asides from Reigns remaining. To make matters worse, The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment, The Rock, came out and raised Reigns’ hand after his victory. The onslaught of boos continued. When The Rock can’t get you over, you know something is wrong.
13. BEST: Randy Orton (2009)
Entering the Rumble at the eight slot in 2009, Orton lasted 48:27 en route to his first and only (as of now), Royal Rumble victory. Along with fellow Legacy members Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes, the trio joined forces ensuring Orton would claim victory. The plan worked to perfection as the final six competitors were the three forenamed Legacy members, the Big Show, Triple H and the Undertaker. Big Show and Undertaker were the next two out which left Triple H at a three on one disadvantage. However, the King of Kings proved he was up to the task as he took out Orton’s minions, DiBiase and Rhodes. But, the Game was unable to take out the last Legacy member, Orton, as Orton hit his former Evolution brother with a clothesline to lay claim to being the 2009 Royal Rumble winner. Orton and his Legacy partners were booked strong here and by eliminating Triple H (who is one of the strongest booked wrestlers ever) without having DiBiase and Rhodes around, the WWE solidified Orton as an upper echelon force in the company.
12. WORST: Batista (2014)
The Animal, Batista returned to WWE in 2014 one week before the Royal Rumble PPV and declared that he would be entering the thirty man battle royal. The company strapped a rocket to the former Deacon’s back and had him come out victorious at the Rumble. Batista, who is best remembered as “Bluetista” from this run, was originally pushed as a face that the fans had no interest in getting behind. WWE had to call an audible and turn Batista face. The WrestleMania XXX main event of Batista vs Randy Orton was failing miserably at generating any hype. As a result, the WWE had to call another audible and insert lovable baby face, Daniel Bryan into the main event where he eventually end up becoming the WWE World Heavyweight Champion by way of making Batista tap out to his finisher, the No! Lock.
11. BEST: John Cena (2008)
The Madison Square Garden was flabbergasted and in awe when John Cena’s music hit when the 30th competitor was supposed to come out at the 2008 Royal Rumble. Cena was supposed to be months and was even in danger of missing WrestleMania due to a torn pectoral muscle. Yet, somehow Cena was at the World’s Most Famous Arena ready to do battle in the over the top battle royal. The West Newbury, Massachusetts born Cena set a Royal Rumble record (at the time) by spending just 8:28 in the ring and winning the Rumble. Cena eliminated Carlito, Chavo Guerrero, Mark Henry and last but not least, Triple H. Cena would go on to face the champion, Randy Orton, and Triple H at WrestleMania XXIV in a triple threat match where both he and Triple H would come up short as Orton retained.
10. WORST: John Cena (2013)
So controversial, he makes it on the list twice!
At WrestleMania XXVIII, the leader of Cenation, John Cena, took on the People’s Champ, The Rock. The matchup was billed as “Once in a Lifetime” and had an unheard of one-year build as it began the night after WrestleMania XXVII. The Hollywood A-lister (The Rock, not you, Miz, pipe down) defeated Cena in Miami, Florida at WrestleMania XXVIII. At the Royal Rumble in 2013, The Rock defeated CM Punk to become WWE Champion which meant he would be headlining WrestleMania 29 (unless he lost the title before the event). Cena won the Rumble and thus granted him an opportunity at the title at ‘Mania. Now, we had Cena vs The Rock II for WrestleMania. But, wasn’t this supposed to be “Once in a Lifetime”?
9. BEST: Steve Austin (1997)
The Texas Rattlesnake, Steve Austin holds the record for most Royal Rumble victories with three. In 1997, Austin claimed his first Rumble victory in front of 60,000+ at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Austin had technically been eliminated earlier by Bret Hart, but none of the officials at ringside saw Austin’s feet hit the ground as they were preoccupied separating hardcore legends Mankind and Terry Funk. As a result, Austin reentered the match like he never left. Eddie Guerrero and Ric Flair would certainly be proud! Austin, capitalized on the second opportunity and ended up eliminating the very man that had eliminated him, Hart. Austin entered the Rumble at the five spot and had set a record (at that time) for most Rumble eliminations with ten. Austin lasted just over 45 minuted en route to victory.
8. WORST: Vince McMahon (1999)
The initial shock value of the WWE’s Chairman Vince McMahon winning the 1999 Royal Rumble provided for an unexpected plot twist. However, the next night on Monday Night Raw, McMahon revealed that he’d be vacating his opportunity to main event WrestleMania. McMahon’s reasoning boiled down to the fact that the current champion, the Rock, was a part of his stable, the Corporation. Considering that the title had been around the waist of a Corporation member, it didn’t make sense for McMahon to enter the Rumble whatsoever. Then again, fans are fortunate that McMahon relinquished his title opportunity at ‘Mania as it would’ve simply been God awful to see him main event and face the Rock. By the way, McMahon’s end goal was thwarting Stone Cold Steve Austin from the main event at WrestleMania, which he failed at.
7. BEST: Shawn Michaels (1995)
The Heartbreak Kid had the unenviable position of entering the 95 Rumble at the one position. In the six years prior, no competitor that entered at number one had won the Rumble; Michaels aimed to put an end to this streak. Michaels lasted until the very end where he was pitted against ironically, the number two entrant, the British Bulldog. Bulldog had thought he had claimed victory once he sent Michaels over the top rope. Unfortunately for Bulldog, he ended up celebrating prematurely. While Michaels did indeed go over the top rope, only one of his feet hit the floor. As a result, he technically hadn’t been eliminated. Michaels took advantage of the opportunity and threw Bulldog over the rope, and unlike Michaels, both of Bulldog’s feet hit the floor. Michaels claimed his first of two Royal Rumble victories in the process.
6. WORST: Hulk Hogan (1990)
Today, the Royal Rumble is synonymous with the victor of the thirty man battle royal earning a WWE Championship opportunity at the “Granddaddy Of Them All”, WrestleMania; this was not the case in 1990. In 1990, many of WWE’s top stars participated in the Rumble such as Ted DiBiase, Curt Hennig, Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior. In addition, then WWE Champion Hulk Hogan also participated. While a title opportunity wasn’t up for grabs, a victory at the Rumble could jumpstart (for a promising up and comer) or propel one on the cusp of stardom to the main event. Yet, WWE for reasons only they can explain had Hogan, the WWF Champion won the Rumble. Hogan didn’t need this victory, the forenamed names (DiBiase, Hennig, Savage and Warrior) could’ve and would’ve benefited much more than Hogan did with the victory here.
5. BEST: The Rock (2000)
In 1998, The Rock had made it down to the final two before he was taken out by Steve Austin which prevented him from being in the main event of WrestleMania. In 1999, The Rock had main evented WrestleMania as the WWE Champion, but came up short versus Austin. WrestleMania clearly hadn’t went The Rock’s way in ’98 and ’99, but it was the start of a new year – better yet, the new millennium. The Rock had made it down to the final four which included the Big Show, Kane and X-Pac of all people. After the Devil’s Favorite Demon and X-Pac were eliminated, the two wrestlers left wereThe Rock and Big Show. The Rock claimed victory as when he was on Show’s shoulders he grabbed on to the ring ropes and with the help of momentum was able to have Show fall out to the ring. This made for The Rock’s first and only Rumble victory.
4. WORST: Bret Hart and Lex Luger (1994)
Both Bret Hart (the 27th entry) and Lex Luger (the 23rd entry) were named victors of the 1994 Royal Rumble as the two had simultaneously eliminated each other. This didn’t strengthen either character and instead, watered down a Royal Rumble victory. Fortunately for the WWE, they learned from this unpopular and questionable booking as in 2006 they endured a similar situation in which John Cena and Batista eliminated each other simultaneously. Here, Vince McMahon came out in a thunderous rage and famously tore both his quads as he walked down the ramp and entered the ring. The Rumble isn’t supposed to have multiple victors; it is supposed to have one. This match should’ve been restarted until Hart eliminated Luger or vice versa. Both Hart and Luger ended up having singles matches against then champion, Yokozuna, at WrestleMania X. Yokozuna first defeated Luger by DQ and then came up short against Hart.
3. BEST: Steve Austin (2001)
In his third and final Royal Rumble victory, the man once known as “The Ringmaster” entered the match at the comfortable position of number 27. Austin may have had the privilege of entering the match at late, but he would be entering the ring with a 7’0” big, red monster who was having a field day when it came to eliminating competitors. Kane, had eliminated nine competitors prior to Austin entering the ring and would add the Rock as victim number ten to that list while Austin was in the ring. But, Austin made sure he wouldn’t end up as number eleven as he hit Kane with three vicious chair shots that would result in a hefty fine today. Austin followed this up with a clothesline to send Kane over the top rope. Austin would face The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven where he would come out victorious to claim the WWF Championship.
2. WORST: The Undertaker (2007)
While Shawn Michaels may have the nickname of Mr. WrestleMania, The Undertaker and WrestleMania go together like peanut butter and jelly in their own right. The Undertaker is always a huge draw at The Grandest Stage Of Them All regardless of his match or his opponent due to the mystique of The Streak.
In 2007, The Streak had not yet been cracked by the Conqueror, Brock Lesnar. As a result, it held all its allure. Yet, the WWE still had Undertaker come out on top at the 2007 Rumble by eliminating Shawn Michaels who was the last remaining individual in the ring asides from Taker himself. Taker also made history by becoming the first wrestler to win at the coveted 30th spot. At WrestleMania 23, The Undertaker claimed the World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Batista. Taker could’ve easily been booked to face Batista for the title at ‘Mania; WWE should’ve selected a different victor for the Rumble that year.
1. BEST: Ric Flair (1992)
The 1992 Royal Rumble was the first and only Rumble that had the vacant WWF (at the time) Championship up for grabs. To this day, the 92 Rumble is the only Rumble in which the title was on the line with the exception of the 2016 Rumble in which Roman Reigns had to defend his title against twenty-nine other competitors. The Nature Boy would enter the ring third overall and would stand tall at the conclusion of the night against the likes of Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Sargent Slaughter, Randy Savage and the Undertaker. The last man Flair had eliminated was Sid Justice, the twenty-ninth entrant in the match. Flair outlasted his opponents as he spent 1:00:02 in the ring which in 1992 broke a record for longest time a winner of the Rumble lasted.