The Royal Rumble is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the wrestling calendar each year, and with good reason. The gauntlet style battle royal with staggered entries was an exciting attraction from its first iteration, and only gathered steam after a title shot at WrestleMania or a world title itself became spoils for winners to take home, upping the stakes to make this more than an entertaining hour of wrestling, but one with tremendous storyline implications. There’s also the matter of unpredictable entries—which often include surprise debuts or returns. You can acdd onto that unexpected eliminations like Maven infamously disposing of The Undertaker. Much more often than not, the Rumble is a good to great match, with even its least impressive iterations nonetheless memorable and historically important. As such, the Rumble is now truly part of the fabric of WWE’s annual programming.
Not every Rumble goes quite as planned, though. While most matches involve just two to six performers, with thirty or so moving parts, communication is all the more key in the Rumble. On top of that, precise movement can make all the difference, because rather than a pin or submission, simply losing balance after going over the top rope can take someone out of the proceedings altogether.
There are those moments from the match’s largely decorated history for which things went wrong, either in execution or in particularly poor planning. This article takes a look back at fifteen of the worst botches and failures in the Royal Rumble’s three decades.
15. John Cena And Batista Mess Up The Finish (2005)
It has become something of a tradition for a Royal Rumble victory to pave the way for an up and coming top star’s ascent to the top of the company, not least of all including winning a world title at WrestleMania after his Rumble win. No lesser stars than Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin traveled this path, in addition to Daniel Bryan and Rey Mysterio enjoying similar journeys.
John Cena and Batista were both talents in line for that caliber of push, and with the brand split in full effect, it would make sense for either to go on to WrestleMania and win the world championship for his respective show. In the end, Cena and Batista would end up the last two men in the ring, only to go tumbling over the top simultaneously.
While many fans speculated this was an intentional choice to make both look strong on the way to WrestleMania, it turns out that it actually was a mistake on the part of two relatively green stars. Vince McMahon was reportedly legitimately upset, and made the call on the fly to restart the Rumble rather than having any doubt about whom actually won. In the minutes to follow, Batista picked up the win as originally planned. Cena would end up winning his first Rumble three years later.
14. CM Punk’s Puts On The Flattest Iron Man Run In History (2014)
While the Royal Rumble winner gets the push of a lifetime, there are other ways for stars to get the rub. Sometimes it’s a matter of pulling off a cool spot or racking up a high profile or high volume of eliminations. Each year also has its iron man—the competitor who lasts the longest. Being the iron man and winning aren’t mutually exclusive—WWE has told the story more than once of someone entering early and surviving the whole match. In other cases, however, the two are separate pushes.
In 2014, CM Punk nearly went the distance, lasting 49 minutes. On paper, he was a great choice—a guy who was already over, wouldn’t be out of the question to win the match, and had the endurance and talent to entertain in the ring for that long. Unfortunately, it wound up an awfully lethargic showing for Punk, as he spent a good portion of his run lying on the mat. It would turn out to be Punk’s last match. He would reveal a year later that he was grappling with a nasty staph infection at the time that he felt WWE personnel wouldn’t treat properly. That was in addition to creative frustrations and burn out, all of which culminated in this uncharacteristically dull performance on his way out of the company.
13. Steve Austin Can’t Hang On (1996)
In 1996, Steve Austin was a fresh heel in WWE, and worked his first Royal Rumble match under The Ringmaster gimmick. He’s spoken about the run in interviews, and in particular that he was happy to be slotted for the final four in the match. Things went awry, however, when he was went over the ropes and was supposed to hang on, and slide back in the ring. He blamed Rikishi’s baby oil for getting his body slippery, and not being able to grasp the ropes properly.
Fortunately for Austin, this misstep wouldn’t sabotage WWE’s long term plans for him. He’d go on to become the only three time Royal Rumble winner in WWE history (to date), including winning the very next year, albeit under controversial circumstances.
12. Randy Savage Forgets He Can’t Go Over The Top Rope (1992)
One Randy Savage’s strengths was ability to authentically come across like a mad man in the ring who would completely lose himself in an unbridled flurry of offense. He was in prime position to unleash this brand of fury in 1992, with Jake Roberts as the target of his aggressions. After all, Roberts had ruined Savage’s wedding reception with a king cobra, and proceeded to terrorize the Macho Man and his wife for the months to follow.
Savage played his part perfectly in the Royal Rumble, running down the aisle and coming at Roberts with everything he had. Unfortunately, that included Savage jumping off the top rope to hit The Snake with a flying axe handle on the outside, effectively eliminating himself from the Rumble. WWE made up a rule on the fly about needing to be propelled out of the ring by another wrestler to cover and allow him to continue on to his planned final four spot.
11. Vince McMahon Blows Both Of His Quads (2005)
The finish to the 2005 Royal Rumble saw just about everything go wrong. First there was the previously referenced accidental elimination of both John Cena and Batista as the final two competitors. From there, Vince McMahon stormed to the ring to make things right and restart the match. In a freak injury, he wound up tearing both quads and climbed into the ring. He physically could not stand, and looked a little absurd directing traffic, while seated on his butt.
In reality, tearing both quads was a serious injury, and a poorly timed one for not only happening at a pivotal moment for his leadership at a major PPV, but at a point in wrestling history when things were shifting. The two men he yelled at from a seated position were marquee stars on the rise. Though neither had main evented a WrestleMania before, one of them would close out the biggest show of the year in seven out of the nine iterations to follow.
10. The Camera Crew Doesn’t Quite Capture Lex Luger And Bret Hart (1994)
As 1993 rolled over into 1994, WWE found itself in an awkward spot. Two years earlier, it had gone all in on the Bret Hart experiment, trying to push a smaller, more technical guy on top in the aftermath of the steroid trial. When Hulk Hogan made himself available, WWE dumped Hart to go with the more proven top guy. That endeavor failed, too, though, with Hogan leaving over the summer, setting up WWE to put Lex Luger in position as a new all-American hero. Despite a hot start, Luger struggled to win over the crowd in the long term, too. The end result of all of this was WWE feeling torn about seeing through the Luger project into WrestleMania X, or going back to The Hitman. While Hart wasn’t the draw Hogan had been, he was at least a wizard in the ring and had a strong international following.
So, WWE concocted a double elimination finish for which fans’ cheering would dictate who was the better choice to run with, and to set up both men to challenge for the WWE Championship at ‘Mania. In Hart’s capable hands, it was a very convincing double elimination, and legitimately difficult to tell who, if either man, hit the floor first. The cameras weren’t in great position, though, mostly squandering the craftsmanship at hand with only one or two of the angles, only played on replay, actually capturing. In a shoot interview years later, Bruce Prichard suggested that was actually intentional to give the company plausible deniability if someone actually did, more clearly hit the ground first.
9. Randy Savage Goes Missing (1991)
In the 1991 Royal Rumble, Randy Savage was a scheduled participant. After launching an attack that costed The Ultimate Warrior his WWE Championship, however, the Macho King high tailed it out of the arena rather than face retribution. It was an odd, and awkward dynamic as the match became a 29 rather than 30 man affair, with one entry buzzer seeing no one come out at all, and feeling like a blunder.
To be fair, there was some logic in Savage heelishly fleeing from Warrior. Furthermore, this was the last Rumble with no predefined world title or WrestleMania implications, so it wasn’t as though Savage were missing out on the opportunity for anything more than bragging rights when he decided to no show the match.
8. Taka Takes A Ride
Some Royal Rumble matches tend to have running gags or some sort of comedic relief thrown in. At the 2000 Royal Rumble, the WWE decided to make Kaientai constantly come to the ring, despite not being in the match, only to be thrown out within seconds by various superstars. Credit to Taka and Funaki, they sold everything well, but on one “elimination” of Taka, things got a little out of control. The former Lightheavyweight champion was sent airborne out of the ring and landed right on his face. Jerry The King Lawler kept poking fun at it in commentary on replays, but obviously, Taka was not meant to land like that. Thankfully he was okay, as many fans guiltily chuckled a little at the landing.
7. Alex Riley Exits Early (2011)
In early 2011, Alex Riley still looked to be a star on the rise. He was largely cast as The Miz’s sidekick, but looked like a blue chip prospect headed for bigger things. According to a variety of sources, a big part of Riley’s push toward the top was supposed to see him be the one to eliminate John Cena from the 2011 Royal Rumble. However, Riley wound up taking an early, accidental elimination. There’s no clear answer about whether it was the fault of Cena himself, or Kofi Kingston who dumped him, or if Riley ought to have caught himself. Regardless, Cena in particular looked perturbed when It happened as he more than anyone was conscious of how plans would need to change for the match’s later stages.
More than simply altering te course of the match, it’s widely rumored that Riley eliminating Cena was supposed to ultimately lead to a match between them. Riley’s career would hit the skids later in that year and moving forward. It’s arguable his downward trend started with this Rumble botch.
6. Mil Mascaras Refuses to Let Anyone Else Eliminate Him (1997)
Mil Mascaras is a legend of the professional wrestling business, and was a fun enough surprise, novelty entrant for the 1997 Royal Rumble. The event emanated from San Antonio, not so far from Mascaras’s lucha libre home country down in Mexico, making it an optimal time for him to be a part of an event like this. Fans may remember that he suffered an unusual elimination, though, when he delivered a cross body block off the top rope outside the ring, which was counted as eliminating himself. Mascaras briefly contended to the point, but soon graciously accepted the referee’s call—the model baby face.
There are extensive rumors to suggest, however, that Mascaras was not so altruistic in reality. On the contrary, the stories suggest that the masked luchador would only agree to terms on the condition that no one would be able to eliminate him. Call it pride. Call it protecting his brand. Call it ego. Mascaras seeming to misunderstand the rules, or lose himself in the heat of battle offered a compromise for no one else to throw him out of the ring, but for him to nonetheless get out of the match within an appropriate window of time.
5. For All His Attention, Bastion Booger Doesn’t Actually Compete (1994)
As a 400 pound heel in a not particularly strong overall field of competitors, Bastion Booger got his share of attention going into the 1994 Royal Rumble, including a pre-match interview snippet. No, no one realistically thought he’d actually win the Rumble. He did have the size and mid card credibility to potentially figure into the late stages of the match.
Instead, Booger didn’t appear at all. Accounts vary as to whether Booger was a decoy to throw fans off the scent of Bret Hart entering and winning after kayfabe injuring his knee earlier in the night, or if he was legitimately sick that weekend. Regardless, fans were certainly led to believe Booger would be part of the match but he never entered the ring.
4. Technical Difficulties Threaten The Mystique (1997)
Nowadays, when a new competitor enters the ring, his entrance music plays to foretell his arrival. This was still a pretty new concept in 1997, as the early days of the match, after the original two entrants, there was a buzzer sound at every timed interval, then the new wrestler come to the ring in silence. 1996 was the first year WWE experimented with using music on entrants, which may account for a technical glitch in 1997.
The 1997 Royal Rumble was a big one for WWE as the company found its footing and aimed to push top face Shawn Michaels to the moon by booking him to regain his world title in front of a stadium crowd in his hometown of San Antonio. The Rumble match itself, however, faltered in front of its biggest audience with the buzzer and music not hitting on cue, leading to more than one awkward silence between entrants. Add onto this a confusing—arguably ahead of its time—finish with Steve Austin getting eliminated while the referee’s back was turned, and getting back in the match—and you have a Rumble that didn’t quite meet the live audience’s expectations.
3. The Roster Forgets To Target Austin (1999)
By 1999, Steve Austin was cemented as the biggest wrestling star in the world. While, in 2016, fans would balk at the whole Rumble being so transparently booked around Roman Reigns having to defend his world title, in 1999 fans were all too eager for an Austin-centric match. The story at hand was Vince McMahon doing everything he could to keep Stone Cold out of the title picture, and thus putting a $100,000 bounty on his head for the Rumble match. The kayfabe money would go to anyone who could eliminate the Texas Rattlesnake.
There were certainly moments when going after Austin was the central focus of the match, including a big mid-match beat down backstage. In the latter stages of the contest, however, a lot of the roster conspicuously worked a more typical battle royal style, more aimlessly picking fights with each other, and ignoring opportunities to take out Stone Cold. There may be the kayfabe rationale that these performers wanted to take out everyone else so they, alone, could take care of Austin and pick up the bounty, but it’s a bit of a stretch.
2. Chris Masters’s Pyro Underwhelms (2006)
From the Attitude Era up until recent times, pyro has been a big part of WWE’s presentation. The company made performers look larger than life with an elaborate show of sparks, if not full on fireworks. WWE has since scaled back, reportedly to save money, and saves fireworks for really big moments like at WrestleMania.
During his run, Chris Masters had his own distincitive pyro that went off each time he came ot the ring. At the Royal Rumble 2006, it didn’t look so spectacular. Rather than the series of small explosions that typically went off behind him, shooting sparks in a pattern, only a single shooter went off for a pretty underwhelming display. Perhaps this foretold how his WWE run would go. He’d be featured pretty prominently up to that point, and would get a spotlight tag match at WrestleMania. From there, he would never win a title and rarely work PPV matches of any significance (counterintuitively, despite growing a lot as a performer).
1. Jericho Takes A Caning Gone Wrong (2003)
Chris Jericho was an established top player by 2003, who just the year before had headlined WrestleMania. He wouldn’t be in as high profile of a spot in early 2003, though. He was in the thick of the Royal Rumble mix without much to suggest he’d win.
Jericho suffered the brunt of an extreme attack from Tommy Dreamer early in this Royal Rumble effort, including some stiff kendo stick shots. Watch closely and you can see Jericho tell Dreamer to hit him. From there, while no one directly involved has confirmed it, it looked as though Jericho may have been caught wrong with at least one of those shots, and like he may have exited the match a little earlier than planned to make sure he didn’t get hurt any worse.
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