The Royal Rumble match is one of the most exciting concepts the WWE has ever brought to the wrestling business. From the most diehard fan to the occasional casual viewer, everyone can appreciate the unpredictable nature of thirty men all trying to eliminate each other over the top rope in a battle royal format. Factor in the surprise factor of a new entrant coming to the ring every minute and the prize of a title shot in the main event of WrestleMania on the line, and you can understand how the Rumble is a foolproof match today.
Most of the wrestlers to get the honor of winning the Rumble would have strong careers considering the importance associated with winning the match. The history of the Royal Rumble looks like a Hall of Fame class for the majority of names. However, some of the wrestlers went on to have mediocre careers following the big win, due to not being ready for such a high profile spot. Everyone has a different story specific to their paths following the big moment of the Rumble victory. We'll look at the twenty-three winners of the prestigious Royal Rumble match along with what each of them are doing today.
23 1988: Jim Duggan
The trivia answer regarding the first winner of the Royal Rumble match will always be Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Pat Patterson pitched the idea of the Rumble, delivering the first PPV in 1988 with a twenty man battle royal before the WWE upgraded it to thirty competitors. Duggan won the first ever Rumble to always have the accomplishment associated with his name. The WWE Championship eluded him as the first Rumble didn't come with a title shot, but the Rumble win is almost as noteworthy in wrestling history.
Duggan would have a legendary career with runs in WWE and WCW. Wrestling fans adored Duggan for his fun-loving personality. The 63 year old is still going, wrestling matches on independent shows across the country. Duggan obviously is limited by the aging process but still loves performing in front of crowds that appreciate his past work.
22 1989: Big John Studd
Big John Studd won the second Royal Rumble event and the first to feature thirty men. Studd won the match as a testament to his size as a near seven foot tall monster. This was one of the few Rumble matches before the WWE made the change to add the WrestleMania title shot on the line. It worked out for the better as Studd chose to leave the company just a few months later due to not being happy with his pay.
Studd unfortunately passed away in 1995 from a combination of liver cancer and Hodgkin’s disease. WWE inducted him into the Hall of Fame class of 2004. Studd's legacy is remembered for his style as a powerful wrestler. Studd winning the Royal Rumble is always one of the major accomplishments associated with his career.
21 1990 and 1991: Hulk Hogan
The late 1980s and early 1990s were dominated by the presence of Hulk Hogan. WWE made Hogan the face of the company with his star power helping to bring the company to new heights. Hogan winning two Royal Rumble matches seems a bit low for his career, but that was due to him holding the WWE Championship and not being a part of the match.
The two wins for Hogan came in 1990 and 1991 with back-to-back wins. Hogan accomplished just about every major achievement in his WWE prime, including two impressive Rumble victories. WWE and Hogan had a rocky relationship with many reunions and falling outs. They're currently on the rocks due to Hogan’s racist tirade being leaked in a sex tape. Hogan managed to win millions of dollars in a lawsuit over it and is hoping to return to the WWE one more time.
20 1992: Ric Flair
Another legendary name to win the Royal Rumble was Ric Flair in 1992. Many consider this the greatest Rumble match of all-time due to the vacant WWE Championship being on the line. Flair had a short run in the WWE during the early 90s in-between his WCW stints. The outstanding match would see Flair pull off the upset to win the WWE Championship in impressive fashion.
Flair quickly went back to WCW shortly after realizing the WWE wasn’t the right place for him at the time. Another run of excellence in WCW added to his legacy before the company went out of business and he moved back to the WWE. Flair went on to become the only two-time inductee into WWE’s Hall of Fame. The company treats him like a legend with occasional appearances and his legacy lives on through his daughter, Charlotte Flair.
19 1993: Yokozuna
The WWE started to push Yokozuna as their top monster heel around the time of the 1993 Royal Rumble. Yokozuna won the Rumble to earn the right to main event WrestleMania IX against Bret Hart. The win truly put him on the map as a top level heel to take note of. WWE gave Yokozuna a strong one year run as an elite villain.
Following back-to-back WrestleMania main events, Yokozuna saw his career take a hit with his increasing weight that made it difficult to work matches. The legend died at the young age of 34 from pulmonary edema. WWE has celebrated Yokozuna’s legacy through the years, culminating with his induction into the 2012 Hall of Fame class. Yokozuna will always be remembered for having a great career.
18 1994: Bret Hart
The 1994 Royal Rumble match ended in controversy. Bret Hart and Lex Luger were the final two competitors, eliminating each other at the exact same time. They were named the co-winners and moved into WrestleMania X with each man getting a title shot against Yokozuna. Hart was the bigger WWE star and won the WWE Championship to close the show, officially becoming the star of the era.
Hart would have a strong run in the main event scene for the rest of his time in the company before heading to WCW after The Montreal Screwjob. The war between WWE and Hart lasted many years until he finally returned to the WWE family in 2010. Hart is on good terms with WWE these days. Bret also has a loan company with his sons where they help out small businesses.
17 1994: Lex Luger
The other co-winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble had less success in the WWE. Lex Luger was originally Vince McMahon's chosen one to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X. Bret Hart being the co-winner showed the early signs of the WWE not having complete faith in Luger being the next top guy to lead them into the future. Luger failed to gain momentum and suffered a loss in his title match against Yokozuna before Bret left that night as champ.
WCW re-signed Luger a year later and he was a much better fit with Turner's company. Luger had a legendary career full of massive accomplishments. Sadly, his career had a terrible ending with personal tragedies clouding his life. Things have gotten better for him over the years. Luger has cleaned up his life and currently helps the WWE with their Wellness Policy in an attempt to prevent wrestlers from suffering from the same mistakes as he made during his time in the business.
16 1995 and 1996: Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels' ascension to the top of the WWE started with his Royal Rumble victories. Michaels won it in 1995 as the first entrant, making history by lasting the entire match. It was a memorable moment when Michaels skinned the cat to avoid elimination and returned to get rid of The British Bulldog. However, he would not win the WWE Championship when challenging Diesel at WrestleMania XI.
Michaels luckily achieved his dream one year later. As a face this time, Michaels won his second consecutive Royal Rumble match. A legendary Iron Man Match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII gave Michaels the win that would shape the rest of his iconic career. Michaels retired in 2010 to end his amazing body of work as arguably the greatest in-ring performer of all-time. WWE currently employs Michaels as an ambassador and a trainer at the WWE's Performance Center.
15 1997, 1998 and 2001: Steve Austin
Steve Austin is the only three-time Royal Rumble winner in WWE history. Most forget the first win in 1997 due to his nefarious means of cheating. Austin would have to put his WrestleMania title shot on the line and he lost it. The next two wins led to him having two of the biggest moments of the Attitude Era.
Austin’s 1998 Royal Rumble win allowed him the opportunity to officially become the face of the company at WrestleMania XIV by defeating Shawn Michaels. Three years later, Austin won the Rumble once again and went on to beat The Rock in a legendary WrestleMania X-Seven main event where he turned heel. Many remember the retired Austin as the best of all-time for the money he generated. Austin currently hosts his own podcast along with hosting various other reality television series.
14 1999: Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon’s name is definitely the most bizarre one on the list of Royal Rumble winners, especially considering it was one of his first matches. The owner of the WWE stepped into the ring to feud with Steve Austin as the perfect villain to the anti-authority hero. McMahon scored a cheap victory by eliminating a distracted Austin for the final Royal Rumble win of the millennium.
WWE has been under McMahon’s control to this very day with no major changes in power. McMahon has put WCW out of business and continues to make the WWE an even stronger global brand. At 71 years old, McMahon is still the chairman, CEO and majority owner of the WWE. The fact that he’s most responsible for where the company is today makes it harder for McMahon to give it up and retire. It appears he will remain in control until he physically can’t do the job anymore.
13 2000: The Rock
The 2000 Royal Rumble match was one of the more entertaining battle royals despite the winner being predictable. Too Cool and Kai En Tai contributed to humorous moments during the Rumble match, but it ended with The Rock eliminating Big Show to get the obvious victory. Mick Foley and Triple H opposed each other in the WWE Championship match that night, while Steve Austin and The Undertaker were injured, making The Rock the only top star in the match.
The Rock was unable to make the most of his title shot at WrestleMania 2000 by losing to Triple H in a Fatal-Four-Way match. Everything managed to work out well for The Rock, as he became one of the biggest icons in WWE history and a huge star in the entertainment industry. 2016 saw Rock named the highest paid actor in Hollywood. WWE still gets rare appearances from Rock in-between his movie shoots.
12 2002 and 2016: Triple H
Triple H is another legend to have won multiple Royal Rumble events, but with the biggest gap in-between his victories. The first win came during Triple H’s amazing comeback from tearing his quad. Redemption saw him return in time for WrestleMania season by winning the 2002 Royal Rumble in his first match back. Triple H’s story would be complete when he defeated Chris Jericho in the main event of WrestleMania X8.
Triple H's second victory came just last year when he won the 2016 Royal Rumble match with the WWE Championship on the line. Triple H entered as the 30th participant to capture the title, eliminating Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. Reigns would get the title back by defeating Triple H in a lackluster WrestleMania 32 main event. Triple H still wrestles part-time, but is mostly spending his time helping to run the WWE by signing talent and making NXT a successful brand.
11 2003: Brock Lesnar
WWE went all in on Brock Lesnar during his first year in the company. Lesnar won the WWE Championship within months as a heel in 2002. However, a win in the 2003 Royal Rumble came as a face as his journey led to the main event of WrestleMania XIX. Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle in an action-packed match that ended with Brock dangerously botching a Shooting Star Press that could have injured him.
It became clear over the following year that Lesnar had little passion for the wrestling business. Lesnar decided to leave the WWE for a career in the NFL. Football would not be the sport for Brock, as he failed to make an NFL roster and instead joined the UFC. Lesnar was arguably the biggest name in MMA for a few years before leaving. WWE offered him a huge contract to return and Brock now works a part-time schedule as one of the biggest stars in the industry.
10 2004: Chris Benoit
The 2004 Royal Rumble match was the story of Chris Benoit finally getting his opportunity to shine in the big match. WWE positioned him as an underdog overcoming the odds by entering the Rumble in the first spot and lasting the entire match to win the title shot. Benoit won the first major World Championship of his career by defeating Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the main event of WrestleMania XX.
Everyone knows how the rest of Benoit’s life played out with his double murder suicide coming a few years later. The actions of Benoit killing his wife and son before committing suicide led to the tragedy that shook the wrestling industry for a long time. WWE banned Benoit from any of their production for many years. Aside from classic content on the WWE Network, Benoit will never be acknowledged by the company again.
9 2005 and 2014: Batista
Batista scored the biggest push of his career that would change his life when he won the 2005 Royal Rumble match. The match featured the memorable moment of Vince McMahon power walking to the ring and tearing his quad before restarting the match between John Cena and Batista. A showdown between the two mega-stars ended with Batista winning the match and going on to WrestleMania 21 to defeat Triple H.
Another Rumble win nine years later was less celebrated. Fans booed Batista out of the building out of resentment for coming back into the company and winning the Royal Rumble. WWE was forced to add Daniel Bryan into the WrestleMania XXX main event and gave him the WWE World Championship win. Batista returned to Hollywood with the massive success of his role in Guardians of the Galaxy as Drax. The franchise has another movie coming out with his star power growing continuously.
8 2006: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio broke the record for longest time spent in a Royal Rumble match when he won it in 2006. The time spent in the match would pass over one hour and two minutes before his miraculous victory. Mysterio went on to WrestleMania 22 to defeat Randy Orton and Kurt Angle in capturing the World Championship. The moment of Mysterio winning and dedicating it to the recently departed Eddie Guerrero was the payoff for winning the Rumble.
WWE pushed Rey for a few years, allowing him to showcase his great skills and connect with the younger fanbase. Mysterio recently chose to leave the WWE in 2015 for a more a relaxed schedule due to his various injuries. Lucha Underground has made Mysterio the face of the company as they attempt to grow the promotion. Mysterio also appears on the occasional independent show to make a solid living outside of the WWE.
7 2007: The Undertaker
No one is as synonymous with the history of WWE as The Undertaker. Wrestling fans have respected Undertaker through his twenty-six years of dominance, but he has only won the Royal Rumble once in his career. Undertaker scored his first Royal Rumble win in 2007 seventeen years after his WWE debut. As a respected veteran, fans reacted extremely positively to seeing him win the Rumble.
The Undertaker defeated Batista at WrestleMania 23 to win the World Championship and continue his legendary undefeated streak at the event. Since then, the streak has ended, but Undertaker’s legend grows by the year. Undertaker still wrestles today and will appear in the 2017 Royal Rumble match. At the age of 51, Undertaker only has a few matches left in him. WrestleMania will never feel the same once he retires, but luckily he's still going strong.
6 2008 and 2013: John Cena
John Cena's rise saw him dominate a decade as the top star in the WWE. It's a little surprising to see Cena has only won two Royal Rumble matches considering the success he has achieved. The reason for that is he's usually holding a World Championship around the time of WrestleMania season.
Cena won his first Rumble in dramatic fashion by making a surprise return from injury in 2008. The awesome Rumble moment didn’t lead to a title reign as Cena lost in a triple threat match at WrestleMania XXIV.
The second Rumble win for Cena would come in 2013 and he went into a highly anticipated rematch with The Rock at WrestleMania 29. Cena is still the biggest star in the WWE today as he enters the latter stage of his career. Hollywood loves Cena's potential, leading to him getting roles in movies. Cena is attempting to wrestle and try his hand in the entertainment industry at the same time.
5 2009: Randy Orton
Randy Orton only has one Royal Rumble victory on his resume. It came during the hottest run of his career as the top heel in the WWE. Orton started to get over on a new level, following his attack on Vince McMahon delivering a stiff punt to the head. The high point of his reign saw Orton win the Rumble in 2009. Orton fell short against Triple H, who was representing the McMahon family in the disappointing main event of WrestleMania XXV.
The success of Orton continues to this day as he has just about every WWE accolade you could image. Orton is going to be a WWE Hall of Famer one day, but is not planning to hang it up any time soon. SmackDown Live has Orton as one of the top stars currently involved with The Wyatt Family.
4 2010: Edge
Surprise returns always make the most interesting moments of a Royal Rumble match. You have a few names in mind, but you’re never quite sure until they're actually in the ring. Edge proved this in 2010 when returning from an injury to win the Rumble, as the crowd erupted at the surprise being confirmed.
Edge won the Rumble, but lost his title match to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XXVI. The match sadly didn’t deliver to the standards of the two legends. Edge continued his legendary career for just one more year before an injury forced an early retirement at WrestleMania XXVII. Things have gone well for him in his retired life. Edge married Beth Phoenix, is now a father of two children, and has an acting career going, proving there is life after wrestling.
3 2011: Alberto Del Rio
Finally going home after 28 day on the road #uk #puertorico #losangeles #monterrey #mexicocity and #costarica thanks to all of you for being great to us, had an amazing time in each place but I want to give an special mention to my #amígos in Costa Rica for the great time #sisisi #pateandotraserosporelmundo Por fin regreso a casa después de muchooooos días de gira, todos estos lugares, gracias por su apoyo y hospitalidad. Regresando hoy de Costa Rica donde me trataron increíblemente, gracias a todos y bendiciones Hoy por fin me reúno con mis hijos después de tanto tiempo 😭 after so long I get to see my beautiful kids today #sisisi
An example of WWE going with the hot hand saw them give Alberto Del Rio the honor of his career in 2011. Despite being on the main roster for less than a year, Del Rio won the 2011 Royal Rumble match. It was the first and only Rumble match featuring 40 competitors instead of 30. Del Rio won by eliminating Santino of all people to secure the title shot.
The aforementioned Edge wrestled his final match at WrestleMania XXVII, defeating Del Rio to retain the World Heavyweight Championship. Del Rio losing ended up negatively impacting his career. WWE waited a few more months to put the WWE Championship on him, but he lost most of his momentum. Del Rio has had two different falling outs with the WWE since then and is currently a free agent. Aside from wrestling on the indie circuit and trying out broadcasting in MMA, Del Rio is discussed for his romantic relationship with Paige.
2 2012: Sheamus
WWE has always attempted to elevate Sheamus into the upper echelon of the company. His biggest push as a face came when he eliminated Chris Jericho to win the Royal Rumble in 2012. It ended up being the worst thing to happen to him. Sheamus went on to defeat Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXVIII in a disappointing 18 second match.
Fans were so upset with the booking that they revolted against Sheamus and started supporting Bryan. Sheamus’ title run was doomed from day one leading to a flopped reign. WWE has continued to try to make Sheamus a top guy, but the fans have never given him another chance. The talented wrestler is still a valuable part of the company though, as he's currently in a tag team with Cesaro as the Raw Tag Team Champions.
1 2015: Roman Reigns
The majority of Royal Rumble winners have gone on to become massive stars following the big win. That is usually due to history seeing the WWE go with the organic fan favorite ready to ascend to new heights. Over the recent years, WWE has tried to manipulate that system by using the match to push their handpicked favorites despite the fan response. Roman Reigns perfectly sums that up.
Fans booed Reigns out of the building at Royal Rumble 2015 in one of the most hostile atmospheres ever. Reigns won the match but the boos continued and forced the WWE to change plans. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase during Reigns' match against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31. Reigns would get his moment later and is still being pushed as the next big star. Fans continue the revolt with the jeers not appearing likely to end anytime soon.