The road to WrestleMania is nearly upon us. As we approach one of my favorite events of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to go ahead and take a look back (and rank) every single Royal Rumble match since the very first one in 1988. This is actually a lot tougher than you might think. I tried to use a lot of different factors while getting into this. As much as I wanted to, I tried not to let what happened in the WrestleMania matches factor into my decisions, because we all know that sometimes the story just doesn’t work out after the Rumble (cough, Batista, cough). So I tried just to use the Royal Rumble itself when counting down here. A good crowd, an awesome moment, a nice surprise, or a good finish are a few of the criteria I went with.
The brainchild of Pat Patterson, the Royal Rumble has become one of the most-watched and most anticipated pay-per-view events that WWE has. We’re always looking to speculate on who’s going to show up unexpectedly, who should win and who we want to win (two completely different things), and how it’s going to affect WrestleMania.
Some Royal Rumbles have been great. Some have been just downright awful. The first few were just for show. One has been for the title, and the rest have been for a chance to be in the main event on the grandest stage of em’ all. Let’s take a look the worst, the best, and all the rest in Royal Rumble history.
28. 1988 – Hacksaw Jim Duggan
One had to come in last, and unfortunately for Hacksaw Jim Duggan, his win in the very first Royal Rumble takes the cake as the worst in history. It’s certainly not his fault, but when you’re toying with a new idea, it’s usually not going to be perfect the first time out, and it certainly wasn’t here. WWE was so concerned that the concept couldn’t hold its own, it wasn’t even a pay-per-view to start; it aired on the USA Network and only had 20 participants. Because it was the pioneer event, I wanted to rank it higher on the list, but if you go back and watch it, you’ll understand why it sits here at the bottom.
27. 2012 – Sheamus
In recent years, as I mentioned earlier, we sit and wait for who the surprise entrances will be in the Royal Rumble. It’s one of the biggest reasons a lot of us watch, but the 2012 version didn’t give us much in that department, especially when the entire announce team, including Michael Cole, got involved in the match. Kharma coming back was another interesting choice, but if that’s the highlight in the surprise entrant category, then you can understand why this match is down here. It wasn’t without its highlights. Kofi Kingston, who I’m sure will come up a few different times on this list, walked on his hands on the floor to escape elimination and the Chris Jericho-Sheamus finale was fairly solid.
26. 2011 – Alberto Del Rio
The first Royal Rumble was the smallest on record with 20 participants and the 2011 version was the biggest in history with 40. However, as with a lot of things that WWE has done, bigger doesn’t always mean better. There were some decent moments in the match, but things did get a little crowded at times. The best spot of the night probably came from John Morrison, who was knocked from the apron to the guardrail but hung on and moved his way down to jump back to the steps to avoid elimination.
Alberto Del Rio getting the win was a bit of a surprise, but he would lose at WrestleMania in Edge’s final match. The end here was a bit comical as the last man to be eliminated was Santino Marella, who had been hiding for a few minutes outside the ring, almost to the point where you forgot about him. After Del Rio eliminated Randy Orton, Santino snuck back in and you almost believed for a second that they might go through with letting him win it. Outside of the returns of Booker T and Kevin Nash, along with the Morrison spot, there’s not a ton of highlights here.
25. 1993 – Yokozuna
Speaking of not a lot of highlights, throw in the 1993 Royal Rumble. Perhaps the only reason it’s in the top 25 to begin with is that it was the first one to have the stipulation where the winner got a shot at the title. I suppose one thing worth noting is that Bob Backlund lasted over an hour in the match. His official time of 1:01:10 is still the third-longest in history, behind only Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit. Oh yeah, Giant Gonzalez debuted here as well to eliminate The Undertaker, even though he wasn’t even in the match. Yokozuna eliminated Randy Savage for the win. The end. Yikes.
24. 1999 – Mr. McMahon
This one should actually probably be lower on the list, as we basically watched an hour-long episode of Austin vs. McMahon and not the Royal Rumble match itself, but the creativity of it made me put it up here. This was right smack dab in the middle of arguably the best feud in wrestling history and I think we all knew that this was going to take center stage at one of the biggest shows of the year.
Austin entered at number one, Vince at number two and after Vince escaped the ring, they (and the cameras) visited the entire arena, including the bathroom, the commentary area and everywhere in between. After everyone else was eliminated, The Rock distracted Austin to give Mr. McMahon the win in the 1999 Royal Rumble. Okay then.
23. 1989 – Big John Studd
It wasn’t so much the winner that made headlines here, but honestly, it was nice to see Big John Studd get a big win at a big event near the end of his career. His health was in decline at the time, and if you look at his face after it’s over, you can truly tell he was grateful to get the nod. This was the first Royal Rumble to have 30 entries, which I think we all feel is the exact right number, and this was when storylines started to creep into the match itself, most notably between Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
The two Hall of Famers were still teaming at the time, but the inevitable split was on the way only a short time later. Here, Hogan accidentally eliminated the “Macho Man” as he was mixed up with Bad News Brown, only adding fuel to the fire that would cause the MegaPowers to explode at WrestleMania V.
22. 1991 – Hulk Hogan
Speaking of Hulk Hogan, this was the second of his back-to-back wins. The Royal Rumble winner didn’t officially get the title shot until two years later, but in this case, Hulk Hogan won the match and went on to face and defeat Sgt. Slaughter at WrestleMania VII. The ending of the match was typical Hogan, as he fought off two heels in the final three to win the match. How else were things going to go down at that time?
21. 2013 – John Cena
It’s hard to have a good Royal Rumble when it’s not even the main event of the show, but such was the case in 2013 and every single wrestling fan in the world knew who was going to win that night. CM Punk and The Rock fought for the championship that night (see, Punk got to close out shows sometimes), and it was inevitable that Rock-Cena II was going to happen at WrestleMania, meaning we knew that Rock would win the title and Cena would win the Rumble, which is exactly what happened.
The Royal Rumble match itself was decent, including another epic spot from Kofi Kingston involving using a chair like a pogo stick to save himself. The Goldust vs. Cody thing was cool too. Cena would eliminate Ryback in the end for the win.
20. 2015 – Roman Reigns
Remember how hot the Philly crowd was? Even with The Rock by his side, Roman Reigns got destroyed by the fans in 2015. The Daniel Bryan “YES movement” was still the hottest thing in WWE at the time and Bryan entered at number ten, only to be eliminated after about ten minutes by Bray Wyatt. The crowd, and apparently everyone on social media, went nuts when this happened and Roman Reigns never stood a chance with the WWE Universe after that.
The final four was very disappointing as well as the aging Kane and Big Show joined Reigns and Rusev, who spent a lot of time outside the ring before being the final man eliminated.
19. 1994 – Bret Hart/Lex Luger
The 1994 version brought us our first tie, but before the controversial finish, this match is most known for the breakout performance of Kevin Nash, who was using the Diesel moniker at the time. This was basically the first time that one guy dominated the match for several minutes and Nash eliminated seven guys before a big group that included Shawn Michaels tossed him out. Michaels had some great moments with former partner Marty Jannetty in this match as well.
As far as the finish goes, Luger went to throw Hart over the top rope but the Hitman reversed the momentum causing both men to hit the floor at the same time. Instead of restarting, both men were declared the winner and both received a title shot at WrestleMania X against Yokozuna.
18. 1996 – Shawn Michaels
This is another one that could probably be lower on the list, as the participant list wasn’t the greatest in the world (Barry Horowitz even got into the mix in this one), but this was the first year that each person got his own entrance music, which has become part of what makes the Royal Rumble what it is. I don’t think that I’m the only one who sits and waits for that music to hit to see who’s coming out next. In the end, it was Shawn Michaels eliminating his good friend Kevin Nash to seal his second consecutive win.
17. 2009 – Randy Orton
This certainly isn’t the greatest Royal Rumble in history, as the outcome was somewhat predicatable, but it provided some nice moments. A lot of times in this match, the guys who come in late are there at the end, but the final four men in this one all lasted at least half an hour. This was around the time that Randy Orton was teaming with Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase, Jr. in Legacy in a feud with Triple H. So of course the final four in the match were going to be Legacy….and Triple H, who was able to eliminate Rhodes and Dibiase before being tossed out by Orton. A little too predictable, but it wasn’t a complete waste of a main event.
16. 2014 – Batista
Speaking of predictable, there aren’t many on this list that get more predictable than this one. Despite the fan base rooting hard for Daniel Bryan to just at least be involved, Batista was brought back to the company specifically to win this match and headline WrestleMania XXX. It’s not Batista’s fault that this Royal Rumble is heavily criticized because the match itself really wasn’t all that terrible.
But when Rey Mysterio’s music hit for number 30, I thought the crowd was going to riot. I know the IWC lost their collective minds. Poor Batista. He’s gone for four years, returns to win the Rumble, gets tapped out by Bryan at WrestleMania, never got his one-on-one title match and isn’t even with the company anymore.
15. 1995 – Shawn Michaels
If they hadn’t shortened the entrance time from two minutes to one minute for this one, it might be ranked a little higher, and it also would make the performance from Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy Smith even more impressive than it was, not that I’m trying to take away from them at all. They entered number one and number two, respectively, and they were the final two at the end. That was a different concept that hadn’t been done yet, and it made for a captivating finish as the “both feet must hit the floor” rule came into play as well.
After Bulldog threw Michaels out of the ring, only one foot hit the floor and Michaels climbed back in to eliminate Davey Boy for the first of his two Royal Rumble victories.
14. 2005 – Batista
This match wasn’t overly exciting at the start, but the finish will go down as certainly one of the most interesting in Royal Rumble history. The company’s two top rising stars, Batista and John Cena, were battling it out for the chance to go to WrestleMania 21’s main event and much like the 1994 version, they both went out of the ring and hit the floor simultaneously.
Speculation has it that the finish happened by accident, but that’s not been confirmed. What we do know is that the match was restarted to get a clear winner and that may be the most entertaining part. As Vince McMahon power walked to the ring, he tore his quads and couldn’t move for a few minutes. The looks on Cena’s and Batista’s faces are priceless. Nevertheless, the match was restarted and Batista got the win to set up his match with Triple H.
13. 2006 – Rey Mysterio
This win was actually quite shocking, even for WWE. Rey Mysterio had been getting a decent push leading up to this, perhaps in some part due to the death of his longtime friend Eddie Guerrero only a few months before, but the underdog story was huge at the 2006 Royal Rumble. Entering at number two, Mysterio lasted a record 62 minutes and 12 seconds (he did sit in the corner a lot though) and outlasted the number one entry, Triple H, and Randy Orton for the victory. His win here provided a great moment in Royal Rumble history.
12. 1990 – Hulk Hogan
When it comes to big moments, they don’t get much bigger than what happened in the 1990 Royal Rumble. We all know that Hulk Hogan won the match and doing what only Hulk Hogan could do, he won the Royal Rumble as the champion. Go figure. But the big moment came towards the end of the match. The Ultimate Warrior’s popularity had been growing immensely in the year leading up to this event and many looked at him as the successor to Hogan’s throne.
The company didn’t really do the face vs. face thing back then, but that’s always another great thing about this event. At that time, everybody wanted to see what would happen when Warrior and Hogan squared off and after they had cleared the ring of everyone else, we finally got to see it. The crowd went nuts for it and so did all of us kids when we were growing up. If you go back and check it out, it’s still a great moment that holds up today.
11. 2003 – Brock Lesnar
There weren’t a ton of big spots or moments in the 2003 Royal Rumble, but what I liked about this one is that there always seemed to be a big star in the ring at any given point. The match started with Shawn Michaels once again entering at number one, but instead of going the distance, he was eliminated by number two Chris Jericho after some help from Christian. This helped set up the Y2J-HBK feud that culminated with their epic encounter at WrestleMania XIX.
You then got guys like Eddie Guerrero and John Cena in the middle and there were plenty of big stars at the end. The final four were Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, Kane, and Batista. That’s some big guys and it’s funny how young Lesnar looks in there at the time, but this win elevated his status even higher than it already was. It was also another cool moment in the Brock vs. Taker feud.
10. 1997 – Stone Cold Steve Austin
If the 1996 King of the Ring win didn’t elevate Stone Cold Steve Austin to superstar status, the 1997 Royal Rumble certainly did, and that’s why it had to be included in the top 10. The match was entertaining, but the ending is what really stands out in this one. Austin, who you’ll remember was a heel at this time, was eliminated by Bret Hart. However, the officials were tending to a fight that had broken out between Mick Foley and Terry Funk, so Austin just did what a heel is supposed to do and got back in the ring and quickly eliminated Undertaker and Vader. Bret Hart eliminated Diesel and thought he had won but Austin threw him out as well.
Officials started paying attention again and Stone Cold was the only man left in the ring and was declared the winner. He didn’t get his title match at WrestleMania, but this Rumble, which had the largest attendance of any in history, planted the seed for the epic double turn of Austin and Hart at WrestleMania 13.
9. 2002 – Triple H
It was going to be extremely difficult to top the event that had taken place the previous year, but this one was still very solid. Sure, it had a few slow moments, but it was fairly entertaining throughout, including one of the most shocking moments in Royal Rumble history when Tough Enough winner Maven (remember that guy) eliminated The Undertaker.
However, this will forever be known as the return of Triple H following the big quad injury. The final four in this match were Triple H, Stone Cold, Kurt Angle, and one of the surprise entrants, Mr. Perfect, who got a loud pop from the crowd upon his return. Austin was the first to go, then Hennig, which left Triple H and Kurt Angle to give us one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen. The clothesline that Triple H gave Angle was absolutely perfect and I’ve never seen a better sell going over the top rope. Great stuff.
8. 2000 – The Rock
Injuries and other factors played a part in this Royal Rumble not having the most stacked lineup in the actual event, but what it did have was The Rock, and sometimes that can make up for a lot of things. The finish here was pretty controversial as he and Big Show were the final two in the match and in another instance of both men going over at the same time, The Rock was declared the winner even though it seemed that his feet hit before Big Show’s did.
It was still a solid event and could possibly be a little lower on the list had it not been for the always great crowd and hard-camera entrances at Madison Square Garden. Thank New York for the top ten entry.
7. 2008 – John Cena
Speaking of New York and Madison Square Garden, the 2008 version gave us some amazing entrances, including one of the most surprising at the very end, but this match was great from the start as Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker kicked things off as the first two entrants. As the match neared the end, it seemed that Triple H, who entered at 29, would get his second Royal Rumble victory, but the number 30 entry would shock the internet spoiler world we live in today as John Cena returned from a torn pectoral injury. He was supposed to be out for seven months but returned after four and nobody saw this coming, which is insanely rare these days. Cena would clean house, including a very surprised Triple H, who sold it brilliantly, and win his first Royal Rumble.
6. 1998 – Stone Cold Steve Austin
Before I get to the winner, I have to mention the absolute brilliance of the creative team on this night and their use of the Three Faces of Foley. Mick Foley entered at number one as Cactus Jack and was eliminated by Chainsaw Charlie after about ten minutes. He came back out as Mankind at number 16, but lasted only about three minutes before heading to the back, only to return at number 28 in his Dude Love gear. Classic stuff.
Oh yeah, Stone Cold Steve Austin won his second consecutive Royal Rumble and there was no other outcome that would have been acceptable that year. Austin was the hottest thing in wrestling and he’d go on to capture his first title at WrestleMania XIV a couple of months later.
5. 2010 – Edge
In what was another shocking return that didn’t really leak (although it was suspected), Edge returned to action after an Achilles injury that was supposed to keep him out for a lot longer than he was actually out. He entered at number 29 and won the match after eliminating John Cena. Edge’s return may not have been as big as Cena’s was two years before, but the reason this one is ranked higher is because the overall match was better, including some great storytelling from Shawn Michaels.
HBK was desperately trying to get his rematch with The Undertaker, who was the champion at the time, at WrestleMania and needed the victory to do so. The drama that was put into this was fantastic and the real look of disappointment after being eliminated by Batista in what would be his final Royal Rumble match was perfect. That’s why this is in the top five.
4. 2007 – The Undertaker
It’s hard to believe that a guy with 22 WrestleMania victories only has one Royal Rumble win, but that’s the case for The Undertaker, who won the classic 2007 event. The other 28 participants put on a great show, but it was the throwback to the classic rivalry between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels that made this night special.
You have to remember that this was before their two classic matches at WrestleMania and since Michaels’ return in 2002, these two really hadn’t done much together. As the last two men in the ring, they put on a 10-minute clinic that had fans all over the world remembering all the classic matches they’d had in the past. The Undertaker would prevail and luckily for all of us, this wouldn’t be the last time these two would meet in the ring.
3. 2004 – Chris Benoit
Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know WWE wants you to forget that this match ever happened, but this was easily one of the greatest Royal Rumble matches in history. I’ve talked a lot about star power on this list and this one had it. Guys like Goldberg, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, Rob Van Dam, and Kurt Angle all seemed like they could be the one to go to WrestleMania XX for the main event, but in the end, it was the number one entry, Chris Benoit, who bested Bob Backlund’s time record that night, who emerged victorious.
It was quite a surprise as Benoit was always one of those guys that seemed destined to stay in the midcard forever. But on this night, he eliminated Big Show to complete one of the most improbable Royal Rumble wins of all time.
2. 2001 – Stone Cold Steve Austin
As the Attitude Era was coming to a close, this match embodied everything that the era defined. There were those few minutes that guys like Al Snow, Raven, and Perry Saturn were bringing weapons to the ring. There was Kane eliminating a then-record 11 competitors. Remember when Kane was a threat….and entertaining? We also got a bit of nostalgia as Kane busted a guitar over the Honky Tonk Man’s head. Okay, the Drew Carey thing was a bit much, but this match was action-packed from start to finish.
We got a Stone Cold/Rock moment, which we would get plenty more of at arguably the best WrestleMania in history a few months later, but only after Stone Cold won his unprecedented third Royal Rumble on this night. As part of the final three, Austin eliminated The Rock and then the dominating Kane in a bloody affair. If it weren’t for the stipulation of the number one entry, this would probably take the top spot.
1. 1992 – Ric Flair
As entertaining as the 2001 version was, it’s hard not to put the 1992 Royal Rumble at the top of this list. After a controversial finish in a match between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, the title was vacated and for the first and only time in history, the Royal Rumble would decide the champion. Hulk Hogan, the winner the previous two years, was the obvious favorite here, and I’m not just talking kayfabe if you catch my drift. However, the choice was made that night to go with recently acquired Ric Flair, and the match was brilliant.
Flair entered at number three and this was before anybody had gone from number one to win the whole thing, so you didn’t think there was any possible way he could go for an hour, even back then. However, he made it through and listen to this final four: Sid Justice, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and Ric Flair. That’s star power right there, even if Sid doesn’t quite match up with the rest over the course of history, but he eliminated Savage and then Hogan, which was a shock to just about everybody. As Hogan distracted Sid, Flair took advantage and tossed him out to win the title and the best Royal Rumble of all time.
Obviously, these are simply my thoughts. I’d enjoy hearing what you folks have to say. What would you change on this list? Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this page.
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