The brainchild of Pat Patterson, the Royal Rumble is among the most beloved gimmick matches in wrestling. Aside from WrestleMania, perhaps no other pay-per-view generates excitement like the Rumble. It's ambitious and full of possibilities. Its one-by-one pacing helps to prevent the excessive chaos so often seen in Battle Royals. The luck of the draw can add adversity or fortune to a Superstar's journey. It's a springboard to headlining 'Mania. Oh, and during the promos, it's fun to count how many times they say "29 other men" and "over the top rope."
What's not to love about the Rumble? Well, fan favorites oftentimes come up short--and worse, the one chosen to win might be drowned by boos in a sold-out arena. Second-guessing is part of the fun, though, and disagreements can spark compelling conversations. Our purpose here is to rank all the winners of the Rumble--like them or not--and debate whether or not fans had the right to call shenanigans. And though their hands were never raised in victory, entries 24-30 are recognized for feats like the total number of wrestlers they eliminated, their career-time accumulated in the match, and how long they lasted to achieve Iron Man status in a given year. OK. We're ready to rumble.
30 Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston's acrobatic stunts to stave elimination are legendary. They're like watching a skills competition of a slam dunk contest or a home run derby within the game or match itself, and even though he never gets especially close to victory at the Rumble, his athleticism and use of props to avoid stepping on the mat are worthy of highlight-reel compilations. Kofi at the Rumble is like watching a kid pretending the floor is lava, jumping from one piece of furniture to the next, using his willpower and imagination to solve problems.
29 Chris Jericho
Despite never being the last man standing, Chris Jericho has been fantastic at the Rumble since joining the WWE in 1999. Astoundingly, he ranks second all-time in cumulative time spent in Rumbles with three hours, 55 minutes, and 59 seconds of performing at the highest level. He trails Triple H by less than four minutes, which means that after the 2017 extravaganza, Jericho could hold the record. His name appears twice on the top-20 list of superstars who've lasted the longest time in a single Rumble, and his nine appearances are fewer than just six other men.
Rikishi's Royal Rumble legacy is strengthened by his number of appearances and his prowess in the 2000 pay-per-view offering. In his career, with three different personas (including The Sultan and Fatu, briefly), he appeared in 10 Rumbles from 1993-2004, and no one looked forward to inducing a hernia by trying to eliminate the 425-pounder. In the new millennium's first 30-Superstar event, at the height of his popularity as a member of the boy band dance troop/wrestling stable Too Cool, Rikishi tossed out seven opponents. And it took a conspiracy of six heels to dump him over the top rope.
27 Bob Backlund
It seemed like Bob Backlund had emerged from a time capsule to grapple at the '93 Rumble. His career in the WWE peaked before the rise of Hulkamania. He was pale, weird, and old school. Regardless, he endured in the match for one hour, one minute, and 10 seconds--which set the Iron Man record for over a decade, when it was finally broken by Benoit ('04), then Mysterio ('06). For a man who was 43 at the time, it was quite an accomplishment.
26 CM Punk
His title reign of 434 days came to an end when he dropped the belt to The Rock in the main event of the 2013 Rumble, but in the Rumble matches themselves, CM Punk's performances were great while they lasted, even if he was never the last man standing. In his final match in the WWE, Seth Rollins and Punk opened the Rumble, and Punk battled for almost 50 minutes, showcasing cool spots like the neckbreaker-to-one-guy/DDT to-the-other-guy combo. That particular 49:11 score on the Iron Man test of endurance ranks 16th all-time.
25 Big Show
The case could be made that Big Show was the rightful winner of the 2000 Rumble, but we'll get to that when we cover the Superstar who beat him heads-up: The Rock. On one hand, Show still got booked into a crowded main event at WrestleMania, but on the other, he's left without a Rumble victory on his resume--and should he finally prevail in 2017 over the likes of Finn, Seth, or Dean, expect a riot at the Alamodome. Regardless, his Rumble legacy is impressive.
The Big Red Machine holds the Rumble record for most Superstars eliminated all-time, yet he's never won the match--and at this stage, he's got about the same odds of surprising us as Val Venis. In all likelihood, Kane's window of opportunity has closed, but his total of 44 eliminations makes him the most prolific performer in Rumble history to have spilled over the top rope each and every time. If the Rumble was the Super Bowl, Kane would be like the Buffalo Bills.
23 Big John Studd
This guy. There's no reason Big John Studd should have been the last man standing in the 1989 Royal Rumble. The company had no greater plans for him in the future. The storyline they'd established that night involved The Million Dollar Man bribing another evildoer so that DiBiase, a top heel at the time, could become entrant #30. The Mega Powers, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, had been sacked long before the match's end in a way that furthered their tale of mounting dissension. The obvious finish to the narrative was to score one for the bad guys and put DiBiase over to intensify his heat. It didn't happen.
22 "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
Winner of the inaugural Rumble in 1988, Hacksaw only had to outlast 19 other Superstars. The historic, first entrant was Bret Hart, who endured for 25:42 to become the initial Iron Man of the spectacle. Hacksaw drew #13 and made it lucky, overcoming a double-team effort by Dino Bravo and One Man Gang for the finish to claim what was perhaps the highlight of his career.
21 Lex Luger
Along with body-slamming Yokozuna on a battleship because, dammit, the man loved America, co-winning a Royal Rumble was among the highlights Luger enjoyed as a babyface in the WWE. In the '94 Rumble, at the peak of his "Made in the USA" gimmick, Luger eliminated six competitors--good for second-most that year, just one behind Diesel's total--before ultimately falling outside the ring entangled with Bret Hart.
20 Bret "The Hitman" Hart
Like life, the Royal Rumble isn't fair. Just ask Bret Hart. He's credited as the co-winner of the event in 1994. Granted, his tumbling over the ropes in tandem with Luger and landing in synchronicity must have been a tough spot to perform, and having two victors was an unprecedented swerve, but in hindsight, Hart probably should've been put over as the sole winner. Post-Hulkamania/Pre-Attitude, he was the face of the company.
19 Alberto Del Rio
Winner of the only Rumble to feature 40 Superstars, the 2011 event, Alberto Del Rio benefited from drawing No. 38. He had to last a mere 9:33 and rid the ring of just two competitors to go over. That is so heel. The finish came as a surprise and the match garnered positive reviews, but the excessive field of 40 has yet to be revisited. As for the aftermath, the smarmy Del Rio went on to lose to Edge in a match that would've made him the World Heavyweight Champ at 'Mania XXVII. Afterwards, Edge smashed his opponents' Rolls Royce with a crowbar. It was a rough night for The Essence of Excellence.
The Dublin-born stalwart went over at a Rumble that received mixed reviews in 2012. The deep runs of The Miz (45:39) and Cody Rhodes (41:55) went for naught, and Jerichoholics began to mourn the moment he was booted off the apron by Sheamus to seal the victory. The seven-minute showdown with the two exchanging near-eliminations offered some thrills, even if most fans would rather forget that Sheamus' Rumble win culminated at 'Mania in an 18-second squashing of Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship. (Still worth it to get a kiss from AJ Lee, if you ask me.)
17 Mr. McMahon
The 1999 Rumble occurred during the peak of the Attitude Era, and while it was maddening to watch the evil boss raise his hand in victory, that was exactly the point. Fans would have loved to have seen another Stone Cold triumph, but the shocking finish intensified the heat of the top heel in the company. It's fitting that McMahon's anthem "No Chance in Hell" debuted at this pay-per-view.
The immovable object of mid-'90s WWE, Yokozuna was enormous and reviled, and he posed a sketchy matchup for The Hitman. Hart's offensive arsenal was reduced to nothing but punches and kicks against the behemoth, and even the Sharp Shooter seemed like a crime against nature as Bret tussled with legs that looked like fatty logs. Yoko's victory at the Rumble set the stage for his title match against Hart at WrestleMania IX (which the heel won, only to drop the belt to Hogan a few minutes later).
15 Chris Benoit
The greatest wrestler to be excluded from the Hall of Fame because of the senseless and tragic way his life ended, Chris Benoit put his superb conditioning on display to win the 2004 Royal Rumble. He was the first entrant. The former Horseman posted the second-best Iron Man time in the event, lasting one hour, one minute, and 31 seconds. He eliminated six competitors, including the gargantuan Big Show, to seal the win.
14 Brock Lesnar
Of the active Superstars on this countdown, The Beast Incarnate stands the best chance of prevailing at the upcoming Rumble. He's still a mammoth pay-per-view draw, he's won the match before, and the case could be made that he belongs on the short list of wrestlers who've conquered the Rumble multiple times. With his main event pedigree, he could headline WrestleMania 33 against the likes of A.J. Styles or maybe even Goldberg. Surprisingly, he doesn't rank all that high on the all-time list of eliminations, but he'll have at least one more chance to boost those career totals.
13 The Rock
While The Brahma Bull did become the WWE Champion at the '99 Rumble with a win over Mankind in a brutal "I Quit" match, when it came to the actual 30-man brouhaha, he didn't enjoy as much success as Stone Cold, Triple H, or Shawn Michaels. In fact, his sole Rumble victory in 2000 was tainted by a replay that revealed Big Show should have won the match. After the fact, upon further review of the Luger/ Hart-like finish, it turns out The Rock's feet hit the floor first. (And for the ten-billionth time, a wrestling ref was quoted as saying, "Oops!")
12 The Undertaker
In stark contrast to its predecessor, when the first two draws both endured for an hour, the 2007 Rumble was the first in which the 30th entrant prevailed. At least The Heartbreak Kid was there in the end to make sure it wouldn't be too easy for 'Taker. HBK rallied to dispose of heels Edge and Randy Orton, thus cutting the final four in half, and for the finish, the crowd at the AT&T Center in San Antonio was treated to a showdown between two legends who were poised to tear the roof off the building.
11 Randy Orton
During his partnership with the spoiled kids of Ted DiBiase and Dusty Rhodes in The Legacy, Orton was one of the best heels in the business, and the heat he generated made him a wise choice to prevail at the 2009 Rumble. The Legend Killer was so reviled at the time that having Triple H play the part of the babyface was not an issue. The eighth man to get into the donnybrook, Orton's three eliminations were a bit low, but he battled in the match for 48:27, which ranks in the top 20 all-time.
The 2010 Rumble was notable for the relatively short length of the match (49:24). The last man standing, Edge, entered at No. 29 and only competed for 7:19. He was returning from a torn Achilles, however, and so his late and surprising appearance at the pay-per-view was perfectly timed to maximize the pop he got from the crowd. Though he only rid the ring of two superstars, he sure made them count: Edge dumped out Jericho to establish their feud and then outfoxed a charging Cena to close the match.
9 Roman Reigns
Understatement of the year so far: Fans were not on-board with the decision to put Roman Reigns over at the 2015 Royal Rumble. The pulse of the Universe was throbbing in favor of Daniel Bryan, who lasted a mere 10:36 as the 10th entrant. From there, the nuclear heat of the fans in attendance became the main storyline of the match at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. Reigns' win as a "babyface" was disdainfully rejected. It stands as the one of the most misguided decisions the company has made in recent memory, and the magnitude of the mistake has festered.
8 Ric Flair
The fifth Rumble signified a huge leap forward for the pay-per-view. It conveyed a sense of purpose that had been lacking. Whereas prior matches had either put over middling talent that didn't belong in a main event or glorified a star who'd already been extensively glorified, 1992's show was fresh and unexpected. Plus, it really meant something: The victor won the vacated title belt. The third entrant was a cocky heel who'd found fame in other organizations. He beat the odds and lasted an hour to follow through on his promise of winning the match and the strap, and he didn't even cheat. January 19th, 1992 was a great night for fans who loved to shout, "Wooooooooo!"
7 Rey Mysterio
The 2006 Rumble remains a sentimental favorite for fans of the babyface underdog. The company's most diminutive World Heavyweight Champ, listed at 5'6", 175 lbs, Mysterio began the match as the second entrant. For almost the entire match, he had to battle the boss's nasty son-in-law, who drew #1. Triple H lasted an impressive 1:00:15, which ranks fourth in history. But Mysterio endured for even longer: One hour, two minutes, and 12 seconds to earn the all-time record, the Rumble victory, and a successful title shot at WrestleMania 22.
His 2014 victory was like a not-as-intense precursor to the Reigns debacle that was to come the next year. The Universe responded to the returning star's win with a reaction that was, at best, tepid and mixed. Punk or Rollins seemed like preferred choices, but instead, Batista benefited from an outcome that made some fans question if their voices were being heard. Batista threw out four competitors in the 14 minutes, 34 seconds he put into winning the match.
5 Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan deserves much of the credit for the surge in popularity the WWE enjoyed in the '80s, and he was inclined to indulge in that fact. He took plenty of victory laps, so to speak. In a more literal sense, The Hulkster was all about choreographing his post-match celebrations with poses and hand gestures to the crowd. It was cheesy, yet awesome, and no one did it better. The Rumbles that he won back-to-back to start the '90s seemed to reinforce the notion that babyface Hogan was always happy to take a victory lap or two.
4 John Cena
The face of the company didn't have to work especially hard to go over at the 2008 Royal Rumble. He was the last entrant of the match, and while he did throw out a respectable total of four men, here's some perspective on how long he had to endure: Cena lasted 8:28. Post-Attitude Mark Henry, Hardcore Holly, and Mick Foley all worked longer shifts that night. Still, Cena has proven himself as a top draw at the 'Manias that follow the Rumbles. His name is rising in the record books of the Rumble, too.
3 Triple H
From 1996-present, the boss' son-in-law has spent almost four hours (3:59:37) performing in Royal Rumbles. In that regard, Triple H is superlative. He can also claim three of the top 20 longest stints in a given Rumble. He's the reigning champ of the event, lest we forget, and even though many in The Universe were cheering for younger talents like A.J. Styles and Kevin Owens, the pay-per-view garnered mostly positive reviews. The Game lasted 9:03 as the final entrant and cleared the ring of four competitors, including Reigns heads-up to win the title.
2 Shawn Michaels
After he returned from a career hiatus during which he missed much of the Attitude Era, The Heartbreak Kid started to show his knack for excellence even in defeat. It was a gift he put on display at Rumbles. In 2007, for instance, HBK battled 'Taker heads-up to highlight and finish the match. It felt like a main event had been stripped down to a main event that was arguably better. The Dead Man beat him, though. In 2010, The Showstopper, Batista, Cena, and Edge composed a fantastic final four. Following a sick Sweet Chin Music delivered on the apron, Michaels was knocked out by Batista. The dejection Michaels sold as he left ringside was a great portrayal of a heartbroken perfectionist.
1 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Here's a source of bragging rights for The Rattlesnake over The Undertaker that could soon undergo a reversal: Austin racked up 36 total eliminations, one more than 'Taker's mark. Chances are, Stone Cold will drop to fourth on the all-time list as The Dead Man rises to third. But Austin's name is secure in the record books. He eliminated 10 wrestlers during his 1997 triumph, eight in '99, and seven in both '98 and '02. The toughest S.O.B. in the history of the company only competed in six Rumbles, which means he averaged six eliminations per match. His win in '98 constituted a repeat, and it took the CEO himself to ensure that Austin was to barely fall short of a three-peat the next year.
Stone Cold wasn't done winning Rumbles, though. In the next one he competed in, 2001's January spectacular, The Rattlesnake opened up a can of whoop ass and raised his hands in victory for the third time in five years. That might very well be the single-most impressive stat in Rumble history. During his prime, the Hall of Famer either won or finished second in every Rumble he was a part of. From a heel fans started to love to the anti-hero face of the Attitude era to a heel fans hated to cheer against to capping off his career with 'Mania classics against The Rock, Austin's run was booked, managed, and executed brilliantly. Are you ready for the 2017 Royal Rumble? Give me a hell yeah.
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