WrestleMania is the biggest event in all of professional wrestling. The entire year builds up to one Sunday night where the largest wrestling company in the world puts their best foot forward (usually) and reminds you why you love the WWE. Now, while WrestleMania is the most important event of the year, for my money the Royal Rumble is the most anticipated event of the year. A 30-man over the top rope battle royal to determine who will go on to WrestleMania to challenge the World Champion for their title. Pat Patterson my fellow Montrealer, you are a damn genius for this concept alone.
Often times, a memorable performance in the Royal Rumble match will set a large impression on the WWE fans. Whether it be because of the amount of people a superstar eliminates or the amount of time you last in the ring. What's even more impressive than throwing out 20 men or lasting longer than Val Venis with a mortgage to pay though is actually winning the match on top of setting records.
Before ranking these performances there are a few things to note. You will notice that there aren't many superstars from the early years of the rumble. It's partially because that they're simply aren't that many great performances. It's also because in the early days of the Rumble, winning the match meant nothing. So if winning the match means nothing to the superstar, why should fans care either?
Now while elimination numbers, ring time and victory in the match are all important like I mentioned, important is also being memorable in the match. Being an iron man in the Rumble is one thing, but if nobody remembers it, is it truly impressive? That doesn't mean that lesser known names will excluded, but they will be left out of the higher spots.
Also just for variety's sake, only one performance per wrestler will be included on this countdown. Now for the first entrant in this countdown. 10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...
10 Rick Martel, 1991
Maybe he has a reason to be arrogant. As the last year where the Rumble meant nothing, the 1991 match is mostly for bragging rights. In a match featuring the Royal Rumble debuts of legends like the Road Warriors, The Undertaker and the British Bulldog, it was this loud mouth model who lasted longer than anyone else. He was the first wrestler to break the 50 minute mark in the Royal Rumble, with a performance lasting 52:17. If Martel could have pulled this off in 1992 or onwards he would be higher on the list but I still must pay respect to one of the original Iron Men of the Royal Rumble match.
9 Bob Backlund, 1993
Wait, what!? Bob Backlund?! That pasty, doughy, whiter than wonder bread Bob Backlund? Yes, as insane as it sounds, the longtime WWE champion from 1978 to 1983 made a return to the premier wrestling promotion in 1992 as a man out of time. In an era defined by colorful characters, Backlund's dull as dishwater character seemed to be a relic of the past. At the 1993 Royal Rumble though, Backlund turned back the clock at 43 years old to last over an hour, beating out superstars like Undertaker, Ric Flair and "Mr.Perfect" Curt Henning. Unfortunately for Backlund, Yokozuna tossed him out and killed the comeback, but it's still mighty impressive for an old man.
8 Triple H, 2006
If we were going by overall Royal Rumble performers, Triple H would be a contender for the best ever. HHH holds the record for longest cumulative time in the Rumble (3:51:32) and also won the match in 2002. Triple H has several impressive performances in the Rumble including lasting the longest in the 1996 and 2009 matches, but if I had to choose one, it would have to be his 2006 marathon. After unluckily drawing number one, Triple H proved his dominance and cunning by lasting about an hour, making it to the final three before being eliminated by the winner Rey Mysterio. Not to be outdone, HHH beat the holy hell out of Mysterio after being eliminated. Cerebral Assassin indeed.
7 Shawn Michaels, 1995
Jeez, even on countdowns Shawn Michaels and Triple H are never far apart. Anyways, Shawn Michaels is one of the most decorated and revered superstars in WWE history and a large part of that is his legendary performances in the Royal Rumble match. Whether he lasted two minutes or 30, eliminated nobody or eight people, HBK always made his mark in the Royal Rumble. Michaels also made history in the 1995 Royal Rumble by being the first man to go from no.1 to 30, literally outlasting every other entrant to win the match. In addition, Michaels also eliminated eight superstars, one of the highest number of eliminations in a single rumble. Unfortunately for HBK, the 1995 Royal Rumble had 60 second intervals between entries rather than the standard 90 seconds, making his Rumble time "only" 38 minutes and 41 seconds.
6 Kane, 2001
Watching WWE programming over the past few years might make new fans think that Kane is a wimp but at one point in time, there were very few more over and more believable as a monster than the Big Red Machine. He spoke little yet said more with his actions than 90% of the roster. His entrance, his mask and his agility for a big man all made him of one the most unique superstars in wrestling history.
The shining jewel of his early dominance would have to be his performance in the 2001 Royal Rumble. Kane narrowly lost to Stone Cold in the final two, but he easily had the most dominant performance in Rumble history for several years. The masked monster threw 11 men over the top rope, most of which were midcard scrubs but still an outstanding number. He lacks lengthy world title runs and his booking may have killed his character, but Kane's 2001 Rumble performance will live in the annals of Hell forever.
5 Chris Benoit, 2004
Flash back to the year 2004 for a second. Chris Benoit has busted his ass the minute he's walked into the WWE but time and time again has failed to win the big one. Heading into the 2004 Royal Rumble, General Manager of SmackDown Paul Heyman placed Benoit in the number one spot to crush his chances of winning. This didn't mean a damn thing to the "Rabid Wolverine" as he became the second man in WWE history to win the match from the number one spot, finally eliminating the mammoth Big Show to secure his main event at WrestleMania. Benoit also holds the number two spot for longest time in a Rumble match lasting 1:01:30. Despite the horrors of the end of his life, Benoit's performance in 2004 is one of the crowning achievements of his professional career.
4 Roman Reigns, 2014
"Anyone but Batista". That seemed to be the answer to the question of who should win the 2014 Royal Rumble. The fans were adamant that they didn't want an (at the time) unproven actor to win the Rumble and headline WrestleMania XXX opposite Randy Orton. Fortunately for us, Roman Reigns seemed to receive the memo and went on a warpath to ensure he would win the match. I mentioned that time in the match is a factor in this list, but Reigns needed only 33:41 to set a record for most eliminations in a single Rumble with 12 eliminations. These weren't small minnows he was eliminating either, as Reigns tossed out Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and other big names in his Rumble conquest. If Reigns won the match, he'd probably be sitting atop the list.
3 Stone Cold Steve Austin, 1997
There is only one finger-gesturing, beer-swelling, foul-mouthed SOB who could have won a Royal Rumble while still being eliminated from the match. Not only is Austin the only person to win three Royal Rumbles, he is also one of its most dominant wrestlers. If I were to narrow down one of his Royal Rumble victories, I would have to pick his original 1997 victory as the best. The Texas Rattlesnake has both the records for longest time spent in the 1997 Rumble (45:07) but also the most eliminations in that match with 10. He might not have gotten the WrestleMania main event that year due to storyline shenanigans, but Austin's '97 victory is one of the most impressive in WWE history.
2 Ric Flair, 1992
All of the other Rumbles past 1992 merely granted their winner a shot at the World Championship but no other year was the Championship itself on the line. Only an icon of professional wrestling should have the honor of winning the most important Royal Rumble ever. Lo and behold, Ric Flair fills that role perfectly. Coming from the no.3 spot to last 34 seconds shy of an hour, Flair's performance in the 1992 Royal Rumble is worthy of the The Nature Boy's legacy. Flair beat out legends such as The Undertaker, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan to earn his first WWE championship. If you don't think this is a tremendous honour, hear from Flair himself: "With a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment in my life".
1 Rey Mysterio, 2006
It seemed impossible. There was no way in hell that the WWE would actually pull the trigger on a Rey Mysterio push. He's too small, he's not a believable World Champion, he's not charismatic enough bla bla bla... On the heels of Eddie Guerrero's death in November 2005, WWE fans embraced Guerrero's best friend Mysterio as the man to lead the SmackDown brand and carry on his legacy. While events didn't pan out that way, Mysterio did have an emotional road to WrestleMania 22, which kicked off with his 2006 Royal Rumble win. Mysterio set a record for longest time in a Rumble match, lasting 62:12, a mind-boggling achievement for a man who doesn't break the 200-pound mark. The biggest little man in professional wrestling defied all conventions with his 2006 victory, the greatest performance in Royal Rumble history.