The Royal Rumble event is one of the biggest shows of the year and many fans actually prefer it to WrestleMania. While WrestleMania is the bigger spectacle, the Royal Rumble is more exciting and unpredictable because of the Royal Rumble battle royal match. Thirty men entering the ring to compete for a spot in WrestleMania main event gives fans hope for their favorite stars. The match is the perfect place to start a push, create a storyline or give the audience reason to root for their favorite star. There’s typically more unpredictability in play at the Rumble and the match itself is the high point of the wrestling calendar for quite a few wrestling fans.
Over the course of twenty-eight years, we have seen an array of memorable Royal Rumble moments. Maven shockingly eliminated The Undertaker. Drew Carey was a competitor for a few minutes before Kane scared him out of the ring. Mick Foley entered the match three times with the different characters of Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love. There’s been a plethora of entertaining highlights but the strength in the concept has been the storytelling and star power. Most of the winners are on the road to becoming big stars or are continuing to write their legacy among the all-time greats. You can argue every current Royal Rumble winner will have a realistic chance at making the WWE Hall of Fame, except Chris Benoit for obvious reasons.
The best Royal Rumble stories would include Ric Flair winning the WWE Championship, Shawn Michaels showing his endurance from the #1 position, Steve Austin cheating to screw Bret Hart and John Cena making a shocking return to win in Madison Square Garden. Through the excitement, unpredictability and foolproof concept, the stories to come from the match have been the most impressive aftermath. Unfortunately not all of the Royal Rumble matches have led to great moments. There have been bad wrestlers, bad booking and bad timing that led to awful situations. We will look at this and the top twelve worst Royal Rumble winners of all-time.
12 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is a talented wrestler and has all the tools to become a massive star for WWE. There’s a reason the company invested everything in him, but many felt that his push came way too soon. Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble and the Philadelphia fans booed him out of the building. The crowd felt Reigns was being given the win rather than earning it. Despite an impressive body of work in The Shield, Reigns failed to do anything noteworthy as a singles star before the win. Wrestlers like Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose were more popular at the time and Reigns was rejected for not being as ready for the big moment as he is now.
11 Hacksaw Jim Duggan
This is no knock against Hacksaw Jim Duggan because he’s one of the more lovable figures in wrestling and a respected legend. The issue is that Duggan was never a top talent and was best served as a patriotic mid-card act. Considering how the Royal Rumble became one of the most significant shows in wrestling history, you’d assume a bigger name than Duggan would have won the inaugural Rumble match. The original show and match were not treated with importance because the stipulation of a WrestleMania title shot going to the winner was not established yet. Duggan wasn’t a terrible choice given the circumstances but he’s definitely one of the worst Royal Rumble winners looking at the history books.
10 Alberto Del Rio
One of the few stars to get over instantly in the WWE was Alberto Del Rio. After getting signed for his body of work in Mexico, Del Rio was pushed as a wealthy aristocrat heel character and it had success. A rare problem WWE had during the latter days of the brand split was the difference between Raw and SmackDown. The Raw brand was treated as superior to the SmackDown brand, so the mixing of the talent made for awkward interactions in the joint Royal Rumble match. Del Rio was a star on SmackDown but he wasn’t as popular as other wrestlers in the match like John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk. Del Rio’s big win coming early in his WWE career and based off SmackDown work made his victory seem less credible.
9 Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan scored back-to-back Royal Rumble match wins in 1990 and 1991. Both victories made sense on the surface but the 1991 victory was the wrong time. Hogan was starting to lose his luster as a top act. While he was never an elite worker like Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, Hogan held his own in big matches and used his star power to add to the drama. This was the time frame his act was starting to grow old and it showed here. Hogan winning in 1991 was a great example of the company relying on him too much as he was beginning to age, instead of building new stars.
8 Brock Lesnar
The story of Brock Lesnar’s first run in WWE is fascinating. In one calendar year, the youngster debuted to dominate the roster, defeat The Rock for the WWE Championship, win the Royal Rumble and once again capture the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XIX. Very few wrestlers have ever been given as much in their first twelve months on television. WWE clearly saw Lesnar’s potential but struggled at times in his early push. Brock isn’t the most expressive person and the company turned him into a face. The face run didn’t get fans to believe as much as his heel work did. Lesnar smiling and failing to adequately showcase happiness made his 2003 run a bit of a flop. Booker T might have been the better option to win the Royal Rumble this year.
7 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio was an excellent wrestler and a deserving choice to win the 2006 Royal Rumble, but the manner in which he won made it terrible. The company had Mysterio dedicate the match and all of his future matches to the recently deceased Eddie Guerrero. It was meant to gain sympathy from fans based off the real life friendship between the two but it came off as very tacky. The fans at WrestleMania 22 booed Mysterio and cheered in favor of Kurt Angle because of how the story and Royal Rumble win went down. The overall story of Mysterio entering second and lasting the entire match also felt contrived. Despite being Mysterio’s first big push, the company did him no favors with this Rumble win.
6 Big John Studd
In the era before a Royal Rumble win led to WrestleMania main event title shots, it led to a few lackluster winners and Big John Studd was one of them. Studd played a great role in WWE as a physically imposing badass but he was nowhere near the name value of most Royal Rumble winners. If you look at the entire list of the winners, you will likely give a double take seeing Studd’s name there. Studd won the 1989 match that was more focused on his size being showcased rather than creating an exciting match with a significant winner. Funny enough, Studd didn’t even work a WrestleMania V match as a wrestler, as he was used a special guest referee.
Yokozuna is another example of a big man getting the Royal Rumble victory due to his size making him difficult to eliminate. The push for Yokozuna turned him into the company’s biggest heel but he just wasn’t the right person for the job. He did have his memorable moments and worked hard, but his in-ring skills were terrible due to his limitations and his overall work just didn’t compare to other monster heels. The 1993 Royal Rumble is often seen as one of the more boring Rumbles and roads to WrestleMania because Yokozuna wasn’t very entertaining. WWE might have been better off going back to veteran Randy Savage or taking a chance on a young Shawn Michaels.
“The Animal” Batista won the Royal Rumble match twice in 2005 and 2014. The first win was fine because he was red hot and in a great feud with Triple H, but his return in 2014 led to one of the worst Royal Rumble moments of all time. Daniel Bryan was on fire and the fans desperately wanted to see the underdog hero win the match. Instead, they were greeted with an aging Batista winning in his first match back, while he displayed visible cardio issues during his time in the match. Batista was way too old to get the win here and fans rejected it. WWE were forced to add Bryan to the WrestleMania XXX main event to save the show, due to the backlash Batista received by most crowds.
3 Lex Luger
Many of the stories of the worst Royal Rumble winners feature stories of wrestlers getting forced down the throats of fans. No one likes to be told who to like and most of the time, the wrestler will fail when getting overpushed. Lex Luger was the perfect example of this. In WCW, Luger had his strengths but he was supposed to be a bigger star in WWE. Vince McMahon wanted Luger to become the next version of Hulk Hogan due to Luger’s bodybuilding physique. Luger co-won the 1994 Royal Rumble with Bret Hart as both eliminated each other at the same time to cause a tie. WrestleMania X became a convoluted mess and Luger’s planned WWE title win was changed in favor of Hart.
Sheamus has become a constant on many of lists that are looking at negative things in wrestling. You have to feel bad because Sheamus actually does have talent and gives his all to the wrestling business, but he’s just boring. The character, presence and booking of Sheamus always cause fans to groan whenever he is in the main event picture. This was no different in the 2012 Royal Rumble match. The final two were Sheamus and a returning Chris Jericho. Everyone wanted Jericho to win but Sheamus eliminated him to take the prize. No one bought into Sheamus and the disinterest turned into hatred when he defeated Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXVIII in 18 seconds. Sheamus has the worst luck and best luck at the same time. Maybe it’s an Irish thing.
1 Vince McMahon
There was definitely not a worse Royal Rumble winner than Vince McMahon. Regardless of if you look at it from a purely wrestling perspective or booking decision, McMahon getting the victory was a complete mess. Vince wasn’t an active wrestler and this was just a way to prolong his feud with Steve Austin. The cheap finish made the other wrestlers in the match look like a joke. You can’t argue with the results of the Austin vs. McMahon feud in wrestling history, but there was no reason for McMahon to win the match. It could have been a debuting Big Show or any actual wrestler with the same sloppy booking to change the direction before WrestleMania that gave Austin the eventual WrestleMania XV title match. The owner put his ego on display by winning the 1999 Royal Rumble and was the worst victor in the match’s history.
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