Every year, WWE announcers hype the upcoming Royal Rumble (RR) as the most “star-studded” ever. That is a type of claim that can be put to a somewhat objective test. How? First, equate “star studded” with Hall of Famer. Second, find out which Royal Rumble had the most Hall of Famers and thus is the most “star studded ever.” Simple? Well, actually not so much.
Our data sources, lists of those enshrined in the three big wrestling Hall of Fames, all have issues, so which one to use? Not the WWE’s, which has few standards other than Vince Kennedy McMahon’s McWhims. The Wrestling Observer’s (WO) is much better but has two flaws. First, it includes someone like Chris Benoit, and this has nothing to do with his personal story. Benoit was not a main eventer in the US for a big period of time. He was a wrestler, not a superstar who drew ratings, moved t-shirts, and sold Pay Per Views. He’s in the WO HOF because of match quality, which is great but doesn’t equal Hall of Fame how this research question is framed. The second issue is that the WO’s HOF is filled with many wrestlers who never worked in the modern WWE. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just doesn’t help with this research question. The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame (PW), the least known has the fewest inductees and seems to favor still living old timers over modern era. So instead of looking at one, how about devising research using all three Halls?
Here’s the formula: If, someone like Ric Flair, who is in all three Hall of Fames, competes in a Rumble, that’s 3 points / 3HOF If someone like Eddie Guerrero, who is WO and WWE but not PW or Jimmy Snuka, who is in WWE and PW but not WO, wrestles, then that’s 2 points / 2HOF. We’ll award 1 point / 1 HOF for Koko B Ware, Bushwackers, and other WWE only outliers. We then add up the total and get the answer to our question with some caveats.
This system skews against more modern versions of the RR, so we’ll look at the first twenty years, 1988 – 2008. The other factor favoring those very early Rumbles is almost all the big stars were in the Rumble, not in an undercard match. Starting in 1991 the Rumble featured a title match, sometimes with two Hall of Famers which pulls those guys out of the mix.
Last issue: scoring talent who one day might make one or more of these Halls of Fame. Let’s play it safe and only include those who most likely will land in all three Hall of Fames: Cena, Undertaker, HHH, Lesnar, Jericho, Orton, Batista, and The Rock. One could argue the merits of Kane, Big Show, or Mark Henry. They almost for sure will make the least objective HOF (WWE) but are not likely to find a home in the WO or PW which involves actual voting from qualified experts. We’ll include those elected as part of tag team but not those elected as part of factions. Also excluded are non-wrestlers (including Mr. McMahon) and anyone in the WWE celebrity wing. Finally, there’s a lot of data to sort and align, so mea culpa in advance if I missed anyone in a Hall or a Rumble. So let’s get ready to Royal Rumble.
15 2002 (15 points)
Of the twenty Royal Rumbles examined, five don’t make the list and three of them are from the same time period, oddly the Attitude Era: 1998, 2000 and 2001. So maybe it is not surprising that one from the same era ends up last. With 1HOF Edge, 3HOF Ric Flair and three sure bet 3HOF in Chris Jericho, Triple H, and The Rock tied up in other matches, there wasn’t much left for the Rumble itself. Despite Undertaker, Steve Austin, Triple H, plus the returning Mr. Perfect, there’s too many mid card for life. There were long stretches where the entrants were not Hall of Famers, from 2 – 7 and again 9 – 18, that is unless Test or Albert made a HOF that I missed.
14 1988 (16 points)
The first RR fell victim to the numbers game: only 20 wrestlers, and only two of them are 3HOF and both show another flaw in the study. While Harley Race is in the WWE Hall of Fame, it is not because of his work in WWE. The other 3HOF is Bret Hart, who is on the other end of his career. While he would steal the show in this first Rumble and later become one of the best in the industry, in 1988 he was part of a mid-card tag team. There are lots of WWE Hall of Fame only guys here like Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Nikolai Volkoff, and Junkyard Dog.
13 T12. 2007 (17 points)
The number one entrant (Ric Flair) and the number thirty (Undertaker) are both 3HOF. Right in the middle stands Randy Orton who like the Undertaker will be a 3HOF wrestler. Around them are huddled lots of mid card guys except for Shawn Michaels (2HOF) and 1HOF: Edge, Booker T, and Chris Benoit. No points were deducted because The Miz, Great Khali, Chris Masters, and Viscera also were in the match. This was one of the “brand era” Rumbles and none of the ECW talent (Sabu, Sandman, Kevin Thorn, Tommy Dreamer, Hardcore Holly) seem HOF bound. A wrestler who might make the other halls, but not the WWE anytime soon, was one C.M. Punk.
12 T12. 1994 (17 points)
The mid 1990’s were a low point. The 1995 Rumble hit rock bottom scoring only 10 points. This version had two legit 3HOF Randy Savage and Bob Backlund, although neither were showing Hall of Fame talent at this time. Mid-card guys / 2-HOF Rick Martel and Greg Valentine appeared, as did future superstar Shawn Michaels. There’s a sneaky 1HOF involved as a talent exchange with a Japanese promotion brought over WO HOF Genichiro Tenryu.
11 2008 (20 points)
This RR boasts the highest ranking Hall of Famers. Only eight Hall of Famers joined the match, but they were mostly 3HOF or sure to be 3HOF: Undertaker, Batista, Triple H, and John Cena. There’s an artificial boost here though as 3HOF Roddy Piper and 1HOF Jimmy Snuka made very brief appearances (3:43 between them). 2HOF Mick Foley, more of a legend than an active wrestler, appeared but hung on for over ten minutes. If Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio had not competed in the undercard, this might have been the biggest RR ever.
10 2006 (21 points)
This RR remains most notable for one future 3-HOF in HHH and a 1HOF talent in Rey Mysterio both wrestling for an hour. So, there’s another study: most Hall of Fame time in the ring. It would be more except Flair, normally good for thirty minutes plus, lasted about as long as the real Space Mountain ride. Even with no Undertaker in the Rumble, John Cena defending his title on the undercard, and no Piper like returns, this is still a Hall of Fame heavy match. Even still, there was a stretch between 1HOF Booker T at number 13 until Shawn Michaels at 25 without a Hall of Famer, save Road Warrior Animal who was never thought of as a Hall of Fame single.
9 1996 (22 points)
The first Rumble of the Monday Night War saw the WWE beginning to build it’s talent base. This Rumble mixed new to WWE talent like Steve Austin, Vader, and Triple H with old stars like Jake Roberts, Bob Backlund, Jerry Lawler, and even Dory Funk Jr. Also in the Rumble were 1HOF like Rikishi (as Fatu), and Yokozuna. Hall of Famers decided the match as Shawn Michaels won by eliminating Diesel. There’s another study: how often does the RR come down to two wrestlers and both of them Hall of Famers? My guess would be very, very often.
8 T7. 2005 (23 points)
Oddly, the 2004 Royal Rumble garnered one of the lowest scores, yet 2005 and 2003 rank in the top ten. There are both the old in 3HOF Ric Flair, who entered last, and the new in future 3HOF John Cena, Batista, and Chris Jericho. The rest of the points come from talent known more for workrate than box office like Chris Benoit, Booker T., Edge, Eddie Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio. This would be the first Rumble since 2000 not to include 1HOF Rikishi / Fatu / The Sultan. All of the wrestlers in the ring over twenty minutes were Hall of Famers with 1HOF Edge and Benoit topping out at over 40 minutes each.
7 T7. 2003 (23 points)
Much of the same talent, so it’s not a surprise they rank so close. Another match that started with Hall of Famers coming in at number one and two (Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels) and also two sure to be HOF guys at number twenty nine and thirty (Brock Lesner and Undertaker). This would be Lesnar’s first Royal Rumble appearance and he’d win it. The only other people to do that are 1HOF guys: Big John Studd (1989) and Mr. McMahon (1999).
6 T5. 1991 (27 points)
With both the HOF Bushwhackers and 2 HOF Road Warriors involved, there’s a cache of easy points. The Road Warrior would team-up to eliminate one day 3 HOF The Undertaker in his first Royal Rumble. This would be higher if Randy Savage would have competed as announced, however, he no-showed as part of his angle with Ultimate Warrior. This marks the first time a Royal Rumble featuring 3 HOF Hulk Hogan showed up on this list. It also marks probably the three least likely Hall of Famers to enter the match at the end: Brian Knobbs, The Warlord, and Tugboat. With just Hogan and a young Bret Hart as the only 3HOF, this has the lowest average of number of Hall of Famers to number of points (1.7).
5 T5. 1989 (27 points)
Again, many of the same cast, although Hogan wouldn’t win this won as he was eliminated by two non-Hall of Famers (Akeen and Big Boss Man). This was only one of two Andre the Giant appearances, who eliminate himself running away from one of Jake’s snakes (yes, really). Lots of 1HOF guys here like Koko B. Ware, Demolition Ax (in the PH HOF as Masked Superstar but any persona counts), the Bushwhackers, Rick Martel, Jake Roberts and the head-scratching winner Big John Studd. One half of the thirty participants belong to one Hall of Fame.
4 1993 (28 points)
Number one: Ric Flair. Number two: Bob Backlund. There’s six points in the first two guys. With Ted DiBiase, Jerry Lawler, and The Undertaker also involved, this was star powered. If Hogan wouldn’t have been on hiatus and Bret wouldn’t have been defending his title instead of competing in the RR, this might have been greatest of all-time. But there’s also two sneaky points with 1 HOF Genichiro Tenryua and Carlo Carlon competing. This was the first RR linking winning the match with a title shot as 1HOF Yokozuna tossed out 3 HOF Randy Savage for the win. Watching Flair and Backlund, two greats, square off was the match’s high point.
3 1997 (29 points)
While it certainly didn’t start strong with Crush, Ahmeed Johnson, Razor Ramon, and Phineas Godwin, business picked up at number five with 3HOF Steve Austin. Austin won the Rumble (kind of, it is complicated) throwing out fellow 3HOF Bret Hart. This RR, taking place in Texas, also gets points from two legendary 3HOF Hall of Famers making cameos: Mil Máscaras and Terry Funk. The 1HOF Rikishi added a point under his guise as The Sultan as did Ron Simmons as Farooq. While this version didn’t have the most Hall of Famers, it did boast the most fans with 65,000 plus in the San Antonio’s Alamodome.
2 1992 (31 points)
Before I began this research, I thought this would be first, especially after re-watching it on the WWE Network. There’s a spot in the middle of the match where Flair, Piper, Savage, and Roberts are in the ring together that is a mark-out moment Notable for the only RR to determine the WWE Championship which came down to a final four involving three 3HOFs: Hogan, Savage, and Flair. In his after-match promo, Flair called this “the greatest night of my life” and he might have added (almost) the greatest RR in history. Seventeen of the thirty participants are in at least one Hall of Fame which is the highest of RR!
1 1990 (33 points)
The poster for the event features nothing but Hall of Famers. That makes sense as one half wear at least one Hall of Fame ring, but many of them are in three. Over half of the first eleven entrants are 3HOF: DiBiase, Piper, Savage, Hart, Dusty Rhodes and Andre the Giant. Hogan would enter later making seven 3HOF in one match. Hogan would eliminate fellow Hall of Famers Curt Henning, Jimmy Snuka, and The Ultimate Warrior. So who else? Jake, Koko, Ax, Rick Martel, Tito Santana, and Shawn Michaels. While not as exciting as the 1991 Rumble or a filled with surprises as most recent ones, in this analysis, the 1990 Royal Rumble stands at the most “star studded” of all time.