The creation of the Royal Rumble has always been ironic. It was developed as a free USA Network special in 1988 to go head-to-head with the NWA’s “Bunkhouse Stampede” PPV. The irony is that the Stampede was a complete disaster of a show that didn’t need to be sabotaged but the Rumble was a huge hit thanks to the great concept. Probably the most brilliant thing Pat Patterson ever developed, the idea of watching a battle royal with guys running in every two minutes was exciting and fresh and, realizing he had something, Vince had it implemented as a regular PPV in 1989. Since then, the Rumble has provided some fantastic moments with the idea of the winner getting a shot at the title at WrestleMania making it more important.
Sadly, for every great and classic moment the Rumble has given us, it’s also provided a lot of bad ones. It’s easy to look at the undercard which has been packed in the past with some stupid moments and horrible bouts. But the Rumble itself has also been prey to some terrible stuff, the wrong guy going over, a botched move or a dumb entry, the Rumble is just as prone to be wrecked as anything else in WWE. It’s a shame as when it works, it’s fantastic but sadly, too often it can come apart. While a few of these entries are from the entire PPV itself, there’s plenty for the main event to show the bad that goes with the good. Here are the 20 worst moments in the history of the Royal Rumble and why this show can be as aggravating as exciting.
20 Posedown Contest
The 1989 Rumble was the first PPV for the event and thus, while you had the big match itself, the undercard was filled with bouts that seemed more fit for a “Saturday Night’s Main Event” show. A key example was that rather than defending his title, the Ultimate Warrior, the reigning Intercontinental champion faced off against Rick Rude in a “Super Posedown.” The crowd didn’t seem that into it, cheering the Warrior but just because it seemed the right thing to do.
It ended with Rude spraying oil into the Warrior’s eyes and attacking him, setting up their big feud but that could have been done a better way than a bit that dragged too long and shows how it took a while for WWF to realize how to make this PPV work.
19 The Rock vs. CM Punk
As 2013 dawned, CM Punk had reigned as WWE champion for over a year, a record in modern times. He was still hot as hell with crowds, awesome on the mic and many were pushing for him to keep the belt at least until Mania. Instead, Punk faced off against The Rock and it was damn clear The Rock was going to win the title in order to give more push to his own Mania rematch with Cena. Still, the build was terrific and promised a stellar battle.
However, the ending was truly flawed as the lights went out and the Shield came out to power bomb Rock through a table and Punk retained his title. Vince came out to strip Punk of the belt but The Rock insisted on restarting the match and ended up winning. A match between two huge stars was turned into an overbooked mess and marred the big title change. No wonder Punk eventually left the company after such treatment.
18 Mark Henry elimination
It’s true that some guys are able to sell an elimination in the Rumble better than others. On the low end of the spectrum is Mark Henry. Near the end of the 1998 Rumble, fellow Nation of Domination member Farooq threw Henry over the top rope. He didn’t push or shove him to the floor, just on the apron. Henry stared, clearly not getting what was supposed to happen as Farooq turned around to fight someone else. Henry stepped through the ropes, took a punch and stepped back through the ropes to the outside which somehow counted as an elimination.
He would do better in future Rumbles but this is still among the more laughable moments of Henry’s career and a true no-sell of being tossed.
17 Viscera and Matt Hardy
Viscera was known for his imposing size and horrible work rate. In 2006, he was being pushed as “The World’s Largest Love Machine, still imposing in Mohawk and colored eyes but hitting on ladies. Sadly, he was given the horrific finisher of crushing a guy face first into the mat and grinding himself on top. Yep, it’s as disturbing as it sounds and no better when he showed it off against Matt Hardy in the ’06 Rumble with the announcers shrugging it off as “interesting.” Truly disturbing is more like it.
16 Sheamus Dumps Jericho
Chris Jericho has accomplished just about everything in his career in WWE, but he’s never won the Rumble. In 2012, it seemed like the perfect setup, as Jericho had just made a big return. So of course, WWE didn’t do that. Instead, it came down to Jericho and Sheamus, a guy who keeps getting pushes despite fans being extremely apathetic about him.
To be fair, it was one of the better “final two” segments in Rumble history. In the end, however, Sheamus eliminated Jericho to get the win and a Mania match that would turn out to be the infamous 18-second win over Daniel Bryan. Thus, it was a waste of the Rumble and that Y2J could never get a Rumble win was rather annoying.
15 Mae Young
The 2000 “Miss Rumble” showdown promised some great fun with Terri, The Kat, B.B., Luna Vachon, Ivory and Jacqueline all coming out in robes to disrobe and show off some hot swimsuits. Out came Mae Young, continuing her run of “randy old gal” to strip down to a swimsuit. As the commentators screamed in horror, she pulled her top down to reveal her bare breasts (really prosthetics) and you could see some fans racing from the arena to demand refunds. Young was a funny gal who threw herself into things but this was still among the lower bits of the time.
14 Chyna injury
The 2001 Rumble was the last one of the “Attitude” era with a lot of wild stuff but few remember the undercard. One battle was Ivory defending the Women’s title against Chyna. They battled it out for a few minutes before Chyna took a nasty hit against the turnbuckle and the match was stopped. Jerry Lawler came to check on her, coming back to Jim Ross as they talked in hushed tones, treating it like a real injury.
It should have boosted the rematch but it came off way too bad, as it mirrored their very real reactions to the Owen Hart tragedy and to replicate that for an injury angle was incredibly tasteless.
13 Randy Savage forgets rules
Randy Savage was well known as one of the best workers ever and having a sharp mind for the business. In 1992, he came out less interested in winning the vacantWWE title and more on pounding Jake “the Snake” Roberts in an earlier attack. They went at it hard and after Jake was tossed out, Savage then climbed to the top rope to hit him with an axe handle. The announcers were confused about whether or not Savage had eliminated himself and they had to say he hadn’t to continue in the match.
The next year, Savage made an even bigger blunder when he and Yokozuna were the last two in the ring, Savage managed to hit a flying elbow and…tried to pin Yoko. He then simply pressed him over the top to win. Two truly dumb moves by a guy usually known for his ring smarts.
12 Chris Nowinski
One of the first “Tough Enough” graduates, Nowinski was a good worker starting to click as a heel Harvard grad persona. In the 2003 Rumble, he showed his smarts, hanging around to let other guys fight it out and look for the right moment. He raced in to try and dump Edge and Rey Mysterio but failed and they double-teamed him. Their attempt at double dropkicks was off as Edge landed right on Nowinski’s head, causing a concussion.
He was tossed soon and it was clear he was never the same afterward, forced to retire at only 24. A shame to see a career that had some promise cut short and how dangerous the Rumble can get.
11 Alex Riley elimination
Alex Riley had a good look, decent worker and was getting over but rumors are he and Cena had a backstage altercation that led to his dismissal. The guy wasn’t getting much traction anyhow as evidenced by this wild botch at the 2011 Rumble. Riley was dangled over the top rope by Cena and Kofi Kingston and ended up going over to the floor.
The thing is, Riley was supposed to stick around in the match for a while and give the Miz a chance to interfere and dump out Cena. Because the elimination wasn’t planned, the announcers were thrown and the Miz nearly missed his cue to come out as he thought Riley was still in the bout.
10 Open Invitation
The 2012 Rumble was pushed as an “Open invitation” which baffled fans at first. That soon became clear by how a bunch of older stars made “surprise” appearances that got okay pops but didn't contribute anything to the match. Okay, having Mick Foley put on Socko to fight Santino’s Cobra was pretty funny, as was Ricardo’s Del Rio impression. But Road Dogg and Hacksaw Jim Duggan were out of shape and the bit of each announcer (Booker T, Lawler and Michael Cole) entering one at a time for less than a minute was just annoying, not to mention Kharma just coming out, throwing out Cole and promptly being eliminated. It was just a mess of a Rumble without much substance at all.
9 John Studd wins
This isn’t a knock against Big John Studd himself, but his victory at the 1989 Rumble is one of the biggest “huh?” endings in the show’s history. The guy was coming off a lengthy absence and was hampered by past injuries so was unable to compete at WrestleMania as planned. To have him just seemed like a weird decision. It might have been better to have it be either Hogan or Savage, one eliminating the other to better set up the “Mega Powers” explosion or push some other rising star.
8 Muhammad Hassan Surrounded
The problem with Muhammad Hassan was two-fold. First was that rather than give the idea of an “Arab who’s not a bad guy” a chance, WWE just turned him into a generic foreign heel. The second was that the man was not at all liked backstage due to his incredible ego and arrogance rubbing everyone the wrong way. So it’s not a total surprise that when he entered the 2005 Rumble, he was buried by Jim Ross and Tazz on commentary.
To that point, the RAW and SmackDown brands had been fighting each other but when Hassan entered, all the guys glared then ganged up to beat him down. Just another sign of how Hassan was never taking off thanks to his own bad attitude.
7 1999 Rumble
Leave it to Vince Russo to turn the Rumble into a wild mess. The storyline was Stone Cold Steve Austin coming in at no.1 and Vince forced to enter at no.2. They fought under the ropes, through the crowd and to a restroom where Vince’s goons beat down Austin and Vince came for commentary. So right there, the first two guys in the Rumble weren’t even in the Rumble.
We then had things like Mabel entering by surprise only to be kidnapped by the Ministry of Darkness and Kane eliminating himself to avoid being dragged to an asylum (really). Eventually, Austin returned and dragged Vince into the ring but when The Rock interfered, Vince was able to dump out Austin. Yes, Vince McMahon won the Royal Rumble and the next night, circumstances got Austin the title shot at Mania, making this one huge waste of time.
6 Giant Gonzalez
Generally considered the worst wrestler of all time, Gonzales stood nearly eight feet tall and looked imposing but was so awkward and uncoordinated that he couldn’t be a real threat. But he was still pushed by WWE in 1993 with the horrific body suit outfit. His debut was to be a big deal, marching to the ring when The Undertaker was alone and drag him over the top rope. It didn’t go over well with fans as they had been pushing for Taker to win this one and it would set up one of the absolute worst feuds ever seen in WWE. Anything involving Gonzales ranks among the “worst” lists and this is no exception.
5 Undertaker in a casket
You can’t do a “worst Rumble moments” list without this. After months of hype, The Undertaker was facing Yokozuna in a casket match for the title and many thought Taker would be getting the belt at last. Instead, Yoko had a horde of heels attack The Undertaker. They shoved him into the casket and locked it to let Yoko win.
The crazy stuff was as the coffin was wheeled away, the lights went out and the video screens showed what appeared to be Taker inside the coffin. He proceeded to do a truly bizarre speech about never dying before pyro went off and we saw a laser outline of the Taker on the screen. It rose up as did someone dressed as the Undertaker on wires heading to the ceiling. It was incredibly hokey even by the standards of the time.
From the moment Batista made his big return to WWE in 2014, it was obvious he was going to win the Rumble. Fans didn’t like it that much as they were backing Daniel Bryan and it was hoped WWE would have the smarts to realize that and let Bryan win instead. However, the Rumble was packed with a lot of guys, including a few guest entries but when Rey Mysterio came out at no.30, the boos were massive (even Bryan said he was surprised at that in his autobiography).
It came down to Batista and Reigns, the fans backing Roman (highly ironic given what would happen a year later) and in the end Batista won to major boos. WWE would wise up enough to get Bryan to win the Mania main event but this move against the fans’ wishes would more than come back to haunt them down the line.
3 One-minute intervals
WWE might have thought it was a fun idea in 1995 to make the Rumble “exciting” by cutting the intervals down from two minutes to just one. All that did was rob some of the key tension of the match. It also filled the ring up faster, leading to too many guys in the ring at the same time.
So while Shawn Michaels made history as the first man to draw no.1 and last the entire battle, it didn’t mean a whole lot as the entire match only went thirty-five minutes. While WWE has done 90-second breaks now and then, they realize that when it comes to the Rumble, faster isn’t always better.
This would begin an entire year in which WWE couldn't seem to execute anything right.
2 Triple H vs. Steiner
Even the biggest Triple H basher had to feel sorry for him here. For weeks, he and Scott Steiner had been built for a big encounter, set up with “pose-downs” and such and fans expected at least some sort of decent battle. Instead, it turned into one of the worst bouts of all time, with Steiner obviously blown up about a minute into the match. They fought it out with Steiner soon mounting an offense of nothing but overhead suplexes as the fans turned on the bout.
HHH was ready to walk out but continued as they kept the battle up and Steiner finally won by DQ. A terrible bout that made you feel sorry for Hunter trying to carry things.
1 Roman Reigns Wins
2014 was bad but 2015 was far worse, standing as one of the most glaring examples ever of WWE not giving a damn what their audience wanted. A kid could have booked the easy storyline of Daniel Bryan winning the Rumble to face Brock Lesnar at Mania, to regain the belt he had to give up in what should have been a classic match. Even as fans suspected Reigns was getting the push, they thought WWE would at least do the smart thing and have Bryan be the last eliminated to at least give Reigns the rub.
Instead, shockingly, Bryan was unceremoniously dumped out before Reigns’ entrance and poor Roman never had a chance with the crowd. His every move was booed hard and the fact the far more over Ziggler and Ambrose were dumped by Big Show and Kane didn’t help. WWE thought it would be the classic “against all odds” scenario but instead, the fans loathed Roman winning and even The Rock couldn’t salvage it. The only bright spot was that WWE realized from this reaction how bad Roman leaving Mania as champ would be and had Rollins win the title instead.
This was a clear cut example of WWE blatantly telling their fans “we don’t care what you want, this is what you’re going to get” and that never ends well.