By Nathan Bush
Every January the WWE enters what they like to call “The Road to Wrestlemania”, and the official kickoff is The Royal Rumble. Over the years, the event has taken on a life of its own and has included some of the most exciting moments of the past three decades. The event is a pay-per-view spectacular that even the casual fan longs to see. Usually featuring a solid card the Royal Rumble is one of the best business events that WWE does, and features the main attraction the Royal Rumble Match, the 30 man over the top rope battle royal that has participates entering at equally timed intervals. So what exactly are the best Royal Rumbles matches themselves though? In this list, we hope to rank them from worst to first.
Easily the worst Royal Rumble match of all time, the honor belongs to the 2012 rumble match. The match saw one of the more boring rumble matches ever. There were multiple bad comedy spots, wasted spots on announcers, and a finish that was an attempt to rip the 2007 finish that fell flat. The only positive aspect of the match is not many were predicting Sheamus to win, but that proved to be a downfall as many of the fans in attendance were pulling loudly for the runner-up Chris Jericho.
1999 saw WWE doing some recording breaking business and this Royal Rumble saw record gates and buy-rates and featured one of the biggest feuds in wrestling history in the biggest match to lead to the biggest event of the year. Should be an easy slam dunk right? Wrong. In a match that was centered around two men, neither man was in the match very long. After Austin was taken to the hospital via a corporation attack, Mr. McMahon vanished for a while and ended up on commentary. Meanwhile the match featured a lot of lack luster talent and the ring being either empty or just one person in it multiple times. There were times guys were just standing in the ring waiting. One positive was the finish and the crowd was excited for almost everything that happened. How I miss the crowds of the attitude era.
This rumble match was yet another huge attempt to push Roman Reigns to the moon. WWE was in Philadelphia and thought it would be a good idea to take the guy the smart fans did not want and put him over in the most predictable and dull way ever. This match also saw the man everyone screamed for the year before be eliminated early in the match, and from there on the crowd was not having it. The booking of Bray Wyatt is really the only saving grace of the match. The final four saw Rusev, Big Show, Kane, and Reigns and most of the late participates were eliminated by Big Show right hands and an easy dump out. Roman of course over came the odds in the win and was booed out of the building. Even the Rock, who made the save for his cousin and tried to endorse him, showered in boos as he raised the hand of the Rumble winner.
The 2011 Rumble is a case of what could have been. The WWE decided that with a huge roster they would expand to 40 men to participate in the big event and needless to say it was looked at as a big time flop. With multiple factions including the New Nexus and the Corre, the talent list was full, but the Rumble match felt empty. John Cena came in and through out most of the Nexus on his own and then went on a tear with Hornswoggle *facepalm*. The match ended when Alberto Del Rio eliminated Santino in a comedy swerve for the win. It was a long grueling watch and a grueling match. It was made worse by the commentary which had Michael Cole going full fledge jackass the whole night and Matt Strikers constant clapping and marking out on live TV.
Next up is the first televised Royal Rumble match. It’s not a surprise this wasn’t one of the better rumble matches due to the fact of it being such a new concept, but it’s still entertaining. The match didn’t know what it would become on down the line as commentators Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura both made sure to talk about how most faces wouldn’t attack heels and in the ring this seemed to be the way the match went. While not considered a classic, we all have to start somewhere right? Of the 20 men in the match, 10 are now WWE Hall of Famers. Not bad for a match many thought would never work. Well done Pat Patterson, and great job Bruce Prichard and Dick Ebersol for coming up with Titan Time that allowed them to control the time in which participants came out.
1993 was a strange year for WWE. The company was transitioning to a youth movement, but yet there were still a few hold outs from the old guard. This royal rumble was decent enough and featured a run like no other from a middle aged Bob Backlund who was in the match over an hour. It lacked star power and depth though to really make it memorable. It was still entertaining and sometimes it’s fun to see some of the old gimmicks that make you shake your head on a rewatch. This match also marked the first time a heel had won the match and it was the first time the winner of the match got to face the champion at Wrestlemania as a stipulation, so those are high marks for me. This could have been higher on the list, but the elimination of Randy Savage going for the cover on match winner Yokozuna in this match made us all scratch our heads. Also we had to drop several spots on this one because of Giant Gonzalez.
Most Rumble matches have a point or purpose they are trying to make. Most are about making stars or establishing feuds for the next few months. This match only did that on a small scale. Ted Dibease lasted 45 minutes as was viewed as the first real rumble iron man, and Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior gave us a preview of the main event of Wrestlemania VI in the match. Other than that this match was to put Hogan over because “Hogan Must Pose”. Watching Hogan eliminate both Rick Rude and Mr. perfect at the end still upsets me to this day.
1996 was Shawn Michaels year. It was more obvious than ever that he was going to win this match but to me that is ok. This match had some fun spots, especially with Jerry Lawler hiding under the ring and Henry Godwin hitting everyone with the slop. Mr. Perfect on commentary was awesome as well. The surprise return of Jake Roberts was a great addition to the match but the match did like some stars and it showed in some of the participates. Triple H had a great showing from #1 but never eliminated anyone and Vader came out looking like a monster when it was all said and done. In the end, this is a fun Rumble, just needed some bigger names and more unpredictability.
In a rumble match that was loaded with stars, it just felt like there was too many cooks in the kitchen. Triple H, Undertaker, Rey Mysterio all had a great showing in the match, but it pretty well known that Randy Orton would be winning this match. With the ongoing story lines saying Orton was to be fired the next night (why do you wait 24 hours to fire someone but let him work in a huge spot in this match makes no sense) it just added up as a push for Randy to use Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibease Jr. to will himself to the main event at Wrestlemania.
This Rumble match told a pretty solid story. The beginning of the match was the coming out party for one Big Daddy Cool Diesel. He dominated early throwing people out left and right and put the wrestling world on notice that he would be a force. As the show went on, we saw Lex Luger get jumped by Genichiro Tenryu and The Great Kabuki who were hired by Mr. Fuji to prevent Luger from winning the rumble and to destroy the Undertaker (Undertaker ascended to heaven before the match… ahh wrestling). Luger foiled his foes and set his sights on the main event of Wrestlemania. Meanwhile, an injured Bret Hart would hobble to the ring after his brother Owen “kicked his leg out of his leg” (real quote look it up), and seemed like he was risking life and limb to try to get back to the main event. Truthfully no one really knew who would win this match. A solid final four that included Hart, Luger, Shawn Michaels, and Fatu with Michaels and Fatu both being tossed at the same time over the post and then Hart and Luger landing at the same time on the floor ending this rumble in a sister kissing tie. Co-winners and Ted Dibease commentary hurt this otherwise solid rumble match.
It was one of the most star studded rumble matches in history, but still felt like the bigger names were just there because the event was being held in a big stadium. While the rumble did put together some stories like Goldberg and Lesnar before their feud ended (and not soon enough) at Wrestlemania, and Roman Reigns and the Undertaker which led to a Wrestlemania match as well, it felt like the match just didn’t live up to the hype. Orton winning the match was unexpected, and led to a forgettable Wrestlemania match against Bray Wyatt but I felt the fact it wasn’t the winner we expected helped the match define itself. Decent enough Rumble match.
The first ever 30 man rumble match saw some interesting twists and turns. The match showed the true component we all know of every man for himself when Demolition Ax and Smash started #1 and #2 and started going at it. Later as the match went on, Hulk Hogan eliminated the Macho Man and showed that the Mega Powers were beginning to implode, all before the twin towers dumped out Hogan to set up the eventual tag match and end of the Mega Powers. The Rumble match itself came down to Dibease, who bought the #30 spot, and Big John Studd who proved to be to much for the Million Dollar Man. In terms of story telling, there are few who can touch this rumble. It set up the Wrestlemania V stories well and got viewers interested. This rumble suffered from the lack luster end and due to the fact the match was still a relatively new concept. Still a fun rewatch.
The stories told in the match were done perfectly. Sadly the match was a bit of a let down. The ring didn’t fill up like a good rumble match would have it and it felt as though many of the stars were either out of the match to early or didn’t come out until very late and the 30th entry of rumble came in and we were basically in the final four right there. The match told a great story with Shawn Michaels trying to get back to face the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. Edge returned to win the match and maybe the best moments belonged to CM Punk giving his sermon as a member of the straight edge society during the match. Good stories, not so good match.
The first time the WWE title was defended in the rumble match itself and it was basically yet another attempt to push Roman Reigns to the moon. Reigns went out early in the match after a League of Nations attack, but he was not eliminated. Reigns would return sometime later and it looked as if Roman was about to capture another rumble win and literally beat 29 men to keep his title after coming from #1 to do so. Enter Triple H. It was the most predictable 30 entrant but the crowd rejoiced as The Game tossed Roman out. The battle between Dean Ambrose and Triple H ensued and the crowd erupted. While yes this match was built around one guy defending his title, it was well done. The fact Roman did not win made it even more of a surprise and thus moved it up this list. Of course the debut of AJ Styles didn’t hurt either.
This night and rumble match belonged to one man Rey Mysterio. This was the night Mysterio grabbed the brass ring and became a top guy. He came out in the rumble match at #2 and lasted a record breaking 62 minutes to earn his trip to Wrestlemania. The biggest issue with this rumble is no really young talent had a break out win and many of the big stars didn’t have a big night when they could have. Triple H lasted over an hour himself in the loss and Randy Orton was the last man eliminated, but outside of Rey Mysterio no one really stood out or broke out. A memorable win in a non-memorable match.
This was a match that was better than it should have been. Hulk Hogan winning could be seen coming a mile away, but Hogan needed to win this match. After having The Ultimate Warrior lose the title to the Iraqi sympathizer Sgt Slaughter, and the troops being involved in Desert Storm, Hogan winning and waving the flag was needed and honestly important. A couple of gentlemen stole the show in longevity though. Greg Valentine had an impressive 44-minute performance, but no one worked as hard on this night as Rick Martel who lasted 52 minutes and made it down to the final 5 and he hardly stopped moving. He took the iron man role and turned it up a notch on this occasion. This became one of the rumble matches that the company used to model and clearly showed they knew how to properly book the match.
This was one of the most memorable rumbles in history but maybe for all the wrong reasons. First off the match was the last match of CM Punks career. He left the company the next day after a falling out with management. This match saw Roman Reigns break Kanes elimination record of 11 as he threw out 12 men in a single rumble match and lasted all the way to the final 2. This rumble saw the return of Batista to the WWE as he won this match and the crowd in Pittsburgh nearly started a riot. Maybe the biggest blunder of all was not including Daniel Bryan in the match after he tore the house down with Bray Wyatt earlier in the night. If you can overlook all of that, this is actually a very good rumble. Ring filled up well, lots of young talent broke out and showed what they could do, the first siting of Rusev in WWE, a suprise return of Kevin Nash and a star studded affair. Sadly, the match will always be looked at as a failed opportunity to most people.
In a rumble match that had it all, the ending is what leaves it a little low on the list. The match had lots of stars, surprise returns, full rings, entertainment, and young talent standing out. Sadly the John Cena win was also looked at as a wasted opportunity. It was clear that this rumble match was set up to get John Cena his rematch with the Rock so he could get his win back, but the match saw some fun stuff. Chris Jericho’s shocking return and long evening, the iron man of the match Dolph Ziggler with at least a dozen close eliminations, the great Team Hell No spot as well as the Godfather’s return and fast exit made this a fun and very entertaining rumble. Had the WWE went with an unpredictable younger talent, this match would have been much higher.
The 2018 Rumble was done very well. The top faces like John Cena and Roman Reigns were there in the right spots but they showed they can still make guys look like main event talent in the ring using this match. This rumble was the big win work Shinsuke Nakamura. Finn Balor also had a good showing, but the comedy spot of Heath Slater constantly getting attacked before he could get in the ring was funny, but then he didn’t look bad as he eliminated Sheamus from the match. The rumble did a good job with suspense as we the fans assumed Roman would once again win the rumble, but they threw a swerve and gave Nakamura a much needed win for his career.
Most lists have this match low on their lists. They say there is a lack of star power and the fact the intervals were only 60 seconds didn’t make the match long enough. I look at it another way. While there was a lack of star power, the fact the intervals were so short helped hide that fact, and the story told by Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog was so well done. Also, Bret Hart constantly running in and attacking Owen Hart and Bob Backlund helped hype the I Quit match that would happen. One can not rank this match low just for the simply fact it has one of the most iconic royal rumble moments every. Michaels and the one foot hitting the floor. It helped cement the match as something very important. This is a highly under rated rumble. I mean Dick Murdoch is in this match. It can’t be bad.
The 2000 royal rumble was just a fun match. First off, I love the Madison Square Garden short entrance way. It was always special to me. The match itself may lack some star power but the way it was booked hid it well. Rikishi dominated most of the early match and there was even a 2 cool dance break that I didn’t mind because the crowd was into it and it led to a elimination that showed how important the match is. In terms of winners, it was pretty obvious that only two guys had a shot at winning the match, but the stories told of X-pac and Kane and the Acolytes with the McMahon-Helmsley faction was done well. Of course a great finish with Rock and Big Show that kept that feud going as well. Overall a great rumble that did the best it could with the roster it had. This was a couple of big names away from being a top 5 rumble.
This is another under rated rumble match. Most people say that the use of the AAA organization guys didn’t help the match but I disagree. I loved giving the rumble match some international flare. It made it feel that much more important. The fact Mil Mascaras was in the match is a bigger deal than a lot of people know. The beginning of the match is a little slow but the story between Ahmed Johnson and the Nation was developed even more there during the first few minutes. The night however would belong to Steve Austin. He would go on a run from the #5 spot and win in a way on Austin could. He wrapped up his story with Jake Roberts and continued his story with Bret Hart. The reaction Austin gives when he’s alone in the ring, tired and Harts music hits is priceless. The final 10 in this rumble was great. So many future hall of famers and the ending was unpredictable and had people talking. It was an excellent match.
This is a rumble that gets better and better the more you watch it. The match starts with Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, who were the final two the year before and that sets the pace. There’s a great mix of big names and young up and comers who are on the verge of superstardom as well as fun surprise entrants. The roof nearly came off the Garden when Jimmy Snuka and Rowdy Roddy Piper squared off in the center of the ring. The whole match just stopped when this happened. The cherry on top of the match was the shocking return of John Cena who was out with injury and supposed to miss Wrestlemania that year, but as a genetic freak he made his way back for the final spot of the rumble match. The crowd was super into the match and it told great stories and the ring never felt empty. Excellent Rumble match on a year that we felt like could have been a let down.
A rumble match that saw big names and huge stars, the winner would end up being the next big thing. The match was very entertaining and started off hot with the Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho story that would have these two going into Wrestlemania that year. The middle of the match had a lot of the mid card guys and this was the first year of the rumble being Raw vs Smackdown so that played into the narrative. Undertaker, Kane, Batista, and Brock Lesnar were the final four but the iron man of the evening was Chris Jericho who had some great saves from going out and channeled his inner Shawn Michaels on a few occasions. Jericho even got hit in the eye with a kendo stick but kept on going. He was the MVP of the match. It was a solid rumble. Lots of stars but could have used another story or two, but it was well put together.
1998 was the year of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Coming into the match it was obvious that Austin was going to Wrestlemania. However, this rumble was still very entertaining. If you were watching at home, you kept hearing that maybe someone had gotten to Austin in the back and he wouldn’t make it to the ring that night. Even when there was an entrant who couldn’t get there (Chainz of the DOA who was jumped by los baricuas) helped build the suspense. Eventually, Austin came to the ring in typical Stone Cold fashion, out of the crowd and just started running through people. The other stories this match told kept you entertained including the Nation of Domination starting to unravel, Rock and Ken Shamrock kept their feud going, and Triple H attacked Owen Hart leading to their eventual program. The Rock was the stand out star, lasting nearly 50 minutes after wrestling a singles match earlier in the night and being in the final two. This was his big moment to show he would be a big star, but again the night belonged to Austin.
The 2005 Royal Rumble was fun from start to finish. The start saw Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Hardcore Holly initiate Tough Enough winner Daniel Puder into pro wrestling, much to the crowds delight. The stories were told well as Kurt Angle, who had stolen a number to get into the match, came in and cleaned how but was eliminated by Shawn Michaels. Angle would come back in and return the favor and that would lead to their match at Wrestlemania. This was a rumble that was loaded with young stars and no one could really pick a winner that they knew for sure going in. The last men in the ring were John Cena and Batista and both went out and hit the floor. This led to a restarting of the final two and Batista ultimately winning. Other than that slip up at the end (as well as Vince tearing two quads) this went over well and made both Cena and Batista look great. Both guys would be World Champs two months later proving the rumble still has the ability to make a star.
Let’s be honest, this match would be much lower on the list had it not been for the fact it was the greatest final sequence in rumble history. Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker went nearly 10 minutes by themselves as the final two and the Texas crowd had no clue who to side with but they knew one thing, it was awesome. It is the best finish to a rumble ever and Michaels and Taker worked the audience into a frenzy and took them on a ride. The match itself was good and told good stories including the Rated RKO story as both Edge and Orton made it to the final four, but the last 10 minutes of the match is golden. It gave us a preview of years to come between the two and was a moment where time stood still.
The 2002 rumble was a rare gem. The return of Triple H and his win was the highlight, but there was so much more to this match. The Undertaker being eliminated by the rookie Maven and the beating that followed was a memorable moment (especially that chair shot). The reuniting of the Hardys, the return of Val Venis, The Godfather, Goldust and of course Mr. Perfect. Kurt Angle, Mr. Perfect, Stone Cold and Triple H were a tremendous final four and we saw the old Texas Rattlesnake as Austin attacked everyone in the match after he was eliminated. There were some fun spots too with Hurricane attempting to throw chokeaslam Austin and Triple H and Austin eliminating people multiple times because his watch told him to. While this rumble didn’t tell all the stories that previous rumbles had, it was still highly entertaining and star heavy and the Georgia crowd ate it up. A wonderful rumble to go back and rewatch.
It’s a basic story. A man who never could win the big one overcoming the odds to finally get his dues. That’s exactly what the 2004 rumble was all about. The push and crowning of Chris Benoit. This match could not be booked any better. The story of Benoit and Orton starting the match and going through the field until Mick Foley, who had been verbally abused by Orton, showed up and took the Legend Killer out of the match. The pairing of Goldberg and Brock Lesnar was put together on this night too as Goldberg looked poised to win the match and Lesnar cost him his chance. Benoit ran the gauntlet all the way to the end of the match, but as a watcher you had no clue who was going to win. Kurt Angle had a shot at winning as he dedicated his win to the troops, the Big Show had one of his best Rumble showings as well. In the end, the little engine that could in Chris Benoit prevailed and you believed that he was on his way to superstar status.
The 2001 rumble is full of stars. Nearly half the field in the match can lay claim to a hall of fame spot. It’s considered the last rumble of the attitude era, but the way the match was put together was fantastic. First off before the match the big rumor is Kane and the Undertaker are back on the same page. Kane comes out early and breaks the record eliminations in a single rumble match at 11, a number that stood until 2014. Kane lasted nearly 50 minutes until he was thrown out last by Stone Cold. Triple H came out and attacked Austin who cost him the title earlier in the night and you had the Rock battle through a long match and an attack by the Big Show. There was weapons used through, a couple of fantastic comedy spots featuring Honky Tonk Man and Drew Carey, and big returns like Big Show and Haku. When your final entrants in the match include Stone Cold, Rock, Kane, Undertaker, Rikishi and Billy Gunn you have a great rumble on your hands and that is what we got here. Even the Austin Rock preview at the end of the Rumble was a nice touch as well.
Was there really any doubt? 1992 is everything a Royal Rumble should strive to be. More stars and hall of famers than any other rumble and featuring one mans quest to be the real worlds champion. This was the first time anyone had come out at numbers 1-5 and made it to the end and by winning the match Ric Flair became the undisputed World Champion. In a match that saw the story between Jake Roberts and Randy Savage develop, the Hogan Sid Justice rivalry heat up, and the shocking win of Ric Flair that few saw coming, this match was perfect. How do you make it better? You add the commentary of Bobby Hennan on top of the match which took it to another level and as a fan of pro wrestling, you can not go wrong with the 1992 Royal Rumble. It’s the greatest of all time.