“Ladies and Gentleman, it is now time for the Royal Rumble!
Earlier today the 30 participants who entered, drew numbers at random. In just a few moments the individuals who drew number one and number two will be in the Royal Rumble and every two minutes thereafter another individual will enter the ring according to the number he drew. Remember, in the Royal Rumble it is Every Man For Himself. And elimination occurs when a wrestler is thrown out over the top and both feet touch the floor. The one man remaining in the ring after all 30 participants have entered will be declared the winner of the Royal Rumble and will go on his way to face whoever the champion is at Wrestlemania!”
– Howard “The Fink” Finkel
The Royal Rumble is one of the most entertaining spectacles in pro wrestling. It’s my personal favourite PPV as I’m sure it is for many others.
Given the nature of the event – with its capacity for surprises, star-making turns and nostalgia acts – it remains one of the most consistently entertaining matches that the WWE has put on. Subsequently, picking a Top Ten out of twenty six iterations is a pretty big challenge. Sure, there are some clear stinkers – Vince McMahon winning in 1999, the crowd turning hostile on a Daniel Bryan-less match in 2014 – but there are also plenty of classics.
My criteria for picking the top ten includes the calibre of the entrants, the memorable individual moments, the pacing of the match from start to finish and of course, the winner.
Note: I’m ranking the Royal Rumble match itself, not the entire PPV include the pre-Rumble matches.
10. Royal Rumble 1990
Competitors: Akeem, Andre the Giant, The Barbarian, Dino Bravo, Bad News Brown, Demolition Axe & Smash, Ted DiBiase, Earthquake, Haku, Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect, Hercules, Honkytonk Man, Hulk Hogan, Marty Jannetty, Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels, Jim Niedhart, Roddy Piper, Red Rooster, Dusty Rhodes, Jake Roberts, Rick Rude, Tito Santana, Randy Savage, Jimmy Snuka, Ultimate Warrior, Koko B. Ware, & Warlord.
Iron Man: Million Dollar Man
Winner: Hulk Hogan
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31345259
The 1990 edition of the Royal Rumble is a terrific fast paced match played out in front of a red hot Orlando crowd that goes nuclear for every face and mercilessly boos every heel. There’s plenty to like about this match. The Million Dollar Man is a great iron man performer, outwitting a couple of jobbers in Koko B Ware and Marty Jannetty early on before getting worked over by the likes of Bret Hart and Dusty Rhodes. This match has a ton of my favourite types of Rumble spots in it. Everyone teams up to eliminate Earthquake, one of the biggest men in the match. There’s the memoral comedy spot with Luke of the Bushwhackers walking in, bushwhacking his way across the ring and then being dumped out on the other side straight away. And its the first instance of two mega faces colliding – Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. When those two clean house and end up facing one another, the entire arena rises to their feet in anticipation. The only downside is that I would have preferred Mr Perfect to win the whole thing but I believe Hogan played some politics to ensure he was the last man standing.
9. Royal Rumble 1989
Competitors: Akeem, Arn Anderson, Andre the Giant, The Barbarian, Ron Bass, Big John Studd, Brutus Beefcake, Big Boss Man, Tully Blanchard, Bad News Brown, Demolition Axe & Smash, Ted DiBiase, Ronnie Garvin, Mr. Perfect, Hercules, Hulk Hogan, Honkytonk Man, Marty Jannetty, Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels, “The Natural” Butch Reed, Red Rooster, Jake Roberts, Tito Santana, Randy Savage, Greg Valentine, Koko B. Ware, Warlord, & The Bushwhackers.
Iron Man: Mr Perfect
Winner: Big John Studd
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31345253
Royal Rumble 1989 is the second ever Rumble match and the first on PPV. In my opinion, its one of the most solidly booked Rumble matches with lots of clever little booking decisions to help sell the concept of the event to first timers. Being the first PPV edition, the crowd doesn’t even catch on to the idea of counting down the entrants until about four or five wrestlers in. The match sells the concept of ‘every man for himself’ straight away with Ax and Smash drawing 1 & 2 and proceeding to beat the crap out of each other until Andre the Giant arrives at #3 at which point they turn their attention to him. There’s hardly any alignment between heel and face in this match. Plenty of heels team up to try and eliminate Andre because strategically, it makes the most sense. The break up of the Mega Powers is teased mid-Rumble when that no good Hogan (the face) dumps Savage (who ends up heel) out of the match from behind. The match has an unlikely winner in Big John Studd but even though I don’t find him to be a particularly memorable wrestler, I think it goes a long way to selling how important the ‘luck of the draw’ is. Hogan and Savage eliminated more wrestlers but Studd was luckier. Finally, one of the best storylines involves Ted Dibiase buying the #30 spot from Slick. He must have had a couple of bad years with his stocks and bonds after that because he drew #1 & #2 in the 1990 and 1992 Rumble matches. I love Rumble storylines that span multiple years like that.
8. Royal Rumble 1997
Competitors: Cibernetico, Crush, Diesel II, Farooq, Flash Funk, Terry Funk, Goldust, Henry & Phineas Godwinn, Bart Gunn, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Jesse Jammes, Ahmed Johnson, Latin Lover, Jerry Lawler, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Marc Mero, Mil Mascaras, Pierroth Jr, Razor Ramon II, Jake Roberts, Davey Smith, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Sultan, The Undertaker, Vader, and Savio Vega.
Iron Man: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31348181
My first thought when revisiting this Rumble is holy shit thats a lot of people. The 1997 Royal Rumble emanates from the Alamodome in Texas where a Wrestlemania sized crowd of 60,000 came to see favourite son Shawn Michaels in a title match against Sid Justice. 1997 was a weird year for the WWF as they had lost a lot of high profile talent to WCW. As a result, this Rumble features one of the weirdest array of performers, many of whom are luchadores from Mexico.
This Rumble is fine example of making chicken feed out of chicken shit however. It doesn’t have a cast of recognizable names but instead we get a story that spans almost the length of the entire Rumble as Stone Cold Steve Austin goes from #4 to win the whole thing. King of the Ring 1996 is often cited as the making of the Stone Cold character but I think Royal Rumble 1997 is when he really starts to hit his stride and win fans over with his anti hero character. Austin is just ruthless in this match, absolutely punishing whitemeat babyfaces like Savio Vega and Bart Gunn, tossing them out unceremoniously like yesterday’s garbage. He cheap shots people left and right, kicks people in the junk, delivers stone cold stunners all over the place and then he show boats to the crowd by looking at his imaginary time piece. His reaction when Bret Hart arrives is perfect. He goes from ‘holy shit’ to ‘okay, I got this’ in a matter of seconds.
Austin wins the match when he gets eliminated in a spot that is missed by the officials. He slides back in the ring, dumps everyone else and declares himself the winner. Bret goes ballistic at Vince, the seeds are planted for the double turn and it leads to months of a classic blood feud between Austin and Hart. It’s wonderful stuff.
7. Royal Rumble 2003
Competitors: A-Train, Batista, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin, Booker T, Bull Buchanan, John Cena, Christian, Bill DeMott, Tommy Dreamer, Edge, Goldust, Chavo Guerrero, Eddie Guerrero, Charlie Haas, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Jamal, Chris Jericho, Kane, Maven, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, Christopher Nowinski, Rikishi, Rosey, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Test, The Undertaker and Rob Van Dam.
Iron Man: Chris Jericho
Winner: Brock Lesnar
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31353939
The 2003 Royal Rumble starts off with an expected surprise – Chris Jericho dumping Shawn Michaels in under 2 minutes – and keeps delivering the hits from there. There are some absolutely fantastic sequences in this match up (Chris Nowinski mistakenly thinking he eliminated Edge and Mysterio) and some not so fantastic (Test eliminating Jericho). Y2J’s iron man performance in this match is thoroughly entertaining and during a hardcore sequence he gets busted open the hard way by a kendo stick shot from Tommy Dreamer which leads to Jericho losing his temper with Dreamer and absolutely whaling on him.
This is just a fun Rumble all round. Popular wrestlers like Tajiri, Booker T, Rey Mysterio, Rikishi and Edge all get to hit their signature spots and there’s pretty much a top tier wrestler in the ring at all times. The ending is a wee bit predictable but other than that, this is one of most entertaining Rumble matches of its era.
6. Royal Rumble 2002
Competitors: Albert, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, Booker T, Big Bossman, The Big Show, Bradshaw, Christian, Diamond Dallas Page, Farooq, Godfather, Goldust, Billy Gunn, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Hurricane, Kane, Maven, Chuck Palumbo, Mr. Perfect, Rikishi, Perry Saturn, Scotty Too Hotty, Triple H, Al Snow, Lance Storm, Test, The Undertaker, Rob Van Dam, and Val Venis.
Iron Man: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Winner: Triple H
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31352185
I think the 2002 Royal Rumble is pretty underrated and doesn’t get enough love. The match starts with a huge pop for surprise entrant Goldust and things roll on from there. This is a Rumble that features an excellent iron man performance from Steve Austin who dominates the middle portion of the match, has an excellent come back performance from Triple H after his quad injury and has one of my favourite nostalgia pops for Mr Perfect who has a great little cameo at the end. It’s also a memorable Rumble for Maven eliminating The Undertaker. I wish more Rumbles would have upset eliminations like that.
5. Royal Rumble 2004
Competitors: Kurt Angle, A-Train, Shelton Benjamin, The Big Show, Bradshaw, John Cena, Christian, Rene Dupre, Spike Dudley, Mick Foley, Bill Goldberg, Billy Gunn, Charlie Haas, Matt Hardy, Mark Henry, Hurricane, Chris Jericho, Kane, Ernest Miller, Matt Morgan, Nunzio, Randy Orton, Rhyno, Rico, Rikishi, Scott Steiner, Booker T, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Rob Van Dam.
Iron Man: Chris Benoit
Winner: Chris Benoit
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31356695
It goes without saying that nowadays, a match starring Chris Benoit from start to finish is never going to feature particularly highly in the WWE’s own highlights reel of Rumbles past. Mores the pity because the 2004 installment is one of the best ever. It has one of the most star studded line up of competitors, second only to the 1992 edition. You’ve got Kurt Angle, Big Show, John Cena, Mick Foley, Bill Goldberg, Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Randy Orton…the list goes on. I count fourteen World Champions in that contest which is pretty ridiculous.
The story of Benoit’s performance in this Rumble perfectly suits his journeyman storyline of an underdog chasing the gold. Everyone he eliminates in this match (Rhyno, Mark Henry, JBL and Big Show) are all enourmous wrestlers, typically the type of wrestler who he would be overlooked for earlier in his career. The end sequence of this match where Big Show monsters his competition is a fantastic piece of booking and Benoit is only able to eliminate Show by using his smarts and Big Show’s own weight against him.
4. Royal Rumble 2008
Competitors: Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Big Daddy V, Elijah Burke, Carlito, John Cena, Tommy Dreamer, Fit Finlay, Mick Foley, The Great Khali, Chavo Guerrero, Mark Henry, Hardcore Holly, Hornswoggle, Kane, Mr. Kennedy, Santino Marella, Shawn Michaels, The Miz, John Morrison, Jamie Noble, Chuck Palumbo, Roddy Piper, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Gene Snitsky, Jimmy Snuka, Triple H, Umaga, and The Undertaker.
Iron Man: Shawn Michaels
Winner: John Cena
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31288271
I’ve got a real soft spot for Rumbles that take place in Madison Square Garden. That tiny entrance way makes the crowd feel like they’re jammed in that much closer to the action and as a result, it gives the matches that much more atmosphere. The 2008 installment is wonderful from start to finish. It starts out with the most star studded #1 and #2 entries you could possibly have (Undertaker and HBK) and goes from there. By far my favourite nostalgia routine of any Rumble is the surprise appearance of Jimmy Snuka and Rowdy Roddy Piper who resume their famous feud from two decades earlier in this match up.
You know a Rumble has been well booked when the surprise return of John Cena draws a pop from a New York crowd. For five minutes, the most hardened wrestling fan base forgot they hated the most vanilla babyface in the modern era.
3. Royal Rumble 2011
Competitors: Wade Barrett, The Big Show, Booker T, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Ted DiBiase Jr., Diesel, Justin Gabriel, The Great Khali, Chavo Guerrero, Husky Harris, Mark Henry, Hornswoggle, Ezekiel Jackson, JTG, Kane, Tyson Kidd, Kofi Kingston, Vladimir Kozlov, Santino Marella, Chris Masters, Michael McGillicutty, Drew McIntyre, John Morrison, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, David Otunga, CM Punk, William Regal, Tyler Reks, Alex Riley, R-Truth, Mason Ryan, Zack Ryder, Sheamus, Heath Slater, Jack Swagger, Yoshi Tatsu, and Dolph Ziggler.
Iron Man: CM Punk
Winner: Alberto Del Rio
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31301541
To date, the 2011 Rumble is the biggest ever, with forty competitors in the match. I wish they’d return to that number in future editions. It allows for much greater scope with surprise entrants and people cleaning house. Anyway, I love this Rumble for the early dominance shown by CM Punk who not only eliminates a handful of stars by himself, he also puts together his Nexus faction and dominates the middle portion of the match with the entire stable eliminating performers one after the other. Of course, all of this gets undone when John Cena arrives.
Other reasons I like this Rumble are that it has relatively few periods, has a healthy number of fun surprise entrants and a rather unpredictable winner. Props to whoever booked this match for going with a comedy spot to end the whole thing too.
2. Royal Rumble 2000
Competitors: Bob Backlund, Steve Blackman, Big Bossman, The Big Show, Bradshaw, British Bulldog, D-Lo Brown, Christian, Brian Christopher, Chyna, Edge, Farooq, Gangrel, The Godfather, Billy Gunn, Headbanger Mosh, Crash Holly, Hardcore Holly, Chris Jericho, Kane, Rikishi Phatu, Prince Albert, Road Dogg, Al Snow, Scott Taylor, Test, Val Venis, Viscera, and X-Pac.
Iron Man: Test
Winner: The Rock
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31345807
Ask a bunch of wrestling fans what their favourite period of wrestling was and most will probably tell you its the Attitude Era. To that end, I think the definitive Attitude Era Rumble is the 2000 edition in Madison Square Garden. It was at the height of WWF’s domination of WCW where every single talent that they had was over with the fans on a level that most performers today would kill for. This motley crew of talent put together one of the most entertaining Rumble matches of all time in which Rikishi became an unexpected star and The Rock cemented himself as one of the all time greats.
1. Royal Rumble 1992
Competitors: The Barbarian, The Berzerker, Big Boss Man, Ted DiBiase, Jim Duggan, Haku, Hercules, Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice, Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels, Col Mustafa, Roddy Piper, Repoman, Jake Roberts, Jerry Sags, Tito Santana, Randy Savage, Irwin R. Schyster, Skinner, Sgt Slaughter, Davey Smith, Jimmy Snuka, The Undertaker, Greg Valentine, Virgil, Nikolai Volkoff, Kerry Von Erich, & Warlord.
Iron Man: Ric Flair
Winner: Ric Flair
WWE Network Link: http://network.wwe.com/video/v31345295
The most star studded Royal Rumble of all time and featuring the most famous iron man performance in history. Other wrestlers have come in early and gone the distance – Shawn Michaels (1), Steve Austin (4), Rey Mysterio (2) and Chris Benoit (1) – but none have captured the magic of Ric Flair’s performance in 1992. Flair was still viewed as a WCW heel, a hated intruder on the WWF landscape. And here he was in the only Royal Rumble match in history where the winner would be handed the world title. After weeks of trash talking he drew #3 at a time when no one who drew an early number made it to the end. I think it was a terrific piece of booking to give him #3. #1 would have been too obvious. Flair then spends the next fifty minutes perpetually on the brink of elimination, with every new entrant bigger, badder and gunning for Flair. Ultimately, he outlasts everyone. Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Sid Jusice, The Undertaker, Jake Roberts, Kerry Von Erich, Hulk Hogan. All of them. When he wins, he collapses in exhaustion.
I can’t say enough about the star power in this match. It’s more or less every major wrestler of the late Eighties and early Nineties in a single match. I don’t think we’ll ever see a Rumble with such a wide array of potential winners ever again. Nowadays, we’re happy if there’s two potential winners.
This match really had it all and it is put over the top by the outstanding commentary from Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan who do a perfect job selling the high stakes of this match. It is by far my favourite, most watched and most highly rated Royal Rumble.