The Royal Rumble is 1 week away, and I thought this would be a nice look back being that there have been 25 Rumble matches. I want to emphasize a couple things. First, these are just the Rumble matches themselves. I’m not ranking the entire shows as a whole. Some things do happen in the undercard which play a part in the rumble itself which increases or decreases my enjoyment of the match, but I want to be clear that I am strictly looking at the matches themselves. In other words, the Rockin’ Robin-Judy Martin Women’s title match at the 1989 Rumble match has nothing to do with where the 1989 Rumble match is ranked. The other thing I want to emphasize is that these are my favorite Rumble matches. It is my opinion as a fan. Nothing more, nothing less. We all love lists right? So away we go!
25. 1999: This is such a bad Royal Rumble. It is really the only Rumble out of 25 that I struggle to find redeeming qualities. Rumbles are near impossible to mess up… unless your name is Vince Russo. First of all, Vince McMahon wins. I can almost suspend my disbelief for that if it wasn’t such a god awful match. The Final Four was Stone Cold, Vince, Boss Man, and D’lo Brown. That should tell you all you need to know about what a train wreck this was.
24. 1988: I contemplated whether or not to even put this in the rankings. I’ve only seen the match once, and it was on a show that wasn’t on PPV and also overshadowed by the Hogan-Andre contract signing. Jim Duggan won it, there was only 20 guys, and really is not at all how we know it today. Still, being the first automatically makes it better than the abortion that was the 1999 Rumble.
23. 1995: Shawn Michaels wins it becoming the first guy to go from #1 to the end. The roster is so thin at this point. The band of misfits in this thing is pretty sad, which is probably why they went to mere 1 minute intervals making Shawn’s performance of going from #1 to the end considerably less special. Still pretty impressive which is why it is considerably better than 1999. It is also notable for an equally impressive performance from “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. It had one of the best finishes in Rumble history. Davey Boy thought he had won it when he clotheslined HBK over the top rope. He even started celebrating and his music played. But only 1 of Shawn’s feet touched the floor. He came back in and knocked Bulldog over the top.
22. 2009: Quite simply… a boring Rumble. Randy Orton wins by sneaking up behind Triple H and dumping him over for the win. 2009 in this time period just had hideous booking going on as World Championships began to lose even more value than they already did. Edge won the WWE title from Jeff Hardy earlier in the show. John Cena was World Champion. Somehow the titles got swapped and Triple H ended up as WWE Champion going into the show, and Edge as World Champion. Prime example of why the necessity of two world champions is non-existent. The sad thing is that this was the only time during this whole “age of Orton” heel era that I was remotely interested in Randy Orton. The feud with Triple H was actually pretty good, but the match at WrestleMania was terrible. Two words sum up this Rumble, boring and heatless. Hard to book heels winning the Rumble, and this was a failure.
21. 2012: Once again, lack of depth hurt this Rumble. They relied on unfunny comedy, and little tricks like the 3 announcers, Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Booker T to compete. I would rank this lower but I didn’t mind Sheamus winning, and really loved the finishing sequence with Chris Jericho. That finish had me actually clamoring for Sheamus vs. Jericho actually. Maybe they maximized the potential of this, I don’t know but overall, disappointing Rumble.
20. 2011: Full disclosure, I just viewed this Rumble today for the first time. It had been the only one I haven’t seen. There were parts of this Rumble that I liked a lot. I loved all the stuff with Punk and Nexus and the match was going great, and then took a big [sorry] shit with Cena and [again sorry] fucking Hornswoggle burying talent. But the kids love Hornswoggle, I know. If you’re going to just pitch those guys out like that, just have Cena do it himself. It is so funny watching Punk in this match thinking that in 7 months he is going to be pretty much on the same level as Cena in terms of the booking. It featured 40 guys instead of the normal 30, and it doesn’t really take much away. The biggest pops were for Booker T and Diesel making surprise entries. So sad that they get by far the biggest pops of the night. To me it is an indictment on how pitifully the writing has been for the past several years. Crowd boos like crazy when Diesel gets eliminated, and is basically dead to the end and underwhelmed when Alberto Del Rio ultimately wins it. Hot start and uniqueness puts it ahead of 2012.
19. 1996: The 2nd of Shawn Michaels’ two wins. Overall it was sort of a boring rumble but there are a few highlights that made it worth watching. The first highlight is Triple H going #1 and getting the longevity record. It is one of the more underrated Rumble performances. The 2nd happening was the debut of Vader. I was a huge Vader mark during his time in WCW so him coming in and dominating like he did was fun to see. Finally, Diesel teasing the heel turn after Shawn eliminated him was pretty cool too. Shawn gets his win. Very predictable in 1996, but predictable is not a bad thing. I like this Rumble; I just don’t like it as much as the others. You can tell that it’s tough to have a bad rumble when the 19th best rumble still has a lot of value to it.
18. 2000: Again, not a bad Rumble, just not as good as others. Loved Rock winning, loved him winning over Big Show, the thing is well –booked, but for some reason something about the match is missing. I think it might be that the Triple H-Cactus Jack street fight earlier in the night completely overshadowed anything that was going to be done in this. Nothing really wrong with the Rumble, but not one of the better ones.
17. 2006: Here’s a Rumble that on initial viewing I loved but with the benefit of knowing what happens has lost some of its initial luster. I loved Rey winning and the mini-story told here with him, HHH, and Orton. It loses luster because Rey couldn’t just go to WrestleMania and win the title, he had to have some stupid angle with Orton at No Way Out where he lost his title shot. Then when he did win at Mania, his title reign was pretty much a failure. 2006 also marks the year where I felt like having two world champions was not necessary anymore, so when he ultimately did win at Mania, he looked smalltime to me, especially when Cena-HHH was the clear-cut Main Event. Still, Rey does have a really good performance here, setting the longevity record, and is worth watching.
16. 2008: Even the Cena haters in MSG were marking out when Cena made the surprise entry. Very cool moment and that moment alone, along with the finishing sequence with HHH vaults this up to the 16th spot for me. It’s also notable for more teasing of the HBK-Taker stuff as a continuation of the finish in 2007 and their future match up at WrestleMania XXV over a year after this. Overall the Rumble wasn’t the strongest, but again, the surprise and the finish at the end entertained me enough.
15. 1993: This was the first show I ever saw live on PPV so I do have a sentimental spot for this one. Yokozuna wins last eliminating Randy Savage. Match has a few key moments; the first one is the escalation of the Flair-Perfect feud setting up their loser leaves town match the next night on Monday Night RAW. I always loved how Flair made Perfect look like a million bucks on his way out, both here in this match, and then in a great match on RAW. Another shocking moment came when Giant Gonzalez came into the ring and attacked and beat up Undertaker. Taker had never been beaten down like this ever so as a young kid, I was really impressed. Obviously we all know that it would lead to not one but two horrific PPV matches in 1993 between the two, but they had a plan and they executed it, and no one can deny that Gonzalez looked like a badass beating down Undertaker like that. The last impressive thing here was Bob Backlund lasting over an hour. I also loved how they booked Yokozuna here. At one point in the match, everyone in the ring gang up and try and lift him over, but he fought them off. Good rumble.
14. 2010: They tried to re-create the magical surprise of 2008 with Edge. It was a pretty good surprise in an overall better Rumble. Loved the spot of CM Punk getting on the mic and just being his normal awesome self. Then the angle with Shawn Michaels desperately trying to win this so he can get a shot at Undertaker after being beaten the year before at WrestleMania. This is topped by him getting eliminated so nonchalantly and matter of fact-like, that it was just a perfectly booked angle. Then we get a great finish with Edge, Cena, and Batista. The problem that they have, and have had is that they don’t seem to know how to transition from the Rumble to WrestleMania anymore. They wanted to do Edge-Jericho at WrestleMania, but now with Edge winning the Rumble, they had to hotshot the title onto Jericho. Being unpredictable is all well and good, but not at the expense of a long term story that you’re trying to tell. It’s one of the biggest problems the WWE has had over the past several years.
13. 2002: We go from unpredictable finish to very predictable here. Everyone pretty much knew that Triple H was going to win it in 2002. He was coming off his first quad injury and was pretty much as over as he ever had been as a baby face without being a comedy act in DX. His interaction with Steve Austin is fun, but the highlight of the match is when Maven eliminates Undertaker. Taker then proceeds to the beat the crap out of Maven all the way into the food corridor. Maven blades and Undertaker eats popcorn. Just great stuff. The finish comes when Triple H eliminates Kurt Angle after a pretty solid Rumble. It is also notable for Mr. Perfect getting one final PPV run before his untimely death later in the year. Triple H wins, and then basically gets his balls cut off with the insanely stupid booking between him and Jericho en route to WrestleMania XVIII. The whole Stephanie-Jericho-HHH triangle was terrible. I enjoyed the Rumble though.
12. 2003: A year later we get a slightly better Rumble. I rate it higher for a couple reasons. #1 I like Brock Lesnar more than Triple H. #2 I like the finish with Undertaker. Predictable winner to be sure, but it MAKES SENSE. Nowadays they would have had Batista win it or something and scramble with some chicken with their heads cut off booking. Brock wins and goes onto face Kurt Angle in a match that had been hyped for months. What is difficult about that?
11. 2007: Once again we have a rumble that is carried by the finish and ranked accordingly. Taker and Shawn are the final 2 and then have a mini-match with Taker ultimately winning. The mini-match had pretty much everyone hoping to see them renew their awesome rivalry after their 3 classics in 1997-1998. We would have to wait for that for 2 years. The rest of the rumble isn’t that good, and would get rated lower, but Taker and Shawn carry it all the way close to my top 10 just based on the awesome finish. The nice thing here is they could have had Shawn win it and accomplish the same logical booking goal, but they were really pushing #30 finally winning a rumble so Undertaker gets the big win. Both guys would go on and get World title shots at WrestleMania, and both deliver in those matches.
10. 1998: Speaking of predictable; this might be the most predictable Royal Rumble ever. Unless you were living under a rock in 1998, you knew that there was only one choice to win this thing, and that was Stone Cold Steve Austin. Even with it being that predictable this is still a fun, properly booked Rumble. It maximized all of the rosters strengths at that time, and delivered a good showing despite limitations, and lack of roster depth at the time. A lot of people didn’t like Mick Foley doing triple duty with Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love but I thought it fit the narrative for the time and it certainly beats finding some guy like Dick Murdoch or a bunch of Luchadores that no one knows about to fill the rumble out. It is also notable for one of the most underrated performances in Rumble history which is the Rocks. Austin of course would go onto WrestleMania XIV and upend Shawn Michaels and begin the Austin Era. Predictable is a good thing sometimes people. Just because a 9 year old can figure out what is going to happen doesn’t mean it is bad.
9. 1997: This was the 1st of Austin’s wins and he is the MVP of this Rumble and the reason why, despite having the aforementioned luchadore wresters fill out the entry list, I rank it higher than 1998. That is offset by this being a pretty stacked Rumble in terms of the participants. The star is, like I said, Steve Austin as he tosses out everyone and continues his epic feud with Bret Hart. The finish is screwy as Bret eliminates Austin, but because the refs were trying to break up a brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, they don’t see it. So Austin illegally comes back into the ring and dumps out Vader and Undertaker. Then he dumps out Bret Hart for the win. Funky booking aside, it fit with the times and ultimately led to the historic submission match at WrestleMania XIII against Bret Hart.
8. 1991: The 1991 Rumble was the first one that I remember as a kid in terms of the buildup and aftermath of the show. Earlier in the show Sgt. Slaughter, playing an Iraqi sympathizer character, won the WWE title from the Ultimate Warrior. This was right in the middle of the Persian Gulf War so he had major major heel heat on him. That pretty much made it inevitable that Hulk Hogan was going to win this match for the second straight year. Loved the booking of the Rumble here as with most of these early rumbles. In particular for this Rumble was pushing the midcard feud of Jake the Snake and Rick Martel. I also liked the logical subtle way of getting out the young Undertaker in a way that makes sense and keeps him strong. They simply have LOD double clothesline over the top rope and he lands on his feet, and looks menacing. He stays strong and you solved the problem of how to eliminate such a character. Then it gives you an opportunity to blow off the Hogan-Earthquake feud once and for all as he eliminates him for the win. Match is also notable for Martel going over 50 minutes and becoming one of the early “iron men” of the Rumble.
7. 1989: Might have this higher than it should be but for nostalgia this is a great Rumble. It also once again serves the purpose of escalating feuds towards WrestleMania which to me is a big piece of what the Royal Rumble’s purpose is. The match is split up into thirds. The first third is the Andre the Giant third. It starts off with Ax and Smash of Demolition getting numbers 1 and 2. This really sets the theme of every man for himself when the tag team champions at the time go at it. The other storyline early on is the Andre-Jake Roberts feud. Andre eliminates him, but Jake comes back out with Damien the snake and Andre gets scared and eliminates himself. The second third of the match is the Mega Powers angle. Hogan accidentally eliminates Savage and their eventual explosion gets ratcheted up a little more. Finally you have the Ted Dibiase portion of the Rumble where he had bought himself the best number: 30. The money would not be well-spent as Big John Studd would eliminate him and win the Rumble. The match loses its heat towards the end which hurts it, but the stuff until the Hulk Hogan elimination by the Twin Towers is white hot.
6. 1994: Here is another one that I probably will get some disagreements from many, but this is one of my favorite Rumbles ever. Earlier in the night Owen Hart turned on his big brother Bret and infamously “kicked his leg out of his leg”. During the Rumble Owen gets massive heel heat and Bret still sells the leg injury masterfully. Owen unfortunately wouldn’t last long, but that is because a new star is born as Diesel eliminates 7 guys in an incredible performance at the time. You could easily tell that a star was born as the Providence crowd chanted his name. I liked the fact that the ring got filled up with a lot of guys as there were a lot of guys that stayed in for a long time. Randy Savage escalated his WrestleMania feud with Crush, and gives Crush the rub here as Savage gets eliminated by him. Bam Bam Bigelow, Shawn Michales, and Crush all last for a long time in this match. The Rumble is ultimately remembered for the double finish, as both Bret Hart (selling the leg injury through everything) and Lex Luger each eliminated each other setting up a popularity contest of sorts for the Providence crowd. Luger had no chance against Bret Hart in a popularity contest so that was rather unfair if indeed that was Vince’s final reasoning for putting the title back on Bret instead of Luger at WrestleMania . Ultimately both guys were declared winners and would both get title shots at WrestleMania. I personally loved the finish, and it set up WrestleMania X to be a very good show.
5. 2005: We are now at the point of my favorite Rumbles ever and there isn’t a lot of difference between #1 and #5. 2005 is memorable because I was really into the product at this point. After the whole Randy Orton debacle at the end of 2004 where he got his balls cut off by Triple H and bad booking, I was really digging the whole rise of Batista on RAW and John Cena on Smackdown! They were coming off the best Elimination Chamber match ever that Triple H regained the vacant title so a Batista win here was imminent. There was enough suspense with John Cena possibly winning to keep the fans attentions. Like 1994, 2005 seemingly ended in a double finish, which would have been fine with me. But an angry Vince McMahon comes running out and tries to dive into the ring but blows out both of his knees or quads or whatever. It’s one of the funniest moments ever as he is sitting in the corner, clearly in pain, screaming at officials to restart the match. Ultimately it does get re-started and Batista quickly disposes Cena and he would go onto to turn on Triple H, go to WrestleMania, and win the World title. Cena would win a tournament on Smackdown and beat JBL at WrestleMania to win the WWE title and change the WWE forever. The birth of the WWE as we know it today starts here, and while I’m not a huge fan of the product in recent years, I was really liking the stuff they were doing in 2005. This is a really unheralded rumble with great performances by Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit. Also the Angle-HBK feud begins here too.
4. 2004: This one is a little bit stained now because we all know what happened in 2007, but on this night in Philadelphia, Chris Benoit put on one of the best performances in Rumble history becoming only the 2nd wrestler ever to go from #1 and win it. Only his was way more impressive than HBK’s in 1995 as the intervals are 90 seconds instead of 1 minute and he lasts over an hour. Besides that though, we have the escalation of every major WrestleMania match. Foley-Orton, Kane-Undertaker, Brock-Goldberg; all get escalated here and set up for WrestleMania XX. It’s brilliantly booked as Benoit takes out all of the big guys culminating with his great struggle to eliminate Big Show to win it. He would go onto have the classic Triple threat match with Triple H and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX. As a big Benoit fan at the time, this was a great time to be a wrestling fan.
3. 1990: This is one I recently watched around Christmas time, and it never fails to entertain me. Most people probably hated the finish with Hulk Hogan winning instead of Mr. Perfect. It doesn’t bother me as much because that’s just not how they did things back then. Baby faces win these types of matches, because the fans always get sent home happy around this time. Whether you like who won or not doesn’t change the brilliant booking of this match from beginning to end. I think like a third of the participants are in the hall of fame right now, and there are several others that aren’t in that will for sure be in, or should be in, notably Randy Savage. All of the major WrestleMania matches that they were heading for are showcased here. Demolition-Andre and Haku, Dibiase-Snake, Dusty Rhodes-Savage, Piper-Bad News Brown, and of course, Hogan-Warrior. The Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior was the ultimate “holy shit” moment at that time because they truly were the two biggest baby faces in the world and on a collision course to face each other at WrestleMania. This was the first interaction between the two and the crowd was creaming themselves watching it. Flawless Rumble.
2. 1992: Let the debate begin I guess. Yes, the 1992 is merely my 2nd favorite Rumble ever. Here we have another flawless Rumble and probably the best individual performance ever by the legend himself, Ric Flair. Let me be clear, it’s not that I don’t like this Rumble; I just like another one a little bit more. This one is star studded, with so many former world champions and many future Hall of Famers. Making it even a bigger deal was the fact that the WWE title was on the line and for the first time ever, there was a carrot dangled at the end for the winner. At the time I thought for sure it was going to be Hulk Hogan three-peating, but by god did they shock me when I found out on Prime Time Wrestling that the man himself won the title. The brilliance of Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon commentating makes the match and really assists in telling the story of the great performance from Ric Flair entering at #3 and winning it in the end. It ends too in one of the best post-win promos ever as Flair, Mr. Perfect, and Heenan are in the back with Mean Gene gloating. Just brilliant. We all thought this was going to set up the dream match of the 1980s between Flair and Hogan at WrestleMania VIII, but it wasn’t in the cards. We got a great consolation with Flair vs. Savage, while Hogan faced off against Sid.
1. 2001: Yes, that’s right; I’m the only fan that likes the 2001 Rumble more than the 1992 Rumble. First of all let me say this, one Rumble had to be #1 for me and 1 had to be #2. For my money, this is the best three PPV stretch in WWE history starting here with the Royal Rumble, the following month at No Way Out, and then the greatest WrestleMania of all time, WrestleMania XVII. The cards were all stacked, and filled with drama. 2001 had it all though. It had the suspense because most people at the time probably felt that the smart money was going to be Rock winning the Rumble here and then challenging Austin at WrestleMania. Then you had the wild card of the Undertaker being in it as well, and any time the Undertaker is the Royal Rumble, he has a shot. Kane sets the tone and eliminates a record 11 guys and has probably the best performance by a non-winner ever going to the end and getting eliminated last. One of my favorite moments in Rumble history was when Kane and Undertaker had cleared the ring; Scotty 2 Hotty comes out and has a look on his face like he just shit his pants looking at the brothers of destruction in the ring. You had some comedy with Drew Carey and Kane, Honky Tonk Man and Kane. You had a pretty cool little hardcore portion early on featuring, you guessed it, Kane. Lost in all of this is Rock who also had an impressive run as well. But the man of the night is Stone Cold Steve Austin. He comes in and immediately gets attacked by Triple H and Austin gets busted open before he even enters the ring. You have a surprise appearance by the Big Show who we hadn’t seen basically since Judgment Day 2000 in May. Then of course you have your Hogan-Warrior-like moment when Austin and Rock end up in the ring against each other and the crowd gives the same type of reaction here as they did 11 years before. It comes down to a bloody Austin against an exhausted, but dominant Kane and Austin needs a steel chair, but finally eliminates Kane to win it. The brilliance of the story is told by Jim Ross, who had one of his best commentating performances in his career here, talking about how Austin is 1 year removed from spinal surgery. The brilliance and significance of that story alone vaults this up to #1. Then knowing where this would all lead to, my favorite PPV of all time, with Austin and Rock, two of the three biggest stars of all time would headline. That is why this is my favorite Royal Rumble ever!