“This is the greatest night in the history of our sport!” -Tony Schiavone
That quote from a truly awful commentator pretty much sums up my feelings after every single Royal Rumble. It is the best level of exhaustion you can ever experience if it is a great Rumble. If it is a bad Rumble, you need something hard to drink and stat.
That being said, over a 25-year period, there have naturally been great Rumbles, bad Rumbles and some Rumbles right in the middle. I have seen them all so many times, and I feel I have finally reached the point in my life where I can sit down and rank every Rumble in order. This article was originally slated for the Friday before the 2012 Rumble, but I decided to ensure that this won’t be outdated until 2013.
We will start with the worst and go all the way to the best.
I was going to say “cue Michael Buffer,” but even mentioning him in an article is way too expensive for what little he does.
25. 1999 Royal Rumble
WINNER: VINCE MCMAHON
The lack of focus on the actual Royal Rumble match is the main reason why this match is so awful. Sure, Vince McMahon winning doesn’t help, but everything is about Austin vs McMahon. There are so many cutaways, you’d think this was a hour-long segment of Raw. Also, this Rumble is so obviously booked. I love Rumbles that seem as if the drawing was actually random. This Rumble has the lower card wrestlers in early, DX and Corporation members near the end, and everybody else thrown wherever because they just don’t matter. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate this Rumble.
24. 1988 Royal Rumble
WINNER: HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN
Being the first of something always provides things with unnecessary brownie points. Everyone thinks “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is the best because it is the first full-length animated feature, but almost every Pixar movie has been better than it. WrestleMania 1 wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
And the 1988 Royal Rumble was the start of something great out of concept alone. The action is boring, the participants are yawn-inducing (Sam Houston, really?), and it only features 20 guys. I didn’t see this Rumble until I bought the box set in 2007 and I was disappointed immediately.
Good things take time is the message we learned here.
23. 1995 Royal Rumble
WINNER: SHAWN MICHAELS
This Rumble may have one of the most iconic images (ONE FOOT!!! ONE FOOT!!!) and one of the best performances ever, but this is the fact of the matter: This Rumble is so devoid of talent that they had to cut the entry time to 60 seconds. It flies by and makes you want to puke. If Shawn Michaels didn’t carry this match on his back, it would have been worse than every regular battle royal ever.
Bonus points for Mantaur, though.
22. 2000 Royal Rumble
WINNER: THE ROCK
Plain and simple: this Rumble is beyond boring. When Madison Square Garden is only really reacting to Rikishi and chanting for The Rock for most of the match, that means that you haven’t really booked an exciting match. Even when The Rock finally makes it into the match, he isn’t booked like the dominating badass that Stone Cold was in his Rumble appearance. More or less, he just gets his ass kicked and eventually wins.
For God’s sake, Test was the longevity winner in this Rumble! TEST!
21. 2002 ROYAL RUMBLE
WINNER: TRIPLE H
I mentioned it earlier: I hate Rumbles that feel overbooked. This one fits the bill. Besides the Undertaker, all of the main eventers enter the ring from entrant 19 or 20 on. The Hardy Boyz enter back to back. It just felt fake. Plus, most of those main eventers didn’t really last that long, while Chuck Palumbo got 10 minutes in the ring. Sure, the Maven moment was great, but this Rumble suffered from predictability (HHH was winning that Rumble the moment he blew his quad), unoriginality, and being too long (the longest Rumble in history).
20. 1991 ROYAL RUMBLE
WINNER: HULK HOGAN
Rick Martel was the best part of this match.
19. 1993 ROYAL RUMBLE
This Rumble is very similar to 1995 for me because there is a dearth of talent in this match. Max Moon makes it in for crying out loud! This event is marred by the extended beat down on Undertaker by the debuting Giant Gonzales (which you can hear me rant about on this very podcast) and Yokozuna plodding his way to victory. On the other hand, Ric Flair shines as always and Bob Backlund enters the arena to crickets and has the crowd in the palm of his hands one hour later. There is a lot of boring moments, but Backlund opening his eyes is a gem.
18. 2006 ROYAL RUMBLE
WINNER: REY MYSTERIO
I was live for this Rumble and I wish it was better to this day. I always try to make excuses for it, but I just can’t; this Rumble is very mediocre. Too many guys that nobody cared about clutter the ring too often. Mysterio wins and sets the longevity record and lies on the ground for most of the match. It just felt very blah. The final three was fantastic, however, because WWE actually put the three odds-on favorites in the ring to close it out, so you really didn’t know who was going to win.
Naturally, Eddie Guerrero prevailed.
17. 1998 Royal Rumble
WINNER: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
Similar to 2000, this Rumble was all about one man and the Rumble suffered because of it. However, once Stone Cold enters the match, the story of everybody gunning for him and him still kicking ass was great. The three faces of Foley also made for a special moment. However, I will always remember this Rumble for three things: 1) Being the first Rumble I watched with a friend in fifth grade on my birthday, 2) my good friend, Matt White, cursing Chainsaw Charlie up and down for lasting 30 minutes during a Royal Rumble drinking game, and 3) this Rumble being the first time I thought, “That Rock guy might be something.” An awful first half of the Rumble and a pretty good second half of the Rumble put 1998 this far down.
16. 2010 Royal Rumble
Much like 2002, this Rumble is blatantly booked. Big names parade themselves out in the final third of this match, these same men get little time to actually do anything in the match, and Edge’s return was seen a mile away. That being said, CM Punk’s 10 minutes in this match are a thing of beauty and Shawn Michaels told another wonderful story trying to win a chance to fight The Undertaker. Needless to say, this Rumble is all over the place.
15. 1996 Royal Rumble
WINNER: SHAWN MICHAELS
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this Rumble, but there isn’t necessarily anything great about it. HHH gets his first big push by staying in the Rumble for over 40 minutes…but eliminates nobody (much like Bob Bleeping Holly). Vader dominates and nothing ever really comes of it. Jerry Lawler hides under the ring for half the match, and Jake Roberts is more bloated than the entire cast of “Knots Landing.” However, Shawn Michaels wows the crowd once more and this feels like a truly random collection of guys fighting to win something important. I would say this is a 6.
14. 2012 Royal Rumble
Obviously, time will have to tell on this one, but after watching it twice inebriated and once sober already, there is something that sticks out in this Rumble: It is much better inebriated.
Honestly, I don’t understand the early hate this Rumble has gotten. Was the roster depleted for the match? Sure. Can’t we say that most of these Rumbles had a litany of scrubs, though?
Was there a lot of comedy in the match? Of course. But…wasn’t most of the comedy actually kind of funny this time around? Ricardo was awesome, Socko vs Cobra had to happen, and the announcers each being in the match was cute enough to not make me throw up.
Were the surprises a little random? Kind of. Were most of them legit suprises? YES! Kharma and Road Dogg were good enough for me.
The ending between Sheamus and Jericho was also the second best final two after another duo we will get to later.
So…I get the hate behind it, but you aren’t going to hear any of it from this guy. I enjoyed it, but it certainly wasn’t anything that will be crowding memorable Rumble moment videos anytime soon.
13. 1989 Royal Rumble
WINNER: BIG JOHN STUDD
The final 15-20 minutes of this Rumble are boring as all hell and the finish is very anticlimactic. However, everything before that segment of the Rumble was compelling and told a great story. Demolition starting the match together (however scoff inducing it may be) truly established that it was every man for himself. Andre the Giant had his last good performance in this match. Plus, we got the start of the Mega Powers explosion. The blueprint for using the Rumble as a means to further storylines had been set.
Also, any match that sees the Warlord in it for only two seconds is fine in my book.
12. 1994 Royal Rumble
WINNERS: BRET HART AND LEX LUGER
The ring gets super cluttered with some lackluster talents, but it never feels like a bad thing. The hook of Lex Luger and Bret Hart being injured before the match increased the level of suspense. When both men won, it felt fresh and real. Props to Bret Hart for pulling such a trick off. I refuse to credit Lex Luger with much of anything.
What really makes this particular Rumble stand out was another tactic that rarely gets used anymore. From this one match, Diesel became a legitimate threat in the WWF. The Rumble can be used as a tool to get somebody over and by the time this Rumble was over, the crowd was cheering somebody they had no investment in beforehand.
And it was all downhill for Kevin Nash after that.
11. 2008 ROYAL RUMBLE
WINNER: JOHN CENA
They got us…they fucking got us.
Starting off with Undertaker and Shawn Michaels was fantastic; however, the Rumble is inconsistent. There are some unique spots and memorable moments (not including Roddy Piper expecting to pop a baby out at any time or Jimmy Snuka looking like an old chonga). Then John Cena’s music hits and you realize that you are witnessing something epic.
The action between Cena, HHH and Batista wasn’t the best, but you were on the edge of your seat. This one just misses the top 10 because it is just muddled in the middle.
10. 2011 Royal Rumble
WINNER: ALBERTO DEL RIO
Adding 10 men to the Rumble was neither a failure nor a giant success, but the match itself was thoroughly entertaining. CM Punk stole the show once again, and the story that was told with the New Nexus dominating was unique. Diesel and Booker T’s returns were feel-good moments, and nobody in the Swoggle Squad will ever forget Santino, with tears in his eyes, hitting the Cobra on Del Rio.
The only real downfall of this match is the flat ending pre-Santino. The crowd was gassed and the action in the ring didn’t help matters. Both Orton/Cena staredowns elicited the response of a frog farting.
So 40 men was an unique experiment, but 30 is probably better. It did make for an above average Rumble, however.
9. 2005 Royal Rumble
The “West Coast Rumble” was chock-full of cool moments, including the only real moment when the crowd popped for something brand-related. Plus, we found out that Paul London can do a backflip in a skinny space, the entire roster is racist towards Muhammad Hassan, and Vince McMahon should stretch before running.
In all honesty, this was just a solid Rumble. Nothing was really negative about it, it advanced plenty of storylines, and the ending was controversial.
Nothing was awful, but nothing was fantastic. It was really good. Really good lands the number 9 spot on this list.
8. 1990 Royal Rumble
WINNER: HULK HOGAN
I don’t think the Royal Rumble match truly felt like a special event or something really important until Hogan and the Warrior went face-to-face.
This Rumble had a very enthusiastic crowd, classic wrestlers giving it their all, and the first sense of this match being something that people would look forward to every year.
Plus, Rick Rude was in it and he is cool with me.
7. 2009 Royal Rumble
WINNER: RANDY ORTON
Much like 2005, nothing was ultra-memorable, but this was the first Rumble match that had over a dozen people in the match for the majority of the event. It felt like a big brawl that everyone wanted so badly to win and they hung on for a long time. Hell, JTG was in the match for over 10 minutes!
The story of HHH and Orton anchoring the entire match from an early part of the match was also intriguing and built their great program leading up to WrestleMania 25 to perfection…which naturally ended with a dog shit match.
6. 2001 Royal Rumble
WINNER: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
Let’s get this out of the way right out of the gate: Yeah, Drew Carey was in this match and it wasn’t bad at all. It certainly wasn’t David Arquette winning the WCW Championship.
Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, I can say that this Rumble was great. Kane felt important again and delivered, perhaps, his greatest singular performance. The Rock and Stone Cold piggybacked off of the 1990 Rumble and stared each other down wonderfully. Combined with Big Show’s big return and WWE being petty enough to steal away the WCW Hardcore Champion (Haku), this is a highly notable, highly entertaining Rumble that is a favorite of casual fans because they have to see a Price is Right host “wrestle” and Bob Barker just missed it by about 43 decades.
5. 1997 Royal Rumble
WINNER: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
The ultimate Rumble coming-out party, 1997 was about one man and one man only: A formerly Stunning individual from Texas. Seriously, Steve Austin bends this Rumble over and owns it.
On top of that, there are random AAA wrestlers bouncing all around, Ahmed Johnson mattered, Terry Funk and Mankind do their same old bullshit on a big stage, and the crowd is super into it.
Again, Stone Cold was born over several stages. King of the Ring 1996 was the conception. Survivor Series 1996 was the first trimester. The 1997 Rumble was almost a premature birth, but it still would of made one hell of a baby.
4. 2007 Royal Rumble
WINNER: THE UNDERTAKER
Apparently, even Rumbles are bigger in Texas.
The Rumble was booked seemingly randomly, so it was a seamless hour of constant entertainment. Granted, The Great Khali eliminated seven people in this match and slowed the pace in the ring to the speed of an infant reading “The Odyssey.” But even that was endearing in its own way!
In the end (literally), Taker and HBK bring the appetizer to what would come in the coming years with the greatest final two in Rumble history. Taking a four-star 10 minute match and throwing it at the end of a great Rumble puts it high on this list.
Another added bonus: JBL was on commentary for this match and he was fantastic as always.
3. 2003 Royal Rumble
WINNER: BROCK LESNAR
Oh, the brand extension. You felt relevant here.
For basically the first time in one year, Raw and Smackdown squared off and it felt sooooo fresh. Y2J was the star of the match trying to top HBK in everything and oozing charisma. Plus, the action was a prelude to the faster pace of wrestling we began to see in the mid-2000s, and the crowd bought into the cute little moments that make the match great (Edge and Christian’s reunion, Maven failing against Taker one year later, the Samoan family reunion mid-match).
The ending left a little to be desired, but it fit with the draining aspect of the match. If I had to vote for the sweatiest Rumble ever, 2003 gets the duke and that means one hell of an effort was given.
Sigh…I might also have this Rumble so high because Matt Hardy was fantastic in it and I hope he reads this for a pick-me-upper.
2. 2004 Royal Rumble
WINNER: CHRIS BENOIT
No other Rumble match furthered current and upcoming storylines so thoroughly (Orton vs Foley, the return of the Dead Man, Y2J vs Christian).
No other Rumble made the Big Show look so damn good and dominating.
No other Rumble made you root for one guy from beginning to end because you knew it wouldn’t happen.
No other Rumble made you feel that good when it actually happened.
No other Rumble sadly never happened.
1. 1992 Royal Rumble
WINNER: RIC FLAIR
It is a bandwagon answer, but the bandwagon is fucking right.
The added bonus of having the WWF Title on the line made this Rumble obviously the most important, but it also brought out the greatest collection of talent in one Rumble match.
There are so many reasons to list as to why this match is great, but here are five quick bullet points:
-WWF finally figured out how to use the Rumble to advance multiple storylines effectively and keep the action going nonstop.
-Hulk Hogan doesn’t win this match.
-The action for the early 1990s was highly entertaining and watchable for any casual wrestling fan.
-Bobby Heenan gives the greatest color commentating performance in the history of the wrestling business, bar none. You wanna fight me on that? I will knock you out fighting that point.
-Ric Flair shows the world why he is Ric Flair. A tear in his eye? A tear in all of our eyes…and he was a heel!
It has been 20 years and nothing has topped it yet. Will anything ever top it? Unless they unify both World Titles…and WWE buys TNA…and Bobby Heenan has been brought back in a time machine, I don’t think so.
There you have it. The Rumbles are ranked. This was fun. I wish I could do it again.
Unfortunately, WCW went out of business before we could get 25 World War 3s.