We are days away from the 2017 Royal Rumble event. It’s officially the 30th Royal Rumble match (an appropriate milestone, incidentally), although there have been some non-televised Rumble-style encounters, and even some scaled-down Rumbles on Raw and SmackDown over the years, not to mention the many “homages” to the Rumble in wrestling promotions around the world since its inception. However, the annual January 30-man battle is the true original, and its legacy has only increased over the years. Besides the WrestleMania main events, it’s the one match that still continuously provokes mass interest, even amongst those who haven’t regularly watched the product for years.
This year’s Rumble could be one of the very best, due to a star-studded cast that includes Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker making special appearances, all of whom could potentially win the thing, along with other big names such as Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose and The Miz. Even Sami Zayn could be a potential dark horse, since a Universal Championship match with Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 33 is not an unthinkable prospect. That doesn’t include the other surprises that could be thrown in, along with the Alamodome setting ensuring that the atmosphere could be the loudest ever for a Rumble match.
Before we get to the 2017 event, though, let’s take a look back at the most memorable moments over the 29 previous Rumble matches. A good Rumble match generally has a logical and popular outcome, several strong contenders, some big surprise entrants, some unexpected developments (such as a shocking elimination) and some quirky secondary moments, which are fun to see but have little impact on the outcome of the match. It’s no surprise that most of the top Rumble matches featured these elements, and therefore many of the Rumble’s most unforgettable incidents comprise these very points.
(Note that this list doesn’t include non-Rumble bouts held at the event, such as Mankind vs. The Rock under I Quit rules from 1999.)
I’m not going to include every unforeseen occurrence in the Rumble because there have been so many, so take my word for it that the moments listed below are most crucial in forming the basis for the Rumble to be the most unpredictable, exciting and anticipated match of the year in WWE – usually, anyway. I will give an honourable mention here to Mil Mascaras eliminating himself – apparently by design, due to his alleged aversion to jobs – in 1997, the accidental eliminations of Steve Austin and Alex Riley in 1996 and 2011 respectively, the hardcore brawl between Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie to kick off the 1998 match, Kane chokeslamming Sabu through a table to eliminate him in 2007 and Steve Austin joining fans in chanting “What?” while he awaited his next victims in 2002. I’ll also give a mention here to the lengthy Sheamus-Chris Jericho exchange which resulted in Sheamus winning the 2012 Rumble because it wasn’t as memorable as WWE would have liked, meaning that it wasn’t enough to crack my Top 50. But this lot was …
#50 Taka Hits Hard (2000)
Although the 2000 Rumble wasn’t particularly eventful, it did have one unique element whereby Kaientai and The Mean Street Posse, who weren’t official participants, would keep running into the ring and try to join the fray, only for them to be quickly thrown out by whoever happened to be in the ring at the time. This ended up having terrible consequences for Taka Michinoku, as one such attempt resulted in him bouncing face-first off the floor in very painful fashion. Needless to say, this brutal crash-landing was the last time that Taka tried to interrupt proceedings that evening. Indeed!
#49 A Legend Comes Home (1996)
When the field of entrants for the 1996 Rumble was announced, eyebrows were raised when it was declared that Jake “The Snake” Roberts would be returning to the WWF for the first time since WrestleMania VIII. Although Jake didn’t win the Rumble or even come close to triumphing, his appearance was still noteworthy and brought back fuzzy nostalgic memories for longtime fans, especially when he unleashed his python (that doesn’t sound right) on Jerry Lawler. Lawler incidentally would go on to spend more than half an hour under the ring, before eventual winner Shawn Michaels dragged him out, back into the ring and then threw him out again to eliminate him properly.
#48 Harvard Doesn’t Teach That (2003)
Truthfully, whilst a well-executed battle with some nice sequences, the 2003 Rumble wasn’t particularly memorable at all, which included Brock Lesnar winning by quickly throwing out The Undertaker. So, to squeeze 2003 onto this list, I’ve gone for a moment which ultimately had a big impact on the future of one entrant, as Christopher Nowinski almost had his face crushed when Edge’s involvement in a double top rope dropkick spot (joining Rey Mysterio) was delayed, and his legs landed hard on Nowinski’s face. Nowinski would have to wrestle a mask due to recurring concussions before having to retire from wrestling altogether.
#47 Who Will Be The One? (2010)
In recent years, WWE has used almost the exact same video of highlights to promote the Rumble match, complete with Michael Cole annoyingly saying like a company parrot that “It’s all about the numbers!” Before the format grew stale, the 2010 version did an excellent job of building up last-minute excitement, with clips of past Rumbles combining with a run-through of the many big names involved in that year’s match, all backed up by the Skillet song “Hero”, which was an appropriate tune for a match that was looking to discover who would be “The One”. Watch it again right before this year’s Royal Rumble and you’ll soon be in the mood, if you aren’t already.
#46 A Giant Problem (1993)
History is not particularly kind to Giant Gonzales, and understandably so, as his wrestling skills were very limited. Nevertheless, his debut appearance during the 1993 Rumble – not as a participant but as an interfering party – turned heads, especially as he gave The Undertaker a beating which was severe by the standards of the time, making him the most legitimate threat yet to the Dead Man. It was the most memorable part of a weak Rumble, with perhaps the standout aspect being Bobby Heenan describing it by saying “Fee Fi Fo Fum, Undertaker better run!”
#45 Not Everything Has A Price (1989-1990)
A cool incident in 1989 saw The Million Dollar Man himself, Ted DiBiase, exchange his Rumble number with Slick on behalf of Akeem for cash so that he could enter at #30 (although he was still trounced by Big John Studd). This was amusing enough, but there would be symmetry the following year when DiBiase, supposedly in full view of WWF President Jack Tunney to avoid further cheating, drew #1. DiBiase was the best performer in the massively star-studded 1990 battle (my favourite for nostalgic reasons) and lasted a long time, but was thrown out by The Ultimate Warrior, providing in the end that money couldn’t buy the Royal Rumble. It may be able to buy the US Presidency though, just ask Donald Trump.
#44 A Lighter Moment (2000)
It seems surreal to suggest that Rikishi dancing with Too Cool mid-match was a Rumble moment to cherish. However, it was a perfect example of the wackiness that was the Attitude Era; where else could you see a big, threatening behemoth and a goofy, dancing tag team start busting out moves during a battle royal, on the same card as a very bloody and violent Street Fight and a 77-year-old seemingly going topless, and with the fans lapping it up? It didn’t last long and ultimately didn’t achieve much, but it was fun nonetheless, and was one of the highlights of a fairly weak Rumble.
#43 A Different Kind Of Shooting Star Press (2005)
A normal Shooting Star Press sees a wrestler jump off the top rope and somersault their way onto their opponent, landing horizontally in a pinning position. That’s what Paul London did in 2005, except it was off the ring apron to the floor and it came off a brutal Snitsky clothesline, which looked painful but cool as hell. It was one of the most memorable eliminations ever from a physical standpoint, and it was one which apparently rubbed people backstage up the wrong way according to London. Still, for the corporate suits, they would have more to worry about later in the match.
#42 Bong! (Not That Kind) (2004)
Rarely could the sound of one bell tolling with nobody appearing generate such excitement. Kane had taken out The Undertaker, then in his biker phase, at Survivor Series 2003, and Undertaker hadn’t been seen since. Rumours about a potential return to the Dark Side were confirmed when Kane arrived and destroyed everybody in sight, only for the next entry – Spike Dudley – to have his entrance preceded by a “Bong!” The cheer was huge, and whilst Undertaker ultimately wouldn’t be seen until WrestleMania XX, this began the tremendous build-up to the return of the original Taker character.
#41 Sore Loser Hogan (1989, 1992)
Hulk Hogan won both the 1990 and 1991 Rumbles, but it’s arguably his behaviour at the 1989 and 1992 Rumbles which sticks out more. Both times, he was eliminated, and both times, he proved what a sore loser he was by getting involved and causing the eliminations of those who had dispatched of him. It was Big Boss Man and Akeem in 1989, and Sid Justice in 1992 (the latter of whom got a big pop for dumping out Hulk). Considering that Hogan was the top company babyface and this was well before the John Cena era where fans routinely boo faces, this was very poor sportsmanship by The Hulkster, the justification for which seemed to be “But I got eliminated, boo hoo!” Steve Austin did a similar thing in 2002 after he went out but, considering that Austin is well-known for Stunnering even his closest allies and is lauded by fans as a result due to his Attitude Era-driven persona, this is easier to justify than Hulk’s childish antics.
#40 “I’m Going To Win The Royal Rumble!” (Many)
One of the best parts about the Royal Rumble match, at least in the early years, were the backstage promos where a lot of the participants would explain why they would win the Rumble, even if they had no realistic chance of succeeding. They were heavy in cheese and ham, if you catch my drift, and there were some brilliant moments on offer amongst these short clips. The best selection came from 1990 where the highlights include Randy Savage stating that a betting man would go broke if he didn’t pick the Macho King, The Rockers planning to “rock and roll, scrap and scroll” after declaring that “Today’s the day, today’s the day”, Hercules stating he would win “this Rumble Royale”, Bret Hart literally screaming at Jim Neidhart to “MELLOW OUT!” and The Honky Tonk Man saying that he was gonna “play all (his) hits, in fact I’m gonna play all 29 of them!” Classic.
#39 John Morrison Channels Spider-Man (2011)
Kofi Kingston’s near-misses from elimination are grouped into their own entry later on, since it has now become a tradition and it wouldn’t be fair to rank them all separately. However, I have to give a side-mention to John Morrison who originated the unbelievable method of avoiding elimination when he was knocked from the ring apron, but caught himself on the crowd barrier Spider-Man style, and then tip-toed his away across the barrier before leaping onto the steel stairs and returning to the ring, with the Boston crowd lapping it up.
#38 Shawn Michaels’ Break-down (2010)
Consumed by an obsession to try and break The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak having failed at WM 25, Michaels reasoned that by winning the 2010 Rumble, he could challenge Taker, then the World Heavyweight Champion, at Mania 26. This helped make Shawn a genuine favourite to win, and he even eliminated DX team-mate Triple H to prove how serious his quest was. So, when Batista eliminated him, and Shawn slowly fell to the floor while desperately trying to hold onto the top rope, Shawn was crest-fallen, and reacted by initially refusing to leave ringside, and then Superkicking referee Charles Robinson. It was a brilliant performance and added to the outstanding story being told involving Shawn and Taker. Because Undertaker would retire Michaels in their eventual Mania rematch, this would be the last of Shawn’s many Rumble moments, and he definitely went out with a bang.
#37 Show Says He Won … Oh Wait, He Did (2000)
When The Rock held onto the ropes as Big Show was eliminating him in 2000, thus causing Show to be eliminated itself, Rock seemingly won the Rumble in dramatic fashion. And few took notice of Show’s protests that Rock’s feet had hit the floor first. But he soon produced evidence that he was, in fact, telling the truth, although this was actually the result of a botch which the WWF decided to capitalise on. It’s a sign of how times have changed, and how popular Rock was, that the revelation that Show had technically won the Rumble instead of Rock had no impact whatsoever on The Great One’s status as the company’s top babyface.
#36 A Van Dam Good Moment (2009)
Like 2003, the 2009 Rumble was run-of-the-mill in terms of moments: the action was good, but there was nothing super-memorable which could compare to previous RR bouts. That being said, Rob Van Dam being a surprise entrant did make an impact, and it would be RVD’s last appearance in a WWE ring until his proper return to the company at Money In The Bank 2013.
#35 Let It Reigns (2014)
No, not Roman’s heavily-booed 2015 victory, but his head-turning performance in 2014 which saw him eliminate twelve opponents – 40% of the total field – only to lose at the final hurdle to Batista. If fans hadn’t been chanting “Daniel Bryan!” so much and booing Batista – and in hindsight, it’s a good job that they did – more people would have recognised that Roman Reigns looked every bit like a future star with his showing in the 2014 Rumble, setting a new record for most eliminations in one match. Ironically, if WWE had taken a risk and given Roman the Rumble win on that night, few would have complained, and he may now be a six- or seven-time World Champion and the true face of WWE in this modern era. But they didn’t and we know what happened next with Reigns, so let’s move on.
#34 Demolition Kick It Off (1989)
Demolition members Ax and Smash drew #1 and #2 respectively in the 1989 Rumble. Since this was so early in its history, meaning that the placement of particular entrants had yet to feel predictable depending on storylines or alliances, it was a cool moment to see the then-WWF Tag Team Champions in a position where they had to face off, and for that reason, is my favourite start to a Rumble ever. I particularly enjoyed Gorilla Monsoon’s exaggerated “WOAH!” reaction to Smash drawing #2.
#33 A Fairytale Comeback – Kind Of (1996)
Shawn Michaels returning from a concussion to win the 1996 Rumble and earn a WWF Title shot at WrestleMania XII was logical booking and warmly received, so it all seems like a big success – but I have issues with it. Firstly, Shawn had already won the Rumble from the #1 spot in 1995, so it wasn’t unfeasible that he could do it again. Secondly, Shawn was actually thrown out by the already-eliminated Vader but, unlike in future years, HBK was allowed to re-enter. Finally, Shawn’s match-winning Sweet Chin Music on Diesel barely connected, which I only noticed in later years, making it a less-than-believable conclusion. Mind you, at the time it was still pretty cool.
#32 Rumble Is Jericho (2013)
Chris Jericho points out that not one person had Tweeted or whispered that he could have shown up as a surprise at the 2013 Rumble. But I did suspect that Y2J would return, at least after a pre-match promo by number one entrant Dolph Ziggler, who had ran Jericho out of WWE the previous summer. Mind you, it didn’t alter the fact that this was a fantastic beginning to Jericho’s 2013 WWE run, and he received arguably the biggest reaction of his career when his music hit. It came before the opening bell of the 2013 Rumble match, but it was still the highlight of the 30-man scrap that year.
#31 Stone Cold Success (1998)
Heading into the 1998 Rumble, Steve Austin was the man who everybody wanted to win. On a surge of momentum like few in history before him, Austin not only had “it” but also possessed that rare quality whereby his ascension to the company throne could potentially make him a genuinely massive star. To get there, though, he needed to win the Rumble, and in the build-up, he Stunnered many of the entrants with the attitude that he would get to them before they got to him. On the night, the entire ring stopped battling when Austin arrived, only for him to run in from the crowd and get a head start. A foreshadowing of the future came when he and The Rock (another fast-rising star) were the final two, and after one more Stunner (a rare Stunner set up by a left-leg boot), Austin threw Rock out to win the Rumble and get many fans excited about Stone Cold finally, potentially, becoming WWF Champion at WrestleMania XIV (including Mike Tyson, who afterwards referred to Steve as “Cold Stone”).
#30 The Biggest Upset Ever (Nearly) (2011)
Although many frown on the 40-man Rumble match in 2011, partly due to Alberto Del Rio winning it just months after debuting in WWE, it did produce a fair number of memorable moments, one of which would have been considered horrendous had it been leaked beforehand. On the night, though, it worked: after ADR seemingly won the match, Santino – who was at ringside having been pummelled, but having not been eliminated – snuck back in and dropped Del Rio with the Cobra. He was eliminated for real by Alberto moments later, but for a brief couple of seconds, it seemed like the biggest underdog in the company might have been capable of pulling off what would have been the biggest upset in WWE history, not least because he would have been challenging for a World Title at WrestleMania had his Rumble participation succeeded.
#29 How To Avoid Elimination, By Kofi Kingston (2012-2016)
It’s intriguing that Kofi Kingston has never even come close to winning a Royal Rumble, because over the last five years, he has avoided elimination in increasingly-crazy fashion. I’ve grouped them all together as one big moment because different people preferred different instances, but from walking on his hands to using JBL’s chair as a pogo-stick to being saved by Adam Rose’s entourage, it’s easy to see why fans now look forward to the Rumble partly to see how Kofi avoids elimination. Just don’t expect him to win it, though.
#28 Diesel Power (1994)
Sometimes, one participant is booked to steamroll their way through the field for a stretch. Diesel was the recipient of this treatment in 1994, and crucially received huge cheers in the process, despite being a heel. It was Kevin Nash’s break-out performance, even though he didn’t really do that much at all, and all of his future success as both Diesel and a key member of the nWo can be traced back to this Rumble showing.
#27 29 Men & 1 Woman (1999)
Long before the Women’s Revolution in WWE, a real game-changer was Chyna who, after winning a “Corporate” mini-Rumble on Raw, became the first female Rumble entrant in 1999, entering at #30. She even eliminated Mark Henry before being dispatched by Stone Cold, but her landmark achievement set her up for several more groundbreaking accomplishments throughout that year.
#26 Foley Gets Revenge (2004)
Randy Orton had called out Mick Foley for weeks, having previously spat in his face when Foley refused to wrestle Orton on Raw. So, with Orton seemingly on a lengthy, career-making run in the 2004 Rumble from the #2 spot, his progress was suddenly interrupted by the man who had just taken out Test to claim his Rumble spot – yes, Mick Foley, which got a huge reaction. A great brawl between Foley and Orton followed, and their classic feud was now well under way in very dramatic fashion.
#25 The Roman Empire Crumbles (2016)
Nothing better illustrates the occasionally venomous hatred towards Roman Reigns by fans more than the fact that when WWE’s top babyface (well, then anyway), and defending WWE Champion, was eliminated by heel Triple H towards the end of the 2016 Rumble, fans gave HHH a massive babyface pop (which HHH contributed to with a face-like DX crotch chop). Under normal circumstances, the reaction to this and HHH subsequently eliminating Dean Ambrose to win would be frustration but, after the calamitious booking of the endings to the previous two Rumbles, this ended up seeming like a great moment for those fans who couldn’t bear the Roman mega-push. They would soon have egg on their faces when Reigns regained the WWE Title from HHH at WrestleMania 32 where – yes – Roman was booed.
#24 The Surprise Appearance (Many)
There are too many surprise returns, appearances and debuts to mention, except for those that were either by big names or which impacted the outcome of the Rumble match, in which case I will give them a separate salute. So, in this entry, I will give a shout-out to Bubba Ray Dudley, The Boogeyman, Diamond Dallas Page, Kevin Nash (2014), Road Dogg, Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Kharma, Jerry Lawler (several times), Michael Cole, Booker T (2012), Hornswoggle, Bob Backlund, Honky Tonk Man, Drew Carey, Big Show, Tatanka, Goldust (multiple times), Eugene, Haku and others too numerous to mention. I’ll also point out here the announced yet enticing return of four names from the past during the 2002 Rumble for Val Venis, The Godfather, Mr. Perfect and – yep – Goldust.
#23 Two Big Returns (2011)
On the subject of unexpected comebacks, we had two for the price of one in the 40-man Rumble match, as both Booker T and Diesel (Kevin Nash) – former WWE and WCW headliners who had also enjoyed runs in TNA – made surprise returns to very welcoming crowd reactions. Although Diesel’s cameo drew a louder pop, Booker’s return was enhanced by announcer Matt Striker practically breaking character to express his admiration and fandom for The Booker Man, virtually begging for a Spinaroonie at one point. Hilariously, just days later, Booker replaced Striker as the colour commentator on SmackDown.
#22 Game Back On (2002)
Heading into a Royal Rumble match that was crammed with star power, Triple H seemed like the sentimental favourite, seen as how he was coming back from his (first) torn quadriceps injury. And after a strong performance (which began with a ridiculously long entrance and a square-off with Steve Austin, which in itself included a humorous attempt at a double elimination of the former Two Man Power Trip by The Hurricane), HHH pulled off the dream return when he last eliminated Kurt Angle to claim the 2002 Rumble. Less fondly remembered was his subsequent Undisputed Title win over Chris Jericho at WrestleMania X8.
#21 The Biggest (Or Quickest) Loser (2009)
Santino Marella must have realised that it’s far better to be a comedy character than just another mid-carder in the Rumble, since he has been part of several memorable moments. Aside from his near-miracle in 2011, he also became the holder of the record for shortest time ever in a Rumble in 2009, when he was dispatched by Kane in less than two seconds, breaking The Warlord’s record which had stood since 1989. Nobody has beaten Santino’s achievement since, but Marella has recently suggested that he has figured out how he could break his own record, if he were ever to participate in another Rumble match.
#20 No! No! No! (2014)
This moment was about somebody who didn’t appear: fans had been backing Daniel Bryan for months and truly believed that he would win the 2014 Rumble. But he wasn’t even a participant, which fans only realised when Rey Mysterio came out as #30 (I had heard WWE refer to Rey being in the match beforehand, so it was less surprising to me). WWE hadn’t announced Bryan as an entrant, and he had already competed on the show in a losing effort to Bray Wyatt. Nevertheless, Bryan’s non-entry proved to fans that WWE weren’t interested in pushing him as per their wishes, and were even less impressed that the returning Batista would go on to win the match. The outcry and resultant negativity towards Batista, combined with CM Punk walking out of WWE the next day for unrelated reasons, created a situation which eventually resulted in Bryan winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX. So, fans got what they wanted in the end – just not in the way that anybody, least of all WWE, had expected.
#19 Kane’s “Hot” Showing (2001)
The 2001 Rumble had been built around five potential favourites: Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane and Rikishi. Kane was arguably the least likely of the five to win beforehand, especially with mega-stars Rock and the recently-returned Austin involved. However, Kane entered at #6 and lasted the duration from there, eliminating a then-record 11 participants, which meant that by the end, many were actually rooting for Kane to win the whole thing. Although he was eliminated by Austin in the final sequence, this unexpectedly-strong showing was arguably the highlight of Kane’s career from a performance standpoint, and telegraphed a babyface turn and reunion with Undertaker shortly afterwards.
#18 Maven Shocks The World (2002)
There hasn’t been a truly shocking Rumble elimination for a long time, whereby a big star is tossed out by an unfancied competitor. Perhaps it’s because a very high bar was set during the 2002 Rumble when Maven, the winner of Tough Enough who had barely wrestled a proper match and was still being trained on the job, dropkicked The Undertaker (who was distracted by The Hardyz and Lita) to the floor, resulting in one hell of a crowd pop. Undertaker forcibly removed Maven himself and destroyed him, but it was the standout moment of a memorable Rumble match, and was referenced one year later when Maven’s attempt to recreate history failed, resulting in Taker getting revenge by dumping Maven out.
#17 Three Faces Of Foley (1998)
This one was both a surprise and a non-surprise, since the second part made it obvious that there would be a third chapter. Nevertheless, Cactus Jack starting the Rumble match, Mankind entering midway through and Dude Love turning up towards the end was a genius move, and coming during a Rumble bout that had few genuine contenders, it actually meant that there were more participants who potentially could have won it. It’s amusing that even in three attempts, Mick Foley couldn’t win the Rumble, but his chances – and pay-off from the card – certainly increased by entering the match three times.
#16 Hacksaw Is First (1988)
Hacksaw Jim Duggan doesn’t get the same level of appreciation as many of his contemporaries do from the 1980s/early 1990s period of WWF history. But he does have one major honour to be proud of, as he won the very first Rumble in 1988, a 20-man affair, by last eliminating The One Man Gang. His achievement also makes him a surprise entrant that is always welcome, as it’s always cool when the very first Rumble winner tries to do it again in the latest incarnation, even if he has virtually no chance of actually pulling it off.
#15 Against All The Odds (2004)
With so many big names involved in the 2004 Rumble, it seemed unlikely that Chris Benoit would come out on top, having previously been positioned as a strong mid-carder but nothing more, and especially after being handed the #1 spot. But Benoit survived right up until the end, and after Big Show eliminated many of the other potential favourites, he tried to throw out Benoit, only for The Crippler to use his expert grappling skills to ever-so-slowly drag Show over the top rope and out to the floor to win the match. It’s obviously sad how future events have changed the perception of events such as this, but in terms of pure drama, this was still a great finale to a classic Rumble match.
#14 “Rey Mysterio Did It!” (2006)
Although he had dedicated his 2006 Rumble entry to the memory of the recently-departed Eddie Guerrero, and was still involved at the end having entered at #2, it still seemed unlikely that Rey would outlast heavy favourites Triple H (who incidentally entered at #1) and Randy Orton (#30). But Mysterio pleasantly shocked everyone when he managed to eliminate HHH. This was a bigger shock than what would happen next, since Rey had now suddenly convinced many fans that he could win, which he did shortly afterwards when he reversed an Orton attack to throw him out and win the 2006 Rumble. Other Rumble winners had enjoyed greater momentum beforehand or provided a greater shock by winning (partly by never being announced as an entrant beforehand), but Mysterio’s Rumble win arguably put more smiles on people’s faces than any other Rumble triumph.
#13 Vince Outsmarts Austin (1999)
Depending on your point of view, you either loved or hated the 1999 Rumble, which was largely based around the Austin vs. McMahon feud. The match undoubtedly told a great story with Austin and McMahon starting the match, only for The Corporation to assault and hospitalise Stone Cold before an Austin return amongst a field of competitors motivated by a $100,000 prize if they eliminated Austin. Only Vince remained for Stone Cold to defeat, but after a distraction by The Rock, Vince snuck up on Austin and threw him out to win the match. At a time when the WWF/WWE could book a match to end with a dissatisfying outcome knowing that an eventual happy ending formed part of the bigger picture, it was a great move to have Mr. McMahon somehow win the Rumble, even if his victory seems farcical in hindsight. It also marked Vince’s first use of the No Chance In Hell theme song, which has since become his anthem.
#12 Well, The Referee Didn’t See It … (1997)
When your two feet hit the arena floor after being thrown over the top rope, you were out, no matter what. That was before 1997, when Stone Cold Steve Austin capitalised on a seemingly-obvious yet previously-unmentioned aspect of the Rumble rules: if you get thrown out but the referees don’t see it, were you really eliminated? Austin gave us the answer when, following a long and laudable performance from the #5 position, he was dumped out by arch rival Bret Hart but, with the official distracted by a ringside brawl involving Mankind and Terry Funk, Austin snuck back in, threw out The Undertaker and Vader, and then tossed out Bret to win the match, despite having technically been eliminated. Hart’s post-match rant was the first step towards his WrestleMania 13 heel turn, and whilst Austin became a true superstar that night by simultaneously turning face amidst their classic Submission match, the seeds for Austin’s super-stardom were planted by winning the ’97 Rumble in controversial fashion.
#11 A Phenomenal Debut (2016)
AJ Styles’ debut in the 2016 Rumble match had been rumoured for weeks, with AJ even informing a live crowd at an independent show that he may have planned to show up as a participant. But it didn’t reduce the impact (no pun intended) of the former face of TNA finally appearing in a WWE setting, and although AJ – entrant number three – wouldn’t win the Rumble, which had the WWE Championship at stake, his debut began what was a tremendous first year in WWE for The Phenomenal One.
#10 A Rated-R Return (2010)
Although nobody spread it as a rumour nor even suggested it, I had a sneaking suspicion that Edge might make a Cena-esque surprise return for the 2010 Rumble, seven months after being sidelined by a torn Achilles injury. Nevertheless, Edge came out unannounced at #29, eliciting a huge reaction, and after eliminating his former friend Chris Jericho, Edge went on to eliminate Cena to win the 2010 Rumble, a surprise result in what was another star-studded field. As great as this ending was, though, the precedent for this had been set by the runner-up, which I will cover shortly.
#9 What Were They Thinking? (2015)
I won’t go into full details of Daniel Bryan’s bizarrely-early elimination in the 2015 Rumble, coming one year after the backlash of there being no Bryan in the 2014 match, seemingly to prevent chosen one Roman Reigns from receiving similar negativity. If that was the intention, it backfired massively as the Philadelphia crowd angrily turned on the rest of the match, and heavily booed the final, equally poorly-booked sequence where Kane and Big Show – by now, two veterans way past their prime who had no chance of winning – eliminating everyone else so that Reigns would look stronger by ousting them. All I’ll say is that #CancelWWENetwork was trending on Twitter for hours after the Rumble, which tells you all you need to know about the most disastrous, yet undeniably memorable, Rumble moment ever.
#8 Batista & Cena’s Slip-up (2005)
When John Cena seemingly tried to reverse a Batista Bomb attempt in such a fashion that both men tumbled to the ringside floor at the end of the 2005 Rumble, it was a neat twist, and partly because both had been built up to potentially challenge for a championship at WrestleMania 21, there was real drama as the referees, led by Vince McMahon – who was uncharacteristically sat down – tried to decide who would win. The decision was made to avoid a 1994 co-winners situation, and so the match was restarted with Batista quickly winning. But the most fascinating aspect of this moment was that the entire climax was unplanned. Batista was meant to eliminate Cena in simple fashion; the near-repeat of 1994 was a major botch, and Vince was sat down because he tore one of his quadriceps muscles when he banged his knee against the ring apron (and tore his other quad muscle backstage after the show). It actually made for a better ending overall, and whilst Vince was likely ballistic at the time, it was undoubtedly an unforgettable way to close the 2005 Rumble.
#7 Two Titans Collide (1990)
Time stood still when Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior had the ring to themselves in the 1990 match; fans went crazy at the prospect of the WWF’s two most popular stars colliding, even if only for a few seconds. This was the prelude to their famous WrestleMania VI main event, and as brief and basic as it was, it was the most memorable Rumble moment not involving Ric Flair in its early years.
#6 A Classic Ending (2007)
Some years, the Rumble match dwindles down to the final two, and there’s an immediate conclusion. In other years, there’s a longer sequence of exchanges. If we’re judging Rumble climaxes by the latter standard, then none were better than the ending to the 2007 match where The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had a great back-and-forth exchange, at a time when the two legends hadn’t squared off for many years. Undertaker ultimately won, winning his only Rumble to date, but no matter who would have had their hand raised, it provided a fantastic finale for a Rumble which is often the recipient of high praise largely for the closing section alone.
#5 Bush-Wacky (1991)
This ranks so high simply because it’s a personal favourite of mine, and is one of the most genuinely funny wrestling moments ever. Bushwhacker Luke, a bit soft in the head who enjoys moving his arms up and down in sequence, entered in 1991 with his signature walk, was immediately guided out of the ring and eliminated by Earthquake in a non-violent manner, and then almost instantly began walking off to the dressing room, still performing his trademark taunt. If you haven’t seen it, you really should because it’s priceless. It was the highlight of a match which was won by the only realistic contender, Hulk Hogan.
#4 “This Is Not Fair To Flair!” (1992)
The 1992 Rumble as a whole is one fantastic moment in itself, being such a great match with plenty of drama driven by the wealth of stars involved and the vacant WWF Championship being at stake. Ric Flair at #3 had his finest hour (literally) in the WWF/WWE, pulling off a huge victory to culminate a classic performance. But the real star was Bobby Heenan on commentary, who was equal parts hilarious and believable in willing Flair onto win at every moment. Repeatedly noting how “this is not fair to Flair!”, The Brain had loads of other comedy gems to deliver, such as praising Roddy Piper one minute for saving Ric (“it’s not a skirt, it’s a kilt”) and turning on him seconds later when he beat up Flair some more (it’s not a kilt, it’s a skirt!”). The 1992 match was the best to date, but in terms of actual stand-alone moments, a couple pip it in this particular list.
#3 Who Won The Rumble? (1994)
In 1994, Bret Hart and Lex Luger entered as the favourites and although Bret competed with a “knee injury”, suffered earlier in the show amidst an Owen heel turn, they would ultimately be the final two entrants. Then came a totally unexpected double elimination which seemed to serve as a popularity test, a contest that Bret won hands-down. He didn’t win the Rumble, though; at least not entirely, as he and Luger were declared co-winners. It seemed a bit of a cop-out, but it set the stage brilliantly for WrestleMania X and the two WWF Title matches on that card, and was a Rumble ending that nobody who watched it at the time will ever forget.
#2 “Only One Of Shawn Michaels’ Feet Hit The Floor” (1995)
The above quote came from ring announcer Howard Finkel in explaining why Michaels was able to re-enter the ring and eliminate The British Bulldog, having seemingly just been eliminated, to win the 1995 Rumble. That Shawn and Bulldog were entrants #1 and #2 respectively made this even more of a historic Rumble moment, and while it came during a down-time for the WWF, and during arguably the worst Rumble match ever, it remains a classic Rumble incident that would result in similar incidents adhering to the “Shawn Michaels rule” in the future. It was a great swerve, but to me, there’s one Rumble moment that topped it …
#1 “It’s John Cena!” (2008)
On paper, John Cena winning the Royal Rumble match is nothing to shout about; see 2013 for evidence of this. However, his 2008 victory was entirely unexpected; as a matter of fact, he wasn’t expected to compete for several months after Rumble ’08, due to a torn pectoral injury suffered in October 2007. Having been told that he would be sidelined until the summer of the following year, and since the Internet had grown to such a level by this point that any and all surprises were generally spoiled in advance, fans in Madison Square Garden and those watching around the world were stunned when Cena came out as #30, and quickly showed that he was (visually, at least) completely recovered and ready to make his return. Minutes later, Cena had dumped out Triple H to earn a WWE Title shot at WrestleMania XXIV (which he would actually use at No Way Out, although he ended up in the Mania main event anyway). Having already been considered the face of the Ruthless Aggression era in WWE for a while, this win – Cena’s first Rumble triumph – arguably put him over as WWE’s top man, since no other full-timer on the roster at the time could have made such an impact with a surprise return (see Edge in 2010). When you think of why so many people look forward to the Rumble every year, this shock return/victory was the perfect example, and in my opinion the greatest Royal Rumble moment of all-time.
Of course, every list is subjective, and there have been some other hidden gems (like the brief Raw-SmackDown square-off and the igniting of the Kurt Angle-Shawn Michaels rivalry, both from the 2005 match) which aren’t listed here. But all of this demonstrates just how memorable, historic and entertaining the Royal Rumble match has been down the years, and unlike any other event, literally anybody can create a cool Rumble moment, from a stunning elimination to an equally-impressive escape from elimination, from a major debut to a surprise return, and from a shocking non-victory to a popular triumph. It remains to be seen as to what memories the 2017 Royal Rumble will create but, given the participants who have been announced so far and the plethora of possibilities that the star-studded field throws up, there’s an excellent chance that the 30th annual Rumble will give us plenty more to talk about, as will future editions of what is WWE’s most anticipated annual match-up, an attraction second only to the big one, WrestleMania.
So, I hope you enjoyed this article, and hopefully this served as good preparation for the mega-match on January 29. Now, as Vince McMahon used to say, “IT’S TIME TO RUMMBBLLEE! IT’S TIME FOR THE ROYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYALLL RUMMMBBBLLLEEE!”