Every Royal Rumble Winner in WWE History Ranked

From 1988 to 2019, here's a look at every Royal Rumble winner in terms of performance and their marks on history.

It’s Royal Rumble season! Since 1988, the annual WWE event has made for some of the most entertaining hours in wrestling. Even when the company is in dire straits creatively, there’s always some fun to be had with the Royal Rumble match. It’s a big party. A who’s who filled with unpredictability and a setup that’s primed for innovation.

It’s also a cog in a bigger part of WWE’s storytelling in that, for the most part, it’s supposed to be the springboard to WrestleMania. Despite the random feel of the show, you sadly won’t see too many actual underdogs come out on top. It’s always going to be someone the company wants to push to the top. Whether that works out is another story.

I’ve decided to rank all of the winners from worst to best. I’m measuring them on four things. First, the drama of their Rumble entry. Is there an actual decent story being told? Second, their performance. Cleaning house for ten seconds, spending fifteen minutes sleeping in the corner, then throwing out a couple of guys in the final minute isn’t going to cut it. Third, the ending of the match. Fourth, the aftermath. If the Royal Rumble is such a big deal, does this wrestler’s career really capitalize on his success?

Even though there have been 31 Royal Rumble shows, the list features 38 names. 1994’s Rumble had dual winners in Lex Luger and Bret Hart. 2000’s Rumble had Rock win initially, but it was later overturned and Big Show was recognized as the rightful winner (which the Rock once brought up for laughs). Then there’s the 2004 SmackDown Royal Rumble, a 15-man match thrown together to figure out who would face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at No Way Out.

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Now let’s get to the list. The bottom of the barrel shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BATISTA (2014)

38. BATISTA (2014)

Batista left WWE for four years after proving that he’s a million times more entertaining as a heel than a face whose only characteristic is, “Is always champion or number one contender.” Batista returned just in time for Royal Rumble 2014 and although his return popped a pretty nice rating, his stance as the big, returning hero ran out of gas almost as fast as Batista did in the ring. His first match back was the Royal Rumble match, where fans were confused over whether or not the more fitting winner Daniel Bryan was in the match to begin with.

As of #30, they discovered Bryan wasn’t and boy oh boy did that cause a happening.

Performance: Batista came in at a late #28, where he promptly took out Erick Rowan, Ryback, and Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio was played up as a rival to Batista going into this match, though calling that one-sided garbage a “feud” is stretching it. Batista looked terrible due to some really bad cardio, and was a winded mess during his 13 minutes in there.

Ending: The final four gave us Batista, CM Punk, Sheamus, and Roman Reigns. Punk got pulled out of the ring by Kane, who then proceeded to chokeslam him through a table, giving us our final appearance of Punk on WWE TV until 2019. The crowd turned on the final three and eventually sided with Reigns, who eliminated Sheamus, and took down Batista with a spear. After hitting that finisher, Reigns tried to throw Batista out of the ring, only for Batista to no-sell it, spin around, and throw Reigns out instead. The show ended with Batista being booed to oblivion while Michael Cole told us, “Deal with it!”

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Aftermath: The intended Batista vs. Orton main event of WrestleMania XXX was thrown in disarray by the negative response. It wasn’t just the fans in Pittsburgh. The whole fanbase turned on Batista and backstage, Batista himself thought it was a dumb move. They had no choice but to turn him heel and make the main event about Daniel Bryan, who proceeded to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Batista spent the next couple of months as a part of Evolution, losing to the Shield a couple times before retiring once again. So yeah, that didn’t work out.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - ROMAN REIGNS (2015)

37. ROMAN REIGNS (2015)

WWE spent several years building up Roman Reigns as the Juggernaut of the Shield and when the team split up, he was obviously going to be the one to step up and be the new face of the company by eventually toppling Brock Lesnar. Unfortunately, Reigns was injured and spent several months on the shelf. Despite his organic rise to the top, the company became afraid of what being off TV would mean and tried to force-feed Reigns on fans as much as possible via pointless and empty satellite interviews. When he did come back, he started cutting weird promos where he quoted Sylvester the Cat and talked about magic beans.

With the Rumble coming up, Reigns appeared to be one of the only viable winners. The other was Daniel Bryan, who was making his return to the ring after losing his title via forfeit months earlier. The previous Rumble was panned for being tone deaf over not utilizing Bryan correctly. So were they going to give the fans what they wanted or were they going to tell the fans what they wanted?

Bryan got eliminated about halfway into the match with little fanfare. Uh oh.

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Performance: In 2014, Roman Reigns was unstoppable. He broke the record for most eliminations ever and looked so good that despite being a heel, the fans cheered him immensely over Sheamus and Batista in the finals. If we got that kind of Reigns booking, maybe 2015’s Rumble wouldn’t have been such a disaster. Even if you ignore the crowd’s utter disgust at Bryan being eliminated so early, Reigns looked like garbage in this match. He did some initial eliminations against Goldust and Stardust, then assisted Ambrose in taking out Titus O’Neil (in a failed attempt to break the quickest elimination record), but spent the rest of the match on his back.

Ending: When left in the ring with Kane and Big Show, the crowd didn’t have a lesser evil this time. Everyone was a bad choice to win. Reigns eliminated both of them in a way that looked less badass and more sneaky, then had the hilarious moment where the Rock ran out to help fight them off. The crowd booed the hell out of this and the Rock looked genuinely shocked and annoyed by the reaction. Rusev was still legal in the match and the crowd cheered him on because he fit in perfectly as the lesser evil. Regardless, Reigns made short work of him and eliminated him to a chorus of boos.

read more: The Wrestlers Who Started the Royal Rumble Match

Aftermath: Unlike with Batista, WWE wasn’t going to budge when it came to the crowd’s love for Bryan. Sure, they’d dangle the possibility in front of our faces, but they’d simply use that as a selling point for the next PPV, where Reigns would beat him and solidify a Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar main event at WrestleMania. The build was pretty underwhelming and when it came time for the match, Seth Rollins stole the win via Money in the Bank. Reigns spent months being rebuilt, but eventually became champ with the crowd hating him considerably less. So that’s something.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN (1988)

36. HACKSAW JIM DUGGAN (1988)

The very first Royal Rumble match (at least the first one televised) was sold on the gimmick and nothing else. There was no story going in and no prize outside of bragging rights. Twenty midcarders would enter and brawl for 33 minutes. It didn’t even get the main event spot. That instead went to the Young Stallions vs. the Islanders. Neither were the tag champs and the heel team won. Go figure.

Performance: Brawling was Hacksaw’s strong point, so that helped. The whole thing was a boring slosh of a half hour, but at least Hacksaw proved he deserved to win by acting like he actually gave a damn. He injected just enough energy to make him stand out. He arrived at #13 and took out the likes of Nikolai Volkoff and Danny Davis over the course of his time in the match.

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read more: The Top 100 Royal Rumble Moments in WWE History

Ending: Hacksaw was forced to face Dino Bravo and the odds-on-favorite One Man Gang. The odds got better once Gang accidentally clobbered Dino and knocked him out of the ring. Gang still overpowered Hacksaw, but when running full-steam at the patriotic caveman, Hacksaw ducked down and pulled down the top rope, causing One Man Gang to spill to the outside. Not the worst way to end the initial match.

Aftermath: Hacksaw remained a popular face for years, but the Royal Rumble never gave him any real boost. He took part in the WrestleMania IV 14-man tournament for the vacant WWF Championship, but lost in the opening round against Ted Dibiase in mere minutes.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - ALBERTO DEL RIO (2011)

35. ALBERTO DEL RIO (2011)

In late-2010/early-2011, Alberto Del Rio was a can’t-miss prospect. Handsome and great in the ring, he became a big deal fairly quick, booked strongly and coming off as equal parts charming and slimy. The 2011 Royal Rumble was built up as being the biggest Royal Rumble ever with 40 entries instead of the traditional 30. While favorites included John Cena, Randy Orton, and Nexus leader CM Punk, Alberto Del Rio was off on the side, swearing that winning the match was his destiny.

Performance: Del Rio’s performance in this match was a big dud. He did a big pile of nothing. Coming out at #38, he spent so long getting to the ring that Randy Orton jumped him from behind at #39. Del Rio faded into the background for the following few minutes until the ending.

Ending: As Randy Orton eliminated Wade Barrett, Del Rio sprung into action and threw Orton out from behind. It seemed that Del Rio was the winner, but there was one more obstacle to face. Earlier on, Santino Marella was knocked to the outside without getting thrown over the top rope. Still in play, he entered the ring and dropped Del Rio with the Cobra. He celebrated his impending win and tried to throw Del Rio out. Del Rio spun at the last second and threw Santino out. The same as the Batista/Reigns ending in 2014, only it made more sense due to playing on Del Rio as a heel and snuffing out Santino’s hope.

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read more: The Worst Royal Rumble Moments in WWE History

Aftermath: Man, Del Rio got boned hard here. He set his sights on Edge’s World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, which made enough sense, but went horribly wrong for him. In the build-up, Del Rio lost several matches cleanly to Christian. Then his “main event title shot” at WrestleMania XXVII opened the show and he again lost cleanly, followed by being humiliated by Edge and Christian destroying his fancy car. Edge retired immediately after, setting up a title match between Del Rio and Christian. Christian won. Del Rio would get a couple world title reigns down the line, but he would never have that momentum like he did in early 2011.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BIG SHOW (2000)

34. BIG SHOW (2000)

“The Big Show” Paul Wight had been in the WWF for just under a year and was definitely a favorite to win his first Royal Rumble. While he was a face going in, Show grew frustrated at the lack of respect from the Rock, who regularly downplayed Show’s chances. The two of them and Kane appeared to be the only viable winners and it led to a lot of bad blood.

Performance: Big Show didn’t really seem like much of a monster here. Entering at #26, he eliminated Gangrel and Test immediately, then became just another competitor. He did throw out the Godfather, but that’s about it until…

Ending: Although thrown out of the ring, X-Pac’s elimination was unseen by the refs, so he slid back in and kicked Kane out of there. Big Show got his hands on X-Pac and sent him flying to the outside. That left Big Show and Rock, where Big Show proceeded to dominate. He crushed Rock with a chokeslam, held him over his shoulder, and ran towards the ropes with intent to torpedo him to the outside. Rock grabbed the top rope, flipped forward, and sent Big Show to the floor while being able to pull himself back in. Rock won and celebrated his win, but then Big Show returned to lay him out.

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Aftermath: Big Show swore that he really won the match and ended up proving it by showing footage of Rock’s feet hitting the floor during that “skin the cat” spot. They had a match at No Way Out for the WrestleMania title shot and thanks to some interference by Shane McMahon, Big Show won. Ultimately, the main event of WrestleMania 2000 became a four-way elimination match between WWF Champion Triple H, Rock, Big Show, and Mick Foley. Big Show was eliminated in under five minutes.

Shortly after WrestleMania, Big Show was reprimanded for his excessive weight and lack of stamina, punished by a demotion to OVW. Part of the punishment involved being omitted from the video game WWF No Mercy, which meant the storyline based on Royal Rumble 2000 and WrestleMania 2000 had Steven Richards in Big Show’s spot as “the rightful winner.”

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - THE ROCK (2000)

33. THE ROCK (2000)

Although he had already been WWF Champion several times as the top heel, this was the Rock’s year to win the Royal Rumble due to his fire as a major face. The Rock’s confidence got him in trouble leading into the match, especially when he proceeded to insult Big Show and Kane by claiming that his two biggest obstacles would really be Crash Holly and Headbanger Mosh.

read more: Complete List of Upcoming Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Movies

Performance: Despite owning the show two years prior, Rock refused to make an impact in the match. Like Big Show, he took out two guys (Big Boss Man and Crash Holly) almost immediately after coming in at #24, then meandered around, throwing out Al Snow later on to little fanfare. Considering how this was Rock’s only Rumble victory, it’s a bit deflating to see how by the numbers it was.

Ending: See above.

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Aftermath: As mentioned in the last entry, it was decided that Rock’s feet touched the floor, so he had to put the title shot on the line against Big Show at No Way Out. Big Show won due to tomfoolery and Rock was eventually thrown into the main event of WrestleMania 2000 anyway. Despite making it to the final two in the elimination match, Rock lost to Triple H, becoming the first WrestleMania where the heel won the last match. Rock finally (FINALLY!) got his long-awaited win at the following PPV Backlash where he once again became WWF Champion and continued being one of the two top stars of the era.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - JOHN CENA (2013)

32. JOHN CENA (2013)

Royal Rumble 2013 had an underlying feeling of, “Are they really going to go through with this?” With a main event of CM Punk defending the WWE Championship against the Rock, it was looking like we’d be seeing Rock as the champ at WrestleMania. Naturally, that meant that John Cena would need to win the Royal Rumble in order to get his win back from the previous year’s “One in a Lifetime” main event. On the go-home edition of Raw, Cena proceeded to give one of his worst promos, which consisted of him talking about how Cesaro’s nipples look like pepperonis.

Performance: Cena came out at #19, a rarity in that winners usually come out within the first or last ten of the match. Granted, his entrance was pretty cool with a bunch of midcard heels ready to go after him, but after getting rid of the likes of Heath Slater and Cody Rhodes, he started getting beat up by Bo Dallas. Yeah. Not even Bo-lieve Bo Dallas either, but generic NXT face guest appearance Bo Dallas. Cena proceeded to sleep through the rest of the match until it was just him and Ryback left.

read more: Ranking Every WWE Royal Rumble

Ending: Ryback came in at #30 and despite having lost a bunch of title shots lately, he still had some main event juice left in him. The battle started out strong, but lost steam when Cena knocked Ryback out with the STF. He attempted to hoist Ryback over the top, but Ryback came to and took down Cena with a… second-rope Lou Thesz press into his transitional “slam your head into the mat a few times” spot. Ryback figured that was enough and tried to carry Cena out over his shoulder. Cena slipped out the back and sloppily shoved Ryback over the top rope.

Aftermath: Giving us months of sarcastic “Twice in a Lifetime” jokes from all over the internet, Cena had a pretty great follow-up. Even though he lost a six-man tag match against the Shield at Elimination Chamber, he proceeded to defeat CM Punk in their final and possibly best singles match where Cena’s title shot was on the line. Cena beat Rock for the title at WrestleMania 29. Cena held onto the championship for quite a while, eventually having to drop it to Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam due to a gross growth in Cena’s arm forcing him to take time off.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (2018)

31. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (2018)

Nakamura’s rise to Royal Rumble winner was a little touch-and-go. The former star of New Japan Pro Wrestling had a fantastic run in NXT and when he jumped to the main roster, they both seemed high on him and also unsure of how to use him. He was a bit underutilized, but protected. He even got a clean win over John Cena that sprung him into a world title feud against Jinder Mahal that only proceeded to damage his brand because he was constantly losing to Jinder freaking Mahal. WWE used him as a cog in the endless Shane McMahon/Kevin Owens feud, but they definitely weren’t burying him.

If anything, it spoke volumes that they hinted at Nakamura vs. AJ Styles during Money in the Bank, but never acted on it. The Royal Rumble didn’t have a clear winner going into it and while it was obvious we were getting Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, the fact that Roman was only announced for the Rumble during the weekend of the show made his chances seem dubious.

read more: Royal Rumble Battles From Outside WWE

Performance: Showing up at #14, Nakamura entered a ring full of beaten opponents and kicked some ass for a bit until centering his attention on Sami Zayn. Once he got rid of Sami, Nakamura simply faded into the background. It says a lot that once Dolph Ziggler arrived at #30 and nailed Nakamura with a Zigzag, Jerry Lawler outright admitted that he completely forgot Nakamura was even in the match. Not a good sign.

Ending: The final four had Nakamura and his indies buddy Finn Balor facing off against John Cena and Roman Reigns. Finn wasn’t long for the match and Nakamura had to fend off against the two biggest names of the era. He was able to get Cena onto the apron, sidestep a backdrop attempt, and then catch him with a Kinshasa. Cena was gone.

Roman took control and things slowed down quite a bit. He simply couldn’t get Nakamura away, even when he intercepted a Kinshasa attempt with a spear. Roman went for a second spear, only this time he was intercepted with a Kinshasa. Roman bounced back to his feet, dazed, and Nakamura easily threw him to the outside.

Aftermath: So by this point in the night, AJ Styles had already retained the WWE Championship, but we had yet to see Brock Lesnar defend the Universal Championship against Braun Strowman and Kane. Yet…they still asked Nakamura who he planned to challenge. Of course he went with AJ. After all, the two had a well-received match in NJPW and they had been keeping them separate on SmackDown.

Nakamura lost at WrestleMania and immediately turned heel. He had a series of matches against AJ built around 1) Nakamura constantly hitting AJ in the junk and 2) AJ constantly retaining. Nakamura then won the United States Championship and the writers seemingly forgot he was even around. Even winning that title was more like background noise to the Jeff Hardy/Randy Orton feud.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - VINCE MCMAHON (1999)

30. VINCE MCMAHON (1999)

Although Steve Austin was put into the Royal Rumble, McMahon deemed that he would have no chance in hell of winning. He put a massive bounty on Austin’s head, assigned him #1, and entered himself in as well at #30. Commissioner Shawn Michaels changed McMahon’s entry to #2, driving him insane with fear. Though McMahon trained himself harder than ever, he did try to loophole himself into the #30 spot with a DX vs. Corporation Royal Rumble match, but Chyna came out the winner instead.

Performance: Despite his early number, McMahon was only in the ring for a few minutes. Austin beat the tar out of him until Golga came in at #3 and was enough of a distraction that McMahon was able to sneak out. He lured Austin into a bathroom, where the Corporation ambushed and hospitalized him. Late into the match, McMahon returned for some enjoyable commentary, but Austin made his own return and ultimately cleared the ring.

read more: Royal Rumble – The One-Timers Club

Ending: Austin beat McMahon into oblivion and you have to give the crazy old man credit for enduring such a thrashing. When Austin was prepared to end it, WWF Champion the Rock came out and got in an altercation with Austin. This distraction allowed McMahon to sneak up and throw Austin out. Yes, Vince McMahon won the Royal Rumble at #2 with only one elimination to his name.

Aftermath: The condescending McMahon decided to forego his WrestleMania title shot. Commissioner Michaels got back at him by claiming that Austin, the runner up, was going to be the #1 contender. Despite McMahon’s many attempts, he couldn’t stop Austin from regaining the WWF Championship at WrestleMania and endured several beatings along the way.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - EDGE (2010)

29. EDGE (2010)

Sneaky Canadian heel Edge found a strong partner in sneaky Canadian heel Chris Jericho and they even became the tag champs, but shortly after, Edge tore his Achilles and was put on the shelf. Edge wasn’t expected back for another year and already, Jericho was burying him in his promos for being a disappointment. There was no clear winner going into Royal Rumble 2010, what with it featuring the likes of John Cena, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Batista, Chris Jericho, and CM Punk.

Performance: Edge arrived at #29 to a great surprise pop with a shocked Chris Jericho standing in the middle of the ring. Edge quickly delivered spears all over the place and threw out Jericho rather quickly. Edge came back from injury too fast and was looking a bit doughy while also not in the best ring shape. Luckily, they were able to hide this by tossing him into a pretty star-studded final four of Edge, Cena, Batista, and Michaels. Still, it says a lot that Edge is the Royal Rumble winner with the record of least amount of time in the match. I even remember him being momentarily down for the count and commentator Matt Striker talked up Edge coming back perhaps too soon for the sake of giving his win some drama. Lawler immediately shouted at him to shut up. Real professional, that guy.

read more: The Wrestlers Who Have Never Won a WWE Royal Rumble

Ending: Edge was off his feet for a while and in the interim, Batista eliminated Shawn Michaels (which was amazing due to Michaels’ mental breakdown) and then went on to take on Cena. Cena ducked as Batista rushed him, causing Batista to tumble to the floor. Cena slowly got to his feet while Edge prepped up a spear. Cena stopped it with a kick and tried to shove Edge out. Edge sidestepped the attempt and threw Cena out instead, giving us the shocking return win.

Aftermath: Things didn’t work out so well for Edge’s Royal Rumble victory. Chris Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber, meaning Edge would get a title shot against him. Coincidentally, the same event had John Cena vs. Batista for the WWE Championship, meaning the final four of the Rumble match gave us the two world title matches. Edge proceeded to lose to Jericho and was taken out of the title picture completely once Jack Swagger stole the belt from Jericho days later via his Money in the Bank briefcase. It was decided that Edge’s face run wasn’t working, especially since his, “Spear! Spear! Spear!” catchphrase wasn’t catching on. He quickly turned heel again in order to feud with Randy Orton.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - RANDY ORTON (2017)

28. RANDY ORTON (2017)

Randy Orton was laying low, but kicking ass in a time when SmackDown was hitting a creative peak. His feud with Bray Wyatt transitioned into Orton deciding to become his disciple and soon they held the tag team gold. Their teamwork led to them winning Survivor Series for SmackDown and the only one causing him any problems was Wyatt’s other follower Luke Harper. Even though Wyatt and Orton were successful as a team, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped and Orton exacted his revenge.

Performance: Orton did some good work here, all things considered. Like practically every Orton Rumble appearance, he came out of the gate hitting powerslams and RKOs over and over again…though the tempo was off and they kind of botched the timing at one point. He and Wyatt did some strong story stuff with Luke Harper and all was good until the match started to focus on the likes of Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, and Undertaker. Orton ate an F5 and remained a background player for the remainder.

Ending: Roman Reigns appeared at #30 after having lost his singles match for the Universal Championship. Roman eliminated Undertaker and Chris Jericho, adding to the crowd hate. Soon it was just Roman vs. Orton and Wyatt, just like at Survivor Series, and while Roman spammed the Superman Punch to get rid of Wyatt, his spear attempt was reversed into an RKO, which bounced him back up and left him open to be clotheslined out of the ring. Crisp as hell.

So in summary: WWE brought in their top face so that the fans would boo him as a heel and instead support the heel who was secretly a face all along. I love wrestling.

Aftermath: Here’s the good news: Randy Orton won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. That sounds all fantastic, but it came at a horrible price. See, Wyatt became WWE Champion at Elimination Chamber and Orton acted like he wasn’t going to face him at WrestleMania regardless due to their partnership. Then Orton betrayed Wyatt and burned down his shack in one of the more over-the-top moments in recent WWE memory. That was pretty sweet, but it all went downhill from there.

Their WrestleMania match was mediocre and included footage of worms and roaches being projected onto the mat. This did nothing in the end, as Orton won with a random RKO. Orton ultimately lost the feud via one of the dumbest matches in WWE history and while he held onto the title due to Wyatt being traded to Raw, he quickly lost his title to Jinder Mahal and lost THAT feud too. Orton stopped really having anything resembling a story and faded into near obscurity.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - SHEAMUS (2012)

27. SHEAMUS (2012)

I feel bad for Sheamus. Dude is talented and deserves to be a top player, but he’s become the poster boy for WWE forcing bad decisions upon the populace. You know, like WWE insisting that WWE 2K13 should have had Sheamus on the cover despite 2K Sports insisting that Punk would be better. Under any other circumstances, Sheamus winning the Royal Rumble would make plenty of sense, but this was a match tailor made for Chris Jericho to win. Jericho came back with a ridiculous storyline filled with cryptic videos about the world ending and quiet promos and electric jackets where the only correct payoff would be a heelish Royal Rumble win leading to an earned WrestleMania title shot. Unfortunately, WWE has a tendency to mistake unpredictability for good storytelling.

Performance: At #22, Sheamus came in full of fire, eliminating Kofi Kingston, delivering the Beats of the Bodhrán to the Miz and Cody Rhodes, then shrugging off Dolph Ziggler’s attempt at the Zigzag. He didn’t do all that much after that (his elimination of Jack Swagger was more Big Show’s doing), but he certainly made up for it during the final minutes.

Ending: The final four were Big Show, Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Chris Jericho. It took Sheamus and Orton’s teamwork to take out Big Show and Jericho capitalized by throwing out Orton. That left Sheamus and Jericho, who proceeded to put on a battle royal clinic for several minutes. Lots of near-eliminations and fantastic drama that finally came to an end when Sheamus launched Jericho off the apron with the Brogue Kick.

Aftermath: Again, the whims of the WWE hurt Sheamus. He went after Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania (Sheamus didn’t even have a match at Elimination Chamber) and their match for the World Heavyweight Championship was the opening contest. The match itself ended in 18 seconds with Sheamus winning, but did more damage than anything else. There was a notable backlash against Sheamus. Still, his run with the World Heavyweight Championship lasted quite a while, even if it was muddied under a never-ending feud with Alberto Del Rio.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BIG JOHN STUDD (1989)

26. BIG JOHN STUDD (1989)

The Royal Rumble’s second outing had more pizzazz to it as it was no longer just a throwaway match for midcarders. It was a place for all the top names in the company, including Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Bad News Brown, Big John Studd, Ted Dibiase, the Twin Towers, and so on. This was the first of two Rumbles to have the WWF Champion (Savage) in the match, so there was no reward outside of bragging rights and presumably a big winner’s purse. Ted Dibiase threw a lot of money around in hopes to increase his chances at winning. I guess he was just in it for the bragging rights.

Performance: Big John Studd came in at #27 and by then, Hogan and Savage were already gone due to their own egos clashing and the unfortunate situation of the Twin Towers coming out consecutively (strongly suggested to be Dibiase’s doing). Studd spent most of his time trading blows with Akeem and when fellow faces Brutus Beefcake and Rick Martel would try to assist him, he’d just smash their faces in and go back to fighting alone. For the most part, that kept him off the radar while the rest of the ring got emptied out.

Ending: After Akeem disposed of Rick Martel, we were left with Studd vs. Akeem and Dibiase (who came out at #30). Studd took a lot of damage until saving himself from an Avalanche by pulling in Dibiase as a shield. With Akeem tending to Dibiase, Studd clobbered him in the back and caused him to tumble to the outside. There we had a most wonderful finale where a desperate Dibiase tried to buy off Studd to no avail. Studd destroyed Dibiase with a set of suplexes, including a fantastic double-armed suplex that went the length of the ring. It was less about Studd winning and more about Dibiase getting his comeuppance. He threw out Dibiase like yesterday’s garbage, then dealt with Virgil as an added bonus.

Aftermath: It’s hard to really grade Studd on the aftermath of his Rumble win. Unlike other winners, this win wasn’t about pushing him towards the future but rewarding him for the past. During this time, Studd had returned from retirement and lasted only a little while due to ailing health. As a guy who never won a major title in his WWF career, being the winner of the 1989 Royal Rumble was a definite gold watch. Studd appeared at WrestleMania V as a special referee for Jake Roberts vs. Andre the Giant, but was gone from the company only a couple of months later.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - HULK HOGAN (1991)

25. HULK HOGAN (1991)

The first Gulf War was in effect and Sergeant Slaughter had just defeated the Ultimate Warrior to become WWF Champion. While there was no automatic title shot at the Royal Rumble yet, surely winning it would get you a nod in that direction. Hulk Hogan dedicated the match to the armed forces fighting Saddam and swore to take the belt back from Slaughter. Of course it helped his chances that the only other guy with any possibility of winning, Randy Savage, would end up no-showing the match due to being hunted down by the Warrior.

Performance: Hogan was in at #24, memorable for me because of an excited child yelling, “IT’S HULK HOGAN!” a second before he ran out. Everyone went right after him when he entered to slow him down, but he still did a great job throughout. Over the course of the match, he ended up eliminating seven guys, including both members of Demolition, Greg Valentine, Warlord, and his good buddy Tugboat. Because if there’s anything Hogan’s consistent about in Royal Rumbles, it’s being a jerk to his friends. The match was severely lacking in star power with Savage’s no-show and Undertaker being a little too new, so Hogan’s charisma and showmanship had to make up for it.

Ending: For the fourth year in a row, they did an ending where two heels teamed up on one face and the face won. Hogan won the year prior and it was booked perfectly. Here, it was lazy as Hell. Earthquake and Brian Knobbs worked over Hogan, but rather than outsmart them, Hogan just Hulked Up. Twice. Like, I know his no-selling thing is his Popeye’s spinach and all, but twice over the course of a couple minutes? It was so unnecessary. Hogan finally won by bodyslamming Earthquake, then doing a running clothesline to the back that caused Earthquake to run over the top rope.

Aftermath: Again, it wasn’t part of the rules yet, but Hulk Hogan was the first guy to win the Royal Rumble and go on to be #1 contender at WrestleMania. At WrestleMania VII, he took on Sergeant Slaughter and won in a rather crappy match. Hogan dominated the feud through the summer with the help of the Ultimate Warrior (who then got fired) and dropped the belt to the Undertaker in November at Survivor Series due to interference. So yeah, he did pretty well for himself.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BRAUN STROWMAN (2018, GRR)

24. BRAUN STROWMAN (2018, GRR)

Braun was always at the cusp of being the top guy, but the company’s love affair with Roman Reigns prevented them from pulling the trigger. After a couple failed attempts at Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship and losing at Elimination Chamber, Braun’s WrestleMania storyline had him win the tag titles with a little boy as his partner. He was extremely popular and the brass was very much behind him, but only as long as he didn’t become champion.

Good thing they had a pointless Royal Rumble coming up.

Performance: Braun was #41 and immediately tossed out four guys. Everyone else teamed up on them, only for Braun to shrug them off, toss out two more guys, then chase Curt Hawkins, who decided to quit before his entrance finished. Although he was beaten down by the opposition and took a breather, Braun made the most of his 22 minutes by acting like an unstoppable juggernaut during much of it.

By the time the match was over, he ended up with 13 victims to his name, which is impressive as hell.

Ending: Braun recovered from a beating and made himself known by throwing Shane McMahon off the top rope and through an announce table. He proceeded to eliminate everyone one after another until Daniel Bryan stood up to him. Bryan stunned Braun, only to be intercepted by Big Cass. Cass eliminated Bryan and then took to clotheslining Braun a few times. Braun blocked a couple shots from Cass, draped him crotch-first onto the top rope, and shoulder-blocked him to the floor.

Rough when you’re the third best Rumble ending of the year.

Aftermath: Braun didn’t earn anything special by winning the Greatest Royal Rumble, but the immediate aftermath was pretty good for him. He entered Money in the Bank and even with everyone gunning for him, Braun still dominated and came out the winner. Unfortunately, with the Shield reuniting, Braun not only turned heel by aligning with Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler, but he also wasted his Money in the Bank briefcase on an outright terrible Hell in a Cell match that made he and Roman look like dorks.

Even with Roman taken out of the picture, Braun has yet to truly break out as the top face.

read more: Royal Rumble: Battles From Outside of WWE

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - JOHN CENA (2008)

23. JOHN CENA (2008)

John Cena had been out with an injury since October due to a botched hiptoss (though kayfabe blamed on Randy Orton beating him down). He was expected to be back months later, but they secretly brought him into Madison Square Garden to take part in the Royal Rumble. Without knowledge of that, the most likely winner of the match would have been Triple H, although the match was still stacked with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Batista, and Umaga.

Performance: Cena walked out at #30, which came with a response of, “OH MY GOD, IT’S JOHN CENA! YAY! Wait…I hate John Cena! BOO!” It was exciting to say the least and the camera setup in MSG with the entrance ramp behind the ring made it even better. He ended up clearing the ring of Carlito, Chavo Guerrero, and Mark Henry within five seconds total, then went at it with Triple H. Due to his late spot and lack of fully healing, he spent a minor amount of time in the match in total, but he made those minutes pretty damn fun.

Ending: The final three were the three main faces of the company at the time: Cena vs. Triple H vs. Batista. Each guy taunted their opponents, then they all went at it. Batista lost first with Cena countering out of a Batista Bomb and Triple H taking advantage by clotheslining Batista out. That left Cena vs. Triple H in a fun ending where the crowd was more behind Triple H. After a series of counters, Cena turned a Pedigree into an Attitude Adjustment that flung Triple H from the ring.

Aftermath: Despite the exciting return and win, Cena’s post-Rumble time didn’t work out so well. He chose to move his WrestleMania title shot to No Way Out and fought Randy Orton for the WWE Championship. Orton got himself disqualified, meaning no belt for Cena. They put the two of them and Triple H into a triple threat at WrestleMania XXIV, but once again, Orton came out as champ. Cena failed to capture the title in the following months and fell out of the title picture for a little while.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - LEX LUGER (1994)

22. LEX LUGER (1994)

Upon becoming the company’s top face on July 4th by bodyslamming WWF Champion Yokozuna on the USS Intrepid, Lex Luger spent the summer chasing Yokozuna towards a title shot, culminating at SummerSlam. It was agreed that if Luger didn’t win the belt, he wouldn’t get another title shot. Though Luger won the match, it was by count-out. He couldn’t challenge for the belt again, but the Royal Rumble acted as a loophole. Not wanting Luger to come out the winner, Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji hired Genichiro Tenryu and the Great Kabuki as mercenaries specifically to target Luger.

Performance: During the match, Luger was shown backstage, having been beaten down by Tenryu and Kabuki. He later came in at #23 and showed some nice babyface fire throughout the match. He started out cleaning house and got some revenge by taking out the Great Kabuki. He slowed down after going up against Tenryu, which made sense. He got a decent amount of eliminations, got to show a pulse here and there, and took out Bam Bam Bigelow in one of the coolest-looking elimination spots in Rumble history.

Ending: After Luger finally got rid of Tenryu, it was down to he and Bret Hart taking on Shawn Michaels and – of all people – Fatu of the Headshrinkers. It was a good two-on-two battle that ended with Luger backdropping Michaels to the outside while Bret did the same to Fatu. The two mega-faces battled it out for a brief moment until both tumbled over the top rope and fell to the floor. There was no camera on that end, so nobody could get a clear look at who won. The referees argued, but eventually Jack Tunney – in one of his final presidential decisions – came out to regard them as co-winners. A classic ending that really added intrigue to WrestleMania X’s main event, though the Bret/Luger face-off should have been longer.

Aftermath: At WrestleMania X, a quasi-tournament was held where Bret would face Owen in a match and regardless of the winner, Bret would move on to face the winner of Luger/Yokozuna in the main event. Luger’s match with Yokozuna had Mr. Perfect as the special guest referee, who proceeded to disqualify Luger for BS reasons. Nothing ever came of this and Luger just feuded briefly with Crush until being stuck in a lengthy feud with Ted Dibiase’s Corporation. It was a story where Luger ended up losing at every turn, including the blow-off at Survivor Series. His Royal Rumble win was his last moment of legitimacy in WWF, but Bret’s overwhelming popularity made it apparent who to crown as champion.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - HULK HOGAN (1990)

21. HULK HOGAN (1990)

Despite being the WWF Champion, Hulk Hogan would take part in the Royal Rumble match, which was an amazing collection of late-80s/early-90s talent. Even though it seemed almost meaningless to have the champion win the match, it was also used to set up one of the most memorable WrestleMania matches of all time by putting Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior into the same ring as opponents. While this entry is far from the top of the list of best winners, Royal Rumble 1990 remains my favorite Rumble match.

Performance: Hogan came in at #25 to a full ring and over the next two minutes, he and the Ultimate Warrior took to clearing it of everyone else, including a young Shawn Michaels at #26 who only lasted for 12 seconds. Hogan and Warrior’s showdown was ranked #1 on the Den of Geek Top 100 Royal Rumble Moments list and no matter how many times I watch it, I get pumped. The confrontation was electric and led to Rick Rude and the Barbarian coming out to work over the two, both weakened from their clash. Hogan accidentally-on-purpose eliminated the Warrior while trying to take out Rude and Barbarian, leading to the final minutes of the match.

Ending: #30 was Mr. Perfect and once the dust settled, it was just he and Rude beating down Hogan. Hogan made it through the beating by outsmarting his opponents and using their lack of communication against them. Mr. Perfect accidentally eliminated Rick Rude, but took it to Hogan regardless. After absorbing a Perfect Plex, Hogan powered up and thrashed Perfect until sending him to the outside.

Aftermath: In a way, this match was more of a win for the Ultimate Warrior, who laid the seeds for his WrestleMania VI title shot. Hogan dropped the title to Warrior at the big event, but spent the rest of the year feuding with Earthquake, while Warrior was forced to meander against lesser opponents like Rick Rude (who Warrior just feuded with a year earlier) and Demolition. Hogan wasn’t champion, but he remained a bigger deal than Warrior. It’s a lot like that situation where CM Punk held the belt for forever but Cena was considered to be the main event face.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - REY MYSTERIO (2006)

20. REY MYSTERIO (2006)

With Edge’s surprising WWE Championship win over John Cena, WWE was in such chaos that the Royal Rumble was hard to call. Sure, it had Triple H, Randy Orton, and Big Show, but nobody really had any exciting heat going in. Rey Mysterio was just a midcarder, but just prior to the match, he mentioned that he was going to dedicate his performance to his late friend Eddie Guerrero. When drawing his entrance number, he shook his head, smiled, and figured that Eddie was pranking him from the great beyond. Also, you could tell the match was almost an afterthought considering it had two matches go on after it.

Performance: Rey was #2, faced with Triple H at #1. Rey had the record for the longest time in the Royal Rumble at 62 minute and 12 seconds, so that speaks for itself. He took his share of lengthy breathers, but still. Longest Rumble performance ever. Dude gets massive credit.

Ending: It was down to Mysterio and top heels Triple H and Randy Orton. Mysterio was able to surprise Triple H and take him out of the ring with a bodyscissors, but that caused Triple H to react by pulling Mysterio out of the ring and slamming him into the steel steps. Orton played around with the prone luchador and tried to heave the dead weight out of the ring. Mysterio then came to life and flipped Orton out with a hurricanrana.

Aftermath: This wasn’t really meant to be a huge push for Mysterio and it showed that this was all about honoring Eddie Guerrero instead. It’s kind of messed up, really. Mysterio put his title shot on the line at No Way Out and lost to Orton. Mysterio was allowed into the title match regardless and won the World Heavyweight Championship in a triple threat against Orton and Kurt Angle. Mysterio then had a disastrous title reign where being an underdog was defined as being beaten up relentlessly by every single opponent and only winning matches if the title was on the line. It was sad.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - TRIPLE H (2016)

19. TRIPLE H (2016)

Triple H hadn’t wrestled since the previous WrestleMania when he defeated Sting. After that, they went back to the usual never-ending Authority storyline, where he backed Seth Rollins and seemed to be setting up a Triple H vs. Seth Rollins match at WrestleMania 32. Instead, Rollins got injured pretty badly and the company went all-in on Roman Reigns more than ever. Triple H opposed him as an authority figure, which led to Roman thrashing him out of frustration at the end of TLC 2015. Triple H was off TV and Roman went on to quickly win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Rather than have Roman defend the title in a singles match of some sort, Vince McMahon decided to make the Royal Rumble match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and Roman Reigns would be entered at #1. Roman was brutalized by the League of Nations rather early into the match and came back much later, just in time for #30 to arrive…

Performance: Triple H lasted a little over nine minutes and made every minute count. It helped that by that point, there were only a handful of wrestlers left and they were all at least upper-midcarders. Triple H hit just the right balance where he wasn’t overshadowing anyone, but he wasn’t falling into the background. He had some completely great moments mixed in there, such as his staredown with Roman, which got interrupted by Triple H hitting a Pedigree to cut off Dolph Ziggler followed by Roman putting down Bray Wyatt with a Spear.

Then there’s the intriguing staredown between Triple H and Bray Wyatt, where Triple H barked orders at him and Wyatt simply refused. A cool moment that sadly didn’t go anywhere.

Ending: WWE’s attempts to get Roman Reigns over are mixed with good decisions and bad decisions and this Royal Rumble match ended with probably the best possible version of what they were going for. They didn’t end with Triple H vs. Roman and it’s up in the air of how much of it was intelligence over knowing that it would get Triple H cheered if they did and how much of it was knowing to limit the direct conflict before WrestleMania.

Instead, Roman eliminated Sheamus, which opened him up to getting eliminated by Triple H. That left Triple H vs. Dean Ambrose, which felt fresh and gave the fans just enough hope that Ambrose could win that when Triple H was able to outfight him and backdrop him out of the ring (while standing on the apron himself), the fans bought it as a heelish situation.

Aftermath: Up to Royal Rumble, the Roman/Triple H feud was mostly good. The stuff that followed was a comedy of errors as WWE almost came to accept that Roman Reigns was never going to be beloved, but decided, “Screw it, we’re doing this anyway!” The true highlight was Triple H appearing to beat up Roman and brutalize him so badly that he was off TV for weeks, yet be cheered on like an absolute hero while it was happening.

Triple H did have a couple strong matches with Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, but ultimately just hung back for the next few months until it was time to drop the belt to Roman at WrestleMania. It wasn’t a particularly good match and being that it happened in hour seven of that show didn’t help. Triple H lost the match and remained off TV for months.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - RANDY ORTON (2009)

18. RANDY ORTON (2009)

Randy Orton was at his hottest in early 2009 due to his whole anger problems gimmick. On the Raw prior to Royal Rumble, Orton was confronted with an angry Vince McMahon, pissed about how Orton had treated Stephanie. Before he could be fired, Orton attacked McMahon and punted him right in the head. He then had a moment of lucidity and wandered away with Legacy members Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase Jr., all while Stephanie McMahon cried in the ring. Orton’s job was in jeopardy, but there was opportunity if he won the Royal Rumble match.

Performance: Orton came in at #8, just after Triple H was in at #7. The big story here was that Ted Dibiase showed up at #10 and Cody Rhodes at #15. Legacy showed solidarity and became unstoppable. Nobody could stand up to their numbers game. The best little moment came from Orton murdering Goldust, then handing him to Cody as a gift elimination. He lasted nearly 50 minutes, which was respectful, but did it in such a cheap way, which was perfectly heelish.

Ending: The final four were Triple H and Legacy. Triple H fought hard as he could and unknowingly failed to fully eliminate Orton. He Pedigreed Cody, was able to rid the ring of Dibiase, and then got rid of Cody’s carcass, but Orton ran over and threw out the distracted and unaware Triple H.

Aftermath: Orton would be in the top of this list easy if his post-Rumble run wasn’t so atrocious. He used his title shot as a loophole to keep them from firing him, saying that he’d sue the company, which would possibly prevent WrestleMania from happening. Triple H became the WWE Champion at Elimination Chamber while Orton was stuck in a sad feud with Shane McMahon, which gave us an infamous segment where Orton had to sell some of the worst fake punches. Remember, Orton was the hottest he had ever been and he kept miraculously taking part in segments that would solidify him as a godly heel…only for Triple H to get his heat back almost immediately.

By the time they had their absolute stinker of a match at WrestleMania 25, there was nothing left to the feud. Nothing more to say. Triple H already got his revenge a million times over and Orton didn’t get the belt off of him when it mattered.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - TRIPLE H (2002)

17. TRIPLE H (2002)

Triple H tore his quad in a match and was out for a very long time, completely missing out on the entire WCW InVasion. Lucky dog. They were building up his big return as a face, constantly playing music videos of him training to U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day.” There were a decent amount of big players in the match, but no way were they going to have Steve Austin win a fourth Rumble, so he was out. The only other major possibilities were Kurt Angle and the Undertaker.

Performance: Steve Austin kept clearing the ring over and over again and appeared bored. Then Triple H arrived at #22 with an entrance so long that, not exaggerating, two more wrestlers should have walked out during it. Austin vs. Triple H became the big battle for the Rumble with Hurricane and Farooq being taken out upon entering. It was Mr. Perfect of all people who broke the chain and hung around long enough for the ring to gradually fill with a load of big names who were all suspiciously given late entry numbers. Still, the Austin/Triple H stuff was incredibly fun.

Ending: Shockingly, Mr. Perfect outlasted Austin and the final three were Perfect, Angle, and Triple H. Angle removed Perfect and we were down to two. Triple H and Angle mixed it up for a good while until Triple H went for a clothesline. Angle backdropped him over the top rope and celebrated, not realizing that Triple H landed on the apron. Triple H did his flex taunt (cheesy, yet awesome) and went after Angle. A knee to the face stunned Angle long enough for Triple H to clothesline him out of the ring.

Aftermath: Triple H won the Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania XIX against Chris Jericho in a good match hampered by a terrible feud that made Jericho look worthless. Despite winning his first world championship as a top face, Triple H dropped it a month later to Hulk Hogan out of the company’s desperate attempt to ride the nostalgia of Hogan’s big return.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BRET HART (1994)

16. BRET HART (1994)

Going into the show, Bret had smoothed things over with his brother Owen, who was sick of being in Bret’s shadow and wanted to fight him. Cooler heads prevailed and they got a tag match against the champs, the Quebecers. Bret’s bad knee went out when he tried to finish the match and they ended up losing. Owen lost his mind and started attacking Bret’s bum knee. The possibility of Bret even competing in the Royal Rumble was put into question and things didn’t look good when nobody came out at #25.

Performance: Bret actually came out at #27. Turns out #25 was Bastion Booger. Bret in the Rumble was a lot like his title match against Yokozuna at WrestleMania X: Bret was too busy selling and didn’t actually do anything. While Luger was running around clotheslining people and leaping around, Bret just hobbled and assisted eliminations. But hey, dude already wrestled a match earlier. Props for that.

Ending: See the Lex Luger entry.

Aftermath: Bret lost the opening match of WrestleMania X against Owen, which for once was actually a good thing. Bret went on to defeat Yokozuna in the main event, redeeming himself for his WrestleMania IX loss and becoming WWF Champion for the second time. Bret feuded with Owen for the rest of the year and held onto the title until Survivor Series, dropping it to Bob Backlund. Until the Attitude Era hit, Bret was established as the go-to champion for the rest of his WWF career.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - ASUKA (2018)

15. ASUKA (2018)

Since her days beginning in NXT, Asuka had been depicted as unstoppable. She tore through every challenge and became champion, defended the title, and then vacated it due to injury. On the main roster, she continued to mow through opponents and was even the sole survivor at Survivor Series. Even Raw’s champion Alexa Bliss and her muscle Nia Jax were no match for her, making it look like Asuka had big things coming up on the horizon.

Performance: Asuka appeared at #25 and ran through everyone in the ring. Her more notable moments included facing off with an injured Ember Moon and completely shutting down Bayley’s entrance blitz by escaping the Bayley-to-Belly and fighting back. She took part in getting rid of Nia Jax, but allowed the others to breathe and succeed when needed without completely vanishing from the match.

Ending: Asuka suggested that she and Sasha Banks should forego their own showdown to team-up against the Bella Twins. Sasha had other ideas, choosing to side with the Bellas against Asuka. Asuka took a beating, but it worked to her advantage as the Bellas betrayed Sasha and then Nikki betrayed Brie. Asuka was able to recover in a one-on-one situation and leveraged Nikki over the top rope so that both were laying on the apron. Laying on her back, Asuka was able to trip Nikki up with a kick to the leg and forced her to the floor.

read more: The History of Women at the Royal Rumble

Aftermath: Asuka being the first ever women’s Royal Rumble winner was immediately overshadowed by Ronda Rousey walking out and pointing at the WrestleMania sign. Still, she had her earned title shot at the big event and decided to go after Charlotte.

Asuka’s streak came to an end at WrestleMania in a fantastic match and that was sadly the end of her relevance for a long, long time. Carmella became SmackDown Women’s Champion for a bit and Asuka lost the feud against her in really embarrassing fashion. The company simply didn’t know what to do with her, but the setup for Survivor Series 2018 – where Becky Lynch needed to assign a replacement to face Ronda Rousey – showed that the crowd still had love for Asuka.

She ended up winning the title from Becky Lynch, ending the year as champion. Even if she did a big pile of nothing in-between the Rumble and the end of the year.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - SETH ROLLINS (2019)

14. SETH ROLLINS (2019)

It was a rough time for Rollins. One best friend Roman Reigns had to relinquish the Universal Championship due to leukemia. His other best friend Dean Ambrose turned into a bitter antagonist. Ambrose then defeated Rollins for the Intercontinental Championship and retained it on several occasions. Rollins stepped into the Rumble during a year when there didn’t seem to be a truly cut-and-dry winner, but he needed to succeed in order to stay relevant.

Performance: Rollins arrived at a fairly early #10. Fairly quickly, he took Elias out of the equation with a really entertaining elimination based around Elias trying to hang on from behind a ring post. Rollins remained active in the match, especially when Ambrose showed up a few minutes later. Shockingly – at the time, at least – the two were given space and Rollins had no role in Ambrose’s loss.

While he wasn’t straight-up napping, Rollins’ performance started to diminish until Bobby Lashley entered at #26. Rollins eliminated him quickly. Lashley dragged him out of the ring and put him through a table. This allowed Rollins to take a break from the match and, really, stay out of Braun Strowman’s way, since he was #27.

Ending: Rollins returned from his broken slumber to join Andrade and Dolph Ziggler in taking on the overpowered Braun Strowman. Andrade and Ziggler both got tossed out, leaving Rollins to contend alone. Braun dominated and manhandled Rollins for a bit until Rollins was able to levy him over the top rope so that they were both standing on the apron. Despite Braun’s best efforts, Rollins was able to bring him to a knee by shoving him into the corner post and then drop him to the floor with a curbstomp.

Aftermath: Rollins chose to face Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania in a feud where he was brutally beaten week after week. Rollins won the match, but it was a short opener for the main show that involved Rollins having to cheat to win (though to be fair, Brock did jump him during the entrance, so turnabout is fair play). Rollins got stuck in a nothing feud with Baron Corbin, but then went back to feuding with Brock after Brock won the Money in the Bank match and easily won his cash-in.

Rollins beat Brock at SummerSlam, cleanly this time, which was kind of a big deal, since it was Brock’s first decisive defeat in his Streak-Ender run outside of his initial Goldberg match. Unfortunately, Rollins was then tossed into a rivalry with The Fiend, which did him absolutely no favors and made him look like the biggest weenie. The crowd turned more and more on Rollins, he lost the title to The Fiend, and they ended up having to turn him heel.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - STEVE AUSTIN (2001)

13. STEVE AUSTIN (2001)

The 2001 Royal Rumble is one of the bigger Rumble matches because it had a nice collection of top names with no clear idea of who was going to win. Steve Austin, already a two-time winner at this point, was as good a guess as anyone. He had redemption on his mind after Triple H and Rikishi took him off the board by running him over just over a year ago. He’d have a lot of competition in the form of the Rock and the aligned Brothers of Destruction.

Performance: Austin came in at #27 and was attacked from behind by Triple H. Bloody and battered, Austin finally came alive and entered the match when Rikishi walked out at #30. Austin wasn’t too active in the match for too long, but he did get rid of Haku and Billy Gunn. Gunn’s elimination still irks me due to how Austin flat-out no-sold Gunn’s finisher. Luckily, the final few minutes of Austin’s performance made up for that with a really sweet confrontation with the Rock where they ended up delivering their finishers to each other while taking breaks to deal with Kane.

Ending: Kane threw out the Rock and was left with a hurt Austin. Kane chose to leave the ring and bring in a chair, to which Austin stole it and went to town on Kane. After smashing Kane in the head relentlessly, Austin clotheslined him to the floor and won his unprecedented third Rumble victory.

Aftermath: The Rock ended up winning the WWF Championship from Kurt Angle, setting up a dream match of the two top faces of the Attitude Era taking each other on at the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven. Austin turned heel during the match and became the new champion, finding a much-needed new direction that didn’t make the company money, but was entertaining regardless. Austin held onto the belt for a decent stretch, dropping it to Kurt Angle almost six months later, only to quickly get it back.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - EDDIE GUERRERO (2004)

12. EDDIE GUERRERO (2004)

Eddie Guerrero didn’t compete in the actual 2004 Royal Rumble, as he was too focused on a singles match against his nephew Chavo. Chris Benoit won the big match and chose to face Raw’s World Heavyweight Champion instead of staying on SmackDown. Paul Heyman held a 15-man Royal Rumble using all the SmackDown talent from that match, only replacing Benoit and an injured Matt Morgan with Eddie Guerrero and Hardcore Holly. The winner would face Brock Lesnar at No Way Out for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately for Eddie, somebody beat him up backstage and he was sent to the hospital.

Performance: Eddie arrived at #13, limping his way to the ring. He was able to quickly remove A-Train and later took part in a big group effort to eliminate Big Show. Much of the latter half of the match was about Eddie and Kurt Angle clearing the ring, either by themselves or together. They certainly needed to work together to pick up Rikishi and heave him out. By the end of the match, Eddie had taken out six people, which is pretty impressive considering he had a total of 14 opponents.

Ending: The final two were Eddie and Angle. While Eddie was fighting through a backstage assault, Angle had drawn #1 and was dealing with fatigue. The idea of two guys going on forever in the Royal Rumble finals with a series of near-eliminations is more well-known in regards to Michaels/Undertaker in 2007 and even Jericho/Sheamus in 2012, but Eddie/Angle was the first to do it and it may be the best example. The two went all out in a back-and-forth battle with so many close calls. Finally, Eddie reversed Angle’s attempt to suplex him to the outside by picking up Angle for a vertical suplex, then throwing him forward to the floor.

Aftermath: Eddie won the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar at No Way Out thanks to some help from Bill Goldberg. Angle turned against Eddie and they had a title match at WrestleMania XX, which Eddie won due to his trickery. This also gave us the bittersweet Eddie/Benoit ending image of the show. Eddie remained champion for a few months until dropping the title to the newly-christened JBL. While he was gone from the main event picture, Eddie remained wildly popular and probably would have reached the top again had fate not had other ideas.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - STEVE AUSTIN (1997)

11. STEVE AUSTIN (1997)

King of the Ring winner Steve Austin was making waves and gaining more and more popularity despite being a complete rat bastard. This disgusted returning hero Bret Hart, who hated that someone like Austin could be celebrated. The two of them were destined to meet up in the Royal Rumble, which also featured the likes of Mankind, Vader, and the Undertaker.

Performance: Even with a roster made up of filler luchadors, 1997’s Royal Rumble is must-watch if only for Steve Austin. The Rattlesnake entered at #5 and was seemingly unstoppable. Despite his lack of size and being a heel, Austin didn’t back down from anyone, taking out former rivals Jake Roberts and Savio Vega as well as clearing the ring on various occasions. Across the hour-long match, he took out a third of the roster. Things got explosive once Bret Hart arrived at #21 and Austin went right for him. There was no cowardice. Austin straight-up wanted to a piece of Bret as much as Bret wanted a piece of Austin.

Ending: Bret tossed out Austin, but the referees were too busy breaking up a fight on the other side of the ring to see it. While Bret was busy getting rid of Fake Diesel, Austin snuck back in and eliminated Vader, Undertaker, and Bret, becoming the 1997 Royal Rumble winner. Bret threw a hissy fit and rightfully so.

Aftermath: The following In Your House was going to be a sudden death rematch of Austin, Bret, Undertaker, and Vader for the #1 contender spot, but WWF Champion Shawn Michaels gave up the belt due to injuries/lack of smile/ego and the match became for the vacant championship. Bret won and Austin would have at least gotten a title match at WrestleMania out of their impending grudge match, but then Bret lost the belt to Sycho Sid in the lead-up. Despite losing to Bret in their Submission Match at WrestleMania 13, their performance and legendary double-turn at the end catapulted Austin’s popularity to the sky.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BROCK LESNAR (2003)

10. BROCK LESNAR (2003)

Brock Lesnar finally met defeat at the hands of the Big Show thanks to Lesnar’s manager Paul Heyman’s betrayal. With Lesnar wanting to enter the Royal Rumble, Heyman had a qualification match signed between Lesnar and Big Show that would take place at the Royal Rumble show itself. In a six-minute match, Lesnar defeated the monster and won his way into the big match, where a bunch of other top stars were waiting for him.

Performance: Coming in late to the game at 29, Brock made the best of his short run by taking out the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas (in one double-handed toss!) as well as Matt Hardy V.1. Hardy had been using his follower Shannon Moore to catch him and protect him from elimination throughout the match, but Hardy was finally done in by Brock F5’ing him to the outside. Brock hung out for a bit, as the ring was beginning to clear and we were almost at the final four.

Ending: The final four was Brock, Undertaker, Kane, and Batista. A Lesnar vs. Undertaker showdown got a false start and instead became Batista attacking Undertaker with Kane beating down on Lesnar. Eventually, Kane and Batista were laid out (including an F5 on Kane), finally giving us the Lesnar vs. Undertaker fight the crowd needed to see. Undertaker won decisively, dropping Lesnar with a Tombstone. Then he clotheslined Batista out of there and coerced Kane into helping him before catching him off-guard and flinging him over the top rope. Batista returned with a chair, but Undertaker dispatched him yet again. While he was busy with that, Lesnar sprung to his feet and surprised Undertaker by grabbing him from behind and throwing him out. Afterwards, Undertaker begrudgingly showed Lesnar some respect for a job well done.

Aftermath: At the time, Kurt Angle was the WWE Champion and Lesnar set his sights on him. Lesnar and Chris Benoit were able to defeat the entirety of Team Angle in a handicap match at No Way Out, followed by Lesnar vs. Angle as the main event of WrestleMania XIX. Although he botched a Shooting Star Press, which at best made him look foolish and at worst could have killed him if his neck wasn’t a tree trunk of muscle, Lesnar came out the winner at the end of the most stacked WrestleMania card of all time. Lesnar remained the champ for several months, taking out the likes of John Cena and Big Show at PPVs until Angle finally reclaimed the title at Vengeance.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - UNDERTAKER (2007)

9. UNDERTAKER (2007)

The Undertaker had been cheated. They did a Beat the Clock Challenge for who would face Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at Royal Rumble and Undertaker had it in the bag via a match against the Miz until Mr. Kennedy screwed him over. Kennedy and Undertaker had their own match where if Undertaker won, he’d be inserted into the title match. Kennedy tricked Batista into attacking him, causing a DQ loss for Undertaker. Undertaker was out of options, but luckily he was able to secure a spot in the Royal Rumble match.

Performance: Undertaker became the first wrestler to ever win at #30, but unlike most of the other late draws in Rumble history, he didn’t get the easy path. He came out in the most baller way possible, being the one to end the Great Khali’s unstoppable reign of terror (back when Khali was actually treated as ferocious), taking on Rated RKO and MVP at the same time, then dumping out MVP. But the best was yet to come.

Ending: Undertaker was doing great until Orton smashed him with a chair. Taking a break from arguing with Edge for an attempted betrayal, Orton RKO’d Shawn Michaels, who then rolled out of the ring. As Edge and Orton went to work on Undertaker, a hurt Michaels came back in and was able to eliminate the both of them before collapsing next to Undertaker. For what seemed like forever, the two finalists were out cold on the mat until Undertaker sat up and Michaels kipped up. Rather than go straight for the finish, the two spent a good long while trying to get the best of each other. After several exciting minutes, Undertaker countered a superkick by grabbing Michaels and straight-up dropping him over the top rope.

Aftermath: Undertaker chose to continue where he left off and challenged for Batista’s World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 23. After one of Undertaker’s best WrestleMania matches of all time, he won the title and went on to have a series of epic matches with Batista, culminating in a Hell in a Cell match that Undertaker only lost because of Edge’s interference.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - SHAWN MICHAELS (1995)

8. SHAWN MICHAELS (1995)

Shawn Michaels had just recently split up with his bodyguard Diesel, who suddenly became WWF Champion mere days later. Michaels became one of the more obvious Rumble winners, considering his competition was made up of guys who were heavy-hitters on paper, but were in no way going to win the Rumble, such as Lex Luger, British Bulldog, Bob Backlund, Owen Hart, and King Kong Bundy. No, really. Those were the best examples I could come up with as competition. Everyone else was, like, Mantaur and Kwang. Having drawn his number, Michaels looked completely confident. At least more so than the British Bulldog.

Performance: Surprise, surprise, Michaels and Bulldog drew #1 and #2 respectively. At first glance, you could easily undersell his performance by pointing out that this was the year with one-minute intervals. Sure, Michaels went coast-to-coast, but it wasn’t like he was in there for an hour, right? Doesn’t matter. Michaels was on his A-game from bell to bell. He bumped around like a rubber ball and added tons of drama with all the times he was almost eliminated. He didn’t even really back off either, as he ended up with eight eliminations.

Ending: Probably one of the most iconic Royal Rumble endings, the final two were the first two. It was Bulldog and Michaels at it again and Bulldog seemed to be holding up better. He clotheslined the hell out of Michaels and appeared to have sent him to the outside. His music began playing and Bulldog celebrated on the second rope. Unknown to him, Michaels was able to pull himself back into the ring with only one foot hitting the floor. He knocked Bulldog off the second rope from behind and sent him crashing to the floor.

Aftermath: Along with his new bodyguard Sycho Sid, Michaels challenged Diesel at WrestleMania XI and failed to capture the gold. Afterwards, he tried to go his separate ways with Sid, who didn’t like his tone and powerbombed him relentlessly. Michaels turned face and became Diesel’s sidekick for the rest of the year. He would go on to bigger and better things, but this wasn’t his time.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - YOKOZUNA (1993)

7. YOKOZUNA (1993)

1993 was the year where they officially implemented the rule that the winner of the Royal Rumble match would be given a title shot at WrestleMania. The list of possible winners included Ric Flair, Randy Savage, the Undertaker, and dark horse Mr. Perfect. The looming threat overshadowing all of them was Yokozuna, the sumo monster who was both the irresistible force and immovable object in one. For months, he had been destroying anyone put in the ring with him to the point that nobody had even been able to knock him off his feet.

Performance: Royal Rumble 1993 is the most understated and one of the more unique entries. Usually when a heel wins the Royal Rumble, they go with the idea of them getting an early draw, enduring a ton of punishment to legitimize them, then winning due to underhanded means. Not Yokozuna. Yokozuna entered at #27 and started throwing guys around like ragdolls. Earthquake got in his face and went for a battle of the big guys, but Yokozuna was able to throw him out of the ring with little problem. The ring of midcarders got desperate and attacked him all at once, figuring that they could at least lift him and throw him with their combined might. That didn’t work either. Yokozuna would simply not be stopped.

Ending: Randy Savage came in at #30, giving the fans some hope. There was also some hope in Bob Backlund, who won the crowd over by entering at #2 and lasting an entire hour. Backlund fought hard against Yokozuna, but the massive sumo snuffed out his chances and eliminated him to the groans of the crowd. Yokozuna and Savage fought it out, mostly one-sided in Yokozuna’s favor. He ran at Savage, Savage rushed out of the way, and the force caused Yokozuna to fall down. Savage hit his top-rope elbow and foolishly went for the pin. Yokozuna was all, “Haha, no!” and bench-pressed him so hard, Savage flew out of the ring.

Aftermath: Yokozuna met Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX and…well, hoo boy. Yokozuna won via cheating and then challenged Hulk Hogan on the spot because having the heel stand tall at the end of the PPV was unheard of and Hogan’s politicking powers were too strong. Hogan defeated Yokozuna in seconds and ended the show as champion. Hogan then ducked out of dropping the title to Bret and instead lost to Yokozuna in the rematch at King of the Ring. With Hogan gone and Lex Luger failing to really catch on as a top guy, Yokozuna spent most of the year as champion until WrestleMania X.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BATISTA (2005)

6. BATISTA (2005)

Triple H had held onto the World Heavyweight Championship for years, only losing it a few months at a time. Part of his success came from what was left of Evolution: Ric Flair and Batista. In one of the company’s best slow-burn storylines, Batista started to get too big for his britches and Triple H was beginning to notice. Triple H wanted to keep him as his muscle, but soon Batista’s success as a competitor was going to get too big to ignore. Despite being part of a major heel stable, Batista was celebrated by the crowd as a face.

Performance: Much like his disastrous 2014 match, Batista arrived at #28. The difference was that this time, Batista actually showed some hustle and was fun to watch. He took out Snitsky upon entering, then went and teamed up with his good buddy Ric Flair. Batista would do the dirty work, then Flair would send the victims to the outside. This went wrong when Flair stabbed Batista in the back and tried throwing him out too. Batista didn’t even budge. Edge eliminated Flair before anything could be done with that and Batista went back to clearing the ring.

Ending: After Edge was dealt with, Batista and John Cena were the last two men left. A perfect finals, considering both were on the cusp of becoming stars at the time and either winner made sense. The two went at it and what was meant to be a decisive victory for Batista went horribly wrong. The two fell out of the ring at the same time and unlike Luger and Bret in ’94, this was not planned. The refs and wrestlers improvised with the confusion until Vince McMahon stormed out, tore both of his quads while entering the ring, then started up a round of sudden death. This time they rushed it and within seconds, Batista flung Cena to the outside.

Aftermath: Triple H acted happy for Batista and did everything he could to coax and trick him into going after JBL’s WWE Championship. Batista figured out soon enough that Triple H was trying to hold him down and instead signed the contract for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship. Batista won at WrestleMania, then won all their other rematches. Batista became SmackDown’s premiere face and held onto the title for nearly a year – the record since it was introduced in WWE – until having to vacate it due to injury. Despite that, he spent the next several years as the top dog on that side of the WWE playground.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - CHRIS BENOIT (2004)

 5. CHRIS BENOIT (2004)

Hey, look! There’s an elephant in the room! SmackDown General Manager Paul Heyman had problems with Chris Benoit and wanted to make sure he didn’t make it out of the Royal Rumble as the winner. He put him in several qualifying matches that held the odds strongly against him, but Benoit kept persevering. His hands tied, Heyman forced the #1 spot onto Benoit. Benoit had a long night ahead of him, especially since Bill Goldberg won the right to have the #30 spot.

Performance: It was Chris Benoit going at it for an hour. While awkward to watch, it was absolutely great. He had far more gas in the first half of the match, which is where most of his eliminations and memorable spots happened. Most notable was Randy Orton throwing Ernest Miller out of the ring while Benoit tried to do the same to Miller’s manager Lamont…only for Lamont’s fake afro to come off in Benoit’s hands. Once the big names came in to fill the ring, Benoit restrained himself a bit.

Ending: Big Show was booked on a level that made Yokozuna look underpowered. Despite having Benoit, Cena, Jericho, RVD, and Kurt Angle attacking him all in unison, Big Show was able to shrug them all off and eliminate all of them except Benoit. At this point, Benoit was barely holding together and he had nothing in his arsenal that would do much against Big Show at this point. Or so it seemed. Big Show picked Benoit up and suddenly Benoit sprung to life and clamped a guillotine choke onto Big Show. He pulled himself over the top rope and leaned down to the apron, all while slowly teetering Big Show over the top rope. Benoit was able to save himself, but gravity took Big Show out of the equation.

Aftermath: Benoit made the decision to skip town on SmackDown and go after Triple H’s World Heavyweight Championship on Raw, making Heyman look like a fool in the process. At WrestleMania XX, Benoit took part in a triple threat against Triple H and Shawn Michaels where he made Triple H tap. Afterwards, he and best buddy Eddie Guerrero celebrated in the ring as dual world champions. Unfortunately, politics caused Benoit’s title reign to fall off a cliff as Triple H took part in a bigger storyline while Benoit was stuck in a low-rent feud with Kane. Benoit lost the title to Randy Orton at SummerSlam. He never returned to the main event and…I should probably just stop there.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - BECKY LYNCH (2019)

4. BECKY LYNCH (2019)

It was another situation where WWE inadvertently created a star. Becky Lynch was intended to turn heel on Charlotte Flair at the previous SummerSlam, but fans identified with her actions and rejected the idea that Charlotte was the hero. Becky became an angry loner and proved herself a popular SmackDown Champion. This was supposed to lead to a match with Raw Champion Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, but while the build made Becky look like gold, it also put her on the shelf due to a facial injury. Those behind the scenes started to realize that Becky vs. Ronda was a huge money match and got the ball rolling.

Ronda interfered in a ladder match, causing Becky to lose her title to Asuka. Becky was put up against Asuka in a singles match at Royal Rumble 2019, but lost due to submission. It seemed like her rise was stifled.

Performance: Lana was meant to enter at #27, but couldn’t make her way to the ring due to an ankle injury. To make matters worse, Nia Jax decided to demolish her for fun. Minutes later, Becky walked out and said that she should take Lana’s spot, accommodating all the fans chanting her name. She was allowed entry, storming to a ring with six other women left.

In her initial moments, she at least showed spirit as she fought off attempts to be thrown over the top. She staved off elimination long enough to hit Nia Jax with a missile dropkick, which flared up her back issues from her earlier Asuka match. From there, Becky took a backseat and let the ring empty out on its own.

Ending: The final three were Becky, Nia, and Charlotte. Becky and Charlotte focused on each other, which allowed Nia to crush them into the corner. Becky rolled to the outside and we got Nia vs. Charlotte. Charlotte had enough in her to stun Nia and even lift her over the top rope and onto the apron, but the elimination itself went to Becky, who simply pulled Nia down to the floor.

Nia got her revenge and laid out Becky, all while causing major damage to her knee. Unlike Lana, Becky refused to let her leg injury stop her and hobbled into the ring, screaming, “I CAN GO!” and, “FIGHT ME!”

Charlotte proceeded to easily thrash the one-legged Becky. Becky got one hope spot in, but Charlotte still took control. In the very end, Charlotte missed a running boot, got nudged over the top rope, and Becky punched her to the floor. Becky’s performance was less about offense and more about survival.

Aftermath: In the broad strokes, things couldn’t have gone better for Becky. Her WrestleMania match against Ronda Rousey (and Charlotte Flair) had way too many unnecessary plot points added, but by the end, it was a match with both women’s titles on the line and Becky won the first-ever women’s main event of WrestleMania to become “Becky Two Belts.” The ending was a botch and she dropped the SmackDown belt sooner than later, but that’s still a major deal.

As of this writing, she’s still Raw Women’s Champion. She’s main-evented several other PPVs. Signs point to her at least lasting a year as champ, but more importantly, she’s the face of the women’s division and one of the most popular acts in the company when such a thing is beyond thought.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - RIC FLAIR (1992)

3. RIC FLAIR (1992)

The Undertaker defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship through cheating and in the rematch, Hogan won the belt back, also through cheating. Jack Tunney stripped Hogan of the WWF Championship and decided that the Royal Rumble match would be held for the vacant title. No longer was it just a match for bragging rights. Now there were some real stakes and all the big players wanted in. This included Ric Flair, the self-proclaimed “Real World’s Champion,” who was instrumental in the controversial title matches.

Performance: Flair drew #3 and from that moment, the match went from good to amazing. Flair sold everything for an hour and rarely ever pulled out any offense. When he did, it was usually some kind of cheapshot. This was increased by Bobby Heenan’s brilliant commentary where he lost his mind in perpetual motion. The best was when Flair decided to start chopping Undertaker in the chest, to which Heenan started screaming from his headset to stop being a dummy and get the hell away from him. Near the end, Flair was outgunned by everyone from Hogan to Sid Justice, and he still chugged away, even if he appeared weak as a kitten.

Ending: On one hand, I hate this ending more than any other Royal Rumble ending. Hulk Hogan was working over Flair when Sid grabbed Hogan from behind and threw him out. Hogan responded to this maneuver (which Hogan had done to Savage and Warrior in previous years) by grabbing Sid’s arm and pulling him out of the ring. Flair helped out from his end, thereby winning the match and the championship. Hogan was considered the good guy in this and Sid was the jerk, which is something I’ve never been able to get over. On the other hand, it’s the perfect ending for Flair. He earned that belt…but not really. It worked out for him but nobody else.

Aftermath: Flair was champ and was originally going to take on Hogan at WrestleMania VIII, but they instead decided to go with Hogan vs. Sid as the main event. Savage got sloppy seconds and faced Flair midway through the show. Flair lost the title, but that was less hurtful than having a Hogan grudge match unnecessarily getting higher billing. Flair won the belt back and remained the top heel in the company (Sid leaving and Undertaker turning face helped), but then he dropped the championship to Bret Hart at a random house show and spent the rest of his WWF career putting over Mr. Perfect.

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - SHAWN MICHAELS (1996)

2. SHAWN MICHAELS (1996)

After spending Survivor Series eating a million finishers and still coming out a survivor, Michaels collapsed the next night on Raw after taking a nasty enziguri from Owen Hart. Due to some serious concussions, Michaels was told not to enter the Royal Rumble, but chose to anyway. He would be in over his head, having to outlast the likes of Vader, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, and Diesel. Diesel was Michaels’ best buddy, but ever since losing the WWF Championship to Bret Hart, Big Daddy Cool became completely unpredictable.

Performance: Michaels entered at #18. He cleaned house a little bit and noticed Yokozuna and Vader – intended to be partners – trading blows while leaning on the ropes. Michaels raced over and did the impossible: he threw both giants out of the ring at the same time. He then press-slammed the 1-2-3 Kid out of the ring and was doing great for himself, but Vader reentered the ring and took out his frustrations on everyone. Though Michaels was thrown over the top rope, they decided not to count it (for the one and only year) because of Vader wasn’t in the match anymore. To add more drama, Michaels got enziguri’d by Owen Hart once again. Though Michaels ultimately won the match, he did so at the expense of either making enemies or building on rivalries with Vader, Diesel, Owen Hart, and the British Bulldog.

Oh, and since Jerry Lawler had spent much of the match hiding under the ring, Michaels was the one who pulled him back into the ring and knocked him back out to a great reaction.

Ending: Not overly elaborate, but still well done, Michaels mixed it up with the British Bulldog while Diesel worked on eliminating Kama. Michaels got the Bulldog out and almost fell out of the ring himself, but “skinned the cat” and pulled himself back in a second year in a row. Diesel did away with Kama, turned around and ate a superkick that launched him out of the ring, where he was none-too-happy.

Aftermath: At the following In Your House, Michaels put his title shot on the line against Owen Hart. He retained and went on to WrestleMania XII, where he and Bret Hart wrestled for over an hour. Michaels became WWF Champion for the first time and defended it for a good length. He dropped it to Sycho Sid, but got it back at the 1997 Royal Rumble. Then he vacated it, presumably so he didn’t have to drop the belt to Bret Hart because of drugs and an inflated self-worth. Still, this Royal Rumble match did him a lot of good!

WWE ROYAL RUMBLE WINNERS - STEVE AUSTIN (1998)

1. STEVE AUSTIN (1998)

Steve Austin returned from a horrible neck injury to win the Intercontinental Championship. After feuding with the Rock briefly, he decided that he was above that belt and set his sights on the WWF Championship. As the reigning Rumble winner, he knew that he’d have a target on his back, so Austin decided to start going after his future opponents when they’d least expect it. Backstage, bodies would be laid out and in the ring, matches would end with Austin arriving and taking people out with Stunners. This was Austin’s show, through and through.

Performance: Much like Bret Hart in 1994, they played up the idea that maybe somebody got to Austin and rendered him unable to compete. Nobody came out at #22, but then at #24 the sound of glass breaking echoed through the arena and everyone in the ring looked to the entrance. Austin snuck in through the crowd and started off by ejecting Marc Mero. Austin didn’t let up for his entire time in the match, constantly brawling with anyone who got in his way and eliminating 8-Ball, Thrasher, Kama, Savio Vega, and Chainz. Okay, not the most significant group of victims, but it was still great to watch.

Ending: Austin and his former tag partner Dude Love decided to team up out of necessity against Nation of Domination members Rock and Farooq. They took down the heels, but then turned on each other. Farooq took advantage of the brawl and threw Dude Love out. He pounded on Austin while the Rock feigned fatigue. Rock snuck up on Farooq and threw him out, leaving a sweet, early Austin vs. Rock battle. Austin won via nailing a Stone Cold Stunner and then throwing Rock right out of there.

Aftermath: This was springboard to Austin’s spot as the true top face in the company and the establishing of the Attitude Era. Austin defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV and helped save the WWF from bankruptcy. Austin remained the #1 guy, losing the belt for a brief 24 hour period due to a hackneyed moment of Vince Russo booking, then finally having the belt vacated months later after being pinned by the Undertaker and Kane at the same time in a glorified handicap match.

I would never list the 1998 Royal Rumble match in the top Rumble matches. In fact, one of the big problems with it was how overly obvious it is that this was Austin’s match to win. He was one of the most obvious Rumble winners in its three decades of history. But it was this win that helped solidify Austin as the top draw during wrestling’s big boom period. The trigger had been pulled and between the build, the way he handled himself in the ring, and the output of this booking decision, Austin’s run in the Rumble in ’98 was everything a Royal Rumble winner is supposed to be.

Gavin Jasper writes for Den of Geek and lost $500 for betting on Mantaur back in ’95. Read his other articles here and follow him on Twitter @Gavin4L