The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton, Baron Corbin, The Miz and Sami Zayn can all realistically be pictured pointing at the WrestleMania logo in the sky on Sunday night, at least the way I see it. This air of unpredictability has helped towards making this on paper one of the greatest Royal Rumbles ever.
But, what would be THE greatest Royal Rumble ever? 30 participants from across its near 30-year existence that have left a substantial impact on the legacy of the greatest gimmick match ever devised. Here, I attempt to name the All-Star Royal Rumble - please be kind.
The 1999 Royal Rumble is arguably the worst example of the concept, focusing on two entrants surrounded by a sea of midcarders and jobbers. The No. 2 entrant, Vince McMahon spent most of his time outside of the ring, on commentary or being beaten up by Steve Austin. That was before he eliminated the Texas Rattlesnake to win the match thanks to assistance from The Rock, and earning him a belated spot on this list.
Chyna’s time in the WWE was about breaking boundaries, and as the first woman to ever enter the Royal Rumble, she has a special connection with the match. Chyna competed in both the 1999 and 2000 Rumbles, and paved the way for future female entrants Beth Phoenix and Kharma. Will another join their trio this year? I wouldn’t bet against a Nia Jax appearance in the future…
A name that is not given a great deal of credit in the Royal Rumble’s folklore, Rick ‘The Model’ Martel can be considered the match’s first true Iron Man. In 1991, Martel lasted a whopping 52:17 in a time where endurance and work-rate played second fiddle to star power and chiseled physiques. Barely missing out on the final four that year, Martel would achieve that feat in both the 1989 and 1993 Rumbles, showing he was more than just a pretty face.
Lex Luger is a prime example of a Vince McMahon project that fell flat on its face. Already having failed to capture the WWE Championship (or the adulation of the fans), Luger had to settle for being the co-winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble alongside Bret Hart. Luger fought Yokozuna at WrestleMania X for the top belt, but would fall short, allowing the Hitman to pick up the pieces in the main event.
A larger than life character in every sense of the word, the crowning moment of Big John Studd’s WWE tenure was winning the second incarnation of the Royal Rumble. At this time the winner was more ceremonial than of any true significance, as Studd went on to referee a match between Jake Roberts and Andre the Giant at WrestleMania V, before leaving the WWE for good a few months later.
Six unfortunate souls have had the misfortune of entering the Royal Rumble from the dreaded No. 1 spot twice in their careers. CM Punk made the most of his extended stints in the Rumble, crafting unforgettable moments like his 2010 sermon, the 2011 Nexus domination and his 2014 battle against the Authority. The Royal Rumble was also the final match Punk ever had in his tumultuous WWE career, a fitting end for one of the most chaotic personalities in the history of the company.
One of the perennial nearly-men in wrestling history, Davey Boy Smith was fingertips from the fabled brass ring on numerous occasions. But the British Bulldog would often show plenty of bite in the Royal Rumble match. Going coast-to-coast with Shawn Michaels in 1995, Smith made it to the final four on three occasions, yet thanks to HBK’s flailing foot, was not able to become more than a runner-up.
Despite the fact he will be competing in only his third Royal Rumble match this year, it’s hard to look past Brock Lesnar. He won his Rumble debut in 2003 during his monstrous first year in the WWE, defeating Kurt Angle for the title at WrestleMania XIX. In only two Rumbles, The Beast has accumulated an impressive eight eliminations, ensuring he’s a constant favorite for any future Rumbles he features in.
The All-Star Royal Rumble would not be complete without the match’s first ever winner. While the 1988 event was a far cry from today’s template, featuring only 20 superstars and with no title opportunity on the line, Hacksaw Jim Duggan still has a vital connection to the history of the match. One of the most popular babyfaces of the 1980s, Duggan would not be rewarded with many championships, but will always be at the heart of the WWE’s most renowned gimmick match.
Many believe that Chris Jericho should be a former Royal Rumble winner after finishing runner-up to Sheamus in 2012, but the current United States Champion has certainly left his mark on the match. Jericho will almost undoubtedly become the first superstar to spend a combined four hours in the Rumble on Sunday, finishing in the final four twice and being the Iron Man in 2003. Will he be able to add a 2017 Royal Rumble win to his infamous List?
A choice that is sure to infuriate our editor-in-chief Tony Mango, Alberto Del Rio’s Royal Rumble win was undoubtedly significant as it took place in the only 40-man edition of the event in 2011. Del Rio had a great deal of potential if he wasn’t fast-tracked to this monumental Rumble victory, especially as his loss to Edge at WrestleMania 27 demonstrated the WWE didn’t really have plans for the Mexican Aristocrat when they crowned him their winner.
The 1993 Royal Rumble is especially notable in that it was the first where the winner would challenge for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. It was the gargantuan Yokozuna that dominated this event, eliminating seven men on his way to victory and a date with Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX. Yokozuna would capture the title to set a trend for future Rumble winners, although thanks to Hulk Hogan his crowning moment would be a brief one.
While commentary would often have you believe it is impossible to eliminate The Big Show, many have accomplished the feat as the giant has never won. Well, technically he has never won, with his 2000 runner-up to The Rock highly disputed. Big Show was also runner-up in 2004 to Chris Benoit, has been in the final four on two other occasions, and accumulated 31 eliminations in 11 appearances.
The beneficiary of some dodgy refereeing against the aforementioned Big Show, The Rock was the winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble, the year he undoubtedly reached his zenith in the WWE. While we would not be able to dethrone Triple H at WrestleMania 2000, The People’s Champion would hold the title twice that year. Rock also finished runner-up to arch rival Steve Austin in 1998, becoming the Iron Man for that event in the process.
While some might scoff at the notion of Sheamus being ahead of Big Show and The Rock, in recent years the Celtic Warrior has shined in Royal Rumble - I mean, he is always up for a fight. Sheamus won the 2012 Rumble match (leading to the notorious 18-second match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 28), and finished in the final four in 2013, 2014 and 2016. With that form, it’s hard to bet against the luck of the Irish.
The R in Rated-R Superstar must stand for Rumble, as Edge has had a big mark on the event. Making his return from a serious injury, Edge shocked the world to win the 2010 Royal Rumble, last eliminating bitter rival John Cena. He was also able to crack the final four in both 2005 and 2007, the latter he claimed the title of Iron Man. Despite his career being cut short through injury, Edge’s explosive offense and conniving mind always helped make his Rumble appearances interesting.
A surprise dark horse for the 2017 Royal Rumble, Randy Orton is one of the most established superstars in WWE’s locker room. The Rumble helped him towards that goal, the Viper winning the 2009 match thanks to a little help from Legacy. A mainstay in the final stretch of these matches, Orton has been in the final four an exceptional five times. While he is more famously known for his Survivor Series exploits, Orton is just as dangerous at the start of the year as the end of it.
The Excellence of Execution should really be a two-time Royal Rumble winner, but in actuality can only claim half a win. Bret Hart was the second ever person to enter the Rumble way back in 1988 (becoming the first Iron Man in the process), and really came into his own as a main event feature in the early 1990s. Co-winner of the 1994 match with Lex Luger, Hart was runner-up in 1997 due to the devilish quick-thinking of Steve Austin and dodgy officiating. Hopefully he’s not too bitter about it.
Even after 27 years in WWE, The Undertaker will walk into the 2017 Royal Rumble a heavy favorite. This year’s event marks a decade since his sole Rumble victory in 2007, after a classic duel with Shawn Michaels in the final two. Another eerie coincidence is that Undertaker made the final four in 1997, as well as 2003. Could lucky number seven ring true for the Phenom once again? With 35 eliminations currently to his name, the Deadman is sure to be reaping souls on Sunday.
The horrendous nature of Chris Benoit’s death in 2007 has meant his Royal Rumble exploits have been buried by WWE, and I’m not going to argue against that decision. For those that remember though, Benoit was the second man to win from No. 1, lasting over an hour in the process. The Rabid Wolverine also has the distinction of being the only superstar to be Iron Man in back-to-back Rumbles (2004 and 2005), and his momentous victory over The Big Show is one of the biggest eliminations in the history of the event.
The Nature Boy’s first stint in WWE reached its zenith at the 1992 Royal Rumble, widely considered the most star-studded in its long history. The first Rumble with legitimate stakes, Flair entered at No. 3 and lasted over an hour on his way to capturing the WWE Championship for the first time. His legendary status already cemented prior to this victory, Flair’s win helped catapult the Rumble from a fun gimmick to one of the most important annual events in wrestling today.
Although Chris Benoit and Ric Flair showed incredible endurance, it is Rey Mysterio that still holds the record for longest time in a Royal Rumble match. The Ultimate Underdog channeled the spirit of the recently deceased Eddie Guerrero to win the 2006 match from No. 2, lasting an astonishing 1:02:12. Mysterio also made the final four the previous year, showing that for someone so adept at flying over the ropes, he was just as good at staying between them. Shame about 2014 though...
The only non-Royal Rumble winner to crack the top ten, history has shown you should never have your back against the ropes when Kane is around. The Big Red Monster has eliminated the most people in Rumble history, a staggering 44, and has competed in a record-setting 19 Rumbles. Kane has been in the final four six times (including his forgettable stint as Fake Diesel), but the closest he ever came to being the last man standing was runner-up in 2001, where he set a record of 11 eliminations in one Rumble.
Kane’s elimination record lasted until 2014, when a Big Dog made the Royal Rumble his yard. Regardless of what you think of Roman Reigns, the last three Rumbles have revolved around him. Reigns eliminated 12 people in his first Rumble, finishing runner-up in the process. He went on to win in 2015 to a typically mixed reception, and entered last year’s match as WWE Champion only to finish third. If you’ve entered three Royal Rumbles and finished no lower than top three, you deserve a top ten spot.
Now it’s the real heavyweights - only multi-time winners from here on out. Batista’s two Royal Rumble victories came in very different circumstances. His 2005 win was his cementing as a main event player and wildly celebrated by fans; his 2014 win was a sign WWE was overly reliant on former stars and met with thunderous boos. Like it or not, the Animal has been a powerful presence in every Rumble he has competed in, finishing in the final four an excellent five times and racking up 16 eliminations in the process.
The biggest wrestling star of the 1980’s certainly made a big impression in the formative years of the Royal Rumble. Hulk Hogan’s popularity was slowly starting to wane at the time of his consecutive victories in 1990 and 1991, but both helped him towards championship encounters at the following WrestleMania. Plus, despite only competing in four Rumbles, Hogan racked up an outstanding 26 eliminations, nine of those coming in the 1989 match alone, demonstrating Hulkamania ran wild and rumbled even wilder.
From the star of the 1980s to the star of the current era, John Cena has accomplished everything in his long career in WWE, including two Royal Rumble victories. His shocking entrance at No. 30 in 2008 is one of the greatest moments in the match’s history, and Cena would go on to win that match. Cena repeated this success in 2013, setting up a blockbuster match with The Rock at WrestleMania 29. He has a current total of 22 eliminations and has four times been in the final four.
Prior to the 2017 Royal Rumble, nobody has been in this match more than Triple H. The most recent winner has lasted a cumulative 3:59:37 in Rumble matches, including Iron Man performances in 1996 and 2009. The Game won his first Rumble in 2002 on his return from his first quadricep tear, and became a two-time winner in 2016, entering at No. 30 to capture his 14th world championship. While some will point to his success behind the scenes as the reason for this success, Triple H has left a lot of his wrestling career in the Rumble.
It should be no surprise Shawn Michaels features high on this list. The first man to go coast-to-coast in the Royal Rumble, entering at No. 1 in 1995 and skinning the cat towards victory. Michaels would double his Rumble tally the very next year, the 1996 event the launching pad for his first WWE Championship reign. Michaels has also eliminated the second most people in history with 39 and made the final four five times. He may be Mr. WrestleMania, but HBK will forever be synonymous with the Rumble.
Who else but the only three-time winner of the Royal Rumble to be top of this list? Steve Austin dominated this event in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning in 1997, 1998 and 2001. In just six Rumble appearances the Texas Rattlesnake eliminated a massive 36 people, including ten in 1997 alone, and in five of those six showings he reached the final four. With his popularity at heights never seen before or since in the wrestling industry, when Austin enters a Royal Rumble there is usually only one outcome. Unless you are Vince McMahon, or related to Vince McMahon.