I watched a lot of Royal Rumble matches for this list, and I can say for certain that I learned the following things:
Some were way better than I remembered.
Some were way worse than I remembered.
Pretty much all of them were fun, purely because Royal Rumbles are so engaging even when they’re terrible – like a bad James Bond movie.
Goldust has legitimately been in about 10 Rumbles, and his entrance still pops me every single time.
As you can see, I learned some pretty important lessons. At a certain point, just like when I wrote that big Survivor Series piece, I seemed to enter Rumble nirvana. I was one with the Rumbles, and the Rumbles were one with me. I prayed 30 times a day to the Rumble gods, and I slowly lost my mind. This time, however, there was a key difference.
Researching Survivor Series made me feel genuinely knowledgeable about one of WWE’s more underappreciated pay per views. I felt like a student of physical geography or wildlife, slowly morphing into an expert in my chosen field through many months in the wilderness.
Researching Royal Rumble matches just turned me into a snob. Let me explain.
The inconsistencies of Rumble history are genuinely infuriating to pathetic stat-nerds like me and (presumably) you. So before we dive in, let’s get a few things straight:
- The perfect number of Royal Rumble entrants is 30. 1988 and 2011 can’t be overlooked, of course, but they are bastard children as far as I’m concerned.
- You can eliminate yourself, and you can be eliminated by an already eliminated opponent (or non-competitor).
- You must enter the ring before the next entrant, otherwise, you are eliminated.
- Non-eliminations are total bull. If Vince McMahon (1999) and Roman Reigns (2016) can take lengthy backstage breaks before returning to compete in the final stages of the match, why is Hornswoggle (2008) eliminated once Finlay carries him to the back?
- There should only ever be one winner. 1994 got it wrong; 2005 got it right.
Now that we’ve ironed out my pet peeves, it’s time to delve in. I proudly (read: exhaustedly) present my ranking of all 32 Royal Rumble matches.
[I apologise in advance for my low ranking of one in particular. You’ll know the one I mean when you get to it. Also, there’s no GREATEST ROYAL RUMBLE in this list because quite frankly, that wasn’t a bonafide Royal Rumble – no matter what WWE may say.]
Where: Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What: Some Royal Rumbles feel like they were rushed; others try to pull something off which doesn’t quite go as planned. Those crimes are forgivable. This Rumble, however, seemed like a deliberate attempt to provoke and dissatisfy a passionate fanbase.
The Good: It’s hard to really examine the positive parts of this match because each one came to nothing in the end. Bray Wyatt’s stretch was quite entertaining, as were the brave efforts of Dean Ambrose – but both newer stars were dumped out by Kane and Big Show in crushingly inevitable fashion. It felt like a deliberate slap in the face. (And was.)
The Bad: I’ve already mentioned Big Show and Kane transforming the final stages into a funeral march, but the biggest negative here involved Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. Just about everyone wanted Bryan to win this match, no question. So to have him enter at no. 10 and be dumped out 10 minutes later boggles the mind. In Philadelphia, too! Predictably, the fans turned on Roman Reigns – who was already in firm scapegoat territory beforehand – and essentially shut down the whole match as a spectacle. Even The Rock couldn’t save the day. Even The actual Rock.
Star of the Show: Bray Wyatt. Roman was WWE’s appointed star of the show, and he tried to make the best of a truly impossible situation, but the real winner was Bray. He entered at no. 5, lasted over 45 minutes, and dumped six fools to the outside – including The Boogeyman!
Where: USF Sun Dome – Tampa, Florida
What: A teenager speedrunning their homework an hour before class, but in Rumble form. This was the first Royal Rumble to feature a no. 1 entrant winning it all, which should naturally have been an epic occurrence. Instead, we got the shortest Rumble to this day – a match watched by poor Pamela Anderson at ringside, looking like a blonde porcelain rabbit in the headlights. We didn’t understand either, Pam.
The Good: If you’re going to finally pull the trigger on a no. 1 entrant winning the Royal Rumble, you’d better make sure they can wrestle. WWE at least made sure of that in ’95. Although hardly out there for very long compared to other winners like Flair, Austin, or Mysterio, Michaels’ sheer talent helped make the match downright tolerable (for very short bursts).
The Bad: Look, I feel unfair saying this, but 1995’s bout had a pretty weak lineup. Still, we’ve seen Rumbles with less-than-stellar casts exceed expectations thanks to keen storytelling and cool spots. HBK aside, there was almost none of that here – just a conveyer belt of lower-mid card guys running in and getting quickly tossed. Here comes Mantaur, away he goes; here comes a Harris twin, see you later.
Star of the Show: Shawn Michaels. Credit to the British Bulldog for hanging with him all the way, but this couldn’t be anybody apart from HBK. The first man to win the Rumble from no. 1, and the subject of a truly unique Rumble finish. He also eliminated eight guys, including Duke Droese, a Harris twin, and both Bushwhackers. Bonus points for that, surely.