10 Best Royal Rumble PPV Matches That Weren't The Rumble

January isn't always about skinning the cat and pointing to the WrestleMania sign...

Guys, the Royal Rumble isn't just about the Royal Rumble.

Okay, it is, at least in the hearts of most fans, but let's pretend that WWE's annual January extravaganza isn't entirely based around our favourite stipulation. Despite usually being a show constructed around the Rumble itself, these pay per views have occasionally thrown a bonafide classic in our direction.

Part of the reason could be because the pressure is off. Non-Rumble matches on the card usually have a slightly filler feel, which may sound bad initially, but often means that the wrestlers can truly cut loose and show us what they can do.

This has resulted in some surprising sleeper hits, from brilliant one-on-one encounters with a slightly exhibition feel, to fast-paced tag team classics.

Of course, as this list will prove, not every one of these matches came out of nowhere. Some were backed by a lot of hype, proving to be crucial chapters along the road to WrestleMania - although none of the bouts on this list actually eclipsed the Rumble itself in terms of card placement. That's right, spoiler alert everybody! CM Punk vs. The Rock is not on this list. That's probably for the best, given the utter smark fury caused by its outcome.

What you will find here, however, is a nice mix of drama, skill, storytelling, and occasional outright violence. All of which was probably eclipsed by our intense, childlike love of the Rumble - naturally.

10. Dean Ambrose Vs. Kevin Owens - 2016


It may be a tad recent, but Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens' 2016 war deserves to be here on merit. The main reason, I think, is because Last Man Standing matches are often a tricky proposition. Too many have been easily bogged down by the stop-start nature of the stipulation - but there was no such problem here.

Ambrose and Owens are both great at the little intangible things that make wrestling entertaining. Yes. the set pieces in this match are executed well enough, but the real strength lies in the structure and tension of the match.

When KO sets up those two tables on the outside, you know somebody's going to go through them - but enough happens to distract us from the finish until it actually happens. Bonus points for both men entering the Rumble match itself later in the night, dragging themselves painfully to the ring as a reminder of the prior carnage.

9. Daniel Bryan Vs. Bray Wyatt - 2014


This is the match Bray Wyatt needed to prove his singles credentials, and he couldn't have asked for a better opponent. He and Daniel Bryan throw everything at one another in an intense, intelligent singles bout that utterly stole the show.

Wyatt is vicious and evil, biting his way out of a submission hold on one occasion, while Bryan is every bit as heroic and resilient as we want him to be. His suicide dive into a Sister Abigail on the outside is inch perfect.

Crucially, however, he loses, a result seen by many as a deliberate attempt to quell the 'Yes! movement' heading into 'Mania.

It also ruined the 2014 Rumble.

Okay, that may be a stretch - but the brilliance of this bout was certainly a contributing factor to the negative reaction that blighted the main event. It almost felt as though WWE were rubbing our faces in it, reminding us just how good Bryan was, before failing to even include him in the Rumble match itself.

The fall guy was Batista, whose win was cut off at the legs - but he and Randy Orton at least contributed to a wonderful finale at WrestleMania 30 by putting Bryan over. Oh, the other fall guy was Rey Mysterio, who was booed for daring to enter the Rumble at no. 30 and not being Daniel Bryan.

8. The Quebecers Vs. Bret & Owen Hart - 1994


For some reason - perhaps the Attitude Era fireworks that came in years following - the Hart brothers' feud is often forgotten when discussing the best rivalries of the decade.

That brilliant storyline began in earnest here, at the 1994 Royal Rumble, in a seemingly-innocuous tag title bout between Bret, Owen, and The Quebecers.

Owen's climactic heel turn is brilliant, of course, transforming him into the whiny, antagonistic heel we came to love - but the match itself holds up very well too. Bret's arrogance, preferring to attempt a Sharpshooter with an injured leg rather than tag in his younger brother, is perfect characterisation - giving a frustrated Owen justification for his anger.

Like any good villain, however, he takes it too far - kicking his brother's "leg out of his leg," as he infamously said in the post-match promo.

More bonus points must be awarded here for Raven's turn as The Quebecers' manager - the flamboyant Johnny Polo. Hilarious in hindsight.

7. Chris Jericho Vs. The Rock - 2002


Unlike many Royal Rumble title matches, which can feel a little thrown together some years, Jericho vs. Rock was the culmination of an overarching rivalry.

From the moment Y2J debuted, brashly cutting off The Rock in the middle of his promo, the two were destined to clash on a huge stage. It helped, of course, that the pair shared a certain compelling chemistry, both on the microphone and in-ring. Jericho's historic double-win at Vengeance 2001 was the set-up for this, and fans were hungry to see the Brahma Bull get revenge on the company's new top heel.

Unfortunately for them, Jericho somehow had Rocky's number again. Fortunately for everybody, though, the match was a fantastic one.

Rock is at his intense best here, flying around the ring with superhuman athleticism, while Y2J manages to be both egomaniacal and out of his depth. The finish prevents this from ranking higher on the list, with plenty of crooked referee chicanery (damn you Nick Patrick!) - but everything leading up to the finish is absolutely top notch.

6. The Rockers Vs. The Orient Express - 1991


Show this match to anybody who requires proof that The Rockers were something special, please. Yes, Shawn Michaels went on to be the greatest of all time, but the brilliance of the pair as a unit is often criminally forgotten. It's hard to believe that they never officially won the tag team titles.

If you could distil babyface fire and manifest it in match form, this would be the outcome. Michaels and Jannetty are absolutely dynamite here, springing around the ring like their lives depended on it. Everything comes out of the bag - monkey flips, high knees, stereo dropkicks, all executed with ludicrously high intensity and precision.

Despite the faces' brilliance, the finish is never certain and comes appropriately out of nowhere. Kato slingshots Jannetty, who contorts his body mid-air into a sunset flip pinfall on Tanaka. It's a very lovely finish and solidified this contest as one of the best opening bouts in WWE pay per view history.

5. Kurt Angle Vs. Chris Benoit - 2003


It's disappointing that Benoit's horrific actions have cast a considerable cloud over his many great matches. Not as tragic as the incident itself, of course.

Two of his best came at Royal Rumble pay per views - one, a jaw-dropping spectacle which we'll get onto in just a moment. This 2003 bout, however, is proper wrestling.

Squint during this chess match with Kurt Angle and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a late-2000s Ring of Honor main event - so intense and intricate is the action. At the time, it may have seemed a little obvious that the Olympic Hero was going to retain, thereby setting up a WrestleMania main event with Brock Lesnar - but nobody was really watching this for the result.

This is a match enjoyed for the action itself - every reversal, every takedown, every submission attempt - and the pair cram so many examples of their world-class technical ability into 20 thrilling minutes. If only it could have gone on longer.

4. AJ Styles Vs. John Cena - 2017


He'd already made a monumental Royal Rumble debut and feuded with Roman Reigns, but it could be argued that AJ Styles' SummerSlam 2016 victory over John Cena was his WWE tipping point.

The newcomer triumphed over the biggest star of a generation in a match where both men took each other to the absolute limit - or so we thought.

It's a difficult call to make, but I think that their Royal Rumble 2017 rematch may have been even better. Styles was an even tougher prospect this time around, entering as WWE Champion, while Cena was attempting to become a record-equalling 16-time world champion.

For a WWE title match, this was structured like an NJPW main event, either man digging deeper and deeper into their respective arsenals to pull out the victory. Every move seems to have a little more snap and impact than usual, particularly Cena's crunching lariats, while AJ put in a typically phenomenal performance. Of course he did.

3. Triple H Vs. Cactus Jack - 2000


This match was the starting gun for one of WWE's best ever calendar years, although I'm not sure it was actually eclipsed by any other pay per view bout of 2000. Mick Foley may not be the nimblest of in-ring competitors, but he is in his element here - an unapologetically brutal Street Fight with an on-the-cusp-of-greatness Triple H.

As he would later do with future heel champions Randy Orton and Edge, Foley is tasked with making a man out of The Game. Through an epic mess of thumbtacks, chair shots, and barbed wire, Mick does his utmost to legitimise Triple H's title reign - and boy does he succeed.

Delving into his infamous Cactus Jack persona, Foley brings a little slice of the Japanese deathmatch scene to Madison Square Garden - and we're even treated to a charming cameo by The Rock, who pops out of the iconic MSG entranceway to jump Triple H.

Full credit must also be given to the champ, of course. He played his part to perfection here, from solemnly sending Stephanie to the back, to finishing the job with a sickening face-first Pedigree onto thumbtacks, naturally. This is Mick Foley we're talking about.

2. Chris Benoit Vs. Chris Jericho - 2001


Kurt Angle may have been Chris Benoit's greatest foe in terms of technical ability, but none of his rivals brought a sense of hatred and violence to a feud like Chris Jericho. This ladder match took the Attitude Era carnage pioneered by The Hardys, Dudleys, Edge, and Christian, and concentrated it into a masterpiece of a singles bout.

The combination of storytelling and crunching high spots in this bout is spot on, as both men use the ladder stipulation to inflict punishment as well as climb towards the Intercontinental Championship. The Walls of Jericho atop a ladder is obviously very memorable, but other moments have just as much visual impact.

Benoit's dive to the outside, countered by an earth-shattering chair shot, is perhaps the most wince-inducing spot in wrestling history - hindsight being 20/20. For all the brutality, however, this is also the story of a popular babyface overcoming his vicious foe. When Y2J tips Benoit off a ladder to the outside, it feels genuinely cathartic.

1. Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena Vs. Seth Rollins - 2015


WWE are (often fairly) criticised for over-relying on triple threat matches - but when they get one right, the results are usually spectacular.

In what should be remembered as one of the promotion's best bouts of the decade, Lesnar, Cena, and Rollins took each other to the limit in a ridiculous action movie of a match. Cena and Brock do much of the heavy lifting, slamming each other through barricades and hitting huge power moves - but it's Seth who truly steals the show in my opinion.

The former Shield member soars to the fore like a baby-oiled eagle, popping out of AA attempts, nailing a beautiful Phoenix Splash, and majestically destroying an announce table from the top rope.

Yes, Lesnar ultimately wins (and it's a thrilling win), but this was Rollins' arrival by the final bell. An astonishing effort by all three men.

But especially Seth.

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Jack King

Written by Jack King

[email protected] Twitter: @JackTheJobber