WWE Royal Rumble: The Top 25 Non-Rumble Matches in Event History
It would have to take some kind of earth-shattering, monumental, groin-grabbingly amazing event in the world of professional wrestling to make me write another historical analysis article.
After all, since joining the ranks of this publication website, I've been up and down and even disappeared more often than The Undertaker.
Of course, it may not be anything that major at all. It may just be time for the Royal Rumble.
For those not in the know, I've been documenting the Royal Rumble since I was a little kid, as it has always been my hands-down favorite event in wrestling history. My first five articles on Bleacher Report were about the Royal Rumble. Roughly 20 percent of the articles I've written on the topic of WWE have been about the Royal Rumble.
While the Royal Rumble match is the main contributor to such a devotion, I feel it only appropriate to show appreciation and acknowledge the incredible under card to an event that is about to host its 25th rodeo.
Though I don't acknowledge anniversaries quite like WWE does (to quote Seymour Skinner: "I wasn't principal when I was one!"), I do feel that a top 25 list will encompass the best of the best when it comes to those Rumble matches that, well, aren't Rumble matches.
From tag team landmarks to major title changes; from bloody owner brawls to gravely warfare, this countdown has it all.
No longer will you simply fast-forward (do kids still do that?) through your old Rumble videos to watch the big battle royal. Instead, you may just stop and take pause at the appetizer before the main course.
Let's begin, shall we?
25. Edge vs. Jeff Hardy (2009)
The Setup: Amidst much speculation and rumors, someone had been doing their best to sabotage Jeff Hardy in his quest for the WWE Championship. And with their efforts, Edge had risen to prominence. The Rated R Superstar replaced Jeff Hardy at the 2008 Survivor Series to capture the WWE title, but his reign was short lived when Hardy finally laid claim to the belt just one month later in a triple threat match.
Now, in their first official one-on-one encounter, would Hardy be able to overcome his saboteur and retain the gold?
The Match: When opponents know each other this well, high-quality matches come easy. Edge covered up for any shortcomings the Charismatic Enigma may have shown as the two men gave us a typical affair of WWE storytelling in the ring. As the crowd cheered and chanted for a hopeful return of Edge’s former partner, Christian, as the mystery man stalking Hardy, they received a swerve of their own.
Jeff’s brother Matt headed to the ring for support, but it wasn’t a case of brotherly love. Matt Hardy turned on Jeff with a steel chair and a vendetta, helping Edge secure the title once again.
The Impact: Fans had been waiting, literally for years, for the Jeff Hardy/Matt Hardy rivalry to take full shape. Since the brand extension, the two had been on separate shows and rarely showed up to face one another (the 2003 Rumble would be one example). When they reunited, they performed better than ever yet were still awaiting a big split and a big payoff.
But fans were also swerved away from their Internet dirt sheets in ways they hadn't been before. After weeks of confirmation that Christian was the mystery man, the WWE pulled the plug and went with Matt Hardy instead, having Christian re-debut on a much smaller scale. Sometimes the company outsmarts itself.
24. Ronnie Garvin vs. Greg Valentine (1990)
The Setup: “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin had been forced into retirement by Greg “the Hammer” Valentine in 1989 after losing to him in the midst of a four-month feud. Garvin, left with little options, opted to become a WWF referee, and would subsequently disqualify Valentine during a pivotal match. Valentine proved so disgruntled that he asked for Garvin to be reinstated just so he could beat him one more time.
The Match: In what can best be described as ugly, stiff wrestling, Garvin and Valentine hit each other with every move in the book during a Submission match. Both sported similar techniques and as such were primed never to give up. In the end, however, Garvin got his revenge with the use of the Hammer Jammer.
The Impact: Garvin and Valentine proved that mid-card wrestlers could have a viable, long-term rivalry (over a year, in fact) without losing freshness or value. They also helped to propel submission and mat wrestlers for the start of the decade. Though the match wasn’t incredibly thrilling or definitively exciting, it was a precursor to bigger contests over the next few years and opened the door for mat-technicians like Bret Hart to make their presence known.
23. Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy (2008)
The Setup: After earning the number one contender’s spot the previous month against Triple H, WWE Intercontinental Champion Jeff Hardy was set to make his first real jump into the main event threshold. His opponent, WWE Champion Randy Orton, however, was hell-bent on injuring everyone Hardy held dear. After attacking Jeff’s brother Matt, the Charismatic Enigma took matters into his own hands, leading to a death-defying leap off the RAW stage into his fallen adversary.
The Match: Thanks to his quick and agile style, Jeff Hardy took an early advantage in the contest and knocked Orton silly. But Hardy couldn’t win the title by count out or disqualification, so he would have to continue to play by The Viper’s rules. Just when it appeared as if Hardy had done everything to become a double champion, the RKO came out of nowhere and Hardy was simply another victim of Randy Orton.
The Impact: Despite losing, Hardy had been legitimized as a main event talent. His meteoric rise was reminiscent of that of the Ultimate Warrior, and it showed as the company embellished his character on television and in merchandise. He even conquered the negative press of a mid-year suspension to capture his first (and only) WWE Championship in December of 2008.
22. Ric Flair vs. Vince McMahon (2002)
The Setup: Following the downfall of the WCW/ECW Alliance, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair emerged as the consortium that had the controlling stake in the now defunct entity, and therefore owned half of Vince McMahon’s precious World Wrestling Federation. As time went by, the two proved they could not coexist and would brawl in a Street Fight at the 2002 Royal Rumble.
The Match: In a bitter and bloody affair, both McMahon and Flair tortured one another while their respective families looked on. Flair’s family even got in on the act, leading to the eventual victory for the Nature Boy.
The Impact: Flair and McMahon’s seeming hatred for one another become a pivotal plotline in the coming months. Their bloody Rumble bout setup for huge retaliation until the decision was made to not only split the two apart, but also the very roster they represented. Born out of the rivalry was the term Brand Extension, and the first-ever WWE Draft.
21. Yokozuna vs. the Undertaker (1994)
The Setup: The massive and unstoppable Yokozuna had been running roughshod over the competition for the majority of 1993, until he met his match in the Undertaker. Taker’s ability to take Yoko’s punishment and keep coming earned him a World Wrestling Federation Championship match, but the contract for the bout wasn’t without some fine print.
The dastardly Jim Cornette amended that if Taker lost, he would not get a rematch. Paul Bearer countered with the clause that contest be the Undertaker’s specialty, a Casket Match.
The Match: Following some impressive spots and action from two big men, things began to turn against the Deadman. Wave after wave of the WWF’s top heels made their way to the ring, pummeling the Undertaker with everything they had. Taker continued to fight them off, but eventually, the assault turned into an impassable object.
Undertaker was incapacitated and encapsulated inside his very own casket, only to be reborn in a shocking and incredible conclusion.
The Impact: This contest did more to build the legendary character of the Undertaker than any other in history. Undertaker, who had shown to be indestructible for the majority of his WWF career, was humanized after facing an insurmountable onslaught during this contest. What’s more, Taker’s resurrection in the closing moments of the contest would not only push the boundaries of believability, but they also pushed the envelope on Taker’s deathly persona transcending life itself.
20. The Miz vs. Randy Orton (2011)
The Setup: With great tact and intelligence, The Miz pulled off an unbelievable turn to become WWE Champion in November of 2010. The man he defeated, Randy Orton, was on a warpath to regain his title and prove that Miz was simply a flash-in-the-pan champion. Miz had already pulled off an improbable victory in a rematch against Orton one month earlier, but could he do it a third time?
The Match: Second-after-second, minute-after-minute, The Miz looked like a serious threat and less like a fluke as he battled the Viper. Randy Orton’s relentless offense was countered by Miz’s underhanded tactics, but nobody could have predicted the finish that was to come. As Orton pounced on his opportunities and turned the match in his favor, New Nexus leader C.M. Punk made a withdrawl from the Bank of Interference by taking out the Legend Killer.
The Impact: The Miz’s victory, albeit by tainted means, showed that the WWE was solidly behind him as a champion and was willing to go forward with him as a moneymaker. It was simply unheard of that someone with such a trivial background could rise to the upper echelon of Sports Entertainment. Yet Miz did just that in a few short years with a ton of hard work. Orton meanwhile, looked bigger and nastier than ever and would continue to develop a character with a maniacal edge so devastating, it was almost cool.
19. Shawn Michaels vs. Sycho Sid (1997)
The Setup: At the 1996 Survivor Series, Sycho Sid showed he was willing to do anything to win the WWF Championship. Sid had already betrayed his longtime friend Shawn Michaels numerous times before a heinous attack on Michaels’ mentor, Jose Lothario, led to the downfall of HBK’s first title reign. Two months later, Michaels was granted a rematch in his hometown to exact a measure of revenge.
The Match: What started as a basic match turned into a chaotic brawl after Shawn Michaels showed a side of himself that bordered on desperation to regain his title. Sid was crafty, working of Shawn’s weaknesses and building on his own strengths. But a fateful elimination of WWF officiating led HBK to take matters into his own hands, using a video camera as an assist in the same way Sid had two months earlier.
Michaels recaptured the gold, but at what cost?
The Impact: Shawn Michaels spent the better part of 1996 as the biggest face draw the company had. But his victory and actions in this contest showed a side of the Heartbreak Kid we hadn’t seen for years. He was finally willing to do literally anything to get to the top, and he didn’t care who he offended to do it.
As the face, Michaels outright cheated to win and would continue to do underhanded, juvenile things as the year went on. It wouldn’t be long until we would refer to Michaels as the mastermind behind D-Generation X.
18. Razor Ramon vs. Bret Hart (1993)
The Setup: WWF newcomer Razor Ramon has been a toned, smooth and sleek terror running straight to the main event within six months of his debut. His impressive size and physique may be the perfect match for the World Wrestling Federation Champion and ring technician Bret Hart. In order to prove himself, Razor will have to beat the Excellence of Execution and take his title to prove he belongs in the big leagues.
The Match: At one point in his career, the man formerly known as Big Scott Hall could really cut a rug. This was definitely that point, as the typical big-man-little-man match is foregone in favor of some impressive back and forth and mat wrestling. Though Razor put on an impressive showing for himself, the Hitman continued to cement his legacy as a main event player with a solid win.
The Impact: It wasn't necessarily a great match, yet it delivered where it counted: career growth. Both Bret Hart and Razor Razon were legitimately fresh faces to the top of the card, making this 1993 main event a tough sell on a roster of diminishing talents. Just weeks before the event, the WWF lost the talents of Nailz, British Bulldog, Crush and the Ultimate Warrior, all of whom could have become proven entities to build around in the years to come.
Left with little other option, the company ran with Hart on top and helped bring submission wrestling to the forefront of America. Furthermore, Razor Ramon proved he also could be a draw, and would become one of the most pivotal players in the industry over the next five years.
17. Sgt. Slaughter vs. the Ultimate Warrior (1991)
The Setup: Iraqi-turncoat Sgt. Slaughter has gone from being an American Hero to the top public enemy in the World Wrestling Federation. His opponent, the Ultimate Warrior, was in the midst of a nine-month tear as champion and showed no signs of slowing. Or at least that's what we think, as Macho King Randy Savage was looking to cut a deal with the Ultimate Champion for a title shot in the near future.
When Warrior rejects the deal, Savage looks for revenge to help Slaughter's championship gains.
The Match: It isn't often that we can talk about Ultimate Warrior matches without cringes on our faces. But the Warrior performed better than usual at the 1991 Royal Rumble and Slaughter was in a good phase where he could play the perfect, grueling heel. After about 15 minutes, Randy Savage predictably ran-in, smashing his royal scepter over the head of the Warrior, securing a major title change for Slaughter.
The Impact: In professional wrestling history, this event could be seen as a backstage turning point for competitors from then on out. Warrior dropped the title to Slaughter because he simply wasn't drawing the way it looked like he would in 1990. Vince McMahon would have loved to make twice as much money on a Warrior/Hogan II affair at WrestleMania VII, but instead decided to pander to the lowest common denominator by exploiting Desert Storm.
What followed was a smorgasbord of bizarre as the main event of Mania turned from the clash of the century in a 100,000-seat coliseum to the "heightened security" nightmare in a less than 20,000-seat arena. Warrior's career never recovered, and Slaughter's turn was quickly forgotten once he dropped the belt back to the top-dollar champion, Hulk Hogan.
16. Edge vs. Shawn Michaels (2005)
The Setup: Out for revenge, Edge felt he had been screwed out of two World Heavyweight Championship wins by the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels. What started the previous year at Taboo Tuesday culminated in January when a dose of Sweet Chin Music shattered Edge's golden dreams. Now Edge was out to prove he could not only be a champion, but beat one as well.
The Match: At a time when Edge was really crowning as an incredible talent, he could still wrestle a solid opener with a Hall of Famer. Edge's style against the savvy Michaels was unmatched at the time, and this near 20-minute starter was a highlight of the event for sure. As Michaels scurried out of submissions and away from spears, Edge neared ever closer to an ultimate victory.
It was as back and forth as it could get towards the end, until Edge secured the win with some ring leverage and a rollup.
The Impact: Edge took his momentum into the Royal Rumble match that year, where he finished in the final three. His other two opponents, John Cena and Batista, would become World Champions for the first time later that year. But Edge's momentum would propel him to have the last laugh, securing wins over both men whilst winning more championships than any man in WWE history.
15. Tazz vs. Kurt Angle (2000)
The Setup: Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle was undefeated in his first two months of action in the World Wrestling Federation. He had solidly beaten opponents from pillar to post since the Survivor Series, and was now looking forward to a mystery opponent in the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.
Little did he know that his opponent had been teasing his debut for weeks, and was, in fact, former ECW World Champion Tazz!
The Match: Suplex after suplex, move after move, both Angle and Tazz gave it their all in the opening contest of the 2000 Rumble. Angle was still rather green but managed a strong showing and Tazz looked as fluid with his motions as he ever had. In the end, Tazz locked in the Tazz Mission, a controversial chokehold submission that rendered Angle unconscious and no longer undefeated.
The Impact: It has been said for years that the smartest fans in wrestling reside in The Garden. Though a few instances have proven that theory wrong (John Cena's surprise return in 2008), for the most part, they set the trend for fans worldwide. When they exploded for Tazz, it showed they were ready to see an influx of extreme across the WWF.
But perhaps more importantly, they lambasted a very young Angle with jeers and boos to the rafters. Angle had only been around two months and was already showing he had what it took to be a top heel and top star for the next two decades.
14. The Quebecers vs. Bret Hart & Owen Hart (1994)
The Setup: Months of turmoil between Bret Hart and his younger brother Owen Hart had put the whole family on edge. Looking to break out of the shadow cast by the Hitman, the Rocket was well on his way to abandoning his family for his own success.
But Bret managed to smooth things over as the Harts reunited in an attempt to take down the newly crowned tag team champions, The Quebecers.
The Match: As storytelling comes and goes, this match ranks towards the top in terms of tag team disarray. The Quebecers worked as a well-oiled machine that, at the time, featured two combatants showing they they were either in what little prime they had (Pierre) or could still go (Jacques).
In the end, however, it would be an injury to Bret Hart that set the tone for the incredible finish. As Bret hobbled around on one leg, his brother Owen was driven to the breaking point of jealousy. Owen attacked Bret, allowing the Quebecers to come away with their belts in hand.
The Impact: Following the contest, Owen made it apparent that he was done with the Hitman and the Hart family in general. He would take the better part of 1994 to cultivate his King of Harts moniker, one that came complete with a huge King of the Ring tournament victory.
Bret, meanwhile, showed incredible courage by returning to compete in and win the 1994 Royal Rumble match later that night (with Lex Luger), a victory that setup a championship run and feud with, you guessed it, Owen Hart.
13. The Dudley Boyz vs. the Hardy Boyz (2000)
The Setup: Still new to the WWF scene, The Dudley Boyz were introducing their brand of hardcore entertainment to the masses when the new millennium rolled around. But their style hit a roadblock in the form of Team Xtreme, when Matt and Jeff Hardy stepped away from their feud with Edge and Christian and into a war against the brothers from Dudleyville. A Tables Match set the stage to fire the first shot.
The Match: It what can only be deemed a freight train of high spots, the Dudleys and Hardys tore their bodies apart in an effort to dismantle one another. Keeping in mind, of course, that this wasn't even for a tag team title reign; the stunts these men pulled off kept the Madison Square Garden crowd dazzled for the entirety of the program.
One death-defying leap off of the mounted yellow taxi was enough to solidify both of these teams as longtime, risk-taking rivals. Jeff Hardy emerged from the rubble for just long enough to show that he had plummeted through D-Von Dudley, securing victory for himself and his brother Matt.
The Impact: The Dudleys and Hardys, along with the aforementioned Edge and Christian, were just getting warmed up with matches like this. It would become a staple of their legendary feud that fans still point to this day as one of the greatest events in the Attitude Era.
But it wasn't just the Attitude Era. As the months flew by and these teams continued to do battle, they crystalized what would become the last legitimate era of tag team wrestling we would see from the Titan Towers.
12. Ted DiBiase & Virgil vs. Dusty Rhodes & Dustin Rhodes (1991)
The Setup: The Common Man; The American Dream if you will, Dusty Rhodes had been nearing the end of his "have fun" time in the World Wrestling Federation, and was grooming his son Dustin Rhodes for a hopeful run towards the top. But obstacles stood in the Rhodes' family's path, as Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase was out to teach them a lesson.
But DiBiase had more than his hands full, too, as his representative and coworker Virgil had become insubordinate. DiBiase could no longer payoff his "servant" for disrespectful tasks, and as the days passed, it became more apparent that this tag team match could spell the end for one of them.
The Match: Hidden behind such a deeply involved storyline was a match that included two of the best the business had to offer inside the ring and at least one up and comer who had unlimited potential. Yes, Virgil may have been the anchor holding this ship back, but that didn't stop the story from developing all around him.
Virgil's blatant refusal to aid DiBiase made the contest a handicap match in places, and eventually, But DiBiase's strength and tenacity encouraged Virgil to commit one last dirty deed, securing victory for the Million Dollar Man.
The Impact: In the smaller scope, Dustin Rhodes almost immediately jumped ship with his dad back to the friendly confines of World Championship Wrestling, where a new era was about to unfold. As a wrestler, Dustin only continued to evolve until he achieved his most infamous success as the bizarre Goldust.
The real story here was what went down immediately following the match. DiBiase attempted to prove he still had control over Virgil by humiliating him once more. With a little prodding from the crowd, Virgil snapped, turning face by pummeling his former mentor with his own Million Dollar Belt. What followed was a year-long quest for Virgil to achieve success by taking that very title from DiBiase, a feat he accomplished at SummerSlam 1991.
11. Roddy Piper vs. the Mountie (1992)
The Setup: Just two days before the Royal Rumble at an event in Springfield, Massachusetts, Bret Hart went against doctors orders and competed with a severe flu against his upstart challenger The Mountie for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. The Mountie scored the upset and became the champion, thus leaving Hart to recover and leaving wrestling fans without their title bout at the Rumble.
Left with few options, Roddy Piper stepped in to challenge the Mountie before he would participate in the 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal for the WWF Championship later that evening. For Piper, it was a golden opportunity to secure both major singles titles in one night.
The Match: Despite being the challenger, it became quickly apparent that Piper had the upper hand in the contest. Mountie could not readily anticipate Piper's deceiving offense, finding himself blocked and reversed several times. But the Mountie was resilient; more so than Jacques Rougeau had been given credit for his entire career.
In the end, Jimmy Hart attempted to get involved, but would up colliding with the Mountie, sending the Canadian champion spiraling into a sleeper and a quick end to his championship reign.
The Impact: Piper's victory and storyline that evening were somewhat unique to the Federation. At a time when all the buzz seemed to focus on Sid Justice, Ric Flair, the Undertaker, and Hulk Hogan (not to mention the never-ending saga of Jake Roberts and Randy Savage), Piper emerged with what would be his only singles title in WWF/WWE history.
What's more, the storyline progressed to suggest that Piper could conceivably become a double champion in one night, a feat that had never been accomplished before. To think that the opportunity eluded the entirety of that top tier showed that the Hot Rod still had a lot of gas in the tank, even five years after his reported "Retirement" match.
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty (1993)
The Setup: Ah, the Rockers. One of the greatest tag teams in the history of professional wrestling, their story is so well known and defined that it almost seems a waste of time to talk about it. But in the interest of fairness, we shall review what led up to this contest, anyway.
It was December of 1991 when Brutus Beefcake hosted his most infamous segment of The Barber Shop ever. Amidst constant tension between the tag team specialists, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty buried the hatchet and resolved their issues. Raising their hands triumphantly, Michaels then did the unthinkable, turning and planting Jannetty in the kisser with his boot. As if it wasn't enough, he plunged Jannetty through the Barber Shop window and ended their friendship.
In the year that followed, Michaels became a big singles star and the WWF Intercontinental Champion. He even acquired the services of Sensational Sherri, and things were wonderful until Jannetty came back following a 10-month absence. His first order of business was to smash a mirror over Michaels head in an act of revenge, but HBK pulled his manager in the way as Sherri took the dastardly shot.
At the Royal Rumble, Sherri revealed that she would be in one of their corners, but which one would it be?
The Match: It was a classic Midnight Rockers affair, except that the former tag team wasn't facing any gruesome opponents other than each other. Shawn and Marty knew each other so well that their styles flowed and gelled collaboratively almost as well as they had against one another.
Sure, Jannetty had spent a lot of time away from the ring and was a bit rusty, but Michaels had only gotten better and could pick up the slack at anytime. The extra added bonus of a savvy valet like Sherri escalated the tension between this two men and over the Intercontinental Championship.
Just when it looked like the turn was happening, Sherri revealed her allegiance to be with Jannetty and attempted to take out the Heartbreak Kid with her shoe. But the quickness and diligence of Michaels allowed him to duck as Jannetty was plastered and left a beaten man. Michaels had escaped, if only temporarily, with his title in hand.
The Impact: We often acknowledge that the moment Michaels puts Jannetty through the Barber Shop set is the one of the most significant moments in history. But the feud that followed helped solidify Shawn Michaels as just that damn good all the time.
Not only had Michaels managed to defeat the demon from his past, but he did it without the intentional aid of his former valet, Sherri. He used each of their hatred for him against each other and came out unscathed. While he would continue feuding with both, this match clearly signified that Marty Jannetty would never rise to the levels that Shawn Michaels was going to soar over.
9. Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler (2011)
The Setup: On the same night he lost his beloved Intercontinental Championship to Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler fought his way up in a four-way contest to become number one contender to Edge and the World Heavyweight Championship at the Royal Rumble. What Edge was not counting on, however, was that his ex-lover Vickie Guerrero would be in the corner of Ziggler and went on a crusade to get the spear, Edge's finisher, banned for the contest.
In fact, if Edge used the spear at all, stipulations indicated that he would lose the belt altogether!
The Match: Despite hiding his numerous and nagging injuries during the final year of his career, Edge remained unhindered and fought valiantly each and every night. His performance, coupled with the emergence of Ziggler's talents, made for one hell of an opening contest to the 2011 Rumble. Not to mention the involvement of both Kelly Kelly and Vickie Guerrero and even a referee bump towards the end.
With nearly everyone around the ring knocked out, Edge rebounded with the illegal Spear, but did just about as much damage to himself as he did his opponent. As both men and the referee regained their footing, Edge borrowed one from his best friend Christian's book, nailing the Killswitch for the win.
The Impact: For Edge, it was just one more triumph with a little bit of sleaze that had made the Rated R Superstar and his Decade of Decadence so memorable. Sure, he kicked out of a Zig Zag and even managed to win without the spear, but he still used it illegally. If that wasn't Edge, what was?
Meanwhile, Dolph Ziggler's performance would become his trademark in the following 365 days. What was once a throwaway-talent in a male cheerleader outfit had become a bona fide talent with limitless potential. Nearly all of Ziggler's matches from the past year have been gold, and his performance only gets better and better as days go by.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker (1998)
The Setup: D-Generation X had been feeling pretty good about themselves in 1998 when the Royal Rumble rolled around. The DX crew had taken care of Bret Hart once and for all and were circling in on the company's major titles when the Undertaker decided he had some unfinished business to attend to.
What none of them had anticipated was the debut of the Undertaker's long lost brother, Kane, and a fury unlike any before. After attacking the Undertaker on several occasions, Kane showed sympathy and aligned himself with his brother in support of a Casket Match for the WWF Championship against Shawn Michaels.
The Match: Well, this isn't the first Shawn Michaels match on the list, and it probably won't be the last. There's a good reason for it, too, as Michaels was at his most reckless here when facing the Undertaker. And to his credit, Taker was pretty footloose and fancy-free in this contest as well.
The two men shared thunderous blows and high-flying stunts like they had been doing it for ages, when in fact, it was only part of a small handful of matches they shared the ring during. Taker's death-defying leaps and Michaels' willingness to do anything to win blended the great in-ring action with the Attitude style that was taking over.
When it came down to the finish, Kane emerged to eliminate D-Generation X once and for all, or so we thought. In actuality, he mercilessly turned on his brother the Undertaker and sealed victory for HBK. He didn't stop there, however. Once he had Undertaker in the casket, Paul Bearer instructed him to torch the contraption, destroying the Phenom in the process.
Unsurprisingly, the Undertaker's remains vanished once the flames were extinguished and the casket had been opened.
The Impact: When one door closes, another one opens. From a career sense, this contest reignited the stagnant path the Undertaker had been on for months and gave him his greatest foe ever. Conversely, it gave Glen Jacobs, the man under the Kane mask, a new lease on a pro wrestling career that included such stinker gimmicks as The Christmas Creature, Fake Diesel and Isaac Yankem, D.D.S.
This year alone will be Kane's 15th anniversary. Yes, real anniversary, not just his 15th year so we call it an anniversary because we don't really know what that word means.
For Shawn Michaels, one high-risk was too many in this match, as HBK's landing on top of the casket caused such severe damage to his back that he was forced into an early retirement. He defended and lost his WWF Championship at WrestleMania XIV that year, and we didn't see him compete in a ring again until 2002, when he was capable enough to make a full-time return that surprised millions.
7. Bob Holly & the 1-2-3 Kid vs. Bam Bam Bigelow & Tatanka (1995)
The Setup: Due to a major falling out between Diesel and Shawn Michaels, the WWF Tag Team Championships were vacated in the Fall of 1994, opening the door for several new teams to stake their claim in an invitational tournament. Though the favorites had to be the Smoking Gunns, they were forced to drop out due to injury and replaced by the fledgling duo of Bob Holly and the 1-2-3 Kid.
Surprisingly, this twosome would fight valiantly to the finals, only to face one of the most imposing duos put together in the tournament. For you see, their opponents would be none other than the Million Dollar Team of Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka.
The Match: Proving that size does not always counter speed, Holly and the Kid worked valiantly to match moves with the dominant force of Bigelow and Tatanka. We hadn't seen either of these teams work together too often, so to see them both flow in a tag team atmosphere was refreshing to say the least. At one time, Bigelow and Tananka had even been enemies, a fact that showed during several miscommunications from the match.
Though their power moves and wear down tactics were succeeding, they weren't on the same page when Bigelow was jostled off the top rope by his tag team partner. The opening allowed for an aerial assault from the Kid, giving both himself and Bob Holly their first tag team championships and forever etching the Cinderella story into WWF history.
The Impact: With all of this action in the ring, it would be hard to forget what happened moments later outside the ring. Sitting front row along the guardrail, retired NFL star Lawrence Taylor simply laughed at the predicament Bigelow and Tatanka presented themselves. Though the Native American was able to curtail his anger, Bigelow had always been something of a hothead.
He shoved Taylor forcefully, a move that would lead up to a surprisingly decent WrestleMania XI main event. In an era where the WWF was emphasizing that "Anything Can Happen," it certainly felt like just that had unfolded.
Meanwhile, the newly crowned champions began feuding with the Smoking Gunns the following evening, but only held their titles for 24 hours as they were soundly defeated.
6. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho (2001)
The Setup: Since WrestleMania 2000, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had been embroiled in a feud to determine who was the superior wrestler and who was truly worthy of holding both the Intercontinental and European Championships. As the months went on, the focus narrowed to just the Intercontinental Championship, with Benoit securing the upper hand thanks to the assistance of his Radicalz stable.
But when Jericho finally turned the corner on this feud, he demanded a title match at the Royal Rumble. Benoit obliged, and even told Jericho he could challenge in any kind of match he'd like. Jericho selected a Ladder Match with the title hanging high above the ring.
The Match: For nearly 20 minutes, these two ring technicians went at each other full throttle with a combination of high-risk moves and submission-style antics. As the back and forth affair progressed, it became clear that neither man was willing to give an inch over the title hanging above the ring.
Perhaps most notably, Jericho executed one of the most dangerous and exhilarating spots in wrestling, performing his Walls of Jericho submission move (a modified Boston Crab) on Benoit on the very top of the ladder. The very balance and precision of this move for both men was admirable. By the end of the match, Jericho's brains topped Benoit's brawn, securing him the Intercontinental Championship.
The Impact: At the time, Benoit and Jericho were two of the hottest mid-card acts the World Wrestling Federation had. Neither man was losing popularity or skill after having debuted just about a year earlier. If anything, these two WCW transplants were showing that they no longer needed the offices of Turner and Company to make money.
And up to that point, neither of these mat technicians and submission specialists had really been featured in an atmosphere that required them to do something extreme or hardcore. On one of the biggest stages of the year, both showed they were willing to put their bodies on the line and go to great lengths for the sake of the show.
5. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (2000)
The Setup: During the McMahon-Helmsley era, fans were treated to a constant uphill battle for any superstars the couple felt were unsavory. Mick Foley would have to have been the Patron Saint of these competitors, as he would continually be humiliated for his stance against them until he was promptly fired.
But you can't keep a good man down, and with the help of the entire locker room, Foley was reinstated to face Triple H for the WWF Championship in a Street Fight at the Royal Rumble. As the weeks progressed, however, Foley determined he couldn't do it by himself. Mick began to tear off his Mankind gear to reveal that only one man could step up and beat the Game in a Street Fight: Cactus Jack.
The Match: It had become a staple of the matches Triple H and Mick Foley had been having for upwards of two years. It was bloody, violent and unrelenting. Both men were punishing one another with regulatory weapons, chairs, and even some outside interference (like the Rock). Even handcuffs made an appearance in this gruesome event!
But Foley really upped the ante towards the conclusion when he unveiled an entire bag of thumbtacks with which to end the Game once and for all. As Foley set up Triple H for the finish, the Cerebral Assassin reversed Foley's offense and dropped him into the very pile he had setup! In professional wrestling, we have since come to refer to this action as a Sabu.
One pedigree later (which severely damaged Triple H's legs), and the Game was still the champion.
The Impact: Foley and Triple H's rivalry was soon to hit its peak when Foley put his "career" on the line for one more shot at glory. One shot that he also lost out on, yet continued actively pursuing his dream. On the surface, it setup for one of the greater rivalries of the Attitude Era.
But from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Triple H evolved into a do-anything company man who was ready and willing to put his body on the line to stay on top. And he did, more and more as the years passed by. It wasn't as if he had just let Foley "Sabu" himself. He took a lot of the punishment as well, and would continue to dish it out as much as he could take it in front of the entire locker room.
-Sabu (Noun): The act of setting up or preparing a series of weapons to use on your opponent only to have said move executed on yourself instead. Named for the wrestler who most popularized such irony.
4. The Rock vs. Mankind (1999)
The Setup: At the 1998 Survivor Series, Mankind was handpicked to be the WWF Champion by Vince McMahon and the Corporation. His bracket had been setup in a way that would easily get him to the finals and help him secure his first WWF Championship. What he hadn't counted on, however, was that he was merely a pawn in this game of chess, as the Corporation instead decided to back uber-popular wrestler The Rock on his way to the top.
As the Rock became the champion, Mankind became a sympathetic face that the crowd could relate to. Over the next two months, he would trade blows with the Rock that eventually led to a surprise title victory (and huge turning point in the Monday Night War) on January 4, 1999. Thinking that Mankind was a pushover, the Rock demanded a rematch at the Rumble, but Mankind specified that it would be an "I Quit" match to favor himself!
The Match: Brutal, simply brutal. It was so brutal that halfway through the contest, the company lost their own feed of the pay-per-view when Mankind crashed through live production equipment in one of the sickest bumps of his career. They got the feed back just in time for the audio/visual to be synchronized improperly, so by the time the Rock began wailing away with a steel chair on Mankind's face, you could hear the sickening shots before they happened.
Mankind certainly took it to the Rock was well, laying into the People's Champ with lethal barrages that could ruin anyone's good looks. The blood began to flow, mixing with the sweat as these two rivals went to the extreme to defeat one another. Even attempting to bludgeon one another with the ring microphone became commonplace.
And then, as the two battled towards the entrance stage, Rock laid out Mankind with even more clubbing blows. As he held the microphone up to a bloodied and battered champion, we heard the voice of Mankind himself screaming "I Quit!"
The Impact: As it turned out, Mankind never said the words live, and instead an audio clip of an earlier interview played to secure Rock's victory. The two would continue to battle over the next month for the championship, but no match was quite as memorable as this one.
The level of intensity these two brought on this evening, with Mick Foley's family sitting comfortably in attendance, was unmatched. Both were willing to risk it all and did so with shots that still haven't been matched to this day.
The only thing more thunderous than the sound of those chairs ricocheting off of their bodies was the applause they received for such an inspiring effort.
3. John Cena vs. Umaga (2007)
The Setup: The Samoan Bulldozer Umaga had been running roughshod over the competition and was undefeated since his debut on RAW in 2006. It appeared as if nothing could stop him on his way to the WWE Championship when he was abruptly upset with a roll-up by John Cena at New Year's Revolution. Shocking as it was, the fans and the wrestlers weren't buying it, so Umaga received a rematch at the Royal Rumble instead.
But Umaga's manager, Armando Alejandro Estrada, wanted to make sure that this would be a definitive victory and booked the contest as a Last Man Standing match. In the weeks leading up to the event, the deck had been massively stacked against the champ as he was beaten and injured in a statement of dominance by the Samoan Bulldozer.
The Match: This was as much as a surprise as it was a thrilling, roller coaster ride of a match. Umaga and Cena went at each other with a more unique brand of offense than anyone really could have expected. After seeing so many contests like this one in the past decade, it was hard to imagine that these two could come off as anything but stale and repetitive.
But they were fresh, and their individual talents shined through the very end. Umaga sprinted across three announce tables at one point only to have Cena dodge his splash. They made more use of the steel steps than I recall seeing in decades.
And for the finish, Armando Estrada detached a turnbuckle pad and rope entirely from the ring for Umaga's use. Unfortunately, Cena would take that opportunity to the bank, choking out Umaga with the ring rope to retain his title and silence the critics.
The Impact: People didn't enter the contest with any kind of expectations, which was typical of the period for these two combatants. Folks weren't really sold on Umaga's style as they had yet to see him really "perform," and as for Cena, he was going through one of the roughest patches of the anti-Cena agenda fans had presented by claiming he simply couldn't wrestle.
This contest dispelled both of their accused deficiencies in style. Despite the prophecies, Cena and Umaga performed extraordinarily well with a gem that delivered as much enjoyment as it did originality. It wasn't your typical Cena affair, nor was it your typical Umaga squash.
This contest was something of a hybrid that delivered a ton of bang for the buck and helped legitimize both men in their main event status. More so for Cena, however, who continues to suffer from blind hatred and chants from the crowd minority (and yes, Anti-Cena brigade, you remain the smart mark minority) to this very day. If you're ever questioning Cena's heart, determination, or abilities, I'd like you to watch this match.
And if that doesn't change your tune, feel free to help WWE continue to monetize their content by purchasing the "Cena Sucks" shirt from WWEShop.com. Show your disgust by paying for it!
2. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (2003)
The Setup: Kurt Angle had gone from patriotic hero to undesirable number one when he double-crossed Brock Lesnar and the Big Show to win the WWE Championship. After promising Lesnar a match, he reneged on his agreement and instead attempted to dodge the former champion Big Show around every corner.
With all this turbulence surrounding the title picture, Chris Benoit seized the moment and became the number one contender, getting himself his first legitimate title shot in years.
The Match: Simply extraordinary. Whenever these two men got together in the ring, you knew you were in for a treat. Yet this example of technical mat wrestling may well be the finest ever presented on major television. Angle and Benoit traded every move in their arsenals like two men mashing the buttons on SmackDown! vs. RAW in a battle for supremacy.
When Benoit looked to have the upper hand, Angle countered. When Angle took control, Benoit countered. It was a wonderful marvel that would have made Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect at Summer Slam 1991 wince.
Submission after submission. Cross-face after Cross-face. Ankle lock after ankle lock. It seemingly had no end. Even aerial offense wasn't enough to keep either man down for the count of three.
Finally, it appeared as if Benoit was going to breakthrough when he secured one final Cross-face in the center of the ring. But one more reversal of fortunes was in store, as Angle countered into the Ankle Lock and Benoit finally relinquished the match.
The Impact: Top to bottom and excluding this match, the 2003 Royal Rumble had to be one of the worst cards in the history of time. Coming into the WWE Title match we had already been treated to a sub-par Lesnar/Show affair, more gimmickry related to the departed Al Wilson and the Scott Steiner Belly-To-Belly-Suplex-A-Thon-2003. If you had an affinity for mediocrity, the Rumble match itself was still to come and had all the ingredients to underwhelm.
So to see such an incredible diamond sticking out of the rough made it all worthwhile. Benoit remained in the ring for a standing ovation that would carry over for the next year of hype that eventually led to his own World Heavyweight Championship reign. It was long overdue for the Rabid Wolverine, as he had truly earned his keep.
For Kurt Angle, he had proven to the world something he already knew: At that time, he was the Best Wrestler in the World.
1. The Rockers vs. the Orient Express (1991)
The Setup: Mr. Fuji had introduced his new tag team, the Orient Express, in 1990 to an immediate feud with the Rockers. The team, comprised of Akio Sato and Pat Tanaka, worked well together but wasn't long for cohesiveness. When Sato left, a familiar face joined Tanaka under a mask and the name Kato.
As the new version of the Orient Express, they were set to clash with the Rockers in the opening contest of the 1991 Royal Rumble.
The Match: If other matches on this countdown were exhilarating, exciting and pulse-pounding, then this had to be all of them wrapped into one. Nothing could compare to how intricately plotted and designed these two teams had made themselves against one another.
It was like watching synchronized swimming, except that there was no pool or water; just a wrestling ring and thousands of fans hanging on their every move. They had known how to wrestle against each other for so long that it was only natural they would have a good match.
But a good match simply doesn't do this one justice. Tag team exhibition, raw and unadulterated, with incredible back and forth action, high-flying, near falls, and constant shifts in momentum? Wow. Simply wow.
And we really should have seen it coming, as the Rockers defeated the Orient Express to the adulation of the audience.
The Impact: As professional wrestling matches come and go, we sometimes tend to overlook the simplest of accomplishments. But I have no trouble going as far as to say that this contest may have been the greatest tag team match in the history of sports entertainment. Seriously.
It had all the credentials of an excellent match from the get-go, right down to the familiarity of the men involved. When the second version of the Orient Express debuted, fans were quick to note that the masked Kato looked an awful lot like Tanaka's former Badd Company running mate, Paul Diamond. True, the former AWA tag team had reunited under a new banner, but who would've known that their biggest feud would be with the former Midnight Rockers?
In the AWA, the Midnight Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, were a smash success but never could oust Badd Company. They lost the AWA tag titles to Diamond and Tanaka on March 19, 1988, never to regain them again. In fact, Badd Company held the belts successfully for 371 days, one of the longest reigns in AWA history.
It wouldn't be until three years later that the Rockers would have their revenge at the Royal Rumble, taking a rivalry that extended over two companies to the brink of excellence.
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