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Royal Rumble 2012: The 10 Gutsiest Winners in WWE History

Thomas J. Harrigan Jr.Correspondent IJanuary 27, 2012

Royal Rumble 2012: The 10 Gutsiest Winners in WWE History

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    With a world title shot and the chance to main event WrestleMania on the line, the stakes couldn't be higher each year in one of the most unique matches in wrestling history. 

    The Royal Rumble match. 

    30 wrestlers enter, toe the precarious tightrope for upwards of an hour, and only one walks away as the sole survivor. 

    It's a daunting task.

    That's why winning the Rumble takes a remarkable combination of determination, endurance and luck, as the winner must do everything possible to make sure his two feet never touch the floor.

    The floor is where losers reside. 

    The ring, however, is where the referee raises the hand of the winner. And to stay in the ring while 29 others exit, it takes a brand of cunning ferocity not too many in wrestling history have had. 

    The winner must be on the offensive, looking to toss competitors at any moment—while also watching his back to make sure he's not the one being tossed. 

    In all, 21 men have bested the Rumble challenge in 24 years. Two, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels, have done it twice, and one, Stone Cold Steve Austin, has won it three times, while 1994 was the only year to feature two winners (The WWE declared Bret Hart and Lex Luger co-winners in '94 when both men had their feet hit the ground simultaneously). 

    All of these conquests required perseverance, but several took a little more grit than others. 

    Here are the top 10 gutsiest Royal Rumble winning performances in WWE history: 

10. John Cena, 2008

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    Entrant Number: 30

    Last Eliminated: Triple H 

    Time in Match: 8:27

    In October 2007, Cena completely tore his right pectoral, and WWE expected him to miss between six months and one year of action. 

    So, it was especially shocking when Cena returned, unannounced, three months later at the 2008 Royal Rumble.

    The clock counted down to zero for entrant No. 30, "My Time is Now" hit, and Madison Square Garden popped emphatically as Triple H stood in the ring, visibly stunned by Cena's appearance.

    The two would go head-to-head, and Cena eventually got the best of the Game, reversing a pedigree attempt into an FU over the top rope.

9. Triple H, 2002

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    Entrant Number: 22

    Last Eliminated: Kurt Angle 

    Time in Match: 23:14

    The Game entered into a dangerous environment in his first match back from a torn left quadriceps muscle. 

    He didn't get to ease his way into the Rumble either, as Stone Cold Steve Austin waited for him when he entered at No. 22. 

    Austin and Triple H went at it for nearly five minutes, pausing only to throw out the Hurricane and Farooq. 

    Triple H then had to contend with Mr. Perfect, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Kane, Rob Van Dam and Booker T, but he managed to get down to the final four with Austin, Perfect and Angle. 

    Angle eliminated Austin, who proceded to crack the remaining three over the head with a chair out of frustration, saving the last and most vicious blow for the Game. 

    But Triple H persevered, eliminated Mr. Perfect and struggled with Angle before finally clotheslining the Olympic Hero over the top rope. 

8. Steve Austin, 1998

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    Entrant Number: 24

    Last Eliminated: The Rock 

    Time in Match: 15:58 

    With seemingly the entire locker room gunning for him throughout the night, there was a chance Austin wouldn't even make it to the Rumble match, much less win the thing. 

    When nobody came out at No. 22, Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross speculated that Stone Cold had indeed been taken out.

    However, his music hit at No. 24, and all nine men in the ring stopped fighting and turned to the entrance ramp, waiting for Stone Cold. 

    Austin came through the crowd, jumped in the ring, and welcomed everyone to come get some. 

    He eventually won the match—his second in a row, by eliminating the Rock after a Stone Cold stunner. 

7. Hulk Hogan, 1991

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    Entrant Number: 24

    Last Eliminated: Earthquake 

    Time in Match: 19:55

    One year after winning his first Rumble match, Hogan returned in grand fashion to defend his crown, and his country.

    The United States was fully engaged in Operation Desert Storm with Iraq, and Hogan fittingly walked out of Miami with his second-straight Rumble victory, flying the stars and stripes as he celebrated the win. 

    Hogan entered at No. 24, and soon found himself up against Earthquake and Brian Knobbs. 

    Earthquake dropped several splashes on top of Hogan, but he popped up unfazed and eliminated Knobbs. 

    However, Hogan's attempt to body slam the near 500-pound Earthquake backfired as the behemoth crashed down on top of him.

    Earthquake power slammed Hogan and attempted to cover him, but Hogan instinctively popped up, "hulked" up, and delivered a big boot to Earthquake for the second time.

    Earthquake didn't fall, but Hogan picked him up and authoritatively body slammed him before tossing him over the top rope.

6. Bret Hart, 1994

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    Entrant Number: 27

    Last Eliminated: Lex Luger and Hart went over the top rope at the same time and the WWE declared them co-winners of the Royal Rumble match. 

    Time in Match: 15:08 

    Bret Hart was having a rough night before the Rumble match even started. 

    He tagged with his brother Owen against the Quebecers with the tag titles on the line, but during the match, manager Johnny Polo (aka Raven) held the rope open, causing an unsuspecting Bret to crash to the floor. 

    Bret hurt his knee and couldn't stand when attempting to apply the sharpshooter later in the match. The referee stopped the bout and the Quebecers retained. 

    Owen, frustrated that the injured Bret didn't tag him, attacked his brother, kicking him in the injured leg. 

    Despite all that, Bret limped to the ring as the No. 27 entrant in the Rumble match. 

    The other competitors focused on Hart's injured knee, but the Hitman endured. 

    Eventually, it got down to Luger and Hart, who exchanged quick blows before Luger tried to powerslam Hart.

    Hart didn't stop fighting, and the two tumbled over the top rope together and hit the floor simultaneously. 

5. Undertaker, 2007

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    Entrant Number: 30

    Last Eliminated: Shawn Michaels 

    Time in Match: 13:15 

    Sure, No. 30 is usually the best number to have because it allows for the shortest time in the ring, but for the Undertaker in 2007, drawing No. 30 was anything but easy. 

    The Deadman entered and immediately clashed with the Great Khali. The two traded blows before the Undertaker was able to clothesline Khali over the top rope. 

    Undertaker was then double-teamed by Randy Orton and Edge, the reigning tag team champions. Orton and Edge each drilled the Undertaker in the head with a steel chair, bloodying him. 

    Edge set 'Taker up for a con-chair-to, but Shawn Michaels suddenly appeared from outside the ring, eliminating both Orton and Edge.

    'Taker and Michaels stared each other down, then preceded to batter each other for nearly seven additional minutes. 

    Michaels set up Undertaker for the sweet chin music, but 'Taker caught his leg and flipped him over the top rope for the victory. 

4. Shawn Michaels, 1995

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    Entrant Number: 1

    Last Eliminated: The British Bulldog 

    Time in Match: 38:41

    Even with the odds stacked against him, Shawn Michaels strutted to the ring looking as arrogant as ever.

    It was almost as if he was pleased to have drawn No. 1, just so he could have extra time to grandstand.

    Turns out, Michaels had no reason not to be confident. 

    The Heartbreak Kid outlasted No. 2 entrant the British Bulldog, literally proving that his grip on the company's catbird seat was just a little bit tighter than Davey Boy Smith's. 

    The Bulldog thought he had dumped Michaels over the top rope and his music even began to play, but it turned out Michaels wasn't done.

    Michaels had "skinned the cat," holding onto the top rope right before his feet hit the floor and swung back over. He decked Smith, who was celebrating on the turnbuckle, and sent him to the floor, becoming the first man ever to go the distance in the Rumble match. 

3. Chris Benoit, 2004

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    Entrant Number: 1

    Last Eliminated: Big Show

    Time in Match: 61:30 

    Chris Benoit had fought tooth-and-nail his entire career for the opportunity to headline WrestleMania. 

    What was another 61 minutes? 

    In a performance that might as well have been a microcosm of his career, Benoit lasted longer in the Rumble than anyone else had to that point. 

    Of course, the biggest obstacle was saved for last, in the form of the Big Show.

    In the final moments, Benoit headlocked the giant and didn't let go. He was determined to topple the massive man, no matter how long it took. 

    Show teetered on the top rope as Benoit struggled. Finally, in a display of sheer grit, Benoit pulled the Big Show completely over the rope and let him tumble to the floor.

    He had finally done it.

    The fight to get a shot at the gold was complete. Now, he would just have to win it at WrestleMania. 

2. Rey Mysterio, 2006

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    Entrant Number: 2

    Last Eliminated: Randy Orton 

    Time in Match: 62:12 

    Standing at 5'6", Rey Mysterio has to overcome disadvantages every time he steps in the ring. 

    Drawing No. 2 and having to square off with No. 1 entrant Triple H certainly didn't help either. 

    However, the little man came up big, lasting longer than anyone else has in Rumble history. 

    Inspired by the death of his longtime friend Eddie Guerrero, Mysterio made it to the final three.

    He withstood a double-team by former Evolution partners Triple H and Randy Orton, then found a way to eliminate the Game with body scissors. 

    Frustrated with the elimination, Triple H attacked Mysterio, whipping him into the steel steps and then feeding him to Orton in the ring.

    But Mysterio had one last-ditch effort left to give. 

    As Orton lifted Mysterio up to toss him over the top rope, Mysterio shifted his position into a head scissors, taking Orton over the top instead. 

1. Ric Flair, 1992

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    Entrant Number: 3

    Last Eliminated: Sid Justice

    Time in Match: 59:26 

    With Bobby Heenan crying "foul," Ric Flair entered at No. 3 and proceded to take a beating for nearly an hour.

    Everyone wanted a shot at Flair. 

    The Nature Boy took a lashing from the British Bulldog, Shawn Michaels, the Texas Tornado, Greg Valentine, Roddy Piper, the Undertaker, Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and Hulk Hogan. 

    He was put to sleep by Piper, choked out by the Undertaker and put in the figure-four leglock by Valentine.

    Yet, Flair kept on getting back up. 

    His unrelenting vigor even prompted a surprised Heenan to comment, "Look at Flair, he's still fighting!" which caused Gorilla Monsoon to classically remark, "Fighting? I can't believe he's still standing!"

    Flair was first aided by Sid Justice, who eliminated Hogan from behind, and then Hogan—who pulled Justice's arm—allowed Flair to throw him out.

    For his efforts, Flair earned the vacant WWF championship. It was the only time in history the title was on the line in the Rumble match, and the first time someone entering in the Top 10 won the event. 

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