Triple H wins the Royal Rumble 2002: At Royal Rumble 2002, Triple H triumphantly returned as a babyface to win the Royal Rumble. Headlining over the famous Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock match, Triple H defeated Chris Jericho to win the title.
Brock Lesnar wins the Royal Rumble 2003: Brock Lesnar eliminated The Undertaker to win the Royal Rumble match in 2003. Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle in a 20-minute match to win the world title. This match headlined over The Rock vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Chris Benoit wins the Royal Rumble 2004: Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble in 2004 after eliminating The Big Show. At WrestleMania of that year, he defeated the two most established stars in the company, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, to win the title. What an emotional match it was—and it headlined the show.
Batista wins the Royal Rumble 2005: Batista—part of the Evolution faction—won the Royal Rumble in 2005. Despite teasing facing the current champion, JBL, he betrayed his ally Triple H and announced he’d be facing him in the main event of WrestleMania. He defeated his former mentor and becomes a star in the process.
Rey Mysterio wins the Royal Rumble 2006: Rey Mysterio won the Royal Rumble in 2006. Instead of getting a one-on-one match, though, he shared the spotlight with Randy Orton to face Kurt Angle in a triple threat match. Despite being advertised to main event the show, it was instead headlined by Triple H vs. John Cena. Rey won the title, though.
The Undertaker wins the Royal Rumble 2007: Undertaker won the Rumble and had the option to face Batista, John Cena or even the ECW Champion, Bobby Lashley. After choosing Batista, they went on to have a legendary rivalry that went beyond WrestleMania. But they ended up being the fourth match of the WrestleMania card—a show headlined by Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena.
John Cena wins the Royal Rumble 2008: John Cena returns at the Royal Rumble in 2008 and wins the Rumble match. Instead of main eventing WrestleMania, he decided on main eventing No Way Out. Your triumphant Royal Rumble winner—who should be traditionally headlining ‘Mania—suffered a DQ victory at No Way Out.
Despite this, Cena wins a No. 1 Contender match on a Raw and makes it onto the WrestleMania card. At WrestleMania, in a triple threat match with Orton and Triple H, he not only doesn't win the title, he gets pinned.
Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble 2009: After being on thin ice with WWE after putting the chairman in a hospital, Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble to assure himself a WrestleMania main event. He does indeed get a ‘Mania main event against Triple H, but he loses in a match that wasn’t half as good as the buildup.
Edge wins the Royal Rumble 2010: Edge wins the Rumble in 2010. He loses to Jericho in the fourth-to-last match on the card.
Alberto Del Rio wins the Royal Rumble 2011: Alberto Del Rio wins the Royal Rumble in 2011 and is guaranteed the main event at WrestleMania. Not only does he not receive his guaranteed main event, but he’s opening the show—and he loses, followed by getting his car vandalized. His match was the third-shortest match on the card, with Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler getting more time.
If you’re observant, you’ll notice that I put a lot of emphasis on if the winning wrestler was in the main event of the show—and if he won.
If you’re even more observant, then it should be blatant to you that a bigger picture in this article is apparent.
What on earth happened to the prestige of winning the Royal Rumble?
In 2004, we got Chris Benoit having his all-time career moment—in one of the best matches in WrestleMania history—main eventing and winning the title over the company’s most established stars.
Only four years later, John Cena’s Rumble win had him watching Randy Orton push the referee, and Cena himself was punted by Orton at 'Mania.
Three years after that, the Royal Rumble winner, Alberto Del Rio, lost in 10 minutes to Edge in the opening match.
Guess what the recap will be this year? My guess is, "Sheamus defeats Daniel Bryan in a quick filler match to win the world title after six weeks of Daniel Bryan harassing AJ—and six weeks of Sheamus defeating top WWE mid-carders."
I love the Royal Rumble concept, but winning it needs to be the achievement it used to be. It needs to be the headliner it used to be, because this year when I was watching it, I just wasn't as emotionally invested as I've been with all the other Rumble matches.