With 2012 drawing to a close, that can only mean one thing in the WWE: The Royal Rumble is just around the corner.
The company’s most unique pay-per-view of the year never fails to disappoint, and more often than not, it has had a huge impact on the subsequent WrestleMania showcase just a few months down the road.
This year’s show promises to be no different, with the in-ring return of the Rock capable of making the 2013 Rumble one of the biggest in history.
But how will it compare to events of years gone by?
This article takes a look at the top 10 biggest Royal Rumble’s throughout the PPV’s 25-year history in terms of its official attendance totals.
Date: January 31st 2010
Venue: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
The 2010 Royal Rumble came to the Philips Arena for the second time in its history, and it smashed the 2002 attendance of 12,915.
Almost 4,000 more spectators piled in to see Edge’s dramatic and triumphant return, as the Rated R Superstar eliminated both Chris Jericho and John Cena to earn victory after having arrived at No. 29.
It was a brilliant moment for the former champ, having remarkably overcome a potentially career-threatening Achilles injury in just under seven months before his victory.
The show also saw the Undertaker and Sheamus successfully defend their World and WWE Titles against Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton respectively, though interestingly, neither man managed to retain his title long enough to defend the gold at that year’s WrestleMania.
Date: January 19th 1992
Venue: Knickerbocker Center, Albany, NY
The 1992 Royal Rumble was unique in that the winner was presented with the vacant WWE Championship belt as reward for his or her efforts.
Ultimately, it was the Nature Boy Ric Flair who emerged victorious, lasting an impressive 59 minutes and 26 seconds and having entered at No. 3—the fifth longest appearance in Royal Rumble history.
It was to be arguably his greatest achievement in a WWE ring, but despite such success, he parted ways with the company just over a year later, leaving in February 1993 upon the expiration of his contract.
Nonetheless, having only arrived in the then-World Wrestling Federation a mere five months earlier, Flair’s Rumble win of ‘92 marked the culmination of one of the most impactful debuts in company history.
As he said so many times himself; “To be the man, you gotta beat the man." And on Jan. 19th 1992, Ric Flair was indeed the man.
Date: January 24th 2004
Venue: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA
Chris Benoit was one of the most gifted professional wrestlers of the modern era, and thus deserved his victory at the 2004 Royal Rumble.
Furthermore, his winning effort was almost the greatest performance of all time.
The Canadian managed to win the contest despite having entered at No. 1, becoming only the second man ever to do so behind Shawn Michaels. Also, his time of 1:01:30 was once a Rumble record, though he now lies second in the history books behind Rey Mysterio’s incredible 1:02:12 from 2006.
The 2004 show also saw Hardcore Holly unsuccessfully challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, while Triple H and Shawn Michaels fought to a draw in a brutal Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Title.
The aftermath of their bloody affair can be viewed here.
Date: January 24th 1988
Venue: Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Clocking in at number seven on this list is the first ever annual Royal Rumble of 1988.
Just 20 Superstars entered the mix, with cult hero “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan emerging victorious after having arrived at No. 13.
Naturally, the lower number of participants resulted in it being the quickest Rumble match in history, lasting just 33 minutes—a total that has in fact been doubled in 1993, 2002 and 2011.
One of the more surprising aspects of the PPV, though, was the choice of main event: Haku and Tama’s Two out of Three Falls Tag Match victory over Paul Roma and Jim Powers was selected to close out the show—the only time in history that a non-title contest has taken precedent over the Rumble match itself.
Date: January 29th 2012
Venue: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
Surprisingly, last year’s PPV makes it on to this list with a rather respectable sixth-place finish.
Sheamus, of course, picked up the victory, eliminating Chris Jericho in Y2J’s in-ring return to secure his WrestleMania title shot, setting in motion a hugely successful 12-month period for the Irishman.
Though many saw Sheamus knocking off Jericho as the surprise of the night, Daniel Bryan went one better; he somehow managed to remain World Champion after a Steel Cage match against over 850 pounds of opposition in the form of the Big Show and Mark Henry.
Another noteworthy title match saw CM Punk defeat Dolph Ziggler for the WWE Championship in the first of 11 successful PPV title-defences in an incredible year for the Second City Saint.
Date: January 18th 1998
Venue: San Jose Arena, San Jose, CA
The Royal Rumble returned to its favourite state in 1998, as Stone Cold Steve Austin delighted the California crowd with his second successive Rumble victory.
In eliminating the Rock to secure the win, Austin emulated Shawn Michaels’ achievement from two years earlier and became only the second man ever to win back-to-back Royal Rumbles.
Speaking of Shawn Michaels, he was also in action that night—closing the show by beating the Undertaker in a Casket Match.
But the encounter was unfortunately one of the most physically damaging experiences of his illustrious career. After an awkward, though accidental, fall from a back-body drop out of the ring, Michaels hit his lower back hard on the casket.
But being the showman he is, Michaels carried on. In fact, he did so right through until WrestleMania.
Here he explains the escalating pain he suffered as a result, and how he would eventually have to miss four years of in-ring competition in order to rectify the life-threatening injury.
Date: January 15th 1989
Venue: The Summit, Houston, TX
The second annual Royal Rumble built on the success of the first, attracting an additional 1,000 spectators in Houston, TX.
An extra 10 men were added to the Rumble match in 1988, bringing the total number of combatants in the match to the customary 30-man total, which has gone on to become the norm over the years.
In a match that lasted over an hour, Big John Studd was the final man remaining and unknowingly started what would become a rich tradition of success to be associated with entering the match at No. 27.
Though Studd was the ultimate winner, Hulk Hogan also hit the record books with nine eliminations—a total that would stand for eight years until Steve Austin managed 10 in 1998, before Kane’s dominant tally of 11 in 2001.
The Warlord also made some history, though in the form a much more unwanted record; he lasted a mere two seconds in the match. However, his blushes were spared in 2009 when resident class clown Santino Marella was dispatched in just one second.
Nice one, Santino.
Date: January 23rd 2000
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
The WWE’s first PPV of the new millennium ranks in at number three, and what a show it was.
Smack bang in the middle of the Rock’s colossal rise in popularity, the Great One won the Rumble match by eliminating Big Show last, although the victory came in controversial circumstances.
After a No. 1 contender’s match with Big Show the following month in order to determine the true winner, the Rock eventually went on to win the WWE Championship at Backlash—just under a month after WrestleMania 2000.
The 2000 Royal Rumble also saw Triple H defeat Cactus Jack in a Street Fight for the WWE Title.
There was blood, barbed wire and thumbtacks galore in New York City, while the match also produced this gem of a promo from the ever-impressive Mick Foley.
Many argue that this was the feud that catapulted Triple H to superstardom. The Game certainly has his critics, but this footage is evidence enough that he was well and truly deserving of his monster push at the turn of the century.
Date: January 27th 2008
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
The 2008 Royal Rumble was in fact the first to breach the 20,000 attendance barrier, and what better place to do so than Madison Square Garden?
The most memorable moment of the show was undoubtedly the unexpected return of John Cena from injury, back when the leader of the Cenation used to attract cheers from more than one section of the audience.
Coming in at No. 30, Cena emerged to snatch the victory from right under the nose of Triple H.
Cena eventually went on to challenge Randy Orton for the WWE Title at No Way Out rather than wait until WrestleMania for his shot. He was unsuccessful, though, and Orton once again retained at the Showcase of the Immortals in a blockbuster Triple Threat match against both Triple H and Cena.
In a career filled with an abundance of highlights, this was most definitely one of John Cena’s most memorable achievements of all time.
Date: January 19th 1997
Venue: The Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Smashing the PPV’s attendance record at the top of this list is the 1997 installment, which almost tripled the total of the 2008 show.
Stone Cold Steve Austin arrived at No. 5 to last over three quarters of an hour and win the first of his three Rumble matches. The Rattlesnake eliminated Bret “The Hitman” Hart last before going on to face his fallen foe at the following WrestleMania, where Austin famously lost via knockout in a bloodstained submission match.
Austin’s victory was highly controversial though, as he had already been eliminated by Hart before sneaking back into the ring without the officials noticing.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It was hometown hero Shawn Michaels who closed the show though, pinning Psycho Sid via Sweet Chin Music to win back the WWE Championship, much to the delight of the 60,000-plus in attendance.
The Royal Rumble has certainly given us our fair share of memories over the years, and the 2013 show appears set to produce more of the same.
Though the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ will not facilitate a record-breaking Royal Rumble attendance, it has every chance in the world of replacing one of the entries further down this top 10 list.
Either way, the show looks set to kick 2013 off in the very best way possible. And while the PPV may well still be a number of weeks away, anticipation surrounding the event is already growing.
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the Royal Rumble, as well as on any of the previous shows that were mentioned earlier in the article.