WWE Royal Rumble 2013: Ranking the Best Non-Rumble Matches in Rumble History
WWE’s annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view show is famous for its 30-man over-the-top main event match. Traditionally taking place every January, the match is often one of the main highlights of the WWE calendar.
In addition to the Royal Rumble match, the event often produces several entertaining matches on the undercard.
Classic showdowns such as the 1994 Undertaker/Yokozuna Casket Match and the incredibly brutal exchange between Triple H and Mick Foley from 2000 have also featured at the January extravaganza.
Hidden in the shadow of the usually spectacular Royal Rumble headliner, these matches are often overlooked.
Therefore, in preparation for the upcoming marquee bout between The Rock and CM Punk on Jan. 27, this article takes a closer look at the 10 greatest non-Rumble matches in Royal Rumble history.
A collection of matches that fell just short of the list…
During a time when Shawn Michaels’ ability as a narcissistic heel was lighting up the mid-card, this energetic IC bout showcased the natural chemistry between the two former Rockers and one of the best valets in pro-wrestling history, Sensational Sherri.
Historically significant as the match that forced Michaels to take an extended hiatus due to a legitimate back injury, this showdown is most memorable for the post-match angle in which Kane locked the Undertaker in the coffin and set it ablaze – leading to their monumental confrontation at WrestleMania XIV.
An entertaining affair between two competitors with strikingly similar in-ring styles, this match from Royal Rumble ’05 saw Edge pick up the shock victory in his ascension towards main-event status.
Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy
Taking place at the world-famous Madison Square Garden, this exciting WWE title bout was a highlight of a very impressive Royal Rumble card. Orton defeated Hardy in a slick finish that saw the champion counter the Twist of Fate manoeuvre with a devastating RKO.
Effectively serving as the litmus test for Dolph Ziggler’s headline compatibility, this back-and-forth encounter with Edge proved that The Show-Off is more than capable of providing in the main-event echelon of WWE.
10. World Heavyweight Championship: Undertaker vs. Rey Mysterio
Taking place during the Undertaker’s last World title run to date, The Deadman’s clash with Rey Mysterio at Royal Rumble 2010 was an entertaining bout with an interesting big man/little man dynamic.
Mysterio’s famous cruiserweight style complemented the Undertaker’s explosive power moves in a match that featured several high points, including a breath-taking Asai moonsault spot from the ring apron.
In an exciting conclusion, Undertaker (despite suffering a hard-way bloodied face) scored the decisive pinfall with a thunderous Last Ride following an impressive counter of Mysterio’s patented 619.
Following the event, Mysterio went on to feud with CM Punk and the Straight Edge Society whilst the Undertaker lost his title a month later at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, setting the groundwork for his landmark match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXVI.
9. WWF Championship: Yokozuna vs. Undertaker
An entertaining offering from the Undertaker and the gargantuan champion Yokozuna, the Casket Match from Royal Rumble 1994 was a solid bout from two of the then-World Wrestling Federation’s largest performers.
Yokozuna entered the event as one of the most dominant champions in recent history, overcoming such opponents as Hulk Hogan and Lex Luger in previous title matches. Undertaker, however, was suffering from a legitimate back injury, and the Casket Match marked the start of a hiatus that lasted throughout the majority of 1994.
Despite Undertaker’s injury and Yokozuna’s limitations due to his sheer size, the match contained athletic exchanges that even saw the rare sight of the near 600-pound Yokozuna being knocked off of his feet.
The finish came when Undertaker, close to winning his second WWF title, was the victim of an ambush by several of Mr. Fuji’s allies. Including Bam Bam Bigelow, Jeff Jarrett and Diesel, the group locked The Phenom in the coffin, sealing the victory for Yokozuna in the process.
Following the match, in a spectacular angle, the Undertaker was elevated to the rafters of the Providence Civic Center whilst vowing revenge on Yokozuna and his gang of henchmen.
8. WWE Championship: Jeff Hardy vs. Edge
In the closing months of 2008, both Jeff Hardy and Edge had worn the WWE Championship belt around their waist. With Hardy winning the title at the Armageddon event and entering 2009 as champion, the highly anticipated one-on-one clash between the two was set for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in late January.
Prior to the event, Hardy had been the victim of several assaults from a mystery assailant, including a vicious hotel room attack that had rendered Hardy unable to compete for the WWE title at Survivor Series.
At the Royal Rumble, Edge (accompanied by his storyline ‘Familia,’ Vickie and Chavo Guerrero) defeated Jeff Hardy in a rousing No-DQ bout with help from the most unlikely of sources.
In the shocking climax to an enthralling bout, Matt Hardy turned on his younger brother Jeff via a single chair shot (ultimately revealing himself as Jeff’s mystery antagonist). Gladly accepting the unexpected help, Edge covered the helpless Jeff to earn the pinfall and his fourth WWE Championship.
The highlight of a stacked Royal Rumble ’09 card, Matt Hardy’s remorseless attack on Jeff set the groundwork for a lively Extreme Rules contest at WrestleMania 25.
7. World Heavyweight Championship: Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
On a night most remembered for Chris Benoit going the distance and winning the Royal Rumble match from the No. 1 spot, Triple H and Shawn Michaels put on a storytelling masterpiece in a bloody fight for the World Heavyweight Championship.
The latest instalment in a storied rivalry, Shawn Michaels and World Heavyweight champion Triple H squared off in a classic tale of former friends turned bitter enemies.
Contested under Last Man Standing rules, the match at the Royal Rumble event featured both men participating in wild high spots, such as HBK moonsaulting himself though an announcer’s table.
The finish came in a dramatic segment in which both Michaels and Triple H could no longer compete. Following a last-ditch Sweet Chin Music to The Game, both men collapsed and the referee called for a draw.
Although the ending was inconclusive, in context of the story, it was the correct one.
Following the pay-per-view, Shawn Michaels and Triple H would clash again for the World Heavyweight title, with the inclusion of Royal Rumble Match winner Chris Benoit, in the stunning main event of WrestleMania XX.
6. The Hardy Boyz vs. the Dudley Boyz
Around the turn of the millennium, the tag team scene in the WWF was beginning to heat up. At the forefront of this resurgence were Matt and Jeff, the athletic Hardy Boyz, and the recent ECW defectors, Bubba Ray and D-Von, The Dudley Boyz.
At the phenomenal Royal Rumble 2000 event, the Hardys and the Dudleys competed in the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match. Taking the opportunity to impress a pay-per-view audience, the two teams delivered an astonishing type of tag match that, up to that point, had been a rarity in the WWF.
Foreshadowing the upcoming TLC series with fellow tag team trailblazers Edge and Christian, both teams used tables, ladders and chairs in a fantastic match filled with several high-risk stunts, such as the middle-rope Powerbomb spot that saw Matt Hardy become a victim of the dreaded table.
In a moment that would define the excitement and energy of the Attitude Era, the Hardy Boyz won the match when Jeff delivered a beautiful Swanton Bomb to a table-prone Bubba Ray Dudley, all the way from the bleachers of New York’s Madison Square Garden.
This thrilling encounter between the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz not only put both teams on the professional wrestling map, but served as an indication that the WWF tag team division was ready to steal the show.
5. WWE Championship: John Cena vs. Umaga
Taking place during John Cena’s marathon WWE title reign from September 2006 to October 2007, the Last Man Standing Match from Royal Rumble ’07 can be considered as one of the best of Cena’s monumental run.
Accentuated by the enjoyable interferences from manager Armando Estrada, the in-ring action from Cena and Umaga provided several memorable moments, including the incredibly agile Samoan Bulldozer receiving a painful Suplex onto the steel ring steps. Cena also took his own punishment, particularly with a botched Samoan Drop spot that saw the champion land awkwardly on his front.
In an inventive finish that featured the dismantled top rope being used as a choking device, Cena managed to keep Umaga down for the 10-count and retain his WWE Championship.
The late Umaga, playing the monster heel role to perfection, entered in one of the best performances of his relatively short WWE tenure in this title bout. Cena also exuded championship material, during a time when his detractors were getting louder.
4. WWF Championship: Mankind vs. the Rock
One of the most famously violent heavyweight title matches in WWF history, the Royal Rumble ’99 brawl between the underdog champion Mankind and the arrogant “corporate champion” The Rock was a linchpin of the fabled Attitude Era.
Taking place at the height of the WWF’s popularity boom, the “I Quit” Match contained the entertaining garbage wrestling that was increasingly fashionable in the late 1990’s.
In a staggering matchup, Mankind and his challenger The Rock fought across several sections of Anaheim’s Arrowhead Pond in near-homicidal spots that saw the champion take severe punishment throughout.
However, this match was so extreme that it is often criticized for being too violent.
Unflatteringly featured in the moving Barry Blaustein documentary Beyond the Mat, one sequence admittedly took the action a step too far. Mick Foley, incapacitated and handcuffed, took repeated unprotected chairshots to the head in a segment that crossed the thin line between pro-wrestling fantasy and sobering reality.
The match ending came in innovative style when The Rock heelishly fooled the referee into believing that Mankind had uttered the magic “I Quit”, when in fact it was a pre-taped promo that had been altered to give off the impression that Foley had given up.
Along with Vince McMahon’s shock RR Match victory, and despite the sometimes worryingly brutal action on offer, the Mankind/Rock clash was the high point of the star-studded Royal Rumble ’99 event. Excessively violent but ultimately enjoyable, the match can rank as one of the greatest in Rumble history.
3. WWF Championship: Triple H vs. Cactus Jack
Similar to the “I Quit” contest from the previous year, WWF Champion Triple H’s Street Fight bout with Cactus Jack from Royal Rumble 2000 was an extremely bloody contest that pushed the boundaries of professional wrestling violence.
In early 2000, Triple H was in the middle of the successful McMahon-Helmsley Faction storyline, whilst Mick Foley, under the guise of the “King of the Death Match” Cactus Jack, was entering his final year as a full-time active competitor.
Thrown together in a compelling storyline revolving around the WWF title, the two put on a series of exciting matches in the first few months of the new millennium.
Packed full of excellent spots including a suplex that ultimately took a chunk of flesh out of Triple H’s leg, the Royal Rumble showdown ended with The Game (somehow) retaining his WWF heavyweight title.
But not before one of the most sadistic spots in WWF history had occurred.
In a frighteningly graphic sequence (that subsequently would never be featured in today’s PG product), Triple H hit his Pedigree finisher on Cactus Jack, slamming the challenger face-first onto a collection of thumbtacks in the process. Rolling over, Foley revealed a bloodied face full of horrific pinhole punctures.
On a night filled with memorable matches such as the aforementioned Hardyz/Dudleyz Tables Match and The Rock’s unforgettable Royal Rumble win, Triple H and Mick Foley stole the limelight with the first of an excellent series of pay-per-view matches.
2. WWF Intercontinental Championship: Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho
The conclusion to the almost year-long feud between the Canadian grapplers, the Royal Rumble 2001 battle between Chris Jericho and Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit is not only one of the best non-Rumble matches in history, but one of the greatest gimmick matches too.
With the IC belt suspended above the ring, Jericho defeated Benoit in a blistering Ladder Match as part of a very impressive undercard. Showcasing the chemistry between the two, the blow-off to the longstanding rivalry can easily rank as a contender for the greatest contest in either athlete’s career.
The action itself was notably stiff. At one point, in a spot that can make us thankful that unprotected chair shots are now banned by the company, Jericho caught Benoit mid-flight with a ridiculously hard chair shot whilst The Rabid Wolverine was attempting a Suicide Dive to the outside of the ring.
Following several other crowd-pleasing segments (such as the challenger stretching the champion with the Walls of Jericho atop a Ladder), Jericho, the courageous babyface, managed to claim the belt and win his fourth Intercontinental Championship.
A hard-fought battle, the Royal Rumble Ladder Match highlighted the main event prospects of both Benoit and, in particular, Jericho, so much so that Y2J would go on to end the year as the first-ever WWF Undisputed Champion.
1. WWE Championship: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Widely regarded as two of the greatest mat technicians in the history of modern professional wrestling, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit squared off in a first-rate encounter at the 2003 edition of the Royal Rumble.
Although Angle and Benoit entered the WWE title match in the middle of an engaging storyline, the match itself was all about the wrestling.
Delivering a thrilling mixture of acrobatic manoeuvres and intricate chain wrestling more commonly seen at a collegiate level, both champion Angle and challenger Benoit were at the height of their talents in a match that benefited from the lack of outside interference from Angle’s teammates, Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas.
After almost 20 minutes of stellar action and incredibly convincing near-falls, Angle secured the win (and his champion status) in a clean finish that featured a rare submission from the famously tough Benoit.
Post-match, in a gesture that voiced their sincere appreciation, the sold-out Fleet Center fans gave both men a tremendous standing ovation.
The Royal Rumble 2003 match can be considered as the start of Chris Benoit’s climb towards the top of WWE that culminated in his 2004 World Heavyweight Championship run.
Kurt Angle, however, was already a bona-fide headline star, but this match with Benoit elevated the champion’s stock as he headed towards a WrestleMania programme with the WWE’s hottest prospect at the time, Brock Lesnar.
A true classic, Angle vs. Benoit can be viewed as the single greatest non-Rumble match in the January pay-per-view’s 25-year history.
The 10 matches listed in this article prove that, despite the 30-Man Battle Royal often stealing the pay-per-view limelight, classic matches also occur on the Royal Rumble undercard.
In three weeks’ time, The Rock and CM Punk will clash in a titanic bout for the WWE Championship (providing the champion adheres to the forgone conclusions and retains the title against Ryback in tonight’s TLC match).
With fan interest at a height not seen since the “Once in a Lifetime” bout at last year’s WrestleMania, the long-awaited Rock/Punk match has the potential to join the contests mentioned as one of the greatest non-Rumble matches in the history of the January event.
Often billed as the beginning of the “Road to WrestleMania”, the 2013 edition of the Royal Rumble has an exceptional “big event” aura usually reserved exclusively for “The Showcase of the Immortals” thanks to the intrigue surrounding the WWE title match.
This writer, along with many others, sincerely hopes that the showdown can match its hype, and imprint itself in the professional wrestling history books as one of, if not the single, best Royal Rumble contest that the world has ever seen.
Thanks for reading!
Comments welcome below or on Twitter: @matthewtsquires