Over the course of the Royal Rumble's 25-year history, there have been some great ones, some poor ones and everything in between. No matter what, however, it is always a special moment when one man outlasts 29 (usually) other superstars and reigns supreme over the WWE.
Some of those moments have simply risen above the rest and transcended time. Most of the iconic images that last in the minds of wrestling fans happen at WrestleMania, but the Royal Rumble is a close second in that regard. Many stars have been made at the Royal Rumble and that is why it continues to be one of the WWE's premier events.
Each and every Rumble win is significant, but some mean a little more due to the importance of the match or the circumstances surrounding the competitor. Hulk Hogan's wins were great, as was "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan's in the inaugural 1988 Rumble match, but they didn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.
When a wrestler goes the distance or returns from injury to win one of the most brutal matches in the WWE, it does even more for them than a run-of-the-mill Rumble win. Here are seven Rumble victories that have stood the test of time and exist as benchmarks for future Rumble winners to meet.
Heading into the 2010 Royal Rumble, it seemed as though the field was wide open with several possible winners competing. The cream of the crop was left standing in the ring when it came time for the 29th entrant to come to the ring, but most were shocked when Edge emerged from the curtain as he had suffered a torn Achilles six months earlier. Edge would defy the odds and win his first Royal Rumble, however.
Surprise returns from injury have somewhat become commonplace in the WWE, but the fans always respond when it involves one of their favorites. Edge had won the Tag Team Championships with Chris Jericho just prior to his injury and he was playing the heel role, but Jericho had been badmouthing his former partner during his absence. This didn't sit well with Edge, as he immediately went after his countrymen upon entering.
Edge went on a rampage as he hit spear after spear and it didn't take him long to settle back in. To make his victory even more impressive, Edge last eliminated John Cena, who had won the Rumble two years earlier under similar circumstances. Edge went on to face Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, and although he lost, his Rumble win will always be remembered.
It may not seem overly impressive to win the Rumble from No. 29 on the surface, but an Achilles tear is a significant injury that has been known to keep athletes on the shelf for a year. Edge managed to heal quickly, though, and it made for an awesome victory.
Triple H has overcome the odds numerous times over the course of his career, but his most impressive triumph was his win at the 2002 Royal Rumble. Just two weeks before the Rumble, Triple H made his return to WWE programming after missing eight months with a severely torn quadricep. Triple H announced his intention to enter the Rumble match on that night and he didn't disappoint as he ultimately came away with the win.
The Game entered the match 22nd and immediately went after "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, whom he had had many battles with before. The two of them stole the show for a period of time and even briefly reprised the Two Man Power Trip when they teamed up to eliminate The Hurricane. Other stars such as Mr. Perfect, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Kane, Rob Van Dam and Booker T eventually filled the ring, making Triple H's path to victory difficult.
It eventually came down to Triple H and Angle as the final two competitors, which many expected. Angle appeared to eliminated Triple H at one point, but The Game was able to hang onto the apron and reenter. Triple H regrouped and hit Angle with a facebreaker knee smash before clotheslining the Olympic gold medalist over the top rope and to the floor.
Triple H went on to defeat Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania X-8 as he completed an improbable comeback. Triple H's Rumble win might have been higher on the list had his return been unannounced, but returning from a career-threatening injury and winning the Royal Rumble is great in any capacity.
John Cena enters the 2013 Royal Rumble as the odds-on favorite to win and earn a title shot at WrestleMania, but it won't be his first hurrah if he does manage to beat out 29 other superstars. Cena's first and only Rumble win to date came in 2008, but it was certainly one of the most memorable in WWE history. Cena had torn his pectoral muscle just four months earlier and there wasn't a single person who considered him a threat to enter the match.
Cena's injury was supposed to take as much as a year to heal and no less than seven months, but the Royal Rumble took place less than four months after the injury forced him to forfeit the WWE Championship. Triple H was dominating the Rumble and looked like a shoe-in to win it for the second time in his career, but when the buzzer sounded for No. 30, Cena's familiar music hit and the capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden went absolutely nuts.
While Cena has been much maligned over the course of his career and even was back in 2008, the fans could not contain their excitement. There have been 750 Royal Rumble entrances since 1988, but none of them can measure up to Cena's in 2008, and I'm not sure that one ever will. Cena and Triple H engaged in an epic stare down, and it should come as no surprise that they ended up being the final two participants in the match.
Triple H gave it his all, but the returning Cena was simply too much as he went on to win the match. Cena used his title shot on Randy Orton at No Way Out rather than waiting until WrestleMania and he failed to capture the WWE Championship. The aftermath matters not, though, as Cena's return and subsequent win was a signature Rumble moment.
One of the best things about the Royal Rumble is that it often feels like anything is possible, and that much was proven true in 2006. While Rumble winners are obviously determined through kayfabe means, larger men have won the vast majority of the Rumble matches, so it is somewhat realistic in that regard. Because of that, it didn't seem like Rey Mysterio necessarily had a great chance to come out on top in 2006.
Not only was Mysterio much smaller than any man who had won the Rumble before, but he entered the match at No. 2. Winning from one of the first two entry positions is nothing new, however, it generally makes things more difficult. On top of that, the No. 1 entrant was Triple H, so Mysterio had a tall task in front of him from the start. The diminutive superstar managed to last for over an hour until it got down to himself, Triple H and Randy Orton. The former Evolution stablemates double teamed Mysterio and things certainly looked dire.
Mysterio somehow managed to eliminate both men, however, and win the match. The victory was notable for a few reasons as he set the iron-man mark at 62 minutes and 12 seconds. Also, the win made Mysterio a legitimate main-event star, which is something that he had never been viewed as previously in WCW.
It was definitely a feel-good moment and things only got better for Mysterio as he won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania against Orton and Kurt Angle. A lot of people like to say that Mysterio only got his push due to the untimely death of his close friend Eddie Guerrero, but Mysterio earned it over the course of his career and it was awesome to see him stand tall after so much hard work.
Many people, myself included, have lost all respect for Chris Benoit over the years, but it wouldn't be fair to leave him off this list from a kayfabe perspective. Prior to the horrible end to Benoit and his family, he began to rise up the ranks in the WWE and became a main-event player. The Crippler needed something big to put him over the top, and he finally got it at the 2004 Royal Rumble. In what was perhaps the most wide-open Rumble ever, Benoit bested the field and came away victorious.
Benoit had always been a great in-ring worker dating back to his time in WCW and ECW, but he never got a shot at the big time due to his smallish stature and lack of great mic skills. The fans were firmly behind Benoit, though, and the WWE knew the time was right to kick-start his push in 2004. Benoit entered the Rumble first, so he had to run the gamut of top-tier superstars in order to win.
Randy Orton, Kane, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Chris Jericho and Goldberg were just a few of the contenders that joined the match after Benoit's initial entry. The Crippler managed to avoid elimination time after time and it got to the point where he was down to the final two with Big Show. The World's Largest Athlete had come close to winning the Rumble before, so he seemed like a good candidate to break through.
Benoit was able to lock Big Show in a choke, however, and use leverage to pull him over the top rope and to the floor. If not for Benoit's later transgressions, that moment would still be played on a regular basis by the WWE. It was a great ending to a storybook Rumble for Benoit. He also made the most of his victory as he beat Shawn Michaels and Triple H to win the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Although the 1995 Royal Rumble is the shortest of all time and considered the worst of all time by many fans, Shawn Michaels' winning performance truly launched him to new heights in the WWE. For whatever reason, the WWE decided to switch the interval between Rumble entrants to just 60 seconds in 1995, so the match was a mere 38 minutes long. That didn't stop Michaels from stealing the show and creating some memorable moments, though.
Prior to this particular Rumble, nobody had ever won from the No. 1 position. That fact made Michaels a long shot to win and the same was true of the No. 2 entrant, The British Bulldog. Being the workhorse that he was, Michaels was in it for the long haul and managed to remain in the match with each passing entry. The match eventually boiled down to the only four legitimate threats in Michaels, Bulldog, Lex Luger and Crush. Luger and Crush were then eliminated, so the match ended just as it started.
Both HBK and Davey Boy were gassed, but they soldiered on and Bulldog eventually clotheslined Michaels over the top rope. Bulldog's music hit and he celebrated on the ropes as it looked as though he had won. Michaels reentered the ring, though, and knocked Bulldog over the top rope. Michaels' music then played and he was declared the official winner.
Further replays confirmed this as Michaels hung on to the top rope and only one of his feet touched the floor. Avoiding elimination in this manner became known as skinning the cat, and it is now done on a regular basis in Rumble matches. With that victory, Michaels established a number of firsts, and even though he lost his WWE Championship match against Diesel at WrestleMania, winning the Rumble set the tone for Michaels' meteoric rise.
There are always going to be differing opinions when it comes to wrestling, but the 1992 Royal Rumble is the greatest Rumble of all time, and nobody can convince me otherwise. Not only was this particular Rumble match star-studded beyond belief, but it also is the only one in history in which the WWE Championship was on the line. With such high stakes and so many legendary superstars involved, there was no way it could disappoint.
Ric Flair had signed with the WWE just a few months earlier and called himself "the real world champion," as he was still technically the NWA World Champion at the time. Despite that, Flair tried desperately to get his hands on the WWE Championship. He meddled so much in the title picture that he did manage to force Jack Tunney to vacate it, so it was on the line in the '92 Rumble. Flair was among the favorites, but the odds were stacked against him as he entered No. 3.
At the time, there had only been four previous Rumbles and nobody had ever won from such an early slot. Nobody actually believes it nowadays when the announcers tell us that there's a disadvantage to entering early, but in 1992 it seemed like a legitimate argument. Flair put forth a virtuoso performance, as did Bobby "The Brain" Heenan on commentary. Heenan made it seem like Flair had no chance, but he dodged every bullet.
Late in the match, Sid Justice eliminated Hulk Hogan and Hogan was none too pleased. He grabbed Sid's arm from outside the ring and that allowed Flair to dump him over the top rope for the victory. The win made Flair the WWE Champion and the Royal Rumble iron man. His mark has since been surpassed, but nobody ever lasted that long with so much on the line.
Flair put an exclamation point on his victory as he, Heenan and Mr. Perfect celebrated afterwards backstage. Flair would go on to say, "with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life."