WWE's Royal Rumble pay-per-view is more famous for the match that offers the victor a title shot, but the event's championship bouts have often been marked with greatness.
When Randy Orton defends the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the 2014 Royal Rumble, he and his opponent must follow the pay-per-view's long list of thrilling title bouts. Diesel and Bret Hart composed a classic in 1995. John Cena and Umaga did the same a dozen years later.
Which Royal Rumble championship match has been the most enthralling so far?
The event's title matches are ranked here based on the excellence and excitement of the in-ring action, the buildup and story's ability to move us and the star power involved. Any match at the Royal Rumble with a championship on the line was considered, including the 1992 Rumble where the winner took home the vacant WWE Championship.
- Bob Holly and 1-2-3 Kid vs. Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka for the Tag Team Championship (1995)
- Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker for the WWE Championship (1998)
- The Rock vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship (2013)
In 1995, a pair of underdogs won the Tag Team titles in an exciting match. Stellar in-ring action gets that bout a mention, but a lack of big names and buildup keeps it out of the top 10.
Shawn Michaels and Undertaker's Casket match in 1998 showed off their great chemistry. It occurred in the midst of an engaging rivalry, the cocky Michaels evading the stalking predator that was Undertaker.
The match itself was excellent, but those that made the list were just a touch more emotional, captivating and memorable. Fans remember Michaels getting hurt in this bout more than any of the action itself.
The Rock's win over CM Punk had similar strengths—star power and great buildup. As well-worked as the bout was, Rock's ring rust showed some. It slowed the match just enough to slide it out of the list proper.
One of WWE's best stories of a partnership imploding resulted in a rivalry flush with superb matches. Shawn Micheals sent tag team partner Marty Jannetty crashing through a barber shop window, and soon The Rockers were delivering in the ring against each other.
They soon battled for the Intercontinental Championship in a match that showcased the foes' excellent chemistry but also provided a preview of Michaels' greatness.
As they so often did as The Rockers, Michaels and Jannetty sped around the ring and soared from the turnbuckles. It was when the match veered into more brutal territory that it was at its best, though. Their hatred powered the drama that unfolded.
Bigger stars and even more bitter feuds push this contest down to this spot.
The Rock sought to take the WWE Undisputed Championship away from Chris Jericho in a electric rivalry that pitted the braggart versus The People's Champion.
This was a more fluid, more engaging battle than they had at Vengeance 2001. The Rock seemed just moments away from victory several times, but Jericho slipped away. This dynamic, along with run-ins from Christian and Lance Storm and the explosive moment that was Jericho suffering a Rock Bottom through a table, whipped the crowd into hysterics.
How, then, do eight matches rank above this? As good as these two foes' chemistry was, other rivals rode more intensity to even more memorable clashes.
Bret Hart vs. Diesel was a collision of skill versus power, heart versus size. Hart's measured, perfected offense turned more vicious against Diesel.
Their animosity shone on the screen even with a less-than-memorable buildup.
Hart's mat acumen and Diesel's explosiveness combined for a thrilling match for the WWE Championship. Hart was WWE's top star, and Diesel appeared ready to take that spot from him.
As fun as the chaos was that ended this, it robbed the bout of a more climactic ending. That, and the pre-match story not being anything special, brings this down some in spite of all the great in-ring work.
Regardless of how one feels about this World Heavyweight Championship match ending in a draw, there's no denying how intensely personal Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H felt.
The friends-turned-enemies story can't be told much better. These two had moved on to other rivalries after their brutal feud in 2002. This title bout brought out their hatred once more, Michaels and Triple H painting the mat red with blood.
Two highly popular stars with fantastic chemistry stole the show in 2004.
A lack of a winner and some slow spots thanks to all the counting required of a Last Man Standing match keep this from being even higher.
It's in matches like these that WWE feels like a comic book. John Cena played the superhero and Umaga thrived as the monster that had to be toppled.
Intense, violent and dramatic, this Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship left its mark on Royal Rumble history in a big way.
Its memorable moments are plentiful: steel steps clanging against flesh, Cena choking Umaga with the ring ropes and the champ begging The Samoan Bulldozer to punch his bloody face. This was better paced than Shawn Michaels and Triple H from 2004, but not as crisp as the matches above it.
Had Umaga been a bigger star, this would have felt even bigger, moving it up the rankings.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had been battling seemingly forever, including their meeting in Japan in 1995. That showed in their chemistry, which helped make the action seamless this night.
Their Ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship had its share of gasp-inducing moments, displays of athleticism and a merging of mat wrestling and brutal brawling.
What keeps this classic from being one of the very top title matches in Royal Rumble history is having less buildup than the matches that surpassed it. Even as important as the IC belt felt during this clash, WWE didn't give it the kind of hype it did for its main event bouts.
And as intense and shocking as the violence was in this, two of the matches ranked above it delivered even more of those elements.
Lou Thesz vs. Edouard Carpentier, this was not. The Rock and Mankind's I Quit match for the WWE Championship was more slobberknocker than mat-wrestling clinic.
It's entertainment value drew from brutality in a feud boiling over. Two of the era's most popular Superstars bashed each other with microphones and brawled in the announcer's area, in the crowd and just about everywhere inside of the Arrowhead Pond.
Mankind vs. The Rock scores high in entertainment value with its many shocking moments.
It didn't have the range of emotions that the top three Royal Rumble title matches possessed, however. And in one case, another of Mick Foley's personas outdid this bout's level of violence.
The Rumble match now guarantees the winner a championship match at WrestleMania. In 1992, the WWE Championship itself was on the line.
Subplots created great drama, from Sid Justice veering into villainy to Randy Savage and Jake Roberts' rivalry catching fire once more. The most engaging narrative of this battle royal, though, was Ric Flair's survival.
As the third entrant in the match, it took a Herculean effort to survive until the very end. Flair gleefully claimed the WWE title and delivered one of the greatest promos of his career, telling Gene Okerlund that this was the greatest moment of his life.
Just two of Royal Rumble's title matches top this one—one a display of in-ring carnage and one a near-perfect mat-wrestling showcase. Added intensity and concentrated excitement push those bouts just above this one.
Triple H and Cactus Jack's enthralling rivalry in 2000 produced two all-time classics, including this Street Fight for the WWE Championship.
Their war was faster and more varied than The Rock vs. Mankind, and its drama was more concentrated than Ric Flair winning the 1992 Rumble. Cactus crashing into the steps, Triple H swinging the 2x4 wrapped in barbed wire and thumbtacks impaling flesh helped make this unforgettable.
The buildup to this clash was fantastic, Triple H portrayed as the epitome of arrogance and Cactus his own kind of warrior.
Only near-perfect in-ring action between two men with chemistry that rivals any pair of foes beats this out.
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle needed no special stipulations, no weapons to compose a masterpiece. Their WWE Championship match remains Royal Rumble's best bout ever.
Sitting atop the mountaintop, accompanied by his new management team, Team Angle, the former Olympian looked to avoid another battle with Brock Lesnar. Instead, his challenger came in the form of Benoit, a man looking to cement himself as a main event star.
WWE built this up as Benoit chasing a lifelong dream, with Angle's wickedness and wrestling excellence the blockades in front of him.
In the ring, their styles meshed perfectly. It was a matchup of suplexes versus suplexes, submission holds versus submission holds and two of the best technical wrestlers in WWE history putting on a show that engaged from bell to bell.
It will take surpassing perfection for another Royal Rumble title bout to move past this one.