WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Ranking the Greatest Non-Title Matches in PPV History
Throughout the 26-year history of the Royal Rumble, there have been a number of very high-quality championship bouts. From Bret Hart's successful title defense against Razor Ramon in 1993 to Triple H defeating Cactus Jack in a Street Fight in 2000 to John Cena surviving the threat of the "Samoan Bulldozer" Umaga, championship clashes have become as much a part of Rumble lore as the actual 30-man war.
But what about the non-title matches that have taken place at the annual January spectacular?
They are matches that were either added to beef up the card or to blow off rivalries that were so intense that no championship was needed to bring the two Superstars together.
Throughout the history of the show, some of those matches have been among the best on the card. Some have featured young stars looking to make an impact as they move up the card while others have given two men the excuse to beat the unholy hell out of one another as the road to WrestleMania kicks into full gear.
With 2014's Royal Rumble rapidly approaching and a non-title match between Big Show and Brock Lesnar slated for that event, here is a look back at the best matches with nothing on the line but pride and bragging rights.
6. Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude (1988)
The first match in Royal Rumble event history featured Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat taking on "Ravishing" Rick Rude in a battle between one of the greatest babyfaces of all time and one of the most despicable heels of the generation.
Despite Rude not being the fully polished star he would eventually become late in his WWE tenure, the match succeeded because Steamboat was his typically great self, helping to carry Rude to his best match in the promotion to that point.
The only thing really holding it back was the finish, which was completely disappointing.
Rude pulled the official in front of a Steamboat high cross-body block, drawing a disqualification and ensuring that fans would not get to see a definitive ending.
Both men would go on to compete in the big WrestleMania IV, WWE title tournament.
They would both be eliminated in the first round.
5. Shawn Michaels vs. Edge (2005)
The second half of 2004 saw Edge transform from the energetic, exciting young babyface to the manipulative, opportunistic villain that would finally elevate him to the top of sports entertainment.
Frustrated over being passed over for yet another World Heavyweight Championship opportunity as a result of fan voting at the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view, Edge interfered in the match between Shawn Michaels and Triple H, delivering a spear to the former and costing him an opportunity at his second World title.
At New Year's Revolution, Michaels was guest referee in the Elimination Chamber match for the World title. Michaels caught Edge with Sweet Chin Music during that match, ending any shot the Toronto native had at winning his first major singles title.
This was the first time the two had met since the rivalry started, and while it did not quite meet the level of quality that future matches between the two would, it was still a very hot way to kick off the Royal Rumble event.
The match was slow to start, but the near-falls at the end really helped its overall quality.
The late-match spot saw Michaels attempt Sweet Chin Music only for Edge to duck under and deliver a big electric chair, which popped the audience and led to a very close two count.
Edge's roll up and grabbing of the ropes was clunky, but that was more due to the size difference of the two Superstars than anything.
The match was the first really big pay-per-view win of Edge's singles heel run. He would only get better as time passed. One year later, he would enter the Royal Rumble as WWE champion.
4. Ronnie Garvin vs. Greg Valentine (1990)
The feud between "Rugged" Ronnie Garvin and Greg "the Hammer" Valentine that culminated at the 1990 Royal Rumble was one that, had it been set in the National Wrestling Alliance, likely would have been a molten-hot rivalry.
In Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, it was a bit too old-school for the more cartoonish show that the promotion was producing. That does not mean that Valentine and Garvin hesitated to unleash hell on one another in some incredibly stiff, hard-hitting matches—the best of which was the Submission Match they took part in at the first pay-per-view of the new decade.
Valentine and Garvin brutalized one another as they attempted to get the other to submit. Valentine's "Heartbreaker" shin guard had been used unfairly to secure him several victories. It added pressure to his figure-four submission hold, and anyone unlucky enough to be trapped in it had no choice but to tap out.
Garvin countered with his own pad, and midway through the match, when Valentine locked him in the hold, the former NWA World Heavyweight champion mocked him and made fun of him, the hold having no affect on him thanks to his protection.
Those pads would come into play late in the match when Garvin blasted Valentine with one, then applied a Sharpshooter to score the submission victory.
The match was a display of two tough men beating the unholy hell out of each other to end a rivalry. It is exactly what it needed to be and a breath of fresh air during an era where this type of match was not prevalent.
3. The Rockers vs. the Orient Express (1991)
The Rockers versus the Orient Express, just on paper, sounds like a really fun tag match from the early 1990s. It seems like the kind of match that would incorporate old-school tag team psychology on the part of the villains with the flashy, fast-paced and high-flying offense of the very popular babyfaces.
Unfortunately, fans were treated to a very lethargic match between the two teams at April 1990's WrestleMania VI. Despite some better bouts at house shows across the country following that major disappointment, they never quite delivered that one excellent contest that fans knew they were capable of.
Until the 1991 Royal Rumble.
Every element fans had hoped would mesh together to create an awesome match finally did. The tag team psychology was great. The comebacks popped the crowd and the false hope spots quieted them back down. The Orient Express was phenomenal in terms of using quick tags, deceitful heel spots and double-teams to keep the advantage.
Unfortunately for the perennial jobber team, Shawn Michaels was resilient enough to withstand many minutes of pain and punishment to make the hot tag to Marty Jannetty.
Eventually, Michaels subdued Kaito long enough for Jannetty to sunset flip Tanaka and pick up a big win to kick off 1991.
The match was the first example of what tag team wrestling could be when it moved away from the big bruiser teams like Demolition and the Powers of Pain.
The Rockers-Orient Express bout from 1991 could take place on a pay-per-view in 2014 and still be considered an excellent match. That is a testament to all four competitors involved.
2. Ric Flair vs. Vince McMahon (2002)
The night after Survivor Series in 2001, Ric Flair returned to World Wrestling Entertainment and revealed himself to be part of the consortium that had purchased Shane and Stephanie McMahon's shares in the company. As a result, that made him co-owner of the company and immediately put him at odds with chairman Vince McMahon.
The co-owners and business partners feuded throughout the end of 2001 and well into 2002.
McMahon mocked Flair and, by proxy, his legacy as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. It incensed the Nature Boy and left him open for a brutal, violent attack by McMahon, who used a lead pipe to assault the future Hall of Famer.
Flair was bloodied and beaten but motivated to get revenge against the evil S.O.B. who made a joke of his hard work, dedication, and blood, sweat and tears.
In his first match since returning to the company, Flair delivered a hard-hitting, emotional performance that captivated the fans in Atlanta. McMahon ruthlessly parading a beaten up Flair in front of his own family was an excellent example of Vince at his sadistic best.
The bout very much followed the story of Flair's career at that point. His final few years in WCW had broken the once-proud Superstar. When he entered WWE, he had yet to recover his confidence. Conversely, the match saw Flair beaten down and bloodied by McMahon to the point that it appeared he may not be able to recover. Then, just as he was eventually able to do following a series of very good matches against top stars in WWE, he fought back from underneath and defeated the evil McMahon to claim the glorious victory.
This was a really good street fight that revitalized a legend and helped make the undercard of the 2002 show one of the better ones in event history.
1. The Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz (2000)
The Hardys and Dudleys were two tag teams who had begun to make names for themselves late in 1999 and were surging into title contention as the new year arrived.
They were also taking turns putting each other through tables. On the January 17 episode of Raw, the Dudleys got the upper hand, but the Hardys repaid them a few days later when they put the half-brothers through tables of their own.
It set up the first tables match in Royal Rumble history. Furthermore, considering the lengths each team was willing to take to not only steal the show but to break through and make sure every fan in Madison Square Garden remembered their names, it all but guaranteed a great match.
The teams did not disappoint.
Matt and Jeff brought their death-defying offense to the table (pun totally intended) while Bubba Ray and Devon used their strength and brute force to their advantage.
The finish, one of the highlights of the 2000 show and, more importantly, one of the milestone moments in Royal Rumble history, saw the teams fight into the crowd. With Devon sprawled across a table, Jeff climbed into the stands and delivered a Swanton Bomb from 10 or 15 feet in the air, crashing down across Dudley and winning the match for the North Carolina natives.