Worst WrestleMania Showings by Royal Rumble Winners
Through almost three decades, the WWE Royal Rumble remains one of the promotion's most powerful tools in creating new stars.
Most Royal Rumble winners read like an almanac of pro wrestling greats. Unfortunately for some, this is also a glory prone to backfire.
In a perfect world, every Royal Rumble winner goes on to WrestleMania to begin a Hall of Fame career by unseating the incumbent star. More times than not, that very scenario plays out successfully, but when it doesn't it sets the wrestler in question back multiple years at the very least.
Worst case scenario, it can cripple a career.
Given today's era of instant gratification and competition from ubiquitous cable television, the window for a star to manufacture a Royal Rumble win into super stardom has decreased. Even those who have won at WrestleMania tend to struggle finding their sea legs in WWE's high-turnover main event picture.
Indicators of poor performance at WrestleMania include poor match quality and wrestlers who quickly descended down the card in the months following their win.
Winning the Royal Rumble is no longer a sure thing for aspiring legends. In some ways, it has become wrestling's Russian roulette.
5. Sheamus—WrestleMania XXVIII
Sheamus' lukewarm showing at WrestleMania XXVIII wasn't entirely his fault, especially since he won his match in 18 seconds.
Problem was, that win came against Daniel Bryan, whose misfortune always seems to be followed closely by outrage amongst his high-strung fanbase.
After a surprising Royal Rumble win in 2012, the Celtic Warrior drew rising star and World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan, whose heel run was beginning to become so popular it would eventually lead him to a babyface turn.
The Sheamus-Bryan match up was a strong candidate to steal the show at a star-studded pay-per-view. Their 2-out-of-3 Falls match at Extreme Rules the following month was proof of just that.
But when Sheamus defeated Bryan with a swift Brogue Kick before fans could take their seats, they voiced their disapproval with "Daniel Bryan" chants during the matches that followed.
The displeasure from Sheamus' 18-second victory over Daniel Bryan boiled over the following night on Raw, where fans filled the show with post-WrestleMania "Yes" chants.
What would come to be known as the "Yes movement" marked the beginning of Daniel Bryan's hot run as a babyface and the simultaneous end of Sheamus' status as a main eventer.
4. Yokozuna—WrestleMania IX
Yokozuna's fast track to the top of the WWE culminated at WrestleMania IX before being undone. As a late entrant in the 1993 Royal Rumble, Yokozuna clinched a victory after eliminating the legendary Randy Savage.
Yokozuna went on to become the first heel to go over in a WWE title match at WrestleMania, defeating Bret Hart.
The match wasn't memorable for multiple reasons. Not only was it kept under 10 minutes, a rarity for a WrestleMania main event, but Hulk Hogan would swoop in and beat Yokozuna in an impromptu WWE title match shortly after.
WWE did many things correctly in the quick, yet calculated, ascension of its larger-than-life sumo wrestler. But as Hogan was entering his decline during his original run with WWE, putting the aging icon over its budding star was a move Yokozuna never really recovered from.
Yokozuna would go on to defeat Hulk Hogan a couple months later at WWE King of the Ring. But after dropping the title to Hart the following year at WrestleMania X, he would never be pushed as a top star again.
3. Randy Orton—WrestleMania XXV
After winning the 2009 Royal Rumble with help from his Legacy stable members, Orton and Triple H had the impossible task of following what is widely considered the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.
On a pay-per-view that, as a whole, fell short, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker wrestled an instant classic at WrestleMania XXV.
Kevin Eck, formerly of The Baltimore Sun, was one of many analysts to give this match glowing praise:
The Undertaker and Michaels more than lived up to the hype, putting on an instant classic and adding to both of their legends. The two veteran superstars took the sold-out crowd on an unbelievable roller coaster ride that culminated with Undertaker improving his WrestleMania record to 17-0 by scoring the pinfall after approximately 31 minutes.
With no way to top Taker-Michaels, Orton and Triple H would face off in a main event that drowned in apathy.
The two stars worked hard, hitting their finishers on one another in the opening minutes, but with fans already satiated by an all-time match, it was a lost cause.
Orton would go on to lose the match but regain the WWE championship the following pay-per-view at Backlash.
2. Alberto Del Rio—WrestleMania XXVII
Few things are as damning to a world championship as making the world title match a curtain jerker. This was exactly the case as Alberto Del Rio would take on Edge in the opening number of WrestleMania XXVII.
Del Rio was a heel on the rise, with a creative entrance to match a unique skill set. After winning the first and only 40-man Royal Rumble match in WWE history, Del Rio went on to lose to Edge in what would be Edge's final match.
The fact that Del Rio was unable to get a revenge win on the now-retired Edge stunted his growth as a credible wrestler. Instead, Del Rio would lose another world championship match to Christian the following month at WWE Extreme Rules.
WWE continued to play the waiting game with Del Rio until SummerSlam in 2011, where the considerably cooled-off Mexican Aristocrat captured the WWE championship from CM Punk by cashing in Money in the Bank.
His run lasted just a few months before he dropped the title back to Punk at Survivor Series.
1. Lex Luger—WrestleMania X
Lex Luger's WWE Championship match against Yokozuna in 1994 is one of the few WWE Championship matches at WrestleMania that will forever be buried deep within the WrestleMania legacy.
Luger and Hart were each recognized as Royal Rumble winners after a controversial finish, and each was awarded a WWE title shot against Yokozuna that year at WrestleMania.
Luger's match against Yokozuna was panned by pro wrestling analysts, including Wade Keller of the PWTorch, who complained:
The biggest disappointment of [WrestleMania X] came from Lex Luger, who put forth an even worse effort than in his match against Yokozuna at SummerSlam. The lowlight of Wrestlemania was a seven minutes segment during the Luger-Yokozuna match that was almost exclusively Yokozuna loosely applying a nerve hold on a half-asleep Luger.
Hart, who had wrestled a classic against brother Owen earlier in the night, defeated Yokozuna in the WrestleMania X main event. Although both stars were placed on even footing dating back to the 1994 Royal Rumble, it was becoming clear who the elite talent of the two was.
Despite WWE's best efforts, Lex Luger was not nearly the star of the '90s that Hogan was in the '80s. In the era where Rumble winners received WWE title shots at WrestleMania, Luger would become the system's very first cautionary tale.