WWE Royal Rumble: Power Ranking Every Battle Royal Match of All Time
Every year, WWE presents its annual Royal Rumble match, a 30-man, over-the-top-rope contest to determine the No. 1 contender to the world title at WrestleMania.
In its 29 years of existence, the match has spawned some of the most unforgettable moments and most recognizable victors in WWE history.
But which matches proved to be the perfect mesh of superb storytelling and in-ring action? Which matches realized the full potential of a 60-minute contest featuring the biggest, brightest Superstars?
As the company prepares for the 30th Royal Rumble on Jan. 29, we'll take a look back at its predecessors and judge them on the action from bell to bell, the storytelling that unfolded within, their overall importance to the Road to WrestleMania and the winners.
All of those elements will come together to determine the greatest Royal Rumble match in WWE history.
Which will ascend to the top of the power rankings, and why?
Take a look.
The 1995 Royal Rumble is the worst in company history yet, at the same time, one of its most significant.
With entrances coming every minute, the run time was shortened significantly. But the narrative of Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog entering at Nos. 1 and 2 and then lasting all the way to the finale ranks as one of the more original stories ever told in the confines of the match.
More importantly, Michaels' victory catapulted him to the top of the company as the new No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship. It sent him on his way to WrestleMania XI and a showdown with Diesel that would earn him the respect of management and a push that would culminate with a WWE Championship reign just over a year later.
Michaels' historic win—the first to come from the No. 1 spot—was hampered significantly by the shorter intervals and a complete lack of credible talent. Outside of HBK and The British Bulldog, only Lex Luger stood a snowball's chance in Kane's front yard of winning and going to WrestleMania.
With a field consisting of luminaries such as The Blu Brothers, the tag team of Well Dunn and The Bushwhackers, the 1995 Rumble is easily the worst ever booked and presented by WWE.
Shawn Michaels won his second consecutive Royal Rumble in 1996, but he again did so in a lackluster match that failed to live up to the lofty standards set by its predecessors.
Even with a stellar performance from young Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Rumble debuts from Vader and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the contest failed miserably to provide anything in the way of drama.
Everyone knew Michaels was winning, so even suggestions that Diesel may prevent his longtime friend from winning or that Vader may dominate his way to victory felt forced.
In the end, Michaels dumped Big Daddy Cool and cashed his ticket to a WrestleMania showdown...just as fans predicted long before the first and second entries got the match started an hour earlier.
WWE was transitioning from one era to another by the time the 1993 Royal Rumble emanated from the Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.
Hulkamania was no more, and Ric Flair had one foot out the door. Yet a lack of credible contenders had many thinking The Nature Boy may repeat his feat from the year before, joining Hulk Hogan as the only Superstars to that point to win two Rumble matches.
Unfortunately for Flair, his dreams of winning and headlining WrestleMania were dashed when he was eliminated by rival Mr. Perfect just 18 minutes in.
A lack of star power and depth led to one of the more disappointing Rumble offerings to date. Footnotes in WWE history such as Max Moon and Damien Demento received spots in the 30-man spectacular, while a Superstar of yesteryear, Bob Backlund, was given the Iron Man push, setting a record with a one-hour run.
So depleted was the roster of competitors that the contest legitimately came down to the only two men who could have conceivably won and challenged Bret Hart for the WWE title at The Showcase of the Immortals: Randy Savage and the untested Yokozuna.
A huge blunder on Savage's part, which saw him attempt a pin, proved to be his undoing, as the mammoth villain powered him over the top rope and won.
The strange booking, which made the iconic Savage look like a bumbling fool, only helped ensure the 1993 match's spot near the bottom of this list.
The 2011 Royal Rumble sucked.
There is no other way to describe it.
The only Rumble to feature 40 competitors, it was overly long, housed too much dead weight and featured a lackluster winner in Alberto Del Rio.
The decision to make the match the biggest Royal Rumble ever was the direct result of Raw's influx of young talent during the Nexus angle. With so many fresh faces, the company had enough of a roster to support a 40-man match. Unfortunately, it had not done nearly enough to build any of them into viable threats.
Thus, outside of John Cena and Randy Orton, the field was incredibly thin.
That neither of those two Superstars was expected to win only took fans further out of the match.
How convincing was Del Rio as a legitimate winner of the bout? The crowd erupted at the idea that perennial comedic act Santino Marella would pull off the greatest upset of all time and eliminate Del Rio for the win.
He did not, and the crowd was once again deflated.
Needless to say, the company returned to the 30-man format the following year.
With a wealth of iconic characters and the greatest feud of all time at its center, the 1999 Royal Rumble should have been one of the best ever. Instead, a poor layout and questionable booking left audiences underwhelmed by the contest that unfolded before them.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Vince McMahon's "boss vs. rebel" storyline had encapsulated WWE for an entire year, leading to a ratings renaissance. After 83 consecutive weeks of getting its ass handed to it in the Monday Night Wars, the company surged ahead on the strength of that storyline, so the idea that it should be at the center of the Royal Rumble match only made sense.
Unfortunately, the decision to have Austin beaten down by The Corporation and taken to the hospital left fans deflated and disinterested as they watched The Blue Meanie, Dan Severn and Droz slug each other around the squared circle for the first half of the bout.
Sure, things picked up significantly later when Austin returned and bigger, more recognizable stars entered the fray, but by packing so many huge stars into the tail end of the contest, it undeniably affected the balance of the match and rendered the first 25 minutes obsolete.
That McMahon inconceivably won the match when The Rock interfered on his behalf, ensuring Austin would not win his third straight Rumble, only hurt the credibility of the contest.
Even if it made perfect sense within the context of the bout.
The 1997 Royal Rumble was a match marred by a lack of roster depth, necessitating appearances from CMLL talent like Mil Mascaras, Latin Lover, Pierroth and Cibernetico, not to mention double duty from full-time stars such as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Goldust, Ahmed Johnson and Faarooq, all of whom had competed earlier in the night.
That the only story worth tracking was the heated rivalry between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Bret Hart did not help matters.
Even a wild brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, little more than an excuse to distract referees after the eliminated Austin re-entered the squared circle and dumped Undertaker, Vader, the fake Diesel and Hart, failed to boost the profile of the lackluster match.
Sure, the finish was creative, and Austin received a tremendous boost from his tainted win, but it took far too long to get to that point.
Still, the image of Austin sitting atop the turnbuckle, staring at his invisible watch and waiting for the next Superstar to walk the aisle, remains one of the most badass and endearing images in Rumble history.
The inaugural Royal Rumble match is an anomaly on this list—a 20-man contest that never understood exactly what the annual battle for supremacy would eventually become.
Superstars entered at timed intervals and were eliminated in the same manner that every other competitor has been sent packing in the 29 years since. Yet there was a lack of stakes to the contest that lessened its impact.
Even the years that immediately followed, where nothing but pride was up for grabs, felt more significant than the 1988 match.
The conclusion, which pitted lovable babyface "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan against The One Man Gang, who had been booked dominantly to that point, was a clever bit of storytelling on the part of agent Pat Patterson. The right man went over, as Duggan eliminated Gang for the victory, but the only thing it accomplished was ensuring that Duggan would earn a place in the Hall of Fame and be the answer to a trivia question years later.
Philadelphia was neither brotherly nor exhibited love for Roman Reigns when the former Shield member outlasted Kane, Big Show and Rusev to win the 2015 Royal Rumble.
It is hard to blame Philly fans.
The final moments of the match featured the least interesting foils for Reigns to overcome. By the time it came down to those three heels against WWE's handpicked hero, the outcome became so painfully obvious that fans reacted out of sheer displeasure at the lack of effort by WWE Creative to put together a more intriguing finish.
Add to that the elimination of Daniel Bryan earlier in the match, and you have a scenario in which the company knowingly hurt one of its marquee matches for the sake of telling its audience that it knows better and will produce whatever push or match it damn well pleases.
The 1989 Royal Rumble was the first to examine the potential of the match.
While Big John Studd may have been the least interesting winner in the history of the event—a rare booking misstep by management during one of the most significant matches the company has to offer—it was made up for by the brilliant bit of booking that unfolded in the middle of the match.
The Mega Powers had been dominating WWE for a year, with Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage's partnership too much for bad guys to overcome. In such a situation, the only thing that could possibly tear them apart was ego, which is exactly what led to the explosion of the formidable tandem.
The 1989 Royal Rumble, a vast improvement on its predecessor, featured the first hint of a major schism between friends when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage from the bout, causing a tense face-to-face between them that even the lovely Miss Elizabeth could not calm.
Hogan would be eliminated by Big Boss Man and Akeem, while "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase's attempts to pay off Studd to take a walk and let him win would fail miserably, resulting in an unpredictable Rumble match that may not have featured the desired outcome but set the bar for every Rumble match that followed.
The 2009 Royal Rumble was a major disappointment—a match that was all too disjointed and never hit a stride that can be described as entertaining.
Undertaker lasted 39 minutes, but it never felt like he accomplished anything. Rey Mysterio lasted 10 minutes longer than that, but one would be hard-pressed to call his performance inspired or historic. Triple H lasted even longer than that, but his showing paled in comparison to his performance from 2006.
Too often, the match felt bloated, with too many Superstars in the ring at once and too many on the receiving end of the Iron Man push. One man receiving that long of a stint is one thing; three is overload and an indictment on WWE Creative.
The only thing the match did correctly was keep Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes on the same page long enough for them to prevent The Game from winning the match. Orton would win, the first Rumble victory of his career, but it did not distract fans from realizing just how underwhelming the contest they just witnessed was.
One year after buying his way to the No. 30 entry in the Royal Rumble, Ted DiBiase was the unlucky recipient of the No. 1 spot in the contest, setting the stage for the first "Iron Man" run in the event's history.
The Million Dollar Man showed his stamina for nearly 45 minutes, outlasting the likes of Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts and Dusty Rhodes before being eliminated by The Ultimate Warrior. His story was the highlight of the first half of a strong Rumble, but it was hardly the most memorable.
That honor is bestowed upon the staredown between Warrior and Hulk Hogan, which came after an inadvertent elimination of the former by the latter. Sure, it was a direct repeat of the previous year's bout, where Hogan dumped Savage and ignited their WrestleMania rivalry, but there was no denying the electricity that filled the arena as the two iconic figures came face-to-face, teasing what would eventually be one of the most memorable WrestleMania main events ever.
Hogan's plight at the end of the bout, having to beat both Mr. Perfect and Rick Rude to emerge with his arm raised in victory, was a classic "overcoming the odds" story. The Hulkster's victory finally lent credibility to the contest and ensured it would become an annual showcase for the biggest and brightest stars Vince McMahon's promotion had to offer.
The 2012 Royal Rumble was boring, which is the most profound indictment against WWE.
Traditionally one of the most exciting bouts, even when the finish is obvious well in advance, the Rumble should never be referred to as boring. Yet in 2012, that is exactly what it was, as a lack of star power resulted in a bout that was more "meh" than thrilling.
The finish, which saw Sheamus and Chris Jericho trade near-eliminations like they were Undertaker and Shawn Michaels from 2007, did little to enhance the quality of the match. Instead, it was a cheap ripoff of a much better finish.
That Sheamus won the thing despite overwhelming support for Y2J did not help matters.
The untimely death of Eddie Guerrero hung over the 2006 Royal Rumble like a dark cloud. After all, the former WWE champion likely would have figured heavily into the match. Without him and with a significant injury to Batista, all plans for WrestleMania 22 were altered seemingly on the fly.
Enter Rey Mysterio, Guerrero's best friend and an undeniably popular member of the SmackDown roster.
Without Batista to represent the brand and with the decision made not to keep the World Heavyweight Championship on Kurt Angle or give it to the immature Randy Orton, Mysterio was tapped to become the latest underdog to win the Rumble match.
Starting at No. 2, he overcame 29 other Superstars to pick up the win, eliminating the aforementioned Orton to cash his ticket to WrestleMania.
Poor utilization of stars such as Big Show, Kane and Ric Flair and a lack of a breakout performance by a young star helped make the 2006 incarnation of the bout one of the more mediocre in the event's history.
The 1994 Royal Rumble will forever be remembered as the first and only instance in which two Superstars won the match.
Heading into the January bout, Lex Luger was in the middle of an enormous push that Vince McMahon and Co. had intended to culminate in a WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania X. No matter how hard he was pushed, his popularity never matched that of Bret Hart, the former titleholder whose connection with audiences was organic and real.
With a dilemma on his hands, McMahon made the only decision he thought right: He booked both to win the Rumble match in controversial fashion.
The last two Superstars remaining tumbled over the top rope, hitting the floor at the exact same time. The decision to declare them both victors was met with a groan from fans, all of whom recognized a cowardly cop-out from the minute it happened.
Still, there is no denying that the outcome sets the 1994 match apart from all others—the novelty of the finish a moment in time that cannot and will not ever be duplicated.
At least if the finish to the 2005 match is any indication.
Hart and Luger's situation was not the only memorable moment of the '94 match, though.
Diesel, a relative unknown beyond his role as Shawn Michaels' bodyguard, entered the match and wrought havoc on anyone unlucky enough to come up against him. Big Daddy Cool would eliminate seven other Superstars, drawing cheers from fans and setting in motion the decision by McMahon to push him to the WWE title later in the year.
Hardly a perfect Rumble, thanks to considerable dead weight throughout, the contest remains one of the most memorable.
In 2013, Dolph Ziggler turned in a 49-minute performance that set the stage for his eventual push toward the world title just after WrestleMania.
Chris Jericho, in a shocking return, lasted just one minute shorter than The Showoff.
Ryback was a red-hot babyface whose series with CM Punk for the WWE Championship had some fans thinking the company may have found its next great babyface.
Yet despite those three exciting options, management and decision-makers opted to have John Cena win his second Rumble match, dumping Ryback and effectively ending any chance he had of growing into Cena's eventual successor.
The match was, for the second year in a row, uneventful. The obvious winner was not offset with any thrilling or exciting finish or clever or inventive spot. Instead, it was a straightforward, no-nonsense presentation aimed at showing Cena overcoming the odds and returning to WrestleMania 29 to get his win back against The Rock.
Nothing more, nothing less.
The 2003 Royal Rumble should have been better than it was.
With a field consisting of Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker, the match should have been able to better mesh the top stories in WWE together and provide one of the more unforgettable Rumble matches in years.
Instead, it never hit its stride, perhaps because of the disjointed layout of the contest.
The feud between Michaels and Jericho dominated the early portion of the match, while Lesnar's quest to get to WrestleMania and a showdown with Kurt Angle over the WWE title made up the finish. Unfortunately, WWE Creative failed to book a compelling middle portion, leading to a match that was never consistent enough throughout to rank among the best.
The end, which saw Lesnar overcome Undertaker, Kane and a green Batista, lacked the spark of excitement that fans expect from the closing moments of wrestling's greatest Battle Royal.
After a year when WWE took many chances as it searched for the cure to declining ratings, the 2003 Rumble was far too safe and inconsistent to hit the note the company had intended.
The 2014 Royal Rumble was the first taste of what WWE officials could come to expect from future incarnations of the bout.
In front of a vocal, passionate and angry fanbase, Batista won the match for the second time and was greeted by a loud chorus of boos.
Why did the audience react to the returning, conquering hero in that manner?
Because fans wanted Daniel Bryan instead. The same Bryan who was not even included in the match, let alone won it.
So venomous were the fans in their reaction to Batista that they were willing to take such a drastic approach as to cheer for Roman Reigns, who broke a 13-year record set by Kane for most eliminations in a single Rumble match.
Like so many since 2011, the Rumble suffered from disjointed booking and never developed into the perfect mesh of stories and in-ring action. Instead it devolved into the "guys punching other guys" formula that makes for the most uninteresting matches.
Like so many of the Rumble matches during the 1990s, the 1998 Royal Rumble match lacked an engaging middle portion. However, like some of the best, it did blend several compelling stories together to provide an entertaining match, even if the winner was a foregone conclusion.
Everyone knew "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was winning the bout and headlining WrestleMania XIV.
What no one knew was that the legendary Mick Foley would appear three times as three different characters and that The Rock would deliver a 50-plus-minute performance that heightened his star and set in motion a banner year for the young third-generation star.
With three of the most recognizable stars of the Attitude Era, it was only fitting that one of the biggest and most successful years in WWE history began with them being spotlighted in one of WWE's premier gimmick bouts.
By the time Austin stunned Rock and tossed him over the top rope to win the match, fans rejoiced because they had just witnessed a Rumble devoted to character development, the growth of hot young stars and the culmination of The Texas Rattlesnake's year of blood, sweat and tears.
The clock ticked down from 10 to one. The buzzer sounded.
"The Time Is Now" exploded over the PA system, and fans inside Madison Square Garden erupted as John Cena stepped through the curtain, with his return coming months before he was scheduled to set foot back inside the squared circle.
It was a legitimate surprise in the internet era. Yet there it was, in all of its glory—fans were stunned by the image of a confident Cena standing tall in the face of Triple H and Batista, among others.
He entered the squared circle and slugged it out with the top stars in WWE. He then proceeded to dump The Game over the top rope with an Attitude Adjustment to win his first Royal Rumble, and the once-cheering fans in New York greeted his unexpected victory with a chorus of boos.
That the match began just as the previous year's ended, with Shawn Michaels and Undertaker rekindling their rivalry, was a nice touch.
Unfortunately, the 2008 match was not flawless.
The contest was the first to introduce returning legends, recruiting Mick Foley, Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka to the fold. It is a booking crutch that carried into the years that followed and took opportunities from other Superstars.
While some thoroughly enjoy waiting to see which competitor will make his one-night return to WWE, it is a cheap and unnecessary way to pop a crowd. It's better to use the active Superstars at the company's fingertips.
Too much dead weight and questionable booking of marquee stars resulted in a subpar 2002 Royal Rumble match that failed to meet the expectations of fans who fondly remembered the previous two years' bouts.
That is not to say the match did not deliver its fair share of memorable moments.
The Undertaker appeared poised to be one of the driving forces behind the match as a badass with a nasty attitude and a pissed-off demeanor. With him recently turning heel, many saw the Rumble as his opportunity to establish himself as the unstoppable force of WWE's main event scene.
Then Maven dropkicked him over the top rope, embarrassing and humiliating him in one of the most unforgettable occurrences in Royal Rumble history. Taker responded with violence, obliterating the Tough Enough winner through the crowd and throwing him head-first into a popcorn machine, but no amount of anger could erase the elimination he had been dealt.
Then there was Triple H's and Steve Austin's comical tossing of The Hurricane, who had not quite figured out that his superpowers existed only within the pages of a comic book.
What about the performance of Mr. Perfect, who made his return to WWE for the first time since 1997? The future Hall of Famer turned in a brilliant performance that had fans in Atlanta openly and actively rooting him on despite the presence of the aforementioned Attitude Era greats.
In the end, Triple H won in predictable fashion, and though fans cheered wildly, it did not make up for the disappointing use of stars such as Rob Van Dam and Booker T, both of whom stuck around long enough to hit one or two signature moves before being dispatched. It was one more not-so-subtle reminder that Vince McMahon does not like or trust talent he did not have a hand in creating.
The 2005 Royal Rumble had a hint of intrigue, as WWE was eagerly pushing both Raw's Batista and SmackDown's John Cena as the future faces of the promotion. That left fans guessing as to which of the Superstars would emerge from the Rumble with his arm raised in the air.
Thanks to a botch late in the match, it looked as though we would have to settle for a repeat of the unsatisfactory 1994 finish.
Batista lifted Cena into the air for a Batista Bomb with such torque that both men stumbled over the top rope and to the arena floor. An irate Vince McMahon stomped toward the squared circle and ordered the match be restarted.
Moments later, Batista eliminated Cena and picked up the victory.
A superb performance by Edge put an exclamation point on a Rumble that, though fun, was average at best.
Patriotism swept over the 1991 Royal Rumble match as the United States was in the midst of Operation Desert Storm. America needed a hero and, as it had so many times before, found one in the form of Hulk Hogan.
Just as he did the previous year, Hogan overcame the odds late in the match, eliminating both the monstrous Earthquake and tag team specialist Brian Knobbs to win the match. While the contest still did not promise the victor any sort of championship opportunity at WrestleMania, it became obvious that The Hulkster would ride the wave of momentum into Los Angeles for a showdown with Sgt. Slaughter.
What helped make the 1991 bout the best to that point in the event's history were the performances of midcard competitors.
Greg Valentine, long a wrestler's wrestler, turned in a 44-minute performance that ended only when Hogan tossed him over the top rope. As impressive as The Hammer's showing was, though, it was not the lengthiest.
That honor went to the vastly underrated Rick Martel, who showed tremendous stamina and resiliency as he staved off elimination for 52 minutes. Strong showings from The British Bulldog, Hercules and Shane Douglas helped make the '91 contest special, even if the lack of overarching story hurt it a bit.
When history tells the story of the 2007 Royal Rumble match, it must recall the closing 10 minutes, which rank as the most exciting and dramatic of all time.
Having disposed of Edge and Randy Orton, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels stood across the ring from each other as the fans in San Antonio rose to their feet for the showdown between two of the industry's elite. Not since 1998 had they done battle, so those in attendance and watching at home recognized the enormity of the moment.
In a series of moves, reversals and near-eliminations, Undertaker and Michaels took the audience on a roller coaster of emotions. The Heartbreak Kid was the hometown hero, a product of San Antonio and the crowd's obvious favorite.
But for as resilient as he had proved to be over the course of his career, he could not overcome the sheer force of Undertaker, who became the first Superstar to enter the match at No. 30 and win from that spot.
The 2000 Royal Rumble corrected the problems that had plagued the match one year earlier. Though it still packed in the most recognizable stars later in the match, it utilized the midcard talent much better early on, ensuring there were no lulls or dead spots.
More importantly, it made a star of a journeyman heavyweight who few could have expected would have the breakout year he did.
Rikishi dominated the match early, eliminating Viscera, Steve Blackman, Christian and Mosh before stopping the contest in its tracks to dance with buddies Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty. In the process, he generated his largest reaction to date and became a significantly bigger star than he had been prior to that moment.
Test, Edge, Val Venis and Al Snow were all talented midcard Superstars who helped hold down the proverbial fort until The Rock exploded through the curtain and unloaded with his electrifying arsenal.
The Great One's interactions with Big Show helped further their ongoing story, as did Kane's with X-Pac. By the end of the night, Rock was declared the winner, but fans had reason to believe that the interactions they had just witnessed would spill over into Raw and help advance ongoing storylines.
In 2001, the stage had already been set for a WrestleMania X-Seven showdown between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock. Marketing materials had been leaked, and every bit of booking suggested the two biggest babyfaces the industry had ever seen would lock up on the grandest stage in professional wrestling.
Needless to say, everyone and their mothers knew one of those two men would leave New Orleans as the winner of that year's Royal Rumble.
Still, the predictability surrounding the eventual winner did not hamper what would go on to become one of the best, most fun and wildest Rumbles ever.
Drew Carey entered the match, a genius marketing ploy to help boost pay-per-view sales for his upcoming improv show. The images of him offering Kane money in return for not obliterating him was only the first of many memorable spots involving The Big Red Machine.
Kane would then watch on, almost humorously, as Honky Tonk Man made a surprise appearance and serenaded the WWE Universe with a rendition of his theme song.
From there, Kane would deliver a 53-minute performance no one knew he was capable of, showing tremendous stamina for a heavyweight of his size. He earned so much respect that night that some even openly cheered him, hoping he would go the distance and win the whole thing.
By the time he eliminated The Rock, it even appeared as though he might.
Several chair shots from a bloodied Austin—the recipient of a despicable assault by Triple H in the aisle—sealed Kane's demise and sent The Texas Rattlesnake to The Showcase of the Immortals.
Just a notch below the best Royal Rumble matches ever, the 2016 bout featured Triple H's second victory and a WWE Championship being up for grabs for the first time since 1992.
Entering at No. 30, The Game took it upon himself to end Roman Reigns' title reign, much to the delight of fans. A win, though, was not certain as he came face-to-face with Dean Ambrose, the scrappy babyface determined to leave with the gold around his own waist.
Reigns overcame a beating at the hands of The League of Nations to return late in a spot recycled from the 1999 match. Still, despite its repetitiveness, the spot was executed much better here, even if some questioned why they should cheer a guy who just took off for 20 minutes.
The debut of AJ Styles, a superb performance by Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn's targeting of rival Kevin Owens helped tie together a brilliant match.
For the third time in its existence, the Royal Rumble was a five-star affair consisting of compelling stories and strong performances by key individuals.
Shawn Michaels was hellbent on getting back to WrestleMania and challenging The Undertaker. After losing in 2009, he was confident he could defeat The Phenom on wrestling's grandest stage. To do so, he would have to win the Rumble and opt to challenge him for the World Heavyweight Championship.
He exploded into the match, blasting his best friend, Triple H, with Sweet Chin Music and sending The Game packing. From there, he would hold on until the later stages of the match. Unfortunately for him, though, Batista would knock him off the apron and to the floor.
The image of Michaels manically grabbing at the ropes as if he was hoping to use The Force to will himself back into the squared circle, only to crash and burn at ringside, is one of the most unforgettable and heartbreaking moments of the match.
On the other hand, "heartbreaking" is not at all the word to describe CM Punk's performance.
Preaching the way of The Straight Edge Society, he would eliminate one star and then take to the microphone to tout his beliefs. It was a brilliant bit of heel work that was enhanced by his despicable Go To Sleep to Beth Phoenix before ending her historic stint in the match.
When Triple H finally tossed him, the fans in attendance rejoiced.
The match is most memorable for Edge's return after seven months on the shelf and victory, but the botched follow-up and fairly "meh" use of him on the Road to WrestleMania XXVI dampened his win.
Regardless, the contest was yet another perfect example of what WWE can accomplish by paying attention to detail and fitting individual stories into the larger Rumble puzzle.
For the first time since 1992, WWE delivered a perfect Royal Rumble.
A five-star affair, it featured the underdog tale of Chris Benoit, who entered the match at No. 1 at the insistence of corrupt SmackDown general manager Paul Heyman and proceeded to last through 29 other Superstars to win the match and earn a shot at the world title at WrestleMania XX.
To do so, he had to withstand the challenge of an eager young star in Randy Orton at the No. 2 position. Benoit had to overcome punishing beatdowns at the hands of much larger opponents, and in the closing moments of the bout, he trapped the dominant Big Show in a guillotine choke and slowly pulled him over the top rope to ensure victory.
Speaking of Orton, his path to the Rumble victory was cut off by the returning Mick Foley, who pummeled him and eliminated the intercontinental champion, setting up the next chapter of their program. A win for Kane vanished the moment his brother, The Undertaker's, theme music played over the PA system and led to his elimination.
Then there was Brock Lesnar, the prior year's winner, who provided the distraction that allowed Kurt Angle to eliminate Goldberg, setting in motion the series of events that would lead to his match with Da Man two months later.
So many stories came together to create a beautiful, emotional match that culminated the right way—with a win for one of wrestling's greatest workers.
Diamonds are forever, and so is the 1992 Rumble's status as one of the greatest matches in WWE history.
Never before had one Superstar become the focal point of the entire Rumble match, but that was the situation Ric Flair found himself in. He entered the contest at the No. 3 position, with his dreams of becoming the new WWE champion resting on his ability to outlast 29 other Superstars for the duration.
With the phenomenal Bobby Heenan on commentary, shrieking at the top of his lungs every time Flair even got close to the ropes, the story of the match became Flair's ability to fend off elimination.
Yet his narrative was not the only one that gripped fans.
There was Randy Savage's determination to punish, pummel and eviscerate Jake Roberts for his actions toward his wife, Elizabeth. There was the developing jealousy Hulk Hogan had for newcomer Sid Justice. There was even Roddy Piper's quest to become the first Superstar to win both the WWE and Intercontinental Championships in the same night.
Hogan's jealousy provided a distraction that allowed Flair to dump Justice and win the title, and a joyous Heenan proclaimed the night to be the best in wrestling history. As The Nature Boy stood tall with the once-vacant WWE Championship now in his hands, fans understood they had just witnessed something special and historic unfold before their eyes.
With half of the field (15) consisting of Hall of Famers, the 1992 Rumble featured the most stacked lineup of all time, helping secure its spot as the best ever and the measuring stick to judge all others by.
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