We're about to reach the halfway point of this Royal Rumble Countdown, and some of the biggest and best moments in the history of wrestling await!
From backstage politicing to incredible showdowns, our next group of 10 will take this countdown to the next level of immortality. Are you ready?
30. Piper upsets the Mountie, 1992
Sometimes, the best moments in wrestling history happen simply by fluke. In 1992, Bret Hart came down with a bad illness, forcing him to surrender his WWF Intercontinental Championship match against the hated Mountie.
With most outlets exhausted, Roddy Piper stepped in as little more than a throwaway replacement for the Hitman. But Piper had a trick or two up his sleeve, outsmarting the Mountie and his barrage of weapons en route to his first Intercontinental Championship. With the win, Piper was poised to potentially capture the top two titles in the WWF in one night, but he was unsuccessful in the Royal Rumble match.
Eventually, his championship reign led to a return feud with Hart, who reappeared just in time for a bloody clash at WrestleMania VIII.
29. The Vader Debacle, 1996
Back in the early and mid-90’s, it was a big deal when a franchise superstar left one company to go and work with the opposition. But with all of these movers and shakers, we often forget to document the men who were left behind to fall into total obscurity, despite what should have been an obviously huge impact for the company.
Sometimes, these men are victims of circumstance, succumbing to injuries and the like. But mostly, these stars are booked into unreasonably bad feuds and angles that lead to their ultimate demise after being promised greener pastures. By 1996, Leon White was fed up with the way things were going in World Championship Wrestling. Seeing himself as little more than a standup for Sting and, more importantly, Hulk Hogan, the Rocky Mountain grizzly bear departed WCW in favor of a new start with the World Wrestling Federation.
Vader was always a "can’t miss" talent. His shoot-fighting style made him a legitimate tough guy, and his look was that of a massively intimidating biker. He terrorized Japan and WCW at well over 300 pounds, and had intensely frightening promos. So when he made his WWF debut in the 1996 Royal Rumble, he should have easily been a favorite. And he was. He dominated early, eliminated bigger men than himself before going head to head with Yokozuna. And then, everything went horribly wrong. Vader, alongside Yoko, was somewhat embarrassed when the titanic sumo had little trouble matching up with the big man, despite being way passed his prime. Both men would be eliminated by then superhero Shawn Michaels.
Vader’s career never recovered. He was booked into a laughable feud with HBK where he would constantly get disqualified and never win. He lost out to the Undertaker after proving to be one of Paul Bearer’s lackeys, and then, sometime after, his next most notable WWF feud was with Goldust.
28. Angle vs. Benoit, 2003
The 2003 Royal Rumble was easily one of the worst-booked cards for the WWE during their “transitional” period. Long gone were many of the faces that made the Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars profitable.
Fans and management alike were grasping at straws for their biggest stars, as the Rumble Match itself featured few main event players and the crowd had already suffered through a Dawn Marie/Torrie Wilson snooze fest as well as 20+ minutes of Scott Steiner’s belly-to-belly suplex cavalcade against Triple H. Little did they know that the only thing that could save the card was a contest between two technical masterminds: Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit.
Angle, the defending WWE Champion, was really in the "can’t miss" phase of his career. All of his matches were turning into gems. And while it was widely believed that Benoit didn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning this match, you knew he could deliver. Both men did just that.
Much like Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991, this match redefined what it was to be a technical wrestler and entertainer at the same time. Easily one of the best matches of the year in 2003 (if not the best), it would give Benoit the ultimate push to the top about one year later.
27. Matt screws Jeff, 2009
The internet has killed more of the wrestling business that it will ever take credit for killing. Amidst all the buzz and rumors, bookers for both TNA and WWE now have to do their absolute best, at worst, of keeping the audience on their toes at all times, considering how well-documented everything appears to be.
Story leaks, contract signings, talent firings, and any number of other independent variables have oversaturated the market with a lack of originality. So file this moment under unexpected, but not exactly appreciated. With his first main event position finally in his grasp, Jeff Hardy was being terrorized by some kind of hired gun who wanted nothing more than to sabotage everything Jeff was doing.
Since Jeff was feuding with Edge, and knowing that Christian had recently re-signed with the company, the smart fans all assumed that this was the logical conclusion. Assuming that this was the WWE’s plan as well, they decided to change it altogether in an effort to make themselves less predictable. Jeff’s saboteur would reveal himself to be Matt Hardy, as Jeff lost the title to Edge at the 2009 Rumble.
Matt and Jeff would then feud for most of the early part of the year, leading to a broken wrist for the latter. Christian? He debuted in ECW, quietly, and without fanfare. Sometimes the smart marks really do know better.
26. Bob Backlund’s miracle run, 1993
He was the first true champion since Bruno Sammartino. He was the last true champion before Hulk Hogan. When listing the greatest WWF champions of all time, Bob Backlund is near the top of the list. But all of that took place in the late 70’s and early 80’s, certainly not in 1993.
Backlund, who was quietly attempting a comeback for the Federation, entered the Royal Rumble second, with Ric Flair in first. While Flair fizzled out after about 15 minutes, Backlund took the abuse from all sides, yet managed to last over one hour in the contest, defying all the odds by never being eliminated despite the competition often being bigger, stronger, and much younger. Backlund was a part of the final three before finally being eliminated by the eventual winner, Yokozuna.
Backlund, 18 months later, would shockingly become the WWF Champion once again, setting a record for longest time inbetween World Title reigns.
25. Duggan eliminates Gang to win, 1988
The first one. It may have had only 20 people, but the 1988 Royal Rumble still sets the standard for what a Royal Rumble match should be. As the match wound down, it became clear as to who the favorite was.
The One Man Gang, with his massive 6’4” frame and bruising physique, was tossing bodies out left and right. Eventually, the Gang had only one obstacle left between him and victory: Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Duggan couldn’t match up in size or strength, but his speed and quickness were certainly pluses. Just when it looked like the Gang had it won, he miscalculated a running clothesline, and Duggan ducked him, using Gang’s momentum to put him over the top rope.
Duggan was the first man to ever win the Royal Rumble Match, and also had the longest period of time inbetween Rumble appearances in history since he was a surprise entry in 2009 after not taking part in the contest since the early 90’s. JR said it best: "An oldie, but goodie!"
24. No. 30 Finally Wins, 2007
Billed as the most star-studded Rumble of all time, the 2007 Royal Rumble match had its fair share of superstar contenders. When the Great Khali entered 28th, there were nearly a dozen men in the ring. Khali cleared them out with head butts and press slams. Running low on options, No. 30's victory was imminent.
The fact of the matter, however, was that despite the advantage of being the last man in the match, number 30 had never won the contest. To that time, some of the biggest wrestlers in the company had been No. 30: Randy Orton, Goldberg, The Undertaker (twice), Booker T, Ric Flair, and Randy Savage. However, other No. 30 entrants were not as notable: Duke “the Dumpster” Droese, The Warlord, Rikishi, Chyna, and Tugboat.
When the time came, it would be the Undertaker’s third attempt at No. 30 to win the contest. This time, he wouldn’t fail. Taker took out Khali first, and then eliminated the odds-defying MVP before his final showdown with Rated RKO and Shawn Michaels. After HBK took out Randy Orton and Edge, Taker would finally have his Rumble moment with his first victory in the match and the first win for any No. 30 ever.
23. Giant Gonzalez, 1993
To be fair, the Royal Rumble has always statistically been a big event for the Undertaker. Whether it be Rumble wins or title matches, Taker has been a pivotal figure in the last 20 years of Rumbles.
In 1993, he was one of the favorites to win the match, but a promise from Harvey Whippleman to “drop the bomb” on Big Evil loomed ominously over the contest. Sooner rather than later, Taker was in, and dominating the fray, until Whippleman unveiled a massive beast, wearing a spray-on muscle suit with tuft patches of hair. If he hadn’t been well over seven feet tall, this wouldn’t have looked very menacing.
The WWF was introduced to Giant Gonzalez, who at the time, was better known as El Gigante for his less than stellar run in WCW. Gonzalez was a monster, decimating the Taker and his Rumble performance by absolutely destroying him in a way that hadn’t been seen to that time in the WWF. It was the first time someone appeared to be more than a match for Mean Mark.
22. The Perfect Return, 2002
The 2002 Royal Rumble carried a very untraditional setup to some of its mystery entrants: everybody knew who they were. Just weeks before the Royal Rumble match, the then-WWF announced that Val Venis, The Godfather, Goldust, and Mr. Perfect would all be returning in the 30-man battle royal.
While three of these names hadn’t been separated from the company for two long, the fourth was Curt Hennig, who had been absent from WWF programming for nearly six years. His return was nothing short of what was promised; he was perfect.
Hennig did all the old moves and spots we expected, but more impressively, he earned the crowd’s respect for the old school and managed to outlast Stone Cold Steve Austin. That’s right, Mr. Perfect made it to the final three, and every time he was thrown over the top rope, he would slink back into the ring, much to the applause of the crowd.
While he didn’t win the contest, Hennig earned himself a full-time gig with the company that unfortunately ended just a few months later when it appeared as if he was getting a big push. He died less than a year later as a result of acute cocaine intoxication, taking one of the best in-ring performers away before he could fully make his comeback.
21. The Casket Match, 1994
As mentioned previously, not all of the top 50 moments are the greatest. Some are just the most memorable, or in this case, outwardly bizarre.
Leading into the titanic clash between Yokozuna and the Undertaker for the WWF title at the 1994 Royal Rumble, all signs pointed to Taker having the big man’s number. The casket had even been specially crafted to fit Yoko and it appeared as though we were going to get a new WWF Champion. But Yokozuna had an ace, or rather, the whole deck, up his sleeve.
What started as a one-on-one exhibition turned into an assault when Genichiro Tenryu, the Great Kabuki, Bam Bam Bigelow, Crush, Jeff Jarrett, the Headshrinkers, Adam Bomb, and Diesel all interfered on Yokozuna’s behalf. They dismantled the Undertaker in a conglomerate effort that saw the Undertaker lose at his very own game. He had been beaten and knocked out, but the best was yet to come.
Soon, his casket began to secrete a green mist. Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji opened the fabled urn, and it too, was leaking this smoke. All attention turned to one of the first models of the TitanTron, where Taker lay dormant inside the casket, until he suddenly awoke and promised a return greater and stronger than he had been previous. Then the image began to electrocute itself until the casket on the screen (not the actual one) exploded.
And as Undertaker’s image rose through the top of the TitanTron, so did another Undertaker, standing in full garb above the Hartford Civic Center. Vintage Undertaker.
Check back all this week for the next 10 moments, leading up to No. 1 and the 2010 Royal Rumble!