Things are certainly getting tighter as we move towards the top of our countdown in the history of the Royal Rumble. Have you been missing out? Well, here's your chance to play catch-up!
And now, the top 20 moments in Royal Rumble history are upon us. Title changes, epic finishes, unbelievable returns...all coming at you right now!
20. Sgt. Slaughter Defeats the Ultimate Warrior, 1991
It was easily one of the most unlikely scenarios in the history of professional wrestling; yet, in 1991, it seemed to fit perfectly in the scrambling regime of Vince McMahon.
Realizing that the Ultimate Warrior wasn’t attracting quite the business Hulk Hogan had for him as the WWF Champion, McMahon put together a concept that would shock the wrestling world and border on bad taste. Sgt. Slaughter, who had already established himself as an all-American fan favorite for a decade prior, was to turn heel and become an Iraqi sympathizer in the wake of the Gulf War.
Seen as a tasteless and trashy move by the WWF to get cheap heat, Slaughter would inexplicably be booked as the top heel and No. 1 contender to Warrior’s WWF title at the 1991 Royal Rumble. And, with some assistance from Macho Man Randy Savage, he’d become the WWF Champion on that evening, upsetting the Warrior in front of a stunned Florida audience.
Slaughter’s reign was all a publicity ploy by McMahon to get ticket sales increased for WrestleMania VII. McMahon figured that folks would want to see the Iraqi turncoat get pummeled by Hulkamania, so he booked the event in the massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
However, the event would be moved to the much smaller Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena when the WWF announced that they had received threats towards Slaughter following his title win. It is widely believed, however, that the WWF simply hadn’t sold enough tickets to come anywhere close to filling the 90,000+ seat Coliseum.
19. Warlord Lasts Two Seconds, 1989
In the first ever Royal Rumble Match in 1988, everyone did a serviceable job of lasting quite a bit of time in the ring. No single superstar was eliminated within two minutes of entering, with the 20th entrant, the Junkyard Dog, holding a then-dubious distinction of lasting only 2:08.
In year two, the landscape had changed, and now, 30 men were in the ring competing for the victory, and eliminations were slightly more rapid, especially if you were the Warlord. As one half of the Powers of Pain, Warlord was a 6’5”, 320-pound behemoth well on his way to tag-team glory alongside the Barbarian. Entering the Rumble at No. 21, he had a golden opportunity to combat a worn out Hulk Hogan.
He failed epically, however, as he posed before entering the ring, not knowing that Hogan had already begun to sprint towards him from the far ropes. Warlord was met immediately with a clothesline and eliminated after lasting just two seconds, the shortest time spent in the ring in Rumble history. He would hold the record over other notable immediate exit stars such as Bushwhacker Luke, Mo of Men on a Mission, The Hurricane, Tazz, The Sandman.
In fact, Warlord’s record wouldn’t be broken until 20 years later, when, in 2009, Santino Marella sprinted to the ring at No. 28 and was also dumped out immediately by Kane. He lasted literally one second in the ring, a new record.
18. Kane Burns Taker, 1998
The Big Red Machine has become a staple of Royal Rumble events, but before competing in one, he would pledge his allegiance to his brother The Undertaker heading into a casket match against Shawn Michaels at the 1998 Royal Rumble.
Kane had only debuted a few months earlier and was making life miserable for the Undertaker in the interim, but here, it seemed as if he was really out to watch his brother’s back in the WWF title match against the forces of DX. Just when it looked like things were turning in favor of the phenom, Kane hit the ring, turning on his brother in a disgraceful act that looked like it had been a setup from the start.
After Michaels was declared the winner, Kane continued his rampage, igniting the casket in a blaze of fire with the Undertaker still inside. But, as fate would have it, Taker was not inside when the fire was extinguished.
Such was the beginning of the end for Kane, as he and the Undertaker would meet at WrestleMania XIV, with the Undertaker taking another victory in his undefeated streak at the biggest show of the year.
17. Big Daddy Cool, 1994
The 1994 Royal Rumble from the Hartford Civic Center featured any number of storylines entering the night’s main event.
First, we had the supposed last chance for Lex Luger to get a WWF Title Shot. We had the hatred between Crush and Randy Savage coming center stage, and Owen Hart’s turn on Bret, coupled with Bret’s injury status taking prominence for the match. But sometimes, despite all that goes into the match on paper, there is still a show stealer out there waiting to make a statement.
In 1994, it was Diesel, who entered the ring seventh. Within just a few moments of his in-ring arrival, Diesel would unload on all the superstars in the ring, eliminating Bart Gunn, Scott Steiner, Owen Hart, and Kwang. Then, with no one else in sight, he began to pick off the entrants one by one, taking down Bob Backlund, Billy Gunn, and even wrestling superstar Virgil.
His seven eliminations would tie a Royal Rumble record for most in a single match, and he would also set the record for most consecutive eliminations in the match, a record still held to this day (though he was later tied by Rikishi in 2000 and the Great Khali in 2007). Diesel was eventually eliminated from the match by a plethora of stars, including his then- friend Shawn Michaels, with whom he had made a pact earlier in the contest not to attack.
The performance was certainly a pivotal turning point in his career, as Diesel captured the Intercontinental title three months later, the tag team titles by the end of the summer, and by Thanksgiving, Diesel was the WWF Champion, a feat that stood for nearly 15 years as a record for Triple Crown Dominance (C.M. Punk would later win all three major titles in the company just under seven months). And from then on out, every year, the WWF Fans looked forward to seeing just who could dominate in the same way during the Royal Rumble Match.
16. Bam Bam vs. LT, 1995
Bam Bam Bigelow wasn’t having a very good evening on January 22, 1995. He and Tatanka had just lost the chance to become the WWF Tag Team Champions when they were literally upset by Bob “Spark Plugg” Holly and the 1-2-3 Kid.
Adding insult to injury, Bigelow was pinned for the defeat after Tatanka caused him to stumble and crash from the top rope. With fans at ringside laughing and heckling the Beast from the East, Bigelow threatened to make them pay. Just when it seemed that cooler heads would prevail, Bigelow came across a giggling Lawrence Taylor in the front row.
Never one to back down, Bigelow taunted Taylor to step into the ring and try it himself, and when Taylor stood up and offered his hand in friendship, Bigelow responded with a full-fledged shove that sent the NFL Star toppling to the ground. Playtime was indeed over for LT, who sprang up quickly looking for an immediate retaliation to Bam Bam’s sneak attack.
After weeks of buildup, LT would accept Bigelow’s challenge for a one-on-one match at WrestleMania XI, which he would win. The contest would headline WrestleMania and would be the first and only Main Event spot at the biggest event of the year for Bam Bam, and all he had to do was shove a retired NFL pro.
15. Cena Shocks the Garden, 2008
They are known as the “smartest fans in wrestling,” and for years, fans inside of Madison Square Garden have had the inside scoop on wrestlers before the matches are even determined, seemingly choosing sides and heckling whomever they want at will.
They show no mercy and are often the trendsetting smart marks of the wrestling industry. This is the crowd that openly cheered Sid at the 1996 Survivor Series when he finally ended the “Boyhood Dream” title reign of Shawn Michaels. They ripped Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg apart in their WrestleMania XX dream match in the midst of both men leaving the WWE. This crowd was notorious for having it all together, so in 2008, with the Royal Rumble match delivering a few surprise entrants here and there, nobody anticipated what was coming next.
When Triple H, the certifiable favorite to win, entered 29th and began to clean house, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would take the contest for the second time in his career. But with a mystery entrant entering 30th, little could slip past the Garden crowd and WWE Universe, right? Wrong.
After tearing his pectoral muscle in early October, John Cena was slated to miss the next 10-12 months. He missed less than three, reappearing as number 30. And while the reception for Cena around the world is a lukewarm one at best, mostly fueled by cheering younger fans and jeering older marks, the Garden erupted on this night when they had the wool genuinely pulled over their eyes by the WWE.
Cena’s reemergence shocked the audience and the world, but, as is typical of wrestling fans, the love was short lived. Cena would be booed by the finish, when the crowd slowly realized that their worst fear, more Cena winning, was about to come true. And it did.
The moral of the story: Smart marks may be smart, but they certainly aren’t intelligent. Myself included. And I’m a Cena fan.
14. Chris Benoit: Coast to Coast, 2004
Say what you will about his future, but if we were to look solely at the 2004 Royal Rumble Match, then we have to mention the incredible efforts of Chris Benoit.
For nine years prior to this match, Shawn Michaels had received all the praise for going coast-to-coast, literally entering first and going the distance to win the contest. But what tends to allude most fans and commentators was that HBK did it during a Royal Rumble Match with entrants coming in every 60 seconds, so he didn’t have to exude the raw endurance that we would see on display in 2004.
Entering first overall, Benoit came out on top after 60 grueling minutes of competition. He’d manage to oust men bigger than him, including Matt Morgan and Mark Henry, before tackling the massive Big Show when there were only two men remaining. His win was as unlikely as the title run that would follow it after a spectacular victory over Triple H and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX two months later.
Benoit’s wrestling legacy will forever be tainted for more than obvious reasons, but if for only one night, he was king at the Royal Rumble.
13. Bret and Luger Tie for the Win, 1994
Another entry from the 1994 Royal Rumble, Bret Hart and Lex Luger were the two biggest faces on the Royal Rumble roster, but choosing one of the two seemed like more trouble than its worth.
So when it came down to the end, Luger, a favorite from the opening bell to win the match, and Hart, who had survived seemingly insurmountable odds and injury to make it this far, were the final two men in the match. They would brawl briefly, exchanging punches before Luger lifted Hart above his head and attempted to oust the Hitman. Bret would counter, however, and through a series of grapples, the unthinkable happened: both Bret and Lex went over the top rope…at the same time!
Yes, it had never been done before, but the match had seemingly ended with both men having their feet touch the floor at the exact same moment. When referees and WWF executives got involved in the decision-making process, the crowd began to chant and cheer for who they believed won the match, some siding with Lex Luger, and others with Bret Hart.
Truth be told, the WWF was tinkering with the idea of both winning as a way of keeping up the push from Lex Luger while also giving Bret Hart, who was showing to be far more popular, the spotlight. When they were announced as co-winners, it became clear that the WWF gave themselves a few months to work out just who would become the next WWF Champion at WrestleMania X in a match against Yokozuna.
They went with old reliable, as Bret ended up taking the title from Yoko after Lex Luger failed, yet again, to become the World Champion.
12. Mankind “Quits,” 1999
As one of the last great rivalries of the 20th century, Mankind and the Rock had beaten each other down week after week on Monday Night Raw and even during pay-per-view events named after Rocky.
So when Mankind finally won the WWF title in a move that certainly put some butts in the seats for the Federation, the rematch was highly anticipated at the Royal Rumble event. It was an I Quit Match, certainly favoring the psychotic Mick Foley over The Rock. After all, in pre-match interviews and promos, Foley as Mankind vowed that he would never say the words “I Quit.” What followed was a brutal and bloody exchange that, for the most part, the Rock got the better of.
Rock hit Foley with a steel chair so many times that the sickening thud of the chair could be heard in memory for days after the event. With Mankind handcuffed and losing blood, The Rock stood over the fallen champion with a microphone and asked him once more if he would quit. Laying face down near the entrance ramp, the crowd distinctly heard Foley quit three times, and the Rock was proclaimed the new WWF Champion.
But something simply wasn’t right, and later, we would find out that it was a setup. The Corporation played an earlier sound clip from one of Mankind’s promos of him saying, “I quit,” meaning that Foley never actually submitted. He would reclaim the title days later during an empty arena confrontation with the Rock at WWF’s Halftime Heat during the Super Bowl, and the feud would continue for the rest of the year until the two united to become the beloved Rock N’ Sock Connection.
11. The Ballad of Kaientai, 2000
By the year 2000, the World Wrestling Federation was blistering with hot, young talent that had integrated nicely with their established mainstays. So when the 2000 Royal Rumble match approached, a brief side plot was written in that certain WWF Superstars were unhappy that they were unable to participate in the match and were willing to do anything to get noticed in it.
While the Mean Street Posse’s attempt to sabotage the Acolytes during the match worked successfully, it was easily overshadowed by Sho Funaki and Taka Michinoku’s continual interference during the contest. Known collectively as Kaientai, these two men were two small to truly defend themselves against the big bulls of the WWF, and were disposed of quickly.
But upon their second entry in the match, fans in Madison Square Garden began to facetiously cheer the tandem in hopes they could get something done. This is where unintentional comedic gold is created. aka Michinoku landed awkwardly when he was hurled over the top rope, slamming his face straight into the mat on the outside, giving him a concussion in the process. The whole ordeal was caught on tape, and despite what could have been a serious injury, it was actually rather humorous to watch.
This was complicated by color commentator Jerry “the King” Lawler, who would periodically ask for the replay of Taka being eliminated while incorrectly referring to him as Chinese. The production truck was more than happy to cooperate, provide Lawler with half a dozen replays of Taka Michinoku’s injury during the entirety of the match. Funaki reappeared a few more times during the match, but no elimination could quite compare to Taka’s midway through the match.
What was the appeal? Lawler may have said it best: “he landed right on his face!”
Check back this week for the Top 10 Moments all leading up to the 2010 Royal Rumble Match!