WWE Royal Rumble Runner-Up: So Near and Yet So Far

Benjamin BenyaCorrespondent IIJanuary 16, 2011

WWE Royal Rumble Runner-Up: So Near and Yet So Far

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    Some of the greatest moments in wrestling history have come at the WWE's Royal Rumble pay-per-view event. At the conclusion of the Royal Rumble match, there is a feeling of celebration and realization that the competitor who won the contest is likely on to bigger and better things.

    But for the last remaining participant with that competitor, the odds are not always in their favor. Rather, coming so close to victory only to have it snatched away by another superstar has led to some pretty interesting outcomes over time.

    In this slideshow, we'll continue our Royal Rumble history lesson with a look at the runner-up in each and every Royal Rumble match, proving that second place may not always be what it is cracked up to be.

1988: One Man Gang

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    At the inaugural Royal Rumble, there were no clear-cut favorites heading into the match. It would only be during the contest that contenders emerged as the biggest threats. One such contender had the size and strength advantage over all of his foes, and demonstrated such by eliminating a then-record of six men.

    The One Man Gang was on a massive tear in the 1988 Royal Rumble, and when it came down to the final few men, he would do anything to show he could win. He eliminated his comrade Dino Bravo before turning his attention to the only other man in the ring, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.

    Despite being outmatched in both size and ability, Duggan fought through the big man and eventually forced him to topple over the top rope using his own momentum as a harness. Duggan's win signified the launch of the most popular and successful time in his career.

    Gang, on the other hand, was soon repackaged as Akeem, "The African Dream" who would be managed by Slick in a few years of mostly forgettable affairs.

1989: Ted DiBiase

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    In perhaps one of the most memorable storylines in Royal Rumble history, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase was shown drawing his number early in the evening and seemed terribly unhappy with the luck of the draw. He then negotiated with Slick one of the most underhanded and devious plots in the history of the Rumble.

    DiBiase managed to procure the final entry in the Royal Rumble match from the Doctor of Style in exchange for a better line-up for Slick's Twin Towers. Entering dead last, DiBiase had seemingly all the answers until the ring cleared and he was left to face Big John Studd.

    Studd was banking on one last comeback as a face after years as one of the most hated wrestlers in the ring. He didn't disappoint, hurling DiBiase from pillar to post before eliminating both the Million Dollar Man and his ineligible manager, Virgil.

    Funny thing is, Studd's comeback victory was the less talked about event over the coming years, and DiBiase's treacherous "purchase" of the No. 30 slot gave the WWF reason to increase security measures around the random drawings each year.

    By 1990, DiBiase found himself with the No. 1 slot in the Rumble, a stark contrast from the year before.

1990: Mr. Perfect

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    Minutes before the mayhem began, Curt Hennig pulled no punches in revealing his strategy to win the Royal Rumble. You see, Mr. Perfect had drawn the perfect number, and was in prime position to take the 1990 Royal Rumble match.

    Entering dead last in a Rumble where the only thing faster than the action was the eliminations, Perfect had a small order in front of him. All he really had to do was outlast a few other men, one of which was the Immortal Hulk Hogan.

    Though he got in a good deal of offense and appeared to be on the winning side, Perfect underestimated Hogan's strength and comeback skills and was eliminated for Hulk's first Rumble victory. Hogan, then the WWF Champion, would go on to WrestleMania VI to face the Ultimate Warrior in the most epic showdown of a generation. 

    Perfect was just starting to hit his stride in the World Wrestling Federation, and despite a lackluster outing in this Rumble, he would go on to much greater success within the calendar year.

1991: Earthquake

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    By 1991, the Royal Rumble was actually overshadowed in the lexicon of U.S. History thanks to the events related to Desert Storm. During a time when the World Wrestling Federation needed a hero, things were bleak at best.

    Earlier in the evening, Iraqi-turncoat Sgt. Slaughter had defeated the Ultimate Warrior to claim the World Wrestling Federation Championship. Things were going to take a turn for the worst had not it been for the All-American boy, Hulk Hogan.

    Once again, Hogan was slated to be on top of the world by winning the Royal Rumble match, but his biggest competition, the 300+ pound Earthquake, had other ideas. Earthquake was one of the first men to ever show that the biggest and baddest could also have a great deal of endurance to get to the end.

    While it looked like he would have the upper hand thanks to an aid from Nasty Boy Brian Knobs, Earthquake simply ran out of steam and was again upended by the Hulkster. But to say that Earthquake's career continued to thrive following this Rumble would be an understatement.

    He would eventually form one of the most successful tag teams of the early 90's, the Natural Disasters, and later pursued one more singles run by taking on the massive Yokozuna.

1992: Sid Justice

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    No prize was greater than that to be bestowed on the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble. You see, this was the year that the winner of the Rumble didn't challenge the World Champion; rather he would immediately become the WWF Champion. Pretty great, huh?

    So when it came down to the final three, we were left wondering if Hulk Hogan really had what it took to three-peat and become the Champion once more. Little did anyone know that the wild card Sid Justice would change all of that.

    As Hogan lifted the deflated Ric Flair towards the top rope, Justice struck, eliminating Hogan in a shocking move that left the crowd in awe. Hogan, ever the consummate professional, assisted in pulling Justice out of the ring after offering a friendly handshake.

    With Ric Flair as the champion, Justice would go on to a high profile feud against the Hulkster that culminated in a confusing smorgasbord at WrestleMania VIII. In fact, Justice's actions at the Rumble would live to be his most infamous for another five years in the WWF, as he wouldn't be seen again in the limelight until 1996-1997.

1993: Randy Savage

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    Sometimes, the Royal Rumble is a stage where older main event players can pass the torch to the new generation. For the first time in the history of the event, that is exactly what happened in 1993. Macho Man Randy Savage benefited greatly from the last draw of the evening, but the story was a massive foe in the ring who was eliminating enemies at a torrid pace.

    The over 500-pound Yokozuna was still a veritable newcomer to the World Wrestling Federation when he stepped into his first Royal Rumble match. But Yoko was still faster and more agile than folks had given him credit for being, and sooner rather than later, it was down to the sumo star and the Macho Man.

    Savage gained the upper hand quickly and actually took the big man off his feet. But in a move that has to go down as one of the dumbest in Rumble history (and the second time in as many years that Savage forgot the rules of the Rumble match), Macho attempted to pin Yoko. With one thrust of mighty strength, Savage was hurled over the top rope and to the floor.

    Yokozuna would go on to win the WWF Championship twice in the next year and continued to dominate as the top heel in the company. Savage's WWF career never really recovered, but that's what happens when you pass the torch.

1994: Ineligible

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    Due to the extremely bizarre circumstances surrounding the finish of the 1994 Royal Rumble match, there is no technical "Runner-Up." Sure, we could write about Shawn Michaels or Headshrinker Fatu being the last men eliminated before Bret Hart and Lex Luger tumbled over the top rope at the same time, but that would be a direct violation of the rules of this article.

    So instead, in keeping with our theme, here's a picture of Lex Luger, the less-successful of the two winners, as a WWF Stretch-Em's figure from JusToys.

1995: Davey Boy Smith

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    The British Bulldog was already a crafty veteran and former Intercontinental and Tag Team champion by the time he had his greatest outing in the abbreviated 1995 Royal Rumble. Competing with Shawn Michaels as the first two entrants in the match, the two went bell-to-bell until only they were left to compete.

    But in what has become the most iconic phrase and moment in Royal Rumble history, Davey Boy clotheslined Michaels over the top rope where only one of HBK's feet hit the floor. Smith celebrated his victory and as "God Save the Queen" blared in the background, a still very much eligible and cognizant Shawn Michaels delivered a double-axe handle to send Bulldog tumbling over the ropes.

    Amidst the confusion, the legend of the Heartbreak Kid was etched forever in the memory of fans on that day. Bulldog, meanwhile, flirted with destiny on this occasion only. He would never again be this close to the main event spotlight or the WWF Championship, and tragically, his career continued to take major steps backward until his premature death from years of steroid and drug abuse.

    Truth be told, there may be no more important situation for the winner/runner-up scenario than the one coming out of an otherwise forgettable Royal Rumble match.

1996: Diesel

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    Passing the torch, part two? To a much lesser extent, the Big Daddy Cool/HBK tag team and later rivalry hit the pinnacle of competition when Shawn Michaels won his second Rumble in as many years by last eliminating his friend Diesel.

    After years of on-again, off-again screen time and matches, the two seemed like best of friends despite Michaels getting the better of Diesel on this night. Truth be told, it was another case of two men headed decisively different directions in their careers. HBK was about to become the WWF Champion and the biggest star in the company.

    Diesel, also known as Kevin Nash, was about to be without a contract from the WWF. As days passed and Nash saw his role diminishing within the company, he pursued greener pastures and became the focal point of the New World Order in WCW.

    One Royal Rumble put HBK over and buried Diesel forever. The rest is wrestling history.

1997: Bret Hart

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    Being the runner-up in a Royal Rumble match can often bring out the best in people. But when you're the Hitman, it brings out the very worst.

    Bret Hart was a preliminary favorite entering the 1997 Royal Rumble from San Antonio. His biggest obstacle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, received a terribly unfavorable draw at No. 5 in the match. Despite this, Austin rose to the challenge, tossing out body after body until only he, Bret, and a few other contenders remained.

    Then, amidst mass confusion and brawling, Hart ousted Austin from the Rumble and appeared to be set on a WrestleMania main event. But no referee witnessed Hart eliminating Austin, allowing him the opportunity to re-enter the match and toss Hart, among others, over the ropes.

    It was perhaps the most tainted Rumble victory to that time, but it also encapsulated the frustration that the Hitman would experience in his final year for the WWF. Hart soon became a renegade taking out his frustrations on any and all foes. Austin? Well that legend was pretty much born out of this Rumble appearance and victory.

1998: The Rock

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    Dwayne Johnson was still quite a distance away from truly embodying The Rock when he was thrashed and beaten during the 1998 Royal Rumble. Everyone, from Ken Shamrock to Cactus Jack to Terry Funk was having their way with the future Great One. After all, Rock's entry at No. 4 left him at a decided disadvantage.

    But the Rock showed a lot of endurance by lasting down to the final three, where alongside his Nation of Domination leader Faarooq and Stone Cold Steve Austin, we were in for a big finish. Too bad Rocky didn't stick to the plan.

    Rock quickly slumped to the ground and elected to let Faarooq do all the work, thus showing the biggest rift in the history of the Nation as Austin eventually triumphed over both men. While the victory was important in keeping Austin at the top, The Rock's conquest to that level had just begun.

    Over the next few months, his obtuse treatment of his comrade Faarooq would continue until he became usurper of the throne and took over as the Nation's figurehead. And several dozen catchphrases later, we all knew exactly what the Rock was about.

1999: Stone Cold Steve Austin

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    There has been only one three time winner in the history of the Royal Rumble. Ironically, it is the same man who could have been the only four time winner. And he probably should have been.

    But in the 1999 Royal Rumble, amidst what could have been several intriguing storylines, the saga of Mr. McMahon and Steve Austin eclipsed any and all rivalries. McMahon had set a bounty on Austin's head and was willing to do anything to keep Stone Cold from winning yet again.

    What nobody counted on, however, was that it would come down to Austin and McMahon as the final two after entering first and second, respectively. With McMahon outmatched and on the ropes, the Corporation's champion The Rock came to the ring to battle with Austin.

    He would provide just enough distraction to allow McMahon to topple Austin and win one of the worst Royal Rumbles in history. It was also one of the first that didn't matter for either the runner-up or the winner. Things went back to normal over the weeks that followed, negating any result of this match.

2000: Big Show

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    Much like the ogres before him, the Big Show was already establishing himself as a big time player in battle royals. In WCW as the Giant, he had won the World War 3 Battle Royal in 1996 and was looking like a heavy favorite for the 2000 Royal Rumble match.

    Show had developed a darker, less rational side of himself since his 1999 WWF debut. In that year, he had become a surprising WWF Champion, but had since squandered the title and was now working in the shadow of stars such as the Rock. In fact, his hatred of the Rock manifested into a heel turn and vendetta against the People's Champ.

    So naturally, when it came down to the final two in Madison Square Garden, the Rock was left to try and conquer is massive nemesis. Despite having the clear upper hand throughout the battle, Big Show found himself toppling over the top rope and to the floor while the Rock was clinging to the top rope.

    The loss actually fueled the jealous side of Big Show's character and helped to keep him relevant. He would provide video evidence that supported his claim that the Rock's feet did in fact touch the floor before his own, thus giving him a grievance over the conclusion of the Royal Rumble match.

    Though it isn't as hotly talked about as the finish of other Rumbles (1994, 1995, 2005, and so on), the Big Show's attitude and evidence created quite the argument for a reversal of fortunes in 2000.

2001: Kane

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    As was quickly becoming a theme, big men were dominating in the Royal Rumble match. In 2001, with a stacked roster and complete domination from the WWF brand, wrestlers were hoping to make a huge impact in the Royal Rumble match. One particular star had the greatest performance in Rumble history and yet still managed to lose the contest.

    The Big Red Machine Kane entered the Royal Rumble sixth and, upon entry, had only comedian Drew Carey to deal with. Yes, really. Once Carey tossed himself over the ropes, Kane took out the entire hardcore division before decimating the Honky Tonk Man and several stars thereafter. In total, Kane racked up 11 eliminations, a record for any single Rumble.

    But perhaps more impressively, the nearly seven-foot tall monster lasted nearly an entire hour in the Royal Rumble match before Steve Austin and a steel chair sent him flying over the top rope. A lot of people question how the longevity of the Kane character came to be. I think it is safe to say that this event helped solidify him as something more than just The Undertaker's brother.

2002: Kurt Angle

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    It was always about The Game. Though many of you may be remembering the 2002 Royal Rumble as the year that we saw four great returns, or the year that we had the longest rumble, or the year that Maven eliminated the Undertaker, this Rumble was always about The Game.

    Perhaps nobody understood that better than Kurt Angle, who came into his first Royal Rumble match with a great draw and a mean streak against Triple H. When it came down to the end of the line, Angle found only Trips in his path of immortality.

    But as was always the trend in their rivalry, Triple H was just a few steps ahead of Kurt at every turn, eventually leveling him with a clothesline that sent shock waves through the arena and signaled the official return of the Cerebral Assassin.

    Angle's career certainly didn't suffer. He became a more jealous, more inspired wrestler who was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest the world had ever known. Keep in mind that as the runner-up in this Rumble, Angle was still at least a year from his prime and his best matches.

2003: The Undertaker

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    The Undertaker is a menacing foe and one of the best-known wrestlers of all-time. We've talked before in this very article about passing the torch, and this one seems just as apt as the rest. When the 2003 Royal Rumble match came down to the very last elimination, it would be either Brock Lesnar or the Undertaker standing atop the world.

    Lesnar had come on strong in 2002 as the Next Big Thing and was already a former world champion. But those who questioned whether or not he was paying his dues would see a new side of Lesnar starting in 2003. The Undertaker was the filter through which Lesnar could truly apply himself; a filter that dated back to September and October of 2002.

    With Lesnar looking to get back into the title hunt and the Undertaker coming off his recurring sabbatical, neither man wanted to give an inch. But in the end, Lesnar picked up the win that helped fans truly realize he was here to stay (until at least March 2004). Could any loss really hurt the Undertaker? Only at WrestleMania.

2004: Big Show

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    Yes, for the first time (more to follow), we have a competitor who enjoyed second place so much he did it twice. When the 2004 Royal Rumble rolled around, the Big Show had moved up and down the roster more times than one cares to count.

    He was in a larger phase and appeared to be, honestly, one of the most frightening individuals in the company. His sheer size overshadowed and nimbleness or agility he once had. Rather, he was now just a very big boulder standing in the way of much smaller rocks.

    One such rock, Chris Benoit, was looking to run the gauntlet from start to finish and was already pretty gassed when he and a select few others attempted to take out Big Show. Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Kurt Angle, and Benoit himself were all in on the attack. And one by one, they were all out until it was Benoit and Big Show.

    But unlike his first runner-up position, Show was outmatched this time by technical skill and perseverance. Using a modified front-face lock, Benoit wore down the massive Show until he tumbled over the ropes and to the floor. The win setup the biggest run in Benoit's career.

    Big Show? Nothing of note this time around. Just par for the course really.

2005: John Cena

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    The 2005 Royal Rumble finish mirrored the 1994 Royal Rumble finish almost perfectly. The only problem was it wasn't supposed to in any way imaginable. When it came down to Batista and John Cena at the 2005 event, the Animal lost his footing during a pivotal moment and sent both himself and Cena over the top rope and to the floor.

    Chaos ensued, and two torn quadriceps later for Vince McMahon, the match was restarted with Batista quickly disposing of Cena. The loss did a bit of collateral damage to Cena, but it was really only temporary. Both men went on to win their respective world titles at WrestleMania, and Cena would easily go on to greater success than the Animal could imagine.

    If anything, this was the first chapter in a continuing saga the two men would endure over the next five years as figureheads of a new generation of headliners.

2006: Randy Orton

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    In an odd way, all signs pointed to Randy Orton seizing the moment and winning the 2006 Royal Rumble. Over the months leading up to the event, Orton emerged as a front-runner who could finally emerge to the levels he had only once before in the World title hunt.

    But Orton was also in a huge holding pattern when the WWE reformed their idea to center this Rumble around Triple H's conquest to regain the throne and Rey Mysterio's improbable and inspiring run dedicated to the late Eddie Guerrero. Orton, who drew No. 30, simply fell by the wayside.

    For the fifth time in Rumble history, the No. 30 draw was in the final two, and for the fifth time in Rumble history, he didn't make the cut. Orton had every advantage imaginable when a staggered and beaten Rey Mysterio lay with him in the ring. And still, he couldn't get over the hump, losing this one in stellar fashion.

    Mysterio would go on to win his first World Heavyweight Championship. Orton would more or less remain an obscurity towards the top of the card until late in 2007, more than 15 months after this Rumble.

2007: Shawn Michaels

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    The Heartbreak Kid was already a two-time Rumble champion when he had his first legendary showdown with the Undertaker in 2007. In what was billed as the most "star-studded" Royal Rumble of All-Time, these two WWE living legends managed to outlast the competition as the last two standing when the dust settled.

    Undertaker, who had drawn No. 30 for only the third time in his career (seriously) was fighting with a rejuvenated Shawn Michaels who had a renewed sense of urgency for his singles career. The two went back and forth seemingly forever until the Deadman pulled away and took the Rumble.

    For the next few years, Taker would win a world title and get injured soon after like clockwork. Michaels, meanwhile, put all the doubters to rest by having some of the best rivalries and matches of his career before officially retiring from the business.

    He's now the lead performed in the 2011 Hall of Fame class. Undertaker? Not surprisingly, he's rehabbing another injury. Just saying.

2008: Triple H

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    All signs pointed to Triple H's second Royal Rumble victory in Madison Square Garden when he entered the Royal Rumble and began destroying the competition.

    But a surprise was in the works when John Cena came to the ring and ran roughshod over the crowd and superstars alike. Triple H put up a great fight, but the perpetually awesome Cena rebounded and last eliminated Triple H so he could headline at WrestleMania.

    And then, he lost his main event match that somehow, someway, also included Triple H. Better luck next year?

2009: Triple H

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    All signs pointed to Triple H's second Royal Rumble victory in Joe Louis Arena when he entered the Royal Rumble and began destroying the competition.

    But a surprise was in the works when Randy Orton came to the ring and ran roughshod over the crowd and superstars alike. Triple H put up a great fight, but the perpetually awesome Orton rebounded and last eliminated Triple H so he could headline at WrestleMania.

    And then, he lost his main event match that somehow, someway, also included Triple H. Better luck next year?

2010: John Cena

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    And finally, we come to the 2010 Royal Rumble, the most recent in memory. Sure, there were a lot of wrestlers who had the potential to win the match, but this off-beat contest ended in an all-too-predictable fashion despite including a big surprise.

    With John Cena and Shawn Michaels seemingly disposing of ever foe from mid-match on, the 29th entrant, a returning Edge, threw a monkey wrench into the plans. The vicious Batista would enter 30th, giving us an almost immediate final four that had just a few motivations for victory.

    If Edge won, it would continue the "surprise" Rumble theme while also immediately thrusting the Rated-R Superstar back into the title picture.

    If Michaels won, he'd get his rematch with the Undertaker that all fans salivated for.

    If Batista won, he'd be a true surprise considering nobody expected him to even rank in the top three of options at this point.

    And if Cena won, well, there wasn't really a motivation to give Cena the win. Just to keep him on top would be the only logical way. So when it came down to Cena and Edge, even me, a Cena fan at heart, was happy to see The Champ toppled in favor of the surprise entry.

    But of course, it didn't matter. Edge went to WrestleMania and lost his title match. Cena went to WrestleMania and won his. No Rumble winner in the past four years has gone on to win the World Title. Conversely, no Rumble winner in the last four years has really needed to win the Rumble to be a legitimate star.

    This trend may well continue at the 2011 Royal Rumble, though even the smartest of pundits has to admit that at this point, its a total roll of the dice. Keep your eyes on the winner and the runner-up, because you just never know.