Ranking Every WWE Royal Rumble Winner in History

Scott CampbellFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

Ranking Every WWE Royal Rumble Winner in History

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    With the Royal Rumble only a few short weeks away, many are starting to formulate ideas about who they think will win.

    This year it seems like there are no real favorites for the match, which is unusual so close to the event. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that most of the attention is being focused on the return of The Rock and his WWE Championship match.

    With that in mind, this article will take a look into the storied history of the Royal Rumble and the 22 men who have been lucky enough to emerge victorious in the match.

    So without further ado, here are the rankings for every Royal Rumble winner in history.

    The rankings cover performances in the Royal Rumble match itself, as well as momentum up to and including WrestleMania. Names marked with an asterisk were not clear winners.

Honorable Mention: Kane

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    I feel it would be rude to kick off any Royal Rumble retrospective without taking a look at the greatest star never to have won the match.

    Including his previous gimmicks as the fake Diesel and sadistic dentist Isaac Yankem, "The Big Red Machine" has racked up a record 15 appearances in the Rumble since his debut in 1996. Kane has also been one of the final four participants in the match five times, another record he shares with Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Randy Orton.

    Perhaps Kane's greatest performance was in the 2001 edition of the match, where he set the record for most eliminations in a single Rumble with an impressive 11, with six of these coming consecutively. "The Devil's Favorite Demon" also sits second on the all-time eliminations list, having sent an incredible 39 stars over the top rope.

    Surely, it's now too late for Kane to claim that elusive Royal Rumble victory, but he will definitely go down as one of the greatest competitors ever to take part in the match.

22. Vince McMahon (1999)

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    With the rivalry between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon reaching a fever pitch, "The Boss" would do anything to prevent The Rattlesnake from winning the WWF Championship, which, as it turned out, included winning the Royal Rumble.

    Stone Cold entered the match first followed by McMahon after WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels had overruled McMahon's attempts to enter at the coveted No. 30 spot. However, Vince spent the majority of the match at ringside, doing everything he could to avoid Austin.

    The finish came when The Bionic Redneck attacked McMahon outside the ring after they became the final two competitors in the match, before throwing him back into the squared circle. WWF Champion The Rock then appeared at ringside, distracting Austin and allowing McMahon to throw him over the top rope and claim the shocking victory.

    The reasons for Vince McMahon winning the Royal Rumble were twofold—a combination of furthering the historic feud with Steve Austin and sheer egomania. The fact that the following month he lost to The Rattlesnake with the WrestleMania title match on the line only served to make the whole exercise rather pointless.

21. Lex Luger (1994) *

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    After Hulk Hogan left the WWF in 1993, Lex Luger was given a monster push, with the hope of becoming the company's new all-American hero. To say it was disappointing was an understatement, with the limited Luger suffering from a severe charisma shortage.

    Prior to the event, Luger was allocated plenty of television time where he made his intentions to win the match crystal clear. Entering at No. 23, it seemed as though The Lex Express was in with an excellent chance of emerging victorious.

    One of the final two men in the match along with Bret Hart, both men went over the top rope and hit the floor simultaneously, with video replays failing to show a clear winner. As two referees argued over who had won the match, on-screen WWF President Jack Tunney declared both men as co-winners.

    It was decided both men would have the opportunity to challenge WWF Champion Yokozuna at WrestleMania 10, where Luger came up short. Failing to decisively win the Rumble hurt Luger's momentum, and after he was unsuccessful in his attempts to capture the WWF Championship, his main event push was quietly abandoned.

20. Jim Duggan (1988)

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    The inaugural Royal Rumble match took place on Jan. 24, 1988 and featured just 20 competitors. The match only lasted 33 minutes and was somewhat surprisingly won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

    The match wasn't even shown on pay-per-view and was instead broadcast on the USA Network. Added to that, the Rumble match itself didn't even close the show; that honor went to a 2-out-of-3 Falls tag team match between The Islanders and The Young Stallions.

    Eventual winner Duggan entered the match at No. 13 and spent less than 15 minutes in the match before tossing the One Man Gang over the top rope to claim the victory. However, I'm sure he couldn't have predicted how important the match would become to the WWF.

    Although they hadn't yet perfected the formula, the introduction of the Royal Rumble match would prove to be a defining moment in company history, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan will always be remembered as the winner of the inaugural contest.

19. Big John Studd (1989)

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    The second edition of the Royal Rumble match was the first to involve 30 competitors, and it featured some of the biggest names in the business, including Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Andre the Giant.

    Having a 30-man battle royal added a unique feel to the match, as it was something that the audience had never seen before. Though the in-ring action was quite stilted by today's standards, the match gave us a glimpse into the hottest feud of 1989, when Hulk Hogan accidentally eliminated his Mega Powers teammate, Randy Savage.

    The final two men in the match were Big John Studd and Ted DiBiase. Studd had not long returned to the WWF after a two-year spell in retirement and had turned face in the process. The Million Dollar Man put up surprisingly little offense against his larger opponent before he was thrown over the top rope.

    Although this was before the winner of the Royal Rumble was guaranteed a shot at the WWF Championship, the match was still arguably the highlight of Big John Studd's entire career, and it was a great moment for him after two years out of the business.

18. Alberto Del Rio (2011)

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    Only five months after his television debut, Alberto Del Rio emerged victorious in his first ever Royal Rumble match, which was also the first edition of the contest to feature 40 competitors.

    In what was one of the best Rumble matches in years, The Mexican Aristocrat entered at No. 38 and was in the match for only eight-and-a-half minutes before lastly eliminating Santino Marella to fulfill his self-prophesied "destiny."

    Del Rio decided to face World Heavyweight Champion Edge at WrestleMania 27, in what would unfortunately be the last match in the storied career of the Rated-R Superstar. The action was more than a little disappointing, and Del Rio ultimately failed to capture the title.

    The reason that The Mexican Aristocrat finds himself so far down the list is that he was heavily pushed as a main event talent from the moment of his debut, only to find his momentum killed stone-dead when he failed to capitalize on his Royal Rumble win at WrestleMania 27.

17. The Rock (2000)*

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    As strange as it seems to find The Great One so far down the rankings, it can't be denied that his Royal Rumble win and subsequent WrestleMania appearance were more than a little underwhelming.

    Entering the match at No. 24, The Rock was viewed by many as a favorite for the match, and he found himself up against The Big Show for the right to go to WrestleMania and challenge WWF champion Triple H. It looked like The World's Largest Athlete was going to win as he charged the ropes with The People's Champion on his shoulders, but The Rock reversed the momentum to pick up the win.

    In the weeks following the event, Big Show claimed that The Rock's feet touched the floor first and sought out video evidence to prove his claim. Showing the video to Triple H, he managed to get himself a match against The Great One at No Way Out with the WrestleMania title shot on the line.

    At No Way Out, The Big Show defeated The Rock with assistance from Shane McMahon, which led to the disappointing Fatal 4-Way WWF Championship match at WrestleMania 16 with a McMahon in every corner. The People's Champion never got the singles match he earned by winning the Royal Rumble, and the buildup to the Grandest Stage of Them All was overshadowed by the McMahon family.

16. John Cena (2008)

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    Making a lightning-quick recovery from a pectoral injury that made his appearance a massive shock, John Cena entered at No. 30, and it took him less than eight-and-a-half minutes to book himself in for a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 24.

    Facing off with Triple H for the right to headline The Showcase of the Immortals, Cena managed to turn a Pedigree attempt into the FU (remember when it was called that?) and throw The Cerebral Assassin over the top rope.

    Cena would go on to become the first man who couldn't wait until WrestleMania to use his title shot, deciding to face Randy Orton at the following month's No Way Out instead, where The Viper would retain the belt after intentionally getting disqualified. On the same card, Triple H won an Elimination Chamber match to make himself the No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship.

    At WrestleMania 24, Cena would get another chance at the title, facing off against Orton and Triple H in a Triple Threat match. However, Orton would emerge victorious and retain the title. Looking at the bigger picture, Cena's Royal Rumble win was ultimately rather pointless, as he spent the next two pay-per-view main events unsuccessfully challenging for the WWE Championship anyway.

15. Edge (2010)

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    Edge returned from a six-month injury layoff at the 2010 Royal Rumble to claim a huge victory. The win set him on an eventual collision course with former tag team partner and World Heavyweight champion Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 26.

    Entering at No. 29, The Rated-R Superstar went on a rampage and speared everybody that remained in the ring before eliminating Jericho. The final three men in the match were Edge, John Cena and Batista, with The Animal being the last to be eliminated.

    The following month at Elimination Chamber, Shawn Michaels cost The Undertaker the World Heavyweight Championship, allowing Chris Jericho to capture the belt. This led to Edge making his intentions clear by challenging Jericho while HBK and The Deadman squared off in the legendary Career vs. Streak match.

    At The Showcase of the Immortals, Edge failed to win the World Heavyweight Championship from Jericho in a match that should have been much better. In failing to win the strap, Edge had lost much of the momentum he had gained following his return, taking the gloss off his Rumble win in the process.

14. Randy Orton (2009)

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    Randy Orton entered the 2009 Royal Rumble at No. 8, and thanks to some help from Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes, The Viper emerged victorious by throwing his old nemesis, Triple H, over the ropes.

    In the final sequence of the match, The Cerebral Assassin managed to overcome the odds to eliminate DiBiase and Rhodes before the opportunistic Orton clotheslined his former mentor over the ropes to guarantee a title shot at WrestleMania 25.

    The following month at No Way Out, Triple H survived an Elimination Chamber match to capture the WWE Championship and set up a collision with his former Evolution protege. On The Grandest Stage of Them All, The Game managed to retain the belt with a clean pinfall following a Pedigree.

    Once again, a Royal Rumble winner had failed in his attempt to capture world title gold at WrestleMania. This caused Orton's momentum to stall, although he would soon be a six-time WWE Champion by the age of 30.

13. Yokozuna (1993)

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    For the first time ever, the winner of the Royal Rumble match was guaranteed a WrestleMania match against the WWF champion, something that would quickly become tradition.

    Before the match, it seemed an impossible task for anyone to throw the massive Yokozuna over the top rope, and this proved to be the case. The final competitor to be eliminated was Randy Savage, who tried to pin Yokozuna, only to be thrown off the big man with such force that he was taken right out of the ring.

    Breaking the record for most eliminations in a single Rumble with seven, the Japanese monster went on to WrestleMania 9 to face WWF champion Bret Hart. In what was quite possibly the worst WrestleMania of all time, Yokozuna defeated The Hitman for the title, only to drop it immediately to Hulk Hogan in an impromptu contest to end the show on a high note for the audience.

    Despite only holding the WWF Championship for a few minutes, Yokozuna did what many others have failed to do over the years and turned his Royal Rumble victory into world title success.

12. Sheamus (2012)

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    Criticized in some quarters for being heavily pushed as Triple H's pet project, winning the 2012 Royal Rumble saw Sheamus build up an incredible wave of momentum that he carried throughout most of the year, establishing himself as a genuine main event talent in the process.

    Entering the match at No. 22, The Celtic Warrior won the match by eliminating Chris Jericho, who many predicted would be the victor. Despite winning the match, Jericho, interestingly, was the only opponent Sheamus managed to eliminate (he teamed with The Big Show to eliminate Jack Swagger).

    The following month at Elimination Chamber, The Great White made his intentions known when he attacked World Heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan following the latter's successful title defense.

    After winning the Rumble, Sheamus went on to capture the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28. Despite the brevity of the match and disappointment it caused the audience, The Great White was red hot throughout the rest of the year, and he defended the belt against all comers in what was easily the best year of his career.

11. Bret Hart (1994) *

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    The co-winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble alongside Lex Luger, Bret Hart at least managed to enjoy more luck against WWF champion Yokozuna at WrestleMania 10.

    Forced to compete twice in the same night, The Hitman opened the show against brother Owen in one of the best matches in WrestleMania history before successfully toppling the Japanese monster in the main event to capture the WWF Championship.

    Slowly establishing himself as one of the most gifted and popular wrestlers of his generation, winning the Royal Rumble (and his subsequent WWF Championship win) cemented Bret Hart as a serious top-tier talent, something that couldn't be said about co-winner Lex Luger.

    The sight of The Hitman being hoisted up on the shoulders of his peers showed the decision to award him the title at WrestleMania was the right one, and it made some people wonder why the company had even bothered to have him share the award of Royal Rumble winner once it became clear the Luger experiment had failed.

10. Triple H (2002)

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    Following a long layoff after a serious quadriceps injury, Triple H made his long-awaited return to pay-per-view action by lastly eliminating Kurt Angle to win the 2002 Royal Rumble.

    Although the return to in-ring competition of Triple H was the main talking point of the show, Mr. Perfect was arguably the star of the match and put in an incredible effort, making it to the final three. Following the match, The Game became embroiled in a short feud with The Olympic Hero before focusing his attention of Chris Jericho and the WWF Undisputed Championship.

    The feud in the lead up to WrestleMania 18 was centred around Stephanie McMahon and whether or not her allegiances lied with Jericho or her husband, Triple H. The feud was terrible, and the whole "divorce" thing was completely overplayed. And how can we forget Lucy, Triple H's beloved pet bulldog?

    In the end, Triple H virtually squashed Jericho at WrestleMania and made his opponent look inferior. Over-muscled and quite happy to bury his opponents, the feud was the nadir of Triple H's backstage politicking despite the huge audience reaction to his Rumble victory.

9. Batista (2005)

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    What should have been a career-defining moment for Batista when he finally ascended to main event status after a slow-burning face turn instead led to an infamous ending to the match.

    Charging the ring as the 28th entrant, The Animal looked dominant and found himself facing off against John Cena, his main rival as the company's newest top star. Attempting a Batista Bomb, Cena countered with a head-scissors that took both men over the top to the floor.

    Except that wasn't the planned finish.

    Vince McMahon made his way to the ring to announce the restart, and somehow, he managed to tear both of his quads in the process. It was some sight, seeing the chairman of the company sitting on the canvas, gesticulating wildly for the match to continue.

    Moments after the restart, Batista threw Cena over the top to claim the victory. This was the catalyst for a full-blown face turn, with The Animal challenging his mentor, Triple H, for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21. Batista captured the gold that night and went on to establish himself as SmackDown's biggest star for the next 18 months.

8. The Undertaker (2007)

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    The Undertaker became the first man to enter the Royal Rumble at No. 30 and win the match, and in doing so, he added another impressive accolade to a legendary career.

    The last man to be eliminated from the match was Shawn Michaels, and the closing exchanges between the two all-time greats was the greatest finishing sequence to any Royal Rumble in history. The two men went back and forth, leaving the audience unable to decide who would emerge victorious.

    Following his victory in the match, The Undertaker appeared on Raw, SmackDown and ECW before deciding who he wanted to face at WrestleMania 23. The Phenom eventually decided on World Heavyweight champion Batista, and the two had a gripping contest on The Grandest Stage of Them All that was one of Batista's best matches ever.

    In the twilight of his full-time wrestling career, The Undertaker showed he was still one of the best by winning his first Royal Rumble and going on to lift the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, proving that it is possible to get better with age.

7. Ric Flair (1992)

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    In the first (and so far only) Royal Rumble match to have world title gold on the line, Ric Flair outlasted the rest of the field to capture his first WWF Championship by lastly throwing Sid Justice over the top rope.

    Entering at No. 3, The Nature Boy spent almost an hour in the match, which made his victory seem highly unlikely at the time. Despite spending stretches of the match hiding under the bottom rope to rest up and generate heat from the crowd, Flair was a thoroughly deserving winner.

    The final four came down to Flair, Sid, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. It seemed as though any one of the four was capable of winning the match, and since they all had a lot of history with each other, it gave the match an exciting conclusion.

    In the final year before the Royal Rumble guaranteed a shot at the WWF Championship, The Dirtiest Player in the Game held on in what was the longest time a competitor had ever spent in the match, and somehow, he managed to walk away with the title.

6. Brock Lesnar (2003)

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    Capping off what was arguably the greatest debut year in the history of professional wrestling, Brock Lesnar entered the 2003 Royal Rumble at No. 29. Less than nine minutes later, he was guaranteed a world title shot at WrestleMania 19.

    Before entering the Royal Rumble, The Next Big Thing had already made his presence known in the WWE by winning the 2002 King of the Ring tournament before becoming the youngest WWE Champion in history when he defeated The Rock at SummerSlam.

    The last man to be eliminated was The Undertaker, and in the process of winning, The Pain set the records for youngest Rumble winner and shortest time spent in the match by a winner. This made his victory all the more impressive when you consider it was his first (and only) appearance in the contest.

    Ultimately, Brock Lesnar went on to defeat Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 19 in an excellent match. He only spent one more year with the company before leaving to pursue outside interests. However, his impact in Royal Rumble history will not be easily forgotten.

5. Hulk Hogan (1990, 1991)

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    The first man to win the Royal Rumble twice, and also the first to achieve the feat in consecutive years, Hulk Hogan is also the only man to win the match as reigning WWF Champion.

    The Hulkster entered at No. 25 and spent less than 13 minutes in the 1990 Rumble, eliminating five other stars before finally tossing Mr. Perfect over the top rope to gain victory. Hogan was even more impressive the following year, throwing no less than seven men over the top rope en route to victory after drawing No. 24.

    As well as conquering the Royal Rumble twice in a row, The Hulkster holds the record for most consecutive eliminations in the match with an impressive eight in 1989. He also eliminated a whopping 27 competitors in only four appearances.

    Despite the fact that guaranteed title shots for winning the Royal Rumble wasn't introduced until 1993, Hulk Hogan nonetheless went on to WrestleMania 7 to defeat Sgt. Slaughter for the WWF Championship, becoming synonymous with the match while it was still in its infancy.

4. Rey Mysterio (2006)

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    Rey Mysterio lived up to his title as The Ultimate Underdog when he entered the 2006 Royal Rumble at No. 2 and somehow managed to win, setting the record for most time spent in the match at an incredible 62 minutes.

    Nobody gave The Master of the 619 much hope of emerging victorious, especially when the final four came down to Mysterio, Triple H, Randy Orton and Rob van Dam. However, Rey finished the match by eliminating Orton to crown possibly the unlikeliest Rumble winner in history.

    The following month at No Way Out, Mysterio actually lost his title shot in a match against The Viper before being put back into the mix, resulting in a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 22 that also featured World Heavyweight champion Kurt Angle. Capping off one of the industry's greatest underdog stories, Mysterio captured the title at The Showcase of the Immortals.

    Despite pushing the Eddie Guerrero angle a little too hard during the lead up to Wrestlemania, Rey Mysterio's Royal Rumble win and the subsequent build-up to his World Heavyweight Championship victory were expertly booked, and the crowd was on their feet when he finally captured the big one.

3. Chris Benoit (2004)

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    Although his name is now whispered in hushed tones throughout the wrestling world, there is no denying that Chris Benoit's herculean effort in the 2004 Royal Rumble was an impressive achievement.

    Becoming only the second man to enter the Rumble at No. 1 and win, The Rabid Wolverine broke the record for longest time spent in the match when he threw The Big Show over the top rope just past the 61-minute mark, which was his sixth elimination of the contest.

    Incredibly, this was Benoit's first appearance in the annual battle royal, and he put on one hell of a show to emerge victorious and was fully deserving of the win. Despite being contracted to SmackDown back when the brand split meant meant something, The Crippler instead moved to Raw to challenge World Heavyweight champion Triple H.

    Chris Benoit eventually captured the belt from Triple H in a gripping triple threat bout also involving Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 20. Following the match, Eddie Guerrero came down to the ring to celebrate with his old friend, creating a genuine WrestleMania moment.

    Ignoring the horrific circumstances surrounding the end of his life, it remains a fact that Chris Benoit the wrestler is one of the greatest Royal Rumble winners of all time.

2. Shawn Michaels (1995, 1996)

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    The first man to ever win the Royal Rumble after entering at No. 1, Shawn Michaels also became the second man to win the match in two consecutive years. He also holds the record for most eliminations in Rumble history after eliminating 41 other stars over a dozen appearances.

    In 1995, The Heartbreak Kid made it down to the final two with The British Bulldog, who was the second entrant. In a spot that we have seen recreated almost every year since, the Bulldog threw Michaels over the top rope and celebrated in victory despite the fact only one of HBK's feet had touched the floor. However, The Showstopper was unsuccessful when he went on to challenge WWF champion Diesel at WrestleMania 11.

    The following year, Michaels entered at No. 18 and emerged victorious yet again by lastly eliminating his old foe, Diesel, before going on to capture his first WWF Championship from Bret Hart in the company's first Iron Match at WrestleMania 12.

    Possibly the greatest performer ever to set foot in the ring, Shawn Michaels is also closely associated with the Royal Rumble, as he holds the record for eliminations, has made the second most match appearances in history, was the first man to enter first and win and became the second man to win in two consecutive years.

1. Steve Austin (1997, 1998, 2001)

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    The fact that Steve Austin is the only man to win the Royal Rumble on three separate occasions makes his place at the top of the list a total no-brainer. And if it wasn't for Mr. McMahon's shady tactics in 1999, The Rattlesnake could have won four.

    Stone Cold entered the 1997 Rumble at No. 5 and eliminated no less that 10 superstars, with Bret Hart the last man to go over the top. However, The Hitman had actually eliminated Austin earlier, but The Rattlesnake rolled back into the ring while the referees were distracted.

    Austin never got his title shot at WrestleMania, as Shawn Michaels soon vacated the WWF Championship, which set off a chain of events that resulted in the classic confrontation between The Bionic Redneck and Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13.

    The following year, Austin stormed the ring at No. 24 and had the match won less than 16 minutes later, sealing victory by eliminating The Rock. This time, Stone Cold would get his title shot and usher in the start of the Attitude Era by capturing his first WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels.

    The record-breaking third Rumble win came three years later, when The Rattlesnake was the 27th entrant in the match. This time, it took him less than 10 minutes to claim victory, and he would go on to WrestleMania 17 to have one of the most famous matches in WrestleMania history against arch-nemesis The Rock, where he would shockingly turn heel and align with Vince McMahon after winning the WWF Championship.

    As well as being the only man to win the Royal Rumble three times, Stone Cold also racked up an impressive 36 eliminations in just six appearances, which also means he won half of the Rumbles he appeared in!

Conclusions

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    So there it is, every Royal Rumble winner in history.

    I think with the exception of Michaels and Austin, most fans could have a different interpretation of the rankings. This article took more research than any other article I've compiled for B/R, so thanks for reading!

    Now it's time to hear your opinion.

    Do you agree with the rankings?

    Who do you think will win this year's match?

    As always, sound off in the comments below!