WWE Royal Rumble 2014: Greatest Title Matches in PPV History
The Royal Rumble pay-per-view has long been one of the most important on the World Wrestling Entertainment calendar and a key stop on the road to WrestleMania, thanks in large part to the massive battle royal that determines the top contender to the WWE Championship.
The Rumble match itself has long sold the event to the masses, but over the course of the show's 26 years, it has been responsible for some truly great championship bouts.
They are title matches that, more often than not, establish who will possess the top prize in the industry heading into the Showcase of the Immortals and, on some occasions, are so good they overshadow the event's namesake match.
With the WWE World Heavyweight Championship all but guaranteed to be on the line, the 2014 event may see yet another phenomenal title match.
In anticipation of this year's championship match, whatever it may be, here is a look back at the greatest title matches in Royal Rumble history.
All title matches eligible, not just WWE or World Heavyweight Championship bouts.
WWE Tag Team Title Match: The Hart Brothers vs. The Quebecers (1994)
Part two of the match can be found here.
The tag title match from Royal Rumble 1994 featured one of the greatest angles ever shot at the annual January spectacular.
At the 1993 Survivor Series, seeds were planted for a feud between brothers Bret and Owen Hart when the latter was the only member of the Hart Brothers team eliminated during a traditional tag team elimination match and expressed his frustration. He went as far as to challenge Bret to a match in hopes of proving once and for all that he was every bit as good as the former WWE champion.
The holiday season proved to be just what the Hart family needed, as Bret and Owen emerged as a united front having settled their issues, not to mention the No. 1 contenders to the tag team titles.
Their match with champions The Quebecers was a great, fundamentally wrestled match chock full of psychology. Midway through the bout, Bret suffered a knee injury that would prevent him from tagging Owen. No matter how much of a fight Bret put up, he could not overcome the injury and eventually, the official called for the bell.
The decision infuriated Owen, who entered the squared circle and verbally assaulted his brother. He never lent a hand to Bret. Instead, he waited until The Hitman made it to his feet, then proceeded to kick his leg out from underneath him.
Owen left the ring as the hottest heel in World Wrestling Entertainment that night, setting up one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: The Undertaker vs. Rey Mysterio (2010)
One of the greatest rivalries in World Championship Wrestling history was the one between the massive, 350-pound Big Van Vader and flashy, immensely popular babyface Sting. They had such great chemistry with one another, thanks in large part to the big versus smaller dynamic.
Vader would use his power-based offense to wear down his opponent while Sting attempted to dodge the high-impact maneuvers and use his speed and agility to his advantage.
At the 2010 Royal Rumble, the smaller Rey Mysterio challenged World Heavyweight champion The Undertaker for the title and the right to attempt to enter WrestleMania 26 with the title around his waist.
In one of the stiffest, most unexpectedly hard-hitting matches in recent memory, champion and challenger battered one another with hard strikes. Mysterio even drew blood from his legendary opponent. All the while, they employed the formula that worked so well for Vader and Sting nearly two decades earlier.
Eventually, the Phenom's power advantage proved to be too much for the speedy masked challenger, and Undertaker put Mysterio away with a Last Ride powerbomb.
The match had little impact on future storylines, and there was no real lengthy background heading into it. As a standalone match, however, it remains one of the more overlooked bouts in recent history and one of the best Royal Rumble title matches ever.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler (2011)
In the weeks leading up to the 2011 Royal Rumble, Friday Night SmackDown received a rare shot of adrenaline from the creative team as World Heavyweight champion Edge found himself involved in a rivalry with Dolph Ziggler that also involved Kelly Kelly, LayCool and Vickie Guerrero.
It was a multi-layered feud that incorporated main event and midcard Superstars, authority figures and Divas in one and provided a hint of what the creative team could be capable of if it really wanted to.
The resulting match, a clash between one of the most decorated Superstars in company history (Edge) and a young star anxious to prove himself in a high-profile situation (Ziggler), stole the show at the 2011 edition of the Royal Rumble right out of the gate.
There was nothing else on the show that could top the counter wrestling and the drama created by near-falls and interference of Guerrero and Kelly, not to mention the intrigue of Edge not being allowed to use the spear and how he would get around that stipulation.
The crowd was incredibly hot for the match, and Ziggler more than lived up to the moment.
As he has done on numerous occasions, despite little to show for it.
Edge would win the match, retain his title and go on to retire from in-ring competition following cumulative wear and tear on his neck.
WWE Championship Match: Bret Hart vs. Diesel (1995)
The WWE Championship match at the 1995 Royal Rumble featured the top two babyfaces in WWE vying for the top prize in the sport as Bret "Hitman" Hart challenged "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel.
The match was Diesel's first major title defense since defeating Bob Backlund two months earlier, and he really needed a strong performance to justify the company's faith in him.
He got just that, thanks to hard work on his part and guidance from one of the greatest wrestling technicians of all time.
Hart was uncharacteristically aggressive and exhibited rare ruthlessness while attacking the knee of his opponent. The Hitman managed to take the 7'0" champion and make him a sympathetic figure, something incredibly difficult to do with a guy of that size.
The match is slightly hindered by the finish, which featured interference from Hart's brother Owen, the aforementioned Backlund, Shawn Michaels and Intercontinental champion Jeff Jarrett, but it is so strong prior to that interference that it hardly hurts significantly.
This was the best match of the '95 show, despite being overshadowed by Shawn Michaels' historic win in the Rumble match.
Undisputed Championship Match: The Rock vs. Chris Jericho (2002)
The best match of the 2002 Royal Rumble was not the Rumble match itself but instead, the continuation of a rivalry that started in the fall of 2001 and carried into the first month of the new year.
During the Invasion storyline, WWE Superstars Rock and Jericho began a feud that centered around the perception that Y2J could not win the big one. When he finally did by defeating Rock for the WCW Championship at October 2001's No Mercy pay-per-view, it was only after interference from the Alliance's Stephanie McMahon.
When they met again on Raw a few weeks later, Rock regained the title.
This drove Jericho to the edge, and at Survivor Series, in a match where the future of WWE was at stake, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla turned on Rock and nearly cost his company the match. Luckily for him, WWE won. Not so luckily for him, the feud with Rock intensified, leading to the unification of the WWE and WCW titles at Vengeance in December.
Jericho would defeat both Rock and Steve Austin in one night, making him the first undisputed champion in WWE history. For his first pay-per-view title defense, he would meet Rock in January at the Royal Rumble.
The match continued the string of extraordinary matches between the Superstars, with Jericho excelling as the cowardly heel out to do whatever was necessary to secure the win while Rock nearly captured the title on numerous occasions.
Eventually, interference from Lance Storm and Christian, as well as low blows and belt shots, proved too much for wrestling's most electrifying man, and Y2J left Atlanta with his title intact.
He would lose it a couple of months later to Triple H at WrestleMania X-8.
I Quit Match for the WWE Championship: Mankind vs. The Rock (1999)
On the January 4, 1999 episode of Raw, Mankind defeated The Rock to win the first WWE Championship of his Hall of Fame career. The Great One, Vince McMahon's handpicked champion, was desperate to regain his title and offered to compete in any number of gimmick matches.
Mankind agreed on an I Quit match, and the stage was set for a violent championship clash.
Just how violent, few could have ever imagined.
Two moments in the match are burned in the memories of all of those who saw them.
The first is Mankind being knocked 10 feet from the stands into the electrical setup, causing sparks and a power outage. That bump alone would have provided the memorable violence that fans expect from a match of that type.
What followed would help it forever live in infamy, thanks in large part to the 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat.
With wife Colette, son Dewey and daughter Noelle Foley watching from ringside, Mankind was handcuffed and repeatedly bashed in the head with a steel chair. The unprotected shots, totaling nearly a dozen, were uncomfortable for even the champion's family to watch. With blood pouring out of a wound in his head, Mankind was knocked unconscious and a prerecorded "I quit" sounded over the PA system, resulting in a title change.
The match was a signature bout in the Attitude Era, and a very good one at that. Unfortunately, it flirted with the line between good taste and too violent in the eyes of many fans.
Intercontinental Title Ladder Match: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit (2001)
One of the most competitive feuds of 2000 was the one between Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, who oftentimes found themselves competing for the prestigious Intercontinental Championship.
They met in matches at WrestleMania 2000, Backlash and Judgment Day and were opponents in matches on Raw and SmackDown on a regular basis.
That feud bled into the first month of 2001 and culminated in a ladder match for the Intercontinental title at the Royal Rumble.
The match was brilliant in its crafting and execution, as champion Benoit and challenger Jericho opted to forgo the dangerous high spots that the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and the Dudley Boyz had relied on in their ladder matches, instead focusing on storytelling and psychology.
Jericho's Walls of Jericho on Benoit atop the ladder would become overused in future installments of the gimmick match involving Jericho but in this, his first in WWE, it was a memorable moment that popped the New Orleans fans.
Jericho would win the match and the title, but the respect between the competitors would play a major role in their alliance later in the spring and their feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Kurt Angle and Vince McMahon.
As it stands, the match is one of the most underrated ladder bouts in WWE history and proof that the match can thrill audiences without the competitors nearly killing themselves by throwing their bodies from dangerous heights.
Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Title: John Cena vs. Umaga (2007)
The Last Man Standing match between John Cena and Umaga should have been the coming-out party for the Samoan Savage challenger but instead was the best performance of Cena's two-year main event run and cemented him as one of the most diverse performers in the sport, despite constant disdain from fans.
Bloodied and with his title reign in jeopardy, Cena withstood the punishing attack of the larger Umaga and fought with every bone in his body to retain the title he so treasured.
Minding his surroundings, and with few other options, Cena used a detached ring rope to choke his opponent unconscious, making it impossible for him to reach his feet before the referee's three-count.
Cena raised his title high in the air, knowing full well he had faced the greatest threat to his championship and his toughest opponent to date.
While the fans may have continued their hatred of him, Cena made it harder and harder for them not to respect his contributions to the sport.
WWE Championship Match: Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle (2003)
Chris Benoit versus Kurt Angle would be a near-classic match in any arena across the country.
Add the WWE Championship to the equation and book the contest for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view and you have all of the elements for a classic professional wrestling match.
Challenger Benoit and champion Angle did not disappoint, exceeding expectations and delivering a match that not only featured two elite in-ring performers in their prime but also featured a hot Bostonian crowd who had been forced to watch utter garbage between Triple H and Scott Steiner moments earlier and were eager to applaud exceptional wrestling.
Benoit came within seconds of winning his first heavyweight title in World Wrestling Entertainment on a number of occasions but fell just short when he became locked in the ankle lock with no choice but to tap out.
The reception given to Benoit immediately afterward was a sign of great respect from the fans. By the time the 2004 event rolled around, the Rabid Wolverine would be winning the Royal Rumble match and heading to WrestleMania XX to compete for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Street Fight for the WWE Championship: Cactus Jack vs. Triple H
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon took control of World Wrestling Entertainment in late- 999 and wasted little time wreaking havoc on their fellow Superstars. One such Superstar was Mick Foley, who was unceremoniously fired following a loss to The Rock in a Pink Slip on a Pole match.
In the weeks that followed his dismissal, the McMahon-Helmsley Regime mocked him and made fun of his unemployment and the hardships it had put on his family.
Then, The Rock organized a protest that ultimately ended with Foley's reinstatement.
Eventually, tensions between him and Triple H reached such a boiling point that the Hardcore Legend dusted off his old Cactus Jack attire and returned as the violence-fueled Superstar in time for his Royal Rumble 2000 Street Fight against the WWE champion.
The match featured brilliant storytelling, and neither Superstar relied too heavily upon the hardcore gimmick to sell the match. They worked extremely hard to deliver the match they wanted, and the crowd inside the historic Madison Square Garden ate it all up.
The use of thumbtacks late in the bout when Triple H delivered a wicked, sick Pedigree to Jack, who landed face-first in hundreds of the sharp, pointy objects was a fitting way to conclude the violent bout.
While the previous year's match suffered from violence that crossed the line of comfort, the 2000 match featured violence that played into the personal rivalry between champion and challenger and provided a fitting conclusion to the penultimate chapter of the historic rivalry.