WWE Royal Rumble: 20 Most Memorable Moments in Event's History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2017

WWE Royal Rumble: 20 Most Memorable Moments in Event's History

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Royal Rumble is one of the most anticipated, exciting and unforgettable events of the WWE calendar, and as such, it has spawned several unforgettable moments throughout its long and illustrious history.

    From championship victories to unexpected returns, the show has been home to unlimited occurrences that have reinvigorated fanbases and left audiences invested in the Road to WrestleMania.

    The 2017 spectacular is shaping up to be one of the biggest and most star-studded ever, with Goldberg, Brock Lesnar and Undertaker already announced for the 30-man namesake match and John Cena vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at the top of the card.

    With the promise of more unforgettable matches, stars and performances to come, journey back through the annals of WWE history and relive these 20 moments that have helped to define the Royal Rumble event.

20. Philadelphia Rejects Roman Reigns (2015)

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    Royal Rumble 2015 should have been the greatest night in the young career of Roman Reigns.

    Instead, obvious booking and the continued disrespect of Daniel Bryan led to a tidal wave of backlash from fans in Philadelphia, who booed Reigns' win.

    So seething was the fanbase over WWE's decision to strap the proverbial rocket to the back of the second-generation star's back that they even booed the company's attempt to generate cheers by recruiting The Rock.

    One year after Batista's win was rejected by fans, it once again became apparent that the tone of WrestleMania season depends heavily on the Rumble winner and the WWE Universe's reaction to it. 

    More importantly, it demanded greater creativity from management. No longer were fans willing to sit back and watch an obvious winner rise to victory without some sort of creative finish or unexpected wrinkle to keep them interested.

    The tired story of Reigns overcoming the odds to eliminate Big Show, Kane and Rusev was not acceptable, and fans in Philly let it be known.

19. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker for the Win (2007)

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    Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker helped define professional wrestling in the 1990s but remained integral parts of WWE throughout the 2000s, proving to the world that great performers never grow old, no matter what their ages may read.

    In 2007, they were the favorites to win the Royal Rumble match and challenge for the world title at WrestleMania 23.

    In front of a red-hot San Antonio audience, the consummate pros and grizzled veterans took fans on an emotional roller-coaster ride that culminated with The Phenom dumping Michaels to claim his first Rumble victory.

    The drama they injected into the match—the nine minutes of pure joy they provided the wrestling world with—reminded fans that experience is the greatest tool any Superstar can possess.

    So extraordinary were the final minutes of the Rumble match that Chris Jericho and Sheamus tried desperately to replicate the emotion the Superstars created, to much more diminishing results.

18. Beth Phoenix Becomes Second Female to Enter Royal Rumble (2010)

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    She may not have been the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble match, but Beth Phoenix was the most surprising.

    Chyna made history in 1999 by becoming the first woman to enter the match, but her appearance was advertised well in advance. When Phoenix exploded through the curtain in 2010, no one expected The Glamazon to compete in the match.

    Not only did she compete, but she also scored one of the most memorable eliminations of the contest.

    Engaging lady's man The Great Khali in a lip-lock, she pulled the 7-footer over the top rope. From there, she exploded across the ring with a huge clothesline to CM Punk before succumbing to The Straight Edge Superstar's patented Go to Sleep.

    Though her stint was short, it was an unforgettable moment that once again proved fans have no idea who to expect in the annual over-the-top-rope war.

17. The Mega Powers Erupt (1989)

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    As 1989 arrived, the once-strong bond between Hulk Hogan and WWE champion "Macho Man" Randy Savage was showing signs of erosion. After a year in which they dominated the industry as The Mega Powers, ego and infatuation had gotten in the way of further success.

    With tension mounting, it was no surprise that Hogan and Savage came face-to-face during an intense confrontation during the second Royal Rumble match.

    Hogan had accidentally eliminated Macho Man, drawing the jealous champion's ire. The industry icons exchanged words and prepared to do the same with fists before Miss Elizabeth jumped between them and talked her charges down.

    It was yet another instance of intensification that led to the eventual explosion of The Mega Powers at WrestleMania V.

16. Sgt. Slaughter Wins the WWE Championship (1991)

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    The controversial heel turn by Sgt. Slaughter in 1990, in which he pledged allegiance to Saddam Hussein during wartime between the United States and Iraq, was a desperate ploy by Vince McMahon to increase attendance and television ratings in the new decade.

    Few could have expected it would reach the heights it did at the 1991 Royal Rumble, where the aging veteran capitalized on interference from "Macho King" Randy Savage to defeat The Ultimate Warrior for the WWE Championship.

    The win symbolized McMahon's commitment to the character and ensured that the enemy sympathizer would enter WrestleMania VII with the top prize in wrestling around his waist.

    If only there was an American hero to rescue WWE from its newest oppressor with a big boot and leg drop...

15. Kane Burns His Brother (1998)

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    A week before Royal Rumble 1998, it appeared as though the hatred that had existed between Undertaker and Kane had been set aside, particularly after The Big Red Monster came to his brother's aid during a beatdown at the hands of D-Generation X.

    That proved inaccurate, as Kane arrived late in the Casket match for the WWE Championship between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and stunned the wrestling world by attacking his brother and ensuring defeat.

    After the match, Kane locked his brother in the casket and set it ablaze, leaving some to wonder if they had just witnessed murder via incineration on live television. It was the turning point in the rivalry and the moment that ensured The Deadman would return and battle his younger sibling at WrestleMania XIV.

    More memorable than the flames reflecting off the glossy eyes of Kane and his fiendish father, Paul Bearer, were the images of an empty casket when officials finally extinguished the blaze and opened it.

14. Santino Marella Sets a Dubious Mark (2009)

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    Santino Marella is a comedic genius—a performer who could take the most ridiculous angles and turn them into a entertaining romps, if nothing else.

    In 2009, he made history for the most dubious of reasons, setting a record for the quickest elimination in Royal Rumble competition.

    He leaped over the top rope and then, without a moment to blink, was sent back over the top rope via an uppercut from Kane.

    The look of shock on his face gave way to pleas of "I wasn't ready," but there was nothing The Milan Miracle could do about it. He was gone, eliminated from a match before he had the opportunity to take a breath.

    No matter what else he accomplished or how many championships he accumulated, Marella will go down in WWE infamy for his one-second run in the 30-man Battle Royal.

13. Roman Reigns' Record Rumble (2014)

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    In 2001, Kane set a Royal Rumble record by eliminating 11 Superstars. It was the most dominant performance in Rumble history and one that etched The Big Red Monster's name in the history books.

    That is, until 2014, when a new force in the WWE Universe made his debut in the match and instantly surpassed the mark.

    Eliminating 12 Superstars to a thunderous ovation, it became clear WWE had a huge push in store for Roman Reigns. Among those Superstars sent packing were Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, Hall of Famer Diesel and his own Shield teammates, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.

    Reigns' performance carried him to the final two, where an ill-timed charge of Batista resulted in him taking the tumble over the top rope and to the arena floor, robbing him of his first WrestleMania main event.

12. Rey Mysterio: Little Man, Big Heart (2006)

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    The ultimate underdog became the most unlikely Royal Rumble winner ever in January 2006.

    Rey Mysterio entered the annual bout at No. 2 and lasted the duration of the bout to win the 30-man battle.

    Dubbed The Biggest Little Man in professional wrestling, he overcame Triple H and Randy Orton in the closing moments of the match to cash his ticket to WrestleMania 22 and a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship.

    The win was dedicated to his best friend, the late Eddie Guerrero, and contributed to the emotion of the match. Whether WWE willingly exploited Guerrero's passing to create the moment is irrelevant.

    What is not, though, is the joyous images of Mysterio looking to the heavens as if to thank Latino Heat for everything he had done for him to that point and everything he would do for him heading into The Showcase of the Immortals.

11. Mr. McMahon Wins (1999)

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    The rivalry between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Vince McMahon reached a new height at Royal Rumble 1999, where they entered the namesake match at spots No. 1 and 2, respectively. For 90 seconds, McMahon endured a major ass-whooping that ended only when The Corporation jumped Austin in the women's locker room.

    But the CEO's night was not over there.

    Austin eventually returned, as did the pain and agony felt by McMahon.

    The boss was beaten from pillar to post, but a late distraction from The Rock allowed McMahon to shove Austin over the top rope and to the arena floor, securing his place in history as one of the select few to win a Royal Rumble match.

    To this day, the images of a beaten and brutalized McMahon, barely able to stand on his on two feet, celebrating his victory ranks among the most absurd and defining moments in the long and illustrious history of the bout.

10. The Ultimate Showdown (1990)

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    In January 1990, the wrestling world stood still as the Royal Rumble match provided it with a sneak peek of one of the most storied and celebrated WrestleMania main events of all time.

    During the match, both The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan occupied the same ring for the first time in a major, televised occurrence. They would come face-to-face with each other and exchange blows. From there, they would take each other out with a big double clothesline before Hogan inadvertently knocked his popular rival over the top rope with an errant clothesline.

    It was a brief interaction that sent shock waves across the wrestling world, hinting at the colossal showdown between the iconic Superstars on the grandest stage known to the sport.

    More importantly, it was an example of how special the interactions between Superstars could be within the confines of the Royal Rumble match, something WWE officials would utilize to great effect in the years that followed.

9. "I Quit!" (1999)

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    Immortalized in the 2000 film Beyond the Mat, the I Quit match for the WWE Championship between The Rock and Mankind at Royal Rumble 1999 is one of the most infamous bouts in company history.

    The sheer brutality alone ensured it would be memorable, but the finishing sequence, which saw The Rock pelt the WWE champion's head with chair shot after chair shot, all while Mankind's family members watched from ringside as their bloodied husband and father stumbled around the ringside area, etched it into the minds of fans unlucky to witness the uncomfortable ordeal.

    The Rock would regain the title by chicanery, as The Corporation aired an audio tape of Foley uttering the two magic words, but the brutality demonstrated by The Great One is what fans most remember about the epic title encounter.

8. AJ Styles' Debut (2016)

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    AJ Styles' debut in the 2016 Royal Rumble match was years in the making. Long considered one of the best wrestlers in the world, The Phenomenal One had competed in every major promotion in the industry, but he never had a legitimate contract with Vince McMahon's.

    His arrival in one of WWE's premier matches set in motion a fantastic year that saw him combat Roman Reigns, make his WrestleMania debut, pin John Cena clean and capture the company's WWE title.

    It also restored belief in the fact that anything can happen in the Rumble, beyond the appearances of legendary stars looking for one last moment of bliss. Styles' arrival altered the course of 2016 and should affect WWE for years to come.

7. Drew Carey Enters the Royal Rumble (2001)

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    Drew Carey arrived at Royal Rumble 2001 seeking advice from Vince McMahon on how to best promote his improv comedy pay-per-view.

    Instead, he was manipulated by a jealous owner who thought the television star had taken a liking to his mistress, Trish Stratus.

    McMahon told Carey that the best way to promote his comedy show was to appear in the Royal Rumble match, becoming one of the 30 Superstars to vie for the opportunity to compete for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven.

    Carey reluctantly agreed and almost instantaneously wished he had not.

    After watching Matt and Jeff Hardy eliminate each other, Carey was left without backup as Kane stalked toward the ring. The Big Red Machine came face-to-face with the funnyman, refusing a financial offer to spare him pain and then grabbing him around the throat.

    Thankfully, fans were spared the demise of a comedian, as Raven made the save, and Carey took his cue to eliminate himself.

    While some would later find fault with Carey's inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame for his appearance in the match, it is difficult to deny the moment's place among the greatest and most unforgettable moments in Royal Rumble history.

6. But...Who Is the Winner? (1994)

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    The two most popular stars in WWE found themselves toe-to-toe in the final minutes of the 1994 Royal Rumble match. Fans in Providence, Rhode Island, were on the edges of their seats, unsure of whether Lex Luger or Bret Hart would win the match and head to WrestleMania X to challenge Yokozuna for the WWE Championship.

    The answer? Both.

    For the first and only time in Royal Rumble history, Hart and Luger were declared co-winners of the match after both tumbled to the arena floor simultaneously.

    Confusion reigned supreme, and an air of uncertainty gripped the company. What was undeniable, though, was that excitement resulted from the unprecedented outcome and created even more anticipation for the 10th WrestleMania extravaganza.

5. The Undertaker Rises (1994)

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    It took 10 Superstars to defeat The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1994.

    Think about that the next time you say John Cena and Roman Reigns are too protected by WWE management.

    The Deadman challenged Yokozuna for the WWE Championship in a Casket match at the event. Eyeing time off to be with his wife at the time, Undertaker was trapped in the wooden structure and wheeled up the ramp after enduring a beatdown at the hands of 10 villains.

    Halfway to the back, a familiar bell tolled and green smoke poured from the casket. On the video screen, a closeup of his face appeared. His eyes shot open and he delivered a poetic promo that ended with him vowing never to rest in peace.

    Suddenly, he ascended from the video screen to the heavens in one of the most surreal moments in wrestling history.

    The moment signified the end of the first chapter of Undertaker's legendary career and the reinvention of the character going forward.

4. "Only One of Shawn Michaels' Feet Touched the Ground" (1995)

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    No man had ever entered the Royal Rumble match at No. 1 and won the entire bout when Shawn Michaels took to the squared circle for the 1995 match.

    Leave it to The Heartbreak Kid to rewrite the history books, which he did by staving off a late-match elimination and sending The British Bulldog to the arena floor.

    Michaels had been one of the favorites leading into the match. It was a weak field of competitors, as only The British Bulldog and Lex Luger were realistic options to leave with their arms raised in victory. Few expected that Michaels would endure the arrivals of 29 other Superstars to secure the victory, but the San Antonio native demonstrated the heart and resiliency that would make him one of the most beloved stars in wrestling history.

    More importantly, Michaels' victory provided management with a look at the narrative possibilities that exist from booking a popular star—heel or babyface—in that No. 1 position.

3. "With a Tear in My Eye..." (1992)

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    The 1992 Royal Rumble match was not only for bragging rights, but also the vacated WWE Championship. With Superstars like Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper and The Undertaker, the field was one of the most stacked in event history.

    That makes Ric Flair's win that much more impressive.

    The former NWA star had a ton of hype behind him during his first few months with Vince McMahon's promotion, and he was the clear favorite to leave the match with his first heavyweight title under the WWE umbrella.

    Still, watching him outlast the greatest characters and biggest names in the industry was rewarding for fans who had followed him over from Jim Crockett Promotions. 

    More memorable than Flair's win itself, though, was Flair's post-match promo.

    The emotion on his face told the audience just how much the victory meant to him. "With a tear in my eye...this is the greatest night of my life," he told the camera. The feeling was genuine. After years of being disrespected and underappreciated by management in Ted Turner's WCW, Flair regained his confidence and was truly appreciative of the moment and honor that had just been bestowed upon him.

2. Maven Eliminates Undertaker (2002)

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    Few moments in Royal Rumble history are more memorable than the shocking elimination of The Undertaker by Tough Enough winner and Maven from 2002.

    Undertaker may not have been the heavy favorite to win that year's 30-man match, but a recent heel turn and strong booking ahead of the show had some thinking he may be the final Superstar Triple H would have to overcome in order to win the ordeal.

    When he entered at the No. 8 spot, it appeared as though The American Badass may even be on the receiving end of the longevity push.

    Instead, the wrestling world watched in awe as unproven rookie Maven, fresh off a reality show that netted him a WWE contract despite minimal training, dropkicked him over the top rope and ended his run at a WrestleMania X8 main event.

    Sure, the young man earned himself an epic ass-kicking that culminated with him being thrown head-first into a popcorn machine, tainting that popular snack with the blood from his forehead, but the moment had been made.

1. A Shocking Return (2008)

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    There were 29 Superstars who entered the 2008 Royal Rumble by the time the final 10-second countdown appeared on the screen.

    Triple H, Batista, Umaga, Kane, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were just a handful of competitors destined for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. But none of them mattered by the time the clock ticked down to zero and John Cena made a shocking, unexpected return to action.

    The fans in New York's Madison Square Garden erupted as Cena stepped through the curtain, making his return from injury months ahead of the projected date.

    Those cheers turned to boos as he took to the squared circle, exchanged rights and lefts with The Game and The Animal and then proceeded to deliver an Attitude Adjustment to Triple H that sent The King of Kings over the top rope, netting himself his first Rumble victory.

    In an age of internet insiders and blown secrets, Cena's return was proof that surprises can still exist.

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