Former WWE Royal Rumble Winners with Worst WrestleMania Showings

Anthony Mango@@ToeKneeManGoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2021

Former WWE Royal Rumble Winners with Worst WrestleMania Showings

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    Winning the Royal Rumble is one of the best things any WWE Superstar can do in their careers, as it awards them a title shot at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania.

    Many wrestlers have used this platform to catapult themselves to major heights, but some have gone through the grueling Battle Royal only to come up short on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

    With the benefit of hindsight, let's look back on some of the Royal Rumble winners who went on to have the worst showings at WrestleMania.

A Note on 1988-1992 Winners

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    The first Royal Rumble matches weren't quite the spectacle they eventually became, so it isn't fair to judge that crop of winners accordingly.

    For example, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan won the inaugural event in 1988 when it was only 20 men and didn't include a title shot at WrestleMania IV. However, he did enter the tournament for the belt, only to be eliminated by Ted DiBiase in the first round.

    Big John Studd won the 1989 Royal Rumble but was only a special guest referee at WrestleMania V.

    Hulk Hogan won the 1990 and 1991 matches and fought for the title in both years. He came up short in 1992 to Ric Flair but still main-evented WrestleMania VII over him.

Shawn Michaels (1995)

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    The more you dissect the 1995 Royal Rumble, the less impressive of a win it was for Shawn Michaels.

    At face value, The Heartbreak Kid went the distance and won despite entering at No. 1 and having one of his feet touch the floor. It was an amazing feat of control and one of the best non-eliminations in Rumble history.

    However, it was the shortest Royal Rumble, since each entrance was only 60 seconds, rather than 90. Most of the competitors were lackluster names, so the win itself wasn't as hard-fought as it might have been.

    However, Michaels not only didn't main-event that year's WrestleMania—that honor went to Lawrence Taylor and Bam Bam Bigelow—but he also lost his WWE Championship match against Diesel.

    HBK made up for it with his 1996 Royal Rumble victory and capturing the title in an Iron Man match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII.

The Rock (2000)

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    It's one thing to win the Royal Rumble and go on to fail your title match at WrestleMania, but it's another to be shown you didn't even win the Rumble match anyway.

    That's what happened to The Rock in 2000 when he unintentionally let his feet hit the floor while Big Show was going over the top rope.

    This was The Rock's only Royal Rumble win, and his journey on the Road to WrestleMania that year was overshadowed by the McMahon family drama.

Edge (2010)

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    It was amazing to see Edge make such a quick and triumphant return from injury at the 2010 Royal Rumble. He wasn't expected back for many more months and was a surprise entrant at No. 29.

    Unfortunately, that's where most of the fun ended.

    Edge's rival at the time, Chris Jericho, won the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber to set up what felt like an obvious title win for The Rated-R Superstar at WrestleMania XXVI.

    Instead, Jericho retained the belt with a Codebreaker, WWE booked Edge to spear him through a barricade as some sort of compensation afterward, and neither was champion within a few days. Instead, Jack Swagger cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and won the belt from Y2J.

    Scenarios like this make you wonder how WWE could have booked things this way without knowing it would turn out to be a dud when it's so obvious what fans actually wanted.

Alberto Del Rio (2011)

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    So many amazing Superstars were packed in the 40-man Royal Rumble in 2011, but WWE decided to give the win to Alberto Del Rio.

    That in itself was a blunder in retrospect. Someone like Christian would have made a much better choice as the winner.

    This was one of the years when WWE established that main-eventing WrestleMania did not necessarily mean closing The Show of Shows. Instead, Del Rio opened the event against Edge and lost.

    This would be The Rated-R Superstar's final match until his return last year, which was another reason why Christian would have been a better Rumble winner ahead of his best friend's farewell contest.

John Cena (2008)

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    Even more impressive than Edge's return in 2010 was John Cena's comeback two years earlier. He surprised Madison Square Garden and the wrestling world as he entered at No. 30.

    This was the era of "If Cena wins, we riot" signs, but fans couldn't help but pop for his shock arrival. Unfortunately, though, it was completely wasted two times in a row.

    Cena opted not to wait until WrestleMania and fought Randy Orton at No Way Out. He won the match by disqualification. This gave Triple H time to win the Elimination Chamber and become No. 1 contender, which forced a Triple Threat at The Show of Shows.

    Normally, The Game would be a worthwhile addition to any fight, but he simply muddied the waters and took too much of the focus away from the Royal Rumble winner.

    At WrestleMania XXIV, Orton retained by pinning Cena—a result that would make the following year's event even more frustrating.

Randy Orton (2009)

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    After Triple H unintentionally derailed the Road to WrestleMania 24, WWE went back to the same well with the 2009 Royal Rumble.

    WrestleMania 25 featured The Game versus Orton once again, making the previous year's title match a mistake. And The Viper's Royal Rumble win that year wasn't any better than Cena's.

    Orton needed the help of Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase to win and clearly wouldn't have beaten Triple H without the rest of The Legacy behind him. Then, HHH went on to win the WWE title at Elimination Chamber.

    As with Edge and Jericho, WWE went through a convoluted path to set up a feud that didn't need to be for the title and ended with the Royal Rumble winner coming up short anyway.

    Triple H retained at WrestleMania 25 in one of the flattest main events of all time. In an ideal world, Orton would have lost to Cena in 2008, regained the title and lost the belt to Triple H in 2009.

    Setting up the heel to beat a champion who didn't even have the title, only to have him lose anyway, was a mess.

Triple H (2016)

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    For a number of years, WWE tried desperately to ignore the will of the fans who were not taking to Roman Reigns as the company-appointed "next big thing."

    On paper, The Big Dog was the guy and Triple H was the oppressive figurehead he needed to conquer, and the way the 2016 Royal Rumble was booked made sense. However, the crowd wasn't taking it without a fight and the whole thing turned out to be a mess.

    With the WWE title on the line, Triple H tossed Reigns out and almost lost to Dean Ambrose but captured the title. This set up the obvious comeuppance of The Big Dog getting his belt back at WrestleMania 32.

    He did just that, but many fans just didn't care. The match has been forgotten about outside of the fact that it happened.

    Triple H's goal for his character was to keep the title and put Reigns down for good, but he failed at both. WWE's goal for the two men was to set up a feel-good moment that would make fans cheer The Big Dog, but that didn't happen, either.

    WWE had the right people to tell the right story, but it wasn't the right time for what the fans wanted, so WrestleMania 32 closed to a chorus of jeers.

Lex Luger (1994)

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    The 1994 Royal Rumble has the distinction of being the only match with two winners after Lex Luger and Bret Hart fell to the floor at the same time. It's amazing how they were able to pull that off and it remains one of the best finishes to any Royal Rumble.

    This positioned both as viable contenders to Yokozuna's title for WrestleMania X with the idea that the winner of Luger vs. Yokozuna would go on to fight The Hitman in the main event. Hart wouldn't get an easy ride, though, as he had to face his brother, Owen, earlier on the bill.

    Luger was primed to be a replacement for Hulk Hogan as the poster boy for American pride, but he came up short. He never managed to follow up this loss in any great fashion, either, meaning his biggest moment other than his Royal Rumble win was beating the champion by count-out several months prior.

    Hart, meanwhile, lost to his brother but managed to take down Yokozuna and win the title, avenging his loss at WrestleMania IX.

    At the end of the night, Hart was heralded as the savior of the division while Luger struggled for the next year and eventually left the company.

Asuka (2018)

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    In August 2017, Asuka vacated the NXT Women's Championship undefeated as an absolute monster with all the momentum in the world. It seemed she was destined for greatness.

    She then went on to win the inaugural women's Royal Rumble in January 2018 and challenge Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown women's title at WrestleMania 34.

    To everyone's shock, the second match of the night saw The Queen victorious over The Empress of Tomorrow. The winning streak was over, the champion retained and Asuka not only lost but also tapped out.

    What could have been the final step in crowning Asuka the biggest thing in the women's division was quite the opposite. It turned out all the pomp and circumstance was just a means to give Flair another boost and something else to pad her already-Hall of Fame career.

    This was illustrated even more by The Empress being happy to have lost, saying that finally, somebody was "ready for Asuka" after all this time.

    While Asuka did find her way to becoming a multi-time champion and Money in the Bank winner, she's never regained the level of credibility she had heading up to WrestleMania 34.

Roman Reigns (2015)

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    Most fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for the 2015 Royal Rumble did not want Reigns to win that night. This writer was there and actually rooting for The Big Dog while everyone else repeated the mantra "Anyone but Roman" throughout the event.

    The Royal Rumble was a disaster. Arguably the only person who left that show looking better was Curtis Axel for being attacked by Erick Rowan and starting his AxelMania campaign, claiming he had never been eliminated.

    But Reigns was positioned as the guy to go on to beat Brock Lesnar, whether you liked it or not.

    All the effort in the world was put into making him a viable contender and the obvious choice to take down The Beast Incarnate. It made perfect sense in every regard bar the fact that fans wanted someone else in that spot instead.

    Then, when push came to shove, Reigns not only failed to live up to this hype (at least, for that particular event) but he also managed to take the pin in the match.

    Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract in one of the biggest surprises in WrestleMania history, stealing the moment for himself as well as the title, all while protecting Lesnar from being the one to lose.

Shinsuke Nakamura (2018)

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    It felt like something different was happening when Shinsuke Nakamura won the 2018 Royal Rumble. In a way, it seemed as though WWE was finally listening to audiences clamoring for a brand new star to rise the ranks.

    He even tossed Reigns out, which was symbolic of acknowledging what the audience would pop for and how it could represent hope that the creative direction was turning around.

    Practically the day after Nakamura won the Royal Rumble, though, WWE no longer cared about that and gave up on him.

    He had virtually zero build to his match against AJ Styles. The two tended to just compliment each other and hype up how great their "dream match" would be, with nothing else to sink your teeth into.

    The match failed to live up to those expectations and Nakamura lost, before turning heel.

    Beating the same drum multiple times, Nakamura continued to feud with The Phenomenal One for several more matches and continuing to fail to win the title, which he's yet to do and likely never will at this point.

    That was the peak of Nakamura's run in WWE. He hasn't come close to those heights since and tends to be mostly forgotten about in the tag team and midcard divisions, instead.

    What started as a potential for something new ended up being a sign that WWE refused to entertain outsider options and would always stay on the same track, no matter what was dangled in front of the fans.

Batista (2014)

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    Batista's second Royal Rumble victory in 2014 is perhaps the worst of them all, as it checks off every box from the previous entries on this list.

    He was booked as a major babyface to win the match, but fans booed him out of the arena.

    Batista is normally beloved, but he was WWE's handpicked guy instead of Daniel Bryan, who the WWE Universe wanted as the winner, despite how he wasn't even announced for the match.

    Judging by Rey Mysterio's No. 30 entrance being booed, too, no one other than Bryan could have gotten out of that match as winner without suffering the disapproval of the crowd and it was too late. The fans wanted Bryan for WrestleMania and no one else.

    WWE had to adjust plans to give Bryan a win over Triple H and then the title match at WrestleMania 30. It all worked out in the long run for that story, but not for Batista's end of the bargain.

    Rather than being the top talent who wins the title from the dastardly heel in the main event to an arena of ecstatic fans, The Animal had to turn heel and become the bitter "other guy" nobody wanted while Bryan surged past him in popularity.

    Worse still, Batista was the one to tap out to Bryan in that match. That put him in the worst possible position for that match, submitting to someone half his size who had completely stolen his thunder.

    The Road to WrestleMania 30 was originally Batista traveling back to the top. Instead, it became Bryan's crowning achievement while pushing Batista down in the dirt.

    Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.


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