The 5 Most Controversial Moments in WWE Royal Rumble History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2022

The 5 Most Controversial Moments in WWE Royal Rumble History

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    The Royal Rumble is one of the most popular pay-per-views on the WWE calendar, but it has not been without its fair share of controversy.

    Created in 1988, the event is the perfect precursor for WrestleMania and typically provides fans with the first real clues as to which creative direction the company is headed for at the biggest show of the year.

    It is that creative direction that is often at the forefront of the controversy, with fans accepting or rejecting it in grand fashion. 

    Ahead of the 2022 event on January 29, these are the five most controversial moments in the long and storied history of the Royal Rumble.

5. Vince McMahon Wins the Royal Rumble (1999)

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    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon's epic rivalry sparked a comeback for WWE in the Monday Night Wars and helped the company regain its position as the top wrestling promotion in the world.

    At the 1999 Royal Rumble, McMahon was booked as the No. 2 entrant in the match, with Austin kicking things off. On the surface, it would give us the long-awaited one-on-one encounter we had waited for.

    And then it didn't. 

    Sure, Austin beat McMahon around the arena, but a sneak attack from The Corporation left Stone Cold hospitalized and allowed The Chairman to sit in on commentary for the majority of the match. When Austin returned and resumed his beatdown of McMahon, The Rock provided the distraction that allowed the WWE owner to steal the win.

    Some point to it as the worst Rumble of all time while others criticize McMahon winning. In reality, it was a great bit of booking that put the heel one step ahead of his foe and set up a red-hot main event for the following month's pay-per-view, as well as Austin's journey back to the WWE title at WrestleMania XV.

4. The Rock's Feet Touch the Floor (2000)

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    Entering the 2000 Royal Rumble, everyone knew The Rock was going to win.

    He was the top babyface in the industry and on a collision course with Triple H over the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. He was the surest thing to win since Austin in 1998 and the fans waited with great excitement for the moment his arm would be raised in the air at Madison Square Garden.

    They got their wish, too. The Rock did win, outlasting The Big Show to cash his ticket to The Show of Shows.

    But the victory did not come without controversy.

    In the weeks that followed the Battle Royal, Big Show produced video of The Great One's feet touching the floor before his own, calling into question who had actually won the match.

    The referee's decision would be final decision, but that did not stop the moment from becoming one of the more prominent botches in Rumble history and a controversy that management wisely turned into a storyline. 

3. Fans Reject the Winner (2014-15)

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    When an audience clearly and passionately tells you what it wants and you fail to deliver on it, negative reactions are to be expected.

    Case in point: the 2014 and 2015 Rumble matches.

    Batista made what had previously been a much-anticipated return to WWE after stepping away from the company in 2010 and entered the Rumble. Unfortunately, The Animal ran into the buzzsaw that was The Yes! Movement and was resoundingly booed out of the arena when he eliminated Roman Reigns to win the 2014 match.

    Why? Because Daniel Bryan was not entered in the match. He had momentum on his side and was clearly the most popular star in the company, but The Animal became the focal point for frustrated fans, ruining what should have been a triumphant moment for him.

    Fast-forward a year and the debacle in Philadelphia.

    Roman Reigns was the heir apparent and a predictable choice to win the men's Rumble match, even with Bryan entered. When Reigns dumped Big Show and Rusev to win, the reaction was deafening; but for all the wrong reasons.

    Even a surprise appearance from The Rock could not silence the disdain for the outcome of the match and both he and Reigns were made to look like fools, celebrating in front of a crowd that wanted nothing to do with them.

    Those two years reflected an audience fed up with the stubbornness of management and its constant need to force-feed stars and situations on them, rather than letting them have input as to who succeeds when and where.

2. John Cena and Batista's Infamous Botch (2005)

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    For a moment, it looked like WWE might repeat the head-scratching conclusion of the 1994 Rumble, with two top stars going over the top rope at the same time, creating a co-winner scenario and pissing off fans who hate draws. 

    Then an enraged Vince McMahon stomped to the ring, tearing both quadriceps in the process, and berated both Batista and John Cena, as well as anyone in the vicinity. Batista had accidentally tumbled over the top rope during a powerbomb attempt, sending both him and his opponent to the floor and ruining the finish.

    Determined not to repeat his creative mistake from a decade earlier, McMahon ordered the match restarted and The Animal secured the win he should have a few moments prior.

    The moment is still remembered by McMahon, who was left in agony after shredding the two largest muscles in the human body, sitting on the mat and giving directions to two men who would become the biggest stars in the industry shortly thereafter.

1. Co-Winners Bret Hart and Lex Luger (1994)

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    Faced with a unique situation in which the WWE vision of the top babyface clashed with that of the fans, Vince McMahon booked both Lex Luger and Bret Hart to win the 1994 Royal Rumble in controversial fashion.

    Late in the match, both men tumbled over the top rope and onto the floor, with their feet hitting at practically the same time. The competitors were confused, the fans had no idea what was going on and the way it played out on television did not help.

    The attempts at high-drama made the thing drag on far longer than it should have and the co-winner announcement went over like a fart in church.

    No one wants a lazy, inconclusive outcome, but it did create a moment that fans still talk about 28 years later and set up one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time, so it wasn't all bad. That was particularly true if you were a fan of Bret Hart, who turned the momentum into a WWE Championship victory over Yokozuna on wrestling's grandest stage.