Worst Booking Decisions in Recent WWE Royal Rumble History
It cannot be overstated how important the Royal Rumble event is. Plotting the course for The Road to WrestleMania can have repercussions that echo throughout WWE for years to come.
When done well, the Rumble matches can make someone's career, such as Shawn Michaels' boyhood dream coming true at WrestleMania XII in 1996. But when done poorly, it can not only ruin someone's chances at stardom but also snowball into far bigger problems for the company as a whole.
WWE doesn't even have to study ancient history to learn from its mistakes. Just looking at the past five years, there have been some major flubs with the Rumble contests.
Let's examine some of the times when WWE Creative decided to book something that would likely be erased if it had access to a time machine.
Randy Orton Wins the 2017 Men's Royal Rumble
If you're asked to name the two years Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble, his 2009 victory likely comes to mind easily while his 2017 triumph may make you pause.
With the benefit of hindsight, his win five years ago was one of the biggest mistakes WWE has made.
A month after The Viper's 2017 win, Bray Wyatt won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber. Orton turned on Wyatt, with whom he was teaming at the time, and WWE ignored the idea of a Triple Threat at WrestleMania 33 with Luke Harper just to do Orton vs. Wyatt.
That match is only memorable for the ridiculous CGI maggots projected onto the mat. It didn't even help add fuel to the fire of their later feud.
But imagine if a different game plan had transpired instead.
What if Chris Jericho had won the men's Rumble match in 2017 and gone on to split with his best friend, Kevin Owens, and beat him for the Universal Championship at The Show of Shows.
Instead, KO dropped the belt to Goldberg, who then lost to Brock Lesnar. The Beast Incarnate would hold it an entire year, setting up a rematch with Roman Reigns that fans rejected. WWE dragged it out for two more matches into SummerSlam, before The Big Dog relinquished the title and it wound up back on Lesnar at Crown Jewel, making the whole process pointless.
Jericho and Owens had a lackluster United States Championship match that Vince McMahon hated and it really wore on all parties.
Had Jericho won the Battle Royal in 2017, his relationship with WWE would have been better and he likely wouldn't have left to go to All Elite Wrestling. There may not even have been an AEW without him.
Knowing the belt could have just gone to Lesnar after WrestleMania and WWE could have had its cake and eaten it, it's amazing to think how different everything would be if Jericho had won instead of Orton.
Shinsuke Nakamura Wins the 2018 Men's Rumble
It's a simple but effective strategy when a Superstar wins the Royal Rumble and goes on to capture their first world championship at WrestleMania.
The likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in 1998, Batista in 2005, Drew McIntyre in 2020 and Bianca Belair in 2021 exemplify the right choice, but Shinsuke Nakamura in 2018 showed how it can all go wrong.
The Artist entered at No. 14, outlasted half the competition and eliminated Roman Reigns to earn his title shot for WrestleMania 34 against AJ Styles. The two men had history together from New Japan Pro-Wrestling and proved they could put on a great main event at Wrestle Kingdom.
This was surely a recipe for success. Fans were on board to see them fight, but WWE offered little build ahead of the event, banking on the WWE Universe to instead just look forward to the contest.
Then, the match happened, and it was hugely underwhelming.
Worst of all, though, Nakamura lost. He then turned heel with a low blow to Styles and spent the next few months doing that on repeat.
The King of Strong Style never recovered. He's yet to reach the main event scene since and likely never will.
WWE should never book someone to win the Royal Rumble if they're being set up for failure.
Asuka Wins the 2018 Women's Royal Rumble
WrestleMania 34 was an event with disappointing match outcomes. We have already mentioned Reigns coming up short against Lesnar and Nakamura's loss to Styles, but an even worse situation applies to Asuka.
The Empress of Tomorrow won the 2018 women's Rumble match, and fans felt considerable hype for her future. After all, she was on an unbeaten streak that would last 914 days.
Everything was lined up perfectly. Asuka kept the wins coming and outlasted 29 other women to earn a shot against Charlotte Flair.
She would certainly be capable of taking down The Queen, right? Wrong.
First, her moment was undercut by Ronda Rousey's debut immediately after the women's Battle Royal four years ago. That was the talking point, not Asuka.
Then, Flair—who had already long been past the point of needing accolades to cement herself as a future Hall of Famer—not only retained her title but she also ended The Empress' undefeated run and made her tap out in doing so.
To rub more salt in the wound, Asuka then took the microphone to endorse Flair and put her over even more.
Why? All that did was give The Empress a huge mountain to climb to get back to the top and create further tension for those who were tired of WWE pushing its favorites like Flair.
Asuka has never been as dangerous as she was at that time, and this isn't the last time Flair's name will be on this list for the same thing, sadly.
The Greatest Royal Rumble
There were three Royal Rumble matches in 2018, and all three were problematic.
Less then three weeks after the disappointments of Nakamura and Asuka at WrestleMania 34, there was hope for a do-over with the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia.
The name marketed the idea of making up for what had come before and also had 50 names competing in the contest. However, it's a show that most people wish had never happened.
Even ignoring the political controversy over these events in Saudi Arabia in the first place, this card was a bunch of nothing mixed with some absolute garbage.
Styles vs. Nakamura ended in a double count-out, which is rarely fun and wasn't this night; Lesnar retained over Reigns to stretch out that rivalry; and The Undertaker beat Rusev in a casket match that The Bulgarian Brute made fun of prior to the show.
And then there was the Greatest Royal Rumble match itself.
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Sportskeeda) reported sumo wrestler Hiroki Sumi was involved to fill the spot of Yokozuna, who had died in October 2000. Hornswoggle was in it, and that joke got old long before 2018.
Daniel Bryan set the record for the longest time in any one Royal Rumble, while Braun Strowman set a new record for most eliminations with 13. Both men have since left the company, which will make it awkward for WWE to avoid addressing those records in the upcoming hype video packages.
All of this so The Monster Among Men could win a green championship belt and a trophy that were never seen or referenced again.
Charlotte Flair Wins the 2020 Women's Rumble
After the fiasco of Asuka winning the 2018 women's Rumble match only to lose to Flair, you would think WWE would have learned its lesson. Instead, it made the same mistake in 2020 in an even more ludicrous fashion.
The Queen should have a Royal Rumble win to her name to reflect how great she has been and is. But when there are two better options and her win does more harm than good, 2020 was not the time to do it.
It should have been Sasha Banks winning to fight Bayley, instead of those two being in a good-for-nothing multi-woman mess and dragging their feud out well past its expiration date.
Shayna Baszler was on a tear and gunning for Becky Lynch, and she would have been a worthy winner. Instead, she won at Elimination Chamber, and WWE made the mistake of having her lose to The Man at WrestleMania.
Lynch later relinquished the Raw women's title because of her pregnancy, but Baszler wouldn't have lost any steam if she had been set up properly.
But the idea of going from a big deal in NXT to having a rough time on the main roster because of Flair isn't just the fate of Asuka and Baszler. It's also Rhea Ripley's.
Flair won the 2020 women's Rumble match so the Australian could pester her enough to make her challenge for the NXT Women's Championship. Once again, she won and made the NXT star on a hot streak look like a loser by making her tap out. This destroyed Ripley's momentum.
The Queen's win didn't help the NXT brand, either, as she dropped the title to Io Shirai soon after and the ratings never improved.
All it did was give The Queen two more accolades she didn't need and took Ripley from sprinting toward becoming "the future of the women's division" to stumbling and being overtaken by Bianca Belair.