The Royal Rumble has been a constant staple within the WWE. The rules are simple, two superstars entered the match a 1 and 2. Every 90 seconds, a new superstar enters until all 30 have entered the match. The only way to win is to outlast 29 other competitors by throwing them over the top rope.
The match itself is always fun to watch. It is a way to build up a potential star to the main event level status while also bringing in a few surprises along the way.
So far there have been 33 Royal Rumble matches including the addition of the first ever women’s Royal Rumble last year. Here is a list of the 10 best Royal Rumble matches in my opinion. The rankings are based on the star power, surprise entrances and of the course, the eventual winner.
10. 2008 (Winner: John Cena)
Positive: Similar to the 2000 Rumble, 2008 had the entrance ramp right in front of the main camera shot, which was perfect to see the superstar entrances while also keeping an eye on the action going on inside the ring. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker drew one and two, which was a great start to the match after both those guys were the final two in last year’s Royal Rumble.
The superstars in the match was a good combination of main event stars (previously mentioned Michaels and Taker, along with Batista, Triple H and John Cena) and at the time young up-and-comers who had potential to take their stock to the next level (John Morrison, CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, The Miz, Mr. Kennedy to name a few). Adding in a few surprise legends in the mix in Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper to get a huge pop from the Madison Square Garden crowd and you have a nice diverse of superstars in the match. Of course, the ending was a shocker to anyone. John Cena entered the match at #30 coming back from a serious injury and many believing that he would not have come back in time for the Rumble. The ending outside of Cena joining was great as Triple H cleaned house and him being in the final three with Batista and Cena was an awesome moment.
Negative: The whole Hornswoggle/Finlay situation was a weird one. Hornswoggle entered the match at #9 but seemingly hit under the ring for most of the match. That part is not a problem for me, as I do not mind a few comedy moments in this hour-long match to break up what is going on. What was odd was that Hornswoggle ended up joining the ring only to be destroyed by Mark Henry and Big Daddy V. Finlay, who was supposed to enter at #28, joins in early to save his friend and take him away from the match. Later, Jim Ross and Tazz make a comment where Finlay has been disqualified from the Rumble match due to entering before his scheduled time. Since the match itself is no disqualification to begin with, it was odd to see the booking that after we have seen plenty of Rumble matches where guys bring in weapons or attack other members before the match to gain an advantage. Also, seeing a young star at the time in Shelton Benjamin get eliminated in 18 seconds was bad to see, given that he was (still is) one of the most athletic guys in the WWE and would have been nice to give him a few moments in the match. Not a big deal, but wanted to mention that.
9. 1996 (Winner: Shawn Michaels)
Positive: The ’96 Rumble had a good combination of stars and then up-and-comers who have vital roles in the coming years with the company. Looking back, it is crazy to see the mid-card back then. The Ringmaster (Steve Austin), Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), Fatu (Rikishi), Kama (The Godfather), 1-2-3 Kid (X-Pac) and Isaac Yankem (Kane) were all involved in the match, going in as their former gimmicks. You followed that with main eventers here in Shawn Michaels, Diesel and Yokozuna, as well as some surprise entrances in Dory Funk Jr. and Takao Omori and you, have a pretty decent Rumble match.
Of course, you had the debut of Vader, who finally comes to WWF after years of dominating in WCW and Japan. He eliminated four people before being eliminated by winner Shawn Michaels. He did not take that lightly as he came back into the ring and took out everyone. Though he did not win, it was a good way for WWF to build their newest signee as an eventual top heel in the business.
Negative: Despite the debut of Vader and the other top stars mentioned before, you had a feeling that Shawn Michaels was going to win anyway. Michaels won the year before and WWF wanted to give him more build to another WrestleMania classic.
8. 1990 (Winner: Hulk Hogan)
Positive: Despite being its third one, this one felt that it had a real meaning to what it is today which is building up a superstar towards their WrestleMania match. The roster set had the likes of Andre The Giant, Randy Savage, Ted Dibiase, Jake Roberts, Ultimate Warrior and winner Hulk Hogan to name a few. The eliminations seemed a lot cleaner than the previous Rumbles. The final staredown between Hogan and Warrior got a huge reaction from the crowd from the moment they locked eyes.
The Bad: Looking over the match and reading from past interviews and articles, Mr. Perfect was supposed to win this match and jumpstart his Hall of Fame career. Mr. Perfect was one of the best heels at the time and having him win would have been a nice twist to the match itself. Hogan winning was not bad either, as to did lead to his match against the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania Six.
7. 2007 (Winner: The Undertaker)
Positive: This was the first Rumble to have members of the new WWE ECW roster. Guys like CM Punk, Sabu and Rob Van Dam had their showing of what the third brand was all about. Outside of that, you had Edge and Randy Orton having a short alliance to try to get everyone else out of the ring. The ending was incredible as Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker were the last two standing. Both men were able to have a mini-match between the each other, it makes you forget for a quick second that there were 28 other men in this match prior. This was also was the eventual setup between two icons for their WrestleMania matches in the following years. Also, Kane’s eliminating Sabu by chokeslamming him through a table got a really nice pop from the crowd.
Negative: Simply put, The Great Khali. WWE at the time was trying to get the giant over with the crowd and it simply did not work. Once he entered at #25, he chopped down everyone but it really slowed down the pace of this match. The crowd going absolutely dead during this part did not help either.
6. 2005 (Winner: Batista)
Positive: This one is actually special to me since this was around the time I started watching the WWE. Watching it over, it is crazy to me that I watched these guys for years and many of them were just getting started in their career. With the brand split, you also saw superstars from both brands collide where you did not expect it. Outside of the final two, you see Kurt Angle coming in and being eliminated only to come back right in and take out Shawn Michaels, which was just an opening to their WrestleMania 21 feud. The ending where John Cena and Batista getting eliminated at the same time was crazy to see given that it was not supposed to happen. Vince McMahon coming down and restarting the match gave a nice mini-match between the two. Despite only one winner, both Cena and Batista used this as a platform to jump-start their incredible careers.
Negative: There were a few things here that I did not like. Daniel Puder coming in at #3 only to be chopped down by Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit was not comfortable to watch now learning that this was simply a punishment for his backstage heat with the locker room. The Muhammed Hassan moment where everyone ganged up on him was an odd thing to see, given that everyone attacking each other beforehand. The final thing here was the commentary. The whole time it was constant talks and SmackDown vs. Raw battling it out and making it seem like the brands should stick together. It works for Survivor Series, but not in the Royal Rumble.
5. 2018 (Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura)
Positive: After years of mediocre Rumbles, WWE finally got it right with 2018. The opening with Rusev and Finn Bálor was perfect as the crowd was behind them from the opening bell. From there on we got a moment where Baron Corbin destroyed everyone after being eliminated, leading to an Elias promo to fill the void. Some surprise entrances included NXT’s Adam Cole, Andrade “Cien” Almas and including The Hurricane as well as a returning Rey Mysterio. The final six was pretty awesome to see as the current era (Bálor, Roman Reigns and Shinsuke Nakamura) vs the WWE veterans (Randy Orton, John Cena and Mysterio) were staring down each other. Foreshadowing two different eras in the WWE as the past vs. present stars collided, I gotta say this was an awesome moment.
More importantly, the winner here got the fans really excited. After previous misfires on who should win the Rumble or how it was actually booked, WWE did a good job here.
Negative: I really felt having #30 Dolph Ziggler was a good decision indeed, given that he “left” the company, but he should have had a bigger impact in the match. Not saying he needed to win, but maybe having him in the final four would have been a nice boost to his stock given that he was at the time on the verge of leaving WWE.
4. 1992 (Winner: Ric Flair)
Positive: With the WWF Championship being vacated, the added stipulation was that the winner would become champion, rather than waiting for their opportunity at WrestleMania. A good twist indeed and it gave a chance to start up new feuds and storylines. Ric Flair’s performance is great. He entered at #3 and was the iron man for this match. He was also the first heel to win the Rumble, something we did not see in its short history up until that point. Going up against guys like Roddy Pipper in the match, for example, make this a great Rumble to watch. Add in the fantastic commentary by Bobby Heenan, you have an overall entertaining Royal Rumble.
Negative: It was early the Rumble history, so some spots were a little messy and there were a few stretches that seemed a little boring but nothing crazy that would drop this match from going any lower on this list. If any major negative, it was that we never saw Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair for the title at WrestleMania.
3. 2003 (Winner: Brock Lesnar)
Positive: This was the first rumble to have the Raw and SmackDown brand split. This Rumble featured the likes of Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Batista, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, Eddie Guerrero, Edge and Rey Mysterio, who all had some significant involvement in the match. The opening between Shawn Michaels and Jericho was great and having Christian play as Jericho in his entrance to only distract Michaels was great heel work by both of them. Elminiating Michaels early also set up a WrestleMania match between the two. Tommy Dreamer coming in with weapons to make it a hardcore match was random but fit along perfectly. The flow of this match was nice and it did not look like it was slow at any point in time.
Negative: John Cena rapping the entire time during his entrance is just cringy to watch. I have no idea why I just did not enjoy that part. Outside of that, while there was star power, there was not a huge amount of highlighted moments, unlike the next two on the list. This Rumble was more a clean one with a lot of action but nothing over the top.
2. 2002 (Winner: Triple H)
Positive: The 2002 edition of the Rumble is one of the best to watch when it comes to enjoyment. There were many exciting moments to watch. Tough Enough Winner Maven eliminating favorite Undertaker is still one of the biggest shocks in Rumble history. You also had its returns when Goldust entered at #2 and Mr. Perfect shockingly coming in at #25. Steven Austin coming in and cleaning out with seven eliminations turned back the clock showing what he is capable of doing in these types of matches. Of course, the main story here was Triple H coming back from a torn quad where most thought it would be a career ending injury. Adding in the comedy bit where The Hurricane tried to double chokeslam both Austin and Triple H made this match an overall fun match to watch. It was a good comeback story for The Game as he was able to outlast 29 other men to regain his main event level status.
Negative: Just some nitpicking here really. For starters, it would have been nice for a guy like Booker T to have a bigger impact in the match, espeically since he came in at #30. He lasted only 33 seconds and while he did not have to win, it would have been nice to give him a 10 minute or so run in the match. Most say the writing was on the wall when it came to who was going to win with Triple H and many saying guys like Kurt Angle would have been better to get the win here, but the Triple H storytelling leading up to and during the match was an opportunity to make a great comeback story.
1. 2001 (Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin)
Positive: The layout of this entire match worked to perfection. From the early stages of the match where the Hardcore Divison down the final three, it all syncs well. The then WWF has at one of its all-time highs here in my opinion and watching it again the match is fun to watch. There were also a few surprises here, with Big Show returning at #23 to Haku coming in at #29. Even the comedy bits work well here, with Drew Carey eliminating himself to The Honky Tonk Man getting destroyed by Kane. Like I said, it had a good amount of superstars ranging from the mid-card talents to main eventers. Everyone got their chance to shine here to show what talent the company had at the time.
Despite not winning, Kane is the MVP here. He dominates the match by eliminating a then-record 11 men. The final three of him, The Rock and winner Stone Cold Steve Austin was great storytelling here with Austin overcoming the powerhouse in Kane to win. To add to it, this was the setup for what is arguably one of the best matches in WrestleMania history with Rock vs. Austin at WrestleMania X-7.
Negative: To be honest, I cannot really think of any negatives here. Some argue the Drew Carey section was a little odd to have but every Rumble has their comedy bits so I did not see a problem with that. Rikishi entering at #30 might have ruined the final entrant surprise, given that fans like to have that final spot a guessing game. Overall, I really did not see anything that ruined this Rumble.