I’ll be cutting the non-Rumble matches up into three separate time periods over the next few weeks (There’s been so many great matches at the Rumble event itself that it seems unreasonable to cram six matches into 30 years’ worth of shows) but for now I’ll list what I believe to be the six best Royal Rumble matches ever.
As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.
So without further to do, let’s get to it!
The 1990 Royal Rumble
I just recently reviewed this one for the Blog, and I can comfortably state that this Rumble match still holds up nearly 30 years later. What it’s mostly remembered for is the epic collision between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, as they smash one another with a big double clothesline to set up the epic main event of WrestleMania VI.
It would be wrong just to think of this Rumble match for just that spot though, as there’s also some other good stories going on as well. Ted Dibiase comes in at #1 to last an admirable 45 minutes in total, whilst Demolition gets the honour of eliminating Andre The Giant to set up another big match at WrestleMania VI. Andre himself seems to be having a lot of fun in this one, as he winds back the clock for one of his last remaining memorable performances.
Pretty much all of the major feuds leading into WrestleMania get some work here, with Dusty Rhodes sending Randy Savage to the showers, whilst Roddy Piper and Bad News Brown prove to be the others’ downfall. It’s just a really tightly booked Rumble, with plenty of spots to pop the crowd and very little slowdown.
The 1992 Royal Rumble
For many, this will always be known as “The Flair Rumble”, the same way that the 1953 FA Cup Final is known as “The Matthews Final”. In both instances, two legends of their particular fields delivered a performance so brilliant, that it became one of their defining moments. For Stanley Matthews it was being the catalyst for an epic Blackpool fight back against Bolton Wanderers. For Ric Flair, it was coming in at #3 and lasting all the way to the end to become WWF Champion.
Flair truly is magnificent in this match, as he not only keeps up the pace for the majority of the bout but also makes a point of trying to do at least a spot with everyone who enters the match. Having the Rumble itself be for the WWF Title ensures that there is a star studded cast of characters for Flair to do battle with, including the likes of Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Kerry Von Erich and Shawn Michaels.
Aside from Flair’s excellence, the match also sees Roddy Piper on a quest to become a dual champion, whilst Randy Savage is hell bent on getting some revenge on Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The crowd are with the match all of the way and are not afraid to voice their displeasure when Hulk Hogan causes the elimination of fellow babyface Sid Justice. Indeed, their reaction is so vociferous that the WWF felt the need to edit it out in post-production when it was replayed on television. This is not only one of the best Rumble matches ever but you could make a genuine case that it is the definitive best of all time.
The 2001 Royal Rumble
Kane is the surprise stand out star of this Rumble, as he gets to eliminate a third of the field before finally falling to Stone Cold Steve Austin. This is another stacked Rumble, with Austin, Rock, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show and Rikishi all making up the list of top entrants. Rock and Austin get to have a Hogan/Warrior moment at one point, as they brawl with one another to lay the groundwork for their infamous title match at WrestleMania X-Seven.
I’ve always thought this Rumble was excellently paced, with clearly delineated sections and some good comedy entrants to break things up. For instance, Honky Tonk Man makes a surprise appearance, only to get blasted by his own guitar courtesy of a baffled Kane. Haku even makes his return to the WWF in the match, whilst being the current WCW Hardcore Champion at the time.
The Rumble even gets hardcore for a while, with Steve Blackman and Al Snow bringing in a collection of weaponry for their fellow entrants to play with. This is a Rumble with interesting surprise entrants, a good story of Kane being the unstoppable monster and also some tight booking that sets up the next couple of months’ worth of stories very well. I wouldn’t say this Rumble is objectively the best, but it’s probably my own personal favourite, if only because of the nostalgic feeling it gives me. I stayed up to watch this on Channel 4 back in the day, so it’s always stuck with me.
The 2002 Royal Rumble
This Rumble was meant to be all about the coronation of Triple H as the new top babyface in the WWF, but what I remember most from it is the wonderful performance from Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, as he turns back the clock for one last Perfect showing before is untimely death in 2003. The image of Perfect desperately hanging on to remain in the Rumble, whilst still taking the time to swat his chewing gum away, is just a wonderful moment that I’ll never forget. There was a man who understood his character.
Triple H ends up being a bit of a second fiddle in the end, but his showdown with long-time rival Stone Cold Steve Austin at least provides the sort of epic moment that Rumble matches desire. Rookie superstar Maven gets his big moment by drop kicking out The Undertaker. He gets killed straight after, but he was able to ride the momentum from that elimination for months after. Had he actually been a decent wrestler it probably would have set him up for life, but sadly for him his greenness would eventually prove costly.
This is yet another Rumble with a stacked list of entrants, as Triple H, Austin, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Big Show and Kane all enter. Man, WWE would kill for an upper card of contemporary stars like that today. It really rams home just how much of a dearth there is at the moment, all through WWE’s own doing due to their horrid method of 50/50 booking that stops anyone from truly becoming a star. I would say that the 2002 Royal Rumble event is top to bottom one of the best the company has done, and this match certainly helps towards that.
The 2004 Royal Rumble
Obviously Chris Benoit’s real life villainy has taken the shine off this one somewhat, but it still stands that this is a consummate performance from “The Rabid Wolverine”, as he comes in at #1 and ends up outlasting every other competitor to win the whole thing. Watching this at the time, I had no belief whatsoever that WWE would push a guy like Benoit so strongly, so it was a genuinely pleasant surprise to see him get some proper star treatment for once.
What perhaps doesn’t get mentioned much is how good a showing Randy Orton gives in this one, as he comes in at #2 and does an excellent job of being a strong heel entrant until getting run off by WrestleMania opponent Mick Foley. At the time I saw this match as a testing ground for Orton, where the company would put him in a challenging situation where he’d need to excel. It was something they did with upcoming heels like Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels and The Rock as well, whereby they’d get a sizeable amount of time in a Rumble where’d they be expected to deliver.
This is also another stacked Rumble, with Benoit, Orton, Kurt Angle, Goldberg, John Cena, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Kane and Rob Van Dam all entering, thus leading to probably the most open field in Rumble history. The story of Big Show being the invincible monster that can’t be eliminated, only for Benoit to get him out due to ring smarts instead of brute strength, is very well told and did an excellent job of establishing Benoit as a gutsy babyface who could overcome any challenge due to his determination and skill.
The 2007 Royal Rumble
This Rumble is remembered fondly for its conclusion between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, with both men engaging in an epic battle as the final two. It almost feels like an extra match added on to the conclusion of the Rumble itself, as the two men trade ever more dramatic elimination attempts as the crowd gasps along. The fact that either man could conceivably win only adds to the drama.
What gets forgotten though is that the Rumble match itself is very good, with a smattering of ECW competitors giving the match more of a unique feel, as ECW hadn’t been completely buried as a brand yet. The likes of Sabu and The Sandman entering the Royal Rumble was still a novelty at the time, and seeing them doing battle with the regular WWE roster had appeal.
Ultimately though, the battle between Michaels and Undertaker is what defined this Rumble match, and it’s still an as exciting conclusion today as it was twelve years ago.
Next up will probably be Six of the Best for WCW Souled Out, as I’ve got the notes for that one written and just need to type it up. So keep a look out for that in the next couple of days.
Thanks for reading and take care till next time. Oh, and before I go, I’d like to just send my condolences to Gene Okerlund’s friends and family. I’ve always loved Mean Gene and he’ll be sorely missed by the wrestling community.