Skip to main content

Ranking the Royal Rumble matches


By Ryan Pike for

The Royal Rumble is probably my favorite WWE major event of the year. While WrestleMania has a lot of pomp and circumstance, the Royal Rumble is essentially a pro wrestling buffet that provides the casual fan with a primer of who to care about as the company heads into WrestleMania season.

However, the Rumble is a 60-minute marathon match that can sometimes fail to accomplish what it needs to. In the interest of providing a handy primer on the match's good and bad, I've re-watched all 29 previous matches. The best Rumble matches have effective storytelling, few flat spots, and really don't seem like they're an hour long. The worst Rumble matches feature a bunch of guys standing around in the ring, clinging onto the ropes ineffectively while waiting for their turn to get thrown out.

If you're looking to get your feet wet heading into tonight, here is a list of which Rumbles to watch and which to avoid. I've ranked all of the 29 previous matches from best to worst.

#1 -- 1992

This is the cream of the crop. For months, Ric Flair (newly arrived from WCW) proclaimed himself the “Real World's Champion.” After Flair got involved in a pair of title matches with Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, WWF president Jack Tunney held up the title and ruled that the winner of the Royal Rumble would be undisputed champion.

With his advisor Bobby Heenan on commentary with Gorilla Monsoon, Flair entered third in the Rumble. What followed was a 60-minute classic, with Flair's in-ring exploits perfectly accentuated by Heenan freaking out on commentary over how impressive the opposition was as they tried to eliminate Flair.

#2 -- 2004

It's definitely uncomfortable to watch at times given what followed, but the 2004 Rumble perfected the much-repeated trope of “babyface star is given early spot in the Rumble as punishment but overcomes obstacles anyway.”

In this case, SmackDown general manager Paul Heyman made Chris Benoit the first entrant in the Rumble only to see him go coast to coast. And unlike other examples of the trope, Benoit didn't get removed from the match for large amounts of time and instead factored into the action for the entirety of the match.

2004 also gets bonus points for setting up a lot of WrestleMania matches through in-match angles that didn't detract from the flow of things.

#3 -- 1997

The most recent Rumble to take place in the Alamodome, the match is really helped by the crowd reactions and the sheer scale of the event. This was the event that saw Steve Austin emerge from the mid-card and become a major player.

He came in at number five and won by sneaking back in after being eliminated when the referees were distracted by Terry Funk brawling with Mankind on the outside. The structure of the match built off previous feuds Austin had with basically half of the roster and the disputed finish opened up a lot of stories for the rest of the year.

#4 -- 2011

The 2011 Rumble is one of the best for a couple key reasons. First, it improves on the previous year's performance from CM Punk -- he anchored the 2010 Rumble's early bits doing Straight Edge sermons and 2011's first half featured the New Nexus helping Punk eliminate everyone.

Second, the latter half of the Rumble featured some great John Cena babyface Superman spots and subtly set up that summer's feud between Cena and Punk. Oddly, considering the match featured 40 entrants, it had little filler -- no announcers and few legends -- and featured a nice mix between big stars and mid-card cannon fodder.

#5 -- 2001

The 2001 match avoids a few issues other Rumbles have experienced with dragging by mixing things up with smoke, mirrors, and plunder. Drew Carey appeared and met Kane before running away (in one of multiple instances of a wimpy babyface facing off against monsters).

The middle of the match featured the guys from the hardcore division taking advantage of the no disqualification rule by bringing weapons in. And Kane established himself as a dominant force by tossing out most of the mid-card filler guys, only to be thrown out by a steel chair-wielding Steve Austin -- subtly foreshadowing his eventual heel turn at WrestleMania via his sheer desperation to win the match by hook or crook.

#6 -- 2003

The 2003 match served as a great showcase for Chris Jericho, who lasted half the match and really holds things together before the established stars arrived near the end. The final minutes of the match featured one of the most star-studded mixtures of talent that the match has ever seen.

Future directions were set up throughout the match -- both at the beginning and the end -- and the announcing helped it overcome a few issues with match flow, particularly as the ring filled up midway through.

#7 -- 1994

I'm biased as a Canadian, but the 1994 Rumble is fun despite its rough spots. Diesel comes in and dominates guys before Shawn Michaels accidentally leads to his elimination. Bret Hart enters the match after getting his "leg kicked out of his leg" earlier in the night by his brother Owen, then sells the leg until the very end.

It's odd that the company undercuts its own "the one guy that wins gets a title shot" stipulation one year into it, but the match sets the table for a great WrestleMania so it's hard to criticize too much.

#8 -- 1993

The only successful example of a gigantic human being (Yokozuna) winning the Rumble by simply being gigantic and getting a late number, the 1993 Rumble also saw a bunch of fun depth performances by guys like Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase, and Bob Backlund.

Yokozuna's dominance became part of continuity, with everyone swarming physically big entrants from then on to ensure they couldn't achieve victory. The odd ending spot detracts a little bit, as Randy Savage tried to pin Yokozuna in a battle royal and got pressed over the top rope as Yokozuna kicked out of said pin.

#9 -- 2007

The 2007 edition of the bout featured a surprisingly good supporting cast, which allowed for a lot of different things to happen during the match to keep things interesting. The final four featured a bunch of stars and good action, and the lengthy Undertaker/Shawn Michaels final sequences were excellent.

#10 -- 2000

One of the more fun matches in terms of having a lot of flow to it, the 2000 Rumble was anchored by a lengthy fun sequence featuring Rikishi dominating before finally getting tossed out a third of the way through the match.

It suffers a bit from not having a single continuous storyline to anchor things, but the final stretch with The Rock overcoming Big Show (but not really) was fun to watch and kicked off a bunch of storylines.

#11 -- 1989

Another fun Rumble, though one without much star power at the end. Demolition open the Rumble fighting each other. Andre the Giant comes in and dominates, then runs away because he's afraid of Jake Roberts' snake.

Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage team up, but miscommunication leads to Hogan eliminating Savage (on the road to the Mega Powers exploding) and Hogan getting tossed out by the Twin Towers.

#12 -- 2010

The good of 2010 involved a lengthy opening sequence with a Straight Edge Society-era CM Punk delivering sermons and trying to convert each entrant to his lifestyle. The match also had a great ending sequence and lots of star power.

Unfortunately, the middle of the match featured a lot of clutter in the ring as mid-card entrants came in and hung out until the stars entered to throw them all out.

#13 -- 2009

This match was the only time where a stable has been able to successfully help its leader to win it all. The final chunk of the match, featuring Randy Orton's Legacy stable against everyone else, was excellent. However, the match dragged a bit until all of the Legacy members entered and things started snapping into place.

#14 -- 2008

Marred by too many announcers and some match flow issues -- notably where literally everyone in the match stopped what they're doing to watch Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka fight each other -- 2008 also had a great opening sequence with Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and a fun ending sequence that made Triple H and John Cena look like beasts.

Unfortunately, the middle section of the match really drags.

#15 -- 2006

The 2006 match wasn't terrible, but it felt like a retread. It recycled much of the match structure of the 2004 bout -- featuring Rey Mysterio going the distance rather than Chris Benoit -- but did so in a much more disjointed and clunky way.

It also recycled the exact same sequence featuring Jonathan Coachman (as a serious Rumble entrant) attacking babyfaces from behind and then cowering in fear.

#16 -- 2005

2005 was not great, despite featuring a lot of fun sequences. It just featured way too many instances of the match being sidelined for dumb reasons, including everyone beating on Daniel Puder, Muhammad Hassan, and Jonathan Coachman, and the West Side Rumble sequence which really strained believability.

#17 -- 1990

The 1990 Rumble featured the good and bad of early '90s WWF. On one hand, it's pretty star-studded and had a fun sequence that involved Hulk Hogan accidentally knocking the Ultimate Warrior out of the ring. It featured an always-fun spot where several wrestlers went after Earthquake and tossed him out.

But there's no real flow or storyline to the match and, at times, it had a whole lot of guys hanging out in the ring trying to figure out what they're going to do next.

#18 -- 2014

Otherwise known as the last in-ring appearance of CM Punk to date, the 2014 Rumble was anchored by a really lengthy performance by Punk and a crowd that really stopped caring once he got tossed out.

Even when you ignore the crowd's disapproval of this match -- particularly when it became clear that Daniel Bryan wouldn't be in it -- there really wasn't much structure or storytelling within it.

#19 -- 1991

1991 was arguably the most bland Rumble they've ever done. Clocking in at 65 minutes, it featured a fairly star-studded roster that weren't given anything interesting to do. The middle portion of the match involved the ring filling up with guys waiting for Hulk Hogan to come in to eliminate them, rather than advancing many storylines for the rest of the roster.

#20 -- 1998

1998 was easily the match with the weakest and thinnest roster. One wrestler no-showed (in storyline) and Mick Foley got three spots in the match (appearing as Cactus Jack, Dude Love, and Mankind), so this match only featured 27 actual entrants.

Coming at the height of Steve Austin's popularity meant that the crowd was hot, but was really anxious to see Austin and tended to tune out until he showed up at #24. The ending segments were quite fun, but the match took forever to get itself into gear.

#21 -- 2013

The 2013 Rumble was weird. One of the few Rumbles to go second from the top rather than be presented as the main event, this year's Rumble was presented as somewhat an afterthought compared to the night's CM Punk vs. The Rock main event.

The crowd seemed to treat the thing as something they had to sit through to get to see The Rock, and the match itself didn't help by being rather clunky and disjointed.

#22 -- 1988

The original Rumble was fine. It got the concept over by having a healthy mixture of tag team wrestlers and midcarders, but it was very punchy/kicky and doesn't really do much storytelling beyond "Wow, look at how many guys are in the match!"

It doesn't help that Don Muraco and Nikolai Volkoff got confused by the concept and both came out at the same time when the buzzer went off midway through the bout.

#23 -- 2016

The 2016 match took the 1999 Rumble storyline -- Mr. McMahon trying to prevent a certain guy from winning -- and made a few tinkers that ended up making it a little bit better overall.

This match had more star power and a better structure than the 1999 edition (with AJ Styles' debut energizing the first half and a lengthy sequence with the Wyatt Family anchoring the second half), but the Roman Reigns storyline itself was clumsily handled. After having so many guys to bell-to-bell in the Rumble without leaving the ring in the recent past, Reigns' disappearing act felt like a cop-out.

#24 -- 2002

The 2002 match was really long, and unnecessarily so. The match featured an interesting roster of pretty big stars, including a returning Mr. Perfect, but there wasn't a lot of flow to it. Worst of all, the lengthy ending sequences involving Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Triple H, and Perfect took forever to finish up and killed a lot of the emotion and momentum of the match.

#25 -- 2015

The 2015 Rumble is structured oddly. A year after the crowd turned on the 2014 Rumble because Daniel Bryan wasn't in it, he was tossed midway through the match and the crowd turned on it again.

The match is anchored by multiple eliminations by Rusev (a heel) and Bray Wyatt (also a heel), who dominate the Rumble until Big Show (a heel), Kane (a heel), and Roman Reigns (who is booed louder than most heels) come in and take over the match in the home-stretch.

As you would expect, the fans didn't like this match at all. The storytelling was clunky, and while it's not difficult to see what they were trying to accomplish by having Reigns overcome all the big monsters, the crowd wasn't having any of it and it utterly killed the match.

#26 -- 1999

On paper, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon fighting for the whole match sounded good, but the reality involved Austin being absent for a giant chunk and the crowd getting restless.

This match features multiple instances of a potential title shot at WrestleMania being ignored in favor of silly storylines, most notably a few times where one wrestler was left alone in the ring and one situation where the ring was actually empty for a stretch as Austin fought McMahon on the concourse.

#27 -- 1996

This year featured a flat crowd, very little energy or flow, and fans sitting on their hands until Shawn Michaels entered midway through.

#28 -- 2012

Coming a year after the 2011 40-man Rumble, 2012 featured way more filler including Kharma, all three announcers, Mick Foley, and Alberto Del Rio's personal ring announcer. As you would expect, it was not a good match.

#29 -- 1995

The 60-second intervals between entrants really hurt the match, as everything was rushed and very little got time to breathe. It also showcased the WWF's shocking lack of depth in that time, as the biggest crowd reactions were for Bret Hart twice running out to attack people (first Owen Hart and later Bob Backlund).