The Royal Rumble Retrospect: 25 Years of Over the Top

michael dworkis looks at the best and worst surprises and moments of the WWE event …

It’s January, and that means one thing for wrestling fans. It’s time for The Royal Rumble pay-per-view event. What I like to call one of the “Four Corners” of WWE pay-per-views, this is the kickoff leading the Road to WrestleMania. This year, 30 participants will have the opportunity to earn a WWE or World Title match at WrestleMania. All they have to do is be the last man standing.

This year is special, as it marks the 25th anniversary of the event. This year may also prove to be the most unpredictable Royal Rumble yet. With that in mind, let me take you back in time and review some of the highlights from the previous Royal Rumble matches. Additionally, I will highlight which winners went on to win the championship at WrestleMania of that year, a tradition officially started at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Following that will be a quick breakdown of past winners.

This is the best quick-resource you will ever read. Sure, you can go on that ol’ Wikipedia if you want to get all the long details. However, I wrote this to entertain you loyal readers. This will get you up to speed without doing multiple searches and clicking on links that take you nowhere.

The first-ever Royal Rumble was not actually on pay-per-view. It was a broadcast special on the USA Network, and featured only 20 wrestlers as opposed to the traditional 30. The first winner was Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Yes, Hacksaw was a main attraction in another era. However, something really worth mentioning, is Bret Hart became the first man to ever be in the Rumble, as he drew No. 1.

The first Royal Rumble on pay-per-view featured 30 participants, starting the tradition we are accustomed to. This major event was not without controversy. The Mega-Powers Tag Team consisted of the two biggest names in wrestling history. Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Talk about uber-faces. It was at this Rumble where Savage was moments away from eliminating Bad News Brown from the match, but Hogan rushed in and eliminated both men from the match. An irate Savage went head-to-head with Hogan, and the situation saw a temporary calm with Miss Elizabeth interfered.

Of course, this is also the match where The Warlord had set a record for shortest time in the ring at two seconds. Yep. That was past tense. Someone recently beat that time …

My favorite moment here was not the Rumble match itself, but a submission match between two of the best technical wrestlers of the day, Ronnie Garvin and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. This is a match you will probably only see in Ring of Honor because both TNA and WWE seemed to forget how to do these matches after Benoit went steroid-crazy. A match that lasted over 15 minutes saw Garvin defeat Valentine with the “reverse figure-four,” a submission hold to be later taken and used by a certain “Hitman” who renamed it The Sharpshooter.

This Rumble featured matches built on feuds. Virgil turned on “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase after their match against Dusty and Dustin Rhodes, while Sgt. Slaughter captured the WWF title from the Ultimate Warrior. Of note, Bret Hart once again entered the Rumble match at No. 1, and Hogan became the first person to win the Royal Rumble more than once. Hogan wins? Shocker.

This Royal Rumble featured a great incentive to win: the WWF Championship. Had I been older at the time, I would have entered the Rumble, too. Having been vacated due to controversial matches between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, it was decided the winner of the Royal Rumble would be crowned as the new champion. This reward was claimed by the No. 3 entrant, the “Real World Champion.” The winner, “The Limousine Ridin’, Jet Flyin’, Kiss Stealin’, Wheelin’ Dealin’, Dirtiest Player in the Game,” the one and only, the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

The first Royal Rumble to officially declare the winner earning a main event championship at WrestleMania. The winner of the match was Yokozuna, last eliminating Randy Savage. Also at the event was a match years in the making. Marty Jannetty returned to wrestling and challenged then-Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Back in 1991, Michaels tossed his former tag-partner Jannetty through the glass window during the Barber Shop talk-show segment. Having been out of action as a result of that altercation, Jannetty returned to get revenge. Instead of a lawsuit, he wants a title belt instead. Unfortunately, due to botched interference from Sensational Sherri Martel, revenge would have to wait as Michaels emerged victorious.

The family feud between brothers Bret and Owen Hart hit the breaking point. If you were the younger son constantly in the shadow of the more experienced brother, you would get ticked too. At Survivor Series 1993, Owen threw a temper tantrum that he was the only one eliminated while the rest of the Hart family showed concern for an injured Bret. Sometime later, the two reconciled and challenged the Quebecers for the Tag Team Titles, because that is what brothers do when they make up. During the match, Bret once again was injured, but instead of tagging out to Owen, he continued on. The referee saw poor Bret was hurt again and stopped the match. In another angry fit, Owen beat the hell out of Bret. Feud back on.

The Undertaker earned a title opportunity against the current World Champion, Yokozuna. The title match took place in a Casket Match. Meaning, you had to put your opponent in a casket and then shut lid to win. To the surprise of all in attendance, the match created by The Undertaker would be his own downfall. During the match over a dozen wrestlers on the side of Yokozuna or hired by Jim Cornette rushed out to help Yokozuna defeat the Deadman. The aftermath of the bout took a creepy turn as the soul of The Undertaker appeared on the Titantron, with sparks flying delivered a chilling message to all who contributed in his demise.

Once again, the Royal Rumble match was the center of controversy as for the first time, not one, but two Royal Rumble participants emerged victorious. Bret Hart and Lex Luger were declared co-winners of the match when they both went over the top rope. Referees, doing a top-notch job as usual for the ’90s, could not figure out who won, so they decided to name them both winners.

This year, the No. 1 and No. 2 entrants turned out to be the last two remaining in the Rumble. Shawn Michaels at No. 1 and The British Bulldog at No. 2 outlasted everyone. The Bulldog seemed to have victory in hand, but Michaels held onto the top rope and his feet did not hit the floor. Bulldog celebrated his victory until Michaels re-entered and threw him over the top.

This started the feud between Bam Bam Bigelow and Lawrence Taylor. Yes, the football player. Because the battle royal at WrestleMania 2 was not enough. Bam Bam Bigelow lost his match, and shoved Taylor who was sitting at ringside. That’s what you get for buying a front row seat.

This was the first year where it was given away who would enter at number No. 1 and No. 30. In a preshow match, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (popularly known as Triple H). The garbage gimmick entered at 30, while loser HHH entered at No. 1. Shawn Michaels became the second man to win two consecutive rumble matches, last eliminating Diesel.

With what would be the precursor to the inevitable boom of the Attitude Era, the New Generation Era began to feature annoying controversial conclusions to main event matches. DQs, interference, and confusing decisions by referees were becoming common. Honestly, earning a pinfall victory was a major accomplishment if less than four people interfered. At the Rumble, Paul Bearer was no longer on the side of the Undertaker and helped Vader to defeat him. Bret Hart appeared to have won the Rumble match, but “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had hung around outside the ring when Hart thought he had eliminated him. Hart tossed Diesel over the top, however was dumped to the floor himself when Austin pushed Hart over and down to the floor.

The Undertaker once again lost a Casket Match at the Rumble, this time to Shawn Michaels. Perhaps the Deadman might want to rethink his strategy at the Royal Rumble. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin eliminated The Rock to win, and become the third person to win two consecutive Rumble matches in a

The real highlight of this event was the appearances of Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love. No, not all simultaneously. However in the N64 game WrestleMania 2000, that was actually possible.

Can you say controversy? I did already a number of times. This one had two points of it. This Rumble featured a brutal “I-Quit” match between The Rock and Mankind. The stipulation for this match, was to beat your opponent so bad to get him to .. well, say the words “I Quit.” Easy to understand, right? Of course Mankind (Mick Foley) was not one to ever say the words, so The Rock beat him senseless with a chair until he fell unconscious. At that point, a recorded voice clip of Mankind saying the words “I Quit” were heard and the match ended. Clearly this was a set up by The Rock, and the feud continued on.

Chyna was the first woman … and I use that word loosely … to enter the Rumble. She entered at No. 30, and lasted a whole 35 seconds.

If that was not ridiculous enough, Vince McMahon won the Rumble. He and Austin were the first two men, and spent most of the time outside the ring. Predictably, it came down to Austin and Vince. Thanks to an assist by The Rock, Vince tossed Austin over the top rope in what was probably the most worthless Royal Rumble ever.

At Madison Square Garden, I sat 10th row from the ring, and watched Chyna face off against Chris Jericho and Hardcore Holly in a match for the Intercontinental Title. I watched Mae Young take her top off. However, I also watched as The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz destroy each other in a tables match, the debut of Taz, and a brutal Hardcore Rules match between Triple H and Cactus Jack, which saw The Game getting the pinfall after hitting the Pedigree on a pile a thumbtacks. Thankfully, the Royal Rumble itself was pretty entertaining. The Rock last eliminated The Big Show to win.

Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit had an incredible feud going, leading up to a Ladder Match at the Royal Rumble. In a match that went nearly 20 minutes, we saw Jericho waffle Benoit in the face with a chair during a dive, Jericho put the Walls on Benoit while climbing the ladder, Benoit suplexing the hell out of Jericho and ultimately, Jericho sending Benoit crashing to the floor while pushing him off the top of the ladder, allowing Jericho to win the title.

This year is significant for two reasons. Kane had the most eliminations in a single Royal Rumble match at 11, and he still has that record to this day. Also, Austin won the Rumble, becoming the first and only person to win three Royal Rumble matches.

This year was one of the more interesting Royal Rumbles. Ric Flair and Vince McMahon fought in a Street Fight. Beating each other senseless, Flair forced McMahon to tap out to the Figure Four Leglock. Maven (who?) eliminated The Undertaker and as a reward got thrown through a popcorn machine by The American Badass. A number of WCW and ECW stars made their Royal Rumble debuts, such as Rob van Dam, Diamond Dallas Page, and Booker T. At one point, I thought we were watching WCW World War III. To my excitement, Mr. Perfect was a surprise entrant and nearly won the Rumble, being one of the final four, and was next-to-last to be eliminated.

Again, and this is just my opinion, but Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle stole the show with their SmackDown Championship title match. This match certainly overshadowed the Rumble match itself. You had two of the greatest technical mat-based wrestling entertainers in the world in a title match. Damn shame we will never see it again.

Chris Benoit began as number one, and made it all the way to the end, winning the Rumble by last eliminating The Big Show and also setting the record for the longest time in the Royal Rumble match. Also on the show was the bloody Last Man Standing Match between Triple H and Shawn Michaels. The match was intense and at times downright scary as to how much blood covered the ring and arena floor. In a disappointment, the match went to a draw, but no one could question the awesome fight HHH and HBK had just given their all for.

Finally, the Undertaker won one. Not the Rumble, but a Casket Match. Then again, it was against Heidenreich, who I tried to give a push to in a few articles and even a feature in WWE RAW Magazine. Batista won the Rumble, launching John Cena clear over the top rope. A true funny moment took place when Kurt Angle, who had lost in his title match, beat up Nunzio and stole his Royal Rumble spot.


The Undertaker won the Rumble at No. 30. He was the first person to do that. You would think at the last spot someone else would have been able to win, but in its entire history, it has never been done. The end of the Rumble might as well have been a main event match as Undertaker and Shawn Michaels put on one hell of a show. Good thing they got to do it again a few years later …

Back at Madison Square Garden, this time seventh row from the ring, I watched Jericho beat the tar out of JBL, and the crowd turn on fan-favorite Rey Mysterio as he lost to Edge. However the four teenage girls in front of us screamed in orgasmic glee while my friends and I cried as John Cena made his return from injury, entering at No. 30 and won the Rumble.

Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka were guest entrants in the Rumble, and probably performed better than half the participants. Not difficult when Hardcore Holly lasted as long as he did.

Jeff Hardy came in as WWE Champion, but left empty-handed thanks to a totally not-at-all-seen-it-coming as his brother Matt, turning on Jeff and clobbered him with a chair to the face. This turn allowed Edge to win the WWE Title. Orton won the Rumble. Yay.

The real info you want, is this is the Rumble where the record for shortest time was made. Santino Marella lasted ONE SECOND. ONE. This beats the previous record set by the Warlord for lasting … two seconds. Way to go Santino. Maybe you will perform better in 2011 … hmmm ..

Not the best Rumble in history, but certainly had a shocking ending which probably drew the ire of the four girls who screamed gleefully a few years before. At this stage, many fans, myself included sat back and said, “Oh, Cena is going to win. They are pushing and pushing and pu … HOLY CRAP, EDGE WON!!!” Edge eliminated John Cena to win the Rumble.

You know what? I don’t care what anyone says. SANTINO MARELLA should have WON the Rumble! Imagine the shock! Think of the ratings! Think of the … yeah, I need my meds. Fine, Santino winning the Rumble likely not a good idea, but having who I call the “modern-day Rick Martel” one Alberto del Rio win the Rumble was awesome. What else was awesome? Not The Miz, but John Morrison doing a Spider-man impersonation to keep himself from being eliminated. At one point in the match, he got knocked off the apron and to save himself, leapt onto the barrier and held both feet up against the wall to save himself.

The 2011 Rumble was probably the best one in recent memory. There was no way to predict Alberto del Rio would win, and there was NO way ANYONE could have seen Santino as the last person eliminated. Solid title matches with Edge against Dolph Ziggler and Miz defending against Orton. Also, this was the first Royal Rumble to feature 40 participants, not the traditional 30.

With all this in mind, we have the 2012 Royal Rumble to look forward to. This is the 25th anniversary of this historic pay-per-view event, and I certainly have faith we will get a very enjoyable Rumble. I cannot predict who will win, and I do not want to be able to. That is the fun part of the Rumble, something which reminds me of its early years, where you just did not know who would win. That is what makes the Royal Rumble fun, and I cannot wait for tonight.

They won the Rumble … but did they win the Championship at WrestleMania?

1993: Yokozuna won the Rumble and defeated Bret Hart at WrestleMania 9. However, he lost the championship minutes later to Hulk Hogan in an impromptu match.

1994: Both Luger and Bret Hart challenged Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania X. Lex Luger failed to capture the WWF Title. Not sure if it was a roid rage or just losing his cool, but he struck the ref and got himself disqualified. The referee happened to be “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. Bret Hart, after losing to Owen earlier in the night, defeated Yokozuna and won the championship.

1995: Shawn Michaels won the Rumble, but was unsuccessful in his WrestleMania match against Diesel (Kevin Nash).

1996: This time around, Michaels emerged victorious at WrestleMania, defeating Bret Hart for the title.

1997: Austin won the Rumble, but did not challenge for the title at ‘Mania. Instead, he faced off with Bret in a submission match that was the bloodiest to-date. This pivotal moment in wrestling history saw the sold-out crowd cheer for “the bad guy” and boo the fan-favorite. This sparked a major change in storylines and pretty much was the catalyst for the evolution of the sports-entertainment industry.

1998: Stone Cold defeated Shawn Michaels for the title. This was the famous match with Mike Tyson as guest referee. Tyson presumably was on the side of DX, but at WrestleMania, revealed he was on the side of fan-favorite Stone Cold.

1999: Vince McMahon won the Rumble, but thankfully did not compete for the title at WrestleMania. Instead, then-commissioner Shawn Michaels announced that the runner-up would face The Rock for the title. Austin defeated Vince McMahon at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view where Paul Wight (The Big Show) made his debut, and then went on to defeat The Rock at WrestleMania.

2000: The Rock won the Rumble, but reverse decisions, qualifying matches and all around confusion led to a Fatal-Four Way main event at WrestleMania 2000. The Rock, Mick Foley, and The Big Show challenged Triple H for the title, but it was The Game who emerged victorious.

2001: Stone Cold Steve Austin went on to defeat The Rock for the title at WrestleMania.

2002: Triple H won the Rumble and went on to win the Undisputed Championship from Chris Jericho at WrestleMania.

2003: Brock Lesnar won the Royal Rumble, entering at No. 29. He defeated Kurt Angle at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship.

2004: Chris Benoit forced Triple H to submit to the Sharpshooter in a triple-threat match including Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX, winning the World Heavyweight Championship.

2005: Batista won the World Title from Triple H at ‘Mania.

2006: Rey Mysterio captured the World Title in a triple-threat against Kurt Angle and Randy Orton.

2007: The Undertaker predictably won the World Title from Batista.

2008: John Cena LOST in his WrestleMania match, as Randy Orton successfully retained his title. This was the first time a Royal Rumble winner lost their title match since WrestleMania 2000.

2009: Randy Orton faced off with Triple H for the WWE Title, and went home a loser.

2010: Yet another Rumble winner wound up a WrestleMania loser, as Chris Jericho retained the World Championship against Edge.

2011: Four years in a row, the Rumble winner lost at WrestleMania. Alberto del Rio was unable to win the World Heavyweight Title, as he was defeated by then-champion, Edge. This was significant as this was the final match Edge would compete in, as he announced a week later he was retiring due to injuries.

Royal Rumble Cameos and Surprise Entrants

1991: Shane Douglas (yes, the ECW Shane Douglas) was in the Rumble. He was in the WWF for a short time before the event, but not many people know that he was in the WWE that long ago.

1993: The WWF brought in some international stars. Genichiro Tenryu from All-Japan and Carlos Colon from Puerto Rico’s WWC were in the Rumble, but their chances of winning were no better than TNA’s chances of ever having a decent PPV. None.

1996: Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Dork Funk Jr., Barry Horowitz and ECW’s The Headhunters were all in the Rumble Match. Barry Horowitz. Yes. While I am happy to see a Jewish wrestler, this just made me sad.

1997: A number of luchadors were brought in to add some international intrigue to the Rumble match. While it was interesting to see Pierroth, Mil Mascaras, Cibernetico, and the Latin Lover participate; we all knew none of these sensations would win. Strangely, the fake Razor Ramon (FMW’s Big Titan) and fake Diesel (Kane) fared better, with “Diesel” as next-to-last elimination of the match.

2001: No one was sure whether to laugh or cry. Drew Carey entered at No. 5 in the Royal Rumble. He lasted nearly three minutes, before eliminating himself before Kane could cause bodily harm. At this Rumble, The Honky Tonk Man and Haku were guest entrants.

2002: Goldust and Mr. Perfect were surprise entrants, and Mr. Perfect nearly won the match as he the next-to-last elimination of the match. Mr. Perfect stuck around for awhile, then left, went to TNA, and then some time later died.

2008: Jimmy Snuka and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper entered the match one after another, and the other superstars in the ring just sat back and let the fun begin. The brawl did not last long as Kane dumped both WWE Legends from the ring.

2009: Where they come up with these ideas I will never know. Hacksaw Jim Duggan entered at No. 29 and lasted almost three minutes. At least he lasted longer than The Miz.

2011: Booker T and Diesel (Kevin Nash) made their guest appearances and both remained on WWE television. Nash came back to bungle lines and trip over his shoelaces, while Booker T contributes such intelligent and straight-forward commentary not seen since the days of Gorilla Monsoon. Oh, who am I kidding. Booker T sucks on commentary. Get back in the ring already.

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