Who are the Worst Royal Rumble Winners?
Since 1988 the Royal Rumble has been a ticket to superstardom in the WWE, however, not every winner of the 30-man annual battle royal is made equal (or equally treated). Not all winners climbed the heights that their Rumble triumph promised, and, in this list, we will look to shine a spotlight upon those that were particularly underwhelming.
A few factors to consider before the list commences; not only will the winner’s performance within the match be considered, perhaps even more important is what they did afterwards. Did they go on to win their title of choice at WrestleMania? Or did they slip into obscurity? If they’re on the list, it is most likely the latter.
10. John Cena (2008) and Edge (2010)
Admittedly starting off the list with a tie is not the best look, however, choosing between these two was rather difficult, with the positives and problems being almost identical. Both John Cena and Edge made surprise comebacks in the rumble from injury layoffs, meaning the crowd was amped and both victories were certainly memorable and satisfying.
However, what holds them back is the lack of payoff at the end. Cena, would rather impatiently demand a title shot at February’s No Way Out pay-per-view, failing to capture Randy Orton’s WWE Championship due to the viper getting himself intentionally disqualified. This controversial finish would lead to another chance at the gold for Cena, this time in a triple-threat match with Triple H involved. Again, however, Cena would be unsuccessful, even taking the pin from defending champion Orton at the match’s climax.
Similarly, Edge would see his redemption arc fall flat, as he was defeated by ex-tag partner Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 26 for the World Heavyweight Championship. Leaving a weird taste in the mouth as many expected Edge to come out on top, much like Cena. The unpredictability was not necessarily a bad thing for either case, however, it paints their memorable Rumble wins in a less favourable light as a result.
9. The Rock (2000)
There is no disputing that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was more than worthy of being crowned the winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble match, however, there are two major factors that tarnish this victory and leave it in the number nine position. Firstly, and most infamously, was the fact that Big Show was the true winner of the contest. In the process of eliminating the 500-pound giant, Rock’s own two feet would touch the floor before Big Show’s would, which led into an angle between the two at the following pay-per-view No Way Out.
The Rock’s eventual title shot at WrestleMania would ultimately become a bit chaotic, with Big Show, Mick Foley and the entire McMahon family becoming involved in a fatal four-way match for Triple H’s WWE Championship at WrestleMania 2000. Making matters worse, The Rock would go on to become the first babyface to lose in the main event of WrestleMania, when Triple H retained his title following some McMahon family shenanigans. Rock would eventually get his big win the following month at Backlash for the championship, in the match that perhaps should’ve happened at WrestleMania instead.
8. Hacksaw Jim Duggan (1988)
Jim Duggan will always be remembered as the inaugural winner of the Royal Rumble, however, despite the historical significance of the win, there really is no other reason to not have his name included on this list. Duggan’s victory must be placed under the context that the Royal Rumble match was nowhere near the same level that it is now. It was a 20-man match instead of 30 and did not have any real reward for winning, with the guaranteed title opportunity not becoming a stipulation until the 1993 event. Despite this, Duggan’s triumph led to nothing much of note whatsoever, over than a huge pop from the live crowd on the night.
Even without guarantees, it would have been nice to see Duggan receive some semblance of a push afterwards at WrestleMania, instead, he would go on to be eliminated in the very first round of the WWE Championship tournament held at WrestleMania 4. Duggan’s popularity with the crowd at the time meant that the opportunity was there for WWE to at least make something of his victory, instead, Hacksaw forever stands out as a bit of an anomaly amongst many more decorated winners of the Rumble match.
7. Lex Luger (1994)
The 1994 Royal Rumble ended in the first (and only) official draw in the contest’s history. Bret “Hitman” Hart and Lex Luger would both land on the floor at the same time and as a result, would both receive title opportunities at WrestleMania 10. Despite both superstars having to settle for a tie, there was only one clear winner, both on the night, and a few months later at the showcase of the immortals. Bret Hart was undeniably the fan favourite and was audibly receiving a much louder response than Luger despite them both being babyfaces at the time, and while Bret would go on to steal the show at the grandest stage of them all, Luger would have a much less impressive showing.
As a result of a coin toss Luger would receive his opportunity at WWE Champion Yokozuna before Bret, but would disappointingly lose via disqualification. While Bret would begin the night by putting on a wrestling clinic with his brother Owen; and then proceed to overcome the odds by beating Yokozuna in the main event for the gold. Bret’s crowning achievement left Luger looking like an afterthought; never quite becoming the top guy that WWE had hoped he would become following Hulk Hogan’s departure from the company in 1993.
6. Big John Studd (1989)
Along with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Big John Studd’s Royal Rumble win stands out as another example of the lack of importance behind the 30-man battle royal in its early years. Studd’s win felt fairly flat, even more so than Duggan. Studd felt like a rather strange choice to win the match, this is especially true given the star power that participated. Names like: Andre the Giant, Jake Roberts, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and Ted DiBiase are a small sample of competitors that took part, yet it was Studd who came out on top, someone who had not been portrayed as a top star up until this point.
This would not change following Studd’s win, and instead of finding himself in a top match or storyline at Wrestlemania 5, he would only take part as a special referee in the Jake Roberts vs Andre the Giant match. Studd’s performance in the Rumble match itself was also underwhelming, entering 27th, lasting 12 minutes and eliminating two men in the rather placid closing stages of the match. Overall, Big John Studd must go down as one of the worst to ever win the Royal Rumble match.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura (2018)
Another example of the right winner, wrong execution. In 2018, Shinsuke Nakamura had already established himself as a superstar, both in his native Japan, as well as in WWE’s NXT where he was a two-time NXTchampion. Nakamura’s ascent to the top of WWE seemed to only be continuing when he entered the 2018 Royal Rumble at number 14, lastly eliminating Roman Reigns to set up a dream match with WWE Champion AJ Styles at WrestleMania 34.
Hardcore wrestling fans frothed at the mouth at the possibility of a rematch from NJPW’s WrestleKingdom 10, however, the bout would ultimately fall flat. Lodged amidst a bloated and overly long card, Nakamura vs Styles would fail to spark the live audience and would suffer as a result. The outcome also left a bitter taste in the mouth as Nakamura was denied his crowning achievement by Styles, and would proceed to turn heel by low-blowing Styles after the bell. Nakamura’s heel run was ultimately underwhelming, and he would spend the next few years fighting over mid-card championships, never reaching the main event scene again.
4. Alberto Del Rio (2011)
Only five months after making his on-screen WWE debut in August 2010, “The Mexican Aristocrat” Alberto Del Rio would be rocketed to the main event of WrestleMania by winning the first-ever 40-man Royal Rumble. Del Rio’s rapid ascent to superstardom was a shock for many, and with only two eliminations and ten minutes in the ring; Del Rio’s overall performance was not going to win many doubters over.
Royal Rumble matches have often been used to propel new stars into main event players, but Del Rio’s win felt slightly unmerited and rushed at the time. WWE’s rush to push Del Rio felt even more confusing when he would proceed to lose his “main event” for the World Heavyweight Championship to Edge in the opening bout of WrestleMania 27. Del Rio would go on to have a fairly successful run across two spells with WWE, winning multiple world championships during that time. However, this Rumble win certainly sticks out as a rather empty accomplishment that didn’t amount to much of note.
3. Mr. McMahon (1999)
The entire 1999 Royal Rumble match was built around “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon. With their legendary feud at its apex, both men would enter the match as number one and two respectively, however, McMahon would spend the entirety of the match attempting to stay away from Austin and would use his corporate muscle to take the Texas rattlesnake out of the match entirely. McMahon would succeed in doing so, momentarily that is, as Austin re-emerged after a corporate beatdown to what many assumed would be a third Rumble victory. However, in an almighty swerve it was the Chairman that would dump out Austin for the win following a distraction from WWE champion The Rock.
This match should’ve definitely had a different winner, McMahon would obviously not go on to WrestleMania15 to fight for the WWE title, he would instead lose that opportunity to Austin at St Valentine’s Day Massacre the following month. However, as far as storytelling goes this did serve a purpose and only strengthened the fan’s desire to see Austin overcome the corporate machine and regain the WWE title at WrestleMania. This fact alone keeps it from the bottom spot on the list and ever so slightly redeems McMahon’s ill-advised victory.
2. Roman Reigns (2015)
The big dog’s climb up the WWE ladder began on this fateful night in Philadelphia. A raucous crowd packed the Wells Fargo arena and made it abundantly clear that they were not on board with Roman’s ascendency as soon as he made his entrance at the number 19.
The frosty reception Reigns received was due in part to the not-so-subtle clues that WWE was priming the big dog to be the next “guy” in the company; whether he was quite ready for that spot or not was irrelevant. This lack of subtlety was evident through the way the Rumble match was planned out; clear fan-favourite Daniel Bryan was eliminated after only 10 minutes, while others such as Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose were also tossed aside by an aging pairing of Kane and Big Show in the closing stages.
This left no hope and no option but for the crowd but to rally behind Roman against a two-on-one beatdown, in a similar fashion to Hogan’s Rumble triumphs in 1990 and 1991. Of course, the crowd did not do that, they instead booed everyone out of the building and chanted “bullshit” and “we want refunds” while #cancelwwenetwork trended worldwide on social media.
Not even a run in from “The Peoples Champ” The Rock, could turn things around for Reigns; the people had made themselves clear. While the match was a train wreck it did lead to a classic encounter at WrestleMania between Reigns and WWE champion Brock Lesnar, thankfully the fans were appeased somewhat when Seth Rollins cashed in mid-match and denied Roman his coronation. Nevertheless, that does not take away from just how badly WWE messed up. You would think they would’ve learned their lesson from the year prior…
1. Batista (2014)
As bad as the outcome to the 2015 Royal Rumble was, the 2014 Rumble did it first.
In WWE’s eyes, the triumphant return of Batista after a four-year absence from the ring to win the Royal Rumble match sounded like a fairy-tale ending that couldn’t possibly go wrong. A showdown with former Evolution stablemate Randy Orton in the main event of WrestleMania 30 made sense on paper given their history but was quite obviously not the match anyone wanted to see close the show.
There was only one man who the WWE universe was going to accept in that position: Daniel Bryan. Bryan was on the run of his life and undoubtedly the most organically over and beloved babyface since perhaps Steve Austin. Despite this fact, Bryan was not scheduled to compete in the match, instead of taking on Bray Wyatt in an excellent opener on the show. This fact didn’t stop the Pittsburgh crowd from anticipating his entrance, and eventual cathartic triumph at the end of the night. As we all know that didn’t happen, WWE stuck to their guns and Batista entered at 28, eliminated four men and won the entire match.
The aftermath was a loud chorus of boos and disdain towards the animal who was visibly displeased with his reaction. The road to WrestleMania 30 would have a happy ending as we all know. After WWE initially stuck to their guns; the WWE universe eventually forced their hand and Daniel Bryan was added to the fold for WrestleMania 30. The rest is history, however, that doesn’t take away how terrible a decision it was for Batista to come out on top at the 2014 Royal Rumble.