This year marked the 27th annual Royal Rumble. Arguably the WWE’s biggest event, after WrestleMania of course, the Rumble is almost as old as the granddaddy itself. As any wrestling fan knows, the allure of the 30-man Royal Rumble is that the winner goes on to headline WrestleMania against the WWE champion. While the championship match has not always been the main event at WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble winner always goes on to play a significant role in that year’s event. Quite simply, interest in the Royal Rumble winner affects Wrestlemania’s bottom line.
Every year the Royal Rumble has its share of favorites. There are rarely any real shockers, as you can anticipate the hottest star in the company is likely to win the epic 30-man battle royale-style match. Now, let’s have a look back at all of the Royal Rumble’s winners who went on to headline that year’s WrestleMania. We should remember that pay-per-view buy rates were a lot lower in the past due to the lack of access many people had to cable as compared to now. But we can put the pieces together as to who the real moneymakers were.
There were a few Royal Rumble winners who did not headline WrestleMania the year after, and they were “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in 1988, Big John Studd the year after and Vince McMahon in 1999.
Hopefully Batista will go on to do something extraordinary at WrestleMania XXX and solidify his comeback to the WWE. As this list proves, he is already in elite company.
Royal Rumble 1990-1991 Winner: Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania VI, 550,000 Buys and WrestleMania VII, 400,000 Buys
Hulk Hogan became the first man to win back-to-back Royal Rumbles. While it wasn’t yet official that the Royal Rumble winner automatically received a title shot at WrestleMania, Hogan’s victories likely played a part in WWE going down that road. Hogan was in fact the WWE champion when he won the 1990 Royal Rumble. He headlined WrestleMania VI in Toronto’s Skydome, losing to The Ultimate Warrior in a title-for-title match. Not only did the match pack the Skydome, but 550,000 homes tuned in to see The Ultimate Challenge unfold. Hogan lost to Warrior, but would gain redemption the following year.
He won the 1991 Royal Rumble and went on to face the villainous, American traitor Sgt. Slaughter at WrestleMania VII, drawing a modest 400,000 buys. The WWE was heading for leaner business years amidst steroid allegations. Nevertheless, Hulk Hogan regained his title, becoming a three-time world champion with his victory at WrestleMania VII.
Royal Rumble 1992 Winner: Ric Flair, WrestleMania VIII, 360,000 Buys
Ric Flair won the Royal Rumble with the biggest stakes in its history. It wasn’t the no.1 contender spot at WrestleMania on the line. It was the WWE championship itself. Due to a vacant title, all 30 men in the Rumble had the chance to win it. Ric Flair entered at no.3 and set what was then a record for the longest showing in a Rumble match, lasting over 59 minutes. He last eliminated Sid Justice, with surprising help from his arch nemesis Hulk Hogan. While the world expected a showdown between Hogan and Flair at WrestleMania for the strap, the WWE booked a ‘Double Main Event’ with Flair facing “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the title and Hogan taking on Sid Justice. The show dropped in viewers again, getting just 360,000 buys.
Again, these were tough business years for the WWE, as steroid allegations were out in full force. Perhaps WWE would have been better served doing the Hogan/Flair match that was craved, however we’ll never know if that match could have undone the bad publicity the company faced in 1992.
Royal Rumble 1993 winner: Yokozuna, WrestleMania IX, 430,000 Buys
Yokozuna was the first Royal Rumble winner who was guaranteed a title shot at WrestleMania. He went on to defeat Bret “The Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania IX, only to lose the title minutes later to Hulk Hogan.
The WWE saw a bit of a bump in their buy rate from the previous year with only 430,000 in an event that was billed as an underdog champion (Bret Hart) trying to fend off the unstoppable Yokozuna. In retrospect, it’s not one of the more storybook endings we’re accustomed to seeing at a WrestleMania.
Royal Rumble 1994 winner(s): Bret Hart and Lex Luger, WrestleMania X, 420,000 Buys
The 1994 Royal Rumble is still the only Rumble in history with two winners. Bret Hart and Lex Luger‘s feet touched the floor at the exact same time as they fell over the top rope. President Jack Tunney decided to name both men winners, after the referees could not agree on who won.
Both men received a title match against Yokozuna at Madison Square Garden. Luger was disqualified in his bout by guest referee Mr. Perfect. Hart had his turn and pinned Yokozuna after he lost his balance while delivering a Banzai Drop. Hart was hoisted on his shoulders by fellow superstars, giving us one of the more heartwarming endings in WrestleMania history.
Royal Rumble 1995-1996 winner: Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XI, 340,000 Buys and WrestleMania XII, 290,000 Buys
HBK became the first Royal Rumble winner from the dreaded no.1 spot, and the last two men were the same two to start the match; Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog. Michaels was clotheslined over the top rope and dangled, with only one of his feet touching the floor in one of the Royal Rumble’s most iconic images. It appeared that The British Bulldog had won, but Michaels snuck up from behind and knocked the Bulldog over the top rope. Howard Finkel made the announcement that only one of Shawn Michaels’s feet hit the floor and the match was awarded to the Showstopper. He went on to face Diesel at WrestleMania XI, where he fell short. Despite being a heel in that match, Michaels’s remarkable performances soon got fans behind him and he redeemed himself the following year.
Coming back from an on-screen head injury in the 1996 Royal Rumble, Michaels again won, this time eliminating his old buddy Diesel with a super kick. This time around, Michaels had a more memorable WrestleMania performance. He defeated Bret Hart in a 60-minute Ironman match, in what many consider to be the greatest match in WrestleMania history. The WWE would struggle throughout 1996, as the WCW began drawing more viewers and winning the Monday Night Wars, but that’s a whole other story. Michaels then went on to hold the title through November 1996.
Royal Rumble winner, 1997-1998: Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13, 237,000 Buys and WrestleMania XIV, 730,000 Buys
Stone Cold Steve Austin proved to be the turning point in WWE’s war against WCW. Ironic that a man whose catchphrase included ‘the bottom line’ in it, went on to affect WWE’s bottom line the most.
Austin won the 1997 Royal Rumble as a heel. He was thrown over the top rope by Bret Hart, but snuck back in before the referees could see him. He eliminated The Undertaker, Vader and Bret Hart to win the match. However he did not get the no.1 contender spot at WrestleMania. A series of events, including Shawn Michaels vacating the title due to injury and “losing his smile”, had Austin facing Bret Hart in a submission match at WrestleMania as an Undertaker vs Psycho Sid title match was thrown together. His match with Bret Hart ended with a submission in a sharpshooter, but was an iconic one that helped Austin gain huge notoriety.
After winning the 1998 Royal Rumble, Austin defeated HBK for the title at WrestleMania XIV with help from special enforcer Mike Tyson, who undoubtedly drove its buy rate, (730,000) way up.
Royal Rumble 2000 winner: The Rock, WrestleMania 2000 (16), 824,000
The Rock was unquestionably the hottest star in the company in 2000. Stone Cold Steve Austin was out with a neck injury and The Rock had the business in the palm of his hand. He deservedly won the 2000 Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden and went on to headline WrestleMania 2000, sharing the no.1 contender spot with The Big Show and Mick Foley, challenging Triple H for the title in a Fatal Four Way. Triple H retained with help from Vince McMahon, but The Rock had proven his star power. His rivalry with Triple H was far from over, as were his endless accomplishments.
Royal Rumble 2001 winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania X-Seven, 1,040,000 Buys
Stone Cold Steve Austin won an unprecedented third Royal Rumble in 2001. He had returned from a ten-month neck injury and fans were as hungry as ever to see the Rattlesnake recapture the gold. After knocking Kane over the top rope and with The Rock winning the title at No Way Out, the stage was set, Austin and The Rock would headline their second WrestleMania together. WrestleMania X-Seven packed the Astrodome and became the first WrestleMania to surpass a million buys. The strongest rivalry gave the WWE their greatest pay-per-view to that date. Austin did the unthinkable and won the title with help from his enemy Vince McMahon, turning heel and capping off what is arguably still the greatest WrestleMania of all time.
Royal Rumble 2002 winner: Triple H, WrestleMania X-8, 880,000 Buys
Triple H made a triumphant return from a torn quadricep in January 2002. He won the Royal Rumble after clotheslining Kurt Angle over the top rope and went on to face Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Championship. The Game went on to win in Toronto at WrestleMania X-8 and the WWE got close to 1 million buys again by achieving 880,000.
While fans were excited to see Triple H make his return, it was Hulk Hogan vs The Rock that really sold the pay-per-view. Triple H vs Chris Jericho went on last, but it will always be overshadowed by the Icon vs Icon match that preceded it.
Royal Rumble 2003 winner: Brock Lesnar, WrestleMania XIX, 560,000 Buys
Brock Lesnar‘s star rose very quickly by WWE standards. By the time his rookie year ended, he had already defeated the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Rock and The Undertaker and was the WWE champion. He lost it at Survivor Series 2002 to The Big Show, but won the no.1 contender spot at WrestleMania by winning the 2003 Royal Rumble.
He main-evented a WrestleMania which included Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan vs Vince McMahon and the last of the Austin/Rock WrestleMania trilogy. He regained the championship from Kurt Angle but 560,000 was a disappointing number considering the amounts previous WrestleManias had drawn. It was the only time Lesnar headlined a WrestleMania.
Royal Rumble 2004 winner: Chris Benoit, WrestleMania XX, 1,007,000 Buys
(Obviously this is a special case, as we know the events of Chris Benoit’s last days. For the purposes of this article, the focus will be on the events of 2004, as we saw it then.)
Chris Benoit became the second man to win the Royal Rumble from the no.1 spot and set a new record for time participated in a Rumble match at over 61 minutes. He went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship in a Triple Threat Match against Shawn Michaels and Triple H at WrestleMania XX. The event drew many viewers, as the allure and nostalgia of a WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden was in full effect. The show ended in what is now seen as a heartwarming, yet tragic image, as both Benoit and Eddie Guerrero celebrated as champions of the WWE. (Guerrero retained the WWE championship against Kurt Angle that night.)
Royal Rumble 2005 winner: Batista, WrestleMania 21, 1,085,000 Buys
Batista and John Cena were the last two men left in the 2005 Royal Rumble. Both men threw each other out of the ring and their feet hit the floor at the same time. Rather than have a repeat of the 1994 Rumble, Vince McMahon ordered the match to continue and Batista soon threw Cena over.
He went on to headline WrestleMania 21 against his former mentor Triple H and dethroned him for the World Heavyweight Championship. Cena won the WWE Championship that same night, kick starting a new generation in the WWE.
Batista has since won this year’s Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of fans who didn’t like the idea of somone walking back into the company and instantly getting a title shot. It remains to be seen how fans will react to him at WrestleMania.
Royal Rumble 2006 winner: Rey Mysterio, WrestleMania 22, 975,000 Buys
The ultimate underdog gave a Royal Rumble performance for the ages in 2006, winning from the no.2 spot and lasting over 62 minutes, a record that still stands today. Rey Mysterio dedicated the victory to Eddie Guerrero who had passed away a couple of months earlier.
Royal Rumble 2007 winner: The Undertaker, WrestleMania 23, 1,250,000 Buys
It seemed unfathomable that a legend as dominant as The Undertaker had never won the Royal Rumble. The Phenom did just that in 2007, becoming the first superstar to win from the coveted no.30 spot. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were the last men standing with HBK going for his third Rumble win. After a back-and-forth battle, The Undertaker finally threw Michaels over, adding a Royal Rumble victory to his historic career.
At WrestleMania 23, he defeated Batista to go 15-0 at WrestleMania and win the World Heavyweight Championship. Longtime fans of the WWE were glad to see the Deadman get his shining moment at WrestleMania, 10 years after defeating Sycho Sid. The event set a new record for buy rates with over 1.2 million buys as they had legends, like The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, each battle for a title. Donald Trump’s appearance at the event also sparked interest from non-traditional fans.
Royal Rumble 2008 winner: John Cena, WrestleMania XXIV, 1,041,000 Buys
John Cena made one of the most shocking returns in WWE history when he won the 2008 Royal Rumble. Out with a torn pectoral muscle, Cena wasn’t expected to wrestle again until after WrestleMania XXIV. In the digital age with endless rumors and spoilers haunting pro wrestling on the internet, it is surprising that no one saw this return coming.
Cena entered at the no.30 spot to a huge roar at Madison Square Garden and became the second man, after The Undertaker a year prior, to win from that spot. Following his victory, he faced champion Randy Orton and Triple H in a triple threat match at WrestleMania XXIV for the title. He fell short, with Orton retaining the title. The show attracted great numbers, with The Undertaker and Edge battling for the World Heavyweight Championship as well as a non-conventional match with Floyd Mayweather taking on The Big Show.
Royal Rumble 2009 winner: Randy Orton, WrestleMania XXV, 960,000 Buys
Randy Orton added a Royal Rumble win to his many accolades in 2009. The last two men in this match would be the two men headlining WrestleMania XXV. Orton eliminated Triple H last, but The Game would go on to win the WWE championship at No Way Out in February.
Orton and Triple H headlined WrestleMania XXV, but were overshadowed by the epic match of Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker. The WWE championship match was a disappointment and provided to be an anti-climatic ending to WrestleMania XXV. Orton could not dethrone The Game and the buy rate dipped back under 1 million for this year’s edition of WrestleMania.
Royal Rumble 2010 winner: Edge, WrestleMania XXVI, 885,000 Buys
Rumours circulated the internet in 2010 that Edge would return from a career-threatening Achilles injury to the Royal Rumble. He did so and went on to win the event and challenge Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
Edge did not participate in the main event at WrestleMania XXVI. That honor went to The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, as it proved to be HBK’s last match. This began a streak of three consecutive WrestleManias in which the Royal Rumble winner did not close the show, (which was also the case from WrestleManias 22-24).
Royal Rumble 2011 winner: Alberto Del Rio, WrestleMania XXVII, 1,042,000 Buys
Alberto Del Rio won the only Royal Rumble in history to feature 40 superstars, but this win is a largely forgettable one. While Del Rio has gone on to win multiple world titles, his Rumble win doesn’t quite pop out at you. He last eliminated Santino Marella to win the event.
He then went on to face Edge at WrestleMania XXVII for the World Heavyweight Championship. The title match shockingly opened the show. Edge retained his title in what would be his last match and Del Rio’s Royal Rumble win was overshadowed by Edge’s retirement. The buy rate skyrocketed back to over a million buys, but that would be because of The Rock‘s long-awaited return. He was the host of WrestleMania XXVII and his role would set up WrestleManias XXVIII and XXIX.
Royal Rumble 2012 winner: Sheamus, WrestleMania XXVIII, 1,300,000 Buys
In what was a bit of a curve ball to many fans when Sheamus won the 2012 Royal Rumble as many were expecting a returning Chris Jericho to be the victor and he was the last man eliminated by the Celtic Warrior. Sheamus challenged for the world title at that year’s WrestleMania and opened the show like Alberto Del Rio the year prior.
Sheamus went on to make history at WrestleMania XXVIII winning the World Heavyweight Championship from Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds. The result however, seemed to backfire on WWE as Daniel Bryan was gaining significant popularity and the result arguably made Bryan the bigger star. Nonetheless, it certainly wasn’t a moment many will forget. The pay-per-view got a record 1.3 million buys, but that is due to the Once-in-a-Lifetime main event that night of The Rock vs John Cena. (Okay, twice in a lifetime).
Royal Rumble 2013 Winner: John Cena, WrestleMania XXIX, 1,039,000 Buys
John Cena became the fourth superstar in WWE history to win multiple Royal Rumbles, joining Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. That same night, The Rock won the WWE championship from CM Punk, his first championship in over 10 years, setting the stage for a rematch at WrestleMania XXIX.
The John Cena/Rock rematch didn’t quite live up to the first showdown, despite the WWE championship being up for grabs. The match itself wasn’t as good and the fans’ appetite for a rematch wasn’t quite as big as the WWE thought. Nonetheless, the show did get over a million buys, and WWE has ruled it the highest-grossing event in the company’s history.