The WWE’s Royal Rumble match is one of the most unique events in professional wrestling and kicks off the WWE’s pay-per-view schedule every year. The first Royal Rumble was held back in 1988 and the match has evolved over time. One of the biggest changes to the Royal Rumble match was guaranteeing the winner a main event championship match at that year’s WrestleMania.
The Royal Rumble is seen as the unofficial kickoff to the “Road to WrestleMania” and winning this classic match can really do a lot for a guy’s career. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, and The Undertaker are some of the more deserving Royal Rumble winners over the match’s nearly 30 year history.
Sometimes winners of the Royal Rumble are not so deserving for a variety of reasons. Some of these guys were mid-card wrestlers before they won, and were catapulted to the top too soon. Others were the beneficiaries of poor booking or just plain bad competition. Some of the Royal Rumble winners on this list certainly didn’t connect with the fans after their victory and left everyone shaking their heads as a result.
10. John Cena
John Cena won the Royal Rumble match in 2013, making it his second win after he did so the first time in 2008. Cena has always been a polarizing figure with the WWE Universe and this match was no different. Two crowd favorites, Chris Jericho and Dolph Ziggler, both hung in the match for 40 minutes, so fans were especially upset when they were both eliminated. The winner of this match was especially obvious after The Rock defeated CM Punk earlier in the night to win the championship. Everyone expected Rock vs. Cena II would happen at WrestleMania, so it was no surprise when Cena eliminated Ryback to win.
Sheamus managed to win the Royal Rumble in 2012 mostly because at that time the WWE was desperate and wanted to get the Irish superstar over as a top baby face. The final four that year came down to Sheamus, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, and The Big Show. Out of those four men, not many would have given Sheamus the best chance to win, but somehow he did so after last eliminating Y2J. Sheamus did not actually “headline” WrestleMania as promised, but did defeat Daniel Bryan in less than 20 seconds in the opening contest to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
8. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
The All-American tough guy “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan managed to win the very first Royal Rumble match in 1988. At that time, and after, Duggan was at best a mid-card superstar who achieved his biggest career accomplishment by winning the then 20-man Royal Rumble. The card was not even a pay-per-view at that time and was shown live on the USA network, which is still partnered with the WWE almost 30 years later. Duggan didn’t go on to headline WrestleMania and never even won a title in the WWE. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame 2011 and actually won the United States Heavyweight Championship and the World Television Championship in his stint in WCW.
7. Rey Mysterio
While Rey Mysterio is truly a great wrestler and has been very popular over the years, he was the benefactor of certain circumstances when he won the Royal Rumble in 2006. After the tragic passing of his friend Eddie Guerrero, Mysterio received a huge push by the WWE. He was in for a tough match when he drew the #1 spot, and Rey used Eddie as his inspiration to go the distance. Mysterio did have an impressive performance, lasting more than an hour in the match. The talent pool was also very diluted with guys like Eugene, Jonathan Coachman, Orlando Jordan, and Sylvan Grenier taking up valuable spots.
Yokozuna is one of those guys that used the Royal Rumble match to catapult himself from mid-card status to being a main eventer. In 1993 Yokozuna was able to win the match with the nefarious Mr. Fuji in his corner. At that point the newcomer’s highest profile match was wrestling against Virgil at the Survivor Series in 1992. Ric Flair and Bob Backlund (who lasted over 1 hour) were the first two men in, and Hulk Hogan was noticeably absent from the match. Although Yokozuna eliminated seven superstars, he was only in the match for less than 15 minutes before winning by throwing out Randy Savage. Yokozuna won the WWF Championship from Bret Hart at WrestleMania, but lost it to Hogan minutes later.
5. Roman Reigns
In 2015 Roman Reigns started off his year of nearly capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship by winning the Royal Rumble match. Philadelphia fans are known for being easily angered and letting their displeasure be heard. After fan favorite Daniel Bryan had an early exit, fans were on edge for the rest of the match. The final four came down to Reigns, Rusev, the Big Show, and Kane. The WWE Universe would have likely not been happy with any of these men winning and took out their frustrations on one of the most popular superstars of all time, The Rock, when he came down to help out his cousin Reigns.
4. Alberto Del Rio
In 2011 Alberto Del Rio did something no one else has done in WWE history and won the only 40-man Rumble match to ever take place. That being said, some of those 40 men were not very impressive, and Del Rio had to defeat the lowly Santino Marella in the final two. At that time Del Rio was a newcomer to the WWE and didn’t have much of a connection with the crowd. The fan favorite at that time was CM Punk, who managed to last 35 minutes in the match before being eliminated. Alberto went on to win, but nobody seemed to be very impressed.
3. Big John Studd
Big John Studd is one of those forgotten wrestling “giants” of the past. He won the Royal Rumble match in 1989, the second year of the match and the first year the event was on pay-per-view. It seems like the WWF missed out on a couple opportunities during this Rumble. At that time Hulkamania was running wild, but Hulk Hogan was eliminated after the Twin Towers (The Big Bossman and Akeem) double teamed him. Many thought “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase would win, after purchasing the #30 spot. That was not the case, and the WWF used this as their opportunity to re-introduce Studd after a two year hiatus.
Batista won the Royal Rumble in 2014 for the second time. He won the match once before, nearly 10 years earlier, in 2005 at the height of his career which was fine. After Batista returned to the WWE, he was force-fed down the fans’ throats as a baby face and they didn’t like it much. In 2014 Daniel Bryan and CM Punk were the crowd favorites, but Bryan didn’t even get a chance to enter the match, and Punk drew the #1 spot. The crowd was already upset about the title match between John Cena and Randy Orton and got even more upset when Bryan never came out. They even booed the popular Rey Mysterio when he came out at #30 because that meant Bryan was not entering the match. Nobody wanted to see Batista and Orton in the main even of WrestleMania so Daniel Bryan was later added into the triple threat match.
1. Vince McMahon
Although Vince McMahon has seen his fair share of in the ring action, back in 1999 he was not even considered to be a part time wrestler. McMahon decided to enter the Royal Rumble match, which turned into quite the circus. After participating in the “Corporate Royal Rumble” on Raw, McMahon was the #2 entrant and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was #1. McMahon put up a $100 thousand bounty for anyone that could eliminate Austin. Mr. McMahon actually spent the majority of this match outside the ring, even doing commentary at one point. The first two competitors in the match were also the last two, and McMahon took advantage of a distraction by The Rock to win the Royal Rumble.