The road to WrestleMania officially starts with the Royal Rumble - more specifically, with the Royal Rumble match itself, a 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal where the winner is guaranteed a championship match at WrestleMania.
Former winners include WWE Hall of Famers Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Edge. Usually the winner goes on to wrestle in the main event of professional wrestling’s biggest night.
While fans are always excited to see who will become the number one contender for the championship, the match also gives them an early insight into what is planned for WrestleMania. Some of the most memorable matches in WrestleMania history were born in the middle of the Royal Rumble match.
Because the match naturally forces competitors to battle with anyone in their way, it often leads to first-time encounters and battles between stars who’ve rarely faced one another. In some cases, it’s the first time the two have ever fought.
Whether it’s the two biggest stars in the company facing off for the first time or wrestlers from separate brands clashing in an inconceivable fashion, for some fans, the Rumble is the most exciting time of the year. Here is a look at the top 10 WrestleMania matches that were teased during the Royal Rumble match.
10. John Cena vs Triple H - 2008
In one of the most shocking moments in Royal Rumble history, John Cena was returned to action from a pec injury that was supposed to keep him out of action for months. As the 30th entrant in the match, no one expected Cena to show up for the Rumble, especially Triple H.
After domination much of the match, Triple H looked to be in prime position to win his shot at the championship of his choosing at WrestleMania XXIV. However, Cena capitalized on his late entry and won the match, last eliminating Triple H.
While the two wouldn’t meet in a one-on-one encounter at WrestleMania, they were in a triple threat match with champion Randy Orton.
8 Rey Mysterio vs Randy Orton - 2006
As the last two combatants in the Rumble, Orton and Mysterio did battle to determine who was going to WrestleMania 22. Undersized and having already been in the match for an hour, things did not look good for Mysterio. But with everything on the line, Mysterio found a way to survive and beat the much larger Orton, securing his spot at Mania.
However, the two were far from finished with one another as they would be placed in a triple threat match with World Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle at WrestleMania. In one of the most emotional nights in WWE history, Mysterio would prevail, defeating Orton once again to become champion.
7 Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar - 2004
At the time, this was arguably the biggest dream match in the WWE. Two monsters in the ring with unbelievable physiques and reputations as bada$$es. But because Goldberg was on Raw and Lesnar was a champion on Smackdown, it seemed highly unlikely that the two would be scheduled for a match.
After a brief backstage conflict prior to the Rumble match, Lesnar decided to attack Goldberg during the 30-man battle royal, distracting Goldberg and leading to his elimination. Goldberg blamed Lesnar for costing him the title shot and vowed revenge. Although the altercation only lasted for a handful of seconds, it whet the whistle for fans who were anxious to see the match happen.
Unfortunately, the hype was better than the match as the WrestleMania XX crowd turned on both men, booing throughout the match and expressing their displeasure at the action in the ring.
7. Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice - 1992
In the only Royal Rumble match – thus far – where the winner became the WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan entered the match as the two-time defending Rumble champion and the overwhelming favorite in the eyes of many fans. Along with Hogan, top stars like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper and The Undertaker were all threats to win the championship.
However, it was relative WWE newcomer Sid Justice that would be the one to knock off Hogan, eliminating the Hulkster towards the end of the match, leaving Justice to square off with Flair. In an act of rare poor sportsmanship from Hogan at the time, he reached out and grabbed Justice’s arm while standing on the floor, distracting Sid and allowing Flair to eliminate Justice and win the match.
After initially naming Hogan as the number one contender for the title, the WWE eventually announced Hogan and Justice would meet at WrestleMania VIII.
6 Triple H vs Randy Orton - 2009
Former Evolution teammates turned bitter enemies. Triple H was looking for revenge on the man who punted his father-in-law on Raw while also trying to secure a title shot at WrestleMania. Orton was looking to establish himself as the most dominant figure in the company.
Along with Legacy teammates Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes, Orton dominated the Rumble with the trio surviving until the end with only Triple H in their way. Hunter would eventually eliminate Rhodes and DiBiase, but Orton struck at the perfect time to win the match.
Triple H would win the WWE Championship a month later, setting up a rematch of sorts at WrestleMania XXV with the title on the line.
5 Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho - 2003
Coming into the match, Michaels had been working a very limited schedule, but that didn’t stop him from delivering some Sweet Chin Music to Jericho on an episode of Raw a few weeks earlier.
Y2J would extract his revenge at the Rumble, attacking Michaels early in the match and eliminating him. Michaels responded later in the match, coming out from the back to return the favor to Jericho.
The battles at the Rumble resulted in Jericho and Michaels agreeing to a match at WrestleMania XIX, Michaels’ first Mania appearance in five years. It was no surprise that many people thought their match stole the show and was the first in what became a storied rivalry.
4 Mick Foley vs Randy Orton - 2004
For weeks heading into the 2004 Royal Rumble, Orton taunted Foley for being a has been and a coward after Orton spit in Foley’s face but received no retaliation from the hardcore legend. Even though Orton was one of the first two men in the ring that night he made his way through the competition rather easily.
That is until a mystery man attacked Test, leaving general manager Steve Austin no choice but to send the man to the ring in Test’s place. That man was Foley who proceeded to quickly eliminate Orton – and himself – from the Rumble match.
Foley wasn’t done with Orton as the pair brawled outside the ring for a few minutes after the elimination.
While the two wouldn’t have a one-on-one match until Backlash in April, the two did meet in a three-on-two handicap match at WrestleMania XX that also featured The Rock, Ric Flair and Batista.
3 Edge vs Chris Jericho - 2010
As former partners, Jericho and Edge briefly formed one of the most intriguing tag teams in WWE history. But an ACL injury forced Edge out of actions for several months, ending the once promising relationship.
Jericho responded to Edge’s injury by mocking him and calling The Rated R Superstar weak and inferior. The months of taunting came back to haunt Jericho as Edge made his surprise return during the Royal Rumble match, winning the coveted shot at the champion while eliminated Jericho in the process.
A month later, Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship, setting up a match between the former partners at WrestleMania 26.
2 Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle - 2005
In another case of Raw vs. Smackdown talents teasing a WrestleMania match, two of the greatest in-ring performers of all time gave fans an unexpected treat when they came together during the Rumble match.
Angle dominated once he entered the ring, hitting the Angle Slam on multiple opponents before being caught off guard by Michaels and being sent over the top rope. Enraged after being eliminated by Michaels, Angle attacked HBK from behind and eliminated Michaels from the match as well.
Naturally, this led to Michaels wanting a piece of Angle, setting up a first time match between the two at WrestleMania 21. A definite dream match for wrestling fans all over the world, Angle and Michaels was barely thought of as a possibility before the Rumble.
1 Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior - 1990
Twenty six years ago Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were the two biggest stars in the WWE but had never faced off against one another in a significant match because they were also the biggest babyfaces.
Fans got a small taste of what could happen when the two titans clashed briefly as the only two men in the ring. The pair didn’t disappoint fans and left them wanting more as a double clothesline left both men lying on the mat.
The tease made fans think more about what would happen if the two ever actually met in a one-on-one match. They got their answer at WrestleMania VI in an epic match that for the first time in WWE history pitted the top two babyfaces against one another.