The Royal Rumble is one of the original Big 4 Pay Per Views (PPV) from the WWE, and is going into its 29th year. The PPV is named after the main event match, The Royal Rumble, and is a battle royal where two men start and every two minutes a new man enters until all 30 wrestlers participating has their name called. The only way to lose is to be thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the floor. The purpose of the match has changed over time. Originally it was fought for pride, then the shot at the WWE Championship in the Main Event at Wrestle Mania, and now it is for the WWE Title. In this Monster’s Six Pack, I am going to look at the top 6 Royal Rumble Winners.
6. Shawn Michaels – 1995
During Shawn Michaels early run as the “Heartbreak Kid”, he regularly had a manager or body guard at his side. He had used Diesel to help him, but after a split with Big Daddy Cool, leading to Diesel winning the WWE Championship, Michaels was on his own.
Michaels went into the match as the first entrant and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith went in as #2. Michaels spent most of the match being thrown around the ring and narrowly escaping elimination numerous times. When the dust settled and there were only two men left in the ring it was Michaels and Smith who had battled through 28 other combatants. Davey Boy hits Michaels with a clothesline and sends him over the top rope to the floor. Davey Boy begins to celebrate and his music plays, but Michaels only allows one foot to touch, pulls himself back into the the ring, and sneaks in to throw “The Bulldog” out. This is the start of Michaels building momentum that would propel him through the next 5 years at the top of the business.
The win was a highlight reel at the time, but now it is common place to see participants finding unique ways to keep themselves from being eliminated. One of the reasons the win is so low on the list is when you look at the list of the participants in the ’95 Rumble there are only a handful that actually had a chance to win. I don’t think anyone would believe Kwang or Aldo Montoya had any chance at winning.
5. Chris Benoit – 2004
Chris Benoit was one of the best technicians and workers in wrestling. Fans always appreciated what he did in the ring, but he was often overlooked when it came to the big push. Going into the 2004 Royal Rumble, General Manager of Smackdown Paul Heyman, had put Benoit through the ringer just to be a participant, and then he made it a little harder and put him in at #1. No-one thought that Benoit was going to win, especially with Goldberg coming in at #30 and the Big Show looking unstoppable during the match. In the closing minutes when he picked up Benoit to throw him over, it looked like the winner was set in stone. Benoit was able to work Big Show in to a guillotine choke, and drag him over the top to the floor while keeping himself in the ring.
The win would propel Beniot into the Main Event at WrestleMania and he would go onto to do something no one else had done. Benoit as a member of the Smackdown roster would show up on Raw and announce that he would take on Raw’s Champion at the time, Triple H, at WrestleMania. He would go on to win a three way match over Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
4. Bret Heart – 1994
The Royal Rumble match would not be Bret’s first match of the night. He would compete with his brother, Owen, against the Quebecers for the WWE Tag titles. Bret would hurt his knee and cost them the titles causing Owen to flip out and batter Bret’s knee, creating speculation on whether or not Bret would compete later that night. Bret would eventually come out at #27. He would battle though, until it came down to him and Lex Lugar. The two men fought for a few moments before they both went over the top rope. For the first time in Rumble history there were co-winners.
With both men winning it created a unique situation at WrestleMania. Lugar would wrestle champion Yokozuna for the title, and Bret would wrestle the winner for the title in the Main Event. But to make things fair, Bret would wrestle his brother Owen in the opening match of WrestleMania X.
3. Shawn Michaels – 1996
In 1996, Shawn Michaels’ popularity was beginning to soar. He headed in to the match as an underdog, after being told not to compete because of a concussion from the previous PPV, Survivor Series. Michaels entered the match at #18 and began making an impact. He eliminated the two biggest men in the Rumble at the same time in Yokozuna and Vader.
The ending was not as dramatic as the previous years. Michaels eliminated Davey Boy Smith and almost touched the floor at the same time, but was able to skin the cat and come back into the ring. While that was hanging on, Diesel eliminated Kama and turned around to get hit with a superkick to send him over the top.
This match propelled Michaels to the top of the food chain. He would go on to wrestle Bret Hart in an Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII, and win his first WWE Title. With the title win Michaels stayed on top and gave him the opportunity to form one of the most entertaining and successful factions in WWE history, Degeneration X.
2. Ric Flair – 1992
The 1992 Royal Rumble is one of the most memorable, for the first time the match would not be for bragging rights, but the WWE title.
Ric Flair would enter the Rumble at #3. For the next hour, Flair would bump and sell for every participant. Flair would get a shot in here or there, but never maintained an offense. At the end of the match there were three participants left. Flair, Hulk Hogan, and Sid Justice. Hogan and Sid were supposed to be friends, but as Hogan was beating up on Flair, Sid took the opportunity to throw Hogan out. Hogan reaches his hand out to congratulate Sid, but instead grabs his arm and Flair comes from behind to help him over the top.
Flair’s performance in the match is classic, but the best part is the commentary. Bobby Heenan has never been better. The emotion and concern he puts into the match by yelling for Flair is great. Gorilla Monsoon does a great job of playing off of Heenan and it brought out the best in both men.
We never did get the match we wanted to see between Flair and Hogan in a WWE ring. Flair would wrestle and lose the title to Randy Savage at WrestleMania VIII.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – 1998
The 1998 Royal Rumble as a whole, including the Rumble, is not a memorable event, but what it did for the future of the business cannot be matched. Steve Austin was hot going into the PPV and there was no one that was going to stop him from finally getting his shot at the WWE Title. When time for the 24th participant to enter the match came, the glass shattered and the crowd erupted. Austin proceeded to throw 6 combatants out of the ring before it came down to Austin, Dude Love, Faarooq and The Rock. After Faarooq got rid of Dude Love, Rock turned on his fellow Nation of Domination stable mate. It was down to Austin and The Rock. After nearly being eliminated, Rock held on only to be hit with the Stone Cold Stunner and then dumped out.
The ground work for the attitude era had already began, but Austin’s win at the Rumble, and subsequent WrestleMania victory over Michaels, gave the era a face. The explosion that would take place was unheard of. Austin was able to do more for the WWE than anyone ever had before. Wrestling had a leader, and it was plastered over every store and house in America. The match may not have been memorable, but the outcome is unmeasurable.
Who is your favorite Royal Rumble winner? What year is your most memorable? Tell us in the comment section below!