Royal Rumble is, by a distance, my favourite pay-per-view of the year. It has played an indispensably central role in my life as a wrestling fan, and every January, while the rest of the world grumbles its way through breaking those newly made resolutions, I get steadily more excited every day until the best night of the year comes back around and you hear those nine magical words (or, I guess, eighteen these days!).
“It is now time for the Royal Rumble Match!”
This year I have compiled a list that I will be sharing with you over the course of the coming month, ten entries at a time. The title says it all – what follows will be my top sixty non-winning performances in a Royal Rumble Match ever. I’ll be focussing on everyone except those performances that crowned a victory – there’ll be no ’92 Flair, no ’04 Benoit and no ’18 Nakamura here. Instead, the idea is to cast a light on the plethora of forgotten and undiscovered gems of performances littering the landscape of the Rumble’s history.
So without further hesitation, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and these are my Top 60 (Non-Winning) Royal Rumble Performances of All-Time, numbers 50 through 41.
Enters: 19th | Lasts: 18:51 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Crush / Shawn Michaels
Aside from his Final Four performance that sees him take both Crush and Shawn Michaels on single-handed in typical action hero fashion only to come unstuck because of a self-inflicted instinctive error, Lex Luger’s time in the 1995 Rumble is active, energetic and important. He enters like the man of fire he was the preceding year, this time becoming perhaps the only Rumble participant ever to eliminate Mabel without any other help. The monstrous Mantaur, the rising stock of Henry Godwinn and the veteran former World Champion Bob Backlund top up Luger’s elimination count to three, all this activity peppered with the seeds of his soon-to-be Allied Powers team with British Bulldog – a partnership that informs their efforts in the closing moments.
The 1995 Royal Rumble Match is a curiosity to say the least, and most fans’ memories circulate, quite understandably, around the performances of Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog that year. Luger, whose star power was undeniably waning heading into 1995 no doubt, nevertheless presented the kind of proactive second-tier favourite that year that, often times, can help infuse any given Rumble with a little more engaging unpredictability. Luger did just that in one of the Rumble’s most influential outings.
Enters: 27th | Lasts: 10:03 | Eliminates: 3 | Eliminated By: The Rock
In terms of sheer numbers, in 1998 JR referred to the Nation of Domination as “the team to beat.” Boasting a retinue of no less than five, it seemed the Nation could have comfortably dominated the field that year. They didn’t, instead entering one of the most blood-thirsty efforts from a collective in Rumble lore – and Farooq’s unapologetically self-serving performance sits at the sharpest end of that idea.
Nobody discusses much of 1998 other than Stone Cold Steve Austin’s victory or Mick Foley’s triple play; as a result, Farooq’s performance that year has been left to wallow without praise for too long. Seeking to upend the typical villainous bypass of the bout’s central crux – that it is every man for himself – on the way to his Final Three outing Farooq not only makes his first action in the ring attacking each constituent member of the Nation in turn but, further, even goes so far as to eliminate two members himself in the form of D’Lo Brown and Mark Henry! It is one of the match’s most narratively-driven and self-contained arcs ever, as Farooq seemingly seeks to use the Rumble’s no man’s land to formidably reassert himself as the alpha of his own group – fitting, then, that it be a duplicitous Rock, responsible for diluting that very status, who would eventually eliminate his own leader, after said leader did the hard work and showed the Rattlesnake a thing or two about a beating.
Enters: 14th | Lasts: 26:05 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: Batista
While the 2008 Rumble Match is far from a favourite of mine, the Samoan Bulldozer does put together one of the more charismatic monster outings we’ve seen in the genre that year, projecting a great deal despite having minimal material to do it with. His impressive near-half hour stint in the fray kicks off in as beautifully destructive Umaga fashion as you could hope for, destroying all things and hesitating for no man – not even The Undertaker.
It’s a shame a bigger deal at the time wasn’t made out of Umaga and Undertaker, especially in a genre conducive to dramatic stand-offs, though if you keep a close eye on Umaga you will find the majority of his ring time is spent opposite the bout’s biggest opponents – not just Undertaker, but also the likes of Kane and Batista too. His performance is strictly characterful, even as he fades into the crowd of humanity that grows inside the ring, but what really makes his effort that year elating to behold is the manner of his departure. The numbers whittled down to an elite few, Umaga, screaming and furious, derails Triple H’s momentum against the returning John Cena, bringing the Game to his knees and readying for a Samoan Spike. “Umaga could shock the world and win it all!” JR proclaims – only for Batista to split the Samoan in half with a ring-juddering spear. Umaga is eliminated shortly thereafter, but the small set-piece leaves an indelible impression in the mind, a highly dramatic turn of events that underscores the magnetic screen presence the Bulldozer possessed.
Enters: 7th | Lasts: 02:08 | Eliminates: 0 | Eliminated By: André the Giant
We return once more to a very short lived performance, but one that bounces off of character in such a creative and exhilarating way that it finds its way to a respectable spot on the list. In 1989, Jake Roberts was embroiled in the midst of a feud with André the Giant and, come the Royal Rumble Match, the Snake was left in the unenviable position of approaching the squared circle with his much larger rival already in the ring.
It was a short lived and quite flat effort. From the moment go, Roberts is decimated by the Giant prior to being eliminated with ease, as he finds himself instantly outmatched and inevitably out of the running for victory – until he returns later with Damien inside his iconic green sack, unleashing the snake and terrorising the ring. In his panic, André escapes over the top rope, making him the first man to eliminate himself in Rumble history. As this list’s minimalist entries go, this one rooted so heavily in identity may just top the list. If the object is to use your two minutes to show the world who you are, few comparative cameos could be considered superior in their brevity of execution. Not to mention, his return with Damien and the resulting elimination of André completely alters the complexion of the match itself!
Enters: 11th | Lasts: 10:16 | Eliminates: 2 | Eliminated By: Ax / Smash
There are many great performances in 1990’s Royal Rumble Match, but one that never gets spoken of is the ten minute stint of André. Fighting the continuing worsening of his physical condition, it’s incredible that the Giant puts together a highly active ten minute jaunt. In fact, his varied offence and his multiple eliminations indicate quite explicitly, I feel, a relish for the spotlight the Giant was afforded that January night.
André can often be found battling more than one man at a time that year, and most notable is the duo of Demolition, Ax and Smah. I love Rumbles that embrace the subtext of one of WWE’s top singles stars equating to one of the top tag teams of the time, as rightly they should, and the Giant’s defeat at the hands of the Tag Team Championship-chasing duo of Ax and Smash is one such moment. It’s a stand-out performance from the Giant’s late career, contributing massively to the bout’s story and mirrored the following year with The Undertaker and Legion of Doom.
Enters: 13th | Lasts: 32:39 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: The Undertaker
How far the Lone Wolf has fallen from grace – in spite of being very much on the critical bandwagon this last winter when it came to Corbin’s prominence as the GM-Elect of Monday Night Raw (MNR), there was a time when I felt Corbin had plenty of potential if the character was produced appropriately. In 2017’s Royal Rumble Match, he was produced appropriately and it shows.
Kicking off in impressive fashion, Corbin shows no hesitation in storming headlong into a Strowman then dominating the landscape of the ring, proving an impactful difference maker in a short amount of time that unlocks the key to offing Strowman with a clothesline to the outside! From that point onwards, Corbin puts together an impressive iron man showing, lasting until the closing stages of the bout and, throughout, continuing to operate in bursts of sudden and high impact offence that turns heads, be it nailing his characteristic baseball slide on Dean Ambrose, flooring a fiery Miz with a Deep Six or swatting Kofi Kingston aside like a cruiserweight. His own elimination is reserved for a mega-star in the form of The Undertaker, whom he actively beats back into a corner at one stage, and by the time he departs the action it, even now, seems clear that he is in possession of shimmering potential. If only it could have gone better realised….
Enters: 7th | Lasts: 13:11 | Eliminates: 9 | Eliminated By: Baron Corbin
2017 pulls a double-header, as we come to Braun Strowman’s own effort that same year. It is a fascinating historical article if nothing else, demonstrating his career path in short-form. His entrance isn’t met with the sort of reaction we might expect today, but his performance is demonstrative of why that expectation accrued in the first place. His is an old school 1994 Diesel-style production, almost instantly clearing the ring with four quick eliminations that are soon followed up with another five for good measure. By any standard, nine eliminations in 13 minutes is damn impressive, but the way his outing is structured deserves praise too.
His spurt of eliminations early shines a spotlight on his incredible strength, and if that domination ran the risk of turning Strowman into a de facto hero courtesy of an impressed crowd reaction then WWE were wary of it – he’s quickly allowed to emphasise himself as a villain by destroying fan favourites like Sami Zayn, Tye Dillinger and the preceding year’s runner-up Dean Ambrose too. His elimination at the hands of Corbin is treated as the ‘Event Elimination’ it was, but it is confrontation with Big Show en route that stands out most, playing out like a microcosm of Strowman’s entire performance that year with a multitude of quick fire feats of impossible athleticism and strength. Truthfully, had Strowman been allowed to remain a while longer, his ’17 effort may very well have come to outshine Kane’s legendary 2001 run.
Enters: 1st | Lasts: 01:16:05 | Eliminates: 3 | Eliminated By: Big Cass
Yes, I haven’t ignored the Royal Rumble Matches outside of January canon for this list, because even experiments like The Greatest Royal Rumble’s 50-Man version of the match are, ultimately, part of the same genre. What’s more, that 50-Man version offers up the new record for longevity in Rumble history – it was the bout in which, entering first and remaining at the end, Bryan clocks in a performance at a stunning 76 minutes, and only a month removed from his in-ring return at the back end of a two year layoff! That feat alone makes it a performance worthy of inclusion.
Underpinning that, though, is one of the canniest performances in match canon. He capitalises, he avoids, he teams up, he hangs on with arms and legs and clawing hands and, above all else, he outwrestles and grapples his way past no less than 47 different opponents of infinite sizes and styles. From controlling the ring early and racking up eliminations swiftly to minimise punishment, to his character-driven exchanges late on opposite Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens, Bryan’s should-be-seminal effort is deeply psychological in nature. At the bout’s end, with a chest like minced meat, he gets several second winds and, amidst all of this, Bryan even stops off halfway along to provide a dream exchange with Kurt Angle. Frankly, in recounting his performance that night, I’m beginning to think I’ve ranked it much too low. It is, dare I say it, phenomenal.
Enters: 1st | Lasts: 23:33 | Eliminates: 3 | Eliminated By: Ric Flair
Spoiler alert: British Bulldog is one of the most frequent faces on this list. His Rumble record is quietly quiet tremendous, and though it didn’t start in 1992 it was most certainly heavily contributed the year Ric Flair took home all the critical plaudits. Let’s reserve some for Davey Boy Smith, though, who demonstrates a hungry, upwardly aspiring and at times remarkably dominating presence between the ropes in the bout’s first half.
A spritely, energetic and zealous Bulldog claims the first elimination of the match in the form of 1990’s iron man Ted DiBiase with swift ease before, later, throwing out both Jerry Saggs and Haku, and in between each returning to dominate a Ric Flair who proves an almost perfect dance partner, his routine expertly produced to emphasise Bulldog’s strengths. Bulldog stays in the thick of events for almost half an hour with a game performance that refuses to allow him to stray too far from the core action taking place in the ring. That his elimination comes at the hands of the bout’s eventual winner, and somewhat incidental nemesis of the hour, Ric Flair only furthers the sense of importance his presence possesses that year, capping off a mightily impressive showing for one of the incoming New Generation Era’s top stars.
Enters: 25th | Lasts: 14:58 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: Big Show
This section of the list started with my referencing the idea of a second-tier favourite like Lex Luger in 1995 and how they can sometimes add some vivid roster positioning-inspired intrigue to events. Well, we finish the same way with Chris Jericho’s effort in 2004. So too do we also return to the notion of a canny performance like that of Daniel Bryan in 2018’s ‘Greatest’ version.
Jericho starts smartly in 2004, rescuing his then friend Christian from elimination at the hands of Angle and going on to also get the better of that same friend when Captain Charisma attempts to stab Y2J in the back. So too is it clear in his performance that Jericho recognises the threat posed by Big Show – not only because of their protracted exchange in the Final Four (in which Jericho briefly anoints himself the brazen action hero of the piece) but also in the manner he immediately rushes to help John Cena try and eliminate the giant as well. Indeed, Jericho would go on to forego seeking revenge on Kurt Angle in favour of helping against Big Show once more. It’s an understated but highly valuable contribution to the tapestry of a story that year – a perfect second-tier favourite performance then, really – that is respectfully acknowledged via the requirement of an over-the-top-rope Chokeslam from runner-up Big Show to finally eliminate the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah. This one’s got a lot of charm, folks.
Do YOU believe that dark horse bets, the kind of second-tier favourites I refer to in the above entries, are often a good idea to have in Royal Rumble Matches, and what would your favourite examples be?
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