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 30 through 21.
Enters: 1st / 4th | Lasts: 18:38 / 24:55 | Eliminates: 1 / 4 | Eliminated By: Mr Perfect / The Undertaker
It’s another cheat of an entry here, but a deserving one. The reason I pair Ric Flair and Ted DiBiase together is simple: in 1993, the two highest profile iron men in Rumble lore to that point flirt with repeating their remarkable feats from years prior in a multifaceted near-mirror image.
The subtext sitting beneath the performances of both men is tremendous. Flair enters only two numbers earlier than he did the year before and carries himself with all the swagger one would expect from a man who beat the field he beat in 1992 to become World Champion, while DiBiase once again reveals the stunning technical capabilities his gluttonous nature otherwise masks. The two begin teaming up together within seconds of DiBiase’s entry into the fray and both pick up rivalries that defined their WWF runs – Mr Perfect in the case of Flair, Virgil in the case of DiBiase. The symmetry continues as Flair finds himself picking up one of the bout’s biggest ‘Event Eliminations’ at the hands of Perfect, who is in turn eliminated, in part, by DiBiase. Even DiBiase’s elimination, effortless at the hands of a rampaging phenomenon in the form of Undertaker, harkens back to the way his 1990 run ended at the hands of Ultimate Warrior too.
Alone and more so together, the 1993 runs from Flair and DiBiase are steeped in both the then short history of the genre and their individual character continuities, and come to bounce off one another in the most sublime fashion.
Enters: 27th | Lasts: 11:25 | Eliminates: 0 | Eliminated By: Sheamus / Triple H
While it is the Eater of World’s 2015 performance that marked his most impressive Rumble outing, his 2016 reprise is markedly different and, at least as far as characterisation goes, considerably more robust. Rather than being forcibly slotted into fulfilling a core role demanded by the genre, he is instead afforded the opportunity to be, quite distinctly, Bray Wyatt. The result is intoxicating in its creativity.
Emerging like a necromancer beckoning the return of his recently eliminated Family who rise from the earth like cadavers to both wreak vengeance on the rampaging Brock Lesnar and eliminate the biggest threat in Wyatt’s pursuit of championship gold, Wyatt quickly changes the entire complexion of the Rumble’s landscape by eliminating the Beast Incarnate within moments. While his efforts to later take out Roman Reigns would be frustrated, his derailing of a returning Reigns’ burst of momentum serves only to further emphasise his status as an important player in 2016’s shared universe tapestry. His elimination requires the two freshest men in the conflict – Sheamus and Triple H – and his momentary encounter with The King of Kings proves to be undeniably electrifying, further underscoring Wyatt’s status as an entity unto himself, popping the live crowd notably and utilising character subtext to maximum effect. Wyatt’s 2016 Rumble run might be the most characterful 11 minutes of his career in WWE in fact, and certainly ranks among the best short form performances in the genre’s history.
Enters: 7th | Lasts: 29:24 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: Randy Orton
The annual ‘NXT entrant’ has become something of a Rumble tradition since it was first executed with Bo Dallas back in 2013, though it’s difficult to think that any uses of the trope have proven as effective or delightfully surprising as El Idolo’s 2018 iron man run just twelve months ago.
His is an ‘Event Entrance’ positioned as a moment of peak interest as he interrupts Elias’s mini concert. His iron man run comes on the back of a thirty some-odd minute performance the night before and his reception, because of that aforementioned consensus classic opposite Johnny Gargano, is raucous. His elimination of Kofi Kingston is a fiercely intelligent moment in the bout’s wider evolving story and his own elimination at the hands of Randy Orton is, in itself, an ‘Event Elimination’ too – he gets slain with a stunning RKO and his run comes to an end at the hands of one of the most prolific World Champions in WWE history. It’s a respectfully produced departure. Perhaps best of all, though, is his role in the sudden and unapologetic beat down of John Cena halfway through. Truthfully, every aspect of the make-up of El Idolo’s inaugural Rumble outing felt deliberately designed to impress and impress it very much did, becoming the all-time best version of the five year old trope that birthed it.
Enters: 5th | Lasts: 44:02 | Eliminates: 5 | Eliminated By: Shawn Michaels
I’ve long held 2007 in lesser estimation than the majority opinion, primarily because I don’t feel it does a great deal until that infamous closing passage in spite of its deep resources. Indeed, its beginning is rather quite flat – that is, until the Rated R Superstar enters and makes his presence immediately felt. At that point the match suddenly springs into life with a flurry of Spears, a wink towards the famous Matt Hardy feud, a Ric Flair teasing a Con-Chair-To, a betrayal of Kenny Dykstra’s rookie innocence and a pair of eliminations all within a matter of minutes.
From there, in truth, Edge’s marathon effort is not the most proactive in terms of offence, but he’s frequently one of the first to greet new entrants by taking their best moves on the chin. His Rated RKO partnership with Randy Orton proves one of, if not the most compelling story element of that year’s overarching narrative, starting from the moment of Orton’s entrance and peaking with the maleficent intrigue of their Final Four interactions that pit Orton’s temper against Edge’s savvy. Much how 2016 allowed Bray Wyatt to put in an inherently Bray Wyatt performance, the same can be said for Edge’s 2007 run too. It may not be the busiest as regards to content, but it is inherently ‘Edge-like’ – and that naturally makes it an immense amount of fun to watch, even now.
Enters: 1st | Lasts: 25:42 | Eliminates: 1 | Eliminated By: Don Muraco
Many fans will be tempted to think that the inaugural Royal Rumble Match is never really up to much, but it has its fair share of upsides – the Hitman’s performance is the best of those. Not only can Bret Hart boast he was the first ever entrant in the first ever Rumble, so too can he boast he was the first ever iron man in the history of the genre too, laying the foundation for a central trope that has since gone on to be one of the Rumble’s most heavily defining traits.
Quite beyond these paper achievements, Hart’s performance itself is timeless in its quality, and would, I think, prove to be as at home in a Rumble of today as it was in 1988; that, honestly, is quite remarkable, and a testament to his talents. His effort goes beyond the simple brawling of the formative takes on the genre and opts instead for a far more vibrant design as he orchestrates double-teams, hits the ring post shoulder first, nails moves from the second rope and even gets subjected to double-teams himself. It’s a performance rendered in vivid living colour for its time, kicked off with what remains one of the most cerebral opening passages to a Rumble when his partner, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, enters early on to back him up.
Indeed, Hart’s storytelling is on show even in this earliest of Rumbles – once Neidhart is gone, his performance is much less enthused as he adopts the role of a beaten man, spent, at the end of his wire and without his usual muscle to enforce his game plan. That he doesn’t make it to the other coast matters little because, truly, Hart wasn’t just the first entrant or first iron man in Rumble history; he also put on, to my mind, the first best performance in a Rumble too, one that has comfortably withstood the test of time.
Enters: 2nd | Lasts: 57:38 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: John Cena
On the surface, seeing Finn Bálor enter as one of the first two entrants and then going coast to coast feels a little obvious, doesn’t it? As if it was a Rumble role he was born to play and WWE decided to go down the obvious road with him as soon as his first foray into the genre’s hallowed territory. Well, if his effort in last year’s Men’s Rumble can be criticised for being a little obvious, it should be lauded for its predictably impressive nature.
Bálor remains perennially embroiled in the thick of the action throughout, despite being one of the smallest competitors in the fray of course. In fact, his is one of the busier Rumble runs you might ever remember having seen, Bálor being sure to impress every step of the way. His elimination of the much larger Baron Corbin impresses because of its assertive brevity. His eliminations of Aiden English and Dolph Ziggler provide two of the bout’s most eye-catching instances and his elimination of Rey Mysterio drives home his status as a top contemporary star. From his complicity in the group beat down of a fresh John Cena to the self-aware production of his spotlighted Final Four performance, Bálor’s inaugural Rumble outing is a worthy one with which to break us into the Top 25. Few have embraced their opportunity to turn heads unexpectedly with quite the same degree of infectious zeal. If you don’t believe in Finn Bálor quite yet, revisit him in last year’s Rumble and you very quickly will.
Enters: 16th | Lasts: 32:30 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Big Show
If the theme of this countdown is to spotlight the best forgotten efforts in Rumble history then Undertaker’s 2009 showing should stand as one of its foremost beneficiaries. Putting together a performance demonstrative of the ‘action hero favourite’ trope so inherent to the Rumble genre, the Dead Man in ’09 provided one of the most compelling, convincing and seemingly presumptive versions of that aforementioned trope ever.
‘Taker ticked all those action hero boxes ten years ago – the relatively favourable entry number, the explosively aggressive game plan, the sense of insurmountable momentum and bottomless reserves and the dominating presence throughout the finale. The second his gong sounds every competitor in the ring spins their head in recognition of ‘Taker’s presumptive status as a favourite. He enters as a tour de force, nailing every active competitor at least once, before proving as effortless an iron man as other considerably younger entrants, all while sporting the blood-stained mark of his work. He demonstrates savvy and continuity in a number of infectiously fun character exchanges and his production in a deeply creative Final Six proves not just a perfect end to his arc that night but a catwalk of pure Phenom if ever there was one. 2009’s Rumble was a night we’d do well to remember on the back of embarrassments like that at Crown Jewel – it was a night that reminds just how much of an in-ring statesmen the Dead Man really is.
Enters: 28th | Lasts: 21:52 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Shinsuke Nakamura
It is in writing about in-ring statesmen that leads perfectly into this next entry, liable to prove controversial as all things Roman Reigns often do. Nonetheless, despite having been in every Rumble since 2014 and never not being featured in at least the final three, it was only last year that the Big Dog was able to deliver a performance that owned the stage, owned the ring and owned the night as the premier star we have been conditioned to believe him to be.
Assured and convincing, Reigns cut a towering figure during his time in the ring in last year’s Men’s Rumble Match, standing out as a top guy instead of a point of prickly conversation. Such an effect is not just down to his continually developing skills as a performer, but also because of that night’s surgically precise production too. His elimination of The Miz is a dominating one, his elimination of Seth Rollins canny. His elimination of Randy Orton watches as comfortable bordering on the effortless and his ability to swat aside a charging John Cena upon entry with little more than a single punch stands out as one of the most convincing and joyous metaphors in a match all about the widening gap between generations of talent. Cap it off with a magnetic Final Two showdown opposite Shinsuke Nakamura that allows Reigns to run the gamut of what he cut his teeth on as a competitor – strength, endurance and unapologetic killer instinct – and you end up with a serious powerhouse performance truly worthy of the contemporary generation’s foremost name.
Enters: 18th | Lasts: 29:17 | Eliminates: 4 | Eliminated By: Lex Luger
1994 remains the very best Royal Rumble Match nobody seems to have any time for, but in a sea of performances impressive enough to rival many in the greatest Rumble of all-time (being 2009’s edition) it is the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels who, in a testament to his skill and status, arguably most stands out. This, thanks to his stunning combination of character introspection and athletic capability.
Michaels is one of the ‘94 Rumble’s longest lasting competitors, and he makes good use of the time. His entrance almost immediately facilitates the elimination of a Diesel in danger of stealing the show, adding a new complex layer to their still relatively fresh relationship, while an unavoidable encounter with Marty Jannetty later in the match electrifies the crowd and is built on the complex layers of their long-jaded relationship. Alongside this intoxicating blend of his character’s past and future comes a countless series of near eliminations that predates many of the Rumble’s most perseverant showings, as well as a busyness we arguably never see again until Bálor just this last year – from Bob Holly to Mabel, from Lex Luger to future nemesis Bret Hart, Michaels mixes it up with just about everyone he possibly can do. It’s a magical night for Heartbreak, his ’94 Rumble performance, and one that bows out sublimely with his contributions to one of the genre’s all-time best Final Fours.
Enters: 2nd | Lasts: 1:00:13 | Eliminates: 2 | Eliminated By: Roman Reigns
And we once again bow out recognising yet another supreme Rumble Match outing for Chris Jericho, this time his 2017 coast to coast run that seemed to be screaming for a win at the tail end of what is arguably Jericho’s most impressive stint in WWE ever.
Two years ago, Jericho entered second and began his hour long performance with the indignity that watermarked the ‘List of Jericho’ version of his character, slapping, chopping and sneering at the larger Big Cass starting the match with him. From there, he laces his performance with a sense of veteran guile, avaricious opportunism and, perhaps most notably, his singular brand of in-ring wit. Jericho perhaps gets more comeuppance in his 2017 hour than any other villain in Rumble lore, humiliated at the hands of ‘Gentleman’ Jack Gallagher, knocked out by Big Show and Brogue Kicked by Sheamus! His guile is demonstrated when he cerebrally exits the ring upon the entrance of Braun Strowman and only returns once Strowman has been apparently neutralised, before going on to survive the titans of Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and Undertaker all. His final elimination is saved for a major star in the form of a Roman Reigns seeking revenge for his smarting loss earlier that same night, underscoring Jericho’s mega-star status and making practical use of the man’s performance to conclude a prominent Monday Night Raw storyline with unintrusive, safely confined justice for the otherwise defeated hero. Frankly, from beginning to end, two years Jericho wove together something of a mini-masterpiece for himself that only just misses out on a Top 20 spot.
What performances by which characters come to YOUR mind when you think about some of the Rumble’s most impressive ‘personal bests’ over the years?
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