Ever since the first Royal Rumble event in 1988, both the Rumble match and event of the same name have been a favorite amongst wrestling fans. Even fans who have drifted from WWE over the years tend to care about this January tradition, not only due to the stipulation of the match but also the drama and surprises associated with it. Before the 2020 edition of this WWE staple, let’s look at the greatest moments in Royal Rumble history.
A Flair For The Gold (1992)
It would be flat-out wrong to not acknowledge Ric Flair’s 1992 Royal Rumble performance. The 1992 event was unique for several reasons. The WWE (then WWF) title was vacant and figurehead President Jack Tunney announced that the winner of the Rumble match would walk out as the new champion. The level of competitors for the match that year reads like a who’s who in pro wrestling history. Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Kerry Von Erich, The Undertaker, Sid Vicious, and many more top names were added to the match, giving it more star power than ever before. Then, there was Flair.
Less than six months into his WWE (WWF) tenure after being the top name for the competition for over a decade, Flair would wrestle for nearly an hour in the Rumble match en route to victory. In the years that followed, there would be wrestlers who lasted longer in the match but none would ever match the drama and intensity that Flair brought to the Rumble. For close to an hour, Flair was a human pinball machine, facing off with rival after rival, always appearing to be on the edge of elimination. Convention wisdom said that Hogan would leave with the gold, which made the shock of Flair standing tall even greater. The 1992 Rumble match was one of the greatest hours in wrestling history, largely due to the performance of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
Icon Versus Icon
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had a memorable feud in 1997/1998 but 10 years later, both men had firmly cemented their icon status in the annals of pro wrestling history. They never crossed paths, with HBK primarily being exclusive to Raw and The Deadman mostly a fixture on Smackdown, back when the brand splits were pretty strictly enforced. Prior feud aside, enough had changed and enough time had passed for this to have a “dream match” feel to it. The conclusion of the 2007 Royal Rumble match gave fans the next chapter of an all-time great feud.
There had been rumors circulating for years that Michaels and Undertaker could potentially be opponents at a WrestleMania, pitting The Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak against Michael’s reputation as the “show stealer” on the grandest stage of them all. When they wound up being the final two men left in the 2007 Royal Rumble match, fans lost their collective mind as the two men went for a staggering 10 minutes until The Undertaker tossed Michaels over the top rope to win the match. The chemistry these men had and their ability to have both the fans in the crowd and at home sitting on the edge of their seats, genuinely not knowing what would happen next, made everyone long for more of this. It would take two years to finally get a match between them but the memory from Royal Rumble 2007 would hold strong until The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels finally met again.
A Star Is Born…Almost
One of the most exciting parts of any Royal Rumble match is the element of surprise. Whether it’s surprise competitors, surprise eliminations or simply not knowing who is coming out to enter the match next, the Rumble is an hour of being braced for the unexpected. One of the biggest surprises of all time in a Rumble match was when rookie competitor Maven, fresh off winning the inaugural Tough Enough reality show, eliminated perennial main eventer, The Undertaker at The Royal Rumble 2002.
Fans were literally in shock that the reality show winner drop-kicked “The Deadman” over the top rope and Maven sold it like he couldn’t believe it either. Expectations were rightfully low for the winner of a contest that earned him a WWE contract and this could’ve and should’ve been the beginning of a major push for the character, a true “a star is born” moment. In WWE’s defense, it probably would’ve been had Maven had the talent to take this moment and use it to springboard his career. Had WWE given someone with greater abilities this opportunity, it would have no doubt been the beginning of a career-defining push. Maven’s later failures aside, this moment was a jaw-dropper that ranks up there with the best Rumble moments of all time.
The Ultimate Challenge Preview
In 1990, Hulk Hogan was still the biggest star in the industry but fans were taking to The Ultimate Warrior in ways that made him a legitimate threat to Hogan’s crown. The WWE (WWF) Champion Hogan and the Intercontinental Champion Warrior cleared the ring of all of the other wrestlers during one point in the 1990 Rumble match and wound up in a confrontation that fans didn’t think was possible.
In those days, “babyface” matches (good guy vs good guy) were extremely rare, especially when it was the top two good guys in the company. The physicality between the two was kept at a minimum before other competitors entered the ring again, with neither man looking dominant over the other. Fans left Royal Rumble 1990 feeling that they had seen a showdown between the company’s biggest stars, one which nobody expected to see. As it would turn out, this moment was designed to plant the seeds for the champion vs champion, hero vs hero, “Ultimate Challenge” to happen at WrestleMania VI of that year, when Hulk Hogan would pass the torch to The Ultimate Warrior in one of the most famous matches of all time.
Taking Center Stage
Royal Rumble 2018 will always be remembered as the year that WWE’s women’s division took another giant step forward in their fight for equality by getting their own Rumble match. In years past, WWE used their female performers for their sex appeal above all else, but under the watch of Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H, a major company initiative was to begin showcasing the female performers in the same manner as their male counterparts. A women’s Rumble match was at the time the biggest step forward for women as performers and the occasion was treated as being history in the making, which it was.
Not only were the women getting their own Rumble, but they also closed the show, making it only the second time female performers main-evented a WWE pay-per-view and the first time that women main-evented a “Big 4” show. Bringing back female competitors from years past who had paved the way for the current superstars not only made the event feel extra special but also, honored these women who fought to be seen as athletes when the company and the world only wanted to view them as sex objects. When the match was over, Asuka stood tall as the first-ever winner of a women’s Royal Rumble match. The image of Asuka pointing at the WrestleMania sign in the same manner that countless men before her had done, signifying challenging for the championship at the biggest show of the year will forever be burned into my mind. It was wrestling at its best.
So those are my favorite Royal Rumble memories. Be sure to let me know yours in the comment section and stay tuned for 25YL’s coverage of all things Royal Rumble and pro wrestling!