This is something I’ve done for Wrestlemania and Summerslam so it only makes sense to do it again for this show as well. It’s a simple idea: everyone remembers the big featured match from any given Royal Rumble (or Wrestlemania or Summerslam) but there is so much great content that people often forget. Today we’re going to look at a match from each show that isn’t the featured attraction and see why it deserves a bit more attention. I’m not saying each match is great or a classic but more along the lines that it’s good and worth checking out instead of the big signature match.
One more note: given that some of the Royal Rumble cards didn’t have a to of matches, some of these might be considered a stretch.
Royal Rumble 1988 – Women’s Tag Team Titles: Jumping Bomb Angels vs. Glamour Girls
Royal Rumble 1989 – Hart Foundation/Jim Duggan vs. Fabulous Rougeaus/Dino Bravo
I’ve always been a fan of taking two feuds and throwing them together into one match. That’s what we saw here with another two out of three falls match that is forgotten due to almost all of the talent being in the battle royal. The Rougeaus and the Harts had more good matches than they knew what to do with and Duggan vs. Bravo was…..hey did I mention the Harts vs. the Rougeaus? It’s a good match that should have been filler but wound up being a lot of fun.
Royal Rumble 1990 – Ronnie Garvin vs. Greg Valentine
We’ll continue the gimmick matches with this submission match. As much as I can’t stand Ronnie Garvin, I’m kind of in a bind here as the rest of the card is a glorified disaster. This was a pretty long storyline with Garvin losing his career and constantly insulting Valentine until a rematch was demanded, setting up this match with a battle of the shin guards. The match wasn’t bad and the idea of a submission match was really rare back in the day, making this work better than anything else on the card.
Royal Rumble 1991 – The Rockers vs. The Orient Express
NOW we’re getting somewhere. There’s no gimmick here because it’s completely not needed. What we have instead is a nearly twenty minute classic with four guys flying around the ring as fast as they can go. This might be the best Rockers’ match ever and that’s covering a lot of ground. The Express might not have been the most original team in the world but they could wrestle a heck of a match with the right opponents, which they have here.
Royal Rumble 1992 – The New Foundation vs. The Orient Express
So maybe there was something to the Express. This was another very entertaining match with Owen Hart replacing his brother Bret to team with Jim Neidhart who was pretty worthless on his own. The power/speed tandem still worked for the New Foundation and the Express were the perfect foils. It’s a good match and a great way to start the show, which is often what you need a tag match to do.
Royal Rumble 1993 – WWF World Title: Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon
I’d love to know if this is true or not but Scott Hall said that he only had two World Title shots in his entire career because he was always either in a midcard match or a tag team. This was the first of those two as he had just debuted in the company a few months earlier and was still a hot act. The match was a good test for Hart who didn’t have a lot of options for challengers at this point. Ramon wound up losing to the Sharpshooter, as did almost everyone else at the time, meaning he was in pretty good company.
Royal Rumble 1994 – Tag Team Titles: Bret Hart/Owen Hart vs. Quebecers
Sometimes you need a big match to set up an even bigger story down the line. That’s what we had here with the Hart Brothers teaming up to try and get Owen his first title. While the story (Bret not tagging his brother in when he had the chance and losing the match as a result) was great, the wrestling is often forgotten. It turns out that the Hart Brothers were quite the team and could easily hang with or even surpass a seasoned team like the Quebecers. The whole story is better but this is a great chapter.
Royal Rumble 1995 – Intercontinental Title: Jeff Jarrett vs. Razor Ramon
I know a lot of people would go with the WWF World Title match between Bret Hart and Diesel but that match might be a bit too good to use here. Instead we’ll look at a match that always stuck with me as Ramon and Jarrett had one of their many, MANY matches that seemed to go on forever. The match actually restarted with Ramon originally losing by countout. Jarrett wanted to keep going and won the match, which was a variation on what they would usually do at house shows, when the match would restart and Ramon would win in a few seconds. It’s still a good match and made for a solid opener.
Royal Rumble 1996 – WWF World Title: Bret Hart vs. Undertaker
Again we’re going with the best of a very bad list of options. In a very rare situation, the Undertaker was actually a lot worse of a challenger than Diesel, who gave Hart some outstanding matches over the years. Undertaker vs. Hart is a match that sounded really good on paper but often wasn’t all that great when they actually got in the ring. It’s a watchable match but going nearly half an hour really wasn’t a good idea, especially at this point in Undertaker’s career. He would get a bit better though and then things got awesome.
Royal Rumble 1997 – Undertaker vs. Vader
You know what makes for a fun wrestling match? Take two big guys and have them beat the heck out of each other for a few minutes. That’s what we had here with Undertaker and Vader getting to work each other over with power moves, including all the signature stuff. These two always had a chemistry together and Undertaker really gets to show off his power skills against someone Vader’s size. There’s nothing all that special to this one but it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.
Royal Rumble 1998 – WWF World Title: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker
Just in case you needed something that changed the course of wrestling (or at least made it veer a little bit). This was a casket match where Michaels famously broke his back on the edge of a casket, basically wrapping up his career for four and a half year. However, in the spirit of the Montreal Screwjob, people forget how good the match really was leading up to the big ending. These two always had some amazing chemistry together as was proven by their multiple masterpieces. This one isn’t remembered well enough and that’s a shame because it’s really good. Oh and there was this.
Royal Rumble 1999 – European Title: X-Pac vs. Gangrel
Oh 1999 you great big hideous disaster. Yes I’m stuck picking the European Title match with no story because my other options either suck or are absolutely disturbing to the point where they’re the horror scene in a documentary about the wrestling business. This is one of the worst editions of the entire show and I picked a short match so I can move on to ANYTHING else as fast as I can.
Royal Rumble 2000 – Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz
Yeah there’s the classic street fight but this is something that never gets the praise that it deserves. These teams were on fire at this point and could do absolutely nothing wrong, which is what we had here. This one was a tables match and they beat the heck out of each other for ten minutes of straight violence. No one remembers this one after how great the Cactus Jack vs. Triple H match was and that’s a shame.
Royal Rumble 2001 – Intercontinental Title: Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho
Take two amazingly talented Canadians (named Chris), put a ladder at ringside and let them just go off on each other with some of the best violence you’ll see in a wrestling match this side of an amazing wrestling match with great violence. Sometimes you just need to hit each other with some very hard weapons and that’s what you got here as these two continue to have some of the best matches of an amazing era.
Royal Rumble 2002 – WWF World Title: Chris Jericho vs. The Rock
You honestly think this one needs an explanation? This was a pair that had some mad chemistry together and I don’t remember them having a bad match. Jericho was at the top of his game (for the time) as a heel and of course he could hang with anyone in the ring. I could have gone with the match getting more time and I don’t think anyone was expecting Jericho to have a long title reign but at least he got to have some great matches with people like Rock and Austin around this time.
Royal Rumble 2003 – Raw World Title: Scott Steiner vs. Triple H
Oh you knew we were coming here eventually. Now of course I’m not saying that this monstrosity is one of the best matches or anything but it’s a situation where the match is so horrible that it’s the most entertaining thing you’ll ever see in WWE. This was all about how terrible Steiner looked and how Triple H just wouldn’t end the thing because he needed to let the match become a big deal. What makes it even worse is the fact that the match was followed by Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle having a masterpiece. Check this out if you need a great laugh and to see a comedy of errors of how bad wrestling can really get.
Royal Rumble 2004 – Raw Tag Team Titles: Evolution vs. Dudley Boyz
So we’re in Philadelphia and we’ve got ECW guys in an ECW style tables match. What else could you possibly ask for in an entertaining opener? This was a good time for Evolution, who had recently become the first stable since the Four Horsemen to hold all the titles at the same time. Flair was mentoring Batista at this point and given that he main evented “Wrestlemania XXI” a little over a year later, it seemed to have worked very well.
Royal Rumble 2005 – Shawn Michaels vs. Edge
When one of your young, up and coming wrestlers needs a big match soon after his heel turn, who else can you go with besides Michaels? With a near guarantee of a great match, this was one of the matches I was looking forward to more than anything else on the card. Edge wasn’t exactly getting anywhere as the face straight back from his neck injury but the best possible option might have been to turn him heel and let him be the amazing heel that he was destined to become. That was a ways off but we had a great match here to start that run off.
Royal Rumble 2006 – Cruiserweight Title: Kid Kash vs. Gregory Helms vs. Funaki vs. Jamie Noble vs. Nunzio vs. Paul London
The title wasn’t exactly in a great place at this point as there were no major stories anywhere in sight and the best that could be done was to have everyone thrown into one match with the title on the line. It made for some entertaining wrestling (certainly better than the main event of Kurt Angle vs. Mark Henry) as there’s always something good about a bunch of people flying all over the place. It worked for years in WCW and it worked just as well here.
Royal Rumble 2007 – Raw World Title: John Cena vs. Umaga
Sometimes you just need a monster for your hero to survive (yes survive, not beat) and that’s what Umaga was designed to do. This was a last man standing match and they beat the heck out of each other throughout the whole match. There’s a reason this match is still referenced today as one of the best last man standing matches ever as it was actually hard to believe that Cena could retain the title against this kind of a monster. It was all part of Super Cena though, before that had really become a thing.
Royal Rumble 2008 – Raw World Title: Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy
Hardy could win. That’s the entire strength of this show and sweet goodness did it ever work. For several weeks, Hardy was built up as possibly being able to win the title in a big upset and the fans completely bought into the idea that they could see a huge title change. Orton wound up retaining and taking a lot of the air out of the fans’ sails but it was one heck of a ride to get there.
Royal Rumble 2009 – Smackdown World Title: Edge vs. Jeff Hardy
Hardy won the title a month earlier in one of the best set up title changes in a very long time. It wasn’t a long reign but that’s not the point with something like this. After winning the title, a lot of bad things started happening to Hardy, such as his house being set on fire (with his dog dying in the blaze) and someone trying to run him off the road. All signs pointed to Edge, but it wound up being Matt Hardy because Hardy vs. Hardy could have been a huge feud (it wasn’t but that’s a different story). Thankfully Edge vs. Jeff was a great match but I doubt you expected anything else.
Royal Rumble 2010 – Smackdown World Title: Undertaker vs. Rey Mysterio
Now here’s a match that you wouldn’t expect to see all that often. For some reason there isn’t much interest in seeing two of the top faces in the company squaring off. Who would have guessed that? Anyway the match wound up being about as good as you would expect with Mysterio giving it all he had but losing in the end because there’s only so much you can do against a monster like Undertaker. It’s more of an historical curiosity than anything else but that’s what a pay per view like the Royal Rumble is designed for.
Royal Rumble 2011 – Smackdown Women’s Title: Natalya vs. Eve Torres vs. Layla vs. Michelle McCool
I always forget how much I enjoyed Torres’ work around this point. She was one of the few Divas Search women who wound up being more than passable in the ring and she was someone easy enough to care about as a character. Granted it helps when you’re in there with someone with as little personality as Natalya and such natural heels as the eventual Laycool. This was a good little match, especially given the expectations coming in.
Royal Rumble 2012 – Raw World Title: CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler
Much like Mysterio challenging Undertaker two years back, Ziggler wasn’t exactly the strongest challenger in the world but he was fine for an opponent at a show like this. It helped that the two of them could have one heck of a match together and that’s exactly what we had here. You can always count on something like that at the Royal Rumble and Johnny Ace as guest referee didn’t bring it back down.
Royal Rumble 2013 – Smackdown World Title: Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show
Another gimmick match here as these two had their second last man standing match of the year, which was a bit of an odd choice. Del Rio was on fire as a face here and I really don’t know why they pulled the plug on it so soon. Show was little more than a dragon for him to slay but he was quite the dragon in the first place. It’s a simple story but that doesn’t mean it didn’t make for a good match which thankfully ended without Show getting the title back.
Royal Rumble 2014 – Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan
We’ll go with one more instance of there being no other options. These two opened the show and had one of the hardest hitting fights you’ll see on any given WWE show. This was the blowoff to Bryan joining the Wyatt Family, only to turn on them again a few weeks later. The most amazing part of this match to me was Wyatt actually winning a big match with no interference, which was almost never the case for him. This set up Wyatt for his feud with Cena (which didn’t go all that well) and made him look like the star he should have been a long time before we got here.
Royal Rumble 2015 – WWE World Title: Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena
I know a lot of people will point to the night the Streak was broken, but for me this is where Lesnar became the unstoppable monster. Cena and Rollins threw everything they had at Lesnar for over twenty two minutes and he just took it to another level to retain the title. It was an amazing performance and an easy contender for Match of the Year for the rest of the year. Lesnar absolutely amazed me here and the other two were keeping up with him as well as they could but it just wasn’t enough. Check this out if you can because it’s just amazing.
Royal Rumble 2016 – Women’s Title: Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch
We’ll wrap it up with a match early in the new era of women’s wrestling. Charlotte had been Women’s Champion for about three months and everyone knew it would be one of the Four Horsewomen that could give her the best challenge. That’s where Lynch came in and the fact that they had been friends back in NXT made things even better. The match was good (albeit with a bit too much Ric Flair) and Charlotte retained, allowing Sasha Banks to come out as the REAL challenger going forward.
While the Royal Rumble is almost all about the big battle royal, there’s still a lot more to the card than just that one match. I know a lot of these might not be the best matches in the world but at least there’s some stuff worth seeing on almost every card (well save for 1999 but I question calling that a wrestling show in the first place). If you need something to watch to get ready for this year’s show, try some of these out instead of the same Royal Rumbles over and over.
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