Cherry Pickin': Ranking the Televised Royal Rumble Matches

It should come to a shock to absolutely no one that knows me that the Royal Rumble match is my favorite gimmick match that exists in the world of professional wrestling. For me, the Rumble matches provide an experience unlike any other match. Everything that happens in a Rumble match is important in some way because you have to pay attention during the entire thing or you might miss something. It has also become one of the most important events in the entire wrestling world considering the prize that was implemented in 1993, that being a title shot at WrestleMania.

Since the inception of the match, a total of 48(!) Royal Rumble matches have happened in the WWE in front of a camera in some capacity. This does not include the few house shows that held Rumble matches that have no lore behind them. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that my math is way off here. The Royal Rumble began in 1988, even with the addition of the Women’s Royal Rumble in 2018, there’s no possible way that the WWE has run 48 Rumble matches. This is where my list comes into play as there have been 10 Royal Rumble matches that have happened on WWE TV and one that maybe nobody remembers happened in WCW. This list will catch you up on the Royal Rumble matches that you probably don’t remember.

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Granted, some of these matches are not as traditional as others (I’ll bring that up later) but they all follow the standard Rumble match formula: over the top rope elimination only and entrants coming in after the match starts. With that said, let’s take a dive into the 11 Royal Rumble matches that have happened on network or cable television.

#11 – The Alberto Del Rio 40-Man Invitational (Smackdown, January 28th, 2011)

In recent years, Alberto El Patron (Del Rio) has not endeared himself to society as a whole due to his being a terrible human being syndrome, but when he was in WWE in 2011, they were determined to make him a major part of their weekly programming. This came in the form of scheduling a segment of Smackdown for Del Rio to do a 40-man Royal Rumble exhibition to prepare him for the following Sunday’s Royal Rumble match which was to be the first to feature 40 men in it in the match’s history.

As expected by a heel, it led to a couple no name local talents that Matt Striker attempted to put over, but we knew going in that the entire thing was a sham. I mean who expects talents like “Seth Allen” and “Mike Stevens” to actually do anything in this match? For the record, those were indy talents Seth Allen, the final man to hold the Mid Ohio Wrestling Heavyweight Championship (according to Cagematch.net) and former GCW Tag Team Champion Matthew Justice in case you were wondering.

After those two entered the ring though, the next entrant in Del Rio’s sham turned out to be Kane, who ADR was not prepared to face. Shortly after Kofi Kingston ran in and then dumped both Del Rio and Kane over the top rope to…I’d say win, but the match was officially ruled a no contest after the double elimination. The fact that they used the Rumble concept to essentially book a tag team match (Rey Mysterio ran out to help after Kane and Del Rio were about to attack Kofi) is really annoying and why the match is last on my list. Fortunately for everyone involved, this was the only Rumble match on this list to not have a winner, although Cagematch.net has Kofi listed as the winner of the match.

#10 – The “Mini” Royal Rumble (January 14th, 2008: Monday Night Raw)

On the Raw Roulette episode of Monday Night Raw in 2008, Mr. McMahon wanted to give his “son” Hornswoggle (oh yes, this storyline) some preparation as the previous week, he had qualified to participate in the 2008 Royal Rumble match alongside his mystery tag team partner Mick Foley. So prior to competing in what Mr. McMahon called the “mini” Royal Rumble, he was told that he was going to face off with superstars the likes of Mr. Kennedy, Mankind and Batista to which Hornswoggle reacted like he was going to get killed out there.

Of course, this was all for not as when Kennedy’s music hit as the second entrant, a mini version of Kennedy came down to the ring at the confusion of Swoggle and the announcers alike. So what McMahon called the “mini” Royal Rumble was more literal than anything. This continued with mini versions of both Mankind and Batista during the Rumble match and even included a mini Kane (who was not previously announced) and Hornswoggle disposed of all of them out of the ring.

The final entrant came out when the Great Khali’s music hit and it turned out to be the actual Great Khali and not a mini version. Before Khali had the chance to attack, Finlay came out and attacked Khali with the shillelagh and knocked him out of the ring, allowing Hornswoggle to somehow get the victory for the match. Jerry Lawler even teased on commentary: “Could we see this at the real Royal Rumble?”. I think we all knew the answer to that, but the actual mini Rumble itself was really a comedy match to play up Hornswoggle’s involvement in the actual Royal Rumble a couple weeks later.

#9 – The Countdown to Armageddon Battle Royal (October 18th, 2000 – WCW Thunder)

So…it wasn’t CALLED the Royal Rumble for obvious reasons, but this match on an episode of WCW Thunder that happened in Australia was basically a Rumble match and one that I didn’t even know happened until about 3 or 4 years ago.

There are a lot of things about WCW’s booking in 2000 that have been basically beaten to death due to how creatively bankrupt the company was during that time (in addition to becoming nearly financially bankrupt), but I won’t fault them for attempting to something to build up a new contender to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship which at the time was being held by Booker T. The problem is though…Booker T was in this match…and they did this match on an episode of Thunder as opposed to the Halloween Havoc pay per view about a week later…and nobody knew the match was going to happen until that night. Well, I tried to give them credit.

The match started out with “Above Average” Mike Sanders (remember him?) and “The Cat” Ernest Miller who were both at the time WCW Commissioner. Yes, there were two commissioners at the same time in WCW. Please don’t make me explain WCW storylines.

So the match started and then the entrants start coming out every 30 seconds. Nothing wrong with that other than the entrants all seemed to be connected to the person who came out before them, which they even brought up on commentary stating that the entrances didn’t feel very random. Tag teams and factions entered in consecutive numbers A LOT during this match. Kevin Nash came out and eliminated like 10 people because of course he did and Booker T, the World Champion, was eliminated by Mike Awesome, and the team of KroniK came out as one entrant. One of the big stories in the match was Goldberg, who had been challenged by Vince Russo to recreate his 173-0 winning streak before getting a shot at the WCW Title again. It seemed a bit of an issue for this match though as Goldberg wasn’t even in it and the winner of this battle royal and the number one contender for the WCW Title was…Mike Awesome. Nothing against Awesome, but it seemed like a random decision, since he was “That 70’s Guy” at the time.

#8 – Jonathan Coachman’s Warm Up for John Cena (January 22nd, 2007 – Monday Night Raw)

So, brief backstory, Coachman got himself in hot water with Mr. McMahon during a segment on this episode which led to McMahon booking Coachman to face WWE Champion John Cena one on one. Right before that match began, however, “The Coach” wanted Cena to compete in another match before their match just to even the sides. So, it was a very loose version of the Royal Rumble where entrants came down at Coachman’s discretion as opposed to a clock and beat down Cena.

This is the only entrant in this list where the match started with three competitors instead of the normal two as Coach sent down Cade and Murdoch to attack. After the former Tag Champs beat on Cena for a little bit and Cena tossed Murdoch out, Coach sent the World’s Greatest Tag Team, Viscera and the Great Khali all to the ring. Again…I’m being very loose with this counting as a Rumble match, but eliminations happened when people went over the top so…kinda, I guess.

Anyway, Khali appeared to not get the memo from Coach as he eliminated all the other men before it came down to him and Cena and Cena tried to attack him, but was met with the infamous no sell from Khali before being tossed over the rope himself.

It seems weird that such a short match could be higher up on the list than some others, especially when the others stuck closer to the actual Rumble rules themselves, but to be fair, the previous entries were really not good for other reasons.

#7 – The 1988 Royal Rumble

Yes, in case you weren’t aware, which a lot of you may be, but the 1988 Royal Rumble was not a Pay Per View event, but rather a special that was aired on the USA Network counterprogramming NWA’s second Pay Per View outing, so that’s why it’s in this category. The 1988 Rumble was the first Rumble that aired on television after an attempt at the match was done on a house show with only less than 20 competitors (the exact number is debated, but it’s around 12 to 14) and One Man Gang came out of the match as the victor.

This one was really to test how the match concept would do in front of actual fans. If you’ve watched the Rumble ever really, you’ll know the affinity that they have for using a buzzer for the entrants to come down as well as the infamous countdown clock. The clock still existed but the fans didn’t really pick up on counting along until very late in the match and the buzzer was absent.

For those of you trivia buffs, here’s some Rumble firsts for you: the first two Rumble match entrants (excluding the house show match) were Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Tito Santana, the first person ever eliminated from a Royal Rumble match was “The Natural” Butch Reed and the first elimination was caused by Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

One thing I noticed about this Rumble as opposed to others that would follow it is that this match stuck pretty well to the whole face vs. heel dynamic. There was really no dissension between the sides and I found that interesting that even though the “every man for himself” mentality was established, it wasn’t even teased.

The action in this match was actually really solid and didn’t slow down for a minute. The crowd was into it too, so you may ask, why did I only rank this match as #7 out of #11? Were the other 6 that much better? I don’t know if it terms of in ring action, but I ranked these based on a number of factors and simply put, there wasn’t much story for this match other than faces vs. heels. There was no prize for the winner (as that rule wouldn’t be established until 1993 officially) and Hacksaw as the first winner is like “Eh, okay.” But if you want a fun Rumble to watch, I would check out the 1988 one.

#6 – The Tag Team Royal Rumble (June 15th, 1998 Monday Night Raw)

This is a match I wish that they would bring back. They’ve done Tag Team Turmoil to death, but the WWE has only the tag team Royal Rumble once and it was to determine the number one contender’s to the Tag Team Titles. I guess it’s kind of hard to do a tag team Rumble though when you only have about six teams, but I digress.

So the story of this match is that Kane and Mankind entered this match as a unit when they were already scheduled for a Hell in a Cell match later that night against Stone Cold and the Undertaker and they in fact entered second in a ten team Rumble. The entrants came in out every 30 seconds and included teams like LOD 2000, the DOA, the Headbangers, Too Much and more. The rules of this match were slightly different as if one member of a team got thrown over the top rope, then the team was eliminated. If I go on a little rant (hell, it’s my article, I can), I think it would’ve been much better if both members of the team had to get eliminated because that stresses the importance of surviving. AEW did this with their Tag Team Casino Battle Royale, why can’t…ah, I guess I can’t have everything. Back to the match.

If you blinked in this match, odds are you would’ve missed something as the entire match took place in one segment of this Raw episode. With entrants coming every 30 seconds, the action was fast paced and nonstop, which made it fun. Kane and Mankind outlasted the teams listed above as well as odd teams like Bradshaw and Taka Michinoku (yep), Faarooq and Steve Blackman, and Terry Funk and Scorpio who they last eliminated to win the match. It’s a concept as I said earlier that I wish they’d revisit, but they would need the required talent to be able to compete. Can you imagine though a tag team Royal Rumble with teams from every company? That would be something.

#5 – 5-Man Royal Rumble (September 16th, 1999 Smackdown)

A little bit of a confession from me: I didn’t know this Royal Rumble match even existed until I started doing my Definitive Royal Rumble Countdown on my YouTube channel (cheap plug for the Greg Cherry Brand on YouTube and the countdown that you can check out on demand), but nonetheless I checked it out and it was an interesting match to say the least. I ranked this one the highest because of the men that were involved, all of whom were multiple time World Champions in The Rock, Big Show, Mankind, Kane and the Undertaker.

The prize for this one was a strange one as the winner would be awarded the right to start the Six Pack Challenge match for the WWF Championship. I really don’t understand why that’s such a great prize, but I guess the idea was that if you start the match, you have the best chance to win the title? Not everything in the Attitude Era was well thought out. That’s another article for another time for someone who knows way more about the AE than I do.

The match started with the Rock and the Big Show with Mankind and Kane soon to follow. All four of them battled without being eliminated as the Undertaker came out dressed in his biker attire and not in his wrestling gear. Low key, I thought the, as I call it, “I don’t give a damn” Taker was fantastic. He walked over to commentary as the match came down to the Rock and the Big Show. The Undertaker talked some trash on commentary and then got in the ring as Show and the Rock were trying to eliminate each other and then the Undertaker in his only physical action of the match eliminated both men.

I ranked this match higher than the others just because the talent field was as high as it was considering their spot and whatnot. It wasn’t much higher but the TV Rumbles to this point were iffy at best. Don’t worry, they get better. Well…maybe after this next one.

#4 – Every Man for Chris Benoit (January 8th, 2004 Smackdown)

The concept is not as exciting as it sounds, but the backstory of this match was Paul Heyman doing everything he could do to make sure Chris Benoit never became WWE Champion, so he punished him by making him the number one entrant in the 2004 Rumble match. Prior to that though, he stuck Benoit in what was essentially a handicap match that just happened to have Rumble Rules against all three members of the FBI.

Benoit started off against Johnny “The Bull” Stamboli and beat the crap out of him for a minute or so before Stamboli was able to get some momentum, and shortly after Chuck Palumbo entered and the 2 on 1 started until Benoit was able to strategically eliminate Stamboli leaving just him and Palumbo before Nunzio came down. The 2 on 1 was back on before Benoit nearly eliminated Chuck due to miscommunication in the FBI, but was able to toss Nunzio instead. The final two of Benoit and Palumbo fought on before Benoit was able to pull out the win by backdropping Palumbo over the top, screwing with Paul Heyman’s plan more and showing the heart of Benoit.

Mind you, this is not glorifying Benoit in any way. We all know what happened, but this is just commentary as far as the match goes as to what happened and accounting for what happened in that particular moment in time. As far as the overall quality of the match, it barely edged out the 5-man match due to the better story for the time. The last three Rumbles on this list are actually really good though and are probably more well-known than the entries that have come before it.

#3 – The 7-Man “Raw Rumble” (January 31st, 2011 Monday Night Raw)

I really enjoyed this match. This was the night after the 2011 Royal Rumble with the 40-man match (that match did not rank overall as high as this one did…and for good reason). The idea behind this match was to determine the six individuals in the following month’s Elimination Chamber match as well as the number one contender for the WWE Championship at the Elimination Chamber Pay Per View. So, pretty simply, the winner was the number one contender and the other six were involved in the actual Chamber match. It was a unique reward for the winner and for all the other competitors involved as they didn’t just get forgotten about.

The competitors in this match (in the order they entered) were John Morrison, King Sheamus, John Cena (funny enough the only time that Cena has ever drawn a single digit number in a Rumble match), CM Punk, R-Truth, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Randy Orton. The action was great in this match throughout and the emotions were high from the crowd especially after a draining Rumble match the previous night. The match came down to Cena, Sheamus and Lawler. Lawler had attempted to eliminate Cena and then Sheamus tried to do the same before shoving the King into Cena and knocking Cena off the apron, eliminating him. Lawler turned around into an attempt at a Brogue Kick and Lawler and Cena both pulled the top rope down, forcing Sheamus out and giving the win to Lawler to further his epic storyline with Michael Cole for a match at WrestleMania.

That last line, I think that’s the most sarcastic I’ve ever been in my life. And that’s saying something. Either way, this match was actually really entertaining and led the way to multiple future feuds so it was an important match to have and a great way to begin the build toward the Elimination Chamber event.

#2 – The Corporate Royal Rumble (January 11th, 1999 Monday Night Raw)

So there’s a lot going on in this match storyline wise because God forbid, everybody involved had a story to be told. Take notes, WWE creative team, until they’re ripped up and you have to rewrite them an hour before the show goes li…I’m never getting a job there, I’ve accepted this.

Anyway, the Corporate Royal Rumble was set up on this episode of Raw between members of the Corporation and D-Generation X to determine the number 30 spot in the 1999 Royal Rumble. There were actually ten competitors in the match, five from each side that filled up the spots and it told a great story that the 30th entrant spot was incredibly coveted. Shane McMahon was on commentary during the match too and added quite a bit of bias for the Corporation. Even though Ken Shamrock started the match by eliminating himself and they played the wrong music when Test came out, this match had some great moments. In my opinion, Triple H throws one of the best clotheslines I’ve ever seen (followed by a really terrible one) as soon as he comes into the match. Then, the story continues of the coveted final spot as Mr. McMahon enters as a surprise entrant and dumps out the Big Boss Man and Triple H to think that he wins the match. In case you forgot, McMahon originally was given the #2 spot by Shawn Michaels so he would start the Rumble match against Austin, but he thought he won this match to enter at #30 until the buzzer went off again and Chyna came down the ramp.

Stone Cold interfered to make sure that Vince wouldn’t win and then Vince was tossed out by Chyna and nearly snapped his damn neck doing so. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the bump, the whiplash is nasty. Either way, it was a historical match that led to a historical Rumble moment of Chyna being the first woman to ever enter the Royal Rumble match, paving the way for the likes of Beth Phoenix, Kharma and Nia Jax and also paving the way for the women to have their own 30-woman match every year. Needless to say, as a Rumble connoisseur and as someone who has been so excited with the evolution of women’s wrestling to become as great as it ever has been, it’s a match I’m excited for every year and we likely wouldn’t have got it if it weren’t for the way this match ended and the history it paved.

Now as historical as this match was and as good as it was, it wasn’t as good as…

#1 – The Smackdown Royal Rumble (January 29th, 2004 Smackdown)

The greatest televised Rumble match ever. This one isn’t even a question for me. I have this match in my top 10 Royal Rumble matches ever. That’s how good this match is. This was so damn good and my only wish is that it would have been commercial free.

The story behind this match was Vince McMahon came out to confront Paul Heyman since Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble the prior Sunday but elected to jump to Monday Night Raw to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship instead. This left Heyman in a bind as there was no challenger for Brock Lesnar now, so Heyman came up with the idea to do a 15-man Royal Rumble that featured all the Smackdown participants from Sunday’s match except for Matt Morgan who was injured and replaced by Hardcore Holly and Chris Benoit who left for Raw and was replaced by Eddie Guerrero.

I won’t go through the whole course of the match because this was truly the most true-to-form version of the Royal Rumble out of any of these entrants so if you haven’t seen it, you’ll need to. The final two came down to Kurt Angle, who had started the match and Eddie Guerrero, who had been knocked unconscious earlier in the night. I would dare say that this final two rivals the final two that took place in the 2007 Royal Rumble between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. After an electric back and forth that lasted nearly 8 minutes, Eddie Guerrero front suplexed Kurt Angle to the outside and won the match getting his WWE Championship opportunity at No Way Out in THAT match against Brock Lesnar. The best TV Rumble of all time gave us one of the all-time classic championship matches. You couldn’t draw it up better than that.

We talk about the importance of the Royal Rumble match every year and some years are better than others. If you haven’t seen any of these Rumble matches, I would go check them out as soon as possible. There is some gold hidden as the TV Rumbles don’t get enough respect on them.

So what is your favorite Rumble match of all time? As we get closer to the Rumble event and the 49th and 50th televised Rumble matches under the WWE banner, it is important to realize how critical this match type is to the annals of WWE history. Think of all the important moments that the Royal Rumble match has created, from the 1994 draw, to HBK going wire to wire in 1995 to Stone Cold ascending to the WWE Championship in 1998, to a new era beginning with Batista’s win in 2005, to Becky Lynch’s coronation as The Man in 2019 to Edge’s unbelievable return in 2020 to Bianca Belair and Edge’s respective Iron Woman and Iron Man performances in last year’s Rumble matches.

I’ve stated that the Royal Rumble match is really the only gimmick Pay Per View where the matches that happen actually have longevity to them. Something that I believe is lost with the Survivor Series event and all the other B-level Pay Per Views named after a match (even Money in the Bank has lost some luster), but the appeal, the excitement and the unpredictability of the Royal Rumble has stood the test of time and I’m hoping it will for years to come, for more moments to be created and for those unforgettable Rumble match performances that we all wait to see.

I hope every participant made the late creator of this match, Pat Patterson proud. Pat, you were always a wrestling genius and I thank you every year when this match comes around. I honestly don’t know if I would be as much of a fan of wrestling as I am without the existence of the Royal Rumble match.

If you’d like to follow more content that I produce, I run the Greg Cherry Brand YouTube Channel where I host episodes of the long running wrestling trivia show “Wrestling Trivia Challenge” along with a more wrestling game show called “Jack of All Trades.” In addition, I go live every Wednesday night on the channel for “The Greg Cherry Show” where we discuss wrestling, professional sports, the weird things that exist in this world and it’s more of an entertainment show than anything. I also produce a once a year game show called “Luck of the Draw” that has nothing to do with wrestling whatsoever. Let’s face it, nobody can consume wrestling all the time and not get sick of it, so it’s nice to have something unrelated. You can also follow me on Twitter @GregCherryBrand and thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you all enjoy the 2022 Royal Rumble event. I know I will.

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