Friday Morning Backlash: Ranking WWE Royal Rumble Winners (Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Alberto Del Rio, John Cena)

By Jake Ziegler

In the wake of Alberto Del Rio’s awesome victory in the Royal Rumble match 12 days ago, I decided I would rank the winners of the Rumble to see where Del Rio stands. This ranking will be on Royal Rumble victory alone, so Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold will all be ranked twice (or in Austin’s case, three times). The ranking will try to reflect awesomeness of the match and significance of the victory, but of course personal preference will also come into play.

25. Big John Studd, 1989
– Studd was way past his prime at this point, and outside of a short run with Andre the Giant he was pretty much done with WWE. The match itself was okay but nothing spectacular.

24. Lex Luger, 1994
– Luger tied in the Rumble, and then failed to win the title at WrestleMania X in spectacular fashion. That’s Lex Luger folks.

23. Hulk Hogan, 1991
– This is where the blowoff to the epic Hogan versus Earthquake feud took place (which was a HUGE deal to me when I was a kid), but nothing else from the match was particularly memorable. Technically this is the first time the Rumble winner went on to face the champion at WrestleMania, but it wasn’t quite a stipulation yet.

22. Shawn Michaels, 1996
– This was such a foregone conclusion, even at the time. The win was significant because it would lead to Michaels capturing the WWE Championship for the first time, but this match just wasn’t great. It was interesting to see the kind of names WWE pulled out of their asses for this one, like the Headhunters, Doug Gilbert, Takao Omori, and Dory Funk Jr.; and that Ringmaster guy.

21. Hacksaw Jim Duggan, 1988
– This one is pretty much only significant in the fact that he is the first winner. Nothing significant happened as a result of this, and even with becoming King Duggan, ole Hacksaw never really got pushed to main the event level.

20. Triple H, 2002
– He came back from injury after the hottest run of his career and looked sluggish and roided up like crazy. The match was pretty good, but the feud with Chris Jericho that led to the main event of WrestleMania X8 was laughable.

19. Edge, 2010
– The “returning from injury to win the Rumble” was just done two years prior, and quite frankly it worked a lot better with Cena. Edge looked skinny and out of shape, and his run as babyface was awkward and weird. He then failed to capture the World Title from Chris Jericho.

18. Mr. McMahon, 1999
– A lot of people hate on this one, but I’m okay with it. The match was pretty brutal, but Vince stealing the win from Austin was a great way to keep that feud going, and it led to the memorable cage match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre so it’s all good. But still, it’s Vince McMahon as the Royal Rumble winner.

17. Hulk Hogan, 1990
– Hogan was already the WWE Champion at this point, so a victory was hardly necessary. Fortunately the match featured all the great workers of the day and is tremendous fun from start to finish.

16. Randy Orton, 2009
– Orton was getting crazy over as a heel here, and the story with Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase helping their Legacy leader get the win was good stuff. The feud with Triple H stunted Orton’s momentum, and then an injury further compounded matters.

15. Shawn Michaels, 1995
– A lot of people may hate on this one too, but entering at #1 and winning is still cool even at short intervals. The match was a bit goofy but Shawn and Bulldog going the distance made for some good stuff along the way.

14. Stone Cold, 1997
– This one was a lot of fun due to Austin’s rampant cheating and Bret Hart’s whining about it. However, Austin didn’t get his title shot because WWF President Gorilla Monsoon didn’t want to reward him for his behavior.

13. Undertaker, 2007
– The first man to win at #30 had a memorable exchange with Shawn Michaels that would later lead to two of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history. This year Undertaker went on to defeat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. It was a really good match with a great finish.

12. Rey Mysterio, 2006
– Mysterio’s stature makes this victory impressive. He also came in at #2 and made it the whole way. A lot of people hated on this because they felt Rey dedicating his win to Eddie Guerrero was cheap sympathy, but I think Mysterio is an amazing performer and deserved to win a Rumble.

11. Brock Lesnar, 2003
– Lesnar was indeed The Next Big Thing, and this was the match that led to his amazing main event title match with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XIX. He could have been so amazing.

10. Yokozuna, 1993
– The match was a bit on the dull side, but this was the first year that the winner got the guaranteed title shot for WrestleMania, which has become WWE’s longest enduring stipulation.

9. John Cena, 2008
– This was actually a huge surprise, as Cena wasn’t supposed to return for months. It was a rare case these days when the Internet hadn’t reported something weeks before it happened. The match was a ton of fun, and while the aftermath was a bit convoluted in regards to the title shot, the shock of this one lands it high on the list.

8. Alberto Del Rio, 2011
– Some might say it’s too early to tell, but I think this is a huge victory for WWE’s brightest new star. In less than a year he has gotten himself to the main event of WrestleMania, and he is a non-Vince creation, as so many like to point out whenever a guy loses a match who is not homegrown WWE talent. His ascension has been great fun to watch and I think he’s going to be a big deal for years to come.

7. The Rock, 2000
– This was when Rock was at the height of his popularity, and this match had a lot of great sequences in it. Rock would get better as a wrestler, but as a performer, he was ON this night.

6. Stone Cold, 2001
– His record setting third victory in the Rumble was a great one. Austin came back after being bloodied by Triple H to eliminate Kane, who had been in the match for over 50 minutes. It led to Austin versus Rock at WrestleMania X-7, one of the greatest WrestleMania main events of all time. It kicked off a great year of matches and awesome promos from Austin, his last great run.

5. Batista, 2005
– This was significant for a couple of reasons. First it signaled WWE’s intent to push Batista to the moon, and as he was massively over at the time this was the right call. However, it’s also significant because when the match got down to the final two, Batista and Cena, Batista accidentally went over the top rope to the floor. Vince McMahon came out to tell everyone what to do, and he managed to tear both of his quads getting in the ring. While Cena would turn out to be the much bigger star, this night was Batista’s.

4. Bret Hart, 1994
– Yes, having two winners was wicked goofy, but this night was huge for Bret Hart. Vince McMahon literally asked the fans to choose their favorite, and Bret was overwhelmingly it. This would lead to Bret regaining the WWE Title at WrestleMania X, and then he would go on to an amazing series of matches with his late brother Owen.

3. Stone Cold, 1998
– This would kick off the “Austin Era,” as he manhandled the entire roster, and then went on to defeat Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV and officially usher in the Attitude Era. The match was not great by Rumble standards, but the significance is huge.

2. Ric Flair, 1992
– The first and only Rumble to be contested for the WWE Championship is still the best Rumble match that’s ever been. Flair entered at #3 and made his way through a laundry list of legendary names to eliminate Sid Vicious and win his first WWE Championship.

1. Chris Benoit, 2004
– As a fan watching at the time, this was the most rewarding Royal Rumble match. Benoit had been an Internet favorite for years, and this was finally his night to shine. The big time underdog went all the way from #1, and last eliminating the Big Show on his own to get a title shot at WrestleMania XX. In that match he made Triple H tap out to win the World Heavyweight Championship. The post-match celebration with Eddie Guerrero is probably the most emotional moment I’ve ever seen in wrestling.

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