The Royal Rumble has become a staple of WWE, part of its “Big 5” shows every year. But it wasn’t always that way. The show and concept started back in 1988, a new match idea from the mind of Pat Patterson, and back then, nobody knew how it would take off. While the 1992 match famously crowned a new champion, it wouldn’t be until the following year where the winner earned a title shot at WrestleMania, adding a whole new layer of importance to the signature match. Let’s look back at 10 Royal Rumble moments from the first 10 years when a legacy began to truly be cemented.
10. Hacksaw Makes History
The very first Royal Rumble was quite a bit different than what we see today. 20 competitors instead of 30, nothing except bragging rights hanging the balance, broadcast on the USA Network & not PPV, and a lot of the drama we associate with the match today wasn’t there yet. Which is why it didn’t feel weird for Hacksaw Jim Duggan, a perineal WWF mid-carder to win the inaugural event. Duggan entered at 13 and overcame One Man Gang and Dino Bravo working together to take him out when the match came down to its final 3 to enter the record books as the first Royal Rumble winner.
9. 3 Faces of Foley
The 1998 Royal Rumble will always be remembered for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin winning his second consecutive Royal Rumble and truly kicking off the most successful period of wrestling history but we’ll talk about Austin later. 1998’s Rumble was also history-making for the fact that “Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy”, who was alternating between 3 successful characters at the time (Mankind, Cactus Jack & Dude Love) appeared in the Rumble match as 3 of his personas. While today’s wrestling fan might read this and say “so what?” Foley had the ability to make the audience truly feel the differences between all of his characters and what each one represented. There was a connection between Foley and the audience that’s unparalleled today and seeing him get to play each character in the Rumble was special. A tip of the hat to an all-time great who was in the final few years of his career in one of the most classic Royal Rumble moments.
8. Yokozuna – A Star Is Born
The 1993 Royal Rumble was the first Rumble to promise the winner a shot at the WWF Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, a tradition that stands to this day. The Rumble match itself is widely considered to be one of the worst in history, coming off the heels of the ‘92 edition, which is considered to be one the best in history. Looking at the amount of talent that left the company from the ‘92 Rumble to the ‘93 Rumble is astounding. While the steroid scandal was the reason why most of those wrestlers left, WCW was also a factor for some.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to talk about what they did right in ‘93, and that was create a new monster heel. Yokozuna had only been on TV less than 6 months and had only been defeating enhancement talent and lower card workers. He had no significant feuds but he had star power and the WWF was desperate for just that. Yokozuna entered at 27 and fought off everyone in sight, last eliminating the legendary “Macho Man” Randy Savage to win the Rumble and kick off a Hall of Fame career. A star truly was born.
7. The Mega Powers (Almost) Explode
The 1989 Royal Rumble was the second Rumble event and the first to feature 30 men in the Rumble match and also the first to be on PPV. While the match would go on to be won by Big John Studd, the most memorable Royal Rumble moment from this event would be Hulk Hogan accidentally eliminating his friend and fellow Mega Power, WWF Champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The former rivals had become a team after WrestleMania 4, 9 months earlier and the writing was on the wall that this partnership wasn’t long for this world. Savage was visibly upset with Hogan for accidentally eliminating him and an argument broke out with the two ready right go to blows before Miss Elizabeth defused the situation. It would only be temporary though, as The Mega Powers would explode a month later, setting the stage for WrestleMania 5’s main event.
6. A Royal Rumble Tie?
1994’s Royal Rumble will go down in history as one of the smartest things Vince McMahon has ever done. He wanted to push Lex Luger as his next Hulk Hogan but he had reservations and rightly so. He knew Bret Hart had what it took to be the top guy, even if he was second choice. To give himself more time to plan WrestleMania 10, Vince booked a tie at the Rumble, with Luger and Hart going over the top rope and hitting the ground at the same time. This was a very risky decision because one man easily could have landed before the other and botched the ending of the match (shout out to Batista in 2005’s epic Rumble botch, which lead to Vince famously tearing BOTH quads at the same time).
There will likely never be another tie finish in a Royal Rumble and there shouldn’t be. It’s one of those Royal Rumble moments that can and should only happen once and to Vince’s credit, he played his hand well.
5. An Unexpected Change of Direction
At Royal Rumble 1991, the world was focused on the escalating conflict between the United States and Iraq, which Vince McMahon turned into a storyline. Beloved American hero, Sgt Slaughter, became an Iraqi sympathizer and was made the top challenger to the Ultimate Warrior’s WWF Championship. It was expected that Warrior would have a long run with the title like Hulk Hogan before him, but Slaughter ended his run and took the title only 9 months in, catching everyone off guard.
While the popular narrative is that the title change happened so Vince could have American hero Hogan chasing for the title during a time of war, that’s only half the story. The Ultimate Warrior’s title run was considered a disappointment by most and Vince was ready to pull the plug. That being said, nobody saw the title switch coming, making it one of the most shocking Royal Rumble moments ever.
4. Austin Eliminates 10 & Wins
The year was 1997 & the WWF was changing. WCW was winning the war, top talent from the expansion years and New Generation alike had bolted for the competition & the WWF was caught up in the middle of a real-life feud between their top two stars, Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels. Vince was desperate for a breakout star to hopefully turn the tide in this losing war. Enter Steve Austin.
Up until the 1997 Royal Rumble, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had been a promising mid-card guy. He’d had great matches with Bret Hart and won the King of the Ring but he wasn’t moving up the card. He had all the talent in the world but needed his moment and that’s where the 1997 Royal Rumble comes into play. Austin eliminated 10 men, winning the match in a controversial fashion. Austin had been eliminated but the refs were breaking up a brawl and didn’t see it. Austin re-entered, tossing The Undertaker and Vader out, and then found Bret Hart with this back turned, thinking he was the last man standing. Austin dumped him and won the Rumble. While he wouldn’t get the WrestleMania title match, he got something better: The legendary “I Quit” match with Bret Hart & the rest is history.
3. HBK Goes The Distance
Back in 1995, nobody had ever entered first in the Royal Rumble and won the match. Leave it to HBK himself to do so, in what is one of the greatest Royal Rumble moments ever. Now it should be noted that the intervals in this Rumble were cut down to 30 seconds between each entrant, which made for a Rumble match that went under 40 minutes. By today’s standards, it might taint the moment, but back then, it didn’t matter. Entering first and going the distance was a feat and it made Shawn Michaels a main event player, especially factoring in the daring “skin the cat” spot he pulled, making Davey Boy Smith think he had been eliminated, before tossing him out.
2. Hero vs Hero
It felt unthinkable back then. The year was 1990 and Hulk Hogan was not only the WWF Champion, but he was also a truly larger-than-life hero. But emerging (and quickly!) was a new, more modern, more hard-hitting, rougher around the edges hero. He was the Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Warrior. WWF fans never dreamed of the two, larger-than-life good guys facing off with one another. Those kinds of things just didn’t happen back then. That was, until the 1990 Royal Rumble.
Hogan and Warrior found themselves in the ring, alone. They had cleared out all of the other wrestlers and here they were, the company’s top two good guys, facing each other, in one of those true classic Royal Rumble moments. Fans were on the edge of their seats as they traded shots, neither man getting the upper hand in a battle nobody believed they were seeing. But they were. Eventually, more wrestlers entered the ring and Hogan won his first of two consecutive Royal Rumbles but the seed had been planted and these two would be facing off a few months later in a WrestleMania dream match for the ages.
1. A Flair For The Gold
It’s considered almost universally to be the greatest Royal Rumble match of all time and it’s only fitting that it would top the list of greatest Royal Rumble moments from the first decade too. The 1992 Rumble competitors list reads like a Hall of Fame indictees list. From Hogan to Piper to Jake Roberts, Savage, Sid, Davey Boy Smith, Dibiase, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels and so many more, the 1992 Royal Rumble was stacked, and for good reason. The 30 man event was to crown a new WWF Champion, after the controversial series of matches between Hogan and The Undertaker at Survivor Series 1991 and This Tuesday in Texas.
The match served to be a showcase for former NWA Champion Ric Flair, no stranger to 60-minute matches, as he entered at number 3 and went the distance, locking horns with a plethora of all-time greats in route to winning his first WWF Championship. It was an hour of pure drama, worked by some of the best ever and highlighted by some of the best commentary of all time from Bobby Heenan. The 1992 Royal Rumble is one to study, respect, and enjoy forever. Whooooo!