The Royal Rumble match is all about individual greatness, as evidenced by its motto of “Every Superstar for themselves”. Brief alliances may take place, but in the end, only one Superstar can win, and that leads to some wrestlers going to extreme lengths to make sure that they are the one left standing at the end. Whether by managing incredible feats of longevity, eliminating more opponents than anyone else, or some combination of the two, many Superstars have used the Rumble match to showcase their skills on a big stage, potentially setting themselves up for future success, even if not all of them actually managed to win the Rumble itself. In service of that fact, we’ve gathered some of the greatest and most memorable individual performances in Royal Rumble history right here for your enjoyment.
25. Bret Hart, 1988
At the very first Royal Rumble in 1988, it was Bret Hart who would receive two singular honors for his participation. Hart, then still a tag team specialist and a few years away from becoming a main eventer, would be the very first Superstar to enter a Rumble match, and set the original Iron Man mark for the Rumble, lasting just over 25 minutes. Admittedly, that mark would quickly be surpassed, and isn’t even close to the longevity record these days, but given that the first Rumble contained only 20 Superstars, and the whole match lasted just 33 minutes total, that’s an incredible accomplishment for someone who, at the time, wasn’t really that important to the WWF’s plans. Unfortunately, for all his time in the match, Hart was largely ineffective, as he only managed a single elimination, tossing the #2 entrant, Tito Santana, in concert with his partner Jim Neidhart.
24. Maven, 2002
Taken in a vacuum, Maven’s performance in the 2002 Rumble match doesn’t actually look very impressive, as he lasted just over three minutes, and eliminated a single person. Of course, that person happened to be The Undertaker, who was in the middle of a hot streak as a heel, and had just eliminated six of the first ten competitors in the match after entering at #8, including the united team of Matt and Jeff Hardy, without breaking a sweat. However, while Taker was distracted by the Hardys and Lita, Maven snuck up behind the Dead Man, hit a picture perfect dropkick, and knocked him out of the match, basically by himself! It’s a feat not easily done by multiple men, let alone a single rookie. Sadly, Maven would instantly pay for his actions, as Taker re-entered the ring, eliminated Maven, and then beat him around the arena for a good long while.
23. Curtis Axel, 2015
Welcome to the true Rumble longevity record, as Curtis Axel would spend most of 2015 reminding people that he was never actually eliminated from the Rumble match that year, as he was attacked from behind by Erick Rowan before he could officially enter the ring. Thus, Axel coined the catchphrase, “Often Imitated, But Never Eliminated”, and proceeded to keep a clock running on exactly how long he had still been in the 2015 Royal Rumble. Some might argue that if you don’t enter the match before the next Superstar in line, you’re automatically eliminated, but that rule has had exceptions in the past, so we’re going to allow it. Unfortunately for Axel, his legendary run ended early in 2016, as he entered that year’s Rumble at #5, and was eliminated just over a minute later, by AJ Styles, which also retroactively eliminated him from the 2015 Rumble, and since the Rumble winner from that year, Roman Reigns, had not yet been eliminated in 2016, Axel could no longer lay claim to being an uncrowned winner.
22. Chris Jericho, 2003
Jericho had a decent run in 2003, entering at #2, lasting nearly forty minutes, and eliminating six Superstars before getting tossed at the hands of Test. But perhaps Jericho’s best moment in that performance came at the very beginning, as he used trickery and deceit to eliminate his nemesis, Shawn Michaels, just as the match officially began. In the weeks before the show, Michaels had been given the #1 entry, and Jericho chose #2 deliberately in order to ignite another battle with HBK. And with Michaels pacing in the ring as Jericho’s entrance began, fans anticipated a war breaking out. Instead, it was Christian, dressed as Jericho, who appeared on the entrance ramp, and a distracted Michaels was felled when Jericho ambushed him from behind. With a quick upper hand, Jericho wasted no time in eliminating the multi-time WWE Champion.
21. Vader, 1996
As poorly as most of Vader’s run in WWE went, nobody can say that he didn’t know how to make an entrance. Vader actually made his WWE debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble, which was basically the one where Shawn Michaels’ inevitable victory was chiseled in stone, and very few people remember anything else about it. Those that do, however, remember how Vader came in mid-way through and dominated, throwing out 4 other Superstars and generally imposing his will on the match. However, after getting tangled up with fellow super-heavyweight Yokozuna, a distracted Vader was dumped by HBK, and that’s when the real show began. Vader re-entered the match and laid waste to absolutely everyone, especially Michaels, forcing an actual stoppage of the match while officials, including WWE President Gorilla Monsoon, attempted to talk down the Mastadon and get him to leave the arena. Eventually, Vader chose to walk away, but not before leaving an indelible image on the match, one which would be a precursor for even more violent actions to come.
20. AJ Styles, 2016
Honestly, AJ Styles’ run through the 2016 Rumble match was fairly pedestrian, although he did manage to last just a couple seconds short of a full half hour and eliminate two Superstars during his time. And that’s pretty good, considering it was his WWE debut, only a couple of short weeks after putting on a Match of the Year classic at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 show, where nobody had any idea that he was about to leave Japan and take a lucrative deal with WWE. Styles’ entrance at #3 in the Rumble was a shock to many people, but more importantly, he received a hero’s welcome, salving any worried we might have had that WWE fans would have no idea who he was. From moment one in his WWE career, Styles was treated as a huge star by the fans, and apparently it changed a lot of backstage opinions about his potential value to the company. In fact, since Styles’ entrance was actually missed by WWE cameras during the PPV, they actually went back and posted video from another angle on their website once they realized what a big deal Styles was going to be. That’s also likely why he went on to have one of the greatest first years in WWE history, wrestling in the main event of many PPVs, putting on incredible matches, and topping it all off by winning the WWE World Title and holding it through the end of the year.
19. Legacy, 2009
When you go purely by the numbers, the team of Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase Jr, and Cody Rhodes did not really do all that much during the 2009 Rumble match. Orton did last over 48 minutes and won, but he wasn’t the Iron Man (Rey Mysterio lasted a whole minute longer). Combined, the three of them eliminated six Superstars, but Triple H accomplished the same feat all by himself. And really, that’s what the 2009 Royal Rumble match was all about, the battle between Triple H and Randy Orton, a feud that pretty much everyone knew was leading to the main event of WrestleMania 25, so that Triple H could have another shot at that legendary “WrestleMania moment” that he kept getting upstaged by every time he tried. The Rumble match was supposed to be a sort-of “coming out party” for Orton’s Legacy stable, which had finally settled on a three-man roster after months of screwing around with guys like Manu and Sim Snuka. They were supposed to be Orton’s version of Evolution (which was itself Triple H’s version of the Four Horsemen), showing that Orton was no longer the student of the Game, but a master in his own right. Of course, that never really worked out, but on this night, Legacy looked primed to become the dominant faction in WWE, making up three of the final four participants in the match. Of course, Triple H got to eliminate DiBiase and Rhodes before falling to the damned numbers game, but it was a decent attempt, anyway.
18. Ted DiBiase, 1990
In the 1989 Rumble, many believed that Ted DiBiase had used his considerable wealth to broker a switch in numbers, allowing the Million Dollar Man to enter 30th overall, giving him the best chance of victory (although he came up short at the hands of the actual winner, Big John Studd). Thus, precautions were taken the following year, and DiBiase was betrayed by the luck of the draw, entering at #1. Dismayed but ever resourceful, DiBiase used his ring savvy, exploited the rules of the match, and had some well-timed assistance from his assistant Virgil, which helped keep him alive in the 1990 Rumble for nearly 45 minutes. In the process, DiBiase took out 4 Superstars, good enough for second in that category, but unfortunately, he was unable to dodge the power of Hulkamania, and when Hogan entered the match, his long-time nemesis DiBiase was the first man to go flying over the top rope at his hands.
17. CM Punk, 2014
In what turned out to be CM Punk’s final match in WWE, he was handed the unenviable task of starting at #1, wrestling for nearly the entire match, and then getting screwed over at the end. Which kind of could be worked into an analogy for Punk’s entire WWE career, but that’s not what we’re here to do. The fact of the matter is that Punk wrestled for the better part of an hour and eliminated three people while he was out there. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have to remember, this is the same Rumble where one guy, who we’ll get to, threw out over a third of the entrants by himself. In fact, by dumping three people, Punk ends up tied for third in that particular statistic. Punk made it all the way to the Final Four before getting pulled out by an already-eliminated Kane and chokeslammed through an announce table, and though we didn’t know it at the time, that was the end of CM Punk in WWE. As a footnote, Punk’s departure after his Rumble performance actually set off a chain reaction in the company, as his ongoing conflict with The Authority was moved to another fan favorite character, Daniel Bryan, and the rest, as they say, is history.
16. Shawn Michaels, 2010
In 2010, Shawn Michaels was obsessed with getting another chance to prove that he could beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania, and it started to take a toll on his friendships, his work, and even his mental capacity. The Undertaker had made it clear that Shawn would have to earn a second shot, and with the Dead Man holding the World Heavyweight Title at the time, HBK reasoned that one way to get a guaranteed shot at Taker was to win the Royal Rumble. It was a good plan, and frankly, Shawn had already won two Rumbles in his career, so if anyone had an advantage going in, it would be him. During the match, Michaels pulled out all the stops to try and ensure he was the last man standing. He teamed up with his best friend Triple H, but also took the first opportunity to eliminate him in service of what he thought was a higher ideal. Overall, Michaels eliminated six Superstars, more than anyone else in the match, and survived for over twenty minutes, second-longest behind John Cena, making it all the way to the Final Four. When he looked to be close to getting eliminated, HBK engaged in life-or-death struggles to make sure that he stayed in the ring. And when he finally met his end at the hands of Batista, HBK went down fighting, reaching and clawing for the ropes even as he flew off the apron to the floor, the picture of a desperate man seeing his best chance slip away.
15. CM Punk, 2010
If Shawn Michaels’ struggles were the story of the second half of the 2010 Royal Rumble, then the ascent of CM Punk and the Straight Edge Society was the tale of the first part. Punk entered the match third, and immediately tossed both men already in the match, in order to give himself time to spread the word of his movement to the live audience. Several Superstars entered the match and tried to shut up the Straight Edge Messiah, but with a crafty mind and time to prepare, Punk survived through a combination of skill and trickery, always leaving himself enough time to resume his hypnotic diatribe on the mic in between entrants. After ten minutes, with five eliminations to his name, Punk grew cocky, which meant, unfortunately, it was time for his fall, as the eighth man in the match, Triple H, finally put a stop to Punk’s dominance of the early stages of the Rumble match.
14. Chris Jericho and Dolph Ziggler, 2013
Chris Jericho’s appearance in the #2 spot of the 2013 Rumble is best remembered because absolutely nobody knew he was even in the building. Usually, Jericho’s returns had been accompanied by weeks of promotion, usually in the form of vague viral videos, but this time, his music hit and he walked out, and the live audience was simply blown away. More importantly, in his first match back after a five-month hiatus, Jericho clearly hadn’t missed a beat, as he stayed in the Rumble for just under 48 minutes, acting as the ring general he is known for in these situations, and even scoring a pair of eliminations before being eliminated just outside the Final Four. The man who eliminated Jericho? Why, it was the man who had caused Jericho’s hiatus in the first place, Dolph Ziggler, who managed to one-up his nemesis yet again by entering at #1, eventually taking Jericho out of the match, and then lasting a full two minutes longer than Y2J, before finally making his exit at the hands of Sheamus, just three spots away from victory.
13. Bob Backlund, 1993
The 1993 Rumble is largely forgotten, but it was the first time that the winner was awarded a guaranteed WWE Title match at WrestleMania, a tradition which has continued to this day. With a lack of strong contenders, the match was eventually won by the monstrous Yokozuna, but that wasn’t the real story of the evening. Entering at #2, nobody expected anything from Bob Backlund, who had been absent from the promotion for years, his days as WWF Champion long forgotten. However, Backlund was still in excellent shape, and somehow managed to outlast nearly every other competitor in the Rumble, surviving against incredible odds for just over an hour, setting a longevity record which would not be broken for thirteen years. While Backlund only managed a pair of eliminations during his time, he managed to make it nearly all the way to the end, and was the second-last man eliminated. It was a feel-good story for Backlund, who managed to parlay his impressive performance into a regular role in WWE, and by the end of the year, even another reign as WWF Champion.
12. Triple H, 2006
If anyone knows about spending a lot of time in the Royal Rumble, it’s The Game. In fact, as of the 2016 Rumble (which he won), Triple H has spent just 23 seconds short of 4 full hours wrestling in the Rumble. A large portion of that number came in 2006, when Triple H entered at #1 and survived for just over one hour, and was the second-last man eliminated. During that time, Triple H eliminated five other Superstars, good enough for second best on the evening. And really, the entire evening was about Triple H being really impressive, but just not quite good enough, as in addition to not managing to win or earn the most eliminations, Triple H’s time of 1 hour and 15 seconds, even though it puts him in the Top 5 in terms of Rumble longevity, was also second best on this night, as he was surpassed in every category by the man who actually won the Rumble in 2006, someone who we’ll be talking about later on in this list.
11. Mick Foley, 1998
One of the long-held rules of the Rumble is that it’s one Superstar, one entry. But what happens when one person is actually three different Superstars? We got an answer to that question in 1998, as Mick Foley pulled off a tour de force performance, entering the Rumble match as all three of his split personalities. Foley initially began the match in the #1 spot, as the dangerous Cactus Jack, immediately mixing it up with friend and partner Terry Funk, who drew #2. Jack acquitted himself decently, scoring a single elimination and lasting approximately ten minutes, before he was sent packing by Funk. Almost immediately, however, Foley returned to the match as Mankind, avenging his own elimination by tossing Funk. However, Mankind fared the worst of Foley’s personalities, as he was gone in less than three minutes. All was not lost, however, as Dude Love walked down the aisle late in the match, and managed to eliminate two Superstars of his own. Sadly, whie he made it to the Final Four, the Dude hit the bricks at the hands of Faarooq, giving Foley a total of roughly twenty minutes spent in the Rumble, and four eliminations, which was actually good enough for second place behind the winner, Steve Austin.
10. Rikishi, 2000
To this day, no one is quite sure how the pairing of Too Cool and Rikishi managed to become one of the most popular acts of the Attitude Era, but there was just something about the dancing trio which caught on with fans. And because Rikishi was a very agile big man with decent wrestling ability and the always-helpful Samoan family connections, it was inevitable that at some point, WWE would try and turn him into something more than just a crowd-pleasing midcard act. The first sign of bigger things to come for Rikishi happened in the 2000 Rumble match, when the big man entered at #5 and immediately cleared the ring, save for Too Cool member Grandmaster Sexay. When Scotty 2 Hotty entered at #6, the fans were treated to a brief dance segment, before Rikishi used the opportunity to send both his friends out of the ring simultaneously, a move which could have been considered dubious, but which was accepted as being in the spirit of competition by Too Cool. From there, Rikishi maintained his dominance, tossing several new entrants as they arrived, before ultimately falling to superior numbers. With seven eliminations for the evening, Rikishi would take home top spot in that statistic, and while his time in the match was relatively brief, it was definitely one of the most memorable.
9. Hulk Hogan, 1989
Hogan’s presence in the 1989 Royal Rumble is more remembered for being the first rumblings of problems developing between the Mega Powers, as he would inadvertently eliminate his partner Randy Savage and then fall prey to the Twin Towers, but Hogan actually accomplished a lot in a very short time in 1989. In fact, Hogan set the first really impressive mark for Most Eliminations when he tossed out 9 Superstars, including Savage. Even more impressive, Hogan didn’t enter the match until #18, and only spent 11 minutes in the match, which means he did a great deal of work very efficiently. Included in those numbers, of course, is the infamous 2-second elimination of The Warlord, a mark which stood as the fastest elimination for twenty years before somehow being broken, and also Hogan eliminating The Big Boss Man after being eliminated himself, but they all count! Taking out nearly a third of the field on his own, in a very short space of time, is a pretty impressive feat, even for someone like the Immortal Hulkster.
8. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, 2007
Usually the end of the Royal Rumble match comes quickly, as exhausted competitors sprint to the finish in order to get things over with. However, in 2007, two long-time veterans decided that they had enough left in the tank to put on something resembling an actual match as part of their final one-on-one showdown. We probably don’t need to tell you that a match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, especially during this period when Taker was undergoing a career renaissance as a worker, always has the potential to be great, and they would prove that point again a few years later in a pair of instant classic WrestleMania matches. But at this point, it was an unexpected delight to watch HBK and the Dead Man square off at the end of the Rumble and actually work hard for that final elimination. Ultimately, the Dead Man emerged victorious (though due to some interesting twists of fate, both would end up in World title matches at WrestleMania that year), becoming the first Superstar to win the Rumble as the final entrant, and their work together was such a highlight of that year’s match that one year later, the decision was made to have both men begin that year’s Rumble from the #1 and #2 slots.
7. Chris Benoit, 2004
It will forever be a shame that we can’t talk about one of the greatest Rumble matches in history, and for that we have Chris Benoit to blame. Then a long-respected veteran seen to be finally getting his overdue moment in the sun, Benoit started the Rumble at #1, and wrestled his ass off to last the entire match and win the whole damned thing. Along the way, he eliminated six wrestlers, all of them some of the biggest men in the company at the time, including a final one-on-one showdown with the massive Big Show, who had already singlehandedly overcome the concerted efforts of the final handful of top Superstars (including Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, RVD, John Cena, and Benoit) to get him over the top rope and out of the match. Using a combination of skill and strategy, Benoit succeeded in luring Show into a tenuous position on the ropes, and leveraged the much bigger man out to win, in a moment that should have endured throughout Rumble history. Instead, Benoit would go on to become the focus of one of the worst tragedies in pro wrestling, ever, his name will rightfully never be spoken on regular WWE programming again, and this match is doomed to be forgotten.
6. Roman Reigns, 2014
Believe it or not, there was a time when the vast majority of fans actually wanted to see Roman Reigns win the Royal Rumble. Granted, that was because they were in open rebellion over the fact that Daniel Bryan, seen by everyone except WWE itself to be the obvious choice to main event WrestleMania, hadn’t been entered in the match at all, and were simply getting behind someone who wasn’t the company’s clear choice to win in Batista, but it has to be noted that Reigns showed off flashes of why many in power in WWE felt that he could be a massive force in the main event for years to come in 2014, eliminating 12 Superstars to set the new record for eliminations, and looking incredibly dominant for most of the match (while backed up by his Shield brethren, who added six eliminations themselves to give the entire group 18, or more than half the field). Granted, WWE messed up their plans for Roman Reigns in the dumbest ways possible in the months and years that followed, but watching Reigns tear through the 2014 Rumble and earn cheers from a decidedly hostile crowd, you could hear the dollar signs popping up in Vince McMahon’s brain.
5. Steve Austin, 1997
If you ever want to go back and find the time when everyone realized that Steve Austin’s time was coming, the 1997 Rumble match is probably a good place to begin. Sure, there was the “Austin 3:16″ speech back at the 1996 King of the Ring, but it was this Rumble where Austin turned himself from a rising midcard act into someone that the entire world needed to pay attention to. Entering at #5, Austin proceeded to own the entire Rumble match, to the point that by the time his nemesis, Bret Hart, entered at #21, Austin was standing alone in the ring, begging for the next participant. All told, Austin eliminated 10 men by himself to set a new record at the time, and spent over 45 minutes in the ring. That sounds less impressive when you consider that the top of the Iron Man charts all clocked in at around an hour, but you have to realize that Austin spent the most time in the Rumble than any other two Superstars combined, with the second-longest time being the official runner-up, the aforementioned Hart, at just 21 minutes and change. We say “official runner-up”, of course, because Hart actually won the match, but an eliminated Austin snuck back into the match before any referee noticed that he was supposed to be gone, dumping Hart to steal the victory. In this match, Austin showed just how great he was, and his ascension would skyrocket from there.
4. Kane, 2001
The Big Red Machine may not hold the record for Most Eliminations any more, but it wasn’t just the number of eliminations which made his performance in the star-studded 2001 Rumble impressive. Kane entered the match as part of a comedy segment with celebrity guest Drew Carey, who had entered the match on a whim and somehow ended up standing alone in the ring in time for Kane’s entry. When Carey eliminated himself, the “Hardcore” segment of that year’s match began, as the featured players of the WWE Hardcore Division brought an array of weapons into the fray. Then, once the segment ended, they were all eliminated by Kane. Five men, all gone at the monster’s hands, with a surprise cameo from the Honky Tonk Man following shortly afterwards. The next man in was The Rock, but even he couldn’t stop Kane’s path of rage, as the man after that, Tazz, lasted only a handful of seconds before Kane took him out of the match. Things settled down after that, but Kane would continue to rack up eliminations, even dumping The Rock out to find himself one-on-one with Steve Austin as the final two men in the match. It took the introduction of a steel chair for Austin to gain the upper hand and dump Kane, but at that point, a legend had been created. With eleven eliminations and over 53 minutes spent in the match, Kane’s combined statistics make him the envy of anyone attempting to make their mark in the Rumble match.
3. Diesel, 1994
While other wrestlers have had dominating runs both before and after Diesel had his moment in 1994, and in fact his never even set any sort of records for longevity or number of eliminations, it is definitely one of the most remembered performances in Rumble histories. Not really considered anything more than a bodyguard up to that point, Big Daddy Cool entered the Rumble match at #7, took a look around, and summarily dumped all four opponents already in the ring, with enough time left to stand and glare menacingly at the entrance, waiting for the next Superstar to enter. The next three entrants fared poorly against Diesel, none of them managing to last even close to a full minute against him, and with each elimination, the crowd began to get behind the impressive display of power that he represented. It took a star on the level of Randy Savage to put the brakes on Diesel’s attempt to run through the entire field on at a time, and even then, the big man still lasted a good while before the combined efforts of five men, including a betrayal by his best friend Shawn Michaels, to finally put him out of the match. Kevin Nash’s unprecedented reign over the early part of the 1994 Rumble would live on for years afterward, as to this day, when a relatively new Superstar is given a number of impressive eliminations or allowed to look particularly dominant during a Rumble match, it is referred to as the “Diesel push”.
2. Ric Flair, 1992
In many people’s books, the 1992 Royal Rumble is the greatest one in history, and in large part it is due to the performance of one Ric Flair, who entered at #3 and won the whole thing, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that for the first time in history, the winner of the Rumble match would also win the vacant WWF Championship. Flair lasted the entire match, an incredible 1 hour and 2 seconds, against the strongest Rumble field ever assembled, many of whom had long grudges against the Nature Boy, and still managed to be the last man standing. Along the way, Flair actually managed to eliminate five Superstars, second-most behind Sid, and make no mistake, Flair took a lion’s share of the punishment during that hour. Adding to the performance was the work of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan on commentary, as known Flair supporter Heenan was apoplectic throughout the match as Flair continued to face terrible odds, and Monsoon grew almost gleeful as new challenges for Flair were introduced every two minutes. The match, and Flair’s celebratory interview after winning, are absolute must-sees for any wrestling fan.
1. Rey Mysterio, 2006
It’s nearly impossible to win a Royal Rumble as one of the first two entrants. In fact, of the four people who have done it, one (Shawn Michaels) did it against possibly the weakest field in Rumble history in that brief period where WWE experimented with 60 second entrance intervals and created the shortest 30-man Rumble ever, and a second (Vince McMahon) wasn’t even in the match for the majority of it! That’s the first thing which makes Rey Mysterio’s 2006 win impressive, but not the only one. In going from #2 to victory, Mysterio set the Iron Man record at 1 hour 2 minutes and 12 seconds, and eliminated the most Superstars at 6, including the nigh-unbeatable Triple H, and Randy Orton, when it came down to the final three. Oh, and let’s not forget that he did all that while being WWE’s smallest Superstar by a wide margin, standing 5’6″ and weighing in at 175 pounds. In a heartfelt tribute to the recently-departed Eddie Guerrero, WWE’s “Ultimate Underdog” went the distance in impressive fashion, surviving against incredibly long odds in a Rumble performance that we’ll likely never see duplicated.