wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 01.07.13 The Top 10 Royal Rumble Winners

January 7, 2013 | Posted by Gavin Napier

Lex Luger (1994) 37.185 pointssize=6>

This should have been the beginning of a WWF World Heavyweight Title push.
-Entered 23rd
-21:58 spent in the ring
-7 eliminations

I’ll admit to being a little surprised by this, especially considering that this was one of my least favorite Royal Rumbles ever. The double winner thing annoyed me in 1994 when I was 14 and it hasn’t gotten much better with time and hindsight. For his part, Lex tossed seven people out during his time in this Rumble, which isn’t too shabby. Lex’s cardio was also better than he ever got credit for, more than likely in large part due to going for 30 and 45 minutes with Flair for all those years. Depending on the wrestling urban legends you believe, this should have been the beginning of a WWF World Heavyweight Title push for Lex, but he couldn’t keep his mouth shut leading in to Wrestlemania.

Triple H (2002) 39.140 points size=6>

Triple H’s return was better than most
-Entered 22nd
-23:14 spent in the ring
-4 eliminations

This Rumble was one of those that plays into the biggest cliches in Rumble history, being that the main event superstar that’s returning from a serious injury will win the Royal Rumble. Triple H’s return was better than most of those sorts of wins, though. He came in and hung around for a good portion of the match, lasting well over twenty minutes before winning. It felt a little anticlimactic at the time, but it sent the crowd home happy, which is generally the goal for the major pay per views in WWE. Judging by the reaction that he got when he emerged to enter the Rumble and when he actually picked up the win, it was mission accomplished.

Yokozuna (1993) 42.540 pointssize=6>

Part of a pattern.
-Entered 27th
-14:53 spent in the ring
-7 eliminations

1993’s Rumble wins for “dumbest ending.” I was thirteen years old and I couldn’t figure out why Randy Savage tried to pin Yokozuna in a Royal Rumble. Admittedly, as someone that’s a little (and I stress little) smarter to the way wrestling works, I’m more impressed by that spot. The psychology of it still doesn’t make sense. Never will. However, Savage launching from Yoko’s chest to up and over the top rope did a lot to establish just how strong Yokozuna was. Yokozuna would be the WWF’s other side of the coin for Vader in WCW, a brutal monster heel that ran roughshod over the roster for a good portion of his title reign. And looking back, you can’t really expect a guy his size to take too many bumps over the top, can you?

Shawn Michaels (1996) 43.575 pointssize=6>

Much better than his 1995 performance.
-Entered 18th
-26:09 spent in the ring
-8 eliminations

This match was much better than his 1995 performance, simply because the Rumble with the one minute intervals felt so very, very rushed. They expanded the time limits again, and while Shawn didn’t go “wire to wire”, he actually spent more time in the ring. He eliminated the same number of people, and had a better understanding of what made the match work. Much like Kane at the #3 spot last week, I feel like the positioning of HBK’s wins on the list validates the formula. Logically, it’s hard to understand how a 230 lbs. man has the most eliminations in Royal Rumble history. Logic doesn’t account for politics, though. Shawn was at the peak of his dark powers here, and used them to great advantage. That’s not to discount his performance here, though, which was very good.

Randy Orton (2009) 45.210 pointssize=6>

The Viper had remarkably few eliminations.
-Entered 8th
-48:27 spent in the ring
-3 eliminations

Had Orton tossed a few more people, this one would likely move up a few spots. Given how long he was in the ring, The Viper had remarkably few eliminations. Generally for winners and/or guys that are in the ring for over 40 minutes, you can count on a handful of eliminations. Orton only managed three in the 2009 Rumble. However, by surviving all the way through from the number eight position to pick up the win, Orton turned in one of the better performances in Royal Rumble history. Don’t be surprised if in the near future we see WWE and Orton do something similar in the Royal Rumble when the main event scene needs freshened up.

Hulk Hogan (1991) 47.650 pointssize=6>

More validation for the formula.
-Entered 24th
-19:55 spent in the ring
-7 eliminations

More validation for the formula. Hogan never spent a ton of time in the ring during a Royal Rumble, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. He was never built for cardio, rather to bodyslam guys like Earthquake and King Kong Bundy. In 1991, though, Hogan hung around for nearly 20 minutes and was very efficient, eliminating 7 men. The 1991 Rumble had some oddities to it, such as Shane Douglas surviving for a while and Brian Knobbs making it to the final four, but the ending made sense. It essentially turned into a one on one match between Hogan and Earthquake, complete with the spots you would expect. Hogan failed on one slam attempt, then got his second one, and won the match – again, to send the crowd home happy.

Steve Austin (1997) 63.750size=6>

Ultimately, two things worked against Austin on this list.
-Entered 5th
-45:00 spent in the ring
-10 eliminations

If you want an argument against my formula, here it is. Austin tossed ten guys, completely dominated the Rumble both physically and from an emotional/fan interest standpoint, and was amazingly entertaining. Yet he comes in fourth here. Ultimately, two things worked against Austin on this list. The first is that he didn’t enter first overall, like two of the top three on the list did. The other is that it took place during one of the Rumbles that featured 90 second intervals, meaning his point total was multiplied by only 1.5 instead of 2. If that Rumble would have been one of the two minute variety, this performance would have been number one on the list by a fairly wide margin. If you want to relate the difference in value to other sports, consider it like boxing. The 1.5 minute Rumbles are like significant fights that aren’t for a title, and so last only 10 rounds. The two minute Rumbles feature the “championship rounds” in that they go 12. For my money, this should at the very least be number two on the list and possibly number one. The numbers don’t lie, though. Not much, anyway.

Chris Benoit (2004) 63.975 pointssize=6>

Six tenths of a point separate Benoit from the number two spot here.
-Entered 1st
-61:30 spent in the ring
-6 eliminations

A commenter last week actually pointed out something neat about Benoit’s win that often goes overlooked. As Scott Bland points out, Benoit was actually being targeted by Paul Heyman, who had made him go through a series of goons trying to keep him out of the Rumble or at the very least make sure he was in no shape to compete. Benoit systematically eliminated each one of those men in the 2004 Rumble on his way to a win that set up one of the best Road to Wrestlemanias ever. Six tenths of a point separate Benoit from the number two spot here, and at the time there were plenty of people arguing that Benoit had just turned in the greatest performance in Rumble history. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. It’ll always be very high on the list, though.

Rey Mysterio (2006) 64.590 pointssize=6>

It seemed a given that he would win the match.
-Entered 2nd
-62:12 spent in the ring
-6 eliminations

Once Rey made it past the 20th entrant in 2006, it seemed a given that he would win the match. Maybe I think too much about this stuff, but I didn’t like Rey’s win. I can buy into Rey beating guys bigger than him in one on one matches because as a fan of mixed martial arts, I’ve seen open weight class matches and tournaments that saw smaller men fare very well. However, the idea that he would survive a mob of much larger men in a match where the idea is to not be picked up and thrown for distance was a little far fetched for me. However, as I’ve mentioned before, the object of a lot of these matches at WWE’s “big five” pay per views is to send the crowd home happy. The kids love Rey, and this was coming on the heels of Eddy Guerrero’s death. It was a feel good moment, which isn’t a necessarily bad thing.

Ric Flair (1992) 76.020 pointssize=6>

-Entered 3rd
-60:02 spent in the ring
-4 eliminations

It seems fitting that the winner of the greatest Royal Rumble of all time ends up at number one on the “power rankings” for best Royal Rumble winners. The 1992 Royal Rumble remains one of my favorite matches of all time for a lot of reasons. It remains the greatest collection of talent in one ring at one time ever, as well as featuring arguably the best commentary for a match ever. Flair was never better than he was here, surviving against all odds to win the match from the #3 spot. I don’t think that this particular match is what cemented Flair as the greatest of all time in many people’s minds, but I wonder how differently he and his 1992 run in the World Wrestling Federation would be viewed without this match. Twelve year old me was the only kid I knew that wanted Flair to win or thought that he had a chance to do so. I celebrated like I had won the lottery when it happened. Admittedly, they could do the same thing in a couple of weeks and I’d be okay with it.

Last week was a look at the big picture of the history of the Royal Rumble. This week was a snapshot of individual performances. For me, it was interesting to see how the lists compared. Let me know what you thought, how you would have figured things differently, tell me how outraged you are because you didn’t read the criteria, and discuss the above list in the comment section below. You can find me on Twitter @GavinNapier411 and check out my new podcast on iTunes by searching for The Casual Heroes, or go to www.thecasualheroes.com and I’ll be back here in 7..6..5..

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Gavin Napier

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