wrestling / Columns

Top 10 Royal Rumble ‘Other’ Matches

January 25, 2024 | Posted by Steve Cook
The Rock Mankind Royal Rumble 1999, Mick Foley Image Credit: WWE

Life isn’t all about the destination. The journey to get there provides the memories that stay with you forever. Many fans fixiate on WrestleMania and the weekend surrounding it as the apex of professional wrestling. Me, I’ve always been about the beginning of the story. The Royal Rumble serves as the beginning of the Road to WrestleMania, and has been my favorite annual WWE event since I can remember. The 2012 Royal Rumble wasn’t one of the best Rumble events of all time, but it’s where my childhood wrestling fan dream came true, as I was finally able to attend it in person.

The 1992 Royal Rumble Match is what I always tell people is my favorite match, and that may never change, though I’m open to being proven wrong. It had the greatest cast of characters of all time, and flowed better than any hour of wrestling ever. I thought about ranking Rumble matches, but comparing other Rumble matches to 1992 felt wrong. Perhaps another year.

Instead, we will rate non-Rumble matches that appeared on Royal Rumble shows. I know that 411mania readers, commenters & Tony Khan are high on match ratings, so I will include Cagematch & Dave Meltzer ratings with mine. Of course, my match ratings will dictate the order since I’m the person putting this thing together, I merely include the others as a point of reference.

10. 1999: Rock d. Mankind

Let’s start with one of the most controversial matches of all time, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Some will revolt at the idea of Rock vs. Mankind from the 99 Rumble being considered good. Others will say it’s great. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

On paper, the idea was fantastic. An “I Quit” stipulation enabled both men to utilize the microphone during the match, which is ideal when you have two verbal juggernauts like Rock & Mankind there. The match was pretty fun up until the point where we got an electrical stunt and ten chairshots to a handcuffed Mankind’s skull. It was the Attitude Era, so it was just slightly over the top for the time period. Today it’d be way out of pocket, and somebody would probably get fired.

In a vacuum, the match was entertaining and you have to give Rock & Mankind an A for effort. Unfortunately, you probably have to give them an F for common sense, especially since Mankind brought his family to the match and the Beyond the Mat crew was there to film them. Hindsight being 20/20, they would have gone a different route. 

Cagematch: 7.95
Meltzer: ***3/4
Cook: ***1/2

9. 1993: Bret Hart d. Razor Ramon

1993 Steve Cook was a big fan of both these guys. Razor was a cool character that was pretty dominant when I saw him on television. Bret was a WWF Champion that actually had matches on Superstars, which was a nice change of pace from previous title holders. I had high hopes for this re-watch in 2024, as I’m still a Bret guy and am pretty sure that Scott Hall was one of the best of his era when he had his head on straight 

Some good psychology throughout with Bret targeting Razor’s leg and selling his ass off for the newcomer. I thought Razor would eventually become WWF Champion during this time period, and his performance here would back up that eventually incorrect assertion. Kind of a sloppy Sharpshooter at the end, but other than that both guys were extremely solid. I wish these guys had more matches with each other than they did. 

Cagematch: 7.14
Meltzer: ***1/4
Cook: ***3/4

8. 2013: Rock d. CM Punk

Everybody knew who was winning this match, and anybody with a doubt knew after John Cena won the Royal Rumble Match earlier in the evening. Rock vs. Cena Second in a Lifetime was destined to happen, even if Punk had held the WWE Championship for 434 days. As a result, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this match at the time. 

Fortunately, Punk & Rock did a tremendous job of placing some doubt in fans’ minds. Say what you will about Rock’s technical wrestling ability, but the guy always has the people invested in his matches. Punk was on top of his game here too. After watching several matches with some lazy chinlocks, it was nice of Punk to pull off some different holds to give Rock & him time to relax. The Shield interference with the lights out was inventive at the time, and obviously started the issues with Rock & Roman Reigns. Long term storytelling! This was much better than I remembered it being, and I wonder who the Internet would root for in this match today.

Cagematch: 7.03
Meltzer: ****
Cook: ***3/4

7. 2014: Bray Wyatt d. Daniel Bryan

The 2014 Royal Rumble is largely remembered as the night the fans revolted against what WWE was selling them. The reaction to the Rumble match was the biggest example, but you could tell the crowd was already in a bit of a mood during the opening match here. They were already chanting random people’s names several hours before Batista came out. And these were two of the guys smart fans of the time liked! Bryan was especially over here, but the fans were still on one.

From what I’ve seen, all of Bray’s best singles matches were with Bryan. This one stole the show on this night, and Wyatt was on his A game while Bryan was his usual self. Wyatt got the pinfall victory, but Bryan still came out ahead at the end of the night. Even though Bryan wasn’t advertised as part of the Rumble match, everybody in the crowd thought he would be a surprise entrant. After all 30 participants came out and Bryan was nowhere to be seen….well, the Pittsburgh fans let WWE know who they wanted to see in the match. Most of the fans watching at home agreed. 

Cagematch: 8.45
Meltzer: ****
Cook: ****

6. 2007: John Cena d. Umaga

It was funny how the Internet quickly decided that Umaga wasn’t going to be any good, then he ended up being really good. A Last Man Standing stipulation certainly played to his strengths, and to the strengths of his opponent that was all about never giving up. You almost thought John Cena might have to give up early, as Umaga treated him like a ragdoll for most of the first several minutes. 

Cena would get an advantage here and there when Umaga would miss something, and the Samoan Bulldozer would end up being his own worst enemy here. Armando Estrada assisted in his charge’s demise, as he thought it was a good idea to take the top rope off of the ring. Cena ended up using said top rope to choke Umaga out, which provided quite the visual.

For many years, a good number of people thought this was John Cena’s best match. Spoiler alert: he did better later.

Cagematch: 9.01
Meltzer: ****
Cook: ****

5. 2000: Triple H d. Cactus Jack

The Game had gotten the big push throughout the second half of 1999, but the fans hadn’t quite bought in yet. H’s feud with Cactus during the first part of 2000 pushed him over the top, and this match had a big part in legitimazing him as a tough guy. Cactus kicked Helmsley’s ass all over Madison Square Garden, and got his ass kicked in return.

The street fight stipulation enabled the guys to use barbed wire, thumbtacks and anything else they desired. I probably don’t want to know why Howard Finkel had handcuffs with him for HHH to use. It did lead to Rock rescuing Foley from the same treatment he gave him at the previous year’s Rumble, so that was a cool moment. The thumbtacks led to the finish. On one hand that was cool, on the other hand it inspired a generation of indy garbage wrestlers, along with too many Abyss spots to count. I’m noticing a trend here of stuff that was great in the moment but possibly harmful in the long term.

Cagematch: 9.45
Meltzer: ****1/2
Cook: ****

4. 2003: Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit

Speaking of things that were great in the moment. I don’t make a habit of watching Chris Benoit matches, as it’s hard for me to separate the sin from the sinner. Prior to watching this one I watched Benoit’s ladder match with Chris Jericho at the 2001 Rumble, which did not hold up well. Benoit diving head-first into the barricade made me want to turn the dang thing off. I didn’t expect this one to either, given Kurt Angle’s in-ring style + Benoit’s would lead to lots of head drops & brain damage.

It turns out that this match was really good! They actually worked a pretty smart match outside of the endless German suplexes. Benoit was getting really over at this point, the fans were really behind his submission attempts on Angle. Lots of good reversals, and Angle had to resort to the heel hook to finally get the tap out. I don’t think Kurt had used that yet, and it became a last resort finisher for him. This match and the standing ovation Benoit got after Angle left is likely what put him over the top with the office and into serious World title consideration.

Cagematch: 9.46
Meltzer: ****3/4
Cook: ****1/4

3. 1991: The Rockers d. The Orient Express

Two tag teams with AWA roots were sent out first and tore the house down before anybody else had a chance. We all know about Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty, whose teamwork was second to none during this period. They had great matches with almost everybody, but Tanaka & Kato helped them get to even another level.

I don’t know what Tanaka, Kato & Mr. Fuji thought about the Gulf War, but they gave the crowd still another reason to chant USA. There were some pretty cool spots I don’t recall seeing recently, like Shawn doing the Flair flip onto the apron to eat a superkick. The monkey/sunset flip combo was pretty great too. This was classic tag team rasslin with a taste of what would come later on. Tremendous stuff.

Cagematch: 8.04
Meltzer: ****
Cook: ****1/4

2. 2015: Brock Lesnar d. John Cena & Seth Rollins

As annoying as it was that Brock would defend his championship just a couple of times a year (boy, did we get used to that or what?), his matches typically lived up to the billing. Rollins was establishing himself as one of WWE’s top guys, and Big Match John was more than up to the task. These elements led to a pretty fun triple threat match at the 2015 Rumble.

The main story of the match was Brock being inhuman, which isn’t too hard to believe. The only time Cena or Rollins really had a chance was when they put him through a table. Brock even got on a backboard for a minute, and Seth had his security force try & help him beat Cena, but Lesnar was still breathing. Seth tried taking Brock out with his briefcase a few times, but all Brock needed was to hit an F-5. Seth would figure out that the triple threat match was a good idea, he just needed to enter it 20 minutes after it started.

Cagematch: 9.29
Meltzer: ****3/4
Cook: ****1/2

Top 5 Honorable Mentions

2019: Asuka d. Becky Lynch (***1/2)
1988: Jumping Bomb Angels d. Glamour Girls (***1/4)
2002: Chris Jericho d. The Rock (***1/4)
2009: Edge d. Jeff Hardy (***1/4)
2017: Kevin Owens d. Roman Reigns (***)

I really wanted to include the Bomb Angels match but it didn’t quite get there, same with Asuka/Becky. Jericho/Rock & Edge/Hardy were both good, but both were also harmed by too many shenanigans. I didn’t love Owens/Reigns as much as I did when I watched it live, but the 2017 version is still far superior to their efforts from 2021 & 2023, both of which hurt my brain when I watched them again. Sami Zayn turning against the Bloodline after the 2023 match was still cool, but the match itself was not.

1. 2017: John Cena d. AJ Styles

Cena vs. Styles was something of a dream match for those of us that followed WWE & other wrestling promotions during the 2000s. The biggest star in the profession and one of the most exciting in-ring workers ended up making a tremendous pairing when they finally met in WWE in 2016. A classic series of matches led to this one at the 2017 Rumble, ending with Cena’s 16th world championship victory.

I gave it five snowflakes in 2017, and that still tracks. The only real flaw in the match (other than finisher spamming, but everybody was doing that in 2017) was the announcing, but we can’t blame Cena & Styles for that randomness of an announce team. Cena pulled out every move he knew and some he’d seen on YouTube, while Styles was totally on point. Outstanding match, in fact it’s the best non-Rumble match in Royal Rumble history.

Cagematch: 9.10
Meltzer: ****3/4
Cook: *****

Thanks for reading! Hit me up at [email protected] or on the social media with thoughts, comments or suggestions. Until next time, true believers!

article topics :

WWE Royal Rumble, Steve Cook