Tonight marks the 26th annual WWE Royal Rumble. From Phoenix, Arizona, 30 superstars will compete for a chance to go onto Wrestlemania 29 for a shot at either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship. We all know the build and the story between the WWE Championship match featuring The Rock and CM Punk, but I wanted to remind everyone why the Royal Rumble match itself is one of the most unpredictable and entertaining matches of the entire year. This week, we look back at the Top 10 Royal Rumble Match moments.
Number 10: Rated R-eturn
After a career threatening Achilles injury, many people did not expect Edge to return for nearly a year. The rehab went by quicker than expected, and Edge made a return at Number 29 in the 2010 Royal Rumble. After facing off with Jericho, Edge would go on to win the match and headline WrestleMania 26 in Arizona against that same opponent, his former partner, Chris Jericho. With a full grown beard and the look of intensity, Edge came out to a rocking crowd in Atlanta and took complete control of the atmosphere. With his shocking return, Edge would lose at WrestleMania, but was not long before he was once again carrying Smackdown every Friday night. Who would have thought this would be the first to last match he would have on "The Grandest Stage of Them All." Nonetheless, his return was shocking because it was kept so hidden that even WZ did not even know much about it. What a return for Edge.
Number 9: A Classic Confrontation
He has done it all. World Championships, an Undefeated Streak at WrestleMania, and has been a headliner for close to 20 years. The Undertaker went into San Antonio looking to win the Royal Rumble. There was one man who was in his way, hometown favorite Shawn Michaels. The last two would go face to face, battle for a good portion of the time, until finally The Undertaker added something new to his accomplishments. He would win the 2007 Royal Rumble after eliminating Shawn Michaels in a memorable night. Whether the crowd was for or against Michaels, everyone loved seeing these two in the ring because of the history they have written in the WWE. I firmly believe that the crowd reaction and awe was a crucial reason why we were treated the following two years to Michaels/Taker. We will never forget those matches, and should never forget the confrontation they had in January of 2007.
Number 8: A Journey Completed
May 21, 2001 could have been the worst night in the life of Triple H. On Raw, he tore his left quadriceps muscle when trying to break up a Walls of Jericho from Chris Jericho on Stone Cold Steve Austin. With a huge Invasion storyline coming to fruition, The Game had to sit out for over eight months to repair this career threatening injury. When his return was teased for Madison Square Garden in January of 2002, people felt he would come back, but unsure of how he looked and what his health consisted of. The Garden exploded and out came a juiced up Game, one who looked in even better shape. He would go on to Atlanta and the Royal Rumble match to try and earn a shot at the Undisputed WWE Championship at WrestleMania X-8. Entering at 22, The Game would eliminate Kurt Angle to earn the right to face Chris Jericho in Toronto. This was a tremendous journey for a man whose career was in question. His recovery, his attitude, and his desire to come back better than ever makes this story incredible to watch from beginning to end. His popularity rose even higher upon his return, and the Royal Rumble was the first of many shining moments he would see in years to come.
Number 7: Coast to Coast
Who doesn't love an underdog story? Chris Benoit was an underdog in 2004 to walk out of Philadelphia as the Royal Rumble winner. From Stampede Wrestling to Japan, with stops in WCW and ECW, Chris Benoit would come to the WWE as a great in ring performer. Solid and skilled, he lacked microphone skills to really get to the next level. He would enter at the Number 1 position, last over an hour, and eliminate The Big Show to earn his shot at the top. Benoit would do something that has started suspicion each year since. Benoit found a loophole, where he would challenge either the World Heavyweight Champion or the WWE Champion. He would then challenge Triple H and move to the Raw brand for this feud. With a draw between HBK and Triple H, it would be a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania XX , where Benoit would walk out. Royal Rumble 2004 proved to be the first step for Benoit's career to take the next step, become the top guy in the top company. It really is a great story to see a guy who was not like every other champion make it to the top. Chris Benoit earned it through years of blood, sweat, and tears. His desire was untouched, and the fact he entered number one was the perfect spot for a guy to overcome 29 other men. Great match, and a great Rumble match because of Benoit.
Number 6: It's a Tie
With a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X, Providence hosted one of the most controversial endings to any Royal Rumble match. Bret Hart, an established veteran who was great in the ring, would be left with a young and powerful stud named Lex Luger. Both men, two different styles, would be eliminated simultaneously. Both men were considered winners, deemed by WWE President Jack Tunney. The crowd did not know who to cheer, or what to do. This would create suspense to leak over into the next night, where it was decided that both men would fight two matches at WrestleMania. We remember Bret Hart losing to Owen, but then walking out with the WWE Championship after defeating Yokozuna. What a mess this was to figure out, and shocking considering how they went about booking WrestleMania X. Hart lost the opening match to his brother, but revenge was sought after when he was WWE Champion. For Lex, he would become champion later on but never reached his pinnacle.
Number 5: Madison Square Shocker
Same old story, but this one was different. John Cena tore his pectoral muscle on Raw in October of 2007. What was deemed as a seven month rehab assignment, John Cena looked to miss WrestleMania XXIV. With so much stock invested in Cena at the time, including his slight transition into a face/heel from the fans, Cena would return two and a half months later, not seven, and return at number 30 in the Royal Rumble. The jaw dropping look on Triple H's face told the entire story. The crowd in MSG erupted to a deafening pitch. Cena returned, eliminated Triple H last, and went on to WrestleMania to main event once again. Many can question his in ring skills, but nobody can question his toughness and heart. He can be disliked for many thing, but personally, cannot be disliked for how much he bleeds the business. Cena returned was kept so secretive and was a complete surprise to everyone.
Number 4: One for the Ages
At the peak of his early success, Hulk Hogan was untouchable in every way. His personality, his worldwide popularity, and his look could not be duplicated. Hulk Hogan would enter the 1990 Royal Rumble at number 25, eliminating many superstars. He was the WWE Champion, but one guy in the ring impressed even more. At number 21, The Intercontinental Champion, Ultimate Warrior, was destroying everything that came into his path. As the ring cleared, it was Hogan face to face with Warrior. Two gladiators, two powerhouses, and two guys which split the crowd like never before. Hogan was not the crowd favorite by much here, as the fans would turn to their admiration of the Ultimate Warrior. The face off. The Amazing atmosphere, along with the cameras flashing, gave us a moment we can never forget. It propelled Warrior into the main event light, while Hogan was not sure how to handle it. Warrior would save Hogan from getting eliminated by Rick Rude and the Barbarian, but Warrior would then get eliminated. Hogan would end up winning the Rumble match, but it was all about the face off that would set a future WrestleMania main event match. Hogan and Warrior draw parallels, and this was the beginning of that feud.
Number 3: Stone Cold Confrontations:
The Attitude Era was created by Stone Cold Steve Austin. In 1997 in his home state of Texas, Austin would enter the match at number 5. He would face off with many opponents, eliminating them one by one by one. He was dominant in this match, eliminating 10 men. We rarely have seen a Royal Rumble match like this, with one guy in the ring continuously waiting for his next victim. When Austin was waiting, out came Bret Hart, a man who had a problem with Stone Cold. He eliminated Austin, but no referee saw it. Late into the match, Austin would sneak back in and toss Hart over the ropes. Austin would become the future, the bad ass type where he was different than anyone else. Austin stole the win, and would go to WrestleMania. He would not battle for the WWE Championship, but settle a score in one of the best matches in the history of professional wrestling. He would compete in a Submission Match against Bret Hart, with the infamous shot of blood dripping down his face. Propelled into the main event, Austin never looked back.
Number 2: Only One Foot
The eight annual Royal Rumble match would take place in the USF Sun Dome in Tampa Bay, Florida. Shawn Michaels, entering at number 1, was a long shot to win this match. It was never done before, where a superstar won after entering number 1. There is a first for everything. Michaels would outlast 28 guys, and would be down to him and the more powerful Davey Boy Smith. These two men started the match, and it was fitting that they both ended it. Smith would send Michaels to the outside and eliminate him... but wait. Michaels only had one foot hit the ground, and the rules stated that both feet must hit the ground. Michaels hung on, would lift himself over the top rope, and club Smith to the outside to win. What a shocker. This would be something we would continue to see each year, a superstar holding on for dear life, touch one foot, and come back in. This shaped how we view the Royal Rumble now, and something that nobody takes for granted until BOTH feet hit the ground. Michaels would lose to Diesel at WrestleMania, but years later, he is considered "Mr. WrestleMania." It all started at the Royal Rumble in 1995.
Number 1: Golden Rumble
The 1992 Royal Rumble was the most important Royal Rumble in WWE History. With a vacant WWE Championship, 30 men would enter and compete for the gold. With the WWE heavily invested in "their" created talent, such as Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, Ric Flair was a massive underdog. His booking since coming to the WWE was flawed and a let down. His success in AWA, NWA, and WCW was unmatched. His skills in the ring are unmatched, as well as his ability to get the crowd behind or against him in a breath. Flair entered Albany as the number 3 entrant. With his ability to go for an extended period of time, this was perfect for him to shine. He did just that, as he eliminated Sid Justice, with the help of Hogan, to win the WWE Championship. An awestruck crowd roared in ovation for Flair. The shock of a guy who Vince did not make win the Rumble makes this match even more memorable. Flair took his opportunity and capitalized. He was deserving of this title, and was able to carry on his tradition of being "The Man." Ric Flair struck gold, and showed everyone that he was bigger than a company.
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