The Royal Rumble is one of the biggest pay-per-view events in WWE's programming. Since its debut in 1988, the event has been held on an annual basis, serving as one of WWE's most integral, longest-running shows alongside Summerslam, Survivor Series, and WrestleMania itself.
The main reason for the Royal Rumble's continued popularity after all these years is its namesake match (which is often featured as the show's main event). The rules of the match are simple: two wrestlers start in the ring, with a new competitor entering after a specific amount of time has passed. There are no disqualifications, no pinfalls, or submissions; the only way to win the match is by being the last wrestler standing, having successfully thrown all other competitors over the top rope.
Traditionally, 30 wrestlers compete in this event, with the winner receiving a title shot at WrestleMania. Over the years, some minor stipulations about the match have changed (such as the victor winning a world championship or 40 wrestlers competing instead of 30). Yet, despite all these changes, the fundamental nature of the Royal Rumble has remained the same for the past 35 years.
Like any wrestling match, though, some Royal Rumble matches are far better than others. From some of the earliest Rumble bouts to the chaotic matches of the Attitude Era, here are some of the best Royal Rumble matches of all time.
Royal Rumble 2001
It's not often you'll see WWE fans agree on the same topic, but nearly every wrestling viewer tends to look upon the 2001 Royal Rumble as the greatest Rumble match of them all. Emphasizing the whole “no rules” aspect of the match, anything that could happen did happen during this Rumble bout.
Wrestlers routinely entered ahead of their allotted entrance queues, weapons were freely introduced and used throughout the match, and competitors were attacked on their way to the ring or promptly after they were eliminated. Game show host Drew Carey even entered for a few minutes as a surprise entrant, going so far as trying to bribe Kane into helping him win (an offer the Big Red Machine promptly refused).
If ever you had to watch one Royal Rumble match, this is it. Filled with twists and turns, brutal spots, and every major personality you associate with early 2000s WWE (Stone Cold, The Rock, Kane, the Undertaker, Big Show), it's the greatest Royal Rumble match of the entire Attitude Era. (Although compared to the underwhelming 1998, 1999, and 2000 matches, that's probably not saying too much.)
Royal Rumble 2007
In many ways, the 2007 Royal Rumble operated in a very similar mold to the 2001 Rumble bout. The first Rumble match to introduce wrestlers from Raw, SmackDown, and the newly-rebranded ECW, was an intensely exciting match full of weapons, violence, reluctant alliances, and shocking betrayals.
As with the 2001 Rumble, 2007's match was kicked off with a strong start, allowing many of WWE's most talented midcard wrestlers to shine in the event's opening stages. However, once Randy Orton entered at number 16 and reunited with his tag team partner, Edge, that's when things started to really get interesting. Eliminating wrestlers left and right, Rated RKO dominated the majority of the match's second half, with only two legends (Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker) remaining.
A temporary slip-up on Edge and Orton's part allowed Michaels to quickly eliminate both men, leading to an epic standoff between WWE icons Michaels and the Undertaker. Then, in an unexpected twist, hometown hero the Phenom eliminated Michaels — though their encounter here continues to remain perhaps the most iconic showdown between the final two competitors of any Rumble match there is.
Royal Rumble 2008
Nearly edging out Royal Rumble 2007 is its immediate follow-up, the 2008 Royal Rumble match. Loaded with standout moments, the match started in the best way possible, with Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker entering as the first two entrants, reenacting their amazing battle at the previous year's event.
From there, the match maintained a somewhat mediocre pace, though it benefited greatly from some surprise entries from WWE legends like Mick Foley, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka.
However, the match's most endearing moment came when John Cena came in as the thirtieth and final entrant—having been sidelined with an injury that was expected to leave him out of action for six to twelve months, Cena returning after a mere three months, the crowd at Madison Square Garden exploding in cheers at the sound of his entrance music. It was a jaw-dropping moment that continues to define Cena's superhuman resilience and physical prowess, made even better when Cena won the match after eliminating former rivals Triple H and Batista.
Royal Rumble 2018 (Men's)
After the drastically underwhelming Royal Rumble matches from 2014 to 2017, the 2018 Royal Rumble returned the match to its earlier pristine condition. Actually making clever use of wrestlers, Vince McMahon had long neglected to use within his company, the 2018 Royal Rumble felt like it was loaded with legitimate stars, making great use of everyone from midcarders like Heath Slater to underutilized talent like Shinsuke Nakamura.
Sadly, Nakamura winning the Rumble ultimately led nowhere in the long run, and WWE somehow bungled his feud with AJ Styles at WrestleMania (a rivalry that practically books itself). Regardless, simply looking at the quality of this match itself is enough to get your blood pumping.
As with the 2008 Rumble, most of the match had a simply okay quality to it. But when it came down to the final six wrestlers — WWE's old guard (John Cena, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio) squaring off against the company's new breed of talent (Nakamura, Finn Bálor, and Roman Reigns) — it was enough of a payoff to satisfy even the most cynical fans who'd grown tired of WWE's programming up to this point.
Royal Rumble 1992
The first legitimately great Royal Rumble event came in 1992, four years after generally so-so matches featuring the Rumble match as a pay-per-view centerpiece. The 1992 Royal Rumble broke so many rules and traditions WWE had painstakingly established with the original four Rumble matches. Most obviously, it had the unique stipulation that whoever won the match would win the vacant WWE Championship, propelling them to instant stardom.
Along with that was the fact that the match's eventual winner (Ric Flair) was an established heel at this point, in sharp contrast to the earlier fan-favorite winners (Jim Duggan, Big John Studd, and Hulk Hogan). Additionally, Flair also became the first victor to enter the match from an incredibly early entry point, entering the Rumble at the number three slot and lasting for just over an hour.
If there were any doubts about Ric Flair not being a world title contender, the 1992 Rumble proved all the naysayers wrong. Pushing the Nature Boy to the very top of WWE's product, it was an event that illustrated Flair's incredible in-ring abilities and demonstrated the complete unpredictability of the Royal Rumble match itself.
Royal Rumble 2004
The 2004 Royal Rumble's reputation is forever stained by the controversial legacy of the match's winner, Chris Benoit. One of the most naturally gifted wrestlers of the 2000s, Benoit's career came to a screeching halt in 2007 with the murder of his wife and young son, followed by Benoit's suicide directly afterward.
As deplorable as Benoit's actions are, if you're able to separate the wrestler from his unforgivable personal choices, you're left with a career filled with numerous defining moments — none more so than Benoit's performance at the 2004 Royal Rumble and his eventual Triple Threat victory over Triple H and Shawn Michaels at that year's WrestleMania.
Entering the match as the first competitor, Benoit outlasted twenty-nine other competitors for over an hour and one minute. It's one of the single most impressive performances in Royal Rumble history, even if the match itself makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience knowing what we know about Benoit's chilling future.
Royal Rumble 2023
The most recent Royal Rumble match, the 2023 Royal Rumble, was nothing short of exceptional. Benefiting from Triple H's behind-the-scenes creative decisions, the match features some of the best current wrestlers on WWE's roster right now, with everyone from Drew McIntyre to a returning Logan Paul getting a chance to shine.
Echoing the opening moments of the 2008 Royal Rumble, the match began with Gunther and Sheamus renewing their critically acclaimed bout at Clash at the Castle 2022. From there, the match only got better and better, with increasingly great entrants making their way to the ring early on (including Kofi Kingston, Johnny Gargano, and Karrion Kross).
With literally no weak booking involved, every entrant was given a judicious amount of time to strut their stuff. Among the match's many strong characteristics, though, was the return of Cody Rhodes. With shades of Triple H at Royal Rumble 2002, Rhodes had a triumphant performance at the event, narrowly beating out an equally outstanding Gunther (who, as the number one entrant, wrestled for an hour and eleven minutes) to win the match.
Royal Rumble 1990
Let's face it: as vital as they were, the first two Royal Rumble matches weren't all that great. Sure, it was an original and exciting concept for a match, but the finished results showed that WWE had a long way to go before they reached the pristine quality of later Royal Rumble matches.
But the 1990 Royal Rumble changed everything, serving as the first genuinely memorable Royal Rumble in the event's existence. Containing a stacked entry list, nearly every wrestler who competed in the match was at the peak of their WWE careers, reading like a who's who of WWE's Golden Age.
Hulk Hogan may have predictably won the match in the end (a feat he'd repeat at the 1991 Royal Rumble), but this was one of the few Rumbles where the bout itself overshadowed the ending. Most notably, you had the incredible standoff between Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, the present and future faces of WWE, foreshadowing their later famous match-up in the main event of WrestleMania VI four months down the line.
Royal Rumble 2002
The 2002 Royal Rumble tends to be overshadowed by its far superior predecessor, the 2001 Royal Rumble. But, as memorably fantastic as its earlier counterpart was, that's not to say the 2002 Royal Rumble wasn't itself remarkable in quite a few ways.
Announced ahead of time was the imminent return of Triple H, one of the top stars of WWE who'd been nursing a torn quad for the past eight months. Taking advantage of its stacked post-Invasion roster, the Rumble was also packed with well-known WWE and former WCW and ECW stars (even if most of the latter suffered from horrendous booking placement).
Complete with worthwhile appearances from the Undertaker, the Hardy Boyz, Stone Cold, Triple H, and even a returning Mr. Perfect, it was a Rumble chock full of surprises and unexpectedly hilarious comedic moments. There was the fantastic reunion between Triple H and Stone Cold, two former rivals turned tag team members turned … well … enemies again; the Undertaker being tossed out of the ring by debuting rookie Maven; and even some humorous hijinks from the Hurricane, whose Hurripower didn't seem enough to stop the combined might of the Game and the Texas Rattlesnake.
Royal Rumble 2010
The 2010 Royal Rumble was an okay event, featuring decent but relatively average in-ring action. What makes it a truly fantastic Rumble, though, was the number of storylines WWE managed to explore in this match — the most important of which was Shawn Michaels' quest to challenge the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI in a rematch from the previous year.
In what was arguably the greatest Royal Rumble performance of his career, Michaels spearheaded a one-man war against every competitor in the match, eliminating a total of six combatants before being tossed over the rope by Batista near the match's conclusion. Devastated, Michaels haplessly tried to reinsert himself in the match, only to superkick a referee who interjected, departing from the backstage area downtrodden and visibly frustrated.
It was storytelling at its finest, but that wasn't the only thing that made this match so enjoyable. Entering early in the match and at the peak of his Straight Edge Society persona, CM Punk spoke about his personal beliefs in between wrestlers' entrances, running his mouth until Triple H forcefully shut it down. Then there was Beth Phoenix's surprise entrance at number six (followed by her elimination of the seven-foot Great Khali), as well as the great return of Edge, who went on to eliminate John Cena to win the match.