The Royal Rumble has featured some of the biggest stars in WWE history facing one another for the ultimate bragging rights. The chance to potentially main event WrestleMania is on the line, and since 1988, there have been plenty of performances to remember.
From the first winner in Hacksaw Jim Duggan, to the most recent winner’s in Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey, the Royal Rumble match has always been an entertaining watch for pro wrestling fans. Some stars have been multiple-time winners, while first-time winners create star-making performances.
This year, the Royal Rumble takes place inside the Alamodome on January 28. The winner of both the men’s and women’s Rumble matches earns a shot at a world title at WrestleMania 39 in April. Who will impress while proving why they deserve the spotlight?
Before looking forward, we must look back. Here are some of the top Royal Rumble winners of all time. While the women’s Royal Rumble has only been around since 2018, that match is featured on the list.
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Top Royal Rumble winners of all time
Honorable mention: Yokozuna (1993), Brock Lesnar (2003), Chris Benoit (2004), Rey Mysterio (2006), Undertaker (2007), Bianca Belair (2021)
5. Becky Lynch (2019)
At SummerSlam 2018, Charlotte Flair won the SmackDown Women’s Title, taking away another moment from Becky Lynch. A frustrated Lynch attacked Charlotte after the match. Meaning to be a heel turn, the Brooklyn crowd cheered for Lynch. She continued to gain momentum, referring to herself as “The Man,” feuding with Flair (winning the belt in the process) and Ronda Rousey over the next few months.
After Asuka won the belt from her, Lynch faced her in a rematch at the Royal Rumble. Lynch lost and wasn’t expected to appear in the Rumble match. The fans were very outspoken about what they wanted. WWE listened, and when an injured Lana couldn’t compete after coming out at 28, Lynch took her spot.
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Lynch last eliminated her rival in Charlotte to the delight of the crowd. The end result was a complicated three-way match at WrestleMania where Lynch became a double-champion. However, the Rumble match showcased her popularity and the fans desire for her to thrive.
The Rumble win was her coronation as WWE’s leading woman. She hasn’t looked back.
4. John Cena (2008)
The 2008 Royal Rumble was full of great moments and surprises. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels started things off, continuing where they started last year when Undertaker won the match after eliminating Michaels. We also saw the returns of Mick Foley, Roddy Piper, and Jimmy Snuka, among others.
However, it was the surprise return of John Cena that everyone remembers.
When Cena’s lengthy WWE Title reign ended in 2007 due to injury, it was unknown when he would return. Nobody expected him to return at the Royal Rumble inside Madison Square Garden. As the countdown to the 30th and final entrant dropped to zero, “My Time is Now” blasted over the loudspeakers, and everyone in New York was shocked. The roof blew off the place as Cena made his triumphant return.
Cena eliminated Triple H to secure his spot as a contender at WrestleMania 24. It was a moment that emphasized that anything can happen at the Royal Rumble.
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3. Shawn Michaels (1995, 1996)
We are cheating a bit, and including Shawn Michaels’ two Royal Rumble wins. Why? Because of the historical nature and the fact that Michaels is one of the greatest Rumble competitors of all time.
Michaels came into the 1995 Royal Rumble match at number one. The British Bulldog entered second, and they outlasted every competitor to become the final two in the bout. Bulldog threw Michaels over the top rope, but only one foot touched the floor. The clip is played famously to emphasize the “both feet have to touch the floor” Rumble rule. “The Heartbreak Kid” re-entered the ring and took Bulldog out to win.
The following year, Michaels entered at number 18. He eliminated Diesel, who he lost to at WrestleMania the year before. Michaels faced Bret Hart at WrestleMania, beating him in what would be his crowning moment as “Mr. WrestleMania.”
2. Ric Flair (1992)
Considered one of the greatest Royal Rumble’s of all time, it is only fitting that “The Nature Boy” was the winner of this classic.
Ric Flair was an NWA/WCW legend before heading to WWE. Known as “The 60 Minute Man,” Flair spent nearly an hour in this Royal Rumble. Entering third, the match was for the then-WWF Title.
With the help of Hulk Hogan, Flair eliminated Sid Justice to win the match, much to the delight of the crowd. A 16-time world champion, Flair won WWE’s world title twice. However, it was the first win, and post-Rumble speech, that is remembered.
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1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (1998)
Steve Austin is the only man to have won three Royal Rumble matches. In 1997, he came out at number five. He was eliminated by Bret Hart. However, Austin took advantage of a distracted referee, returned, and eliminated him. In 2001, Austin came in at 27 and took out a tired Kane to win the match.
However, Austin’s win in 1998 stands the test of time.
Austin just came back from what was supposed to be a career-ending neck injury. Reaching “Face of the Company” status, Austin was unstoppable. Playing the rebel role fans love him for, Austin had a target on his back. It didn’t help matters that he stunned everyone before the event. Coming in at 24, Austin eliminated seven men, including The Rock, his future rival, to win the Rumble.
At WrestleMania, Austin beat Shawn Michaels to win the WWE Title, becoming the face during a major change within the company. The Rumble win, along with his WrestleMania moment, ushered in the “Attitude Era,” and nothing has ever been the same since.