WWE’s annual Royal Rumble show is always a highlight of the year, with a fantastic concept that has produced many entertaining matches over the years. Since 1993, the winner of the Rumble has gone on to earn a championship opportunity and “main-event WrestleMania” – this was later changed to just receiving a title shot at ‘Mania, which would then become necessary with the introduction of both a men’s and a women’s Rumble each year.
There have been many excellent choices of wrestlers to win the Rumble, often leading to a match that would be a highlight of the following WrestleMania. However, there have also been some unpopular winners in the match’s history.
With the hindsight of both how the winner was received at the time and how well the ensuing match at ‘Mania went, let’s look at 5 Rumbles where the wrong person won.
1. Sheamus – Royal Rumble 2012
The 2012 Royal Rumble match came down to Sheamus and Chris Jericho as the final two remaining competitors. ‘Y2J’ had returned to the company at the start of the year with a series of creepy vignettes and a mysterious new attitude, assuring us that the “end of the world as we know it” was coming at the Rumble. Whatever this was must have been thwarted by Sheamus, who eliminated Jericho last and won the match (thanks, fella).
Both men went on to challenge for world titles at WrestleMania XXVIII. Jericho fought for CM Punk’s WWE Championship, whereas Sheamus beat the World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan, in 18 seconds to capture his championship.
Although neither contest main-evented the show, the Jericho/Punk match certainly felt like the more important of the two. The Rumble victory would have better suited Punk and Jericho, with fans potentially believing that Jericho was a viable threat going into the match if he had fulfilled his Rumble prophecy and kicked off his return with a bang.
2. Yokozuna – Royal Rumble 1993
Nothing wrong with the win in itself, but the ‘Mania match that followed was very bad. Bret Hart was the WWF Champion heading into WrestleMania IX, and some of the men in the 1993 Royal Rumble included: Randy Savage, Mr. Perfect, Ric Flair, Owen Hart, The Undertaker.
It’s safe to assume that any one of them would have put on a better match with ‘The Hitman’ to close out the show. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if they were just going to have Hulk Hogan appear and stick the winner anyway; but this is even more of a reason to try out using the Rumble to make a new star if the result of the match doesn’t ultimately matter.
3. Charlotte Flair – Royal Rumble 2020
Charlotte winning the 2020 women’s Rumble did have one good outcome: the winner decided who challenged for Rhea Ripley’s NXT Women’s Championship, further establishing NXT as a third brand with important world titles. Unfortunately, ‘The Queen’ would then win Ripley’s championship at WrestleMania 36.
The Rumble win itself was unpopular because at the time the fan reaction to Flair was “oh look, another thing that Charlotte’s won”, so to then also have her go on to beat the younger champion was equally annoying.
In the build up for the match, Ripley challenged Charlotte to use her earned title opportunity to take on Ripley for ‘Mania. Surely it would’ve been better to just have Ripley challenge Charlotte, or have Charlotte challenge a champion anyway despite not winning the Rumble because she’s Charlotte Flair, and give the Rumble victory to someone else?
The favourite to win the Rumble was Shayna Baszler, and if they had gone with this choice and had a then-NXT roster member beat the RAW Women’s Champion on ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All’ it would’ve still achieved their goal of adding to the legitimacy of NXT while also further establishing the apparent ‘anyone can win’ nature of the Rumble.
4. Batista – Royal Rumble 2014
This spot on this list was a toss up between Batista’s victory in 2014 and Roman Reigns’ win a year later. Both were heavily rejected by the fans, both men went on to actually compete in the main event of their ‘Manias, and both men’s opportunities were spoiled by the insertion of a third man into their title matches who would then win the match (to the joy of the fans).
I have chosen the 2014 Rumble because, although both wins were a display of pure stubbornness by WWE in defiance of their fans, at least Roman wasn’t already an established main-eventer at the time of his win.
Daniel Bryan should have won this Royal Rumble match. It does not matter what came after, the fact is Bryan was the hottest he’s ever been and it is pure insanity to ignore that in favour of watching Batista win the match and getting booed endlessly for doing so instead.
Alternatively, Roman Reigns, who made it to the final two, could have won and would have been cheered because the fans were – justifiably so – set on an ‘anyone but you, Dave’ mentality. Instead, WWE learnt the wrong lesson from this and had Roman win a year later when, coincidentally, he was at the same level of unpopularity as Batista was here.
5. Triple H – Royal Rumble 2016
This was a situation where the win itself wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t even heavily rejected at the time, but – much like with Yokozuna – the ‘Mania match that follows makes you wish that anyone else had won. Roman Reigns’ WWE Championship was on the line in this Rumble, Triple H won, and then Roman got his rematch at WrestleMania 32.
The match was unbearably boring. Other competitors in the Rumble that could have won and then gone on to main-event with Roman: Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho. Even the debuting AJ Styles – why not? They put the title on Styles later in the year, and he had a great couple of matches with Roman before that. Why not speed up the process?
No matter the outcome, the Rumble is still one of the most exciting times of the year, with its shock entrants, newcomer showcases, and cameos from legends. This year will be different due to the lack of fans in attendance, but at least that means if WWE does choose to spoil us with another dud winner the boos won’t be quite as loud.
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