10 Royal Rumble Matches With The WRONG Winner

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Writing this prior to the 2023 Royal Rumble event, there have currently been 40 Royal Rumble matches in WWE canon. Viewed by some as the greatest event on the WWE calendar, it has unarguably produced some classic moments for its winners ranging from Ric Flair triumphing as WWF champion in 1992, Rey Mysterio going the distance with an hour-long performance in 2006, and the makings of a megastar when Drew McIntyre conquered the roster in 2020. Yet this is not the case for every winner, with several worthy winners never getting the accomplishment with WWE Royal fumbling the result. Here are 10 times when a more ideal candidate should have won the Royal Rumble. 

Ted DiBiase (1989) 

Ted Dibiase, mouth open, poses with the Million Dollar championship belt.
(Photo courtesy of Sportzwiki)

The 1988 Royal Rumble, the first televised display of the match concept, was won by Jim Duggan. Candidates such as Bret Hart and Jake Roberts may have been better picks to win but it was a consequences-free feel-good win for Hacksaw and a nice titbit for his résumé. What is less justifiable is Big John Studd’s 1989 win. 

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In late 1988, the ex-WWF World Tag Team champion (as part of The Executioners, with Killer Kowalski) returned to the WWF after a few years of absence. Quickly turning face, one of Studd’s first actions upon return was to compete in and win the Royal Rumble. 

Ted DiBiase tries to bribe Big John Studd as he opposes, towering over him.
(Photo courtesy of Ring The Damn Bell)

It is very easy in hindsight to deride the decision for Studd, especially considering how he had departed the company by the Summer, but perhaps the WWF were planning a big storyline with old rival André The Giant. That said, in the days before a Royal Rumble stipulation, Studd’s role at the subsequent WrestleMania was simply as a special guest referee in the midcard André versus Jake Roberts encounter.

A much more deserving winner would have been Ted DiBiase. Although a King of the Ring the previous year, Ted had spent most of 1988 taking the pin in main event matches with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. After 1988, his career started going downhill in terms of card placement and a Rumble win may have been a nice token from the WWF for the Million Dollar Man being pretty much the only main eventer to willingly do the job. 

The storyline was set out perfectly too. Ted came out at number 30, buying his way to the top, with heel heat that could have been cemented further with a win. By WrestleMania V, the man who had last year main evented for the WWF championship was now unable to beat Brutus Beefcake in a meaningless midcard bout. It’s just sad, really. 

Mr Perfect (1990)

Mr Perfect poses in the ring, arms folded.
(Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

There’s a reason why OSW Review patented the term “cunt Hogan,” with the 1990 Royal Rumble a perfect illustration of the powerplay of the Hulkster.  

By 1990, the ex-AWA World Heavyweight champion was a year and a half into his WWF run and remained undefeated.  

The WWF had a further chance to cement Curt Hennig and indeed planned on having Perfect win the Royal Rumble match-up. Yet hours before the show, Hulk Hogan decided to veto this so he could win. 

Hulk Hogan Hulks up, no selling Mr Perfect's offence.
Hulk starts Hulking up on Perfect. (Photo courtesy of ITR Wrestling)

There were a few major issues with this: 1) Hogan was taking the shine off a younger star, giving himself a win he did not need and 2) he was already the WWF champion at the time.

To summarise, it was a massive ego trip for Hogan in a match he had no need to be in, not to mention winning. The status quo remained as Perfect was robbed of a victory that could have elevated his career. 

One month later Perfect lost to Hogan mate Brutus Beefcake who ended his kayfabe losing streak because fuck you, I guess. 

Earthquake (1991) 

Earthquake is interviewed by Vince McMahon and Randy Savage.
(Photo courtesy of IMDb)

Evidently, Hogan’s 1990 win must have been so nice because he would go on to do it twice.  

Few superstars were poised as quiet as much of a threat to Hogan as Earthquake. ‘Quake feuded with Hogan for months, even wiping Hulk off TV after an Earthquake Splash – a move put over as deadly to anyone who received it. Yet at this event, Hogan immediately stood up from the Splash, no-selling Tenta completely. 

Perhaps a better idea would be to have Earthquake win to eliminate Hogan (unlikely as Hogan might be to look weak in any fashion) and win the match. That way, you could build up a WrestleMania match between Hulk and Earthquake with a bout of WrestleMania III proportions. 

Hulk Hogan delivers a big boot to Earthquake as he sells.
(Photo courtesy of Sportskeeda)

Not only would this have been better creatively but also financially. It is well known that the storyline that actually took place hugely damaged the WWF. The distasteful Gulf War storyline was the main draw of WrestleMania VII. Not only did the WWF have to withdraw from a stadium of 100,000 to 16,000 due to poor ticket sales but buyrates fell 30% from WrestleMania VI (from 650,000 to 400,000); this, by the way, was less than both the preceding Royal Rumble and following SummerSlam. 

Also, Earthquake was great and Sgt Slaughter was a midcarder unable to work a match beyond a few minutes, Earthquake looks like an intimidating force whilst Slaughter was a middle age and balding has-been, and Earthquake was booked strong whilst Slaughter was an unproven placeholder champion. 

Mankind (1999) 

Mankind, with a gormless expression, walks to the ring.
(Photo courtesy of Mundo Wrestling)

The 1999 Royal Rumble is low-key one of the worst Rumble matches of all time. A match full of midcard talents with three possible winners max, let me give you some of the names who could have won to compete for the top prize in professional wrestling at the biggest show in professional wrestling: Kurrgan, Tiger Ali Singh, Gillberg, The Blue Meanie, Golga. Sweet Jesus, what a line-up – hope you got your money’s worth. 

Anyway, Vince McMahon won that Rumble which was an odd decision considering he would not wrestle at WrestleMania. Instead, he forfeited his shot whilst Steve Austin went on to win the title at the PPV after beating Vince at St Valentine’s Day Massacre. 

I appreciate that it would be hard for Mankind to enter the 1999 Rumble, especially considering he had been murdered earlier in the night by The Rock and generally murdered people don’t enter Royal Rumbles. Considering the horrible effects of that match however, maybe just don’t have it at all.   

Vince McMahon raises his arms after winning the Royal Rumble.
Vince McMahon won the 1999 Royal Rumble instead. (Photo courtesy of Essentially Sports)

Why not, instead, keep Mankind’s Raw win on January 4th, have him lose to The Rock at the start of the night and emerge victorious in the Rumble match? Then build up to the originally planned WrestleMania XV main event: a triple threat with Rock, Steve Austin, and Mankind.  

Not only does this give Foley a deserved main event but can also allow Foley to not compete as he did at the next ‘Mania. Steve Austin can still win the match but give Foley some justice with a Rumble win at the very least. 

CM Punk (2011) 

CM Punk poses on the top rope.
(Photo courtesy of Grantland)

From 2011 onwards, we enter the dark era of the Royal Rumble with the match type not crowning the deserved winner until 2018.  

In 2011, the WWE made the baffling choice of an Albert Del Rio win. Although Del Rio has always been a solid worker – albeit a real life prick allegedly, if reports are to be believed – he was not a great candidate to win. He was receiving a premature, Brock Lesnar-esque push despite the fact he was not even that young at 34 and by no stretch a credible world title contender.  

Tell me you would not instead love to see The Nexus’s CM Punk win and face Edge at WrestleMania. Admittedly Edge did not know he was soon to retire but a Punk title win could solidify Punk and give Edge a new and legitimate rival. It might also have the added benefit of a CM Punk ‘Mania main event if you choose to put it on last. 

Alberto Del Rio points after winning the Royal Rumble.
Bafflingly, Alberto Del Rio won in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Sportskeeda)

That feud is much more interesting in the way it can be told. It could be Edge vs The Nexus, a feud relating to Punk wanting to prove he can beat Edge (doing so for the world title in 2008 only due to MITB), or have Edge employ a darker side to face The Nexus. God knows The Nexus needed something! 

The promos Punk could cut would be amazing and give Edge and Punk the titanic PPV encounter they never truly had.  

Chris Jericho (2012) 

Jericho shouts wildly, making his way to the ring during his return run.
Upon return, Chris Jericho was a favourite for the 2012 Royal Rumble. (Photo courtesy of Sky Sports)

Sometimes Royal Rumbles results are predictable because they are right; 1998, 2002 and 2019 are all examples of this. 

In 2012, Chris Jericho made his return and did some brilliant character work by trolling the fans. Jericho would walk out, cry, say nothing, and leave. 

It seemed obvious that the returning ex-Undisputed champion would win by instead that honour went to Sheamus. Considering Sheamus’s eventual win over Bryan at ‘Mania, the John Cena-like push Sheamus was getting alongside his unabashed and detached character, it would not endear Sheamus to the crowd. 

Sheamus does the Irish Cross pose after his 2012 Royal Rumble win.
(Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

Jericho – the man who has done almost everything there is to do in wrestling – was robbed of a deserved Royal Rumble win. Sheamus instead could have won a number one contender’s Elimination Chamber and allow Jericho a successful return. 

Ironically, Jericho did go on to compete for a world title although booked rather sloppily at Rumble and also the Elimination Chamber (despite the later created to protect him).  

The Punk feud was pretty great but how much greater would it be if Jericho had Rumble legitimacy, especially since it would set up a natural feud with Punk if The Best In The World was the 2011 winner. 

Brock Lesnar (2013) 

Brock Lesnar stares intently during his 2012 return.
(Photo courtesy of TWM.News)

Coming into the 2013 Royal Rumble, John Cena seemed the only logical victor. 

This was absolutely infuriating. The WWE had lied to our face the previous year, selling its fan on the ‘Once In A Lifetime’ encounter between The Rock and John Cena that turned out to be ‘Twice In A Lifetime’. Even on top of the deceit and trust-breaking move, the match was not very good due to an injury sustained to The Rock.  

Much greater would be a SummerSlam 2002 rematch with Brock Lesnar.  

Now with a much different story to the 2002 match, the match would avoid lying to the fans whilst also being an interesting dynamic.

John Cena points at the WrestleMania sign as fireworks erupt.
(Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report)

2012 was not Lesnar’s best year, losing his first match back at Extreme Rules to John Cena, who himself was in the throes of an ‘off year’. However, a reinvigorated run after winning the top prize would help in a way it did not for Cena who went on to largely unnotable PPV matches following, such as WWE title defenses against midcarders Ryback and Mark Henry. 

Just imagine Brock versus The Rock in 2013, it would be a huge money maker without making the audience feel shortchanged as they did at WrestleMania 29 – ironically one of the most inconsequential ‘Manias of all time. 

Daniel Bryan (2014) 

Daniel Bryan triumphantly raising both world title at WrestleMania XXX.
(Photo courtesy of TheSportster)

It is not such the case that WWE should have had Bryan win the 2014 Royal Rumble but that they had to.  

At SummerSlam 2013, Daniel Bryan – who had organically gained popularity – won the WWE championship but was immediately screwed over by The Authority, a nod to the establishment who held down popular and skilled talents like Bryan. In the aftermath, the WWE made the mistake of assuming that fans could move on as WWE hotdogged Bryan’s “Yes!” chant (mistaking that as what was popular) to Big Show.  

By 2014, it was clear the WWE winds were blowing away from Bryan, with the returning Batista seated to main event and win the WWE title from Randy Orton.  

Fans, sickened by the older part-timer taking space from the younger Bryan, effectively revolted against the revolting idea. It should be pointed out it was not Batista’s fault; he was simply wrong place, wrong time. 

Thus when Batista entered the Royal Rumble in 2014, fans were apprehensive but WWE may still have staved off the coveted number 30 for The Goat. Number 30, buzzer hits…it’s Rey Mysterio, who enters to audible boos and loud Daniel Bryan chants. Rey Mysterio had the gall to not be Bryan and the fans let him know and whilst normally fans would be tuned off in the face of what WWE would want, this time they had to listen. 

Batista delivers a Spear to Roman Reigns in the 2014 Royal Rumble.
(Photo courtesy of Cultaholic)

We should also note that Bryan’s stilted push also ruined the 2015 Royal Rumble, the most infamous in the history of the event. With fans embracing the comeback of their hero, they were extremely rattled and hostile to Bryan’s early elimination whilst perceived Vince’s pet project Roman Reigns won, even managing to get The Rock booed by association. WWE dug it in further with Goldust’s titantron line “Shattered Dream” displayed right after Bryan’s elimination because WWE knows that you do not like what you say you like (even if you really do.) 

Anyway, you could present Bryan more effectively and satisfactorily with a 2014 Royal Rumble win. 

Bray Wyatt (2017) 

Bray Wyatt, lantern in hand and hood over head, makes his way to the ring
(Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report)

It was surprising when Randy Orton emerged victorious at the end of the 2017 Royal Rumble. As he had been for most of the mid-2010s, Orton was only playing the role of reliable midcarder, involved in an interest (although it would later turn horrific) angle with the Wyatt Family, denoted by Orton’s transformation…wearing a hoodie.  

Orton won the Rumble, looking to face WWE champion John Cena, something fans were appalled to hear was going to happen for the 3,047th time. Luckily, Bray Wyatt prevailed in the Elimination Chamber so the Cena/Orton bout would not go ahead. Wyatt was champion for a short time, not fully establishing himself before losing in a dreadful ‘Mania match featuring some of the worst use of a projector since Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide To You-Know-What.  

Orton had already won a Rumble with a Wyatt win a chance to cement Bray, a push fans had expected for years by this point. Now, the Elimination Chamber indeed put over The New Face Of Fear strong, pinning both AJ Styles and John Cena – something missing if he did not win the Rumble.  

Orton points to the WrestleMania sign after winning the Royal Rumble.
(Photo courtesy of The Express Tribune)

We should also mention the convoluted mess of a build-up. Orton initially refused to face Bray, forfeiting his shot. It was contested in a battle royal that ended in a draw between Luke Harper and AJ Styles. Unfortunately, WWE went with the less interesting AJ angle; Harper would never reach the main event spot he could have here. Anyway, Orton then burned down Wyatt’s compound, beat AJ and got the title shot.

Instead, have Wyatt pin Cena at the PPV following the Rumble after Cena has lost the belt to Randy Orton. That way, Wyatt could have his crowning WrestleMania match defeating The Viper at WrestleMania. He could then set up a long-running feud with AJ Styles afterwards.  

Wyatt was never a solidified champion and a Rumble win followed by a ‘Mania win would do that whilst engaging the audience compared to the crowd apathy towards Randy.  

Sasha Banks (2022) 

Sasha Banks walks to the ring with the SmackDown Women's championship.
(Photo courtesy of WrestleTalk)

Since the 2018 commission of the women’s Royal Rumble, the booking has generally been quite acceptable. Asuka, Becky Lynch, and Bianca Belair were all fan favourite choices for winner and although controversial, Charlotte Flair’s 2020 win over Shayna Baszler was made more acceptable by The Queen Of Spades’s Elimination Chamber presentation the next month. 

That said, 2022 was a serious blunder. 

2022’s Royal Rumble saw two winners fans had not too great regard for as UFC stalwarts Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey won the matches. 

Ronda Rousey’s win built to a match between her and Charlotte Flair, a match that had already happened and featured two lukewarm stars that fans had either started to or already had soured on.  

More of a dream match was Becky Lynch versus Sasha Banks.  

Shift around the booking with Belair elsewhere becoming number one contender for Charlotte’s belt and prolong the eventual Lynch match whilst Sasha faces Lynch. 

Admittedly Banks and Lynch have faced off before but over two years ago. One match was not a conventional match type and the other ended inconclusively so the potential for an official and large-scale blowoff was open. It would also be awesome.

Banks was in the match, starting off but lasting less than 10 minutes. She was apparently even originally scheduled to win before changes, something that reportedly made her “mad.” 

Ronda has her hand raised after winning the Royal Rumble.
(Photo courtesy of CNET)

It would also be a better decision for where we stand today. Banks is no longer with the company, having walked out in May. Perhaps a Rumble win would have kept her sweet but the booking neglect took place, she left, and WWE buried her afterwards seemingly burning the bridge The Boss had crossed.  

Meanwhile, Ronda has simply plummeted. Fans have repeatedly called for Rowdy Ronda to be fired with the ex-UFC champion stinking the place out with matches against Liv Morgan and Shotzi Blackheart, proving the ringsmanship deficit Ronda still has. 

For that, the decision can only be labelled a failure. 

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