In Part One of our look at how Royal Rumble winners have fared in their World title opportunities at WrestleMania, we examined the winners from the 1990s, starting with the 1993 victory of Yokozuna. While the Royal Rumble originally began in 1988, it wasn’t until 1993’s edition that the new stipulation of the Rumble winner earning a World title shot at that year’s upcoming WrestleMania became the new tradition. In seven Royal Rumbles in the 1990s that had that tradition, eight winners emerged (thanks to the double victory from Lex Luger and Bret “Hitman” Hart in 1994) and they went 4-2-2 for a 50% win ratio in their World title opportunities. How did the following decade fare? Let’s take a look at how all the Royal Rumble winners from the 2000s made out with their own Royal Rumble prize opportunities.
Royal Rumble: The Losers
The Rock, 2000
The Rock would win the 2000 Royal Rumble, last eliminating The Big Show, but his #1 Contendership opportunity became a muddled mess en route to his WWF World Championship match at WrestleMania 2000 a few months later. Claiming that Rock’s foot hit first when he was eliminated, Big Show would defeat The Rock at WWF No Mercy to gain entrance into the title match against WWF World Champion Triple H at WrestleMania 2000.
The Rock would retain his spot with a win over Big Show on Raw in March, making it a triple threat, but the following week, Linda McMahon reinstated Mick Foley (who had been forced to retire following a stipulation in his loss to Triple H at Royal Rumble) and added him to the match as well, making it a Fatal Four Way for the title, with a McMahon backing each participant – The Rock with Vince McMahon, The Big Show with Shane McMahon, Mick Foley with Linda McMahon, and WWF Champion Triple H with Stephanie McMahon. Triple H would end up defending his title in the match, robbing The Rock of his hard-fought battles to preserve his Rumble victory.
John Cena, 2008
John Cena‘s first Royal Rumble victory also ended with a failed run at the World Title. After eliminating Triple H at Madison Square Gardens to win the 2008 Royal Rumble, John Cena would challenge WWE Champion Randy Orton – but Cena demanded to do it not at WrestleMania 24 as planned, but at the next WWE PPV, WWE No Way Out, instead. Orton accepted and in the match got himself intentionally disqualified, ending Cena’s opportunity. Later that night, Triple H won the Raw Elimination Chamber to become the new #1 Contender for Orton’s title at WrestleMania 24 instead.
The next night on Raw, Cena pleaded his case to then-GM William Regal, who ordered a non-title rematch between Cena and Orton, with the stipulation that if Cena won, he would regain his spot in the title match at WrestleMania. Cena defeated Orton and the main event at WrestleMania became a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Championship. But that night, it was the Viper who stood tall, retaining his title against both his challengers.
Randy Orton, 2009
A year after successfully defending his WWE Championship at WrestleMania 24, Randy Orton would find himself on the losing end, after he had won that year’s Royal Rumble to get himself back into the title picture. During the months leading to his match against WWE Champion Triple H, Orton would attack the McMahon family – claiming it to be from the violent outbursts he suffered from an intermittent explosive disorder (IED) – which only enraged Triple H further. Despite having Legacy (Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase Jr.) in his corner, Orton would find his former mentor too tough to handle, and failed to win back the WWE title.
Royal Rumble: The Winners
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, 2001
In 2001, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became the first-ever three-time winner of the Royal Rumble (a record that still stands to this day) when he ended Kane’s (then) record-breaking 11 elimination onslaught in the Rumble by eliminating the Big Red Machine to claim victory in the battle royal. With his victory, Austin was set to face off against WWF World Champion Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 17. But a month after the Royal Rumble, at WWF No Mercy, The Rock defeated Kurt Angle for the WWF World Title, which would now see The Rock vs. Austin rivalry continue once again at the Showcase of the Immortals.
Just moments before the match, it was announced that it was now a No Disqualification match, but it wouldn’t be until the final shocking moments that the WWE Universe would find out why – as The Rock kicked out of every pinfall attempt, Vince McMahon came down to the ring. While The Rock attempted to ward of McMahon from interfering, it was shockingly Austin who would take McMahon’s help and hit The Rock with a chair, leaving WWF fans with one of the most bizarre closing moments in WWF history – McMahon and Austin shaking hands in an alliance.
Triple H, 2002
In 2002, Triple H finally won his first Royal Rumble and did so in dramatic fashion. The final two came down to Triple H and Kurt Angle, with Angle throwing Triple H over the top ropes with a back body drop. Unbeknownst to a celebrating Angle, Triple H had held on to the ropes and pulled himself back over into the match. Taking advantage of an unknowing Angle, Triple H quickly eliminated Angle, securing his spot at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto against Undisputed World Champion Chris Jericho. While Triple H would emerge victorious over Y2J in Canada and become the new World Champion, his victory was overshadowed by the massive attention that the match between The Rock and Hulk Hogan garnered that night.
Brock Lesnar, 2003
Brock Lesnar’s road to his Royal Rumble victory in 2003 began tough – he opened the card in a qualification match against The Big Show just to get a spot in the main event Rumble. After defeating the Rumble, Lesnar entered the Rumble at #29 and after eliminating The Undertaker, won the right to challenge for the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle. The anticipated dream match saw Brock Lesnar capture his second WWE World Title in a year since making his debut in early 2002.
Chris Benoit, 2004
Chris Benoit won the 2004 Royal Rumble, becoming the first person since Shawn Michaels in 1995 to enter at #1 and win the entire Rumble, last eliminating The Big Show, and set a new record for longevity in a Rumble, at one hour, one minute in the match. Following his victory, Chris Benoit – a SmackDown star – would go on to challenge for Raw’s World Heavyweight Championship, held by Triple H, at WrestleMania 20.
In response to Benoit’s defection for not challenging SmackDown‘s WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, Paul Heyman (then SmackDown GM) ordered a SmackDown only Rumble to take place on television the week after the Royal Rumble, which was won by Benoit’s friend, Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero would go on to challenge Brock Lesnar at WWE No Way Out in February, where he would defeat Lesnar for the WWE Championship. Following Benoit’s victory over Triple H (and Shawn Michaels, who had later been added to the match), the images of Benoit and Guerrero as the top champions in WWE became one of the most iconic photos in WWE history.
The 2005 Royal Rumble ended in controversy when John Cena and Batista were both seemingly eliminated, with RAW officials claiming that RAW’s Batista had won, while SmackDown officials declared their own John Cena had won. This resulted in the infamous moment when Vince McMahon came down to the ring to order officials to restart the Rumble with the final two, tearing both his quadriceps in the process in fluke moments.
Following the restart, Batista decisively eliminated Cena to be declared the Rumble winner. With two options to chose from – either WWE Champion JBL or World Heavyweight Champion Triple H – Batista waited out his decision. After all, Triple H was his teammate in Evolution. But after Triple H tried to run Batista over in a limo designed to imitate JBL’s limo, Batista turned on his mentor and declared he was going for Triple H, issuing the famous “thumbs down” to The Game. At WrestleMania 21, despite Ric Flair’s attempts at ringside on behalf of Triple H, Batista would win the World Heavyweight Title for his first of six WWE World Titles.
Rey Mysterio Jr., 2006
Entering at #2 in the Royal Rumble and breaking Chris Benoit’s longevity record with one hour and two minutes, Rey Mysterio last eliminated Randy Orton to win the 2006 Royal Rumble, dedicating his victory to his friend Eddie Guerrero, who had passed away less than two months earlier. With his win, Mysterio won the right to face World Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle but at WWE No Way Out in February, he put his shot on the line against Orton and lost. But later that week, SmackDown GM Teddy Long declared that Rey would still be in the match but it would now be a Triple Threat. Rey proved to be the better man, outlasting both men and pinning Orton to win his first World title, completing his tribute to Eddie by being joined in the ring by Vickie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero Jr. in his celebrations.
The Undertaker finally won his first Royal Rumble in 2007, sixteen years after taking part in his first one in 1991. Despite #30 being labeled as the easiest spot to enter the Rumble, in 2007 The Undertaker became the first person to win a Royal Rumble in its 19-year history to win the event from that spot when he eliminated Shawn Michaels to win the Rumble. Following his victory, The Undertaker began to appear on all three WWE brands – RAW, SmackDown, and ECW on Sci-Fi – where he would stare down their respective champions: ECW Champion Bobby Lashley, WWE Champion John Cena, and World Heavyweight Champion Batista. Ultimately, Undertaker chose Batista, and at WrestleMania 23 in Detroit, he would defeat Batista for his first WWE World Title since 2002 (and his first reign with the World Heavyweight Championship).
In 10 Royal Rumbles in the new millennium, Rumble winners went 7-3 (70%), bringing the Rumble winners to 11-5-2 all together, raising the win percentage up to 61% all-time. In our third and final part, we’ll examine all the winners in the Royal Rumble in the 2010s up until 2020, and find out just how well Royal Rumble victories have helped to crown new World Champions in the WWE Universe!
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