The 2022 Royal Rumble is drawing nearer and nearer. Every year the event marks sort of a beginning for WWE. The start of the stories that will make up the companies biggest show of the year, WrestleMania. This year’s iteration is certainly looking interesting as well. Brock Lesnar vs. Bobby Lashley is a dream match for many fans and is one of the last truly special matches the company has left in its arsenal. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins will also be writing a new chapter in their rivalry when they compete for the Universal Championship. Becky Lynch vs Doudrop, while maybe not the most logical match, definitely has the potential to be very good. The mixed tag with Edge and Beth Phoenix against Miz and Maryse will certainly be… a match. While there are no clear-cut winners for either Rumble match, that doesn’t mean the show itself will be awful. The Royal Rumble is recognizable for its match of the same name, but it also boasts several of the best matches in WWE history, Rumble match or not. Over the next couple of articles, we’ll be going over the best matches in Royal Rumble history.
Note: I am not narrowing down every show to one match. There will be some years that have multiple matches on them, but every show must have at least one match. Let’s look at part one of the best matches in Royal Rumble history.
The Best Matches in Royal Rumble History: Volume 1
Pretty Much Everything: 1988
The first Royal Rumble show was not a pay-per-view, but a television special. It was also, for its time, a surprisingly good show. The opener with Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat, while not even close to their best match together, is a very fun watch both for its athleticism and the history that was to come between the two men. The women’s tag match between the Jumping Bomb Angels and the Glamour Girls is also massively underrated considering how ahead of its time it was and is definitely the best match on the show. The first Rumble match is also very fun despite how much shorter it is than your modern Rumble match. With Danny Davis doing a passable job as the iron man of the match, and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan winning is a nice way to end the match by making the audience happy.
The main event is unfortunately the weakest match on the show, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad match by any means. Jim Powers and Paul Roma do a great job selling to the Islanders who look like killers in the match. Winning a 2 out of 3 falls match with 2 straight falls, and injuring both Roma and Powers in the process. There is also a fun contract signing between Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan in preparation for their upcoming Saturday Night’s Main Event match. The powerlifting segment with Dino Bravo and Jesse Ventura isn’t great, but it’s one short segment on a mostly great show. Definitely worth a watch, and for more than just the novelty of being the first.
King Haku vs. King Harley Race: 1989
Royal Rumble 1989 is not as good a show as its predecessor. It isn’t a horrible show, but it’s really a one-match show. The only match anyone cared about was the Royal Rumble match. It’s a good Rumble match, but it isn’t really a memorable one and isn’t worth its length. The only other match worth seeing is Haku vs. Harley Race. It may not be a classic, but it’s a rare match that many may not have heard of featuring two heels at a time when WWF did not do heel vs. heel matches very often. As is, the crowd isn’t super into it, but in a way, that’s what makes the match interesting. Both men clearly knew the crowd wouldn’t know how to react. This freed them up to wrestle the match they wanted to wrestle as opposed to the classic WWF style of match.
It’s not pretty, nor conventional in any way, but it’s definitely the most interesting and entertaining thing on the show. Two mean guys, fighting to find out who the meanest is. Sometimes what’s simple is best.
Ron Garvin vs. Greg Valentine/Royal Rumble Match: 1990
Again not a great show, the 1990 Royal Rumble is the first show in which the Rumble match itself would have big stars in it; more than just mid-card talent. Among the participants were Bret Hart, Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, Andre the Giant, Ultimate Warrior, and the WWF Champion himself Hulk Hogan. This was the first time the Royal Rumble match felt truly important, more than likely due to how lackluster the previous years were. It’s star-studded and only about an hour-long, not very long for a Rumble match. It helped to build to the main event of WrestleMania, also the first time the Rumble was used to do this even though the main event stipulation hadn’t come along yet.
Additionally, Ron Garvin vs. Greg Valentine is a fun, NWA-style matchup with a little over-the-top story to it. It’s a fun match and not a particularly long one. It is easily the best actual wrestling match on the show given how the Rumble is mainly an attraction match.
The Rockers vs. The Orient Express: 1991
The Rockers vs. The Orient Express gets a lot of praise, and for good reason, it’s an incredibly good match. It’s also the only real thing worth noting on the show. This is not the type of match that American audiences were used to seeing at the time. Shawn Michaels had yet to popularize the super-bumping, Americanized-Lucha style of wrestling, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t doing it. This is the kinda match you’d see on an episode of Dynamite or Rampage today, not one you’d expect to see on a 1988 WWF PPV. All four men are working at a breakneck pace here, hitting dives, bumping all over the place, really putting their all into the performance. The Rockers were an incredibly popular babyface team, and Shawn does a great job as the babyface in peril.
Additionally, the Orient Express does a great job of keeping Shawn suppressed in the ring without the action getting too boring. Aside from a few botched dropkicks from Marty Janetty off a hot tag, the match is very well worked and very ahead of its time. Well worth the watch.
Royal Rumble Match: 1992
It really couldn’t be anything else. The 1992 Royal Rumble is by and large said to be the best Royal Rumble in history and with good reason. To start, you’ll find no other Royal Rumble match with as many stars and legends of this magnitude. Ric Flair, Undertaker, British Bulldog, Roddy Piper, Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, and even more make this match almost a fever dream to watch in 2022, an exact 30 years later.
Unlike most Rumble matches, this one does a wonderful job of keeping the viewer engaged. There is always something worth watching in front of you, never a dull moment, a difficult task for such a long match. Ric Flair goes through the gambit in this match, entering at number 3 and outlasting every challenge coming his way, including the British Bulldog, Roddy Piper, and even the Undertaker and Hulk Hogan to win the vacant WWF Championship. As a bonus to this match, it’s highly recommended to watch the famous “Tear in my Eye” post-match promo that Ric Flair cuts with Bobby Heenan and Mr. Perfect.
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