In just a little over a week the 2011 Royal Rumble event will take place and determine the number one contender for the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XVII. With the recent announcement that this year’s Rumble will feature forty stars instead of the traditional thirty, the ’11 winner will become a first among his colleagues and have one more boost of added momentum leading into Wrestlemania. Rumble conquerors of the past have not always had things pan out so well for them, but those that have been booked properly and made the most of their opportunity have risen above, making the Royal Rumble more than just a fun match WWE puts on in January. It is the match that catapults one’s career to the main event of Wrestlemania. While there have been flops, the success stories of the Rumble have had some incredible runs. Here is a look at some of the success stories of the Royal Rumble.
When Yokozuna won the 193 Royal Rumble in route to Wrestlemania IX, the wrestling world realized how much things had changed. Just a few months prior Randy Savage, Ric Flair, and Ultimate Warrior were fighting tor the WWF Championship. Now the company had a new champion in Bret Hart and he was about to face his first super villain in Yokozuna. While Hulk Hogan did was not slated for the main event of the show, he did participate in a headlining match. Still, the main event slot belonged to two new stars. Bret Hart had been performing well as a fighting champion and he at WM IX he used strategy and intellect to attack his behemoth of a challenger. The match was unlike any other Wrestlemania main event. In the end the bad guy won…or maybe not. Hogan quickly took Yoko down in an impromptu match and captured the WWF Title once again. In a way it felt right with Hogan atop the monster to end Wrestlemania, but it also felt like there was never going to be a day when WWF would move on. That all changed at the next pay per view when Yokozuna defeated Hogan to regain the title. Hogan would not be seen again at a Wrestlemania until 2002. While Yoko suffered an embarrassing loss to Hogan, he was still built as an absolute monster. He dominated the Royal Rumble and dominated Bret Hart as well. Even though he lost to Hogan in that impromptu match, he came back and was, along with Vader, the top heel in wrestling for the next year. For the first time in a long time, WWF had a dominant heel champion, and it all started with his Royal Rumble win.
All three times Austin won the Rumble it was a different story. His 1997 win was the most bizarre Royal Rumble in history. He didn’t get that big push out if it, but he wasn’t supposed to. The only plausible option for a win that year was Bret Hart and that almost seemed obligatory. The ’97 match was used to get over Austin’s character and shake things up while the WWF found their course. The Rumble win did lead to the match that made Austin at Wrestlemania XII when Bret Hart forced him to pass out, while blood poured from Austin’s face. The next year was the Rumble win that set Austin on a course to his destiny. By winning the 1998 Rumble Austin earned his shot at the championship and became began the era of 3:16. A few years later in 2001, Austin took home his third Rumble win. One would think that a wrestler winning a Royal Rumble for a third time would be redundant and just boring, but Austin’s third Rumble win was out of necessity. He had just come back from an injury that nearly cost him his career and he had yet to break back into the title scene. The build to Wrestlemania X-7 was tremendous because the WWF built it around Austin’s need to win. After everything he had been though he needed to win the Rumble, go to Wrestlemania and win the title. Austin’s need to win was further illustrated when he used the assistance of Vince McMahon to defeat The Rock and win his fifth WWF Championship.
As great of a wrestler as he was, Benoit had never made the jump to the next level. Sure he had main evented pay per views. He had even been declared champion twice in the past. The man even won the WCW Championship and left the company as champion. Still, there was no denying that Benoit was not among the top stars in the company. When 2004 rolled around, the WWF scene was vastly different from the one Benoit had entered in 2000. There was no Steve Austin, no Rock. Hulk Hogan had left the company once again, forcing WWE to make Brock Lesnar its top baby face. When Lesnar turned heel again in 2003, the only constant man event baby face on the roster was Bill Goldberg and he was on his way out. Benoit made the best of the opportunity when he won the ’04 Rumble. He was switched over to the Raw brand and engaged in a feud with Triple H. Shawn Michaels was unnecessarily inserted into the program to make the Wrestlemania main event a triple threat match. Regardless of how many participants there were, Wrestlemania XX belonged to Chris Benoit. His win was of the most emotional and satisfying in Wrestlemania history. He had a nice little run as champion. He had good matches against his challengers such as Michaels, and Kane. He had fantastic matches towards the end of his reign with Triple H and Randy Orton. Benoit’s run on top was a great example of how a championship run works. You build up to a big win have them defend the championship over several months, then have him drop the title in a match to the next star
The minute Evolution formed they were destined for a breakup. It seemed inevitable that Randy Orton and Triple H were on a collision course for Wrestlemania XXI. Then Orton unseated Benoit in Augusts of ’04. Right away it seemed unlikely that WWE would be able to hold off on Orton-HHH until Mania, but maybe they could if it was built right. But the next night on Raw Hunter and Orton were put into a program that would lead to their first match just a few weeks later. What everyone thought would be a huge build between wrestling’s present and future became the autumn program for Raw. Instead of Orton, a slow burn to match between HHH and Batista began. Batista’s surefire elevation to the main event was cemented at the 2005 Royal Rumble when he walked out with the rights to the Wrestlemania main event. Batista’s strong push only began with his triumph over Triple H at Mania. He, along with John Cena, was one of the faces of the company. He remained champion for several months, dropping it only because of injury. Batista remained one of the top guys until his departure in 2010.
Just a week before the Rumble in 2009 Orton shocked the world by punting Vince McMahon in the head. He went on to win the Rumble and had one of the best years for a heel in recent memory. The build to Wrestlemania was tremendous. There had not been a better build to a main event of a Wrestlemania in some years. Then Wrestlemania came…and the match bombed. The encounter itself was not really all that bad on its own, but after a great build the match came off as tame and underwhelming. But Orton came back and won the title the next month at Backlash, and Orton went on to have great title run. While Wrestlemania is typically the highpoint for many, Orton’s Mania match with Triple H was more like hitting a snag, but he bounced back. His run as a heel was so well-received that, like many other heels that perform well, it led to his inevitable turn to baby face.