The Royal Rumble is upon us once again to help make Roman Reigns look even stronger. Last year, I took a look at the best #1 and #2 entrants. This year, I decided to showcase the top ten final four competitors. Because as fun as the Rumble is, everyone knows the best part is when it’s down to the last four wrestlers.
10. 1998 – Steve Austin, The Rock, Faarooq, Dude Love
The Attitude Era was gaining steam by this Rumble, and the final four were representative of that shift in the WWE. Austin was on his way to becoming the WWE flag bearer, The Rock was already showing signs of promise and being the last guy eliminated showed that the WWE knew what it had, Dude Love was the last of the three characters of Mick Foley’s that made an appearance in the Rumble that would later on help catapult Foley as one of the main cornerstones of that era, and Faarooq… Well, Faarooq is the reason this is the #10 entry on this list. Austin and The Rock gave parallel performances leading to them being the final two men in the Rumble. Austin low-blowed his once tag team partner, Dude Love, setting him up to be eliminated by Faarooq; then The Rock let Faarooq work over Austin until he decided to dump him over the top rope. From there, Austin went on to win it and sell more t-shirts than Hulk Hogan.
9. 1997 – Steve Austin, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Vader
Technically, “Diesel” should be included in this final four and not Austin. But if that was the case this entry wouldn’t have made it on the list. There wasn’t a moment in which all four competitors stared at each other where they realized they were the final four, or the good guys pairing up to take down the baddies. As soon as Austin snuck back in the ring, he eliminated Undertaker and Vader at the same time then quickly dumped Bret Hart out seconds after Bret had gotten rid of “Diesel.” It all happened so damn fast. The cool thing about this final four was that it led to the In Your House: Final Four pay-per-view. Although to be fair, if Austin’s win didn’t count, then he really shouldn’t have taken “Diesel’s” spot as part of the official final four. The again, I’m sure everyone was willing to overlook certain technicalities so long as it kept “Diesel” out of the match.
8. 2005 – Batista, John Cena, Edge, Rey Mysterio
While rewatching this, I had forgotten how over Batista was during this time, and I was originally there live. Boos rained down hard in predominantly Hispanic Frenso after Edge eliminated Mysterio. But la raza rejoiced when Cena eliminated Edge right after, leaving only him and Batista. People were pumped to see these two go at it. These guys were the next Hogan and Warrior. The new-age Austin and Rock. And WWE clearly had all their Next Hulk Hogan eggs in the Batista basket. Then a “major malfunction at the junction” happened. At least, that was Jim Ross’ interpretation of Batista screwing up a Batista Bomb and unexpectedly eliminating himself along with John Cena. Batista botching the ending and McMahon tearing his quads by simply entering the ring to restart the match definitely overshadowed Batista’s win. But without those two things happening this wouldn’t have been that memorable of a Rumble.
7. 2002 – Triple H, Kurt Angle, Mr. Perfect, Steve Austin
When Triple H came out at #22 it was the biggest pop of the night. It was also the beginning of the “injured wrestler returns at the Royal Rumble and wins” trope. This was as solid of a final four as you’re going to find. Aside from Austin, Triple H, and Angle being the current top guys at the time, you also had Mr. Perfect showing that he could still go with the top guys. Austin was the first to go and raised some hell before leaving by leveling the hell out of each guy with a chair shot. That was all there is in terms of drama. After that, it didn’t turn into Angle and Perfect double teaming Triple H and him overcoming the odds. Instead, Mr. Perfect busted out a Perfect-Plex on Angle that seemed out of place, but at least he didn’t go for the cover like Randy Savage did on Yokozuna at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Triple H throws Perfect out right after that, then doesn’t wait too long before clotheslining Angle out for the win. This was probably Triple H at his most popular, aside from his DX days, and no, I don’t mean his 2006 DX days. People probably hated him the most during that time.
6. 2003 – Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, Kane, Batista
Sure, Kane being in this final four grouping dilutes it a little, but this was Kane pre-Larry from the Three Stooges haircut” reveal. So it isn’t that bad. And even though Batista had just joined Evolution and was far removed from his “animal” persona, he luckily didn’t screw up the ending. The main story here was Brock Lesnar and Undertaker facing off after starting a feud a few months earlier that would last until 2015. Before they can get into it they get sidetracked by Batista and Kane. Body marks will be pleased to know that their fantasy match-up of Lesnar vs. Batista takes place during this Rumble, if only for a minute or so. After taking out Lesnar with a tombstone piledriver, Taker eliminates Batista then psyches-out Kane into thinking they’re the Brothers of Destruction again, before throwing him out. The weird part of this Rumble is Lesnar winning by sneaking up behind Taker and tossing him out. Considering he was the “Next Big Thing” and was going on to headline WrestleMania XIX, you’d think they would have made him look stronger. But it’s okay, Taker gave him props afterward and then did the biggest job of his life to Lesnar 11 years later.
5. 2006 – Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, Triple H, Rob Van Dam
The only thing that makes a Royal Rumble match even better is having a main story playing throughout the entire match. It gets kind of weird when that story is riding on you dedicating your performance to your dead wrestler friend who just recently died. And so was the case with Mysterio coming out in a lowrider in typical Eddie Guerrero fashion, and sporting an EG armband. They start off this final four with the babyface team of Mysterio and RVD against the heels, Orton and Triple H, but that doesn’t last long when Triple H causes Mysterio to eliminate RVD. Mysterio holds his own, first eliminating Triple H before Orton. It’s cool though, team player Triple H was repaid the favor by actually main-eventing that year’s WrestleMania. After putting a hurting on Mysterio afterwards via the one-thousand pound ring steps, Triple H leaves Mysterio in the ring for Orton to dispose of. Randy Orton takes his sweet time, as he is wont to do, and then gets hurricanrana’d out by Mysterio. Of course, the win was just as much Eddie’s death’s as it was Mysterio’s, but Mysterio was legitimately overwhelmed with emotion. The shitty part is that this ultimately led to Mysterio’s terribly booked world title reign.
4. 2004 – Chris Benoit, Big Show, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho
This was probably the Big Show’s best performance in a Royal Rumble match—he was actually made to look like the giant threat a man his size is supposed to be in one of these things. It really helped elevate Chris Benoit’s win. Big Show takes everyone’s finishers and continues fighting them off. Granted, it was Big Show against the proverbial “vanilla midgets.” Still, no one actually thought Big Show was going to win, but damn what a showing. He chokeslammed Chris Jericho out the of the ring to get rid of him. Then, while trapped in Angle’s ankle lock, huge ass Big Show actually rolled through the ropes in order to fling Angle from his foot and leave him planted ringside. It’s pretty impressive. With Benoit having drawn #3, fatigue setting in, and all the David and Goliath drama, they beautifully punctuated the underdog win by having Benoit wear down Big Show and ultimately eliminate him by choking him out. This finish would probably still be talked about today had it not been for the whole “Chris Benoit becoming a horrible monster” thing.
3. 2010 – Edge, John Cena, Batista, Shawn Michaels
All these guys were established superstars who had already main-evented WrestleMania. And considering the champions at the time (Undertaker and Sheamus), it really could’ve gone either way. Well, if Edge hadn’t just returned from an injury. If Royal Rumbles have proved anything, it’s that you automatically win after coming back from an injury. Michaels goes out first, thanks to Batista, then has a mental breakdown because it’s the catalyst to the precursor to the end of an era. Or something. Cena avenges his loss from the 2005 Rumble, which the WWE announce team actually acknowledges, by eliminating Batista. Continuity! The celebration doesn’t last long as Edge casually tosses out Cena with little effort. This was the second to last Royal Rumble in which the fans were actually happy with the outcome.
2. 2007 – The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Randy Orton
By this point in time, Edge and Orton had been former world champions but hadn’t yet become main event players worthy of headlining WrestleMania, like Lawrence Taylor. And it looked like they were going to have to wait another year to do so. As soon as this Rumble dropped down to the final four, Undertaker was immediately busted open. Shawn Michaels then ate an RKO and while he tried to recover, Edge and Randy Orton worked over Taker. Before Rated RKO could pull off a conchairto, Michaels slipped back into the ring and eliminated Orton and then superkicked Edge out of the ring as well. With just Taker and Michaels left, the Royal Rumble basically turned into an awesome singles match. Which is usually the case when Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels happens (except for their actual Royal Rumble main event match from 1998—that one was just okay). Anyway, Undertaker becomes the first man to enter at #30 and actually win the Royal Rumble.
1. 1992 – Ric Flair, Sid Justice, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage
The WWE Title being on the line raised the stakes of this Rumble so it made sense to have four of the biggest names in wrestling, at the time if we’re going to include Sid, be the final four. Sadly, Randy Savage didn’t last long as he was quickly eliminated by Sid Justice and Ric Flair. But Savage, being the competitor that he is, accepted his loss and didn’t complain or affect the outcome of the match, like somebody else does later on. Flair, on like, his sixth wind, goes toe-to-toe with two of the biggest dudes in WWE. Hogan quickly turns the tables and has Flair up over the top rope when Sid, justifiably so, tosses Hogan out. It made perfect sense. Hogan had already won two Rumbles. If you’re going to eliminate anyone, you pick the guy who previously won two Rumbles and has 24-inch pythons. Although Sid, in his infinite wisdom, decided to talk trash and rub it in Hulk’s face instead of going right after Flair. Hogan, who was thrown out fair and square, decides to pull on Sid’s arm and helps Flair eliminate him in the process. And Flair, after pulling off the Royal Rumble performance of a lifetime, ends up winning the WWE World Title.
Here’s hoping that with the WWE Title on the line for the second time in a Royal Rumble, the WWE, at the very least, gives us a decent final four.