How Many Rumble Winners Have REALLY Gone On To Main Event Wrestlemania
Hey folks, before we get into this week’s newsletter, I’m proud to announce the release of my latest book, You Can’t See Them: People John Cena Shouldn’t Have Destroyed (But Did)! A lot of things can be said about John Cena, but “he’s helped other people become stars by losing at times when it would really matter” is not one of them. To the detriment of nearly everyone else on that roster since he claimed his first WWE World Title in 2005, Cena has not only beaten one would-be superstar after another, but done so in such convincing fashion that he pretty much destroyed any credibility they had coming into the match. Almost nobody has come out of a feud with Cena looking better, or even as good, as they did going in. This book tells the stories of the ones that really hurt, the guys who really could have meant something if they hadn’t been fed to the wood chipper called John Cena.
Every year, WWE proudly proclaims how the winner of the Royal Rumble match will go on to headline Wrestlemania, but that isn’t always the case. There have been many years when the Rumble winner gets their title shot, but the match is nowhere near the main event of the show, and in some cases they never end up getting the title shot at all. So how accurate is WWE’s claim of the Rumble winner headlining Wrestlemania? Let’s start in 1993 (the first year the Rumble winner was officially granted the title match) and go year-by-year to see.
Yokozuna had debuted in the WWF in late 1992, crushed everyone in his path, and then easily won the Royal Rumble by literally bench pressing the Macho Man over the top rope from a prone position. Yokozuna was not only in the scheduled main event of Wrestlemania 9, defeating Bret Hart for the WWF Title, but also an impromptu main event where he accepted and lost a title defense to Hulk Hogan.
1994: Bret “Hitman” Hart & Lex Luger
Lex Luger had been after WWF Champion Yokozuna for months, and even though he defeated him in their title match at Summerslam, it was by countout. Since the contract for the match stated that Luger would only get one title shot, the only way he could circumvent that would be by winning the Royal Rumble. However, Luger wasn’t getting over quite as WWE would have liked, so they booked a tie finish where Luger and Bret went over the top rope at the same time. Both men were granted title shots at Wrestlemania 10: Lex Luger went first and lost to Yokozuna by DQ, but then Bret closed the show by avenging his loss the previous year and pinning Yokozuna to win the title back.
1995: Shawn Michaels
Long considered too “small” to be a legitimate main eventer, Shawn Michaels became the first man to go coast-to-coast in the Rumble match. He entered at #1 and was the last man standing, exploiting the “both feet must touch the ground” rule to stay alive at the end and eliminate the British Bulldog. Shawn eanred a title shot against his former bodyguard Diesel, but did not main event Wrestlemania 11: that honor went to Bam Bam Bigelow and Lawrence Taylor.
1996: Shawn Michaels
Shawn made it two in a row in 1996, superkicking Diesel over the top rope to become only the second two-time Rumble winner (after Hulk Hogan). This time he was undisputably the headliner, as the entire build to his 60 minute Ironman Match with Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 12 centered around Shawn trying to achieve his boyhood dream. Shawn and Bret not only main evented Wrestlemania, but were given nearly half the show including entrances, introductions, the match itself, overtime, and Shawn’s postmatch celebration.
1997: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Bret Hart had been having a rough go since returning to the WWF in late 1996, but saw a second Royal Rumble win as his way of getting his quest for a fourth WWF Title back on track. He actually eliminated Austin, but the referees were breaking up a fight on the other side of the ring and didn’t see it, so when Bret thought he was the last man standing, Austin snuck in from behind and eliminated him to steal the win for himself. Through a complex series of events I don’t have time to recap here, neither Bret nor Austin wound up challenging for the title at Wrestlemania 13, they fought in the legendary I Quit match instead while Sycho Sid and the Undertaker battled for the title in the main event.
1998: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
This time around there was no controversy, and no doubt who was winning the Rumble. Despite everyone in the match stopping to grab him as soon as he got in the ring, Austin fought through the numbers, last eliminating the Rock to win his second straight Royal Rumble. This was well into the build to the beginning of the Austin Era, and everyone knew Shawn Michaels was just holding the title until Austin took it from him. Austin did just that in the main event of Wrestlemania 14, hitting the Stunner and covering while Mike Tyson counted 3.
1999: Vince McMahon
Yes, Vince McMahon techincally won the Royal Rumble, and yes, he technically went coast-to-coast as Michaels did, but he spent most of the match sitting at ringside waiting for someone to eliminate Steve Austin. When nobody did and he had no other choice, he went back in the ring and got his ass kicked until the Rock came out and distracted Austin long enough for McMahon to sneak up behind and toss him. McMahon never intended to challenge for the title at Wrestlemania 15, and voluntarily gave up his title shot the next night on Raw.
2000: The Rock
With Steve Austin on the shelf, there were really only two people in this match who had a shot at winning: the Rock and the Big Show. Rock was awarded the win, but the finish was in dispute and led to another complicated series of events that ended with not only Rock and Big Show, but also Mick Foley (who retired a month earlier) challenging Triple H in a four way elimination match in the main event of Wrestlemania 2000.
2001: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Austin returned from a full year on the shelf after neck surgery to become the first (and currently only) three-time Royal Rumble winner. He went on to main event Wrestlemania X-7, probably the best Wrestlemania ever, by challenging the Rock for the WWF Title. Wrestlemania X-7 was the WWF’s victory celebration over WCW and ECW, and they immediately gave the fans who had supported them all that time the finger by turning Austin heel in his home state of Texas and aligning him with Vince McMahon.
2002: Triple H
Speaking of coming back from injuries, Triple H had blown out one of his quad muscles about a month after Wrestlemania X-7 and spent a year on the mend. He returned in time to enter the Royal Rumble, but it was just a formality: he easily won, setting up a title match with Chris Jericho in the main event of Wrestlemania X-8. Triple H had beaten Jericho a million times before the injury, and this time he close X-8 with another win that also brought him the WWF Title.
2003: Brock Lesnar
Again, no real shocker here: Lesnar had been screwed out of the WWF Title by Paul Heyman at Survivor Series 2002, and when Kurt Angle beat Show a month later, we had a pretty good idea the main event of Wrestlemania 19 would be a title match between the two former amateur wrestling greats. Lesnar cakewalked through the Rumble, then indeed faced Angle in the main event of Wrestlemania 19, nearly breaking his neck with a blown shooting star press en route to his second WWE Title.
2004: Chris Benoit
Back before he became well-known for other things, Benoit was easily the best wrestler in the world, and he had a legion of diehard fans who were dying to see him win a World Title. It didn’t happen in WCW, and looked like it would never happen in WWE either, but 2004 became the year the fans who had supported him for all that time would finally get their moment. Benoit came in at #1 and lasted the entire match, last eliminating the Big Show to win and (at the time) set the longevity record in the Rumble as well. He went on to defeat Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match in the main event of Wrestlemania 20, which closed with Benoit and his best friend Eddy Guerrero, both champions, celebrating in the ring as the show came to a close.
WWE changed directions pretty dramatically in the lead up to this Rumble, because they originally had planned on a Triple H vs Randy Orton main event for Wrestlemania 21, but put the brakes on that idea once they heard the crowd reactions Batista was getting. Batista was routinely one of the most over guys on the show, so WWE called an audible, put Orton on the back burner, and had Batista win the Royal Rumble. To Triple H’s dismay, his former friend Batista defeated him in the main event of Wrestlemania 21 to claim the first of what would be many World Titles.
2006: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio would normally have NEVER even been in the conversation of winning this match, and the only reason he was is because his friend Eddy Guerrero had passed away, leading to Rey getting a tribute push in Eddy’s name. It was in bad taste, Rey was not made for that level of competition, but nonetheless they had Rey win the Rumble and then go on to win the World Title from Randy Orton in a midcard match halfway through Wrestlemania 22.
2007: The Undertaker
Often considered a favorite in any Royal Rumble match he participated in, the Undertaker somehow never managed to win one until 2007. He earned a title match with World Champion Batista at Wrestlemania 23, and while it was an excellent match (rpobably one of Batista’s best), it went on in the middle of the show. John Cena’s successful WWE Title defense against Shawn Michaels went on to main event.
2008: John Cena
Cena made a surprise return from injury to win the Royal Rumble in 2008, but chose to cash in his title shot against Randy Orton a month early at No Way Out. He didn’t win, but even though he technically burned up his “official” title shot, he did wind up challenging Orton at Wrestlemania 24 in a triple threat match that also included the Big Show. Whether it would have counted or not is moot, because Edge and the Undertaker ended up getting the main event nod that year.
2009: Randy Orton
Orton finally got his Wrestlemania title match with Triple H four years after it was originally supposed to happen when he won the 2009 Royal Rumble. This was during the stupid “Orton is terrorizing Triple H’s family” storyline, and it led to a terrible main event at Wrestlemania 25 where Triple H defeated Orton to retain.
Much like Cena had in 2008, Edge made a surprise return from injury at the 2010 Royal Rumble, and in fact eliminated Cena to win the match and earn a title shot at Wrestlemania. He faced his former tag team partner Chris Jericho for the World Title at Wrestlemania 26, and was defeated in what ended up being a midcard match. To be fair, Shawn Michaels vs the Undertaker in the Streak vs Career match closed the show, and nothing was going to top that, but still no point for extenuating circumstances.
2011: Alberto Del Rio
Billed as the biggest Royal Rumble in history, the 2011 Rumble match was the first and only one to include 40 participants instead of the usual 30. Alberto Del Rio was the last man left standing after that mess, but while he earned the Wrestlemania title shot, he not only didn’t main event Wrestlemania 27, his World Title match with Edge actually OPENED the show. Compounding this disgrace was the fact that Alberto lost, and since Edge retired immediately after this match, he never even got another chance to try and beat him.
We were back to 30 participants when Sheamus won the 2012 Royal Rumble, and much like Alberto, he was jerking the curtain when he got his title shot at Wrestlemania 28. Unlike Del Rio, Sheamus emerged victorious in an 18 second squash win over World Champion Daniel Bryan. The Rock went on to defeat John Cena in the main event later that night.
2013: John Cena
The Rumble winner was back in the main event at Wrestlemania 29, as John Cena took home his second Royal Rumble victory to set up a rematch with the Rock, this time for the WWE Title. Even though this match would have main evented whether it was for the title or not, it counts, as Cena avenged his loss the year before by hitting an AA and pinning Rock to strap that title around his waist one more time.
Batista returned to WWE for the first time in several years in late 2013, and the plan all along was to have him win the Royal Rumble and go on to challenge Randy Orton for the WWE Title. That part went as planned, but the part nobody (in WWE management) expected was the H-U-G-E wave of fan support that Daniel Bryan would ride into Wrestlemania. The fans essentially forced WWE to insert him into the main event, where he tapped Batista out to win the WWE Title. So technically the Rumble winner did close Wrestlemania 30, but with an asterisk.
2015: Roman Reigns
Everyone knew Roman Reigns was winning the Royal Rumble in 2015 (though some hoped the returning Daniel Bryan would), and everyone knew he was going on to challenge Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 31, and everyone was pretty sure he was going to beat Brock to take the title. Well, the first two went down that way, but definitely not the third, because Seth Rollins cashed in Money In The Bank, curb stomped Roman, and pinned him to steal the WWE Title out from under his nose. So the Rumble winner did main event, but again with an asterisk.
2016: Triple H
This Rumble actually was for the WWE Title itself, not a Wrestlemania title shot, so even though Triple H did end up defending (and losing) the title against Roman Reigns in the main event of Wrestlemania 32, we’re going to throw this one out due to the circumstances.
2017: Randy Orton
Well, technically Orton gave up his title shot, then had to defeat AJ Styles to “re-qualify” for the Wrestlemania title shot, but I don’t think it’s really going to matter since I think we all know what’s going to end up closing Wrestlemania 33:
So our final grand total: of the 25 Royal Rumbles held since the Wrestlemania title shot stipulation was added in 1993, nine just straight up didn’t main event Wrestlemania, leaving us with 16. We’re also throwing out Triple H’s win in 2016, so we’re down to 15. If we work under the fairly safe assumption that Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt isn’t closing this year’s show, we’re down to 14. Of those, six more Rumble winners got the Wrestlemania main event, but under wacky circumstances that resulted in additional people being added to the title picture at that year’s Wrestlemania.
This leaves us with only eight Royal Rumble winners, about 32%, going on to a straightforward, one-on-one title shot in the main event of Wrestlemania. Not quite the odds that WWE’s hype machine would have us believe, are they?