With Royal Rumble 2023 fast approaching, fans are very eager to see how things will shake out this year. As is customary, fans have begun binge watching Rumble events of years passed, many of which playing home to many of WWE’s finest moments. However, as many fans are acutely aware, the Rumble has become one of WWE’s biggest double edged swords in terms of execution and quality. For every time the event has delivered, there are many examples of it leaving fans with a nasty taste in their mouths.
Anything from a convoluted finish to just the wrong person going over, can result in a Rumble being harshly criticized. So with that in mind, we’re gonna take a look back at 10 times that WWE started their year off with less of a bang and more of a whimper. So watch that countdown clock and avoid hitting the floor, these are 10 times the Royal Rumble sent WWE fans home angry.
The 1994 Royal Rumble
While far from the worst Rumble match ever broadcast, there’s no denying that the ’94 edition of the match had fans gnashing their teeth. In the early ’90s, there were few professional wrestlers with a fanbase like Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The Hitman, through his work rate and technical in-ring style, had won over the hearts and minds of many fans. This meant that fans were consistently rabid to see him holding the WWF’s top prize, the world championship. So, when the Rumble rolled around, fans were quite adamant to see Bret reach the WrestleMania X main event.
However, there was one complication, a red, white, and blue complication known as Lex Luger — WWF’s failed attempt at recreating Hulkamania. This included a very cornball pro-America gimmick, including a signature vehicle known as The Lex Express. The match concluded when Lugar and Hart, the final two, eliminated each other and landed on the floor simultaneously. This resulted in WWF’s kayfabe president Jack Tunney declaring the match a draw, causing both men to receive title shots at WrestleMania. With Lugar’s title shot ending via DQ and Bret going onto win the gold, it makes you wonder why Bret wasn’t the sole winner.
The 1999 Royal Rumble
The WWF’s Attitude Era was truly the best of times and the worst of times when it came to the company’s storytelling. For every great bit of booking thrust upon our televisions at the time, there were several duds waiting in the wings. Additionally, this was an era heavily predicated on bad taste humor and car crash style television, resulting in ample groan-worthy moments. This included a siege of slapstick Hardcore Title segments, angles involving adultery and miscarriages, add to that an underlined sense of grotesque misogyny.
All of these tropes are unfortunately on full display in the 1999 edition of the Royal Rumble. However, that’s not the main reason that this Rumble sent the fans in attendance that night home fuming. What truly sent fans around the bend was the match’s winner, none other than Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Yes, for whatever reason, WWE opted to let the CEO
last almost a full hour before dumping out Steve Austin for the win.
It’s a baffling bit of booking, made even more confusing by its aftermath in the following weeks. Vince ended up forgoing the title shot and his feud with Austin continued as normal, making the ending even more pointless in the long run.
The 2011 Royal Rumble
Have you ever heard the expression, "if it isn’t broken don’t fix it"? Somebody should’ve probably ran that message up the flagpole at WWE, because the 2011 Rumble is a complete mess. This is due to a few reasons, not the least of which being the match having 40 competitors as opposed to the standard 30. While a fun idea on paper, this ultimately proved to be the match’s undoing, as those ten slots needed to be filled.
Would WWE use these extra ten slots to load in some hot young rising stars, maybe a few extra nostalgia appearances? The answer to both is a resounding no, as this match was awash with mid-to-lower card enhancement talent. This was an issue later shared by 2012’s edition of the match, but it’s far more egregious here.
Simply put, aside from a few fun spots and legend appearances, including Booker T and Kevin Nash, this Rumble was an absolute slog to sit through. It was made no better by the match’s eventual winner, Alberto Del Rio, going over as well as a fart in church. Bear in mind, this was the visual that the show went off the air with, leaving fans with very little to be happy about. Also, considering that Del Rio went on to lose to Edge at WrestleMania that year anyway, it just makes you wonder why they bothered doing it.
The 2012 Royal Rumble
Yet another example of WWE picking the wrong person to win the Rumble, even though the superior option was standing right there. First off, this is yet another Rumble in dire need of starpower, something it was severely lacking in. As a reminder, 2012 was the year that all three announcers — Jerry Lawler, Booker T, and even Michael Cole — all participated in the match. Aside from a genuinely great spot when Kharma AKA Awesome Kong runs wild and dumps out Hunico, it’s quite the bland affair to be sure. However, the true frustration, especially with the benefit of hindsight, came in the match’s conclusion which came down to Chris Jericho and Sheamus.
It’s worth noting that Jericho would end up going onto that year’s Mania to face CM Punk in the semi-main event. One would think that, with that match firmly penciled in on the docket, Jericho should’ve won the match right? Nope, because as reported by PWInsider, WWE opted to be "unpredictable" and let Sheamus win, much to the ample confusion of many. Many fans had wanted to see Jericho score a Rumble win, something he’d never done, and were thoroughly disappointed. Considering that a WWE return for Y2J gets more and more unlikely every year, the decision to change the finish is all the more baffling. Sheamus’ win also led to his now-infamous 18 second squash win over Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania, so just bad times all around.
The 2014 Royal Rumble
WWE has had many nights that will likely live in infamy forever, some due to unforeseen tragedy and some due to creative buffoonery. This one very much falls into the latter category and even nearly 10 years later still has fans unbelievably miffed. By the end of 2013, WWE fans were firmly behind one man, or rather one beard, that being Daniel Bryan. The 2014 edition actually started off with some promise, with Bryan and Bray Wyatt, still in his cult leader phase, delivering their match of the year candidate.
However, from there, the wheels fell off in a big bad way, with WWE also giving fans John Cena versus Randy Orton for the umpteenth time. This was a sign of things to come as it seemed WWE was steadfast in maintaining their precious status quo despite evolving tastes from fans. Fans were already dreading the idea of Batista, fresh off a return, winning the Rumble, thus setting up Batista versus Randy Orton at WrestleMania.
Sadly, their fears were realized when number 30 wasn’t Daniel Bryan, but poor Rey Mysterio, who received the full brunt of the fans’ outrage. The match came down to Batista and, of all people, Roman Reigns, who actually received a fairly decent crowd response. Sadly it was the Animal who’d leave with his hand raised, leading fans and even Mick Foley to bash the result online. Additionally, this was the final onscreen appearance for CM Punk in WWE before his now-infamous walkout the following night — so, just a cursed show all around.
The 2015 Royal Rumble
With the 2014 edition having left such a bad taste in people’s mouths, one would imagine WWE was going to course correct the next year. Things started off fine, with the match kicking off with the return of Bubba Ray Dudley, back in WWE for the first time since 2005. Then came a fun elimination streak by Bray Wyatt, including a confirmation with The Boogeyman and his former Wyatt Family brethren as well. Things kept progressing steadily, leading up to Daniel Bryan entering the matchup to confront Wyatt a year after their one-on-one match.
However, this is where things went sideways as one shove from Wyatt later, Daniel Bryan was eliminated after only 10 minutes. To twist the knife further, the next entrant was Goldust, meaning the titantron loudly displayed the words "Shattered Dreams." Fans could see the writing on the wall and began burying the matchup under a tidal wave of boos.
Roman Reigns, the only likely winner at that point, quickly took on most of the audience’s abuse, receiving ample jeers for his efforts. Not helping matters was a miserable final sequence where Kane and Big Show slowly, and we mean slowly, dumped out any and all other fan favorites. Not even a surprise cameo from Roman’s cousin, The Rock, could sway the fan’s opinion, even showering The Great One with disdain.
The 2016 Royal Rumble
Having racked up two sizably underwhelming Rumble matches back-to-back, WWE needed to go back to the drawing board for 2016. Heading into the event, the Roman Reigns experiment had hit a long needed second win with The Big Dog receiving a mild uptick in popularity. However, this Rumble served as yet another stumbling block in Roman’s booking for reasons we’ll be getting to in due course. The main draw of this Rumble was a rare but not unprecedented stipulation wherein the WWE Title was on the line as opposed to a title shot. This meant Reigns would have to fight to survive against 29 other men, including AJ Styles who made his WWE debut in grand fashion.
However, early on in the match, The League of Nations — Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Alberto Del Rio, and Rusev — put Reigns through a table, taking him out of the match. This caused Reigns, the one the entire match was based around, being absent for a sizable percentage of it. It was an unbelievably missed opportunity to actually cement Reigns as a tough as nails babyface, instead making him look weaker than ever. Compounding matters was the eventual victor, a returning Triple H, who dumped out Reigns and his former-Shield mate Dean Ambrose to win the entire thing. A mild uptick in quality from the previous two years, but in all honesty, that’s hardly saying much.
The 2020 Women’s Royal Rumble
It’s fair to say that the women’s incarnation of the Royal Rumble has been a welcome addition to WWE’s yearly canon. At the best of the times it’s been just as enthralling as its male counterpart, giving the female locker room some extra time to shine. However, when it comes to winners, it has seen its fair share of lemons as well, choices that made those in attendance quite sour.
By the tail end of the 2010s, WWE fans had grown a bit weary of Charlotte Flair, who’d been pushed quite heavily for a significant amount of time. While Flair’s in-ring prowess has never been disputed, much like with other areas of the product, fans were thirsty for something new. However, much like with Roman Reigns, WWE was determined to maintain Flair’s unyielding stranglehold on the women’s division.
So when Flair was the one to take home the win in 2020, fans were definitely underwhelmed with the outcome. This also came at the expense of Shayna Baszler who, much like Chris Jericho eight years earlier, was seemingly penciled to go to Mania as well. A Rumble winner the audience are actually behind makes a big difference and sadly, in 2020, that definitely wasn’t Charlotte.
The 2022 Women’s Royal Rumble
Both of 2022’s Royal Rumble matches are both regarded poorly by fans, no doubt, and weirdly for nearly the exact same reasons. For legions of fans, the Rumble is the perfect party pay-per-view, typically rife with moments worthy of knocking over your beer and chips. From surprise debuts to legend cameos to shocking eliminations, it’s a match tailor made to have you and your buddies on the edge of your seats. So with that being said, the last thing a Royal Rumble match should ever be is boring.
When we say there was nothing of substance to this match, we truly aren’t kidding or saying that to be mean. First you have Sasha Banks, an odds on favorite to win, being eliminated about 10 minutes into the matchup. Any cameos from old favorites, sans a returning Melina, had already been seen in previous years, leaving little in the way of surprises. Ultimately it was a returning Ronda Rousey, appearing for the first time since WrestleMania 38, who eliminated Charlotte to win. Suffering from ample ring rust, Ronda’s intended dominant streak in the match came off more clumsy than anything sadly. The match was a dud for certain but surely the men’s match later on was going to pick up the slack … right?
The 2022 Royal Rumble
As a general rule, it’s probably best to not book your main event in such a way that it puts your audience to sleep. At the risk of sounding repetitive, both 2022 editions of the Rumble suffered from many of the same issues. Much like its female equivalent, the men’s Rumble was like watching a multi-vehicle pile up but in extra slow motion. Second verse, same as the first — a lack of surprises, by the numbers eliminations and no real intrigue to speak of. Talent aside, when Bad Bunny and Shane McMahon are the closest things you have to surprise appearances, that is a major problem.
Additionally, the sheer lack of anything to latch onto in terms of investment with zero memorable eliminations or spots to speak of. Things were already on track for this Rumble to be underwhelming but in its closing sequence, would reach peak incompetence. Brock Lesnar came out, proceeded to dump out the final four competitors and won the Rumble, heading to WrestleMania once again. Brock going to Mania has always been a forgone conclusion regardless of the year so that makes this choice all the more baffling. It was the second part of a calamitous combo punch that had fans walking with the droopiest of frowns on their faces.