Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!
Nobody can deny the sheer spectacle and entertainment the traditional Royal Rumble match provides the WWE Universe. Since 1988, the Rumble match itself has traditionally been the highlight of the event. It doesn’t get much better than 30 Superstars throwing each other out of the ring in a frenzied attempt to attain immortality at WrestleMania.
But the Royal Rumble event itself has always been more than just the Rumble matches themselves — in more cases than not, the event is peppered with highly-anticipated clashes that would feel right at home on WrestleMania itself. Some of the greatest WWE Superstars in history like The Rock, Mankind, the Hardy Boyz and Shawn Michaels have made their mark at the Royal Rumble without actually competing in the namesake match.
With just one episode of SmackDown to go before the 2023 Royal Rumble is unleashed in San Antonio on Saturday, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of the best non-Royal Rumble matches in Royal Rumble history.
Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz – Royal Rumble 2000
Before the TLC matches, the swanton bombs off of 30-foot high ladders and before Matt, Jeff, Bubba and D-Von became household names, the Royal Rumble 2000 will always be remembered as the unofficial arrival of two of the best tag teams ever. On this night, the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz tore down the house in Madison Square Garden during the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match in WWE history.
At just over 10 minutes in length, the match packed in more unbelievable moves than most 30-minute matches. Tables were broken, ladders were jumped off and chairs were swung with reckless abandon. In a way, Madison Square Garden was the perfect backdrop for the match, as the influence of Extreme Championship Wrestling was felt with each crash through a table.
Although both teams would move on to bigger things — much bigger, in some cases — for one night only, they stole the show in MSG before any of the four men were on the radar.
Undertaker vs. Rey Mysterio – Royal Rumble 2010
Some believe David versus Goliath is the easiest story to tell. At the 2010 Royal Rumble, the Undertaker and Rey Mysterio gave a master class in the art of telling it.
It was a match for the World Heavyweight Championship, and it featured both Superstars going completely out of their comfort zones. Undertaker dropped the pretense of his usual methodical offense in favor of more high-impact maneuvers, while Mysterio was running around the ring at a breakneck speed trying to get the big man off his feet with various insane feats of athleticism. Although the size difference between the two was apparent, both men fought like their livelihood depended on it. It was clear throughout the match that, for a brief moment, the WWE locker room regarded the World Heavyweight title as higher on the pecking order than the classic WWE Championship.
There were no stipulations attached to this match, no hardcore moments to speak of, just a classic David versus Goliath story told to perfection. If you haven’t checked out this match before, do yourself a favor and watch it because it’s that good.
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar – Royal Rumble 2015
What happens when the three biggest Superstars in WWE — who all happen to be in their athletic prime — collide in a Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship?
You wind up with one of the most intense, non-stop, thrilling title matches in pro wrestling history.
Let’s face it, in 2015, nobody moved the needle quite like Cena, Lesnar and Rollins. Without question, they were at the pinnacle of their careers, and it’s been rare that three competitors of their stature are ever lumped together in the same storyline — and subsequent pay-per-view match.
The WWE Universe was on the edge of its seats in 2015, as this match highlighted arguably the best aspect of a championship match. Absolutely no one had a clue who was going to emerge victorious. In the end, only one man stood tall with the championship held high over his head...
You know what, no spoilers here. It would do a disservice to a near-perfect match to even reveal who won, even if it has been 8 years since it took place.
Shawn Michaels vs. Sycho Sid – Royal Rumble 1997
Throughout his illustrious career, Shawn Michaels continually proved one thing: he was second to none when it came to in-ring ability. In fact, if he was born 30 years later, we’re sure he’d be capable of aerial moves and freak athleticism that would make Superstars like Ricochet and Kofi Kingston jealous.
Sycho Sid, on the other hand, was not that type of wrestler.
In fact, during the buildup to the 1997 Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels took a shot at Sid during an episode of Raw, calling him, “the biggest piece of luggage in the business” — a veiled reference to the fact that HBK fully expected to “carry” Sid in their upcoming match.
But as the saying goes, at the Royal Rumble, the big man had his working boots on that night.
The result was a thrilling back-and-forth match for the WWE Championship where Sid surprisingly held up his end of the bargain in the athleticism department. The crowd in Madison Square Garden was definitively behind Shawn Michaels that night, but make no mistake about it, Sycho Sid earned the respect of wrestling fans everywhere during that match thanks to his performance.
The Rock vs. Mankind – Royal Rumble 1999
Only one word can describe the epic “I Quit” Match between the Rock and Mankind for the WWE title in 1999 — brutal.
So brutal that we were debating not including it on this list, but for its historical significance and the impact it had on the wrestling world in general, we have to include it. But be warned, it is a tough watch for the faint of heart.
It was a side of the Rock that the WWE Universe rarely saw. A calculating, cold and merciless villain going up against one of the most well-loved heroes in pro wrestling history in Mankind, known to most fans as Mick Foley. Foley’s never-say-die attitude turned out to be his Achilles heel, as the Rock literally took the Hardcore Legend to the limit with a ferocity that would make even the most jaded hardcore wrestling fan blush.
To this day, many fans still feel the real-life person behind the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, took the match “too far” with the brutality, which involved seemingly endless chair shots at a helpless and handcuffed Mankind. Not many wrestling matches involving beloved Hall of Famers are hard to watch decades later, but this “I Quit” Match is right up there with witnessing a car crash... Or maybe we’re just getting old.
This Saturday, live on Peacock, the 2023 Royal Rumble will once again prove that the night is so much more than just the men’s and women’s Rumbles. Can Kevin Owens finally end the most epic title reign in history by defeating Roman Reigns? Will Alexa Bliss tap into her newly-rejuvenated dark side and dethrone Bianca Belair? Could we be revising this list next year to include the Mountain Dew Pitch Black match between Bray Wyatt and LA Knight? In a few days, we’ll find out.
It’s a tough task to dethrone the Royal Rumble matches themselves as the most must-see match of the night, but as these aforementioned bouts have proved, it absolutely can be done. So round up your friends, grab a primo seat on the couch, and get ready for one incredible night of WWE action this Saturday!
USA Insider is your source for all things USA, from behind-the-scenes access to breaking news, information about USA’s original shows, and much more. Sign up for USA Insider and be the first to get extras and updates on your favorite shows.