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Let's set the record straight: The Royal Rumble match itself is bar none the craziest matchup WWE has to offer. Forget about your Elimination Chambers, your ladder matches, your Hell in a Cells — the Royal Rumble match is where the wildest and most unpredictable moments happen.
With the Road to WrestleMania officially starting in San Antonio with the Royal Rumble event on Jan. 28, WWE Superstars from all brands will be anxiously awaiting to see if they will be participating in this year’s Rumble matches. For all of the competitors, it’s a chance to prove they're worthy of going on to the main event at WrestleMania. The only problem is there are 29 other Superstars standing in their way, each with the exact same goal.
Today, USA Insider will be looking at the five wildest eliminations in Rumble history. Of course, eliminations are two-sided: There’s one Superstar being tossed over the top rope, and there’s one Superstar doing the tossing. Some of the most iconic wrestlers of all time have been a part of some of the wild eliminations in Rumble history, and we’re going to start back — way back — in 1995, for an elimination that still stands the test of time.
Shawn Michaels Eliminates British Bulldog – 1995
1995 was a transitional year for WWE, as wrestlers from the previous generation — the Hogans, Flairs, and Savages — were slowly being fazed out in favor of what was called the “New Generation” of Superstars. The New Generation was composed of exciting up-and-coming wrestlers such as Bret Hart, Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels, and these men were poised to lead WWE even further into the public spotlight.
After years of being primarily known as a tag team specialist, Shawn Michaels used the 1995 Royal Rumble match as a launching pad for a burgeoning singles career. After Michaels and British Bulldog both entered the Rumble at the #1 and #2 spots, respectively, they defied the odds and outlasted every single competitor to enter the match after them, becoming the final two Superstars after nearly 40 grueling minutes. In the end, Bulldog squashed the Heartbreak Kid’s WrestleMania aspirations thanks to a devastating clothesline, and went on to challenge Diesel at WrestleMania that year…
… Except whoops, Bulldog didn’t double-check his work. As it turned out, thanks to hanging on for dear life for what seemed like an eternity, only one of Michaels' feet ever touched the arena floor. So it was quite a surprise to the British Bulldog — who was celebrating on the top turnbuckle as his music played throughout the arena — when Shawn Michaels re-entered the ring and threw him over the top rope to officially win the 1995 Royal Rumble!
With that, HBK went on to challenge for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. Up to that point, the WWE Universe had never seen such a wild elimination — let alone ending — to a Rumble match.
Stone Cold Steve Austin Eliminates Bret Hart – 1997
To this day, the WWE Universe isn’t quite sure what to make of Steve Austin’s infamous elimination of his arch-rival Bret Hart in 1997; did Austin cheat, or did he just operate under the confines of the rules of the Rumble? Let’s investigate.
Here are the facts: Yes, the Hitman threw Stone Cold out of the ring. Austin went flying over the top rope, and both of his feet touched the floor. According to the rules, Austin is eliminated. But no referee witnessed this. During any Royal Rumble, there are, oh, about 500 referees (we’re embellishing a bit but you get our point) surrounding the ring marking eliminations and generally keeping order. But at that particular moment during the 1997 Rumble, they were all preoccupied with Mick Foley and Terry Funk trying to maim each other at ringside. With no referee to officially signal that he was eliminated, Steve Austin did what any of us would’ve done" He jumped back into the ring like nothing ever happened.
What the referees did see, however, was Austin tossing Hart over the top rope and winning the whole match. It was one of the first of many times that Bret Hart had gotten “screwed” — his words — in WWE, and it propelled Steve Austin into the stratosphere. From that moment on, Austin became a megastar.
(So did Austin cheat? We say no, but don’t tell that to Bret Hart.)
Maven Eliminates The Undertaker – 2002
The Undertaker is, was, and forever will be the most intimidating Superstar in WWE history. We don’t care that he’s been retired for years, we’d still be in awe (and keep our distance!) if we ran into him in 2023.
In the early 2000s, Undertaker was on the top of his game — just like always. But all it takes is one brash rookie to land a lucky shot and it’s game over.
That’s exactly what happened.
Taking advantage of a distraction by Matt and Jeff Hardy, "Tough Enough" Season 1 winner Maven hit the Dead Man from behind with a picture-perfect dropkick to eliminate him. To say the arena went ballistic would be an understatement. To say the Undertaker went ballistic would be an even bigger understatement. Undertaker proceeded to take Maven out of the match with one of the biggest beatdowns in history, but the damage had already been done. Maven had done the impossible: He eliminated the Undertaker and cemented his spot in history.
It was a wild moment to witness in 2002 and the drama and mayhem of the moment still rings true watching it over 20 years later. And while Maven never fully realized his potential in WWE, he can always hang his hat on this particular moment.
Beth Phoenix Eliminates The Great Khali – 2010
Before WWE introduced separate male and female Royal Rumble matches, the only way for the top female Superstars to compete in the Rumble was to be the absolute best of the best. After Chyna became the first woman to ever participate in 1999, the stage was set for Beth Phoenix to follow in her footsteps in 2010.
The Great Khali, arguably the largest competitor in WWE history, happened to be the Superstar standing in the way of Beth Phoenix having a lengthy Royal Rumble run. In Khali’s mind, Beth was an annoyance who needed to be disposed of immediately. So what did the Great Khali do? He picked up Beth, placed her over the top rope, and pointed to the locker room. And what did Beth Phoenix do?
She planted a big wet one on Khali while simultaneously pulling him over the top rope and to the floor! While we don’t usually condone the use of kissing as means to eliminate your fellow Superstars during the Royal Rumble — we shudder to think what would’ve happened to Maven if he tried that with the Undertaker — we can’t argue with results! The official record book reads that the Great Khali was tossed out courtesy of the future WWE Hall of Famer, and somehow we don’t think Khali minds that it turned out that way.
Drew McIntyre Eliminates Brock Lesnar – 2020
Just a few short years ago, all signs pointed to Brock Lesnar steamrolling through the competition in the 2020 Royal Rumble, and that’s exactly how it went — for the first 20 minutes or so. After Superstars such as Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston, and Big E failed to put a dent in Lesnar’s armor, it really looked like the Beast Incarnate would run the table and easily win the whole thing. But he didn’t count on one particular Superstar making his presence known and capitalizing at exactly the right time.
Drew McIntyre entered the Royal Rumble that year with one thing on his mind: Win at any cost. It didn’t matter who was in his path; McIntyre was a man possessed. Brock Lesnar is usually a man who has seen it all and can handle anything that is thrown his way, but not on that night.
One Claymore kick out of nowhere and Brock Lesnar was eliminated, sending the WWE Universe into an absolute frenzy. It was a rare sight to see someone manhandle Lesnar like that, but McIntyre did it with ease. Lesnar was lucky he didn’t land in the second row. It was a wild elimination that led up to McInytre eventually being the last man standing in the match and going on to WrestleMania.
That particular Claymore had a message attached to it, and the WWE Universe heard it loud and clear: Drew McIntyre had arrived, and not even Brock Lesnar could stay in his way.
Of course, there are plenty more wild Rumble eliminations that have happened over the past 30 years or so — these are just our favorites. After all, when there is so much star power inside a ring, every elimination has the potential to be wild and exciting. We can’t wait to see what the 2023 Royal Rumble brings!
You can stream Royal Rumble 2023 on Peacock on Jan. 28.
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