With the Royal Rumble days away, it's time to look back at some of those great winners that ultimately failed when it counted.
The match has not always guaranteed the winner a championship bout. It wasn't until 1993 that the stipulation was added to the event.
Since then, we've had 28 Royal Rumble winners challenge for a world championship. Out of those, only 16 competitors were successful. Knowing that, who are some of the most notable winners who couldn't capitalize on the opportunity?
We'll kick things off with one of the most successful WWE Superstars of all time, and the cover Superstar of WWE 2K23!
#5. John Cena - Royal Rumble 2008
It's considered by WWE to be one of, if not the greatest, Royal Rumble returns ever. A moment that proved once and for all that John Cena was Superman.
Prior to the event, Cena suffered a torn pec in October. WWE revealed that the injury could keep the former champion out of action anywhere between six months and a full year.
Considering that, it blew the minds of fans around the globe when Cena's music rang out at Madison Square Garden on January 27th, 2008. The final entrant in the Royal Rumble match, Cena would eliminate four WWE Superstars, including Triple H, to clinch his first Royal Rumble victory.
Not a patient man, Cena decided to challenge WWE Champion Randy Orton for the title at that year's No Way Out event. He would win the match...by disqualification, meaning he failed to capture the title. After failing to leave Cena on the floor for the 10-count, Orton decided to slap the referee and end the match prematurely. Due to that, Cena worked his way into the title bout at WrestleMania XXIV.
The issue with that was that the main event of No Way Out was an Elimination Chamber match, with the winner earning a shot at Randy Orton at WrestleMania. Triple H won the grueling contest, leading to a three-way at the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Cena would eat a Pedigree near the end of the match, but Triple H failed to pick up the win as he was punt-kicked by Orton. The Viper ended up beating both Cena and Triple H in one night. Cena's failure to overcome the odds at WWE's biggest show of the year was just as surprising, if not more so, than his Royal Rumble return.
#4. Shawn Michaels - Royal Rumble 1995
Joining John Cena in this special club, Shawn Michaels is one-for-two when it comes to his Royal Rumble victories. A back-to-back Rumble winner, Michaels successfully challenged for the WWF Championship in 1996, defeating Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII.
It was his first Rumble victory that we'll be looking at today, though. The 1995 Royal Rumble gave us one of the most important moments in HBK's career. The live audience and those tuning in believed that Davey Boy Smith had won the match after seemingly tossing the Showstopper over the ropes.
Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy entered the Rumble at 1 and 2 respectively, meaning that they both went the distance in an incredible showing of stamina. After eliminating Crush, Michaels and Smith were both winded. Shawn avoided multiple elimination attempts, with the final being his legendary "skinning the cat" moment.
Davey Boy Smith clotheslined Shawn Michaels over the ropes and celebrated as his music rang out. As he raised his arm high in the corner, a not-yet eliminated HBK rushed across the ring and dumped him, securing his first Royal Rumble victory. As legendary as that moment was, Michaels failed to make it count at WrestleMania XI.
In what went down as one of the worst WrestleManias in the event's history, Shawn Michaels was beaten by former bodyguard Diesel, as Big Daddy Cool retained the WWF Championship following a poorly-executed Jackknife Powerbomb.
#3. Roman Reigns - Royal Rumble 2015
Before he became the Tribal Chief, Roman Reigns struggled to bring the WWE Universe along with him as The Big Dog. More like a puppy with big paws, Reigns had all the tools, but hadn't yet evolved into the star he is today.
At the 2015 Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns and WWE left their fanbase in a state of fury not seen in ages. It wasn't Roman's fault, really. WWE failed to read the room after their audience had been telling them for two years that they wanted Daniel Bryan.
At this point, Bryan had come back from injury and fans anticipated that he would finally win the Rumble, something that should have happened the year prior. Honestly, Roman winning wasn't the issue. The problem was that Bryan returned to action before the Rumble, which gave fans hope.
It was only one of many mistakes that would end up ruining Roman Reigns' run. When Bryan was unceremoniously eliminated by Bray Wyatt after 10 minutes, fans knew what was coming and soured on it immediately. Roman would go on to win, and would even be saved during the match by The Rock, who helped him thwart The Big Show and Kane.
Unfortunately, even the People's Champ couldn't turn those jeers into cheers. Roman would then face Bryan at Fastlane, defending his opportunity against the fans' chosen star. Again, a vital mistake that probably spelled the end for Reigns' hopes at WrestleMania.
With no way to make fans happy between Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar, WWE went with a different approach. Seth Rollins had held the Money in the Bank contract for nine months by this point. With fans actively attempting to ruin the main event of WrestleMania 31, Seth Rollins was sent in to save the show.
It was a crowning moment for Seth Rollins, who walked away with the greatest cash-in in history. Too bad that it came at the biggest failure of Roman Reigns' entire career.
#2. The Rock (or The Big Show) - Royal Rumble 2000
Ah, 2000. The year that WWE completely skipped WrestleMania. We don't have to talk about it.
Sadly that's not the case, though many may wish it to be true. 2000 was the year of the "Four Corners of McMahon" main event. Each member of the McMahon family had their own special boy they handpicked for the WWF Championship bout.
Stephanie was with her handsome husband and then-champion Triple H. Shane found a fun big toy in The Big Show. Linda chose the barbed wire-wrapped teddy bear known as Mick Foley. And of course, that left The Rock with Vince McMahon. But how did we get to this point?
Well, at Royal Rumble 2000, shenanigans were afoot. The Rock countered a toss, holding onto the ropes and eliminating The Big Show at the end of the marquee match to be declared the winner. After the pay-per-view, camera footage revealed that both of his feet had touched the ground before The Big Show was eliminated.
Both men went on to No Way Out to face each other for a shot at the champion at the Show of Shows. Shane McMahon would interfere in the bout, cracking Rocky with a steel chair to give The Big Show the big win. Controversy atop controversy, you see.
With Big Show stealing the title match with the help of Shane-O-Mac, The Rock got some unexpected help from Vince McMahon, leading to a triple threat between Rock, Show, and Triple H on an episode of RAW.
Well, when that match fell apart with even more interference, Linda McMahon made her presence known, claiming the match would take place again at WrestleMania 2000. Not only that, but she'd be in the corner of the fourth participant, a returning Mick Foley.
In a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the WWF Championship, The Rock would rid the match of The Big Show first. Triple H then ended Mick Foley's night with a Pedigree. To end it all, Vince McMahon hammered The Rock, his own handpicked choice, with a steel chair to make sure Triple H retained his title.
#1. Edge - Royal Rumble 2010 & 2021
That's right, the Ultimate Opportunist. Two-time Royal Rumble winner, two-time failure on the Grandest Stage of Them All. Edge made a career out of seizing every chance he could, weasling his way into title bout after title bout, and ultimately stealing glory for himself and making kids cry.
Unfortunately for the WWE Hall of Famer, he could never capitalize on the opportunities granted to him by the Royal Rumble. In 2010, Edge returned from injury to meet former tag team partner Chris Jericho as a surprise 29th entrant and survived a handful of living legends. Along with Y2J, he had to shake off Shawn Michaels, John Cena, and Batista.
Eventually, he emerged victorious, last eliminating his greatest rival Cena to move on to WrestleMania XXVI. At that event, though, he fell to Jericho, failing to win the World Heavyweight Championship. But if he won the Royal Rumble again, maybe he could fix that mistake and leave WrestleMania as champion!
As it turned out, no. Edge returned to WWE after nine years and what was thought to be a career-ending injury, surprising fans across the world at the 2020 Royal Rumble. The next year, he'd win the whole thing and go on to challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 37. As is well known at this point, though, the Tribal Chief put both Edge and Daniel Bryan away in a three-way bout.
Unless Edge wins the Royal Rumble this year and goes on to achieve glory at WrestleMania 39, he will go down as the only two-time Royal Rumble winner to fail both championship matches. Though, considering the legendary career the man has had, I doubt anyone will hold that against him.
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