Who Were the Runners Up in the 1988-1996 Royal Rumble Matches?

The Royal Rumble match has seen it's
The Royal Rumble match has seen it's
of winners and losers
Paul Benson

The Royal Rumble match was originally conceived by WWE booker and Hall of Famer, Pat Patterson.

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It was first promoted in January 1988 as a television special, to ostensibly damage rival, the NWA's Bunkhouse Stampede pay per view that was being broadcast on the same night.

It succeeded. WWE's Royal Rumble event set a network record viewership for a wrestling event, pulling an incredible 8.2 rating.

The NWA's Bunkhouse Stampede drew poorly in comparison and was a PR disaster as only 6,000 attended because the wrong start time was published on tickets; 7.30pm instead of 6.30pm, meaning the majority of fans missed the first half of the show.

So, successful was the Royal Rumble event, that WWE decided to broadcast the show as a pay per view the following year and it has been a much-anticipated part of their annual pay per view calendar ever since.

When the company devised the stipulation in 1993, that the match winner would headline Wrestlemania opposite the WWE Champion, the event became even more anticipated.

The 'Rumble match had grown in importance and was now a major platform for an up and coming superstar to become a bonafide headline mega draw. By winning the 'Rumble, they would earn a first class ticket to the top of the business.

However, the margins between success and failure are small and for the great success experienced by most 'Rumble winners, disappointment and a return to the drawing board was experienced by those wrestlers who missed out on victory and were runners-up in the annual spectacular.

In the first of three articles, SK revisits every single Royal Rumble event and looks at the runners-up and what became of their career after they missed out on victory.

#1 Royal Rumble Runner Ups 1988-90

Ted DiBiase begs off before his elimination at Royal Rumble 1989
Ted DiBiase begs off before his elimination at Royal Rumble 1989

1988 - One Man Gang

The inaugural Royal Rumble match saw Hacksaw Jim Duggan last eliminate One Man Gang to win. As an experimental match, there were no long-term plans for the winners or runner-ups.

Neither Duggan or One Man Gang would ever advance beyond the opening match of WWE supercards over the course of their careers. It would not have made a lot of difference to either man if the result had been reversed.

1989 - Ted DiBiase

The "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase would have made a more memorable winner than the man who did take the crown, Big John Studd.

However, in truth, DiBiase's headline career in WWE had peaked the year before, when he "bought" the WWE Championship from Andre the Giant in February 1988.

He was immediately stripped of the title but reached the final of the WWE Championship tournament at Wrestlemania IV, just over a month later before he was defeated by Macho Man Randy Savage.

Post-Royal Rumble, DiBiase was pitted in a mid-card feud with the likes of Brutus Beefcake and Jake Roberts and would never crack the main event again, before his eventual retirement in late 1993. It's debatable whether a win here would have substantially altered his eventual career trajectory or not.

1990 - Mr. Perfect

Original plans called for Mr. Perfect to win the Royal Rumble match and feud over the WWE Championship with Hulk Hogan. However, the Hulkster having not yet won the Royal Rumble in his career, felt that he should win and convinced the booking squad to change the result.

Although he did not lose by pinfall, this was the first time Perfect did not win in WWE, thus removing his "perfect" record as a WWE superstar.

This negated his gimmick somewhat and things got even worse when Perfect lost by pinfall to Hogan's buddy, Brutus Beefcake at Wrestlemania two months later.

As a reward for these high profile jobs, Perfect was given the Intercontinental Championship and contested some stunning matches as that belt's titleholder, but after his brief flirtation with the main event, never became a headliner in WWE.

It could have been very different for Perfect had Hogan not protected his spot and changed those booking plans. A credible main event heel Perfect would have made the perfect opponent for Hogan's successor as WWE Champion, The Ultimate Warrior.


#2 Royal Rumble Runner Ups 1991-93

Hulk Hogan last eliminated Earthquake to win the 1991 Royal Rumble
Hulk Hogan last eliminated Earthquake to win the 1991 Royal Rumble

1991 - Earthquake

Hulk Hogan won his second 'Rumble in succession. Although in this instance it made sense. Hogan had been sidelined by Earthquake the previous year and contested a heated grudge match with him at Summerslam 1990.

Their feud still had enough in juice in it by the time 1991 rolled around and their final exchanges made for an exciting climax.

Hogan was headed to the main event of Wrestlemania once more and Earthquake had already had his headline run and would soon join up with Typhoon to form the Natural Disasters tag team. It would have made little sense for him to win the 1991 'Rumble encounter.

1992 - Sid Justice

The 1992 Royal Rumble is best remembered for Ric Flair's 60-minute performance wherein he entered number three and won the WWE Championship. Less memorable was who he beat to do so. That man was Sid Justice.

Justice was also being pushed as a major star as Vince McMahon saw him as the next Hulk Hogan. Justice eliminated Hogan and a vengeful Hogan yanked at Justice's arm, allowing Flair to dump him over the top rope.

Justice, despite the loss, would go on to headline Wrestlemania VIII opposite Hogan in a disaster of a match.

Justice would leave immediately following the event. Flair, for his part, made a great WWE Champion and contested an excellent match with Randy Savage on the 'Mania undercard.

This was the right result for everyone.

1993 - Macho Man Randy Savage

1993 was a dire year for WWE with a dearth of headline talent. To attempt to fill the void left by the departures of Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice and Ultimate Warrior, they booked the massive Yokozuna to win the Royal Rumble match-up to earn the title match with Bret Hart at Wrestlemania.

But what of the runner-up, Randy Savage? A Savage/Hart match could have been excellent and a huge improvement of the disastrous 'Zuna/Hart contest.

Savage was not seen by Vince McMahon as a viable in-ring talent though in 1993 and did not change his mind into 1994.

This led Savage to leave the company for WCW, wherein he continued his career and competed as a main eventer, once more until 1999.


#3 Royal Rumble Runner Ups 1994-96

The British Bulldog thought he had the 1995 Royal Rumble won
The British Bulldog thought he had the 1995 Royal Rumble won

1994 - Shawn Michaels

The 1994 Royal Rumble was co-won by Lex Luger and Bret Hart who eliminated each other and hit the floor at the same time. However, the last man to be eliminated before the co-winners was Shawn Michaels who was thrown over the top rope by Lex Luger.

Would a Michaels win have made more sense? Not in 1994. HBK was on the rise as an upper mid-card heel and would crack the main event scene the following year but 1994 was too early in his ascension.

However, perhaps he would have made a better choice as a co-winner than Luger, who had already peaked in the promotion.

Although, that result would have robbed us of the classic Ladder Match encounter between Michaels and Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania. In hindsight, the 'Rumble result was the right one.

1995 - British Bulldog

Shawn Michaels would go one better in 1995, last eliminating The British Bulldog to win. Bulldog threw Michaels over the top rope and believed he had won. His music even started playing. However, only one of Michaels' feet had hit the floor and he returned to the ring to eliminate Bulldog.

The outcome was pretty unfair for Bulldog but he did get shots at the WWE Championship later that year versus both Diesel and Bret Hart and then again in 1996 versus Michaels.

However, he would never win the big one. Although, victory in this 'Rumble likely wouldn't have changed that as Michaels did not win the belt at that year's Wrestlemania either, falling short to WWE Champion, Diesel.

1996 - Diesel

Shawn Michaels made it two in a row at the 1996 Royal Rumble and it was his buddy, Diesel whom he last eliminated to win.

Diesel had peaked the year before, where he had reigned as WWE Champion for an entire year.

He was the worst drawing champion in WWE history and was never going to considered for the 'Rumble win.

Diesel would challenge Bret Hart for the title at the following pay per view and compete with Michaels for the belt two months later. However, he would win neither and left for WCW where he made an impact as a founding member of the nWO.

Edited by Alan John


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