- Best: Batista (2005)
I wonder if WWE looks back on the days of 2005 with fondness when it had two young emerging stars with main event potential at their disposal. The 2005 Royal Rumble concluded (with a variety of hi-jinx) with Batista of the Raw brand and John Cena of the Smackdown brand as its final two contestants. Batista, would eventually win the Rumble, setting him up for a main event collision course with fellow Evolution member, and World Heavyweight Champion, Triple H. 2005 was the Rumble at its best. A star-studded event with several established stars in the mix, it was eventually won by a man who had the potential to be WWE’s next big star. As such, this event went over much better with fans than did the next time Batista would find himself atop this tournament in 2014.
- Worst: Batista (2014)
If there was ever a “dark ages” in regards to the Royal Rumble it would have to be in the past few years. The first of these atrocities was the 2014 Rumble won by a returning Batista. The main problem with this Rumble was how incredibly predictable it was. Batista had just returned from a multi-year hiatus from WWE, and it became painfully obvious in the weeks leading up to the Rumble that he was handpicked to win and resume a longtime rivalry with former Evolution teammate Randy Orton. The next part of this scenario which led to the overall terribleness of this Rumble, was the rising supernova that was Daniel Bryan. However, instead of going with the obvious fan favorite, WWE decided to go with a guy who hadn’t wrestled a meaningful match in over three years. This obvious result was so evidently hated in Pittsburgh that the fans were actually cheering for Roman Reigns in the final two.
- Best: John Cena (2008)
As we talked about in the introduction, one factor that makes the Rumble so successful is the possibility for surprise entrants. Perhaps the most famous of these was John Cena’s dramatic comeback at the 2008 Royal Rumble at Madison Square Gardens. The unquestioned top guy in WWE at this time, Cena returned from a torn pectoral muscle (which usually requires twelve months of recovery) in a mere four months. This, combined with an impressive amount of secrecy on the part of WWE made this one of the most memorable Rumble moments of all time. Considering Cena’s star power, his winning was an easy choice and it set up a marquee matchup with other top stars Randy Orton and Triple H. As such, Cena’s win in 2008 would be a much better decision than his win a few years later in 2013.
- Worst: Big John Studd (1989)
The more recent Royal Rumbles feature more prominently on this list because it has only been in the last twenty-five or so years that the winner of the Royal Rumble has been such a big deal in shaping the future of WWE storylines. Thereby, unfortunately, some of the early winners of the Rumble represent the second-hand status of the pay-per-views early years. For example, the decision by WWE (WWF) to choose Big John Studd to win the 1989 Royal Rumble wouldn’t have been bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that they had a bonafide main event stud (see what I did there) in Hulk Hogan who could have been chosen. Not to knock on Studd who was an established veteran and fan favorite, but he simply didn’t bring the type of star power that Hogan did which could have legitimized the Rumble in its early years.
- Best: Shawn Michaels (1996)
If you’re going to pick someone to win the Royal Rumble, you can never go wrong with choosing the most talented guy in the ring. Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest performers of all time and in 1996 was at the top of his game in WWE. Though Michaels would win the Rumble multiple times in his career, his win in 96 makes it onto this list because of who the other option was to win that year. Kevin Nash (Diesel) was still in the midst of a significant push with WWE during this time, and was one of the final two contestants to get eliminated. By choosing the much more talented wrestler for the huge accolade of winning the Royal Rumble, Shawn Michael’s 1996 victory makes the good part of our list here at #5.