Anyone who is anyone has won the Royal Rumble. The Rock, Roman Reigns, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Triple H, John Cena, Ric Flair, Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey, and so on. Even Santino Marella nearly won it in 2011.
But all these winners were bonafide stars when they won the match.
Often, WWE uses the Royal Rumble to signal a major push for a superstar. Here, we look at wrestlers who had star-making Royal Rumble matches.
Wheels in Motion For Rikishi At Rumble 2000
Bigger, blonder, and (ahem) ‘buttier’. Rikishi debuted as a bleach-blonde, thong-wearing monster with a side addiction to dancing with Too Cool two months before the Rumble 2000. After years of gimmicks that didn’t stick – such as The Sultan, Make A Difference Fatu, and Headshrinker Fatu – Rikishi finally found the gimmick that would lead to him becoming a WWE Hall of Famer.
He truly arrived in the Royal Rumble match. Entering fifth, he eliminated Mosh, Christian, and D’Lo Brown. This left Rikishi and his tag team partner, Grandmaster Sexay, alone in the ring.
Things looked bad for the Grandmaster. Then, entrant number six arrived. It was the third member of the Too Cool stable, Scotty 2 Hotty. Scotty gave Rikishi a pair of shades, and the three men gave Madison Square Garden one of its greatest WWE moments.
The three men performed their signature dance, and the roof nearly blew off the garden. Rikishi then eliminated both his buddies.
— 2000’s WWE (@2000s_WWE) January 28, 2023
Steve Blackman entered next and was eliminated in 44 seconds by Rikishi. Rikishi took a bit longer – 1:25 minutes – to eliminate the next entrant, Viscera. At this point, it seemed nobody could last 90 seconds alone with Rikishi. The Samoan lasted almost 17 minutes until six people finally managed to team up and send him over the rope.
His cousin, The Rock, ended up winning the match. Rikishi’s star-making Rumble led to him being a top star for all of 2000. He won the Intercontinental Championship and made it to the finals of the King of the Ring.
He was then involved in the biggest moment of 2000. Rikishi was revealed to be the person who hit Stone Cold Steve Austin with a car at the previous year’s Survivor Series.
He entered his biggest feud and would go on to challenge for the WWF Championship. He ended the year by being chokeslammed from the top of Hell in a Cell onto a truck on the floor. Arguably one of the most dramatic moments of 2000. Injuries stalled his career, and unfortunately, we never got Rikishi as a world champion.
Shawn Michaels Wins From Number One
Shawn Michaels was probably a star when he entered the 1995 Royal Rumble as number one. He’d already given us the incredible Intercontinental Championship ladder match with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. But things easily could have cooled off for him. See countless former IC Champs who never progressed to the main event level.
Rumble 1995 was a defining moment for him that helped take his star to the next level. He eliminated eight superstars and lasted 38:41 to win the match.
One Foot Only
BRITISH BULLDOG WINS THE ROYA— No!
Shawn Michaels was hanging on by a foot and HE is the first person to enter at #1 and win a very short Royal Rumble pic.twitter.com/lB3r8ZrdeF
— OVP – Retro Wrestling Podcast (@ovppodcast) January 23, 2024
The dramatic way Michaels won the match helped change the Rumble match. The British Bulldog sent Michaels over the top rope. Bulldog’s music hit, and he celebrated his win. But Michaels came back into the ring and eliminated Bulldog. It was revealed only one of Michaels’s feet had touched the floor. This moment has been rehashed multiple times since, but nothing beats its shocking origin.
His record of being the only person to enter at number one and win stood for almost a decade until someone we won’t mention matched it.
Michaels won the 1996 Rumble, too, and then his first Heavyweight Championship at that year’s WrestleMania. But his 1995 Rumble victory always remained one of his greatest accolades and helped create his legend.
Bianca Belair Declares As NXT Top Star
Since its inception in 2018, the Women’s Royal Rumble match has always been bulked out with NXT stars. But none used their appearance in a Rumble to stake a claim as the next top star more than Bianca Belair.
Belair entered the 2020 Royal Rumble match at number two while still on the NXT roster. She eliminated a record eight superstars, lasted 33:20 minutes and stole the spotlight with her unique offense and likable spirit.
This star-making appearance soon led to her moving over to the main roster and setting up a career that has so far seen her main event, WrestleMania, then coming out to win the WWE Women’s Championship twice and the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
From now until the #RoyalRumble event, I’ll be posting one of my favorite Royal Rumble entrances each day.
Day 23 of 28: Bianca Belair 2020
1st main roster AND Rumble appearance & she was an ironwoman of this match setting a record ! ICONIC AF!🙌 pic.twitter.com/qFm8swc2Q0
— C. (@LitasaultBanks) January 28, 2023
Phenomenal Rumble Debut For AJ Styles
AJ Styles started 2016 by having one of the greatest matches of all time with Shinsuke Nakamura at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10. As the leader of The Bullet Club, Styles was one of the hottest wrestlers on the planet.
Then, he shocked the world by arriving in the WWE as the third entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble. His legend had been created over more than a decade with TNA and appearances for Ring of Honor and NJPW.
But even he admitted he wondered if anyone would know who he was in WWE. His debut is one of the loudest pops of all time. Styles eliminated just Tyler Breeze and Curtis Axel. But he remained in the match for 29 minutes, which was enough to make it a star-making appearance.
Since his exhilarating Rumble debut, Styles has never looked back. Becoming a WWE Triple Crown and Grand Slam champion.
This behind the scenes footage of AJ Styles’ debut at the WWE Royal Rumble 2016 is amazing.
The fact that AJ was hoping that at least some people would remember him, then coming out to that wild reaction. You love to see it. pic.twitter.com/vaIuQQJjH0
— Wrestling Pics & Clips (@WrestleClips) January 21, 2024
The 2020 Royal Rumble was the match in which Drew McIntyre finally reached his potential and broke out as a major WWE star. The then-WWE Champion took the match hostage. He entered at number one and eliminated the first 14 entrants. That was until McIntyre arrived.
The Scot hit a Claymore Kick to get his biggest foe out of the match. McIntyre spent 34 minutes in the match and eliminated another five people to win the whole thing. It was a star-making moment for McIntyre, who became the only British man to win a Royal Rumble.
— Eddy (@xWrestlingEOD) January 27, 2020
The Royal Rumble is the one WWE event that will bring back most casual wrestling fans. Its unpredictability and fast-paced nature make it great for lapsed fans.
Casual fans would have been left scratching their heads when Alberto Del Rio entered at 38 in the 40-man 2011 Royal Rumble and won. Del Rio had had about 30 TV matches before the Royal Rumble match. He only eliminated Randy Orton and Santino Marella. He won, having only been in the match for 9:33 minutes.
But winning the Rumble was, without a shadow of a doubt, his star-making moment and paved the way for a successful WWE career.