From Bret Hart to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to Triple H and Rey Mysterio, wrestling stars have become champions at “Wrestlemania” in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world (World Wrestling Entertainment) thanks to winning the Royal Rumble match. Since 1993, winning the thirty to forty man Royal Rumble match in January has given the victor a shot at the WWE (and eventually World) Heavyweight Championship. But not every winner has been successful in turning his Rumble victory into championship glory. Here are the top five Royal Rumble match winners who couldn’t win the big one at “Wrestlemania”.
Lex Luger (1994)
As 1994 came into being, the World Wrestling Federation’s latest “All-American” star was struggling to attain the same success as Hulk Hogan and Sergeant Slaughter before him – Lex Luger. After failing to defeat the sumo wrestler turned tyrannical WWF Heavyweight champion Yokozuna for the WWF Championship at “Summerslam ‘93”, Luger continued to chase the 500-pound behemoth for his cherished possession. Luger realized he had one last opportunity to bring the title back to America: by winning the Royal Rumble match.
The final two competitors in the bout were Luger and an injured Bret “Hitman” Hart. Both men eventually tumbled over the top rope, ending the match in a draw. Luger and Hart earned title shots at “Wrestlemania”, with Lex being the first person to get a crack at his rival. With “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig as the referee, Luger fought his heart out until he attacked Yokozuna’s managers. Rather than keep his eyes on the action, Hennig checked on the champ’s seconds until an aggravated Luger shoved the special guest referee. And with that, Hennig disqualified the challenger because you never put your hands on the referee. Luger, after spending months trying to get another title shot, lost his golden opportunity because he couldn’t keep his anger in check.
The Rock (2000)
Dwayne “Rocky ‘The Rock’ Maivia” Johnson spent the majority of 1999 attempting to regain the WWF World Championship he lost to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at “Wrestlemania 15”. When 2000 arrived, Maivia made his intentions know about winning the Royal Rumble match to earn a spot in the “Wrestlemania 16” main event to face the WWF World champion. The Rock entered the randomized Battle Royal and conquered until he came face to chest with The Big Show. Show, easily overpowering The Rock, went to toss the future Hollywood star over the top rope; only to be yanked over alongside The Rock. Rocky pulled himself into the ring as Show tumbled to the floor, giving The Rock his long-awaited victory … or so everyone thought.
Unlike Shawn Michaels in 1995, The Rock couldn’t control his body as he fell over the top rope, having both of his feet touch the floor; thus eliminating himself alongside The Big Show. The Rock would have to defeat Show in a match the next month on pay-per-view to earn a spot in what would become a Four Corner Elimination match as the main event of “Wrestlemania 16” (that happened to include The Big Show and Mick Foley after Foley’s retirement match against Triple H). The “Wrestlemania” main event featured a McMahon in every corner. What made Maivia a big time loser was the McMahon he trusted being the Chairman himself, Vince McMahon. The untrustworthy, lying, manipulative Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon would eventually cost Rocky the match to help his son-in-law retain the WWF World Championship – making a fool of The Rock (something The Rock refused to be before, during or after).
John Cena (2008)
The end of 2007 was a difficult time for, arguably, the company’s biggest star as he suffered a torn pectoral muscle doing an elementary maneuver in professional wrestling (the hip toss). Cena would have to vacate his WWE Heavyweight title thanks to injury that would put him on the shelf for quite some time (making many WWE fans question whether or not “The Dr. of Thuganomics” would even wrestle at “Wrestlemania”). To the shock of everyone in New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden and the fans watching at home, Cena made a stunning return in the 2008 Royal Rumble match. Outlasting several wrestlers, John Cena capped off his return from injury by earning a right to face whatever major champion he wanted.
Seemingly not patient enough to wait for “Wrestlemania”, or fearful his rival Randy Orton would lose the title before the big event, opting to take his title match a month before at “No Way Out”. Cena was well on his way to becoming the new WWE champion when Randy Orton slapped the referee; earning a disqualification that allowed Orton to keep the championship. Obviously robbed, Cena gained another opportunity to defeat Orton for the gold, but would have to do it in a Triple Threat match that featured Triple H being added to the Cena-Orton saga. Second time wasn’t the charm for Cena as was pinned in the deciding fall by Orton after taking a Pedigree from Triple H.
The man many call “The Superman of Wrestling” due to his insane toughness, ability to overcome the odds, and an incredibly positive win/loss record saw his star falling fast in 2008; with his Rumble victory not guaranteeing him glory, but room for consistent failure.
Randy Orton (2009)
John Cena had finally gotten career back on track by the tail end of 2008, defeating Orton to become the WWE Heavyweight champion before Triple H secured the championship and Orton was left playing second fiddle to whomever had the gold. Things started turning around in Orton’s favor, leading to his winning the 2009 Royal Rumble match by last eliminating . It didn’t take long for Orton to make his choice known in regards to whom he would challenge for the two top titles in WWE when “The Viper” started attacking members of the McMahon family (specifically Triple H’s father-in-law Vince McMahon and brother-in-law Shane McMahon). But Orton wanted to take things one-step further. In an effort to take Triple H off of his game completely and make him fight out of anger rather than smartly as the “Cerebral Assassin” was known for.
With Triple H battered and handcuffed to the ropes, the WWE champion helplessly watched his wife Stephanie McMahon be drilled with Randy Orton’s patented finisher, the RKO. Triple H, understandably enraged, went on the rampage; attacking Orton both in the ring and in his future challenger’s own home. It seemed Orton’s strategy had worked because entering “Wrestlemania 25” Triple H’s focus wasn’t retaining the title, but gaining some revenge. In the end, Triple H proved that anger could create an unstoppable fire that will scorch you with the champion retaining his title in a dominating fashion. All the mind games and sneak attacks in the world couldn’t help Orton when the final bout of the night began.
Alberto Del Rio (2011)
When the Mexican aristocrat debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment, Alberto Del Rio claimed his destiny was to win the WWE World Heavyweight title. After defeating Rey Mysterio in a series of matches and putting him on the shelf, Del Rio – with his personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez by his side – entered the largest Royal Rumble match in history featuring forty wrestlers battling it out. Coming in at number thirty-eight, ADR took advantage of being fresher than most of his opponents, last eliminating Santino Marella to earn his title opportunity.
The following night on “Raw”, Del Rio decided to challenge Edge for his World Heavyweight Championship at “Wrestlemania XXVII”. Things seemed to be going in Del Rio’s favor building to the match with Alberto attacking Edge at various events and putting “The Rated R Superstar’s” back against the wall. With each day approaching the big event it seemed Del Rio’s destiny was about to become reality. Instead, ADR was put down for the three count thanks to Edge’s Spear attack. To add insult to injury, Edge and his best friend/tag team partner Christian destroyed the failed challenger’s car he used to enter the arena. After everything Del Rio believed and proclaimed, the truth was his destiny was to lose at the biggest event of the year in wrestling for a title he entered the company to win.