The Royal Rumble is one of the most anticipated pay-per-view events of the year. Fans flock from all over the world to be in attendance at whichever arena is hosting the titular event. A big reason why the Rumble event has become so popular is because of the Royal Rumble match itself, it sells the show.
Created 30+ years ago by the late Pat Patterson the Royal Rumble match is one of the last true exciting things that the WWE has to offer. It is a fast-paced match that keeps fans on the edge of their seat for 60 minutes. When the buzzer goes off we never know who is going to come through the curtain and that is half the fun. It could be a returning superstar, a legend from years past, or a fan favourite that we hoped would win.
While the Rumble match itself is usually what brings people into the event it sometimes overshadows the fact that there are some excellent matches on the undercard. Over the years there have been some fantastic matches that steal the spotlight from the big match itself. Below we will take a look at the 5 best of these undercard matches, the Non-Rumble matches.
The Non-Rumble | Triple H v Cactus Jack (Street Fight for the WWE Championship) Royal Rumble 2000
On the New Year’s edition of Raw Triple H had won his second world title from the Big Show. It was the beginning of his big push to the top of the card and with a showdown with the Rock looming down the road, Triple H needed a man to feud within the meantime, enter Cactus Jack.
Cactus, as Mankind, had been feuding on and off with Triple H for over a few years at this point. With Cactus winding down his career he was the perfect opponent to help establish Triple H as the man in the WWE and he delivered at the Royal Rumble. Whilst Cactus or Hunter had never won a Rumble (At this stage anyway), this is an all-time great non-Rumble match.
After he had won the title Triple H and his on-screen wife, Stephanie McMahon, continued terrorizing the entire WWE roster, and had taken a particular interest in rival Mankind beating him down at every opportunity, before firing Mrs Foleys Baby Boy. The Rock and the rest of the WWE roster threatened to stage a walkout – a tremendous success, Triple H and Stephanie were forced to hire Foley back.
Upon his return, Mankind demanded a Street Fight with the WWE champion at the Royal Rumble but not as Mankind, as the man from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. This of course terrified Triple H knowing that he had to face the man who had survived the deathmatches of Japan.
When the bell rang we all saw why Triple H had the right to be nervous. The match was a brutal encounter between the two athletes. They used every weapon imaginable in and around the ring to inflict as much damage on one another as they could. It was a fantastic match and showcased the versatility of Triple H in the ring and it helped to solidify him as a true main event star.
The Non-Rumble | The Rockers v The Orient Express – Royal Rumble 1991
Of course, this match was going to be added to this list. Not only was the best match on the Royal Rumble card, easily outshining the Rumble match itself, but some arguments can be made for this being the best tag team match of all time.
The history between the two teams was lacking going into their match at the Royal Rumble, so there was not going to be much of a backstory to pull from, luckily this was not needed to make the match great.
This was a fast-paced affair that never let up. The Rockers were known for being fast in the ring and the Orient Express was able to match this speed. The four men traded leapfrogs, reverse rollups, locks, and arm drags so fast that it was hard to follow at some points.
The speed with which they ran through these spots was only matched by the crispness of them. One would expect that running through so many spots there would have been a botch or two in there but there wasn’t a one to see.
The tandem offence that was on display during this match was not something that the fans had been used to. Most tag teams in the WWE were comprised of big lumbering men who were not able to pull off this style of match. The four men involved showed the world what tag-team wrestling could be, and how even on big multiple person men shows, the non-rumbles can be great too!
The Non-Rumble | Kurt Angle v Chris Benoit (WWE Championship) Royal Rumble 2003
Before we get into the match aspect it might be necessary to address the elephant in the room. By no means do I condone the actions of Benoit, but it cannot take away from the fact that he could go in the ring and was responsible for some great matches. That being said let’s move on.
Benoit had been added into the Angle/Big Show/Lesnar story nearing the end of 2002. Stephanie McMahon, the GM of Smackdown, had booked a match between the Big Show and Benoit on the Dec.26th episode of Smackdown with the winner getting a title match at the Royal Rumble. Benoit prevailed and penciled himself into the championship match at the first pay per view of the year.
Fans were worried going into the match that Angle’s tag team, Haas and Benjamin, were going to interfere, so when they were banned from ringside pre-match we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Once the two men locked horns we got to see an absolute master class in technical wrestling. Both men were known to be great mat technicians and these similar styles complimented each other perfectly.
For every move that Benoit or Angle tried the other wrestler had a perfect counter for it. The two men did not fly around the ring like others had been doing to this point but that’s what made it great. They hit each other hard and spent most of the match trying to find a hold that would force the other to submit only to be thwarted by the other man. Angle won the match but the Boston crowd gave Benoit a standing ovation afterwards to show their appreciation for the fantastic technical encounter they have just seen… Sadly, one of the better Non-rumble matches that won’t be remembered.
The Non-Rumble | Bray Wyatt v Daniel Bryan – Royal Rumble 2014
Since October of the previous year, Daniel Bryan had been in a great feud with the Wyatt Family. Every week it seemed that the Wyatt Family would get the best of the bearded one. So much so that on the Dec.30th edition of Smackdown Bryan had decided to align himself with the Wyatt Family. After a few weeks of being a part of the cult family, it was revealed that it was a ruse on the part of Bryan all along as he turned on Bray. This led to a match between the two at the Royal Rumble.
Wyatt and Bryan got the coveted opening spot at the Rumble and there couldn’t have been a better choice from the WWE. It was, in fact, the only good decision that Vince and company made that night.
Wyatt and Bryan were fantastic workers so we all knew that they were going to put on a great match, but their psychology in the ring is really what it took to put this match over the top. There were months of animosity built up between the two and they used this when they worked over certain body parts. Bryan began the match isolating and punishing Wyatt’s leg, while Wyatt eventually turned things around and began targeting Bryan’s head. Some of his spots, especially hammering Bryan’s head against the ring post were particularly brutal.
What also helped to make this match an all-time great was the involvement of the Pittsburgh crowd. Bryan was right in the middle of the “Yes” movement and the responses were deafening for him in whichever arena he entered. The way the crowds reacted to him and Wyatt during this match was fantastic. They were invested right from the beginning and their chants throughout the 20-minute duration were a great addition to an already great contest.
It is a shame that the WWE did not capitalize on Bryan’s popularity later on in the evening but at least we were given one of the best non-rumble undercard matches in Royal Rumble history.
The Non-Rumble | Brock Lesnar v John Cena v Seth Rollins (Triple Threat for the WWE Championship) Royal Rumble 2015
Since Night of Champions, of the previous year, the fates of the three men involved in the triple threat match were interconnected. After losing the title to Brock at Summerslam Cena was granted a rematch the next month. Their Night of Champions match ended in a DQ when Rollins tried to cash in his money in the bank contract, unsuccessfully of course. This would be the end of Lesnar’s involvement until after the new year but it at least helped to set up a continuing program between Rollins and Cena.
Once Cena had been declared the opponent for Lesnar at the Royal Rumble Rollins had decided to take advantage of an injured Edge to help him gain entry into the WWE Championship match at the pay-per-view. When Rollins succeeded in reinstating the Authority Triple H awarded him the coveted spot and thus we had a triple threat match for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble.
When all three men were in the ring together at the Rumble you could feel the electricity from the crowd. Lesnar and Cena had wrestled several matches over the past few years and the addition of Rollins meant that we were going to see a completely different championship match.
The action started a bit slow, it was a Lesnar match after all, but it was interesting to see Rollins and Cena try and work together to neutralize the beast. It worked for the overall match because Lesnar is a terrifying man and logic would dictate that you work with whoever you could to take him out.
After the Cena and Rollins partnership fell apart the three men involved went all out to give us one of the best triple threat matches in the companies history. Rollin’s smaller frame allowed him to fly around the ring and his style worked perfectly with the strength and power of Cena and Lesnar.
Other than that action what stood out for me was how well-timed the near falls were. The wrestlers were so good at their jobs that there were many times throughout that you believed the ref’s hand would hit for the three counts. The victory by Lesnar was never in much doubt but this match went a long way to making sure that all three men looked amazing coming out of it, an excellent non-Rumble match.