Twenty-six men have won the Royal Rumble match. But there are countless stars, including more than a few bona fide legends, who never won the Royal Rumble.
We’ve gone over a few of the Rumble’s missteps. Guys who weren’t necessarily undeserving but who just weren’t the right guy at the right time. This isn’t that. We’re going to look at stars who shone brightly enough that WWE should’ve gone out of its way to make it the time for them. From legends whose time has passed to stars for whom it isn’t too late yet.
Here are six WWE stars who never won the Royal Rumble.
‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage
In the Macho Man’s day, the Royal Rumble wasn’t what it is now. At its inception, the Royal Rumble match was just a special attraction. Hell, the very first Royal Rumble wasn’t even a PPV. It was a televised special on USA, topped off by a 20-man over-the-top battle royal. The match itself evolved over the next few years into a 30-man affair, but even then it wasn’t a star-making affair. Jim Duggan won the first in 1988, followed by the late Big John Studd in ’89 and back-to-back wins for Hulk Hogan in ’90 and ’91.
Randy Savage was already a big star in those days, but it’s amazing to look back at his resume and find that box not ticked. A two-time WWE Champion, former Intercontinental Champion, and a King of the Ring winner. But no Royal Rumble victory under his belt. The Macho Man was still active in 1993 when WWE added the stipulation that the Rumble winner would face the WWE Champion at WrestleMania, but by that time his star was waning. Would it have hurt Hogan that badly to have missed out on either his 1990 or 1991 victories?
Savage is a legend no matter how you slice it. But we’re surprised to this day that he never won the Royal Rumble.
‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper not having a Royal Rumble win isn’t as big an omission as the Macho Man. But it’s still surprising. Again, either 1990 or 1991 would’ve been a fitting year. After all, when you look at Piper’s list of accolades, he was never the world champion for any promotion. And Piper worked for everybody over the course of 30 years.
Many wrestling analysts, myself included, have noted that Piper’s star was big enough that he didn’t need accolades to back it up. The guy’s sheer personality and presence is what made him one of the biggest draws of the 80s. He remains, in my opinion, the greatest heel to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots. The guy headlined the first WrestleMania. And while Mr. T and all the celebrities at ringside helped make that main event what it was, it would’ve been an absolute bust without Piper as Hulk Hogan’s wrestling foil.
Sure, Piper didn’t need to win the 30-man battle royal to make himself look more impressive. It still would’ve been a nice “thank you” from the company he helped put on the map, especially once they figured out that the Rumble would be one of their signature events. It’s definitely a big missed opportunity that Roddy Piper never won the Royal Rumble match.
I had to check my notes two or three times on this one. “No, that can’t be right – it can’t be true!” But it’s true. Oh, it’s true. See what I did there, I did like an Angle catchphrase thing. Anyway. But yeah, believe it or not, Kurt Angle never won the Royal Rumble.
And I don’t look at this one necessarily as a glaring omission. It’s simply a matter of timing when it comes to the Olympic Hero. During his heyday in WWE, Kurt Angle was just usually in the mix elsewhere on the card when the Rumble came around. He took on Taz in a singles match at Royal Rumble 2000, a time when he wasn’t firmly established as a star in WWE’s ranks. Angle was busy defending the WWE Championship at the 2001 and 2003 Royal Rumble PPVs, and the surrounding years were just somebody else’s time.
Kurt Angle was one of the biggest stars of his era, but he was in a position that’s both awesome and a little crummy. Angle was the guy you used to find out if somebody really had “it.” In 2003, he groomed Brock Lesnar for superstardom at WrestleMania XIX. Then in 2004, WWE anointed Chris Benoit the guy while Angle drew duty at Mania as the guy to test whether the Eddie Guererro-as-WWE-Champion experiment could work. Several repeated years of just not being the right guy at the right time.
Upon his return to the WWE ring in 2018, the sun had set on Angle as a top guy. His career ended, as Baron freakin’ Corbin retired him at WrestleMania 35 in 2019. Not that his resume needed padding, but a Rumble win would have further cemented him as one of the greats. As it stands, he’s another legend who never won the Royal Rumble.
Nineteen years in WWE. One WrestleMania main event. Shut up, WrestleMania X8 counts. Jericho and Triple H closed the show, and I don’t care how many of you shout, “BuT hOgAn VeRsUs RoCk!” My list, my rules, I do what I want. The first-ever Undisputed Champion. Classic feuds with Shawn Michaels, Chris Benoit, John Cena, and Edge. And ten – yes ten – appearances in the Royal Rumble match.
And somehow Chris Jericho never won the Royal Rumble.
This isn’t one you can chalk up to wrong time wrong place. We discussed elsewhere the debacle that was the 2012 Royal Rumble match. Sheamus won that Rumble. He went on to face Daniel Bryan in an 18-second squash that wasted my time and ruined my life for the eight or nine minutes afterward as I muttered to myself “Stupid WWE 18-seconds of bullcrap burying Daniel Bryan.” I’m aware that that’s not a sentence. Also, I don’t care. 2012 would have been the perfect year for Chris Jericho to win the 30-man over-the-top battle royal.
The build to his match against CM Punk at WrestleMania XXVIII would have started cordially enough. “Can’t wait for our match, Punk. But, um, I can’t help but notice you’re calling yourself ‘The Best in the World.’ No, see, I’M the Best in the World.” And the rest of the feud plays out as it happened, with Jericho taunting Punk about his family’s real-life substance abuse problems. See, WWE, you didn’t even have to lose out on that bad taste you love so much! Instead, we got what we got. Then there was another opportunity, in 2017.
Jericho faced Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 33, but why couldn’t Owens have just held onto the Universal Championship? Chris Jericho could’ve won that year’s Rumble, and we could’ve had the two of them in a title match. Seriously, why didn’t that happen?
Oh, right. Hi, Bill.
Anyway, that train has sailed, as Jericho is now the bedrock of AEW. But he’s still a guy who never won the Royal Rumble.
This is another one we’ve talked about at length, and this truly is wrong place, wrong time. When CM Punk was at his hottest, there were already plans for the WrestleMania main event. Rock vs. Cena was set in stone for WrestleMania XXVIII. And then WWE decided to turn Punk heel and have him drop the WWE Championship the next year at Royal Rumble 2013. Then 2014 rolled around, and WWE and Punk had basically lost interest in one another. But still, there was a window between roughly 2008 to 2014 when WWE could easily have thrown Punk a bone and crowned him Royal Rumble winner.
Punk himself has talked at length about considering himself a failure for never having main-evented WrestleMania. But the Royal Rumble is a stepping stone to WrestleMania, and it’s inexcusable that WWE couldn’t have at least penciled him in for a win somewhere along the line. Instead the story of CM Punk and WWE will always be one of bitterness, betrayal and missed opportunities.
And it ends with CM Punk as another superstar who never won the Royal Rumble.
Sigh. This one still hurts. It hurts just so much.
When the book on WWE is finally written – sometime in 2073 after Vince McMahon, his disembodied head affixed to a robot suit, wins his 89th WWE Championship – it will say that 2014 and 2015 are the years WWE blew their shot at making Daniel Bryan the biggest wrestling star in the history of ever. Why yes, I am still mad about it. What’s that? Oh, why yes, I am still bitter about it.
In 2014, Daniel Bryan was riding the biggest wave of momentum in WWE since the Summer of Punk. All in spite of the company’s relentless efforts to kill it. DB defeated John Cena to capture the WWE title at SummerSlam 2013 before WWE ripped our hearts out – in a good way – when Orton cashed in and destroyed Bryan’s dreams. It was the perfect swerve, and it was a brilliant way to put sympathy on Daniel Bryan. To make us not just want but to yearn to see him overcome the odds and reclaim the title. But WWE didn’t want that. They wanted us to forget about Daniel so Batista could have his big return at Royal Rumble 2014.
Then 2015 rolled around. WWE all but telegraphed that Roman Reigns would win the Rumble and go on to main event WrestleMania, but we shouted, begged, and pleaded. “Give it to Daniel Bryan!” Now, I get it. Listening to the fans isn’t always the way to go. If Nicholas Meyer had listened to fans, he wouldn’t have killed Spock, and Star Trek II wouldn’t be everybody’s favorite Star Trek movie. But wrestling isn’t the movies. Listening to your fans is crucial. It is necessary. The business moves fast, tastes change, and you have to be ready to adapt.
WWE wasn’t willing to do that. So despite the fans clamoring for Bryan to return in the Rumble and march on to reclaim the title he never lost? Bray Wyatt dumped him early and made him look like a chump. It’s a stain on WWE that we should never – EVER – let the company forget. Like Punk before him, for Daniel Bryan to be a man who never won the Royal Rumble is beyond inexcusable. But unlike everyone else on this list, there’s still time. There’s still time.
All images courtesy of WWE.