Notable Royal Rumble Winners – Where Are They Now?

With the 30th anniversary of the very first Royal Rumble now just over two months away, there can be no better time to look back at some of the most surprising and dramatic Royal Rumble winners.

1988 – #13: ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan

Those that intend to bet online ahead of the Royal Rumble have a clear list of winners to pick from, with John Cena and Roman Reigns joint favorites at +250.00. However, the night of January 24, 1988 was virgin territory where picking a winner was concerned, and from the inaugural event emerged a shock victor.

Ultimately though, the night belonged to Jim Duggan who had eliminated two men before finding himself in the final two with George ‘One Man Gang’ Gray. Duggan’s final remaining opponent had seen off six men, which was by far the most of any competitor. Having been the penultimate entry, Gray was also fresher, and the universal favorite amongst those watching to prevail.

To the shock of many, thirteenth entrant Duggan held firm and eliminated Gray just 14 minutes and 44 seconds after first entering the ring.

Remarkably, Duggan’s most recent Royal Rumble appearance was only as recently as 2012. By then he was a hall of fame entrant, but that did not stop Cody Rhodes from eliminating him. Duggan was most recently seen battling the undead, having appeared in Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies, as a 2×4 wielding maniac.

The following thirty editions all came with their own respective dramas and backstories, but several others stand prominently as memorable (and sometimes controversial) affairs.

1994 – #23: Lex Luger & #27: Bret Hart

For the first time ever, the Royal Rumble produced joint winners in 1994.Long since expanded to thirty entrants, it looked for all the world as though Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash (who entered at #7) would win rampantly, after eliminating seven opponents. Eventually, it took no less than the joint efforts of four entrants to eliminate the giant.

Lex Luger entered at #23 and emerged as the dominant influence in the ring, eliminating six men, before finding himself face to face with the fresher Bret Hart in the final two. Both men toppled over the ropes and hit the floor at the exact same time. Endless replays could not declare a winner:

Both men would soon defect to the WCW franchise. Luger would fight the insurgent ‘New World Order’ stable, while Hart would become a ‘recruiter’ for the group, leading to the continuation of their feud.

For both men, post-wrestling life has proven mostly unkind, but not without a ray of hope. Hart suffered a stroke in 2002 after a bike accident, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016. Though clear of cancer, he is still undergoing quarterly checkups to ensure that he remains so, and is vice president of Sharpshooter Funding, a business loan company.

Meanwhile, Luger served four months in jail back in 2006 after violating a probation order, and suffered a spinal infarction the following year. Now a born-again Christian and a key component in the development of WWE’s Wellness Policy, there are promises of better times ahead for Luger.

1995 – #1: Shawn Michaels

One year later, Shawn Michaels became the first man to win a Royal Rumble after being entrant #1. 1995 was also the first occasion in which the first two entrants squared off as the last two survivors. Michaels eliminated no less than seven opponents prior to his showdown with the British Bulldog, with the two Bushwhacker brothers and Jacob Blu all suffering elimination at Michaels’ hands.

History would have read very differently, had Shawn Michaels not reacted more quickly to Bulldog’s apparent winning move. The Mancunian catapulted Michaels over the top rope several minutes from the actual end, but Michaels gripped the ropes and in the nick of time, prevented both feet from touching the floor. The Bulldog celebrated prematurely, and moments later, would find himself on the losing side of history.

Michaels continued to grow with the WWE, winning an impressive number of belts all the way through to his retirement in 2010. Now a hall of famer and WWE ambassador, Michaels oversees the final stage of coaching at the WWE performance centre, paving the way for similar success stories in generations to come.


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