There are a few parameters to get to before hitting the full rundown of WWE’s most beloved and irrepressible gimmick match.
Though the fans somehow taping them in their entirety on relatively primitive technology deserve modicums of credit for capturing quirky footnotes in wrestling history, the 1994 house show 30-man Royal Rumbles in New York and Osaka will not be counted here because they were never intended to be seen by an audience beyond those in attendance on the night. They are worth your time as curios if you’ve got the time to waste and find memories of the era, but that’s about it.
Similarly, a 12-man October 1987 run-through of the eventual 1988 inaugural edition was for Vince McMahon to see if he liked the idea, the St Louis live event attendees, and eventual victor One Man Gang. Ditto a March '88 20-man one won by Rick Rude. If footage exists of either, let it be for the Network's Hidden Gems section, not a critical evaluation here.
Thats not to say all scaled-back versions are prohibited. The organisation has committed several other incarnations of the match to television beyond the pay-per-view headliners over the years. Indeed, though most fans view the Rumble as the finest convergence of stipulations in company history, WWE themselves have occasionally been a little slapdash in preserving it.
These incarnations are very eligible for discussion, and in some cases very, very bad...
A wretched sequel to a wretched mistake, the Royal Rumble as we all knew it died on January 25th 2015. It took big gimmicks, big stars and a big addition in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively drive its reinvention, so hideous was this particular edition.
A scientifically engineered selection of "f*ck you" gestures even bigger than the year before, the unrelenting and unwelcome push of Roman Reigns reduced the rest of the upper-midcard to near-literal sacks of sh*t in a sequence of closing Big Show and Kane eliminations that even now beggar belief.