I’m going to go in a different direction for the next week.
Since I was a kid, long before I even got into comics in the first place, I was into professional wrestling. The flashiness, the controlled violence, the good vs. evil and so on caught my eye. As I got older, I grew to appreciate more about it. I was able to tell that, wow, the Ultimate Warrior wasn’t very good and that someone like Tito Santana or Ted Dibiase was more worth my time. Even at its worst over the years, I’ve still followed it on some level. They always have at least a couple things worth watching for.
I started watching in early 1991. I remember this because on the episode of WWF Superstars, they kept going over the upcoming Royal Rumble pay-per-view. I ended up ordering the show and having a bunch of friends over to watch it. I was hooked. Fast-forward to the present. It’s a week away from the 2009 Royal Rumble and I have in my collection the ridiculous 20-disc set of the first 20 shows, as well as the DVD for last year’s event.
I’ve decided to rank them. Why? Because that set was fucking expensive and I want to get as much mileage out of it as I can. Even at its worst, it’s always a fun match and tends to be as unpredictable as you can get.
The rules of the Royal Rumble are simple. Thirty men draw a number from #1 to #30. The men who drew #1 and #2 enter first. Every minute or two later, another guy comes out. The way to eliminate someone else is to throw them over the top rope so that both feet hit the floor. The last man standing is considered the winner. In the early days, the winner would get bragging rights. Later, the winner would get a guaranteed title shot at Wrestlemania. And of course, there was the one time where the match itself was for the championship.
I’m only counting the Rumble matches themselves here, not the shows. Nobody cares about the Hogan/Andre contract signing or Razor Ramon vs. IRS.
22) Royal Rumble 1999
The set-up: Vince McMahon had gotten fed up with champion Stone Cold Steve Austin and screwed him out of both his title and his repeated title shots. Austin won a Buried Alive match against the Undertaker to earn his place in the Royal Rumble, but Vince forced him into the spot of being #1. Vince planned to enter the match as #30, but Commissioner Shawn Michaels overturned it and made him #2. A major feud was going on between Triple H’s Degeneration X and McMahon’s Corporation, which led to a Corporate Royal Rumble match featuring members of each faction. The winner would get #30. Vince used it as a loophole to get out of his predicament, but he was eliminated by Chyna, who became both #30 and the first female entrant into the Rumble. Out of pure desperation, Vince put out a $100,000 bounty on the wrestler who could eliminate Austin from the Rumble match.
The roster: One of the big factors of a Rumble match is unpredictability. You want to believe that as many people have a chance of winning as possible, else what’s the point of watching so many guys in one match? That’s a huge weakness in this Rumble. It was swamped with mid-carders and jobbers, not to mention the DX vs. Corporation. Of course nobody on either side had much of a chance of winning outside of Triple H and Kane. The show was hyped as being Austin vs. McMahon, meaning that no matter who won, we’d lose. Austin had just won two Rumbles in a row, making his potential win boring, and McMahon was McMahon, meaning that his win would be a reminder that Vince Russo was writing this.
Guest entrants: Early in the night, on Sunday Night Heat, Mabel made a surprise return. During the Rumble, he mugged Mosh and took his spot in the match.
The match: What the match had going for it was a totally hot opening. For months upon months, fans wanted Austin vs. McMahon. Not just Austin hitting a Stunner on McMahon, but a full-out match. They got what they wanted for the first couple minutes, where Austin absolutely tore into Vince to the delight of the crowd. Then things went sour when Vince ran out through the bottom rope and tried to escape. Austin followed him through the arena, beating on him as he did, until ending up in a women’s bathroom where the Corporation ambushed him. Austin was beaten down and taken away in an ambulance.
The ring began to fill up with mid-carders and jobbers until Mabel came out. He cleared the ring of everyone but Road Dogg. The lights went out and when they came back on, we saw that the Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness had randomly kidnapped Mabel, eliminating him in the process. Again, the ring filled up with more guys until Kane came out. Kane cleared the ring with ease, only to be followed by a bunch of men in white coats (punishment for turning on the Corporation). Kane destroyed them all, but hopped over the top rope and eliminated himself anyway. Good going.
That’s the third time the ring had been cleared. That doesn’t feel like the best way to use your mid-carders.
For the rest of the match, it mostly becomes DX vs. Corporation with a couple of extras in there. Vince McMahon hangs out in the commentary booth, adding his two cents. Austin drives back into the arena in an ambulance and reenters the match. For the most part, Austin shows some awesome in-ring psychology. Billy Gunn, whose ankle was hurt in an earlier match, beat down on Austin in the corner. Austin snuck in a kick to Billy’s shin, which allowed him to easily grab him by the hair and toss him out.
Not that I’m totally happy with the way Austin was used here. D’Lo Brown ended up in the final four, where he nailed Austin with his Frog Splash with added metal chest protector. Not only is it his finisher, but it’s enhanced with a foreign object. So after D’Lo bounces from the move, Boss Man throws D’Lo out. Austin springs up immediately and throws out Boss Man. I don’t care if he was the top guy. That’s on par with no-selling a chairshot to the head. They just plain buried D’Lo there.
Austin gets his hands on McMahon again and the two are the last ones remaining in the match. Austin pounds on him some more until the Rock, who had just won the title earlier in the night, comes out and distracts Austin. Vince gets up and throws Austin out, becoming the winner as Austin chases the Rock up the ramp.
These were the final days of the Russo era in the WWF and you can tell with this match. Screwjob after screwjob. With the exception of the mid-carders, nobody’s allowed to look weak. The whole thing comes off as extra pointless, as it’s just Austin vs. McMahon with lots of window dressing. Way over-booked, which is why it’s up here on the list.
Longest time: Vince McMahon and Steve Austin (56:38)
Longest time while actually staying in the ring: Big Boss Man (18:53)
Shortest time: Gillberg (0:07)
Most eliminations: Steve Austin (8)
Best elimination: Upon coming into the ring, Chyna went after her rival Mark Henry and was quick to throw him out. As Chyna, whose Rumble spot was hyped to hell, taunted Henry, Austin stalked her from behind. The instant she turned around, Austin clotheslined her out of the ring. The reason this is the best elimination is because of Mark Henry laughing his ass off at this turn of events.
21) Royal Rumble 1988
The set-up: Back in early 1988, NWA/WCW was putting on a PPV called Bunkhouse Brawl. Usually, when one wrestling promotion has a PPV, the other promotions back off on that night. Back then, that kind of tact wasn’t there. To combat the show, Vince McMahon put on a free show on USA called the Royal Rumble. While it had a series of forgettable matches and segments on the undercard, the finale had the first instance of the Royal Rumble, the brainchild of one Pat Patterson. Unlike the other events, this Rumble only had 20 men involved.
The roster: This was mid-card heaven, pretty much. Not that it really matters all that much. Nothing was on the line and it was a good way to showcase some of the talent. No need to have someone high on the card decimate everyone to make them look stronger.
The match: It’s a bit weird to watch for several reasons. One of them is how the first two wrestlers, Bret Hart and Tito Santana, are in the ring as the segment begins with no entrances. A couple minutes in we have Bret Hart, his partner Jim Neidhart and “the Natural” Butch Reed triple-teaming on Tito, who only lasts because the three are tripping over each other in their attempt to throw him out of the ring.
If you’re wondering, the first man to be eliminated in the first Royal Rumble match is Butch Reed, thanks to Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Jake, on the other hand, starts a trend that will follow him for many Royal Rumbles to come. I call it DDT Blueballs. You see, whenever Jake starts amounting any sort of momentum, the fans go crazy and usually chant for him to go for the DDT. Jake will pick up his opponent and put him in position, only for it to be reversed. Maybe the opponent backdrops him. Maybe the opponent slips over to the ropes. Maybe he gets clotheslined by someone else. All I know is that it doesn’t happen and the crowd gets annoyed. Here he tries it a whopping three times on Danny Davis, who weasels out in every instance.
It would’ve been a nice little spot, considering this Rumble is boring. Really boring. I give it a pass over the 99 Rumble partially because it’s the first one, but not a lot happens. There is a bit of fun in there. The faces won’t eliminate Danny Davis for a while because they’d rather just beat him to a pulp while they can. Nikolai Volkoff jogs down to the ring along with Don Muraco because he’s too stupid to know when to come out. Then he has to wait two minutes outside the ring before it’s his turn and the refs let him in.
The final four are Don Muraco, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, One Man Gang and Dino Bravo. They pair off in a faces vs. heels fight, only for Muraco to get eliminated. One Man Gang accidentally knocks Dino out of the ring, showing some regret in his mistake. That leaves One Man Gang to dominate Hacksaw, with the commentators discussing how hard it is for multiple people to throw out One Man Gang, let alone one. One Man Gang sets up Hacksaw on the ropes, runs back and goes for a clothesline, but Hacksaw pulls the top rope down and ducks, allowing One Man Gang to topple over.
It was a decent ending and the highlight of the match. I’m glad Hacksaw won it too. Earlier on, when coming into the ring, he reacts to young face Sam Houston not with fists, but a thumbs up while walking him by on his way to fight Bret Hart. He’s so friendly.
Longest time: Bret Hart (25:42)
Shortest time: Junkyard Dog (2:08)
Most eliminations: One Man Gang (6)
Best elimination: Hacksaw beating One Man Gang is neat, but I have to give this to Sam Houston. Houston perches himself up on top of “Outlaw” Ron Bass’ shoulders and hammers away. Bass simply walks over to the ropes and dumps him out there. Strangely, I don’t recall seeing that kind of elimination ever again.
20) Royal Rumble 1991
The set-up: Again, there is no title on the line and no real storyline lead-up to this match. The only story here is the championship match earlier in the night where “Macho King” Randy Savage shattered his scepter over the Ultimate Warrior’s head, allowing Sergeant Slaughter to get the pin and win the title. Hulk Hogan became furious at this and dedicated his performance to the soldiers in Iraq.
The roster: The title shot wasn’t up for grabs, so it’s moot either way, but it wasn’t bad this year. While there were a lot of mid-carders and jobbers here and there, they were at least colorful and entertaining. Most of them, at least. With Hogan, Earthquake, Undertaker, Mr. Perfect and Randy Savage (announced at least), it wasn’t a bad set.
Guest entrants: I’m not sure if I’d count them, but Tito Santana, Shane Douglas and Greg Valentine weren’t originally meant to be in the match. Originally, their spots were meant to go to Honky Tonk Man, Buddy Rose and Andre the Giant. Andre, sadly, had to duck out due to health reasons.
The match: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that this was my first Royal Rumble and was instrumental in my wrestling watching hobby. So it might surprise you to see this match labeled as the third worst. I suppose there’s an argument for lack of bias in there.
The Rumble has the commentary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Roddy Piper, which is a very good thing. People talk about the great job that Monsoon and Heenan did commentating the ’92 Rumble, but that at least had context to it. Heenan was involved in the Rumble’s story. Piper, on the other hand, was just a spectator. Somehow he was able to make mundane brawling seem like the craziest, most exciting shit ever. He runs out of gas later in the hour, but he still puts on quite a show.
The first two are Bret Hart (again) and Dino Bravo. Dino makes the announcement that he’s going to throw 30 men out of the ring. Good math there.
We get another case of DDT Blueballs. This time it’s Jake Roberts trying to DDT his rival “The Model” Rick Martel and failing each time. At least this one led to an eventual payoff at Wrestlemania 7. I don’t care what anyone says, the Blindfold Match was awesome.
Speaking of the Model, he used to be in a tag team with Tito Santana called Strike Force. Martel turned on him and they split up. It’s worth mentioning because whenever there’s a Rumble and those two are in it, it’s always Tito running in and going directly for Martel. It’s a fun piece of continuity despite their feud being long-dead.
This is the Undertaker’s first Royal Rumble and it’s weird to see how young and mobile he was back then. I suppose he’s pretty mobile now, but he just had such a completely different style.
A little after the halfway point, #18 no-shows. It’s later revealed to be Randy Savage, on the run from the Ultimate Warrior. It is a bit cheap when you think of it, considering they’re robbing you from seeing an advertised main eventer in this match. This does show another trend in that Randy Savage is Worthless in the Royal Rumble. More of that another time.
There’s a cool big man showdown between Animal and Earthquake, foreshadowing the eventual Legion of Doom vs. Natural Disasters feud. Earthquake gets the best of Animal and later takes part in eliminating Bushwacker Luke in mere seconds, which is what most people remember this Rumble for.
The match does get pretty mundane towards the end, even with Hogan being there. In fact, Hogan just about ruins the match with the ending. We get what’s easily the worst Rumble ending in its 20+ years.
The last three guys are Hulk Hogan, Brian Knobbs and Earthquake. The two heels team up on Hogan and Earthquake hits his splash finisher on him. Hogan Hulks out, gets his second wind and throws Knobbs out of the match. Earthquake dominates Hogan a second time and flattens him a second time. Hogan gets up AGAIN and does the same routine until sending Earthquake out and mercifully ending the match. Considering Hogan won the Rumble the year prior with a far better version of this ending, it comes off as a cheap copy.
Rick Martel and Greg Valentine each lasted a long while here, which gained them entry in the Rumbles for the next few years. No matter how forgotten they were, the commentators would always build them up by talking about their performances during the 1991 Royal Rumble.
Longest time: “The Model” Rick Martel (52:17)
Shortest time: Bushwacker Luke (0:04)
Most eliminations: Hulk Hogan (7)
Best elimination: When I was a kid, I thought this was the pinnacle of in-ring badass and it still holds up a bit to this day. Both members of the Legion of Doom are in the ring and they go after the Undertaker. Undertaker had been dominating the ring for the most part and he shrugs off their punches while strangling both of them at the same time and pushing them across the ring. Hawk and Animal kick him in the stomach at the same time, making him loosen the hold. Then they nail him with a double clothesline and run forward, shoving him over the top rope. The Undertaker lands right on his feet, slightly annoyed, and leaves.