RetroRumble: The First 16 Years of the Royal Rumble January 24th, 1988: 5pm.

I’m on the road back from a visit to the San Francisco Zoo, my mom is driving and I am complaining: ‘Drive Faster, Mom. I need to see the Rumble!’ You see, that day, the NWA was trying to launch a pay-per-view called The Bunkhouse Stampede, a caged battle royal that everyone knew Dusty Rhodes would win. As was the fashion of the time, the WWF came up with counter-programming. The parry was called The Royal Rumble, a battle royal with a twist, and I had to see it. Mom got us home faster than I thought possible, 101 was a rainy mess, and I got in front of the TV a full two hours early. I did not miss a second of the first televised Royal Rumble. The concept has always been the same: two men start in the ring, and at regular intervals, someone else comes in. Everyone tries to throw everyone else over the top rope to the floor, eliminating them from the match. The last man in the ring wins. In recent years, they added the winner getting a shot at the World Champion, though that did not come about until the mid-1990s. The concept, partly based on the famous War Games scenario, worked so well, that the free show far outshined the PPV, and the next year the McMahon Empire added another annual pay-per-view tradition. The first Royal Rumble, the one that probably made Mom hate my addiction to wrestling, lit up the USA network, I believe setting the highest wrestling rating for nearly 10 years. The show was not just a one-match deal, three other matches took place, as well as the signing of Hogan vs. Andre for the famous prime-time special. Dino Bravo, a wrestler you don’t need to feel bad about not remembering, lifted for the “World Bench Press” record in a lame skit, proving that this show was years ahead of its time. The Jumping Bomb Angels took on the Glamour Girls in a two-of-three falls match, which got the Bomb Angels over, just enough for them to be completely forgotten by the end of the year. The first Rumble featured twenty stars, not the traditional thirty, with Bret Hart getting to be the first man to enter a televised Rumble. At the end of the match, we were left with One Man Gang and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Well, the 2-by-4 was hoisted in victory that night, as Hacksaw sent the big man flying out by pulling down the top rope. The second edition was on pay-per-view, did very well, as most WWF offerings in those days did, and featured the returning Big John Studd as the winner. The big push that was supposed to come from the victory never really happened. Also on the show was a twoof-three falls match featuring the Hart Foundation and Hacksaw Jim Duggan against the Rougeau Brothers and Dino Bravo. This match was good, even though each team was like a pair of thoroughbreds dragging a dead mare. Nineteen-Ninety and Ninety-one were both won by Hogan, who at this point was the biggest player, and ego, in the game. The Third edition is worthless in a review, but the fourth featured the Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, pinning the Orient Express in a fine match. Most folks point to the Title change in 1991, with Sgt. Slaughter, then acting as an agent of the Iraqi Col. Adnan, pinning the Ultimate Warrior, ending his reign of terrible matches. The Anti-American Slaughter angle got heat from

around the world, as the media portrayed it as a huge deal and made a villain of McMahon for the first time…though not the last. 1992’s Rumble had a special added bonus: the winner took home the vacant WWF Championship. Also, Ric Flair (Woooooooooo!) was in the house, so the match easily took the honors as the best Rumble to date. Flair lasted from the fourth man to enter to win the belt, by tossing Sid Justice, aka Sid Vicious, aka Sidney Scissorhands, after working with him to eliminate Hogan and others. The Rumble came to Sacramento, CA in January, 1993. The event was used to launch Yokozuna to the top of the card, making him a star by clearing the ring and winning it all. This was also the first time that the Winner automatically got a shot at the World Belt, a belt Yoko would win from Bret Hart before losing it to Hogan a minute later. Bret Hart also had a fine match with Razor Ramon for the belt, which really helped to make Bret look like a credible champ. I was there live in Providence for the most famous of the bad Royal Rumbles. On January 22nd, 1994, I drove from Boston to see what I thought was going to be the best show ever, only to turn out to have the main portion of the show ruined by the famous Undertaker is Dead angle, where every villain in the Federation came and stuffed UT into a casket before he “levitated” to Heaven while the TitanTron showed from in a promo talking about how he would be resurrected. If you think I am making this up, the video tape is available. Then, as if to annoy the fans with more stupidity, they had Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminate each other at the same time, leading to the only tie in Royal Rumble history. It also featured Diesel getting a big push by tossing many men and getting huge heat for it. The WWF was in bad shape that year, and this was one of the reasons. 1995 truly announced the coming of Shawn Michaels as a big time player. He was the first man to enter, and the last man standing. Oddly, the British Bulldog had been the number 2 entrant, and the 2nd to last man standing. This earned Shawn a title shot at his former bodyguard, Diesel at Wrestlemania. Shawn also won in 1996, which was the start of the hot program of Shawn chasing Bret Hart that led to the Wrestlemania Iron Man Match. The first huge Royal Rumble took place in San Antonio, TX, Shawn Michael’s hometown, and took place in front of 60,000 fans at the AlamoDome. The WWF brought in a few Mexican wrestlers, including Mil Mascaras, all of whom did nothing for the show. Steve Austin, then still a heel, won the Rumble, but would not get a shot at the title, which would be contested in a Fatal Four Way in February. Homeboy Shawn Michaels did win back his WWF title by pinning Sycho Sid in a match that many believe may be Sid’s finest. Also in the Rumble, Terry Funk, in his pre-Chainsaw Charlie days. 1998 and I managed to get floor seats for the Rumble at the San Jose Arena. I have the chair I got to keep to this very day. The big deal was that Mankind, aka Mick Foley, and Chainsaw Charlie, the afore-mentioned Terry Funk in disguise, started, and fought all

over, then Mick came back as Dude Love and Cactus Jack later in the match. Very cool stuff, leading to Austin winning by eliminating Rocky Maivia. Mike Tyson was sitting in a box, watching the event on the way to being the enforcer at Wrestlemania. Also, this was the site of the famous Undertaker/Shawn Michaels casket match where Michaels messed up his back so much, he had to leave the sport for four years. This was a good match, and really, the WWF was starting to climb back and fight the WCW dominance. 1999, with the Austin vs McMahon feud in full effect, Vince McMahon pulled off a huge upset, eliminating Steve Austin to win the Rumble. He was the oldest winner ever, and the whole thing led to the excellent St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where Austin beat McMahon in a cage match, and Paul Wight, aka the Big Show, debuted by busting through the mat. This show was good, as we got the treat of seeing the Rock at his best, in a title match against Mick Foley. Some say that this one was the best Rumble of the WWF Attitude era. 2000 and The Rock won the whole thing, which would be the only time he would win the match and get a shot at HHH, which would then be changed to a Fatal Four Way with Big Show and Mick Foley making up the other two. I was not impressed with this show as much as most folks, but it did its job. Mick Foley wrestled a huge match with Triple H for the title that many folks say was one of Mick’s best. Steve Austin became the only man to win the Rumble three times in 2001. This led to Austin getting his shot at Mania. The show featured an appearance by Drew Carey, plugging his Improv Spectacular. The show also had the fine Chris Battle: Jericho vs Benoit. Kurt Angle beat HHH to keep his title. Austing ended up beating the Rock at Wrestlemania, since Angle dropped it to Rock at the February PPV. And last year, HHH got his win on the way to the World Title at Mania. It was a solid Rumble, with some nice in-ring stuff going on the undercard, especially Vince McMahon vs Ric Flair in a street fight. Jericho got a win over the Rock to keep his title. I liked it a lot, and I have high hopes for this year.