Tuesday, January 19, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Royal Rumblings from years past
With the Royal Rumble coming up in less than a month, I'm reminded of some of the very good - as well as some of the very bad - moments that have happened during the eleven-year-old event.
Traditionally the most unpredictable match on the annual WWF calendar, it has become a place for new wrestlers to debut, old favourites to return, not to mention some truly ridiculous participants entering along the way.
When the Rumble first started in 1988, it was an unproven idea more than anything else. Shown live only the USA Network, a sold-out crowd in Hamilton's Copps Coliseum witnessed what many thought was a novelty main event (the Rumble) with a strong undercard. Let's face it, no one tuned in to see Butch Reed, Hacksaw Duggan, Tito Santana and others in a variation of the traditional battle royal; they were there to see Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Rick Steamboat, Rick Rude and others in one-on-one confrontations. However, it was that first Rumble which first showed Bret Hart the singles spotlight, as he was that year's longest man in. When Duggan finally ousted Dino Bravo and One Man Gang to win the hour-plus match, there was no question we had all witnessed a piece of history.
The 1989 Rumble was the first time the event was available to a Pay-Per-View audience. That year, the Rumble itself was the clear highlight of the evening. What wrestling fan doesn't remember Ax and Smash of Demolition being called out as competitors one and two, respectively? Other highlights included Ted DiBiase buying spot number thirty from Slick, a Hulk Hogan-Randy Savage rift, Mr. Perfect outlasting everyone else, Andre running out in fear of Jake Roberts' python, and, of course, Big John Studd returning to the WWF to win the whole thing.
In 1990, they tried to top the previous Rumble, but couldn't quite get it done. Although adding Roddy Piper, Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Savage were improvements, you also had to sit through Warlord, Marty Janetty, Koko B. Ware, Akeem and others trying their best to come out on top. The only good points were when Ted DiBiase (picked as number one this time) went almost to the end of the event, and a brief Hogan-Warrior fight. For the record, the 'Hulkster' won his first Rumble this year.
The Rumble to follow was arguably the worst in its brief history. Although the undercard saw Warrior lose the WWF Title to Sgt. Slaughter in a shocker, viewers had to watch jobbers such as Skinner, Genichro Tenyru, Tugboat, Haku and others basically wait for Hogan to enter the ring and clean house. In the final of the event, Hogan eliminated Earthquake and Brian Knobs, setting up a very predictable Hogan-Slaughter main event for WrestleMania.
However, the WWF turned things around in 1992, delivering easily the most exciting Rumble ever, this one to fill the vacant WWF Title. This is the one, of course, where Ric Flair entered third and took what anyone gave him. Included in this year's field were Hogan, Savage, Piper, Jerry Lawler (fresh out of the USWA), Bret Hart, DiBiase, Undertaker, Sid Justice and others, and yet Flair overcame the odds and won the match - and the title.
The next year wasn't bad, either, although the ending wasn't nearly as satisfying to viewers. Bob Backlund outlasted almost everyone in what had to be a shock. The grand debut of Giant Gonzales surprised everyone, destroying Undertaker and then leaving. Flair,The Steiners, Owen Hart and others left the ring almost as quickly as they arrived. In one of Gorilla Monsoon's worst commentary goofs (and there are quite a few), he referred to the 50-something Carlos Colon as a 'promising youngster'. Finally, Yokozuna, of all people, threw out Randy Savage to win the thing, leaving many confused and surprised.
The 1994 Rumble was the night of the infamous 'tie' ending between Bret Hart and Lex Luger. However, it was also the event where Shawn Michaels lasted almost all the way through, and many thought he would be the winner when all was said and done. Although the field was filled with guys like The Headshrinkers, Tatanka and others, most of the mid-carders in the ring put on a decent, memorable show. Even Tenyru returned, hired by Mr. Fuji to take out Luger.
By contrast, the 1995 event was a given as to who would win right from the get go. The British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels entered first and second respectively, and both lasted until the end (Michaels won). A weak field clouded by Henry O. Godwinn, Jacob and Eli Blu and the like made it impossible for anyone BUT The Heartbreak Kid to win the Rumble, and go on to face his buddy Diesel at WrestleMania.
The 1996 Royal Rumble was the event where Shawn Michaels 'followed his boyhood dream' by winning the event and going on to defeat Bret Hart at WrestleMania. The true showstopper was Vader, making his WWF debut at the Rumble and flattening all comers, including then-stablemate Yokozuna , as well as a duo known as The Squat Team (who were never seen or heard from again). Incidentally, a pre-Rumble match between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Duke The Dumpster Droese determined who would enter first and last in the Rumble that night. As a result, Droese entered last and Helmsley went almost all the way to the final!
The next year's event had lots of promise, and featured a whole crop of AAA superstars, the returns of Terry Funk and Mil Mascaras among the highlights. The lowlights, however, were capped off by entrants New Diesel and New Razor Ramon, Lawler's three second appearance in the match and a confusing ending which saw Bret Hart eliminate Steve Austin for the win. At the end of that Rumble, we were supposed to see Hart-Michaels at WrestleMania, but instead got the horrible Undertaker-Sycho Sid fiasco for some reason.
Of course, last year's event was memorable because everyone took shots at Austin, but the Rattlesnake still stood tall for the win. The Rock was an early entrant and lasted right until the end. There were no legends or special entrants from different leagues in 1998 (unless you include the semiretired Honky Tonk Man), but the event still had a texture all it's own. Especially if you consider Mike Tyson's statement from the skybox, saying that 'Cold Stone' was his favourite wrestler.
There you have it. Ten years of Rumblings, each one with different memories. Although this year's winner is said to have 'No Chance In Hell' of winning it, we all know what's going to happen, don't we? Or do we?
Sean B. Pasternak is a journalist from Toronto and can be emailed at email@example.com