Monday, January 9, 2017

The History of WWE Royal Rumble, part 2 (1991-1993)

Continuing our Royal Rumble retrospective, let's look at the end of the Hogan Era.


Royal Rumble 1991 - Miami Arena - 1/19/91

The '91 Rumble was the first WWF PPV I ever ordered.  Why I chose that particular event to jump in the water I'm not sure.  It wasn't good though. 

The show opened amazingly, with an absolutely killer tag match - The Rockers vs. The Orient Express.  I know on paper that doesn't sound mindblowing, but trust me.  This was nineteen minutes of just spectacular action, and I think this was the moment when I really started to appreciate The Rockers, Shawn in particular.  I'd go so far as to call this the 1991 Match of the Year.  I shit you not.

It was kinda all downhill from there though.  Next was The Big Bossman vs. The Barbarian.  This wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.  Passable.

Third was one of the sloppiest brawls I can remember, as WWF Champion The Ultimate Warrior defended against Sgt. Slaughter, in the first WWF Title defense on a Rumble card.  I figured Warrior would mow over Slaughter and resume feuding with Randy Savage for the belt, being that they hadn't yet wrestled since the start of their rivalry (Savage was obviously not cleared to wrestle but I didn't know that).  What happened instead was that Savage smashed Warrior across the skull with his sceptre (a pretty brutal-looking spot I must admit), allowing Slaughter to win the WWF Title and become one of the worst Champions ever (Even in 1991 I recognized on some level the concept of devaluing a championship.), and setting up probably the weakest WrestleMania main event in history.  This was pretty awful stuff.


How pissed was Warrior at losing the belt?  THIS pissed.

It was followed by two throwaway matches - The Mountie vs. Tito Santana in a quick squash that didn't belong on a PPV, and Ted Dibiase & Virgil vs. Dusty & Dustin Rhodes.  This would be Dusty's last televised WWF match, and I believe it was Dustin's only match in the company until he returned in 1995 as Goldust.  Despite Team Dibiase's win, Ted was upset with Virgil's performance and berated him after the match.  Virgil had taken all the abuse he could stand, and blasted Dibiase with the Million Dollar belt, turning babyface.

The 1991 Rumble match was easily my least favorite to date.  I had four wrestlers I was rooting for (The stip about the Rumble winner earning a WWF Title match was not yet introduced so it was anyone's ballgame.): Randy Savage, Undertaker, Hawk and Animal, none of whom lasted more than 14 minutes.  After all four of them were out of contention (Randy Savage actually no-showed the match after costing Warrior the belt) I more or less tuned out, as it was clear Hulk Hogan would be winning his second-straight Rumble match.  Yawn.  Hogan eliminated Brian Knobbs (gee I wonder why Knobbs got to be in the final four) and Earthquake to once again reign dominant over the entire WWF roster.  This match was notable however for two men exceeding the 44-minute longevity mark: Greg Valentine and Rick Martel.

Oh super, two of my picks just eliminated another one of my picks.
Thanks a lot, Legion of Dicks!

Participants: Bret Hart, Dino Bravo, Greg Valentine, Paul Roma, Kerry Von Erich, Rick Martel, Saba Simba, Butch, Jake Roberts, Hercules, Tito Santana, Undertaker, Jimmy Snuka, Davey Boy Smith, Smash, Hawk, Shane Douglas, Randy Savage, Animal, Crush, Jim Duggan, Earthquake, Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan, Haku, Jim Neidhart, Luke, Brian Knobbs, Warlord, Tugboat
Final Four: Hulk Hogan, Earthquake, Brian Knobbs, Davey Boy Smith
Long Man: Rick Martel (52:17)

1991 was another pretty boring year for WWF programming.  Still running on Hulkamania fumes and failing to elevate new stars to eventually succeed Hogan, the WWF was grasping at straws to present compelling main event feuds.  In this case they put all their eggs in the Persian Gulf War basket, setting up Sgt. Slaughter as the turncoat Champion to eventually be dethroned by American Hero Hogan.  Really dull stuff.

Best Match: The Rockers vs. Orient Express - seriously, go out of your way to watch this.
Worst Match: The Mountie vs. Tito Santana
What I'd Change: I mean, I wouldn't base a months-long main event program on a minor real-world skirmish in the Middle East.  I would also not put the belt on Slaughter.  Had Hogan not won the '90 Rumble and had Warrior retained here, Hogan winning in this Rumble to earn a rematch with Warrior would've made sense.  Otherwise I'd give the Rumble win to a rising star like Taker.
Most Disappointing Match: The Rumble
Most Pleasant Surprise: Rockers vs. Orient Express
Overall Rating: 3/10
Better than WrestleMania VII, SummerSlam '91 and/or Survivor Series 1991? - No, no, and just by a hair.




Royal Rumble 1992 - Knickerbocker Arena - 1/19/92

Now we're talkin'.  The '92 edition of the Rumble was primarily a one-match show, but what a match!  Late '91 saw some major additions to the WWF roster in Ric Flair and Sid Justice, and both guys were immediately thrust into the WWF Title picture, along with The Undertaker and the returning Randy Savage.  Taker had won the belt from Hogan at Survivor Series and lost it right back.  Since both title changes occurred amid controversy the Championship was held up and President Jack Tunney announced that a new Champion would be crowned by winning the '92 Royal Rumble.  The field was easily the most stacked in history at that time (and for many years since).  But before we get to this extraordinary main event...

The show opened similarly to the '91 Rumble, with an undercard tag match.  This time the Orient Express faced The New Foundation of Jim Neidhart and Owen Hart.  I had pretty high hopes for this new team but unfortunately they were saddled with terrible ring gear and the company never got behind them.  Then Neidhart disappeared from TV and Owen was left to team with Koko B. Ware while still wearing Neidhart's puffy pants.  Anyway, this was a decent opener but nowhere near the level of the OX-Rockers match from 1991. 

Up next was the Intercontinental Championship - new Champion The Mountie had just defeated Bret Hart for the belt two days earlier at a house show.  Roddy Piper was then subbed in for the infirm Hart to challenge for the belt at the Rumble.  Piper would also appear in the Rumble match itself, making him eligible to win both singles Championships on the same night.  This was a throwaway match but it was nice to see Piper finally win some WWF gold.

Dead Man vs. Immortal

A bafflingly long stinker was next, as The Beverly Brothers (formerly the Minnesota Wrecking Crew II in the AWA) defeated The Bushwhackers.  Why this got fifteen minutes I don't know.

The Tag belts were up for grabs in the semi-main slot, as Hawk and Animal defended against The Natural Disasters.  This was standard big-man brawling and led to the Disasters winning by countout.  The LOD would drop the belts at a house show only a few weeks later.

Alright, with the lackluster undercard out of the way let's get down to business.  The '92 Rumble match was simply superb.  Ric Flair drew the #3 spot and famously broke the longevity record, lasting just over an hour to win the match and the WWF Title.  It was easily one of his greatest performances and made him only the second wrestler to win both the NWA and WWF World Championships.  Between Flair's work, Bobby Heenan's hilariously biased commentating, Randy Savage's ongoing blood feud with Jake Roberts, and the host of top talent involved in the match, this was arguably the greatest Rumble match of all time.  It was also the first major bout for the new heel singles star Shawn Michaels.  Oh, and true to form, Hulk Hogan threw a tantrum upon being eliminated by Sid.  A less heroic babyface character from that era you'll never find.

Be fair to Flair!

Participants: Davey Boy Smith, Ted Dibiase, Ric Flair, Jerry Sags, Haku, Shawn Michaels, Tito Santana, The Barbarian, Kerry Von Erich, Repo Man, Greg Valentine, Nikolai Volkoff, Big Bossman, Hercules, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, IRS, Jimmy Snuka, Undertaker, Randy Savage, Berzerker, Virgil, Col. Mustafa, Rick Martel, Hulk Hogan, Skinner, Sgt. Slaughter, Sid Justice, Warlord
Final Four: Ric Flair, Sid Justice, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage
Long Man: Ric Flair 60:02

The '92 Rumble was the first year they really got it right.  The Rumble match was awesome and the undercard was watchable if underwhelming.  They put enough star power into the Rumble match that the winner wasn't obvious.  There were easily five potential victors plus a few dark horses.  Of all the Rumble matches this is the one I'll pop in every January to get me hyped for the PPV.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Beverly Brothers vs. Bushwhackers
What I'd Change: Not much really.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the LOD-Disasters.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess Flair winning the belt - at the time I wasn't sure they'd let an outsider just waltz in and take it so soon.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania VIII, SummerSlam '92, and/or Survivor Series 1992? - No, no, and yes.




Royal Rumble 1993 - Arco Arena - 1/24/93

The 1993 edition had no right to be as good a show as it was.  I watched this show live on PPV, mostly for the Shawn Michaels-Marty Janetty clash, and was pretty captivated start to finish.  Despite a very depleted roster the WWF managed a fun Rumble PPV.

The opener was another fast-paced tag match pitting WWF newcomers The Steiners vs. The Beverly Brothers.  While nothing amazing, this was a highly entertaining way to open the show and showcase what the Steiners could do.  The match-ending Frankensteiner was brutal-looking.

Next up was the aforementioned, eagerly-anticipated I-C Title match between the former Rockers, as Marty Janetty returned to the ring to avenge his betrayal a year earlier at the hands of Shawn Michaels.  Adding to the intrigue was an angle taped a few weeks prior, where Marty attacked Shawn in the ring and swung Shawn's mirror at him.  Shawn threw his manager Sherri Martel in the way and Marty accidentally smashed the mirror over her head.  Sherri was at ringside for this match in a neutral corner, and by the end of the bout would turn on Shawn and attempt to help Marty win.  Her interference backfired however and Shawn retained the belt.  This match featured less high-flying than I expected but it made sense given the nature of the feud.  A very solid I-C Title match.

Third was a big-man match between the Big Bossman and the returning Bam Bam Bigelow.  Both of these behemoths could move fantastically well for their size, and this match is very much worth a watch.

WWF Champion Bret Hart defended against Razor Ramon in one of the best matches of 1993.  Bret and Razor gelled superbly and told an excellent bully vs. scrappy hero story.  One of my favorite spots saw Razor whip Bret toward the turnbuckles, with Bret collapsing on the way over and smashing ribs-first into the ring post below the bottom rope.  After nearly 18 minutes Bret would retain the Title by executing the Sharpshooter from a prone position.  A creative finish to a spectacular Title match.

Killer match right here.

The Rumble match itself suffered from a paper-thin roster and almost no viable contenders.  Ironically this would be the first year that the Rumble winner was guaranteed a Title match at WrestleMania, and the field boasted very few believable participants.  Ric Flair once again drew a very early number, and along with Bob Backlund carried the early parts of the match.  After a slew of lower-card entrants, Mr. Perfect came in at #10 and would eliminate Flair, but was then tossed out after only nine minutes.  A veritable dead zone of midcarders followed until The Undertaker entered, but after clearing the ring he was then eliminated by the debuting Giant Gonzales (despite Gonzales not being an official entrant).  We all know how that awful feud turned out.  Then another major lull until Yokozuna and Randy Savage joined the fray toward the end - after withstanding Savage's flying elbow, Yokozuna tossed Savage out to win the Rumble.  Now on paper this match looks dreadful, but it's actually fairly entertaining.  I would've rearranged the order to keep things interesting all the way through, but this was effective in getting over the company's new monster heel.

Why does it look like Yokozuna threw up all over Randy's clothes?

Participants: Ric Flair, Bob Backlund, Papa Shango, Ted Dibiase, Brian Knobbs, Virgil, Jerry Lawler, Max Moon, Tenryu, Mr. Perfect, Skinner, Koko B. Ware, Samu, Berzerker, Undertaker, Terry Taylor, Damien Demento, IRS, Tatanka, Jerry Sags, Typhoon, Fatu, Earthquake, Carlos Colon, Tito Santana, Rick Marel, Yokozuna, Owen Hart, Repo Man, Randay Savage
Final Four: Yokozuna, Randy Savage, Bob Backlund, Rick Martel
Long Man: Bob Backlund (61:10)

As I said, the '93 Rumble was infinitely better than it should've been, given the lack of star power on the roster.  But two good-to-great Title matches, two solid undercard matches, and a decent if thin Rumble match is nothing to sneeze at.  This show had easily the best undercard of any Rumble PPV thus far.

Best Match: Bret Hart vs. Razor Ramon
Worst Match: Big Bossman vs. Bam Bam Bigelow - Even this was pretty good though.
What I'd Change: Since Bob Backlund wouldn't be relevant again for another year and a half, I'd make Mr. Perfect the #2 entrant and have him break the record.  Perfect would've been a good potential winner, thus giving the match more suspense.  I'd also keep Flair in the bout until maybe the halfway point.  Taker should've lasted longer as well.  The match just had too many holes due to the almost non-existent star power.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the Rumble because of how it was laid out.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Bret vs. Razor
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania IX, SummerSlam 1993 and/or Survivor Series 1993? - Yes, yes, and about even.


Check back for Part 3, where we transition to the New Generation!


Part 1                                                                                                                                                Part 3

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