Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1988)

From the wrestling-addicted putz who brought you The History of WWE WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series comes the History of WWE Royal Rumble!

The annual tradition that generally garners one of WWE's best buyrates of the year, the Royal Rumble is considered the official kickoff to WrestleMania season.  Angles and feuds are set up at the January PPV that lead directly to WWE's biggest show.  It all centers around the 30-man (or occasionally 40-man) Rumble match, where the participants draw numbers to determine their order of entry.  Two men start the match and the rest are added at regular intervals (usually either 90 seconds or two minutes).  The object is to eliminate your opponents by throwing them over the top rope.  The last man standing is guaranteed a WWE Title match at WrestleMania.

The Rumble is usually one of the most fun matches of the year, as it's heavy on surprises and twists, and superstars are created or solidified.  This match type more than any other lends itself to group viewing and betting pools (For example my friends and I each draw numbers and whichever wrestlers correspond to our numbers, that's who we bet on).

Initially the Rumble match was simply a novelty, and the first edition was offered on free cable as counterprogramming to the NWA's Bunkhouse Stampede PPV.  Once again Vince tried to put the kibosh on Jim Crockett's PPV hopes, and once again Crockett's show flopped (In retaliation Crockett ran the free Clash of the Champions event opposite WrestleMania IV).  The inaugural Rumble match only featured 20 wrestlers, and no main event stars.  The following year it was expanded to 30 men and broadcast on PPV, and a few years later the stakes were raised by making the Royal Rumble winner the automatic top contender for WrestleMania.

The best Rumble matches tend to be the ones heaviest on star power, as the field of realistic winners is larger and less predictable.  But there have certainly been exceptions to that rule. 

Here now is the History of WWE Royal Rumble!

Royal Rumble 1988 - Copps Coliseum - 1/24/88

As I said before, the first Rumble was a free TV special and mostly featured midcard bouts.  It was the brainchild of Pat Patterson, who test-ran the concept a few times on house shows with enough positive feedback to make the match a televised event.

The show opened with a singles bout between Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat.  This was fine but ran a bit long, especially given the DQ ending.  It was the first instance I ever saw of the fans chanting "Rudy Rudy RUUU-DAAAY", which I found amusing.  Nothing too memorable, but it was an okay match.
One of two featured non-wrestling segments saw Dino Bravo attempt to break the bench press record set by Ted Arcidi.  Holy lord was this boring.  Essentially this consisted of Dino lifting the barbell, Jesse Ventura adding plates to it, and Dino lifting it again.  Dino broke the record with obvious help from Ventura, creating controversy that paid off with.....nothing.  This segment didn't lead to any sort of feud or angle.

Next up was the culimation of a feud launched at the '87 Survivor Series - WWF Women's Tag Champions the Glamour Girls vs. The Jumping Bomb Angels.  The JBA displayed some excellent ringwork at Survivor Series and the WWF struck quickly by giving them a 2-out-of-3 Falls Title match here.  This was a lot of fun and served as the Angels' crowning moment.  Unfortunately there was no followup and the Women's Tag belts were soon forgotten (The Glamour Girls regained the belts five months later in Japan, only to vacate them the following February).  This match was worth a watch, and was incidentally the first 2/3 Falls match I ever saw.

They're not women, they're ladies.

Before the main event was a contract signing segment between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, for their upcoming Main Event match.  This was your standard contract signing segment.  Moving on....

The Royal Rumble consisted of twenty midcarders and was a fun battle royal.  Bret Hart distinguished himself by starting the match and lasting over twenty-five minutes.  Thus began the "long man" tradition where one guy lasts longer than anyone else in the match and gets a bit of a rub, win or lose.  I usually find that the most compelling story thread in the bout.  Another fun thing about the Rumble was the freshness of seeing face vs. face and heel vs. heel exchanges, which in the 80s especially was a rare thing.  Anyway the match boiled down to Jim Duggan vs. One Man Gang, with "Hacksaw" coming out on top.  There was little real consequence to this as it was akin to a midcarder winning a regular battle royal, the only prize being bragging rights.  This Rumble was a promising start to the tradition but the company didn't quite know what they had yet.

What is it about a buncha dudes beating each other up that's such fun?

Participants: Bret Hart, Tito Santana, Butch Reed, Jim Neidhart, Jake Roberts, Harley Race, Jim Brunzell, Sam Houston, Danny Davis, Boris Zhukov, Don Muraco, Nikolai Volkoff, Jim Duggan, Ron Bass, B. Brian Blair, Hillbilly Jim, Dino Bravo, Ultimate Warrior, One Man Gang, Junkyard Dog
Final Four (winner italicized): Jim Duggan, One Man Gang, Dino Bravo, Don Muraco
Long Man: Bret Hart (25:42)

Typical of live TV specials of the time, the main event was put on earlier than usual to ensure it got enough time, and any leftover airtime went to an undercard match.  In this case it was another 2/3 Falls tag match between The Islanders and The Young Stallions.  Pretty forgettable stuff, and obviously anticlimactic coming after the Rumble match.

The '88 Rumble was obviously not a PPV-quality event, but it was a fun little TV special and served as an interesting prototype for what the Rumble event would become.  Worth a watch more for historic purposes than anything else.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Islanders vs. Stallions
What I'd Change: Where were Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase??  Also what was the point of the weightlifting segment?
Most Disappointing Match: Steamboat vs. Rude
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing much.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania IV, SummerSlam '88 and/or Survivor Series 1988?: Not really

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