Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The History of WWE Royal Rumble (1996)

The Heartbreak Kid returns from a concussion and pulls off a stunning repeat from '95....

Royal Rumble 1996 - Selland Arena - 1/21/96

And we're back to the good Rumble/bad undercard format.  The '96 Rumble was basically a one-match show.  There were a couple okay undercard matches but nothing must-see.  This was also the first time the Rumble match didn't close the show, which was a little ridiculous but I understand why they did it.

First up was a throwaway, as Ahmed Johnson faced Jeff Jarrett.  This feud started a few weeks earlier and would not have a resolution due to Jarrett's defection to WCW shortly after this match.  Ahmed won by DQ after a guitar shot.

Second was the Tag Title match as The Smokin' Gunns defended against The Bodydonnas.  Skip and Zip, as they were known, were a fine tandem (Chris Candido and Tom Prichard) saddled with a horrible gimmick and even worse ring names.  The only person in their group who got over was Sunny, who later dumped the Bodydonnas and ended up managing the Gunns.  This match was pretty forgettable.

Next Razor Ramon once again defended the I-C Title, this time against newcomer Goldust.  Their feud centered around Goldust's apparent romantic attraction to Razor, and Razor's homophobic, disgusted reaction.  Clearly the WWF was not yet part of any sort of Be a Star campaign.  This match marked the debut of Goldust's manager Marlena (played by his real-life wife Terri).  It was decent but not great, and it always bothered me a little that the WWF exploited the intolerance of its audience to get Goldust over as a sexually ambigious heel.  Still it could be argued that the inception of the Attitude Era occurred with the introduction of the Goldust character.

The semi-main event of the 1996 Royal Rumble......was the 1996 Royal Rumble.  The big story here was the return of Shawn Michaels, who had suffered a storyline concussion stemming from a real-life assault outside a bar in Syracuse.  A month later Shawn collapsed in the ring on RAW, and the angle was so realistic and so well-executed I actually though his career was in jeopardy.  The '96 field was full of newcomers and future stars - Steve Austin, Triple H, Kane and The Godfather all made their Rumble debuts as pre-Attitude characters.  But the match was carried by Michaels' superhuman performance.  Shawn tied the record for most eliminations with 8, and outlasted all of the company's big men to win his second consecutive Rumble.  Predictable but satisfying, this match ended up being one of the best Rumbles to date and is still one of my favorites.

Dammit Leon, I told ya to throw me out UNDER the top rope!

Participants: Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Henry Godwinn, Bob Backlund, Jerry Lawler, Bob Holly, King Mabel, Jake Roberts, Dory Funk Jr., Yokozuna, 1-2-3 Kid, Takao Omori, Savio Vega, Vader, Doug Gilbert, Squat Team #1, Squat Team #2, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, Hakushi, Tatanka, Aldo Montoya, Diesel, Kama, The Ringmaster, Barry Horowitz, Fatu, Isaac Yankem, Marty Jannetty, British Bulldog, Duke Droese
Final FourShawn Michaels, Diesel, Kama, British Bulldog
Long Man: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (48:01)

As I said before, I get why this Rumble match didn't go on last.  The main event of this show was the WWF Title match between Bret Hart and The Undertaker.  This was historic for being the first Bret-Taker clash, and had it gone on before the Rumble, the result of this match would've telegraphed which of the two Rumble favorites - Shawn and Diesel - would win that match.  So for those two reasons I understand putting Bret-Taker on last.  Unfortunately though, this didn't earn its main event spot.  It was slow, plodding, overly long, and ended with a disqualification to set up Taker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania.  I was certainly excited at the prospect of seeing the company's two best big men face off for the first time, but Bret-Taker left me cold.

Bret's making short work of Skeletor.

The '96 Rumble is really only memorable for Shawn Michaels' characteristic show-stealing work.  Had he not been on the card there'd be virtually nothing here to be excited about.  This card did however set the tone for a strong WrestleMania.

Best Match: The Rumble
Worst Match: Ahmed vs. Jarrett
What I'd Change: Shorten the WWF Title match and quicken its pace.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret vs. Undertaker
Most Pleasant Surprise: I don't know that I was surprised by anything.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Better than WrestleMania XII, SummerSlam '96, and/or Survivor Series 1996? - No, Probably not, No.

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