Wednesday, 25 January 2012
Royal Rumble Memories With Duckman
Above: Ric Flair after winning the WWF world title following his win in the 30 man Royal Rumble in 1992
You can always tell it’s a new year when two things happen. The first is the desperate attempts by friends and colleagues to get fit, stop smoking or stick to some other life improving resolution they know they will drop by mid February. The second is the reason you’re all here reading this - the Royal Rumble is looming large on the horizon. The Rumble is my personal favourite WWE PPV show of the year and the official start of the road to Wrestlemania!
Everyone loves the Royal Rumble. If you don’t then I’m afraid you’re a moron. Reasons to be excited? Well, it’s the first WWE PPV of the year. It’s one of the few remaining money drawing gimmick matches in wrestling today. There’s always a surprise or two in the match itself. But most importantly, for me at least, the Rumble signifies the start of the three months of the year where Vince McMahon gets his eye on the ball and starts booking WWE with a view to drawing his only big PPV number of the year at Wrestlemania.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Royal Rumble. Or the 24th if you work in the WWE Nostalgia/Propaganda Department and your job is to remove the 2004 Rumble from history because…well…a guy won that year that we’re not allowed to talk about. Let’s just call him Canadian Wrestler X and move along. No need to bring the mood down. Let’s get excited people! IT’S ROYAL RUMBLE TIME!!
I’ve always loved the Royal Rumble and in recent years it’s become one of the few highlights of the year in WWE for me.. It’s one of the few PPVs that they haven’t diluted or messed with too much down the years. In recent years Summerslam has lost a lot of its shine as a special event. The Survivor Series is just another WWE PPV with an elimination tag match somewhere on the card to pay lip service to the name. Aside from Wrestlemania, all that remains as a reminder of the glory days of the ‘big four’ PPVs is the Rumble. Ah the days of the ‘big four PPV.’ The days before we got a PPV every month with ever diminishing returns both financially and creatively. How I miss thee.
For me personally the Royal Rumble ticks all the boxes for what I like about a professional wrestling show; excitement, unpredictability, surprises, good stories, star making performances and the chance to countdown along with a big clock! Plus, when it’s all done and dusted, there’s the added bonus of the winner of the Rumble picking which World Champion he will face at Wrestlemania.
With something like that at stake everyone watching the Rumble match can emotionally invest because their favourite wrestler might just win it and get that big Title shot at the biggest show of the year. Of course, we all know deep down inside there’s really only 3-4 guys that have a realistic shot at winning and the rest will just be over the top rope fodder. Still, it doesn’t spoil our enjoyment of the match itself. That is testament to the power of the Royal Rumble.
If you don’t believe how important the Royal Rumble is check out some of these past winners:
Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, HHH, Batista, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Edge, Randy Orton. Just some of the stars that have won the Rumble in the past or used that win to rocket themselves to even greater stardom in WWE.
Granted, winning the Royal Rumble doesn’t automatically mean you will be a main event star. See : “Del Rio, A – 2011,” for further evidence that while winning the Rumble is a big deal, the push and execution of the Title run after it is probably more important in the long run.
I’m going to look back at some of the best moments in Royal Rumble history. Jim Duggan’s win in the first event in 1988 and Big John Studd’s win in 1989 are now seen as historically important, but at the time there wasn’t the same importance or interest in the Rumble match as there is today. WWE certainly hadn’t come up with the idea to link the winner to getting a Title shot at Wrestlemania (this wasn’t introduced until 1993). The Rumble was a special attraction match but it was really in the following years that the Rumble became a significant event on the WWE PPV calendar and the official start of the road to Wrestlemania.
As with anything in WWE in the late 80s to early 90s if Hulk Hogan wasn’t involved it might as well have not happened. This was true of the Rumble which kicked into life with Hogan’s wins in 1990 and 1991. In terms of match quality these Rumble matches don’t really stand the test the time. Although Ted Dibiase and his then record 44 minute run was a real highlight of the ‘91 Rumble and a shining example of just how damn good a worker Dibiase was. These Rumbles were a sign of things to come with the Rumble being used to reinforce Hogan’s star status but it would be the following year where the Rumble win created a whole new star for the WWE audience.
Many long time fans call the 1992 Rumble the greatest Royal Rumble match of all time. I’m one of them. ‘92’s Rumble was different from previous years as the winner would become the WWE Champion. What made ’92 so special? One man. THE man. ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair.
If you want to see one of the most amazing displays of cardio, selling and workrate by Flair look no further than the ’92 Rumble. You should all know the story – Flair entered the Rumble at number 3 and after nearly an hour of getting his ass handed to him by the roided up freaks of early 90s WWE, he was able to outlast everyone, including Hogan and became the WWE Champion for the first time.
The execution of this match is Rumble match booking perfection and if you haven’t seen it yet (a crime in itself) then you need to go and hunt it down. This was the first time the Rumble was used as a star making vehicle (something WWE would repeat in the following years to varying degrees of success). It’s true Flair was a star elsewhere (and had been for decades by this point) but in WWE terms winning the Rumble and the WWE Title made Flair a true WWE star.
The Rumble win for Flair was capped off with one of the best ‘bug eyed’ promos I think I’ve seen from Naitch. ‘With a tear in my eye…’ The passion and intensity just pours off the screen as Flair celebrates big time and as he is joined by Mr Perfect and Bobby Heenan a true classic Royal Rumble moment was created.
1993 and 1994 saw the match quality of the Rumble dip again. Yokozuna’s win in 1993 and the double winners of Bret Hart and Lex Lugar in 1994 were headline grabbing moments but if you’re looking at the Rumble match and WWE in general in the mid 90s there’s one man who stole the spotlight with his leather ass-less chaps and more sequins than an entire season of Dancing with the Stars – the show stopper, the icon, the main event – ‘HBK’ Shawn Michaels.
It was becoming more obvious in the mid 90s that the Rumble could be used to really sky rocket someone in terms of their push and the man with the afterburners on in ’95 was Michaels. He made Rumble history in ‘95 by entering at number 1 and winning the whole thing. The finish to this Rumble match was tremendous with Davey Boy Smith throwing Michael’s over the top rope and celebrating a win – his music even played.
But Michaels (in a display of athleticism that was truly ground breaking in WWE at the time) held on to the top rope, had one foot touch the floor, skinned the cat and returned to the match to shove Davey Boy off the middle rope where he was celebrating and claim the win. A fantastic moment and one of the most memorable Royal Rumble finishes in history.
Michael’s won again in 1996 to equal Hogan’s back to back wins at the start of the decade but it was 1995 that really announced the arrival of HBK as a main event superstar in WWE. Even all these years later a part of me always wishes Davey Boy had won that damn match because as a huge British Bulldog fan at the time, it would have made my life complete!
Michaels was ‘the man’ when it came to Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania matches in the mid 90s but there was another extremely talented Texan who was waiting in the wings to become the biggest star the WWE has ever seen. The man who would break records every time he stepped into a Royal Rumble match – ‘The Texas Rattlesnake’ Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Everyone now looks back at the ’96 KOTR win and promo as the night Austin was made a star but winning the 1997 Rumble and the way he won it was, in my mind, the night that Stone Cold truly arrived as the next big main event player in WWE. ‘97 saw Austin tear through the competition, scoring ten eliminations during the match (a record at the time) and is famous for the expertly booked finish where Austin was eliminated but was able to sneak back into the ring and eliminate Bret Hart.
Austin matched HBK and Hogan by becoming the third man to win back to back Rumbles in 1998. This Rumble was basically booked around Austin with every wrestler in the company trying to take him out before the match under the orders of Vince McMahon. While Austin’s win was huge, it was Mick Foley who made Rumble history as being the only man (and I doubt anyone else will do this again) to appear in the Rumble match as three different characters.
Austin would go on to beat Hogan and HBK’s record by winning the Rumble in 2001. This Rumble is a personal favourite of mine simply because the WWE’s talent roster at this point was so deep and the company was riding high both creatively and performance wise in the ring. Plus Austin wasn’t the only one breaking records in 2001 as Kane eliminated 11 wrestlers to claim a record that still stands today. The 2001 Rumble also had one of the best celebrity involvements ever in WWE with Drew Carey entering the Rumble and then eliminating himself when confronted by the monster Kane!
In the years since 2001 we’ve had some truly memorable Royal Rumble moments. From HHH’s return from serious quad injury to win in 2002 to Brock Lesnar beginning his ascent to the top of the WWE in 2003 with his win. Through to Rey Mysterio setting the record for the longest time spent in the Rumble at 60 plus minutes and winning against all the odds in 2006.
Over the last few years the Rumble has become know as the ‘night of the surprise return,’ well, that’s what we call it in my house. In recent years we’ve seen John Cena and Edge both make shock returns from injury and win the Rumble match. Cena’s return in 2008 was one of the best kept secrets in wrestling in recent years and the reaction of the crowd to his return was phenomenal.
I’m not even scratching the surface of awesome Royal Rumble moments here. How about the unbelievably brutal elimination of the Big Boss Man in ’92? The dude was somehow able to hang himself on both the top rope and the bottom rope, while nearly snapping his spine in half on the ring apron! How he walked away from that bump I will never know!
Or how about some of the quickest eliminations in Rumble history? Guys like Bushwhacker Luke, Warlord or more recently The Miz and Santino can all claim to have spent more time getting to the ring than they did in the Rumble match itself!
Or what about 2005? Cena and Batista royally screwed up the finish when instead of Batista throwing Cena out for the win, they both tumbled over the top and to the floor. Cue hilarious scenes of an absolutely furious Vince McMahon charging to ringside to berate both men, only for him to tear his quad while climbing into the ring. The image of Vince sitting on the mat, red faced and bug eyed, yelling and pointing at both guys before rolling out the ring and hobbling to the back is one that will stick with me for years.
So what about this year? What can we expect from the 25th Royal Rumble match? Surprise returns? Superstar making performances? Excitement? Suspense? The chance to countdown along with a big clock? Folks, you can expect all that and so much more!
It’s the Royal Rumble! No matter how shitty the booking, no matter how thin the roster, no matter how cynical the audience are, when it’s Royal Rumble time - all that goes out the window and we are once again captivated by an event unlike any other in wrestling and one that can make and break careers in a single hour! It’s the start of the road to Wrestlemania. If all that isn’t enough to get you excited, you probably shouldn’t be watching WWE anymore!
No doubt you guys have your own favourite Rumble moments. Plus there’s so many questions - who are you picking to win this year? Who is making the deep run to establish themselves as a superstar? Will we get a surprise return or two? If you’ve got answers to those questions I’d love to hear them, either here or on Twitter.
Thanks for reading again guys and I hope you all enjoy the Royal Rumble when it rolls around at the end of the month. Remember, if you enjoy these rambling posts on WLH you can actually listen to me ramble on a kick ass podcast!
That’s right, The Marks for Xcellence wrestling podcast is going from strength to strength and with The Indy Corner and Stu now an official part of the show things are only going to get better! Be sure to check out the show over at www.mfxpodcast.com and you can also follow me on Twitter @WLHDuckman.
Until next time…