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The wind chill is negative 15 out there, gang, so let’s go back to 1988 to Hamilton, Ontario for the first-ever WWE Royal Rumble. While this was a USA network special and not a pay-per-view, the WWE has kind of retconned it into a PPV, and given its significance, I think it’s okay.
Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura have the call. Vince sells the contract signing of Hogan-Andre as the top item of the night, and given the landscape of the WWE at the time, I can see that.
(1) Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Ravishing” Rick Rude
This is a pretty good one-on-one for free TV in 1988. Rude uses closed fists to open the match, which Vince calls out as illegal. Simpler times. So many ways to generate heat.
Steamboat flips Rude to the outside, and Rude claims Steamboat hooked the tights to referee Dave Hebner. Rude calls for the test of strength while flexing. Steamboat can’t help himself, and puts up a reasonably good fight before being forced to his knees. Steamboat fights his way up as the chants of his name ring out, and he takes Rude down and goes to an armbar and wrenches the arm a few times. Rude escapes, tosses Steamboat into the ropes but gets caught with an armdrag and Steamboat returns to the armbar.
Steamboat keeps Rude from the ropes and continues working the left arm, but Rude rakes the face and throws a few punches. Steamboat isn’t having it, and chops Rude down and goes back to the armbar, then drops an elbow on the arm before wrenching Rude’s left hand back. He even splashes the arm to continue one of the most focused attacks of a body part I’ve seen in awhile; I really miss this kind of psychology in the age of guys working 50-50 matches.
Rude again fights out of trouble with fists and rakes, but Steamboat again shows the better technique and returns again to the arm and puts the knees to the back of Rude’s left shoulder. Rude gets desperate and puts an elbow to Steamboat’s eye. He tries to pose to the crowd but sells the injured left arm. Steamboat uses the opening to chop Rude but gets caught with a knee to the stomach. Steamboat falls from the ring and Rude goes after him, slamming him into the apron and then to the floor.
Steamboat fights up to the apron and Rude helps him in with a suplex for a two-count. Rude hits a camel clutch and Steamboat slaps the ring to fire up the crowd (what he’s doing would be a tap-out now). Rude drops his body down on Steamboat and poses again before resuming the clutch. Hebner lifts and drops Steamboat’s arm three times. Looks like Steamboat forgot to catch himself on the third, which Ventura calls out before the announcers ignore it and move on.
Steamboat breaks from the hold, gets an opening, and attempts to splash Rude but Rude lifts the knees. Rude follows with an atomic drop for two and goes to the camel clutch again. Steamboat slaps the ring again and jerks forward to toss Rude into the turnbuckle. Snap mare and a chop by Steamboat for two. The two of them trade a few pinning combinations and a surfboard by Steamboat gets a nearfall, and he rolls up Rude in a few different ways for more nearfalls. Clothesline gets two for Rude. Steamboat blocks and reverses a suplex but can’t cover as both men sell exhaustion. Steamboat goes high for a body-block and Rude yanks Hebner into the line of fire to get bumped. Rude lifts Steamboat into a backbreaker torture rack and his music plays. Vince gives away the finish by saying “Ravishing Rick Rude thinks he has won the matchup.” Of course, Steamboat has won by disqualification. Good mat-based match with a lot of psychology.
Dino Bravo is out to a side stage next to attempt to break the world weightlifting record of 705 pounds. Here’s the thing: I wrote this yesterday on Wordpad while I didn’t have internet, but my computer decided to save a blank page of the show. I can’t watch this again on the redo, but suffice it to say that I was crushed by the weight of the long segment. Cliffs Notes: Okerlund tries to generate heat by constantly reminding the crowd that Bravo wants silence, Bravo stalls a lot, Frenchy gives a lot of comments in French but Okerlund continues to ask him questions and complain about the lack of English, and Ventura ends up clearly helping Bravo lift the bar on the final lift. I can’t say anyone was bad in their role here, but the segment was death on TV.
I want to say for Okerlund, though, that it must have been difficult to be so trusted that he always seemed to be the guy moderating the segments that had a good chance of boring or even irritating the crowd (like the Gobbledygooker). Okerlund was a pro who never gave up on a segment, which is refreshing to see as these days, announcers often bail and act too cool for the segment. It seems to be more of a specific approach by the company and not basic egoism on the part of the announcers in question. If so, why the obsession with looking cool over getting the segment over? I don’t hate the current product, but a few basic tenets that worked for decades seem to be lost with no clear hope of coming back.
(2) Two out of three falls for the Ladies Tag Team Titles: Jumping Bomb Angels vs. The Glamour Girls (champions)
Vince defends not knowing the names of the Jumping Bomb Angels because he doesn’t speak Japanese. What a bizarre excuse.
Angels dropkick the Glamour Girls in tandem to open. Kai starts with the Pink Angel, as Vince calls her. Since he doesn’t give me the names, I guess I’ll use his terminology to start. Kai and Martin double-team Pink, who bridges out from a cover and rolls up Martin for two. Red tags in and hits a headbutt and suplex from what looks like it’ll be a piledriver. Pink is back and she and Martin miss a couple of moves on each other before Kai tags in and the Angels make tags to dominate her. Red covers for two and hits an abdominal stretch. Kai attempts to interfere but hits Martin and the Angels jump in to hit identical figure-fours. Red and Martin are legal. (I can’t do that anymore. Noriyo Tateno is in pink, and Itsuki Yamazaki is in red). Tateno tags in and works the legs and Yamazaki tags in again to do the same. Yamazaki keeps Kai from tagging as long as possible, but Martin makes it to the ring and smacks Yamazaki around. Kai kicks Yamazaki from the outside as she comes off the ropes and the Glamour Girls win the first fall.
Second fall continues with Yamazaki and Martin, and Martin is still in control. Yamazaki bridges out of a pin attempt and Martin then misses a splash to allow a tag. Tateno dominates Martin with some splashes and covers for two. Vince has learned the first names of the Angels, and even pronounces one of them correctly. Yamazaki rolls through a backbreaker attempt and covers for three after a very quick second fall.
Angels double-clothesline Kai, who powers out and tags in Martin. Given their similar appearances, I’m having more trouble discerning the Glamour Girls from one another than the Angels. Tateno tags in and trades control with Martin. Kai is back in and the Girls have Tateno in peril in their own corner. Double-underhook suplex by Kai. Kai bits Tateno’s wrist. Martin is in but Tateno makes the tag. Martin and Kai cheat to control Yamazaki in their corner. Yamazaki fires back and drops Kai with some atomic drops using the mat instead of the knee. Both teams tag. Suplex and bridge by Tateno get two. Yamazaki tags and gets crossbody for two, then comes off the top and misses a senton. Martin gets two but Tateno tags in. Cover broken up by Kai. Angels both go up and double-dropkick Martin while referee Joey Marella is tied up with Kai. Tateno covers for three and there’s a pretty big pop. The Angels were well ahead of the curve in WWE but the Women’s division wasn’t exactly brimming over with contenders. They would lose the titles back to the Glamour Girls in June and the titles would be dissolved the following February. This match is the only easily-available archive that proves the titles existed at all.
Recap of the Andre-Hogan match at WrestleMania III as we hype the rematch for an upcoming Saturday Night’s Main Event in February. DiBiase wants to buy the WWE Championship, and Hogan politely declines, so DiBiase hires Andre to be his champion.
Andre does a lot of stalling and DiBiase goes into prick mode on the mic, begging Hogan to sign his own death warrant. Hogan sells some fear before the match, which is a rare sight. Andre tosses the table into Hogan and struts off at the end.
(3) The Royal Rumble Match
Finkel explains the Royal Rumble to everyone. Bret Hart (#1) and Tito Santana (#2) are already in the ring. A sign reading “RUMBLE ROYAL” gets some screen time. Well, we’ll all know what it’s called soon enough.
Bret punches Tito in the corner, and Tito returns the favor and mounts Bret for more of a beatdown. Bret hits the inverted atomic drop and the second-rope elbow drop. With Bret in control, Butch Reed enters at #3. Reed goes after Tito but can’t get him over. Santana fights off both heels with a double-noggin knocker (where’s Gorilla?) but the numbers game catches up with Tito. Jim Neidhart is #4 to continue the bad news for Tito. Triple-teaming ensues. Heels slap hands all around. Santana clutches the ropes as #5, Jake Roberts, joins the fray. Roberts helps out by tossing Reed, then evens the score against the Hart Foundation. Roberts and Tito dominate and throw the Harts into each other. Jake signals for the DDT on Bret but Neidhart clotheslines him to stop the momentum. #6 is Harley Race to ensure that heels have the numbers.
Race drops elbows on Jake as Tito has Hart over the top. Neidhart bails on helping Race with Jake to save Bret. Jesse sells what seems to be genuine interest in the Rumble concept. Jim Brunzell is #6. He and Tito have Bret on the ropes but Neidhart makes another save. #7 is Sam Houston, who flies to the ring and goes after the Hart Foundation. The Harts get an opening as Roberts is down and they eliminate Tito. #8 is Danny Davis in that fantastically goofy referee-inspired gear. The action gets a little slower and more deliberate as the ring fills up, with the exceptions of the fresh Houston and Davis. #9 is Boris Zhukov and he charges Houston. The Harts tangle with Jake while Brunzell faces Davis. Race and Boris fight for a bit and the announcers reinforce the “every man for himself” talking point, which apparently got going all the way at the beginning.
#10 is “The Rock” Don Muraco, followed closely by Nikolai Volkoff, who apparently doesn’t know it’s not his turn yet. Volkoff tries to prevent entry to Muraco and gets talked down at ringside. Jake and Brunzell toss Zhukov. Roberts and Neidhart have fought nearly their entire time together in the ring, which is the kind of thing I only notice when writing these. Volkoff gets to enter at #12. Muraco flips Harley Race over and out. He tries to get back into the ring but the refs shoo him out. Race was still being somewhat protected here, before he totally stalled out in the company.
Hacksaw Jim Duggan is #13 and he fights Harley Race on the ramp, going the other direction. Big “hoooooooooo” from the crowd as he enters and goes after Neidhart. The crowd is up and at their feet for almost every new entrant at this point, and I’m sure those in the back were toasting the success of the match. #14 is Outlaw Ron Bass and the ring could use a little cleaning again. Brunzell is lifted over and out by Volkoff, who was apparently listening. Jake and Neidhart are still fighting in the same corner.
B. Brian Blair is #15, just after the elimination of his partner, and he charges Bret Hart. Hacksaw is pounding on Danny Davis to the delight of the crowd. Punches and kicks until #16, Hillbilly Jim, enters. He fights with and eliminates Neidhart, while Jake wistfully looks on, wishing he had gotten to do it. Hillbilly smacks around Danny Davis. I’d ask why Davis was still in there, but the crowd seems to like seeing him get beat up. #17 is Dino Bravo, and the boos ring down, so maybe the previous segment worked. Ron Bass tosses Sam Houston from the electric chair for the first nasty-looking elimination. Still ten guys in the ring, though. #18 is The Ultimate Warrior, still fairly new around there at the time. Don Muraco tosses Bret Hart, who almost became the first guy to go station-to-station before Bob Backlund would finally do it in 1993.
One Man Gang is #19 after a seemingly brief round. He’s all up in Jake’s face, then eliminates Blair. He tosses Jake out right after. It’s really weird seeing Warrior blend in as just another guy, as his mega-push was still off in the distance. Junkyard Dog completes the field at #20. Vince picks JYD and Gang as his winners. Hacksaw eliminates Nikolai, as you knew he would. Gang eliminates Hillbilly Jim for his third victim. Hacksaw drops into the three-point stance and charges Davis over and out. Gang and Bravo dump Warrior quietly. He didn’t last long. Bass eliminates Junkyard Dog and is quickly tossed by Muraco after. Someone told the guys to speed it up to the final four, which is Hacksaw, One Man Gang, Muraco and Bravo. The heels work over Muraco but he fights back and has Gang on the ropes. Frenchy Martin interferes and Muraco charges him, leading to the heels getting control again and Gang tossing Muraco. The heels talk strategy and close in on Duggan, who fights them valiantly until the numbers get the better of him. Bravo holds up Duggan at the ropes and Gang charges in the once-popular spot where the face moves and one heel can’t stop himself from eliminating the other. Duggan and Gang remain. Gang works over Duggan and has him at the ropes. Gang charges, Duggan ducks and yanks down the rope and Gang flips over and out of the ring. Duggan is announced at the winner to a big pop. This was probably an honor at the time, but I wonder how long it took before Duggan realized just how big of a deal this was. This is a decent Rumble, with a few stories told, despite the ring getting clogged at times.
Hogan interview. Craig DeGeorge asks him about the rematch with Andre. Hogan has traded the street clothes from the contract signing for his Hulkamania shirt, which also replaced the fear with confidence, I guess. Basic Hogan interview where he says Andre can’t beat him and all these fans.
(4) Two out of three falls: The Young Stallions vs. The Islanders
Wikipedia lists this as “the main event,” though I think it could more accurately be called “the match that went on last because a basic tag team match was probably considered easier to time for live TV given that they had never run a Royal Rumble before.”
Not sure why this is two out of three falls. Haku and Tama are shoeless, as always. This is the beginning for Paul Roma and the high point for Jim Powers. Tama taunts Matilda, the bulldog mascot of the British Bulldogs. The Stallions aren’t in a feud, so it’s clear who’s winning this one. Tama drops to his knees and baits Powers with a handshake. Powers goes for it, and catches Tama’s waiting foot and he and Roma beat him in their corner. Vince says the weightlifting challenge was boring, which nullifies my comment before about the announcers putting things over in those days despite reactions.
Haku and Roma are in. Roma with a couple of leapfrogs followed by a botched armdrag, which Haku saves by reversing into his own armdrag. Powers tags in and a double-team leads to a two-count. Haku makes the tag and Tama finds himself in trouble and tags out. The Islanders make some frequent tags and work over Powers. The crowd has essentially left us after the Rumble and the Hogan interview tired them out. Powers and Haku do the double-clothesline thing as their partners beg for tags and get them. Roma fires up and clotheslines Tama, then dropkicks him. Back body-drop. Another dropkick and Haku makes the save. Tama tosses Roma from the ring and Roma sells knee pain from the outside. Roma is counted out for a thrilling end to the first fall.
We return to the show and recap the contract signing while Roma’s still selling the injury. Craig DeGeorge interviews Andre and DiBiase (with Virgil) on the side stage for the rarely-seen mid-match interview in the arena. As DiBiase talks, you can see the ring behind them, and Haku patiently waits and watches the interview. Craig tries to cut Andre off and Andre gets pissed and punches him in the stomach. Pretty sure DeGeorge is hurt bad there.
We go back to the match and Roma is hobbling in the ring. Tama works the injured leg, of course. Weird decision to go back to this match rather than just do a one-fall affair and end with the interview. Roma makes a tag and Powers beats down Haku and covers for two. Dropkick for another two. Suplex for two. Haku fights back with an abdominal shot and tags Tama and they double-team Powers while tagging Haku back in. Haku gets small packaged for two. Backbreaker for two. More tags for the Islanders. Haku hits a gut-wrench suplex for two and follows with an abdominal stretch. Powers fights out of it for a very small glimmer of hope and then avoids a senton and fights to his corner. Powers sells a bad back. Haku misses a dropkick but Powers sells like it hit. That was a bad camera angle. Roma tags in and the bad leg is an immediate liability. Double-team, then Haku hits a half-crab for a quick tap and the Islanders win in straight falls. I can’t say that was terrible for what it was…but why WAS it?
Wide camera angle shows that a ton of fans have already left to beat the traffic as we head to break. Vince and Jesse close the show and Jesse talks up luck of the draw. It was important, sure, but Duggan was #13 of 20 so he wasn’t exactly at a huge advantage there. They argue about the weightlifting thing again and Vince continues to call it an unofficial record. We finish with talk about the contract signing. These talking-head segments might not be sexy, but they do seem like a more honest way to end a show than the predictable, tired idea of hitting a high note and then fading out while there’s still potential action in the ring.
The Legacy of Royal Rumble 1988
This show wasn’t meant to be one of historical significance. This show existed for Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant to sell their rematch that February. It did a good job of doing this, but the WWE also created one of their most popular yearly shows in the process. If the WWE had positioned this show as a PPV in the first place, would the Dino Bravo segment have survived? I guess it’s possible, since at the following Royal Rumble, there was a Super Posedown between Rick Rude and The Ultimate Warrior. At any rate, this show was the happiest of accidents.
The Hogan-Andre match at The Main Event on February 5th went on to sell Wrestlemania IV. Andre won the match and it was revealed that Ted DiBiase had hired Dave Hebner’s evil twin brother Earl to officiate the match, in an unfortunate bit of telenovela storytelling. Andre handed over the title to Ted DiBiase, as promised, and WWE President Jack Tunney invalidated the move and vacated the title in a move that’s always bugged me. DiBiase and Andre made it clear what they were planning for months, and at any time, Tunney could have stepped in and said “Actually, I would invalidate that.” Instead, the storyline has him go through with the match, knowing the consequences and that he may have to vacate the most important title in the company. Doesn’t it make him kind of a prick for not warning the heels about this? The title would be awarded to the winner of a 14-man tournament at Wrestlemania IV, where Hogan and Andre would be given a bye into the second round.
Ricky Steamboat was nearing the end of this WWE run, and would surprisingly lose to Greg Valentine in the first round of the Wrestlemania IV tournament. Rick Rude would move up the card all the way to a world title shot at SummerSlam 1990, where he lost to The Ultimate Warrior. He would leave WWE just two months later.
This show definitely has the feel of a TV special, with long hype segments and the filler match at the end. Still, it’s a fairly good show and the maiden voyage of the Rumble match wasn’t too bad.
Two or three weeks from now, I’ll outline one more Rumble match as we hurl toward the 2017 installment. Thanks for reading, gang.