It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the inception of one of my all time favorite events, The Royal Rumble.
I’m sure that most of you reading this probably have never seen ALL the rumbles in WWE history. Truth be told, I’ve missed a handful myself, but those have been the ones within the last 10 years – which I consider meaningless…Meaningless, you say? Absolutely! “But DieHard, EVERY rumble means something because the winner gets a shot at the champion at Wrestlemania”!… Yeah, I know. Like I said, meaningless!
The last 15 years of Royal Rumbles have been way too predictable. I may even go on record and say it’s been too predictable for the last 20. After months of build up, video packages and promotional hints – you basically know who is in line to win the rumble three months before it even happens. Especially now that the winner gets an automatic title shot in a headline Wrestlemania match, simple logic will tell you who will win. Just look at the roster, see who’s been pushed to the moon, and ask yourself, “Can the WWE make money pushing this main event”? Simple formula.
If someone one were to ask me what may favorite Royal Rumble of all-time was, in the blink of an eye I’d immediately say the 1989 Royal Rumble.
1989??? That was like 100 years ago! Actually, it was only 23 years ago and was the second ever Royal Rumble that was won by Big John Studd. Why you ask? Because it had EVERYTHING a Rumble should have to make a great event without relying on the predictable gimmick of the winner getting a Wrestlemania title shot.
In 1989, the Rumble was just a Rumble. It was a gimmick event where no titles were on the line, just pure wrestling entertainment with a unique spectacle for a main event. Big John Studd returned to the WWE as a good guy and won it – but that wasn’t the highlight of the show for me.
The first two entrants into the Rumble were the WWE tag team champions Ax and Smash of Demolition. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d see these tag partners trade blows. I figured they’d run the clock out and team up on the third entrant…and sure enough they did when Andre The Giant made his way down as number 3. But for the time they stood alone in the ring – Demolition truly showed that the rumble was every man for himself!
During this Rumble, there were already hints that there was turmoil in the friendship of WE champion Randy Savage and his best friend Hulk Hogan. The mega powers hadn’t exploded yet, but the fuse was lit when Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage and Savage re-entered the ring for a face to face shouting match.
1989 was a different time in pro wrestling. You didn’t need the “gimmicks” to steal a cheap pop. The entire arena stood on their feet and counted down the clock awaiting the sound of the fog horn to reveal the next entrant. They didn’t need to play everyone’s ring music to get a reaction. The horn would blow and everyone waited see who was next and the only thing that would give it away was the second the wrestler emerged from the curtain!
The undercard wasn’t filled with championship grudge matches, but featured a super body pose down between two of the most genetically gifted atheles in Rick Rude and The Ultimate Warrior. The end resulted in a jealousy enraged Rude attacking the Warrior with a flexible bending bar, thus leading to their first match months later at Wrestlemania! We also witnessed the short-lived return of Harley Race as a good guy challenging newly crowned king and Heenan family member Haku! Simplicity was at it’s best and proved that less is in fact more.
The first five years of Royal Rumbles all had something memorable that no other Rumbles there after could achieve:
In 1998, it was the mere fact that an event of this magnitude had never been seen before and it’s uniqueness was most memorable.
1989, as we just discussed, enhanced storylines for Wrestlemania without having to overkill it.
1990 did the same, but this time around no one had any idea who would challenge Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania. It was a surprise to the world when the two most popular wrestlers collide in the Rumble. Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior stood face to face and the world stopped moving. Literally. This was the only year that managers were allowed to stay ringside during the event, and you can see the legitimate look in their eyes, as well as the other wrestlers in the ring and those eliminated, as they stopped in their tracks to watch what would happen when the two superstars confronted each other. The two biggest names int he game. The two most popular wrestlers on earth. The heavyweight champion and the Intercontinental champion. BOTH good guys…. Who would the fans cheer for? Were they allowed to wrestle in a time where only good guys fought bad guys? It was a moment that sent chills up the spine of ANY wrestling fan watching. A moment that has rarely been recreated again. It was real art and a thing of beauty. Not just the confrontation, but the reaction of the crowd and the workers alike.
1991 was very similar to the 1990. Hogan won again but eliminating Mr. Perfect. Amazingly, Hogan and Perfect had a long running feud but never headlined a pay per view event. So this was the only real time you got to see them trade blows on a major show. The undercard featured a title match between The Ultimate Warrior and Sgt. Slaughter, where Slaughter upset the Warrior with interference from Randy Savage. At the time, I don’t think anyone expected Slaughter to defeat the Warrior, although the it made sense for Slaughter to carry the strap into Mania and defend against “The Real American” Hogan. But with Warrior so popular at the time, many assumed that Warrior would defend against Savage and Hogan would be in the semi-mani event against Perfect at Mania. That may have made Mania 7 more memorable because although everyone wanted to see the anti-American Slaughter dethroned, it wasn’t a Wrestlemania caliber main event.
Finally, the 1992 Royal Rumble. My second all-time favorite. This was the first year that the actual Rumble had any significance. The title had been vacated and the winner of the Rumble would be crowned the new champion. For the first time ever, there were 30 number one contenders. Sure, we all knew it would either go around the waist of Hogan, Sid Justice or Ric Flair – but there was just something about the mystique that ANYONE had the opportunity to win it. This was the night that Flair gave the memorable “…with a tear in my eye, this is the best night of my life” speech and the night that Rowdy Roddy Piper won his first ever WWE championship by defeating The Mountie for the IC title.
For any wrestling fan out there that complains about today’s current product, the lack of creative originality, the lack of drama and suspense, and feel that the product is far too predictable to watch – then I urge you to do some homework and at least see the 1989, 1990 and 1992 Royal Rumbles. For those who have seen them, I ask you to watch them again. It was literally every man for himself. No fiends, no allies. There wasn’t one dominant guy who eliminated 10 entrants. The action didn’t limit itself to guys who had beef with each other. It was a rumble. 30 men fighting to survive. And not for a title shot, but just for bragging rights. The rumble was epic and a prime example that proves why that era was the true golden age of the wrestling business.
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