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WWF Royal Rumble - January 19, 1991
by Scrooge McSuck
- Originally broadcasted on January 19th, 1991, from the Miami Arena, in Miami, FL, with Gorilla Monsoon and Roddy Piper calling all the action. Hmm... Orlando Arena in 1990, Miami Arena in 1991... something tells me these were the days before everyone new stadium and arena were named after sponsors or companies that financed the construction. This marks the first Royal Rumble I watched on Pay-Per-View, and like all the big fours, I didn't miss one until 2006. The Rumble always felt like a special show, even if the Rumble winners became more and more obvious as the years went on (1996, 1998, 2000, 2002-2004 especially).
The Rockers vs. The Orient Express (w/ Mr. Fuji):
(Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty vs. Tanaka & Kato)
No backstory here, just something thrown together to open the show with. I'm sure these two teams had plenty of battles in AWA (Tanaka and Kato, a masked Paul Diamond, were known as Badd Company). Wait... WWF edited out the generic Japanese villain theme music?! That is SO ass. Tanaka knocks Jannetty to the floor to kick it off, and a double back drop sends Michaels into orbit. Jannetty interrupts their double team finisher with crescent kicks, and Tanaka takes his turn being thrown in the air. Kato drags his partner from more harm, but the Rockers follow out with suicide dives. Jannetty and Kato formally start, with Jannetty working a headlock. They go through a series of counters, Jannetty works in that bridge spot, and backslides Kato for a two count. Tanaka tags in for immediate heel miscommunication, and the Rockers maintain control. Tanaka wipes Michaels out with his twisting forearm smash for a two count. Michaels manages to outsmart the Express, nails Tanaka with a running high knee, and a snapmare gets a two count. Tanaka gains control with a reverse leg sweep, but again, the Rockers regain control, knocking both Express to the floor, and following with top rope body presses. Michaels finally starts playing face-in-peril, after being hung up across the top rope. The Express with the leap frog body splash, and Tanaka goes to the first lengthy rest-hold with a nerve hold. Michaels gets sent to the corner, flips to the apron, and Tanaka crescent kicks him back in. Michaels continues to take a pounding, but manages to slam Tanaka face-first into the canvas. Kato makes the "save", but Michaels rams the two together thanks to an outstretched karate belt, and Jannetty gets the hot tag. Jannetty with rights, slams, and dropkicks to both men. Whip to the ropes and a powerslam on Kato for a two count. Irish whip and a diving elbow for another pin attempt. They battle over a back-slide, uncleanly won by Kato but a bit botched. Whip to the ropes, and Michaels trips Kato up for a two count. Double thrust kick by the Rockers on Kato, but Tanaka interrupts the rocket launcher splash. Kato with a slam on Jannetty, and he sling shots Jannetty into a chop. They go for it again, but Michaels nails Tanaka to have him hunched over in pain, Kato throws Jannetty into Tanaka, who turns it into a sunset flip, and that gets three at 19:18. Wow. That was a fantastic tag team match, and easily, EASILY, the best opening match in the history of the Royal Rumble, and an all time Rumble Classic. Naturally, the Express, after this grueling 20-minute match, would be thrashed by the LOD in 2-minutes on the Main Event, then squashed again by the Hart Foundation a week later... way to build those stars.
- Sean Mooney is backstage with the Macho King, but quickly throws it to Mean Gene with The Queen, Sensational Sherri, who is out there to try and get a title shot at the Ultimate Warrior. Sgt. Slaughter has allegedly promised a shot should he win, so Savage is just trying to cover all bases, I guess. Sherri then uses some pre-attitude sexual advances at the Warrior, but the end result: No. Savage is a little more than pissed and I don't think this will be the last we see of him on this card...
Big Boss Man vs. The Barbarian (w/ Bobby Heenan):
It's not their epic encounter from the Copps Coliseum that has scarred me for life, but it's still Boss Man vs. Barbarian... nothing really to this when it comes to the Barbarian, but Boss Man had problems still with Bobby Heenan over comments made about his mother. Sadly, they abandoned that Shelton Benjamin/Mama angle too soon to get to rip this one off... I would've loved to see where they would go with the storyline had Rick Rude not quit/been fired so abruptly after the program started, another mystery for fantasy bookers out there. I've had an interesting observation about the Boss Man... when he was an incredibly beefy bad-ass heel, I LOVED him, but as a slimmed down baby kissing good guy, I really don't care for him at all. No, I don't know where I'm going with that. Stalling to start, then it's a slugfest. Boss Man clobbers Barbarian with a big boot, then knocks him from the ring with a running elbow. Barbarian thumbs the eyes, but gets caught coming off the top rope, and Boss Man takes himself and Barbarian over the top with a clothesline. Too bad this wasn't a Rumbles Rules Match... Barbarian gains control, taking Boss Man over with a suplex, then trapping his legs in the ropes, Andre Style™. Barbarian rams the back into the ring post, then slaps on a bearhug once inside the ring. Barbarian lets go briefly, maybe for Halftime, before another lengthy bearhug. Boss Man escapes with biting, and blasts Barbarian with an enziguri for a two count. Boss Man misses a charge, and Barbarian rolls him up for a two count. Whip to the ropes, and Boss Man with the hot shot/stun gun for another two count. Whip to the ropes, and a collision knocks both men goofy. Boss Man's making sure to show off his slimmed body, with his shirt completely undone. Barbarian to the top, and he nails his signature flying clothesline, but it only gets a two count. Whip to the ropes is reversed, and Boss Man with the sidewalk slam, but that only gets two, as well. Barbarian goes for a piledriver, and that looked very sloppy. Barbarian with a body press from the top, but Boss Man rolls through, and gets the three count at 14:34. Bobby Heenan scrambles to the dressing room immediately after the fall. Good opening, good finish, but a TERRIBLE middle portion. Still watchable, but could've stood to lose a few minutes.
WWF Championship Match:
The Ultimate Warrior © vs. Sgt. Slaughter (w/ Gen. Adnan):
This is the first time the WWF Championship has been defended at a Royal Rumble, and for old school WWF fans, a midcard title defense of a babyface champion meant bad news. Warrior's title reign had been mostly non-existant since SummerSlam, spending a good majority of the Fall doing 6-Man Tags with the LOD against Demolition, and squashing Randy Savage from time to time. Not much to this one, other than to get the title off Warrior and on to a heel that was using real-life events as his only form of heat generating. Warrior cleans house of both men before the bell, then destroys the Iraqi flag. Nothing will ever top the horrible behavior of Shawn Michaels when in comparison of "foreign flag tarnishing." Warrior practically squashes Slaughter for the opening few minutes, but suddenly Sherri distracts Warrior, and Savage ambushes him in the aisle with some stage sets. Warrior is so far away he should be counted out, but we see Slaughter constantly breaking the count... smart move. Slaughter goes to work on the back, then slaps on a BEARHUG, because we all know that's a major part of his moveset. Warrior briefly wakes up, but Slaughter keeps on him and finally goes for the Camel Clutch. Warrior gos through his normal routine, and clobbers Slaughter with clotheslines. Sherri makes her way to the ring AGAIN to draw Warrior's attention away. Warrior drags her in and tosses her over the top rope onto Savage! Good catch, cause that had some velocity. Slaughter attacks from behind, and Savage goes Cecil Fielder on Warrior with the septor (that's a 1991 reference for you). Slaughter drags Warrior away from the ropes, drops an elbow, and covers for three at 12:46. The crowd was dead silent for that three count. This finish pissed me off as a kid, and the crowd finally wakes up, chanting a very audible "bullshit." Despite the terrible wrestling quality and a title change that no fans cared for, this did set the place for the kickass Savage/Warrior match at WrestleMania VII.
Koko B. Ware vs. The Mountie (w/ Jimmy Hart):
Here's an interesting match... I watched the WWF programming religiously, and not once was this mentioned. In fact, I don't think Jacques Rougeau made his in-ring debut yet at this point (as the Mountie, of course). I'm guessing this was thrown on that last minute, to be sandwiched between two matches that desperately needed crowd reaction, and the finish of the last match definitely killed these people for a good 10-15 minutes. This match used to be a bit of a rarity, as Coliseum Video cut the whole thing out (the show ran unusually long, well over 3 hours for a Rumble PPV), but with the DVD sets released, not so much. I've reviewed this before, but it doesn't need to get the copy and paste treatment because I went into too much detail for a match with no major high spots or much entertainment value. Koko controls early, winning a slugfest and working the arm, until Mountie tosses him over the top rope. Again, if only this were Rumble Rules... There's just not much to write about, except for Jimmy Hart talking trash to Frankie. Yes, Jimmy Hart was talking smack to a fucking bird. That's the high spot of this match. Mountie controls using plenty of resting, until Koko surprises him with a swinging neck breaker. Koko connects with his signature missile dropkick, but unwisely sets his sites on Jimmy Hart. Whip to the ropes, criss-cross style, and Mountie surprises Koko with his choke-hold slam for the three count at 9:12. Even the undercard filler matches are going surprisingly long on this card.
Dusty & Dustin Rhodes vs. Ted Dibiase & Virgil:
Here we go with the only undercard match with some real, direct history to it. It was at SummerSlam, where the heat returned, and Dibiase revealed he had bought Sapphire from under his nose. Backstage, I guess Sapphire wasn't too into the split, so the WWF cut her loose, and brought in a very-green Dustin Rhodes to further the angle. It was on an episode of SNME that Dibiase and Virgil whooped him for refusing to take a bribe. A few weeks later, Dibiase and Dustin competed in a special challenge with a 10-minute time limit, and Dustin somehow held on, despite being trapped in the Million Dollar Dream. Once this match was signed, Dibiase went out of his way to prove everyone has a price, and was suddenly a bit more cruel and demanding of Virgil to do ridiculous things, like wiping animal poop from his boots and massaging his toes after working out. It should be noted, that other than Dustin NOT losing that match, the Rhodes' never really got one-up on Dibiase at this point, so they have to go over, right? ... Right? The fact both men appeared at WCW's next PPV, WrestleWar, three weeks later, goes to show how much WWF didn't care to have them under a no-compete clause. Virgil and Dustin start, with Dustin getting the upper-handing, triggering Dibiase to brow-beat Virgil for his lack of success. Dibiase tags in and wipes the floor with Dustin, until Dustin gets some fluke offense and tags out to Big Dust'. Dibiase plays heel-in-peril, but Virgil manages to tag in and gains control over Dustin, who hurt his knee on a charge to the corner. Dibiase and Virgil work the leg over until miscommunication sees Virgil nail Dibiase with a clothesline, and Dibiase responds by pounding on Virgil and tossing him out of the ring. Dusty tags in, but who cares? Dibiase pins him with a roll up at 9:57. Not even a handful of tights. After the match, Dibiase controls to verbally abuse Virgil, and they crowd actually musters a "Virgil" chant. Dibiase demands Virgil get his million dollar belt and put it around his waist. Virgil is reluctant and tosses it to the ground. Dibiase throws Virgil's family and mother into his face. Virgil kneels down to grab the belt, and lays Dibiase out with it to an explosive pop. That's how you do a face turn... There's just not many more satisfying turns from this time period than that.
- Mean Gene Okerlund is backstage with Hulk Hogan. I've mostly ignored the inteviews (including Tugboat's insane rant about life preservers), but this one stands out with a breaking news bulletin mid-way through the rambling: Sgt. Slaughter has DEFACED the American Flag. It's an unconfirmed rumor, by the way. Hogan gets so excited he flubs his lines "just like...uh... " "I-I know who you're talkin' about." "Yeah, him!"
30-Man Royal Rumble Match:
WWF Magazine Tidbit: In an issue published prior to this PPV, an article previewing the show listed the following as participants: Honkytonk Man (confirmed before leaving), Andre the Giant (still don't know), and BUDDY ROSE (bullshit). Always interesting to see what WWF Magazine advertised, since I'm sure they usually got stuff like that straight from a reliable source. This would mark the last of the "No Prize for the Winner" Rumbles. As a kid, I remember being so excited about the Rumble Match, I had my pad and pen out to keep track of entries and eliminations, and made my first official prediction: Hulk Hogan. Of course, I picked Hogan again in 1992, and Lex Luger in 1994 AND 1995, so you know... I was a little shithead babyface lover like most kids. #1 is Bret "Hitman" Hart
(half of the Tag Champs) and #2 is Dino Bravo
, which could give us a solid opening two minutes. This is Bret's second time being one of the first two men in the ring for a Rumble. Eagle eye spies Shane McMahon at ringside for the second year in a row. Bret with an atomic drop and clothesline, but can't quite toss Bravo. They battle back and forth until Greg Valentine
enters as #3, and the freshly turned face, so he goes after former stable-mate Bravo. Bravo looks like an Albino Gorilla swinging his arms so wildly. Bravo works Hammer over, but the tide turns fast, and Valentine tosses Bravo at 3:11. Hart surprises Valentine with a reverse atomic drop, followed by a clothesline. Paul Roma
is #4, and he takes shots at everyone like their name is the Four Horsemen. Bret gives him an atomic drop, too, and it's a hodge podge of double teaming. The Texas Tornado
is #5, and he goes right for Roma and lays him out with a discuss punch. Hammer and Tornado pair up in one corner while Bret misses an elbow on Roma. #6 is The Model Rick Martel
and tries to dump Roma, with no success. Tornado and Valentine continue to hug it out in the corner. Roma sucker clotheslines Martel and tries tossing him. #7 is Saba Simba
(That's Tony Atlas), and as a young mark, I had NO clue who this was, and he was gone soon after. There's not a whole lot happening of interest. #8 is Bushwhacker Butch
to bring up the star power.He just maches around like a moron until Valentine chops the shit off his chest. Simba tries tossing Martel, but ends up eliminating himself at 12:30. #9 is Jake Roberts
, and finally the crowd has something to go crazy for. He naturally goes after Martel, nails him with a stomach buster and the short arm clothesline. Roberts signals for a DDT, but Martel crawls out of the ring. Roma and Butch have an epic encounter in the corner while the camera remains mostly focused on Roberts and Martel. #10 is THE MIGHTY HERCULES
, and it's time for Power & Glory to reign supreme... for roughly 5 seconds, until they go their seperate ways.
#11 is Tito Santana, and he's going for Martel, I bet. Yup, called that one. Oh, Roma got dumped by Roberts at 18:10, but the camera was concerned more with Chapter XVI of the Strike Force Wars. We've got 8-men in there, and very little happening. #12 is The Undertaker (with Brother Love), and hopefully he cleans house of some dead-weight. He goes right after Bret and easily tosses him over and out at 20:39. That wasn't dead-weight. Tornado and Undertaker do a little ring, but it's all punch-choke. #13 is Superfly Jimmy Snuka, and he's just scrub filler in a ring full of it right now. Talk about a drop-off of star power compared to years past. Butch gets tossed out by Undertaker at 22:27. Undertaker remains a popular target of Valentine and Tornado. #14 is the recently returned Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog!), and he gos after Valentine like it's WrestleMania 2 all over again. #15 is Smash of Demolition, and now we have 10 in the ring. That's WAY too many for this match. Roberts and Martel resume their stuff, and Martel escapes the DDT, again, then pulls Roberts out, from the apron, at 27:12. WHY ELIMINATE ALL THE STAR POWER?! #16 is Road Warrior Hawk, and he attacks everyone, and gets pounded on by everyone in return, in some sort of a weird mugging that was probably an idea concieved backstage as a rib or something. Monsoon: There's too many arms and legs flying around in there for me... Yeah, different context, but my point exactly. #17 is Shane Douglas, so you can tell they were REALLY desperate for filler. Douglas was lower on the pole than Koko B. Ware. As I say that, The Undertaker makes Von Erich and Jimmy Snuka things of the past at the 30:30 mark. #18 is... no one. That's odd. The rules according to Piper is that he's automatically eliminated once #19 appears. #19 is Road Warrior Animal, and now would be a good team for clearing the dead wood, with BOTH members of the LOD in it now. They double clothesline Undertaker out at 34:35, and Martel dumps Hawk out moments later at 34:41. So much for that... #20 is Crush of Demolition, but don't expect much, they were tag team JTTS at this point. I still liked them, though. They double team Davey Boy, while Santana has Martel teetering.
#21 is Jim Duggan, and I don't expect much to happen. 10 in the ring again, and a lot of it is undercard filler. The crowd's into Duggan, at least. The only interesting aspects is the longevity of Valentine and Martel, both in there for a half-hour at this point. #22 is Earthquake, and at least one person has to get tossed. That person is Animal, at 38:51. Duggan tries his luck, but it's too soon to toss him out. #23 is Mr. Perfect (IC Champion), and he takes his sweet time getting to the ring. Duggan gets a few shots in, before being back dropped out at 43:01. Perfect with a running dropkick on Smash, and Santana lays Perfect out wih a clothesline. The crowd is more into the departed Duggan than anyone left in the ring... again, stop. eliminating. star power. #24 is HUUUUUUULK Hogan, and he needs to toss like 5 guys right now. Smash tries his luck, but he eats a boot and gets thrown over at 44:37. How the hell is Hercules still in this? Did someone forget about him? Ditto Shane Douglas. #25 is Haku, and no one cares... seriously, barely a reaction. Valentine goes tumbling out thanks to Hogan at 46:20, after nearly 44-minutes in the ring. At least I think it was Hogan, it happened as the split screen view was in effect. Unlikely double team: Hogan and Douglas on Crush. You'll NEVER see that one on any other show. #26 is Jim Neidhart (half of the Tag Champs), and I think it's pretty obvious who's winning this... Shane Douglas. Earthquake dumps Santana out at 48:41. Still way too many bodies to keep track of anything. #27 is Bushwhacker Luke, and in what somehow became a running joke for years to come, he marches in, casually gets tossed by Earthquake seconds later at 50:38, and marches back, as if anything had even happend. That wasn't even the fastest elimination ever, let alone that entertaining. #28 is Brian Knobbs, for whatever reason (filler). His spot was a "mystery" because only 29 men were announced, with one spot left open for speculation. That was it. Still better than Savio Vega at No Way Out '98. Knobbs gets the Hawk treatment. Everyone just randomly huddles over to him and gets a shot or seven in. Knobbs back drops Hercules out at 53:56 to no response. #29 is The Warlord, and I'm sure he'll go after Davey Boy... yup, I'm 2 for 2. Crush unwisely mounts Hogan in the corner (I thought that was Beefcake...), and gets thrown out at 54:50 for his lack of vision. The Warlord is out, thanks to Hogan, at 55:53. #30 is Tugboat (toot toot!), meaning Randy Savage no-showed at #18, no doubt being chased to the Mexican border by a pissed off Warrior.
The final field: Rick Martel, Davey Boy Smith, Shane Douglas, Earthquake, Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan, Haku, Jim Neidhart, Brian Knobbs, and Tugboat. That's a third of the field left, and too much of it is filler. Tugboat goes right after Earthquake, of course. Shane Douglas gets tossed by Knobbs at 56:45... who's ass did Knobbs kiss to get to throw more than one person out? Hogan goes after Tugboat, and gets crushed in the corner for it. Tugboat tosses Hulk, but Hulk hangs on, and tosses Tugboat out at 58:50. Mr. Perfect goes out at 59:01, courtesy of Davey Boy, and Heenan tosses the towel 15 racks back in response. Jim Neidhart goes next, by The Model at 59:26. Davey Boy finishes off the Heenan Family, sending Haku out at 59:41. Knobbs and Quake double team Hogan, while Martel goes on the offense on Bulldog. Martel to the top rope... he gets shaken up, crotched, and clotheslined to the floor to a big pop at 1:00:29, setting a new longevity record. Bulldog has little to celebrate, being tossed by Quake and Knobbs at 1:01:00. Knobbs is managed by Jimmy Hart, so this makes sense, I guess. Hogan does the Hulk Up routine following the vertical splash, and big boots Knobbs out at 1:02:26. Hogan pounds on Earthquake with rights, hits the big boot, but can't follow through with a slam. Quake with elbow drops and a powerslam, but he GOES FOR THE COVER, allowing Hogan to Hulk Up TWICE (a new record!). Hogan points the finger, hits the roundhouse rights, big boot, slam, and Earthquake is thrown out to finish things off at 1:05:13, making Hogan a two-time Royal Rumble Winner. Hogan wound up getting a title shot at WrestleMania VII, more so through storyline coincidence than anything. Pretty boring for the most part, with very little big spots, no dead-wood clearing segments, and an uninteresting field that left pretty much Hogan alone as a possible winner. Hogan celebrates forever, holding up signs pulled from the crowd, as the show finally comes to an end.
Final Thoughts: Solid show, both for nostalgia and actual wrestling quality. The undercard is a hit and miss (mostly hit, and the miss were still strong storyline wise), and the Royal Rumble Match is kind of like pizza... even when it's bad, it's still good enough. There's better Rumbles out there, but this was the first time that the undercard got pretty strong billing compared to previous years when a lot of the undercard was the bottom feeders or midcard filler, which explains the depleted pool of uppercard level power in the Rumble Match. The opening tag match is a must-see, but the card is a whole is only worth a viewing for fans from this era.
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