WWF Royal Rumble 1996
by Scrooge McSuck
- I don't know why, but I had a sudden urge to sit through this pile for the first time in what seems like forever. Oh wait, I do remember... I recapped the Raw Bowl, which took place around three weeks before this PPV, and it featured very little to do with hyping the Rumble. Still didn't stop it from entering my subconcious and putting me into doing a show that otherwise holds little interest to me. This PPV marked the debut of the "Free For All" format. On top of still being a last-minute hype job for the PPV, we also get a match, FREE FOR ALL, to try and entice us to order.
- We're coming to you life from the Selland Arena in Fresno, CA, with Vince McMahon and the recently returned Mr. Perfect calling all of the action tonight. I forgot how much more tolerable Perfect was calling matches than, well, a lot of the people the WWF had trotted out for most of the 90's. Before we get to the PPV, it's time for our Free For All match...
Duke "The Dumpster" Droese vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley:
In an interesting gimmick, the winner gets to be the #30 entrant in the Rumble, while the loser gets the unfortunate task of being #1. Todd gets a word with Helmsley during his entrance. It kind of amuses me, looking back at Triple H talking with an obnoxious accent that doesn't know wether it's british or just snob, and seems to bounce back and forth like the ball on a karaoke screen. Lockup, and Helmsley with a side headlock. Droese with a shoulder block, followed by a suplex. Irish whip, and Droese with a monkey flip, then some mounted punches in the corner. Helmsley counters with a reverse atomic drop. Whip to the corner, and Helmsley runs into a boot. Whip across the ring, and Droese posts himself on a charge attempt. Helmsley with a single-arm DDT, and just like in WWF War Zone, does it again to less reaction than the first time. Helmsley continues to work the arm as Vince observes that the crowd is still filing in. Droese fights free, but runs into a high knee from Helmsley. Knee drop across the shoulder, and Helmsley goes back to the armbar. Curt Hennig actually drops the name "Triple H" when refering to Helmsley. That might be the first time ever. Helmsley eats boot attempting something from the top rope. SLUGEST! Irish whip, and Droese with a ba-a-a-ck body drop, followed by a hip toss and clothesline. Whip to the corner, and Droese with a powerslam. Droese calls for the finish, but Helmsley counters. Droese counters back, and takes Helmsley down with a suplex. Ref bump, IN THE FREE FOR ALL, and helmsley loads up his knuckles and KO's Droese for the three count at 6:27... but wait! Gorilla Monsoon, the President of the WWF, reverses the decision, and awards the #30 spot to Droese, meaning Helmsley gets to play the iron man of the Rumble match. Totally stupid finish, the first of the night. Hennig: Since when did we have instant replay in the WWF? My thoughts exactly. *1/2 Match was going all right, I guess. I wasn't expecting much from it, to begin with.
Ahmed Johnson vs. "Double J" Jeff Jarrett:
Wonderful choice for the opening match. This all started at the December In Your House. Jeff Jarrett made a surprise return, after being MIA since dropping the Intercontinental Title to Shawn Michaels at the July In Your House. Jerry Lawler presented him with a "Gold record" for his "hit" single, "With My Baby Tonight." Too many quotations! Anyway, Ahmed Johnson squashed Buddy Landell, who was subbing for Dean Douglas, then, for NO reason, Jeff Jarrett smashed Ahmed over the head with his framed record, and, of course, Ahmed completely no sold it. And here we go. Vince McMahon makes a horrible pun about Jarrett's attire, using the Motel 6 slogan.
Jarrett attempts a jump start, but Ahmed fights him off. We get a game of cat and mouse, allowing Jarrett to get the upperhand. Johnson blocks a hip toss from out of the corner, and throws Jarrett across the ring instead. Jarrett slaps on a headlock and screams "I'm gonna give him a wrestling lesson!" That's a shoot if I've ever heard one. Ahmed no-sells and throws Jarrett off, but misses a charge to the corner. Ahmed reverses a whip and kills Double J with a clothesline. Ahmed with a pair of shoulder blocks, but Ahmed looks like he doesn't know if he should sell it or not. Ahmed with a powerslam for a two count. Irish whip, and Ahmed with a flying clothesline, but then he tries for another and goes flying over the top rope. Too bad this isn't the Rumble Match. Hennig: The best time to kick a man is when he's down. Jarrett rams Ahmed into the apron, then whips him into the STEEL steps. Back in the ring, and Jarrett chokes Ahmed across the middle rope. Jarrett with a double axehandle, but Ahmed starts no-selling by jogging in place. Ahmed catches Jarrett coming off the top and gives him a crappy reverse atomic drop, then hits with another clothesline. Irish whip, and Ahmed with a spinebuster. Not the catch and turn variety, but still looked okay. Lucha Ahmed with a suicide dive, shocking everyone watching probably, myself included. Ahmed to the top rope, but he misses a somersault splash (that's not a typo). Jarrett slaps on the Figure Four, but Ahmed powers his way into a reversal. Jarrett continues working the leg, but Ahmed kicks him out of the ring going for the hold again. Jarrett's had enough, grabs his guitar, and gives a top rope El Kabong for the Disqualification at 6:37. That... was awesome. ** Match was surprisingly fun and energetic, but that's our second crappy finish of the night, but the first on the official PPV, for those that keep score that way. Ahmed, naturally, only sells for about 30 seconds before sprinting after Jarrett. This went nowhere, since Jarrett was gone from the WWF, again, soon after.
- Todd Pettengill is backstage to interview Big Daddy Cool, Diesel. He's going to be in the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match. Diesel, ever the shooter, says "Vader has to prove himself here." Because VADER wasn't a big deal in the wrestling world until about February 1995, when his feud with Hulk Hogan resulted in the toilet flushing on his tough motherf*cker aura.
WWF Tag Team Championship Match:
(Billy & Bart Gunn vs. Skip & Zip)
The Smoking Gunns © vs. The Body Donnas (w/ Sunny):
I'm not looking forward to this one. There wasn't any issue going on here, but the tag team division was incredibly weak at this point, so the best the WWF could do for a heel team was having Tom Prichard buzz his hair, bleach it blonde, and call himself ZIP. Skip is Chris Candido, also known as "that guy that was dating Sunny." Hennig, with the first questionable line of the night, refering to Sunny: I know that from behind. It's pretty sad when she's the only one of the heels that gets any response.
Skip and Billy start with a lockup. Skip with a headlock, and Billy puts him down with a shoulder block for a quick two count. Skip takes Billy over with a head scissors, but Billy responds with a back drop. Billy charges for a clothesline, but goes flying over the top rope. Bart comes in and gets dumped by Zip. Billy gets slung back into the ring, and it's a double elbow from the Donnas. Bart returns to the action, slinging both Body Donnas to the floor, and Billy follows with a plancha. What's with the random high spots tonight? Back in the ring, and Skip gets caught in the Gunns corner. Skip does the most heatless face first flop I've ever seen. Sunny starts showing some leg to Bart to create a distraction, but too bad he's NOT THE GUY IN THE RING. Zip and Bart fight over a wristlock. Bart no sells some chops and gives Zip a taste of his own medicine. Bart with a press slam, but Skip tags in and connects with a clothesline. Irish whip, and Billy with the blind tag this time, and they give him the Hart Attack. Sunny hops on the apron and takes a bump, but she's faking it. Points to her though for taking the bump like a professional. Billy gets suckered into it, probably trying to cop a feel while checking to see if she's okay. He gets double teamed for being an idiot as Sunny celebrates the deception. Skip continues the high flying action with a plancha as Zip holds Billy in place. Back in the ring, and Skip slams Zip on top of Billy for a two count. Zip with a scoop slam, and Skip tags in and gets slammed on top of Billy for another two count. Double teaming by the Donnas, and Zip slaps on a chinlock. Billy with a jaw buster to escape, but Skip prevents a tag. Skip with a slam, followed by an elbow from the second turnbuckle for a two count. Irish whip, and the Body Donnas with a flap jack for another two count. We get heel miscommunication, knocking all three men down. Bart gets the hot tag, hammering away on everyone, and an elbow to Zip for a two count. Billy comes in for some confusing action. Billy with a slam on Skip, then heads to the top rope for the Side Winder (gulliotine leg drop), but Zip, or Skip, who cares, comes off the top with an elbow and makes an illegal cover... for two? Irish whip, and double back drop by the Body Donnas. They go for a double suplex, but Billy tackles Skip, and Bart cradles Zip for the three count at 11:15. ** Match was pretty heatless, but it seemed like everyone was trying, for the most part. It's sad to think that the tag matches would get worse, once The Godwinns became the defacto top babyface team in the company, and the Gunns traded in all their wrestling ability to be smug heels who did nothing but taunt the crowd.
- It's time for some more Billionaire Ted's Wrasslin Warroom. "I bought myself a network, a World Series, and a collection of old movies. Why can't I buy the WWF?" Vince Russo, dressed up as one of his executives, says all WCW has is the WWF's disloyal and greedy has-beens from the 80's. Savage quips he started in the 70's, not the 80's. Billionaire Ted suggests buying some of the WWF's New Generation stars. I guess Kevin Nash and Scott Hall count, despite being two of the oldest guys in the WWF at the time. We then splice in the bit about doing high flying moves and powerbombs. Billionaire Ted suggests the Huckster calling himself the Boy Toy. Okay, that got a chuckle out of me. The rest was just unfunny and mean, and I'm not just saying that because of Savage's recent passing. The WWF refused to let him wrestle, so he went somewhere he could. Hulk Hogan, on the other hand, I can see them taking shots at, but even then you can only make the same joke so many times before it gets old.
WWF Intercontinental Championship Match:
Finally, something that I actually looked forward to seeing, when the PPV first broadcasted. Quick refresher... Goldust (Dustin Rhodes) originally debuted as some weirdo who constantly refered to and quoted movies, and somehow incorporated this into his entrance, as the television audience witnessed his arrivals in widescreen format (a touch I still love). Sometime around the December In Your House, they shifted that persona into more of a psychological nutjob, using homosexual advancements to make Razor Ramon uncomfortable, and just to get under his skin. Goldust's heat was peaking at this point, while Ramon was getting a little long in the tooth. I would like to point out this is the debut of Marlena, but she's never refered to by name. I think at one point she's called Goldust's "Director" or something, but thankfully that didn't stick. Oh, and to be open and honest... this match DOES suck, so don't be surprised if I tail off during the PBP.
Razor Ramon © vs. Goldust (w/ Mystery Woman):
After five minutes for the recap video, three minutes for Goldust's entrance, and Razor Ramon's sleep enducing strut the to the ring, the match is FINALLY about to start. I didn't notice, but Goldust's usher was at ringside, too. Goldust toys with Ramon before the match starts. Then he just creeps everyone out until Ramon tosses the toothpick at him. Lockup, and Ramon goes to work on the arm, being a little more aggresive than usual. Goldust feels Ramon up during a headlock, so Ramon releases the hold. Ramon with a go-behind, but Goldust counters and REALLY feels him up, freaking Ramon out even more. Lockup into the corner and Goldust rubs Ramon's face, and Ramon responds by shoving him across the ring. Ramon works the arm but gets SLAPPED like a little bitch. Ramon responds by slapping Goldust's ass, but that's accepted very warmly, so Ramon just punches him in the face for good measure. We go outside the ring, and Goldust uses Marlena as a shield. Back in the ring, and Goldust with a headlock. Ramon counters with a head scissors, and we repeat until Goldust rolls back out of the ring for the same spot as earlier. Back in the ring, and Goldust blows Ramon a kiss. Ramon with a clothesline, knocking Goldust back out of the ring, and we get THE SAME SPOT. Ramon picks Marlena up allowing Goldust to sucker punch him and take control. Back in the ring, and Goldust comes off the top with a double axehandle. Whip to the corner, followed by a bulldog for a two count. Goldust uses the ropes for leverage on a back suplex, but it only gets another two count. Marlena blows some gold dust in the eyes of Ramon, and Goldust takes him down with a swinging neck breaker for a two count. Irish whip, and Goldust slaps on a sleeper hold. Ramon with a concealed low blow to break the hold, and now both men are down. Goldust recovers first and covers for two. Ramon with a series of rights, followed by a chokeslam for a two count. Ramon with his fall-away slam for another two count. Goldust thumbs the eye, but gets crotched across the top rope, and yeah, we can see Ramon's big suplex spot coming a mile away. Marlena hops into the ring and fakes an ankle injury, distracting the referee. Suddenly, the 1-2-3 Kid comes off the top with a spinning heel kick, and Goldust covers for three and the Intercontinental Title at 14:06. Thank God, it's over. Goldust and Marlena share a victory lick after the match. Despite having a pinfall finish, that's THREE terrible finishes tonight. Everyone in the world knew Goldust was leaving Champion, but they had to give part of the spotlight to the freakin' 1-2-3 Kid in the process, just to advance the feud between Ramon and the Kid, while leaving Goldust playing second fiddle to it? *1/2 Match, from a wrestling perspective, stunk, but the psychology between the two was pretty entertaining.
- Royal Rumble Promos! Dr. Jeffrey Unger (no relation to Felix) talks about Shawn Michaels being in acceptable physical condition to compete. Owen Hart name drops Shawn Michaels as well. Jake Roberts, looking a little old, RETURNS in the Royal Rumble! Jerry Lawler says he's going to win because it's the ROYAL Rumble. Barry Horowitz says he's the biggest underdog, he's confident, and HAPPY. Jim Cornette and The Man They Call Vader are standing by, and Vader bashes his head into a locker. Shawn Michaels has words for us and says he's going to win it, because it's his boyhood dream. Whatever.
30 Man Royal Rumble Match:
Much like in most of my previous Rumble reviews, I'm not going to go into super detailed PBP, only commenting on any interesting pair-ups and eliminations, or if I get really bored and talk about some random subject. The ONLY storyline going into this match was Shawn Michaels returning from a career-threatening injury to pursue his boyhood dream of headlining WrestleMania XII. Seriously, that's a hell of a goal to have as a kid, as they constantly refer to his dream being the headline at WrestleMania XII. Okay, maybe I'm taking it out of context, but I need to be entertained too, dammit! I would also like to point out the oddness of having the Rumble NOT be the final match on the show, so something has to be up... or maybe it's just going to suck really hardcore. You decide.
#1 is, of course, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, so naturally, #2 is Henry Godwinn. I appreciate having the starting two being a sensible combination, to allow an actual match-up with meaning to open the marathon, even if it is a bad one. Godwinn controls most of the two minutes, teasing several eliminations in the process. Helmsley pulls off the "flip upside down into the corner" spot faster than anyone in Rumble history. #3 is MR. Bob Backlund, and no one cares about him at this point. This is the first year every entrant has his theme music played. 1990 had the oddity of the first handful of people having entrance music, and then silence the rest of the way. Everyone just kind of does whatever. #4 is Jerry Lawler, and things look bleak for the Hog farmer. Helmsley wipes out Godwinn with his running high knee, and Lawler grabs the slop bucket. Godwinn manages to fend off all three men, then dumps the slop, with most of it landing on Lawler, and Helmsley jumping out of the way like there was an explosion in an action movie. #5 is Bob "Spark Plugg" Holly, and no one cares. Hennig, signaling the excitement level in the ring, says he can't wait for Vader to get in the ring. That's the PBP man saying the match is boring. #6 is King Mabel, and this would be his last appearance in the WWF until, I don't know, whenever. I think he made a one shot appearance after the 1998 King of the Ring, before making a full time return at the 1999 Royal Rumble. No one is eliminated, and nothing of note happens. Vince questions who can eliminate Mabel... well, in 1994, seven midcarders teamed up to do it, then in 1995, Lex Luger did it by himself with little effort. Oh wait, that was a rehtorical question? #7 is the returning Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and he scares everyone off with Damian, not Revelations. Revelations was an albino, but this was the traditional looking python Jake brought with him. I love how everyone stands around waiting for Jake to undo the knot on the bag, instead of bum rushing him. Only Lawler remains in the ring, and yes, he gets the snake treatment before scurrying out of the ring. Lawler would vanish from site, hiding under the ring for the rest of his duration as an official participant.
#8 is Dory Funk Jr, with no reaction and looking to be about 78 years old. Seriously, how did this make any sense? Jake goes for the DDT on Helmsley, but Helmsley hooks the rope. Funk and Backlund fight in a wonderful example of the New Generation. Remember how they just made fun of WCW's "stars of the 80's?" This is a flashback into the 70's! No eliminations, still. H.O.G and Mabel team up in their hatred for NASCAR, whooping Holly like the punk he is. #9 is Yokozuna, and who can eliminate him? This is his second appearance in the Rumble, winning his first one in 1993. Yokozuna relives his 1993 honor by eliminating the iron man from that year, Bob Backlund, with little trouble. It took 15-minutes for the first elimination to take place. Godwinn gets squashed behind Mabel and Yokozuna in the corner, then gets taken down with a hurricanrana from Holly, and Helmsley with a knee drop, and Mabel with a splash. Who did Godwinn piss off? He just got whooped by EVERYONE. #10 is The 1-2-3 Kid, and he's being chased to the ring by Razor Ramon. In the mean time, Roberts casually tosses Godwinn out. Scott Hall competed at four Rumble PPV's, but never in a Rumble Match (1 WWF and 3 IC Title Matches), something I always thought was strange, but then again, you need a somewhat strong undercard, and he was one of the more popular faces to center a singles match around. This is surprisingly the Kid's first rumble appearance, as well. #11 is Takao Omori, with the Orient Express music and no reaction, and Vince name drops All-Japan Pro Wrestling. "Not a lot known about him" translates to "I used all my information on the sheet in front of me." Funk with a bunch of that rasslin' stuff on the Kid as we anticipate the next entry. #12 is Savio Vega, and he goes after Mabel, hoping to avenge his loss in the 1995 King of the Ring. Yokozuna says fuck it and tosses Mabel to prove he's the superior morbidly obese wrestler. Roberts counters a slam to eliminate Omori soon after. At least that gets a little of the dead weight out of the ring. Hennig teases he called the Superstar Hotline and is excited knowing who it is. Let me guess... yup.
#13 is the man they call VADER. I must say, I was pretty hyped to see Vader in the WWF. He traps Holly in the corner and whoops him. Vega and Funk go at it on the apron, and Funk is the next casualty of the match. Vega tries his luck with Vader, and gets to play the role of Vader's bitch the rest of the match. #14 is Doug Gilbert, who in kayfabe land got this spot winning a tournament in USWA. I refer to him as "Eddie Gilbert's brother", and Hennig even name drops Eddie. Roberts with the DDT on Savio to a big pop. Roberts goes for another, but Vader clotheslines him so hard, Jake stumbles across the entire ring then throws himself over the top rope. That's only about 0.7 Neidhart in the absurd battle royal eliminations scale. Vader gets to take his frustrations out on Gilbert now. The heatless participants list continues, as #15 is one of the Headhunter Twins, refered to here as "a Swat Team" member by McMahon. Vader with a chokeslam on Gilbert, and a press slam eliminates him moments later. Swat Hunter goes after Vader, and he's gone, too. #16 is the other Headhunter Swat Team Dude, so both of them enter the ring, and are both disposed of by Vader and Yokozuna. So much for them. Was the purpose of a lot of these random people just an excuse to not have to feed "their own guys" to the likes of Vader? Savio and Hunter double team Vader in an unlikely alliance. #17 is Sha... oh wait, it's Owen Hart. I always get tricked by the opening litle riff of his music. 3 members of Camp Cornette are in the ring, but Vader and Yokozuna are too worried about fighting with each other at times. Savio interrupts things, so they double team him, squashing him like a bug. #18 really is Shawn Michaels, and the match is over. Vader clotheslines Savio out as Shawn plays Hulk Hogan, hitting everything that moves. Vader demasks himself and brawls with Yokozuna. In ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE MOMENT OF THE CENTURY, Shawn dumps both Vader and Yokozuna at the same time! Seriously, you can use "momentum" as argument, but they weren't even close to leaning over the top rope. Even as a kid, I thought it was ridiculous that Shawn eliminated both by himself. Then he brings me back up by tossing the Kid like a sack of potatoes.
#19 is Hakushi, and no one cares. Outside the ring, Vader lays out Yokozuna, then climbs back in the ring and tosses Shawn over the top rope to the floor. Then he does the same to everyone else... but wait, a previously eliminated participant cannot legally eliminate someone else. I HATE how the rules change depending on how they want to book the match. It's just another form of cheating. Monsoon heads to the ring and gets in Vader's face, as a gaggle of referee's try and help maintain order. #20 is the returning Tatanka, and even fewer people care than they did for Hakushi. Hakushi sends Owen to the corner and does his springboard elbow. Shawn teases a few eliminations, and Owen tosses Hakushi out like a bag of garbage. #21 is Aldo Montoya, and it takes Hennig only seconds to say Aldo has his jock on the wrong part of his body. Shawn wanders around outside for whatever reason... then I remember Lawler is still under the ring. Shawn drags him out, brings him in the ring, and formally eliminates him with a Tiger Uppercut™. Meanwhile, Owen tosses Montoya to little fanfare. #22 is Big Daddy Cool, Diesel. He quickly tosses Tatanka out, then randomly hits anyone in striking distance. Shawn and Diesel go back to back, and Diesel throws the first punch. Shawn teases another elimination, but Diesel makes the save? Vince: It doesn't have to make sense, it's the Royal Rumble. I love shoot comments... #23 is the returning Kama, the Supreme Fighting Machine, sporting a shaved head, and he goes after Diesel. You may be wondering why I keep saying "returning"... guys like Kama and Tatanka, for example, had been taken off T.V. for months leading up to this PPV, and were suddenly trotted back out again, with no explanation where they went (USWA?). #24 is The Ringmaster, also known as Steve Austin. He clips Holly's knee and goes to work on him. Austin, with hair, and no personality, on a WWF PPV = WEIRD. Austin saves himself from elimination then dumps Holly, who spent almost 40 minutes in the ring. At least he didn't just hug a rope the entire time. #25 is Barry Horowitz, with a rock 'n' roll version of Ava Nagila as his music. Hennig calls him Barry Horriblewitz, as he goes to work on Shawn Michaels!? Diesel no sells Helmsley's offense and launches him over the top rope. Helmsley was in there for nearly 50-minutes before letting one of his best friends end his performance.
#26 is Fatu, and he's Makin' a Difference™. Fatu gets NO reaction. It's the crowd from hell tonight, or something. Vince continues hyping the Superstar Hotline, hosted by Raymond Rougeau. Diesel works Ringmaster over, and I just now noticed managers have been at ringside for this match. I guess they never came into play, so it didn't really matter. #27 is Isaac Yankem, D.D.S., with another horrible example for theme music. What happens if Yankem and Diesel fight. WORLD'S WILL EXPLODE! And they do go at it, with no Armageddon taking place. Owen dumps Horowitz, and KO's Michaels with an enziguri. Shawn manages to hold on to the ropes and sends Owen flying over the top rope, but the instant replay causes us to MISS IT! Austin makes up for it, taking Shawn's head off with a clothesline. Diesel comes to his boyfriend's aid though, and wipes Austin out. #28 is Marty Jannetty, and yes, we get the obligatory Rockers face-off, except it seems less important when both are babyfaces. It's always a cute nod to the past, though. People just lay around, doing nothing at this point. Holy crap... right now we got Rikishi, Kane, The Godfather, and Stone Cold in the ring, with everyone playing a completely different character. Diesel with the sidewalk slam on Jannetty as we get #29, the British Bulldog. Bulldog goes after Michaels, and we see Diana Hart-Smith sitting somewhere in the crowd. Jannetty tries to help out, but Davey Boy dumps him out. Fatu clotheslines Austin out, in hopes that a Samoan can overcome the great white hope. Yankem clotheslines Fatu out moments later, killing that dream. What a thin field, with only Shawn, Diesel, Bulldog, Yankem, and Kama in the ring at this point...
#30 and the final entrant is, of course, Duke Droese. Why not bring the garbage can with you? Only six men might be the smallest field of competitors as the #30 man enters. Shawn and Bulldog fight outside the ring, and suddenly Owen comes back to help take care of business. All this emphasis on Shawn over-coming beatings just smells way too obvious that Shawn is winning. Duke and Kama blow something as Shawn dropkicks Yankem over and out. Diesel and Kama double team to toss Droese. So much for being #30. Shawn slips out of the grasp of Davey Boy and clotheslines him out. Diesel tosses Kama, and then Shawn superkicks Diesel out for the victory at 59:02, winning his second consecutive Rumble and going to WrestleMania XII to fulfill his boyhood dream™. Shawn celebrates with a striptease, because the 90% male demograph of the WWF fanbase REALLY wants to see that. Diesel, teases an ass-whooping, but decides to play nice. Pussy. ** I would first like to note, that 2-stars for a Rumble is basically the bare minimum. There was no real mystery who was winning, the field was weak, the lineup filled with one shots with little or no explanations, a bunch of random midcarders brought out of obscurity to fill spots, a lot of KLIQ protection, just not much enjoyment to come out of everything. The only thing 1996 had going for it was that it had few dead spots, with the ring never being cleared to give someone the "Diesel treatment", as I dubbed it. All the rumbles from 1995-1999 were pretty bad, but this might be the one in the middle in terms of quality among the five. 1999 was terrible, 1998 was a bore, 1995 was too rushed, and 1997 was okay.
WWF Championship Match:
I normally don't say this about Bret Hart matches on Pay-Per-View, but I'm not looking forward to this. The Undertaker was in the part of his career where all of his matches were either bad or atrocious. Bret Hart might as well be wrestling a broomstick here, because the Undertaker wasn't bringing anything to the table in terms of match quality for another year or so. He's also sporting the stupid mask to sell the "crushed face" at the hands of King Mabel and Yokozuna back in October, so if being the Undertaker wasn't scary enough, he was playing Phantom of the Wrestling Ring, too, all while sporting way too much purple. Seriously, who thought PURPLE was going to be a good look for the Undertaker? Did it look that good on Men on a Mission that someone thought he needed it, too!? No real backstory to this, either. Monsoon just kind of named Undertaker #1 Contender, pissing off Diesel more than anything. Yes, another match where a KLIQ member was the main focus, even when the point of the match should be putting someone else over! During the Undertaker's entrance, Diesel was still lurking, and gets into a physical altercation with the challenger. Jeez...
Bret "Hitman" Hart © vs. The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer):
Before the match begins, Vince makes a random comment about this being Bret's 43rd PPV appearance. Seriously, that came out of nowhere. I think that number is SLIGHTLY inflated, but it's pretty close, so we'll let it pass. Bret quickly proves he has speed on his side, avoiding Undertaker's lumbering advances. Bret with roundhouse rights, but Undertaker choke throws Bret to the corner and unloads with rights and lefts. Whip to the corner, and Undertaker with a choke lift. Undertaker maintains control with his usual stuff. Because things weren't dull enough, Undertaker does that weird face claw hold that no one likes. It's like a Kane prototype, watching the Undertaker wrestling with a dumb mask on. Bret gets his feet on the ropes, but Paul Bearer keeps pushing them off. Undertaker goes to the top rope, and goes Old School back when it wasn't called that. FACE CLAW HOLD #2! Irish whip to the corner, and Undertaker eats boot. Bret with a second rope clothesline, followed by another, sending Undertaker over the top rope, to the floor. Bret follows out with a plancha, then hammers away with rights. Bret hops off the apron, but Undertaker catches and rams Hart into the ring post. Undertaker scoops Bret up, but ends up being rammed into the post. He recovers in time to boot Bret in the face, and regain control. Where's the count-out? Both men have been out of the ring for several minutes now. Undertaker pounds away, but gets thrown knees first into the ring steps. Bret stomps away at the left knee of the Undertaker, and we all what this means... the crowd turns on Bret for trying to win the match. Back in the ring, and Bret continues working the leg. He's not cheating, but he's definitely more aggresive than usual. Bret decides to say fuck it and starts clawing at the mask, too. Bret drops an elbow across the leg, then grapevines it. Bret works him over s'more before slapping on a figure-four, dead center of the ring (pun intended). Bret gets a few near falls with the hold, but the Undertaker hangs on for dear... whatever he considers life, I guess. Undertaker manages to turn the preasure over, and surprisingly, Bret does NOT submit to his own hold. Bret goes back to stomping the leg, putting Undertaker on the canvas once again. Bret wraps the leg around the middle rope, but Undertaker fights free. Bret pulls Undertaker back to the center of the ring, and grapevines the leg once again. Bret lets go and goes for the mask again, but Undertaker fights the attempt off. The leg work continues, but the crowd is so not into it, that it's hard to get into any of it.
The crowd wakes up to chant "Rest in Peace", meaning that they are either trying to will on the Undertaker, or can see into the future and know this is putting me to sleep. Undertaker says fuck it too, throws Bret back, and smacks Bret across the face with his good leg several times. Undertaker casually tosses Bret out of the ring, then follows out, ramming Bret into the ring steps. Undertaker grabs an electrical cord and chokes Bret out with it. We see that the referee was being distracted by Paul Bearer at the time. They wander around and Undertaker introduces Bret into the timekeepers table. Undertaker with a chair, and he rams it into the throat of the champion. Back in the ring, and Bret kicks the leg from under the Undertaker. The crowd pretty much turns on him, as Bret continues to punish the knee. Bret pulls the Undertaker to the corner and wraps the leg around the ring post. For a second, I thought we were going to see the ring post figure four, but that's a good year away from happening. Bret with another leg lock, as he does his best to get the first wrestling match out of the Undertaker. We're so bored, we're reminded we're live from Fresno, CA. Undertaker regains control and drops a big leg across the chest. Irish whip, and Undertaker with a clothesline. Undertaker scoops Bret up, but Bret hooks the rope and lands on the apron. Bret hangs the Undertaker up across the top rope, but walks into a boot. Irish whip, and Bret surprises Undertaker with a DDT. Bret rolls over for a pin, but that only gets two. Bret with headbutt's to the back, followed by a russian leg sweep. Undertaker sits up, so Bret takes him down with a running bulldog. Undertaker sits up, again, and this time it's Bret with a back breaker. Bret to the second turnbuckle, and he comes off with an elbow drop. Bret chooses not to go for a pin, but does give the thumbs down. Bret goes for the sharpshooter, but Undertaker grabs him by the throat, gets back to his feet, and drives a knee to the midsection. Irish whip, and a double clothesline puts both men down. Bret is up first, and he undoes one of the turnbuckle pads. Bret goes for the "facial appliance" again, and is successful in removing it. The Undertaker looks exactly the same as before! Bret hammers away on the exposed face and rams Undertaker into the exposed buckle. Twice. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Bret bounces off the ropes, but Undertaker surprises him with the Tombstone Piledriver... and suddenly, Diesel pulls the referee out of the ring to draw a Disqualification at 27:31. Then he gives Undertaker the middle finger, because shoot suggestive motions were the in thing at the time. That's ANOTHER awful finish, and this time, it's just unacceptable. The main event of a big PPV should have a decisive finish, but to make things worse, it makes the champion look weak, it makes the challenger look like a sucker, and the only person walking away looking good was someone who wasn't even part of the match! ** That might sound generous, considering how much I didn't care for the match, but Bret did his best to put on a good match, and the Undertaker was trying to keep up with him, but it was obvious at times that Bret was doing a pretty good piggy back job for most of it. Still, a truely pathetic excuse of a match to end a PPV with.
- But wait... there's more, courtesy of Royal Rumble PLUS! The PPV only ran about two and a half hours, so here's some bonus interviews to fill that estimated run time. Todd Pettengill is with Gorilla Monsoon, and he's already sanctioned the WWF Title Match for the next In Your House. Bret Hart will defend the title against Diesel, who somehow became the #1 challenger, despite losing the rumble, and the Undertaker not losing his match. Dok Hendrix is with Shawn Michaels, who takes a mild shot at Hulk Hogan (things used to run wild, but that's not how things are today) and hypes his Kliq again. The Kliq is his fanbase, you know. Sure it is, Shawn. Todd is back in the other locker room, still with Gorilla Monsoon. The Undertaker storms in, looking pissed off, and rightfully so. The Undertaker punked out Monsoon! Monsoon decides to amend the match, and make it a STEEL CAGE MATCH too! That will keep the Undertaker from interfering in the match. Hendrix is with Big Daddy Cool, but I skip. Todd is with Cornette and Vader, and Vader is tossing chairs against the lockers. I bet this was taped well in advance. Video recap of the 1996 Royal Rumble, with select highlights from the show spliced together to make it seem like it was a great show.
Final Thoughts: Yes, this show was about as bad as I remembered it, although I did find more enjoyment out of Goldust vs. Ramon than I did as a younger viewer. The WWF Title Match was heatless with a god awful finish, the Rumble match was anti-climatic with a predictable winner and overflowing with random and one-shot appearances, and the undercard consisted of a bland, heatless tag match, an opener with a crummy finish, and a title change with, yep, a crummy finish. Even the Free For All match was done to protect someone from looking bad! While most of the matches are tolerable and not out right awful, the whole show just seems like a chore to watch, and when only one match has a clean finish (not counting the Rumble), you're in bad territory. Strong recommendation to take a pass.
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