With this year’s event just around the corner, Matthew Roberts takes another trip in the TWM Time Machine, this time going back 25 years to the 1994 Royal Rumble.
The WWE was not at it’s strongest as 1994 came into being. With the threat of the steroid trial hanging over head honcho Vince McMahon (and at the time, many inside the WWE were preparing for the worst in that respect) and a lacklustre talent roster adding to the problems there were few bright spots on the horizon. Could the 1994 Royal Rumble overcome those issues and present a killer show? Upon reflection, not quite. But this was by no means the worst show the WWE would bring us around this time.
Things open up rather pedestrian. What was supposed to be a big grudge match between Tatanka and the evil Finish, erm, environmentalist Ludvig Borga had to be scrapped when the latter suffered an ankle injury (that would prove to be the end of his WWE career, as it happened). If you believe certain rumours, it put paid to him lifting the World Title a few weeks in the aftermath of this show and jobbing it to Lex Luger at WrestleMania X. Whilst the substitution of Bam Bam Bigelow was pleasing from a match perspective not even that could overcome the fact that Tatanka wasn’t that good. This is a, frankly, boring opener that simply fills time on the card. The fact that time is spent on commentary hyping that both men would be in the Rumble later in the evening only highlights how paper thin the roster was in 2014.
Match quality takes a welcome upswing next as the Quebecers defend their WWE Tag Team Titles against the brotherly team of Bret & Owen Hart. This is now more famous for being the night that Owen Hart finally turned full heel on his brother, and is infamous for his post match interview where he references that he “kicked your leg out of your leg”. Which serves as a reminder of what kept Owen back in the WWE (and hint, it wasn’t his superb in-ring ability). The match itself is very good and for once the “non-finish” (of sorts) works wonders. However, Bret is injured and refuses to tag in his brother in their quest to win the belts but it’s Owen who is the one at fault…? That’s wrestling logic for you. (As an aside it’s strange watching this show 25 years on when P.C.O. is making waves on the indies).
If anyone sees I.R.S. on the marquee and is expecting anything good, they obviously didn’t sit through his matches in the mid 1990’s. That his match here against Razor Ramon over the Intercontinental Title is nothing but a conduit to the real issues between Shawn Michaels and the champ means this is a whole lot of nothing. Interference by Michaels seemingly leads to IRS getting the title but better sense prevails, the result is overturned and Razor takes the re-started match in short order. Knowing that this leads to the still-stunning Ladder match between Shawn and Razor at Wrestlemania X is nice, but it doesn’t make the match here any more exciting.
Still, once you’ve sat through the WWE Title Casket Match between Yokozuna and The Undertaker you might be reaching for that “Best of I.R.S. compilation”. There are some people who laud the ability and agility of Yokozuna; I’ve never seen it myself. Luckily, in one sense, there’s not much of a match here to speak about. It takes TEN people (including the resident champion) to defeat the Undertaker. And when you run though the list of outside interference it’s another indication of the low levels of the talent roster in 1994; Crush, The Great Kabuki Genichiro Tenryu, Bam Bam Bigelow, Adam Bomb, Jeff Jarrett, The Headshrinkers and Diesel.
Sure, some of them were stars elsewhere, some would go onto bigger things. But boy, did this suck in 1994. Even that’s not enough as the heels have to consficate the Urn and pour out it’s contents to be able to finally overcome ‘Taker and lock him in the casket. And best yet, we’re not even at peak insanity. Because this is the night that ‘Taker (actually Marty Jannetty) “ascends to heaven” in an angle that seemed hokey even by the standards of the era. Still at least it didn’t lead to a Fake Undertaker being brought in for an Undertaker Vs Undertaker feud did it? Oh, wait…
At least all that nonsense is followed by a reasonable, if far from star packed, Royal Rumble. To keep things moving we get 90 second entrances here which keeps things moving. Diesel becomes a star in the early going, throwing out all and sundry in a performance that changed his career for all intents and purposes as the fans got behind him for the first time ever. Perhaps the stories that he was on the chopping block until the reaction he got here are untrue (after all, why waste a dominant performance like this on someone who was going to be fired) but it’s not far-fetched to state that wrestling history could have been a hell of a lot different if he’d performed to the sound of silence here.
We get to a final four of Lex Luger, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Fatu. This is the year of the joint-winners Lex and Bret, with the clear intention of Vince wanting the fans to side with Lex. They ultimately don’t and within a couple of months no-one ever really talks about Luger having a chance of being “the” guy in the WWE ever again. The ending is well done, even though later it’s obvious Luger touched the floor first, and it does at least create intrigue on the Road to Wrestlemania.
With one good tag match and a decent, considering the talent pool, Rumble there are worse ways to spend three hours of your time with mid 1990’s WWE. That in no way is a recommendation, however, to sit through the rest of the dross that makes up the card. Watch the good bits, skip the awful bits.
Photos Courtesy of WWE.