Retro Review – Royal Rumble 1990

With this year’s event just around the corner, Matthew Roberts takes another trip in the TWM Time Machine™, this time heading back 30 years to the 1990 Royal Rumble. 

Those people in 2020 who complain that the WWE are announcing participants in the Royal Rumble matches should really be pointed in the direction of the opening video package here; it’s a classic as Vince McMahon counts down the participants in his trademark hype voice.  So really, people harking back to an era where the WWE didn’t “spoil” everything are harking back to an era that didn’t ever exist.  And I’m not even going into those people who complain that people are just announced/declare themselves for the Rumble match these days as if history is littered with 30 man rumbles where everyone has to qualify in a match. 

Anyway, onto the card.  We kick off with a tag team encounter that doesn’t really fill one’s heart with anticipation as one half of it is the Bushwhackers.  Yes, a fun act in the early 1990s (up to a point) but hardly renowned for the great matches in the WWE (notwithstanding their very different pre-WWE career as the Sheepherders).  They are in there with The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, who whilst not being anywhere near the ballot for “greatest teams of all time” were always solid and, as heels, had a rare ability (even rarer today) to be complete bad guys who looked good on offence but could look like utter fools when the tide turned.  And that’s basically the match.  The Rougeaus are on the offence for most of the match and keep things very respectable for the most part.  When it’s time for them to go on the back foot they have zero qualms about looking daft and, as a result, giving the ‘Whackers a boost and giving the fans what they want to see.  For a fourteen minute match including the Bushwhackers, this isn’t at all bad and certainly not as bad as you might have feared when you started watching.

After Ted DiBiase denies fixing the 1989 Rumble Draw but gets his comeuppance by drawing number 1 this year (see, the WWE never announced in advance of a Rumble match who would be no.1 before in history did they…?) we get another match that hardly fills me with joy in the form of The Genius against Brutus Beefcake.  Genius had his uses as a heel who could put over babyfaces but was never one for great matches in the WWF.  Beefcake is one of those guys who I’ve never really rated though in 1990’s WWE at this time he was over as a second-tier Babyface behind his great buddy Hogan.  Lightning doesn’t strike twice here and, unlike the opener, this never really threatens to even get up to “mediocre” and is made even worse by DQ finish that makes most of the preceding 11 minutes even more pointless than it already was. 

Things do pick up considerably next with a submission match between Greg Valentine and Ronnie Garvin.  This even has a build-up; Valentine beat Garvin in a retirement match but Garvin was such a continual annoyance that “The Hammer” begged for him to be reinstated.  Valentine has also been making use of a medically approved brace on his leg that made his Figure Four finisher even more devastating , leading Garvin to get one of his own.  The match itself plays on all these points and is all the stronger for it.  Garvin’s “Jammer Hammer” (his own leg brace) neutralises the effect of Greg Valentine’s Figure Four but then Valentine rips it off and we all have to ask ourselves how Garvin can survive another attempt.  He only does because Greg is caught cheating again.  The two have a very stiff match (even more so for the WWE of 1990) and I’d argue it still holds up very well today.  Well worth a watch. 

After Mr Perfect draws number 30 and an interminable Brother Love Show with Queen Sherri and Sapphire (and then Dusty Rhodes and Randy Savage) we get a singles match between Hacksaw Jim Duggan and The Big Bossman. This is another WWE in the early 90’s special where ten minutes of rather plodding action are ultimately rendered pointless with a DQ finish.  We can all be in danger of being too “smart” about the current product and these were certainly different times but did Duggan need to be “protected” here and saddle us with a DQ finish?  I’d say not.  It’s perfectly adequate as a match but simply doesn’t cut the mustard as a PPV match. 

And so it’s time for the Rumble match itself.  1992 takes the honours as the most remembered match of it’s type from the era but you could make an argument that whilst the stakes aren’t as high in 1990’s edition it’s certainly up there in terms of star power as one of the biggest ever. 

Ted Dibiase makes easy meat of Koko B Ware and Marty Jannetty in the early going until the arrival of Jake The Snake Roberts stops him in his tracks.  They are soon joined by the likes of Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes and Andre The Giant amongst others.  Of course, this is a match most remembered for the first-ever altercation between The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan and even today, thirty years down the line, the electricity for that one is still palpable. Of course Hogan has to get the upper hand, “accidentally” eliminating Warrior when trying to come to his aid and from that point on it’s clear where this one is heading.

It’s an ending that wouldn’t fly today and with the benefit of hindsight and all that it’s easy to say that a Warrior win (to build him up even more for the WrestleMania VI encounter with Hogan) or the originally planned Mr Perfect win (would have given him prime spot to be a post Mania challenger for Warrior) would have been a better decision.  But, unlike two years later when Hogan would be booed for helping Sid to be eliminated, the crowd clearly still adores Hogan and no-one is upset about his win.  A fun Rumble packed with star power and some early spots from those who would go onto play big parts in the match in the decade to come.  Largely a forgotten one in some senses but a wonderful trip down memory lane. 

There may only be the one match on the undercard that is worth your time, but it is a very good one and an unheralded match that deserves wider viewing.  And if a Royal Rumble show lives and dies by the Rumble match then this show very much lives, with a fun, fast-paced Rumble that keeps your attention from start to finish.  And we’d all take that in 2020, wouldn’t we?

Photos courtesy of WWE

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