With the 2021 version just around the corner, Matthew Roberts takes another trip in the TWM Time Machine™ for some retro review Royal Rumble action. But this time it’s Rumble matches you might not remember…
Most match gimmicks in wrestling inevitably get over-exposed. Even more so in the current era where either pointless gimmick matches are used to try and spike a rating when there’s no feud reason for it or the old, it’s October, it’s the Hell in a Cell PPV so we must have Hell in a Cell matches.
The Royal Rumble is perhaps an exception to that rule. There have been non-PPV examples (and even the Greatest Royal Rumble) and there have been house show versions but there’s not been that many and beyond the cluster that were the GRR they’ve generally been paired back versions. The most famous is probably from 2014, 15 man Rumble on Smackdown to crown the number one contender for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Championship. Eddie Guerrero took that one and went on to defeat Brock at No Way Out for the title in one of this writer’s favorite ever matches.
But that’s one most fans will probably remember fondly; we’re here to look at three “Royal Rumble” matches less well-remembered or ones you may have forgotten (or not even known) ever existed..
May 9, 1994 – Osaka Japan House Show
Actually, this was the THIRD Rumble match of 1994 (so much for protecting the gimmick, huh?) although as the other non PPV one was a pre-Rumble run-through at MSG and this is from a Japanese House show it’s hardly overkill for the general public. This 18 man Rumble was caught on bootleg
“fan-cam” (and if you search thoughtfully enough for it online you’ll find it) as part of the WWE’s tour of Japan held in conjunction with Tenryu’s Super World of Sports.
There’s no Shawn Michaels, as he’d negotiated a new contract which gave him the summer off, so things kick off with Rick Martel. As a former AWA World Champion, he gets a nice reaction. Bob Backlund joins him to kick the match off and his status as former WWE Champion gets him some respect too. I’ve no idea what’s he trying to do at times in the match (at one point he goes for a pin – maybe he got inspiration from Randy Savage) but there you go.
A pre “Hakushi” Jinsei Shinzaki’s entrance is heralded by some form of whistle. He does very little, but maybe that’s because he realizes he doesn’t have to rather than a fit of pique after being squashed by Undertaker earlier on in the night. Adam Bomb spends what seems like an hour getting to the ring, 1-2-3 Kid tries to liven things up before Masashi Ayoagi comes in at no. 6.
Things meander along as Tatanka, Billy Gunn and Nbukazu Hirai make their ways in, and the only real excitement at this point is coming from the Kid/Shinzaki exchanges. Indeed the insane bump the latter takes to get eliminated may well be the highlight of the entire match. Bart Gunn comes in at no. 10 before things liven up considerably with Owen Hart, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Randy Savage are the next three in. Hart, incidentally, had won the other non-televised Rumble of 1994 previously mentioned. Samu, The Undertaker (to a great reaction), and Fatu are next in, with the most entertainment in this part coming from a few brief Owen/Savage exchanges that are nothing much but make you ponder on just what a match the two could have had opposite each other before World Champion Bret Hart makes his entrance. Doink becomes the 18th and final entrant and there are still eleven guys left in at this point.
Bret and Owen eliminate each other by taking a tumble at the same time and we get left with a final four of Taker, Savage, Samu, and Bigelow. Savage goes, so Taker is at a 2-on-1 disadvantage, He gets rid of Samu and then has perhaps the best-sustained exchanges of the match with Bigelow before tossing him out to get the win.
Whatever you think is the dullest PPV Rumble match, this would run it pretty close. Of course, you have to bear in mind that it was a house show, with no expectation that anyone else would ever see it (I don’t think anyone in the match envisioned a time where it would be “widely” available at the click of a button just because someone sneaked a camcorder in) so it was never likely to be full of wild action. Hell, if you remember, the Undertaker is supposed to be missing/erm, dead at this point after the Rumble 94 PPV so it’s hardly “canon”.
If you’re a Rumble fan and can sit through 45 minutes of grainy footage then this has a curiosity value that just about carries it through but that’s essentially it. A one-off curiosity viewing is the limit of its appeal.
June 15, 1998 – Monday Night Raw
It was a night that gave us such fondly remembered classics as Val Venis vs Chainz, Jeff Jarrett vs Darren Drozdov, and Dustin Runnells vs Marc Mero. As well as a special appearance by Avatar (aka Al Snow). To be fair it also gave us intriguing on paper King of the Ring qualifying matches The Rock vs Vader and Triple H vs X-Pac. Which weren’t very good either.
Although those matches will be locked into your memory banks, you may well have forgotten that Raw that night saw the first-ever Tag Team Royal Rumble. That’s right, ten of the top tag teams in the history of the WWE battled it out for the right to become the number one contenders to the tag team titles, then held by Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker. This may seem a cool idea. The problems were twofold. The WWE didn’t really have ten tag teams of any repute in 1998 and earlier in the evening Kane and Mankind had issued a challenge to Austin & Taker for a match, a challenge which had been accepted and was (nominally at least) set for the evening’s main event. Which kind of gave away the ending of the Rumble once Kane and Mankind were unveiled as participants number two in the match.
The rules were simple. If one man was eliminated, his team was eliminated. A new team was introduced every thirty seconds and the last team standing were the winners. Along with Kane and Mankind, the match started off with the new and improved L.O.D 2000. Which still sounds more like a washing powder than a badass tag team. Hawk and Animal were accompanied by Sunny, who was probably the only interesting part of that alliance. Although to be fair, at this stage the nostalgia of what the Legion of Doom were does still warrant crowd pops.
With a new team every 30 seconds, the match is at least fast paced, even if the eliminations are slow to come (with most being saved for when all the teams are in). The New Midnight Express was probably an even dumber idea than L.O.D. 2000 and even “Bombastic” Bob Holly and “Bodacious” Bart Gunn must have known this was going precisely nowhere. Still at least they, The Headbangers and the DOA duo of the Harris Twins were at least “tag teams”. The Oddities duo of Kurrgan and Golga aren’t’ fondly remembered and if there’s ever a tag team hall of fame then it’s unlikely that the makeshift teams of Faarooq & Steve Blackman, Taka Michinoky & Bradshaw, or Terry Funk & Too Cold Scorpio will ever make the ballot. Too Much (not yet Too Cool) round off the numbers.
The most over thing for most of the match is the ten-second countdown, but the quickness of the entries mean that the match gallops along and never really has the time to become boring. Terry Funk eliminates Kurrgan in a fun spot, Too Much eliminate themselves when the Headbangers duck their attack and the only stars of the show Kane and Mankind eliminate a few teams between them. It comes down to them against Funk and Scorpio and it’s always fun to see Funk and Mankind go at it but it’s an inevitable end. Mankind holds a chair to Funk’s face and Kane big boots it into his face which sends him over the top and crashing to the floor.
It’s by no means a great match. But it’s fun in its own way and if you ignore that the winners had already effectively made themselves number one contenders earlier in the evening it at least has a point to it.
January 31 2011 – Monday Night Raw
With the 2011 Royal Rumble in the history books, the night before (winner Alberto Del Rio choosing to face Edge at WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Title at the start of this show) there needed to be a number one contender for Miz’s WWE Championship crowned. This wasn’t to be for WrestleMania though, but for February’s Elimination Chamber PPV.
As such a seven-man Rumble was announced, with Randy Orton, CM Punk, John Morrison, “King” Sheamus, R-Truth and John Cena being joined by surprise (though announced) entrant Jerry ”The King” Lawler. A decade on and with the benefit of hindsight the constant references to Lawler never having had a title shot at the WWE title in his career somewhat gives the game away.
The show itself is a mixed bag. We get delights such as Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov against Michael McGullicutty & Husky Harris, Lay-Cool against Eve & Natalya and, most excitingly, a dance-off between The Uso’s and Mark Henry & The Great Khali. Other matches have potential on paper (The Miz Vs Edge and Daniel Bryan Vs Tyson Kidd) but prove to be very disappointing.
The Rumble match though is a good one, It has a point and had some drama and tension over the winner. John Morrison and King Sheamus kick things off and they are joined by the others one by one (two minutes or so between intervals) before any eliminations are made. Randy Orton is the last man to enter which causes CM Punk to hide under the ring to avoid him. The ruse fails and Orton finds him, batters him and then tosses him back into the ring to eliminate him. R-Truth takes advantage though and sneaks up to eliminate Orton.
We end up with Lawler, Cena and Sheamus. Cena is on the verge of being eliminated by Sheamus when Lawler charges and courtesy of a Sheamus swerve ends up knocking Cena to the floor. Sheamus looks to finish the job but is eliminated by Lawler who books his title shot for Elimination Chamber.
This is a great mini- Rumble. There’s no real dead-weight in it, relatively speaking anyway, and the win for Lawler is a great storyline (which led to a very emotionally charged match with Miz). It indirectly led to Cole Vs Lawler at Mania of course but we can’t hold that against it.
Images courtesy of WWE
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