The Doc and Samuel 'Plan's Genre Index: When The Royal Rumble Became The Royal Rumble As We Know It
By The Doc and Samuel 'Plan
Jan 26, 2017 - 6:39:15 PM
Professional wrestling is storytelling, plain and simple. Themes such as competition, betrayal, jealousy, respect, underdog, and so on and so forth are found in tales woven by pro wrestlers as commonly as they are in literature or conventional television and film. Just as there is in Hollywood or the literary game, professional wrestling has various different genres that can help us classify the types of stories told on the 20'X20' canvas; we traditionally refer to many of these genres as “gimmicks.”
Today, Samuel 'Plan and I will continue to thoroughly dissect the essence of each of pro wrestling's match-types. As we have previously with TLC, the Survivor Series Elimination Match, and Hell in a Cell, we will break down – in honor of this weekend’s January Classic – what the Royal Rumble Match is all about and offer up the quintessential version that best embodies its fundamental identity.
Cage --> Hell in a Cell
Ladder --> Tables, Ladders, and Chairs
Tag Team --> Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match
The Royal Rumble Match
’Plan: It is perhaps a testament to the historic quality
of the Royal Rumble Match that Doc and I were unable, for the first time in this series, to come to a compromise on which iteration best represented this most prestigious sub-genre. In my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, in which I deal exhaustively with the very issue this series is exploring, I labelled the 1994 version as a match that laid out a formula exhaustively demonstrating many of the most common genre tropes found in Rumbles across the years, but you won’t hear me contend it’s the best; even if I might contend it’s better than is recognised. No, the best, in my mind, was 2009; though to Doc’s, it was 2004.
Doc: Remember, readers, it is our intent to find the version of each gimmick that helps us all to better understand its essence. In this case, we are talking about WWE history’s most popular match-type, discussions about the greatest of which always turn out highly variable. When I recently asked the question on social media, “Which is the best Royal Rumble Match ever,” there were no less than a dozen answers. Perhaps it was appropriate that ‘Plan and I were unable to come to a decision for this project based on our respective criteria for “the best” Rumble.
So we got our heads together and asked whether there were any other versions which, between us, seemed to adequately represent WWE’s growing library of Rumble bouts, and the solution came to us both in a moment of realisation: 1990. Not a Rumble Match that gets talked about often, nor one that finds its way into discussions of which is best quite frequently, but one that, nonetheless, still holds up alongside the very best of the sub-genre even now, such as its famous 1992 sibling.
’92 was certainly discussed. How could it not have been? It is probably the most popular answer to the aforementioned question I alluded to posting on social media. Reflecting back on it, there is no denying its greatness, but it is in many ways a singular entity amongst its genre, so focused as it was on Ric Flair’s journey. For that reason, it did not seem like the correct representative here, as 1990 better encapsulated the heart of the Royal Rumble.
1990 was the first time the Royal Rumble Match as we know it today emerged from the creative ether of WWE’s vision. It would be another two years still before the match came of age, but 1990 features everything you might clamour for in an iteration of the sub-genre. It has the name power; it has the roaring crowd; it has the relentless energy; it has creative set-pieces peppered throughout the action; it has one hell of an epic showdown between the two biggest names in the company; it has WrestleMania set ups abound; and, most importantly to me, it has precise, clearly demonstrated roster positioning that imbues the appearances of name stars with substantive unspoken context.
It was the year that the Rumble became the Rumble, essentially; it became the blueprint for how the run-time functioned for the next three decades. Hogan’s victory added momentum to Hulkamania as it prepared for “The Ultimate Challenge” in WrestleMania’s main-event; the other top talents went out in style, as they should considering that their failure to win arguably the second most important match of the year (outside of the Mania main-event) should be made to seem important; spotlight eliminations were afforded to the under-to-mid-card wrestlers who are largely responsible for providing the action unassociated with the ten minutes or so given to the climax and to the eliminations of the headliners.
One of my favourite aspects is the first great “Iron Man” performance in the event’s history from the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. In 1989, DiBiase bought his way to the number thirty spot in a marvellous example of character informing composition. In 1990, he emerged as the first entrant; a trope repeated to this very day. He would go on to last an impressive 45 minutes before being dispatched worthily by Ultimate Warrior – clearly the number two man in the entire 30-man parade. You can keep Ric Flair; I’d sooner watch Ted two years prior.
While I would not go so far as to deny The Nature Boy all-time single greatest Rumble performance honors, it was indeed Million Dollar Man who definitively established the Ironman role, usually going to a relevant headliner tasked with giving the match a solid foundation. DiBiase’s three-quarter-of-an-hour trek from #1 was a huge part of Rumble ‘90’s success and helped set the stage for Flair’s near-hour-long victory march two years later.
What action this Rumble boasts too. The energy is infectious, and the crowd positively electric. Who can blame them? Just look at the names that emerge inside the first third: DiBiase; Roberts; Savage; Piper; Hart; and Rhodes. André follows shortly, as do Demolition, and by the end of the match you’ll have seen every single major name of the Golden Age, along with a number of names that would come to define the New Generation. I often call the following year’s WrestleMania VII the final curtain for the Golden Age Era in WWE’s modern history, but the 1990 Royal Rumble watches as a prologue of sorts; a complementary victory lap of the decade’s most iconic characters.
I have grown to think of the 1990 Royal Rumble Match as like a Hulkamania Era “All-Star Game.” Fourteen of the thirty entrants are current WWE Hall of Famers, one other (Rick Rude) is rumored to be inducted this year, and another four (Ax, Smash, Rick Martel, and Honky Tonk Man) should be eventually, which would make two-thirds of the ’90 field Hall of Fame-worthy. If you modified any iteration of the Royal Rumble drinking game just to include Hall of Famers or would-be Hall of Famers during Rumble ‘90, you would be three sheets to the wind by run-time’s end.
Some of the earlier Rumbles suffer from homogenous action that does little to stray from the norm of Battle Royals. Not so with 1990. A wonderful skirmish unfurls in the first third between DiBiase and Savage on one side and Piper and Roberts on the other. Demolition weave some magic opposite André – the world’s best tag team, operating in tandem, equalling one of the world’s best singles stars is exactly how such divisions should mingle. And, of course, there is that stare down – Schiavone’s voice exclaiming “There is not a person sitting down!” will never stop giving me goosebumps.
It was a moment that has lived through the ages...
Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior has stood the test of time for a reason – their WrestleMania VI clash of the titans was the original babyface match on the grand scale that we have come to expect. Yet, it was their Rumble moment that basically took care of the hype, presenting us with a fascinating scenario of “what if these two larger than life heroes were to do battle?” Warrior and Hogan; Hogan and Warrior. Two icons staring a hole through each other. Replaying it inspires awe to this day.
Professional wrestling isWatch 1990 back and you will recognise a number of tropes that recur even to this day. The only difference is this time was the first time. The Rumble’s emergence of identity would take another two years to find its final face, but 1990 was a watershed moment in the sub-genre’s history; it also just so happens to stand as one the most riveting, entertaining, memorable and magical iterations of the concept ever. Doc and I may not have been able to come to an immediate agreement, but when we turned to 1990 there was a reason that… “Nobody moved!” It was because we didn’t need to. The 1990 Royal Rumble Match is just so damn good.
The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment (Third Edition) is on sale throughout Royal Rumble Week for as low as $4.99 (click here)
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die by LOP's own, Samuel 'Plan, is ON SALE in its e-book format from now through Sunday for $4.99. Click here to order.