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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#25)
By Dave Fenichel
Dec 18, 2017 - 8:01:45 PM

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 6 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #25 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants - The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match - The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four - Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner - I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal comes from Hitesh Kumar Kulhan, often Facebook commentator and A+ Fenichel roaster.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:


#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.
#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.
#26. The 2000 Royal Rumble.


Question of the Day: Which version of HBK did you prefer – the brash youngster you saw in the 1990s, or beloved legend that returned for Act II?

#25. The 1995 Royal Rumble.
The Roster.



Shawn Michaels
The British Bulldog
Eli Blu
Duke Droese
Jimmy Del Ray
Sione
Tom Prichard
Doink the Clown
Kwang
Rick Martel
Owen Hart
Timothy Well
Bushwacker Luke
Jacob Blu
King Kong Bundy
Mo
Mabel
Bushwacker Butch
Lex Luger
Mantaur
Aldo Montoya
Henry Godwinn
Billy Gunn
Bart Gunn
Bob Backlund
Steven Dunn
Dick Murdoch
Adam Bomb
Fatu
Crush

What can I say about the field for the 1995 Royal Rumble? I don’t know how you can look at the list of wrestlers that participated and not come to the conclusion that the 1995 Royal Rumble had the worst roster in the history of the event.

You only had five wrestlers in the entire match that had any type of relevance whatsoever – HBK, The British Bulldog, Lex Luger, Bob Backlund and Owen Hart. Backlund and Owen were solid players at this point, but they were far from superstars. HBK was in the process of becoming the guy you know and love, but he wasn’t there yet. The British Bulldog was booked as if he was a star, but he wasn’t anything more than a mid-carder. Only Lex Luger could be considered a legitimate star, but even his light had faded by the time the 1995 Royal Rumble hit.

The other 25 wrestlers were just absolute trash. It’s amazing to think that the WWE was ever in a position where their roster was this terrible. It’s no wonder that Wrestlemania XI was a complete and utter nightmare. Enough said, I’m moving on.


The Storylines.

The WWE throughout history has done a tremendous job of making something out of nothing. The roster at the time was as described above, full of lemons. A funny thing happened in the 1995 Royal Rumble though. The WWE took a box full of lemons and made……something that almost smelled like lemonade.

I won’t try to justify this as being one of the all-time great Royal Rumbles. It was far from that. However, the WWE put forth something reasonably compelling. They knew that they had garbage to work with, and made several smart moves to mitigate the damages.

First, they dropped the time between entrants to 60 seconds. If the match is filled with dumpster fires that are trying to pass themselves off as wrestlers, why bother dragging out the inevitable? The WWE kept the wrestlers coming in rapid succession. None of the jobbers got any more air time than they deserved. Eliminations were fast and furious. Sure, it’s putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t care. It worked.

Second, they spun a unique story that they hadn’t told before. In the early days, only Ric Flair had done anything close to going wire to wire. This Rumble saw HBK and The British Bulldog go the distance. They were the first two to enter and the last two left standing. I really enjoyed how they repeatedly cleared the ring so that they were back to a 1 on 1 encounter. This was interesting and new at the time, and it made the match work for me.

Lastly, they used their storyline segments on the remaining talent that they had. Owen Hart and Backlund were the only other players in the match. They had interfered in Bret’s title match against Diesel earlier in the night, costing him at chance at the gold. It made all the sense in the world for Hart to enact revenge during the Rumble. Both times Bret attacked during each of their respective entrances elicited a tremendous pop. I was a massive Bret Hart fan and completely invested in this storyline. It added a tremendous amount of value to a Royal Rumble that needed the help.

That’s about all there was to this Rumble. This was in the pre-surprise era. The in-ring action was as ho-hum as you would expect from a cast of characters as weak as this. There was a pretty cool hoss showdown between Mabel and King Kong Bundy, but very little else in the way of memorable action.

Nonetheless, the flow and simple yet effective storytelling were able to mask the obvious issues that the WWE was facing at the time. A barnburner it was not, but a completely watchable match it was.


The Final Four.

Contrary to what you might think, the Final Four was actually quite compelling. Crush was a complete afterthought and I was glad to see him eliminated first. When it came down to HBK, Bulldog and Luger, I full expected Luger to emerge victorious. I didn’t understand wrestling the way that I do now, and I just assumed that they were ready to push him again as the second coming of Hulk Hogan.

When Luger was eliminated, I was absolutely shocked. I didn’t look at either HBK or The British Bulldog as a guy who could win a Royal Rumble. Having them be the first and last two was excellent storytelling. I was even more surprised when The Bulldog “eliminated” HBK to “win” the match. I was completely confused when HBK snuck back in the ring and eliminated the Bulldog to snatch victory away from him. It was such a great heel move – the kind I couldn’t appreciate as a 12 year old but admire greatly as the 35 year old geezer that I am today. This is in the handful of most memorable Royal Rumble finishes, and that cannot be discounted.

HBK was one of the more surprising winners in history. I just didn’t see it coming. I recognized that he was a more important player than he had been in years past, but at no point in the match did I feel like this was going to be his time. On the other side of the coin, because he didn’t feel like a big superstar, he win wasn’t all that satisfying. In general, I’d prefer the Royal Rumble winner to be a face that goes on to challenge a heel for the title at Wrestlemania. While I am more open to heels winning in today’s era, a heel like HBK winning in this particular era just didn’t do it for me.

On top of that, his ascension to the grandest stage of them all was a complete failure. HBK just wasn’t a draw at the time. No one was excited to see him face Diesel. The WWE recognized this prior to crowning HBK as the 1995 Rumble victor. That’s why they grabbed Lawrence Taylor and used his celebrity stature to provide a Wrestlemania main event that fans would pay money to see. HBK’s body of in-ring work was so spectacular and his superstar presence during his second act so strong that people want to sweep under the rug an undeniable fact – HBK wasn’t a draw in the 1990s.


Overall.

I don’t love the 1995 Royal Rumble by any stretch of the imagination. The roster was putrid and there wasn’t any real depth to the match. However, the WWE outkicked their coverage by providing a faster pace, compelling storylines, a 1 v 2 saga that would become a trendsetter and a surprisingly stellar end game. Nowhere close to the top of the countdown, but good enough to keep it out of the basement.

The Rebuttal – by Jeremy Donovan.

While many may argue that Fenichel was far too kind to the 1995 Rumble, I don’t think he gave it nearly enough credit. When you ask people what their favorite Royal Rumble is, the 1995 Royal Rumble is usually not a top answer. However, the 1995 Rumble is one of my all-time favorites. There are a few reasons that factor into my odd love of this match. First of all, this was the first WWE live event that I attended. Four year old Jeremy was beyond psyched to be at my first WWE event. I was most looking forward to seeing my favorite wrestler, the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. Despite Michaels being a heel at the time, he was still my favorite. Even at an early age, I could tell that Michaels was on another level than his fellow superstars. I loved everything about HBK – his theme, his gear, his promos and his wrestling.

The odds were stacked against my hero. Michaels drew number one and was going to have to last “an hour” with twenty-nine other competitors. Every time that he came close to elimination, I lost my breath. When it came down to Michaels and The British Bulldog, I was on the edge of my seat. When the Bulldog nailed Michaels with a big clothesline and sent him over the rope, everybody in the USF Sun Dome thought that the Bulldog had won. My head dropped in disappointment as Bulldog celebrated. I raised my head in time to see Shawn skim the cat and flip back in – eliminating the Bulldog and winning the match. It’s an event that I’ll never forget and will always be a special moment in my WWE fandom.


That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to see what Rumble made the #24 spot on my countdown. In the meantime, be on the lookout for a non-countdown based column to drop later in the week. Thank you for reading, sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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