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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Something New in (Almost) Every Royal Rumble, Ever (1/2)
By Samuel 'Plan
Jan 17, 2018 - 10:57:42 PM




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Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!




Just Business: Something New in (Almost) Every Royal Rumble, Ever (1/2)


Considering that Royal Rumble is always, without fail, my favourite time of the year as WWE fan – more so even than WrestleMania – I always make plenty of time in the lead up to the event to go back and revisit past editions of the PPV in one form or another. This year, that has taken the form of watching my way through the entire library of Royal Rumble Matches.

I know these matches very well, I’ve now seen them that many times. One of the reasons why they remain so infinitely watchable is because of their complexity. Though the concept is beautiful in its simplicity – take a Battle Royale and add a ticking clock - the results are often so richly alive with detail that even hundreds of watches in you can still uncover something new about any given edition of the fan favourite bout.

What I did not expect was to find something new in practically every one of them during my watch through this month. That I have has excited me immensely, and driven me to share the delight of my discoveries with you in a couple of columns that’ll be hitting over the final couple of weeks before WWE host the next entry into the video library of my all-time favourite pro wrestling show.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the first half of my list of discoveries of something new in (almost) every Royal Rumble, ever.

1989

For a long time, I considered 1989’s version of the Royal Rumble Match to be WWE still figuring out what it had on its hands, with emergent concepts like tag team partners starting out the fight and the notion that ‘the luck of the draw’ could be manipulated for storyline purposes. Beyond its conceptual experimentation, though, I never saw much to it. I rarely found it an enjoyable watch.

Not so in 2018. When I revisited the second ever Rumble this year what I discovered, to my delight, was an immersive sense of pacing. Sure, the action is kept simplistic and largely on one level, but everything blazes along relentlessly. And blazes really is the right word to use here; the passion and hunger behind every punch thrown by every performer is practically tangible. You can feel the weight of the action and, by extension, of the opportunity presented by emerging victorious in such an attraction match, all of which creates an electrifying hour of gloriously ‘80s pro wrestling. Far from being a barebones prototype, it is, in actual fact, a real retro treat.

1989 / 1990 / 1991 / 1992

Hulk Hogan really is a scumbag.

Some of Hogan’s more questionable moments in Rumble lore are well known - his sourpuss distraction of Sid Justice in 1992 is infamous. What I never realised until 2018, however, was the unmitigated depth of this supposed hero’s dishonourable approach. His lemon faced reaction in 1992 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Three years running, Hulk Hogan stabbed a supposed friend or apparent ally in the back to further his own chances of victory. In 1989, it was Randy Savage. In 1990, it was Ultimate Warrior. In 1991, it was Tugboat. His name is officially attached to the elimination of each of them, with 1992 capping off an impressive run of legitimately unlikable and revolting Rumble outings.

Remember your Demandments, kids: train, eat your vitamins, say your prayers and betray your friends!

1992

Talk to the most well-read WWE fans and they’re likely to know, inside and out, what I referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the Royal Rumble Match in my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die,. I know it fairly well myself.

Despite having seen it a thousand times, then, how is it I never once clocked the incredible mini-Triple Threat Match that takes place halfway through the marathon bout’s run time? After Roddy Piper emerges to take the fight to a Machiavellian Ric Flair, he is soon followed by the even more Machiavellian Jake Roberts. What then happens watches exactly how you would imagine a modern Triple Threat Match between the three of them would watch; and it’s better than most of the ones we get!

Roberts is the master manipulator, utilising Piper’s infamous temper to his own advantage while ensuring he always betrays Flair before Flair can betray him. Piper is the action hero babyface with a hard edge, slinging mud in his own right and unremitting in his pursuit of a double championship header. And Flair is…well, Flair is Flair as Flair is in the 1992 Royal Rumble Match. It’s a near mythical performance. You don’t need me to describe that bit!

1993

Poor Randy Savage; he never did understand the Rumble did he? Getting eliminated by his best mate in 1989; saving a man likely to betray him in 1990; not turning up in 1991; eliminating himself in 1992; and trying to win by pin fall in 1993; the concept seemed to somehow elude the Greatest of All Time, god bless him!

Don’t be blinded by this unintentional pattern, though. In typical Savage fashion he once again proved it was a format he was ahead of his time in. As one of the best Rumbles nobody ever talks about, 1993’s crowning achievement is in seeing Savage wrestle a climactic mini-match alongside Yokozuna a full fourteen years before Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker would supposedly incept it as a trend in 2007.

1994

Not entirely unlike the case of 1989, when I re-watched 1994 – a personal sentimental favourite of mine – I was struck by its pacing in a manner that had never stood out to me before.

One downside to the Royal Rumble Match is that on more than one occasion there has felt to be something of an unnatural, noticeable shift in the pace of the action once the final man has entered. 1998 is a prime example of this. For a rather quite noticeable time absolutely nobody gets eliminated. Once Vader has appeared, suddenly everyone gets thrown out in a matter of five minutes; if that. It’s quite jarring.

What 1994 does better than most others is pace that post-30th entrant action with flawless precision. The eliminations come fairly evenly spaced and not too sudden. Even when it’s down to the final four – and an impressive slice of final four action it is – it is in no hurry to finish up. Nor does it take too long either; it doesn’t feel a need to stress its climax in the egotistical manner of a 2008 or 2012. Put simply, once all thirty men have entered, 1994 just…carries on carrying on, making sense and being all the more effective for it.

1995

I’ve never really seen Dick Murdoch wrestle, except for his somewhat out-of-time stint in the 1995 Royal Rumble Match; an iteration that goes unfairly maligned by the majority fan base I think, I imagine largely because of its clear lack of roster depth and decreased space between entrants.

I have championed the 1995 edition, as both a match and PPV, for some years now. It’s another personal favourite. What I didn’t anticipate in re-watching it some days ago, though, was to get a real kick out of seeing Dick Murdoch take it to the young guns surrounding him like a legitimate and contemporary main event talent. His performance is almost spell-binding in its unexpected effectiveness, and a case of how to deploy a veteran talent as a special attraction effectively, and not in the grotesquely denigrating manner we’ve seen in abundance elsewhere.

There’s no one thing Dick Murdoch does that’ll stick in your mind, but his performance is unjustifiably entertaining and I find that wonderfully in keeping with the legacy of 1995’s Rumble bout: rather than a damning indictment of the match’s quality, it’s actually demonstrative of its unexpected charm.

1999

I refer to 1999 as the only two-man Royal Rumble Match in history. It’s so centred on the Austin / McMahon angle that everything else watches as window dressing; because, really, that’s all it ever was. When I re-watched it this year, however, I found myself rather quite blown away at just how outstandingly one set piece born out of that central angle is structured.

The ambush in the toilets backstage is fairly simple stuff, of course, but it’s the manner of Austin’s return that sets the whole thing alight. After a lengthy period of time that sees McMahon return to ringside to gloat of his victory on commentary, we see Mabel getting beaten down by The Undertaker and his cronies backstage before sirens wail in the background and the camera pans across. In a single shot, we see Austin at the wheel, hurtling back towards Gorilla; it’s exquisite television.

It improves still further when Austin emerges from the curtain. As he goes for Vince, we get an old fashioned Benny Hill style chase around the ring cut short by a Corporate pincer move as McMahon’s cronies seek to overwhelm the Rattlesnake, before finally the Boss Man is able to ambush Austin and bring the set piece to a harsh halt.

It’s a fairly fleeting exchange in the midst of a fifty-some odd minute long match, but the manner in which it is built to, directed and executed is WWE firing on all cylinders.

2000

Honestly, I’ve found the 2000 instalment a disappointment from the very night it aired. I’ve never cared much for it, but it sees that in 2018 my opinion of it has sank even lower still; to the point I’m prepared to name it was the worst of all time. A hell of a discovery, right?

1996 is pretty dire, but at least it makes an attempt at doing a couple of interesting things. 2000 doesn’t. Not ever. The most interesting it gets is Rikishi’s dominant run early on, but that doesn’t last all that long, gets derailed in the dullest fashion imaginable and culminates with Rikishi getting undeservedly, unceremoniously eliminated by a union of lower card talents.

Other than that, all the interesting talent with an actual chance of victory is loaded at the back of the match, leading to fifty long minutes of boredom beforehand; and even when The Rock, Big Show and Kane do show up the match still fails to kick up a gear. Even JR and the King sound bored for the majority of the bout.

Sod it, I’ll do it: the 2000 Royal Rumble Match is the worst of all time.

2001

Conversely, 2001 is undoubtedly one of the greatest Rumble Matches we’ve seen, and for good reason. It’s creatively structured and features some eye-catching performances, all of it highlighted with a parade of the Attitude Era’s biggest players; even Triple H makes a cameo appearance. I’ve always loved it.

What I’ve never truly appreciated before, however, is the exhausting heavy-hitting final three. There’s much more to it than one might immediately recall. It feels laboured, but in exactly the right way. Kane has been there the longest; The Rock has been Chokeslammed through a table; and Austin has been busted wide open. As a result, you can feel the drained effort behind every punch and the desperation of every finishing move from every man, all of which creates an infectious, near tangible atmosphere of desire that bleeds from the screen and helps inform the emotional significance of Austin’s third Rumble victory.

It’s Attitude at its best: simmering with intensity lying unseen just beneath the surface instead of laying it on thick in a volcanic eruption of utter madness.

The Royal Rumble Match would go on and be redefined some years later - though nobody, it seems, ever noticed - and that would lead us into the second Era of the event’s own personal history. That’s what I’ll be kicking off with in the second half of this two parter, that should drop in the coming days.

Until then, share with me your thoughts on any or all of the Rumble Matches and factors I’ve written about this week in the comments below, over on social media or even by signing up to our own LOPForums; just click here to sign up!


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Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store or Amazon today! Simply click here to find mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP, or on the icon to the left to be taken directly to Amazon!





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