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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: An Exercise in Synergy (Royal Rumble 1995)
By Samuel 'Plan
Jan 27, 2017 - 7:48:38 PM

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Just Business presents Watch of the Week: An Exercise in Synergy (Royal Rumble 1995)

This week, Match of the Week transforms into Watch of the Week! Why limit myself to recommending just matches when there is so much great pro wrestling to watch both today and throughout the years, right?

In keeping with the mood of the week, I want to take a few moments of your day to recommend going back and watching the 1995 iteration of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view; not just one match, mind, but the entire thing. While the titular match of that year is, in isolation, a disappointing watch, it is my continued and rather quite ardent belief that, when watched in the context it was designed to be, at the climax of a solid show of pro wrestling, you suddenly find hidden depths in a match that otherwise does very little to entice.

Foremost among its sins is its inability to present one of the three key ingredients to a good Rumble Match, which I wrote about earlier in the week: roster positioning. Michaels and Bulldog are the only real favourites involved, and Crush is heavily hyped as the third choice. This is because the vast majority of others involved are names you may struggle to recall today. Although Owen Hart and Lex Luger, and even arguably Bob Backlund, all come off of fairly prominent years in the company, their appearances in arguably that year’s biggest bout is squandered; most frustratingly in the case of Owen. Other mainstays of the era, like Ramon, Undertaker and Jarrett, are nowhere to be found either, having competed on the undercard.

It is perhaps because of this that the 1995 Rumble is not fondly remembered, spoken of only for Michaels’ revolutionary victory. The reduction of the interval between entrants from 90 seconds to 30 is never talked of; Bulldog’s stellar second placed run is never talked of; certainly none of the other participants are ever talked of. So why is it I am recommending you go back and check out the entire two and a half hour event?

It’s really quite simple, and if you’ve read my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die you may already know what I’m about to say: though its titular bout disappoints alone, in conjunction with the rest of the show it expresses what is, to my mind, the method for creating not a great Royal Rumble Match but a great Royal Rumble pay-per-view. In a word, that method is synergy.

Royal Rumble 1995 never overtly presents a theme to the audience through its presentation or commentary track, but most certainly champions one in its in-ring subtext. In other words, every match on the card – barring, perhaps, the attraction bout between IRS and Undertaker – contributes to a wider theme, and that theme is athletic competition. If you’re the kind of fan who loves WWE most when they present themselves close to “legitimate” sport, you should, with an attentive watch, thoroughly enjoy Royal Rumble 1995.

The irony is that, while the show fails to present roster positioning in its main event, it manages to present it throughout its undercard with a series of fiercely intelligent matches that imbue increasing degrees of competitiveness the higher up the roster they are deemed to be. A Tag Team Championship Match between the Million Dollar Corporation’s Tatanka and Bam Bam Bigelow on one side and the odd couple, over-achieving underdog team of Bob Holly and 1-2-3 Kid on the other is probably going to do nothing for you on paper. Indeed, in isolation, like the Rumble match, it’s a chore. In line with the other title matches on the card, though, it watches as a demonstration of the entry-level competition involved in the product’s tag team division. Think Slater and Rhyno, only twenty-one years earlier.

This tag bout compliments the more competitive, more intelligent Intercontinental Championship curtain jerker between champion Razor Ramon and challenger Jeff Jarrett, that demonstrates how it takes that little bit more to meet success among their ranks. There is no doubt this battle proves a tougher one to win that the tag tussle that comes later, and shifting back and forth in a cerebral battle of wills, before the wily villain finally outsmarts the champion, presents clearly a division that stands as second toughest in the company.

Not stopping there, though, this is an event that presents the best WWE Championship Match at a Royal Rumble pay-per-view that never gets mentioned, in a typically top flight epic between challenger Bret Hart and the newly crowned champion Diesel. It is in this match the entire puzzle gets pieced together. It is a wildly, madly, intensely exacerbated version of the rugged tag competition and the cerebral Intercontinental competition that makes one very clear, exhausting, hard fought and ill tempered point: Bret Hart and Diesel were on a level of competition all their own, far apart from even the closest thing to it. It is the third tier of the competitive pyramid of the New Gen’s fictional universe, beyond the tag ranks, beyond the IC ranks and occupied by two men alone.

Together, the three title matches create a vivid picture of the levels of competition any character had to climb in that universe, with the World title bout sitting as an unattainable summit for even some of the best. It is this picture that transforms 1995’s curious Royal Rumble Match from a sparsely occupied oddity to an intense and gruelling sprint to the echelon embodied by the rageful Hart / Diesel bout.

Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog enter as entrants #1 and #2 and endure through twenty-eight other men to find themselves the last two standing in the ring. Their physical exhaustion is visually undeniable by the bout’s climax, and the story of how Michaels achieves his eventual victory only adds to the sense that he had exhibited a very rare level of competitive capability that would see him at home alongside the two gladiators who warred over the World title earlier that night. It becomes a true gateway match, as one man earns his right to ascend that final rung, to become one of the true elite; not just because he wins a title opportunity, but because of what he has to do to get it - an effort of exertion comparable to Hart’s and to Diesel’s in its own unique way. Even the reduced intervals between entrants stops being a problem and becomes a benefit, as the Rumble moulds itself into a Mad Max style Fury Road of action that only the very best could survive.

In segments, nothing about Royal Rumble 1995 – except for its stunning World title bout – is liable to attract your attention. Its most important component part, being the Rumble itself, in isolation is among the worst. But as a full show, this one is among the best. Its synergy proves what can happen when a pay-per-view creates a card where every match compliments one another. It is a historical artefact that proves the vital importance of a strong undercard, and what power it can lend when that undercard is on form. Frankly, the undercard saves Royal Rumble 1995. No; it makes Royal Rumble 1995.

And with it, it makes the 1995 Royal Rumble Match a real treat, as you witness a promising prospect forge his key into the kingdom of kings. The rest, as they say, was history.

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