With the 30th annual Royal Rumble just three days away Throwback Thursday on WrestlingDVDNetwork.com is taking a trip through the archives of the WWE Network back to 1988 to relive the very first Royal Rumble event on the USA Network.
With Jim Crockett Promotions expanding their PPV schedule in January 1988 with their first non-Starrcade event, Bunkhouse Stampede, Vince McMahon was looking to play the role of spoiler as he had on Thanksgiving Day 1987 when the WWF countered Starrcade ’87 with the first Survivor Series. Unlike Starrcade ’87 Vince McMahon wasn’t interested in countering one PPV with another (especially since the PPV providers demanded they cease such duel events) but by using “free” TV against PPV to draw fans away from the NWA show. The draw would be the first Royal Rumble, which in turn was used as promotion for the big February 5, 1988 The Main Event rematch between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
The “Royal Rumble” gimmick was the brainchild of Pat Patterson, one of the greatest wrestling minds the business has ever known. Though Vince McMahon disliked the idea of the “Royal Rumble”, Dick Ebersol loved it, thinking it would make for great TV. One test match was held in St. Louis, Missouri on October 4, 1987 in front of less than two thousand fans. One Man Gang won the match and a guaranteed WWF World title shot at the next months St. Louis card. The finish of the “Rumble” was spoiled at intermission, though, when the next month’s OMG/Hogan match was accidentally announced, upsetting the St. Louis fans.
Context simply doesn’t exist on the Network at this time as only the previous SNMEs and prior PPVs are currently available. For those interested, Ricky Steamboat and the Jumping Bomb Angels’ music have been overdubbed. Also, Gorilla Monsoon was supposed to call the event with Jesse Ventura but had suffered a minor heart attack prior to the event and was unable to work.
WWF Royal Rumble 1988 (WATCH)
Date: January 24, 1988 – Location : Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Attendance : 16,200 – Rating: 8.2
Commentators: Vince McMahon (sub. for Gorilla Monsoon) & Jesse Ventura – Interviews: “Mean” Gene Okerlund & Craig DeGeorge
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
WWF World Heavyweight Champion: Hulk Hogan
WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion: The Honky Tonk Man
WWF World Tag Team Champions: Strike Force (Rick Martel & Tito Santana)
WWF Women’s Champion: Sensational Sherri
WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions: The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin & Leilani Kai)
The show opens with Vince McMahon giving a complete rundown of the card, including the contract signing for the big Hulk Hogan/Andre the Giant rematch for the WWF World title on February 5, 1988 and Dino Bravo’s attempt to break the world bench press record. In the arena McMahon and Jesse Ventura discuss the event before sending it to the ring for the first match of the evening.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 1:45)
“Ravishing” Rick Rude vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
This one is a nip-and-tuck battle that features some great wrestling and psychology and is a career highlight for both men, as were their classic encounters in WCW years later. In the end, Rude pulls the referee in front of “Dragon’s” flying body press and then puts Steamboat in the Canadian backbreaker. The referee gets up and rings the bell at 17:40 and Rude believes he’s won by submission, walking to the back in celebration. When Steamboat is awarded the match via DQ Rude returns to the ring to berate the referee.
WINNER is Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (Disqualification, 17:40)
Next up is “Mean” Gene is with Jesse Ventura, who will act as spotter for Dino Bravo’s attempt to break the bench press weightlifting then-world record of 705 lbs. held by Ted Arcidi. This was a goofy stunt to get Bravo’s “strongman” gimmick off the ground with at least four of the 45 lbs. plates obviously rubber!
Dino Bravo comes out with Frenchy Martin and prepares for the lift, asking the fans to be quiet while he lifts, which they of course refuse to do. Bravo makes the lifts of “415 lbs.”, “505 lbs”., “555 lbs.”, and “595 lbs.” look like child’s play. Bravo struggles to get “655 lbs.” up, but he does it. The last lift is “715 lbs.”, which Jesse says is unofficial because the bar will have to be weighed later. Bravo, annoyed with the fans, storms off only to return, grab the bar, and fail miserably at getting the “715 lbs.” up, which Vince McMahon quickly points out. This thing is just as brutal to watch in 2017 as it was in 1988.
— WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship – “2-out-of-3 Falls Match” (WATCH – 38:55)
The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno (pink) & Itsuki Yamazaki (red)) vs. The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin & Leilani Kai)(c) w/Jimmy Hart
This match unfortunately marked one of the final nationally televised WWF Women’s Tag Team title matches. According to those involved, Fabulous Moolah, as part of a personal grudge against Martin and Kai over money, convinced Japanese promoters to have the Angels drop the WWF titles to the Glamour Girls in Japan, which happened on June 8, 1988 in Omiya, Japan, when Pat Patterson gave no such order. The double-cross ruined the Women’s division and crippled the careers of Martin and Kai. The Women’s Tag titles would be quietly retired in early 1989.
As for the match, it’s a stiff, fast-paced classic filled with great action and psychology on the part of both teams. The Glamour Girls take the first fall at 6:12 after Martin hits an alley-oop powerbomb on Yamazaki. Martin goes for the move on Yamazaki again in the second fall only to get caught in a sunset flip at 8:22 to even the match at one fall apiece. After a solid third fall Yamazaki and Tateno hit a beautiful double missile dropkick on Kai to win the deciding fall and the WWF Women’s Tag Team titles at 15:23, ending the Glamour Girls first reigns at 906 days in a match well ahead of its time.
WINNERS and NEW WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions, The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno & Itsuki Yamazaki) (2 – 1, 15:23)
Next Vince and Jesse discuss the disputed two-count early in the Hulk Hogan/Andre the Giant WWF World title match from WrestleMania III with Jesse arguing that the referee counted three. This leads to a montage of clips from late November and early December 1987 from Superstars of Wrestling (a series currently unavailable in the Network) of DiBiase announcing plans to buy the WWF title from Hogan, Hogan’s refusal (“hell no!”), and DiBiase saying he’ll buy the strap one way or the other.
Vince and Jesse then talk about Andre having a price, which leads to a clip from SNME XIV from January 2, 1988 of Andre attacking Hogan after Hulk’s match with King Kong Bundy which leads to footage from the next week’s Superstars of DiBiase buying Andre’s contract from Bobby Heenan and Andre agreeing to deliver the WWF World title to DiBiase.
Next is the actual contract signing, one of the very first in WWF history to take place in the ring, for the big February 5, 1988 rematch at The Main Event between WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Hogan quickly signs the contract but Andre takes forever, resisting to sign the contract. At last Andre signs the contract and then attacks Hogan, turning the table over on Hulk as DiBiase laughs.
It’s hard to believe that WWF/E has been doing the same thing over and over for 30 years!
After a commercial break Vince and Jesse discuss the “Royal Rumble”, some of its participants, and the rules.
— “20-Man Royal Rumble” (WATCH – 1:15:58)
1) Bret Hart w/Jimmy Hart, 2) WWF World Tag Team Champion Tito Santana, 3) Butch Reed, 4) Jim Neidhart w/Jimmy Hart, 5) Jake Roberts, 6) Harley Race, 7) Jim Brunzell, 8) Sam Houston, 9) Danny Davis w/Jimmy Hart, 10) Boris Zhukov, 11) Don Muraco, 12) Nikolai Volkoff, 13) Jim Duggan, 14) Ron Bass, 15) B. Brian Blair, 16) Hillbilly Jim, 17) Dino Bravo w/Frenchie Martin, 18) The Ultimate Warrior, 19) One Man Gang, & 20) Junkyard Dog
The booking of this first televised “Rumble”, the clever play between heel and babyface, and the nearly perfect positioning of the talent is what makes this match so unique. The crowd is super hot for this one and they never let up. Bret Hart is the first “Rumble” iron-man, lasting 25:46 (a mark eclipsed by Mr. Perfect the following year) while JYD lasted the shortest at 2:10. One Man Gang eliminated the most wrestlers, 6, a record that would be broken the next year by Hulk Hogan (9). It all boils down to Muraco, Bravo, Duggan, and One Man Gang. OMG eliminates Muraco first and it’s down to three. Bravo and OMG double-team Duggan until Bravo holds Duggan for an OMG clothesline as he had Muraco. This time “Hacksaw” moves and OMG clotheslines Dino Bravo over the top and out, leaving only Duggan and OMG. OMG chokes “Hacksaw” over the top rope and then runs at Duggan for a clothesline – only for Duggan to duck, pull down the top rope, and send the big man crashing to the floor to give “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan the “Rumble” win at 33:26.
WINNER is “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan (33:26)
After a break we see highlights of the Hogan/Andre contract signing followed by Craig DeGeorge interviewing WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan who says Andre and DiBiase are only adding fuel to the fire, that he’s been waiting for the rematch since WrestleMania III. Hogan says the only way Andre can beat him is by defeating every “Hulkamaniac” in the arena, and Andre can’t do that.
— “2-out-of-3 Falls Match” (WATCH – 1:57:26)
The Islanders (Haku & Tama) vs. The Young Stallions (Paul Roma & Jim Powers)
This match was nothing more than filler for the card. The Islanders take the first fall at 7:53 via count out when Paul Roma is unable to get back in the ring. Between falls we see another replay of Andre attacking Hogan, followed by Craig DeGeorge interviewing Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant about the February 5th WWF World title match. Jim Powers helps a limping Paul Roma back to the ring where, by rule, Roma has to start the second fall. Jim Powers gets in and gets a few minutes of offense in before the Islanders take over for good. Roma manages to get the “hot” tag but with one leg he can’t do much. In the end, Haku takes the leg out from under Roma while Tama hits the big splash on Roma’s knees from the top. Haku turns Roma over in a half-crab and wins the second and deciding fall at 15:27.
WINNERS are The Islanders (Haku & Tama) (2-0, 15:27)
After replays and a break Vince and Jesse review the “Rumble” match, Bravo’s bench press fiasco, and the Hogan/Andre contract signing with another replay of Andre’s subsequent attack. Jesse plugs The Main Event while Vince signs off.
Not only did the show stifle JCP for the second time, it created an annual tradition that’s still going strong today. Even with the semi-dud of a final match and the absolute disaster that was Dino Bravo’s bench press record attempt, the first Royal Rumble produced a memorable night of matches that included a classic opener, a classic Women’s Tag Team title match, and a classic “Royal Rumble” that was as unpredictable as it was innovative.
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Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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