Retro Rasslin – WWE Royal Rumble (1996)
I’m going to try to do a weekly (or so) segment where I take an old show from WWE Network and recap it. It’s going to be called “Retro Rasslin”, and it’s not always going to be WWE Pay-Per-Views – sometimes it’ll be a RAW or Smackdown, sometimes it’ll be a WCW PPV, and maybe I’ll throw in an ECW show or something else random. If you’ve got any ideas for future “Retro Rasslin” recaps, let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter at @MrWorkrate.
Yes, today’s Retro Rasslin is another Royal Rumble, because they’re fun to write about, but so many words. This will probably be the last Rumble for a little while at least. We’re going with the 1996 Rumble, because it’s an interesting time for Vince McMahon’s organization. The WWF was in this weird sort of metamorphosis where they weren’t quite in the “Attitude Era” yet, but they were somewhat breaking away from their cartoonish act of the 80s and early 90s that had gotten really played out and set the table for WCW becoming the #1 promotion. So let’s get started!
TV-14 for violence, so maybe color? (Ed. note: nope. Just good ol’ fashioned violence)
Open to Sunny in a bathtub warning us that there may be content of a graphic nature. Tammy Sytch would sadly give us that graphic nature 20 years later, and from what I’m to understand – you don’t want it.
Opening package plugs the two title matches – Bret Hart defending the World belt against Undertaker (with creepy bone mask), and Razor Ramon defending the Intercontinental belt against Goldust, who was at the top of his heel game here. Oh, right, and the Rumble too.
WE ARE LIVE TWENTY-PLUS YEARS AGO from the Selland Arena in Fresno, California where we are joined by tonight’s commentators Vince McMahon and – Mr. Perfect? I forgot Curt wasn’t wrestling at this time, though he’d jump to WCW the following year and start wrestling again.
Match 1: JAY-AY-DOUBLE-EFF JAY-AY-DOUBLE-ARE-EE-DOUBLE-TEE (sans Roadie) vs “SHINY” AHMED BLOWNSPOT
Jarrett enters and starts Fargo Strutting with his goofy light up suit and hat and glasses and I forgot how annoying I found Jarrett in these days. Jarrett set up this feud by cracking a gold record over Ahmed’s head which surprisingly didn’t put him on the shelf for nine months. Jarrett’s gear had those weird fabric strips down his chest and back that made it look like his torso was in jail. Jarrett sells for Johnson for a little while, then gets in a little offense before Ahmed starts no-selling and Hulking… er, Ahmeding Up. Ahmed had very good agility for a big man (at least back then), and tried a top rope somersault something that caught nothing except his ass hitting the mat, which caused Ahmed to start selling his knee, because most of your knee ligaments are in your ass. Cue Jarrett to the figure four, which Ahmed reverses. Jarrett releases and works on the knee some more (the opposite one that Ahmed originally sold), and I’m not sure if Ahmed sold the wrong knee, or if Jarrett only knows how to do the figure four on one leg. Jarrett tries to put the figure four back on, but Johnson kicks him out of the ring. Jarrett grabs the guitar and comes off the top rope with a guitar shot to Johnson, earning the DQ because screw this it’s already been too long. Jarrett leaves, and after selling the guitar spot for a minute, Ahmed chases after him, where I’m sure he blew out his knee or quad during the chase.
Todd Pettengill interviews Diesel, and Big Daddy Cool says Big Daddy Cool things.
Match 2: TAMMY LYNN BODYDONNA (w/DR. TOM BODYDONNA & CANDITO BODYDONNA) [challengers] vs MR. ASS & THE OTHER ONE [champions]
There’s really nothing of note here, except for one spot. The Bodydonna and Smoking Gunns are going through all these double team spots, and Billy and Bart are on opposite sides of the ring, standing on the ring apron. Skip and Zip grab the ropes on either side of Billy and slingshot him into the ring. Then they go to the other side to do the same to Bart. Bart, however, just lets go the rope, so nothing happens, then grabs the ropes and slingshots the two Bodydonnas (who are still holding the ropes) to the outside. It’s like – in decades and decades of professional wrestling, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Anyway, this was just an excuse to show Sunny at ringside as the Gunns retain.
Next are Billionaire Ted skits, with Nacho Man and the Huckster, etc. Forgot about “Scheme Gene” though. Skit rips them for loyalty, which of course is very pot/kettle since Hogan and Okerlund jumped from the AWA to the WWF but whatever.
We got a recap of the Razor/Goldust feud, which is just one giant hate crime. Goldust shows attraction to Razor, Razor snaps and attacks him, crowd cheers.
Match 3: [SLURPING SOUND]GOLDDUST (w/Golden Cigar Lady) [challenger] vs TOTALLY ORIGINAL TONY MONTANA [champion]
So the story goes that Scott Hall gets brought into Vince McMahon’s office with his Diamond Studd look that he had in WCW, but without DDP as his manager, that gimmick didn’t really make sense. So Hall decides to do a bad Scarface impression, and Vince and Pat Patterson LOVE it, because neither of them had actually seen “Scarface”. Thus, Razor Ramon is born.
Goldust has Marlena sitting at ringside (in her debut – neither McMahon nor Hennig know her name) along with a guy dressed as a movie usher who kind of looks like Dennis Knight (Mideon), who would have been getting ready to join the company at this time so it might be. This is straight psychology from Goldust, doing every gay mannerism and stalling any kind of contact. Original Goldust was a hell of a character and Dustin doesn’t get enough credit for the amount of work he obviously put into it. Standard match that spills to the outside and Goldust pulls Marlena in front of him, which Razor counters by lifting Marlena up and placing her aside (thankfully). I was never a huge fan of face Razor – he just lacks something. There’s a spot where Goldust puts Razor’s head on the bottom rope in front of Marlena, and she blows LITERAL GOLDUST in his face. Back and forth match which sees Marlena run in as Ramon hits a top rope backdrop on Goldust, causing ref Tim White to damn near wrestle Marlena and allow 1-2-3 Kid to come out of the crowd and do a top rope spin kick on Razor, knocking him out and allowing Goldust to cover him for the finish and WE HAVE A NEW INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMP because 1-2-3 Kid ruins everything.
The Rumble is up next, but before we get to action, we get soundbites, including one from Shawn Michaels’ “personal doctor”, Dr. Jeff Unger, who looks totally legit with a makeshift blackboard with “VACCINES TODAY” scribbled on it, including a misspelled Lariam, which is a malaria medication.
He says Shawn’s ready to go, just as long as he doesn’t get jumped by a bunch of guys all at once like he did in Syracuse. So, really, the Royal Rumble is a horrible idea. You are a bad doctor, Dr. Jeff Unger.
Match 4: THE ROYAL RUMBLE
Yeah, really – the Rumble’s not ending the show. #1 is HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY, who gets the #1 after being disqualified in a preshow match against Duke Droese, who was given #30 for winning the match. So he’s got to be the odds on favorite, no? No? No. Helmsley wasn’t even using Ode To Joy at this point, using some kind of Downton Abbey-type thing. #2 is HOG because it’s funny when dirty people fight prissy fancypants people. Henry Godwinn throws Helmsley into the corner and he does the flip over the buckles and sits balanced outside the ring, but does Godwinn try to throw him out? Nah – hog farmers don’t have time for your fancy fightin’ rules. #3 is FUTURE PRESIDENT BOB BACKLUND who – let’s be honest – doesn’t look like such a bad option now. Backlund gets attacked by Godwinn who has Backlund 95% of the way out when Helmsley pokes Godwinn in the eye, saving Backlund. Then, after Backlund gets in the ring, Hunter tries to throw him out. Battle Royales are hard, y’all. JERRY MR THE KING LAWLER is #4 and he’s got the brilliant idea of taking the bucket of pig slop that Godwinn brought to ringside and throwing it on him, despite the fact that it’s Godwinn who is most comfortable with pig slop. Whatever pig slop is, anyway. I always thought it was food, and really what’s so bad about that? Wrestlers always made it seem like it was a combination of human waste and vomit. Anyway, Godwinn gets the bucket from Lawler, which causes everyone to scatter (under the ropes, mind you, so no eliminations), but Godwinn tosses it on the heels anyway. VROOM VROOM BOB HOLLY comes racing out (GET IT) at #5 to get another face in the ring. At #6 is KING MABEL and Hennig immediately calls him a “heavy favorite” hur hur hur. I would have pegged Mabel as our “cleaner” but still no eliminations as JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS (w/snake) comes in at #7 and lets his snake out in the middle of the ring (not a euphemism – that wouldn’t happen for several more years) clearing house. Again. All but Lawler exited the ring, so Lawler was left to do the bit with the snake, which the crowd ate up. So, keeping score at home, Lawler’s been dumped with pig slop and wrapped in a python. Still no eliminations.
#8 is DORY FUNK, JR. because sure, why not? Funk goes after Backlund and it’s suddenly 1978 again. Despite still no eliminations, we’re missing someone from the ring, and we get a shot of Jerry Lawler, hiding under the ring. Solid strategy. Fun trivia – Backlund is two years older in this match than Chris Jericho is now. #9 is YOKOZUNA, and now we’re going to get some housecleaning. Yoko eliminates Backlund first, then goes after Mabel, as several structural engineers take interest in the match. Henry Godwinn gets trapped in the corner behind them, and #RIP HOG #NeverForget. Godwinn isn’t eliminated though, despite taking a Mabel splash. The Yoko housecleaning stands at one, as 1-2-3 PAC is #10, closely followed by Razor Ramon, who’s pissed because Sean Waltman ruins everything. Ramon chases Kid out of the ring, back in the ring, but can’t catch him and finally refs and Gerald Brisco get involved to stop this tomfoolery and get Ramon out of there (who wasn’t signed up for the Rumble). #11 is TAKAO OMORI because, wait, what? Nobody has any idea what’s going on here. Omori, from All Japan Pro Wrestling (which McMahon calls “Japan Pro Wrestling”) comes running in using the generic Japanese theme that every Japanese wrestler used in WWF from forever. This was Omori’s debut in WWF, and he goes after Mabel, because sure. #12 is SAVIO VEGA and seriously are we going to eliminate anyone? On cue, Yokozuna eliminates Mabel, and Omori goes to slam Jake Roberts over the top rope, but Jake holds on and flips out Omori, eliminating Omori in what would be his last WWF match as well. GRAND OPENING – GRAND CLOSING. So Vince flies in a guy from Japan that no one knows about, has him in the ring for less than 3 minutes, and puts him back on the plane, never to be seen again. The Rumble, y’all. Oh, and Henry Godwinn apparently got eliminated at some time too. ITS TIME ITS TIME ITS VADA TIME is #13 and business just picked up. Vader goes after Bob Holly, and there’s no potatoing there, I’m sure. Savio Vega eliminates Dory Funk to move things along and come on you didn’t think Dory Funk Jr was getting a title shot at Wrestlemania, did you? #14 is DOUG GILBERT and Vince himself seems confused and shocked that Doug is booked for this show until Hennig reminds him that Doug’s part of the USWA. Vince: “Oh.” Maybe Vince thought he was booking Eddie and when someone told him Eddie was dead, he said to get his brother sight unseen, and got really confused because Doug and Eddie look nothing alike. Jake grabs Doug, signals for the DDT, then yells something at Vader, who clubs him with a stiff clothesline that knocks him out of the Rumble. I’m assuming he yelled “get me out of here, I’m too hung over”. Here we go. Or not. Vader stiffs Gilbert a few times, no-sells Kid, then sells a kick from Vega and we get countdown again. Huh.
#15 IS A FRIGGIN HEADHUNTER. Let’s assume it’s “B”, because I’m sure everyone would assume it’s A. Vince calls him a “Squat Team member”, like anyone’s ever heard of that before today. Vince proclaims it’s the Squat Team member’s debut, so here’s another guy no one has heard of before today, and after some research, they’d do a dark match the following night on RAW, jobbing to Aldo Montoya and Avatar (yikes), and were gone. In the time I wrote that, Doug Gilbert just got press slammed over the top rope by Vader, and he’s done. And now Vader just tossed out B, I mean “Squat Team member”, so we don’t even get to push the fact that these guys are huge, strangely mobile identical twins, which is the only reason you hire the Headhunters. Oh well. Countdown and the next guy in at #16 is THE OTHER HEADHUNTER. B runs into A coming down the aisle, and now both of them walk to the ring together, so OK – we are pushing the twin thing. Side note – the Headhunters are wearing their Headhunter gear with has “HH” all over it, so not sure why we’re going with “Squat Team” but Vince gonna Vince. Now both Headhunters go in the ring being all twinsy (despite one being eliminated) and go after Vader because screw that guy. Vader re-eliminates B, while Yoko eliminates A, so all of that for like 2 minutes of Headhunters, who’d be gone in 36 hours. We’re at six in the ring, with Yoko, Vader, Savio, Hunter, 1-2-3 Kid, and Bob Holly.
#17 is THE KING OF HARTS who comes to ringside and hits Bob Holly, who’s on his way out of the ring, before entering. But why enter the ring? Work on eliminations before you’re officially at risk of being eliminated, right? Whatever. Yoko and Vader are working as a team now (both were managed by Jim Cornette at the time), and Vader just slingshot Yoko into the corner where Savio Vega was and the ring just shifted. Geez. #18 is JUST A SEXY BOY WHO ISN’T YOUR BOY TOY and Vince is as giddy as a schoolgirl. Michaels hits the ring and goes over to hammer 1-2-3 Kid and Hunter, and I can hear the Kliqing from here. Savio gets a quick elimination from Vader, and now Vader turns to Yoko and the two start stiffing each other, much to Jim Cornette’s dismay. The two lean into the ropes, and Michaels comes over and flips them BOTH over the top, eliminating them both and there’s a lot more room in the ring again. Shawn press slams(?!) Kid and eliminates him as well, and surprisingly it looks like Shawn is our cleaner. HAKUSHI is #19 and I’ve always wondered what made Vince reach out to Jinsei Shinzaki over any number of other Japanese wrestlers. Knowledge of English? Hakushi, unlike Omori or even the Headhunters was already an established WWF wrestler at the time, so people watching at least knew who he was. Vader, pissed off at Yokozuna, stiffs him a few times, then gets back in the ring, hammers away at Shawn Michaels, lifts him up, and tosses him over the top rope, eliminating him no wait Vince is saying that since Vader is no longer in the match it doesn’t count, which has never been the case before or since. Vader proceeds to toss Owen (through the ropes, not over), Hunter (over), Holly (over), and Owen again (through). Finally, Gorilla Monsoon has had enough and tells Vader to GTFO. The clock doesn’t stop though and #20 is NATIVE AMERICAN STEREOTYPE. Everyone who was “eliminated” by Vader is back now, as is Hakushi, who said “screw this noise” when Vader was tossing everyone and just waited it out. Michaels brings in Cornette to toss him over the tope rope, because reasons. Hakushi flashes some cool spots, then gets caught by Owen and he’s tossed as we get countdown again.
#21 is JOCKSTRAP MASK, and within five seconds of him being in the ring Hennig mentions his jockstrap mask. Vince (and PJ) must have loved that. Michaels falls outside of the ring (through the ropes) and just starts walking around the outside where he discovers Jerry Lawler, who has been hiding under the ring this whole time. Michaels brings him in and eliminates him, but not before Tatanka clotheslines Aldo Montoya over the top. We’re down to five (Michaels, Tatanka, Hunter, Owen, and Bob Holly?) as we get countdown, and #22 is BIG NASHY COOL who smirks in and tosses Tatanka right away. Diesel and Michaels hit each other because IT’S EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF IN THE RUMBLE. Michaels has been upside down through about 40% of this Rumble. WWE HALL OF FAMER THE KAMAFATHER is #23 and yep, he’s there. #24 is THE STONE COLD RINGMASTER (w/”hair”), who is still wearing his old white “Superstar” boots and is uber-early into his WWF run. Bob Holly tries to slingshot Austin over the top rope but he catches himself, then charges Holly to knock him over the top rope, finally eliminating him. #25 is JEWISH BARRY HOROWITZ, and the only reason I call him that is that he’s got a Star of David on his tights and is coming to ringside to friggin’ “Hava Nagila”. I’m surprised they don’t have him wearing a yarmulke or picking up pennies on the floor as he walks to ringside because wrestling. Nash finally tosses Helmsley, who came in at #1, so now we’re at six: Diesel, Kama, Austin, Owen, Horowitz, and Michaels.
#26 is MAKE A DIFFERENCE FATU who goes right after Kama in a battle of future WWE Hall of Famers. Let that sink in for a minute. Fatu’s still a decent size here and pulls off a few decent moves, but both he and Kama have two more gimmicks to go before they really get over. #27 is BUH GOD BUH GOD ITS ISAAC YANKEM DDS and it’s the Land of Misfit Gimmicks in the ring. Oh, there goes Barry Horowitz, so if you had him in your Royal Rumble pool, you already threw away your ticket so never mind. Owen hits the step-up enzuigiri on Michaels to gasps from the crowd because that’s the move that gave Shawn all his concussions, then goes to throw him over the top rope but Diesel trails behind and throws out Owen at the same time, though Michaels hangs on. No one actually sees this because the truck decided to instant replay Owen’s enzuigiri so apparently the truck doesn’t have the script. Wah wah. #28 is MARTY JANNETTY who looks less than enthusiastic to be here (read: high). Maybe he’s just dead inside. Jannetty was a few months from the “New Rockers” gimmick, so they didn’t really have much for him at this time. #29 is DAVEY BOY TASSELS and we get a shot of Diana Hart-Smith in the crowd, and I never realized how much she looks like her mom until that shot. Then again, looking like Stu Hart would have been much much worse. Davey Boy backdrops Marty Jannetty over the top rope in the battle of lesser wrestlers from famous 80s tag teams. Fatu makes a difference by eliminating Austin and no one notices, then Yankem eliminates Fatu and Vince makes a big deal. Vince and Hennig missed the Austin elimination because the camera was doing a closeup of Michaels teetering on elimination for the 900th time, and as they’re counting who’s left in the ring, no one knows where the hell Austin is. #30 is THE DUMPSTER but we knew that already because Hunter was #1 for losing that match to him. Michaels and Bulldog go to the outside (through the ropes), and Owen Hart comes back to attack Michaels on the outside because Owen Hart respects the sanctity of the Royal Rumble match and would never run back into the ring after being eliminated. Michaels and Bulldog return to the ring, and Michaels sells this vicious attack by immediately getting up and dropkicking Yankem over the top rope, while Kama and Diesel toss Droese, leaving us with just four – Diesel, Bulldog, Michaels, and… Kama. Bulldog & Michaels do a neat spot where Bulldog dumps Michaels, who stays on the ring apron, slides back in between Bulldog’s legs, then dumps Bulldog. Kama nearly eliminates Michaels (Shawn Michaels near elimination #3,346), but then Diesel eliminates Kama, immediately followed by Michaels giving Diesel Sweet Chin Music for the final elimination, and Shawn Michaels wins the Rumble for the second straight year. A really quick series of eliminations with nearly no drama for the finish, so they might have been running a little long. Michaels celebrates in the ring by taking off his trunks (leaving his tights on), then pulling down his tights for the crowd (oh right, it’s that Shawn) as Diesel comes back to the ring to tease a turn. Diesel raises his hand, but only to receive a high-five from Michaels as that turn isn’t ready just yet. A decent Rumble with a really odd mix of one-off wrestlers. Was the roster that thin at that point? Vince also wasn’t putting wrestlers from earlier in the card into the Rumble, which wasn’t the case in later Rumbles.
Oh, right – we’ve got another match. Really odd not to have the Rumble finish the night.
Match 5: BONG BONG BONG [challenger] vs EXCELLENCE OF EXECUTION [champion]
We get the Undertaker entrance interrupted by Diesel returning to the dressing room, which seems like a total Kevin Nash thing to do. The two exchange punches, but not much else, and Taker finishes his entrance. I really can’t state how much I did Taker’s mask – it’s really done well. Taker with the strong offense to start, and despite coming off a feud with Yokozuna that saw him play face, he’s taking the heel route with chokes, as well as Paul Bearer at ringside pushing off Bret’s leg from the ropes in an attempt to break submission holds. They go to the outside and Bret turns the tables, then focuses in on Taker’s leg, which is perfectly logical strategy on a guy like Taker. This is a typical Bret match – long and full of psychology. Crowd is really torn on this one, with both cheers and boos with each momentum swing. Taker manages to catch Hart and deliver a tombstone piledriver, but Diesel returns to ringside to pull the ref out of the ring, getting Bret disqualified but retaining the belt. Diesel, leaving ringside, gives Taker the finger, and walks away, starting a Diesel/Taker feud. Disappointing finish for what promised to be a very good title match, but they couldn’t afford to have either guy lose at this point.
Overall rating: B-