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The SmarK Royal Rumble Countdown: 1988

The Netcop Retro Rant for Royal Rumble 1988

- Live (on the USA network) from Hamilton, Ontario.

- Your hosts are Vince and Jesse.


- Okay, so the story here is thus: The NWA decided to put on a PPV, unopposed this time, in the form of the god-awful Bunkhouse Stampede show. It ended up being so bad that the only remnant of the show on videotape is the actual Bunkhouse finals, which is wedged into the Crockett Cup video for that year. Anyway, just to be an asshole, Vince decided to run a three-hour show on the USA network at the same time, with a cool gimmick and everything. And thus was born the Royal Rumble.

- Opening match: Ravishing Rick Rude v. Ricky Steamboat.

Rude was fairly new to the WWF at this point. Slugfest to start, and Steamboat works the skin-the-cat move in in short order. Test of strength goes Ricky’s way, and he works on the arm of Rude. It’s his POSING arm, which is reinforced because he later has trouble doing the muscle poses. (2012 Scott sez:  That’s the kind of easy, subtle heel heat that no one does anymore because no one outside of a few guys are allowed to have a sense of humor.)  There’s a fan at ringside with a megaphone who gets REALLY annoying REALLY quick, and thankfully some of the security nazis confiscated it after this match. Vince counters Jesse’s “thumb to the eye” speech by nothing that “youngsters are watching”. AHA! I knew he’d admit it if we went back in time far enough. (2012 Scott sez:  And now the pendulum has swung all the way to the other side, with nothing but kids watching.)  Still working that there arm. It’s Arm-Dragon mode tonight, I see. A criss-cross gone horribly, horribly wrong (Tonight on FOX: When meaningless wrestling sequences GO BAD!) sends Ricky to the floor, where Rude takes over. Chinlock, whoo-hoo! Steamboat screws up and forgets to lift his arm on the third drop, so Hebner ignores it and gives him a fourth try. You KNOW Steamboat is just phoning it in here with that kind of error. They go through a tacked-on wrestling sequence that wakes up the crowd and trade several two-counts. Steamboat goes to the top, but the ref gets bumped. Rude gets the hanging body vice (3rd or 4th stupidest finisher of the 80s) (2012 Scott sez:  Say what?  The over-the-shoulder backbreaker was badass!)  and the ref revives to call for the bell. Could the dastardly Rude have made Steamboat submit? Of course not, it’s just a lame DQ win for Steamboat at 17:40. Way too long here. * (2012 Scott sez:  I`m pretty sure it was better than that, actually.) 

- And you think TODAY’S RAW segments are a bit on the long side? Up next here, it’s the Dino Bravo bench-press record attempt. The WWF TV people later (mercifully) cut it down to the final attempt, but the entire thing runs TWENTY MINUTES, as he goes step-by-step up to 700-and-some odd pounds and then cheats with Jesse Ventura’s help to set the “record”. See, his gimmick was that he was really really strong. Yeah, I’m stumped as to why that didn’t draw money, too.  (2012 Scott sez:  See also:  Chris Masters, Mark Henry)

- Women’s tag team title: Judy Martin & Leilani Kai v. The Jumping Bomb Angels.

Stuff related to this: The Women’s tag team titles were basically a flavor-of-the-week thing occasionally defended and basically brought out of mothballs specifically to showcase the Angels – Itsuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno. The champs, The Glamour Girls, had “won” the titles in Egypt (no city ever given, just “Egypt”, which is somewhere near Rio DeJaneiro, I guess).   I don’t really know why Vince signed the Angels in the first place, since they basically blew away everyone in the entire promotion, wrestling-wise. The whole lineage of the women’s tag title is one of those weird, murky things that leads into arguments over who had rights to it when and whether certain claims are legitimate, but since no one in North American gives a crap about women’s wrestling as a rule I’ll just skip most of it. Suffice to say that the WWF bought the belts from the NWA in 1983 and abandoned them 6 years later. Thank god they weren’t resurrected with the recent Women’s title in the WWF, because lord knows I couldn’t take watching Mae & Moolah v. Ivory & her partner for a major title without trying to hang myself with my own keyboard cord. Anyway, TO THE MATCH, which is 2/3 falls, by the way. Leilani tosses Yamazaki around to start. She comes back with a Konnan rolling clothesline and a piledriver. Vince is in his prime here, not only ignorant of the names of the moves being performed, but completely unaware of the names of the Jumping Bomb Angels until a producer fills him in during a commercial break. What a pro. (2012 Scott sez:  Still better than Michael Cole.) The Angels are just flying all over the place, even working the elusive Octopus variant of the abdominal stretch, a move only performed by Owen Hart and Dynamite Kid in America prior to this. The Angels work the leg of Kai with some lucha-esque submission stuff. They work in stuff that I don’t even see guys doing TODAY. Judy Martin manages to tag in and hit the over-the-shoulder variant of the powerbomb for the first fall at 6:10. I should point out that Sid Vicious didn’t even introduce the REGULAR powerbomb to US audiences until 1989, and here are these women doing variations on it.

- Second fall: Martin destroys Yamazaki, but misses a splash and Tateno gets the hot tag. Pier-six leads to a slickly done miscommunication bit from the Glams, and when Martin tries that powerbomb again, Tateno reverses it to a sunset flip for the second fall at 1:50. See, not only did they introduce that move in the first fall, but then the Angels introduced the COUNTER for this move that no one in the audience has ever seen in the NEXT FALL. Talk about state of the art wrestling. I’m surprised Vince didn’t fire them on the spot for daring to have actual skill while still getting over.

- Third fall: Angels double-team Kai, who overpowers Yamazaki in turn. She comes back with an enzuigiri (a friggin’ enzuigiri in 1988!) but Tateno tags in and gets dominated. Kai gets a double-underhook suplex for two on Yamazaki. Angels are getting nowhere fast. Yamazaki drops Kai on her tailbone (picture an atomic drop where the attacker doesn’t use the knee, but rather just drops the opponent to the mat) twice and gets a two count. Hot tag to Tateno, who comes in off the top for a two count. She then one-ups Leilani Kai by doing a double-underhook suplex of her own, but bridging after doing it. That gets two. Bodypress gets two. Senton bomb misses and Kai gets two. Double-team clothesline gets two for the Angels, and a double missile dropkick finishes it at 5:47 and gives them the tag titles. Slowed down a bit in the middle, but this was still light-years ahead of what everyone else was doing. ***1/2

- Hogan-Andre review. Hogan cleanly pinned Andre at Wrestlemania III, but Andre spent the next 8 months pissing and moaning because he thought he got the win on a failed bodyslam attempt early in the match. At the same time, Ted Dibiase launched an ambitious attempt at purchasing the WWF title from Hogan outright after a failed title shot. When Hogan refused, Dibiase decided to try the next best thing, and purchased the contract of the angry Giant off of Bobby Heenan for $1,000,000, with the idea being that Andre would win the title from Hogan on his behalf. Sidenote: When that plan ultimately failed, Heenan bought the contract BACK for $100,000, thus giving himself a tidy $900,000 profit and Dibiase nothing. And people wonder why he was the Brain? Anyway, all this led to the big Hogan-Andre rematch on prime time TV, and on this show we get the contract signing. I’m sure you all, as wrestling fans, are well aware of what happens 99% of the time at contract signings (it falls under the Birthday Cake rule) and indeed this is no exception, as Hogan is left laying by the heels. (2012 Scott sez:  CM Punk was lying when he said that this was the last contract signing to go off without a brawl)  If you’re curious about how that title match actually turned out, keep reading after the Bottom Line for a special surprise.

- Royal Rumble match:

Howard Finkel has to explain the rules because this is the first one and all. Oh, and there’s only 20 guys because of time constraints. Bret Hart gets #1, and Tito Santana gets #2, so for you trivia buffs, they were the first two entrants ever. Please use that knowledge only for good. Bret goes flying right into the FIVE MOVES OF DOOM. Butch Reed gets #3, and a double-team results. See, the whole “Every man for himself” thing didn’t become an issue until 1989’s PPV debut for the Rumble. In fact, the first real double-cross in a battle royale seen by casual fans of the time was the one that opened Wrestlemania IV, where Bad News Brown did the deed to Bret Hart to get the win. Up until then, everyone just assumed that faces would fight heels and vice-versa. Of course, now thanks to Vince Russo’s “characterization” techniques, partners turning on each other is not only common, it’s expected. Ah, for the days of kayfabe. Anyway, Bret & Butch work Chico over, then Neidhart gets #4 and joins the fun. Santana is about to go out, but Jake Roberts saves the day at #5. Crowd eats it up. Harley Race is #6. The faces hang tough under the assault. Jim Brunzell of the Killer Bees is #7 and helps out for the face cause. Sam Houston is #8, and he CLEARS THE ENTIRE RING BY HIMSELF. In other news, hell freezes over. (2012 Scott sez:  Sam Houston humor.  Now that`s cutting edge.  This is, however, the only time I know of with Snake and Houston in the ring together.)  Santana goes flying out of the ring as I start to complain about deadwood. Danny Davis is #9, and he’s pretty useless but he has an issue with fellow jobbing boy Sam Houston so they tussle. Boris Zhukov is #10. Not much of note from that one. Don Muraco is #11, and Nikolai Volkoff follows him out and a big argument with the refs ensues. Boris goes bye-bye right about then. Pretty funny to hear Vince constantly referring to Muraco as “The Rock”. Volkoff waits out the argument long enough to be #12. Race gets crowned by Muraco and goes over the top. Hacksaw Duggan is #13. He gets into an altercation with Race on the way by, and that ended up setting the table for their really hilarious brawl that lasted for most of the 34th Annual Slammy Awards that year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t want to, believe me. The faces gain control. Outlaw Ron Bass is #14. Not much impact there. Volkoff casually dumps Brunzell. B. Brian Blair gets #15 too late to help his partner. Holy god, is Duggan over or what? More chaos. Hillbilly Jim is #16 and gets rid of Anvil right away. Dino Bravo is #17. This ring is desperately in need of someone to thin it out, there’s just too many guys doing nothing. Sam Houston does his part by bumping to the floor. Ultimate Warrior is #18, before he was over. Bret Hart goes tumbling out, thus giving him the first-ever longevity record at 25 minutes. One Man Gang is #19, and he’s on Jake like fat on himself. Blair is gone, Jake Roberts is gone, both via OMG. JYD is the final entrant, with 10 guys left in the ring. Duggan sends Volkoff to the showers. Gang rids us of Hillbilly Jim. Duggan blasts Davis out. OMG dumps Warrior. Dog takes an absolutely wussy bump out. Ditto Bass. Final four: Muraco, Gang, Bravo and Duggan. Gang & Bravo work together, ‘natch, and manage to double-team Muraco out with a running clothesline, the only time I’ve ever seen the “I’d hold him and you run at him” strategy work. It’s Duggan 2-on-1 now, and much punishment follows. They try the double-team trick again, and this time it backfires, bye-bye Bravo. Duggan ducks one last desperate Gang charge, and gets the win in the first Rumble at 33:23. Geez, talk about a super-accelerated timer – at two minutes each, it should have been at least 40 minutes. Oh well, good first effort for the venerated Rumble. ***1/2

- 2/3 falls: The Islanders v. The Young Stallions.

Just a filler match to have something on to end the show. The Islanders were in the middle of that captivating kidnapping angle where they stole the British Bulldogs’ mascot, an angle so utterly lame that the WWF not only recycled it 11 years later, but gave it Attitude™ by having Bossman actually cook the dog in question this time around. Dull wristlock sequence to start. The arena was RAPIDLY emptying, so fast in fact that the lights dropped to near total darkness by about two minutes into this match. It’s like watching Nitro. Total nothing match here. Powers gets beat on for about 5 minutes, Roma gets the hot tag and dropkicks Tama for two. He takes a bad fall out of the ring and hurts his knee, getting counted out at 7:50 for the first fall. The Stallions head back to the dressing room for medical attention, which gives us an excuse to show the contract signing again and gives Andre some promo time. Stallions come back again for the second fall.

- Second fall: Islanders go right after the knee, duh. Powers comes in and takes a beating for a long while, after getting some token offense in. Powers finally has no choice but to tag Roma in, which is basically a lose-lose situation because Roma’s knee is being sold as severely damaged. Islanders go right back for the knee, and the ref stops just stops the thing at 7:27 out of mercy on Roma. Eh. **

The Bottom Line: This show was more of a trivia question (“Who was the REAL first winner of the Royal Rumble?”) and a snarky attempt to undermine Jim Crockett than any kind of serious promotional move. Still, it produced a gimmick match so inspired that it lives on today as an annual tradition, so that’s something.