Welcome back to WWF Through The Years where we just have the one show this week, it’s a big one though as it’s covering the first major WWF event of 1996 with the 1996 Royal Rumble. As one of the big four PPV events this was a hotly anticipated card, even if the matches on the show were either a bit underwhelming or, in the case of the WWF Title match, poorly hyped up before the show.
Despite there only being one show reviewed this week you’re actually getting more content for this article than any of the others, RAW and Superstars add up to approximately 90 minutes of coverage combined, whilst this pay-per-view will be nearly three hours in total! And that’s not including the pre-show! I’m far too good to you.
WWF ROYAL RUMBLE
January 21st 1996
… But before the main show starts we have a match on the pre-show, then called the “Free For All”, to decide who will enter the Royal Rumble match at #1, and who will enter at the “best” spot of #30.
HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY vs. DUKE ‘THE DUMPSTER’ DROESE
Hunter Hearts Helmsley is a blueblood/snob from Greenwich, Connecticut. Duke Droese is a garbage man. It’s one of those classic battles in life like cats vs. dogs, or summer vs. rain. Todd Pettingill interviews HHH on the way to the ring, there’s not the usual posh accent in HHH’s voice this time as he criticises Gorilla Monsoon for making this match and guarantees that he will beat Droese and also promises to win the Rumble as well. Pettingill interviews Droese too, and Droese says he’ll be #30 and will be the last man standing in the Royal Rumble too. Well somebody’s going to be wrong. HHH is undefeated in the WWF ever since his arrival in April 1995. Droese sends HHH off the ropes to start and knocks him down with a shoulder block, a suplex from Droese follows and he sends HHH off the ropes again to take him down with a monkey flip. HHH stumbles back into the corner where Droese goes over to meet him with five punches, however HHH counters out of it with a Manhattan drop. HHH nails a European uppercut and sends Droese into the corner, however his charge only meets the raised boot of Droese. Some hard chops are landed by Droese to the chest of HHH, Droese then sends Helmsley into the opposite corner but HHH moves out of the way of a charge and Droese ends up hitting the ring post shoulder first. HHH starts working on the arm with an armbar takedown, and then does it once more for good measure. HHH applies an armlock and then drives his knee into the shoulder of Droese on two occasions, he then wrings the arm and goes back to the same armlock as before. Droese stays in the hold for a while but eventually fights his way out of it with some right hands, however Droese’s comeback is stopped when he comes off ropes and runs straight into a running knee from HHH.
Helmsley comes off the ropes with a knee drop to the shoulder and goes right back to that armlock again, Droese doesn’t exactly sell the pain very much. Droese wraps the damaged arm of Droese around the top rope and jumps down, he then heads up to the top rope but his attempt at some kind of flying move results in meeting Droese’s boot with his jaw. A slugfest begins with both men landing right hands, Droese wins the exchange and sends HHH off the ropes twice, the first time he hits a back body drop, the second time a hip toss followed by a clothesline. Droese whips HHH into the corner and connects with a powerslam when he stumbles back, and now it’s apparently time to take out the trash. Droese sends HHH off the rope once again and looks for his tilt-a-whirl powerslam called the Trash Compactor, HHH flips out of it and looks for a back suplex, but Droese reverses that and hits a back suplex of his own. Droese lets out a large yell at HHH and backs him into the corner, Droese swings some right hands at HHH but catches the referee as he swings back, whilst Droese checks on the referee HHH is loading up his right hand with some brass knuckles; Droese turns back around and gets nailed by the loaded fist of HHH! Helmsley falls into the cover and gets the three count on the knocked out Droese. But wait, here comes Gorilla Monsoon, the WWF president in storyline, who tells the referee that HHH hit Droese with the brass knuckles, going as far as to point at the video screen for the evidence. Mr. Perfect brings up a very good point that video evidence isn’t used in the WWF, but that doesn’t matter now as the referee reverses the decision to give Droese the win by disqualification. That means that HHH will be the first entrant and Droese will enter last at #30.
I think I should point out that I hate that finish (if video evidence is used for one match why isn’t it used in all the other controversial finishes?) and it still happens on occasions today. At least in this instance there was something important on the line.
Winner: Duke “The Dumpster” Droese via Disqualification
The Royal Rumble event itself starts off with Sunny warning us there will be material of a graphic nature on the show and that viewer discretion is advised. She does this whilst naked in a bath tub. I heartily endorse this message, especially the way it was delivered.
The show was held in the Selland Arena in Fresno, California, and our hosts are Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect. TONIGHT! Ahmed Johnson takes on Double J Jeff Jarrett! The Smoking Gunns defend their WWF Tag Team Titles against The BodyDonnas! Razor Ramon defends the Intercontinental Title against Goldust! Bret Hart defends the WWF Title against The Undertaker! And 30 men will enter the Royal Rumble match with the winner getting a shot at the WWF Title at WrestleMania!
THE FIREWORKS EXPLODE! THE CROWD CHEERS! VINCE MCMAHON SHOUTS! He doesn’t shout everything though as this is a WWE DVD and the initials “WWF” are blanked out. We’re straight into the matches and who else could start off this card but this man?
JEFF JARRETT vs, AHMED JOHNSON
LET US TAKE YOU BACK to In Your House 5 when Jeff Jarrett hit Ahmed Johnson over the head with his gold record for “Alone With My Baby Tonight” and then gave him some unprotected chair shots to the head. They always make me wince these days. Jarrett’s jacket is flashing long before Chris Jericho’s did as he struts around the ring. Jarrett, wearing a yellowy-green outfit instead of his usual white and black, attacks Johnson before the bell but Johnson fights back and sends Jarrett to the ropes, the country singer then decides to slide out of the ring. Johnson goes out after him but he’s being the dumb babyface as Jarrett takes the advantage by getting in the ring first, Jarrett lands some knees to the gut in the corner but can’t hip toss the larger Johnson, Ahmed then uses a hip toss of his own to send Jarrett flying across the ring. Jarrett grabs a side headlock but Johnson just picks him up and throws him again, Jarrett then tries to whip Johnson into the corner but Johnson turns that into a clothesline. Jarrett runs straight at Johnson three times, the first two times he gets knocked down by shoulder blocks and the third time Johnson lifts him up for a powerslam that gets a 2 count. Johnson sends Jarrett off the ropes and connects with a flying lariat, but Jarrett stop this time and Johnson’s attempt at a crossbody sees him go over the top rope with his arm caught in the ropes. Jarrett leaps off the apron with a clothesline and then sends Johnson hard into the steel steps before taking Johnson back inside, a brief choke on the middle rope sets up a strut, Jarrett then goes up to the second rope and hits an axe handle to the back of Johnson… but Johnson ignores it by running on the spot. He’s AHMEDING UP.
Jarrett tries twice more with similar results, the third time Johnson catches him in a bearhug before delivering a Manhattan drop. Johnson sends Jarrett off the ropes and charges at him with a violent clothesline, off the ropes goes Jarrett once again and this time Johnson catches him with his trademark spinebuster. Jarrett rolls out of the ring but there’s no rest for him there, Johnson runs across the ring and flies over the top rope with a suicide dive. It nearly is suicide as it happens as Johnson only just lands a glancing blow and goes head first into the guard rail. Thankfully nobody gets hurt and Johnson throws Jarrett back into the ring. The insanity continues as Johnson goes up top for a SOMERSAULT LEG DROP but Jarrett rolls out of the way causing Johnson to hurt his leg. Jarrett immediately goes to the Figure Four Leglock (which would put pressure on the leg that wasn’t injured [/pedant]), Johnson tries his best to fight out of it and manages to reverse the hold to reverse the pain. Jarrett breaks the hold and begins going after the leg again with elbow drops, but a second attempt at the Figure Four sees Jarrett kicked out of the ring. Jarrett grabs his guitar while he’s outside and heads to the top rope, he comes off and SLAMS the guitar over Johnson’s head right in front of the referee for the disqualification. Johnson may have won the battle but he’s the one with pieces of a guitar in his head, he’s also up within seconds and chases Jarrett backstage. In fact he catches up to him but we’re not supposed to see that.
Winner: Ahmed Johnson via Disqualification
I’m not a big fan of DQ endings on a PPV match even if it sets up another match down the road, and to be honest there was a lot about this match that was annoying me already. It may be a small thing but Johnson injured his right leg in the missed somersault leg drop but Jarrett worked on the left leg (my guess would be Ahmed grabbed the wrong leg at the start as it’s usually the left leg that is the one picked on), and after the match Johnson sprints after Jarrett at full speed without any sign of the damage to his leg. Also, whilst Johnson’s dive over the top rope was spectacular, it was only a minor miracle that stopped him from seriously injuring himself, Jarrett, or people in the front row very close to where he landed due to the lack of control he had.
Todd Pettingill is backstage with Diesel interviewing him about his chances in the WW[Blank] Royal Rumble, Diesel has an expression like he couldn’t give a crap and cuts a promo about being a 9th grader at home alone doing whatever he wants. Pettingill asks about Vader, Diesel says that Vader hasn’t proved himself in the WW[Blank] yet (sounds like what the Kliq were saying backstage). Diesel says he doesn’t have a problem with The Undertaker but can’t understand why Undertaker is #1 contender when he hasn’t had his re-match.
WWF TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
THE SMOKING GUNNS (C) vs. THE BODY DONNAS
It should be noted that we are 21 days into 1996 and this is the first title match we’ve had this year. Remember when title matches were infrequent and thus more important? Sunny is wearing very little and actually gets to cut her pre-match promo without being talked over by the commentators. The F is even blurred out in the Smoking Gunns’ chyron. Stupid pandas.
Skip and Billy start the match and the stronger Billy gets a clothesline in for an early two count, however Skip is the quicker and uses a nice hurracanrana. Skip comes off the rope but gets back body dropped by Billy, however Billy charges at him and Skip drops down to send Billy over the top rope. Zip and Skip use the top rope to slingshot Billy back in and the Body Donnas begin to double team him, they then try to do the same to Bart but he ends up slingshotting them over the top rope. I miss that spot, however ridiculous it is. Billy charges and goes over the top rope to wipe out both Skip and Zip, but it’s a good job Bart held the top rope down as Billy had no chance of getting over it otherwise. Back in the ring and Bart and Billy take turns punching Skip, a hard right then drops Zip for good measure. Sunny goes over to the Gunns’ corner to distract Bart with some leg-showing and waving, but Bart ignores her and tags in to face Zip. A few chops have no effect on big Bart who just flings Zip into the corner and chops him instead, a whip to the corner then results in Zip stumbling into a military press slam. Bart whips Zip into the ropes but there’s a blind tag, Bart goes after Zip but Skip comes in to nail him with a clothesline. Skip lands a couple of right hands before sending Bart off the ropes, this time Billy gets the blind tag and shoves Skip into Bart setting him up for the Hart Attack double team move. Sunny gets on the apron but gets knocked off when Billy hits the ropes, being the kind man he is Billy goes out to check on her but that just leads him to get stomped on by the Body Donnas. Women are trouble.
Bart comes over to sort things out but the referee sends him back to his corner allowing Skip to fly over the top rope with a cross body. Back inside Skip gets a scoop slam before Zip suplexes Skip on to Billy for a 2 count, another scoop slam is followed by Zip powerbombing Skip on to Billy for another two count. Skip attacks Bart to get him to enter the ring, when the referee is distracted by this it allows the Body Donnas to double team Billy with a double whip into the corner. Zip applies a rear chinlock to slow the pace down significantly, Billy manages to fight his way out of that but can’t make the tag. Skip scoop slams Billy again and comes off the second rope with an elbow drop for another 2 count, Zip gets tagged in and they hit Billy with a double team flapjack for a two count yet again. The camera spends a lot of time on Sunny just to remind us who the star is here. We get an almighty mess when Skip, Zip and Billy are meant to bonk heads but they’re all way too far away from each other, however Billy takes advantage of the situation to tag in Bart. In comes Bart and he’s a HOUSE OF FIRE, there are punches for everyone until the Gunns whip the Body Donnas into each other, Billy then hits a scoop slam on Zip. Bart and Billy hit the Sidewinder (THAT’S THEIR MOVE!) but Sunny is on the apron distracting Jack Doan again so the pinfall isn’t noticed, Skip then comes off the corner with a diving elbow drop but that only gets a two count. The Body Donnas set Bart up for a double back body drop, then go for a double suplex, however Billy comes in to spear Zip, Bart gets an inside cradle on Skip and that gets the three count and the champions retain their titles! Sunny is most displeased with the result of the match and throws a tantrum in the ring whilst the Gunns celebrate with the fans.
Winners: The Smoking Gunns via Pinfall)
I enjoyed the match even though there were elements of it that were a bit chaotic, there were also moments where the match took less of a priority to Sunny’s antics, but believe me when I say that will be a running theme in the tag team division for 1996. The rest of the contest was pretty fun, I loved the old school nature of some of the tag spots including the finish, and the action was predominantly at a fast pace. This would be the last time the Gunns defended the titles as an injury to Billy caused them to be stripped of the titles. Considering how much Sunny was being pushed I’m surprised they didn’t lose them here anyway.
I can’t escape it. We get a compilation of the Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ War Room skits. They even blank out the WWF initials during these skits.
We get a recap of the Razor Ramon/Goldust feud, to sum it up Goldust bought Razor a load of presents, Razor very ungratefully broke most of them and got himself counted out against Jeff Hardy in the process, Goldust got Razor’s name “tattooed” on his chest, and Razor beat the ever-loving hell out of him in a backstage assault on Raw that ended up in the snow with both men falling over a lot.
WWF INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH
RAZOR RAMON (C) vs. GOLDUST
Goldust isn’t coming out alone, he’s bringing out a lady with him. That lady would be Terri Runnels going by the name of Marlena, she was Goldust’s real life wife at the time and had joined the WWF after a spell in WCW as Alexandra York. Goldust’s usher is also with him but nobody cares about him. Marlena was brought in to add some ambiguity to Goldust’s character, gay rights groups had been pressuring the WWF due to their belief that Goldust was negatively portraying the homsexual community, so the WWF decided to show he wasn’t gay in the first place. I always liked Goldust’s entrance because the screen going into a letterbox format was so unique, plus his music is great. Razor gets his full pyro treatment too to try and keep up in the elaborate entrance stakes.
Before the bell Goldust is on all fours crawling towards Razor which disgusts the Bad Guy, he also seems annoyed by the presence of Marlena at ringside but I’m sure she has a valid manager’s license. Goldust is wearing a shinier body suit than usual which would become his normal suit soon enough. Goldust does his chest inhaling so Razor throws his toothpick in his face. Goldust continues the mind games by refusing to lock up, choosing to fondle himself and sit in the corner instead. Razor eventually gets hold of him and uses Goldust’s arm as leverage to send him into the mat a few times, Razor then grabs a side headlock but Goldust breaks free and fondles himself again. Razor gets a waistlock, Goldust reverses it and puts his hands all over Razor’s chest causing Razor to break away and look disgusted. They lock up again and Goldust backs Razor into the corner, he gives him a clean break but also strokes his hair causing Razor to push him backwards to the mat. Razor continues to work the left arm but gets belted by a hard right hand from Goldust, Razor takes Goldust down and slaps him on the back of the head a few times, then gives him a spank on the backside as well. It should come as no surprise that Goldust likes that. A big right hands sends Goldust outside and he hides behind Marlena to stop Razor attacking him. They head back into the ring and do some chain wrestling, Razor eventually wins that with a hard right hand. Once again Goldust goes outside and uses Marlena has a human shield, they eventually get back in the ring where Goldust blows Razor a kiss. Razor lands a kick to the gut and sends Goldust off the ropes, Goldust grabs the top rope but Razor follows up with a clothesline to send him outside. Once again Goldust hides behind Marlena, this time Razor picks Marlena up and moves her out of the way but that gives Goldust the chance to attack from behind.
Goldust drives Razor back first into the apron twice and lands his trademark crouched uppercut, Razor gets sent back in whilst Goldust climbs to the top rope and lands a double axe handle to the spine. Goldust whips Razor into the corner turnbuckle three times and catches Razor with a bulldog when he stumbles out the third time, that gets him a 2 count. Goldust delivers a back suplex using the top rope for extra momentum for another 2 count, Goldust then takes Razor over to the ropes where Marlena blows some gold dust into his eyes. Goldust comes off the ropes and slams Razor’s face into the mat, then connects with a running neckbreaker for a 2 count. Goldust sends Razor off the ropes and gets a sleeper hold locked in, Razor begins to fade as the commentators speculate what Goldust might do with an unconscious Razor Ramon. Eventually Razor begins to fight back and catches Goldust with a mule kick low blow with the referee unsighted. Both men are down until the count of 8 when Goldust drapes an arm over Razor but it only gets a two count, Razor begins to fight back with some right hands, Goldust tries a hip toss but Razor blocks it and delivers a Chokeslam for a 2 count. Razor scoops Goldust up and delivers his trademark Fallaway slam for a two count, but Goldust fights back with a thumb to the eye and climbs to the top rope, however Razor takes his legs away and crotches him on the turnbuckle. Marlena is now trying to get in the ring as Razor delivers a back suplex from the top rope, Marlena pretends to twist her ankle to distract the referee allowing the 1-2-3 Kid to run in from the crowd and hits a spinning heel kick from the top rope. The referee turns around to see Goldust covering Razor and counts the three! Ladies and gentlemen we have a NEW Intercontinental Champion, Goldust now has some real gold to go with his ring outfit.
Winner: Goldust via Pinfall
This match was a bit of disappointment to me, the build-up to the match was the best of any on the card but the match itself got stuck behind the storyline, Goldust’s mind games led to a lot of stalling, hiding and a general lack of action. Also 1-2-3 Kid’s interference was hardly subtle, so where was Gorilla Monsoon to overturn the decision with video evidence like in the Free-For-All match?
It’s time for some brief promos from some of the Royal Rumble participants. First Dr. Unger (Daffney’s father?) tells us that Shawn Michaels is ready to go, despite Michaels saying that he’s returning against doctor’s orders. Owen Hart says he’s going to win and is after Michaels to end his career, Jake Roberts threatens to eat people, Jerry Lawler is going to win it because he’s royal, and Barry Horowitz thinks his chances of winning are 30/1 which is that stupid maths that wrestling uses all the time. More importantly we get our first look at Vader in the WWF although his manager Jim Cornette does most of the talking, he’s very proud to be able to manage the career of the mastodon. Vader says it’s Vader time, slams a locker door shut and then rams his head into it a few times. Alrighty then. Shawn Michaels says he did it last year and he’s going to win the Rumble again this year.
1996 ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH
Let’s get this started, the time intervals aren’t stated so I’ll have to work it out. #1 is Hunter Hearst Helmsley as we know, Henry O. Godwinn is #2 to match up the two opponents from the Hog Pen match at In Your House 5 in what I’m sure is just a coincidence. They trade punches to start and HHH backs Godwinn into the corner for more right hands, HHH whips him to the other corner but Godwinn comes back with a clothesline. Godwinn sends HHH off the ropes and delivers a back body drop, he then whips HHH into the corner who nearly goes over the top, Godwinn then tries to military press HHH out but a thumb to the eye stops that. HHH chokes Godwinn on the middle rope and lands some short punches to the jaw, Godwinn fights back as the countdown clock begins, it looks like 2 minute intervals. Here comes #3, Mr. Bob Backlund in full Damien Sandow-esque robe. Backlund stops Godwinn from eliminating HHH (WHY?!) and tries to eliminate Godwinn, an elbow from Godwinn stops that but now HHH and Backlund are fighting with some right hands from Backlund. Godwinn tries to throw Backlund out but HHH stops him (WHY?!), HHH tries to eliminate Backlund but Backlund reverses that, Godwinn then stops the elimination (WHY?!). Entrant #4 is Jerry Lawler as HHH lands a flying knee on Godwinn, Lawler has a fantastic mullet as the crowd chant “Burger King” at him. Lawler brings in Godwinn’s slop bucket as HHH and Backlund hold Godwinn, however Godwinn fights them off and all three heels bail out of the ring once he gets the bucket. They have a meeting but Godwinn slops them all as they stand there, Lawler gets the most of it. Entrant #5 is Bob “Spark Plug” Holly who gives Lawler a back body drop straight away, lots of attempted eliminations go nowhere with Godwinn the closest to leaving at the hands of Helmsley.
Very little happens until entrant #6 which is King Mabel, accompanied by Sir Mo. Mabel chokes Godwinn straight away but can’t eliminate him even with the help of fellow royalty Lawler, HHH is trying to eliminate Holly, Backlund then tries to eliminate both of them but it’s not gonna happen. Entrant #7 is Jake Roberts making his WWF return with a bag over his shoulder, he gets in the ring and opens it up to reveal a python sending everyone out of the ring through the middle rope except Lawler who gets caught and dragged to meet the snake. Lawler scurries out eventually whilst the snake is put back in the bag and we get back to business. Everyone gets back in the ring except Lawler who hides under the ring. Still nobody has been eliminated. Entrant #8 is DORY FUNK JR complete with cowboy hat who is referred to as a former NWA champion, and he squares off with Bob Backlund to nearly eliminate him. Godwinn comes off the middle rope with a clothesline to Mabel who wipes HHH out in the process, most likely by mistake. Entrant #9 is Yokozuna, Backlund has Funk in the Chicken Wing but Yokozuna interrupts that and FINALLY eliminates Backlund (#1). Yokozuna and Mabel square off in the corner squashing Henry Godwinn in the process, Holly does a hurracanrana on Godwinn and Mabel splashes him. Not a good two minutes for Godwinn, and it gets worse when he’s eliminated by Roberts (#2). Entrant #10 is 1-2-3 Kid but Razor Ramon is after him in hot pursuit, in and out of the ring they go before officials come out to get Razor calmed down and sent to the back. This scuffle takes up most of the next two minutes as all the other wrestlers stand in the corners not drawing any attention. Funk gives Kid an airplane spin but Holly takes him down.
Entrant #11 is Takao Omori on a one-shot deal from AJPW who goes straight after Mabel in a poor move, but does knock him down with a dropkick. That brings Yokozuna over to double team Omori with Mabel, Omori tries to slam Mabel but that doesn’t work. I should not that Yokozuna is already using the ropes to stand up after four minutes. Entrant #12 is Savio Vega who also runs straight into Mabel, but he catches him with his spinning heel kick. Yokozuna finally gets his second elimination when he picks up Mabel (#3) by himself and throws him out, and Omori (#4) gets thrown out by Roberts. Entrant #13 is VADER making his WWF debut accompanied by Jim Cornette, Vader pummels Bob Holly for a bit and no-sells anything Holly throws, Savio manages to eliminate Dory Funk (#5) and his reward is some headbutts and punches from Vader. Entrant #14 is Doug Gilbert who even Mr. Perfect doesn’t recognise despite being a former partner of Eddie Gilbert. Yokozuna and Vader start slugging it out but Cornette tells them not to. Vader eliminates Roberts (#6) with a club to the chest, Vader then ignores Kid’s offense and knocks him down. Entrant #15 is Headhunter #1 and the crowd goes SILENT. Literally, completely silent. Vader gives Gilbert a hell of a Chokeslam before military pressing Gilbert (#7) out of the ring despite nearly dropping him. Vader then throws out the Headhunter (#8) but the second member of the Headhunters (aka Headhunter #2) is Entrant #16. I should note that the Headhunters are referred to as the Samoan Squat Team, but that’s too long to write a lot.
Headhunter 1 comes back in with his twin brother and they go after Vader, but Vader throws #1 out again whilst Yokozuna eliminates the other one (#9). Not a lot happens until Entrant #17 which is Owen Hart meaning there are three Camp Cornette members in the match now. Owen pairs off with the 1-2-3 Kid, Vader fights with Savio, HHH fights with Holly, Yokozuna has another break. Eventually Vader and Yoko team up to squash Savio in spectacular fashion, Vader then slams and splashes Savio before Yokozuna drops a leg. Entrant #18 is SHAWN MICHAELS to a decent but not explosive reaction, Vader then eliminates Savio (#10) whilst Michaels fights with everyone. Yokozuna and Vader start slapping each other, then punching each other much to Cornette’s displeasure, Vader takes his mask off to show he means business but as they back each other up to the ropes Michaels comes over and eliminates both of them! (#11 & #12) Michaels then eliminates 1-2-3 Kid (#13) for good measure. Entrant #19 is Hakushi but there’s a fight between Yokozuna and Vader on the outside that’s more interesting. Vader gets back in the ring to assault Michaels, Vader throws Michaels over the top rope but apparently that’s not an elimination unlike every other time this happens. Vader throws out Owen, Holly and HHH too but none of these count. Gorilla Monsoon is out again telling Vader to go to the back which he eventually does, but his dominance has already made him the biggest heel in the company. Entrant #20 is Tatanka whilst Michaels throws Cornette over the top, Hakushi then delivers a handspring back elbow to Owen. The action slows down again with lots of elimination attempts, it seems to be Michaels nearly going out the most but Owen manages to get Hakushi out (#14).
Entrant #21 is Aldo Montoya which disappoints everyone in attendance, Michaels heads outside of the ring and walks around looking for Jerry Lawler who is still under the ring, Michaels drags him out and throws him back in the ring. Entrant #22 is Diesel as Tatanka eliminates Aldo Montoya (#15) and Michaels eliminates Lawler (#16). Diesel knocks down HHH, eliminates Tatanka (#17), clubs down Owen, and then punches his good friend Michaels. but Owen rakes his eyes. Diesel goes over to stop both HHH and Holly eliminating Michaels (WHY?!) as Entrant #23 comes out which is Kama, the supreme fighting machine. Kama goes after Diesel with some rights and lefts but he can’t eliminate him, and there’s very little action for the remainder of these two minutes. Entrant #24 is The Ringmaster now with his own theme music and he chop blocks Holly straight away, he then manages to get the upper hand against Diesel. Ringmaster eliminates Holly (#18) whilst Owen fails to eliminate Michaels. HHH has now been in for nearly 50 minutes as he gets the push as the longest survivor. Entrant #25 is Barry Horowitz who does not fare well against Diesel, HHH and Ringmaster are trying to eliminate each other whilst Owen and Michaels continue their duel. HHH is finally eliminated (#19) when Diesel just picks him up and throws him over the top.
Entrant #26 is Fatu, and he’s here to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Super kick to Kama straight away but we’re soon back to what I like to call “fake elimination time wasting”, Owen is still trying to get Michaels out without much success whilst Barry Horowitz is still in there somehow. Entrant #27 is Isaac Yankem DDS and he goes straight after Diesel, meanwhile Horowitz (#20) is eliminated by Owen. Michaels then gets nailed by an enziguri from Owen, the same move that knocked him out, but when Owen tries to eliminate Michaels it gets turned around and Michaels eliminates Owen (#21). Neither of the commentators notice this. Ringmaster nails Michaels with a vicious clothesline, Entrant #28 is Marty Jannetty who goes after Diesel but gets nailed by Kama and Isaac Yankem. More elimination time wasting before the former Rockers start trading blows, eventually they knock each other down. Vince manages to get Fatu and Kama mixed up every time one of them is on screen. Entrant #29 is the British Bulldog who was runner-up in the 1995 Rumble, and he goes straight after the 1995 winner Shawn Michaels. Of course because the British Bulldog is in the ring we have to get a shot of Diana Hart sitting in the crowd. Bulldog eliminates Jannetty (#22) with ease, Yankem sends out Fatu (#24). The reason there’s no #23 elimination is because Ringmaster is out and I didn’t see how or by who, Wikipedia says it was by Fatu though. In my defence the announcers didn’t see it either. Entrant #30 is of course Duke Droese following his “win” earlier tonight, I can’t help feeling the 30 place would have been better used on someone that people believed had a chance of winning.
Bulldog and Michaels fight to the outside when Owen Hart returns to attack Michaels sending him head first into the guard rail before being dragged away. Bulldog presses Michaels but Diesel interrupts the elimination attempt, Michaels then dropkicks Yankem out (#25) before Diesel and Kama team up to eliminate Droese (#26) after less than two minutes in the match. We’re down to the final four, Michaels, Diesel, Bulldog and Kama. Michaels is nearly eliminated by Bulldog but ducks under a right hand, slides through Bulldog’s legs and clotheslines the Englishman out (#27). Kama then sends Michaels over the top but he skins the cat to stay in, Diesel clotheslines Kama out (#28) but Michaels comes over and nails a Sweet Chin Music on Diesel to send him over the top (#29) and take the victory! That was a hectic last thirty seconds which probably left a lot of people confused. Michaels celebrates his second consecutive Rumble victory afterwards but Diesel isn’t so happy as he takes out the British Bulldog in the entranceway, Dok Hendrix tries to get an interview but gets shouted at instead. Diesel gets back into the ring to interrupt a Michaels striptease… but only offers a high five to his friend. He’s still not happy though.
Winner: Shawn Michaels
Time: 58:52 (Obviously the 2 minute intervals didn’t last)
I’m such a big fan of Royal Rumble matches that it’s hard for me not to like them, and I could tolerate this one for the most part. However there was so much time spent with nothing happening, nothing that did happen was particularly memorable other than the debut of Vader, so many entrants that had no chance of winning, and as a result of the ring getting crowded so often there were periods of mass eliminations including the end. As a result he rating I’m giving it is the bare minimum I could give a Royal Rumble match.
WWF TITLE MATCH
BRET HART (C) vs. THE UNDERTAKER
Undertaker comes out first with his Phantom of the Opera mask and Paul Bearer leading the way, however we have some storyline development before this match begins. Diesel is still walking back from the ring after the Rumble match and comes face to face with Undertaker after shoving Bearer out of the way. Diesel and Undertaker then start brawling in the aisle before referees and officials intervene to separate them and Diesel is led backstage. Bret Hart eventually comes out to make his first on-screen arena appearance of 1996.
Hart utilises his speed at the start to avoid Undertaker’s attempts to lock up and eventually Bret manages to get in some punches, however the rights to the head don’t do any damage. Undertaker throws Bret into the corner and hits some right hands to the body before blatantly choking him, Taker then nails an uppercut to the throat and whips Bret into the opposite corner, as he stumbles back he gets another chokehold applied. The crowd is really quiet, mostly because this is a face v face match-up. Undertaker continues taking Bret into a corner and landing some slow, deliberate punches and uppercuts, he then whips Bret into the opposite corner which takes the Hitman to his knees. Taker puts Bret in what can only be called a clawhold for over a minute pushing Bret’s shoulders to the mat but not getting a pinfall, Bret gets to the ropes but Bearer pushes his foot off. Maybe Undertaker is playing the heel here after all. Bret wraps his legs around the ropes to break the hold, but Undertaker keeps control by connecting with the move that would be called “Old School” now, but at this time doesn’t have a name. Taker goes back to that damn clawhold which is making me angrier every time he does it, thankfully he breaks it himself but only to push Bret back into the corner for more slow punches. Undertaker is eventually caught being too slow as Bret gets his legs up to stop him charging into the corner, Bret then connects with a diving clothesline off the second rope but can’t get Undertaker off his feet. Bret clotheslines Undertaker over the top rope and then goes over the top with a pescado to wipe the Deadman out, Bret lands some mounted right hands but Undertaker sits right up. Bret gets on the apron and leaps off but only finds Undertaker’s waiting arms, Bret then gets driven back first into the ring post.
Undertaker is back in control so the action crawls to a snail’s pace again, his attempt to drive Bret head first into the ring post ends with Bret reversing and sending Taker into it, but Bret’s follow up is just him running into Undertaker’s boot. Taker sends Bret into the guard rail and lands a hard right hand, then another, then tries to whip Bret into the ring steps only for Bret to reverse it and send Undertaker into them. Bret immediately starts going after the left knee of Undertaker (who sells the correct leg, take note Ahmed Johnson) and soon Undertaker and Bret are back in the ring with Bret continuing to work the leg. Bret uses the bottom rope to his advantage to twist the Undertaker’s knee, then for some reason Bret starts going for Undertaker’s mask but doesn’t get it off. Bret drives an elbow to the leg of Undertaker and gets a kneebar locked in briefly, a couple of knees to leg are next as well as a few more kicks. It’s time for the Figure Four Leglock, a move made famous by Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Undertaker tries to reach the ropes even though he doesn’t seem to be in much pain. Undertaker is able to reverse the hold and thus reverse the pain, now Bret is the one in trouble but is able to make it to the ropes. Undertaker is having trouble standing, and Bret is quick to go right back to that leg with more kicks to the damaged joint. Brent relentlessly goes after the leg but to be honest his offense is getting a bit repetitive, he goes back to that kneebar again but Undertaker fights out of it with elbows and strikes, Bret tries to get the mask off again but can’t do it. Bret lands more strikes to the damaged leg and goes back to another kneebar that gets a 2 count on a distracted Undertaker. The crowd now seem to be behind The Undertaker with a “Rest In Peace” chant, maybe Bret’s constant kneebars have annoyed them. Oh look, there’s another. Undertaker gets out of this one with heel strikes to the face which look pretty brutal and he sends Bret outside of the ring. Undertaker follows him and sends Bret into the ring steps, Undertaker then grabs a spare piece of cable and chokes Bret with it, the referee being distracted by Paul Bearer. Undertaker takes Bret to the other side of the ring and throws Bret into the timekeeper’s table, he then strikes him with the edge of a chair. Bearer is doing a fine distraction job here. Back in the ring Undertaker sends Bret off the ropes but misses with a big boot, that allows Bret to take his bad leg out again. The crowd are now booing Bret as he keeps after Undertaker’s leg even though it’s Undertaker who has been cheating throughout the match. Bret drags Undertaker to the corner and heads outside to wrap his leg around the ringpost, Bret then goes back in and GOES BACK TO THE KNEEBAR.
Undertaker fights out of it (I don’t know how as the camera didn’t see it) and headbutts Bret using his mask for extra damage. A leg drop connects, Undertaker then picks Bret up, sends him off the ropes and clotheslines him. Undertaker goes for the Tombstone but Bret drops down on to the apron and hangs Undertaker’s neck across the top rope. Bret comes off the ropes to a downed Undertaker and delivers a DDT for a 2 count, Undertaker then sits up but Bret takes him back down with a side Russian legsweep. Undertaker sits up again so Bret uses his next move of doom, the running bulldog, but Undertaker sits up once more. Bret goes for the backbreaker, and this time Undertaker can’t sit up. Bret comes off the second rope with an elbow drop so we’re ready for the Sharpshooter, he can’t get it locked in though as Undertaker goozles him from his back but only knees him in the gut. Undertaker sends Bret off the ropes, follows him, Bret ducks under a clothesline and then they both double clothesline each other. Referee Earl Hebner counts both men but Bret is up first, he goes over to the corner to expose a turnbuckle and then goes back to Undertaker to rip his mask off (“facial appliance” if you’re Vince McMahon), we finally get a reason for why Bret’s doing it as strikes to the head will now have some effect. In fact Bret takes it a step further by driving Taker head first into the exposed turnbuckle twice, this is enough to get the crowd really against him. Bret lands a couple of headbutts but when he comes for a crossbody he is caught by Undertaker who hoists Bret into position and delivers the Tombstone Piledriver! Undertaker covers him but Diesel comes back and drags the referee out of the ring. That outside interference is enough for the referee to call for the bell disqualifying Bret, Undertaker wins but he doesn’t get the title due to the disqualification. Paul Bearer looks surprised by this for some reason. Diesel sticks a middle finger up at Undertaker and heads to the back followed by the Deadman who seems to have given up selling the leg that Bret worked on for 20 minutes. Sigh.
Winner: The Undertaker via Disqualification
Considering the two men involved in this match I’m amazed at how poor this match was. It was almost as if they were given half an hour to fill and couldn’t think of any way to make up the time except for doing long clawholds and kneebars. Undertaker’s 1990s style doesn’t help matters as it’s a lot different to how he is now, and by different I mean “slower and boring”. As for the finish, I hate DQs on PPV undercard matches, I really hate it in the Main Event. It makes so little sense to have this last instead of the Rumble with such a screwy finish, I’m guessing the order was only this way to get the Diesel/Undertaker confrontation in both before and after the match. Anyway, this match was a massive letdown and a really disappointing end to the show.
Except it’s not quite the end as we have some post-show developments. Todd Pettingill catches up with WWF president Gorilla Monsoon who mistakenly calls this a tremendous event and announces that Bret Hart will defend against Diesel at In Your House 6. That seems very unfair to Undertaker. Dok Hendrix is with the winner of the WW[Blank] Royal Rumble Shawn Michaels who seems to have taken “something” to celebrate his victory based on his jumpiness, he says he told everyone he was going to win, and he did. Hendrix asks his feeling on the Bret/Diesel match and Michaels doesn’t care who he faces at WrestleMania as he’s going to win. Back to Pettingill and Monsoon, the president is just chatting when Undertaker approaches and says it will be a cold day in hell before Diesel hold the WWF Title again. That would turn out to be an accurate statement. To avoid any outside interference Monsoon makes the Bret/Diesel match a steel cage match. Back to Hendrix who is now with Diesel who is now in heel mode, he says Bret Hart lives and breathes because Diesel allows it, and that you’ve got to love him because he’s the best thing going today. He then looks off camera to someone (probably Michaels) with a smirk after stealing Ric Flair’s catchphrase. Diesel says that he’s not scared of the dark or The Undertaker, only the taxman (and quad tears). He then cuts a pretty good promo about how the WWF still runs on Diesel power, but people might not like how he runs it. Back to Pettingill who is now with Jim Cornette and Vader, Cornette is talking, Vader is throwing chairs and beating up lockers. Cornette calls Vader the real winner of the Royal Rumble and puts the whole WWF on notice.
Well that was the 1996 Royal Rumble and I have to say it wasn’t a very impressive show at all. The best match of the night in my opinion was the Royal Rumble match but that was more due to the reputation of the match type than the action in it, the Tag Team Title match at least reached the rank of “decent” but the other three matches were either dull or a letdown. There were a few positive things though, Vader’s debut was well handled and he was made to look like a monster, Diesel made himself a lot more interesting with his heel turn, and Ahmed Johnson didn’t injure anybody. The sad thing is that I really liked this show when I watched it the first time back in 1996, but I was only 9 then and my different take on wrestling makes me look at it in a different light now.
Thanks for reading the recap of the Rumble, join us next time when we’ll be continuing our trip through 1996 with the RAW and Superstars that followed after the Royal Rumble PPV. See you then!