Saturday, 24 January 2009

WWF Royal Rumble 1990 - Retro Review

With this year’s edition of WWE’s Royal Rumble just around the corner, I’m going to keep up my tradition of reviewing past editions of the “big four” pay-per-views by taking a look back at the 1990 version of the Royal Rumble, an event that saw the beginning of the build-up to one of the greatest matches in wrestling history.

But first, a little history lesson. This was actually the first WWF pay-per-view to air live here in Britain, although we didn’t have to pay for it as it aired on Sky One, which meant that we had to put up with awkward cuts for commercial breaks. It also meant that British viewers finally caught up with their American counterparts as far as the weekly television programmes went, having been over two months behind at one point the previous year. It also meant that, with a few exceptions, all the WWF pay-per-views aired live here in Britain, up until the introduction of the In Your House shows.

But enough of the history lesson, onto the show itself, with Tony Schiavone and Jesse “The Body” Ventura handling commentary. The Body is looking resplendent in his Mickey Mouse t-shirt and hat.

The show began with tag-team action, with the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, accompanied by their manager Jimmy Hart, taking on New Zealand’s finest, the Bushwhackers. I remember when this match was first announced I thought “what again?”, mainly because these two had previously faced each other at Wrestlemania V a few months earlier. It’s your basic comedy-style match here, with Luke and Butch pulling all the usual moves, infuriating the All-American boys, their manager, and the referee as well. The brothers looked good when they got their licks in, making me realise, once again, just how much Jacques and Raymond were as a team. But after Luke was doubled-up on for a while, the big break came when he countered Jacques big splash attempt by raising his knees. The mass brawl followed, with Jimmy Hart getting involved, before the cousins took both brothers out with their trademark battering ram, with Butch getting the winning pin on Jacques. This wasn’t that bad a match, certainly better than their Wrestlemania effort, and a good example of the Bushwhackers’ work, one of my favourite teams from the early 90’s.

Match two saw singles action, with Mr. Perfect’s advisor The Genius taking on Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. I was a massive mark for the Barber back then, so this was one match I was really looking forward to. This was an interesting match because, at the time, the former Leaping Lanny didn’t seem to wrestle that often on television, which was a shame considering his heritage and credentials. From the outset the Genius played the part of the heel to perfection, his prancing around the ring drawing from the likes of the great Gorgeous George and Adrian Street, and for me this is what made this match. Beefcake had his moments, but the Genius dominated for the most part, and when the referee took an accidental hit, the brainy one tried to go to work, but soon found himself in Beefcake’s sleeper hold. Moments later the Barber began to cut the Genius’ hair, until Mr. Perfect came charging down the aisle to save his buddy, eventually clobbering Beefcake with a chair until the referee brigade came running down to stop the fight. As for the match result, both men were disqualified. This, of course, led to the Perfect/Beefcake match-up at Wrestlemania VI.

Then came the match of the night, with “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin facing Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, accompanied by his manager Jimmy Hart, in a submission match. These two had quite a storied rivalry. Valentine had put Garvin out in a retirement match. Garvin became a referee, which eventually led to an altercation between the two after Garvin referred one of Valentine’s matches. The Hammer then lobbied for Garvin’s re-instatement, and when he returned, Garvin began to wear a leg brace similar to the one worn by Valentine, which the Hammer used to inflict more damage when he applied the figure four leg lock.

This was a great example of the perfect grudge match. From start to finish this was perfectly executed. Both wrestlers went for several pins, having to be reminded by the referee that they could only win by submission. The best moment came when Valentine applied the figure four, only for Garvin’s leg brace to protect him. The look on Garvin’s face as he taunted the Hammer spoke volumes. Moments later Jimmy Hart would remove Garvin’s leg brace after a clash of heads, giving Valentine the chance to apply a second figure four. That attempt ultimately failed, and eventually Garvin would take Valentine’s leg brace and use it himself, clobbering the Hammer with it before applying what the announcers called a reverse figure four, but what we know today as the sharp shooter. Seconds later Valentine was submitting, giving the victory to Garvin, and ending a tremendous match, possibly one of the most under-rated matches in wrestling history.

Chat show time next, with Brother Love, perhaps the most annoying man in WWE history, hosting a segment with Sensational Queen Sherri, manager of “Macho King” Randy Savage, and Dusty Rhodes’ manager, Sapphire. This was basically the set-up to their mixed tag match at Wrestlemania. Basically, Sherri bad mouthed Sapphire, Sapphire clobbered Sherri, before both Rhodes and Savage came to sort things out. After security separated them, Brother Love insulted the American Dream, which was enough for Rhodes to take out his frustrations on the red faced one.

The final singles match followed, with the Big Boss Man, accompanied by his manager Slick, owner of one of the greatest entrance themes ever, taking on “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. These two had met in a six man match at Summerslam a few months before, Duggan teaming with Demolition while the Boss Man was with his Twin Towers partner Akeem and Andre the Giant. This would prove to be one of the Boss Man’s last matches as a heel during his first WWF run, as he turned face shortly afterwards after refusing to take a bribe from “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase.

This was basically a brawl between the two big men. Duggan was, as always, Duggan, while the Boss Man looked to be in the best shape of his career, having recently dropped a ton of weight. It won’t go down as a classic, but it will go down as entertaining. While the Boss Man threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Duggan, old Hacksaw wouldn’t stay down, his brawling tactics proving to be effective. Eventually the weapons came into play. Boss Man’s use of the nightstick earned him a disqualification, giving the victory to Duggan. Duggan then grabbed his trusty two-by-four, and clobbering the Boss Man from behind, The enraged law enforcer retaliated by throwing a chair into the ring, only for Duggan to sit in the chair and let out his trademark chant. This certainly won’t be one for the purists, but it was damn entertaining nonetheless.

Main event time, the Royal Rumble match itself. With Jim Duggan having already competed, and “Big” John Studd having left the company, it meant that a new winner would be crowned. The first two men in the match were Ted Dibiase, who bribed his way to get the number thirty spot the previous year, and Koko B. Ware. Old money bags quickly took care of the Birdman, as well as number three, Marty Janetty, but got the surprise of his life when his long-time nemesis, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, entered at number five. When “Macho King” Randy Savage came in at number six, that was when the action really began. The likes of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, The Warlord, Bret “Hitman” Hart, Bad News Brown and Dusty Rhodes soon followed as the action came thick and fast, with eliminations following at regular intervals. There were even disagreements at ringside between the managers, with Bobby Heenan and Mr. Fuji almost going at it after Andre the Giant eliminated the Warlord. Controversy soon followed though. After Piper eliminated Bad News, Brown got back onto the ring apron and pulled Piper out of the ring. This lead to a wild brawl all the way backstage, and also lead to their match at Wrestlemania VI.

But while the action was great, things got really interesting with the arrival of the Ultimate Warrior at number twenty-one, and Hulk Hogan at twenty-five. Upon the Hulkster’s arrival, both superstars quickly eliminated the rest of competition. And that’s when it happened. With the crowd going crazy, the two biggest stars in the WWF at the time squared off for the first time. It was great to watch back then, especially as we had no idea what this would ultimately lead to. Things were spoiled a little though when the Barbarian, and later Rick Rude, came down to the ring. A few moments later, Hogan eliminated the Warrior.

Eventually, it got down to the final two - Hogan and Mr. Perfect, who had drawn, as he put it, “the perfect number”. Hogan and Perfect feuding at the time, although they never had that big television or pay-per-view match. After Hogan had eliminated Rick Rude, Perfect battered Hogan before taking him down with the perfect-plex, which Hogan inevitably kicked out from. After hulking up, Hogan cleaned house, eliminating Perfect to add the Royal Rumble to his list of achievements, and to end what was a very good match. What really made it for me back then was seeing tag-team specialists take on singles stars, at a time when the WWF kept those two divisions separate. It was also good to see heels against heels, and baby faces against baby faces. Then, of course, there was that confrontation.

In conclusion - while watching this it dawned on me - all of this took place nineteen years ago. I was just eighteen years old when I first saw this show, and I’ve only seen it a couple of times since then. This was the first Royal Rumble I ever saw, and will always be special to me. The matches were great, and it was good to see some of the great talent that the wrestling world had to offer back then. If, like me, you’re a sucker for wrestling history, then I would highly recommend the 1990 version of the Rumble. As the old saying goes, you won’t be disappointed.