Thursday, 26 January 2012

WWF Royal Rumble 1991 - Retro Review

With this year’s Royal Rumble just a few days away there’s no better time than to revive my tradition of looking back at a previous “big four” show.

For this we’re going back to January 19th, 1991. Allied forces were taking part in the Operation Desert Storm campaign to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s invading forces, and in Miami Iraqi sympathiser Sgt. Slaughter was challenging the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF title at the Royal Rumble.

The show began with tag team action as Mr. Fuji’s Orient Express team of Kato and Tanaka went up against the Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty.

This was actually the second version of the Orient Express, with Akio Sato having left and been replaced by Tanaka’s old Badd Company partner from his AWA days Paul Diamond, and as Diamond was as close to looking Japanese as I am they had to put him under a hood.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this show I’d forgotten how good this match was. It was a great way to open the show as well as being a great example of tag team wrestling at it’s finest.

It began with the Express attacking the Rockers as they entered the ring before it settled down into a regular tag team match. The action was so fluid that it was a joy to watch.

As was his custom Mr. Fuji got involved, clobbering Michaels with his cane. But in the end it didn’t have any effect on the outcome.

The ending was quite inventive. Kato had used a sling-shot move to send Janetty into one of Tanaka’s knife-edge chops. They then tried to go for the move again, only for Michaels to come back into the ring and disrupt their plans. So when Kato sling-shot Janetty again he took out Tanaka with a sunset flip for the winning pin.

Then came the dramatic segment of the show. Backstage Sean Mooney had interviewed “Macho King” Randy Savage saying that Sgt. Slaughter had guaranteed him a shot at the title if he won.

In the arena Sensational Queen Sherri virtually dragged Gene Okerlund into the arena for an interview, calling out the Ultimate Warrior and insulting him until he made an appearance.

Sherri’s mood changed instantly as she began to compliment the champion on everything from his physique to his hair, at one point getting down on her knees in front of him as she begged for a title shot for the Macho King.

At first the Warrior seemed flattered until, with just one word he ruined their dream. That word was a resounding no.

The Warrior then left the arena before an irate Savage came running through the crowd to curse his luck.

Then it was back to the action as the Barbarian, accompanied by Bobby Heenan, met the challenge of the Big Boss Man.

This was when the Boss Man was waging his war with the Heenan Family. If you recall “Ravishing” Rick Rude had been “suspended” for making rude comments about the Boss Man’s mother before moving on to WCW, and having taken care of Haku he had the Barbarian in his sights.

No technical classic here, this was just two big guys beating the hell out of each other, and it was very entertaining.

The Barbarian impressed with power moves as he sought to put the former prison guard away with bear hugs and the like. The Boss Man, for his part, showed that his power had been allied with a turn of speed as he used hit and run tactics.

As this back and forth encounter went on became more dramatic by the minute. Both men went for their finishers, the Barbarian with his top rope clothesline and the Boss Man with his side slam, but neither man could get the pin because they were two close to the ropes.

Then the Barbarian went to the top rope for a second time and came down with a cross body block. The momentum carried the Boss Man into a pinning position for the three count and the win to take him on to his next stop, challenging Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania VII.

After two backstage interviews with the protagonists it was on to the big title match as Sgt. Slaughter, accompanied by General Adnan, challenged the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF title.

As the hated heels made their entrance commentators Gorilla Monsoon and Roddy Piper went to great pains to tell the television audience that the views of Slaughter and Adnan were in no way the views of the WWF. Well, they may not have been the views of the company but they were certainly willing to take advantage of a war in the Middle East.

While this may not go down as one of the best title matches in history it will go down as one of the most dramatic.

It began with Slaughter and Adnan attempting to attack the Warrior with their Iraqi flag as he entered the ring, only for the Warrior to foil the attack before we had the symbolic moment with the Warrior ripping up the flag and choking his challenger with it.

As the Warrior assaulted Slaughter Sensational Queen Sherri came running down to ringside and grabbed his leg as he ran the ropes. The champ turned his attention away from the match and chased Sherri up the aisle, only to be assaulted by Randy Savage.

The Warrior began to crawl back to the ring as Slaughter broke the referee’s count time and time again, and when the champion eventually made it back to ringside Slaughter began his attack, working over the Warrior’s back before putting him in the camel clutch.

There was one problem though, because the Warrior’s feet were under the ropes, and when the referee made Slaughter break the hold the Sarge thought he’d won the match, so when he began arguing with the official the Warrior began to shake the ropes.

As the Warrior made his comeback Sherri appeared again, jumping on the ring apron. The Warrior dragged her into the ring and pressed slammed her over the top rope onto the hastily returning Savage.

This left him open to another attack from the Sarge, who attacked him from behind and began to choke him over the middle rope. But when the referee pushed Slaughter back and admonished him Savage went on the attack, smashing his sceptre over his skull before running for cover.

And that was it. Slaughter dragged the Warrior’s lifeless form back into the ring and took the pin. Everyone seemed confused, wondering if Slaughter had actually been disqualified. Then the Fink made the announcement that there was a new and highly controversial WWF Champion, and as Slaughter celebrated the Warrior raced up the aisle, intent on revenge.

Normal and less controversial action resumed as the Mountie, accompanied by Jimmy Hart, went up against Koko B. Ware.

The sole intention of this match was to introduce Jacques Rougeau’s new gimmick. Koko put in some good work early on, using his speed to good effect before the lawman took control, clobbering Koko in the head with his cattle prod at one point while little Jimmy distracted the referee.

Koko made his comeback and almost got the win with a cross body block, but it was the Mountie who got his man, taking Koko down with a slam similar to that used by his future feud opponent, the Big Boss Man.

After a ton of backstage interview including Sgt. Slaughter gloating about his title win and the interruption of the Macho King’s interview when the Warrior found his dressing room it was on to the next match as Dusty Rhodes and his boy Dustin took on “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and his bodyguard Virgil.

This was the match that ended the Virgil/Dibiase relationship. As the match began Dibiase ordered his bodyguard into the ring, only for young Dustin to take the upper hand early on.

The Rhodes boys had some success early on until Rhodes missed a corner attack and rammed his knee into the corner pad. The hated heels then began to work over the injured limb until Virgil accidentally took his boss out with a clothesline when Dustin ducked out of the way.

Dibiase was irate, attacking his bodyguard and tossing him out of the ring. Meanwhile Dustin had made the tag to his old man, and after a brief exchange Dibiase took the pin with a roll up after Rhodes had missed an elbow in the corner.

Pleased with his win Dibiase grabbed the microphone and gloated in the ring before chastising Virgil for his performance and ordering him into the ring with his custom-made title belt. Dibiase ordered Virgil to put the belt around his waist, but the bodyguard refused, dropping it on the mat in front of him.

Dibiase then reminded him of his family, and in particular his mother, before ordering him to pick up the belt and to put it around his waist again.

By this time Virgil had had enough and clobbered his boss with the belt, leaving him lying in the ring as the crowd roared with approval as he made his way backstage.

After the usual hype job from the Hulkster where Mean Gene revealed that the new champion had apparently defaced the American flag it was on to the main event, the Royal Rumble match.

Beginning with Bret Hart and Dino Bravo, who were soon joined by Greg Valentine and Paul Roma, this match was full of the kind of action you’d expect from the Rumble.

There were the long stints from the likes of Valentine, Hercules, Tito Santana and Davey Boy Smith, but none of these lasted as long as “The Model” Rick Martel, who broke the record by lasting 52 minutes and 17 seconds, coming in at 6, lasting until he was eliminated by Davey Boy. It was a record that would only last a year though.

It was also the first appearance in the Rumble match by the Undertaker, who was still being managed by the ever annoying Brother Love at this point. I was already a massive ‘Taker mark at that point, and I was utterly devastated when he was the 9th man out of the contest, eliminated by the Legion of Doom after just over 14 minutes.

Conspicuous by his absence was Randy Savage. The Macho King was due to come in at number 18 but never showed, having apparently fled the arena to escape from the clutches of the Ultimate Warrior.

The final three were Earthquake (entrant number 22), Hulk Hogan (entrant number 24) and Brian Knobs of the Nasty Boys (entrant number 28).  Jimmy Hart’s boys had doubled up on the Hulkster, with Earthquake taking him out with his sit-down splash. But when they celebrated their achievement Hogan did his usual thing, suddenly jumping up and quickly sending Knobs over the top rope before taking Quake down with the big boot and a body slam before sending him over the top to claim his second Rumble win.

Oh, and one more notable appearance here, a young Shane McMahon working as a ringside referee.

In conclusion - this was the second Royal Rumble I’d ever seen way back in ‘91, and as I mentioned it’s been years since I’ve seen this show, which is why I’d forgotten how good some of the matches were.

The undercard certainly delivered. The opening tag match was a quality encounter, while the Warrior/Slaughter match is one of the most dramatic title encounters I’ve ever seen, even though the whole Slaughter Iraqi sympathiser angle sucked big time.

As for the Rumble match, what can I say? It’s the Royal frickin’ Rumble! It was the only time of the year back then were you got to see baby faces fighting with baby faces, and heels beating the hell out of heels. This was without question the match of the night.

So in all my trip down memory lane means that this 21 year old show gets the thumbs up, as it did back then. It’s a great example of what a Royal Rumble show should be.