The SmarK Rant for WWF Royal Rumble 1996


– Live from Fresno, CA

– Your hosts are Vince and Perfect.

– Free 4 All match: Hunter Hearst Helmsley v. Duke Droese. Winner gets to enter #30, loser gets #1. Duke looks decent enough to start and HHH sells a lot, which is a good thing. This was the debut of the Free 4 All, btw. HHH mixes a single-arm DDT into his usual 4 moves, although he does it twice which lessens the moment somehow. HHH works on the arm and draws (you guessed it) no heat. I’m still amazed that he didn’t get fired six months into his tenure. Big ol’ armbar. The upper reaches of the arena look really empty. HHH continues working on the arm, and goes to the top but of course blows it. Duke with the superman comeback (and he shows three times as many moves as Helmsley) but HHH reverses the Trash Compactor, then gets suplexed for his troubles. Ref gets bumped from the corner and HHH waffles him with an international object and gets the pin. Relatively long FFA match at 9 minutes. BUT WAIT! Gorilla Monsoon waddles down to ringside and reverses the decision, which of course doesn’t have any actual prescedence in wrestling but whatever. Not a terrible match. *1/2

– Opening match: Jeff Jarrett v. Ahmed Johnson. This was JJ’s first aborted attempt at a WWF comeback before jumping to WCW and somehow ending up worse off. There was some sort of angle behind this, but let’s face it, no one cares. This was in fact one of the feuds JJ was bitching about in his quasi-shoot interview on RAW a few months back. Ahmed chases JJ around a bunch and then doesn’t sell much. I’m tellin’ ya, Ahmed = Goldberg. JJ is having no luck here at all. Ahmed screams a *lot*. Ahmed nails a beauty flying clothesline but misses try #2 and gets caught in the ropes. JJ of course takes control. Doesn’t last long, as Ahmed hulks up soon after and catches JJ with a bearhug. Spinebuster, but JJ rolls out of the ring, and gets caught with a decent no-hands tope. Ahmed misses a somersault splash off the top rope (!) and JJ gets the figure-four. Wow, someone’s got their working boots on. Ahmed breaks out twice so JJ gets desperate and smashes the guitar over his head for the hell of it. Bad, bad ending for a PPV match. **

– WWF merchandise shill.

– Big Daddy Cool interview. This was the official kickoff of the Diesel farewell tour and the Undertaker feud.

– WWF tag team championship: The Smokin’ Gunns v. The Bodydonnas. I don’t even wanna scratch the surface of this one. Everyone in this thing is 100% different from 1996. Billy has respect as a foul-mouthed rebel tag wrestler, Bart has respect as a legit tough-guy boxer (Ironic that Billy got the Bad-ass moniker), Zip (Tom Pritchard) has respect as a WWF trainer and head office guy, and Skip has respect as an ECW mainstay and prospect for the big Two again. Sunny is a crack whore, of course, but you can’t win ’em all. Some funky double-team stuff to start, and there’s some teases of the eventual heel turn for Billy. Chris Candido looks like a midget next to these guys. He also looks pudgy. Bart beats on Zip, and it should be noted that Bart nails Zip with a left hand, but he doesn’t get the knockout. I think this may prove wrestling is fake. Sunny jumps on the apron and gets knocked off by Billy accidentally, which prompts him to roll out and offer assistance. The ‘Donnas jump him and of course Sunny is fine. Vince slips up and names Zip as Flip.

NOTE: As I type this, it is 12AM MST, Aug. 30, which means it’s my birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Okay, we’re back. Billy is face in peril. Some kind of goofy triple colision spot allows the hot tag to Lefty, who nails them with FOUR left hands, but they keep getting up! Wow, they’re tough! More double-teaming from the Gunns, and they nail the Sidewinder, but the ref is distracted with Sunny. Midnight Express switcheroo from the Donnas, but it only gets two. The Donnas go for a double suplex but Billy spears one of them and Bart rolls up the other (the exact finish that the Rock n Rolls and Midnights did years before) for the pin. **1/2

– A compilation of Billionaire Ted skits.

– A review of that, uh, fascinating Razor Ramon – Goldust feud which featured Goldust putting the moves on Ramon in order to do a psych job on Ramon.

– Intercontinental title match: Razor Ramon v. Goldust. This marks the first appearance in the WWF of Marlena, simply called “the director” here. It also marks the debut of the letterboxed entrance. Long-ass intros here. Goldie draws mega-heat with his little act. Watching Dustin touch himself is pretty disturbing even today. Mundo stalling to start. Goldust feels up Ramon on a go-behind and the crowd goes nuts. More stalling. The arena really looks empty in the upper decks. More stalling. The match gets going and Razor clotheslines him out of the ring, and it’s more stalling. Finally Goldust jumps Ramon from behind and we get going. Slingshot belly-to-back suplex from Goldust. Then more stalling and resting. Long chinlock by Goldust. Ramon escapes with a kick to the nads and they lay around. Ramon up and does his usual. Vince of course calls none of it. Ramon with a belly-to-back superplex but the ref is distracted with Marlena, which allows 1-2-3-Pac to run into the ring and take out Ramon enough for Goldust to get the pin and the title. Atrociously bad match. DUD

– Wrestlemania XII promo.

– Assorted soundbites from the Rumble participants.

– Royal Rumble: Well, we know Hunter is #1. Henry Godwinn is #2. HOG dominates HHH because they have an issue and all. Bob Backlund is #3 and I’ll let you know if anything interesting happens. Jerry Lawler is #4. Yay. Crowd finally gets into the match with a Burger King chant. Lawler goes for the slop bucket but it doesn’t go anywhere. Lawler of course gets slopped. Bob Holly is #5 and still nothing happening. Backlund is spazzing out on everyone here. Mabel is #6. I can barely contain my excitement. More of nothing going on. Mostly just guys lying on the ropes pretending to be trying to put other guys out. Jake Roberts is #7 and gets a good pop. He clears the ring with a huge snake and of course poor Lawler gets to be the victim. Dory Funk (BOOOOOOOOO!!!!) is #8 and of course goes right after Backlund. Lawler is seen hiding under the ring. Jimmy Hart already did that gig 10 years before, Jerry. Yokozuna is #9. He tosses Backlund, who has the honor of being the first one out. The Kid is #10 and Razor chases him into the ring to further their storyline. Razor gets a bigger reaction than anyone in the ring. An AJPW wrestler named Ohmari (sp?) is #11 and of course gets the Orient Express music. It should be noted that the intervals are actually getting longer than two minutes at this point, according to my VCR. Dory and the Kid have some interesting stuff going but the camera is never on them. Savio Vega is #12 and goes after Mabel to avenge that King of the Ring loss. Yoko dumps Mabel soon after, thank god. Ohmari also gets dumped a few seconds later. Vader is #13 as he makes his WWF debut. Savio dumps Dory (YAAAAAAY!!). Vader pummels Savio. Doug Gilbert is #14 and gets no reaction. Vader dumps Jake on a weak clothesline. Vader destroys Gilbert and the Kid is actually holding his own with Yoko. Headhunter #1 is #15 and isn’t that effective. Vader with a nasty chokeslam on Gilbert, his designated whipping boy tonight. Vader puts him out of his misery shortly after. The Headhunter is gone via Vader. Yoko and Vader go at it but Cornette begs them to stop. Headhunter #2 is #16, and both Hunters come into the ring and go after Vader. Vader knocks one out and Yoko takes out the other for good measure. HHH is at 30 minutes here. Owen Hart is #17 and is in a bad mood. Yoko and Vader manhandle Savio. I mean, they just SPLATTER him. Shawn is #18. Vader dumps Savio. Shawn, HHH and the Kid fight in the corner, which of course is interesting on several levels. Vader and Yoko are resting on the ropes and Shawn dives and knocks both of them out! Whoa. Kid goes flying out. Hakushi is #19 as Vader snaps and takes out Yoko, then comes back into the ring and puts the hurt on Shawn. He tosses him out! Ah, but Vader isn’t legal so it doesn’t count. Cheap heat. Vader is surrounded by a gaggle of the Usual Idiots as they try to get rid of him. Good heel heat for Vader. Tatanka is #20 and no one cares. Okay, now we’ve got some good workers in there so it picks up a bit. Owen tosses Hakushi. Aldo Montoya is #21 and even less care. Shawn is detained outside the ring, so while he’s there he drags Jerry Lawler out (remember, he was hiding there) back in the ring. Aldo and Lawler are both tossed. Diesel is #22. 40 minutes for HHH. Tatanka is gone. Diesel and Shawn go at it to a huge pop. Kama is #23 and goes after Big D. Hey, who’s that guy with the crew cut at #24? He looks familiar. The Ringmaster, I think his name is. He knocks Bob Holly out, at any rate. Why, that guy must have a heart as COLD as STONE. Okay, it’s Steve Austin. Barry Horowitz is #25 and suprisingly doesn’t get tossed 10 seconds in. Austin looks weird with a little hair and no beard. Diesel tosses HHH at 48:00, making this his longest match ever. Fat(ass)u is #26. Austin and Diesel go at it in what would be a dream match just two years later. HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE! Oh, wait, it’s just Isaac Yankem at #27. Barry gets tossed. Diesels #1 and 2 go at it in the corner. Diesel bounces Owen Hart. Austin decks Michaels and then mocks him. Marty Jannetty is #28 and mocks Shawn just by existing. Shawn and Marty do a short sequence for old times’ sake. The Bulldog is #29 and goes right after Shawn. He dumps Marty as a consolation prize a bit later. Fatu clotheslines Austin out of the match. Oh, well, he gets to the win the next two years in a row. Big Daddy Dentist dumps Fatu. Duke Droese is of course #30. That leaves Bulldog, Shawn, Yankem, Diesel, Droese and Kama as the last six guys. Shawn dropkicks Yankem out and Droese gets dumped by Kama. Shawn puts Bulldog out, Diesel puts Kama out and then Shawn quickly superkicks Diesel at 58:50 to win the Royal Rumble. The entire sequence from Droese’s entrance to the ending took all of a minute and a half. Diesel is not happy with the decision. **1/2 Bad Royal Rumble.

– WWF title match: Bret Hart v. The Undertaker. Diesel and UT have a little scrap in the aisle during the introduction of UT. Taker is wearing that goofy mask at this point. UT beats on Hart to start and moves….very….slowly. Undertaker uses a move where he basically puts his hand on Hitman’s face and gets several two counts from it as the crowd snoozes. Back to the smother-hold. Boorrrrrrrrrrr-ing. Borrrrrrrrrrrr-ing. Bret comes back with a pair of clotheslines and a pescado, none of which are sold by UT to any notable degree. UT rams Bret to the ringpost. I can go to 7-11 and get Slurpees in the spaces between moves. More punishment to Bret, but he puts UT to the STEEL stairs and starts working on the knee. And working on the knee. Figure-four from Bret, crowd is gone. We’re about twenty minutes in and noting of note has happened yet. More working on the knee. Bret tries to rip off UT’s “facial appliance” (Vince calls it that about 14 times). Back to the knee. This match is just as exciting to sit through as it is for you to read, believe me. Outside the ring and UT is choking Bret with some cable. UT nails him with a chair for good measure, but there’s no announce tables to put him through. Pity. Back in the ring and back to the knee. Bret is drawing mixed heat. Bret wraps UT’s leg around the ringpost and is drawing some good heel heat now. Still more working on the knee. Btw, lest you think I’m glossing over stuff, I’m not. This is an almost exact move-by-move description of this match. UT up with headbutts and a legdrop. Tombstone, but Bret escapes and snaps UT’s throat on the top rope. DDT from Bret, which is a new thing for him. FIVE MOVES OF DOOM! But UT does the zombie situp after each one. Sharpshooter to a huge mixed reaction, but UT blocks with a choke and does another zombie situp. Double-knockout situation, Bret up first, and he unties a top turnbuckle. Bret finally gets the face mask off. And it was never seen again. Bret rams him into the exposed turnbuckle, twice, and the crowd doesn’t like it. Bret off the ropes, but gets caught with a tombstone out of nowhere! But Diesel comes out of nowhere and pulls Hebner out of the ring, preventing a count and causing a DQ against Bret. Bad match with a screwjob ending. Bret phoned it in. *1/2

– Wrap up interviews from everyone as Gorilla sets the main event for the next IYH as Bret v. Diesel in a cage. Diesel riffs on Flair in his interview and delivers the semi-famous “The WWF runs on Diesel Power” interview that turned him heel.

The Bottom Line:
An underwhelming show to say the least. 1996 was a pretty bad year for the WWF and it showed in most of their shows. Everyone knew Shawn was winning the Rumble so that was nothing special, and since Ramon was to the point where he’d only work with clique members that match was nothing special, and the rest was filler.

Recommendation to avoid.