Classic Era Network w/ Kace: WWF Royal Rumble (1988)

The battle of wills continues between the World Wrestling Federation and the NWA’s Jim Crockett Promotions. This time, instead of a rival pay-per-view, the WWF went to cable, specifically the USA Network to broadcast their first Royal Rumble event, going up against NWA Bunkhouse Stampede Finals.

Just like with the Survivor Series, I’m going to note where I can the Crockett Collective influence on this card.

Before I get to that, I just want to note that of all the overdubs occurring on the Network, the intro to this show is by far the worst as Rick Rude’s theme is overdubbed horribly by the overdub of choice for whenever his music hits, all due to Vince McMahon hyping up the event. Vince teams up with his Superstars of Wrestling co-host Jesse Ventura, making this the first event on the PPV list not to have Gorilla Monsoon on commentary. This event takes place in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, making it the first major WWF event to take place in the Great White North since The Big Event in 1986. The next major WWF event, as well as first PPV event in Canada will be WrestleMania VI in 1990 in Toronto’s Skydome.

The first match is a Mid-Atlantic special as Rude takes on Ricky Steamboat in a battle of former NWA World Tag Team Champions. Steamboat with both Jay Youngblood and Paul Jones and Rude with Manny Fernandez while managed by Paul Jones. So we have a couple of guys who have a degree of separation from one another due to Jones. As for the match, it’s 16 and a half minutes of action that ends with Rude being disqualified, giving Steamboat the win.

The biggest highlight of the card is the best of 3 falls bout for the WWF Ladies’ Tag Team Championship with the Glamour Girls, Judy Martin and Leilani Kai, managed by Jimmy Hart taking on the team that had eliminated them in their previous major encounter at WWF Survivor Series, the Jumping Bomb Angels, Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki. McMahon, having issues with pronouncing their names refers to them by their leotard color scheme. He could always ask the guy who hired them what their names… oh. Yeah.

I didn’t really get into the women’s side of things when it comes to the Crockett Collective influence as women wrestlers were still being made to exist primarily on a vagabond schedule, going here, there, and everywhere. For what it’s worth, the GG’s trained together at the start of their careers and Martin would win the NWA United States Women’s Championship from Winona “Princess” Little Heart in 1980 in Atlanta. Kai competed just about everywhere prior to landing in the WWF, including Mid-Atlantic where she would occasionally compete against her future partner, Martin.

The GG’s score the first fall, but the JBA’s come back to win the next two to become the new Champions, ending what had been the longest reign in the short history of the Championship itself, a bastard child title split from the NWA in 1983. Kai’s run of bad luck at major events continues with this loss. The GG’s would regain the title later in the year before the Championship itself was retired in 1989. Still, for a brief moment, the WWF Ladies’ Tag Team Championship got to matter.

The next match is the first ever Royal Rumble which is a 20 competitor event. The following year, the number of participants would be bumped up to 30 for its PPV debut.

Bret Hart and Tito Santana make history by being the first two entrants ever in this type of match. Santana would be the second person eliminated after going 10 minutes. The dubious honor of first ever to be eliminated belongs to Butch Reed who entered at #3. He is ousted by the man who gets credit for scoring the first ever elimination, Jake Roberts who drew #4. While Santana is part of this match, his Strike Force tag team partner, Rick Martel is absent. This bit of history will repeat itself later in the year at the second Survivor Series.

If you get a chance to watch this Rumble, pay close attention once Sam Houston enters at #8. He and Roberts are half-brothers which is never acknowledged by any WWF commentator or by the brothers themselves. They mostly steer clear of one another while both are in the ring and in those rare occasions Houston goes over to help Roberts, Roberts just walks away from him. It’s rather awkward to watch.

The last entry at #20 is Junkyard Dog who promptly goes 2 and half minutes with no eliminations before being dumped out. This is the start of Last Entry Futility in the Rumble which will go on for the remainder of the Classic Era.

Jim Duggan last eliminates One Man Gang to become the first ever Royal Rumble winner. While winning the Rumble itself wouldn’t automatically lead to a WWF Heavyweight title shot until 1993, Duggan would be rewarded for his efforts by being entered into the WWF Heavyweight Championship Tournament at WrestleMania IV. The reason for that tournament… another issue for another time.

RIght now, let’s take a look at the entries in order and their Crockett Collective Influence, if any.

Bret Hart
Tito Santana (Florida, Georgia)
Butch Reed (Central States, Florida, Georgia, Mid-South)
Jim Neidhart (Georgia, Mid-South)

Quick note: Reed and Neidhart were North American Tag Team Champions together in Mid-South. When Reed enters, he’s immediately an ally to his old partner Neidhart and Neidhart’s current partner, Hart.

Jake Roberts (Mid-South, Mid-Atlantic, Georgia)
King Harley Race (You Name It, He Was There; NWA World Heavyweight Champion)
Jim Brunzell (Central States, Mid-Atlantic)
Sam Houston (Mid-Atlantic, Central States, UWF)
“Dangerous” Danny Davis
Boris Zhukov (Mid-Atlantic as Pvt. Nelson)
Don Muraco (Florida, Georgia)
Nikolai Volkoff (Mid-South)
Jim Duggan (Georgia, Mid-South)
Ron Bass (Florida, Mid-Atlantic)
Triple B (Florida, Central States, Georgia)
Dino Bravo (Mid-Atlantic)

Quick note: Earlier in the evening, Bravo had attempted a world bench press record, but too much assistance from his spotter, Jesse Ventura along with no one from Guinness to confirm either way, it was never acknowledged. Also, Bravo (real name: Adolfo Bresciano) is the second version of Dino Bravo, lifting the name from the original Dino Bravo, a guy named Pepe DiPasquali in 1970. Some wrestlers get nicknames handed down to them, Bravo took an entire identity.

Ultimate Warrior (Mid-South as Bladerunner Rock)

Quick note: 9 years before Rocky Maivia renames himself the Rock, this Rumble features a pair of Rocks, the current one at this time, Muraco and Warrior who was “Rock” in Mid-South.

One Man Gang (Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South/UWF; UWF World Heavyweight Champion)

Junkyard Dog (Mid-South; Mid-Atlantic)

This Royal Rumble sets the initial records including Iron Man, which is Bret Hart lasting 25 minutes, 42 seconds, Most Eliminations, set by One Man Gang who was the next-to-last entry and last to be eliminated. His number of eliminations, 6. Second most was a tie between the winner, Duggan who entered at #13 and Muraco, who was entry #11 and was 4th to last out.

The first to be eliminated by team effort was Tito Santana, the second entry who started the match with Hart, being eliminated by the Hart Foundation shortly after Roberts eliminated Reed.

After all that, we still have another match though a few fans look like they’re satisfied enough with what they’ve seen and are already leaving. That match was another best of 3 tag match between the Islanders and the Young Stallions. While the Stallions and Killer Bees had outlasted Haku and Tama months earlier in their Survivor Series match, this time it would be the Islanders scoring two straight falls to send everyone home. Paul Roma suffered an injury during the first fall and the second fall, he and Jim Powers were basically fodder.

Other fun stuff.

Public contract signings for matches never go well, whether it’s in an office with a camera rolling (Magnum TA and Nikita Koloff) or here with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, signing their match with President Jack Tunney present for The Main Event on NBC the following month with the WWF Heavyweight Championship on the line. The fallout from that match would lead to the tournament that would include the first Royal Rumble winner, Jim Duggan for the Championship.

Duggan wouldn’t get a chance to defend his Royal Rumble “title” as he spent the 1989 event in a best of 3 6-Man tag match.

Along with half-brother Jake Roberts, Sam Houston’s sister, Rockin’ Robin was also competing in the WWF at this time, eventually capturing the WWF Ladies’ title and defending it at the following year’s RR event.

Of the 20 participants in the Rumble, only 2 had no prior experience in what would become the Crockett Collective, Bret Hart and Danny Davis. Of those two, Davis was the only homegrown WWF product as Hart was a product of Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling. As for Davis, being the only homegrown product in the match means a quick history lesson. While refereeing, Davis had also moonlighted as a masked wrestler named Mr. X with little success. Looking back, Davis had a better run of success without a mask on.

Jake Roberts’ inability to score a single DDT in the Rumble begins here.

The Ultimate Warrior’s run of bad luck at this event also starts as he’s one the last to enter the Rumble, only to score no eliminations and be eliminated himself shortly thereafter. The following year he’ll be attacked by Rick Rude during a posedown challenge. In 1990, he’ll return to the Rumble match only to be eliminated in a team effort, one of which is Hulk Hogan, the winner of that particular Rumble and Warrior’s later opponent at WrestleMania VI. In 1991 he’ll be WWF Heavyweight Champion, only to lose the title to Sgt. Slaughter. In short, the Royal Rumble card was never kind to Warrior.

This Rumble features a pair of former World Heavyweight level Champions, Race (NWA) and Gang (UWF).

Next up, WWF WrestleMania IV, which looks to Make WrestleMania Great Again or some shit.