Royal Rumble ’96

(All screen captures are the property of World Wrestling Entertainment)

Royal Rumble

January 21, 1996

Selland Arena

Fresno, California

News & Notes: After Shawn Michaels collapsed in the ring, the WWF teased the idea he might not return. Doctors said he suffered from post-concussion syndrome. They milked the sympathy for weeks. This included a sappy music video with a song titled “Tell Me a Lie.” The announcers talked about how Shawn never won the WWF Title. It was his boyhood dream and now it might never come true. Shawn said screw that. He ignored doctor’s warnings and promised to return in the Rumble Match. However, he wasn’t the only one determined to win the Rumble. Diesel also entered to regain his WWF Championship. Then, there was the looming threat of a debuting WWF Superstar. They aired vignettes hyping the arrival of Vader. These were odd. They included footage of Vader working out on stationary bikes and doing flips on a trampoline. It showed his athleticism for his size, but I got Dennis Stamp vibes from it. They filled the Rumble with returns and debuts, but there was more. Jake the Snake Roberts also rejoined the WWF. During his time away, Jake converted to Christianity. He claimed a new lease on life and a fresh attitude. Jake quoted scripture and carried a snake named Revelation to the ring. He spoke about his personal demons and turning his life around. This would play into future storylines, especially around the summer. But, we will get to that.

The roster is still thin, so the Rumble includes new and old faces. The WWF wanted a relationship with AJPW. They brought in Dory Funk Jr. as a liaison. Dory invited AJPW star Takao Omori to join him in the Rumble Match. Vince also forged an agreement with Lawler’s USWA. Doug Gilbert won a Battle Royal to earn a spot in the Rumble. Doug is Eddie Gilbert’s brother. He gained infamy a few years later for a live promo where he went into business for himself. Doug accused Lawler of rape, said Randy Hales smoked crack, and called out Brian Christopher for nepotism. Then, we have a new tag team in the WWF. They are a pair of large twins named the Squat Team. They teamed in other companies as The Headhunters. The team wouldn’t last long, but they are in the Rumble.

There is another debut I want to discuss. He is rather significant. Steve Austin joined the WWF in January. Ted DiBiase introduced him as the new Million Dollar Champion, The Ringmaster! No, it’s not a circus gimmick. Doink isn’t his sidekick. The idea is he is a master of the ring. It’s a name Vince trademarked in the past. He gave it to Austin, but it won’t last long. Steve hated the name.

I have one last note before we begin. On the Free for All, the wrestlers drew their entrance numbers for the Rumble. Triple H and Duke the Dumpster Droese drew blanks. Gorilla Monsoon announced a match between them. The winner would be #30. The loser would enter at #1. Triple H won by using brass knuckles. But, Monsoon used instant replay to reverse the decision. I’ll remember that next time a match ends in controversy and Gorilla is absent.

Sunny

The show opens with—um, what was I saying? Oh, right. Sunny is in a bathtub. “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak plays in the background. Sunny says, “Tonight contains material of a graphic nature. Viewer indiscretion—I mean discretion is advised.” The WWF first aired a viewer discretion warning when they showed the bloody Bret/Bulldog match on RAW. Vince decided to have some fun with the warning. He added Sunny in sexy situations to the segments. There is nothing graphic on this event. Vince wanted Sunny in a bathtub. Who can blame him?

Open

We then switch to a different kind of intro. The narrator talks about the measure of a champion. Is it size, strength, courage, or heart that matters? What is this, the Wizard of Oz? The narrator settles on the heart and makes a pun about Bret Hart’s name. He also talks about how Goldust hearts Razor Ramon. Then, he questions who has the heart to win the Royal Rumble. You can tell Vince wrote this segment. It is his type of wordplay. They focus on the WWF Title Match between Bret Hart and The Undertaker. The narrator calls Taker a mythical phenom. He also claims someone will redefine the word champion tonight. What’s wrong with the current definition?

Commentators

Vince welcomes everyone to Fresno and the Royal Rumble. He’s with Mr. Perfect because Jerry Lawler is in the Rumble Match. Perfect compares the Rumble to the Superbowl. I thought WrestleMania was the WWF’s Superbowl. He also says the wrestlers are on ice and ready to fight. That analogy doesn’t work. It sounds like the opposite of what Perfect meant. That was not a perfect intro.

JarrettJohnson

Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett

Notes: We saw the setup for this match at In Your House 5. Vince recaps it during the entrances. Mr. Perfect calls Jarrett’s attack on Johnson a smash hit. Speaking of smashing, Jarrett brings a guitar to the ring. I wonder if he will break it over someone’s head. This is a Chekhov’s Guitar situation.

The Match: Jarrett tries luring Ahmed into a trap. Johnson thwarts him with his power. He uses shoulder blocks and a powerslam. But, Ahmed tumbles out of the ring on a missed crossbody. He catches his wrist in the ropes. It looked like an accident. Jarrett attacks him on the floor and focuses on Johnson’s back. Ahmed shakes off the offense and jogs around the ring. He flusters Jarrett with a spinebuster. Jeff regroups, so Ahmed dives over the ropes. He lands on his head! Johnson then climbs the ropes, but he misses a flying somersault. Jarrett capitalizes with a Figure Four. Ahmed reverses it, but Jeff continues attacking his leg. Johnson shoves Jeff to the floor, and Jarrett has enough. He grabs the guitar and leaps off the top rope. The guitar smashes over Ahmed’s head, so the ref calls for the bell.

Thoughts: The ending was disappointing, but the rest was great. Ahmed is intense. You worry he’s about to hurt himself half the time. It’s as if you’re watching an entertaining train wreck. He makes up for his lack of finesse with a balls to the wall style. Ahmed also tends to scream with every move. He has a Lex Luger-like vibe I find amusing. On a side note, don’t expect a rematch. Jarrett leaves the WWF again in February. This time, he won’t be back for a while. But, he will appear elsewhere.

Winner: Ahmed Johnson (by DQ) (6:40)

After the match, Jarrett celebrates as if he won. Jeff raises his arms in the air, but the ref lowers them. You can almost hear the ref say, “Stop that! Stop that right now!” Johnson still has the guitar around his head like a necklace. He removes it and chases Jarrett, but he stops short of the curtain again.

DieselPromo

Todd Pettengill is with Diesel. He calls Big Daddy Cool the odds on favorite to win the Rumble. Diesel makes a silly face in response. Diesel then compares his mindset to a teenager left home alone for the first time. He doesn’t know what he will do next, but he will have the time of his life. Todd says Diesel has to face people like Shawn Michaels and Vader. Diesel praises Shawn for winning last year and calls Vader unproven. He says it’s not Vader time. It’s Big Daddy Cool time. Pettengill then mentions Undertaker. Diesel says he doesn’t have a problem with him. He has an issue with Taker being #1 Contender. Diesel hopes Bret and Taker have a good match. But, he says neither can match up to the Big D. He then smirks at his double entendre.

TagTitles

Tag Team Title Match: The Smoking Gunns (c) vs. The Bodydonnas (w/ Sunny)

Notes: Rad Radford’s attempts to become a Bodydonna failed. Skip and Sunny fired him. Radford then had a match with Skip where Skip’s new partner attacked Rad. His name was Zip, and he looked similar to Skip. Zip is the former Dr. Tom Prichard with a new look. He buzzed and bleached his hair. Vince wanted to call him Flip. (That’s why Joey Styles made his joke at Holiday Hell.) But, there was a pop duo in the 50s named Skip & Flip. He chose Zip instead, and the Bodydonnas became a tag team. Vince forgets and calls him Flip a few times during this bout.

The Match: The Gunns reverse the Donnas’ double-team attempts. They also pinball Skip with punches. However, Sunny distracts Billy with a little skin. Zip tags and demands Bart, but that backfires. The Gunns use their own double-teaming, so Sunny climbs on the apron to complain. Billy knocks her to the floor by accident. He checks on her, so the Donnas attack him. They control Billy with double-team moves and ref distractions. Bart makes a hot tag after the Donnas run into each other and he cleans house. The Gunns nail the Sidewinder, but Sunny distracts the ref again. Skip gives Billy a flying axehandle while the ref isn’t looking. It’s not enough. The Donnas then try a double-suplex. Billy spears Skip and Bart rolls up Zip for the win.

Thoughts: This was good solid fun. I liked the tag work of the Bodydonnas, and Sunny did great. There was a good story for this match. Plus, that finish was well executed. The tag division is still slim, but the Bodydonnas are a decent team.

Winners: The Smoking Gunns (11:14)

BillionaireTed

Next, it’s time for something completely different. They show a compilation of Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ Warroom. These are petty skits Vince made to strike back at WCW for their dirty tactics. It’s filled with caricatures of WCW personalities. There is Billionaire Ted, The Huckster, The Nacho Man, and Scheme Gene. It’s strange there is no mockery of Bischoff. Vince never acknowledges him. His beef is with Ted Turner. They also make fun of WCW’s wrestlers for being old has-beens who can’t do athletic moves like the WWF’s New Generation. The skit ends with Ted joking they should nickname The Huckster as The Boy Toy. I should also point out Vince Russo plays one of the executives in this segment. He wasn’t an official member of the creative team yet, but Vince listened to some of his ideas. These skits were embarrassing. It makes the WWF look bad.

GoldustRecap

Then, they recap the Goldust/Razor feud. Goldust tried attracting Razor’s attention with letters and golden flowers. Goldust also gave him a teddy bear and a centerfold of himself. Pettengill speculates whether Goldust is after the belt or the champion. Goldust then revealed a heart painted on his chest. It said Razor on it. Ramon had enough and attacked Goldust on RAW. They brawled outside into the snow. Todd calls Razor the Mad Guy. I hope he doesn’t lose. He would be the Sad Guy.

GoldustRazor

Intercontinental Title Match: Goldust (w/ Marlena & The Usher) vs. Razor Ramon (c)

Notes: A beautiful blonde woman smoking a cigar accompanies Goldust to the ring. It confuses Vince and Perfect. They don’t name her yet, but this is Marlena. She is Goldust’s wife Terri Runnels. (The former Alexandra York from WCW.) They added Marlena to give Goldust ambiguity. The WWF received complaints about the character from gay rights groups. She sits in a director’s chair, so they call her Goldust’s director. Razor questions why she’s there.

The Match: Goldust attempts getting in Razor’s head with unsettling gestures. He also rubs Ramon’s chest during a waistlock. Both men trade slaps, including Razor spanking Goldust. Goldust regroups a few times and hides behind Marlena. Razor has enough and moves her, but Goldust uses the opening. He shoves Razor into the post and the apron. Goldust also lands a bulldog. Then, Marlena blows gold dust into Razor’s eyes. (Oh, that sounded wrong!) Goldust continues the attack and puts Ramon in a sleeper hold. Mr. Perfect speculates what Goldust will do when Razor is asleep. (No, Mr. Perfect! NO!) Razor fights back with a chokeslam and a fallaway slam. He then gives Goldust a super back suplex. But, Marlena enters the ring and pretends to twist her ankle. She distracts the ref, so the 1-2-3 Kid appears. He nails Razor with a flying wheel kick. Goldust then covers for the victory.

Thoughts: The match wasn’t a technical marvel, but it had great character work. This was more about the storytelling. It did it well. I enjoyed this for what it was. The action was good enough to compliment the story. Plus, the crowd reacted well to it. On a side note, Scott Hall hated this storyline. He didn’t want his son watching it. The story made Scott uncomfortable. He had no issue dropping the IC Title to Goldust, but he didn’t like the antics.

Winner: Goldust (New Champion) (14:17)

RumbleParticipants

Vince introduces comments from Rumble participants. But, we first we get a word from Dr. Jeff Unger. He says Shawn Michaels is in good shape. However, he’s worried about Michaels getting in the ring with 29 other men. Then, Owen predicts victory and warns Shawn Michaels he will end his career. Jake Roberts talks about demons and snakes. He also wants to get a taste of everyone. (Oh, my!) Lawler says it’s called the Royal Rumble because royalty will win it. Barry Horowitz talks about being an underdog. Vader and Cornette yell about the most powerful force in the WWF. Vader says it’s Vader time and headbutts a locker. Shawn Michaels then says he’s back. He did it once, and he’ll do it again. He also calls his fans the Kliq.

RumbleMatch

30-Man Royal Rumble Match

Notes: This is the first time since Rumble ’88 the Rumble doesn’t close the show. The WWF Title Match is the main event. Vince recaps the Triple H/Duke Droese match from the Free for All and explains the rules of the Rumble. There’s a weird edit and it cuts to Triple H’s entrance. Hunter is #1, but #2 is Henry Godwinn. What a coincidence! Henry’s dubbed theme almost drowns out Vince and Perfect. I should also point out this is the first Rumble where each entrant gets theme music. It’s a welcome change.

The Match: Godwinn and Hunter fight back and forth until Bob Backlund enters at #3. #4 is Jerry Lawler. He grabs Godwinn’s slop bucket. Godwinn stops him and chases everyone to the floor. He slops Lawler and half the front row. #5 is Bob Holly and #6 is King Mabel. Jake Roberts then enters at #7. He puts the snake into the ring. Everyone bails between the ropes except Lawler. Jake puts the snake on him. Lawler then disappears. (It’s later revealed he’s hiding under the ring.) #8 is Dory Funk Jr. Yokozuna enters at #9 and eliminates Backlund. Then, #10 is the 1-2-3 Kid. Razor Ramon chases him around the ring. The officials arrive and stop Razor, but he keeps coming for the Kid.

#11 is Takao Omori. He is quite excited to be there, so Vince calls him a wild man. #12 is Savio Vega. Meanwhile, Yoko eliminates Mabel and Roberts dumps Omori. #13 is Vader, who gives Bob Holly hard punches. (I’m sure Bob loved that.) Then, Savio eliminates Dory Funk. Doug Gilbert comes in at #14 while Vader and Yoko trade punches. Vader then throws out Jake Roberts. One of the Squat Team members enters at #15 while Vader eliminates Doug Gilbert. Vader also eliminates Squat Team #1. The second member of the Squat Team enters at #16. Both of the twins enter the ring, but Vader and Yoko send them packing. #17 is Owen Hart, who gives Bob Holly a cheap shot. Next, Shawn Michaels arrives at #18 while Vader knocks Savio out of the match.

Vader and Yoko start fighting. Cornette begs them to stop. Shawn Michaels uses the opening to dump both Vader and Yoko. Shawn also press slams The Kid to the floor. Hakushi comes in at #19 while Vader attacks Yoko. He then reenters the ring and pummels Shawn Michaels. Vader press slams Shawn over the ropes, but it doesn’t count. Vince says Vader was eliminated, so he can’t do that. (They aren’t consistent with that rule.) Vader attacks everyone until the officials make him stop. Gorilla Monsoon confronts him and demands Vader leaves. Cornette convinces him to oblige while Tatanka enters at #20. Everyone returns to the ring and resumes the match.

Owen eliminates Hakushi while Aldo Montoya enters at #21. Shawn falls through the ropes and finds Jerry Lawler under the ring. He pulls him back into the ring and eliminates Jerry. Next, Diesel arrives at #22. Diesel throws out Tatanka and attacks Owen. He even decks Shawn Michaels. #23 is Kama, who shaved his head. (He looks like Papa Shango again.) The Ringmaster enters at #24. Vince calls him cold and calculating. (That idea might stick.) Austin eliminates Bob Holly. #25 is Barry Horowitz. Diesel then dumps out Triple H. Fatu is next at #26 and #27 is Isaac Yankem. Owen eliminates Horowitz before giving Michaels another enziguri. He tries throwing Shawn over the ropes, but Michaels reverses it. They miss Owen’s elimination because of a replay. #28 is Marty Jannetty. He fights with Shawn Michaels for a bit of nostalgia. The British Bulldog enters at #29. He eliminates Jannetty. Fatu also eliminates the Ringmaster. (This was a mistake. Austin slipped on the ropes. He was supposed to be in the final four.) Duke Droese then enters at #30 to complete the field. Michaels and Bulldog tumble through the ropes, so Owen attacks Shawn. The officials stop him and make Owen leave. Michaels then eliminates Yankem while Diesel and Kama dump out Droese.

(Final Four: Shawn Michaels, Diesel, The British Bulldog, & Kama.) Shawn slides under Bulldog and clotheslines him out of the ring. Diesel then pushes Kama over the ropes. But, Diesel turns and eats Sweet Chin Music. It knocks him out of the ring, so Shawn Michaels wins.

Thoughts: This was a pretty decent Rumble. It wasn’t outstanding, but it had a few good moments. They did a good job having Shawn overcome adversity. But, I’m not a fan of the inconsistent rules. Vader throwing out people didn’t count, but they allow it in other years. The rule changes based on the storylines. I get why they did it. It sets up Vader’s story going forward. I still don’t care for it.

Winner: Shawn Michaels (58:49)

Diesel is upset. Dok Hendrix tries to talk to him, but Diesel would rather attack Bulldog. Diesel then turns to Dok and says, “The only reason he is still breathing is because I allow it!” He doesn’t specify who he means. Meanwhile, Shawn is stripping in the ring. Diesel returns to prevent him from showing his ass. They stare at each other. You think Diesel will attack him. But, he holds up his hand for a high-five. Diesel then exits the ring and allows Shawn to celebrate. Vince says the WWF Championship is the only thing that has eluded Shawn Michaels. He will get a chance to change that at WrestleMania.

BretTaker

WWF Title Match: The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) vs. Bret Hart (c)

Notes: The Undertaker enters the arena. Paul Bearer has a new urn he fashioned out of the remnants of the old one. They reach the middle of the aisle, but Diesel is still there. Diesel shoves Paul Bearer, so Undertaker fights him. Diesel and Taker trade punches until the officials stop them. Diesel leaves, but he yells he’s not afraid of the dark. Bret Hart then arrives and kisses the belt before handing it to Earl Hebner.

The Match: Bret tries evading Taker, but Taker uses punches and throat chops. He then uses a claw hold. Bret gets a foot on the ropes, but Bearer pushes it away. Then, the fight spills to the floor. Bret lands a slingshot crossbody. He dives again, but Taker catches him and rams Bret into the post. They fight outside for a while. Both men are whipped into the steps. When they return to the ring, Bret focuses his offense on Taker’s leg. He uses a Figure Four, but Taker reverses it. Taker answers by taking the match outside again. Paul Bearer distracts the ref while Taker uses tables and chairs. Bret responds by attacking the leg again. Taker’s leg buckles when he attempts a Tombstone. Bret goes into his routine, but Taker keeps rising. Then, Bret removes a turnbuckle pad and goes after Taker’s mask. He removes it. (This is the end of the mask.) Bret attacks Taker’s exposed face. However, Taker catches Bret and hits a Tombstone. He covers, but Diesel pulls the ref out of the ring and causes a DQ.

Thoughts: I was surprised by how disappointing this was. These two have better matches in the future. But, this was slow and boring. The dynamic was off too. Both men wrestled like heels and it led to the crowd booing. It was an odd match. I didn’t care for it. Taker adapts his style over the next few months and it helps. He still wrestled his methodical pace in this bout.

Winner: The Undertaker (by DQ) (28:31)

Aftermath

The Fink announces Undertaker won by DQ, but he says the title can’t change hands. Diesel smirks and flips off Taker before leaving. Undertaker chases him down the aisle, but Diesel disappears through the curtain. Vince and Mr. Perfect both think Taker had the match won.

Todd interviews Gorilla Monsoon. He asks about In Your House 6. Gorilla says he signed a WWF Title match between Diesel and Bret Hart.

HBKPromo

Then, Dok is with Shawn Michaels. He says he’s completed phase one by winning the Rumble a second time. Shawn also says the Kliq is running wild like dinosaurs. But, Shawn seems to think dinosaurs existed during medieval times. He didn’t pay attention in history class. Dok asks Shawn his thoughts on Diesel vs. Bret Hart. Shawn says Diesel has changed, but he still loves him. Either way, he will be the man in ’96.

Next, Gorilla returns. Undertaker confronts him and tells him it will be a cold day in hell before Diesel is WWF champion again. Monsoon realizes that means trouble. He changes the Bret/Diesel match to a Cage Match.

DieselAfter

Dok asks Diesel for his thoughts on the change. Diesel tells him to shut up. (Thank you for that, Diesel.) Diesel jokes Monsoon has done great since his lobotomy. He also says Bret is champion because he allows it. Diesel then says he told Taker he’s number one. Diesel calls himself the best thing going today. Dok asks him if he’s worried about Undertaker. Diesel reveals his mom used to lock him in a dark basement as punishment. (That’s a little disturbing.) He says he wasn’t afraid of the dark then and still isn’t. Next, Diesel pretends he’s unbothered by Shawn Michaels superkicking him. He also threatens to get involved in whatever he wants. He calls it the Diesel Wrestling Federation. Someone off-screen wraps up the segment, so Diesel yells at him.

VaderPromo

Meanwhile, Todd is with Jim Cornette and an angry Vader. Jim calls Vader the real winner of the Rumble. Vader throws chairs around the room and punches lockers. Cornette calls him an awesome power. He says you can’t ignore Vader when it comes to title matches. Jim then says it’s Vader time now and forever. Vader grunts in the camera while Todd introduces a recap video of the PPV.

The Good:

  • The opening match was fun.

  • Goldust/Razor had good story work.

  • The Tag Title Match was solid.

The Bad:

  • The Billionaire Ted skits.

  • The main event was disappointing.

Performer of the Night:

I’m giving it to Shawn Michaels. It was his night. He was entertaining in the Rumble. Plus, his promo at the end of the show greatly amused me.

Final Thoughts:

This was overall a good show. The main event was disappointing, but it didn’t ruin it. They did a great job setting up the storylines moving forward. You have a good idea where they are heading for WrestleMania. Plus, we saw the debut of some important names at this event. It’s fun seeing the pieces come together.

Thank you for reading. My next review is ECW Big Apple Blizzard Blast ’96. Look for it next Sunday!

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