Scott & Justin’s Vintage Vault Refresh: Royal Rumble 1988

20111209_rr_1988_l

*** Scott & Justin’s Vintage Vault Refresh reviews are a chronological look back at WWE PPV history that began with a review of WrestleMania I. The PICs have revisited these events and refreshed all of their fun facts that provide insight into the match, competitors and state of the company as well as their overviews of the match action and opinions and thoughts on the outcomes. Also, be sure to leave feedback on the reviews at our Facebook page. Enjoy! ***

Royal Rumble 1988: The Stage is Set

January 24, 1988
Copps Coliseum
Hamilton, Ontario
Attendance: 18, 000
TV Rating: USA Network: 8.2
Announcers: Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura

Fun Fact: After the Thanksgiving ‘87 PPV showdown between Jim Crockett Promotions and the WWF, cable companies told the promotions to not try that nonsense again. So Crockett believed that it would be safe to enter the PPV waters with the Bunkhouse Stampede in January 1988. The show was set to run in Vince’s home territory in Uniondale, NY. While Vince didn’t counter with a competing PPV, with the help of Pat Patterson he created a new concept event and aired it at the same time as Crockett’s event for free on the USA network. Crockett’s event had a weak card and there was confusion regarding the time of the event (tickets were printed with three different times on them, the PPV was announced for 6pm, actual start time was 7pm). With Vince’s free Royal Rumble event going head to head with the PPV, the audience was split again and Bunkhouse Stampede was another failure for Crockett. Jim Crockett Promotions was later sold to Ted Turner during the summer of 1988.

Match #1: Ricky Steamboat defeats Rick Rude by disqualification at 17:40

Scott: Since this was on cable TV, which means there were commercial breaks, they didn’t need that many matches. You can tell that the WWF was slowly starting to get out of the dark ages when it came to television production and presentation. The graphics are a little bit better and the arena seems more lightly lit than say back at Wrestlemania II when the crowds were really darkened out. I thought when I first watched this match that it had a lot of restholds but Steamboat’s selling adds the psychology. Watching it again, my thoughts don’t change that much but I do now catch more strikes and a lot of Rude’s posturing that adds even more psychology to the match. Rude would definitely improve in the ring over the years, but he’s not bad for now and he would feud with Steamboat later in his career which would lead to some really spectacular matches. Rude keeps using those slowdown restholds like chinlocks and such, but since Steamboat is such a great seller of heel offense you don’t feel like the match is slowing down. Rude would almost win this match when he bumps the referee and then gets Steamboat in a backbreaker. Rude’s music even plays and you wonder what is going on. Instead Rude is disqualified for bumping the referee. This was a fun opener that the Canadian crowd gets into. It’s a great showcase for the newcomer Rude and anytime the Dragon gets through the ropes you know a pretty great match is upon us. Grade: ***

Justin: Our next stop brings us to yet another debut supercard concept: the Royal Rumble. However, this one was not on PPV, but rather on free TV, airing live on USA up against NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede, which was taking place in the WWF’s home territory of New York. The show was pretty jacked up with some major developments, but here we open with a very intriguing matchup between two superstars passing each other on the WWF ladder. Ricky Steamboat was the toast of the WWF a year ago, but his star has quickly faded and he seems to be without much of a purpose at this point. His opponent was a fresh face in the company, having just debuted in the fall, and was already queued up for a big push based on his look, ability and being tied to top manager Bobby Heenan. This was set up as a big match for Rude, as if he could get by Steamboat he could quickly elevate up the mid card ladder. The match opened with a lot of feeling out leading to Steamboat starting to work the arm. Jesse Ventura had some fantastic insight here, noting that it was established off the bell that Rude was stronger, so Steamboat switched his game plan and focused on his quickness and technique to gain an edge. Fantastic stuff. Steamboat would keep working the arm until Rude started using his power and wrestling a rougher style to wrest away control. Even though the pace was slower here, you could really feel each man calculating the way to go about their offense, and that was aided by Jesse’s comments as well. Rude did a great job selling the arm each time he went on offense, even having his posing hindered by the injury. In return, he started to work over the lower back, including turning the tide with a slick knee to Steamboat’s side as he came careening off the ropes. As Rude worked over Steamboat, everything felt believable and logical as he moved around the ring, using his arsenal to beat down the back. Steamboat would get his opening and pick up a real flurry of near falls to get the crowd heated back up. As Steamboat looked for the final strike, coming off the top for a cross body, Rude yanked the referee in front, leading to a ref bump. Rude would hoist Steamboat up into his backbreaker and the recovering ref called for the bell, leaving us to assume that Rude won by submission, even to the point that his music played. However, once the official announcement came, it was revealed that Steamboat won by DQ. Man, what a whacky finish to such a well worked bout. Rude could have used a great win like that, especially one that established his finisher. I really dug this match and it is a bit of a hidden gem buried at the open of a lost show. Grade: ***

***In a rather lengthy segment, Dino Bravo “unofficially” sets the weightlifting record with 715 pounds, breaking the existing record of 705 pounds after a lot of warmup lifts. It is apparent that Jesse Ventura, who was spotting Bravo, helped him lift the bar for the last record-breaking push. It is a source of comedic tension between Ventura and McMahon throughout the rest of show. This would also complete Bravo’s gimmick change to the Canadian Strongman, and this moment would be talked about in all Bravo’s matches for the next three years. He also debuts his new manager Frenchy Martin, having severed ties with Greg Valentine and Johnny V. ***

Match #2: The Jumping Bomb Angels defeat the Glamour Girls in a Two of Three Falls match to win WWF Women’s Tag Team Titles

Falls:
Judi Martin pins Itsuki Yamazaki at 6:10
Itsuki Yamazaki pins Leilani Kai at 8:33
Noriyo Tateno pins Judy Martin at 15:41

Fun Fact: The Women’s Tag Titles were basically created for this feud. The Glamour Girls won them in a fictitious tournament in Egypt and then make a big defense here against the darlings of the Women’s Division. After the Glamour Girls regained them in the summer, the belts would be dropped shortly after and never seen again on WWF TV.

Scott: After rocking the house in Richfield at the Survivor Series, the exciting Jumping Bomb Angels finally get their shot at the heel Glamour Girls for the tag straps. This is one of those matches where the titles don’t really matter. It comes down to being entertained. These long durations are uncommon for 1980s WWF. However since there weren’t many matches, time needed to be filled. This match was definitely expected after the Angels’ tremendous performance at Survivor Series. Judy Martin and Lelani Kai weren’t exactly centerfold models but they worked together as good solid heels that would be great foils for this innovative, crazy aerial pair from the Far East. How embarrassing is it that Vince couldn’t give the names of the two Angels because “he doesn’t speak Japanese”? Could there be any more of a ridiculous excuse for not doing your homework? I also love how the WWF invented the fictitious tournament to create these titles, but even worse is what exotic locales they came up with. Where the hell in Egypt is there an arena to have wrestling matches? Were they at the base of the Pyramids? This match was a lot of fun, as the Angels were mangled during the first fall, leading to Judy Martin getting the first fall after a crazy flapjack. The next two falls show the Angels use every facet of the ring to get the tying and eventually winning fall. Tateno and Yamazaki really showed the WWF audience something they had never seen before on US television. Sadly Vince didn’t jump completely in the waters and bring male Japanese wrestlers over to the states. At the time there were both experienced and young Japanese wrestlers that would have really opened things up in terms of both workrate and international flair. Vince became very insulated after his national takeover in 1983-84. The NWA was heavily involved in the booking of guys from All Japan and New Japan at the time and I’m sure Vince wasn’t one of their favorite people at that time in history. As for this match, whether or not they were going to create more ladies’ teams to get some competition for the titles or if this was just for these two teams it led to fifteen fun minutes of wrestling. The highlight of the night has the JBA win the tag titles and pushing the roof off Copps Coliseum. Grade: ***

Justin: After their showcase at Survivor Series, the Jumping Bomb Angels were back in the spotlight, this time challenging the women’s tag team champions, the Glamour Girls, managed by Jimmy Hart. I am kind of surprised they didn’t drag Lou Albano out of whatever deli he was camped out in to manage these fine old lasses to pad his tag title reigns. The JBA took the fight right to the GG off the bell, taking to the air immediately. They were moving at a pace not quite seen in the WWF at this time, a point Ventura also makes. Neither Vince nor Jesse could pronounce the JBA names so they refer to them as “pink” and “red” based off their tights. Despite that they really put them over strong throughout the match. The JBA kept working an efficient quick tag offense, grounding the champions and keeping them completely rattled as the fans rallied them on. The GG would rally late in the fall to get a pin and go up 1-0. Not a huge fan of that as I thought this should have been a sweep to keep the JBA aura strong after they both survived at Survivor Series. The second fall moved a really crisp pace, with both teams landing some offense until the Itsuki grabbed a sunset flip victory to even the match. The crowd was really into this, which is pretty cool to see. I will give the GG credit for hanging with the JBA and delivering a solid match, but I really wonder what we could have seen here if a team more up to the JBAs level was imported in as well. In my favorite spot of the match, Noreyo snapped off a really nice bridging Northern Lights suplex for a near fall. In the end, the quickness of the JBA proved to be too much and they used a double dropkick to end the bout and capture the titles. That was a hella fun match to watch and the formatting was perfect with super short heat segments and tons of switching back and forth for offensive control. It is too bad the company didn’t commit and load up on Japanese imports to really invest in the division because the crowd has been into both JBA PPV matches thus far. Alas, the tag division peters out shortly after this. Grade: **1/2

*** A lengthy video package recaps the journey of Hulk Hogan, André the Giant and Ted DiBiase since WrestleMania III. DiBiase has vowed to purchase the WWF Heavyweight Title. After that, the contract is officially signed between WWF World Champion Hogan and André for the long awaited rematch. The match is February 5 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. It would be broadcast on a special edition of “Saturday Night’s Main Event” on a Friday, simply called “The Main Event”. It would be the first prime time network broadcast of professional wrestling in decades. The crowd was red hot as both men inked the contract in a meeting presided over by Jack Tunney. André was really chill here, taking his time and playing mind games with Hogan the entire time. After the signing, André pushes the wood table over onto Hogan. Also in attendance is the new manager of André, the aforementioned Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. He debuted on camera in early December 1987. ***

Match #3: Jim Duggan wins the inaugural Royal Rumble at 33:23

Order of entrants followed by who eliminated them:

1: Tito Santana: Hart Foundation
2: Bret Hart: Don Muraco
3: Butch Reed: Jake Roberts
4: Jim Neidhart: Hillbilly Jim
5: Jake Roberts: One Man Gang
6: Harley Race: Don Muraco
7: Jim Brunzell: Nikolai Volkoff
8: Sam Houston: Ron Bass
9: Danny Davis: Jim Duggan
10: Boris Zhukov: Brunzell/Roberts
11: Don Muraco: Dino Bravo
12: Nikolai Volkoff: Jim Duggan
13: Jim Duggan: WINNER
14: Ron Bass: Don Muraco
15: B. Brian Blair: One Man Gang
16: Hillbilly Jim: Gang
17: Dino Bravo: One Man Gang
18: Ultimate Warrior: Ron Bass
19: One Man Gang: Jim Duggan
20: Junkyard Dog: Dino Bravo

Longest Time: Bret Hart (25:42)
Shortest Time: Junkyard Dog (2:08)
Most Eliminations: One Man Gang (4)

*** Royal Rumble matches will be graded on a dedicated scale. All Rumble match grades should only be compared to each other. A five star Rumble does not necessarily equate a five star match. ***

Fun Fact I: James Hellwig began training with weights when he was 11 years old and was an amateur bodybuilder early in his career. In 1984, he won the NPC Mr. Georgia bodybuilding title. In 1985 while in California training for another event, he was invited to join a group of bodybuilders that were looking to cross over into professional wrestling. Of note, one of the other bodybuilders in this group was Steve Borden, who went on to become Sting in WCW. The bodybuilding group began wrestling under the name Powerteam USA, with Hellwig as Jim “Justice” Hellwig. He later teamed with Borden in CWA as The Freedom Fighters with Hellwig as Justice and Borden as Flash with Dutch Mantel as their manager. The team later moved on to Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling (soon to be renamed Universal Wrestling Federation), where they were renamed The Blade Runners, with Hellwig being renamed to Rock and Borden to Sting. After only a 6 month run with Watts, the team broke up with Hellwig moving on to World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas under the new name The Dingo Warrior. He had a brief run with the WCWA Texas Heavyweight Championship in early 1987 before moving to the WWF. He wrestled house shows in June 1987 and was billed under his WCCW name, Dingo Warrior. His name was soon changed to the name he is best known under. There is some dispute as to who created the name, The Ultimate Warrior. Bruce Prichard stated in an interview that Vince McMahon didn’t know what a “Dingo” Warrior was, but since there were the Road Warriors and Kevin von Erich, the Modern Day Warrior, there shouldn’t be just another warrior. There should be an Ultimate Warrior. The Ultimate Warrior was known for his energetic entrance music, his fast entrances to the ring where he would violently shake the ropes and his face paint.

Fun Fact II: Michael Maurice Smith started his wrestling career under the name Sam Houston in 1983 in Championship Wrestling of Florida. In 1985 he moved on to Jim Crockett Promotions where he began working with Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A. in their feud with the Four Horsemen. In early 1986 he won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship from Krusher Khruschev before losing it to Black Bart a few months later. He had brief runs in the Central States territory and the Universal Wrestling Federation before moving on to the WWF in the summer of 1987. Houston’s run in the WWF is mainly known for him being an enhancement talent. Houston’s father is former wrestler and promoter Grizzly Smith, his half-brother is Jake “the Snake” Roberts and his younger sister is former WWF Women’s Champion Rockin’ Robin.

Scott: What Pat Patterson created as simply something fun to back up the contract signing will become a staple of the WWF landscape forever. A creative way to adjust a boring battle royal match has twenty WWF superstars battling it out for pride, and perhaps fortune? Vince McMahon would get better as a PBP guy, but he is so ridiculous here. Jesse tells him that there will be natural alliances when the ring fills up and Vince says “That would never happen, never!” Jesse tells him that if the Hart Foundation were in the ring together “wouldn’t they try to clear the ring together?” No wonder the rest of the wrestling promotions ripped the WWF. Not only were they pissed Vince was buying guys up left and right, but his announcing is dreadful! The action starts fast and furious as eventually the Hart Foundation did indeed get together and they are working Strike Force member Tito Santana for a good chunk of the early going. Some other observations: Jake Roberts is crazy over with the crowd, and if Randy Savage wasn’t there, Jake would have easily been the #2 guy in the company and may have been the guy to fill the slot in 1988 for the absent Hulk Hogan. He gets a huge pop when his number is called. Obviously in the elementary stages of this concept, there’s no clock up nor is there a buzzer or bell to let fans know that a competitor is coming into the ring. Immediately you understood that this concept was one that opened up so many creative booking possibilities. You can start or end feuds in this match, single out young guys for future pushes and other ideas. One early struggle of the guys is how to eliminate opponents. Old school battle royals had guys trying to grind opponents over the top rope. Later on in years we would see smarter guys clothesline competitors over the top rope, or even just toss them over. Jesse is really laying into Vince for being bias and terrible. It’s tremendous. The action continues to be fast and furious, as guys start getting chucked but the bigger guys linger and throw their weight around. Bret Hart (in an early indication of what he can accomplish) started first and lasted the longest. One Man Gang seemed to be the favorite based on size and that he was the biggest guy left. However, you figure after the Hogan/Andre stuff, the crowd needed something to cheer so they went with the fan favorite here. The line of the night when Duggan wins is from Jesse: “Of all the guys to win this thing, HIM?” I agree Jesse, I agree. Grade: **1/2

Justin: And it has officially arrived: the debut of the Royal Rumble match. Vince & Jesse run through the rules for us, as does the Fink. Absolutely no mystery around entrants #1 or #2 as Bret Hart and Tito Santana are waiting in the ring as Fink runs through the rules. They certainly made a great choice with these two, as they had some history together and could both work a great match for a long duration if needed. Vince tried to play up the “every man for himself” but Butch Reed come in at #3 and ignores that initiative, targeting Tito immediately. Things got uglier two minutes later when Jim Neidhart entered and a  triple team assault was on. The crowd really erupted for the first time when Jake Roberts came out and started to clean house. In a note for your trivia book, Butch Reed was the first man eliminated in Rumble history. As the ring started to pile up and anticipation of the next entrant built, you could immediately see that this concept was a winner. There was a nice blend of hot strike exchanges and teases, enough to really keep the crowd engaged through the first half of the battle. Bret Hart won the longevity war to this point as the Harts dumped Santana from the ring. In a bit of confusion, Don Muraco and Nikolai Volkoff both emerge at #11, brawling their way out until officials separate them and hold Nikolai back until #12. Neidhart and Harley Race also had good showings in the first half, as they were really active and participated in constant elimination attempts. Jim Duggan showed up at #13 and livened up the crowd which had lulled a bit. He got into a quick skirmish with the recently eliminated Race on his way in, but runs through him and hits the ring ready to go. The biggest pops throughout the match continued to be for Roberts and any attempted DDT that he tried to snap off. By the time Dino Bravo entered at #17, the ring had really become bloated and the action steadied with just a few big teases here and there. Ultimate Warrior quietly makes his debut here, entering at #18 to a modest reaction from the fans. Bret’s run came to an end here as well, but not before cementing himself as the first Rumble iron man. In a little nod to Mid South, One Man Gang entered at #19 and dumped Roberts, leaving the crowd with just a few real favorites to root on in the final field once JYD finished out the entrances. As the field whittled down, Duggan really started to pick up steam and seemed to the pick of the fans. The final four would feature Gang, Muraco, Bravo and Duggan, but Hacksaw quickly found himself in trouble once Muraco got shipped out. He would overcome those odds to last eliminate Gang and become the first Rumble winner. He was a fine choice, the crowd loved him and put over how strength and power was a strong quality in this type of match. This was a fun Rumble and a nice way to introduce the gimmick. Sure, nothing major went down, but he action was constant and there was some good talent blended in that kept the crowd into it pretty much the whole way through. This match pretty much provided us the baseline of Rumble matches for years to come. Grade: **1/2

*** Hulk Hogan joins Craig DeGeorge for an interview to give a hard sell for his upcoming Main Event showdown with André the Giant. ***

Match #4: The Islanders defeat the Young Stallions in a Two of Three Falls match at 14:10

Falls:
Paul Roma is counted out at 7:52
Haku makes Roma submit at 14:10

Scott: We finish the show with two of the best teams in the company. I’m surprised that we didn’t see the hot heel team Demolition on this show. No knock on the Islanders here as any team managed by Bobby Heenan is OK in my book. Heenan isn’t here tonight as Jesse says he’s in Barbados watching, courtesy of Ted DiBiase. Jesse is really getting into Vince’s grill about the Dino Bravo stuff which is pretty funny. This match is very hard hitting with a fast pace and lots of strikes. If there was a US Tag Title in the WWF, no doubt the Islanders would have had at least one reign as champions. The Islanders win the first fall when Roma took a nasty fall to the floor and it looks like he blew out his left knee. Credit to Paul Roma for selling like he did because I thought he legitimately hurt himself. For some weird reason we get a break as the Stallions go to the back and we get another replay of the Hogan/Andre signing, then a live interview with DiBiase and Andre. After another commercial Roma comes back out with his knee heavily taped. That made me think the injury was legit, but then why would they come back out? The Islanders work the knee over and that tells me it was a work to give the Stallions some sympathy in the match. For a rarity, the heels win the match in two straight falls. Hell it’s weird to see any team win in two straight falls. This was a decent enough match to fill the back end of the show and get us out. Grade: **

Justin: And since we are airing this on live TV, we have a little filler match to close out the show, SNME style. And for the second time tonight, we have Best of Three falls. The Islanders were in the thick of an interesting angle, where they had kidnapped Matilda, the mascot of the British Bulldogs. I find it funny that the Stallions use a theme song clearly sung by Jimmy Hart. After a very impressive showing at Survivor Series, the Stallions were looking to keep the momentum rolling and this was as good a spot as any to do so. Jesse put over the Islanders strong, explaining the balance they have based on what each partner brings to the table. The match is pretty solid with both teams exchanged heat segments and coming off as fairly evenly matched. The first fall ended with Paul Roma getting counted out after injuring his leg badly on a tumble to the floor, to the point that he couldn’t even stand and was writhing in pain. He was either really hurt or that was some hella good selling. In a weird twist to eat some time, the Stallions returned to the locker room to regroup while we revisited the contract signing and a DeGeorge interview with DiBiase and André. When the Stallions returned, Roma’s knee was taped up and he was really hobbled. The Islanders would target and assault it so I can’t imagine it is legit. If not, I give big kudos to Roma for the selling. Powers would make a match of it, nearly stealing the second fall a few times, but in the end the Islanders were just too much, picking up the victory in two straight falls by viciously wrecking Roma’s taped up limb. This was fairly by the numbers with the real highlight being Roma’s selling and the Islanders vicious focus on the injury and overall, just a chance to continue to build Haku & Tama. Grade: **

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Scott: This show was done for one reason. NWA was having their “Bunkhouse Stampede” show on PPV the same night. So Vince decided to counter it, just like he countered Starrcade in November with the first Survivor Series. Vince didn’t need to do this show to take viewers away, as Crockett’s show on Long Island was unbelievably bad. This little USA Network special would lead to the creation of one of the most important PPVs in history. The precursor to WrestleMania would lead to so many great moments, and start up so many careers. Except for the Hogan/André contract signing, there isn’t much that’s historically significant. There were also some pretty glaring omissions to this show, like Randy Savage and Demolition. Still, it was a fun show with a great Canadian crowd and some awesome build to a huge Network Television main event match. Final Grade: B-

Justin: This show has aged much better than I would have expected. The opener was really good, the women’s match was well worked and the Rumble was very fun. We also got a big storyline development with the contract signing. The Bravo segment lagged but that was the only really down spot of the show. I was always curious why some bigger names were left off this show, specifically Demolition, Randy Savage and Honky Tonk Man. It seemed like they would have wanted to leverage their bigger names to really push this show strongly. As is, it was a good time killer, a window into the transition period the Federation was about to embark on, a hard sell the Main Event and helped set up the initial road to WrestleMania IV and beyond. Grade: B-

Author: JT Rozzero

JT Rozzero is a cohost of the Place to Be podcast and original member of the legendary Moliseum Video. He enjoys all sports. The only thing he hates more than traffic and customer service is people. He is a proud Svenjolly and has had a sinus infection since October 2013. Send Justin an email