The WWF Royal Rumble pay-per-view aired live from Orlando, FL, in front of a sellout 16,000 fans. Hulk Hogan won the Rumble match, last eliminating Mr. Perfect, and during the match he had his first confrontation with the Ultimate Warrior in an early tease of the WrestleMania VI main event. Also on the show, Ron Garvin faced Greg Valentine in a match that did not get its due at all at time, a very good ***1/2 submission match. The two waylaid each other with stiff chops and strikes and managed to get the casual fan crowd into the action by the end. The show did 260,000 buys, which was lower than expected, partially because of the WWF’s disputes with cable companies that were not resolved until a week before the pay-per-view. You can watch it on the WWE Network.
Jumbo Tsuruta defended the AJPW Triple Crown against Toshiaki Kawada in a ****1/4 match in Osaka, which was the last singles match the two had against each other.
WCW aired Clash of the Champions XVIII live from Topeka, KS on TBS in front of 5,500 fans, with only 2,000 paid. Kids were allowed in the building for free, which made for a great atmosphere and a great response for WCW’s top babyface Sting. While nothing on the show was an all-time classic, almost every match was at least good. The WCW roster was motivated at this point to give their best effort, as new Executive Vice President Kip Frey instituted a new policy where the participants in the best match on the big shows would receive a $5,000 bonus. That honor went to Cactus Jack and Van Hammer on this particular evening, as they had a Falls Count Anywhere match where they brawled outside the arena and into an animal stall in the best match of Hammer’s career. Missy Hyatt was dispatched to follow the action and ended up dunked in a horse trough. According to Mick Foley’s book Have A Nice Day, she had no idea this was coming, which had to be thrilling considering it was Kansas in January. That match would not have been my pick, but the wrestlers certainly crafted something memorable. Also on the show, The Steiner Brothers defeated Vader and Mr. Hughes in a very good ***1/4 power match; Brian Pillman and Marcus Bagwell defeated Terry Taylor (at the time billed as the Taylor Made Man) and Tracy Smothers in a short but excellent ***1/2 match; Dustin Rhodes, Ron Simmons and the returning Barry Windham faced Larry Zbyszko, Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton in a *** match; and in the main event, Sting and Ricky Steamboat defeated Rick Rude and Steve Austin in a ***1/4 match, with Rude whipping Steamboat with a belt after the match to set up their U.S. title match at SuperBrawl II. Storyline developments included a repackaged Fabulous Freebirds, as the two had new entrance music and ring attire, the announcement of Sting vs Lex Luger at SuperBrawl II for the WCW World Title and the return to pro wrestling of Jesse Ventura, who joined Jim Ross in the announce booth to call the main event. Unfortunately, despite being a good show, it only drew a 3.7 rating, tying Clash of the Champions XVI the previous September as the lowest-rated Clash ever. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.
Cactus Jack introduced Boo Bradley to freedom in an oddly compelling vignette on SMW television, which closed with the two walking into the sunset while “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” played. That was the tamest segment of the show, as New Jack and Bob Armstrong found themselves in an argument where Armstrong said that he did not hate New Jack because he was black; instead, he hated him because he was an asshole! Also on the show, Jim Cornette cut quite the controversial promo, especially for a babyface, when he said that some white people just do not like black people, and that New Jack made that worse. He added that when an average white guy turned on the news in the evenings, he never saw that nine out of ten black men have jobs, work hard, take care of their families, or that their children play sports, make good grades and stay away from drugs. Instead, the average white guy would see misfits, criminals and loudmouths hanging out in street gangs and taking drugs. He then had the nerve to — as the SMW owner and promoter, mind you — accuse New Jack of attempting to profit from racial tension. What made the promo especially jarring was that it was taped backstage at a WWF show against a WWF backdrop, and Dave Meltzer noted in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter at the time how shocked WWF employees who heard the promo were by its content.
Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee had words on USWA television over a match they had on January 16 at Mid South Coliseum, where Dundee defeated Lawler by disqualification after bringing a chain to the ring and then hiding it on Lawler’s person. The two indicated that a rematch would happen in the near future, but Dundee said they could have a nice fight when Lawler got tired of “fooling around with the Mickey Mouse organization up North”.
Bret Hart was the guest of Shawn Michaels in his Heartbreak Hotel segment on WWF Superstars. Shawn confronted Bret about the “scuttlebutt” that he had changed after spending too much time in Hollywood, and Bret responded that he had fun filming Lonesome Dove but was back to work. The WWF was concerned that Bret would get a bigger pop than Diesel in their upcoming Royal Rumble match, so they teased a Bret heel turn going into the match.
WCW Saturday Night aired a sit-down interview with Brian Pillman, whose gimmick was changed to California Brian, with Brian explaining how when he had a guest spot on Baywatch, he gained strength from seeing how Californians responded to floods. He also mentions the upcoming WCW Cruiserweight Title tournament which would not see the light of day for over another year, which shows how long that idea was tossed around before they finally executed it. It might be best that they waited, as early plans were to build the cruiserweight division around Koko B. Ware and Tito Santana, who would be the “AAA representative”. WCW also wanted Sabu to join the division but he only wanted to wrestle as a heavyweight.
New Japan ran a show at Korakuen Hall in front of a house full of hardcore fans, which was the perfect setting for El Samurai and Shinjiro Otani to have a ***** classic. The two stayed almost entirely on the mat in an epic encounter that presented a possible fresh direction the junior heavyweight style could have taken in the coming years.
The WWF Royal Rumble pay-per-view aired live from Fresno, CA, in front of a sellout 9,600 fans. Shawn Michaels won the Rumble match, last eliminating Diesel. The match also saw Jake Roberts return to the WWF to a massive ovation. Also on the show, Goldust defeated Razor Ramon to win the WWF Intercontinental Title, and WWF World Champion Bret Hart defended the title against the Undertaker in a long and disappointing match where Diesel interfered to pull the referee out of the ring after Undertaker gave Bret a tombstone, flipping Undertaker off after costing him the title. The show did 260,000 buys, and you can watch it on the WWE Network.
WCW aired Clash of the Champions XXXIV live from Milwaukee, WI on TBS in front of 6,800 fans. The show was headlined by Lex Luger vs Scott Hall, which ended in a disqualification when Kevin Nash and Syxx interfered. Also on the show, Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan recreated their Falls Count Anywhere match from the Great American Bash in abridged form, brawling into the bathroom right away. In addition, Dean Malenko defeated Ultimo Dragon to regain the WCW Cruiserweight Title in a *** match. The show did a solid but unremarkable 3.5 rating. Because the Monday night shows were so loaded with marquee matches and big angles by this point, the Clashes no longer carried the same special appeal they did in years past. You can watch it on the WWE Network.
RINGS opened the year at Budokan Hall with a card highlighted by Kiyoshi Tamura defeating Mikhail Ilioukhine in the finals of the Mega Battle World Tournament, which was a ****1/2 match.
Ric Flair cut one of the greatest money promos of his career on WCW Thunder, hyping his challenge of Hulk Hogan for the WCW World Title at SuperBrawl IX. The show was the last huge success on pay-per-view that WCW had, and with segments like these, it is easy to see why.
“Hogan, make no mistake, when I was in Garden City, Kansas, wrestling Rufus R. Jones for an hour, you were in Madison Square Garden for all the money! I know it, the world knows it. The difference is I was the World Champion, and you were a man on fourth before intermission beating the crowd to get a cold beer, pal. I was putting in time. I was with Race, Brisco, Funk, Kiniski, Sting, Luger … I was with the boys that had to walk the real aisle. You, my friend, were carrying Dolly Parton to the Oscars – God Bless You. You were making movies with Stallone. You became a bigger than life commodity, and for that, I give you your due. As for being a wrestler, you can’t now and never could carry my jockstrap, pal.”
In The “To Watch” Queue:
Mitsuharu Misawa vs Masa Fuchi (AJPW 01/21/92)
Toshiaki Kawada & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs Akira Taue & Jun Akiyama (AJPW 01/21/93)
Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs Steve Williams & Terry Gordy (AJPW 01/21/93)
Akira Maeda vs Bitsadze Tariel (RINGS 01/22/94)
Volk Han vs Yoshihisa Yamamoto (RINGS 01/22/94)
Jushin Liger & Keiji Muto vs Shinya Hashimoto & Koji Kanemoto (NJPW 01/21/96)
Yuki Ishikawa & Takeshi Ono vs Daisuke Ikeda & Katsumi Usuda (BattlARTS 01/21/97)