Vintage Vault Pre-Viewing: Royal Rumble 1991

The Rockers vs. the Orient Express (w/ Mr. Fuji)

We now begin a brand new year in 1991 and as 1990 was coming to an end, the tag division in the WWF was in a real state of flux as you had a couple of teams that didn’t seem to know where they were going. One of those teams was the Rockers who had a pretty pedestrian 1990 though part of that was due to Shawn Michaels’ injury, and then they even had the phantom title change in October that was completely whitewashed and now they are looking for some direction as the year started. It felt like they were running out of time to be considered the top team of the company especially after the phantom title change, and you had to wonder how much longer they were going to last either in the company or as a team. Another team that had some question marks surrounding them were the Orient Express as they started 1990 fairly well, but they quickly nosedived over the months and by the end of the year Sato was gone and Kato was brought in. These two teams faced off at Wrestlemania VI which the Express won by countout in what was deemed a pretty subpar match, and now they face off here on the first PPV of 1991 in a rematch and you would hope that maybe it would be at least somewhat better than the WM match.

As 1991 started, the Rockers were surprisingly MIA on the house shows while the Orient Express would feud with the Legion of Doom, and on TV it was announced the two teams would face off here and they would cut promos on each other leading to the show. It was interesting that they didn’t put a lot of focus on the fact that this was a rematch from WM even though the Orient Express had gone through a change, and they really treated this like it was the first time these two teams are meeting each other.

The Orient Express were pretty hot as heels and the Rockers get a big pop from the crowd who were fired up right out of the gate. The Express waste no time as Tanaka knocks Jannetty over the top to the floor to start the match as Michaels pounds on Kato, and Tanaka nails Michaels from behind and they hit a double backdrop. Tanaka holds Michaels from behind as Jannetty rolls back into the ring and hits a dropkick on Kato that sends him to the outside, and then he hits a superkick on Tanaka and the Rockers hit a double slam on Tanaka. They go up top as Kato pulls Tanaka outside to regroup only for the Rockers to hit stereo suicide dives onto the Express on the floor, and Kato rolls back into the ring as the crowd chants “USA” and they lock up with Jannetty hooking a headlock and he hangs onto the hold when Kato tries to whip him off. Kato tries to escape with a back suplex only for Jannetty to take him to the mat with the headlock, and Kato fights to his feet and whips Jannetty off as he leaps over him and Jannetty blocks a rollup attempt. Kato leaps over Jannetty again and hits a hiptoss as he works the arm only for Jannetty to escape with a headscissors, and Kato flips on top of Jannetty for a two count as Jannetty bridges up and he hooks a backslide for a two count. They lock up with Kato backing Jannetty into the ropes and he gives a clean break as Tanaka shoves Jannetty from the apron, and Kato nails Jannetty from behind and pounds on him before tagging Tanaka only for Jannetty to reverse a whip and Kato collides with Tanaka. Jannetty hits an armdrag on Tanaka and works the arm before tagging Michaels who goes up top and nails a blow to Tanaka’s arm, and he continues to work the arm and he tosses Tanaka to the mat as he continues to work the arm. He drops a knee onto Tanaka’s arm and continues to work it as Tanaka whips him off and Michaels knocks him down, and Tanaka hits a flying forearm on Michaels for a two count and hooks a submission on as he grinds down on Michaels. Michaels fights to his feet and tries to break the hold as Kato tags in and Michaels whips Tanaka off, and Tanaka and Kato avoid colliding with each other again only for Michaels to ram their heads together and then he hits a high knee on Tanaka. Michaels hits a snapmare on Tanaka for a two count and hooks a submission of his own on as he grinds down on Tanaka, and Tanaka fights to his feet and breaks the hold as he ducks a shot only for Michaels to hook a sleeper on. Kato goes up to the middle rope and nails Michaels from behind to break the hold as Tanaka catches a kick attempt before hitting a legsweep on Michaels, and he pounds on Michaels who turns it around and he pounds on Tanaka in the corner as Kato gets in the ring. Michaels goes up top and hits a moonsault on Kato before pounding on him and he continues to pound on Tanaka in the corner, and Jannetty gets in the ring and pounds on Kato in the other corner as the Rockers whip the Express into each other only for the Express to do a do-si-do as they pound on the Rockers. They attempt to whip the Rockers into each other as Michaels leaps over Jannetty and the Rockers escape stereo atomic drop attempts, and they hit stereo dropkicks on the Express who roll outside to regroup and the Rockers fake them out before going up top and hitting stereo crossbodies on the Express on the floor. Michaels rolls back into the ring and he pulls Kato back into the ring as he hits a snapmare for a two count, and Jannetty tags in and they hit a double back elbow on Kato for a two count as Jannetty goes back to the submission. Kato fights to his feet as Michaels tags in and holds Kato from behind as Jannetty gets a shot in, and Michaels hits a delayed suplex on Kato for a two count as Tanaka breaks the pin up and Michaels whips Kato into the corner. Kato blocks a monkey flip attempt as Tanaka hotshots Michaels on the top rope and Kato stomps on him repeatedly, and Tanaka drapes Michaels on the apron as Fuji drives the cane into Michaels’ throat and Tanaka tags in. He pounds on Michaels and knocks him down before tagging Kato as they hit a double team on Michaels for a two count, and Tanaka comes in and stomps on Michaels before pounding on him and he hooks a submission on. He takes Michaels to the mat and continues to grind down on him as he gets a two count and he pounds on Michaels, and Kato tags in and they knock Michaels down as Michaels gets a pair of kicks in only for Kato to reverse a whip into the other corner as Michaels flips inside out over the top to the apron. Tanaka hits a superkick that sends Michaels over the top into the ring and he tags in as they hit a double clothesline on Michaels for a two count, and he pounds on Michaels who catches him ducking by slamming his head into the mat as Kato comes in and nails Jannetty. Fuji hands Tanaka a sash only for Michaels to duck a double clothesline and he leaps onto the sash which pulls Tanaka and Kato into each other, and Jannetty gets the hot tag and he fires up on the Express before hitting a pair of slams and a pair of dropkicks. He hits a powerslam on Kato for a two count and then he hits a jumping back elbow for a two count as Tanaka breaks the pin up, and Michaels knocks Tanaka to the outside as Kato reverses a whip only for Jannetty to counter a hiptoss and both men attempt a backslide. Tanaka gets in the ring and kicks Jannetty as Kato hooks the backslide for a two count and Jannetty reverses a whip as Michaels trips Kato up from the outside, and Jannetty gets a two count as Michaels gets in the ring and knocks Tanaka down. The Rockers hit a double superkick on Kato and Michaels goes up top only for Tanaka to kick at Jannetty which sends Michaels to the floor, and Kato pounds on Jannetty and hits a slam before slingshotting him into a shot from Tanaka. They set Jannetty up again as Michaels gets in the ring and nails Tanaka before hitting Kato who slingshots Jannetty into a sunset flip on Tanaka which gets the three and the Rockers win the match.

The match itself was great as both teams worked hard and put on a fantastic match which to this point has to be one of the best openers in PPV history. With all respect to Sato, it was clear that Tanaka and Kato had much better chemistry together going back to their days as Bad Company in the AWA and you could argue that the Rockers were about to have one of the best years of their run. There was no question that this match was much better than their WM match though to be fair, the WM match was on a much more stacked card and wasn’t given much time so this match had a low bar to clear to begin with. It was also smart to have this be the opener and they gave them a lot of time as the match goes over 19 minutes, and this was a big win for the Rockers as they haven’t gotten a lot of wins on PPV and this was a good bounce back for them after a blasé 1990. The crowd was red hot for the match and popped for the Rockers when they won. The Rockers get their win back over the Express and both teams move on.

Grade: ****