Writing Wrestling History: Royal Rumble 1987

The guys at the Place to Be Nation Podcast have reached one of the most memorable era’s in WWF/E history, The winter of 1987 was loaded with historical angles, centered around the events between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.

In a previous column, we looked at how the WWF could have presented Survivor Series 1986. As the calendar turned to 1987, business was booming and Vince McMahon was ready to make history again.  Before we get to the big night in Pontiac, Michigan on March 29, the WWF would debut another new event.  This time, it would be the Royal Rumble.

Without changing locations of actual shows that occurred that day, here is the date and location for this show:

When: Saturday, January 24, 1987
Where: Sports Arena – Los Angeles, CA

On this day, the WWF ran two shows.  One in Detroit at Joe Lois Arena and the other in Los Angeles at the Sports Arena. Los Angeles would be the better location for several reasons. First, Detroit and the surrounding area would have two iconic shows in the coming months. Saturday Night’s Main Event (taped February 21 and airing March 14) and of course WrestleMania III.  Next, looking at the show results from that night, the roster in Los Angeles is just what the company needs for the Royal Rumble. Lastly, the day following this show would be Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena, CA, A suburb of Los Angeles, just 30 minutes away from the Sports Arena. With sports fans from around the world traveling to the Los Angeles area for the big game, selling out the 16,000 seat arena would be no concern. This date also works out nicely, because the next round of television taping would not take place until two days later on January 26 in Tampa, FL.

These are the actual results from Joe Lois Arena in Detroit and all talent from this show will not be featured at the Royal Rumble in Los Angles:

Sivi Afi vs.Tiger Chung Lee
Brad Rheingans vs. Barry Horowitz
Mike Rotundo vs. Iron Mike Sharpe
Blackjack Mulligan vs. Nikolai Volkoff
Hercules vs. Koko B. Ware
The Honkytonk Man vs. George Steele
WWF Tag Team Champion Davey Boy Smith & Roddy Piper (sub. for the Dynamite Kid) vs. Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart
WWF IC Champion Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat

As a special presentation to attract even more viewers, the company would not charge fans to watch this show on pay-per-view.  Instead, the show would be available through cable television on USA Network.

Your announce team this evening: Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura.  Since this was on cable TV and would have more viewers than it would on pay-per-view, Vince would want to make sure that the storytelling on commentary was hitting all of its bullet points.

It’s now time to head out to the west coast to see how the 1987 Royal Rumble could have went down.

Opening match: Dream Team vs Can-Am Connection

Rick Martel and Tom Zenk were rapidly becoming one of the most popular tag teams in the WWF.  After bursting on to the scene in late 1986, the Can-Am’s had everything you could ask for in a babyface tag team.  Young, good looking, and could electrify a crowd with their move set.  The Dream Team on the other hand had seen better days.  After losing the tag team titles to the British Bulldogs eight months earlier at WrestleMania II, Valentine and Beefcake had taken a plummet down the tag division.  They weren’t quite at “job” status, but weren’t seen as a top contender to regain the belts.  Manager, Johnny V had recently introduced a new tag team on Superstars of Wrestling by the name of Demolition.  Had Johnny given up on the Dream Team or was he just looking to add some more depth to his stable?  Along with Demolition, Johnny V had recruited Dino Bravo in his stable. A ring veteran like Bravo could provide some advise to the Dream Team to help give them a boost of confidence.  This match would be a nice opener to give Martel and Zenk another big win to solidify them as a top contender for the tag team titles.

“King” Harley Race vs. Tito Santana

Tito Santana had recently began a feud with relative newcomer Butch Reed, but on this night he would have his hands full with royalty in King Harley Race.  Harley was locked in a feud with Junkyard Dog, but with JYD adding his name to the Royal Rumble match (as did Butch Reed) later this evening, he demanded an opponent for this show and Tito would gladly accept. This is a battle of two men that could go hard in the ring.  There’s a couple of ways this match could go.  First would be a twenty minute draw and the other would be a double disqualification caused by interference from Butch Reed and JYD.

WWF Championship match: Hulk Hogan vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff with Special Gust Referee Bruno Sammartino

Just three weeks ago on the January 3 episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Hogan and Orndorff had a steel cage match that was filled with controversy.  With both men simultaneously leaving the cage from opposite sides of the ring earlier in the bout, referee Joey Marella named Hogan the winner and referee Danny Davis named Orndorff the winner. The match would be ordered to restart with Hogan eventually hitting a leg drop on Orndorff then escaping the cage to retain is WWF championship. An easy way to book this match here would be for WWF President Jack Tunney to award Orndorff a rematch and name a special guest referee in Bruno Sammartino.  In addition, Tunney would ban Orndorff’s manager, Bobby Heenan from ringside for the match.  With the Living Legend as the referee and Heenan banned from ringside, Hogan would emerge victorious here after Orndorff gives it all he had, putting the official seal on this rivalry. We could even have Bruno posing with Hogan after the match for a feel good moment on this show. What would be next for Hogan? Over the next few weeks, he would have a challenge from a man that he never expected.

Demolition vs Killer Bees

As previously mentioned, Johnny V had recently debuted a new tag team in Demolition. Ax and Smash were big, tough, and intimidating. This would be a big showcase for them as they take on the Killer Bee’s, B. Brian Blair and Jumping Jim Brunzell.  The Bee’s were stuck in the mid-card of the tag division, In order to climb the ranks of the division, a win for Ax and Smash over the Bees here would help make a name for themselves. This match would serve as a good cool down period between the WWF title match and the upcoming Royal Rumble match.

“IT IS NOW TIME FOR THE ROYAL RUMBLE!”

Royal Rumble participants:

Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Billy Jack Haynes
Kamala
Ron Bass
Dick Slater
Dino Bravo
King Kong Bundy
Hillbilly Jim
Lanny Poffo
Adrian Adonis
Butch Reed
Andre the Giant
“Magnificent” Muraco
“Cowboy” Bob Orton
Jauques Rougeau
Raymond Rougeau
Sika
Junkyard Dog
Haku
Tama

The brain child of Pat Patterson was ready to take center stage with 20 WWF superstars drawing numbers at random as they entered the inaugural Royal Rumble match.  The field would be filled out with ring veterans, tag team members, newcomers, and guys trying to make a name for themselves.

One of the favorites to win the Rumble match has had an interesting couple of months. On the November 26 episode of WWF Superstars in was announced that Andre the Giant had been reinstated.  Andre had been suspended back in May for failing to appear at WWF events. Footage was shown of the reinstatement hearing where Andre was not present, but Bobby Heenan was. On January 17, during an installment of Piper’s Pit, Hulk Hogan was presented with a trophy for being world champion for 3 years.  Andre the Giant came out to congratulate Hogan and shook Hogan’s hand rather firmly. Early this very day (January 24) during another installment of Piper’s Pit, Andre was presented with a trophy for being the only undefeated man in WWF history. Hogan would come out to the set during the segment and Andre would walk off.

With some fantasy booking, here’s how he Rumble match could go down.

Entry order:

Adrian Adonis
Junkyard Dog
Dino Bravo
Dick Slater
Sika
Tama
King Kong Bundy
Raymond Rougeau
Ron Bass
Haku
Butch Reed
Jake Roberts
Kamala
Andre the Giant
Don Muraco
Raymond Rougeau
Lanny Poffo
Bob Orton
Billy Jack Haynes
Hillbilly Jim

With the final four in the match being Andre, Bob Orton, Don Muraco and Hillbilly Jim, Orton and Muraco would tie Andre up in the ropes, so they can double team Haynes.  After eliminating Hillbilly, Orton and Muraco would untangle Andre from the ropes and double team him. Andre would make a comeback, first eliminating Orton, followed by Muraco shortly there after. During a post match celebration from Andre, Hulk Hogan would come down to congratulate Andre. Hogan would put his hand out for Andre to shake.  Instead of shaking Hogan’s hand, Andre would stare at Hogan, followed by leaving the ring while saluting the crowd. Hogan would look on in confusion as the show fades to black.

In the coming weeks we would see Andre the Giant being recruited by Bobby Heenan and turning on Hulk Hogan leading to their match at WrestleMania III.

This card would serve as another tease for the Andre heel turn as well as the introduction of the Royal Rumble match a year earlier than it originally debuted.  Pat Patterson has said the he had the Rumble idea in his head since 1986, so this would not be impossible to pull off.

How could you see the 1987 Royal Rumble unfolding? Leave your feedback and fantasy booking ideas below.

Author: Jason Greenhouse

Jason is a proud nerd for all things 80s and 90s. He's a life long wrestling fan and can make a Seinfeld reference out of any situation. In addition, he hopes to see the Jets win the SuperBowl in his lifetime.