Scott & JT’s Vintage Vault Refresh: Royal Rumble 1996


*** Scott & JT’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. In addition, Jeff Jarvis assists in compiling historical information and the Fun Facts in each of the reviews. Also, be sure to leave feedback on the reviews at our Facebook page. Enjoy! ***

Royal Rumble 1996: The Heartbreak Kid Repeats

January 21, 1996
Selland Arena
Fresno, California
Announcers: Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect
Attendance: 9,600

Free For All Match

Duke Droese beat Hunter Hearst-Helmsley by disqualification at 6:25; As a result, Droese is #30 and Helmsley is #1 in the Royal Rumble match

Fun Fact: This was the debut of the Free for All, which was a 30 minute program preceding the actual PPV. The FFA aired on all Cable Preview Channels in addition to the actual PPV channel, thus, the show was “free for all.” It was an attempt to get any last minute viewers who may be on the fence about ordering the show.

Fun Fact II: The Monday Night War was only five months old at this point, but WCW had already fired several major shots at the WWF. Vince McMahon was feeling the pressure and decided to fire a shot of his own. Starting in the first week of 1996, RAW began running parody segments called “Billionaire Ted’s Wrasslin’ Warroom”. Caricatures of Ted Turner (Billionaire Ted), Hulk Hogan (The Huckster), Randy Savage (The Nacho Man) and Gene Okerlund (Scheme Gene) were shown in the skits, each taking shots at WCW, their tactics to run the WWF out of business, WCW’s steroid policy (or lack thereof), their stealing of WWF’s former stars and Turner’s bottomless checkbook. The segments did little if anything to turn the tide of the war in the WWF’s favor. Turner and Bischoff were highly amused by the segments, but the WCW lawyers weren’t amused and threatened legal action against the WWF. Ultimately, the USA Network president Kay Koplovitz put an end to the skits with the final one airing during the preshow of WrestleMania XII.

Pay Per View

1) Ahmed Johnson defeats Jeff Jarrett by disqualification at 6:38

Fun Fact: This feud resulted from actions by Jeff Jarrett at the last In Your House. During an interview segment following Ahmed Johnson’s win over Buddy Landel in 42 seconds, Jarrett attacked Johnson.

Fun Fact II: After this match, Jarrett disappeared from WWF TV due to a contract dispute. He would sign a one year contract with WCW by mid-1996 and would come in as a wanna-be Horsemen and foil to the fledgling NWO. He would eventually return to the Federation after his stint down South was complete.

Scott: We open 1996 with a matchup that stems from the shenanigans with Buddy Landel at IYH #5 and the beatdown on the Pearl River Powerhouse. This is the first opportunity for Ahmed to showcase his stuff alone on a big stage. Ahmed looks like a guy who is destined for a big push, while Jarrett is pushed down the card. I knew this match wasn’t going to be great shakes as I’m sure it was booked for Ahmed to look like a beast here and take Jarrett out easily. The Fresno crowd is really hot to start as it truly feels like we’ve turned the corner from the creative mess that was 1995 and moving in a new direction. The arena even looks refreshed and different, compared to the darker, cheaper looking venues in 1995. We have Mr. Perfect back at the announce table with Vince McMahon which will make for a different dynamic than what we have with Vince and Jerry Lawler. The match is pretty much straightforward with punches, kicks and Ahmed’s power moves. This is the beginning of a seven month stretch where Ahmed Johnson looks like a bona fide star. The match ends in a bizarre disqualification when Jarrett clocks Ahmed with the guitar off the top rope after Ahmed doesn’t cave to the figure four. I don’t understand why Ahmed didn’t win this match clean and move on. Perhaps Jarrett wasn’t planning on leaving and this feud was continuing. That seems to be the thinking because I would have Ahmed destroy him and move on. The match is fairly average and Ahmed could have looked stronger but didn’t. Grade: **

Justin: Another year has arrived and with it comes another Royal Rumble event. We are finally out of 1995 and as we saw late in the year, the company seemed to have figured some stuff out. There were fresh faces, a more aggressive style, a rougher presentation and transition up and down the card. Also, the roster was really thin as cost cutting measures were in full effect, and that would be evident on this night. Our opener features one of the rising stars in the promotion, Ahmed Johnson, battling one of its prodigal sons, Jeff Jarrett. Johnson has gotten pushed hard out of the gate and with his look and charisma, it was clear he was a potential top level player. Jarrett, on the other hand, felt a bit like a relic here. He had been hot in mid-1995, having a monster night at In Your House #2, but he walked out of the promotion right after and killed all his momentum. Now he just feels like a retread. And it must have been evident to him as well, as he would leave again right after this show. Ahmed showed his energy immediately, sprinting to the ring and going right at Jarrett, who bailed to the floor. Double J would bait him back in and go to work as Vince noted Ahmed’s lack of experience. However, Johnson did have plenty of power and he used it to toss Jarrett hard out of the corner and then chuck him across the ring. Even though he was still sloppy at spots, Ahmed’s presence was fantastic, and I always loved how he let out a primal scream when he landed a move, whether it be a big powerslam or jumping clothesline. However, he would miss a charge and fall to the floor but his momentum was stopped by his hand getting tangled in the ropes. Jarrett kicked him loose and then sent him hard into the steps at ringside. As Jarrett laid more shots into him, Ahmed started to hulk up and shake it off, jogging in place and then catching Jarrett in a bear hug as he leapt off the top rope. Ahmed crunched Jarrett with a spinebuster and was looking to finish the bout when Jarrett rolled to the floor. Johnson then landed the spot of the match when he flew up over the top rope and careened hard into Double J to pop the crowd. He pitched Jarrett back in and tried for a pretty impressive 360 splash but Jarrett slid away and he crashed to the mat, injuring his knee in the process. Jarrett pounced and locked in the figure four and things looked grim until Ahmed powered up and forced a break of the hold. He would break a second attempt by kicking Jarrett to the floor and that is when Double J decided he had enough. He grabbed his guitar and leapt off the top rope, smashing the wood over Ahmed’s head for the DQ. That match was pretty solid up until that finish and I think the crowd would have been hot for Johnson to polish him off clean. I cam see why they didn’t want Jarrett to job here, but a clean win for Ahmed would have been a really strong notch in his belt. As is, this was a short, spirited affair with a blah finish. Grade: *1/2

2) Smoking Gunns defeat the Bodydonnas to retain WWF Tag Team Titles when Bart pins Skip  with a roll-up at 11:12

Fun Fact: Due to an injury to Billy, the Gunns were forced to forfeit the titles a few weeks after this show. A tournament would be held that culminated at WrestleMania.

Fun Fact II: During a match with Rad Radford on the 1/6 Superstars, a new wrestler debuted to help Skip pick up the win. The wrestler looked like he was Skip’s twin brother, as he had the same trunks and short dyed blonde hair cut. Sunny soon let us know that the man was named Zip. Zip and Skip made their on air tag team debut on the 1/20 Superstars defeating Chaz Warrington and Glen Ruth. Zip was portrayed by veteran wrestler and former Heavenly Body, Dr. Tom Pritchard.

Scott: The tag team division in 1995 was pretty weak, with the champions being two singles workers (Owen and Yokozuna). Skip has added Zip to his group and he and Sunny now have a tag team title contender. The Gunns were the only real consistent team in the company during the past year and a half and now they proudly carry the tag titles. It’s great that the undercard of this show will be stacked with all the titles on the line to reestablish things in 1996. A theme we will highlight with all the reviews throughout the year. A great line by Perfect while Bart is chopping Zip: “Well that will rearrange your nipple.” Sunny is still the fitness junkie, but she is starting to show here feminine wiles at the beginning of the show when we get the iconic “Viewer Indiscretion” disclaimer with her in the bathtub with bubbles and champagne. As the year progresses, the WWF pushes the envelope more and more with Sunny’s sexuality. The match is fun as both teams really go at each other with stiff strikes and plenty of tag team maneuvers. This is what the tag division in the WWF needed at this time: Some steady actual tag teams chasing for the championships instead of combining singles wrestlers for the sake of star power. Unfortunately we won’t see a huge influx of tag teams, but a few will debut throughout the year. It’s a small boost but a boost nonetheless. That certainly helps Skip who had an inauspicious debut in 1995, losing to a career jobber and being busted around backstage. The Gunns retained the the titles in a fun match with a chaotic roll up, solidifying them as the top team in the company. I was thinking of a title change at this point but maybe they’re going to save it for when the Bodydonnas are more established. The match was fun but the result is a bit of a head scratcher. Grade: **1/2

Justin: Even though they were one of the showcase tag teams of 1995, the Smoking Gunns never felt like they owned the division. However, as we enter 1996, the tag team pool suddenly seems a lot more shallow and suddenly they are being presented as the dominant top dogs. Opposite them are a new team, comprised of two aimless mid card workhorses in Skip and… Zip. Skip has been in a tailspin ever since those losses to Barry Horowitz and his issues backstage with the Clique weren’t helping his cause. So, it was decided to slip him into a tag team as new units were badly needed. Enter Tom Prichard. With Jimmy Del Ray gone, bringing an end to the Heavenly Bodies, Prichard was given a makeover and a renewed push as one half of the Bodydonnas. Of course, we can’t forget Sunny either. As 1995 wrapped up, it was clear the company realized they had their first true sex symbol on their hands and they started to deploy her as such. Gone were the workout spandex as she is now sporting very revealing mini skirts as he attire. She also was used for sultry “Graphic Nature” tags before PPVs, as this one opened with her in a bubble bath warning of potential violence to come. It was a very welcome change for us adolescents watching the product at the time. Skip and Billy opened things up with your standard trading of offense, worked at a pretty quick pace and ending with Billy spilling to the floor as Skip ducked a charge. Perfect noted the pace as well and he certainly seems more comfortable here than he did back in November. Bart turned the tide by slinging both Skip and Zip to the floor, followed by Billy diving over the top on to both men. Bart and Zip would reset the match and after a stiff chop from Bart, Perfect noted “that will rearrange your nipple” which made me chuckle. Bart would toss Zip with a big press slam but the Boddydonna was able to make the tag. That didn’t change much as the Gunns landed a double team Hart Attack. However, Sunny would get involved by hopping on the apron and eventually getting accidentally knocked off by Billy. As she writhed in pain, Billy went out to check on her and she lured him in, allowing the Donnas to jump him from behind while she hopped around celebrating. Great use of Sunny there and a key point to remember when it comes to Billy. The aerial attacks continued as this time Skip flew over the top into Billy. That is one thing I have noticed as the ring work and overall style improves, more guys are utilizing dives to the floor to add energy to their matches.

The challengers started to quick tag and use some double teams to control Billy. I like that they builtin some unique spots as a team, showing they put some effort into their unit. And it is a great team, just saddled with a gimmick that will hinder them long term sadly. A few moments later, there was an awkward collision that took out both Donnas and Billy, leading to the hot tag to Bart, who peppered both challengers with left hands. We would get a close near fall when Skip came off the top and clobbered Bart, who had been covered Zip but the champs stayed alive. Zip pitched Billy to the floor and the double teams continued but Billy recovered and tacked Skip as Bart rolled up Zip to retain the titles. This one surprised me at the time as it seemed like they really wanted to get behind the Donnas and Sunny as they kicked off their run. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Gunns are being set up as the alpha dogs so a win here makes fine sense. The match had some fun spots and they hustled but the sloppier moments and awkward finish take it down a notch. Grade: **

*** We see a montage of clips of “Billionaire Ted’s Rasslin’ War Room” as men dressed as parodies of Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Mean Gene talk about the WWF New Generation. EXPLANATION ***

3) Goldust defeats Razor Ramon to win WWF Intercontinental Title after interference from the 1-2-3 Kid at 14:14

Fun Fact: A little background on Terri Runnels, aka Marlena, the Director. Terri was a makeup artist for CNN during the late 80s and early 90s, working on the set of Larry King Live. On weekends, we would do makeup for the wrestlers with Jim Crockett Promotions / WCW where her husband Dustin was working at the time. Eventually she was brought into the promotion as the manager Alexandra York. With Dustin’s move to the WWF, Terri followed suit and debuted here as his manager, Marlena, a character based on actress and singer Marlene Dietrich.

Fun Fact II: Goldust began stalking Razor Ramon late in 1995. At our last event, Goldust was in the audience and watch intently as Razor came to the ring. The golden one gave a card to Todd Pettengill to give to Razor after the match. When he got the card during an interview segment later, the IC champ stormed off, angry at its contents. Over the next few weeks, Goldust would continue to stalk Ramon, watching his matches from the entranceway, bringing gold roses to Ramon and the revealing of a heart shaped tattoo on Goldust’s chest with “Razor” in the heart. The two would brawl backstage on RAW the week before the Rumble.

Scott: Goldust’s entrance early on in his career was awesome, with the dramatic music, gold lights, and gold glitter falling from the ceiling. Since his debut, Vince would make a point to keep saying that Goldust was androgynous but he never totally took that aspect of the character. Until now. This angle with the IC Champion had controversial and provocative overtones all over the place. From the gifts Razor would receive, to the double entendre messages to the tattoo of the heart on Goldust’s chest with the word “RAZOR” on it. Razor apparently wasn’t crazy about this storyline and frankly I’m surprised he didn’t use his Clique stroke (no pun intended) to put the keybosh on it. Frankly it was a very different type of storyline for the WWF to execute during the mid-1990s. Only ECW would go that far and even they really didn’t until 1997. Perfect delivers another great line when he says “Is he checking for hernias?” See Lawler couldn’t deliver a line like that without going over the top. Perfect just said it like it was regular conversation. Adding to Goldust’s character is a manager of sorts. She doesn’t have a name but she’s a gorgeous blonde in a gold dress smoking a cigar. She had her own director’s chair that she would sit in during his matches. We will learn more about her as time progresses. I love the psychology early on as Razor keeps beating on Goldust and throwing him out of the ring, but it’s almost working in reverse and Razor looks rattled and uncomposed early on which is what the Bizarre One is looking for here. Goldust would eventually take control and work over Razor’s back. So as much as Goldust has the psychology down, he still wrestles like Dustin Rhodes when he needs to. Great moment when Goldust brings Razor to the ropes, and the mysterious manager strokes Razor’s face before blowing actual gold dust in his eyes. As basic as the in-ring work has been in this match the psychology is off the charts. Finally after the weird mind games and back work, Razor looks to finish him off but out of nowhere, in a feud we thought was over, the 1-2-3 Kid comes through the crowd and spin kicks the champion off the top rope. Three seconds later and in a stunning upset Goldust is the new Intercontinental Champion. For the second year in a row Razor drops the title at the Royal Rumble. The match was a lot of fun, because as basic as the in-ring action was the psychology and story telling so great, and the upset caps it off. Grade: **1/2

Justin: Well, that escalated quickly. After getting his feet wet and being established as a character, Goldust was shoved hard up the ladder into a controversial feud with Razor Ramon. Ramon was not a fan of the angle and direction it went, but they forged ahead regardless. Goldust had begun to up the amorous advances of the Bad Guy, showing interest in Ramon at a sexual level, sending him gifts and dousing him with affection. The hook was whether or not he actually meant it, though. Was it just mind games to prey on Ramon’s clear homophobia and machismo so he could take his title? Or was he really looking for something more? It was a pretty intricate storyline and an edgier one than they have done in a long time. It certainly generated interest as well as plenty of blowback from various groups. The WWF didn’t care though because as long as it didn’t hurt their gates or ratings, publicity was publicity. And the game was about to change anyway, as Goldust is led out here by a mysterious woman, seemingly playing his Director. And they even… well, touch tongues. So is Goldust a straight man playing head games? Is he more? Ramon was clearly on edge as he made his way to the ring, looking to put this all behind him and move on. He had tried it on Raw too, as he unleashed a stiff, rough beating on Goldust that ended with the Golden One getting chucked out into the snow before he escaped in a car. The challenger continued to play things up, rubbing his body and caressing Ramon at any chance he had, continuing to unnerve Ramon. Goldust really has come along quickly since late in 1995, as he seems much smoother and more comfortable in the role and is starting to really play it up now. He was also getting good at the little things, like slowly stroking the middle rope while regrouping in the corner. It all enhanced the…ahem, package. Ramon did his best to stay focused, smacking Goldust around whenever he could get a hold of him, but the challenger kept slowing the pace and going through his machinations. Although, at one point he changed his tune and cracked Ramon hard with a slap to the face. The pissed off champion went to town, clubbing Goldust down and driving him to the floor. Once he got back inside, the two went to the mat, trading some holds until Ramon unloaded again. Goldust kept bailing and killing the pace, doing all he could to force the champion into a mistake. After they repeated that sequence a few times, it finally paid off as the director was able to distract Ramon just long enough for Goldust to smash him from behind and then slam him back into the edge of the apron.

The crowd started to rally the Bad Guy as Goldust tossed him back inside and hammered him with a sledge blow off the top rope. He picked up a near fall on a bulldog and then wrenched in a brief chinlock before executing a nice slingshot back suplex for another two count. Razor tried to strike his way back in but Goldust was all over him, spiking him hard to the mat and then latching on a sleeper. Perfect wondered what may happen if the Bad Guy went to sleep and Vince backed that up. Razor got dirty and hit a low blow mule kick to bust up the hold and began to mount a comeback. He would block a hiptoss and rock the challenger with a chokeslam and began to pick up near falls. Ramon would follow with a back suplex off the top rope but the Director hopped in the ring and tied up the referee by feigning that she twisted her ankle. With the ref distracted, 1-2-3 Kid hustled into the ring and drilled Ramon with a spin kick. Goldust quickly covered and stole the win and the strap. Kid really lands a major strike in his feud with Ramon with that one and we have a brand new Intercontinental Champion. I liked this title switch. Ramon is still super over but he wasn’t going anywhere as IC champ at this point so why not use it to further put Goldust over as he ascends up the ladder? I am also fine with the finish as the Kid/Ramon feud is hot and Goldust dominated enough of the match and isn’t really the type of guy to need clean wins anyway. The match itself was good and hard hitting and I really enjoyed the pacing as they eschewed lengthy rest holds and kept chugging along. This is the best Goldust has looked in the ring and the light switch has certainly turned on as continues to weld the character with the ring work. Adding the Director into the mix will help keep fans and wrestlers guessing as well. Grade: ***

4) Shawn Michaels wins the Royal Rumble (58:49)

Order of entrants (Who eliminated them)

1) Triple H: Diesel
2) Henry Godwinn: Jake Roberts
3) Bob Backlund: Yokozuna
4) Jerry Lawler: Shawn Michaels
5) Bob Holly: Ringmaster
6) Mabel: Yokozuna
7) Jake Roberts: Vader
8) Dory Funk: Savio Vega
9) Yokozuna: Shawn Michaels
10) 1-2-3 Kid: Shawn Michaels
11) Takao Omori: Jake Roberts
12) Savio Vega: Vader
13) Vader: Shawn Michaels
14) Doug Gilbert: Vader
15) Squat Team Member #1: Vader
16) Squat Team Member #2: Yokozuna
17) Owen Hart: Shawn Michaels
18) Shawn Michaels: Winner
19) Hakushi: Owen Hart
20) Tatanka: Diesel
21) Aldo Montoya: Tatanka
22) Diesel: Shawn Michaels
23) Kama: Diesel
24) Ringmaster: Fatu
25) Barry Horowitz: Owen Hart
26) Fatu: Isaac Yankem
27) Isaac Yankem: Shawn Michaels
28) Marty Jannetty: British Bulldog
29) British Bulldog: Shawn Michaels
30) Duke Droese: Diesel & Kama

Longest competitor: Hunter Hearst-Helmsley (48:02)
Shortest competitor: Squat Team #2 (:24)
Most eliminated: Shawn Michaels (8)

Fun Fact: The big return here is of course Jake “The Snake” Roberts. We last saw Jake on WWF PPV getting Tombstoned on the floor of the Hoosier Dome by the Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII. He had an abbreviated stint in WCW, battling Sting in an infamous “Coal Miner’s Glove” match at Halloween Havoc 1992. He’d then head to Smoky Mountain Wrestling and in 1994 defeated Tony Anthony to win the SMW Heavyweight Title. He also would wander to Mexico and face Konnan in a “hair vs. hair” match. His actual first on-air appearance back is during the Free for All when Todd Pettingill interviews him.

Fun Fact II: As was mentioned previously, Dory Funk Jr. is making his return here to the WWF. At this time, the WCW had brought in a number of Japanese stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling that were paying off. McMahon, despite mocking the WCW and their tactics, decided that he would follow suit. He struck a deal with NJPW’s competitor, All Japan Pro Wrestling and Dory Funk was brought in to serve as the liaison between the organizations. Funk is making his first WWF PPV appearance since WrestleMania II. Takao Omori was also brought in here as part of the deal. Omori was a mainstay in AJPW from 1992 until 2000. Omori rejoined AJPW in 2011 and as of this writing continues to wrestle for the promotion.

Fun Fact II: A couple of minor debuts before we get to the two big ones. Doug Gilbert is the brother of the late Eddie Gilbert and cut his teeth as the Dark Patriot in the early days of ECW. He won a royal rumble match in the USWA on January 3 to earn a spot in the Rumble. Also, we see the mysterious Squat Team show up. The Squat Team is actually the Headhunters, a tag team that would be mainstays in Puerto Rico and Japan. 

Fun Fact III: Our first big debut at this show is the Mastodon, the man they call Vader. Leon White was a standout football player at the University of Colorado. He started his wrestling career overseas in the late 80s, winning titles in the CWA and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He would venture to WCW and instantly become a nasty overpowering heel managed by Harley Race. He had a fantastic feud with and defeated Sting on July 12, 1992 to win the WCW World Title, and would battle Sting, British Bulldog, Cactus Jack and Ron Simmons over the next year over the title. After losing the title to Ric Flair at Starrcade 1993, he’d battle such foes as the Boss and Jim Duggan. He would have a feud with Hulk Hogan in 1995 and then eventually turn face in the fall. He would eventually be dismissed from WCW in late-1995 after getting into an altercation backstage with Paul Orndorff. He was set to be on Hulk Hogan’s team at the 1995 Fall Brawl, but left a week or two before the show. Vignettes building up his debut begin airing as 1996 began, and his in ring debut is at the Rumble.

Fun Fact IV: Steve Austin was born Steve Williams in Victoria, Texas in 1964 and he began training in Dallas under Chris Adams. He would toil in World Class briefly, then head to Memphis where he got to the finals of a tournament for the vacant USWA Southern Heavyweight Title, losing to Jeff Jarrett. He would head to WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin where he would put a solid resume together, winning the TV Title twice, the US Title twice, and the Tag Team Titles with Brian Pillman as part of the very popular Hollywood Blondes. With Ric Flair as booker, Austin wasin consideration to be eventually be WCW Champion. Then Hulk Hogan arrived and everything changed. Austin would eventually job the US Title to Jim Duggan in late-1994. He was fired over the phone by WCW in 1995 after tearing a triceps muscle in Japan. Pissed off and sitting home, he got a call from former Dangerous Alliance head Paul Heyman. Austin headed to ECW as “Superstar” Steve Austin, cutting hysterical and memorable promos against Eric Bischoff and WCW. This caught the eye of those behind the scenes in the WWF and after convincing Vince McMahon that he was potential star, Austin was signed. On the 1/8 Raw, Ted DiBiase appeared on the Brother Love Show and announced that he had found a superstar to be his “Million Dollar Champion”. He then introduced the man formerly known as Steve Austin, but now known as the Ringmaster. He makes his RAW debut on January 15, defeating a young Matt Hardy. 

Fun Fact V: This match marks the return of Tatanka, who had been off TV since the fall. Even though it is understood that he didn’t play a role, Tatanka had been present during a reportedly nasty situation between Jimmy Del Ray and a female fan. Del Ray was fired as a result and Tatanka was suspended until the air had cleared. This was his first match back.

Fun Fact VI: Shawn Michaels becomes the second man to win back-to-back Rumbles. Hulk Hogan had accomplished the feat in 1990 and 1991.

Fun Fact VII: We say goodbye on PPV to a large number of wrestlers at this event. Some were pretty much done with the WWF in 1995, but were brought back here to fill the 30 person field. Bob Backlund ends his PPV run here with a record of 1-4, his only win being for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 94. The character Mabel ends here at 3-9, including the King of the Ring title in 1995. He had already been in hot water after injuring both Diesel and Undertaker in late 1995 and when he injured Henry Godwinn here, it sealed his fate. Hakushi says goodbye with a 1-3 record. While we will see Tatanka again many years later in the WWF, his initial PPV tenure ends here above .500 at 8-6-1. Barry Horowitz says shalome to the WWF at 1-2 in PPVs. Several wrestlers will see character changes and will be see again as the Federation gains more attitude, including Fatu, Kama and Isaac Yankem, DDS.

Fun Fact VIII: This is the first Royal Rumble match to feature every competitor entering to their theme music.

Fun Fact IX: The following men were at one point on the WWF’s list of entrants but deals either fell through or couldn’t be agreed upon: Ultimate Warrior, Sabu, Peter McNeely, Mick Foley and Dan Severn.

Scott: For the first time in PPV history, the Royal Rumble match is not on last. I was pretty shocked at that, and that’s no disrespect to our two participants in the WWF Title match, but it’s just always the way it is. The Rumble match is last. Hunter Hearst-Helmsley has to be #1 because he lost a match on the new pre-show known as the Free For All to Duke Droese. His feud with Henry Godwinn pretty much is used here as Godwinn comes in at #2. Helmsley ended the feud by winning that hog pen match at last month’s PPV even though he got dumped in the pig shit afterwards. Bob Backlund comes in at #3 and honestly I forgot he was still with the company at this point but he is still a serviceable worker. Jerry Lawler comes in at #4 and now it’s a 3-on-1 beatdown that Godwinn is taking. I know that Lawler is still a decent in-ring worker but at this point couldn’t he just stay at the commentary table? The feud with Bret Hart is over and there must be younger guys that could be put in that spot. Bob Holly comes in next and it reminds me that although the roster is not nearly as bad as last year’s Rumble list of stiffs was, there was still some weak names here. Mabel comes in which technically means there’s two “Kings” in the ring at the same time. We don’t see Mabel much after this as he gets his pink slip shortly afterwards. The crowd is a little flat early on as there really isn’t any of the major stars or anticipated debuts yet. Vince and Perfect actually have pretty good chemistry together and sound like they’re legitimately having fun. What a pop from the crowd when Jake Roberts comes out, one of the Federation Era’s most popular guys. Besides that when he left he was one of the company’s most awesome heels when he left in 1992. He had hit the wrestling skids for the past couple of years but looked here like he was back on the straight and narrow. Dory Funk is next, making his first appearance on PPV since way back at WrestleMania II in the tag match. Back then he was Hoss Funk. This is the third time in four years a legend from another territory makes an appearance at the Royal Rumble (Carlos Colon in 1993; Dick Murdoch in 1995), although Murdoch was a former WWF Tag Team Champion. Funk’s skullet is worse than Lawler’s rat tail mullet. When Yokozuna comes in next we have quite a bit of girth in the ring with Mabel and even Godwinn. Lawler is hiding near the ring, as he escaped with Jake unleashed his new snake in the ring. Helmsley is still in the ring and battling with the aforementioned Godwinn. 1-2-3 Kid comes in next and as expected he is chased around the ring by Razor Ramon, still pissed the Kid cost him the Intercontinental Title earlier in the show. This unknown Omari comes in, an import from Japan who uses the most whored out entrance theme ever: The theme used by Orient Express, Hakushi and Bull Nakano. Any Asian wrestlers that walk through Titan Towers’ doors gets to use it.

There’s only been a few eliminations as the action stays hot and heavy in the ring. Savio Vega comes in next and again not too many eliminations early, and both Yokozuna and Mabel still in it until Mabel is eliminated. Next up, the first real appearance of one of my favorite guys ever. THE MASTODON. Vader makes his WWF debut and man I was marking out and I wanted him to win. I knew he wasn’t going to, but it was so great to see WCW’s former Champion in the WWF. Here’s a guy who was the victim of Hulk Hogan’s manipulating and cajoling to job Vader right out of the company. The WWF needed a new group of top flight heels that maybe would make a bigger impact than Sid did one year earlier. He comes in and just makes a mess in that ring, creaming guys all over the place. I had no clue who the Squat Team was but one of the members comes in, and wow he’s a house. I was just giddy at this point because it was great to see Vader in the WWF. He was booked like an absolute beast here and just mangled guys left and right. Great moment in the match is when Bob Holly boots Vader and he just no sells it and walks right by him. Helmsley is still in the ring from #1. After the other Squat Team member comes in, Owen Hart enters and immediately Vince and Perfect talk about the kick that put Shawn Michaels on the shelf and (in kayfabe) threatened his career. Right now this portion of the Rumble is all about Vader just killing guys all over the ring. At #18 is the prohibitive favorite Shawn Michaels, who’s pretty much being groomed to head to Anaheim on March 31 for his second straight WrestleMania title shot. One of my favorite moments is when Yokozuna and Vader are pummeling each other until Michaels eliminates Yoko. Yoko and Vader are brawling which starts another storyline between Cornette guys. Vader is also eliminated but he comes back in and throws Shawn Michaels out. He cleans the ring out and leaves. In comes President Gorilla Monsoon who tells Vader to leave, but man what an awesome debut. In past years it didn’t matter whether someone was legal or not, if they were thrown out they were thrown out. But this is Shawn Michaels we’re talking about so this time it doesn’t count. Tatanka comes in after Hakushi, two 1995 stalwarts who have pretty much vanished from the WWF landscape it seemed like. Hearing Vince say “Helmsley is about to eliminate Shawn Michaels” makes me chuckle. Aldo Montoya comes in and we get Perfect’s “He’s got his jock strap on wrong.” I totally forgot that Jerry Lawler was still under the ring when HBK pulls him out and beats on him outside. Next up is another favorite, Diesel. Although I can’t see Diesel winning this just based on the fact that all storylines revolved around Shawn Michaels winning this. At this point there’s really no other real favorites left in the group, perhaps one more guy. Helmsley is still in there over 45 minutes to this point, and that makes three Clique members in together. I’m sure that was discussed that Helmsley (if he had to be #1) would get a long run in there. Next up is a guy with a great future but a terrible gimmick. In comes the Ringmaster Steve Austin, still in his WCW tights and white boots with stars. Austin was one of my favorite guys in WCW in the early 1990s but another guy who was not part of the Hogan gravy train so he was booted. After a stint in ECW with hilarious (and gimmick-creating) promos, he arrives in the WWF. It’s pretty non-descript here but we won’t worry. His time will come. Barry Horowitz is next and he’s probably just happy to be there. We are rounding out the roster with Fatu next, but this “Make a Difference” gimmick will definitely run its course soon, if it hasn’t already. At this point it seems like we are waiting for Michaels/Diesel to be the last two and who will be 27-29 as we already know Duke Droese will be #30. Multiple times Perfect says if Barry “Horriblewitz” wins this he quits. I wonder if there’s heat there. Owen Hart is eliminated, but not before he boots Michaels in the head again, continuing that storyline. Marty Jannetty is next and that’s simply to pop the Rockers reunion. The last legit guy comes in at #29 and that’s British Bulldog, fresh off that war with Bret Hart at IYH #5. Duke Droese comes in at #30 and now it’s just a question of how the end of this match is executed. While Bulldog and Michaels are battling outside (Both fell through the middle of the rope) Owen returns and throws Shawn’s head first into the barricade. There’s definitely a match on the horizon between these two. The ending goes quick after Michaels tosses Bulldog and Diesel eliminates Kama, Shawn hits Sweet Chin Music on Diesel who goes over the rope, and for the second year in a row Michaels is the #1 contender for the WWF Title at WrestleMania. This was a fun Rumble highlighted by the PPV debuts of two of my favorite guys: Vader and Steve Austin. Grade: ***

Justin: For the first time since 1988, the Royal Rumble match is not closing out the show. It was surprising at the time but as the years go on, it wouldn’t be the last time. The field was interesting here as the roster was thin and new faces and visiting veterans were blended in to keep things interesting. Of course, nothing can compare to 1995 so we are guaranteed roster quality improvement at the very least. There is a heavy favorite as well as a few dark horses, but we will cover as we move along. Hunter Hearst-Helmsley enters at number one, an honor he earned by losing to Duke Droese in the Free For All before the show. I liked that gimmick as it gave you a legit reason to watch without damaging too much of the Rumble itself. Helmsley’s bitter rival Henry Godwinn was out second, setting us up with an IYH5 rematch to open the bout. Another historical note is that this is the first Rumble to have the every competitor enter to their theme music which adds a lot more pop potential for the fans. Godwinn started hot but Helmsley eventually tripped him up and worked him over in the ropes. Perfect notes that Godwinn made it to the final five last year and wonders what the odds are of winning two years in a row. I guess 1 out of 30, right? Bob Backlund is in at #3 for his final in ring PPV appearance for quite a while. He helps out Helmsley and almost dumps Godwinn but is unable to finish him off. Of course, Backlund has had radically variant performances in Rumbles, lasting over an hour once and under a minute another time. Perfect dishes some more facts, showing he was a bit more prepared here than at Survivor Series. The regality continued with Jerry Lawler and his absurd mullet strutting out at #4, making his second career appearance. He immediately tried to partner with Helmsley as he sought out the slop bucket but the plan backfired and Godwinn ended up grabbing the bucket, clearing the ring and then slopping the trio of heels (and some fans) on the floor. Godwinn finally got slowed up as Bob Holly jogged out at #5. Nothing of note happened before King Mabel headed out at #6, his absurd mohawk finally gone. He went right at Godwinn as Vince wondered aloud who could eliminate the giant King. The crowd woke up big time when Jake Roberts made his WWF return at #7, lugging his sack to the ring, where he immediately emptied it and unleashed his snake on everyone. Lawler was caught in the ring and had the reptile tossed on his torso before he was able to escape. Even though he wasn’t quite in shape and went in the face of the WWF’s stance on aging wrestlers, I was happy to see Roberts back. He was a big enough name to draw in casual eyes but also not high enough up the ladder to be above using his name and legacy to put other guys over. #8 was another aging former star in Dory Funk, Jr. We last saw Hoss at WrestleMania II but he pops in here for a one time appearance. Vince notes that his brother Terry was invited too, but he was in Germany and unable to make it. Helmsley would block a DDT but to the point nobody had been eliminated. Well, maybe Lawler? He vanished after the snake attack and nobody seems to know where he went. Yokozuna ambled to the ring at #9 as Mr. Perfect predicted the big man would win the match. He struck immediately, eliminating Bob Backlund in a callback to 1993. After that he reignited his IYH4 issues with Mabel as they hammered away at each other. Poor Godwinn was caught in the brouhaha and got squashed by both behemoths in the corner and eventually tossed by Roberts. The first third of the Rumble closed with 1-2-3 Kid jogging out at #10, however hot on his heels was a pissed off Razor Ramon. Kid was able to avoid his former friend until officials dragged him away as the crowd chanted his name.

The highlight of AJPW competitor Omori’s entrance at #11 was that he used the Orient Express theme. Was exciting to hear that gem again. Omori and Funk had both been representing All Japan and Giant Baba, who with the WWF had been establishing a working relationship. The crowd was all fired up as Roberts peppered Yokozuna with right hands, eventually flooring him. The Snake is easily the most over guy in the ring so far. As Funk unleashed some suplexes on the Kid, Savio Vega ran out at #12 and the ring was really starting to fill up. He got a little revenge for the King of the Ring final when he pelted Mabel with a spin kick and led to him getting shoved to the floor by Yoko. That elimination ends this run for Mabel and it has been most interesting for sure. His megapush feels like it was decades ago now, thankfully. Roberts would strike again, eliminating Omori as he continued to reestablish himself as a presence. And business picked up severely at #13 when Vader made his WWF, flanked by Jim Cornette. The former WCW Champion had inked a deal as 1996 dawned and was looking for retribution after being coldly dumped by Eric Bischoff following a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorff. Vega would dump Funk as Vader picked his spots, landing rabbit punches and stalking his prey. USWA’s Doug Gilbert showed up at #14, having a won a battle royal in his territory to earn a slot here. The Snake’s run ended with a thump when a thunderous Vader clothesline sent him careening towards the ropes, over the top and out to the floor. It was a fine run and based on the crowd reaction here, seems like it was a good idea to bring him back. There was a lot of red and black in the ring as things calmed down and reset a bit. At #15 entered Squat Team #1. This fat man was brought in from Puerto Rico, where he was one half of the tag team known as the Headhunters. Gilbert’s night came to a quick close when Vader press slammed him to the floor. The Mastodon turned his attention to Squat #1, boxing his ears and then knocking him out of the match. Squat Team #2 was in at #16 and as he entered, his twin brother joined him in climbing into the ring. Vader fought them both off and then got an assist from Yoko as they clotheslined both right back to Puerto Rico. A Vader/Yoko team led by Cornette could have been pretty fun. Owen Hart emerged from a cloud of smoke to enter at #17. Perfect immediately reminded us that he was the man that put Shawn Michaels on the shelf and he certainly carried himself with an air of confidence of someone that had done such a deed. Even with a thinned roster, the quality of talent in this Rumble was quite a bit higher than 1995’s installment and we were just over half over. Yoko and Vader continued to team up, this time destroying poor Savio, rattling him with splashes in the corner. They topped that with a Vader big splash followed by a Yoko legdrop. Ouch. The crowd popped big at #18 as Shawn Michaels danced his way down the aisle, looking to continue his comeback story. Vader chucked Vega as Michaels took shots at everyone in the ring, including his nemesis Hart. The Yoko/Vader alliance finally came to a loud conclusion as the two beasts started trading blows near the ropes. With Cornette freaking out at ringside, Michaels snuck over and dumped both giants to the floor. Perfect immediately screamed about how the odds have swung. I’ll say. I like that as a way to eliminate Vader as it easily keeps him strong but gets him out of there with time to go. Michaels followed that up by pressing Kid to the floor as well. Vader smacked Yoko from behind on the floor and climbed back in the ring as Hakushi entered at #19. Vader pounded Shawn with right hands and then press slammed him to the floor. In other years that would have been an elimination, but as always, the rules change year to year there. Vader would also chuck Owen, Helmsley and Holly to the floor before a gaggle of officials, Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Cornette finally calmed him down and got him to leave. Great debut for Vader. Michaels landed a few shots in on Cornette as Tatanka slowly walked out at #20, closing out the first two thirds of the bout.

The match slowly got rolling again as the crowd calmed down a little. Helmsley continued to get some shine, still hanging in after entering at #1. Owen dumped Hakushi as Aldo Montoya ran out at #21 and Perfect immediately buried him with a jock strap joke. Poor bastard. Michaels would get knocked to the floor through the ropes and as he took a walk around the ring, he decided to crawl under it. A moment later he emerged…dragging Jerry Lawler with him. Apparently the King had been hiding under there ever since the snake attack. Heck of a plan. Tatanka knocked Montoya out as Michaels dumped the King. A moment later a focused Diesel emerged at #22, looking to get back on track. He wasted no time sending Tatanka flying to the floor, giving us even more closure from King of the Ring, a running theme here tonight. He also made a statement there would be no friendships here as he smashed Michaels with a forearm to the head. Kama jogged out at #23, and like Tatanka he had also been off TV since the fall and was only brought back as a warm body to eat up a slot. Along with Helmsley, Holly was also having a really good showing, hanging in after having entered at #5. Walking out at #24 was the Ringmaster Steve Austin, the second straight Corporation member to arrive. He was aggressive as soon as he slid in the ring, going right after Holly. I was so excited when they signed Austin, who was a favorite of mine from his WCW days. He racked up his first ever Rumble elimination by tossing Holly, closing out arguably a top three night in his WWF career to date. Michaels and Owen continued to go at it as Barry Horowitz sprinted out at #25. Perfect immediately vowed to get back in the ring if Horowitz won the match. Diesel hammered him as he entered, but he survived and actually landed some shots in on Michaels. And just as he was closing in on 50 minutes, Helmsley banner night came to end when Diesel pitched him out. That was a hell of a showing and makes two consecutive song PPV outings for the Blueblood. Fatu entered at #26 and he landed a little shot in on Helmsley before he climbed up the steps. Shawn and Owen both almost eliminated each other and as they battled, Isaac Yankem showed up at #27. As he slid in, Owen dumped Horowtiz, bringing an official end to Barry’s push. Owen stayed hot by pasting Michaels with his enziguri, but before he could finish Shawn off, Diesel grabbed him and pitched him to the floor. That was followed by Austin pasting Michaels with a clothesline and then mocking his trademark pose in a funny spot. Marty Jannetty was in at #28 and amazingly enough he didn’t go right at Michaels. I thought that was in their contracts. Fatu almost eliminated Michaels, but he hung on and stayed alive. Last year’s runner up Davey Boy Smith entered at #29, instantly making him a favorite. He went right at Michaels and dumped Jannetty as his wife Diana watched from the crowd. Yankem sent Fatu packing with a clothesline, closing out his run as well. That seems to be another theme tonight as many 1995 faces say farewell after this show. Duke Droese was in at #30, per his win earlier, and he went right at Yankem.

Michaels and Bulldog would spill to the floor, which drew Owen back out for a quick double team, building even more sympathy heat for Shawn. After a save from Diesel, Michaels would recover to duck Yankem, sending him packing and out of the WWF for the time being. Diesel and Kama would knock Droese out as well, bringing us to our final four. And considering the overall strength of the field, this was a pretty strong grouping with three potential winners. Michaels would eliminate Bulldog and after Diesel clotheslined Kama out, Michaels came in from behind and caught his buddy with Sweet Chin Music to knock him to the floor, bringing a close to the bout. And for the second straight year, Shawn Michaels is headed to the WrestleMania main event. An angry Diesel stormed off, decking Bulldog on his way, as Michaels celebrated in the ring. He also told Dok Hendrix that Michaels is only breathing because he is allowing it. Big Daddy Cool would get back in the ring and give Michaels a high five before leaving his friend to continue his celebration. I really enjoyed this Rumble as even with the soft field and pretty obvious winner, there was a pretty good flow and plenty of entertaining moments. We also saw a changing of the guard in many ways, with plenty of stalwarts from the nadir of 1995 shipping off while some new building blocks arrived. Also, the Fresno fans were really good too, staying engaged throughout the match and backing the comeback story of Michaels. After a baseline 1995 entry, we comeback with a solid effort in 1996. Grade: ***1/2

*** Diesel, still pissed about losing the Rumble, takes his time walking to the dressing room and ends up having a minor skirmish with Undertaker in the aisle. ***

5) Undertaker defeats Bret Hart by disqualification at 28:28; Hart retains WWF World Title

Fun Fact: On the January 8 episode of RAW it was announced that the Undertaker would challenge Bret Hart for the WWF title. It ticked Diesel off that he was not named the challenger to the title, so he interrupted an interview later that evening with the Undertaker and the two ended up face to face at the end of the show.

Scott: The question immediately is, will this match not only live up to the hype to two guys who have never met in the ring, but also forced the Rumble to not be on last at this show. Things get off to a fast start as during Undertaker’s entrance he is blocked by Diesel and they have a little scrum down the aisle. Vince says this is Bret’s 43rd PPV match. That’s pretty impressive. I was looking forward to this match because as I mentioned we have never seen these men in the ring one on one. Perhaps when Bret was a face and Taker a heel in 1991 they may have had a forgettable match or something but I mean on a big stage. Who will face Shawn Michaels in Anaheim? The brawl in the aisle makes you think Bret will survive this match (and perhaps whoever he faces in February) and face Michaels at WrestleMania. Early on Taker was dictating the pace with slow, weird grapple holds, almost like a Von Erich Claw except it’s almost like a suffocating choke. The crowd is flat (it is Fresno) and this is probably not the start this match needed. After the fast-paced fun Rumble, this match needed to have that kind of back and forth action as well. The pace picks up after a few minutes when they head outside and start throwing each other into the barricades. The issue here is that Taker hasn’t faced a guy this good in the ring in who can remember how long. Honestly you can go all the way back to Jake Roberts at WrestleMania VIII to find a guy who wasn’t either a 500 pound sloth or a big guy with power moves. Kamala, Giant Gonzalez, Yokozuna, Underfaker, King Kong Bundy, Kama, Mabel. Ok I guess IRS at last year’s Rumble is about as close as it gets. So the problem here is that Taker needs to pick up the pace and not do that stalking, brooding type of psychology he can get away with against bigger dudes. After some decent action outside Bret puts Taker in a figure four, which is good psychology for small guy to get big guy down on the mat and lose the height advantage. Vince acknowledges this isn’t a beauty contest, but I’m not sure what that means, whether it’s that both men aren’t good looking or this match is very bad. The middle part of this match pretty much is both men rolling around submission moves which is killing the crowd. There were rumors that because Bret knew he was a transition champion setting up for someone else’s big Mania win he somewhat coasts through these two months of shows. I can’t agree with that as Bret doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would dog a match. It’s just the action is so slow and boring that it must be that Taker hasn’t faced a guy who could carry him to a great match and instead wrestled Bret like he was Mabel or King Kong Bundy. The crowd is booing but I’m not sure who is the one getting booed. You can tell Perfect has a soft spot for Bret as he pretty much picks him to win the match, and flowers him with praise throughout. Taker’s selling of his leg is the main storytelling point of this match and it’s not a very exciting story. Bret seems to take control late and you think perhaps Bret will squeak out a pinfall victory here, perhaps a roll up or something out of the blue. Well at one point Bret undoes a turnbuckle pad and now I’m really perplexed. He’s trying to take Taker’s Phantom mask off and eventually does, then smashes Taker’s face into the steel ring. The crowd boos Bret but Perfect defends him. Taker then rebounds and is about to win the title with a Tombstone when Diesel comes back down the ramp and gets Bret Hart disqualified, but Taker doesn’t win the WWF Title. Diesel then defiantly give Taker the finger, something you NEVER saw on WWF TV. Once again with 1996 beginning there’s some winds of change and things are getting just A BIT edgier. This match has always been slammed by fans for being too long and kind of boring. Frankly it is. It’s not a dud or anything, but expectations were probably too high for it. Grade: **

Justin: With the Rumble match in the books, we know Shawn Michaels is headed to WrestleMania. It was now time to find out who he would be facing. After a pedantic three year stretch of middling in the midcard, Undertaker finally is back with the big boys in the main events. And it was a smart move as they needed all the star power they could get at the top of the card. As Taker slowly marched to the ring, still wearing his Phantom mask, he happened upon Diesel, who was still lingering around. The two had some words and then came to blows until referees separated them. It was a neat skirmish that added some unpredictability to the show, something that as becoming a bit of a trend for the company. With that over, Bret Hart headed to the ring, WWF Title strapped around his waist. After spending five years in the company together, this was the first real big time match these guys were having, and it was such a welcome breath of fresh air to the main event scene. Two big stars with little history finally locking horns for the title. Hart went right at Taker but got caught and tossed into the corner as the challenger started to choke away. Perfect called out the obvious, but it was worth mentioning: Hart has to wrestle and not brawl here. Taker kept hammering away and then locked in a claw hold, trying to take full advantage of this opportunity. Hart broke free but Taker went right back to the claw and slowly taking the crowd out of it with this methodical pace. The champ finally escaped and clotheslined Taker to the floor before diving out into him with a plancha. Bret would try to follow up by leaping off the apron, but Taker caught him and rammed him hard into the post. The fight on the floor continued as Hart shoved Taker into the post as well but then walked into a boot to the face. Taker ran him into the barricade but Hart reversed a whip and sent the challenger hard into the stairs before going to work on the leg. They finally got back in the ring, where Hart continued to attack the lower body, keeping the Deadman grounded. It is really interesting to watch Taker work this kind of match, as we really haven’t seen it much at all since his debut. Watching him writhe and have to sell the leg was such a shift from his normal output. Hart would lock in a figure four and even after Taker forced the break, he kept the pressure on, wrapping it around the middle rope and kicking away. In between some aggressive work, we had Hart sitting on a leg lace which really led to a slow pacing. The crowd stayed with it best they could, but this was a tough match to follow something exciting like the Rumble. Taker would knock Hart to the floor and ram into the steps before choking him with the camera cable. I do like aggressive Taker, even though the crowd turned on him a bit with that one. Taker topped that by chucking Hart into the timekeeper table and jamming a chair into his gut as Paul Bearer tied up the referee. Taker dumped Hart back into the ring but the Hitman was able to kick his leg out and go back to work again.

Hart kept up with Taker when it came to pushing the limit, slamming his legs off the ring post and aggressively assaulting the limb before going back to his leg lace. Taker came back with a clothesline as the crowd booed him, as they fully seemed behind the Hitman now. The Deadman tried for the Tombstone but his leg buckled and Hart slipped free to the floor. Hart snapped Taker’s neck across the top rope and got a near fall on a DDT, which I believe was the first of the bout. Taker sat up after both a Russian leg sweep and a bulldog and it was starting to feel like Hart had missed his chance for a win. Taker was able to block the Sharpshooter and the pace was picking up when both men collided with clotheslines for each other. Hart got desperate and started going after the mask, which he was eventually able to yank off. A pissed Taker limped around, stalking Hart but unable to gain an advantage. After running Taker into an exposed turnbuckle, the crowd booed, this time turning on the Hitman and backing the challenger. Taker fought back, caught Hart and planted him with the Tombstone. He covered, but as the referee started to count, Diesel showed up, yanked him to the floor and decked him, leading to Hart being disqualified. Bah. I mean, yeah I get it. But, bah. That was a lot to sit through for that finish. Diesel would flip off Taker, who then left the ring and stalked Big Daddy Cool to the back as Hart recovered in the ring. I liked the idea of the match, with Hart working the leg and busting Taker down, but it was about eight minutes too long. We didn’t need all of the leg holds and could have just had the aggressive limb work blended with the brawling on the floor. Taker’s selling was really good and it was unique watching this type of match, but there was a bit too much meandering at times. Kudos to the crowd again, though, as they hung in there, still popping late in the bout. Taker is starting to overhaul his style so we were bound to have some rough spots, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for what the company needed. Bret Hart retains and now is slated to face Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. This match was floating around *** but the finish knocks it back down for me. Grade: **1/2

*** On the Royal Rumble Plus, Gorilla Monsoon announces that Bret Hart will battle Diesel at In Your House #6 in February. Undertaker would confront Monsoon and vow that Diesel would never wear the WWF Title again. As a result, Monsoon decrees that the Hart/Diesel match would now be a steel cage bout to ensure there would be no interference. Diesel then promises to take back his title and he doesn’t care what Undertaker or anyone else thinks about him and states that he isn’t afraid of the Deadman. Jim Cornette closes things out by reminding everyone that he now controls the biggest, baddest beast in the WWF. ***

Final Analysis

Scott: After the rough year of wrestling in 1995, it just seemed like with this show that 1996 was going to be different. The roster started to flesh out some of the low talent stiffs and elevated guys like Undertaker who had mired in the mid-card with fat sloths and gets his first WWF Title match on PPV in two years. Bret Hart was also mired in the mid-card but is now WWF Champion. It was an anticipated match but didn’t deliver the goods like it could have. The Rumble match was a lot of fun even if the winner was very much pre-determined. It was Shawn Michaels’ match to win, but all the other aspects of the Rumble made it entertaining, including the debut of Vader to WWF PPV as well as a future legend, “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin. Goldust amped up his mind games and won the Intercontinental Title because of it. His character is what has already made 1996 feel so different and fresh from 1995. Vince is starting to realize that some things creatively had to be pushed to the edge and with Goldust he experimented with that. This was a show that for a long time I thought was somewhat predictable and dull, but frankly I enjoyed it and even though the WWF Title match underwhelmed it was still a change of pace from what we saw in 1995. Will it be Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels March 31 in Anaheim? We still have a long road to go. Final Grade: B-

Justin: We start off 1996 with a pretty solid PPV outing. The first two matches were fine enough, but things really picked up with the Ramon/Goldust match, which I really enjoyed. Ramon’s IC title reign is over and we see a shift in that division there. The Rumble match was fun too with some good booking throughout and a bunch of fresh faces popping in to mix things up. Shawn Michaels gets the predictable win but it was smart booking and the way to go. The fans were invested in his comeback story and it made all the sense in the world to see it through. The main event was fine, but the ending left a bad taste. Plus the Rumble should have been last, but with the way they booked the Diesel/Undertaker stuff, it had to be arranged this way. And while I love the long term planning and execution, it did lead to more bland close to the show. What I also love is the postgame stuff, with Gorilla Monsoon setting up matches for the next PPV and the top guys getting quick hit interviews. It was a shrewd way to keep everyone invested and hyped for the next show. Smart. The feel of the promotion has changed and things have definitely gotten rougher around the edges and feature more hard hitting, realistic action in the ring and also some edgier storylines. It is a good direction to be headed in for sure. While there was no real stand out in ring action here, I thought the majority of it was solid and I really dug the booking and overall direction of things heading into Mania. Toss in some fun commentary and a good crowd and I think the grade bumps up as a result. Final Grade: B-