After watching part one of the WWE Network’s “Monday Night War” series, I decided that I would take full advantage of the Network and go back to when it all started. With Raw beginning to air in January of 1993, I’d follow the WWF on pay-per-view going forward and pick up the WCW when Nitro starts in September of 1995.
Next up on the docket is one of the more talked about pay-per-view finishes of the 1990s: the 1994 Royal Rumble.
Worst: The intro music
A quick note about the intros from this time frame: they had some of the worst generic 1980s keyboard music of all time. Just totally nondescript and awful. It’s only fitting this is accompanied by Vince McMahon’s incoherent screaming.
Who would think that a coherent, well-spoken guy would be an improvement on commentary? I mean, I was fine with Vince just screaming at everything like it was either the most confusing or most exciting thing he’d ever seen in the world, weren’t you?
Seriously though, DiBiase was one of the top heels in the game for a reason. He plays the scumbag well, his motivations make sense (He’s rich and thinks he’s better than you) and he doesn’t sway from those motivations. Also, he’s seen pro wrestling before and doesn’t yell “MY GOD IT’S OVER 1, 2, 3 NO WAIT” all match like Vince does. Watch a goddamn match, Vince.
The first match of the night is Tatanka vs “The beast from the east” Bam Bam Bigelow with the always insane Luna Vachon accompanying him.
This wasn’t a bad match at all – it had a good pace and really played up the “Bam Bam is a huge dude” card – but I just don’t understand the push behind Tatanka at this point in time. He wasn’t anything that stood out: he wasn’t some freak physique, he wasn’t great in the ring and he didn’t cut an exceptional promo. He was a solid hand, sure, but they guy had a several-months-long unbeaten streak. Why? Why is this the guy you push when there are probably others that could get that push?
Best: Heel Owen Hart
This was one of my favorite storylines in the 1990s: Owen, the youngest of the Hart clan, feeling immense jealousy towards his older brother Bret, the WWF’s golden boy at the time. I know that everyone said Owen was the nicest guy you’ve ever met, but there had to be at least something behind his jealous rants. Those promos felt so real, like Owen had been dealing with this silently in real life for his entire life.
Naturally, they tease that the two had put their issues behind as they cut a happy promo (with Owen insisting he’ll lead the way and that Bret will latch onto his coattails) heading into their match with the Quebecers for the Tag Team Championships. A fantastic, months-long build getting ready to boil over.
Worst: Bret Hart on the mic
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that Bret was the worst thing ever but it’s clear that his strong point wasn’t talking. He had a tendency to ramble a bit while trying to make his point (that you might be bigger/stronger/whatever, but he’s the best in the ring) and would routinely stumble over words. It felt painfully forced, but as a top star, he couldn’t just not talk.
A+ for effort, but he wouldn’t really be that great until he was playing the America-hating semi-heel with the Hart Foundation years later.
Best: Johnny Polo
Raven looks much cleaner here.
Best: The Hart Brothers vs The Quebecers
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Quebecers, but they do exactly as they’re supposed to in this match. They know they can match up with the technical skills of Bret nor the speed and athleticism of Owen, so they try to slow the match down and employ as many underhanded two-on-one tactics as they possibly could.
But really, the three things about this match I liked most came from the Hart corner. Bret sells a beating better than anyone ever has and really helps make the underhanded crap the Quebecers were doing look like a million bucks.
Secondly, you really get a sense of just how good Owen is in this match. He’s the perfect contrast to Bret’s technical, slower style: he’s flying around at a million miles per hour, hitting all sorts of high risk moves and generally lighting the place up. Almost like Daniel Bryan 10 years later.
The third and most important thing in this match is how the Quebecers unintentionally reignite the rivalry between Bret and Owen. At some point, Bret suffers a knee injury and the Quebecers spend the rest of the match working it over like a good heel team would. Eventually, the ref calls the match because Bret can’t finish (which has never happened, ever, but I’ll allow it for furthering the story). Owen, being the prideful and immature one, gets mad at Bret for not tagging out and attacks him.
This works because, though Owen handled it all wrong, you can feel for Owen. Bret should have tagged him in. Bret has been unintentionally keeping Owen in the background and costing them (and Owen) matches along the way. You can feel Owen’s rage and hurt as it comes bubbling to the surface, with him ranting about how selfish Bret is. It sets the stage for one of the most believable, interesting feuds in wrestling history.
Worst: Razor Ramon vs Irwin R. Scheister
Don’t get me wrong, I was and always have been a Razor Ramon fan, especially as he got into a groove both with his character and in the ring. But one thing I’ve noticed with him as I look back on these shows is that he was at his best when he was allowed to play the big man, letting smaller wrestlers (like Shawn Michaels, who he had some of his best matches with) bounce around and off of him while making his power moves look truly powerful.
Here, he’s battling IRS, a methodical (slow) wrestler who’s just competent enough to not be laughed at, but isn’t going to put on a clinic or wow the crowd. He can’t eat Razor’s offense, everything he does is slow but somehow doesn’t look terribly purposeful and this match just kind of plods along until they get to the finish.
Speaking of which, that was drawn out as unnecessarily as possible. Basically, with the ref down, Shawn Michaels comes out and whacks Razor with his fake IC title belt leading to IRS getting the pin. Earl Hebner comes out, explains to the ref what happened and Razor hits IRS with the Razor’s Edge to win. We couldn’t have had Razor just kick out and do this?
Best: Paul Bearer
It really can’t be understated just how important Bearer was to the career of the Undertaker. He was the mouth piece for a guy who wasn’t that great of a talker when he wasn’t talking about the bowels of hell or telling you that you’ll rest in peace.
Bearer managed to amplify Undertaker’s creepiness with his own in addition to doing his managerial duties like making his guy sound like the most dangerous man ever. Just LOOKING at Bearer, you really get an idea of just how creepy the guy who hangs out with him has to be.
Worst: The match that legitimately frightened me as a kid
The main singles event of the evening is The Undertaker vs Yokozuna in a casket match for the WWF Championship. For the uninitiated, a casket match is pretty basic: put your opponent in the casket and close the lid.
Quick tangent: Vince McMahon really is the drizzling shits on commentary. Before the match begins, he’s trying to sell up the fear on Yokozuna’s face. He asks if the fear will become a weapon for Yoko or whether it’ll turn the big man into a “600lb pile of jellyfish”. He means jelly and frankly, a 600lb pile of jellyfish would scare the shit out of me. I’ve never been stung by one but it looks painful. 600lbs of them stinging you? No, thanks. Vince just can’t articulate this because on commentary, he was every terrible thing we’ve ever hated about announcers.
The match itself is nothing to write home about: it’s your typical 1990s hoss-fest between two big guys. It’s a lot of punches and kicks, but the match itself isn’t the important part. No, it’s the end of the match that we’re supposed to focus on. As Undertaker closes in on the win, ready to put Yokozuna in the casket, he’s ambushed by literally every heel on the roster: Crush, Kabuki, Genichiro Tenryu, Bam Bam Bigelow, “Double J” Jeff Jarrett, Samu and Fatu, Diesel and Atom Bomb. He slowly fights them off one at a time, with the power of the urn on display, before being overwhelmed by the numbers. It’s just the biggest, most drawn out cluster of all-time until Yokozuna finally figures it out and takes the urn from Paul Bearer. He breaks it and green smoke billows out of the thing as Vince McMahon screams “IS THAT THE POWER OF THE UNDERTAKER?” They eventually succeed in getting him into the casket and even nail it shut.
That’s not the terrifying part. You see, I was eight years old when I saw this. So when the Undertaker is being wheeled up the aisle, only to have the lights go out and show the Undertaker “inside” the casket, it was scary. But when he ROSE UP FROM BEHIND THE VIDEO SCREEN AND ASCENDED TO THE RAFTERS, it terrified the hell out of me. Did the Undertaker die? Am I seeing this? I’m eight, why am I seeing this? Of course, the real story was that Taker had a back issue and needed time off, but eight-year-old me didn’t know this. Needless to say, I was very dumb at eight years old.
Worst: The most boring Rumble in years
First of all, totally sarcastic best to KWANG, who is Savio Vega in his normal Savio Vega gear plus a weird ass mask. If Kwang isn’t the ultimate “1990s WWF loved goofy characters” meme, I don’t know what is.
Diesel is the guy they are clearly building up in this match as he comes in and eliminates like six guys in a matter of five minutes, including Owen Hart and WWF legend Bob Backlund. He then mauls Billy Gun and Virgil to death, tossing them out to stand alone and wait for the next guy, which turns out to be the always-insane “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Still, Diesel gets his moment in the spotlight by tossing seven dudes before Savage cuts him off at the knees. Needless to say, it’s not terribly long before Diesel is one of the top guys in the company.
Other than that, this was a very boring Royal Rumble. There were rivalries, sure, but they weren’t really more than “these two guys kind of don’t like each other”. It was just a bunch of guys running out and waiting to be eliminated. The only part that really stood out was…
I would say “spoiler alerts ahead” here, but it’s a 20-year-old event so screw you. Lex Luger and Bret Hart, who hobbles out with his bum knee, are your final two. Instead of picking one guy and riding him to Wrestlemania, the WWF, clearly in need of a big-time face or two, decide to let both guys win and earn title shots at Wrestlemania X.
Worse than that, they drag out the ending as long as they possibly can. There’s a bunch of standing around and posturing, pointing and yelling before Howard Finkel announces the winner…three times. First it’s Bret, then it’s Luger, then it’s both. It’s like they realized the Rumble was going to suck before the show even started so they came up with a way to drag out the ending as long as possible. It didn’t really help.
This sets the stage for our next pay-per-view: Wrestlemania X. See you folks next time.