WWE history is a funny thing. World Wrestling Entertainment history can often times be just as scripted as the matches. The first Royal Rumble match and winner would be an example of this as the event promoted as the first Rumble was really not the first Rumble at all.
Not only was there a Royal Rumble prior to the match most regard as the first in 1988, according to Wrestling Observer editor-in-chief Dave Meltzer, it was a “flop.”
Meltzer wrote about the Rumble in a 2012 edition of the Wrestling Observer. I missed it then but later caught the story while going through some archives. I always found it to be an interesting nugget in WWE history and held on to it until the Rumble season. It’s Rumble season so let’s talk about it!
The original Royal Rumble match actually took place a few months earlier in St. Louis, MO at the Arena. The card drew a reported 1,976 fans. Think about that one for a second. A WWE show in 1987, the year of WrestleMania III drew under 2,000 fans in a historic pro wrestling city, especially a city that loved battle royals. I find that absolutely mind blowing!
It was the One Man Gang and not Hacksaw Duggan that won the very first WWE Royal Rumble. The finish was similar to Rumble finishes you have seen since then in both Rumble and cage matches. According to two reports, both the Gang and the Junkyard Dog went over the top rope together at the 12 minute mark (yep a Rumble ending in 12 minutes). I am presuming the referee saw JYD touch first and thus the Gang got the win and a WWE (WWF) championship match against Hulk Hogan the next month.
This was not without controversy. There were a couple of things here I found reported by both Meltzer and TheHistoryOfTheWWE.com regarding this event. The biggest is that earlier in the night when promoting the next card, the One Man Gang vs. Hulk Hogan for the WWF title was already announced. Thus when fans saw Gang win after already being announced as the challenger earlier in the card (oops), loud “bullsh*t” chants broke out.
Additionally reports indicate that the two finalists, Gang and JYD wrestled early in the card. According to those reports the match was terrible. Thus fans groaned at seeing these two guys as the final two men in the match. The whole thing sounds poorly planned from the start.
Like King of the Ring, the Royal Rumble became a tradition. Also like King of the Ring cameras weren’t present for the first one, so it is often disregarded in favor of the more publicized event. Even though nothing was taped for the second King of the Ring, it was acknowledged on television after Harley Race won the match.
So there you have it! Not even Wikipedia acknowledges the first Royal Rumble or its winner. I give a lot of credit to Dave Meltzer and The History crew for digging out the details of this one.
Here are the full results of the card. You can probably figure out who was in the match by looking at the results.
Congratulations to the One Man Gang and not Hacksaw Duggan as being the first ever Royal Rumble winner.
Nikolai Volkoff pinned Hillbilly Jim
Don Muraco pinned Bob Orton Jr.
The One Man Gang pinned the Junkyard Dog at around the 4-minute mark
Davey Boy Smith & Billy Jack Haynes defeated Demolition via disqualification
Billy Jack Haynes (sub. for Ricky Steamboat who was supposed to be the sub. for Jake Roberts) defeated King Kong Bundy via count-out
Paul Orndorff defeated Rick Rude via count-out
WWF Women’s Champion Sensational Sherri pinned Velvet McIntyre by using the tights for leverage after a crossbody from the challenger resulted in Sherri rolling on top for the win
The One Man Gang won a Royal Rumble when both he and the Junkyard Dog went over the top at the same time after 12 minutes