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.
The first pay-per-view on the docket just happens to be one of the more exciting each year: the Royal Rumble.
Best: The Gorilla and The Brain
There may not have been a better commentary team in wrestling history. Gorilla played the straight man to Heenan’s sniveling, weasel character and he played it to perfection.
Best: Pre-Poppa Pump Scott Steiner
Before he was the leader of the Freaks and breaking down statistical odds for his opponents (or calling them faaaaaaat asses), Scott Steiner was arguably the best wrestler on the planet in terms of pure in-ring ability. He could hoss the shit out of you and bust out a Frankensteiner in the next sequence. He could chain wrestle and then throw something crazy like the Steiner Screwdriver at you to end a match. Early ‘90s Scott Steiner really was a sight to behold.
Worst: The match itself
If there’s one thing I never got, it was the Beverly Brothers. Two moderately muscled guys with awful blonde mullets slowly doing their thing never really grasped me. They weren’t overtly bad; they were just kind of jerks standing in the way of our favorite tag teams.
Here, they have a traditional face/heel match: they isolate Scott Steiner and slowly work him over, Rick gets the hot tag and a short time later Scott hits the Frankensteiner for the win. Typical formulaic match. The Steiners get to do all their cool moves but the rest of it just feels like a slow match waiting for the signature moves to happen.
Best: Brain Scan
Because why wouldn’t you give Bobby Heenan his own play-by-play telecaster?
Best: The build-up for this feud
Remember when Marty Jannetty was a relevant character on WWF programming? Yeah, Marty probably doesn’t either. But the build-up for this feud was faaaaaaaantastic. We all know the story by now: the two were teammates as The Rockers, the WWF’s groundbreaking tag team that helped bring smaller guys who can bounce all over the ring to the forefront. Michaels turned on Jannetty in the iconic “Barber Shop” segment and the feud was set in motion. It’s capped off with a great video package, featuring shots like this:
Worst: That was disappointing
You would think a match between the former Rockers would be fantastic, but this one was slow and plodding from the start and never really seemed to pick up the pace. While there is some great early “Shawn Michaels oversells like a super goof” going on here, it never really lived up to the hype of it all.
Then there was the finish. It took forever to develop and Sherri just kind of stands around until it’s time to hit someone with her shoe. Naturally, she hits Jannetty and Michaels retains. We get five more minutes of Sherri screaming and Michaels/Jannetty fighting before we move on to the next segment. It really felt like a missed opportunity for these two to fly around for 15 minutes and steal the show.
Worst: Your typical early ‘90s WWF big man match
This should’ve been hoss-fest 1993. The Big Bossman was one of the WWF’s premier big men back in the day, capable of trucking his opponents but also putting on a decent match in the process. Bam Bam Bigelow was arguably one of the greatest big men of all-time. He could do a freakin’ moonsault, for Jebas’ sake. So why wasn’t this better?
Somehow, two of the best big men in the game combined to have a slow, plodding, sloppy match that didn’t look half as physical as it should have aside from a nasty backdrop by Bam Bam that sent the Bossman over the top, spinning faster than a 300-plus pound man should. You don’t need a lot of standing around and posturing followed by crappy looking rest holds when you have two guys who can just truck the shit out of each other for 10 minutes.
Worst: Bret Hart probably shouldn’t talk so much
Early in his singles career, Bret was regarded for his fantastic in-ring abilities and rightfully so. He could sell the hell out of a story in the ring like few others. But letting him talk was a whole other story. His promo regarding his match against Razor Ramon went something like this (only slightly paraphrasing):
“Well Mean Gene, ya see this isn’t your typical WWF title match. It’s personal. It’s blood. It’s family. It’s not like your normal match because it’s personal because Razor Ramon made it personal. This is personal, Gene. And tonight I’m gonna defend my WWF championship and I’m gonna defend my family because defend I will defend. DEFEND.”
That’s really not that far off of what it actually was. Maybe stick to excellently executing, eh Hitman?
Best: Bret Hart can tell a story
Supplementary worst: Razor’s selling
This match shows why Bret was given the title in 1992 (besides the fact that he was a small guy in a land of guys who were clearly on steroids): he was the best in the business at taking a convincing beating and garnering the crowd’s sympathy and support. Seriously, Razor, who was still pretty green in terms of ability at that point, looks like a seasoned vet methodically taking Bret apart with power move after power move and Bret selling it like he can hardly take it anymore.
When Bret gets his shots in, it’s the smartest possible move: he’s up against a much bigger guy and works on his knees when he gets a chance to get his offense in, softening up Razor for the Sharpshooter. Wrestling psychology 101. And he even throws in a suicide dive, making them cool long before the CM Punk’s and Daniel Bryan’s of the world started doing them in front of huge audiences. The finish was fantastic, with Bret going from a pinning combination to slapping on the Sharpshooter while on his back. Bret was in his own stratosphere technically back then.
The only thing I’ll worst in this match is Razor’s selling of Bret working over his knee. He winces and hobbles a little bit, but basically forgets he’s supposed to be selling when doing anything else and even uses his bad leg in his offense, kicking and deploying knees to the side of “the Hitman”. Either sell full out or don’t bother. Hopping around for a few seconds before using your leg like it was never even worked on defeats the purpose of selling. Maybe he should’ve asked Bret how to do that before this match started. He was selling Razor’s work on his ribs even as he’s executing moves 10 minutes into the match.
Worst: The Narcissist debuts
It’s not that I necessarily hate the gimmick – Tyler Breeze plays a wonderful narcissist – it’s that any time we’re subjected to Lex Luger, it’s not a good thing. He’s got the look promoters drool over, but after that it’s all downhill. He can barely cut coherent promos, stumbling over words like the Shockmaster stumbles through walls. He’s the stiffest sell in the business, screaming bloody murder with each blow.
Luger has value for a certain portion of the crowd and that’s fine, but not all of us are going to buy him as a legitimate top guy simply because he’s got a lot of muscles. Luger always felt like a bit of a wasted opportunity as a performer, someone who had one of the intangibles (physique) that everyone wanted, but couldn’t figure out the rest of what being a wrestler was about. Not to mention his finisher was a running forearm (I’m fairly certain there was a backstory about how he got into a motorcycle accident and had to have a steel plate put into his forearm).
Worst: The Rumble match
Supplementary best: The first two
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to start the Royal Rumble than with two former world champions who also happen to be masters in the ring. Flair was on his way out at this point (he would have a “loser leaves the WWF” match with Mr. Perfect the next night on RAW), having dropped the title to Hart in Saskatoon at a house show, but he was still “The Nature Boy” and one of the best in the game. Anything he did in the WWF felt like a big deal because of his reputation and the fact that he was still relatively new in town.
Meanwhile, Bob Backlund was making his return after a decade or so and still looked like Archie in wrestling tights. Backlund was criminally underrated throughout his entire career, including his early ‘90s run against WWF Champ Hart. He’s not quite insane and screaming at everyone at this point, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting.
Aside from that, the Rumble itself wasn’t great. There were a ton of tag team wrestlers and not a lot of star power and the match just kind of plods along for a while, waiting for the important pieces to show up and do what they’re supposed to. It also gets a gigantic worst, but you’ll see that later on.
Still, we get to see awesome names from the past like Max Moon, The Berzerker, Damien Demento, Koko B. Ware and the Repo Man. And…wait, is that Genichiro Tenryu? We get some of the more embarrassing types, but we get a Japanese legend and several past and future world champions in Backlund, Flair, Jerry Lawler, Undertaker and Randy Savage. It’s not the 1992 lineup, but we’ve certainly had worse rosters in the Rumble match.
Worst: This friggin’ guy
The only complaint I have about this match is not only that the Undertaker, still very fresh into his undead mortician gimmick, was eliminated so quickly but by the least intimidating wrestler in the history of the company: the Giant Gonzales.
Best: The Natural Disasters collide!
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t that big of a deal at all (seriously, the crowd paid it no mind) but it was cool and kind of hilarious to see two fat dues in spandex just run into each other a bunch of times because that’s all they really can do.
Not only that, but they couldn’t run into each other without it being sloppy. Glancing blows, punches that only kind of land and a general apathy for having to be out there when they could be chowing down somewhere make this all unintentionally hilarious and one of the least memorable partner feuds in the history of wrestling. Mercifully, it ended relatively quickly, with Typhoon getting himself off the mat far enough to kind of maybe hit his head on the post and flop out to the floor. The feud lasted only that night and was never mentioned again.