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1988 WWE Royal Rumble Review: Couch Groove Wrestling

So I decided to go down Memory Lane and sort through my favorite annual January occurrence that has delighted me, both in my youth and as a somewhat cynical adult.

But enough about the failures of the Dallas Cowboys. Let’s talk WWE 88 Royal Rumble.

Unlike my insane tour of WrestleMania last year that ate up approximately two months of my life and necessitated me drinking enough Java Monsters to fill Lake Erie, I won’t be doing full-on “journals”. Instead, I’m going to examine the significance of each match, as well as important segments, while adding my own brand of commentary.

Also, just for fun, since our modern economy has been such a wreck, I’ll be assigning a dollar value to each match and important moment. The max I can give a match is $10, with Rumbles maxing out at $15. The point will be determining if the event in question lived up to its price tag, and each match’s amount would equate to what I’d pay to see that match.

So let’s get started, shall we?

-January 24, 1988, and we are live from the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, ON. Did the Canadians who founded Hamilton actually name it after our famed treasurer Alexander Hamilton? You’d think by now, they’d rename such cities after their own heroes. Why not have towns like Gretzky, Howe, Hart, and Trebek?

-Also of note: this event was not on PPV, but instead on the USA Network. That’s because NWA was holding Bunkhouse Stampede on PPV the same night, and Vince McMahon wanted to sabotage the competition. One event did a great rating. The other had a lousy buyrate. You can guess which was which.

-Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura provide commentary on their only Rumble together. They do look considerably better than their stint announcing the “Breakthrough Battle Royal” on Raw a year ago, when they appeared to be the real life duplicates of Statler and Waldorf.

OPENER: RICKY “THE DRAGON” STEAMBOAT VS. RAVISHING RICK RUDE

– Don’t get excited; Rude was nothing more than a nice body and no talent to back it up at this point. As for Steamboat, the NWA was calling his name, and the call was reciprocated. Steamer hadn’t done anything since June 1987, when he lost the Intercontinental Title to the Honky Tonk Man, and suddenly working with Ric Flair again was music to his ears.

-What follows is a match slower and sloppier than an unfrozen caveman taking his first dump after 20,000 years in suspended animation. Not saying I don’t understand why: Rude was green, and Ricky Steamboat wasn’t motivated. That’s why I miss Vince and Jesse: even when a match was bad, it still felt worth watching with them around. Same with Gorilla and The Brain. Any combo of the four, actually.

-After nearly twenty minutes, Steamboat gets the disqualification win after Rude does the old “pull the referee in the way of the babyface charge” tactic. I’m dying to see an NFL running back try that when Clay “Seven-Head” Matthews is chasing him down.

RATING: $2.00, a dollar for each man, since I enjoyed watching both of them. Just not here, that’s all.

-I’d much rather have that opening match than I would the segment that followed, wherein Dino Bravo attempted to set the world’s bench press record of 705 lbs.

-Imagine, in your mind’s eye, Chris Masters and Tyler Reks in a fifteen minute iron man match, where the only way to score a fall was to make your opponent pass out in a rest hold.

-Now, imagine that previous idea, and add to it the fact that you have the worst case of hemorrhoids known to man.

-All of that is STILL more desirable than this segment, in which Bravo ‘builds up’ to the record breaker with benches at smaller increments of weight. The whole thing takes fifteen minutes, and Bravo eventually breaks the record with a helpful spot by Jesse Ventura. I have nothing to add, except my new theory that the previous record holder paid off the Canadian Mafia to have Bravo snuffed out. Can someone research this? The segment killed my will to read.

RATING: $0.00. Wasn’t than John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky’s GPA?

MATCH 2: THE GLAMOUR GIRLS VS. THE JUMPING BOMB ANGELS IN A 2 OUT OF 3 FALLS MATCH (WWF WOMEN’S TAG TEAM TITLES)

-A few things to note here: A) The Glamour Girls are Judy Martin and Leilani Kai, and look like precisely the kind of women that you’ll find in Vince McMahon’s personal ‘diva search’ when he dies and is burning in Hell, and B) The Angels are Japanese wrestlers Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki, who would have caused the wet dreams of so many bearded, dragon-shirt wearing, beer gut-having, nasally voiced ROH/CHIKARA/Manga geeks today. And yes, they are actually rather attractive.

-The match is actually really good, since it tells a very basic story: the Glamours are bending the rules, brawling with the petite Angels, while the Angels dazzle their opponents with unheard-of technical and high flying skill (for women’s wrestlers in America, anyway).

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-The Glamours win the first fall on a facebuster, the Angels take the second on a cradle that countered a repeated attempt at the facebuster (CONTINUITY~!), and fall three goes to the Angels on a double dropkick on Kai. The fans loved the Angels, and they, if you’d put them in school girl outfits with colored wigs, could very well have been the most popular women’s wrestlers in America. I’m not saying they SHOULD have done that, but imagine how much allowance WWF could have fleeced the comic book geeks out of.

RATING: $5.75. Nice taste of something different. Did you know that, after the Angels, no Asian woman has competed at the Rumble since? They must have met a lifetime quota.

-Next up, the meat of the event, and we’re not talking the Rumble match itself. We’re not even talking a World Title match but, rather, a contract signing for a World Title match. Indeed, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant would sign a contract for a match over Hogan’s championship, set to take place 12 days later on “The Main Event”.

-Ordinarily, I’d roll my eyes over a contract signing on a major event like this but, since it was 1988, the idea was still relatively fresh. Also fresh in 1988 but not now: announcers hired for their looks who know nothing about wrestling. Remember Craig DeGeorge and Sean Mooney?

-Andre’s wearing one of his usual big-and-tall suits, while Hogan’s wearing a white tank top, tight blue jeans, and cowboy boots. On someone like Kim Kardashian or Jessica Bell, that’s quite the hot ensemble. Not so much if you’re the WWF Champion and supposed to be Superman.

-Andre gets sick of Hogan’s metrosexuality and tips the table over onto him, which is standard contract-signing protocol: the heel has to use the table at some point as a weapon. Look, I don’t make the rules, okay?

RATING: $4.00. Nice addition to the show, even if it was to merely hype another show. Of course, no one does hype like WWF/E. The payoff was to have Ted Dibiase buy the title from Andre (assuming an Andre victory) and become champion himself, using the dreaded “evil Hebner twin” trick. If you don’t know what this means, go buy a DVD; it’s on several. Pump some money into the company so that they can hire Luke Gallows back.

MATCH 3: THE WWF ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH

-Ah, here we go. The first Royal Rumble match ever, and it’s only 20 participants. I still say that’s because guys like Sivi Afi, Pete Doherty, and Reno Riggins had a delayed flight. If the first Rumble match was in 1995, and it was 20 men up until 2006, and then it jumped to 30, there’d be more fans on the internet complaining about “WWE ruining a good thing and breaking tradition!” than you could shake a stick at. You know this is true.

-Bret Hart and Tito Santana are 1 and 2 respectively. Good choices. Nice wrestling match to start, which leads to Butch Reed coming in at 3, and Jim Neidhart at 4. Three on one on Santana, until Jake Roberts bails him out at 5, dumping Reed. Jake bailing someone out? Ha, I kill me.

-Harley Race comes in at 6, just because the ring needed a testosterone dose with the Harts’ pink outfits ‘girling’ things up. Then at 7, 8, and 9 respectively, are Jim Brunzell, Sam Houston, and Danny Davis. That’s like an enhancement talent list for the following year. Maybe it’s a good thing this show wasn’t on pay per view. Anyway, the Harts dumped Santana. The credibility level is sinking…

-But have no fear, because Boris Zhukov is #10! Welcome to my new favorite game show: “Can Bret Hart Carry Seven Guys?”

-Weird moment, as Don Muraco and Nikolai Volkoff fight over the #11 slot. The implication is that Volkoff wants to get in there and help his partner, but it’s moot, because Zhukov gets dumped by Roberts and Brunzell. I think I willed at my TV for to Zhukov go.

-Volkoff finally enters at 12, then Hacksaw Jim Duggan at 13, but not before Race gets tossed. Well damn, now who’s going to provide the manly element? I don’t think Stu Hart’s even in the building!

-After Duggan scrums with Race for a bit in the aisle, Ron Bass is 14, and Volkoff tosses Brunzell before partner Brian Blair can get there at 15. Oh man, if only Iron Sheik was here! All the jokes I could make….oh well, that’s what the Wrestlemania 3 rant is for. Hillbilly Jim is in at 16, and he tosses out Neidhart. If you had told Neidhart in 1988 that he would become a raging junkie who would get arrested in 2010 while his daughter would become a pseudo-workrate goddess, what do you think the Anvil’s reaction would have been?

-Bravo’s in at 17, ready to thin the ring out just as he thinned out the viewers earlier with his ‘epic weight lifting performance’. Just to run through things a bit: Houston out, Ultimate Warrior in at 18, Bret gone (after 25 min), Gang in at 19, who then mauls through Blair and Roberts, and then JYD in at 20 with ten men in the ring.

-The final ten: Gang, JYD, Bravo, Warrior, Duggan, Davis, Bass, Hillbilly, Volkoff, and Muraco

-WHO’S GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA?*

(* to lose to Ted Dibiase in a tournament match)

-From there, Duggan dumps Volkoff (before he made him a reformed American), Gang chucks Hillbilly, Duggan does Davis dirty (God, that’s awful), Bravo and Gang show Warrior that teaming makes the world work, Bass eliminates Dog in crap fashion, Muraco tosses Bass.

-Final four: Duggan, Muraco, Bravo, and Gang. I’ve had nightmares that were more aesthetically pleasing. Anywho, a weird double team by Bravo and Gang causes Muraco to go, but the same attempt fails on Duggan. Duggan eliminates Bravo in short order, and then he manages to throw out Gang to win the first ever Rumble. The crowd is happy. So am I, but just because it’s over.

RATING: $5.25. Actually wasn’t a bad match, but there were just so many guys that I had no interest in seeing. For a first try at the Rumble, though, not bad.

MATCH 4: THE ISLANDERS VS. THE YOUNG STALLIONS (TWO OUT OF THREE FALLS)

-Hey, guess what? THIS was the main event! This was back in the days of Saturday Night’s Main Event where a crap match would go on last just to kill time. Thank God things changed.

-Nothing of note happens until Paul Roma gets counted out after busting his knee on the floor to end the first fall, and then Roma submits to a half crab for the second fall. Gripping.

RATING: $1.00. Well, because I like Haku. But hey, Paul Roma main evented the first Royal Rumble, so doesn’t that alone make him one of the best Horsemen ever as he claims?

TOTAL: $18.00. It’s a good thing this show was on free TV.

CYNIC SAYS: It worked as a curiosity but not much else. It did the trick though, as it kept NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede buried, and it began a January tradition that exists to this day. So there’s that. Besides, it’s not like the show is garbage, but prepare to fast forward. ESPECIALLY during the Dino Bravo segment.

Justin Henry is a freelance writer who covers the NFL for FootballNation and professional wrestling on a freelance basis. He can be found at Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh)

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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