The SmarK Rant for WWF Royal Rumble 1988 – 01.24.88
(Originally written 01.28.21)
It occurs to me that I haven’t actually reviewed this one in a couple of decades, and certainly never the Network version.
Of course, the story here is typical Vince McMahon, as Jim Crockett managed to get a PPV night to himself for Bunkhouse Stampede 88, so Vince came up with his own battle royale show, to be aired for free on USA at the exact same time by a staggering coincidence. Of course, it turned out that Crockett could also play that game a couple of months later. Of course now the Royal Rumble is the second biggest wrestling show every year and Jim Crockett and the Bunkhouse Stampede have been relegated to the dustbin of history, so we know who got the last laugh.
Live from Hamilton, ON, drawing 18,000 and an 8.2 rating on the USA Network.
Your hosts are Vince McMahon & Jesse Ventura
Ravishing Rick Rude v. Ricky Steamboat
Good god, the horrifying cacophony of Rude’s overdubbed music just destroys the introduction to the show from Vince McMahon. And then from there, we have the overdubbing of Steamboat’s music, where Finkel had to redo the introduction in the studio and suddenly everything is muted. Music rights are such a headache. Rude beats on Steamboat off the lockup and tosses him, but Steamboat skins the cat back in and sends Rude to the floor. He even poses at Rude, which seems a little presumptuous but he does own a gym so I’ll allow it. “Look at that physique on Rude!” notes Jesse. “Not bad. Not bad at all,” confirms Vince in not exactly his CREEPIEST voice, but at least 0.5 of it. They do the test of strength, but Steamboat takes him down for the armbar to escape that and goes to work on the arm. I would be remiss in not pointing out the annoying fan in the front row who has a megaphone and won’t shut up, as even Vince and Jesse take note of her. Rude tries the FISTICUFFS but Steamboat chops back to put him down again and goes back to the armbar. Rude kicks him in the gut, however, and slugs away on the ropes to take over, but Steamboat goes back to the armbar until Rude elbows him down to escape. Sadly, his posing arm has been injured and he’s unable to finish his flex. Vince is so excited that he declares it a SEE SAW MATCHUP, BACK AND FORTH, his highest praise for any wrestling match. Steamboat misses a charge and lands on the floor, allowing Rude to slam him out there and now he’s finally able to finish his posing. Whew. Rude suplexes him back in for two and goes to a rear chinlock (“Form of…of a maneuver here!” notes Vince) which is slightly more interesting than Steamboat doing armbars for 10 minutes, I suppose. Steamboat fights out with an electric chair, but he misses a splash and Rude puts him down with an atomic drop for two. Back to the chinlock, but Steamboat runs him into the turnbuckles to make the comeback and chops him down for two. They do the Flair pinfall reversal sequence and Steamboat gets two off the backslide and a jackknife cradle gets two. They trade small packages for two and Rude clotheslines him for two. Steamboat wins a suplex battle and goes up for the bodypress, but the ref gets wiped out by Rude. Rude puts Steamboat in the body vice and thinks he’s won, but of course Steamboat wins by DQ at 17:50. Total snoozefest but it got good at the end. **3/4
Bench Press Challenge: Yes, it’s time for the segment that we’ve all been waiting for, DINO BRAVO LIFTING WEIGHTS. So after some words in French from Frenchy, Dino lifts 415 pounds and that’s no problem for him. Next up, we jump to 505 and that’s nothing for him either. Sadly, the crowd is making too much noise for Dino Bravo, as they usually do for his matches, and he gets all distracted while trying to jump to 595. But he still pulls it off for Canada, and then we go up to 655 while Vince tries to incite the crowd to make noise and distract Bravo further. Well luckily there’s not much chance of that. And finally, we jump it up to 715, which Jesse stresses is unofficial, but the crowd remains too loud for Bravo and he decides to walk out while a disgusted Jesse cuts a promo on the crowd. But Bravo decides to gut it out and lift the weight to spite the rude Ontario crowd, although it seems pretty clear that Jesse had to help him get it up to the bar. But still, for the moment, when it comes to bench pressing, unofficially, you could certainly make a case that DINO BRAVO IS THE BEST.
WWF Women’s tag team titles: The Glamour Girls (Leilani Kei & Judy Martin) v. The Jumping Bomb Angels (Itsuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno)
This is 2 out of 3 falls and Vince is already all over Jesse for the weightlifting deal as Jesse has to explain the difference between “helping” and “spotting”. Vince knows nothing about weightlifting. Nothing! Speaking of knowing nothing, our referee here is Joey Marella. Tateno gets worked over in the heel corner, but she dodges a splash and Yamazaki comes in with a slam on Martin for two. Vince McMahon, professional wrestling announcer and owner of the company, decides to call the Angels “Pink” and “Red” based on their tights. Kai comes in and Yamazaki slugs her down for two and goes to an Octopus hold, but Martin breaks it up, so the Angels do stereo figure-fours on the champs. Yamazaki splits the legs on Kai ala Jeff Hardy and Tateno gets a deathlock to tie her up on the mat. Martin tries to pull her over to the corner, but the Angels pull her back. Finally Martin is able to make an illegal tag, which of course Joey Marella allows because HE’S THE WORST, and Martin yanks Yamazaki out of the corner to take over. Martin with an over the shoulder throw (like a powerbomb but released backwards) for the pin at 6:20 and that wins the first fall.
Second fall and Yamazaki bridges out of a pin attempt to start, and dodges a Martin splash, and it’s over to Tateno as the Glamour Girls clothesline each other and Vince has now learned the names of the challengers during the break. And Martin tries the powerbomb variation again, but Yamazaki gets a sunset flip on Martin for the pin at 8:36 this time to even it up.
Third fall and the Angels double-team Kai and Yamazaki gets an enzuigiri on Martin, but Tateno tries a fisherman’s suplex and that gets blocked. Kai comes in with a necksnap and works Tateno over in the corner, and a butterfly suplex gets two. Yamazaki gets the tag again and the Glamour Girls double-team her in the corner and choke her out while Marella does nothing and Jesse notes that it’s a good thing pins are only three counts because he couldn’t make it to four. PREACH. Yamazaki comes back with a slam on both heels and Tateno comes in with a flying knee for two on Martin, and a slam gets two. Bridging butterfly suplex gets two. Even Vince is bitching about the slow count from Marella at this point. Yamazaki goes up and misses a senton and Martin gets two off that. Tateno comes in with a middle rope clothesline for two, and then both Angels go up for a stereo missile dropkick, and that wins the tag team titles at 15:27. And that was the last we saw of the Women’s tag team titles until they were resurrected a couple of years ago. The Angels were doing a lot of crazy stuff for the time, but it wasn’t like a transcendently great match or anything. In particular the finish was janky (Martin’s shoulder was clearly off the mat!) and there wasn’t ever a real heat segment. ***1/4
And now, the big TV selling point for the show, as Hulk and Andre sign the contract for their rematch. But first, we recap the past few weeks of syndicated angles, Dibiase announcing that he’s going to buy the WWF title from Hulk Hogan, then Hulk refusing to sell out, and finally Dibiase announcing that he’s bought the services of Andre the Giant to win it for him.
Contract Signing: This show is doing some heavy lifting, like heavier than Bravo was lifting, as it has to establish the new Royal Rumble concept, PLUS hype up the biggest match in TV history, PLUS screw over Jim Crockett at the same time! Jack Tunney is of course there to preside after making sure he gets a kickback out of the contract. Hogan sits down to sign and Dibiase just goes OFF on him with a killer promo, declaring that Hogan is too scared to sign because he knows that he’s signing away his CAREER because Andre already beat him in 3 minutes at Wrestlemania. So Andre calmly reads the contract, which Hogan didn’t do, and discovers that Dibiase put in “incentive money”, which is probably code for corrupt old Tunney’s piece of the action. So Hogan is still agitated and Andre calmly signs the contract, and then grabs Hogan’s head and smashes it into the oak table. This must have been Bruce Prichard’s dream segment, but regardless Andre and Dibiase were fantastic here.
The Royal Rumble:
We start with Bret Hart at #1 and Tito Santana at #2, as Finkel actually has to explain the rules! Bret beats on Tito in the corner to start, but Tito takes him down and slugs away on the mat. Bret takes him down with an atomic drop and goes up with a middle rope elbow, but he can’t put him out. Butch Reed is #3 at 2:00 and he of course beats on Tito and tries to put him out, but Tito runs the heels together and makes a comeback. The heels team up and put him down with an elbow as Jim Neidhart is #4 at 3:45 and Tito is really screwed now. So the heels triple-team Tito and there’s no hint yet of the future “Every man for himself” nature of the match. They all try to put Tito out, but Jake Roberts is #5 at 5:20 and he makes the save and puts Reed out at 5:28. Jake runs wild on the Hart Foundation and runs them into each other, but he tries the DDT on Bret and Neidhart saves with a clothesline. Harley Race is #6 at 6:45 and he goes after Jake and drops elbows on him, but can’t put him out. Jim Brunzell is #7 at 8:20 and Jesse is just outright talking about what a great concept this match is. Everyone piles up on Bret on the ropes but still can’t get him out, what with all the tears in their eyes. Sam Houston is #8 at 9:45 as this is one of the rare matches with both Jake and Sam together in the same ring. The deadwood is piling up a bit, so the Harts toss out Tito at 10:52 like they’re throwing out day old burritos in Tocula. Danny Davis is #9 at 11:20 and he slugs it out with Sam Houston to pay off their curtain-jerking feud, while Jake slugs away on the King and Race teeter-totters in the ropes. I’m surprised those two never had a marriage in their peak WWF years, actually. Jake tries the DDT on Davis and can’t sink it in, and Boris Zhukov is #10 at 12:50 as we’re halfway through.
Boris chokes out Houston and tries to get him out as we’re getting into the usual battle royale spots now, but they start to mix in stuff like Race attacking Zhukov while Vince stresses that it’s every man for himself. Don Muraco is #11 at 14:50 while Nikolai Volkoff follows him out and protests that it’s supposed to be him, but Boris falls like the Berlin Wall at 15:31. Jesse takes a funny inside shot at Vince here, noting that “if he doesn’t knock off the barbs, he’s gonna hear from Barry Bloom!” Vince: “Who?” Jesse: “YOU KNOW WHO!” Indeed Vince would have his fill of Jesse’s agent and lawyer over the years. Nikolai Volkoff is indeed #12 at 16:50, as Race goes out via a Brunzell dropkick at 17:00. Hacksaw Duggan is #13 at 18:12 and he gives Race a shot on the way by, before heading into the ring and jumping into the fight. So he slugs away on Anvil and Ron Bass is #14 at 19:45 as Vince notes that “he’s a brawler and a stomper”. But not Mongolian. Volkoff throws out Brunzell at 20:34, but B. Brian Blair is out at #15 at 21:10 to get REVENGE. He goes after Neidhart, but Bret hits him in the kidneys from behind to save while Jake tries to put Davis out. Hillbilly Jim is #16 at 22:40 and he backdrops Anvil out at 23:00 but doesn’t have much else after that. Dino Bravo is #17 at 24:10 as Vince is still disparaging Bravo’s world bench press record, and Sam Houston goes up on someone’s shoulders like a moron and gets thrown out at 24:30. Never leave your feet in a Royal Rumble! Anyway the match is just a pile of midcarders at this point, before they started learning how to pare it down. Ultimate Warrior is #18 at 25:40 and he gets rid of Bret at 25:54 and goes after Bravo. One Man Gang is #19 at 26:25 and yes, the intervals ARE completely out of whack for this match and it’s kind of driving me nuts. Gang tosses out Blair at 27:10 and then Jake at 27:25, and Junkyard Dog is #20 at 27:49 to round out the entrants. And there’s still 10 guys in the ring, literally half of the entire field! Duggan backdrops Volkoff out at 28:36 and Gang backdrops Jim out at 28:48 to rack up three eliminations in his very first Rumble! Duggan puts Davis out with the three point stance at 29:27, and the heels all team up and put out Warrior at 29:40 as we speed through some late eliminations. Bass throws out the Dog at 30:00 to end his easy night, and Muraco throws out Bass at 30:13 and our first ever Final Four!
Final Four: Don Muraco, Dino Bravo, Jim Duggan and One Man Gang
I’ve seen worse, to be honest. Bravo and Gang team up on Duggan, but Muraco fights them off by himself with dropkicks until Bravo stomps him down. Gang puts Muraco out with a clothesline at 31:20 and the heels team up on Duggan, but he fights them off. Bravo drops an elbow on him, but Gang charges and hits Bravo by mistake, putting him out at 32:36. And then Duggan makes one more comeback, slugs away on the Gang, and then low bridges him out at 33:37 to win the first Royal Rumble. So yeah, I’d call this is a good proof of concept more than anything, with way too many dead zones of guys piled up in the ring doing nothing and no real “every man for himself” feeling to it. Clearly it needed more people and more frequent eliminations, and thankfully they immediately tweaked it for the next year. ***
Earlier tonight: Andre the Giant kicks Hogan’s ass. So Hogan joins Craig DeGeorge for a special interview as the pacing of this show is pretty weird. Like, Duggan won the match, the show is already more than two hours long with commercials, let’s wrap it up already. Anyway, Hulk clarifies that in order to beat Hogan, he’ll have to beat everyone in the entire arena. Or just buy the referee, whichever. Also I’m pretty sure Andre could take everyone in the arena as long as he was given enough beer and reasonable amounts of them to fight at one time.
Tag Team Attraction, 2 out of 3 falls: The Islanders v. The Young Stallions
Damn we’ve got a long time left in this show. The Islanders were in the midst of dog-napping at this point while Vince complains how boring the bench press attempt was. Jesse accuses him of being “a little Twinkie” who would have been more happy if they had been “reading prose” instead. Yeah, Vince McMahon, a real literary powerhouse. They do basically nothing for the first few minutes and trade armbars while Vince and Jesse ignore the match. Haku with an elbow on Powers for two and work him over in the corner, but Haku misses a blind charge and they clothesline each other. Meanwhile Vince and Jesse debate whether Tama “being able to hang from the top rope by his toes” is a racist remark. Spoiler: Yes, it is. Roma gets a hot tag, I guess, and dropkicks Tama for two, although it’s not up to his usual standards of dropkick. But then the Islanders pull down the top rope and Roma lands on the floor and hurts his knee. Of course idiot referee Joey Marella doesn’t count until he’s been out there for 30 seconds, and then finally counts him out at 7:55.
We take a break and apparently Roma is having his knee tended in the dressing room, so they replay Andre having his way with Hogan again and then we get a special interview with Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant this time as this show continues the weird pacing. Anyway, you know the deal here, everyone has a price, evil laugh, blah blah.
So we finally get the second fall of the nothing tag team match and the Islanders go after the knee of Roma, but Tama misses a splash and Powers gets the tag. Dropkick on Haku gets two and a suplex gets two. Back elbow gets two as this drags on. Vince and Jesse are so bored they’re going off on a bizarre tangent about evangelists and the crowd is openly filing out of the building on the hard camera side. Haku with a backbreaker on Powers for two and a standing dropkick for two. Gut wrench suplex gets two. “It’s not over until it’s over!” notes Vince. No one in this match is over. Haku misses a splash and Powers tries for the tag to crippled Paul Roma for some stupid reason, but Haku cuts him off and gets a dropkick. But then Roma gets a tag regardless, and Haku just kicks him in the knee and dismantles him, and submits him with a half crab at 15:30 total. Real crack medical team they must have back there, letting Roma go out for the second fall while not being able to walk under his own power. *
And Vince and Jesse wrap it up with more talk about the bench press challenge.
Well, for a free TV show at the time, it’s mostly a thumbs up show for the in-ring action. That last half hour was BRUTAL, though, and you should absolutely stop at the Rumble match.