September 21, 2007
Scott Criscuolo & Justin Rozzero

Royal Rumble
January 21, 1996
Selland Arena
Fresno, California
Announcers: Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect
Attendance: 9,600
Buy Rate: 1.1

Free For All Match

Duke Droese (Mike Droese) beat HHH (Paul Levesque) by DQ in 6:25; as a result, Droese is #30 and HHH is #1 in the Royal Rumble match

Fun Fact: This was the debut of the Free for All, which was a 30 minute program preceding the actual PPV. The FFA aired on all Cable Preview Channels in addition to the actual PPV channel, thus, the show was “free for all.” It was an attempt to get any last minute viewers who may be on the fence about ordering the show.

Actual Show

1) Ahmed Johnson (Tony Norris) defeats Jeff Jarrett by disqualification at 6:38

Fun Fact: After this match, Jarrett disappears from WWF TV and ends up in WCW by mid-1996 as a wanna-be Horsemen and foil to the fledgling NWO. He would eventually return to the Federation after this stint down South.

Scott: We start 1996 with the debut of the new Royal Rumble logo, and our opener pits the new hot face against a tired old heel. Ahmed was very much over with the crowd at this point, and Jarrett was reaching the end of the line, again. After missing most of the second half of 1995 (good for him, he didn’t miss much), he came back in December to push Buddy Landel for 41 seconds, then belt Johnson with a framed record. Johnson pounds the crap of him for six and a half minutes, and then Jarrett hits him with a guitar. The man from Pearl River moves on to his next feud, while Jarrett leaves the WWF until the end of 1997. Decent opener, but you’d think with Johnson peaking and Jarrett leaving, there would be a clean ending. Oh well, it’s just the opening match. Love the Pearl River Plunge, and it cemented the Power Bomb as one of my favorite moves of all time. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A pretty solid opener with a really stupid ending. I am not sure if Jarrett was set to leave the WWF before the match, because I doubt they would have booked the match that way, so I think Vince thought JJ was sticking around. As Scott said, Ahmed was very hot at this point and was a very good worker. His true deterioration did not start until later, and he was still busting out some slick moves and was quite over because of it. I’m not really sure why Jarrett came back for a month and then left again, but he was pretty stale at that point anyway even after his 5 months off, so it wasn’t that big of a loss. Chances are he would have been turfed anyway in early 1996 when Vince was rebuilding his roster. Ahmed picks up another win, and his star continues to grow as he is becoming one of the faces of the younger, fresher roster that Vince was trying to craft. Grade: 2

2) Smoking Gunns defeat the Bodydonnas to retain WWF Tag Team Titles when Bart (Mike Plotcheck) pins Skip (Chris Candido) with a roll-up at 11:12

Fun Fact: Due to an injury to Billy, shocking, we know, the Gunns were forced to forfeit the titles a few weeks after this show. A tournament would be held that culminated at Wrestlemania.

Fun Fact II: During a match with Rad Radford on the 1/6 Superstars, a new wrestler debuted to help Skip pick up the win. The wrestler looked like he was Skip’s twin brother, as he had the same trunks and short dyed blonde hair cut. Sunny soon let us know that the man was named Zip. Zip and Skip made their on air tag team debut on the 1/20 Superstars defeating Chaz Warrington and Glen Ruth. Zip was portrayed by veteran wrestler and former Heavenly Body, Dr. Tom Pritchard.

Scott: A much better match than I remember having watched it recently. Sunny started showing her sexual, less comedic side in this match as she was using her feminine wiles to try and distract the champs, more importantly Billy. This would be the genesis of a turn for the Gunns that would happen later in the year. Tom Pritchard returns to the tag team ranks for the first time since the Heavenly Bodies left the scene a few months before. The pace was brisk and Sunny’s presence adds to the intrigue. The Gunns win it with a roll-up, which didn’t matter in the end since Billy’s injury forced them to forfeit the titles. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A decent tag team contest featuring some nice double-teams and classic tag team psychology. The Gunns were quite good in the ring by this point, and Pritchard was a solid technician as well, so the teams blend nicely. After the feud with Barry Horowitz, Skip was sort of floundering in the mid card, so the addition of Zip, as goofy as the name was, to the Bodydonna group helped spark him a little bit. It seems that whenever the Gunns got on a roll, one of them got hurt and they had to step aside. Sure, they had held the belts since September, but they were barely on PPV and finally got a spot on a show and a solid defense, and bam: injury and forfeit time. The Gunns would be sidelined for 5 months, during which time the Donnas had a pretty successful run, but more on that as we go along. Grade: 2.5

*** We see a clip of “Billionaire Ted’s Rasslin’ War Room” as men dressed as Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Mean Gene talk about the WWF New Generation. It was a cheap attempt by Vince McMahon to take pot shots at WCW. In the end it probably wasn’t a smart idea, as it made Vince look childish. WCW would make an even bigger statement later in the year. More on that in future reviews. ***

3) Goldust (Dustin Runnels) defeats Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) to win WWF Intercontinental Title after interference from the 1-2-3 Kid at 14:14

Fun Fact: We see the debut of Goldust’s director Marlena here because Vince was forced to tone down the homosexual side of Goldust a bit, mainly due to pressure from parents and GLAAD.

Fun Fact II: The following is a piece of an interview Wade Keller did with Scott Hall about the angle: "Actually, when Vince pitched the Goldust angle to me, he was real conservative back then. They had a violence code. No chairs on TV. You couldn’t say ass. You couldn’t flip a guy off. You couldn’t do any of that sh–. Then all of a sudden he calls me into a meeting and he wants to do this homosexual angle. You gotta remember, this is a long time ago. The way the business goes now, I probably should have just gone ahead and did it, right? Plus, see, I had been around three or four years now. I had a little bit of stroke. I remember looking at Vince going, “Vince, let me get this right. We’re doing a gay angle?” I said, “I don’t get it.” Plus, the heat was on (1-2-3) Kid. Kid and Sid had just f—ed me out of the belt, and they wanted me to work with Goldust. I said, “I’ll tell ya’ what, Vince. I ain’t comfortable with this gay angle. You want me to drop the belt to Goldust, no problem. I’ll drop it to him, but I ain’t working with him.” That was my downfall with Vince. It was the first time I ever disagreed with Vince."

Scott: This was definitely considered a mild upset at the time. Many thought Goldust was just another novelty, like Duke Droese, or the Goon. Not anymore, as he shocks everyone by defeating the heavily favored “Bad Guy” to win the Intercontinental Title. This is the debut of Marlena, Goldust’s “Director” and valet, played by Dustin Runnels’ wife Terri. She actually isn’t called Marlena at this show. Thanks to 1-2-3 Kid’s interference, Razor Ramon loses the IC Title for the last time. This was the swan song for the “Bad Guy.” One of the most popular superstars of the mid-90’s, this upset should have set off light bulbs that Ramon’s run was coming to an end. Goldust would last a lot longer in the WWF than anyone expected. The line of the night is from Mr. Perfect, who at one point when Goldust is “molesting” Razor, says “What, is he checking for hernias?” Man, I wish Perfect did more PPVs. He added just as much to the broadcast as Lawler did. He may not have been as heel-driven as Lawler, but he fired off some great one-liners. All in all, this was a decent match with good psychology and an upset of a finish. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A solid I-C title match that brings about the end of an era for the division. Razor Ramon has been a fixture with the I-C title since the end of 1993 and brought a great stability to the division. It was time to pass the torch, however, as Razor lays down for the hot heel of early 1996, Goldust. This feud started late in 1995, as Goldust began making his infatuation with the “Bad Guy” public knowledge. He even went as far as to have a heart with “Razor” written it painted over his heart. Some creepy, but intriguing stuff from the family oriented WWF. The Kid/Ramon feud was still burning on and Kid gets the last laugh here as he costs his former friend his gold. Razor was entering his final months with the company, and they would be quite tenuous, in and out of the ring. Goldust gets the huge win and, as the months roll on, he becomes one of the most enduring and interesting characters the WWF would have. Grade: 2.5

4) Shawn Michaels wins the Royal Rumble (58:49)

Order of entrants (Who eliminated them)

1) Triple H (Paul Levesque): Diesel
2) Henry Godwinn (Bill Canterbury): Jake Roberts
3) Bob Backlund: Yokozuna
4) Jerry Lawler: Shawn Michaels
5) Bob Holly (Robert Howard): Ringmaster
6) Mabel (Nelson Frazier): Yokozuna
7) Jake Roberts (Aurelian Smith Jr.): Vader
8) Dory Funk: Savio Vega
9) Yokozuna (Rodney Anoia): Shawn Michaels
10) 1-2-3 Kid (Sean Waltman): Shawn Michaels
11) Takao Omori: Jake Roberts
12) Savio Vega (Juan Rivera): Vader
13) Vader (Leon White): Shawn Michaels
14) Doug Gilbert: Vader
15) Squat Team Member #1 (Manuel Santiago): Vader
16) Squat Team Member #2 (Victor Santiago): Yokozuna
17) Owen Hart: Shawn Michaels
18) Shawn Michaels (Michael Hickenbottom): Winner
19) Hakushi (Jinsei Shinzaki): Owen Hart
20) Tatanka (Chris Chavis): Diesel
21) Aldo Montoya (Peter Polaco): Tatanka
22) Diesel (Kevin Nash): Shawn Michaels
23) Kama (Charles Wright): Diesel
24) Ringmaster (Steve Williams): Fatu
25) Barry Horowitz (Jim Horowitz): Owen Hart
26) Fatu (Solofa Fatu): Isaac Yankem
27) Isaac Yankem (Glen Jacobs): Shawn Michaels
28) Marty Jannetty: British Bulldog
29) British Bulldog (David Smith): Shawn Michaels
30) Duke Droese (Mike Droese): Diesel & Kama

Longest competitor: Triple H (48:02)
Shortest competitor: STM#2 (:24)
Most eliminated: Shawn Michaels (8)

Fun Fact: A pair of superstars make their return to the WWF here, one subtle, one not so subtle. Dory Funk makes his first appearance since teaming with his brother Terry against Junkyard Dog and Tito Santana at Wrestlemania II. Then he was known as Hoss Funk, but since Vince has opened up history somewhat he calls Dory by his rightful name. The other big return is of course Jake “The Snake” Roberts. We last saw Jake on WWF PPV getting Tombstoned on the floor of the Hoosier Dome by the Undertaker at Wrestlemania VIII. Since then he had an abbreviated stint in WCW, battling Sting in that infamous “Coal Miner’s Glove” match at Halloween Havoc 1992. He’d head to Smoky Mountain Wrestling and in 1994 defeated Tony Anthony to win the SMW Heavyweight Title. He also would wander to Mexico and face Konnan in a “hair vs. hair” match. His actual first on-air appearance back is during the Free for All when Todd Pettingill interviews him.

Fun Fact II: A couple of minor debuts before we get to the two big ones. Doug Gilbert is the brother of the late Eddie Gilbert and cut his teeth as the Dark Patriot in the early days of ECW. He won a royal rumble match in the USWA on January 3 to earn a spot in the Rumble. Also, we see the mysterious Squat Team show up. The Squat Team is actually the Headhunters, a tag team that would be mainstays in Puerto Rico and Japan.

Fun Fact III: Our first big debut at this show is the Mastodon, the man they call Vader. Leon White was a standout football player at the University of Colorado. He started his wrestling career overseas in the late 80’s, winning titles in the CWA and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He would venture to WCW and instantly become a nasty overpowering heel managed by Harley Race. He had a fantastic feud with and defeated Sting on July 12, 1992 to win the WCW World Title, and would battle both Sting and Ron Simmons over the next year for the title. After losing the title to Ric Flair at Starrcade 1993, he’d battle such foes as the Boss and Jim Duggan. He would have a feud with Hulk Hogan in 1995, but was made to look foolish as Hogan basically no sold his offense and even kicked out of the Powerbomb. He would be dismissed from WCW in late-1995 after getting into an altercation backstage with Paul Orndorff. He was set to be on Hulk Hogan’s team at the 1995 Fall Brawl, but left a week or two before the show. Vignettes building up his debut begin airing as 1996 began, and his in ring debut is at the Rumble.

Fun Fact IV: The other debut is not as big here, but over time would forever change the landscape of wrestling. Steve Austin was born in Victoria, Texas in 1964 and he began training in Dallas under Chris Adams. He would toil in World Class briefly, then head to Memphis where he got to the finals of a tournament for the vacant USWA Southern Heavyweight Title, losing to Jeff Jarrett. He would head to WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin where he would put a solid resume together, winning the TV Title twice, the US Title twice, and the Tag Team Titles with Brian Pillman as part of the very popular (even though they were heels) Hollywood Blondes. With Ric Flair as booker, Austin was slated to be the next big heel WCW Champion. Then Hulk Hogan arrived and everything changed. Austin would eventually job the US Title to Jim Duggan in late-1994. He was fired over the phone by WCW in 1995 after tearing a triceps muscle in Japan. Pissed off and sitting home, he gets a call from former Dangerous Alliance head Paul Heyman. Austin heads to ECW as “Superstar” Steve Austin, cutting hysterical promos against Eric Bischoff and WCW, as who could ever forget “Monday Nyquil…where the big boys play with each other!!!” This caught the eye of Vince McMahon, and on the 1/8 Raw, Ted DiBiase appeared on the Brother Love Show and announced that he had found a superstar to be his “Million Dollar Champion”. He then introduced the man formerly known as Steve Austin, but now known as the Ringmaster. He makes his RAW debut on January 15, defeating a young Matt Hardy. He would keep the “Ringmaster” persona for a few months, but soon that would give way to a new personality.

Fun Fact V: Shawn Michaels becomes the second man to win back-to-back Rumbles (Hulk Hogan in 1990 and 1991).

Scott: This one was fairly predictable, considering the crowd was waiting for HBK to be the next WWF Champion, and once this happens it seemed a foregone conclusion. In terms of quality, this Rumble was a little better than last year, as the time between entrants was back to 2 minutes. Plus there weren’t as many guys with absolutely no chance, just Dory Funk, Doug Gilbert, and the Squat Team. The rest of the field was either good for 20 minutes or more of action (Bulldog, Owen, Bob Holly) or needed it to advance a storyline (Diesel, Vader, Yokozuna). There were some memorable debuts in this rumble. Vader, former WCW World Champion, debuts here, and stays for a solid 2 and a half years. Here, he just started smacking guys around, but would eventually be eliminated by HBK, and he also started a feud with the finally Yokozuna. Then there’s Ringmaster Steve Austin. I enjoyed his character in WCW, with his manager Lady Blossom. His ECW promos are second to none and created the grizzled angry persona that would grow into Stone Cold. We’ll see the evolution to that as the year progresses. Anyway this was Shawn Michaels’ moment, and he gets the title shot at Wrestlemania for the second year in a row.

Justin: A solid, if unspectacular Rumble with a very predictable winner. Everyone and their mother knew Michaels was winning this thing, so that came as no surprise what-so-ever, thus taking a little magic away from the match itself. This Rumble did feature two firsts, however. The first…first was that it was the…first time the Rumble match was not the final match of the evening. Also, this Rumble marked the debut of the wrestlers’ using the entrance music when entering the Rumble. As Scott said, there were some very important debuts in this Rumble in Vader and Austin, and the match also continued the tradition of various non-WWF competitors showing up at Rumble time (Dory, Ohmari, Gilbert). It is also the last we see of Hakushi. He had a solid early 1995, but his push sputtered as he turned face in the fall, and, what started as a promising run ends with a whimper. Diesel continues his monster run as he makes a dent in the field before being caught off guard by Michaels’ Superkick and sent to the floor. Diesel would give props to his friend in the ring, but the friendship would get rockier as the weeks wore on. Overall, the field was quite solid, but, due to the predictable ending, this Rumble does not rank on the high end of the spectrum.

5) Undertaker (Mark Callaway) defeats Bret Hart by disqualification at 28:28; Hart retains WWF World Title

Fun Fact: Diesel, still pissed about losing the Rumble, takes his time walking to the dressing room and ends up having a minor skirmish with Taker in the aisle, thus leading to his interference later in the match.

Scott: Now, looking back, I can understand why Bret Hart was so pissed off during this time. He wins the title back at Survivor Series, and now is holding things for Shawn’s win in March. Now, he’s caught in the middle of the Undertaker/Diesel storyline. Hitman carries Deadman for close to half an hour. I say “carry” because it’s not often Taker actually wrestles a wrestler. Usually it’s some fat fuck that can’t see his belt. Hart exposed Taker’s weaknesses but at the same time, covered them up. It’s tough to explain, but the short of it is Taker didn’t look as bad as he could have. This wasn’t one of Bret’s best efforts, but it was still better than when Taker fought Yokozuna for the title at the 1994 Rumble. Taker eventually hits the Tombstone and is about to win the title, but Diesel, in his new asshole attitude, comes out to hit the ref disqualifying Bret, but not winning the title for the Deadman. All in all, it made sense for the storyline but Bret unfortunately is looking like a chump for not being able to win on his own which hadn’t happened since his heel Hart Foundation days. It happens again the following month. Grade: 3

Justin: A pretty boring match that is definitely not as good as past or future Hart/Taker encounters, as it features a lot of rest holds and slow wrestling. It just seems as if Bret wasn’t up for the task of carrying Taker in the match which is quite rare, but I guess even the best get a free pass sometimes. The match is better known for its storyline ramifications rather than the actual wrestling, anyway, so it is pretty much a wash. Hart would be on the short end of the Diesel/Taker stick again at the next show, as he was just biding time until his big Wrestlemania showdown with Michaels. It was cool seeing Undertaker back in major storylines, but his first PPV title match since 1994 was really nothing special. Grade: 2

Final Analysis

Scott: The first PPV of 1996 is not bad, with continuing storylines, the right guys going over, and a debut that would over time re-shape the WWF landscape for the next several years. This would be the start of one of the most important two-year stretch in the history of professional wrestling, in the WWF and elsewhere. This was a good start. There is still some dead weight floating around, but much of it is finally floating away (Tatanka, Mabel, etc.). Shawn Michaels wins his second Rumble, but it seems more impressive than that crappy Rumble from the year before. Even after one month, 1995 feels like a distant memory. Final Grade: C+

Justin: A pretty decent show that at least introduced some new faces and stories and was a nice breath of fresh air. The show itself is pretty sub-par, but the results and meaning of it is much more important in the long run. The show established Diesel as a heel, Goldust as a contender, Shawn as a top face and featured some fresh new additions to the roster. Hell, they even threw in some guys you would have thought were gone, but were still sticking around (Droese, Holly and Tatanka). All in all, the show has a good historical significance, but if it stands on its own, it was slightly unimpressive, which is weird, because I remember really enjoying it live, but I guess it does not stand the test of time. Final Grade: C

MVP: Shawn Michaels
Runner Up: Diesel & Hunter Hearst Helmsley (solid Rumble showing)
Non-MVP: Jeff Jarrett
Runner Up: Razor Ramon (The Beginning of the End)

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