January 16, 2010
Alexander Settee

Royal Rumble 1996, January 21, 1996, Selland Arena, Fresno, CA
Announcers: Vince McMahon & Mr. Perfect

1995 was not a good year for the WWF. Their business was at the lowest point in history, and in the Fall, they began facing a major challenge from WCW as they opened their wallets even wider in debuting Nitro to compete head to head with Raw, and began luring top WWF stars their way. While guys like Bret and Diesel were popular among the existing fanbase, they weren’t doing much to expand it, so Vince turned to another face to try and carry the torch, Shawn Michaels. The truth was that Shawn wasn’t much more popular than the others, if he was at all, but in an effort to be an alternative, the WWF wanted to do something different (Take notes TNA). The youth and excitement that Shawn brought to the main event scene was meant to stand out in stark contrast to the Same Old Hulk Hogan that WCW was pushing on top. So Shawn has been penciled in to take the WWF Title at Wrestlemania for quite some time now, but the first direct step on that road is here tonight as he looks to earn that Title shot. Elsewhere, Bret Hart is the reigning champion, and he’ll defend here tonight against Undertaker who has finally escaped the Hell that was a year of feuding with Ted Dibiase’s goons and King Mabel. Plus we have the IC and Tag Team Titles on the line as well, so here we go!

Opening Match: Jeff Jarrett vs. Ahmed Johnson
Jarrett returned last month at In Your House and attacked to setup this match here. Ahmed is pissed off and charges right in after Jarrett. He sends him of the ropes, but Jarrett holds on and slides out. Ahmed chases, but Jarrett lures him into the ring and stomps on him. He can’t get a hiptoss though, so Ahmed reverses it. Jarrett goes to a headlock, but Ahmed just casually tosses him off. Ahmed misses a charge though and Jarrett nails him. Ahmed counters a corner whip to a short clothesline, and then takes Jarrett down with a couple of shoulderblocks and a powerslam for 2. After a flying clothesline, he whips Jarrett to the ropes, but Jarrett holds on. Ahmed charges, but Jarrett moves and Ahmed goes to the floor. Jarrett hits a clothesline off the apron and then whips him hard to the steps. Back in, Jarrett chokes him on the ropes and hits a rope straddle. He connects with a couple of double ax handles off the 2nd rope, but Ahmed starts Ahmeding Up. On the fourth double ax try, Ahmed catches him in a bearhug, then drops him and nails a clothesline. Spinebuster follows and Jarrett rolls out, but Ahmed comes down on him with a crazy looking plancha. He tosses Jarrett in and goes up, but misses a summersault splash. Jeez, before injuries and ego started taking their toll, this guy could fucking fly around that ring. No wonder they had him pegged as The Next Big Thing. Anyways, Jarrett hooks the figure four, but Ahmed quickly turns it, so Jarrett goes to the ropes for the break. Jarrett goes back to work on the leg, but gets kicked off to the floor. Frustrated, he grabs the guitar, climbs the top rope, and comes down, putting Ahmed’s head right through it. The DQ is called on Jarrett at 6:38. Ahmed sells the guitar shot for a minute, then pops right back up, no worse for wear and chases Jarrett to the back. Obviously this feud was meant to continue, but Jarrett left the company again only a few weeks later. ½*

Todd Pettengill interviews Diesel, who promises to win the Rumble tonight. He also doesn’t care who wins the Title match later on, because he claims that neither of them are as good as he is.

WWF Tag Team Championship Match: The Smoking Gunns vs. The Bodydonnas (w/Sunny)
The Gunns have been solidly positioned as the top face team for awhile now, albeit in a relatively weak tag division. With no real top heel teams to serve as challengers, they took Skip, who had gone nowhere as a singles wrestler, paired him up with a significantly repackaged Dr. Tom Pritchard as Zip, and put them in as challengers in what was actually only their second televised match as a team. But they did have Sunny with them, and she was really hot at this point, so I’m fine with that. Skip and Billy start with Skip getting sent off and Billy hitting a shoulderblock for 2. Billy comes off, but runs into a headscissors. Skip then takes his turn and gets hit with a backdrop. Billy charges, but misses and goes to the floor. The Donnas both sling Billy back in, and then try to do the same to Bart, but he counters and pulls them both to the floor. Billy follows them out with a dive. Back in, the Gunns go to work on Skip, but Sunny distracts them and allows the tag to Zip. Bart also gets the tag. Bart no sells some chops and then connects with some of his own, as well as a press slam. On an Irish whip, Skip takes the blind tag and comes in with a clothesline on Bart. Now Bart gets sent off and he makes a blind tag to Billy which leads to the Champs hitting a Hart Attack. Sunny gets on the apron for another distraction, setting up Billy being sent off the ropes and knocking her to the floor. She takes a nice bump, but acts all fine, until Billy comes over with a look of concern. Now she’s playing dead, but of course it’s just a ploy to allow a double team by the Donnas. Skip takes him out with a dive as well. Back in, Billy is cut off in the heel corner. Skip drops Zip on to him for 2, and then after a tag, Zip puts Skip on Billy with a gutwrench powerbomb for another 2. They then draw Bart in for some double teaming and an illegal switch. Billy escapes a rear chinlock, but Skip gets the tag and cuts him off. I gotta say, the fact that Jim Cornette trained Sunny and influences her mannerisms is pretty obvious, not just here as she does the “pound the mat to start up a chant” bit, but really throughout the whole match. But then if you’re gonna model yourself after someone as a manager, you can’t go wrong with Cornette. So Skip gets a slam and fistdrop off the 2nd rope for 2. Tag to Zip and they hit a double flapjack for another 2. Tag right back to Skip, but a miscommunication leads to a three way collision and everyone goes down. Billy then maneuvers his way around both of them and makes the hot tag to Bart. He beats both Donnas up, and is soon joined again by Billy for a four way brawl. Zip gets slammed and they hit him with the Sidewinder, but Sunny has the ref. Skip comes off the top, nails Bart, and covers, which would often result in a cheap win for the heels, but Bart kicks out at 2. Billy gets tossed and the Donnas get Bart with a double backdrop. They then go for a double suplex, but Billy returns and tackles Zip, which allows Bart to cradle Skip and get the 3 count to retain at 11:14. This was a pretty decent little tag team match here. **1/2

Up next we have the first Billionaire Ted skit. I don’t care to go into depth on these, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Intercontinental Championship Match: Razor Ramon vs. Goldust (w/Marlena & The Usher)
This match had an interesting storyline as Goldust began making what were seemingly sexual advances on Razor, which got him pretty pissed off. Razor finally snapped and delivered a backstage beating to Goldust last week on Raw. Here tonight, the story of Goldust gets another twist as he debuts his new valet, Marlena, who is actually unnamed here, but it’s easier to just call her that. Of course they eventually revealed that everything was mind games instead of keeping it ambiguous, which took a lot of the edge off the character, but that hasn’t happened yet, so it’s still good at this point. He starts out by rubbing himself, so Razor responds by throwing the toothpick. Goldust then keeps avoiding a lockup until Razor forces the issue by grabbing a wristlock. Goldust then goes to a go behind and then starts taking the term “feeling out process” literally, as he starts rubbing Razor’s chest which gets him freaked out. They then trade holds for a bit and Razor ends up slapping his ass, which he sells as though he likes it. Razor knocks him to the floor and follows, but Goldust hides behind Marlena. They get back in for more trading, until Razor puts him out again, but once more Goldust hides behind Marlena. Back in, Goldust blows him a kiss, so Razor attacks. He whips him off the ropes, but Goldust holds on, so Razor charges and clotheslines him to the floor. Goldust hides behind Marlena yet again, so this tie Razor lifts her out of the way only to get attacked from behind and sent to the steps. He then runs Razor’s back to the apron a couple of times. Back in, he drops a double ax from the top and whips him to the buckle repeatedly. Bulldog gets 2 as does a slingshot back suplex. Marlena blows some gold dust in Razor’s eyes, but Razor just no sells it and fires back. He puts his head down though and gets planted. Neckbreaker gets 2 and then Goldust goes to a sleeper. Razor fires up and then kicks Goldust low to break it. Both guys are down, with Goldust recovering first and covering for 2. Razor fires back and then hits a chokeslam for 2. Fallaway slam gets another 2, but then Goldust goes to the eyes. He goes up, but Razor crotches him. He hits the top rope back suplex and looks for the Razor’s Edge as Marlena distracts the referee. At this point, the 1-2-3 Kid runs in and nails Razor with a top rope spin kick. Goldust cover and gets the 3 count to win the Title at 14:18. Match was kind of slow with the Mind Games portion taking up quite a bit of time, but when they did get down to it, that part turned out ok. ½*

1996 Royal Rumble Match
First off, in an interesting bit that was never actually used again, they said that in the draw, instead of a #1 and a #30, there were two blanks, with the guys who got those facing each other and the winner getting #30 and the loser getting #1. The two guys involved were Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, and the match took place earlier tonight on the Free For All with Droese winning on a reverse decision, so he’ll come out last while HHH will have to enter first. As mentioned earlier in the intro, Shawn Michaels was all but a lock to win this thing as it was little secret that his Title win at Wrestlemania was in the works. The only other guy with a remote chance was former WWF Champion Diesel, who hadn’t yet gotten his rematch against Bret and felt slighted when Undertaker was picked as challenger for this show. So as mentioned, HHH is #1, while Henry Godwinn is #2. They had just capped off a feud last month at In Your House with a Hog Pen Match, but they don’t get much heat. HHH takes a beating until Bob Backlund is #3 and it turns into a three way. #4 is Jerry Lawler and he orchestrates a triple team on HOG that he intends to lead to slopping him. But HOG kicks him off and gets his bucket back. The heels bail, so HOG slops them all on the floor. #5 is Sparkplug Holly as the match settles down to mindless brawling with a few elimination attempts thrown in. King Mabel at #6 changes nothing. Jake Roberts, making his return from Wrestlemania VIII is #7 and he tosses the snake right in. Everyone sees it coming at bails except for Lawler who gets it put all over him to a huge reaction. Lawler finally bails as they get the snake out and they restart the match, but he then takes advantage of the confusion and hides under the ring. Dory Funk Jr., representing old school NWA is #8 and he starts going with Backlund. They show Lawler poking his head out from under the ring to make sure we know he’s there because it wasn’t obvious earlier. #9 is Yokozuna and he tosses Backlund for the first elimination of the night. For some reason, much of this segment is spent destroying Henry Godwinn, but he’s still in. #10 is the 1-2-3 Kid, and of course Razor Ramon is right on his tail, but the officials manage to keep him away so he can’t get his shots in. This would set up the Crybaby Match at the next PPV. Jake tossed Henry Godwinn while this was going on. Takao Omari, representing All Japan is #11. He gets the Orient Express theme music of course, and surprisingly holds his own with Mabel. #12 is Savio Vega and he spin kicks Mabel, who is then dumped by Yoko. Omari goes to eliminate Jake, who holds on and gets Omari out. #13 is Vader, making his WWF debut. I was thinking he had to clear some deadwood, but the only elimination in this segment is Dory Funk by Savio. He and Yoko do go at it briefly before Jim Cornette gets them on the same page for the sake of team unity. #14 is Doug Gilbert, representing the USWA, which had something of a minor league affiliation with the WWF at this point so this was a concession to them. Savio takes a DDT, which gets a big reaction, although I don’t know why he wouldn’t do it to a heel. And then he gets clotheslined out by Vader. #15 is one of the Squat Team, AKA The Headhunters, who are a set of pretty fat twins. Vader presses Gilbert to the floor, and then unceremoniously tosses the Squat Team guy. #16 is the other Squat Team member and they both come in together, but Vader successfully takes them on. He and Yoko then clothesline both of them to the floor to finish them for good. #17 is Owen Hart. Vader and Yoko are working well together now as they flatten Savio. The favourite, Shawn Michaels, is #18 as Vader gets rid of Savio. But now Vader and Yoko have their differences flare up again, and Shawn takes advantage to charge and send them both to the floor. He then gets rid of the Kid before Hakushi comes out at #19. But now Vader is pissed as he jumps back in and tosses everyone, including Shawn, but this year eliminations like that don’t count, so everyone is allowed back in. By the time Gorilla Monsoon comes down and orders him out, we’re on to Tatanka coming out at #20. Owen gets rid of Hakushi pretty quickly. #21 is Portuguese Man-O-War Aldo Montoya with Perfect going right into the jockstrap jokes. Shawn gets tossed through the ropes, so while he’s there he drags out Jerry Lawler and gets him back in the ring so he can eliminate him. Aldo is also gone via Tatanka. #22 is Diesel, the only other guy with any prayer here tonight. Tatanka is his first victim as soon as he gets in, and then he and Shawn exchange punches to establish that winning is more important than friendship. #23 is Kama, doing a years ahead of its time MMA gimmick. #24 is a newcomer to the WWF, The Ringmaster Steve Austin. And a legend is born. He puts out Bob Holly, who’s been in since #5. #25 is Barry Horowitz, but any semblance of a push he was getting was over by this point. Diesel then unceremoniously tosses HHH, who had been there since the beginning. Fatu is #26, and ironically he makes no difference whatsoever. #27 is Issac Yankem DDS. In the useless trivia department, this was his first Rumble appearance of what would go on to become a record setting thirteen appearances (96-97, 99-09) and counting. Owen ducks a charge from Horowitz and backdrops him out. Then he hits the ensiguiri on Shawn, and even though they teased that this move had ended his career only two months ago, he acts like it’s nothing here tonight. In fact, he gets right up and eliminates Owen. #28 is Marty Jannetty so he and Shawn go at it to a good reaction for old times sake. #29 is Davey Boy Smith and he backdrops Jannetty out. Fatu clotheslines Austin out, and is then eliminated himself by Yankem. And as we know from earlier, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese is #30, so our finalist list is: Shawn Michaels (#18), Diesel (#22), Kama (#23), Issac Yankem (#27), Davey Boy Smith (#29), and Droese (#30). Incidentally, according to my clock, the time when Droese enters is 56:56, so the intervals were actually averaging slightly longer than 2:00, which is unusual since they’re normally shaving time off. Shawn and Davey go on the floor, and then Owen runs back out for a double team. This sets up he and Shawn facing each other on the next PPV. Owen gets pulled back and everyone gets back in where Shawn dropkicks Yankem out. Diesel and Kama team up to toss Droese, so being #30 was of no help to him. Davey puts Shawn over, but Shawn slides back in and clotheslines him out while Diesel tosses Kama. But then, faster then I can type “This leaves the Two Dudes With Attitudes to settle things amongst themselves”, Shawn just Superkicks him out to win it at 59:00. Diesel is visibly upset with the result and they tease a heel turn, but in the end he high fives Shawn and all is well with them for now. Much like many Rumbles, this suffers from being a foregone conclusion as it really was no secret that Shawn was getting the push. The actual match itself really wasn’t that great either. It had a slow start, but was somewhat redeemed later on as the stars got in and the action picked up. ***

Main Event, WWF Championship Match: Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)
Undertaker, who was probably as glad as anyone to see 1995 in the rearview mirror, was finally granted a Title shot here after more than a year of battling the Million Dollar Corporation and then King Mabel in some pretty brutal matches. This pissed off Diesel, who felt he should have the Title shot here tonight, and his loss in the Rumble match has surely not helped his mood. Diesel has remained at ringside the whole time since the end of the Rumble and confronts Taker in the aisle on his entrance. They come to blows before getting pulled apart with Diesel sent to the back. Bret then comes out and we get the match underway. By the way, Undertaker is wearing a mask due to facial injuries suffered at the hands of Mabel. Vince keeps referring to it as a “facial appliance” for some reason. I guess “mask” is just too Southern or something. Bret starts out with some speed, avoiding Taker, but soon enough gets caught and takes some shots in the corner. Taker then applies what Vince reluctantly calls a clawhold, but really he’s just got his hand over Bret’s face. This goes on for awhile before Bret makes the ropes. Bearer keeps shoving Bret’s leg off, so finally he hooks it to get the break. Taker then hits the ropewalk and goes right back to that claw. He sends Bret to the corner, but Bret gets the boot up. He hits a 2nd rope clothesline and then another one to sends Taker to the floor, but he lands on his feet. Bret dives on him and pounds away, but he then comes off the apron, gets caught and run to the post. Taker tries to run him to the post again, but Bret slips off and Taker hits it. Bret runs into a boot and gets sent to the rail. Taker’s whip to the steps is reversed and he hits it knees first. Now Bret targets the knee. Back in the ring he hooks a figure four, which Taker eventually reverses, but Bret makes the ropes. Bret goes for the mask, but can’t get it. He does get back on the knee though. Bless this crowd, because they are giving this match a lot of patience. Many places would be well into the “boring” chants at this point. Taker finally gets away and tosses Bret. On the floor, he rams Bret to the steps, and chokes him with a cable. He then rams him to the timekeepers table and nails him with a chair, all while Paul Bearer has been distracting the ref. Back in the ring, Taker misses a big boot, and Bret goes right back to work on the leg. He posts it a couple of times before Taker gets a comeback and tries the Tombstone, but can’t hold him up. Bret slips to the apron and pulls Taker down on the ropes. Taker sends him off, but puts his head down and takes a DDT for 2. Bret hits the Russian legsweep, but Taker sits up. Bret hits the bulldog, but Taker sits up. Bret hits the backbreaker and Taker tries to sit up, but can’t. So Bret drops the 2nd rope elbow to setup the Sharpshooter, but Taker grabs him by the throat to break it up. He sends Bret off and they clothesline each other. Bret gets up first and takes a turnbuckle pad off. He then rips Taker’s mask off. Taker has recovered too though, but Bret gets the elbow up on a corner whip. He then rams Taker to the exposed buckle a couple of times, but Taker doesn’t sell it as anything serious. Bret charges at him, but is right into a Tombstone. Taker covers, but back comes Diesel and he pulls the referee out. Bret is disqualified for the outside interference at 28:29. Diesel and Taker have a staredown that ends with Diesel giving him the finger and Taker chasing him out leaving Bret to end the show celebrating his loss. Good Lord was that thing a major chore to sit through. Like 70% of it was Bret working on the knee, which is bad because it never went anywhere, and no one believes in a million years that Undertaker is going to submit anyways. Also, you’re using your World Champion, and the guy who’s going to be in the main event at Wrestlemania as the set up man for the semi main event. And in the end, that makes Shawn look bad too because he just ends up beating a guy who’s lucky to have the belt in the first place. But that’s big picture stuff. As for this match, I think that Bret and Taker really overestimated what they thought they could do together. At least they would learn, because the 1997 series of matches was much better, but on this day I can’t go higher than *, and even that may be stretching it.

Well, that really wasn’t a very good show. The Rumble was solid as usual, but there was nothing spectacular about it, and as noted, the result wasn’t exactly a big secret or anything. The main event was pretty much a snoozefest with a terrible ending to boot. The undercard provides help only in the form of the Tag Title match with that being pretty good, and the rest being garbage. Thumbs Down for Royal Rumble 1996 and a recommendation to leave this one be.

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