A Look Back At WWE’s “Royal Rumble” (Part Two)
Welcome back to part two of my look back at the WWE Royal Rumble event. To clarify once again, this is not a rundown of every Royal Rumble match in history, it’s simply a look inside my head and the sharing of some personal memories I have of watching the Royal Rumble growing up. Basically, anything that stands out in my memory I will share, and then link to each of those Rumble matches so you can see them for yourself.
For those interested, you can check out part one in this series by clicking here.
1994: The number one thing that stands out in my memory about the 1994 version of WWE’s Royal Rumble match is the way it ended. This was the year that WWE decided for the first time ever they would have two men eliminated at the same time, thus making two winners, and sending two Superstars to WrestleMania that year deserving of WWE Championship matches. Those two individuals were of course Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Lex Luger.
At the time, WWE was grooming Luger to be the next squeaky-clean American hero. Basically, they wanted Luger to become their new Hulk Hogan. Despite their efforts, however, the fans were making it known as time went on and Luger’s push continued, that the “Hitman” was their guy. Knowing this, WWE had both Luger and Hart win the Rumble that year in a tie, thus giving them both title shots at WrestleMania.
By the time WrestleMania rolled around that year, it was crystal clear that the WWE fan base wanted Hart on top, and they really weren’t accepting Luger as the top babyface of the company. So at WrestleMania that year, WWE had Hart win the title from Yokozuna, and had the entire roster come out and put Hart on their shoulders, signifying that Hart was the new face of the company.
1995: Two things stand out in my memory about the 1995 version of the Royal Rumble match, both of which are pretty obvious. For the first time in the history of the Royal Rumble match, a participant who entered first ended up surviving the entire match to be the last man standing. That man, of course, was “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
The other thing that stands out in my memory was how Michaels won the match. The match came down to HBK and the British Bulldog. Bulldog attempts to throw Michaels over the top, and when he does, thinks he succeeds. Bulldog celebrates as if he had won the Rumble, only to be thrown out moments later by Michaels.
What’s interesting about this is the story I heard when I got older. Whether or not this is true or a case of a story growing in infamy over the years is something I can’t really say for sure. As a kid, I thought it was an extremely cool idea to utilize the “both feet must hit the floor” rule in the match by having only one of HBK’s feet touch, making him technically still a legal participant in the match. When I got older, I was told that Michaels botched the finish and WWE had to find a camera-angle that made it look like only one of his feet had touched. From then on, they made a point to over-emphasize the fact that to be eliminated, you must be thrown over the top and both feet must touch the floor.
Whether it was done by design or was an accident, to a young Matt Boone at the time, is irrelevant. After having the Rumble end in similar fashion year after year, I thought having back-to-back years with unique finishes to the match was a nice creative touch. In ’95, as I mentioned earlier, two men tied in the finish. In ’96, they did the HBK one-foot angle. I thought both were cool ideas.
1996: A couple of things stand out in my memory about the 1996 version of the Royal Rumble. First is obviously the fact that for the second year in a row, something that had only been done once before in Rumble history (by Hulk Hogan, as I wrote about in part one), a participant had won the match in back-to-back performances. That man was Shawn Michaels.
Another thing I remember is Jake “The Snake” Roberts throwing his snake Lucifer into the ring, a creative spot capitalizing on the general population’s fear of snakes, resulting in everyone scurrying out of the ring, some of which eliminated themselves in the process.
My memory is a bit hazy on one issue. I’m sure you guys will correct me if I’m wrong in the “Comments” section, but I believe this was the year Jerry “The King” Lawler hid under the ring for a while to avoid elimination. While that was pretty clever, it doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite Jerry Lawler moment in a Royal Rumble (or Battle Royal). My favorite Lawler moment in a Rumble match, and like I said, it may not have been an actual Royal Rumble match, was when Lawler hopped around the ring on one foot, also to avoid elimination.
Finally, another thing that stands out about the 1996 Royal Rumble match was the many surprise entrants. As I noted earlier, Jake Roberts was in this one. I recall guys like Bob Backlund and Dory Funk Jr. being in this one. And I believe this was the year when a Japanese dude I had never heard of was part of the Rumble match as well.
No matter how you slice it, from top-to-bottom, the 1996 Royal Rumble was another one of the great ones.
1997: The number one memory I have about the 1997 Royal Rumble match was actually the main event of the pay-per-view, and not the actual Rumble match itself. I remember the show being held in HBK’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and WWE setting an attendance record that they would tout for the next several weeks on television.
The main event featured HBK challenging his former bodyguard “Psycho” Sid (a moniker Sid attained by violently attacking Arn Anderson with a pair of scissors in WCW prior to returning to WWE) for the WWE Championship. I remember the angle that led to the match, as Sid powerbombed HBK over-and-over again on RAW to set the match up. I also remember HBK having his old mentor Jose Lethario in his corner during the build to the match, a person who played an important factor in the finish, as it was when Sid attacked Lethario with a television camera that set Michaels up to be able to defeat the big man and become the WWE Champion once again.
As far as the Royal Rumble match that year, a couple of things stand out in my memory. One was the angle between Faarooq and Ahmed Johnson going into the pay-per-view. The angle played out a bit during the actual Rumble match as Johnson, who had already been eliminated, came back to the ring with a two-by-four, and going after Faarooq, causing Faarooq to eliminate himself.
The ’97 Rumble was also smack-dab in the middle of the ascension of the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin character in WWE. Austin would go on to win the Rumble that night, but not without controversy. Austin had been eliminated by Bret Hart during the Rumble, however the referee’s were distracted by Mankind and Terry Funk outside the ring, allowing Austin to re-enter the ring and throw Hart over-the-top, thus cheating him out of the Rumble victory he deserved.
We’ll go ahead and take a break in the action right there, and we’ll pick up with my look back at some of the best Royal Rumble moments in history in my next installment of “A Look Back At WWE’s ‘Royal Rumble'”
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