Thursday, 19 January 2017

Royal Rumble history (part 2)

1993


Naturally after a once in a lifetime event like the 1992 Royal Rumble, you want to tease that it might happen again. That you've caught lightning in that bottle. So it should come as no surprise to fans of drama that Ric Flair started off the 1993 version. "He survived the hour last year" said Bobby Heenan, slightly confidently but this time, Flair was to get nowhere near that. He was even to see his longevity record smashed by the least likely competitor.




By January 1993, Jim Herd had been sacked from World Championship Wrestling, and the lure to return back home was too much for Flair. Within twenty-four hours of this Rumble match, he lost a "Loser Leaves the WWF" match to Mr Perfect and went back to Atlanta. He'd stay away from Vince's show until November 2001, making this one of the longest kept "retirement" stipulations in pro-wrestling history.

As for Mr Perfect, frustration had bubbled up inside him throughout 1992. He was loyal to the Heenan Family, but as he saw Ric Flair win the World title twice, with his help, you could sense his desire to get back into the ring himself. When The Ultimate Warrior walked out on the WWF, they were left with a gaping hole in their November PPV main event, mere days before the live show. On a memorable episode of Prime Time Wrestling, Heenan and Mr Perfect were at the pundits desk when "Macho Man" Randy Savage phoned in to the show and asked Mr Perfect to take Warrior's spot on Savage's team, as "even though I don't like you, you're one of the best wrestlers I know so I respect you." As Savage was due to face Ric Flair and his new friend Razor Ramon, Heenan saw this as an opportunity, but throughout the night, you saw the chance to get back in the ring slowly conflicting Perfect,until Bobby Heenan got too cocky and slapped the former Intercontinental Champion. Enraged, Mr Perfect announced his return, and intention to beat Ric Flair!

We were still in the binary element of crowds cheering for faces and booing villains (a concept long dead in wrestling), but the crowds must have wanted an excuse to cheer Curt Hennig for years, as he got monster cheers for this turn to the good side. Also, he eliminates Ric Flair from the 1993 Royal Rumble inside the first twenty minutes, which was a surprise to everyone watching. Also a surprise: Mr Perfect celebrating on the ropes, and no one taking the opportunity to swiftly eliminate him!

Soon after, Mr Perfect and Jerry Lawler eliminate each other. "Lawler's made an enemy for life" declares Gorilla Monsoon, but nothing ever came of it.

The first half of this match is a mix of the great (Ted DiBiase, in his final rumble, Lawler), the bad (Koko B Ware was still there) and the ugly (Max Moon. WTF?) so at the midway point, out comes The Undertaker. And unlike 1991, this time he properly clears the ring of everyone, including a nicely timed smooth elimination of The Million Dollar Man. As he eliminates The Berzerker (a Viking who would win matches by count out so was immediately declared a favourite for every battle royal in the world despite being shite at them), suddenly, a large man walked down to ringside.

Former Atlanta Hawks basketball player Jorge Gonzalez (1966-2010) was not a man you could hide in a crowd scene. At a billed 8 foot tall, and a legit 7 foot 6 at least, he was the tallest man to ever enter a wrestling ring, and had a run in World Championship Wrestling. Here he shows up, as the Giant Gonzalez, and absolutely mauls The Undertaker in a way not seen before or possibly even since. During this time, schmuck Damian Demento and midcarder I.R.S come out, and wisely decide to hide outside the ring till the big guy leaves.He wasn't much of a wrestler, but goodness, Gonzalez made a hell of a first impression on his debut.

By the end we come down to a mix of legends and new faces. Randy Savage is there, battling for one more main event, and so is Tito Santana, battling for one more paycheck, but so is Bret Hart's younger brother Owen ("I like Owen Hart's chances now" cries Gorilla Monsoon, I wish I did too), and the man mountain Yokozuna. Yokozuna was a legit 500+ pounder, and a member of the legendary Anoa'i family.

How legendary?

Well...there were six siblings. Afa and Sika were multiple time WWF Tag Team Champions. Afa's son Samu was a tag team champion, and his other son Manu had a cup of coffee run in the WWE before being fired for trying to cheat a drug test with a fake penis. Sika's kids include former tag team champion Rosey and former three team WWE World Champion Roman Reigns.  Yokozuna was their cousin through Afoa Anoa'i. The late Elevera Anoa'i , the youngest of the six siblings, had three sons: the Tonga Kid, the late and sadly missed Umaga (a former WWE main eventer), and Rikishi, one of the most adored wrestlers of the 1990s and a multiple time champion. Rikishi's sons are The Usos, former WWE tag team champions. The patriarch of this clan was related to Peter Maivia, the wrestler, which means not only do they have Rocky Johnson, the tag team champion, as an in-law, but The Rock as a second cousin.

One family, six Hall of Famers, six future Hall of Famers, and about forty WWF/E title reigns alone between them. Not too shabby.

Yokozuna dominates this match from his late entry. He faces down the giant Earthquake and single handily eliminates him. It comes down to Yokozuna, the Macho Man, and Bob Backlund, a WWF champion from the 1970s making an underdog comeback, and lasting a surprising 1 hour 1 minute and 15 seconds in the match before Yokozuna ends his day.

Yokozuna wins the match and goes onto WrestleMania where he faces backstage politics. That he overcame them to become of the great WWE legends is testimony to his talents. At this point, he was a big man but still in good shape, and could move surprisingly well for his size.

Ric Flair also likes to point out the hilarity of the Repo Man gimmick, featured towards the end of this match: "Barry Darsow, 6 foot 4 and 320 pounds, trying to sneak around a ring!"


1994


Eventually, even the best have to admit they were wrong.  Ever since Hulk Hogan left the WWF the previous year, WWF boss Vince McMahon had been looking for his new Hogan. He looked towards Lex Luger and pushed him to the top of the card as a pro-American hero complete with tour bus, who took on Yokozuna for the WWF Championship. Now, Luger had a fair bit of talent, and is actually quite underrated these days (possibly for reasons we're about to get into), but his chief talents lay in the role of the narcissistic cowardly heel and not as the top hero of the show.

More to the point, Lex Luger had been playing that exact role, and getting a response, before his Americana turn, which happened in the space of an afternoon when he bodyslammed Yokozuna on a US Navy freighter. (It makes slightly more sense in context, but isn't worth going into more...) So the man who had been attacking opponents from behind was now expected to get Hogan style cheers, and the fact that he got many is actually testament to his own efforts.

However, at the same time, there was another wrestler, for whom the Luger experiment meant being put on the backburner. His name was Bret Hart. By the summer of 1991, Bret's popularity could no longer be contained within the confines of a tag team, and he won the Intercontinental Championship at Summerslam in August 1991. His 1992 was even more successful, as he became the first man in WWF history to get a pinfall victory over Rowdy Roddy Piper (even Hogan didn't manage that), and was chosen to beat Ric Flair for the World title that September.

On a shortlist of six candidates, Bret recalls in his book, with one other candidate being Tito Santana! No offence to Tito, a fine competitor in his own right, but that's a bit like going "Who should be the top villain of our film, Darth Vader or Jar Jar Binks?"

Bret, who had a run as a fighting champion, with multiple TV defences a week against competitors who'd never dream of a title match (can Virgil win the WWF title? Probably not...), had his run ended prematurely at WrestleMania IX, where he went from possibly retaining against Yokozuna, to losing to Yoko so Yoko could immediately lose to Hulk Hogan, who had returned from a year long hiatus to demand a title reign. Bret was promised a "rematch" with Hogan, who promptly retired (running away to the welcoming arms of Ted Turner), and then his rematch with Yokozuna went to Lex Luger instead.

Instead of wrestling for the title that summer, Bret spent the second biggest PPV of the year wrestling an evil clown and Jerry Lawler. Frustrated ("frustrated isn't the goddamn word for it" is a bit early to sneak in here), Bret offered to work a storyline with his younger brother Owen, who was yet to really get a pivotal role in the company. So there was "dissension" in the family, which seemed to be "mended" by the time the Hart Brothers got a tag team championship match at the Royal Rumble.

Meanwhile, Luger had signed a contract which meant that his match at Summerslam was the only title match he could get. Vince hoped this would stack the odds against Luger and get the fans onside, but really, the reaction tended to be "well that was a bit stupid". More over, he won that Summerslam match by countout (you can only win a title by pinfall or submission) and then celebrated that count out victory, cementing his position as not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Another issue was that The Undertaker, who had valiantly taken on all mediocre comers for Vince for years - people say Taker's early years didn't produce many great matches but fail to take into consideration he was facing Giant Gonzalez and Kamala for most of them - suffered an injury and there was a vacuum at the top of the card.

Clearly only one man could fill it.

Lex Luger was announced for the Royal Rumble, despite that earlier contract stipulation (I know, you're shocked), with the effect of two old Japanese wrestlers being allowed in the match to deal with him. You'll be stunned to hear they were no match for the in his prime 270 pound American. Although Tenryu - a legend in Japan - clearly couldn't be arsed with this storyline, focusing on everyone but Luger in the damned match!

There was also Bret, who suffered a misfortune early in the night. He and Owen worked well together, a title change seemed in the air, until Bret "mistimed" a move and "injured" his knee. From then on, he was in trouble, as Owen begged for the tag on the apron. Finally, Bret managed to get Jacques Rougeau down, but instead of crawling over to tag his fresh younger brother, he went to put his finisher submission move, the Sharpshooter, on Rougeau. His knee couldn't take it, he collapsed, and the referee called an immediate stop to the action due to "injury". Owen snapped, kicking Bret's injured knee as he tried to get up, and yelling about his selfishness, as the crowd legitimately gasped, and then booed the hell out of the youngest Hart brother.



The 'injury' put Bret's Rumble participation in doubt, and when Number 25 was announced, and no one entered, the commentators felt this had to have been Bret's spot. Then the buzzer went for Number 27, and out came Bret Hart, limping gamely to the ring, to an explosive reaction from the fans. "Risking his career and more for a shot at glory, I call that an idiot" said Ted Dibiase (now a commentator), but Bret gamely held on, and it came down to the final two men: Lex Luger and Bret Hart.

The finish of the 1994 Rumble is famous, for Luger and Bret went over the top rope at the same time, and both hit the floor at near enough the same time for it become difficult to spot with the naked eye. (Bret, incidentally, says the timing was all down to Luger for how good it looked.) It was a deliberate choice by McMahon, as both competitors went to WrestleMania X for title shots, but the staggered deliberation - first announcing Luger as winner, then Bret, then co-winners - was done deliberately to judge the crowd response.

And whilst the crowd cheered well for Luger, the roof came off the arena when they announced Bret's name. It was a referendum, and the winner was undisputed. That March, not only did Bret Hart wrestle his brother Owen in one of the greatest matches in history, but he returned later that night, to win the WWF World title in the main event, and be crowned THE MAN in pro-wrestling terms. It was Vince McMahon's concession, that they were giving up on Hogan Mark 2, and going with the man the fans had wanted all along.



The 1994 Royal Rumble match has other notable moments (the Steiner brothers going against script, refusing to fight each other, and swiftly finding themselves sans job, seven men teaming up to eliminate Mabel, Randy Savage's last Rumble appearance, and the first hints of Shawn Michael's rise up the card). However, the biggest moment came early. Kevin Nash had a run of weak gimmicks in WCW, and his run as Diesel, a 7 foot bodyguard, hadn't exactly set the heather on fire. Rumour is, he was on the chopping block, but Pat Patterson had an idea. Which involved Diesel entering the rumble, eliminating everyone in the ring and then waiting for new opponents to kill. This got rid of seven men and when Diesel went out of the ring himself, he got a standing ovation and chants. From job security issues, to a made man within ten minutes, that's what the Royal Rumble match can do.


The Million Dollar Man is wonderful on commentary. He slates the villains ("to go out that early is just a lack of concentration for Adam Bomb"), indulges in strong schadenfreude ("I'm going to enjoy this" he laughs as former nemesis Virgil comes out to face, and be destroyed by Diesel), and sets up his own retorts: calling Sparky Plugg's debut in a ring with four 400 pounders as "the wrong to have a debut in", only to later note that Plugg had "lasted over 20 minutes, I was wrong about the kid..."

There's also this moment:

"That Diesel is almost as tall as me!"
"I don't think so" said Vince.
"Hey, when I'm standing on my wallet!"

Well, I laughed. 


1995


When you think of the 1995 Royal Rumble match, you just have to think of Mantaur. Primarily, the "another tough man to throw out" style comments from Vince McMahon, as you can just sense he really wants this gimmick to get over with the crowd. He even lasts 10 minutes in a match many better people (Owen Hart FFS) last ten seconds. This is Mantaur's only PPV appearance.

That he's probably one of the more pushed people in this match speaks volumes. The WWF roster was at its thinnest in 1995, as the Hogan revolution in WCW had raided the roster with guaranteed money offers. Instead of filling the card with tag matches or having the credible stars pull double duty, by which I mean perform in the preliminary matches and the Rumble itself, Vince had the great idea of stacking the preliminaries with The Undertaker, Bam Bam Bigelow, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Jeff Jarrett, IRS, Tatanka, the 123 Kid, Diesel (who was now WWF Champion)... none of whom appeared in the Royal Rumble match, leaving more room for the Mantaurs and Well Dunns of the world, and making a stretched roster look even worse.

This is also the Rumble where they decided to have sixty second intervals between entrants. Now, they can just about get around 90 second intervals instead of the traditional 2 minutes (and in reality, it tends to be somewhere between the two), but when you lower it down to sixty seconds, the pacing of the match is completely off. You need time to let the new person settle into the fray before introducing the next person, otherwise you just have a whole bunch of people entering at once and the brain can't process it. Pacing and timing is pivotal to any drama.

Worse, it makes the competitors look like shit. Unstoppable King Kong Bundy is finally stopped after a grueling three minutes. Around a third of the competitors last under 2 minutes, including Owen Hart in a decision so stupid I'm still fuming. The match is weakened as it stands, you're going to remove the top villain from it in ten seconds? Who wrote this plan of attack, David Cameron?

Shawn Michaels and the Bulldog start as Numbers 1 and 2, and finish as the final two. Shawn Michaels wins the Rumble, the first man to win from the first spot. They both lasted thirty-eight minutes, which isn't even in the top ten longest times in Rumble history.

A complete waste.


1996


By 1996, Bret Hart was the WWF World Champion once more, and set to drop his title at WrestleMania. See, even when he got the belt back, he was being set up to fail - no wonder he was getting bitter.

The whole story of this year is Shawn Michaels return from an in ring injury at the hands of Owen Hart - a storyline one. Much like Lex Luger, Shawn doesn't seem to know about this storyline, despite his two months holiday, and so performs much like his old self. He gets all the big spots, and wins by eliminating his best friend, Diesel.

We see a return to the WWF by Jake the Snake Roberts, claiming that he was now sober and a man of God. He lasted a year before being fired for... well, you can guess. Jake spent most of the next fifteen years veering towards being the next pop culture tragedy, but has made substantial effort to clean up since and looks much healthier. Thankfully!

Vince had hoped that living legend Terry Funk, the only man whose midlife crisis included swapping ring ropes for barbed wire (because why not), and learning how to add backwards somersaults to his matches, would be around for the Rumble, but he was working in Japan. Instead, Terry's older brother, Dory Jr, appeared in the Rumble, looking old. Former NWA Champion in the 1970s, and considered one of the all time greats, though I'm one of the iconoclasts who thinks his brother is better than him and Ric Flair!

Yes, we're in the era where the WWF roster isn't big enough to fill out an entire Rumble match. And never does it show more than here: behold Omori! Squat Team A! Tatanka (last seen in July)! Squat Team B! Perennial undercarder Barry Horowitz in an instant push!

They did learn from 1995 in two ways however, which make this match much better. For one, the intervals between entrants is back to good old two minutes, allowing far better pacing and showcasing of individuals. Secondly, beyond our title match duo (Bret and Undertaker for those keeping score), all the talents of 1996 WWF are in this match: Diesel, Shawn, Owen hart, Bulldog, Vader... Well, that's it, but they tried.

This is the Rumble debut of Triple H, who now is in charge of large chunks of the business through his marriage to Stephanie McMahon, but at this point, just a rookie who knew Shawn Michaels. He lasts 50 minutes from the number one spot, showing they had plans for him even then. It was also the debut of Steve Austin, the future Stone Cold. They planned for him to be in the last four performers in the match, but, he lost his balance and eliminated himself by accident considerably earlier.

It got better for Austin in a hurry, though.

What really makes this Rumble is Mr Perfect. He's commentating on it, full of bad jokes, instantly predicting winners, and bringing phrases to my lexicon such as "he's on rubber leg street". When Bob Holly - the former Sparky Plugg - is eliminated by Austin after a decent 40 minute showing, Vince McMahon yells "Give credit to Bob Holly for lasting so long". Nonplussed, Perfect retorts: "Well give credit to [Austin] for eliminating him then!"

Vince has one of my all time favourite Vince gaffes during commentary of this match too: "Yokozuna, unceremoniously dumped there by Yokozuna!"


1997

Bret Hart had spent much of 1996 on hiatus from the WWF, but when he returned in November, it seemed inevitable that a WrestleMania main event rematch with Shawn Michaels was on the cards. Unfortunately, Shawn and Bret had real life hatred for each other, which was to shortly become public in a way no real life wrestling animosity had before.

In the end, neither had the WrestleMania main event, but then, neither did the winner of the Royal Rumble.

Steve Austin had been rather aimless for much of 1996. His rumble debut ended prematurely, and he had a forgettable match with Savio Vega at WrestleMania. However, circumstances which threaten to derail a career can also bring one back into contention. Triple H was earmarked to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. However, after a really stupidly overblown wrestling moment (The Curtain Call, which can be googled under "MSG Incident" like a bloody terrorist attack had happened or something), Triple H was the only expendable person involved in "the terrible event" and had to be punished. So no King of the Ring title for him. In 1996, anyhow.

The title came down to Jake the Snake, and Steve Austin, and Austin won with his new finishing move, the Stone Cold Stunner, in short fashion. As the new King of the Ring was interviewed, he just spoke words on the fly, and in a spirit of improv, came up with the following:


"You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 - AUSTIN 3:16 SAYS I JUST WHIPPED YOUR ASS! As the King of the Ring, I'm servin' notice to every one of the 'WWF superstars.' I don't give a damn what they are, they're all on the list, and that's Stone Cold's list, and I'm fixin' to start runnin' through all of them. As far as this championship match is considered, son, I don't give a damn if it's Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels. Steve Austin's time has come, and when I get the shot, you're lookin' at the next WWF Champion, and that's the bottom line because Stone Cold said so"


And lo, but in 150 words, a young man desperately trying not to choke at his first live interview in the WWF created a star.



Not that Vince realised it immediately. In one incident in late 1996, Austin casually asked the merchandise people if they'd considered selling a T-shirt of his. "How about a shirt for old Stone Cold?" Apparently, and this is backed up by Mick Foley, the merchandise folk told the future biggest star in wrestling: "We don't see money in your T-shirts". For the record, at the time they saw big money in a whole range of Mark Henry shirts.

Austin was getting into a story with Bret Hart, as he had challenged Bret to a match for most of the previous summer, and when Bret returned, he accepted the challenge. They had a good match in November, which Bret won, and you might think that was that.

The 1997 Rumble starts with the "random drawing" of two bitter rivals starting the match. This time its Ahmed Johnson and The Nation of Domination's number two, Crush, but they brawl for a bit before Ahmed eliminates himself because he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The audience reaction in the large Alamodome is a bit off, because they've forgot to do the clock.

The clock? To signal a new entrant into the rumble, there is a ten second countdown clock which appears in the arena and on the TV screen. Remarkably quickly this turned into a crowd participation event, where the entire arena chant down to one, cheer, and then groan as The Repo Man appears. But due to the nature of the match every single entrant MIGHT be some huge, so even if there's been a whole bunch of no names in a row, the crowd still do this.

Unless you've scheduled the entire match to troll them, of course, but we'll get round to that eventually.

There's no clock for the first five entrants, so Crush stands in the ring and suddenly Country Boy starts playing. Or random generic music if you're watching in these copyright days. The one moment this doesn't hurt is for our 5th entrant, when by complete accident, due to the lack of a clock, we get the following exchange:

Vince: We continue to have problems with our clock.
JR: No need to wait long, it's every 90 seconds.
(Right as he finishes those words, the glass shatters for Stone Cold's music.)

Austin's music does work for the "out of nowhere" play though. Which was to be used to great effect time and again over the next few years.



Steve Austin dominates this Rumble. Cleans house, waiting for new opponents. Checks his wristwatch at some points to see how long he's got before a new guy comes in, which is a comedic touch as he's not actually wearing a watch! "His watch is working as well as ours" says Vince in an actual funny quip.

The ring fills up with a bizarre menagerie of midcarders and random Mexican wrestlers, none of whom had wrestled before for the WWF and never did again. This was to appeal to the local crowd, who don't appear to give a shit because they are there for the WWF guys. "Pierroth was picked off of one of Dok Hendrix's top ten lists!" cries Vince.

Two things.

1. Why does Michael Hayes (Dok) get to put in multiple Rumble wishlists?
2. Why does Michael Hayes apparently have shit taste in wrestlers?

We also get Mexican legend Mil Mascaras, who on being told the idea of the Rumble, replied "No Yob!" ie "I will not lose this fake match as it would hurt my ego." So he eliminates himself, and later got into the Hall of Fame. Sometimes its shockingly easy to become a legend at something...

We also get a hilarious moment where Owen Hart walks into the ring, sees his brother in law (Bulldog) grappling with Austin and casually walks over and eliminates him. When Bulldog yells on the outside, Owen replies that it was an accident, despite all the slow motion replays in the world showing how deliberate it is! Owen and Bulldog were tag team champions at the time too, an odd couple team where Owen cheated to win and Bulldog wanted to win fair. And Bulldog doing his damned best not to piss himself laughing at Owen's antics. They were great, and both died far too young.

Which I constantly reminded of at this point thanks to one of the worst lines in WWF history. Not even intentional either, its one of the very few times something innocent can become retroactively tasteless. After Owen is thrown over the top rope but flips back in - which he does really nicely - Jim Ross in awe says: "Sometimes you think Owen Hart is made of elastic, he bends but never breaks."

Thanks for that, JR.

Anyhow, Austin cleans the ring, and is alone in the ring as the countdown goes to zero and we get...Bret Hart!

From then on, we get a who's who of wrestling at the time: The Undertaker! Vader! Mankind! Terry Funk, who actually showed up. Fake Diesel, aka Glen Jacobs, would show up, as would a young man called Rocky Maivia, who both looked promising, and will become big deals very soon. For such a fallow period, that's quite a strong field at the end, and it gets retrospectively stronger too due to what the younger two later became.

I suppose I need to explain Fake Diesel. Real Diesel, Kevin Nash, left the company to join the WCW in May 1996, alongside Razor Ramon and a slew of other stars. The WWF thought: we own the copyright on the characters, lets just get new guys to play them. This worked as well as you might suspect. Rick Bognar, the Fake Razor, didn't last. Glen Jacobs, the Fake Diesel, had far more promise and stuck around.

There's also the comedy moment to which the WWE are still trying to top. As Bret and Austin are alone in the ring, Bret has a submission move applied, and the count starts for the next participant. Suddenly, Mussorgsky's Bogatyr Gate at Kiev plays (you'll know it instantly, it's a famous piece of classical music), and Jerry "the King" Lawler stands up gleefully from the commentators desk, hands Vince McMahon his robes, says "It takes a King...", and tries to sneak into the ring behind Bret Hart.



Bret and Lawler being very, very, very long term rivals. They fought in 1993, in 1994, in 1995, in 1996...  Lawler, a real life friend of the Hart family, gleefully used his spot in commentary to take the piss out of the whole family. "I hear Helen Hart's so old she really remembers the Alamo!" "Stu's not that old, but he remembers when Methuselah was born!"

Unfortunately, the music playing might have twigged Bret to what was happening, so he swiftly turns round and punches Lawler right back out of the match in three seconds, to a roar of laughter from the crowd. And me.

Lawler stumbles back to the commentary desk, is handed his mic and the first thing he says is "...to know a King. I told you!"

Then pretends to have no knowledge whatsoever of ever taking part in the Rumble.

We come down to a final five, and Bret Hart finally eliminates Steve Austin. Only every single referee in the company was apparently distracted watching Terry Funk and Mankind brawl on the outside, and no one saw Austin being eliminated. He snuck back in, and eliminated Vader and The Undertaker, before using Bret's eliminate Fake Diesel to eliminate Bret.

As they announce Steve Austin the winner of the Royal Rumble match, Bret Hart turns to see who eliminated him, and absolutely goes berserk. As Austin makes a quick exit, Bret is yelling at referees, grabbing them by the lapels, and swearing at the commentary team.

Lawler: How about suspending him for life?
Vince: Hohoho, we won't be going that far!

Indeed, when the split happened that November, it only lasted for thirteen years...

Bret's frustrations built, and came to a climax a month later after losing a Caged WWF Championship match. Vince tried to interview him, as the remains of the Cage hung around the ring.

"Frustrated isn't the goddamn word for it. This is bullshit!"


The entire crowd gasp.

Go on, Bret! Tell us how you really feel! Awesome.




See, there's this fan theory that Bret Hart is a bit shit at the talking bits of pro-wrestling. And when he's a good guy, probably. But Bret Hart is really good at playing the whole chip on the shoulder paranoid thing, being it for much of the 90s (as documented in his honest but great autobiography), so the whole anger, bitter, pissed off villain Bret which emerges in 1997 is right to the bone.

And then a little thing called The Montreal Screwjob happened, but, that would take another article to explain. Bret's at his character peak, but within a year, he and Bulldog are gone. In 1999, he lost his brother, and at the end of the year, suffered a devastating concussion which led to a near fatal stroke. He survived, and appears to be in a better place nowadays (he's mended fences with Vince and makes regular appearances for the WWE, which would have made Child Me so happy). But regardless of the sour moments, and the premature career end, he'll always be one of the greatest entertainers of the modern age, and one of the greatest pro-wrestling performers that ever lived.


1998

There is one star of the 1998 Royal Rumble match, and that man is The Rock.

This might come across as a bit of an iconoclasm moment, or some Jesuit sophistry, for Steve Austin won the Rumble match, and the title, in his career year.

But his star was already on the make, and what this match did was to announce that another star had arrived.

Dwayne Johnson was born in 1972. He tried out for the NFL, wound up in the CLF, wound up homeless and poor for a bit. Always the call of pro-wrestling was there, as his father was Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather was Peter Maivia, a pro-wrestler and Samoan noble. His dad wasn't too keen on young Rock joining the WWF, but decided to train him anyway. Pat Patterson, Rumble father, spotted Dwayne training and got Vince to sign him.

He debuted as Rocky Maivia (geddit?) and was given an instant push as a cookie clutter good guy, always smiling, and won the Intercontinental Championship within three months. The fans... began to boo him out of the arena. When the villainous Owen Hart beat him for the belt, he got cheers. When Rocky got injured, the crowd cheered. He got "Die Rocky Die" chants, for the crime of being a bit green around the gills.

During his injury, Pat Patterson suggested turning Rocky heel. Maivia jumped at the chance, and when he returned, promptly joined The Nation of Domination, a group of angry African-American villains. It wasn't as bad as it sounds until it really was as bad as it sounds, but even included Owen Hart at one point, and was created by, of all people, Ernie Ladd!

Anyhow, heel Rocky started to call himself The Rock and got more interview time, and was handed the IC title in December. However, he was yet to really showcase himself.

He enters 4th in this match, and lasts 54 minutes. He walks in as a cocky newbie who'd never been properly tested, and walks out as a bonafide star. He's at the heart of everything right up to the moment he gets eliminated by Steve Austin in the final two.

Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) and Terry Funk start the match. For some reason Funk is going by the name Chainsaw Charlie but everyone calls him Terry Funk. He has a gimmicked chainsaw, which is clearly not on, despite the sound effects of a chainsaw playing through the PA system.

JR: You are eliminated by going over the top rope and both feet touching the floor.
Lawler: Or by having one of your major limbs lopped off with a chainsaw!
JR: (laughs) I believe that's an ammendment added last Wednesday!






But really, The Rock is one of our great polymath entertainers. He's funny, he can act, he can pro-wrestler, he's an athlete, he sing. Hell, he's probably got a best selling novel, a piano concerto and a Nobel Peace Prize in him if he put his mind to it. And the opportunity to express all of this stems back to the day someone asked him if he could last fifty minutes in the Rumble.

(By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)



Next time: "No Chance in Hell", the fan favourite for best Rumble ever, my favourite Rumble ever, and...wont someone think of the poor Mean Street Posse?