1989 Royal Rumble Match

Early 1989 WWF in one photo
Early 1989 WWF in one photo

The 1989 Royal Rumble is notable for several reasons: It is the first Rumble to air on PPV, it was the first wrestling PPV held in the wrestling-rich state of Texas, and further launched the money angle that would carry Wrestlemania V. This show also saw the birth of the sometimes amazing Royal Rumble promos, where people like Koko B. Ware would tell you how it’s every man for himself but he would defeat 29 other superstars. Personal favorite from one of the syndicated shows I wish I could find: an inset promo by Bad News Brown that goes something like: “Royal Rumble? Royal Rumble? 29 spineless cockroaches and Bad News Brown. Who do you think’s gonna win?” On this show, wrestlers were even shown drawing their numbers and Ted DiBiase was not so happy with his number, so he tracked down Slick to cut a deal and told us that when you’re rich you can buy your own luck.

This is also the Rumble where they wanted to hit you over the head with “EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF” as #1 and #2 are Ax and Smash of the tag team champs Demolition. The pound on each other for two minutes, being careful to make sure each guy gets an equal amount of offense in the same way that Joe Perry must get the same face time as Steven Tyler in Aerosmith videos.

What is Arn whispering to Tully?

The next guy at #3 is Andre the Giant and the year 1989 is generally considered the year that Andre lost everything completely in the ring, but I am here to tell you that this is a nice little gem for the big fella. I loved everything he did in this match, starting with the 2 on 1 he faced. Andre had familiarity with Ax when they teamed as the Machines in 1986. Ax and Smash just stopped when they saw Andre and give him a double clothesline as Gorilla notes Andre has won more battle royals than anyone as Ventura claims to only be one or two behind him.

As Andre gamely fights the tag champs, #4 is Mr. Perfect and he ignores face/heel conventions and goes at Andre because as Ventura notes, they need to get rid of the Giant. Perfect is going after everyone trying to make a name for himself, which he did in this match. He sold Andre punches with great flair, flipping to the ground. Smash gets tossed like a rag doll by Andre to be the first one out.

Andre is tied up in the ropes after #5 Ronnie Garvin comes down, but all those guys can’t lift him, plus his arms are stuck anyway so there is not much way to get him over the ropes. Our #6 entrant is Greg Valentine and he gets choked by Andre about 7 times in this match. The big guy takes time out from his Hammer choking to hip toss Garvin over the top.

Next at #7 is Jake the Snake and he goes right at Andre think he can do what the sight of snakes did to the Giant on Saturday Night’s Main Event. He doesn’t fare as well as Westley from Princess Bride and is brutally choked by Andre, who gets a lot of crap for his matches being nothing but chokes during the era but it makes perfect sense in a match like this. Love how Valentine tries some forearms on Andre, who shrugs it off and eliminates Jake because he’s a freaking BOSS. The Giant also lines up Hammer and Perfect in the corner and does ramming shoulderblocks. The #8 is Outlaw Ron Bass, who wouldn’t be seen in WWF again.

Shawn Michaels is out at #9 as Perfect backdrops Ax out. The pre-HBK skins the cat on Perfect and nearly eliminates Hennig but he holds on. Meanwhile Andre is choking out Ron Bass because he just doesn’t care about faces and heels, there is only Giant and others.

Right as Bushwhacker Butch is out at #10, Jake Roberts comes down with his snake and tosses the reptile into the ring, which scares Andre and he eliminates himself. Watching as a kid, I was probably happy. But watching now, I am pissed off because I was enjoying the swath of destruction bring cut by the Frenchman. He hung in way longer than I thought he might be physically able at nearly 15 minutes.

The Honky Tonk Man is in at #11 and Perfect goes right at him, probably still mad about losing the AWA title to Honky’s cousin. Hennig stays busy with #12 Tito Santana because he is like NXT Kevin Owens: he will fight anyone and everyone. Unlucky #13 is Bad News Brown as Ventura points out how the match is custom made for him. The unlikely duo of Butch and Tito team up to eliminate Honky. Marty Jannetty jumps in at #14 and he and Michaels gang up on Ron Bass and double dropkick him out of the ring.

The WWF champion Macho Man Randy Savage is #15 and the Summit erupts. He goes right after Bad News, who had some choice things to say about Elizabeth, implying she did “favors” for Jack Tunney which seemed a little odd. I don’t want to picture Jack Tunney in any sort of sexual situation, in fact I think Neil Cavuto of Fox News inherited Tunney’s title as least sexual living being when he died.

The Brain Busters are back to back at #16 and #17 with Arn Anderson out first right as Valentine is dumped by Savage. Arn forms an impromptu team with Savage to eliminate Michaels in what seems like a mild Macho heel tease. Savage has a nice 1 on 1 with Perfect which you can file under “feuds I wish happened” and everyone clears out a bit so Arn can hit the signature spinning spinebuster on Jannetty who gets eliminated by Tully moments later.

Hulk Hogan is #18 and the place goes nuts again as Hulk goes on an elimination spree starting with Mr. Perfect who didn’t get enough fanfare for the brilliant work he did here. Tito Santana is eliminated off screen in something of an allegory for how unappreciated he was. Everyone is ganging up on Hogan while Bad News and Macho fight on the other side. I’d suggest guys treat Hogan like they did Andre earlier.

Bushwhacker Luke is #19 and he is in more than 4 seconds before he is finished, showing that he is not a teen losing his virginity. He goes after Hogan probably because he forgot that he and Luke are no longer crazy violent brawlers but instead comedy guys who lick people’s heads. Hogan puts the boots to Arn, which is funny because 7 years later Arn would beat Hogan by putting the heel to him. Koko B. Ware is out next at #20 and Hogan eliminates him within 2 minutes because he will not tolerate more than one black person in his ring. He also dumps Luke, showing his racism against New Zealanders.

The poor Warlord is out at #21 and is clotheslined out in 3 seconds in the WWF’s first attempt to have a guy set THAT record. The Brain Busters are both eliminated by Hogan, because he’s not being booked strongly enough here. Macho Man and Bad News are fighting along the ropes so Hogan comes over and dumps them both, and Savage is pissed off that his friend would betray him like that. They hammer home that it is every man for himself, and claim Hogan did this by accident but Macho is not a man to be reasoned with until Elizabeth comes down to restore order. She eventually does and the Megapowers shake hands, but not the special handshake. As Savage leaves, Big Bossman is #22 and we have a showdown. It is particularly notable because Bossman-Hogan was one of the biggest money making house show programs Hulk ever had in WWF which is strange since Bossman never came close to those heights again. Hulk gets taken down with a stiff piledriver and Gorilla claims Hogan’s been out there  a half hour as Jesse says he’s been there for 5 minutes. In truth, it was 9 minutes. When Akeem is out at #23, the commentary team smells conspiracy with DiBiase to get numbers together. In a shocking moment reminicent of Daniel Bryan in 2015, Hogan is unceremoniously tossed fair and square! Holy crap!

At this point, you wonder who will win this with Savage, Hogan and Andre all gone. But because Hogan is such a sportsman, he pulls the rope down to eliminate Bossman after future Megamaniac partner Brutus Beefcake is #24. Ventura calls out this cheating and Gorilla says “so what” which infuriates Jesse. The Red Rooster is #25 and no amount of cock-a-doodle-do is getting this crowd out of its coma. The Barbarian is #26 and Akeem squashed Rooster with a splash then does a little Dusty Rhodes dance to celebrate.

Big John Studd is #27 to a notably mixed reaction. He had been back for a very short time and was signed mainly to keep him away from the competition as Jim Crockett Promotions discussed bringing in Studd in late 1988. Studd only cares about taking on Akeem and shoves Rooster when he tries to help. Hercules is out at #28 and Studd doesn’t want his help. The returning Rick Martel is #29 and gets a big response from the ladies but Studd brushes him off too. I think Martel would have been an interesting choice to win this thing, but WWF made a habit of under-utilizing Martel in his post-Strike Force years.

The final entrant is of course the Million Dollar Man, who is jumped by Hercules because everyone knows the 13th amendment keeps DiBiase from taking Hercules as a slave. DiBiase whips Rooster to the corner and he does a Flair Flip over and out. The Barbarian and DiBiase also eliminate Hercules and Beefcake, but DiBiase goes against all game theory by saving Akeem from Martel. I don’t care if you bought him off, eliminate the fat guys, Ted. Barbarian gets a powerslam and flying headbutt on Martel, but misses a move and is dropkicked and pushed over and out.

The Final Four: Rick Martel, Akeem, Ted DiBiase, and Studd. Martel gets booked like an idiot babyface and he tries a crossbody on the 470 lb guy and is caught and tossed. The crowd isn’t too invested in Studd as the one babyface against two heels teaming up on him. Akeem works Studd over as Ted directs traffic, actually calling the spots out loud. Pretty funny stuff. Akeem goes for an avalanche and connects but goes back to the well and Studd pulls DiBiase in front to absorb the blow. Akeem is then hit with one of the weakest forearms in the history of western civilization but it is enough to send him over the top and out.

He's NOT going to Wrestlemania!
He’s NOT going to Wrestlemania!

The Million Dollar Man offers some cash to Studd who visibly declines. Studd toys with him for a few minutes and actually busts out a double underhook suplex and then a gut wrench suplex, actually stealing from DiBiase’s moveset. Studd tosses Ted with ease, then Virgil is in and he gets mauled too. So yeah, Big John Studd wins the 1989 Royal Rumble. Why? I don’t know. He didn’t even WRESTLE at Mania 5, he was a ref. I know he got sick, but he didn’t have any connection after being away for two years and suddenly becoming a good guy. And now for the awards:

Three Stars:

1st: Andre the Giant – Yes, he was reduced to being squashed by Ultimate Warrior by the end of the year and he was extremely limited in terms of mobility but he was fantastic in this match. Just a lot of fun to watch here and probably his last really good WWF performance.

2nd: Mr. Perfect – He went after everyone and had his hands in many pots and also was in the match for 8+ minutes longer than anyone else. Bonus points for his selling of Andre’s punches.

3rd: Ted DiBiase – His buying of the 30th spot set up some intrigue as to the result, but like always Ted didn’t quite get that win on the biggest stage.

John Morrison Award, for longest appearance with no eliminations: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine at 19:52. After all, it takes him at least 15 minutes just to get warmed up.

Summary: Some fun moments here with Andre and the Megapowers tension, but this Rumble had some long term implications. The choice of Studd is very strange and they will likely never take a risk like that on a Rumble winner who never had crowd support. At least people were behind Roman Reigns in the Shield. The elimination of the two biggest babyfaces with 15+ minutes left won’t be seen again because it killed the crowd. Not good, but not bad, so thumbs are firmly in the middle for this show.

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