The 1990 Royal Rumble was the first PPV main event of the decade that would change the wrestling industry forever. The WWF was still making boatloads of money with Hogan on top and a variety of characters underneath. But during 1990 the Hulkster would take a hiatus to make another movie (Suburban Commando) so there was a need to build someone to take his place. With that in mind, let us examine the 1990 Rumble match which emanated from the brand new Orlando Arena (already since demolished) and hosted by the wildly underrated team of Tony Schiavone and Jesse the Body Ventura. This would be the only Rumble for Tony and the last for Jesse.
In the prior year’s match Ted DiBiase was alleged to have paid for #30, but this year openly drew #1. Earlier on, Mr. Perfect told us that he had the perfect number 30. The promos are pretty standard with nothing standing out other than Hulk Hogan wearing enough body oil to ignite if anyone nearby was smoking. Howard Finkel reads us the rules as the graphic calls him “The Fink” since everyone has to have gimmicks, even ring announcers.
The Million Dollar Man comes down as the first man and #2 is Koko B. Ware for an old time Mid-South vs Memphis matchup. Ted jumps Koko as he enters, which Ventura rightly calls a smart move. No time is wasted before we get the “black guys with hard heads” trope and Ware no sells his head to the turnbuckle. After some Dusty-style jive punches, Koko goes for a charge and DiBiase ducks to backdrop him out. The Birdman got some serious air on his elimination, earning his PPV payday for his 100 seconds.
Rocker Marty Jannetty is #3 and he gets jumped on his way into the ring as well. He flips 360 on a clothesline from DiBiase, but gets Ted in the stomach on a 2nd rope double axe handle. DiBiase does his own 360 flip to sell the blow. Like a complete buffoon, Marty goes for a high cross body with Ted against the ropes and flies over when DiBiase ducks. What the hell is the endgame there? You hit him and the momentum would likely carry you over too. #kayfabe
Crowd goes insane for #4 Jake the Snake who is in the 9th month of a feud with the Million Dollar Man, who injured him in storyline shortly after Wrestlemania 5. In reality Jake had some legal issues stemming from a fight and needed time off to deal with some actual injuries. They fight outside the ring, and a Million Dollar Dream is countered and DiBiase hits the ring post. Inside Jake gets a short arm clothesline and signals for the DDT. Attempt #1 is countered with a backdrop, and try #2 ends with DiBiase driving Jake into the corner.
Man King is #5 to make this a helluva trio. Roberts whiffs on the kneelift and Savage starts choking him in premature retaliation for getting bit by a cobra 21 months later. Ok, maybe not. The temporary dream team of DiBiase and Savage work over Jake and tie him in the ropes.
Rowdy Roddy Piper is #6 and runs down like a crazy person as the crowd goes batshit. He unties Jake from the ropes and Jesse asks why Piper would do that. And this is an opportunity for me to use game theory to explain wrestling tactics. With Roberts tied up, the Macho/Ted team can gang up on Piper since they are allied. Piper needed to untie him to give him a chance to even the odds, which they did, standing back to back and fighting off the Million Dollar Machos. Piper and Jake nearly hit each other before realizing they are allies, and the Hot Rod and Savage trade near eliminations.
Quality takes a drop at #7 as the Warlord lumbers down. Gotta keep the heels with the numbers advantage, as he goes at Piper while Million Dollar Macho beat on Jake.
Bret Hart is #8, and he has the worst “luck” in these, drawing #1 in ’88 and ’91 also. He ducks a DiBiase punch which lands on Savage. Piper and Hart form a real life Team Canada and clothesline Warlord. The Snake has the Million Dollar Man over the ropes, and Virgil is there for possible interference that is stopped. For some reason, managers are allowed to stay at ringside this year.
Bad News Brown is #9 and he goes after Bret Hart. Of course they have a history in battle royals dating to Wrestlemania 4, when Brown doublecrossed Hart to win in the end. The Snake makes a 3rd DDT try on DiBiase, but Savage clotheslines him out over the top in a nice looking elimination. Million Dollar Macho continues to stand tall as Macho saves Ted from Piper, and Jesse suggests that perhaps Savage was paid an honorarium to help.
Florida wrestling icon Dusty Rhodes and his polka dots are #10 and he goes after Savage, including a business-exposing elbow that missed by about 8 inches. Macho King sprints at Dusty and takes a bigger backdrop over the top rope than Koko did earlier. Sapphire is at ringside now to watch DiBiase and Rhodes battle and that triangle would intersect at Summerslam later that year.
My first star of the 1989 Rumble is #11. Escorted by Bobby Heenan, Andre the Giant is wearing his sad blue tights, the ones that always indicate to me that he’s entered the “hard to watch” part of his career. But these type of matches hid his limitations and he could still look like a monster, like when he effortlessly hip tossed Warlord over the top. Mr. Fuji is upset by this and gets on the apron, so Heenan grabs and pulls Fuji down! Manager fight! Fuji holds up his cane and that’s it for that. Ventura again shows a surprising lack of understanding of Royal Rumble game theory when he asks why Dusty would go after Andre. You get rid of the big guy, Jesse! Piper and Big Dust got rammed in the corner by the Giant.
Schiavone says “It’s the Red Rooster” at #12 in the most unexcited fashion possible. He would exit the WWF shortly after the Rumble. Meanwhile Piper dumps Bad News Brown, who retaliates by pulling Piper out from the outside. Tony and Jesse wonder if that will be allowed, but Piper and Bad News brawl to the back so it’s all academic. They would meet at Mania 6 where Piper would paint himself half black for God knows what reason.
Rooster gets put out to slaughter by Andre right as Demolition Ax is out at lucky #13. Ax actually gains an edge on Andre all by himself. Demolition had lost the tag titles to Andre and Haku weeks earlier on Superstars in a mild surprise. Haku joins the fray at #14, followed by Smash at #15 as WWF finally figures out that feuds can be strongly advanced in the Rumble match by ordering things correctly. Bret Hart tried a headbutt on Haku and hurt himself so that’s two different hard head tropes in one match. Later, Bret battles DiBiase in the corner making me wish they could have feuded. Have Ted hit Bret with a sack of Toonies or something. They did have matches in 1991, including one on Saturday Night’s Main Event. There was also a one off match in March 1989.
Akeem is #16 and goes after Andre without regard for heel solidarity. Demolition gang up to club Andre from behind to eliminate him to a huge reaction. Andre gets in a cheap shot on Ax from outside just to be a dick. Meanwhile, Bret Hart is eliminated off screen with no replay in a show of disrespect. The records say that Dusty put him out but I’ll never know with my own eyes.
Superfly Jimmy Snuka is #17 and hits Akeem with a weak high shot and the African dream is out after being in the final 3 each of the two prior years. Shame we didn’t get a Rumble showdown of African Dream vs American Dream, but we’ll always have this. Demolition goes after Snuka who is saved by Haku in a show of Pacific Islander pride. However, Fiji and Tonga go to war anyway. DiBiase hits a 2nd rope double axe handle on Rhodes showing that he is still bringing the offense after being in for over a half hour.
Noted cigarette smuggler Dino Bravo is out at #18 and he just sucks. He goes after Haku, probably because no one else wanted to be near Dino Bravo. DiBiase survives a double team from Demolition as his improbable run continues.
The Canadian Earthquake is #19 and quickly tosses Dusty Rhodes. The Canada part was dropped before Wrestlemania 6 in Toronto. The name did make some sense since John Tenta was actually from Surrey, British Columbia, a Canadian province with its share of earthquakes. I am willing to bet this wasn’t actually thought of when they came up with it, so I’ll handle the retconning on behalf of wrestling. Quake does his jump around thing to rattle the ring, and Haku takes the challenge. While watching this, I am struck by how much Dino Bravo sucks. Just saying.
Jim Neidhart is #20 and goes after Quake and is joined by at least four other guys. They get Quake in the corner, lift his legs and dump him over the top. Dino Bravo is late to help his friend because he sucks and shows disgust for not helping, when in reality he just sucks. DiBiase is still getting beat up, taking a double atomic drop from the unlikely duo of Smash and Neidhart.
Ultimate Warrior charges out at #21 and goes after Sucky Dino Bravo and does the Lord’s work by putting out Sucky Bravo. Warrior goes at Snuka, but here’s Haku again to help….then the two fight again. What is going on here? The island rivalry runs deep, I guess. Warrior and Anvil take turns chopping DiBiase, then start on each other.
Rick Martel is #22 and goes after Smash because he’s still pissed about losing the tag titles at Mania 4. He then goes at Neidhart because he remembers that he submitted Anvil to win the tag titles in the first place. Martel survives near elimination, while Haku hits a crescent kick to put Smash away.
Tito Santana is #23 and goes right after Martel, making me wonder why we never got a proper blowoff for the breakup of Strike Force. They did meet the finals of the 1989 King of the Ring back when they didn’t bother to tape the event or give it any credence. Virgil points out something to a referee, then holds the Million Dollar Man up to keep him in the ring in some very thoughtful cheating.
The Anvil is put out in a group scrum as Honky Tonk Man joins us at #24. The Warrior whips DiBiase into the ropes and follows to clothesline him over, ending Ted’s run at just shy of 45 minutes. Nice flashback when Warrior beats up Honky for a bit.
Crowd erupts when Hulk Hogan comes out at #25, and faces off with Jimmy Snuka. After sharing a quick memory of Wrestlemania 1, Superfly is sent packing. Haku falls victim to a big boot from the Hulk. It looks like Tito and Martel will exit together, but the Model hangs in to keep four in the ring. Martel starts choking Hogan with his own shirt. Shawn Michaels is #26 and is literally eliminated within a minute by the Warrior. Honky is tossed by Hogan, and Warrior wipes out Martel to bring us to the classic 1 on 1.
This showdown is pretty legendary and is remembered for being longer than it actually was. There was a clock in the arena so another guy was going to come in shortly. They had about 90 seconds to do this. Neither guy budges, and they do their usual criss-cross spot, followed by a double clothesline knocking each other out. When I see this, I am always amused that Heenan is still at ringside even if none of his guys is in the match. A future Heenan protege the Barbarian is in at #27, a good pick to viably take on these two guys. If built right, Barbarian could have been a viable opponent for Warrior in 1990 especially with Heenan’s backing.
Rick Rude crashes the ring about 20 seconds early for #28, probably to get the sides evened out a bit quicker. There’s probably not much for Rude to gain by waiting, so he might as well go now. If you want one reason why Hogan never wanted to work with Rude, the 10 minute mark of this video will tell you why. He hit him with the CORNER of a freaking wood chair! And not the phony balsa wood neither. And that it is why Rude was married to Warrior forever. Hulk is almost out, but Warrior comes to save him from Rude. How does Hulk repay him? By bumping Warrior out as Barbarian and Rude have him perched up. Ventura claims he did it on purpose, which is of course correct.
Hercules collects his payday at #29 and helpfully tosses Rude and Barbarian into Hogan’s boot. Mr. Perfect is in at #30 and he immediately helps his Minnesota chum Rude against Hogan. Hercules dumps the Barbarian in a battle of movie characters to bring us to the Final Four: Hogan, Hercules, Rude, and Perfect.
Perfect hits a nice dropkick on Hercules, and Rude follows up with a clothesline to bring us down to three men. Rude misses a forearm and hits Perfect, knocking him onto the apron. Hulk whips Rude to the rope just as Perfect is grabbing the rope to pull himself up, which causes Rude to go flying over. Very well timed spot and original.
Perfect hits Hulk with a big clothesline and announces “Now you’re gonna see it!” He then
ripped his tights to flash his weiner hits a Perfectplex for not much reason in this type of match. On the Wrestlefest arcade game, I would eliminate guys all the time with the Perfectplex but that’s not the rule here. After the Hogan no sell, he hits the slingshot which is Perfect’s kryptonite. The Hulkster gets the win by tossing Perfect over the opposite corner. Yeah, as if he needed the win here when he’s already the champion, but that is how things went in that time period. Hogan did not lose to heels.
1st star: Ted DiBiase – Yes, it is easier to shine when you get more time but he was a huge part of the match and put out a pretty great effort. It reminded people that DiBiase was still a top level star that could be credibly put into main events.
2nd star: Hulk Hogan – He didn’t need to win this but he worked hard with everyone he was put up against. I give him most of the credit for making the part with the Warrior work as well as it did.
3rd star: Canadian Earthquake – He was only in for two and a half minutes but made a huge impression in his WWF PPV debut. After dumping two guys quickly, it took a gang of five to get him out of there proving that they are paying attention to Royal Rumble game theory. Also, his “jumping around to cause the ring to shake” thing always makes me laugh.
John Morrison Award for most time with no eliminations: Bret Hart at 16:11 and he got no respect here with his elimination happening off camera.
Summary: The booking mechanics of each Rumble has gotten better with time as they have learned to build feuds instead of just having guys out there with no purpose. If WWF wasn’t so obsessed with sending crowds home happy, a better choice would have been for Mr. Perfect or Rick Rude to win this, especially Rude since he was going to be the summer challenger for Warrior and he needed added credibility since he had just lost a feud to Warrior in 1989. Mr. Perfect was a rumored choice at the time and would have worked but he ended up doing fine as IC champ during the spring and summer. Better Rumble than I remembered, and a tearful farewell to Tony and Jesse. We’ll leave the light on in 1993 WCW for you.