1992 Royal Rumble match

Royal_Rumble_1992

The 1992 Royal Rumble match is my favorite match of all time for a lot of reasons but the main one is the concept that it was a partial history of the wrestling business crammed into an hour. There are 15 WWE Hall of Famers out of 30 and that number will be higher when the Undertaker is inducted and if deserving guys like Rick Martel and Demolition Smash (Repo Man here) get their due. Back in the 1950s, there was a documentary reality show called This Is Your Life where a guest would be taken through their entire life with appearances by people from their past. This was an episode of “Ric Flair: This Is Your Wrestling Life” that took place in Albany, NY on that January night.

The WWF title was on the line for the winner because of the Hulk Hogan vs Undertaker series from Survivor Series and This Tuesday in Texas. Hulk dropped the belt at the former due to Ric Flair interference, and won it back in Texas through some blatant cheating in front of WWF President Jack Tunney. The little 30 second promos by most of the participants before this match because of the wild ride the audience goes on: From the quieter but over the top intensity of Sid Justice, to the Berzerker yelling like a maniac, to Flair and Perfect boasting, to Repo Man doing whatever it is he does, to Jake Roberts going all philosophical on what he’ll do with Randy Savage.

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My favorite Heenan line of the night

Before the match, Howard Finkel introduces negative charisma rated Jack Tunney to say a few words. Earlier in the night on a dark match, they had Tunney come out and reverse a decision in favor of the babyface so he wouldn’t be booed as badly which didn’t work all that much. Ol’ Jack stumbles over his words as usual and declares may the best man win, and Bobby Heenan is groaning for the match to start as he is very nervous about his client Flair’s number. As the WWF president walks off, the Brain says that Tunney “has been the best president since Noriega.” As an aside, Tunney was actually forced out in 1995 without military intervention like in Panama and quickly forgotten in canon because he ran up some gambling debts on the WWF dime, according to a couple of shoot interviews.

The first guy in the match is the British Bulldog and some guy in the crowd hears the music and quickly lifts his Union Jack sign. The #2 man is the Million Dollar Man. As he walks down with Sherri, Heenan yells “look at them” as the camera is mostly on Sherri’s chest. As DiBiase takes control, Gorilla reminds everyone that Rick Martel has the longevity record from last year. The Bulldog goes over the top but only to the apron and as Ted celebrates he turns and Bulldog clotheslines him out. Guess if you want to see Ted shine, watch the 1990 match.

As was revealed earlier in the show on the Network version, Ric Flair is #3 and Heenan just about dies on commentary. Fun that he passes DiBiase in the aisle, a man he kept from winning the NWA title and the only wrestler Flair does not interact with in this match. After Gorilla tells us that no one from #1-5 has been there at the end in Rumble history, he advises Brain to watch his language. Bulldog gets in a press slam and other power stuff on Flair in this meeting of two guys who would be on set in 1993 for the Shockmaster debacle. Brain tells us that he won’t be able to be objective as Gorilla asks when he’s ever been objective. Monsoon twists the proverbial knife by saying “how unfortunate for the executive consultant and the financial advisor, that they lose their jobs on a luck of the draw!”

This is not fair to Flair

Jerry Sags of the Nasty Boys is #4 and we will not see his partner Knobbs in this match because he was stabbed in a traffic incident in Peoria, Illinois not long before this event. The third guy in the car was IRS which sounds like quite an odd trio. Heenan wants Sags to do all the work to allow Flair to rest. Sags gets put over but he keeps his ample frame on the apron and decides to celebrate facing the crowd, allowing Bulldog to dropkick him in the back to bring it back to Bulldog and Flair. We hear our first “This is not fair to Flair!” from the Brain as Slick Ric lays in the chops like a “357 Magnum.”

Haku is in at #5 and after a shot at Bulldog just kicks Flair out of nowhere. The Nature Boy begs off and takes a powder on the floor for 5 seconds. Haku hits a stiff looking piledriver on Davey Boy and Ric takes advantage to sneak up on Haku, then hits the classic Flair knee drop. Brain asks where Perfect is and Gorilla informs him that managers are not allowed at ringside this year and that includes executive consultants as they are deemed pests.

The Bulldog backdrops Haku out just before entrant #6 Shawn Michaels gets to the ring for his faceoff with Flair. Just think, these guys will have a classic Wrestlemania match 16 years later at the end of Ric’s WWE career. Monsoon explains why everyone goes at Flair by saying “some guys just hate Flair more than others!” Shawn gets clotheslined over but stays in showing the prowess that would win him Rumbles in ’95 and ’96, and follows with Sugar Free Chin Music on the Bulldog, as sugar had not been added to the move yet to make it a finisher.

El Matador Tito Santana is #7 and he goes after Flair in a preview of a match that would be on the 2nd Monday Night Raw episode in 1993. Tito goes for a quick elimination as Heenan calls out for Perfect to get to the ring on commentary. My God, Heenan adds so much to this match that I could just listen to the audio and be into this. Michaels gets shots in on Tito and Brain says “he’s making guacamole out of El Matador” which gets a WILL YOU STOP? from Monsoon. Two classic Flair spots: back suplex on Tito, then a punch to the nuts on Bulldog which Heenan says he would do to his own grandmother because of what’s at stake. El Matador recovered and hit his flying forearm on Flair.

Former Heenan protege the Barbarian is #8 and Gorilla ominously says softly “Barbarian doesn’t like Flair” to which Brain replies “When I managed him he barely liked me! Why do you think they call him the Barbarian? He’s not a hairdresser on his day off, you know!” Flair is totally picking his spots here but at the same time taking shots at everyone when he has the chance. It’s pretty interesting to see him at this part of the match, when things have settled and the real heat is still a ways away.

The very troubled Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich is #9. He was arrested 3 weeks after this event for falsifying prescriptions and the potential jail time was likely a factor in his early 1993 suicide. For now we’re back in ’82 and ’84 reliving times in World Class with the Nature Boy who does a Flair Flop after some discus punches. Heenan says someone should go to the ring with a crescent wrench which seems like it violates the spirit of the rules since a guy like Hacksaw Duggan has to leave his 2X4 outside. But it IS a Rumble.

Monsoon ridicules Repo Man’s act as he sneaks down at #10 and takes his time coming into the ring. Speaking of ridiculous, Tito hits a high crossbody on the Barbarian in the middle of the ring for no real reason. Meanwhile, Ric is still in his 80s glory in the corner trading chops with Kerry.

It’s back to the 1970s for #11 as Greg Valentine renews acquaintances with Naitch. They teamed in the Carolinas in the late 70s and Hammer’s dad Johnny was in the same plane crash as Flair in 1975. The two trade chops before Bulldog comes over to hold Flair for the Hammer as Heenan declares that this is not fair to Flair. Repo Man takes the 2nd nut shot of the match after none in 4 prior Rumbles and HBK manages to avoid elimination despite his head and shoulders hanging way off the apron.

Some boos greet Nikolai Volkoff at #12 as he is filling in for Marty Jannetty who in reality had some personal demons at the time, but his absence was more explained by this, the famous Barber Shop angle and another of Heenan’s great commentary moments: “Jannetty tried to dive through the window to escape!” Gorilla talks about how it’s been rough for those Russians, which is pretty true. In August 1991 there was a failed military coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Soviet Union officially disbanded on December 25. And Volkoff is dumped right away, so things aren’t getting better. Fun exchange as Heenan that this isn’t right but Gorilla says it’s fair. Brain says “not to Flair!” Figure four by the Hammer on Flair in the middle gets the crowd going even more.

Another old friend greets Flair at lucky #13 in the Big Bossman. When J.J. Dillon got legitimately hurt at the first War Games on the 1987 Great American Bash tour, Ray Traylor joined up with the Horsemen under a mask with the name War Machine which is a nice KISS song and a better AC/DC song. Repo Man tosses Valentine so no big run for him this time, and Repo gets the same treatment with more air from the Bossman. The Brain wants to go to ringside as Bulldog is punching Flair in a corner mount, but then Flair gets out of it and backdrops Bulldog out after a long run. The Tornado comes by and meets with the same fate.

Hercules is a rare guy in this match in that I can’t find any connection between him and Flair. When he comes at #14, HBK and Tito take each other out, setting up their Wrestlemania 8 opener. Herc goes after Flair and Brain wonders why as Gorilla says “maybe [Hercules] remembers how you treated him.” Yeah trying to sell me into slavery would kind of piss me off a little and I would hold a grudge. Another funny Flair moment as he high-fives Barbarian, then turns around and chops him before trying to beg off. He gets a press slam as punishment. Barbarian has Flair on the ropes, but Hercules sneaks in and wipes out Barbarian, then Bossman does the same to Herc while falling over himself, but he hangs on. So it’s one on one for the Nature Boy and Bossman, and the latter gets a clothesline and that Bossman side kick to the head. And then we get a continuation of a Rumble tradition that annoys me: guys who try a crossbody when the guy is on the ropes. Not only does Bossman go over, he nearly decapitates himself on the bottom rope for good measure. With Flair alone, Heenan jumps the gun and declares Flair the winner and champion of the world before Gorilla corrects him.

Crowd goes insane when Roddy Piper is #15 as he won the IC title from the Mountie earlier and was looking to make it a double. He also has a long history with Flair before and after 1992. Flurry of manic Piper offense prompts Heenan to say this isn’t fair to Flair. Outside, Piper with a clothesline and rams Ric’s head to the railing. Back in corner mount punches is countered by an inverted atomic drop attempt, but Piper shifts out of the way and does the Piper two finger eye poke. A rare gem is next as we see an airplane spin, followed by a sleeper.

He keeps the hold on as Jake the Snake Roberts is #16. Gorilla and Bobby are masterful saying his name in unison. Jake just chills in the corner inviting Piper over, but attacks once Piper stops paying attention. Heenan thanks Jake for helping Flair. Then Jake helps Flair to his feet, only to give him the short arm clothesline and then he signals for the DDT to a shocking face pop. Holy crap, this shows how over Flair was: the most evil guy ever, early 1992 Jake the Snake is getting CHEERS to put down the self-professed Real World’s Champion. No DDT  however as Piper clotheslines Jake and Heenan thanks the Hot Rod saying “it’s not a skirt, its a kilt!” Figure four by Flair on Jake is broken up by Piper and Brain takes it all back saying “why you no good creep, you skirt wearing freak!” So funny and so manic by Bobby.

The 1988 winner Hacksaw Jim Duggan is #17 and he goes after Flair. At this point, Gorilla starts praising Flair to high heaven saying that his performance cannot be denied as Naitch gets a back suplex on Roddy. They get to trading shots again and Heenan declares once again that this is not fair to Flair.

IRS goes right after Flair at #18 because he knows that Slick Ric might have failed to pay his share. Which is a notion he was probably very early on, so let this serve as the warning shot. Duggan grabs IRS’s tie to lay in some punches as Brain thinks its his tongue. Hacksaw saves his future Legends House pal Hot Rod from elimination as well. Gorilla notes that Jake the Snake looks paranoid, as when the buzzer goes he keeps checking to see if the Macho Man is next.

Superfly Jimmy Snuka is #19 and hits Duggan so he can get his shots in on Flair. The two had a feud in the Crockett territory in 1979/80 with Flair as the babyface and Snuka the heel.

As noted on commentary, the Undertaker got a bad break at #20 since a stipulation was that Hogan and Undertaker would draw from 20-30 since they were the last two champions. The Deadman takes one shot at Snuka and he goes flying out. Wow, Superfly shouldn’t cross Taker. Good thing he wasn’t the District Attorney in Allentown in 1983. Flair gets too close and is choked by Taker, softening him up for their 2002 Wrestlemania match. Gorilla advises Brain to run down and throw the towel in, though that wouldn’t help since he’s gotta go over the top. Taker also blindly connects on a kick to Duggan’s little Hacksaws, making it three low blows.

Flair trying to “lift” Undertaker

The Macho Man Randy Savage at #21 sends Jake Roberts sliding out of the ring. After sprinting down, he can’t find the Snake and Undertaker works him over while Roberts slithers back in. Short arm clothesline is ducked and Savage hits a knee on Jake. Classic Savage double axe handle from the top followed by a knee to the back ends the Snake’s night, but Savage wants more. Macho jumps over the top rope, eliminating himself in what was clearly something he didn’t think about. Undertaker is right there to drag him back in, but Savage goes under the ropes back out as you can almost hear the wheels turning as commentary is trying to justify Savage going back in as Vince is probably screaming in their headsets. Brain says you have to be propelled out, but that wasn’t the case for Andre the Giant in 1989. Oh well, whatever. Flair hits Undertaker in the balls for #4 on the night, and Savage and Flair also begin what would become a long rivalry.

The Berzerker at #22 is a real threat in this match since his entire gimmick was dumping people over the top rope and taking countout wins. In theory, this would be the only way he could win the title since you can’t do it on a countout. Heenan actually advocates “weaseling your way out” of rough situations in this match. Piper and Undertaker have a go in the corner: what a program that would have been with Hot Rod’s crazy promos set against an unstoppable big guy. Flair tries to suplex Savage out of the ring, but takes a suplex back in from the apron.

Virgil is #23 as Heenan calls him a thief and wonders how many bags he’s been through in the back. He and Piper slug it out only a year after the Hot Rod’s influence helped him break away from the Million Dollar Man. There are no friends here, something Virgil probably knows all too well. Undertaker continues to maul Flair in the corner.

More dregs with Col. Mustafa at #24 though I guess he is technically a former WWF champion. He and General Adnan walk down slowly as Heenan declares it a great battle plan and says that’s why Hussein made him a general. Back to the files of “feuds I wish happened”: Savage and Undertaker are going at it. They only really matched up with Jake the Snake as the conduit. Blooper for Gorilla as refers to Ric Flair as Rick Martel twice.

And here comes our 1991 MVP Martel, right on cue at #25. He wastes little time lining up against the Nature Boy. They have more history than you might think: they had an excellent match in Japan in 1985 in a matchup of NWA vs AWA champions. The very next night the two TEAMED UP against Japanese legends Genricho Tenryu and Jumbo Tsuruta. Only in Japan. A fireman’s carry can’t get Flair out, but Col. Mustafa is eliminated on the other side.

Most of the crowd goes predictably nuts for Hulk Hogan at #26, which doesn’t include the guy opposite the hard camera holding the “Hulk Who?” sign. The Brain starts bargaining with God, saying if Flair wins he won’t say or do anything bad again. Just terrific stuff. Hulk clotheslines Undertaker out to a large pop, then Berzerker follows and the t-shirt is torn off so he can choke Martel with it, a probably unintentional callback to the prior year when the Model did that to him. In the background, Virgil and Hacksaw exit together.

Skinner is #27 and Heenan calls for another drink. Yep, the Skinner gimmick would drive anyone to drink, though it’s just Brain kvetching over Flair again. Piper is on the ropes with his boots at Martel’s head and just kind of shakes them, prompting the Model to do a hilarious sell. This series has really increased my appreciation for Ricky Martel. Slick Ric whips Hogan to the corner, lets out a wooooo, and is clotheslined. “It’s not fair to Flair that he’s still in there,” Heenan remarks.

Former champion Sgt. Slaughter is #28 and upon his arrival, Martel dumps Skinner and does the “look at my body” thing with his hands. Piper and Hogan start slugging it out and we’ve taken the DeLorean back to 1985. And just think, now Hogan is more radioactive than plutonium after his racial comments. Gorilla tells us Flair broke Martel’s record and Heenan says they should just give Ric the title.

SID!
SID!

When I was 12 years old, I LOVED Sid. Among my wrestling figures, he was the standard babyface world champion because there were no softball leagues or other distractions. When you watch Sid here, there’s no question why a kid would love this monster. Throat thrust to IRS followed by a Horsemen reunion with Flair as Sid gets revenge for all those times he had to wear that goofy tuxedo in the background. The Nature Boy gets Sid down using the hair, but Sid f’ing kips up and smacks Flair and holy crap that is awesome. I will mark out for that until the end of time and now it’s immortalized in GIF form.

No doubt who #30 is says Gorilla, though Brain thinks Jack Tunney might have some tricks, but it is the Warlord. Flair rolls out of the ring and pulls Hulk under so he can take a vertical suplex on the outside, and back inside Ric eats a big boot. Sid whips Slaughter to the corner and he bumps up and over at about 175 MPH. Piper is on the mat but grabs IRS by the tie and teeters him over the top in a neat little spot. Sid and Hogan gang up on the Warlord because there’s only room for two muscleheads in this ring. Piper tries to hip toss my new hero Rick Martel over but Sid casually walks over and pushes them both out. Sid worked this match like a genius, which belies his reputation.

The Final Four is a doozy of a list: Hogan, Sid, Flair and Savage. Any one of them could win and I remember being so excited watching live because any of them would have felt right as the champion to me. Hogan and Flair are on one side, Sid and Savage on the other but Flair comes across with a knee on Sid, who bumps into Macho Man on the ropes and we’re down to three.

Flair returns to Hogan, who no sells the chops. A whip to the corner gets an ultra-safe Flair flip because God forbid he fell wrong since it would have to be the mother of all audibles. A punch sends Flair over the top onto the apron as Sid is just watching this like a genius waiting to strike. He sees his opening and dumps Hogan from behind.

That right there is the perfect example of Royal Rumble Game Theory. Sid sees two guys there, and you would think he would help Hogan his friend. But at this point Hogan is the much stronger of the two opponents so it is in Sid’s interest to ditch him to face a weakened Flair. So it is perfectly rational thing to do for a guy who would be renamed “Sycho” weeks later. The problem is he spent too much time yelling at Hogan, who grabbed his hand and somehow Sid could not get away. Together, Hogan and Flair eliminate Sid Justice and it is the Nature Boy who gets an improbable win, while Heenan yells YES several times like a proto-Daniel Bryan. The Brain leaves to meet Flair and Perfect by ringside as Slick Ric got out of Dodge before Hulk and Sid had it out in the ring. While I love Sid, his instincts aren’t always good as he’s supposed to be the heel but there he is pointing to the aforementioned “Hulk Who?” sign and preening for the crowd’s affection. I can forgive it because I think people were really starting to tire of Hogan by this time and he knew it and that’s why he was gone after Wrestlemania 8. Plus Hogan is a monster hypocrite after eliminating his friends constantly in the prior three years. Sid gets caught on the live mic saying “I’ll kill yer!” in a classic moment.

Smoking is prohibited in all promo areas
Smoking is prohibited in all promo areas

In the back, Flair cuts a promo where he puts over the WWF title as the only title that proves you are #1 and Brain and Perfect celebrate behind him. In a bizarre and hilarious non-sequitur, Gene Okerlund yells at someone to put their cigarette out. And Slick Ric gon’ party all night long. Wooooo!

Awards time:

1st star: Nikolai Volkoff Ric Flair – This is his ultimate WWF performance from his 1991-93 run and outing that incorporated pretty much his entire career into one match. It’s a shame Steamboat had left 3 months earlier to go back to WCW because then it would have been even more complete.

2nd star: Sid Justice – Looked like a million bucks here but his general flakiness and the steroid crackdown really kept him from turning this into something huge.

3rd star: Shawn Michaels – Nice little glimpse at the future here and he was pretty active in his time in the match.

John Morrison Award: IRS, for his 27:01 run where the only memorable thing was when he was eliminated in part because he wore a tie.

WWE Hall of Famers: 15 – DiBiase, Flair, Michaels, El Matador, Texas Tornado, Valentine, Volkoff, Piper, Roberts, Duggan, Snuka, Savage, Mustafa, Hogan, Slaughter

Deceased: 6 – British Bulldog, Texas Tornado, Big Bossman, Hercules, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage

Summary: The booking is pretty much perfect. The commentary is the best and probably the funniest you will ever hear. It’s got 15 HOFers at a variety of stages of their respective careers. It’s everything you want the Royal Rumble to be and it is highly unlikely that any Rumble in the future will score as highly across all metrics as this one. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, seven thumbs up.

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