WWF Royal Rumble 1996
Sunday, January 21
Selland Arena – Fresno, CA
In a match occurring on the Free For All preshow, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley. WWF president Gorilla Monsoon stepped in after Droese was pinned and reversed the referee’s decision, disqualifying Helmsley for using brass knuckles to knock Droese out. As a result, Droese won the right to be entry number 30 in the Royal Rumble match, while Helmsley had to enter first.
Sunny, in a bathtub drinking wine, says tonight’s show includes material of a graphic nature and viewer indiscretion, uh discretion, is advised. Well … OK then.
The intro package follows which the WWF production crew always really excelled at. The theme: Which WWF SuperStars will show they have “the heart of a champion” tonight?
Commentators: Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect
Match #1: “Double J” Jeff Jarrett vs. Ahmed Johnson
Result/Analysis: Johnson via DQ (6:39). Jarrett smashes his guitar over Johnson’s head coming off the top turnbuckle for the lame finish. Johnson was “undefeated” coming in so wouldn’t a clean win against the soon-to-be departed (contract dispute) Jarrett have been the correct booking decision? The match came about after Jarrett smashed his musical record of “With My Baby Tonight” over Johnson’s head one month prior at In Your House V: Seasons Beatings so maybe the ending to the match makes sense because of that. Johnson would be hospitalized with a concussion from the guitar shot. At least Johnson didn’t screw up. He held a reputation for being a sloppy worker.
Todd Pettengill interviews Diesel. “Big Daddy Cool” is confident he’ll win the Rumble – – – despite Shawn Michaels’ return and Vader’s debut – – – and then go on to win the WWF Championship at WrestleMania. But Diesel, yeah, he isn’t pleased The Undertaker is the #1 Contender and gets “his” title shot tonight. Ah, the foreshadowing … Diesel was a tweener on his way out the door in 1996.
Match #2: WWF Tag-Team Championship
The Bodydonnas [Skip & Zip] w/ Sunny vs. The Smoking Gunns [Billy & Bart] (c)
Result/Analysis: The Smoking Gunns via pinfall (11:14) when Bart pins Skip with a small package. This is a formulaic tag-team match but it has good wrestling plus the Sunny factor, whereby she teases the Gunns and feigns an injury to get The Bodydonnas an advantage. Skip, of course, is the late Chris Candido while Zip is Tom Prichard, formerly of The Heavenly Bodies. Each was an accomplished wrestler and together they carried heat. The Gunns are an undderrated tag-team historically but people mostly forget because Billy’s career reached greater heights with DX and in a notable singles career. Billy, as seen here, is the best of the four guys involved, and he plays face-in-peril as The Bodydonnas control the match. Bart needed Billy to be relevant. The Gunns win the match after they hit their finishing move, the sidewinder, and in a bit of confusion with all four guys in the ring. To hot shot the titles off The Gunns here would have been a mistake. Good booking.
Next, a compilation of Billionaire Ted’s “Wrasslin’ Warroom.” Vince McMahon just couldn’t resist.
Pettengill narrates a video package to recap the feud between Goldust and Razor Ramon.
Match #3: WWF Intercontinental Championship
Goldust w/Marlena vs. “The Bad Guy” Razor Ramon (c)
Result/Analysis: Goldust via pinfall (14:17) following outside interference by the 1-2-3 Kid. I’ve read various takes on this short-lived feud, and match, with most recappers trashing the angle and work rate of this match. Perhaps Scott Hall wasn’t too invested on his way out of the WWF in 1996 but Dustin Rhodes put forth 100-percent of himself into establishing the Goldust character/gimmick and it truly jumpstarted his career and bought him another 15+ years in the business. The entirety of the feud and this match, is a master class on ring psychology. Scott Hall’s work rate went down years later – – – alcohol abuse being front and center – – – but he plays his part in this storyline, drops the belt and lets Goldust dictate the direction, style and tempo of the match. The debut of Marlena in Goldust’s corner threw everyone off as to what the Goldust character was all about. In retrospect, this was a successful Vince Russo creation and Rhodes went out each night and sold the gimmick. Ramon loses the title but easily transitioned off Goldust and into a feud with the 1-2–3 Kid before his departure. The match is exactly what you’d think it would be. I enjoy it still today.
Dr. Jeffrey Unger updates Shawn Michaels’ health before the Rumble. This was total baloney.
Various SuperStars voice their opinions on the upcoming Rumble. We hear from Owen Hart, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Barry Horowitz, Vader, and Shawn Michaels.
Match #4: 30-Man Royal Rumble
* The winner earns a WWF Championship Match at WrestleMania XII *
Participants (in order of entry): Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Henry O. Godwinn, Mr. Bob Backlund, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Bob “Spark Plugg” Holly, King Mabel (w/ Sir Mo), Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Dory Funk Jr., Yokozuna, 1-2-3 Kid, Takao Omori, Savio Vega, Vader (w/ Jim Cornette), Doug Gilbert, Squat Teamer #1, Squat Teamer #2, “The King of Hearts” Owen Hart, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, Hakushi, “Native American” Tatanka, “The Portuguese Man O’ War” Aldo Montoya, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel, Kama “The Supreme Fighting Machine,” The Ringmaster (w/ “The Million-Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase), Barry Horowitz, Fatu, Isaac Yankem D.D.S., Marty Jannetty, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, and Duke “The Dumpster” Droese
Result/Analysis: “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (58:51) last eliminating “Big Daddy” Cool Diesel with a superkick. To no one’s shock and/or surprise, HBK wins the Royal Rumble for the second consecutive year. The Michaels push was in full-go and the collision course with Bret “Hit Man” Hart, that was years in the making, is at last upon us. Diesel was the only threat to HBK and naturally, he’s the runner-up. Vader was a beast and he dominated a lot of the scrub talent. In a rare instance during his WWF run, he was booked strongly. What happened to ruin his would-be push don’t ask me. Owen Hart also has a nice run in the match as he sticks around long enough to kick Michaels in the head to sell the HBK concussion storyline that had Michaels out for two months. As with every Royal Rumble, the interwoven history is thrown in such as The Bulldog and Michaels renewing their 1995 finish, Jannetty getting mixed up with Michaels to tease The Rockers tag-team days and Lawler hiding under the ring for 30 minutes for comic relief after Jake “The Snake” Roberts had him covered by his python. The overall field lacked considerable depth but 1995 was the worst it got. I watched in stages over several days, but this Royal Rumble Match was a decent, if only average, with the obvious winner in Michaels. Thus, there was no drama involved. That hurt.
Order of Elimination:
Yokozuna eliminates Backlund
Yokozuna eliminates Mabel
Roberts eliminates Omori
Vega eliminates Funk
Vader eliminates Roberts
Vader eliminates Gilbert
Vader eliminates Squat #1
Yokozuna eliminates Squat #2
Vader eliminates Vega
HBK eliminates Yokozuna and Vader
HBK eliminates 1-2-3 Kid
Owen Hart eliminates Hakushi
Tatanka eliminates Montoya
HBK eliminates Lawler
Diesel eliminates Tatanka
The Ringmaster eliminates Holly
Diesel eliminates Helmsley
Owen Hart eliminates Horowitz
Diesel eliminates Owen Hart
Bulldog eliminates Jannetty
Fatu eliminates The Ringmaster
Yankem eliminates Fatu
HBK eliminates Yankem
Diesel and Kama eliminate Droese
HBK eliminates Bulldog
Diesel eliminates Kama
HBK eliminates Diesel
Match #5: WWF Championship
The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer vs. Bret “Hit Man” Hart (c)
Result/Analysis: The Undertaker via disqualification (28:31) due to the outside interference of Diesel. Before the match, Diesel and The Undertaker exchanged blows to further their budding feud and Diesel, naturally, reappears to screw The Undertaker out of winning the WWF Championship following the tombstone piledriver. All of that made sense. I’ve read recaps of this match that ripped the work rate by both guys. It’s horeshit. In fact, while the match drags in spots and could have been trimmed up by 10 minutes, what this match was in essence, is two fan favorites wrestling a heel-ish match. And no one past, present or future could masterfully wrestle a style like that the way Bret Hart did, especially in this period leading up to WrestleMania XII and the dichtomy between he and Michaels to create edginess to their rivalry. “The Hit Man” gives everything he always did: the moveset, taking a beating, the ring psychology of working a specific area of his opponent – the left leg of The Undertaker in this case — all while showcasing the art of telling a story. Thus, the pundits from back in the day, were far off in their analysis. Hart even does everyone a favor by removing The Undertaker’s face mask/guard to make that absurdity a thing of the past. I see a match between two pro’s that’s worked to its pre-determined conclusion. It’s not a classic match, but it’s a purposeful match. Bret Hart was really becoming interesting.
The Verdict: The 1996 Royal Rumble has little historical significance. Shawn Michaels winning the Rumble Match was a foregone conclusion. Given that, Bret Hart remaining as WWF Champion had to also happen. Seeing as how The Undertaker couldn’t be booked to lose cleanly to Hart, the involvement by Diesel made sense to set up the match at WrestleMania on the undercard. Goldust needed to win the Intercontinental Title given his push and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) was headed out the door for WCW. The tag-team title match was good. The pay-per-view is average altogether but the WWF did the best they could with what little they had left in the cupboard. No fault there.