365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
It’s January, and that means it’s Royal Rumble season!
It is appointment viewing for me every year, no matter whether I have been following WWE from week to week or haven’t watched in months. I watched the very first one — not the pay-per-view in 1989, but the original Rumble that aired free on USA in 1988 — and was enraptured. I think I wore out my VHS copy of the ’89 Rumble, which was used for background and time cues while re-enacting my own Rumbles with action figures.
That led to one problem with regard to this project, though … I was committing to only watching matches I had never seen, and I’ve seen every Rumble.
Or so I thought!
While doing research and filling out my spreadsheet calendar for January, I discovered a Rumble held at a house show at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 1994, five days before the Rumble pay-per-view took place that year. Some hearty individual toted a Camcorder (after all, remember, this was 1994) into the Garden and recorded the whole thing. You can find it on YouTube or Dailymotion with some shrewd searching.
No title shots were on the line in this match but the stage was set for the Rumble pay-per-view, where the winner of the Rumble match would face the winner of the Yokozuna–Undertaker match for the WWF Title. Meanwhile, a long-simmering storyline of sibling rivalry had been playing out between Bret Hart and Owen Hart.
Howard Finkel announces this as the New York Rumble, and the proclamation that a Rumble match is taking place appears to take the Madison Square Garden crowd by surprise.
In several ways, this serves as a dry run for the Rumble on pay-per-view a few days later. The final four, for example, is almost the same: with Fatu, Bret, and Shawn Michaels in at at the end. Owen Hart joins them, in a spot that would be filled by Lex Luger five days later.
The other most significant harbinger to the pay-per-view Rumble is an early run of eliminations by Diesel, who enters at number one and tosses three straight foes before running into Scott Steiner. Watch during this portion of the match as Diesel waylays Steiner before he can even get into the ring, steps over the top rope and pursues him to the floor; that’s an elimination, but it goes unnoticed or unacknowledged or both. Crush and Randy Savage, who have their sights set on a meeting at WrestleMania, lock horns in the Garden and, in both Rumbles, Crush tosses Macho Man.
For me one of the biggest highlights is the seemingly random selections who fill out the 30-man field. As I mentioned on Day 13, this era of WWF is one of my biggest gaps as a fan and I forgot that certain mainstays of the 1980s are still hanging around on the roster at this point: Iron Mike Sharpe, Virgil, Jim Powers, Rick Martel … I’m looking at all of you.
A few other highlights that stood out for me:
–The 1-2-3 Kid (who you may know better as X-Pac) and Diesel have a nice exchange early in the match.
–Crush looks strong throughout his approximate 15 or so minutes in the match, ousting Savage, Bam Bam, and generally looking strong until a dropkick from Bret Hart sends him to the floor.
—Johnny Polo (aka Raven) makes an appearance and does a good bit of flying in the ring; note a heedless-looking sternum-first collision into the turnbuckles not long after he enters.
–Michaels and former partner turned nemesis Marty Jannetty going at one another like The Chicken and Peter Griffin when HBK enters the ring at #29.
—Doink delivering a suplex to Bart Gunn near the ropes that dumps Bart out to the floor.
The major story here, though, is the one between the two Hart brothers. Despite all of their issues, Owen saves his big brother from elimination on several occasions. Once the Rumble is down to the final two — Owen and Fatu — Samu comes out to support his fellow Headshrinker while Bret heads back down ringside to cheer on Owen. The final few minutes play out more like a standard wrestling match than the end of a battle royal, but the action is solid, with Owen ultimately prevailing.
—Bushwhacker Butch makes the most of his appearance. He’s the second guy who gets fed to Diesel in the early going. He gets a big reaction from the crowd on his entrance, gets in a comic-relief spot, bumps hard for Diesel to make the big man look strong, gets eliminated, and works the gimmick all the way up the entrance aisle … all in less that two minutes.
—Adam Bomb is in this match, albeit briefly. I always thought the WWF could have done more with him during his run there.
—Sgt. Slaughter makes a surprise appearance in what marks his first match since September of 1992, according to Cagematch. A couple of years earlier, in the 1992 Rumble, Slaughter gets eliminated on a facefirst bump into the turnbuckles, hitting the post and tumbling to the floor. He does the same spot, to varying levels of aesthetic success, four times in this one.
Final Rating: 5.8
Even a bad Royal Rumble is still pretty fun to watch at least once, and this one is better than some of the offerings that made pay-per-view. The end helps, as Owen was such a phenomenally talented and well-liked performer. Seeing him win here makes you wonder what might have been had he gotten more of an opportunity during this era of WWF wrestling.
Got a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.