365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.

Like I said a couple of entries ago, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Royal Rumble and watched them all. As a kid, that meant dad ordering the pay-per-view and watching it together.

So, here’s the thing. I remember ordering the 1991 Rumble. I remember the Rumble match. I remember Virgil finally decking Ted DiBiase. I remember Sgt. Slaughter winning the title. And while I’m sure I saw the opening tag between the Rockers and the Orient Express, well …

Sooo, we’re correcting that and watching this match, which I’ve seen repeatedly celebrated as one of the best undercard matches at a Rumble. Will it live up to the hype? Will it jog some dormant memory? Let’s find out!

You can watch this match on Peacock, by the way.

The Context

Even though they never won tag titles (aside from that one phantom run), Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty have established themselves as one of the most popular teams in the promotion. Since jumping there from the AWA, the Rockers have feuded with the Brain Busters, the Twin Towers, the Rougeaus, and the Powers of Pain. By this point, they’ve been wrestling the Orient Express off and on for almost a year — dating back to WrestleMania VI. That rivalry’s been going on so long that this is actually the second version of the Express to go against the Rockers. After Akio Sato left the WWF, he was replaced in the team by Kato — aka Paul Diamond, a former longtime partner of Tanaka who wore a mask as part of his new gimmick. Mr. Fuji remains the Orient Express’ manager. In fact, as Badd Company, Tanaka and Diamond beat the Rockers for the AWA Tag Titles in 1988.

The Match

Looking back, and seeing matches like this, it’s rather astonishing that the WWF never gave Shawn and Marty a run atop the division. All four guys get their chance to shine in this match, but make no mistake, this is really a showcase for the Rockers. The match lasts almost 20 minutes and Shawn and Marty have the advantage for the vast majority of it, although there is a prolonged stretch where Tanaka and Kato give Michaels a good pummeling centered around his throat and neck.

If you like double-team moves in tag matches, or exchanges involving all four wrestlers, then this is the match for you. After Shawn spends a brief period of time taking the heat, escaping trouble with a sweet moonsault press, the four men participate in a highly-entertaining series of spots involving Irish whips out of opposite turnbuckles, before the Express bail out to the floor and take stereo cross body dives off the top rope from the Rockers.

The match ends with all four men in the ring at the same time. Tanaka and Kato try to clothesline Michaels with a belt, and Shawn leaps forward, with the contact pulling Tanaka and Kato forward to crack heads. That’s the exact same spot you can see late in the Anything Goes Match between the Fabulous Ones and the Moondogs, by the way.

The finish is pretty outstanding. The Rockers set up for a Rocket Launcher on Kato, but Tanaka intervenes to break it up and Shawn crashes to the floor from the top rope. The Express isolate Marty, with Kato slingshotting him into a knife-edge chop by Tanaka. They go to repeat the move, but this time Shawn saves the day, decking Tanaka, who doubles over as Kato unknowingly slingshots Jannetty, who catches Tanaka in a sunset flip for the three count.

Random Thoughts

–These guys won me over when the Express jump the Rockers while they’re mugging to the crowd and, shortly thereafter, hit Shawn with a double back drop. As mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a good back drop.

–Most times that Shawn gets in trouble in the match, it occurs when the referee is otherwise occupied either ushering Marty out of the ring or trying to keep him from entering the ring. No wonder Michaels eventually puts him through that window!

–The way this match is filmed seems almost polar opposite to current WWE production, and I definitely prefer the way this is presented. It’s nice to be able to watch a match without a bunch of needless camera cuts or zooms.

Roddy Piper joins Gorilla Monsoon on commentary for this show. I’ve always enjoyed Piper’s commentary work and he adds quite a bit to the presentation here, putting over the skill, talent, and athleticism of all four competitors. On the few occasions where the action slows down and someone gets put in a hold, Piper is quick to explain how the hold is effective and the strategy behind it. Everything that an analyst on commentary should do, in my opinion…

–Kato and Tanaka bust out a leapfrog stun gun on Michaels, a good dozen years before Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin made it one of their key moves during their run as Team Angle aka World’s Greatest Tag Team.

Final Rating: 8.9

I definitely have never seen this match before, because the product produced by these four here is unforgettable. I’ve read and heard a ton of hype for this match and it definitely delivers. I loved this match. They go almost 20 minutes and I could have watched them battle for another 10. I talked before about the difference between “effective work” in a match and “workrate” (how I define it, anyway). Placement on the card also can help, or hurt, a match, and in this case, this tag battle is the perfect match in the perfect place on the card. An already eager pay-per-view crowd is whipped into a frenzy by this highly entertaining tag match. It’s also worth noting how atypical this match was for WWF, especially in this era. A nearly 20-minute match, worked at this pace, with this many big moves and high spots just didn’t happen in this company. Push it to the number one spot on my rankings, which will be coming out at the end of each month, by the way.

Here’s the complete, ongoing list of matches in this project.

What’s Next

We head to Nashville.

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.

3 thoughts on “365 Wrestling, Day 19: Rockers vs. New Orient Express (WWF Royal Rumble, 1/19/91)

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