365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly 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.
Even as my interest in WWE has wavered as of late, I still parachute in for the Rumble, so I figure I had seen them all.
Or had I …
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.
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 Hart, 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. 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.
I got a kick out of the rather 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. Sgt. Slaughter also makes an appearance in what marks his first match since September of 1992, according to Cagematch.
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 and Bam Bam Bigelow, until a dropkick from Bret Hart sends him to the floor.
—Johnny Polo (aka Raven) makes an appearance and does his damnedest to sell for others. 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 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.
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. Owen was such a talented performer and seeing him win here makes you wonder what might have been had he gotten more of an opportunity during this era.
Back to Japan for a match featuring the fastest wrestler I’ve seen in person.