In 1987, the World Wrestling Federation was riding high thanks to devastating Jim Crockett’s first attempt at pay-per-view by putting direct competition against Crockett’s show with the “Survivor Series”. Not one to be satisfied, McMahon wanted to make it two for two a few months later by putting out his (and Pat Paterson’s) latest creation to compete against the NWA’s latest PPV – “The Bunkhouse Stampede” – the Royal Rumble match. This live show featuring the next evolution of the battle royal match was given away on the USA network for free – making the show and the match itself a complete success. But is it worthy of watching now? Lets find out.
January 24, 1988
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
1. Ricky Steamboat won against Rick Rude via disqualification
2. The Jumping Bomb Angels defeated The Glamour Girls in a Two Out of Three Falls match to become the WWF Women’s Tag Team champions
3. Jim Duggan won the inaugural Royal Rumble match
4. The Islanders defeated The Young Stallions in a Two Out of Three Falls match
Being Too Rude For His Own Good: “Ravishing” Rick Rude – the first “Jesse ‘The Boyd’ Award” winner – found himself reeling early as his brawl tactics were nullified by Steamboat’s toughness, striking, and ability to ground his opponent at any given time. Steamboat’s speed got the better of him when he bounced off the ropes, right into a knee to his abdomen. Rude spent the majority of the match’s second half in control by working over Steamboat’s midsection. The crowd refused to let “The Dragon” fade away, rallying behind him as Steamboat did the same in the ring.
Steamboat, though making several comeback attempts, had the hardest time distancing him from Rude. When he finally countered a camel clutch by shoving Rude into the turnbuckles, Steamboat was able to not only hit several striking attacks, but also set up some pinning combinations for a series of near false that had the fans cheering and clapping in approval. What angered the crowd was Rude yanking the referee into a flying cross body from Steamboat. Rude grabbed a stunned Steamboat, putting him in the Canadian backbreaker. The ref got up, ringing the bell even though “The Dragon” hadn’t visibly given up. As Rude left the ring, the announcement was made that Steamboat had won via disqualification.
While the match didn’t set the world on fire, the fans loved every moment of it – especially the opening minutes where Steamboat showed his arm drag proficiency. The end was a horrible copout to protect both men, but, once again, the crowd loved hearing Steamboat as the winner after Rude left the ring with his hand raised in victory. Solid opener.
The Asian Invasion: For the first time in many years, the WWF Women’s Tag Team title was defended at this inaugural event featuring champions Judy Martini & Leilani Kai – The Glamour Girls – and two Japanese imports called The Jumping Bomb Angels. Vince McMahon referred to the eventually named Itsuki Yamazaki & Noriyo Tateno by the colors they wore, as he had no idea how to pronounce their names. The early minutes saw The Angels using their speed advantage to take down the champions with double dropkicks, pinning combinations, double figure four leg locks, and even an octopus stretch. Martin and Kai soon realized that their power could turn the tides in their advantage. Martin stopped a dropkick out of the corner and a knee from Kai to set up the alley oop bomb for the first fall victory.
Following a commercial break, Kai started the second fall with an impact by hair whipping and kicking Itsuki. Some quick ingenuity and leverage by Itsuki allowed her to not only tag out, but also helped Noriyo change the momentum in their favor by causing a miscommunication that saw the champs clothesline each other. With Kai all alone, Noriyo was able to even the score by turning Kai’s Gory Special into a sunset flip in one swift motion.
By the third fall, both teams were ready to end this thing quickly. The Angels proved that by executing two double teams when the bell sounded. As Ventura noted the ferocity of the ladies, Martin stopped Yamazaki’s offense by blocking a suplex with a simple right hand to the abdomen. The champions isolated both Angels whenever they tagged out. With the fans behind her, Noriyo dropped both champs before tagging in Itsuki for a big knee drop off the top rope. No matter what the challengers did, Martin showed her tenacity by kicking out of their follow up pins. Once again, a miscommunication cost the champions as Kai verbally contested The Angels’ double teams. With the ref focused on Kai, The Angels executed stereo missile dropkicks on a prone Martin. When the referee turned around, he counted down Martin stuck in a ¾ nelson pinning combination to give us new champions.
After the match, Jesse Ventura argued that Martin’s left shoulder was off the mat during the decisive fall. A match so ahead of it’s times it’s not even funny. This style of women’s wrestling was a perfect precursor to what would become the base of the American Joshi style that all women-based wrestling organizations like SHIMMER use today.
The Contract Signing The World is Watching: After recapping everything that happened from Wrestlemania 3 where Andre The Giant almost defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF title, to “The Million Dollar Man” trying to purchase the WWF title, to Andre becoming DiBiase’s hired gun for the title, we had the contract signing for the biggest rematch in wrestling history. When Andre finally sat down to sign the contract, DiBiase berated Hogan for not accepting his loss to The Giant at ‘Mania 3, forcing Hogan to man up and sign the contract. Andre took his time following suit after reading over the pieces of paper, angering Hogan to the point of making faces like either he ate something bad or had constipation.
After signing the contract, Andre put his, “…official stomp of approval,” as DiBiase put it. That stamp was Hogan’s head meeting the table they signed the contract on before the piece of wood was tossed on top of the champ. Andre walked off to a thunderous amount of boos. Great segment to get everyone ready for the rematch of the century.
“It Is Now Time…”: The original Royal Rumble match kicked off with the rules being read and two of the most respected technicians in the company – Bret Hart and Tito Santana – kicking off the next evolution of the battle royal concept with a fistfight rather than trying to grapple. The bodies start piling in quickly thanks to the exceptionally fast two minutes. Men like Butch Reed, Hart’s partner Jim Neidhart, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Harley Race, and a few others made up the first half of entrants. The usual punch-kick-near elimination affair that is a typical battle royal was showcased here as few eliminations occurred though many were suffering from fatigue and double teams.
After some confusion over the eleventh entrant (Nikolai Volkoff followed Don Muraco to the ring, thinking they were up to the twelfth entrant), the crowd exploded as “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan entered the fray following Harley Race’s elimination. Duggan was on fire – as was the crowd for him. The bodies finally started flying thanks to the likes of the Ultimate Warrior – who had just debuted recently – and the One Man Gang. While Bret Hart set the first Rumble record for being in for twenty-five minutes, none of that mattered to the fans as they cheered his elimination while getting behind Duggan even more.
The match wound down to Muraco, Gang, Duggan and Dino Bravo. It became obvious that Gang and Bravo felt better working together than against each other. That willfulness to work together with Gang actually cost him when Duggan broke from Dino’s clutches as OMG charged, taking a clothesline from the big man to knock Bravo into elimination. Though he was now alone, Gang still had the advantage in the weight department. Like the double teaming advantage Bravo and Gang had moments ago, Gang’s weight was his reason for losing as Duggan sidestepped the incoming Gang while pulling the top rope down to send Gang to the floor for the final elimination and a huge victory for “Hacksaw”.
If you’ve ever witnessed an average Royal Rumble match without much story or character interaction as seen in later Rumbles, you’ve seen the original incarnation. It wasn’t a bad match by any means, and definitely had its moments thanks to several very popular wrestlers and a win for, at that time, a red-hot “Hacksaw”.
Just Killing Time: The Inlanders were in the middle of a kidnapping angle where they took The British Bulldog’s dog Matilda. With the Rumble over, the fans were pretty quiet as The Young Stallions dominated the Haku and Tama. Tama’s attitude got the better of him even when Haku helped him get the advantage. With Haku refocusing Tama, The Islanders were able to isolate Jim Powers for a short time until a double clothesline dropped Powers and Haku. As Ventura called out Vince McMahon on his somewhat racist comment about Tama’s toes, Roma entered the ring, on fire. Tama and Haku were feeling the sting of Roma until Tama pitched Roma to the floor thanks to Haku pulling down the top rope. Paul took a bad fall; injuring his knee and losing the second fall via count-out.
As medics checked on Roma, a promo segment was done featuring DiBiase and Andre The Giant. When the action restarted, the injured Roma was able to get his knees up to stop a splash from Tama. Roma showed great heart by clawing his way to Powers for another hot tag that didn’t get the fans so hot. Power’s momentum was halted by a simple punch to this stomach. Though Roma was hurt, Powers had no choice but to tag him in when the pressure and pain became too much. This would become The Stallions’ waterloo as Haku yanked Roma into the single leg Boston crab for a submission victory with two straight falls.
On a different spot with a crowd not burned out by so much, this match would’ve come across so much better. It’s not a bad match at all, but the crowd just didn’t care no matter how hard all four men worked.
I Thought This Was A Wrestling Show: After the opening bout, we got an extra long display of strength where Dino Bravo matched the world weight lifting record. This twenty minute long showcase for Bravo went on eighteen minutes too long and had no redeeming qualities outside of classic Ventura greatness trying his best to save this horrendous segment.
Is It A Classic: One must remember this was on free television unlike the future Royal Rumble events that would be and are still shown on pay-per-view. With time constraints and advertisements, this show did a great job feeling like something special without taking too much away from upcoming, bigger events. It’s not a must-see show at all, but should be watched for historical purposes alone.