The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#15)

The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series – Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#15)

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 16 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #15 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal came from none other than James Boyd, co-host of One Nation Radio alongside Rich Latta.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:

#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.
#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.
#26. The 2000 Royal Rumble.
#25. The 1995 Royal Rumble.
#24. The 2015 Royal Rumble.
#23. The 1993 Royal Rumble.
#22. The 1988 Royal Rumble.
#21. The 2006 Royal Rumble.
#20. The 2014 Royal Rumble.
#19. The 2002 Royal Rumble.
#18. The 1999 Royal Rumble.
#17. The 2012 Royal Rumble.
#16. The 2007 Royal Rumble.

Question of the Day: Who do you consider to be the least deserving winner in Royal Rumble history?

#15. The 1989 Royal Rumble.

The Roster.

Andre the Giant
Mr. Perfect
Ronnie Garvin
Greg Valentine
Jake Roberts
Ron Bass
Shawn Michaels
The Honky Tonk Man
Tito Santana
Bad News Brown
Marty Jannetty
Randy Savage
Arn Anderson
Tully Blanchard
Hulk Hogan
Koko B. Ware
The Warlord
Big Boss Man
Brutus Beefcake
The Red Rooster
The Barbarian
Big John Studd
Rick Martel
Ted DiBiase

The reoccurring theme of the 1989 Royal Rumble was simple. The WWE asked themselves the following: “The original Royal Rumble was a fun little match, how can we make it better?”. They started with the roster. Whereas the original Royal Rumble was filled with tag teams and mid-card novelty acts, the WWE put just about all of their big guns in the 1989 edition. Hulk Hogan, the world champ, participated. Randy Savage, the unquestioned #2 man in the company, was also in the match. Andre the Giant and Ted Dibiase, the top two heels in the company, took part. Fast rising heels in The Big Boss Man and Akeem were in. The lion’s share of the participants are in the Hall of Fame.

The WWE did a great job recognizing that the Royal Rumble was an event that they can market. The increased strength of the roster, as well as the switch to the 30 man format, greatly raised the profile of the match. No complaints here.

The Storylines and Flow.

Again, much like with the roster, the WWE took tremendous steps in the right direction with the in-ring action. In 1988, they had a ton of tag teams in the match, but the individual members were either not in the match at the same time or worked together. The WWE rightfully realized that if the theme was “every man for himself”, it only made sense to have the individual members of a tag team go at it. With Ax and Smash as the first two in, we got just that. I was always a huge mark for Demolition, so this was an especially cool moment for me.

The WWE also recognized that they could run storylines with major Wrestlemania implications in the Royal Rumble match itself. Two of the three biggest storylines going into Wrestlemania V were built off the happenings in the 1989 Rumble.

First, the WWE set up Andre the Giant v Jake the Snake Roberts. Putting Andre the Giant in the Rumble was smart. The Royal Rumble match was made for huge dudes, and Andre was as big as they come. As dominant as Andre was, he had an obvious Achilles heel. He was afraid of snakes. Sure enough, as soon as Jake hit the ring and tossed Damien into the ring, Andre freaked out and eliminated himself. My description of this angle probably doesn’t do it justice. It was awesome to watch and the crowd popped huge for it.

Second, and far more important, was the beginning of the implosion of the Mega Powers. The booking of Hogan and Savage was unbelievably tight during this Rumble. Hogan eliminating Savage in such a questionable manner was perfect. It was direct enough where you weren’t 100% certain that it was intentional but subtle enough where it could have been an accident. Savage’s overacting was epic as always. He completely lost his mind and got right in Hogan’s face. The WWE had quietly teased some tension at the Survivor Series a few months earlier, but this was really the first time where it became obvious that there was trouble in paradise. Needless to say, this was the kick start to one of the best angles of all time.

On top of the Savage elimination and subsequent Mega Powers strife, the booking of the Twin Towers against Hogan was perfect. I was completely floored when they eliminated him with ease. This was 1989. We were in the prime of Hulkamania. He simply didn’t lose under any circumstance. It was absolutely shocking to me and instantly made The Big Boss Man and Akeem as credible as credible can be.

Bold statements are my thing and here’s one for you. The first twenty entrants of the 1989 Royal Rumble were as well booked as any in history. The first 40 minutes was THAT GOOD.

Unfortunately, that’s where the 1989 Royal Rumble starts to go off of the rails. The final ten entrants were a complete let down. The WWE fired all of their bullets too early in the match, and had nothing worthwhile left to shoot. Sure, Ted Dibiase was a main event heel and the WWE had every right to think that the storyline of him trying to buy a Royal Rumble victory would lead to a solid payoff. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The WWE severely overestimated their ability to create a brand new top face out of nowhere. More on that is coming below, but their error in calculation ruined the final third of the match.

The Final Four.

The Final Four was flat out terrible. The shortcoming was obvious. There was NO ONE to cheer for. You had a throwaway in Rick Martel, two hated heels in Ted Dibiase and Akeem, and the supposed baby-face in Big John Studd. The problem? NO ONE wanted to cheer for Studd.

We were supposed to care when he beat the living tar out of Ted Dibiase and foiled his plan. We didn’t. Personally, I was mostly confused. I am old enough to have watched this live as well as on re-watch recently. I didn’t understand it then and I understand it even less now. Completely non-compelling. A terrible ending to a fantastic Rumble.

The Winner.

1989 was a rare year where the winner was both unpredictable and unsatisfying. As I mentioned above, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why Big John Studd was chosen for this spot. He was returning after several years of inactivity. Prior to his leave of absence, he was a big dumb redneck completely devoid of a personality. His only claim to fame was being the lucky stiff that Andre the Giant body slammed at Wrestlemania I.

I was so baffled at the decision to put Studd in this position. It led absolutely nowhere. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I did a little research and here’s what I found out:

The WWE was looking to put Andre the Giant in a marquee match for Wrestlemania V. They thought that they could rekindle the previous feud from the first Wrestlemania and make Studd the next big baby-face. The reason for having Studd win the 1989 Royal Rumble was to build him up for the showdown with Andre. It didn’t work. He wasn’t over and he wasn’t healthy. The angle with Jake in the Rumble was supposed to be a short term bridge, but the WWE instead extended it through Mania. Instead of a big time match against Andre, Studd was relegated to Special Guest Ref duty for the match between Andre and Roberts. Shortly thereafter, he balked about his pay and walked out of the company. He was never to be seen again.

I have to give the WWE credit on two levels. First, they set up an overarching angle that was always going to be the end game for the 1989 Royal Rumble. Dibiase was such a dastardly heel that it made perfect sense to have him try to buy a Royal Rumble victory. Had Big John Studd been a better choice for the winner, this would have been tremendously successful. Second, although Studd was a terrible choice, the decision to use the Rumble as a springboard for the winner was a big-time improvement from the directionless 1988 debut.

Big John Studd was a complete air ball but at least they tried.


The first forty minutes of the 1989 Royal Rumble are as good as it gets. This was tracking to be a top 5 Rumble until it fell off a cliff. I had to determine how much I wanted to hold the horrific choice for a winner and non-compelling finish against what was otherwise an utterly fantastic exercise in storytelling. #14 is where I landed.

The Rebuttal – by James Boyd.

James Boyd: Dave is out of his mind, y’all! If you’re familiar with his work then you already knew this. Hell, I knew this and I still can’t understand some of the stuff he believes. The keyword here is “Believes” because this isn’t a stunt, dude is really out here believing that Baron Corbin will become WWE champion at Fastlane. He also thinks that 1989’s terrible, no-good, awful Royal Rumble match is historically average in comparison to every edition that we’ve witnessed so far. After 1st learning of 89’s middle-of-the-road ranking, I volunteered to write the dissenting opinion because I remembered it being a dull match. After re-watching this Rumble, I can tell you that Gob Bluth isn’t only person that’s “made a terrible mistake”. Holy Hell, does this thing stink on ice and suck with no hands.

Look, we can be real about this: any Royal Rumble match that happened prior to 1992 struggles to match up in historical significance because the winner’s reward wasn’t the championship or a title match at Wrestlemania. While we’re still being honest, we have to admit that the in-ring action in WWF/E over the last 29 years has progressively improved to the point where this whole “Rumble Rank” project is pretty foolhardy. However, Using Fen’s (oh yes, I did) own arbitrary criteria as a guideline, it’s very hard for me to imagine that there have been even 6 Rumble matches as putrid as this 64-minute monstrosity.

Even if we were to ignore garbage like Jesse Ventura referring to Tito Santana as “Chico” at a rate of about 3.5 times per minute and the existence of Akeem the African Dream, I still have questions that I’d like Fenny to answer regarding this mind-boggling overranking. Does Ted DiBiase, John Studd, Rick Martel, Akeem and their combined 3 WWF singles title reigns between them even sound like a Royal Rumble final four? What about an elite eight that featured Hercules, the Red Rooster, Brutus Beefcake, the Barbarian and their combined 0 WWF singles title reigns? Does self-described racist, Hulk Hogan, purposely eliminating his friend, Savage, and low-bridging Boss Man out of the ring like a sore loser sound like reasonable behavior for a top babyface in the 80’s? Does Jake-friggin’-Roberts entering at #7 only to be choked, whooped and tossed out just mere seconds after #8 gets into the ring sound rational? Do about 25 eliminations that were simply “Dude gets beat up while leaning on the ropes by another dude then single-legged over the top, to the floor” sound like a fun hour? Does Studd winning the Rumble, then not even wrestling at that year’s Wrestlemania before leaving the WWF in July sound like positive, significant impact?

I’ll be awaiting his answers.

That’s a wrap kids. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!

Facebook: Dave Fenichel
Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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