The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#22)

The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series – Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#22)

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 9 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #22 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 once again comes from Jeremy Donovan, owner of Social Suplex.

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.

Question of the Day: Do you think that the first Women’s Royal Rumble should have taken a page from the first Men’s Royal Rumble and only included twenty entrants?

#22. The 1988 Royal Rumble.

The Roster.

Bret Hart
Tito Santana
Butch Reed
Jim Neidhart
Jake Roberts
Harley Race
Jim Brunzell
Sam Houston
Danny Davis
Boris Zhukov
Don Muraco
Nikolai Volkoff
Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Ron Bass
B Brian Blair
Hillbilly Jim
Dino Bravo
The Ultimate Warrior
One Man Gang
Junk Yard Dog

Overall – the first ever Royal Rumble was a mid-card match and had a roster indicative of such. None of the big stars at the time were involved. It was more or less an experiment. This was the only Rumble that had a roster of twenty. It was comprised exclusively of tag teams and wrestlers who at the time were career mid-carders.

There was nothing wrong with that. You can’t fault this match for not meeting standards that weren’t yet in place. This was 1988. Everyone was main event level over. As a result, the fact that the roster lacked any REAL main eventers didn’t matter to me.

The Storylines and Flow.

If you re-watched the 1988 Royal Rumble with the expectation that it would be the type of Rumble that you see today, you would have been disappointed. If you re-watched the 1988 Royal Rumble with an understanding of the times and what this match represented, you would have been thoroughly entertained.

The first ever Royal Rumble had a certain charm about it that has never been recreated. The roster of twenty really made it feel like a shorter mid-card match. That wasn’t a bad thing. The match moved along quickly and provided a completely different feel than what I was used to. It was more than a nice change of pace.

Largely absent was the countdown clock and entrance music. You’d think that this would have been a terrible idea, but it wasn’t. While I’d want both to be included in every current rendition of the Royal Rumble, I absolutely LOVED that each wrestler pretty much just showed up without any fanfare. Nikolai Volkoff missing his cue and showing up too early was absolutely hilarious. I’m a big proponent of “different is good”, and the first ever Royal Rumble definitely had a completely different feel than any other in history.

As for the match itself, there wasn’t much going on. The match was a glorified battle royal. There weren’t any storylines and there definitely weren’t any surprises. Nonetheless, the action was quite good. Tag team wrestling was a big deal during the late 1980s, and this match was loaded with great workers. I thought the beginning of the match was particularly strong. Bret Hart, although far from the main-event act he would become, was every bit as good inside the ring as he ever was. I really enjoyed the psychology early on in the match. The ring was loaded with heels beating on the always sympathetic baby-face in Tito Santana. This built to a nice crescendo with Jake Roberts coming out to even the odds.

At thirty three minutes long, the 1988 Royal Rumble moved at a very nice pace. The first ever Women’s Rumble would have been wise to go down this path. Alas, that’s a conversation for another day. I thought the WWE struck a nice balance here. Eliminations were spaced in a way that made me feel like something was always happening.

As I’ve consistently mentioned, lengthy runs rarely count for me, yet both Bret Hart and Jake Robert’s twenty plus minute endeavors were excellent here. They are two of the all-time great workers. The fact that they were both included in almost the entire match ensured that the in-ring product was crisp and the action moved along.

The One Man Gang was the first ever monster in a Royal Rumble and was booked as such. It seemed like he was being positioned as a potential opponent for Hulk Hogan at the time, and having him eliminate six wrestlers in a twenty wrestler match made him look incredibly strong.

I’m a sucker for late 1980s WWE wrestling and the 1988 Rumble provided me with plenty to like. It was far from a masterpiece but far from the dud that others would lead you to believe.

The Final Four.

I found the first ever Final Four to be compelling. It laid out the boilerplate for how Final Fours should be booked. Everything about it was old school. Don Muraco played his part well until he was eliminated. The heel duo of The One Man Gang and Dino Bravo double-teaming Hacksaw Jim Duggan as if his name was Jenna Jameson was old school wrestling psychology 101. They did a great job building up sympathy for Duggan, and his eventual comeback and victory received a massive pop as a result. This was well executed from beginning to end.

The Winner.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan was an extremely unpredictable winner. Even though the match was filled with mid-carders and tag teams, I felt like either The One Man Gang or the Ultimate Warrior were going to win. Duggan was not really on anyone’s radar at the time, especially not mine. I was a naïve six year old who had just gotten my first taste of wrestling the year before. When The One Man Gang started chucking people over the top rope right and left, I thought he was unstoppable.

Duggan was also a satisfying winner. It was a feel good moment for the crowd and arguably the highlight of his Hall of Fame career. A surprise mid-card face winner seemed to fit the tone of this Rumble – extremely fun and not to be taken too seriously.

I can’t say that the 1988 skyrocketed Duggan onto bigger and better things. He was already a popular baby-face novelty act and he remained just that. He had a nice run as King Duggan feuding with Haku and Heenan for a while, but nothing else noteworthy to speak of. That’s ok. The first ever Royal Rumble wasn’t about creating the next main event act.


The 1988 Rumble is a difficult one for me to rank. It gets a ton of points for being the pioneer and for its overwhelming charm. However, the action and spectacle that we come to expect from other Royal Rumbles just wasn’t there. In the end, the #22 ranking marks this Rumble as the worst of the Rumbles that I really enjoyed. That’s not a bad place to be.>

The Rebuttal – by Jeremy Donovan.

Jeremy Donovan: Alright Dave. I hate to break it to you, but you have the 1988 Royal Rumble ranked too high. This Rumble match should have been ranked lower for several reasons.

First of all, the Royal Rumble was created to be the main attraction for the 1988 Royal Rumble cable TV special. However the match was slotted in the semi-main event position. That’s like if the Hell in a Cell Pay-Per-View didn’t have a Hell in A Cell match in the main event of the show.

Second, there wasn’t a real goal that these guys were fighting for. I understand it was the first Rumble and they hadn’t yet thought of the idea of the winner going to WrestleMania, but they could have still had some kind of prize for the winner – like a trophy or a bag full of money.

Another thing that bothered me about this match were some of the presentation aspects. The countdown clock was sporadic and didn’t appear for every entrant. The wrestlers made their way to the ring with no music at all. I know it was late 80s WWF, but those guys had entrance music they could have utilized.

The main issue with this match is that it lacked excitement for me. It was more of a Boring Bumble than a Royal Rumble. The match was thirty three minutes of guys just punching and stomping each other. The most exciting thing that happened in the match was a piledriver delivered by Bret Hart. If this Royal Rumble match took place today it would be meet with loud boring chants and we would be threatening to cancel our WWE Network subscriptions.

The 1988 Royal Rumble match has historical impact as it was the catalyst for the January tradition. However, at the end of the day this match does not age very well and is possibly one of the worst Rumbles of all time.

That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next week to see which Rumble landed at the #21 spot on the countdown. Agree or disagree with this ranking? Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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