Welcome back to my 30 part column series ranking each Royal Rumble match!
As most of you know, I took on this project towards the end of 2017. I decided to take a pause on it for a couple of reasons. First, I couldn’t possibly post all of the parts in the series prior to the 2018 Royal Rumble. Second, I knew that I was going to be taking a break from column writing when my second child was born shortly after WrestleMania 34. I wanted to be able to focus on the most popular time of the wrestling year and not be spending time reflecting on the past.
The plan was always to resume the countdown as a lead in to the 2019 Royal Rumble, so here we are. There is one small housekeeping issue. The 2018 Royal Rumble hadn’t yet happened when I put this series together. Thus, my first two entries will be “12a” and “12b” in order to account for the 2018 Royal Rumble inclusion on the countdown. Get it? Got it? GOOD.
In today’s column, I’ll discuss the first of the two Rumbles that tied for 12th place on my 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 everyone’s favorite quitter, The Doc!
Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:
#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 2002 Royal Rumble
#16: The 2007 Royal Rumble
#15: The 1989 Royal Rumble
#14: The 2003 Royal Rumble
#13: The 1996 Royal Rumble
Without further ado, here’s the first of the two Rumble matches that clocked in tied for 12th on my countdown:
#12b: The 1990 Royal Rumble.
Koko B. Ware
Bad News Brown
Andre the Giant
The Red Rooster
The Ultimate Warrior
The Honky Tonk Man
After the first Rumble in 1988, the WWE realized that they had a megahit on their hands. In 1989, they changed the format to no include merely include mid-carders, but main eventers as well. 1990’s edition built on that even more. It was all hands on deck for this Rumble. Anyone who was anyone on the roster participated in the match.
Over half of the roster is in the Hall of Fame with several more worthy candidates. The star power was simply tremendous. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Andre The Giant, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Ted Dibiase, Dusty Rhodes and Jimmy Snuka all rank amongst the top 30 wrestlers in the history of the business. Needless to say, the 1990 Royal Rumble roster was one of the strongest in the history of the event.
The Storylines and Flow:
In 1990, the WWE did a fantastic job of taking all of the improvements they made to the match in 1989 and building on its success. The 1989 Rumble offered tremendous storytelling but lacked solid in-ring action. The 1990 version matched the storytelling and added rock-solid action from beginning to end.
The WWE had a tremendous benefit going into the 1990 Rumble. They already had several Wrestlemania feuds in place. Jake Roberts and Ted Dibiase were already involved, Randy Savage and Dusty Rhodes were doing their thing, and the seeds were being planted for The Colossal Connection to defend their tag belts against Demolition. Instead of merely building brand new feuds, the WWE used the 1990 Royal Rumble to further some of their top storylines going into Wrestlemania VI. This was extremely effective as it allowed for the lion’s share of the action to feel a lot more important than it otherwise would have.
Kudos to the WWE for not simply resting on its laurels with the feuds that they already had in place. The 1990 Rumble marked the kickoff to the feud between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bad News Brown. This seemed like a fantastic idea on paper – Piper was one of the biggest and most recognizable stars on the WWE roster, and Bad News Brown was a big star from other territories that the WWE had every intention of pushing as a top heel. Who knew that this feud would bomb worse than Enola Gay and lead to one of the most racist angles that the WWE has ever run?
As I’ve mentioned over and over again, I’m not a fan of “iron men” in Royal Rumble matches. They mostly lay on the mat taking a nap for long stretches of time while the important action is going on elsewhere. Ted Dibiase in 1990 was an exception. He was on fire for the entire 44 minute stretch that he was in the match. His run in 1990’s reminded me a lot of Ric Flair’s two years later. He went toe to toe with everyone that came into the ring. When The Warrior finally eliminated him, the pop was MASSIVE. Ted Dibiase is such an underappreciated talent, and this was one of his finest hours.
Of course, you can’t talk about the 1990 Rumble without talking about the showdown between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. This is one of those iconic moments that will be etched in my mind forever. Hogan had been the unquestioned #1 guy in the company for seven years. At no point in time had it ever felt like someone could come along and challenge him for that spot. That’s exactly what The Ultimate Warrior did. No one had any idea that the WWE was looking to match that two top aces up against each other at Wrestlemania VI. When these two squared off in the middle of the ring nearing the end of the Rumble, the crowd was absolutely electric. This was a moment that I will never forget.
Not everything was perfect. The interaction between Rick Martel and Tito Santana was aggravating to me. Martel walking out on Santana during their Wrestlemania V encounter against The Brain Busters was easily one of my favorite heel turns ever. It wasn’t quite HBK throwing Marty Jannetty through a plate glass window, but it was pretty damn good. Back then, with how little television there was, a heel turn at one Wrestlemania could easily lead to a grudge match at the following Wrestlemania. Such was not the case here. The blow off to this feud never happened. It drove me nuts that they BARELY cared that the other was in the ring during the 1990 Rumble. They should have been going at each other’s throats, setting up an important match for Wrestlemania. They didn’t.
The Final Four:
The main reason that this Rumble doesn’t make it any further on my countdown is that the final four simply couldn’t live up to what came before it. The WWE blew the roof off of the arena by having Hogan and The Warrior face off. Once Warrior was eliminated and it came down to Hogan, Mr. Perfect, Hercules and Rick Rude – there wasn’t any intrigue as to who would win.
The action itself was fine, but the important event had come and gone.
Although Hogan was an extremely predictable winner, it was still compelling. Like him or hate him, he was STILL the most popular wrestler on the planet in 1990.
I can’t say that the 1990 Rumble catapulted Hogan to bigger and better things either. Hulk Hogan was as big as a wrestler could possibly be already – nothing that he was going to or not going to do was going to change that.
However, his 1990 win led to the iconic main event of Wrestlemania VI and arguably one of Hogan’s finest moments. That was taken into high account when ranking this Rumble.
I loved the 1990 Royal Rumble. It’s the first truly “great” Rumble and it was the original blueprint for how the match should look and feel. The lack of a compelling final four and the greatness of all the Rumbles yet to come keep this one from moving any further up the countdown, but it should still be remembered as a fantastic match in itself.
The Rebuttal – By “The Doc” Chad Matthews:
This little blurb about it straight out of “The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era” pretty well sums up my thoughts:
“The most anticipated wrestling match every year is the Royal Rumble. Its unmistakable connection to WrestleMania, even when a title shot on the grandest stage had yet to be established as the victor’s spoils, has always given it an extra-special aura. Not only was 1990’s Rumble stacked – it was like a Hulkamania Era All-Star showcase – it was also the year that the gimmick found its footing, laying a foundational formula for all future versions to follow. Its most memorable moment (Hogan and Warrior’s interaction) ignited a wave of momentum for the WrestleMania main-event; many of its other top talents went out in style and there were several spotlight eliminations for wrestlers looking to leave their mark; and it helped establish the role of the Ironman, a relevant headliner (Million Dollar Man in ’90) tasked with giving the match a centerpiece to build around. 1990, simply put, was the blueprint.”
Considering how well it holds up on replay in addition to its foundational attributes for the greatest gimmick concept ever devised, I’d say that there is no doubt that Rumble ’90 belongs in the Top 10, comfortably inside the Top 10 I might add.
That’s a wrap kids. Agree or disagree with my ranking of the 1990 Royal Rumble? Sound off below!
I can best be found on Twitter @The_Eternal_Optimist
Thank you for reading.
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