WWF Royal Rumble 1988 (1.24.88) review
January 24, 1988
Vince McMahon, in an uncharacteristic display of extreme pettiness, ran the first Survivor Series as a PPV against Jim Crockett’s first venture into PPV; Starrcade ‘87. He even threatened PPV providers that failure to carry Survivor Series ahead of Starrcade would result in loss of access to the money-spinning WrestleMania. When Crockett took another shot at PPV with the Bunkhouse Stampede just two months later, Vince couldn’t help himself and ran the first Royal Rumble on USA network head-to-head against it. This wasn’t even a PPV event, they just ran it to fuck with Jim Crockett. The Bunkhouse Stampede flopped miserably both creatively and financially.
We’re in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Copps Coliseum. This show had 18,000 in attendance, compared to the NWA’s measly 6,000 the same night in New York. Copps, now known as the FirstOntario Centre, is a new arena in 1988, having opened in 1985. Various Hamilton sports teams have called it home over the past 40 years. Hosts are Vince McMahon & Jesse Ventura.
Unlike future Royal Rumble’s this has the vibe of a double sized SNME. So, there’s an assortment of extra stuff like Hogan vs. Andre being a contract signing and Dino Bravo attempting a weightlifting record.
Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat
On paper, this is awesome. Sadly, Steamboat is on the outs with the WWF and not in the best condition of his career. Rude is coming off the “Jesse the Body” award for Best Bod or whatever. He’s a little thin, compared to the gigantic WWF guys, but he is CUT. Steamboat works a lot of armbars with some good counter wrestling in between, done at speed. Rude, by contrast, decides he’s going to work NEW YORK STYLE and does nothing but punches.
Do hip gyrations count as a move? Rude proceeds to chinlock the match to death. It’s not going well out there. I love Rick Rude but if he wasn’t in the mood, it was painfully obvious. When they run Irish whip reversals and chops and stuff, it’s a good match. They do have that chemistry, but they don’t go for it.
Near the finish they go for a series of near falls, akin to Savage-Steamboat at Mania. Rude has the capacity to hang with Steamboat on this stuff but they spent too long killing time before hitting the good stuff. The finish sees Rude drag Hebner in the way of Steamboat coming off the top for the DQ. **½. If they’d let it all hang out here, this could have been the kind of match we talk about with great reverence, but instead they crawled to 15:00, coasting on rest holds, and only went all out for a couple of minutes.
Weightlifting World Record Attempt
Ventura is out here as Dino Bravo’s spotter as he attempts to lift over 705lbs and break the world record. The record holder, although it’s not mentioned here, is none other than former WWF wrestler Ted Arcidi*. He set the record at 705lbs back in 1985. He must have taken Dino Bravo’s antics personally because he went and lifted 718lbs in 1990, setting a new benchmark. Anyway, Bravo is a heel, so he doesn’t lift the 715lbs bar on his own and Ventura helps him. This whole segment was painfully long and not helped by Frenchy Martin rambling in French, much to the digust of Gene Okerlund.
*Arcidi only left the WWF a few months before this. I’m guessing it wasn’t on good terms or he would surely have gotten a name check. Maybe they didn’t want him to show up elsewhere with a world record attached to his name, identified by the WWF on TV.
After 15 tiring minutes here’s Bravo’s “successful” world record. Jesse Ventura not helping at all. If anything, he’s adding weight to the bar and making the record more impressive.
WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship
Glamour Girls (c) vs. Jumping Bomb Angels
What, you don’t remember the women’s tag titles? Glamour Girls have held them since 1985 and nobody cares about them. They’re essentially props so WWF can put the Jumping Bomb Angels on the show. Having blown away spectators at Survivor Series, they were considered a hot property. McMahon would continue to book them around the horn for a few months in rematches with the Glamour Girls before forgetting they existed and never booking them again.
Vince McMahon, promoter and lead commentator, calls the Bomb Angels “pink” and “red” because he hasn’t bothered to learn their names. It isn’t like this is the first time they’ve been on his shows, either. They toured with WWF last year. The match is a mixture of good technical holds and quickly executed dropkicks. It’s not as mind-blowing as it was in 1988 nor as great as the better AJW matches from the same era.
Yamazaki must have enjoyed her time in America because she moved there to open a sushi restaurant and lives in New Jersey. She doesn’t enjoy this match as much as Judy Martin pins her, against the run of play, for 1-0.
We take a commercial break and Vince learns the name of the wrestlers. He was probably embarrassed that Jesse caught him out on live TV. “Yatsuki and Noreno” according to McMahon. Even if he’s using first names that’s “Itsuki and Noriyo” (Yamazaki & Tateno for those who use surnames). Yamazaki gets a sunset flip to level the falls.
As fall three takes place, the match starts to get sloppier. These Jumping Bomb Angels matches get talked about a lot because they did things no one else was doing but doing moves is one thing, doing them well is quite another. Both Kai and Martin find it tough to keep up and bump stuff. There’s an Enzuigiri that hits around the shoulder. A ‘diving’ clothesline, which looks dreadful. A double missile dropkick finishes, which at least is nailed. This might be a belated hot take but the fans were blown away by new stuff, but it would be done far better, later, by better workers. They never really clicked and although they had decent chemistry with the Glamour Girls, compared to everyone else at Survivor Series, there were still a mess of issues. **¾.
The women’s tag titles would switch back to the Glamour Girls in a match in Japan in the summer and the WWF would slowly forget about them before declaring them defunct in 1989. Which is funny because Leilani Kai effectively left the WWF a few months after this and wasn’t working there when the Glamour Girls won the belts back. I guess Vince figured it would be easier to re-hire her than the Jumping Bomb Angels if they wanted to give the division another shot. Apparently the AJW match from the summertime is better than this, so I might have to track it down!
Video Control throws us back to WrestleMania III and the first Hogan-Andre match. We move on to a more recent angle with Ted DiBiase offering to buy the WWF title from Hulk Hogan. On being rejected Ted promises Hogan he will buy him, sooner or later. Oh shit, this actually happened! DiBiase was the money man behind the New World Order angle. He found Hogan’s price! On hearing Hogan’s rejection, DiBiase bought out Andre the Giant and requested that Andre win the WWF title for him.
Back to the live show and we have a contract signing for Hogan vs Andre II at the upcoming Main Event TV show in early February, which would draw the WWF’s biggest TV audience, ever.
Andre decides to sit there and read the whole contract, which makes for sensational TV. Andre signs it, obviously, and then decks Hogan for good measure.
HE FLIPPED THE TABLE ON THAT SUMBITCH!!!!
Royal Rumble Match
This is the first one so McMahon and Ventura have to explain the rules. We don’t have 30 men in this one, instead settling on 20 as a solid number. Given some Rumble fields, 20 isn’t a bad idea. #1 is Bret Hart, starting the theme of the first guy in there getting a push afterwards. #2 is Tito Santana, so we’re going workrate heavy at the start.
Vince explains that it’s “every man for himself”, suggesting the heels and faces won’t line up according to alignment. Sure they won’t. Naturally, the heels all team up on Santana as #3 is Butch Reed and #4 is Jim Neidhart. You’d think the trio would just toss Santana out and await the next guy. Vince clearly agrees and calls them all “idiots”. #5 is Jake Roberts and he immediately lobs Reed over the top. The pop for Jake shows how over he was at the time.
The heels get the advantage again when #6 is Harley Race. It’s a bit like War Games in that respect. You can’t have more faces than heels in there. #7 is Jim Brunzell to level things up again and #8 is Sam Houston, so we have more babyfaces. Huh. The reluctance to dump anyone out of the match, means the ring is filling up. The Harts throw out Santana to get the balance back. They start selling Bret’s endurance. The match is 11 minutes in! #9 is Danny Davis. #10 is Boris Zhukov. This isn’t exactly a star-studded affair. At least Jake is over.
Most early Royal Rumbles suffer from a bunch of guys hugging the ropes and not much happening. The only guys who try things are Bret Hart and Jake Roberts, which shows their star-power and capability. Everyone else just hides. #11 is Don Muraco, followed by a protesting Nikolai Volkoff. Did he steal his number? No, he just tried to enter early at #12. The mid-match lull hits hard with there being too many guys in the ring. #13 is Jim Duggan. God, I fucking loathe this character. #14 is Ron Bass. He still works here? #15 is B Brian Blair, just after Brunzell gets dumped.
As with the bulk of the match, the ring is full of guys who have no space to work in. The idea behind a time-staggered battle royal is to avoid this. I guess you cut them some slack because this is the first one and they’d not figured stuff out yet. Basically, nothing is happening. #16 is Hillbilly Jim. Bret has now been in for 23 minutes, which is more impressive than 11 minutes. Anvil has come and gone in that time. #17 is Dino Bravo. #18 is Ultimate Warrior. This is the first time I’ve seen him in the WWF but he’s worked there for almost a year. Bret finally succumbs to Muraco, setting the initial time record in the process. #19 is One Man Gang. There are 11 men left.
Gang cleans out a couple, including Jake (who did 2nd best time with 21.52). #20 is JYD and everyone is in. Not a lot of star power at the finish. Warrior and Duggan were both mid-tier babyface stars. There’s no major heel presence to threaten them. Gang maybe? Bravo and Gang team up to dump Warrior. The lack of response is very telling. He was not over yet. JYD goes out too. He did nothing.
FINAL FOUR: One Man Gang, Dino Bravo, Don Muraco and Jim Duggan. This being the first one they’d not figured out how to create tension and winning this thing means nothing. There’s no WrestleMania title shot on the line here. The match concept has worked though, which is why it’s still a major fixture in the WWF/E calendar. Don Murco is in full blown babyface mode here, throwing dropkicks and getting all fired up. Gang knocks him out, leaving Duggan vs two heels. Gang ‘accidentally’ dumps Bravo. The little extra push suggests he did it on purpose. Gang charges but Duggan drops and Gang falls out. Duggan wins.
For a first one, it’s not a bad look at the concept. It showed it would work. It wasn’t stupid like the Bunkhouse Stampede and hey, which one of those concepts is still alive today? It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. **½
Some notes; Bret Hart set the time record with 25:42. One Man Gang had five eliminations, which would be shattered the following year. Bret’s time record would also go next year, although the match had more participants.
Islanders vs. Young Stallions
Having put the Stallions over by having them survive at the Survivor Series, we get this match as a follow up, as the Islanders dropped the final fall in that match. People complaining that this was the “main event” don’t really understand TV from the era. SNME regularly stuck the main event in the middle of the show, when the most people were watching. Vince talks about Islanders getting suspended for dognapping Matilda.
This match is needlessly long. Nobody gives a fuck. Comms talk about Dino Bravo and other storylines. Worryingly, it’s two out of three falls. There is some effort but if you ever wanted a demonstration of how the Young Stallions were never getting over in this company, this is it. “Youngster” Jim Powers is 30 years old, and it shows. Roma gets counted out for fall one after injuring his knee.
We stop here because Roma needs medical treatment, and the time is filled with a Ted DiBiase interview. Back to the match and Powers has a bit of joy before eating heat. He hot tags one-legged Paul Roma, who almost immediately taps out to a half crab. I appreciate the injury selling and the finish being the culmination of the entire match but the whole thing was so dull.
As a free TV show, from 1988, this is good shit. An exciting debut of the Royal Rumble match plus a decent women’s tag title match equates to decent TV in 1988. However, they ended the show with an incredibly dull, albeit well put together, tag match starring Paul Roma. There’s nothing wrong with it, apart from it being so boring, but it takes the sheen off an otherwise entertaining show. There’s nothing offensive on this show though, and for historical importance it’s nice to see it on the award-winning* WWE Network. The match itself wouldn’t get thrilling until 1992, when the WWF title was on the line and subsequently the winner would get the Mania title shot.
*It won my award for “worst search engine in history”.