Subscribe to the podcast via: iTunes | RSS Feed | Email Newsletter
The WWF began 1996 with, if nothing else, hope. Hope that things couldn't go as badly as they did in 1995, hope that they were turning the corner and hope, above all else, that there was one man that could lead them into the light. After a highly intricate if somewhat bewildering concussion storyline, Shawn Michaels turned "retirement" rumours on their head to announce his participation in the Royal Rumble. Given the state of the roster few could disagree that he was a clear favourite to win it for the second time in a row.
Another hope came in the debuting Vader. After being fired by WCW following a fight with Paul Orndorff, there's a good case that Vader was wrestling's hottest property (a case that would be somewhat dampened by the arrival of The Ultimate Warrior before Wrestlemania). With the WWF desperate for heels – their top four acts were all babyfaces - this represented the perfect opportunity.
Headed into the show itself, Undertaker was finally getting a shot at the big time, with a good wrestler too, in the main event against Bret Hart for the title. Rounding out the card was Jeff Jarrett against Ahmed Johnson, the new Bodydonnas team – with Dr Tom Pritchard joining Skip as "Zip" - challenging the Smoking Gunns for the tag belts, and Razor Ramon facing Goldust – in a feud that was built on Goldust playing mind games with Razor by being attracted to him... apparently.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs Duke "The Dumpster" Droese
But we start on the pre show, specifically with a match where the winner would get the coveted #30 spot in the Rumble, the loser #1. A cool idea that could be transitioned into the modern era Rumble if it was made a bit less rigid (e.g. Loser #1, winner 26-30). Helmsley was a good pick here, but why on earth Droese was selected is anybody's guess, he hasn't been seen for months.
The match was fine, but for something with potentially such big repercussions it had a lack of heat and build, not to mention the fact (again) that Droese was just a horror pick for this spot. Helmsley wins after using the knuckles, but Gorilla Monsoon comes out, we get a video replay and the ref overturns the decision... Helmsley was quite rightly outraged later on that video evidence had been used. And yes, the #30 in the Royal Rumble was going to be Duke "The Dumpster" Droese.
Jeff Jarrett vs Ahmed Johnson
The good: Johnson is physically a very impressive performer, he can do some real nice big man moves. The bad: there was no rhythm to this match, at all, and it's clear to see why Johnson will end up becoming quite injury prone – the high impact moves do seem to be landing quite awkwardly. This match wasn't bad, but just never particularly got going before Jarrett grabs his guitar and just levels it over Johnson's head. Meh finish to a meh match.
The Body Donnas (Skip and Zip w/ Sunny) vs The Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart) for the WWF Tag Team Titles
Well Dr Tom Pritchard has changed a bit, a month prior he was in ECW with long brown hair alongside Heavenly Body partner Jimmy Del Ray. Now he's part of the Bodydonnas, with short bleached hair – he's unrecognisable. A... nice tag team match, no more, no less. The new Bodydonnas pairing meshed well quickly, but it never really grabbed the attention. Unless we're talking about Sunny... she did! Gunns retain.
Goldust (w/ a woman who will soon be known as Marlene) vs Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Title
Business picked up a bit here. Goldust is finally working a style that matches his persona outside of the ring, frequently freaking out Razor with some... interesting actions. Razor grabs a waistlock, Goldust reverses it then rubs his gloved hands up Razor's chest. He uses Marlene as a human shield on more than one occasion. This clearly impacted Razor who resorted to a low blow with the ref impeded. We get near the finish, Marlene distracts the ref, The 123 Kid comes off the top rope with a spin kick, Goldust pins Razor and we have a new champion. Not a great match, but fun to see the developing Goldust and how it impacted on Razor.
The 1996 Royal Rumble
So, back to sixty minutes, with the first Rumble to utilise wrestler entrance music. Helmsley opens up with Henry O Godwin, Bob Backlund is out at three and Jerry Lawler number four. Not a bad start at all for (relative) star power, but a sign that they might be running quite thin later on. The first ten also featured Mabel, Dory Funk Jr, Yokozuna, The Kid, Bob Holly and Jake Roberts – it would be a fast slope downhill after this.
Lawler gets ambushed by Roberts' snake, so he goes hiding under the ring. Vader comes out and looks impressive but actually doesn't feature for that long – he and stablemate Yokozuna exchanging blows before Shawn Michaels eliminates them both. We really struggle for star power down the stretch, only Diesel of the final ten could be considered a real contender.
A very quick finish for the final four: Shawn, Diesel, Kama and Bulldog. Shawn eliminates Bulldog over one side, Diesel eliminates Kama over the other, Shawn runs up to Diesel, superkicks him over the top rope and Shawn wins the Rumble again. Decent action all told, a predictable lack of star power but they covered for it about the best they could.
Bret Hart vs The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) for the WWF Championship
A long match at thirty minutes, and one that for a while felt like it was going to get really good... then it stopped going anywhere and lead to the all too predictable intereference from Diesel, who ran out and pulled the referee out of the ring when Undertaker had Bret beat. Slow action that saw both men booed at stages which really isn't a good sign. The result, also, helped neither man even if it did setup Taker vs Diesel for Wrestlemania.
Score Rating: 5/10
Go Back and Watch: If you like a Rumble match this isn't a bad one by any stretch. Bret vs Taker is OK but a let down given the time you have to invest. A 5/10 show with lots of 5/10 stuff... take it or leave it.