Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The 1992 Royal Rumble: Great or Greatest Ever?

Flair took a licking but kept ticking
Photo Credit: WWE.com
With the 30th Royal Rumble coming up this Sunday, we need to look back at its history and answer an important question: just because everyone always says the 1992 Rumble is the best one ever, does that mean it really is? And how do we determine this? The quality of the actual Rumble match itself, or the quality of the entire show?

Good news, the answers to those questions are completely subjective, and so is my writing!

In the interest of organization, I'll break down the card from top to bottom.

The New Foundation vs. The Orient Express

With Jim Neidhart being left in the dust by his former partner Bret Hart, and with Bret's brother Owen freshly back to the company, they became The New Foundation. Oh, and they were also dressed in checker-patterned neon pajamas, which did not help anything. This match was just kind of okay. It went at least five minutes too long, but it was one of many fun tag-team openers from WWF shows of this era. It was mostly just fun to watch how Owen was light years ahead of everyone else on the roster in his moves and athleticism. Bless you, Owen.

"Rowdy" Roddy Piper vs. The Mountie

Two nights earlier, The Mountie won the Intercontinental Championship from Bret Hart, in an unnecessarily convoluted angle in which Bret got the flu and thus lost (just so Piper could win the belt and then drop it to Bret at WrestleMania VIII. Whatever, Vince.). On this night, Piper was the challenger, and if you think you've never heard Piper cut a homophobic promo, then get right in here and check it out!

This match was maybe six minutes long, as long as a RAW throwaway match. Presumably this was so short because Piper was going to be in the Rumble later on (first time someone was in an undercard match and then in the Rumble), and he didn't want to get tired. It was not a wrestling clinic, but Piper winning his first and only WWF title was just wonderful. He had a genuine look of gleeful surprise as he paraded around the ring, and the crowd ate it up. His mile-wide grin was the lasting image I will almost always think of when I picture Piper.

The Bushwhackers (with Jamison) vs. The Beverly Brothers (with The Genius)

NOT IN ANY WAY A GOOD MATCH. The Beverly Brothers were one of the most milquetoast teams WWF ever put out there. No one has a favorite Beverly Brothers match. No one. And The Bushwhackers, despite being a fun act, rarely gelled with any team during their WWF run. To make it 900 times worse, The Bushwhackers were accompanied by offensive Jewish nerd stereotype Jamison, who was what would happen if you built a human out of Vince McMahon's understanding of comedy. FIFTEEN MINUTES of this garbage went down before it mercifully ended. Just a bummer.

The Legion of Doom vs. The Natural Disasters

This match was mostly unmemorable, save for two details:

1. LOD did a pre-match promo where Hawk said, "WELLLL, Mean Gene, you know what makes us sick besides EVERYTHING?" It made me laugh so much. You need to hear it.

2. The Natural Disasters won by countout, and even though you cannot win a title on a countout, and literally every pro wrestler 100% has aware of this rule, it didn't stop Earthquake, Typhoon and Jimmy Hart from being completely convinced that they won the Tag Team Championships. They of course did not, and even when went go backstage to scream at Sean Mooney, they still thought they had been unjustly robbed of the titles. YOU GUYS ARE WRESTLERS, HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW THIS.

The Royal Rumble Match (for the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship)

As has been made clear, the undercard of the '92 Rumble wasn't breathtaking. So it fell upon the Rumble match to take it home. Did it do the job?

Before we talk about the incredible performance from Ric Flair in this, I'd like to put forth my nomination for MVP of this Rumble match, Bobby Heenan. As the "advisor" to Flair, Heenan made it clear that he was rooting for his client. So when it was revealed that Flair drew number three, a most unfavorable position, Heenan screamed, "NOOO! DAMMIT!" A brief moment of silence passed until Gorilla Monsoon said, "Kiss your meal ticket goodbye! And watch your language." From there, Heenan was off to the races. He was an unstoppable madman. Since Flair's journey through this match was the intended main story, Heenan focused on Flair's every up and down, rise and fall. He was begging, pleading for wrestlers to lay off Flair. He cried, "I'll never say a bad thing about anybody ever again! I'll be a different person!" The result of this Rumble felt like literal life and death to Heenan, therefore keeping the audience watching at home invested like nothing else could.

One of the two non-Flair related storylines that got worked in was the blood feud between Randy Savage and Jake Roberts. When Savage entered at 21, Roberts slinked out of the ring to hide. Savage finally got his hands on Roberts and eliminated him from the match. Then Savage jumped over the ropes to continue the beatdown, which, WHOOPS, would mean he eliminated himself. This was apparently an actual mistake, not surprising when you remember that Savage was an actual crazy person. By the time all of this chaos calmed down, 3:21 had passed by without the next entrant coming in. So much for that every 90 seconds thing.

The other big storyline is between Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice. Justice eliminated Hogan in a somewhat sneaky way, as Sid reminded Hogan by yelling down at him, "EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, BIG BOY." Hogan threw a big baby tantrum over being eliminated legally and reasonably, so he grabbed Sid's arm and allowed Flair to eliminate him. As if Hogan hadn't become insufferable enough by that point, his anger at not getting his way was truly disgusting.

And in the midst of all this was Ric Flair, who up to that point became the first Rumble entrant to last longer than an hour. He was literally in 97% of the match. It was a feat of strength and conditioning that few wrestlers have accomplished, especially considering Flair was 42 at the time. Chris Benoit went an hour in 2004, but screw him. Shawn Michaels entered at number one in 1995 and won the whole thing, but the Rumble was much shorter that year and had the most dire roster you've ever seen. Flair went against a bunch of legends and came out on top.

He cut a promo afterward in which he received the WWF Championship from Jack Tunney, and also in which Mean Gene Okerlund yelled at someone off-camera to put out their cigarette. Wild-eyed and exhausted, Flair looked into the camera and says, "I want to tell you all, with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life." Heenan and Mr. Perfect laughed and gloated behind him. The bastard spent months bragging that he was the real World Champion, and then he went out and proved it.

I have not sat down and pored over every single Rumble match ever. I have seen all of them, and I know some of them are very good, with some highly memorable moments in them. But no other Rumble has such a brilliant through line that pays off in such a brilliant way. Add in the pumped-up crowd, the high number of legendary competitors, and it being the first Rumble match for the WWF Championship, and I think this one has to be ranked at the top.

I just wish Jamison wasn't there.

Special thanks to Star of Savage/Scott, who sent me a ridiculous amount of statistics and information to use for this. He is a Royal Rumble savant, and it's possible that he will one day lose his mind from obsessing over this stuff.