The first WWE Royal Rumble event took place in 1988 as a television event that aired on USA Network. It became a pay-per-view in 1989. The reason why this took place was to counter the NWA Bunkhouse Stampede 1988 event that was a pay-per-view. Vince McMahon and the WWF felt that if they put on a special show like the Royal Rumble on USA Network, it would hurt the viewership of the NWA PPV.
If you watch this on WWE Network you’ll find it in the WWE PPV section. Even though it wasn’t an official PPV, I’m going to start my journey through Royal Rumble PPV reviews with 1988.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 24, 1988
From Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario
The show started with Vince McMahon (ever heard of him?) hyping up things to come on the show.
Vince and Jesse Ventura welcomed us to the show with Vince saying, “Welcome to Ontario, Canada.” Way to leave out the city, Vince. That is something he has done for years in cities that aren’t as big or known as the major cities.
“Ravishing” Rick Rude made his entrance. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat entered, and you could tell they edited out his regular theme song on the WWE Network broadcast.
“Ravishing” Rick Rude vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Pre-match notes: Rude was the heel and Steamboat was the face.
Steamboat started on fire with a back body drop that sent Rude over the top to the floor. Steamboat worked on the arm of Rude with an armdrag with the crowd going wild, which wouldn’t happen today. It was a simpler time. A fan in row one had a megaphone and was shouting at Rude. Steamboat with chops, double chop and another armdrag. Armbar by Steamboat again as they were on the mat. Rude took control with a back elbow followed by sending Steamboat into the top turnbuckle. Another armdrag by Steamboat into an armbar. That fan with the megaphone was very annoying. Rude with a high elbow into the eye of Steamboat. They did a spot where Steamboat ran the ropes, Rude avoided him and Rude hit a knee to the ribs that sent Steamboat out of the ring. Rude followed Steamboat out of the ring and gave him a body slam on the padding outside the ring. Back in the ring, Rude slapped on a chinlock. Steamboat was slapping his hand on the mat repeatedly, but it wasn’t a tapout until about nine years later. Steamboat did it to get the crowd to rally behind him. After about two minutes, Steamboat started his comeback. Steamboat fought out of the chinlock by putting Rude on his shoulders and dropping back in the Electric Chair Drop move. Steamboat went for a splash, but Roode put his knees up to block it. Roode with an atomic drop that didn’t connect that well for a two count. Rude with a chinlock ago, but Steamboat countered him by sending him into the turnbuckle. Steamboat sent Rude into the turnbuckle a few times followed by a knee drop for two. Steamboat got a backslide cover for two and a rollup for two. Steamboat flipped into a pinning situation for a two count and they each got two counts. Rude got a two count. Steamboat came back with a suplex. The fan with the megaphone stopped by the way, so somebody must have told them to stop. Steamboat up top, he jumped off and Rude pulled the ref in front of him, so Steamboat hit the ref. Rude put Steamboat on his shoulders for a submission. The ref called for the bell, so Rude thought he won and Rude’s music played. It was announced as Rude being disqualified for pulling the ref in front of him. It went 16:40.
Winner by disqualification: Ricky Steamboat
After the match, Rude went into the ring to argue with the referee.
Analysis: **1/4 Boring match with a bad finish. That was disappointing considering how great these guys were in their careers. The last three minutes with each guy going for pins was exciting. These two wrestled many times over the years. I can remember some great matches they had in WCW.
(It’s weird that a Steamboat match could be so boring when he’s against a guy like Rude, but this match just wasn’t that interesting.)
Dino Bravo Bench Press
There was some bench press challenge with Dino Bravo. Ventura and Mean Gene Okerlund were announcers for this with Ventura saying Bravo was going to try to break the record bench press of 705 pounds. Bravo was out there with his manager Frenchie Martin.
I’m not going to recap this. It’s a boring weightlifting segment. At the end of this 15-minute segment, Bravo tried to lift 715 pounds or, so they aid and Ventura helped him. Okerlund claimed that Bravo did it. Vince was yelling on commentary about it.
Analysis: Terrible waste of time. Really bad.
WWF Women’s Tag Team Championships (2/3 Falls): The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) w/Jimmy Hart vs. Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki)
Pre-match notes: The Glamour Girls were heel champions and the Jumping Bomb Angels were the faces.
Double dropkicks by the Angels to start. Kai sent Tateno across the ring and Martin in with a body slam. Tateno got a rollup. Yamazaki tagged in with a headbutt and a back suplex. Tateno slapped on a leg scissors on Martin with Vince saying he was calling the Jumping Bomb Angels “pink” and “red” based on their attire. Way to be professional, Vince. Kai tagged in leading to Tateno hitting a knee, then Yamazaki hit a running dropkick and forearms to the face. Yamazaki slapped on an abdominal stretch, Martin went in and they did a double Figure Four Leglocks spot. Yamazaki with a double leg drop to the legs two times in a row. Tateno grounded Kai with a leg submission. Yamazaki tagged back in, Vince called her “red angel” because he doesn’t care about names and Martin tagged in. Martin slammed Yamazaki off the ropes to take control. Kai got in a cheap shot kick on Yamazaki and then Martin hit a release Powerbomb slam for the pinfall win to win the first fall.
The Glamour Girls lead 1-0
There was a commercial and when they returned the bell rang to begin the second fall. Martin hit a running forearm as Vince busted out his “what a maneuver” line, but then a splash missed. Tateno tagged in with a running clothesline and a clothesline off the middle ropes for two. The announcers figured out the names by this point, so some producer or somebody must have told them. Tateno with a cross body block. Yamazaki in for a double suplex. The Glamour Girls went for a double clothesline, the Angels avoided it and then Tateno got a sunset flip pin on Martin to get the second fall.
The match is tied 1-1
The match returned from a break with the third fall. The Angles with a double kick and double clothesline. Yamazaki with an enziguri kick. Martin worked over Tateno with a knee to the ribs and a forearm to the back. Martin with a slingshot across the ring and Kai with a neckbreaker. There was a suplex by Kai. Martin worked over Yamazaki in the heel corner The Glamour Girls kept on making quick tags to remain in control. Yamazaki with a unique slam onto the butt of Kai two times and Tateno tagged in with a knee drop off the top on Martin for a two count. A body slam got a two count. There was a double underhook suplex into a pin by Tateno that got two. That was pretty good. Yamazaki with a running cross body block, then a body slam and she missed a splash off the middle ropes, which led to a two count for Martin. Tateno tagged in with a cross body block with Kai breaking up the pin. The referee was getting Kai out of the ring, so the Angels both went up top and hit a double missile dropkick. Tateno covered Martin and pinned her to win the titles. Huge pop from the crowd! It went 15:21.
Winners by pinfall (2-1) and NEW WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions: Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki)
Analysis: *** The match was pretty good with an exciting finish that the crowd loved. The referee prevented the heels from cheating, which allowed the faces to hit a double missile dropkick and win the match. I think there were a few spots where there was a miscommunication, but nothing too bad. Some of the moves that the Jumping Bomb Angels were so unique at the time that they really stood out in the eyes of the fans.
(They worked hard and had some cool spots. I just don’t think WWE cared about women’s wrestling much in 1988, so there wasn’t much optimism for the women’s division at the time.)
The Jumping Bomb Angels celebrated with the titles. The crowd popped big for them. The replay was shown with Ventura saying one of the shoulders was up, so Vince and Jesse argued about it.
Analysis: The Women’s Tag Team Titles didn’t last much longer than this. The Glamour Girls won the titles back in June 1988, but then in February 1989 the WWF decided to deactivate the titles. That was it for Women’s Tag Team Titles in the WWF until they brought them back in 2019.
There were highlights shown to set up Hulk Hogan’s contract singing with Andre the Giant with the “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase saying he will buy the title from Hogan. However, Hogan said no to Dibiase’s requests to buy the title. That led to Dibiase wanting Andre to deliver the WWF Title to him and Andre said he’ll do that.
Contract Signing Between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant
Andre the Giant made his entrance along with Ted Dibiase and Virgil before the break. The great “Mean” Gene Okerlund was in the ring moderating the event while WWF President Jack Tunney was also in the ring. The WWF Champion Hulk Hogan made his entrance to a big pop from the crowd. Ventura had a good line about how the people loved the “Real American” Hogan even though they were in Canada. Valid point!
Hogan and Andre sat in tiny chairs along with Tunney to sign the contract for a WWF Title match with Hogan defending against Andre at The Main Event on February 5, 1988. Vince kept saying “look at the size of Andre” repeatedly.
Analysis: Tunney was a wrestling promoter in the Toronto area, but he was the screen WWF President. Most of us that grew up watching this stuff thought that Tunney really was the boss. We didn’t know that Vince McMahon was really the WWF Chairman. To us, Vince was just an announcer.
Dibiase told Hogan to sign it while saying maybe Hogan was having second thoughts. Dibiase claimed Hogan was looking a little nervous. Dibiase said that’s not just a contract, that’s a career ending contract and Hogan knows it. Hogan signed the contract.
Andre was about to sign the contract with Vince commenting again on the size of Andre and how big hands are. Andre pointed something out in the contract with Dibiase telling him it was some financial incentive. Andre was reading over the contract, Dibiase said that this man can take as long as he wants and he is savoring the moment. After looking at the contract for a few minutes, Andre finally signed the contract while Hogan stared right at him.
Hogan and Andre stood up from their chairs and had a staredown, Hogan reached for Dibiase and Andre sent Hogan’s head into the table. Andre tossed the table onto Hogan. Dibiase laughed about it while Hogan was down.
Analysis: It’s classic wrestling booking where the heel Andre had the advantage with the cheap shot. That way it added even more hype for the Hogan/Andre rematch at The Main Event show. That’s the night where they did the evil referee Earl/Dave Hebner thing where Dibiase tried to buy the title, then it led to there being no champion and the tournament that took place at WrestleMania 4.
(I thought this was entertaining as an angle to build to their huge match on The Main Event. Hogan was great at these non-wrestling segments while Andre looked intimidating even though he could barely move in the ring at this point.)
Royal Rumble Match
This is a 20-man Royal Rumble as opposed to the 30 man Rumbles we would get accustomed to.
The #1 entrant is Bret Hart, #2 is Tito Santana. They are already in the ring as ring announcer Howard Finkel explains the rules. Tito was tag champion in Strike Force while Bret was a heel. Nice atomic drop by Bret. I mark for atomic drops. Classic move. #3 is “The Natural” Butch Reed. He’s a black man with blonde hair, long before Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man. The heels work over Tito with a double back elbow. There’s no official buzzer that we’d get used to years later, but you can hear the crowd. #4 is Jim Neidhart, who is Bret’s partner in the Hart Foundation. It’s three heels versus “Chico” as Jesse calls him. Big elbow off the middle rope by Bret. They finally put a clock up in anticipation of #5…Jake Roberts, who is a babyface. He throws Reed out. That’s your history lesson. First elimination in Rumble history is Jake Roberts dumping out Butch Reed. One thing you notice is how hot the crowd is. I bet WWE wishes their fans popped like this upon the sight of babyfaces. It’s explosive. The heels take over and #6 is King Harley Race. “Look at the speed of the King…” says Roberts. This was near the end of Harley’s awesome career.
You can tell the Rumble is in its infant stages because the fans go nuts over the spot where people are threatening to be tossed over the top even though years later nobody ever pops for those spots. #7 is Jumping Jim Brunzell to make it 3 to 3 in terms of heels and faces. Jake just ripped the beard of Neidhart. What a spot. #8 is Sam Houston, a babyface who I barely remember. Just looked him up. He didn’t last too long and he’s the half-brother of Jake Roberts. So there you go. The Hart Foundation teams up to throw Santana out, so he’s the second elimination. “Oh no not this guy,” says Vince as former ref Dangerous Danny Davis is in there at #9. This crowd is awesome. They are not shutting up even though it’s all a punch and kick fest. #10 is Boris Zhukov, who is another guy that didn’t last too long in the WWF. There’s not much play by play to do here. Everybody tries eliminating people, but nobody ever really goes.
It was nice to see Jesse put over Bret Hart’s endurance in the match. Little things like that make a difference. And this was three years before Bret’s singles run would start, which tells you how high management was on Hart. #11 is Don Muraco although Nikolai Volkoff also comes out at the same time. It looks like it’s really Muraco, who was also known as The Rock in case you didn’t know. Zhukov is eliminated. #12 is Volkoff, who of course jumped the gun a spot too early. I guess he’s dumb? Muraco eliminates Race. I enjoy Ventura ripping on McMahon more than I enjoy the match I think. #13 is Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Race takes a shot at him, Duggan chases, Race leaves and Duggan gives a “HOOOOO!” before going in the ring. Huge pop for Duggan. #14 is “uh oh The Outlaw Ron Bass” according to Vince. He didn’t last too long in the company either. The most popular guys are Roberts, who gets a lot of DDT chants, and Hacksaw who gets a huge reaction with his “HOOOO!” chant. Volkoff eliminates Brunzell with a toss over his shoulder. #15 is B. Brian Blair, the other half of the Killer Bees. There are a lot of tag wrestlers.
We get the first of our last five entrants as #16 in Hillbilly Jim. He quickly tosses out Jim Neidhart. Sorry, Natalya. There are 10 guys in the ring as Dino Bravo comes out at #17. Ventura puts him over as the Strongest Man in the World. There goes Sam Houston in one of the best/worst bumps of the night as he fell off the shoulders of Ron Bass. A huge pop for #18 is Ultimate Warrior, who was still new at this time. Muraco eliminates Bret Hart, who was in the longest at 25:42, which Ventura puts over very well. #19 is One Man Gang, who is an overwhelming favorite because he’s big and that’s the rule for the Royal Rumble. Vince: “Why’s he picking on Jake?” Jesse: “Because he’s a snake.” Expert commentary, folks. OMG (that stands for One Man Gang as opposed to Oh My God) eliminates Roberts. The last man at #20 is Junkyard Dog. We have ten men in the ring. Feel the excitement.
Jesse asks Vince who is going to win. Vince says Junkyard Dog or One Man Gang. Jesse says Gang too. Duggan eliminates Volkoff and Gang eliminates Hillbilly Jim. Duggan clotheslines Danny Davis over the top as Ventura praises Davis. There goes Ultimate Warrior, eliminated by Bravo and Gang. They really didn’t give Warrior much to do here although over the next two years he got pushed to the top of the company. Ron Bass eliminates JYD. A little odd booking there, but you can’t stop the Bass Man I guess. I just called him the Bass Man. Don’t think anything of it. Muraco eliminates Bass. You can tell they’re hurrying for the finish now.
The final four are Muraco, Gang, Duggan, and Bravo. Bravo & Gang work on Muraco. Bravo holds him, Gang charges and he clotheslines Muraco over the top to the floor. Wow, that spot never works. Usually, the guy holding him gets eliminated by mistake. It worked in 1988 though! Now it’s Duggan left with Gang & Bravo, both of whom are heels. Double clothesline on Duggan. Now Bravo holds Duggan, Gang charges and this time Duggan moves, so Bravo is eliminated. I guess they set that spot up nicely, huh? The announcers question how Gang could be eliminated. Then as they’re talking about it, Duggan’s against the ropes, Gang charges in, Duggan ducks and like the idiot that he is Gang misses and ends up over the top rope onto the floor.
Winner: Hacksaw Jim Duggan
The match ended at 33:23, so it was not two minutes per entrant like they said. Oh, my God, WWE lied to us! Crazy.
Analysis: **1/2 It was well booked for the most part although the lack of action hurts the quality. There are way too many slow points. Of course, this was only the first Rumble, though, so they would improve on that obviously. Duggan was a good choice as the winner because he was popular with the fans it drew a big reaction when he won.
(The pop for Duggan’s win was pretty big. The fans were into the finish, so that’s a good thing.)
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Rumble match
– This wasn’t a PPV and there was no title shot on the line like we’d see in the future, so having somebody like Duggan win this was good booking. He was a popular mid-card babyface for most of his career. As I wrote throughout, the crowd was really hot for everything he did in there.
– It was nice to see Bret Hart featured as much as he was. You could tell from the commentary that they saw a bright future for him.
– No DDTs by Roberts even though the crowd was super hot for him and calling for it. A little disappointing that he didn’t deliver. It’s 25 years later and that move is still very popular although now we see so many variations of it.
– While watching this match, I was reminded of how good the tag division was back then. They actually cared about creating tag teams and giving them feuds whether they were in the title picture or not.
– You could see how raw the Ultimate Warrior was here. He would get the biggest push of anybody in this match, but he was a nobody at this point. He didn’t even look that big, really. He would “grow” in the coming years.
FACTS & OPINIONS on the Rumble match
Person that lasted the longest: Bret Hart at 25:42.
Most eliminations: One Man Gang with 6.
Best Performers (3): Bret Hart – Lasted the longest at 25:42. Nobody else stood out.
Jim Duggan – The winner of the match. Got huge pops from the crowd.
One Man Gang – He was booked so strong with the most eliminations.
Best Elimination: Bass eliminating Houston – That was a big bump especially for 1988.
Hulk Hogan Interview
The WWF Champion Hulk Hogan was interviewed by Craig DeGeorge about his title defense at The Main Event on February 5th. Hogan did a fired up promo about beating Andre at WrestleMania 3 and he’s been waiting for this encounter. Hogan said that these Hulkamaniacs don’t have a price for Dibiase. Hogan said on February 5th, Andre can’t beat him. Hogan said he’s ready, he’s psyched and he’s physically ready to destroy him. Hogan said to beat Hulkamania you have to beat every Hulkamaniac in here, but you can’t do it.
Analysis: It was the typical Hogan promo from this era. It’s over the top in a lot of ways, but it worked and made a lot of money.
There was one more tag team match. Back in these days on specials on TV, they often times ended with midcard matches instead of main event level matches like you would see in today’s wrestling. It’s just how WWE did their shows back then.
Two out of Three Falls Match: The Islanders (Haku and Tama) vs. The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers)
Pre-match notes: The Islanders were heels and The Young Stallions were the faces. Haku is well known obviously. Tama is the brother of Rikishi Fatu and the late great Umaga.
Powers with a body slam on Tama. Powers missed a corner charge when Tama moved, but then Powers tagged in against Haku. Roma took him down with a jumping cross body block for two. Powers back in for a double team back elbow on Haku to knock him down. The Islanders managed to take control with Haku hitting Powers with multiple forearms followed by a back elbow. Tama tagged back with chop to the head, then a double headbutt and Haku was back in there with a kick to the ribs to prevent a tag. Haku and Powers did a double clothesline spot to knock them both down. Roma got the tag against Tama with a running clothesline followed by a dropkick. Roma with a back body drop on Tama as well. Roma with a dropkick that barely connected. Haku pulled down the top rope, so Tama tossed Roma towards the ropes to send Roma over the top to the floor. Roma was on the ground selling a left leg injury. Ventura complained about the slow count of the referee as Roma got back in before the ten and then Roma was still on the floor, so it was a countout.
The Islanders lead 1-0.
The match stopped from there while they checked on Roma. Yes, really. That led to an interview.
Andre the Giant and Ted Dibiase Interview
The heel trio of Andre the Giant, Ted Dibiase and Virgil were interviewed by Craig DeGeorge on the stage by the entrance area. Dibiase trash talked Hogan saying the contract signing is the beginning of the end of Hulk Hogan. Dibiase reminded us that everybody has a price and he always gets what he wants. Dibiase said he wanted that WWF Title around his waist. Andre claimed he was still undefeated and on February 5th, they will make history when he destroys Hulkamania. When DeGeorge tried to speak, Andre told him to shut up and it looked like DeGeorge was going to cry! That was funny. Andre talked about how he’s going to destroy Hulkamania and he’ll deliver the World Championship to Mr. Dibiase. That was it.
Analysis: It was a basic heel interview. It was hard to understand Andre when he speaks sometimes, but he got through it fine. Dibiase is one of the best talkers ever.
The Young Stallions went back to the ring to begin the match. They went to commercial before resuming the match.
Two out of Three Falls Match: The Islanders (Haku and Tama) vs. The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers)
The Islanders had a 1-0 lead.
The referee made Roma start the next fall and Roman had his left knee taped up to sell the knee injury. Tama with a splash, but Roma got the knees up to block. Powers got the tag against Haku with a back body drop for two. Powers with a clothesline on Haku followed by a dropkick and a suplex for a two count. Powers with a back elbow to the face as the crowd was dead for this. Tama tagged back in and the Islanders hit a double headbutt on Powers. There was an inside cradle by Powers for a two count. Haku came back with a backbreaker. Tama got a two count on Powers with a hiptoss. Haku hit a standing dropkick on Powers, then a gutwrench suplex and Haku kept getting two counts. Powers got out of the dreaded abdominal stretch, then Haku with a body splash and a flipping splash missed. That was some impressive height by Haku. Powers kicked Haku and then did a back bump for some reason. Haku kept stopping Powers from tagging out even though Roma was hurt. Haku missed a dropkick and Roma got the tag to no reaction. Roma was selling the left knee injury, so Haku kicked him in the leg. Tama went to the top rope and hit a splash on the legs of Roma. Haku slapped on a half crab submission on Roma, who gave up to give The Islanders the win. Let’s call it around 14:02 of action.
Winners by submission: The Islanders (Haku and Tama)
Analysis: ** It was just an average tag team match that was done to put over The Islanders for being relentless and not letting up against an injured Roma. The Young Stallions team didn’t get very far while The Islanders had some success although Haku had better days with other partners.
The show ended with Vince and Jesse talking about some of the things that happened on the show.
This event has a runtime of 2:23:54 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 4
It was pretty bad overall, but the Royal Rumble concept was a huge success. Even though the quality of the show was poor, it’s fair to say this event helped to lay the foundation down for the next 30 years of Rumble matches. There were also bad things on the show like the Dino Bravo segment that was so painfully bad I’m surprised they didn’t pull the plug on it earlier. It’s interesting looking back on this and noting that the women’s match was the best match on the show.
This event was a huge success for WWE. It was highest viewed wrestling program on cable TV at the time with an 8.2 rating although it was topped two weeks later for The Main Event special that got a 15 rating and over 33 million viewers.
Best Match: Jumping Bomb Angels vs. The Glamour Girls (*** out of 5)
Worst Match: The Islanders vs. The Young Stallions (**)
Five Stars Of The Show
1. Bret Hart
2. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
3. Jumping Bomb Angels
4. The Glamour Girls
5. Ricky Steamboat
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