Reviewing The Rumbles: 1996
1996: The Do-Over
The 1995 Royal Rumble saw Shawn Michaels emerge victorious as a heel. He was unable to defeat Diesel at WrestleMania, but he did manage to turn babyface in the process. The rest of 1995 saw Shawn built up for a reboot. He repeated his classic ladder match against Razor Ramon at SummerSlam, feuded with Owen Hart over Hart’s putting him on the shelf, and entered a much more competitive Royal Rumble in 1996 with some serious momentum.
1. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
2. Henry Godwinn
3. Mr. Backlund
4. Jerry Lawler
5. Bob Holly (Finally rechristened Bob Holly, but still a NASCAR driver)
6. King Mabel
7. Jake Roberts (during his “I’m sober now, guys!” run which… sigh)
8. Dory Funk Jr.
10. The Kid (another guy we missed a whole era on. We don’t see Kid in the Rumble until his heel run)
11. Omori (He was totally my pick to win. I loved me some classic WWE Omori matches!)
12. Savio Vega
14. Doug Gilbert (Part of WWE’s talent swap with USWA)
15. Swat Team Guy #1 (Seriously… they don’t even name them. Just… “That’s one of the Swat Team!”)
16. Swat Team Guy #2 (…sigh.)
17. Owen Hart
18. Shawn Michaels
21. Aldo Montoya (He lasted a full year+?)
24. The Ringmaster
25. Barry Horowitz (Ooohhhh yeah. I forgot this guy’s push. Or, rather, temporary moment as a “name”)
26. “Make A Difference!” Fatu
27. Isaac Yankem
28. Marty Janetty
29. The British Bulldog
30. Duke Droese
4th – The British Bulldog (elim by Shawn)
3rd – Kama (elim by Diesel)
2nd – Diesel (elim by Shawn)
WINNER – Shawn Michaels
-The announcers this year are Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect, which… I don’t ever remember their being a prominent announce team ever, but okay.
-That said, Perfect gets a classic Heenan-esque heel line chuckle early when Henry Godwinn (who had some GOOFY ring music, btw) does a “hog call”, and Curt mentions he saw three girls rush up to the front row.
-Mr. Backlund comes out, and Perfect notes that Mr. Backlund went to Princeton, but Vince quickly shuts that down as untrue. Sure, but that Godwinn guy REALLY had a pig farm, huh?
-Hey, this is the first year that everyone (not just the first two entrants) gets his ring music played to accompany his appearance. I guess it’s not the biggest deal in the world, but I always thought it was a nice touch.
-Ah, one of my favorite names in pro wrestling accompanies Mabel to the ring. “Sir Mo”. I’m pretty sure it is a monarchy law that no one named Mo can ever be knighted.
-Upon his entrance, Jake Roberts just chucks his snake straight into the ring to let it slither around and freak everyone out. Lawler flips his lid and flees, hiding under the ring for the next half hour or so until Shawn digs him out. What’s more, even all these years later, “Jake teases the DDT” is still big booking… and the fans STILL bite and chant “DDT! DDT!”
-In a stat I haven’t actually kept track of, but FEELS right, the Rumble doesn’t see a single person eliminated until after the ninth man enters (Yokozuna in this case). That has to have at least BEEN a record, if it doesn’t still stand to this day.
-Royal Rumbles love Fat Guy Standoffs, and we have another one here as Mabel and Yokozuna square off. It dawns on me how probably the single most overspammed move of the Fat Guy Standoff is the avalanche, but it’s played really well here, as Henry Godwinn was actually behind Mabel during the Avalanches, and NO ONE KNEW. You just see him squirt out after Mabel falls out of the corner. On the plus side, he is now much more ready if his hogs start charging him.
-This is one of the few Rumbles where I’m going to comment on the actual match flow because it is so poor here. There is a lot–A LOT–of “lazy walkin’ around” this year, and it’s especially notable when one camera angle catches two or three guys just slowly moping around the ropes. The pace picks up later, but it’s deathly slow and boring in the early-to-mid portions of the match.
-Vince and Perfect keep pimping the Superstar Line where you could call and get a juicy tidbit about who is going to enter the ring next. For one thing… god, I had forgotten all about wrestling’s age of having charge lines to call and get “scoops”. For another… how would you like to waste your money to call and be told “Hey there, WWF fan! Hold onto your remote because the next man up is DOUG GILBERT! Will the Royal Rumble ever be the same once DOUG GILBERT enters?!”
-It’s funny… this year is hardly a world conquering array of talent, but after 1995, this almost seems like an All-Star Rumble.
-Getting a laugh out of me… Jake Roberts FINALLY hits a Royal Rumble DDT (I’m not sure he ever advanced past teasing them in the past), but is then immediately pitched by Vader. Ah well, the fans went nuts for the DDT, at least.
-Vader and Yokozuna, both managed by Jim Cornette, have a few confrontations this Rumble in-between teaming up, but their first one sees Cornette go nuts and jump up on the ring apron to tell them to knock it off. After they settle this dispute, they settle into a routine of double-teaming Savio Vega for, like, a while. A WHILE. I started feeling bad for Savio after a bit.
-Owen comes out and instantly gets his tires pumped by commentary for being the guy to shelve Michaels for a while. I’ll be honest… I totally bit on that episode of Raw and thought the whole thing was legit. Give me a break, I was only 14 or 15 at the time.
-Vader and Yokozuna come to blows again, this time near the ropes, and it allows Shawn to pretty easily flip them both over. Vader loses his shit over this, gets back into the ring, and eliminates EVERYBODY. Like, in a few seconds, he gets everyone over the top. Makes you wonder why he didn’t just do that earlier, you know? In another case of “The Rumble’s Rules Are What We Want Them To Be”, everyone Vader tossed is allowed back in to keep going. It completely the negates the one big thing Vader was allowed to do. Speaking of which, why were the rules to Royal Rumbles so casually enforced?
*Managers are barred from ringside… some years.
*You’re eliminated if you throw yourself over the top rope… unless it’s 1992 and Randy Savage does it.
*And if people not in the match or already eliminated throw you out, you’re still out… except in this instance.
Seriously… it’s maddening. I feel like Sisyphus trying to figure out the inner workings of this match. Every time I think I’m close, they change something and push the boulder back down the hill.
-Vince says “It’s the Royal Rumble… it doesn’t have to make sense!”. Fuck you. No. That is not an excuse for continuity errors. Don’t you give me that.
-The announcers make sure we NEVER FORGET Shawn is dealing with a traumatic head injury!
-Hunter gets the Iron Man run here, lasting from #1 to after #25 enters the match.
-Classic Austin, even as he was pissing time away as The Ringmaster: After flattening HBK, Austin mocks Shawn’s little pose. Even a stupid gimmick and name couldn’t hide this guy for long. He does get eliminated off camera unceremoniously, though.
-Shawn wins by hitting Diesel with Sweet Chin Music right after Big Daddy Cool pitched Kama. They tease another split between them, but Diesel just gives Shawn a high-five instead, so Shawn could go back to his strip-tease celebration (he was already doing that?)
Rankings Thus Far
1. 1992 (Flair) – 9/10
2. 1989 (Studd) – 5/10
3. 1996 (Michaels II) – 5/10
4. 1993 (Yokozuna) – 4/10
5. 1990 (Hogan I) – 4/10
6. 1994 (Hart/Luger) – 4/10
7. 1991 (Hogan II) – 3/10
8. 1995 (Michaels I) – 2/10
9. 1988 (Duggan) – 2/10