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Ranking The Rumbles: 1988

December 31, 2016 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Hacksaw Jim Duggan WWF Royal Rumble
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Ranking The Rumbles: 1988  

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I love the Royal Rumble; it’s the best. The nice thing about WWE is that no matter how bad the product is at any given moment in time, I always know there will be one match every year for which I will get super excited. Money In The Bank is fun. Oh, and I dig The Elimination Chamber, too. But the Rumble has the most storied history. And really… what not to love? There is the possibility of several storylines coalescing in one ring at the same time. There is the excitement of every countdown to see who will be the next combatant to emerge. There is the relatively unique path to victory of straight chucking guys out of the ring until you’re the only one left. It’s the best match of the calendar.

And with the 2017 Royal Rumble approaching, I’ve decided to rewatch every Royal Rumble match from history, take notes, and rank them all for your enjoyment (and derision. Mostly for your derision). I’m not going to do the typical blow-by-blow recall of the match; that’s just not my writing style, and really… are you dying to hear about every individual scoop slam of every Rumble? I’m just going to discuss the participants, the final four of each Rumble, and then include the notes I took along the way before culminating in a final review and score. It’s really more of a trip inside my mind as I watch the Rumbles and you are on board to witness every thought I have along the way.

So come back with me to 1988, to the year of my eighth birthday (oof), and let’s talk about the debut of the Royal Rumble match…

1988: The Debut

The Participants
1. Bret Hart (the very first Royal Rumble combatant, still working as a Hart Foundation heel with Jimmy as his manager)
2. Tito Santana (NOT El Matador yet!)
3. Butch Reed (the very first man ever eliminated from a Royal Rumble match, by Jake Roberts)
4. Jim Neidhart
5. Jake Roberts
6. Harley Race (and this was hilarious to me to see because whereas I KNOW Race was a wrestler, I’ve personally seldom SEEN him as anything other than “Vader’s manager”. That is what he always stood out as to me.)
7. Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell
8. Sam Houston (I seriously spent ten minutes thinking this was The Red Rooster because the announcers kept saying his name lazily and he had a red thing hanging from his chin. And who the hell was Sam Houston?)
9. Danny Davis (who had Black and White striped pants! I don’t know why, but I loved that. He had evil referee pants)
10. Boris Zhukov
11. Don Muraco (Who they kept calling The Rock, and that amused me)
12. Nikolai Volkoff (Who ran down to the ring with Muraco, but was kept from entering before his turn by the outside refs. Did he not understand the point of this match?)
13. Jim Duggan
14. Ron Bass
15. B. Brian Blair
16. Hillbilly Jim (a guy I haven’t seen since I was a little kid, and damn… I had no idea how HUGE he was!)
17. Dino Bravo
18. Ultimate Warrior (who… somehow doesn’t win against this murderer’s row of talent)
19. One Man Gang
20. Junkyard Dog

Final Four
4. Don Muraco
3. Dino Bravo
2. One Man Gang
WINNER: Jim Duggan
(Wow, seriously? I mean… I knew Duggan won the first Rumble, but… this is not exact;y an all-star Final Four lineup)

-WWF did not have the classic Royal Rumble font yet for this… it was more of a regal typeface and logo. They would get the branding down in advance of the 1989 edition, though.

-The announcers (Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura), basically drop all pretense of “Every Man For Himself” right away and eventually start just counting out the “good guys” vs the “bad guys”. At one point, Ventura even says “It’s 3 on 3 right now!” when there are three heels and three faces in the ring, even though they hadn’t squared off as anything resembling two separate units.

-Seriously… Danny Davis’ pants. Jesus. I want fifteen pairs of those.

-In one of my favorite acts of Babyface Commentary Apologizing, Vince McMahon blames “bugs flying around the arena” after Sam Houston sticks a thumb in Boris Zhukov’s eye.

-This Rumble is noteworthy to me because… I’ve never seen half of these guys in active competition before! Actually, maybe more than half if I actually counted. I was vaguely aware of WWF as a kid, but I did not start watching until 1992, and most of these jabroneys were LONG gone by then. And I was never quite the historian type of fan; I gathered facts and info about wrestling’s history, but I seldom took as much time as I’d like to have to go back and watch the stuff that predates my involvement.

-Bret Hart gets the Rumble’s first ever Iron Man treatment, pretty much announcing that they always saw something in him for the long-term. He was the very first man in, and Ventura repeatedly mentioned how long he has lasted until he finally gets pitched by Muraco.

-Not that there ever was any, but IF there had been any doubt as to how over Jake’s DDT was, this match should end that. He keeps teasing it and almost getting it, and every time the crowd gives a huge pop. Even when he isn’t signaling or teasing it, the arena kept chanting “DDT! DDT!” while he was in the match. That’s right, crowd. You cheer that transitional move of about 1999 onward!

-Speaking of Jake, he and Danny Davis basically wrestle each other for what feels like forever while everyone else does their own thing. If these two had an angle going at the time, the announcers don’t mention it, so it leaves me feeling a little in the dark about why they keep going at each other.

-Surprisingly, Ultimate Warrior is pretty casually tossed by Dino and One Man Gang.

-Near the end, One Man Gang accidentally hits Dino with a clothesline to eliminate him, but Bravo doesn’t go over the ropes. Gang then blatantly shoves Bravo over and immediately goes into an act of “Oh no! I did not mean to clothesline you over!”. It’s funny from a botch standpoint, but actually even funnier if you assume it was kayfabe and Gang is just an asshole who feigns innocence to his cohorts.

-Of course, Jim Duggan wins this because why the hell not? This was little more than a dry run, and it gave Duggan something for his resume.

The final score: review Very Bad
The 411
This Rumble felt like it was just shit thrown at a wall to see if it would stick. There was no prize or reward or benefit announced for the winner, and it just kind of... happened. There was not even the classic logo yet... it was 20 guys instead of 30... and this marks the end of this "generation" of guys in general. The 1989 Rumble has quite a different lineup with more people everyone would recognize from the Rock ‘N Wrestling Era.