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Favorite Retro Royal Rumble Moments

The very first time I laid eyes on the Royal Rumble was in 1988.  I was 5 years old and was playing Nintendo over at my neighbor's house because he was THAT kid on the block that had every toy you could dream of.  His older brother was watching the USA Network when the very first Royal Rumble aired free for anyone who got basic cable at the time.  This annual Pay-Per-View event, one of the "Big Four," was originally aired for free to take away viewers from rival promotion NWA/WCW's Bunkhouse Stampede PPV.

With the Royal Rumble starting the "Road to Wrestlemania" every year, I thought it would be a good time to think back on some of my favorite Royal Rumble memories.  The Royal Rumble has always been a favorite of mine... most years I find it more exciting and enjoyable than Wrestlemania itself.  The constant count-down clock and the anticipation of "who's next?" is always so exciting!  Could it be a returning injured superstar or a legend getting one last shot in the spotlight?  Back in the day, it could even be a giant surprise debut from "the other company."  It's also always fun to see who can stay in the ring the longest and who has the fastest exit.

Without further ado, here are five of my favorite retro Royal Rumble memories (in chronological order.)

1.  Royal Rumble 1988

As I mentioned previously, my first memory of WWF/E's Royal Rumble was catching it on free television at my neighbor's house.

From what I remember (without going back to research for this article), the first Royal Rumble was very exciting.  Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat was there as well as every kid's favorite Hulk Hogan!  The problem I see, now going back to watch this event, was that most of the wrestlers involved in the big "Rumble" match were a bunch of nobodies.  Further proving this, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan came out of this event as the first-ever Rumble winner and as a kid, I remember thinking "Who is this?"   Duggan would also be the first WWF Hasbro figure I was ever given as a birthday gift just a few years later.  By then, in probably 92 or 93, the bloom was off the rose and Duggan wouldn't be the top "next Hogan" guy that Vince thought he might be.

2.  Hulk Hogan Wins the 1990 Royal Rumble

As a kid in 1990, you had to be crazy to not like Hulk Hogan.  Big, muscular, loud, colorful... wait, that was Ultimate Warrior.  I was a big Warrior fan too because I've always liked bright neon colors, the tassels, and the speed with which he won his matches.  It's the same reason Sting has always been my all-time favorite wrestler... I loved that surfer Sting gimmick as a kid.  But, I digress...

I was still a little Hulkamaniac!  Nothing really earth-shattering occurred here in 1990 other than the first real faceoff between World Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior that would eventually lead to the Main Event of Wrestlemania 6 just months later.  Hulk Hogan would come out on top in the Rumble, but I think, looking back on this match, I really enjoyed it because of the talent involved.  Wrestlers from Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior to Mr. Perfect and Ted DiBiase graced the ring.  I think this signals that the early 90's WWF is one of my favorite times in professional wrestling.  The list of wrestlers seems to be a who's who of my childhood favorites:  Randy Savage, Dusty Rhodes, Piper, Beefcake, Earthquake, Warlord, Demolition... the list goes on and on.

I think I also love this event because of the 1991 WWF arcade game "WrestleFest."  When I was young I spent many hours begging my parents for quarters to play this arcade game in the lobby of the ice rink while my brother played hockey.  The roster and gameplay is based on the 1990 Royal Rumble.  I smell another article...

3.  Ric Flair Wins the 1992 Royal Rumble

While I enjoyed the cartoonish aspects of early '90s WWF, I grew up a staunch and hardcore WCW fan.  Ric Flair was the "REAL" champion among wrestling champions... if you asked me.  After contract disputes with the new WCW management following the sale to Turner, Flair jumped ship to WWF in 1991.  I think everyone was rooting hard for the day when he and Hogan would square off for the WWF World title.

For whatever behind the scenes reason, that never happened in the WWF and would take place years later back in WCW.  However, the 1992 Royal Rumble came close.  The WWF Title had been under question after Flair interfered in a match between The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan, and the winner of the Royal Rumble would be declared the new champion.  Until this point, winning the Rumble just gave you bragging rights.  In 1992 the Rumble made you Champion.

In the glory days of the NWA, Flair was known for his hour-long "broadway" draws.  Here on the big stage in the WWF, when he came out to the Rumble as entrant #3, he had the chance to show he still could go.  To be honest, Flair would show for another 2 decades he could still go.  In the end, Flair outlasted everyone else in the match to capture his first WWF Title and cut one hell of a promo to close the show, too.

4.  Yokozuna Wins the Royal Rumble 1993 creating "The Road to Wrestlemania"

In 1993, the WWF set in stone what would be the formula for all future Royal Rumble's.  The winner of the match would not be made Champion as had Ric Flair the year prior, but, would receive a Main Event Title shot at Wrestlemania just months later.  This made the event so exciting for me as a kid and even today adults would likely agree.  The thought of who is being elevated to Main Event status, who would begin the months-long feud on the "Road to Wrestlemania," and who could possibly dethrone the current Champion.

There were several great matches on this card, including Bret Hart vs Razor Ramone for the WWF Title as well as the long-awaited (for me) return for Marty Jannetty in a failing attempt at revenge on Shawn Michaels.  The '93 Rumble also featured the debut of one of my WCW favorites, Lex Luger as "The Narcissist."  He would later become one of my absolute WWF favorites, the All-American Lex Luger, body-slamming Yokozuna on the deck of the Intrepid aircraft carrier following his around the country tour on "The Lex Express."

For the 1993 Royal Rumble, Yokozuna walked out of the event as the contender for Bret Hart months later at Wrestlemania 9 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas against Bret "Hitman" Hart.  As you'll read in my very next post, Wrestlemania 9 is one of my all-time favorites, so this means something extra special to me.

5.  Bret Hart and Lex Luger Are Co-Winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble

The 1994 Royal Rumble had co-winners in a move that I now think was ingenious, but at the time, I hated.  The match came down to the Bret Hart and Lex Luger at the end…two babyfaces, and during a struggle up on the ropes, both men went over the top and hit the floor at the same time.  Several referees, arguments, celebrations, and corporate decisions later (all scripted) the decision stood and both men would wind up with at WWF Title shot at Wrestlemania 10.

The decision to go with the dual winners added to the unpredictable nature of the Royal Rumble that continues to this day.  As I mentioned in the 1993 Royal Rumble above, Lex Luger's "Narcissist" gimmick would be short-lived and here he was as the "All-American" in 1994.  Following his 'round the country bus tour on "The Lex Express" I was hooked.  He was one of my favorites over on WCW and now that he was a baby-face again I was a big supporter once again.

Knowing what I know about wrestling now, and especially after reading Bret Hart's autobiography and listening to Bruce Prichard's podcast about this moment, I have much respect for Hart's wrestling ability.  He not only promised McMahon but delivered on that promise that both of the grappler's feet would touch the floor at the same time.  Good camera work and an amazing ability delivered the memorable moment that gave us the co-winners of the '94 Royal Rumble.