TJR: WWE Royal Rumble 1988 Match Review

TJR Wrestling

The first Royal Rumble was held in 1988 and obviously the last one was 2012, so that means there will be 25 Royal Rumble match reviews for you to read in the next month.

Please note: I will ONLY be writing about the 30 man (20 or 40 man too) Rumble matches. I’m not writing about every match on every Royal Rumble card. This is just about the actual Royal Rumble match.

All recaps will be written in play by play format. I won’t recap every single move, but I’ll hit the key ones I promise you. At the end we’ll bring it home with some facts & opinions.

WWF Royal Rumble

January 24, 1988

Hamilton, Ontario

The announcers are Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura. This is a 20 man Royal Rumble as opposed to the 30 man Rumble’s we would get accustomed to. It was also broadcast on USA Network rather than being a PPV like we know it to be.

#1 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. Haha! 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 actually 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 despite the fact that 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 pretty 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. 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.


– 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 midcard 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.

– 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.

For each Rumble I’ll hand out some awards in a section called…


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.

Match Rating: **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.


Next up: The 1989 Royal Rumble, which was the first Rumble that was on PPV and features a lot more of the big names in the WWF.