The world was in an interesting place around the Royal Rumble in January 1991 due to the Gulf War that was taking place. It involved Iraq and Kuwait while the United States was heavily involved as well.
That led to WWE capitalizing on the situation by making Sergeant Slaughter, who made a career out of being an American hero to wrestling fans, turni his back on his country to become an Iraqi sympathizer. It was cheap heat turned all the way up. It also led to Slaughter getting a WWF Title shot against The Ultimate Warrior on this show.
What’s interesting about the Slaughter push is that WWE and Vince McMahon originally thought Tugboat should be the one to turn heel on America to become Sheik Tugboat. That was the plan according to Bruce Prichard, who worked behind the scenes in WWE at the time as well as today. Here’s Bruce telling the story on his podcast. The clip I’ll insert below is Bruce talking about it on Ric Flair’s podcast and Ric was so shocked by the Tugboat plan. At least it changed before it ever made it to TV.
This was a rare Saturday PPV for the WWF because there were NFL games every Sunday in January 1991, so WWE couldn’t schedule the Royal Rumble one week before the Super Bowl as usual. The Saturday Royal Rumble did well in PPV buys with 440,000 buys, which was the best of any Royal Rumble until 1999. This Royal Rumble even did more PPV buys than WrestleMania 7, which was at a disappointing 400,000 PPV buys.
This would be the first Rumble that would feature the format that we became used to where the Rumble winner faced the WWF/E Champion at WrestleMania. From this point forward, with a few exceptions (1992 and 2016 for example), that’s what we’d see every year with the winner of the Rumble earning a title shot. It wasn’t officially announced that way, but that’s what happened.
This was originally written a few years ago. My additional thoughts are in blue font as well because there’s always more to say.
Here’s an alternate VHS for it.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 19, 1991
From the Miami Arena in Miami, Florida
The first image shown was the American flag. That led to the United States “Star Spangled Banner” national anthem playing in the arena. There wasn’t a singer. It was just a recorded version of it.
Analysis: This is WWE’s way of telling you this: “We have a guy that hates the US that is going to win the WWE Title later in the night, so remember that we played our song for you jerks!” Something like that.
That led to the opening video package where Vince McMahon yelled the names of the men competing in the Royal Rumble match. They also mentioned the other matches.
The announcers were Gorilla Monsoon and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Every Rumble has had a different set of announcers so far. I’m a big fan of Monsoon, but Piper was just average as a color commentator. He wasn’t as good as Heenan (the best) or Ventura (very good) in this era.
The Orient Express made their entrance with their manager Mr. Fuji for the opening tag team match. The Rockers were the opponents and they got a big pop as one of the best babyface teams in the company.
The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) vs. The Orient Express (Kato and Tanaka) (w/Mr. Fuji)
Pre-match notes: The Rockers were the faces while the Orient Express were the heels. Kato wrestled in a mask because he was not from the Orient after all. It was a guy that wrestled as Pat Diamond for most of his career.
Marty was on the ropes hyping up the crowd, so Tanaka knocked him down over the top to the floor. Double team back body drop on Michaels. Jannetty back in with a dropkick on Kato, a superkick to Tanaka and a double team slam on Tanaka. The heels were on the floor, so the Rockers followed up with double suicide dives to take them out on the floor. The fans chanted USA for the Rockers as Jannetty grabbed a headlock on Kato and then Kato with a hiptoss, but then Marty countered into a headscissors. Kato countered into a pin attempt, Jannetty bridged out and got a backslide pin for two. Tanaka tagged in, Jannetty leapfrog and Tanaka ran into Kato to knock his partner down. Michaels tagged in with a double axehandle onto the arm of Tanaka. Michaels ran the ropes and right into a forearm by Tanaka for a two count. Tanaka grounded Michaels with a chinlock, Kato got the tag, Michaels avoided an attack and did a double noggin knocker. Michaels with a jumping knee to Tanaka for a two count. Michaels put Tanaka in the sleeper, Jannetty went into the ring like a dumbass, so Kato hit a chop to the back of Michaels to knock him down. Tanaka with a sweep kick to prevent Michaels from tagging out. Michaels came back with punches on Tanaka, Kato went into the ring, so Michaels hit a cross body block on him. The Rockers avoided a double atomic drop and hit a double dropkick to send the heel out of the ring. Michaels and Jannetty each went up top where they connected with cross body blocks off the top onto their opponents on the floor. The fans loved this. Jannetty worked over Kato for a bit, Michaels tagged back in and hit a delayed suplex. When Michaels went for a monkey flip out of the corner, Tanaka drove Shawn’s throat into the top rope to give the heels control again. Fuji got in some cheap shots with the cane to the chest of Michaels. Tanaka hit a splash on the back of Michaels against the ropes. Tanaka slapped on the dreaded vice grip on the neck of Michaels to wear him down. That lasted too long at a couple of minutes, so then the Orient Express continued working over Shawn with punches. Kato sent Michaels to the turnbuckle, which led to Michaels doing a bump over the top to the apron, Tanaka got in a cheap shot and the heels hit a double team clothesline on Michaels for two. Michaels was sent into the ropes, he stopped, grabbed Tanaka’s head and slammed him into the mat. Kato knocked Jannetty down to prevent a tag. The heels tried to attack with a belt, but Michaels ducked it and knocked both guys down with a diving attack.
Jannetty tagged in with the crowd going crazy (or “going bananas” as Gorilla Monsoon said) and holy shit, what a pop for this! Amazing. Jannetty with punches on both guys, body slam on both guys, dropkick to Kato, dropkick to Tanaka and Marty with a powerslam on Kato for a two count. Jannetty with a jumping elbow. Michaels punched Tanaka out of the ring. Tanaka kicked Jannetty into a backslide pin attempt for Kato for a two count. Michaels tripped up Kato into Jannetty getting a two count. Rocker hit a double superkick on Kato. Michaels up top, Tanaka kicked Marty, which knocked down Shawn off the top to the floor. Kato launched Jannetty into a chop by Tanaka. Michaels punched Tanaka and Kato, who launched Jannetty into the air into a sunset flip pin on Tanaka for the pinfall win at 19:15. Huge pop from the crowd.
Winners by pinfall: The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty)
Analysis: ****1/4 This was an outstanding tag team match full of excitement, great tag work from both sides and an awesome finish. It was one of the first great tag team matches in Shawn’s legendary career. The selling display by Michaels was tremendous, which is something he later built his career around, and when Marty tagged in the fans were so loud for it. Everything after that was tag team wrestling perfection. It looked so smooth. The Orient Express worked well as a team and were a perfect match for the high energy Rockers team. In the last 30 years, plenty of other great opening matches have taken place, but I’ll always remember Rockers/Orient Express for the fantastic work they did together.
(I love this match. One of my favorite PPV openers ever. The crowd was so into the match and the wrestlers did an awesome job. You can just tell how great Shawn Michaels was going to be while the other three guys were right there with him. It still holds up very well 30 years later.)
The Macho King Randy Savage was interviewed backstage by Sean Mooney. Savage said he wanted a WWF Title shot against the winner of The Ultimate Warrior’s match against Sgt. Slaughter. Savage said Queen Sherri is going to make it happen.
Queen Sherri was on the stage with Mean Gene Okerlund with Sherri saying she was there to issue a public challenge to The Ultimate Warrior. Sherri claimed that if Slaughter wins the WWF Title match, Slaughter will grant the Macho King a title shot. Sherri called out Ultimate Warrior and told Warrior to accept Macho King’s challenge while claiming she didn’t think Warrior would accept.
The Ultimate Warrior’s music hit as the WWF Champion made his way towards the interview stage. Huge pop Warrior who had the WWF Title around his waist.
Sherri asked Warrior if he retains the WWF Title, will he give the Macho King Randy Savage a title shot? Warrior said nothing. Sherri started to flirt with him by unzipping his jacket, touching his hair and she wondered what it would be like to touch his chest, so that’s what she did. Sheri told Warrior he had “very wonderful” hair. Sherri asked Warrior if he was honorable, brave and if he’ll give Macho King a title shot if Warrior retains the title. Sherri even gave Warrior a peck kiss on the lips. Warrior smile about it. Sherri even went to do one knee to ask if Warrior will grant a title match. Warrior spit on the ground as if he rejected her kiss, Warrior said: “NO!” Then he left like a maniac.
It was back to Savage in the locker room saying he was going to get Warrior now. Savage ran down a hallway and Savage ran out towards the ring. Savage ran on the stage. The fans booed him while Sherri freaked out. Piper: “It was like being kissed by a butler.” Funny line.
Analysis: That was some bad acting by Sherri, who was great as a manager, but not necessarily when she had to talk a lot or trying to act sexy in this case. Warrior’s “no” drew a huge reaction, so it was smart for him not to say much in this case. This was an angle to set up what was going to take place later in the night.
The Barbarian was already in the ring with manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Big Boss Man entered as the face. Pretty good pop for him.
Big Boss Man vs. The Barbarian (w/Bobby Heenan)
Pre-match notes: Big Boss Man was the face while Barbarian was a heel.
The fans chanted “weasel” at Heenan, which was common during this era. Barbarian with punches, Boss Man with a boot to the face followed by an elbow smash that sent Barbarian out of the ring. Boss Man whipped Barbarian shoulder first into the ring post. Barbarian with a thumb to the eye, he went up top, jumped off with nothing and Boss Man punched him in the gut followed by a clothesline out of the ring. Boss Man spit on Heenan outside the ring or at least Heenan sold it like that. Barbarian took control with a suplex followed by a clothesline. Boss Man’s right leg was stuck against the ropes, so Barbarian worked him over and then sent him out of the ring. Barbarian picked up Boss Man, then drove him back first into the ring post. Heenan with a cheap kick to the ribs of Boss Man and Piper called him a weasel for it. Barbarian with a backbreaker with Boss Man overselling it for a two count. Barbarian with a bearhug, then you could see Boss Man talking in his ear to give him some instructions and the hold was locked in for about one minute when Boss Man broke free, but then Barbarian put him down with a punch to the throat. Barbarian went back to the bearhug for another minute, Boss Man broke free with headbutts along with some face biting. Boss Man with an enziguri kick to the head of Barbarian. Both guys were down as referee Mike “long hair” Chioda counted them down and Boss Man sat up first leading to a two count.
Boss Man whipped Barbarian into the turnbuckle, charge missed and Barbarian got a rollup for two. Boss Man came back with a stun gun into the top rope for two because Barbarian got the arm on the bottom rope. They did a running collision spot leading to both guys getting knocked down. Barbarian went up top and he hit a lefty clothesline for two because Boss Man’s foot was on the bottom rope at the count of two. Boss Man sent Barbarian into the ropes and hit the Boss Man slam, but was delayed in making a cover. Barbarian got his hand on the ropes at the two count again. Barbarian with an eye poke and a piledriver where he jumped to make it look more devastating, but it also made it look worse because Boss Man’s head was way off the mat. Boss Man still sold it like it was a big move. Barbarian went up top, he jumped off with a cross body block, Boss Man rolled through and landed on top for the pinfall win at 14:15.
Winner by pinfall: Big Boss Man
Analysis: **3/4 This match was pretty good with Boss Man showing a lot of babyface fire throughout the match and the fans were into it. I like how even it was where it was big move after big move and they kept getting to the ropes to break up pins to show how close it was. Barbarian was never really a guy known for having good matches, so this was about as good as it could get for him against another bigger guy. Boss Man was in the best shape of his career at this point, sold really well and then had a sweet counter for the win. This was better than I thought it would be.
(Guys like Boss Man and Barbarian weren’t always known for having good matches, but it was good effort here. Boss Man was always pushed to a decent level in the upper midcard.)
After the match, Bobby Heenan ran away to avoid Big Boss Man kicking his ass. Boss Man celebrated the win.
Sgt. Slaughter and General Adnan were interviewed by Sean Mooney in the locker room. Slaughter stuck his jaw out a lot, called Warrior the “Ultimate Puke” many times and promised us we’d see turmoil like we have never seen before. Slaughter said he has integrity and he’s somebody people can respect. Slaughter told the Ultimate Puke that he is dismissed while making angry faces.
The Ultimate Warrior was interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund while wearing the WWF Title with a purple strap on it. Warrior said he didn’t take orders from Slaughter, he only takes orders from the warriors. Warrior said that people that followed Slaughter were demented, that his warriors would never follow Slaughter and he’s going to be the ultimate victor.
Analysis: That was a Warrior promo that was less crazy than usual. There was also less grunting, so that’s a good thing too.
Sergeant Slaughter made his entrance with General Adnan (carrying the flag of Iraq) made their entrance to some big heel heat. The fans hated them. I’m not sure how many matches Slaughter won to earn this title shot, but here he was because it was the direction before WrestleMania. The Ultimate Warrior got a huge ovation from the crowd, ran to the ring and avoided a double team flag attack while also hitting Slaughter and Adnan with clotheslines. Warrior knocked both guys out of the ring and ripped up the Iraq flag, which popped the crowd huge. Adnan went to the back.
WWF Championship: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter
Pre-match notes: The Ultimate Warrior was the face WWF Champion while Slaughter was the heel. I think that’s pretty obvious even if you weren’t watching at the time. This was day 293 of the Ultimate Warrior’s first and only WWE Title reign.
Warrior was aggressive early on as he knocked Slaughter down with the stick part of the flag and then put some of the flag in Slaughter’s mouth. Warrior sent Slaughter into the turnbuckle and choked him with part of the flag. Warrior with a back body drop. Warrior whipped Slaughter to the turnbuckle, corner clothesline and a whip into the turnbuckle led to Slaughter bumping over the top to the floor. Sensational Queen Sherri went down to ringside to watch the match because Slaughter promised Macho King a WWF Title match while Warrior did not. Warrior ran the ropes, Sherri grabbed his foot, Warrior chased Sherri up the aisle and Macho King showed up to hit Warrior in the back with a cheap shot! Macho grabbed a piece of lighting equipment and hit Warrior in the back with it. The referee didn’t see any of it because Slaughter distracted him. The fans were screaming while chanting “USA” for this. The referee was counting Warrior out, but Slaughter stopped the referee because he knows you can’t win the title on a countout and Piper pointed out it was smart by Slaughter. There were four instances where Slaughter stopped the referee Earl Hebner from counting. When Warrior got near the ring, Slaughter sent him back in the ring and worked him over with kicks to the ribs. Slaughter with a backbreaker. They did a double clothesline spot to knock both guys down. Slaughter slapped on a bearhug, which was a popular heel slowdown spot in this era as you saw in the previous match. Warrior sold it like he was exhausted, but then he fired back up although it didn’t work that well since Slaughter put him down with elbows to the back. Slaughter slapped on the Camel Clutch submission by the ropes so that Warrior’s feet were under the bottom rope, which meant he had to let go of the hold. Warrior did his rope shaking power up routine, punch to the face, three clotheslines and the running shoulder tackle by Warrior.
Sherri ran to the ring again this time with the scepter in her hand. Sherri was on the apron, Warrior let Slaughter go and he flipped Sherri into the ring. Warrior pressed Sherri over his head, Macho King went to the ring, so Warrior tossed Sherri over the top onto Macho King on the floor. Slaughter with a knee to the back of Warrior, then some choking on the middle rope. That led right to the key spot in the match. Slaughter went back towards the ring, the referee admonished him for the choking and Savage hit Warrior in the head with the scepter. The referee never saw it as Savage and Sherri went to the back. Slaughter with an elbow drop and a cover for the pinfall win at 12:47.
Winner by pinfall AND NEW WWF Champion: Sgt. Slaughter
The announcers were shocked by what happened while the fans chanted “bullshit” in response to the finish. They really weren’t expecting a title change. Warrior left the ring and went running to the backstage area. The official announcement was made in the arena: “The winner of this match and NEW World Wrestling Federation Champion Sgt. Slaughter.” Gorilla and Roddy complained about it. The fans booed loudly. Huge heel heat for this.
Analysis: **1/2 The match featured one of the hottest crowds for a title match because they hated Slaughter so much, but it wasn’t necessarily a great match. The people just didn’t want Slaughter to win, so when he did, it drew massive heat for Slaughter and Savage. It was as cheap of a title change as you’re going to get it, so that’s why fans were legitimately pissed off about it. It was very interesting as an angle and a very cheap title change, but not necessarily a great match in terms of what they did in the ring. From a booking standpoint, I thought the finish was pretty brilliant. Warrior was kept strong even after losing the title and it was the right way to get the title on Slaughter in such a cheap manner.
Sgt. Slaughter celebrated with the WWF Title as the fans booed him.
Analysis: It was the first WWF Title change at a Royal Rumble PPV event.
(The first WWF Title match at a Royal Rumble and also the first title change. I can’t recall if 10 year old me thought this would be a title change, but the involvement of my guy Randy Savage made it really cheap. Warrior was protected big time while losing the WWF Title here. Slaughter wasn’t even wrestling that much during this period. He was the right guy at the right time and this was his only run was the WWF Champion.)
A commercial aired for WrestleMania 7 in Los Angeles. They were still advertising it for the LA Memorial Coliseum, but then it got moved to LA Sports Arena instead.
Analysis: There are two theories about why they didn’t hold it in the outdoor venue. Some people will say it’s due to slow ticket sales while others like Bruce Prichard have said it was because there were security issues since the Gulf War was going on and it was a risk to hold an outdoor event. I think the ticket sales story is truer because if outdoor events were such a risk then it would have affected baseball or football games, but it didn’t. Anyway, they moved it inside to a regular arena and there were no problems at WrestleMania 7.
The Mountie (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Koko B Ware (w/Frankie)
Pre-match notes: The Mountie was the heel and Koko was the face. The Mountie was the new gimmick given to Jacques Rougeau and he had just started doing The Mountie character in the weeks leading up to this match.
There was some stalling to start, then Koko hit him with a dropkick and Mountie bailed to the floor. Koko worked him over with an armbar, but then Mountie got some momentum going with a back body drop over the top to the floor. Hart gave Mountie the cattle prod, Hart distracted the referee and Mountie attacked Koko with the cattle prod to put him down. Hart was trash-talking Frankie the bird at ringside. At least the bird was well behaved. Mountie drove Koko’s head into the turnbuckle a few times followed by a jumping back elbow. Koko got some brief offense with a sunset flip for two, but Mountie tossed Koko out of the ring. When Koko got back in the ring, he powered out of a piledriver attempt, but Mountie continued the attack with a kick to the ribs. Koko hit a neckbreaker, a headbutt and a jumping forearm. Koko with a body slam. Koko went up top, he jumped off with a missile dropkick that barely connected and he was distracted by Hart on the apron. Koko with a cross body block off the middle ropes for a two count. Koko ran the ropes, ducked a clothesline, leapfrog and Mountie hit him with a move almost like a Chokeslam into a slam for the pinfall win at 9:12.
Winner by pinfall: The Mountie
Analysis: *1/2 This was boring as you would expect considering the two guys in the match. It was an easy win for The Mountie, who was a new midcard heel that they wanted to push. Koko was just there to do the job. The crowd wasn’t into this at all after just watching a very emotional title change in the previous match.
Post match, The Mountie celebrated the win with Jimmy Hart.
Analysis: I believe that match was not shown on the VHS version of the show. The WWE Network version of the broadcast runs over three hours, so I think this is the match that was cut from the VHS tape.
(This match was shit, so being cut from the tape isn’t a bad thing!)
The Macho King and Queen Sherri were interviewed backstage by Sean Mooney. Macho said that he was the greatest of all time and Warrior should have made the commitment to make Macho the number one contender, so now he’s going after Slaughter. There were loud noises in the hallway (assuming it’s Warrior), so Savage ran away.
The new WWF Champion Sgt. Slaughter and General Adnan were interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund. Slaughter said he gives the orders now. Slaughter said while others were aligning with the Ultimate Puke, he was digging in and he’ll take whatever he wants just like he took the WWF Championship. Slaughter claimed when he says he’ll defeat somebody he’ll do it while bragging about the new WWF Champion. Adnan did some shouting in a foreign language to celebrate.
That led to Monsoon and Piper complaining about Slaughter’s title win. They were fired up about it.
They showed interviews with fans delivering messages to the troops and saying they hope the troops come home soon.
The Royal Rumble promo medley was next. It started with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Earthquake with Jimmy Hart, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Texas Tornado, Legion of Doom’s Hawk & Animal, The Undertaker with Brother Love, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, “The Model” Rick Martel, The British Bulldog, Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect with Bobby Heenan and Tugboat was last.
Analysis: That’s always fun, but also sad to see how many of them have passed away far too soon. Gone but never forgotten.
The “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Virgil were interviewed by Sean Mooney in the locker room. Dibiase said people wonder why Virgil does what Dibiase wants him to do and he reminded us that Ted’s money is why Virgil does it. Dibiase talked trash about the Rhodes family ahead of their match.
Dusty and Dustin Rhodes made their entrance to a nice ovation from the crowd. This was Dustin’s first pay-per-view match. Ted Dibiase and Virgil were next as the opponents.
Dusty and Dustin Rhodes vs. “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Virgil
Pre-match notes: Dusty and Dustin were the faces while Ted and Virgil were the heels. Dusty’s real name? Virgil. When the Virgil character was created, Dusty was running the NWA promotion and so WWE named Virgil as a bit of a shot at Dusty. Dustin was 21 years old at the time of the match. He debuted in the WWF a few months before this. There were teases of problems between Dibiase and Virgil going into this match.
The match began with Roddy commenting on how much Dusty and Dustin looked alike. Dusty and Dustin whipped the two heels into eachother to clear the ring. Dustin with a clothesline as well as dropkick on Virgil leading to Virgil leaving the ring. Dibiase told Virgil to get back in there to keep fighting. Dustin with a shoulder tackle, kick to the face and a clothesline sent Virgil over the top to the floor. Dibiase scolded Virgil for being an embarrassment. Dibiase tagged in with a knee on Dustin, then a clothesline and punches. Dibiase with a back body drop on Dustin followed by a fist drop. Dustin slammed Dibiase to the mat by grabbing some hair, then the Rhodes boys hit Dibiase with repeated elbows to send him out of the ring. Dusty tagged in with a sleeper, but Virgil broke it up. Dustin back in with a dropkick for two. Dustin charged at Virgil against the turnbuckle, Virgil moved and Dustin hit the turnbuckle with the left knee, so Virgil kicked the back of the leg. Virgil with a clothesline. Virgil whipped Dustin’s left knee into the ring post a few times. Dibiase sent Dustin’s left leg into the ring post a few times as well. Dibiase wrenched on the left leg of Dustin some more to keep him down. Virgil back into the ring, Dustin moved and Virgil clotheslined Dibiase by accident. Piper liked that. Dibiase was pissed off, so he punched and chopped Virgil. Dibiase tossed Virgil out of the ring. Dusty got the hot tag, he unloaded with punches on Dibiase, corner splash connected, a second corner attack missed and Dibiase got the ROLLUP OF DEATH~! on Dusty for the pinfall win at 9:57.
Winners by pinfall: “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and Virgil
Analysis: ** It was just an average tag team match with a bit of an abrupt finish. I thought they went to the finish too soon after the hot tag, but the main reason for that likely is because Dusty and Dustin were leaving the company after the match. Dustin did a good job of selling the knee injury when he was in the ring. The main story was Dibiase getting pissed off Virgil and beating him up. That story continued after the match.
As soon as the pinfall happened, Dusty rolled out of the ring and checked on Dustin. Dusty helped Dustin to the back.
Analysis: This was the end of Dusty’s nearly two year run in the WWF while Dustin left with him as well. They were back in NWA/WCW land. Dustin returned to the WWF about four years later as Goldust.
(Dusty and Dustin did the job on the way out. No surprise by that.)
Post match, Dibiase had the microphone in hand while the fans were chanting for Virgil. Dibiase said that everybody has a price for the Million Dollar Mana and nobody crosses him without paying a price. Dibiase said tonight, Rhodes and his punk kid paid the price. There were more “Virgil” chants as Dibiase called Virgil an idiot. Dibiase told Virgil to put the Million Dollar Title around his waist now as Ted told the crowd that money talks louder than anything.
Virgil brought the Million Dollar Title into the ring as Dibiase told him to put the title around his waist. The fans didn’t want Virgil to do it, so Virgil dropped the title at the feet of Dibiase. Ted yelled at him about it and wondered if he should remind Virgil about his family and his mother. Virgil picked up the title, Dibiase laughed about it, then Dibiase turned his back, Dibiase said “everybody’s got a price” and when he turned around, Virgil hit Dibiase with the Million Dollar Title to the head! Huge pop from the crowd! Wow. Piper was happy about it as much as anybody. That led to Virgil walking away on his own.
Analysis: A great angle that worked perfectly because the fans saw Dibiase and Virgil working together for years. As Dibiase started treating him worse, you could tell a face turn for Virgil was coming. I remember the spot well, but I didn’t remember it being that loud. It was a huge reaction for Virgil turning on Dibiase. That face turn from Virgil led to matches against Dibiase at WrestleMania 7 (a countout win) and SummerSlam 1991 (Virgil winning the Million Dollar Title). This was really well done.
(This angle was so awesome. One of the best things on the show that is a nice reminder of how great of a heel Dibiase was and even Virgil was popular because of how good this story was.)
Hulk Hogan was being interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund. Hogan did a fired up promo about winning the Royal Rumble. Okerlund mentioned Sgt. Slaughter doing something to a flag, so Hogan talked trash about Slaughter and ending his reign as the WWF Champion. That was a way to basically tell the audience what the direction was for WrestleMania 7 with Slaughter and Hogan.
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
It was the first year of the Rumble match where The Fink didn’t explain the rules. The announcers did it.
The #1 entrant was Bret Hart. This was the year where he’d start his singles career as a babyface, so it was a good chance to showcase him. In at #2 was Dino Bravo. Bret nearly eliminated Bravo early on, but he was able to hold on. The #3 spot went to Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who used to be an associate of Jimmy Hart. Valentine eliminated Bravo rather easily and Jimmy Hart was pissed off, so the Hammer knocked him off the apron. Bret tried to eliminate Valentine as #4 comes in…Paul Roma. And the crowd goes mild. Roma never really got over very well in the WWF or WCW. “No friends, only foes” say the announcers over and over. The #5 man was the Texas Tornado, who was a very popular midcard babyface also known as Kerry Von Erich. Tornado decked Valentine with the tornado punch. What are the odds that the Texas Tornado in 1991 could pass a WWE Wellness Policy test? 1%. Then again, most of these guys wouldn’t pass a test considering the steroid usage on the roster. Tornado was always a very good performer, but drugs sidetracked him and ended his life early too.
Rick Martel came in at #6. He was a heel with his “Arrogance” perfume. Martel was so mean he’ll spray perfume in your eyes! Or cologne. Take your pick. Roma and Martel worked together on Hart and then Roma decked Martel with a clothesline. Piper loved it when the heels fought eachother. The #7 man was Saba Simba, who you might know as Tony Atlas. The announcers took their time saying his name because you know they want to say Atlas. The Saba Simba gimmick was not successful. Tornado almost eliminated Martel, but he hung on. Tornado put the claw on Roma in the corner. The #8 entrant was Bushwhacker Butch, who goes around the ring doing the Bushwhacker dance. Simba picked up Roma, goes to eliminate him, but Roma escaped and Simba was gone after just over two minutes of action. The crowd loved the Bushwhackers! You do too. It’s okay. You can start doing the Bushwhacker dance. Nobody’s watching you. To a big pop, #9 was Jake Roberts and he goes right after Rick Martel, who would be his WM7 opponent in a Blindfold Match. The crowd wanted the DDT. Jake hit the short arm lefty clothesline, but Martel left the ring through the bottom ropes. Jake chased him back in. The #10 participant was Hercules, who was Roma’s partner in the heel tag team Power & Glory. There are a total of 8 guys in the ring as we are a third of the way into this match.
The #11 participant was Tito Santana. While he was coming out, Roma charged in at Jake, he ducked and Roma went flying over the top to be the next elimination. Santana was close to eliminating Martel, Valentine tried to get rid of Tito, but Bret saved him. It’s #12, The Undertaker. Taker’s debut came a few months earlier at Survivor Series 1990 and he was a heel of course. He was managed by Brother Love here. Double choke on Bret and Undertaker eliminated him. That looked painful, but very impressive. They should have had him eliminate a few guys right off the bat. Taker no-sold everything from Texas Tornado. It was Jimmy Snuka at #13. Undertaker eliminated Butch. The facial expressions on Undertaker were pretty awesome. I almost forget the character in its inception because it’s been so long. Everybody took turns punching Undertaker, but he didn’t go down. It’s Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldog, at #14 and he’s a babyface at this point. In at #15 was Smash from Demolition. Martel was scaling the apron and he eliminated Jake. That was a good setup for their WM7 match. Piper’s yelling a lot on commentary. Yelling isn’t necessarily good.
What a rush, it’s Hawk from Legion of Doom at #16. He can have a no selling contest with Undertaker. I don’t think Hawk ever liked selling moves. The #17 entrant is Shane Douglas, who I really don’t remember from WWE at this time. He was an energetic young babyface here. Undertaker eliminated Tornado and Hawk eliminated Snuka. Apparently, Douglas left the company soon after the Rumble to be with his ailing father. Undertaker has eliminated three guys. It really should have been more by this point. Wow, what a sloppy exchange by Hawk and Hercules. “Here comes another one!” Piper is always so excited. For #18 we don’t get anybody. The deal was that since Randy Savage cost Warrior the WWF title earlier in the night he had to leave the arena to escape him and that’s why he never got in the match. The announcers eventually figured it out. The eye gouge was a very popular move in this match. In at #19 is Animal of Legion of Doom. Legion of Doom eliminated Undertaker with a double clothesline to a huge pop. Hawk was eliminated by a sneak attack from Hercules & Martel. Undertaker went over the top and landed on his feet. The guy is a great athlete. No doubt about that. It’s Crush of Demolition in at #20. Martel led the match in terms of threatening to be eliminated, but never actually going out of the ring. “Forget arrogance, he can be modeling endurance,” says Piper. Good line or no? I’m not sure. Nine guys in the match. Not a lot of star power, really.
We were down to the last ten entrants with #21 being “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. Hacksaw was destroying everybody and the crowd loved him of course. HHHHHHHHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! And nobody gets eliminated. The crowd wanted to get really amped up, but they never really give them a reason to. Here’s a BIG favorite at #22, Earthquake. He was in the Rumble a year before, but this year he was getting more of a push. Earthquake went against Animal and backdropped him out of there. Quake went after Hacksaw. Nobody else was eliminated. Another favorite is at #23, Mr. Perfect, who was managed by the great Bobby Heenan. Perfect walked out very slowly unlike most people in the match, who came out quickly. Wow, Brain caught his towel and it was behind him! The first bump Perfect took was a flip one in the corner. What a guy. Perfect eliminated Duggan quickly. They do the time check on Valentine at 43 minutes and Martel at 40 minutes. The #24 spot is Hulk Hogan. Biggest pop of the night, of course. Hogan went nuts on Smash, tossing him out. Hogan did the ten punch on Earthquake in the corner. Hogan was double-teamed and Earthquake squashed him in the corner. The camera didn’t even show anybody else while Hogan was in there. Think he’s the biggest star? It was Haku at #25 to no reaction whatsoever. Valentine was tossed out after 45 minutes. He barely made an impact, though. Earthquake tried to eliminate Bulldog, but that failed. They really don’t have anybody doing a bunch of eliminations at once. As a result, you’ve got 10 guys in there again.
The final five entrants started with Jim Neidhart at #26. Great spot with Tito punching Quake a bunch, he no-sold it and chucks Tito out. I should add too that the more Rumbles you watch, the less hair Hogan has. Poor guy. There is not a lot going on, so I have to give props to the managers outside the ring. I love managers. Especially this crew of them. A classic spot with #27 Bushwhacker Luke. He comes in doing the Bushwhacker walk, Earthquake grabbed him, throws him out and he’s still doing the Bushwhacker walk. That was great! It’s Brian Knobbs at #28. Let’s hope he’s not in there long. Everybody beat him up. That’s pretty random. Martel kept hanging on. Knobbs eliminated Hercules. The back body drop was a common elimination on this show. The Warlord was at #29. Warlord after Bulldog because Vince must love their muscles. You can definitely tell this was when the steroid era was at its peak. Hogan eliminated Crush in a nasty fall near the turnbuckle. That’s why you do the eliminations away from the turnbuckle. Hogan eliminated Warlord with a clothesline. Reminiscent of a couple of years earlier when Hulk eliminated him in two seconds. For the #30 spot, it’s Tugboat, who is a THREAT TO WIN! The announcers realized Savage was #18 and he probably left because Warrior wanted to get revenge on him, which is what I mentioned earlier.
We have nine guys left and no more entrants. Shane Douglas got eliminated, by the way. The announcers put him over, so I guess they had high hopes for him. It didn’t happen for him in the WWF. Wow, Hogan does a near elimination spot. Not bad. It was Tugboat who tried to do it, so Hogan threw him out on the other side of the ring. Mr. Perfect got eliminated too. Martel dumped Neidhart. Bulldog backdropped Haku out. We’ve got five left. Martel slammed Bulldog, then goes up top, Bulldog crotched him and clotheslined him out after nearly 53 minutes, which is the new record.
Final four: Hogan, Earthquake, Bulldog and Knobbs. Earthquake and Knobbs threw out Bulldog to make the final three. I think Knobbs might be the worst wrestler to ever be in the final three. They work together with Quake doing the splash on Hogan. The crowd is dead silent. The heels celebrated, but Hogan popped up. Boot to Knobbs eliminates him. Hogan with punches on Quake, then the boot dazes him and Hogan punches him down. Hogan knocked down Jimmy Hart. Hogan calls for a bodyslam, but Quake falls on top of him. Big elbow. Gorilla talks like Hogan was done as Quake dropped another elbow. Earthquake with a powerslam. Hogan Hulks Up. Hulk did the usual routine with the finger in the face, punch, punch, punch, big boot and another bodyslam works. Hogan with a clothesline to the back and Earthquake is out to give Hogan the victory at 65:17.
Winner: Hulk Hogan
The match ended at 65:17.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Royal Rumble match
– Every Rumble needs a moment where one guy throws out a bunch of people. This one didn’t have that moment and it definitely hurt the quality of the match. I do agree with Hogan winning it. He got the title shot after this.
– They didn’t make The Undertaker look strong enough. He should have eliminated 4 or 5 guys upon entry. I am glad that it took a tag team to throw him out, though. That made him look strong.
– Why the hell was Knobbs booked into the final three? Seriously, Brian F’N Knobbs? That was just weird.
– They must have had high hopes for Martel because he was booked so strongly in this match. His career never really went very far, though. He was always a midcard talent and though he lasted the longest here it was not a star-making performance. I will honor him with a best performer nod only because nobody stood out.
– The star power was a lot worse here than it was in 1990 or what we’ll see next time in 1992.
FACTS & OPINIONS on the Royal Rumble match
Person that lasted the longest: Rick Martel at 52:17.
Most Eliminations: Hulk Hogan with 7.
Best Performers (3): Hulk Hogan – Like I wrote in previous Rumbles his energy in this kind of match is welcome. He was great here. I don’t mind him in Rumble matches.
The Undertaker – He had such star power. He stood out from the pack. You could tell why he became the star that he became. Like I said he could have been booked even better.
Rick Martel – He was booked to be in there the longest and he did a great job with the false eliminations.
Best Elimination: The Bushwhacker Luke elimination is legendary! The Bushwhacker walk in, the walk in the ring, then he gets tossed out and keeps walking. Hilarious! Classic.
Match Rating: *** It was a pretty good Rumble match. I think the lack of star power hurt it at times because it got boring a bit in there, but the crowd was into most of it and they ended the match on a strong note.
(Hogan was the obvious winner. There really was no other choice that made sense. I’m glad they had some fun moments in the match like the Bushwhacker Luke spot. Love that so much!)
After the match was over, Hogan did his usual posing routine much to the delight of the crowd. Hogan got some pro-America signs from fans in the crowd and held them up in the ring. The announcers talked about how America can never be beaten as Hogan waved the American flag in the ring.
Analysis: A lot of shows ended with Hulk Hogan celebrating and the fans cheering him. This occasion felt even more important due to the Gulf War that was dominating the news at the time.
This event had a runtime of 3:06:51 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 7
This was a very good show from top to bottom. The highs included a solid Royal Rumble match, a memorable WWF Title match that had a controversial ending, one of the best PPV openers in history (Rockers vs. Orient Express) and even the Virgil face turn was masterfully done. If some of the other undercard matches were better than this would be an all-time great show, but it’s still an awesome PPV. Check out Royal Rumble 1991 if you haven’t done so in a long time because I think you’ll like it.
Best Match: The Rockers vs. Orient Express (****1/4 out of 5)
Worst Match: The Mountie vs. Koko B Ware (*1/2)
Five Stars Of The Show
- The Rockers – Shawn Michaels/Marty Jannetty
- The Orient Express – Tanaka/Kato
- Hulk Hogan
- The Undertaker
- Rick Martel
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.
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