WWF Royal Rumble 1990
WWF Royal Rumble 1990 is a timeless entry from the Rumble’s early years. Although it still felt like the lesser of the WWF’s “Big Four” cards based on the under card line-up, the Rumble itself is a top-drawer showcase of the Golden Age, and it featured a memorable square-off between two of the biggest legends in wrestling history.
The Fabulous Rougeaus vs. The Bushwhackers
Opening the show was a clash between the comedic Bushwhackers and the easily-hateable Rougeaus. These two teams had previously battled at WrestleMania V, so this was a doubles rematch on PPV (I was going to say a “rare” doubles rematch, but The Hart Foundation would face Demolition again on PPV later in the year, whilst The Rockers would square off against The Orient Express on two major events as well; if anything, it shows how bizarre it is that during a period of so many tag teams, we ended up with numerous rematches). This followed the same formula as their previous encounter in Trump Plaza, with a large dose of light-heartedness mixed with the typical heel tactics of Jacques and Raymond. After the inevitable hot tag, the New Zealanders took control, and it would be Luke and Butch who triumphed here, pinning Jacques after the Battering Ram. This was the last hurrah for the Rougeaus, as Raymond would retire not too long afterwards, and Jacques would be revamped as The Mountie.
Brutus Beefcake vs. The Genius
Next up, we had a real contrast in personas as the wild, unkempt Barber squared off against the immaculate, intelligent Genius. Considering that The Genius was more effective as a mouthpiece than a wrestler (in terms of his booking, at least), it’s no surprise that Beefcake was able to dominate this match, plus he had an ideal head for Bruti’ to trim with his dreaded shears. But just when it looked like Beefcake would get his chance to cut Genius’ hair following a ref bump, Mr. Perfect (Genius’ main ally at the time) ran in and attacked Beefcake with a steel chair. Somehow, Brutus was not given the disqualification victory, with the match instead being ruled as a draw. This would set up Beefcake vs. Perfect at WrestleMania VI, as well as putting further heat on Perfect, who at this point was positioned as one of the top heels in the WWF.
Ronnie Garvin vs. Greg Valentine
The build-up to this contest is one of my low-key favourites from the era. Valentine and Garvin had engaged in a rivalry which led to Greg beating Ronnie in a retirement match. Cleverly, Garvin took up a number of jobs within the WWF that could allow him to gain smaller doses of revenge, which included being a referee that would disqualify The Hammer, and a ring announcer who would insult Greg over the microphone. All of this led to Valentine being so upset that he demanded Garvin be reinstated, which culminated in this Submission match. It was simple yet brilliant story-telling, which was logical, entertaining and had a pay-off. Only issue is, the match itself is a bore to watch: both men worked hard, but it was in front of the wrong audience at the wrong time. Held in the NWA of 1988-1989, this could have seemed like a classic, but here, it only served to reduce interest from the Orlando crowd (which was absolutely on fire for most of the night, as I will explain again shortly).
The Brother Love Show
The heat magnet that was Brother Love got another PPV pay check by hosting a discussion between Sapphire and Sensational Queen Sherri. Since Sapphire was a sweetheart and Sherri was a bi … erm, witch, it wasn’t hard to see where this was going. Sure enough, things got heated between the two female associates, with Love not helping by insulting Sapphire. Macho King Randy Savage came out, and so did Dusty Rhodes, which resulted in Macho King high-tailing it and Dusty bodyslamming Love and tossing him out of the ring (following a slap by Sapphire). Not for the first time, this had an influence on WrestleMania happenings, namely Dusty/Sapphire vs. Savage/Sherri.
Big Boss Man vs. Hacksaw Jim Duggan
The final under-card match pitted Boss Man against Hacksaw, which felt like filler and played out exactly that way. Adding to the feeling that this was here just to cover time, it had an inconclusive finish, with Boss Man using his trusty nightstick (provided by his devious manager Slick) to attack Hacksaw, before Duggan managed to chase off the villains with his 2×4. I haven’t said much because there really isn’t much to say, and Boss Man wouldn’t even last much longer as a villain, turning babyface shortly thereafter (in fact, the segment where he became a good guy may have already been taped prior to this PPV being held; this was the era where developments such as alignment changes and title switches that had been previously taped wouldn’t be acknowledged until they had actually aired, meaning Boss Man might have wrestled a dozen matches as a heel after turning face until the corresponding show was televised).
An advert aired for WrestleMania VI in Toronto SkyDome, with Tony Schiavone and Jesse Ventura noting how April 1 1990 was no longer April Fool’s Day, but WrestleMania Day. For some reason, this has always amused me. Also worth noting is Ventura wearing a Mickie Mouse jumper that did not suit his image at all.
Before the Royal Rumble 1990 main event, we had two chunks of pre-taped promos from Earthquake and Dino Bravo (accompanied by Jimmy Hart), Demolition, Bad News Brown, Dusty Rhodes (accompanied by Sapphire), The Rockers, Hercules (who called it the “Rumble Royale”), Rick Martel, Tito Santana, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Akeem (with Slick at his side), Ultimate Warrior (who dropped the first hint of what was to come by calling out Hulk Hogan), Macho King Randy Savage, The Powers Of Pain (with Mr. Fuji), Jake Roberts (with a typically well-thought perspective on events), The Hart Foundation, The Honky Tonk Man (“I’m gonna play all my hits, in fact I’ll play all 29 of them!”) and, of course, Hulk Hogan (looking as large, oiled as tanned here as he ever was; he also throws in a quick mention of The Warrior). This is absolutely vintage Golden Age WWF at its best, and almost worth watching more than the Rumble bout itself. In particular, the promos for Dusty, Warrior and Hogan are unintentionally hilarious, as well as The Rockers’ cringeworthy “today’s the day, today’s the day” segment, as is Bret Hart trying to calm down Jim Neidhart. Oh, and in between, we had comments from fans that had been interviewed earlier in the day, which provided just as much comedy (such as the person who thought Demolition Ax would win, and the kid who says Dusty would triumph “because he has a great manager”).
Royal Rumble Match
In a nice nod to the previous year (where Ted DiBiase had used his financial power to garner himself #30 via a bribery to Slick), here The Million Dollar Man had suffered the misfortune of drawing #1 at Royal Rumble 1990, which was acknowledged beforehand. DiBiase faced and dispatched of Koko B. Ware fairly quickly, and did the same to Marty Jannetty, before encountering Jake Roberts, who DiBiase had sidelined in the spring of 1989, with their feud set to result in a Mania match (I should mention that Marty and Jake had their entrance themes, but nobody else did until the end of the bout, strangely; I also loved Jannetty endorsing Roberts as he came out). Jake and Ted fought in and around the ring, and just when it looked like The Snake had The Million Dollar Man in trouble, Macho King Randy Savage ran out as #5 to pummel Roberts, giving the heels the upper hand despite it being every man for himself. Fortunately, coming to Jake’s aid was Rowdy Roddy Piper, who received one of many massive pops from an Orlando crowd which was WAY into this bout, and no wonder: look at the star power on display.
Piper and Jake teamed up to attack DiBiase and Savage, and briefly teased punching each other before returning to beat up the heels. After three future Hall Of Famers, The Warlord was a let-down as #7, but business picked up again as Bret Hart arrived as entrant number eight. Bad News Brown once again allowed the villains to outnumber the good guys, and this paid dividends as Jake set up a DDT on Ted, only to be clotheslined out by Macho (what is it with Jake entering Rumbles early and being eliminated prior to his nemesis at the time?). Savage himself would be in the firing line, though, as Dusty came in at #10 (again to a huge cheer; just look at the fans jumping for joy as he enters the ring), and The American Dream went straight for The Macho King. Savage tried to defend himself, but he was ultimately eliminated by Rhodes to major applause.
Andre The Giant was #11, but here he was less of a favourite and more of an attraction, despite him being WWF World Tag Team Champions with Haku in The Colossal Connection at the time, because his body was badly breaking down, and he would be done after Mania, though he did eliminate Warlord here (which led to a brief ringside confrontation between Mr. Fuji and Bobby Heenan, as Tony Schiavone noted how it may also have been every manager for themselves; also, managers stayed at ringside throughout this bout, which wasn’t the case in other years). The Red Rooster was #12, and he too was cheered greatly by what may have been the most product-friendly audience in company history. In the meantime, Piper eliminated Brown, but Bad News No Jobs wasn’t having that, and dragged Piper out anyway. The two fought around the ring and straight into the locker room; this is a common scene these days, but it was a rarity in 1990, making this a great set-up for the two to battle in an infamous WrestleMania match.
After Andre claimed his second Royal Rumble 1990 elimination in the form of The Rooster (I was going to make a joke about The Giant dispatching of two c*ocks but I’ll be mature and avoid that), one of his rivals Demolition Ax came in at #13. Andre got immediate help from Haku at #14, but at #15 was – amazingly – Smash of Demolition. This gave us yet another WrestleMania preview of The Colossal Connection vs. Demolition, before Ax and Smash teamed up to eliminate Andre to another huge pop (Dusty eliminated Bret in the background during this sequence). With a lot of big names having been toppled (though with DiBiase still hanging in there despite entering first), things slowed down just a tad, as Akeem, Superfly Jimmy Snuka (who somehow eliminated Akeem with relative ease) and Dino Bravo came into the ring, followed by Bravo’s own partner in crime, the-then Canadian Earthquake. Quake got some heat by eliminating both Dusty and Ax, before Jim Neidhart at #20 led to everybody ganging up on the big man (sans Dino, who needed Quake’s help to remain in the contest) and dumping Quake to the floor to yet another almighty pop.
Speaking of huge ovations, the roof nearly blew off the Orlando Arena when Ultimate Warrior came charging in at #21, and the reigning Intercontinental Champion eliminated Dino to make an immediate impact. After Rick Martel made one of his many Rumble appearances (The Model was in every Rumble from 1989 to 1995, I believe), Haku threw out Smash, before Tito Santana arrived at #23 to attack his former Strike Force partner. The Honky Tonk Man was the 24th man in, and shortly thereafter, Warrior strangely joined Martel in tossing out The Anvil, before Warrior finally eliminated DiBiase to a massive cheer. But if there’s an arena-shaking reaction, you know that Hulk Hogan is bound to be somewhere nearby, and so The Hulkster (then the WWF Champion) entered as #25. He quickly eliminated Snuka and Haku, while Warrior and Martel again teamed up to outlast Santana (was there a hint of a Warrior-Model team or something?). After Hogan eliminated Honky, Shawn Michaels of The Rockers lasted mere seconds before Warrior tossed him out, and then broke up his new-found combo by throwing out Martel.
Which left us with only Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior.
What a moment this was at Royal Rumble 1990. Fans were already super-excited, but they were all on their feet for this confrontation: Hogan and Warrior, the two biggest babyfaces of the past six years, head-to-head for the first time ever. And neither man backed down, as they both barged into one another before going for an inexplicable criss-cross, culminating in a double clothesline, thus meaning that they were both down. This was basic but highly effective and extremely memorable; to this day, it’s one of the all-time great Rumble moments, which I’ll come back to shortly. This gave an advantage to the incoming Barbarian, as well as Rick Rude, who entered several seconds early in what was either a noteworthy heel tactic or a glaring botch. The heels then had Warrior in trouble on the ropes, and Hulk clotheslined into both, seemingly helping but instead eliminating his fellow babyface. Warrior ran back in and attacked Barbarian and Rude, but not Hogan, as he sprinted to the back like the madman that he was.
Hercules came in at #29, before Mr. Perfect rounded things out (we had been told earlier that Perfect was #30, having drawn “the perfect number”; again, simple but very effective), presenting a slightly anticlimactic final group. Herc did throw out Barbarian before succumbing to Rude, and from there, Rick and Perfect teamed up on Hulk, but an errant spot of mistiming led to Perfect clotheslining The Ravishing One to the floor. Which left us with Perfect and Hogan, and after Curt Hennig suffered a lack in intelligence by Perfect Plexing Hulk (seriously, how does that help in a Rumble match?), the inevitable occurred, with the Hulk Up leading to Hogan throwing out Perfect for the win. This was the first and only time to date that the reigning World Champion triumphed in the Rumble, though an urban legend has since been created that Perfect was originally set to win in order to build for a future World Title match; I’m not sure if I buy that, and in hindsight, I’m glad things transpired as they did.
I absolutely love this Rumble match. Granted, I grew up during the final stages of the original Hogan era so I’m more inclined to put my support behind this time period, but my goodness look at how many huge stars were in this one. Hogan, Warrior, Savage, Piper, Dusty, Bret, DiBiase, Jake, Perfect, Andre and many more. The lack of stakes meant that anybody could have won, and the bout had a lot of noteworthy spots to keep things interesting, as well as effectively setting up various scenarios for WrestleMania VI, with none bigger than the Hogan-Warrior face-off. Before the Rumble, this seemed like a dream match that fans would never see, partly because both were babyfaces and face vs. face contests were a rarity in this era. But as it turned out, we did indeed get this bout, and it became one of the iconic showdowns of the Golden Age, as well as the beginning of the end for Hogan’s peak period. And it all began with this Rumble match, which I believe is a classic.
So, there you go. WWF Royal Rumble 1990 might have a bumpy under-card, but it ends with one of the greatest Rumble matches ever (it’s certainly the most star-studded), which includes a legendary Rumble moment and is aided by one of the hottest crowds you would find that isn’t littered with smarks. Ignore the early matches, and simply sit back and enjoy the greatness of the Rumble match; oh, and don’t forget to watch the pre-match promos, because they are almost as memorable. In a nutshell, Royal Rumble 1990 will put a massive smile on your face.