WWF Royal Rumble 1994 Review feat. Yokozuna vs. The Undertaker

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WWF Royal Rumble 1994

WWF Royal Rumble 1994 is remembered for two moments in particular, with both being unpredictable for varying reasons. But there was a lot more to the show than these incidents, as I will explain.

Tatanka vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

“Card subject to change” is an accurate way to describe the opening contest. Tatanka was originally set to face Ludvig Borga, the man who not only ended his undefeated record via a steel chair, but who also trimmed off Tatanka’s famous red hair. But Borga was injured come Rumble 1994, and as it turned out, he never returned to the WWF. In his place was The Beast From The East, who would never turn down the opportunity for a fight, and who had some previous (and future) history with the Native American. This was a decent start to the night, which is a positive considering that there was no real issue between the two men at this stage. Tatanka managed to score the slightly surprising pin with a crossbody, so while Tatanka was unable to get payback on Ludvig Borga, at least he got his hand raised in victory.

WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
The Quebecers (C) vs. Bret Hart & Owen Hart

The Hart brothers had suffered a falling-out at Survivor Series, but over the Christmas holidays, they had reunited, and Bret even vowed to devote the rest of his career to teaming up with Owen, starting with this opportunity against Jacques and Pierre. The story here was that Owen was growing more resentful of his more famous older brother and was desirous of getting the spotlight. But Bret was clearly the stronger member of the squad and so he battled on, even after suffering a knee injury which put the challengers at risk. Bret’s attempt at locking in the Sharpshooter forced him to fall under the weight of his damaged knee, which led to a referee stoppage and a successful title defence for the Canadians (erm, okay, the Canadian champions). Livid, Owen afterwards kicked Bret over by targeting his damaged limb (as guest commentator Ted DiBiase unleashed a trademark cackle), signifying Owen turning heel. Bret was carried backstage as Owen cut a backstage speech, which he messed up by saying that he kicked Bret’s leg out of his leg. That aside, the bigger issue now was whether Bret would be able to compete in the 30-man Rumble match later on.

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
Razor Ramon (C) vs. Irwin R. Schyster

Speaking of which, why were Tatanka, Bam Bam, Bret and Owen allowed to be in the Rumble but these two weren’t, especially considering that Razor never would participate in one? That aside, this was an adequate yet unremarkable match, with Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross commentating for the long-forgotten Radio WWF project. It appeared as if IRS had shocked the world, after former IC champion Shawn Michaels interfered and whacked Ramon with the belt, giving Schyster a pinfall win. But a second official came down to explain what had happened (wrestling doesn’t need VAR, nor did it in 1994 based on this), and after a restart, Ramon hit Schyster with the Razor’s Edge to successfully retain, but with Michaels clearly in his crosshairs.

WWF Championship Casket Match
Yokozuna (C) vs. The Undertaker

This was eagerly-anticipated, since Undertaker seemed like a real threat to the almost-unstoppable Yokozuna. This was a good brawl at first, with Taker cracking Yoko with chairshots that were a bit brutal for 1994. But then came the shenanigans, as a number of heels ran in (which was never explained, by the way) to help Yoko. And by “a number”, I mean nine of them: Crush, The Great Kabuki (don’t ask), Genichiro Tenryu, Bam Bam Bigelow (in his second of three appearances on the night), Adam Bomb, Jeff Jarrett, The Headshrinkers and Diesel all came in to beat up Taker, with Mr. Fuji also attacking Paul Bearer and commandeering the urn, which inexplicably omitted green smoke when opened. Taker was eventually bundled into the box to help Yoko win, and the heels pushed it backstage. All of a sudden, the video screen showed an evil-looking Taker inside the casket, and he seemingly died (you read that right) as he said “I will not Rest In Peace”, and he apparently levitated to the ceiling of the arena. I swear I am not making this up. This whole scene scared the hell out of me in 1994 (I was five-years-old, mind you), but it existed to give Taker a reason to leave WWF television for a good while. That WrestleMania X was on the horizon apparently did not impact the decision nor its timing. It also meant that Yoko would hold the WWF gold all the way to Mania X; the question was, who would face him? The answer turned out to be somewhat unusual.

Royal Rumble Match

Scott Steiner and Headshrinker Samu kicked off the Royal Rumble 1994 match, with Samu nearly choking to death in the ropes via a hangman as Rick Steiner entered. The brothers outnumbered the Shrinker before throwing him out, which was not heelish in the slightest, nor did it lead to The Steiners clashing. Instead, they stayed in unison as Kwang arrived, followed by newly-heel Owen Hart, who threw out Rick. Bart Gunn was number six, before Diesel’s appearance at number seven, and the big man thoroughly dominated. Diesel eliminated Bart, Scott, Owen and Kwang, as well as subsequent entrants Billy Gunn, Bob Backlund and Virgil, all in short order. Diesel’s performance was so powerful that, despite being a villain, he was largely cheered in Providence, Rhode Island. In hindsight, this is seen as a major turning point for Kevin Nash; before this show, he had potential but was untested and possibly even ignored by WWF devotees, but after this event, he was a one-way trip to stardom. So, if you hated Nash when he was booking WCW or when he made a habit of avoiding jobs for increasingly-bizarre reasons, thank the bods who booked him to look so strong at Royal Rumble 1994.

Things became more competitive when Macho Man Randy Savage arrived, with Macho making his final Rumble appearance. Jeff Jarrett didn’t las long, but because he was tossed out by Savage, not Diesel. Crush came in and was immediately attacked by his nemesis Savage, but the monster did manage to eliminate the legend ahead of their WrestleMania X clash. Doink was number fourteen, but he was also a quick participant once Bam Bam Bigelow arrived to dispose of him, which also planted the seeds for a Mania match, that being Doink and Dink vs. Bigelow and Luna Vachon (oh, yes).

Mabel, Thurman “Sparky” Plugg and Shawn Michaels helped to finally fill up the ring a bit, and you would think that Shawn being involved would strengthen Diesel’s chances of victory. But instead, he actually helped Mabel, Plugg and Bigelow (accidentally, but accidentally on purpose if you catch my drift) to throw out Big Daddy Cool; Diesel was finally gone, but he received a big reaction as he left, which demonstrated that even though he didn’t win the Rumble, this was still his night. The numbers kept filling up as Mo, Greg Valentine (making a one-off return), Tatanka and The Great Kabuki (an import for the show, to clarify his earlier cameo) entered the ring. At this point, nearly everybody teamed up to throw out Mabel, but backstage, we had also seen footage of Kabuki and Tenryu destroying Lex Luger, apparently on behalf of Yokozuna, Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette.

So, Lex Luger seemed like such a hero when he arrived at #23. The story about Lex was that, having defeated Yokozuna but failed to become WWF Champion against Yokozuna at SummerSlam, Luger was unable to receive another title shot, but fan letters insisted that he should at least be given one final chance by virtue of winning the Rumble, if he was able to do so. Lex got some revenge by eliminating Kabuki, though his new partner in crime Tenryu arrived to further antagonise Luger. Number 25 didn’t appear, which Vince McMahon on commentary suggested was the injured Bret Hart, only for The Hitman to hobble out as entrant 27 (it was later revealed that the absentee was Bastion Booger, who was supposedly too busy eating backstage, which is hilarious). Rick Martel also arrived at #26 for his annual Rumble appearance.

Bret helped Lex, Sparky and Bam Bam to throw out Crush (the groups working together were efficient on this night), before the unlikely combo of Bret and Shawn teamed up to dump Plugg. Headshrinker Fatu, Marty Jannetty (who had yet another run-in with Shawn upon his arrival) and Adam Bomb rounded out the field, and the ring was pretty packed at this stage, so it was time to cut some of the dead wood. Therefore, Martel threw out his fellow long-running Rumble 91 competitor Valentine, Tatanka disposed of Martel, Luger eliminated Bomb, Fatu dropped Mo out of the equation (how the hell did Mo last so long?), Bigelow eliminated Tatanka but going out courtesy of Lex, Shawn crushed Marty’s career dreams yet again, and Bret and Luger worked together to eliminate Tenryu.

This left us with a final four of Bret, Lex, Shawn and Fatu; even considering that the latter became Rikishi, it was still strange that he made it to the end. Both he and Michaels were soon gone, though, which left us with Lex and Bret. This was a situation that would be similar to later years, in that Luger seemed to be the corporate choice, whilst Hart was the man who the fans really wanted. Their brief scuffle here was inconclusive, though, as both men somehow eliminated each other at the same time! Yes, it was planned, but it was a huge swerve, and both men argued with the officials that they were the worthy winner. After a lengthy debate, WWF President Jack Tunney came out and finally ruled, via ring announcer Howard Finkel, that Bret and Lex were co-winners! In the aftermath, each man would earn a WWF Title match at WrestleMania X. Not everybody liked this ending (actually, loads of people didn’t), but I digged it because it was unexpected and original, and it helped to set the stage for a memorable Mania. Besides, it was a one-off (if you ignore the 2005 situation), so this stands out, even to this day, as an all-time classic Royal Rumble moment.

On the whole, WWF Royal Rumble 1994 is a bit of a mess. The under-card isn’t woeful but it is often a bit boring, despite the major developments between the Harts and Undertaker seemingly dying. However, I feel that the Rumble bout itself is underrated, and is an improvement on the previous year, with its divisive ending either making or ruining the match depending on your point of view. It’s not worth going out of your way to see, but if you watch the Rumble match and the key angles from Royal Rumble 1994, you’ll probably have a good time, if only to laugh at the surreal nature of Undertaker’s first of many demises.