It's 1996 and the World Wrestling Federation is coming off one of the worst years in the history of their company. This year wouldn't be that much better in terms of money, but they were starting to build a better roster.

This was the year when future main eventers like Steve Austin and Triple H made their Rumble debuts while Shawn Michaels was in position to get that big babyface push after years of being a heel.  We also see a guy named Rocky Maivia and another named Mankind show up later in the year. All of that means things were getting better for the WWF. There are still a lot of bad gimmicks in this Rumble, though, so be warned because some of the names might scare you.  

WWF Royal Rumble

January 21, 1996

Fresno, California

The announcers are Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect, who was just okay as an announcer. Perfect picks Vader to win since he's one of the biggest and strongest. The first entrant is Hunter Hearst Helmsley due to losing a match to Duke The Dumpster Droese in the Free For All match before the show. Droese gets the #30 spot. It would be the first Rumble where we'd get the wrestlers music on their way to the ring. We’re back to 2 minute intervals after the 1995 Rumble had 1 minute intervals.

We've got Hunter at #1 and his rival at the time, Henry O. Godwinn at #2. Of course Hunter's the snobby rich heel while Godwinn's the babyface. There's not a whole lot going on with these two. At #3 is the heel Bob Backlund with the "Hail to the Chief" theme song. I loved how crazy Backlund was at this point in his career. It was hilarious. Mr. Perfect tries to theorize that Backlund's from Princeton University because he's from Princeton, MN. Not exactly the same thing. Backlund gets close to eliminating Hunter, but he can't do it. There's Jerry Lawler at #4, who of course is a heel like usual. There's a "Burger King" chant for Lawler, who gets Godwinn's slop bucket. Lawler tries to slop him, but he can't and all three heels bail to the floor and Godwinn dumps the slop onto Lawler. There's a "Vince 4 Prez" sign in the crowd. It's Bob Holly at #5, "start your engines" says Vince. What a brutal gimmick Sparky Plugg was. Not a lot happening.

At #6 is King Mabel, who was no longer a rapper. He was a heel here, after winning King of the Ring the year before and having one of the worst PPV main event matches ever versus Diesel at Summerslam 1995. Vince marks out for Mabel's size like a 15 year old boy marks out for cleavage. Or any man, really. Vince likes the big dudes is what I'm saying. It's Jake Roberts as a babyface at #7. This was his comeback attempt. He takes out the snake. It's huge. Everybody bails. He puts the snake on Lawler, who freaks out. An attendant takes the snake away. We've had no eliminations to this point. Lawler's still outside the ring while the other six guys go at it in the ring. There's Dory Funk at #8. I looked it up and he's 55 years old at this point. The roster was really thin in these days considering Vince had to call in Dory. That's not a disrespect thing. It's just that he's not exactly spry at this point in his career. The crowd chants DDT. The camera shows Lawler hiding under the ring. It's Yokozuna at #9. He's a heel former WWF Champion. He throws Bob Backlund out rather quickly. Mabel splashes Yoko and Godwinn in the corner at the same time. Then he splashes Godwinn on the ground just for fun. Poor Godwinn. It's the 1-2-3 Kid at #10, who you might know as X-Pac or Sean Waltman. Razor Ramon chases him because Kid cost him his IC title match earlier in the show. Kid's too fast for Ramon, so he never gets his hands on him. Then they went out and got shitfaced after the match.

The #11 entrant is "the Wildman from Japan" Omori as Vince calls him. I don't remember this guy at all. There's really nothing happening in this match. Lawler's still under the ring. Roberts got Yoko down, which drew a pop. Here's Savio Vega at #12, looking happy that he doesn't have to be Kwang anymore. He takes Mabel down. Yoko dumps Mabel out. Omori gets eliminated by Roberts. Here's a big threat to win at #13 Vader, who was making his WWF debut after they promoted him hard. I'm not joking about him being a threat. He was fresh in the WWF at this point because they signed him from WCW where he was a World Champion. He's managed by Jim Cornette. Vega dumps out Funk. Vader hammers Vega with fists. I loved Vader's punches. He was always a favorite of mine because he was believable as a badass big man wrestler. They never booked him perfectly in the WWF, though. It's Doug Gilbert at #14!! I told you the roster was really thin. Roberts hits a DDT on Vega, but the camera doesn't even show it. The crowd popped huge. Vader knocks out Roberts with a clothesline. There's still no Lawler in the ring. He's under the ring, we guess. It's one of the Squat Team guys at #15. Who? Vince says he's making his debut. He's a very fat black man with face paint. He's no Kamala, that's for sure. You might know the Squat Team from ECW where they were known as The Headhunters. Vader hits a stiff chokeslam on Gilbert and then throws him out easily. Vader throws out the Squat team dude. In ring we've got six guys, plus Lawler out on the floor.

There's the other Squat Team guy at #16. They're identical twins, Vince tells us. They both get in the ring, going right at Vader. He fights them off with fists. He clotheslines him out of the ring. Yoko threw out a Squat Team guy. Yoko looks VERY tired. There's Owen Hart at #17. He'll be the best worker in the match as soon as he gets in there. Man, Yoko looks to be in really bad shape. He looks so tired just standing on the ropes. Vader whipped Yoko into Vega and then Vader splashed Vega in the corner too. Vader splashes Vega and Yoko legdrops him. Here's Shawn Michaels at #18 to a huge pop. He's a babyface here, coming back from the concussion storyline and the "Tell Me a Lie" video. Vader throws out Savio. Yoko starts brawling with Vader, which makes Jim Cornette angry because he manages both guys. The two big guys are teetering against the ropes, so Michaels grabs their legs and flips them out. Huge pop for that. Michaels eliminates Kid. There's Hakushi at #19, who is a heel. Vader is pissed off, so he decks Yoko and goes back in the ring. He beats the hell out of Michaels. He press slams Michaels and throws him over the top to the floor. He does the same to Owen, Holly and HHH. In past (and future) Rumbles if a guy that got eliminated went back in the ring they were still able to eliminate people. In this case it was angle to put over how dominant Vader was. They toss Vader out of the ringside area. That was really well done in terms of establishing as a new force in the WWF. Michaels flips Cornette over the top and we've got #20 Tatanka. There are six guys in the ring, plus Jerry Lawler also in the match. HHH is close to eliminating Michaels. I wonder if those two would have good careers. They look like they have potential. Owen eliminates Hakushi.

Cue the terrible music as #21 Aldo Montoya (Justin Credible) enters. Perfect: "He's got his jock on the wrong part of his body." Vince: "I don't think so." I guess Vince loved the gimmick. He's the only one. The mask looks like a jock. Michaels takes a walk around the ring looking for Jerry Lawler. He finds him. No Hornswoggle yet, folks. He throws Lawler back in. Tatanka eliminates Montoya and Michaels throws Lawler out. Here's a threat at #22, Diesel aka Kevin Nash. He throws out Tatanka right away. He was the World Champ for most of 1995. He would leave for WCW four months after this. He decks Michaels with a punch because he was turning heel around this time although as he entered here he was still a babyface. It's the "Supreme Fighting Machine" Kama at #23. You might remember him from such gimmicks as Papa Shango, The Godfather and The Goodfather as well. There are six guys in the right now: Michaels, Holly, Diesel, Kama, Owen and HHH. They had Diesel "inadvertently" hit Michaels. It's STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD! at #24. I almost had a joygasm right there. No…sorry…it's the Ringmaster Steve Austin. He's a few months away from being Stone Cold. I'll never understand why they gave him a mouthpiece like Ted Dibiase when he was always a strong talker. Thankfully he became Stone Cold soon after this. Austin eliminates Holly with a knee into the back. Barry Horowitz! Barry Horowitz! Barry Horowitz! The pat on the back! He's in at #25 and his music in the "can-can" song. I love this man. For those that don't know, Barry was a lifetime jobber who was in the WWF for a long time. They did an angle where he actually won a match and it got over pretty big. He also gave himself a pat on the back all the time. It was silly, but you had to love a lifelong jobber like Barry. Diesel launches HHH out. That was random. They had Triple H last the longest in the match at 48:01, but guess how many eliminations he officially had? Zero.

It's Fatu (Rikishi) at #26 in his "man making a difference" gimmick. He was a babyface that was going to help the kids in the streets. It didn't work very well. Barry Horowitz is still in there! "If Horowitz wins this match I quit," says Perfect. He actually left soon after this for WCW! Owen tries to suplex Shawn out, but HBK hangs on. It's KANE! No, Isaac Yankem at #27. The dentist music. Owen dumps out Horowitz. Yankem goes after Diesel, which is funny because after Diesel left they did a fake Diesel and he's the one that played fake Diesel. Owen hits an enziguri to HBK and Shawn sells it like he's hurt bad. It's the same spot that hurt Michaels. They show a replay of that and while that happens Shawn & Diesel throw out Owen. Way to miss the elimination, director. Austin cheapshots Michaels and then he does the HBK flex pose. That was great. It's Marty Jannetty, still coming out to the Rockers music, at #28. Michaels hangs on from a near elimination. Austin beats on Diesel and he taunts him too. Small pop for Michaels & Jannetty doing a double KO spot. It's The British Bulldog at #29, who has the short hair here unlike the long hair from the year before when he was the runner up. He's a heel now. Bulldog dumps out Jannetty. We've got 7 left. Yankem is still in there! Austin gets eliminated by Fatu although we never see it except in the background. It's a preview of the angle where Rikishi runs him over in a car over 3 years later! Not exactly. Same two guys in different gimmicks, though. Perfect asks what happened to Ringmaster. Vince doesn't know. Yankem eliminates Fatu. There are five men left with one more entrant, who is #30 Duke "The Dumpster" Droese. "Imagine that, a garbage man goes to WrestleMania to face the WWF Champion." No Vince, nobody can imagine that. It's a terrible gimmick. What the hell were you thinking?

Michaels and Bulldog go through the ropes. Owen Hart comes out to attack Michaels. This set up a match on the February PPV that was very good. Diesel saves Michaels from a Bulldog press slam and Michaels dropkicks Yankem out of the ring. Diesel and Kama eliminate Droese.

The final four are Diesel, Kama, Michaels and Bulldog. They pair off, Michaels avoids an elimination from Bulldog, slides under the ropes and clotheslines him out. Then Kama clubs Michaels in the back, but Shawn skins the cat back in. What a sequence from HBK there. He's too good. Diesel shoves Kama out. He's standing by the ropes, he turns around and Michaels superkicks him to send Diesel over the top. He's out.

Winner: Shawn Michaels

The match ended at 58:49.

 

FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

- The lack of talent wasn't very good here, but it was slightly ahead of the 1995 Rumble. Some of the guys were a major reach in terms of their inclusion in the match. You could tell they called some people in for one time appearances. That's a sign of a ridiculously thin roster. It was not the best of times for the WWF. Things would get better, though.

- Much like the year before, Michaels' talent is so far ahead of everybody else in this match. In the second half of his career the roster was much better. There's no doubt about that. It makes me think about how good the first half of his career could have been with better opponents. He had a few, but not as many as you might think. This was his last Rumble appearance until 2003, by the way. See ya soon, HBK.

- They booked Vader really well. He was the star of the first half of the match. It would have been cool to see him last a little longer just because he's a great talent, but I understand picking his spot with him. He's one of the best big men wrestlers ever.

- Poor Yoko. In 1993 he was in pretty good shape for a guy his size. He was mobile and fresh. By this point he looked even bigger and was tired almost as soon as he got in the ring. He lasted another year or so, but he wasn't the force he was during his initial push. And he would die four years after this.

- I think Barry Horowitz deserves a pat on the back for his performance.

 

FACTS & OPINIONS

Person that lasted the longest: Hunter Hearst Helmsley at 48:01. He eliminated nobody!

Most Eliminations: Shawn Michaels with 8.

Best Performers (3): Shawn Michaels - Obvious choice.

Vader - Great debut for him.

Steve Austin - Because I'm biased and nobody else impressed me.

Best Elimination: Michaels dumping out Yokozuna and Vader at the same time was very impressive.

Match Rating: **1/4 Not very exciting.

 

Ranking the Rumble matches in terms of star ratings:

1992: ****1/2

1990: ***1/2

1994: ***

1995: **3/4

1988: **1/2

1996: **1/4

1993: **1/4

1991: **1/4

1989: **

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Here's a link to previous Royal Rumble recaps:

1988 Royal Rumble won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan

1989 Royal Rumble won by Big John Studd

1990 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan

1991 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan

1992 Royal Rumble won by Ric Flair

1993 Royal Rumble won by Yokozuna

1994 Royal Rumble won by Bret Hart & Lex Luger

1995 Royal Rumble won by Shawn Michaels

Next up is the 1997 Royal Rumble when things were getting a lot better in WWE thanks to a really hot feud that carried that Rumble match.  

John Canton - mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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