The Law Reviews: Royal Rumble 1996

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Welcome to the year 1996, and to the Royal Rumble! This year will see all sorts of big developments in wrestling, but we start a bit more humbly. Bret Hart will defend the WWF Championship against Undertaker in a clash of the titans and 30 men will fight for the right to main event Wrestlemania. Shawn Michaels tries to complete an unbelievable comeback story after facing a career-threatening injury only weeks ago.

The show cuts in with Sunny in a bubble bath. She warns us that tonight we’ll see some graphic content.

Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect are on commentary tonight.

Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett

Not much a fan of either of these guys. Ahmed is so greasy on this night. He looks like Jarrett should just slide right off every time they lock up. Ahmed was an amazing athlete with a ridiculous physique, but he was a putrid worker and absurdly injury prone so he never really took off the way they wanted him to.

Ahmed beats up Jarrett for a bit before missing a Clothesline and falling over the top rope. Jarrett sends Ahmed into the steps. Jarrett hits a series of Ax Handles but Ahmed fires up and catches Jarrett coming off the second rope. Jarrett bails to the floor and Ahmed hits a Plancha! That’s a crazy move for a guy who was probably 280 pounds. Ahmed goes to the top and attempts a Harlem Hangover type move, but Jarrett rolls out of the way. Jarrett locks on the Figure Four, but Ahmed is able to turn it over.

Jarrett grabs his guitar and smashes it over Ahmed’s head for the DQ.

Rating: *½. I liked the highspots from Ahmed, but the finish was lame and this wasn’t a great choice for the opener.

Todd Pettengill (looking extra pervy tonight) interviews Diesel, who says he’s going to win the Royal Rumble tonight.

World Tag Team Championship: The Smoking Gunns (c) vs. The Bodydonnas

The Bodydonnas were Skip  (Chris Candido) and Zip (Tom Pritchard). They’re two fitness models who wrestle and are managed by Sunny. Vince mentions that you can’t tell the Bodydonnas apart from behind, so we know there’s some twin magic coming.

They keep trading the advantage here until Sunny gets knocked off the apron. Billy goes to check on her and ends up getting double-teamed. Turns out she’s fine. Billy gets worked over for the next few minutes. The Donnas go for a Double Flapjack but Billy takes them both out with a Crossbody. That leads to a hot tag to Bart. The Gunns wipe the floor with the Donnas and hit the Demolition Decapitation.

Sunny distracts the referee, allowing Candido to break up the pin with an Elbow Drop. They switch, but Bart kicks out. Billy gets back in, everyone brawls, and Bart gets a roll-up for the win.

Rating: **½. Pretty good. Mostly formula, but I didn’t mind it.

We go to a Billionaire Ted skit. These were a series of sketches mocking WCW. They weren’t particularly funny and really just called attention to the fact that WCW had guys that the WWF fans probably wanted to see. The only highlight of this one is that Vince Russo plays one of Billionaire Ted’s stooges.

They recap the Razor Ramon/Goldust issue, where Goldust has been making advances toward Razor for weeks. This was his first big program and did a great job of establishing the character.

Intercontinental Championship: Razor Ramon (c) vs. Goldust

Goldust enters with Marlena, although she’s not named here. Fun fact about Razor Ramon: he never competed in a Royal Rumble. He was always in matches on the undercard of the show and never in the Rumble itself.

Razor dominates, but Goldust keeps throwing him off his game by being creepy. Goldust goes behind and gropes Razor. Next he caresses Razor’s face in the corner. Razor punches Goldust and then slaps his ass, but Goldust liked it. They go to the floor, where Goldust hides behind Marlena. Alright, now the crowd is starting to chant “faggot” at Goldust. Goldust uses Marlena’s distraction to takeover and ram Razor’s back into the apron.

They go back to the ring, where Goldust hits a Bulldog. Razor fights out of a Sleeper with a low blow. Razor fires up and hits a big Chokeslam for a two count, then follows with a Fallaway Slam. Razor scores with the Super Back Suplex as Marlena distracts the referee. The 1-2-3 Kid runs in and hits Razor with a Spin Kick. Goldust covers for the shock victory. He’s the new Intercontinental Champion.

Rating: **½. A little slow, but I loved the way they worked the storyline into the match.

We get Royal Rumble promos from a number of the participants: Owen Hart, Jake Roberts, Jerry Lawler, Barry Horowitz, Vader (and Jim Cornette), and Shawn Michaels.

Royal Rumble Match

Hunter Hearst Helmsley is #1. He lost a match to Duke Droese on the Free For All where the winner would get #30 and the loser would get #1. Henry Godwinn is the #2 entrant. That’s not the greatest start. Bob Backlund is #3. He lasted almost an hour last year, let’s see how he does this year. Jerry Lawler enters #4. Not much going on in there. Lawler gets slopped. #5 is Bob Holly. Not a great field this year. King Mabel is #6. How will they ever get him over the top rope? Same way they always do.

Jake Roberts is #7 and he lets an enormous python loose in the ring. The ring clears until they get the snake out. Lawler never comes back and it turns out he’s hiding under the ring. Love that. Dory Funk is #8. He was 55 at this point, and he looks closer to 70. It’s a totally random entrant because they’re not in Texas where the crowd might recognize him. Yokozuna is #9 and he tosses Backlund. 1-2-3 Kid is in #10. Razor Ramon tries to get after him but is restrained. #11 is Takao Omori. He comes out to the Orient Express music, because what else would a Japanese wrestler use?

#12 is Savio Vega. We start to get some eliminations as Yokozuna throws out Mabel and Jake eliminates Omori. #13 is The Man They Call Vader, and business is about to pick up. As he gets in Savio eliminates Dory Funk. Vader stiffs the shit out of Savio as we see…that his singlet is on backwards. I thought it looked a little weird, it has the “Vader Time” on the back instead of the front. Doug Gilbert is #14. That’s Eddie Gilbert’s son. He was in Memphis at this point. They were really stretching to fill the 30 spots this year. Vader hits Jake with a punch in the middle of the ring and he flies over the top rope.

One SWAT Team member is #15, and then the other is #16. These guys had a really short run. Better known as “The Headhunters” from ECW, I guess.  Vader throws out Gilbert and then both the Squat Team. That’s what I want to see. #17 is Owen Hart. Yoko and Vader team up and beat down Savio. #18 is Shawn Michaels! Here we go. Vader tosses Savio. Shawn goes for Owen, but not with the intensity he should. Now Vader and Yokozuna are going at it! Thought the crowd would pop more for that. Vader and Yoko fight by the ropes, allowing Shawn to swoop in and eliminate them both! Now Shawn Military Presses 1-2-3 Kid over the top.

Hakushi is #19. Vader beats up Yokozuna and then goes back in the ring. He throws Shawn out, but it doesn’t count because Vader has already been eliminated. Vader beats up everyone until referees force him to leave. Tatanka is #20. Owen eliminates Hakushi. #21 is Aldo Montoya. Michaels goes to the floor and drags Lawler out from under the ring. He throws him in, then dumps him out to eliminate him. #22 is Diesel. Now we’re playing. He gets a big pop.

Diesel throws out Tatanka. Kama is #23. Steve Austin, as “The Ringmaster” is #24 in his WWF pay-per-view debut. Perfect puts Austin over a lot on commentary. Good eye for talent. Diesel throws Holly out. #25 is Barry Horowitz. Diesel throws out Helmsley, who lasted an impressive 48 minutes after entering #1. Fatu is #26. #27 is Isaac Yankem. Owen hits Michaels with the Enziguri, but Michaels bounces back and eliminates him. Marty Jannetty is #28. British Bulldog is #29. He eliminates Jannetty and goes after Michaels. Austin gets eliminated. I heard him say on his podcast that this was a mistake, as he was supposed to last into the final four, but he slipped on the apron.

Yankem throws out Fatu. Shawn and Bulldog fight out to the floor, where Owen returns to attack Shawn. Shawn gets back in the ring and Dropkicks Yankem over the top. Shawn and Kama eliminate Drose, and we’re down to four: Shawn, Diesel, Bulldog, and Kama. Surely Austin was supposed to be in Kama’s spot. Shawn Clotheslines Bulldog out and Diesel eliminates Kama, but turns around into Sweet Chin Music and Shawn wins.

Rating: **¾. One of the weaker Rumbles. Super weak field, not many memorable spots. Tons and tons of filler and lots of time spent with guys leaning on each other against the ropes.

Diesel high fives Shawn, but is definitely pissed he lost.

WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Undertaker

This is basically the first time Undertaker has had a title shot since his six day reign in 1991. Taker and Diesel cross paths during Taker’s entrance, words are exchanged, and they brawl. Officials separate them and Diesel is forced to the locker room.

Taker starts out in control and he just sort of plods along with punches and chokes. Bret gets things going by throwing Taker to the floor and hitting a Pescado, then whipping Taker into the steps. Taker’s knee hit hard there and Bret targets it immediately. In the ring, Bret goes to work on Taker’s right leg. Bret locks on a Figure Four, which Taker escapes by getting to the ropes.

Bret keeps working the leg, including a LONG Grapevine. Taker gets out and messes Bret up on the floor. He throws him into the timekeeper station and hits him with a chair (Paul Bearer has the referee distracted). Back in the ring, Bret takes over with another shot to the knee. Crowd is booing Bret pretty heavily at this point. Vince and Perfect keep saying Bret is going to go for the Sharpshooter, like they’re trying to will him to pick things up.

Bret starts running through the Five Moves of Doom. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter (finally!) but Taker goozles him. And then they do a double knockout. This match could have used a Chokeslam there. Bret exposes a turnbuckle and slams Taker’s face into it. Bret rips Taker’s mask off and slams him into the turnbuckle again…but Taker comes back with the Tombstone! He gets two, but Diesel pulls the referee out of the ring. Match ends in a disqualification.

Rating: *¾. That was a pretty bad match. Nearly 30 minutes long, and so plodding. Bret’s heat segments went on forever, Taker never mustered any fire in his comebacks. The finish just came out of nowhere, no build to it at all.

Diesel gives Taker the finger. That’s sort of a landmark. Taker chases Diesel back to the locker room as the show ends.

Overall: Pretty bad show. One of the worst Rumbles, terrible main event. Nothing special on the undercard. Skip this one.

Grade: D

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