The first Royal Rumble wasn’t the huge match that it’s now become. It was just a special attraction and an attempt to screw Jim Crockett Promotions, something that was a cornerstone of the WWF’s business strategy in this era. Jim Crockett Promotions had a pay-per-view taking place in January, the Bunkhouse Stampede. Vince decided to undercut them by putting a live special on the USA Network the same night. The centerpiece of the event would be a 20 man battle royal known as the “Royal Rumble.”
The idea was Pat Patterson’s, probably inspired by his time in the San Francisco territory. Every year the biggest show of the year in San Francisco would feature a battle royal. They would bring in wrestlers from all over the country to compete. The Royal Rumble would be an over the top rope battle royal with the twist that the entrants would be staggered rather than all starting at once.
Also on the Card:
-Ricky Steamboat defeated Rick Rude
-The Jumping Bomb Angels defeated The Glamour Girls to win the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship
-The Islanders defeated The Young Stallions
Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura are our hosts. Bret Hart is #1 and Tito Santana is #2. Good pair to kick things off. They trade the advantage during their two minute segment. Butch Reed is #3. This match really isn’t the same without entrance music. They didn’t add that until 1993, I think. Bret and Butch work together against Tito. #4 is Jim Neidhart, Bret’s tag partner. Great break for the Hart Foundation. Now it’s three-on-one. Jake “The Snake” Roberts is #5 and he immediately tosses Butch. Jake and Tito team up against the Hart Foundation, but Neidhart cuts off a DDT attempt on Bret. Bret Piledrives Tito as Harley Race enters #6.
Jim Brunzell enters #7. Not of ton of significance happens as the match starts to slow down. Sam Houston is #8. Tito gets ganged up on by the Hart Foundation and eliminated. “Dangerous” Danny Davis is #9. Houston pummels him, as they apparently had an issue at this time. Boris Zukhov is #10. Don Muraco is #11, and Nikolai Volkoff follows him down to the ring. Muraco gets a shot in on him and jumps into the ring. Zukhov gets dumped by Jake and Brunzell. Nikolai Volkoff is #12. He tried to get an early start, but the referees stopped him. Race is eliminated by Muraco.
Jim Duggan is #13. He and Race get into it on the floor. He gets into the ring and works over Neidhart in the corner. “Outlaw” Ron Bass is #14. Brunzell gets tossed by Volkoff. B. Brian Blair is #15. Too bad his tag partner just got thrown out. Hillbilly Jim is #16. He and Neidhart go at it right away. Neidhart ends up getting thrown out. Dino Bravo is #17. He kayfabe set the world bench press record earlier in the night. Sam Houston gets thrown out in pretty spectacular fashion by Ron Bass. Ultimate Warrior is #18! There’s some star power. He had debuted only a month or so before this. Bret is eliminated by Muraco. He lasted 25 minutes, setting the initial Rumble record.
One Man Gang is #19. He tags Jake to start. Gang ends up dumping Jake. Final entrant is Junkyard Dog, who is #20. So here’s who we have: Danny Davis, Dino Bravo, Don Muraco, Duggan, Hillbilly Jim, JYD, Ron Bass, Volkoff, and Warrior. Half the entrants still in the ring. Volkoff is the first to go, courtesy of Duggan. Gang eliminates Hillbilly Jim and Davis is tossed by Duggan. Warrior gets double-teamed and eliminated by Gang and Bravo. They’re really pairing things down now. Dog is dumped from behind by Bass.
Final four: Bravo, Muraco, One Man Gang, and Duggan. Gang and Bravo team up. Bravo holds Muraco, allowing Gang to Clothesline Muraco over the top. So it’s Duggan against Gang and Bravo. They tune Duggan up. Bravo holds Duggan for a Clothesline, but Duggan moves and Bravo gets Clotheslined out. Down to Duggan and Gang. Duggan deals on Gang, but gets swatted down. Gang chokes Duggan against the rope, then charges him. Duggan pulls the rope down and Gang tumbles over. Duggan wins at 33:25.
Analysis: **1/2. One of the weaker Royal Rumbles. They hadn’t come up with some of the great Rumble tropes that would serve the match well over the years. Lack of star power definitely hurt. Jake was the biggest name in there, and he was never a main event guy. No Hogan, Savage, Andre, or DiBiase.
Aftermath: The show was a commercial success, drawing an 8.2 rating. More importantly, many people chose to watch this instead of ordering the Jim Crockett pay-per-view, which drew a low buyrate. The Royal Rumble would return as a pay-per-view event in 1989 and become a fixture on the WWF pay-per-view calendar.