January 24, 1988
In the time before the World Wrestling Federation became the pay per view juggernaut we know and sometimes love today (albeit as the WWE), the first Royal Rumble event began life as a television special designed, as legend has it, simply to stick it to Jim Crocket Promotions, who were hosting their NWA Bunkhouse Stampede pay per view on the same night.
Whilst the NWA show would fade into eventual obscurity, WWF's January event would, of course, go on to become an annual tradition. Yet the inaugural event was far from flawless and featured the good, the bad, and the incredibly boring.
Here's what went down.
Ravishing Rick Rude vs. Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat.
If Rick Rude wasn't the established star he would go on to become when this match started, he would certainly be one step closer to stardom by the time it concluded.
Both men put gave a valiant effort in this one-on-one encounter, The Ravishing One using strength and brute force to counter The Dragon's speed and agility.
Following an opening tumble, Steamboat accepted Rude's challenge to a test of strength, yet was no match for his muscular foe and quickly reduced to his knees. Putting his wrestling prowess to good use, Steamboat eventually found a counter and slapped on an armbar.
Using this as the basis, the two Ricks delivered a very enjoyable, solid contest with perhaps more 'arm drag into arm bar' spots from Ricky Steamboat than certainly this writer has ever seen in a single contest.
The end came as The Dragon looked to finish off his foe with a huge leap from the top rope. The dastardly Rude however, pulled referee Dave Hebner in harm's way, forcing him to take the blow. Seizing the advantage, Rude applied a submission hold, and claimed victory when the official revived himself enough to call for the bell.
All was not as it seemed however, and in a somewhat obvious move, the match was awarded to Steamboat on grounds of a disqualification.
Your Winner by disqualification: Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat.
The whole thing lasted almost 20 minutes (though it felt more like 20 hours) and reached hitherto unforeseen levels of tedium. Seriously, this thing was so bad that, reflecting back on it during the final match of the show, Vince McMahon himself even claimed 'I thought it was boring.'
WWF Women's Tag Team Championship 2-out-of-3 Falls match
The Glamour Girls defend against The Jumping Bomb Angels
Thankfully, things picked up again with a fun, exciting match between defending women's tag team champions Judy Martin and Leilani Kai defended their (fairly meaningless, even back then) women's tag team titles against Japanese exports Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki.
Perhaps the most curious part of this whole match was McMahon, when questioned by his broadcast partner, claiming he had no idea as to the names of the Jumping Bomb Angels, instead referring to them throughout the contest as 'Pink Angel' and 'Red Angel' according to their attire.
Perhaps this was an attempt to add a bit of mystique to the ladies from the Orient, or perhaps Vinny Mac genuinely didn't know, or care, which just seems odd.
What also seems fairly odd is that the belts were constantly referenced to as the WWF Women's titles, yet any and all on-screen text surrounded this match named them the WWF Ladies titles. True, this is a small quibble, yet still, a bit of consistency would have been nice.
At any rate, Pink Angel and Red Angel won the match by two falls to one to capture the gold in a thrilling contest which really put modern day women's wrestling to shame.
Your Winners and new WWF Women's Tag Team Champions: The Jumping Bomb Angels
A pattern was beginning to emerge here; great match followed by boring angle. Following the ladies battle, it was the turn of WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant to send everybody to sleep.
Hulk and Andre sign the contract for their upcoming match
At Wrestlemania III, Hogan defeated The Giant in their now legendary showdown, yet early on in the match, Andre was convinced he'd scored a pinfall when he fell on top of the champion following a failed bodyslam attempt.
Enraged, Andre would claim to anyone who would listen that he'd defeated Hogan, and was out for revenge.
Meanwhile, Ted Dibiase had attempted to purchase the WWF title from The Hulkster. Declaring that he (and the Hulkamaniacs at large) didn't have a price for The Million Dollar Man, the champ declined the offer, leading to Dibiase's hiring of Andre to defeat Hogan, win the belt and deliver it to him.
So far, so good, right?
And the this happened.
With the heels (Andre, flanked by Dibiase and his lackey, Virgil) already in the ring along with Mean Gene Okerlund and WWF President Jack Tunney, Hogan made his way to the ring and riled the crowd before taking his seat at the contract-signing table.
Andre, meanwhile, simply rocked back and forth against the ropes with a look upon his enormous face which flirted between apathy and cockiness (though which the announcers assured us was a look of disdain).
He did this forever.
OK, maybe that's a lie, but he genuinely did nothing for a very long time. OK, it made sense, the longer Andre did nothing, the more the crowd would hate him and want to see The Hulkster kick his ass, but then there's doing nothing to get a reaction and then there's doing nothing for so long that things start to get very dull, very quickly.
Eventually, after much goading from Mean Gene, Andre sat down to sign, and this segment finally ended the way all wrestling contract signings do; somebody got beat up.
In this case, Andre slammed Hogan's head into the table, then pushed Hogan on his ass.
As segments go, this was a poor one.
The Royal Rumble Match
20 Man Battle Royal featuring The Hart Foundation, Tito Santana, 'The Natural' Butch Reed, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, Sam Houston, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, The Ultimate Warrior, One Man Gang and more.
Jake 'The Snake' Roberts eventually hit the ring to even things, making the first ever Rumble elimination when he tossed Reed over the top rope.
From there, things generated into your typical battle royal. The ring began to fill with bodies, each one vying for victory, pounding on one another and making attempts at eliminations.
All things considered, this was a decent battle royal event with enough action to keep things entertaining throughout. There's certainly been far worse battle royals in the history of wrestling, and this one is at least worth a look.
Your Winner: Hacksaw Jim Duggan
The show continued with more Hulk Hogan, this time giving an interview to short-lived WWF interviewer Craig DeGeorge in which he claimed that if Andre wanted to beat him in their rematch that coming February, he would have to defeat 'Each and every Hulkamaniac' which, of course, Hogan didn't think his rival was capable of.
With time still to kill, it was down to the final match of the night.
2-out-of-3 Falls Match:
The Islanders (Haku & Tama) vs. The Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers)
In all honest, the career of Islander Tama somehow passed me by, which is a shame since he was the most enjoyable thing in this lengthy contest, displaying an in-ring talent and natural charisma which should have surely earned him a more memorable career.
It was Tama, brother of Umaga and Rikishi, who shone in the early moments of the match as both teams traded the advantage until those evil Islanders (at the time engaged in a feud with the British Bulldogs over the kidnapping of the Brit's mascot Matilda), sent Roma crashing to the outside, injuring the Stallion's knee. Unable to meet the referee's count, Roma lost the first fall for his team via count-out.
Selling the injury, Roma was taken to the back to be checked over. As The Islanders waited in the ring, time was killed thanks to a promo from Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant.
The match resumed with Powers picking up the slack on behalf of his injured comrade. Haku and Tama spent the bulk of the second half beating down on Powers before Roma eventually grabbed the hot tag, only to be just as destroyed and eventually succumbing to a pinfall after Tama leapt off the rop onto his foe's injured leg.
Your Winners: The Islanders
So that was that then, the first ever Royal Rumble event in the history books. A far cry from the pomp and spectacle we've come to expect from today's pay per view spectacles, this was a mixed bag as far as quality is concerned. Great matches in Steamboat vs. Rude and Glamour Girls vs. Jumping Bomb Angels and an entertaining Royal Rumble match make this show worth watching.
That said, the contract signing was poor, the bench press record was by far the most dull thing ever filmed at a wrestling event, and the tag team main event, though at least decent, was a strange choice to end the show on.
Thankfully, things would only get better for this event as the years wore on.
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