Thursday, 19 June 2014

PPV REVIEW: WWF Royal Rumble 1994

January 22, 1994
Providence Civic Center, Providence, Rhode Island

For this writer, 1994 was an interesting time for the World Wrestling Federation. Sandwiched somewhere between the dying days of Hulkamnia's Last Hoorah! and the dawning of the fully-fledged New Generation Era, '94 nonetheless produced its own memorable moments.

As the first full calendar year with no Hulk Hogan on the WWF schedule, it was a time for stars like Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels and Kevin 'Diesel' Nash to take center stage.

Ushering in this final break-away from the superstars of old, the 1994 Royal Rumble set the precedent for the kind of action, angles and over-the-top drama that would form the nucleus of the year ahead.

Here's what went down.

Welcome to the show
We were brought into a nice, tidy little graphic introduction, complete with cheesy music that wouldn't have sounded good in 1984, never mind 1994, Just when you thought Vince McMahon's trademark Welcome every-wannnn growl would be absent, there it comes, bang on cue, as Vinny Mac, resplendent in a cheap tuxedo and red bow-tie, sets his stall as our lead play-by-play man for the show.

'And tonight I'll be joined by...' began McMahon, feigning surprise as the familiar evil-laughter of Ted Dibiase cackled through the PA, and The Million Dollar Man himself made his way ring side to join the boss on commentary.

'Well, I wasn't expecting this,' lied Vince.

Dibiase talked about how much money he had before hinting that 'You [Vince] could be working for me,'

'Well that is a laugh,' quipped the WWF owner.  With that out of the way then, it was down to our opening match.

Tatanka vs. Bam Bigelow (w/ Luna Vachon) 
WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Tatanka faced old rival Bam Bam Bigelow
Picking up their old 1993 feud (which saw them clash in an entertaining six man tag at Summerslam 1993), arch rivals Tatanka and Bam Bam Bigelow clashed in a decent, if somewhat slow, opening encounter.

As the story goes, this was supposed to be the concluding chapter in the Native American's latest storyline with Evil Foreign Dude, Ludvig Borga. Alas, Borga suffered an injury shortly before the event and had to bow out, never to be seen on WWF TV again.

That's probably just as well. As nice as it would have been to see Tatanka and Borga end things properly, Bigelow was a far superior competitor who managed to carve out a much better match with Tatanka than the rather limited Borga would have been able to.

Think this one was pretty boring? Well it was, in places, but think about how much worse it coulda have been with Borga in Bigelow's place.

Tatanka picked up the win in just under 5 minutes with an admittedly impressive flying cross body from the top rope.
Your winner: Tatanka

Up next, we got a recap of the ongoing saga between Bret 'The Hitman' Hart and his brother, Owen Hart.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Bret and Owen Hart put up a united front before their title match against The Quebecers
Starting with The Hart Brothers' Survivor Series 1993 victory over Shawn Michaels and His Knights, in which 'The Rocket' was the only Hart eliminated, and moving on to Bret refusing the challenge of his brother to a 'fight, we then skipped right to the two siblings having kissed and made up, and cutting a promo about winning the tag team titles.

Though we didn't find out exactly how, or why, everything was rosey in the Hart family again, the promo itself was actually pretty fun, with Bret convinced that everything was fine again, and smarmy younger brother Owen putting himself over in true heel fashion. Watching this back now, it's hard to believe how gullible The Hitman could have been.

After a quick reminder that The Quebeccers lost, and then regained, the tag team titles in a couple of matches against the makeshift tandem of Marty Jannetty & The 123 Kid, we then got a 'live' promo, again from the Brothers Hart, conducted by none other than our old buddy, Todd Pettengill. 

This time, Bret confessed to being overly confident about winning the tag team titles from The Quebecers, and promised to offer shots to everyone, including The One Two Three Key. For his part, The Rocket, who's later promo gaff would go on to become the stuff of legend, promised Bret that 'I'm going to make you proud of you,' and confirmed that we would have new champions.

World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Championship match
WWF Tag Team Champions The Quebecers (Jacques and Pierre w/ Johnny Polo) vs. Bret 'The Hitman' Hart and 'The Rocket' Owen Hart
'I don't think tonight is gonna be the night for the Bret Brothers,' quipped Ted Dibiase, continuing the theme of anything Hart-related coming complete with verbal faux-pas a plenty.

Still, as Johnny Polo (better known to most fans as ECW icon Raven) watched his men defend the titles, the four competitors in the ring put on a thrilling tag team championship match.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Owen Hart kicked Bret's leg out of his leg
Bret and Owen may not have been a tandem for very long, and even when they were, it was only to lead to their memorable singles feud, but between this match, and their little-mentioned clash against The Steiner Brothers, they didn't half create some quality in-ring action.

Following an outstanding, textbook tag team affair, things gradually broke down when Johnny Polo countered some Hitman offence by pulling down the top rope, causing the former WWF Champion to topple to the floor and injure his knee.

With their Providence crowd growing rabid, the Quebecers cheated and conived to keep their fallen pray on the outside, attacking when possible and building towards an apparent count-out finish.

Instead, Bret battled back into the ring and mounted the slightest of comebacks, though rather than making the hot-tag to Owen, opted for a Sharpshooter instead. The results were not pretty. Unable to stand thanks to the damage on his knee, The Hitman stumbled, leading the referee to stop the match and award the win to the Quebecers.
Your Winner via Bret Being Selfish: The Quebecers

Visibly irate at Bret's refusal to tag in, Owen hovered over his prone brother, berating him for his selfishness. Then, in one of the most dastardly moves in all of pro wrestling, Owen Hart turned on his brother Bret by kicking his leg out of his leg. Yep.

Ray Rougeau tried to get a word with Bret, or at least one of the gang of officials who surrounded him, but was shooed away by former Intercontinental Champion, Pat Patterson.

Backstage, Todd Pettengill interviewed Owen, who ranted and raved that 'You're too damn SELFISH Bret, and that's why I kicked your leg...out of your leg.



And so began not only an awesome heel run for Owen Hart that would last for most of his WWF tenure, but also the gripping Owen vs. Bret feud which would spill over into their classic match at Wrestlemania 10.

World Wrestling Federation Championship match
WWF Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon vs. IRS
Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross, who spent the rest of this show commentating for the short lived
WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Razor Ramon defended the Intercontinental Championship against I.R.S
WWF Radio, traded places with Dibiase and McMahon for this match. A shame really, as hearing the Million Dollar Man cheering on his former tag team partner, no doubt to Vince's dismay, would have made for some interesting listening.

IRS clearly didn't care who was on commentary, he was too busy ordering the Providence crowd to pay their taxes as he made his way to the ring.

The champion made his way to the ring not long after, and what we got was a match much better than you might expect.

I may have said this in the past, but strip away the goofy gimmick, and IRS could turn it on in a WWF ring when given the chance. His win in a 'glorified squash match' over the 123 Kid at Summerslam 1993 was pretty entertaining and here, the former Varsity Club member brought his A-game, too.

Razor performed well too, and looked to have the match in hand until the referee took a tumble, presenting arch-nemesis Shawn Michaels with an opportunity to rush to the ring and knock out The Bad Guy with The Fake IC Title.

Everyone's least favourite tax man made the cover, the ref revised himself just long enough to make the three count, and it looked as though we had a new champion on our hands.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Razor Ramon defeated I.R.S with the Razor's Edge
Though not for long. Starting his trend of screwing people out of titles, Earl Hebner came out to inform official Joey Marrella what had happened, and instead of simply reversing the decision on grounds of a disqualification, Marella opted to restart the contest. Two seconds later, Ramon pulled a mid-celebration IRS off the top rope with the Razor's Edge, and justice prevailed.
Your winner and still WWF Intercontinental Champion: Razor Ramon

Call me crazy, but I would have been perfectly OK with a short Intercontinental Championship reign from the tax man.

Anyway, moving on, Paul Bearer wailed and moaned about the 'double deep, double wide' casket he and his charge had created for The Deadman's upcoming casket match against WWF Champion Yokozuna.

The feud between the two heavyweights, which got its start at the 1993 Survivor Series, was briefly recapped in a video package which focussed primarily on The Undertaker and Bearer being creepy, and Yoko being a big giant cowardd.

With that out of the way, it was on to a WWF title math that is famous to this day, though not necessarily for the right reasons.

World Wrestling Federation Championship Casket Match
WWF Champion Yokozuna (w/ Mr. Fuji & Jim Cornette) vs. The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer)
WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Yokozuna and The Undertaker faced off in a casket match
A sloppy brawl kicked off what was primarily a lousy championship match, with the challenger taking charge until his efforts were thwarted to 'Salt in The Eye' courtesy of Mr. Fuji. A few minutes of generally terrible back-and-forth action followed, with neither man really gaining a clear advantage, even despite 'Taker (as per his gimmick) refusing to sell the champion's offense.

Just when it looked like The Phenom had mounted a big enough comeback to end the match, the nefarious Crush entered the fray and socked the challenger. He was followed by, of all people, Kabuki, then Genichiro Tenryu and Bam Bam Bigelow.

As the champion dozed inside the open casket, The Undertaker fought off his four new adversaries, only for a slew of heels, namely Adam Bomb, The Headshrinkers, Diesel and Jeff Jarett, to hit the ring and turn the tides back in the evil-doers' favor. Fuji stole the urn, Bearer stole it back and knocked out both Fuji and Cornette, and used The Power of the Urn to inspire another Undertaker comeback.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Yokozuna got help in defeating The Undertaker
The 10-strong heel contingent attempted to lock Undertaker in the casket, but couldn't succeed until Yoko took the urn from Bearer (Who had foolishly climbed onto the apron) and knocked out The Undertaker's manage.

As Undertaker absorbed a bunch of offence from his attackers, green smoke began to spill from the urn, which Vince McMahon, in all earnestness, suggested was taking Undertaker's power with it.

A couple of diving headbutts from The Headshrinkers and finishers from the other bad guys, and Undertaker was shut inside the casket, earning a win for a groggy Yokozuna.
Your winner and still WWF Champion: Yokozuna

Yet things didn't quite end there.

As the heels began wheeling Undertaker backstage, eiry smoke started to ooze from the coffin. This was followed by the ominous gong WWF fans have been well-trained to assocciate with The Undertaker, and an image of the man himself.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: The Undertaker died :(
In what was supposed to look like a live-feed from inside the casket, Undi' gave us a rather elegent speech about how his spirit lived in the souls of all mankind. The image on the screen then turned to grey, and showed the casket being jolted with bolts of electricity before exploding altogether, despite the actual casket in the arena appearing completely in tact.

To wrap up this supposedly-dramatic spectacle, Marty Jannetty put on an Undertaker outfit and was hoisted up to the rafters.

'The Undertaker is levitating above us!' McMahon gushed, as fans watched clearly-visible wires carry 'The Undertaker' up to the heavens.

Royal Rumble Match:
30-Man Battle Royal featuring: Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, Lex Luger, Shawn Michaels, Crush, The Steiner Brothers, Diesel, Jeff Jarrett, The Great Kabuki, Doink The Clown, Rick 'The Model' Martel, Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine, Kwang, Owen Hart and more.
Other reviewers may tell  you that, whilst the 1994 Royal Rumble wasn't exactly bad, it was at least the wrong side of boring. Offering a different opinion, this writer doesn't mind telling you that he quite enjoyed the '94 offering of the annual over-the-top extravaganza.

A year on from their WWF PPV debut at Royal Rumble 1993, brothers Scott and Rick Steiner drew numbers one and three respectively, with their old foe and Wrestlemania IX opponent, Samu bridging the gap at number two.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: Kevin 'Diesel' Nash got over huge by eliminating seven men
Though I'd question why it made sense to have two faces outnumber a heel, it nonetheless made for an entertaining start, until Kwang (better known to audiences a few years down the line as Savio Vega) arrived to take the number four spot and immediately sucking the life out of the match.

Things picked up with number five entrant Owen Hart, who made his entrance to a thunderous chorus of boos from the Rhode Island faithful, before quickly disposing of Rick Steiner. Bart Gunn was our sixth participant, his arrival heralding 90 seconds of nothing as all four competitors hung out on the ropes.

The fun really began with entrant number seven, Diesel. Towering over his opponents, he quickly disposed of everything in the ring. 1993 Royal Rumble standout Bob Backlund put up a valiant, if brief, fight against the big man before being dumped over the top in short order. Billy Gunn met the same fate, albeit without putting up much of a fight.

As Diesel strolled around the ring waiting for his next opponent, we were shown footage from the back, where Kabuki and Tenryu beat up Lex Luger and left him laying for dead.

Virgil made a brief cameo, ultimately helping Diesel add to his tally, and it wasn't until Randy 'Macho Man' Savage hit the ring that anybody really had a chance. Still, watching the future WWF Champion dump seven men over the top rope in quick succession was pretty entertaining.

From there, things settled into your usual Royal Rumble outing. People came and people went, and we got a fairly fast-paced, enjoyable battle royal as a result.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: The Royal Rumble match


Other notable moments included:


  • Former Rockers partners Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty renewing their old rivalry by laying into each other with some furious rights and lefts.
  • The tease of an eventual break-up between Michaels and Diesel, the former playing a part in the latter's elimination.
  • Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine putting in an appearance and getting a great reaction from the live crowd
  • Vince McMahon speculating that Sparky Plugg could win the match.
The ring filled up with participants including 1991 Royal Rumble star Rick Martel, Bret Hart, who sold his earlier knee injury right to the end, and Lex Luger, who showed absolutely no visible signs of the backstage assault he suffered earlier. 

Ultimately, it Hart and Luger who emerged as the final two, with Michaels and Fatu as runners up. Following a brief tussle, both Bret and Lex toppled over the top rope and hit the floor and roughly the same time.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1994: The Royal Rumble match
Thus the conundrum began. Who hit the floor first? Who had won the match? Cue Howard Finkle teasing the audience for the next several minutes, first by saying 'Here is your winner...' and having Lex Luger's music play, then doing the same for Bret Hart.

Ostensibly to show that there was no clear winner, the real reason for this tease was, according to legend, so that Vince McMahon could gauge fan reaction and decide which one of the two main event starts would headline Wrestlemania X. 

Though The Hitman was by far the crowd's favourite, the match was ultimately declared a draw, with both men going on to battle Yoko for the title at the 10th Wrestlemania. I'll review that show next time.
Your winners: Bret 'The Hitman' Hart and Lex Luger

Another year, another Royal Rumble in the bag then. Though this was far from the Greatest Show on Earth, it was at least a reasonably entertaining one for those of us who first became wrestling fans in the first half of the 1990s. The Harts/Quebecers match is certainly worth tracking down. Though most will remember this match only for Owen Hart's epic heel turn (and, of course, him kicking Bret's leg out of his leg), the in-ring action made it by far the best match on the card. Elsewhere, the Rumble match itself was a good launching pad for many of that year's storylines, and The Undertaker's death was the kind of thing that was so over-the-top you can't help but smile. 

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