PPV Review: WWF Royal Rumble 1989

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1989 DVD cover poster

The Summit in Houston, Texas

January 15th, 1989

Following a rocky start as a television special the previous year, the World Wrestling Federation’s biggest event of the winter months made it’s Pay Per View debut in 1989 and with almost all of the kinks from the previous year’s show worked out, it proved to be a PPV that delivered on almost every level.

Here’s what went down:

Welcome to the Royal Rumble! 

Following a fun opening in which Vince McMahon delivered his trademark growl while introducing the participants in tonight’s 30-man main event, Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon welcomed viewers to the show before settling in to deliver the kind of commentary teamwork that would ensure long-time fans revere the duo in much the same way that those in the modern era do Lawler & Ross.

With that out of the way, it was on to the action.

2-out-of-three falls six-man tag team match:
Hacksaw Jim Duggan & The Hart Foundation vs. Dino Bravo & The  The Fabulous Rougeaus (w/ Frenchy Martin and Jimmy Hart)

And so it was that the winner of the inaugural Rumble match found himself tagging with The Hart Foundation in this entertaining opening contest against the dastardly Canadians.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1989 DVD Live in Houston, Texas

As opening matches go, the WWF could have hardly delivered anything better, the six combatants putting on a textbook bout which worked the crowd perfectly.

Following a very entertaining see-saw battle, it was Bret 'The Hitman' Hart who ate Le Bombe de Rougeau to award the first fall to the bad guys.

“I like to call him The Excellence of Execution,” declared Monsoon when Bret was in charge of the match, coining a term the future World Champion would use himself for the remainder of his career.

Hart’s exchanges with both Rougeaus were undoubtedly the highlight of the match, Jacques and Raymond assisting Bravo in isolating their adversary and Bret playing the babyface-in-peril well, teasing the odd comeback before making the hot, and I do mean HOT tag to Hacksaw.

Though Duggan has always been popular with crowds, it was absolutely insane to see just how over he was in this match. The capacity crowd responded with a deafening ‘Hoooooo!’ and chants of USA! USA! whenever he stepped between the ropes.

Battering the bad guys with clobbering lefts and rights, Duggan shot both members of the Hart Foundation over the ropes onto his opponent before finally landing a vicious elbow drop to Raymond Rougeau to even the scores for his team.

From there, the match only got better

Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart hardly did anything throughout the entire thing (seriously, I just watched this thing not an hour ago and the only contribution from The Anvil that I recall is him being pulled over the ropes onto Rougeau.) and Dino Bravo -who stunk up the place at last year’s show- didn't add much either, but the other four competitors each played their roles perfectly.

Together, they built to a crowd-popping crescendo which saw Hacksaw finally counter the bad guys’ cheating ways with a sneaky 2x4 shot to the spine of Dino Bravo, allowing The Hitman to pick p the third and final fall for the good guys.
Your Winners: Hacksaw Jim Duggan & The Hart Foundation

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1989 review Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase

Cutting to pre-taped footage, various WWF stars were shown drawing their numbers for tonight’s Rumble match. Displeased with his luck, The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase called Slick into the picture, leaving with the Doctor of Style to apparently cut a deal.

Elsewhere, Demolition hinted that they both had "a long night" ahead of them, Bad News Brown appeared to have picked a good spot, and The Bushwackers swapped numbers for absolutely no reason whatsoever. 

Jake Roberts, The Honky Tonk Man, and The Rockers were also among those pulling out their numbers for the match.

Back at ringside, the WWF returned to something they'd delivered plenty of during the '88 Rumble:

A boring segment featuring no wrestling whatsoever.

Super Posedown: Ravishing Rick Rude (w/ Bobby Heenan) vs. The Ultimate Warrior

In a move which suggested that the WWF Brain Trust learned absolutely nothing from the previous year’s Bench Press Bore Fest with Dino Bravo & Friends, Ravishing Rick Rude took on The Ultimate Warrior in a Super Pose Down.

Even with Rude’s cockiness, Bobby Heenan’s usual mic work and the Warrior being his usual insane self, this was almost entirely tedious.

The highlight of the whole thing was Warrior’s usual intense entrance, a tsunami of muscle and facepaint tearing to the ring to a brutal, adrenalin charged guitar riff which remains one of the most memorable entrances in pro wrestling to this day.

From that point on, this quickly disintegrated into a mind-numbing mess.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1989 Ultimate Warrior pose

Rude would pump his workout bar for a bit before striking a pose which Ultimate Warrior would then copy and repeat..over..and..over..again.

Anyone with half a brain cell could have telegraphed the ending to this one; Rude struck Warrior from behind with his workout bar and choked him out.

After officials raced to revive a fallen Warrior, the Ultimate One eventually came round and threw said officials around the ring for no apparent reason.

This whole thing dragged on far too long, achieved very little, and was a dampener on a so-far entertaining show.

Things only got slightly better with the return of in-ring action.

WWF Women’s Championship Match
WWF Women's Champion Rockin Robin vs. Judy Martin
The camera cut away from the aforementioned Warrior/Rude showdown to find both Judy Martin and Sensational Sherri in the ring awaiting the arrival of the champion.

Prior to the opening bell, Sherri took to the mic to announce that she would challenge the winner of this match for the women's championship.

WWF / WWE ROYAL RUMBLE 1989 Rockin Robin

Arguably the only interesting thing in this thing, Sherri then joined Monsoon and Ventura on commentary. Her voice, which made her sound either drunk or delirious, distracted from an otherwise passable outing from the women which culminated in the champion retaining via flying cross-body.
Your Winner and still WWF Women’s Champion: Rockin Robin 

Oh..*that* Ted Dibiase

In a humorous moment, cameras cut backstage to Sean Mooney standing by with Slick and the Twin Towers.
Questioned about his liaison with Ted Dibiase earlier in the show, Slick first claimed not to have seen the Million Dollar Man in over a month.

When The Slickster was shown footage of his earlier encounter with The Million Dollar Man, he replied with a line that had this writer in stitches.

“Ohhh, you mean *that* Ted Dibiase, I thought you meant homeboy Ted what did my shoeshine.” 

Still in the back, Mean Gene Okerlund tried to elicit some sort of explanation from Rude and Heenan for Rude’s earlier attack on the Ultimate Warrior. Rude claimed to have Warrior beaten from the start before The Brain quickly hurried him from the building.

The Managers speak

Up next, we went to more pre-recorded footage of the managers of various WWF superstars including Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart and Miss. Elizabeth. 

I'll be honest, it made me pine for the days when managers were such an integral part of the show, even if neither Hart nor Fuji said anything of note here in this particular instance.

The only interesting thing to come from this segment was Liz, who, despite being wooden and completely ill-at-ease in her interview with Okerlund, did fret over what would happen should her boys Hogan and Savage come head-to-head in the Rumble.


King Haku vs. Harley Race

In the final undercard bout, the big man King Haku defended his royal crown against former king Harley Race.

Haku was carried to the ring on his thrown by a collective of jobbers, one of who this writer swore was none other than Tugboat/Typhoon/Shockmaster himself, Fred Ottman, but on closer inspection probably wasn't.

That aside, this was a good, solid brawl between two hard-hitting workers that differed from anything else on the card and delivered in spades. Though not quite as entertaining as the opening six-man contest, it was nonetheless a welcome return to form for the Royal Rumble’s PPV début following all the previous guff that went between these two matches.

In the end, Haku thwarted Race with a swift kick to the chops to win the match and retain his crown.
Your Winner: King Haku

In a brief respite from the action prior to the main event, a whole bunch of Royal Rumble entrants cut essentially the same promo. Greg Valentine, Brutus Beefcake, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Mr. Perfect, and a select few others all reminded the audience that this would be every man for himself and declared that they would be the one to outlast the 29 other wrestlers to be declared the winner.

And here’s another thing this reviewer misses from the good ol’ days; 

The custom backdrops for each wrestler’ promo.

Royal Rumble Match
30 man battle royal featuring Demolition, Andre the Giant, Mr. Perfect, Bad News Brown, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Rockers, The Brain Busters, The Twin Towers,  The Powers of Pain, Big John Studd and more.

Reinforcing the idea that anything really could happen in the Royal Rumble match and that, yes, it really was every man for himself, participants one and two in the bout’s PPV debut were none other than Ax and Smash, Demolition.

In one of the more memorable moments in Rumble history, the two partners wasted no time in laying waste to one another with thick, hammering blows, trading the advantage as they battered each other around the ring. 

And this despite being the reigning tag team champions.

All the while, Monsoon and Ventura wondered aloud whether entrant number three would stand a chance against Demolition. In a smart piece of booking, said third entrant turned out to be none other than Andre the Giant.

After all, was there really anybody else who could’ve withstood a double-team from the tag champs?

Mr. Perfect came in at number four, going on to become the MVP of the match by lasting the better part of half an hour, beating Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart’s previous record by around two minutes.

It was Perfect who stood out as one of the highlights of this match. A joy to watch, the future Intercontinental Champion delivered a solid performance from the time he stepped through the ropes to the moment Hulk Hogan tossed him back out again.

Yet the real underrated star of this event was Shawn Michaels

Though he was in the match for just 15 minutes, Michaels made sure that every single second of those 15 minutes counted. Flipping, jumping, and bumping like a trooper, Shawn gave a thrilling performance and outshone just about everybody he shared a ring with long before he ever became ‘The Showstopper.’

Of course, the real talking point of the match, and a spot which would eventually lead us on to Wrestlemania 5, was the rising tensions between The Mega Powers of Hulk Hogan and World Wrestling Federation Champion, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage.


Unleashing the power of the Red and Yellow, Hogan stormed around the ring, eliminating anybody and everybody in sight including, though not entirely on purpose, his partner Savage.

With the ring cleared and only Hogan remaining, the champion returned to the ring to confront the Hulkster, only for Elizabeth to come between her men. The diminutive valet seemed to defuse the situation, leading Savage to extend a hand to his friend and the two to share an embrace.

The second part of the match continued, lacking much of the excitement which had played such a large part in the pre-Savage/Hogan section. 

That’s not to say it was boring per se, and there was still enough to keep your attention, yet without the likes of Perfect and Michaels, the pace certainly decreased.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody given the story which had played throughout the evening, Ted Dibiase arrived on the scene as participant number thirty, yet the combined efforts of the Million Dollar Man and Akeem were no match for Big John Studd, who eliminated both men to claim the contest as his own.
Your Winner: Big John Studd

As a special treat for the fans, Studd then proceeded to beat up Dibiase’s bodyguard, Virgil to close the in-ring portion of the show.

Macho Madness

In the final moments of the show, Randy Savage, flanked by a distressed-looking Elizabeth reminded Mean Gene Okerlund (repeatedly) that he was the champion and claimed that he was only eliminated from the Royal Rumble as a ‘victim of circumstance’ and not because he wasn't the better man. 

The whole thing was to tease the eventual heel turn against Hogan which would lead to their big Wrestlemania showdown and in this regard was highly effective.

With Savage’s promo out of the way, it was down to Gorillla Monsoon and Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura to close out the first Pay Per View version of the WWF Royal Rumble. 

A step up from last year’s show, the actual Rumble match itself, thanks in no small part to Perfect, Michaels, Savage and Hogan was a vast improvement on the inaugural bout, even if John Studd as the eventual victor was somewhat underwhelming.

It’s certainly rare that you’ll ever hear any match involving Hacksaw Jim Duggan described as ‘match of the night’ material, yet his six-man outing with the Harts, Rougeaus, and Bravo was certainly that; an enjoyable, entertaining affair from bell to bell.
Though it’s easy to watch this show on its own merit, it’s important to look at Royal Rumble 1989 from a historical standpoint. 

This was the show which set both tone and standard for all over Rumbles to come, provided that memorable moment between Demolition and of course, started Hogan and Savage on the road to dissent. More of that at another time.

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