The Royal Rumble: 30 Regal Years. Part One of Two.
As the Royal Rumble celebrates its 30th edition, let's take a look back at the show's origins along with some of its greatest moments. As you may or may not know, the Rumble was created to sabotage Jim Crockett Promotions’ (JCP) Bunkhouse Stampede pay-per-view (PPV), an event that led to the WWF creating The Royal Rumble, in order to sabotage Crockett’s show. Both shows featured battle royals, with each promotion having its unique spin on the classic battle royal. Join me this time as we look at the battle royal, how the Royal Rumble became one of the WWF’s “Big Four” PPV’s, and some of my favorite Royal Rumble moments.
The concept of the battle royal dates back hundreds of years. It’s simply one of those cases of low-hanging fruit. Throw a bunch of people together, and let them beat the tar out of each other until one victor remains. The concept has undergone many variations and change throughout the centuries, until professional wrestling promoters borrowed the concept. Several excellent articles have been written about the battle royal’s origins. I encourage you to check out the following:
Cageside Seats has an excellent introduction to the battle royal. However, I have been unable to find the subsequent chapters.
Chris Kelly’s site A Wee Bit About has a well-written piece on the battle royal, including its evolution to today’s product. Here are links to the three chapters: Chapter One
The battle royal eventually became a special attraction, even to the point of becoming a card’s main event. Battle royals often had special prizes listed such as the winner receiving a cash bonus or a car. Starting in 1967, promoter Roy Shire’s San Francisco territory had an annual event known as the Cow Palace Battle Royal. Each year, wrestlers (typically eighteen) from various promotions competed to see who was the best. The last event was held in 1981.
When the WWF decided to compete with JCP’s Bunkhouse Stampede, it created a variation on the traditional battle royal. The WWF’s Pat Patterson is credited with the concept of the Rumble. Interestingly enough, the WWF toyed with the Rumble concept on October 4, 1987 when it held a battle royal titled the Royal Rumble in St. Louis. That particular event was unsuccessful but that wasn’t the end of the Rumble. The October 4, 1987 Rumble has become a footnote in history, with the first Rumble usually being listed as the one that aired on the USA Network on January 24, 1988.
The Royal Rumble aired as a free TV show, opposite JCP’s Bunkhouse Stampede which was only available on PPV (or live at the Nassau Coliseum). The first Rumble was a two-hour show that showed the concept was in its infancy. First, the Royal Rumble was not the main event. Second, this Rumble only had twenty participants (future Rumbles would usually feature thirty wrestlers).
The main event was a best two out of three falls match between the Young Stallions (Paul Roma and Jim Powers) and the Islanders (Haku & Tama), hardly a main event in any arena (as Gorilla Monsoon often said). Still, there was plenty to get the fans’ attention. A two out of three falls match between the WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions, the Glamour Girls (Judi Martin & Leilani Kai), and the Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno & Itsuki Yamazaki) and a singles match between Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Ravishing” Ric Rude rounded out the undercard. In addition, there was a bench press event with powerhouse wrestler Dino Bravo attempting to set a new world’s record. The event saw Bravo set a record, but controversy overshadowed the record, as some observers noted Bravo’s spotter, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, may have assisted. If that wasn’t enough, there was the big contract signing between Andre the Giant and WWF champion Hulk Hogan for their main event match at Wrestlemania III.
The Royal Rumble was a smash success. The Rumble drew an incredible 8.2 rating, an unheard number for wrestling on cable TV, and a record that remains unbroken to this day (even by anything during the heyday of the Monday Night War). JCP’s Bunkhouse Stampede drew a poor buyrate. As I noted last week, the Stampede’s undercard was surprisingly weak for a PPV, and the concept of a battle royal in a cage just didn’t work.
The Rumble proved popular enough that the WWF brought it back in 1989, this time as a PPV. The show would join WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series as “The Big Four.” Many PPV’s have come and gone, but these four have been with us since their debuts.
The Rumble has always been a powerful draw, the WWF seems to have known from early on, that it could be a way to get wrestlers over and to build up angles. Since the Rumble’s beginning, announcers have kept track of the “Iron Man” of the Rumble, the wrestler who has lasted the longest in the match. In 1993, former WWF champion Bob Backlund lasted an incredible one hour, one minute, and ten seconds; a record that would remain unbroken for over ten years (Rey Mysterio would break the record in 2006, holding out for one hour, two minutes, and twelve seconds to win the event). In 1989, the Royal Rumble was used to help show the deterioration of the Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan & “Macho Man” Randy Savage) as Hogan accidentally eliminated Savage from the match. As longtime fans know, 1992 marked the Rumble which determined the new WWF champion. In 1993, the WWF introduced the rule that the winner of the Rumble goes to WrestleMania for the WWF championship.