On January 27th, 2019 WWE will host its thirty-second annual Royal Rumble PPV, live in front of tens of thousands of their most rabid fans at the Chase Field in Arizona. Unlike previous years (or any PPV we can think of), this year’s Royal Rumble will emanate from a Baseball Stadium, which should offer a unique feel to the proceedings and freshen up the format of what is one of the most exciting wrestling events of the year.
In recent years it has become somewhat predictable as to who WWE will be pushing by the time the final bell sounds. This controversial, and unpopular element of a once prestigious show has opened up a much higher interest in the other storylines that begin to develop during the PPV, shifting focus from what Vince McMahon has in mind for WrestleMania to what the fans really want to see.
Things were very similar back when the Royal Rumble first began to take prominence. It was a given in the very early shows that if Hulk Hogan was in the Royal Rumble match then he was a shoo-in to win the whole thing. Back in those days though, we were all much younger and (hopefully) less cynical to the reality of the sport. But then, out of nowhere, it all changed.
For the first time ever, the 1992 edition of the event would crown a new World Wrestling Federation Champion. This came about after a controversial finish to an Undertaker title defence against The Hulkster at This Tuesday in Texas, which forced the companies hand into vacating the championship. With that clever piece of storytelling the then WWF brought high stakes to the Royal Rumble elimination match for the very first time.
Unlike previous years – which had been won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Big John Studd, and Hogan – there was more than bragging rights to be won. Whichever man outlasted 29 of his foes by throwing them over the top rope would become the very cream of the crop. Naturally, this made the 1992 Royal Rumble the most star-studded it had ever been, with everyone from Macho Man Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, and Big Boss Man throwing their names into the ring.
And so, on January 19th, after a rather underwhelming undercard, the match was ready to go. The first two men out were ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase and The British Bulldog, but it wouldn’t be until the buzzer sounded to announce the third entry that things really got interesting.
As the fans counted down from 10, colour commentator Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan sat smugly watching it all unfold, confident that his top choice ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair would still be sat in the locker room taking it easy. Then… “NO!”, screamed Heenan. Flair had drawn the number 3 spot – an unenviable position in the match and co-announcer Gorilla Monsoon was quick to remind The Brain “No man who has drawn numbers 1 through 5 has ever been there at the end”. It was as if Bobby’s world had just imploded in front of him.
From this second onwards, Brain’s on-air meltdown would become a thing of legend. So good was it in fact, that to this day wannabe wrestling announcers still study the tape in the hope that they too will one day deliver a commentary that is even half as good.
As the minutes passed the ring began to fill up with names. El Matador, The Texas Tornado, even bloody Repo Man all tried and failed to eliminate Flair. Then as the match entered its second half the big boys finally started to come out and play. Roddy Piper – Flair’s long-time nemesis – was the first out, moving Heenan to near apoplexy. Next came Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan, former Champion The Undertaker and eventually Hulk Hogan.
With each new name, Heenan’s allegiances began to shift. If Piper was stomping Flair then Heenan was on the microphone insulting Piper’s kilt (“It’s a skirt, not a kilt”). Then when Piper turned around and smacked Jake The Snake in the mouth, thus saving Flair from possible elimination, Heenan was his biggest fan (“It’s a kilt, not a skirt!”). It was a thing of beauty.
By the 50 minute mark, Flair was still going strong. However, so was Hulk Hogan – the obvious choice to walk away as the champion. Gorilla Monsoon, who had endured Heenan’s near-breakdown for close to an hour, conceded that despite putting in an iron man performance it was a given that Flair would be tossed over the top rope in the next few minutes, leaving only Hogan and the giant Sid Justice to battle it out for the belt. As fans, we were inclined to agree. We knew the rules, we knew that heels never won this sort of thing, and we also knew that Hogan won EVERYTHING!
And then, like a breath of fresh air sweeping into the room, it happened. As Hulk Hogan attempted to eliminate Flair in the closing moments, a Sid Justice sneak attack sent him sailing over the top rope and out of the match. Everything we’d been conditioned to know about the WWF was turned upside down with one simple but effective heel turn. Hogan. feeling cheated by his supposed ally, provided enough of a distraction that it would allow Flair to eliminate big Sid moments later and win the whole thing – quite possibly bringing The Brain to orgasm at the same time. Maybe.
It was all over. Ric Flair had entered at number 3 and outlasted everyone. He’d thrown Bulldog, Boss Man and Randy Savage out en route to becoming the World Wrestling Federation’s top dog, a spot he would keep until WrestleMania 8. When the bell rang, Flair had been in the match for 1 hour and 2 seconds, but it was a marathon we’d all run with him. Flair was a chicken-shit heel who we’d all wanted to see fail, but through a combination of outstanding endurance and fantastic colour commentary, we couldn’t help but cheer for the result.
Never in the 27 years that have followed the 1992 edition of the Royal Rumble has WWE ever come close to recreating the magic of this show. There may have been better undercards, but the main event elimination match was pure magic – storytelling at it’s absolute finest, an art form that has sadly been lost to the ages. So before you sit down and watch this year’s show, do yourselves a favour and throw Royal Rumble 1992 into your search engine. We promise you’ll find out exactly why we all became such huge fans back in those days, and why despite everything, Ric Flair really was ‘The Man’ in 1992.
What are your favourite Royal Rumble memories? Was 1992 your standout PPV or was there another Rumble match that stood out for you? Let us know in the comments section or on our Twitter and Facebook pages using the hashtag #TBGWWE or#TBGRoyalRumble