Doctor’s Orders: The 1992 Royal Rumble Match Styled and Profiled (from “The WrestleMania Era”)

The 1992 Royal Rumble Match
WWF Championship
January 19, 1992
Top 5 Royal Rumble Match / Top 10 All-Time at Royal Rumble / Match of the Year in 1992

In Ric Flair’s autobiography, To Be The Man, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan said of the 1992 Royal Rumble, “It was the best match I ever announced, the only time I ever felt that a match I was calling was 100% real.”

Any reflection back to the famous ’92 Rumble, considered by most to be the greatest edition of WWE’s most popular gimmick match, must begin and end with both Flair and Heenan. The Nature Boy’s WWF Championship-winning display has rightly been heralded one of the greatest in Rumble lore and has justifiably earned him top billing, but at a close second was The Brain, whose unabashedly subjective commentary provided a brilliant audio soundtrack to Flair’s physical performance.

Flair and Heenan were tied together from start-to-finish of Naitch’s original WWF tenure, which began when the reigning NWA Heavyweight titleholder left WCW and came to the WWF with the big gold belt still around his waist, proclaiming himself to be “The Real World’s Champion.” WCW had nowhere near the scope in the early 1990s that did the WWF, so while it may seem unfathomable to a diehard wrestling fan in hindsight that not everybody who watched the WWF knew of Flair, there was some Nature Boy education that needed to be done when Naitch arrived in September 1991. Heenan was by Flair’s side on his opening night and was largely responsible from then on for helping establish Naitch’s credibility as a major star. While Flair set out to show a new audience the talent that made him the Wrestler of the 1980s in the NWA, Heenan went to work hyping Naitch at the announce table.

One could say that The Brain had a lot personally invested in Nature Boy’s success, making it unsurprising to read that Heenan felt the ’92 Rumble Match to be all too real. The emotion behind his commentary certainly seemed authentic to viewers. Every wrestling fan at some point in their lives watches the 30-Man Over-The-Top-Rope Battle Royal and vociferously cheers on their guy; if it was ever revealed that Flair was not one of The Brain’s all-time favorite wrestlers, it would be shocking. Heenan, perhaps the most entertaining personality in WWE lore, was presented as the ultimate Nature Fanboy. His words during the ’92 Rumble either incited further Flair’s detractors or echoed the desires of Flair’s supporters. There are not five more famous calls of a match in the WrestleMania Era.

Heenan’s classic lines from the match read like the track listing on the back of an old CD cover; it features hits such as “This isn’t fair to Flair,” which Joey Styles once suggested would have been the theme for a best-selling T-shirt on WWESHOP.COM had the modern day marketing machine been running back then; “Hey you, stupid, get me something to drink”; “The room is starting to spin, I’m getting dizzy!”; after Flair eliminated Big Bossman with entry #15 just seconds from entering, “Flair wins it! He’s the champion of the world!”; “Please let him win it – I’ll never do or say anything bad again”; and maybe the greatest of them all, “Thank you, Roddy, it’s a kilt, it’s not a skirt…you no good creep, you skirt wearing freak – it’s not a kilt, it’s a skirt!” Of course, the prompts and retorts by Gorilla Monsoon that created the duets to all of the above cannot be undervalued either.

For Flair, providing the in-ring storytelling to accompany Heenan’s audio coverage was easy. Known as the “60-Minute Man” in NWA/WCW for his marathon matches, being the central figure for an hour in the Royal Rumble was just another day at the office; and he was THE central figure. It was his storyline actions that led to the WWF Championship being on the line in the Rumble, as he had assisted in Undertaker defeating Hulk Hogan to win the title at Survivor Series ’91 and had been heavily involved in the controversy during the return match just days later at This Tuesday in Texas. The Rumble was the culmination of Flair’s attempts to back up his braggadocios “Real World’s Champion” claims; all eyes were on The Nature Boy and he delivered in the clutch.

The vast majority of the match watched like a Ric Flair highlight reel. The classic moves and mannerisms that made him already the greatest ever in the opinions of many may as well have been his statement to the WWF fanbase, locker room, and management: “That’s right, ladies and gentlemen…This is what you’ve been missing!” All of the nicknames that he had earned throughout his career for his in-ring prowess were demonstrated. In addition to the aforementioned “60-Minute Man,” he showed the world why he was called “The Dirtiest Player in the Game” and why the moniker “The Man” had been popularized by his run as the preeminent star of the NWA. By match’s end, he was “The Man” in the WWF and “The Real World’s Champion.”

Samuel ‘Plan, in 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, identifies that 1992 “marked the year in which [The Royal Rumble] stopped being a novelty” and that “1992 was its coming of age story…the first year of the rest of its life.” Thus, the significance of the match was shaped by more than just the artistic endeavors of Flair and Heenan. Before 1992, the Rumble was little more than an entertaining exhibition. It was important and important things happened during it, but it did not carry the sense of importance that has come to define its role on the Road to WrestleMania until something more tangible was on the line. The title being up for grabs by itself made the ’92 Rumble a grander event.

The alteration of the presentation from exhibition to high stakes affair created a palpable shift in the tone of the action; winning the match had never before felt so crucial because it had never before been so crucial. The result was a sweeping narrative that began with a thoroughly engaging first 25-minutes dotted by the appearance of ten current or future Hall of Famers within the first fourteen entries and standout runs from Davey Boy Smith and Shawn Michaels (in addition to Flair); by the time Flair last eliminated Sid, the tensions had been expertly and steadily elevated through Roddy Piper’s showdown with Naitch, Jake Roberts playing his cerebral game of chess before Macho Man exploded to the ring to destroy him, Hulk Hogan attempting to get payback on Flair and Undertaker, and the appearance of eleven more current or future Hall of Famers.

All discussions of the ’92 Rumble, though, inevitably lead back to Flair and Heenan, who anchored the match from start-to-finish.

In a post-match interview with “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Flair gathered with Heenan and the third member of their highly entertaining triumvirate, Mr. Perfect. The Brain proudly exclaimed “I was never so impressed with anything I’ve seen in all my life.” The Nature Boy proceeded to cut one of the best promos of all-time, beginning with the line, “I’m gonna tell you all, with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment in my life.” It may also have been the greatest moment in the history of the Royal Rumble.

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