The Eternal Optimist Presents: A Column Series – Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#12a)


Question Of The Day:  How Do You Feel About The Way That The WWE Handled Lex Luger’s Main Event Run?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the second of the two Rumbles that tied for 12th place on my countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal came from everyone’s favorite quitter, The Doc!

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the second of the two Rumble matches that clocked in tied for 12th on my countdown:


#12a:  The 1994 Royal Rumble.

The Roster:

Scott Steiner

Samu

Rick Steiner

Kwang

Owen Hart

Bart Gunn

Diesel

Bob Backlund

Billy Gunn

Virgil

Randy Savage

Jeff Jarrett

Crush

Doink the Clown

Bam Bam Bigelow

Mabel

Thurman “Sparky” Plugg

Shawn Michaels

Mo

Greg Valentine

Tatanka

The Great Kabuki

Lex Luger

Genichiro Tenryu

Bastion Booger

Rick Martel

Bret Hart

Fatu

Marty Jannetty

Adam Bomb

This roster was a mixed bag and indicative of the times in 1994.  Wrestlers like Randy Savage and Greg Valentine were riding out their runs.  There were a litany of  wrestlers who hadn’t yet received the monster push that they were in line for HBK and Diesel were just getting their main event push started.  This was a year Bigelow headlined WrestleMania and Mabel headlined Summerslam.  Although a legend from the past, Bob Backlund was floundering and wouldn’t regain his footing until later in the year.  Scott Steiner and Fatu were generic wrestlers in a tag team in 1994 – long before they’d receive monster pushes as a solo act.  Owen Hart was on the cusp of superstardom, but I wouldn’t have called him a star as of The Royal Rumble 1994.  More on him below.

The only two legitimate superstars in this match were Bret Hart and Lex Luger.  Everyone else was not quite in the prime of their career.  It wasn’t a bad roster by any means.  It was light years ahead of the depleted mess than the 1993 Royal Rumble was.  However, it wasn’t nearly as strong as the golden era rosters from prior Rumbles nor the attitude and post attitude era rosters that would make up later renditions.

The Storylines & Flow:

Despite the lack of overwhelming star power, the flow to the 1994 Royal Rumble was quite good.  First, the WWE shortened the time between entrants from two minutes to ninety seconds.  This helped keep things moving even if the action in the ring wasn’t the most compelling.  Second, the WWE did a great job of spacing out the star power that they had.  There was always someone in the ring that the fans cared about.

I thought it was smart to have Owen Hart enter the match so early.  He had just completed one of the most epic heel turns ever earlier in the night and setting up what would become one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history.  However, it presented a problem.  Owen couldn’t be around when Bret eventually entered the match.  By having him come out early, the WWE capitalized on his nuclear heel heat while getting him out of the way so as not to interfere with the big storyline that they had planned.

It’s hard to get very far into discussing the 1994 Royal Rumble without talking about one of the two trendsetting stories that it told.  Diesel absolutely became a star that night.  Sure, eliminating seven wrestlers in a row doesn’t sound like a big deal today, but it was unprecedented at the time.  I can remember it like it was yesterday – Diesel just held court in the middle of the ring and wrecked everyone that came in his path.  It wasn’t as if his run consisted of him tossing out bums either.  His eliminations included Scott Steiner, Owen Hart, Bob Backlund and both members of The Smoking Gunns.  His interaction during the match with The Macho Man Randy Savage was particularly strong.  His run of mass eliminations were so well received that it has been copied endless amounts of times since.

His elimination was memorable as well.  As many superstars ganged up on him, Shawn Michaels, his then partner in crime, made his entrance and gave the final push.  Although it took a long time for their feud to materialize, this was absolutely the starting point.

The WWE also did two things well that I look for when evaluating the quality of a Royal Rumble match – incorporating existing feuds and providing excellent hoss on hoss action.  Savage/Crush and Bigelow/Doink were both storylines that would lead to matches at WrestleMania X and both were written into the action.  The big man showdowns between Diesel, Mabel and Bam Bam Bigelow were exactly what they needed to be.  These are little things – not the type of stuff that makes or breaks a Royal Rumble, but the kind that can elevate a rumble from “very good” to “great”.

Of course, the biggest storylines of the 1994 Royal Rumble were the parallel “face in sympathy” angles involving Bret Hart and Lex Luger.

As discussed above, Bret was turned on by Owen earlier in the night.  He sold a knee injury and the audience was made to believe that he wouldn’t be able to participate.  It was a nice touch to have an earlier spot in the Rumble not be filled and allow speculation that it was Bret’s spot to occur.  I couldn’t help but shake my head at the mention of the spot being Bastion Booger’s, and that he couldn’t wrestle due to getting sick from overeating.  You know, because it was cool to make fun of fat people back then.

On the flip side, with what had occurred surrounding Bret Hart and with what the WWE would ultimately do with the match finish, they couldn’t put Lex Luger in a position where he’d be viewed as a less sympathetic figure.  As such, they had him get attacked by The Great Kibuki & Genichiro Tenryu, two generic foreign wrestlers that the WWE had brought in without any additional fanfare.  The idea behind the Luger attack was that Mr. Fuji put Kibuki and Tenryu up to it as a means of protecting Yokozuna’s title run from another Luger challenge.  It was simple and accomplish its purpose.

The WWE did an excellent job establishing their two top stars as “faces in peril”.  It provided tremendous drama for the duration of the Rumble.

Not everything was perfect.  The WWE made a tactical error by having too many wrestlers left at the end – a whopping 13.  The time between the 30th entrant and the final four felt like an eternity, and was reminiscent of everything that I hate about traditional battle royals.

The WWE would have been better served to have less wrestlers in the ring by the time the 30th entrant emerged, or to incorporate some rapid fire eliminations so that the sequence leading up to the final four didn’t feel like an eternity.

The Final Four:

The final four consisted of Bret Hart, Lex Luger, Shawn Michaels & Fatu.  Fatu would eventually become beloved as a member of Too Cool, but he was a generic tag wrestler at the time.  He didn’t add any value to the final sequence.

Shawn Michaels didn’t add value either, but his final four appearance was noteworthy nonetheless.  His lengthy run to the finish felt like the beginning of his main event push.  Sure enough, he’d win the match one year later.

Despite having two wrestlers that didn’t contribute much to the finish, 1994 was easily one of the most compelling final four’s in the history of the event.  Bret Hart and Lex Luger both being there at the end left myself and everyone else guessing as to who would emerge victorious.  I often compare it to Hogan v The Warrior at WrestleMania VI.  The adult in me can look back and recognize that it was obvious that The Warrior was going to win, but as a child I just couldn’t foresee a situation where either guy lost.  Such was the same here.  I can look back and state that a double victor was the obvious conclusion, but as a kid I felt that both Luger and Hart were so popular and their stories so compelling that I had no idea which man would emerge victorious.

The Winner:

Of course, that brings us to the second trendsetting moment of the 1994 Royal Rumble – the double winner/controversial finish.  It had never been done before and it created tremendous drama.  You were either Team Bret or Team Luger by the end of the spectacle – there was no cheering for both anymore.

The winner wasn’t surprising in the sense that only Luger or Bret could conceivably win going into the match, but the fact that BOTH were awarded the victory was a shocker.  It seemed unthinkable at the time.  On the other hand, I can’t sit here and say that having a double winner was satisfying.  Although incredibly creative, having two winners felt like a cop out to me.

There isn’t a straightforward answer as to whether or not the 1994 Royal Rumble catapulted the winner onto bigger and better things.  It’s a tale of two cities.  For Bret Hart, all was right in the world.  He went onto defeat Yokozuna in the main event of WrestleMania X for the title.  It was vindication for Vince giving up on him as a viable champion the year prior and cemented him as a main event player for the remainder of his career.

Lex Luger wasn’t as fortunate.  In order for Bret Hart to win, he had to lose.  He lost his title match to Yokozuna in order to set up a feud with the “returning” Mr. Perfect that ultimately led to nothing and nowhere.  Luger was never the same.  It was a precipitous fall from just six months earlier when he appeared poised to become the next Hulk Hogan.

I’ve long been championing the Luger cause, so you can imagine how this made me feel.  On one hand, I’m happy that Bret Hart ascended to greatness, as he went on to become one of my all-time favorites.  On the other, I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been had the WWE given Lex Luger the ball.

Overall:

We’re at the point in the countdown where I love every match remaining.  The 1994 Royal Rumble was incredibly important.  I brought about the big man domination run and the dusty finish.  It also had tremendous storytelling featuring its top two wrestlers and a finish that is as memorable as any.  The only thing keeping this Rumble from being in the top five is the finish and the subsequent destruction of Lex Luger’s main event run thereafter.  This is easily one of the most memorable Royal Rumble’s in history.

The Rebuttal – by Richard Boykin.

Dave, as usual, has been drinking the Kool-Aid from his youth.  The sad truth is, this Rumble does not hold up. Straight out of Bruce Prichard’s bag of gimmicks, we had Samoan savages, a clown, racecar driver, cowboys, a Hawaiian warrior, an Indian and a guy who survived an atomic blast.  Rumor has it the Steiner’s were going to go one and two, but Vince nixed it, saying that it would take away from the Bret and Owen feud. Rick Steiner was number 3. Scott is in the match already at number 1. Does Rick run in and help his brother?  NO!! He walks to the ring and shakes hands with the fans!!!

This is just one example of missed opportunities.  Randy Savage and Crush had their moment, but there was zero heat there.  Crush dumped Randy out with no fanfare.  Doink comes out and is eliminated, again, with no fanfare or heat to continue the feud with Bam Bam.  The very end of this match was the most perplexing and confusing/frustrating. Bret comes out, straight off of his match and subsequent beat down by Owen.  Him and Luger are the last two in the ring.  They fall at the same time, which is ok, but hokey. Just restart the match. But
NO!! A coin flip decides who wins the Rumble and gets the 1st shot at the title at Mania.  Not THE SHOT! The first shot. No match to determine the winner, just a coin flip.

This was a situation where the WWF wanted their cake and eat it too.  They had a great thing going with Bret and Owen but they wanted to get the title to Bret.  It was a convoluted ending to a match that I can best describe as
missed opportunities. I would put this Rumble in the mid tier (#15-#20), not as high as Dave wants you to believe it was.


Richard Boykin bringing the heat!  That’s a wrap kids.  Tune in next time to see which Rumble I ranked as #11 on my countdown.  Thank you for reading.  Agree or disagree?  Sound off below!

I can best be reached on Twitter @The_Eternal_Optimist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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