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Monday, 21 January 2008

Retro Rumble Review - 1995

Welcome to the next in my series of classic Royal Rumble reviews – today we go back in time to 1995, one of the really low points on the WWF radar, and a time when things were not that rosy.

For the last review, I was about to skip Todd Pettengill’s free preview before the show, but couldn’t be bothered. As it happened, I rather enjoyed watching the build up to some of the matches, as my memory doesn’t always stretch that far back. Erm, why am I writing this again? I have a BLOG?!

Anyway, we try to block out Pettengill’s voice, as he runs down the card and starts to look at the Championship match between Bret Hart & Diesel. Can you believe that at some point in history, the powers that be decided that the title should be taken off of the Hitman and given to Kevin Nash. No, really, if you don’t remember it, they did. Via Bob Backlund, anyway.

This preview is quite in depth, showing even a match that Diesel and Bret had at the previous year’s King of the Ring, and a couple of sit down interviews. At one point Todd doing voice over says that Diesel may well be champion for a long time. Wow, no wonder viewers were switching off at the time.

Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett is next, and a few highlights of this are shown too. Pettengill refers to Razor as flamboyant, which I thought was a reference to people like, you know, Rico. Mind you, Scott Hall has probably been so wasted before that he may have done anyone......I mean anything.

Anyway, build up seems to concern the Roadie, whom we know refer to BG James, who we actually refer to that bloke who used to be The Road Dogg, who we also refer to as the less talented Armstrong family member.

Stephanie Wiand don’t remember her? No? Well think of the worst parts of Kevin Kelly, Todd Grisham and Sean Mooney, give it a wig and you have Ms Wiand. Good lord she was atrocious.) is conducting an interview with Razor Ramon, along with Linda and a kid from Make-a-Wish. I bet the kid wishes he’d got a different interviewer. Anyway, Razor says he’ll get Double J basically.

After this, we get some people backstage drawing Rumble numbers. Backlund talks nonsense, The Smoking Gunns pretend to be entertaining, and then HBK tells us that he’ll have an easy night. Ha, yeah right, like he’ll win it.

A quick review of the feud, of sorts, between IRS and the Undertaker. Basically, Irwin repossessed some gravestones and flowers from the grave of an alleged tax cheat, and this pissed off the Deadman. No, not the dead man, I mean the.....never mind. Anyway, remember that if you do anything wrong in any Graveyard in the world, Taker will unleash hell. Or heaven, something like that.

Back in the arena for the preview, Todd calls for the national anthem of the USA, and to play it is..........Man Mountain Rock. Wow, another blast from the past. Anyway, there is a reason why you forget people, and I’d completely forgotten this guy. In fact, for forgotten, read ‘blanked out’. Remember Van Hammer, Honky Tonk Man, Jeff Jarrett? They had guitars but didn’t play them. Well Man Mountain Rock played it, but it sounded like a school recital on his electric guitar.

Todd is then interrupted by Jerry Lawler, on his way to the commentary booth. How do I know this? Well, Todd asks him, and Jerry comes back with a classic, witty riposte. “Yes I am, Todd.” He says. Actually, not one of your best King. No puppies or anything.

Some ‘hilarious’ mix-ups ensue with Todd trying to speak to Vince but getting the Spanish guys, and then Todd introduces the celebrities. Well, one. He introduces Lawrence Taylor, who he describes as having played” Footbell”. I’ve not heard of that game.

After some time filling, involving Todd trying to whip up the crowd (badly) its time for........adverts? Apparently I should look into buying the new Spiderman game. I’ve heard about these new fangled SNES machines. They’ll never catch on.

Anyway, we’re off to the actual Rumble, after pimping of some merch. Then Todd pops up again and asks me to stop the video (yes, video, remember them?) because he has something important to say. If I stop the tape, Todd.I wont hear what you have to say. Actually, that sounds pretty good.

OK, since I stopped the tape, review over. Bye.

No? Ok then, I’ll carry on. Anyway, Todd just says to watch right until the end, because he give us some strategy tip or other. Exciting stuff.

We have Ray “not at all hired because I speak two languages” Rougeau tell us that we are about to see some exclusive thoughts of some of the Rumble participants. We see Bundy (who looks a lot like a Bald Big Show actually) then the manager of Fatu and Sione (that was actually the Barbarian replacing Samu) talks some complete gibberish, which is to be expected, frankly, because it’s Captain Lou Albano. Imagine that, a team called the Headshrinkers managed by a man with a shrunken brain.

More people pop up and say they’ll win, before we see a limo pulling up at the arena. Out steps Pammie, who sadly rejects the advances of a bunch of midcarders who are trying to entice her to join them. Actually, I think that she saw Tatanka nearest the door and saw that his breasts were bigger than hers.

Vince and King then welcome us to the show, and run down the card. Vince, people are not going to switch off, they’ve paid for the bloody thing.

First up is the IC title, with Razor Ramon defending against Jeff Jarrett. King makes joke about inbred people from Tennessee, which would be hilarious if not for the fact that he is from Memphis.

The opener is actually a very strong encounter, possibly due to Jarrett being hyped up after the biggest reaction of his career. It is still barely audible, but its big for Jeff, bless him.

The match psychology is basically Jeff being too quick for Razor, but when Scott finally catches him (give him a break, you try wrestling after 12 beers) he is too strong. The Roadie helps Jarrett get the upper hand, and I recall just what a good character he was. It’s a great concept, played to a tee by Brian James/Armstrong. Shame the guy he was running for kinda sucked.

Eventually, the Roadie chop blocks Razor on the outside, thus making him the most stupid manager known to Wrestling (and that is a hell of an achievement) because Jarrett wins by count out and doesn’t get the belt.

Jarrett then does a wandering, waffling, tedious promo aimed at getting Razor to come back and fight, thus making Razor a complete tool as well. Not wanting to be left out, the ref tries to dissuade Ramon from returning, and does this by.........walking back into the ring. If he had walked to the back, wouldn’t that have helped stop the fight? Man, I bet when Tim Wihite realised what he had done he must have felt like killing himself. Oh wait.

Jarrett takes control as soon as the match restarts, and at one point has Ramon by the ropes, when a fan in the front row holds up a foam Razor blade. I’m not kidding. You know those big foam fingers? Well they actually marketed razor blades made from the same material. Funny story, when Hall was in WCW he was asked to get colour during a match, but took 7 minutes because he was trying to use the foam blade rather than a proper one. Silly Scott.

Jarrett gets the win via a small packages after Ramon’s leg gives out on him in the middle of an attempt at a Razor’s Edge. Even the sound guy can’t believe it, as it takes about 10 seconds for Jarrett’s music to kick in.

Backstage, Stephanie Wiand sends us to Todd in Pamela’s dressing room. Wouldn’t it have funny if it was just a shot of Pettengill furiously masturbating? Actually, come to think of it, no it wouldn’t. It would have been immensely scary, and WWE would have had to pay for Counselling for all their viewers. Although, at that time, no-one was watching, so not too much.

Now I think about it, why would one furiously masturbate? I have been known to partake occasionally, I’ve always been reasonably chipper about the whole thing. I rarely have an argument with a telephone salesman or get a bill through the post and then think “I’ll go and have a look at the Mickie James picture on my divas calendar.”By the way, I’m single ladies (shocking, huh?)

Not very funny stuff with Pammie ensues, before not very interesting conversation develops between Wiand and Jarrett. Who’d have though that an airhead called Stephanie with an annoying voice and zero charisma would have a career on WWE TV? Oh, right.

Undertaker and IRS next, and its pretty poor fare, because although Mike Rotundo could work, he was never, ever pushed as a single, so he was hardly going to beat Taker, was he? That’s the Undertaker the walking zombie, who the previous year had beaten Yokozuna and his own clone, after reanimating himself. I don’t think the “Grim Reaper” was crapping his pants over the prospect of facing a guy whose gimmick used to be that of a ship’s captain.

This is more storyline than match, because Irwin spends more time on the arena floor than in the ring, including conferring with DiBiase and bringing out two ‘druids’ to assist him. He does get the upper hand, but Taker didn’t really sell back then, except to an abdominal stretch.

Taker does the sit up several times, and each time he does Vince makes a noise very akin to the aliens in the claw game in Toy Story. Maybe that’s why Vince sells to Foley so much. “It’s the claw, the mandible claw.” Maybe we might see a return of Baron von Raschke after all.

Taker wins with a fairly weak looking choke slam, and after the match gets attacked by IRS and the druids. He fights them off, but out comes King Kong Bundy for the distraction and beat down, and meanwhile IRS assaults Bearer and steals the urn. You know, when you think about it, it is amazing that Taker is such a legend, because he has been involved in so many matches with terrible opponents (not including IRS) and terrible angles (definitely including IRS) it is truly astonishing.

Next is Diesel v Bret Hart. And we are about to witness just why Bret Hart was so great at what he did. This will never go down as a ***** classic, but the Hitman took an average big man who had a neat character, but was thrust too soon into the limelight. The story of the match is basically Bret using his wrestling nous to attack Big Kev’s knees, after he loses a couple of early ‘slugfests’ as Vince and King call them.

In fact, Jerry Lawler’s commentary performance should be noted here, as it serves as a reminder of how colour guys should work. Lawler, as an ex-wrestler, or at least semi-retired offers his take on the match and the strategy behind it. That is how it should work. Tazz does this well on occasions, but does not have the linguistic ability, most of the time to make himself truly effective. King used to be very, very good at this, but after a transition to double entendre spouting babyface commentator, to me he has lost some value.

Back to this match, Bret works the leg for a while using slightly more aggressive tactics than you would usually see from him, before Diesel turns the tables, or at least, the ring steps.

Diesel runs through his repertoire for a while, as Bret takes his turn to play the babyface in peril, trying desperately to string a couple of moves together. The fans were clearly pulling for Bret as this point, as his comebacks were eliciting more pops.

That may have been about to change. Hitman pulls Diesel into the ringpost and actually ties his legs together, before returning to ring to stomp on the champion. Heelish behaviour from Bret, but he actually gets more cheers to his actions.

Bret goes through his usual set up preparing for the Sharpshooter. Backlbreaker, Russian Leg Sweep, flying elbow, etc. But he can’t put it on. He knocks Diesel to the outside, but Nash catches him on the way out, slamming Bret into the ringpost.

Back in the ring, Diesel hits the jack knife powerbomb, and Earl Hebner does the slowest count possible, as Shawn Michaels just.....just makes it to break the count. What? Shawn Michaels? Helping Bret? And getting reprimanded by Hebner? Wow.

Anyway, HBK works Diesel over a bit, attacking the injured leg, before being ejected by officials. Bizarrely, Hebner announces that the match has to continue. And I think that is the first mistake in the match. You see, that makes no sense at all. Diesel basically had the match won, it was a visual fall, and it got interrupted. That is a clear DQ. It should have been Bret to get the Sharpshooter on Diesel first, and then for there to be interference. Then Diesel would not have had to quit, and the restart would be more logical because the explanation could have been that Bret would not win the belt on a DQ.

I should also note that the people went crazy (most the ladies, right enough) when Michaels arrived on the scene. More irony as Lawler asks if Bret and Shawn could be in cahoots. Vince says that is ridiculous. Oh, the humanity.

Bret takes control, working the leg again, and after a brief flurry by Diesel, then gets the upper hand again. This time, Bret drags Diesel once more to the ring post, and not only slams a leg into the post, but hits Big Daddy Cool with a chair. He clearly misses, and to Vince’s credit he disagrees with Lawler’s assertion that it hit the kneecap.

Boos now ring out for the heelish Hitman, but this soon changes to cheers as Bret locks in the Sharpshooter. Predictably, Owen Hart is out to break up the hold, and rams Bret into an unprotected turnbuckle. Once again, the match is ordered to continue. See what I mean? It should have been the opposite way around, it would have made so much more sense.

Match restarts, and turns into an out and out brawl. Bret gets tangles in the ropes and Diesel is about to use a chair, but Bret squirms free. Hitman gets in the ring, stands up, then falls clutching his knee. Vince and King do a good job of speculating about how injured Bret is, and sure enough Bret is playing possum and scores a near fall with a small package. Great psychology here.

However, we get a ref bump, and both Michaels and Owen return to attack their respective bête noirs, and are joined by Bob Backlund going after Bret, as well as Jeff Jarrett and the Roadie attacking Diesel.

It degenerates into chaos from there, and the match is declared a draw. After the ring is cleared once, they get back in and go at it again, with Bob Backlund applying the chicken wing to Bret, and the other four attacking Diesel. Nash eventually gets free, and clears the ring, leading to him and Bret facing off. Bret shows even more genius when Diesel reaches for his arm to raise it a mark of respect, he sells it, because he has just been in the Chicken Wing.

Eventually, Bret accepts a handshake and a lift of the other arm. And they are friends. Bless.

After another lame Pammie/Todd effort, Stephanie Wiand interviews Bob “Spark Plugg” Holly and the 123 Kid, who apparently are the ‘Cinderella’ story. Which is ironic, when you consider that Waltman would go on to make a video with one of the Ugly Sisters.

The back story was that Diesel and Shawn Michaels were tag team champions, but after HBK had nailed Diesel a few times with accidental superkicks, the duo split, vacating the titles. A tournament was scheduled, with the Smoking Gunns pulling out due to injury. The Kid and Holly replaced them, and had got to the final.

The ensuing match is actually very good, and the 123 Kid was at his high flying best at this point, and Holly was agile too. The story of the match is power against agility, and the contest is back and forth throughout. At one point, Bam Bam hoists the Kid miles above his head, and the man who would later be X-Pac hooked a huracanrana on the way down.

Soon, they do a spot which involves the Kid trying to save Holly from a pinfall, but Tatanka moves and the Kid nails his partner. The ref gets Waltman out of the ring, but meanwhile Tatanka nails Bam Bam by accident. When Holly reaches the corner, the Kid is not there, because he is going after Tatanka.

From there, Holly gets beaten for about 5 minutes straight, which the story being the lack of experience of Sparky and the Kid as a team.

Eventually the Kid is tagged in, and performs an array of high flying moves, but eventually Bam Bam beats him down. As Bigelow ascends to the top rope for a moonsault, Tatanka runs the ropes but knocks Bigelow off. Holly throws the Native American to the outside, and eventually the Kid pins Bam Bam.

So Bob Holly is tag team champ. Think how far he has come in 12 years, when he is now.........tag team champ. Hmm. Upward mobility, huh?

As the new champions celebrate, Tatanka and DiBiase leave in disgust. This of course is setting up Wrestlemania. As Bigelow remonstrates with fans, telling them that his losing is not funny. He eventually squares up to Lawrence Taylor, the former New York Giants player, sat at ringside, which was only mentioned about 12 times by Vince and the King previously.

Bam Bam pushes LT over, and at the time it was a pretty cool moment, because no-one knew, allegedly not even some of the boys, that LT was set to work Mania. He ended up doing a pretty good job.

After we see a couple of interviews with HBK and Luger, plus some footage of last year, its time for Pamela Anderson to finally get away from Todd Pettengill and come to ringside. Fans are outstretching their arms as per usual, but some guy is swatting them away. Oh, right, that’s Pat Patterson. Quelle surprise.

Note to Lillian or whomever does this year’s Rumble announcements. Finker simply said it’s time for the Rumble, and Michaels’ music hit. We didn’t need a long winded explanation of the rules, because those that are watching either know, will work it out, or the announcers will tell them.

The Bulldog is out at two, and we’re underway very quickly. Vince tells us that this Rumble will see competitors enter at 60 second intervals, making it the fastest, most furious Royal Rumble ever. And absolutely not because the talent pool was so shallow that it couldn’t be allowed to go over an hour. Nope, no way.

Also, I should stress, that making the interval time 60 seconds was not very considerate of poor bastards like me trying to review in real time 12 years later. My keyboard now already has smoke coming off it.

Michaels and Davey Boy go at it with HBK selling like crazy for about 58 seconds, before the countdown reaches and its..............well, nobody knows. Basically, its one of the Harris brothers, in their guise at the time of Jacob and Eli Blu. The reason no one knew who it was was because they hadn’t debuted at that point.

Wow, loads have entered just while I was typing that. Duke ‘the Dumpster’ Droese is 4, Jimmy Del Ray of the Heavenly Bodies number 5, and Sionne the Headshrinker is 6. Del Ray gets tossed out, and on his way to the back passes his tag team partner, Tom Pritchard, on his way to the ring as number 7.

8 is Doink, and fortunately nothing is happening much in the ring for me to tell you about other than people entering the fray. Eli seems to spend his whole time shouldering peoples stomach.

9 is Kwang, and this is like a parade of wrestlers with loads of gimmicks, except for Michaels and Bulldog. Sionne/Barbarian, Tom Pritchard/Zip, Eli Blu/Grimm Twin/Skull/8-Ball/God knows what else and Kwang/Savio Vega.

10 is Rick Martel, to a staggeringly weak reception, but I don’t think he had been on TV for months before this, so that would explain.

11 see Owen Hart enter, and this leads to Bret attacking him before he reaches the ring, making this the first spot in the entire Rumble so far, a third of the way through, and not even in the ring.

Next is Timothy Well of Well Dunn. Now, you probably don’t remember him, so it’s puzzling why he gets a huge pop. In fact, he didn’t, it was for Owen being thrown over. Which the camera missed. So that’s two spots, but only one on TV. Good stuff.

I can’t tell you the next set of eliminations, because it is basically everyone in the ring except Bulldog and HBK. The list includes number 13, one of the Bushwhackers, who lasts about 5 seconds.

14 lasts longer, and that is Jacob Blu. He is there for about 10 seconds. Number 15 heads out, and its King Kong Bundy. A replay confirms that Bulldog was the man who tossed out Owen.

Bundy works on Bulldog, and then hits HBK with a right hand which Shawn sells like he was shot out of a cannon. Love the bumps, Shawn, but tone it down a little.

Mo of Men on a Mission lasts exactly the same amount of time as I liked listening to their raps (2 seconds) before his partner comes out to square off with Bundy. Eventually Mabel eliminates the mammoth Bundy, and 18 is the other Bushwhacker. This one is Butch, so I guess the last one was Luke.

Of course, this New Zealander last the requisite short time, and Michaels goes back to his octopus impression as Bulldog and Mabel work on him. Luger is next, and proves he is strong by eliminating Mabel straight away then proves he is an idiot by press slamming Michaels in the ring.

Moooo. Its Mantaur at 20, I make it, and aside from being a lame wrestler and a lame gimmick, what the hell is a Mantaur anyway? Isn’t a human body and a cow head a Minotaur?

Animal based monikers are about the order of the day now, as the Portuguese man o’ war is 21, and Hog Farmer Henry Godwinn is 22. Maybe everyone was so bad in order to Luger look better. It still didn’t work.

Billy Gunn is next, and his only contribution really to slide most of the way across the ring. He goes after Mantaur, and I wonder if that is an effort at continuity since he is a Cowboy. Geddit? Bart is next and does the same thing.

Vince says if Lex wins he’ll be a deserving individual. King asks why, but Vince evades the question. Funny that. Backlund is next and Bret is out again to attack an enemy. Backlund hasn’t made the ring as the next guy comes down. It’s Steven Dunn, complete with scarecrow hair. Backlund crawls in but is eliminated by Luger, before Bret fights Bob back up the aisle.

Dick Murdoch is next, to more exclamations of “who?” to the uninitiated. Sadly, Murdoch would pass away shortly after this PPV. Adam Bomb is next (28 I think) and emits a very high pitched cry on the way to ring, for no reason. Maybe that radiation affected his vocal cords as well as his eyes.

Fatu is 29, and Luger actually pulls off a pretty cool elimination of Mantaur as he bounces him up and down on the ropes before slinging him. Crush is the last man, and spends most of the time fighting his future Kronik partner, Adam Bomb.

Vince says that never again will two guys go out at the same time like they did last year. Nope, not until three years ago when Cena and Batista did it. In fact, if they hadn’t, Vince might not have charged to ringside like a lunatic and bust his knee in front of a worldwide audience, casuing him to try and look tough while sat on his ass.

The Gunns go at it and get thrown out, King asks if we saw Dunn get eliminated (I didn’t, but so long, anyway) and then Bomb is bombed. HBK eliminates Aldo, who I left out of the earlier list of gimmick changes (he was Justin Credible). Crush throws Fatu, and then Dick Murdoch throws a dropkick. He airplane spins Godwinn, and big Hank’s feet knock HBK over, similar to Funk’s spot with the ladder.
Godwinn turns the tables on Murdoch, sending him out, and we are down to Bulldog, Lex, Shawn Crush and Henry Godwinn. Anyone think Henry will do it?

Nope, as he charges Luger, who lowers the boom. Michaels and Crush double team Luger, while periodically returning to nail Bulldog. Luger turns the tables, and then shows he is an even bigger idiot than I had him pegged for, as he ascends to the second rope for the 10-punch, but Michaels hits him from behind, eliminating him.

Crush and Michaels strike a deal to team against Bulldog, but Crush soon turns on Shawn, Pressing him and is actually about to throw HBK out before Michaels rakes the eyes, and Bulldogs clotheslines Crush out.

So we are down to the two who started. Could we not have just had a match for 45 minutes between these two? After Bulldog and Shawn go through some spots they did 3 years previously, Davey Boy clotheslines HBK out, and his music plays. So Bulldog has won, right?

No so fast, pal. Shawn returns to throw Davey Boy out, and a guy in the front row wearing a sleeveless sparkly vest goes crazy. Err.......Jericho?

So, it turns out Michaels only hit the floor with one foot, and he is the real winner. The losers are the other 29 guys. And those in attendance and watching on TV. A few decent matches, but a very poor Rumble, which is basically the selling point of the Pay per View.

Well, you made it to 1995. Well done. I promise it gets better after this.

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