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Thursday, 24 January 2008

Retro Rumble Review - 1996

1996, Fresno, and good lord Todd Pettengill is still doing these pre-show things.

It seems that this year’s ‘bonus’ waffle is called the Free for All, and Todd is joined by Dok Hendrix, who is the bizarre incarnation of Michael PS Hayes.

They promise some words with HBK, Vader and Jake Roberts, and then we go over to Vince and Mr Perfect who hype a match between Triple H and Duke Droese which will determine which man gets number 30 and which man gets number 1.

Backstage, “Dok” is with Vader and James E Cornette. This was Vader’s debut, and Jimmy does his normal awesome job on the stick to hype his new man. Vader shouts for a bit, and then we are off to Todd with Jake.

The master of the DDT was one of wrestling’s great promo guys, but he only gets a few seconds, and mentions something about having had ‘demons’. He must be talking about a horror film he saw, because I’m sure Jake is a clean living guy. Obviously.

A quick promo about Taker is next, and then Vince and Curt talk about the main event – Bret Hart v Undertaker. Hennig says that he thinks Taker will win, but also promotes Bret as being great. Perfect was a great co-commentator, because he had the right balance between being a heel and talking sense.

A preview of the Bret/Taker match is shown, detailing the history between these guys, and showing Diesel being unhappy about the situation. Todd’s voiceover says that Taker has a 9 inch advantage. But I don’t know him that well. Generic words from Taker, and back to the arena.

Posh music plays and Triple H is a of the curtain tonight, as Hunter Hearst Helmsley is out to open the show. He talks to Todd, and throws in a good line about telling the fat lady she’s on in 5 minutes. I didn’t even know Bertha Faye was in that show.

The match is a reasonable affair, I suppose. Triple H, dah, I mean Helmsley, does a lot of working on the arm. Duke is surprisingly over.

Droese begins a comeback after Hunter misses the old ‘off the top rope with no move, and get levelled by the prone guy’s foot’ – I couldn’t think of a snappier name. Vince and Perfect fail to call the unbelievably obvious use of a foreign object, despite the camera zooming on it.

Hunter gets the pin after levelling Duke with a loaded right hand, but Gorilla Monsoon, who was the storyline president at this point, reverses the decision. Something that of course made sense, but means that every match that has ended in controversial fashion ever since should have been reversed as well. Luckily, not many people watched this Free for All.

Montage shows the history of Razor Ramon v Goldust, which is the Intercontinental title match later tonight.

HBK hits the ring, and Todd rather stupidly asks Shawn what number he has. Long-windedly, Michaels tells us all that he will come in the ring when he wants, and leave when he wants. At this point, Michaels had been out for a couple of months. He had legitimately been attacked outside a nightclub in Syracuse, New York, and really had suffered injuries. However, there was a lot of controversy about how he ‘forfeited’ his title, handing it to Dean (Shane) Douglas. Some say Shawn refused to job to Douglas.

In a match with Owen Hart, HBK received an enzuigiri kick, and late ring the match collapsed. This was, of course, a work, and Michaels was out from then until the Rumble.

Michaels wraps up his interview, still talking about how he will win, and then we go backstage to Triple H again. Man, it used to be so different in ’96. HBK hogging the spotlight and then HHH talking for ages. Wouldn’t see that now.

Trips talks about how there is no instant replay in the WWF, and how Gorilla’s interference post-match was uncalled for. And since he is now in charge, things like that are carefully avoided.

Free for All ends, and Royal Rumble itself begins. After the obligatory deep-talker doing the intro video, we have Vince and Perfect again. Vince says if there was ever a Perfect Royal Rumble, its tonight. Well, that’s a flat to lie to open the evening.

As last year, Jeff Jarrett opens proceedings, and a video shows the action with Jarrett attacking Ahmed Johnson at the previous In Your House event. Ahmed is out, and despite the fact that reputation says that he is a hard to work with, misogynistic, poor worker, the dude was over at this point. He had bodyslammed Yokozuna at the Survivor Series the previous November.

Ahmed, of course, dominates the early proceedings with power moves, until he gets his hand caught in the ropes, and Double J takes control.

It isn’t long, though, before Ahmed gets back in charge, with a version of Hulking Up last seen performed by Tatanka, although Johnson decides against the foot stomping. Clothesline and a Spinebuster, before Jeff slides to the outside. Ahmed follows him with a huge dive to the outside, with sick looking landing.

Back in the ring, Ahmed ascends the turnbuckle but hits an empty pool. Figure 4 from Flair Jarrett fails to get the win. After trying, and failing, to apply it again, he brings in the old gimmick guitar, and hits a Greco-roman Musical Instrument to the head. Johnson wins by DQ, and Jarrett scarpers with Ahmed in pursuit. Very unsatisfactory opener.

Backstage, The Smoking Gunns are talking about their upcoming title defence against the Bodydonnas. Bart Gunn achieves what was previously thought impossible, by being so boring he makes Billy Gunn sound charismatic.

Diesel is interviewed by Todd, and shocking he thinks he will win the Rumble. Cocky bunch, these wrestling fellows, you know.

Back to the ring, and its decent workers in a crappy gimmick, as Skip (Chris Candido) and Zip (Tom Pritchard) are on their way to the ring. However, they are taking their manager with them, the gorgeous Sunny, so no-one cares about the two guys. They are thinking about how they would like to take Sunny up the aisle. Ahem.

She cuts a promo about how her team will win, and even uses the old “ladies and Gentleman and children of all ages” line. So Road Dogg got it from Tammy Sytch. The line I mean, not Chlamydia.

Smoking Gunns, the champions, are out next, and I guess somewhere Ang Lee was taking notes for a cowboy movie he would make at some point. Or maybe not

Candido spends most of the match bumping like a madman, and it is actually not a bad encounter. Sunny is the story of the match, as the story often involves the Gunns being distracted by her. At one point, she blows kisses and hitches up her skirt. The cowboys ignore her. Yep, they were the prototype for Brokeback after all.

Billy inadvertently knocks Sunny down at one point, and as she feigns injury, the Bodydonnas pounce and take charge.

The usual heel domination of a match occurs, until the hot tag from Billy to Bart. Bart cleans up, the Gunns hid their ‘sidewinder’ finisher, but the Bodydonnas turn the tables as Sunny distracts the ref. Eventually they go for the double team, but Billy hits the ring for the save, and despite the botched small package, Bart picks up the win. And probably a man at the after show party.

Maybe it was Goldust. After a compilation of “Billionaire Ted’s wrasslin’ war room” – which Vince describes as very popular, in yet another blatant lie – we see the same Razor and Goldust compilation from earlier.

You obviously won’t know this by simply reading, but I’m back after a significant break, because my video (yes, VIDEO, as in VHS) machine decided to malfunction, possibly out of spite for me still living in the 20th century. No, I don’t yet have the Royal Rumble DVD compendium, because I very, very tight fisted man.

Anyway, Dustin Runnells/Rhodes/Black freakin’ Reign is out here, and this is during his initial run as Goldust. Frankly, although a little over the top, this was a great character, very well played, and I believe it is why Dustin still gets work, because people remember how good he was as Goldie in his first run.

Goldust is out first, accompanied by Terri, who was then known as Marlena. Actually, I stand corrected, as Vince and Mr P don’t know who she is. They just determine that she is an ‘attractive young lady’ and that ‘when you think you have answers Goldust changes the questions’. Which is all announcer talk for “Huh? We thought he was a faggot, and he has a chick! What the f....?”

Goldust goes through all kinds of machinations, crouching in the corner and doing his little inhaling thing. I suppose you’ll have to have seen this to know what I mean.

Razor eventually manages a lock up and quickly gets an armbar. He bashes Goldust around for a bit before they break again.

Next time they lock up Razor manages a go behind. Goldie reverses and gets one of his own. He then rubs his hands all over Razor’s chest. Ohhhhhkay.

Soon after, Goldust has Razor in the corner (so to speak), and strokes his face. Razor pushes him down. Funny moment when Vince asks Perfect what he would do. “Kick him in the face” says Hennig.

Razor then decides to hit a couple of right hands, one to the face and one to the, err, gluteus maximus. And that isn’t the guy from Gladiator eating a lot of sweets.

By the way, if you are thinking this is all very gay and disturbing, it is virtually the same match as Trish v Mickie at Wrestlemania 22. Only that was, of course, two hot chicks. So it was way better.

Goldust eventually gets on top (so to speak – oh look I’m not apologising for everything that sounds like an innuendo) after Dustin hides his lady, who is now in a directors chair.

Goldie pounds him for a bit (leave it, honestly) while Vince and Curt rave about his fabulously technical skills. He was hit a bulldog and a neck breaker. That’s it. Goldust applies a sleeper, and Ramon is fading away. “Razor’s going down” says Hennig, and knows exactly the connotations of his last statement. Dirty boy.

Ramon fights up, and distracting the official nails a low blow............he kicked him, you perverts.

Standard Scott Hall comeback. Clothesline, goozle, fallaway slam, 3 months in rehab, AA meetings, Belly to Back suplex, driving ban, and then he signals for the Razor’s Edge.

Meanwhile, “this woman” is in the ring, ‘twisting’ her ankle, and the 1-2-3 kid appears from the crowd, climbs the top rope, and hits a spin kick from the top rope which genuinely looked devastating. The Kid by this point was aligned with Ted DiBiase, by the way.

Goldust gets the win, and for the second year in a row Razor is stupid enough to get railroaded into losing his IC title.

Next up, it’s the Rumble, and some of the participants talk up their chances. Wait, there’s a doctor in it? Oh no, it’s Dr Unger, Shawn Michael’s physician apparently. He has a blackboard behind him which says Hepatitis on it, so he must treat Bob Orton as well.

Some legends talk about their chances. Huge names like Vader, Owen Hart, Jake Roberts, Jerry Lawler and..........Barry Horowitz? Ok then. Roster was pretty slim, huh?

Trips is out as the number one entrant as decided earlier, and number 2 is Henry O Godwinn. Genius creative.

Within a minute, Triple H does the Flair/Michaels somersault in the turnbuckle, but very sensibly, in an over the top match, Godwinn waits for the future game to fall back into the ring, before pressing him. Hunter escapes, and they continue to trade blows for another minute or so.

To the strains of Hail to the Chief (not Jay Strongbow) Bob Backlund, allegedly campaigning for political office, is number three. A three-way battle ensues, and Backlund sells like a kid on a rollercoaster for the first time. Just lots of ‘whoa’s really.

4 is The King. In the ring, Trips hits a high knee but Vince fails to notice that it is borrowed from Harley Race, which JR does every bloody time. Lawler gets in the ring, but soon goes outside to fetch Godwinn’s slop bucket. Hunter and Bob hold Henry while King gets ready to swing, but Big Henry fights off the three men, who bail to outside. They seem to think there is a force field as they just wait on the outside as Godwinn launches the ‘slop’ all over them. Well, actually he misses and hits a lot of the front row. Ha, you paid more and got covered in sick!

Mind you, normally when a big guy called Henry is in the ring, the vomit is coming from my mouth as I throw up watch Mizark’s terrible work rate.

Bob Holly, still in Nascar mode, is number 5, and then 6 is King Mabel. Dammit, I just talked about Mark Henry and they sent me Big Daddy V. Thankfully he is still in the old yellow and purple so we don’t see him flopping titties.

The commentators talk up the ‘royalty’ in the ring. King Mabel, King Lawler, blueblood HHH and Mr. Backlund. Yeah, as an Englishman, I don’t think you really understand the monarchical system, guys. You have to be inbred, posh and German. Well, ours are.

7 is Jake Roberts, and the action in the ring stops. All participants stop and look at Jake’s bag. They don’t know what it contains. When Jake pours a snake out, they scarper? What were they expecting? Beer? Oh right, I suppose it could have been, but Scott Hall had finished his match by then, so he got into Jake’s stash.

Lawler gets the snake all over him, then disappears. 8 is Dory Funk, and Vince notes that Terry was invited too. No-one has been eliminated, but the King is not in the ring. Maybe Warrior kidnapped him.

We see a quick shot Lawler hiding under the ring, which is actually very smart, but very little is happening in the ring.

Ah, I suspect that will shortly change. Yokozuna is number 9. First to go is Backlund, as Yoko slings him. He then goes to Mabel, and the two gargantuan ‘athletes’ battle each other in the corner. Brilliantly, Henry Godwinn is by the turn buckle, as Yoko and Mabel, while fighting each other, take turns to squash the Hog Man.

123 Kid is next, and is hotly pursued by Razor Ramon. Or so the commentators say. I think he’s out to confront Jake to find out where the other beer is stashed.

Scott chases the Kid for a while, but to no avail.

A random Japanese Guy comes out at 11, who Vince says is Omori from Japan Pro Wrestling. Doesn’t say if it is All or New (it is actually Takao Omori, then of All Japan, now of Japan’s ZERO1-MAX) No explanation of why he is there whatsoever. Good Lord how thin was the roster.

What is not thin is Yoko, who at this point is hitting one chop then resting for five minutes. He gets knocked down by Jake. Well, I think he does – Jake hits a bunch of rights on screen, but the one that knocks the big guy down isn’t shown. Great directing.

Savio Vega is next, and he hits a spinning wheel kick on Mabel, who is then thrown out by Yokozuna. Jake then turns the tables and eliminates Omori who was in the process of getting rid of Jake. He misread Jake’s name and thought it said Jake “The Sake” Roberts, and thought Roberts was drinking the Japanese beverage. Another easy mistake to make.

Vader is next, and it’s the debut for the big guy from the Rockies. Perfect is putting him over like crazy, but Vince seems like he doesn’t know who the hell he is. He keeps calling him “The man they call Vader”

Sounds like my Mum when she doesn’t like someone – she always prefixes it with “That”. For example, “will That Michael Cole be commentating?” Oh no, wait that’s someone I don’t like.

I’ve missed some happenings now, so I’ll catch you up. Vega eliminated Dory Funk, Vader eliminated Jake (well I say that, he clotheslined him dead centre of the ring, and Jake staggered backwards and took a powder. I have no idea why Jake would have a poor sense of balance. Not a clue.)

Doug Gilbert is entry number 14, from USWA, and we are told he is the brother of the late Tommy Gilbert. Curiously, he doesn’t go straight after The King under the ring. I wonder what he thinks Jerry is doing.

Vader and Yoko go at it a bit, to the dismay of the perpetually apoplectic Jim Cornnette, and then the bizarrely sized entrant at number 15 is names as a member of the Squat Team. You may know them as The Headhunters, briefly in ECW. Vader throws Gilbert over like he was passing his robe to a referee. He quickly rids the ring of the Squat Team guy.

Vader and Yoko trade blows once more, before 16 is out, and it’s the other Squat Team member. They look exactly alike, and Vince helpfully tells us they are identical twins. Perfect and Vince wonder how they will tell the two apart, because they are both heading to the ring. This despite the fact they are wearing different shaped singlets.

Vince says “Which is the legal man and which is the illegal man?” to which Perfect responds “The one on the left”. Vince treads all over the gag by asking which left, as if Hennig has answered him properly. Idiot. But a genius, too obviously.

Anyway, Vader beats up both Squat team guys, and then clotheslines one out, while Yoko slings the other.

Owen Hart is next, giving Cornette three men out of seven in the ring. Vader and Yokozuna destroy Savio for two minutes, then HBK is number 18. Michaels, to a huge pop, comes in, and throws right hands to everybody, while constantly looking over his shoulder.

After Yoko and Vader are bored with killing Savio, they throw him out, and then lock up again. They are on the ropes when Michaels steams into them and eliminates both. No, you didn’t read that wrong. He eliminated both. About 950lbs of man eliminated by a 230 pounder returning from injury. Makes perfect sense. He then presses the Kid and gets rid of him too. Hmm, I wonder who’ll win this.

On the outside, Vader levels Yoko, while Hakushi is on his way out, which is hilarious, because his music sounds like a Japanese funeral. Wow, that Vader is strong, killing Samoans simply with clotheslines.

Vader comes back in the rings, and causes chaos. He beats up HBK and throws him over the top, then does the same to everyone else. They are apparently not eliminated because Vader isn’t legal. So Undertaker is still in the 1993 Rumble then?

Eventually Gorilla Monsoon is out and gets rid of Vader. Vader would destroy Monsoon the following night on Raw and get suspended (kayfabe) Michaels throws Cornette over for a laugh, and Owen Hart removes Hakushi.

Tatanka is next, followed by Aldo Montoya (Perfect : “He (also) has his Jock on the wrong part of his body”)

Michaels ends up on the outside, but went through the ropes, and he pulls King from under the ring back into play. Lawler is soon ousted, but hey, he lasted 36 minutes.

Diesel is next, and levels everybody. He slings Tatanka immediately. At this point Diesel and Michaels were best friends (again) but Diesel smacks him the first chance he gets, and HBK returns the favour.

Its HHH, Diesel, Holly, HBK and Owen in the ring at the moment, which means I missed the elimination of Montoya. I’m with the FBI then.

Kama is next, and soon HBK holds the Supreme Fighting Machine for Diesel to punch, an he of course misses and hits Michaels.

Number 24 is out, to no response, crap music (oh yeah, I forgot to mention this was the first year they used music) and even Vince doesn’t seem to know who it is. He’ll never make.

He is called the Ringmaster, I think. Steve something or other.

Actually, Perfect puts him over big style, and Stunning Steve gets rid of Bob Holly. Haha, 25 is out here now, to a much bigger reception. That’s hilarious; Barry Horowitz gets a mightier pop that Steve Austin. Anything can happen in the WWF, huh?

Perfect says that if Horowitz wins he’ll get back in the ring. He actually returned 18 months after this, in WCW. Maybe Horowitz won a secret battle royal somewhere in Georgia.

Diesel throws HHH out, for a 48 minute stint for the Connecticut Blueblood. Imagine Vince creating a snob character to poke fun, only for the character to poke his daughter.

Fatu is next, and his babyface gimmick at this point is of an anti-drugs campaigner. Maybe he should have been an anti-donut campaigner, because he is about 200lbs lighter there than he is now.

Isaac Yankum, by now on his second character in the WWE, is next, and Owen Hart nails HBK with the enzugiri. This is so impressive that the director decides to show us a double feature instant replay. Meanwhile, with the screen shrunk, Owen Hart is eliminated by Michaels. No problem, only the most significant elimination thus far.

Austin then levels HBK, and mocks his pose. Man Austin was good even then when no-one knew who he was. Or cared.

Janetty is next, and there are only two more entrants left. Soon, the former Rockers get it on, and eventually knock each other down. Bulldog is next, and he ousts Jannetty in pretty short order.

Bulldog goes to Marty’s old partner, and the man who pipped him to the post last year. Meanwhile, Fatu eliminates Austin. At least he didn’t run him down in a vehicle. That would be terrible......

Duke Droese, who pointlessly won the number 30 position earlier on complete the quota.

Michaels and Bulldog are now on the outside, and Owen reappears to level HBK again. Bulldog presses HBK, but Diesel makes the save. Michaels dropkicks Isaac Yankem out, and Kama gets rid of the Dumpster.

Down to four, and it moves fast from here. HBK is still coping with Bulldog, and Diesel has Kama to contend with. Bulldog tries to backdrop Michaels out, but HBK stops on the apron, propels himself back in under the bottom rope, then clotheslines Davey Boy out. Cool spot.

Kama hits Michaels in the back, sending him over the ropes again, but he hangs on, and is obviously waiting for action elsewhere to play out. Diesel pushes Kama out, but while doing so Michaels skins the cat and nails Diesel with a superkick to send him out. And when I say nails, I mean brushed the shoulder. Slightly weak ending to what was a very weak Rumble match.

Diesel takes some frustration out on The Bulldog in the aisle, before threatening to kill Dok Hendrix. He returns to the ring where for some reason Michaels is baring his backside to the crowd. So when people compare HBK to Flair, it’s basically because they like to get their ass out all the time.

Diesel threatens to level Michaels, although he simply high fives him.

This is basically a ploy so that Nash can stay out there. By this point, Diesel and Taker had a side issue, so when Undie is on his way to the ring for the main event, Diesel confronts him. They trade some weak blows, before officials spate them. Nash tells Taker that he isn’t afraid of the dark. What about undead zombies who killed their parents, Kev? Scared of them?

After all dies down, Bret comes to the ring. The crowd are split here. Neither Bret nor Taker get the huge pop they usually elicit, so it seems they can’t make their mind up. Perfect is already bigging up the Hitman, and since Hart and Hennig considered their match with each other at Summerslam ’91 to be one of the best they each had in their respective careers.

I should point out that Taker has a Phantom of the Opera-like mask on, which was to protect a legit facial injury. Although by this point it was healed, he had a pretty cool-looking accessory to go with his gimmick.

Bret by this point was by far and away the best in the business, but the company was being booked for Michaels to take over, and so the focus wasn’t necessarily on Bret in this match. Taker’s dark powers are at the fore here, and so much of the early going sees Bret taking a beating from the Dead Man.

Very slow pace, with Taker hitting the odd spot, such as ‘Old School’ or contemporary school as would have been known at the time – except it wasn’t. Mostly its rest hold city, but eventually Bret blocks a charge in the corner, hits a clothesline of the second rope, sends Taker to the outside and then dives over the ropes on top of Taker.

Vince does a nice comparison to the match Bret had with Diesel the previous Survivor Series, and then Bret jumps into the arms of Taker, who rams him into the post. He tries it again but Bret reverses, but the see-saw continues as Taker boots Hart in the kisser.

Bret goes into the rail, and damn Bret knew how to sell a beating. Perhaps the reason some people never really got Bret was then he rarely looked like a champion, but although Hogan did, there was little realism.

Bret whips Taker in the steps on the outside, and UT takes it legs first and flies over the top. Taker and Mick Foley always took them that way, and it looks so much better. Of course, it also allows Taker to sell the leg, and then Bret goes to work with the usual offense to left leg of the Deadman.

Bret gets a figure four, Taker then makes a brief comeback, but Bret stays on the leg. The psychology is about as good as it could be, but because Taker had been build as a zombie who could feel no pain, plus it’s a babyface contest, the crowd don’t seem into it.

Bret tries to wrench the ‘facial appliance’ off of Taker. Why must WWE complicate phrases? They can’t say hospital, they say ‘medical facility’; they can’t say cut, they say ‘busted open’. They can’t even say ‘mask’ here.

Brief ‘rest in piece’ chant, while its rest-hold in piece in the ring, before Taker fights out. Taker slings Bret to the outside, and then Bret meets the steel steps. Bearer then distracts the ref as Taker chokes the Hitman, so they seem to be trying to paint Taker as the heel now.

The bell rings. Is the because of a count out? Did Vince do a dummy run of Montreal? No, Taker just threw Bret into the timekeepers table. Chairshot by Taker with the ref still distracted. Back in the ring Bret ducks a big boot, and goes back to the leg again. The fans boo. It’s like they are both heels, not both babyfaces. Bret rams Taker’s leg into the steel post to a mixed reception this time, and frankly, though I’m the biggest Bret fan there ever was, this match is dragging somewhat.

More directorial shenanigans as Taker seems to counter Bret while the camera is looking at the fans, and once again Taker takes charges. Legdrop followed by a straight clothesline. More cheering and booing.

Taker sets up for a Tomnstone, but Bret slides out and onto the apron. Taker knocks him to the floor, but Bret pops back up and manages to knock Taker away. Bret counters an Irish whip into a DDT, and a Russian Leg Sweep begins the tell tale run of moves leading up to the Sharpshooter. In between each move, though, Taker does the zombie sit up.

Bret has the Sharpshooter half on, but Taker comes out of it with Bret round the throat. Double clothesline knocks both men down for a bit. Bret gets up and removes a turnbuckle pad. He follows up with several straight rights to Taker, and then removes the ma......facial appliance. Perfect wisely calls that Bret would have more joy hits Taker’s unexposed face into the buckle rather than one with a protector on it.

Bret sells the new scary Taker (like he wasn’t before) but manages to ram Taker’s head into the buckle twice. Bret pounds a bit, but then runs into Taker, who Tombstones him out of nowhere.

Long hold before Taker covers Bret, but an interfering Diesel pulls the ref to the outside. This causes Bret to be disqualified, and Taker wins, but obviously that means no belt.

A smug Diesel raises the middle finger to Taker and leaves. Whatever you think, kids, about Austin being rebellious by doing that, I’m telling you Nash did it first. Undertaker follows Diesel out, and Bret’s music hits. As I said earlier, he doesn’t look much like a champion. It was pretty much a visual fall for Taker, and did nothing to make Bret look good.

A video airs of highlights during the evening, and we are out.

Very low quality Rumble. Devoid of star power, a telegraphed winner of the main battle royal and one of the poorest Bret matches you are likely to see wasn’t really backed up by an undercard of any note.

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