It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.
I guess the previous one I did way back in May of last year could be considered a pilot of sorts but starting with this year, I hope to make this series a regular occurrence timed around WWE’s tentpole events (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series). This will be an ongoing series where I look at the designs of old wrestling VHS tapes and talk about the event or matches contained on the tape itself. In this edition, I’m going to take a look at five classic Royal Rumble shows from the 80s and 90s.
Royal Rumble 1989
First up is the 1989 edition of the Royal Rumble. This is a historic show for many reasons; first 30-Man Rumble Match, first Rumble to be shown on pay-per-view, and the first Rumble released on VHS. Most of the matches are pretty good too! The best of three falls six-man tag is a exciting way to start the show, and it’s followed up by the Women’s Title match between Rockin’ Robin and Judy Martin (the last time the Women’s title would be defended at the Rumble until 1999) and a “posedown” between Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude which would further their feud going into WrestleMania V. The Rumble match itself is pretty fun and has lots of little nuggets thrown in; Ax and Smash drawing #1 and #2, Hogan and Savage having a face off mid-match with Elizabeth having to separate them, and Andre running scared from Jake the Snake among them, all of which keep the match fresh and entertaining.
Looking at the box for the event, it’s pretty nondescript, white with the old school Royal Rumble logo at the top on the front and pictures of all the featured participants. The back is just the match listing along with photos of Warrior and Rude. The only match that was on the pay-per-view that’s not shown on the tape is a match between Harley Race and Haku for the King’s Crown. A rare heel vs. heel match for the WWF, chances are it was cut out for space on the tape. I also want to call out the fact the six-man tag was listed as an “International Rules” Match, whatever that means. Anyway, if you want to see a a lot of seeds planted for big angles at WrestleMania V, then this is the place to start, even if the Rumble winner (Big John Studd) was only a guest referee at WrestleMania that year.
Royal Rumble 1990
I think 1990 was really when the Rumble started to come into its own. The previous two years (1988 and 1989), WWF was still figuring things out and it was more of a novelty than anything. However, here is when the Rumble started to cement itself as a big spectacle. This Rumble had all the major stars, including Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Andre, Dusty Rhodes, and Jake the Snake among others. It was probably the most star studded Rumble match up to that point. Like the previous year, Hogan had a mid-rumble match face off with this WrestleMania opponent, Ultimate Warrior. The two just stood and stared at each other for what seemed like forever, the crowd in the building that night absolutely losing their minds over it!
Looking at the rest of the show, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The match with Ronnie Garvin against Greg Valentine is really a forgotten gem and probably the only thing on the undercard worth seeking out. Fun fact: It’s actually the first ever “submission match” on WWF pay-per-view, even though it’s not listed as such on the back of the box. Since the undercard is really less than spectacular, I can see why it’s treated as an afterthought and the matches are just listed without any great fanfare. I really do like the design of this particular box, the smoky grey background works wonderfully and the pictures of the wrestlers have more personality to them. It definitely stands out more than the 1989 version.
Royal Rumble 1991
This is probably one of the most epic VHS cases ever done by the WWF and Coliseum Video. I’d say it’s second only to the 1992 version (which I tried to find but couldn’t locate a good scan of it) and possibly even the 2001 Rumble. A lot of the WWF tapes from 1991-1992 had really, really awesome artwork on the front which just jumped out at you on the rental shelf. Here you’ve got a cadre of WWF superstars marching down a dimly lit street, presumably towards a rumble of some sort. It has this whole Escape From New York/West Side Story/The Warriors vibe to it. If I was in a dark alley and I saw this horde of large dudes marching towards me, I’d definitely turn the other direction!!
As epic as the cover is, the show itself unfortunately isn’t the best. It’s a decent event held during the heart of the Gulf War and the most famous thing on this show is Sgt. Slaughter beating Ultimate Warrior to win the WWF Title with the help of Randy Savage. Due to Savage costing Warrior the title, it also served as a springboard to the famous career match at WrestleMania. Slaughter would go on to face Rumble winner Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania and the Hulkster would take back the title. The only other thing that’s worth watching, is the absolutely fantastic match between The Rockers and The Orient Express. It’s one of those matches that was way ahead of its time in terms of pace, action, and high flying, it was one of several awesome matches the Rockers had that year on pay-per-view.
Royal Rumble 1994
Ah yes, the much maligned 1994 Royal Rumble. I honestly think the box and cover art is the best part of the show! For years, I avoided watching this event because I’d heard so many awful things about it, but, honestly, I’ve seen way worse events from the WWF/WWE (looking at you, 1995 King of the Ring). This show is known for two things: First, the Owen Hart heel turn which catapulted him into the main event scene and set off the feud against his brother Bret, which would run throughout the course of the year. Second, the Undertaker dying and ascending to heaven after being beaten up and thrown in a casket by Yokozuna and his accompanying goon squad. You could say that the Rumble match is a third thing this show is known for because it had the only tie in Royal Rumble history (unless you count the messed up ending between John Cena and Batista at the 2005 Rumble).
As I mentioned, the box is probably the best part of this event. The cover just screams chaos with the wrestlers all over the place. For years I always thought they were coming out of a TV screen into some unsuspecting fans living room. The back is much more calm with pictures of all the notable names on the card, along with running down the whole list of Rumble participants. The WWF was neck deep in the “New Generation” era by now and seeing Hogan-era names like Greg Valentine, Randy Savage, and Rick Martel mixed in with Doink, 1-2-3 Kid, and Jeff Jarrett is all kinds of bizarre. Also, it’s clear that this box was made before the event because it advertises Tatanka vs. Ludvig Borga and Kamala in the Rumble, neither of which happened. Borga was replaced by Bam Bam Bigelow due to injury and Kamala was replaced in the Rumble match by Virgil.
Royal Rumble 1999: “No Chance in Hell”
If you’ve ever wondered where Mr. McMahon got his music and tag line from, then this is where. By now, the WWF was no longer using Coliseum Video for their tapes, instead making them in house via WWF Home Video. I haven’t watched this event in forever, but I clearly remember seeing the Camelot Music store in my local mall having this tape for sale. I never bought it, but I did rent it from my local library on several occasions and I was absolutely stunned by the violence level in the Rock vs. Mankind match. I remember being disappointed in the Rumble match itself, the whole thing seemed like an afterthought to the Austin vs. McMahon storyline. It also lacked in depth a bit too. Sure, you had people like Godfather, Kane, Chyna, Dan Severn, and Big Boss Man in the match but it was pretty evident that they weren’t going to challenge for the title at WrestleMania. Instead, the undercurrent of the match was McMahon placing a bounty on Austin’s head for whoever eliminated him from the match.
It also worth noting this was the first time where the Rumble winner (Mr. McMahon) didn’t get the title shot at WrestleMania since that stipulation was put in place starting with the 1993 Rumble. That instead went to Stone Cold who won the title shot the following month at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre PPV. Now for the box, it’s pretty standard for the time as the front is pretty much the event poster and a still from the WWF Title match. The back is loaded with stills from various matches and gives the full card. I always forgot that Luna was still bouncing around the WWF in 1999 and has a title match with Sable on this card. Most of the matches from what I remember are pretty good, but really the only thing worth watching on this show is the Rock vs. Mankind match.
So there you have it! Five VHS boxes covering five classic Rumbles from the 80s and 90s. I’ll be back again soon with another entry in this series when WrestleMania rolls around. Enjoy the Rumble everyone!