Royal Rumble 1996
January 21, 1996
Fresno, California
Fresno Convention Center

Announcers: Vince McMahon & Mr. Perfect

For some reason, the PPV broadcast opens with Sunny taking a bubble bath, warning us of the graphic content we're about to see. This was the first WWF PPV to feature such a warning, and I always wondered why. But hey, it's Sunny in a tub, so I'm not complaining.

Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett
This is Jarrett's second stint in the WWF, as he returned at December's In Your House to start a feud with the popular Ahmed Johnson. You'd think a feud like that would only help both men, but for some reason it kind of hindered Ahmed's momentum a bit, and ended up leaving Jarrett just as unhappy as he was at the end of his first WWF stay. Jarrett tries to carry him to a good match here, and does a decent job considering Ahmed's utter uselessness. Jeff dumps him and hits a sweet clothesline off the apron, followed by a ropesplash and the strut back in the ring. Ahmed starts hulking up (well, more like Warrioring up anyway) and spinebusters him. Jeff bails and Johnson follows with an over the top rope dive (with no hands!) on top of him. Wow, I take back the uselessness comment. Back in, Ahmed tries a shooting star press(!) but misses. Jarrett gets the Figure Four, but Ahmed reverses. Jarrett goes for it again, but Johnson boots him to the floor. Jeff grabs his guitar, goes to the top rope and smacks it over Ahmed's head in plain view of the ref to draw the DQ at 6:38. That was a dumb finish that did nothing for either guy especially in the supposed blowoff for a hot feud. **1/4 Both would have been better suited to have been used as credible threats in the Rumble instead.

The Smoking Gunns talk to a camera and Billy guts a good promo. I'm serious!

Todd Pettengill chats with Diesel, who cuts a babyface promo and says he'll win the Royal Rumble tonight.

Tag Team Titles: The Smoking Gunns (Champions) vs. The Bodydonnas
Billy and Skip do a lightning quick sequence to start. Zip comes in to double team the cowboy, causing Bart to get involved and slingshot both over the top rope to the floor. Billy hits a plancha on both challengers. Back in, the Gunns do a Hart Attack and Sunny gets on the apron only to get accidentally knocked off by Billy. Billy, gullable babyface, goes to check on her, and the Donnas double team him. Skip hits a plancha. Inside, they do a double flapjack but a complex triple collision spot leads to Bart receiving the hot tag. The Gunns hit the Sidewinder on Zip, but Sunny distracts the ref and Skip hits a forearm off the top rope, then pulls the old switcheroo and trades places with his partner. He covers, but only gets two. The Donnas go for a double suplex on Bart, but Billy spears one of them and Bart small packages the other for the three count at 11:13 to retain. Great little old school tag match. ***1/4 I'm sure we can thank good old Dr. Tom for putting that one together.

A Billionaire Ted's Wrasslin' War Room skit is shown. These were hilarious parodies of WCW that really poked fun at the fact that all their top talent consisted of old, washed-up ex-WWF stars. In this particular scene with Billionaire Ted, The Huckster, The Nacho Man, and Scheme Gene, Vince Russo plays an annonymous writer and Turner stooge. These skits all culminated with The Huckster wrestling The Nacho Man at the Free For All before Wrestlemania XII, a match which I sadly don't have on tape.

A Goldust/Razor Ramon package is shown. Goldust, seemingly infatuated with Razor, played mind games with him for weeks, playing off Razor's self-labeled tough guy image. This was really intriguing television and pretty much defined the ahead of its time Goldust character.

Razor Ramon mentions an interesting fact that I'd always noticed too; this is his fourth Royal Rumble, but he never made it into the Rumble match because he was always involved in a Title match earlier in the card instead.

Intercontinental Title: Razor Ramon (Champion) vs. Goldust
Goldust enters with a woman. The next night we would find out her name is Marlena. You probably know her better today as Terri. She assumes a seat in her director's chair, and watches the match while occupying herself with a cigar the whole time. Goldust acts about as gay as he usually does, so the homophobic Ramon takes it to him. Razor tries to ignore his advances and wrestles him, but Goldie feels him up on a go behind, and Razor gets the hell out of there. More mind games follow, so Razor slaps him. Goldust bails and hides behind his valet, then rolls into the ring where they do a cool headlock/headscissors sequence. Goldust bails and again hides behind the woman. He blows Razor a kiss as a mild "boring" chant starts. Razor moves the woman out of the way and Goldust jumps him as he does. Goldust works his back and hits the corner bulldog back in the ring. A slingshot back suplex gets two, but Razor comes back with a fallaway slam for a two count of his own. The back suplex off the top gets two for Razor, but the woman distracts the referee as the 1-2-3 Kid, Razor's rival, runs out of the crowd. The Kid hops up onto the top rope and roundhouse kicks Ramon off the top. Goldust covers him and the ref counts three to give Goldust the Intercontinental Championship at 14:17. *1/2 The match worked well with the storyline, but was slow at times because of it. Goldust tongues his woman, proving that he's not gay after all and just psyched out Ramon to take his IC Title away from him. That's why Goldust ruled. He capitalized on everyone's homophobia and used it to his advantage to better his career. Good times.

Royal Rumble comments from Owen Hart, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Barry Horowitz, Vader & Jim Cornette, and Shawn Michaels are aired.

Royal Rumble Match
On the Free For All show on the Prevue Channel, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese and Hunter Hearst Helmsley wrestled with the stipulation that the winner would get #30 in the Rumble and the loser would get stuck with #1. Hunter pinned Droese, but did so with the help of a foreign object, so President Gorilla Monsoon called him on it and disqualified him. That means Helmsley is #1 and #2 happens to be his old foe, Henry Godwinn. Feel the excitement. This year the intervals are a legitimate two minutes apart, proving that someone learned from 1995's accelerated Rumble. #3 is Bob Backlund. I'll let you know when something interesting happens. #4 is Jerry "The King" Lawler. The King swipes HOG's slop and tries to get him with it, but Godwinn reclaims the bucket and ends up slopping Lawler instead. What irony. Thankfully, Perfect makes a Gallagher reference to save the segment. #5 is Bob Holly and #6 is King Mabel. #7 is Jake Roberts, who releases his snake into the ring to send everyone running, but Lawler has his back turned and Jake covers him with the snake. Everyone comes back in once the snake is gone, but the King is nowhere to be found, though he wasn't eliminated. #8 is Dory Funk. Lawler is shown peeking out from underneath the ring to end that little mystery rather quickly. #9 is Yokozuna, who quickly eliminates Backlund. Mabel sandwiches Godwinn between the corner and Yoko. That'll take the wind out of anyone. #10 is the 1-2-3 Kid. Razor Ramon follows him out and chases him until officials come out and escort him to the back. #11 is some Japanese guy named Takao Omori, with- you guessed it- the Orient Express music. Savio Vega is #12, as Perfect gets all Heenanish and comments on the virtues of money. Yokozuna eliminates Mabel and Jake rids us of the Japanese guy.

Vader makes his WWF debut next at #13, a number perhaps foreshadowing his unsuccessful WWF tenure. Savio gets the honor of dumping Dory Funk. Vader pummels Vega, and Mr. Perfect declares that Savio is on Rubber Leg Street. Is that anywhere near Dream Street? #14 is Doug Gilbert, who gets murdered by Hunter. Perfect reminisces about his days tagging with Eddie Gilbert, and mentions that Doug won a tournament in Memphis to earn this slot in the Rumble. Jake DDT's Savio, but is eliminated by Vader. A Samoan Swat Team member is #15. Just when you thought the crowd couldn't get anymore apathetic, here we are. If you don't recognize some of these names, don't worry. They were brought in only to participate in the Rumble. Vader press slams Gilbert out, then eliminates the Swat Team guy. Vader and Yoko, both under the tutalage of Cornette, slug it out. The other Swat Team member is #16, so they both get in the ring. Vader immediately tosses one and Yoko handles the other. #17 is Owen Hart. Yoko and Vader squash Savio. #18 is defending Rumble Champion Shawn Michaels. He wakes the crowd up quite a bit. Vader eliminates Vega. Shawn nails the Kid, then Hunter, then goes for Owen, the guy who put him out of wrestling back in November. Yoko and Vader slug it out again and this time Shawn manages to use their momentum to dump both of them over the top rope to the floor. Yoko heads back to the locker room and Vader nails him from behind. Hakushi is #19. Vader gets back into the ring and roughs up Shawn. He press slams him over the top to the floor, and also eliminates Owen, Hunter, and Holly. Gorilla Monsoon eventually comes down with several officials to get him out of there, and Michaels, Hart, Helmsley, and Holly are allowed to get back in the ring since they were eliminated by someone who had already been eliminated.

#20 is Tatanka, two years after the last time he was over. Owen dumps Hakushi in the corner. Aldo Montoya is #21. Perfect: "He's got his jock on the wrong part of his body!" Shawn goes through the ropes and goes under the ring to pull Lawler out. Shawn punches him, rolls him in, then eliminates him. #22 is Diesel, who nails Helmsley, eliminates Tatanka, then starts to work on Owen. He bumps into Shawn and nails him, so Michaels returns the favor. They go their separate ways and later Diesel actually ends up saving Shawn from elimination. That would prove to be a pretty big mistake. #23 is Kama. Zero heat for him. #24 is "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, making his WWF PPV debut. He clips Holly as Perfect really sings his praises. Austin punches Diesel and eliminates Holly with a high knee to the back. Holly lasted nearly forty minutes. Impressive. #25 is Barry Horowitz, as Owen Hart, near elimination, skins the cat back into the ring. Diesel eliminates Hunter Hearst Helmsley after nearly forty-eight minutes in there. Very impressive. #26 is Fatu. Austin and Diesel slug it out. Shawn and Owen fight near the ropes. #27 is Isaac Yankem, D.D.S. Owen tosses Horowitz and enziguris Shawn, as I note that current stars Rikishi, Kane, Steve Austin, and The Godfather are in the ring, all long before anyone cared about them. Michaels kips up and eliminates Owen. Austin clotheslines Shawn and mocks his little pose, so Diesel clocks him in the face. Marty Jannetty is #28. The big guys beat him up. Fatu superkicks Yankem. Shawn and Marty go at it for old time's sake and knock each other down. #29 is The British Bulldog, who dumps Marty and goes for Shawn. Fatu clotheslines Austin out and stops to contemplate whether he should take the opportunity to run him over with a car or not. The hesitation allows Yankem to dump Fatu. Shawn and Davey Boy go through the ropes and brawl on the floor, where Owen jumps Shawn. Shawn recovers and gets back in the ring to dropkick Yankem out. Kama and Diesel eliminate Droese, making the final four Kama, Diesel, Davey Boy Smith, and Shawn Michaels. Shawn clotheslines the Bulldog out and Kama tries to get rid of Shawn, but Michaels skins the cat back in. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ring, Diesel dumps Kama but turns around right into a Shawn superkick that sends him over the top rope to the floor at 58:44. The pop is deafening, as Shawn Michaels wins the Royal Rumble for the second year in a row. Shawn Michaels is going to Wrestlemania XII for a shot at the WWF Championship. Diesel, dejected, hangs around ringside while Shawn celebrates. He gives his buddy a high five, but he's still clearly upset with himself for dropping the ball. Pretty underwhelming Rumble. **1/4

WWF Title: Bret "Hitman" Hart (Champion) vs. The Undertaker
The Undertaker was shafted out of WWF Title shots for years simply because his character wasn't concerned about the Title, and this was hyped as his first real big shot at the Championship since his brief run with it in 1991. He enters first and crosses paths with Diesel, who's still on his way back to the locker room. They engage in a short brawl, as officials quickly get Diesel to the back so the Undertaker can get into the ring to wait for Bret Hart. Vince mentions that this is the Hitman's 43rd PPV appearance. This is the first high profile meeting between these two long time WWF mainstays. The Undertaker starts out aggressive, wearing Bret down with clawhold after clawhold. Bret finally shows signs of life about six minutes in and clotheslines him to the floor, then follows up with a pescado. Taker drives his back into the post, but Bret whips Taker into the steel steps and starts the long process of working the knee. Bret goes to the Figure Four about twelve minutes in, but Taker eventually reverses and gets to the ropes. Bret now grapevines the leg for a bit while the crowd, desperately in search of something to cheer for, gets a "Rest In Peace" chant going. Taker fights out and chokes Bret out with a wire at ringside while Paul Bearer distracts the referee. The fans get on him for that, but Taker doesn't relent, tossing Bret into the timekeeper's table and nailing him with a steel chair. It all proves to have no effect, however, as he goes for a big boot back inside the ring, and Bret casually ducks it and goes back to the knee again.

Taker leg drops him and clotheslines him, but Bret scores a DDT and rolls over onto him for a two count. The side russian leg sweep only gets two, and The Undertaker sits up. Bret with a bulldog, but Taker sits up from that too. He can't put him away. Perfect suggests a Perfect-Plex. Bret hits the backbreaker and the elbow off the second rope, then goes for the Sharpshooter, but Taker blocks it. They put each other down with a double clothesline. Bret gets to his feet first and undoes the turnbuckle pad in the corner. Bret pries The Undertaker's goofy facemask off and drives his face into the exposed buckle, but Taker hits the Tombstone Piledriver out of nowhere and covers. Referee Earl Hebner gets in position to count, but Diesel runs out and pulls him out of the ring. Hebner calls for the bell at 28:29 and awards the match to the Undertaker via DQ as a result. Diesel smirks at the decision and gives the finger to the Undertaker. Whoa! Every seventh grader around the world creamed themselves over that one. As for the match, it dragged quite a bit and would have been much better had ten minutes been shaved off. It was hard to sit through at the start, but built pretty well and the last eight minutes or so were really hot. **1/4 The outcome set up Diesel vs. The Undertaker for Wrestlemania, as well as Royal Rumble winner and #1 contender Shawn Michaels vs. WWF Champion Bret Hart.

I happen to have the next night's Raw on tape, and it's quite a good one. Vader squashes Savio Vega, then continues to assault him and several referees, prompting President Gorilla Monsoon to come down and get physically involved. Vader ends up Vaderbombing Gorilla, which ultimately earns him a suspension. Hunter Hearst Helmsely beats Razor Ramon via countout thanks to the 1-2-3 Kid in an all-Clique match. Vince interviews Shawn Michaels about his Royal Rumble victory and Jim Cornette and Owen Hart interrupt. Owen challenges him to a match at the next In Your House and dares him to put his Wrestlemania Title shot on the line. And finally, WWF Champion Bret Hart defeats new Intercontinental Champion Goldust in a nifty little match, much better than either's performance from the night before.

Royal Rumble 1996 Key Stats
Matches: 5
Total Wrestling: 119:31
Average Match: 23:54
Average Match Rating: **1/4
Top Moments: The old school tag match, Goldust executing his plan, Vader's debut, Owen and Shawn, Diesel's obscene gesture

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