Royal Rumble Count-Up – 1996: Shawn Is Back!

Royal Rumble 1996
Date: January 21, 1996
Location: Selland Arena, Fresno, California
Attendance: 9,600
Commentators: Vince McMahon, Mr. Perfect

Well it’s a year later and the roster is more or less the same. There are a few changes though. The biggest is Shawn has finally given up and turned face thank goodness and Taker is back in the title hunt. Bret has the title again and is facing him in the main event. Other than that, there’s a few new guys but a lot of this is the same. Nitro has debuted so the war has almost started.

The rest of the card looks similar to what we had last year with all three titles on the line plus the Rumble and one other match, but this just looks miles more interesting for some reason. The Rumble roster still looks weak but far better than it did before. This flat out can’t be less interesting than last year so let’s go.

I almost forgot: Shawn has been out with a ton of injuries including the concussion kick from Owen and tonight is his big return, so that’s easily your biggest story of the night here.

Oh yeah and a guy named Hunter Hearst Helmsley debuted. A bald guy from Texas is here too. They’ll never mean anything.

There was a preshow match with HHH vs. Duke Droese. The winner got 30 and the loser got #1. Amazingly, HHH lost so there we are.

Sunny is in a bathtub and says that tonight’s show is viewer discretion advised. My goodness she was perfect. Anyway, Bret vs. Taker is previewed, along with a few other matches. There’s a picture of Razor hitting a belly to back suplex off the middle rope on someone. That someone: Jeff Hardy. Oh yeah and there’s that Rumble thing too. Finally, there’s talk of some monster showing up tonight. Some guy called Vader I think.

Jeff Jarrett vs. Ahmed Johnson

Ahmed is a relative rookie here, having been around for just a few months here. In other words, this should be a slaughter. This is fallout from Jarrett breaking a gold record over Ahmed’s head at the previous In Your House. I love how I now have seen that match and reviewed it as it ties things together a bit. In case you’ve never seen him, Ahmed is a freaking tank.

He’s more cut up than Ezekiel Jackson and even scarier looking. The only problem was he wasn’t as talented either. He’s killing Jarrett though so there we are. He was supposed to become world champion actually but he couldn’t stay healthy. There have been a ton of clotheslines in this match to say the least. I don’t mean a bunch in a row, but a bunch over a fairly spread out period of time.

Why is it that when something happens it’s unbelievable to Vince? He saw it happen so apparently it’s not too farfetched. Johnson is hulking up. That can’t be a good sign. Jarrett continues to imitate Ric Flair without the success by getting Ahmed in the figure four. You know considering how awesome Ahmed was, this is just really boring.

After powering out of that, Jarrett goes to the top with the guitar and El Kabong is enough for the DQ. Ahmed just stood there and waited to get hit in the head. Jarrett leaves and of course Ahmed is up in about 18 seconds and not even shaking it off. That was odd.

Rating: D+. Uh yeah. I’m not sure what to say about this one as it just wasn’t that good at all. Ahmed wasn’t really sloppy, but he certainly was limited. I’m not entirely sure why they had Jarrett not get pinned here. He really had nothing to lose here as he would be gone less than ten months later. Ahmed was supposed to look great here but he just didn’t, plain and simple. This is more of a headscratcher than anything else.

Buy WWF stuff, t-shirts in this case.

Billy and Bart, looking like male porn stars from some cross breed of the 70s and 80s say they’re going to keep their titles. My goodness they were so painfully bland it’s painful.

Diesel says heelish things despite still being a face officially I guess. He mentions not having a problem with Taker, and we have a feud on the rise.

Tag Titles: Smoking Guns vs. Body Donnas

Sunny was hotter than anything on the planet, period. The Body Donnas are Tom Pritchard and Chris Candido, more commonly known as Chris Candido. Sunny starts off in the ring by saying ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages. Holy stolen ring intro in a few years. Sunny of course gets the biggest pop of everyone. She’s 23 here and was screwing Bret Hart at the time, so there we are.

We get an upskirt shot of Sunny which leaves Perfect speechless. In case you can’t tell, no one cares about the match but only Sunny. She really was excellent at getting all of the attention on her which is very good to be able to do. The Guns are giants compared to the heels. After the Donnas desperately try (and fail) to take over, Sunny is knocked to the floor. The only good thing is a nice back shot but whatever.

Perfect: she could have been hurt! Vince: she may be hurt! Thanks for being original McMahon. Naturally she was faking (don’t you hate when women do that?) and the Donnas get the advantage. Vince calls Zip Flip so there we are: we have found a gimmick so bad that even Vince McMahon can’t remember their stupid names. In a cool spot, Zip hooks his partner in a gutwrench release powerbomb (think Jack Swagger’s move but he just lets the guy go) onto Billy.

That was different as Perfect says. Since this match has been the most intelligent of all time, we have another odd spot as Skip runs into Zip and Zip is knocked into Billy so everyone is down. It leads to the cold tag to Bart who cleans house. Vince says he hits Skip or Zip or whatever his name is. Since it’s 1996, we can’t have a regular ending, so instead the Guns hit the Sidewinder (backbreaker/leg drop from the top) but Sunny distracts the referee.

In a bad looking spot, Billy sees Skip on the top rope clearly, but goes after Sunny instead. It was one of those moments that wasn’t supposed to look bad but accidentally did. The Donnas go for a double suplex but Billy spears one of them so that Bart lands on the other guy for the pin. Yep, that was stupid.

Rating: D. This show really isn’t starting out well at all. This was somehow worse than the previous match. Literally, looking at Sunny is all that this is good for. The match itself is just bad, the booking is weird and the ending leaves something to be desired. The Guns would forfeit the belts in about a month due to injury and the Donnas would get them in a tournament just before Mania, as in about 20 minutes before.

We see a big thing of the Billionaire Ted skits. These were funny at the time, but allegedly they ticked off Ted Turner so much that he revamped WCW, so in essence they nearly killed Vince’s company. There we go then.

Recap of Razor vs. Goldust. In essence, Goldust wants Razor, as in the way I want Ellen Page, so that apparently made Razor put the title on the line. Yeah that makes perfect sense.

Intercontinental Title: Goldust vs. Razor Ramon

Goldust debuted the night before Ahmed so there we are. Hey did you know that Goldust is bizarre? We need to make sure you know that he’s bizarre. Vince says don’t adjust your televisions. I’ve never gotten that expression. How many people actually get up and adjust televisions? What was going to go wrong with it in the last 10 seconds or so since the last segment ended?

Are we supposed to believe that it wasn’t right before? Also, if you have a really fuzzy picture and you had really bad eyesight, would it eventually look normal? Apparently the noise at the beginning of Razor’s music is from screeching tires. What vehicle is making that noise? This is Marlena’s debut as well. She looked really good back at this point.

In a funny moment, Vince goes over the rules to how you win a title and Perfect almost yells about how he’s won the title twice so why does he need to have it explained to him? That’s a really funny point when you think about it very little. Goldy grabs Razor’s chest a few minutes in so there we go. When asked about what he would do against Goldust, Perfect replies with kick him in the face.

I love Mr. Perfect, if nothing else for the rampant sex jokes and innuendos he’s dropping here. At one point when they’re fighting on the floor someone shouts out that Marlena has a nice rack, which is very true. This match seems like it keeps starting and stopping. They’ll do a bit and then Goldust will go all freaky. That’s fine for character development, but it makes for some bad matches which is what’s happening here.

We do however get a cool spot as Goldust hits a slingshot belly to back suplex that I’ve never seen before. Other than that though, there’s just not a lot to talk about here. Finally Goldust takes over, but still there’s no flow to this match. It’s hard to put into words, but you would know what I meant if you say it. Something just doesn’t feel right about it as it just looks choppy for lack of a better word.

On top of that he keeps groping and molesting Razor. That’s just annoying. Can you imagine in wrestling related anything someone that was constantly making gay references and puns and actions? It would drive me crazy. Anyway, it’s a sleeper and a standard comeback by the face.

Oh the fans are mostly dead for this. No Monty Python jokes here by the way. After some Terri interference, the 1-2-3 Kid comes in and heads to the top for a spin kick that clearly misses but I guess the air from it knocks out Razor for Goldust to get the pin.

Rating: D. Uh yeah, this sucked too. I don’t get it. For the most part there’s been talented guys in every match but nothing at all has worked so far. Granted that could be because we’ve had three matches and zero clean endings. Is it that hard to let one guy cleanly beat the other one?

Anyway, like I said earlier this match just feels choppy and it really hurts things. There’s zero flow here and it felt like watching a video game being played where the guy controlling it was just hitting all of the moves he programmed in if that makes sense.

A bunch of people say they’ll win that don’t interest me. Shawn’s doctor says he’s ready to come back.

After the explanation of the rules from Vince (none given to the live crowd), we’re ready to go.

Royal Rumble

HHH is in first and second it Henry Godwin, now rocking the best music in wrestling history: Don’t Go Messin With a Country Boy. These two had a pseudo-rivalry around this time so this works pretty well. We’re back to two minute intervals which almost guarantees a better match. They imply that winning two in a row is almost impossible as Hogan is continually buried.

Backlund is third, completely in his crazy man Presidential candidate (don’t ask) gimmick. Also, how bad of a string of draws does this guy get? The more I see of this guy the more I like him. He’s just amazing considering his age. Backlund still has the Iron Man record at this point. Fourth is Jerry Lawler as I’m already loving these two minute intervals better.

There’s far more time to let people get settled in and it helps a lot. The heat on Lawler is nuts with the Burger King chants. Godwin breaks up a triple team and gets the slop bucket. Everyone gets it at once as they’re on the floor and now we’re back in the ring with a Gallagher reference. Fifth is Bob Holly to fill the jobber quota a bit more. Backlund is on the floor or something I think as he hasn’t been seen in awhile.

He’s not out but he’s not in the ring either. Oh there he is. HHH has jumped twice in this match, which is more than in this decade combined I believe. Mabel, who is still King, is in at 6. He’s gained even more weight here and it even less interesting of a character if that’s possible. HHH is compared to Shawn. Oh dear.

Jake Roberts, on the nostalgia trips to end all nostalgia trips (notice the word choice I used for Jake) is seventh to a solid pop. He lets loose the snake and throws it over Lawler who is of course terrified of snakes. How much of a creep was Roberts? The only people he ever fought were terrified of snakes. That’s just pathetic. Anyway, Lawler hides under the ring as Dory freaking Funk Jr. is #8.

No one knows who he is, which is likely because he’s 56 years old at this point. With the NWA dead at this point, Vince mentions their name on camera. No one has been eliminated yet so we have eight people in and you can recap it yourselves you lazy pests. Jake almost gets a DDT on HHH to a pop but it doesn’t work.

Terry Funk is apparently friends with Bruce Willis. Well ok then. Funk fights Backlund in one of the only encounters you’ll ever see where Bob is ten years younger than the guy he’s fighting. Yokozuna is 9th as we’re way too full here. Those are words I don’t think Yoko ever used. As Backlund has the chicken wing on Funk, Yoko dumps Bob easily to a big pop.

I think he’s just about to or just has turned face. The Kid is tenth as we hit double figures. This hasn’t been bad as it’s pretty clear they’re saving the big guns for the end, but dang those guys are staying in there a long time. It’s not exactly a bad thing, but I’m not sure if I’m sold on it or not.

Razor chases him to the ring as Godwin is eliminated to absolutely zero recognition. I had to rewind it to see where he went out at. Razor chases Kid around for a bit which means nothing in the end. Mo is very annoying to say the least. I think Shane was there as an official to get Razor to the back. Some Japanese wrestler named Omori is number 11. He comes out to the Orient Express’ music, and I don’t have a clue who he is.

Thanks to Wiki, he apparently has a pretty good resume. That’s fine and good, but again we have the same old problem: ALMOST NO ONE KNOWS THAT VINCE. These foreign guys are fine to bring in, but blast it tell us why we should care. Don’t just say he’s a wild man from Japan. We need more than that. Tell us a big name he’s beaten, tell us some titles he’s won, tell us SOMETHING.

I don’t want to have to do a ton of research to figure out who one guy from Japan is in one match. He’s from All Japan Pro, that’s all we get. Even Vince says he doesn’t know a ton about him. Well thanks Vince. Savio Vega is 12th as nothing of note is going on. Dory is out there doing stuff that belongs in the 40s or something which is pretty cool looking.

The saddest part: I doubt half the roster today would be as smooth as he is out there in this match. Yoko puts out Mable and the smarks shed a tear as the completely unimportant Omori is put out by Roberts. To recap, we have HHH, Lawler (hiding under the ring), Holly, Roberts, Funk, Yoko, Kid and Vega in there at the moment. Perfect says he’s tapped into the Superstar line and knows who the next guy is.

Ok wait a minute. So first of all, you can find out the SECRET drawing on the Superstar line? I know they did that last year but I just don’t get what the point is. Why ruin the mystique of one of the biggest matches of the year? Second, you can tap into it? How many science geeks that were watching this (of the 4 or so that were) immediately tried to figure out how to do that? Third, Perfect is on the phone while calling a match? Dude I want that job!

Anyway, 13th is the debuting Vader. At the time, he was a complete monster and rapidly becoming one of the biggest heels in the company. He beats up Holly so he’s a good guy to me. Savio puts out Funk from the apron. Vader of course pulls him back in so there we go. Vader punches Savio, making him dance. Yeah I hate him too. Fourteenth is Doug Gilbert of the USWA, which is Lawler’s company.

Jake sets Vega for the DDT, arguably the most devastating and popular move in company history at that point, so right as he goes for it we cut to Holly trying to dump the Kid. We can see it hit between Holly’s legs and the pop is huge, but of course two career nothings are more important so there we are. In a VERY stupid looking spot, Jake hooks Gilbert for the DDT and then just stares at Vader for at least four seconds and then gets clotheslined over the top. That looked so stupid.

Ok so 15 and 16 are twins called the Squat Team. Yes that’s the best name they could come up with for them. They’re twin 450lb guys from Puerto Rico where they’re called the Headhunters. Ok, so we can’t just call them that generic yet far better name? They last less than two minutes combined as Vader just goes insane on the first one with two punches to knock them both out. That was AWESOME.

As the first one leaves his partner is coming out and they both go to the ring. Vader beats them both up at once until Yoko (still heel apparently) grabs one and is like “Boy get your fat gut out of here and make me a sweater” while Vader beats up the other one and is like “Boy go marinate bake me a ham and set the table” and both guys are knocked out.

That was both stupid and pointless which is a nice combination. Oh and just after the first guy came in Doug Gilbert got hit with a freaking AWESOME chokeslam from Vader and thrown out. It looked awesome.

To recap, we have HHH, Lawler (under the ring), Holly, Kid, Vader, Yoko and Vega. Owen is 17th and a major heel at this point due to being the guy that hurt Shawn in the famous enziguri (how in the heck is that spelled anyway?) that made Shawn black out. Yoko and Vader just beat the living tar out of Vega and Shawn is 18th as the roof isn’t blown off in the slightest.

There’s a reaction but dang there was nothing impressive about that in the slightest. Vader puts out Savio as Shawn hits HHH. What would the children think??? The crowd is awake but not much beyond that. Vader and Yoko fight at the ropes and Shawn runs up and dumps BOTH of them at once. Ok that was cool looking. The fans are very much insane now. Shawn gorilla presses Kid out in another cool spot.

Vader and Yoko keep fighting as Hakushi is now in to make it him, Shawn, Owen, Holly and HHH as we see the major problem already: it is so completely obvious that Shawn is going to win. Vader comes back in and throws him out to completely silence the crowd. All of a sudden this year that doesn’t count like it used to so Shawn is still in. Gorilla the Commissioner comes down to run off Vader.

Vader would kick his face in soon which was quite sad. The heel heat on Vader is nuts. Maybe 45 seconds after Hakushi comes in we bring in Tatanka for a one night return for no apparent reason. I’ve always liked that hook of the steel bar that Shawn did. It’s an intelligent counter that works quite well. Owen throws out Hakushi as the Shawn Michaels plus the midcard Rumble continues.

Aldo Montoya is 21st to some of the weirdest music I can ever remember. It’s like techo and tribal mixed and it’s just failing. Shawn finds Lawler under the ring and throws him back in. Sometimes simple heel tactics like that are just made of win. Montoya and Lawler go out almost at the same time as Diesel tries to give Shawn a challenge at 22. I know looking at it now he looks weak but at the time he was a major player still so this was a big deal. He puts Tatanka out with ease.

He and Shawn go at it to a solid pop. Owen goes after Diesel to finally live up to the poster for this event. I have no idea why those two were on the poster. I also have no idea why they didn’t fight at Summerslam 95 instead of Mabel but whatever. I mean really, what match sounds more interesting: Diesel vs. Mable or Diesel vs. Owen? It would have at least been interesting to an extent instead of Diesel and Owen which was completely awful.

Kama is in next to no reaction at all. Yeah Shawn should have come out about 10 spots later than he did. Holly is more or less dead at this point as Shawn hits the ten corner punches on him. The crowd counts with him and I keep thinking it’s another person coming in. Apparently Ahmed has a concussion and is going to the hospital. So wait, it took AN HOUR AND A HALF to figure that out? Dude how bad is your medical staff???

The Ringmaster is in at 24. For those of you that don’t know, he would soon become known as Stone Cold Steve Austin. His manager, Ted DiBiase heading to WCW might have saved the company. He’s wearing white boots here which just doesn’t look right. Aww his boots have little stars on them! That’s so cute! He FINALLY puts out Holly though so he’s awesome already.

Austin is a much more technical based guy here with some very good athleticism. Barry Horowitz is 25th, coming out to his completely sweet rock version of Hava Nagila. How awesome is that? Perfect says that if Horowitz wins this he’ll get back in the ring. That made me chuckle for no reason at all. In a cool looking spot, Owen is leaning on the ropes to choke Shawn so Shawn nips up to kick Owen over, but Owen skins the cat to get back in. That was awesome looking.

The fans are DEAD here. Diesel puts out HHH with complete ease. That looked cool if nothing else. 26th is Fatu. WHY IN THE WORLD DOES HE GET THESE AWESOME DRAWS EVERY YEAR??? This is the making a difference Fatu. My goodness this was awful. It makes Rikishi look brilliant. Hey let’s plug the Superstar Line again! Apparently only the guy on there knows who is next. So is he running around telling people what order to go in?

Perfect changes his stance to he’ll quit if Horowitz wins. So wait, does that mean he’ll quit being retired? If that’s so does that mean he’ll wrestle again? Maybe he didn’t change his stance at all. Owen almost puts Shawn out but just won’t do it because it would probably get him fired. Isaac Yankem (Kane) is in next. Horowitz is gone. Owen hits the enziguri on Shawn again but this time doesn’t kill him.

Austin does the Shawn pose as I laugh. Austin vs. Diesel is a match that I don’t think ever happened. Owen is out due to Diesel and Shawn. 28th is Marty Jannetty as this match just needs to be put out of its misery. Apparently he’s been doing well in the singles division. Did I completely miss some time in the company history? The Rockers go at it in a fight that would have been good maybe 3 years ago.

British Bulldog is 29th again to ZERO reaction. 30th is going to be Duke Droese so there we are. Smith is heel here so he beats on Shawn. He dumps Marty quickly so if nothing else there’s a future for him in vermin control. Fatu puts out Austin. How many people would believe that in three and a half years he would run him over in a car and put him out for a year?

That’s just completely amazing and shows you that all kinds of things can happen in wrestling and you never know what’s coming. Kane knocks out Rikishi with ease as the announcers admit they have no idea how Austin went out due to there being a lot of action going on. No not really but I can’t argue with Vince right? Ok so there’s Duke and the final groups is, and I’m not kidding you here, Duke Droese, Kama, Diesel, Shawn, Bulldog and Yankem. WOW.

If you couldn’t tell who was going to win this and who he was going to eliminate last, you’re an idiot. Droese and Kane go out really fast so your final four are Bulldog, Diesel, Kama and Shawn. And before I’m done typing that Shawn kicks Diesel out to win it. Literally, the final four started and ended inside of 30 seconds. Shawn wins, shocking no one at all. Diesel comes back and they do the Too Sweet sign. Yep, that’s all they do and good night I’m bored here.

Rating: D. How can this show not seem that bad? I mean seriously, Ahmed freaking Johnson at this point has the match of the night, and that’s after guys like Chris Candido, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall and Dustin Rhodes have performed. Once Shawn came in, the match was over, period. No one thought for a second that anyone other than HBK was going to win, period. I mean look at this lineup.

The alternatives are the debuting Vader, Diesel, who had talked about Taker nonstop recently so his feud is set up, and……and……oh come on there has to be a third guy. Owen Hart wins it by default I guess: a career midcard guy with a cup of coffee in the main event a year ago that is clearly the first Shawn target. WOW. How in the world did this Rumble get a chance to do anything? There is no way this was ever, and I mean ever, was going to work.

The only thing CLOSE to making this work would have been Yoko, Diesel, Owen and Vader against Shawn at the end. I mean really, who else was going to win? This wasn’t interesting at all and other than for a few seconds, the crowd might as well have been asleep, and I can’t blame them a bit. This was just boring.

Bret says he’ll win in a generic interview, which is somehow the most interesting thing I’ve seen other than Vader and Yoko being put out in over an hour.

WWF Title: Undertaker vs. Bret Hart

This is happening because Bret is champion and Taker would have been far too big of a threat to Shawn’s popularity. Taker is wearing the skull mask at this point after Mabel and Yokozuna destroyed his face. For no apparent reason, Diesel is still at ringside. He gets in Taker’s face and there they go. Taker was just all kinds of awesome at this point, as he was reaching that mythical level that few get to.

He’s officially that kind of guy that’s awesome just because he’s who he is. Like today for example, it’s about two weeks after Kofi destroyed Orton’s car. That was AWESOME. Kofi got over in that one segment and granted I have no idea if it’ll still or not as you guys won’t read this for about two months, but the point is he might just fall off the map. A guy like Taker simply isn’t going to fall off the level he’s on barring anything completely insane happening.

He was just hitting that level around this time. He’s like Shawn is now: you can throw together a nonsensical storyline to put him in the title match and everyone will buy it because he’s just awesome enough to be in it. Bret’s pop is solid here, but this crowd just kind of sucks. Ok we’ve been in this match 3 minutes now and I think I already know what’s coming. I had a bad vibe about this match earlier on and it’s coming true now: they’re doing a formula match.

Yep, Bret’s going for the knee early. That means a long drawn out match where Bret works on the leg with a submission, Taker fights back, Bret hits the knee and uses a submission, Taker fights back, Bret hits the knee and uses a submission, Taker fights back, Bret hits the knee or a suplex move and sets for the Sharpshooter and somewhere in there we brawl on the floor with a weapon other than the belt or a chair being used. And what do you know I’m right.

Yes, for about 25 minutes, that’s all we get. During that Bret gets the stupid looking skull mask off of Taker that was just really annoying. PLEASE END THIS! Taker hits the Tombstone finally, and here’s Diesel for the cheap DQ to set up Diesel vs. Bret to set up Diesel vs. Taker. Ok, I know I have the benefit of hindsight here, but this was as predictable as humanly possible.

The signs were all there for Diesel vs. Taker, especially the fight before the match started. I mean seriously, who in their right mind thought Taker had a chance here? Actually he won, so who thought he had a chance of getting the title here? Whatever, I just want this show to end.

Rating: C-. While it was formula stuff, it was somehow by far and away the best match of the night, and that’s just pitiful. They went out there and did half an hour of stuff you could write a textbook with. Now I know that usually means greatness, but in this case I mean a book called Cookie Cutter Title Matches in 30 Elongated Minutes.

It might have been that I was just wanting this show to end, but DANG this was boring to me. I’m going with the C- because it gives it the best grade of the night just so Jeff Jarrett can’t have it. WWF>TNA, forever, even when you have to lie to get there.

Overall Rating: D-. Somehow, this passes. I have zero idea how, but somehow it passes. The matches all completely sucked, but it was like I kept wanting to like the show. That’s either really good or really bad and I’m not sure which.

This whole show feels like the forms you have to fill out to get something you know you’re getting: it’s pointless, you don’t like it, but you have to do it anyway to get to the end result. This show is just boring. I don’t know if it’s particularly bad, but it’s just so boring that it becomes bad. Don’t watch this unless you’re an insomniac.

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