Six of the Best – WWF Royal Rumble 1988-1998 Non-Rumble Matches

Last time out I listed what I thought were the six best Royal Rumble matches. However, the Rumble event has always been about more than just the Rumble itself, with some real gems to be found on quite a few of the undercards. Because there’s been so many Rumble events, I decided to split the Non-Rumble matches into three different segments, 1988-1998, 1999-2008 and 2009-2018.

As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.

So without further to do, let’s get to it!

Royal Rumble 1988
Two out of Three Falls
The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno & Itsuki Yamazaki) Vs The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai)

Contrary to what WWE may tell you, the company once had Tag Team Titles for women many years before they announced the upcoming new ones. Why WWE keeps acting like they’ve never had women’s tag titles when there’s proof of them existing ON THEIR OWN NETWORK is beyond me, but then so is much of what WWE says and does these days.

Like all matches involving Joshi wrestlers, this starts out with the Bomb Angels sprinting across the ring for a front dropkick (Seriously, the majority of Joshi matches I’ve watched start that way. It’s like their version of a lock up) and that’s the first suggestion that this isn’t going to be a standard 80’s style WWF match.

The Bomb Angels hit lightning fast moves, moves which quite a lot of the men in the company weren’t capable of hitting at the time, and they get pretty over with a potentially cynical crowd as consequence. The reaction for a double Figure Four spot in spectacular is something to behold, as the crowd collectively lose their marbles. Martin and Kai deserve plenty of credit for the quality of the bout as well however, as they are not only good bases for their more high flying foes but they also stooge and sell fantastically to get their futuristic offence over.

The biggest compliment I can give this match is that, even today, it still feels like contemporary match in many ways. If the women in WWE did a match like this today, it would still be universally liked. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never been a huge fan of Joshi wrestling, mainly because I’m not and have never been a 13 year old Japanese girl, but I’ve always been impressed with the athleticism on display when I’ve watched it.

It really is kind of terrifying when you consider how much better the Angels were than the majority of even the male roster at this time. This really is a superb match and well worth a look if you’ve ever wondered why Japanese women’s wrestling has such a big reputation online.

Royal Rumble 1991
The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) Vs The Orient Express (Kato and Tanaka)

You could argue that either this or Mania VII was the peak for The Rockers as a team, as they had credibility with the fans and were having plenty of great matches on the big events. This one usually comes up when discussing great opening matches, and for good reason. Both teams start the show off hot here by going 100 miles an hour right out of the gate, as The Rockers clear the ring and hit stereo dives onto their faux Japanese enemies.

Once things settle down, the two teams go on to have an excellent tag team battle, with a prolonged babyface shine for The Rockers until the devious Mr. Fuji intervenes so that his team can get the heat on Michaels. It’s an excellent story of Good Vs Evil, as the Orients bump around like crash dummies to try and get The Rockers over, before heeling it up in the heat to great effect.

The execution is on point, the story is there and the crowd are into everything, going completely nuts when The Rockers snatch a win out of nowhere thanks to Jannetty countering an Orient double team into a sunset flip. You didn’t always see such high flying and high impact matches like this on WWF pay per views from this era, but both of these teams had amazing chemistry and weren’t afraid to get aerial if it added to the match. Definitely seek this out if you’ve never seen it, it’s a tag team wrestling showcase to be treasured.

Royal Rumble 1992
Rowdy Roddy Piper Vs The Mountie

This inclusion is more for it being a beloved moment of mine, as opposed to it being a particularly great match. The match itself is pretty abrupt and not especially strong from a work perspective, seeing as Mountie was a great character but not an especially good wrestler. However, despite it not being the best exhibition of in ring skill, it’s a truly memorable match in WWF/E history, as Piper puts The Mountie out to finally claim a major WWF singles title after years of trying. The reaction to Piper’s win is thunderous and it elevates the match to more than the sum of its parts in the process. Sometimes it’s just nice to see the babyface triumph over the hated heel, and this was an occasion where it was done to perfection.

Royal Rumble 1994
Les Quebecois (Pierre Ouellet et Jacques Rougeau) Vs The Hart Brothers (Bret and Owen Hart)

This match is often remembered for the killer angle that followed it, with Owen going full heel by kicking Bret’s leg out from under his leg. That was of course a legendary angle that laid the ground work for some excellent in ring battles between the two Hart Brothers, but what can sometimes be forgotten is how good the tag match came before it was. Bret Hart is great, Owen Hart is great, Pierre Ouellet is good and Jacques Rougeau can draw heat, so it only made sense that combining the four of them would lead to an enjoyable tag match.

I sometimes watch this and feel a tad upset that they didn’t pursue with Bret and Owen as a tag team, because they really were fantastic together. They probably could have had them win the belts and delayed Owen’s heel turn, but quality of the two matches at WrestleMania X and Summer Slam make it hard to argue that they didn’t make the right decision in booking it the way they did.

All four men sell brilliantly in this match, with The Quebecers stooging like good heels whilst The Harts heroically keep fighting despite being worked over. The finish of Bret hurting his knee but refusing to tag out when he can win the match is so great because it gives Owen a perfectly good justification for being annoyed but it still doesn’t justify him enough to go heel, which means the turn makes sense whilst still drawing heat. It’s so hard to get that balance right and they manage it here, its masterful storytelling.

The fact the crowd is massively into the match and buys the heel turn hook line and sinker only makes the match all the better. All in all, this is a fantastic tag team match and well worth a watch if you’ve only seen the post-match angle and not the actual match itself.

Royal Rumble 1995
Diesel Vs Bret Hart

I’ll conceed before we go any further that the finish of this match is utterly abysmal, as no less than FIVE heels (Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, Bob backlund, Jeff Jarrett and The Roadie) run down to attack the competitors on the way to the match ending in a thoroughly unsatisfying no contest. Granted, they didn’t want Bret to have another big loss after Survivor Series 94 and they also didn’t want to take the belt off Diesel so early into his title reign, but there’s no way the finish they went with wouldn’t leave a sour taste in the mouth. It also did some early damage to Diesel’s standing as champion for his first big title defence to end with him failing to put his challenger away. They really shouldn’t have booked this in all honesty, but I guess it was the best title match they had at the time and the two wrestlers at least work hard to have a great match before the screwiness rears its ugly head.

The match has a great intensity from the opening bell, with neither man being afraid to get ugly to get the job done. I always loved the chemistry between Bret and Diesel, as their two big title matches in 1995 were all about them showing absolutely no mercy to one another, despite them both being babyfaces. It’s always cool to have that dynamic where two wrestlers always tee off on one another because they’re just so competitive, despite being on the same side of the face/heel divide. Stone Cold and The Rock were similar, in that they’d always go full out to destroy each other even when they were both faces. Bret goes as far as to use his wrist tape to tie up Diesel’s legs and even unleashes a chair shot to Diesel’s knee, showing that he isn’t afraid to outright break the rules if it means he can get his treasured title back. To be honest, watching Bret here makes me kind of sad that his match with Backlund at Mania XI was such an afterthought, because this Bret utterly destroying Backlund in the blow off would have been awesome.

I think the fact we got a big rematch between these two at Survivor Series, with a clean pin fall finish to boot, makes it easier for me to cut this one some slack, as it at least led to an even better pay off. It’s a great fight between two men who had fantastic chemistry together and, if the No DQ pay off at Survivor Series was always the plan for their eventual rematch, I have to admit that it set that match up perfectly. Give this match a finish and it’s one of the best matches of 1995. As it was, it was still really good but I can’t deny that the finish definitely hurts it.

Royal Rumble 1998
Casket Match
Shawn Michaels Vs The Undertaker

Most people tend to remember this one firstly as the match that put Michaels out of wrestling for four years due to an errant bump onto the casket, and secondly for the post-match angle where Kane attempted to incinerate Taker by setting the casket on fire with him inside. Though both of those moments are memorable for different reasons, what often gets lost is the fact that this is a very good Shawn Michaels Vs Undertaker match. Though it isn’t on par with their legendary Hell in a Cell match, I’d be happy to say that it’s just as good as their memorable brawl at Ground Zero (Although I’m sure there’ll be some in the comments section who will disagree). Michaels was his pomp as the arrogant WWF Champion here and he was a legitimate shout for both best wrestler in the world and also wrestling’s biggest jerk.

Undertaker hadn’t yet succumbed to the litany of injuries that would see him struggle to even move for most of 1999, so he was well up for it here and the result is a very enjoyable brawl. I’ll confess that I’ve always quite enjoyed casket matches, and I was chuffed when they put the match type onto one of the early Smackdown games for the PlayStation. I think the casket match is infinitely superior to the buried alive or last rites match, as you don’t need to drag someone all the way down to the entrance way to tease a false finish. The casket being at ringside means it’s much quicker to tease the finish, and the fact someone doesn’t have to stand around shovelling mountains of dirt means the teases don’t tend to drag.

At the end of the day, this is an Undertaker Vs Shawn Michaels match, and it’s a rare to find a match featuring these two that isn’t great (If you ignore the horror that was their Saudi Arabia match of course). Michaels gets destroyed in the opening moments before throwing some baby power into Taker’s eyes to finally start getting some heat. The sound that Michaels is able to generate from piledriving Undertaker onto the ring steps never fails to make me shudder. It sounds like Undertaker’s skull gets cracked open like a boiled egg, it really is stomach churning. Being that it’s a casket match, Undertaker gets to drag a terrified Michaels into the coffin at one point, which Michaels sells fantastically. Once again it is Kane who is the difference maker, just as in Hell in a Cell, as he betrays his brother (After teasing being in cahoots with him on a previous episode of Raw) and puts him into the casket to allow Michaels to win.

As a young lad, I had totally bought Kane’s face turn so I was gutted when it all turned out to be a ruse. Needless to say, the ending of this match left me pumped for WrestleMania XIV, so that I could see Undertaker get his revenge on Kane and Stone Cold take the belt off Michaels, so this pay per view definitely did its job for young mark Mike. Even removed from that, I do still love this match. It really is a great brawl between two men who had a special chemistry together as opponents. If you’ve liked their other matches and haven’t seen this one, then I can highly recommend that you check it out.

Honourable Mentions

Jim Duggan and The Hart Foundation Vs The Fabulous Rougeaus and Dino Bravo (Royal Rumble 1989), Ronnie Garvin Vs Greg Valentine (Royal Rumble 1990), The New Foundation Vs The Orient Express (Royal Rumble 1992), Shawn Michaels Vs Marty Jannetty (Royal Rumble 1993), Tatanka Vs Bam Bam Bigelow (Royal Rumble 1994), Jeff Jarrett Vs Razor Ramon (Royal Rumble 1995), The 1-2-3 Kid and Bob Holly Vs Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka (Royal Rumble 1995), The Rock Vs Ken Shamrock (Royal Rumble 1998)