A Royal Rumble Match

A Royal Rumble Match

Last night on WWE Raw, CM Punk opened the show with a promo. What he was discussing, I already do not remember. But as he sat Indian style (is “Indian style” still P.C.?) in the middle of the ring, he mentioned that this upcoming Royal Rumble was the 25th Anniversary of the event.

Whoa there buddy. Hold your horses. Slam on the brakes. Rewind the tape. Spin the record back.

Many people think of the “first” Royal Rumble as the one that occurred on January 24, 1988 at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. As Wikipedia will gladly tell us, unlike the subsequent Royal Rumble events, this event was not shown on pay-per-view and was instead a television special shown on the USA Network. As I’m sure we’ll be reminded at some point during the 2012 Royal Rumble on Sunday, Alberto Del Rio won the BIGGEST Royal Rumble in history by outlasting 39 other competitors.  But back in 1988, the winner was the last survivor out of 20 entrants, a respectable feat in and of itself. The ever-patriotic-and-lumber-yard-supporting Hacksaw Jim Duggan won the ’88 Rumble by last eliminating One Man Gang. History was made that night as the Royal Rumble went on to become one of the WWF/WWE’s most popular Pay Per View events following the success of this TV special.

But if you take the time to do the math, something doesn’t add up. The word “anniversary” is defined as “the date on which an event took place in a previous year.” If the first Royal Rumble was in 1988, then its 1st anniversary was the next year in 1989. The 2nd anniversary was 1990. If you follow this logic, the 24th anniversary of the Royal Rumble is this year in 2012. That means the 25th anniversary of the Royal Rumble is in 2013, and the WWE has foolishly and incorrectly branded this year’s event as the 25th anniversary one year early. WWE made a similar mistake by calling WrestleMania 25 the “25th Anniversary of WrestleMania.” Maybe the dueling “25”s confused Vince McMahon and he thought they HAD to occur the same year. But how could he make the same mistake with the Royal Rumble? The event isn’t numbered like WrestleMania is. It’s merely referred to by the year it took place.  WWE really screwed up here… unless…

…the first Royal Rumble wasn’t actually in 1988.

The truth of the matter is, the first true Royal Rumble actually occurred in 1987. You may recall that the original “Nature Boy”, Buddy Rogers, won the first-ever WWWF Championship in a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last defeating Antonino Rocca. You may also remember that WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson went to Rio de Janeiro in September 1979, where he defended the WWF North American Championship in a tournament. He then unified his title with the South American Championship, thus becoming the first-ever Intercontinental Champion. Well, on Friday, January 2, 1987, the WWF held the inaugural Royal Rumble event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, solidifying Rio as the historic testing ground of the professional wrestling world. Much like the second Royal Rumble that Jim Duggan won, this first ever Rumble featured 20 wrestlers from all over the world. And the winner of the inaugural Royal Rumble? Why none other than André the Giant.

Andre the Giant Wins the First True Royal Rumble

André the Giant Wins the First True Royal Rumble

With his victory in the first Royal Rumble match, André the Giant proved to Vincent Kennedy McMahon that the match concept was viable and that it was ready for a television debut in North America the next year. But that’s not the only thing André did by winning the first Royal Rumble. He also earned himself a shot at the WWF Championship at WrestleMania III.

Now you’re saying “Wait a minute – that’s not right. The reward for the 1992 Royal Rumble was the WWF Championship, which Ric Flair won. The tradition of granting a WWF/WWE Championship match at WrestleMania only started in 1993 when Yokozuna won the Rumble.” And to that I say: False, sort of. Yes, the tradition of continuously granting the Rumble winner a world championship match at WrestleMania began in 1993, but it was not the first time the winner had been granted a world title shot at ‘Mania because of his Royal Rumble victory.

As history will tell us, on an edition of Piper’s Pit in January 1987, Hulk Hogan was presented a trophy for being the WWF World Heavyweight Champion for three years. André came out to congratulate him for this accomplishment. On the following week’s Piper’s Pit, André was presented a slightly smaller trophy for being “the only undefeated wrestler in wrestling history,” a feat that included his untelevised Royal Rumble win in Rio de Janeiro just days prior. Hogan came out to congratulate André and ended up being the focal point of the interview. A visibly annoyed André walked out in the middle of Hogan’s speech, upset that he did not have a chance to tell Hogan and the world about his Royal Rumble victory in Brazil. A “discussion” between André and Hogan was scheduled, and on a Piper’s Pit that aired February 7, 1987, the two met. Speaking on behalf of his new protégé, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan accused Hogan of using André. Hogan tried to reason with André but his pleas were ignored as André challenged Hogan to a match for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania III, then proceeded to rip the t-shirt and crucifix from Hogan’s chest.

The truth is, this challenge by André was merely a redundancy built into his meticulous plan to put Hogan in his place following the trophy presentation snub. Little did Hogan know that if he declined his former friend’s challenge for a match at WrestleMania, André would be able to pull his Royal Rumble victory and guaranteed world title match at WrestleMania card to force Hogan into participating in the match. But fate would not require André the Giant to play that card since Hulk Hogan went on to accept the initial challenge after some encouragement from Rowdy Roddy Piper. The idea that the Royal Rumble winner should get a guaranteed world title shot at WrestleMania was lost until revived in 1993.

Hogan and André would go on to meet at WrestleMania III on March 29, 1987 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan in a match for the WWF Championship. Though the match sold the show and set a record attendance of 93,173,371 – the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America – Hogan managed to scoop slam the 720-pound André and execute a leg drop to get the win and retain the championship despite a near fall by André on Hogan earlier in the match when Hogan first attempted the slam.

The success of WrestleMania III, carried by André and the Hulkster’s feud, would lead Vince McMahon to create the very first Survivor Series Pay Per View event on November 26, 1987 – Thanksgiving Day – at the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio to continue the feud between these two behemoths of professional wrestling. And at that event, Hogan finally got his comeuppance as André the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed and Rick Rude beat WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco and Ken Patera.

So there you have it – the until-now-untold story of the first true Royal Rumble. It was an event that gave us not only one of the most famous moments in professional wrestling at WrestleMania III, but also the first Survivor Series event later that year. We all owe André the Giant a debt of gratitude for proving that this unique match was worth repeating in 1988. And when Michael Cole repeats 5,423 times this Sunday that the Royal Rumble of 2012 is the 25th Anniversary of the epic event, you will know that he is indeed factually correct.


This article’s author, Red River Jack, is an award winning snarky Twitter user who should be followed immediately @BeardofMikeKnox