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Was the WWF’s 1992 Royal Rumble The Best To Date?

Welcome to Sports Obsessive. Today is all about WWF’s 1992 Royal Rumble.

It wasn’t the undercard or the crowd but it was the booking It was the booking that made this particular Royal Rumble wonderful. 1992’s Royal Rumble was one of the best.

Why? Simply put, a shrinking violet named Ric Flair. I’m old enough to remember the glory days of Bill Apter and the PWI 500 series and a simple story in which they reached for with alarming regularity; who would win in a Championship vs Championship match, Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair? Well, the magazine articles usually concluded with the opinion that if it’s about entertainment Hulkamania would run wild but if we’re talking about ‘professional wrestling’, Ric Flair is the man, no pun intended. During the 92′ Royal Rumble, we caught a glimpse into who this victor may be.

The Nature Boy’s Arrival

‘The Nature Boy’ arrived in the WWF in 1991. If that wasn’t enough of a crushing blow to WCW, the rumors were that the federation hadn’t paid back the security deposit for the piece of art that was the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and so that time-honored strap was seen on WWF programming. Vince McMahon and company must have been enjoying this. Maybe the WWF were trying not to parade the belt, and not to laugh in the faces of a company they hadn’t defeated yet. After all, that would come many years later. And having the WCW star, Ric Flair was enough.

For the first time ever, the winner of The Royal Rumble would be the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion. The Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY was jam-packed, and the commentary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan along with backstage personnel, Mean Gene Okerlund, were ready to rock.

The 1992 Royal Rumble

New Foundation v The Orient Express

With Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart giving solo competition his best attempt, Jim ‘The Anvil Neidhart was left looking for another Hart family member to team up with. Cue, Owen Hart. Owen may have been a tad younger than Bret but that’s fine. The company decided to dub Owen as ‘The Rocket’ as had his specialty be high-flying. There would have been zero Bret comparisons, right?

Simply put, the opposing team, The Orient Express, were solid. They weren’t overly showy and they had the inscrutable Mr. Fuji in their corner. Living. As the match began, Owen was just beginning to display his high flying skills when that nefarious, Mr. Fuji walloped him with a cane. The opposition, brought a bit of basic bashing which was quite impressive but inevitably, the finish to the match wound up coming across rather clumsy as Owen hit the Rocket Launcher, grabbing his opponent from the top rope before slamming them down to the mat for the pin. Simple, yet underwhelming.

Winners: New Foundation

The Mountie vs Rowdy Roddy Piper

Coming into this match, The Mountie was the WWF Intercontinental Champion. The opponent, Roddy Piper, a man who never won a World Championship with the company, won this match in quite an impressive fashion. Piper did so via a combination of a bulldog, atomic drop, and sleeper hold. Roddy Piper was on full-on full display on this night and I would highly encourage you to go back and watch this match on Peacock/WWE Network.

Winner: Rowdy Roddy Piper

The Bushwhackers vs The Beverley Brothers

Now, WWE Hall of Famer, Bushwhacker Luke once said ”I’ve never been excited my whole life”. What a statement to be open to interpretation! Could this have meant that we were going to see a wilder side to The Bushwhacker? Could he have been willing to above and beyond further than he ever had previously? As for this particular match, it played out like a usual Bushwhacker match would have, However, Wayne ‘The Train’ Bloom and ‘Mean’ Mike Enos’ of The Beverly Brothers, who were hardened by the AWA, worked surprisingly well with Butch and Luke Bushwhacker. As great as this match was for the era that it was in, the match was ended with a double-ax-handle. The crowd remained relatively quiet throughout and understandably so. This was a good match as far as professional wrestling goes, skill-wise. However, the ending was anti-climatic. It’s not really what you want to see on a pay-per-view event.

Winners: The Beverly Brothers

The Legion of Doom vs The Natural Disasters

Typhoon and Earthquake AKA The Natural Disasters were a force to be reckoned with. However, Road Warrior Hawk managed to get Typhoon down early on into the match but was inevitably hit with a nasty elbow-drop, courtesy of Earthquake, who was destined to save his partner from enduring any pain. Legion of Doom didn’t really get much offence in apart from a shoulder block from Animal which somehow led to Earthquake knocking the legal Road Warrior out of the ring and picking up a victory via count-out!

Errgggh..Not a rush.

Winners: The Natural Disasters

The Royal Rumble Match

Forget the patchy matches that we witnessed in the lead-up to the main event of this pay-per-view. This match what where it was at. I personally enjoyed this match thanks to two individuals, Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. For many, Heenan was a manager that you just loved to hate. Fans had to grudgingly accept that he knew what he was doing. He was entertaining, he had a quick wit, a sussed-out character, and a great relationship with his pal, Gorilla Monsoon.

The Heenan Family was of a high profile and had some ups and downs. The attempt to sell Hercules, turning Andre heel, he had no fallback position, there were dizzying heights and shaming lows, even being nipped at by the Bulldogs’ mascot Matilda, and that was because of one thing. He played it. He reveled in the shame of the reverses. He had hubris, the pride before a fall, down pat. And fans wanted to see that. Here was the chance. He had become a consultant to the interloper, Ric Flair. This was such a big moment, and that was how it played out. Heenan desperately wanted a late draw for Ric, he wanted him to do well, he told us the winner had a chance to be ‘a a millionaire in one afternoon. What more could Heenan have wanted?

We saw Heenan squirm, we reveled in his worry, his desperate need to get to the back and find out the number Ric had picked. Then there were the wrestlers he’d had in his stable like Hercules and Haku, who might target Flair out of spite. It added an extra element. The Royal Rumble was always interesting because of the alliances and enmity, Heenan multiplied this aspect and made it his own.

Then, you had Ric Flair, a man who drew number 3 and who would have to last 60 minutes or more in order to win. He could have concentrated on his ring psychology, spending lots of time outside the ring, or simply, avoiding the action inside it. Flair’s best form of defense was offense. He took it to his opponents, causing shouts, screams, and even prayers from Bobby Heenan for him to take it easy.

Ric Flair put in a performance for the ages. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Winner: Ric Flair

Final Thoughts:

Do you remember when I mentioned fantasy booking? If it’s about professional wrestling, Ric Flair wins. In recent years, Flair has gone on to say that this victory was ‘life changing’. He made it about wrestling (as much as he could in a Royal Rumble) and he won. As he told us afterward; ‘this is the greatest moment of my life…to be number one, you’ve gotta stay number 1’.

He should have been, but at the end of the night, he wasn’t. Sid Justice was seen as a bigger buy than an NWA multiple Champion, perhaps an example of which word the WWF’s emphasis lay in sports entertainment. And Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s seeming addiction, past his huge selling prime and not even at the 1992 Summerslam from Wembley.

On this day, Flair handled his business in the ring, Heenan handled his outside of it. And the WWF let them do it. How refreshing.

Written by Steve Swift

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