To give some greater context to this project, the collection of matches and segments I am watching come from a 1992 Yearbook created by Goodhelmet, a longtime poster at the Death Valley Driver Forum and other wrestling places. A cross-section of the best (and worst of wrestling within a certain year), it is a great snapshot of everything of importance.
To begin a busy window of time in the wrestling world, Lucha was being brought to Japan as the Universal Wrestling Federation ran a show which included a trios match as Dos Caras, Silver King, El Texano fought Lightning Kid, Jerry Lynn and Dr Wagner Jr. Both Kid and Lynn were in their teens at this point, which perhaps explained why Lynn looked awkward throughout the contest for the most part. The match tended towards the young American facing off against Los Cowboys (King and Texano) whilst Caras and Wanger Jr. matched up. In both narratives, Caras and Los Cowboys both feel a step ahead of their opponents, with Texano messing around with dive feints, King hitting a beautiful butterfly suplex into a bridging double chicken wing on Lynn, and Caras landing a suicide dive on Wagner.
Kid made a poor decision to try and take the fight to both Texano and Casas, leading to some great double-teaming by Los Cowboys (and Kid saving himself on a piledriver by placing his hands to support his neck at the last moment). In a melee, Wagner’s mask is briefly removed before Kid flies with a tope con hilo that seemed to do more damage to his own partner than Los Cowboys. With the other four at ringside, a rana by Casas on Wagner is enough for the win in a match that really highlighted the quality of Los Cowboys in particular, as well as an interesting chance to see young Kid and Lynn outside of America.
Royal Rumble 1992 was a show my friend had on VHS, so we watched it many times. However, I really didn’t remember much about the Intercontinental Title match between Roddy Piper and the champion, The Mountie, which doesn’t bode well for the match’s quality. Following the footage from the Mountie beating Hart (and subsequently attacking Piper), the champion questioned the challenger’s win/loss record and Piper implied that the Mountie had had some wet dreams about him recently (honestly) in their pre-match promos.
With Piper’s important role in the Rumble itself still to come, it is unsurprising that this match doesn’t go particularly long. The Mountie is rarely in control, only really taking some brief advantage of a missed dropkick to utilize some hammerlock turnbuckle smashes in some neat offense. The manner in which the match finished is at least a little bit clever, as the Mountie skinned the cat and charged at Piper, only for the challenger to duck and the Mountie to take out Jimmy Hart instead. With the manager down and out, no-one is there to stop Piper from winning his first WWF gold with a sleeper. A nothing match, good finish, great moment.
The greatest Royal Rumble of all time is next and I say that without hesitation. A ridiculous list of talent, an overarching narrative that hits every note, and great booking from start to finish put it over any other Rumble in history. Even in the previous match, Gorilla Monsoon was needling away at Bobby Heenan about Ric Flair getting drawn at number 1. Interestingly, a Coliseum Home Video exclusive had Flair revealed he was due to come out at number 3 to Lord Alfred Hayes prior to the contest, a clip I had never seen up until now, before the various pre-match interviews served to build up the sense of anticipation and really sell the match as something historic and epic in nature.
When Flair did walk out at number 3, Heenan was all but defeated in his belief that the Nature Boy would be able to win the gold; Monsoon not only spent time summarising the scale of the task that faced Flair, he also lorded it over Heenan with relish. The two minutes with Bulldog set the tone for Flair’s Rumble, a Rumble which often saw him on the back foot as fresher wrestlers entered the match. Still, Flair was able to survive, even when ex-nemeses such as Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine found their way into the Rumble and targeted the self-proclaimed real World Champion.
There are some other great moments as well along the way, not only including Flair. The Nature Boy eliminated Davey Smith in a nice touch, as well as ducking out of the way of a flying Big Bossman attack in a visually impressive elimination. This also allowed us two full minutes of Piper beating the tar out of Flair as the Hot Rod went for the second title that night. Randy Savage got every re-writing what an elimination is as he sent Jake Roberts over the top and then seemingly eliminated himself, only to be allowed back in, before Piper got points for originality when he pulled IRS out of the ring by his tie.
In terms of notable moments, very few are more interesting than the (eventually sweetened for TV) reaction as Sid eliminated Hogan – the crowd go nuts for the eventual heel coming out of the match. What followed after Flair sent Sid over the top was also one of my most favourite promos of all time: “With a tear in my eye…”, a couple of minutes that just sold the importance of this victory and isn’t even undermined by some idiot who chose to light a cigarette near the end.
Two nights later, Jumbo Tsuruta met Toshiaki Kawada in a match the same night as WCW staged Clash of the Champions XVIII. With Tsuruta versus Kawada, the gameplan for the rookie was to target the legs, though this earned him a vicious slap to the face early on that crumpled him to the canvas. This didn’t deter him from working the legs, including a variation of a stretch muffler submission. As if sensing the need to curb his opponent’s enthusiasm, Tsuruta wrestled him down with a sleeper before landing a piledriver at ringside.
Kawada’s perseverance was at the core of the narrative though as this didn’t keep him down for long as he had Tsuruta struggling after a clothesline and some strikes, whilst Kawada later took to the sky with a plancha, elbow drop off of the apron ala Cactus Jack, and a second rope back elbow drop for two. After blocking the backdrop driver with a Russian leg sweep in a neat counter, it is Kawada who appeared most likely to win as he applied the Stretch Plum, as well as gaining near falls with a small package and a jumping enziguri. Unfortunately, he was to be denied as Tsuruta utilized a powerbomb and two backdrop drivers, the last leading to a pin where Tsuruta wisely used his own legs to tighten the pin on Kawada for the three count. A match that took a bit of time to get going, but was very strong from halfway onwards.
Whilst a match that teamed Vader and Mr Hughes to take on The Steiners (the first footage from the Clash of the Champions two night after the Rumble) was always liable to be bomb-throwing central, I got a cheap laugh out of Scott using a single leg takedown on Hughes to open the contest. The Steiners were all about the ridiculous displays of strength as Scott and Rick landed overhead belly to belly suplexes on Hughes and Vader respectively, Scott’s aesthetically more pleasing for sure. In the midst of this power offense, Vader showed his own capability by chucking Rick around with ease. The two highest of high spots saw Scott take Vader down with a belly to belly superplex before Vader turned a top rope attack into a powerslam. All four men ended up in the ring and with Vader mistakenly hitting Hughes (and Harley Race getting knocked off of the apron by Rick), a Rick Steiner top rope bulldog on Hughes ends a really fun power contest.
Putting two rookies in Brian Pillman and Marcus Alexander Bagwell up against two relative veterans in Young Pistol Tracy (Smothers) and The Taylor Made Man made a lot of sense in a match that an injury to Steve Armstrong turned into a tag from a six-man. This was when Taylor had just left the York Foundation and after the initial face shine – a slingshot by Bagwell sending Pillman into the ring with a double clothesline as well as two planchas moments later the highlight – he came out looking pretty good. A suplex with Taylor on the apron ended up with the rare sight of the face taking the bump to the outside, whilst he also nailed a gutwrench sit-out powerbomb. There is double heat leading to two hot tags as the fans do genuinely enjoy Pillman and Bagwell. The finish itself is cute as a Bagwell sunset flip on Smothers also requires a Pillman dropkick on Taylor in order to stop the heels from blocking the pin. A decent little contest.
You can say many things about Sting, but he isn’t exactly great at talking the fans into the building. Luckily, a segment that has Kip Frey and Tony Schiavone announce Sting as Lex Luger’s next challenger also has the arrival of Jesse Ventura on television. After some pre-taped comments by Luger about how he is secluding himself away as a champion’s prerogative – a likely facet of a contract that had almost run out of dates Luger was required to wrestle – Sting shouted some quick words about wanting to grab Luger out of the TV right now and face him. Ventura’s words that actually aim to sell the PPV followed, so at least it saved an awkward ending to an important segment.
When you re-watch Cactus Jack taking on Van Hammer in a Falls Count Anywhere match, you can understand why Foley is in such a bad shape right now as he bumped his arse off to make this contest look as good as possible. After taking some picks to the face to start off with (somehow fired out of Hammer’s guitar), Jack’s ridiculous bumps include a sunset flip off the second rope to the outside onto concrete and a hip toss off of the rampway onto, you guessed it, more concrete. The fight ended up backstage – to massive boos from the crowd – and Abdullah the Butcher dressed as a cowboy mistakenly clobbered Hammer after the two men briefly fought in and around the livestock. Post-match, both Jack and Missy Hyatt, who had gone to cover the match, got dumped into a water trough. Wild times in WCW.
Following the relaunching of the Freebirds (the song ‘I’m A Freebird (What’s Your Excuse?) only serving to show that Michael Hayes in 92 is no Hayes in 82) which was roundly pilloried by Meltzer, we head to the main event as Sting and Ricky Steamboat take on Rick Rude and Steve Austin. The structure of the match is a simple one as the heels rarely retain control for long periods, though long enough to build up to a couple of hot tags. In the initial shine section which goes on for a while, we get the glorious Rude atomic drop sell alongside camel clutches by both Sting and Steamboat that allow them to mock Rude’s hip swivel – Steamboat’s taunt more akin to a surfboarder than anything.
An attempted vertical splash to the back by Sting has Rude turn around to deliver an inadvertent low blow with his knees, but Sting is only on the backfoot long enough to gain a pop as he scooted out of a sunset flip attempt by Austin to make the tag. Dangerously got involved to turn the tide in the favor of his charges shortly afterward, but this is primarily to lead into a four-man brawl. The finish is poor: Sting and Austin fight at ringside briefly for no real reason, before Stings hits a crossbody as Austin attempted a backbreaker on Steamboat. The pin ends up way too close to Rude who basically has to act like he can’t break the count even though he clearly can. A solid match with a bad ending, though the post-match that saw Rude dish out two Rude Awakenings on Steamboat and take his belt to both men was cool.
A ridiculous amount of action for one three-day period, though nothing quite tops the Royal Rumble 1992. Pure wrestling history.