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10 Things We Learned From WWE Royal Rumble 1989

Big John Studd wins, Macho and Hogan implode...

In 1989, WWE brought the Royal Rumble concept to pay-per-view for the first time, and it has occupied a date on the January PPV calendar since. The titular match bloated to its would-be standard of 30 wrestlers, and boasted some of the biggest name stars in company history including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Ted DiBiase, Jake Roberts, and then-WWE Champion Macho Man Randy Savage. There was also a "Super Posedown" between The Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude, which...was what it was.

The match featured a curious choice of winner in Big John Studd, a prolific goliath heel of the mid-eighties who departed from the company in 1986, only to return a little more than two years later as a babyface. Studd had only made his televised return three weeks prior to the Rumble, and there he was, toying around with DiBiase in the final minutes before anticlimactically throwing him out for the win.

More dramatic than the Rumble's victor and conclusion was the boiling heat between Hogan and Savage, the Mega Powers at increasing odds with each other. Savage ended up as collateral damage in Hulk's elimination spree, and Macho didn't care for that one bit. Moreso than the Rumble finish, that mid-match dissent set the stage for WrestleMania 5.

10. Last Gasps


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The only match from the 1989 Royal Rumble with a championship belt at stake pitted Women's Champion Rockin' Robin against former Glamour Girl Judy Martin. Robin retained the belt in a match that went little more than six minutes and would mark the last Women's title match of note for several years. Robin and Martin face off on house shows until late-June 1989, after which both left the company, and the belt was deactivated in 1990.

It also marked the last Women's title match at any Royal Rumble until the 1999 event 10 years later, where then-champion Sable faced off against Luna Vachon in a strap match. Not even in the brief two-year window of 1993-95 would Alundra Blayze be involved in any such matches at the January spectacular.

9. Cutting The Crown


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The kingship of WWE used to be a championship of sorts in 1980s WWE, defended from time to time by the bearer of the crown jewels (as in, an actual crown, cape, and sceptre, and not a horrid cash grab of an event). Spurred by a storyline in which Bobby Heenan bestowed an injured Harley Race's royal splendour onto Haku, the two legendary badasses squared off for the crown at the '89 Rumble, with Haku retaining.

This was news to anybody who bought the VHS version of the show, as for unclear reasons, Haku vs. Race was omitted from the release. The match would later be restored for the 2007 DVD release and is also present on the WWE Network version, but video buyers and renters of the era were robbed of the pro wrestling equivalent of Godzilla vs. King Kong.

8. Royal Farewell


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As noted, Race would lose the match against Haku, a nine-minute slugfest that culminated with Haku laying out the near-30-year veteran with a savate kick. Race was 45 years old at the time of the match, several years removed from his NWA World title clashes with Ric Flair.

The match would, in fact, be the final WWE bout for Race, who departed the company immediately after. Race would continue to wrestle several more years, for promotions such as AWA, NWA, and Puerto Rico's World Wrestling Council, before hanging up the boots in 1991. Race's time with WWE would be marked by his 1986 King of the Ring victory and subsequent feuds with both The Junkyard Dog and Hulk Hogan. An abdominal injury sustained in a March 1988 match with Hogan would derail any momentum he had, sidelining him for much of the year.

7. Back For More


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The expansion from 20 entrants to 30 is something most would agree was a change for the better, especially with WWE boasting enough top-notch stars and gifted technicians to make for an hour-long battle. The 1989 field would make good on the decision to expand, and the match was mostly good, before hitting a rather pronounced lull once Hogan and Savage were both out.

In a bit of a surprise, out of those 20 entrants from the prior year, only four of them would enter the 30-man version of 1989. Jake Roberts, Ron Bass, Akeem (as The One Man Gang), and Tito Santana were the only four individuals to compete in both versions. Half of the 1988 field was either gone or persona non grata by the time 1989 rolled around, while the likes of Jim Duggan, The Hart Foundation, Ultimate Warrior, and others worked in the undercard.

6. Unlucky Number


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In one fell swoop, WWE demonstrated both the "random draw" and "every man for themselves" aspects of the match by having Demolition members Ax and Smash, the reigning World Tag Team Champions, draw numbers one and two, and then immediately begin fighting each other as soon as the bell rang. Smash would last less than five minutes, getting chucked out by number three entrant Andre the Giant.

Smash would be the first of four consecutive number two entrants to be the first Rumble elimination. From 1990 through 1992, Koko B. Ware, Dino Bravo, and Ted DiBiase would all suffer the ignominy of being the first one gone from those respective matches, and each entered second. The number two entrant in 1993, Bob Backlund, would shatter that run, and boy would he ever.

5. Hulkamania Runnin' Wild


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Hitting the ring from the number 18 position, Hulk Hogan was like a glowing orange hurricane, demolishing everything in sight whether they were an enemy or not. Hogan was gearing up to regain the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 5, so "Make Hogan Look Strong" was in full effect, as it should've been. The end result of Hogan's fury was the clearing off a third of the field.

Hogan became the first Royal Rumble entrant in history to make double-digit eliminations, throwing out exactly ten. Eight of those 10 were future WWE Hall of Famers, including both Bushwhackers, Koko B. Ware, Big Boss Man, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Mr. Perfect, and reigning WWE Champion (and Hogan ally) Randy Savage. And speaking of Savage...

4. Macho Misery


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Savage cried foul when Hogan caused his elimination almost two-thirds into the match. Bad News Brown had Savage dangling over the ropes dead to rights, so that when Hogan tossed News out, Savage went along for the ride, and Hogan pleaded innocence regarding Macho's elimination. It was another twist of the screw in the Mega Powers' forthcoming split.

This marked the first time that the reigning WWE Champion competed in the Rumble match, out of three times overall. Savage would become the first of only two reigning WWE Champions to fail to win the Rumble they were in, with Roman Reigns becoming the second in 2016. Fortunately for Savage, the championship was not on the line here, as would be the case with Reigns. Somehow, Big John Studd as WWE Champion in 1989 didn't seem like a real possibility.

3. Making The Cut


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While it's certainly true that the level of star power peters out after Hogan's elimination, the final sequence of wrestlers wasn't without some notable names. Ted DiBiase entered the skirmish in the final spot (after buying the number off of Slick), Hercules was at a prolific peak, and Brutus Beefcake was on his way up the card as a singles star.

Somewhat surprisingly, this would be Beefcake's only Royal Rumble match. The Barber missed the 1988 show due to wrestling on the "B-show" in Nova Scotia that night, and at the 1990 event, he worked with Lanny "The Genius" Poffo in the undercard. Less than six months after working with Poffo, Beefcake was nearly fatally injured in a parasailing accident, which destroyed his face, and required extensive surgery and recovery. His only WWE pay-per-view match post-accident came at WrestleMania 9 in 1993.

2. All For Nothing


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After dispatching of DiBiase to win the 1989 Rumble match, Big John Studd would have a rather chilly tenure with the promotion, failing to capture much imagination with his presence and performances. House show matches against Akeem were said to be poor, and some sources have noted that Studd would have been fired after a house show match with Akeem that March if he were unable to bodyslam him.

That was a moot point, as Studd quit the company in early June-1989, making him the first of only two Royal Rumble winners to leave WWE later in the same calendar year. The other would be Batista, who won the 2014 match to an irritated reception, and then left early that summer after fulfilling his contractual obligations. Sadly, Studd didn't depart with a sullen, queenly wave to the people like Big Dave did.

1. But Who's Buying?


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Despite the fact that WWE was king of pay-per-view at this point, they hit something of a dead spot with the 1989 Royal Rumble. WrestleMania 5 less than three months later would set a WWE PPV record with 767,000 buys, which would last for a full decade. But the Rumble, sold mostly on the strength of the titular gimmick match, would come nowhere close to those heights.

Pre-WWE Network, the 1989 Royal Rumble is the least bought Rumble in history, clocking in with a mere 165,000 buys. To put in perspective how bad that is, also looking at pre-Network numbers, it's the third least-bought Big Four PPV in WWE history, ahead of only SummerSlam 1996 (157,000 buys) and Survivor Series 1995 (128,000). Guess nobody wanted to see Warrior vs. Rude in a posedown?

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10 Things We Learned From WWE Royal Rumble 1988

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.