For better and for worse, the 1994 Royal Rumble entered pro wrestling lore the very moment that The Undertaker met his fate, sustaining a drawn-out beating from various heels during his WWE Championship casket match against Yokozuna. Had it simply ended with him being too broken to fight back, that'd have been one thing. Then came the opening of the urn (causing Undertaker's powers to escape), and the subsequent beyond-the-grave soliloquy, and visible resurrection into the raft--er, the beyond. That was...something.
But the 1994 Royal Rumble would also prove memorable for Bret Hart and Lex Luger co-winning the titular match, resulting in a peculiar scenario for the WrestleMania World title picture. Convoluted as it was, it did lead to WWE righting the ship with the best man possible reassuming his role as lead dog...
10. Sneak Preview
Five nights before the Saturday evening Rumble (see our 1991 list for details), WWE held a live event at Madison Square Garden, which would host several notable moments. For one, The Quebecers regained the World Tag Team titles from The 123 Kid and Marty Jannetty. For another, the New York crowd got a Rumble of their own - a special untelevised 30-man Royal Rumble.
This Rumble match would see many of the PPV match participants taking part (Bret, Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Steiner Brothers, et al), as well as a few randoms, such as Sgt. Slaughter, Scott Putski, Iron Mike Sharpe, and manager Johnny Polo (Raven). The match would eventually be won by Owen Hart, in his final days as a babyface blue-chipper, last eliminating Headshrinker Fatu. The match exists in fancam form around this here internet, so happy searching.
9. Here Comes The Boom
With Bobby Heenan gone from WWE and Jerry Lawler indisposed due to legal issues, WWE debuted a new heel colour commentator alongside Vince McMahon that night at the Rumble: Ted DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man had officially retired from the ring earlier that week, and was back in WWE to work in a non-wrestling role. In his initial appearance, McMahon compared him to legendary football coach-turned-announcer John Madden, which DiBiase scoffed at.
Madden's name wasn't just thrown in randomly, either. Rumours swirled at the time, and Bruce Prichard would confirm as such, that WWE tried to get the popular Madden to commentate on the Royal Rumble as something of a publicity stunt. Madden had left CBS after the network lost its NFL contract to FOX, and would jump ship to the latter network after agreeing to a $30M deal. DiBiase joked in his Rumble appearance that his asking price was much higher than what Madden settled for.
8. Tenure Finnish-ed
The opening match at the 1994 Royal Rumble would see Tatanka wrestle long-time nemesis Bam Bam Bigelow in a rather hard-hitting, albeit short, brawl. Tatanka scored the win after eight minutes, but it wasn't the win he was expecting to get. Bigelow was not his original opponent for the night, you see.
Tatanka was supposed to wrestle Helsinki mauler Ludvig Borga, who had ended his long undefeated streak in the fall of 1993. However, at that special Madison Square Garden Rumble earlier that week, Borga badly injured his ankle in a singles match against Rick Steiner. Borga would never return from that injury, leaving WWE in the spring of 1994. Tatanka never would get prolific revenge on the man who brought an end to his perfect record.
7. Rumbling Rougeau
The Tag Team title bout that pitted the Quebecers against Bret and Owen Hart was an excellent bout, though it was really just a backdrop for the Hart brothers' quarrel to come to a boiling point. Owen officially turned on Bret after the match, which was the scripted headline for that match. Underneath, Quebecer Jacques quietly made an odd bit of history.
Between 1989 and 1994 (sans 1993, when Jacques was out of WWE for a spell), Jacques Rougeau wrestled at each Royal Rumble event - in the undercard. Jacques has never competed in an actual Rumble match, and at each of the five shows, he wrestled either in singles or tag team action. Those matches included this Tag title bout, an IC title match with Roddy Piper in 1992, and a six-man tag in 1989 in which he and Bret were on opposite teams there as well.
6. Who Was That Corpse?
So Undertaker loses the casket match after a group beating that includes every heel that has ever lived, then gives a post-mortem monologue about resurrection and such, and then goes flying through the sky so fancy free. It's the stuff that WrestleCrap dreams are made of, running the gamut between, "this is f--king stupid" and being something we can laugh somewhat lovingly years later.
But who was it that levitated to the heavens in the Undertaker costume? It wasn't actually Mark Calaway doing the Poochie float, after all. For years, the accepted answer was Marty Jannetty, whose longer hair covered his face and could obscure his identity. However, in a Facebook post a few years back, Jannetty claimed (perhaps as a rib) that The Brooklyn Brawler was actually the man in the costume. So who knows?
5. Let's Speed It Up
I noted that in the 1993 Rumble, the star quality had taken a mighty dip from the previous year, due to many high-profile stars exiting the company in 1992. The 1994 version was besieged with the same problem, with many new faces taking the places of recognizable studs that left in 1993. With the drop in marquee talents, it makes sense that WWE tinkered with the match format a bit.
For the first time ever, the intervals for entry were 90 seconds instead of two minutes, shortening the match considerably (taking roughly just 42 minutes to get everybody in instead of 56). This format would become standard for many future Rumbles as a time saver, though with this way, it does somewhat damage the idea of a wrestler drawing number one needing to survive an hour in order to win.
4. Beastly Burden
Because he had to fill in for the injured Ludvig Borga in the evening's opening match, Bam Bam Bigelow was one of four wrestlers (joining Tatanka, Owen Hart, and Bret Hart) that pulled double-duty on the card, wrestling in the Rumble match as well. Bigelow had a hand in five eliminations, and was actually the match's duration king, lasting 30 minutes and 12 seconds before Lex Luger bounded him out.
Despite being a highly-visible figure in WWE in that time frame, this would mark the only Rumble match that Bigelow ever took place in. He missed the 1988 match (during his initial WWE tenure) for unclear reasons, and worked in the undercard of both the 1993 and 1995 events, without pulling double-duty on either one.
3. Next Men Up
Injuries happen, and they can plague a pay-per-view with enough of them (ask Dana White). The 1994 Royal Rumble wasn't exactly a "cursed show", but the namesake match ended up having three last-minute substitutions, two of which had to be made after injuries occurred at that Monday night Garden show.
Borga was set to pull double-duty, but his injury meant being taken out of the Rumble match as well. His fill-in was newcomer Kwang (a masked Savio Vega playing a ninja). Meanwhile, the 123 Kid injured his knee in that Monday night Rumble match, necessitating fellow newcomer Bob "Spark Plug" Holly (then known as Thurman "Sparky" Plugg) taking his spot. Finally, Kamala (who hadn't been seen since the summer of 1993) was scheduled for the match, but was replaced for unknown reasons by Virgil.
2. Easy Does It
After eliminating Shawn Michaels and Fatu at the same time, Bret Hart and Lex Luger realized they were the final two in the Rumble match, and immediately locked horns. The two struggled against the ropes and tumbled over simultaneously, conveniently on the side opposite the hard camera, leaving how their feet hit a mystery.
Director Kerwin Silfies instructed his camera crew to avoid filming that side of the ring, since vague replays were needed, and nothing conclusive could be shown, especially if there was an error and one of the two did hit the floor first. Meanwhile, Bret credited Luger for controlling the elimination as well as he did. Luger's back was the one against the ropes, so it was up to him to muscle them over collectively, and Bret credited Luger's skill for making sure that it came off as well as it did.
1. The People Have Spoken
Sometimes it seems like WWE doesn't listen to its fans, but in 1994, there was at least one instance where the cries of the populace were answered. When Luger and Hart tied, each man was announced separately as the winner, due to the referees disagreeing on who hit first. Luger was announced as the winner initially, then his music stopped, and then Hart was announced as winner. Finally, it was ruled that both men had won.
The fans in Providence that night cheered much louder for Bret, as the reaction to him being declared winner drowned out the mostly-favourable reaction Lex got. Though Vince was set on making Luger his new Hogan, the next morning (per Bret's recollection), Vince told Bret that he was going with him to win the belt at WrestleMania, with the response at the Rumble as the co-signer.