A Detailed Review of the 1992 WWF Royal Rumble Match, Part 2 of 4

[This is a continuation of Part 1 of this article, available here:

The Barbarian comes out, albeit without his typical skull-and-antlers helmet ensemble. The Barbarian is dressed in a fur loincloth, which in a weird coincidence is exactly what I wore to my senior prom. It’s interesting they placed his entrance so close to Haku’s, as they were essentially the same character: monster heels (both from Tonga, no less). Barbarian began his WWE tenure as a serious singles competitor – in fact, he had a victory over Tito Santana at a previous WrestleMania. As mentioned previously, he later formed a long-running tag team with Haku; they soon transitioned to WCW and began wrestling as the Faces of Fear.

The Barbarian’s entrance slows the pace of the Royal Rumble match down quite a bit. Smith and Barbarian pair off in one corner while Flair and Santana trade punches in the other. At one point Michaels climbs to the middle rope for about 20 seconds and perches there awkwardly, waiting for someone to wander within range for him to attack. When no one does, he meekly climbs down. Santana lifts Michaels over the top rope, but for the third time the Heartbreak Kid is able to scamper his way back into the ring before his feet touch the floor. This was a rather uneventful two minutes, and it’s a relief when the crowd starts the five-second countdown once more. We need some excitement in the ring! We need a big name! We need… the Texas Tornado?

The Texas Tornado was actually Kerry Von Erich, one of the members of the ill-fated but legendary Von Erich family. Kerry was a former Intercontinental Champion, but the 1992 Royal Rumble was truly his last hurrah – he never appeared on another WWE pay-per-view after this one, and left the promotion about six months later. It wasn’t until after Von Erich’s suicide in 1993 that I found out he was literally wrestling on one foot: his right foot was amputated after a motorcycle accident in 1986.

But no one could have known Von Erich was in the last full year of his life when he hits the squared circle for the 1992 Royal Rumble. He immediately lays into Ric Flair with a series of right hands, finishing off the sequence with his signature discus punch (“The Tornado Punch”), sending Flair into his first patented Flair Flop of the night. Michaels gets a Tornado Punch too, and chooses to sell it with a 450-degree flip to the canvas followed by a sort-of reverse Flair Flop. As the timer counts down again, a quick check around the ring shows us Shawn Michaels struggling to push the British Bulldog over the ropes in one corner, Santana stomping on Ric Flair in another, and the Texas Tornado working over the Barbarian in a third corner. The ring is quickly filling up to capacity, so you begin to suspect the next competitor will be a powerhouse who will eliminate some of the riff-raff.

Then the horn sounds, and you see the Repo Man. Listen… a lot of wrestlers have been saddled with terrible gimmicks. Hector Guerrero once danced around the ring as a sort of generic San Diego Chicken. Terry Taylor had to wear a rooster comb in his hair and crow to the cameras. Before he became Kane, Glen Jacobs portrayed an evil dentist named “Isaac Yankem.” But I would say that no one had as many high-profile, hugely embarrassing characters as Barry Darsow. Darsow was part of the wildly successful tag team Demolition, which won three WWF Tag Team Championships, but even his best-known “Smash” character looks a bit questionable in hindsight. He wrestled in a pair of tiny black trunks, with studded leather straps that came together at his belly-button and garish silver-and-black face paint. He looked like a man who couldn’t decide whether he preferred the rock band KISS or S & M parties, so he chose to support both with his costume.

But you have to understand… that was his best gimmick. Later in his career, in WCW, he came out as an evil golfer named “Pain Stewart” (after PGA legend Payne Stewart) with argyle socks, golf pants, and polo shirts. As if this pun wasn’t unfortunate enough on its own, they managed to name the character after a golfer who later died under tragic circumstances, so good taste forced them to change the character’s name to “Mr. Hole-in-One.” I’m not making that up. Before that, he played an obnoxious fan who eventually became a wrestler known as the “Blacktop Bully,” but the less said about that character (which came complete with an air horn), the better. Nonetheless, we’re here today to discuss the Repo Man, who comes to the ring sporting a Lone Ranger mask and a black jacket which inexplicably has white tire tracks painted on the back. This apparently implies that not only has the Repo Man been run over while performing his dastardly duties, but it was by a vehicle whose tires are coated in white paint. *sigh*

I’ll give it up to Barry Darsow, though – he sold this crappy character like he was Daniel Day-Lewis. He sneaks to the ring, eyes looking furtively in every direction, then creeps around the outside looking for an inconspicuous place to jump in. Due to confusion caused by the way Darsow played this role, a generation of young wrestling fans thought “repo man” was synonymous with “cat burglar.” He finally crawls in and attacks Shawn Michaels from behind. While Flair wrestles with the British Bulldog, Tito Santana hits a flying cross-body block on the Barbarian and apparently temporarily forgets what match he’s in – pins don’t count in the Royal Rumble, Tito. Flair hits some knife-edge chops on Texas Tornado, prompting a chorus of “Whoos!” from the crowd. It’s amazing that 20 years have passed since this event, and the crowds still react the same way when Flair hits those chops down in Orlando. Still no new eliminations when the buzzer goes off again, signaling our next entrant, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.

Valentine was already in his 40s at the time of this Royal Rumble, and he hadn’t held a championship since he and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake were tag team partners in 1986. Much like the Texas Tornado, he was destined to leave the WWE almost immediately after this pay-per-view (though unlike Von Erich, Valentine eventually came back for a handful of cameo appearances). Valentine wasn’t being booked as a complete joke, though. In the previous year’s Royal Rumble, he lasted more than 44 minutes, a greater length of time than anyone except record holder Rick “The Model” Martel. Valentine represents yet another former Intercontinental Champion in the ring, and he goes immediately after the Repo Man, then Michaels, then Flair (which led to another Flair Flop and another plea of “That’s not fair!” from the Brain).

It’s mostly quiet in the ring during this segment. Michaels manages to oversell a simple punch from Texas Tornado so hard that he almost throws himself over the top rope, leading to some excitement as the British Bulldog and Texas Tornado attempt to eliminate him for good. Flair manages the rare “no look” crotch shot on Repo Man, his second low blow of the contest. Eventually the timer goes off again, and Nikolai Volkoff trots to the ring.

With Valentine and Volkoff, we’ve had two straight future WWE Hall of Famers. Of course, we also have two guys who are well past their primes. Volkoff’s last title reign was as the Tag Team champ (with the Iron Sheik) in 1985. Volkoff had essentially played the same character since the mid-1980s, a Communist heel who sang the Russian national anthem before every match, before finally experiencing a lukewarm face turn. Volkoff is actually the oldest person in the ring, if you can believe that – he’s got Valentine beat by three years and (amazingly) a year and a half on the Nature Boy.

Volkoff might have had the single best entrance of anyone in the ’92 Royal Rumble. Volkoff, who was in his mid-40s, starts out by inexplicably vaulting over the top rope. He starts out as a house on fire, bludgeoning and head-butting Repo Man furiously until… well, nothing really happens. He doesn’t even knock Repo Man to the ground. Darsow sort of leans over and holds his head, selling Volkoff’s power in the least convincing way possible. Volkoff then moves on to fight his next opponent: utter confusion. He spends six seconds shuffling around the ring, clearly incapable of deciding whom he should attack next. Eventually the Barbarian comes to his rescue, and the two of them chop and pound each other to little effect. It’s kind of interesting to watch this exchange – the Barbarian refuses to sell any of Volkoff’s offense, even after they’d moved on from their one-on-one feud and Volkoff was attacking him from behind. It’s almost like you can hear Barbarian thinking to himself, “Listen, I’m not going to look bad for that guy. Anybody else, I’ll do the job. The old Lithuanian guy? I’m going to pretend to be Superman when that old guy punches me.”

Meanwhile, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine has locked in a Figure Four leglock on Ric Flair in the middle of the ring. The use of that submission move was symbolic because it also happens to be Flair’s legendary finisher. I referred to Flair as “Nature Boy” earlier. Well, Flair had taken that nickname from an earlier wrestling legend named Buddy Rogers, and Rogers had used the Figure Four as well. Our announcers aren’t able to elucidate the historical importance of this maneuver though, as Bobby Heenan has gone apoplectic from seeing Flair in such a position. This only lasts a few seconds, as Barbarian quickly comes over to club Valentine about the head and shoulders. Immediately thereafter, we have our first elimination in several minutes: Repo Man flips Volkoff out with a backdrop. Nikolai barely lasted a full minute in the Rumble – his official time is 1:03.

As the countdown reaches double-zero, we see Texas Tornado throwing his trademark roundhouse rights at Barbarian (who is reacting appropriately, for the record). Repo Man is holding Valentine in a full nelson so Ric Flair can punch away at him. British Bulldog and El Matador have formed an alliance trying to finish off Shawn Michaels, who seemingly has spent this entire battle royal on the verge of being thrown out. Finally the buzzer sounds, and the Big Boss Man sprints to the ring.

” Big Boss Man” was the alias of Ray Traylor, yet another deceased wrestler – Traylor passed in 2004 due to a heart attack. This gimmick is so timeless that I’m surprised it hasn’t been copied more often: Big Boss Man began as a stereotypical bullying redneck police officer. Much like Volkoff (and Valentine, for that matter), this was a long-running heel character who had fairly recently been converted to be considered a good guy, so the fans give a noticeable pop when he ran to the ring. Traylor immediately goes after Flair, but remember what I said about Repo Man being the Daniel Day-Lewis of the WWE? You can see his talents again during Traylor’s entrance: as soon as he sees Traylor, Darsow leaps out of the way and cowers in between the ring ropes. If it weren’t for his Cookie Crisp criminal mask, I’d say he would have been eligible for a Best Supporting Actor nomination that year.

Anyway, Traylor entered the Royal Rumble the way a man is supposed to enter – by punching everything in his path. After pummeling Flair with rights, he floors Shawn Michaels, then rapidly goes after faces and heels alike (he throws huge right hands at Santana and British Bulldog, then he sees Barbarian and Texas Tornado standing together and begins punching indiscriminately in their direction). The camera stays tight on Big Boss Man for a few moments too long, so we miss a bit of the exchange between Greg Valentine and Repo Man. One moment Valentine is bouncing Repo Man’s head off a turnbuckle, then the next time we see them, Repo Man is tossing Valentine over the top rope. I’m not even entirely certain that Gorilla or Brain saw the elimination – Monsoon didn’t make the call until Valentine began emoting outside the ring.

That was back-to-back eliminations for Repo Man, by the way. You could make an argument that his was the most irrelevant character in the entire Rumble, yet Darsow managed to eliminate as many people as no-doubt Hall of Famers “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Undertaker, or Shawn Michaels. Regardless, the match goes on, and now Big Boss Man has trained his ire on Michaels. In the ensuing struggle, Michaels goes over the top rope yet again, and AGAIN he manages to land on the apron without being eliminated. The Heartbreak Kid has more lives than a cat. He may have been saved by Repo Man, who chose to interfere by distracting Big Boss Man while Michaels clung desperately to the top rope. Traylor repays this injustice by perfunctorily tossing Repo Man onto the floor. Darsow proves his acting chops one final time by instantly springing up and swiveling his head around in a suspicious fashion, like a cartoon burglar. The man’s dedication to his craft is unreal! You can see him edging around the ring, skulking his way back to the locker room… Barry Darsow simply had no off switch when it came to the Repo Man.

Flair takes some punishment from a visibly fatigued Davey Boy Smith. For the third or fourth time, Monsoon puts over how incredibly long Flair has stayed alive in the Rumble, then belatedly realizing that Smith has been in for two minutes more (making Smith’s longevity number even more incredible). Almost as if on cue, Flair chooses that exact moment to backdrop the British Bulldog over the top rope. This is as good a time as any to point out how remarkable Flair’s run in the 1992 Royal Rumble truly was. Davey Boy Smith was an incredibly talented wrestler with a body that looked like it was sculpted out of wood. And he was absolutely dead on his feet after 20 minutes in the ring. I’ve barely mentioned his name since Shawn Michaels’ entrance more than 10 minutes ago. In the meantime, Flair has been the focus of every single face (and half the heels) when they enter the ring. He’s even taken signature moves from a few of the wrestlers. We’re barely over a third of the way through Flair’s performance in this event, but just know that nothing’s going to change. We’ll mention him in more or less every “action” paragraph, and everyone who stays in the ring for more than a minute or two is going to want a piece of Flair before it’s all over.

Granted, Flair was known for his amazing hour-long marathon matches with the likes of Ricky Steamboat years before. They even called him the “Sixty Minute Man” (a name which I’m certain had no other possible connotations). But by 1992 he was already in his 40s. I’m in my 30s and I’d have been ready to call it a night after that first gorilla press slam from Davey Boy Smith. But for Flair? It was literally just the beginning of a loooooooooong day at the office. Back to live action!

Seconds after Davey Boy Smith goes out, Texas Tornado comes over to attack Flair and falls prey to the exact same trick: a backdrop over the top rope. Amusingly, Von Erich manages to knock a front-row fan into the third row with his momentum. The two eliminations take place about ten seconds apart. A few moments after that, Tito Santana and Shawn Michaels manage to… well, I’m not sure exactly what they were doing. First they’re trading punches, then Michaels conspicuously looks backward and takes a step toward the ropes. Then they begin hugging each other, then finally fall awkwardly over the ropes. We’d gone more than 10 minutes with only one elimination (entrant #12, Nikolai Volkoff), then suddenly #6 (Michaels), #7 (Santana), #9 (Texas Tornado), #10 (Repo Man), and #11 (Greg Valentine) were all knocked out within a single two-minute span.

As the buzzer goes off, a wave of apathy hits the New York crowd as Hercules runs to the ring. Hercules came to the WWE in the 1980s, an era when a lot of guys were hired for their physiques rather than their wrestling acumen. For years I assumed Hercules was an example of this phenomenon, but I was dead wrong – he’d been wrestling professionally for four years before hitting the big leagues, working his way up from the Florida territories to Mid-South Wrestling to a spot as the heavyweight champion in the National Wrestling Alliance’s regional promotions. He’d had a long history in the WWE before the 1992 Royal Rumble, including multiple WrestleMania appearances (beginning with the horrifically confusing WrestleMania 2 in 1986, but that’s an unnecessarily detailed review best saved for another time). Although Hercules didn’t enter wrestling with a physique entirely worthy of his name, he clearly was sayin’ his prayers and eatin’ his vitamins, as he’d grown into a veritable monster. He actually made Barbarian and Big Boss Man look relatively small, which is… well, that’s incomprehensible, to be honest.

Hercules gained serious fame in the late 1980s as the “slave” of prior entrant Ted DiBiase, and was easily recognized for the giant chain that he wore around his neck. He was a couple of years removed from that notoriety, though, and had been a jobber (a person who loses most of his matches to enhance the reputation of others) during that time. Somehow he had broken through in the previous year’s Royal Rumble to last for more than 35 minutes, but he’s destined for a quick night tonight.

As Hercules slides under the ring ropes and sloooowly rises to his feet, Barbarian hits a wicked kick to the side of Big Boss Man’s head. Watching Hercules meander over to Flair and throwing a looping overhand right, you can’t help but wonder whether there’s such a thing as being too muscular to be a wrestler. Then Hercules verifies your doubts by throwing the weakest-looking series of punches to Flair’s midsection that you’ll ever see. In all seriousness, the punches look like something from a slapstick comedy routine – even a child can see that blows that soft couldn’t possibly hurt anyone. Remember how Barbarian was refusing to acknowledge Volkoff’s punches a couple of minutes ago? That’s called “no-selling,” and it goes against Ric Flair’s very nature. If anything, Ric Flair has made an incredibly successful career out of over-selling every offensive move used against him. But even Flair couldn’t pretend to be injured by Hercules’ game of abdominal patty-cake.

Then all logic in the match temporarily disintegrated, in probably the weirdest exchange of the Rumble. Hercules eventually just wanders away from Flair for no real reason – it’s like he just got bored of trying to throw punches while handicapped by his football-sized trapezius muscles. At the same time, Barbarian walks away from a prone Big Boss Man. Just to emphasize here, there is absolutely no reason why either man would stop beating on their incapacitated foes. Barbarian and Hercules walk past each other – literally about a foot away from each other – without even passing glances. Then Ric Flair raises one hand toward the Heavens, inviting Barbarian to give him a high-five. I mean, the two had worked together a couple of times during this match, but there was no long-term collaborative history between them. But surely Barbarian wouldn’t fall for a trick this obvious, right?

Well, no. Flair slaps him five, and Barbarian turns his back to become literally the only person in the entire arena surprised when Ric starts chopping him across the chest. Ric’s trademark chops only serve to anger the giant Samoan, though, leading to Flair taking another gorilla press slam. Most wrestlers take every bump like this as flat on their back as they can; the greater the surface area of your body that hits the mat, the less damage you’ll take to any individual body part. I don’t think we’ll ever see anyone again who will wrestle at a high level as long as Flair has, and it’s funny to note that he never takes a bump the traditional way. He twists his body on every move so that he lands on the same hip. Combined with the fact that he once broke his back in three places in a plane crash and came back to wrestle a few months later… I’m more or less convinced that Flair is one of the cyborgs from Terminator.

Barbarian then picks up Flair again and prepares to throw him over the top rope, as Flair holds onto the rope for dear life. Hercules comes over while the two are distracted and Barbarian’s weight is leaning over the rope. Hercules tips Barbarian out, and Flair comes precipitously close to elimination himself – he lands on the apron and hauls himself back in. Big Boss Man then eliminates Hercules using the same principle that knocked out Barbarian. In fact, Boss Man used so much momentum knocking out Hercules that he almost eliminated himself, falling over the top rope but hanging on and pulling himself back into the ring. Flair celebrates in the center of the ring, thinking he is the only man left in the competition. He turns around to see Traylor pointing a finger at him, and Flair immediately goes back into full pleading mode. The Big Boss Man shrugs off an eye poke to hit a big clothesline on poor Ric, then screams at the heavens and really psyches himself up. Traylor bounces off the ropes to get up some speed, then leaps from about 4 feet short of the ropes to crush Flair.

Two things immediately happen. 1) Flair ducks, leaving no barrier between Big Boss Man and elimination. He was clearly meant to fly over the top rope and land on the floor below. Unfortunately, 2) it becomes painfully obvious that Ray Traylor cannot broad jump 4 feet horizontally and 4 feet vertically at the same time. Big Boss Man does not come particularly close to clearing the distance, hanging himself by his waist on the top rope. Flair, who’s lying on the ground, is clearly in no position to help propel him over. So Traylor has to squirm around to get the rest of his weight over the rope. It’s clearly an awkward moment, but Traylor handled it about as professionally as one could have. I wish I could have been in the back to hear the other guys ribbing him, though.

So after nearly a half-hour in the squared circle, Ric Flair stands alone in the ring. Barbarian, Big Boss Man, and Hercules all left the WWE within a couple of years of this pay-per-view, all migrating south to work in the rival WCW promotion. Ray “Hercules” Fernandez passed away in 2004 of a heart attack, only a few months before Ray Traylor’s demise.

Now that Flair finally has the ring to himself, he celebrates by walking around in a daze and performing another Flair Flop. Heenan spends the next ten seconds hilariously proclaiming that Flair is now “Champion of the World!” – this of course sends Gorilla into a state of apoplexy as he explains that no, we have “a lot more still to come.” And he’s not joking; we aren’t even halfway through the list of participants yet, as insane as that may seem. Flair is just raising himself to his knees as the buzzer comes out, and the look of fear on his face is priceless when the next wrestler appears: Rowdy Roddy Piper.

I would argue that “Hot Rod” is the greatest wrestler never to hold any version of the WWF Heavyweight Championship. To illustrate how amazing Piper was at crafting a character, think about this: Pro Wrestling Illustrated once named him the “Most Hated” wrestler in the industry two years in a row, then the very next year named him the world’s “Most Popular” wrestler. The WWE pushed through its status as a niche form of entertainment and gained mainstream popularity in the mid-1980s, thanks heavily to its connection to other figures in music and television and the advent of the spectacular annual event known as WrestleMania. Piper was part of the main event match at the first WrestleMania, and was the main event at the portion of WrestleMania 2 which took place in New York (WrestleMania 2 took place in three separate locations in the same night… I told you that pay-per-view would require an entirely separate deconstruction to make sense). As for the crossover between music, television, and wrestling? Again, Piper was at the forefront, with feuds against Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper garnering interest on primetime network news programs.

So why was Piper never the heavyweight champion? It’s difficult to express how dominant a figure Hulk Hogan was in the wrestling industry in the 1980s. Piper wasn’t the only deserving figure to never hold the belt; Ricky Steamboat, Ted DiBiase, Paul Orndorff, and Curt Hennig were similarly shut out, and men like Andre the Giant weren’t afforded proper runs either. I would blame Hogan, who is often accused of refusing to allow anyone else to be the biggest star in his promotion. But regardless of where you point the finger, it is undeniably regrettable that none of these men ever strapped on World Championship gold. Even without the title run, Piper remains one of the best-remembered and most recognized wrestlers in history for two primary reasons. First, the man was electric on the microphone. He was manic, he was quick-witted and able to improvise, and he was genuinely funny. Many wrestlers since Piper’s time have hosted their own interview segments, but Piper paved the way. Perhaps more importantly, he broke into mainstream acting.

[to be continued in Part 3]

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