I’m starting a new series of short articles for this month heading to the Royal Rumble. Each one will be about a winner of the Royal Rumble Match, starting off with the first, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. The winner of the Royal Rumble Match, as well as, to some extent, King of The Ring and Money In The Bank, is someone who will be getting a nod from the company and an escalating push through WrestleMania and usually through the rest of the year – unless something un-forseen happens. The first to pop to mind for me is a MITB incident. Mr. Kennedy (Ken Anderson) won the MITBLM at WM23 on April 1, 2007, announced on April 30th that he would cash in at WM24, but on May 7th he lost the contract to Edge due to an injury Kennedy that would have had him out five to seven months. It turned out that his triceps muscle wasn’t torn, he only had a hematoma.
I use that one incident to show that winning something like the Royal Rumble Match is not always a ticket to a WM main events and the WWE Championship. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that winning the Royal Rumble Match was the ticket to main event at WrestleMania and fight for the WWF Championship. It was 2004 when the winner of the Royal Rumble Match had the choice of going after the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship.
Enough background about the Royal Rumble Match, let’s dive into the very first Royal Rumble Match! Actually, it was called the Rumble Royale and was on January 24, 1988 at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. The show was aired live on USA, not as a PPV. There were twenty men participating and it only lasted about thirty-three minutes. Pat Patterson was actually the man behind the madness. He came up with the idea for this match only a couple weeks before it came to fruition. Bret Hart and Tito Santana were the first two in the match, but Tito was eliminated first by Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neihart and Bret Hart. Bret was eliminated eighth by Don Muraco. Duggan was the 13th entrant into the Rumble Royale and only eliminated Nikoli Volkoff, Danny Davis, and One Man Gang. Duggan didn’t last the longest in this Royal Rumble Match – Bret Hart at 25:42 – or eliminated the most – One Man Gang with four – but he was the very first winner of the very first Royal Rumble, even if it was called the Rumble Royale!
How did the Royal Rumble Match help ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan? Well, Duggan debuted in wrestling in 1979 and signed with the WWF in January of 1987. On May 26, 1987 Duggan was arrested, along with Iron Sheik, and charged with possession of marijuana and drinking alcohol while driving. Duggan received a conditional discharge. Iron Sheik ended up with a year of probation as he was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine. Boy have times changed. In this day and age with the Wellness Policy Duggan would not go on to win the Royal Rumble less than a year after an incident like that!
After winning the first Rumble Duggan went on to feud with King Harley Race, then was involved in a 14 man tournament for the vacant WWF Championship. Andre cost Duggan his first round match and they started to feud. During their feud Duggan claimed to be the only wrestler to knock out Andre in a WWF ring. In July Duggan received an Intercontinental Championship Match against the Honky Tonk Man, but didn’t win the Title when Honky Tonk cost himself the match via DQ. Through the summer and fall Duggan remained face and feuded with a string of ‘foreign’ wrestlers to keep him in an upper mid-card role. At Survivor Series Duggan was in a Traditional SS Match, but was eliminated when he used his now famous 2X4 on Dino Bravo.
Going into the first Royal Rumble PPV Duggan wasn’t in the Royal Rumble Match, but was on the card in a match where he tagged with the Hart Foundation to defeat Dino Bravo and The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers. Duggan then moved onto what was called by some a truly brutal feud with Bad News Brown that lead to a Grudge Match at WrestleMania V that ended in No Contest. After that the King of The Ring crown was passed around a bit after Harley Race was injured. Duggan won the crown from Haku, but lost it in late 1989 to ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.
On April 3, 2011 ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame by The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Some might say that winning the Royal Rumble didn’t do anything to help Duggan’s career or get him a push. Others might say that Duggan’s career took off after winning the Rumble. Being the first Royal Rumble winner it’s hard to gauge what hand the RR actually did for his career, but Duggan has had a grand and illustrious career that still continues. He’s one of the sweetest and kindest wrestlers I’ve met. He spent time with every person he met and kept the entire room of fans chanting, cheering and happy. To me that’s a win.
I’m sure as we follow this tour through the twenty-five years of Royal Rumbles and Royal Rumble Match winners, we’ll see more of the good and the bad. I’m really glad this all started with Duggan as he’s always been a favorite of mine. I would love to hear your thoughts, good and bad, about Duggan, his ring work, his career, any personal stories. I think this winding trip to the Royal Rumble can be a lot of fun.
Thanks for reading,