I'm such an HBK fan and the direction the WWF and WCW went after this Royal Rumble changed the industry as a whole. WCW was starting to gain a little steam and it was 1996 when they gained more than steam, they gained Hall and Nash. This year was a huge upswing in the industry as a whole, yet some didn't fare as well, even though they were part of the Kliq.
The 1996 Royal Rumble was on January 21, from the Selland Arena in Fresno, California. The undercard for this Royal Rumble wasn't the best, in my opinion. What would now be the pre-PPV dark match, was then aired on WWF Free For All. Duke 'The Dumpster' Droese defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), and won the coveted #30 spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Trip ended up with the dreaded #1 spot – though his best friend won from that spot the year before. On the PPV The Smoking Gunns defeated The Bodydonnas to retain the WWF Tag Team Championship. Goldust defeated Razor Ramon to win the IC Title. Ahmed Johnson defeated Jeff Jarrett via DQ. Taker, with Paul Bearer defeated Bret Hart via DQ when Diesel interfered. Bret Hart retained the WWF Championship.
The Royal Rumble Match started with Triple H who was stuck with the #1 spot and Henry Godwinn – who Trip feuded with for the next year – was the #2 entrant. Wrestlers entered this Royal Rumble Match approximately every two minutes, back up from the one minute between entrants the year before. Godwinn was eliminated second by Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, 16:24 into the match. Trip lasted 48:01 and was eliminated by his good friend Diesel. HBK entered at #18 and eliminated Diesel to win the match after 26:09.
HBK went on to face Bret Hart on March 31st at WMXII in a 60 Minute Iron Man Match (1-0) to win his first WWF Championship. We've all seen that video clip of HBK in the ring holding the strap, on his knees crying as he looked at the belt and hugged it. To me it was one of those moments of pure emotion in wrestling that seem to happen more at WrestleMania than at any other time of the year. From there HBK seemed unstoppable. 1996 was his year, but not Triple H's. On May 19th in Madison Square Garden, Hall and Nash's last contractual obligation with the WWF before leaving for WCW. Early in the evening the evil Hunter Hearst Helmsley faced fan loved Razor Ramon in a Steel Cage Match. Later in the evening fan favorite HBK faced that dastardly Diesel in a Steel Cage Match. After the second match Ramon entered the ring and hugged HBK. That wasn't seen as a problem, but then Trip entered the ring and the four of them formed a group hug (that picture we've all seen). They then lined up and raised hands in the ring. There was a backstage rule about faces and heels cavorting, how breaking kayfabe could destroy a storyline in a moment if two feuding wrestlers were seen hanging out together outside the arena. I already mentioned Bret and Owen passing notes on a plane as they had been feuding and were not allowed to fly 'together' to avoid this problem. VKM wasn't terribly upset about the whole incident until video footage came out as a fan had smuggled in a camcorder and caught the whole thing on tape. The 'Curtain Call' as it was come to be known as, couldn't effect Hall or Nash as they were effectively out of the WWF. HBK was the WWF Champion and defeated a number of WWF Superstars to retain the Title through the better part of 1996. HBK defeated Diesel, British Bulldog (Smith), Mary Jannetty, Billy Gunn, Owen Hart (via DQ), Vader, Yokozuna, Goldust (twice, once in a Ladder Match), and Mankind (via DQ). At Survivor Series HBK ended up losing the WWF Championship to Sycho Sid (Eudy), but it was a dirty win. That was quite a long Title reign, especially looking a the short reigns we've seen these past couple years! HBK ended up winning the WWF Championship from Sid at Royal Rumble 1997, but that's another article.
It seems as though 1996 was the year of HBK. Between winning the Royal Rumble Match for the second year in a row, his long Title reign and that he got off without any punishment from the Curtain Call. In my opinion that's one heck of a great year in wrestling! Also, I spoke earlier about those moments of pure emotion that happen at WM, I'll get to more of my favorite Post-Rumble WM moments as I get further through these articles.