Thirty years ago this week, on January 24th, 1988, the World Wrestling Federation aired the very first ever Royal Rumble on the basic cable channel USA Network. On the very same day, Jim Crockett Productions aired its annual Bunkhouse Stampede on pay-per-view.
It would end up being the last Bunkhouse Stampede for Jim Crockett Productions. Before 1988 was over, Jim Crockett Productions would be no more.
This is that story.
First Things Not First
The Royal Rumble that aired on the USA Network is not technically the “first” Royal Rumble.
The special event was the brainchild of longtime WWF/WWE executive Pat Patterson. The rules were simple, or simple enough, and they’re rules that you know well by now: Each wrestler blindly chooses a number between one and 20. The No. 1 and No. 2 entrants would begin the match while the other participants would join the match every two minutes, in the order of their drawn number. Participants were eliminated when their opponents tossed them over the top rope and both of their feet touched the floor. The winner would be the last man standing.
It was an inspired twist on an old favorite, the battle royal, but with a new dynamic. The Royal Rumble kept the action high but easy to follow, allowed for multiple story lines to be told at once, and kept the element of narrative surprise going throughout the entire nearly 60 minute running time.
But much like a new Broadway play makes a stop in Chicago or Philadelphia before debuting on The Great White Way, the Royal Rumble had a “test drive” in St. Louis, Missouri on October 4th, 1987. The One Man Gang won by tossing out the Junkyard Dog and being declared the inaugural champion.