If you were to ask many WWE fans who have been watching for decades what their favorite Royal Rumble match was, the most common answer you’re likely to get is the Royal Rumble 1992. And it’s for a very good reason. It was by far the single most star-studded match in Royal Rumble history, but among all of the immortals who participated in the match, it was The Nature Boy Ric Flair‘s staggering performance that stands out, and one that will never be forgotten.
One must remember that Flair was still relatively new to WWF at the time. When he was introduced to the WWF Universe by the late, great Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, he was seen carrying the Big Gold belt, after having left WCW on bad terms. He was declared as the true World Champion, and it was a move that no company would ever dare to do, much less WWE.
He interfered in Hulk Hogan‘s WWF title defense, helping The Undertaker win the match and the title. The controversy meant that the title would be vacated, and for the first time, the Royal Rumble would be for the vacant WWF Championship. This would only be replicated 24 years later when Roman Reigns defended the WWE Championship in the Royal Rumble match.
At the time, winning the Rumble didn’t mean cementing your spot in a World title match at WrestleMania, that would be a tradition that only began in 1993 when Yokozuna won.
In 1992, the stakes had never been higher, and this was by far the most important Royal Rumble in history at that point. Flair would enter at #3, and be the first, and perhaps the greatest Iron Man in Royal Rumble history. We’ve seen record-breaking performances from the likes of Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and even Daniel Bryan (if you count the Greatest Royal Rumble, which we’d prefer not to), but none of them had the same sense and intensity that Flair’s Iron Man performance did.
He was no babyface. Ric Flair was as cowardly as one could get, but he was also the dirtiest player in the game and the sliest and cunning one out there. He would constantly be on his knees begging for superstars not to hurt him, only to conveniently poke their eyes and double cross them. Even using the word “double cross” isn’t really apt for a match like the Royal Rumble, because it is every man (and now woman too) for himself.
Flair, in an interview with Sky Sports, called the happenings of the event “life-changing”, stating:
I went from Atlanta to Albany, New York and my life changed in one day. Literally one day, that’s the truth.
One day I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do and the next day I was the champion.
Naturally, for someone like Flair who had left his previous company on rather bad terms, instantly being pushed to the top like that would have been amazing. But Vince McMahon knew exactly what kind of star Flair was, and had he stuck around longer in WWF during that time, there’s absolutely no doubt that he would have won multiple accolades and likely even main evented multiple WrestleManias.
Either way, with regards to the Rumble match, one of the major aspects that made it so special was the commentary. It’s hard to argue that there was a better commentary team than Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon, but their dynamic on this night was all the more special. The verbal storytelling that saw Heenan get multiple panic attacks in over an hour was nothing short of masterful.
Heenan was on the edge of his seat throughout, and his support for Flair was what made it the best Rumble even from a commentary standpoint. Many argue that it was his finest hour in the commentary booth, and it’s very hard to disagree with that. The final three would be Sid Justice, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
On any other day, you would think that Hogan would have won it, but WWE made the right call by having Justice eliminate Hogan. The WWE icon would then act like a bitter child, holding Sid’s hands and allowing The Nature Boy to eliminate him and win the Rumble. Heenan’s priceless reaction to Flair’s win certainly topped it all off, and a post-match angle was set between Hogan and Justice. It was a very clear sign that Hogan’s popularity was beginning to slowly dwindle, as the crowd was far more supportive of Justice.
Flair was told backstage by Pat Patterson to cut a promo on the fly about being happy about winning the championship. It’s a promo that can give you goosebumps, because the passion that Flair exudes instantly put a lot more value in the title, because he proclaimed that there was no title bigger than the one that he had just won.
It was an unforgettable performance, and simply another notch in his glorious list of accolades.