[Feature] Great Moments in Heel Commentary: Royal Rumble 1992
Royal Rumble 1992 is widely considered to be the greatest Royal Rumble of them all, featuring the best lineup of superstars of any year and the biggest prize of them all: the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Lackluster undercard aside, minus the joy of seeing Roddy Piper finally win WWF gold, it’s one that I go back to on a regular basis to the point that my taped from PPV VHS has warped to eyesore levels.
But as brilliant and drama-filled as that Rumble was, I go back for a very distinct reason: the commentary of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Heenan is the benchmark for all heel commentators, a man who could make any dull match worthwhile on his gift of gab alone, and in 1992 he turned in a standout performance that borders on transcendent. And as we head into the 2013 Royal Rumble it’s worth looking back on one of the greatest commentating performances of all-time as a way to remind ourselves that, yes, a heel commentator can be done correctly. Here’s hoping someone forces Michael Cole and JBL to watch this A Clockwork Orange-style on repeat.
Before getting into why this remains such a brilliant commentating performance, it’s pertinent to set the stage and give a little historical context. In 1991, after years of being seen as the man in the NWA/WCW, Ric Flair defected to the WWF after a dispute with Jim Herd who was running the promotion at the time on behalf of Ted Turner and his media conglomerate. Unfortunately for WCW, Flair was champion at the time and he owned the physical belt that represented the most prestigious championship of the company, so when Flair left so did the title belt. Flair was introduced on WWF TV in the summer of 1991 as the “Real World’s Champion”, showcasing the belt in full-view as almost a “f*ck you” to the company that had done him wrong after he had all but killed himself keeping them afloat for so long.
And with the “Real World’s Champion” came the greatest manager in WWF history. Heenan had retired in early 1991 as a manager to devote his time to commentating and had excelled there just as much as he did managing stars like Mr. Perfect and Andre the Giant. But when Flair signed on to the WWF, Heenan came out of retirement and began heralding his arrival like the Silver Surfer to “The Nature Boy’s” Galactus. When Flair finally made his in-person debut, Heenan continued to commentate and act as one of Flair’s advisers from the announce booth sending his former charge Mr. Perfect to act as his second (Perfect was suffering from a back injury at the time so this was the, erm, “perfect” role for him).
Flair spent his first few months feuding with Roddy Piper and getting under the skin of then-WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. But although he claimed to be the “Real World’s Champion”, he was never given a proper shot at the belt outside of some untelevised matches against the Hulkster, and he started to languish a little bit. Luckily for Flair his opportunity was just on the horizon. After a snafu involving the WWF World Title and a series of “screwjob” finishes between Hogan and challenger The Undertaker, President (in storyline only) Jack Tunney declared the WWF World Title vacant and put it up for grabs at the beginning of 1992 at the Royal Rumble.
“It’s Not Fair to Flair!”
And this is where Heenan’s legendary performance comes into play. With Flair drawing #3, his assumed victory was in question and the storyline of the entire match centered around whether he would be able to survive all 29 opponents en route to WWF gold. And as the match told a story inside the ring, Heenan told an even more interesting story outside of it. Although never impartial, it was clear that Heenan was rooting for Flair and no one else to win the whole thing and go home as champion. Heenan had a lot riding on this match and he let it be known on his commentary. Whenever a new entrant would show up, Heenan would either badmouth them or beg them from the announce table to help Flair. When two or more wrestlers ganged up on him, Heenan would scream about how unfair it was coining the “It’s not fair to Flair!” line that is still uttered today. No matter who it was, heel or face, if they weren’t helping Flair they were the enemy to Heenan. And when Flair finally won, thanks in part to Hogan childishly helping to eliminate Sid Justice, Heenan responded with the sort of glee that wrestling fans wish they could have every time a match is over.
Heenan’s range of emotions, from angry to confident to nervous to excited to fearful, were on full-display and although the match itself told a great story, with other minor storylines going on (Savage/Roberts, Sid/Hogan), Heenan’s work elevated the drama level of the entire match and dare I say it increased the quality level by a large margin. It was a truly transcendent performance, one that has yet to be replicated and probably never will be. It’s once in a lifetime-caliber work and a master class on not only how to commentate but how to play the “heel” commentator role to a tee. If you haven’t seen Royal Rumble 1992, do everything in your power to seek it out. My words cannot do it justice, no matter how much I want them to.
- The constant use of “It’s not fair to Flair”.
- Heenan saying “it’s not a skirt, it’s a kilt” when Piper helped Flair escape a Jake Roberts DDT then going back on it and calling Piper a “skirt-wearing freak” when he attacked Flair.
- Heenan desperately asking broadcast partner Gorilla Monsoon about how long Flair’s been in, nearly out of breath and with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
- Heenan calling Flair’s low-blow on The Undertaker an attempt to “lift” him and Monsoon immediately responding “he certainly did not“.
- THIS ENTIRE F*CKING ROYAL RUMBLE MATCH.
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