Right now is one of the best times of the year to be a wrestling fan. Even if you're a member of the "WWE Universe" rather than being an actual fan of wrestling, you can appreciate the one event that unifies fans from the '80s, '90s, and today. Although WrestleMania seems to get weaker as the years go by, the Royal Rumble continues to deliver as it did in its infancy.
Ax and Smash entering as #1 and #2. Luger and Hart tumbling over the top rope at the same time. Ric Flair winning his first WWF Championship. Men like Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio Jr., and (gasp) Chris Benoit proving that even smaller stars could make it through the other 29 participants. These are the moments that have defined the Royal Rumble. Most of the top names of the past thirty years have at least one Rumble appearance under their belt. Looking through lists of each years participants can be like viewing 30 Hall of Fame-caliber superstars all in one single match.
The Rumble has had its share of prominence in the world of merchandise as well. Programs, videos, video games, and action figures have all been released using the Royal Rumble banner, which next to WrestleMania may be the most remembered and recognizable in the WWF pay-per-view lineup. In terms of both collectibility and infamy, there is one Royal Rumble item that stands above all the rest.
Let's go back to 1992. Hasbro was running full force with their famous WWF action figure line. The 5 inch tall figures, each with "Real Wrestling Action," were fun to play with and collect. As with any popular action figure line, the toy company will look down other avenues to add additional products to their hot licensee.
During the summer of '92, three packs of four mini WWF figures began to appear in stores. These figures were only a couple of inches tall and were non-poseable, mini versions of the larger Hasbro WWF figures and each was molded to a silver stand. Roddy Piper, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Texas Tornado, and Mr. Perfect made up one set while another included The Legion of Doom and The Natural Disasters. The Bushwhackers, Brutus Beefcake, and Greg Valentine rounded out the third pack. The figures were released to coincide with a WWF Royal Rumble ring which would include figures of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Big Boss Man, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Ted DiBiase, and Sgt. Slaughter.
The toy was fun, the figures were cool little representations of the larger figures, but the entire idea was plagued by a much larger problem. The centerpiece of the idea, the ring, was only available for a small window of time. While the three figure packs were available at many different retailers, the ring playset itself only seemed to show up at Toys "R" Us stores in a short period of time very early in the 1992 Christmas buying season. Aside from reports I've heard in more recent years of the set appearing at Toy Liquidators, this shipment may have been the only one.
The limited time to purchase the toy resulted in two things: the individual figure packs sat on shelves (collecting dust at Hills stores until the late '90s) since most kids had nothing to use them with while prices for the ring itself soared on the secondary market. Although examples have been known to sell for as much as $500, a price range of $250-$300 should be expected for most open pieces.
Prices aside, the Royal Rumble ring is truly a unique and fun toy. The ring itself is elevated on a light blue plastic platform to allow two hand controlled plungers to be placed halfway under. When pounded with a fist, the plunger hits the mat causing the figures to "rumble." The playset includes six rounded metal bases which fit onto the bottom of the silver bases molded onto the figures. The metal bases are hard to remove from the figures. I wouldn't really advise putting them on today, as it can take as much as a screw driver to pry them off. The figures will still "rumble" without them, although they might not fly over the top rope as originally intended.
Speaking of the figures, they may just be the highlight of the entire deal. As previously mentioned, the figures are replicas of their larger Hasbro counterparts. The Randy Savage figure is of particular interest as the paint deco transforms the figure released twice in the larger Hasbro line (as both Macho King and Macho Man) into a longer "tights" version that never saw a bigger "brother." Also of note is the Brutus Beefcake figure which features pinkish purple decor opposite its larger counterpart that has a black, white, and red motif.
The box art is a lot of fun, too. The Big Boss Man figure is depicted on the box featuring the head of the first Hasbro Boss Man and the body of the second. Savage is depicted on the box as having the short purple trunks that the larger figure has.
As to why the ring wasn't widely available is a question that has been debated but never completed unraveled. It's possible that Hasbro wasn't satisfied with the reaction to the separate figure packs and decided to stop production of the ring. Another theory is that due to the difficult of removing the metal bases production was halted and simply never restarted. The possibilities are endless, but those that own the toy enjoy it as a fun and unique entry in the Hasbro WWF world.
Twelve figures that should also be mentioned here weren't even produced by Hasbro or licensed by the WWF. Around the same time that the licensed mini figures were produced, a bootleg set appeared in discount stores around the world. The figures appear to depict Hogan, Savage, DiBiase, Boss Man, Roberts, Beefcake, Duggan, The Bushwhackers, The Ultimate Warrior, Jimmy Snuka, and Akeem. Despite being unlicensed, the figures are too nice to be ignored and actually fit quite well into the Hasbro Rumble ring. The Snuka figure is, in my opinion, one of the coolest looking figures ever made of "Superfly." The set continued to show up well into the mid '90s and I even recall seeing them marketed as cake toppers at one point.
In either instance, these are toys that truly capture the colorful and fun days when the Royal Rumble was taking its place as a yearly tradition. Thankfully, the event itself continues to remind fans of those days with its unpredictability, fast paced action, and memorable appearances.
It's time to RRRRRRRRRRRRumble!