‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan wins first ever Royal Rumble – 36 years ago in Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum

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Published January 24, 2024 at 9:00 am

'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan, the first winner of the Royal Rumble. January 24, 1988 at Copps Coliseum

Wrestling history was made on this day in 1988 when the first Royal Rumble, now a mainstay on the WWF (now WWE) wrestling calendar, took place at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton before 18,000 enthusiastic fans.

But the event, dreamed up by WWF boss Vince McMahon’s lieutenant Pat Patterson, almost never got off the ground. For one thing, McMahon hated the idea and only after some persuasion by Patterson did they give it a trial run in St. Louis as part of a ‘house show’ before just a smattering of fans.

It didn’t go well.

But Patterson persisted and when he broached the ‘Battle Royale’ plan to NBC sports broadcast icon Dick Ebersol, who worked closely with McMahon on many wrestling projects, Ebersol loved it and on January 24, 1988 it was given its first official run in Hamilton.

Still, the WWF team wasn’t sure how to properly market it and the actual ‘Royal Rumble’ wasn’t even the main event on the Sunday evening card. That honour went to Haku and Tana, who beat Jim Powers and Paul Roma in 2-out-of-3-falls tag team match.

Opening the event was the always popular Ricky ‘the Dragon’ Steamboat, who defeated Rick Rudy by disqualification, followed by a WWF Women’s Tag Team title match, won by the ‘Jumping Bomb Girls’ (Itzuki Yamazaki and Norivo Tateno), who took the crown from Leilana Kai and Judy Martin.

As for the Royal Rumble, 30 wrestlers stepped into the ring and one by one – starting with Ultimate Warrior and including some of the top names in wrestling at the time in Hillbilly Jim, Tito Santana, Junkyard Dog, Harley ‘the King’ Race and Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts, they ended up outside the squared circle until there was just a team up of One Man Gang and Canada’s Dino Bravo in the ring against ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan.

Despite the odds against him – a two-on-one without his trusted two-by-four as a weapon – Duggan got One Man Gang to inadvertently take out Bravo and then ducked under the One Man Gang’s attempt for a pin to emerge victorious.

Thirty-six years later the Royal Rumble is still a signature wrestling event. It all started in Hamilton and if WWF executives were not unanimous in their approval of the concept, 18,000 wrestling fans in Hamilton sure thought so.

 

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