10 Times WWE Royal Rumble Opened The Forbidden Door

7. Doug Gilbert (1996)

Haku Royal Rumble

Doug Gilbert doesn’t do all that much in the 1996 Royal Rumble beyond being one of several warm bodies for newcomer Vader to absolutely pulverise, and while there’s no shame in that, something of a pattern emerges when you revisit the build-up and execution of that year’s battle royal.

Gilbert was airlifted in from USWA, AJPW’s Takao Omari was one of the strangest one-shot deals in company history (more on him shortly), Dory Funk Jr flew in between his own All Japan tours (more on him too!) golden era stalwart Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts made the most unlikely of returns, and Vader’s arrival from an on-fire WCW itself felt like a rare case of WWE taking something wholesale rather than cynically reimagining it for toy sales.

And on that - McMahon was deep in negotiations with The Ultimate Warrior at this point. He really wanted the bananas former WWE Champion for this one, even though the end result of a WrestleMania return fit the booking much better.

For all Gilbert was unremarkable in the contest, he fit the unpredictability and uncertainty of the era well. And that’s the other thing - the 1996 Royal Rumble wasn’t some unique experiment from a Vince McMahon in artisanal and idiosyncratic form. WWE was worryingly broke, increasingly desperate, and genuinely under threat as the United States’ number one wrestling promotion for the first time since McMahon’s aggressive national expansion over a decade earlier.

To that end…


Michael is a writer, editor, podcaster and presenter for WhatCulture Wrestling, and has been with the organisation over 7 years. He primarily produces written, audio and video content on WWE and AEW, but also provides knowledge and insights on all aspects of the wrestling industry thanks to a passion for it dating back over 30 years. As one third of "The Dadley Boyz", Michael has contributed to the huge rise in popularity of the WhatCulture Wrestling Podcast, earning it top spot in the UK's wrestling podcast charts with well over 50,000,000 total downloads. He has been featured as a wrestling analyst for the Tampa Bay Times and Sports Guys Talking Wrestling, and has covered milestone events in New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, London and Cardiff. Michael's background in media stretches beyond wrestling coverage, with a degree in Journalism from the University Of Sunderland (2:1) and a series of published articles in sports, music and culture magazines The Crack, A Love Supreme and Pilot. When not offering his voice up for daily wrestling podcasts, he can be found losing it singing far too loud watching his favourite bands play live. Follow him on X/Twitter - @MichaelHamflett