WWE Royal Rumble: Where All the Entrants from the First Rumble Match Are Now
The Killer Bees, Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair (photo from wwe.com)
It's been 25 years since the first WWE Royal Rumble and men like Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior and B. Brian Blair have made new lives for themselves since that event.
If you haven't thought about Danny Davis or Boris Zhukov since the '80s, you're not the only one.
Where are all those spandexed men that filled that ring in Ontario that night? Decades have transformed them from pro wrestlers into politicians, radio hosts and shipping clerks.
All these men's stories continued long after they were tossed over the ropes, long after Royal Rumble became an established pay-per-view, long after Jim Duggan last eliminated One Man Gang to win that 20-man Rumble match in 1988.
By order of entry, let's discover what the first Royal Rumble entrants are doing now.
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Of all the participants in the inaugural Royal Rumble match, none have been more visible as Bret Hart.
While long beyond his active wrestling days, The Hitman remains a fixture in the wrestling world, in WWE and beyond.
Bret recently found himself in middle of a verbal exchange between CM Punk and John Cena that ended with The Excellence of Execution clocking Punk to the delight of the Montreal crowd.
During these matches and segments, Bret is not asked to do much physically. He's not in any shape to take any punishment, however controlled it may be.
A 1999 match with Goldberg resulted in a career-ending concussion. The Hitman wrote on his website about the kick from Goldberg that altered his life, "He kicked me much like a wild bucking horse and literally nearly knocked my head off my shoulders. I still, even now, have a tear in my neck muscle the size of a quarter that will never heal."
He later suffered a stroke on top of that.
Today, Bret is a Hall of Famer and a legend who only has to show his face to elicit an emotional response from just about any crowd.
He entered first in the first Royal Rumble and lasted a then-record 25 minutes before Don Muraco ended his night for him.
photo from wwe.com
Even at age 59, Tito Santana has not given up the wrestling life.
The WWE Hall of Famer has spent his "retirement" years quite busy in the ring.
His first Royal Rumble experience saw him last for just over 10 minutes. The Hart Foundation teamed up to eliminate him.
Santana went on to perform in a number of future Royal Rumbles, including the 1991 event where he lasted more than 30 minutes.
Judging by how active he still is, should WWE come calling, Santana would likely be happy to jump into the fray for Royal Rumble 2013 and beyond.
photo credit: WWE
The first man eliminated in the first-ever Royal Rumble isn't making news these days for the right reasons. As reported by Pwmania.com, Butch Reed violated his probation in 2012 and was then held in a detention center in his home state of Missouri.
Google Reed's image and his mugshot pops up alongside images of him in his wrestling heyday, sporting a headband and showing off his biceps.
The Royal Rumble came at the end of Reed's run with WWE. He'd go on to lose in the first round of the WrestleMania IV championship tournament before bolting for WCW and Mid-South Wrestling.
In the last 10 years, he was all but retired, making only occasional appearances on the independent circuit.
His biggest concerns to come won't be getting booking or staying in wrestling shape, but dealing with his current legal troubles.
photo from wwe.com
Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart has recently been facing more police cameras and judges than he has in-ring opponents.
Neidhart was charged with First Degree Theft and Possession of a Controlled Substance in 2012 according to Kenny Williams of Wrestlingnewssource.com. PWInsider (via Wrestlinginc.com) later reported that Neidhart would be put into a Tampa-area rehab program following an April hearing.
Just two years prior, Neidhart was arrested at a gas station after causing a scene.
USA Today and other media outlets released details of the arrest report that reported that Neidhart was seen "ingesting multiple pills that he dropped on the ground while inside the trunk of his vehicle."
In 1988, things looked far brighter for Neidhart.
He and Bret Hart were still The Hart Foundation. Neidhart still went ballistic during interviews.
With the trials he's enduring now, those must seem like the good days, shrinking in the rear-view mirror.
photo from wwe.com
Jake Roberts' personal struggles have been no secret.
Fans saw Roberts' demons, namely drugs, drink and depression, crawl out from within him for the world to see in the documentary Beyond the Mat.
More than 10 years after that film was made, Roberts has begun to make progress toward recovery. In an interview on Wrestle Shark (via Wrestlinginc.com) he talked about how much Diamond Dallas Page has helped him lose weight and rediscover his passion.
Roberts said, "Being here with Dallas, he's making me change my way of thinking about things."
Roberts and Page's relationship and Roberts' journey of personal redemption is featured in the documentary The Resurrection of Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
Royal Rumble 1988 is in the distant past for Roberts. That night, he lasted longer than anyone in the match other than Bret Hart. The event preceded Roberts' greatest years with the company.
The Snake would go on to feud with Rick Rude, Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase in the years following. All of these battles showcased his mastery of in-ring storytelling.
The darkness in Roberts' personal story appears to be lightening. The story of his wrestling career may have a few more chapters left to it.
In his Wrestle Shark interview, he said of his future, "I'm going to go back in…for a short run. Just a few matches. That way, I can say goodbye the way I wanted to."
King Harley Race
photo credit: WWE
Being 69 years old and using a motorized scooter to get around hasn't stopped Harley Race from still being ready for a fight.
In October 2012, F4WOnline (via Wrestlinginc.com) reported that Race and his former protege, Vader, got into a physical altercation at a wrestling convention in New Jersey. Race punched Vader during a spat and Vader swung back, only to miss and strike a bystander.
When he's not punching out former world champs, Race signs autographs and hosts a wrestling camp.
Harley Race Wrestling Camp was established in 2000 and has been an opportunity for young guys like Michael McGillicutty and Ted DiBiase Jr. to learn from an icon.
Jim Brunzell vs. Bret Hart-1986
There is a lot less flying in Jim Brunzell's life these days.
The former tag team champion now lives in Vadnais Heights, a small city in Minnesota. He spends his time as an active member of the St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church in White Bear. Debra Neutkans of White Bear Press wrote that Brunzell currently "sits on the church maintenance committee."
At the first Royal Rumble, Brunzell fell victim to Nikolai Volkoff, who tossed him out of the ring about 20 minutes into the match.
Today, Brunzell is married to his wife of more than 30 years. His son, Jim Brunzell III, writes movie reviews for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"Jumping" Jim Brunzell's life has slowed since his days with WWE, traveling and wrestling ad nauseam. In August 2012, he joined Greg Gagne, Mad Dog Vachon, Greg Valentine and others at a meet-and-greet session at the Wisconsin State Fair.
There were apparently no dropkicks dished out.
Sam Houston vs. Haku
The cowboy dashed into the ring, red bandana around his neck, fists flying.
Sam Houston (real name: Michael Maurice Smith) did well to last 12-plus minutes in a field that featured so many men larger than him. As hectic and frenzied as the '88 Royal Rumble was, life has been much harder for Houston since then.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and washed away his car. His father, former wrestler Grizzly Smith, developed a serious infection on his leg.
Of how to make it through tough times like that, he told Slam! Sports, "You've just got to sit back and laugh about things and take it all in stride."
Things got worse for Jake Roberts' half-brother.
According to PWInsider.com, "In August 2005, Smith was sentenced to 10 years in prison for repeated DUI arrests."
Though he did receive probation, a probationary violation sent Houston back to prison in 2009 to finish his sentence.
Danny Davis vs. Sam Houston
Danny Davis' entry into the 1988 Royal Rumble gave The Hart Foundation a distinct numbers advantage. Allies Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart were already in the match and Davis added a third member of the posse.
The former crooked referee ended up lasting nearly 18 minutes despite taking more punishment than he dished out.
In 2010, he told WWE.com "I still wrestle. I do some conventions and autograph signings. I get to see all the guys that came before me, guys I've worked with.”
The schedule is lighter and the limbs are creakier, but Davis is doing much what he did in '88, striped pants and all.
Boris Zhukov interview with Capt. Lou Albano
Boris Zhukov's tag team partner outlasted him by almost 10 minutes. Zhukov only fought in the battle royal for two minutes. His Royal Rumble paycheck was probably one of the easiest he'd ever earned with WWE.
Today, Zhukov is, for the most part, plain old James Harrell from Virginia.
When asked in a 2012 interview on Wrestleohio.com about what he's up to these days, Zhukov said, "I have been driving 18-wheelers for over 20 years. I pull a flatbed trailer hauling construction and building materials for McElroy Truck Lines out of Cuba, Ala."
He also spoke about being the commissioner of American Championship Wrestling in Virginia.
At a 2007 ACW event, Zhukov announced his retirement in the ring only to return as his alter-ego Private Jim Nelson.
Like so many stars of the past, Zhukov may never truly retire. Men much older than him (he's 53) have continued to make infrequent appearances.
If he ever tires of driving trucks across the country, the Russian National Anthem is cued up, for one last battle, in Virginia or elsewhere.
photo from wwe.com
Nicknamed "The Rock" before Dwayne Johnson, Don Muraco was the man to finally get Bret Hart out of the Royal Rumble. Muraco also tossed out Harley Race and Ron Bass that night, the crowd cheering him on.
His life now is a lot less glamorous. In an interview for the web show Completely Damaged, Muraco says he currently works as a wharf clerk for a shipping company in Hawaii.
As appreciative as the workers might be down there, there's little chance he gets as much admiration at the docks than he does at events like WrestleFest and Legends of the Ring.
photo from wwe.com
Referees held back Nikolai Volkoff as he attempted to prematurely enter the Royal Rumble. He watched impatiently, pacing like a hungry animal as his teammate Boris Zhukov fought in the ring.
Volkoff has since traded in his red jacket and fur hat for less conspicuous attire.
He spent a good half decade of his post-wrestling career as a Baltimore County Code Enforcement/Zoning inspector. A reader told Deadspin that he worked with Volkoff and talked about Volkoff's crabby demeanor and juvenile antics.
In 2006, Volkoff unsuccessfully ran for Maryland's 7th district.
An article on Foxnews.com quoted Volkoff as saying, "I was a good wrestler and now I want to be a good politician."
His record so far shows that he's better at the former, even today. Volkoff, in his 60s, still wrestles from time to time including a match against Ronnie Zukko in 2011.
photo from wwe.com
WWE fans don't really have to wonder what Jim Duggan has been up to because he's been so present on WWE programming recently.
The winner of the first-ever Royal Rumble entered the 2012 version of the event at age 58, 2x4 high in the air. Though he didn't repeat his winning performance from 1988, Duggan received a robust reaction from the St. Louis crowd.
Duggan has continued to brawl on past his prime, performing long after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It doesn't seem he's willing to slow down and may be chanting "USA!" in a nursing home sometime in the future.
'Outlaw' Ron Bass
Ron Bass interview-1979
The bullwhip-carrying cowboy is 64 now, gray hair peeking out from under his hat.
A quarter century ago, he was a brawny brawler who eliminated Junkyard Dog and Sam Houston from the first Royal Rumble.
Bass seems to be content despite the fading of the spotlight.
He told WWE.com that "there is life after wrestling."
After his ring days were over, Bass moved to Tampa, Fla., where he began working as a sales rep for a construction supply company.
He still makes paid appearances, as do many of the men he wrestled with and against. In a shoot interview for Everywhere Legends, Bass talked about going to wrestling conventions and seeing his peers using walkers and wheelchairs, his world of warriors and villains transformed into a senior center.
That's Bass newest reality. Age tames even the wildest of outlaws.
B. Brian Blair
Jim Neidhart vs. B Brian Blair
Unless you keep up with Florida's District 47 politics, you're more likely to hear about the former Killer Bee these days during one of Iron Sheik's infamous rants.
No man seems to draw more ire from the Sheik than B. Brian Blair.
Sheik's insults have apparently gotten to Blair. In an interview with Highspots.com, Blair said of Sheik, "I'd like to take a beer bottle and stick it where the sun don't shine."
When Blair is not involved with his real-life feud with Sheik, he is a politician, calling himself on his official website, "a proven conservative."
He served as the Hillsborough County Commissioner from 2004-2008, a term that was followed by controversy.
Hillbilly Jim on Piper's Pit
Leaving his trademark overalls and the grueling world of WWE behind, Hillbilly Jim has flourished in his post-wrestling career as a business man and radio show host.
Twenty-five years removed from being ousted from the ring by a One Man Gang backdrop, Jim now signs autographs at various events as many former stars do.
He sets himself apart from his peers though with his entrepreneurial spirit.
He often promotes his products on his Sirius Satellite Radio show, Moonshine Matinee. On the program, Jim plays artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Neil Young.
Judging by the size of his smiles these days, it appears Jim is having as much fun today as he was in his prime.
Dino Bravo interviewed by Gene Okerlund
Just five years after the 1988 Royal Rumble, authorities found Dino Bravo in his Montreal apartment dead by gunshot wounds.
Foxnews.com reported that Bravo "was believed to have upset members of an organized crime group in Canada for his involvement with cigarette smuggling."
Before that tragedy, Bravo was a bleached-blond, heel powerhouse who is still the only man to ever hold the WWE Canadian Championship.
Before the Rumble match, Bravo attempted to bench press 715 pounds. Bravo's controversial accomplishment (Jesse Ventura helped him lift) led him to be nicknamed "The World’s Strongest Man" long before Mark Henry came along.
photo from wwe.com
The Ultimate Warrior hasn't lost a drop of that explosive energy that propelled him down the aisle and through his matches. He now calls himself Warrior and spends his time working to inspire what he calls "One Warrior Nation."
The self-proclaimed Founding Father of Life Intensity writes on his Twitter account that he's more intense than his alter ego.
A few seconds into one of his expletive-laden pep talks on his O.W.N. website and you'll likely agree. Warrior's rants are very much like his old wrestling promos, full-throttle rambling that is hard to look away from.
In one, he says, "You’re jumping off, in freefall, without a parachute."
You’ll figure out things on the way down, he promises.
He calls his website and media trove "Warrior University" where Warrior demands that students eat healthy food, exercise hard and "kill any and all resistance that interferes with the fulfillment of destiny."
One Man Gang
Piece on One Man Gang's Career as a Prison Guard
The man who tore through his Royal Rumble foes, eliminating five men, has stepped out of the limelight and into a uniform.
One Man Gang entered the '88 Royal Rumble late, second to last, and eventually stood in the ring with Jim Duggan as the last two men standing. An overzealous clothesline cost him the match and let the American hero have his glory.
Today, One Man Gang (real name: George Gray) is a corrections officer in Louisiana. He doesn't have his once-trademark Mohawk and looks to be much lighter than his wrestling weight.
As Akeem, he once teamed with Big Boss Man, whose gimmick was that of a hard-nosed prison guard. One Man Gang now does it for real.
He still makes his rounds at the various wrestling conventions like the upcoming WrestleCon in Secaucus, N.J., but he has found a new home and job far from the ring ropes.
photo from wwe.com
About a decade after the first Royal Rumble, one of the event's performers passed away.
As Slam! Sports reported, Junkyard Dog (real name: Sylvester Ritter) died in a car accident in 1998 in Charlotte, N.C. Ritter was 45 years old.
After only two minutes in the battle royal, Junkyard's night was over. Ron Bass eliminated him. It was to be JYD's last Rumble match.
He competed in the first-ever SummerSlam several months after the Royal Rumble. JYD would soon head to WCW, where he'd face Ron Simmons and Ric Flair before eventually retiring (for the most part) in 1993.
His life would end in a single-car accident only five years later.