This was the 10th Royal Rumble event. We are onto 1997 and the World Wrestling Federation is about to turn the corner to be a very successful company once again. It took some time to get there, but they were on their way.
A lot of the credit for that has to go to Steve Austin, who was now Stone Cold and was gaining a lot of steam as the guy that everybody in the business was talking about. He was coming off a classic match against Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1996 (I loved it so much that I’d rank it as one of the best feuds in the history of the company) that would make the two of them the focus of this match. The rest of the roster was getting better too. The company wasn’t at their best yet, but they were about to get there.
The announced attendance for this show at the Alamodome was an impressive number of 60,525 fans. The final numbers saw 48,014 paid attendance, so a lot of tickets were given away. In the Wrestling Observer Newsletter at the time, it was noted by Dave Meltzer that “in the final few days they sold 20,000 tickets, mainly at $5 and $7 with discount coupons from Taco Bell that according to locals were being picked up as fast as they were printed.” That makes sense because on Bruce Prichard’s “Something to Wrestle” podcast about this show, he talked about how WWE tried really hard to get as many people in the building as they could to make it feel like a big-time show. It was an impressive looking crowd, that’s for sure.
This show was used to set up WrestleMania 13 (read my review here) although there were a few bumps and lost smiles along the way including what happened at the Final Four PPV in February 1997 as well. My additional 2021 thoughts are in blue font as well because there’s always more to say.
WWF Royal Rumble
January 19, 1997
From The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas
The opening video package focused on Shawn Michaels coming home to San Antonio to get a rematch for the WWF Title against Sycho Sid.
They had an impressive pyro display to start the show in the Alamadome, which is where the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs played basketball in this era. They had plenty of other events there too.
The announcers were Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. This would be the last Rumble where Vince was announcing the show because this was the last year where Vince was a regular announcer. There were also Spanish and French announce teams at ringside.
Goldust made his entrance with the lovely Marlena by his side. Was it cold in there? Let’s just say she had a very tight gold dress on. A brief video package aired to set up the match. Hunter Hearst Helmsley entered with the Intercontinental Championship and he was joined by Mr. (Curtis) Hughes.
Intercontinental Championship: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Mr. Hughes) vs. Goldust (w/Marlena)
Pre-match notes: Hunter was the heel champion while Goldust turned face a few months prior to this. Mr. Hughes was only with Hunter for about one week. It was about one month after this when Chyna debuted as Triple H’s “bodyguard” of sorts. Hughes did return to WWE for a brief run in 1999. Hunter won the title in October 1996, so it was about three months into his title reign.
Goldust attacked in the aisle, then threw Hunter in the ring and threw Hunter back out of the ring. Goldust dropped Hunter throat first across the barricade. Back in the ring, Hunter with an atomic drop, but Goldust came back with a catapult that sent Hunter over the top to the floor. Goldust threw the top half of the steel steps on Hunter’s back, the referee Earl Hebner saw it and did nothing about it. Hunter even did a comedic bump into the steps. Hunter came back by choking Goldust on the top rope, but then Goldust hit a running clothesline for two. Hunter knocked Goldust out of the ring, Hunter went up top, which was rare for him, and he hit a double axehandle off the top to Goldust’s back. Hunter sent Goldust left shoulder first into the ring post. The fight continued on the floor with Goldust kicking Hunter in the leg and throwing the steps onto the left leg. Back in the ring, Goldust continued to work on the left leg. Goldust slapped on the Figure Four Leglock, Hunter was selling it like he was in a lot of pain and Goldust was forced to let go after holding onto the ropes. The fans were not reacting much to this. Hunter went to the floor, so Goldust hit him with a running shoulder tackle to the back of the leg. Goldust drove Hunter’s left leg into the steel steps. The announcers wondered what it would take for a disqualification and they kept saying “this official” instead of Earl Hebner’s name. Goldust missed a running charge when Hunter moved, so Goldust bumped to the floor. Hunter whipped Goldust into the barricade, the referee Hebner left the ring so he wasn’t counting and Hunter sent Goldust into the bottom half of the steel steps. Hunter sent Goldust into the barricade. Hunter tried to use Marlena’s director chair as a weapon, but the referee stopped that. They went to Todd Pettengill talking to singer Colin Ray in the crowd. I have no idea who that is.
They went back into the ring with Hunter hitting a knee drop for two as Hunter continued to sell his left knee injury. Goldust with a leaping clothesline followed by Goldust hitting the mat to try to fire up the crowd, so the fans made some noise. Goldust with a back body drop, Goldust went up top for nothing and Hunter shoved the referee into the ropes to crotch Goldust. Goldust with a headbutt, then Goldust stood on the top and missed with a lefty elbow drop that wasn’t close because Hunter moved. Hughes tossed the IC Title to Hunter, so Marlena went on the apron and Hughes distracted the referee. Hunter kissed Marlena, Goldust punched Hunter and Goldust hit Hunter with the IC Title. Hughes pulled Hunter out of the ring to save him from the pin. Goldust got Marlena’s cigar and jammed it into Hughes’ face. Hunter took advantage with a lefty clothesline leading to Goldust doing a flip bump. Hunter hit the Pedigree for the pinfall win at 16:50.
Winner by pinfall: Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Analysis: *3/4 This was disappointing and boring at times in front of a crowd that was dead for most of it. The opening match needs to be more exciting than this was. Goldust working over the knee of Hunter didn’t lead to much other than one submission attempt, so it just felt like filler. They spent a lot of the match on the floor where the referee counted sometimes and did nothing at other times. Hunter got the cheap win thanks to Hughes’s presence at ringside. This wasn’t that interesting at all.
(I think it was tough for the Goldust character to be as effective as a face, so that’s why he didn’t really succeed as much in the 1990s as a babyface character. Hunter wasn’t yet the great worker that he would become about three years after this. This wasn’t a great choice for an opener because the opening match should be more exciting than what we got here.)
There were some pre-recorded comments from Bret Hart and Mankind talking about the Royal Rumble match.
Faarooq made his entrance with the Nation of Domination. He was accompanied by Clarence Mason, Crush, D-Lo Brown, J.C. Ice and Wolfie D, plus some others including a woman. This was before D-Lo was really known as a wrestler.
A video package showed what happened between Faarooq and Ahmed. To set up this match. They showed how Ahmed rose to superstardom in 1996, he won the Kuwait National Champion tournament, then he won the Intercontinental Title and then Ahmed had a kidney injury after a Faarooq attack. Faarooq formed the Nation of Domination after that.
Ahmed Johnson entered as the opponent and he got a decent pop. He was one of the top faces in the company although he was more popular earlier in 1996.
Faarooq (w/Clarence Mason, Crush, D-Lo Brown, J.C. Ice and Wolfie D) vs. Ahmed Johnson
Pre-match notes: Faarooq was the heel and Johnson was the face.
Johnson attacked with punches right away, which makes sense since he was seeking revenge. Johnson unloaded with punches on Faarooq against the turnbuckle. When Faarooq left the ring, Johnson whipped him into the ring post. Faarooq punched Johnson in the ribs, but then Johnson came back with a clothesline. Johnson got a leather belt that Faarooq was going to use and Johnson whipped Faarooq with it. Johnson sent Faarooq into the steel steps. Faarooq came back by getting a Nation member to distract and he knocked Johnson down with a clothesline. Faarooq gave Johnson a body slam onto the edge of a chair and Faarooq hit the back of Johnson with a steel chair right in front of the referee, who did nothing. Back in the ring, Faarooq worked over Johnson with kicks to the ribs. The pace of this match was so slow as Faarooq slapped on a chinlock in the direction opposite of the hard camera. This lasted a few minutes and it was so boring it was putting me to sleep. Johnson managed to get Faarooq on his shoulders and dropped him in the electric chair drop slam. Faarooq went up top, he jumped right into Johnson’s arms for a powerslam from Johnson. There was a whip into the ropes, Johnson jumped for some reason and Faarooq hit a spinebuster. Johnson popped up while Faarooq was trash talking the fans and Johnson hit a spinebuster of his own. Crush was in the ring, so Johnson sent him out of the ring. Other Nation guys went into the ring leading to the DQ finish at 8:48.
Winner by disqualification: Ahmed Johnson
Analysis: 1/2* This was bad. A stinker. That’s not a surprise since Johnson didn’t have good matches and Faarooq needed the right opponent to have a good match. They did not have any chemistry. It also didn’t help that the crowd was dead for it. This match nearly put to me sleep even when I wasn’t tired going into it. The finish was as lame as it gets with the obvious DQ ending. I don’t think it was booked well at all.
(I understand why they did the match based on a long term story. Their matches sucked, though. No other way to say it.)
After the match was over, Johnson got his hands on Wolfie D and tossed him onto other guys. Johnson was going after Faarooq, so some guy in a suit attacked Johnson (I don’t know the guy’s name). Johnson sent him into the steel steps. Johnson picked up the guy on the steel steps and gave him a Powerbomb through the French announce table. This was in the early days of the announce table slams and Ahmed didn’t clean the table off before he put the guy through the table. Johnson posed in the ring to end it.
Analysis: This was just a way to pop the crowd and make them happy by having Johnson stand tall after the match.
There was a locker room promo from Terry Funk saying he was ready to rumble.
The Nation of Domination led by Faarooq were interviewed backstage. Faarooq yelled at some of his guys for not protecting him and said he’ll get his hands on Ahmed in the Royal Rumble.
Vader made his entrance for a match without his manager Jim Cornette by his side.
Analysis: The original plans for this show would have had Vader as the WWF Champion defending against Shawn Michaels, but Shawn didn’t like working with Vader, so Sid replaced Vader in the feud. It’s a shame that Vader never got a WWF Title run because he was so talented.
The Undertaker got a huge pop. Taker was alone because Paul Bearer turned heel on him at the previous SummerSlam event. Taker had a scar above his right eye.
Vader vs. The Undertaker
Pre-match notes: Vader was the heel and Undertaker was the face.
It started out as a slugfest with punches, Vader clothesline and Taker sat up followed by Vader knocking Taker down with both arms. Vader left the ring, so Taker hit him with a double axehandle to the back and an uppercut. Vader got a neckbreaker using the ropes for an assist, but Undertaker came back with a leg drop onto the back, which is what Billy Gunn would use as a Fameasser in his career. Vince called it with his “what a maneuver” phrase as Taker followed up with a leg drop. When Taker tried the rope walk move, Vader knocked him down leading to Taker getting crotched on the top rope. Vader punched Taker in the balls, the referee didn’t see it (I guess) and Vader took control. They cut to Pettengill interviewing some girl that said that she saved her money to be here to support Shawn Michaels. Vader with a clothesline followed by a jumping body attack off the middle ropes for two. Taker fought his way out of a nerve hold followed by Taker hitting a belly to back suplex. They were both down on the mat selling exhaustion. Vader managed to take control again with an elbow to the leg. Vader took way too long to get to the middle ropes, so Taker hit him with a powerslam off the ropes. Vader came back with a Powerbomb for two as taker sat back up. Vince called it a Vader Bomb even though that is Vader’s splash off the ropes. Undertaker hit a leaping clothesline followed by the rope walk routine into a punch to the upper body of Vader. Paul Bearer made his way down to the ring with the urn in his hand. Taker picked up Vader and hit him with a Chokeslam. Taker turned around to see Bearer standing at ringside. Taker hit a clothesline on Vader to knock him out of the ring, then Taker left the ring and punched Bearer to knock him on his ass. Taker rolled Bearer into the ring, Taker choked him and Vader got back in the ring, Taker punched Bearer and a clothesline sent Vader over the top to the floor. Taker ran off the steel steps for an attack, but Bearer moved Vader out of the way and Taker hit the barricade hard. Bearer jumped off the apron with the urn and hit Taker in the head with it. Vader set up Taker by the ropes and Vader hit the Vader Bomb splash off the ropes for the pinfall win at 13:19.
Winner by pinfall: Vader
Analysis: *1/2 This match was just off. I don’t know what happened, but they should have had a much better match here. It was another terrible finish on this show. I don’t know who to blame for that. It just felt like a big mistake when they did cheap endings in the two matches we saw earlier in the night and we got another bad ending here. The Undertaker rarely lost clean especially in this era, so that’s why they had the cheap ending. This was one of the biggest wins of Vader’s career in the WWF even though it wasn’t a good match. They had a much better match at the Canadian Stampede 1997 PPV about six months after this.
(As I noted there, this match just didn’t click. They were off. They had a much better match later in the year and also both guys did great in the main event of the Final Four PPV one month later as well.)
After the match, Vader quickly got out of there with his arm around Bearer to show they were working together.
The Undertaker looked at referee Jack Doan, he was furious about what happened and Taker gave him a very gentle Chokeslam. Undertaker also threw a chair at the ring post. Undertaker got in Vince McMahon’s face and said something to him as well.
Analysis: It was another post match babyface attack to make the fans happy just like Ahmed Johnson in the match before this. It felt repetitive. Even though The Undertaker lost here, he still got to main event WrestleMania 13 and he won the WWF Title that night as well.
There were Royal Rumble promos from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who didn’t want to talk. British Bulldog said he was going to win the Royal Rumble because “I’m bizarre.” That’s an odd reason. Some might say a bizarre reason.
Canek, Héctor Garza and Perro Aguayo vs. Fuerza Guerrera, Heavy Metal and Jerry Estrada
Pre-match notes: They were Mexican wrestling stars that were brought in to help kill ten minutes on the show. I was not familiar with these guys in 1997, but I know guys like Garza, Aguayo and Estrada went on to have great careers. Aguayo was 51 years old at the time of this match.
There were some quick moves early on, then a tag with Aguayo chopping Estrada and then Estrada ran him over. JR claimed Aguayo won over 30 mask matches in his career. Aguayo with a back body drop on Estrada over the top to the floor. Canek and Guerrera were in the ring as the only two masked men in the match. Guerrera with a body slam and then he missed a splash off the top. Canek hit a cross body block off the top, but then they tagged out. Metal with a spinning heel kick followed by a cartwheel into a back elbow. Garza with an arm drag off the top. Metal jumped off the ropes to avoid a move, the fans were dead quiet and Canek faced off against Estrada. Canek with a two dropkicks, then an armbar and the fans barely reacted to anything. Estrada got a rollup for two. Guerrera with a running dropkick on Aguayo, who came back with a hard chop and then Guerrera hit a running knee. Aguayo with a hiptoss, Guerrera with a hard slap and then Guerrera missed a diving attack, which led to him going to the floor. Canek with a leg drop on Metal, Garza with a splash on the leg and a jumping clothesline. Aguayo with a Samoan Drop and senton splash on Metal. Canek with a press slam on Guerrera, Aguayo hit the world’s slowest dive on Guerrera on the floor. Canek with a press slam on Metal, Garza missed a splash and Metal saved himself from being sent out of the ring. Garza went up top and hit a splash onto Metal on the floor. Canek with another press slam on Metal. Aguayo went for a double foot stomp off the top on Metal, but he barely connected and then Aguayo hit an elbow drop for the pinfall win at 10:56.
Winners by pinfall: Canek, Héctor Garza and Perro Aguayo
Analysis: *1/4 This was a boring match in front of a dead crowd. It was weird because every time they would do some spots, they would just tag out and there was no flow to the match at all because of it. The finish sucked. This was a bad idea on this show.
(A nothing match where WWE was dealing with a thin roster, so they had to put something on to kill 10-15 minutes. I think it was a bad decision if it was done to appease the locals. This is a worldwide PPV and they should have set up a match with current stars.)
The announced attendance was 60,477 people with Howard Finkel thanking the fans on behalf of the WWF. The fans barely cheered that.
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
The intervals for entrants is 90 seconds. I like 90 seconds more than the typical 120 seconds and a lot better than the one year they did 60 seconds. There’s a better flow to the match when it’s 90 seconds between entrants.
It’s Crush of the Nation of Domination at #1. This is the third different gimmick of Crush that has been in a Rumble. He’s a heel here. It’s Ahmed Johnson at #2, who was an upper midcard babyface that was feuding with the Nation in this time period. Crush tried to eliminate him, but he couldn’t do it. There was a problem with their clock, but the #3 man is the fake Razor Ramon and Ahmed quickly eliminates him. What a stupid gimmick idea that was. Johnson nearly eliminates Crush. Johnson sees Faarooq, jumps over the top rope and eliminates himself. Randy Savage did that in a previous Rumble and they said you can’t eliminate yourself, but that changed. “He is an idiot,” says Lawler. That’s an accurate observation right there. It’s Phinneas I. Godwinn aka PIG at #4. We would come to know him as Mideon in the future. This was not an exciting 90 seconds. The glass breaks at #5 for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Suddenly the match becomes a lot better. Thank you Stone Cold. He gets a heel reaction although it’s not deafening. The turn would come in a few months. Phinneas takes him down with a clothesline. Austin goes to double team Phinneas, but he hits Crush and Phinneas throws Crush out. Austin hits a Stunner (without the kick at this point in his career) on Phinneas and throws him out.
With Austin all by himself in the ring, the #6 entry is Bart Gunn of the Smoking Gunns tag team. He hits a sloppy leg drop on the back of the head. He charges in, Austin ducks, Bart holds on and Austin clotheslines him out. Austin does pushups in the ring and then sits on the top rope waiting for the next guy. In a classic move, he looks at his wrist as if he’s looking at his watch. I’m such a huge Stone Cold mark. It’s Jake Roberts at #7, who is in his 6th Rumble. He throws the snake in and then he applies a wrist lock for about a minute before hitting the short clothesline. With Davey Boy Smith coming in at #8, Austin throws out Jake Roberts. Bulldog hits a running powerslam. There’s Pierroth at #9 from Mexican promotion AAA, according to JR. Austin hits a double axe on him, but they get Austin down. The #10 entrant is The Sultan, who was also Fatu and Rikishi. He’s wearing a mask now and he’s got the curved toe boots like his manager The Iron Shiek. It was not a gimmick that would last a long time. Austin nearly gets eliminated by Bulldog, but he hangs on.
Our fifth man in the ring is #11 Mil Mascaras. The San Antonio crowd is familiar with him because he was a Mexican wrestling legend. Lawler immediately talks about somebody unmasking him. He goes after the Sultan while the other three guys don’t do much on the other side of the ring. It’s Hunter Hearst Helmsley at #12. He retained the IC title earlier in the show. Bulldog eliminates The Sultan. Austin throws out Hunter, but he’s able to hang on. These two might have a future. It’s Owen Hart at #13, who was one of my favorites at this time. He was the tag champ with Bulldog at this point. They’re heels, of course. Bulldog tries to eliminate Austin, so Owen comes up from behind and shoves Bulldog out. Owen claims he was going for Austin. “Owen hasn’t told the truth since The King was a Prince,” says JR. Haha, that’s a good line. It’s Goldust at #14, who was a babyface feuding with Triple H here. Mascaras tries to get Owen out. He’s able to hang on. All six guys start fighting eachother before they pair off again. There’s Cibernetico at #15. They had a thin roster, so they brought in these Mexican stars since the San Antonio crowd was familiar with them. Helmsley hangs on from a near elimination.
It’s “Wildman” Marc Mero at #16. While this is going on, Mascaras eliminates Cibernetico, and then Pierroth and then he leaps over the top to take out Pierroth, which eliminates himself. He so crazy! Goldust eliminates Triple H with a clothesline. We’re about a year away from Sable’s breasts being among the most talented superstars in the company. It’s Latin Lover at #17. That’s another import from AAA. He drills Owen with a superkick. Goldust tries to throw Owen out, but Owen skins the cat back in. He eliminates Goldust with a club to the back. There’s Faarooq at #18 as a heel. The Latin Lover charges at him and Faarooq dumps him out with a backdrop. Ahmed Johnson comes into the ring with a 2x4. It’s Hacksaw Ahmed Johnson and he knocks Faarooq out of the match. I never liked that when an eliminated guy can eliminate a guy that’s in the match. Austin gets rid of Owen & Mero. We’re down to just Austin in the ring now. The clock counts down and here’s #19…Savio Vega. They had a feud in 1996. Vince calls their strap match a classic, which is a major stretch. Vega gets him down with a spin kick. Austin catches him with a Stun Gun (a big move of his in his WCW days) and clotheslines Vega out of the ring. The crowd reacts to Austin being alone again. He waves for the next guy to come. He has about 30 seconds before the next guy enters. It’s #20 Jesse James, who is not yet the Road Dogg. He would be in a year. He gets a clothesline on Austin as well as a strut. Austin kicks him in the ribs, throws him over the top, JJ holds on and Austin knocks him out with a back elbow. He’s all alone again. What a great performance by Austin.
The entrant at #21 is his biggest rival in the company…Bret Hart. Vince starts yelling “YES! YES! YES!” Austin has a classic expression on his face, showing some fear. That’s an awesome moment right there. Then he gets ready and they start slugging away. Bret hits an atomic drop and clothesline. He beats on Austin in the corner. Austin’s selling fatigue while Hart is all over him. He puts him in the Sharpshooter. The music plays for #22 and it’s Jerry Lawler, who is at the announce table. He takes off his jacket, jumps into the ring, Bret punches him once, Lawler doesn’t go over, but he hits him again and Lawler is out. The announcers say they think he broke a record. Nope. This was four seconds or so. Warlord still had the record at two seconds.
There’s “Diesel” at #23, who is actually Glenn Jacobs aka Kane and Isaac Yankem. He looks like Diesel and dresses the same as him. It’s Terry Funk at #24, who was in the WWF fairly regularly at this point. Vince was so excited about Diesel almost throwing out Bret. The announcers tried to put over how Bret was complaining about being in the match. It was the start of his heel turn. Funk hits Bret with a very sloppy piledriver. At #25 take it away Vince: “Here comes Rocky Maivia, the rookie! This man can win this thing!” You think they believed in his potential? It’s Austin and Rocky brawling. This was The Rock’s very early babyface run that the fans would eventually hate and turn him heel. Bret tries to throw Funk out, but he hangs on. Rock tries to get Austin out. Can’t do it. Those are four of the best wrestlers ever right there. And there’s Kane too. That’s five legit Hall of Famers, really. King doesn’t remember that he was in there. That’s pretty funny actually.
The #26 man is Mankind, who is another Hall of Famer. That’s a lot of talent in the ring there when you think about it. Mankind tries to get rid of Funk, but he can’t do it. Big suplex by Austin on Hart. It’s Flash Funk aka Too Cold Scorpio at #27. He was a newcomer to the WWF at this time. Hart hits an awesome piledriver on Austin. Flash takes out two guys with a crossbody block. We’ve got three guys left and at #28 it’s time, it’s time, it’s Vader Time. He’s a heel in the upper midcard. Mankind holds on from elimination from Terry Funk. Vader destroys Flash and then squashes Austin just for fun. It’s the hog farmer Henry O. Godwinn at #29. Vince is excited. He’s probably doing the “don’t go messing with a country boy” dance right now. We all know who the last man is. It’s a big name at #30…The Undertaker. The lights go out and he enters the fray rather slowly. He’s a babyface here. I honestly think that 1997 was the best year of Undertaker’s career. He was healthy the whole year, he had a lot of good matches and didn’t really have the ridiculous feuds that hurt him over the years.
The Undertaker goes after Vader, Mankind and Austin, hitting Stone Cold with a chokeslam. He hits Vader with a chokeslam. Things slow down for a bit and then there’s an awesome elimination by Vader. Flash Funk jumps into him with a crossbody, Vader catches him and he chucks him over his head, over to the top and he goes crashing to the floor. That was fantastic. They mention Austin being in the ring for over 40 minutes while The King picks everybody to win. Rocky nearly eliminates Bret, but he hangs on. I marked out a little seeing Austin, Rocky and Bret interact right there. Those are Austin’s two best opponents. Imagine that as a triple threat dream match? Undertaker puts the double choke on HOG and throws him out of there, which leaves us with seven guys. Undertaker nearly dumps Austin, but he holds on. Mankind puts the Mandible Claw on Rocky and shoves him over the top to the floor. Funk and Mankind enjoy brawling with eachother. Mankind does the Cactus clothesline on Funk, but they both hold on. Mankind pulls him over the top, suplex style. Undertaker dumps Mankind, who starts brawling with Funk on the floor.
It’s down to five men left in the match. It’s going to be Diesel! He’s going to yank out your teeth and then drive over them with his truck! Oh wait a second. Bret throws out Austin to a big pop! The refs don’t see it, though, because they’re all on the other side of the ring breaking up the Funk/Mankind fight.
Austin sneaks back in the ring and he dumps Vader and Undertaker as they battled by the ropes. Bret eliminates Diesel. Austin goes over to Bret and dumps him out of the ring for the win. The ref raises Austin’s hand as the winner of the match.
Winner: Steve Austin
The match ended at 50:29.
Post match, Austin’s hand was raised as the winner of the match. Hart was furious about what happened. Bret tells the refs (Mike Chioda and Jimmy Korderas) about how he eliminated Austin and Bret goes over to Vince and starts yelling at him. This was around the time when they would make mention of Vince being the owner of the company. It was part of the WWF becoming an edgier product. Bret yelled at Vince about how he should do something about it. Vince: “Talk about unsportsmanlike conduct.” JR says he’s got a heck of a grudge, but he points out that the referees never saw the elimination. That led to replays about the controversial finish.
Analysis: The original plan was for Bret Hart to win the Royal Rumble. The plan changed when Vince Russo was on WWE Livewire, said he picked Bret to win and apparently that pissed off Vince McMahon to change the finish to the screwy win for Austin. They were going to do Bret challenging Shawn Michaels for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 13, but that changed too due to Shawn’s knee injury and the “losing my smile” speech.
(I still find that reasoning to be strange. So what if Vince Russo picked Bret? It didn’t mean the audience knew that Bret was going in. I guess Vince McMahon was paranoid about it, so that’s why it changed.)
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS on the Royal Rumble match
– I liked the finish. It was different and it made me want to see what was going to happen next. It also put over how great Austin’s character was. The Rumble’s about making stars. This helped propel Austin to the level that we’d all see him at for his main event run. They ended up doing the Final Four PPV with Austin and the three guys he illegally eliminated: Bret, Undertaker and Vader. It was supposed to be a number one contender’s match, but with HBK “losing his smile” it was for the vacated WWF Title. Bret won the match and then lost the next night to Sid, who reportedly shit in his trunks (if you want to believe that story) while he lost the WWF Title to Undertaker at WM13. Confused? It’s okay. We got the Hart/Austin WM13 match that I consider to be one of the best matches ever, so thanks to HBK for losing that smile.
– Steve Austin was fantastic. This was a breakout performance for him. The spots where he was alone in the ring were great. I remember popping huge when Bret’s music hit and Austin had this “oh shit” look on his face. It’s one of those images you never forget. Austin’s work in the ring was great, but his facial expressions were very key to his success too. It helped his personality really get over.
– If you look at some of the people in this match, it’s easy to see that things were getting better in the company compared to the lack of talent in the previous four Royal Rumble matches. A lot of the wrestlers were yet to be elite by this point, but they were about to get there in the coming years. It’s cool to be able to look back on a match like this and see future main eventers before they got to that level. There are a lot of legitimately huge names in the match. The talent on the roster was very good from this point forward and into the early 2000s.
– I thought Jerry Lawler did a great job as a heel announcer. He really shined here with some of his jokes especially his comments about what he’d do if he got in there, which he said AFTER he got eliminated. Also, I really didn’t miss Vince when he stopped doing commentary.
– The crowd was poor. They didn’t react to very much for such a big crowd although that was a problem for most of the night.
FACTS & OPINIONS about the Royal Rumble match
Person that lasted the longest: Steve Austin at 45:07.
Most Eliminations: Steve Austin with 10.
Best Performers (3): Steve Austin – This was the second-best Rumble performance by a single person in the history of the Rumble to this point. Ric Flair in 1992 was better, but this was very close.
Bret Hart – I loved his chemistry with Austin. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Owen Hart – He was only in for about 9 minutes. Nobody else stood out. I enjoyed his heel shtick so much, though.
Best Elimination: There were some really good ones. My favorite was Vader throwing out Flash Flunk. That looked very painful.
Match Rating: ***1/4 The match had its slow points, but Austin really did an amazing job of carrying it. I’ve always liked this Rumble because it is one of the most unique endings they have ever booked. It’s controversial and some people may hate that. I don’t mind it, though. I give WWE credit for being creative with it.
(This is one of my favorite Royal Rumble matches ever because Steve Austin was gaining a lot of steam at this point, so for WWE to put him over this way let the audience know they were really starting to believe in this guy. Austin was fresh and new. It’s what we wanted. I think the star power in the match was weak, though, which is why I wouldn’t call this one of the greatest Rumble matches. It’s still a favorite of mine, though.)
The announcers talked about what happened with Vince pointing out that a lot of fans were booing about the finish of the Royal Rumble match. Lawler kept saying that the referee’s decision was final.
A video package aired to set up the WWF Championship match with Sycho Sid defending the title against Shawn Michaels. Sid won the WWF Title from Michaels at Survivor Series 1996 in a pretty good match that I rated 4* out of 5. Sid won the match after knocking Shawn’s manager Jose Lothario down and then using a camera to hit Michaels. This was the rematch.
An interview aired from earlier in the day with Shawn Michaels talking about how he had the flu, but he would be ready for the match later in the night. Michaels said he’ll feel like the Heartbreak Kid, like San Antonio’s own and like the World Wrestling Federation Champion.
Shawn Michaels and manager/mentor Jose Lothario were shown walking backstage in the Alamodome to make his entrance for the main event.
There was a huge pop for the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, who was the top babyface in the company at this point. Michaels had a great 1996 where held the WWF Title for about eight months. Michaels kissed his mom at ringside. I assume those were his parents. There was a nice pyro display for Shawn when he got in the ring.
Analysis: Michaels was my favorite wrestler in the WWF at this point. I think Steve Austin was catching up for sure, but I was a huge Michaels fan because of how great he was in the ring. This was also a time when I didn’t really read about wrestling on the internet (that would start later in 1997), so I had no idea about his bad attitude that was reported on all the time. That stuff didn’t matter to me. Michaels was legitimately sick all day leading up to this match, so they gave him medicine to make sure he was able to compete.
Sycho Sid made his entrance with the WWF Title around his waist. He was booed by the crowd. Sid dumped a lot of water on himself before the match.
WWF Championship: Sycho Sid vs. Shawn Michaels (w/Jose Lothario)
Pre-match notes: Sid was the heel WWF Champion that won the title two months earlier at Survivor Series. It was Sid’s first reign as the WWF Champion. Michaels was the babyface former champion.
Michaels with a running cross body block followed by some head slamming into the mat. The fans were popping for that as Michaels kicked Sid out of the ring. Michaels sent Sid into the barricade, but then Sid whipped Michaels into the side of the ring. Back in the ring, Michaels jumped off the top and Sid hit a sloppy powerslam. Sid slapped on a weak looking Camel Clutch submission followed by Sid jumping on Shawn’s back followed by another Camel Clutch. When Michaels got out of it, Sid whipped Michaels into the turnbuckle leading to a big bump over the top to the floor. Sid drove Michaels back first into the ring post two times. Sid slapped on a chinlock, Michaels fought back with punches and then Sid stopped that momentum with a clothesline. That drew a lot of boos from the crowd as Sid got a two count. The rest holds continued as Sid slapped on a bearhug as the camera showed Shawn’s parents in the crowd. Michaels broke free briefly, but then Sid slapped on the bearhug again as the camera showed a closeup of Shawn’s mom in the crowd. Michaels got back up, he jumped off the ropes and Sid slapped on a bearhug for a third time, which led to a two count for Sid. A leg drop by Sid got a two count. Michaels got some offense going with punches followed by a body slam, whip into the ropes and Michaels hit a forearm to the face followed by a kip up to a huge pop. Michaels went up top and hit the lefty elbow drop. Michaels did the elbow drop well with both arms in his career. Sid blocked a superkick attempt and gave Michaels a back body drop over the top to the floor. Sid went after Michaels on the floor and gave him a Powerbomb on the floor. Sid protected him there by holding on the back until the last possible moment. Sid grabbed Jose Lothario at ringside, then Jose’s son Pete went after him and Sid grabbed Pete too. Pat Patterson tried to get Sid to stop, Sid kicked him and Sid just threw Michaels back in the ring.
They did a spot where Sid whipped Michaels into the turnbuckle, but Shawn bumped into referee Earl Hebner, which took out Hebner. Side hit a Chokeslam for a two count as referee Mike Chioda went into the ring to count the pin. It was a delay, so the story was that Sid would have won if the referee was there right away. Sid punched referee Chioda and knocked him out of the ring. Sid went over to Jose on the apron, Michaels grabbed a TV camera from ringside and Michaels hit Sid in the back with it. Michaels hit Sid in the chest with the camera as well. The fans popped huge for this. They were going wild as Michaels covered Sid and referee Hebner slowly crawled over for the one, two…and no because Sid got his shoulder up. Great nearfall there. Michaels set up for the Sweet Chin Music superkick and he connected with it. Michaels covered Sid for the one…two…and three. Huge pop from the crowd for Shawn’s win at 13:49.
Winner by pinfall AND NEW WWF Champion: Shawn Michaels
Analysis: **1/4 The match was just decent, which is disappointing to say when it’s a Shawn Michaels match. It was probably the worst main event level match that Michaels ever had because he was such a great performer in the big matches. The reason this was lacking is probably due to Sid not being that good in the ring, plus Michaels legitimately had the flu, so that likely affected his performance. I liked how the finish was booked with the camera as a factor since that played a part in their last match with Sid winning. Michaels winning the WWF Title here was obvious since he was the babyface in his hometown. It just made sense to do the title change here. The crowd response for the title change was by far the best crowd reaction of the night.
(It wasn’t as good as the Survivor Series 1996 match, nor was it really that close. The crowd was into it and they loved Shawn winning, but you could tell Shawn was off a bit due to how sick he was. It’s still a fun moment to see Michaels win back the WWF Title even though it’s one of the most predictable matches in WWE history.)
After the match was over, Michaels hugged Lothario and Shawn was given the WWF Title. It was Shawn’s second time winning the WWF Title in his career. The fans were cheering loudly for San Antonio’s won Michaels winning in his hometown.
Michaels went over to his mom and dad to greet them with hugs. Lawler said that makes him sick seeing that. Michaels went over to some fans in the first row that were part of his family and also some of his friends. Michaels even hugged Vince McMahon at ringside leading to Vince’s laugh. They showed more replays of the finish.
Analysis: This was well done in terms of showing how big of a title win it was for Michaels.
The broadcast ended with highlights from the show.
This event had a runtime of 2:52:06 on WWE Network.
Show rating (out of 10): 4.5
It was a below-average show. I always have a bit of sentimental value when it comes to this event because of how much I liked Steve Austin and the way the Royal Rumble match finish was booked. I mentioned earlier in the review that it was a breakout performance for Austin and Bret Hart was terrific too, in terms of setting up his heel turn over the next few months. The finishes of a lot of the matches were poor, though. There were a lot of heel wins and/or cheap endings that the fans hated. That’s partly why the massive crowd was dead for most of the night. They did pop for the main event, even though it was one of Shawn Michaels’ worst main event matches because he was sick. The event looked impressive visually inside a dome, but it was not a great show.
(I liked the Rumble match for Austin’s big moment even though it was controversial. Other than that, there’s nothing really great about this show. It’s a poor show overall.)
Best Match: Royal Rumble match won by Steve Austin (***1/4 out of 5)
Worst Match: Ahmed Johnson vs. Faarooq (1/2*)
Five Stars Of The Show
- Steve Austin
- Bret Hart
- Shawn Michaels
- Owen Hart
- Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Check out the WWE Royal Rumble review archive right here.
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