January 19th 1997. San Antonio, Texas.
The 1997 edition of the Royal Rumble saw cocky, arrogant, self absorbed Shawn Michaels gain his rematch with Sid for the WWF Championship he’d lost at Survivor Series. Well, he would have been put across as all of the above had the event not been located in San Antonio, HBK’s home town. The entire idea was for the event to sell out on the basis of the hero returning home. It’s something that nearly worked although the Alamodome is so big that one fifth of the 60,000 people in attendance got in for free on comp tickets due to lack of advanced sales. In fairness it does look impressive on screen.
The opening match pits a face Goldust against Hunter Hearst Helmsley for the Intercontinental Title. Hunter doesn’t come down to the ring with a woman on his arm instead walking down with Curtis Hughes. It seems as if he’s there to play a bodyguard role for HHH. This illusion is shattered when Goldust attacks Hunter in the aisle before the bell and Hughes does absolutely nothing. The bell hasn’t rang yet, the match is yet to start so he could quite easily have decked Goldust one to give a heel Hunter an early advantage. Perhaps as a result of this the commentary team start to refer to Hughes as ‘a butler’. I can only hope he’s better at making dinner than protecting his employee from being jumped.
The match itself is standard fare. For all the vast numbers of people there they don’t seem to get into the action. Goldust uses the stairs on the outside to hit Hunter in full view of the ref and this does not earn any kind of DQ finish. Later Hunter attempts a running knee as Goldust is propped up against the barrier, the Bizzare One moves and Hunter smashes his kneecap against the rail. The results of which, to his credit, he sells well throughout the rest of the evening.
The home stretch seems to be based almost entirely on belt shots and distractions. The title belt ends up in the ring, Hunter tries to use it against Goldust, he gets countered and then gets leveled himself. Goldust then goes for the pin only to be dragged out of the ring by Hughes (which was very nearly late). Goldust’s arguement with Hughes ends with him being Pedigreed by Hunter for the victory. Helmsley retains his IC Title in a fairly solid match which feels like it went on for about three weeks.
Ahmed is back! The Pearl River Plunger (a nickname I’ve just given him now which sounds kind of rude when I read it back) has been injured for months on end with his kidney trouble and will now finally go one on one with Farooq. What happened to Sunny being Farooq’s manager? Instead we have The Nation of Domination to accompany him.
The match just seems chaotic and disjointed. Firstly Ahmed goes right into attacking Farooq before getting a leather belt and whipping him with it. Much like the previous match, the ref doesn’t seem to care about this in the slightest. The match then spills to the outside when Farooq is pummeled into the steel steps twice over with no action for the ref again.
Have the referees all been smoking tonight?
Farooq throws a random member of the Nation towards Ahmed so he can slow the guy down and start his offense which amounts to a camel clutch. This cluster ends with almost the entire Nation jumping into the ring to attack Ahmed. The match ends in a DQ. Farooq takes off back down the aisle and then Ahmed gives chase. This is until Ahmed turns back around to go after another Nation member who tries to blindside him. Ahmed then Pearl River Plunges him through the French announce table in probably the most impressive spot of the night so far.
Undertaker and Vader are two of the biggest names as far as wrestling’s big men go and they clash next. Vader ends up being in the match minus his usual accompaniment of Jim Cornette. The two proceed to have a slightly underwhelming encounter. It oddly follows the same format we’ve already seen twice tonight with brawling to the outside followed by interference of some kind. Vader does manage to pull Taker off the rope during an Old School attempt though. He’s put across on commentary as some kind of tactical mastermind for doing so.
Just as Taker has this thing wrapped up Paul Bearer appears with the urn and Taker gives chase giving Vader the opportunity to attack. After Bearer gives Taker an urn shot to the head he’s ripe for the Vader Bomb and pinfall. Vader leaves the ring with his arm over Paul Bearer’s shoulders. It looks like we have a new business agreement. Taker recovers to chokeslam and ref and try and rip the place up a bit.
There’s a video package next with the comments of some Royal Rumble participants. Stone Cold tells everybody got get the camera out of his face whilst British Bulldog says he’s going to win because he’s ‘bizarre’.
The WWF’s roster at this point was shallow, a fact neatly summed up by our next match as they give PPV time to Mexican organisation AAA for a six man tag that I’ve just had to Google because I’ve forgotten the names of everybody involved despite only watching it last night.
Give me a minute…
Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal and Fuerza Guerrera vs Perro Aguayo, Hector Garza and El Canek.
There, I still have no idea who they are.
Nor does anybody in the Alamodome it seems. The action is different to anything they’ve seen in WWF at the time and it features wrestlers who have had no build up or TV time at all. Whilst the match itself is okay it’s very hard to care one way or the other with the circumstances. Vince cannot correctly name any of the participants whilst on commentary and the crowd go for a piss break. This is probably one of the reasons Vince remains convinced that foreign wrestlers have to act as some kind of stereotype in order to get over with American audiences.
Anyway, the Rumble match itself is up next!
Oh yeah, sorry…
Perro gets the victory for his team after a double foot stomp.
Right, Rumble time!
Earlier I said that a significant sign of the WWF’s shallow roster at this time was the match consisting entirely of non-WWF talent. To that list add a Rumble which features wrestlers who have already had matches tonight and shortening the time between entrants from two minutes to ninety seconds. First up comes Crush from the Nation of Domination, number two in the match is our old pal Ahmed Johnson.
What sheer coincidence!
Ahmed goes nuts again as the time soon comes for Number 3. There is however no music, no countdown clock and no buzzer as Fake Razor Ramon runs down the aisle. Vince says we’re having ‘technical trouble with our clock’ Razor barely gets started before being bundled out by Ahmed. Phineas Godwin comes in at four looking like he’s just rolled out of bed but that’s nothing to Stone Cold who arrives at five. This is truly his Rumble to take. Before all this however Farooq appears at ringside and Ahmed eliminates himself from the Rumble to give chase. Stone Cold then manages to eliminate both Phineas and Crush. He’s alone waiting for number six as he climbs the turnbuckle and looks at his imaginary watch.
Bart Gunn turns up and is quickly dispatched by Austin as he waits for whoever is next. Number seven is a very bloated looking Jake Roberts who brings his snake in a bag with him that nearly gets trampled on. Entrant number eight is Bulldog who doesn’t look very bizarre, nine is Pierroth and ten is The Sultan. Obviously they really are bringing out the big guns now.
Just to keep up with the Mexican flavour number eleven is Mil Mascaras who eventually ends up eliminating himself from the match by performing a cross body to the outside. Word has it that Mil’s ego was that big he wouldn’t let anybody else eliminate him from the match.
Number twelve is Hunter Hearst Helmsley who is still selling the knee injury he obtained in the first match of the night. Number thirteen is Owen Hart and there’s a great moment in which Bulldog is trying to eliminate Austin only to have Owen ‘help’ him before Bulldog tumbles to the outside himself. Owen insists it’s an accident, Bulldog is livid. It’s a great moment.
Fourteen is Goldust, fifteen is Cibernetico, entrant sixteen is Marc Mero with Sable and seventeen sees Latin Lover enter the fray and give Owen Hart a fairly stiff kick to the jawline. Eighteen is Farooq who is almost immediately followed by Ahmed Johnson who has a large plank of wood with him that he proceeds to use against the leader of the Nation. This commotion results in Stone Cold being alone again after a mass run of eliminations (traditional Rumble clear out times)
Nineteen sees Savio Vega come down the aisle before being quickly dispatched by Austin before a young Jesse James comes down at twenty to the same fate. Austin’s facial expressions when alone in the ring are absolute gold. Number twenty one might not be as easy to shift though as Bret Hart comes down to the ring to tackle Stone Cold. The Alamodome erupts when the first exchanges come through. This is good stuff and the Rumble has certainly entered a critical phase.
Number twenty two sees Jerry Lawler rise from his commentary position, utter the words ‘It takes a King’ into his mic before entering the fray. He’s bundled out by Bret Hart fairly quickly before returning to the desk and repeating that it ‘takes a King’. It would seem it takes a King to be eliminated from the Rumble in seconds.
Twenty three is Fake Diesel, I’ll never work out how Glen Jacobs recovered so well from this gimmick.
Twenty four is Terry Funk who gets a huge pop as he walks down the aisle. He then proceeds to give the most awful piledriver to Bret for which Jim Ross has to bring out his ‘he didn’t get all of it ‘ line to cover.
Twenty five is Rocky Maivia, the rookie of the Rumble in his debut appearance at this event. We’re still in smiling face mode though, $500 shirt wearing Rock is yet to come. He actually doesn’t eliminate anybody during this match which would have maybe been a bit better to put him over but he generally makes a good show of it.
Twenty six is Mankind meaning that Mick Foley and Terry Funk are reunited after their many King of Deathmatches over in Japan. Obviously, that chapter in wrestling history isn’t referenced here. There’s a general build up now to getting more of the big hitters in the ring for the finale.
I said big hitters didn’t I? Well twenty seven is…errr…Flash Funk. Nothing against the guy but he seems a little out of place in this current crop.
Twenty eight is Vader who levels Austin as soon as he gets in. Twenty nine lowers the bar a little further with Henry Godwinn and our last entrant at number 30 is The Undertaker coming back to maul Vader a little bit more.
Vader eliminates Flash Funk with a fall away slam over the ropes which nearly means Flash ends up in the second row. Rocky nearly eliminates Bret but Stone Cold saves him, it’s explained on commentary by suggesting Stone Cold is determined to dump Bret Hart out himself. Fair enough I suppose. Mankind eliminates Rocky by applying the Mandible Claw and pushing him over the ropes.
Mankind and Terry Funk try to eliminate each other, screw it up and Mankind then gets rid of Terry Funk himself before Taker chokeslams him out. This leads to a brawl on the outside between Mankind and Terry Funk which every single ref in the building seems to attend to. It’s significant for the ending to this match to work however.
Bret Hart flings Austin out much to the crowd’s dismay but there are absolutely no refs left on that side of the ring so none of the officials see it. Austin leaps back in to eliminate Vader and Taker whilst Bret fires Diesel over. Austin then chucks an astonished Bret over the top to be declared winner of the 1997 Royal Rumble match and get his title shot at Wrestlemania 13.. Bret meanwhile furiously manhandles referees who try to calm him down. Austin lasted around 45 minutes to finish the match and walks down the aisle with both hands raised in victory. Bret then has a go at Vince on commentary, fairly minor in fashion as to what was to come later this year.
Shawn Michaels is shown being interviewed saying that, whilst he might be low with the flu, he’s still going to take back the title from Sid in his home town. Michaels is back with Jose Lothario and looking more like a male stripper than ever. Perhaps it’s the hat that gives that impression.
It’s the total opposite in crowd response from the match at Survivor Series two months ago. The crowd love Shawn and there aren’t many signs of him being in second gear like he was back in New York. The match itself is fairly boring though as it reveals the limitations of an ill HBK and a fully fit Sid. Sid’s offence seems based on bear hugs and rest holds.
Like all the singles matches tonight the action spills out to the floor and Shawn takes a clumsy looking powerbomb on the crashmats just before Sid grabs both Jose Lothario and his Son in an attempt to chokeslam them both. Shawn recovers to break this up though.
There’s a ref bump and, in an echo of Survivor Series, Shawn batters Sid with a TV camera before attempting a pinfall which only gets a two. He then superkicks him for a very slow three count. Once again, Shawn Michaels is WWF Champion and part of his celebration involves shaking his arse in Vince’s face.
No seriously it does.
The 1997 Royal Rumble is really a three hour show built on two things. Getting the title back around Shawn’s waist and putting Austin over. Whilst those two things are clearly achieved the rest is a bit of a wash out. Having to support the card by using outside talent doesn’t work out as a great idea either. Watch the Rumble match itself for Austin’s performance but the rest isn’t really worth it.
So it looks like we’re all set for Austin vs Michaels at WrestleMania XIII then? Glad we got that sorted and we’re all smiles.
Oh, wait a minute…