For the first time since 1997, the Royal Rumble will return to the Alamodome in San Antonio this year. Royal Rumble 1997 is an interesting show from an interesting year in the WWF. You can see the company having an identity crisis. Some of the show is still the goofy Disney shit they’d been doing for years. But some of the show is getting extremely mature. A couple months before this we saw the infamous Steve Austin/Brian Pillman gun angle on Raw. We’ve got Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels sniping at each other even though they’re both babyfaces. And we’re starting to see acknowledgement that Vince McMahon is more than just a milquetoast announcer.
Shawn Michaels would win back the WWF Championship from Sid on this night, avenging his loss from Survivor Series. The obvious main event for Wrestlemania would seem to be a rematch from last year between Bret and Shawn. But fate had other ideas.
The Rest of the Card
-Hunter Hearst Helmsley defeated Goldust to retain the Intercontinental Championship
-Ahmed Johnson defeated Faarooq by disqualification
-Vader defeated The Undertaker
-Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo, and Canek defeated Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal, and Fuerza Guerrera
-Shawn Michaels defeated Sycho Sid to win the WWF Championship
Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler, and Jim Ross are on commentary.
They pan the crowd and it’s massive. Tickets were super cheap and there was a fair amount of papering to get a full house.
#1 is Crush of the Nation of Domination. #2 is Ahmed Johnson to a pretty mild reaction. Ahmed holds the record for most gear I’ve ever seen: arm bands, forearms pads, two pairs of knee pads. Ahmed had a great look, but was super reckless and hurt himself as often as his opponents. Fake Razor Ramon is #3, he lasts less than 30 seconds before being eliminated by Ahmed. Faarooq comes down the aisle and Ahmed eliminates himself to go after him. Phineas Godwinn is #4. No one cares.
#5 is Steve Austin and we’re ready to roll. Phineas manages to toss Crush, but gets hit with a Stone Cold Stunner and thrown out by Austin. #6 is Bart Gunn. He lasts about a minute before being tossed. Austin does some pushups to stay warm. Then checks his watch. Great stuff. Showing the charisma that made him the man. Jake Roberts is #7. JR says Jake has competed in the most Rumbles of anyone to this point but I think he’s wrong about that. #8 is British Bulldog, who reaches the ring just as Austin eliminates Jake.
Bulldog scores with the Running Powerslam, first time Austin’s really been wounded in the match. #9 is Pierroth. He’s in on a talent exchange with AAA. #10 is The Sultan, managed by The Iron Sheik. Sultan is Rikishi under a mask. #11 Mil Mascaras. He gets a pretty good reaction. #12 is Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Bulldog dumps Sultan. #13 is Owen Hart. Owen sneaks up behind Bulldog and dumps him. Friction between the tag partners. #14 is Goldust, #15 is Cibernetico.
#16 is “Wildman” Marc Mero. Mascaras eliminates Cibernetico, then eliminates himself with a Plancha to the floor. Well, that rule has been applied inconsistently over the years. Apparently this was the only way that he would go along with being eliminated. Goldust eliminates Hemsley. Latin Lover is #17. No reaction for most of the AAA talent. Don’t think the crowd has any idea who they are.
Owen narrowly avoids elimination and then tosses Goldust. Faarooq is #18. Ahmed shows up with a massive 2×4 and dumps Faarooq. Another rule applied inconsistently, apparently this year an eliminated wrestler can eliminate people. Austin eliminates both Mero and Owen and is alone in the ring as Savio Vega enters #19. Savio lasts about a minute before Austin Clotheslines him out. Jesse James is out #20. Austin takes care of him in less than a minute. #21 is Bret Hart and Austin’s reaction is classic.
Bret tunes up Austin but can’t eliminate him. Bret locks on The Sharpshooter as entrant #22 is revealed to be Jerry Lawler. Lawler says “It takes a king…” as he gets up from the announce table. He gets into the ring, gets punched over the top by Bret, and returns to the announce table to finish “…to know a king.” He proceeds to pretend that he never entered the match. #23 is Fake Diesel. #24 is Terry Funk. I think this was his first WWF appearance since the 1980s.
#25 is “Blue Chipper” Rocky Maivia. Him and Austin get into it. Probably the first time they’d ever crossed paths. Mankind is #26 and him and Funk go at it. #27 is Flash Funk. #28 is Vader. He stiffs everybody, including leveling Austin with a Body Avalanche. #29 is Henry Godwinn. #30 is The Undertaker, Vince calls him the winner on the way down.
Taker levels Vader and Mankind. Then a Chokeslam on Austin. Chokeslam for Vader. Flash Funk goes for a Crossbody on Vader, gets caught, and tossed. That didn’t seem safe to me. Things drag for a bit before everyone gets eliminated at once: Taker dumps Henry Godwinn, Mankind gets Rock in the Mandible Claw and eliminates him, Mankind eliminates Funk and then gets tossed by Undertaker. Funk and Mankind end up brawling on the floor, distracting the referees. While this going on Bret eliminates Austin. But the referees don’t see and Austin sneaks back into the ring.
Austin eliminates Vader and Undertaker as Bret eliminates Diesel. Austin sneaks up on Bret and tosses him to win the Royal Rumble.
Rating: ***¼. A lot of filler in this one. But Austin’s performance was one of the all-time best. He absolutely carried the match for the 45 minutes that he was in there. The entire middle portion of the match was watchable solely because of the work he was doing. Really loved the booking of the ending sequence too, created a lot of intrigue for the fallout.
Bret hassles and the referee and then goes after Vince on the floor.
Gorilla Monsoon announced on Raw the next night that Steve Austin was not the #1 contender. Because of Austin’s cheating there would be a “Final Four” match at the In Your House featuring Austin, Bret, Undertaker, and Vader. The winner would be the #1 contender for Wrestlemania.
But there was a twist to the twist: Shawn Michaels backed out of Wrestlemania with a knee injury. He forfeited the WWF Championship on Raw saying he had “lost his smile.” The decision was made to put the vacant WWF Championship on the line in the Final Four match. Hart won to become a four time WWF Champion. His reign would be short-lived, as he would lose the WWF Championship to Sid on Raw the next night as a result of Steve Austin’s interference.
Undertaker defeated Sid for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania while Hart defeated Steve Austin in a classic Submission match. And the subsequent fallout of 1997 is too long to cover here.