Last night, the Royal Rumble took place, and through the disastrous undercard, and underwhelming main events, we did manage to take away a few hints to the future. Austin’s early dominance, and late chickenshit tactics kept the Rumble from being the worst edition ever. Bret Hart threw a fit after getting screwed over for the 2nd time since his return in the fall, being eliminated by a guy who was already out of the match when it was clear he was the last man standing. With RAW live tonight, you know there’s gonna be some tension in the air. But first…
Kenny Reigns: 1997 WWF is pretty good so far. I'm only through January, but the show has excitement and developing stories. I could not believe how much of a star Austin looked like at the Rumble. That was insane.
While I don’t know your particular history, Kenny, this is a good time to recognize that I do have a number of “newer” fans reading these. If you’ve been subjected to the WWE for, say, the last 5 years and aren’t familiar with some of the earlier stuff, do yourself a favor and follow the same trajectory I have with these recaps. Start with early 1996 WCW (skipping March and April, I am not a sadist), and work the WWF into the mix by early 1997. If you are any kind of wrestling fan at all, you’ll be absolutely amazed at the WWF’s ability to weave angles together in a logical manner that resulted in everyone else getting over. Even though Austin is going to be the focal point, watching the development of Rocky Maivia is going to be fascinating, as he is the absolute epitome of a talented guy who just needs a steady, continued push, and company confidence, to find himself. Had they started and stopped and started and stopped, like any number of the 2015 midcarders, you’d have to wonder if he’d have ever become the cross-media superstar he eventually did.
Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog: You've got a multi-man lucha match and you don't open the show with it?
They already had enough problems keeping the fans engaged through a slew of ass-dragging matches. Putting the ancient faceless Mexican contingent out first would have been death. If you’re inadvertently mistaking these guys for the fast-paced fun high-flyers of WCW, then I recommend you track this show down on the Network, and return later with a 4-page apology for even suggesting such a thing.
wnyxmcneal: Dustin Rhodes wasn't ready to work a long match? What?
I stand by this, whole heartedly. Find me a Goldust match over **1/2 between 1995-1999. They had no business trotting him out for 15 minutes, but they did it, month after month on PPV to the exact same results (Goldust slowly rubs himself for 10 minutes, other wrestler finally gets grossed out and makes the comeback, followed by some kind of finish). Dustin Rhodes might have been a quality worker, but this gimmick caused hell on his in-ring performances.
Mike Mears: What am I missing about Ahmed? He was just before my time, but all I see is a black Ryback.
Sure, if Ahmed Johnson was a recycled, tightly scripted clone of a thousand guys before him, than yes, you’d be right. But that pays no justice to who Ahmed Johnson was. He was an absolute original, there had been no one like him to that point. Previous black wrestlers were always rapper, angry street thugs, dancers, or somehow One Man Gang. Ahmed Johnson was just a big, freakishly strong, guy. A guy who loved what he did, but make no bones about it, when he did it, he did it with intensity. He was there to *kill* you. Ryback WISHES he could even splash a little of Ahmed’s charisma on his sad persona. And, say what you want about his promos, but they added to his charm, because they came across as real. He didn’t speak like anyone else, and he wasn’t going to, because that’s not who he was. He was a genuine guy, and since he could back it up with the power, the fans took to him.
It’s not a particularly difficult template, but one that is completely lost today because nobody’s allowed to just go out and speak for fear they might upset the shareholders or cause some sort of negative social media story. I remember growing up, that “Just Be Yourself” was something of a mantra to remind us that we’re all unique, and by letting your personality shine people will take to you. Sadly, that’s changed to “Just Be Like Everyone Else”.
But enough about today, we’re talking about then – and then is now, because we are LIVE in Beaumont, Texas for a show that is inexplicably STILL not on the WWE Network nearly a year after launch. VINCE MCMAHON, JIM ROSS, and JERRY LAWLER can barely say hello, before …
BRET HART storms the ring, and he is in a BAD mood. He points to Vince directly, and reminds him that when he came back to the WWF in the fall he was promised title shots. Instead, he was put in the ring with Steve Austin, and told if he won he’d be the #1 contender. So, he did as he was told, but for some “convenient” reason, Shawn Michaels was at ringside doing commentary during his World Title match, and to no surprise (or coincidence), the boy toy cost him the match. So, then he was told if he won the Royal Rumble and beat 29 guys, he’d get a title shot. Again, he did exactly as he was asked, and as far as he’s concerned he won the Rumble. He’s tired of being dicked around by Michaels, Austin, and Vince McMahon. Realizing he’s not getting his opportunity, he quits.
Vince quickly rushes over to Bret to ask for a minute of his time, but Bret’s already making his way through the fans, ignoring him. A loud “WE WANT BRET” chant starts, which quickly turns to boos because …
STEVE AUSTIN has taken over the ring. His microphone doesn’t work, so he snatches another one from a camera man and threatens to whoop his ass if he doesn’t give him a working piece of equipment. He tells us that all Bret ever does is cry, and he’s tired of it. He’s happy to see him leave, since the only person Bret can beat anymore is his “wrinkled up old man in his little old basement”. He figures Bret has no gripe, since he was promised a match with Sid tonight, but nooooo, Sid’s at home with a concussion. Austin knows he doesn’t have a concussion, but rather a yellow stripe running right down his back. Austin still wants a fight, and sits in wait, while McMahon angrily storms to the back to, presumably, go into damage control.
OWEN HART and THE BRITISH BULLDOG (with Clarence Mason and Slammy) vs. DOUG FURNAS and PHILIP LAFON (in a non-title match)
Austin’s been cleared during the commercial break, while JR plays up the possible dissent between Hart and Bulldog after Owen dumped his buddy in the rumble. Lafon nails Owen with a fireman’s carry slam, but Owen quickly rolls him back out of a headlock for 1. A mule kick brings in Furnas, who runs Owen over with the 3 point stance. Beautiful dropkick gets a close 2! That’s followed with a snap belly to belly overhead, drawing 2. Owen fires back with a spinning heel kick and tags in the Bulldog. Lawler laughs up Bret’s blow up since he’s tired of watching Vince kiss his ass anyway, while Furnas snaps off a perfect Frankensteiner for 2. Another important development: Apparently Undertaker has been fined his entire take at the Royal Rumble for chokeslamming an official. Now which poor sap has to be the one to inform Taker of THAT decision? Owen manages a blind tag, catching Furnas off guard when he comes flying in with a missile dropkick for 2 as we head to commercial.
We return to Furnas eating the back end of an enzuigiri, and Owen is apoplectic when it only gets 2! Bulldog boots him in the face, and Owen celebrates quickly with a “GO OWEN!” Standing vertical suplex from the Bulldog gets 2, and Owen locks on a chinlock. Furnas wriggles loose, but takes an overhead belly to belly. A top rope splash misses, and Furnas is able to get the hot tag to Lafon. Clotheslines abound! A spinning heel kick drops Owen, and Bulldog gets tagged with a snap suplex followed by a senton for 2. Overhead belly to belly gets 2. Owen rushes in to stop the madness, but Furnas flattens him with a shoulder block. Lafon jaws with Owen, who smacks him in the mouth with the Slammy, allowing a Bulldog powerslam to pick up the win at 10:21. A travesty! I might have gone with the upset here and set up a program for Final Four, but then I’m a Can Am fanboy. ***
FAAROOQ (with PG-13, Clarence Mason, Kona Crush, D’Lo Brown, and a Number Of Well Dressed Men) vs. BART GUNN
Really, we’re gonna follow up that fun little tag-team ditty with THIS? Austin and Undertaker is announced as the main event, and “you won’t have to sit through Robin Hood to see it” says a far too smarmy JR. When they’re not in control of their own destiny, it’s interesting to watch them pull out all the same nonsense they scream foul about otherwise. Gunn gets flattened with a spinebuster, and PG-13 add a few extra shots. Faarooq locks on a chinlock, and uses both the ropes AND leverage from Wolfie D to his advantage. The referee spies it, and forces a break. A scoop slam sends Faarooq up (what?!?) and he misses whatever it was, getting slammed on the way down by Gunn. A bulldog gets 2, only saved by PG-13 putting his feet on the ropes. Bart finally pounces to the floor, and kicks both their asses before Faarooq drops an elbow on his head. Crush sends Gunn back into the ring, and the Dominator finishes poor Lefty at 5:16. This Faarooq singles push is death. 1/2*
VINCE MCMAHON returns, with GORILLA MONSOON in tow. Gorilla is roundly booed, stay classy Texas. Gino calls out to Bret specifically, by agreeing that the Rumble was a travesty. He says he can’t reverse the decision as a referee’s is final, and Austin will officially go down as the Rumble winner. However, Gorilla refuses to give Austin the title shot at Mania, opting instead to run a 4-man no-DQ match at the next In Your House. His choices are Undertaker, Vader, and Bret, all of whom were eliminated unfairly by Austin, as well as Austin himself. No love for Fake Diesel who finished 3rd. STEVE AUSTIN is not exactly thrilled by this news, and reminds Gorilla that Bret can’t be included because he’s already quit. He asks Gorilla if the WWF has Instant Replay? “EH EH! I DON’T THINK SO!” He agrees to enter the 4-way, since he’s already thrown 29 pieces of trash away, and once he’s done with that match, he’ll throw Gorilla around too. Vince gets in Austin’s grill, as BRET HART comes back through the crowd, having had enough time to cool down I suppose.
Bret grabs the microphone to accept the match, but suggests they do it TONIGHT instead of February. Hart rushes up the aisle, and he and Austin start scrapping with a whole lot of hate in their eyes. The fans start losing their minds, as Bret refuses to get peeled off his enemy. Hart starts gnawing at Austin’s head, before throwing him face first into the ring steps as they head to commercial.
The officials are STILL having an impossible time removing Bret from the scene, but it’s main event time, and Austin’s got a whole ‘nother problem…
STEVE AUSTIN vs. THE UNDERTAKER
That’s assuming, of course, Undertaker makes it to the ring, because now he and Bret are throwing haymakers at each other! Austin, stupidly, rushes in to get involved, and Undertaker introduces his teeth to the ring steps. They eventually find their way in to kick it off officially, with Austin getting his head slammed into the canvas. Old School connects because Austin doesn’t have the wherewithal to step forward and knock him off his perch. Austin fires back with a swinging neckbreaker, but Taker sits right back up. Lawler starts screaming at Austin “BAD RIBS” to help Steve out, but his notoriously bad hearing fails to catch it. Austin slams Taker’s face to the buckle, but he comes right back with an elbow to Austin’s face. Steve comes off the top with an axehandle for 2, while Lawler hits the ringside area to tell Austin about the injured ribs because he’s not enough of a shit disturber at ringside. Instead, Taker goes low, but Austin manages to sell enough to sucker him in and nail the Stunner.
In the back, VADER and BRET HART are throwing down now, because apparently Bret has a death wish tonight.
Austin was unable to capitalize on the Stunner, and heads upstairs. Taker crotches him, but Austin, suddenly aware of the ribs, starts punching at the to stop a superplex attempt. VADER slowly lumbers down to the ringside now, and draws a DQ at 6:39. **
BRET HART is right behind him, and last night’s foes all square off. Austin peels off for the back, but Bret stops him and throws him into the guardrail. In the ring, Taker drops Vader with a backdrop suplex, and with all 4 guys engaged in an absolutely chaotic brawl, the show heads off the air.
Seeing this in action, financial state be damned, Vince should have been doing everything in his power to get RAW running live every single week. They have a new star who is clearly able to hang with the main eventers in Steve Austin, Bret seems to be coming into his own as a grumpy old man, and Vince McMahon is slowly being outed as the real puppet master.
I’d call it extremely unlikely that Nitro will be able to effectively counter this wild show, short of having DDP deliver a Diamond Cutter to Hulk Hogan. We’ll find out, next.