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The SmarK Royal Rumble Countdown: 1997

The Netcop Retro Rant for Royal Rumble 1997

I will refrain from commentating overly on the Vince Russo thing until I can make a proper column on the subject. Suffice it to say, I TOLD YOU SO, and everyone who flamed me for my “That’s [Sports] Entertainment” column back in October where I said that this exact situation would come about can start sending apologetic e-mail to me any day now.  (2012 Scott sez:  So that would place this rant in early 2000, when Russo got canned.  And again, hard to believe that I could have any kind of proper perspective on a show only 3 years old at that point.) 

Live from San Antonio, TX

Your hosts are Vince, Jerry & Good ol’ JR

Minis fight in the Free 4 All match, but I’m not into it. Anyway, Mascarita Sagrata Jr. (who would later become Max Mini) and partner La Parkita (mini version of La Parka) defeat Mini Vader and Mini Mankind with a crucifix pin at 4:28.

Opening match, Intercontinental title: Hunter Hearst Helmsley v. Goldust.

I think we’ve covered the numerous differences between pre-DX Hunter and the current one to the point where it’s pointless to do so anymore, so I won’t. HHH brings Mr. Hughes with him as his new bodyguard, a role that would be usurped by Chyna at the very next PPV, and as a result would give him actual heat for the first time in his life. (2012 Scott sez:  I can vaguely remember Hughes as bodyguard for Chris Jericho, but I totally blank on him getting paired with HHH for some reason.)  Both guys bump around a bit at the start. Goldust drops the ring steps on HHH’s back. HHH sort of controls back in the ring, crowd is gone. Neither guy is over enough to make a difference to the heat in the match. Out of the ring again and they bump around some more. It’s just desperate attempts to get the crowd going, and it’s not working. Goldust tries dropping the stairs on HHH’s knee this time. He slowly works the leg back in the ring, boring the crowd even more. It should be noted that there’s about 60,000 people in the building, give or take (2012 Scott sez:  48000 or so, in fact.  I think 60000 was the worked number.), and a lot of them are papered (2012 Scott sez:  About 20000 of them I believe it was.  It was pretty crazy.  Like how the fuck do you even give out that many tickets?  That’s like an entire arena show given away for free!), which means that something pretty drastic needs to hook them. HHH bails, but gets clipped and dropped on the stairs knee-first. Enough with the damn stairs already! HHH gains control again as I fight to stay awake. Goldust comes back, but misses an elbow from the top and HHH gets the title belt from Hughes. Goldust steals it away and nails him, but Hughes pulls Hunter out at two. More wackiness leads to Hunter nailing Goldust from behind and hitting the Pedigree to retain at 16:45. ¼* JR assures us that this issue is far from settled. Lucky us.

Faarooq v. Ahmed Johnson.

This is your basic “You injured me so I’m gonna kick your ass” match, although by the time Ahmed returned from his injury the issue was pretty much forgotten. This one really should have happened at Summerslam 96 as was intended. Faarooq gets the crap beat out of him and they brawl out of the ring. Faarooq sacrifices an unnamed (but proud future European champion) Nation member to Ahmed (2012 Scott sez:  That was D-Lo Brown in case you weren’t around when anyone cared about him.) and then jumps him to take control. Chinlock follows. Faarooq goes aerial but gets powerslammed. Ahmed charges and Faarooq hits a spinebuster, then Ahmed comes back with his own and everyone runs in for the lame DQ at 8:45. ½* The feud would drag on for most of the rest of 1997, before Ahmed disappeared for good. Notable spot of the night: Ahmed powerbombs another anonymous Nationeer through the French announce table. (2012 Scott sez:  Man, that feud just had no legs.  Maybe they should have just teamed them up as Doom 2.0 or something.) 

Vader v. Undertaker.

If there was an issue here, damned if I can remember it. Slugfest to start, UT no-sells all of it. Vader was working loose as all hell, which was part of his problem in the WWF. Jericho is discovering the same thing, apparently. (2012 Scott sez:  What a bunch of bullshit that was.  Can you believe people used to slag CHRIS JERICHO for not being able to work?  In 2000?!)  Vader puts him down a few times, but he keeps sitting up. UT hits a fameasser out of nowhere and a slam. Legdrop gets two. Vader counters the ropewalk with leverage, and then hits a lowblow (with great facials from UT), and we head to the resting portion of the match. Second rope splash is converted to a powerslam by Taker, but Vader fights up and powerbombs him for two. UT comes back with the ropewalk and a chokeslam. Paul Bearer waddles out to ringside as Vader’s new manager and gets beaten up. He does manage to waffle UT with the urn, however, and Vader splashes and pins him at 13:17 as a result. Bleh. *1/2 for some nice power stuff.

I would be remiss in not mentioning British Bulldog’s cult-favorite Rumble soundbite here, as he emerges from his car and says he’ll win the Rumble because “I’M BIZAAAAAAAAAARRE!” British people, help me out here, is this like one of those charming overseas sayings that doesn’t have any sort of meaning anywhere else in the civilized world or just Davey Boy adlibbing after one too many milk injections?  (2012 Scott sez:  Joke explanation:  Dynamite Kid was on the Wrestling Observer radio show many years back and told a story about meeting young Davey Boy when they were both teenagers, but DK was the more experienced wrestler at that point.  Davey kept bugging him for steroids, so finally Kid relented and taught him how to inject it into his ass cheeks.  So then on the road the next day, Kid kept going “Mooo!” every time they drove past a farm.  Finally Davey snapped at him and asked why he was mooing the whole way, and Kid told him that he had been injecting himself with milk the whole time.)

Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal & Fuerza Guerrera v. Perro Aguayo, Canek & Hector Garza.

This was during the WWF’s “We’re so desperate for fresh talent we’ll even work with AAA” period, which ended up being a slight problem because Eric Bischoff already had rights to almost every luchador in Mexico, even if he never planned on using 90% of them. My notes on this entire match read “Crowd is dead silent as they flip and flop around like RVD and make contact maybe 4 times in the whole match”, so suffice it to say it’s boring, sloppy, and 3 of the people in it are very old, and the rest don’t get much of a chance to do anything. There are ways to introduce lucha libre to casual audiences, and this isn’t it. JR gives the Ross Report Blowjob of the Week™ to Hector Garza, which ended up going nowhere. (2012 Scott sez:  And then in 2004, Garza got popped for steroid possession, which means that his US career is going nowhere from now on.)  After an eternity, Aguayo pins Heavy Metal with a double stomp at 10:56. I like some lucha, but this was brutal. ½*

Royal Rumble:

90 second intervals this year, which is silly because with some judicious booking changes (*cough* LUCHA MATCH *cough*) they could have dumped 20 minutes and done full 2-minute intervals. Anyway, Crush gets #1, Ahmed Johnson gets #2. Ahmed takes some more of his aggression out on Crush. Fake Razor is #3 and gets tossed right away, to the delight of the crowd. Took the WWF a while to take the hint with that little experiment. Faarooq comes out to interfere, so Ahmed hops over the top and chases, thus eliminating himself. Phineas “Fake Mankind, Mideon” Godwinn is #4 and that epic Crush v. PIG battle erupts. Steve Austin is #5, getting a pretty good pop. (2012 Scott sez:  Steve Austin had quite the run in this Rumble, no?) PIG tosses Crush, then turns around and walks into a stunner, see ya. Bart Gunn is #6, and Austin might as well be Butterbean because Bart is gone 30 seconds later here, too. (2012 Scott sez:  Man, I got a lot of mileage out of that Butterbean knockout.)  Jake Roberts is #7, and he actually dominates, but Austin reverses the DDT into a backdrop and his night is over. Bulldog is #8 and goes right after Austin. Pierroth from AAA is #9. He almost immediately grabs a headlock. The Sultan (Rikishi Phatu) is #10. Mil Mascaras (villain of Foley’s book) (2012 Scott sez: And inductee into the Hall of Fame this year, apparently!) is #11.

HHH is #12 as I wait for something to happen. Bulldog obliges by tossing Sultan. Owen Hart is #13. He goes after Austin, and is assisted by Bulldog. But when Bulldog & Austin fight on the ropes, Owen pushes Bulldog out (they were tag champs at the time). Goldust is #14. Cybernetico is #15 and he actually makes an impact. Marc Mero is #16 as Cybernetico and Pierroth go adios. Mascaras follows them down with a tope, but that eliminates him, too. Goldust gets revenge for earlier in the night by dumping HHH. Goldust & Mero pair off, as do Owen & Austin. Latin Lover is #17, no one cares, film at 11. Owen escapes elimination and gets Goldust out. Faarooq is #18 and rids us of Latin Lover. Ahmed charges the ring with a 2x4 and eliminates Faarooq. Owen and Mero fight on the ropes, so Austin pushes both out, thus clearing the ring. (2012 Scott sez:  God bless Steve Austin for clearing out deadwood like this.)  Savio Vega is #19 and he hits the floor with a KWANG! about 10 seconds later. Gimme more, Austin says. “Double J” Jesse Jammes is #20, second verse same as the first. Gimme more, Austin says. Bret Hart is #21, and the bug-eyed double-take Austin does is great. (2012 Scott sez:  Not a great Rumble, but god damn Austin used to be the SHIT.  And you know why?  Because he wasn’t some chickenshit heel who ran from a fight.  Here was a guy who you knew was getting PUSHED.  You could get behind him as a fan because you knew that there was no way they were going to bail on someone who would be booked to toss out multiple guys in the Rumble and beg for a fight at #20 after entering at #5.  Some got the rocket push, but Austin had fucking NASA strapped to his ass.) Super-hot slugfest follows, and Bret gets the Sharpshooter (in a battle royale?).

Jerry Lawler is #22 and he leaves a thought unfinished, gets clotheslined right back out again, then finishes the thought back at ringside. Cute spot. Bret continues the assault on Austin. HELLFIRE AND TOOTHPASTE! It’s Big Daddy Dentist, Kane UniYankem DDS at #23! In this case, he’s playing Fake Diesel. Terry Funk is #24, playing Token Old-Timer for this year’s show. Funk takes Austin, Hart takes Diesel. Rocky Maivia is #25. He squares off with Diesel and Austin, a match that would draw huge today. (2012 Scott sez:  12 years after this was written, Rock and Austin have both gotten out of the business as rich men, while Kane keeps plodding along year after year.  I know he does fine for himself, but it’s not like Jacobs was THAT young when he started and he’s in his mid-40s now.)  Mankind is #26. He goes right after Funk and they proceed to torment each other for the rest of the match as a wink to smart fans. Flash Funk is #27. Vader is #28. Mick takes a break to rock in the corner. HOG is #29, Undertaker is #30 to finish the field. Vader and Taker collide, so Taker chokeslams everyone. Vader catches Flash and dumps him over the top. UT casually throat-slams HOG out over the top. Same for Austin, but he hangs onto the apron. Mankind mandible-claws Rocky to the floor. The crowd cheers. Mick & Terry kill each other, and Mick suplexes him to the floor. He stops to think about it, so UT calmly sends him down to the floor, too. Mick and Terry fight on the floor, so all the refs flock to break it up. At the same time, Bret tosses Austin cleanly, but no one sees it. So he sneaks back in, dumps Vader & UT (who were fighting on the ropes), followed by Diesel and then Bret himself to win the Royal Rumble at 50:26. Bret whines to the announce table afterwards. Bleh Rumble. **1/2 (2012 Scott sez:  Once again, note that Bret is portrayed as a whiny douche.) 

WWF title match: Sid v. Shawn Michaels.

Note to WCW: Last time someone put a World title on Sid, it nearly killed the entire promotion. I’m just saying, in case there was any doubt who should get it, that’s all. (2012 Scott sez:  Not that I’m blaming the death of WCW on them putting the World title on Sid in 2000, but I’m not NOT, either.  Of course, we found out later that Benoit didn’t particularly want the title anyway, so maybe it would have been best just to put it on Sid and be done with it.  Evil Scott almost put in a line like “Of course, when someone put a World title on Benoit, he killed…” before the little angel guy on my shoulder told me to delete it.)  Shawn had actually been turning heel leading up to this show, but in the weirdest thing anyone had seen in a while, the face pop he got here was so enormous that the entire heel turn was scrapped and he was turned full babyface again. (2012 Scott sez:  So all WWE needs now for Cena is a giant stadium full of people who will cheer him.  No problem!)  And now, suddenly, the crowd comes to life. Shoving match to start, which doesn’t go well for Shawn. Shawn uses his speed to send Sid to the floor. They brawl and Michaels escapes a press slam with a poke to the eye. Back in and Sid powerslams him for two. Chinlock follows. Shawn escapes and gets tossed to the floor. Sid rams him back-first to the post. It gets two. Surfboard and extended bearhug work the back of Shawn. Legdrop gets two. Shawn comes back with a slam and flying forearm. Flying elbow, and Shawn warms up the band. Sid blocks the superkick and dumps Shawn to the floor, then powerbombs him there. Back in, ref bumped. Chokeslam, no ref. A second ref runs in to count two, so Sid decks him. Shawn grabs the camera from ringside and nails Sid (in retaliation for Survivor Series) and that gets two. Sid’s up, so Shawn warms up the band again and hits Sweet Chin Music for the pin and his second WWF title at 13:52. Sid carried the match, oddly enough. **1/2  (2012 Scott sez:  Shawn was sick as a dog for this show, although given his intake at that point god knows what that meant in reality.  Too many “cold pills”, perhaps.) 

The Bottom Line: The WWF was drawing ratings somewhere in between “jack” and “shit” at this point and no one had any clue how to fix things, and it shows here. The only real positive sign for the future out of this show was Austin’s emerging popularity, and the rest was “Been there, done that, scored a 2.0 rating”.

Total wasted opportunity here. Strong recommendation to avoid.