by Logan Scisco
-Vince McMahon, Jerry “the King” Lawler, and Jim Ross are in the booth and Ross is sporting the black cowboy hat that will become his trademark for the first time. Lawler tells McMahon that he’s in the Royal Rumble, but McMahon doesn’t believe him.
-Free for All: Mascarita Sagrada, Jr. & La Parkita defeat Mini Vader & Mini Mankind after Sagrada pins Mini Vader with a La Magistral cradle at 4:30:
I must admit that it’s hilarious seeing Mini Vader and Mini Mankind come down to the real Vader and Mankind’s theme music. 1997 and early 1998 were a year when the WWF had midget wrestling serve the role that the Divas division currently serves, namely to provide a bathroom break during the show and a way to cool down the crowd before big matches. There isn’t a great flow to this match, as it’s just the minis jumping around, but Mini Mankind does pull out the Chris Hamrick bump to the floor. This was quasi-entertaining, but the allure of it wore off fast. Rating: *½
-Now onto the show, where the Spanish announce table is featured prominently. The poor guys would have their announce table broken on many shows in the coming years.
-A video package hypes the Hunter Hearst Helmsley-Goldust Intercontinental title match.
-Opening Contest for the Intercontinental Championship: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Champion w/Curtis Hughes) defeats Goldust (w/Marlena) with a Pedigree at 16:50:
This is an interesting choice for an opener since both guys don’t set the world on fire, but looking at the lineup for this show, I have to concede that their options were limited. Mr. Hughes returns to the WWF with this contest. He wouldn’t be around for long, as Chyna would replace him by WrestleMania. Adding a manager really improved Helmsley’s credibility, since his track record as a singles was very lackluster in 1996. Goldust, still angry over Helmsley’s advances at Marlena over a month ago (and they call Marc Mero jealous) rips into Helmsley during his entrance and uses the ring steps as his weapon of choice. Unfortunately, after the first couple of minutes the match just dies, as Goldust works over Helmsley’s knee and Helmsley’s offense can’t put a lot of heat on the match. The crowd pops more when they see shots of Marlena and the people in the front row are too busy showing NWO signs. Hughes interferes to keep Helmsley from being pinned after getting nailed with the Intercontinental title and when Goldust confronts him, Helmsley seizes advantage and gets the victory. They tried to combine technical wrestling with brawling in this one, but it just wasn’t clicking with the crowd and it hurt the match. Rating: *
-Bret Hart says he might be a marked man in this Royal Rumble, but that’s nothing new to him and he’s going to win. Mankind says the Rumble is a time for him to hurt people he doesn’t like. Hard to disagree with that reasoning.
-Kevin Kelly and Sunny are working the WWF Superstar Line tonight, so call 1-900-737-4WWF to hear comments from the winners and losers!
-A video package chronicles the Ahmed Johnson-Faarooq feud.
-Ahmed Johnson defeats Faarooq (w/The Nation of Domination) by disqualification when the Nation interferes at 8:43:
After over four months of hype, this is the long awaited confrontation between Ahmed and Faarooq. Faarooq might have set a wrestling record for the size of his entourage. There’s some great continuity in the early going, as Faarooq targets Ahmed’s kidneys. The crowd heat for this one blows the last match out of the water, which more than makes up for some of the slow spots in the action. Faarooq is a great character and pulls out some hilarious spots where he yells at the crowd and Ahmed is able to capitalize and regain the advantage. Ahmed destroys the Nation after they interfere and in a spot that becomes one of the most memorable of the event, he quasi-Pearl River Plunges a Nation member through the French announce table. This was a drawn out TV match, but you would expect that since it’s the first match in the Ahmed-Faarooq feud. Rating: **
-Terry Funk says that he’s ready to rumble tonight.
-Todd Pettengill interviews Faarooq and the Nation of Domination. Faarooq chastises some Nation members for not helping him when he was in trouble and he says that he’s going to end Ahmed Johnson’s career.
-Vader defeats The Undertaker with a Vader Bomb at 13:20:
When this match was first booked, there were some questions about why the WWF was making this money making match a midcard event at the Rumble. Unintentional hilarity ensues during the entrances, as the lights do not come on when the Undertaker gestures up towards the sky. The Undertaker continues to show the new flexibility of his character by giving Vader a Rock Dropper in the early going and outslugging the big man. You would think that these two would have some great chemistry, but that’s not the case here as we get a slow and plodding big man match. The match gets so dull that Pettengill goes into the crowd and interviews a Shawn Michaels fan that bought her tickets by babysitting lots of kids in the San Antonio area. Ross drops a creative hint that Jim Cornette and Vader are no longer working together because the referee working the match is one that Vader injured a year ago and Cornette would not allow that to happen. Minor plot points like that is just something you don’t see anymore. Paul Bearer eventually wanders out and hits the Undertaker with the urn and that enables Vader to score the upset and thereby provide us with the reason why this match was used in the midcard: to continue the Undertaker-Bearer feud. For me, the association of Vader with Paul Bearer is the day that Vader ceased being a serious contender to the WWF championship. After the match, the Undertaker, angered at the result of the match, takes out his frustrations on the referee and chews out McMahon at ringside. The whole tirade is eerily similar to what we would see in Montreal eleven months later with Bret Hart. The match was too stop and go for my taste and there were way too many dead spots between meaningful action. Rating: *
-Steve Austin and the Bulldog give reasons why they are going to win the Rumble. I like the Bulldog’s the most: he’ll win because he’s “bizarre.”
-Perro Aguayo, Hector Garza & El Canek defeat Fuerza Guerrero, Heavy Metal & Jerry Estrada when Aguayo pins Guerrero after an elbow drop at 10:54:
This is our customary AAA match of the show and despite being just north of the border, the crowd cares very little for this match and sits on their hands. At least it functions as a way to cool the crowd down for the Rumble match. Vince and Lawler are completely out of their element calling this match and Ross takes over many of the announcing duties. Think of him as playing the role that Mike Tenay did in WCW when it came to the cruiserweights. Unfortunately, a lot of his material doesn’t relate to the WWF’s audience, since he talks about Canek’s battles with Lou Thesz. Aguayo keeps teasing aerial maneuvers to the floor during the match and the one that he does do, a simple dive from the apron, goes awry. It takes us about eight minutes to get a semblance of a heat segment, but it takes Garza’s corkscrew body press onto Estrada on the floor to illicit a reaction. This match had no flow to it, with different combinations of guys fighting each other in ninety second increments before switching off, and I had to utter a sigh of relief when it was finally put out of its misery. Rating: ½*
-To show you how far the crowd is gone, they don’t even pop when Finkel announces the WWF’s worked figure for the crowd: 60,177.
-“Stone Cold” Steve Austin wins the 1997 Royal Rumble by eliminating Bret “the Hitman” Hart at 50:26:
For the first time since 1994, wrestlers in the early part of the show are working double duty in this match, which shows how shallow the depth chart was in the company at the time. Also, like 1994, this Rumble did not have a clear winner coming in, which was nice. The buzzer and clock are malfunctioning in the early going, thereby depriving the crowd of part of the fun of the Rumble match. While the King of the Ring victory in June was nice, this is really Austin’s coming out party, as he lives up to the pledge he made prior to the show by tossing ten “pieces of trash” over the top rope. Much like Diesel’s run in 1994, the crowd gets louder and louder for Austin as he tosses midcard talent like Phineas Godwinn, Bart Gunn, and Jake “the Snake” Roberts in the early going and Savio Vega and “The Real Double J” Jesse James much later. Austin’s one-on-one runs through the Rumble are stopped by the British Bulldog, who he kept sneak attacking during this period, and Bret Hart, which gives us a great visual of Austin looking bug eyed towards the entrance. Aside from Austin’s performance, the storyline about dissension between the British Bulldog and Owen Hart continues, as Owen eliminates his partner from the match. Mexican legend Mil Mascaras is also loathe to give a WWF superstar a rub from eliminating him, so he opts to eliminate himself with an ill advised flying body press to the floor. The last major highlight of the match is Jerry Lawler being the wild card entrant. Lawler tells McMahon that “It takes a king…” before heading into the fray, but he’s quickly dispatched by Bret Hart, enabling Lawler to go back to the announce table and say “…to know a king” to complete his phrase and he proceeds to keep commentating like nothing happened. In a plot point that becomes important for the next pay-per-view, Austin’s Rumble win is shrouded in controversy as Bret tosses him near the end of the match, which the referees don’t see because they are trying to break up a brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, and Austin comes back in and tosses Vader, the Undertaker, and Bret to win the match. Bret throws a tantrum after the match, pushing around the referees and yelling at the commentary team. We’ll cover more fallout of Austin’s victory when we recap the next edition of Monday Night Raw. The Bret-Austin showdown was the big highlight of this Rumble, but there weren’t a lot of other memorable moments and most of that is due to the quick pace of eliminations in the first half of the match. Rating: **¾
-A video package recaps the Sid-Shawn Michaels feud.
-Pettengill interviews Shawn Michaels, who says that despite having the flu he’s going to use the power of San Antonio to win back the WWF title.
-WWF Championship Match: “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (w/Jose Lothario) pins Sid (Champion) with Sweet Chin Music to win the title at 13:48:
This was Lothario’s swan song as Michaels manager and it was long overdue, as his presence was not needed during Michaels first run with the title. This is the reverse crowd dynamic that was present in Madison Square Garden at the Survivor Series when Sid won the title. With crowd dynamics like that, it’s somewhat disappointing that they didn’t try to have a rubber match at a more neutral site that would have an equal share of smarks and marks. Sid concentrates on the back for nearly ten minutes, but Shawn shrugs it off during his comeback, which is something that really gets on my nerves since it renders that portion of the match meaningless. In another ridiculous spot, Sid powerbombs Michaels on the arena floor, but Michaels recovers mere moments later to get back into the ring. In a nice piece of continuity with their Survivor Series match, Michaels blasts Sid with a camera after the referee gets bumped. The finish to this match was never in doubt, since the main selling point of the show was to see Michaels regain the title and the WWF, unlike WCW, had a knack for sending the crowd home happy. This was not on the same level as their Survivor Series match, since the back and forth action was limited, potentially by Michaels illness, and it’s hard to buy into Michaels winning a match in Hulk Hogan-like fashion. At the time, logic held that Sid had fulfilled his purpose as a transitional champion and after this show would do some jobs to some of the main event and upper midcard talent. However, that reasoning proved very premature. Rating: **½
The Final Report Card: On paper, you would think that the Alamo Dome would provide a great setting for a pay-per-view. It’s a large venue and most times when you pack a large number of wrestling fans into an arena you are going to be guaranteed a great atmosphere. However, aside from the main event and parts of the Rumble, this is the quietest crowd for a big time pay-per-view that you will ever see. In terms of the show, nothing stands out except for Austin’s spots in the Rumble and at the time that wasn’t worth the price of admission since Austin would have bigger moments in 1997.
Show Evaluation: Thumbs Down