(OK, time to MARATHON these before NXT starts. We’ve got 10 left, so buckle in for the rest of the day.)
The SmarK Rant for WWF Royal Rumble 1997 – 01.21.97
Frankly, I’m shocked this one won the poll. Usually you guys like to torture me and I thought it was Souled Out in my future.
Live from San Antonio, TX, drawing 60,000 (48,000 paid) with a ton of cheap tickets. Still, the gate was half a million, so not too shabby. Buyrate was 0.7, which is…OK.
The pre-match video is pretty hilarious, with the announcer noting that Shawn received criticism early in his career for being “cocky and flamboyant”. You know, the same stuff that Vince was still saying about him every week.
Your hosts are Vince McMahon & Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler. Minor note: This was the official debut of “Good Ol’ JR” and the black cowboy hat that Vince spent four years trying to get him to wear. And then he proceeded to keep it for the next 20 years, showing that Vince was right all along.
Intercontinental title: Hunter Hearst Helmsley v. Goldust
In the video package for this one, Todd Pettingill actually refers to Hunter as “Triple H” for the first time, I believe. This also marks the long-forgotten debut of Mr. Hughes as Hunter’s bodyguard (or “butler” as they refer to him). That idea flopped pretty hard. Goldust attacks and they brawl on the floor to start. Back in, Hunter escapes with an atomic drop as JR talks about what a “thinking man’s wrestler” that Hunter is. Almost like he’s cerebral, you might say. Back to the floor another brawl, and this time Goldust drops the stairs on him. That’s some pretty lenient officiating. Like you’re allowed to drop 100 pound metal stairs on a guy’s head and get off with a warning, but if you use a belt you’re disqualified?
UPDATE FROM VINCE: George & Adam have been thrown out of the Alamodome. Good riddance.
Back in the ring, Goldust hits a clothesline out of the corner for two, but Hunter dumps him as even the announcers acknowledge that this match is taking forever to get out of the blocks. Back to the floor and Hunter misses a charge and runs into the railing on his knee, and Goldust drops the stairs on him AGAIN, right in front of the ref! Goldust works on the knee in the ring and gets the figure-four as this thing drags on. Back to the floor and Goldust clips him while Hunter’s supposed bodyguard just stands there.
Say what you will about Chyna, but when the time was right to kick someone in the nuts, you could depend on her. Goldust drops him kneefirst on the stairs, but finally Hunter fights back on his own while his useless so-called bodyguard just stands there. They continue slowly fighting on the floor and now Hunter grabs the director’s chair, but THIS is what finally prompts the idiot ref to take action and stop him. Really, a balsa wood chair is where you draw the line? Meanwhile, even the production guys are bored and we cut to Todd interviewing a country singer in the audience because nothing is going on in the ring. So finally Goldust gets all fired up and makes a comeback after Hunter was in control for like 30 seconds, and he goes up, but gets crotched. And then he comes off the top and misses an elbow anyway. Hunter grabs the belt while Hughes distracts the ref, but Goldust uses it for two. Finally Hughes makes himself useful, saving Hunter’s title by pulling him out, and KICK WHAM PEDIGREE finishes at 17:07. They’re already promising a rematch for the next PPV. Lucky us. Dave’s summation of HHH: “Helmsley has potential, but at this point, he’s being pushed only on potential and politics, and because he’s got a good head of hair.” Yeah, but WHAT a head of hair it was! *1/2 By the way, Hughes was quickly fired, which should be no surprise to anyone who has followed his career and stupid personal choices. Like, he got fired from ECW for drugs! THE SAME COMPANY THAT EMPLOYED RAVEN FOR FOUR YEARS!
Ahmed Johnson v. Faarooq
Finally, the blowoff, although months too late. Ahmed attacks in the corner to start and beats on Faarooq, but a shot to the kidneys turns the tide. Faarooq brings in a belt, but Ahmed WHIPS HIM LIKE A GOVERNMENT MULE as the shoddy refereeing continues. He was literally whipping the man with a belt in the middle of the ring! If you can’t trust a professional wrestling referee to enforce the rules, who can you trust? Sadly, the Nation interferes on the floor and Faarooq takes over with the lamest slam on a chair ever. Back in, Faarooq goes to work on the kidneys, the perfect strategy to excite a stadium full of casual fans buying $5 tickets at Taco Bell.
Faarooq goes to a rear chinlock, but Ahmed escapes with an electric chair and powerslams him to make the comeback. Faarooq cuts him off with a spinebuster and stops to yell at the fans, but Ahmed pops up like Batman from behind him and they’re just like “fuck it” at this point and the entire Nation runs in for the DQ at 8:40. DUD Dave gave it *1/2 and called it “better than expected” in his review, which is…generous. Ahmed beats up one of the nameless Nation goons and powerbombs him through the French table.
Meanwhile, Terry Funk is ready for the Rumble. Completely forgot about him here.
Vader v. Undertaker
Vince, as always, would like to remind us that Vader can mix it up with the best of them when it comes to fisticuffs. Vader pounds away to start using his “sizeable girth”, but Taker no-sells it all. I feel like I’d rather not know the details of Vader’s “girth”. Vader bails and necksnaps Taker to take over, but tries a backdrop and stands there bent over waiting, swear to god, for a count of three before Taker counters with a fameasser. Taker goes old school, but Vader crotches him and we get more laying around. Vader slowly pounds on him and Taker comes back with a backdrop suplex, but he puts his head down and gets powerbombed for two. Taker immediately no-sells it and makes the comeback with the clothesline and a chokeslam, but Paul Bearer waddles to ringside and provides distraction. Undertaker wastes time going after him and Vader attacks. So they do a gentle bump to the floor and Taker charges the railing and knocks himself out in the process. Back in, the Vaderbomb finishes at 13:20 in an anticlimactic ending. Woof, not good. *
At this point, we get assorted soundbites from Rumble entrants, including the famous British Bulldog “I’m BIZARRRRRRRRE!” as he emerges from his car. Save the show, Davey!
Hector Garza & Perro Aguayo & Canek v. Jerry Estrada & Heavy Metal & Fuerza Guerrera
All right, this lucha match between six guys that no one watching would possibly know should really pick up this awful show! Only in the WWF can you see a spectacle like this match, Vince notes. Well, aside from all the other times you’d see this in Mexico, I suppose. The crowd is immediately DEAD silent. Apparently the big screens above the ring were all shut off for the match as well, so no one could see what was happening. Perro backdrops Estrada to the floor in an impressive bump. Ancient Canek and Guerrera do a boring sequence while the crowd is openly leaving for the bathrooms. Garza and Heavy Metal do a better sequence with some flips thrown in. The match continues going nowhere with no heat and no storyline, although heel Heavy Metal gets beat up in the babyface corner for a bit. Perro Aguayo is the only one showing any kind of enthusiasm here. Canek shows his amazing senior citizen powers with press slams of the heels as we mercifully move towards the finish, and finally Garza does a dive and Perro finishes Metal with a double stomp at 10:50. Yah. *
Finkel announces the attendance as the legit 60,000 number, which is out of character for them. Not only that, but it turned out later that they announced the number slightly LOW, about a 100 people shy of the real one. Crush is #1 and Ahmed Johnson is #2, as it’s “everyone works twice” night. Although the intervals were supposed to be 60 seconds, they had to stretch it out closer to 90 seconds again because Shawn was laid up with the flu and sleeping on Vince’s couch in the back trying to recover in time for the main event. Crush works on the kidneys and is unable to push Ahmed over the top, as Razor Ramon is #3 without a countdown timer because apparently the guy in charge of it can’t do it.
Ahmed tosses him right out of the WWF at 2:18 and he leaves for Mexico and never returns to the business. Faarooq comes out and Ahmed eliminates himself at 3:00 to chase. Moron. PIG is #4 and he beats on Crush with nothing going on, until Steve Austin is #5. The lack of timer is really killing the fun of this match. Plus the match sucking already is killing it, but at least the countdown timer gets the fans into it automatically. Phineas dumps Crush at 6:15, but Austin stuns him and tosses him at 6:30 in turn to clear the ring. Bart Gunn is #6 and I don’t like his chances. Bart with a sloppy fameasser and he charges like a moron and Steve clotheslines him out at 7:15. Austin wants some COMPETITION and checks his fake watch, and finally the clock is working. Jake Roberts is #7, and he’s actually a bit fired up…and grabs a wristlock. Well, he tried. British Bulldog is #8 and Jake is out at 9:36. Bulldog stomps a mudhole in Austin. Pierroth is #9 and no one gives a shit. The Sultan is #10 as we really ramp up the star power. Mil Mascaras is #11 and Sultan immediately hits a belly to belly, which Mascaras no-sells. Hey, this is boring as shit, let’s take a paragraph break.
Welcome to paragraph #2! Hunter Hearst Helmsley is #12 and everyone is laying around and/or stomping. Bulldog clotheslines the Sultan out at 16:25 while Austin beats on Hunter. Owen Hart is #13 and he’s right after Austin. The tag champs double-team Austin, but Owen accidentally dumps Bulldog out at 17:53 in the process. This was further setting up the split that never happened. Goldust is #14 and Austin immediately jumps him as the bodies pile up again. Cybernetico is #15 and he beats on Mascaras as the filler continues. Marc Mero is #16 and two of the Mexicans are eliminated by Mascaras at 21:50, and he dives on them to eliminate himself at 22:00. GOD FORBID that Mascaras even takes a fucking bump over the top rope to do a job in a Royal Rumble. The announcers note that he probably doesn’t know the rules of the match. Dave’s take: “If you asked him, he’d probably tell you he invented the battle royal.” Goldust dumps Hunter at 22:30. Latin Lover is #17 with more lucha filler. He throws superkicks like a Young Buck and Owen skins the cat to save himself, then tosses Goldust at 24:18. Faarooq is #18 and he immediately dumps Latin Lover at 25:00. This brings Ahmed back in with a 2×4 to wake up the crowd, and he chases Faarooq out of the ring at 25:25, then Austin tosses Owen and Mero at 26:00 to clear the ring again. Savio Vega is #19 as we’re hitting a good pace now and he’s all over Austin and catapults him into the corner, showing good fire. Austin stunguns him, and he’s gone at 27:00. Hot take: Austin is a great pro wrestler. Jesse Jammes is #20 and Austin isn’t having any of that bullshit. Jammes does his nonsense and Austin KICKS HIS ASS and tosses him at 28:19. OK, now this is getting awesome and Austin is getting over. Bret Hart is #21 and Austin’s double-take is also awesome.
They slug it out and Bret is all over him and pounds away in the corner, but Jerry Lawler is #22 to make the save. So Bret casually punches him right out at 31:01. Jerry does a funny bit where he says “it takes a king” on commentary, then finishes with “to know a king” after he gets thrown out. Diesel is #23, ironically with his hair finally starting to look like Nash’s just before he left. Terry Funk is #24, not even waiting for the countdown. Funk with a weak piledriver on Bret as Rocky Maivia is #25. I’m shocked he’s only won a single Royal Rumble, actually. I guess that’s because he was normally World champion already, but you’d think he’d win more of them. Mankind is #26 and Flash Funk is #27 and it’s a lot of punching and kicking. Vince does make sure to note that Flash and Terry Funk are not related, although they would end up as a tag team later on, ironically after Flash had reverted to 2 Cold Scorpio again. Vader is #28 and he beats on some people but nothing is going on otherwise. HOG is #29 for an anticlimactic addition and it’s just another pile of people again. Lawler on commentary is doing a running gag where he got hit so hard by Bret that he can’t even remember being in the match, which is a cute bit. And finally, Undertaker is #30 and he’s in a bad mood. He chokeslams the heels and Vader tosses Flash Funk out at 44:47, which is actually the first elimination in 15 minutes. Taker throws Henry out at 47:47 as everyone is just kind of stalling until the finish. Rocky leaps at Mankind and gets caught in the claw and thrown out at 48:30. Mankind and Funk slug it out on the ropes and Mankind suplexes Funk out at 49:22. And then Taker boots Mankind out at 49:31. So with the refs all preoccupied with getting those two out, Bret tosses out Austin at 50:16…but the refs don’t see it, and he comes back in and throws out Bret, Taker and Vader to win at 50:35. Bret threw out Diesel, so he doesn’t count as “fruit of the poisoned tree” when it came to the Final Four show. Bret, of course, is greatly offended by this injustice towards himself. Definitely a lower level Rumble in the grand scheme of things, offset somewhat by the Steve Austin Show most of the way. Not to mention that the finish went from 8 guys to a winner in less than a minute after 15:00 with no eliminations at all. Someone on the blog called it a better highlight package than an actual match, and I’d agree with that. **1/2 I will say, it aged better than I remember, and there’s not many Rumbles I’d call actively bad.
So of course the original plan was Bret winning, but Vince Russo “predicted” him to win on Livewire and they changed it to Austin instead for the swerve. So not only did we not get the logical winner, but the actual winner (Austin) didn’t get his title shot. And then Bret got the World title at Final Four to make up for that, but only held THAT for a day and it went back to Sid again, leaving Undertaker with the title shot because reasons. And they wondered why WM13 did one of the lowest buyrates in the history of the show.
WWF World title: Sid v. Shawn Michaels
Shawn is sick with the flu and Sid is recovering from a car accident a week earlier, so the bar was low here going in. Jose Lothario makes his final appearance with Shawn here, as this match was basically the last stand for “boyhood dream” version Shawn Michaels before he radically changed his character for good. Much to Vince’s relief, Shawn was a complete babyface here and Sid a complete heel. Sid pounds on him to start, but Shawn boots Sid out of the ring. They brawl on the floor and Shawn rakes the eyes to escape a press slam out there, but Sid gets a powerslam for two back in the ring. Sid quickly goes to the rear chinlock because Shawn is clearly in need of a breather already. Shawn fights back, but bumps to the floor again as this match is in the unique position of needing SID EUDY to carry the action. It tells you how sick that Shawn must have been that he wasn’t able to pull out a classic in a hometown World title victory during the prime of his career. Sid with another resthold and he cuts off a comeback with a clothesline and goes to the bearhug. Shawn is really struggling here. Shawn fights back and he’s pouring sweat where normally he wouldn’t even be breathing hard yet. Back to the bearhug and Sid drops a leg for two. Back to the chinlock, but Shawn makes the comeback, only to have Sid toss him again. Back in, the ref is bumped and Sid gets the chokeslam for the visual pinfall, but a second ref comes in for two. Sid beats up that ref as well and beats on Shawn in the corner while they obviously have a conversation about Shawn’s readiness to continue, and Shawn hits Sid with a video camera for two. Finally Shawn is ready to go home and take Nyquil, so the superkick finishes at 13:50 to give Shawn his second WWF title. All credit to Shawn for gutting that one out, but this may have been his worst PPV main event ever. *1/2
The Rumble was decent at times, but the rest of this show was boring and filled with screwjob finishes and bad wrestling. Thumbs down.