The SmarK Rant for WWF Royal Rumble 98 – 01.18.98
Live from San Jose, CA, drawing an 18,000 sellout and a pretty “meh” 350,000 buys, although that was certainly trending upwards from the year before.
Your hosts are Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler, along with special guest MIKE TYSON in the skyboxes, taking a break from solving mysteries with his adopted daughter and pidgeon friend.
The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust v. The Man They Call Vader
We’re only three months removed from where I’m currently reviewing in September of 97, and Goldust is now a drastically different character, veering into dressing like some hit “random” on the CAW feature of a WWE video game. In this case, green and purple striped tights and blue hair. The whole thing was a huge disaster, both character-wise and workrate-wise, and they had to pull the plug and walk it back to the original character after a few months of this nonsense. Goldust attacks but gets dumped to the floor by Vader and run into the stairs. Back in, Vader slugs away on him, but Luna trips him up and Goldust clotheslines him a couple of times to take over. Luna gets some shots in on the floor and Goldust slugs away in the corner, but Vader comes back with a clothesline after Goldust gets his gold thong too close to Vader’s face. Vader with a splash for two off that. “Vader is THICK!” declares JR. Not like, the “Gina Carano in the Mandalorian” type of thick, I hope. That would just be weird. I don’t even think that was a thing in 1998 anyway. Vader comes back at half-speed and blocks a sunset flip with a butt splash, and then goes up with Luna on his back and hits the Vader bomb to finish at 7:50. Match was really slow, but mostly OK and inoffensive, and the finish was good. Goldust was just so off-putting in his deliberately trolling role, though. *1/2 The year ended up pretty rotten for Vader, though.
Meanwhile, Steve Austin shows up in his truck and orders Michael Cole to park it. AND IT BETTER NOT BE SCRATCHED.
Battallion, Tarantula & El Torito v. Max Mini, Nova & Mosaic
Sunny is the guest referee here as they continue just throwing her on TV for the hell of it. I wonder if Battallion also lied about serving in the mini-Marines like Sgt. Slaughter? There seems to be some kind of music overdubbing happening over top of the technico entrance, although I have no idea why. Nova gets a couple of headscissors on Tarantula and dropkicks him to the floor, and it’s over to Max and Battallion. Max takes him to the floor with an armdrag and we get Torito and Mosaic. Torito overpowers him and Tarantula gets a hooking clothesline as the crowd is already turning on the match. Nova throws Torito around with armdrags and then Mosaic gets a bunch of armdrags on Battallion. Max Mini gets a bunch of armdrags on Tarantula as this is just going nowhere. We get the comedy spot as Sunny sort-of leapfrogs Max Mini and then helps him fight off the heels, while JR makes a joke about she “likes short guys”. Poor Candido. They do some highspots on the floor and then Max gets a rollup on Torito for the pin at 7:47. Dave really liked it in the Observer, but the crowd was dead and I couldn’t get into it at all. Also, they overdub crowd noise at the end on this version, so I’m wondering if this was a home video release on the Network. *
Meanwhile, the Nation goes looking for Steve Austin, but they just find a foam finger in his dressing room.
Meanwhile, Vince and Shane hang out with Mike Tyson in his skybox.
Meanwhile, on RAW, Mark Henry turns on Ken Shamrock (despite wearing a “Rocky Sucks” t-shirt!) and joins the Nation of Domination.
The Rock offers his opinions on the Bill Clinton – Paula Jones scandal ongoing at that point: “When you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas. Don’t be silly, cover your willy, Willie!” Man, for the days when the President being a man-whore was the biggest impeachable controversy. When is the Rock going to quit teasing us and run for the Oval Office?
Intercontinental title: The Rock v. Ken Shamrock
Rock is still using the original classic belt at this point, shortly before switching to the oval belt that I hated. Rock was just a heat magnet at this point and was clearly becoming the breakout star of the promotion. They fight for the lockup and Rock tries for the cheapshot, but Shamrock beats him to it and puts him down with a high kick. Rock goes flying to the floor and stalls for a while as the announcers keep hammering how Shamrock goes TO THE ZONE and it doesn’t often pay off for him. FORESHADOWING! Shamrock tries a rana and Rock drops him on the top rope to break it up and then slugs away to take over. Shamrock with a crossbody for two and a fisherman’s suplex for two. Shamrock slugs away, but Rock does a slick reversal into the hurricane DDT for two, which actually draws a big reaction from the crowd. Rock with his early favorite move, the chinlock. Once he got that out of his system and learned other ways to fill time in the match, he went to new levels in the ring. Rock tries another DDT, but Shamrock reverses as JR reminds us again that we’re not watching “the senior’s tour”, which is always hilarious considering the eventual direction of the company, where it’s now literally a senior’s tour for the benefit of Saudi princes. Shamrock comes back with a rana and the Nation runs in, allowing Rock to use brass knuckles on Shamrock for two. He wisely shoves them into Shamrock’s tights to hide the evidence, but Shamrock comes back with a belly to belly for the pin and the title at 10:56. However, Rock immediately cries foul, and the ref checks Shamrock’s and finds the weapon. Shamrock tries the “IT’S NOT MINE!” defense that never works on Live PD either, and Rock retains by DQ instead. Yup, Dusty Finish, baby. Why would Shamrock voluntarily reach into his tights and hand over the knuckles? What a moron. Match was OK, they worked hard but both guys are still green and limited at this point. **1/2
Meanwhile, the Boriquas are the next ones looking for Steve Austin, but they find one of the Harrisssseessssesss instead and that triggers a brawl with DOA.
WWF tag team titles: The New Age Outlaws v. LOD
Man, they just milked this boring feud forever in 1997-98. This was pre-DX for the Outlaws, but the act was basically the same. This also comes just after JR was talking about how the promotion wasn’t “the seniors tour” and was “young athletes in the prime of their career”. Clearly the LOD was done as a top team at this point and badly in need of ANYTHING to freshen them up. This wasn’t it. The money was obviously in the Outlaws but it took a few more months for everyone in charge to buy into it. Speaking of which, this is actually quite timely, because the Outlaws are wearing Green Bay jerseys in order to troll the 49ers fans in the audience! LOD clears the ring to start while the announcers stress that Animal has a bad back. Hawk no-sells everything and gets a neckbreaker on Road Dogg, then beats Billy down on the mat. Animal comes in with a back suplex on Gunn and follows with powerslams on both Outlaws, but a cheapshot turns the tide and JR again stresses how Animal is having back spasms. The Outlaws double-team Hawk for a bit and of course he won’t sell anything, while Animal sells on the floor forever. Roadie handcuffs Hawk to the post and the Outlaws double-team Animal back in the ring. But Animal makes his own comeback and gets a shoulderblock on Gunn for two. Powerslam gets two, but Road Dogg saves with a chair for the DQ at 8:00. Jesus, they had Animal, who is supposedly crippled with a bad back, 2-on-1 with Hawk HANDCUFFED TO THE DAMN POST, and the LOD not only can’t do a job and in fact actually win the match? And then Hawk breaks the cuffs and makes his own save with the chair to get their heat back, whatever heat they had left at this point. Just awful and completely counterproductive. -*
Star power was lacking at this point, so everyone on the show works twice. Some more than others. Obviously everyone in the world knew who the winner was going to be and there wasn’t going to be any swerves.
Cactus Jack is #1 and Chainsaw Charlie is #2. So we get a chair v. chainsaw battle to start, which goes to the chair, and they have a chair duel while Funk pulls off his “mask” and tries to remind Jack that they’re friends. So Jack hands over his chair and offers up a free shot, and Funk obliges. Tom Brandi is #3 at 1:45 and he gets double-teamed by the maniacs and thrown out at 2:05. No wonder Mero called him a jobber. Jack and Funk go back to slugging it out, and Jack suplexes him onto a pair of chairs. The Rock is #4 at 3:40 and he decides to go after both guys as JR talks about the “grueling” 7 minute match that Rock had earlier in the night. Jack and Funk drop a garbage can over Rock’s head and work him over for the comedy spot, but Rocky falls out through the ropes and so he’s still safe. Mosh is #5 at 5:30 and he goes after Funk while Rock and Jack slug it out in the corner. Funk misses a moonsault on Mosh and PIG is #6 at 7:20. Just a bunch of bodies in there now. 8 Ball is #7 at 9:10 as we’re piling up the geek midcarders already. Jack charges Funk and gets tossed at 9:30, thus ending his night. OR DOES IT? Rock tries to throw Funk out, but he ties himself up in the ropes and hangs on. Bradshaw is #8 at 10:50 for another tag team midcard filler and the crowd does not care about any of them. Just think, we have the OTHER half of all these lame tag teams to look forward to later! Meanwhile now they’re got so much talent stockpiled that they’re giving away surprises on Smackdown two weeks before the Rumble because they can’t fit them in. Owen Hart is #9 at 12:40 to a big babyface pop, but Jeff Jarrett and Jim Cornette attack him at the entrance and take him out to end that excitement. Back in the ring, more nothing. Time for a paragraph break, I guess.
Steve Blackman is #10 at 14:30 and he’s also unable to get the Funk out. Punch punch punch, kick kick kick. Bradshaw with a lariat on Funk as the Texan-on-Texan violence continues, and D-Lo Brown is #11 at 16:10. Nothing going on there. Moving on, Kurrgan is #12 at 18:00. He no-sells everyone and tosses Mosh at 18:52. Marc Mero is #13 at 19:40 and Sable of course is the big star there. Kurrgan throws out Blackman at 20:25 and then it’s back to everyone slugging away again. Ken Shamrock is #14 at 21:30 as these intervals are all over the place. Everyone gangs up and puts Kurrgan out at 21:57 in the Andre spot. Rock gets the People’s Elbow in on Funk, but no one cares yet. Thrasher is #15 at 23:20 as we’re halfway through with a lot of tag teams yet to come. D-Lo and Rock turn on each other because of the whole “no honor among thieves” deal, but mostly it’s just people punching on the ropes. Mankind is #16 at 25:00 as the “Three Faces of Foley” gag continues tonight, about the only memorable thing about this Rumble, and he tosses out Funk at 25:30 to pay that off. Shamrock finally goes after Rock as TAFKA Goldust is #17 at 27:00. With a new outfit! At this point the match is so boring that I have to take a break and go do some laundry and dishes for something else to do. But really, no wonder it was so dull and obvious who had to win. What other option did they have? Owen Hart? Shamrock? Regardless, the only way they have to actually build any kind of suspense is running a show-long angle where someone might have injured Austin and thus he might not be 100%. That’s all they got.
Back to the match as Goldust manages to wrestle Mankind to the floor at 28:00. NWA North American champion Jeff Jarrett is #18 at 28:40. Like anyone would ever care about the NWA again. Owen Hart runs in at that point and attacks Jarrett, apparently back in the match after getting attacked earlier. Jarrett throws him out, but Owen skins the cat and throws out Jarrett at 30:15 to a huge pop. The Honky Tonk Man is #19 at 30:30 while Rock throws out Shamrock after a nutshot at 30:40. HHH heads down to the ring and pulls out Owen after a shot with a crutch at 31:20 to move Owen from the JJ feud to that feud instead. That one didn’t go very well for Owen either. Ahmed Johnson is #20 at 32:30, apparently not injured this week. He gets some shine, but the train had left the station on Ahmed’s career long ago. Mark Henry is #21 at 34:00 and Lawler jokes that he should just lift up the ring and dump everyone out. I’m still waiting for them to do that spot with Braun Strowman. The Nation double-teams Ahmed and Henry throws powder in his face, hopefully not traded for Sunny’s services. Someone Unknown is #22 at 36:05, but no one comes out so who the fuck knows, as Ahmed gets thrown out by Henry. He looked UNGODLY terrible in there so good riddance. Phineas is also tossed at the same time. The roster is so thin that they’re actually skipping guys. I guess later on it turned out to be Skull, who was the guy mistakenly attacked by the Nation earlier in the show.
Kama is #23 at 37:40 as the Nation is piling up in the ring and it’s just a bunch of fellas. We get a showdown between Rock and Honky Tonk, which could have been a fun one-off match at the time but it’s just some choking in the corner here. Steve Austin is #24 at 39:20 to finally get something going, and everyone stops, but Austin comes in from behind and starts WRECKING SHIT. Mero is out at 39:40. 8 Ball at 39:55. And that’s end of this run, sadly. HOG is #25 at 41:20 and he goes after Austin and it’s more guys laying on the ropes. Savio Vega is #26, nothing going on. Faarooq is #27 at 44:58 and he immediately goes after Rock, who goes through the ropes with Austin as they slug it out on the floor. Lawler immediately “confirms” that Austin is eliminated so of course he’s not. Dude Love is #28 at 46:40 to finish off that deal and he knocks Bradshaw out on the way in while everyone clears out so Rock can do another People’s Elbow, this time on D-Lo. Austin attacks Rock again and they continue their war. Chainz is #29 to really ramp up the star power at 48:30. Vader is #30 at 50:00 and he tosses Honky at 50:30. Austin dumps Thrasher at 51:38 and then Kama at 51:45. He tosses Savio out at 52:32, and Goldust clotheslines Vader out at 52:40. HOG flies out at 52:45 after charging the Dude, and Chainz tosses Goldust at 53:00. Chainz and Henry get thrown out at 53:34.
Final four: Steve Austin, Dude Love, Faarooq & The Rock
So it’s Nation v. Austin & Dude and everyone slugs it out in the corners before Dude gets the DDT on Rock. Austin turns on him, however, and kicks him in the nuts, allowing Faarooq to eliminate Dude at 54:39. I guess Foley is out of Faces. Rock lets Faarooq do the work on Austin, but then turns on Faarooq and tosses him at 55:00. Austin and Rock slug it out in the one hot portion of the match, and it’s KICK WHAM STUNNER and Rock flies out at 55:30 for the inevitable Austin win. This was a lower-tier Rumble for sure, as they couldn’t even field 30 people for it! **1/4 Man, the Rock v. Austin portion at the end completely energized the crowd, though, and you could tell how special that pairing was.
Meanwhile, Mike Tyson gushes that Cold Stone is his man!
Casket match, WWF title: Shawn Michaels v. Undertaker
Although Shawn was in full DX mode by this point, he was still wearing his normal HBK gear. Shawn slugs away in the corner to start, which just annoys Undertaker, and Shawn gets choked out as a result. Taker gets a press slam and backdrops Shawn over the top for an innocuous bump off the casket, and let’s go to the Observer!
“Michaels took one incredible bump early taking a backdrop over the top rope and cracking his lower back on the casket as he went over. He was really lucky he wasn’t hurt on that one.”
Back in, Taker gets another slam on Shawn, but misses a legdrop as Shawn is already grabbing his back. What great selling!…we thought at the time. Taker beats on him in the corner and Shawn bumps to the floor again, but necknsaps Taker from the floor. Back in, he tries a crossbody and Taker powerslams him and rolls him into the casket, but can’t close it fully. Shawn finds powder in there and blinds Taker with it to take over, then gets a moonsault out of the corner and slugs away. They fight to the floor again and Taker gets run into the stairs out there while Shawn is visibly wincing every time he has to use his back muscles. Shawn with a piledriver on the stairs and Hunter uses his crutch for some abuse as well. Back in, Shawn works the back and rolls Taker into the casket, but he fights out and back into the ring. Shawn with a neckbreaker while JR reminds us that Shawn has beaten lots of big men before, like DIESEL. Wow, what a hot and spicy shot fired there. Spicier than the chili that my wife is making as we speak. Shawn goes up with the flying elbow and superkick and rolls Taker into the casket again, but he stops to offer a “suck it” to the crowd and Taker uses a testicular claw to throw Shawn back in the ring. Taker makes the comeback and Shawn goes flying all over the ring. Taker with the big boot, but he misses a charge and lands in the casket again, and Shawn follows him out with a flying elbow off the top and into the casket. Both guys are in with the lid down, but Shawn gets up first and Taker drags him back in kicking and screaming and beats on him some more. Back in, Taker with the chokeslam and he tombstones Shawn off the apron and into the casket. But now we get the 1994 callback with the Boriquas and Outlaws all running in to gang up on him, but the lights go out and Kane makes the save. He was pretending to be a babyface to stretch out the storyline to WM at this point, see. But then of course Kane turns on his brother, chokeslams him, and puts him in the casket to give Shawn the win at 20:34. They were having a good match despite Shawn’s back injury, although still the lesser of the trilogy, but that finish was some Russo-riffic nonsense. ***1/2
And then we close the show with Kane lighting the casket on fire to apparently burn Undertaker alive. They sure did that kind of stuff a lot to each other. Well, you can’t choose your family, right?
Eh, the undercard sucked, the Rumble was bad, and the casket match was notable for Shawn’s back injury but was easily the worst of their series here. This show gets an AVOID IT from here.