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Friday, 25 January 2008

Retro Rumble : 1997

The 1997 Royal Rumble took place in San Antonio, Texas, at the Alamo Dome.

San Antonio is the home of Shawn Michaels. If you are keeping up, the last two Rumbles that we have reviewed have seen Michaels win the prestigious Royal Rumble match. The first time, he went to Wrestlemania and lost to Diesel.

The second time around, though, as a Babyface and the ‘leader of the new generation’ around whom the company was building, he was put over Bret Hart after a gruelling Ironman match.

By the time we rolled around to the Rumble in 1997, Michaels had lost the belt to Sid Justice/Sid Vicious/Psycho Sid/plain old Sid at the Survivor Series at Madison Square Garden, and as the Rumble approached it was to be the rematch.

It seems that we do not have a pre-show Todd Pettengill waffle-fest this year, but we go straight to the commentary team of Vince McMahon, Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross.

We begin the show with Goldust, and this year it’s a babyface Goldust, though still with the same music, effects, and indeed the same lady on his arm. He is going to be taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who we are informed has an expanding ego since he won the IC title. Ego? Trips? Nah.

After a brief video charting the rivalry between Triple H and Goldust, The future Game emerges, and as JR says, he is not alone. He is accompanied by a man quickly indentified by our commentators as Curtis Hughes, or Mr Hughes as he was normally known. He had a brief run in 1993, but as I recall only appeared at one PPV, that being King of the Ring of that year.

Anyway, Hughes is alongside Triple H as his ‘butler’ apparently. JR says he heard Helsmley bragging about his new Butler earlier on in the day.

Well, bodyguard or butler or whatever, Hughes has a negligible effect early on, as Goldust has the advantage in the opening exchanges. He even blatantly drops the steel ring steps onto Helmsley’s back, which albeit a cool spot makes no sense because not only does Goldust not get disqualified but Hughes doesn’t protect his charge.

Triple H has a brief flurry, but back on the outside he misses a charge against the rail, hurting his knee, and Goldust once again uses the steps on the knee of Hunter.

Back in the ring the match slows down, and the crowd are dead. Until, that is, the face of Marlena appears on screen, whereby we hear cheers. Well, Terri was quite the hottie back then, so I’ll give them credit.

Goldust continues to work the knee, and slaps on a figure 4. The commentators talk about the wear on tear on these guys since they are in the Rumble later on. JR gives a sensible insight into the fact that each man could draw a late number in the Rumble. Ross was superb back in these days. Vince was the presenter and held everything together, and basically called upon King for heel commentary and JR for babyface analysis. It worked nicely.

Goldie audibly calls Hunter a ‘piece of shit’ drawing a cheer, and once again uses the steps. Still no DQ.

Triple H gains control, but the ref stops him using the director’s chair, for some reason. In the crowd, Pettingill interviews a country singer who I don’t know, and it seems by this point they’ve sent him out into the crowd to stop him bothering Vince. He’s also grown a goatee. Maybe he was Coach Mark One.

Goldust regains control, but misses a top rope elbow. Hughes throws the IC belt to Triple H, who kisses Marlena and swings at Goldie. He misses, and Goldust hits the belt shot. Hughes pulls Hunter to the outside during the pinfall attempt, and Goldust puts out Marlena’s cigar on Hughes neck. Goldust turns into a clothesline and then a Pedigree. Even then it was a move that no-one dared move after receiving. Except the Warrior. But we don’t talk about him, do we.

Helmsley wins and leaves with Hughes. Hunter’s face is covered in lipstick after his kiss with Marlena. So much so he looks like a man in drag. Although these days he has bigger breasts.

Next up in Ahmed Johnson v Farooq.

It is easy to forget just how over Ahmed was. Since we saw him beating Jeff Jarrett by DQ the year previous, he had a brief IC title run, but feuded with Farooq (Ron Simmons) during the time where he had legit Kidney trouble. This was inserted into the storyline, and this was their first meeting, back in the day when people could feud for some time before having a PPV encounter. See, we don’t have that anymore. The occasionally liver enzyme issue, but that’s it.

Simmons is accompanied by members of his Nation of Domination, which was a thinly veiled rip off of a Black Panther-like movement. Although one with a tough guy enforcer who is white (Crush) and two white rappers. The ring is surrounded by gentlemen in suits acting as back up, including an at-that-point unnamed D-Lo Brown.

This match, like the first features action whereby there should be disqualifications. Chairshots, choking, belt whipping. But no bell is rung. Farooq has the upper hand with the story being that they eventually get to grips with Johnson’s kidney and wear him down.

The match is far from a classic. Very stop start match, and in fact is stop – for good – when Ahmed hits a spinebuster and Farooq instructs his followers to attack. Ahmed holds them off while Simmons slinks away. When Ahmed follows, he is attacked by an unnamed ‘nation member’ (not D-Lo), and Ahmed stalks this guy, grabs him and eventually Powerbombs him through the French announce table.

And that’s it. Very uninspiring stuff and the post match interview with Simmons is basically uninspiring. Yeah, stick to, ‘Damn’ in future.

Vader is next out, and we are told that he is not accompanied by Jim Cornette because Undertaker Tombstoned him on Superstars. JR wonders if Vader is a free agent. Not a planted line at all.

Taker follows to a huge ovation, and its circa 1997 leather trenchcoat, tear on the face Taker, as opposed to the undead zombie Taker, Satanic Taker or American Bad Ass Taker.

Taker gets to the corner but the lighting guys are not on the ball, as he does the arm raising but the lights don’t come on. JR talks about Undertaker giving away weight ‘unusually’ although in the previous few years on PPV taker had fought Kamala, Yokozuna, King Kong Bundy, Mabel and Giant Gonzales.

Vader had been around for a year at this point, but he was never built up as he could have been, and the way he looks shit-scared of Taker here is exactly why he never took off as a character. The chest-beating monster from the Ricky Mountains should have taken it to Undertaker and shown no fear. He could then have been a monster heel and it wouldn’t have taken anything away from Taker.

The opening exchanges of this are all Taker. Occasionally Vader gets a move in but Taker just does his sit up and Vader wusses out. Vader eventually takes control but we go to Todd who is the crowd with a teenage female fan. Not of his, obviously. She says he follows Shawn Michaels everywhere she goes (that’s a stalker, not a fan) and that she saved up the money by babysitting.

King gets annoyed about the fact that we had a boring segment about babysitting rather than watching Vader kick ass, and I think that was quite a genuine statement. JR does another cracking insight (I really am not being sarcastic) when he talks about the absence of Cornette, making mention of the fact that the referee (Jack Doan) was attacked by Vader ‘early last year’. JR is using continuity from nearly a year ago!

Vader powerbombs Undertaker eventually, but Taker no-sells it and starts a comeback. Old School, Chokeslam......but Paul Bearer, at this stage estranged from Taker approaches ring side. Taker throws Vader outside and goes to get Bearer. Right hand, then throws Bearer inside. He blocks a Vader attack, and they all end up outside again.

Taker sets up Vader in front of the frenchies who have a new table. But he misses a dive onto the railings after Bearer pulls Vader aside. Vader distracts the ref in the ring while Bearer strikes Taker with the urn.

Vader slides Taker in, and lands the Vaderbomb. Vader wins and leaves with Bearer. Taker, being a clean babyface, chokeslams the ref. Man, Doan couldn’t get a break then. I sort of forgive him now for being given all those divas matches where Stacy and Torrie rolled all over him.

Taker destroys some of the surrounds of the ring, and storms off. Another slow match, and so far we are no exactly cooking.

Next up is a special feature of six Mexican superstars, namely Jerry Estrada, Fuerza Guerrera & Heavy Metal v Perro Aguayo, Canek and Hector Garza.

The problem is that it would be all very well having a showcase match full of high-flying incidents as a basic spotfest. However, at this point, all the high-flying lucha guys were in WCW, so this is basically the leftovers. There is a nice exchange between Heavy Metal and Hector Garza, who had more success in the US that anyone else in match, with stints in WCW and TNA, but much of this is very ordinary fare, with JR trying desperately to hold it together on the commentary. Meanwhile the crowd are distinctly dead.

They gave over ten minutes to this fiasco, and it ended with a double stomp from Aguayo, which missed. Aguayo looked about 70, running around the ring, and my favourite spot was when he ran the ropes, got to the other side, stopped, climbed through the ropes then jumped onto (he missed) a guy on the outside. And apparently this guy is an absolute legend in Mexico.

Anyway, after that debacle, it’s onto the main spectacle, if not the main event. If you see what I mean. The Royal Rumble is possibly the most beloved match of the year, and after Fink does the rules the Nation of Domination music hits.

After initial speculation that it’s Farooq, we see that it is Crush. Crush looks distinctly annoyed to see that Ahmed Johnson is number two. A brawl breaks out and after 90 (ish) seconds out comes another guy. The clock is broken and there is no music, but this guy wouldn’t have a got a reaction anyway. It’s “Razor Ramon” except of course it isn’t, its Rick Bogner pretending to be Scott Hall, after a distinctly lame-ass gimmick whereby JR tried to claim that Diesel and Razor were back, except that it was two lookalikes. Who didn’t look like Nash and Hall.

He doesn’t last long, thrown by Ahmed, but Johnson soon eliminates himself, jumping over the top rope to chase Farooq who had snuck up to ringside.

Number four would be Phineas Godwinn, later to be known as Mideon, and shortly following him is a sound of breaking glass, and it’s a chap by the name of Stone Cold Steve Austin. He has a smattering of cheers, but he is a heel at this point, having lost to Bret Hart at the previous Survivor Series.

Crush holds Phineas for Austin, who comes off the second rope for a clothesline. He misses, hitting Crush, allowing Phineas to throw Crush out. Austin hits Phineas with a stunner, and removes him. Bart Gunn is next, but lasts a very short time.

Next is Jake Roberts, and a rematch from the King of the Ring final the year before, on the day that Austin first said the infamous 3:16 line. Austin comically preys before Jake gets there, and the two lock up.

Perhaps the aging Jake was a little off the pace here, because eventually he gets backdropped out of the ring, but does so while the British Bulldog is emerging as the next entrant. At this point Bulldog and Austin were at odds, with both men tweeners of sorts. Bulldog was poised to break up with his tag partner Owen Hart and Austin getting cheered increasingly.

They fight for the 90 seconds with Bulldog largely on top, and are joined by the number 9 entry Pierroth, again a Mexican import brought in for this match. There will be more to come.

GIMMICK ALERT NO.1 – Rikishi, dah, I mean Junior Fatu, dah, I mean The Sultan is on his way to the ring at 10, complete with pointy toes and face mask.

And speaking of masks, the man of a thousand masks is in, as yet another Mexican import for this Royal Rumble, although Mil Mascaras is a bit more a household name, and a huge star in Mexico. Don’t forget this Rumble in San Antonio is very close to the Mexican border, so the big crowd will have a large Hispanic element.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley, sans Mr Hughes, is next, slightly selling the leg injury he picked up in the Goldust match earlier in the evening. Bulldog clotheslines The Sultan to eliminate him.

On the way to the back Sultkishi passes Owen Hart on his way to the ring, where he instantly takes on Austin. When Stone Cold gets the upper hand Owen tag partner and brother in law Davey Boy helps him, but while Bulldog tries to oust Austin, Owen decides to undercut his brother in law. As I recall, they never did follow through with the Owen and Bulldog break up, although they teased it for a while. When Bret reformed the Hart Foundation their differences were patched up.

Goldust is next, and is followed by Cibernetico, another Mexican, who goes straight for Mascaras. I know we knock the modern product, but frankly I’m happy to have Mysterio, Guererro and so forth rather than this mob.

Marc Mero is on his way next. Hilariously, Jerry says “here comes trouble” and Vince quips “Yeah, Sable” and laughs. Oh if only you knew, ’97 Vince.

In a fantasic piece of countrymen sticking together, Cibernetico is eliminated by Mascaras and Pierroth, before the latter is thrown out by the former. Then, the experienced Mascaras, like a tool, does a plancha onto Pierroth. Yes, over the top. So they are all gone now.

Goldust clotheslines Helmsley out, and gets into with Mero, as Latin Lover, the last of the Latin entrants. Owen clumsily botches throwing Goldie out, before having to do it with a simple shot to the back. Farooq is next, and quickly gets rid of Latin Lover, but soon Ahmed is back, and has a 2x4 which makes Hacksaw Jim Duggan’s look like a pencil.

Simmons comically looks for a way out of the ring (try through the dopes. Damn!) but Ahmed unloads with devastating shots (and when I say devastating I mean not really connecting) and Farooq is gone.

The camera then sensibly watches Farooq leaving along with his Nation cronies, thus missing Austin eliminating both Mero and Owen.

Austin is back on his own again. Next to face him is Savio Vega, and to be fair the booking is sound here because in this match they have given Austin Jake, Bulldog and Savio, all of whom he had a history with. Savio is gone before the 90 seconds is up, and next is “Double J” Jesse James, who was of course the Road Dogg later on. Here he is just a jobber though, so Stone Cold slings him quickly.

Austin sits on the turnbuckle to indicate that he has a lot of time, but next up is Bret, with Austin doing a terrific facial to show fear. Bret dominates a tiring Austin, and slaps him in the sharpshooter. King’s music goes and Lawler is a shock entry. He says “it takes a King” and drops his headsets. Bret releases the Sharpshooter and hits Lawler with two right hands. The second puts King over the top. Lawler returns to the commentary booth to complete his sentence “to know a King, McMahon”. As the match progressed he would continue with a short-term amnesiac gimmick pretending he didn’t know he wa sin the match. Exciting.

King almost forgets he isn’t allowe to use certain words as the next entrant arrives. It is “Diesel” who is actually Kane who is actually Isaac Yankem who is actually Glen Jacobs. King calls for ‘Big Daddy Cool’ to “Murde....lize him”realising he isn’t allowed to say murder on family friendly WWE.

Terry Funk doesn’t have any music despite being a ‘Texas legend’ according to Vince. I love the irony that two supposed babyfaces in the ring right now are Funk and Bret, who Vince is putting over. The two hate the guy now. Gratitude for you.

Vince goes into ultra-hype mode next as Rocky Maivia – yes, The Rock – is entry 25. He goes straight for Austin and you wouldn’t know at this point that these two would carry the company for the next 5 years.

Mankind is next, and the audible gasp from the audience and commentating team show you just what a good character Mankind was to begin with. Foley and Funk would spend much of the ensuing match beating the shit out of each other, seemingly for real.

Flash Funk (no relation to Terry, unless they do a future Dudley’s gimmick) is next and isn’t Too Cold Scorpio who isn’t related to Stone Cold whose real name is Steve Williams who isn’t related to Dr. Death who isn’t a doctor. Clear?

Bret piledrives Stone Cold, and if only Owen was taking notes at this point, Austin might still be wrestling now.

Vader is next, and the legitimate contenders to win are appearing. We see a cool visual of Mankind choking the life out of Terry, as Vader comes in to batter Bret then squash Austin.

29 is Mark Canterbury looking legitimately tough even with a shitty Hog farmer gimmick. He takes it straight to Vader, knocking him down. Perhaps the highlight of his career.

Next comes 30, predictably, and its The Undertaker. Vince announces him as the winner of the 1997 Royal Rumble before he enters the ring. Ten years out, Vinny Boy.

Vader eliminates Flash Funk with a pretty cool fall away slam to the outside, and after they all battle for a few minutes, Godwinn is slung out. Look at who is left in the ring, and although at the time they mightn’t all have been legendary, think of the star power now:

Bret Hart, The Undertaker, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Vader, Kane, Terry Funk and Vader all in the same ring. That’s pretty cool.

From here the match is decent. I know this is 11 years ago, but I remember this being a match where you got to this stage and genuinely had no idea who would win.

Every now and again the commentators are quiet and all you can hear is Mick doing his weird noises as Mankind. Damn I loved that character. Did I mention that? Oh, I did. Did I mention he personalised a shirt of mine and gave me a hokey thumbs up. Well he did. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

Foley uses the Mandible claw to eliminate Rocky, then suplexes Funk out. Shortly after thing Taker boots Foley out, and he and the Funker depart still knocking the hell out of one another. But this is a ploy. The referees are watching the Funk/Foley brawl, so miss Bret throw Austin the hell out.

Austin sneaks back in having avoided being seen, and pushes Taker and Vader out. As Bret gets rid of ‘Diesel’ on the other side, Austin then pushes Bret over and that’s your lot. Austin wins despite being eliminated, but even though that sounds bogus, it was a really creative ending.

Bret loses it and knocks a couple of refs down before going to the outside to threaten Vince. They were just beginning to recognise Vince as the owner at this stage, and his position would increasingly affect storylines from now on.

Austin wasn’t in the main event at Mania, but he was in the best match, where he took on Bret Hart in a genuine classic. The belt would switch through various wrestlers. From here, the next In Your House event would be named as Final Four, where Bret, Undertaker and Vader took on Austin for the vacant title. Without giving away the winner of the upcoming title match, erm............well it was vacant because “someone” got “injured” and “lost their smile”. I knew that quote mark key would come in good use here.

Anyway, Bret would go on to win at Final Four, but Sid would win it back, before dropping it to Taker at Mania, through interference from Bret who beat Austin. I am doing this deliberately, so don’t worry about feeling confused, however it goes to show how much they hotshotted the belt at that time.

I’ve written all that stuff since the end of the actual Rumble match, and that took the time that Michaels did to get to the ring. Good God it took ages. Obviously he is considerably over in his home town, and although Sid has his supporters when he emerges, he is largely booed. I never rated Sid in the ring, but I loved his character at this time, because he really looked as though he could destroy you.

The story here was that Shawn was champion after beating Bret at Wrestlemania, but lost to Sid the previous Survivor Series, when Sid displayed increasingly heel attributes but was cheered anyway. The tide was turning even before Austin’s antihero took off.

So on the night of HBK’s rematch, he apparently has flu, and this is supposedly legit, but since this is Michaels we are talking about, even the boys never knew if he was being genuine, so we’ll call it kayfabe.

Sid dictates much of the early match, and although Shawn has the odd flurry, the Vicious one has the advantage. He plays up to the crowd fantastically, eliminated the remnant cheers he is receiving. Lots of restholds here, probably for the benefit of both Michaels and Sid.

Michaels has Jose Lothario, his mentor (I don’t think babyfaces are supposed to have managers) in his corner, although Jose has Shawn’s cowboy hat on – because Mexicans and Cowboys get on like a house on fire. Or set each others houses on fire, something like that. Jose’s son Pete is also at ringside, after having been put through a table earlier in the month. Just because.

More mini comebacks from Shawn, with decreaing gaps between them, and to be fair the crowdare just eating this up. I don’t know whether the Rumble was placed in San Antonio before or after Survivor Series, but after the MSG crowd shit all over Michaels, he benefited greatly from being in his home town here.

Michaels looks like having done enough to take control, but we cut to the outside and Sid powerbombs Michaels on the floor. He grabs Jose by the throat, and then grabs Pete as he attacks. Sid even manages a kick for Tony Garea, the WWE official trying to break it up.

Back inside a ref bump gets rid of Hebner, an Sid hits a chokeslam which Vince calls as a Goozle – I don’t think I’ve heard anyone by Tazz call this as a Goozle. That should be a wrestling move search engine in my opinion.

Ref down, so a visual fall gets nothing, and as another officials comes down Michaels kicks out. Sid pie faces the new ref in a nonsensical move which even JR calls stupid, and Jose jumps onto the apron. Now, I should point out that Sid hit Jose with a camera at MSG, causing Michaels to be more worried about his mentor than the match, and earning him scorn by New Yorkers for being caring and a camera shot into the bargain.

Here, as Jose distracted Sid, Michaels grabbed a camera and levelled the big man with two weak looking shots. Oh-So-Slow count gets 2, but a Superkick earns the victory.

Far from a classic, but a story well told, with the right ending and if Michaels really was struggling – which to be fair he probably was. I mean the guy was a snake back then but he was always been an awesome worker. If he had have been well he’d have been flying all over the place here – it was a creditable performance.

A mixed PPV. A series of average to very poor matches preceded perhaps the best Rumble match there had been at that point, and a decent main event.

It is a very significant PPV as it showed the evolution of the whining Bret character, the advancement to Stone Cold’ s persona, and as far as our trip through Rumble history goes, a very significant milestone. Just wait until you see how different next year is.

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