Royal Rumble Count-Up – 1998: So Begins Austin’s Road To Destiny

Royal Rumble 1998
Date: January 18, 1998
Location: San Jose Arena, San Jose, California
Attendance: 18,542
Commentators: Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler

We have seen our savior and he is called Austin. So it’s official: Steve Austin ranks somewhere just below boobs in terms of popularity at this point and is the undisputed king of the company. There’s just one thing: he’s not the world champion yet. It’s about as clear as you can make it that Austin is going to win the title at Mania, so this is another formality. However, a few things have happened in the last two months or so.

Number one: Montreal. We have no Bret Hart and Shawn and Vince are now pure evil, especially the latter. The other thing is Starrcade 97, where Hogan’s ego has managed to almost single handedly kill the massive lead that WCW was enjoying. Therefore, even though the results are clear, they have to do this right because if they do, the WWF could actually catch up to WCW (which they did).

Your other main event tonight is Shawn vs. Taker in a casket match, and you know what happens there. I’ve always felt the main event should have been someone else but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, Kane is now apparently face and will be here to help Taker, and you know he wouldn’t ever do anything like turn on him 6 days after joining him or anything like that.

As for the rest of the show, the roster has filled out a lot more now with a lot of the familiar Attitude Era people there now, such as Shamrock, Rock in his more famous form, face Mankind and the Outlaws. Actually a lot of the wrestlers are the same but now they’re in their best forms, which is often the most important part. I have decent memories of this show and it’s certainly important as far as history goes so let’s get it started.

The opening video is about being champion, which is what the show is mainly about so at least it makes sense. The set for the Rumble isn’t elaborate yet as it’s still the circular one that was used for years. Why were there always blimps in the arenas for these things? I’ve never gotten the point of that. Oh yeah Mike Tyson is here tonight too in what turned out to be a big deal for the company as far as going mainstream went. DANG he is getting booed out of the arena.

Vader vs. Goldust

This is actually the Artist Formerly Known As Goldust but I didn’t want to type that out more than once so he’s just Goldust in this. Let’s see: green hair and what we’ll call yellow and blue striped tights. More or less he’s just insane at this point where he’s expressing himself or something like that. It never made a ton of sense but it was different if nothing else.

Vader has just fallen through the floor as far as meaning anything went by this point for no reason that I’ve ever been able to come up with. Well I’ll give him this: he’s still energetic and the fans are WAY into him. Of course that means he’s not worthy of being anything but a jobber in Vince’s company, so there we go. Lawler actually says that he’s glad Goldust is back in men’s clothing for this match.

I think that sums up the Attitude Era pretty well. Vader is just beating the tar out of Goldust at this point. He throws Goldie into the stairs in the worst, weakest looking shot I’ve ever seen. Goldust stopped about 6 inches before he hit them and then tapped them. It looks horrible. We have a hot crowd if nothing else. After a decent comeback, Goldust kisses Vader, and you know what’s coming next.

Apparently Austin isn’t here yet. Why is it that he never got to the arena on time? After putting him down, Vader sets for the Vader Bomb. This takes literally thirty seconds. He deserved the low blow he got from that. There is little more entertaining to me than a big guy just dropping the fat on someone else.

In a cool looking visual, Luna jumps on Vader’s back as he’s setting for the Bomb again. He’s like screw it who cares and does the move with her on his back. The sight of Luna flying through the air and just stopping dead when Vader lands is great for some reason. Naturally this ends it.

Rating: B-. For an opener, this was a very good choice. The fans were into Vader and he looked quite solid out there. It was a standard beatdown and the ending spot looked cool. It wasn’t epic and it wasn’t supposed to be, so this was exactly right and I’m perfectly fine with it. For the life of me I don’t get the complete lack of push for Vader.

Austin is here and the Godwins follow him. Apparently all 29 other guys want to kill him.

Max Mini/Mosaic/Nova vs. Battalion/El Torito/Tarantula

Yep it’s a mini match. Sunny is referee here to give anyone a reason to care. The three faces combine to weigh less than 260lbs. That’s just amusing. They kept having these matches for no apparent reason other than an attempt at capitalizing on the Luchador craze, which I guess was a better idea than trying to use bad luchadors like they would do in a few months. Max weighs 87lbs and is fast if nothing else.

Everyone has very generic gimmicks with Batallion being an army guy or something. We’re about two minutes into this and we just saw our 8th arm drag. It’s Trios rules here as in if one of the guys goes to the floor, that’s the same as a tag. We go split screen to look at Tyson who looks like he’s hamming it up for the camera, and to his credit he looks genuine at least. Like I’ve said a dozen times: if you don’t want to be there, at least try to look interested, and Tyson is certainly doing that.

The crowd doesn’t care about anyone in there other than Max. For no apparent reason, Sunny helps Max throwing dropkicks at the other guys. It made no sense but it got a pop so there we go. We hit the floor and there they go. It’s your standard everyone runs to the ropes and hits a big move and it works really well here.

I’ll say this for these guys: they’re not boring. They’re not particularly interesting but they’re not boring either. Max goes to the top (which to be fair is like from the top of a cage for a normal size guy) and hits a rana which leads to a cradle for the pin. This was so far ahead of last year’s Lucha stuff that I can’t even see it back there.

Rating: B-. Again, it wasn’t great, but it was exciting if nothing else. It kept you paying something close to attention so that’s better than nothing at all. Max was more over than all 5 other guys combined so it was smart to have him be the focus of the match.

Granted that might be because he was by far the most talented. Compared to last year’s old guys doing nothing for 11 minutes, this was a good deal shorter at about 8 minutes which helped it out a lot. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but three minutes can mean a big difference in a match. Think about how many matches you’ve seen that are about three minutes long. A lot of TV matches are, so there’s time to do a good amount of stuff in there. By keeping this one shorter it was FAR better.

The Nation is looking for Austin but all they find is a foam finger.

Vince and Shane are with Tyson. Shane looks so much more comfortable talking to him than Vince does.

We get a recap of Shamrock vs. the Nation, including Henry turning on him to join the Nation. This was when Rock was taking the leadership of the group over from Farrooq and is also IC Champion at the time, having been handed the title after Austin forfeited the belt to go after the World Title. Cole is with the Rock as we cut to a clip from the Free For All of the Nation arguing over who would win the Rumble.

Cole says that apparently there are problems in the Nation. Rock says apparently you’re an idiot. I love Rock ripping on Cole. It was always priceless. Rock offers advice to Clinton, continuing his gimmick of offering his input on social matters of the time as only he could. It helped play up the People’s Champion thing, and more importantly led to an interview with Gennifer Flowers at Mania where he debuted a rather famous line because of it, if you smell what I’m cooking.

Intercontinental Title: Rock vs. Ken Shamrock

Rock comes out alone here. The crowd is way behind Shamrock here as Rocky was flat out hated. We start with a fairly long feeling out period and then we all of a sudden get going. Shamrock is pretty good at the moves he could do, but the problem is he didn’t have a ton of things that he could do well. Since we’re in the Attitude Era, there’s a lot of brawling going on here which makes sense for Shamrock at least.

What doesn’t make sense though is Rock being able to go toe to toe with Shamrock in that area. If he’s supposed to be the best fighter of all time like JR keeps telling us, Rock is amazing then. In an amusing bit, Rock goes for a chinlock but does the arm motion that he would do for the People’s Elbow by swinging his arm around really slowly to hook the chinlock on. I love that.

JR says this isn’t the seniors’ tour which is a clear jab at WCW and how much they screwed up the previous month’s show. As Shamrock goes insane, here’s Kama to allow Rock to get some knucks to knock out Shamrock. Now in a brilliant move Rock puts them in Shamrock’s tights. Ken kicks out and hits a belly to belly for the pin and the title. Rock gets up a bit later and says to check his tights. You can see the ending coming from here and the decision is reversed.

In a great moment, the referee is checking his tights and points to the crotch and asks what is that? It’s as humorous as it sounds. Yep, the referee gets the ankle lock too. They would do a similar screw job ending at Mania where Shamrock was named the winner again but didn’t get the title again. Rock would finally lose the belt at Summerslam in an epic ladder match with HHH. On a replay we see Rocky hitting him with the knucks.

We also see the problem with it as the knucks are on the back of Rock’s hand, but the way Rock throws punches, the part where the brass is sticking out wouldn’t have touched Ken’s head, but why should we care about that?

Rating: C+. This was what it was. It wasn’t meant to be anything great and they didn’t try to make it something it wasn’t which is the smart thing to do. The ending was at least somewhat creative so they get points for that. I don’t get why they did the same kind of ending at Mania, but whatever. This was fine. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible given what they had to work with here.

We see exclusive footage of Rock in his locker room taking off his boots when Shamrock jumps him. For some reason Shamrock has had time to take a shower and put on jeans while Rock doesn’t even have his boots off yet, despite Rock having left first.

Los Boricuas are looking for Austin. They find the DOA instead and of course they fight like they did for months. I think a combined 5 people cared in all those fights.

We recap the LOD vs. the Outlaws which more or less consists of old school vs. new and it’s not that interesting but it’s ok I guess. Basically the LOD are old and cool and the Outlaws are jerks. Nothing is different I guess. Oh and they beat up the LOD and shaved Hawk’s head while wearing Cartman shirts. Seeing South Park being considered cutting edge and underground stuff is just ridiculous to think of.

Tag Titles: New Age Outlaws vs. Legion of Doom

They’re wearing Favre jerseys for no apparent reason. Oh apparently Favre just beat the 49ers and we’re in the Bay Area. Hawk and Animal look at clips of them being beaten up and say that this is about pride or something. Animal is completely insane in this promo. Why are the LOD referred to as American Originals? I’ve never gotten the point to that reference. I’m sorry to shock those of you with heart conditions, but this starts out as a brawl. I know I can’t believe it either.

The heels try to run and naturally that doesn’t work at all. JR actually mentions the Horsemen on a WWF program. He follows that up by saying this might be a matter of time, more or less giving away the ending. There’s zero flow to this match at all. It’s just random insanity and I don’t recall any tagging here at all. That’s fine in spurts but it needs some sort of structure to be legitimate at all.

To further the insanity here, Hawk gets handcuffed to the turnbuckle while the injured Animal is beaten on. We shift over to a one on two match here with Animal fighting for all he’s worth. He hits a powerslam and has it won when a chair from Road Dogg breaks it up for the DQ as we STILL can’t have a clean ending in a match that means anything. They start the beatdown, but Hawk and the power of the 80s breaks the handcuff and after a bunch of chair shots, the LOD reign supreme.

Rating: D+. This match can almost sum up everything about the Attitude Era as a whole. You have a classic team like the LOD that got world title shots back in the 80s and then you have these two guys that aren’t great workers to begin with but get heat based off of shock tactics. There was little tagging and most of this match was brawling. There’s the Attitude Era in a few lines.

Some chick in Tennessee wins Austin’s truck.

We get a recap about how Austin is a marked man or whatever. In other words we get a package to futher drill into our heads that Austin will indeed win the Rumble tonight.

Royal Rumble

Fink claims that it’s every 2 minutes for intervals. It’s really closer to 90 seconds if you pay attention and considering the whole thing lasts 56 minutes, 2 minute intervals are impossible unless the last guy is thrown out before he gets to the ring. Cactus Jack is first and apparently Jack, Dude Love and Mankind got into a fight over who would be in the Rumble and Jack won.

Second is Chainsaw Charlie, who is more commonly known as Terry Funk in some weird crazy man gimmick. When I say crazy I mean crazier than usual. He brings a fake chainsaw with him, so Foley throws chairs at both him and it, which produce no sparks. There’s about 5 chairs and a saw in the ring and we’re underway. Aww the referee gets the saw out of the ring. Anyway, Funk says for Foley to blast him with a chair so he does.

Foley hands it to Funk so Funk can have a free shot. This is either cool or mind blowingly stupid. Tom Brandi is 3. Think Santino but less talented and stupider and that’s what you have. In a move that shocks no one, he’s thrown out in about 10 seconds. This is a weird hardcore kind of thing here as Funk has his customary convulsions. Number four is Rock to some weak heat. Ah ok there it is. Foley hits him with a trash can to show off their future hardcore epics.

The hardcore guys beat him up as Lawler is panicking. Mosh is fifth as I’m starting to hate the Attitude Era. He gets the biggest pop of all five guys so far. Naturally Funk goes for the moonsault and it misses. I don’t get the point in having such an insane start to the match. Phineas is 6th. He and Hank are heels here and it just failed on so many levels. More or less they switched to creepier music and wear the rebel flag so now they’re heels.

Yeah it bombed big time, so naturally they were pushed for about another year or so until the company woke up and let Hank go and changed Phineas to Mideon. Funk throws some chops and the wooing begins. Number seven is 8-Ball to continue the greatness of this Rumble. Seriously, considering there’s three world champion out there, this is just boring as heck so far. Funk puts out Cactus as the crowd couldn’t care less.

Allegedly someone has attacked Austin but King won’t say who. Bradshaw replaces Cactus at number 8 to really enhance the greatness in there. Owen Hart is number nine, but Jeff Jarrett and Jim Cornette who were representing the NWA of all things jump him as Ross declares Cornette a stain on the underwear of life. For the love of all things good left in the world, someone lobotomize JR before he hurts himself. For some reason Owen gets huge cheers from Tyson. That’s just odd.

Owen can’t get in the ring and is just laying on the floor. Steve Blackman is tenth. He’s a complete WWF rookie at this point despite having a ton of experience in other companies before this. We mull around even more as the ring is way too full. All of the guys I’ve listed are in other than Jack and Brandi. Owen is still down as number 11 is D’lo Brown. There are 5 members of the Nation in the Rumble tonight which is kind of impressive.

Shamrock may have been the guy that got to Austin. Rock goes off on Blackman with some insanely fast kicks. At this point we’re just waiting on some monster to come out and get rid of some of these guys. No one cares as there is zero chance Austin is going to lose.

Number 12 is Kurrgan. Now this was an interesting character to say the least. He was completely dominant so of course they made him a comedy character by the fall. He gets rid of Mosh so if nothing else he’s done his job. How weird is it to think that Bradshaw of all people would wind up having a 9 month world title reign out of all these guys in there? Mero and Sable come out at 13. Good grief Mero was a depthless character.

Blackman is gone via Kurrgan. Bradshaw beats on him a bit which at least looks kind of cool. Shamrock comes out to a BIG pop. He goes straight for Kurrgan and knocks him down with relative ease to allow a big group of people to dump him out. In 20 seconds, Shamrock has managed to get the crowd to actually give a very about the match which the other 12 hadn’t been able to do in almost half an hour. Thrasher comes out at 15.

The ring is WAY too full at this point. There’s a very loud Sable chant. Lawler keeps talking about how he wants to fight Tyson which is just perfectly good cheap heel heat. 16 is Mankind as we hit one of my all time favorite Rumble bits. Yes, all three of Foley’s personas are in the Rumble. He puts out Funk with relative ease. In a very unintentionally funny moment, Shamrock is trying to get Rock out in the corner.

The tape freezes just for a second and Shamrock’s arms are under Rock and his head is laid on his stomach and the look on his face looks like he’s lovingly smiling. It’s just great. Anyway Goldust is 17th and this time he’s rocking a silver body suit with painted on women’s lingerie including g-string. The ring is WAY too full here. I would list them all off for you, but it would be Austin Fodder #1, 2, 3, 4 etc. There’s about 10 guys in there and no one cares about most of them.

Goldust puts out Mankind who wasn’t a big deal just yet. Jarrett is 18th and Owen finally gets in and beats the living tar out of him. After skinning the cat, Owen dumps Jarrett. There’s a big rant coming on Owen later so stick around for that. And from out of nowhere Honky Tonk Man is 19th. Rock puts out Shamrock as HHH and Chyna come out. HHH is hurt and not in the match. Owen tries to get rid of Goldust, allowing HHH and Chyna to use a pair of crutches to eliminate him.

Ok screw waiting for later. At the end of the previous In Your House, Owen had jumped Shawn to end the show, making his first appearance since Montreal. He beat Shawn up and then ran off into the crowd. Every single sign in the world said that Owen vs. Shawn would be the title match at the Rumble. Think about it: Owen comes back to avenge his brother’s honor so the drama and story are already there.

Owen can actually hang with Shawn in the ring so it’s not like the match would be boring or something. Owen was getting insane reactions from the crowds at this point so it’s not like they wouldn’t buy it. So given how obvious this was, Shawn vetoed it. Owen made the epic return and was promptly fed to HHH.

Yes, instead of going with the money match at the Rumble of Owen vs. Shawn, I’m assuming Shawn was afraid that Owen would either upstage him or shoot on him, so he somehow convinced everyone that the best choice was for Owen to just go back down into the midcard and job to HHH and Jarrett and stay far away from the title picture, and showing the power of the Clique, it worked.

Owen was made to look like a joke over the next three months, having a tiny feud with Jarrett that went nowhere and then jobbing to HHH to make him look good. At least Shawn got what was coming to him all those years later in the casket match, which he lobbied for. I hate to say it, but he got what he deserved.

Ahmed Johnson is number 20 and no one cares. He was just completely wasted by this point and it failed miserably. The crowd is pretty much dead here. Lawler lets it slip that Honky is his cousin. We accidentally hear someone say that someone isn’t cleared to wrestle which we’ll get to in just a few moments. Mark Henry is 21st. In a great stat, Henry is one of 17 people in this Rumble that have never been in one before.

Ross says Henry is handling the big Johnson. I’m not going near that one. There is no number 22 and everyone thinks it was supposed to be Austin. It turns out that it was supposed to be Skull, but he was hurt earlier in the attack by the Boricuas and was who the accidental voice was talking about. Phineas and Ahmed are gone with Phineas landing on a referee in an amusing spot. The crowd really couldn’t care less here.

Kama is number 23, and here’s the best recap I can give you: Rock, 8-Ball, Bradshaw, D’Lo, Mero, Thrasher, Goldust, Honky, Henry and Kama. Holy jobber fest Batman. Austin it 24th to an EPIC pop. I mean the fans went insane for that glass shattering. Literally everyone in the ring turns to the entrance to jump him, but he comes through the crowd and knocks out Mero and 8-Ball with relative ease.

Why in the world did they insist on constantly making Brown a big deal or at least trying to? Never mind he’s been upstaged by the failure that is heel Henry Godwin. We start the final five with Savio, who leads the completely worthless Boricuas who all go after Austin despite not being in the match. Naturally they’re easily dispatched. There are WAY too many people in there. I’m counting 11 I think.

Farrooq is 27th as all 5 members of the Nation are in there now. Naturally he beats on all of the other 4 members. I’ve always thought they missed the boat with Farrooq. He was clearly a great athlete with a solid character yet they never pulled the trigger on him. Rock and Austin go to the floor through the ropes. Dude Love is 28th which gets a nice pop. Foley was such a brilliant character when you think about it.

Kane was Isaac Yankem and Fake Diesel etc. Kama was Papa Shango, Godfather etc. The thing is, those other characters are never mentioned. They’re simply repackaged to give them a fresh start and that’s fine. Foley took it completely the other way. They made him all three characters at once with no attempt at hiding it. That’s very unique and I don’t think it’s been done otherwise. Anyway he puts out Bradshaw in about a second.

Rock does the overrated elbow on Brown and gets beaten up by Austin for it. At least Austin recognizes overrated moves. Chainz, another guy I thought could have been more than he was, is 29th making Vader number 30. There goes Brown to lighten us up a bit.

Ok, so with all 30 in, here are your possible winners: Rock, Thrasher, Goldust, Honky, Henry, Kama, Godwin, Vega, Farrooq, Dude Love, Chainz, Vader and Austin. I wonder who the win…never mind that joke is just stupid. Who thought it was a good idea to have 13 people in at the end? Vader puts out Honky. The crowd still doesn’t care at all. There goes Thrasher to a tiny pop.

Kama is gone as we’re starting to clear the ring out. Ross thinks Brown is still in for some reason. There goes Vega as Austin has dropped three in a row now. Goldust puts out Vader because Vader can’t do anything since he’s an over character. Instead we have to have a freak character be put over again. Henry and Goldust go out. Farrooq just shows off by throwing out Henry.

Chainz was put out by Austin over the corner and slammed into the steps which just looked SICK. The final four are Farrooq, Rock, Dude Love and Austin. I’ve always loved Dude’s Sweet Shin Music. Farrooq eliminates Dude. Say that out loud and see how ridiculous it sounds. Ross is ticked off for some reason at Rock resting while Farrooq fights Austin.

Farrooq was in for about 10 minutes while Rock had already wrestled earlier and had been in over 50 minutes at this point. I guess according to JR that’s nothing. Anyway the final two are Rock and Austin. They slug it out and the fans are buying every bit of it. After a Stunner Austin shocks no one as he’s going to Wrestlemania.

Tyson is happy too. We get a quick interview with Tyson, who despite calling Austin Cold Stone, which to be fair sounded far more like a slip of the tongue rather than him just not knowing what he was saying, says he’s very happy and looking forward to the main event. If nothing else, he’s very enthusiastic and sounds like a legit fan.

Rating: D+. This was a bad Rumble in every sense of the word. The big problem here is clear so I’ll ignore that. The problem is there’s no one out there that was even a potential challenger. There was almost no flow to this either. The closest thing to a story was the Nation but it got no play at all.

That’s the problem here: there’s no story or drama at all and it just crippled the thing. We knew Austin would win, but the question was how. The problem was there was no way to disguise the fact that he was going to win and it really hurt the match. There really was no way to make this great, but they at least could have made it ok.

We recap Taker vs. Shawn. More or less they were trying to just pick up their rivalry from the fall like nothing ever happened. Good night Shawn took a beating in the Cell. Kane has broken away from Paul Bearer and apparently has joined Taker to help him fight off DX. For some reason Taker accepted his brother that hated him with no issue at all. I’ll give you two guesses as to how that’s going to work out.

Casket Match: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels

Fink looks REALLY weird for some reason here. It looks like he’s being forced to announce at gunpoint or something. We get a weird comment from JR about Shawn: He may not be in a class of his own but it doesn’t take long to call the role. Wait, what? If he’s the world champion and the best big match guy ever, why wouldn’t he be in a class of his own? Also, Ross tries to say HBK has a better record in big matches than anyone including Hogan. That’s just laughable.

Shawn’s overselling of Taker putting the lights back on is great. Shawn of course has to run here and punch where he can, but we get my favorite spot that Taker keeps using as he just grabs Shawn by the throat and throws him into the corner. I’ve always loved that. In a very cool spot, Shawn goes for a crossbody from the middle rope and Taker catches him in a two handed choke. That looked great. And there it is.

Shawn is backdropped over the top rope and slams him back on the casket, more or less shattering it and putting him on the shelf for four and a half years after Wrestlemania. You can tell something just isn’t right with him at this point, and oddly enough a fan shouts out BREAK HIS BACK while Taker is beating Shawn up. As usual, Taker is just beating the living heck out of Shawn.

That’s your formula for the majority of this match: Taker beats up Shawn, Shawn hits a little something, Taker beats up Shawn some more. Eventually Shawn hits a kick out of nowhere, but Taker doesn’t really do much about it. We go near the casket a few times which is always good, but the best part is Shawn in the casket and trying to get out while Taker pulls him back in.

It’s a very cool shot that’s been done many times since but never as well as there. Eventually the tombstone hits and Shawn is dead, but Los Boricuas (which is incorrect grammar but whatever) and the Outlaws run out.. Cue Kane, but of course he turns on Taker to throw him in the casket to keep the title on Shawn. That’s not the end though, as Kane nails Taker into the casket and starts walking it back up the stage.

In one of the most famous scenes of his career, he covers it in “gasoline” and lights it on fire. JR is FREAKING as we go off the air. Of course Taker magically disappeared from the casket, setting up his return just in time for a Mania match with Kane.

Rating: B. This one is hard to mess up. These two worked very well together and this was no exception. They’re just perfectly suited to one another and they showed why here. Granted they more or less did the exact same thing as they did in the Cell, but it still worked.

Obviously the bigger story here is Shawn’s back, but that’s been covered more elsewhere because no one knew how bad he was hurt at this point. The match was fine, but it was clearly more about the angle than the match, which is ok here.

Overall Rating: C-. This is a show where the individual matches don’t add up to the final grade. This is a lot more like a transition show than anything else, with most of what you see here just setting up stuff for later on. It set up Shawn vs. Austin which had to happen for the company to survive as well as Taker vs. Kane, but other than that there’s just not much here.

I really didn’t like this show all that much, but it was ok I suppose. There have been worse Rumbles, but not that many. Watch it if you haven’t seen it before I guess, but you likely won’t want to again.

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