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The decision to hold the 1997 Royal Rumble at the 70,000 seat Alamodome was an extremely brave one for the WWF. Unlike in 2017, when they held the event at the same venue, it wasn’t like stadium events were common place – Wrestlemania two months later would be held at the Rosemont Horizon in Illnois in front of under 20,000 people. But with the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX sufficiently cheap enough and a Rocky-esque story surrounding Shawn Michaels attempting to regain the title they went ahead anyway.
Even attempting to sell 40,000 seats seemed utterly futile for a company still struggling to gain much traction against a WCW product that was beginning to run rampant in both TV sales and live event gates. Not that the WWF were struggling, necessarily, but doing OK and filling a venue of that size were two completely different things. With that in mind they made two quite important decisions – the first was that the pay per view would be blacked-out in San Antonio and the surrounding area; the second being that tickets would be incredibly cheap, with many tickets being sold with coupons for less than $10. In the end the event had an attendance of just over 60,000 people, with around 48,000 of those being paid.
As for the show itself it was built around two stories. First was Sid – now properly a heel despite getting a big babyface reaction at Survivor Series. While turning Sid heel might’ve seemed counter-productive on the whole there was no chance Sid was getting a positive reaction in Michaels’ home town. The story, otherwise, had been reliant on Sid’s stance towards Jose Lothario – power bombing Lothario’s son during a backstage angle on Raw giving Michaels not only the motivation of regaining the title but also revenge. In another universe this was probably Shawn vs Vader – but we’ve covered that elsewhere.
The Royal Rumble match itself, in theory, was a forgone conclusion. All signs pointed towards Michaels vs Bret Hart at Wrestlemania – so the simple way to get there would be to have Shawn defeat Sid for the title and Bret winning the Rumble match. So simple, in fact, that Vince Russo playing his “Vic Venum” gimmick on an episode of WWF Livewire gave away that exact eventuality. Whether that was the sole reason for the change it’s hard to be sure, but it certainly didn’t help.
Goldust (w/ Marlene) vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Mr Hughes) for the WWF Intercontinental Title
What a bizarre match this was. For an opening contest, there were a lot of liberties taken regarding brawling around the ring and shortcuts like that – that’s not inherently bad but it does damage the ability of similar action later in the show to get over. Secondly was the regular cutaways for, what we should be reminded, is for WWF’s second most important singles title – on more than one occasion we cut to Todd Pettengil interviewing someone in the crowd for a picture in picture.
But the biggest issue here was the match itself. Helmsley’s push is increasingly hard to justify at this point given that for all of his supposed talent in the time he’s been on television he’s barely shown any of it. Goldust, also, as a newly turned face was not accepted at all by the fans in attendance. Couple that with the bizarre decision to pair Helmsley with Mr Hughes, of all people, and the match was just a real disappointment. After a false fucked finish, Hunter hits a pedigree and retains. Not good.
Ahmed Johnson vs Farooq (w/ The Nation)
In some ways this was one of the stronger built matches on the card, and for a few minutes it threatened a crowd reaction to reflect that. But we get a rest hold from Farooq and the crowd soon flattens out. This was a decent match but Johnson is still a liability in the ring and the drama of the match never really reached what the build suggested it would. Not helped, either, was the inevitably flat finish as the Nation simply just got in the ring and the ref called for the DQ. Maybe it was too soon for Ahmed to flat out win, but I’m not even sure that would’ve been a bad idea – the Nation could’ve recovered their heat quickly. Ahmed powerbombs one of the Nation through the French announce table after the match – too little, too late.
Vader vs The Undertaker
What a match you feel this could’ve been built as. Instead this felt like a match of circumstance, with the WWF position six or so guys at top the tree this felt like a random pairing of what could’ve been a big match (one that, in other circumstances, may have made it to Wrestlemania). Again, any drama there might have been dissipated pretty quickly when they cut to Todd Pettengil mid match for an interview. The match is flat, Vader hits a powerbomb, Undertaker a decent chokeslam – then out walks Paul Bearer – seems like whoever Undertaker is feuding with has to be paired with Bearer. Still, Taker ends up receiving an urn shot attempting to deal with the problem, Vader rolls him into the ring, hits a Vader bomb and picks up, in the circumstances, a shock near-clean win.
Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo and Canek vs Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal and Fuerza Guerrera
The idea, sound in theory, was to aid local ticket sales by bringing in some Mexican talent that would resonate with the Texan audience – hence why most of the pre show matches also included AAA talent. However sound the idea was the execution was really bad. Not aided by the big screens in the arena being off for this match. Very formulaic, often boring and slow action not helped by Vince McMahon not knowing who was who. The match was summed up by Heavy Metal basically missing a double stomp off the top, before hitting a standing elbow for the win. Just bad.
Royal Rumble Match
Unlike the 2017 edition of the match with an entrance was so long they needed a cart to carry the bigger guys from the ramp to the ring, this entire show had an entrance on the short side which aided things. This was a very bottom heavy Rumble, with Steve Austin at number five really being the only entrant of much note until Bret Hart came out at 21.
Before that, a few things do happen. The contrast between Razor Ramon (eliminated within 30 seconds of his entrance) and Diesel (entering at 23 and being the penultimate man eliminated) was interesting. Owen Hart “accidentally” eliminated the British Bulldog in the middle, but beyond that the first two thirds of the match were basically designed to get Austin over – so much so that Austin was the only man standing when Bret came out.
Things, thankfully, picked up hugely from there. Bret was followed by Lawler – jumping in from the announcers position before immediately being eliminated – Lawler’s break from commentary lasted 20 seconds, at most. After that we saw Diesel, Terry Funk, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Flash Funk (as JR pointed out: “No relation to Terry”), Vader, Henry O’Godwin and The Undertaker.
The numbers held for a while before Mankind and Terry Funk, nicely reprising their history, brawled on the outside after being eliminated. Austin was eliminated by Bret but with the refs pre-occupied Austin dove back into the ring and after a spate of quick eliminations Austin dumped out Bret Hart to be awarded the victory.
The decision to go to Austin over Bret was probably a smart one. It perhaps cast a bit of doubt over the finish of the main event (the thought that Bret could cost Michaels setting them up for a non-title Wrestlemania match). More importantly, though was that it created controversy that drove a great pair of angles on Raw then next night and also setup an intriguing main event for the In Your House show bridging the gap between this pay per view and Wrestlemania.
Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) vs Sid for the WWF Title
OK, it took the entire night but we finally got a crowd reaction befitting of the number. They had videos of both men walking through the back on their way out (including following Shawn and Lothario right through Gorilla) and boy did the crowd cheer Shawn and boo Sid – in that sense job done.
The match, really, wasn’t great. Nothing on their match from a couple of months ago. As Shawn mentioned in his pre-match promo (although he mentioned it by saying it wouldn’t be an excuse) he was coming into the match with the flu – which combined with Sid just meant the match didn’t stick. That being said the crowd reactions just about covered for it, and they built to a great near fall after a ref bump with Shawn hitting Sid with a camera and after a slow count Sid kicking out. That was only a prelude to Shawn hitting the super kick for the three and a big crowd pop.
Score Rating: 5.5/10
Go Back And Watch: Rumble is good, builds well and finishes strongly. Main event isn’t great but the crowd reactions carry it.