Reviewing The Rumbles: 1997
1997: The Rattlesnake
In 1997, WWF was right in the middle of the 84-week losing streak to WCW in the ratings that they’ll never stop telling you about because it makes their ultimate comeback seem that much more impressive (which, admittedly, it was). But by this point, they had already been turning the product around in the hopes of making that comeback…
1. Crush (At this point, Crush was a part of the Nation of Domination. Because then it isn’t racist!)
2. Ahmed Johnson
3. Raz-ersatz Ramon (Ohhhh… these guys; also, wow. This is the only time “Razor Ramon” was ever in a Royal Rumble)
4. Phineas Godwinn
5. Stone Cold Steve Austin
6. Bart Gunn
7. Jake Roberts
8. The British Bulldog
9. Pierroth (…. PIERROTH! Sounds like a Lovecraftian monster)
10. The Sultan (Guess he never did make that difference in 1996)
11. Mil Mascaras
12. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
13. Owen Hart
16. Marc Mero
17. Latin Lover
19. Savio Vega
20. Jesse James (the once-and-future Road-Dogg)
21. Bret Hart
22. Jerry Lawler
23. Pseu-Diesel (Because dentistry wasn’t paying the bills)
24. Terry Funk
25. Rocky Maivia
27. Flash Funk
29. Henry Godwinn
The Final Four
4th – tie – Undertaker/Vader (eliminated simulatenously)
3rd – Fake Diesel (…yep. Eliminated by Bret, btw)
2nd – Bret Hart (elim by Austin)
Fang McFrost Stone Cold Steve Austin
-Preliminary notes: The entrances are back down to 90 seconds, and the commentary is the Rumble’s first three-man team of Vince, Lawler, and Jim Ross. They actually have really good chemistry between the three of them, and Vince is less grating working with these two pros. He still peppers the match with “HE’S OUT no he’s not”, but it’s easier to take this year with the other two dulling his edges.
-Ahmed Johnson and Crush were having a pretty good opening struggle until Farooq appears to bait Ahmed Johnson. Typical idiot Rumble strategy, as Ahmed LEAPS OVER THE TOP to chase his foe, rather than run out between the ropes so he could re-enter at will later. And the Macho Man Principle is still not in play… Ahmed is eliminated from the match for his idiocy.
-Bart Gunn is in the match for less than a minute before Austin tosses him, but he manages an impressive TWO botches in his limited time to work with (fudges a Fameasser, and screws up his own elimination).
-Steve Austin has two periods of just waiting on schmucks after going on tears, and they are both classic. The first one sees him sitting on the turnbuckle and exaggeratedly looking at his wrist as if to check the time.
-So many Mexicans-on-loan this match, but one of them is the renowned Mil Mascaras, which is nice to see, even if he was well past his best days here. Eventually, Mil takes out both Pierroth and Latin Lover (because in wrestling, blacks and Mexicans only ever fight or befriend their own kind), and then leaps off the top to continue attacking them. Lots of self-eliminating so far this year…
-After Farooq enters, Ahmed reappears to attack him using the most clumsy strikes you can imagine with the world’s most unwieldy 2×4 (seriously… it’s about 5 or 6 feet long, and Ahmed looks like a small child trying to use to use an average baseball bat). After Farooq and Ahmed brawl out of the ring, Austin is again left alone in the ring to make short work of guys like Savio Vega and Jesse James.
-Austin’s reaction to Bret Hart’s music at #21 is PRICELESS. His eyes bulge wide, and he covers his head with his hands. It’s so cartoonish and over-the-top and almost doesn’t fit his character, but he sells it so damn well that it fits the moment like a broken in tennis shoe.
-In an underrated moment of entertainment, Jerry Lawler enters at #22. He is so short-lived in the ring, he starts a sentence (“It takes a king…”), enters, gets tossed by Bret, rejoins commentary, and finishes his sentence (“…to know a king”). Lawler really pushes home the humor of the moment the rest of the way by either forgetting or ignoring that this ever happened, saying stuff like “Well if I were in there this year…”. Ross would remind him that, in fact, he was in there, and Lawler would act genuinely befuddled at his comments.
-No reaction at all to Rocky Maivia’s entrance. Oh, how little we all knew.
-Thankfully, Jim Ross astutely clears up all of our confusion when he decides to just throw out there that Terry Funk and Flash Funk are unrelated.
-There is some legit great star-power in the ring late, with Austin, Vader, Bret, Undertaker, Mick Foley, Terry Funk, “Diesel”, and Rocky all in the ring together at one point. Granted, Rocky was a nothing here but still… That’s eight guys that were either former or future world champions.
-So yeah… Fake Diesel has a ridiculously long run here, even popping into the FINAL THREE. And here I had thought WWF gave up on that whole thing approximately five minutes after they debuted,
-The fans ERUPT for Bret eliminating Austin, but the refs, of course, don’t see it while breaking up a Terry Funk/Mankind brawl. This leads to, in my opinion, the best ending to a Rumble EVER, as Steve sneaks back in, dumps a brawling Undertaker and Vader, then eliminates Bret Hart. There are a lot of Rumble gimmicks they’ve overdone, but this has stood as one-of-a-kind for years (at least in terms of the guy doing it actually winning).
-Post-Match, Bret really turns on the Crybaby switch that would become his character the rest of his WWE career. He accosts Vince at ringside and just generally acts like a little bitch.
-Funny side note… Austin is stripped of his title shot at ‘Mania for his action, and since Shawn drops the belt due to his knee injury, the next Pay Per View is called Final Four and features a four-way match for the belt between Bret, Austin, Undertaker, and Vader since they were the last guys left after Austin’s elimination. Why don’t you just scroll up a bit and tell me what was wrong with this premise (and yeah, I get why it went this way, but still…)?
Rankings Thus Far
1. 1992 (Flair) – 9/10
2. 1997 (Austin I) – 8/10
3. 1989 (Studd) – 5/10
4. 1996 (Michaels II) – 5/10
5. 1993 (Yokozuna) – 4/10
6. 1990 (Hogan I) – 4/10
7. 1994 (Hart/Luger) – 4/10
8. 1991 (Hogan II) – 3/10
9. 1995 (Michaels I) – 2/10
10. 1988 (Duggan) – 2/10