Royal Rumble & RAW Review: January 20, 1997

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There are a lot of pay-per-view reviews out there so I don’t want to spend to much time reviewing the 1997 Royal Rumble but I’ll give my quick impressions of the event.

Intercontinental Championship
Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Goldust

I thought this feud was excellent because it had two strong characters that could go in the ring. It’s incredible to think that 20 years later both men are still competing in the WWE and fulfilling a role of imparting their wisdom on the superstars of today. This match ended with a cheap win and fans knew this wasn’t the end. Even watching it back I was clamoring for Goldust ro get his retribution in another match between the two. This is a stark difference from today where I grow weary of seeing the same guys compete week after week.

Ahmed Johnson def. Faarooq (By DQ)

As I re-watch this feud I’m amazed it isn’t attributed more with the ushering in of the attitude era. It quickly became a personal angle with heavy racial overtones with the use of “Uncle Tom” in reference to Ahmed . The Nation of Domination was also the wrestling embodiment of political views which would lead mature viewers to want to anticipate how far they’d push the envelope. As interesting as the story was unfortunately the matches weren’t captivating. This match wasn’t the end in this feud and unlike the above I wasn’t excited to see these two to go at in-ring again.

Vader def. the Undertaker

This match was more the continuation of the feud between Paul Bearer and the Undertaker. Vader had lost his manager, Jim Cornette, so his new alignment made sense. I didn’t think this was a great match but for some reason I loved seeing Undertaker and Vader in the ring together. Bearer nails Undertaker with the urn and Vader capitalizes with a Vader bomb for the win. Unbelievable that the Undertaker will be returning 20 years later to the same venue.

Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo and Canek def. Jerry Estrada, Heavy Metal, Fuerza

Triple AAA guys were in competition next. I think it was good to have these guys competing in San Antonio but it was a bit similar to today’s Cruiserweight division where you had good wrestling with guys who were either unknown or lacked outlandish characters (i.e., Goldust and Hunter Hearst Helmsley)

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin “wins” the 1997 Royal Rumble

It felt like a main event spot was up for grabs. At this time you had Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart as your popular main eventers but no larger than life superstars like Hogan was and that Austin and Rock would go on to be. Steve Austin was the clear standout in this one and his showcase proved that he was getting the endorsement from the company too. I loved that the final 8 included Terry Funk, Mankind (Mick Foley), Fake Diesel (Kane), Rocky Maivia (The Rock) and then the final four. Other WWE Hall of Famers in this match included Jerry Lawler, Jake Roberts, the Sultan (Rikishi) and Mil Masacaras who would eliminate himself so he wouldn’t have to put over anyone. This was such a creative finish and with the intention of getting heat on “Stone Cold” and sympathy for Bret Hart. Austin illegally eliminated Vader and Undertaker and then Hart to “win” this Rumble match. Hart was seemingly frustrated with being “screwed” a theme that would show up later in 1997.

WWE Championship
Shawn Michaels def. Sycho Sid (c)

Recently we had Shawn Michaels appears on an episode of RAW talking about this match and winning the WWE Championship in his hometown 20 years ago. There was hope that HBK would come back to challenge current WWE Champion AJ Styles in the Alamadome where he was victorious only two decades ago. Michaels has put an in-ring return rumour to bed. It was interesting to note the edge in the Michaels character in 1997. Although he was adored he wasn’t out there making jokes or reciting lines that made him sound like a goof and this translated to his in-ring  strategy. I think of Neville today who with his heel persona is almost a whole new different performer. Lastly, I was happy to hear during commentary in this match that it would be the final time Jose Lothario would accompany Shawn to the ring. Although he was his trainer, the two had ZERO on-screen chemistry and looked like oil and water together. Overall I thought the 1997 Royal Rumble was a great show and it progressed the stories moving into Wrestlemania. Let’s now take a look at the fallout on the RAW after the Royal Rumble.

The next night on RAW we get a recap of all that went down at the Royal Rumble. Shortly thereafter, Bret Hart proceeds ringside without his theme music which I thought was a great detail. Bret talks about being screwed over in his initial title shot and again at the Rumble last night. Bret says the WWE does nothing to right these wrongs and so quits as that’s the only option left.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin comes out next and calls out Bret Hart for complaining and quitting. Austin’s promo style seemed so genuine, even in the way he spoke to the guy handing him a microphone that eventually did work. Austin talks about Sid who was out with a concussion and his main event match with the Undertaker.

Owen Hart & the British Bulldog defeated Furnas and LaFon. I thought a good tag match but the focus was on the Bulldog and Owen and the possible tension after Owen eliminated Bulldog from the Rumble.

Next match was Faarooq versus Bart Gunn. I had talked earlier about Faarooq and the realism behind his character and the Nation of Domination. In contrast, we had the cartoonish cowboy Bart Gunn in the same ring. WWE was certainly in transition and beginning to phase out the cartoon characters. Bart did have fan support in this one but the NOD’s interference led to Faarooq capitalizing and picking up the victory.

At conclusion of the match, Gorilla Monsoon and Vince McMahon (who had left the commentary table once Bret quit earlier) returned ringside. Monsoon proceeded to book the Fatal Four Way match between Undertaker, Vader, Bret Hart and Steve Austin to determine the number one contender. Austin comes out and is irate about the match but says he’ll come out victorious and threatens Monsoon and gets in his face . Bret returns from the crowd and accepts the invitation to participate in this match.

This led to the main event as Undertaker made his way ringside. Bret and Austin had been brawling and as Austin got in the ring, Undertaker and Bret began to brawl as tensions were rising. The main event ended in a no contest as Bret and Vader got involved and everyone began to brawl to end the show.

I thought this was an enjoyable episode of RAW with frustrated superstars wanting to go at it with one another and coveting their shot at the title, which in a nutshell should be the goal of any storyline. I feel today’s performers focus their promos on their in-ring and match quality or want to be incredibly funny and witty and no one is focused on doing all to win the title. The announcement of the Fatal Four Way has me excited to see the main event of the next pay-per-view!

 

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