The Eternal Optimist Presents: Ranking The Royal Rumbles (#10)


QUESTION OF THE DAY:  When was the moment that you first realized the greatness of Stone Cold Steve Austin?


Hi kids.

Welcome back to another edition in my Royal Rumble column series.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at 10th place on my countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants – The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match – The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four – Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner – I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal comes from LOP’s very own Samuel Plan!

Here is where the countdown currently stands – links to the previous columns are embedded:

Without further ado, here’s the Rumble that clocked in at #10 on the countdown:


#10:  The 1997 Royal Rumble.


The Roster:

1. Crush
2. Ahmed Johnson
3. “Fake” Razor Ramon
4. Phineas Godwinn
5. Steve Austin
6. Bart Gunn
7. Jake Roberts
8. The British Bulldog
9. Pierroth
10. The Sultan
11. Mil Mascaras
12. Triple H
13. Owen Hart
14. Goldust
15. Cibernetico
16. Marc Mero
17. Latin Lover
18. Faarooq
19. Savio Vega
20. Jesse James
21. Bret Hart
22. Jerry Lawler
23. “Fake” Diesel
24. Terry Funk
25. The Rock
26. Mankind
27. Flash Funk
28. Vader
29. Henry Godwinn
30. The Undertaker

The roster was simply awesome in 1997. There were absolute superstars in Bret Hart and The Undertaker. There were legends from the past in Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, Jerry Lawler, and The British Bulldog. There were a litany of wrestlers who were just about to arrive – names like Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mankind and Kane (under the “Fake Diesel” moniker).

It was no coincidence that 1997 marked the turning point for the WWE in the Monday Night Wars. They had the horses to make it work.

The Storylines & Flow:

There was a lot of hokey things that happened in this Rumble.  I wasn’t really into the Ahmed Johnson v The Nation storyline, and the idea that Johnson would eliminate himself in order to chase The Nation off was mind numbingly stupid to me.   Having Owen Hart eliminate The British Bulldog when they were the current tag team champs was an interesting idea that ultimately led to nowhere.  There were clock problems early in the match that made for an oddball viewing experience.

Despite all of that, this Rumble is amazing for one reason that blows away anything else negative surrounding it – this was THE Stone Cold Steve Austin Show.  Being a fifteen year old kid at the time of the 1997 Royal Rumble didn’t allow me to have a proper understanding of just exactly what I was witnessing.  As a result, I didn’t have fond memories from this Rumble prior to re-watch.

I remembered that Austin won the match but had no idea that he entered at number five and dominated throughout.  As I’ve said in the past – I believe that too many people give individual lengthy stays in the Royal Rumble match far too much credit, when the reality is that the wrestler in question usually spends most of the time laying around. 

That was NOT the case here.  Simply put – Steve Austin gave the second best individual performance in the history of The Royal Rumble.  Everything that he did worked exactly as it should – doing pushups in the middle of the ring, looking at his watch in between eliminations, the sheer dominance of it all.  This was one of the biggest stars ever in his biggest star-making performance up to that day.

From the minute he entered until the minute the match was over, I was captivated by his performance.  Hindsight allowed me to see what I couldn’t as a child – Austin’s once in a generation level greatness.  He carried the entire match until the tremendous firepower showed up for the big finish.

And what a finish it was.  Bret Hart coming in to square off with Austin one on one was the no-brainer right call.  What fantastic action ensued!  After Bret, it was impact player after impact player – by the end of the match the wrestlers in the ring included Bret, Austin, The Undertaker, Vader, The Rock, Mankind, Terry Funk & Kane (“Fake Diesel”).  What an incredible lineup.  I was riveted by every minute.

There’s really not that much to discuss in the way of nuts and bolts to this Rumble.  It was a Rumble that had a singular objective and absolutely knocked that objective out of the park.

The Final Four:

The final four was as compelling as it gets.  It is unfair to refer to the 1997 finish as a “final four”.  There were a clear final five wrestlers to the match in Austin, Bret, The Undertaker, Vader and “Fake” Diesel. 

The angle that saw Bret Hart eliminate Steve Austin while the referees weren’t looking only for Austin to sneak back in and win the match was incredible.  It all happened so quickly that it takes your breath away.  The entire closing sequence was only a couple of minutes long, but wow, incredibly memorable and a finish that has yet to be repeated.

The Winner:

Steve Austin was one of the most surprising winners in Royal Rumble history.  I just couldn’t see anyone but Bret Hart winning the match.  After what had happened the year prior at WrestleMania 12, the idea that WrestleMania 13 could have anything other than a Bret/Shawn rematch closing the show just seemed impossible.  Austin was gaining momentum but at no point in time did I think that we were being led to an Austin Rumble victory.

Austin winning at the time felt like a letdown for the same reasons that the 1997 Royal Rumble seemed unmemorable to me as a child – I simply couldn’t see the forest through the trees.  I couldn’t appreciate the transcendental greatness that lay before me.

In hindsight, Steve Austin was an incredibly satisfying winner in 1997.  Whereas his King of the Ring victory was the first domino to fall on his way to greatness, The Royal Rumble 1997 was the first giant leap forward.

When I look at whether a Royal Rumble winner used the Rumble to catapult to greatness, I’m almost always looking at whether or not he won the WWE Title in the main event of WrestleMania.  That was not the case here.  Instead of headlining Wrestlemania, he took part in arguably the greatest professional wrestling match of all time – an “I Quit” match against Bret Hart.

You don’t need me to tell you what happened there – the most famous double turn in the history of the business ensued and from that moment on, Steve Austin was “the man”.  Austin never gets there without first winning the 1997 Rumble.

Overall:

This might not be the first Royal Rumble that comes to mind when you think about the event, but it’s undoubtedly in the upper echelon in terms of quality.  The singular story and focus was amazing and holds up incredibly well by today’s standards.  The importance of the 1997 Rumble cannot be overstated, as it really brought one of the greatest careers of all time to the next level.  A personal favorite of mine without question.  I wanted to justify moving this Rumble further up the list, but it wasn’t quite as well rounded as some that are yet to come.

The Rebuttal – By Samuel Plan

The ’97 Rumble kicks off possibly the best creative year in the company’s entire history. Why, then, does it always watch as bizarre, instead of brilliant? Luchadors were imported to obviously just make up the numbers, and it shows. Not only is Vince McMahon’s ignorance of his guests cringe-worthily obvious in the commentary track, the Alamodome audience’s relatively quiet reaction to all of them reflects a general disconnect with the company’s strange effort to make up for its apparently undermanned roster.

On the positive side, Stone Cold Steve Austin puts in one of the all-time great performances in Rumble lore, essentially carrying a 30 man match on his own back from pretty much the beginning. That he enters as early as fourth makes his cheap win all the more ingratiating when it occurs.

Sadly though, even his leviathan effort isn’t enough to overcome the bout’s plethora of shortcomings. The eliminations are particularly oddly spaced, and subplots that might have helped make the match a psychologically driven entry in the event’s library are frustratingly and frequently cut short; most notably the efforts of British Bulldog and Owen Hart. Others – like revisiting Hart vs. Hart – are never even flirted with.

It was a noble effort from the disadvantaged promotion that year, but one that could never conquer the mountain of its many undermanned minutes.

That’s a wrap kids.  Tune in later this week to find out which Royal Rumble clocked in at #9.  Agree or disagree?  Sound off below!

I can best be reached on Twitter @The_Eternal_Optimist

 

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