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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

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Is Royal Rumble 1997 The Best Ever?

By @Cool_Calm_Chris (Christopher Evans) 

When people discuss the greatest Royal Rumble matches of all time, a few specific ones come to mind. Royal Rumble 1992 in the eyes of many is often in the discussion as the greatest Rumble of all time due to the numerous stories involved in the match as well as the stipulation, this was the first time the World Wrestling Federation Championship was on the line in a Royal Rumble match. Royal Rumble 2001 is also in the discussion due to the sheer star power involved and the storytelling that helped lead to Wrestlemania 17. But the one Royal Rumble match that gets overlooked constantly might just be the best, and that is Royal Rumble 1997.

In 1996, a number of stories had begun to develop well after Wrestlemania 12, Shawn Michaels was the World Wrestling Federation Champion and his friends Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and Kevin Nash (Diesel) had just left for WCW after the infamous curtain call in Madison Square Garden. Bret Hart took some time off after his match with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania, six months actually, and when he returned he noticed that “Things Have Changed Here in The World Wrestling Federation”. Stone Cold Steve Austin grew into his role as the dangerous heel after his King of the Ring win and his iconic “Austin 3:16” promo and slowly became one of the top stars in the company, eventually setting his sights on Bret. While these stories were developing, The Undertaker had been fully involved in a feud with the "rookie" Mankind (Mick Foley) who aligned himself with Paul Barer and Vader. Then you have Psycho Sid, who slowly became one of the top stars in the company and earned a match against Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series for the World Wrestling Federation Championship.

Enter Survivor Series 1996, we have three important matches set in place that would shape the WWF going into 1997. Shawn Michaels defends his World Wrestling Federation Championship against Psycho Sid, Mankind wrestles a revitalized Undertaker with Paul Bearer in a cage above the ring, and Bret Hart returns to wrestle Stone Cold Steve Austin. With Psycho Sid taking the WWF title from Shawn, things would begin to take shape as far as how the Royal Rumble, as well as Wrestlemania 13 would begin to look.

At In Your House: It’s Time, Psycho Sid would successfully defend his title against Bret Hart with help from Stone Cold Steve Austin and a slight interference from Shawn Michaels. With Bret’s loss he would begin his evolution into a heel that felt like he was rightfully owed a fair shot at the World Wrestling Federation Championship that was denied constantly. While this was happening, Shawn Michales had begun to prepare himself for his rematch with Psycho Sid at the Royal Rumble and the Undertaker entered the final stages of his feud with Mankind. As this all unraveled, the wild card in this, Stone Cold Steve Austin, was hellbent on making sure Bret Hart would not win the Royal Rumble match.

The stories that culminated during this period were in abundance. A number of stars did double duty wrestling in the Rumble to help further their story such as Goldust and Hunter Hearst Helmsley furthering their rivalry and the growing rivalry between Ahmed Johnson and Farooq of the Nation of Domination. Other storylines furthered such as the dissension between World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. The Rumble this year also gave rise to new stars such as third generation superstar rookie Rocky Maivia.

The 1997 Royal Rumble accomplished one major goal, get the new storylines over, and they achieved just that. Live in a rather crowded Alamodome consisting of 60,525 fans in attendance (The largest ever recorded Royal Rumble attendance), the Royal Rumble match started off and at number five the most important entrant in this match arrived. Stone Cold Steve Austin had a presence in this match that showed how hungry he was to become the next big star in this industry. Austin worked his way through every competitor that entered up until Bret Hart entering at 21.

The action really picked up as Bret Hart would enter the ring infuriated as Stone Cold Steve Austin would appear shocked and eventually prepared to do battle with Hart. The two brawled for most of their time one on one in the ring. The match would fill with an array of talent from Jerry Lawler to the rookie Maivia and even Vader, it was after his entrance that the Deadman would officially enter. Appearing at 30, the Undertaker capped off the match as the over babyface in San Antonio, Texas. Bret Hart would eventually eliminate Stone Cold Steve Austin, however the referees were distracted. Austin would re-enter the Royal Rumble match and eliminate the remaining entrants Vader, Diesel (Kane), Undertaker, and Bret Hart.

With the elimination, this would help set up the next storylines heading into Wrestlemania 13. With Austin’s win it would further Bret Harts beliefs that he is being held back from winning the World Wrestling Federation Championship. Austin achieved his goal of upending Bret Hart and even made it to the top of the World Wrestling Federation. The Undertaker would eventually refocus all his energy on winning the World Wrestling Federation Championship as his feud with Mankind came to an end.

The Royal Rumble match did not end the pay-per-view however, as the main event Shawn Michaels would reclaim his World Wrestling Federation Championship against Psycho Sid. The Royal Rumble pay-per-view was a grand way to enter 1997 after getting destroyed in the ratings by WCW. It showed the World Wrestling Federation in its former glory, with Shawn Michaels looking like the complete over babyface conquering Psycho Sid and a new star being born in Stone Cold Steve Austin. With the overall show being what it was, Royal Rumble 1997 gets overlooked so heavily in the epoch of WWE history, but it was one of the peak moments in the history of the company.



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