Royal Rumble
January 18, 1998
San Jose Arena, San Jose, CA

As January rolls around once again, we kick off another year with the Royal Rumble. And what a year 1998 would be. Not only was it the year that I first stumbled across this crazy business we call wrestling, but it was also the year that the WWF fired back after being consistently destroyed by WCW in the Monday Night Raws to regain their position as the top wrestling company in the world. At this point they are still trailing, but the time will come soon enough. Tonight of course, we have the Rumble match itself, and whilst the winner is very obvious, its the right choice. Also tonight WWF Champion Shawn Michaels renews his old rivalry with the Undertaker, as he puts his title on the line in a casket match that will end up having major implications. Let's get into it shall we. Donít forget to follow me on Twitter at @Mpmcc91

We kick the show off with a video package highlighting the two matches I've just mentioned and we then head into the arena where our announce team of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler get us under way.

Vader vs The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust w/Luna
Goldust is a total loony here as we saw last month. These guys have been having issues since Goldust walked out on Vader during an elimination tag match back at Survivor Series, so Vader is looking for revenge here. I have to say that Vader is over like crazy here despite having been pushed down the card quite a bit over the past six months or so. I definitely think he had potential in this face role as the crowd could certainly get behind the big man. Goldust tries to get some shots in on the Mastodon early on, but Vader fights him off as well as some interference from the equally bizarre Luna at ringside. The match is a pretty good start to the show which is always a good thing. Vader pretty much destroys Goldust for much of the match, but the crazy Artist gets his shots in throughout. In the end, Vader looks to put Goldust away with his Vader Bomb, but Luna gets in the ring and climbs onto the back of the big man as he climbs the turnbuckle. Deciding to go with it anyway, Vader comes down with Luna on his back, hitting Goldust with the Vader Bomb in the process, allowing the Mastodon to pick up the win at 7:51. Fun match here to get the show started with the right guy going over to get the fans into it.
Grade: **1/2

We now see Austin arriving in the backstage area. Michael Cole attempts to get a word with him, but Austin hands him his keys instead, thinking he is the valet. As the rattlesnake leaves, the Godwinns come in and demand to know which way he went. The idea here was that everyone in the Rumble was out to get Austin since he was taking out everyone out in the weeks leading up to this event in classic Stone Cold fashion. Yes, Austin was the obvious favourite that I mentioned earlier.

Max Mini, Nova & Mosaic vs El Torrito, Battalion & Tarantula
Special Guest Referee: Sunny

Its midget filler time as we have seen on a few of these recent shows. Sunny is the referee for this one simply because she doesn't have anything else going for at the moment. She still looks great though. As always, there's not much to say about this stuff. Its fun enough, but its nothing spectacular at this point. After some assistance from Sunny in delivering some dropkicks to the heels, Mini picks up the expected win for the face trio with a hurricana into a cradle on El Torrito at 7:48. It was okay for what it was in some light hearted filler.
Grade: *3/4

In the back, the Nation of Domination are looking to take out Austin. They go to jump him in his locker room but only find a foam hand with the middle finger pointed up at them. More fun from Austin antagonising his adversaries.

Back in the arena, we get a look at the skybox where Mike Tyson is joined by Vince and Shane McMahon. Vince wasn't a total heel just yet, but the seeds had definitely been planted since Montreal. He's also fully acknowledged as the owner of the company now.

We now get a recap of the rivalry between the Rock and Ken Shamrock. They face off next for the I.C title. Before we get there though, Michael Cole is standing by with the Rock. Cole mentions seeds of dissension in the Nation over who will win the Rumble tonight. Rock calls him an idiot and cuts a good promo mixing in some advice to President Clinton.

WWF Intercontinental Championship:
The Rock (c) vs Ken Shamrock

As I mentioned last month, despite losing to Austin in the I.C title match at D-Generation X, Austin was forced by Mr McMahon to put the title on the line in a rematch the next night on Raw is War. when Austin refused to do so, he was stripped of the belt and the title awarded to the Rock. Rock had also been feuding on and off with Ken Shamrock over the months dating back to Badd Blood. An important point in the build to this match saw The Rock and D'Lo Brown of the Nation team up to take on Shamrock and the returning Mark Henry on Raw the week prior to this show. During that match, Henry would betray Shamrock and became the newest member of the Nation, as Shamrock was the victim of a beat down from the faction. That brings us to this match. Rock comes out alone to some massive heat as he's one of the most hated men in the company here. He gets on the mic before the match and tells the crowd to shut their mouths. Shamrock follows on his way out to a decent pop. They start out brawling as we get going. The match is okay, but nothing special. Shamrock starts building momentum during the match which draws Nation members D'Lo Brown and Kama Mustafa out to ringside. They attempt to come to the champ's aid, but Shamrock fights them off, with D'Lo getting stuck in the ropes in the process. As the referee is tending to him, Rock nails Shamrock with a pair of brass knuckles and then stuffs them into Shamrock's tights. Shamrock kicks out of the cover and comes back with a belly to belly on Rock to score the pinfall at 10:52. As it seems Shamrock is the new I.C champion, Rock starts to complain to the referee, telling him to look into Shamrock's trunks. The ref does just that and finds the brass knuckles planted their by Rock. The referee them reverses his decision and awards the match to the Rock via DQ. Rocky is still the I.C Champion and he gets out of there as Shamrock snaps, locking in the ankle lock on the official. The ending to this was quite good as it helped portray Rock as a sneaky heel champion that would use his intelligence to hold onto his title. This feud is far from over.
Grade: **

We head back to the locker room where Rock is taking off his boots after his match, only to be jumped by an angry Shamrock. Elsewhere in the backstage area, Los Boricuas are looking for Austin. They jump a bald guy that they think is Austin from behind but it ends up being one of the DOA instead. This causes a brawl between the two factions to break out. Long live the Gang Wars.

We now get a video highlighting the events leading to our next match as the tag titles are on the line. We hear from the LOD backstage as they say this is about their pride after being humiliated by the champs in recent weeks and yell at Cole a little.

WWF Tag Team Championship:
New Age Outlaws (c) vs Legion of Doom

After retaining the titles by DQ last month at the D-Generation X PPV, the Outlaws made things more personal in their rivalry with the LOD heading into this show. On a recent episode of Raw is War, the Outlaws showed their first signs of an allegiance with DX when the two teams put a vicious beating upon the LOD. During that beating, Animal was sent crashing through the announce table, injuring his ribs. The Outlaws then added insult to injury as they shaved one of Hawk's mohawk. So the LOD are looking for payback tonight. The Outlaws have their team name now and are starting to take off as a team of pure dicks. The match itself isn't really much better than their encounter the month prior. Its a basic brawl between the two teams. At one point the Outlaws handcuff Hawk to the corner, and proceed to destroy a helpless Animal. Animal fights back though and looks to pick up the win when he connects with a powerslam on Billy Gunn. Before being able to capitalise though, Road Dogg comes in and nails Animal with a chair, giving the LOD the victory by DQ at 7:57. Of course this means that the Outlaws retain their titles. After the match the Outlaws beat on Animal with the chair until Hawk busts free and runs the champs off. This feud will continue down the line but for now we take a break from it, at least on PPV.
Grade: *

Up next we get a video package about the Rumble match. Or rather about Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the fact that everyone is after him tonight. The Rumble is up next.

Royal Rumble Match:
Howard Finkel starts off by explaining the rules as usual. He says the intervals are two minutes, but they vary between 90 seconds and two minutes in reality. The number 1 entrant is Cactus Jack, the third face of Mick Foley that we have not yet seen on PPV. He gets a nice pop and he was pretty much Foley's main persona at this point, having moved away from the Dude Love persona he had spent much of late 97 in. The number two entrant is Chainsaw Charlie, who is of course fellow hardcore legend Terry Funk. He comes out with a chainsaw whilst Cactus gets some chairs and we are under way. Both men are faces by the way. They beat on each other with some stiff chair shots to the head that would thankfully never happen today. Eventually #3 comes out and its Tom Brandi. He pretty much was a jobber to my knowledge. He quickly gets dumped and the hardcore legends go back at it some more until the Rock comes out at #4 to some solid heat. Jack and Funk team up on the I.C champion, whacking him whilst a trash can is placed over his head. He ends up being sent to the outside but goes through the ropes so he's not eliminated. Out next is #5 in Mosh of the Headbangers. He goes after Funk who actually busts out a bad looking moonsault. Out comes Phineas Godwinn at #6 but he doesn't do much of note. #7 is 8-Ball of the DOA - the twin that wasn't taken out earlier. Meanwhile Cactus Jack charges at Funk only for Funk to drop down, sending Cactus over with his own momentum to be eliminated. #8 is Blackjack Bradshaw, who of course is still doing the New Blackjack thing which doesn't last much longer. Owen Hart gets a nice pop at #9 but as he is making his way down to the ring he gets attacked by Jeff Jarrett of the revived NWA stable under Cornette's leadership. More on that next time. It seems like Owen is not going to be able to compete as Steve Blackman comes out at #10.

The Nation of Domination adds a second member to the match as D'Lo Brown enters at #11. He and Rock double team Bradshaw but then go at it themselves. Its every man for themselves after all. #12 is the giant Kurrgan, the former Interrogator whom I believe is now done with the Truth Commission. He quickly eliminates Mosh and then goes at it with Blackman. Marc Mero is #13. He gets a nice pop but of course its for Sable rather than him. Meanwhile Kurrgan eliminates Blackman. #14 is Ken Shamrock to a huge pop and he takes the fight to Kurrgan. He ends up teaming up with a whole bunch of guys in the ring and they eliminate the big guy, throwing him out in a joint effort. The man rounding out the first half of entrants is Headbanger Thrasher at #15 whilst the crowd starts chanting for Sable. In a great spot, Mick Foley comes out once again but this time he is Mankind and he is the #16 entrant. I loved this as it was definitely something different. He goes for Funk who eliminated him earlier as Cactus, sending the Hardcore Legend packing. Meanwhile Rock and Shamrock start going at it again. #17 is the Artist formerly known as Goldust. He quickly eliminates Mankind, whilst the NWA North American Champion Jeff Jarrett makes his official entrance into the Rumble at #18. As Jarrett makes his entrance, Owen Hart, who was attacked earlier sprints back out to the ring and goes at it with Jarrett. Jarrett fights him off, but gets cocky and does his trademark strut, which allows Owen to eliminate him. #18 is the Honky Tonk Man, who I'm fairly sure was just here for a one-off appearance now after being involved with the company in early 97. Meanwhile, Triple H (the new European Champion having won the belt after Michaels laid down for him) and Chyna of DX make their way down the aisle. Neither is in the Rumble, as Helmsley is on crutches here after suffering an injury. Triple H starts yelling at Owen from the outside, whilst Rock dumps Shamrock out of the match following a low blow, keeping that rivalry going. Owen meanwhile takes the bait and gets onto the apron arguing with Hunter, catching a crutch that Chyna tried to hit him with. Helmsley takes advantage and whacks Owen with the other crutch, resulting in the Black Hart falling to the floor and being eliminated. #20 is Ahmed Johnson, who is pretty much at the end of his run here as even JR mentions that injuries have slowed him down.

Out at #21 is the newest member of the Nation of Domination in Mark Henry. Lawler picks him as the favourite as he comes in and throws some powder in the face of Ahmed. Up next is #22 but nobody shows up. It was supposed to be DOA's Skull, but he was taken out backstage earlier by the Boricuas. Of course the announcers think it was supposed to be Austin. Long live the Gang Wars. Nation members D'Lo and Henry team up and eliminate Ahmed. Henry also dumps Phineas, and the Godwinn brawls with Ahmed on the outside. Up next is another member of the Nation in Kama Mustafa at #23. Up next we get the big moment of the match as at #24, the glass breaks as Stone Cold Steve Austin is the next entrant to a monster pop. Everybody in the ring stops fighting, wanting to take him down, but instead of coming down the aisle, he comes in through the crowd behind everybody. He quickly tosses Mero then 8-Ball before choking D'Lo with his jacket. The crowd is going wild for all this. JR is too of course. Up next is Henry Godwinn at #25. Savio Vega is next at #26, but he comes out with all the Boricuas who attempt to take on Austin. Austin gets rid of them all except for Savio who is the official entrant, and JR talks up Bradshaw on commentary who it seems they had big plans for. #27 is the leader of the Nation, Faarooq. Austin and Rock both end up fighting on the floor but neither is eliminated as they went through the ropes. The ring is really filling up now as Dude Love, the final face of Foley enters at #28 to a good response. Again, great stuff here. Dude eliminates Bradshaw, whilst Rock hits the People's elbow on fellow Nation member D'Lo, who gets eliminated by Faarooq shortly after. Chainz of the DOA is #29 and nobody cares. Our final entrant is Vader at #30 who gets another strong pop. He quickly eliminates the Honky Tonk Man who lasted longer than I expected. Meanwhile Austin is on fire as he eliminates Thrasher, Kama and Savio in succession. Meanwhile Goldust eliminates Vader, getting his heat back from earlier in the night. Dude Love eliminates Henry Godwinn and Chainz eliminates Goldust. Austin follows up by tossing Chainz out of there. The eliminations are really happening now as Farrooq gets rid of his Nation buddy in Mark Henry.

This leaves us with the final four of Austin, Dude, Rock and Faarooq. Former tag champs against Nation members. They go at it, with Dude locking in the mandible claw on Austin, only for Austin to kick him in the lower region to break it. Dude is unable to recover as Faarooq clotheslines him o of there bringing us down to three. Rock sits their resting whilst his leader brawls with Austin, but the rattlesnake comes out on top and tosses the Nation boss. We're down to Austin and Rock which is always fun. Austin hits Rock with the stunner which Rock does his usual awesome job of selling before being thrown out by the rattlesnake at 55:25. Stone Cold Steve Austin is your winner and he is going to Wrestlemania to meet the WWF Champion! This was a decent Rumble, although there were way too many guys in the ring at some points of the match towards the end. Everyone knew Austin was winning, but as I said, he was the only choice to win here and that was a good thing since he was the most popular guy in the company. Whilst winning the Rumble last year was important in the Hart/Austin feud, it was this Rumble win that really sent Austin to the top of the company, a position he would never really depart from for his active career.
Grade: **1/2

Back in the skybox, Michael Cole gets a word with Mike Tyson. He is happy that 'Cold Stone' won the Rumble. Tomorrow night we get the famous Austin/Tyson confrontation on Raw is War. He says he is a fan of both guys when asked about the upcoming WWF Championship match. Speaking of that match, we get a video package highlighting the build before we get there.

WWF Championship - Casket Match:
Shawn Michaels (c) w/Triple H & Chyna vs Undertaker

There's a long history between these guys going all the way back to Summerslam of last year when Michaels cost Taker the WWF Championship. The last time these men met was inside the first ever Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood in October, and tonight they renew their rivalry. This time around, things are more about the relationship between Undertaker and Kane though. On a recent episode of Raw is War leading into this show, the Undertaker was the victim of a beat down from DX and the New Age Outlaws, when suddenly Kane's music hit and the big red monster made his way to the ring. At this point, DX was claiming that Kane had joined them. Instead of attacking his brother as he had in the past however, no longer with Paul Bearer by his side, Kane made the save, fighting off DX and then heading back up the ramp. Once there he extended his hand out to Taker in the ring, who dropped down on one knee, the brother's seemingly reconciled in a classic moment which JR was going crazy about when it happened. Michaels gets plenty of heat from the crowd here as he comes out with his DX buddies, whilst Taker is over as always. The match isn't quite as good as their last encounter, but its still a solid match that I enjoyed. Taker starts out by destroying the champion but Michaels eventually takes control upon throwing some powder in the eyes of the Phenom and a crutch shot from Triple H at ringside. Of course the moment that this match is most remembered for his what effectively ended the first run of Shawn Michaels' career, as Taker backdrops him onto the casket early on, a bump which Michaels' took directly onto his back, and ended up herniating his spine in the process. Its amazing that he was able to continue, but he's since said that the pain only really set in the following day. Anyway, the match continues with some stiff shots as the two fight in and around the casket until Taker finally hits a tombstone on Michaels and goes to roll him into the casket. At that moment, the New Age Outlaws and the Boricuas run down and beat on Taker until the red light hits and out comes Kane. He clears off his brother's attackers but then reveals his true colours and hits a chokeslam on Taker and puts him into the casket, proving the teases of a face turn were a farce all along. DX closes the lid and Michaels has retained his WWF Championship through nefarious means again at 20:37. This was a really good match, and whilst its sad that it indirectly took Michaels out of the game for quite some time, he would come back a better man down the line and perform at arguably an even higher level. Good stuff here.
Grade: ***1/2

After the match, DX takes off as Paul Bearer heads down to ringside to join Kane. They nail the casket shut with Taker inside and wheel it up the aisle. Kane cuts into it with an axe a few times and then we get another famous moment. Kane and Bearer pour gasoline over the casket and follow up by setting it on fire! JR freaks out as we go off the air with the visual of Kane and Bearer standing in front of the fiery casket in which the Phenom has seemingly met his demise.

This was an enjoyable show - a huge improvement to what we got last month. The main event was a solid WWF title match between two of the greatest ever, which also played a role in setting up one of the major matches for Wrestlemania in Undertaker vs Kane. We also know that Austin will challenge the WWF Champion at that event so already we can see the card taking shape. The Rumble was decent, even if it was obvious who was winning, although as I already said I think there were a few points that they had too many guys in the ring at once. The undercard was also pretty good, although nothing special, with only the tag title match really being what I would call truly bad. The WWF is picking up momentum as we kick of the year that was 1998 and it showed here. In a matter of months the company would be on top of the wrestling world once again.

Three Stars of the Night:
1. Steve Austin - he was the most popular man in the company and he picked up the win in the match that was pretty much all about him here. This win is the one which fully pushed Austin to the main event level after flirting with it over the past 12 months or so since the Bret Hart feud.
2. Shawn Michaels - another solid title defence for the head degenerate in the promotion. The casket bump had to have been painful so I give him credit for working through it in a lengthy match after it happened
3. The Rock - the People's Champion was really coming into his element around this time as a heel that everybody absolutely hated. His character showed great intelligence in the I.C title match outsmarting Shamrock and he also had a lengthy showing in the Rumble lasting over fifty minutes to be their in the end.

This was really hard to decide on as I also had Undertaker and Foley in contention - Taker for the solid effort put forth in the main event, and Foley for his entertaining appearance as all three of his personas in the Rumble match. That shows that the roster was picking up around this time. Its been a while since there's been a bunch of guys in contention for these spots.

FINAL GRADE: 6 out of 10

What I do here is add the three stars of the night with each review so as to keep track of who we can say overall is the greatest PPV performer to any given time. First place scores 3 points, second 2 and third 1. The list is put together from all the shows I have reviewed thus far.

Bret Hart = 83
Shawn Michaels = 62
Steve Austin = 42
Randy Savage = 28
Undertaker = 21
Hulk Hogan = 18
Owen Hart = 16
Diesel = 14
Ultimate Warrior = 13
Vader = 13
British Bulldog = 11
Razor Ramon = 10
Ted DiBiase = 10
Mankind = 9
Ric Flair = 8
Jim Neidhart = 7
Hunter Hearst Helmsley = 7
Jerry Lawler = 6
Bob Backlund = 5
1-2-3 Kid = 5
Mr Perfect = 5
Roddy Piper = 5
Dynamite Kid = 5
Arn Anderson = 5
Marty Jannetty = 5
Ricky Steamboat = 4
Ax = 4
Smash = 4
Bobby Heenan = 4
Savio Vega = 3
Yokozuna = 3
Hakushi = 3
Bam Bam Bigelow = 3
Jake Roberts = 3
Tanaka = 3
Kato = 3
Vince McMahon = 3
Greg Valentine = 3
Tully Blanchard = 3
The Rock = 3
Jeff Jarrett = 2
Sgt Slaughter = 2
Rick Rude = 2
Paul Orndorff = 2
Brutus Beefcake = 2
Andre the Giant = 2
Crush = 2
Jesse Ventura = 1
Texas Tornado = 1
Tito Santana = 1
Virgil = 1
Rick Steiner = 1
Scott Steiner = 1
Lex Luger = 1
The Roadie = 1
Flash Funk = 1
Hawk = 1
Animal = 1
Taka Michinoku = 1

Donít forget to follow me on Twitter at @Mpmcc91. The road to Wrestlemania makes a stop next week in Texas. ÔĽŅ