This is the 11th Royal Rumble and the first one where Steve Austin officially became "the man" in the WWF. He wasn't at the main event level yet, but the outcome of this Rumble was probably the most obvious of any Rumble in the history of the event. There was nobody else.

Even though Austin suffered a brutal neck injury at Summerslam 1997, he returned to the ring three months later at Survivor Series 1997 and by the time we got to the Rumble he was looking close to 100% again. He was clearly becoming the face of the company and as a result WWE would soon pass WCW as the #1 wrestling promotion in the world again. This was a step in that right direction.

WWF Royal Rumble

January 18, 1998

San Jose, California

The announcers are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. It says the intervals for entrants are 2 minutes each, but they are between 90 to 120 seconds. I should also add that Mike Tyson is sitting in a private box with Shane McMahon. He would be involved in the WrestleMania 14 main event (we didn't know how at this point) while he was banned from boxing due to the ear biting incident with Evander Holyfield.

We start with Cactus Jack at #1, who comes out with trash cans. He's a popular babyface. There's Chainsaw Charlie at #2, who is of course Terry Funk with some pantyhose on his head. Also a babyface. He's out with a chainsaw. Cactus throws chairs into the ring. Charlie hits him with the back with some chair shots and they do some dueling chairshot spots. Charlie begs for a chair shot and Cactus delivers a blow to the head. He stumbles around. Then Cactus gives Charlie a chair and he delivers two shots to his head. Chair shots to the head are banned in WWE today, which is a good thing. It's Tom Brandi at #3 and they dump him out at #12. Jack & Charlie brawl some more. Cactus sets up some seated chairs and suplexes Charlie onto the two folding chairs. He can't eliminate him, though. Keep in mind they're both babyfaces as well as friends. They'd go onto to be tag champs later in the year. There's The Rock at #4, who is the heel Intercontinental Champion and wrestled Ken Shamrock earlier in the show. He's way better as a character here than he was the year earlier when he made his Rumble debut as Rocky Maivia the babyface. Rocky works on Chainsaw, so Cactus drills him with a trash can and they put it on his head. Then they punch him and hit him with a chair into the trash can. Rocky gets sent through the middle rope to the floor. It's Headbanger Mosh at #5. He DDTs Charlie, who stumbles all over the place. Charlie hits a moonsault that barely hits Mosh. We can forgive him because it's F'N Terry Funk.

We are joined by Phinneas Godwinn at #6, who is in evil farmer mode at this point. Things slow down a bit here. Poor Funk is simply sitting in a corner because he's so tired. We have 8-Ball at #7 from the Disciples of Apocalypse group. This was a time when the WWF was crazy about having stables. Jack charges into Charlie, who ducks, and Cactus is eliminated. Rock tries to eliminate Charlie, but he hangs on. We're onto #8, who is a future World Champion…Blackjack Bradshaw aka JBL. He's not yet an Acolyte here. Everybody in the match is part of a stable or team except Chainshaw Charlie, who keeps hanging on from being eliminated. There's Owen Hart at #9, but he gets jumped by Jeff Jarrett, who was representing the NWA at this time. He beats him up in the aisle. Owen was a babyface because his brother Bret getting screwed made him sympathetic as "The Black Hart." It's Mr. Personality Steve Blackman at #10. That's a joke. He wasn't a very charismatic guy. Charlie keeps hanging on! He's a lot better at that then I remembered. Piledriver by 8-Ball onto Charlie. Funk is taking more bumps than anybody else in this match. He really is middle aged and crazy as they keep saying.

We have another Nation of Domination member, D-Lo Brown, at #11. What's his job today? He's a backstage agent for TNA. Brown and Rock work on Bradshaw. Then they start fighting with eachother even though they are both in the Nation. It's Kurrgan at #12, who they bill as 7'0" 350 pounds. A threat to win! He's actually a Canadian, but is not one of our greatest exports. He dumps Mosh out of the match. Blackman goes for a kick, but that misses and Kurrgan pounds on him in the corner. There's Marc Mero at #13. As I wrote in the last Rumble recap, Sable's breasts would become very popular within a year and you can tell by the monster pop. It's not for Marc. What's she doing these days? Married to Brock Lesnar with kids. Ross says Marc Mero "needs one of those charisma bypasses," which wasn't a good endorsement for Mero. Kurrgan eliminates Blackman. Big babyface pop for #14 Ken Shamrock, who was in a hot feud with The Rock. They had a match earlier in the night and it would continue to WrestleMania. He gets Kurrgan down and then six or seven of them gang up to eliminate Kurrgan. It's Headbanger Thrasher at #15 to a decent sized babyface pop. The Rock & D-Lo keep fighting eachother. The crowd gets bored, so they start chanting for Sable a bit. I don't blame them. There's not too much action in there.

The #16 entry is Mankind, who is Mick Foley, who was also Cactus Jack earlier in the match. He eliminates Charlie. I remember marking out a little bit when Foley showed up with his second gimmick. It came at a time when he was switching between the three gimmicks fairly regularly, so it worked for this match. Shamrock starts working over Rock, which is great because I loved their feud. It's The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust at #17 wearing this weird silver outfit with his blue hair, painted face and some other stuff that is hard to explain. Oh yeah, he's got the orange shoes too. He's a heel here as the announcers basically call him a crazy person. Goldust eliminates Mankind with a hiptoss. There's Jeff Jarrett, the NWA North American Champion, in at #18. Owen Hart comes sprinting into the ring. He goes right after Jeff Jarrett, showing no pain from the attack earlier in the match. He hits a back heel kick on Jarrett. He got some really good reactions from the crowd. Jeff tries to throw Owen out, but Owen hangs on, Jeff does his strut and Owen throws him out of the ring to eliminate him. It's The Honky Tonk Man at #19. Meanwhile, HHH and Chyna come out on crutches. He's the Euro champ. Rock eliminates Shamrock. Owen starts yelling at HHH and Chyna. Chyna goes to hit him with a crutch, Owen catches it, so HHH drills him with a crutch while he's standing on the apron. Owen gets eliminated. There's Ahmed Johnson at #20. JR mentions Ahmed's injuries slowing him down in his career. He looks injured just rolling into the ring. They show a replay of Shamrock's elimination, which they missed originally. It was caused by Rock hitting him with a low blow.

The #21 entrant is the newest member of the Nation, Mark Henry! Do I even have to say he's a threat to win? Lawler: "I'd say he's an odds on favorite right now." Enough said! Johnson looks like he's in terrible shape here, really. He looks very immobile and winded already. Mark Henry threw some powder into Ahmed's eyes. Is there anything Mark can't do? There's nobody coming at #22. It was supposed to be Skull from DOA, but he was attacked by Los Boricuas earlier because he looks like Austin with the shaved head. Brown and Henry eliminate Johnson, who really looks bad. For some reason Ahmed starts brawling with Phinneas on the floor. Why? Ahmed was a drug user. That's all I can do to explain that one. Henry is the one that eliminated Phinneas. It's Kama of the Nation at #23. Four Nation guys are in there with Faarooq still to come. The announcers keep saying that Austin was #22, but that he might have been eliminated due to the bounty that was placed on him. Time for #24, you might know this guy…"Stone Cold" Steve Austin. By far the biggest pop of the night goes to him. Everybody in the ring stops as music plays. They all look up the aisle. He comes in through the crowd. He eliminates Mero. He eliminates 8-Ball. He chokes D-Lo with his jacket just for fun. JR has a few joygasms during all this. It's Henry Godwinn at #25 as the announcers throw in the usual "he's 300 pounds plus" comment. They mention Bradshaw being in there for 36 minutes.

The last five men are about to enter with all four members of the Boricuas going in after Steve Austin. It's #26 Savio Vega and friends. Austin disposes of them one at a time while Savio stays in the ring. The action has slowed down a lot as the ring is full with too many people. JR keeps talking about Bradshaw, calling him a big young stud. JR was basically the guy in charge of hiring talent at this time, so you can tell he had a big hand in recruiting Bradshaw due to the comment. It's Nation of Domination leader Faarooq at #27. He goes right after Rock for some reason. Austin and Rock start fighting on the floor after they go through the ropes. Rock whips him into the steel steps, which Austin takes on his lower back. Rock drops him jaw first onto the railing. Rock goes back in while Austin recovers. There's Dude Love aka Mick Foley at #28. His third gimmick in one match. He eliminates Bradshaw. Austin whips Goldust into the steps and decks him with a clothesline. The Rock hits the People's Elbow on D-Lo although it didn't get the pop that it would in future years. There's Chainz of DOA at #29. Not a threat to win. There are 12 guys in the ring right now with Vader entering at #30, who JR calls a "stinky, grizzly bear." He was a face here, feuding with Goldust.

It's time to start eliminating people. Vader throws out Honky Tonk Man. Austin throws out Headbanger Thrasher and Kama in succession. Austin fights Savio and throws him out too. Goldust clotheslines Vader out of the match. Dude Love eliminates Henry Godwinn. Chainz eliminates Goldust leaving us with six guys. Austin eliminates Chainz. Faarooq tries to eliminate Henry, but Mark hangs on! Yeah! He's gonna win! Then he tries going back in and Faarooq knocks him out in a spot that looked screwed up. It's okay Mark, I still love ya.

The final four are Austin, Dude Love, Faarooq and The Rock, so we have an even mix of heels and faces. A good foursome to end it. It's awesome how Foley started it with one gimmick and is at the end with another gimmick. Dude hits Sweet Shin Music on The Rock and a DDT. Austin goes after him, but Dude comes back with the Mandible Claw. Austin kicks him in the junk and Faarooq clotheslines him out. Faarooq goes after Austin. He's close to eliminating him, so Rock sits down in the other corner. He waits for his spot and he dumps Faarooq out, who was the leader of The Nation at this point. JR says Rock's going to go coast to coast here even though he started 5th. It's okay. He's excited. Austin throws him over the top, but Rock hangs on. Stunner by Austin, Rock sells it by popping back to his feet in a daze and Austin throws him out to win the match.

Winner: Steve Austin

The match ended at 55:24.

 

FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS

- The booking was poor here because there were way too many people in the ring at one time. It felt boring far too many times during the match.

- The whole "bounty on Austin" thing was a nice selling point, but other than everybody stopping when his music hit they never really went after him. They could have done a better job of making it Austin against the world.

- The difference between The Rock in this match from a year earlier is mind boggling. He went from being just another random guy to being THE guy other than Austin. He made an incredible leap. It also helped that the WWF totally believed in him too.

- It's amazing how at the time of this match 13 years ago I didn't even flinch during the chairshot exchanges by Foley & Funk early on. Today, though, I cringed a few times because of all the information that's out there now. It would never happen in WWE today and that's a good thing.

- Fun fact. My boy Mark Henry eliminated TWO people here. He has eliminated zero people in Royal Rumble matches since then…according to people I trust. I'm not looking up Mark Henry stats. Other Mark Henry fans do that. He has legions of them.

 

FACTS & OPINIONS

Person that lasted the longest: The Rock at 51:32.

Most Eliminations: Steve Austin with 7.

Best Performers (3): The Rock - He was put in the "star making" spot. It worked.

Steve Austin - He was ridiculously popular at this point. His peak would come, but he was close to it here.

Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love - You could tell he was having a lot of fun on this night.

Best Elimination: Austin eliminating Rock just because I loved how Rock sold the Stunner.

Match Rating: **1/2 A very average Rumble. They had a lot of new wrestlers in the match as JR kept pointing out, so the star power wasn't great.

 

Ranking the Rumble matches in terms of star ratings:

1992: ****1/2

1990: ***1/2

1997: ***1/4

1994: ***

1995: **3/4

1998: **1/2

1988: **1/2

1996: **1/4

1993: **1/4

1991: **1/4

1989: **

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Here's a link to previous Royal Rumble recaps:

1988 Royal Rumble won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan

1989 Royal Rumble won by Big John Studd

1990 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan

1991 Royal Rumble won by Hulk Hogan

1992 Royal Rumble won by Ric Flair

1993 Royal Rumble won by Yokozuna

1994 Royal Rumble won by Bret Hart & Lex Luger

1995 Royal Rumble won by Shawn Michaels

1996 Royal Rumble won by Shawn Michaels

1997 Royal Rumble won by Steve Austin

Next up is the 1999 Royal Rumble. WWE was doing very well in terms of money and ratings, but the booking of that match made it a very different kind of Rumble match.

John Canton - mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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