With the 2018 WWE Royal Rumble a mere ten days away, Throwback Thursday (with a bit of help from the WWE Network) looks back twenty years ago today to a pivotal Royal Rumble event in WWF/E history when we revisit Royal Rumble ’98!
Royal Rumble ’98 finds the World Wrestling Federation on the cusp of breaking through and taking control of the “Monday Night Wars”. Their deep roster aside, the WWF was about to make front-page news around the world with the signing of Mike Tyson to appear at WrestleMania XIV and an in-ring altercation with Stone Cold Steve Austin on the next night’s RAW that stands as one of the era’s most shocking moments. However you slice it, the 1998 Royal Rumble was Stone Cold Steve Austin’s coming out party and the first true indicator that the “Era of Stone Cold” was about to begin!
As for the event itself, the 1998 Royal Rumble marked the third straight year the WWF World Heavyweight title match closed the show; marked only the third Rumble to that point to feature six matches (including the “Rumble”) on the PPV card; featured the highest number of “Royal Rumble” rookies (17) since the 1989 “Royal Rumble” (26); marked the only time one back-to-back “Rumble” winner (Steve Austin: ’97 & 98) followed another back-to-back “Rumble” winner (Shawn Michaels: ’95 & ’96); and marked the final, as of 2017, back-to-back “Royal Rumble” winner.
Edits are a bit of an issue with this show. While the “WWF” blurring and muting are not an issue for the first four matches, the muting and commentary edits during the “Rumble” itself and the main event are pervasive.
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WWF Royal Rumble 1998 (WATCH)
Date: January 18, 1998 – Location: San Jose Arena, San Jose, California
Attendance: 18,542 – PPV Buyrate: 0.97 (>351,000 homes)
Commentators: Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler – Interviews: Michael Cole
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME
WWF World Heavyweight Champion: Shawn Michaels
WWF Intercontinental Champion: The Rock
WWF World Tag Team Champions: The New Age Outlaws (“Bad Ass” Billy Gunn & Road Dogg)
WWF European Champion: Triple H
WWF Light Heavyweight Champion: Taka Michinoku
The show opens with a vignette highlighting the importance of the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and price about to be paid for a chance to win that very title at WrestleMania XIV.
After the pyro goes off Jim Ross welcomes us to the show. J.R. and Lawler chat about the card, the “Royal Rumble” match, and Mike Tyson being in attendance before tossing it to the Spanish and French announce teams. Before the first match begins we see a shot of Mike Tyson in a skybox of the San Jose Arena who is met by a massive round of boos.
As Goldust makes his way to the ring we see footage of Dustin Runnels dumping his wife, Terri, on RAW, and some of the events that led up to the forthcoming match between The Artist Formerly known as Goldust and Vader that went all the way back to the end of November.
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 3:08)
The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust w/Luna vs. Vader
Vader gets a pretty sizable pop here. The match is a fight early on while the announcers are busy talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin not being in the arena. Goldust is a great heel here, doing everything he can to deprive the fans of seeing Vader get his revenge. Late in the match Vader goes for the Vader Bomb when Luna distracts the referee, allowing Goldust to plunk the big man in the pills. Vader makes the comeback again and ends up going for the Vader Bomb a second time when Luna jumps on Vader’s back! Vader hits the move anyways and we get an all-time highlight reel spot for all three involved that leads to Vader scoring the 1-2-3 at 7:51 of a very good opener.
WINNER is Vader (Pin, 7:51)
After replays we go to the back where Michael Cole greets the arriving Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cole tries to interview Austin but Austin just tosses his keys at Cole and tells Cole to park the truck. “And if you scratch it you’re gonna get your ass whipped!” As Cole tries to wrap the segment The Godwinns show up and ask Cole where Austin went. Cole hems and haws until The Godwinns leave.
In the arena Sunny, wearing Shawn Michaels referee attire, makes her way to the ring to referee the following match as J.R. and “King” talk Austin showing up and everyone looking to claim the bounty on Stone Cold.
— “6-Man ‘Mini-Estrellas’ Match” (WATCH – 15:40)
Special Guest Referee: Sunny
Battallion, Tarantula, & El Torino vs. Nova, Mosaic, & Max Mini
This is a fun little match. If only the WWF’s light heavyweight division were half as exciting as this match is. There’s no heat for this match, though, and the fans don’t seem to know what to make of it. But once the bodies start flying the crowd (some of them, anyways) wakes up a bit. In the end Max Mini cinches in a crucifix on El Torino to score the pin at 7:49. After the match the winners help an exhausted Sunny to her feet before she drops to her knees to raise their arms. It was a fun match despite the crowd being muerto.
WINNERS are Nova, Mosaic, & Max Mini (Pin, 7:49)
Backstage The Nation (Faarooq, D’Lo Brown, Kama, and Mark Henry) arrive at Stone Cold Steve Austin’s dressing room door where Faarooq tells Henry that the “World’s Strongest Man” has to prove himself to The Nation by going after Austin but the dressing room is empty save a “3:16” foam middle finger in a chair.
At ringside J.R. talks about Vince McMahon’s ongoing negotiations with Mike Tyson. Next we see both Vince and Shane McMahon sitting with Mike Tyson in Tyson’s skybox from earlier.
Now we see footage of Ken Shamrock dismantling D’Lo, Kama, and Faarooq of The Nation before, on the go-home edition of RAW, Mark Henry turned heel on Shamrock as Shamrock was preparing to apply the ankle lock on The Rock.
After the footage we go backstage to Michael Cole who is standing with The Rock. Before the interview we see footage from the Free For All of The Nation arguing when The Rock commented on the members knowing “their damn role”. The Rock calls Cole “an idiot” before making comments about the President Clinton/Paula Jones scandal, saying, “Hey, Prez, take some advice from The Rock: When ya lay down with a dog you’re gonna wake up with fleas. Hey, man, don’t be silly, ya gotta cover it Willy.” The Rock then says he’ll face Shamrock one-on-one but that “somebody will be standing by to carry your sorry ass outta the building!” In the ring The Rock tells the fans they can chant that “Rocky sucks” but that he’s “your Intercontinental Champion. And as we all know The Rock is the best damn Intercontinental Champion there ever was.”
— WWF Intercontinental Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 27:49)
“The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock(c)
It gets lost in the shuffle but the reality is that it was this program with Ken Shamrock that brought “The Rock” out of Rocky Maivia. Though there’s some timing issues here and there, and it’s not the fight some fans thought it might be, it’s still an alright match. Late in the match Shamrock makes his comeback before D’Lo and Kama run down. Shamrock takes care of both D’Lo and Kama when The Rock gloms Shamrock with brass knucks and then places them inside Shamrock’s tights before gaining a near fall. Shamrock quickly comes back and hits the belly-to-belly suplex for the pin at 10:53 to win the Intercontinental title. But The Rock tells the referee to check Shamrock’s tights and when the referee discovers the knucks in Shamrock’s tights the referee reverses the decision and gives The Rock the win by DQ. Shamrock “snaps” and hits the referee with the belly-to-belly suplex before putting the referee in the ankle lock. Three other referees run down to break it up as Shamrock yells at Pat Patterson to get in the ring with him.
WINNER and STILL WWF Intercontinental Champion, The Rock (Disqualification via reverse decision, 10:53)
After replays we see Shane McMahon and Mike Tyson chatting about the event.
Backstage Los Boricuas are now searching for Stone Cold but find the Disciples of Apocalypse and the two factions brawl in the locker room. This attack would leave Skull (#22) unable to enter the “Royal Rumble” match later in the night.
Next we see a vignette highlighting the Legion of Doom’s run in the WWF and their current feud with the New Age Outlaws.
After the Outlaws make their way to the ring we head to the back where Michael Cole is with the Legion of Doom. Animal says the doctors don’t know what their talking about in respect to his back injury and that the Outlaws are going to get their “butts kicked.” Hawk says the Outlaws think their “cooler than the other side of the pillow” and that Outlaws will be even cooler after tonight “because we’re gonna put ’em on ice!”
— WWF World Tag Team Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 50:15)
The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) vs. The New Age Outlaws (“Bad Ass” Billy Gunn & Road Dogg)(c)
Though they had worked house shows this was the L.O.D.’s first TV match since the December 15, 1997 edition of RAW where D-X took out the L.O.D. and shaved half of Hawk’s head, which remains bald all this time later! This one starts out fast with the L.O.D. running roughshod over the Outlaws and it never really changes until Road Dogg gets Animal isolated outside the ring. Jim Ross shines especially well on commentary in this match, though he’s great the entire night, to be honest. In the end Hawk ends up handcuffed to the bottom rope by Road Dogg though Animal manages to put up a solid fight. Animal hits a very dangerous powerslam on Billy Gunn and looks to be about to win the match when Road Dogg blasts Animal with a steel chair, giving the L.O.D. the win by DQ at 7:55. After the match the Outlaws continue to go after Animal’s injured back. Until Hawk breaks the handcuffs and takes care of both Outlaws to save Animal.
WINNERS are The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (Disqualification, 7:55)
Next they reveal that Mildred Bowers of Nashville, Tennessee has won the iconic “3:16” pick-up truck, after which a vignette highlighting Stone Cold Steve Austin’s path of destruction and Austin’s march to the “Royal Rumble” as a “marked man” airs.
Up in the skybox Mike Tyson sits with Shane McMahon and cheers on Stone Cold Steve Austin before Howard Finkel explains the rules and gets the “Rumble” started.
— “1998 30-Man Number One Contender’s ‘Royal Rumble’ for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XIV” (WATCH – 1:07:23)
Featuring, in order of entry:
1) Cactus Jack; 2) Chainsaw Charlie; 3) Tom Brandi; 4) WWF Intercontinental Champion The Rock; 5) Mosh; 6) Phineas I. Godwinn; 7) 8-Ball; 8) Blackjack Bradshaw; 9) Owen Hart; 10) Steve Blackman; 11) D’Lo Brown; 12) Kurrgan; 13) Marc Mero w/Sable; 14) Ken Shamrock; 15) Thrasher; 16) Mankind; 17) The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust; 18) NWA North American Champion Jeff Jarrett w/Jim Cornette; 19) The Honky Tonk Man (sub. for WWF European Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley) w/Hunter Hearst Helmsley & Chyna; 20) Ahmed Johnson; 21) Mark Henry; 22) Skull (out injured from Los Boricuas attack); 23) Kama Mustafa; 24) Stone Cold Steve Austin; 25) Henry O. Godwinn; 26) Savio Vega; 27) Faarooq; 28) Dude Love; 29) Chainz; & 30) Vader
This is, in my opinion, one of the more underrated “Rumble” matches of all-time. With everyone having a story it makes for very few dull moments in the match. The stars of the match are Mick Foley, who dons all three “Faces of Foley” in this match (Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love); The Rock, for his work with Shamrock and for being the “iron man” of the match, lasting 51:27; the Owen Hart/Jeff Jarrett story which has the San Jose crowd rocking (and Owen’s backstage bump as he chases Triple H and Chyna); and Stone Cold Steve Austin for amassing the most eliminations (7).
The match is essentially broken into two parts, everything before Stone Cold Steve Austin arrives and everything after, which resembles a war more than a “Rumble” match. Once Vader comes in at #30 the eliminations come one after the other until we’re left with the final four: Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dude Love, The Rock, and Faarooq. After a Stone Cold kick in the Dude Dangle, Faarooq eliminates the reeling Dude Love at 54:26. The Rock leaves Faarooq to the mercy of Stone Cold before sneaking up behind his Nation teammate and dumping Faarooq at 54:50, leaving only The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the match. The two slug it out to the roar of the San Jose crowd until Austin tosses Rock over the top rope. But Rock catches himself and makes his way back in the ring only to walk into a Stunner before being dumped out by Austin at 55:21. This marked Austin’s second straight “Rumble” win (of an eventual three).
WINNER is Stone Cold Steve Austin (Last eliminating The Rock, 55:21)
After the match Stone Cold celebrates in the ring as Mike Tyson, in his skybox, cheers “The Rattlesnake” on. In the skybox Michael Cole interviews Mike Tyson who says that “Cold Stone is my man”. Tyson says he won “a fortune” on Austin’s win and he plans on celebrating. Cole asks him about the forthcoming Undertaker/Shawn Michaels WWF Championship match as Tyson says he’s been a fan of Undertaker for many years and that HBK is a “young, up-and-coming hungry tiger”.
At ringside Jim Ross and “King” talk about Austin winning before throwing to a classic vignette detailing the incredible rivalry between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, and the on-going drama between Undertaker and Kane.
— WWF World Heavyweight Championship – “Casket Match” (WATCH – 2:10:33)
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels(c) w/WWF European Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley & Chyna
This match is best remembered for being the match in which Shawn Michaels sustained a severe lower back injury that would force HBK out of action for four and a half years. Whether it was this match and the seemingly incidental bump on the edge of the casket at the 1:32 mark or the accumulation of punishment is unknown. This match is, for all intents and purposes, the last true Shawn Michaels match of the “Attitude Era”.
HBK bumps like a Super Ball for Undertaker in a story that mirrors their other matches in that it’s HBK’s speed versus Undertaker’s power and resilience. It’s a slow, methodical fight that takes its toll on both men that turns only when Helmsley joins the fight and uses his crutch on Undertaker. Eventually both men are in the casket and the match resembles a scary movie where the monster from the deep refuses to give up. Soon enough Undertaker hits a chokeslam for the ages and then delivers a jumping tombstone from the apron to the casket. Out of nowhere Chyna takes out the referee as the New Age Outlaws and the Los Boricuas jump Undertaker. Suddenly the lights go out and Kane arrives. Kane wipes out the Outlaws and Los Boricuas before attacking Undertaker and chokeslamming Undertaker into the now-empty casket to give Shawn Michaels the win at 20:42.
WINNER and STILL WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Shawn Michaels w/WWF European Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley & Chyna (20:42)
After the match Paul Bearer and Kane padlock the casket and wheel it up the aisle where Kane takes an axe to to the casket before pouring gasoline all over and into the battered casket. Paul Bearer sets the matchbook ablaze and hands it to Kane who drops the fire onto the casket. The PPV goes dark as the flames roar to life and Kane and Paul Bearer cheer on the carnage.
Royal Rumble ’98, for me, is everything great about the “Attitude Era” rolled into one event. There’s something to like about all of the matches, the “Rumble” itself is pretty damn good, and the main event “casket” match delivered as only the WWF can. If you’re looking to watch a great Rumble from start to finish you really can’t go wrong with Royal Rumble ’98!
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