This PPV shows that the WWF was full steam ahead on the Attitude Era by 1997. There was a lot of brawling and rough bumps throughout all the night’s matches. Race and sexuality were the basis of the majority of the angles on the card. There isn’t any blood or female nudity, but those are the only two Attitude staples that aren’t a focus. The show isn’t the strongest, but the Royal Rumble itself is one of the best. The opening match took a shot at stealing the show, but the main event and Taker/Vader both edged out better quality. If you have a chance to take advantage of the WWE Classics Freeview this month with your cable service, watch Royal Rumble ’97!
WWF Intercontinental Championship Match: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (C) w/Mr. Hughes v Goldust w/Marlena (***): HHH took some rough bumps in this one. A Slingshot over the top to the outside where his spine bounced off the ring apron, and then the steel stairs were dropped on that same spine. Goldust running shoulder first into the ring post full speed was no walk in the park either. These two came out brawling from the start, and they were as rough as you need to be to put such a fight over. Earl Hebner was just as inept as a referee in ’97 as he is today. Does he lack logic or is he a comic genius? The commentary was all over Hebner (never using his name), which was fantastic. Todd Pettingil cutting in with an interview during the match was weak, especially since the dude he interviewed was some random country singer. The finish wasn’t memorable, but it was decisively heel. Hunter got to kiss Marlena and kept his title. He was always just as lucky as he is today.
Ahmed Johnson v Farooq w/Nation of Domination (**): After the opening brawl these two had to come out with intensity to step the show up, and they succeeded. The only problem is they were both gassed rather quickly. They resort to even more weapon use than the previous match, as referee Mike Chioda doesn’t DQ Farooq until the entire Nation attacks Ahmed. Other than the impressive feats of strength from Ahmed, there’s not a whole lot to see here. The post-match Pearl River Plunge through the French announce table looked nearly deadly for the random Nation member that Ahmed tossed.
Farooq’s post-match promo is a mess, but it’s funny hearing him call Ahmed “Uncle Tom”.
Vader v The Undertaker (***): Interesting psychology in this match. It’s not every day you can make Vader look believably scared. Two of the greatest big men to ever work in the business. Just watching these two exchange strikes would be worth 15 minutes. Undertaker pulls a Fame-Asser/Rocker Dropper out of nowhere. Another random Pettingil interview mid-match that I don’t approve of. The Vader (Power)Bomb on Taker was a sight to see. It could have been ugly (nearly a Piledriver), but Taker knows how to bump. Vader “stealing” the victory at the end with Paul Bearer’s interference was a sensible finish. Vader selling his fear even after victory put the whole thing over. Taker going nuts after the match is always nice to see… Unless you’re a ref.
Bulldog and Austin’s backstage segments are shot and sweet.
Fuerza Guerrera, Heavy Metal, & Jerry Estrada v Hector Garza, Perro Aguayo, & El Canek (**): They even brought a referee familiar with Luchadores for this one. The Lucha style seems to be a problem in the large WWE/WWF rings. You can tell these six guys got the hang of the bigger ring as the match went along, but it was bordering on Botch City at points. Hector Garza is the stand out, and the commentary even does their part to shed some light on him. Vince forgets some names, but good ol’ JR saves the day as always. The crowd didn’t seem very into the bout, but I bet all six men combatants loved this experience. Perro Aguayo’s Double Stomp finish was ahead of its time.
Royal Rumble: The Rumble is such a great way to mix in on-going storylines with seemingly random encounters. Here they began with Crush and Ahmed, which continued their feud. Fake Razor Ramon coming out was booed, and Crush/Ahmed put their differences aside to discard the jabroni. Fake Razor/Diesel are some of my least favorite gimmicks in the history of the sport. Steve Austin coming in early was the right move, as that’s who everyone came to see. Bart Gunn’s appearance was a botch and a walk to the back. Jake the Snake getting a chance to work Austin alone was cool to see. Without Jake there would be no “Austin 3:16″. Seeing Davey Boy and Owen work in this match was sad. I’ve seen them both work countless times since passing on, but it’s still a bummer. Mil Mascaras working in a ring with Steve Austin seems surreal. The only positive in having Marc Mero in the match was having Sable accompany him to the ring.
The luchadore flavor in the lineup keeps things interesting 14 years later. Ahmed’s gigantic 2×4 to chase Farooq from the match was hilarious. It seemed like a comedy prop. Savio Vega fits into the match much like Jake the Snake as a ghost in Austin’s past. The “Double J” Jesse James gimmick was nearly as bad as the fake Razor Ramon deal. The face Austin makes when Bret Hart’s music hits is classic. Lawler’s moment in the match is the most memorable portion of the match. Terry Funk and Mankind (Mick Foley) finding themselves in a brawl was a treat. 8 of the last 10 entrants were multiple time world champions for one company or another (Godwin/Flash Funk not included).
The ending is the one time I recall the Royal Rumble finish being contested, and led to the first Fatal 4 Way match I’d ever seen a month later. Bret Hart’s hissy fit after the match was the beginning of him turning heel (in America). A very enjoyable match that included an insanely deep roster. One of the landmark matches that led into the Attitude Era.
WWF Championship Match: Psycho Sid (C) v Shawn Michaels (***): Sid doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he brought his A-game here. He worked HBK’s spine like a professor of the game. Michaels no sold all that work though, and chose to grasp at his mid-section instead. Sid works with a simple moveset, but his massive size and charisma makes even the rest holds entertaining. The near-fall after HBK put Sid down with the camera was as suspenseful as they come. The elongated championship celebration afterward makes me hate the Hell in a Cell 2011 ending even more. Title victories deserve recognition end of story. Not a long match (just over 13 minutes), but it’s the perfect length for following the epic Royal Rumble.
A fun trip down memory lane. So much talent throughout this entire card.