Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Mark Henry turned heel and joined the Nation of Domination, Owen Hart got his face lightly scratched by D-Generation X, and Sunny complicated a lot of fantasies by dressing up as a Penn State cheerleader.
If you haven’t seen this event, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.
Hey, you! If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of these shows. After this, we’re on the road to the unforgettable (?) No Way Out Of Texas: In Your House, the father of “No Way Out.” I wish every WWF pay-per-view had a longer, formal title. Like instead of just “Money in the Bank,” the full name was “Money in the Banks of the Mississippi.”
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Royal Rumble for January 18, 1998.
Best: Jeff Hardy Makes His Royal Rumble Debut
Wait, sorry, that’s The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust, showing up for his match with Vader looking like a Spriggan sex doll. It’s like Violet Beauregard’s first Christmas after the Wonka incident. Like the female Gremlin from Gremlins 2 got caught in one of those parachutes you play with in gym class in kindergarten. The best part is that when he returns for the Rumble match later in the night, he completely changes the look and becomes Sexy Outer Space Kane.
Despite being legends, both of these guys were going through intensely awkward periods in their careers — Goldust was doing great heel work, but was sometimes more legitimately concerning than entertaining concerning, and Vader was somewhere between being forgotten and calling himself a big piece of shit — so the match is basically seven minutes of Vader doing stuff, getting cut off with a low blow and getting beaten up until Goldust tries something sexual with him. It DOES feature a great closing image, though, with Luna trying to stop a Vader Bomb with a choke and accidentally contributing to the best Luna-assisted bomb I’ve seen since the Moon Spiral Heart Attack:
The crowd goes crazy for that, and rightfully so. Thank goodness Luna’s a pro and got her left arm down before they hit, though, because otherwise she might’ve slid off Vader’s shoulders when they hit and spiked herself. Dangerous, but fun dangerous, and everybody’s (mostly) okay.
It’s not much until the finish, but that’s a very good finish.
Worst: Sunny Sighed Up
Here’s a shot of special guest referee Sunny attempting a leap frog on the smallest pro wrestler in history, failing to clear him and accidentally blasting him in the face with a Kinshasa. 1998 Sunny was a lot of things — a lot of them — but “spectacular athlete” wasn’t one of them.
This match only appears to be happening so Jerry Lawler can make 8 straight minutes of short jokes. Like, shit Jerry, I know they’re midgets and you want to joke about how short they are, but couldn’t you do a big batch of jokes right up front and then call the match? We’re 7 minutes in and Lawler’s still murmuring while JR’s talking trying to chime in with, “Max Mini should find someone to have a kid, that way he has someone to LOOK UP TO!”
I wish I could’ve been in the room while they were putting these minis matches together. “Okay, arm drag, arm drag, arm drag, arm drag, arm drag, arm drag, arm drag, fuck up a few spots, arm drag, dive, dive, dive, fuck up something off the top, arm drag, arm drag, then we go to the finish. My finish is an arm drag into touching the lady referee’s butt. Everyone thinks it’s very funny.”
Best: The Rock Goes Old School Heel
One of my favorite things about post-heel turn, pre-superstar Nation of Domination The Rock is how unexpectedly “old school” he was. The guy came up in a wrestling family trained and influenced by a bunch of old timers, whether it was Rocky Johnson or Pat Patterson or Vince McMahon himself, so so much of what he does is learned from places like Memphis and the territories system. The big sells, the big facial expressions, the free-form promo style that made him huge. He’s just a 6-foot-5, handsome, Samoan Jerry Lawler.
Take his Intercontinental Championship match with Ken Shamrock for example. It involves one of the great heel moves we don’t see any more these days: a heel uses a foreign object to knock out the babyface, then stashes it in the babyface’s trunks while he’s knocked out. The babyface goes on to win the match clean, but then the heel’s like, “hey hit me with a foreign object, check his trunks!” And when the ref does, he finds the object and reverses the decision. It’s INFURIATING if you’re a small kid who wants justice in his pro wrestling, and is exceptional forward-thinking pragmatism for the asshole adult.
Shamrock flips out about the decision and belly-to-belly suplexes Mike Chioda, that chioda smoker. This would be far from the last time that The World’s Most Dangerous Man would be forced to test his strength against a semi-circle of referees.
Worst: Favre And Away
Somehow Goldust dressed as John Cena’s name when it pops up in those text-all-over-the-screen WWE promos isn’t the most ridiculous costume choice for the night. That award goes to the New Age Outlaws, who try to get heat in San Jose by wearing Brett Favre jerseys. The Packers had just beaten the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, and I guess they couldn’t name a second player on the 97-98 Green Bay Packers. I know you don’t want to use Reggie White because he’s a WCW guy, but damn, can we get Bill Gunn an Antonio Freeman sweater? It’s the New Age Outlaws though, so maybe they should’ve shown up in Doug Pederson and Steve Bono jerseys.
Anyway, they have an absolutely TERRIBLE match against the Legion of Doom, which you might expect from a pre-D-X Outlaws and a post-1990 Road Warriors. I think my favorite part is that it follows Rock vs. Shamrock, during which Jim Ross was all about WWF’s focus on young talent and not the “senior circuit” like WCW. The very next match has the so over the hill they’re face down in a ditch at the bottom of the next hill Legion of Doom, and Ross pivots to “timeless legends.” Seems legit.
I’ll type this a lot in these vintage reports, but I don’t think anyone benefitted from the “everyone’s over” attitude of the late ’90s like the New Age Outlaws. They went from horrible tag wrestlers to horrible singles wrestlers to horrible tag wrestlers in airbrushed flea market shirts and somehow that propelled them into super stardom. And then 16 WrestleManias later they were still on the card. It’s all about the game comma ampersand how you play it.
The 1998 Royal Rumble Match
As we did in our Best and Worst of Royal Rumble 2018 column, we’re going to break down the match by its notable moments instead of just broadly declaring it the “best” or “worst” of itself as a whole. There are so few Royal Rumbles that are just BEST all the way through (2001, 2007, 1992 minus anything Hogan does) or the WORST (2015, Jesus Christ), so I think it works.
Here are 10 notable things about the 1998 Royal Rumble.
1. It’s one of, if not the first TV appearance of Shane McMahon, at least as “Shane McMahon” the character. Look how healthy and happy he looks!
He was, of course, a fixture on WWE TV for a hot minute back in the early ’90s as referee “Shane Stevens,” debuting at the ’89 Survivor Series to help count out Andre the Giant like five seconds into the match. BOO THIS MAN. He spends the Rumble chatting up Iron Mike Tyson, who I’m pretty sure has no idea what’s going on. More on that in a bit.
2. If you’d like a great litmus test on how much you’ve changed as a wrestling fan since 1998, watch Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie start the match hitting each other in the face with chairs as hard as possible and remember how normal that used to be. It’s hard to watch it without cringing now, but that’s made a little easier by Terry Funk’s magical “watusi” sell where he staggers around the ring like a newborn fawn trying to walk.
3. This is also the Royal Rumble where Mick Foley enters three times, as each of his “three faces.” Cactus Jack starts the match against Chainsaw Charlie but gets eliminated, so he comes back out as Mankind and eliminates Charlie. Dude Love enters at #28 to complete the set.
4. According to Jim Ross, this year’s match is special because it marks the Rumble debut of a seemingly impossible 17 different stars. That feels really cool and notable until you realize that …
5. This Royal Rumble is OVERFLOWING with jobbers. And that number’s not even correct.
The World Wrestling Federation was in a transitional period between the New Generation and the Attitude Era already, right, but then you add GANG WARZ and your Rumble is teeming with nobodies. Wanna get hype for the Royal Rumble debut of Disciples of Apocalypse member 8-Ball, but only as “8-Ball,” because he was in an older Rumble as one of the Blu Brothers? That’s a lot of the “first time ever” content. A whole lot of “Steve Austin’s been in the Rumble before, but not THIS Steve Austin. THIS Steve Austin’s got a hat!” going on.
According to resident Royal Rumble and #rumblemetrics expert Star of Savage, the actual number is closer to 10. The List: Tom Brandi (LOL), Mosh and Thrasher, Blackjack Bradshaw, Steve Blackman, Kurrgan, D’Lo Brown, Ken Shamrock, Mark Henry and DOA Chainz.
6. Owen Hart has one of the saddest Rumble performances ever, which feels like the opposite of what should’ve happened with Owen in a Rumble happening two months after the Montreal Screwjob. He gets attacked on his way to the ring by NWA representatives Jeff Jarrett and Jim Cornette, who we later find out were carrying out a hit put on Owen (so to speak) by Triple H. Maybe that whole “letting Jeff Jarrett into the Hall of Fame” thing was Double J cashing in a very old favor.
When he’s actually IN the ring, which accounts for not a lot of the 18-ish minutes he was “in the match,” he’s quickly eliminated by a double team crutch attack from Chyna and Triple H. That photo is of him bouncing out of the ring at a weird angle and Chyna having to quickly put a crutch under him to try to help him break his fall. Be careful with Owen, we don’t have much of him left. :(
7. The only person having a worse Royal Rumble than Owen is Ahmed Johnson, who looks like he’s aged about 25 years since his last Rumble appearance. Dude looks like the bad WWE 2K18 graphics version of himself. He shows up soaking wet, then pours another entire bottle of water on his head. I’m guessing he’s so unhealthy at this point his body overheats and tears apart if he takes a step without completely submerging himself.
To show you how hype Ahmed is for the match, here’s his entrance:
I think I’ve seen dying people climb out of hospital beds faster than that. Ahmed Johnson out here making Hacksaw Jim Duggan look like Kota Ibushi. Spoiler alert: he does not win.
8. The winner is, of course, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the “marked man” everyone was gunning for. They do a good job of building up the suspense about whether or not he’d been “taken out” before the match by having the Nation of Domination accidentally beat up “Skull” of the DOA (thinking it was Austin), and then having Skull’s number in the Rumble come and go with no entry. The announce team is SURE that was Stone Cold’s number.
Austin’s great, but I don’t think they did enough with the angle to really get it over in the Rumble match. Like, when Austin’s music hits, everyone in the ring stops and waits for him. He has to sneak in from behind them again. But once that “moment” has passed, everyone goes back to mindless battle royal brawling and just treat him like another guy. I say “everyone,” but I of course mean “everyone but The Rock, who is going to use this match to make himself a star if it kills him.”
9. The final two are Stone Cold and The Rock, which couldn’t have worked out better for them if they’d had a window to 10 years in the future and planned it out meticulously. The two were already pseudo-feuding over the Intercontinental Championship — they feuded for a bit, Austin realized he wanted the WWF Championship more than the Intercontinental Championship and just gave it to Rock, then immediately took it back and lobbed it into a river, because he’s bad at making friends — and Austin’s heading to WrestleMania to face Shawn Michaels in a Bret Hart-less world.
After that, though, he’d face The Rock at WrestleMania 15. And again at WrestleMania 17. And again at WrestleMania 19. It’s one of the truly great rivalries of the era, even if most days it doesn’t get as much real estate as Austin vs. McMahon or Rock vs. Triple H. Belt in the river stuff aside, this is the first really big “important” moment together, and if you want to see how special they are, watch the crowd be dead for almost everything all night and then LOSE THEIR MINDS for Rock and Austin standing in the middle of the ring punching each other.
10. Mike Tyson is very happy that “Cold Stone” won the match. If you weren’t watching back in the day, Mike Tyson could not wrap his head around the nickname “Stone Cold,” and always inverted it. Word placement is very important, and is sometimes the difference between a bad-ass professional wrestler and an ice cream chain where people beg-sing for spare change. Here’s a clip of him saying it, and a delightful followup clip from decades later of Austin still having no idea what the hell that was about.
Shout-out to D-Generation X for watching what happens on Raw the next night and thinking they could leverage Tyson against Austin to help them win at WrestleMania, but not seeing this short clip from before it where Tyson’s like “COLD STONE THE ICE CREAM SHOP IS MY MAN.”
Worst: They Gave Stone Cold’s Truck To A Grandma
That’s right, the winner of Stone Cold’s 100% PURE WHOOP ASS pickup truck was Nashville grandma Mildred Bowers. If you’d like to laugh, watch the video of her receiving the truck and Kevin Kelly reading the line, “it wasn’t long before Grandma Bowers was behind the wheel, OPENING UP A CAN on the normally sedate streets of suburban Nashville!”
My theory here is that they actually wanted to give the truck to Mildred Bowers of South Carolina, a grandma who lived to be over 100 years old and credited her longevity to drinking beer every day, but got the info mixed up. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, this is the company who accidentally hired the wrong one-legged wrestler. Secondary theory: the truck’s currently parked outside of the In Your House house.
Best/Worst: Shawn Michaels’ Health Goes To Hell
The main event of the ’98 Rumble is the casket match between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker for the WWF Championship, aka the match where Michaels suffered a career-ending back injury and still had to stick around for a couple of months to deal with it and drop the belt. If you can’t tell where it occurs, watch Michaels butt as he passes over the casket. It clips it just a little, and ask Ricky Steamboat, that’s all you need to accidentally ruin your spine and put your entire livelihood in question.
The match itself is actually really fun, as it’s less like the epic back and forth matches we’d praise from Michaels and Taker at future WrestleManias, and is more a totally insane Vince Russo schmozz featuring Shawn bumping like a certifiably crazy person, multiple run-ins from everyone from D-Generation X to Los Boricuas, and a big post-match angle with Kane. Since we know Michaels’ career ends up putting itself back together (and making him even better, somehow?), let’s jump right to that.
So, in the build to the match, we saw The Undertaker refuse to fight his brother to the point that Kane actually seemed to befriend him, and the two formed a “Brothers of Destruction” bond with coordinating salutes. Kane left Paul Bearer’s side, and Paw Bear sold it by showing up to Raw looking haggard and depressed, begging Kane to come home. Turns out the Undertaker is pretty dumb for trusting his long-thought-dead fire-wielding monster brother and his relationship with the funeral parlor director who hooked up with Undertaker’s mom and has been using dark occultist powers to try to kill him for most of the last year, as — get this — Kane is still evil. Like the Hell in a Cell match, Kane shows up just in time to make sure Taker doesn’t win and chokeslams him into the casket.
Which they then hack to pieces with an axe and set on fire. As you do.
Now we enter a WrestleMania build where Stone Cold Steve Austin is gunning for D-Generation X and the WWF Championship, Shawn Michaels might actually be seriously hurt, Mike Tyson’s around waiting to punch somebody, and the Undertaker has been straight-up homicided by his demonic little brother. Plus The Rock and Ken Shamrock are getting hot, the New Age Outlaws are brute forcing themselves into stardom, and Owen Hart is definitely never getting over on Triple H.
So much going on, and the murder part isn’t even the main event!
D-Generation X hooks up with a bunch of girls in the back of a hearse, The Quebecers return to counter Nitro’s essential Rick Martel content, and Iron Tyke and Cold Stone go face-to-face in one of the biggest Raw moments ever. Nitro should be very worried right now, and it totally isn’t. Not even kind of.
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