Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Mark Henry got spanked by his mom because the woman he’d been stalking and harassing for several months tricked him into touching a cross-dresser’s penis. Man, don’t you miss the Attitude Era? Back when wresting was real.
If you haven’t seen this pay-per-view, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes of classic Raw 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.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Royal Rumble 1999.
Best: Mr. McMahon Lets Us Know How Much Of A Chance We Have
The 1999 Royal Rumble is a real shit-show, so let’s start off with Sunday Night Heat and the night’s most historically relevant moment: the debut of ‘No Chance In Hell,’ high-key the greatest entrance song in wrestling history (don’t @ me), for Vince McMahon. Technically the show is called WWF ROYAL RUMBLE: NO CHANCE IN HELL so Jim Johnston and Peter Bursuker’s corporate club banger is only the theme song for the pay-per-view, but 20 years later its as synonymous with Mr. McMahon as silly power walks and boxy suits you lifted from a passing gorilla.
Not The Best: Mr. McMahon’s Plans
McMahon and Son (and the Stooges) open Heat with a twofold plan to escape the evening:
- keep Stone Cold Steve Austin out of the Royal Rumble by closing up the performer parking lot behind the arena, and hoping he’s too stupid to like, park his truck in a normal parking lot and walk a short distance
- put Mankind in a “warm-up” bout on Heat against a mystery opponent to soften him up for the WWF Championship “I Quit” match against the Rock later in the night (spoiler: trust us, The Rock does all the “softening” here, in the worst definition of that word)
Let’s start with “trying to stop Stone Cold Steve Austin from doing something while he’s behind the wheel of a large vehicle,” which is, “start a bonfire between the pumps at a gas station,” levels of short-sighted. Austin pulls up in his truck and tries to park but gets waved away, with the attendant informing him it’s, “VIP parking, limousines only!” The lot is barricaded up like it’s Les Misérables, so Austin, being Austin, finds a limousine. A monster truck limousine, SOMEHOW, which he uses to … well, monster truck his way in. Is that what driving a monster truck over something is called?
My only criticisms here are that Vince McMahon didn’t also have a Corporate Monster Truck, that they did not have a sumo battle on the roof of Arrowhead Pond, and that it didn’t end with Vince falling off the roof to his death before completely recovering and returning to the ring to win the Royal Rumble.
This is Mankind’s “mystery opponent.” What a mystery, right? There have been so many 6-foot-9, 500-pound black guys in WWE history, it’s hard to narrow it down. It’s either Mabel from Men on a Mission, or … [checks notes] Mark Henry put on 250 pounds and had a half-a-foot growth spurt at age 27? Kamala ate an everlasting gobstopper before he stepped out of the limo?
No one took into account that aside from that one King of the Ring win, Mabel’s WWE career was dedicated to being the world’s largest and most physically threatening looking jobber. Even here, when he’s brought in as a Corporate hit man, he’s unmasked and losing so badly five minutes in that The Rock has to run out and get him disqualified. So to recap, they tried to keep Stone Cold Steve Austin out of a parking lot by assuming he didn’t have the Grand Theft Auto cheat codes to materialize a monster truck limo out of thin air, and they tried to soften up Mankind with the softest dude they could find.
One important note: during a pre-match promo, Mankind insists that he’ll make The Rock say …
On commentary, Corporate booster club President Shane McMahon is suspiciously like, “thank you very much for those KIND WORDS, Mick,” and nobody gives it a second thought. I guess, “thanks for speaking very clearly into the microphone there, Mick, if an impossibly strong 6-foot-5 man with an uncontrollable blood lust hitting your brains as hard as humanly possible with a steel chair 11 times doesn’t work, our access to this audio will come in handy,” would’ve been too obvious.
Worst: A Huge Undertaking, Part One
It’s with the sudden reappearance of Mabel, of all people, that we should mention The Undertaker, who shows up on Heat dressed like a sarcastic Amish boxer to remind us that another ritual sacrifice will happen during the Royal Rumble. You’d think somebody would, I don’t know, call the cops on their co-workers for kidnapping and torturing people on-screen to brainwash them into joining his Satantic blood cult, but hilariously that has an actual, in-universe storyline reason for not happening. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Undertaker’s appearance is prefaced by Bradshaw, Faarooq, and Clothed Mideon ruining the end of a Job Squad versus Too Much match, as much as that’s possible. They really missed the boat not giving Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor gay occult gimmicks. Sunday Night Heat would’ve turned into an Anne Rice novel like [snaps]. Of note, this is Scorpio’s very last major appearance in WWE aside from two Shotgun Saturday Night appearances until December of 2007, when he shows up in a battle royal on the 15th Anniversary Raw.
Will She Be Sable To Compete??
One of the funniest attempts at storytelling for the entire event is the video package for Sable vs. Luna Vachon, wherein WWE’s obsession with revisionist history decides that Luna “looked upon Sable as a role model.” Yes, Luna Vachon, who debuted in 1985 and is the daughter of Butcher Vachon and the niece of Vivian and Mad Dog Vachon, looked upon L’Oréal model and 10-month in-ring veteran Sable as her wrestling role model.
Here, Luna interrupts a Sable interview with a run-in so non-threatening you have to see it to believe it, and Sable uses her world class athleticism to just kind of fall over and die. Luna adds 0.001% more damage by pawing at Sable’s back like she’s trying to unlace her corset. Luna just really, really, really works the back. Sable’s back is so hurt I don’t think she’s gonna be able to compete.
Anyway, a fun aside to the 1999 Royal Rumble is that this is the show Barry Blaustein is at, shooting footage for what will become Beyond the Mat. It’s fun to go back and see all the stuff that’s produced in the ring based on what we see happening backstage.
Pfft, like I’d ever think that.
You’ll be shocked to read this, I know, but despite her back being really, really, really worked, Sable is able to compete. It’s a strap match, the one where you have to physically drag your opponent around the ring and touch all four corners without your momentum being broken, so you know it’s got the only finish those matches ever have: one person dominantly dragging their opponent to three corners, but not noticing their opponent has touched the corners, too. Then a little fight breaks out, and despite the fact that “broken momentum” is supposed to reset the count (and the fact that being led around in a circle is the opposite of “momentum” and the background corner touches shouldn’t count unless you’re in control), the person being dragged touches the fourth corner before the dragger and wins. It’s exactly as clumsy as my paragraph attempting to explain it.
Sable and Luna do that, with the bonus of Luna only being stopped at the very end by interference from Sable superfan and Ron Perlman’s stunt double on Beauty and the Beast, “Tori.” I can’t believe Luna’s childhood role model would cheat to win like that.
Worst: D-Generation X And The Under-card Of Doom
What does the phrase, “strongest recommendation to avoid,” mean to you?
The only things most people remember from this pay-per-view are the Rumble match itself (mostly for bad reasons) and Foley and The Rock doing “I Quit” (for much worse reasons). What you may not remember is that D-Generation X is responsible for the entire non-Sable-related under-card, and it’s about as bland and uneventful as WWF wrestling could get in 1999.
- Up first is Road Dogg vs. Big Boss Man, and nobody knows what the hell’s going on. It’s not supposed to be for the Hardcore Championship or contested under hardcore rules, but the referee holds up the belt before the match anyway. They start off pretty strong regardless, but it goes 12 minutes for some reason and is … okay, you know how in a battle royal when two wrestlers aren’t the focus of whatever’s going on, and you can see them in the background just kind of aimlessly punching and humping each other into the ropes and corners? It’s that, but a singles match. For 12 minutes.
- After that we’ve got the Intercontinental Championship match between Ken Shamrock and Bill Ass, which was apparently supposed to be Gunn’s coronation as the next big superstar but was curbed due to (according to Wade Keller) Gunn partying all night and showing up to work hungover. So Shamrock just kicks his ass and wins clean with the ankle lock in an astonishing 15 minutes of boring, heartless Billy Gunn action you’d have fast forwarded on Raw. Like watching paint dry on a snail’s ass.
- The best of the matches is a random European Championship defense for X-Pac against Gangrel, but even that’s marred by a botched finish. Pac comes off the top with a cross-body. Gangrel rolls through, and referee Teddy Long clearly counts X-Pac’s shoulders down for three. Everybody in the crowd is like “…??? LOL what,” and the wrestlers more or less abandon hope and go straight to the finish. This got roughly a third of the time as the other two matches.
And then the Sable and Luna strap match. I only recommend this pay-per-view for anthropological purposes, or as a cautionary tale of how not to use collapsible furniture. I guess we might as well go ahead and get to that.
Worst: The 11 Chair Shots Heard ‘Round The World
If you watch WWE YouTube’s revisionist history of this match, you’ll see Mankind “falling” out of the stands and dropping an elbow onto some electrical equipment in a very safe attempt to evoke his fall at King of the Ring ’98. Special effects sparks fly, and The Rock squats over Mankind’s unconscious body and jams a microphone into his face. Audio of Mankind screaming, “I quit,” over and over from Sunday Night Heat is played over the speakers, and Mankind “quits” via manipulative audio technicality and loses the championship. It’s a good finish to a heated match if you, like the World Wrestling Federation’s dueling Vinces, are still obsessed with Survivor Series ’97 and can’t stop riffing on it.
What the YouTube version leaves out is everything between the fall and the finish, a borderline televised manslaughter which goes down as maybe the most brutal stretch of pro wrestling violence to ever happen on a big stage in a big league wrestling promotion. It is horror.
Mankind’s not finished, so Rock drags him back to the ring and handcuffs his arms behind his back. Around this point is when you should start getting deeply concerned. Mankind fights back with some kicks and a big funny headbutt to the groin, but Rock’s ultimately able to regain the advantage and hit a chair-assisted People’s Elbow. Rock wants Mankind to quit. Mankind: “Go to Hell, Rock.” The Rock’s response? “The Rock may go to Hell, but your candy ass first.”
And then he makes good on the threat.
Mankind stumbles to his feet, so The Rock — again, a very large, very strong young man who has already shown he can swing a steel chair with murderous intent and cruel precision — blasts him in the face with a full force, completely unprotected chair shot. Mankind crumbles to his knees, so Rock gives him another. Rock tells him to quit. Mankind’s response: “You’ll have to kill me.” Right around here is when your deep concern should turn to flashing red lights.
Rock responds with three more full-on unprotected chair shots to the head to put Foley down. Foley’s bleeding from the face, badly. This is where the match should end. This is where it’s supposed to end, depending on who you talk to, but instead of staying down, an already concussed Mankind rolls out of the ring and tries to stagger away. Rock follows him to the floor and hits another chair shot to the head. And another. And ANOTHER. Foley falls to the ground in a heap and has no goddamn idea where he is. His wife and young children are in the crowd in hysterics. His face looks like a pizza without the cheese. Somehow THIS is where the two worst swings occur.
“I don’t feel like such a good dad anymore.”
The one that bothers me the most 20 years later is this one. Mankind gets to his feet and is very clearly giving his back to Rock. Rock refuses, waiting maliciously (at least in the moment) for another swing at Mick’s brains. Foley’s 10 chair shots in and tries to walk away. Instead of even repositioning and squaring up with the final swing, Rock just winds up and throws the hardest chair shot he’s ever given to the middle of the back of Mick’s head. That’s the killing blow.
This is Mankind lying in a rapidly collecting pool of blood. Not dramatic “show” blood that he used a little razor taped to his fingers to spurt from a little gash in his hairline. The thick, oozing blood that falls out of you when your brain is swelling and your body’s starting to shut down. Here, finally, Rock squats over him and they do the worked audio gimmick that, and I could be wrong here, did not need a homicide to set up.
According to various accounts of what went down, the truth of the matter seems to be that the original idea was for Foley to take a beating and ultimately quit to spare his family from watching him get completely and irreparably wrecked. They get Mick’s wife and kids in the front row, and Mick assumes that what they have planned won’t be any worse than the years of Cactus Jack-centric violence and punishment they’ve already seen. The idea is just a few chair shots with Rock putting the drama on Colette Foley between them. But the head of USA Network was going to be there and he’d been defending Raw’s content on press tours, so Foley decided to up the physicality and add more chair shots. The finish was changed from an emotional decision of a father and a husband to another “screwjob,” because THOSE got people talking. And somewhere amid all of this, they lose control of the finish. Foley won’t stay down. Rock wants to lead him up the ramp to do the piped-in “I quits” but Foley’s mid-concussions and stops being an active participant. Rock’s in the moment, and his testosterone is pumping, and he’s internally on fire. Children are crying. Five chair shots becomes eleven. Blood is everywhere. Film crews set up to shoot a moment and end up with something completely different.
The Rock didn’t apologize for the extra chair shots and didn’t check on Foley while he was being patchworked back to life, which caused a rift between the two. They worked it out, of course, and a lot of their best moments as a duo are still ahead of them. But the 1999 Royal Rumble “I Quit” match remains infamous as a reminder of what can happen when plans spiral wildly out of control, and the consequences that can have for not only the performers involved, but the people who care about them. It’s even harder to watch now that we know more about concussions and what they can do to a wrestler’s brain. Fascinating, unforgettable, and nauseating. One of the best matches all all time that I wish had never happened.
And Now, Stridex® And Vince Russo Present The 1999 Royal Rumble Match
The least important part of the 1999 Royal Rumble match is the Royal Rumble match.
It’s all about the “story” — the World Wrestling Federation makes movies, after all, they don’t confederate wrestling around the world or anything — to the point that anything happening in the ring is irrelevant. Which is a really odd thing to say about a match that’s supposed to have rules and take place entirely in a wrestling ring.
For an illustration of what I’m talking about, that’s an image of Stone Cold Steve Austin knocked out on the floor of the women’s restroom. So … all right, if you’ve been reading the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War column for the build to this, you know that Stone Cold Steve Austin is the number one entrant in the Rumble, and Vince McMahon is number two. Austin cares more about stomping a mud hole in Vince and walking it dry than winning, so the fight ends up going out of the ring and into the crowd, and then into the arena concourse. Austin and McMahon are the focus while dorks like Edge, Droz, and Gillberg hang out in the ring to technically “keep the match going.” Ultimately Austin is jumped by the Corporation and laid out in the aforementioned rest room, where he’s so badly beaten he has to be taken away on a stretcher and whisked away to the Local Medical Facility.
The ring starts filling up with guys like Dan Severn, Tiger Ali Singh, and The Blue Meanie. IMAGINE how good that is. The 11th entry is Mabel, fresh off his embarrassing disqualification loss debut as a Corporate henchman on Sunday Night Heat, and he starts clearing the ring. But remember that thing I told you to remember about the Undertaker and the whole “ritualistic sacrifice” thing?
Sure enough, The Undertaker shows up to make Mabel his next acolyte, meaning Mabel returned as a Corporate hench and turned into a GOTH hench in the span of a few hours. They attack him until he’s back in the parking lot, where they force him into the back of a hearse and drive off. As you may know, this begins Mable’s transformation into Viscera, as I guess Undertaker was in the back like, “hey Mideon, you know what would be funny? If we named the really fat guy after guts. Also, you know what would make Mabel a better wrestler? Putting him in white contact lenses so he can’t see, and dressing him in a big baggy trash bag that’s always about to fall off so he has to keep pulling it up.” During this whole thing, Road Dogg hangs out in the ring, not doing anything. This is the level of excitement we’re working with here, people.
If that’s not enough extracurricular Brothers of Destruction ballyhoo for you, Kane enters at number 18, following such luminaries as Al Snow and Kurrgan, and eliminates everyone until Mr. McMahon’s roving pack of local asylum orderlies hit the ring to get beaten up.
Kane, not wanting to be institutionalized again, eliminates himself and escapes out through the crowd.
Mr. McMahon returns to the ring and ends up sitting in on commentary (while still being an active participant), and is hits the EXAGGERATED UH OH GULP when Stone Cold Steve Austin returns driving the ambulance that’d taken him away. McMahon apparently forgot that Stone Cold regains 100% HP and gains a boost to all stats when he’s near a vehicle. It’s like letting Popeye eat a can of spinach.
Austin returns to the ring and has to fight through an army of Corporation guys and D-Generation X members who are willing to betray and eliminate him to claim the $100,000 Stone Cold elimination bonus. He’s able to survive Triple H, Owen Hart, Big Boss Man, and a few others, and eliminates Chyna only moments after she makes history by not only being the first woman to enter the men’s Rumble, but eliminate one of the men. Mark Henry, of course. Try not to accidentally touch any penises on the way to the ground!
The final two left in the ring are, you guessed it, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. But as you know if you’ve been paying attention to the World Wrestling Federation’s very obvious tier chart, Austin versus The Rock is the match they want for WrestleMania. So The Rock shows up to cause a distraction, and despite this match being nothing BUT distractions, Austin still falls for it like a complete idiot, allowing Vincent Kennedy goddamn McMahon to dump him to the floor and win the Royal Rumble. That leaves us with Michael Cole shouting about how the WrestleMania XV main event is now The Rock vs. Mr. McMahon.
That’s the 1999 Royal Rumble. It’s a “two match show,” where the two matches are more of a conversation than actual entertainment. The purposeful, built-up swerve of Survivor Series ’98 has already devolved into the endless “tell, don’t show” screwjob finishes WWE would try to end pay-per-views with for the next 20 years, where it’s all about the unexpected shock of the moment rather than anything that makes sense for the characters, keeps them consistently motivated, or helps their careers. Most of the roster’s just a backdrop for the main event players, who are currently under the thumb of the NPC Authority Figure as fools (Austin), victims (Foley), stooges (Rock), or cartoonish sideshows (Undertaker).
The good news is that Halftime Heat, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: In Your House, and WrestleMania XV are coming up, and that they all help the company get back on its feet creatively after critically surprising themselves with Survivor Series and having no fucking clue what to do about it.
Tomorrow Night On Raw
The Rock has another “I Quit” match less than 24 hours after turning Mick Foley’s brain into Flubber, D’Lo Brown is forced to purchase tampons against his will, and Val Venis remakes a Whoopi Goldberg classic. All this and George ‘The Animal’ Steel in action — no, really — in the next Best and Worst of Raw ’99. Try not to scream about quitting into any microphones between now and then.