Matthew Roberts takes a look at the latest WWE Home Video Release, Best of Attitude Era Royal Rumble Matches
It’s the most documented “era” of WWE that there is. That’s perhaps not much of a surprise given that, for better or for worse, it remains the most watched era the WWE has ever. Even the glory days of national expansion with Hulk Hogan at the helm cannot quite match up to the Attitude Era.
This latest collection brings together five Royal Rumble matches from 1997 to 2001.
1997 sees us at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas. It’s there because home-town hero Shawn Michaels is trying to regain the World Title from Sid. But the Rumble match itself is all about Stone Cold Steve Austin, who at this point is still over a year away from lifting the World Title. He lasts the longest in the match, has most eliminations and, in very screwy fashion, takes the win. Even though he had been eliminated over the top rope albeit out of view of the referees. Bret Hart wasn’t happy about that. (Apparently, he was scheduled to win but when Vince Russo told the world on WWE Livewire that Bret was his pick, Vince was so annoyed what he switched it up).
Austin certainly keeps things going and quietly this is perhaps almost as influential as marking him out as THE star of the future as the 3:16 promo and that WrestleManaia 13 match with Hart. As the star power of the match is fairly limited it’s as well that Austin comes in so early (number 5) and stays until the very end. As such it’s slow in places but with Stone Cold centre stage you’re usually not far from something interesting. And Mil Mascaras eliminating himself because his ego thinks him looking stupid is better than someone getting a rub from throwing him over the top rope is always hilarious.
If Austin’s win in 1997 was a surprise, his win in the following year’s match was certainly not. It was all built around him and is proof positive that people in the current time who complain that Royal Rumble’s are “too predictable” really don’t know what they are talking about. Sometimes “predictable” is the right thing.
Star power is again not exactly top drawer; whilst the product is definitely heating up, it’s still largely a small cast of characters who are genuinely over, with the roster-wide rub not yet having taken effect. Still, Austin is SUPER over, The Rock has a standout performance that not only does it’s job in putting over the star (Austin, of course) but also makes him a star in the process. Mick Foley’s “Three Faces of Foley” shot is memorable as well, but it’s only really in the final quarter or so of the match that it really gets going as a whole. This is one of those Rumble matches which worked at the time but does not age particularly well.
1999 is again built around Stone Cold Steve Austin and a seemingly inevitable win. The twist this year is that Vince McMahon is involved and those two are the first two into the Rumble. They are also the last two, although both take time out of the match after brawling out in to the arena. Austin even takes a trip in an ambulance before returning, whilst Vince treats us to some colour commentary. It all works well, especially with Vince’s $100,000 bounty up for grabs to anyone who eliminates Austin from the match.
We’re ensconced in Russo season here so this may well quality for the most over-booked Rumble ever in terms of run-in’s and add-on’s. Chyna’s entry into the rumble is memorable, at least in terms of her being in it, and Jerry Lawler’s cheerleading for Vince on commentary is absolutely spot-on (it’s second only, perhaps, to Bobby Heenan’s 1992 commentary in support of Ric Flair). But the only thing that really matters here is Austin Vs McMahon. That the Boss Man and D’Lo Brown are part of the final four just hammers that point home really. It’s not a great Rumble as a whole and although there’s no real shame in perhaps the biggest, most financially successful feud in WWE history overshadowing the rest of the match it does mean that most of the rest of it is of no importance at all.
The 2000 show is most remembered for the insane Triple H/Cactus Jack streetfight. It also holds fond memories for UK fans of a certain age as this show was aired live/as live on Channel 4, marking the first time a PPV show was free on a terrestrial channel available to all households. I was at University at the time and in the pre digital TV days my viewing involved positioning the plug-in internal aerial to try and get a decent picture. Of course only a month in to their deal with the WWE, the Miss Royal Rumble pageant that took place on the show was so objectionable to the TV company that it in effect killed any future of a long-term professional partnership.
With Stone Cold on the shelf at this time, The Rock was 2000’s obvious winner. The only other real option appeared to be The Big Show but beyond that being a storyline to drag out The Rock’s ascension to the Mania main event even that seemed unlikely. Thanks to some fun spots such as the Too Cool dance-off and things like Taka Michinoku taking one of the most spectacularly insane elimination bumps of all time there is a flow to the match that at least means that whilst there are definite slow parts of the match you’re never that far away from something happening.
Of course the “botched” ending where it turns out the Rock definitely hit the floor before Big Show was largely ignored on the night (great production work) and then worked into the storyline. Overall whilst in some ways 2000 was a better “match” than 1999, there’s nothing here that comes close to catching the imagination in the way Austin/McMahon did (even if that was horrendously overbooked).
We finish off with 2001 then. As a whole the event was widely regarded at the time to be one of the best WWE PPV’s of all time. The Royal Rumble match itself was considered on of the best too, and it’s right up there to this day.
It’s fast paced and spreads out the fun stuff. Kane is utterly dominant in the match for large stretches whilst the hardcore stuff with weapons etc is fun and comes at a time when it wasn’t yet passé and old hat. The Drew Carey stuff is pointless in many ways but is also in the fine tradition of WWE celebrity tie in’s.
The final three of Kane, Austin and Rock is superbly done too. And cleverly it’s Kane who eliminates Rock before Austin takes the final win.
It’s quite informative watching these Rumbles matches back to back. A Rumble is always a good look at where a roster is at as a whole in any given year, as well as showing who is super over, who is quite over and who are the people no-body cares about. Starting from 1997 up to 2001 shows you a WWE that is starting to bubble again, heating up again and then perhaps reaching a creative peak by the time we get to 2001. The last effort aside these are not perhaps “all time classic” rumbles but there’s plenty to entertain and it makes for a pleasant wander down memory lane.
7 out of 10
Photographs courtesy of Fetch and WWE. Thank you to WWE Home Video for our review copy of Best of Attitude Era Royal Rumble Matches which is out NOW on DVD. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk by clicking here.