This is the third time I start a Royal Rumble winners article with a two time winner. It seems as though the WWE finds something that’s working well and runs with it rather than giving someone new coming up through the ranks a chance. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t (Alberto Del Rio), but it seems to me a great way to push someone who looks like he might be a rising star. Either way, Stone Cold Steve Austin was a star who took all he was handed and ran with it, so I can’t complain much about him winning the Royal Rumble two years in a row.
On January 18, 1998 at the San Jose Arena in San Jose, California, the 11th Royal Rumble was held. The undercard was rather interesting with Vader defeating The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust. Max Mini, Mosaic, and Nova defeated Battalion, El Torito, and Tarantula with Special Guest Ref Sunny. Rocky Maivia defeated Ken Shamrock to retain his IC Title, but did so in a dirty and underhanded way. The Nation rushed the ring and when the Chioda’s back was turned Rocky used brass knucks on Shamrock, then shoved the knucks in Shamrock’s shorts! Rocky didn’t get the three from it, but when Shamrock won, Rocky begged Chioda and the knucks were found. Chioda overturned the decision and Rocky retained his IC Title! Then L.O.D. defeated the New Age Outlaws, but only after Hawk was cuffed outside the ring and Animal beat down booth Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. A chair shot to break up a pin on Gunn was how NAO retained their WWF Tag Team Titles. The fight continued well after the bell and Hawk ended up breaking free of his cuffs to take out Dogg and Gunn. The main event (shown after the Royal Rumble Match, though I personally feel the Royal Rumble Match is the main event, no matter what) was a Casket Match between Taker and HBK, with Triple H and Chyna there for their DX boy, all for HBK’s WWF Championship. At one point HBK actually hit a piledriver on Taker on the stairs! This was one wild match where both the New Age Outlaws and Los Boricuas came out and attacked Taker and beat him down. The lights went out and Kane beat down everyone attacking Taker as Trip and Chyna helped HBK out of the casket. Kane then turned on Taker and took him out. Paul Bearer appeared and instructed Kane to padlock the casket. They then lit it on fire on the stage to end the Royal Rumble PPV!
The Royal Rumble Match started with Cactus Jack (Foley) and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk) as entrants one and two. Cactus Jack was eliminated second by Chainsaw. Chainsaw remained in the match and was eliminated sixth by Mankind who was the 16th entrant. Mankind (Foley) was eliminated seventh by Goldust (or, The Artist Formerly Known As…). Steve Austin entered the match at #24, but then Dude Love came in at #28! Skull was supposed to enter at #22, but before the event he was attacked by Los Boricuas who thought he was Austin! The entire Los Boricuas stable came out with member Savio Vega and tried to attack Austin. #27 was Faarooq who rounded out the Nation of Domination, but the entire group quickly turned on Rocky. #28 was, wait for it, Dude Love! Even though Vader was entrant #30, Austin, Rocky, Dude Love (Foley) and Faarooq were the final four in the ring. For a bit Austin and Love teamed up, but that didn’t last and Faarooq clotheslined Love from the ring. Rocky quickly eliminated Faarooq. That left Rocky and Austin facing off in the ring in one highly energized moment. Rocky managed to fend off Austin trying to eliminate him once, but then Rocky ate a stunner and was eliminated. Austin was only in the match for 15:58, but he won his second Royal Rumble in a row! Austin became the third man to win two Royal Rumble Match in a row. The first being Hogan, the second being HBK.
It was revealed that Mike Tyson had been watching the Royal Rumble from a VIP box and would be the Special Guest Ref for the main event at WMXIV, Austin facing HBK for the WWF Championship. Leading up to WMXIV Austin got up in Tyson’s face and gave him the double bird. Tyson’s job was changed to enforcer as VKM thought that Tyson in the role of Special Guest Ref would make the match too explosive. DX kept attacking Austin, even to the point that he was tied to the ropes and verbally and physically assaulted until Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie rescued him. This all led to an 8 Man Tag match at No Way Out of Texas: In Your House. Austin, Foley, Chainsaw and Owen Hart defeated Triple H, New Age Outlaws and Savio Vega. HBK and Tyson appeared to be getting into it one night and were planning a fight, but all that happened was HBK ripped Tyson’s shirt off to show him wearing a DX shirt underneath. The next two weeks Austin, through dirty tricks of DX, ate sweet chin music. Austin also got into it with VKM for calling Tyson “The baddest man on the planet.”
Going into WMXIV it looked as though Austin had the deck stacked against him. Austin had to deal with Triple H and Chyna until the two were officially told to leave ringside by the ref. This was one great match where they went back and forth all over the ring and even outside. It was hard to say who was going to win, but then Chioda took the obligatory ref bump and was out of it. The fans all thought there was no way Austin could win with Tyson in the DX corner. Austin avoided sweet chin music a couple times and finally managed to hit a stunner, but Chioda was still out. Tyson slid in with the quick three and Austin was the new WWF Champion! HBK got to his feet and was all up in Tyson’s face, but one punch and HBK was out. Many say that this is where the Attitude Era and the Austin Era began. I will agree that this was a pinnacle moment, but there was so much that went into the AE and the AE that it’s hard to exactly pinpoint when it truly started.
On the RAW following Austin winning the WWF Championship, VKM got up in his business about not being an appropriate person to hold the Title and how he didn’t like Austin’s rebellious behavior. Austin fought back by giving VKM the Austin salute and hit VKM with stunners. VKM wanted Austin to play ball and put across a more positive image and be part of the ‘Corporation’. Austin ended up in a suit and tie, but after pictures were taken, Austin ripped off the suit and attacked VKM. Austin punched VKM in the slats, better known as VKM’s grapefruits! Austin continued to feud with VKM and even had a match against Dude Love when he got involved in it all.
At Mayhem in Manchester Austin successfully defeated Trip to retain his Title. On June 28th at KOTR Austin defended his Title against Kane in a First Blood Match. The next night on RAW Austin won the Title back, but this was the start of Austin’s feud with Kane and Taker. At SummerSlam Austin defeated Taker to retain his WWF Championship. VKM wasn’t happy so he put together a Triple Threat Match at Breakdown: In Your House. Both Kane and Taker pinned Austin at the same time, so VKM declared the Title vacated. VKM decided the Championship would be decided in a match between Kane and Taker with Austin as Special Guest Ref. Austin refused to count for either man and attacked both. VKM fired Austin for this, so Austin kidnapped him. Austin brought VKM to the ring at gunpoint, but it turned out to be a toy gun with a flag that said “Bang! 3:16” on it. VKM had appeared to wet himself in the ring over this. Shane-O-Mac rehired Austin, but then double-crossed him so Austin would lose to Dude Love and not have a Championship Match. Austin went on to face Rocky who had won the Championship, but Taker attacked Austin with a shovel. Austin won, but only via DQ, so Rocky retained. At Rock Bottom: In Your House Austin defeated Taker in a Buried Alive Match when Kane tombstoned Taker into the grave. Winning this match qualified Austin for the 1999 Royal Rumble.
There was so much that happened during that year, specifically between VKM and Austin. I would love to line up every show and PPV of that year and watch them all in order. For me that was some of the most entertaining wrestling on TV, even if it wasn’t the best technical wrestling. Characters were tightening up and growing to absurd proportions that made people tune in each week to see what crazy antics they would pull next. Even better was watching Austin beat up on his boss! Who hasn’t fantasize about kicking their boss in the slats, even just once. That was just great wrestling TV and shows the level of excitement and wonder that I feel they’re missing right now. The shows are getting better heading into the Road to WM, but not to the level is was during this time.
Thanks for reading and I’m going to get on Royal Rumble 1999 right now!