Ah, another Stone Cold Steve Austin winning Royal Rumble! This was his third and final Royal Rumble Match win. Austin is the only wrestler to win three Royal Rumbles, 1997 and 1998. As we all know so much about Austin's history, and if you don't you can check out articles on his previous Royal Rumble wins, I'm going to jump right into this one.
The 14th annual Royal Rumble was on January 21 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana. There was one match shown on Sunday Night Heat prior to the PPV. Lo Down (D-Lo and Chaz) with Tiger Ali Singh defeated Kaientai (Taka Michinoku and Funaki) for a spot in the Royal Rumble Match, but the spot ended up going to Drew Carey. The Royal Rumble undercard had Dudley Boyz defeating Edge and Christian for their WWF Tag Team Championship. Jericho defeated Benoit to win the WWF IC Title. Ivory, with Stevie Richards defeating Chyna to retain the WWF Women's Championship. Kurt Angle, with Trish Stratus, defeated Trip, with Steph, to retain his WWF Championship.
The Royal Rumble Match started with Jeff Hardy and Bull Buchanan as entrant numbers one and two. Every entrant after that came in at about two minute intervals. Matt Hardy was entrant #3. The Hardy Boyz worked together to eliminate Bull first. Faarooq came in #4, but was eliminated by Matt and Jeff. Drew Carey had been entered in the Royal Rumble Match by VKM who became annoyed with Carey earlier in the PPV. VKM had hoped Carey would get beaten up in the match. Carey headed out to the ring, climbed into the ring in an ungainly way and watched Matt and Jeff fight on the apron. Carey then hung over the side of the ring to look and motion to the Hardy Boyz. Carey then danced around in the ring, until the clock ran down and Kane's fire erupted. Then Carey desperately wanted the Hardy Boyz to get back in the ring with him to help. Kane paced around the outside of the ring to soak up some of the two minutes. He then got into the ring and called fire from the four corners and about made Carey pee his pants. Carey tried to shake Kane's hand to no avail. Carey then offered Kane money, but it was slapped away. Kane bowed up and stepped into Carey who backed off in fear; the one smart thing he did. Kane grabbed Carey for a chokeslam, but didn't lift him in the air. The clock hit zero and Raven was in the ring behind Kane and hit him with a kendo stick. Kane dropped Carey who attempted to roll out under the ropes, but he was reminded he had to go over the top, so he monkey climbed over the top rope and dropped to the floor. Slapping hands ringside, then threw a comment into Raven to get Kane. For all that Drew Carey was inducted to the WWE HOF. Lucky us!
Kane broke the record in this match by eliminating eleven wrestlers out of 39 and I think most in a row, from seven through thirteen. Entrant #19 was K-Kwik, or better known now as R-Truth, but Big Show eliminated him in less than eight minutes. Austin came in at famous #27, Rikishi and #30. Austin eliminated three people, the last being Kane, and won the Royal Rumble Match in 9:43.
Austin and Trip had started to feud a couple years prior and included the storyline where Trip paid Rikishi to run down Austin with a car (while convoluted, was a rather interesting storyline – this could be a fun feud to follow through the years, interested?). While the feud had it's high and low points, a few weeks before the Royal Rumble Trip had cost Austin a possible Title win against Angle. Austin then involved himself in Trip's match with Angle at the Royal Rumble for the WWF Championship. This turned their feud back on high and it would remain full on through SummerSlam.
In February at No Way Out Rocky faced Angle and won the WWE Championship. Austin faced Trip in a Three Stages of Hell Match (basically a two out of three falls match). During the contract signing VKM threatened both to keep their hands off each other between the signing and their match at No Way Out. Austin signed, then Trip attacked him. VKM got on Trip about being suspended, but Trip stated that he hadn't yet signed the contract yet and attacked Austin more, then signed. On the go home RAW to No Way Out Austin hit Steph with a stunner, so on Smackdown Trip hit a pedigree on JR. Trip would go on to win this match getting two of the three falls.
Austin, as per the stip of winning the Royal Rumble Match, faced Rocky for the WWF Championship at WMX7. This was the second time Rocky and Austin headlined WM for the WWF Championship. The first was WMXV in 1999. They went on to have a rematch for the Title at Backlash in 1999. Their match at WMX7 was the first time Austin and Rocky had faced each other in a singles match for the WWF Championship since that match at Backlash. VKM turned the feelings between Austin and Rocky on high during the Road To WM by assigning Debra (Austin's wife at the time) to be Rocky's manager. Austin told Rocky that if anything happened to Debra it would be on Rocky's head. During an episode of RAW in March Angle locked an ankle lock on Rocky that he wouldn't break even after Rocky got to the ropes and the ref had called for the bell giving Rocky the win. Debra went to check on Rocky and Angle locked the ankle lock on her – impressive considering the length of Debra's skirts. Austin rushed the ring – goatee and both knees in braces (just to give you a mental time frame) – beat up Angle, then hit a stunner on Rocky before leaving the ring and stomping up the ramp, without his wife. Debra no-sold the ankle lock so badly that she was back up on her six inch heels before Angle had even been thrown from the ring by Angle, though it was possibly the shortest ankle lock ever.
With all this heating up, Austin and Rocky were as ready for WMX7 as the fans. The fans were all behind Austin, the beer drinking and boss hating face, but he had something in store for everyone. After a very back and forth match VKM helped Austin who turned heel and hit Rocky with a couple chair shots for the win. The PPV went off the air Austin and his former rival VKM shook hands in the ring. The next night on RAW Austin teased a face turn, but it didn't happen. Austin had a Cage Match with Rocky as a WM rematch, but Trip came to the ring with his sledge and together they beat up Rocky. On the following Smackdown Austin further proved how much of a bad boy heel he was by denouncing his close friendship with JR and beat him like a government mule! I listened to Austin's audio book (read by Austin and JR) and I remember this section clearly. The fans just didn't want Austin to go heel, so they really thought they had to push the envelope to get him over as a heel, something even Austin wasn't sure about. He wasn't sure the fans would believe SCSA would join up with VKM after all the feuding they'd had, but he was willing to try it. They figured the only way they could really do it was to have him beat up everyone's beloved announcer JR. JR said that Austin didn't hold back at all when he beat JR down. JR said it was the worst beating of his life, made that way by the big ring Austin wore on his hand. Austin didn't turn the ring around and as he punched JR in the head with it, JR developed these huge knots on his head from it. But beating up JR was just the thing to get Austin over as a heel – for a time. I remember that I was almost in tears seeing the abuse JR took that night, but now that I know he was in on it (I knew so much less about the industry back then), I still don't like it! After this point Austin started kissing up to VKM. He got touchy, huggy and kept bringing VKM gifts. For me, this was the height of Austin's comedy. Between singing for VKM, badly, bringing VKM a cowboy hat and doing anything in his power to make Angle look silly in VKM's eyes, I tuned in just to laugh. He was a totally different Austin, and while I missed the beer drinking hard ass, I spent many nights laughing until I was crying, all for Austin's silliness and timing.
From there Austin and Trip formed a tag team called the Two Man Power Trip. They were the top heels in the WWF and feuded with Kane and Taker. At Backlash Austin and Trip won the WWF Tag Team Championships, that means they held those, the IC Title and the WWF Title! They didn't hold the Titles for too long. They were scheduled to drop the straps on RAW the day after Judgment Day to Benoit and Jericho, but during that match was when Trip tore his quadriceps muscle. I remember that match vividly as Trip only stepped, the muscle in his leg seemed to bunch and ripple, then he went down. I have no clue how he finished that match or how he made his way up the ramp. He had help, but the normal person wouldn't have been able to move after an injury like that. Then again, some people would argue that the normal person wouldn't have that type of injury.
Austin retained the WWF Championship until he lost it to Angle at Unforgiven. Angle didn't hold the strap for long as Austin won it back fifteen days later on RAW. Austin carried the Title until that fateful night at Vengeance when Jericho pinned both Austin and Rock and went into the record books as the first ever Undisputed WWF Championship.
This was a huge year for Austin, but Austin had many huge years in the WWF. I will say it again, Austin is arguably the most successful wrestler ever. From his popularity with the fans to the number of PPVs he headlined, total and in a row. In so many ways the Attitude Era was what it was because of Austin. Yes, there was DX who were shocking, disgusting and thrilling. There was Rocky who could, and still can, cut a promo like no one else. There was Foley who took abuse that no person should take in the name of entertainment. There was Angle who came across as such a stiff, but it somehow worked. And then there were so many others who I hate to lump together like Jericho, Eddie, Benoit, Malenko, but they made this era amazing. They all belong in the WWE Hall of Fame for the work they did in the ring, on WWFTV.