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Posted in: The Eternal Optimist
The Eternal Optimist Presents a 30 Part Column Series - Ranking the Royal Rumbles (#27)
By Dave Fenichel
Dec 4, 2017 - 6:12:20 AM

Hi kids.

I’m back with part 4 of my 30 part column series, “Ranking the Royal Rumble Matches”. Today, I’ll discuss the Royal Rumble that came in at #27 on the countdown. As a reminder, here are the criteria that I used to analyze the matches:

The Participants - The easiest way to create a Royal Rumble is to have a compelling roster that people want to see participate. I’ll take a look at the level star power, the level of “overness” of the other players, and whether or not there were an unnecessary amount of jobbers and/or non-factors in the match.

The Storylines and Flow of the Match - The storylines are without question the most important part of a Royal Rumble match. I’ll look at whether or not the storylines presented enhanced the match. I’ll also look at the surprise entrants and evaluate whether or not they added value. Lastly, I’ll look at whether or not the match had a solid flow or if it dragged at times. This is by far the most important category, and it will be the category in which I spend the majority of each column discussing.

The Final Four - Every Rumble inevitably comes down to a “show down” between the final four competitors. Here, I’ll look at whether the WWE chose a strong group to represent the final four, and whether or not the end game to the Rumble was compelling.

The Winner - I’ll evaluate three things relating to the winner of each Rumble. First, was the winner a surprise? I have a strong appreciation for Rumble winners that weren’t necessarily expected to win. Second, was the winner satisfying? Just because the winner wasn’t someone I expected doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the outcome. On the other hand, just because the winner was a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean that I didn’t love every minute of it. Lastly, how did winning the Royal Rumble impact this wrestler at Wrestlemania and beyond? The overall success of the subsequent push impacts how I view many of the Rumbles and their winner.

A couple additional disclaimers:

First – lengthy Royal Rumble runs rarely move me. Sure, you might love Rick Martel lasting 53 minutes in 1991. I didn’t. He, as well as almost everyone else that goes coast to coast, spent the majority of the match sitting in the corner getting kicked. For me, a single wrestler’s longevity is the most overrated factor in evaluating the strength of a Royal Rumble.

Second – these factors aren’t weighted evenly. They are merely talking points. My overall impression of the Rumble is what ultimately mattered when I made my rankings.

Last, but certainly not least – I’ve added a new wrinkle to this column series. As you already know, my thought process on wrestling seems to wildly differ from the majority of the fans in our community. Many have taken me to task in other forums over where my rankings ultimately landed. I’ve decided to incorporate that into this column series. As such, every entry will end with a guest “rebuttal” telling me exactly why I’m an idiot for ranking that particular Rumble where I did. The guests range from my fellow columnists, both on the main page and the Forums, to real life friends, to buddies I frequently interact with on social media. I try not to take myself too seriously, and I think you’ll enjoy the alternative takes.

Today’s rebuttal comes from James Boyd, who along with Rich Latta, co-hosts One Nation Radio.

Here is where the countdown currently stands:


#30. The 2009 Royal Rumble.
#29. The 1991 Royal Rumble.
#28. The 2011 Royal Rumble.


Question of the Day: Where do you rank Steve Austin on your “Greatest Wrestler of All Time” list?

#27. The 1998 Royal Rumble.


The Roster.


Cactus Jack
Chainsaw Charlie
Tom Brandi
The Rock
Mosh
Phineas Godwinn
8-Ball
Blackjack Bradshaw
Owen Hart
Steve Blackman
D-Lo Brown
Kurrgan
Marc Mero
Ken Shamrock
Thrasher
Mankind
Goldust
Jeff Jarrett
The Honky Tonk Man
Ahmed Johnson
Mark Henry
Skull
Kama Mustafa
Steve Austin
Henry Godwinn
Savio Vega
Faarooq
Dude Love
Chainz
Vader

This is a tricky roster to rate. 1998 was one of the most important years in the history of the company. It was the year that Steve Austin and The Rock became the megastars that they are. Austin was already there by the time the 1998 Rumble came around, and The Rock was well on his way.

Ken Shamrock was probably the third biggest star in this Rumble. Although he was at the height of his popularity and although I personally liked him due to my UFC fandom, having Ken Shamrock at your #3 draw in the match isn’t a good thing.

Mick Foley and Terry Funk were part of a tag team at the time and neither was the brand name they were in the past or in the future. Vader was on his last legs here and didn’t bring the star power that he once did. The WWE had tried to push Owen Hart as a badass face to be reckoned with, but it wasn’t working.

The roster falls off a cliff from there. The WWE was all about stable warfare at the time. I enjoyed the Nation of Domination at times, but I couldn’t stand the feuds with Las Boricuas and the DOA. Not including The Rock, there were 8 entrants that belonged to one of these three stables. None of them had any kind of momentum going into this match.

The tag teams and the jobbers in this match were plentiful, but not quite as insulting as in other years. Guys like The Headbangers, The Godwinns, Jeff Jarrett, Marc Mero, Bradshaw and Goldust all played their roles and weren’t completely irrelevant at the time. The only guys in this Rumble that were complete wastes of space were Kurrgan and Tom Brandi.

Overall – although not a star-studded roster like some of the other Rumbles in history, this roster was far from terrible. The top was excellent and the bottom was passable. The Roster rates somewhere in the middle of the road.


The Storylines and Flow.

I’ve always enjoyed tag team partners squaring off in The Royal Rumble. Having Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk) certainly checked this box for me. Being two of the best hardcore wrestlers ever, I liked that they incorporated those elements into the beginning of the match. It was a nice wrinkle and got things started off right.

The Rock coming in at #4 was interesting to me. He lasted the entire match. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the WWE was really foreshadowing his future. My biggest problem with The Rock here is that he felt like just a guy in the match. I can’t think of anything memorable that he did. He was just there. I know that many of you hold long Rumble runs in high regard, but empty ones like this just don’t do it for me.

By the time the Rumble hit the 7th entrant, I was tuning out. There were just too many guys in a row that I didn’t care about. The string of every entrant either being a member of a stable or a member of a tag team felt endless to me. This really hurt the overall flow of the match.

The crowd was dead for large portions of the match. It wasn’t until Ken Shamrock entered at #14 that the crowd came alive again. He had a short and mostly unmemorable run in the match, but his elimination of Kurrgan was really well received. Keeping Shamrock around for a longer stretch than 9 minutes would have really helped with the flow. This was a missed opportunity.

The WWE deserves credit for at least trying to inject multiple storylines into the 1998 Royal Rumble. Normally, Royal Rumbles with this many storylines are amongst the ones that I like the best. Unfortunately, this year’s batch fell flat with me.

Everything surrounding Owen Hart was very confusing to me. Jeff Jarrett, who along with Jim Cornette was repping the NWA at the time, attacked Owen during his entrance early in the match. He laid him out and seemingly removed him from contention. Owen showing up later in the match to attack and eliminate Jarrett got a huge pop and was one of the highlights of the match. Had they left well enough alone, this would have been rock solid. Although not a barnburner, Owen v Jarrett would have made for a solid addition to the Wrestlemania XIV undercard. Instead, Triple H shows up later in the match to smash Hart with a crutch and eliminate him. It was completely confusing. What was the point of doing the earlier storyline with Jarrett only to make it a moot point? This really left a bad taste in my mouth.

The 3 Faces of Foley is one of those “storylines” that hipster wrestling fans heap lavish praise upon. It’s ridiculous. It’s a cute little accomplishment that added ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to the match. It was comic relief at best. He didn’t add any value with his subsequent stints as Mankind or Dude Love. I would have much preferred that he have a longer run as Cactus Jack and continue to unleash hardcore fury throughout the Rumble. I believe this is an example of fans remembering who Foley is and what he ultimately became rather than judging this arc on the merits of what it actually was that night.

As some of you may have already noticed from the early entries on the countdown, I don’t blindly praise a nostalgia act for simply being that. Sure, nostalgia has its place in the Rumble and when it’s done well I enjoy it as much as anyone. However, I’m not going to give credit where credit isn’t due. Such was the case with The Honky Tonk Man in 1998. His Elvis impersonator act always worked for me. However, unlike his much more memorable cameo in 2001, his 1998 appearance lacked any type of shenanigans to make it memorable in any way shape or form. It was a complete waste of a surprise entrant.

Even the storyline surrounding Austin was weak. The WWE pulled a ghost spot at #22 in the Rumble. The idea was that the Boricuas attacked Skull earlier in the night thinking it was Austin. Jim Ross and the other announcers tried to sell us on the idea that Austin was hurt and wouldn’t be showing up, but it wasn’t believable. Austin was unbelievably hot at the time because he was edgy. There was no reason to try to build him up to be a sympathetic face.

It really felt like the WWE just through a bunch of ideas against the wall for this Rumble. The problem? None of them worked or made any sense. For the love of god – they had Ahmed Johnson and Phineas Godwinn brawl to the back. What was the point of that? The 1998 Rumble was booked in an incredibly illogical manner across the board.

Even when Austin hit the ring, there were problems. Sure, the pop was absolutely massive. However, he came in at the #24 spot. By the time the #26 spot hit, the crowd had already died back down. A bad Royal Rumble will do that for you. Savio and his band of jobbers attacking Austin made very little sense and confused the crowd at a point where they should have been rabid – a theme of this Rumble.

The lead into the final four irked me. Out of nowhere, Austin just started tossing people right and left. I could get if that happened upon his entrance, but it didn’t make sense to do 10-15 minutes later. It’s as if the WWE had run out of time and needed to get to the finish much more quickly than they anticipated.

Overall, at least they tried. There were a lot of storylines but they were all over the place and nonsensical, killing the overall flow to the match.


The Final Four.

Although the match was largely trash, the final four was definitely compelling. It was an interesting dynamic between Steve Austin, Dude Love, The Rock and Faarooq. The Rock and Faarooq were in the process of a breakup as the Rock would soon boot Faarooq from his own group. I liked that Dude Love went early to set up an effective 2 on 1.

The Rock eliminating Faarooq by surprise worked for me. It planted the seeds for what was to come between the two, and got us down to Austin v Rock in a realistic manner. The 1 on 1 between Austin and The Rock to end the match was great. This was one of the first signs of the incredible chemistry between the two.


The Winner.

Steve Austin winning was as predictable as predictable can be. This isn’t a bad thing. He was by far the most popular guy on the roster and his time had come. Thus, his victory was incredibly satisfying despite being the obvious choice.

I could argue that no one was skyrocketed to success as a result of their Royal Rumble win more than Austin. Mike Tyson showed up shortly after this Rumble, leading to their incredible brawl and mainstream media attention. Austin won his first title from HBK at Wrestlemania XIV, the Austin/McMahon saga started shortly thereafter, and the rest was history.


Overall.

This was one of the worst Rumbles. There were too many storylines that just didn’t make sense. A strong final four and the impact for the winner keeps this out of the bottom tier of the countdown.

The Rebuttal – By James Boyd.

My thoughts on Royal Rumbles matches, aside from about 8 or 9, are that they're all roughly the same from a critical standpoint. Trying to determine which edition of a match that's mostly just7 guys half-assedly trying to dump out 4 other geeks clamped onto the ropes until most of the real stars show up is a fool's errand. Real Talk: This thing is a showcase in Pavlovian science where crowds count down on command in anticipation of a learned reward: a big-time debuting star, a returning alum, a main eventer.

Too morose?...Noted. Moving on!

David, with his moniker being The Eternal Optimist, is the perfect fool to task with reviewing dozens of hours of battle royale action and come out on the other side of it no worse for wear. He's Andy Dufresne, except his "500 yards of s***-smelling foulness" was crummy wrestling.

It's just a shame that he picked on a match I like because the '98 Rumble features some good stuff. At the start, there's Terry Funk, whose face is masked by hosiery, is implied to be high on cocaine, is wielding a CHAINSAW and is trying to MURDER Mick Foley. There's The Rock, as the match's iron man, battling his foe from earlier in the night, Ken Shamrock, and every one of his stablemates in The Nation of Domination. It leads to a hilarious moment where D'Lo Brown is strangling The Nation's Champ against a bottom turnbuckle while doing his signature head waggle, it's the peak of unintentional comedy. We get a lesson in the perils of dumb babyfacery, as Owen Hart carries on 2 feuds at once against Jeff Jarrett and Triple H and ultimately eats an aluminum crutch for his troubles. And then we have Steve Austin and The Rock as the matches last 2 contestants, showcasing, in a small dose, the chemistry that soon propelled the company to financial heights previously unseen. The 2 right stars closed out the match and the right, crowd-backed star won the title shot at Wrestlemania.

What a novel concept, right?


That’s a wrap kids. Tune in next time to find out which Rumble ranked #26 on my countdown. Sound off below!

Facebook: David Fenichel

Twitter: @FFFightLeague

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