Vince McMahon won 1999’s Royal Rumble.
No, this isn’t the shortest induction ever; I’m just getting that obvious bit of information out of the way right now, lest you think that’s the only reason why this match is Wrestlecrap. No, there are certain circumstances under which a non-wrestler can win a big match, and the red-hot McMahon-Austin feud was, theoretically, one of them, having the heat and the history to perhaps justify an otherwise ridiculous turn of events. Now, if you wanted to see Vince do something truly nonsensical and self-aggrandizing, you’d have to wait until September, when he would disregard two years of storylines to turn babyface one night, immediately win the title, and avenge a mean thing a heel said about him.
So no, the problem with this Rumble was not the non-wrestler chairman’s victory. The main problem was that the non-wrestler chairman’s victory wasn’t even among the top ten worst things about this Rumble.
For one thing, despite ostensibly being a 30-man match, the 1999 Rumble was marketed as essentially a one-on-one contest. The pre-match video package focused entirely on Steve Austin’s feud with Vince McMahon, failing to mention any of the 28 other participants. Not that the Federation would have had an easy time pumping up the crowd by highlighting the rest of the Rumble roster, the most abysmal collection of curtain-jerkers this side of 1995.
Don’t believe me? Nearly a quarter of the participants wouldn’t make it into that summer’s WWF Attitude, a game that included Head as a playable character. Most of the Rumble match could be re-created by a seven-year-old whose mom only bought him the cheap action figures left on the Toys ‘R’ Us shelf (and having grown up with three Giant Gonzalez dolls, I know what I’m talking about). Frankly, besides Austin and McMahon, the only two men in the Rumble with even the remotest chance of winning were Kane (whose one-day WWF title reign made him the only other former world champ in the match) and Triple H (who at that point was maybe the 5th-most over member of D-X)[Okay, I exaggerate, but most of the other DX members got louder pops during their entrances on this night].
So how could the WWF expect to hold an audience’s interest for 60 minutes when 90% of its competitors were merely cannon fodder? I’ll answer that question with another question: Who was the WWF’s head writer in 1999?
Fasten your seat belts, ’cause it’s gonna be a crappy ride.
With Russo holding the book, you just knew there would be wacky antics going on both in the ring and out of it — but mostly out of it. After all, this was the man who would go on to create the Reverse Battle Royal and would probably have invented the Upside-Down Battle Royal if he had figured out how to cram cameras and lighting rigs under the ring. Still, to prepare 1999’s fans for the mayhem, Howard Finkel made sure to clarify (to the one or two people who’d never seen a Royal Rumble) that one could not be eliminated by going through the ropes, even though it made his introduction last an eternity. Gee, you think someone might take advantage of that rule in this match?
Austin and Vince McMahon started off the match — which was a good thing if they were the only two guys with a shot at winning it. After all, who’d want to trudge through a half hour or more of meaningless brawling between mooks until an actual contender showed up? Jerry Lawler begged the third entrant to come to the ring and keep Stone Cold from pounding the chairman, but as it turned out, he wouldn’t be the only one in the arena cursing the 90-second wait between entrants.
Why? Let me put it this way:
Have you ever seen the ring cleared completely in a Royal Rumble?
No, not as in “Diesel just cleaned house and is the only one left standing!” As in, “everybody bailed and literally nobody is in the ring.”
Well, that happened TWICE in this match.
Each time, there would be a 2-3 minute gap in the action as the fans waited for the next two competitors to enter. In fact, the first time the match came to a screeching halt was a mere two minutes into the match: after Austin eliminated Golga, he and McMahon left the ring through the ropes (Whodathunkit?) and brawled into the audience…
…leaving the ring entirely empty. Better bring on those mooks!
Ninety seconds later, Road Warrior Droz entered the ring and immediately had to play the waiting game for another 90 seconds until Edge showed up to basically start the match over again.
And while this was going on, Steve Austin got ambushed by the Corporation in the ladies’ room, seemingly taking him out of the Rumble match. Talk about swerves! Pat Patterson is the last guy you’d expect to want to sneak into the women’s bathroom.
Edge and Droz now had to play the role of lame ducks, killing time before Austin inevitably returned to the match. To show how seriously fans should take the Austin-less Rumble, Russo next sent out Gillberg, who was quickly disposed of.
Next came Steve Blackman, whom Jerry Lawler picked as his favorite to win it all. This is the same Blackman who (like most of the Rumble participants) would never advance past the Hardcore division but, by default, had about as good a chance as anyone of winning the Rumble with Austin “out of the picture.”
Speaking of Austin, we were repeatedly shown camera shots of Austin lying on the bathroom floor, then being placed on a stretcher and carted off into an ambulance, which made for more compelling television than the action going on in the ring. With all these distracting cut-aways, this match was fast becoming the Family Guy of Royal Rumbles.
Some of these shots lasted nearly a minute, with occasional cuts back to the ring when a new entrant came down. At one point, an extremely long shot of Austin was broken up for a few seconds when the countdown clock reached zero…
…but the production crew returned to the ambulance scene the second they realized it was just Tiger Ali Singh coming down. At least it wasn’t Drew Carey.
The Blue Meanie’s entrance had fans on the edge of their seats (and wondering, should I go to the can now, or wait until Kurrgan comes out?), but just when you thought you’d seen everything from this glorified Shotgun Saturday Night main event, a pre- “Beaver Cleavage” Headbanger Mosh would attempt to enter…
…only to be jumped and have his spot stolen by Mabel. (Mosh would later earn a spot in the 2001 Rumble as part of Tiger Ali Singh’s “Lo Down,” only to again get bumped off the card… by Drew Carey)
Mabel cleared the ring within seconds, leaving only new entrant Road Dogg in the ring before the lights went out. Undertaker’s music played, and Mabel was apparently eliminated by the Acolytes. I say “apparently” because the lights were still out when it happened. In other words, Mabel’s elimination in 1999 was even more unceremonious than the one in 1996, when, in his last WWF appearance for years, he was both eliminated by Yokozuna and called Yokozuna.
After an excessively long beatdown that saw Faarooq fall on his butt…
…The Undertaker (who was excluded from the match for fear of making it slightly compelling) and the rest of his Ministry abducted Mabel, who the next night showed up as Viscera, the prostitute-lovingcult member. The running theme of this Rumble? Anything could happen, as long as it didn’t happen in the ring.
All the while, Road Dogg waited around in the ring for Gangrel, one of King’s other favorites to win. You’ve got to wonder whether Lawler was just pulling random names out of his hat (or, uh, crown), because the former Black Phantom got tossed out in seconds. Moments later, with KURRGAN of all people in the ring, the announcers remembered that a title shot was at stake. And not a European title shot, either!
Next to enter was Al Snow, who had a bone to pick with Goldust. See, Snow’s mannequin head (the one who beat out McMahon, Gillberg, Severn, Meanie, Viscera, Singh, and Golga to get into the Attitude game) had been stolen by Goldust two weeks before. What good fortune it was, then, that Goldust himself would end up being the very next entrant! And what bad fortune it was, then, that Snow got eliminated in under a minute, never even crossing paths with the man he was supposed to be feuding with. Keep in mind as you read this that people actually sat in a board room and planned for this to happen.
Ninety seconds after the Godfather entered, the lights went out yet again, announcing the arrival of Kane at #18. More than halfway through the Rumble, we finally had a semi-legitimate contender to win it all! Kane immediately cleared the ring, only to be jumped by hordes of orderlies. Kane then eliminated himself to chase after the orderlies, and since Heenan and Monsoon were not on commentary to explain this away, it meant he was out of the match for good.
And the fans cheered the empty ring, which continued its dominant Rumble performance!
For those keeping score, that’s twice that the ring had been left completely empty in the first thirty minutes, causing the match to essentially start again from scratch. The action was so stop-and-go, you could have sworn that Vince Russo was stealing ideas from the AWF and its revolutionary rounds system.
Vince McMahon casually strolled into the ring during this down time, then immediately left through the ropes to take over commentary and gloat that Steve Austin was not coming back. Nosirree, never ever ever. And definitely not to drag McMahon back into the ring later on.
Meanwhile, Ken Shamrock waited another ninety seconds for an injured (and partially barefoot) Billy Gunn to skip down to the ring. As if catching some contagious disease from McMahon, Michael Cole shouted, “What a maneuver!” after a belly-to-back suplex by Gunn. Too bad Vince couldn’t muster up the same enthusiasm on commentary.
Test’s entrance was interrupted by more backstage shenanigans, this time parking lot footage of Mabel getting stuffed into a hearse. This interruption, in turn, was interrupted by Stone Cold driving an ambulance back to the arena. Not only was this the Family Guy of Royal Rumbles, it was the Inception of over-booking.
If you ignore the fact that Austin’s absence and “elimination” were the only things the announcers had been talking about for the past forty minutes (instead of, say, who would actually win the match), Stone Cold’s return came as a complete shock to everyone.
At least now that Stone Cold was back, the announcers could stop talking about how he was in a hospital bed (or, I kid you not, a “medical center bed“). No, instead they could talk about who was going to collect on McMahon’s $100,000 bounty by eliminating Austin. Not who was going to win the damn match and go to Wrestlemania, but who was going to get paid a bonus by Vince (which, to be fair, is basically what going to Wrestlemania means).
And speaking of that bounty, the wrestlers themselves seemed remarkably uninterested in eliminating Austin considering the reward at stake. Bossman, for example, would rather have choked out Triple H than collect a cool 100 grand by dumping Austin over the ropes, while Test committed himself to the important task of stomping X-Pac. Val Venis was so eager to eliminate the Rattlesnake that the then-porn star booted him under the ropes, sparing him from elimination so he could go sucker-punch future porn star X-Pac instead.
Mark Henry started out beating up Austin, but soon moved on to matters more important than eliminating the top contender and collecting a huge cash prize: namely, beating up X-Pac. People really seemed to hate that guy, and he hadn’t even started shilling Hansen’s energy drink yet.
As much as the announcers tried to play up the bounty on Austin (while the prize for winning the Rumble itself, along with the very idea of winning the Rumble, was presented as merely an afterthought), no one in the ring seemed to even be aware of such a cash reward. Triple H seemed more concerned with eliminating Val Venis. No, scratch that. Triple H seemed more concerned with almost eliminating Val Venis, loudly asking the adult film star, “If I throw you, can you hang on?“
You would think that after all the shenanigans and interference that had already taken place in this match, some outsider would have tried running in and eliminating Stone Cold for the bounty, but I guess Russo didn’t want to make a mockery of the 30-man, over-the-top Rumble. More so, that is.
The final entrant of the night was Chyna, who earned her #30 spot by winning Raw’s miniature Corporate Rumble, last eliminating (and nearly decapitating) Mr. McMahon.
Chyna soon eliminated Mark Henry, since having tricked him into groping a transvestite wasn’t revenge enough for his unwanted advances. To be fair, Sexual Chocolate appeared to be wearing a thong underneath his trunks, so maybe he still held out hope for a night in Chyna.
To the surprise of no one, Austin ended up as the last man left in the ring, robbing us of that Bossman vs. Rock match we had all been clamoring for. That left only Austin and Vince McMahon, whom Stone Cold dragged back into the ring and beat down. For the first time in an hour, the main story of the bout actually unfolded inside the ring, almost as if it were a wrestling match.
Just when it seemed that Austin had the match wrapped up, The Rock came to ringside to argue with Stone Cold. Yes, the same Stone Cold who had already been sneak-attacked once in the match. Yes, the same Stone Cold who had used this exact distraction tactic to get Vince eliminated from the Corporate Rumble. And Steve still never suspected that this might have been a trick, too. Instead, he took the idiot ball and ran with it, edging closer and closer to the ropes until Vince scooped him up from behind and dumped him to the floor.
And thus, Vince McMahon went to Wrestlemania and wrestled The Rock in the main event.
I kid, of course, as everyone knows that Austin ended up going to the big event after beating Vince for that right in a cage match.
Except that’s not what happened, either. Instead, Vince announced the next night that he had forfeited his Mania title shot and would instead handpick the man to main-event Wrestlemania. Just then, WWF Commissioner/plot device Shawn Michaels came to the rescue. Citing a Royal Rumble rule that no one had ever heard of (except, presumably, the Federation owner Vince McMahon), he granted the forfeited Mania title shot to the runner-up: Stone Cold. In the span of just a few minutes, the dueling authority figures had completely nullified the previous night’s outcome, meaning that Austin might as well have won the Rumble after all. Double swerve!
Fortunately, Stone Cold was gracious enough to put his title shot on the line against Vince in a cage match. Vince McMahon famously shocked the world that night with his newest hire, Paul Wight…
…who threw Austin so hard into the cage that it broke open, winning the match for Austin and once again nullifying a big shocking swerve in just a few minutes.
Gee, with build-up like that, it’s a wonder how Wrestlemania 17 ever wound up such a critical success. Wait, my math might be off. Let’s see… Wrestlemania I was in 1985, so 1999’s big event would be….