Onward with the turnaround. By back-jumping many of his Royal Rumble foes in the preceding weeks, Stone Cold Steve Austin reinforced what most had perceived for a number of weeks and months, that he was the biggest star in a much-changed WWE. While the Rumble field boasted some pretty good names in Owen Hart, Ken Shamrock, Mick Foley, and another young star beginning to hit his stride in The Rock, it’s clear that this match was Austin’s to lose. WWE needed a hero, and it had one in its resident foul-mouthed anti-hero.
The 1998 Royal Rumble would pale mightily if you judged it with the hypercritical eyes that one uses to compare one Wrestle Kingdom to the next. There were certainly some forgettable, albeit not exactly awful, matches on a card that simply existed to put Austin over, to set up WrestleMania 14’s double main event (Austin vs. Shawn Michaels, Undertaker vs. Kane), and to introduce the controversial and irascible Mike Tyson to the WWE audience. It’s a C+ show for the wrestling, but an A+ show in pushing the most important buttons.
And that’s fine, because that was the Attitude Era’s MO. In the early days of the movement that would win over gajillions of fans and make WWE an absurd amount of green, the foundation for those better days was being laid here.
10. California Love
Although San Francisco and Oakland are the two stronger pillars of the “Bay Area”, San Jose beat both of them to the punch in terms of getting its own WWE pay-per-view, with this here Rumble. The event drew 18,542 to the San Jose Arena (today the SAP Center, or “The Shark Tank”), which included 16,661 paid.
According to The Wrestling Observer, that 18,542 was, at the time, the largest wrestling crowd to ever attend an event in Northern California, topping a crowd of 17,000 that witnessed “Crippler” Ray Stevens battle Pepper Gomez at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1962. Certainly, that record doesn’t stand today, as WrestleMania 31 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara obliterated that mark with a reported 77,000 on hand. But for a hockey arena, WWE clearly did well with this Rumble.