WWE attempted to begin 1997 with a bang by holding its Royal Rumble in the spacious Alamodome in San Antonio, a 72,000-seat venue that has played home to basketball, football, and even a little baseball. By choosing the building, WWE hoped to reach two objectives: put on a broadcast with an impressively-filled stadium, and give soon-to-be WWE Champion Shawn Michaels an impressive homeboy reception in his main event match.
The event is remembered most for the first of a record three Rumble match victories for Stone Cold Steve Austin, moreso than Michaels' victory, the massive crowd, and even the heavy AAA presence on the show (WWE's attempt to counter WCW's brilliant Cruiserweight division). It was not a great show by any measure, but the 1997 Royal Rumble was historic nonetheless.
10. Thinking Big
Take a scan through the WWE of 1995-96, and it's easy to see that the company had shrivelled from its glory years. B and C-towns like West Palm Beach, FL, Florence, SC, and Hershey, PA had hosted secondary pay-per-views, while TV tapings took place in glorified rec centers and small-scale arenas. To go from that to trying to fill the Alamodome feels like a staggering leap for a company that had felt low-ball for some time.
Bruce Prichard noted on his "Something to Wrestle" podcast that that's exactly the reason why WWE wanted to do a stadium show - to remove that small-time stigma. WWE hadn't drawn 60,000 fans to a stadium show in America since WrestleMania 8 five years earlier, and the Rumble in San Antonio was their push toward changing the then-present perception of the company.
9. By Whatever Means
It's one thing to announce a large venue for a wrestling show, but it's another to actually fill the building. Tasked with trying to cram as many people into the Alamodome as possible (especially after Vince, on commentary, bandied about the idea of having 71,000 fans at the event), WWE resorted to some pretty generous measures.
In the end, 60,525 fans were present for the Rumble, though only a shade over 48,000 were paid (so, 12,000, or one-fifth of the crowd, was comped). And even then, many of those who paid to get in may have done so cost-effectively - many tickets went for $18, $14, and $10, and some as low as $5-7 with special fast food coupons. Dave Meltzer noted that five days before the Rumble, only 28,000 seats had been sold, and that the steep discounts helped move roughly 20,000 seats in that final run-up. Hey, when you have to fill a stadium...
8. Mass Histeria
The event would feature a total of nine matches, including three dark matches, each teeming with guests from outside the WWE bubble. As the event was something of a WWE/AAA joint show, copious space was allotted to luchadors of different renown, including El Canek, Hector Garza, Cibernetico, and the legendary Mil Mascaras. One of the lesser-known talents to take part in the show would later gain much more fame, thanks to a prolific run through ECW.
In a six-man tag that only the Alamodome crowd saw, Blue Demon Jr, Octagon, and Tinieblas, Jr defeated Abismo Negro, Heavy Metal, and Histeria. That last name may not be as recognizable as a Rey Mysterio or a Pentagon, Jr, but Histeria would go on to become Super Crazy, future ECW TV Champion-turned-Mexicool. Crazy would actually wrestle a few more matches for WWE later in 1997, under the name Super Loco, including losing a Light Heavyweight title tournament match to Aguila.
7. The Bodyguard Shuffle
Intercontinental Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley had spent most of 1996 with some sort of ringside accompaniment, whether it was a nameless model, or would-be mentor Mr. Perfect. After Curt Hennig left the company in November, Helmsley had to go it alone, but would find a new form of back-up come Rumble Sunday: the beastly Mr. Hughes, who was cast as Helmsley's muted muscle.
Hughes had a four-month stint with WWE in 1993, and this run would prove even shorter. Little more than one week after resurfacing in WWE, Hughes was hospitalized with heart and kidney issues, and actually wound up in intensive care. Hughes left the company shortly thereafter, and Helmsley would get a new bodyguard weeks later. Little did anyone realize that his new partner-in-crime, Chyna, would help catapult both of them into stardom.
6. Raw-Yul Rumble
If initial intentions had gone through, the night of 3 February 1997 would have been a historic one in WWE history. The previous week, commentator McMahon announced that the show would be called "Royal Rumble Raw", and would air the entire Rumble match for free to WWE's cable audience. USA Network suggested this idea, believing that it could allow for Raw to beat Nitro in the ratings that night, as the 1988 Rumble (which aired on USA in lieu of PPV) did a massive rating.
So what happened? WWE's PPV providers, Viewer's Choice and Request, put the kibosh on these plans, due to the exclusivity in their contracts - airing the match for free could put a dent in replay buys. The free Rumble match concept was quietly dropped in favour of pre-recorded matches from a recent mega-show at Toronto's SkyDome.
5. Fresh Faces
So much had changed in just one year, a recurring theme for a company that was struggling to find a concrete identity for itself. It should come as no surprise that for the Rumble match, which consists of 30 individual wrestlers, that there would be many differences between this field, and the one from one year earlier. In fact, 15 out of the 30 men were taking part in their first Rumble match ever.
Out of those 15, you had four AAA talents (Mascaras, Cibernetico, Pierroth, and Latin Lover), as well as native Texan and wrestling god Terry Funk. The other 10 were roster regulars, a few of whom became big players in 1996 (Goldust, Ahmed Johnson, Marc Mero, Mankind). Others, like Jesse James and Rocky Maivia, were a gimmick tweak away from their own impactful runs.
4. Change Of Hart
Apparently, you can blame Vince Russo for this one also. As the story goes, Bret Hart was the planned winner of the 1997 Rumble match, which would have set up his long-anticipated rematch with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 13, with Hart going over to even the modern series. That all changed with a simple prediction.
On WWE's Saturday morning LiveWire program, Russo (in character as his writing alter ego, Vic Venom) predicted that Hart would win the Rumble match. This reportedly angered McMahon, who believed that predictions offered on WWE programming needed to be "off", so as to allow for genuine surprises. The Rumble was reconfigured to give Austin the win, which would've been reverted back to Hart at "Final Four" the following month, through that "second chance" main event.
3. Austin Unleashes Hell
Stone Cold Steve Austin had been creating moments since delivering his fiery "3:16" speech at the 1996 King of the Ring. Through his venomous rhetoric, his controversial breaking-and-entering bit at Brian Pillman's house, and his scorching feud with Bret Hart, Austin was the hottest act going in WWE, and he had himself quite a showing in the Rumble match.
Entering from the number five draw, Austin eliminated 10 individuals, becoming the only Rumble winner to toss out double-digit opponents. Usually, that sort of "house-cleaner" total is given to a powerful wrestler that falls just short of winning, but gets to look strong regardless. Only one other participant made even three eliminations: Ahmed Johnson, who eliminated exactly three (including diving over the top rope to eliminate himself, and then returning later on to cause Faarooq's elimination).
2. No Sick Days
The WWE Championship match would go on last, as Shawn Michaels would look to gain a measure of revenge on reigning champion, the man who beat him for the belt, Psycho Sid. With 60,000+ filling a stadium in Shawn Michaels' hometown, WWE was obviously pinning their hopes on a special moment when Michaels would floor Sid in the end.
The match itself wasn't anything special, compromised by Michaels working with the flu. By his own recollection, "The Heartbreak Kid" spent the entire previous night in the bathroom, and much of show day napping off the illness in Vince's makeshift office at the arena. But Michaels still managed to deliver a solid-enough match under the circumstances, even if it was below his loftier standards.
1. Psycho Stat
Though he would regain the WWE Championship four weeks later (as part of a muddled and confusing start to 1997), Psycho Sid was in his final laps as a WWE wrestler. By mid-summer, he would be gone from the company, never to return outside of a few guest spots in 2012. In his wake, Sid left behind a rather unique distinction.
In 1997, Psycho Sid became the first man (and to this day, the only man) to lose the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania of the same calendar year. After losing the belt to Michaels here and later regaining it, Sid would later drop the gold to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 13, in what was really his last high-profile WWE match.