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.
9. Void Of Finishes
Since the 1994 show, the Royal Rumble undercard format (usually) consisted of one or two non-title matches, and all three major men's belts (World, IC, and Tag) defended. The 1998 event followed that formula, with Shawn Michaels defending the WWE title against Undertaker in a casket match, The Rock putting the IC gold up against Ken Shamrock, and Tag champs The New Age Outlaws facing The Legion of Doom.
Interestingly, this marked the first time that all three title matches concluded without a pinfall or submission. Michaels won his match via Undertaker being shut inside the casket, while the Outlaws got themselves intentionally DQ'ed. As for the IC title match, it *did* initially end with a pinfall (Shamrock winning), but the decision was reversed to a DQ win for Rock, after Rock told the referee that Shamrock used brass knuckles on him, which were found in Shamrock's trunks (that Rock covertly planted there himself).
8. Endurance Match
The Royal Rumble itself featured many wrestlers who would serve as the foundation of the time period, although quite a few of them had not yet hit upon the gimmicks that would define them in the era. Really, the match was just Austin taking on 29 guys who vying for second place, but say this much - at least the midcard got to look strong here.
There were very few quick eliminations in this match (only six men lasted under three minutes, one of them a no-show), while a whopping eight individuals lasted longer than 25 minutes. Interestingly enough, out of those eight, The Rock (the duration king at 51:32) was the only one flirting with the main event. Others like Phineas Godwinn, 8-Ball, Thrasher, and Blackjack Bradshaw all hovered around the half-hour mark. Given how congested the ring was at many junctures, this wasn't the most organized of Rumbles.
7. Fiery Presence
Kane would later make his mark on the 1998 Rumble, as indelible a mark as immolating your brother inside of a locked coffin certainly is. The event marked the first time Glenn Jacobs appeared at a Royal Rumble under the Kane guise, having competed in the previous two Rumble matches as Isaac Yankem and faux Diesel, respectively.
And Kane would continue to be a Rumble staple in the years ahead. In fact, the 1998 event was the only year between 1996 and 2011 (that's 16 different Rumble events) in which Glenn Jacobs was not a Rumble match participant. The 1999 through 2011 run of 13 in a row was disrupted by a re-masked Kan.e wrestling John Cena at the 2012 event, in the regrettable, "Man, is Zack Ryder useless" angle
6. Cool, Cocky, Bad, Available
One of the bigger names on the roster absent from the Rumble match itself was reigning European Champion Triple H, who at the time was locked into a rivalry with Owen Hart. Helmsley was one of the originally-planned Rumble match entrants, but had to be removed due to a knee injury sustained weeks before the pay-per-view. Helmsley did make an appearance during the match to facilitate Owen's elimination.
To replace HHH, WWE turned to the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, The Honky Tonk Man. Though he was 45 years old and far removed from his days as a full-time wrestler, Honky was no quick elimination, surviving for 20 minutes in the fray, which gave him the ninth-longest duration in the match. And San Jose deserved Honky's extended presence, because they were, in fact, a beautiful audience.
5. Collateral Damage
At baseball games, fans are given a pre-game warning to be on the lookout for flying objects. A line-drive foul ball, or even a wooden bat flying out of the hands of a wildly-swinging batter, can cause serious injury to spectators not paying attention. The referees outside the ring in the Royal Rumble match are in a similar potentially-perilous situation - good view of the action, but in the line of fire.
Referee Jack Doan learned first-hand just how dangerous it can be when you're crouched at ringside during a Rumble, especially when a 300-pound man comes hurtling over top of you. Phineas Godwinn's elimination resulted in his tree-trunk of a leg smashing onto Doan's head, causing an apparently-serious injury. Doan actually had to be rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.
4. Back To Back
The final seconds of the Rumble match were quite frenzied and exciting, as The Rock tried to hammer Austin down, only for Stone Cold to fire up, catch "The People's Champ" with a Stunner, and send him flying to his doom. Unlike his victory as a heel one year earlier, there was nothing tainted about this, as Austin took on the world, and definitively conquered it.
The victory made Austin only the third two-time Rumble winner ever, and the last one to win back to back Rumbles. Every Royal Rumble since has seen more variety among the victors, the need to try and create a different star each time out. Austin was also the last individual to win more than one Rumble match until 2013, when John Cena notched his second, after previously winning in 2008.
3. Mangled Michaels
After WrestleMania 14, Shawn Michaels would take a lengthy hiatus from the ring, not returning until the summer of 2002 (save for a "forgotten" match from April 2000). The cause of Michaels' exodus was a severely-injured back, worn down from years of taking exuberant bumps and emphatic spills. One of the more major blows came during his casket match with Undertaker.
Fairly early in the match, Michaels takes a bump over the ropes, almost clearing the vast casket at ringside, but catching the edge of the lid with his lower back. The pain wasn't an immediate issue, but in the days that followed, Michaels was beset with stabbing pains in the region. Weeks later, Michaels required hospitalization after he was unable to stand up under his own power in his home. He would be diagnosed with two herniated discs and one crushed disc, and would not perform again until WrestleMania 14.
2. Defending Degenerate
Michaels, of course, held on for the win after the monstrous Kane insinuated himself into the finish, Chokeslamming his flesh and blood into the casket to ensure Michaels' win. Michaels, of course, wouldn't be as lucky when Mike Tyson counted him down in the final moments of WrestleMania 14, switching the belt to Steve Austin.
Michaels would have three reigns with a belt after his 2002 comeback: the World Heavyweight title, and two reigns as Tag Team champion (with John Cena, and later Triple H). This win over Undertaker marked the last time that Michaels would successfully defend a belt in a PPV match. His only defense post-return was when he dropped the World Heavyweight belt back to Triple H at Armageddon 2002, four weeks after winning it.
1. Escape Plan
"THE CASKET'S ON FIRE" screamed Jim Ross in the closing scene of the Royal Rumble, as Kane dragged the locked casket up to the front of the entrance way, before setting the object ablaze with his brother trapped inside. Of course, Undertaker later re-emerged to confront Kane, looking none the worse for wear, because he's imbued with dark powers and whatnot. Ahh, mystic storylines, how I adore thee.
Fans of Undertaker inside the San Jose Arena had little to worry about either, as even though the lights were dimmed during Kane's casket trudge up the aisle, they could still see Undertaker escape from the side of the casket from a small door, ensuring his safety before the stunt began. These days, fans would've caught the escape on their iPhones and uploaded the footage to Twitter, because fans today don't like fun. Eh, what are you gonna do?