Stone Cold's win is one to "watch"

Stone Cold's win is one to "watch"

More than 60,000 WWE fans in San Antonio's Alamodome experienced a slight problem at the start of the Royal Rumble Match January 19, 1997: the Rumble clock, set for a randomly selected Superstar to enter the contest every 90 seconds, wasn't working.

Fortunately, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the No. 5 entrant, brought a special watch with him to the ring. Though it strangely resembled a black-taped left wristband, he made sure it was set to whoop ass every minute and a half. Before long, WWE fans in attendance were going by his watch, not the restored Rumble clock.

The Texas Rattlesnake's "less yakkin', more smackin'" attitude was apparent throughout the entire evening; he even warned interviewers backstage, "I'm not talkin' to anybody 'til I throw 29 pieces of trash over the top rope and advance to WrestleMania to face the champ!" As promised, Austin saved all his "trash-talking" for the Rumble participants he faced, then displaced over the top rope. He didn't strategize like many low-number Rumble entrants, who'd wisely pick their battles between catching breaths in the ring; if you didn't come to him, he sure as hell came to you.

Stone Cold was so effectively aggressive in the first half of the Rumble that he found himself alone in the ring on several occasions. So he'd keep himself occupied—he'd do pushups; eye the entrance curtain and beg oncoming opponents to come get a mudhole stomped in them; or simply sit atop a turnbuckle, check his imaginary watch and wait for the 90-second intervals to pass. He may not have been the crowd favorite when he entered the Alamodome, but his tough-S.O.B. antics that night won over more than just a few fans in the months and years ahead.

One could certainly empathize with No. 21 entrant Bret Hart, who actually tossed Austin over the ropes just as the Rumble thinned down to its final competitors. Unfortunately for the "Hit Man," referees were too busy to notice; they were on the opposite end of the floor, breaking up a chaotic slugfest between the just-eliminated Mankind and Terry Funk. The Texas Rattlesnake alertly slithered back in the ring undetected, dumped Undertaker and Vader to the outside, then recorded his tenth elimination of the night by doing the same to an unsuspecting Hart moments later. An incensed Excellence of Execution screamed at the officials, then announcers Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler, but the decision stood: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had won the 1997 Royal Rumble.

Ironically, a vacated WWE Championship and even more controversy would result in Austin becoming the first (and only) Rumble victor since 1993 not to receive a title match at WrestleMania (that honor ultimately fell to Undertaker). But even that couldn't stop the meteoric rise of one of WWE's legendary Superstars, an unprecedented three-time Royal Rumble winner, or his Over-the-Top Rumble Performance in 1997, which ranks a solid No. 3(:16).

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