Cactus Jack gave the first nationally televised interview of his career on NWA Power Hour when he appeared on Funk’s Grill. Cactus was visibly nervous and had some strange lines (onions taste a little like owl apparently), and no one would have ever suspected that he would become one of the best promos in wrestling by the halfway point of the decade. Also on the show, Arn Anderson defended the TV title against Buzz Sawyer in a solid match taped on January 9 in Saginaw, MI. The show drew a strong 2.7 rating.
The USWA ran a fun six-man at the Dallas Sportatorium when Bill Dundee, Chris Adams and Eric Embry teamed to face Billy Joe Travis, Gary Young and Skandor Akbar in a *** match.
EMLL held its weekly Friday night show at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City. The highlight was a ***1/2 match where Pierroth Jr., Halcon Ortiz & Ulises faced America Rocca, Javier Llanes and Huracan Ramirez II.
Jumbo Tsuruta defeated Stan Hansen to regain the AJPW Triple Crown in Matsumoto, Japan, in a disappointing match considering how great both men were at this stage of their respective careers.
The WWF held the Royal Rumble in Miami, FL in what was likely the best pay-per-view they had ever done at that point in time time. Hulk Hogan won the Rumble match itself, last eliminating top rival Earthquake, setting him up nicely for WrestleMania. However, the WWF World Title also changed hands when Sgt. Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior in a fun match after a big assist from Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri. Savage and Sherri may have worked harder than Warrior and Slaughter in carrying that match, as they were very active at ringside. Savage picking up the light fixture and attacking Warrior with it remains one of my favorite weapon shots in wrestling history. That was not the first encounter between the Warrior and Sherri that night, as Sherri quite suggestively indicated that she would give oral pleasure to Warrior if he would give Savage a title shot. Warrior snorted out the word “Noooo!”, which set up the title change. Also on the show, in what has to be the only time something of the sort has happened, Dusty Rhodes teamed with Dustin Rhodes against Ted DiBiase and Virgil after WCW hired Dusty Rhodes to return to the company as head booker. So we had the WCW booker working on a WWF pay-per-view. Dusty gave notice to the WWF a few weeks before this match; however, he was tight-lipped about his return. Legend has it that even legendary NWA promoter Sam Muchnick asked Dusty if he was returning and Dusty said no. One of the in-ring highlights of the show came when the Big Boss Man defeated The Barbarian in a *** match early on the card. The match was a solid big man match with some interesting spots that was better than you might think. The match of the night was the show opener, as Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty teamed against the Orient Express in a standout ***3/4 match. The show did 440,000 buys, making it the most successful pay-per-view of the year, even outdrawing WrestleMania. You can watch the show on the WWE Network.
Universal Lucha Libre, often referred to as Hamada’s UWF, ran Korakuen Hall and featured a **** match where Lightning Kid, Jerry Lynn and Dr. Wagner Jr. took on Dos Caras, Silver King and El Texano. The match was a fantastic blend of American, Japanese and Mexican styles.
The WWF held the Royal Rumble in Albany, NY, in front of 17,000 fans. Ric Flair became the WWF World Champion and won the vacant title after drawing number three and wrestling for a full hour. The Rumble match was probably the best of its kind and was notable for the live audience booing Hulk Hogan when he helped Flair pull Sid Justice out of the ring after Sid eliminated him from the match. Also on the show, Roddy Piper defeated The Mountie to win the WWF Intercontinental title, the only championship Piper ever held in the company up to that point in history. The show did 260,000 buys, which was a major drop from the previous year and a foreshadowing of the upcoming decline. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.
The UWA ran a show in Naucalpan, with Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit) teaming with Negro Casas against El Hijo del Santo and Villano III in a ***1/4 match.
Toshiaki Kawada defended the AJPW Triple Crown against Kenta Kobashi in a ****1/2 match in Osaka. The region was hit by an earthquake two days earlier, and according to legend, Baba changed the planned finish from Kawada defeating Kobashi to a broadway to give something special to the locals in a bad time. This would be Kawada’s only successful defense of the title in this reign.
GAEA held a card at Korakuen Hall which was highlighted by Mayumi Ozaki, Sugar Sato and Chikayo Nagashima facing Chigusa Nagayo, Sonoko Kato and Meiko Satomura in a ***1/4 match.
The WWF held the Royal Rumble at the Alamadome in San Antonio, TX, in front of 60,525 fans. Believe it or not, the number was actually a mild disappointment, as the WWF hoped to draw in excess of 70,000 fans. The show was built around Shawn Michaels’ quest to regain the WWF World Title after losing it to Psycho Sid two months earlier at Survivor Series. Michaels wrestled the match with a heavy case of the flu, which was to the detriment of the match, but he did regain the title. Also on the show, Steve Austin won the Rumble match, last eliminating Bret Hart in the first screwjob finish the match ever had, as Bret eliminated Austin while the ringside referees were distracted, and Austin snuck back in the ring to throw Bret over the top rope and win the match. The show did 244,000 buys, the second highest of the year for the WWF, ahead of WrestleMania and behind only Survivor Series. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.
WCW Monday Nitro aired live and drew 20,614 fans to the Superdome in New Orleans, LA, nearly doubling the attendance of the 1997 show in an early sign that WCW was en route to its biggest year ever. The show was headlined by Hulk Hogan vs The Giant, with The Giant scoring the upset. Also on the show, Ric Flair and Bret Hart had another great verbal sparring to hype their upcoming match at Souled Out. The show did a strong 4.5 rating and was also notable as the last two-hour Nitro for the next two years. The change was successful at first until WCW overstated the airwaves.
WWF Monday Night RAW aired live from Fresno, CA, and drew 7,329 fans for one of the most memorable segments in wrestling history when Steve Austin interrupted Vince McMahon’s planned announcement for Mike Tyson at WrestleMania, talked some trash and flipped him off, which led to a pull-apart between the two with Vince trying to kick Austin from the apron and screaming “You ruined it!” at him in an iconic visual. Also on the show, DX mocked the Undertaker by hosting a barbecue and wearing “Suck The Cook” aprons before Shawn turned his attention to Austin’s title shot at WrestleMania XIV in a serious moment. Even though Nitro won the night, the show closed the gap by drawing a 4.0 rating. It was yet another sign that the WWF was reversing their fortunes and was on the right track. You can watch this show on the WWE Network.