Lee Maughan: Hosted by Paul Bearer, who’s just had a “hard job” down in his embalming room. Incidentally, this tape came coupled with the free gift of a “3D action card.” Man alive, I hope it didn’t depict what Uncle Paul was getting up to!
Mabel vs. Yokozuna
This would be your classic example of how to kick things off with an all-out spotfest, with Mabel landing a picture perfect space flying tiger drop as Yokozuna is still making his entrance, but Yokozuna fights back with a sky twister press and an incredible 1080° atomic moon bomb. Yeah, right. Actually, they spend the entirety of the first half of the match staring holes through one another and addressing the crowd at every moderate instance of the noise level rising. To be fair to them, once they actually get going there’s a lot more action than you’d expect from two five hundred-plus pound lummoxes, and it’s impossible not to be impressed with Yokozuna’s belly-to-belly suplex. The pair of them also throw a couple of bodyslams, and get some decent air on a pair of leg drops, though Michael Jordan wouldn’t exactly be quaking in his Nikes when it comes to challenging his hang time. Certainly, neither guy is capable of doing much to the other for any particular length of time, but they do work hard at making sure the spectacle of seeing two blobs collide is more than met, and on that end, the match can only be considered a success. A terrible, terrible success. Yay for enjoying awful professional wrestling! Boo for the lame double count-out cop out finish. Still, the fact Mabel was the clear babyface made it a damn sight better than their horrendous heel-heel encounter from In Your House 4.
Final Rating: *
Lex Luger vs. Rick Martel
What a largely nondescript choice for an inclusion this is, as Lex Luger, fresh off his latest failure to win a World title, in this case from Yokozuna at WrestleMania X, gets rehabbed by a game ‘Model’ Rick Martel. Indeed, Lex shows plenty of energy right from the off, and Martel bumps around the ring at every available opportunity as commentator Vince McMahon tries to blame Luger’s inability to capture the WWF title on special guest referee Mr. Perfect, all the while ignoring the fact that Perfect owed Luger one from way back at WrestleMania IX. Yes, it’s another one of those weird little WWF idiosyncrasies in which they ask the audience to recall a piece of history in the vaguest manner possible, without ever explaining, despite their own tendency to ignore history anyway. It’s like they have this built-in back-story that’s an absolutely perfect starting point for a brand new angle, but they’re afraid to mention it, leaving the majority of viewers to second guess it for themselves. And as for anyone who does actually remember what went down, Luger not only comes across as a loser, but as a whiny little prick too, presumably because that’s what good, wholesome, All-American heroes do.
Still, the action is pretty good, at least when there is action. It’s all in the ring with no fighting to the floor, and it’s all very credible stuff. As someone who’s watched a fair bit of WWE in the company of family members, this is the kind of thing I wish they’d see more of; just a basic, straight up, competitive match. For me as a fan, it’s a lot less excruciating to sit through than having to explain why there’s a camera in the hotel room when Alberto Del Rio dumps faeces all over the Big Show, or why a casket suddenly floats down to the ring and Randy Orton starts levitating, or whatever the hell that nonsense I saw was. Every time a family member switches to Sky Sports during the adverts on The Chase and catches John Cena making poop jokes, I die a little inside knowing that this is what they think I like when I say I’m a wrestling fan. Yes, this match went on a little too long. Yes, this match had a needless over-reliance on sitting in side headlocks. Yes, Luger’s punches were appallingly wooden. But goddamn, I’d watch this every day of the week and twice on Sunday if this kind of pro wrestling still existed, without any the self-referential bullshit, childish horseplay and smug, know-it-all-ism that the late 2000s and early 2010s brought. Yes, I’ll have “Made in the USA” throwing up some Canadian berk in a torture rack, thank you very much. Still not quite sure what I wasn’t supposed to believe about the match though, but there you go.
Final Rating: **½
Randy Savage vs. Jerry Lawler
This is a match with an absolutely terrific amount of history attached to it, as these two ran opposition groups in the Tennessee and Kentucky area, Savage with his father and brother (Angelo and Lanny Poffo) and Lawler with Jerry Jarrett. The Lawler/Jarrett Continental Wrestling Association group was the established outfit in the region, and at times had ties with the NWA and the AWA, whilst the Poffo-led International Championship Wrestling was considered an outlaw promotion, founded in 1978 to rival Ron Fuller’s Southeastern Championship Wrestling and Nick Gulas’ NWA Mid-American promotion. In those days, most promoters refused to cross into another promoter’s “territory”, and most aligned themselves with the monopolistic National Wrestling Alliance. That group not only shunned the independent outfits, but also attempted to hurt anyone foolish enough to run without the NWA’s approval, frequently loading up affiliated rival promotions’ cards with top talent in attempts to run the wannabes out of town. Mind you, it’s not like the Poffo family ever played fair themselves, with Savage, the top star in the promotion, routinely appearing on ICW television to run down Lawler, Jarrett, Bill Dundee and others, making grandstand challenges he knew the CWA boys couldn’t answer, even going to so far as to show up with a TV crew outside Lawler’s house and challenge him to a fight, knowing full well that Lawler was out of town. Still, the smell of violence in the air escalated in January 1980, when Savage arrived at a CWA event in Lexington, telling Lawler’s manager Jimmy Hart that he was there to take Lawler out. As fate would have it, Lawler wasn’t there that evening, having broken both bones in his lower left leg playing a game of touch football with his pals. Savage instead turned his attention to number two star Dundee, and the entire ICW roster bought tickets to get into the building with the intention of causing a disturbance during Dundee’s main event match that night. As fate would have it, a fan attacked Hart during the match prior to the main event, causing a riot unrelated to the ICW wrestlers. With the police quickly arriving to calm the situation, none of the ICW wrestlers dared to make a move, and Dundee’s match passed without incident. Not that Dundee got off scot free though, as he would later bump into Savage, Angelo Poffo, Pez Whatley and Thunderbolt Patterson. Following a verbal exchange, Dundee is reported to have produced a gun, which Savage took control of, pistol whipping the diminutive Dundee and breaking his jaw in the process. Dundee denies this, though he did miss several weeks of action, eventually returning to television with facial bruising, and his claims that his attackers were “nine-feet tall” does harm his credibility somewhat.
By 1983 however, the landscape had changed. The ICW was dead due to dwindling fan attendance, perhaps brought about in part due to Savage and co’s obsession with wasting their valuable TV time talking about the CWA instead of their own matches. The bitterness however wouldn’t stop Jarrett from doing what was right for business, and he and Lawler purchased the assets of ICW, bringing Savage and the rest of the Poffo clan into the CWA for a memorable main event run of matches pitting Savage and Lawler as not only the best of enemies, but the bitterest of tag team partners too. Their first match, a test-run bout only advertised locally in Lexington without any sort of TV hype or on-screen angle, drew a massive 8,000 fans to a routine Rupp Arena spot show, and their first “properly” advertised match on December 5th, 1983 doubled their Mid-South Coliseum average attendance for that year, pulling an 8,012 crowd. That made it the fourth-highest attended show of the year for a group that ran that same venue every single Monday night, only trailing two appearances from legendary performance artist Andy Kaufman in handicap matches with Lawler, and Lawler’s challenge to Nick Bockwinkel’s AWA World Championship. The Savage-Lawler feud rumbled on for the entirety of 1984, with Savage’s run with the promotion coming to something of a premature end when he was signed away to the bright lights of the World Wrestling Federation and debuting there in early 1985, but a business arrangement between the WWF and Lawler’s Memphis-based CWA replacement the USWA in 1992 led to a resumption of hostilities. Savage returned to the area in 1993 to battle Lawler once more as part of a cross-promotional angle pitting Lawler and Jeff Jarrett against Vince McMahon and the WWF’s finest.
Unfortunately, the WWF invasion angle was kept strictly to Memphis TV, and with this particular match in the Savage-Lawler series coming under the WWF banner, the angle is never mentioned, and their entire history ignored completely. Such is life on planet McMahon. Savage and Lawler are both well aware of that fact too, and enter performances to show it. The eschew the shine portion of proceedings entirely, jumping right into Lawler’s heat segment. ‘The King’ was an undoubted master of psychology, crowd control, and getting the most out of the least, but goodness me, could he ever be boring. Savage meanwhile, one of wrestling’s most intense personalities ever, shows no fire whatsoever, and in fact it’s Bret Hart who shows the most energy here, chasing Lawler back to the ring when he decides he can’t be bothered to deal with Savage’s comeback. The big elbow finishes about six minutes into a match that felt at least twice as long as that, which is never good. The question is, was it better or worse than the Yokozuna-Mabel match featured earlier in the tape? That’s entirely subjective of course, but I don’t think anyone can doubt that while the tape-opening “Battle of the Bulge” was pretty bad, it was still probably better than anyone could have expected it would be, whereas this was just a major, major disappointment. Anyone who’s seen those classic Savage-Lawler battles from ’84 would surely attest to that.
Final Rating: ½*
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Quebecers (c) vs. The Headshrinkers
Here’s quite the forgotten gem, as despite it’s somewhat broad availability (you can find it attached to both the Paul Bearer’s Hits from the Crypt and 1994 Year in Review tapes, as well as on the RAW: The Beginning – The Best of Seasons 1 & 2 DVD set), it’s not a match you ever hear talked up as great, or even very good. Not in the annals of great tag team matches, not as a Raw classic, not as one of 1994’s best, nothing. And that’s a shame, because it’s pretty damn fantastic. I think the problem comes down to how underrated both these teams really were. Fatu was very agile for his size, and took some big-time bumps, while his real-life cousin Samu had debuted in 1980 and been a WWF regular during the early part of that decade, and was a very good veteran hand by 1994. Jacques meanwhile had been around the business his entire life (his great uncle Eddie Auger, father Jacques, Sr. and uncle Johnny all wrestled, as did his two brothers, Raymond and Armand), and had been in the ring since 1977. He and older brother Raymond had been with the WWF for several years as the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, but as capable a worker as Raymond was, in many ways their team was eclipsed by the Quebecers, owing to Pierre’s youth, enthusiasm and an uncanny ability to bump around the ring like a cruiserweight, despite his stocky frame.
When you throw into that mix a red hot crowd, a few time-tested tricks (the Quebecers bail on the match only to have referee Earl Hebner threaten to strip them of the titles if they don’t come back out to defend them), unique double-teams (the Quebecers’ assisted cannonball from the top in particular) and nary a lull in the action, you’ve got a really fun match. Perhaps the fact these teams don’t carry the same level of gravitas the likes of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart et al do hurts their standing amongst fans, or their relative lack of a back catalogue of classic matches results in their names not being at the forefront of the mind when it comes to discussing 1994’s best. It’s a total shame because this is purely FUN professional wrestling, and sometimes, that’s all it needs to be.
Final Rating: ***½
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Razor Ramon (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
This is it. The match that changed everything. Wrestling as it was known was blown wide open, and wrestling as it would become was blueprinted right here. Okay, it didn’t change the fortunes of an entire promotion like Hulk Hogan winning the WWF title or the New World Order debuting in WCW were able to do, but all those high risk stunt matches you saw in the 2000s? Here’s the genesis of all that. Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz destroying their bodies in those unforgettable TLC matches? Those were a direct result of Ramon vs. Michaels, with a dash of ECW sprinkled on top for good measure. Certainly an influential outing then, helped to its status as a long-standing classic by its placement on a WrestleMania card. It’s possible its esteem would be lowered had it only been included on a throwaway home video like the Michaels-Bret Hart ladder match from 1992. I must admit though, that I do belong to the school of thought that regards the SummerSlam ’95 rematch as being better than the original, largely on the grounds that it tells a better story, and has more drama. This match is more just a collection of outrageous bumps and stunts, every last one of them hit to immaculate perfection, none of which had ever been seen before, and it set the template for the spectacular car crash stunt show wrestling that was to come in the years that followed. Little wonder then that it took pretty much unanimous match of the year honours for 1994 from all who saw it, including respected publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Power Slam, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and the Pro Wrestling Torch. A match you absolutely owe it to yourself to see then, and if you’re an avid Coliseum collector or DVD devotee, chances are sooner or later, you will.
Final Rating: *****
Summary: While there’s no denying the ladder match is an absolute classic for the ages, one would have to presume that any serious collector would already have it in his or her archives, and given the amount of times WWE have included it on various compilation releases throughout the years, chances are even the casual VHS, DVD and/or Blu-ray buyer already has at least one copy of it laying around somewhere. The two RAW matches both made it onto the RAW: The Beginning – The Best of Seasons 1 & 2 DVD set, which is worth owning if you can find it for a reasonable price, and Savage vs. Lawler comes from the second Bloopers, Bleeps & Bodyslams tape, which is much more readily available than this. That leaves just Mabel vs. Yokozuna as the sole exclusive match on offer here, and if you’re the kind of person who feels they need that match in their lives, my only suggestion is to seek psychological help.