Lee Maughan: Hosted by Todd Pettengill, joy of joys.
Jerry Lawler vs. Bret Hart
Right off the bat you know this tape is a load of hot nonsense because not only wasn’t this the best match on the first In Your House, it wasn’t even the best Bret Hart match on the first In Your House! That distinction would go to his underrated effort with Hakushi (Jinsei Shinzaki) in the opener, which you can find on both the awesome Bret Hart: The Best There Is, the Best There Was, the Best There Ever Will Be DVD release from 2005 and the Best of In Your House DVD and Blu-ray set from 2013, and it would have been a preferable inclusion here, though the WWF’s internal politics dictated otherwise, with Hakushi’s babyface turn and subsequent depush killing his value to the promotion by the time this tape was released. Credit to the WWF though for managing to drag another run of pay-per-view conflicts out of a Hart-Lawler feud that was close to being two years old by this point. Not that their matches ever really amounted to much, and this is just a very standard outing for the pair, which is to say that it’s pretty good when Bret’s on offence and rather pedestrian when Lawler takes over. Lawler as a working heel in the mid 90s was a master of crowd manipulation, but it wasn’t half boring to watch him slowly stroll around the ring, concealing punches from the referee for ten minutes at a time. Bret of course mounts his requisite comeback before the referee gets wiped out and Hakushi returns to avenge his earlier loss to the “Hitman” by flying off the top rope with a flying axehandle, which looks really awkward because Bret has to move into position for it in a rather blatant manner. Hakushi follows that up with a pair of flying headbutts, the second one as Earl Hebner pulls a Bret and awkwardly pretends to not see it happening, and that’s enough to give Lawler the pin on a roll-through. Decidedly average stuff.
Final Rating: **
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Jeff Jarrett (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
Rather sadly, this is joined in progress, although most of the match remains intact and much of what was cut consisted primarily of entrances and posturing, which is actually odd for a WWF release to eschew the sizzle in favour of the steak. And there’s certainly a lot of steak on offer here as this is just a mechanically brilliant match. Watching it at the time, I was absolutely gripped by the story being told and the quality of the wrestling on display, although with years of hindsight, some may find fault with the bout’s pacing. There’s nothing wrong with the actual timing of any of the moves, but there are a brief handful of moments in which the action slows just enough to prevent the match from being remembered as an all-time classic. Still, every single slow spot is punctuated by an exciting high spot that pays off logically within the context of everything that’s already happened. It’s a real masterclass in subtly layering things into a match so that it means so much more later on. On top of that, Shawn’s big bumping style meshes perfectly with Jarrett’s old-school Memphis ‘rasslin tricks, though even that has been updated with a 90’s moveset, and man alive did “Double J” ever have a sweet dropkick! Credit must also go to Jarrett’s second, the Roadie, who plays the outside-the-ring nuisance to perfection, much like Michaels had done as Diesel’s manager in 1994. His timing is absolutely bang on the money, especially for the key spot of the match in which he and Jarrett plot to have him trip Michaels from the floor, with Roadie turning his back to the ring, not seeing Michaels reverse Jarrett’s whip and resultantly tripping Jarrett instead, allowing Michaels to land a superkick for the pin and his first (and last) Intercontinental Title as a babyface. In lesser hands, that spot could have looked completely corny or easily gone awry and spoilt the finish entirely, but Roadie absolutely nailed it, leading to his and Jarrett’s on-screen break-up and eventual grudge match at SummerSlam ’95. Or at least, it would have done had Jarrett not quit the promotion in protest over the WWF opting to reveal that it had actually been the Roadie who’d performed the vocals on Jarrett’s country and western song With My Baby Tonight, Mille Vanilli style, so soon into their feud. Jarrett would return later in the year before quitting again in 1996 and jumping to WCW to become one of the worst group members the Four Horsemen ever had. Besides Paul Roma.
Final Rating: ****½
Goldust vs. Marty Jannetty
Joined in progress once again, this one just in time for a truly electrifying chinlock. Because if you’re debuting a new character, do it in the least engaging way possible. Not that the match doesn’t have some exciting spots, with Jannetty at one point actually snapmareing Goldust over the top to the floor, before taking a hell of a bump himself off a shove into the ringpost, but it isn’t long before it’s back to the chinlock in this important pay-per-view match. Ho hum. They badly blow a Fabulous Rougeau Brothers-style backflip-over-the-opponent’s-back escape, and it’s hard to tell who was at fault on it, but Jannetty gamely tries to rescue things by missing a crossbody in the corner. More miscommunication comes after a Rocker Dropper with Jannetty going to the top for a fist drop, Goldust rolling out of harm’s way, then Jannetty just standing there for a while before dropping an elbow on Goldust’s bonce. A second top rope fist drop leads to Jannetty eating boot, and Goldust finishes not with the Curtain Call, but with a gourdbuster (front-landing suplex, as favoured by the Anderson Brothers.) A bad way for Goldust to debut as neither guy looked to be on the same page, and I figure this only made the cut on account of the fact the Goldust gimmick was something they were pushing hard at the time of this compilation’s release. Such are the politics of pro wrestling videotapes I suppose.
Final Rating: *½
The Undertaker vs. King Mabel
Two principal issues arrive during this casket match. Firstly, with Undertaker on the verge of winning, he gets attacked by Mabel’s Men on a Mission tag team partner Mo. Why is this not a disqualification? It was never explicitly stated beforehand that this was a no disqualification match. If casket rules were standard wrestling protocol and bouts ending in pinfalls were rarely-used gimmicks, would the rules be switched? “Hey, this is a pinfall match! You can’t do a DQ in a pinfall match!” Listen, I know what you’re thinking. I know you’re remembering how the precedent had already been set at the 1994 Royal Rumble when Undertaker was assaulted by twelve different guys and the match continued, and that it needs to be taken as read that a casket match comes with an unspoken no-disqualification stipulation on account of the usual introductory verbiage about how “this match can only end when one of the two participants is placed into the casket, and the lid closed firmly shut”, but if that’s the case, why did it take Mo so long to get involved? Ego on the part of Mabel? Idiocy on the part of Men on a Mission? Both? I guess egocentric idiocy isn’t something to knock when you’re talking about heels, but it sure beats talking about what a short, crappy match this is. Imagine every Undertaker match from his bad period (i.e. 1992-1995) where he had an opponent so huge he couldn’t actually do the Tombstone on him. Now subtract the rope walk and add “blob in a box” where ordinarily you would think “pinfall”, and there you have it.
Final Rating: ½*
Steel Cage Match
Bret Hart (c) vs. Diesel
It’s funny, but whenever I think of the series of matches Bret Hart had with Diesel in the WWF, I always think of them as having had a pay-per-view trilogy. King of the Ring ‘94, Royal Rumble ‘95, and Survivor Series ‘95. I almost always forget this one, partially due to the fact that it came on a lesser ‘B-show’, and partially because it just doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned three. In fact, when I think of Hart vs. Diesel matches, I’m usually more inclined to think about the lesser-known February ‘94 match the pair had that was tucked away on the old WrestleFest ‘94 tape than this cage match. In large part, it’s forgetability comes from the fact the match was largely meaningless, with Diesel’s bout against the Undertaker at WrestleMania XII all but set in stone by the time this match took place, as was Shawn Michaels’ crack at Bret Hart’s WWF Title by virtue of his having won the 1996 Royal Rumble. That’s partly why the WWF booked Michaels to put his title shot on the line against Owen Hart earlier on this same show, but ultimately it was just another anti-climactic offering given the predictable outcome of things. What if Owen had won the number one contendership and Diesel won the title? Where would that leave Bret, Undertaker and Michaels? In later years, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the promotion push a four-corners main event, but they wouldn’t get into the habit of those matches until the summer of ‘96, and even that was limited to just tag teams at first. It would actually take WWE until No Way Out in 2008 to figure out how to present a February pay-per-view with genuine consequences (save perhaps for In Your House 13: Final Four when the promotion had its hand forced by Michaels vacating the title on Thursday Raw Thursday) when they began putting up WrestleMania title shots in Elimination Chamber matches, somewhat damaging the importance of winning the Royal Rumble. But then that’s the price you pay for trying to promote two World Titles at the same time and insisting on stop-gap filler events.
On top of all that there’s the fact this match just isn’t all that exciting, which isn’t helped by the standard “escape” rules of WWF cage matches, because without pin attempts you remove all the potential heat generated by near falls, and in Diesel, you’ve got a guy inhibited by his own limited mobility. Even back then I don’t think anybody could realistically envision Kevin Nash scrambling up and down a cage, taking bumps and hanging off the bars to try and create drama in the way Bret had done with Owen in their cage clash at SummerSlam ‘94. Also going against it (or for it, depending on your point of view) is the finish, in which the Undertaker broke through the ring canvas to pull Diesel down into the bowels of Hornswoggle’s magic house underneath the ring, where he gets a trouser leg ripped amidst a presumed sea of emergency pre-broken tables and reinforced ladders, as ghoulish smoke billows through the hole. Over the years that followed, Bret would claim to have been made to look weak in comparison to Michaels heading into WrestleMania, and the finish here is just another example of that as he was all but a beaten man until Undertaker stuck his oar in. Post-match, Diesel reemerges from the pit and climbs out of the ring in four gigantic strides, completely exposing just how easily he could have escaped and won the title in a complete burial of the psychology of the match you’d just paid to see. Oh, Nash.
Final Rating: **½
Summary: So, is this really the greatest matches of the pre-Shawn Michaels: WWF Champion In Your House era? In a word, no. As mentioned, Bret Hart vs. Hakushi would have been a preferable choice to Hart vs. Jerry Lawler from In Your House 1. The largely useless In Your House 4 is represented by a drawn-out debut for Goldust, which could have been excised in favour of the underrated Bret Hart-Jean Pierre Lafitte match from the absent In Your House 3. ‘The Hitman’ again is responsible for the best outing of In Your House 5, a bloody battle with brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith. And it’s Shawn Michaels’ scrap with Owen Hart that steals the show at In Your House 6, yet all of those matches are strangely omitted in favour of lesser outings. In fact, the only match which earns its billing here is Michaels’ Intercontinental Title win over Jeff Jarrett, and even that is soured by clipping. On top of all of that, the existence of this tape has been entirely negated by the 2013 release of The Best of In Your House on DVD and Blu-ray, which is much closer to presenting a “greatest hits” compilation of the series. On that basis, I can’t possibly recommend seeking this one out.