Diesel (c) vs. Bret Hart
Prior to beginning work on this series of books, fellow author James Dixon and I sat down for an in-depth discussion on writing styles. With three different writers contributing articles to this project, we felt like it might be a good idea to try and project some personality into our writing in an attempt to break things up a little and keep things fresh without becoming stylistic clones of one another. That wasn’t really a problem for two of us, as Arnold Furious has been reviewing wrestling online for years and had already developed his style with a strong opinion melting through a traditional play-by-play approach. I myself tend to be more naturally analytical and considered in my musings, as I’ll often go away and think about a match for a while, occasionally jotting down my stream-of-conscious thoughts before rearranging them into something more flowing and match-appropriate. With James it was harder, as he fell into the fairly unique position of actively enjoying terrible wrestling whilst being able to see its flaws. That wasn’t to say he didn’t prefer a ***** classic, but his heart always had a soft spot for certain lunks that generally aren’t the kind of workers lauded by “smart fans.” In seeking a solution, I sent James a selection of reviews I’d done during my days as a music critic in which I’d surreptitiously rewritten online conversations a colleague and I had had about various singles and albums, into conversational review pieces. The results worked out spectacularly well, at least until said colleague quit to become a barman. Still, the format felt like a perfect fit for James, who could now bring his conflicting viewpoints to the fore, represented by the two sides of his personality; that which recognised what he was watching to be completely awful, and that which masochistically enjoyed it. Thus “Evil Ste” was born. The reason I bring all this up is due to this match, a match I find myself extremely conflicted by. Fortunately, “Evil Lee” is here to break it down with me:
EL: The first Diesel-Bret match came at the 1994 King of the Ring, and despite the crappy non-finish where Jim Neidhart screwed Diesel out of the title to keep the belt on Bret so Owen could win it, I always loved the match. I think at the time I was blown away by how good a match featuring Diesel was, because up to that point, besides his awesome stretch in that year’s Royal Rumble, the best match I’d probably seen him in was as Vinnie Vegas, with he and Mr. Hughes falling to the somewhat makeshift combination of Ron Simmons & Big Josh in WCW, and that was hardly a match worth tracking down. Either that or a squash match in which the Steiner Brothers had annihilated the Master Blasters, but again, nothing you really need to see. Otherwise, he’d been best served as Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard, standing outside the ring, looking imposing. After that, he’d go on to have some surprisingly good scraps with Razor Ramon over the Intercontinental title, and would have the second best match of his career at the 1995 Survivor Series, in the third of his pay-per-view quadrilogy with ‘the Hitman.’ So the first match had been shockingly good, and the third match had been utterly superb. But this match? The second act? The arc between the beginning and what you could reasonably call the end, should you choose to ignore the 1996 cage match? Good God did this one ever bore the hell out of me.
LM: But that’s only because you were Bret’s biggest fan back than and he didn’t win the title back!
EL: No, no. The match was a total snoozefest, and was completely ruined by all the outside interference.
LM: Well, maybe back then it felt that way, but watching it now with a critical eye, it’s a lot better than I remember it being.
EL: Shut up you fool, it’s deathly dull!
LM: It all makes sense though, pal. And it’s got a big fight atmosphere to it, that’s one thing you often got with Bret. You know how sometimes you just feel like you’re watching a professional wrestling performance? Not with Bret Hart in a WWF title match you didn’t. With him, it always felt like you were watching a cagey, sporting contest.
EL: That might well be true about it feeling like a big deal, at least as big as a deal as it can feel in this tiny-looking by WWF standards arena on a card with a Royal Rumble match featuring precisely two conceivable winners, Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy Smith, and practically no other contemporary name talent outside of Lex Luger or Owen Hart. But it absolutely does NOT make sense! Bret’s busy spending the early part of this match working over Diesel’s legs so he can set up that Sharpshooter, but hello, the Sharpshooter surely strains the lower back rather than the legs! He should be going for backbreakers and surfboards, or at least use the figure four to try and finish. I understand the psychology of getting the 7′ tall guy on his back, but working the legs to set up a move that hurts the back is just nonsense! I’d expect a lot better from Hart.
LM: But it’s all visual, isn’t it? He applies the move by wrapping his opponents legs around his, how is a kid supposed to know it’s actually the back that theoretically takes all the pain? I mean, most kids have been punched on the playground at some point, they know how it feels, they know it sucks and they can relate to seeing a guy get punched. But did you get put in the Sharpshooter after some kid took his ball and went home?
EL: Actually, no, I never got put in the Sharpshooter, but I put my mate in it once and he couldn’t walk for three days afterwards…
LM: So there you go then! Not being able to walk, working the legs, it all makes sense! And they’re working pretty damn hard too. That’s the thing about Kevin Nash’s run as Diesel. Having now lived through years of him half-assing his way through absurd WCW, WWE and TNA matches on big, fat guaranteed contracts and legs so thin even a flamingo would feel inadequate standing on them, re-watching his WWF run, at least the matches where he faced quality opposition like Hart, Ramon, Michaels, etc. you can really see the guy pulling his weight. He’s being carried, sure, but he’s holding up his end of the bargain. He’s certainly not “Big Lazy” yet like he would become when he realised he could get by on just an esoteric comedy promo, three moves and immaculately coiffured hair.
EL: Yes, Bret’s working hard. Yes, Diesel’s working hard. But they’re working hard for THAT dissatisfying finish! For those who don’t know, after close to thirty minutes, Owen Hart and Bob Backlund run in to destroy Bret, and Michaels runs in to destroy Diesel, along with Jeff Jarrett and the Roadie for some reason, presumably to set up some Diesel-Jarrett matches, one of which is coming up next on this very tape. It is an utterly INFURIATING resolution to something they were asking you to invest a significant chunk of time in. Just a total slap in the face.
LM: Well, indeed. But look at the bigger picture here. The non-finishes in the first two matches only served to set up the relaxed rules Survivor Series scrap, and make that match an even bigger event that it would have been had they split clean finishes over the first two bouts.
EL: I don’t know, I think you’re going a little easy on it and you’re looking for things that aren’t there. They weren’t planning a third match at that point, so this was just an insult to the paying customer.
LM: I’m not saying they had plans for a third match, I’m just saying it worked out that way. Happenstance. Anyway, I think you’re being a little harsh on it because the work is there. There’s a clear story, there’s psychology… it’s actually something of a throwback in terms of a slow building bout and layering psychology in. You’re just down on it because of the flat ending. Let’s just split the difference and call it ***½.
Final Rating: ***½
I’d be remiss in not pointing out the annoying mini music videos that play between every single match, all just a selection of clips of “Big D” doing his thing as his harmonica-led theme tune chugs away in the background, and boy, does that ever start to grate on the lugholes fast. Of note, the intro video shows Diesel destroying a string of geeks in quick succession, most notably Aldo Montoya (a/k/a Justin Credible), Chris Kanyon, and a guy who appears to be future Baldie/Carnage Crew member Tony DeVito. It’s like watching a surreal dream; “I had a crazy dream last night bro’, it was Kevin Nash in his ‘Big Daddy Cool’ days destroying the undercard of ECW over the opening credits of Roseanne!”
Diesel (c) vs. Jeff Jarrett
These two had a dark match at a Superstars taping about six or seven weeks prior to this that you can see on Brawl in the Family, but this meeting is going out on live TV so naturally, they’ve got their working boots on, and Jarrett’s the Intercontinental champion now, giving him a lot more credibility in going against Diesel than he had previously. Here, since Jarrett is more of a legitimate threat to the title rather than a throwaway opponent, the goofy spots are toned way down, and it makes for a better match overall. Not that it isn’t without it’s comedic elements, particularly during one spot where Diesel and Jarrett’s corner man the Roadie nearly split poor old Jeff in half when using him as the rope for their own personal tug o’ war contest. Never mind ‘Double J’, he very nearly became ‘Quadruple J’ there. Sadly, there’s a clip to cover a commercial break, and the action resumes just in time to find Jarrett getting the heat on Diesel, though it doesn’t help that they almost miss their cue. Either that, or it was a pretty poor editing job, but it takes away from the flow of the match because now Jarrett’s dominating things, but it’s not entirely clear how the match arrived at that point. I think Diesel fell out of the ring or something like that, and from that point on there’s a minimum of silliness as Jarrett gets his licks in, only for ‘Big Daddy Cool’ to mount his comeback in rather standard Diesel fashion, finishing with what else, but the Jacknife powerbomb. Nice to see a clean pin, though why they chose to sacrifice the Intercontinental champion like that when they had guys like Tatanka around who weren’t being strongly pushed beats me. The Roadie eats a post-match Jacknife too. His dreadlocked hair with shaved undersides made all his bumps look brutal, flying around as they did. Incidental titbit – this venue, the Macon Coliseum, was the same arena Scott Hall made his infamous WCW Monday Nitro debut in.
Final Rating: **¾
Diesel (c) vs. King Kong Bundy
When discussing the changes brought about by the WWF’s New Generation (read, post-steroid years), apologists and fanboys are quick to bring up the shift of emphasis towards younger, smaller, more athletic workers like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. What often gets lost in the discussion is that Vince McMahon never lost his fascination with size. The problem was, he couldn’t go out and sign the sort of steroids-for-breakfast, puffed-up slugs he previously had done, and his answer became “fat.” Lots of fat. Tubs o’ goo. Lardy boys like Bam Bigelow and Yokozuna became prized assets on account of their doughy girth. It’s the reason King Kong Bundy was rehired in 1994 to become part of Ted DiBiase’s stinky Million Dollar Corporation, one of the worst stables of midcard losers ever assembled. They place somewhere above Vincent’s nWo B-Team and Heath Slater’s 3 Man Band, but somewhere below Wade Barrett’s Corre. Bundy didn’t really do anything of note during his second WWF tenure, besides lose to the Undertaker at WrestleMania XI as part of Undertaker’s not-yet established winning streak. This match is kind of a metaphor for that, as Bundy and Diesel do almost nothing for the vast majority of their allotted six minutes. Yes, a WWF Title match during this supposed “new generation” of gifted, grafting grapplers went six minutes… and they spent a full NINETY SECONDS of it in a chinlock! Give over! Bundy then goes for the avalanche, which misses, then Diesel drops him with an admittedly impressive flying clothesline, and that’s enough for the pin on the grounds that Bundy was far too porky to take the Jacknife. That clothesline, by the way, was the only offensive move Diesel got in the entire match. Say, why do they call him “Big Lazy” again? Realistically though, it’s not like he could have done all that much else with him anyway. Brutally bad match, with only the most marginal of redeeming finishes.
Final Rating: ¼*
Diesel (c) vs. Owen Hart
Like the Bundy match, this is only about six minutes long too, but it’s much, much better because Owen can actually move, is a lot more animated, and doesn’t need to have a rest after those first three gruelling minutes. On top of that, Diesel is way more motivated here than he was against Bundy. Actually, he was way more motivated in his WWF run in general than he would become once WCW sank its big fat contractual claws into him and he made a packet off acting cool and brushing his hair. I mean, here, with Shawn Michaels out at ringside to distract him, he even takes a flying bump over the top rope off an Owen dropkick to the back. Name another time other than his run as WWF Champion when Kevin Nash went above and beyond like that to get a match over? And it’s really great, because the fans actually bought it and started to believe Owen could win the title, despite his having spent most of the second half of 1994 putting his brother Bret over and largely exhausting his title opportunities. That one single spot alone made him a threat again. But alas, it was not to be, and the Jacknife finishes in the blink of an eye. Really good stuff that felt like a “proper” match rather than the quickie throwaway TV match it actually was. Owen Hart was just about the king of the exciting five minute match, and you can add this to those Saturday Night’s Main Event and King of the Ring ’94 bouts with Ted DiBiase and the 1-2-3 Kid respectively as further evidence of that.
Final Rating: ***
Diesel (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
Sadly, this is joined in progress. They just HAD to get that Bundy match in there, didn’t they? This of course is the infamous match in which Michaels, vying for the top spot in the promotion, had told his real-life buddy Diesel that he was going to work rings around him, blow him up and steal the show. Consequently, despite still being portrayed as heel, he worked this match more-or-less in a babyface capacity, drawing a huge, sympathetic reaction from the audience in the process. Of course, that was all fine and dandy given that he was turning full-on babyface in an angle with his bodyguard Sid the next night at the RAW tapings, but it really made for some ass-backwards psychology here. In fact, Shawn even gets a visual pin on Diesel after referee Earl Hebner twists his knee jumping to the outside and can’t get back in to make the count, causing colour commentator Jerry Lawler to bark: “This gimp can’t do his job!” He gets one-upped by Vince McMahon however, who belts out “It’s just like pulling a turnip!” as Diesel pulls Shawn around by his tights. No, I’ve no idea what that means either. So after Shawn’s babyface spots and a patch of brawling, they blow a slingshot onto an exposed turnbuckle bolt by being positioned too far across the ring for Shawn to make contact. But hell, he’s Shawn Michaels, you know? Consequently, he takes the middle turnbuckle instead, full in the face too, made even more brutal by the camera angle. Even when he gets it wrong, it goes right. Jacknife, and that’s all she wrote as Diesel leaves the ring with both his celebrity guest valet, Pamela Anderson, and Shawn’s, Jenny McCarthy. Kevin Nash might talk about his “shades of grey” late ’95/early ’96 character setting the blueprint for Steve Austin to become ‘Stone Cold’, but he was more like the prototype Tommy Dreamer here. He took ’em both, he was hardcore. It’s kind of tough to rate the match properly though, owing to the fact that half of it is missing here, and I’d almost certainly go higher if the full thing was included.
Final Rating: ***¼
Summary: You’ll notice that besides the Bundy match, this tape basically just showcases Diesel against four guys who can all work and bump around him to make him look great, padded out with between match highlights packages, and still they couldn’t find enough footage to fill up a complete hour. To be fair, Diesel had only been a babyface for about six months, but the fact he was both the WWF Champion and the face of the company yet didn’t get any further home video releases dedicate to him, should tell you all you need to know about the general quality of his run on top, especially when you consider the frequency with which previous WWF kingpin Hulk Hogan had video profiles released about him.