James Dixon: 1995 is probably my least favourite year in WWF history, so I wasn’t looking forward to this even before I saw that the running time was nearly three hours. Presented by Dok Hendrix and a keyboard. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…
Diesel (c) vs. Bret Hart
We appear to be going through things chronologically, which makes a change, with this particular meeting between Diesel and Hart coming from the Royal Rumble. We are joined in progress with Bret in control, cracking Diesel in the legs with a chair and locking on the Sharpshooter. Owen Hart interferes and removes a turnbuckle pad, then sends Hart hard into the exposed steel. Referee Earl Hebner decides that instead of a DQ, the match must continue. If only Earl refereed every match, we would be saved from the plethora of non-finishes that usually litter these tapes. This was a curious choice for Diesel’s first pay-per-view title defence, with it being a face-face match, especially with Hart being as popular as he was. Bret was undoubtedly the number one contender, having lost the title to Bob Backlund thanks to Owen Hart shenanigans, and he didn’t get a rematch because Diesel squashed Backlund to win the belt just a few days later. But since when has logic ever been a factor in the WWF’s booking? Plus, Diesel was really more effective in short matches than long ones, and this goes 30-minutes! It would have made more sense to have Diesel work with Backlund or Owen Hart. They also booked themselves into a corner, because they had no finish for this one. They didn’t want Bret doing another high-profile pay-per-view job, and obviously Diesel was the champion, so the result is a lame “draw” as the ref is unable to control the match due to a plethora of run-ins from Bob Backlund, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart and others. It is always at the Rumble where a title match is inundated with outside interference, and the same thing happened the previous year to The Undertaker against Yokozuna. This is one of the hardest matches to rate because aspects of it are very good, but the finish is such a farce, then in places it is so incredibly boring! Far, far too long and definitely not a great way to start Diesel’s title run. If the WWF were confident enough to go with him as champion, then they should have gave him the ball for real and let him run with it properly, which means cleanly beating the top guys on the big stage. A defeat would not have hurt Bret here.
Final Rating: ***
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Smoking Gunns (c) vs. Owen Hart & Yokozuna
From WrestleMania XI, and this is just thrown together nonsense. Owen Hart had promised a mystery partner to team with him against the Gunns at this show, and it turned out to be Yokozuna. What a colossal waste of Owen Hart it was to demote him to tag wrestling. Yokozuna is making his first appearance here since Undertaker locked him in a casket back at Survivor Series ’94 and he looks fatter than ever. I really hated this entire WrestleMania card because it was badly booked and had no feeling of grandeur whatsoever. It is as bad as WrestleMania IX in those respects, though the quality of the combat is slightly superior. Yoko bores everyone to tears with an incredibly lazy one-handed nerve pinch, which is just inexcusable in a tag match. He has Owen Hart RIGHT THERE on the apron. Just tag him and at least try and make the match watchable. The new team scores the win and the titles after a Yoko Banzai Drop, and Owen gets the pin. The problem with the result is that it makes a mockery out of the concept of tag team wrestling. The Smoking Gunns are supposed to be the best thing in the division, and were multi-time champions, yet they got outclassed, overmatched and pretty much dominated by a thrown together tandem of two singles guys.
Final Rating: *
King Kong Bundy vs. The Undertaker
Also from WrestleMania XI, and this is nearly as bad as Taker’s match with Giant Gonzalez two years previous. I have always hated Bundy’s work and he does nothing to change my mind in this contest. He is all chinlocks and little else. At least Taker-Gonzalez was visually impressive because of the sheer absurdity of it all. I am not wasting time writing about this, read Furious’ review if you are that interested. Of course, you already know that Taker wins. It is WrestleMania, after all.
Final Rating: DUD
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor
This was the ill-advised main event from WrestleMania XI and most wrestling fans nowadays probably have no idea who Lawrence Taylor even is. That’s because he is not a wrestler, he is a footballer. A pretty damn good and famous one, but still, a footballer in the main event of WrestleMania! It was a sign of just how far the company had fallen and how desperate they were for any mainstream attention they could get. To his credit, Bam Bam does a superb job leading and carrying Taylor through, but the football star actually puts in a really impressive showing. He certainly sells better than Typhoon ever did, that’s for sure, and his timing is really good too. The credit for that can be given to Aldo Montoya, who Taylor trained with extensively in the lead-up to the match. I have no problem with Taylor being on the card, as celebrity tie-ins and WrestleMania generally go hand-in-hand anyway, but he should have been in the midcard, not the main event. Taylor wins it, and WrestleMania ends with the curious visual of a bunch of footballers celebrating in the ring. This is the Steamboat-Savage of celebrity wrestling matches, but in real terms it clocks in at above average. A career defining moment for Bigelow, but he was unable to build on it and become the long-term main eventer he probably should have been.
Final Rating: **½
We skip right over Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel for the WWF title, which was the best thing on the show. Couldn’t they have just cut Bundy and the tag titles? Of course they could, but that would be too obvious wouldn’t it!
Diesel (c) vs. Sycho Sid
This is from the first In Your House event, and is another example of the WWF not helping their own cause when it came to pushing Diesel. You put him in there with a guy the size of Sid, you are not going to get much of a match out of it, and once again it turns out, no real finish either. This was during Sid’s “red” phase, which was is probably one of his least recognisable looks. Nash really tries to make this entertaining early on, and he displays effort levels, speed and bumping unlike anything he brought to the dance in WCW. Sid on the other hand, is exactly like he was in WCW, which is neither a compliment nor a criticism really, just a fact. Sid was Sid, he didn’t change for anyone! This match goes far too long and is a real mess, though the crowd stays fairly responsive considering what they are watching. It is neither guy’s fault particularly; they are just both much better against smaller guys. Two giants working together is always hard, because there is little they can do to one another. After 11-minutes which felt like an hour, Tatanka breaks up a Diesel pin attempt following a Jacknife and we have a DQ. Diesel matches and non-finishes were all too common bedfellows in 1995, unfortunately. Just pull the damn trigger on him, Vince! Let him beat someone. Anyone!
Final Rating: ½*
King Of The Ring Final
Mabel vs. Savio Vega
Oh, just what this tape needed! This is from the infamous 1995 King of the Ring event, and may well be the dumbest booking decision that the WWF ever made. This was the fourth Savio Vega match that the fans had to endure, and frankly one is usually more than enough. Vega was actually semi-decent when motivated and against the right opponent, but Mabel was of course not that. I actually quite enjoyed watching Mabel as a babyface (in a perverse way), because even though he was bad he was at least positioned in the midcard and was fairly fun for a big guy. As a heel he was incredibly boring and way over-pushed. This match is appalling on every level, and is an affront to wrestling fans the world over. The result is even more insulting, with Mabel winning the previously prestigious crown. Christ, he was an unpredictable winner, I will give the WWF credit for that! At the previous two (televised) tournaments, the winner had been a workrate guy with the stamina and tenacity one associates with winning three matches in one night. That precedent went screaming out of the window here. The only highlight of the match is the fans spontaneously breaking into a chorus of hatred, rebelling against the shitty product and chanting “ECW” loudly and with ferocity. Vince McMahon notices and says: “Listen to this!” though I am pretty sure he had no idea what was going on until he was filled in afterwards. Surely though, it was obvious even to the blinkered Vince that the fans HATED what they had been given here, and they had no desire to see Mabel at the top of the card. An embarrassment that the WWF still hasn’t lived down almost 20-years later, and I am with Furious in giving it negative stars.
Final Rating: -**
Kiss My Foot Match
Jerry Lawler vs. Bret Hart
Also from King Of The Ring ’95, and the stipulation sees the loser forced to kiss the winner’s feet. This feud had been rumbling along on and off for two years, with Lawler first attacking Bret during his KOTR coronation back in 1993. The crowd is more responsive than you might expect considering they have just sat through one of the most awful PPV events of all time, though it does get even worse yet. Bret on his day was one of the greats, if not the greatest, but he never seemed to be “on” when he worked with Lawler. Their matches invariably sucked, and their styles just didn’t gel. It’s not that there was anything wrong from a technical standpoint, it is just Jerry Lawler in the WWF was tiresome, and Hart was usually in a career lull of sorts when working with him, so the result is matches like this, where nothing really happens. Hakushi turns up to try and bring some excitement, but his interference backfires and Hart wins with the Sharpshooter. He shoves his toe into Lawler’s mouth and then forces Lawler’s own “stinking foot” in for good measure. Not pretty. Match was 10-minutes but felt like 20. 1995 was probably Bret’s worst year on PPV in the WWF.
Final Rating: *
1-2-3 Kid vs. Hakushi
From SummerSlam ’95 and this is much more like it. Two fantastic talents at the time, and the polar opposite to what was going on in the main event (Diesel vs. Mabel). Hakushi didn’t get treated especially well by the WWF, which probably isn’t much of a surprise considering he is Japanese and the WWF have a far from glorious track record there. But despite his low standing, he still managed to put in some excellent performances, and this is definitely one of them. I remember watching SummerSlam ’95 as a kid, having almost lost interest with the WWF due to the horrendous stuff they were churning out at the time. As well as being blown away by the ladder match, I was also mesmerised by this, because I had never seen anything contested at such a speed and featuring so many moves, counters and aerial exploits. It is relatively tame by today’s standards, but still holds up as a rip-roaring contest and is well worth your time. Not quite a forgotten gem, but certainly a great addition to the tape and a bout worth seeing at least once. Watching it after the utter drek we have witnessed on this release prior, and it becomes even more captivating and entertaining. My view of things is probably skewed by both nostalgia and from 90-minutes of tedium, but I really like this.
Final Rating: ***½
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Bob Holly
Time to take a look at a “newcomer” now, an aristocratic blue blood going by the name of Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Wow, that is a name that will surely get the terror rising inside of his opponents… Sorry… So yes, this is the WWF pay-per-view debut of one Triple H, as he takes on another long serving WWF star, one who peaked in the Attitude era years later as Hardcore Holly. Here, he is still a racing driver. Hunter didn’t get particularly watchable until around 1997 and his series with Mankind, before that I found him tough to bear and almost IRS-like. IRS had actually JUST left the WWF, so there was a boring spot to fill and Triple H filled it. Looking at him here and knowing he became essentially the king of the WWF (and not just with his KOTR tournament win in 1997…) is fairly strange. You certainly wouldn’t have predicted it! Triple H goes over with the Pedigree, which is something I will be typing an awful lot in future volumes. The match was fine, if unremarkable.
Final Rating: *¾
Dok Hendrix discusses Gorilla Monsoon replacing Jack Tunney as “interim” President of the WWF, and says how he wanted to be the most “fan-friendliest president possible”. His first decree was to scrap the Shawn Michaels-Sycho Sid match from SummerSlam and run a rematch of one of the greatest WWF matches of all time; the Michaels-Razor ladder match. Chalk one up for the Gorilla, it was a great decision. In reality Vince McMahon was more likely realising that his product stunk badly, and went into one of his famous sudden directional shifts. The WWF certainly becomes edgier in 1996 (with Goldust, Mankind, Steve Austin, etc) and is the first year that hints at what is to come.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Razor Ramon
So to an often forgotten classic from SummerSlam ‘95. Obviously they were looking to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time with this, following their legendary contest at WrestleMania X some 16-months prior. The difference here is that they are not allowed to directly use the ladder as an offensive weapon. That makes for some really clever spots, such as Shawn accidentally clocking Razor when he picks it up and ‘The Bad Guy’ doing the same, only far more intentionally, later on. They can use the ladder as a landing pad though, and take turns slamming, throwing and whipping each other into it. A little known fact is that it was actually Triple H who pieced most of the match together, as Michaels and Razor were out of ideas due to the stip, and Trips came up with a lot of it in their hotel room prior to the show. Michaels’ presence in this far surpasses his position on the card, and you can tangibly feel his stock rising as the match progresses. It was obvious for most of 1995, but certainly after this performance, that he was destined to be the WWF’s top star. In reality, he probably should have been passed the torch a year earlier than he was, because he was untouchable from 1994 onwards. The high spots in this are no-where near the same ridiculous levels as in ladder matches of the Attitude era and beyond, but the match doesn’t need them because two more important things are there: selling and psychology. There are still high spots of course, but they are all logical to the match and make sense when they occur, without contrived selling and setting them up beforehand. You can do as many silly flips off a ladder and through a table as you want, but what is the point if none of it means anything? Thankfully, everything in this means something and it is an absolutely barnstorming affair because of it. Razor brings a second ladder into play and the drama really cranks up a notch, then elevates further when Razor hits the Razor’s Edge to prevent Shawn climbing the ladder. Both are exhausted as they climb ladders parallel to each other, with Shawn knocking Razor off of his and making a dive for the belt… and missing. Some think this is a botched spot and he was supposed to get it there, but I am not sure. Even if that was the case, so what? It added to the drama and the realism of the contest, with Shawn unable to make it due to exhaustion. Razor gets backdropped out of the ring on a Razor’s Edge attempt and Michaels climbs again, but this time he is out of position, and can’t reach the belt. Ok, that was supposed to be the finish. Vince covers it well by saying “he can’t do it” and again to me, that adds to the realism of it all. Shawn has a temper tantrum because he was a bit of a prick in 1995, and then climbs the repositioned ladder to grab the title to retain. I think it is a very pernickety and incredibly harsh to give this a lower rating because of a slightly mistimed finish. Like I say, it added to the drama and made sense, even if it wasn’t perfect. It doesn’t matter that one spot was slightly out, because the rest of the action was a 25-minute thrill ride that broke new ground as far as what is expected in a ladder match. I have said before that I don’t believe in the theory that a match has to be “perfect” to hit 5* and I stand by that. Anyway, maybe they planned the finish that way, and all the smarks have been worked this whole time? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, this is a stunning effort and a match I have always been a huge fan of, and to me it deserves to be up there as one of the greatest. For that it gets full marks from me. Just think; the WWF nearly ran Michaels vs. Sid instead…
Final Rating: *****
Dok Hendrix reminds us that “anything can happen in the WWF”. I wish that was their slogan going into 2013 as well, because a bit of unpredictability would go a long way. I can watch Raw the day before it even happens, because it has followed the same format for years.
Skip vs. Barry Horowitz
And to prove Hendrix right, we have this fairly famous little match. There was no story going in as such, just that Skip (Chris Candido) was arrogant and undefeated, and Horowitz was a long-time enhancement talent who had never won. For those who haven’t seen it, I assume you can see where this is going? Skip gets too cocky doing press-ups instead of finishing Horowitz off, and gets rolled up for a genuinely shocking upset. JR’s call of “Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins! Horowitz wins!” is pretty legendary. Well, it was at the time, for like a month or so. The WWF used to do underdog stories really well (see: 1-2-3 Kid vs. Razor Ramon from Raw in 1993) and this was another example of that. It was a nice way to give a little spotlight to a guy who had been making the “superstars” look good for years. The match was nothing more than a brief TV bout, but the result lives on to this day.
Final Rating: *
Dean Douglas vs. Razor Ramon
From In Your House 3 as Shane Douglas gets his “big break” in the WWF with a teacher gimmick, going under the name Dean Douglas. Dean… Get it? Yeah, they sure were subtle. Douglas was not a favourite with the Kliq or many of the boys because of his apparent whining, so he had his legs cut off before he had a chance to get over. Not that he would have with this gimmick anyway. They do a basic match and the ref gets knocked down, and Razor hits the Razor’s Edge to seemingly win it. Razor’s buddy the 1-2-3 Kid comes in and rather stupidly counts the three because the ref is out, which pisses off the ‘Bad Guy’ and a shoving match ensues. In the confusion, Douglas gets a roll-up to score the surprise win. This all existed to set up a feud between Razor and Kid, rather than to push Dean. Shown in progress here, but still not really worth your time.
Final Rating: *¾
WWF Intercontinental Championship
WWF Tag Team Championship
Diesel (c) & Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Yokozuna & The British Bulldog (c)
From the same IYH event as the previous bout and this is certainly a unique match-up. The gimmick is that all three of the WWF’s title belts are on the line, and whichever champion gets pinned loses their belt (or in the tag titles’ case, loses both). The tag champions were actually Yokozuna and Owen Hart, but they ran a stupid angle where Owen wasn’t there, so Bulldog was substituted into the match in his place. It was a major cop-out from the WWF, and just a way of getting out of doing a title switch, as an “illegal” Owen Hart comes in and takes the loss and drops the belts, only for it to get reversed on Raw because Owen was not legal in the match. It was booking that took a large piss on the fan base, who were robbed of what they thought they were paying to see. Why not just do the tag title switch and have Shawn and Diesel lose them to a team they wanted to push? It would have done wonders for them to beat two guys of such a calibre, and it wouldn’t hurt Shawn or Diesel anyway, because both were untouchable. The ironic thing is that Shawn actually gave up the IC title soon after this because he got beat up and injured for real by Marines in Syracuse. Hindsight being what it is, having Owen (or even Davey) win the title would have been a smart move. But no, instead we got a reversed decision and a feeling of being largely underwhelmed. The match itself is fairly good, but it doesn’t really matter because it all feels illegitimate. This is not the match advertised, and it is not the match I wanted to see at the time. Yes, I am petty and still bitter about it. The work on the heel team was all carried by Davey Boy, because Yoko was creeping towards being at his most immobile and useless.
Final Rating: **¾
And that is that, with the review of the year ending in September, with some three months left in the year. It is a shame really because Survivor Series and the In Your House in December of that year both feature some really good stuff.
Summary: The 1992 Year In Review tape was a triumph, showing extended highlights of the things that were actually good over the course of the year, as well as some rare and exclusive contests that really made the whole thing must see. This tape has no such luxuries, because most of 1995 was entirely unremarkable, and instead we just get a random selection of pay-per-view matches (and one TV bout) but nothing else. The match choices are bizarre, with the WWF title almost glossed over. Unless you count the triple header tag match, which I don’t, then the title is only defended twice on this tape and both times the result is a non-finish. The WWF was trying to find its groove and struggling to do so, but things would get better (in places) in 1996. Certainly they became more consistent. The best stuff on here mainly comes from SummerSlam ’95, and frankly you would be better off with that. At three long hours, there is a lot to sit through to get to the more watchable encounters. Don’t bother with this.