Lee Maughan: Hosted by Kevin Kelly.
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Goldust
From a special RAW Championship Friday (a make-up show due to the old tradition of RAW going off the air for two-to-three weeks in the summer so USA Network could broadcast the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and the U.S. Open tennis tournament), this was originally supposed be Vader defending the title against Ahmed Johnson. Ahmed wound up going down with a legitimate injury after being kicked square in the kidneys by the debuting Faarooq Asad at a RAW taping back in July, while Michaels pulled a power play and refused to drop the title to Vader at SummerSlam. If you believe in that kind of thing, there’s an alternate universe out there in which Ahmed didn’t get injured, but Shawn did refused to drop the title, which would have forced the WWF into running a Michaels-Ahmed babyface vs babyface match here, which sounds bizarrely fascinating to me. Not that this isn’t a good match, Goldust being a much better and much more polished worker than Ahmed, but still. There is something about Goldust’s character in 1996 that doesn’t quite feel like a legitimate world title contender, although he did enjoy a house show run on top challenging Michaels around this time. He actually got the nod as challenger tonight by virtue of having won a four-man battle royal against Savio Vega, Steve Austin and Sycho Sid earlier in the taping (albeit aired live, almost a fortnight before this one made TV.)
The fact that both guys have already worked once tonight is likely the answer to why there’s so much chinlocking from Goldust in the middle of the match, especially when you consider they’d both worked pay-per-view bouts the night before, Shawn a particularly gruelling 20 minute battle with Vader no less. It’s too bad because these two have some rather noticeable chemistry together once they get into top gear, but then Shawn was pulling great matches out of everyone in 1996 so that shouldn’t come as any great surprise. It actually makes me sad that Goldust, even as an upper-midcard guy, wasn’t really considered a serious threat to the WWF title, because a main event singles match with both these guys fresh could have absolutely rocked the joint. One thing I did really like about the match was the variation in Shawn’s finishing sequence. Much like Bret Hart and his “five moves of doom”, Shawn had a (less-touted) sequence of big moves building up to his finish, and he runs through the flying forearm and kip-up, only for Goldust to make it to his feet before Shawn can unleash the flying elbow. He changes gears with a crossbody, which Goldust rolls through, like he’s wise to Shawn’s favoured offence, and that gets him into a position for the Curtain Call. One thing Goldust can’t avoid however is Shawn’s resiliency, and he flips out of the standing lift, landing a flying moonsault for the pin. I just really appreciate the extra thought they put into the finish there, teasing the usual but keeping up the suspense when Goldust had Shawn scouted, which made the bout much less predictable, and thus much more exciting than one might have expected. Of course, Shawn had already beaten Yokozuna (as seen on the previous Best of Raw: Volume One VHS release) earlier in the night with the superkick, so I imagine they wanted to deliver a different finish for the live crowd as much as the TV audience, but I still enjoyed it so hooray for psychology! Mankind hits the ring post-match to tease In Your House 10: Mind Games, but Shawn slides out of the ring before any damage can be done. Good match overall, just hurt by the long chinlock in the middle.
Final Rating: **¾
The Undertaker vs. Salvatore Sincere
Man, whoever thought Tommy Dreamer would be the more successful guy out of a tag team between him and Tom Brandi? Sincere is coming into this match undefeated, but he hasn’t even been on pay-per-view yet, or beaten anybody of note. Makes you wonder why the WWF would throw him in with a guy like Undertaker at this point, but I guess the lack of a serious push underlines the fact they were moving into an age of employing full-time jobbers, rather than just hiring guys on a per-TV basis as they’d done in years previous, all of which stems from the Marty Jannetty/Charles Austin accidental paralysis and subsequent lawsuit. I guess it makes sense to have your own trusted crew of guys anyway, no matter what their role on the card, but you’d think they might actually TRY and do something with the guy before sacrificing him here, to be forever pegged as an underneath guy with a limiting gimmick.
The story of the match is that Undertaker is lost without Paul Bearer and the urn, making him much susceptible to an upset loss given his lack of supernatural powers, which makes Sincere’s eventual defeat all that more baffling. Not only does he lose to the Undertaker, he loses to an Undertaker who’s lacking. And what’s the point of putting Undertaker over anyway? I know he’s vastly popular and already coming off one major loss (to Mankind at SummerSlam), but given the angle they’re running, they could easily have gotten away with jobbing him out to Goldust to get the “lost without the urn” angle over, and give Goldust a rub to boot since those two are about to be programmed together. Alas, no. Undertaker wins clean with the Tombstone, condemning Sincere to a career of obscurity and putting an end to the lost focus tangent all in one fell swoop. The match itself was fairly average, fraught with plenty of chinlocking, which I suspect is the theme for this entire post-SummerSlam taping.
Final Rating: **
WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament, Semi-Final
Marc Mero vs. Owen Hart
Another match from the Wheeling RAW taping, another unwanted dose of chinlocking. What is this, IRS appreciation night? It’s too bad everyone seems to exhausted from working multiple matches of the weekend, because a Mero-Owen match has all the potential in the world to be great, but here it’s just a little above average. It doesn’t help that Jim Ross cuts away from the match to argue with WWF president Gorilla Monsoon about the impending return of Razor Ramon and Diesel. I actually don’t mind that sort of split screen stuff because it feels really organic, like things are constantly happening. Obviously a lot of that is down to RAW still just being a one hour show at this point with things that needed to be crammed in, and while there’s a very valid argument to not rushing things and giving your angles and matches time to breathe, the fact WWE wound up with so much time to fill during the three hour RAW era meant everything felt stale and sterilised. The idea that so many important developments would just happen to take place in front of cameras between matches and in-ring promos is laughably suspension-of-disbelief killing. That said, the fact they’re cutting away from such an important (and potentially really good) match is rather infuriating, when they could have saved that stuff for a routine squash or something.
Not that any of it really matters because the crowd is pretty much dead by this point. Oh sure, you can hear the roar of the crowd, but if you actually look at them, they’re all just sat on their hands, the seats gradually emptying as the night wears on. Such are the perils of taping four weeks of TV in a single sitting. Case in point as Owen’s nearfall after blasting Mero with his cast gets absolutely zero reaction. It just feels like the audience is waiting for the signal to go home. And who can blame them? They’ve already seen the WWF champion twice tonight, what else could be worth staying for? Eventually, Mero takes Owen’s cast away and belts him with it for the pin, advancing him to the final. Match never really got going in the way you’d think it would have with these two, and while it wasn’t particularly bad, it remains a disappointment.
Final Rating: **¼
WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament, Final
Marc Mero vs. Faarooq Asad
On to a fresh set of tapings now, from the night after Mind Games pay-per-view, which makes me wonder why the Intercontinental Title tournament final wasn’t held there given the value of it. Mero has Mr. Perfect with him as his most vocal supporter, kicking off an angle that would culminate with Perfect turning heel on him a few weeks later. As an interesting aside, over in WCW this match would have been Ron Simmons vs. Johnny B. Badd, which just sounds so wildly different to Marc Mero vs. Faarooq. What’s also interesting is the amount of history surrounding this match; Faarooq would go on to lose in the finals of another Intercontinental title tournament in 1997 at the hands of Owen Hart, a former King of the Ring tournament winner who Mero, himself a King of the Ring semi-finalist, had beaten in the previous round of this tournament. Got that? There’s more, as Perfect claimed his first Intercontinental title with a win over Tito Santana in a 1990 tournament, while tonight’s special guest referee Pat Patterson was the first ever Intercontinental title holder, having unified the North American and South American heavyweight titles in a “tournament” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil back in ‘79 (a’hem). Of course, since Patterson is out there, JR drops in all the requisite subtle homosexual lines, a role inherited from Gorilla Monsoon. As Sunny and Sable get into a shoving match on the floor and Patterson jumps in between them – “The queens of the WWF are outside the ring!” Contradictorily to that, Patterson whops an almighty handful of both girls’ chests, as if he sensed the “Ha ha! He’s a GAY!” gag coming earlier than an episode of Will and Grace. Not a bad way to return fire on the hetero club, but how it didn’t open him up for a sexual harassment lawsuit I’ll never know.
That and a hilariously unintelligible phone call from Ahmed Johnson provide a backdrop to what’s actually a fine little match. Faarooq does look a little too stiff at points, clonking Mero with a brain-rattling clotheslines across the temples and the same punt to the kidneys that put Ahmed on the shelf, but thankfully Mero seems to come out of it okay, snapping of a beauty of a top rope huracanrana in retaliation. Sunny throws her purse in for Faarooq but Mero steals it, waffles Faarooq with it, and pins him with the Wild Thing for his first (and last) Intercontinental title. I’m not sure I’d want my new babyface champion winning back-to-back matches thanks to nailing someone with a foreign object (he beat Owen Hart in the semi finals after he took Owen’s cast away), but I guess the opponents introducing the objects to the match first somehow makes that okay. Presumably the company didn’t want Faarooq doing a clean job so early into his WWF run, but why they had to run essentially the same finish in the Owen match is open to debate. I can only surmise that Owen was ready to ditch the cast before the WWF’s South Africa tour, and that since the match was taped almost five weeks prior to this, nobody even remembered what the finish had been. Post-match, Sunny reveals the purse to have been concealing a brick, then Mero cuts his victory speech, thanking Jesus Christ, the fans, Sable and Mr. Perfect. “What about me?” curtly asks Jim Ross, foreshadowing what was about to go down…
Final Rating: **¾
– After weeks of promises to bring Razor Ramon and Diesel back to the World Wrestling Federation, contradicted by denials from president Gorilla Monsoon, Jim Ross hits the ring for the grand unveiling, only for something rather unexpected to happen. What followed was one of the most blistering heel promos of the pre-Attitude years:
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, before I was so rudely interrupted with the commercial break, we’re gonna conduct the interview right now and in just a couple of moments, I’m going to bring ‘Big Daddy Cool’ Diesel and Razor Ramon right out here. But before I do, I’d like to beg your indulgence for just a minute or so and tell you something I’ve got on my mind. There’s something that I’ve been waiting to say for a long, long time. And when I’m through telling you, many of you are going to question my loyalty to the World Wrestling Federation, so let’s clear that up right now. I have no loyalty to the World Wrestling Federation, I’ve only got loyalty to good ol’ JR, and let me tell you why.
In 1993 I left a great job in Atlanta, Georgia, and I left the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League to go to the recognized leader of sports entertainment, the WWF. I came here to be the primary play-by-play man in the WWF. I don’t think anybody here is going to disagree that I am the best play-by-play man in the whole damn business! So I show up for work the first day at WrestleMania IX in Las Vegas, Nevada, and they give me a sheet to wear. They said, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a toga. You’ll look good in a toga JR’. I leave the National Football League for a toga. It’s crap!
And then ladies and gentlemen, I go to the first King of the Ring in Dayton Ohio, and I guarantee you, you listen to that broadcast, I carried the broadcast from ringside. And then did you ever wonder where ol’ JR went to? Why isn’t JR doing play by play anymore? Let me tell you why; because the egotistical owner of the World Wrestling Federation, and you know who I’m talking about, I’m talking about Vince McMahon, couldn’t stand the competition. So JR disappeared.
And then on Super Bowl Sunday of 1994, I woke up with an affliction called Bell’s Palsy, and my entire left side of my face looked like I had a stroke. You think I like that? You think I like that my left eye doesn’t open all the way because I got sick? Well let me tell you how warm hearted Mr. McMahon is. Mr. McMahon called me into his office on February 11th, 1994 and he fired my ass! So I get back in my car and I drive into my home in that overpriced hellhole Connecticut, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to tell my wife and my two little girls that their daddy had just got fired.
And so then remember when, remember when McMahon got indicted? They needed somebody to come back and do RAW? They called up JR and then they let me go again. So finally they called me back, hired me back for fifty cents on the dollar to come back and work in the front office. Do you think that all these guys leaving the WWF was an accident? Hell no it’s not! You think all these guys coming here was an accident? Absolutely not, I’ve been very busy. And right now, I want to bring back one of your favourites. He’s the ‘Bad Guy’, Razor Ramon!”
Few promos have ever been delivered with such passion and such venom, as Ross appeared to be speaking from the heart about the many personal and professional troubles he’d gone through over the past three years. Being given a live microphone and a soapbox from which to vent can be a very wonderful placebo indeed. Unfortunately, that leads to the introduction of Rick Bognar as ‘Razor Ramon’, a character designed by the WWF to “prove” in a court of law that Scott Hall was using trademarked mannerisms in WCW. That the promotion’s loyal fans had to suffer through these petty legalities in the form of a third-rate tribute act you’d be embarrassed to see at a local town hall alongside Kane the Undertaker, UK Bushwhacker and Legend of Doom was just plain insulting. For a supposedly major league promotion, they sure found a minor league talent in Bognar. Never has an interview so fierce led to the introduction of a wrestler so lame. The Diamond Studd? More like the Diamond Dud.
Savio Vega vs. “Razor Ramon”
Gorilla Monsoon joins the announce team to bicker with Ross about the fake Razor, which is where the whole angle starts to sound really convoluted. Gorilla is supposed to be the president of the WWF but last week he admitted no paperwork had crossed his desk indicating that Scott Hall or Kevin Nash would be returning to the promotion. It makes sense inasmuch as JR basically revealed himself on-air as the Head of Talent Relations, so he’s the guy doing the firing and hiring, but what credibility is there in that when your supposed president has no idea what’s going on? (And lets not forget, this is still a time before George Bush, Jr. took to the Oval Office.) It doesn’t help that Ross during his speech outed Vince McMahon as “the egotistical owner of the World Wrestling Federation” (while such a thing was known in many circles at the time, it wasn’t yet widely established on TV at this point), which renders Monsoon’s presidency all the more tokenistic and pointless. That little problem was solved later on when the WWF introduced the “commissioner” character initially portrayed by Sgt. Slaughter, and later followed by a convoluted string of authority figures such as co-owners, guest hosts and (shudder) anonymous general managers, all contradicting one another’s “power”. Not that it really mattered much since Ross’ potential-soaked heel character was canned shortly after this, McMahon returned to the desk as a happy-go-lucky announcer (at least until post-Survivor Series 1997 run as the tyrannical C.E.O. Mr. McMahon), and Monsoon faded into the background plagued by irrelevance to the product and his rapidly failing health.
Besides the obvious problems with the whole “replacement” gimmick, it doesn’t help any that Rick Bognar was rotten, particularly for a guy who’d been working since 1989 and touring Japan (with FMW and WAR) since 1991. The way he flails his arms around every time he takes a punch is particularly grating. It’s just so unnatural it makes it near-impossible to suspend disbelief, and his offence isn’t much better, firing away with awkward-looking punches and kicks, and building the bulk of the match around armbars and rest holds. Scott Hall he is not. Thankfully, Diesel (The future Kane, Glenn Jacobs, fresh off his Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS run) strolls out for the disqualification before too long to mercifully end the tedium. The worst match on the tape by some distance, but I understand the inclusion given how open ended the JR rant would have felt without it.
Final Rating: ¾*
Vader & Jim Cornette vs. Shawn Michaels & Jose Lothario
Presumably this is one of those matches that was always due to happen had original booking plans been followed (Vader was initially due to win the WWF title from Michaels at SummerSlam), only instead of a vengeful Shawn looking for retaliation on the ‘Mastodon’, you’ve got Vader trying to fight his way back into title contention. The opening stretch is typically tight, as Shawn’s work invariably was in 1996, including escaping a powerbomb with a huracanrana before Vader kicks his ass. As is par for the course with heel managers in tag team matches, Cornette asks Vader to tag him in when he finally feels Shawn is in a compromised enough position, but wastes enough time flexing his, a’hem, 24-inch pythons that Shawn gets the tag to Lothario. Cornette takes some of his endearingly awful bumps off ‘Supersock’ and scarpers, and that’s it for the managers, their entire contributions to the match in those few seconds. Having seen their 57-second singles bout from In Your House 10: Mind Games, that’s probably for the best.
No kidding actually, as Shawn and Vader cobble together a hot second half, Shawn runs through his most notable highspots (flying forearm, kip up, flying elbow, etc.) but misses the superkick and gets flattened with an absolutely killer clothesline. Vader wastes too much time on a Vaderbomb and Shawn slams him to a big reaction. Michaels misses another superkick and a second slam attempt ends badly for him, which is like the reverse of the old Hulk Hogan routine, where he’d fail to slam the fat guy first time out but rally enough to get it on the second go round. The way Shawn and Vader have just done it does make more sense from a psychological standpoint, even if Shawn slamming Vader successfully the first time did look a tad ludicrous. A powerbomb and a Vaderbomb end it, which means that technically, Jim Cornette goes down in history as holding a victory over a WWF champion. Unfortunately for Vader, his prize for scoring a pin over the champion wasn’t another crack at the title, but a showdown with Sycho Sid at In Your House 11: Buried Alive to determine the number one contendership.
Final Rating: ***
Sycho Sid vs. Goldust
Speaking of Sid, here’s the loveable lunk now! In an amusing bit of continuity, the new Razor Ramon is backstage watching Goldust on a monitor, just as Goldust had kept a close eye on the original Razor earlier in the year. Way to prove to the courts that the whole Razor Ramon character, mannerisms and all, was your intellectual property, WWF! Sid was overwhelmingly popular after his return in 1996, and just felt so much more interesting than he had done the previous year as a heel. Maybe the black hole that was the Million Dollar Corporation had something to do with that. Surprisingly enough, Goldust actually dominates most of the match before eating the predictable powerbomb around six minutes in, with brings out Vader for a rumble with Sid. He lands a massive middle rope splash, but like Hulk Hogan eating Randy Savage’s infamous “reviving elbow” at WCW’s Clash of the Champions XXX, Sid pops back up immediately showing no ill-effects of the blow, and sends Vader packing with a chokeslam. What a senseless angle that was. I suppose Sid was getting the title shot so in the long run it was better for him to look invincible, but he was bumping the first clothesline of the match as if he’d been gunned down earlier, and then popping up from a Vader splash as if a pillow had fallen on him. How is that supposed to get anyone excited to see him whoop Vader’s ass at the pay-per-view?
Final Rating: **
Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin
From the days before Michaels vs. Austin screamed “WrestleMania main event” comes this little number, one of those matches that, even though it aired on RAW, still feels like something of a hidden gem. It’s especially cool to see since Michaels is working babyface and Austin as the heel, those roles being reverse for their more famous 1998 bout. It’s a completely different bout to the WrestleMania XIV outing too (not least of all because of Shawn’s later back problems), as they spend the majority of it grappling back-and-forth, reversing and counter-reversing holds. It’s all very good technical stuff, but is entirely hindered by Jim Cornette arriving at ringside to cut a promo on Michaels for a return match against Vader that wasn’t even going to happen, and a backstage interview with Sid who promises to bury Vader alive at the pay-per-view.
Remember what I wrote earlier about not minding split screen interviews during routine squash matches and the like? There are two first-rate workers in the ring here, including the WWF Champion, and the WWF has made them look completely secondary, and as a consequence, the match comes across like it just doesn’t matter. It’s not like you can even follow the flow of it given all the distractions anyway, but what you do get when the camera actually pays attention to the ring is some rather tasty grappling. That might be disappointing to some, given that it’s not the usual ‘Stone Cold’ match you’d perhaps expect, but it’s interesting to see Austin more closely resemble his WCW ‘Stunning’ Steve days in a WWF ring. And of course, there’s a lousy disqualification finish as Vader runs in to demolish Michaels, which brings out Savio Vega (yes, his feud with Austin was still rumbling on in October, though an injury to him would lead to Austin squaring off with Hunter Hearst Helmsley at the pay-per-view), who immediately eats a Stone Cold Stunner like a total geek. That’s obviously necessary so Sid can even up the odds, as Diesel and Razor Ramon appear in the aisle for reasons never adequately explored. And, of course, Sid bumps into Shawn during the ruckus, setting up dissension between the pair. Perhaps the WWF was shooting for Shawn & Sid against Razor & Diesel down the line, though that was never delivered. I’d have preferred Shawn & Sid against Vader & Austin anyway. Plenty going on then, but very little of note to do with the actual wrestling.
Final Rating: **
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Marc Mero (c) vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
This had been hyped for weeks as Mr. Perfect’s big return to in-ring action after his back problems had forced him back into the announcers booth, and a months long angle which saw him stealing Helmsley’s ringside valets. He’d also been coaching Mero en route to the ‘Wildman’ winning the Intercontinental Title tournament, as covered earlier in this review. Prior to the match however, Helmsley ran a WWF production cart into Perfect’s leg, and the doctors have told him he needs to have an MRI scan done and can’t have one until tomorrow. None of this is included on this tape by the way, which leaves the whole thing lacking any real context unless you already know the backstory. Instead, the footage picks up with Helmsley calling Perfect a chicken and baiting president Gorilla Monsoon into sanctioning an Intercontinental Title match between himself and Mero right now, to which Mero agrees.
Perfect sticks around to do commentary, promising that he “always gets the last laugh” as he bickers with Jerry Lawler, giving flashbacks to longtime fans of their classic AWA World title matches in the mid-to-late 80s. Mero, I should note, is decked out in royal blue and covered in tassels tonight, making him look as close to the Johnny B. Badd gimmick as he ever got in the WWF. Jim Cornette would later reveal in Kayfabe Commentaries’ fantastic Timeline: The History of WWE 1997 DVD release that Vince McMahon had actually wanted to hire Mero in 1996 after suddenly discovering the Badd character, not realising the name and look was trademarked by WCW, hence the ‘Wildman’ gimmick. Helmsley uses Sable to block off Mero in a great bit of characterisation (especially with Mr. Hughes and Chyna on the way as actual bodyguards) but then works a really tedious heat segment for a while, one of Triple H’s major flaws as a worker until he turned babyface. The guy was always terrific at selling, which actually made him a better in-ring babyface, but he always looked like such a smug prick that it was hard to position him as anything else until after he finally got over, but his offence was so piss-weak that it led to some truly tedious outings. Mero tries to salvage things with his energetic style and goes for a 450, but Helmsley shoves referee Tim White into the ropes, crotching Mero. Mero does get his nifty springboard moonsault in as the pace really starts to pick up, but the referee gets accidentally bumped and now the big angle kicks in. Helmsley grabs a chair but Sable tries to take it from him, so Perfect comes in to grab the chair instead but waffles Mero with it for a major swerve, giving Helmsley his first Intercontinental Title.
This was all supposed to lead to Perfect mentoring Helmsley as the word on the street was that Perfect’s back was feeling much better and he’d begun to get the itch to get back in the ring again. The problem was that he was also wrestling with the decision of whether to terminate his Lloyd’s of London insurance policy or not. The injury policy was very lucrative and allowed Perfect to continue working in a non-physical role such as broadcasting, but sometimes when you’re passionate about these things, the money isn’t always the be all and end all of the situation, and he still wanted to contribute as an active wrestler. The WWF, getting wind of Perfect’s considerations and finding themselves in need of established, top level stars, contacted Lloyd’s on Perfect’s “behalf” and informed them of his decision to climb back in the ring, voiding his policy and guaranteeing his return to action. Perfect was understandably livid upon discovering this had happened behind his back and quit the WWF immediately, resurfacing in WCW in confusing fashion in 1997 as a shadow of his former self.
Final Rating: **
– And now, a special look at ‘The Real Double J’, Jesse Jammes! Coincidentally airing the night Jeff Jarrett was to debut on Nitro, imagine that! Jammes, Jarrett’s former Roadie, is in WWF music guru Jim Johnston’s studio, revealing himself to be the real voice behind Jarrett’s With My Baby Tonight song. Jarrett is shown to have clearly been lip-synching (badly) to the song all the way back at In Your House 2, which was supposed to be the set-up to Jarrett vs. Roadie at SummerSlam ‘95 until Jarrett quit the promotion, feeling it was too early to expose the angle. “He’s not even close to being a good entertainer” claims Jammes, presumably regurgitating Vince McMahon’s own words. That leads to footage of Shawn Michaels beating Jarrett on the same pay-per-view, just to dig the needle in further, as Jammes slips into total kayfabe mode with a story about how Jarrett found him in a Nashville dive bar and promised to take him around the world. Jammes finishes by saying Jarrett should come back to the WWF to be his roadie: “Come on Jeff, let’s do it ‘road dawg.’” Road Dogg indeed.
– A follow up package from a week later tells us about Jammes’ life as a soldier, particularly the scary times he spent overseas on Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. It doesn’t do as much to characterise the wrestling character as the previous package did, but it certainly does a lot to humanise him and portray the previously villainous Roadie as a largely bashful American hero. Cobbled together it’s not a bad piece at all, but the motives behind it come across as incredibly petty. I know it was essentially the angle the WWF had planned to run a year earlier, but by this point the whole agenda was to bury Jeff Jarrett and knock WCW’s latest acquisition. On WWE’s The Monday Night Wars DVD released in 2004, McMahon ludicrously claimed: “My philosophy is always help yourself, not hurt the other guy.” Here, they couldn’t have been any more shameless about attempting to hurt the other guy. How having their guy cut grandstand promos on someone they admitted was now in WCW was supposed to help Jammes or the WWF by setting up a program with no conceivable payoff is anybody’s guess.
Jesse Jammes vs. Salvatore Sincere
Now, I like the chronological nature of these tapes (thanks a lot, minor obsessive-compulsive disorder!) but this just feels like such an underwhelming finalé. All those Shawn Michaels matches, all those hard working performances from Marc Mero, and these two bottom-rung buffoons are in the “main event” slot. Two total cartoonish stereotypes too. The action is pretty decent but the crowd don’t react like either guy is a star (they’re not, at least at this point), and neither do McMahon or Jerry Lawler on commentary, preferring to hype an upcoming Steve Austin appearance instead. It’s one thing if the crowd don’t react to anybody in the ring, but it’s the another thing entirely when the announcers aren’t paying much attention. Why should I care if the owner of the company doesn’t? All that does is underscore the whole Jeff Jarrett burial, so transparent is McMahon. Jammes wraps it up with a pump-handle slam before it really gets going. Shame really, as it was looking like it could have been pretty good had either guy been over in the slightest.
Final Rating: **
Summary: Another good entry in the burgeoning Best of RAW series, though nothing here broke ***. Most of the action was pretty average in truth, but these being Monday night TV matches, none ever outstayed their welcome and the whole two hours flew by quickly enough that it never felt like a chore to sit through. Once again, like Volume One, the tape only covers a two month span and should be judged accordingly, which begs the question: Was this really “the best” of September and October 1996 from the WWF’s flagship show? In our History of Wrestling book The RAW Files: 1996, writer Arnold Furious pegged another two matches (Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith vs. the Bodydonnas and Steve Austin vs. Jake Roberts) at *** apiece, neither of which made the cut here, and two others (Austin vs. Marc Mero and Faarooq vs. Sycho Sid) both hit a respectable **½, again neither making the cut. Unfortunately, inclusion of those matches would have come at the expense of the Jesse Jammes introduction (an attempt to get a new star over) or the Undertaker match (thus removing a much bigger star name from the tape), and the Owen/Davey-Bodydonnas tag came with the small matter of a mini-ECW invasion staged by Taz that would have been lost on most of this release’s international audience. Still, two important title changes is nothing to be sniffed at. Minor recommendation, particularly if you weren’t watching RAW in those days.