Arnold Furious: Video Control takes us right into the 1997 Royal Rumble to set the scene, and we see Steve Austin cheating to eliminate Bret Hart and win the Rumble match. Bret is PISSED off. Host in the studio is ‘Handsome’ Dok Hendrix. He throws to Bret’s promo the night after the Rumble where he rants at Vince McMahon and quits on live TV. Interestingly enough, the promo is shown in full. It’s a good one but the Steve Austin rant that follows is even better. Dok sets that one up with a segue. “You call yourself the Gorilla, but you hee-haw out here like a jackass” says Austin of WWF President Gorilla Monsoon. Vince McMahon has to calm the situation down. Bret eventually returns to accept Gorilla’s invitation to compete in the Final Four match at In Your House: Final Four.
It’s a bit irritating that they skip over a superb British Bulldog & Owen Hart vs. Doug Furnas & Phil LaFon match, probably the best Furnas & LaFon had in the WWF, and move onto the main event guys instead.
Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker
Taker comes out and Bret starts brawling with him too! This gives Austin an opening to jump the Dead Man from behind and they brawl around ringside. Taker is the aggressor and is clearly pissed off by the whole situation he finds himself in. I love Austin here though. When Taker does his zombie sit up, Austin kicks him square in the face. He’s not intimidated, he’s practical. Jerry Lawler gets so upset with Austin not being aware that Taker has hurt ribs that he jumps around at ringside yelling about it. Taker shows a dark side here by hoofing Austin in the balls. Stunner! Austin stays down holding his nutsack, but this one was over. We clip away to backstage where Bret has decided to go after Vader as well. Hey, why not? Austin heads up top and Taker dumps him on his groin again. Apparently Vader got a bit pissed off by the backstage assault and runs in to attack Taker. He eats a chokeslam and Bret Hart runs in here too as the Final Four battle it out to sell the next PPV. This was half a great match with Austin and Taker showing their willingness to take shortcuts to win. If it had another ten minutes it might have erupted into one hell of a contest. As it stands, it was a teaser.
Final Rating: **½
So much for January!
Vader vs. Steve Austin
This is a “toughman contest”, which is the term they’ve been coining when pitting heel against heel. This is the second time they’ve done this to Austin and the second time he’s gotten big pops for working against a heel. He’s de facto face again. Bret Hart comes out and jumps Austin ahead of the bell and they brawl around in the ring, which pisses Vader off and he goes after Bret! It’s a donnybrook before we’ve even started! They clear Bret out of the ring, but Austin bails and jumps Bret in the aisle for another brawl! The picture seems particularly dark this evening, which reflects how dark the product is becoming. Both guys take it in turns to be the ass-kicker. Vader working Austin over looks like a grizzly bear punching a basketball on a string. Vader has it won and heads to the ropes, but opts for a moonsault so Austin punches him in the grizzlies. The ref gets bumped and we head to Dok for a weird clip before continuing. Austin gets the Hogan-Andre slam on Vader and he’s getting massive reactions. No wonder he got turned face at ‘Mania. Keep in mind this match is in Toronto, and Bret Hart country. As the match progresses I suspect the referee is Keith Hart. He has the same moustache. Austin goes low again and when Keith protests, Austin gives him the Stunner! Obviously that’s a DQ, but it doesn’t stop Austin and Vader beating the shit out of each other on the floor after the bell. The match was building nicely and both men were enjoying themselves, but the finish, to protect both men, was almost inevitable. It would have been insane to job either guy.
Final Rating: **¾
No Disqualification Match
The Undertaker & Ahmed Johnson vs. Mankind & Faarooq
They’ve mashed two very different feuds together here in an attempt to do something different. At the end of the day, they’re all wrestlers, but before 1997 you wouldn’t see these two sets of characters interacting. Taker and Mankind’s feud is based on mysticism and magic whereas Ahmed and Faarooq is a street battle. I’m totally digging the Toronto setup as it doesn’t look like a Raw at all. It almost looks like a PPV event, only with the lights dimmed like MSG in the 80s, which is a benefit of running the SkyDome. Taker and Faarooq have very little chemistry, which is an ongoing trend with Faarooq. Ron Simmons isn’t a bad worker but he seemed to clash with everyone. Taker gives him the Old School Ropewalk while Ahmed chases some Nation members to the back. Seeing as this is no DQ, they don’t really bother with tags. We clip ahead to a Mandible Claw on Taker. Ahmed drags Mankind off; Pearl River Plunge! Faarooq saves the pin and hits the Dominator. Taker times his zombie sit up to perfection to save the match. Foley brings one of his patented spots; bringing in a weapon and it backfiring, as Taker boots a chair into his face. Ahmed gets into it with the Nation as Mankind takes a chokeslam. This match is a real mess. Ahmed grabs a 2×4 and works Faarooq over with it. That leaves Taker alone with Mankind, and despite Foley’s many victories over the Dead Man, you’d always bet on Taker in a 1-on-1 fight. Vader runs in and splashes Taker to give Team Bearer a 2-on-1. They orchestrate a double-team, but Vader miscues with the chair shot, not unlike Mankind did to him a few weeks previously. Taker no-sells his chair shot and punches Vader clean out of the ring. Mankind stumbles into the Tombstone and Taker wins. The match was a bit of a mess but it had that beautiful layered booking to it, as if the bookers had been watching ECW the night before and just booked an ECW style match. No rules, everyone in the angles involved in the match. I figure a straight-up match would have been worse.
Final Rating: **¼
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Hunter Hearst Helmsley (c) vs. Rocky Maivia
This is from Thursday Raw Thursday. Hunter had been booked to defend against Ahmed Johnson at the PPV so no-one expected a title switch here, which is exactly why they did it. It’s amazing to think back to a time when Hunter vs. Rock was a new thing, but then Rock himself had barely four months in the company at the time. They work some tidy mat stuff and Maivia, as per usual, looks supremely confident at anything that he attempts. Hunter tries to mix in a bunch of stuff he never does, as if to teach Maivia who’s the veteran. Rumour has it that Hunter, and Shawn Michaels, didn’t really care for young Rocky and treated him with disdain on his way up. Regardless, Hunter is professional and takes some nice bumps after his initial showboating. Some of the spots are designed to make Rocky look stupid and inexperienced, but he is inexperienced, so I can see why they did it. Like charging Hunter on the floor and clotheslining the ring post; it gives Hunter an opening to work Rocky’s arm. Rocky looks inexperienced again as he’s twice suckered into an armbar takedown. It’s a good storyline, but it would be better if Rocky learned something between armbar #1 and armbar #2. Honky Tonk Man comes down to scout both guys, as he’s searching for a protégé and indeed wanted Rocky Maivia for the role. Honky claiming he “casts a giant shadow over the World Wrestling Federation” shows how deluded he really was and his verbal pasting of WWF wrestlers shows how little regard he had for the product. Which is funny, because he wasn’t exactly great in the ring, but he sure brought a tonne of heat to his matches and had no issue with jobbing after losing the IC title. Hunter works one of his most cerebral matches here. He has escapes lined up for every spot, even when his ring positioning is no good. It’s almost as if he wanted to show Rocky up. For all his charisma and conditioning, Rocky is not the finished article at all. Hunter brings a load of psychology with his technical superiority and his focus. He believes he doesn’t need the Pedigree too, and gets near falls off stuff like the piledriver. And it’s a peach. After a superplex doesn’t get it done, Hunter considers the Pedigree, but Rocky goes limp. He gives Hunter the deadweight sell, which makes him impossible to lift. Rocky gives himself a moment to recover and scores a big upset with an inside cradle to win his first title in the WWF. The first of many. The crowd resented him getting pushed that hard, that fast, and turned him heel, but that worked for him too. This was Rock’s first good match.
Final Rating: ***¼
Promo Time: Shawn Michaels
This was from the same show; where Shawn and his “injured” knee gave up the WWF title. Some of the crowd actually boo him, which he completely deserves. Shawn can’t even give a convincing sell of the knee as he hobbles into the ring. Vince claims Shawn will face knee surgery before letting the champ speak. Shawn reminds us of other belts he’s forfeited with bogus injuries. He calls this one “more serious” and claims a doctor told him he’ll never wrestle again. The crowd drowns him out by chanting “WE WANT SID”. He should have come out and powerbombed him anyway, seeing as Shawn’s back was fine at the time. Vince makes up stuff about Shawn having a busier schedule than any former champion. Shawn gets really emotional by talking about how his name being on the card meant he’d always deliver a great show, which is true. Either he really believed his knee was seriously injured or he’s a fantastic actor. He blames the schedule and the pressure of being the champion, but he loved it. Shawn hands the belt over and says he’s heading home to find his smile. He calls the last year the best year of his life and he lived it as the number one guy in the business. “I’m going to go home now”. He hugs Vince and you can see little girls crying in the crowd. JR practically eulogises him as he goes around the ring slapping hands.
Tangent: Seeing as Shawn has found God, he’s confessed to his many sins, such as screwing Bret Hart in Montreal, but he persists he was told by doctors that he was injured here. I’m sure he was injured, but if that’s a career ending injury then every wrestler is constantly carrying career ending injuries. It really wasn’t that serious and Shawn basically milked it so he could avoid jobbing to Bret Hart at WrestleMania, which was the plan.
Steve Austin vs. Sycho Sid
Same night again, with Austin trying to teach Sid how to do a crazy brawl. Sid is too slow to understand it, but he tries. Austin doesn’t give a damn and makes a point of taking every shortcut in the book and basically flipping off Sid’s entire generation. The crowd love it and chant “Austin” over and over again. Sid is used to being the man in the ring. Nobody dominates Sid because he’s big and strong and muscular and the perfect human specimen. But Austin just doesn’t care about any of that. When Sid’s strength is too much, he just cheats. Or punches Sid in the face. Or kicks him in the balls. Austin goes to slap Sid in the Sharpshooter, which is sure to piss off Bret. Right on cue Bret runs in for the DQ. Sid jumps Bret, pissed off that the Hitman cost him the match. Meanwhile Austin just strolls off and leaves them to it. The match was short and sweet. Austin managed to contain Sid’s shortcomings.
Final Rating: *½
Bret Hart vs. Vader
This is still from Thursday Raw Thursday and now most of that show has found it’s way onto this tape. Undertaker interjects to say he’s not getting any respect and everyone else in the Final Four match knows they can’t beat him. Vader uses this opening to give Bret a beating in the corner. He’s throwing spuds and Vader was still on fire in early 1997. His February matches, especially the Final Four match, show just how determined he was to stay in that main event mix. Bret comes back with power moves and slams Vader twice, as if it’s nothing of note. He’s lucky Vader jumps so well for a big man. There is an audible “we gotta go” call from referee Earl Hebner, as TV time is running out. Bret slaps Vader in the Sharpshooter only for the ropes to save. Steve Austin appears up in the balcony to taunt Bret and that gives Vader another opening. Vader already had a Raw win over Bret in 1997 and looks to have a second one here, again courtesy of Austin, but Bret dodges a moonsault and rolls Vader up for the pin. The finish was very rushed. Pity Vader slipped down the card. By the time they ran into each other again, Vader wasn’t in the same main event league.
Final Rating: **
They try to start the Bret Hart-Sid title match twice only for Steve Austin to twice stop it. First by taking out Sid’s knee and then by jumping Bret backstage.
Bret Hart (c) vs. Sycho Sid
This is the night after In Your House: Final Four, where Bret won his 4th WWF title in a blinder. This isn’t as good. Bret wants a technical bout where he outwrestles Sid, but Sid just wants to brawl and doesn’t seem happy taking any spots. Incidentally both Bret’s knees were shot by this point in his career, but that doesn’t stop him wrestling here. Not that it has any bearing on anybody else, Shawn Michaels. Sid and Bret don’t have good chemistry, which is one of those rare occurrences when Bret can’t get a decent match out of a guy who Shawn worked a terrific match with. But that’s mainly because Sid relies heavily on an opponent bumping around for him and Bret has no intention of doing that. Bret works the knee at length before setting up his very first ring post figure four. I love that spot and I know James is incredibly fond of it. If there’s a spot that defines our wrestling friendship; it’s that one. Bret continues to assault the knee only for Sid to keep pounding Bret to stop it. The situation leaves the fans torn and undecided over who wins. Bret is technically better and Sid has a bad leg, but Sid has all that power and Bret doesn’t have a great history against bigger opponents. They do a good job of making both men legitimate winners, which is probably the last time Sid would be considered potentially the best choice for World Champion in the WWF. Bret takes a nasty bump into the ropes, but Steve Austin shows up. Sid lays him out, clearly not content to let someone else interfere in his business. He tries for a sunset flip, of all things, but Bret counters right into the Sharpshooter. It is over. Sid tries to power out but he can’t. Austin leans into the ring and nails Bret in the head with a chair shot, which confuses Earl Hebner. Sid is confused but takes it and hits the powerbomb for the title. This would lead to Sid’s last hoorah at ‘Mania vs. Taker and Bret vs. Austin in a submission match where they both turned.
Final Rating: **¼
This is from the Manhattan Center, the original home of Monday Night Raw.
Arm Wrestling Match
Sunny vs. Marlena
Don’t remember Sunny wrestling? Well, this is an arm wrestling match. Sunny brings the Rick Rude entrance, complete with full disrobing and mockery of the locals. We get clips of Chyna’s debut and first appearance on Raw, where she attacked Marlena. Sunny offers Marlena the chance to forfeit as the New Yorkers demand nudity. Marlena has a great line about how Sunny “stopped working 42nd for long enough to come here”. Honky Tonk Man is out to officiate. Sunny decides to do a bit of stalling as Honky actually gets irritated about her heel delaying. Wait… Honky is upset about someone stalling? “Honky’s got a woody” chant the New York fans. They have an ingenious ploy of putting the table down low so both girls have to bend over to compete. Aye caramba. Sunny throws powder in Marlena’s eyes for the DQ.
Final Rating: It’s an arm wrestling match between two hot chicks. You can’t really rate that but you’d watch it.
The Legion of Doom vs. The Headbangers
This was a surprise, as the LOD hadn’t been announced. Interesting to note almost every fan in the crowd wearing a wrestling shirt has either an ECW shirt or a bWo one. This is ECW country. The crowd erupts into a lovely “Nitro sucks” chant, while LOD and the ‘Bangers club each other. Vince seems quite happy with that and proclaims “no censorship” in the WWF. Of course that only happens when it suits him. Animal murders Mosh with a tremendous powerbomb. He doesn’t protect him at all, he just plants him. Jerry Lawler tries to get a rise out of Vince by listing off the Headbangers favourite bands, which includes the Butthole Surfers. I’ve seen them live, it was not a good experience. The crowd moves on to “Bischoff sucks”. Great atmosphere in New York. A pity the ECW matches aren’t included on this tape as they gave Raw a real vibrancy, which is something this match doesn’t have. Headbangers get a brief heat segment on Hawk, but Animal swiftly hot tags in. They brawl out to the floor and both teams get counted out. Hawk at least shows some smarts by rolling back in just after the ten count. Mosh takes the Doomsday Device to keep the fans happy, but it speaks volumes about the WWF’s lack of faith in the Roadies that they didn’t even put them over in their first match back.
Final Rating: ½*
The Undertaker vs. Faarooq
This is JIP, thankfully. I’m thinking about the Taz-Mikey Whipwreck and Tommy Dreamer vs. D-Von Dudley matches they could have used that I still remember. This match, I forgot about before it finished. The New Yorkers make fun of the “Nation of Masturbation”. Doing a show in front of ECW fans is asking for trouble, especially when Faarooq has a proclivity for chinlocks and it bores them. Faarooq is all over the place. He hits a powerslam, stands up to shout about it, adds in a stomp, then goes for the pin. Even Jerry Lawler thinks that’s stupid. D’Lo Brown low bridges Taker as the crowd continues to not care one little bit. Maybe they shouldn’t have put this pile of shit on last? Faarooq gets a piledriver, but Taker completely no-sells it so the Nation run in for the DQ. The LOD make the save and we’re done.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us Shawn Michaels’ ‘Tell Me a Lie’ music video, which is appropriate. Maybe they should have tweaked the title to ‘Tell Me Another Lie’? I remember being quite upset about it at the time, but in retrospect sitting out WrestleMania to avoid jobbing on account of a bogus knee injury doesn’t wash with most fans. And he calls himself Mr. WrestleMania? Shawn’s behaviour from late Summer of 1996, where he refused to job to Vader and ruined the booking for the rest of the year, up until his first retirement in 1998, is terrible. Which is too bad because he was still one of the best wrestlers on the planet.
Summary: They pretty much skipped over January, which is a pity because there was an Owen-Mankind match I could have sat through again. Not to mention the Bulldog & Owen vs. Furnas & LaFon match, which is a terrific example of tag team wrestling and one of the best matches of the year (behind Bulldog-Owen and Bulldog & Owen vs. Austin & Michaels). For those of you sensing a trend; the usual tremendous in-ring work of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart took something of a backseat to their politics in 1997, and allowed the likes of Bulldog and Owen to steal the in-ring spotlight. None of that here and as per usual the “best of” focuses purely on the main events and main eventers rather than the best matches. A few gems regardless, and Hunter-Rock is worth seeing, not only as their first match but also because it’s the smartest worked match of Hunter’s career to that point. The cerebral assassin had arrived.