James Dixon: Why is Volume 9 of this series being rolled out before Volume 8? A perfectly reasonable question, and the answer is remarkable. It seems the WWF decided to erase Bret Hart from history after Montreal, and they wanted to remove all of his matches and angles from this release, probably so they didn’t have to pay him royalties but also so they didn’t remind fans how much better he was in the ring than most of the other guys they had. With this tape only featuring one episode of Raw that he featured on, cutting him out was a fairly simple task, though it did reduce the running time to 90-minutes. They could have easily filled it with something else as there was plenty good on the TV in November and December 1997, including a brilliant angle between Dustin Runnels and wife Terri, with Dustin ending their marriage during a sit-down interview. It is gripping and powerful television, but not deemed worthy. Best of Raw 8, which Arnold Furious covers in a few pages time, had a harder task replacing the Hitman, what with him being all over WWF shows in September and October, especially given that he was WWF Champion. That tape gets hacked to high heaven, reduced to 75-minutes and with the ***+ Bret-Vader match from September removed from history. How unbelievably petty.
Marc Mero Vs. Savio Vega
This is one of the best matches on Raw in these two months? A year ago, maybe, but not in 1997. Oh, Sable is here, suddenly everything is clear. Jerry Lawler criticises Mero for his endless boxing jabs and tells him to get in a boxing ring and fight Mike Tyson, which Vince says he would “love to see”. Two months later, he struck a deal with Tyson to appear on a number of WWF shows, including being the guest enforcer at WrestleMania XIV for Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin. Coincidence? Probably. Despite the brevity of the contest Savio still manages to throw some rest holds in, because he is a very dull heel. Savio misses a spin kick and Mero punches him in the balls, as has been a theme of his recently, then hits the TKO for the win. The little worm Michael Cole tries to get a word with Sable about Mero’s use of the ball shots, but Mero steps between them and says the interview is over. He is jealous, you see. What a poor way to start.
Final Rating: ½*
Shawn Michaels Vs. Ken Shamrock
This follows Shamrock making WWF Champion Bret Hart tap out last week, but the referee not seeing it because Bret knocked him out. One of the possible options to avoid the Montreal situation was to put the belt on Shamrock here, as suggested by Jim Cornette. The reasoning was that if Bret was unwilling to job, Shamrock would make him. I don’t think Shamrock would necessarily have done that to Bret though, given that Hart helped train him and was highly respected in the locker room, but Bret may have been more willing to lose to him than Shawn. Not that Shamrock was anywhere near ready for that spot or indeed ever was, but it was an option. Shamrock starts strong, tearing into Michaels before he even removes his chaps, and then sending HBK and Triple H into each other with a noggin knocker. Shamrock was such a bizarre hybrid of styles, combining generic punchy-kicky stuff with exciting throws and holds, as demonstrated when he clubs away with some body shots before hitting a beautiful bridging fisherman’s suplex. Chyna evens the score for her DX buddy by pushing Shamrock into the post and Hunter unloads on him as Rick Rude wanders to the ring to further stack the odds against ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’. Michaels doesn’t have a great deal to work with and is forced to put on a chinlock so he can talk through the next spots with Shamrock and lead him through the remainder of the match. Shamrock fires back with leg lariats, but a rana is quite surprisingly blocked with a sit-out powerbomb from Michaels, which I can only remember him doing previously on the 1-2-3 Kid. Michaels misses Sweet Chin Music and Shamrock locks him in the ankle lock and taps him out, just like with Bret last week. However, also like against Hart, the referee misses it, this time thanks to DX. Rude comes in and clobbers Shamrock in the back with his briefcase, and Michaels gets the win. In a move that clearly shows that the WWF knew Michaels would be working Shamrock at the next pay-per-view in advance of Montreal, DX give him a beating after the fact. I suppose it is conceivable that Shamrock would move into a feud with Triple H rather than Michaels if the Screwjob hadn’t occurred, but I guess we will never know. A fair effort, but by Michaels’ lofty standards it falls way short. He wasn’t the human superball tonight that he is at his best.
Final Rating: **
Taka Michinoku Vs. Devon Storm
This is a quarter final match from the WWF’s light heavyweight title tournament, which was their low-rent answer to WCW’s cruiserweights. It didn’t quite match up, because while WCW had world class talents like Dean Malenko, Rey Misterio Jr., Psicosis, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Juventud Guerrera and countless others, the WWF was parading around Scott Taylor, Brian Christopher and Flash Flanagan. Hardly the stuff of inspiration. The best match in the tournament was a quarter final contest between Aguila and Super Loco, but that has been shunned in favour of this one. Devon Storm would find “success” years later as Crowbar in WCW, but he is nothing special. The comical way he runs into the apron like a character on a video game being thwarted by poor collision detection rather exemplifies that. There is nothing wrong with this from a technical standpoint, and the general execution and delivery of the various spots is perfectly ok, it is just unremarkable compared to the vastly superior alternatives available in this style. After a parade of missile dropkicks, flip legdrops and dives, both guys miss off the top, colour commentator Brian Christopher’s interference backfires and Taka wins it with a vicious looking Michinoku Driver. Immediately following the win he runs to the ropes and dives out of the ring onto Christopher, getting huge air in the process. Taka was a perfect fit for this tournament, but the WWF should have let him cut loose against his Michinoku Pro brethren rather than sticking him in with small-time Memphis guys who could play their characters but were unable to wow the crowds.
Final Rating: **
The Undertaker Vs. Kama
Oh man, didn’t we suffer enough of this interminable feud in 1995? Of course, Kama scored a victory over Undertaker a few months back on Raw, pinning him cleanly in a tag match. And indeed here his recent unbeaten streak against the Dead Man continues, as this trundles along for 2-minutes and then the lights go out as Kane and Paul Bearer make their way out to the stage. The official result: a no contest. Way to go Kama. “Dead Man… Yes you, zombie!” bellows Bearer, as if there was more than one dead man in the vicinity. Bearer tells Undertaker than Kane wants a match with him, but Taker has no interest and refuses to fight him. Man, you can really see why Taker used to have a mouthpiece for so long; his Southern twang is incredibly noticeable here. Taker asks Kane to ignore Paul Bearer and instead walk with him, and reiterates that he won’t fight him. Bearer tells Undertaker that all the people Kane beats up will be on his head. This did the job as far as establishing the storyline between the two for the next few months, and the silliness that soon consumed the feud was thankfully absent. The match was a waste of time though, and just served as an excuse to get Undertaker in the right place for his promo.
Final Rating: ¼*
Dude Love Vs. Rocky Maivia
This is from the same episode of Raw that featured the “Bret Screwed Bret” interview from Vince McMahon, though that is not shown on this tape. Given the way Raw was going as far as talking far outweighing wrestling, it makes sense that they stopped doing these match highlight videos early into 1998. The episode is also notable for featuring an appearance from a moustache-sporting Rick Rude, who had jumped ship to WCW since this was taped, and appeared on their show earlier in the evening, sans ‘tache. Mick Foley was absent from last week’s show due to moral turpitude with regards to the Montreal Screwjob, but even though this was taped two days later, he is back. Rocky comes to the ring wearing the Intercontinental Championship, which he stole from Steve Austin, and cuts a promo where he starts referring to himself in the 3rd person. JR thinks he is an idiot. This match does not carry the same gravitas as it would even a year later, but it is perfectly fine for a television match. Why it went on to appear on the Mick Foley DVD For All Mankind though is anyone’s guess. They go back-and-forth for a few minutes before Love hits the double-arm DDT, which brings in the Nation to beat on him. Austin comes out for the save and throws some Stunners around, but Rock hightails it with the title belt. Basic television wrestling, nothing more, nothing less.
Final Rating: *¼
Savio Vega Vs. Ken Shamrock
Oh great, another Savio Vega match, just what this tape needed. Shamrock is fairly over, but no-where near the levels of a main event guy, which is what he is being temporarily positioned as what with a WWF Title match against Shawn Michaels imminent at In Your House 19. Shamrock’s hands went to the same body appendage school as Rob Van Dam’s and X-Pac’s feet, according to JR at least. Shamrock pretty much bosses things until Miguel Perez comes down and assists his Los Boricuas partner, giving Savio chance to go to his heel run specialty: the chinlock. Things look to be about to pick up when Savio misses a spin kick and Shamrock hits a crossbody, but Savio escapes and goes back to the chinlock. Savio goes to the kick again to thwart a Shamrock comeback, and this one connects, but he uses the ropes for leverage on the pin and gets caught. JR and Jerry Lawler get bored and start discussing whether Jim Neidhart will join D-Generation X tonight, as in the ring Shamrock “snaps” and hits a rana. Most people just punch a wall or something. A belly-to-belly is followed by the ankle lock, and that is game over for Vega. Yet another drab affair on a tape full of them.
Final Rating: ¾*
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Legion of Doom (c) vs. The New Age Outlaws
Gunn and Dogg come out in LOD shoulder pads and call the Road Warriors “dinosaurs”, which gets the champions’ dander up. Gunn and Dogg are not actually officially the New Age Outlaws yet, but they are listed as that on the back of the tape box. JR mentions during this that the world is abuzz about what will happen when “Bret Hart confronts Shawn Michaels” tonight. It turned out to be a midget in a Bret Hart mask, who Shawn Michaels proceeded to mercilessly mock. Hawk controls both of the Outlaws for what feels like too long, giving Cornette time to reel off all of the Road Warriors history he can remember off the top of his head. Wasn’t it nice when the announcers were allowed to reference the company’s rich history without having to belittle, cheapen and disparage it? Hawk does his usual missed charge into the corner to go into heat, and after a hot tag that the referee misses, Dogg belts Hawk with the title belt for a super-close near fall. I bought that one as the finish. This time Hawk does get the hot tag and Animal overpowers the challengers, but Gunn ducks his flying tackle and Animal hits and wipes out the referee. LOD don’t really care and go for the Doomsday Device anyway, but Road Dogg uses a chair to save Gunn and a second ref comes out and counts the fall on Animal, giving us new tag champions. The Outlaws do the smart thing and run like hell after the decision. Fun enough, and a rather momentous result as it catapulted the Outlaws up the card, and soon they would be among the top guys in the entire company. They have a lot to be thankful to LOD for.
Final Rating: *½
Taka Michinoku vs. Aguila
This is a semi final match in the light heavyweight title tournament, and I have high hopes for this. The WWF shows its lack of regard for Aguila by misspelling his name as “Augila” on the back of the tape, which is disrespectful but not uncommon, as Jim Neidhart was renamed “Jim Niedhart” on previous Best of Raw releases. JR puts his foot in his mouth right away by matter-of-factly stating “I don’t think you’re going to see a great deal of mat wrestling in this contest” as Taka locks on an intricate stretch, and then Aguila responds in kind with a surfboard, as Jim Cornette directly and correctly contradicts JR by saying both guys in fact are accomplished mat wrestlers. They run a really good dodge and fly sequence before Taka connects with his big air plancha, or his “I fear nothing move” if you are JR. They run more of the same, with misses on the outside exchanged before Aguila hits a highly impressive triple corkscrew moonsault from the top to the floor. This is far more akin to what the WWF light heavyweight division should have been like throughout; it is non-stop. Taka follows a powerbomb with a missile dropkick, before hitting the Michinoku Driver to win it. A four-minute thrill ride which was all style and no substance, but it was really fun to watch. Worth a look to see how the WWF’s LHW division could and indeed should have been.
Final Rating: ***
Billy Gunn vs. Dude Love
After running their mouths off at the “OLD” and mocking them with singing, Road Dogg says they want to conquer singles competition and calls out anyone in the back who thinks they are tough. Dude Love answers the call, though Cactus Jack would have been a better option. Road Dogg sticks around on commentary and instantly puts Michael Cole to shame with his aptitude for it. Cole excels himself, getting comically overly-excited where the situation doesn’t call for it: “AND HERE COMES THE BACKSLIDE” he screams. After a great deal of very little, Dude scores the clean pin following the double-arm DDT, so Dogg comes in and pulverises him with a chair. Gunn gets himself a measure of revenge by hitting a top rope legdrop onto the chair, which Dogg had placed over Foley’s face. The attack is so brutal that Love has to have the stretcher job treatment, which considering it is Mick Foley, is another strong way of getting the Outlaws over. The WWF did a tremendous job turning two undercard guys who were not even slightly over into one of the hottest acts in the company. I wonder when it was exactly that they lost the ability to do that and get guys over properly.
Final Rating: ¾*
Steve Austin forfeits the WWF IC Title to The Rock
Earlier in the show, Vince McMahon said Austin had to defend his IC title against the Rock tonight lest there be “consequences”. Austin was not particularly concerned and said he already beat Rock fair and square the previous night, so he has no interest in wrestling him again. When we get to the scheduled Austin-Rock main event for the title, Austin is not dressed to wrestle and dares Vince to do something about it. Rock tells Vince to fire him. Vince doesn’t, instead promising to strip Austin of the belt and award it to Rocky. Austin is nonplussed by that either, saying he has bigger fish to fry and wants the WWF Championship. Austin gives the belt to Rock and shakes his hand, then inevitably gives him a Stunner. After that he steals the belt in the same way Rock did to him a few weeks ago, then he runs the ropes and purposely knocks Vince off the apron, much like Charlie Haas did to Lillian Garcia years later, only that one wasn’t planned. The reason behind this rather shoddy title switch was apparently down to Austin refusing to put Rock over at In Your House 19, with his reasoning being that he was already on a guaranteed journey to the WWF Title at WrestleMania XIV, and he felt that losing would harm his momentum. He is right, and you would never have caught the Ultimate Warrior doing jobs on the lead-up to his WWF Title win over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI for a similar example, but at the same time it might have helped make Rock into a star even sooner. Of course it all worked out well in the end, but it was a bold move for Austin given Montreal was only a month prior. I guess the circumstances were different and Austin was more important to the WWF at this point and also wasn’t heading to WCW, but still.
Steve Austin throws The Rock’s WWF IC Title in a river
Rock cuts a promo alongside his Nation of Domination teammates, at one point shushing leader Faarooq and telling him “with all due respect, the champ is talking”. The seeds of a future split are sewn. Rock, the hypocrite, berates Austin for stealing his IC Title and orders him to give it back. Austin comes out without the belt and calls Rock a piece of trash, which prompts a great facial. Austin says Rock is in way over his head and walks off, but Rock is not intimidated, telling Austin he has an hour to return the belt. How do you think that goes for him? With the hour up, Rocky returns to the ring and says he is pissed off that Austin hasn’t returned the belt and the Nation are coming to find him. Austin appears on the big screen stood on a bridge, and in an often copied angle he throws a bunch of “useful” items into the river below such as an empty oxygen tank, a pager and a snorkel. Everyone can see where this is going, and Austin hoys the IC title into the river, telling the camera: “If he’s lucky maybe he’ll find it, if he doesn’t maybe he’ll drown, I really don’t give damn”. Back in the arena, Rock’s facial expressions are priceless. A great angle that really captured the Steve Austin spirit, though it has been retrospectively cheapened by the countless attempts to copy it since.
The Legion of Doom vs. Shawn Michaels & Triple H
The LOD are in something of a funk after having lost the WWF Tag Team Titles to the Outlaws and having been generally humiliated by them recently. They probably couldn’t pick two tougher opponents to try and get their mojo back against than Shawn and Hunter. The opening few minutes are fairly strong, with Michaels doing his usual superb job of making his opponents look great, including taking a vicious clothesline from Hawk on the outside. Jim Cornette rips into him on commentary for his ego, saying he is the greatest athlete in WWF history, but his insistence on “hot-dogging” and being a jerk is his weakness. And that my friends, is a shoot. As usual in LOD matches Hawk is tasked with taking the heat, as Cornette expertly analyses the heel tactics of DX. Hell, he knows better than anyone about good tag team wrestling. DX slow things down, until Hawk powers out of a Michaels front-facelock and then both men collide. Hawk makes the tag and Animal runs through his usual energetic routine, just as the Outlaws make their way to ringside. They pull the old Giant Gonzalez chloroform trick on Hawk to send him unconscious, as Chyna levels Animal with a low blow to bring about the DQ. Billy Gunn then shaves Hawk’s Mohawk and Animal gets put through a table, with DX looking on gleefully. Jim Cornette rightly points out that no-one in 15-years has ever treated the Road Warriors this way. The beating continues, with Gunn and Michaels both hitting moves off the top onto the stricken Hawk, who starts foaming from the mouth. What a tremendous angle, once again putting the Outlaws over incredibly strong. This tape might have been better served being released as ‘The Fall From Grace of the Legion of Doom’ or ‘The Rise of the New Age Outlaws’, because that has been the prime focus throughout.
Final Rating: **
Summary: There is some really good stuff on here, but the majority of it does not take place in the ring. The angles involving Austin, Rock, LOD and the Outlaws are really strong, but there are so many other good angles, interviews and storylines that have been omitted from this tape that it ultimately feels half-finished. The only match that stands out as above average is the light heavyweight title tournament spotfest between Taka Michinoku and Aguila, and that only lasts a few minutes. The business was changing and the WWF was at the front and centre of it in the mainstream, but this tape does not successfully capture the essence of that. Worth a look and at 90-minutes is flies past, but not worth going out of your way to get. Mild recommendation.