Arnold Furious: It’s amazing to think that the late 90s were still as kayfabed as they were. What with Vince Russo and his million worked shoots in WCW, you’d think even the dimmest mark would have cottoned on to the internet and got themselves smartened up. But, if memory serves correctly, I’ve personally had to explain how wrestling works to people older and supposedly wiser than me (including one deluded fellow who claimed Kane wore his mask everywhere and really was scarred from a fire. I bet he felt pretty stupid when Kane unmasked). Not to mention a hoard of idiots I’ve encountered over the years on the internet and at live shows who seemed to have no clue as to what was occurring in front of them (being resident guru of SmashWrestling was an eye opener). So maybe it’s not so shocking that a trip down memory lane like this one reveals the WWF still desperately churning out kayfabe products. This being at the same time as Mick Foley was writing books detailing how wrestling works. I guess this DVD was aimed more at the non-literate market. If you smell what I’m cooking.
Tangent: During the course of these books I’ve remembered both a sentimental love of VHS as a format (tape trading was an absurdly fun time) and an incredible loathing. The latter normally stemming from how horribly deteriorated the tapes have become when WWF Home Video decided to use cheap quality tape. Like Lee, I’ve noticed stuff I taped off TV is in far better condition than official WWF releases. It’s frustrating and I’m glad DVD arrived when it did, thus preserving wrestling in a better format.
We’re in South Beach, Florida. The tape is hosted by The Rock, as if anyone else could do it. In a remarkable piece of business he runs through his opponents including “that half queer” Triple H, “a big piece of monkey crap” Mankind and “the biggest piece of trash walking God’s green Earth” Steve Austin. We start off by watching Rock shooting a commercial, which seems to involve him driving around with his shirt open. He has three women hanging off his arm during the shoot but refers to them as “jabronis” and the Nation of Domination too. “Faarooq. Faarwho?”
On RAW, Rock presents the Nation with solid gold Rolexes to win their favour. Kama, D’Lo and Mark Henry get $15,000 gifts but Faarooq gets a framed photo of the Rock. In a kayfabe interview The Rock talks about lying and then lying about lying and backstabbing because that’s what he was about, but that sometimes he’d just hit you in the face with a chair. That leads to footage of Rock hitting Ken Shamrock square in the face with a chair, which is one of the most brutal unprotected chair shots, ever. “Are you ribbing the Rock?” says Rocky when Shamrock beckons him to use the chair. The Rock next addresses the rivalry with Faarooq and suggests there was no rivalry as the Rock just laid the smack down on his candy ass. This leads into footage of the Nation turfing Faarooq out, mainly because Rock had given them all expensive gifts. I like how Rock just totally skims over this whole segment as if the Nation meant nothing to him compared to the actual talent he’s about to work with.
We head straight into Rock making fun of Chyna for wanting the Rock in a sexual manner. “Chyna, you just need to get some”. The rest of the Nation put her “down on her knees where she belongs”. The Rock eventually refuses to kiss her because she’s a big piece of trash. The IC Title feud with Triple H leads into the Nation battling DX and after Rock uses a ladder on Hunter, they have a ladder match at SummerSlam ‘98. When quizzed as to if he’ll accept the match the Rock says “you bet your pretty ass”. Rock goes on to shoot on Hunter again calling him “part queer”. Do you think they didn’t get along? Extended highlights of the SummerSlam ’98 ladder match follow. I happen to think it’s one of the most overrated ladder matches of all time, but any time the WWF give two stars a ladder match on PPV it means they’re serious about pushing them. Even the highlights are lame as both guys slowly, slowly, slowly walk after the ladder and get cut off. You know how we make fun of slow ladder climbing? You’d be surprised at how little of it exists in the really great ladder matches whereas this one has laughable ladder climbing. At least there’s a bit of psychology regarding Hunter’s slow climbing as Rock works his leg over. The knee stuff is easily the best part of the match. Another interesting point from this match is how careless Rock can be and he shows no attempt to protect Hunter when he shoves a ladder over. Watching these highlights does remind me of some of the better psychology the match has and of Rock’s brutal facial injury from getting a ladder dropkicked into his nose. Chyna gets in a low blow to allow Hunter the win. I have the match at around ***½, and I could live with four if someone wanted to rate it that, but for me it’s not MOTY or anything.
I love a little offshoot from the Rock where he says how anyone can just come out and say “this Friday I’m gonna kick your ass”. After saying no one can cut a promo like the Rock, we get a collection of them. He’s tremendously entertaining. “Here’s a guy who looks like Tarzan and he wrestles like Jane” – of Triple H, during a match against him. “You put his brain in a parakeet, ZING, flies backwards” – of Kane.
Rock had a brief flirtation with being a babyface, where he was getting monster reactions. This leads into Survivor Series where Rock beat Bossman and Shamrock, both Corporate members, in dubious circumstances. Kane, also in the Corporation, then cost Undertaker his match with the Rock. Eventually Vince McMahon screws Mankind and the booking of the tournament makes perfect sense as Rock advanced thanks to the Corporation, all the way. One of Vince Russo’s better evenings of booking, albeit at the expense of actual wrestling. Rock denies being a Corporate puppet as it was his plan to use the Corporation like he used the Nation; to become the man. Rock still makes me chuckle when desperately trying to stay heel. “This ain’t sing-a-long with the champ. The Rock says it by himself”. His facial reactions to the fans finishing his catchphrases are wonderful. They even finish his “this is not sing-a-long with…” I love his nursery rhyme stuff too. “Piss on the lamb, piss on Mary and piss on you”. By late 1999 the fans were eating up every single word that came out of his mouth. Austin’s injury was actually well timed for the People’s Champ. Back to the interview and Rock mentions the fans are loud for him regardless of whether he’s a face or a heel, which is the first “insider” terminology on display.
The Corporate piece leads into footage from the Rock-Mankind “I Quit” match at Royal Rumble ‘99. This includes Rock’s entire pre-match promo, his entire entrance and then clips of the match, most of which involve Rock hitting Mankind with inanimate objects and refusing to quit in humorous fashion. The match is a mixture of brutality, comedy and high spots. It’s a decent match. Rock was certainly improving as an in-ring talent during early 1999 and getting the hang of being a main event star. The finale comes with Mankind taking a big bump onto an “electrical” thing, which causes the lights to go out before Rock handcuffs Mankind and waffles him repeatedly with sickening chair shots. Rock ignores the blatant pumped in “I Quit” words and claims he dominated that match. This leads into the Empty Arena match from Superbowl Halftime Heat. I had totally forgotten that Vince McMahon commentated on the match, in somewhat biased fashion. The cinematic nature of the photography is a letdown as it takes away from the competitive nature of the bout although I’m sure they wanted to do something stylish to appeal to potential Superbowl viewers. It’s not a traditional wrestling match as there’s no wrestling in it and they garbage brawl all over an arena before Mankind wins with a forklift truck. The final shot of Rock being pinned with a camera in his face is stupid. We also get footage of their final match; the ladder match on RAW. I guess there wasn’t room on the tape for their Last Man Standing match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Putting it close to the HHH match from SummerSlam the previous year means we can see the similarity of Rock’s ladder spots in this match. Eventually Big Show comes down to chokeslam Mankind off the ladder and Rock reclaims the WWF Title. They covered an important run in Rock’s career here and did it reasonable justice, considering the tape’s run time.
They quickly bring in the historical importance of Rock-Austin by covering the IC Title feud they had. Rock’s semi-shoot into camera promo gets hysterical at this point as he builds up the feud while, in total sincerity, claims he made the IC Title famous. We skip ahead to WrestleMania XV, having suitably set the table, and the WWF Title match. Seeing as the match is hugely important, we get extended highlights again. Austin might have won this match but Rock headlined WrestleMania and once you’ve been there and delivered, you’re set. Austin’s bump on the entranceway lighting rig shows up here and it makes me wonder how deliberate the spot was considering how bad it must have been for his knee to take it. Austin manages to kick out of the Rock Bottom, rolling his shoulder when Rock drags him too far up with the legs. You need to get an even weight distribution across the shoulders. They have a few good counters, especially around the finishing moves. Austin just barely kicks out of a chair shot and a Samoan drop, keeping the fans on the edge of their seats. Rock then kicks out of a Stunner, thus putting him over big time. The booking kicks in as Rock hits a Rock Bottom and sets for the People’s Elbow but Austin dodges it. Another Rock Bottom is countered into the Stunner and despite an enormous oversell Rock stays down for three. Rock points out it took two Stunners to beat him before mentioning the record business they did. The feud continued because Rock throws Austin off a bridge and his title belt follows. We get a few clips from the funeral for Austin and move on to Backlash as talking head Rock claims Rock vs. Austin is the best sportz entertainment there is. In order to prove that, we get the Gonzo camerawork from the Rock leading to the Stunner. I love that spot. Rock does another enormous oversell on the Stunner before Austin wins with a follow up belt shot. Rock compares Austin to a loaf of Wonderbread, stating he’ll go stale eventually but that will never happen to the Rock whose book has “infinite chapters” because he doesn’t slap hands or kiss babies. This segment summed up exactly why the Rock became a massive star.
Rock points out he used the Corporation and won three world titles but then got sick of carrying them and left. Rock closes out by saying it’s only just begun as he’s the People’s Champion and lives to entertain his millions of fans.
Summary: This is much better than expected as the whole tape flows from one major event to the next and even the link pieces feel correctly positioned. Each segment is strong and Rock’s charisma is all over this tape. Considering he was a heel for most of it, that makes this tape all the more extraordinary. The WWF could actually put out a profile of a guy who was a heel, behaves like a heel and doesn’t give a crap about anyone but himself and make it not only a good tape but a much better tape than say, Steve Austin: Hell Yeah. The Rock’s tape is more entertaining, is more coherent and is a far better showcase of his talent.