James Dixon: This is a taster tape highlighting some of the WWF’s most brutal matches from the past 18-months. None are shown in full but rather in highlight form, mostly set to music, with talking heads from the roster offering comments and analysis.
Hell in a Cell
The Undertaker vs. Mankind
Mick Foley speaks first, talking about how he realised he and Taker were going to struggle to live up to the incredible standards set by Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker in their 1997 match of the year at Badd Blood. It was a task made even harder by Undertaker having a broken foot. “The possibility of stinking up the place was high” says Foley. Taker kayfabes and says he knew he needed to do something drastic to counter Mankind’s usual brutality, though in reality he was uncomfortable with the big bumps and had to be pestered by Foley until he was worn down. The Big Bossman chimes in and claims he was worried when he saw the bumps, which is odd given he didn’t return to the WWF until October, some four months after the show. D’Lo Brown and Steve Austin say how scared they were when they saw the first fall; “It was devastating” offers Stone Cold.
Taker couldn’t believe Foley returned to the ring, but anyone who knew Mick Foley probably wasn’t really all that surprised. He is good crazy, with the art coming first in his mind ahead of his own wellbeing. Road Dogg saw the second bump, the one through the cage, and thought that was the end of Mick. Wrestlers know the truth; that was the really painful one. Foley counters that and claims it wasn’t all that painful when it happened… because he was unconscious.
We break from the talking heads and the accompanying footage that matches what is being said, to see random highlights of the rest of the bout set to a typically soulless and weak song from God-botherers P.O.D. Jeff Hardy then calls it the best match he has ever seen, which is why he will always be remembered as a stunt guy ahead of a wrestler. It was a remarkable spectacle, sure, but it was far from a great match in the traditional sense. “I feel like I have done more” says Mick, clearly disappointed that from his entire body of work, his career will be defined by two silly bumps. More half hearted nu-metal dirge follows as we see the same bumps again, only this time slightly slowed down and with the soundtrack attempting to change the tone to a reflective sobriety. It doesn’t fit at all.
Steel Cage Match
Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon
“I had the butterflies in my stomach” says Vince in a rare out of character interview, while the rest of his roster discuss how little chance he had going in to the bout as he was “a suit against an athlete”. We go back-and-forth between Steve and Vince discussing their strategies, while more popular alternative music from the day whirs away in the background. This is a very odd presentation. The talking head stuff is relatively non-kayfabed and insightful, but the highlights to the music make it feel like an MTV music video. The Hardy Boyz enjoyed Vince’s nasty table bump, but Edge says it was “ugly”, which it was. Vince bounced on the no selling table first before it decided to break. Shane McMahon says that everyone in the back was worried and begging for him to get up, which is only half true because it was all part of the show, even if the bump was more nasty than expected. The match continued, with Vince taking a pasting and constantly defying Austin with “sign language”, and then taking a further kicking for his insolence. That is, until the lumbering behemoth Paul ‘The Giant’ Wight, later the Big Show, made his WWF debut by coming through the ring, Undertaker style. He instantly established himself as a giant goofball by hurling Austin into the side of the cage, only for it to swing open allowing Austin to drop out and win. The sombre music returns, but trying to tug on the emotional heartstrings for an Austin-McMahon confrontation is just never going to work.
Last Man Standing Match
Mankind (c) vs. The Rock
This is another bout from the series of violent encounters these two had in early 1999. It follows their controversial outing at Royal Rumble 1999 where Rock took liberties with Foley’s health and welfare by drilling him with a series of sickening and hard to watch chair shots to his unprotected skull. This is less violent, though still features some meaty bumps, and is presented like a post-modernist Japanese influenced movie what with the music used, the subtitles in between spots and things cut all over the place out of sequence. It’s like Quentin Tarantino’s handy work. Two of the highlights, at least according to the tape, are Mankind attempting the worst People’s Elbow in history and Rock taking a seat and doing a spot of commentary. Michael Cole turns up as a talking head, and good lord he looks like a crack addict. Honestly, the difference between him here and in later years when he became the unwelcome “voice of WWE” is astonishing. Michael, just what did you change your diet to? Dianabol and pies? Another moment featured sees Rock taking another break from the action to sing an out of breath rendition of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. Edge thinks he shouldn’t give up his day job and Mick says he thought he was off key. In the context of the match he shut him up with a Mandible Claw, but the finish soon followed and turned out to be a damp squib draw, with the title change coming the next night on RAW instead. Obviously.
WWF European Championship
Shane McMahon (c) vs. X-Pac
To the second best match from WrestleMania XV, which says more about the show than it does the quality of this bout, which was only average. Shane shows that being the bosses son he can get away with whatever he wants, including stealing moves from the real workers, as he tries the People’s Elbow. X-Pac says it bordered on a felony, which Shane laughs off as “all entertainment”. I guess taking Rob Van Dam’s Van Terminator and making it his own two years later falls in the same category… I would be interested to hear how he defends taking a pasting and no-selling it and then mounting a comeback, something he has done many times. Highlights from the bout continue to roll, including the ending that saw Triple H turning heel on X-Pac to render the prior three months of storyline completely nonsensical. No one saw it coming through, right Vinny Ru? Shane sums things up by talking about what an honour it was to compete at WrestleMania and that some guys never get there. The fact he was only there because his surname was McMahon and him being on the card took a spot from someone more deserving who had worked for years to get a shot, is naturally not mentioned.
In an interlude, Cyprus Hill’s unappealing blend of rap and metal, without being listenable as either, blares out as Steve Austin dicks around in some vehicles, which was one of his favourite extracurricular pastimes. The usual Austin footage of him commandeering and utilising a monster truck, a cement truck, a zamboni and a beer truck follows. Austin says there were no safety harnesses in any of the vehicles, so he just had to improvise and hope for the best. Yeah, there is nothing quite like putting your most marketable and money making star in potential danger each week by having him play amateur stuntman. This is quite a fun little segment though, with Austin joking about inadvertently ribbing himself when he tried to take a drink from the beer hose used in the famous “beer bash” spot, not realising how powerful it was, while Mick Foley makes the funny and says he wants Austin to prove how tough he is by coming out on a moped. He is right, that would be a blast.
Terri Invitational Ladder Match
The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian
Along with the Hell in a Cell, this is probably the most important match on the tape historically, because of the importance to the participants. Actually I would say that it is even more important than the famous Cell encounter as it made three future World Champions… and Matt Hardy, rather than just one. There is good reason too, because the bout is a master class in stunt-filled spots, with thrills and innovation around every corner. All four guys were on the bottom rung prior to the bout, and while they weren’t nobodies, they were fairly close. Talk about grabbing the brass ring with both hands; the performance from all four was so sensational that not only did they receive a standing ovation from those in attendance at the Gund Arena that night, but also the following night from the RAW crowd in Columbus, Ohio. Edge tells an often repeated story about how Mick Foley, one of the WWF’s genuine main eventers and all around nice guys, came up to them after the bout and praised the work, telling them they had earned their spot. He is absolutely right. I remember being blown away by this when watching it live, and it still holds up as one of the finest ladder based encounters in the history of the business.
Summary: It’s not very long, but you get plenty of bang for your buck with this tape. As an introduction to some of the WWF’s most celebrated stunt bouts from the Attitude era, it does a pretty great job. The music is not to everyone’s tastes though, well anyone’s actually. I love heavy metal, but the tosh accompanying the clips on this tape is obscure, flat and dull. Who has EVER liked P.O.D? That aside, the interviews are varied and fun, and relevant, and the general pace of the presentation keeps things moving at such a speed that even if the matches weren’t good it wouldn’t be boring. The fact that they all range from good to great makes this a recommended offering for someone merely wanting to see what all the fuss is about.