Arnold Furious: There are times when I love wrestling so, so much. When I picked up German Fan Favourites and started reading the contents is one of those times. How on earth does Germany get such awesome tape releases? Before even starting I know there are four great matches on the tape, which is better than most PPV’s! Bret’s title win, the first ladder match, The Rockers implosion and one of the greatest dream matches you’ve never heard of. Admittedly there are two horrible Undertaker matches, one against Giant Gonzalez for those who need completion on that particular feud, but otherwise this tape is incredible.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
This was the first WWF ladder match from way back in July 1992. The story being that Bret brought the concept with him from Stampede, where they’d run the gimmick before, and wanted to have a PPV ladder match. Vince McMahon didn’t quite get the gimmick so asked Bret for a demonstration. This match is the result and caused the first issues between Bret and Shawn. Bret brought the match into the WWF so he could use it, only for Shawn to borrow the concept and use it at WrestleMania X against Razor Ramon, in a match that made him a superstar. This match appears on a load of WWF Coliseum tapes including Smack ‘Em, Whack ‘Em, a popular tape amongst traders, back in the day, so it’s reviewed elsewhere in the book. It’s a great match too, loaded with psychology, which you rarely ever get in ladder matches. They actually beat each other down and sell the very appearance of the ladder in the ring as a major happening. Plus they don’t do that bullshit slow climbing stuff that has wrecked so many ladder matches down the years. When Shawn starts using the ladder as a weapon you can sense the crowd’s shock. Like a “holy shit, I didn’t think of that” reaction. Add in Bret’s incredible selling and bumping and you’ve got a great match. I really love the minimalism they bring to the ladder concept. Everything makes sense. There’s no setting up spots. When something evil looking happens, it feels organic, like when the ladder falls on Shawn. It’s a great spot but its not planned so it feels real. When Shawn does set a spot up, it backfires on him because setting spots up takes too long. Bret has a counter and slingshots Shawn into the ladder he’d set up himself. Instead of slow climbing they bat the belt around and it’s about the disorientation of having to reach up to grab the belt. To keep with the realism there’s only one big spot and it’s the finish. Also they keep wrestling around the ladder. Not every spot has to be a ladder spot. Like Sherri tripping Bret to set up the superkick. The finish sees Shawn trying to get the belt and Bret dropkicking the ladder over to send him to the floor. Bret climbs and gets the belt down. It’s all clever work and a great match.
Final Rating: ****¼
The Natural Disasters & High Energy vs. Money Inc. & The Beverly Brothers
This is also from July 1992. The Natural Disasters are the reigning tag champions, so the match is largely about their ongoing issues with Money Inc. The Disasters dominate with size but work too soft. It helps that they’ve got High Energy out there as Koko and Owen can bring actual spots to the match. The heels isolate Koko for heat and run formula into the ground. I don’t get that. Why would you run formula when there are eight guys out there? No one is going to get tired, just earn your damn money instead. Hot tag results in the Disasters squashing Beau, and Koko tags back in for the pin. Pretty nondescript stuff for an eight man tag. I’m disappointed at how lazily planned out the match was. It suffered from a dogged determination to not stray an inch from formula. Had Owen and Ted been allowed to plan it out, they could easily of had a passable match, at the very least.
Final Rating: *½
Ric Flair (c) vs. Bret Hart
This is one of the biggest curveballs in WWF history. Vince was having issues with his title situation and opted to switch the belt in Saskatchewan. The house show crowd has the usual low expectations of a WWF title match. They expect to be entertained but no one is expecting Bret to win the title, so the opening exchanges aren’t particularly epic. Bret gets minor victories and the crowd is certainly into it. I’ve seen comparisons between these two guys and the general feeling is that Flair wrestled the same match with everybody and it was always good, while Bret changed his tactics depending on his opponent and therefore got different great matches out of everybody. Against each other it’s Flair’s limitations, which is weird to type, that holds the match back. Bret’s creativity pulls it back up again. There are chunks of the match that are out of Flair’s usual playbook and to his eternal credit; that’s when the match is getting the biggest pops. Bret sees Flair’s shortcomings for what they are and improvises around them. So when Flair throws in a face bump for no reason, Bret just pins him. Bret’s all business. He’s not here to piss about, he’s here to win. But then Flair wasn’t about winning, he was about stylin’ and profilin’. Sometimes that meant a longer route to victory. Given they both finish with leg submissions, they trade on limb work. Bret shunts his psychology up by lifting the figure four, as he did quite often, but not against Flair! Both guys do a solid job on the selling without letting it affect the overall pace of the match. I love the bits of layered psychology. Like Bret realising Flair has his stuff scouted so going to a sleeper. But Bret doesn’t use it that often, so Flair is able to counter out easily. It’s a chess game. You can tell approaching the 20-minute mark that Flair is starting to take this seriously with his knee problems and goes for more pins. Of course that has the added bonus of wearing Bret down as the effort involved in kicking out is considerable. Flair gets a shin breaker into the figure four and that puts Bret in trouble for the first time in the match. Bret is keen to be champion on his own terms. Which means no “powering up” or similar, and he rolls Flair into the ropes instead. Both guys are struggling with knee issues but Bret takes another psychological decision and decides to turn it into a brawl instead, which is ground he can beat Flair on, injured or not. Flair’s selling and bumping during this spell in the match shows how eager he is to put Bret over. It’s all similar stuff; begging off, throwing himself off the top rope, etc. but he’s doing that in a match where he’s jobbing. You don’t always get that level of enthusiasm from a champ on their way out. Then something weird happens; Bret starts no selling and he drops the straps! It’s Bret’s version of “Hulking Up” that he saved for special occasions. Like winning the WWF title for the first time. Superplex sets up the Sharpshooter and Flair quits to give Bret his first WWF title. MASSIVE POP from the crowd, who must surely have been expecting shenanigans, especially as Mr. Perfect jumped on the apron moments before Flair quit. Flair was a credit to his profession as his WWF run finished. He happily put over everyone he was asked to and made them look great in the process. He made Bret a credible champion in the very manner of his defeat here. The booking on Bret’s title run wasn’t easy as there were virtually no challengers for the belt and his only decent high profile defence was against Flair in Boston Garden the following January in an Ironman match.
Final Rating: ****½
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Marty Jannetty
This was from the Manhattan Centre and Raw on 17th May 1993. Jannetty had a run at Shawn earlier in the year and unsuccessfully challenged for the IC title at the Rumble. Seeing as Jannetty left the WWF, again, afterwards no one really expected the feud to get its blow-off match. But Jannetty made a shock return on Raw thus setting up this title defence. Unlike the slower paced, psychology filled Rumble match, this is the fast paced bout they surely wanted from The Rockers in the first place. The match is just loaded with counters at speed. Every time he came back, it was like witnessing Jannetty’s rebirth. It’s so frustrating to remember all of his missed opportunities because of his drug and attitude problems. It must have been really frustrating for Shawn. He was trying to make a name for himself and couldn’t find anyone, bar Bret, who could keep up with him. Jannetty is relentless and Shawn throws himself around like bumps are going out of fashion. Shawn decides to walk off but Mr. Perfect blocks his exit, thus forcing him back into the ring. Now there’s a feud that should have produced at least one ****+ match and didn’t. Shawn was still a little short on being the finished article in 1993 and he hadn’t quite got his punches down. He was on the cusp of greatness. His bumping is perfect though, which is ideal as Perfect is at ringside and that’s what the WWF are working towards. It’s matches like this one that put everything else from the era to shame. Because it’s CONSTANT work from both guys. They just don’t stop. Jannetty gets a couple of hope spots from roll ups and such. It’s very much in the mould of Savage vs. Steamboat with the pacing and the near falls. Shawn gets distracted by Perfect a second time and Marty gets a sneaky roll up for the title. One of the most energetic matches you’re ever likely to see in under 10-minutes. I’m still not keen on the finish, because it’s been done to death, but everything that leads to it is gold. Marty quietly jobbed the belt back to Shawn a few weeks later on a house show and they had another match on Raw that was arguably as good as this, maybe better. PWI called this match their MOTY, which shows what a slow year 1993 was for big matches.
Final Rating: ****
The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez
This was during the “summer of crap matches” that The Undertaker was having in 1993. The Gonzalez feud kicked off at the Rumble, they had a piss poor match at WrestleMania and the feud would get blown off at SummerSlam. This is in between ‘Mania and the end of the feud. Gonzalez is his usual wreck. Can’t sell. Can’t bump. Can’t hit anything convincingly. Gonzalez applies a shitty chinlock. It’s about a 1.5 on the Sags Scale of abysmal chinlock execution. Undertaker seems game for selling everything Gonzalez has as dangerous. Like bumping a clothesline over the top despite its horrible low impact nature. Mr. Hughes thankfully runs in for the DQ. Better than WrestleMania because it was shorter. Even though the match barely makes it to 5-minutes, it’s still an abomination.
Final Rating: -*
WWF Tag Team Championship
Money Inc. (c) vs. The Steiner Brothers
1993 was an awkward time for the WWF as they only really had one decent team, The Steiners, so they couldn’t rush the belts onto them for fear of killing the division. It’s not often the WWF agreed with the NWA’s assertion that chasing the title was more interesting than defending it. Normally the WWF went for strong face champions. Unfortunately Money Inc. never seemed that bothered about the whole situation, which is a key issue. The best heel champions were always desperate to hold onto those title belts. Like Randy Savage in 1987. He’d rather kill Ricky Steamboat than lose to him. He tried to crush his throat with the ring bell. That’s a guy who’s desperate to hold onto his title. Of course, if Vince hadn’t pissed the LOD off by giving them a goddamn ventriloquists dummy, they could have feuded the two biggest teams in wrestling. Money Inc. do a lot of stalling. The Steiners don’t help matters by lacking urgency when they’re in charge. Scott takes some nice bumps, but they’re flashes of brilliance rather than the foundation for a good match. Money Inc. weren’t very creative and loved formula, which is how tag wrestling in the WWF died. Over reliance on formula. That and a lack of good teams. The Steiners comeback is remarkably paint-by-numbers too. The match looks to be over when Ted DiBiase hurts his back. He limps off to leave IRS to get double teamed. Doomsday Bulldog should finish only for Ted to screw up the timing on the save. Everybody stands around looking like an asshole as Ted almost apologetically taps Scott in the back with the Halliburton. The Steiners win on DQ, even though it was blatantly a pinfall. Very formulaic.
Final Rating: **
Ric Flair & Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Savage & Bret Hart
What a DREAM match this is. Four of the best wrestlers, ever, in a tag match. This took place in July 1992 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Savage is WWF champion and Bret holds the IC belt. Savage is on the wane as a wrestler and if anything he’s the weak link in this thing, which shows you how much talent is on show. Bret and Shawn run some good stuff, as do Savage and Flair, but it’s the other combinations that I’m eager to see, because you don’t get much Savage vs. Michaels in your lifetime. Savage and Flair kinda steal the early going with Savage insisting on periodically slapping the former champ. The look on Flair’s face is priceless. By comparison Bret is all business, as ever, and simply takes Shawn apart with superior wrestling. Shawn seems far more eager to bump around for Savage than Bret, perhaps interested in showing what he could do as a main eventer. Which is weird because his first PPV main event was with Bret Hart. The heels play the numbers game on Savage, with Mr. Perfect distracting Bret, and Sherri getting involved too. This leads to heat on the WWF champion and that does, sadly, take away from the action somewhat. Up to that point they’d avoided formula and rightly so. Formula is a crutch. It’s made worse by placing this after the formulaic previous bout. At least they’re creative with it; like Bret coming in and leaving Savage’s inside cradle unseen, then Flair leans in to roll it over and it ends up as a near fall on Savage instead. Flair blows it for his team by letting Savage out of a sleeper and getting thrown off the top. That leads directly to the hot tag. The heels start to compete with “who can do the sillier top rope bump”. Both Flair’s (flip with a twist) and Shawn’s (kicked into a crotching) are great. Savage gets a tag and runs Shawn into Sherri to score a roll up. It’s not the home-run it could have been, but it showed the WWF knew where it was going. They had Savage and Flair on top and were working towards Bret vs. Shawn. It was very much about the workhorses. These are guys that carry companies. I’m a touch disappointed by the time spent doing formula heat on Savage, but the stuff around that is golden.
Final Rating: ***¾
The Undertaker vs. Yokozuna
This isn’t the ideal way to finish up a great tape, but it’s already a win by this point. Yoko is on an unstoppable roll but the WWF was also very reluctant for Taker to do any jobs, so you’re immediately screwed for a finish. The beginning is surprisingly athletic, with Taker getting in his flying DDT and bumping around. He always took a good bump for a big man. Taker gets beaten up extensively after the opening and Yoko gives him the belly-to-belly. It’s there to set up the Banzai Drop, but Taker keeps sitting up, which freaks Yoko out so he smacks Taker in the face with his salt bucket. A salt bucket? Lame! So it’s a DQ. Given both men’s love of slow pacing, it’s probably for the best that this was brisk. Yoko wants the Banzai Drop but Taker sits up to avoid that too. Taker’s revenge attack after the bell culminates in the worst chokeslam you’re ever likely to see. It supports my theory that they should have kept it short. The longer the match, the more chance of them doing something bad. Anyway, Taker poses with the urn and the tape is done.
Final Rating: *
Summary: If this is the kind of treatment Germans get in terms of tape releases, everyone should consider moving there. The WWF obviously thought the Germans were sophisticated, and gave them a tape that reflected that. There’s good wrestling throughout and three matches over ****, plus another that’s virtually there. If you can tolerate German commentary, you might even consider this over Smack ‘Em, Whack ‘Em in your collection as it has the two good matches off that tape plus two other quality matches. This is an essential purchase.