Steel Cage Match
Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon
[St. Valentine’s Day Massacre]
Arnold Furious: As I’m sure you recall, Vince won the Royal Rumble but gave up his title opportunity. He was just happy Austin didn’t win it. As soon as he gave up the title match, WWF commissioner Shawn Michaels gave his title shot to Steve Austin; the Rumble’s runner up. Vince meanwhile revealed that Austin couldn’t touch him outside of a sanctioned match or he’d be fired, so he’s spent the build up to this match trying to get Austin to punch him. I’d have thought punching your boss was pretty much a guaranteed firing wherever you work. I’m surprised Vince didn’t just sack him when he did it the first time. Anyhow, Austin has this match to get out his frustrations. In exchange, Austin will be stripped of his title match at WrestleMania if he loses here. A typical February PPV main event then! One last hurdle for the company’s top guy to get over before the promised land. Vince basically controls the cage by not letting Steve in until Austin pretends to blow his knee out on the floor. That suckers Vince outside for a beating. You’d think Vince would have learned from all the years of watching guys do that from ringside. I guess hatred can make you blind. Vince tries plan B; a repeat of his Royal Rumble sprint through the crowd. At the Rumble he made it to the concourse and Austin got jumped. Here Austin catches him and pounds him back to ringside. The more you think about this match, the more ridiculous it is. The whole thing is totally lopsided. Austin is a wrestler, Vince is not. So it’s a one way ass kicking and that’s all people are paying to see. They repeated this trick several times to lesser and lesser effect. To Vince’s eternal credit, he takes a preposterous, insane, Mick Foley level bump off the top of the cage through the announce table. It’s a huge bump for anyone but a non-wrestler and owner of a multi-million dollar corporation? Kudos, sir. It looks like it hurt. A jarring bump, certainly. That’s how much he wanted to beat WCW. Howard Finkel goes to announce Austin as the winner, but Austin grabs the mic calling it “bullshit”. He says the match “won’t be that easy”. “Is the son of a bitch still breathing?” Austin gets a massive pop for suggesting the match isn’t over and he goes after McMahon as he’s being carted away. Austin tipping the gurney into the cage is another terrific visual. Vince had all this coming for being such an asshole but credit where it’s due, he took his beating like a man. Austin promised blood and Vince duly blades after being run into the cage. A third selfless act from the company’s boss. Austin goes to leave, but the bloody Vince flips him off. That cage is rickety as hell too. I wouldn’t want to climb over it once, let alone back inside again. It’s the rarely ever used black bar cage. Stunner! That should finish it because now Vince is unconscious and can’t flip anybody off. While Austin is busy celebrating Paul Wight, the Giant from WCW, pops up from under the ring for his debut and assaults Stone Cold. Wight pitches Austin at the cage and the rickety wall finally breaks away, leaving Austin to drop to the floor and retain his ‘Mania title shot. For a moment it seemed as if the Giant was going to face Austin at ‘Mania, with Mankind and Rock continuing their feud. I’ll give Vince credit where it’s due; his silly bumps and reckless abandon in this match made it seem more than a straightforward beatdown, which is what it was on paper. The success of this match allowed the WWF to feature Vince in a load of main event matches and WrestleMania bouts afterwards. Which is an unfortunate downside, but the match shouldn’t be punished for it. This is probably Vince’s best singles match.
Final Rating: ***
“I Quit” Match
Mankind (c) vs. The Rock
[Royal Rumble 1999]
Arnold Furious: The idea behind this is that Mankind has never given up, never submitted and feels no pain so he can’t lose. Putting the title on Mick Foley was one of the WWF’s better booking decisions from 1999 as he felt like the people’s champion. He was one of us. Meanwhile the Rock is genetically superior and a third generation star, plus he’s Vince McMahon’s chosen corporate champion. We get clips from Heat where Mankind had to wrestle Mabel in a “warm-up match”. Rock never quite worked out as a heel because he was always popular and that shows when he gets a live mic shoved in his face. He makes threats and he’s funny. It takes away from the serious nature of the match, which is surely not how Foley wanted this to go down. Plus he lays into Jerry Lawler at ringside; “shut your mouth, you piece of trash”. If I didn’t know better I’d say Rock was trying to turn himself babyface. Rock eats the Mandible Claw, but passes out so he can’t quit. They work in a crowd brawl, albeit brief, before Rock hits a superb powerslam over the rail. Rock again goes to the entertainment by singing into the mic, which would be fine if he was face but he isn’t. Rock goes after a Rock Bottom through the Spanish table, but it collapses. Not the last time that kind of spot would fail. You’d think they’d re-gimmick the tables after this happened, but they didn’t. Mankind looks more comfortable in the long brawling segments but Rock is fast improving. Foley’s habit of main event planning was to slowly raise the bar (Hell in a Cell aside), so out comes a ladder. They use the ladder to reach the balcony and Mick takes one of his trademark bumps onto an electrical “circuit board”. The lights go out as we pretend the WWF keeps all the building’s electricity right by the entranceway. Shane McMahon comes out as they try and pretend this is a shoot. Considering Mick’s ridiculous bumps this one was relatively safe, but it looked cool. In an attempt to escalate from there Rock puts Foley in handcuffs, which just kills the crowd as that leaves Mankind completely defenceless. This is the point where Mick puts his wellbeing in the hands of the Rock and he abuses the privilege. Mick’s kids were horrified by it as Rock lay in chair shot after chair shot after chair shot. When Mick says “you’ll have to kill me” here it becomes uncomfortable viewing. Especially with him bleeding from behind the mask. It takes all the enjoyment out of it and even Lawler is there saying “that’s enough”. When Mick feeds Rock the back, to show him no more head shots, Rock smacks him in the back of the head, which is way beyond taking liberties. He could have killed him. Mankind is unconscious, perhaps legitimately, so the WWF pump in a pre-taped “I Quit” from an earlier Foley promo. Rock regains his belt in a horrific display. I’ve seen this rated as high as **** but to me the meat of the match is the chair shots and they’re so unsettling that I find this extremely hard to watch. Despite my reasonably high rating, I would never re-watch this if I wasn’t reviewing it. Falling off the Cell is one thing as it’s basically a stunt, but a chair shot is assault.
Final Rating: ***¼
Terri Invitational Tournament Final
Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz
[No Mercy 1999]
The winner gets $100,000 and Terri’s services. The Hardys were working as the New Brood and have Gangrel in their corner, which brings up the question of why Gangrel would want them to win as he’d have to share management duties with Terri, and was actually replaced by her. The Hardys went through a load of managers before the WWF finally teamed them up with Lita and found a winning combination. This is the first tag team ladder match and an absolute game-changer. Not only for the individuals involved, who all benefitted enormously from this exposure, but also for tag team wrestling, which leapt to importance in 2000, and the hardcore style, which gained massively in popularity in 2000 too. It’s amazing looking back to see Cleveland’s total lack of interest in the match to begin with. The lack of tags benefits the Hardys as they have more team moves. Timmy White gets sick of Gangrel in a hurry and sends him to the back. The early ladder spots seem quite tame compared to later ladder matches, but it works because they build to bigger things and it’s organic. Christian and Jeff fighting over a ladder leads to Jeff getting jammed in the corner, allowing Christian to run up the ladder and dropkick him. As the danger increases during the match the pops get bigger. Christian does an inverted DDT off the middle of the ladder and that’s a “WOW” moment for 1999. Matt goes up and Edge powerbombs him off and that gets a meaty pop too. But they’re just getting going. Edge climbs and Jeff missile dropkicks him off the ladder. The spots get progressively more brutal and dangerous. At this point Christian was the biggest talent of the four, and his timing is impeccable. But it’s Jeff who’s the showiest and he slingshots over a ladder to hit a big legdrop. I love the planning in this match, which compared to the TLC matches is a lot better, albeit with less carnage. The spots make sense. As the match escalates they start into the trademarks off the ladders with Edge hitting the Downward Spiral on Jeff, a move he stopped doing not long after. Because they build to big spots the selling compares favourably so they can throw in the fatigue stuff, and they start climbing slower to allow spots to be set up. It’s smart work. What’s really important is how they got the crowd, slowly but surely, and eventually they’re hanging on every spot. The see-saw spot where Christian and Matt battle over a set up ladder and Jeff dives onto the other end is inspired and gets a standing ovation. They can milk the hell out of that and just lie around afterwards as everyone gets hurt. They move up to duelling ladder spots with all four guys involved and everyone falls off apart from Jeff who grabs the cash. The finish is underwhelming but the stuff that proceeded it was smartly worked, escalated nicely and got over four guys in one fell swoop. The WWF very rarely went out of their way to get four new guys over in one night, but they did here. All of them moved on to greatness and only Matt never won a World Title. Without this match to showcase their skills it could have taken them years longer to get to the top of the mountain. One of the best matches of 1999 and MOTY for most people. Follow on TLC matches would get crazier and have tremendous spots, but this was a smarter work all round.
Final Rating: ****½
Greenwich Street Fight
Test vs. Shane McMahon
James Dixon: Not content with having taken a spot on the biggest show of the year (WrestleMania XV), now Shane is also working the second biggest. Mind you, his match at ‘Mania was the second best on the card and he always takes silly bumps for my amusement, so he is okay with me. The issue of contention between the two is that Test wants to date Stephanie McMahon, and protective brother Shane won’t allow it. Shane’s thought-to-be-injured buddies the Mean Street Posse make their way out for support, and pull up a conveniently placed sofa in the front row and drink champagne. Test being the wrestler, and a massive one at that, dominates Shane to begin with and throws him around with ease. Again, credit to Shane for his ballsy bumping and the technique on them. They go into the crowd and Test remains in control, then he press slams Shane into the Posse who go tumbling out of their couch. It’s a fun visual. Because two out of the last three matches featuring weapons isn’t enough, they use plunder here too, and it is largely meaningless because of the repetition. How many times can you watch the same thing, no matter how good it is, before you get bored? I guess that is the whole basis behind the less is more theory, but Vince Russo clearly takes the Frasier Crane approach to that: “Ah yes, but if less is more, just think how much more “more” will be”. Frasier was proven to be mistaken, and Vince Russo is too with every shoddy, repetitive PPV that the WWF put out in 1999. The sad thing for these guys is that when viewed objectively and away from what has gone before it, this is pretty damn good. Certainly a million times better than what you would think Shane McMahon vs. Test would be. Shane smashes a portrait of the Posse over Test’s head, which shatters everywhere, but he misses a corkscrew moonsault (!) and then a leapfrog (or rana) attempt gets caught and countered with a powerbomb. Test goes for his big boot, but Shane ducks and he wipes out the ref and the Posse get involved again. But why do you need a ref bump when it is a Street Fight and thus no DQ anyway? It is just doing something for the sake of doing something, which is simply maddening. All that does is cheapen the use of ref bumps and lower their significance next time. I believe they have a place, but when they happen every show, sometimes more than once, it becomes hokey and too much. The Posse are able to take Test down and place him on the Spanish announce table for a Shane flying elbow from the ring, prompting a comical “gulp” from Steph watching backstage. If anyone else in this spot on the card was doing stunts like that they would be criticised for trying to steal the spotlight and taking away from the other talents, but hey, it’s the bosses son, he is untouchable. Test kicks out of the resulting pinfall attempt and then another one after Rodney belts him with his cast, as the crowd support for Test swells. The Posse try to interfere again, but Pat Patterson and Gerry Brisco come down and fight them off, again to a big pop, then Test hits a pumphandle slam and a flying elbow to win it. Flying Elbow? Randy Savage? Steph!? Hmm… The response to Test is tremendous, and this match should have made him into a main event star, but instead his legs were cut out from under him and Triple H stepped into the role as Steph’s on-screen lover, then ended up pumping her full of Helmsley for real as a result of that. If things had worked out differently, perhaps Test would have ended up as a McMahon instead of Hunter, and he may still be alive today. Curious how things work out. The most logical and emotion-drawing match on the card, though it was hurt by its placement and the close proximity to other similar matches.
Final Rating: ***
Chyna & Mr. Ass vs. X-Pac & Road Dogg
[Fully Loaded 1999]
Arnold Furious: They’d pretty much run the DX concept into the ground by this point and the reason for these two teams clashing is merchandising rights. Everyone had moved on from DX by now, as they were all acceptable singles stars and Pac was teaming with a main eventer. Road Dogg is often hugely underrated as a wrestler given his niche market of being a modern day Ricky Morton, but there were few as selfless as he was in the ring. Given that he’s teaming with X-Pac you’d think it was a 50-50 as to who would take the heat, but there he is, getting his ass handed to him as per usual. He runs that Outlaw formula like Billy Gunn is waiting for the tag. The heels are both okay in the ring, but tend to rely on character rather than ability. Billy certainly has the look of a main event star. He’s tall, muscular and has a full head of hair. He’s Vince’s dream main eventer. Hell, Vince tried to get him over as one. Pac runs on autopilot in this one; hitting his spots, albeit energetically, as if he’s sleepwalking. X-Pac was still over during 1999 and quite often people forget that and just remember how hated he was after a heel turn later in 1999. Evil DX run a second heat segment after Pac gets his neck re-injured. JR has a sudden revelation that Chyna doesn’t outright suck in the ring as she orchestrates everything for her team and runs heat like it’s second nature. Pac gets the second hot tag of the match and this time Road Dogg gets to showcase his offensive moveset, which is mostly just juking and jiving, but it’s over huge. X-Pac encourages Chyna to “suck it”. Give it a few years, mate. Mr. Ass gets caught with the pumphandle slam and Road Dogg retains rights to the DX merch. I’m not sure I really cared about that, but it is a tidy little formula tag match.
Final Rating: ***
Summary: It’s a highlights tape, so you already know what you are getting going in. In this office, 1999 is amongst our least favourite years of the WWF, and this so-called “best of” pretty much sums up why. Only one of the matches is above 4*, which is astonishing really when you look at how many matches were comfortably beyond that in 2000. That’s not to say the other four bouts are not good, because they are, but they are not blow away. Not that there was much in the way of better options, mind you. If you have seen the PPVs from the year already then this is a worthless purchase, but as a quick snapshot of 1999 it is worth a look.