Lee Maughan: 1996 has morphed into 1997 and WCW are winning the war with Monday Nitro, a New World Order-powered juggernaut on wrestling’s televisual landscape. ECW are continuing to make a big noise in bingo halls across the east coast, punching above their weight with a provocative product aimed squarely at an adult audience. And the WWF? They’re in deep trouble. Attendance has dropped, numbers have plummeted and things are about to get edgy.
Welcome to the Attitude Era.
Reminiscent of the first RAW back in January 1993, the show kicks off on the streets of New York City. Back then, an edgy New York vibe meant gentile corporate shill Sean Mooney exposing Bobby Heenan’s Les Dawson ‘Cissie and Ada’ tribute act. Times have changed. Here, Mary Whitehouse… sorry, I mean Bob Backlund, is protesting the perceived vulgarity on offer tonight – “There’s decadence going on in there, ladies and gentlemen! There’s sexual activities going on in there! There’s violence! There’s crime! What is this?! What is this television?! Shotgun Saturday Night, who’s that good for?! That’s a disgrace! Shotgun Saturday Night, should be banned! It should be banned! New York City should be banned! Matter of fact, Saturday night should be banned!” If they did ban Saturday night, Gary Lineker would cease to exist as a worthwhile entity, left to float aimlessly through the ethers of time with nothing but a replica FA Cup and a gigantic bag of Walkers crisps.
The Flying Nuns vs. The Godwinns
Quite the auspicious way to kick-start the new show, no? The Nuns are Sister Angelica and Mother Smucker, better known to you and I as Mosh and Thrasher, the Headbangers. The gimmick was all part of an elaborate angle to introduce the ‘Bangers to WWF audiences, but it was dropped after this initial outing, largely owing to how touchy some Christians have a tendency to be about these things. Not that it was any great loss to professional wrestling, mind you.
Instantly the show has the feel of a underground Indy group, albeit one with million dollar production. The small but rowdy crowd are packed onto the nightclub stage, checking out the action in what looks to be about a 14×14 ring, if that, with police tape-yellow ropes, much like those that would adorn NXT rings in years to come. Now, you might be wondering why a show as edgy and as northern as one set in a New York nightclub would book a couple of hillbilly pig farmers as babyfaces here, but Todd Pettengill (yes, he’s still here) rears his ugly mug to accuse them, and by association everyone from Kentucky, as inbred. And as if this show wasn’t already subversive enough, who should show up at ringside but Brother Love, in his first appearance since late 1995. And wouldn’t you just know it? The fans start chanting “ECW! ECW! ECW!” at all of this, which just makes no sense whatsoever.
Vince McMahon (doing commentary with Sunny) calls this match “gruelling”, which it certainly is, though perhaps not quite in the way he meant it. Sister Angelica misses a legdrop off the top and Phineas begins his comeback to a resounding chorus of boos. Ah, New York. The big gag revolves around Phineas refusing to grab the Nuns’ crotches on bodyslam attempts, and then Brother Love smashes him in the face with a Bible, giving Angelica the pin. Post match, Love cuts a promo full of masturbatory references and redubs the Nuns ‘The Sisters of Love’. I can see why the Christians would complain about this. And not for religious reasons, either.
Final Rating: *
– Over in the VIP lounge, Backlund rails against Marlena’s tits, while Vince makes sure to stress the fact that Backlund used the word “cleavage.” Edgy!
Goldust vs. The Sultan
Neither guy gets an entrance in the traditional sense here, but they do get to stand around while a laser light show breaks out to the pulsating beat of some techno tripe. And after the transsexual tag team in the opening act, Vince now makes sure that everyone remembers Goldust’s coming “in” the closet after Jerry Lawler previously demanded to know if he was a “queer”. Remember when the WWF was a delightfully mom ‘n’ pop, family-friendly pro ‘rasslin promotion full of strongmen and superheroes? Vince wonders aloud if Backlund is a “pervert” and Backlund claims he can’t hear anything because he doesn’t have his glasses on. The Sultan slaps on a chinlock and the crowd decides to amuse itself by chanting for the “bWo”. Oddly enough, they’d get them just a few weeks later. They then decide to prove how “smart” they all are by chanting “Fatu sucks!” and “We want Raven!” The Fatu chants I get, but what does ECW have to do with any of this? The referee takes a steel chair off the Sultan (edgy!) then Marlena jumps up on the ring apron mid-Camel Clutch, and whips out a couple of handfuls. For some reason, that’s enough to give Goldust the win. Not that I’m complaining, but did Lou Thesz ever suffer those sort of consequences? “How did you lose, Lou? DQ? Count-out? Honkers?”
Final Rating: *
Ahmed Johnson vs. Crush
As a white supremacist biker throws up his right fist in a salute of black power, I suddenly consider if the WWF could have possibly booked a worse singles match at this point and how I wish Backlund had gotten his way at the start of the show. The tag match earlier in the night may have contained twelve of the longest minutes you’ll ever see, and the previous bout suffered from a despicably long rest hold that killed any flow it may have had, but they were at least competent. This is strictly amateur hour stuff, and to make matters worse, they top it off with a lousy disqualification finish when an unnamed member of the Nation of Domination (who you’d most likely recognise as D’Lo Brown) jumps in for a beat-down of Ahmed. Crush finishes the job with a disturbingly stiff chair shot to the head before Goldust and the Godwinns make the save, which allows Ahmed to stop selling, chase the Nation out of the arena, and give D’Lo a Pearl River Plunge on the hood of a car.
Final Rating: ½*
– To the Port Authority bus terminal next, where Jim Cornette collects an already-dressed Mini Vader, fresh from Mexico City and in serious need of a piss. The big gag was supposed to be that the urinals were too high for him with Cornette lifting him by the armpits, but the porcelain was already so low to the floor that the visual didn’t work in the slightest, ruining the joke. The solution? They cut away from the shot just after they’d gone into the bathroom, and just had Vince explain the joke instead!
– And now things take a turn for the worse (that’s right), as Todd Pettengill jumps in the ring to belt out that karaoke classic, ‘The Macarena’, complete with his own set of parody lyrics. ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic he ain’t.
Mascarita Sagrada vs. Mini Vader
Or “Mascarada Sagrita” as Vince calls him. This would be the shortest match of the night (oh, har har) which is a shame, because it’s the one with the most action. For anyone who’s seen more than two matches with the luchador minis, you’ll know that action is mostly made up of dives, huracanranas and head scissor takeovers. One of those takeovers comes from a leap off the top rope, which gets a big reaction from the crowd (who for some reason don’t chant Rey Misterio, Jr.’s name, despite how wacky and “inside” they fancy themselves as tonight), and Mini Vader breaks out a brutal powerbomb just to mix things up. There’s not much story going on though, just a natty exhibition of moves, and then Sagrada finishes it with a missile dropkick off the top.
Final Rating: **
Post-match, Cornette challenges Sagrada to a fist fight and berates Mini Vader for being such a “knucklehead”, so Vader and Sagrada trip him up and strip him down to his boxers. That was so corny. In more ways than one.
THE SHOTGUN RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Mascarita Sagrada. He may have travelled all the way from Mexico, but he was just about the only guy on this show who actually brought his working boots.
Least Entertaining: Amazingly, despite this sub-60 minute show only “boasting” four matches and a crew of guys that included Phineas Godwinn, Ahmed Johnson and Crush, none of that unholy trinity scoop the award! No, the dubious honour instead goes to the Sultan for his interminably tedious chinlock on Goldust. Edgy? That hold wasn’t even edgy in the 70s, never mind the 90s!
Quote of the Night: “They’re virginal! Their bodies have never been touched by human hands… other than their own, of course!” – Brother Love on the Flying Nuns.
Match of the Night: Mascarita Sagrada vs. Mini Vader.
Summary: It is terrible. The WWF’s misguided “we just can’t help being a complete cartoon show” version of down n’ dirty, cutting-edge wrestling for the 18-30 crowd of the 90s. But damn, did it ever feel fresh. It was grimey, it was dingy, it was small… and it was so refreshingly different to anything the promotion had done before, or indeed, has done since. Especially when you think about WWE in the John Cena years where every single show looks the same, the same set-up, the same arenas, the same camera angles. Here was something unlike anything else you could find on TV, all wrapped up in an easily digestible hour, no matter how crappy the matches may have been.