WrestleMania XIX

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James Dixon: Coming two years after WWE engulfed the industry and signed up all of its top talent, 2003 sees the company with one of the strongest rosters it has ever had at its disposal. It’s an eclectic mix, with veterans and legends from the past sharing the spotlight with modern day super-workers, built smaller but able to move around much quicker and with more intensity. Unfortunately it was also around this time that some of the booking became really baffling, and at times detrimental to the product. Y’know, like Triple H fucking a corpse on live TV. For that you can thank the fruit of Vince’s loins, one Stephanie McMahon. The period is somewhat undefined too, caught in the fallout of the Attitude Era’s demise, but not yet in the Ruthless Aggression era that saw the debuts of future main eventers like John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista.

The staging for WrestleMania XIX is somewhat unique. Coming from Safeco Field in Seattle, home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, the aisle is forced to curve (a galling sight for anyone used to Reality Era WWE, where every set is a Raw facsimile with a ramp to the ring and little to distinguish it) and the seating is all over the place, rather than in set, defined, cubic tiers. It looks good, certainly unique and vast, but is ruined by the open-air setting. Like all outdoor shows, the majority of the sound is lost to the heavens and thus the matches tend to come across as far less heated than the visible animated and excited crowd reaction suggest. It’s a shame, but is an issue that blights most stadium wrestling events.

In Your House 10: Mind Games

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James Dixon: Everyone that collects VHS tapes knows about this video. The US release is one of the rarest and most sought after wrestling tapes out there. It was one of the few that were only available from WWF Magazine mail order and thus had a very limited release. If you have an official copy (again, the Coliseum Video release rather than the Silver Vision UK title, which is fairly common and can be snapped up for around £10), hang onto it, because it can sell for over $200! An absurd amount for a video tape, but this does have a main event that almost makes it worth it…

 

Arnold Furious: Desperation is an intriguing thing. It makes you try new things, anything, to make a difference. With WCW absolutely killing the WWF creatively in 1996, Vince McMahon was suddenly open to doing different things, which gave us the Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam, Paul Bearer’s shocking heel turn and Mick Foley scoring a massive victory over the Undertaker. The original plan was to give Taker time off to build to another match, but desperation kicked in once again. So Foley found himself as top contender and challenger for the WWF title on this show, which would prove to be a great decision, while Taker would finish up with Goldust. Mark Henry is thrust into the PPV limelight here, following his run-in with Jerry Lawler the previous month, and makes his in-ring debut. Finally Owen Hart and the British Bulldog were set to team up and save the tag division. This was the first major show after Vince McMahon’s assertion that the WWF should change. Attitude really began in 1996. The changes had been happening (Goldust’s stuff especially), but the angles would start getting a little stranger from here on in. Case in point is the sheer number of quasi-shoot comments and occurrences on this PPV.

 

We’re in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Mr. Perfect.

Survivor Series ’96

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Arnold Furious: Fans in the UK often don’t give this show the credit it deserves. I daresay it’s because it aired on a several day delay on the then-new Sky Sports 3, and was VERY heavily edited to fit a 3-hour slot, with the Undertaker-Mankind match getting about 4-minutes and the Bret-Austin match losing 10-15 minutes, with both matches having ad breaks in the middle of them to account for the clipping. The response from fans in Power Slam magazine was overwhelmingly negative, because while Sky had begun showing PPVs live in ’95, this got the shaft because the England cricket team was on tour in Australia and thus needed the all-night slot since it got bigger ratings, and Sky Sports 3 used to close at midnight. But, I love this show. For years I had a copy taped off TV that I played over and over again. I eventually had to buy a copy because I wore it out. Not even from watching the entire show, but rather watching Austin vs. Bret. I watched that match more than any other during this era, including their WrestleMania 13 rematch that other people seem to prefer. When it came to claiming stuff for Volume #4, James tried to barter with me to get Survivor Series ’96, that’s how great this show is. The vibe of the show is that something special is going to happen. Some shows have an atmosphere to them before they even begin. Survivor Series ’96 is one such show.

 

We’re in New York City at Madison Square Garden, the home of professional wrestling. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Jim Ross. The following match is from the pre-show Free For All:

 

In Your House 9: International Incident

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Arnold Furious: The WWF released In Your House 9: International Incident as Tour de Force ‘96 in the USA, after SummerSlam ‘96, which it preceded. I don’t know either. Just go with it. Nothing makes sense from this era thanks to Coliseum’s insane renaming of the PPV events. If I had to hazard an educated guess it’d be due to the poor buy-rates of the PPV’s and attempting to con Johnny Punchclock into buying the shows on tape without knowing what they were. Living in the UK, the In Your House shows were just released under their PPV names, due to their limited availability when aired live. There was a market for the shows as the audience had never seen them.

 

We’re in Vancouver, British Columbia. Hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler. The three man team was established at this point. JR was too good not to be on the shows, but Vince wanted to be there to keep his control over commentary.

 

The following is from the pre-show Free For All:

 

SummerSlam ’96

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Arnold Furious: We’re in Cleveland, Ohio. Hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross & Mr Perfect. Lawler has a match tonight so he’s not commentating. Jake Roberts actually turned up for this PPV so Lawler’s match is still on. Ahmed Johnson’s isn’t however as his kidney problems caused him to forfeit the IC title.

 

The following is from the pre-show Free For All:

 

There’s a beach party going on, which gives Sable an excuse to run around in a bikini. Aldo Montoya wearing his head-strap and shorts makes him look like an uber-dork. Interesting that Marlena gets a huge pop for wearing her skimpy beachwear. She’d end up being the driving force behind Goldust’s face turn. Todd Pettengill makes creepy remarks about wanking into Sunny’s bikini. I’m not even joking about that. Steve Austin walks past for his match and threatens to kick Pettengill’s ass. His attitude is starting to pay off and he gets a decent reaction. Shame about his generic heel music.

 

Steve Austin vs. Yokozuna
Yoko was a WHALE by this point. Before the year was out he’d be sent home to get into a better shape than “round”. Austin flips him off, which would normally lead to a Stunner, but he runs into a Samoan Drop. Yoko goes for the Banzai Drop but he’s too fat and pulls the top rope off, allowing Austin to roll him up for the win. They’d done a similar finish before, most notably at WrestleMania X against Bret Hart, but this was the best version of it. I still don’t understand why they couldn’t rig the rope to do that at ‘Mania X. It would have made more sense than Yoko’s sudden inability to stand. Perhaps he suffered from an inner ear infection or something?
Final Rating: *

 

JR interviews the Undertaker and Paul Bearer. Jim mentions the Boiler Room Brawl is no DQ and asks Bearer about the match. Bearer mentions how the urn will be safe because he’ll be holding it. Hmm. In retrospect that sounds suspicious.

 

Backstage, Jerry Lawler appears to have shit in the pool so they call TL Hopper to sort it. Turns out it’s a chocolate bar. Poor guy. I bet he misses SMW already. They switch to a shot of Sunny sunbathing and WOW. That’s the money shot right there.

 

In Your House 7: Good Friends… Better Enemies

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Arnold Furious: This show was released as Mega Matches ‘96 in the United States, and is one of the rarest Coliseum releases there is. In the UK release and on PPV at the time, this was In Your House: Good Friends… Better Enemies! Now that’s what we needed; a PPV with punctuation in the title! It was an attempt to spice up the In Your House brand, which had delivered low, low buy rates, and showcase an enormous PPV main event. Previous IYH’s had subtitles, but this was the first one where the subtitle was how the show was described. Diesel is all pissed off because he can’t get his title back and now finds his buddy Shawn as the champ. He turned on Shawn and kicked his ass, then provoked him into a No Holds Barred match one PPV after Shawn’s title win in an Ironman match. Of course, Shawn should have nothing to worry about because Diesel is off to WCW, but hey, hindsight is 20-20. We’re in Omaha, Nebraska. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler.

In Your House 8: Beware Of Dog

 

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Arnold Furious: Originally this In Your House pay-per-view (given the terrible subtitle “Beware of Dog”) was a bit of a disaster. Whilst airing live in Florence, South Carolina, a massive storm wiped out the arena’s power and subsequently, the broadcast, leaving viewers at home with just the opening match and the main event. Looking to repay Beware of Dog buyers for their patience, the WWF kindly ran all the missing matches the following Tuesday at a television taping in Charleston, broadcasting them live during the replay. This tape has the two matches from the original broadcast (along with a UK exclusive dark match) and the rest of the card from the replay. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler.

King of the Ring ’96

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Arnold Furious: This is a famous show for one very obvious reason; it’s historically become “The Austin Show”, as Steve Austin took the WWF by the scruff of the neck and made it his bitch. In one promo, Austin changed the WWF’s landscape forever, the profanity and aggression making him a huge fan favourite. Austin didn’t wait for his chance to become a star in the WWF, he just kicked the door down and beat everybody up. As I’ve mentioned before, Hunter Hearst Helmsley was originally due to win the tournament but his appearance in Madison Square Garden as part of the now infamous “Curtain Call” incident derailed his push. We’re in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Owen Hart, with the wrong one on play-by-play.

 

In Your House 6: Rage In The Cage

 

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Arnold Furious: Seeing as the WWF had gained a busier PPV schedule, this In Your House PPV event would be the first “Road to WrestleMania” style show (though it is rather uncunningly released post-‘Mania by Coliseum). Shawn, having won the Rumble, now faces a challenge from the man who put him on the shelf: Owen Hart. He still doesn’t know his WrestleMania opponent as Bret Hart defends tonight against Diesel. An added twist is that it’s a cage match to stop potential Undertaker interference. This would becomes important later in the evening. The rest of the card? Razor and 1-2-3 Kid finally get it on in a “crybaby” match. Also, Yokozuna has turned face and now opposes Camp Cornette. The WWF has so little else going on that the other live match is HHH vs. Droese in a re-match of the dreadful Free for All bout at the Rumble. And the WWF’s hottest property Vader? He’s suspended for crushing WWF President Gorilla Monsoon. Roddy Piper has taken over the position until Monsoon is fit again. So no Vader match tonight. Boo! Jim Cornette does show up with Vader on the Free for All to promise Vader’s involvement this evening though. We’re in Louisville, Kentucky. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler.

 

WrestleMania XII

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Arnold Furious:

 

WWF Tag Team Championship
The Bodydonnas vs. The Godwinns
This is from the pre-show Free For All. Sunny reminds us she was a 2-time winner at the Slammy’s last night. Her voice grates a touch. The Smoking Gunns had established themselves as the company’s top tag team, only for Billy Gunn to suffer an unfortunate neck injury and the belts were vacated a month ago. Now Sunny is out to prove her managerial skills by winning her first tag titles. The Godwinns have “critters” with them. Goats, specifically. The storyline in this one is classic speed vs. power. Henry can tell that story in his sleep. Likewise both Skip and Zip. As long as Phineas doesn’t get much ring time it’ll be ok. Of course, he has a good character where he gets his dander up if suitably provoked. Only Henry can calm him down when he goes off on one of these rampages. The ‘Donnas bail and then play the numbers game thanks to Sunny’s ability to distract. And how! The crazy thing is that both teams are good but just aren’t over, so this era is remembered as a nadir for tag wrestling, but it had simply become out of date. I think the ridiculous nature of both gimmicks didn’t help at a time when fans were turning off the more cartoonish characters. They goof a few times on counters, but Sunny remains the secret weapon as she reveals her undies, in the New Generation heel version of Elizabeth at SummerSlam ’88. Phineas’ mind is suitably blown, as the ladies from his part of the world don’t have butts like that, and he’s rolled up. The Bodydonnas win the tag titles and Sunny gets her first taste of gold. Oddly enough, winning the tag titles was the beginning of the end for Candido. The storylines presented Sunny as more and more whore-like and drove a wedge into their own relationship. He’d end up leaving in the middle of the year while Sunny remained a WWF Superstar. An early diva template and the most prominent female in the company, until Sable arrived. Which, incidentally, is tonight.
Final Rating: **