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.

 

SummerSlam ’92

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Arnold Furious: The WWF had all manner of booking conundrums in 1992. The steroid allegations had forced Hulk Hogan to take a leave of absence, one that seemed necessary to protect his babyface status as well. Crowds were finally starting to turn on the image of Hulkamania, one perhaps suited to the 80s more so than the cynical 90s. The WWF’s original plan was to simply replace Hogan with Sid Justice. They were both big, blonde muscular guys who could connect with the crowd. No worries. Just swap one for the other. But Sid failed a drugs test and that was the last thing the WWF needed with the federal government breathing down their neck. Sid ended up quitting rather than taking his suspension and the WWF found themselves with a main event void, a Hogan-sized hole that was damn near impossible to fill. They resorted to bringing back The Ultimate Warrior. In desperate times, men do desperate things. In the interim they decided Randy Savage, a former champion and one of the few babyface main eventers the company had left, would be champion. So he took the belt off Flair and the WWF pondered their next move. The one they went for was somewhat radical. They’d turn Warrior heel, align him with Ric Flair and start throwing babyface challengers at him, reversing their standard “superman face champion” routine, quite possibly until the actual return of Hulk Hogan. A genuine saviour who could bring the WWF back to the promised land and a third bout of Hulkamania. Of course we’ll never know how any of this would have been greeted by the fans. Warrior decided he didn’t want to turn heel, after this show was already booked, and the bookers opted instead to turn the setup into a big Flair scheme. Sometimes booking on the fly creates a more interesting picture. This way Flair’s faked support for one of Savage or Warrior turned into his own campaign to reclaim the title, which is exactly what happened. Savage’s injuries during SummerSlam resulted in him losing the belt to Flair shortly afterwards. Meanwhile, because of Warrior’s impending, but not really, turn, they had to book an alternative main event for SummerSlam too. At the time a heel simply didn’t go over in a main event. Send them home happy remained the mantra. As luck would have it, SummerSlam was in England at Wembley Stadium. So the incredibly popular British Bulldog got picked to go on last. His popularity was such that the WWF felt the need to put his matches last on almost every British tour and felt he could hold up his end in a main event. Bret Hart, on the grounds that he was IC champion, happened to slot into the main event. The plan was never to put the WWF title on Bret, as far as I can tell, but rather seek other options. However his performance against Bulldog was so spectacular, so earth-shatteringly awesome, that he forced his way into contention and was WWF champion before their next PPV, Survivor Series. 1992 was a time of great change, but it’s Bret’s performance on this show that effects the greatest change in the WWF’s policy. With the steroid monsters unable to compete in Vince’s perfect world, he has to rely on the workhorses. This show proved he could. We’re in London, UK at the historic Wembley Stadium, so this is the first WWF PPV to take place outside of North America. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan.

SummerSlam ’91

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Arnold Furious: There are times when Vince McMahon realises his company is struggling and his usual approach is to grab it, and shake it up as hard as he can. In 1991 the company underwent some radical changes in personnel and in the card positioning of existing talent. The WWF’s transitional periods are always entertaining because anything can happen. Once Vince has the mindset that his company must change, it does. The shake up doesn’t happen overnight but after WrestleMania VII it started in earnest. New faces on this show included Ricky Steamboat, IRS and Colonel Mustafa (all returning talent, admittedly) and Sid Justice, with new pushes evident for Bret Hart, Tugboat (having turned heel) and LOD. The shake-up would continue after this show, with Mr. Perfect taking a year off, Slaughter being slowly moved back into obscurity after his run at the top and Warrior being fired immediately after the event. More details on that later. Another key for Vince was expanding “sports entertainment” and that would happen here with the live “wedding” of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth. We’re in New York City at Madison Square Garden; the WWF’s home venue. It’s their first PPV event at MSG since SummerSlam ’88. When things are going wrong, you go home and rebuild. Vince is overblown on hype duty even for him, which is saying something: “Nuptials turn to napalm in the match made in HEEEELLLLLLLLLLL”. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby Heenan and Roddy Piper in a trial three-man team. Heenan is far more effective than Piper, which is why they went with Monsoon and Heenan in future.

WrestleMania VII

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Arnold Furious: The WWF didn’t have the best of years in 1990, and 1991 started the same. The attendance at WrestleMania was down because of it. Originally they scheduled this at the LA Coliseum, which holds 90k+, in an attempt to break their attendance record from WrestleMania III. But pre-sales weren’t good and they switched venues to the less impressive but easier to fill LA Memorial Sports Arena. The official reason was that a “bomb threat,” supposedly relating to the Sgt. Slaughter angle, had forced their decision. Not that they’d only sold 16,000 tickets. That wasn’t the reason at all. We’re in Los Angeles, California. Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Duggan. That changes during the course of the evening. Duggan is surprisingly insightful and barely in character.

Royal Rumble ’91

 

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Arnold Furious: With the Gulf War raging in Iraq the WWF spent most of late 1990 and early 1991 trying to capitalise on the feelings of the American people. The problem came not from the WWF’s attempts to be topical, if anything that was a plus, but rather the TV nature of the war made it oversaturated in the media without the WWF putting their own spin on it too. Coming into the Rumble, the WWF had made the decision to switch champion from Warrior to Slaughter in order to set up Hogan-Slaughter at ‘Mania for the title and Hogan defending the USA against the evils of foreign people and turncoats. Of course the Iraq conflict was done by the time WrestleMania rolled around and the WWF had to suspect their timing would be somewhat out. I still think the safer bet would have been Hogan-Warrior II, even if neither man wanted to lose.

Survivor Series ’90

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Arnold Furious: Towards the end of 1990 the WWF was reaching a creative low point. A lot of what they were doing wasn’t working. The Warrior’s title run was officially a failure, Demolition had been revamped and lost their edge, Jesse Ventura had gone, ditto Bad News Brown and Rick Rude, and Randy Savage had completely lost his mojo. It was one disappointment after another. However, this show would mark the debut of former WCW midcarder Mark Callaway. Dubbed ‘Mean Mark’ in WCW, he’d been able to show off some of his considerable skill-set, but the character was shallow. Vince McMahon gave him a new gimmick and debuted him as a mystery partner. Survivor Series 1990, for all its horrible, gaping flaws, would witness the debut of The Undertaker.

SummerSlam ’90

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Arnold Furious: The Ultimate Warrior had become the WWF’s champion at WrestleMania VI and yet the WWF never seemed sold on his abilities to carry the company forward. This would become an ongoing trend under the Vince McMahon regime. A desire to see fresh faces in the main events and yet a lack of trust in newcomers. With Warrior, the suspicions were probably correct. Warrior wasn’t a great wrestler and very rarely had good matches. He was mostly involved in short squash matches that didn’t expose his shortcomings. The WWF knew one guy who could get a good match out of him though: Rick Rude. The duo had a strong match at SummerSlam the previous year, and, convinced lightning could strike twice, they got a chance to repeat that match with Warrior as WWF champion. Meanwhile, Hulk Hogan had taken a few months off to try and give Warrior more exposure as champion and yet he was in the hottest angle in the WWF because of it. He’d been put out of action by Earthquake and now had a revenge match against him, which received equal billing as the WWF title match. While Warrior was champion, Hogan was still the WWF’s “go to” guy. Incidentally WCW around the same time was on a roll. They’d done great business with Flair vs. Sting on top and had just debuted Vader. Lex Luger was having good matches and their tag division was sensational, with The Steiner Brothers, Doom, Rock N’ Roll Express, Midnight Express and The Southern Boys. No wonder they didn’t mind losing The Road Warriors so much. We’re in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hosts are Vince McMahon and Roddy Piper. An unusual pairing perhaps with Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura having formed such a strong announce team in the past. Ventura was released around the time of this show after getting into a heated dispute with McMahon over image rights. Piper seemed like a custom made replacement; charismatic wrestler with an insight into the wrestling game. His career was winding down so commentary seemed a good route for him to go. I’m assuming Vince McMahon wanted to get control over Piper by doing commentary with him and trying to steer him in the right direction.

Royal Rumble ’90

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Arnold Furious: There was only one big singles match at RR90 and that was the returning Ronnie Garvin against Greg Valentine in a submission match. The rest of the WWF’s top end talent was loaded into the Royal Rumble to make it the most star studded possible Rumble match. We’re in Orlando, Florida. Hosts are Tony Schiavone and Jesse Ventura. This would be Tony’s second and final WWF PPV as host.

Survivor Series ’89

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Arnold Furious: This show has a bit of a bad reputation, deservedly so, as it drops in between the two big feuds the WWF had going on. It’s after Hogan has already beaten Zeus and before they’re even building towards Warrior at ‘Mania. Hogan ends up with a double re-hash of DiBiase and Zeus. The latter being more mercenary than evil cyborg in terms of storyline now. Meanwhile Warrior would utilise this show as a means to an end. The WWF knew the direction they wanted to go and put Warrior’s team on last to see what sort of reaction he’d get. We’re in Rosemont, Illinois (Chicago). Hosts are Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. The WWF clearly thought that Schiavone didn’t have a pleasant enough delivery to keep the family watching over Thanksgiving turkey.

Royal Rumble ’89

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Arnold Furious: In 1988 the WWF debuted the Royal Rumble as a TV special to counter an NWA PPV the same night. By 1989 Vince had decided it was a big enough contest to carry a PPV itself. After all the concept had been introduced to, accepted and approved of by his WWF fanbase. The huge difference between the ’88 and ’89 Rumbles, is that the locker room wasn’t so obviously split into heel/face alignments. In particular, Bad News Brown had changed that. He was a heel but he had no problems getting into it with other heels, as he had proven by eliminating Bret Hart at a battle royal to begin WrestleMania IV. Not only that, but RR89 also boasted an all-heel match with Haku facing Harley Race (thought it was not included on the VHS release). In many ways the wrestling landscape was being shaken up and changed forever.