May 26th 1996, Florence, South Carolina
(And then for reasons beyond anybody’s control)
May 28th 1996, North Charleston, South Carolina
“Shawn Michaels is the leader of the New Generation”
“Shawn Michaels is a homewrecker”
So the story of this PPV show was all about if HBK had managed to get his wicked way with Diana Hart-Smith, the wife of The British Bulldog. Your babyface champion was under increasing pressure with allegations from camp Cornette about if he’d done the dirty or not. We open with a montage of Michaels winning the title at WrestleMania XII intercut with a woman in shadow saying that Shawn thinks he can have any woman he wants married or otherwise. Yes ladies and gents, your babyface champion might just be love rat. Whilst it seems strange now to consider this possibility this does seem to have laid the seeds for HBK’s character in years to come.
Vince might have been a ‘Higher Power’ in times of old and even challenged God himself as part of a match but he cannot control the weather. Due to a lightning storm and subsequent power cut in the arena on the night this PPV had to be screened in two halves with many matches being redone two nights later in a different arena with the lights on.
First up in the broadcast is the match pitting Wildman Marc Mero against a very young looking Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Mero comes down to the ring with a much more natural looking Sable whilst Helmsley is with Miss Complete Random Who Lawler Will Proceed To Perv Over.
It’s actually a sound match with Helmsley working on Mero’s injured shoulder for the latter half of the contest. His downfall comes when he tries to get Sable to watch him use The Pedigree. Mero manages to throw Helmsley into the ringpost before covering him for the three. One thought as well, you never used to see Mero and Little Richard in the same room.
After this match the lights blew meaning that, as far as this presentation goes, we are sent straight to our main event of the evening. Before the match even gets under way Shawn is given the ‘bombshell’ from Camp Cornette in being handed legal papers summoning to court. Diana Hart has the same constant facial expression during all if this, it’s something akin to a stunned fish. Proof as if it were needed that some people just cannot do this acting lark.
It’s actually not the funniest part of this whole angle, without a doubt this is though.
It’s a grand back and forth tussle with a few near falls. The ending is a little hazy however as HBK gets Bulldog in a Fisherman’s Suplex and the ref counts both men’s shoulder down on the mat for three. Initially Bulldog’s music plays, Diana grabs the title and walks down the aisle before holding it aloft (and upside down) above her head in victory. The ref’s argue and Gorilla Monsoon is forced out to clear up the situation. Thankfully, unlike the Vince McMahon of 2005, he’s able to keep his knees from blowing out and declares the match a draw meaning Shawn keeps his title. It’s almost like this might go on further.
For the crowd that night this was the last match and probably only the second one they could see properly. Through the magic of television and the wonder of the WWF being on the road 48 hours later anyway we get the matches we were supposed to get on the night in the second half of the presentation. This does however mean we’re treated to a change of commentary team. Vince and Lawler leave with Mr Perfect and Jim Ross stepping up. It’s a certain improvement.
Savio Vega sadly never came down to the ring with his sister Suzanne but here he is facing Stone Cold Steve Austin in a strap match. This is very much a Stone Cold in prototype form, no stunner and still saddled with Ted DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man has gone on record though as saying he’ll leave if Austin doesn’t beat Vega tonight.
I’ve never seen the point in strap matches. They feel like something from a bygone era and it limits what wrestlers can do when they have a great big length of leather in the way. The usual spots apply with them dragging each other around, strangling each other with the strap and whipping one another. It seems to go on for months until Stone Cold walks around the ring touching the four turnbuckles unaware that Vega is doing exactly the same behind his back. Before he can reach the fourth and final buckle Stone Cold sees Vega jump over him and claim it for himself. Ted is gone, in the long term a good thing for Austin as there’s no sign here of the wrestling Goliath he would become. Vega even gets the crowd to sing that bloody awful ‘Nah nah goodbye’ song.
Yokozuna was a huge heel when I first watched WWF. He spent his entire first few months crushing people with his Banzai Drop before winning the WWF title at WrestleMania IX. Hogan’s ego robbed him of it proper until King of the Ring 93 where upon he held it for months. Here’s the 1996 version though, piling on even more weight and playing to the crowds. It’s a odd thing to witness for sure.
Vader was also capable of so much more as his previous WCW run showed. This match is simply two large men running at each other. Nothing truly memorable occurs until Cornette, who used to manage Yokozuna, is dragged into the ring and is about to be Banzai Dropped by his former charge before Vader makes the save by busting Yoko’s leg in the process. Vader gains a pinfall victory after a Vader Bomb.
Finally here’s Goldust again, this month facing The Undertaker with his knee now seemingly healed up after his Smoke Off with Warrior. This match is for the Intercontinental Title and is fought under casket rules. Just to put the finer point on it Taker has brought a rather lovely gold coloured casket down to ringside.
Before all this though we are shown a clip of Ahmed Johnson being carried out on a stretcher in the last episode of Raw. Goldust approaches and delivers some rather enthusiastic mouth to mouth. Ahmed awakes and gives chase. “It’s just wrong” screams J.R.
Undertaker can wrestle, we know this now due to his matches at WrestleMania with Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Back then though he was stuck being a stumbling zombie version of his character. It’s a decent enough match but is obviously only there to lead us to a Mankind/Taker programme as it’s the alter ego of Mick Foley who suddenly appears in the casket as Taker opens it. As Mankind locks in the Mandible Claw he forces Taker down into the casket before closing the lid.
Rather wonderfully the lid actually snapped off towards the end of the match meaning it has to be held by two refs as Mankind rides atop of the casket like he would Red Rum at Ascot. Smoke begins to emit from the box and, upon reopening the casket moments later, Taker has vanished. Paul Bearer sells it like he’s lost his favourite puppy.
A deeply average PPV then, some of which was beyond the control of anybody within the WWF and they did the best with what they had. The main event has a overplayed storyline and an unsatisfactory ending, Yoko and Vader look like two bison fighting over a mate and the casket match is just a lead in to bigger things for Taker. I wouldn’t rush back.
Join me next time for King Of The Ring 1996 or ‘The One That Sold All The T-Shirts’ as Vince might call it.