The PPV Project – King Of The Ring 1996

June 23rd 1996, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

Here we are then, the first ‘proper’ PPV I’d have missed due to quitting being a wrestling fan after WrestleMania XII. We begin the presentation with a gruff voiced man running down the card for the night. Our main event is, for the second month in a row, Shawn Michaels vs The British Bulldog for the WWF Championship. Jim Ross is on commentary duty with Vince McMahon and their introduction is interrupted by Owen Hart who will be joining them at ringside tonight. Owen tells them both to shut up and get on with it whilst having his back to camera.

The show opens with Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Wildman Marc Mero in the first semi final match of the King Of The Ring itself. As is customary Mero is accompanied by Sable. Austin meanwhile is alone having ditched Ted DiBiase at the last PPV.

Whilst he’s far from the full blown Stone Cold we’ll see later the roots of the character are now visible. Whilst Austin is shown winning his first round match against Bob Holly with The Million Dollar Dream, his quarter final opponent Savio Vega (yes, him again) is probably the first ever recipient of a Stone Cold Stunner. There isn’t the kick to the gut set up that he’ll come to use to great effect, he more just picks them up off the ground before positioning them. The devastating results of the move are put across on commentary. Also, in the middle of the back and forth contest with Mero, Austin bleeds from the mouth yet carries on brawling. It’s won’t be the first time Austin sheds blood to great effect in his career. Austin uses the Stunner to pin Mero, advancing to the final in the process.

Our next semi final is between Vader and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. Jake’s character is a fair shot away from what we’d seen of him in the 80’s and early 90’s. Gone is the talk of shadows and fear, now replaced by Christian redemption from his previous drug use. The story here is that Jake, at the age of 41, is attempting to gain the title of King of the Ring to cement his comeback. Owen Hart keeps suggesting he’s 61 and Vince tuts in his general direction.

We’re shown video clips of previous episodes of Monday Night Raw detailing how each combatant got to this stage in the tournament. Jake’s first round match was a victory against Hunter Hearst Helmsley. As we know now Hunter was due to be the winner of this whole thing until the Curtain Call Incident at Madison Square Garden. The departing Razor Ramon and Diesel broke character in front of a live audience and hugged their storyline enemy Shawn Michaels on May 19th 1996. At the time such a blatant shattering of kayfabe was a punishable offence. Vince couldn’t take anything out on two departing wrestlers nor could he slap the wrists of his current World Champion so it fell to Hunter, the fourth member of the backstage group, to take the fall. Rather than win the whole thing Hunter was booked to be eliminated in the first round.

The strange thing is that, as I write this, John Cena breaks kayfabe on Twitter every week.

Getting back to Jake vs Vader. The match itself is a fairly quick affair with Vader being disqualified for dragging the ref down with him when Jake performs the DDT. It looks awkward and clumsy, probably because it is. I honestly cannot think of another match which ends by one competitor being disqualified this way. Since when do ref bumps equal instant match endings? Vader isn’t finished there though, he manages to jump Jake in the corner after the bell and Vader Bomb him right across the ribs. Jake curls into a ball clutching his knackered midriff. There is grave concern all round. Our final of Stone Cold vs Jake Roberts is coming up later.

At the last PPV Sunny was managing The Bodydonnas. Now she walks down the aisle with The Smoking Gunns as they take on The Godwinns in the WWF Tag Team Title Match. In between times, as we’re told, she’s managed The Godwinns before leaving them for the Gunns. The Bodydonnas meanwhile have gained a new manager in the shape of ‘Cloudy’ who is blatantly a man in a wig. Sadly, it’s not Santina 15 years early.

The crowd are chanting for Sunny before the match has even begun, meaning that they probably don’t give two hoots about either of the teams in the ring. The Gunns get to show of their new heel moves which Billy seems far more comfortable with than Bart does. Sunny leaps around the ring trying to get the attention of Phineas, the Gunns batter Henry before he manages a hot tag and before long Bart pins Phineas. I’ll be honest and say I had to look up the result on Wikepedia despite having watched the match yesterday. That is how forgettable this thing is. Sunny marches down the ring with both tag belts over her shoulders. The focus of this entire match was on her, nothing to do with the four wrestlers in the ring.

Jerry Lawler was pretty much guaranteed a pay day at every King Of The Ring PPV in the 90’s and here is no exception. We cut back to a previous Monday Night Raw in which Lawler smashed a framed picture over the head of The Ultimate Warrior. It’s odd that in this footage Warrior is wearing pure black face paint and a baseball cap.

It’s as if he arrived at the arena late and couldn’t be arsed putting on the full works. Lawler walks down the aisle selecting various members of the crowd to verbally abuse with such classics as “Is that your face or did your neck throw up”.

Consider, if you will for one moment, the biological process involved in that.

Before long the Warrior comes running down the aisle. He’s stopped dead in his tracks by Lawler taking the tape off his wrists and choking the Warrior out about three times. This is done directly in front of the referee and, despite the five count each time, Lawler is not disqualified. Considering we’ve seen a ref bump result in an instant DQ tonight this seems rather strange. Vince actually picks up on it, saying that this isn’t a No DQ match and the ref should get some control in order.

Once Warrior engages ‘No Sell Mode’ it’s fairly standard. Lawler is pinned after a shoulder tackle. Thus far Warrior has returned to PPV for a squash match against Hunter Hearst Helmsley at Wrestlemania, a smoke off with Goldust at In Your House 7 and this short match. At no point has it not seemed like a nostalgia trip going absolutely nowhere.

The next match pitted The Undertaker against Mankind. The first WWF incarnation of Mick Foley was just coming into play when I stopped watching wrestling. I remember those brilliant promo videos with the piano music and the rats. I had no idea who Mick Foley was and how he had wrestled in the King Of The Deathmatch tournaments in Japan. I’d learn all that later.

(Please excuse the fact the only video I can find of this is somebody pointing a camera at their screen)

For a short while doing his entrance it looks like Paul Bearer has forgotten to bring the Dead Man with him. Turns out he’s hanging off a turnbuckle reading to strike as the lights go up. Mankind and Taker manage to spend 20 minutes knocking seven bells out of each other. There’s a nasty looking spot where Mankind aims a running knee to Taker’s head whilst it’s against the steel steps. In return Taker blocks an elbow drop off the apron with a steel chair shot. At the end Bearer attempts to clock Mankind with the urn only to batter Taker instead. It allows Mankind to lock on the Mandible Claw for the win. Mankind chases Bearer back down the aisle as Taker limps after him. It’s a well executed match with probably the maximum level of brutality they could perform in that stage of the product. Obviously, it’s not the last time Mankind and The Undertaker will clash at a King Of The Ring PPV.

“It started with a kiss”

Or it might have been an ill advised attempt at CPR, it depends on who you talk to. The Goldust character was all about pushing a few boundaries as far as what your standard wrestling fan was watching. The Goldust character is pretty much what every homophobic person fears, a sexually rampant homosexual who will force themselves on anybody at a moment’s notice. Dustin Rhodes often says he wanted to do something different from his Dad in the wrestling business. Mission accomplished mate, mission completely done.

Because of the forceful lip locking a month prior we have this Intercontinental Championship match between Goldust and Ahmed Johnson. Goldust walks in with Marlina who smokes at ringside. The best entrance all night goes to Ahmed though as he pushes his way through the doors with such gusto he sends two doormen flying across the aisle.

Ahmed starts off strong, battering Goldust with powerful strikes which seems to be the story of the match. Eventually though he loses energy as Goldust takes over. At one point Goldust gropes Ahmed’s arse, the sound you heard was probably a million rednecks spitting beer and cursing.

The amorous nature of the Golden One gets the better of him though as he attempts to give his special CPR to Ahmed once again. rather than be glad for this life saving technique Ahmed Pearl River Plunges Goldust to the mat and pins him. Your new I.C Champion is the man with the monster push, Ahmed Johnson.

We are then shown footage of Ahmed celebrating backstage and being congratulated by one Shawn Michaels. Whilst it seems a bit cheesy in retrospect at least it was an effort to make the title seems like something big. If it was booked today then Ahmed would now go on to lose three non-title matches on Raw and Smackdown.

We’re also shown Jake Roberts backstage having his ribs taped up before the King of the Ring final. Gorilla Monsoon, then storyline commissioner of the WWF, states that Jake wants to wrestle and he won’t stop him. Lovely to know that your boss is willing to let you permanently injure yourself isn’t it Jake?

Before the final Brian Pillman uses crutches to get himself ringside for an interview with Jim Ross. Not only does he manage to call J.R ‘a stupid son of a bitch’ which Vince quickly gives an on air apology for but he also says he’s going to ‘rape and pillage’ everybody in the WWF. I’m glad we cleared that up. Stone Cold walks down to the ring and Pillman actually encourages him as they pass each other. We’re told that Austin has had 16 stitches in his mouth at the local E.R before coming back to the arena for this match. Jake comes out next, dragging the snake bag rather than lifting it, his ribs are beyond knackered.

What follows isn’t a wrestling match, it’s more of a continued assault. Stone Cold spends four minutes beating Jake down, including tearing off the protective cover on his ribs. Gorilla Monsoon steps into the ring and tries to get Jake to quit but he refuses. Jake does the babyface thing of selling being completely beat up wonderfully during all of this. It’s to no avail however as he falls victim to a prototype Stone Cold Stunner (once again, like Mero, it’s minus the kick to the gut to start it).

What then follows is often held up as one of the greatest promos of all time. Austin’s coronation speech gave rise to the ‘Austin 3:16’ marketing phenomenon. In truth Austin had gained a heck of a lot of promo experience during his five months in ECW and this was bread and butter to him now. Not a lot is mentioned of the reactions of Michael Hayes who is brilliant at playing shocked as Stone Cold mentions how Jake just needs to ‘get a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and get back the courage he had in his prime’. It also includes Stone Cold saying ‘piss off’ to a fan.

And the crowd? They don’t give a shit.

Yes, one of the greatest moments in recent wrestling history and the start of one of the best characters we have ever seen has a crowd who are silent. They obviously were gearing for Jake to win. When he doesn’t the wind is taken out of their sails.

Rather than bask in the glory of the moment by grabbing the assembled robe and crown, Austin simply walks off to the back whilst flipping the audience the bird. Vince, Owen and J.R talk about previous winners in the shape of Bret Hart and Owen himself. Nobody mentions Mabel.

Our final match of the evening is the WWF Title Match between Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog. Camp Cornette have tried to stack the odds in their favour by choosing Mr Perfect as the referee, earlier seen using the same locker room as Bulldog and company. Owen is already at ringside despite promising to remain at the commentary desk. Bulldog enters with Diana on tow, still with her stunned fish look.

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Uncanny.

Before our heels can have their wicked way Gorilla Monsoon appears again to whisper sweet nothings into the ear of Howard Finkel. The Fink gets on the mic to announce that Mr Perfect has to officiate outside the ring and Earl Hebner will be the main referee inside the ring. Despite this ruling making no sense it still gets a huge cheer from the crown (honestly, why do we need two refs?). In all the years of Mr McMahon, Eric Bischoff being part of the NWO and The Authority I’d actually forgotten than we once had baby face heads of the company on TV.

At around this point Bulldog gets a Union Jack flag from somebody in the crowd and proceeds to wave it above his head. It leads of a chorus of boos and the obligatory ‘U.S.A’ chant instigated by HBK. I’m always slightly dismayed when this happens. For all WWF/E bang on about how they’re ‘broadcasting to 98 countries worldwide’ and are ‘a true international phenomenon’ there are moments where it all boils down to nationalistic American bilge. It’s not just because I’m from the UK and this example shows Bulldog being booed either. A couple of years ago I saw Cesaro (Swiss) wrestling Justin Gabriel (South African) and there were still USA chants. If anything is guaranteed to turn a wrestling show from ‘international pop culture’ to ‘carnival tent’ in one fell swoop then it’s this.

Back to the point though…

The match starts slow but then builds nicely from about a third of the way through, resulting in some great near falls. The end gets a little strange when Michaels hits Bulldog with the Elbow drop and then a Sweet Chin Music. Earl goes to count three, Mr Perfect steps in the ring, stops Earl for a second, they both count and Owen Hart drags Perfect out of the ring by his feet to break his count. Earl’s count continues however so the decision stands. Quite what effect pulling Perfect had to aid Bulldog I have no idea.

Before Michaels can celebrate too much Owen jumps in the ring to attack him. The younger Hart has such skill he can wrestle well even whilst wearing a tuxedo. At one point Shawn has Owen in a Figure Four whilst pinning Bulldog. It’s not long before Ahmed Johnson joins in quickly followed by Vader as he gives the heels back their advantage. The crowd are tense, they need somebody to make this a fair three on three fight. The chants for The Ultimate Warrior begin. It takes Warrior an age to finally get himself out there to clear the ring with his clumsy looking clotheslines. Our three faces stand in the middle of the ring as Camp Cornette retreat to the back.

Backstage, Camp Cornette cut a promo about how Warrior and Ahmed Johnson have stuck their noses into this and they’ll be sorry about that come the next show. It’s the start of the hype for ‘In Your House- International Incident’ which by all accounts is a terrible name for a PPV. Yes ladies and gentlemen, your top three babyface wrestlers in WWF at this time were Michaels, Ahmed Johnson and Ultimate Warrior. All of whom are obviously extremely reliable. Vince sure knows how to pick them.

King Of The Ring 96 has a few highlights which are mostly looked back on as shaping things to come rather than being good at the time. Stone Cold’s promo, regardless of the lack of crowd reaction, was truly the start of his character going over. He’s obviously still a heel and it’ll be a while yet before anybody cheers him on but he makes his mark well during the show. Undertaker and Mankind’s match is well worth a watch despite knowing that they’ll do far worse to each other in another two years time. Pillman’s promo also seems like small pieces of what became the Attitude era are beginning to come together in very small doses.

Onwards to In Your House 9 or ‘Wasn’t Warrior Supposed To Be In This One?’.

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