September 22nd 1996, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
So far on this wrestling viewing journey I’ve had little to remind me of why I stopped watching wrestling in the first place. Whilst some of the matches in the back of 1996 were bad there was nothing that made me go ‘Ah, that’s why I started watching football’. This is pretty much up until the halfway point of ‘In Your House 10: Mind Games’ in which there’s plenty of stuff that would have sent me screaming for the hills when I was 15.
It’s hardly shown on the PPV broadcast itself but Savio Vega defeated Marty Jannetty (seriously, Jannetty as a heel?) on the pre-show and Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw has something to say about it. We’re therefore thrown into a match between Vega and Bradshaw and it’s a Caribbean Strap Match. Bradshaw uses the strap before he even puts it on and it takes some time for the ref to get things underway properly. The two men proceed to batter seven shades out of each other before we go directly to a carbon copy of the finish we had a few months ago when Stone Cold faced off with Vega in exactly the same match type. Bradshaw moves around the ring touching the turnbuckles and dragging Vega after him blissfully unaware that Vega is doing exactly the same thing behind his back. Upon approach to the last corner Vega manages to skip ahead of Bradshaw and touch it first. Sadly, the camera only picks up Savio doing this from the third one onwards so it’s only a bit of “Savio’s been touching the turnbuckles too!” from J.R that makes this obvious. It’s a good effort from both men but it seems wasted on this stipulation with a feud that just seems based on Bradshaw not getting on any of the previous PPV shows.
One thing of note during this match is that there’s a sudden commotion in the crowd halfway through as two gentlemen are escorted away by security. Vince does acknowledge this on commentary as ‘two men from a local wrestling promotion’. I wouldn’t have know this at the time had I been watching but the two men in question were Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman from ECW promoting their first PPV in their home city.
When a wrestler gets over is it the wrestler that does it or the character? It’s a worthy question considering what happens next as we cut backstage to witness a quick shot of Savio Vega being attacked by Diesel and Razor Ramon. Obviously Scott Hall and Kevin Nash have both long since left for WCW and are being presented as being still under WWF contract invading Nitro. What better way to undermine this than to present them both on a WWF show as if nothing has happened? This works for now as they’re only seen at distance but it would be very soon regarded as an insult to the audience’s intellect. The new Razor Ramon character was given to Rick Bognar and New Diesel was Glenn Jacobs who would recover from this stupid angle to become Kane.
I’m always a bit anxious when two non-active TV personalities have a match. Sometimes you can get away with one wrestler facing a non-active but two facing each other is often a recipe for disaster. With that in mind we have Jose Lotherio versus Jim Cornette in a direct blow off to the Camp Cornette programme with Shawn Michaels. Cornette comes down to the ring in very unflattering attire followed by Jose who walks down the aisle with one of Shawn’s jackets across his back. It’s a mercifully short match, only about three minutes and it’s mostly punching. Jim Cornette is pinned fairly quickly and Jose gets to celebrate. It could have been far worse had it gone on much longer but it still feels odd. Surely a segment on Raw would have done for this rather than PPV time?
Thus far we’ve had a nothing match with a stupid gimmick, two people pretending to be somebody else and a 60 year old man punching another fat man. This PPV is the pits so far.
It’s brought up slightly by a promo featuring Owen Hart and Brian Pillman as they talk about how Bret Hart was supposed to appear on this show and gave them his word that he would. They introduce Stone Cold who also throws a few barbs Bret’s way. Bret is shown on screen in a prerecorded segment saying that Owen and Pillman are both ‘liars’. It’s the first rumblings of Stone Cold and Bret Hart feuding.
The Smoking Gunns defend their tag team titles against The British Bulldog and Owen Hart. Not only is it slightly odd having two heel teams facing each other but Bulldog was wrestling Shawn Michaels for the World Title a few short months ago and this feels like a bit of a step down. Sunny is still managing the Gunns and the camera is still focused on her. She’s noticeably more attached to Billy Gunn rather than Bart. The Gunns attempt to have the large photo of Sunny dropped from the rig again but Owen and Bulldog have got there before them and put graffiti on it. Sunny has another pap outside the ring and spends almost the entire match with her bottom lip out.
The match itself is good and certainly the best we’ve seen so far tonight. The ending comes when Billy is distracted by talking to Sunny outside meaning he completely fails to save Bart from being pinned by Bulldog. Before this Bart is actually shoved into Billy who takes this personally indeed. Despite there being new tag team champions tonight the emphasis is (once again) on Sunny as she screams at The Gunns telling them they’re fired. She stomps off down the aisle leaving Billy to give chase and plead.
Mark Henry takes on Jerry Lawler in a match which has all the signs of being terrible. Not only were most Lawler matches in this age dominated by him not actually wrestling but they also have to acknowledge that Mark Henry, despite being an Olympian, cannot wrestle. To be fair they start by Lawler challenging him to put on a headlock and running him through the basics as part of the match which works well but we’re boiling down to another simple ‘Lawler gets his arse kicked’ ending. Henry wins by submission.
The exact rules of a Final Curtain Match aren’t really given but The Undertaker and Goldust will contest these conditions. J.R makes a big noise about how The Undertaker is still reeling from Paul Bearer betraying him at Summerslam and rightly so. It’s also easy for people to dismiss Goldust as a gimmick but Dustin Rhodes could hang with the best of them and this match proves it again. Taker eventually gets the pinfall victory in a really good lead up to the main event.
And what a main event it is. Mankind alongside Paul Bearer faces off against Shawn Michaels for the World Wrestling Federation Title. It’s this match that makes the night and makes sitting about through the first half worthwhile. I’d actually seen this match before because it’s on Mick Foley’s DVD box set as one of his favourites and it’s easy to see why. The fact that Mankind would be a very unconventional champion is put across on commentary but crucially they still say he’s in with a chance. It’s also a complete clash of styles as the technical and athletic Michaels meets the demented Mankind who will just brutalise people. The change during the match though is that Shawn reveals he can brawl as well and this leads to some brilliant spots such as Michaels superkicking Mankind with a chair and them both crashing through the announce table from the apron.
The ending is slightly off as it’s a DQ finish when Vader interrupts to attack Shawn but it does lead to The Undertaker springing out of a casket Paul Bearer has brought to ringside and giving chase to Mankind. Bearer’s face of fear when he sees his former charge in person is amazing.
So Mind Games does plumb the depths of 1996 WWF making you realise why this company will soon go through one of its most lean times as WCW ruled. The main event though is well worth checking out as it’s probably the best match during this time and shows how broad the skills of both Foley and Michaels were.
Next time we’re going to see somebody ‘Buried Alive’.