October 20th 1996, Indianapolis, Indiana.
“Welcome…to…..part of…PPV watching…alive…wrestling”
It looks like Jim Ross is having some audio trouble when we first set eyes on him standing next to Vince and Jerry Lawler. In fact he initially has no microphone at all. This appears to be a running theme for J.R’s heel character. It also results in the third seat of the commentary desk being something of a revolving door tonight.
Strange so it seems now but our opening match is King of the Ring winner Stone Cold Steve Austin against Hunter Hearst Helmsley. They might both be only a few short years away from main eventing shows like this but they’re out first tonight. The two men put in a really good shift with a competitive match that goes a good fifteen minutes. A lot is mentioned about the fact Mr Perfect is coming back on Raw the next night for a competitive match against Hunter and it’s not a great shock when Mr Henning walks down to the ring a few minutes into the match to walk off with the woman Hunter brought to the ring with him. Not only does this gain Hunter’s attention but it also results in Stone Cold throwing soda at Perfect as well. Whilst Hunter is distracted dealing with Perfect he’s done in with a Stone Cold Stunner. Mr Perfect makes it back down the aisle probably on the look out for a towel.
As a side note, this is the first time Stone Cold’s music is used complete with shattering glass effect.
The tag team title match is next with The Smoking Gunns taking on Owen Hart and The British Bulldog in a rematch from last month. The Gunns have a short interview with Doc Hendrix in which Billy says he’s going to win the tag team titles so they can get Sunny back. Billy then reminds him they are a team and they’re going to win them because they want the belts.
But what’s this during the entrance of the champs? No Jim Cornette, instead Clarence Mason. Apparently Jim Cornette took such a battering with Jose Lothario last month that he’s accidentally signed over the tag team champions to his lawyer. Neither Owen or Davey seem too bothered by this turn up so we carry on regardless. During the match we’ll also see Sunny backstage, standing alone and watching the match in progress. We also get some traditional Jerry Lawler old pervert comments regarding her dress as a bonus.
We’re two matches in and we haven’t seen a face wrestler actually compete yet. Consider that for a moment.
It’s a solid match given a bit of bite by Billy constantly thinking about himself rather than the team. It ends with Billy not getting his part of the Sidewinder finisher done in time as Bulldog somehow hides behind Bart and Owen to pull them both away from the legdrop. Owen manages to hit a spinning kick on him for the win. Sunny is shown in the back applauding Owen and Bulldog’s victory. Once again the story might have involved her but at least this time it wasn’t directly and we didn’t have to hear her at all. No doubt she’ll be back to screaming again next month.
Speaking of screaming, by this time Jim Ross has left the commentary position and has a (working) mic on ring. He berates Vince for being the guy who always kept him down and as ‘the owner of this company’ he should give Ross more respect. Many would say that it took until the Montreal incident at Survivor Series 1997 for Vince McMahon to be recognised on screen as the real life owner of the WWF but here’s J.R more than a year earlier saying it as it is. Jim Ross says he’s the only reason why Bret Hart is coming back to the WWF on Raw the next night as it was he who went to South Africa to speak to Bret. J.R slams the mic down and walks away, leaving his seat at the commentary table free.
We also get a short segment on Ahmed Johnson and Farooq. Ahmed has returned to cost Farooq his chance at the Intercontinental Title and the two remain on a collision course. It’s probably they best they could have done with Ahmed’s medical condition at the time which rendered him unable to wrestle.
In our next match Merc Mero takes on the ever dependable Goldust in a defence of his intercontinental title. The Goldust character is already moving away from the antics he had before and is bringing a more aggressive style of wrestling to the ring. This match is actually really good. Mero had a really good balance of being s strong grappler with good high flying moves and Goldust’s character stood out from the crowd. Mr Perfect comes down to supply commentary and they hype his previous I.C title run.
At one point in the match Goldust grabs a microphone (again, a working one) and tells the crowd he’ll come down and ‘stick his tongue down all your throats’. Proof that it wasn’t The Rock who did his own mid match promos first.
The home stretch is when Mero is levelled on the outside as Mr Perfect leaves the commentary desk to check on him. Hunter Hearst Hemsley comes down to face Perfect. Goldust attempts to attack Perfect whilst he’s distracted but with no great success. Perfect and Hunter leave ringside whilst Mero hits the Wild Thing on Goldust for the win.
There’s no World Title match tonight but we do get to see Shawn Michaels come down to the ring to do guest commentary on the Number One Contender’s Match between Sycho Sid and Vader. HBK takes the seat where Perfect sat for the previous match. It’s a battle of the powerbombs and the winner faces Shawn Michaels for the title next month. What follows is a typical big man battle with both showing off equal feats of power (Vader catching Sid in mid air is a highlight). It’s a match which is just about the right duration, Sid wins with a chokeslam. Shawn climbs in the ring to congratulate his former bodyguard. It’s at this moment when I was really expecting Sid to turn full on heel by battering Michaels but he doesn’t. Instead he plays the crowd a little.
The best part of this whole thing is the backstage interview in which Doc Hendrix tries to get some thoughts from Sid about his victory and the upcoming match with Shawn. Jim Ross pops back up and points out the obvious, that Shawn and Sid were team mates not too long ago so can he leave all that behind and face HBK for the title. Sid then mangles his promo to such juddering degree that the entire world seems to pause to ask ‘What did he just say?’. He does get vaguely back on track towards the end with the usual ‘ruler of the World’ stuff. Say what you want about The Ultimate Warrior’s nonsensical promos, at least he didn’t stumble over his words all the time.
We’re also given a direct shot of the new Diesel and Razor Ramon backstage as they give interviews to ‘cyber space’. It’s very obvious even from this point that they aren’t the same people.
Onward to a match so violent and dark that it’s not actually been officially recognised by the WWF despite being given the last half an hour of PPV time, a referee and full entrances. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the first ever Buried Alive Match. The rules are very simple, the first person to be thrown in the grave set up near the curtain and have the dirt thrown over them loses. It’s a certain step up from the Casket Matches that The Undertaker has been participating in these last few years. It also looks corny as hell.
Somehow though, despite all that, it’s a really good match. Once again the commentary team play on the fact Mankind is willing to risk everything to inflict pain on his opponent and the point of Paul Bearer’s turn at Summerslam still eating at Taker. The match itself is a complete brawl as they battle from the ring itself to the grave and back about three times. With his match against Shawn MIchaels last month and this Mick Foley truly showed why he was an extremely valuable member of WWF’s locker room in the mid to late 90′s. The moment Mankind licks a chair after using it to batter Taker is something to behold.
During the finale it’s very easy to see why they had a digger beside the grave with a massive level to pull for later Buried Alive matches. How much dirt exactly do you need to pile on top of your opponent to win? Nobody really seems sure and Undertaker takes what seems like forever to pile enough on top of Mankind (and the Mankind scarecrow they’ve brought in for the close ups) for the victory. Undertaker doesn’t get much time to celebrate however as he’s jumped by a small heel faction of Bradshaw, Hunter, Goldust, The Executioner and Crush. They quickly dump Taker in the grave as Mankind makes an exit before piling even more dirt on top of him. They then clear the area as lightning strikes the grave before Taker’s hand comes out of the ground in a Living Dead style. It’s the usual smoke and mirrors from The Undertaker but it works somehow and is far less cheesy than him rising above the Titantron after his Casket Match with Yokozuna at the 1994 Royal Rumble.
The Buried Alive match is worth checking out, the Intercontinental Title match is also worthy of your attention. I’d argue it’s also refreshing to have a tag team title match without Sunny leaping around at ringside as well. Also, Evil Jim Ross is a rarity. Buried Alive is certainly one of the better cards so far.