November 16th 1996- New York, New York.
When did the Attitude era start? It’s a simple enough question that I would imagine most people would say the night in which Bret Hart was forced to drop the World title to Shawn Michaels without his knowledge at Survivor Series 1997. That incident gave rise to Vince McMahon becoming ‘Mr McMahon’ on screen and pairing him with Stone Cold Steve Austin through 1998. Here we are though, at the tail end of 1996 and with WCW climbing up the ratings, as some of the elements of the WWF’s finest hour (or three years) are about to come together. The Undertaker returns with a new look, we see the restart of a heelish Shawn Michaels, The Rock makes his debut, Triple H is holding gold, Bret Hart is back to shake his head at everybody else and Stone Cold is giving promo that will live forever in the memory. It’s nearly there, but yet to ignite.
The tag division in the WWF at this time was fairly weak until Owen Hart and The British Bulldog won the titles a couple of months back. It’s obvious they can’t be wrestling pig farmers and fitness instructors to defend the titles each week so who to bring in? How’s about All Japan sensations Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon?
What do you mean ‘Who’?
There was a period of time when the WWF didn’t have such a blinkered view of the world of wrestling outside Stamford. Imagine if they took a team from Japan today who have been riding high in the land of the rising sun. They then let this team bypass NXT completely and stick them straight on PPV with the hope of facing the tag team champions in a few short weeks. It simply wouldn’t happen yet here, in the mid 90′s, it’s a go. Our opening match of the evening pits Bulldog, Owen and The New Rockers against the aforementioned LaFon, Furnas and The Godwinns.
I think I heard Vince say that this version of The Rockers is ‘new and improved’ early on in the match. In order for this to be true you’d have to rate Al Snow over Shawn Michaels, the man defending the WWF Title later tonight. Think on that for a while.
Now, I like Survivor Series 4v4 matches and all but they usually only get going once we’ve had a few eliminations and got rid of the wasters. This one doesn’t seem much different as the entire thing seems set up to show how LaFon and Furnas can come back to beat Owen and Bulldog once the match boils down to 2v2. The Godwinns and The Rockers, improved or otherwise, might as well be bystanders. Bulldog and Owen are their usual dependable selves whilst LaFon and Furnas show off some skills to an audience who have no doubt never heard of them before picking up the win. Obviously bigger things were planned for them.
Somebody must have climbed up to the roof of Madison Square Garden tonight and shone the searchlight towards the sky because The Undertaker comes down to the ring from the rafters complete with bat wings. I think it’s one of those entrance ideas which must have sounded great but looks truly awful on TV. There must be somebody in production who thinks the same as we don’t actually get that good a view of it and the only time the camera settles on Taker is when he’s taken the whole thing off and is standing in the ring ready for his match against Mankind. It would also appear that being buried alive and surviving such an ordeal makes you come back dressed in black leather.
This is the fourth time these two have faced each other on PPV this year but to be fair they’ve managed to get something different each time. There’s also the fact that Mick Foley provides a much more in depth opponent for Undertaker than the usual lumbering dunderheads he’s given. This time around Paul Bearer is placed in a cage dangled above the ring and, if The Undertaker wins, he gets ‘five minutes alone’ with him. Quite what the hell is going to happen in those five minutes is never fully explained. Everybody obviously assumes it’s to beat him up to gain retrobution for deserting him at Summerslam just gone but what if it was just to have a nice cup of coffee together and talk it over? That would be a turn up for the books.
From a story point of view this is one of the stronger matches. Taker works the fingers in a effort not to get caught in the Mandible Claw which is a sound footing for the match as a whole, especially as Taker has been subdued by the move on a few occasions previously. It’s not quite up there with the mad cap antics of the Buried Alive match last month but it still works well. The ending does seem to hit out of nowhere as Mankind batters Taker with what looks like a small wooden dagger before Taker scoops him up into the Tombstone for the win. The cage is lowered, much is made of Paul Bearer trying to get away as much as he can but no sooner has Taker got a hold of him than The Executioner comes down to the ring to blindside the Deadman, giving Bearer ample time to head for the hills. It’s strange that now they’ve found somebody who can match Taker for ability in the shape of Foley they seem to be handing him back to people who have one off gimmicks just designed to feud with him once.
Sometimes you think they just throw together Survivor Series teams at random. Here’s new Intercontinental Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley with his team mates Jerry Lawler (who has just left the commentary team for this match), Goldust and…errr….Crush. They will take on Marc Mero, The Stalker (Barry Windham with the dodgiest gimmick), Jake Roberts (filling in for the injured Mark Henry whom I bet Vince is already regretting signing to a ten year contract) and a young fellow known as Rocky Maivia.
Does anybody else remember British comedy classic ‘Red Dwarf’? In that show a character called ‘Cat’ who is usually cool as anything gets transformed into his geeky alter ego ‘Dwayne Dibley’. If The Rock is equal to Cat then Rocky Maivia is very much his Dwayne Dibley debuting tonight. They even have the same first name. Much is made of the fact that Rocky is a third generation superstar and his family credentials are very much hyped to the hilt. Is there a chance he’ll be the only face left to fight off two heels? You bet he will.
Before the match begins however there’s the monthly appearance of Sunny to contend with as she walks down to the ring to her new song ‘I Know You Want Me’. Thankfully they’ve removed her from taking all the spotlight off those she manages, sadly it means we have to listen to her for the next twenty minutes or so. Jim Ross obviously disapproves as he trots out his ‘jezabelle’ reference.
To cut a long and Jerry Lawler wrestling involved story short we end up with Rocky vs Goldust and Crush. Despite it often being said that Rocky was unpopular right from the start the crowd tonight seem to be okay with him. There’s a moment of communication failure by the heels as Crush manages to punch out Goldust which seals their downfall. It’s a decent enough match but obviously designed to get the new kid over. As Rocky walks back up the ramp high fiving the fans Sunny says that she ‘hasn’t had a chance to seduce him yet’. Was it a WWF initiation to sleep with Sunny in the mid 90′s or what?
“If you put an S in the front of Hitman then you get my exact opinion of Bret Hart” said Stone Cold. As such Bret has returned to the WWF tonight to stop Steve Austin running his mouth out. I don’t know if it was because of the two styles being so different or the characters gelling together but Hart and Austin have an absolute barn stormer here. Right from the outset, as Stone Cold paces along one side of the ring and Bret gestures to the fans there’s a tension between them that means this is going to be great. It features pretty much everything from brawling to the outside to superplexes from the top rope. The ending is very reminiscent of Bret’s match against Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8 in that Austin has the Million Dollar Dream locked in (hey, remember that move?), Bret kicks off the turnbuckle, flips over and pins Austin. Unlike his match against Piper it’s very much put over on commentary that Austin didn’t want to break the hold so got pinned in the process. He wasn’t outwitted by Bret, he was just done in by his own desire to hurt him. This probably wins an award for ‘Best Match So Far In This Entire Blogging Experience That Doesn’t Involve Shawn Michaels’. As a result of winning this one, Bret gets a title shot against the winner of tonight’s main event.
From one of the best singles matches so far we go to what is regarded as one of the worst Survivor Series matches ever. Farooq, Vader, Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon go up against Flash Funk, Savio Vega, Yokozuna and Jimmy Snuka. For a start the two knock of version of Diesel and Razor are so different looking to their proper counterparts that you’d have to be an idiot not to notice, Vader has gone from challenging for the World Title at Summerslam to this heap of junk, Yokozuna looks double the size here (this was apparently his last match in WWF) and Jimmy Snuka is about as mobile as a paving slab and only brought in for the nostalgia kick. The match is about ten minutes of ‘action’ followed by two eliminations before everybody else gets disqualified. It’s as if the match was taken out the back and shot to put it out of its misery. The only redeeming feature about this match is the following exchange on commentary between Jim Ross and Jim Cornette.
J.R- “I could manage Vader better than you”
Cornette- “You couldn’t even manage a Wendy’s”
J.R- “I could if you lived in town”.
For the last seven months of him being champion we’ve seen Shawn Michaels have some really good matches. He got a good one out of Vader, his brawl with Mankind was exceptional and his first defense against Diesel (the real one) is an underrated classic. Perhaps the ‘boyhood dream’ act got old quickly but the crowd in New York tonight hate Shawn with a passion.
I discussed this with Conquistabores resident retro expert Geordie Alan and his theory is that Shawn Michaels at that time was a much better character chasing the title. Once he obtained it it was just a matter of waiting for him to lose it again. Shawn’s act become somewhat pointless when he had exactly what he wanted right around his waist. Perhaps Alan’s right because tonight the bulk of the crowd seem to love the guy with the twitchy eyes and sharp violin music entrance theme in the shape of Sid.
The match is just about passable but it’s obvious Shawn’s heart really isn’t in it and he seems annoyed that the crowd have turned on him so much. Sid answers to all of Shawn’s offence with single, massive power moves which the crowd love. Whilst it’s not Shawn’s best match it’s probably Sid’s. This probably says something about the career of ‘The Ruler Of The World’.
Sid eventually grabs a camera from ringside and smashes it into Shawn’s manager/trainer Jose Lothario leaving him to have what we’ll call ‘a wrestling heart attack’ in that somebody collapses and it takes a medical crew about three weeks to get to them. Shawn goes outside the ring to tend to his mentor meaning his attention isn’t on the match. As Shawn is outside Sid gets the camera and batters Michaels across the back with it. HBK is then wide open for the Powerbomb and falling victim to the pinfall. Sid wanders around a bit whilst a medical crew finally gets to Jose and Shawn stumbles up the aisle after him. From the heights of Wrestlemania 12 this seems like a rather limp ending to Shawn’s first reign with the World Title. He’s essentially been booked to lose it to the traditional WWF ‘big man’.
So the 1996 Survivor Series is still a PPV worth watching. Taker and Mankind continue their rather brilliant feud whilst Bret and Stone Cold start theirs. The opening 4v4 match is also worth a watch and I suppose the final 4v4 on the card is worth digging out as a lesson in how not to book such bouts. Next time around we go to the final show of 1996 in the shape of In Your House ‘It’s Time’. It’s a show that used Vader’s catchphrase as a subtitle but didn’t feature Vader at all.