April 26th 1998. Greensboro, North Carolina.
If you want a clash of highbrow and lowbrow culture in the space of a few seconds then the opening of Unforgiven 98 is a fantastic example. The show begins with a video quoting Dante Alighieri’s poem The Divine Comedy, more specifically the Inferno part describing the nine circles of Hell. The Undertaker and Kane are due to clash once again this evening with the ring surrounded by flames until one of the becomes ‘the language of the fire’.
Directly after this we cut to a Stone Cold Steve Austin fan holding a sign bearing the words ‘If you hear glass…that’s your ass’.
Apparently Vince McMahon has promised ‘an event of catastrophic proportions’ tonight. The Nation of Domination storm down to the ring for the opening six man tag match pitting The Rock, D’Lo Brown and Mark Henry against Faarooq, Steve Blackman and Ken
Shamrock. Kama Mustafa walks down with the Nation but he’s wearing sunglasses and has a black waistcoat on. It would seem that the transition to The Godfather has begun in the last few weeks. Faarooq and his new found friends do the Nation’s salute before the match starts and the crowd pop for it.
This feud seems to have started as The Rock versus Ken Shamrock but is rapidly morphing into Faarooq versus the rest of The Nation. As such the early part of the match is D’Lo Brown doing most of the work. The Rock is acting the heel and refusing to tag in until he has a defined opening and Mark Henry isn’t quite there yet as far as ability goes. D’Lo dominates over Steve Blackman until the martial arts man manages to get some stiff kicks in. Ken Shamrock comes in to a good pop which is a good sign especially as he’s really only had this feud to work with lately. Faarooq tags in and, behind the ref’s back, uses his leather belt to slap D’Lo silly. I’m usually a bit off with faces using heel tactics
but it works really well here as a sign of Faarooq’s rage towards his former team and the fans in attendance really love it.
Mark Henry comes in to face Blackman and he looks clumsy. It’s now approaching two years since Henry arrived in the WWF and despite a lot of that time being benched with injury he still doesn’t look near ready yet. Later on D’Lo has Faarooq at a disadvantage so The Rock finally makes it into the ring. He works on a prone Faarooq.
The rest of the match is fairly basic. D’Lo continues to be the work horse of his team by staying in the longest. Towards the end D’Lo goes for a Moonsault on Blackman but misses it. The Rock then storms the ring, followed by Faarooq and before long it’s a six man brawl. The Rock gets a DDT in on Faarooq but it’s only for a two count. Faarooq then comes back with a really sloppy looking Dominator for the victorious three count. Michael Cole interviews the winning team at ringside. Faarooq handles the questions as he thanks his new team mates. Cole then suggests this is ‘the start of a long war’.
Stone Cold comes out to the ring for a short promo in which he threatens the time keeper. Not just verbally but by grabbing him by the scruff of the neck. The crowd cheer this assault on an innocent man who has done nothing against Austin at this time.
If Chyna was really going to cause that much bother at ringside and handcuffing her to Slaughter didn’t work at WrestleMania then would it not be wiser to just ban her from the building altogether? Apparently this isn’t an option as Slaughter insists she’s suspended from a cage high up in the arena whilst Triple H defends the European title against Owen Hart.
It’s impossible not to feel a little bit sorry for Owen during this time. Bret, Bulldog and Neidhart are all off to WCW so the wind has been taken out of his sails completely. In an alternate universe the WWF could have cashed in big with a programme against Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship as the young man coming back to avenge his brother’s loss. Due to Shawn’s ego and his spine this sadly never happened.
Right after Triple H makes his entrance Commissioner Slaughter locks Chyna in the cage (the same one that Paul Bearer ended up being locked in at Survivor Series 1996 by the
looks of it). Owen comes down the aisle complete with that terrible entrance theme he had at the time. Might it be possible that Chyna will escape at some point? Let’s wait and see.
Owen wastes no time at all by attacking Triple H on the outside. He launches the leader of DX towards the cage and rams his head off it before yelling at Chyna who is locked inside by this time. Once Triple H is smacked off the Spanish announcer table the bell rings proper and the cage is hauled skywards. Personally I’m never a fan of matches with have some kind of constant outside distraction as, no matter how good the wrestling is, your eyes are always wandering off to whoever or whatever is outside the ring waiting for something to happen involving them.
Eventually Triple H drops Owen across the turnbuckle and this gives him an opening to actually get involved. Up above Chyna has a go at bending the bars with no luck. Not long after this she produces a file which she promptly drops. Triple H gets a Swinging Neckbreaker in and follows this with a rest hold. Despite it being nearly six months since the event and them not going anywhere with it as far as Owen is concerned J.R and The King mention Survivor Series 1997 again.
Triple H keeps going for a Sleeper Hold until Owen quickly gets a German Suplex in. By this time Chyna has bent the bars completely and is actually hanging out of the cage. Owen strikes with an Enzuigiri for a two count, the following Spinning Heel Kick also only get a two. Chyna hangs from the edge of the cage as Owen DDTs Triple H and applies the Sharpshooter. The cage seems too high up for Chyna to get down until it mysteriously lowers towards the arena floor. One camera manages to catch Road Dogg at the controls. In the commotion of trying to get Chyna back under control she manages to break the Sharpshooter. As officials (and Slaughter) hurry to the scene Owen manages to hit Triple H with his own Pedigree. Upon covering him for the pinfall though X-Pac comes through the crowd with a fire extinguisher and beats Owen over the head with it. As he slinks out of the ring Triple H manages to cover a dazed Owen for the three and retain his European title again. DX beat a hasty retreat to the back as Owen is interviewed by Michael Cole. It’s at this point the youngest Hart manages to say ‘bullshit’ live on PPV.
The WWF was still very much in the habit of putting NWA title matches on their cards at this time. Jim Cornette appears and he’s booed to the rafters after introducing his new Midnight Express team of Bart Gunn and Bob Holly, the current NWA Tag Team Champions. A few minutes later Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton of the Rock and Roll Express walk down. They look ancient. Robert Gibson starts against Bob Holly and takes him apart. It’s old school stuff, sound as far as technique goes but it feels like it’s from another age. Every single trick to make the Midnight Express look stupid is taken.
For some unknown reason The King uses a moment halfway through this match to ponder what colour of underwear Sable is wearing tonight. I’m forced to wonder how exactly Jerry Lawler got away with sounding like a sex pest on live TV every week for nearly ten years.
For some strange reason Jim Cornette ends up in the ring challenging the ref to a fight. The ref then chases Cornette away. Bob Holly misses a Top Rope Leg Drop and Gibson goes to town on his opponents. Cornette sneaks around the other side of the ring and ends up elbow dropping his own team by accident. Bart gets the pinfall after Holly Bulldog’s Gibson. It’s all harmless enough and it was designed to appeal the fans in North Carolina but you have to wonder why it was here otherwise.
Speaking of Jim Cornette, he’s often said that Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn had a complete fascination with Sable around 1998. It’s never been more apparent than right here. Even Jim Ross seems embarrassed by what he’s about to call. It’s the first ever (as if that’s some kind of boast) Evening Gown Match in the WWF between Sable and Luna. The first woman to remove the other’s over garments wins. The crowd are desperate for Sable to lose this one. Sable cannot wrestle at all but I doubt Vince really cared at this point. I won’t write too much about it and it’s a complete waste of time. I will however supply more quotes from Sex Pest Lawler.
“I want to see the dairy farm”
“Sex is the most beautiful thing money can buy”
Sable does indeed lose but manages to get something back afterwards as they both end up under the ring and Sable is first to emerge with Luna’s underwear. Goldust then has to place his robe over Luna so she can walk back to the locker room.
Vince appears himself next, probably because he wanted to meet a semi naked Sable on the way down the aisle. He repeats his line of something catastrophic happening tonight. He also says he was born in North Carolina but the crowd are having nothing of it. With regard to the upcoming Stone Cold versus Dude Love match later tonight he says he accepts no responsibility if ‘Stone Cold screws Stone Cold’. The Mr McMahon character might still be holding onto that air of politeness but he’s still building on the foundations put down after Montreal.
Next up there’s Legion Of Doom 2000 versus The New Age Outlaws. Billy Gunn and Road Dogg walk down the aisle with a blow up doll that seems to be styled off a sporting personality that the crowd hate. Maybe it’s a baseball thing, it’s wasted on me. Sunny is still with Animal and Hawk although the more you see it the more it just seems odd.
The New Age Outlaws play the cowardly champions well up until the point that Animal starts to whack them around a bit. He Powerbombs Road Dogg. The Doomsday Device is nearly activated early on even though J.R calls it ‘The Devastation Device’ for some obscure reason. It’s quickly broken up. Animal’s knee is then worked over and Billy Gunn gets some kind of knee bar in there.
During all of L.O.D’s matches in this era they usually took it in turns to be the one receiving all the punishment before the other got a hot tag. Under normal circumstances it’s Hawk who bears the brunt of the attack but here Animal is the one in trouble. Only once he Backdrops out of a Billy Gunn Powerbomb does he manage to get to his corner and bring Hawk in. Hawk splashes Road Dogg and only gets a two count. Upon bringing one of the belts in Road Dogg tries to batter Hawk with it. The L.O.D man ducks it and instead German Suplexes Dogg. A winning pinfall is registered and it looks like L.O.D have reclaimed the titles. Unfortunately the referee quickly has to announce that Hawk’s shoulders were down as well when he was counting so therefore The New Age Outlaws have retained. As Billy Gunn and Road Dogg escape with the gold L.O.D hoist up the referee for the Doomsday Device.
In the modern era of wrestling it’s not unusual for a large portion of Wrestlemania can be dedicated to some musical artist warbling. I still have a shuddering recollection of Kid Rock for this reason. Back to 1998 though and here’s Jeff Jarrett to sing his country ditty alongside Tennessee Lee. After the song Steve Blackman appears and attacks Jeff Jarrett. Tennessee Lee uses his guitar as a weapon and Blackman ends up locked in the Figure Four Leglock.
Gas canisters surround the ring and it looks like somebody is going to have a barbecue. Fink describes Kane and Undertaker as ‘the contestants’ like they’re about to play Wheel Of Fortune. Whoever gets set alight first will lose tonight. The two brothers start the match with a few basic kicks and punches. Undertaker’s Old School stalk across the ropes is emphasised by somebody turning the gas up on the flames. Kane begins to take over the match by almost shoving Undertaker into the flames until the Dead Man resorts to a thumb to his brother’s eye. Paul Bearer passes Kane a chair through the fire and Undertaker is instantly waffled with it. A charging Kane goes into the corner as Undertaker gets his boot up. He follows this with a Russian Leg Sweep and a Leg Drop. Kane shrugs these attacks off and simply gets up. The following Undertaker
Chokeslam is also brushed off by Kane. A Superplex gets exactly the same result.
Kane is eventually thrown over the top rope and he begins to walks down the aisle. The Undertaker cannot give chase as he can’t cross the wall of fire surrounding the ring. Vader comes out of nowhere to cut off Kane’s escape and, as the two get closer to the ring, Undertaker dives over the top rope and crashes into both of them. Paul Bearer slams a chair into Undertaker which doesn’t have any effect. Undertaker chases Bearer all the way up to the stage where Jeff Jarrett was singing earlier and attacks his former manager with a bass drum. Undertaker then returns ringside and pushes Kane into the flames. Kane’s arm goes alight and he darts to the back.
“Mr Austin has been watching too many Oliver Stone movies” says Vince and we go into the main event of Stone Cold’s first title defence against Dude Love. Mick Foley’s third persona might seem like a bit too much of a comedy character to face the Rattlesnake but for some reason, because Dude has the backing of Vince, there’s always that chance he might make it out with the title so this match works on that level. It’s also helpful that Foley is brilliant at this.
Dude Love jumps Austin in the aisle to start with but Austin’s intensity takes over as he Lou Thesz Presses Dude when they’re back in the ring. Before long they’re both off
back down the aisle towards the stage (which everybody seems to be having a go on tonight). Dude Love is Hiptossed off the stage right onto the concrete floor. Back ringside Dude reverses an Irish Whip to ram Austin into the apron.
“Both of these guys were ignored by other companies” says J.R as Dude Love holds Austin in a Chinlock. At this moment Vince walks down to the ring with Paterson and Briscoe and grabs a seat at ringside. The tension grows as Vince appears to signal to the timekeeper (the same one Austin roughed up earlier). Austin, having broken free of Dude’s hold, walks over to jaw at Vince for a bit and almost gets pinned in a roll up. Austin is then Backdropped in the aisle. There’s also a Dude Neckbreaker in there as
Dude Love has an Abdominal Stretch applied outside the ring and Vince seems desperate for the timekeeper to ring the bell. This is until Austin Suplexes Dude over the ringsteps. After a fight that spreads into the crowd and then back to the ring Dude Love set up the Sweet Chin Music. Yes, Dude Love is going for HBK’s finisher. All he ends up doing though is Clotheslining the referee. Austin falls victim to the Mandible Claw whilst the ref is down and Austin escapes it by bundling Dude Love over the top rope. Austin goes for a chair, Vince tries to steal it from him but Dude Love throws it into Austin’s face anyway.
Most WWF/E wrestlers often say that Vince never asks his employees to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. If he wants them to take a huge bump then he knows he has to be willing to do exactly the same. The chairshot that Austin lands on Vince is probably a fine example of this. Stone Cold doesn’t hold back just because it’s the owner of the company and it’s crucial to their story that he gives it some gusto here anyway. This chairshot rings out and Vince is left crumpled at ringside. Austin gets the Stunner in on Dude Love and, lacking a referee, does his own three count and considers himself victorious. Austin gathers his belt and walks off down the aisle as the medical crew arrives for Vince. It’s then announced that Austin has been disqualified for attacking a WWF official. He keep the title but loses the match. “Will Austin be fired tomorrow on Raw?” wonders J.R aloud as we go off air.
The first PPV show after WrestleMania is often mostly reheated matches from the big event itself. Kane and The Undertaker go to battle again one month after their showcase at the big one and the fire gimmick might fit their story but doesn’t make for a better match. The Stone Cold versus Dude Love main event is actually really good as a contest and lays down a lot of groundwork for the bubbling feud between Austin and Vince. The rest of the card is fairly forgettable, mostly involving L.O.D trying to reinvent themselves, Sable trying to hide the fact she’s miles out of her depth and the NWA looking like the Walking Dead.
Next time around we go Over The Edge.