July 26th 1998. Fresno, California
We are well into the Attitude Era now, within the first thirty seconds of this PPV starting that fact becomes glaringly obvious. Rather than kick off the show with a video package or a promo from a wrestler we have Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler going backstage with a microphone to interview Sable. This ends with Sable showing him her bra. I’d love to be kidding about this but alas it is impossible. Sable seems to be involved in a Bikini Contest with Jacqueline later tonight so Lawler’s concern about what she’s wearing seems to be high on the agenda.
As far as the actual wrestling is concerned tonight we have a match for the WWF Tag Team Titles with Kane and Mankind defending against The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Last month at King of the Ring it was The Undertaker who accidentally hit Austin with a steel chair meaning he lost his Championship under First Blood rules to Kane. Can the two coexist and win the gold?
First up tonight is wrestler/porn star Val Venis making his PPV debut against Jeff Jarrett. Val gets a sizable pop from the crowd as he gets on the mic and makes a fairly obvious ‘Here I come’ joke. Jeff Jarrett walks down the aisle with both Tennessee Lee and two big blokes billed as Southern Justice. Referee Tim White sends the two gents to the back before the match starts. Lee, for some reason, gets to stay. Before the bell rings Kaientai enter the arena with their manager Yamaguchi. He joins J.R and Lawler on commentary.
The overall story here seems to be that Yamaguchi’s wife has starred alongside Val in one of his films. Yamaguchi makes continual references to this whilst the match is in progress but it’s the most confusing method possible. At one stage he says “You Americans always talk about size but look at Titanic”. That’ll be the Belfast made, Southampton sailed by a company based in Liverpool Titanic then? He then yammers on about his wife doing yoga, again making little to no sense.
Val dominates the opening exchanges with some fairly basic but effective offense. He reverses a piledriver attempt but not long afterwards gets powerbombed by JJ. Lee then manages to get some shots into a prone Val on the outside. Jarrett also lands a Baseball Slide onto Val just after. Back in the ring Val gets an Inverted Atomic Drop in before smashing JJ with a great looking Lariat. A Val Fisherman’s Suplex gets him a two count, the following JJ Crossbody gets him a two count also. Val goes up to the top turnbuckle but Lee trips him leaving JJ open to get a Superplex in.
In the home stretch Val reverses a JJ Figure Four into a small package but doesn’t get the pinfall. Jarrett then collides with Lee and stuns him as Val rolls him up for the three count. Yamaguchi is livid at ringside, Val gets on the mic to talk some more about his penis and the Japanese contingent promise retribution tomorrow night on Raw.
We get a short clip of the Hart family home in Calgary (seems like a nice day for it too). Later tonight we’ll have Owen Hart and Ken Shamrock taking on each other in a ‘Dungeon Match’ with Dan Severn as referee.
Remember how good the match between The British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels was last year? Remember how, for that night, the European Championship seemed like the most important thing in the entire company? Remember how Bulldog dedicated the match to his sister who was fighting cancer and Shawn still wanted the ending changed so he would win? How Shawn dropped it in the most feeble way imaginable to his mate Triple H and he carried it for months on end? Well he finally dropped it to somebody that could use it in the shape of D’Lo Brown. This is essentially a continuation of the feud between The Nation of Domination and D-Generation X. Tonight, D’Lo defends against X-Pac.
Sean Waltman (aka X-Pac) holds a really strange position in the wrestling business at this time. Having debuted in the WWF with that famous win against Razor Ramon in 1994 he went on to turn heel and join the Million Dollar Corporation in 1996. Despite being a member of The Kliq he wasn’t involved in the Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden as he was in rehab at the time. After jumping ship to WCW in 1996 he was revealed as the 6th member of the NWO. After some time in WCW he was forced to take time off with a neck injury and was fired via Fed Ex by WCW boss Eric Bischoff. Waltman has said in the past that this was a power play to keep his friends Scott Hall and Kevin Nash from stepping out of line but Bischoff has stated it was also due to Waltman’s problems with alcohol at the time. When Shawn Michaels was forced to stop wrestling due to his back injury and Triple H took the reigns of DX instead X-Pac was one of the first people he drafted in to his ‘army’. Sean Waltman has therefore been a member of both of the biggest factions in the 90’s and yet he was overshadowed in both.
You know how Roman Reigns fights with his tactical vest on and still sells any shots to his ribs? Well D’Lo Brown was well ahead of him. X-Pac escapes an armbar by flipping off the top rope and replies with a Spinning Heel Kick. X-Pac then misses a splash into the corner as the crowd begin to chant for Chyna who is at ringside. X-Pac sells an Irish Whip into the corner like a bomb has gone off. J.R then references the chest protector as an unfair advantage but, like Roman today, D’Lo is selling chest shot anyway.
There’s a fair bit of rest holding going on in this match, mostly from D’Lo. They do mention that it’s not been long since X-Pac came back from neck surgery so perhaps it was an effort to be easy on him. Chyna gets up on the apron towards the end but the ref goes over to deal with her. The Godfather, who is with D’Lo, gets up on the other apron to attack X-Pac. Whilst X-Pac wins that exchange he’s quickly scooped up for a Low Down which gains D’Lo the winning three count. This win comes across as quite a shock to both members of the Nation.
For the first time in the WWF we see a young man called Edge in the crowd.
Backstage with Bruce Pritchard and Kevin Kelly now and it’s revealed that the usually reliable Undertaker has not arrived at the arena yet. Due to Undertaker being the very essence of professionalism this is an odd occurrence indeed.
It’s the A.P.A! Faarooq and Bradshaw in the same ring at last!
But…wait and minute…they’re on opposite sides. Faarooq is teaming with the former Flash Funk now called simply ‘Scorpio’ and Bradshaw tags with his fellow Texan Terry Funk. Funk and Bradshaw are interviewed before the match and The Funker drops the bombshell that he’s probably going to need to take six months off after this match. Bradshaw does not react in a favourable manner to this.
The opening exchanges of this contest also see the first mention of the Brawl For All tournament, the WWF’s answer to the growing popularity of MMA in the States. Instead of just keeping to doing pro wrestling Vince McMahon decided to cash in on that popularity by picking some of his genuine tough guys and making them shoot fight. It was an utter disaster as we’ll no doubt go into as time moves on.
Scorpio tires to get some aerial moves in on Bradshaw but just gets shoved. Even when Faarooq is in he gets Flying Shoulder tackled by Bradshaw. Funk eventually tags in and gets a really soft looking neckbreaker in. As Faarooq tries to powerbomb Funk Bradshaw runs in to boot him in the face. Later on Funk has Faarooq in a full nelson and Bradshaw goes up top to jump down on him. Faarooq elbows out of the hold meaning he’s free to powerslam Bradshaw on his way down. Funk and Scorpio end up outside and over the guardrail. Faarooq and Bradshaw are happy to brawl in the ring.
At this point the crowd start to chant ‘boring’ and it’s actually acknowledged on commentary by J.R. A 450 Splash to Funk from Scorpio gets his team the winning three count. Bradshaw takes this moment to fly into a rage by Clotheslining Funk, booting Scorpio and attacking Faarooq with a chair.
Lawler starts talking about Sable again. Apparently ‘her cups runneth over’. The world sighs wearily.
The next match comes up fairly quickly in the shape of Vader versus Mark Henry. It’s an obvious battle of two big behemoths and plays out exactly as you’d expect. They run at each other and nobody moves until Henry gets a really rubbish looking slam (it seems to take three attempts just to get a decent grip with Vader jumping up each and every time). It’s then a series of running clubs from both. Henry does break out a Sunset Flip though which looks good but Vader just sits on it. Henry is then forced out of the ring and Vader chucks him into the steps. Henry kicks out of the Vader Splash to a muted crowd response and then almost immediately comes back with his own Splash for the win. This match is quick and the ending comes out of nowhere. At least the crowd didn’t have the time to get another ‘boring’ chant in.
The Undertaker is still not here.
Kane and Mankind walk down to the ring alongside Paul Bearer. It’s not long before The New Age Outlaws join them and issue a challenge for their tag titles (should they retain them) tomorrow night on Raw. This ends with both teams brawling.
I have a theory that the Paul Ellering you see on NXT these days with The Authors Of Pain is a replicant. I only say that because he’s here tonight, in 1998, looking exactly the same as he does today. We see footage from Raw when Ellering lends his services to the Disciples of Apocalypse by turning his back on The Legion of Doom (or L.O.D 2000 as they now seem to be known) and setting up their match tonight. This was the period of time when The Legion of Doom’s Hawk (aka Michael Hegstrand) was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction problems. Rather than keep him off TV and get help for his troubles the WWF decided, in the spirit of the Attitude Era’s edgy presentation, to make a storyline out of it. Hawk was often seen on Raw arriving drunk and letting Animal down. It’s no different here as he looks very much behind the pace.
J.R essentially admits that he can’t tell Skull and 8-Ball apart and that ‘it doesn’t really matter’. Animal spends the first few minutes of the match getting beat up before he saves himself with a double clothesline. Hawk tags in only to do about three chops before tagging right back out again. After this Hawk is sent into the turnbuckle and he does his ‘shoulder ram’ spot. As he spills to the outside he is attacked by a waiting Ellering. It’s Hawk’s turn after this to receive a beat down which, rather astonishingly for him, he actually sells.
Eventually Hawk gets a hot tag to Animal and they get the Doomsday Device in (or ‘Devastation Device’ as J.R calls it). The pin attempt is broken up though and Ellering soon gets in Animal’s face which allows Skull (I think) to DDT him for the winning pinfall.
It’s fair to say that nothing has really stood out tonight.
Vince McMahon walks down to the ring alongside Patterson, Briscoe and Slaughter. He says that ‘the card is subject to change’ and digs out the programme saying that ‘the promoter can find a suitable substitute’ should any talent not be able to make the show. If the Undertaker cannot make it tonight then Austin needs another tag partner who Vince has chosen. It’s The Brooklyn Brawler who looks absolutely over the moon to be here tonight. J.R senses something shady going on.
We go back to Calgary for the (prerecorded) Dungeon Match between Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart. Bearing in mind this is the Hart family home you have to wonder why the hell they let Shamrock in if he was intent on beating up their son? Owen is pacing in the dungeon itself whilst Shamrock is shown appearing at the top of the stairs punching himself in the head. It’s really difficult to describe this one as it’s not presented as a wrestling match at all but more of a shoot fight (once again, Vince’s obsession with catching the MMA dollar). As a result it goes at a heck of a pace and both men are rightly knackered by the end.
It’s a bit more brutal than anything you’ve perhaps seen in WWF at the time. Not by the fact there’s blood flying around all over the place but the domestic setting and the close proximity raise the bar. The surrounding wooden wall gets a good old battering as both Shamrock and Hart are thrown into it with regularity. Both men also get leverage by swinging from an overhanging water pipe. Owen lifts Shamrock up at one stage and his head smashed through a panel in the ceiling. Owen snaps on the Sharpshooter and Shamrock refuses to tap. A Shamrock roundhouse kick ends up smashing Dan Severn instead. Whilst the ref is out Owen hits Shamrock with a nearby dumbbell. As Severn wakes up Owen grabs the unconscious Shamrock’s arm and slaps it against the floor. Despite having a clear view of the fact Owen is pulling his opponent’s arm Dan Severn still awards the match to Owen by tap out. Owen wanders off upstairs, probably to get some Gatorade from the fridge.
As an extension to the battle between The Nation and D-X we’ve got The Rock (with the Maivia name firmly dropped now) against Triple H for the Intercontinental Title. It’s best out of three falls which always raises a slight problem for me. No matches like this ever end 2-0, nobody ever gets two straight falls so it’s pretty hard to ramp up any tension. There was a Sami Zayn versus Cesaro match on NXT fought under these rules which was really good but I struggle to recall any others. It pretty much shows in this match, not helped by the fact the result is still inconclusive by the end.
Both men bring down their respective mobs but Sargeant Slaughter sends everybody to the back apart from Chyna. Apparently, according to J.R, she has a manager’s license. How she gained this in the last month is never explained. The Rock gets to work in the opening exchanges, throwing Triple H into the turnbuckles with force. Chyna gets a few punches into Rock once the ref’s back is turned. The action spills outside as Triple H manages to get a bodyslam in on the arena floor. J.R mentions it’s a thirty minute time limit but there’s no clock visible on screen so they’ll ‘keep time as best they can’. This bodes really well for the next half hour.
The Rock suplexes Triple H whilst outside the ring. When The Rock and the referee start to argue back in the ring Mark Henry creeps down the aisle (as much as a near 400 pound man can creep) and delivers a splash to Triple H. Billy Gunn turns up to ward Henry off. All this gains Rock a two count only. The Great One then goes straight into a chin lock.
The crowd begin to chant ‘boring’. That might be a bit harsh but it does seem like this match is in second gear right now.
After a Rock DDT we go back to a chin hold in which Triple H raises his arm before it falls for a third time. Lawler ends up talking more and more about Sable at this point. It’s almost like he’s bored too. J.R has to remind him there’s still a match on here. At this point I was really wondering why this had to be three falls.
The Godfather comes down the aisle but he’s quickly cut off at the pass by The New Age Outlaws. The Rock distracts the referee whilst Triple H is down and it takes what feels like forever for D’Lo Brown to come down and climb up the top turnbuckle in an attempt to splash Triple H. Before he can get to it though the leader of D-X leaps up and knocks D’Lo off the corner. The Rock is waiting however and delivers a Rock Bottom for a three count. We then have a one minute rest period so that Trip can gather himself together again. It feels like a week.
The match goes back outside as Triple H is slingshot into the announce table. The Rock busts out the People’s Elbow for two. D’Lo comes back but is battered by Chyna. X-Pac comes out of nowhere and face plants Rock which can only get Triple H a two count. The ref is distracted by Chyna as Triple H gets a chair. The Rock ends up using it and waffles the ref by accident. With no ref in the match Chyna takes this opportunity to low blow The Rock. A quick DDT gives Triple H a very slow three count to even the score at 1-1.
Apparently two minutes remain in this match as the two men brawl on the outside. The Rock gets a Samoan Drop in for two, Triple H snaps on the Pedigree and lands it all. Before he can go for a pin however the timer runs dry and the match is declared a draw. The match had actually just been getting hot in the last five minutes or so but this just brings it crashing down again. The crowd boo this ending.
The Undertaker has arrived! He’s shown walking into the arena via the back door. It’s unclear as to if he’s arrived by hearse on not. The Rock is then shown leaving the arena with D’Lo Brown. He seems to have got showered, changed and packed up in the 30 seconds it took them to show the Undertaker clip. He cannot possibly be pre recording these bits can he?
There follows a video package for the bikini contest between Sable and Jacqueline. It is the only ‘match’ tonight that features a ‘Tale Of The Tape’. Dustin Runnels (not billed as Goldust nor wearing the face paint) is in the ring to offer a prayer to cleanse those who are about to witness what will follow. Shouldn’t you do that afterwards?
Jerry Lawler (who else) is master of ceremonies for this absolute pile of shite. Jacqueline comes down with Marc Mero and she’s wearing a boxing robe. Before she can reveal all Sable’s music hits and she walks down wearing a really long t-shirt. Jacqueline shows off her bikini first complete with Attitude Era nip slip. Then Sable has the most backwards example of female rights you’ll ever see as she takes off her t-shirt to reveal another top which covers most of her chest. Lawler can hardly contain his abject disappointment.
Apparently “Vince McMahon is the reason I still have a job” and “He told me to dressed conservatively”. Then she says that Vince has a different idea of conservative to her. Sable then whips off her top revealing her breasts which are only covered by some stick on hand prints. Mero bleats something about it not being fair because it’s not a bikini as Vince walks down with a jacket to cover her up. It’s a truly awful segment.
“Is Austin walking into a trap?” asks J.R as we get ready for our main event tonight. Kane and Mankind walk to the ring with the tag belts as they gear up for this defence. The Undertaker makes his way to the ring with, I think I’m right in saying this, the first use on PPV of his Ministry theme music. I’ll go on record and say it’s the best theme music Taker ever had.
Steve Austin follows, the crowd go crazy in the best way for this.
The big angle for this match is the fact that The Undertaker is set to face Stone Cold Steve Austin at Summerslam 1998 in Madison Square Garden. The possibility of Taker now being in league with his brother Kane has come up more than once in the run up to this with various examples of Undertaker not cooperating with Austin.
The match starts in the aisle as all four men pile in to a brawl. Undertaker and Austin start jawing at each other before the match has even hit the ring. Eventually it settles down to Mankind and Austin making the official start. After some fairly basic Irish Whips into corners and punching Kane tags in and it instantly met with a Lou Thesz Press from Austin. The crowd are loving every minute of Stone Cold wailing away on Kane’s skull. Soon we’re off down the aisle again and Mankind tries to join in but Austin just batters both their heads together. Undertaker remains on the apron, seemingly content to let Austin handle this double team.
Eventually the dead man is tagged in and he goes for a Russian Leg Sweep on Kane. Taker sits straight back up, walks over to his own corner, flips the bird at Austin who walks away laughing. “Austin got a kick out of that” observes J.R.
Undertaker gets Old School against Mankind. Kane soon tags in and Chokeslams Undertaker. The smoother tag team advantage is certainly with Mankind and Kane as Mankind comes right back in and Double Arm DDTs Undertaker which only gets him a two count as a result of Austin running in to break it up. Mankind ends up on the apron and Austin runs full force into him. This is an excuse for Foley to launch himself onto an announce table that still has the guard on and does not shift an inch. This is one month after his infamous descent off the cell and he lands full on one hip. He then manages to get up only to have Undertaker backdrop him onto the floor. If you’re wondering why Mick Foley has recently undergone hip surgery then this is one of the many, many reasons.
Undertaker and Mankind are both back in the ring and trying to tag out. Mankind makes it to his corner and tags in Kane. The Big Red Machine then walks over to Taker and pushes him into the corner so he can tag Austin. Eyebrows are raised, is this the start of them helping each other? Austin comes and and goes to town on the champions.
The fight goes to the outside again as Austin is thrown into the barrier and nearly goes over it. One woman right next to him reacts as if he is an actual rattlesnake by waving her arms are backing away screaming.
Austin then gets beaten up for the next few minutes including being held in a chinlock for a well deserved breather. The Undertaker doesn’t move from his corner for an age, standing on the apron. When he does eventually deem fit to enter the ref holds him back. Kane and Mankind work over Austin in their corner. Lawler makes the point that the Undertaker could really just level the ref if he wanted to.
Austin gets a Stunner to Kane and then to Mankind. He doesn’t have the energy for a pinfall attempt. Kane gets up as Austin has to really stretch to tag Undertaker who is making zero effort to lean into the ring and make it easier for him. Undertaker then chokeslams Kane, chokeslams Mankind and then Tombstones Kane for the winning three count. Austin and Undertaker are tag team champions. Austin wants to celebrate but Undertaker hauls both belts over his shoulders and wanders off regardless. We go off air as a furious Austin paces the ring.
Fully Loaded, as most of the B-level PPV shows of the time are, is a microcosm of the WWF at the time. There’s a cracking main event featuring the best the WWF had to offer at the time. This match leads nicely into the main event of Summerslam by increasing the tension between Austin and Undertaker. The IC title is given a nice showcase on the card but I’d argue the match didn’t need to be the best of three falls at all.
It’s mixed into the obsession with Sable and her breasts however which seems amazingly tawdry looking back. If Lawler spent time at the commentary desk these days talking about Alexa Bliss’ chest then he would rightly be shunned. This was the 90’s though and women’s wrestling is reduced to Carry On style smutty innuendo and has no ability to showcase at all. Sable once again proves that having no talent for actual wrestling is no barrier to going far in the WWF.
Onwards to Summerslam, Madison Square Garden and Stone Cold vs Undertaker for the title. As J.R said at the end of this broadcast ‘The Highway to Hell is hot’.