Many of you grew up watching WWF/WCW; experiencing the development and growth (and decline and fall) of the early years of nationally televised professional wrestling. However, I did not. While I was aware of wrestling (And knew of guys like Hogan, Sting, Stone Cold, the Rock, etc.), I was never a committed wrestling fan. It was not on in my house growing up, and I did not have my cable television even had I wanted to watch it. So, I missed out on a lot of what set the groundwork for the product we know today. Lots of you are wrestling historians, I am a relative newbie (or noob/newb/nubblet if you will) to the world of WWF/E.
Now that I have an opportunity, I’m going to change that. And I thought it might be fun to invite all of you on this little journey. For some, this could be a trip down memory lane, others an amusing look into my own ignorance. So, I was hoping you all would indulge me as I give you my stream of consciousness review of WWF RAW, the old school years. Specially I decided to start with arguably the most famous promo in pro wrestling history: Austin 3:16 at the King of the Ring in 1996.
Its been a couple years since we’ve had a King of the Ring, and even the most recent have been pretty lame in terms of their strength. I’d love to see a "legitimate" King of the Ring style tournament, i’m actually surprised they haven’t tapped into the March Madness bump, though I suppose WM is kind of a bigger deal.
Anyway, year is 1996. I cheated a little and looked up the results so I could have some background going into the final 2 rounds of the tournament. Looking at the bracket, its actually a pretty good list of who’s-who in mid 90’s WWF. No William Regal vs Hornswoggle here.
As I would later learn, Vader gave Ahmed Johnson his first ever loss, while Warrior and Golddust got a Double Count Out, giving the Man They Call Vader a 2nd round bye. Owen Hart (RIP) meanwhile is now injured and on commentary with Vince and JR. This leaves Stone Cold to face Wild Man Marc Mero in the semi finals.
And what do you know, match #1 is just that match. Stone Cold Steve Austin against Marc Mero with Sable. There’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. Anyway, pretty good match we’ve got going. I don’t remember anything about Mero but he seems to be able to put on a good slugfest here with Austin. Back and forth they go, before we get to see some color, how about that. And boom, Stone Cold Stunner. Man that thing looks like it could hurt a ton if done improperly. No middle fingers or clawing on the ground yet, I suppose that has to come later. But we do get the fingers to the sky celebration that’s nearly as iconic.
Up Next, "The Man They Call Vader" vs Jake the Snake, who apparently is now a born again Christian (both IRL and Kayfabe). Guess even back in 1996 they had sloppy matches between big scary monsters and returning stars. And just like that, Jake advances via DQ followed by a good old fashioned heel beat down. Not exactly a PPV quality match but I expect Roberts was a bigger draw back then then he is to me now.
(So now you’re saying a force choke is a DQ? God I can’t wait for ECW)
Now we get some Tag Team action. Oh look, Billy Gunn! I know who you are. I have no idea who Bart Gunn is. And apparently Sunny used to be the manager of their opponents, who appear to be a Redneck family. So, take away the creepy from Bray Wyatt and you get the Godwinnss, good to know. Slop bucket and goat and overalls, yeah this looks about right. About what I expected out of the match, heels (I guess?) retain.
And now I’m treated to Jerry Lawler vs The Ultimate Warrior, I imagine this went over way better at the time than it does now. One of those things that doesn’t get better with age; like acid washed jeans or using a Z in place of an S (Im looking at you Dudleyz and Hardeyz). This was a really awful affair. So apparently Ultimate Warrior was just a Hogan clone? Look over the top, get beat down a bit, "Warrior Up" and then smash for the win? I feel like I do not regret missing out on this fad.
(1996 called they want their… everything back)
And now we get into the real meat of the show. Undertaker vs Mankind. Given all the goofy gimmicks and silly situations, it’s a wonder that these guys are still around in some capacity. Creepy Mankind (pre-shirt) and old school ‘Taker put on a really enjoyable match. Lots of chairs, and beat downs and back and forth. But god help me if VKM says "Set up for the ride" one more time I might lose it. And I guess the Mandible Claw is the current unstoppable finisher, because after a Paul Bearer (RIP) bump, Taker falls to the claw.
(Pop Quiz- better 80s-90’s Claw- Mandible or Dr.)
Ahmed Johnson is out next to challenge for Goldust’s Intercontinental Title. Johnson is very big. Gold Dust is very weird. Its kind of uncomfortable, which I expect was the point. Not too surprising that Gold Dust drops it here, but hey it’s a nice match between the two and it’s a introduction for me to the character of Goldust from way back when. And his now ex-wife smoking a cigar which is of course just one giant symbol despite what Freud did not say. You know how you will always know this was pre-2000’s? Smoking on television.
Now we get the finals of the King of the Ring Tournament. Both competitors are showing the wounds of war, but of course Jake Roberts is going to lose. Got to get the Heel that is Austin a perch on the top, and he does so in quickly dominating fashion. 5 minute match followed by the moment. Its one of those promo’s that made its way into pop culture, alongside "Can you Smell" And "Suck it", Austin 3:16 and that’s the bottom line.
Austin 3:16- For Austin so loved the world that he gave them the middle finger
And our grand finale, the one Owen Hart has been yammering about all night, Shawn Michaels, aka HBK, aka Mr. He-Hasn’t-Lost-His-Smile-Yet, takes on British Bulldog (RIP) Davey Boy Smith. For some reason an older Hispanic man (Jose Lothario) and a goofy guy with a tennis racket (Jim Cornette) as well as yet another blonde woman (Diana Hart née Smith) are all out on the floor as well. And everyone is complaining about everyone being on the outside of the ring. Im glad this has gone away. I do not need to hear 10 minutes of complaining about managers every time one shows up. And apparently all these guys and Vader are part of "Camp Cornette" which I guess is what the Hart Foundation became after Bret went on a vacation from the WWF?
Anyway, to the match. I had no idea who won this one going in so it was actually pretty exciting. Back and forth, long form match, had to be at least a half an hour (26:24 according to Wikipedia) and genuinely kept me excited from start to finish. The whole angle with Mr. Perfect (the original) is a little confusing, its eventually cleared up but still kind of silly. But its nice to see that double 3 counts are not an original idea, nor are ref issues.
Anyway, Mr. P and the real Ref (sounds like a bad 80’s band) count Bulldog- until Perfect is dragged from the ring by Owen Hart, like that would actually do anything?- down 1-2-3 and boom, the faces win the day. Out come the bad guys to try and do some post-bell damage to Michaels and Johnson before Warrior makes the save and the heroes end the day on top.
So it looks like we’ve got the classic set up of organized villains against thrown-together faces (sound familiar?which will probably run us through the month of July. God I do not look forward to watching a bunch of Ultimate Warrior matches. UW vs Vader sounds like a root canal… anyway, there you have it. Wellington’s Wayback Machine to 1996 the King of the Ring. Later in the week, if you all are interested, I plan on putting together my running review of the RAWs leading up to and including the next PPV, In Your House #9- International Incident