In Your House 13: Final Four, came to us in February of 1997, and featured a main event that tore the house down, as well as some filler matches that are better forgotten about. The event set the groundwork for WrestleMania 13, and ushered in the RAW is WAR era.
Gimmick PPV's always risk suffering from a lopsided card, this one was no different. The Final Four pay-per-view (PPV) had the following card:
- Marc Mero vs Leif Cassidy
- The Nation of Domination (Farooq, Crush, Savio Vega) vs Bart Gunn, Flash Funk and Goldust
- Rocky Maiava (c) vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley - Intercontinental Championship
- Owen Hart and British Bulldog (c) vs Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon- Tag Team Championship
- Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vader vs Undertaker- WWF Championship
How it Came to this:
The build to this card was at times exceptional, and at other times non-existent, so I'll take it in a match by match fashion.
- Marc Mero vs Leif Cassidy
There was no build to this match, Mero's television time had been in a tailspin for a while, his only match in the previous month was in a title defeat against Hunter Hearst Helmsley . Leif Cassidy, now apparently separated from the other "New Rocker" was a lower card heel jobber.
Mero's career had hit a sort of speed bump after he dropped the Intercontinental title to Helmsley due to Mr. Perfect's betrayal. After winning the IC tournament to replace the injured Ahmed Johnson, Mero got a very brief run (28 days) and then fell down the card quickly. Mero's last victory in singles competition had come at In Your House 11, where he defended his title against Goldust during his feud with the bizarre one over Goldie's interest in Sable.
- The Nation of Domination vs Bart Gunn, Flash Funk and Goldust
The Nation of Domination was at the time made up of Farooq, Crush and Savio Vega who had turned heel on the NoD's primary rival- Ahmed Johnson. Farooq and the Nation had primarily feuded with Ahmed Johnson for most of late '96-early '97. They were constantly causing DQ's, getting counted out or just having their way with guys after the match. In terms of its success in matches though, their record was less appealing.
Farooq had pinned Bart Gunn but it was a throwaway match. Later Farooq had teamed briefly with Mankind to face Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson, but lost. Savio Vega also lost to Undertaker. Farooq and Crush ended the losing streak with a count out win in an ugly match against the Tag Team champions (Hart and Bulldog). For whatever reason now they are teaming up as a 3 man team against 3 random lower card faces who haven't really been teamed up at all. The Nation's primary feud has been with Ahmed Johnson, but he is nowhere to be found on the card.
On the other side of things, Gunn, Funk and Goldust had all had unique journeys to the card. Bart Gunn had split with his brother Billy in a feud over the tag team titles and the affection of Sunny. When Billy injured Bart in their blow off match, Bart was secured as the face. But the ‘good brother' was not on a hot streak. Outside of his ‘win' via ref stoppage, Bart Gunn had not won a singles match in the entirety of 1996. Funk on the other hand did have some beef with Savio Vega, and was riding a little higher.
Funk made the move from ECW in late 1996, debuting on a survivor series team with Jimmy Snuka, Savio Vega (A face at the time) and Yokozuna (in his final WWF match). Funk and the Funkettes were playing the "funky" face gimmick that Vince seems to love (See: Godfather and Brodus Clay) but good really go in the ring as well. Funk received a decent push upon his debut, winning 3 straight matches and showing off his athletic ability in the process.
Goldust was the odd man out in a lot of ways. He had just turned face after Jerry Lawler called him queer. Before his face turn, Goldust had actually teamed with Lawler at Survivor Series (also on the team: Crush). Goldust went on to have a brief and uncomfortable rivalry with Lawler and then Hunter Hearst Helmsley who defeated Goldust at the Royal Rumble to defend his IC title. All three competitors (Goldust, Funk and Gunn) had lost matches to their opponents (Crush, Vega and Farooq respectively) but nothing was really made of it.
- Rocky Maiava (c) vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley
We finally get some real story with Rocky against Helmsley. Rocky had debuted at Survivor Series in 1997, helping defeat Team Lawler alongside Team Roberts. Since his debut Rocky had been on a tear- winning 7 straight matches. This led to Rocky getting a title shot against Hunter Hearst Helmsley on "Thursday Raw Thursday". Rocky was not loved at the time, and the "Die Rocky Die" era was in full swing. He was, effectively, Curtis Axel: The son of a former wrestler who got a huge push despite not being that great at the job. He won his title against Helmsley via a rollup, and Helmsley got his chance at a rematch (rare at the time) at In Your House.
Helmsley meanwhile had been pretty consistent. In late 1996 he changed from being the hapless heel whose women walked out with Mr. Perfect to the devious heel champion (with the help of Mr. Perfect). -After winning the title, Helmsley feuded alongside Jerry Lawler with Goldust. Back to playing the cad, Helmsley went after Marlena, assuring the world that she would chose a real man (Helmsley) over the freak (Goldust). The two had battled with Helmsley coming out on top thanks to some brass knuckles. Now he got his chance to regain the title he lost to Rocky.
- Owen Hart and British Bulldog (c) vs Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon
Owen Hart and his brother in law Davey-Boy Smith "British Bulldog" had been a rather successful tag team for a while by the time this Pay Per View rolled around. Having won the titles at In Your House 10, the Hart/Smith team defended them three times before going on a losing streak to start 1997. They lost non-title matches both to Furnac/Lafon and to Crush and Farooq (both by count out). Their loss to Furnac and Lafon set up this title match.
Doug Furnac and Phil Lafon had arrived in the WWF at the Survivor Series in '96 and proved to be an enjoyable, if limitedly successful, tag team. Their count out win over the champs earned them the title opportunity at In Your House 13.
- Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vader vs Undertaker
The real purpose of this PPV: the Final Four match. The four biggest names in the company at the time all set off to face each other in a weird rules match for the recently vacated WWF title (Shawn Michaels having dropped the belt due to injury). The match was set up thanks to one of the more infamous of Royal Rumble finishes, and was a key stage in the rivalry that would come to define WM13. The main focus of the match was in the battle between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret the Hitman Hart. The two had battled over the previous months, and would continue to do so after this match.
Austin's rise to prominence came after the departure of Ted DiBiase. Austin would win the King of the Ring with a win over Jake Roberts. The win (with Austin as a heel) would bring us "Austin 3:16" who set out to prove himself by calling out the absent Bret Hart. Unfortunately for Austin, he bit off more than he could chew. Austin lost to Hart at Survivor Series, almost got shot by Brian Pillman and "won" the Royal Rumble. Thanks to cheating, Austin's Royal Rumble prize was vacated and he had to face the final three men he eliminated for the title shot. When Michaels left, that title shot became a title belt.
Bret Hart on the other hand was absent for much of 1996. After losing the title to Shawn Michaels at WM12, Hart left WWF until just before Survivor Series. Hart defeated Austin to earn a title shot, which he lost due to Austin's interference. Austin would continue to fend off Austin's attacks until the Royal Rumble, where Hart (having eliminated Diesel 2.0 as Austin tossed Vader and Undertaker out) thought he had won. This final insult began the turn of Hart from face to heel. He would carry that anger towards his match with Austin at Final Four.
Vader and Undertaker were both being booked as you'd expect. Monsters who threatened everyone they came up against. Taker had won his feud against Paul Bearer, and Vader joined with Bearer and Mankind in a new monster stable. Both were in the match to provide substance to the fatal four way.
In order of match caliber:
1. Final Four Match (if you watch nothing else watch this)
2. Owen and Bulldog vs Furnas and LaFon
3. Nation of Domination vs Goldust/Gunn/Funk
4. Helmsley vs Rocky
5. Mero vs Cassidy
*Spoiler Alert*- if you are interested in watching the PPV, do it now. While most of the card is forgettable, the Final Four Match is totally worth watching.
- Marc Mero defeats Leaf Kassidy
Nothing exciting, your intro match so it's not surprising. Mero gets the win via pin-fall. The match ends with Jerry Lawler making a women beating joke. Classy.
- Nation of Domination defeats Team GoldFunkGunn
Fun start to the match which begins with a brawl thanks to an angry Goldust. We also get a close-up of a young D'Lo Brown (one of the Nation's supporters). Flash Funk gets the first big spot and takes three of the Nation down with a leap. But the numbers game puts the faces on the defensive. Bart Gunn eventually seems to seize momentum, but the heels survive and Farooq pins Gunn to win. Not a bad match, good to keep the Nation's momentum going because they are the biggest heel faction going. Worthy of a midcard team match.
- Rocky Maivia (c) defeats Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Our first title match comes with Helmsley trying to regain his IC bet. He slaps Rocky around a bit to try and get in the young guys head, but Rocky returns the favor. They repeat the rollup finish only for it to be a false finish this time as Helmsley escapes. And after a brief back and forth, we get a Goldust run in. The distraction lets Rocky get the win and escape with the belt. After the match, Goldust enters the ring to go after Helmsley, but a woman leans out of the crowd and puts a chokehold on Marlena. Security escorts the woman from the ringside.
Chyna has arrived.
- Furnac and LaFon defeat British Bulldog Owen Hart (c) via DQ
I really enjoy Furnac and LaFon in the ring, they are both athletic and have a wide move set. So against Hart's athleticism and Bulldog's strength, I expect (and receive) an enjoyable tag team match. The primary story here is about the tension that has built up between the Hart Brother-in-Laws. Its been an underlying current on RAW and now explodes, with Bulldog shoving Owen, Owen slapping Bulldog, and Bulldog clotheslining Owen. Despite the tiff, Bulldog stops the pin attempt and the match continues. Unfortunately, a great match ends dirty with Owen using his Slammy to knock out the competition and get his team disqualified (thus defending their title).
Bulldog is pissed and snaps the Slammy in two. But that's as far as the split goes... for now.
- Bret Hart defeats Vader, Undertaker and Steve Austin
A competitor can be eliminated via pinfall, submission or top rope dumpage. This is a dumb rule because all three are eliminated by going over the top rope (battle royale style).
Vader and Taker get outside the ring quickly and start brawling with the other two fight in the ring. Vader ends up eating a steel chair to the face when Undertaker kicks it into him. Then Vader goes face first into the steps and starts to show some color. This is significant because it's the first real blood I've seen since I started watching at King of the Ring. And Vader's face looks really messed up... but it doesn't slow him down. He's in top notch mode in this match. This match quickly turns into a huge brawl, Vader the bloody mess, Taker the unstoppable monster, Stone Cold heeling it up and Hart being technical. The first elimination comes fittingly with Austin being chucked over the top rope by Hart.
Needless to say, Austin is undeterred and quickly re-enters to attack Bret Hart. With Hart distracted, Vader takes Undertaker down, and sets him up for the Vader Bomb (having missed a Vadersault earlier- seriously though... Vader did a moonsault as a finisher, can you imagine Big Show or Mark Henry doing a moonsault?), but Taker sits up and uses a low blow to send Vader off the ring post and over the top rope to be eliminated. At this point an already excited crowd goes ape. Taker sets Hart up for the Tombstone, but Austin grabs Harts legs and tries to drag him over the top rope. This leads both Hart and Taker to go after Austin, who gets slugged by Undertaker, allowing Hart to clothesline the deadman and pick up the win and the title.
To say that I enjoyed this PPV would be a bit of a stretch. The Final Four match was amazing, like 4+ stars good. The story telling was great, the ring presence was fun, the work rate was high. There were big spots, some ECW type weapon usage and some color. All around great match. But the rest of the card was kind of a huge let down. Dirty wins and DQ's in a PPV are always annoying especially when they do nothing to advance the plot.
I would not recommend this PPV as a must watch, except for the Final Four match. Tell me what you think- was the PPV any good?
Bonus round- I'm going to be renaming the WABAC to something a little more translatable. Any suggestions for names for the series? Also, how do you like the new format- it'll be a little lighter on the reading next week as we don't need as much background to get to WM13.