-As more evidence that the Undertaker was playing second fiddle to other superstars during his title reign, the Steve Austin-Shawn Michaels match got top billing heading into this show and it appears on the cover of the video cassette box.
-Vince McMahon and Jim Ross are in the booth and they are live from Providence, Rhode Island.
-Free for All: The Headbangers defeat “The Real Double J” Jesse James & Bart Gunn when Thrasher pins Gunn after a powerbomb-flying leg drop combination at 5:42 shown:
The Headbangers were still trying to make a mark on the company at this point. They had received a few title matches with Owen Hart and the British Bulldog, but had never broken through. However, you could really call them the fourth most established time on the roster at this point behind Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin, Owen and the Bulldog, and the Legion of Doom. James and Gunn have nothing going on for them in the midcard, so they are thrown as a sacrificial lamb to the Headbangers in this opener. The Headbangers work a dry heat segment on James and finish Bart off quickly when he comes in after the hot tag. Rating: *
-Now onto the show…
-Opening King of the Ring Semi-Final Contest: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) defeats Ahmed Johnson with a Pedigree at 7:42:
Ahmed has really been off his career track since winning the Intercontinental championship at last year’s King of the Ring and Ross and McMahon hype him as the odds-on-favorite, which is the sweet kiss of death in wrestling circles. For those that followed the RAW reviews leading up to this match, these two faced each other in the first round, which Ahmed won, but Helmsley was reinstated into the tournament on a legal technicality and qualified after beating Crush. The crowd is solidly behind Ahmed and he completely dominates the match. However, Chyna distracts Ahmed and Helmsley hits a knee lift and a Pedigree, his only offensive moves of the match, and advances to the finals. This was a huge let down for the crowd, who really enhanced the match prior to the finish. Rating: *½
-The Honky Tonk Man and Sunny hype the Superstar line.
-Todd Pettengill interviews Jerry “the King” Lawler and Lawler denies that he cheated to beat Goldust to get to the semi-finals. Lawler calls him an idiot and walks towards the ring insulting the crowd.
-King of the Ring Semi-Final Match: Mankind beats Jerry “the King” Lawler with the Mandible Claw at 10:22:
You could easily make the case that Mankind has the easiest semi-final draw in the history of the King of the Ring tournament to this point. Mankind gets on the house mic and tells the crowd that Paul Bearer has forgotten about him, but he isn’t going to let that stop him from becoming the King of the Ring. Mankind even works a “bang, bang” into his promo to pay tribute to his past as Cactus Jack. Lawler wrestles this one like he is in the Memphis Coliseum by stalling and using the phantom object trick. Lawler also utilizes an interesting strategy in going after Mankind’s severed ear. Mankind takes a few risky bumps by plowing head-first into the ring steps and then having Lawler toss his head back into the guardrail. Lawler then piledrives Mankind on the floor, which would’ve made Mankind a dead man in Memphis, and even pulls out a dropkick. However, Mankind kicks out of a piledriver and after a tepid comeback catches Lawler with the Mandible Claw when Lawler tries a sunset flip to advance. This match was better than I remember it being and Lawler really brought his working boots for this one. I’d actually argue that Mankind was the one that hurt the match by not matching some of Lawler’s intensity. Lawler’s King of the Ring record goes to 0-4 after this match. Rating: **
-Ken Shamrock is shown playing around in the AOL chat room.
-Pettengill interviews Brian Pillman if he feels responsible for tonight’s match between Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels and Pillman says of course. Pillman says that he also came to the show to see Michaels beat up Austin, but Austin sneaks behind him and beats him up in the men’s restroom. We conveniently get a camera shot of Austin giving Pillman a swirlie.
-Goldust (w/Marlena) defeats Crush (w/The Nation of Domination) with a DDT at 9:58:
Savio Vega is absent from ringside, which was probably a request from Crush considering the tensions between the two lately. Providence has some really dedicated fans who yell “jailbird!” at Crush, something the WWF hasn’t encouraged since the later half of 1996. These two haven’t had good matches in the past and this is no exception with Crush working a reverse chinlock for nearly three minutes. After that he transitions to a nerve hold. The Nation tries to make some moves on Marlena to distract Goldust from a rally, but Goldust floats over a gorilla press attempt and gets a victory. Crush hasn’t won a match in what feels like a century and you can tell that he isn’t very motivated. This gives Goldust some momentum heading into his match with the British Bulldog tomorrow night on RAW for the European championship. Rating: DUD
-Sable comes out with a King of the Ring inflatable chair. Call 915-734-1161 to get your version for $59.99 (plus $11 shipping & handling). I really want to know how many people bought these overpriced things. Howard Finkel sits in the chair, nearly falling out of it, and Sable gives him a massage.
-Dok Hendrix interviews Sid & The Legion of Doom about their match with the Hart Foundation tonight. Hawk promises that they will serve a cold dish of revenge. Animal asks Sid if he’ll be there for a tag and Sid says not to worry about him because he’s the ruler of the world.
-Pettengill interviews the Hart Foundation (Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, and Owen Hart) about the six man tag tonight and the Bulldog says that his team will win. Owen says that the LOD’s Halloween costumes aren’t going to cut it tonight. Neidhart says he’s crazier than Sid.
-The Hart Foundation (The British Bulldog, Owen Hart & Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart) defeat Sid & The Legion of Doom when Owen pins Sid after a flying sunset flip at 13:37:
This is Sid’s return to pay-per-view since WrestleMania XIII and this is Jim Neidhart’s first WWF pay-per-view since the 1994 Survivor Series. Sid is massively over and he’s well suited to compete in a match like this where he doesn’t need to do a lot and the other side can carry the workrate. The tepid reaction that the LOD are getting shows that their return has not been very successful and they are living on borrowed time in the tag division. Everyone works in their favorite spots in this contest, with Hawk no selling a piledriver from the Bulldog, Owen slingshotting Neidhart off the apron for a shoulder block on Animal, and Owen and Neidhart pulling some additional double teams from their New Foundation days. Sid eventually gets the red hot tag and becomes a one man juggernaut, but when he goes to powerslam the Bulldog, Owen surprises him with a flying sunset flip and scores a surprising pin. This was much better than you’d expect and kudos to whoever laid this match out. Rating: ***
-Steve Austin’s victory speech at last year’s King of the Ring is shown.
-Pettengill interviews Mankind, who appears to be nursing a neck injury from his match with Jerry Lawler earlier in the evening. Mankind says he can’t wait to be king.
-1997 King of the Ring Finals: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) defeats Mankind with a Pedigree at 19:27:
So the weakest King of the Ring tournament of all-time closes with this match. Ross won’t shut up describing Helmsley as a “thinking man’s wrestler” and “cerebral.” “Thinking man’s wrestler” must mean boring because the first seven minutes of this match go nowhere and the crowd is dead. That’s not surprising when you consider that the crowd wanted Ahmed Johnson to destroy Helmsley in the semi-finals and they are still lukewarm to the Mankind face turn. A large “boring” chant breaks out at the ten minute mark, as well as a small chant for Sabu. Things finally pick up a few minutes later as Helmsley takes a back drop on the cement and Mankind hits the Cactus elbow off the apron. Chyna interjects herself after a double arm DDT, a Mandible Claw, and pulls Hunter out of the way of a Mankind dive from the apron to save Helmsley and the crowd is all over her for that. However, she’s not tossed from ringside despite doing all of that in front of the referee. Helmsley Pedigrees a maskless Mankind through the American announce table and Chyna blasts Mankind with a septer, which makes Randy Savage’s blast on the Ultimate Warrior from the 1991 Royal Rumble look like a child hitting another with a plush toy, but it takes another Pedigree to put Mankind away. The first half of this match was horrid, but things got much better after that point and make you forget the first half of the match. The match did a good job putting over Mankind’s face turn and generated significant sympathy heat for him. It also sowed the seeds for the Helmsley-Mankind feud that would dominate the summer of 1997. Rating: **½
-After the match, Helmsley receives his royal garb for winning the tournament from Pettengill and he blasts Mankind several times with the crown.
-A video package hypes tonight’s Shawn Michaels-Steve Austin match.
-Bret Hart and Brian Pillman come out with the Hart Foundation for the six man tag team match and he puts over the skills of the Foundation. Bret announces that the Hart Foundation is challenging any five WWF superstars to a match at the Canadian Stampede pay-per-view and Bret says he will return at that pay-per-view. Bret wants to do color commentary, but WWF officials force him to leave.
-Hendrix interviews Steve Austin, who says that Shawn Michaels knows he’s the captain of the tag team and puts over the tag team championships.
-Hendrix interviews Shawn Michaels, who says he really doesn’t want to face Austin since they are champions. He seems a little annoyed that some people think their upcoming match might be a classic.
-WWF Tag Team Champions Collide: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels wrestle to a double disqualification at 22:34:
The WWF billed this as the first time that sitting tag team champions faced each other on pay-per-view, which is really tortured logic to sell a match that really doesn’t need it. The opening of the contest is disrupted by a Special Olympian falling over the guardrail, but to Michaels credit he helps the guy out. This one starts with a prolonged feeling out period and one of the more interesting spots in the beginning is Austin countering a Michaels Thesz press with an inverted atomic drop. The crowd is equally divided between the two men and the breakdown is as you would expect with the female crowd backing Michaels and Austin being supported by the men. After a series of momentum changes, we get a ref bump and Austin hits the Stunner. Austin gets fed up with that and gives a Stunner to the referee after he brings him to his feet, but eats a Sweet Chin Music shortly after that. A second referee runs down, but he checks on the first referee instead of counting the fall, so Michaels nails him with Sweet Chin Music in frustration. Out of this we get a double disqualification after referee Earl Hebner runs out and simulates the moves that both guys have done to the referees. WWF officials prevent the two from continuing their struggle, but they continue to argue after the match. The crowd works up an audible “Austin” chant, which isn’t bad for a guy whose King of the Ring tournament victory in 1996 was greeted with crickets. This was a great match with a hot crowd and is an underrated technical match from this period. A clean winner would have been nice, but Michaels wasn’t jobbing to people during this time and the WWF wasn’t going to feed Austin to Michaels with the momentum he was building with the crowds. Rating: ****
-Pettengill interviews Faarooq and the Nation of Domination and Faarooq says he will make history tonight and become the first black WWF champion.
-Hendrix interviews WWF Champion The Undertaker and Paul Bearer. Hendrix tells the Undertaker that his fans will always love him, but Bearer hijacks the interview before the Undertaker can speak and tells the Undertaker that he’ll do what he says tonight.
-WWF Championship Match: The Undertaker (Champion w/Paul Bearer) pins Faarooq (w/The Nation of Domination) after a Tombstone at 13:44
The WWF did what they could with the storyline for this match, but it is really tough to play a controversial race angle when the title is being held by a guy with a dead man gimmick. This would Faarooq’s only appearance in the main event as a singles competitor in the WWF. Bearer plays an interesting role in this match as he critiques every little thing that the Undertaker does. The Undertaker has an interesting take on the rope walk spot by launching himself into the Nation when he is attempting to give Faarooq the move. Like Chyna helping Hunter Hearst Helmsley tonight, the Nation keeps interfering to keep Faarooq in control of the match. During the match, Crush takes issue with Savio Vega interfering in the match and Faarooq has to try to play peacemaker. This distraction allows the Undertaker to surprising Faarooq with a Tombstone and retain. After the match, the Undertaker chokeslams Savio and Crush. This was good for a RAW match, but it wasn’t really pay-per-view caliber. Still, it was a better match than the one they had on RAW in March. Rating: **
-After the match, Bearer tells the Undertaker to give Faarooq three chokeslams. The Undertaker doesn’t want to do it, but he is forced to comply. All the while Bearer wears the WWF championship belt over his shoulder and acts like he’s hot stuff. Ahmed Johnson runs down and confronts the Undertaker about his relationship with Bearer and when the Undertaker tries to attack him, Ahmed gives him a Pearl River Plunge. This confrontation makes me wish that Ahmed would not have gotten hurt so that we could’ve had an Undertaker-Ahmed match at the next pay-per-view.
The Final Report Card: The first half of the card doesn’t offer much, but the second half puts out a surprising six man tag that you can appreciate if you have followed the careers of the Hart Foundations crew, a nice match between Michaels and Austin, and a King of the Ring final that cemented Mick Foley’s face turn. The main event shouldn’t have been the main event, but this is during a time when the WWF champion closed the show more times than not. A lot of reviewers don’t care for this show, but I didn’t find it to be tedious or inoffensive. The Providence crowd was hot and made even the most mundane matches interesting.
Show Evaluation: Thumbs Up