BigDaddyLoco: Undercard is total garbage and would have been helped by having Mankind somewhere on it, but The Fatal Fourway is just the best. A lot of times these matches don't hold their value, but this one does. I love Austin at this stage of his career. Vader shows there is gas in the tank when you just let him do his thing. Bret is at his peak and gaining a mean streak. Undertaker is becoming less of a zombie and more of a badass brawler and is blossoming into the worker we know today.
The Mankind point is something I had meant to bring up when I initially sat down to write the piece, and is absolutely spot on. Mick had been on fire for months, but if you read Have a Nice Day you’ll find that McMahon was a little down on him at this point because he hadn’t committed to a new deal. Which makes sense, Vince had been burned repeatedly over the previous 18 months by guys jumping ship after the WWF had invested heavily in them. It’s just unfortunate, because he’s clearly amongst the most entertaining mid to upper card acts they’re running these days, and running out something where Mankind tries to “prove” to Uncle Paul he’s just as good as Vader would have helped balance the show a little better.
But, there’s little to complain about because the main event was the nuts. Vader was the surprise of the show, going into full-fledged War Machine (not to be confused with jailed porn-star War Machine). Steve Austin, meanwhile, is clearly headed to be the breakout star of 1997. There’s simply nowhere else to place your bets, as his years of experience in WCW are starting to pay dividends with a company that’s allowing him the creative freedom to be the piece of shit he always wanted to be. He’s a first-class bully, except he backs up what he throws down. With a death glare, you know your ass is grass if you don’t smarten up immediately, and the “Stone Cold” nickname could not be more fitting for a man who always appears a second away from becoming a serial killer.
The WWF have loaded their production trucks and driven 2 hours southeast into Nashville, Tennessee, where we are LIVE! This point is accentuated by VINCE MCMAHON, who says it with so much force you’d think he was throat singing. JIM ROSS and JERRY LAWLER join him, and we’re getting right down to business immediately.
They’re bringing out the big guns to counter Nitro, look out Randy Anderson! JR announces that the Undertaker will face the winner of this match at Wrestlemania 13, which seems like a fairly arbitrary pick without any explanation. I would imagine the argument is that he was screwed by Austin last night, but for god sakes, Vader had to wrestle with one eye on life-support. That’s also an injustice to Ahmed Johnson, who rightfully should be in the mix on account of the fact that YOU wouldn’t turn him down if he demanded a title shot. Sid and Bret each draw loud, but mixed reactions; odd knowing that one year earlier Bret was universally untouchable and honestly, nothing’s changed since then and now … but everything feels different. The WWF’s done an absolutely tremendous job of slow-burning this Bret story, by sending heels out to constantly remind us that Bret’s a crybaby and a whiner, with such frequency that they’re starting to look like they might have a point.
The guys look ready to square off, but suddenly STEVE AUSTIN rushes the ring because he hates Bret and pretty much isn’t going to rest until he’s 6 feet under. Sid tries to swat him off as well, but winds up getting clipped in the knee by Austin in the process. PAT PATTERSON, JERRY BRISCO, and A BUNCH OF OFFICIALS AND SECURITY order Austin to get the hell out of here; but Sid’s gimping around now and is in no condition to compete. Vince McMahon has to physically restrain himself from immediately rushing into the ring to hold Sid closely, and Jim Ross manages to get through this without suggesting Sid’s the classiest class act that ever classed. However, on that topic …
Last Thursday, Shawn Michaels took his ball(s) and went home.
KEVIN KELLY tries to get an update from SYCHO SID, whether or not he’ll be able to compete. Sid screams that even if his leg is broken, nothing’s going to stop him from winning the belt tonight. He should be fine, he never had a smile anyway.
MARC MERO (1-2-1) (with Sable) vs. SAVIO VEGA (3-2-1) (with PG-13, Crush, D’Lo Brown, A Well Dressed Man, Faarooq, and Clarence Mason)
Faarooq and Mason decide to hang back in the crowd, but flash the Black Power to let them know they’re brothers in different skin colors. Mero dropkicks Vega to the floor and follows with a somersault plancha that lands on both Savio and Crush. Looks like Marc’s the face tonight. I sort of miss the characters who were able to play dual roles. You don’t exactly love them, but when they face the REAL trash bags, you figure they’re better than the alternative and cheer them on. Savio starts laying in some chops, but Mero fires back with his boxing shots. The 10-punch count-a-long is stopped at 6 when Vega drops him back with snake eyes, and the audience audibly groans as his head snaps back off the buckle. Mero’s sent to the floor where Wolfie D attacks, so Sable kicks the crap out of HIM getting a HUGE pop. The Nation surrounds Sable, so she rushes into the ring to find protection, and the referee calls for a DQ at 4:17. The entire group circles the couple, but AHMED JOHNSON rushes in with his 2x4 to save the day. The Nation scatter like cockroaches as we head to commercial. Congratulations are in order for Savio Vega for breaking the negative star barrier tonight! 1/2*
BRET HART is getting sick and tired of Steve Austin sticking his nose in his business every single night. He’s looking ahead to a tough match with Sid tonight, and once he gets passed that he’ll worry about all the subsequent challengers. Lawler accuses Hart of brushing off Sid, but Bret says absolutely not, he’s just looking out for number 1 before he starts stepping in number 2. Lawler asks if he’s happy Austin hurt Austin, and Hart tells him to shut up. Hart drew a fair number of boos throughout this interview, and he’s starting to look visibly annoyed and agitated by the fans response lately.
LEIF CASSIDY (0-1-0) vs. ROCKY MAIVIA (6-1-0) (in a non-title match)
SUNNY is given the role of special timekeeper, showing off cleavage that extends all the way back to Connecticut. If Sunny had launched Wrestling Vixxxens at this point in her career, she’d have broken the Internet for good, and we wouldn’t be sharing these memories today. Rocky clotheslines Leif over the top rope with enough force to have drawn two disqualifications in WCW. Cassidy re-enters, and takes a crossbody for 2. Rock works over the shoulder, while we check in with …
HUNTER HEARSY HELMSLEY, who promises Rock couldn’t beat him again in a million years. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s probably not true. Also, if he finds Goldust, he’s a dead man.
Leif has taken over the match, and Ross urges him to let it all hang out. As someone who’s read “The Legend of the Penis Suplex”, I’d *REALLY* ask that that not happen. Cassidy jams a thumb in the eye of Rock, while some asshat fan starts blowing an air-horn. Rock goes to the inside cradle, but Leif isn’t Hunter, and escapes at 2. An armbar takedown causes Rocky to squeal, and a top rope karate chop looks to finish, but he’s up at 2. Leif goes back to the well, but Rock is up fast enough to cut him off and he slams Cassidy. The shoulderbreaker gets the win for the Rock at 9:32. *
Over at the announce table, there’s a disturbance.
Lawler snatches the sign away, and asks if anyone even knows anything about this group of idiots? He figures 99% of the people in the world have no idea what ECW is, which would actually make for pretty fantastic awareness if this was true. Jerry says it’s a place where misfits and talentless folks have congregated in Philadelphia, and he’s sick of the mutant idiots who wave signs in his face every single week. He says that a friend of his tried to get a Jerry Lawler sign into a WCW event in Tennessee, and they took it away from him, so he wants to know why the WWF isn’t doing the same thing? He tells them if they’re really all that tough, then they outta pop into the Manhattan Center next week, but he knows they don’t have the guts.
GOLDUST and MARLENA join KEVIN KELLY in the ring. Kevin tries to ask Goldust about Hunter, but he’s too busy crawling around on his knees and worshipping Marlena’s ladybits. He finally snatches the microphone away from Kevin, and tells Helmsley it’s personal because he’s been chasing around Marlena inappropriately. “All the money in the world couldn’t buy Marlena”. Kevin checks in with the lady herself, while Goldust feels her up. She goes on record to say that Goldust is all man, from gold head to gold feet. In fact, he’s more man than Hunter could ever dream to be. Goldust starts tweaking his own nipples in excitement, until HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY heads down to ringside. He tells Goldust if he wants Marlena, he’ll take her, and throws a drink in Goldust’s eyes. An All Man-Sized beating ensues, accentuated with a Pedigree. Marlena slaps Helmsley across his big nose, while draws THE AMAZON WOMAN into the ring. This she-beast grabs Marlena around the waste, and shakes her with more ferocity than a British Nanny - with Marlena’s joints basically becoming independent from the rest of her body, flailing and flapping until ALL THE REFEREES jump in the ring. What I wouldn’t have given for them to give her a warning, and a 5-count to release the hold; but it doesn’t happen as the-not-yet-named Chyna is escorted out of the premises.
THE NATION OF DOMINATION is backstage, and Faarooq is not in a good mood (well, at least in contrast to his usual bad moods). He’s pissed because Ahmed’s acting like he’s on a quest for “his people”, but he’s living in a high rise in Houston and driving 2 cars. He was raised in a 2 room house with 7 kids, the real streets. He offers a Chicago street fight to Ahmed at Wrestlemania, should he have the stones.
THE HEADBANGERS (2-1-1) vs. THE HARDY BOYS (1997 debut)
The Hardys start smiling and preening for the ladies, and wind up getting attacked by the Headbangers from behind. Matt gets double teamed in the corner, and gets botch tossed into the ropes where he scrapes his face instead of taking a hot shot. Bravo, Headbangers. An elbowdrop misses, and Jeff gets the hot tag. Dropkicks are delivered to all, but a clothesline turns him inside out and the Stage Dive finishes at 4:01. Jeff would fare much better after he hit puberty. *
Take two! However, before Bret can even leave the backstage area, STEVE AUSTIN attacks Bret again! As they get into a pull-apart brawl, Sid rushes back from the ring to join in the fray, but despite both guys trying to beat on Steve, he still manages to get some quality shots in on Bret. I’ve never had a mortal enemy, but if I did, I sure as shit wouldn’t want it to be Steve Austin.
After a break, GORILLA MONSOON is asked to make a decision about the title match. Gorilla reminds us they’re nothing like “other people”, and come hell or high water we’re going to see Bret against Sid, if it kills them. And at this rate, it may.
FLASH FUNK (1-1-0) (with the Funkettes) vs. OWEN HART (0-1-0) (with Clarence Mason, both world tag-team title belts, and a repaired Slammy)
Marlena’s announced as coughing up blood and on her way to the hospital. She should be prioritized quickly enough unless there’s a rash of lost smiles. Funk and Owen are presented as classic high flyers, and even though that seems ludicrous by 2015 standards, he’s probably right. It wasn’t until just 9 months earlier that the game really started to change in North America with the influx of Mexicans over in the other company that our entire perception of what made up a “high flyer” truly was. Both guys try dual dropkicks, and even though they both whiff, Owen jumps up and celebrates as the clear winner. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves…
JERRY LAWLER has a phone call. An angry, passionate, fired up voice is on the other line, introducing himself as the owner, operator, and whatever else you want to call him, PAUL HEYMAN, the president of ECW. And, unlike Vince McMahon, he doesn’t hide behind other “representatives”, he is what he is. He says that he’ll be at the Manhattan Center next week with all his superstars in tow. Lawler asks if he’s going to bring his “big guns” like The Blue Meanie or the Sandman? Heyman says he’ll bring whatever it takes to get some respect beat into him. “As long as Neighborhood Watch doesn’t need to be informed that you’re in the area, I’ll see you next week!” Shots fired, Daddy Fingers!
You’ll notice during that little exchange that for about the 3rd or 4th time this year, Vince McMahon is acknowledged as being a key figurehead (and perhaps THE key figurehead) of the WWF. This wasn’t always the case. For years, he was simply an announcer, and nothing more. However, bit by bit the company is becoming more lax with this, easing the fans into the notion that Vince is the one pulling the strings behind it all. These little slips wind up becoming one of the most important parts of the 1997 story.
So, there’s still a match going on, and Hart’s getting the business from Clarence Mason for some reason. Funk nails Hart with a plancha during the exchange, and that draws an irate BRITISH BULLDOG down to ringside to tell Mason to take a hike before he costs Owen a win. Funk uses a backslide for a near-fall, but Owen fires back with a bridged German for 2. Since this match is irrelevant, I suppose, we turn now to …
STEVE AUSTIN, who gets grilled about his actions tonight. “Gorilla Monsoon said I was this close from going over the edge? I done gone over the edge already, and I’m this close to whoopin’ his ass!” He reminds us he won the Royal Rumble fair and square, because there’s no instant replay. And, because Michaels “went and hurt his little knee”, by all accounts HE should be WWF champion right now. He says he’s getting held back because he’s not glitz and glamour and won’t smile for their stupid publicity shots, but whether they like it or not, he’s coming.
Funk appears to be on the comeback trail, and is headed up for the 450. Owen stands early, so he changes his gameplan and hits the crossbody for 2. A Stinger Splash sets up a flawless moonsault, but Owen kicks out again. He charges in, but Bulldog smacks him in the back of the head with the Slammy, and holds down his leg as Owen steals the win at 8:28. Bulldog picks up the belt and Slammy, and celebrates with his brother in law. Owen seems perturbed, though. Really? I thought a win was a win?
HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY (4-4-0) vs. BART GUNN (0-1-0)
THE HONKY TONK MAN joins the commentary booth, while JR asks Hunter before the match who the bodybuilder is. Triple H says that women throw themselves at him all around the country, and much like the rest of them, he has absolutely no idea who she is. Bart starts Helmsley off with a number of arm jerks to loosen the joint, and it works in his favor when Hunter can’t complete a hiptoss. Gunn continues to work the arm, applying a hammerlock on the mat and pulling at the shoulder. Helmsley elbows loose, but runs shoulder first into the buckle trying to attack, and winds up right back on the mat in the same position again. Hunter escapes again, and this time uses the high knee. GOLDUST decides this would be an opportune time to rush the ring, and Helmsley beats it out of Nashville. In fact, he’s already up the stairs and past the concessions by the time he’s counted out at 4:34. 1/2*
DR. JAMES ANDREWS gives an update on Shawn Michaels. Apparently he tore his meniscus 5 years ago, and he’s got a degenerated area. However, he doesn’t need surgery at this time, a little rehab is a good starting point, and they’ll check back in 4-6 weeks from now. Andrews figures he should have no problem continuing his wrasslin’ career.
SYCHO SID (0-3-0) vs. BRET HART (4-1-0) (for the WWF world heavyweight title)
Lawler about fills his tights with excitement that the match is finally getting underway. Even better for him, Sid pounds on Hart’s kidneys and Lawler sells every one of them along with Bret. A clothesline knocks the champ to his ass, and Sid threatens an early chokeslam to a chorus of boos from the very confusing crowd tonight. Hart takes Sid off his feet, and drops a second rope sledge. Sid starts gimping around, still selling the knee problem from earlier in the night. Still, he manages more kidney punches, softening Bret up for a backbreaker that gets 2. Lawler calls for a powerbomb, but Hart kicks at the bad knee. Sid crumbles, and Bret takes full advantage, putting a Figure Four on Sid around the ringpost! This is the debut of this move, and everyone’s in shock at the viciousness of it. Sid flails, screams, taps out like crazy, while Ross sells it perfectly as an attack that might put Sid in a wheelchair. Until recently, there’s no way in hell Bret would have ever resorted to this type of move, but it’s clear he’s frustrated and at a point where he’s got nothing left but to defend his legacy with every trick he’s got. They head to commercial while the referee tries in vain to get Hart to release the hold.
Back from a timeout, and they’re back in the ring, but Hart is relentless, putting Sid’s knee around the rope and kicking the crap out of it. An illegal toehold is ordered to break, but Hart hangs on for the maximum 4. Sid explodes out of the corner in rage with a clothesline, but he can barely stand. For god knows WHAT reason, he decides that a LEG DROP is his best move right now, and that gets 2 but it couldn’t have done him any favors. He manages to scoop slam Bret without buckling, and he heads to the second rope. At first he stumbles, but he manages to hit the guillotine legdrop for 2. Sensing his chance, Sid goes for a chokeslam, but Bret rakes the eyes. This is the kind of stuff Bret spent YEARS speaking out against – dude, you’re better than that. Hart tries to clip the knee, but he misses. Sid steps forward, but Hart backdrops him to the outside HARD. Now STEVE AUSTIN re-appears, but Sid’s able to fight him off. Back in, Sid’s caught immediately, and Bret goes for the Sharpshooter. It’s applied centre of the ring, but Sid’s fighting. The referee’s right up in Sid’s face, and completely misses Bret getting smacked in the face with a steel chair from Austin! Even Sid doesn’t realize it, because Austin beat it out of there before he could sit up. Still, he’s not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and one powerbomb later and Sid’s back on top at 11:56! The crowd EXPLODES, having had enough of Hart from the cheap leg tricks, and start a “SID!” chant while he poses. The Sid haters can stuff it, because this was incredible. ****
THE UNDERTAKER turns out the house lights, giving himself time to get into the ring. He gets all up in Sid’s face, and Sid responds by squinting like he’s got lemon juice in his eye, before blowing them wide open and whispering something towards Undertaker. This guy doesn’t need a world title belt, he needs a strait jacket. Taker just stares a hole through him as the show closes.
The Michaels departure might have been the best thing for Mania, because the Hart / Austin feud has been boiling over for months. With this latest stunt from Steve, costing Bret the only thing he seemingly cares about anymore, and knowing Bret no longer cares about following the rules, their impending showdown at Wrestlemania is going to be full on balls to the wall. Sid and Undertaker is a fine placeholder main event, they’re both among the top acts in the company and Taker’s never really had a major Wrestlemania moment in his 6 years with the company. We might be looking at a one or two match show when it’s all said and done, but considering who’s involved, that might just be enough to save it from the awful undercard we’re undoubtedly going to have to endure beforehand.
And, of course, ECW is always lurking in the background next week. It might not be enough to win the ratings war of the week, but a cross-promotional war might be the seedlings needed to help BOTH companies against the mega-giant WCW... assuming anything can stop that freight train.