So after a three months absence, I have returned so that the Blog can finish up looking back at 1998 when the World Wrestling Federation finally turned the tide against World Championship Wrestling. When we left off, the Rock was tearing it up as the newly crowned corporate heel champion, but he has Mankind in hot pursuit of the title that he thought was in the bag at Survivor Series. Steve Austin was still feuding with the Undertaker, something that segments of the audience are growing tired of, and the New Age Outlaws teased joining the Corporation before realigning with D-Generation X. The Corporation still has Commissioner Shawn Michaels in their pocket, though. And Debra McMichael, newly arrived from WCW, has reunited with Jeff Jarrett, ignoring the fact that he called her a “dumb blonde” when he returned to the company in 1997.
-WWF Champion The Rock shows up at Planet Hollywood in Vancouver, British Columbia. He promises that future pay-per-views will be named after him and tells us to enjoy the action. The Rock getting a pay-per-view named after him fit nicely into existing storylines as it constituted a reward for going heel.
-Michael Cole and Jerry “the King” Lawler are in the booth and they are live from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Ross is absent due to his mother’s recent passing. The opening is where Cole says that there is two tons of dirt near the grave and the tombstone weighs “in excess of three thousand pounds,” thereby serving as great fodder for recappers of the future.
-D-Lo Brown & Mark Henry (w/PMS) defeat Supply & Demand (w/The Hos) when Henry pins Venis after a splash at 5:58:
The WWF should have done more with the Supply & Demand tag team of Val Venis and the Godfather since the tag division was relatively weak at this point in the company’s history (and would remain so until the summer of 1999). The “Pretty Mean Sisters” faction of Terri Runnels and Jacqueline align themselves with D-Lo and Henry at this show, although the reasons for it are not explained. D-Lo draws a lot of heat, with the crowd showering him with “D-Lo sucks!” chants on several occasions. The hos and PMS get into a predictable confrontation on the floor, creating a distraction that allows Jacqueline to pull Venis’s tights down and produce the finish. This was standard RAW fare that was made better by the hot crowd. Rating: **¼
-Footage of Mankind attacking the Rock earlier in the day when he was being interviewed by Michael Cole in a skybox. The Rock’s ribs are allegedly hurt, but he is willing to fight against doctor’s orders so that he can keep the title.
-The Headbangers beat Kurrgan & Golga (w/Giant Silva & Luna Vachon) when Mosh pins Golga after the Stage Dive at 6:52:
Cole tells us that the Headbangers “defrocked” Luna by cutting her hair on a recent episode of RAW, which is not the appropriate use of that word. That does not keep him from continuing to use it, though. These two teams had been feuding on RAW, with the Headbangers turning on the Oddities and then getting the Insane Clown Posse to defect to their side. The Oddities were seemingly okay with this defection, though, because they are still using the ICP’s engineered theme music. If this was booked as a three minute match it would be acceptable, but it just keeps dragging as the Headbangers can only do so much with their opponents. The ending is botched, with Golga taking forever to run the ropes and ending up too far away to take the Stage Dive. Rating: ¾*
-Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, and the stooges huddle to discuss how they help the Rock defend the title tonight. Patterson suggests getting hockey equipment and ambushing Mankind. Brisco just offers to get Mr. McMahon some coffee, a humorous connection back to a few months ago when the stooges abandoned McMahon and left him at the mercy of Steve Austin.
-Steve Blackman beats Owen Hart via count out at 10:28:
The crowd inverts the face-heel dynamic since Owen is a beloved Canadian. Cole tells us that Owen has “perfected” the Sharpshooter, which makes sense when you compare his Sharpshooter with the Rock’s version. I await him telling us that Owen was the “architect” of the Hart family. This is a bit of a weird bout as both men trade offense throughout without really building to the proper transitions and then Owen gets sent chest-first into an exposed turnbuckle and barely sells it. Blackman gets booed out of the building after locking Owen into the Sharpshooter, but he gets out and then heads to the locker room to lose. Talk about a finish wiping out ten minutes of hard work. Rating: **½
-Vince McMahon wanders around backstage looking for Mankind. He finds the boiler room, which has a “Mankind’s office” sign on the door that McMahon rips off in disgust. He tentatively walks in to negotiate with the Rock’s opponent for the evening.
-The Brood beats the J.O.B. Squad (w/Head) when Christian pins Scorpio after the Impaler at 9:08:
The Brood gimmick was ahead of its time. It was seeking to capitalize on the “goth” look that was all the rage in the late 1990s among jaded youth, but it would have had more popularity with the Twilight craze that swept the nation a decade later. As another aside, how many stables in wrestling history have had the hired help go on to have better careers than the leader? Snow might be over, but the crowd is not buying into this J.O.B. Squad concept, sitting on their hands for much of this despite all six guys doing their best to get a reaction. Cole and Lawler are also disinterested, debating the merits of Paul McCartney music and Cole insisting that he listens to “the new stuff.” After what feels like an eternity we get to the ending sequence, which has a few cool spots such as Edge launching off of Gangrel to plancha Al Snow and Bob Holly, but a spot fest a good match does not make. Rating: **
-Mankind and McMahon continue to negotiate backstage, although we cannot hear what they are saying.
-Striptease Match: Goldust beats “Double J” Jeff Jarrett (w/Debra McMichael) via reverse decision at 8:03:
So the stipulations of this non-PG match are that if Goldust wins then Debra must strip, but if Jarrett wins Goldust has to strip. Knowing Vince, I am surprised they did not do a swerve, have Goldust lose clean, and then strip to tick of GLAAD. The stipulation helps give a dull match some heat and after Goldust hits Shattered Dreams, Debra smashes Goldust with a guitar behind the referee’s back. Somehow the broken bits of guitar in the ring do not bother the referee as Jarrett hits the Stroke to seemingly win. However, Commissioner Shawn Michaels comes out and reverses the decision. Debra strips out of her business suit, but before she can go further the Blue Blazer interrupts. What, you really did not think they were going to go through with this stipulation? Rating: ½*
-McMahon leaves the boiler room and seems to be in a good mood.
-WWF Tag Team Championship Match: The New Age Outlaws (Champions) defeat The Big Bossman & Ken Shamrock (w/Shawn Michaels) when Billy Gunn pins Ken Shamrock with an inside cradle at 17:06:
The Bossman-Shamrock tag team is often overlooked when people think of the Attitude Era, but I thought it had some appeal since both guys’ styles complemented each other well. If Ross was on commentary he would say that the heat sequence was “deliberate” as Shamrock and Bossman grind the match to a snail’s pace so they can beat on the Road Dogg. In Cole’s third embarrassing error of the night he refers to the Bossman’s night stick as “a baton.” Based on how the Outlaws feud with the Corporation was going it seemed like a given that they would lose the tag team titles here, thereby giving them a program for the early winter of 1999. However, although Michaels trips Gunn when he tries to suplex Shamrock back into the ring, Gunn reverses the cover and the Outlaws retain. What really hurt this match was that during the heat sequence Shamrock and the Bossman never seemed to have a coherent strategy to work on a body part and they never went for a cover. Why would you do that when wrestling the tag team champions? Rating: *½
-A video package recaps the ongoing Rock-Mankind feud.
-McMahon tells Shane and the Rock that the contract for the title match will be altered in the ring and that Mankind just wants witnesses.
-After entrances for the next match, Vince McMahon steps in the ring and makes fun of a hole in Mankind’s tights. Mankind says he will cross out the contract clause that says he gets the title if the Rock cannot wrestle, but only if McMahon admits that he never heard Mankind submit at the Survivor Series and do so on his knees. McMahon refuses to do so, saying that the Rock heard him submit at Survivor Series and that was good enough for him, so we end up having our scheduled title match after all…
-WWF Championship Match: Mankind beats The Rock (Champion w/Vince & Shane McMahon) with the Mandible Claw at 13:34:
Mankind’s theme has some awful techno beat as he heads to the ring. There was something about techno beats that the WWF music team could not get away from during this period as they also tried to do it with parts of the Rock’s theme and had to abandon that when it also sounded horrid. They try to rip off Over the Edge with Vince telling the referee to disqualify Mankind “for any legitimate reason” after he beats the Rock to a pulp on the arena floor. The Rock is also good for comedy here, taking a headset and cutting a promo on Mankind as he smashes his face into the commentary table, but then keep it on as Mankind makes a comeback. Vince tries to get the referee to disqualify Mankind after a low blow, but in a shrewd move that Bret Hart should have done in Montreal, Mankind decks takes out the referee and the timekeeper. All of this leads to a new referee coming in, which makes little sense because the first referee would have disqualified Mankind at this point for piledriving him, and that produces some hot near-falls with each man’s signature moves. A Mandible Claw seems to give Mankind the title, but McMahon announces after the match that since the Rock never submitted he cannot lose the championship. Did the WWF give a one night contract to Dusty Rhodes with these finishes? Fun match once the overbooking began, but it was not on the same level as their Survivor Series bout. Rating: **¾
-After the bout, Mankind puts both McMahons in the Mandible Claw and beats on the stooges, but eventually Ken Shamrock and the Big Bossman run in to beat him down.
-A video package recaps the Steve Austin-Undertaker feud.
-Buried Alive Match: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defeats The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) at 21:31:
Austin has to win this match to get a slot in the Royal Rumble per the orders of Vince McMahon. That is a classic example of the booking getting too cute because it basically constituted a spoiler since there was no way Austin was not going to be in the Rumble match. In a Buried Alive match I always wonder why the wrestlers never stay near the grave. Why go back to the ring, which has more give to it than concrete and why not use all the shovels and such around the grave to wear out your opponent? Wrestling logic I suppose. As Austin has noted in recent years, the stipulation ruined this bout as he and the Undertaker could only build drama near the grave and it made the match too much of a choking and punching encounter. Cole gaffe #4 rears its ugly head as he refers to “the Royal Rumble tournament” that is on the line between these two. And for those wondering why I am being hard on Cole, I have to think of something to keep me preoccupied with this match which just meanders all around the arena without any rhyme or reason to it. Eventually, Austin hits a Stunner to send the Undertaker into the grave and walks off. This allows the Undertaker to get out, but an explosion out of the grave sends out Kane, who Tombstones the Undertaker back into the grave and Austin brings out a backhoe. However, to really top off this awful match, the backhoe takes forever to dump dirt on the Undertaker and then takes too long to rake the dirt in. Austin soon tires of shoveling dirt and drinks beer, finally being declared the winner. Rating: DUD
The Final Report: 1998 featured several fun WWF pay-per-views, but this show was not one of them. As has been the case for much of the year, the top of the card has to excel to cover for a deficient midcard and that did not happen here. If anything, the show had lots of oddly booked finishes with Mankind going over the Rock but not winning the title, the Outlaws retaining when it may have made more sense to give the titles over to the Corporation, and Owen Hart losing in a puzzling count out after a competitive match. The Debra stripping nonsense, Kane popping out of a grave like Michael Myers, and the overbooking of the title match was Russo in overdrive. Yet there were already some danger signs with Russo in the sense that some of his material was recycling old concepts, such as going back to the Over the Edge well in the Rock-Mankind match. Avoid this show on the Network because the memorable moments of December 1998 happened on RAW.
Buyrate: 0.78 (+0.34 over previous year)
Show Rating: Thumbs Down