Friday, December 28, 2012

WWF King of the Ring (June 8, 1997)

After Cold Day in Hell, Shawn Michaels returned to active duty in the WWF and hooked up with Stone Cold Steve Austin to beat Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart for the tag titles, but they still didn't get along, because why would they? Even though Shawn wore a little headband and a t-shirt and jeans combo sometimes to fit in more with the changing tone of the WWF, he was still Shawn Michaels: Sexy Boy! Not Your Boy Toy! Heartbreak Kid! Teehee!, and that was just not Stone Cold's style, brah.

We've got Undertaker back with Paul Bearer because he has to be, what with Bearer knowing Undertaker's biggest secret and all. We've got the King of the Ring tournament, in which Hunter Hearst Helmsley originally lost to Ahmed Johnson in round one, only to get another spot in the tournament (beating Crush) after threatening to sue the WWF. Vader's continued push into irrelevance following the Kuwait thing helped, too.

Anyway, let's get on with the show. June 8 at the Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Vince and JR have the call, since Lawler's in the tournament.

King of the Ring Semifinal: Ahmed Johnson vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Crowd is hot for the cultural clash here. Johnson is really ramped up like some of a looney tick, screaming at fans and generally acting a little goddamned weird, standing around with his tongue out, leisurely walking into eyepokes.

The match is decent, and benefits from the crowd, because it would be hard to say they've got major chemistry. Chyna gets on the apron, which catches Ahmed's attention. She doesn't get physical -- ain't no bitch gonna hit Ahmed -- but that leads to Helmsley kneeing Ahmed in the back and getting the pedigree for the win to advance to the finals. Ahmed chases them to the back and Chyna can't quite figure out where to go.

Mankind is gaining popularity, which Vince and JR make note of on his entrance. Last Monday on Raw, Lawler's commentary bugged Mankind, which helped this match make more sense, and the Nation of Domination screwed up as they usually do.

Mankind takes the mic and talks about Paul Bearer. We're into "Mrs. Foley's little boy" territory now. He gets some time to make clear he's the babyface. Backstage, Todd is with Lawler, but Lawler instead walks to the ring getting Memphis heat on the mic. They're really making clear who you're supposed to be rooting for.

King of the Ring Semifinal: Mankind vs Jerry "The King" Lawler

It's always fun to watch Lawler in the WWF. In a way, it's always felt like he didn't belong here -- not because he wasn't good enough, but because he was almost too perfect for the 80s WWF, when he was never there, outside of not being big enough, and by the 90s, it seemed "too late," but he was still a pretty damn good rassler, and when matched right (which he generally was), he could do some very fun stuff. The feud with Bret was great; the feud with Jake I didn't really like at all, but fuck it. And this is fun -- Foley and Lawler, two guys who know all the tricks of the trade but tend to use them differently, but at their core, not that differently. Yeah, Lawler doesn't have a missing ear, but the King was pretty "hardcore" in his day. The match is going along fine (if you like Lawler - if you don't, this is probably just dull as shit) until something gets miscommunicated n shit, but Lawler doesn't miss a beat, dropping the fist and going for another piledrver (he dropped one on the floor earlier). Then Mankind gets the claw, and it's over.

Backstage, Brian Pillman says he does feel responsible for making Austin and Michaels happen tonight, taking inspiration from Bret Hart. Then Austin sneaks up on Pillman, and that's fun.

Austin puts the boots to Pillman and gives him a swirlie in the john. These two could have had an electric feud, but, well. "You suck, Pillman! You always have, and you always will!"

Crush (w/The Nation of Domination) vs Goldust (w/Marlena)

Oh this should be great. These two have every bit the filler match you might expect. Crush was just awful. JR fills time by talking about Goldust's daughter and dad and whatever else he can think of. Bill Watts. Pre-PPV King of the Ring tournaments. Goldust winds up winning even though the Nation guys try to ... distract him or whatever it is they're doing. After the match, D'Lo Brown (pictured, as yet unnamed) is clearly growing sick of this ex-con honky. Aren't we all, D'Lo? Aren't we all? In all candor, Crush is one of the worst fucking wrestlers to ever keep getting chances to do stuff. Fuck, at least Sid was charismatic and looked good. Crush was just your average big dude, no obvious evidence of steroid abuse or anything. After the match, Goldust and Marelna get their smooch on repeatedly, and Vince goes, "Hahahaha! They are husband and wife!" Thanks, Vince.

Backstage, Handsome Dok is with the 1997 Road Warriors and Sid. There's a hellish combination. Hawk: "WELL! REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD! AND BY DIDDLY DOO SQUAT, WE'RE SERVIN' THE COLDEST DISH IN TOWN!" Alright then, Hawk. Then Todd is with the Hart Foundation. Anvil says he's crazier than Sid. Well let's do this then.

Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart vs Sycho Sid & The Legion of Doom

Owen starts it off and winds up with Sid, and then Bulldog gets in, and the Harts hope Bulldog is the power to neutralize Sid and the LOD, but not really. Neidhart gives it a go now. There's plenty of heat on this match, which is helping. That's good, because the babyfaces are a buncha junk and Owen has to carry for the Hart side.

Anyway, Sid eventually gets a hot tag after Animal, the best of his side, takes a beating for a while, and you should just see the clotheslines Sid lays in, one after another. Sid sets the power bomb on Davey, but Owen catches him with a flying sunset flip, which Sid doesn't fall in time for, and the Hart Foundation win, and they leave to Owen's music. This was pretty bad.

Let us take you back to Stone Cold Steve Austin's King of the Ring win in 1996. Todd speaks with Mankind. He quotes The Lion King.

King of the Ring Final: Mankind vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna)

These two would go on to have some good ones. "Helmsley's a blue blood. Mankind has lost blood." Good stuff, JR. They continue to push "Mankind is getting popular" right down your gullet. I get it and all, and it couldn't have been for a better guy, but shit, man.

This is fine but the crowd ain't that much into it; neither of them were exactly hot at the moment, though they would get there. HHH lets out an "oh, fuck" when he comes up many inches short of the ropes on a stun gun-type maneuver, and mostly hits his chest and wrist on the cables. Well, this is going nowhere fast, as Mankind gets a double leg pickup that turns into the two of them just sort of falling over. One guy shouts, "BORING!"

They just keep plugging away, though, and with Mankind's mask gone, he becomes slightly more human, and the crowd gradually is brought back into it when it becomes more of a brawl. HHH takes Mankind to the American announce table, where he is pedigreed. Chyna hits Mankind in the head with a scepter after that, and then Mankind gets up again, where he reaches the apron and is kneed off right into a photographer's ankle. This is the kind of shit you get out of Mick Foley when his match is dying, and he somehow has made this match halfway matter to the audience. Helmsley gets the pedigree back in the ring, and that's it. He's your 1997 King of the Ring.

Chyna roughs up Todd Pettengill, who gives HHH his robe and crown, but he doesn't put the crown on, instead he savagely attacks Mankind with the cheaply made plastic and felt prop. Mankind goes after HHH and Chyna on his hands and knees, and Chyna's like, "I'LL FIGHT U," but HHH is like, "Nah, dollface, let's blow this popsicle stand." MANKIND IS SO TOUGH MRS. FOLEY'S BABY BOY HE WORKS SO HARD DO YOU LOVE HIM YET

As for the match, it wasn't particularly good, and the majority of it stunk, but in the end, they pounded your face into enough things that they started to make a point with one another, and they went on to develop some good chemistry that would lead to better matches this year, and then of course, in 2000, when Cactus Jack was called upon to finally get HHH over as champion after a couple months of floundering. But to this point in this show, there hasn't been what you'd call a good match -- this was the best.

Here's a Stone Cold vs Shawn Michaels video package, set to exercise music from 1985. The idea that Bret Hart has diabolically plotted to have Austin and Michaels take one another out is pretty good, though.

Jesus Christ, JR with another over the top hard sell on Mankind. Then Bret Hart comes out for commentary, with the entire Hart Foundation. Pettengill comes into the ring to talk to them, Bret takes the mic and tells him to scram. "The time has come that I'm no longer an invalid." In case you aren't aware of who these men are, Bret Hart takes the time to introduce them indivually. Then a fat kid, with his fat mom, holds up a printout that says AUSTIN 3:16 and makes the "I'm masturbating" motion. Wrestling fans. Here's where Bret makes the challenge for Canadian Stampede: Any five wrestlers in the WWF can GIT IT.

Then they go over to the commentary table, and Bret gets Vince's headset, but the Hart Foundation is being thrown out. Gerald Brisco is like, "It's over with." And Vince and Bret almost fight, but Vince is like, "No, thank you." And Pillman is acting like a doofus. JR is really offended by all this. Bret does the "you're a chicken" motion. Pillman follows suit. The Hart Foundation leave. This was...something.

Dok talks jive to Austin backstage. "I know that's puttin' green in your jeans," and Austin is like, "Shut up, dickhead." Austin leaves that room to pour some water on his head and walk down a hallway, which seems stupid and predictable, which it is, as he runs into the Hart Foundation and a bunch of officials. They want at him and he's like, "Shut up, dickhead." Then he goes to the ring for his match.

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels

This match famously starts with a collar and elbow, then a shoulderblock from Austin, then a double bird, and Shawn stays on his knees being a weirdo, and Austin points out a mentally challenged fan who has come over the railing. Michaels goes over to help out, and once it's under control, Austin wisely picks the match up and takes it into the ring. Vince blames Austin for going after Michaels there, but shit, it was Austin who pointed it out. Then they take the kid up the entrance, and Shawn Michaels helps out some more. That's not something that happens often, but as big a turdwad as Michaels was at the time, it's incredible professionalism displayed by everyone involved here to work around that without it being a major distraction. I really mean that -- I'm not being a wiseass at all.

So we're back to action after all that. I wonder what happened to that kid? I hope he got 100 autographs backstage and got to hang out. Get some catering.

Austin and Michaels are both so good it hurts to imagine that we now live in a world where John Cena has what are called "great" matches. This isn't even really about Cena, I shouldn't put it that way, but I can't help it. I don't hate John Cena. I just hate John Cena, is all. Jericho, on his DVD, compared Cena to Austin because they were both awkward -- he says Austin was the most awkward guy he ever wrestled -- and while I certainly will bow to Jericho's obvious fucking advantage in knowledge here, the difference for me is Austin is/was so much more fluid, even when he was broken down later, by the time Jericho wrestled him. And his intensity was off the charts; Cena is very, very charismatic, and he is pretty good on the sell, and he knows how to make his rallies, and it's not that I think he sucks. He doesn't. To say he sucks in the ring is ignorant. He's not fuckin Crush. It's just that this is a throwaway match, more or less, and it's better than, well, almost every Cena match I've seen, at least in my own personal opinion. And I'm sure part of that is nostalgic bullshit, and the fact that even today, I care more about this than I ever have cared about John Cena, or ever will, but it's not all that. It can't be. I have taken to some of the new guys -- Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, Bobby Roode -- and you have your new guys I knew in the indies who are awesome -- Punk, Bryan, Joe, Claudio, Aries -- but Cena continues to elude my love, and I cannot really deal with that. It kind of drives me crazy, to be honest. I'm a 30-year-old man who understands what this shit is, I'm not some teenager being all offended by Cena being all over the show. I want to like him. I really do.

And then I realize, it's just him. It's not me. I also never totally took to The Rock. Same reasons. No biggie. Fuck them. I'm allowed to just not like some guys for no good reason other than they're dopes.

Anyway, this is pretty damn great. They get at it some, and it was interesting at the time to see Shawn against a guy he didn't have to carry. A lot of Shawn's more memorable performances were against guys like Sid and Diesel and even Razor Ramon, who was a lot better than Sid or Diesel, but still wasn't on Shawn's level, and occasionally you'd get Shawn against someone like Bret Hart, and it was always great, and Austin can do that here, but he's somewhere between Bret and Mick Foley as a Michaels opponent. (I still think Shawn-Mankind is the best Shawn match ever, and I really mean that with all due respect to his countless other great matches, many of which were bigger, more epic, whatever, and I doubt few agree with my pick, and that's fine.)

The way this is built is pretty genius. Austin bumps the referee, but Shawn doesn't hit the kick and have it won -- Austin blocks the kick, hits the Stunner, and maybe has it won himself. So just like the Undertaker match, we know that Austin could beat this level of opponent, but he doesn't quite do it just yet. And Shawn gets the sweet chin music, and maybe he has it won this time, but Austin has stunned Tim White, and Mike Chioda runs in to ... check on the referee while Michaels has the pin. So Michaels kicks Chioda, and it's all overwhelming. White makes an eventual two-count. So then Earl Hebner comes in to disqualify both of them for a dipshit finish that everyone hates, but keeps both the rivalry going and both guys strong. It wasn't the classic you may have wanted, but it got a job done.

Faarooq says, "Undertaker, don't worry about Paul Bearer's blackmail. You worry about this black male." Well alright then. Then Dok assures The Undertaker that "we" will always love him, no matter what the big secret is. The Undertaker doesn't need love. Bearer yells at Undertaker about the secret and doing what he says. "You'll do what I say! Do what I say! Do what I say!" Vince notes that Dok was perhaps a "little overzealous" in his comments to Undertaker. I'd say so.

WWF Championship: Faarooq (w/The Nation of Domination) vs The Undertaker (c, w/Paul Bearer)

This match isn't any good, as the two of them have no chemistry, Faarooq brings out nothing good in Undertaker, and nobody in the building really thinks Faarooq is going to leave with the fucking title. Plus, they can't come close to following Austin and Michaels. They're just not good enough and they can't do it.

Ron Simmons being a WWE Hall of Famer doesn't bother me because who gives a shit, Koko B. Ware is in the Hall of Fame, but the idea that he was some great wrestler does bug me. It's not that I don't like him, he's a cool guy and was pretty decent at his best, but what the fuck did he ever do better than Lex Luger, a guy everyone hates? Luger had a lot of matches better than Ron Simmons' best match, whatever Simmons' best match was. I've been over this before, but while his winning the WCW title was certainly historic, he was also a flop as champion and couldn't run with it. Is he better than Luger? No. Is he better than DDP? No. Is he better than Sid? Sure, he's better than Sid.

But he was really at his best chasing Luger for the title before he ever won it from Vader, because he was a strong character. When he beat Vader, it was like, whoa! and shit, but other than that, whatever. And he quickly ran out of steam after the win.

Once the match has totally died, the Nation start arguing with each other outside about ... something or other, and Undertaker tombstones a distracted Faarooq for the win. This match had no zip. Talk all you want about WWF main events blowing away WCW main events in 1997 but this isn't a good example. Savio and Crush get chokeslammed after the match. Bearer wants more punishment, so Faarooq gets another chokeslam. D'Lo is very upset at ringside.

Bearer then wants even more carnage, so Faarooq gets another chokeslam. Bearer would like one more. So now they're setting up sympathy for Faarooq, which isn't coming, and nobody even cares that he's being beaten up a bunch -- like, they're neither happy or upset about it, it's just a thing that keeps happening. There's another chokeslam. Finally, Ahmed Johnson runs in. And he's all, "DOO! FIGALA JAMMALAM! CHOODOIN! SUCKA! LIZENAIM! DISFO! GEDAGETHA! GEDAGETHA!" And Undertaker swings at Ahmed, misses, and gets hit with the Pearl River Plunge. Ahmed will get a title shot at Canadian Stampede will be injured yet again and watch his career die.

This show was pretty weak. Everything before Mankind-Helmsley kinda stunk, then that was OK after a bad start, and then Michaels-Austin was really good before a weak main event. Luckily business is about to pick up with one of the best WWF shows ever.

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