WWF RAW: January 20, 1997

Last night, the Royal
Rumble took place, and through the disastrous undercard, and underwhelming main
events, we did manage to take away a few hints to the future. Austin’s early
dominance, and late chickenshit tactics kept the Rumble from being the worst
edition ever. Bret Hart threw a fit after getting screwed over for the 2nd
time since his return in the fall, being eliminated by a guy who was already
out of the match when it was clear he was the last man standing. With RAW live
tonight, you know there’s gonna be some tension in the air. But first…
Kenny Reigns: 1997 WWF is pretty good so
far. I’m only through January, but the show has excitement and developing
stories. I could not believe how much of a star Austin looked like at the
Rumble. That was insane.

While I don’t know your
particular history, Kenny, this is a good time to recognize that I do have a
number of “newer” fans reading these. If you’ve been subjected to the WWE for,
say, the last 5 years and aren’t familiar with some of the earlier stuff, do
yourself a favor and follow the same trajectory I have with these recaps. Start
with early 1996 WCW (skipping March and April, I am not a sadist), and work the
WWF into the mix by early 1997. If you are any kind of wrestling fan at all,
you’ll be absolutely amazed at the WWF’s ability to weave angles together in a
logical manner that resulted in everyone else getting over. Even though Austin
is going to be the focal point, watching the development of Rocky Maivia is
going to be fascinating, as he is the absolute epitome of a talented guy who
just needs a steady, continued push, and company confidence, to find himself.
Had they started and stopped and started and stopped, like any number of the
2015 midcarders, you’d have to wonder if he’d have ever become the cross-media
superstar he eventually did.
Fat, Ugly Inner-City Sweathog: You’ve got
a multi-man lucha match and you don’t open the show with it?
They already had enough
problems keeping the fans engaged through a slew of ass-dragging matches.
Putting the ancient faceless Mexican contingent out first would have been
death. If you’re inadvertently mistaking these guys for the fast-paced fun
high-flyers of WCW, then I recommend you track this show down on the Network, and
return later with a 4-page apology for even suggesting such a thing.
wnyxmcneal: Dustin Rhodes wasn’t ready to
work a long match? What?
I stand by this, whole
heartedly. Find me a Goldust match over **1/2 between 1995-1999. They had no
business trotting him out for 15 minutes, but they did it, month after month on
PPV to the exact same results (Goldust slowly rubs himself for 10 minutes,
other wrestler finally gets grossed out and makes the comeback, followed by
some kind of finish). Dustin Rhodes might have been a quality worker, but this
gimmick caused hell on his in-ring performances.
Mike Mears: What am I missing about Ahmed?
He was just before my time, but all I see is a black Ryback.
Sure, if Ahmed Johnson was
a recycled, tightly scripted clone of a thousand guys before him, than yes, you’d
be right. But that pays no justice to who Ahmed Johnson was. He was an absolute
original, there had been no one like him to that point. Previous black
wrestlers were always rapper, angry street thugs, dancers, or somehow One Man
Gang. Ahmed Johnson was just a big, freakishly strong, guy. A guy who loved
what he did, but make no bones about it, when he did it, he did it with
intensity. He was there to *kill* you. Ryback WISHES he could even splash a
little of Ahmed’s charisma on his sad persona. And, say what you want about his
promos, but they added to his charm, because they came across as real. He didn’t
speak like anyone else, and he wasn’t going to, because that’s not who he was.
He was a genuine guy, and since he could back it up with the power, the fans
took to him.
It’s not a particularly
difficult template, but one that is completely lost today because nobody’s
allowed to just go out and speak for fear they might upset the shareholders or
cause some sort of negative social media story. I remember growing up, that “Just
Be Yourself” was something of a mantra to remind us that we’re all unique, and
by letting your personality shine people will take to you. Sadly, that’s
changed to “Just Be Like Everyone Else”.
But enough about today,
we’re talking about then – and then is now, because we are LIVE in Beaumont,
Texas for a show that is inexplicably STILL not on the WWE Network nearly a
year after launch. VINCE MCMAHON, JIM ROSS, and JERRY LAWLER can barely say hello, before …
BRET HART
storms the ring, and he is in a BAD mood. He points to Vince directly, and
reminds him that when he came back to the WWF in the fall he was promised title
shots. Instead, he was put in the ring with Steve Austin, and told if he won he’d
be the #1 contender. So, he did as he was told, but for some “convenient”
reason, Shawn Michaels was at ringside doing commentary during his World Title
match, and to no surprise (or coincidence), the boy toy cost him the match. So,
then he was told if he won the Royal Rumble and beat 29 guys, he’d get a title
shot. Again, he did exactly as he was asked, and as far as he’s concerned he
won the Rumble. He’s tired of being dicked around by Michaels, Austin, and
Vince McMahon. Realizing he’s not getting his opportunity, he quits.
Vince quickly rushes over
to Bret to ask for a minute of his time, but Bret’s already making his way
through the fans, ignoring him. A loud “WE WANT BRET” chant starts, which
quickly turns to boos because …
STEVE AUSTIN has taken over the ring. His microphone doesn’t work, so he snatches
another one from a camera man and threatens to whoop his ass if he doesn’t give
him a working piece of equipment. He tells us that all Bret ever does is cry,
and he’s tired of it. He’s happy to see him leave, since the only person Bret
can beat anymore is his “wrinkled up old man in his little old basement”. He
figures Bret has no gripe, since he was promised a match with Sid tonight, but
nooooo, Sid’s at home with a concussion. Austin knows he doesn’t have a
concussion, but rather a yellow stripe running right down his back. Austin
still wants a fight, and sits in wait, while McMahon angrily storms to the back
to, presumably, go into damage control.
OWEN HART and THE BRITISH BULLDOG (with Clarence
Mason and Slammy) vs. DOUG FURNAS and PHILIP LAFON (in a non-title match)
Austin’s been cleared
during the commercial break, while JR plays up the possible dissent between
Hart and Bulldog after Owen dumped his buddy in the rumble. Lafon nails Owen
with a fireman’s carry slam, but Owen quickly rolls him back out of a headlock
for 1. A mule kick brings in Furnas, who runs Owen over with the 3 point
stance. Beautiful dropkick gets a close 2! That’s followed with a snap belly to
belly overhead, drawing 2. Owen fires back with a spinning heel kick and tags
in the Bulldog. Lawler laughs up Bret’s blow up since he’s tired of watching
Vince kiss his ass anyway, while Furnas snaps off a perfect Frankensteiner for
2. Another important development: Apparently Undertaker has been fined his
entire take at the Royal Rumble for chokeslamming an official. Now which poor
sap has to be the one to inform Taker of THAT decision? Owen manages a blind
tag, catching Furnas off guard when he comes flying in with a missile dropkick
for 2 as we head to commercial.
We return to Furnas eating
the back end of an enzuigiri, and Owen is apoplectic when it only gets 2!
Bulldog boots him in the face, and Owen celebrates quickly with a “GO OWEN!”
Standing vertical suplex from the Bulldog gets 2, and Owen locks on a chinlock.
Furnas wriggles loose, but takes an overhead belly to belly. A top rope splash
misses, and Furnas is able to get the hot tag to Lafon. Clotheslines abound! A
spinning heel kick drops Owen, and Bulldog gets tagged with a snap suplex followed
by a senton for 2. Overhead belly to belly gets 2. Owen rushes in to stop the
madness, but Furnas flattens him with a shoulder block. Lafon jaws with Owen,
who smacks him in the mouth with the Slammy, allowing a Bulldog powerslam to
pick up the win at 10:21. A
travesty! I might have gone with the upset here and set up a program for Final
Four, but then I’m a Can Am fanboy. ***
FAAROOQ (with PG-13, Clarence Mason, Kona Crush, D’Lo
Brown, and a Number Of Well Dressed Men) vs. BART GUNN
Really, we’re gonna
follow up that fun little tag-team ditty with THIS? Austin and Undertaker is
announced as the main event, and “you won’t have to sit through Robin Hood to
see it” says a far too smarmy JR. When they’re not in control of their own
destiny, it’s interesting to watch them pull out all the same nonsense they
scream foul about otherwise. Gunn gets flattened with a spinebuster, and PG-13
add a few extra shots. Faarooq locks on a chinlock, and uses both the ropes AND
leverage from Wolfie D to his advantage. The referee spies it, and forces a
break. A scoop slam sends Faarooq up (what?!?) and he misses whatever it was,
getting slammed on the way down by Gunn. A bulldog gets 2, only saved by PG-13
putting his feet on the ropes. Bart finally pounces to the floor, and kicks
both their asses before Faarooq drops an elbow on his head. Crush sends Gunn
back into the ring, and the Dominator finishes poor Lefty at 5:16. This Faarooq singles push is
death. 1/2*
VINCE MCMAHON returns, with GORILLA MONSOON
in tow. Gorilla is roundly booed, stay classy Texas. Gino calls out to Bret
specifically, by agreeing that the Rumble was a travesty. He says he can’t
reverse the decision as a referee’s is final, and Austin will officially go
down as the Rumble winner. However, Gorilla refuses to give Austin the title
shot at Mania, opting instead to run a 4-man no-DQ match at the next In Your
House. His choices are Undertaker, Vader, and Bret, all of whom were eliminated
unfairly by Austin, as well as Austin himself. No love for Fake Diesel who
finished 3rd. STEVE AUSTIN
is not exactly thrilled by this news, and reminds Gorilla that Bret can’t be
included because he’s already quit. He asks Gorilla if the WWF has Instant
Replay? “EH EH! I DON’T THINK SO!” He agrees to enter the 4-way, since he’s
already thrown 29 pieces of trash away, and once he’s done with that match, he’ll
throw Gorilla around too. Vince gets in Austin’s grill, as BRET HART comes back through the crowd, having had enough time to
cool down I suppose.
Bret grabs the microphone
to accept the match, but suggests they do it TONIGHT instead of February. Hart
rushes up the aisle, and he and Austin start scrapping with a whole lot of hate
in their eyes. The fans start losing their minds, as Bret refuses to get peeled
off his enemy. Hart starts gnawing at Austin’s head, before throwing him face
first into the ring steps as they head to commercial.
The officials are STILL
having an impossible time removing Bret from the scene, but it’s main event
time, and Austin’s got a whole ‘nother problem…
STEVE AUSTIN vs. THE UNDERTAKER
That’s assuming, of
course, Undertaker makes it to the ring, because now he and Bret are throwing
haymakers at each other! Austin, stupidly, rushes in to get involved, and
Undertaker introduces his teeth to the ring steps. They eventually find their
way in to kick it off officially, with Austin getting his head slammed into the
canvas. Old School connects because Austin doesn’t have the wherewithal to step
forward and knock him off his perch. Austin fires back with a swinging neckbreaker,
but Taker sits right back up. Lawler starts screaming at Austin “BAD RIBS” to
help Steve out, but his notoriously bad hearing fails to catch it. Austin slams
Taker’s face to the buckle, but he comes right back with an elbow to Austin’s
face. Steve comes off the top with an axehandle for 2, while Lawler hits the
ringside area to tell Austin about the injured ribs because he’s not enough of
a shit disturber at ringside. Instead, Taker goes low, but Austin manages to
sell enough to sucker him in and nail the Stunner.
In the back, VADER and BRET HART are throwing down now, because apparently Bret has a
death wish tonight.
Austin was unable to capitalize
on the Stunner, and heads upstairs. Taker crotches him, but Austin, suddenly
aware of the ribs, starts punching at the to stop a superplex attempt. VADER slowly lumbers down to the
ringside now, and draws a DQ at 6:39.
**
BRET HART
is right behind him, and last night’s foes all square off. Austin peels off for
the back, but Bret stops him and throws him into the guardrail. In the ring,
Taker drops Vader with a backdrop suplex, and with all 4 guys engaged in an
absolutely chaotic brawl, the show heads off the air.
Seeing this in action,
financial state be damned, Vince should have been doing everything in his power
to get RAW running live every single week. They have a new star who is clearly
able to hang with the main eventers in Steve Austin, Bret seems to be coming
into his own as a grumpy old man, and Vince McMahon is slowly being outed as
the real puppet master.

I’d call it extremely
unlikely that Nitro will be able to effectively counter this wild show, short
of having DDP deliver a Diamond Cutter to Hulk Hogan. We’ll find out, next.