WWF RAW: February 24, 1997

It’s incredible how quickly the entire direction of a company can change in the blink of an eye. Just two months ago, we were being prepped for a second kick at the can of Shawn Michaels as a main eventer, this time being ordered to cheer for him because he’s sick and hasn’t even had the strength to shave, and is deeply in love with Jose Lothario and Vince McMahon but not necessarily in that order. He appeared to be headed into a collision course with a whiny Bret Hart for a Wrestlemania Rematch that would hopefully top the previous years’ battle (in quality, and not, heaven forbid, time). Meanwhile, Steve Austin was being a pesky little shit, Mankind just wanted to be wanted, Sunny was having sex with Elmo (bringing a whole new light to the line “Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away” from my childhood), and Faarooq refused to stand for the National Anthem. Everything was status quo.

Then Shawn Michaels lost his manhood smile, and just like that, everything was turned upside down. What was nice about matters back then, is that everyone had intricate backstories, and previous relationships weren’t forgotten about dependent on their current heel or face status. Steve Austin had been the Internet Troll that was calling Bret Hart on message boards for nearly a year, and even though Hart would show up from time to time to mop the floor with him, Austin never stopped. Even while Hart was focused on Shawn, Austin never stopped being himself, including cheating to win the Royal Rumble at Hart’s expense (and pushing Bret further down the road to insanity). That allowed the company to cash in their insurance policy, and when Austin screwed Hart out of the title on last week’s RAW, it became clear that this was full on war and wasn’t going to stop until somebody was dead.

Good story telling like that doesn’t exist any more. When Michael Cole and JBL try to convince us that the wrestlers ARE telling stories, they’re not, because they behave like cookie cutter video game carbon copies of human beings. Being a face means you dress with the faces and become friends with all the faces. Being a heel means you’re angry a lot, and are willing to hang out with other heels. There is absolutely no room for error in this formula in the modern day WWF, where backstories are immediately forgotten when that frown turns upside down. Tight writing, and identifiable people breeds success. That’s why THESE shows are about a year away from kicking off the most ridiculously hot, dominant era of wrestling in history, and the modern shows are putting up the kind of ratings that would have had them out of business in the mid 90’s, before digital media saved their bacon.

So that’s where we stand, headed into tonight’s show, which is taking place LIVE from the Manhattan Center in New York City. VINCE MCMAHON is happier than a Godwinn in a pig pen to be back on his home turf; highlighted by the fan holding up a napkin that reads “BISCHOFF SUCKS” behind his head. JERRY LAWLER is also here, reminding us that he called out ECW last week, and against all odds, they accepted his challenge and are in the audience.

THE GODWINNS (1-3-2) vs. THE NEW BLACKJACKS (0-0-1)

The Blackjacks debuted on Shotgun, getting into a gruelling 2-minute draw with the Headbangers before the Godwinns ran in. The fans have been waiting with bated breath, and immediately greet the mustachioed twosome with a hearty “BRADSHAW SUCKS” chant. I love that Windham, who has been stinking up arenas for the last half decade gets a complete pass, because at least he’s not Bradshaw. Phineas takes a beating from Windham for about 25 seconds, but feels like an eternity, before he’s able to turn the tide and tag in Henry. A little trickery allows Bradshaw to dump Henry to the outside, where Windham is waiting with a soup bone. Elsewhere, KEN SHAMROCK causes Jerry Lawler to have an orgasm. He swears they go wayyyyyy back, buddies for years. Phineas gets the hot tag, and locks Windham in a sleeper. Bradshaw uses this time to set up the Clothesline from Hell, but even though Phineas gets his foot on the bottom rope, the pin is counted at 5:53ANOTHER REFEREE shows up to act as the attorney for the Godwinns, but the assigned referee isn’t having it, so Henry dumps slop over his head. Lawler crows that the Godwinns are facing a suspension, while the ref slips and slides through the slop. And I mean that literally, they served their whole suspension while the ref was in the slop, cuz this is the 90’s and anything goes! DUD

As the ring area is cleared, THE ELIMINATORS hop the guard rail and give Total Elimination to a random ring attendant! PAUL HEYMAN is hot on their heels, and screams at Lawler that the challenge has been accepted. Lawler just stares on, shocked, like a cow at an oncoming train. Vince eloquently sums it up as “the King’s answer has been challenged!” I miss bumbling McMahon in the booth.

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LITTLE GUIDO vs. BIG STEVIE COOL (with Da Blue Guy, Hollywood Nova, and 7-11)

Heyman joins the announce booth, adding a cool factor RAW hasn’t had at the table since Heenan left. Lawler calls the bWo a total ripoff, causing Heyman to put Jerry on the spot and ask exactly whom or what they’re ripping off. The entire table goes into an awkward silence, and I love it. Thankfully, RAVEN breaks up the tension by just showing up, and the distraction lets Guido snap off a rana for 2. Stevie hits the floor, and Raven just stands over him looking intimidating until Guido rolls Richards back in.

Backstage, GOLDUST says he’s the real star, while ECW is just a B-movie at best. He’s then cut off by technical difficulties. Lawler snipes that they’re actually having technical difficulties in the ring.

A corner powerbomb from Guido gets 2, while Heyman says he doesn’t care if Goldust is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, that as long as Marlena comes along with the package, he can be whatever he wants. That’s as close to tolerance as we’re getting in 1997, so kudos to Heyman for kinda sorta being okay with it. Vince stops to plug La Femme Nikita while Richards warms up the band and hits the Steviekick for the win at 3:41. Lawler: “Big deal, I’ve only seen Shawn Michaels do that to like a thousand people”. Heyman: “The difference is, Big Stevie Cool has never lost his smile.” OH SHIT SON! *

Because this show isn’t already surreal enough, they opt to trot out THE HONKYTONK MAN. He shares his excitement to officiate the upcoming match, getting an audible “YOU SUCK” from someone in attendance.

SUNNY vs. MARLENA (in an arm wrestling match)

Sunny orders the fat, ugly fans in attendance to get a look at a real woman, and strips down. If she’d decided at this point to sign with Vivid instead of waiting until 2016, she’d have made enough money to make Vince McMahon her bitch. Meanwhile, Marlena’s still smarting from being beaten up by what Sunny describes as a “big beastly woman” last week – and we quickly relive Chyna’s debut. Marlena refuses to do the “smart thing”, and won’t forfeit here. Sunny refuses to lock up, going through a series of poses and warm ups, wasting tons of time. Once she’s finally ready, Marlena pulls away, and she’s threatened with a DQ by Honky. And finally, we’re treated to the ever intense arm-wrestling match that’s had us all on the edge of our seats. They go back and forth, and just as Marlena’s about to win, Sunny pulls a handful of coke out of her cooch and tosses it into Marlena’s eyes! SAVIO VEGA appears, and begins to stalk the blinded Marlena, but GOLDUST rushes in for the save and slams Vega’s face into the arm-wrestling table.

SAVIO VEGA (3-3-1) vs. GOLDUST (3-4-0)

This became an official match during the break apparently, and the ECW fans in attendance are ecstatic – chanting about anything except what’s happening in the ring. Meanwhile, the legendary MIGUEL PEREZ, who you may remember was on WCW Worldwide as recently as last night (winning his match by tossing his opponent’s salad), has defected and joined the WWF to express his disgust at his fellow countryman, Savio Vega for his disrespectful behavior of late. People can talk about the Lex Luger jump all they want, but for sheer impact, it’s hard to top this one. Vince wants to get the pulse on the streets of Puerto Rico, and Perez says Vega is shameful, and Savio is “no longer Puerto Rico”. Strong words! Strong, confusing words! Meanwhile, CRUSH has attacked Goldust on the floor, and despite being the size of a Mack truck, the referee doesn’t see it. Savio rolls Goldust in, and the pair get into a slugfest. Vega, determined to keep his streak of negative star matches alive, takes Goldust down with a nerve hold, and keeps it in place for about an hour. Finally, Goldust fights loose long enough to walk into a mule kick for 2, and Vega goes back to the nerve hold. Goldust eventually goes low to turn the tide, while Sunny bounces her boobs on the ring apron. He heads up to finish, but Vega crotches him and goes for a superplex. Goldust fights him off, but now Crush trips him up, so Goldust hits the floor and slugs him. Goldust gets some momentum, but D’LO BROWN distracts him, and Crush decides just to hit the ring and cause the DQ at 8:24. Miguel Perez leaves the announce booth, and drops Vega with a missile dropkick to save the day. They couldn’t have sent THESE guys overseas with everyone else?!? -**

Lawler heads to the front row to interview KEN SHAMROCK, who he keeps calling the “Ultimate Fighting Champion” which is a half-truth; he’s a FORMER Superfight Champion, which he’d dropped to Dan Severn nearly a year earlier, a title that has since been morphed into the Heavyweight Championship currently held by Mark Coleman. Lawler wants Shamrock to give props to their friendship, and Shamrock just looks at him sideways and tells him “I don’t even know you!” Lawler insists Shamrock admit he taught him all the submission holds he used to win fights, and Shamrock calls him a straight up liar.

MIKEY WHIPWRECK vs. TAZ (with Bill Alfonso)

Heyman does the intros, reminding us that Taz “main events” Cyberslam against Sabu on April 13. Everyone needs to be taking notes on how to promote the hell out of your shows, because Heyman is a master. Lawler asks McMahon if any of this is embarrassing him; but Vince reminds him it was HIS stupid ass who invited them here in the first place. Taz runs through his suplex repertoire on poor Mikey, who’s on the wrong end of a Northern Lights, a rear salto suplex, and a double leg slam. For some reason, SABU decides to enter the fray by jumping off the bloody RAW set and diving onto security! He storms the ring, but never gets there before getting carted off, and Tazz finishes with a Tazplex and Tazmission at 3:32. Vince calls it a big win over “Mickey Whipwreck”.

THE HEADBANGERS (3-1-3) vs. THE LEGION OF DOOM

The fans lose their collective shit over LOD making a surprise appearance here, and despite stinking up WCW’s tag-team division most of last year, they’re still legends. Mosh starts doing his stupid dance thing, and he can’t even finish it before Animal’s had enough of that and starts beating him down. The fans start a “NITRO SUCKS” chant, a shockingly unified show of respect for LOD. Vince gloats that they’ll never censor fans here, and encourages them to say, do, and bring whatever they want to the arenas. What the hell happened to THAT guy? Animal violently powerbombs Mosh on the back of his head, but Thrasher saves, allowing Mosh a greater likelihood of suffering from CTE. “BISCHOFF SUCKS” scream the fans, while Hawk dropkicks Mosh for 2. A rear naked choke goes nowhere, so Hawk goes back to the classics, and hits a standing vertical suplex instead. Mosh fights back, which Hawk sells for about 3 tenths of a second. Thrasher comes in, and Hawk misses a corner dive, eating post and giving the Headbangers a little hope. Vince isn’t having this, and calls for a commercial!

During the break, the Headbangers remained in control, but we’re back just in time to see Hawk hit both guys with a clothesline and make the hot tag to Animal. Mosh eats a powerslam, and everyone hits the floor to square off. Hawk suddenly realizes the count is getting late, and dives in, but he’s not in time and we have a double countout at 7:49. Mosh is hit with the Doomsday Device anyway, making me wonder why the hell they couldn’t have made THAT the finish instead? It’s not like the Headbangers looked strong by not “losing”. *1/2

Obligatory “TELL ME A LIE” video is played. Vince encourages us to send cards, flowers, anything, as Shawn prepares to undergo … therapy for his lost smile. I’m not even joking, this is legitimately what’s happening right now. If this was part of their plan to Pansy Shawn Up, then this is amazing writing – but I can’t give them that much credit because they initially brought Shawn back as a babyface, legitimately trying to use this to get him even more over as a sympathetic character.

D-VON DUDLEY (with Sign Guy Dudley) vs. TOMMY DREAMER (with Beulah McGillicutty)

Lawler wants Heyman to kiss his royal feet for giving ECW more exposure to their impending PPV in one night than they’ve had in their lifetime. Dreamer and D-Von hit the floor, where Dreamer grabs a cane from a fan and slams it over D-Von’s back. Lawler: “That’s some wrestling for you.” Vince hopes things don’t get out of hand, and Heyman says he’d welcome that. Dreamer sets up the ring steps on the apron, and dropkicks them into a stumbling D-Von. Dreamer tosses the steps in the ring, and Vince questions what’s happening here. “Oh, they’re wrestling, Vince” explains Lawler helpfully. D-Von is handed a chair by Sign Guy, while Lawler loses it on Heyman now, saying he’s never been ashamed to be a wrestler, even having the mayor of Memphis offer to tag with him someday. However, when he looks at the crap in the ring like this, he’s ashamed to be associated with it. Heyman: “YOU’LL NEVER BE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS!” Lawler has been masterful at helping ECW’s cause, completely believably working everyone by using legitimate arguments against the company – and in turn only making the rebels want to jump on it harder still. Dreamer nails a spike piledriver and finishes with a DDT at 4:30. BUBBA RAY DUDLEY rushes in and helps his brother with a beautiful 3-D, while a drunken SANDMAN doesn’t even have time to put down his beer before showing up. The trouble is, he stops to finish his beer first, and the Dudleys beat his ass. That doesn’t last long, and a chair turns the tide, with Sandman teeing off on their skulls.

Back at the announce booth, Lawler orders Heyman to get the hell out, so Heyman tries to jump him, causing the entire ECW locker room to run to the bosses’ defense while a defiant Lawler stands on the announce table, wildly taking shots at anyone who dares to get too close. This is uncontrolled chaos at its finest, and the fans are going ballistic.

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After working out the mess during the break, Lawler says he didn’t instigate any of this, and promises if ECW ever shows their faces again, he’s going to shove his fist down Heyman’s throat. What’s so incredible about all of this, is that they legitimately could have run with a WWF / ECW war and made millions, but opted not to and STILL turned the company into a juggernaut. I want to call this a missed opportunity, but given how things are going to turn out, it’s more of an interesting “what if” than anything.

TODD PETTINGILL is now asked to interview KEN SHAMROCK, since Lawler’s got no credibility. He introduces his wife Tina, and father Bob, and … I don’t really care. Shamrock’s asked to comment on the Undertaker / Sid match at Mania, and he figures Undertaker’s got better balance, so he’s going to take it. He can’t pick a winner in the Austin / Bret submission match, so Pettingill asks the crowd instead. Austin is given a roar, while Bret’s name is booed loud enough to hear up in Canada. The times are a changin’ …

FAAROOQ (4-1-0) (with PG-13, Crush, D’Lo Brown, Savio Vega, and A Well Dressed Man) vs. THE UNDERTAKER (4-3-1)

Faarooq stops on his way to the ring and invites Shamrock to get in the ring and show us what he’s made of. Shamrock says he’d be willing to step in the ring if it was legit one-on-one, but Faarooq doesn’t know how to fight without his army of goons. Vince feels this is the PERFECT time to tell us all about La Femme Nikita! Of course, given the Undertaker needs 20 minutes to get to the ring, he’s probably not wrong.

Faarooq decides to use delay tactics and runs around the ring, but Taker wastes no time in taking out D’Lo and catches Faarooq. Back in, he goes Old School right away, before clotheslining Faarooq back to the floor. Faarooq uses the time to regroup for a minute, but Taker winds up right back in control. The announcers start to hype next week’s show from Germany, and Lawler asks if McMahon knows the language. Vince says thankfully more Europeans are bilingual, and Lawler disgusted answers “yeah, I’ve heard that about them.” Phenomenal.

During a quick break, the Nation interfered with vigor, and it seemed to be the only thing that kept Faarooq on even footing. He hits a chop block to take the dead man down, and gets 2. Taker comes back with a fameasser(!), and gets 2! A legdrop misses, and Faarooq attacks the legs. The fans chant “YOU STILL SUCK” – which isn’t fair. He NOW sucks, he USED to be great. We move to the chinlock, and Faarooq cheats liberally. Taker battles back, but a powerslam gets 2 for Faarooq. He heads up, but Taker catches him on the way down and uses Faarooq’s own momentum to slam him. He clears Nation debris from the apron, but D’Lo hangs around to pull down the rope and Taker hits the floor. Faarooq grabs the stairs, but Taker patiently waits on his side of the ring and kicks them back into Faarooq’s face. It doesn’t quite have the same impact after seeing Dreamer dropkick them HARD into D-Von earlier. Back in, Faarooq hits a surprise spike piledriver, but Taker sits right up, and that draws the Nation for the DQ at 11:32. Sigh. THE LEGION OF DOOM rush in to help clear the ring, which wakes the crowd up from their 15-minute nap – and that’s how we close out this fairly historic show. 1/2*

The WWF was completely outclassed on their own turf tonight. I doubt anyone would have faulted Vince for taking a long, hard look at his own roster and contemplate cutting his losses with the bulk of them and running with a handful of ECW guys instead. Heyman’s Kool Aid was being guzzled by the gallon, and these guys were ready to show the world how badly they wanted it, while the WWF dopes were left just showing the world how bad they really were.

As mentioned earlier, it’s a shame this never got a chance to bear fruit in the long run, because given the chance to really “compete” (as opposed to the modern brand extension), this could have really been something. The problem with cross contamination, of course, is that neither side wants to look bad and someone (usually the team with the most money) will wind up dominating the other in a one-sided war … so it’s probably best that they stayed away. The nWo worked because WCW was prepared to show ass. Vince has never been willing to do the same.

We will never see anything like this in a modern wrestling capacity. WWE’s publically traded status simply wouldn’t allow for intra-brand cross-over, and the potential of anyone going rogue on their flagship show. It’s actually a little mind-blowing Vince was ever open-minded enough to allow it to happen to himself, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and with WCW putting his head in a vice, Vince did what he needed to. Of course, the right move might have been to have a show in the can before sending your A-listers overseas; but in terms of a backup plan, this was pretty smokin’.

Back to business next week, with the real roster in Germany as opposed to the half-wits in New York tonight. We’ve got an incredible match on the horizon – possibly the best ever in the history of RAW, with the crowning of the first ever European Champion.

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