The SmarK Rant for WWF Thursday RAW Thursday!–02.13.97

(Ah, well, I guess I did do a review of this one previously.  I’m old, I lose track after a while, what can I say?) 

The Smark Retro RAW Rant for Thursday RAW Thursday…Live!

– Reasoning behind this show was the annual dog show, plus conspiracy-minded fans at the time thought that perhaps Vince was testing the waters for an unopposed timeslot move. God knows no one expected USA to finance a change to a live two-hour show every week. Originally this show was going to feature Sid winning the World title back from Shawn Michaels in a rematch from Royal Rumble, but, and you won’t BELIEVE this, Shawn didn’t want to job the belt! I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you are that a fine upstanding champion like Shawn would balk at doing the honors for someone else. In fact, not only wouldn’t he job to Sid, but he mysteriously developed a heretofore unheard of knee injury that might put him out of wrestling FOREVER. Gosh, that’s certainly serious, everyone said, better give him a 20 minute slot on the show to deliver a tearful goodbye and vacate the title. I’m all broken up just thinking about it right now. Let’s go to the matches before I lose it…

– By the way, this originally aired on FRIDAY up here in Canada, thus kind of defeating both the “Thursday” and “Live!” portions of the title. It was renamed “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” in case we got confused. This is from February 13 / 97 if you need a timeframe.

– Live from Lowell, Mass., hotbed of wrestling.

– Your hosts are Vince, JR & The King.

Intercontinental title: Hunter Hearst Helmsley v. Rocky Maivia

This was supposed to be a warmup match for Hunter as he prepped for Ahmed Johnson at Final Four, but Shawn’s “injury” messed up the whole card, and Aldo Montoya became Rocky Maivia for some reason. Curtis Hughes was fired for, apparently, being seen in an S&M bar shortly before this show, and thus isn’t at ringside. Some things you just DON’T need to know about people, I know. Hunter gets a hiptoss and does some bowing, thus using up ¼ of his normal moveset at that point. He works the match and they trade wristlocks. Crowd chants “Rocky Sucks”, thus reaffirming my faith in humanity at the time. Of course, I now own several Rock t-shirts, thus showing what I know about this stuff when it comes down to it. Hunter smacks him around on the mat, and stalls. Rocky comes back with a dropkick, and Hunter bails. He gets frustrated and pounds away back in the ring, then hits the chinlock, but Rock dumps him again. They brawl, and Rocky hits the post by mistake and injures his shoulder. Back in, Hunter works the injured shoulder with an armbar takedown and standing armbar. Good lord, is that PSYCHOLOGY in a RAW match? Another takedown gets two. Hunter chops away into a commercial break, and we return as he stomps away in the corner and gets a suplex. Formal kneedrop gets two. High knee gets two. Okay, that’s two of the four knee moves out of the way. Sleeper, reversed by Rocky, but Hunter uses the top turnbuckle to escape THAT. Rock makes the comeback with a backdrop and goes upstairs. Bodypress is rolled through by Hunter for two, and he USES THE KNEE by hitting a facebuster. Hey, he only needs a kneelift and I’ve got Bingo! Neckbreaker gets two. Piledriver gets two. Vince is astonished that Rock is able to kick out. I’m astonished that Hunter actually concentrated on something other than his hair long enough to do two non-knee moves in a row. Hunter slaps him around like a bitch on the top, and a superplex gets two. Vince thinks it’s all over for Rocky and is about ready to pack up the microphones and go home. Pedigree attempt, but Rocky is dead weight. Hunter decides to go for the pin, but OBVIOUSLY he didn’t have enough close and personal conversations with Diesel, because in a finish lifted directly from Survivor Series 95, Rocky small packages him and gets the fluke win at 15:30, thus beginning The Title Reign from Hell. Eric Bischoff thought this was such a swell idea that he lifted the entire concept two weeks later and made Prince Iaukea the TV champion. We know who was right in the end. Match was surprisingly solid thanks to Hunter of all people. ***1/4

– The Headbangers v. Aldo Montoya & Bob Holly.

Sunny does the ring introductions and appears to be stoned, which in retrospect is probably a pretty good bet. And, ah, good old Aldo. No matter how hard Heyman pushed him in ECW as Justin Credible, everyone always knew deep down it was Aldo Montoya, ECW World champion, and that’s why he never got over. Bob Holly is also a huge loser at this point, still maintaining his racecar driver gimmick while trying to get over as a serious competitor. That’s like Chef Boyardee going on Iron Chef and challenging Morimoto. Mosh pounds on Holly, but a rana and clothesline turn the tide. Dropkick and Holly works the arm. Aldo with the enzuigiri and the jobbers double-team Mosh. A cheapshot turns the tide, and the Bangers gets a double-team clothesline for two. Double suplex, and the Bangers work him over. Sideslam gets two. Thrasher suplexes Mosh onto Holly, but a moonsault misses. Vince makes an amazing character transformation, going from a somber eulogy of the career of Shawn Michaels right into a peppy shill session for USA’s “Forbidden TV” lineup on Saturdays. This is why you should probably never believe a word the guy says if you ever meet him in real life. Hot tag to the jellyfish, but he quickly falls victim to the Stage Dive for the pin at 5:43. That’s a shame. *1/2

– So now Shawnie comes out to deliver his famous “Losing My Smile” speech, making sure to add a pathetic little limp as he comes into the ring to REALLY sell that “knee injury”. My personal stance? If he was healthy enough to even walk to the ring (not to mention get dressed in a stylish suit), then he was healthy enough to take a powerbomb and job the damn title. Crowd chants “We want Sid” to really emphasize how much love they had for Shawn at this point. Basically, it was during the era that the writing was on the wall for Shawn, and he was EXTREMELY reluctant to do a heel turn and potentially lose heat when it was so much easier to take two months off and return as the conquering hero. And you thought Nash was a smart guy. Shawn talks the usual crap about giving everything at every show (disregarding all the house shows that he half-assed or skipped entirely, of course) and he gives up the title to Gorilla Monsoon. Shawn gives a tearful goodbye to the fans, and roughly half of them shower him with boos on the way out. See, some people knew the real score with Shawn at the time. Karma proved to be a bitch, however, as he had a close encounter with a casket in January of 1998 and was forced into his last job to Steve Austin on the way into retirement due to a REAL injury. That sound you hear in the background is the world’s tiniest violin playing for him. Hey, I loved Shawn’s work in the ring as much as anyone, but once he was told to drop the title late in 1996, he became a hugely unprofessional jerk on every level and flushed any respect I left for the guy.  (Well, then about a year after this was written, he went and got all that respect back again.) 

– The Undertaker v. Savio Vega.

Vega was fresh off his heel turn in MSG, which did wonders for his career and the image of Caribbean Legends the world over. Taker tosses him around and pounds away in the corner. Vega comes back and hammers away, but walks into a big boot and legdrop for two. Ropewalk and backdrop, but Savio goes low. Taker shrugs it off, but takes a pair of sidekicks and a leg lariat for two. Savio chokes away in the corner. Note to current Undertaker fans who e-mail me with the same stupid point all the time: Here, Undertaker is in the prime of his career, and he’s selling his ass off for Savio, who is roughly half his size AND a midcarder to boot. “But he’s always been booked as a main eventer and an unstoppable monster!” is NOT a legitimate reason for his current unprofessional behavior. (Speaking of people who raised their stock again…) JR notes that the Nation Of Domination will be touring the deep south on an upcoming WWF swing down there, and there’ll be some confrontations coming as a result. Quick, Gladys, there’s colored folk coming, BRING THE SHOTGUN! Savio keeps choking. Another sidekick (not Molly) gets two. Savio goes to the Vulcan nervepinch to kill some time. Speaking of Vulcans, Enterprise is a pretty cool show, but T’Pol could definitely stand to wear less clothes. (And then they tried that and it still got cancelled.)  Neckbreaker gets two, but Taker no-sells. Taker flubs a fameasser and comes back with the chokeslam for the pin at 8:50. Note to current bookers: The entire Nation was standing around at ringside, and NO ONE ran in to save, because Savio was clearly beat and there was no point doing a DQ finish when it was a foregone conclusion anyway. Nation commences the beatdown, Ahmed saves. Match was pretty slow. *

Steve Austin v. Sycho Sid.

Austin attacks and they slug it out, but Sid goes for the chokeslam. Austin goes low to break and hammers away, drawing a HUGE “Austin” chant. Sid hits the post, and back in Austin gets two. Abdominal stretch by Austin, and he uses the ropes for leverage. Jawbreaker gets two, and Austin goes to a facelock. Sid comes back and pounds away, but misses a legdrop. He keeps firing away with clotheslines, but Bret Hart runs in for the DQ at 3:45 before the match can go anywhere. ½* Sid & Bret end up brawling while Austin walks away unscathed.

– WWF tag title match: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog v. Faarooq & Crush.

Owen uses his speed on Crush and gets a clothesline, then a flying bodypress gets two. Crush dumps him on his face and press slams him to come back. Commercial, and we return with a Crush piledriver on Bulldog that gets two. Bulldog gets tossed and Faarooq tags in with a cheapshot. Crush gets two. The Nation works Bulldog over in the corner, but he fights back. Crush backbreaker gets two. Big boot gets two. Faarooq’s splash hits knee, but Bulldog can’t tag. Crush goes to a bodyscissors of all things, and works the back. Faarooq tries a bearhug, but Bulldog suplexes out…and still can’t tag. False tag to Owen follows, no go. Vince is aghast at Owen’s shenanigans while Bulldog gets the snot beat out of him in the other corner. Crush & Bulldog clothesline each other, finally leading to the hot tag to Owen. Leg lariat for Crush, one for Faarooq, and a missile dropkick gets two. It’s BONZO GONZO, but Owen gets dumped and lands on his knee, blowing it out for the countout loss at 10:24. Someone get this man a 20-minute interview segment so he can have a tearful fake retirement and surrender his title! Bulldog seems unimpressed, but helps Owen back to the dressing room…after Owen makes sure to grab the tag titles on the way back. Decent formula match. **1/4

– Bret Hart v. Vader.

The show is rapidly running out of time at this point. These days, they’d just go another 10 minutes until both guys felt like ending the match. Vader attacks to start and tosses Bret, allowing Austin to jump him on the outside as we take our last break. Back in the ring, Vader pounds away in the corner and gets a clothesline. Bret catches him with a powerslam (!) and slugs away. Legsweep and bodyslam (!!), and he tries the Sharpshooter, but Vader powers out. I can’t believe Bret just casually slammed Vader like that. Bret goes up for the 2nd rope elbow, and a rollup attempt leads to the Sharpshooter. Vader makes the ropes. Austin heads up to the balcony and talks some trash, allowing Vader to nail Bret from behind as Vince was probably frantically signaling for them to go home at this point, possibly by holding up his pen while little old ladies got autograph books ripped up by heels behind him. (Ho ho!  Timely 2001 “Secrets of Pro Wrestling” reference there!)  Vadersault misses, and Bret rolls up Vader for the pin at 5:20. Really rushed and I’m kinda sad we never got a full match on PPV between them. **

The Bottom Line:

Considering the crap that they were shoveling out on RAW around that time, this was a pretty awesome show for what it was trying to accomplish. Not sure why they didn’t jettison the Headbangers squash and give everyone else some of that time, but even if everything else was a little rushed, the whole effort was quite good for a last-minute booked show.

Recommended show if you can find a copy.  (You can easily find it on the WWE Network, just $9.99 a month!)