–A limousine pulls into the backstage area and Pamela Anderson walks out. She goes to her locker room as WWF wrestlers, led by Dink of all people, hoot and holler. What? You expected respectful manners out of a group of wrestlers?
As a side note, when you have been watching tons of television tapings from Liberty, New York in a high school gym for weeks on end it really makes you appreciate the bigger venue that this show is in and it makes everything seem more important.
–Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler are on the mic and they are live from Tampa, Florida. What is hilarious about the opening is that Vince tries to introduce the Spanish announce team and Hugo Savinovich just stays seated with his back to the camera.
–Opening Contest for the Intercontinental Championship: Jeff Jarrett (w/The Roadie) (3-1) defeats Razor Ramon (Champion) (2-1) with a small package to win the title at 18:04:
Jarrett’s build into an upper midcard talent culminates here as he gets his first title shot on a pay-per-view. Much of the bout is straight out of Memphis, with Jarrett slowing down the action after surviving spurts of Ramon’s high impact offense. Sometimes that can be death in front of a WWF crowd, but Ramon puts so much intensity into his comebacks that it works well. Ramon is actually counted out after the Roadie clips his knee at 11:46, but Jarrett goads Ramon into a restart. On the house show circuit they ran this same scenario, but Ramon ended up coming out on top. They flip the script here, though, with Jarrett managing to win his first title after savagely working the knee and taking advantage of when Ramon cannot hit the Razor’s Edge because of his damaged limb. The bout told a good story and it was good that they let Jarrett go over clean in the restart so that he started his title reign strongly. Rating: ***½
–Stephanie Wiand pitches the broadcast to Todd Pettengill who is with Pamela Anderson in her dressing room. She has lots of gifts from WWF superstars and Pettengill wants to know what she thinks of his gift, which Anderson is dismissive about. Jarrett stops by to do an interview with Wiand and screams about how great he is.
–The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) pins Irwin R. Schyster (w/Ted DiBiase) after a chokeslam at 12:19:
Despite having a pay-per-view match in the month of January neither man appeared in a match on WWF television in the weeks leading up to the show. The premise behind this storyline is that IRS was repossessing gifts from graves – and even the tombstone of a dead guy named “John Doe” – due to tax delinquencies and incurring the ire of the Undertaker for messing with the dead. IRS also had a few of his own druids who owed their allegiance to money rather than the Dead Man’s mystical charms. The slow, methodical styles of both men do not lend themselves to a good match, although the Undertaker is so over with the Tampa crowd they do not seem to mind and pop huge when he goes after the druids that have come out to aid IRS. Still, the match drags out far too long to simply put the Undertaker over and move him onto yet another feud with the Million Dollar Corporation. Rating: ¼*
–After the bout, the druids attack the Undertaker and King Kong Bundy hits the ring when the Undertaker drives them off. As they do a staredown, IRS attacks Paul Bearer and steals the urn, thereby allowing Bundy to Avalanche the Undertaker and do a beatdown.
–WWF Champion Diesel tells Todd Pettengill in a pre-recorded segment that he is not interested in talking. Bret Hart repeats his talking points about how no one knows if he can be pinned after a Jackknife.
–WWF Championship Match: Diesel (Champion) wrestles Bret Hart (1-0) to a double disqualification after Shawn Michaels, Jeff Jarrett, the Roadie, Bob Backlund, and Owen Hart interfere at 27:19:
Bret comes out to a bigger reaction than Diesel, which is warning sign #1 that Diesel’s title reign is not quite going as expected. The WWF even tries to give Diesel the approval of Lawrence Taylor, who is seated at ringside, in a desperate play for the approval of casual fans. The decision to book this match in the first place was a puzzling one. It makes sense that Bret would want a title shot after having lost the belt at Survivor Series and it makes sense that some WWF agents thought that Bret would give Diesel a good match at champion, arguably better than the one he was having with Bob Backlund on the house show circuit, matches that were going so badly that Jeff Jarrett was substituted in a week prior to this. However, booking Diesel against a popular star like Bret was bound to polarize the audience and it is made even worse here when he fails to notch a decisive victory over him, thereby being unable to make a sufficient claim that he is the top guy in the company. As for the match, it tells a nice story of the more experienced Bret unleashing a blitzkrieg of scientific offense until Diesel uses his raw power to regain his wits and punish the challenger. What drags it down, though, is the interference of outside parties – Shawn Michaels, who breaks up a Diesel pin attempt after a Jackknife, and Owen Hart, who breaks up Bret’s Sharpshooter on Diesel – that Earl Hebner tolerates with reckless abandon for the safety of either participant. Still, this is a nice lead-in to their later showdown at Survivor Series 1995, which borrows a lot of spots from this match, and Bret did a masterful job of going in and out of face and heel mode. Rating: ****
–After the match, Diesel eventually fights off his attackers and then helps Bret escape Bob Backlund’s crossface chicken wing. Both men embrace at the end to a loud ovation, although there are some noticeable boos as well.
–Todd Pettengill is still in Pamela Anderson’s dressing room and he hands her an evening gown as she changes behind a screen, acting like a nervous boy in middle school the entire time.
–Wiand interviews Bob Holly and the 1-2-3 Kid. Holly likens their appearance in the finals to the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl. Let us hope that they perform better than the Chargers in that Super Bowl, one of the worst ever.
–WWF Tag Team Championship Tournament Finals: Bob Holly & The 1-2-3 Kid (4-0) defeat Bam Bam Bigelow & Tatanka (w/Ted DiBiase) (2-1) when the Kid pins Bigelow after a failed Bigelow moonsault at 15:46:
Holly and the Kid were the “Cinderella” team of the tournament, filling in for the Smoking Gunns after Bart experienced a “rodeo accident,” and Bigelow and Tatanka spend much of the match reminding the audience of that fact, countering everything that Holly and the Kid attempt to do. At the time it seemed like there would be more mileage out of Bigelow and Tatanka going over because there were better face teams on the roster – the Smoking Gunns, the Allied Powers, Men on a Mission, and the Headshrinkers – than heel teams, but that does not happen here as Tatanka stupidly hits the ropes when Bigelow tries a moonsault on the Kid and Bigelow crashes to the canvas and is pinned. Some people have taken a liking to this match over the years, but it is really booked as a squash until the finish and fifteen minutes is way too long to tell a story like that. Oh, and the Kid and Holly get the nice reward of facing the Smoking Gunns tomorrow night on RAW now that they have won the titles. Rating: **
–And why did the heels not win? Well, for anyone watching at home at the time they quickly got their answer as a bloodied Bigelow confronts Lawrence Taylor at ringside, who appears to be laughing at his misfortune. When Taylor gets up to shake Bigelow’s hand and show that he means no ill will, Bigelow shoves him before returning backstage. The crowd chants “LT” and probably vindicated Vince’s decision to book an encounter between the two at WrestleMania.
–Pettengill recaps the 1994 Royal Rumble match where Diesel ran through a good chunk of the roster until Shawn Michaels betrayed him and helped to eliminate him. Michaels cuts a singles promo where he proclaims 1995 as “the year of the Heartbreak Kid.” Pettengill also recaps last year’s tie between Bret Hart and Lex Luger. Lex Luger says it is time for him to fulfill his destiny by winning the Rumble.
–McMahon issues a public apology to Lawrence Taylor for what happened with Bam Bam Bigelow moments ago.
–Royal Rumble: Shawn Michaels wins by eliminating the British Bulldog at 38:43:
The mid-1990s were rough years for the Royal Rumble and this was one of the worst since the company lacked enough credible singles competitors to toss into the bout so we end up with tons of tag teams to fill the field. Recognizing this, the company sped up the match, with wrestlers entering every sixty seconds instead of the usual two minutes. There are some puzzling booking decisions too. A prime example is when Bret Hart attacks Owen Hart when Owen’s number is called and Owen is dumped moments later. This also happens with Bob Backlund later. Both of those incidents make sense from a storyline perspective, but for a match that was low on star power was it really the best decision? Despite that there are some highlights. For example, this is the first Rumble that features the first two participants going all the way to the end, a booking decision made by Pat Patterson to ensure that Michaels did not generate sympathy heat like Bob Backlund did in his ironman run in 1993. Second, Mo breaks the Rumble record for fastest elimination when he is backdropped out in a mere two seconds by King Kong Bundy (and Bundy is later eliminated in turn by Mo’s partner Mabel to pay off their promo exchange on Superstars). Third, Dick Murdoch, at age forty-eight, does surprisingly well, finishing sixth. There was a rumor that Murdoch was going to be brought in as a part-time worker but that never happened and he passed away a year and a half after this appearance. And finally, we get one of the best Rumble finishes of all-time when Michaels narrowly avoids elimination by a fraction of a foot and tosses the Bulldog, who believes he has won and has his music playing, to win the bout and go to WrestleMania XI to face Diesel. Although this match is derided for the shortened time limit and fast eliminations, it actually made sense considering the limitations that the company was working with at the time and really, who wants a match to last over an hour when you have to deal with the likes of Aldo Montoya, Mantaur, the Blu Brothers, Well Dunn, and the Bushwhackers? The company did a good job clearing out the driftwood before number thirty as well as none of the tag wrestlers were left by that point. Overall, this was not the best of Rumbles by a long shot but I would put it before 1996 and 1999 when it comes to Rumbles held during the 1990s. Rating: **½
–After the match, Shawn poses as a disinterested Pamela Anderson stands in the ring. All of this was for naught anyway because Anderson ended up accompanying Diesel, not the Heartbreak Kid, to the ring at WrestleMania, but more on that later.
The Last Word: Although 1995 was not the best year in WWF history by a long shot, the major pay-per-views usually delivered thanks to the efforts of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. This show was no exception as Bret brought his usual fantastic effort against Diesel and Michaels stole the show in the Rumble. What was interesting about the Rumble match is that a lot of fans in attendance appeared to think Lex Luger was going to win. His elimination quieted the crowd and a few guys facing away from the hard camera appeared outraged that he did not go over. That said, this show gave us a preview of the big matches happening for WrestleMania with Michaels booked to face Diesel, Bam Bam Bigelow booked to face Lawrence Taylor, the Undertaker booked to face King Kong Bundy, and Bret booked to face Bob Backlund. Those matches are quite underwhelming compared to past Manias, but it was arguably the best the company had to work with inside of its existing storylines (and assuming you were not going to change anyone’s heel/face alignment).
Buyrate: 1.0 (+0.1 from previous year)
Show Evaluation: Thumbs Up
Next Up (on Friday): Monday Night RAW from January 23, 1995!