Wrestling Observer Flashback – 04.08.96
Whoa oh, whoa oh, it’s Wrestlemania.
– The biggest question coming out of Wrestlemania XII is the future of Bret Hart, as he’s expected to finish the tour of Germany and then go on a hiatus until the end of the summer. Current talk is a rematch with Shawn Michaels at Summerslam in a ladder match, or maybe he won’t even return at all.
– At this point Dave would like to take a moment to talk about wrestling retirements and how they’re generally bullshit meant as a sleazy way to sell PPV tickets. Or in the case of DDP’s current retirement, just a storyline and not even meant to sell tickets. (That’s WCW for you. Doing a sleazy fake retirement and not even popping a rating for it.)
– Bret Hart, however, appears to be pretty serious about this, wanting to get into acting as a full time career, although Dave would like to remind us that most guys who pursue that dream end up back in wrestling again right away, and in the case of Piper and Funk, usually end up retiring a bunch more times afterwards too.
– So then Dave goes into a crushingly ironic bit about how it blows his mind that Flair turned 47 a month ago and he’s World champion right now, and discusses how mind-boggling it is that Lou Thesz was 49 years old when he last held the NWA World title! “The idea that a world wide organization, the biggest of its kind at the time, would have a 49-year-old man as world champion, while certainly saying volumes about the respect Thesz had in those days, is staggering in a business of this type.” (Exactly! Staggering! Now if it was a bald dude in his 50s who was a star two decades earlier, then you’d be onto something. Or maybe the owner’s son-in-law.)
– Oh hold on, there’s more from Dave. “That strange historical fact of a man that age holding the championship is unlikely to be duplicated by Flair, because he’d have to be champion two years from now.” (CRAZY TALK! Now if we were talking about three years from now, or four years from now, sure, MAYBE. But 1998? NONSENSE.)
(Also I’d like to add it’s hilarious that Dave is trying to defend Flair still being champion by mocking the idea of WCW burying him, while also dismissing the very idea that Flair could still be World champion for years afterwards, which in fact is exactly what happened.)
– Dave notes that there’s a method to Bret’s madness here in leaving right after Wrestlemania, because Bret seems pretty sure that Shawn is going to self-destruct as champion and wants to give him plenty of opportunity to do so, after which he can make a triumphant return with no blood on his hands for the falling ratings and save the company again. And hey, if they offer him the WWF title again, all the better in his eyes! Plus Bret has told people point blank that he’ll NEVER, and the Rock means NEVER, go to WCW. Heck, even if he wanted to go to WCW, he’d have to deal with the political minefield of Flair and Hogan, and that’s also incredibly unlikely. (I feel like Dave is building to the big finish here with this one. Let’s see what’s next.)
– Certainly, Dave concludes, the fact that they did the “surprise” sudden death period while Bret had Shawn locked into the sharpshooter allows Bret “the perfect opportunity to do his believable interviews about being screwed by authority to hype a rematch”.
– See, because Bret takes all this so seriously, notes Dave, and he really believes that he’s the best there is, and it drives him crazy when people don’t share the same assessment of his place in wrestling. He really believes that the WWF title is more than a prop as part of matches where winners and losers are predetermined. (I’m just gonna leave this alone because I’m SURE there will be some discussion in the comments for this one. Just a hunch. Like the Flashback I did a few years back with the Sid-Arn incident where the comments section ended up being a pages-long argument from the British nerds about what constitutes a “long flight” from Cardiff. Thank god I didn’t include any details about the weather that day or you guys might still be stuck in that comments section.)
– Moving on, well not really but sort of, WRESTLEMANIA XII was 3/31 in Anaheim, featuring this week’s greatest match in history, which Dave sums up as an interesting 62 minutes. Quite frankly, he found it boring being there live because the crowd was dead outside of the hardcore nuts who travelled to see the show. Although the return of the Ultimate Warrior did blow the roof off the place for as long as it lasted, which wasn’t much. He sums it up as a “very well produced house show”, with fans leaving during the main event, although he wouldn’t call it “in droves” or anything.
– Dave does note that the lines at the snack bar were long at the start of the main event because everyone knew it was going long anyway. And the match was built around submission wrestling, which has never been taught to the WWF fanbase, so no one understood what was going on for the first half. But what they DID understand was that no falls were going to be happening, which made the fans boo every time they kicked out of something big instead of popping like a Japanese crowd might.
– Dave did watch it back on the TV version, and calls it an excellent match in that form. But nowhere near the hype was built up. It was a like a good second-tier Flair defense with a top challenger in the 80s when they’d do a 60:00 draw on a house show. (Effusive praise there. Hopefully Bret doesn’t get a swelled head but the Flair comparison would probably just piss him off.)
– The show drew a crowd of 15,855, which magically became 18,000 on TV, paying $737,000. It was the largest gross in history for a show “west of the Rockies”. Even so, there was hundreds of empty seats and people were handing out freebies in the parking lot as late as 30 minutes before the show.
A. The Bodydonnas won the WWF tag team titles in the tournament final over the Godwinns in 5:21, winning with a rollup on Phineas while he was staring at Sunny’s ass. (I mean, fair enough. We’re all just human.) *
B. The Huckster v. Nacho Man match died within seconds, as they literally got into the ring and expired immediately. And then Billionaire Ted saw a guy with “FTC” on his jacket and also had a heart attack and died.
1. Vader & Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith beat Jake Roberts & Ahmed Johnson & Yokozuna in 12:51 when Vader pinned Roberts with a Vader Bomb. The heels had to carry the match, and Jake is not nearly as over as he was when he originally came in. But there were pops for the Vader-Yoko stuff. **1/2
2. Roddy Piper and Goldust did the first half of their “backlot brawl”, which ran 4:23 after editing. It was about as good as would have been possible. Piper was hitting him with punches so stiff that he appeared to bust open his own hand, and it ended with Goldust fleeing in a car and Piper following in a White Ford Bronco. This all got more reaction from the live crowd than nearly anything on the show.
3. Steve Austin pinned Savio Vega in 10:08. (What? No he didn’t.) Vega accidentally knocked out the ref, and Dibiase gave Austin the Million Dollar Belt to knock out Vega, at which point he put him in the Million Dollar Dream and the ref called for the bell. (See, not a pinfall.) No heat and the finish died live. **
4. Ultimate Warrior pinned Hunter Hearst Helmsley in 1:38 with the gorilla press and splash. Warrior got the biggest reaction on the show, but then the crowd got quiet immediately after his entrance. DUD
Then in an interview segment, Wildman Marc Mero made his debut, with a woman apparently named “Sable” who is apparently Mero’s real life wife coming out with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who was promptly blamed by Hunter for his loss. She’ll probably end up managing Mero, although many people in WCW think it’s funny that WWF knocks them for copying stuff all the time but then they go and do the exact same angle that Johnny B. Badd was just involved in. (I 100% never made that connection before, actually.)
5. Undertaker pinned Diesel in 16:46 with the tombstone. Better than expected, but still slow-moving and with no heat. Diesel hit the jackknife and then took too long, which allowed Taker to sit up and chokeslam him, and then finish things off with the tombstone after some other stuff. **1/4
6. Goldust and Piper ended up in the ring after the “Bronco chase” and brawled there, with lots of low blows, ending with Piper getting kissed and making the comeback as a result, before ripping off Goldust’s suit and chasing him out of the ring to win. Again, really good for what it was.
7. Shawn Michaels won the WWF title from Bret Hart in 1:52 of overtime after no falls in the Iron Man match. Dave gets a funny burn, noting that Bret didn’t get any boos from the crowd because there were no Hispanics in the crowd. The announcing really wrecked what they were going for, because Lawler was completely the wrong guy for it. Michaels held on through the Sharpshooter as time expired, so Bret took his belt and left, but Gorilla Monsoon ordered the match restarted, drawing a tepid response from the crowd. And then Shawn hit two superkicks in overtime and won the belt, after which Bret walked out rather than passing the torch. ****1/4 (Of course later we found out that he left because Shawn told him to “get the fuck out of my ring”, so you can understand where Bret was coming from there.)
– In a minor understated debut in the Mexico section, it’s noted that Eddie Guerrero will be returning for a AAA show on 4/7, and his nephew Chavito is scheduled to work underneath on the card.
– To Japan, where the Tokyo Dome show on 4/29 has already done a monster advance, and although Dave doesn’t have numbers yet it’s already past 30,000 tickets sold. And they still have matches yet to be announced.
– Speaking of New Japan, they’re currently involved in a “feud” with Weekly Pro Wrestling, the biggest wrestling magazine in the country, and have barred them from getting any press credentials or pictures of any New Japan shows. The beef appears to be that New Japan wants editor Tarzan Yamamoto out of the picture, and they’re going to start pressuring their “sister” promotions like UWFI to also boycott the magazine until it gets done. The magazine people aren’t particularly concerned, since they went through the same thing with All Japan and eventually they came crawling back when they needed publicity.
– To FMW, where they’re setting up the Kawasaki Stadium main event by having the returning Hayabusa team with Masato Tanaka to face the Head Hunters, and you know it’s a SHOOT because Tanaka called his partner “Ezaki” in the promo. Anyway, the gimmick here is that Victor Quinones, manager of the Hunters, is putting up 10 million yen and wants FMW to match his money so they have a 20 million yen winner take all purse for a match with the babyfaces against his man Mr. Pogo and a mystery partner. But, sadly, FMW is unable to afford that kind of money because they’re a poor promotion, so SURPRISE SURPRISE, Atsushi Onita is once again reluctantly being pulled out of his retirement and will be auctioning off some of his old ring gear to help raise the money for the promotion. “Sounds like a telethon for sleaze”, sums up Dave. The match will of course be an EXPLODING BARBED WIRE DEATH MATCH.
– To ECW, where most of the good workers were unavailable for the 3/30 ECW Arena show, so it ended up as an interesting experiment. Joey Styles claimed on the TV show that they were “setting up their first PPV show”. (Well if you count it as REALLY long term booking, I guess that’s sort of true). Taz beat Buh Buh Ray Dudley and got cheered by the fans for it, which seems to be the sign that Buh Buh Ray Dudley’s gimmick has run its course. (Maybe they should find him a new brother.) Also on the show, Rob Van Dam lost in a TV title match to 2 Cold Scorpio, at 29:59 of a teased 30:00 draw, and seemed to get a good reaction from the crowd for his work. (Hopefully he’ll catch on with the ECW crowd at some point.) Also Raven was wearing a special boot because of working through gout at the last show, although Dave notes that although the gout is real, the boot is not.
– Brian Pillman was not at the show, for whatever that’s worth.
– A local group called Mid American Wrestling did their own version of Billionaire Ted on 3/29, featuring “The Original Huckster” (an AWA jobber from the 70s) taking on Nacho Randy. They went out and botched spots until manager The Hustler stopped the match because they were ruining his chance at being WCW booker, and then attacked special ref Zillionaire Ted with a pool cue. Word was that the wrestlers thought it was hilarious but the fans didn’t understand any of it. (Sounds like Being the Elite, AM I RIGHT?!?)
– UFC is now banned in Chicago as well, for those keeping track.
– To WCW, where Giant turned heel again a week after turning babyface, turning on Sting in a tag team match. (Well to be fair everyone does that.)
– The Road Warriors gave their notice on 3/29, but they were back by 4/1, with the issue reportedly being jealousy over what Diesel & Ramon were going to be paid. (Well apparently they didn’t stay made up for long because they were gone a week later and in the WWF by 1997)
– Uncensored ended up doing a number between 0.65 and 0.85, which is a good enough number that all is forgiven for Hogan meddling with the booking.
– Bobby Heenan pretending to quit on the 4/1 Nitro as an “April Fool’s joke” was referencing rumors that he was really wanting to quit and return to the WWF.
– Gene was hinting that Ted Dibiase might be coming in as an announcer when his contract expires, which is actually the truth for once, as the working idea to bring him in and call him “Zillionaire Ted”.
– In order for WCW to Halloween Havoc in Vegas at Caesar’s Palace on 10/27 and get the Slim Jims sponsorship deal for $300,000 on top of it, they had to promise both groups the first Hogan v. Savage match. (So there you go, that’s why it happened despite making not much sense at the time.)
– To the WWF, where Mankind debuted by beating Bob Holly “with the finishing move of sticking his fingers down Holly’s throat”. He got no reaction except for a half-dozen ECW fans in the front row chanting “he’s hardcore”. (Oh shit, they might as well shut down this loser gimmick right now and call it a day. Poor Mick, he just wasted his shot at the big time.)
– Lots of Bret Hart fans had anti-Michaels signs in the crowd, and WWF security were said to be confiscating them, sometimes violently.
– They did an injury angle where Yokozuna got carried out by a forklift, both to write him off TV for a bit and to send him to a weight loss program to hopefully save his life in the long run. (Sadly, as the documentary on the Network showed, that was not to be.)
– Later in the RAW tapings, Vader destroyed Fatu, and although he was supposed to win with a Vader Bomb, once he got up the ropes the crowd started chanting for a moonsault, so he did that instead. Not surprisingly, he got a total babyface reaction for it.
– And finally, after the cameras were off, Shawn started losing it on the fans who were booing him, yelling “Fuck you” and “Blow me” in response to their catcalls at him. Dave notes that he better realize quickly that part of being the top guy means you make enemies. (Oh, Shawn certainly didn’t lessons in THAT. He was already an expert.)