Como Estan Beeches!
I’ve wanted to re-watch the Shawn Michaels Vs Mankind Main Event from this show for a while, so I thought I might as well review the entire show for good measure. This was a WWF pay per view from Philly and would represent the first time that the WWF and ECW worked together, so it’s kind of a historically significant show with an absolute banger in the Main Event, which was more than most of the throwaway IYH shows could boast at least.
The event is emanating from Philly, PA on the 22nd of September 1996
Calling the action are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Senor Perfecto
The opening video is all about how horrible it would be if Mankind was the WWF Champion due to how nutty and dangerous he is. It ended up being okay when it happened in 98/99 actually.
Interestingly the pay per view theme music has survived intact here, but they usually dub it out on the WWE Network whenever El Pantera shows up in 1998 and started using it as his entrance theme.
Caribbean Strap Match
Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw w/ Uncle Zeb Vs Savio Vega
Zeb would be better known as Dutch Mantel. This was a feud that started a couple of months prior to this, and now we’re going to see them go at it in Savio’s specialty match. Yes, I am also shocked that JBL would have an issue with a minority wrestler. Utterly SHOCKED. This one is mostly known for the ECW crew being at ringside and Sandman spitting beer on the two guys, leading to the ECW contingent getting taken out of the building whilst JR talks about how they wrestle in a bingo hall.
Aside from that, it’s a pretty nondescript brawl and certainly not on par with Savio’s excellent strap match with Stone Cold Steve Austin earlier in 1996. The shots from the strap certainly sound stiff though, as Savio gets to really wear Bradshaw out with it at one stage, and Bradshaw doesn’t shy away from taking the shots head on.
I actually don’t mind the whole touch four corners thing provided the guys try and be a bit creative with it, such as when Sting heaved up Vader and then carried him around ringside touching the ring posts in a cool visual. Sadly they do the same spot everyone does in one of these, whereby Bradshaw touches the corners but Savio touches them as well and ends up getting flung into the fourth and final corner, which is pretty much the same finish from the Austin match, although they tried to spin that Austin did that deliberately after the fact.
WINNER: SAVIO VEGA
They were swinging the strap hard and heavy, but the crowd didn’t really respond and they didn’t do anything especially interesting or fun with the gimmick. It was fine for a TV match, but you expect a bit more on a pay per view
We get a video package to hype up the Jim Cornette Vs Jose Lothario match next. Cornette clearly enjoyed working this program. I do like how the package shows Cornette ragging on Jose for his age but then we get lots of clips of Lothario training hard and beating people up so that we as viewers can clearly see that the Heel is full of crap. These days they’d probably show clips of Lothario looking lame and old, totally missing the entire appeal of the match in the process. We’re supposed to know that Jose, even though he has some years on Cornette, is still more than capable of whipping him and that’s why we want to see the match, so that Cornette can get humiliated and we can all have a good laugh at the bad guy getting his just desserts.
Jim Cornette Vs Jose Lothario
We see footage of Faker Ramon and I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Diesel beating up Savio Vega backstage. They hadn’t officially debuted yet though. That would happen the next night and everyone would twig that it wasn’t really Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Cornette is kind enough to give Jose Lothario a chance to back out of the match, but Jose of course isn’t going to do that and he comes down to the ring dressed and ready for combat.
This is fun for what it is, as Jose slaps Cornette around to start and Cornette sells it all excellently, whilst Ross and Perfect make jokes at his expense due to his size. Cornette is deliberately wearing an outfit that shows off his size here, whilst Jose is wrestling with his shirt off and looking good for a dude his age. Cornette doesn’t get any offence in whatsoever and Jose finishes him with a big punch for three.
WINNER: JOSE LOTHARIO
I had fun with that, but your own mileage may vary
Marc Mero, Sable, Faarooq and Sunny are all jawing on the Superstar Line. They’ll meet on Raw tomorrow night to crown a new Intercontinental Champion due to Ahmed Johnson having to vacate it because of an injury.
Loose Cannon Brian Pillman joins us to insult the Philly crowd. Of course Darkside of the Ring showed that Pillman was dragging himself out of his literal sick bed to make these shots, which has lessened the enjoyment I can take from them. Owen Hart joins us, which leads to everyone having a good Bret Hart bashing session. Owen and Pillman both agree that Bret Hart isn’t here tonight because he’s scared of Stone Cold Steve Austin, which leads to Austin joining us to taunt Bret as well. Vince is adamant on commentary that Bret wasn’t scheduled tonight, so he’s not ducking out of anything. This all led to Bret eventually returning and facing Stone Cold at Survivor Series 96. This was a good promo segment, but it would have made more sense on a Raw than on a pay per view. It was nice to see Pillman and Austin together again though.
We get footage of Mark Henry going out to visit the city of Philly prior to the pay per view.
WWF Tag Team Titles
Champs: The Smoking Gunn’s w/ Sunny Vs Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart
Jim Cornette is unable to accompany Davey and Owen to the ring here due to still selling the beat down from Jose, so he ends up signing something with lawyer Clarence Mason, which led to Mason taking over as Davey and Owen’s manager. That would leave Vader as Cornette’s sole client but he’d be attacked by Undertaker and taken out as Vader’s manager too by the end of the year, allowing him to focus solely on his booking committee duties.
Billy’s whole thing here is that he’s more focused on being smitten with Sunny than the match, which is sowing dissension between him and Bart and would eventually lead to the team splitting up by Survivor Series. Sunny’s big thing at the time was revealing a big poster of herself before matches, but this time Davey and Owen have vandalised it, causing her to be all perturbed and that takes Billy even further off his game. Sunny is excellent at playing an entitled pouting brat when she doesn’t get her way.
Mason indeed comes down to join us just as the match starts to be the manager for Owen and Davey. Both of these teams are Heels, which gives the match at bit of an odd dynamic, although Davey and Owen do quite a few flashy moves to get some pops. Eventually they get a heat segment on Bart, which makes sense as he was the Gunn who was going to be turning Face when the team finally split. Bart actually sells really well, but the crowd doesn’t really care because he’s a Heel getting worked over by another set of Heels.
It’s similar when The Gunn’s cut off Davey and work him over for a bit. The wrestling is solid and Davey sells it all fine, but it’s still Heels working over another Heel. The fans do seem to hate The Gunn’s more than the challengers though, as the Champs get Davey with The Sidewinder but Owen sneaks in to break the resulting pin attempt up and gets a big pop for doing so. The Gunn’s still manage to work Davey over some more after that, with Billy showing some good cocky charisma.
Austin Gunn in particular looks so much like his dad from this era, even down to the floppy hair Billy was sporting here. From a purely wrestling perspective I’ve quite enjoyed this one actually. Solid meat and potatoes stuff with some good action. Billy continues to be distracted by Sunny and it allows Davey to Powerslam Bart OUTTA NOWHERE for the three count and a noticeable pop from the crowd.
WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: OWEN HART & DAVEY BOY SMITH
This was decent. The Heel/Heel dynamic didn’t really work for the crowd, but the wrestling on display was to a decent standard and Sunny did some good stuff outside the ring as the spoilt brat manager
Sunny fires The Gunn’s following that, which leaves Billy crestfallen. Sunny was great here and Billy was good as well actually.
Kevin Kelly is in the boiler room with Mankind and Paul Bearer. Bearer says Mankind will be the new WWF Champion tonight and it will all be the fault of the Creatures of the Night. Mankind says he has misery in store for Shawn Michaels later. This was the typical great crazed promo from Mick Foley.
Jerry “The King” Lawler Vs Mark Henry
Henry was fresh in from the Atlanta Olympics and the WWF had signed him to a huge deal, a deal they subsequently tried many times to get him to walk away from, but old Marky wasn’t going to walk away from all that cheddar, and rightfully so. If the WWF was stupid enough to sign a super green guy to that much money for that length of contract then the resulting fleecing was very much on their own head.
Lawler had humiliated Jake Roberts at SummerSlam and Henry had come to Roberts’ aid, setting up this match. Lawler makes sure to insult the crowd on the way to the ring, just to make sure they know who the Heel is supposed to be I guess. Henry had barely been training for that long here, so they work a super basic match. Lawler actually holds it together reasonably well, but Henry should have been working indie shows and learning how to actually wrestle at this stage, not working a pay per view event like this.
If Henry is required to do anything more basic than a shoulder tackle then it looks pretty sloppy, including an early Press Slam attempt. Indeed, a lot of the match is Lawler taking his own bumps for the most part in an effort to minimise what Henry has to do. Lawler uses the old Memphis hidden international object trick in order to get a little bit of offence in on Henry, but Henry no sells it and then throws some horrendous Great Khali styled overhand chops. Canadian Backbreaker follows and Lawler uncles from that to give Henry the win.
WINNER: MARK HENRY
Lawler structured that really well and got the absolute most out of Henry as he possibly could, but this was not a good match
The New Rockers and Hunter Hearst Helmsley try to attack Henry post-match, but he fends them off and gets a pop from the crowd in the process. Man, if Henry could have actually wrestled at this stage in his career then they probably would have had a big star on their hands as they booked him super strong here. If there’s one thing Vince McMahon knows how to do it’s book a dominant big bloke.
Next month it’s Undertaker Vs Mankind in a Buried Alive match. Vince stresses that the match will be non-sanctioned, which means if Mankind wins tonight then the Title won’t be on the line.
We get a video package to hype up Goldust Vs Undertaker. Goldust is so odd that he’s actually kind of managed to match Undertaker when it comes to Mind Games, but tonight is the end to their particular feud. Goldust has twice managed to escape getting destroyed thanks to Mankind, but tonight he’s got to do it without help.
Final Curtain Match
Goldust w/ Marlena Vs The Undertaker
You can only win this match by pin fall, which makes me think it will be fought under No DQ rules. Undertaker is more aggressive than usual here because he hates Goldust so much, which means the match isn’t the usual slow methodical match you’d expect from these two. Undertaker essentially becoming humanised in 1996 really led to his work picking up, as now he could show emotions and actually sell properly, opening him up to working more varied types of matches to the ones he was working as straight up un-dead zombie Taker.
Goldust sells well for all of Undertaker’s offence and Taker shows some really good intensity, making this a fun brawl for the most part. Marlena earns her stripes by passing Goldust a bag and then distracting Taker so that Goldust can throw something in Taker’s eyes to blind him. I think that may have been literal gold dust actually. Goldust works over Taker following that, with Taker selling his blindness well. It’s amazing how Undertaker just being able to sell somewhat like a regular wrestler makes his matches almost automatically better.
Goldust keeps the methodical theatrical stuff to a minimum for the most part as well, instead showing some good aggression of his own and working Taker over with a more vicious edge than usual. It’s almost like if you let Dustin Rhodes and Mark Calaway work a wrestling match instead of having to tone it way down due to their respective gimmicks then it can actually be fun to watch. Who knew?!
Taker starts fighting his way back into the match by going to town with punches on Goldust in the corner, with Goldust selling it big and the crowd loving it. Goldust tries coming off the second rope with something in reply, but Taker cuts that off and Choke Slam’s Goldust down to the mat before following up with a Tombstone Piledriver for the decisive win to finally get some revenge after months of Goldust messing with him.
WINNER: THE UNDERTAKER
This was a decent fight actually, with both men selling well and it having some good intensity
Kevin Kelly is with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. Shawn says he’s nervous because he’s wrestling “the wackiest cat” in the WWF, but he’s going to find a way to beat him somehow.
Champ: Shawn Michaels w/ Jose Lothario Vs Mankind w/ Paul Bearer
Mankind had defeated Undertaker at SummerSlam, so it made sense for him to get a Title shot from that. Mankind actually enters in a casket to further antagonise Undertaker, and watching this you could conceivably believe that Mankind would win and then lose the non-Title match in October to set the Title match up in November. It’s always good to keep people guessing so long as it’s logical, and Mankind had been booked pretty strong up to this point so him winning the WWF Title wasn’t massively out of the question.
This match is just fantastic right from the opening bell, as Mankind is in great shape and can keep up to pace with Shawn, whilst Shawn is able to show a meaner streak due to Mankind being such a psycho that the situation calls for him to be more aggressive in order to have a chance against him. What follows is a great mixture of action and character work, with Mankind taking plenty of customary bumps whilst Shawn gets to show off a different side of his usual offence. They even spoof the Vader/Shawn match from the prior month, with Mankind pretending to botch something and Shawn clobbering him with punches in reply.
Mankind even covers up like an MMA fighter at one stage when Shawn tries to throw punches from the mount, which isn’t something you saw a lot of in the WWF in 1996. It’s a match that feels very different from the norm when it comes to this period in WWF history, and the crowd responds to it in kind. You can tell that they feel they are getting the sort of match they wouldn’t usually get and it gives the match a really interesting atmosphere as a result. Mankind and Shawn are both excellent at selling and bumping too, so all of the offence from both men looks suitably brutal and it gives the match a “grittier” feel as a result.
One of the more gruesome moments comes when Shawn works over Mankind’s leg for a bit, but Mankind actually shrugs it off and even starts jabbing it with something, either to make a point or to numb it up so he can work through the pain. Either way it was vivid look into the Mankind character’s psyche and another good example of why the character got over to begin with. Matching Shawn up with such a nutter also gives him another chance to show that’s more than just a pretty face and that he’s capable of holding his own against even the sickest of opponents, which only makes him look more versatile and competent as a Champion as a result.
There are so many great moments in this match, such as Mankind getting his neck caught in the ropes but still having the wherewithal to catch Shawn in the Mandible Claw, or Shawn countering a Mankind punch with a chair before hitting him in the Claw hand with said chair and then just outright stomping on the hand back inside to take the move away. It’s a side of Shawn that hadn’t really been seen since his big Face turn in 1995 and it adds another element to his character by showing that he’s prepared to do the nitty gritty nasty stuff like this in order to keep his belt. The general storytelling in this match is just fabulous and all three men are great, with Bearer playing his role perfectly as the manager outside the ring.
The commentary team do a great job as well, with Vince getting the storytelling elements over, Ross getting the wrestling aspect of it over and Perfect mostly just getting the odd comment here and there about how tough both guys are, which helps get both of them across as stars. Everyone is just hitting it for six here both in the ring and outside of it and its cracking stuff. Mankind even goes back to his amateur days by busting out an amateur styled pinning hold at one stage, as they are just throwing all kind of wacky little extras into this for those that are paying attention.
The big downside of course is the finish, as we don’t get a clean pin or submission ending, which is a crying shame because everything else about the match is superb. They actually have a great way of ending it without making Mankind look weak as Shawn uses a chair as a boost Sabu-Style to kick another chair into Mankind’s face whilst the ref is distracted, which would be a fine way for Mankind to get pinned as it gives him an out due to Shawn kicking the chair in his face. I could have even lived with Mankind kicking out at 3.1 if needs be. Sadly though they instead send Vader into the ring for a lame DQ finish.
WINNER BY DQ AND STILL CHAMPION: SHAWN MICHAELS
Give it a proper finish and it’s the Full Monty for me, as aside from that I can’t think of a single way you could have improved it. Just a great mixture of wrestling action, storytelling and character work from both men. It deserves the reputation it has for being a classic because it truly is
Sid, Vader, Undertaker and Mankind are all involved in the closing post-match angle, with everyone eventually brawling to the back, leaving Shawn to recover in the ring and celebrate with the fans after improbably holding onto his belt.
We get a video package showing highlights of the show to close us out.
Pretty much a one match show really, but that match is amazing so I’m kind of in a quandary as to whether I can recommend it or not. If you generally like this era of the WWF then the show is only 1 hour 55 minutes long and it should give you the New Generation nostalgia you crave. For everyone else, I suggest just skipping to the Main Event, which is thankfully pretty easy on something like WWE Network.
Mildly recommended show