Mabel vs. Savio Vega ending a PPV. This was so bad it feels like a hard-boiled noir detective should be doing narration over it.
KING OF THE RING QUALIFYING MATCHES (1995):
* Back for more King of the Ring Qualifiers- technically still part of my “Dream Matches” column, haha. And with a special edition of everyone’s favorite wrestling standby: FANTASY REBOOKING!!
This year’s King of the Ring was very well-represented on YouTube. This is the most infamously bad tournament in history, which is hilarious, as “on paper” it looks to be the biggest one ever- while most tourneys are foregone conclusions or are full of mid-level guys, this one had Lex, Owen, Razor, Shawn and even the UNDERTAKER wrestling, with a ton of matches having equal stars. So the disaster that was the ’95 KOTR is a true epic. Come watch as the long national nightmare of Savio Vega in a prominent role begins, plus how NOT to create a new Monster Heel.
Previous tournaments re-legitimized ex-champion Bret Hart and gave credibility to Owen for his feud with Bret. A third tournament could either legitimize another would-be champion (Shawn Michaels, in this case), or set up a challenger for Diesel, who’s coming out of a feud with Psycho Sid. It looks like Bob Holly beating Mantaur is not on YouTube, but I found the rest.
MABEL (w/ Mo) vs. ADAM BOMB:
(WWF In Your House, May 14th)
* This was a strange decision- putting the first KOTR Qualifier on the first-ever In Your House PPV as a throwaway bout. Mabel had just recently turned heel, while Bomb was spinning his wheels as a directionless babyface after splitting with Harvey Whippleman last year. Bomb’s in the red & yellow gear as usual (he only briefly wore other colors), while Mabel’s in black & purple.
Mo grabs Bomb’s shoulder before the bell and gets wiped out, so Mabel attacks from behind to start us off. He squishes Bomb in the corner, but misses a bigger avalanche in the other, and Bomb takes charge- Mabel’s shoulderblocked to the floor, then Bomb hits a freaking PESCADO, bringing Mabel in for his Slingshot Clothesline. Mabel’s a bit too far away so it looks kinda like ass, but okay, Bomb can move. That only gets one, so Bomb goes up for a Flying Clothesline- his kinda-finisher at the time- and AGAIN gets only one! Mabel reverses a whip to the corner and hits possibly his worst Wheel Kick ever, sorta just flopping onto his ass and sticking his leg out. Bomb ducks under a clothesline and goes for a cross-body, but just gets caught and splatted with a front powerslam at (1:53), and just like that, Mabel wins.
This decision was staggering then and staggering now- Bomb was a huge, muscular dude, but Mabel pretty well finished him off in a couple of minutes. To be fair, it’s not quite the “squash” it’s been described as- more of a quick, heel version of the “Randy Savage Template”, as Bomb takes all the offense at first, and Mabel hits a two-move comeback for the win. I’m a filthy Mabel Apologist sometimes, but he looked bad here, being out of place for a couple of moves. Bomb would be gone by the end of the year- apparently he was unhappy around this time (WONDER WHY?), and the WWF failed to sway him.
Rating: 3/4* (Bomb hit some okay stuff but this was too short to be any good)
Jarrett’s referee-striped gear.
“DOUBLE J” JEFF JARRETT (w/ The Roadie) vs. THE UNDERTAKER (w/ Paul Bearer):
(WWF RAW, May 29th)
* Another unusually competitive KOTR match, as either guy would have fit in just fine in the actual tournament, being major pushed acts at the time. Especially the invincible Undertaker, in the tourney for the first time. Jarrett does a good job of looking unnerved, and I note that Taker appearances were probably pretty rare on TV by this point, judging by the 2:30 they spend just on his entrance. This is into the PurpleTaker era, while Jarrett’s in referee-striped gear, and the reigning IC Champion.
Jarrett bails to start, but just gets launched around the ring and chopped. Choking, Ropewalk elbow and a headbutt do damage, but Roadie grabs Taker’s leg to stop the onslaught. Jarrett clotheslines him to the floor, but he lands on his feed and immediately turns and chokes the Roadie with great timing and agility. Jarrett hits a cheapshot to finally get some consistent offense, and Roadie adds some of his own, Jarrett hitting dropkicks in the ring (THAT’S his big heel offense?). 2nd-rope clothesline gets two. Jarrett starts arbitrarily working the knee, doing Flair Lite stuff and hitting his Figure-Four finisher, assisted by the Roadie repeatedly until Bearer actually takes off his suit jacket and charges at him. Jarrett stops a comeback with a neckbreaker & 2nd-rope fistdrop, but Taker sits up during the strut, hitting his leaping clothesline! Jarrett tries the second rope AGAIN, but now eats a chokeslam, then another, and Taker finishes clean as a sheet with the Tombstone at (8:56).
Wow, I was not expecting such a flat-out, clean win- I was thinking a count-out or DQ to protect the IC champ but nope- Taker just made his usual comeback after the heels’ cheating and destroyed him. The match was okay- Jarrett is still boring to me- all “just the fundamentals” and defaults to second-rope moves for his only major offense, then randomly goes for his Flair Lite stuff. But I’m always impressed by Taker’s timing, though- every little turn of the head or sit-up is just DEAD-ON (hee), hitting at just the right moment to bring you back from seeing the heel hit him with something. Like Jarrett does his strut to boos and Taker sits up right in the middle of it to get the biggest possible reaction. Taker seemed like a favorite to win the tournament, but shockingly jobbed to an urn shot from Mabel, putting over the big man in the first round.
Rating: ** (okay enough match, but Jarrett offense over 9 minutes gets pretty dull. Good Taker comebacks, though)
LEX LUGER (w/ Scotty Riggs) vs. YOKOZUNA (w/ Mr. Fuji & Jim Cornette):
(WWF RAW, June 12th)
* Okay, this is their 900th contest, but it kinda fits the concept of KOTR since it’s a TV match but something new is at stake. Both were donezo as credible main eventers by this point, but Yoko was one of the Tag Champions with Owen. There’s a flagbearer with Lex who’s apparently Scotty Riggs (according to a YouTube comment).
Big flag wave-off to start before they brawl- Yoko keeps missing stuff and Lex works his arm and knocks him out of the ring with a single punch. Yoko takes more than a minute to start wrestling again, dropping Lex out of corner punches but missing the legdrop. Fuji distracts Lex so Yoko can get back on offense, and when Lex fights back from the nervehold after a commercial break, Yoko hits him with a clothesline. A sweaty Yoko misses the Ass Avalanche in the corner, so Lex fires away with big shots until Yoko finally falls to a 2nd-rope clothesline. The fans dig that, but Fuji charges Riggs on the outside and chops him down, stealing the American flag, so Lex rushes to the floor like an absolute moron and takes out Cornette, only for Yokozuna to flatten him and hit the Legdrop on the floor. Yoko rolls back into the ring and LEX LUGER MOTHERFUCKING CHOKES AGAIN, getting Counted Out at (7:57)! Oh that is just glorious.
Incredibly by-the-numbers match, as they did what they always did, doing so many transitions by Yoko missing moves that I was usually 2 moves ahead of the whole bout. Yoko would lose by count-out to Savio Vega at the PPV, clearly falling down the card by this point. So yes, Lex sucks more than Savio in 1995. No wonder Lex quit.
Rating: *3/4 (the same basic thing they always did, with a LOT of resting and time-killing by Yokozuna)
This match is nowhere near as one-sided as you might expect.
RAZOR RAMON vs. JACOB BLU (w/ Eli Blu & Uncle Zebekiah):
(WWF Superstars, May 20th)
* This is easily the ’95 Qualifier with the most foregone conclusion- top-tier Razor against one half of the BLU TWINS? Come on. This is around when they were doing a weak Razor/Savio vs. Blus feud to kill time. Razor’s in all-yellow, while Jacob’s in the weird brown sleeveless shirt & red trunks combo the Blus had. The Blus are of course the Harris Twins, noted racist-symbol-loving wastes of skin who had bite after bite after bite at that apple in 3-4 major companies for the sole reason that they were identical twins who were tall, which made them an ideal tag team. They failed at every single shot they ever had (because of all the sucking), arguably one of the most piece of shit acts in wrestling history, just by virtue of all the chances they squandered.
We’re JIP with Jacob hammering Razor, hitting a good running big boot. He does the “strike + yell”, but Razor comes back with his punch flurry and a clothesline- Jacob bails, but comes back and shoves Razor over the top. Razor gets shoved down again, but comes back with his arm-wringer move, but Jacob hits a short-arm clothesline. Back from break and Razor throws punches, but telegraphs a backdrop and gets hammered. He gets hung in the ropes as the fans start getting into a comeback- he hits a cross-body of all things but falls to a clothesline immediately. He kicks out at one, but gets dumped, then gets an inside cradle for two, but Jacob hammers away again- we’ve officially hit the part where it’s too long and Jacob is out of moves. Long chinlock bit sees two Razor comebacks, and he finally gets his foot up in the corner and hits a bulldog off the second rope for two. Zebekiah distracts the ref so Eli can nail Razor from the apron, which sends Savio Vega out to even the odds- he wipes out Zebekiah with a big boot and punches Eli, and Razor hits modern RAW’s most devastating finisher- the Distraction Rollup- for the win at (7:47 shown).
Wow, I was NOT expecting Razor to play Ricky Steamboat all match long, but there he was, doing quick one-move comebacks to make you think he’s still in it, but giving the heel all kinds of offense. Hall was always very good about being generous to lower-end guys in his matches, and giving JACOB BLU so much was a heck of a thing. It ended up being pretty good until they went just a few minutes too long and Jacob was left doing that “stand there and kick the guy between yelling” stuff and snapmaring into a chinlock for a while. Giving Razor such a weak finish was bizarre, though. I’m guessing Jacob was too big for the Razor’s Edge? Razor was all set to do this third straight “lose to the eventual winner of the KOTR”, again jobbing in the Main Event, but disaster would strike, as some gigantic idiot had him doing friggin’ LADDER MATCHES with Jeff Jarrett around the horn right before he was to wrestle three matches on Pay-Per-View, and wouldn’t ya know it- his ribs got broken and a ringer had to come in.
Rating: *1/4 (actually pretty good for a bit. Too long, though)
I mean, to be fair, who sees a guy like this and goes “this dude is best off as a fun-loving babyface”? But yeah, we had a long go of figuring this out.
KAMA (w/ Ted DiBiase) vs. DUKE “THE DUMPSTER” DROESE:
* This is more like the KOTR Qualifiers I’m used to- a pushed guy versus a JTTS in a foregone conclusion. I’ve heard tell that Droese was hired because Vince saw he was #500 in the PWI 500, and decided to hire him on and push him just to prove that he could make a star of ANYBODY. And of course he was given a garbageman gimmick, despite being a giant-sized dude. Kama was Charles Wright’s second go-around with the company as they desperately tried to give him something to do. Now, he’s a “Supreme Fighting Machine” who knows every martial art, which he showcases by being a plodding powerhouse who occasionally puts up his dukes.
They do the basics to start, Duke ducking a big boot and hitting a clothesline, but he runs into a side kick, so Kama boots at him, only to Vader Bomb onto Duke’s knees. Duke fights his way back up, booting Kama all over the ring. Snap suplex and a big powerslam have Kama in trouble, and Duke hits a back body drop but misses an elbow. And that’s all, folks- Kama whips him off the ropes and hits a slow-moving Spinebuster for the win (2:58), leaving even Vince stunned (for once NOT guessing that a bullshit move is gonna end it)! Wow, that was quick.
Same kinda thing as Mabel/Bomb, as the face controls everything (possibly to salve the burn of jobbing so quickly), but indeed, we’re done in 3 minutes to a borderline transition move. Kama, still in the midst of a big push, would get fuck finished out of the KOTR, shockingly bringing Shawn Michaels with him via Time Over. This keeps Kama’s credibility, at the cost of robbing the fans of a fun show… wait, that’s not an even trade.
Rating: 1/2* (another hyper-abridged match)
SHAWN MICHAELS vs. KING KONG BUNDY (w/ Ted DiBiase):
* Fresh off a face turn right after WrestleMania, Shawn seemed like an ideal guy to win the whole thing. Bundy was definitely no pushover as a Qualifying opponent, either. The company seemed high on him the previous year, but his dramatic laziness led to him tumbling down the card and being used to put guys over eventually. Shawn’s in red here, while Bundy’s in the usual black singlet.
Bundy attempts an avalanche before the bell, but Shawn not only dodges him, but beats on him and knees him to the floor, immediately doing his striptease without his theme music ever stopping. Jesus, is it any wonder why he was a bigger star than Nash by the end of the year? Then Shawn scares away DiBiase and hits a frickin’ plancha as the bell rings. He continues to make Bundy look stupid, even out-brawling him, then bugs DiBiase again and hits a flying axehandle to Bundy in the ring. But then he takes the wicked “Shawn Bump” over the ropes (it’s cool to go back and see how he deftly moves his hands to a different point on the ropes like 4-5 times during the course of his flip- it’s VERY choreographed and specific while only looking chaotic and accidental). Bundy works the back and hits his plodding stuff- Shawn tries to sunset flip out of a bearhug but gets sat on, then chinlocked. But suddenly we’re back from break with Shawn fighting free, hitting forearms off the second and top ropes, then finishing with the Superkick at (6:01 shown), just like that!
A very, very quick way to deal with a guy who fought Undertaker at WrestleMania. And then Diesel & Bam Bam Bigelow, both DiBiase enemies, come down the aisle and we get the official handshake & make-up of Shawn & Diesel, leading us to the rest of the year’s stories at the top of the card. Shawn refusing the handshake and insisting on their old “jumping high-five”, complete with Nash’s “aww GEEZ” smirk, then a hug with Shawn’s leg lifted like a 1950s movie’s romantic finale, is pretty great. Very abridged match, though- Shawn doing cool shit, Bundy beating him down, then two restholds and a Shawn comeback. Shawn, the natural pick to go all the way, ends up getting screwed by a 15-minute draw with Kama, pissing the fans off in the very first round and giving Mabel a bye right to the finals.
Rating: ** (some cool Shawn stuff, but a very short, basic match)
THE ROADIE (w/ Jeff Jarrett) vs. DOINK THE CLOWN (w/ Dink):
* So up until this point, the Roadie had just been Jarrett’s flunky outside the ring, interfering in his matches. He was NOT a featured guy in matches, and his inclusion here seemed truly bizarre. He’s in a white shirt and black track pants, and is billed here at 6’4″, though Wiki says 6’1″- he looks deceptively tall standing next to guys like Taker & Billy Gunn, so I dunno. As Doink was way down the card at this point, this is easily the lowest-tier match of the Qualifying round. In any other tournament, both of these guys would have been used to put others over. But they were planning something here. Notably, Jarrett has already lost to the Undertaker and is huffy about it. I have no idea who Doink was at this point- I don’t keep up on my Doink history. Let’s just say it’s Ray Apollo.
Doink schools Roadie with some amateur-style stuff and the Mr. Perfect necksnap, leaving him frustrated and going to Jarrett- a nice show of his rookie status. Doink keeps doing basic stuff like back body drops and headlocks, but puts his head down, only for Roadie to fuck up the reversal spot and stumble to a kick instead. Doink backdrops him out of a headlock and adds a kneelift, but when he goes up, Jarrett chases after Dink, leading to Doink dropping down to protect his buddy. And naturally the Roadie hits a knee and the Distraction Roll-Up MDK at (5:29).
Man, he lost to THE ROADIE? You could definitely see the writing on the wall by this point- Doink was gone by September. Jarrett would be a bit bitter over his manager getting into the tournament while he did not- this would lead to their inevitable break-up (before they both quit). The Roadie would actually defeat Bob Holly at the PPV (again, this anticipates an eventual face-turn against Jarrett, so it makes sense to build him up a tad), then loses to new entrant Savio Vega (was supposed to be Razor, who had feuded with Jarrett earlier in the year).
Rating: 1/4* (horrible match, full of weak stuff from Doink and fuck-ups by Roadie)
BOB “SPARK PLUG” HOLLY vs. MANTAUR (w/ Jim Cornette):
(WWF RAW, May 15th)
* This one looks like an obvious foregone conclusion- Mantaur weighed 300+ lbs and was squashing jobbers on all the weekly shows, while Bob was a hardcore JTTS even by this point. Mantaur starts off doing some asinine “rowing the boat” motion for some reason. Oh, that’s him mimicking a bull gearing up for a charge- you can see him “pushing the dirt” with his leg. He’s in the usual brown onesie while Bob’s in red.
Mantaur easily shoves Holly around, doing his taunt- Bob gets a couple dropkicks but is slammed as Mantaur keeps the advantage. Running front powerslam gets two. Mantaur wears him down with plodding stuff, taking his sweet time, and gets a side slam and delayed suplex for two. Mantaur is REALLY BAD at fat guy spots, I gotta say- he whips Bob into the corner, then catches him on the rebound… then just kinda runs him into it again, but weakly. Like, you gotta look like you’re CRUSHING the other dude, you know? He misses a charge and gets rolled up for two, and Bob sticks and moves, hitting a missile dropkick for two and goes up again… Flying Bodypress wins at (5:30)! Bob beats Mantaur!
This had to be a surprise given how Mantaur had been on TV beforehand, but it was something they were doing back then- build a guy up on TV to pretend he’s a featured guy, then job him to every single person on the card and make the fans think they’re watching legit matches instead of squashes. This one was all Mantaur doing slow, bad “Fat Guy Spots” until Bob hits the “Randy Savage Comeback”, but at least he looked good doing his flying moves and dropkicks and such. Bob would be the token job guy to the Roadie, allowing him to hit the second round and give Savio Vega another “easy” win.
Rating: * (nothing much to it- plodding stuff until Bob’s comeback win)
“THE KING OF HARTS” OWEN HART (w/ Mr. Fuji & Jim Cornette) vs. “THE BRITISH BULLDOG” DAVEY-BOY SMITH:
* Owen & Davey, two more high-end wrestlers, are paired off. Owen is the first guy to win it all and then try again the next year. Bulldog is a member of the “Allied Powers” at this point, in the last months of his long hair, and U.S. stripes on his trunks. These two have some of the most astonishing chemistry in the business, hitting *****-ish bouts just through sheer chain-wrestling, so this might be pretty great.
Bulldog uses a standing wristlock, but Owen one-ups him, only to end up press-slammed for two. Davey sticks on the arm for a while, Owen maintaining comebacks via cheating, headbutts, etc., but gets monkey-flipped into another armhold. Owen fights out again, but goes right into the post, Davey hitting the delayed vertical suplex for two- Cornette’s selling on the floor is hilarious. Owen manages to knee Bulldog in the gut out of a chinlock, then works the upper body- back from break and he absolutely wraps his leg around Davey’s head with that roundhouse kick of his. Damn that looked awesome. That gets two and Owen goes to a sleeper as Ross & Monsoon talk about the time limit, giving away the ending with all these wear-down holds.
Davey backdrop suplexes him and manages a sunset flip for two, but Owen hits his enzuigiri for the same. Dropkick is turned into a slingshot into the corner and some turnbuckle shots wipe him out- Perfect Plex (??) gets two. Bulldog hits a surfboard but almost gets counted down (VERY quickly, I might add), but catches Owen in the corner and hits the Running Powerslam! 1…2… foot in the ropes! Davey, getting desperate, hits an inside cradle and crucifix for two-counts, but Owen catches him with another cradle for two- Bulldog reversing back for two. And as time counts down, Bulldog reverses a piledriver for two, but Owen backslides him… right as time expires at (15:00). And because it’s different this year, both are eliminated! Lex/Yoko would end up being the alternate.
This was very slow to start, but exceptionally well-wrestled, as these two are ridiculously smooth in the ring, but the final few minutes picked up that pace and made it look like two guys actually trying to win, which was a good way to end a Time Over match. The Savage/Steamboat pin-trading at the end was great stuff. But the fans just weren’t into it- they saw all the holds and it was god knows when in the taping cycle so they just sat there with canned heat.
Rating: *** (a good way to push a very “filler” match up to a good one with a lot of effort in the end)
So anyways, the tournament was a disaster: Razor went out, Savio got swapped in (after beating IRS on the pre-show), and Mabel beat Undertaker by cheating, then got a bye to the finales, beating Savio Vega after he’d already fought three times. The fans, disgusted by that garbage, chanted “ECW! ECW!” and embarrassed Vince, and the show is considered one of the all-time worst. Me, I was just happy as hell watching scramblevision and hearing “King Mabel! King Mabel!” from Vince as one of my favorite guys got crowned. EVERYONE HAS WEIRD FAVORITES SOMETIMES, OKAY!?!?
FANTASY BOOKING THE KOTR:
* I don’t normally do “Fantasy Booking”, but it’s an interesting question: Could this tournament have been saved? Presumably with the benefit of hindsight it’s stupid to have Razor Ramon fighting in Ladder Matches shortly before such an important PPV for him- if you’re gonna make a new star, having Mabel act as a Monster Heel and beat a dude with Razor’s credibility would have some impact, especially after beating the Undertaker. Assuming you can’t use Razor, you’d have to reshuffle the card around. Maybe have Bam Bam as the sacrifice? Or just do what the fans want and make Shawn Michaels king- have Mabel & Taker eliminate each other or something. Heat up Mabel in some injury angle or another- possibly squashing Shawn after he wins the crown, so Diesel’s all pissed off and wants revenge.
Because this tournament was just a never-ending bunch of kicks to the dick for the fans- SAVIO VEGA in four matches on PPV, Razor being out, Taker getting screwed, Shawn getting taken out early, and weak finishes galore. As-is, the tournament wasn’t great, but I have a feeling Razor/Mabel wouldn’t have drawn the ire the way Savio goddamn Vega in the final match of a PPV did.