The SmarK Rant for WWF King of the Ring 1996 – 06.23.96
(Might as well repost this one in tandem with the Observer Flashback. Originally written in 2015.)
I’ve kinda been hemming and hawing about this one, but the original rant isn’t great and it does contain one of the most important moments in the history of wrestling and all. Oddly, this is the home video version instead of the original PPV broadcast and is actually about 10 minutes longer than the PPV thanks to “Coliseum Video exclusive” material.
Live from Milwaukee, WI
Your hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Owen Hart.
King of the Ring Semi-Final: Steve Austin v. Marc Mero
Mero has his grumpy jobbing face on during the ring entrance. Orton gets that one a lot, too. They trade headlocks on the mat to start and Mero puts him on the floor with a headscissors. Back in, Mero starts to work on the arm, but Austin stomps him down while Owen sums up the difference between Mero and Austin: “You don’t see Austin out there with some hosebag in his corner!” Austin offers a handshake and they go to the test of strength, which allows Austin to cheat and take over. He tosses Mero and drops him on the concrete with a press slam, which is a move you don’t see out of Austin very often. Back in with a snap suplex for two and Austin drops the middle rope elbow for two. Press slam into a backbreaker gets two. Boston crab as Austin busts out every bit of wacky offense in his playbook. Mero manages to power out of that one and gets a small package for two, but Austin puts him down with an elbow and goes back to the crab again. Mero powers out again (with help from some really well-timed cheerleading from Sable, which is impressive for someone so new in the business) and they trade near-falls off that, and Mero gets a rollup for two. Austin just slugs him down and counters a sleeper with a jawbreaker, but Mero launches out of the corner with a butt-butt. Mero makes the comeback and slugs away in the corner, and a double axehandle gets two. Mero tosses Austin (who is suddenly gushing blood from his lip) and follows with a dive, and back in for a missile dropkick that gets two. They fight to the top and Mero brings him down with a rana, which gets two. Austin comes back with a stungun variation out of a powerbomb for two, and the Stone Cold Stunner finishes at 16:48. And that was Mero’s first loss, so no wonder he was grumpy. Hell of an opener, with tons of crazy stuff from Austin and heat that built consistently throughout. **** Reading the original rant, I was thinking I must have overrated it, but no, Austin and Mero were working their asses off here.
King of the Ring Semi-Final: Vader v. Jake Roberts
Vader overpowers him and starts working the arm on the mat, and a big splash gets two. Jake blocks a blind charge and slugs back, but Vader escapes the DDT and beats him down in the corner. Corner splash misses and Jake gets the DDT, but the ref gets wiped out and calls for the DQ on the way down, giving Jake the win at 3:38. Nothing much to this one. ½* Vader completely destroys Jake afterwards to set up the storyline for the finals. Of mild note here is Owen calling him “Big Van Vader” during the beatdown, which probably got him a dirty look from Vince.
WWF tag titles: The Smoking Gunns v. The Godwinns
Thankfully this version of the show omits the pre-show match with Cloudi the transvestite managing the Bodydonnas, although they do show “highlights” here. The commentary and Billy’s pre-match promo really hammer home that the Gunns are HEELS NOW, DAMMIT, SO STOP CHEERING FOR THEM! Billy attacks PIG, who has immediately spazzes out while we cut to an inset interview with Cloudi. Was “she” ever seen again? I don’t recall the character lasting much beyond this. Meanwhile, Henry works on Bart’s arm, but a cheapshot turns the tide and the Gunns beat on Henry in a dull heat segment. Henry reverses a slam for two, but Billy continues working on the back before missing a blind charge and taking what would become a trademark bump. Bart comes in and misses a flying bodypress, and Phineas gets the hot tag. We get the requisite pier-six brawl, but Bart takes off his boot and nails PIG with it, giving Billy the pin at 10:00. Not terrible, but really, really, really boring. I was reading a recap of the 28-hour Marvel movie marathon over on the AV Club while watching this match, and now I know what he must have felt like by the time Age of Ultron rolled around. *
Ultimate Warrior v. Jerry Lawler
Lawler does a wonderfully cheesy rundown of the crowd on the way to the ring, basically insulting everyone in the front row one by one. I have to say, the impact of Warrior’s entrance is lessened a lot by the fancy pyro, because it minimizes the chances of him just storming to the ring and destroying someone. King attacks with the royal scepter and chokes Warrior out on the ropes, and Vince notes that Warrior certainly didn’t expect those sorts of tactics. I would presume that Warrior would have watched a Jerry Lawler match at some point in his life, in which case he should have expected those and more. Finally Warrior has had enough and no-sells a piledriver, making the comeback and destroying Lawler at 3:50. And that was the last time Warrior ever wrestled on a WWF PPV, although he did a couple of house show and TV appearances after this. What a way to go out. DUD This was pretty much exactly how the match needed to go, however.
Undertaker v. Mankind
This was looking to be another “urn thief of the month” feud for Undertaker, but then it suddenly caught fire and ended up evolving both guys. A severely pissed Undertaker attacks out of the darkness to start and pounds Mankind down in the corner, and Mankind bails for advice from the voices in his head. That advice: “Talking to yourself isn’t crazy. It’s only crazy if you answer yourself.” Back in, Taker works on the arm with the ropewalk, but Mankind slams him and slugs away in the corner. Mankind tosses him a couple of times, but he charges with a chair and that backfires on him. Taker backdrops him onto a chair on the floor. And you wonder why Mick is in the shape he is now. Back in, Taker gives him a shot with a chair behind the ref’s back, but Mankind escapes the tombstone and puts him down with a neckbreaker to set up the Mandible Claw, but Taker sits up to block it. It’s kind of amazing that they could get a simple move over to the point where Taker blocking it could get such a huge reaction from the crowd. He’s basically sticking his finger’s into a guy’s mouth, but the crowd is horrified and fearing for Undertaker’s safety when he does it, and overjoyed when Taker blocks it. Mankind with a Vulcan nerve pinch, but Taker slugs out of it and they brawl to the floor, where Mankind debuts the running knee into the stairs. Taker, not to be outdone, smashes in the face with a chair and they head back in. Taker beats on him in the ropes and adds the flying clothesline, but Mankind pulls out the piledriver out of nowhere for two. Mick gets all riled up and steals the urn from Paul Bearer, but can’t get it away from him. Taker seemingly moves in for the kill, but Mankind applies the Claw…and Paul accidentally hits Taker with the urn while aiming for Mankind, and that’s all for Undertaker at 18:18. Great brawl that kicked off a series of matches which gave us the first big reinvention of Undertaker’s gimmick. ***1/2
Intercontinental title: Goldust v. Ahmed Johnson
Much like Mankind, this should have launched Ahmed Johnson into the stratosphere, but unfortunately ended up being a peak that he was never able to achieve again instead. Ahmed bursting through the doors and knocking the poor doormen down in a great visual, as he charges to the ring and starts beating on Goldust. They head to the floor and Ahmed throws the stairs at him, which has Owen criticizing his aim. Owen was pretty great on commentary here as the snarky jerk. Finally Goldust dodges a blind charge and takes over with a lariat, slugging him down for two. Goldust goes to a chinlock, and a rather lengthy one at that, and a piledriver gets two. Back to the chinlock, but Ahmed fights out and Goldust knees him in the back to slow him down again. Goldust with a sleeper, but he releases the move so he can give Ahmed some mouth-to-mouth, at which point Ahmed wakes up, does the crazed angry black man comeback, and squashes him for good with the powerbomb to win the IC title at 15:27. Way too long in the middle leading up to Ahmed’s big comeback. Also, the whole nonsense with the Savio Vega title controversy really lessened the impact of Goldust finally losing the title. ** This was set up to be the launching pad for Ahmed, and it just didn’t happen. Not for lack of trying, however, as this felt like a big deal at the time and you could sense the rocket getting strapped to Ahmed.
Brian Pillman joins us at ringside to cut a crazed promo about how Jeffrey Dalmer should have eaten everyone in the city because Milwaukee sucks so much. Pillman’s gonna rape, pillage and plunder the WWF! If only he could have.
King of the Ring finals: Steve Austin v. Jake Roberts
Austin wisely goes right for the ribs and throws down on them. Austin slaps him around and tears the rib tape off, which brings Gorillla Monsoon out to check on Jake personally. Owen raises a good point – Why SHOULD Austin stop the beating unless he hear a bell? Jake decides to fight back, but Austin casually blocks the DDT by going to the ribs, and the Stone Cold Stunner finishes at 4:35 to kick off the Austin Era. DUD At least they kept it short.
And then, the REAL moment, as Austin cuts his coronation promo and buries Roberts for his bible-thumping promos. “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass” suddenly became the ultra-cool catchphrase for online fans everywhere, and soon there were signs all over TV. Although as awesome as this moment was, no one had any idea how big Austin would become.
WWF World title: Shawn Michaels v. British Bulldog
So weeks after the entire point of the match has been shelved for good (the Diana lawsuit), the main event of this show limps into the home stretch. Sadly, Curt Hennig is exiled to the outside referee position, as they can’t even resist a bait-and-switch for a guest referee stip. They trade headlocks while Owen vocalizes what we’re all thinking: We all KNOW Shawn is a gutless coward, so how can he retain his title without cheating or getting himself disqualified? I love how Owen was making no effort to get himself over as a cool hip guy here, just going all out to be an unlikeable lying jerk. Shawn dumps Bulldog and follows with a rana off the apron, and poor Cornette gets spanked with the tennis racket. Back in, Bulldog goes back to the headlock, but Shawn reverses into a cross armbreaker and then evades Bulldog’s power to stay on the arm. Shawn with a sleeper, but Bulldog runs him into the corner to break and tosses him around the ring. Shawn puts him down with an armbar and goes up with a flying axehandle to the shoulder, but Bulldog presses him and drops him straight to the floor in a crazy Shawn bump. Bulldog adds a suplex on the floor and then presses Shawn back into the ring again for two. Bulldog with a chinlock, and he whips Shawn around the ring again and hooks him with the Rito Romero Special, then bridges back for two. Back to the chinlock, and he puts Shawn down with a backdrop and legdrop for two, which gives us a rare burst of emotion from Diana at ringside. She almost smiles and emotes! Vince puts over Shawn’s fanbase and Owen goes on an epic rant about how wrestling fans are morons and Bulldog should be champion because he’s talented and a winner, like himself. He’s just such a great asshole. Shawn fights up and Bulldog puts him down with a lariat and goes back to the chinlock. Shawn escapes with a crucifix for two, but they trade finisher attempts and then Bulldog kills him with another clothesline. That’s the kind of stuff Bulldog should have been doing all along. Piledriver and Bulldog goes up, but he misses a diving headbutt in embarrassing fashion. Owen, without missing a beat, immediately accuses Jose Lothario of pulling the ropes and tripping him up. Shawn goes up and Bulldog brings him down with a superplex for two. Another one is reversed in mid-air by Shawn, for two. They slug it out and collide, and Shawn recovers first with a rana, which Bulldog turns into a powerbomb for two. Both guys are out, but Shawn makes the comeback and the ref is bumped. Shawn with the flying elbow and superkick to finish at 26:23. Perfect didn’t even factor into the match after all the buildup. **** Bulldog and Owen proceed with the heel beatdown, which turns into Camp Cornette beating down Shawn and Ahmed Johnson, and then Ultimate Warrior makes the save to set up the six-man for the July PPV that no one remembers.
This show had the misfortune to be sandwiched between two of the greatest PPVs in history on the WCW side and saddled with a main event angle that no one cared about, but it’s a pretty tremendous show during a shit time for the company. Bookended by **** matches and featuring a surprisingly great performance from Undertaker in the middle, it’s really only hampered by Jake Roberts stinking up the KOTR tournament itself. Check it out on the Network if you’ve never seen it!