Bret vs. Owen! But it’s super hot out and I bet they don’t think anyone will buy this tape! Come see how much effort they put in!
WWF KUWAITI CUP 1996:
So before we had the Saudi Arabian shows or the “Tribute to the Troops”, we had a couple of years of “Kuwaiti Cups”, where guys would wrestle for a prize that’d get mentioned for a couple of weeks on TV. This guy’s channel has a few of the matches: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeT4gO_-Y0Yo0y8kTv4HmIQ. Jim Ross & Dok Hendrix commentate most of this, often bringing up the staggering heat out there- Monsoon also gets paired up with Ross. This all happens in May 1996, a month or so before the King of the Ring where Austin’s legend began, and it’s essentially one show after another for a week- each only a day apart. So you know these guys are gonna be looking to work light or work short.
There’s quite a few true rarities in here, though. Bret Hart vs. Leif Cassidy! Steve Austin vs. Ahmed Johnson back when we’d have all guessed wrong who the next big star was going to be! And most importantly, TRIPLE-H VERSUS BUTCH!!
These are all the matches I was able to find on YouTube, but I’ll make notes on the rest.
1996 WWF is so weird- you have the entire business about to be revolutionized, but also have Bushwhackers matches on the card.
HUNTER HEARST-HELMSLEY vs. BUSHWHACKER BUTCH:
* OH MY GOD YES. Friggin’ HHH versus “one of the Bushwhackers”, and the match is like eleven freaking minutes long! This is the reason I became a match reviewer! Butch is for some reason carrying a boomerang and a pretty swell denim jacket. He’s got a green tank top and dungarees, too. The ‘Whackers were far, FAR done by this point as an act with any value, and I’m shocked they were still around at all! But checking CageMatch, I see that they in fact stuck around for most of the year, frequently making Superstars squashes, but also doing jobs to the Bodydonnas around the horn on house shows.
Butch isn’t so much over, but the crowd is all over HHH right away, and he milks it by disdainfully staring at them from the floor. HHH makes remarks about Butch’s breath, but turns away and naturally gets bitten on the ass. He then milks the count like 3-4 times, so Hebner keeps fast-counting him- at one point he pratfalls into the ring by going in too fast and landing nose-first, leading JR to quip “in this case that could be a major injury!” Three minutes in, we finally get more contact, Butch bringing him in with a headlock, then dropping him face-first AGAIN. Butch works that headlock, and every time HHH tosses him off Butch just grabs the nose for more slapstick. The camera should probably not zoom in on Hunter’s face when he’s calling spots.
Butch keeps winning criss-crosses and going back to the headlock and JR just keeps on the nose jokes, also subtly needling Butch (“rather, uh, ARCHAIC style… of Butch”) and actually dropping his age and how he’s been wrestling “at least 25 years”. Then he starts talking about how they’re from a family of “sheep-herders” (their old gimmick name). HHH nails a back elbow after FOUR MINUTES of that, then undoes his braid to let loose that magnificent mane while throwing boots. They get into a brawl, and Butch lands a corner toss & clothesline for two, but HHH reverses another whip with a knee to the gut and lands the Pedigree at (10:24).
hahah GOOD GOD. Okay, so the match was just 2 minutes of stalling, 4 minutes of a headlock, and 4 minutes of plodding Main Event Style kicks & stomps. They get a point for actually not just sitting in the headlock and doing reversal sequences on it, but that works in 4 minutes of a 50-minute Flair match- this was like 50% of the match!
Rating: 1/4* (way too long and simple and clearly padded for time)
When you’re a good worker but none of the bookers think highly of you, so you just get to be a “good hand” who jobs to all the other good workers.
BRET “HITMAN” HART vs. LEIF CASSIDY:
* A “foregone conclusion” first-round match, but both are good workers- let’s see what becomes of it.
Leif whines about his hair being pulled for a couple of minutes, delaying things, but naturally pulls the hair himself as soon as he’s able to. Hilariously, he celebrates while Bret just shrugs to the ref like “Hey- whattaya gonna do?”. Bret manages to work the arm for a while, switching up positioning frequently, but Leif keeps going to the eyes to break, and finally manages to pound away. Bret scores his headbutt, but Leif rakes the eyes out of a backbreaker and goes to a chinlock, yanking hair to keep on a headlock, too. Dok brings up why guys don’t just bail as soon as Bret hits his set-up move for the Sharpshooter (all but calling out the “Five Moves of Doom” as he mentions Bret always hits the second-rope forearm first), but unfortunately Ross gets distracted so it isn’t followed up on. Bret keeps turning the headlock to pins while Leif keeps using the hair, but Bret finally gets his foot up in the corner, hits a 2nd-rope clothesline, inverted atomic drop, clothesline, backbreaker, and 2nd-rope elbow- Cassidy tries to jump on him out of a whip but gets tossed down- Sharpshooter finishes at (10:45).
Solidly interesting little bout there, as it’s almost 100% Leif doing resthold-type stuff until Bret can hit his trademark last-minute comeback, but they moved around a lot and told the story of Leif controlling only via cheating. Still used Bret’s “Randy Savage Template” in the process, though Leif didn’t hit a single big maneuver to look like he was really going to put him away.
Rating: **1/2 (solid little TV bout, especially considering how low-grade the offense was until Bret hit “go” with a minute left)
The other first round matches: Owen Hart defeats Yokozuna by count-out (5:31), Steve Austin beats Marty Jannetty (13:18), Ahmed Johnson beats Aldo Montoya with the Pearl River Plunge (3:31), Undertaker beats Isaac Yankem, British Bulldog beats Duke Droese & Savio Vega beats Bob Backlund.
AHMED JOHNSON vs. “STONE COLD” STEVE AUSTIN:
* Ahmed is one of the most over acts in the WWF at this point, while Austin is just another midcard heel, really. Watching at the time, almost everyone would have guessed wrong who’d end up the bigger star in the WWF. Monsoon puts over Ahmed’s agility in leaping over the top rope into the ring, pointing out he used to do that, but would occasionally trip up and “take a header” down to the floor.
They milk lockups and giving each other grief for like three minutes, actually doing pretty well with it, while Monsoon puts over how many tools Austin brings with him in the ring. Ahmed just CRANKS on a headlock as Monsoon indicates Ahmed’s the one guy who could submit someone like that, then him & Ross go on a tangent about how that was Ed “Strangler” Lewis’s finisher back in the day. Austin bails off a shoulderblock, and we’re back from break with Austin literally offering Ahmed a rose with the blankest, iciest stare possible, talking shit when Ahmed doesn’t go for it. Austin mimics the big headlock from before, but Ahmed powers out for his own while Monsoon grouses about Ahmed’s earring and how Austin should go for it. Austin bails AGAIN off a shoulderblock, but lures Ahmed in and bends his leg around the post. Austin chokes and chop-blocks away while flexing to taunt the fans, then works the knee some more until he takes too long repeating the “knee against the post” spot and Ahmed just yanks him right into it. Austin sells like dynamite, flopping everywhere and pinwheeling off of right hands. Austin goes to the eyes, but comes off the ropes… and eats a Spinebuster! And Ahmed gets the three at (9:20)! Austin loses clean right before the KOTR!
Actually a solid match. Ahmed gets mocked a lot, but his selling here was amazing, just SCREAMING after every shot to the knee, and Austin just looked like this sinister POS, taunting away all the time and fighting smart after Ahmed was just too strong. Even though the match was half stalling and ended on a single comeback move, it was still pretty good. Also, Monsoon & Ross on commentary were fantastic, just being old men going on about strategy.
Rating: **1/2 (another decent showing despite being 50% stalling for time and guys dying in the heat)
BRET “HITMAN” HART vs. OWEN HART:
* Pretty wild to see another Hart vs. Hart match, but this is after their long feud in 1994. Owen gets a tremendous line in the ring “I know you love me… but I hate you!”. The crowd goes NUTS for Bret, though, leaping to their feet and cheering wildly on camera. Owen, of course, tells everyone to shut up and goes “YOU- wanna fight?” to one fan.
Patented stalling for time to start, Owen making accusations of hair-pulling, trying to get the crowd back him up (shouting “LIAR!” at one fan who disagrees, “Liar! You’re a liar!”). Bret keeps going to the arm, stifling Owen’s counters every time. Owen gets dumped and wastes a literal full minute out there, somehow not getting counted out, then does a hilarious cartoony charge (hands way up in the air in “monster gonna get ya” position) and screams as he’s drop-toeholded. He finally counters more arm stuff with arm stuff of his own, then goes to the eyes and then the hair, stopping Bret’s backbreaker with the latter. Owen keeps raking the face, and they work a chinlock for a while. Owen gets an elbow for two and back to the chinlock, frequently cheating (amusingly accusing Bret of hair-pulling to get away with it himself). They now work a headlock for a while before finally hitting “Go” and slugging it out. Bret hits a clothesline, inverted atomic drop, Russian legsweep, backbreaker & second-rope elbow for two-counts, arguing with the ref and getting rolled up, but rolling back for two. Owen hits the Owenzuigiri for two, but jumps up and gets Sharpshootered! But on the way over, he grabs the ref’s ankle and twists him over, bringing everyone down into a heap. Owen uses the ref’s injury to kick Bret in the balls, then hits an inside cradle… for the three (11:25)! Owen beats Bret!
Wow, this was the laziest Harts match I’ve ever seen. Clearly doing a “House Show” bit, though it was interesting that Bret dominated instead of doing the “Savage Template”. Probably because he was losing and they wanted him to look good in defeat. But then Owen hits 4-5 straight minutes of various locks while they do Flair/Steamboat bits to keep the fans into it. I mean it’s theoretically better than just laying in a single hold (they’re fighting through, rolling around, nearly breaking holds but getting pulled back into them, etc.), but it’s still the first sixth of a Flair/Steamboat classic, not something you do for the majority of the match. The heat was probably killing both guys, though, so all we get is that great last two minutes and Owen pulling dirtbag tactics to get the win (thus setting up Ahmed to get the big victory).
Rating: **1/4 (fine lazy match with some great comedy from Owen, who was just goofing off a bunch)
The other second round matches: The Undertaker beats the British Bulldog (3:40), Hunter Hearst-Helmsley beat Savio Vega.
Other semi-final matches: Ahmed Johnson beats Owen Hart, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley beats Undertaker by DQ. Ahmed would go on to defeat Hunter the next night to win the Kuwaiti Cup, which was advertised on TV to give him some extra credibility. He would win the IC Title very quickly, and the sky was the limit… but then he got hurt. And got hurt. And got hurt. And hurt other guys. And finally they just cut bait on him after wrecking angle after angle on the injured list. He’d only get one more shot, and it was in the dying days of WCW, meaning nothing.
KUWAITI CUP 1997:
The Kuwaiti Cup would run the next year as well, this time TIGER ALI SINGH of all people winning it. None of it appears on YouTube, but here’s how it shook down:
First Round: Tiger Ali Singh d. Leif Cassidy, Billy Gunn d. Bob Holly, Davey-Boy Smith d. Diesel (Fake Diesel), Mankind d. Phineas Godwinn, Vader d. Bart Gunn, Freddie Joe Floyd d. Sid (apparently some kinda count-out or bye), Steve Austin d. Bret Hart, Owen Hart d. Henry Godwinn.
Second Round: Tiger Ali d. Billy Gunn, Mankind d. Bulldog, Vader d. Freddie, Owen d. Austin.
Semi-Finals: Tiger Ali d. Mankind, Owen d. Vader.
Finals: Tiger Ali Singh d. Owen Hart.
Tiger Ali would… not segueway this to success. He had neither workrate NOR charisma, so was just done.