Wednesday, February 11, 2015

1996 King of the Ring

The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. 
Don't just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I've proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain't got what it takes anymore! 
You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. 
Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16…
Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass! -
Stone Cold Steve Austin victory speech, June 23, 1996

Hearing those words when watching this PPV gave me chills. Little did the people in the arena know that they were witnessing the birth of a legend and the start of the greatest era of professional wrestling.

It could have been so different if it wasn't for "The Curtain Call", the infamous moment where The Kliq gathered together in the centre of the ring at Madison Square Garden to bid farewell to Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. With Nash and Hall gone to WCW and Shawn Michaels as the WWF Champion (NB: I'll likely call it the WWF throughout this blog, because retroactively calling it the WWE doesn't work for me) the punishment for breaking kayfabe fell on Triple H, who was now no longer booked to win the King of the Ring Tournament, but instead started a long stretch of jobbing.

The Event
The 1996 King of the Ring was the fourth event of its kind and emanated from the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To give some perspective of how badly the WWF was doing at the time, the event had an attendance of 8,762 and was not a sellout.
Owen Hart joined Vince McMahon and JR for commentary. If it was not for his untimely demise this could have easily been a career path for him as he was a fantastic heel commentator during this entire PPV.

Match 1: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. "Wildman" Mark Mero w/Sable
Winner: Austin via pin

Mero had some leopard print tights to go with his "Wildman" gimmick and was accompanied by Sable. Wildman-Sable...get it? Clever names were not WWF's forte.
This was actually quite a good match. Mero wasn't really known for being very good in the ring, but they attempted to wrestle a somewhat technical match. Before this Austin's finisher was a submission, but here he brought out the Stunner. The strange thing about this stunner is that it wasn't preceded by the kick that became a trademark of the move later on. Austin busted open his lip during the match and supposedly had to go to the hospital for stitches. Unclear why there wasn't a doctor who could administer stitches on site. Maybe Vince wanted to save some money.

There was a backstage segment with Michael Hayes interviewing Jake the Snake invoking God and other religious imagery

Match 2: Big Van Vader vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Winner: Jake "The Snake" via DQ

This was hyped as a big comeback for Jake from drug addiction etc. Vince kept referring to his advanced age of 41, which was consistently responded by Owen "51 or 61' (Keep in mind that this is the same Vince that wanted the 45 year old Batista to main event Wrestlemania).  Owen and Vader both belonged to Camp Cornette so Owen acted as a cheerleader throughout the match.
The match ended in a strange DQ when Jake was able to get a DDT on Vader, who fell into or grabbed onto the referee depending on who you ask. Vader then attacked Jake and gave him a Vader Bomb on his injured ribs. If only he had done it during the match and won, but who needs logic? Jake was helped to the back and they pushed it as if he would not be able to return

Backstage segment of Vader yelling and throttling Jim Cornette saying he was the King of the Ring

Match 3: Tag Team Championship: The Smoking Gunns (Champions) vs. The Godwinns
Winner: The Smoking Gunns via pinfall

The Godwinns were a gimmick that summed up how out of touch the WWF was at the time. They were cartoonish farm boys and carried a baby goat down to the ring with them for this match. They preceded to dance a jig while their music played. Surprisingly, the crowd popped fairly huge for them. Meanwhile, the Gunns were beach blonde brothers, managed by Sunny. Sunny had just left the Bodydonnas, who replaced her with Cloudy: a jobber dressed as a woman. As unfriendly as some may consider the WWF now to LGBTQ individuals now, it was worse then.
The Gunns, with Sunny, were interviewed prior to the match. Sunny, the Slammy Award winner in her new cowgirl outfit, badly delivered her lines and Billy Gunn followed up with a few mumbles.

The match itself was completely forgettable and ended when Bart Gunn, who was not the legal man, hit Phineas with the boot, that he had taken off his foot. The boot somehow became magical when off his foot and was more powerful than a kick, as it knocked Phineas out and allowed Billy to pin him. The crowd chanted "Sunny" as the Gunns walked to the back, with good reason as she was the highlight of the match.

Backstage Hayes interviewed Cornette and British Bulldog, who were accompanied by Clarence Mason (I had to look up who the hell he was) and Bulldog's wife, Diana (Owen and Bret's sister). Diana and Clarence were completely silent. The entire purpose of the segment was to show that Mr. Perfect, who was scheduled to be  the special guest referee for the title match between the Bulldog and HBK, shared a dressing room with Camp Cornette.

Match 3: Ultimate Warrior vs. Jerry 'The King' Lawler
Winner: Warrior via pinfall

Jerry started at the throne set up for the coronation of the King of the Ring and yelled "Shut up McMahon". This was quite different from the sycophant he eventually became to McMahon, but it fit the time because Vince was a babyface play by play guy and not acknowledged on TV as the owner of the company. In a great segment Lawler insulted Milwaukee, insulted the Brewers by calling them 'drunk' and walked to ring, with a microphone, pausing by individual members of the crowd to insult them. Vince apologized to the audience after he called a woman a stripper.
The crowd popped huge when the Warrior did his usual run to the ring.

The match was mercifully short and was easily the worst match on the show. Warrior threw some unconvincing clotheslines and won with...a leaping shoulder block...what? I know that was one of his signature moves, but even on Lawler it looked dumb. The highlight of the match were the two entrances, so take that for what it's worth.

Backstage Hayes interviewed Gorilla Monsoon, who put over Jake's broken ribs as a doctor taped up  Jake in the background. (Couldn't this doctor have given Austin his stitches too? How long would that have taken?)

Match 4: Mankind vs. The Undertaker w/ Paul Bearer
Winner: Mankind via ref stoppage

This was early Mankind, who had a schizophrenic personality, vs. Undertaker with glorious purple gloves and tape. I had to google Mankind's music to see if the Network had edited the theme song, but no, Mankind had some strange dark, brooding music.
At one point in the match Mankind started screeching when Taker had him in the ropes.
Mankind came across very strong in the match and "physically dominated' according to JR, as he had never seen before.  Paul Bearer stood on the outside calling on the power of the urn. The crowd chanted 'Rest in Peace' because Milwaukee sucks at crowd chants, I guess. The match ended when Mankind put the mandible claw on Taker, after he was accidentally hit with the urn by Paul Bearer. Mankind had taken an unprotected steel chair shot to the head earlier in the match (really uncomfortable to watch nowadays), but a little urn was enough to take down the big man. Taker's shoulders were on the mat the entire time the mandible claw was applied, but the referee must have missed that little detail as he did not try to count the pin.

Backstage Hayes interviewed Mr. Perfect and was interrupted by HBK, who wanted to ensure that he would call it straight. Mr. Perfect, to his credit, promised to be the 'perfect referee' who'd do the 'perfect job' and to call the match down the middle. I, for one, believed him.

Match 5: Intercontinental Championship: Goldust w/Marlena (champion) vs. Ahmed Johnson
Winner: Johnson via pinfall

Based on the video package prior to the match this feud began because Goldust kissed Ahmed Johnson on the lips, under the guise of performing CPR.  "That's sick. That's sick" yelled Good Ol' JR. So we had a feud based on homophobia, in which the babyface was the homophobe.,,,

It was clear throughout the match that Vince wanted Johnson to be his next star. He was huge and powerful, which is the exact bodytype that Vince covets. The entry way was 2 doors, which were opened manually by 2 guys standing there. Johnson did not need those guys and simply knocked the doors open.

Johnson used a lot of power moves to throw Goldust around the ring. At one point Goldust when going for a pin squirmed over the body of Ahmed and another point fondled him. Johnson won with his Pearl River Driver (a double underhook powerbomb). Vince acted as if it was the greatest moment in wrestling history. Johnson celebrated still covered with Goldust glitter. As he entered the backstage area they popped champagne for him and he was hugged by Shawn Michaels

Brian Pillman, a recent WWF signing and the first in the WWF to sign a guaranteed contract, walked to the ring on crutches due to a car accident he had suffered. Pillman was interviewed by JR. He started by saying that it was "easy to see why Jeffrey Dahmer tried to consume this whole state from head to toe." There's heat and then there's serial killer heat. He called JR "a stupid son of a bitch" and again Vince felt the need to apologize several times. If it wasn't for the final promo by Austin, this would have been the promo of the night. He was called a 'timebomb' by Vince McMahon, Pillman would die less than 2 years later, so this comment stuck out.

Match 5: King of the Ring Final: Austin vs. Roberts 
Winner: Austin via pinfall

Again, both Vince and JR tried to put over Jake being 41. Owen, in a terrific line, bet that Jake wouldn't show up as Jake was entering and his music was playing. Austin, took control over a lot of this match. He played a classic heel taking advantage of Roberts' taped up ribs to the disgust of McMahon and JR.

Gorilla Monsoon, then WWF Commisioner, came to the ring mid-match to check on Roberts but allowed the match to continue. The slight delay allowed Jake to get some offense in, but it was all for nought as Austin won with the Stunner to become the new King of the Ring.

Following the match, Michael Hayes interviewed Austin, while Jake the Snake was being helped out in the ring. In addition to the quote that began this piece Austin continued:

All he's gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime.
As the King of the Ring, I'm serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don't give a damn what they are, they're all on the list, and that's Stone Cold's list, and I'm fixing to start running through all of 'em.
And as far as this championship match is considered son, I don't give a damn if it's Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin's time is come, and when I get that shot you're looking at the next WWF Champion.
And that's the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.  

Austin, who was supposed to be a heel, got a huge pop for the 3:16 line. The crowd, which seemed to ignore Austin during his matches, finally were paying attention to him.

It's amazing how much mileage the WWF got from this one promo. "That's the bottom line" became Austin's signature catchphrase and 'Austin 3:16' merchandise graced thousands of shirts and signs in the years to come. The WWF made millions with a promo that only lasted for a few seconds. In the current age of manufactured promos and wrestlers unable to show their own personality, I doubt we will see this again.

Match 6: WWF Championship w/Mr. Perfect as Special Outside Enforcer
Shawn Michaels "The Heartbreak Kid" w/Jose Lothario vs. "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith w/ Jim Cornette and Diana Smith
Winner: Michaels via pinfall

To tell you the truth I wasn't really interested in this match. I had just seen Austin's promo and that felt like the natural culmination of the PPV. In retrospect, it was, but at the time Michaels was still the Federation's meal ticket so he was the main event. This match was a rematch from the previous PPV, in which both Michaels and the Bulldog's shoulders were down as 2 different referees counted the pins, and each ref naming a different man the champion.

These two got a lot of time. Wikipedia has this match clocked at over 26 minutes. I didn't sit there and use a stopwatch, but it would certainly seem to be around that long.

Prior to the match Gorilla Monsoon came down to the ring and demoted Mr. Perfect to special outside enforcer, instead of special guest referee, replacing him with Earl Hebner, who we all know would never have a controversial call . He was a complete non-factor in the match and didn't interfere with the match. The closest Mr. Perfect came to having an impact was stopping while counting out Michaels, as the title cannot change on a countout. It was clear he was distracted by Lothario as Mr. Perfect would never do anything imperfect.

Davey Boy got in a lot of offense. He had a pretty good looking surfboard applied on Michaels with Owen calling for an early bell (foreshadowing) and welcoming the 'new champion to the family'. Being in the aftermath of the Curtain Call Vince referenced the Kliq helping HBK in matches. The Kliq, in this case, was how the WWF spun the incident and was used to refer to Michaels' fans. Owen also took the opportunity to refer to Bulldog and the rest of Camp Cornette.
There was a huge botched spot as Bulldog went to the top rope to deliver a finishing blow on Michaels, but fell well short. Michaels tried to cover it up by rolling out of the way, but it was not even close. The commentators for their part also attempted to smooth it, with Vince suggesting it was a slip and Owen blaming it on Lothario pulling on the rope.

 Like all other WWF Championship matches Davey Boy was involved in during his career, however, he eventually lost. As HBK hit the Sweet Chin Music and went for the pin Mr. Perfect, still dressed in his ref outfit, entered the ring and joined Hebner in the 3 count. As he was about to hit 3, Owen Hart got out of his commentator position and pulled him out of the ring. Hebner finished his own count and Michaels retained the title.

Owen then entered the ring and he unsuccessfully attempted to take out Michaels. HBK fought off both men simultaneously and at one point had Owen in a figure 4 and a modified small package on the Bulldog. Why was he trying to pin the Bulldog when it was no longer a match? I have no answer, but HBK was not really all there in those days, due to copious amounts of drugs.
The double team eventually started paying off and Owen and Bulldog took down Michaels, which caused Ahmed Johnson (cough..cough... push) to run down the ring to help HBK. This meant Vader had to run in to help the Cornette team, and they evenually laid both HBK and Johnson out, but down came Warrior to even the odds and save the day. The 3 then posed in the ring.

The PPV ended with a Cornette promo, with the rest of Camp Cornette, alleging a large conspiracy had cost the Bulldog the title. He and Bulldog promised that things would be different when they went to Vancouver for the next "In Your House" event.

All in all, a mixed bag of a PPV. The signs of the future Attitude era were there (the Pillman and Austin promos) but some of the dated material remained (Godwinns). The WWF though, was about to figure it out.


  1. I loved the Godwinns.

    Wonderfully thorough. Looking forward to a lot of fun reliving these.

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