WWF Through The Years 1996: Week 1

Welcome to WWF Through The Years, the first of what I hope will be a running series of articles documenting the WWF’s programming in 1996. We’ll mainly be focusing on the Monday Night Raws and Pay-Per-View events, however I am also going to try and find the matches from Superstars as well. I’ll go through all the matches and angles from each show and give my opinions on them where possible, as well as any back stories or trivia that relate to them.

The reason I’ve chosen 1996 is because it’s the year that I first became interested in wrestling and I thought that going back and watching it again as the “smart” fan that I am now would allow me to see it again through a different mindset. 1996 was a difficult time for the WWF as the introduction of WCW Monday Nitro as direct television competition was giving their rivals a strong platform in what would be known as the Monday Night Wars. The WWF were watching the stars they created such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage draw in new fans and were attempting to counter-act the old roster of WCW with younger talent like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Diesel, Razor Ramon and Ahmed Johnson. It allowed for a fresh product but the lesser-known main eventers needed time to become the legends they would be known as eventually.

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wwf-raw-logo

WWF MONDAY NIGHT RAW
January 1st 1996

Your hosts are Vince McMahon, not yet revealed as the WWF owner on-screen, and Jerry Lawler in the full heel role he embodied throughout the 1990s. We’re NOT LIVE from the University of Delaware and there’s excitement in the air because…

IT’S THE RAW BOWL! THERE’S A BAND! THERE’S CHEERLEADERS! It’s the WWF’s attempt to tap into the Superbowl market with an NFL-themed show, and say what you want about Vince McMahon’s commentary but when he was hyping something up he did have a way of making it sound exciting. In this case it’s a meaningless 4 Team Tag Match that has been dubbed the RAW BOWL with the promise of a trophy to the winning team. It’s the mid-90s so there’s no 20 minute promo to start, we’re straight into the action!

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THE SMOKING GUNNS vs. OWEN HART & YOKOZUNA vs. RAZOR RAMON & SAVIO VEGA vs. SID & 1-2-3 KID

This is basically a four-way elimination tag, but because it’s the RAW BOWL each team gets a “time out”. Also, the referee Earl Hebner is dressed up like an NFL referee and all the participants are wearing the cheapest looking NFL jerseys ever made with their own team colours.

The Smoking Gunns are YOUR WWF Tag Team Champions, Razor Ramon is YOUR WWF Intercontinental Champion, Owen and Yokozuna are representing Camp Cornette with JIM CORNETTE at ringside and Sid and Kid are representing the Million Dollar Corporation with TED DIBIASE accompanying them.

Razor gets approached by Goldust’s Usher on his way to the ring who is carrying some flowers for him, Razor rather rudely throws the flowers back and assaults the Usher. Goldust is lurking and making kissy faces in the background.

Bart Gunn and Owen start out with Bart taking down Owen with a drop toe hold and a dropkick, he follows that up with an arm drag before Owen tags out to.,. Billy Gunn. They have to fight each other so they do the briefest bit of chain wrestling before going to tag in Owen and Yokozuna. Owen runs the ropes for a bit as Yokozuna just stands there, Owen then runs into Yokozuna and falls down. Owen makes the tag to Savio so we actually have two different teams now, Savio throws a few punches but gets whipped to the ropes, dodges a few clotheslines, then runs into Yokozuna and falls down. I see a pattern emerging. Yokozuna finally moves to try a running elbow drop that misses, Savio then runs straight into a body slam before Yokozuna tags in the 1-2-3 Kid. We get a split screen of Goldust watching on whilst Savio and Kid up the speed of the match by about 100 times, Savio connects with his Spinning Heel Kick but Sid interrupts the pinfall attempt. Kid tags Owen back in who walks right into an arm drag from Savio, but Owen lands a spinning heel kick of his own for a 2 count. Savio tags in Razor for the first time as Lawler interviews the “RAW BOWL QUEEN” at ringside. She is no Issac Newton. Owen tags in Bart Gunn before Razor tags in Savio, who in turn tags in Sid for his first bit of participation. Sid stands around a bit before locking up with Bart, Sid rakes the eyes and chokes Bart on the ropes, but Bart ducks a clothesline and connects with one of his own for a 2 count. DELAYED vertical suplex from Bart on Sid which is pretty impressive but only gets 2. Bart tags out to Savio and we get a bit more standing around, Sid lands some punches and kicks before Savio attempts a scoop slam that gets reversed into a pin for a 2 count. Owen back in to face Savio and he hits his Shawn Michaels-concussing enziguri for a two count, Yokozuna gets tagged in as we go to a break.

We come back to see Yokozuna and Owen landing a double headbutt to Savio, Owen goes for the Sharpshooter but Savio kicks him into a tag to 1-2-3 Kid. We go back to Brother Love preaching in an empty locker room. OK then. Kid knocks Savio down and tags Sid back in, he just lands a couple of his trademark punches and kicks before tagging Kid back in. Kid scoop slams Savio but misses a leg drop to give us a hot tag to Razor, Kid tries a crossbody but YOU CAN’T CROSSBODY RAZOR RAMON as he catches him with a Fallaway Slam, however Kid calls for his team’s Time Out to try and prevent further damage. Razor ignores this and delivers a Razor’s Edge anyway, whilst the referee argues with DiBiase for no good reason Sid levels Razor from behind and Kid falls into a cover to eliminate Razor and Savio. Savio claims he called Time Out himself but apparently the referee didn’t see it. THESE RULES ARE CONFUSING. Let’s go to a break to stop our heads hurting.

Lawler telestrates (drawing on screen) the Sid clothesline to Razor again…which unfortunately only shows how bad it was. Bart Gunn and Sid now start off but Owen soon tags in, Owen begins to dominate Bart by working on his ribs, but he almost gets caught by a quick roll-up from Bart. Scoop slam from Owen and he heads up top for a splash, but there’s nobody home. Bart reaches to tag Billy and just about gets there, Billy with RIGHT HANDS FOR ALL, including Sid and Yokozuna on the apron and Cornette gets one too. Billy runs off the ropes but Kid hits him in the back of the head with Cornette’s tennis racket and he stumbles into a neckbreaker from Owen. Billy gets dragged to the Cornette corner for a Banzai Drop, but Bart drops Owen and puts him in Billy’s place, Yokozuna then lands the Banzai Drop on Owen and Billy covers to eliminate Owen and Yokozuna. We also get another instance of someone using their time out but the referee not seeing it. So we’re down to Sid and Kid against The Smoking Gunns, Sid uses his “deliberate offence” to punch and kick Billy for a bit, Kid comes in for some illegal double-teaming as Bart argues with the referee, but Sid can’t keep Billy down. Sid uses a chinlock to slow the match down even more, Billy fights out of it but runs into a big boot, a move that Sid is pretty good at. A leg drop gets 2 for Sid, but Billy gets a small package in for a 2 count of his own shortly afterwards. Sid’s offence continues to be based around one big punch every ten seconds, Billy eventually fights back but runs into a one-handed Chokeslam. We go back to the RAW BOWL QUEEN who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else than watching this. Sid kicks Bart off the apron to draw the referee over to Bart again, Kid goes up to but Razor comes back out, pushes Kid into Sid, and Billy rolls Sid up for the three count and the victory! The Smoking Gunns take the victory and they didn’t even need their stupid Time Out.

It was a pretty interesting match but all the NFL-related gimmicks that kept popping up became more of a distraction than anything else. The match quality fluctuated depending on whoever was in the ring at the time, unfortunately Sid spent a long time in the ring with Billy Gunn and whilst the brief moments of Savio, Owen and Kid were good, they were just that – brief. Still it was nice to see it given a good amount of time, although I fear that decision was mainly because they had an hour show to fill on New Year’s Day.

Winners: The Smoking Gunns via Pinfall
Time: 19:22 (Televised)

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Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler are at ringside with the RAW BOWL QUEEN who is not asked to comment on the Shawn Michaels concussion storyline. We head to Dok Hendrix (that’s Michael Hayes to the unfamiliar) in a studio for our “Wrigley’s Halftime Report”. He mentions that we’re going to see Diesel versus King Mabel later in the show which is a scary, scary thought. Jim Ross is backstage next to a lovely door, he tells us that Diesel isn’t there for an interview but has promised to “Kick the King’s can”. Strong words. Strong, bewildering words. We get some hype for the Royal Rumble, the card we have so far:

WWF Championship
Bret Hart (c) vs. The Undertaker

Ahmed Johnson vs. Jeff Jarrett

Royal Rumble Match

Dok then explains the Royal Rumble match using as much NFL terminology as humanly possible in thirty seconds before signing off.

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Let us take you back to In Your House where we saw HENRY GODWINN take on HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY in the first ever Hog Pen match with HILLBILLY JIM as a pretty biased referee. This isn’t just a recap video, they’re actually showing the whole match. HHH looks significantly less muscular than he does now which may come as a surprise to absolutely nobody. I can only assume that this was just thrown in to fill some time as it wasn’t a live show. We take a commercial break which I should note contains an advert for THE INTERNET. The Hog Pen match is still being recapped, eventually Godwinn gets backdropped into the “slop” to lose the match, but argues with Hillbilly Jim who sends him into Godwinn, and subsequently into the slop too. I remember this match mainly for HHH getting sliced open by the wooden fence and then being thrown into a load of mud which goes into his open wound in a scene that still sickens me. Apparently we’re getting the WWF Title match of Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog from the same In Your House on the next RAW.

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KING MABEL gets carried to the ring by someone who looks very much like Jeff Hardy (it is), when we come back we get a re-match of the SummerSlam 1995 main event.

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DIESEL vs. KING MABEL

Mabel’s been a king ever since winning the 1995 King of the Ring tournament, Diesel is in the process of a heel turn but for now is still high-fiving fans. Lawler interviews the RAW BOWL QUEEN who offers nothing, other than perhaps fear at what she’s signed up for. Meanwhile in the ring Diesel attacks Mabel from behind, sends him into the ropes, lands a Big Boot and PINS HIM?!

Winner: Diesel via Pinfall
Time: 0:09

Sir Mo comes in but he just becomes the victim of a Jacknife Powerbomb, and that’s the end of that. For some reason I’m disappointed not to see the Diesel/Mabel match go a bit longer. Lawler calls Diesel over for an interview but Diesel instead walks away with the RAW BOWL QUEEN. McMahon describes this act as “leaving with the goods”, and says “it could be a good year for Big Daddy Cool Diesel”. If only he knew.

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Backstage the midcarders are congratulating the Smoking Gunns on their victory, the Brooklyn Brawler arrives and gives them the “Lombardi Trophy” (GET IT – STEVE LOMBARDI) which is just a picture of his face on a stand. The Gunns beat him up and dump ice on him. WACKINESS.

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We go through a list of confirmed Royal Rumble participants, Diesel, Owen Hart, British Bulldog, DORY FUNK JR, Savio Vega, King Mabel, Bam Bam Bigelow, Barry Horowitz, Yokozuna and Tatanka. This all leads to the big announcement of a WWF debutant entering the Rumble… THE MAN THEY CALL VADER. We get a training montage of Vader lifting weights, threatening the camera and practicing Moonsaults on a trampoline, unfortunately this montage is not set to a cheesy 1980s inspirational song. HEARTS ON FIRE, STRONG DESIRE. The sight of Vader in his full ring gear, including mask, practicing his entrance in an open field is one that has to be seen. If I remember correctly the debut of Vader was a pretty big deal at the time, he had jumped ship from WCW, although his move was mainly because he was involved in a backstage brawl with Paul Orndorff. Vader lost.

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We finish with a Billionaire Ted sketch. For those who aren’t aware this was Vince McMahon’s attempt to strike back at WCW for running Nitro at the same time as RAW, his idea was to portray Ted Turner (Billionaire Ted) as an out-of-touch billionaire just looking to make money at the expense of the wrestling business, Hulk Hogan (The Huckster) and Randy Savage (Nacho Man) as two old wrestlers only wanting to get paid and not caring about wrestling, and Gene Okerlund (Scheme Gene) as a hack journalist making things up for his hotline (probably not too far from the truth). The WWF ran a series of skits which some found petty, some found funny, and anyone watching from outside the USA (such as myself) had no idea what was going on.

This one sees Ted wanting his “wrasslers” to get more extreme, a young Vince Russo is among the “executives” asking if Nacho Man and The Huckster to do some moves like the Jacknife, the Pearl River Plunge etc., but they don’t want to. Apparently all they can do is pose. I never liked the Billionaire Ted stuff, as a new fan in 1996 I didn’t know what WCW was let alone who Ted Turner was, and due to all the threats of lawsuits there was never any big pay-off.

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So that was the first RAW of 1996 and it is a difficult show to judge, it was taped over the holiday period so they had to fill an hour show with a match from the previous PPV. The two “new” matches couldn’t have been any more different, the Tag Team RAW BOWL match was fun and showcased as much of their talent as they could, the Diesel/Mabel match seemed to be designed to get Diesel over at Mabel’s expense and only lasted seconds. I’m going to hold back my criticisms of the replayed content due it being a “holiday” show, and the Tag match made the first half of the show quite meaningful.

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SSTARS1996

WWF SUPERSTARS
6th January 1996

Superstars was to RAW in 1996 as SmackDown! is to RAW now, except it was an hour long and contained more squash matches than actual competitive ones. However whilst RAW contained more angles Superstars usually had at least four matches on every show but still kept storylines going using inset promos during the matches. I should also point out that I can find most RAW shows as full episodes, but with Superstars I have to seek out individual matches so there are going to be some gaps.

We’re kicking off with the first Superstars shows of the year, your hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Mr. Perfect, and before the show starts I need to make mention of how great the theme is. Entitled “Are You Ready?” it’s a song referencing several WWF stars of the time with the most bizarre lyrics (“Psycho Sid’s a dangerous man, Bulldog… Englishman”) but it is so over the top that it becomes tremendous. Anyway, let’s go to the first match…

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AHMED JOHNSON vs. JERRY ‘THE KING’ LAWLER

This match was scheduled for the last In Your House show but Lawler chickened out claiming an injury and was replaced by Buddy Landell. Sure enough, Lawler comes out on crutches this time too with a man in a spider mask next to him, and according to Lawler he has a broken bone in his leg and The Royal Spider is going to replace him in this match.

AHMED JOHNSON vs. THE ROYAL SPIDER

Spider attacks Johnson from behind but every strike that the Spider lands makes absolutely no impact on Johnson, eventually Ahmed just wrings his arm and clotheslines the Spider. Johnson sends Spider off the ropes and catches him with a powerslam, but his attention is taken by Jeff Jarrett who is walking down to ringside in his full Double J country singer attire. That gives Spider the chance to dropkick Johnson out of the ring and Ahmed immediately gets up to chase Jarrett backstage. Lawler and Spider think Johnson has left the match and shake hands, however Johnson sneaks up behind Spider and thumps him with a right hand, Ahmed then delivers a running axe kick to the spine, followed by a pump kick to the face. Johnson sends Spider off the ropes to deliver a spinebuster, then sets up and connects with the Pearl River Plunge for the three count. A squash, as you’d expect. The crowd cheer whilst Lawler walks away backstage without using the crutches, because you see the injury WASN’T REAL. If you can’t trust Jerry Lawler, who can you trust?

Winner: Ahmed Johnson via Pinfall
Time: 2:17

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ISAAC YANKEM DDS vs. BRIAN WALSH

Time for match number 2 and it’s everyone’s favourite evil dentist in action, Isaac Yankem DDS was brought in by Jerry Lawler to be his weapon against Bret Hart, but ever since Yankem’s match with Hart at SummerSlam 1995 he has been left without a storyline. The man behind Yankem went on to be reasonably successful as Kane, a two time World champion and one of the most successful gimmicks in WWF/E history. Brian Walsh never quite reached that level of stardom. Yankem’s gimmick is that of a dentist who is not only a bad person but a bad dentist, his own teeth are rotten and he has bad breath. Mid 90s WWF everyone. Walsh starts off by running away from the much bigger Yankem but eventually gets caught in a chokehold and thrown into the corner, Yankem connects with a kick and then drives Walsh’s head into the turnbuckle. Yankem takes Walsh to another corner and punches him, Yankem then leads Walsh around the ring and kicks him in the ribs periodically. Yankem whips Walsh off the ropes and delivers a military press slam, he then yanks away at Walsh’s mouth. He’s a dentist, you see. Most of Yankem’s offence is just kicks, punches and chokes, and seemingly a lot of ramming heads into turnbuckles as he does it again to Walsh. Yankem gets Walsh up in a suplex but drops him rib first on the ropes to hang him up there, Yankem then heads to the apron and lands a SPRINGBOARD… SOMETHING to the back of Walsh. I think it ended up being a double axe handle I think. Yankem says it’s over and he connects with his finisher, the DDS, which is just a DDT. He’s a dentist, you see. His pinfall involves him checking his opponent’s mouth (he’s a dentist, you see) but it still gets him a three count.

Winner: Isaac Yankem DDS via Pinfall
Time: 1:48

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To fill some time we have an almost full match recap of the casket match between The Undertaker and King Mabel from In Your House. Undertaker won. I guess you could say that at this point King Mabel was being… buried. This was part of Undertaker’s quest for justice after Yokozuna and Mabel crushed his face with a series of leg drops, causing Undertaker to wear a Phantom of the Opera mask.

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SKIP vs. RAD RADFORD

Before this main event match starts we get a Ted DiBiase promo talking about finding the best wrestler he’s ever seen and how he’s going to be unveiled on the Brother Love Show on RAW. I’m not going to spoil who that is, but DiBiase may have been understating how good his find was… Of course the best thing about this, as with any DiBiase promo, was the DIBIASE LAUGH.

Skip is of course Chris Candido, Rad Radford is Louie Spicolli in his last televised WWF match before his personal demons led to his release. Radford had teamed with Skip for a period of 1995 as a “Bodydonna In Training” but was thrown out of the group by Sunny as his physique wasn’t up to standard. Which was true.

Skip is led out by Sunny and it’s fair to say that she was just as attractive in 1996 as everyone remembers. She cuts a promo but for some reason the commentators talk all over her and we don’t hear a word. Radford charges to the ring and lands some right hands and clotheslines until he sends Skip out of the ring, Skip hides behind Sunny but when Radford moves Sunny out of the way it gives Skip the chance to attack from behind. Back in the ring and Skip takes control, a snapmere leads to a quick leg drop but it only gets a 1 count. A rear chinlock two minutes into the match doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, Radford fights out and gets a two count from a running cradle before sending Skip into the air with a T-Bone Overhead Suplex. Radford comes off the ropes but misses with an elbow drop. Skip dives off the second rope with a fist drop for a two count before we take a commercial break.

When we come back Skip is in control with several hard right hands and a foot choke in the corner, a snap suplex from Skip gets some applause from Sunny, but he takes too long going to the top rope allowing Radford to join him and throws him off with a top rope Belly to Belly suplex. Both men are down for a while before getting back to their feet in a slugfest, Radford wins that and sends Skip off the ropes for a back body drop. Another whip to the ropes is reversed but Radford ducks under a Skip clothesline and delivers a German Suplex with a nice bridge for a 2 count. We get a clumsy sequence where they almost fall into the corner to set up Skip trying to stack Radford up with his feet on the ropes, but referee TIM WHITE sees the infringement and stops his count at 2. Skip sets Radford up on the top rope but gets shoved back down again, Sunny then distracts Radford allowing Skip to attack from behind, however Radford reverses a whip into the ropes and delivers what would now be called a Double A Spinebuster. Sunny is now up on the apron to distract the referee as Radford hits a Northern Lights Suplex with a bridge, however in runs a man looking “identical” to Skip who drives an elbow into the chest of the bridging Radford. Skip rolls over into a cover and apparently that’s enough to get a three count. Sunny gets a microphone and introduces Skip’s twin brother “Zip“, although he’s better known as Dr. Tom Pritchard.

Winner: Skip via Pinfall
Time: 7:08 (Televised)

I thought it was a pretty decent TV match, it’s easy to forget that Louie Spicolli was a really talented big man worker which really just makes his drug-influenced death at the age of 27 a real waste. Candido wasn’t as polished a worker as he was towards the end of his career but was still very athletic, of course Candido died at a young age too. Considering Sunny’s recent demise and imprisonment this match just ends up being quite depressing if you think about it too much. At least Dr. Tom is still doing well even if he ends up talking nonsense once in a while.

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I enjoyed the other matches as well as this one, I’m not as down on squash matches as most people (in fact I find them quite interesting as it gives one wrestler a chance to shine instead of having to share with their opponent) so Superstars may be the show for me.

WWF 1996 Video Highlight

Hakushi & his new friend Barry Horowitz join forces to battle Skip & Rad Radford. [September 1995]

 I hope you enjoyed the retrospective and until next time, thanks for reading!

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