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As with much of 1996, the WWF very much felt like they were a company being pulled in a few different directions. With many of the pieces now in place that would cause the company’s rise in the next few years there was one eye on the future but clearly with fingerprints of the past still very much on the product. Similarly, with TV still taped in 3-4 week blocks, episodes of Raw felt increasingly irrelevant in the shadow of the live Monday Nitro on the other channel.
The response to this, after Bret Hart’s return to television announcing he had re-signed with the company, was to move Raw forward an hour (well, an hour and three minutes) to run against the first hour of Nitro, rather than the second. Bret’s return provided a momentary reprieve but not one that continued into the following week. Still, the WWF kicked off the time slot move with a bang, specifically the show where Brian Pillman pulled a gun on Steve Austin in his home.
As for the storylines going in, it was all a bit weird. All signs point to the decision to move away from Shawn vs Vader in the main event to Shawn vs Sid being quite a late one – probably around the same time when the groundwork was laid out for plans on the run into Wrestlemania. Despite his ability to be involved in generally excellent main event matches, Shawn’s run on top was falling flat due to a number of factors. The rise of Sid, as an aside and a genuine rival, was nothing short of absurd given how flat he was in 1995.
Bret vs Austin was probably the best built angle, but even that was really only isolated to one show at the end of October. As noteworthy as the angle was with Pillman, it was quite hard to work out how it was supposed to help Austin in the short-term, beyond perhaps further establishing his character – Bret was nowhere to be found. Still, Bret had called Steve Austin the best wrestler in the WWF on WWF television, so with this being easily the biggest match of Austin’s career there was an incentive for both men to deliver on the big stage.
Elsewhere we had the latest in the feud between the Undertaker and Mankind in a match with Paul Bearer suspended above the ring in a cage. Following along from a Boiler Room Brawl and a Buried Alive Match the stipulation that essentially made it an ordinary match felt a bit underwhelming. We also had a trio of Survivor Series tag matches, more noteworthy for late changes, surprises and a few debuts; namely Flash Funk (Too Cold Scorpio) and the team of Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon – all three of which had been involved with ECW recently. Oh, and the small matter of the debut of Rocky Maivia…
Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Leif Cassidy and Marty Jannetty (w/ Clarence Mason) vs Doug Furnas, Philip Lafon, Henry O Godwin and Phineaus I Godwin (w/ Hillbilly Jim)
It’s rare that you can say it, but this match was booked flawlessly. Given who was involved, and with the main aim of getting over new boys Furnas and Lafon, they nailed this. Took a while to get going, and the opening bit of the match did involve a high amount of Godwin, but we had three quick pins one after another dropping us down to Hart, Bulldog and Cassidy against Furnas and Lafon.
And this is where the match got quite decent, as all five men can work. The crowd were flat, sure, but that’s to be expected given how new the faces are. Still the standard of the work rate after this point was good, and given how dire the tag team division is otherwise there was only one way to establish the new team – that was to pin all three of them. Which they did. Lafon pinning Cassidy with an impressive belly to back suplex from the second rope, a crucifix roll up on Bulldog before Furnas hit a lovely release German suplex on Hart for the win.
Mankind (w/ Paul Bearer) vs The Undertaker – Paul Bearer will be suspended in a shark cage high above the ring
Undertaker has gone a bit of a makeover since we last saw him (being buried alive will do that to a guy, I suppose). His gear is now all leathers, he’s changed his hair a bit too and he even came to the ring by dropping in from the rafters. It wasn’t really explained but it also gave him a reason to change up his in ring act. The addition of Bearer being suspended above the ring in theory made sense, stopping him being involved in the match, but otherwise added very little to the action.
The action, it should be said, was good. Undertaker worked on Mankind’s hand as a way to try and nullify the mandible claw, which did work. And both guys worked hard… but it just felt a little flat. Having all of these matches, stipulation or not, only makes a difference if the result matters. Still, the match was well worked Undertaker won decisively without doing too much damage to Mankind by hitting a tombstone.
Crush, Jerry Lawler, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Goldust (w/ Marlene) vs “Wildman” Marc Mero, The Stalker, Rocky Maivia and Jake “The Snake” Roberts (w/ Sable)
Yeah… this tag match. The good thing with Survivor Series tag matches is that, regardless of who’s involved, the moving dynamics generally keep you interested. It just about worked here… just. Really there were three major acts in this match. Mero and Hunter carried a lot of the match and were, by some significant margin, but the best two workers in the match. Roberts, one of the late changes got his revenge on Lawler, too. Hunter got eliminated after Roberts illegally got into the ring, then Mero was “eliminated” after crashing and burning on the outside going for a slingshot plancha. Then it was all about Rocky.
They talked him up a fair amount on commentary, Ross talked up his athletic background, Vince talked up his heritage and even Sunny (randomly on commentary) talked him up. His action early in the match worked well as they protected him in very short spots but here there wasn’t really anywhere to hide (and, lets be honest, Crush and Goldust aren’t exactly the two guys you want to be holding your cards). Still, Rocky ducks a heart punch from Crust which takes Goldust out. Rocky pins Crush then hits a running shoulder breaker on Goldust for the win. Fans, in the end, got behind him with “Rocky” chants (easy, eh?). It worked, but maybe was a bit too much after an opener where the faces went on a tear.
Bret Hart vs “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
You’re supposed to love this match, and perhaps it hindered my first viewing of it, but I’d draw the line at calling this an exceptional match (I’m not even wholly convinced it was the best match on the card). That being said, this was still a very good match that did really well without actually doing that much. A lot of mat work early doors, which made sense given that Austin wanted to prove he was better than Bret. The match built into more of a brawling style with the action spilling to the outside, briefly into the crowd and a brief section on the Spanish announce table (which didn’t break).
The match returned to the ring, Austin hit a stunner on Bret but – in theory – took too long making the cover giving them an out (Ross had to work hard to get that over). Still, the surprise of Bret kicking out of Austin’s finish aside this very much felt like a match that was headed to an unsatisfying finish. Austin escaped a sleeper with a neckbreaker (he really should stop doing that given how similar it is to his finish). Austin goes for a Million Dollar Dream, Bret kicks off the turnbuckle and rolls it over for a three.
Really good, for sure, and it cannot be denied that Bret had assisted in making Austin feel like a genuine contender, whatever the question was. So in that sense it was a big tick for that match. Was it a *great* match, though? Not for me.
Farooq, Razor Ramon, Diesel and Vader (w/ Clarence Mason and Jim Cornette – interestingly) vs Savio Vega, Yokozuna, Flash Funk and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka
There was probably more of note before the match started than in the match itself. They were running a little short on time – which becomes more apparent at the end. But also the surprise appearance of Superfly Jimmy Snuka (inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous evening), the debut of Flash Funk (Scorpio) who’s entrance was pretty good and the repacking of Farooq – coming out with PG13 as the Nation of Domination. Quite what Vader had done to deserve this I’m not really sure.
The match itself peaked pretty early, Funk hits a lovely moonsault onto Vader on the floor – that saw a brief ECW chant break out from the MSG crowd. After that the match was much of nothing. Yokozuna is really out of shape at this point, Razor and Diesel are awful – so is Vega. Vega gets eliminated by a Jacknife, Snuka hits the splash onto Razor eliminating him too then the match breaks down completely. In the end everyone gets disqualified. A bit weak (ok, very weak) but they had a main event to get on and this was the quickest way of getting there.
Sid vs Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) for the WWF Championship
The reactions in New York early on was pretty even, Shawn got a big female pop and Sid was reasonably popular with the crowd. The story of this match, which for me made it the most interesting match on the card, was how the reaction to both men evolved as the match went on. It went from a fairly split crowd to one that was heavily pro Sid, and it really added to the action.
Whether it was just Shawn carrying him, or whether the spectacle had Sid more motivated than normal, but this match was far stronger than it had any right to be. Shawn, regardless, works real real hard for a match which is very even. Sid’s offense, as always, is very punch and kick heavy, but that’s OK – because they both make it work. There’s a great moment where Shawn takes Sid down with a tackle, lines up another one and Sid just smashes him with a clothesline.
Before the shenanigans that ultimately cost Shawn the title, it got really, really good for a while. Sid caught a superkick and countered it into a one handed chokeslam for a near fall. We also got a throwback to a year prior, with Sid setting up a powerbomb only for Shawn to almost grab it with an inside cradle. Still, Sid was never going to finish Shawn cleanly, and in an attempt to quell Sid’s potential face reactions for his future matches, he hit Jose Lothario with a TV camera.
Now, you’d think that a camera shot would’ve been enough for the story they were trying to tell, but strangely they decided to add the thought that Lothario might be having a heart attack at ringside, which might have stuck had no EMT’s come out to help him for minutes. Still, Shawn hit Sid with a superkick but went to tend to Lothario. Sid followed him out, hit him with a camera, then hit a powerbomb and won the title to a big pop.
Score Rating: 7.5/10
Go Back and Watch: The opener is solid, and all three singles matches are also worth watching. Bret vs Austin, even if I didn’t think it was a classic, is certainly historically significant and the main event is a big one.