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WWF Tag Team Division – exhales... I mean, tag team wrestling has always traditionally been overrated – in the sense that the "depth" of a division is usually infinite providing the top two teams are really good (see Beer Money/MCMG in TNA in 2010). Of course, if the two teams on top are horrid, then the rest gets exposed very quickly. In 1996 that was the case in the WWF, a division headlined by The Smoking Gunns (with all the charisma of a bucket), The Godwinn's (with an actual bucket), The Bodydonnas and the New Rockers. Matches were, without variation, awful and the division just sucked for the entire year. Mercifully by the end of 1996 Owen and Bulldog had the titles and the team of Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon had been shipped in from Japan. Still, the 4 way tag title match at Summerslam was a new low... for anything, let alone wrestling.
Shootfights in ECW – ECW always liked to be ahead of the curve, right on the tail of pop-culture. Never was this more apparent than in the middle of the year when they were trying to get Taz over as a legitimate "shooter" in the wake of the rising popularity of Ultimate Fighting. Nobody ever really asked the question how, in the middle of a show, you could present a match as a "shoot fight" but not inadvertantly call the rest fake... but there we are. Up against Taz was "The Polar Bear" Paul Varelans, a 6ft 8 – 350+ pounder with a 5-4 MMA record. Problems were: 1) it looked nothing like a shoot fight (it actually resembled a really bad pro wrestling match and 2) Varelans didn't want to lose cleanly. So, of course, the first and only "shoot fight" to end via interference took place within ECW in June 1996 as Taz won after Perry Saturn hit a dropkick from the top rope. I wrote a full piece on the topic here.
Loch Ness – Giant Haystacks was (and still is) one of the biggest names in British Wrestling history. Ask people in the UK about wrestling, even in 2017, and you'll never been too far away from hearing his name. But in 1996, in WCW, a near 700 pounder was an odd choice for a feud with Hulk Hogan. Still, WCW pre NWO in 1996 was a very weird place as Hogan (struggling) for a reaction continued a feud with the Dungeon of Doom never seemed to want to end. Aside from some squash wins (literally, in this case) on Nitro, Haystacks wrestling under the moniker Loch Ness would be remembered the finish at Superbrawl – where he had to be held back from attacking Hogan because he wasn't able to fit inside the steel cage, and a flat match with the Giant at Uncensored. And just like that, it had finished. Got a lot of time for Haystacks, but he shouldn't have been on a national wrestling show in 1996.
Mass Transit – a lot has been written about the incident, but it really does bear stating just how horrid the whole thing was. At an ECW live event in Revere, MA in November 1996 ECW were short of a wrestler following Axl Rotten no showing. At the building was an obese 17-year-old kid called Eric Kulas, who wanted to be a wrestler. After lying about his age, Kulas was allowed to do the match tagging alongside D-Von Dudley against The Gangstas. He wanted to "juice" but, having never done it before, didn't want to do it himself. Cut to the middle of the match as New Jack is hacking away at Kulas' head, causing a cut so deep a significant number of towels were needed to stem the flow and Kulas needed to be taken to hospital. Nobody comes out of this story well, at all, but it was a reminder that ECW was still a million miles away from being a serious promotion.
Doomsday Cage – There's a special place in wrestling hell reserved for this match. At quite possibly the height of WCW's craziness ahead of the angle that would spearhead them through the next couple of years things got a bit... weird. None more so than the idea of having a 1 on 4 handicap match in a triple decker cage. Of course, WCW thought that was far too sane and turned it into a 2 on 8 contest featuring Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage taking on an ever evolving list of names – which up until the week of the show apparently included both Brian Pillman and (if you believe Eric Bischoff) Dennis Rodman. The match itself was... dreadful – Hogan and Savage picked off the first three chambers with minimal effort before bizarrely escaping the structure completely (the rules were never explained) and eventually winning after Savage pinned Ric Flair. Ready my full review of WCW Uncesored here.
Hog Wild – I mean, there's enough to be said about the pure self-indulgence to hold a pay per view at a biker rally just because you're a wannabe biker, and one that has a gate of entirely $0. But this show has a place in this list for two reasons. Firstly, as a follow up the debut of the New World Order and turn Hulk Hogan heel turn, it was really quite bad – Hogan winning the title off of the Giant in a horribly flat main event and the tag match between Sting and Lex Luger against the Outsiders also ending in a flat finish. The other reason were the fans, largely not wrestling fans and, also, racist. Despite being flat all night, when it came to Harlem Heat's match a vocal and loud portion of the crowd were all over them. Still, at least the scenery and sunset were positives, mind.
Fake Razor/Diesel - Yeah, this one had a full piece written about it so I'll keep this summary fairly succinct. In the aftermath of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash debuting on Nitro, legal proceedings were started by the WWF against WCW for basically anything they could think off. These proceedings would take an age to sort themselves out, but in them WWf convinced themselves that the reason Diesel and Razor Ramon were so popular was not thanks to Hall and Nash, but more down to Vince McMahon's ability to create a character. Fast forward a couple of months and Jim Ross is talking on Raw about the return of Diesel and Razor Ramon. Hall and Nash they weren't (although the pair did get a big pay increase from a scared WCW), but WWF tried to con their fans into thinking two major characters were returning. Fortunately, eventually, someone backstage realised the whole thing was going to fall flat. Still, they were too committed to turn back so the pair debuted to crickets and the whole thing died a death – didn't stop them both being regulars on TV for about six months afterwards, mind.
Billionaire Ted – Raw in 1996 was 45 minutes long which, when compared to 2016, would seem like heaven. But when your main television outlet is only 45 minutes long, every minute really does count – so much so that even WWF's biggest stars often didn't appear on every show – rotated around as there often wasn't time to feature all of them. With that in mind, the Billionaire Ted segments (which I wrote a full piece on here) were a major piece of self-indulgence. Running at nearly five minutes each show, and running from the first Raw in January right the way through until Wrestlemania, it was a set of segments that was often embarrasing to watch. Vince McMahon's idea of humour and his desire to stop the Time Warner/Turner merger meant fans had to sit through skits each week poking fun at Hulk Hogan, Randay
WCW’s Main Events – Doomsday Cage, quite rightly, got its own section, but 1996 was a bad year for WCW main events across the board. Despite a sea change of personnel in the lower and mid card (a welcome change from years past) the main events still sucked in comparison. With the company focusing main events around guys like Hogan and Savage (who were both definitely well past their best) and even Ric Flair, who in 1996 was at best a really good impersonation act of Ric Flair, their main event scene was too poor for a company wanting to call itself the best. New acts came in – Hall, Nash, Giant, even Luger – but without anyone who you could really call good in 1996, not to mention Roddy Piper, WCW’s main event scene deserves its place in this list. Just imagine what might have been had Bret Hart signed in 1996?
WCW World War 3 – In 1995, WCW debuted a new pay per view called World War 3 – using an ambitious if ultimately preposterous setup of three rings in a triangular formation, with a show headlined with a 60 man battle royal. It sucked.. but hey, they tried. In 1996 they returned with… the same show, with the same 60 man main event and the same stupid main event. If this wasn’t bad enough, four of the sixty men were NWO members – and nobody bothered to attack them… like, at all. Which was infuriating – we got down to 4 vs 4, then 1 vs 4 as the four NWO members had survived all bar one of the entrants – Lex Luger. But still, 25 minutes of poor logic actually could’ve been excused if they’d have pulled the trigger on Luger – which the crowd were ridiculously ready for. Luger rallied, eliminated three of the four the Giant eliminated him. Ugh…
ECW’s “World” Title Picture – We’ve been teasing this for this category ever since we started reviewing ECW – their treatment of their world title has hardly been stellar – but 1996 sunk to a pretty low place. The title went back and forth between the Sandman and Raven who, while their feud was often good were incapable of putting on a match that wasn’t dire. More bizarre still was the lack of seemingly anyone else who even wanted the title. Shane Douglas wrestled a series of matches against Raven, each time being screwed by one of Raven’s expanding flock, yet the program ended abruptly when Too Cold Scorpio brainwashed Shane Douglas into thinking he’d be better off going after the TV title. And remember, that was like June… after that nobody even mentioned the title.
Battlebowl – The 1993 pay per view WCW Battlebowl still remains the worst wrestling show I’ve ever seen, which makes the decision to bring the format back (under the guise of Slamboree) a baffling decision. The random draw tag format is a nightmare, particularly when WCW eliminate most of the interesting acts in the first round, and it dictates that there must be thirteen matches on the card. Add to that two other title matches and the whole thing was just dire. Not quite the 1993 version – this had a bit more going for it – including the angle that was the prelude to Steve McMichael joining the Four Horsemen. But gees… a month later WCW held their Great American Bash pay per view, which will go down as one of their best ever. Weird.
WWF’s Entire Undercard – It’s hard to even think about what the WWF might have been like in the middle of 1996 had Shawn Michaels got injured. With Hall and Nash debuting in WCW, and Bret Hart on hiatus, the WWF was massively reliant on Michaels to prop up almost everything they were doing. TV in the middle of the year sagged anyway (as it wasn’t uncommon for the Champ to miss shows) and pay per view undercards were almost universally dire – save for Michaels coming in and having excellent matches with just about everyone: Owen, Bret, Diesel, Bulldog, Vader, Mankind – even Sid. The WWF did certainly have talent down there, but in some cases it was being misused (Vader, Mero) and in other cases it just wasn’t anywhere near ready yet (Helmsley, Ahmed Johnson, Bradshaw). Beyond that, though, was just a real lack of depth – not just in the tag division but also singles acts like Savio Vega and Goldust. It just needed to go away.
Piper vs Hogan Without The Title – There’s a lot that can be said about putting Roddy Piper in a main event in the 1990s. It felt a couple of years past its best in 1994 when the WWF did it, but WCW bringing in Piper to headline Starrcade in 1996 felt like a step too far. However, that isn’t why this is here, Piper was often a riot in the build-up to the match, and come show time the face-off with Hogan had the best big fight feel of any WCW match of the year, one which was rewarded when Piper beat Hogan, cleanly, with a sleeper hold and won the WCW Title. Except he didn’t… the match was never for the title, something that WCW did their best never to bring up nor did they ever attempt to explain why it wasn’t.