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The WWF was in a very odd state in 1996, with a very muddled state of affairs headed into their latest show "In Your House: Mind Games". With ratings sinking quite alarmingly against Nitro and the NWO angle that was running quite nicely, over in the WWF television sagged as their lack of star power shone through.
The response to their struggles was to attempt to fight their way out with deception. Brian Pillman ahead of this show promised an in-ring interview with Bret Hart for the pay per view – something Hart did deny via video from South Africa but the WWF didn't outright say wasn't happening.
More bizarre still were the plans afoot in the company to "bring back" Razor Ramon and Diesel. While Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were very much still within WCW, the WWF believed that they could retrofit the roles onto indy act Rick Bognor and the former Isaac Yankem DDS Glen Jacobs. While the angle would take place on the two Raw's that followed the show, we did get the latest development of it here.
With the two main feuds in the company being Shawn vs Vader and Undertaker vs Mankind, the WWF took the opportunity to split those up and pitted Shawn against Mankind in the main event. Undertaker dropped into the co-main to finish some business with Goldust and Vader was given this one off. Oh, and we're in Philadelphia, that'll come in handy in a minute.
Justin Hawk Bradshaw (w/ Uncle Zebakiah) vs Savio Vega in a Caribbean Strap Match
So yeah... they're in Philadelphia, and they've come up with an interpromotional angle with ECW. So, as the action spills to the outside, Savio Vega gets beer sprayed at him by The Sandman, before Sandman cracks the beer can over his head. Security escort Sandman, Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer away. The match itself? Eh – it was a backdrop for the angle. A bog standard strap match with the strap match finish. If you include the pre-show, and the *FOUR* matches Savio wrestled in Philadelphia the last time the WWF were here on pay per view... that's a lot of matches.
Jim Cornette vs Jose Lothario
Yikes... they originally had this down as a Cornette and Vader vs Lothario and Michaels. While this was perhaps worth it just for Cornette's Dennis The Menace inspired ring gear, the 60 second match was abysmal, almost embarrassing and felt far longer. Lothario wins it cleanly, afterwards as Cornette is being treated backstage on a stretcher Clarence Mason gets him to sign a contract that (as it's formally revealed on Raw) signed over the rights of the Owen/Bulldog tag team to Mason.
We then get an in-ring segment with Brian Pillman, Owen Hart and Steve Austin. This is a fun retrospective but in reality a really average segment. Pillman, not for the last time in the month, is shown to be a false prophet with Bret's no-show. Owen says that Bret is scared of Steve Austin, Austin comes out and says Bret is scared of him. All a bit awkward really, save the King Of The Ring connection there's no reason, at all, why Bret should be scared of Austin. Weak.
Owen Hart & The British Bulldog vs The Smoking Gunns (w/ Sunny) for the WWF Tag Team Titles
Owen actually went to the back only to come straight back out again, they're soon joined by Clarence Mason who (as it turns out) has duped a dazed Jim Cornette into signing over the rights of the Owen/Bulldog team to him). Four slightly above average wrestlers having an about average match – suspect the whole thing wasn't helped by the fact that all four are really heels. Still, Sunny distracts Billy by accident, who ends up shoving Bart, who ends up eating a powerslam for the pin and new tag champions. Sunny "fires" the Gunns after the match.
Jerry Lawler vs Mark Henry
Lord above, Mark Henry's stars and stripes ring attire (and flat cap) really do need to be seen to be believed. We get the usual pre-match schtick from Lawler, which in theory should help get some babyface sympathy on Henry (well, that and the ludicrous ring gear). The match is pretty bad, Henry is so green at this point. They have him work the basics but there's no subtlety or drama to it all. Henry wins. Yawn.
Goldust (w/ Marlene) vs The Undertaker
Eh... I mean, Goldust's character without the edge he had six months ago is really just a dead horse. There wasn't much on this match going in and it showed. To be honest, rather than the back and forth they had, they may have been better off just letting Undertaker finish him off. Goldust chucks glitter into Undertaker's eyes, which allows him to dominate the next few minutes of action. Undertaker rallies, hits a tombstone, and wins the match. Yikes.
Mankind (w/ Paul Bearer) vs Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title
Well, if you believe in karma you might say we paid with how bad the rest of this show was by how good this match was. For over 25 minutes Shawn and Mankind beat the piss out of each other in a match, that rarely slowed and contained a lot of drama. Sure, it involved Mankind freely trying to put himself in a wheelchair (what matches doesn't) but as WWF matches go for 1996 this may be as good as it gets.
We start at a fast pace, Mankind takes a backdrop onto the floor within the first two minutes before being enveloped by the ring matting. There's a great moment a few moments later when Mankind gets dumped back outside, he goes to regroup, Bearer hands him the urn and he clutches it like a child would a toy.
Mankind re-arranges the Spanish announce table so it's pointing at the turnbuckle, but Shawn averts the immediate crisis by hitting a snap suplex which sees Mankind's leg crack off the ring steps. Later in the match Mankind does that spots where he runs into the ring steps... The action continues, Mankind goes to back suplex Michaels off the turnbuckle through the earlier moved Spanish announce table, Shawn counters mid move into a cross body and both men go crashing through the table.
Both recover, Shawn sets a chair unfolded in the ring, Mankind tries to climb through the ropes with another but Shawn (Sabu style... ish) jumps off the chair and hits a side kick to the chair which cannons into Mankind's face. Not quite a sweet chain music, but pretty close. Shawn goes for the pin, but Vader runs out and the ref calls for the DQ. After the match, Sid comes out and runs off Vader, but Mankind gets after Michaels. He goes to put him in the casket that they wheeled out at the start of the match, but Bearer opens the casket and Undertaker is inside it. That was *great*. Undertaker chases Mankind away and Shawn celebrates with the fans.
Score Rating: 4/10
Go Back and Watch: The main event. The ECW angle is cute but still entirely forgettable. But seriously, watch the main event.