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The latest edition of King Of The Ring came at a relatively middling time for the WWF. Finally into a bit of a rhythm of two hour Raw's, their TV product was generally good even if their head-to-head TV ratings with Nitro was still struggling. I say "good", more in the sense that they had one hot feud – The Hart Foundation (and more specifically Bret) vs Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. Backstage the situation was building with the Shawn/Bret rivalry having to be tempered as shoot comments were spilling onto television with no real benefit. This would all boil over the night after the show, we'll have to get to that in another piece.
Still, the plan was for Michaels vs Bret pay per view – that was until it was deemed that Bret's injured knee wouldn't recover in time. Not for the first time, Austin was drafted into a previously planned Bret vs Michaels match as one of them wasn't able to compete. Not for the first time, either, did it put Austin in a match with (dare I say it) a more popular opponent. While Austin was absolutely on the rise, it really shouldn't be understated how much he was being a fill in during this run. Wrestlemania was meant to be Bret vs Michaels (Austin replaced Michaels), In Your House in April probably would've been Undertaker vs Vader before Vader ended up holed up in Kuwait. Austin at this show was supposed to face Brian Pillman – that was delayed for 24 hours but Pillman's ankle still wasn't up to any serious in-ring time.
The other major match of note was Undertaker vs Farooq for the WWF Title. Farooq's inclusion in the match was an interesting one, despite his relatively decent record since the Nation of Domination formed the WWF had done very little of note to try and present him as one of their top acts. Still, Ron Simmons had Championship pedigree, not that the WWF were ever going to admit it. In fact, rather than build up Farooq as a potential character, with Undertaker pre-occupied with Paul Bearer most of the build surrounded Farooq (quite rightly) pointing out that the WWF had never had a black world champion. I guess the first step in sorting a problem out is admitting you have one, and Farooq pushing the cause of not only himself but also rival Ahmed Johnson showed this was something bigger than normal.
Undertaker's pre-occupation with Bearer stemmed from his attack on him at In Your House in April after a highly bungled angle that was designed to see Mankind accidentally torch Bearer's face (while aiming for Undertaker, who is about 18 inches taller...). That was all irreleavant as the paper never lit and Undertaker had to quickly come up with a plan B and just light the thing in Bearer's face himself. This caused an incredulous and comically face-wrapped Bearer to start blackmailing Undertaker, threatening to divulge a secret regarding "a third grave". Whatever secret it was, it was working for now as Undertaker cow-towed to Bearer's side for this event. Side-bar: There is the odd rumour at the time that the original plan in this storyline involved Papa Shango...
The other main story in a news-worthy month was the advent of a series of "pulling-back-the-curtain" segments on Goldust and later Mankind – or should I say "Dustin Runnells" and "Mickey Foley". In a series of parallel interviews, the company attempted to pull two of their more out-there characters back into line with the hard-hitting reality of 1997 wrestling. The Mankind ones in particular, telling the now well worn stories of Foley jumping off of the roof of his house in an attempt to emulate Jimmy Snuka, and his exploding barbed-wire death matches in Japan. It was a left turn from WWF's character development in the past, and in the case of Foley was probably a huge difference maker in his WWF career, one that (if you look hard enough) really was beginning to falter.
Ahmed Johnson vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Chyna) - King of the Ring Semi #1
This was not a good match. Decent moves but very little in the way of transition or drama as Hunter Hearst Helmsley once again makes you wonder how the hell he ever got the push he did (or, indeed, how he went on to be so successful). In a short match, Ahmed hits an axe kick, Helmsley responds with a running knee onto Ahmed (who was pre-occupied with Chyna) before picking up the win. Ahmed shoots up bloody fast to chase them to the back. Not great.
Mankind vs Jerry "The King" Lawler – King of the Ring Semi #2
Foley is being humanised, he drops the "Mrs Foley's Baby Boy" line before doing the Cactus Jack "bang bang". Lawler responds with his usual pre-match gags. Lawler actually tries to bite Mankind's missing ear... not sure how that works, but this was flat for large parts. The Mankind character transition, for now at least, has kinda left him with no legs. Still, it's a Mankind match on pay per view so you know he's setting for some stupid shit, as he charges at Lawler sat up against the ring steps before plowing head first into them. Mankind counters a piledriver attempt before sitting out on it and applying the mandible claw.
Crush (w/ The Nation) vs Goldust (w/ Marlene)
Trying to work out what we possibly could've done to deserve such a horrible matchup. Goldust, a bit like Mankind, is in that "we're humanising him" phase of him being a babyface (basically: nobody cares) and Crush is DOA. There's a desperately long chinlock in, then Goldust hits a DDT for the win. I forgot about this match probably about two minutes before it finished.
The Hart Foundation (The British Bulldog, Owen Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart) vs The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Animal) and Sid
This was good. They let Owen and Bulldog do much of the heavy lifting (literally, in this case) and got a nice, long match out of it. They kept Sid to small bursts – Sid got a real nice reaction too – but he and Anvil's involvement in the match was pretty minimal. We did get some random moments, Hawk no-selling a Bulldog piledriver probably the main one. This held together for far longer than it had any right to before Sid tagged in and the match broke down (in a storyline sense). He chokeslams Bulldog, then sets him up for a powerbomb before Owen comes off the top with a floatover sunset flip for a real nice conclusion.
King Of The Ring Final – Mankind vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Chyna)
They really did try to have an epic here, this one had real length and a lot of "big moments", but I can't help but feel the match struggled because the crowd were cold for both acts. We get a Mankind hangman spot early, complete with Jim Ross shouting "GOOD LORD HE'S HUNG". They remove the matting to expose the concrete floor for the ever popular back body drop spot.
We get a repeat of the Mankind/Lawler finish except this time Chyna pulls Hunter out of the ring. Helmsley then pedigrees Mankind through the announcers table (that might be a first... we've had people go through announcers tables but usually inadvertently). Hunter drags him into the ring after Chyna whacked Mankind with the sceptre – they get a good near fall pop in with a kick out before Hunter pedigree's him again for the win. After the match there's no real coronation, they just attack him a bit more. This was good, it should be said (probably the match of the night) but they had to work really hard to get the crowd into it at all.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels
Apparently during the pre-show, when both of their names were read out it was Austin's which got a much bigger reaction. However when it came to go time it was Michaels (propped up by a vocal female crowd) that appeared to be the more popular. Not that it really mattered, but Austin was one again fighting a crowd who just liked his opponent more. It was also around this time that news was first going around about the potential severity of Austin's neck problems, he was looking for a second opinion.
This was a strange match – technically very good as you'd expect, but lacking any real drama or purpose. There was a bizarre moment, apparently not-staged, where a special Olympian basically fell into the ringside area – Michaels helped lead him away. Like most of the first half of the match, it was everything else that was more memorable than the match itself. Things pick up, and the action is certainly very crisp – illustrated by a solid Thesz press from Austin and another occasion where he just leathered him with a clothesline.
The finish though... One of the problems with a match like this (as was the case with Austin vs Bret and as almost was the case with Austin vs Undertaker) is when you put two guys like this together most of the time you're not going to deliver a satisfying or even meaningful result – see the main event of Slamboree for an example of that done right. We get a ref bump, Austin stunners Michaels but there's no ref to make the count. Austin brings the ref to and then stunners him as well. The next ref comes out to check on Tim White – he gets superkicked and the match is thrown out. It's a good match, but does it matter?
Farooq (w/ The Nation) vs The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) for the WWF Title
Yeah... this didn't work. Farooq has been around a while, and has said a lot – but I'm not sure a single person in the building bought him as a legitimate threat to Undertaker. We've also got the crowd a bit reluctant with Taker given the storyline he's in (we know where it's going, so they'll get a pass), but the lack of real momentum going into the match don't help the fact this match, also, wasn't very good.
They tried, Taker did the Old School but rather than jumping into the ring he did a dive to the outside onto the conveniently placed Nation. They just can't keep the fans invested, which only gets worse once Farooq decides it'll be a good idea to go for the chinlock. The finish is a bit weird too, Farooq gets distracted by some infighting between Savio and Crush before Taker sits up, hits the tombstone and just wins. The show finish sees Bearer blackmail Taker into hitting two chokeslams onto Farooq before Ahmed Johnson runs out and hits the Pearl River Plunge onto Taker.
Score Rating: 3/10
Go Back And Watch: Yikes... there's a fair bit of historical value here, but this is a bad show. Think if you're just looking for good action, both Mankind/HHH and Austin/Michaels have value, but in context this is a flat show start to finish.