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1997 WWF


Kev
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IYH - A Cold Day in Hell

There’s a mention of the Hart Foundation buying front row tickets and that feels like it’s telegraphing a fuck finish in the main immediately.

Flash vs. HHH - this is a perfectly fine, but cold opener. HHH takes over after Chyna interference, the highlight of his offence is doing the high knee to the back sending Flash off the apron, generally HHH on offence is just a bit boring though and I don’t think he ever really changed it up over 20 years. HHH wins with the pedigree, Chyna picks up and crotches Flash post-match, she’s the best thing about HHH’s act at this point.

Mankind vs. Rocky. Some standard back and forth stuff early before Mankind takes over and livens things up with a cannon ball dive from the apron. Rocky snapmares Mankind over the ropes to outside which I’ve never seen before, Foley then gets in his low-key ridiculous bump for the night, taking a Rock Bottom on the ramp. In-ring, Foley does the legs collapse under him thing on an Irish whip, I think that’s actually a pretty great low-risk bump to sell how much you’re hurt. Mankind wins after rolling through a (pretty good) cross body into the claw. Another cold match but made worthwhile by Foley’s commitment to dying for the cause and mixing it up with some interesting bumps. It feels like the ambivalence is starting to turn to negativity for Rocky as he’s getting some boos now.

Ahmed runs the gauntlet. Starts with Crush. He tries to make a 5 minute Ahmed match boring by working a nerve hold and then a long sleeper spot. Ahmed counters the heart punch into a spin kick for the win, nice spot but they used it a couple weeks back on Raw so felt predictable as soon as it was setup.

Savio next. Savio also works in a nerve hold ffs, this was decent enough though before Savio gets himself dq’ed beating him down with a chair.

Farooq out last being cocky and toying with Ahmed, before getting caught with a spinebuster. For a non-spinning version I quite like Ahmed’s spinebuster, there’s a nice explosiveness to it, Farooq gets it over nicely with the convulsing leg sell. Ahmed hits his finish but his exhaustion delays the pin and Farooq barely kicks out before hitting the dominator to win. Overall this was ok, Savio and Crush could have done something more interesting with their heat segments, but it didn’t really drag and was built up quite well with Ahmed looking good in defeat.

Vader vs. Shamrock - Shamrock doesn’t have a very good theme yet, he gets a good reaction though. This is submission/knockout only. Nice leg kicks from Ken to start. Goes back and forth a bit feeling each other out before Shamrock gets a big waist lock takedown, then a German. The story is Vader using his pro wrestling experience - using rope breaks and going to the outside - to frustrate Shamrock. Vader takes over and ends up dumping Shamrock over the top from a suplex in a cool spot. There’s a bit back and forth for the last few minutes before Vader hits a huge haymaker which I’m sure everyone’s seen the gif of. But that leads straight into an ankle lock and Shamrock wins. I liked this, some slight awkwardness but it had a different feel, some nice spots and some stiff strikes.

Austin vs. Taker. Hart Foundation are out straight away to take their seats. There’s a good early spot where Austin seemingly bails from Taker offence, only to turn and drag Owen out of the crowd and start beating him, Taker then takes out Austin, only to turn and get his own shot in on Owen. Match is quite good from there with Austin taking advantage where he can to counter Taker’s power/size advantage. It’s fairly even with leg work and some submissions from both. Taker even pulls out an arm wrench heel kick (shades of Booker T, it didn’t look that good though). There’s some Hebner dreadfulness as he chastises, but fails to dq Austin for a low blow, Austin gives the middle fingers behind his back (to a pop), Hebner then does the same to Austin’s face in retaliation (to no reaction, and which also makes no sense as he didn’t see Austin do it to him). Was Hebner popular backstage? I don’t get how he was so prominent on tv, as a performer he’s got to be one of the worst high-profile refs ever. Austin hits a stunner but Pillman causes a distraction by ringing the bell, then Taker gets the tombstone for the win after a reversal sequence. Foundation attacks Taker after the match with Austin making the save, but he gets in another stunner on Taker for good measure. This was good but the Hart Foundation presence made it feel like more of an angle and it probably could have been done on Raw.

That probably sums this up, all solid enough but generally felt a bit weak for a ppv. 

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  • 2 months later...

Raw 12/05/97

Bret promo to start, now standard stuff for him - running down fans, Austin and Taker. He teases a surprise tonight. A reference to ‘my loveable brother Owen’ was the highlight.

KOTR qualifier - HHH vs. Ahmed - Eh, Hunter typically boring on offence, Ahmed’s stuff not looking very good this week. A pretty quick DQ win for Ahmed after Chyna interference. 

An Austin in-ring interview with Vince. Like Bret, fairly standard fare for him here. He’s more obviously positioned as a face on this episode after a bit more ambiguity with the Taker feud.

Scott Putski debuts vs Leif Cassidy. Putski looks part Joe Gomez and part The Renegade, and is equal parts as shitty. Felt like Leif was holding this together. Putski looked lost at times, hits a couple of decent suplexes though and wins with a slightly sloppy German, then fights off a post match attack.

LOD vs PG13. They play it as the Nation forcing PG13 to take the match unbeknown to them during the entrance, except they’re already dressed in their gear for the first time. Decent little squash, other than Hawk letting their only offence be a spike piledriver for him to no-sell.

Mankind promo leading to Bearer returning with a bandaged face and we get the first cryptic references to Kane. A good 5 months before his debut I think. Were they deliberately that patient or was Kane meant to debut earlier?

Farooq in ring with Vince. He’s randomly no.1 contender after not competing for months then beating Ahmed who’d had to face 2 men before him. Farooq talks about how black men have never had the chance to be world champ, and never really says anything particularly heelish, Vince interjects to say it’s nothing to do with being black and accuses Farooq of being racist. It’s all a bit uncomfortable in 2021 and doesn’t reflect well on Vince as Faarooq basically talks about structural racism to Vince’s offhand dismissals and boos  from the crowd.

Taker vs Savio. Bone Street Krew explodes. This is fine, if completely forgettable. Savio works the leg a bit and hits some decent kicks in between Taker offence, Nation jump in for the beat down as Taker has it won. That’s another two fuck finishes this episode, gotta protect Savio.

Out of nowhere, it’s young-ish RVD vs young Jeff Hardy. Lawler & RVD bad mouth ECW first. It’s a quick squash with RVD hitting the 5 star and a split legged moonsault for the win. Highlight is probably RVD recklessly catching his leg on the rails off a tope con hilo and almost landing right on his neck. This is pretty unremarkable today, but felt very different to everything else on the show. Was there rumours of them doing more with the ECW stuff or was it just the odd favour to hype their PPVs? Just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity (although maybe for the best).

Another Dustin sit down. Didn’t think much of this one. Just more about being a family man and looking up to his dad. They’d already touched on this last time and this didn’t add much more. Seemed a bit pointless considering they didn’t have Dusty under contact to have any sort of payoff to this.

Headbangers, Blackjacks, Furnas/LaFon, Bulldog/Owen in a random non-title 4-way elimination. F&L out quickly off a Windham clothesline. They then cost the Blackjacks against The Headbangers. This format is shit and is largely pointless here as the straight tag lasts twice as long anyway. That part isn’t very good either as The Headbangers suck. Champs win.

Bret promo to finish. Such a weird segment, with no payoff the teased surprise. He sends the HF to the back and calls out HBK. Then he just runs down HBK to his face for 5 mins, eventually HBK super kicks him leading to a bit of a HF and Austin/Michaels brawl and that’s it. 

This episode was a bit of a dud. As good as Bret’s heel work is, the promos are getting a bit repetitive, even when I haven’t kept up with this for months. The format of regular non-finishes and over reliance on post-match beatdowns/brawls is also getting a bit tedious as there’s not a lot of interesting in-ring stuff mixed in.

Edited by Kev
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Raw 19/05/97

They’re teasing Bret’s surprise again after failing to deliver last week.

Stonecold in-ring promo interrupted by HBK, looking particularly douchey wearing a 2Pac style bandana. They do a ‘we have common enemies but we’re not friends’ thing, which ends with them brawling. HF on the tron challenge them to a tag title match next week.

KOTR qualifier. Supposed to be Vader vs. Crush but they say it’s not happening and tease a surprise. After the break, Crush is out but Vader hasn’t been cleared after suffering a broken nose in the Shamrock match at the ppv.

The new opponent is HHH who was DQ’ed last week. Meh, why even bother trying to build that as a surprise, it’s another disappointment after failing to deliver last week. They come up with an excuse about HHH being given a 2nd chance as they said you could only advance by pinfall or submission (presumably that leaves DQ rules open to interpretation) and they want to avoid any legal action from him. It’s kind of stupid, but also kind of works for HHH’s character at this point.

Anyway, this is a match that exists. The ending is at least somewhat creative, as both seconds try to cheat resulting in Savio accidentally kicking Crush, allowing HHH to win.

They’re in Mobile, Alabama, so they play up the hometown hero thing for Bob Holly, making his first Raw appearance in months. He takes on Owen, it’s a fine little match, with the highlight being Holly pulling off a nice Frankensteiner. And he actually gets the wins off a small package.

Mankind sit down interview. These are really good at humanising and bringing a bit more realism to some of the weirder characters, which was probably needed to really integrate them into the attitude era style. 

They replay RVD’s squash from last week with Lawler running down Heyman and saying he’s preventing RVD from appearing on Raw anymore.

Young, mulleted Scotty 2 Hotty debuts, with Leif Cassidy attacking before the bell. This is quite good with Leif mostly dominating, but Taylor getting a roll up win. After Putski last week, these debuts seem to be building to the light heavy division, but it already seems completely uninteresting compared to the cruisers over on Nitro.

They show last week’s ending again. I didn’t mention in the previous recap, but after HBK super kicks Bret and the Hart Foundation attack him, they do a bit where HBK’s trying to escape as the HF try to corner him, he almost gets away a couple of times before they eventually overwhelm him. It’s actually really well done and adds a sense of realism, it’s a nice contrast to the standard quick escape or immediate beat down.

So Bret’s surprise is that he’s coming back at KOTR. He’s only been out a few weeks so this feels totally underwhelming, again seems stupid that they built this as a surprise. He challenges HBK and says he’ll not wrestle in the US again if he doesn’t beat him within 10 minutes. HBK on the tron for a bit back and forth, including the Sunny Days line. I’m pretty sure this match doesn’t happen at KOTR so not sure how this is going to play out.

Goldust brings out his daughter for a cutesy bit, she doesn’t play along with the queues for her to talk though so it’s all a bit awkward. I liked the sit downs to explain his backstory and motivation behind the character, but switching that into him suddenly being this family man face is a bit jarring. 

Anyway he’s facing Rockabilly. For the few minutes it lasts this is good, but has a weak finish as Goldust is DQ’ed for hitting Honky with the guitar. Crowd is hot for Goldust, he’s throwing good strikes, and Billy is making everything look good. Billy seems to get a lot of shit, but I actually think he can be pretty good, at least in small doses. And this sort of goofy, stooging heel stuff may be his best role (notwithstanding the actual gimmick here being a total dud). 

Next up is a quick Ahmed interview, with Vince asking him about Faarooq ‘playing the race card last week’. This is interesting as Ahmed puts down Faarooq, but then says actually he was speaking the truth last week. I honestly don’t know where they’re trying to go with this as it was clearly Faarooq being played up as a heel last week, but Ahmed agreeing makes it feels a bit more nuanced. I’m probably overthinking it and giving them too much credit and this is just leading to an Ahmed turn (which I think briefly happens soon).

They’ve done a couple bits throughout the show where HBK and Austin are each trying to find different tag partners. HBK quickly joins up with Shamrock. Austin clearly isn’t bothered about who his partner is so you see him walking in on Sable asking her, and then he’s talking to Harvey Whippleman and The Brawler (who he beats up). There’s always a certain beauty in Austin calling someone a piece of trash, particularly here as he’s ostensibly convincing Whippleman to be his partner while doing it.

Rocky vs. Faarooq - it looks like PG13 have been written off after getting squashed by LOD. Quick match with Rocky looking pretty good (although the crowd is largely apathetic to him now). Faarooq hits a dominator to win. He then stops The Nation giving Rocky a beat down, which is some nice foreshadowing if they were already planning on Rocky joining The Nation.

The Foundation beat up Bob Holly backstage. 

Taker in-ring interview - Taker even mentions Faarooq playing the race card. This all just feels like Vince forcing his shitty opinions on the audience, Taker really isn’t a character that needs to have an opinion on how racism may or may not effect one’s career prospects. Bearer ends up interrupting and gives Taker 7 days before he reveals his secret. Bearer is ridiculously hammy as always, but Taker’s conflicted acting is pretty good here.

Anvil vs. Austin - this last like 2 minutes before The HF jump in and then HBK makes the save. It’s announced that Austin/HBK will indeed be teaming in a tag title match next week, leading to their protests and brawling with each other again.

I’m not sure whether it’s the way this is edited for the network, but the only match that was announced in any way here was the KOTR qualifier and that was only because of the shitty surprise tease. Otherwise the matches just happened, it makes them all feel completely throwaway. Another two non-finishes here which doesn’t help.

Edited by Kev
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  • 2 weeks later...

Raw 26/05/97

Austin/HBK with a quick in-ring promo hyping the tag title match, ends in a face off with LOD. That’s a match I didn’t know I wanna see. 

LOD vs. Pillman/Neidhart. The few minutes we get is enjoyable enough, but it ends on a run-in and a big brawl. Austin/HBK end up fighting again, I think this might be (one of) the first iterations of the ‘tag partners who don’t get along’ trope. I actually don’t mind it when it’s in the context of two top guys with common enemies. Later, Austin is attacked in the back by Pillman, Owen, and Bulldog. Off camera, it appears the same has happened to HBK, which leads to more arguing as HBK accuses Austin of not having his back. They’re laying it on thick, but it works as it’s basically the Hart Foundation playing their enemies off against each other.

I think it’s a Raw in-ring debut for D-Lo, with no particular explanation of who he is, having previously been a nameless background member of NOD. He’s facing Sparkplug, who’s fresh off upsetting Owen last week. Holly stupidly cuts off some crowd participation by stopping his corner punches at 5 as he gets the early shine. This is a fun little sprint though, with Holly going for a Frankensteiner (having hit one earlier) but getting caught with a powerbomb for a D-Lo win. This is mostly there for Vince and Farooq on commentary to go back and forth on the race card shit. Segues into a quick Taker promo who basically dismisses a question about Farooq to hype his stuff with Bearer.  Nothing in the build is making me want to see Taker vs. Faarooq, total filler title defence. 

Lawler then cuts the promo where he calls Goldust a f*g. There’s also a really shitty line about their daughter as well. I always considered King as mostly a comedy heel in WWF, but he’s actually a real piece of shit (the Jake alcoholism stuff in 96 is pretty bad as well). It’s weird, it almost seems more unnecessary because he was pretty much irrelevant by this point, not someone they really needed to get heat on. 

Lawler vs. Goldust. The crowd is mostly in favour of King here (which they explain as Indiana being Lawler territory due to USWA) and, again, it feels like that makes the pre-match promo more ill-judged, presumably knowing Lawler would get support. Lawler actually wins with feet on the ropes, Goldust then gets some shots in post-match. In a vacuum, the actual match was good, but completely counter-productive doing it in front of that crowd.

Flash vs. Rocky. This is slightly directionless but there’s some decent back and forth including a nice counter sequence into the, still not a finisher, Rock Bottom. Anyway, it’s mostly a sideshow to the Headbangers coming out to join commentary and generally being dorks. They end up attacking both men, which the ref basically lets happen, leading to Rocky winning off a crossbody.

More Mankind sit down stuff. There’s a bit about his balls swelling up like grapefruits (that’s a McMahon favourite isn’t it) after a hockey accident and it being the only time in high school that girls paid attention to his genitals. It got a smile out of me, I’m 33. They also talk about Snuka at MSG,  lay the foundations for Dude Love, there’s a Mrs. Foley’s baby boy reference and they show various home video clips. This is all pretty significant backstory in building Foley’s legend. Good stuff.

There’s a Hart Foundation promo, which includes Pillman seemingly hyping a match with Austin, but I don’t think there’s ever been any announcement about that happening.

Vader vs. Ahmed. I liked this, although it felt too short. Some slightly sloppy striking as they do a sequence where Ahmed is ducking Vader’s punches, but it kinda works as two big men trying to throw and avoid quick strikes probably should be a bit sloppy. Ahmed hits a spinebuster outta nowhere for the win as Vader was in control.

HHH vs. Rockabilly in a random heel heel matchup. They’re still playing up the Greenwich blue-blood stuff during HHH’s entrance, I thought that had pretty much been ditched by this point. Seems strange coming so close to DX forming. HHH wins off a pedigree, after Chyna slams Honky on the outside. The work here was fine, but it was heatless, weird booking choice.

Austin/HBK vs. Owen/Bulldog. This is good, hot crowd, worked at a fast pace with plenty of hope spots and big cutoffs so it never feels like there’s any letup. Finish is a bit abrupt though as HBK hits the kick and Austin pins Buldog as we get new champs. I would have liked them to let the moment breathe to feel a bit more meaningful, but there’s an immediate post-match attack instead. That does lead to a nice moment though as, rather than save HBK, Austin uses this as his chance to get Bret one on one and attacks his previously injured leg.

There’s been some Bearer shit a couple times through the show, promising to reveal his secret if Taker doesn’t ‘come back’. And the show closes on Bearer almost revealing, but Taker seemingly goes back to him by taking the knee. This stuff isn’t doing much for me, knowing it’s still a good few months before we get to Kane’s debut. 

Plenty of good stuff on this show, but also feels like plenty of inconsequential stuff. I wish some of these matches were given more time, there’s a lot of interesting combos but too much is done within a few minutes or with some kind of fuck finish.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Raw 2 June 97

Taker promo with Bearer, Bearer basically telling Taker that he’s in charge now. Bearer got a bit less hammy around this point and it was needed. Fuck Yeah! Sid is back. I thought he was done. He wants his Mania rematch tonight. Faarooq out as an afterthought to remind us he’s challenging at the ppv.

Nice video package on Ahmed and Farooq’s never ending feud as they face off again. It’s decent enough but quickly breaks down with NOD/Taker interference, big brawl doesn’t result in a dq and Ahmed takes a pretty sick looking bump into the steps during the melee, allowing Farooq to roll him in for the pin. Ahmed gets a choke slam post-match after getting in Taker’s face. I still like Ahmed after seeing him a fair bit now on these Raws, probably best that his matches were kept short, but he bumps well and has nice explosive offence. I think this probably signals the end of him as an upper mid card threat.

Bret announces that his KOTR match with HBK is off. This leads to more HBK/Austin arguing and they’ll now face each other at KOTR. There’s nothing classic here but Austin is great at this point. I think I said this in a previous recap, but just 100% in on his character, everything about him seems believable.

Owen vs. Bob Holly for the IC title. This comes after Holly upset him in a non-title match a couple weeks back, they kinda killed this mini-story arc though by having Holly lose to D’Lo last week. It’s a nice little sprint, for the second week running Holly goes to the well too many times with the Frankensteiner and gets caught with a powerbomb leading to an Owen win.

Another never ending feud reprise as it’s  HHH vs. Goldust back for another instalment. This is good for the short time it gets, quick pace and intensity puts over the rivalry. Miscommunication from H and Chyna leads to a Goldust roll up win. I think keeping the full-on Goldust presentation was a mistake after they did the ‘reveal’ in the sit down interviews. I feel like the psychology of the Goldust character was kind of lost once they ‘humanised’ him, I’d have toned down the makeup/bodysuit and generally just tried to make him less gimmicky. I think that would have given him a better chance higher up the card.

Tag Titles - LOD vs. Austin/HBK - the start of this is really good as Hawk overpowers HBK a few times until Austin is like ‘Fuck this’ and jumps in to start a brawl, which LOD again get the better of. Austin briefly gains control, showing he’s not afraid to heel it up with an eye poke and a low blow. LOD overpower them again, and that actually leads to some Austin/HBK teamwork as they realise the challenge they face, and they’re very much in the heel role here. They do an interesting variation on the ‘ref doesn’t see the face tag’ bit as Animal accidentally shoulder blocks Hebner as he charges in. This lets Austin hit Hawk with the belt, but only for a 2. Inevitably, it’s a fuck finish as Austin and HBK end up brawling with each other to a count out as the Hart Foundation lurk on the outside. Really enjoyed what we got, but once again it’s disappointing that an interesting match is cut short. The storytelling across shows in terms of building feuds is good, but the matches are too often a temporary distraction rather than really being part of the story and telling satisfying stories in their own right. 

Mankind sit down focusing on Cactus Jack and death match stuff, once again really good. This is maybe the best example of WWE using someone’s actual backstory and non-WWE history to help get them over. Obviously it helps that it was Foley, but when you see it done so well here it’s almost bizarre that historically and even to today, they tend to have such an aversion to this sort of stuff.

KOTR qualifier - Savio vs. Mankind - this is pretty good, we get 2 Mankind bumps on the ramp and Savio almost overshoots a big dive to the outside within the first minute. It breaks down a bit at the end, with Mankind winning after Crush accidentally hits Savio with the heart punch (to the face). Crush and Savio brawl post-match as I think this version of the NOD is about to split off into Gang Warz.

Sid vs. Taker. Surprisingly this ends clean with Taker pinning Sid in about 5 mins. A forgettable NOD attack post-match, again doesn’t particularly feel like it positions Farooq as a serious threat and it’s weird timing after they literally just did NOD in-fighting last segment. The match itself was worked pretty evenly, but such a quick, clean loss sorta feels like a burial for Sid considering almost every big Raw match ends on some sort of non-finish during this period and they immediately did a run-in at the end still anyway.

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to be fair, that made at least some sense in the 80s, when most promotions were regional. And even in the 90s, with the obvious exception of WCW (and the top tier ECW guys), an argument could be made.

but now? with the rise of indies and iPPV and streaming and social media? not a chance.

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