Tag Archives: Madison Square Garden

Raw ’97: It’s All About the Title

Shawn Michaels, WWF ChampionBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 27, 1997 edition of Raw was essentially about two things: Ahmed Johnson’s feud with the Nation of Domination, and more importantly the WWF Championship.

I’ve always been of the opinion that the most important thing in a wrestling promotion should, more often than not, be the Heavyweight Championship. That’s what motivates your characters. That’s what everyone aspires to have, and it’s what everybody shows up for. Steve Austin famously said that if you’re not trying to become the WWF Champion, then you shouldn’t be in the company at all.

This show has a great segment that’s centered around Shawn Michaels being the champion, and everyone vying to take what he has. What’s more, he says he’s willing to do anything it takes to keep it. Before you even inject the various personal rivalries into the scenario, you’ve already got instant drama.

Too often in today’s WWE, I think they take the “chase” factor for granted. More on Raw than Smackdown. We need to know how important that Universal Championship is, especially because it’s so new. Kevin Owens, though cowardly and underhanded, needs to be seen as the man on Raw. Instead, he’s simply one of a few top guys holding a prop.

Is it fair to compare anyone to Shawn Michaels in the mid-’90s? Of course not. By my point is more about how things are booked and written on television. I look forward to contrasting what was happening with the WWF Championship at this time in 1997, compared to what’s happening with the two Heavyweight Titles now.

ahmed-johnson-wwf-raw-january-27-1997Crush def. Ahmed Johnson. In 2017, Ahmed Johnson is more or less a punchline. His unintelligible promos. Those weird things he wore on his legs. Reportedly he wasn’t the safest guy to work with either. But I get what they saw in him at the time. He was a big, scary dude. When he would get mad, he was intimidating as hell. He had a presence, too. Crowds reacted to him. The real-life Tony Norris was actually the first black Intercontinental Champion, which gives him a place in history.

The story here was that Savio Vega had joined the Nation of Domination the previous Saturday at a house show in Madison Square Garden, turning on Ahmed. This was obviously off television. As this show was taped along with the previous week’s show, Savio didn’t appear to follow up on that.

I was surprised to see Crush win this one. But Vince and the King protected Ahmed by telling viewer that he’d taken a beating at the Garden on Saturday, and then wrestled on WWF Superstars the previous day. From a storyline perspective, it made sense that Ahmed was worn down. They sold us on Crush’s Heart Punch finisher too.

Time Stamp: Lawler says Ahmed is having a “New England Patriots kind of day.” The Patriots had lost to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XXXI the night before.

Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, WWF Raw, January 27, 1997Shawn Michaels speaks for the first time since regaining the WWF Title. Rematch with Sycho Sid announced for Thursday Raw Thursday. Final Four participants confront the champion. Once again, it’s all about the WWF Championship. Everyone is dying to win it, and the man wearing it will do anything he can to keep it. I love this segment.

The essence of Bret Hart’s side of this segment is that he tells Shawn to do whatever he has to do to come into Wrestlemania with the title. One of the things he says is, “I don’t want you to injure yourself.” Considering what Shawn does on that Thursday Raw Thursday episode, that’s so ironic it’s almost laughable.

On the subject of irony, hearing Undertaker talk about facing Shawn at Wrestlemania is almost chilling. Notwithstanding what they would do together at Wrestlemania XXV, Undertaker would be Shawn’s final opponent in the main event of Wrestlemania 13 years later. Aw man, and they’re promoting Wrestlemania XIII here. This is spooky.

As the wrestlers talk about Wrestlemania here, Vince interjects twice to remind them not to forget about Shawn’s title match with Sycho Sid. Good business on his part.

owen-hart-clarence-mason-british-bulldog-wwf-raw-january-27-1997The British Bulldog def. Doug Furnas, despite Owen Hart accidentally striking him with his Slammy Award. Owen and Phil Lafon are out there, having wrestled each other earlier in the night. Owen’s green track suit was certainly an interesting choice.

The sunset flip reversal spot Bulldog and Furnas ended this match with is the same one Bulldog and Bret Hart ended their classic Wembley Stadium match with in 1992.

Clarence Mason is associated with both the Nation of Domination, and this team of Owen and Bulldog. This used to be a fairly standard thing. Bobby Heenan’s multiple “clients” in the ’80s come to mind. We have so few managers today. But the ones we do have likely wouldn’t be with multiple wrestlers like this. The one rare exception is Paul Heyman, who a few years ago was with Brock Lesnar, Curtis Axel, and Ryback simultaneously.

The Clarence Mason character, played by a real-life attorney, is clearly a product of his time. Johnny Cochran had become a household name in the ’90s, thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. Clarence Mason wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Cochran was. But we got the idea.

vader-mankind-wwe-raw-january-27-1997The Godwinns def. Vader and Mankind via count-out. On the subject of managers, Paul Bearer was put with Vader after helping him beat the Undertaker at the Royal Rumble. That’s an odd pairing that’s even odder when you throw Mankind in there.

We’ve heard Mick Foley, and other wrestlers talk about taking Vader’s punches in the corner. In this match, you can see exactly what they’re talking about. The big guy gets Phineas Godwinn (later known as Mideon) up against the buckles and pops him in the head repeatedly. And this was in the era before they were so mindful of concussions. On top of that, Vader later takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Foley.

Ahmed tries to attack the Nation with a two-by-four moments before Raw goes off the air. For some reason, a two-by-four always seemed to be Ahmed’s weapon of choice. I damn sure wouldn’t want to be around this guy when he’s got a weapon…

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Big Show, Kane, Complicated Monsters, and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not much to write home about on this show. As it turns out, WWE may be falling into their autumn slump after all. Though it won’t be for lack of trying. We’re getting two Brock Lesnar matches in the next few weeks, appearances by plenty of WWE icons, and the return of John Cena’s US Open Challenge. But the way they’re building to some of their big matches is confusing and frustrating.

In fact, let’s dive right into that…

The Big Show, Mark Henry, Raw, September 28, 2015Ponderings From WWE Raw:

The Big Show def. Mark Henry, will face Brock Lesnar Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Show has been booked like a monster lately to make us believe he’s got a chance of beating Brock Lesnar. But considering how Show is booked on a regular basis, it’s too little too late. It wasn’t long ago that he got pinned by Ryback on free TV. Now we’re supposed to believe he can beat Lesnar? Hell, Cesaro was able to suplex him over the ropes last week. Why exactly are we supposed to believe he’s not going to “Suplex City” at the Garden?

The decision to put Brock with Show is a weird one anyway. The Beast in the East special had decent viewership, and Brock’s opponent on that show was Kofi Kingston. The idea behind these Network specials with Lesnar, or so I thought, was to play him up as a special attraction. You watch this special, you get a rare opportunity to see the “Beast Incarnate” in action. So does it really matter who he wrestles?

The Big Show, Raw, September 28, 2015 With that in mind, there are a bunch of other guys you could have put him against, and avoided having to go back to Big Show. Two off the top of my head: The Miz and Stardust. You’re not going to go to pay per view with any of those matches, so you’re not missing out on anything. Plus, the fans get the thrill of seeing Brock tear some poor guy to shreds. It’s a win-win. And I guarantee you, it’d be more fun to see Brock in the ring with any of those three guys than The Big Show.

On the subject of Mark Henry, here’s been some talk lately about “The World’s Strongest Man” hanging up his boots. The man himself has publicly stated that retirement is imminent, and that he’d like to have a retirement match. But considering the hideous losing streak he’s been on lately against the likes of Rusev and Sheamus, the value of a Mark Henry retirement match plummets with each passing week. This squash match with The Big Show certainly didn’t help things.

Paul Heyman, WWE Raw, September 28, 2015Paul Heyman talks MSG match, does not mention The Undertaker. Sorry Paul. Even you couldn’t sell me on this one. All that talk about The Big Show being complacent and unmotivated would be fine…if he hadn’t been losing to Ryback, John Cena, and half the other guys he’s been in the ring with lately.

Still, Heyman put Show over strong, and that doesn’t surprise me. In all the years Show has been with WWE, he was at his best when he was being booked by Paul Heyman on WWE’s version of ECW. There aren’t many good things to remember about ECW on Syfy, but that was one of them.

And yet again, we got no hype for Brock/Undertaker at Hell in a Cell. That’s so damn weird. Since when can we only promote one show at a time? This is THE UNDERTAKER we’re talking about! You know, that guy that usually wrestles once a year? That guy you relied on to sell Summerslam, and are now going to again for Hell in a Cell? And yet, they’re not even casually mentioning him. If I’m Big Show, my key talking point is that Brock Lesnar won’t make it to Hell in a Cell to face The Undertaker. This Madison Square Garden show is worth a fraction of what Hell in a Cell is, based on that one match alone. So for God’s sake, talk about it! Sell me on it!

Kane, Raw, September 28, 2015Kane gets a “Performance Evaluation.” This segment started at the 1 hour and 51 minute mark, and ended at the 2 hour and 8 minute mark. Yet another segment in which Seth Rollins is sent out there to kill time with a drawn out speech. What’s more, the pay off for the whole thing was hokey. “Corporate Kane” gets hauled off in an ambulance, and then magically transforms into “Demon Kane.” And when the change happened, the crowd hardly reacted. They seemed as tired of the whole thing as we were.

Why are we overcomplicating this with the whole multiple personality angle? What’s wrong with Kane being a sadistic monster that’s out to get Rollins every week? It would paint Rollins as a coward, and position Kane as the demonic presence they need him to be. If this three-hour Raw era has taught us anything, it’s that longer and more complex doesn’t always equal superior.

John Cena’s US Open Challenge returns, results in a six-man tag featuring The New Day and The Dudley Boyz. Happy to see Xavier Woods, who’s mostly cast as a manager these days, get a chance to actually wrestle. I don’t think anybody actually believed he would win, but it was a nice little exhibition for him. And that’s really what these open challenges are supposed to be about, until somebody actually upsets Cena and wins the belt. Can’t say I was a fan of the finish, though. Nothing against the Dudleys, but I can’t say I ever had dreams of seeing them aligned with Cena.

John Cena, Xavier Woods, Raw, September 28, 2015Interestingly, Heath Slater was campaigning on Twitter to be the guy facing Cena, calling this “Heath Slater Appreciation Night.” He might have been a little over the top with all that. But if Zack Ryder can get a match with Cena, why not Slater?

Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt brawl in the main event. This was by no means a bad choice for a main event. But damn, the crowd was sitting on their hands. They had a strong finish, too. Reigns even got a couple of good lines off on the mic. I’m telling you, if they just let this guy be himself…

The Bella Twins & Alicia Fox def. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, & Natalya. Before this match, we had another Miz TV segment with the girls. Paige ran her mouth again, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. She’s obviously trying to be a heel, and she’s good at the whole brat persona. But anyone who calls out the Bellas for sleeping their way to the top is going to get cheers. So if they want to keep going the villainess route, her promos need to be more focused on her rivals: Charlotte, Becky, and Natalya.

Wade Barrett, Raw, September 28, 2015Wade Barrett returns to attack Stardust and Neville. Why should I care? There, I said it. When we last saw Barrett, he was essentially in the position Mark Henry is in now. He was the resident jobber. On top of that, he was walking around wearing a silly looking crown and robe. And now he’s back. So what? And where do we go from here? A triple threat match maybe?

Hornswoggle suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy. I can only assume this was for marijuana or something. Tough break. Or maybe not, considering WWE hasn’t done anything with him in quite some time. Unless you count that Swerved show on the Network.

Images courtsey of WWE.com.

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