Tag Archives: Paul Bearer

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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Undertaker’s Legacy Inside the Cell: What Awaits Shane at Wrestlemania?

Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon, Wrestlemania XXXIIBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

To their credit, WWE pulled a fast one on us by bringing in Shane McMahon as The Undertaker’s opponent at Wrestlemania XXXII. With control of WWE on the line, Vince booked his son against the Dead Man in a Hell in a Cell Match. In response, The Undertaker told Vince: “You know what I do. The blood of your son is on your hands.”

So what does he mean by that?

Since the match’s creation in 1997, The Undertaker has been in 12 Hell in a Cell Matches. His resume includes four WWE Hall of Famers, and 12 former heavyweight champions. He’s spilled blood, sent opponents sailing off the cage, and even sent one poor sap to the fiery depths. This is what awaits Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania. No wonder he’s training so hard.

So let’s look back at ‘Taker’s Hell in a Cell record. If I were Shane, I know I would be…

WWF Bad Blood 1997, Undertaker, Kane, Shawn MichaelsShawn Michaels
WWF Bad Blood, October 5, 1997.

Leave it to these two to set the bar impossibly high right off the bat.

This match has a special place in the hearts of fans for a variety of reasons. It was the very first Hell in a Cell Match, obviously. The finish famously saw the debut of Kane. But as far as the body of the match is concerned, Undertaker and Shawn had great chemistry, as they seemingly always have. They played that cat and mouse game in the cage really well. This match also marked the first time ‘Taker would throw someone over his shoulder and ram them head-first into the cage, as he’s done in various cell matches since. He also hit Shawn right in the head with one of the hardest, loudest chair shots I’ve ever seen. And of course, you have Shawn’s famous fall through the announce table while hanging off the cage. One can argue this match set the bar too high for these cell matches, considering what Mick Foley would do less than a year later. But you can’t deny the entertainment value of this confrontation. Shawn and ‘Taker took what started off as an experimental take on a cage match, and turned it into an instant box office attraction. As most of us know, ‘Taker lost after Kane’s interference. But needless to say, he’d get plenty of chances to redeem himself in that cage.

RECORD: 0-1

Mick Foley, Hell in a Cell 1998Mankind
WWF King of the Ring, June 28, 1998.

It’s the stuff of legends. While it’s one of the scariest matches WWE has ever put on, it’s also the match that has become synonymous with Hell in a Cell. In many ways, it defined Mick Foley’s career.

Most of us know it by now: A fall off the cage, a fall through the cage, two bumps into thumbtacks, and a Tombstone Piledriver. It’s the kind of match you’d never see today, and quite frankly that’s a good thing. No one should have to put themselves through this sort of thing for the sake of entertainment.

Still, the match has an undeniable magic about it. While you can’t overlook the sheer violence of it, it told an amazing story about a man’s refusal to surrender. For better or worse, Mick Foley made himself into a legend with this match.

RECORD: 1-1

The Undertaker, the Big Bossman, Wrestlemania XVThe Big Bossman
Wrestlemania XV, March 28, 1999.

This one’s better off forgotten, quite frankly. There was no way these two were going to live up to ‘Taker’s matches with Shawn or Foley. I’d have gone with something different.

Both ‘Taker and Bossman were heels. But they were doing a story where ‘Taker was trying to play mind games with Vince McMahon, and Bossman was sent in as his enforcer. It was an odd story to tell, considering Vince was still the company’s top heel at the time.

Two moments have always come to mind when I remember this match. The first is one of the low points of Michael Cole’s career. When talking about the dangers of the cell, he said: “You can get a finger caught in there!” Jerry Lawler rebutted: “After what we saw Mick Foley go through, you’re worried about getting a finger caught in there?”

The second is the post-match image of a defeated Bossman being hung from the raised cell. Considering the real-life Ray Traylor is no longer with us, it’s uncomfortable to see.

RECORD: 2-1

The Undertaker, Rikishi, WWE Armagaddon 2000SIX-MAN CELL MATCH:
WWF Armageddon. December 10, 2000.

Now this is how you end a year. Toss most of your top stars in a cage and let ’em fight for the title! One can argue this match was a precursor to the Elimination Chamber. Though no chamber match has ever been as good as this.

The match featured Kurt Angle defending the title against The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and Rikishi. Angle eventually pinned The Rock to win. But the moment everyone remembers from this match once again involves ‘Taker once again sending someone for a great fall off the cage. This time, Rikishi was the victim. Prior to the match, Vince McMahon had attempted to stop the proceedings by driving a demolition truck into the arena. The bed of the truck would later be used as a landing site for Rikishi, when Undertaker pushed him off the top of the cage. It was choreographed to look like a chokeslam, but he pushed him. The sight of a 400 lb man falling from that height certainly sticks in your mind.

RECORD: 2-2

The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, WWE No Mercy 2002Brock Lesnar
WWE No Mercy. October 20, 2002.

One can make a solid argument for this being ‘Taker and Brock’s toughest, nastiest battle. It was certainly their bloodiest. WhatCulture.com recently called this match one of WWE’s bloodiest of all time.

This was during the era when Paul Heyman was writing Smackdown, so it’s not surprising that this story had a lot going on. What’s more, Heyman was still managing Brock at this point. ‘Taker’s then-pregnant wife Sara had been used to put heat on Brock and Paul, and make things personal. What’s more, Brock had (kayfabe) broken Undertaker’s hand, which weakened the Dead Man during the match. But on the flip side, ‘Taker was allowed to use the cast as a weapon.

With its sheer violence and bloodshed, this match was one of the earliest to illustrate that Hell in a Cell Matches didn’t have to be about stunts on top of the cage. With the right wrestlers, the really twisted stuff happens inside those walls. While ‘Taker put up as valiant an effort as ever, Brock emerged victorious. Bloody, but victorious.

RECORD: 2-3

The Undertaker vs .Randy Orton, Armageddon 2005Randy Orton
WWE Armageddon. December 18, 2005.

This was a culmination of a year-long program between The Undertaker and Randy Orton. On paper it’s a tremendous main event. But this was the first cell match I can remember seeing and simply going: “Meh.” It was by no means a bad match. But it lacked a certain special something that we’d come to expect from Undertaker’s matches inside the cell.

Still, it had its share of good imagery. Orton was bloodied early on, and there were some nice shots of him getting raked against the cage, and crawling on the mat outside the ring. While it’s not always a thrilling match, it is a nice reminder of just how good Orton was in the early stages of his career. We also had “Cowboy” Bob Orton out there with his son, which added a little garnish to things. A good match, which Undertaker won with the Tombstone. But it lacks a certain something to be called one of his best in the cage.

RECORD: 3-3

Undertaker, Batista, Hell in a Cell, Survivor Series 2007Batista
WWE Survivor Series. November 18, 2007.

As was the case with Orton, Undertaker had been working with Batista on and off since Wrestlemania. But Batista had better chemistry with ‘Taker than I think anyone expected. They were able to being out the best in each other. They stole the show at Wrestlemania XXIII in Detroit, and had been having consistently good matches since. This was essentially their blow-off.

‘Taker put a new spin on an old trick out in this match, placing the thin end of a chair against Batista’s throat and then ramming it into the ring post. Batista later had a nice counter, turning “Old School” into one of his trademark spinebusters. He got a major coup toward the end, hitting his Batista Bomb on The Undertaker through a table. ‘Taker would regain the advantage hitting a Tombstone, and then a second one on the steel ring steps. It had been a battle worthy of their rivalry, until Edge emerged to cost Fittingly, Edge and Undertaker would go on to main event Wrestlemania XXIV, and then find themselves back in the cell almost a year later…

RECORD: 3-4

The Undertaker, Edge, Summerslam 2008Edge
WWE Summerslam. August 17, 2008. 

Undertaker and Edge had done quite a bit leading up to this one. They’d main evented Wrestlemania, they’d had a TLC Match, and now they were trying to cap it off inside the cell. And to their credit, they did just that.

In terms of WWE-style brawls, this match had almost everything. They wasted little time getting to the weapons and chaos. We had steel ring steps, we had a table, we had a chair, and eventually two ladders were introduced. This was almost a hybrid Hell in a Cell/TLC Match. And we saw that vicious heel side to Edge that had emerged since he’d started his now legendary heel run. He even speared Undertaker through the cage wall, and the action spilled on to the outside. Years later, Edge would reveal on Talk is Jericho that he’d wanted to take a Tombstone on top of the cage.

They went for sheer brutality mixed with iconic imagery for the finish to this match. After brutalizing Edge with a chokeslam through two tables, a shot with a TV camera, and “Con-Chair-To,” the Dead Man hit the Tombstone and got the pin. But for the grand finale, ‘Taker would chokeslam Edge from a ladder, through the mat. Moments later, the ring interior would erupt in flames. To cap off a match truly worthy of both The Undertaker’s Hell in a Cell legacy, and the spectacle of Summerslam, the Dead Man had sent his rival straight to hell…

THE RECORD: 4-4

CM Punk, The Undertaker, WWE Hell in a Cell 2009CM Punk
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 4, 2009. 

The first Hell in a Cell pay per view featured an eye-rolling three cell matches. Undertaker and Punk were up first, in what wound up being one of the shorter cell matches ‘Taker has ever been in.

Considering what they’d go on to do at Wrestlemania XXXIX, one has to wonder what ‘Taker and Punk could have done here had they been given more time. But considering what ‘Taker had done in these matches in the past, this was pretty standard by comparison. Granted, they had two more of these matches to go that evening. But come on, it’s The Undertaker…

Still, ‘Taker wound up winning the World Heavyweight Title from Punk that night after a Tombstone. So for Undertaker fans, the result wasn’t something to gripe about.

RECORD: 5-4

The Undertaker, Kane, Paul Bearer, WWE Hell in a Cell 2010Kane
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 3, 2010.

This is another one of those matches that on paper is fantastic, especially if you’re an Undertaker fan. You’ve got Kane defending the World Heavyweight Title against his brother, who has Paul Bearer back in his corner. They’re in a match The Undertaker made famous, and Kane made his debut. They’re free to do just about anything to each other. The pieces are in place for an epic confrontation.

There was nothing epic about this match.

I take no joy in saying that. But this match is a big part of the reason people aren’t clamoring for one last Undertaker/Kane match. These guys were slower than molasses, and in the end just…sad. I’ll give them credit for one thing, though. The finish saw Paul Bearer turn on The Undertaker for what he did to him several years prior in a “Con Crete Crypt Match.” WWE pays attention to continuity when they want to, and in this instance it paid off. It’s just too bad the match didn’t deliver.

RECORD: 5-5

Wrestlemania XXVIII, Undertaker, Triple HTriple H (Guest Referee Shawn Michaels)
Wrestlemania XXVIII. April 1, 2012.

This match was billed as “The End of an Era.” But they could just as easily have called it the Hell in a Cell All-Star Game. The only person who might be considered as synonymous with the cell as The Undertaker is Triple H. Now they were facing off in the cage, with the other pioneer of the cell, Shawn Michaels, as the guest referee. These three simply being in the ring together had an epic quality to it. What’s more, this was ‘Taker’s 20th appearance at Wrestlemania, and the finale of a story they’d been telling at the previous three Wrestlemania events with these iconic stars.

To their credit, they made us believe Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak was truly in jeopardy. Triple H used the steel ring steps, a chair, and his trademark sledgehammer on the Dead Man. But the one spot that really sticks out in this match is the one where Shawn superkicks ‘Taker, sending him straight into a Pedigree from Triple H. When ‘Taker kicks out, Shawn looks absolutely terrified, as if he’s just witnessed something supernatural. He’s one of the best actors the business has ever seen.

And of course, after ‘Taker’s win, the three of them walked up the ramp together, bringing tears to the eyes of many a fan who grew up watching them perform. What a match, and what a moment in Wrestlemania history.

RECORD: 6-5

Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, WWE Hell in a Cell 2015Brock Lesnar
WWE Hell in a Cell. October 25, 2015. 

Over 18 years after his first cell match, I’m amazed ‘Taker is still having these matches, much less against somebody like Brock Lesnar. But low and behold, there he was. And they even surprised us by getting some color.

More than anything, I remember just how snug these guys were in this match. Lesnar in particular was just beating the crap out of ‘Taker. And early in the match he hits him with a chair shot that’s pretty stiff.

Midway through the match, Brock rips up the canvas and padding on the ring, exposing the wood underneath. That’s something we hardly ever see, and it’s a unique sight to be certain. They played it up, as ‘Taker gave Brock a chokeslam and a Tombstone on it. But in the end, they tied this story up nicely with a bow, as Brock gave ‘Taker a dose of his own medicine. The Dead Man had been gaining unfair advantages over Brock for months by hitting low blows. But on this night, Brock hit ‘Taker below the belt, got an F5 on the exposed wood, and the pin. Not the best Hell in a Cell Match by any means, but it gets points for being hard-hitting.

RECORD: 6-6

Images 1 and 3 from ringthedamnbell.blogspot.com. Image 2 from prowrestling.wikia.com. Image 4 from natureinyourhand.blogspot.com. Images 5, 6, 11 and 12 from wwe.com. Image 7 from pwpnation.com. Image 8 from mediaspo0rt.com. Images 9 and 10 from bleacherreport.com.