Posted in Wrestling

The Owen Hart Chronicles: Dropping Gold to HBK and Stone Cold

***Everyone has seen Owen Hart’s matches with his brother Bret. But Owen had the talent, charisma, and ability to hang with anybody. That’s what we’re here to illustrate. These are “The Owen Hart Chronicles.”***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

You know what’s really surprising? This was not the main event of the May 26, 1997 edition of Raw.

Consider who we’ve got here. We’ve got our Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, two company mainstays who’ve held the belts a long time, and also have both secondary titles.

They’re facing Shawn Michaels, one of the company’s biggest stars, who’s coming off a controversial injury. (This was when he “lost his smile.”) His tag partner is Stone Cold Steve Austin, the hottest rising star in the industry, and thus far one of its great untapped talents.

But what got the main event slot? A talking segment with the Undertaker and Paul Bearer. I love both those guys, but c’mon…

You can very much tell we’re in the era of pay-per-view quality matches being put on free TV. Given all the build-up that went into this could easily have been second from the top on an In Your House. Especially given the story of Austin and Michaels being reluctant tag team partners trying to take something from the Bret Hart and his group, the Hart Foundation.

Not surprisingly, Owen starts it out with Austin. In theory, you’d want to big deal out of Shawn’s entrance into the match, so you keep him on the sidelines at the beginning. Oddly enough, that’s not what ends up happening. Shawn’s entrance gets a tepid response. Owen, of course, is in there to start the match at a fast pace.

As is becoming a pattern here, despite being in the main event of Raw, this match isn’t necessarily about Owen specifically. Or in this case, Owen and Bulldog. The story they’re telling is about Austin and the returning Michaels teaming up to face the Hart Foundation at large. So even though the smaller story is about the Tag Team Titles, it’s Owen and Davey’s job to shine up their babyface challengers and make them look like the big heroes they are. Both men do that very well. What this essentially becomes is a glorified exhibition for Stone Cold and HBK.

Watching this match back in 2020, there’s an elephant in the room. A little more than two months after this match, Owen famously botches a piledriver at Summerslam and alters the course of Austin’s career. So there’s an added weight when those two are in the ring together. Perhaps it’s just hindsight coloring the match, but as good as they both were, to me it never seemed like those two had a lot of chemistry…

The finish to this match surprised me. Shawn superkicks Davey when the referee is distracted with Owen, allowing Austin to get the pin. I’m not sure why, but the whole thing came off very rushed and awkward. Not at all how I remembered it.

Lost in all the storyline hoopla was the fact that this match ended a roughly eight-month Tag Team Title reign for Owen and Bulldog. I don’t know that history remembers their team as much as it should. They were damn good. Certainly as good as any team you’ll see in any promotion today.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized

Howard Finkel’s Greatest Ring Announcements

By Rob Siebert
A NEEEEEEEWWWWW Father

So I’ve had a week to process the death of Howard Finkel. A man who, let’s be honest, was the single greatest ring announcer of all time. This might be an apples to oranges comparison. But to yours truly and many fans who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s as I did, Howard Finkel is to ring announcing what Jim Ross was/is to play-by-play. He was that good.

Over the last several days, WWE has compiled some of Finkel’s greatest moments and pushed them out to YouTube. Let’s take a look…

First of all, there’s no “arguably” about it. “The Fink” was the absolute greatest.

Secondly, the “Dean of WWE Ring Announcing.” I kinda like that…

This next clip is one of my favorites, and quite possibly Finkel’s last truly great announcing moment. If only Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler hadn’t ruined it for the audience at home by being so damn disrespectful. But for the fans in Madison Square Garden that night? It must have been magic…

Frankly, I think that tweet we saw from Vince McMahon said it all…

Rest in peace, Howard, and know that you were loved by a great many.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

Undertaker’s Best Promos: The Dead Speak!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

For my money, on Monday the Undertaker cut one of his best promos in years. If you haven’t seen it, you should see it.

So watch it.

In recent years a lot of fans have been clamoring for him to return to his American Bad Ass/Big Evil persona. That’s the closest we’ve gotten to it in a long time. In the right context, this Undertaker is every bit as menacing and intimidating as the Dead Man persona.

Like fine wine, the Undertaker improved with age. Critics, podcasters and “pundits” have talked about his matches with Kurt Angle, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, CM Punk, among others. Mind you, the first of those matches took place in February 2006. The real-life Mark Calaway had been wrestling for almost 20 years, and played the Undertaker for about 16 of them.

But what about the Undertaker’s mic work? His “character work,” so to speak. At the start of his run he was given a mouthpiece: Paul Bearer. The formula for an Undertaker/Paul Bearer promo was pretty simple. Paul would do most of the talking in that unsettling high pitched voice, and ‘Taker would chime in with something spooky at the end. But at that point he was playing the character like a zombie, or Frankenstein’s monster.

Below is a perfect example, and actually one of my favorite times we heard the Dead Man speak…

But after years at Paul Bearer’s side, and six years of growing and evolving the character, he clearly became more comfortable on the mic and began to take a more commanding presence in his promos. At times it was almost to the point where Bearer would simply speak to compliment what Undertaker would say.

Case in point, this little gem where he talks about a match on Valentine’s Day…

In 1996, the Undertaker/Paul Bearer tandem was split up. The Dead Man was left to fend for himself on the mic. Some nights were better than others. But on certain shows, he could make absolute magic. Especially when he had the production team behind him. These promos for the Buried Alive pay per view that fall are the stuff of legend.

Holy crap.

The changes continued into 1997 and 1998. The introduction of the Kane character, and the revelation of the Undertaker’s storyline family history would humanize the Dead Man in ways we’d never seen. In rare occasions he’d be in street clothes, albeit still black. As they built to an Undertaker/Kane match at Wrestlemania XIV, he would have to talk about his parents, his childhood, etc. The emotional needs of the story required a kind of acting that would prove challenging for anyone not trained traditional theater.

In the scene below, we see him talking to his deceased parents at their grave site. Y’know, that standard wrestling promo you’ve seen a thousand times…

But pre-produced Undertaker was not the same as arena Undertaker. That’s not to say he was bad. But a spooky, undead character obviously lends itself to more quiet settings. When you’re among screaming fans, it’s obviously very different.

Here we have a fairly famous “worked shoot” promo from 1998. He’s dressed in plain clothes, but allegedly that’s because his gear was lost in transit. It’s not the most polished mic work you’ll ever see. But the substance of it is great. I love the “slayer of dragons” line.

I’m not in love with this next one. But certain elements of it are very strong. Most notably Undertaker not looking into the camera as he’s threatening Vince McMahon. Mind you this is 1999. Years before WWE wrestlers were told not to look into the camera. This was done for effect. Then you’ve got the music, the lighting, the hood. It’s just a great looking piece of television.

Then came the American Bad Ass. In 2000, all the talk about taking souls and eternal damnation was over. After 10 years, the Undertaker was simply a tough-as-nails biker, looking like he might kill somebody at a moment’s notice. We’d seen a humanized Undertaker before. But I’d argue this was the first time we heard the Undertaker talk like Mark Calaway.

Even the Rock wasn’t safe.

The American Bad Ass would morph into Big Evil. The difference? As Bruce Prichard once said, “Semantics.” Although I suppose you could argue the American Bad Ass was a babyface, and Big Evil a heel.

By the time Wrestlemania XIX rolled around, ‘Taker wanted a match with Ric Flair. And he was going to get it. By any means necessary…

In hindsight, the really bone-chilling thing about this segment is that he references not only the future Charlotte Flair, but the late Reid Fliehr.

This next one from April of 2002 was special. Not just because of its delivery, but because they put the Undertaker with the recently-returned Hulk Hogan, and they let him talk about the elephant in the room. They let him talk about his first WWF Championship win in 1991 and say, “I beat you.” For so long, it had been taboo to reference Hogan unless it was some kind of joke or parody. But now he was back. And as you’ll see, he was fair game.

Big Evil was around until the end of 2003. By Wrestlemania the following year, the Dead Man was back. And yes, he would wear gold again. Specifically, the World Heavyweight Championship, a.k.a. the “Big Gold Belt.” He wore it three times between 2007 and 2009.

Here he is on Smackdown in 2009 after taking it CM Punk in a Hell in a Cell Match the previous Sunday. My favorite part of this promo is that he puts the belt over, and explains why he wanted it so badly. He even calls it “the Holy Grail of everyone who steps foot in this ring.”

At this point, what we were getting was a Dead Man/Big Evil hybrid. Lots of talk about souls, graves, etc. But at times, we’d see flashes of Big Evil.

Earlier that year, Wrestlemania XXV had taken place. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had that classic match, and started what would ultimately be a four-year saga that in time would include Triple H.

Once Triple H got involved in 2011, we started to see in-ring segments between all three. What resulted were some of the best, if not the best back-and-forth promos of all their iconic careers. There’s a tension in the air that you can’t script. It has to come from the performers and their chemistry.

I present to you, Exhibit A.

A year later, Triple H and the Undertaker would face off again. This time inside Hell in a Cell, with HBK as the guest referee. But initially, Hunter refused to face the Dead Man again.

What’s interesting about this segment is that it’s one of the rare times we see Undertaker come from a place of vulnerability. He’s been waiting a year for this opportunity, and he needs Triple H to say yes.

You wanna talk tension? That line about Shawn being better isn’t remotely as effective out of context. But with these characters and this dynamic, it’s huge.

Fast-forward to 2015, and we’ve got the Undertaker coming for Brock Lesnar after the Streak was broken at Wrestlemania XXX. I was so dissatisfied with that initial promo ‘Taker cut on Brock. It made him look like a sore loser. If they’d simply done something like the promo below, and included something about revenge and ‘Taker having nothing left to lose, it would have been perfect.

This next segment contains, in my opinion, the Undertaker’s last really good promo. Until last Monday, of course.

There’s not much to it, really. It’s ‘Taker declaring himself for the Royal Rumble Match. But it’s always stood out to me for two reasons. First, I love the “29 holes for 29 souls” line. Secondly, and more importantly, look at how he acts toward Stephanie McMahon. At this point (and perhaps to this day), nobody stood up to Stephanie like that.

But what could she do? He’s the Undertaker.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2018

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

What we have here is a bit of a tradition here at PI.

It started as a take-off of something Barbara Walters used to do. She’d choose and profile the 10 “most fascinating people” of the year. I’ve borrowed that concept several times over the years, and the lists can be found in our archives.

(For your convenience: 2012. 2013. 2015. 2016. 2017.)

So once again, we’re back. On this year’s list, we’ve got a UFC Hall of Famer turned WWE Champion, a heroic underdog turned monster heel, a new hot babyface taking the company by storm, among several others…

1. Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was always going to be a marquee player for WWE. That was blatantly obvious from the get-go. And why wouldn’t she be? But realistically, Ronda could have put in half the effort she does, and made less than half the appearances, and still gotten by. She could have coasted on her name, a few suplexes, and some armbars. She could have taken many would consider to be the Brock Lesnar path.

Instead, Rousey has consistently over-delivered. Whether it was her debut match at Wrestlemania, her match with Charlotte Flair at Survivor Series, or even her title bout with Nia Jax at TLC, this has unquestionably been the best-case scenario.

Rousey has her critics, who would have you believe she doesn’t deserve the spot she has. While so much of wrestling is relative based on one’s personal taste, many of those critics need to be reminded that much of the so-called “Women’s Evolution” can be attributed to Rousey’s success in the UFC. If she doesn’t become the box office draw that she does, WWE has no reason to revamp its own women’s division. Without Rousey, women like Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Asuka wouldn’t have the chance to headline pay per views or steal the show at Wrestlemania.

What’s more, Rousey may be about to knock down yet another door. It’s looking more and more like she’ll be part of the first women’s match to headline the show of shows…

2. Daniel Bryan
This is Bryan’s third time on the list, and it’s not hard to see why. His performances spark a ton of emotion, and fans definitely ran the emotional gambit with him this year. In March, we were thrilled to hear he was cleared to return to the ring after more than two years in a WWE-imposed retirement. The move raises a number of questions regarding other wrestlers thought to be permanently retired due to injury. Among those names is Paige, who thanked Bryan in her retirement speech, adding “…you give me hope.”

Bryan made his emotional and genuinely inspirational return to the ring at Wrestlemania. For several months, Bryan was once again one of the company’s most popular acts. Then, less than a week before Survivor Series, Bryan shocked the world by winning back the WWE Championship, turning heel on AJ Styles in the process.

Since then, Bryan has condemned fans for their consumerism, and lack of regard for the environment. In one of the year’s most talked about promos, he promised to replace the leather strap on the WWE Title belt. He’s literally gone from one of the company’s top babyfaces, to perhaps its top heel. At this rate, it’s likely he’ll once again find himself back in the WWE Title Match at Wrestlemania this year.

3. Asuka
Asuka is also returning to this list, having made it last year. The “Empress of Tomorrow” started her 2018 at the highest of highs. Since arriving on Raw in October 2017, she’d kept her fabled undefeated streak alive. She would go on to win the inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble Match, earning a title match at Wrestlemania. She would face Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in a match that, for my money, stole the damn show.

But that’s where her luck began to change. Flair shocked the world when she ended Asuka’s undefeated streak. A strange move in hindsight, as she’d simply drop the title to Carmella. The same Carmella that would later defeat Asuka in back-to-back pay per views. Mere months beforehand, it had been unthinkable that Asuka could lose to anyone. She’d beaten the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Mickie James. But suddenly, here she was losing title matches to Carmella, and subsequently being mired in mediocrity, forming an alliance with Naomi. The two would lose to Peyton Royce and Billie Kay at Super Show-Down.

And yet, Asuka’s popularity has endured. Apparently, that’s what prompted Vince McMahon to add her to the Smackdown Women’s Title Match at TLC. Now, Asuka can add Smackdown Women’s Champion, and winner of the first Women’s TLC Match to her resume. It’s like the last 10 months never even happened…

So at last, Asuka has made it to the top. It didn’t happen the way any of us thought it would. But she is there. Now it’s just a question of whether she can stay at the top, or she’ll be lost in the shuffle again. One way or another, we’ll get our answer in 2019.

4. Shawn Michaels
It’s tough to remember HBK coming out of retirement, isn’t it? As big a deal as it is, it was drowned out by all the controversy surrounding WWE Crown Jewel. Not to mention the announcement that Roman Reigns would be stepping away to fight leukemia.

But indeed, Degeneration X reunited in Saudi Arabia to face the Brothers of Destruction. While many cried that Triple H, the Undertaker, and Kane showed their age out there, even after eight years away Shawn still managed to look pretty damn good. And while Shawn himself indicated he’d be going right back into retirement, there’s been plenty of speculation about “Mr. Wrestlemania” making yet another appearance at the show of shows. Another Undertaker match seems like the obvious route. But Shawn has no shortage of other options. I myself floated six of them.

In hindsight, I still wish Shawn hadn’t done this match. I really wanted him to be the one guy that stayed true to his word. But what’s done is done.

5. Tegan Nox
This one hurt. Like, it really hurt. You just wanted to reach through the screen and comfort this poor woman. She’d already been through hell, and now she was going to have to do it all over again.

Tegan Nox, whose real name is Steffanie Newell, was supposed to be in the first Mae Young Classic. But a torn ACL kept her out of the ring. For this year’s tournament, they were telling that story with her. In fact, she was one of the favorites to win the whole thing.

Then, mere seconds into her second-round match against Rhea Ripley, her other knee goes out. We later learned she’d torn that ACL as well. It was a legitimately heartbreaking moment for not only Newell, but everyone watching.

The only upside in all of this? We seem to be on the road to yet another redemption story for this character. In the aftermath of all this, Rhea Ripley, who has gone on to become the NXT UK Women’s Champion, started a war of words with Nox on Twitter. So assuming Nox will indeed be back in the ring, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see her wearing that title in 2019.

So get well soon, Miss Newell. Great things are waiting for you.

6. Johnny Gargano
As cliche as it is, I’ve got to go with the classic Harvey Dent quote from The Dark Knight on this one: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Former tag team partners Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have put on some of the best matches in all of wrestling this year. But the feud has transformed Gargano, arguably one of the last old school babyfaces in the business, into a man consumed with destroying Ciampa. So when Ciampa wrestled Aleister Black for the NXT Championship in July, Gargano attempted to interfere and cost him the match. It ended up backfiring, as Gargano hit Black with the belt, and essentially handed the title to Ciampa.

A Triple-Threat Match was made for the championship at NXT Takeover Brooklyn IV, but a mysterious attack took Black out of the match. Gargano failed to win the title, at it was later revealed the he was the one who attacked the former champion. Naturally, a feud ignited between the two, culminating in a steel cage match this past week on NXT, which Ciampa would help Gargano win. This has lead to rampant speculation that this blood feud between Gargano and Ciampa has ultimately led them to team up all over again.

This slow journey of Johnny Gargano’s, from victim, to heroic avenger, to fallen hero consumed by revenge, to villain, is a textbook example of pro wrestling done right. Deep, emotional stories, told through amazing in-ring action.

7. Dean Ambrose
Ambrose was absent for much of 2018, healing from a torn triceps. But when he returned in August, he was once again part of the Shield. But seeds of dissension were quickly planted by rivals Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. We all sensed a turn was coming. But there was no way we could have predicted what actually happened…

Mere hours after Roman Reigns announced he was stepping away from the ring to fight leukemia, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins successfully challenged McIntyre and Ziggler for the Raw Tag Team Titles. With emotions still running high after the Reigns announcement, Ambrose shocked Rollins with a DDT, and then a brutal beatdown. While many would cry foul over the timing, for my money it was ultimately one of the best things WWE did all year. It did what pro wrestling is supposed to do: It sucked us in. Got us invested in the characters and their stories. It sparked raw emotion in the audience.

However, WWE’s handling of Ambrose since the turn has been hit-or-miss. While I actually like the new Bane-inspired gas mask look, Vince McMahon’s influence on some of his promos has been quite evident. He’s talked about how the fans smell, how they’re all lazy and unmotivated, etc. Very little with any emotional weight to it.

Still, Ambrose is an awesome performer. Given the right material and the right opportunities, he’s as capable of delivering the goods as anyone. And they have a potentially hot storyline practically gift-wrapped for them, as Ambrose’s real-life wife Renee Young is sitting there on commentary every week. She might just be the ticket to him becoming the vile, despicable heel we all know he can be.

8. Drew McIntyre
Daniel Bryan may have had the comeback of the year, but Drew McIntyre had an epic comeback story of his own. McIntyre reinvented himself after being released by WWE in 2014. He found success in Impact Wrestling, Evolve, and PWG. When he returned to WWE via NXT in 2017, he was almost unrecognizable.

When McIntyre finally returned to the main roster this past April, he formed an unlikely alliance on Raw with Dolph Ziggler. The pair would ultimately up each other’s game, and be a dominant force on the show for most of the year. McIntyre would prove to be one of the show’s most consistent performers, both in the ring and on the mic.

Now a solo act again, the “Scottish Psychopath” will almost certainly challenge for the Universal Championship in 2019. McIntyre’s near five-year journey from the bottom of the wrestling may culminate with him standing at the very top. Frankly, it would be foolish to bet against him at this point.

9. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura is back on this list this year, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons. He and Asuka were very much on parallel journeys this year. They each won their respective Royal Rumble Matches, but failed to win gold at Wrestlemania. While Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title from Carmella on two different occasions, Nakamura was unable to take the WWE Title from AJ Styles several times before finally dropping out of contention. He found a little bit of new life as a heel, and won the US Title from Jeff Hardy as a consolation prize. But his run has been fairly unremarkable, highlighted by a losing effort against Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. And while I won’t spoil this week’s Smackdown, the odds of Nakamura walking into 2019 with the belt are slim to none…

It would be easy to blame Nakamura’s failure as a main-eventer on WWE creative. The guy didn’t book himself to lose, after all. WWE also didn’t seem to know how to convey his unique persona, other than simply calling him “the Artist.” Losing multiple title matches to Jinder Mahal in 2017 didn’t help either.

But at the end of the day, Nakamura simply didn’t connect with mainstream American audiences well enough to justify the push he got. Yes, he’s a bona fide legend in Japan. Yes, he did very well in NXT. But on Raw and Smackdown you’re catering to the casuals and the average joes. And while we saw flashes of Nakamura’s greatness, over the long haul we never really got a good reason to invest in him emotionally, be it as a heel or a babyface. You can’t chalk all of that up to creative. Much of it, in fact, a majority of it, is about what happens in when the cameras are rolling.

Supposedly, Nakamura’s contract is up next month. If I’m in his shoes, I’m headed back to Japan. Because I’m at something of a loss as to how you build him back up at this point.

10. Becky Lynch
Up until recently, Becky Lynch was “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” While her talent, charisma, and likability have been apparent almost from the start, WWE always seemed reluctant to fully get behind her. She was the only one of the “Four Horsewomen” of NXT to never win the NXT Women’s Title. While she did indeed become the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion, she only held the belt for two months. She more or less became a second-tier babyface afterward. This, despite fans clamoring to see her in a more prominent role.

We got our wish. Now, Becky Lynch may very well be the most popular wrestler in all of WWE.

Many of us, myself included, balked when Becky turned heel at Summerslam. But in hindsight, it gave her the creative freedom to become the defiant badass she is now. She’s often compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s not entirely unjustified. Fans feel she’s been overlooked, and now they’re rooting for her to conquer the system that’s held her back for so long. Even when she was injured by Nia Jax and pulled out of a match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series, the fans stood behind her, every bit as outraged as she was. Now, she may be in a position to make history by headlining Wrestlemania with Rousey.

For more than a decade now, we’ve been in the era of forced babyfaces. Wrestlers we’re told we should cheer for, rather than heroes who earn those cheers organically. John Cena and Roman Reigns are both extremely talented, and great at what they do. But for most of their careers they’ve been going against the grain in terms of fan reception.

Becky Lynch is the exact opposite. No one told us to cheer for her. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite. But like Daniel Bryan before her, she’s started an uprising from the audience. And such uprisings should never be ignored, lest the main event of Wrestlemania be drowned out by chants of “Becky! Becky! Becky!”

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Posted in Wrestling

WWE Crown Jewel Predictions – A Giant Friggin’ Headache

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

This thing has been a giant friggin’ headache, hasn’t it?

Despite intense pressure to cancel or perhaps move Crown Jewel out of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, WWE has stayed the course. The show will proceed as planned, even as two of the company’s biggest stars, John Cena and Daniel Bryan, have opted not to go.

This is not a good look, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously they couldn’t have known something like this would happen back when they signed the 10-year deal with the Saudis, which is expected to make them up to $40 million this year. But now that it has happened, pushing forth with the show makes WWE look like your stereotypical greedy, soulless American corporation. Maybe that’s what they are at the end of the day…

While I myself won’t be watching Crown Jewel on Friday, the event will obviously impact what we see on WWE television in the near future. So even though writing about this show makes me want to take a shower, let’s take a look at the wrestling element of Crown Jewel.

WWE WORLD CUP TOURNAMENT:

They really made a mistake naming this thing. It should be the King of the Ring tournament, as opposed to the World Cup. Because the name World Cup comes has certain global implications to it. And it’s no secret that all these guys are born and bred Americans. So why give yourself that marketing headache?

Still, this could be a career moment for somebody. Even big established names like these eight men have. So who do you give it to?

I think we go to Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio in the finals. That’s a match we haven’t seen in WWE for a long time. How long it’ll go, or what it’ll look like is anybody’s guess. But it could be really interesting to see what those two do in a ring in 2018.

In the end, I think this tournament belongs to Kurt Angle. To me, this World Cup idea seems like a way to give him something in the same ball park as his Olympic Gold Medal win. In theory, at least. If he really is gearing up for another in-ring run, what better way to establish that he can still hang than giving him a bunch of victories over two modern day stars and a fellow legend? Of course, this can organically lead to a match at Survivor Series to conclusively decide who the General Manager of Raw is.

Although, speaking of Baron Corbin, he could easily do a run-in and cost Kurt the final match. That would definitely amp up the bad blood. Either way, there are a lot of directions they can go with this…

PREDICTION: Kurt Angle

WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH:
The Bar (c) vs. The New Day

I really didn’t think they would take the belts off the New Day so soon. But here we are.

In all honesty, I don’t have a strong opinion about the outcome of this match. This one could really go either way. I’m just hoping the match itself is good. It feels like WWE put the titles on Sheamus and Cesaro just so they could have a title change on Smackdown 1000. But since they’ve taken the trouble of switching the belts, I say we go ahead and keep them on the Bar.

PREDICTION: The Bar

WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH:
AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe

I can’t decide if we should be happy about the change from AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan to another match with Samoa Joe. On one hand, Joe gets another title shot. But on the other, the smart bet is he’s going to lose again.

Supposedly Joe is dealing with yet another injury, which doesn’t bode well for his main roster championship aspirations. I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t stick the recently returned Big Show in this spot. But here we are with Joe again.

In terms of its outcome, I don’t see why this match should be any different than the other three. I suspect that after Crown Jewel, AJ will go right back to feuding with Bryan. Joe could still be involved, of course. They could build to a Triple-Threat Match at Survivor Series. But I’m not holding my breath.

PREDICTION: AJ Styles

MATCH FOR VACANT WWE UNIVERSAL HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:
Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman

For a lot of fans, this match is just a formality. An obligation we have to meet just so we can get the belt on Braun Strowman. After all, Lesnar’s going back to the UFC, right?

Everybody likes to think they know where Brock stands with WWE. But we really don’t know much, do we? We were positive Wrestlemania was the end for him. Then he came back for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Then he came back for Summerslam. Now he’s back for Crown Jewel. So what are the odds that this isn’t the end either?

One of Paul Heyman’s big talking points this year has been about Brock Lesnar becoming a two-sport champion, holding the UFC Championship and the Universal Championship at the same time. As Lesnar is still making shots for WWE all these months after his deal was supposedly up, I wouldn’t take that notion lightly anymore. Remember, WWE has a lot of money invested in Brock Lesnar. And if Crown Jewel has taught us anything, it’s that this company isn’t about to leave money on the table.

Throw in the current feud between Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre, and you’ve got the perfect out for Brock to win the belt after interference from McIntyre.

Yes, friends. It might not have been the plan before. But I suspect it’s the plan now. Brock Lesnar’s second reign of terror is about to begin.

PREDICTION: Brock Lesnar

Degeneration X vs. The Brothers of Destruction

*sigh* Oh, Shawn.

Yeah, these guys are probably going to headline the show. Why wouldn’t they? They headlined Super Show-Down. And it’s Shawn’s big return match, after all.

The persistent rumor has been that this is a three-match series. We had Triple H and Undertaker at Super Show-Down. We’ve got this match for Crown Jewel. Then supposedly it all culminates with another Shawn Michaels/Undertaker match at Survivor Series. I didn’t want to believe HBK was coming back. But now that he is, I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not wrestling Undertaker in a few weeks.

I’m thinking Undertaker and Kane take this one home, leading a pissed off Shawn Michaels to challenge the Dead Man to a one-on-one match. Those two have a hell of a legacy to live up to. More than eight years after their last match, I’m extremely skeptical they can give us something worth the return.

But then again, if anyone can do it, it’s these two…

PREDICTION: The Brothers of Destruction

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Posted in Wrestling

Shawn Michaels’ Return: 6 Dream Matches for HBK

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

*sigh* He’s doing it. He’s actually doing it.

Shawn Michaels, who has stayed in retirement for more than eight years since losing to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI, is getting back in the ring. And of all things, it’s for a tag match with Triple H against Undertaker and Kane in Saudi Arabia. If it wasn’t official before, it damn sure is now. Retirement matches are a joke.

Alright. I’m done. That’s all I’m going to say about the tarnishing of one of the great stories in Wrestlemania history. I’m going to try and look at the silver lining here. This announcement obviously opens the door for more Shawn Michaels matches.

Am I being presumptuous? Possibly. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Shawn on a week-to-week basis. Or even month-to-month basis. Nor should we. But if things go well at Crown Jewel, I think there’s a damn good possibility HBK starts working an Undertaker-like schedule. We’ll see him a few times a year for big shows, most notably Wrestlemania. And if Shawn still has even half the gifts he had when we last saw him wrestle, there’s no shortage of potential new age mat classics he can help create.

I’ve listed six potential HBK opponents below. Some of them are obvious. Some of them might not be. Let the speculation begin!

1. AJ Styles
It doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it?

Both these men are considered to be among the best, if not the best, of their generations. People have been comparing Styles to HBK since his TNA days. Naturally, that talk has only accelerated since he started his WWE run. The run he’s having with the WWE Championship right now isn’t unlike the one Shawn had in 1996. There was even some online buzz about Shawn coming out of retirement last year to wrestle AJ at the Royal Rumble.

Clearly, if you want to talk about dream matches for HBK, this one is as big as almost any other. The problem is that expectations will be sky high. We saw how that worked for AJ and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania. Could the same fate befall Styles and Michaels? There’s only one way to find out, I suppose…

2. Daniel Bryan
The battle of the comeback stories. It’s tough to believe these two came back in the same year. What are the odds?

This is another pretty obvious one. Not just because Shawn had a hand in training Bryan, but because fans remember Bryan putting Shawn in the Yes Lock a few years ago (shown above). That’s certainly something they can reference, though they don’t need to. (Let’s be honest, they won’t.)

It would be interesting to see how Bryan’s style would match up with Shawn’s, as they were both often the babyfaces fighting from underneath. What happens when you put two of those guys in the ring together? Hopefully, something damn good.

3. Dolph Ziggler
Let’s make one thing clear: Dolph has never needed to imitate Shawn Michaels. He’s got the kind of natural athleticism and charisma that most wrestlers would fall off Hell in a Cell to have. And yet, Ziggler has clearly made an effort to pay homage to HBK in various ways. His use of the super kick is an obvious example. But at different points he’s worn ring gear that’s obviously based off what Shawn worn in the ’90s.

There’s an interesting story to be told here about all the modern wrestlers that clearly want to be “the next Shawn Michaels.” Shawn has talked about how he never set out to be the “next” anyone. But he’s clearly one of the most imitated wrestlers of the last 15 to 20 years. That’s a good jumping off point for a story about how Ziggler, despite imitating Shawn, has never quite reached the same heights he did. They don’t just have to repeat the Chris Jericho story from Wrestlemania XIX. They can come at it from another angle. Perhaps an even better one.

4. Seth Rollins
Rollins is another guy that falls into that “next Shawn Michaels” category. At face value, there’s not much of a story to tell here outside of the standard “generations collide” tale. But Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins is a match that could address a pretty big elephant in the room: Why the newer, younger stars aren’t as over as the ’90s guys.

Mind you, they don’t have to phrase it that way. But there’s all this talk about “the era” that these guys are from. They’re talking about the Attitude Era, of course. So let’s dive into that. Have Shawn go on television and talk about how Seth can’t ever be like him, because Shawn was able to do things on TV that he could never do. In return, Seth can talk about how the current crop of guys are better conditioned, more athletic, and can do things the Attitude Era guys couldn’t.

The catch? Seth has to win. Regardless of how you feel about the Attitude Era vs. the current product, you just can’t bury the current crop of guys by having their representative lose in a story like that.

5. Roman Reigns
Yeah, I know. We’ve already had to watch Roman Reigns beat Triple H and the Undertaker in Wrestlemania main events. Now he has to beat Shawn too?

Not necessarily. But Roman has as much claim to a match with Shawn Michaels as anyone. He’s the top guy. Shawn used to be the top guy. That’s all the premise you need, really. And don’t think emotions wouldn’t be running high for this one. It would be every bit as volatile as when Reigns was out there with the Undertaker. For the most part, he wouldn’t be able to buy cheers.

Let’s not sell Roman’s in-ring abilities short either. He’s proven he can go out and have that epic, awesome match when the they need him to. Who the hell are we to say he couldn’t do it with, of all people, Shawn Michaels?

6. Tommaso Ciampa
Sam Roberts has pitched this match several times on his podcast. I like it a lot. From a story perspective, this could wind up being the best match out of all these.

What do you notice about the other names on this list? Most of them are babyfaces. AJ Styles. Daniel Bryan. Seth Rollins. Roman Reigns (in theory, at least). While they could all be fantastic in the ring with Shawn, there’s nothing quite like a classic good vs. evil program. And if Tommaso Ciampa has proven anything in the last year, it’s that heroes and villains still have a place in wrestling.

These days, Shawn coaches young talent at the Performance Center in Orlando. So I can only assume he’s more than familiar with the NXT roster. Imagine Shawn Michaels coming out during an NXT show, perhaps to help an injured talent, only to come face to face with Ciampa, and in the process become his next target. Like Johnny Gargano, HBK would make the perfect babyface to feud with the black-hearted Ciampa.

Is there a place for Shawn Michaels in an NXT ring? If, and only if, the story is right, my answer is an emphatic yes.

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Posted in Wrestling

Raw ’97: Muhammad Ali or Dennis Rodman?

Shawn Michaels, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The February 3 episode of Raw was, without any sort of hype or announcement, the first ever two-hour edition of the show. This was obviously an attempt to be more competitive with WCW Monday Nitro, and there were clear efforts made to make this feel like a bigger show than it was. They were in the Toronto SkyDome, though at one point you can see it’s way under capacity. And all hands are on deck here.

This show was hyped as “Royal Rumble Raw.” We’d been told the week before that the Rumble match would be shown in its entirety. That’s not what happened, as we merely got highlights. Maybe they decided to stick with fresh content? I guess the idea of airing pay per view footage that’s two weeks old is a little lame.

Vader def. Stone Cold Steve Austin via disqualification. Before the match, Bret Hart attacks Austin from behind. Well, they weren’t going to have one of these guys pin the other before Final Four, right? They want it to look like everybody’s on an even playing field.

Steve Austin, Vader, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Things are noticeably a little angrier on this show, presumably to hype up the drama. Before this match begins, the normally reserved yet heroic Bret Hart comes out and ambushes Austin. After the match, a commercial airs for Thursday Raw Thursday, where all the wrestlers are full of piss and vinegar. Again, even Bret, who yells: “Everybody better get out of my way!” They hadn’t quite found their famous “Attitude” yet. But they were looking for it.

Savio Vega def. Flash Funk. This is the television audience’s first exposure to heel Savio Vega, who turned heel off camera at a house show at Madison Square Garden. At this point, the only difference is a big leather jacket he wears to the ring.

Jim Ross interviews Sycho Sid. During some of these old promos with Sid, they keep his music playing at a lower volume. That’s a great effect. It keeps his mystique alive. Especially as he’s talking about evil. He’s not particularly articulate. But it sounds like he’s saying stuff that’s spooky and cool. So it works.

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. The British Bulldog and Owen Hart in a WWF Tag Team Title Match via count-out. The titles do not change hands. Rediscovering Phil Lafon’s work has been a nice byproduct of this whole Raw ’97 experience. But I maintain what I’ve said before about these two: No personality. Very vanilla. So there’s not much to latch on to.

Owen Hart, British Bulldog, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Owen as he steps through the ropes: “I hate Canada! I’m the only thing good about Canada!”

Crush def. Goldust. Savio comes in with a spinning heel kick to Goldust to cost him the match. There’s heel Savio.

These matches drag. It’s very apparent they’re not fully prepared for the move to two hours yet.

Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart come face-to-face in the ring. Austin attacks Hart from behind. The best thing on the show by a mile. I’ve always remembered one particular moment from this segment. Shawn is talking about not being liked. He says: “Everybody hated Muhammad Ali while he was the world champion. Now everyone refers to him as the greatest of all time.”

Bret later responds with: “Muhammad Ali? I don’t think so. Dennis Rodman, maybe.”

WWF hypes the debut of Tiger Ali Singh. If you’ll recall, the highlight of Singh’s WWF career was getting audience members to lick toe jam and eat boogers. A true success story if there ever was one…

Triple H, Marc Mero, WWF Raw, February 3, 1997Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Marc Mero after a shot with brass knocks. If you watch these shows back, you notice the announcers keep talking about Robin Hood, as they do during this match. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what the connection was.

On January 13, TNT began airing The New Adventures of Robin Hood after WCW Nitro. That night, a match between Hulk Hogan and the Giant began two minutes before Nitro went off the air, and continued during portions of the commercial breaks during Robin Hood. Unique, to be certain. But obvious fodder for jokes.

The Undertaker and Ahmed Johnson def. Farrow and Mankind in a No Holds Barred Match. We saw Ahmed make use of his beloved two-by-four in this match, chasing the Nation off and then hitting Faarooq in the back. We also saw Vader attack ‘Taker in this match before Mankind takes a Tombstone on a chair and loses the fall.

All in all, not a strong show. Even by modern standards. Though that will change next week, as we get to a pretty famous Raw moment involving HBK. Though perhaps infamous would be a better word to describe it…

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Posted in Wrestling

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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Posted in Wrestling

Raw ’97: Bret Hart Quits the WWF

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

steve-austin 1997 royal rumbleBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 20 edition of Raw was our post-Royal Rumble show. This was the Alamo Dome Rumble that’s obviously very topical these days, as this year’s Rumble takes place in the same venue. Obviously it’s also the 20-year anniversary.

As much as the Rumble revolved around Shawn Michaels winning the title back from Sycho Sid in his home town, what I’ve always remembered about that show was Steve Austin’s performance in the Rumble Match. He was the fifth entrant, and essentially dominated the match until Bret Hart came out at number 21. And like a true heel, he cheated to win. When the referees were distracted by a brawl on the outside, he dumped the Undertaker, Vader, and Hart out to win the match.

Needless to say, Austin had the evening’s stand-out performance. I think the first few months of Austin’s program with Hart were when the perception of him started to shift. Going toe to toe with Bret the way he did was a big push toward main event status. This Royal Rumble Match was the next step up. Not only did winning the Rumble put Austin in some pretty elite company, but the way he won it was beautifully in character.

Obviously this was a big night for Shawn too. But Austin’s career would never be the same again.

Bret Hart quits WWFBret Hart quits the WWF. This is a pretty famous Raw moment. Fed up with being screwed by the WWF, Bret Hart quits in protest.

In his book, Bret says he was wondering where the payoff was for his character after a night like this. Supposedly his heel turn wasn’t presented to him until a few days before Wrestlemania XIII. It seems things were being switched up constantly in the weeks leading up to that show. If you believe what Bret wrote, it’s because of Shawn not wanting to lose to him.

Moments after Bret quits, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out and takes the mic. Late ’96 and early ’97 Stone Cold is my favorite Stone Cold. Listen to how angry and bitter he sounds. It’s no wonder he captured everybody’s imagination the way he did. My favorite lint from Austin’s rant here is about his main event match with the Undertaker: “Drag his dead ass out here! I’ve got somethin’ for him!”

The British Bulldog and Owen Hart def. Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon. Objectively, Furnas and Lafon were great wrestlers. But they come off very vanilla compared to all the other big WWF personalities. They might have been better served to come in as heels.

faarooq-wwf-raw-january-20-1996Faarooq def. Bart Gunn. Just over two years before he got knocked out by Butterbean, Gunn gets taken down by Ron Simmons and the Nation of Domination. Bart didn’t win much after the Smoking Gunns broke up. That’s a shame. I liked Bart.

Time stamp: Both JR and King mention Bill Clinton’s second inauguration, which occurred on this day.

Gorilla Monsoon announces the main event of the February In Your House pay per view: Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vader. The winner faces the champion in the main event of Wrestlemania XIII. Austin responds. Hart returns, brawls with Austin. Austin: “You sit there and call yourself the gorilla, yet you hee-haw out here like a jackass!” Love it.

Bret was right to be concerned about coming off like a whiner. He quits when he doesn’t get his way, then comes back when he gets another opportunity. By the time we got to Wrestlemania XIII (I was in the arena that night), Bret was basically a heel. It’s not hard to see why.

The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin went to a no-contest after outside interference from Vader and Bret Hart. In the middle of this match, Lawler gets up from the announce desk, stands at ringside and yells for Austin to go after ‘Taker’s ribs. I can only assume this was improvised. Either way, it was funny.

bret-hart-wwe-raw-january-20-1997At one point in this match, ‘Taker comes up behind Austin, and gets surprised with a Stone Cold Stunner. But the crowd doesn’t react at all. It’s so damn surreal. Did they not register the move because it didn’t come with the usual boot to the gut beforehand?

Over on NitroThe Giant comes out to attack Hulk Hogan just as Nitro abruptly goes off the air.

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Posted in Wrestling

Raw ’97: The Rock Pulls Double Duty?

***Pro wrestling changed forever in 1997. From the rise of icons like the Rock and Bill Goldberg, to the Montreal Screwjob, to ECW’s pay per view debut, its impact would be felt for years to come. Personally, it’s always been my favorite year in wrestling. Here on Raw ’97, we’ll take a look back at what was happening on the WWF’s flagship show 20 years ago to the day. We’ll dig up hidden gems, and reexamine moments we’ll never forget.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

sycho-sid-wwf-raw-january-13-1997On January 13, 1997, Raw was still a one-hour show. Just north of 45 minutes, if you subtract commercials. In 2017, when we’re used to three-hour Raw broadcasts, that’s incredibly surreal.

In addition, because they taped multiple episodes in one night, this was an era where you didn’t see all the big stars wrestling every week. You might see them in backstage interview segments, or doing commentary. But not in the ring. In contrast, two weeks ago Raw featured Roman Reigns going against Kevin Owens. This past week? Reigns against Jericho. This coming week? Reigns vs. Owens and Jericho in a handicap match. There’s an obvious struggle to keep things fresh on a week to week basis, particularly with triple the air time.

Bottom line? Sometimes less is more.

Hunter Hearst Helmsly and Jerry “The King Lawler” def. Gloats and “Wildman” Marc Mero via disqualification. Lawler is such a great whiney, cowardly heel. There’s a moment in this match where he’s trying to tag Hunter, but Hunter doesn’t want to get in there with Goldust. So he just whines for his partner to come help. Great stuff.

Honky Tonk Man, WWF Raw, January 13, 2017Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Hunter] will keep his cool just like OJ Simpson did just today on the witness stand.” Yeesh.

Sycho Sid speaks on location from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Sid more or less quotes Nietzsche in this promo. The actual quote is: ““Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…” Sid goes on to say that both he and Shawn will have to become monsters at the Royal Rumble. It’s a clever concept for a wrestling promo. But wow, Sid and Nietzsche. There’s a tag team for you.

Shawn Michaels cuts a promo from San Antonio. Not much to this one. Shawn essentially rebukes all of Sid’s stuff, and says he’s going to kick Sid’s teeth down his throat. I do like that shot of Shawn with the fans, though. I was surprised he didn’t name drop Bret Hart when talking about facing the winner of the Royal Rumble Match at Wrestlemania. But Vince made sure to connect the two mere seconds later, when Bret came out for commentary. His exact words: “… the man that Shawn Michaels took the WWF Championship from.”

owen-hart-bret-hart-wwf-raw-january-13-1997Rocky Miavia def. The British Bulldog via count-out. Owen Hart came out during this match and stood right in front of Bret, blocking his view of the match. That’s one of the really cool things about this Bret/Owen rivalry. It never really ended. These two had their famous program in late ’93 and most of ’94, and yet here we are in 1997.

They’d done an angle on the previous episode of Superstars where Steve Austin took out Bret’s knee. Continuing on that theme, Austin takes out Bulldog’s knee here. But Owen can’t see it because he’s watching Bret. Bret then goes after Austin. I remember Austin and Bulldog having some kind of bad blood around this time. They kept teasing a Bulldog babyface turn, and a feud against Owen. You can argue that never fully culminated because of what happened after Wrestlemania XIII. Though they did have an awesome match to crown the first ever European Champion, which we’ll cover later.

Hilariously, a few minutes after this match they went back to the footage of Shawn in San Antonio, and Rocky popped up. Vince simply said, “Hey, there’s Rocky!” They tried to cover it up in the next segment, with Honky chiding Vince about seeing Rocky in two places at once. But it’s clearly him.

nation-of-domination-wwf-raw-january-13-1997The Undertaker def. Crush via disqualification. Vader decimates Undertaker before their match at the Royal RumbleThis was back when the Nation of Domination had JC Ice and Wolfie D, a.k.a PG-13, accompany them to the ring. Those two didn’t last long. I missed them when they were gone.

This was also the era where they’d paint a black teardrop on the Undertaker’s face. The teardrop tattoo obviously has murderous implications, and is such a great little detail for the Undertaker character.

Honky Tonk Man on commentary: [Who wins this match] is a tough one for the Honky Tonk Man to call. There’s not a lot of tough things for me. But this is probably the toughest.” Really? This is the toughest thing to call?

Over on Nitro: Diamond Dallas Page famously refuses to join the nWo. Hulk Hogan faces the Giant in a non-title match.

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