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.

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.

Raw Needs Austin: How Stone Cold Can Help Salvage the Show

By Rob Siebert
Has never stomped a mudhole.
Nor walked it dry.

Let’s get one thing straight: WWE itself does not need salvaging. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s ludicrously been deemed an “essential business” in the state of Florida. During this Coronavirus pandemic, they have continued to run three weekly shows, albeit with no fans in attendance, and a bare bones cast and crew.

Granted, these shows have been great for the likes of Aleister Black, Zelina Vega and her new faction, and even Apollo Crews. Promos in general have been awesome too. But on this week’s show, we also got such stellar matches as:

– NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair defeating Kayden Carter (an NXT star who is a bigger deal on that show, but has done nothing but lose on Raw.)
– Shayna Baszler squashing Indi Hartwell (an NXT wrestler who’s not even listed on their “Superstars” page.
– Bianca Belair beating Santana Garrett. (Ditto).

Mind you, I have nothing against enhancement matches, or any of the women who played the “enhancement” role on Monday. But c’mon. This is supposed to be the flagship show! Yes, these are obviously very unique circumstances. And to their credit, WWE has been thinking outside the box to compensate for that. But there has to be something they can do to spice up Raw a little more…

*cue the glass shattering*

I’ve very much enjoyed The Broken Skull Sessions on the WWE Network. Largely because Steve Austin has become an amazing interviewer. Seriously. He’s got a no B.S. style that’s better than a lot of the so-called journalists we see on television today.

My only real issue is that so far it’s mostly been “usual suspects,” i.e. guys Austin has interviews a bunch of times already. Legends like the Big Show, Ric Flair, and Bret Hart. I imagine Shawn Michaels is coming up soon. Mick Foley too. Maybe Kurt Angle.

But what if The Broken Skull Sessions wasn’t just another interview show with the legends? What if it was more timely? What if it featured the stars of today, in addition to the stars of yesterday? What if they talked about current events? Like say, the friggin’ global pandemic we’re in the middle of, and how it’s devastated WWE? How about WWE being named an “essential business” by the state of Florida? What about the current product? Not just how everyone’s been effected by the pandemic, but how it works when things are running on all cylinders.

Most importantly: What if they put it on Raw?

Honestly, why the hell not? COVID-19 has forced them to come up with new ways of doing things. Who says they can’t fill at least one hour, maybe 90 minutes of Raw with Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars the industry has ever seen and a proven ratings commodity, and The Broken Skull Sessions? Let him talk to not only the legends, but today’s top stars. Let him help get some of these people over in the process!

Supposedly these interviews are shot in Los Angeles. So have WWE send a production crew, and then every week a new talent can travel down there to be interviewed. If the talent doesn’t want to travel? Have them Skype in. There’s no harm in that. Austin could talk to his damn walls and make it entertaining!

Who would he talk to? I’m glad you asked…

1. Vince McMahon
Vince has to be first. Because of the risks involved with traveling, it’s got to be the “Vince doesn’t ask people to do things he wouldn’t do” principle.

You could very well fill all three hours of Raw with this one, given the topics at hand. What Vince thought as he realized how serious COVID-19 was getting, his decision to go ahead with Wrestlemania, the choice to keep shooting new TV, Florida deeming WWE an “essential business.” And of course, they can talk about the current product.

If Austin is allowed to be himself and ask whatever he wants, this could be the most compelling episode of Raw in years.

2. The Rock
As far as I know, Austin has never interviewed the Rock. What better time than now? Based on his social media, he seems to be at home with his young daughter (as he should be). But he’s been active, and taking fan questions. He even had a chat with California Governor Gavin Newsom.

So if some jabroni named Gavin can get the Great One’s time, you’d better believe Stone Cold should be able to.

Again, they could fill all three hours with this if they wanted to. They can’t get a bigger name than Dwayne Johnson. They can talk about their matches, Rock’s transition into movies, his comeback against John Cena and what he thinks about the current stars, that cute little hand-washing video he made with his daughter. They could even talk about….*gasp*…AEW.

3. Seth Rollins
When I originally thought of this idea, Seth Rollins was the first name that came to mind. Because while he’s no Shawn Michaels, the man’s become fairly controversial over the last year. From how he was booked as Universal Champion, to his new Monday Night Messiah character, to competing in an empty arena at Wrestlemania. Rollins has also been one of WWE’s biggest flag-wavers lately. And one can argue he’s paid the price for that. This is all great fodder for an interview.

Notable Omission: Braun Strowman
Strowman won the Universal Title in a match that stunk up the PC at Wrestlemania. He also made some really tone-deaf comments recently about indie wrestlers making a living during the pandemic. He doesn’t need another chance to put that giant foot in his mouth right now.

4. Becky Lynch
From the “Man’s Man” to the Man herself. Becky’s been the Raw Women’s Champion for over a year now. As she once told Bayley, she’s THE Women’s Champion in WWE right now. What’s more, she’s risen to become one of the faces of the company.

Lynch was one of the guests on Austin’s USA Network show Straight Up Steve Austin. But I’d like to see the Rattlesnake get down to brass taxes. From her early life including her training as a circus performer, to her unlikely rise to the top, to Ronda Rousey’s recent inflammatory comments (that were obviously worked).

5. Triple H
Like anyone in the McMahon family, Triple H is almost always going to be topical in terms of an interview. Many of the same questions posed to Vince can be posed to Hunter. Particularly about the Coronavirus stuff.

But as WWE has been more than happy to point out lately, this month marks Triple H’s 25-year anniversary with WWE. He spent a sizable portion of those two and a half decades working with Stone Cold. So they can run down their history together. And of course, there’s always NXT.

6. Charlotte Flair
Whether people believe it or not, one day WWE is going to call Charlotte Flair “the greatest of all time.”  She’ll be to the women what John Cena is to the men. As least in terms of PR speak.

Except in Charlotte’s case, they might actually be right. If you don’t count what the Undertaker and AJ Styles did as pro wrestling, then Charlotte and Rhea Ripley had the best match at this year’s Wrestlemania. And for my money, she’d already done it twice before. As Dr. Venkman might say, she’s a legitimate phenomenon in that ring. She displays knowledge and ring prowess well beyond her years.

Between her Wrestlemania matches, being one of the first women to main event Wrestlemania, Rousey’s comments, her 12 championship reigns (if you count the NXT and Diva’s Titles), and the mounting pressure of not only living up to her father’s legacy, but the one she’s made for herself, there’s plenty of ground for Austin to cover.

Notable Omission: Drew McIntyre
He’s the WWE Champion, and essentially the star of Raw right now. Best not to overexpose him and have the fans turn on him even quicker than they did Rollins.

7. Edge
Obviously Edge’s comeback would take up the lion’s share of this interview. But he and Austin are both Attitude Era guys, so I’m sure there’ll be more than one trip down memory lane.

Edge also didn’t seem to take too kindly to fans who didn’t like his Last Man Standing Match at Wrestlemania. So I’d definitely like to see Austin press him on that. Furthermore, what’s next for him? Does he come back at Summerslam? Or does he wait until the Coronavirus craziness goes away?

8. Paul Heyman
Heyman is an awesome interview no matter who he’s with. He’s great with Austin in particular. We’ve heard them talk about ECW. We’ve heard them talk about Brock Lesnar. They can do that again, of course.

But what I really want to hear about is Heyman being Executive Director of Raw.

I suppose the actual content of the interview depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want to do this on TV, as opposed to the network. But Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon have famously butted heads in the past. But what’s their working relationship now? What’s it like running Raw on a week-to-week basis? What’s his schedule like these days? How difficult is it to be creative under Vince? The questions practically ask themselves.

9. John Cena
Other than the Rock, and maybe Vince, this is the biggest get they could…well, get. Austin and Cena. Two generations. Two icons.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Ruthless Aggression era lately. I don’t see why that wouldn’t continue in a setting like this. Cena made his now famous debut on Smackdown mere weeks after Austin walked out on the company. They just missed each other. That’s a hell of a place to start. From there, they can segue into Hollywood, Cena’s thoughts on the future of WWE, and all that jazz.

But above all else, Austin needs to ask what the hell was up with the Firefly Funhouse Match.

Notable Omission: Bray Wyatt
Again, it depends on how shoot-oriented they’d want these to be. But I have no desire to see Bray Wyatt out of character right now. And if it’s going to be in character, then it’s got to break down and end with Austin in the Mandible Claw.

10. The Street Profits and Bianca Belair
Wait, what? The Street Profits and Bianca Belair? Yup. Austin should talk to talk to all three.

Angelo Dawkins, and especially Montez Ford, have charisma coming out their pores. But when they were called up to the main roster, they were inexplicably put in weird hype segments for other segments on the show. This was before they’d made their in-ring debut mind you. Afterward, the hokey dialogue would continue. Yes, they eventually became the Raw Tag Team Champions. And in recent weeks, they’ve been joined by NXT call-up Bianca Belair.

But in NXT Dawkins and Ford had a certain charm about them that they’ve largely been missing since their move to Raw. They’ve had plenty of mic time, but it feels like they’ve been stuck behind a script. And who knows the power of being unhindered on the mic than Stone Cold Steve Austin. When he would be on headset during the formative days of his character, he reportedly asked Vince McMahon to not overly edit his work, as it was (and still is) largely what sets him apart from everyone else.

So lets have Austin sit down with Dawkins, Ford, and Belair. They can dive into Ford and Belair’s real-life marriage if they want to. But that’s by no means a must. They talk about coming up in a very different type of wrestling business than Steve did. They can dish on NXT, coming over to Raw, their characters, their favorite matches, etc.

Plus, seeing Austin drink beer out of a red solo cup would be kinda neat.

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

Top 10 Raw Moments of 2018: Stone Cold, John Cena, Becky Lynch, and more!

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how Raw sucks. Not just from the fans, either. Last week, the McMahons themselves had to come out and, in so many words, admit their creative failures of late. For all this talk about “shaking up” the show, it seems like very little is actually going to change. Which is a damn shame, as the show desperately needs a revamp. Like, this sucker needs major renovations from the top down.

But as we’re taking time to look back on 2018, it’s only fair that we pay tribute to the things Raw got right. One of their buzzwords is “Raw moments,” i.e. moments or matches on the show that fans continue to look back on with fondness, awe, sadness, or whatever emotion it happened to evoke. Stone Cold and the beer truck, Eric Bischoff’s debut, that game-changing CM Punk promo, etc. The moments that made us love Raw in the first place, and are the reason we stick with it, despite all the frustrations and disappointments.

And so, with the disclaimer that these are all based on my personal opinion and viewing experiences, these are my top 10 Raw moments of 2018, in chronological order.

A few honorable mentions..
– January 29: Asuka vs. Sasha Banks.
– July 30: Brock Lesnar puts his hands on Paul Heyman.
– August 6: Ronda Rousey’s first match on Raw.

1. January 22: Austin’s got McMahon!
Raw 25 kicked off old school. Shane and Stephanie McMahon came to the ring to present a plaque to their father. What followed was classic Vince, as he proceeded to heel on the Brooklyn crowd, and then take all the credit for Raw‘s success. The crowd even broke out in an “Asshole!” chant, just like old times.

Then the glass shattered, and the crowd erupted as Stone Cold Steve Austin emerged. In a skit that included Vince throwing Shane to the wolves, Stone Cold Stunners to both McMahon men, and the throwing back of a few Steveweisers, suddenly Raw was great again. Just listen to that crowd. While I wish Austin would have gotten on the mic, in the end this segment was exactly what it needed to be: A quick nostalgia trip. It was also a reminder that even in his 70s, Vince can still deliver gold on the mic.

2. February 19: Seth Rollins steals the show in a Gauntlet Match.
This match featured all seven of the men who’d be involved in the Elimination Chamber Match to decide Brock Lesnar’s Wrestlemania opponent. We had John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, The Miz, Finn Balor, Braun Strowman, and Elias. Strowman would be the eventual winner. But the man everyone was talking about after this match was Seth Rollins.

Entering at the number two spot, Rollins wrestled for over an hour and five minutes, pinning both Roman Reigns and John Cena in the process. That’s a stellar accomplishment in and of itself, on par with Chris Jericho pinning Steve Austin and The Rock in one night back in 2001. By this point, Rollins had noticeably cooled off as a babyface. But this match was the catalyst for his reemergence as a contender for the top spot on Raw, if not the entire company.

Rollins didn’t get his shot at Lesnar in 2018, but this year might be a different story…

3. February 26: “Ladies and gentlemen, Braun Strowman!”
WWE loves to try their hand at comedy. Emphasis on the word “try.” While certain performers have natural comedic timing and abilities, most of WWE’s attempts at humor feel lame, forced and awkward.

But once in awhile, you get one out of left field that inexplicably works. The Vince McMahon “Are you ready for some wrestling?” skit, that first Daniel Bryan/Kane anger management skit, and now this. Braun Strowman coming out and strumming a bass on stage to make fun of Elias. And to make matters worse/better, mere seconds in, the instrument breaks. So Braun has to go on without it. For what it’s worth, the big guy’s voice isn’t so bad.

To cap it all off, the ensuing beatdown ended with Strowman lifting the bass up by the neck, and smashing it over Elias’ back. For yours truly, this segment embodied almost everything there is to love about Braun Strowman. It gave us his charisma, along with the brute strength and violence that he allows us to live vicariously through. This is the guy who could have headlined Wrestlemania.

4. March 19: The Ultimate Deletion.
This was the moment we’d been waiting for since the Hardys returned to WWE. A lawsuit with Anthem, the parent company of Impact Wrestling, had prevented Matt Hardy from using his “Broken” persona for most of 2017. But late in the year, we were introduced to “Woken” Matt Hardy, i.e. Broken Matt with one letter swapped out. He feuded with Bray Wyatt, culminating in this match, the “Ultimate Deletion.”

Akin to the other “Deletion” matches we saw on Impact, the match had a more cinematic, campy presentation. Most of the trademarks of the Broken universe were there. It took place at the Hardy compound. Matt’s wife and son made appearances, as did his real-life father-in-law, “Senor Benjamin.” Jeff Hardy also made a cameo. Hardy would win by sending Wyatt into the “lake of reincarnation.” Wyatt would not emerge again until the Wrestlemania pre-show, where he helped Hardy win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

The Ultimate Deletion belongs on this list because, like the Broken/Woken universe itself, it dared to be different. It was also great validation for Matt. Not just because of the Anthem lawsuit, but because WWE once tried to do their own version of this match. You’ll recall the time the New Day visited the “Wyatt Family compound.” The results looked a lot like what the Hardys were doing on Impact at the time. We haven’t seen a match like this on Raw since, and we may never see one again. But it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

5. John Cena’s scathing promos on the Undertaker.
Undertaker no-showing the build-up to Wrestlemania 34 was extremely frustrating at the time. But in hindsight, it was the right way to go. Cena’s desperate, angry attempts to bring the Dead Man back made for great drama. The highlights of which included…

– “…stop hiding behind your lame excuses. You are not too old. You are not washed up. You are not broken down, ’cause if you was broken down, you wouldn’t be posting workout videos on your wife’s Instagram.”
– “You are not the god that [the fans] made you. You are the man you’ve allowed yourself to become. And that man, Undertaker, is a coward. The Undertaker is a coward.”
– “Hey Undertaker. It’s obvious that you left your hat in the ring. But it’s clear to everybody here that you left your balls at home.”

Then the match went two minutes, with Undertaker going over. I interpreted that as being because, in storyline, Undertaker surprised Cena. That’s why I think these two have unfinished business, and should go another round at Wrestlemania this year.

6. April 9: Paige announces her retirement.
Calling this one of Raw’s best moments feels a little weird. Obviously, if I had my way Paige would still be wrestling. But I have to tip my hat to the pure honesty, emotion, and bravery exhibited by Paige here.

Many of us were expecting this. The previous November, Paige had returned after a lengthy absence that included neck surgery. But just over a month after her return, Paige suffered another neck injury, forcing her to stay out of the ring. So the word “retirement” was being thrown around by fans online.

Still, it’s never easy to hear confirmation like this. Paige spoke very eloquently, and the crowd showered her with “Thank you Paige!” chants. But while retired, Paige wasn’t gone long at all. She showed up the very next night as the new general manager of Smackdown.

7. April 30: Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor
Seth Rollins was Raw‘s resident artist this year. If you look at the best matches in this show in 2018, he’s the one constant in most of them. He turned in epic performances with Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, among others.

But in many ways, this was the best TV match Rollins turned in all year. It earned 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer, was for the Intercontinental Title, and the two men had a loaded history together. They were, of course, wrestling to become the first Universal Champion when Rollins injured Balor, forcing him to give up his newly won title.

Champion and challenger gave us a combination endurance/chess match. It was a collection of counters, dodges, kicks, and kick-outs from big moves in a prolonged game of “Can you top this?” Rollins would ultimately pin Balor using the Curb Stomp. Both these men can easily slip back into the Universal Title picture in 2019, and this match is one of the many pieces of evidence we have.

8. October 22: Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia, Dean Ambrose turns on Seth Rollins.
We got two shockers on this show. One was a storyline. The other was very, very real.

I had no idea Roman Reigns had ever battled leukemia, or any kind of cancer. So when he walked out at the top of the show and announced he was relinquishing the Universal Title because his leukemia had returned, I was floored. I think we all were. To their credit, the fans in Providence, many of whom had been booing Reigns when he came out, immediately switched gears. On his way out, Roman got the support that some would say he’s deserved all along.

Naturally, emotions were running high when Roman’s Shield brothers, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, challenged for the Raw Tag Team Titles in the main event that night. Which made what happened next all the more explosive…

After winning the titles, Dean Ambrose made his long-awaited heel turn, nailing Rollins with the DDT. The fans watched in stunned silence as he continued to destroy his partner. Ambrose had unraveled, and the Shield was no more.

9. November 5: Drew McIntyre destroys Kurt Angle.
This was Angle’s first match on Raw in over a decade. To his credit, it was memorable. Just not for the reason we thought it would be.

In a battle to decide whether Angle would captain the Raw Men’s team at Survivor Series, the Olympic Gold Medalist and WWE Hall of Famer put up a fight, even catching McIntyre with the Angle Slam. But in the end, McIntyre was simply too much. The “Scottish Psychopath” would hit an Angle Slam of his own, and later end the match by tapping Angle out with his trademark Ankle Lock. The match will no doubt go down as one of the definitive performances of McIntyre’s current WWE run.

What makes this a little bit more special is that supposedly this was Kurt Angle’s idea, at least partially. The two had worked together in Impact, and Angle wanted to put McIntyre over for the WWE audience. It’d call the attempt successful, wouldn’t you?

10. November 12: Becky Lynch invades.
Yes, technically it was the entire Smackdown women’s roster that invaded. But the part everyone remembers is Becky, blood on her face, standing victorious in the crowd.

This is an angle that’s been done time and time again. Wrestlers from Smackdown invading Raw, or Raw invading Smackdown, or whatever it is. But a wild punch changed everything.

It started out strong, with the camera rushing into the locker room to find Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey in Becky Lynch’s Disarm-Her. Lynch would then go to the ring to confront the Raw Women’s Survivor Series team. Lynch’s Smackdown cohorts would then ambush from the crowd. In the ensuing battle, Nia Jax would punch Becky in the face, breaking her nose and concussing her. WWE would later simply call it a “broken face.”

But the then-Smackdown Women’s Champion would find victory even in injury. The ensuing footage of Becky fighting with blood on her face only rallied fans to her cause. She had to bow out of a match against Rousey at Survivor Series. But this angle may very well have opened the door for her to be one of the first women to headline Wrestlemania. So all in all, I’d say things worked out for her…

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

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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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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Raw Ratings Decline, Buff Bagwell, and Other Wrestling-Related Ponderings

Stone Cold Steve Austin, 2015By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We’re a little bit further from Raw this week. So we’re broadening our horizons a little bit…

Steve Austin talks WWE being “very constricted.” Stone Cold Steve Austin, perhaps the biggest star in wrestling history, recently told FOX Sports that he feels for the talent in the WWE system right now, because of how constricted it is. While he said he didn’t mean to bash the current product, he commented that it’s a “very rigid system and it’s very political.”

Hey man, you don’t have to tell us. It’s pretty damn obvious if you watch the product. It’s also pretty damn obvious if you look at the ratings, which sank to yet another all-time low this week.

There isn’t one specific thing that’s causing the ratings drop. You can blame it on the annual autumn slump, the three-hour format, scripted promos, the wrestlers’ inability to connect with the audience due to some of those constrictions Austin mentioned. But if I had to pick one specific thing to point to, it would be WWE trying to fight with their audience yet again.

Daniel Bryan, Wrestlemania XXXIIt’s not just about Roman Reigns, and WWE’s struggle to get fans to accept him as a top guy. That’s a major part of it, but it goes beyond that. It’s WWE’s refusal to adapt to things that happen organically in an attempt to give viewers what they want. Case in point: The Daniel Bryan situations that have developed during the past two Wrestlemania seasons. Fans were clamoring to see Bryan in a top spot. But WWE needed to have it’s proverbial arm twisted to make it happen at Wrestlemania XXX, and last year they simply dug their feet in and said no.

Whether intentional or not, the message WWE has been sending fans for the past several years is: “We decide who the stars are, not you.” And that takes a lot of the fun out of wrestling. While we’re clamoring for guys like Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, and Damien Sandow to get a fair shake, WWE is digging their feet in with the likes of Roman Reigns, The Bella Twins, and even long-established stars like The Big Show and Kane. I’m not taking anything away from the talent those individuals have. But isn’t listening to your audience an integral part of being any kind of entertainment company? We demand, you supply. But for the past several years, most of our demands seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

The WWE machine may have gotten behind Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena, but it was the fans that made them stars to begin with. If you take that element of democracy and audience satisfaction away, then what’s the point of tuning in to begin with?

Based on how ratings have looked lately, it seems I’m not the first person that has occurred to.

Buff BagwellBuff Bagwell: “Jim Ross ruined my career.” On the subject of Austin, he spoke to Marcus Bagwell, a.k.a. Buff Bagwell, on last week’s episode of The Steve Austin Show Unleashed. Among the highlights was Bagwell blaming Jim Ross for ruining his career, spreading a story about his mother calling off some live events for him, and refusing to rehire him after he was released from WWE in 2001.

Bagwell seemed to be in pretty good spirits during the interview, which is nice. But I think it’s rare that one person is entirely responsible for ruining someone else’s career. Plenty has been said about Bagwell’s backstage demeanor at both WWE and WCW. While I’m sure not all of it is true, that much smoke means there’s usually fire of some kind. And I’m sure that disastrous WCW main event between Bagwell and Booker T didn’t help matters.

By the time this comes out, I’m sure JR will have responded via his own podcast. But in the end, what good did it do Bagwell to throw a beloved wrestling announcer under the bus like that?

Ponderings From Raw:

Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns officially announced for Survivor Series. Happy to hear this is taking place at Survivor Series, as opposed to TLC. I imagine we will indeed see these two in a TLC match in December, but it’ll be a Survivor Series rematch. I don’t see any reason why Rollins shouldn’t carry the belt to Wrestlemania at this point. Why not? Last year Rollins stole the title in the main event, so this year let’s have Reigns or Brock Lesnar get revenge.

Bray Wyatt, Raw, October 2, 2015Bray Wyatt claims to have “harvested the souls” of The Undertaker and Kane. The Wyatt Family look stronger than ever. When you look at Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, and Braun Strowman standing behind Bray Wyatt on TV, it’s believable that these guys could run roughshod over the entire roster.

But here’s the bad news. This promo about “harvesting souls” or whatever, really didn’t mean anything. So Bray has inherited ‘Taker and Kane’s magic pyro powers? What a load of crap. And the thing is, Bray’s delivery was still solid. So had he actually been talking about something that connected, this would have been a great promo.

The Usos return to action, join Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Ryback to defeat Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and The New Day in the main event. There’s your tag team title match for Survivor Series, right there. If WWE is smart (which is debatable), they’ll extend a program between The Usos and The New Day through the end of the year. But much like Rollins, I don’t see any reason to take the gold off The New Day before Wrestlemania.

Sin Cara, Sheamus, Raw, October 2, 2015The Lucha Dragons def. Sheamus & Wade Barrett. Putting Sheamus and Wade Barrett together as a tag team was a smart idea. Both of them were floundering as singles, but together they make a pretty formidable addition to the tag team division.

I’m pleased to see The Lucha Dragons being re-emphasized. For my money, if WWE wanted to look for new Hispanic stars, they didn’t need to throw a bunch of money at Alberto Del Rio. If Sin Cara and Kalisto were pushed in the right way, they could easily have appealed to that demographic until WWE found a new singles star. Hell, they may not have had to look far. Kalisto fits that Rey Mysterio mold. And he can do things in the ring that Rey hasn’t been able to do in years.

Paige def. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Brie Bella to become the top contender for Charlotte’s Divas Championship. This match was more about the journey than the destination. The story surrounding the Divas Title is obviously about Charlotte and Paige right now. I was pleased to see Sasha and Becky get some mic time here. Becky in particular, as she’s largely been overshadowed by Charlotte. Some time on her own would do her good.

Also, a memo to Brie Bella: Please refrain from shouting “Brie Mode!” during your matches. Brie Mode is not a thing. It never will be. Thank you.

Image 1 from theslanted.com. Image 2 from flairultra.tumblr.com. Remaining images courtesy of WWE.com.

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