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: 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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Posted in Wrestling

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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