The Owen Hart Chronicles: May 6, 1996 – The Utility Player (feat. the Undertaker)

***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

Why don’t we talk more about Owen Hart’s matches? Why is he primarily remembered for the work he did with his brother Bret in the early ’90s, and less the work he did with other wrestlers?

I think much of that has to do with how the WWF higher-ups viewed Owen. Obviously he worked great as a villain for Bret, and then later as Bret’s “lovable brother” in the Hart Foundation. But when he wasn’t in Bret’s orbit, I just don’t think they saw him as a top star, whether a heel or babyface. As evidence, I would cite them not going further with him in 1998, despite the Hart family being very much in the spotlight.

It seems like the WWF saw Owen as a midcard utility player. Need to plug somebody in against your champion on a go-home show for a pay per view? Owen will give ’em a good match. Need a midcard heel tag team? Put somebody with Owen. Or in this case, does one of your top babyfaces just need a solid exhibition? Owen can do that too.

Case in point, this match between Owen and the Undertaker from the May 6, 1996 edition of Raw. This may have been the only televised singles match these two ever had. You’ll see several tag matches where they’re both involved. But they rarely had a reason to wrestle one-on-one. The Dead Man was usually busy slaying giants like Yokozuna, King Kong Bundy, Mabel, etc. But I think these two could have made magic together.

The story of this match was definitively about Undertaker and Goldust, and their upcoming Casket Match at In Your House: Beware of Dog. Goldust (accompanied by Marlena) is on headset, and actually learns it’s going to be a Casket Match on the air. To his eternal credit, the real-life Dustin Runnels does some amazing character work here. They were still playing the gay card pretty heavily with the character at this time. It doesn’t necessarily age well by modern standards. Though it’s objectively hilarious when Goldust comes on to Paul Bearer.

Owen is sort of the Larry Fine of this match. Your attention is focused on Moe and Curly, i.e. Undertaker and Goldust. But if you take a moment to focus on Owen, his subtle reactions are great. Watch him when the bell rings. He slinks around the ringside area, too apprehensive to get in there with ‘Taker. Then you’ve got his selling of the “supernatural” stuff. The zombie no-sell, the big choke, etc.

Once the match really gets going, Owen works the knee. But he also takes a couple of big moves from Undertaker, including a shove over the top to the outside. The finish comes when the Dead Man reaches over the ropes to grab Owen, who’s been distracted by Goldust. In one smooth motion, Undertaker pulled ups him up and over the ropes, and into position for a Tombstone Piledriver. Owen actually gets the so-called “Super Tombstone, where ‘Taker jumps into the air and lands on his knees, as opposed to simply dropping down. I can’t imagine putting that much trust in someone. That move looks scary as hell.

Whether you’re looking at Owen, Undertaker, Goldust, or even Paul Bearer, there’s greatness to be found in this match. You have to look a little harder to see some of it. But it’s definitely there.

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

The Owen Hart Chronicles: Shawn Michaels, August 12, 1996

***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

Out of all the matches Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels had, this might be the least remembered. Yes, it was a Raw main event. It was really just a way to get Shawn and Vader in the ring together before a big pay per view main event the following Sunday.

But for yours truly, this match has always been special. In August 1996 my interest in wrestling was really ramping up. So at my younger brother’s behest, I tuned into watch my first live (or live-to-tape in this case) Raw match, featuring two men that at that point I’d only seen either on video cassette or in Super Nintendo games. Shawn Michaels, and the man who was quickly becoming my favorite wrestler of all, Owen Hart.

THE BUILD-UP: We were a week out from Summerslam 1996. Shawn Michaels, the WWF Champion, was booked to defend the title against Vader in the main event. At that time, Jim Cornette managed not only Vader, but Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. Obviously, such a scenario begs for the heels to set a trap for the babyface. Thus, announcers Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler told a story of Shawn putting himself in jeopardy mere days before his big match.

BELL TO BELL: What struck me about this match more than anything was how quick and smooth it was. These guys were both in their athletic prime here, and it shows.

Case in point, Shawn and Owen trade the famous twirl-and-nip-up-out-of-an-attempted-hammerlock spot (patent pending, and each end it with a takedown via hair pull takedown. Obviously choreographed? In hindsight, yes. But smooth as silk.

Shawn also hits Owen with a martial-arts style back leg sweep. He might have seen that in a movie and decided to try it, as I can’t recall him making that part of his repertoire.

This was during the “cast phase” of Owen Hart’s career. Much like Bob Orton Jr. a decade earlier, Owen was feigning a broken arm. But would use the cast as a weapon in his matches. If you’re looking for a hint of Owen Hart’s brand of comedy in this match, watch him as he sells an arm bar from Michaels. He doesn’t overdo it. But he’s not exactly subtle either.

This match was hardly Shawn and Owen’s best encounter. Not the least of which because they had a Botchamania moment on the finish. Shawn catches Owen in the chest with the superkick, rather than the face. Thankfully they recovered, and the champ hit another one for the three-count.

THE AFTERMATH: Predictably, Vader comes out toward the end of the match to try and cost HBK the win. They have a cute little standoff afterward with Vader holding a chair and Shawn clutching Owen’s cast. But in the end our hero does indeed fall victim to not one, but two Vader Bombs.

Vader would go on to lose to Shawn at Summerslam in what would, for better or worse, be the pinnacle of his WWF run. The match is perhaps best remembered for a botched elbow drop spot after which a frustrated Shawn yelled “Move!” at him.

Owen, meanwhile, would defeat Savio Vega in the opening match

Years later, Shawn would write in his book, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story: “Working with Owen Hart was fantastic … by far the most talented of all the Harts. With Owen you could call things on the fly, change things up, experiment, and basically do anything you wanted to do. He was a pure joy to work with.”

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

Astonishing Art: Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior by Matt Ryan Tobin

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Ah, the blessed naivete of childhood. When we were all blissfully unaware of what racist comments and family scandals would do to Hulk Hogan’s career. And while we may have had some idea that the Ultimate Warrior was raving lunatic, we couldn’t know just how weird it would get, or how low he would stoop.

But for ’80s kids the world over, Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were, and to a large extent still are, childhood icons. So when they went head to head at Wrestlemania VI, it was like two superheroes facing off. And at some point, you had to make a choice. Which hero do you root for? Hogan or Warrior?

Everything great about the epic and flamboyant collision that was Hogan vs. Warrior is captured in the above piece by Matt Ryan Tobin. Is he the first artist to do the whole “Hulk’s opponent as the tearing shirt” thing? If so, I’m amazed it’s taken more than 30 years to make it happen. But even if he’s not, he’s clearly eclipsed any of his predecessors.

Everything about this just screams ’80s cinematic glory. From the way the figures are drawn and lit, to the lightning, even down to some of the typography. It actually looks like the art for a VHS tape box. Except old school WWF fans never had it this good back in the day!

More of Matt Ryan Tobin’s art, including a pair of epic TMNT movie posters, can be found on his official site. He can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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

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…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Raw ’97: Bret Hart vs. Vader, Sid Powerbombs Pete Lothario

***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.***

Terri Runnels, flash, Shotgun Saturday NightBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The January 6, 1997 edition of Raw was heavy on footage from Shotgun Saturday Night, which had premiered less than 48 hours earlier. Broadcast from the Mirage Nightclub in New York City, this was the episode where Terri Runnels (playing Marlena at the time) famously flashed the Sultan. And as we saw repeatedly during this Raw show, Ahmed Johnson gave D’Lo Brown the Pearl River Plunge on the roof of a car.

This was an attempt by the WWF to present something edgier, supposedly in response to ECW’s popularity. The original incarnation of the show, broadcast from nightclubs and what not, only lasted six weeks before it essentially became just another syndicated WWF show. I’ve got fond memories of those first several Shotgun episodes. In hindsight, it’s an obvious precursor to the Attitude Era. It’s a shame they never tried anything like that again.

Mankind def. Owen Hart. Chances are you’re going to hear this a lot as I watch these old shows: I have no memory of this match. Specifically, Mankind beating Owen. Not that it was so far-fetched. But Owen was my favorite wrestler at the time. You’d think I’d have at least a faint recollection of him going down via the Mandible Claw. This was also a heel vs heel match, an interesting way to start the year.

What I came away from this match thinking about was Owen’s spinning heel kick. He threw a couple of those here. That used to be a trademark of his.

Owen Hart, Mankind, WWF Raw, January 7, 1997Lawler on commentary: “I hope Jose [Lothario] is not gonna come out here, is he? … Are all his veins still clogged with those refried being and tacos and enchiladas? I heart they took an x-ray of his heart and there was a big jalapeño blocking his aorta.”

Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon def. Razor Ramon and Diesel. Keep in mind, this is January of ’97. So we’re not seeing Scott Hall or Kevin Nash as Razor and Diesel. This is Rick Bognar, and the man who would be Kane, Glen Jacobs.

This one was a dud for me. More or less a throwaway match. More entertaining was the Honky Tonk Man joining Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler on commentary. This was when he was looking for a protege, who would later turn out to be Billy Gunn as Rockabilly.

WWF Champion Sycho Sid is interviewed in the ring by Jim Ross. HBK emerges to do commentary during the main event. Sid apologies for what he’s going to do. The famous Royal Rumble show from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio was coming up on January 19, and Sid was set to defend against the hometown hero Shawn Michaels.

On a recent episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, the former WWF producer revealed Sid was at one point discussed to be Hulk Hogan’s successor as the top babyface. But Sid allegedly turned it down to stay heel. That’s a fascinating idea, especially when you look at Sid’s mic work. As we see in this promo here, Sid has a great presence and a commanding delivery. But I don’t think one would ever mistake him as the most articulate guy in the room. I think his best mic stuff was always short and sweet.

Bret Hart vs. Vader, WWE January 6, 1997For some odd reason, Shawn came out in jeans, boots, and a bathrobe. The things you can get away with when you’re the Heartbreak Kid…

Vader def. Bret Hart. This was another one that took me by surprise. I remember Vader pinning Shawn, and even pinning Undertaker. But I had no idea he’d ever beaten Bret. Not a clean victory,  mind you. Bret took a stunner from Steve Austin in the aisle. But Bret getting pinned after a Vader Bomb is still surreal. Had things worked out differently for Vader in the WWF, this match might have happened on pay per view.

At this point, it seems like they were still building for Bret vs. Shawn at Wrestlemania XIII. That didn’t happen, obviously. But Shawn’s agenda during this segment is clearly to talk smack about Bret, and their history dating back to Wrestlemania XII. There’s also a lot of talk from Vince about Bret being a marked man in the upcoming Royal Rumble Match. Bret was reportedly in line to win at one point, which isn’t difficult to see.

Shawn on commentary: “[Bret] is telling everybody he’s a brain surgeon and an angel. Believe me folks, he ain’t no angel. And if I could come clean, I would. But I know [Vince] will smack me in the face if I do.”

Sycho Sid, Pete Lothario, WWF Raw, January 6, 1997That’s really interesting to hear, considering the marital infidelities Bret talked about in his book. I can only assume Shawn and the other wrestlers knew.

During the main event, Sid grabs a camera man, and films himself powerbombing Jose Lothario’s son Pete on a table. Pete Lothario. There’s a name from the past for you.

Again, short and sweet with Sid’s mic stuff: “I’m sorry to do this. It’s going to hurt me to do this. But I’m going to have to.” Shawn legitimately sprinted to the back, adding to the drama. As a kid, I remember thinking Sid wasn’t somebody you wanted to mess with. That’s probably still the case 20 years later.

Over on Nitro: Rey Mysterio Jr. beats Psicosis. The Giant gets beat down by the nWo, but gets a chokeslam in on Vincent.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Chyna: A Fan’s Remembrance

Chyna, WWFBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

By now, most of us have heard that Joanie Laurer, a.k.a. Chyna in the World Wrestling Federation, has passed away. Like so many, I spent a great deal of time watching Chyna on television, and following her various exploits online. She had a unique journey, to be sure, and she’ll clearly be missed by many.

We’ve lost so many of our wrestling heroes prematurely over the last two decades that some of us have become numb to it. Just last week, we lost Jonathan Rechner, a.k.a. Balls Mahoney. It’s all so tragic, and it’s all too frequent.

Laurer’s death strikes a personal note with me. She dealt with mental illness in a way that, intentional or not, was very public. Her battles with drugs and alcohol were fodder for reality TV shows. Apparently she was also estranged from many of her family members, and she would eventually be estranged from the organization that made her famous.

All this being said, she always had a certain aura of kindness to her. She was a buff chick would could probably kick your ass…but she seemed so nice! It was a bizarre contradiction, but it was part of what made her so special.

Chyna, 1998As a wrestling personality, special is exactly what Chyna was. In the wake of her passing, WWE is using terms like “ground breaking” and “trail blazer” to describe Laurer. But that’s not just corporate propaganda. Pro wrestling, WWE in particular, had never seen anything like Chyna before. When she was introduced to WWE audiences in February 1997, she was a bodyguard for Triple H. In other words, she’d attack his opponents when the referee was distracted, knocked down, etc. The idea of a woman playing that kind of an assertive role against men was unheard of. But Laurer was believable in the role, and she played a large part in elevating Triple H’s career. More than he’d ever admit, I’m sure.

Later, Chyna would become a wrestler herself. And for most of her career she wasn’t competing with women. While not necessarily a great wrestler, Chyna was in there against the likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley, and Jeff Jarrett. She was believable, and she was taken seriously as a competitor. This wasn’t in the Ronda Rousey era, folks. This was the late ’90s. This was the precursor to the so-called “revolution” we’re seeing now, in which women are allowed to perform at a higher level. This is what people mean when they call Chyna a “trail blazer.”

Chyna, WWE No Mercy 2000In the eyes of many, the highlight of Chyna’s run with WWE was when they gave her the Intercontinental Championship. While it may not seem like much to non-wrestling fans, from an in-story perspective the Intercontinental Title is one of the most prestigious championships the company has. To this day, it’s associated with wrestlers who can put on five star performances, and matches that stand the test of time. So it meant something for that title to be associated with Chyna. It made a powerful statement that resonates to this day.

More important than any of this, Chyna was a star. In an era where wrestling was more popular than ever, she was mixing it up with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, and of course, Triple H. It spoke volumes, and gave both women and girls a role model in a place they might not have been looking for one.

Chyna isn’t exactly a household name. But she made an impact on our culture. How do I know? Because all day I’ve been hearing and reading reactions from people who don’t watch wrestling. People remember Chyna, and for good reason. WWE did some pretty sleazy thing with women during the “Attitude Era,” and Chyna wasn’t necessarily immune to that. But by and large, Chyna is an example of the impact a wrestling character can have when done well.

As for Laurer? I can only hope she’s managed to find some peace, wherever she is.

Image 1 from cdn.com. Image 2 from WWE.com. Image 3 from bleacherreport.com.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/