Posted in Wrestling

The Owen Hart Chronicles: The Road to Kinghood

***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

Owen Hart’s star would never shine brighter than it did on June 19, 1994. That night, one year after his brother Bret had one the tournament the year before, Owen took the crown for himself.

Like Bret, Owen had to win three matches in one night to win the tournament. He took down Tatanka in the quarter-finals, and would beat Razor Ramon in the finals. But Owen’s best match that night came in the semi-finals when he faced the 1-2-3 Kid, a.k.a. the real-life Sean Waltman.

The story coming in was that Kid had scored an upset over Jeff Jarrett in the quarter-finals. Jarrett then attacked Kid, potentially taking him out of the tournament altogether. Thus, coming into this match both men were perfectly cast. Kid was the wounded underdog, and Owen was the underhanded heel determined to advance at all costs. The latter is very much evident when Owen dropkicks his opponent through the ropes before the bell even rings.

The irony here is that while the story of the match is about one of the wrestlers being injured, these two work a quicker and more dynamic pace than we were used to seeing in the WWF at the time. It’s a sprint, clocking in at 3 minutes and 37 seconds. But these two defined what it means to “maximize your minutes.”

Owen capitalizes on his early attack by hitting a top-rope splash, only for Kid to kick-out and send him into the corner, with Owen taking Bret’s trademark sternum-first bump into the buckles. Kid then hits a cross-body off the rop rope.

To their credit, in just over three minutes Hart and Waltman turned in a back-and-forth performance that made you believe the Kid had a chance, despite being hurt before the match. He hangs in there with a number of counters, martial arts kicks, a Fisherman’s Suplex, and a somersault over the top rope.

Owen is finally able to go for the kill after, of all things, a powerbomb. Specifically, a counter of an attempted head-scissor into a powerbomb. Certainly not something we saw Owen pull out regularly. But this was one of the rare occasions he was the bigger man in the match. So it works. A Sharpshooter clinches the win for Hart.

Watching this back, what I’m struck by is that even on one of the biggest nights of his career, Owen still finds himself in Bret’s shadow. I didn’t mean to reference Bret with that sternum bump. But I’ve seen Bret do it so many times it’s burned into my brain. Owen wears the pink singlet and the sunglasses, just like Bret. He of course uses Bret’s finisher, the Sharpshooter. Later, his victory speech will essentially be all about Bret.

Much of this is part of the story they were telling, of course. The idea was to set Owen up for the now classic Steel Cage Match against Bret for the WWF Championship at Summerslam. But I wonder to what extent (if any) this characterization hurt Owen’s career later on. Even as he’d win championships and continue to turn in good matches in the coming years, he’d still largely be seen as Bret’s bratty little brother.

Owen was a star in his own right. Unfortunately, you had to squint to see it. How ironic that it was Bret who got a documentary called Wrestling with Shadows. That same title can be used for much of Owen’s career.

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

Posted in Wrestling

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.

Posted in Wrestling

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.

Posted in Astonishing Art, Wrestling

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!

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…

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

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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