So I have an idea: since I’m reviewing pay-per-views in chronological order, I might as well do a year-end recap at the end of every retro year. So far, we’ve covered the second half of 1996 where a ton of stuff happened. Basically it changed the course of wrestling history. So why not talk about my favorite things I’ve reviewed so far. Sound like a plan? Good. You don’t have a choice.
If you want to go back and read them all in their glorious 2,000 word beauty, hit the archives and be amazed.
The Thing I Thought I Loved But I Actually Hate Now: In Your House
Woof. Last year when WWE released the Best Of In Your House doc, I was really excited. What’s not to like about a show that had some of wrestling’s best matches of all time? Well, for one, those matches are spread out over the course of hours and hours of horrible, horrible wrestling. The industry has changed so much that In Your House is essentially an episode of Smackdown! The only difference is that IYH may have a title match which is something you won’t see on television anymore.
So for every Shawn Michaels vs. Vader match we get, there are 12 Marc Mero vs. Headbanger Methhead undercard matches I have to trudge through. FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT. You’re goddamn welcome.
Things I Didn’t Appreciate Until 2014:
4. Goldust - I was 10 years old in 1996. So naturally I had no clue what the hell was going on with this painted guy feeling up other guys. But man, now that I’m older I can’t praise his work enough. He bought into his character and transformed his in-ring style. Not to mention you start to forget he’s 6’6″ and was borderline hoss-y too.
3. How Crazy Over Psycho Sid Was - In November and December, Psycho Sid pinned Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. And the crowd didn’t bat an eye. Sid was crazy over and I’m not sure why. He sounded like an idiot when he talked but he sort of had a badass persona I guess. Maybe mullets get people going.
2. WCW Tag Team Division Faces of Fear were powerhouses who put on surprisingly good matches. The Steiners happened. The Outsiders were asshole-y pots of gold. And Harlem Heat were on a roll. Minus the Nasty Boys, the tag division was really spectacular in WCW.
1. Rocky Maivia - Okay, I’m going to sound like revisionist history guy. But, man, Rock always had it. Sure his character was trash. But the charisma was there and he was insanely athletic. I was all the way buying into him at Survivor Series. Eff you guys.
Match Of The Year:
3. Dean Malenko vs. Rey Mysterio – Halloween Havoc The full recaps of the matches are in the recaps, so I’ll keep it short and simple. This was the best cruiserweight match of the year mostly thanks to the story involved and how that added enough depth to push the match to the top.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart – Survivor’s Series Yes, I’ll stand by it: I like this more than their “I Quit” match.
1. Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind – IYH: Mind Games By a backwoods country mile.
Worst Moment Of The Year:
3. Heel Jim Ross - This was one of the least believable character changes in wrestling. Ross’ heel turn was basically a venue for WWF to give us Fake Diesel and Fake Razor. Here’s the thing about that: it was an abysmal failure.
2. Road Wild 1996- Let me count the ways. Racist crowd turns Road Wild into a Klan rally. Disinterested crowd craps on a 30-minute Benoit/Malenko match. Nick Patrick was the biggest heel on the roster. And Giant got hit with an adamantium title belt then died from it.
1. Roddy Piper Returns – For the fan who wants to hear a delusional guy rant about his hip replacement surgery for 30 minutes.
Best Moment Of The Year:
Disclaimer: This is based on my re-watching. These are the moments I freaked out for the most in 2014. Not necessarily based on its 1996 importance. With that said, my 2014 list is pretty close to what I imagine my 1996 list would be.
3. Hulk Hogan Joins The NWO - The three months from Scott Hall showing up at WCW to Hulk Hogan turning at Bash At The Beach were absolute fire. Probably WCW’s best creative run in the Nitro era. It all culminated in the biggest turn in wrestling history. Still, you get some points docked for Hogan calling it the “New World Organization.”
2. Stone Cold At King Of The Ring - The idea that this promo immediately made Austin a megastar is largely overrated as he was still a high mid card guy afterwards. Still, the crowd reaction that night was phenomenal and it’s still a moment where you can tell something special is happening. It’s still a kickass promo that stands the test of time.
1. Sting Turns Into Goku - Fall Brawl 96′ ends with Sting walking to the ring, murdering everyone, calling Lex Luger stupid and leaving the ring. That’s the happiest I’ve ever been typing a sentence. It reminded me of when Goku would show up after being dead or training or whatever, wiping everyone out and Vegeta bitching about it. All he was missing was handing Arn Anderson a Senzu bean. Anyway, Sting’s run-in at War Games is still one of my favorite moments ever and I’ll never change my mind.
Worst Wrestler Of The Year:
3. Roddy Piper - Is it fair to put him here since he only had one match in 1996? Not really, but this is my column and I hate Roddy Piper – especially 1996 wanna be Dangerous Minds teacher promo guy – so he goes on the list.
2. Fake Razor Ramon - This guy’s gimmick was doomed from the start. And the fact he looked like Scott Hall minus bone structure didn’t help. Nothing he did was good. No wonder they kept Fake Diesel around and ditched the other guy.
1. Marc Mero - You had to know he would be here, right? If you’ve read the recaps then you know how I feel about Mero. He just didn’t do anything well. He basically had Goldust, Austin, HHH and every good hand in the ring carry him with exasperation for the year. All Mero did was a shooting star press and that’s it. He’s not good. The end.
Wrestler Of The Year:
5. Dean Malenko - They just threw his ass out there to have great matches every pay-per-view and he delivered. He didn’t talk or have what we consider natural charisma, but he just exuded “I’m going to break your bones,” and it worked.
4. Mankind – Despite everything that happened in 1996, Mick Foley may stand as the most important wrestler of the year. The biggest angle of the last decade is the Undertaker’s Streak. It’s omnipresent even when Taker himself is gone, and none of that happens without Mick Foley. His matches and feud with Undertaker extended the Dead Man character beyond “wrestles weirdos in gimmick matches” to a three-dimensional, fully functional thing that people bought into in the modern era. And that’s thanks to what Foley brought to the ring in 1996. And I haven’t even mentioned Mind Games.
3. Chris Benoit - Benoit was on a role in 1996. He had matches with Chris Jericho, Malenko and even carried Jeff Jarrett to a great match. Jeff. Jarrett.
2. Rey Mysterio, Jr. - He just kept on having great matches to open up pay-per-views. His job was literally “amaze everyone for 15 minutes against a guy nobody cares about.” He was doing things in 1996 that people still aren’t doing in 2014. This doesn’t even count the matches he was having on Nitro every week.
1. Shawn Michaels - I really wish I could be different here and find a reason not to put HBK at #1. But even I’m not that contrarian. He’s probably 1A as the best in-ring guy all time and he was in his first prime in 1996. We got his match with Mankind, him carrying Sid to something decent and matches with Vader that killed. No way this goes to anyone else.