Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: Shawn Michaels is no longer WWF Champion, and poor Vince McMahon is heartbroken. Faarooq is now a militant separatist, The Undertaker is now a leather-clad man-bat, and Rocky Maivia is SpongeBob SquarePants The Wrestler.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for November 25, 1996.
Best: Layered Alignment Shifts
That makes the recap sound like a business meeting, doesn’t it? My first Best is, “Reimagining Paradigms Going Forward.”
Anyway, this week’s show starts with Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart and ends in what would eventually become one of the most complex, layered alignment shifts WWE ever pulled. It’s like a quadruple turn.
Bret wrestles Owen, and if you’re wondering why you don’t remember this match, it’s because it’s … not their best. It’s still Bret vs. Owen, but they’re very clearly going through the motions to get to the post-match stuff. Bret counters a sunset flip attempt into the Sharpshooter and looks like he’s got the match won, so Stone Cold Steve Austin runs out and waffles him with a chair (pictured). He’s a f*cking psychopath who can’t handle the fact that he lost at Survivor Series, so he wraps the chair around Bret’s leg and tries to break his ankle. Owen is fine with this, because he’s the world leader in hating Bret Hart. Owens tag partner, Davey Boy Smith, is not. He shows up, removes the chair from Bret’s leg and gets in Owen’s face about it. While this is going on, Austin calmly retrieves the chair and attacks Davey Boy from behind.
What’s great about this is that it’s one of the best early examples of Austin’s actions accidentally making things way worse. That’s one of the best parts about the Austin character that a lot of people miss … Vince McMahon gave him numerous opportunities to chill out and play ball, but Austin could never swallow his pride long enough to even pretend to cooperate. He always had to do things “the hard way.” Here, Austin’s only active enemy is Bret Hart, the most passive, relaxed WWF babyface there is. Bret beat him with a submission counter at Survivor Series, which is maybe the least threatening way to prove your dominance over someone. Austin can’t handle it, though, so he escalates the violence and tries to put Bret in the hospital. Tries to end his career. When Davey Boy shows up, he’s on the only person objecting to Austin’s actions, and even that’s not directed at Austin … it’s directed at Owen for being cool with it. Austin could’ve just bailed or continued trying to attack Bret, but by attacking Bulldog he makes things way worse. Owen doesn’t care about his brother, but he cares about his tag team partner … so now you’ve got Bret hating Austin for escalating the violence, Bulldog hating Austin for trying to hurt Bret, and Owen hating Austin for trying to hurt Bulldog. It takes us a while to bring everything together, but this single moment is the genesis of the reformation of the Hart Foundation.
That’s complex as hell. After the WrestleMania 13 double-turn, they’ve managed to make heel Austin a beloved babyface without compromising much of what made him so accidentally popular as a heel, they’ve turned one of the most nonconfrontationally do-gooder WWF Champions into a heel and paired him up with not only one of his major rivals, but his inferiority complex-ridden little brother. Nowadays they can’t even make you cheer a popular guy.