Previously on the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: It was Thursday Raw Thursday, the episode that changed everything. Rocky Maivia pinned Triple H to win the Intercontinental Championship despite being lukewarm whole milk and greener than goose-sh*t. WCW were the only people who thought it was a good idea, so they copied it. Also on the show, Shawn Michaels dealt with a Canadian house show where Bret Hart got cheered more than him by quitting the company in tears and giving up the WWF Championship. Coming soon: WOO HOO, PUPPIES.
If you’ve never seen In Your House: Final Four, you can watch it on WWE Network here. You can watch this week’s episode here, and check all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag page. Follow along with the competition here.
If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you think about the show.
Up first, let’s see what happens when you let these weirdos into your house.
Before We Begin
Here’s what you need to know about In Your House (13): Final Four. The Final Four are Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Duke and Villanova.
Look Out, It’s ‘That Amazon Woman’
Rocky Maivia retains the Intercontinental Championship thanks to a distraction from Goldust. The important moment here comes after the match, when an “Amazon woman” chinlocks Marlena from the crowd and tries to crush her trachea and most of the lower half of her head with her bicep.
As you might’ve guessed, that character who looks like someone put young Elvis Presley’s face on Bill Kazmaier’s body is Chyna, and without Chyna, Triple H never becomes a thing. Without her, he’s WWF’s also-ran Lord Steven Regal, minus the skill, experience or physical charisma and had what was left of his heat killed when he lost to the new guy nobody likes. WITH Chyna, H completely changes directions, ending up alongside a smiling Shawn Michaels in D-Generation X and causing the World Wrestling Federation to be more like ECW. That unofficially starts the Attitude Era, which helps the WWF turn the corner in the ratings war. Three years after this, Triple H is in the main event of a WrestleMania. He’s also in an angle where he’s married to Stephanie McMahon, which leads to him ACTUALLY marrying Stephanie McMahon, which positions him to be in charge of a huge chunk of WWE in real life. Fast forward 20 years and he’s the the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative of WWE and a 14-time World Champion main-eventing WrestleMania in front of over 100,000 people. Thanks, Chyna!
Here’s to years of writing about fireworks bazookas, GED study sessions and having your thumb broken with a hammer.
Vader’s Face Exploded
The main event of Final Four — Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker vs. The Man We Call Vader Because THEY Call Him Vader in an elimination match for the WWF Championship, where you can win by pinfall, submission or throwing your opponent over the top rope Royal Rumble-style — is probably one of the most underrated pay-per-view main-events ever. If you’ve never seen it, seek it out. They brawl for almost 20 minutes before anyone’s eliminated.
The highlight is the effort from Vader, who takes an early chairshot that pretty much explodes his entire eyeball. Vader doesn’t have much luck with his eyes, does he? This match is probably about as close to WCW Big Van Vader as WWF Big Fat Piece Of Sh*t Vader ever gets.
I’ve heard rumors that Stone Cold Steve Austin was originally supposed to win the Championship here, only for Bret to show up the next night and cost him the title against Sid. I’ve also heard that before he lost his smile, Shawn Michaels was supposed to beat Sid, interfere in this match to keep Bret Hart from winning (and giving it to The Undertaker), then have Hart interfere in the Sid match the next match and cost him the belt to set up Sid/Taker and Hart/Michaels for WrestleMania. No matter what the true story is, Austin nearly blows out his knee during the match and seemingly gets eliminated before he’s supposed to, but runs back out to interfere anyway and, whoops:
Bret Hart Is WWF Champion
Bret takes advantage of the confusion caused by Austin to push Undertaker over the top rope and win his fourth of five WWF Championships. It’s a long reign, and absolutely not the moment where everything starts to go wrong for him.
And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for February 17, 1997.
Best/Worst: Bret Hart Is Noble Dumb
Here’s a fun game. Pretend you’re Bret Hart. You wanted to be WWF Champion, but you didn’t think it was gonna happen. You won the Royal Rumble, but you didn’t actually “win” it because an unhinged Texan in a vest and underpants who might also be a serial killer cheated and threw you out. People were jerking you around to the point that you actually quit, and only came back because you got a title opportunity. You became one of four people in a #1 contender match, but then the Female Burt Reynolds-style champion you hate got his feelings hurt and gave up the championship, and suddenly the #1 contender match was for the belt. You won, but in doing so you further enraged the serial killer who is already obsessed with you, to the point that even after injuring him you had to fight him off during the finish.
Now say you’ve got the opening match on Raw, and it’s a title defense against Sycho Sid. Before it can get started, crazy vesty panties shows up again and attacks you. The match gets postponed until later in the show.
Now say you’re trying to have the match for a second time, and he shows up AGAIN and attacks you AGAIN. Nobody around you seems to be able to stop him, or even keep him like, quarantined to a room so he’ll stop showing up with weapons to try to kill you. The match has been ruined twice in one night, but you’ve still gotta defend the WWF Championship against a 7-foot tall sweat-slippery maniac.
What do you do? I’d say “buy a gun,” but even that doesn’t work.
The match finally happens — WWF has cried wolf so many times about not baiting and switching (only to follow it with a bait and switch) that they HAVE to deliver — and yadda yadda, Bret gets Sid in the Sharpshooter, Earl Hebner gets in Sid’s face looking for a submission, and Stone Cold shows up with a steel chair to bash Bret in the top of the head with it and cost him the championship after only 24 hours. The crowd cheers all of this, and helps justify Bret’s very real response to them (and Austin) over the next few months.
Hart vs. Sid is actually really great and probably Sid’s best-ever one-on-one match, so if you’ve never seen it, take a quarter-hour of your day and watch it below.
Point of interest: at the 11-minute mark, Sid goes up to the second rope to drop a leg on Bret. As Jim Ross is noting how huge he is, Sid almost slips and falls. Lawler is like, “uh oh, his leg almost gave out.” Sid drops a terrible leg, and after the match is probably like, “heh, that was a close one, guess I’m never coming off the ropes again!”
Worst: All The Worst Things In One Segment
If you asked me to name the three things I like the least about this era of Raw, I’d say:
1. Marc Mero matches
2. The Nation of Domination as the world’s lamest nWo
3. Ahmed Johnson’s clothes
The first actual match of this episode (remembering that Hart vs. Sid misfired twice and ended up main-eventing) is Savio Vega vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero, combining all three in a terrible, terrible jambalaya. It ends suddenly when PG-13 sexually harasses Sable, sending her scurrying into the ring to hide behind Mero.
It looks like Mero and Sable are toast, but Ahmed Johnson finishes up his role of Michael Darling in a local theater production of Peter Pan just in time to hit the ring and attack the Nation with a board.
Seriously, dude looks like he just got back from waiting up for Santa Claus in the 1800s. Thank goodness he’s got his long johns tucked into his boots, otherwise those pants would’ve billowed free and he would’ve looked like Spawn from the back.
Worst: Wait, I Forgot The Head Bangers
I think they’re worse than Ahmed’s clothes. At least Ahmed kinda makes sense showing up dressed like a shoot John Henry. The Head Bangers are still wearing flannel vests and spitting water in each other’s faces because they listen to heavy metal. They could’ve shown up like Ahmed looking like a sack of red potatoes and I would’ve liked them more.
There’s good news, though. You might recognize the jobbers they face:
Best: Brother Nero, I Knew You’d Come
They’ve been teen jobbers for a while up until this point, but they’re still about a year away from being signed and actually winning matches, and roughly 19 from being avant-garde ironic backyard wrestling geniuses. It’s evident from second one that they’re a better team than the Head Bangers, with Jeff audibly popping JR with a flying clothesline in the opening moments.
For further proof that the Head Bangers are God awful, here’s Trasher not being able to decide if he should body slam Matt Hardy or give him the world’s worst stun-gun and just doing them both at the same time. Apparently Matt Hardy was “broken” in 1997:
And here’s Jeff Hardy channeling his hero Super Calo by selling a clothesline with a shooting star press onto his neck:
If the Hardys keep wrestling like this, there’s no way they’ll last!
Best: Late 90s Commentary
+1 to Jim Ross for sounding like me writing a parody of wrestling announcers with the line, “What’s that lady’s name? Marilyn Manson?” Note: This time next year she’ll be doing your intro!
Worst: Rocky Maivia Vs. Leif Cassidy, Or
Best: Important Things Are Happening!
Dwayne “The Maivia” Johnson takes on a guy who joins Andrew McCarthy as one of the only two grown men in human history to have their lives improved by a mannequin head, Leif Cassidy. The match is a slow 10 minutes, with Rocky knowing he’s supposed to do babyface stuff but not really knowing when to do it or why, and the crowd wanting to be polite about it. That doesn’t last forever.
Two important things happen during the match, though:
1. Sunny may be running for public office or setting herself up to sit on a Bill Clinton impersonator’s lap, one or the other.
Come on, she can’t be president, she won’t even announce her Candidocy.
2. Jerry Lawler is bothered by these ECW signs.
There’s a guy in the crowd behind the announce table holding an ECW RULES sign, so King snatches it away from him and goes on an impromptu (cough) rant about how he’s sick and tired of people bringing ECW signs to shows. He says nobody’s heard of them or knows what they are, so he points to a sign that says “ECW,” clarifies that it stands for “Extreme Championship Wrestling” and invites them to Raw at the Manhattan Center next week. That’ll make sure everyone keeps not knowing who they are!
My favorite part of this is that they use it to take a shot at Nitro, saying one of King’s friends brought a “Jerry Lawler” sign to Nitro and had it taken away, but these ECW signs keep popping up because WWF “believes in freedom of speech.” Which is, uh, why King wants people to stop bringing ECW signs! Or something!
That leads to a very, very important moment:
During a pretty good but INCREDIBLY meaningless Owen Hart vs. Flash Funk match, Jerry Lawler gets a phone call from an “ECW Representative.” When they say hello, it turns out that it’s ECW President Paul E. Dangerously, better known to modern fans and/or anyone who didn’t grow up feeling weird about Missy Hyatt as Paul Heyman.
Heyman says that “unlike Vince McMahon” he’s an owner who doesn’t hide behind representatives — another brick being removed from the wall between the fantasy of WWF Announcer Vince McMahon and the fantastic reality of WWF Owner Mr. McMahon — and that he’s personally called to accept King’s challenge. He’s bringing ECW talent to Raw next week, and spoiler alert, it’s one of my favorite Raws ever. It’s the Raw that brings ECW and UFC into official WWE continuity.
Isn’t it amazing how this show went from nothing to pretty great after somebody said, “hey, let’s actually DO STUFF?” That’s all you have to do. I wish they’d do that for Raw now.
Best: Chyna Shakes It Like A Polaroid Picture
Goldust and Marlena show up to discuss the issues with Hunter Hearst Helmsley and random fan attacks, saying “all the money in the world” couldn’t buy Marlena — have you tried a computer? — and that Goldust is, you guessed it, more man than Helmsley will EVER be. WWF women in the 90s are like that. They meet you and they’re like, “hi, I’m Denise, I’m 24 years old and this guy standing near me is MORE MAN THAN YOU’LL EVER BE.”
Hunter shows up to dispute that biased comparison of manhoods and jumps Goldie, beating him up and laying him out with a Pedigree. Marlena tries to step to him, but she’s snagged from behind by That Amazon Woman, who absolutely shakes the sh*t out of her. You might not remember the names of everyone in your family, but you remember how hard Chyna shook Marlena.
Later in the night, during a Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Bart Gunn match I am 1000% not screencapping, Goldust runs out and gets revenge by chasing him off. I’m disappointed to say that Chyna doesn’t show up again and shake Goldust the exact same way. That would’ve ruled.
And that’s the show for this week. To recap, we had two title changes in 24 hours, Stone Cold dangerously flailing at anything that moves en route to the match that makes his career, the Raw debut of Chyna, the Raw debut of the Hardy Boyz, the Raw debut of Paul Heyman’s voice and the setup of NEXT week’s Raw, which features the debuts of the Dudley Boyz, Tazz, Ken Shamrock and more. Oh, and SABU shows up.
It’s crazy how important Raw suddenly is. Thank you for putting up with like a year of Smoking Gunns matches to get here!