Previously on the Best and Worst of vintage WWF Raw Is War: WrestleMania 13 happened. The Undertaker is your new WWF Champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin went to sleep in a pile of his own face blood and woke up a folk hero, and Bret Hart is really losing his mind. In other words, shit just got real.
If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for March 24, 1997.
Best: Laying The Foundation
The fact that this week’s Raw opens with 10 minutes of the Head Bangers* is irrelevant. The important note here is that they’re facing The British Bulldog and Owen Hart, who finally, finally come to blows after months of “will they, won’t they,” and get disqualified. That leads to a post-match challenge that sets up Owen vs. the Bulldog in a rematch for the European Championship next week. That match isn’t the forever-classic the original is, but — spoiler alert — it does end with a shocker and set up the foundation (pun intended) of maybe the best angle of the decade. You’ll see that start to come together more later in this episode.
*I get a lot of comments that are like, “I don’t understand why you hate the Head Bangers, I LOVED them as a kid!” That’s all well and good, friends, but when I was a kid I loved The Juicer and Erik Watts. My love for them doesn’t erase the fact that one was a child-pandering living jean jacket doing a Beetlejuice parody and the other couldn’t clear a kneecap on a dropkick. I loved the Wuzzles when I was a kid, too, but I’m not gonna turn off Westworld to watch it today, you know?
Worst: Chyna’s Phantom Interference
Match two is Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Bart Gunn, and if you know anything about Bart Gunn, you know his presence in a match against even the best opponent makes Head Banger Mosh vs. Head Banger Thrash look like Bret vs. Owen.
The only thing I really want to point out here is the finish, which is supposed to be Bart hitting the ropes, Chyna pulling down the top rope, Bart spilling to the floor and getting beaten up before being fed back in to eat a Pedigree. This is great in theory, but in practice … well, look at the screencap. That’s as close to “pulling down the top rope” as Chyna gets. So Bart just hits the ropes diagonally, falls over them by himself without any provocation and bumps to the floor. The announce team is like LOOK AT IT, LOOK AT CHYNA LADIES AND JENNAMEN, and they even show a slow motion replay of her not doing it. It’s sad and hilarious, a true illustration of Bart Gunn. If we weren’t all brought together as a nation by his depressing head bobble in his fight with Butterbean, I’d say it was the most Bart Gunn.
H wins, and that’s pretty much it. He’s finally got Chyna to give him some heat, but he’s stuck in a holding pattern until somebody figures out that Shawn Michaels should be dropping trou and pointing at his dick every week.
Worst: Literally An Episode Of Power Rangers
Look, as a person whose two favorite things in pro graps history are Lucha Underground and the ’90s WCW cruiserweights, I’m the last person who’s going to dismiss lucha libre as “Power Rangers” fighting.
That said, look at these fuckin’ teenagers with attitude:
They all look exactly the same, but with different coloring. Like at any point they could stop doing bad arm drags and form the Megazord.
If you’re interested, the match is El Mosco, Hysteria and Abismo Negro versus Venum, Super Nova and Discovery. You may remember Abismo Negro as the richer man’s version of WCW’s Galaxy. Hysteria is probably the most underrated cartoon of all time, and El Mosco is where Muslim people pray when they’re in Mexico. On the other side we’ve got Super Nova, who I’m 99% sure is not Simon Dean in a mask, teaming with Discovery (who is a space shuttle, I think) and “Venum,” whose finisher is avoiding copyright infringement.
Like every WWF luchador thing ever, they just mindlessly do high spots while the crowd sits on their hands. Venum is particularly busting his ass here, but unless Ahmed Johnson showed up and hit one of them with a plank of wood, nobody would react. Dude’s doing a top rope Asai moonsault to the floor and the crowd gives a polite “oh!” before doing the 1997 version of checking their phones, which is … talking to each other, I guess? I honestly don’t remember. Winding their watches?
The highlight of the match, honestly, is Bret Hart showing up in the picture-in-picture complaining about how they promised him time to explain what happened at WrestleMania 13 and it hasn’t happened yet. Blue Ranger Billy pins Black Ranger Zack after a jumping nothing. Isn’t it weird seeing WWE not knowing what the hell to do with cruiserweights? Hoo boy, that’d never happen today.
Worst: How Are They Making Too Cold Scorpio Boring?
Speaking of the company not knowing what the shit to do with anyone with a vertical leap that could clear a gym mat, here’s Flash Funk getting a quick squash win over the Brooklyn Brawler.
If you’re coming into these cold and somehow have zero history with WWE television programming, here’s our first look (in a while, at least) at the Brawler. His gimmick is that he’s a tough-ish homeless man (?) who lives in Yankee Stadium and tries to beat people up, but fails. He’s like one of the thugs Batman would beat up during a bank heist or whatever before an actual villain revealed himself. He’s that ultimate level of 1980s jobber where he’d occasionally get a match against another jobber and win, just to make his constant losing against accomplished people seem valid. The Internet Wrestling Database has him at 22-283, which is woefully incomplete but a good sample of his win/loss record.
Flash wins in about three minutes, and Vince spends more time going “OH MY!!!” at black girls existing than he does trying to get Flash over.
Best: Best Heel Turn Promo Ever
Oh my God, this is glorious.
Two weeks ago on Raw, Bret Hart lost a WWF Championship match to Sid and went absolutely apeshit, letting months of mounting frustrations finally explode and cursing a bunch on live television. At WrestleMania 13, Bret made Stone Cold Steve Austin pass out in a pool of his own blood, but kept trying to attack his unconscious body because the crowd reaction wasn’t unanimous enough. He was a good guy driven to the point of absolute stifled madness by existing in a world populated by increasingly rewarded and beloved jerks. Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold, Sid, you name it. WWF crowds are cheering these assholes and psychopaths and Bret’s out here just trying to stay the most popular guy by nodding politely and doing really great armbars. WWF crowds think he’s a crybaby and a brat for wanting things to be the way they’ve always been, and for wanting to get the same reactions he used to get for doing the same stuff.
Here, Bret masterfully cuts a babyface and a heel promo at the same time. It’s BRILLIANT. He dissects every single moment since his return from semi-retirement on a cruise ship, completely justifying himself from his point of view. BECAUSE he’s justified, and also because he’s being kind of a dick about it, AND because he’s taking forever, the crowd keeps turning on him. He’s like, “yeah, but what about this. Yeah, but what about this? Yeah, but what about this?” And he’s 1000% right. BUT HE SUCKS. I like the credit Jesse Ventura for my bullshit contrarian fandom, but Bret had a lot to do with it, too. For the first time I was like, “wow, I get where he’s coming from.” And then Austin was super dynamic and dangerous and exciting, and I could pick either side and enjoy everything. I wish they did that more often. Put effort into both sides!
So what it boils down to is that Bret apologizes to everyone in the world except the United States, because the fans in the United States are trog idiots or whatever who didn’t support him. This becomes a once-in-a-lifetime setup where Bret is the biggest heel in the company when they’re in the U.S., and still a conquering babyface hero everywhere else. And Stone Cold suddenly represents America … he’s the strongest, most cunning and most dangerous force in the world but he’s also kinda pyscho, culture-obsessed and up his own ass.
And speaking of that …
Shawn Michaels interrupts to hit the two most American talking points there are:
1. This is America, you can love it or you can just get out
2. We here in America have this little thing called the FIRST AMENDMENT, which allows us to say anything and do anything and it’s fine, shut up
It’s a “yeah, tell him!” moment if you’re that kind of American, and if you aren’t, you kinda want to see Bret kicked him in the leg and figure four him on the ring post. Shawn and Bret go into their quasi worked-shoot stuff that will definitely not end badly for one of them, which culminates in Shawn telling Bret he’s gay for looking at him in Playgirl. Bret then kicks him in the leg and figure-fours him on the ring post. Oh, hey!
This is all so, so good. And now Bret’s got two psychotically obsessed adversaries; Shawn Michaels, representing the devil may care attitude of 1997 American pop culture, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, who wants to beat him to death with whatever’s lying around and everyone loves him for it. He’s going to need some backup. More on that next week.
Best: Bret Hart Vs. The Rock, Part 1
While Shawn is being carried away to a local medical facility where his First Amendments Rights will get him free medical care or whatever, Bret sticks around to do commentary and “explain himself” again during Rocky Maivia vs. Leif Cassidy. I’m glad he’s here, because Pre-Crisis Rock vs. Pre-Crisis Al Snow with no Bret Hart might’ve put me in a coma.
The best part here is that Vince is absolutely DISTRAUGHT at Bret beating up his inamorato Shawn Michaels and won’t stop screaming at him about how it’s “destroying his legacy.” YOUR LEGACY IS IN THE TOILET, BRET! IN THE TOILET! IN THE TOILET! IT’S IN THE TOILET! Eventually Bret’s like, “you know what, fuck all y’all” and jumps in the ring to try to break Rocky Maivia’s leg, too. The man is totally unhinged, in the best way; the world won’t stop changing around him, and now that he knows he can’t talk it into stopping, he has to try to do it physically. Burn it down and start over.
This sets up next week’s main event of BRET HART VS. THE ROCK, which is sadly like a year in the wrong direction both ways from being a classic.
Best: The Ahmed Johnson Vs. Nation Of Domination Feud Is Finally Ending!
Worst: (Not Really)
In very less important news, the Nation of Domination ruins another Ahmed Johnson match via disqualification and end up making a deal: they’ll participate in one final match where if they lose, they’ll disband. At least, I think that’s what they agreed to. They salute about it and Ahmed makes “well, there you go” gestures at them, but nobody including the announce team is sure what’s going on. But to be fair, Ahmed Johnson could be standing in a desert pointing at a pool of water and you wouldn’t be able to understand what he’s trying to say.
As you might’ve guessed, this blowoff match leads to them feuding for another entire year, then deciding to team up. Because the booking meeting never got farther than, “DQ finish followed by pajama board fights.”
LOL: Leather Cowboy Chef The Undertaker
The Bret Hart segment(s) went way long, so the show ends with an Undertaker promo that just kinda ends before it gets going. Here’s what you need to know:
– Paul Bearer has abandoned Mankind and wants to be friends with the Undertaker again, possibly because he’s WWF Champion now
– The Undertaker decided to celebrate his championship win by buying a leather cowboy hat, and looking like I’d imagine Rob Zombie sees himself when he looks in a mirror
– Mankind is suddenly the #1 contender somehow, despite having spent the last few months in the tag team division and getting counted-out at WrestleMania
Paul interrupts Undertaker to plead for his forgiveness, Mankind interrupts Bearer’s interruption like, mid-interruption to scream over it about wanting Bearer back, and Vince just throws it to La Femme Nikita. They get a little more time to explain it next week, which is helpful, because they’ve announced that the next PPV is called “Revenge of the Taker,” and he suspiciously doesn’t have anything to get revenge about yet.
SEE YOU THEN.