The Best And Worst Of WWF Monday Night Raw 11/18/96: Vince McMahon’s Broken Heart

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: We’ve spent the past few weeks passive-aggressively trying to not talk about Stone Cold Steve Austin breaking into Brian Pillman’s house and almost getting shot, so the go-home show for Survivor Series was mostly scary scarecrows and on-location Kevin Kelly interviews. Play it as safely as possible, everybody! We love you, USA Network, please don’t cancel us and make us run shows on the TV Guide channel!

You can watch this week’s episode here, and check out Survivor Series ’96 here. Be sure to read up on all the episodes you may’ve missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag page, and follow along with the competition here.

Up first, a series. Of survivals.

Before We Begin

Here’s what you need to know about Survivor Series ’96, one of the most surprisingly pivotal pay-per-views of the era.

The Undertaker Is A Bat Now

It’s not immediately “The Attitude Era” after Survivor Series ’96, but a lot of details fall into place.

If you’ll recall, the classic Purple Gloves Undertaker was buried alive at, uh, Buried Alive. He was murdered by the heel supergroup of brown onesie Mankind, a turncoat Paul Bearer and Terry Gordy in an “executioner” costume from Halloween Express. Since then, he’s been sending Paul threatening messages via spooky arts and crafts.

At Survivor Series, Undertaker reveals that he’s been using his crafting prowess and time off to construct WORKING BAT WINGS. He descends from the ceiling like Batman jumping off a building in the Arkham games, and because he needs a leather outfit to go with leather bat wings, he’s transformed into Attitude Era Undertaker. This is the one you remember throwing Mankind off a giant cage and trying to embalm Steve Austin. It’s a huge upgrade from the gloves and baggy shirt, unless you were nostalgically connected to the image of WWF’s most powerful character dressing like a colorblind janitor.

This Nerd Finally Debuted

Storming into Madison Square Garden like a pineapple that thinks he owns the place is Rocky Maivia, the first third generation star in WWF history. He’s making his debut in the same building his grandfather and father made their names, and he’s pinning Crush and Goldust to be the sole survivor of his Survivor Series team in his first match. It gets a huge face pop from the crowd, and everyone on the announce team (including Sunny) puts him over huge. That lasted forever, and he seamlessly transitioned into being the WWF’s biggest star.

Okay, that would be true if they’d only let him wrestle in Madison Square Garden.

Rocky’s transition from “blue chipper who won’t stop jumping at people with his arms out” to “person so uncool he gets death threats for existing,” from “hilariously egotistical separatist” to “world’s most beloved handsome humanitarian” is one of the most fascinating roller-coaster rides of opinion in wrestling history. It’ll be fun to go back and see the exact moments and decisions that turned things around for him. My theory is, “people love hearing about expensive shirts.”

Bret Hart And Steve Austin Had One Of The Greatest WWF Matches Of All-Time

The WrestleMania 13 submission match is more memorable for the grander stage, the double turn and the image of Stone Cold Steve Austin passing out in a pool of his own blood (and refusing help on the way out), but their first match at Survivor Series ’96 might’ve been better.

There are so many reasons why this is great, and if you haven’t seen it before (or haven’t seen it in a while) you should devote half an hour to watching it. There’s so much going on, and everything feels like it matters. It feels like a modern day New Japan main event, but in 1996. Bret Hart’s been away for most of the year and just saunters in to have one of the best matches anybody’s ever seen. Austin is hungry as f*ck to make a name for himself, and knows a showcase match with Bret Hart is the best chance he’s ever gonna get. They work together to build a great story of Austin being good enough to hang with Hart, but too emotional, too driven by his own obsessions and anger to get the job done. He’s good enough to be a champion, but lacks a champion’s focus. He wants to beat Bret his way, which causes him to make fundamental mistakes like not covering quickly enough, or refusing to release a submission hold when Bret’s pulled the Roddy Piper corner reversal on him and has him pinned.

Long story short, it’s the last great WWF match before the Austin Era kicks in. Not only is it as good as you can get in the ring, but it’s a masterpiece of character-based storytelling. It follows the build: Austin is a mad man who’ll do anything to make a name for himself, but he can’t keep his ego (or mouth) in check. Bret is the ace who keeps his cool and wrestles to win. This sets up their confrontation in the Royal Rumble, the Mania 13 classic and all the crazy fallout leading up to Mania 14. Essential.

The Boyhood Dream Is Over

Sycho Sid is your new WWF Champion, beating Shawn Michaels clean. Haha, that’s even less believable than “Rocky Maivia worked from the beginning.”

Unsurprisingly, the Michaels-to-Sid title change is as convoluted as possible. Sid has the match under control, but decides to steal a camera from a cameraman and cheat in front of the referee for no reason. Jose Lothario gets up on the apron to stop him, and after a long (loooong) pause, Sid spins on a pile of 500 dimes and smashes the camera into Jose’s chest. Michaels hits Sweet Chin Music and has the match won, but decides to check on Jose instead. That leads to like a minute of Shawn on the ground yelling for help while the announce team wonders if Jose’s having a heart attack. Sid shakes off the kick and the do a ref bump, allowing Michaels to bail on the match AGAIN, and for Sid to follow him out and smash him in the back with the same giant camera. I don’t know if they were supposed to bump the ref first and just did everything out of order, but it’s awkward as hell.

With Shawn distracted twice and smashed with a camera the size of Marty Jannetty, Sid’s able to powerbomb him and win the WWF Championship. The crowd pops for Sid’s win, because 1996 Shawn Michaels is the best and most impossible to like wrestler ever. Vince McMahon gets his feelings hurt, which carries over onto the next night’s Raw.

Now, the Best and Worst the next night’s Raw:

Worst: Vince McMahon, Jilted Lover

Let’s get right to it.

Sid defeated Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series to become the new Champion, and before Sid can even say a word, Vince gets an extended, close-up monologue at commentary to explain why everyone’s dumb for not supporting Shawn Michaels. Vince is like, “sure, he dances, he’s got long hair, he’s a ladies man … but he helped an old man when he should’ve been paying attention to his championship match, and that makes him a man’s man, and he deserves a rematch.” The actual interview with Sid sets up Sid vs. Bret Hart at the next In Your House, but Vince is like two seconds from boiling a rabbit. It’s so weird.

Sid’s playing it like he’s the babyface, too, which makes it even weirder. He’s like I’M A FIGHTING CHAMPION AND ALSO THE RULER OF THE WORLD and everybody’s cheering, and Vince is in his bedroom just sobbing, tearing down his Shawn Michaels posters. We like to talk about how Vince being in charge means he’s gonna stick with stuff like “Roman Reigns as WWE Champion” whether we like it or not, but in 1996 the dude was on the show, telling us to our faces that we’d made a stupid decision, and that he’d fix it. If you think about it, the Mr. McMahon was born in this obsession with Michaels, and you could argue that he didn’t “screw Bret” because it was good business, he was just doing it to make Senpai notice him.

Best: Stone Cold And Mankind Reinvent Raw

This was supposed to be a “Toughman Contest” — a street fight, basically — between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vader, but Vader got injured at Survivor Series and couldn’t make it. If you’re scheduled for a toughman contest and can’t make it because of an injury, shouldn’t you automatically lose?

Anyway, Mankind is his replacement and whoops, Austin and Foley tear it up and accidentally create the WWF main-event style that would facilitate the Attitude Era. It’s just 10 minutes of them brawling, kicking each other in the nuts, whipping each other into barricades and taking crazy bumps while someone in the background holds up a sign that says F*CK. Without the asterisk. You can see it in the photo.

It’s not shocking news that Austin and Foley had amazing chemistry and could routinely make magic in the ring together, but this is the first time we really got to see it in a WWF ring. What’s awesome is that Austin’s out here having the best TV match of the year the night after having one of the best matches of the decade with Bret Hart, and they’re completely different. One’s character-based and built around in-ring strategy and submissions. The other’s walking around an arena punching each other until one of you can’t get up. Austin could to both brilliantly, and that versatility sorta saved him when he got his neck broken and had to readjust. His character was able to move forward almost unchanged.

The finish ends up being great, too. The Executioner runs out to cause a DQ, leading to a two-on-one attack on Austin. The Undertaker shows up to make the save, and before you think Austin’s suddenly a babyface, he pops up and clotheslines Taker out of the ring. Taker of course lands on his feet and climbs back in, and Austin’s all “oh sh*t” and bails. Austin already feels like a legendary character interacting with Undertaker, they keep the character alignments strong without selling anybody out, they play off the post-match attack in the Survivor Series Mankind/Taker match and get you excited for more Taker/Austin confrontations in the future. A+.

Best: Faarooq Is Gonna Bumrush Ya Mothaaaa

Oh, one more major development from Survivor Series: space gladiator Faarooq is now dressing like Queen Latifah and captaining something you might’ve heard of called, “The Nation of Domination.” Damn, Survivor Series ’96 was important as hell, wasn’t it?

The original version of the Nation is Faarooq, managed by Clarence Mason and played to the ring by to scrawny white guys, J.C. Ice and Wolfie D., aka “PG-13.” If you don’t remember them rapping over the original Nation theme, give it a listen. Think of them like Salacious Crumb, if he was a 90s white guy from Tennessee who’d listened to a little too much House of Pain. Their origin story is, “we got tattoos and changed our attitude so Faarooq started sending us money.” No, really. They’re kinda great, in a world where Reckless Youth is the future of wrestling.

Faarooq needs their help to defeat Savio Vega, so they attack him with a 2×4 when the referee isn’t looking. I guess the 2×4 was public domain now that Jim Duggan had devoted his life to loosely wrapping sweaty balls-tape around his hands and punching people. This cheating draws the ire of Ahmed Johnson, who runs in from the crowd and tries to attack them with the same 2×4. He’s dressed exactly like The Rock in that one photo except his jeans are black and he’s wearing gold shoes.

Best: And The Rest!

This is one of those upside-down Raws where they put everything good at the beginning to draw in viewers, then kinda fizzled out. The good news is that the fizzle is still pretty good, as it marks the Raw debut of Doug Furnas and Philip Lafon (aka Dan Kroffat). If you’re a WWF fan, you may not remember them. Remember how the Steiner Brothers never really seemed to fit in WWF, because nobody else was working their style? Subtract about 95% of the Steiners’ charisma and make that clash of styles about 95% worse. That’s Furnas and Lafon in the WWF.

The secret (which is not a secret at all if you followed Japan in the 90s) is that Furnas and Lafon were f*cking awesome. If you go back and watch them try to fit in in these early matches, it’s just two guys straight out of All Japan, dropping motherf*ckers on their heads. At Survivor Series, they debuted by nearly breaking Owen Hart’s neck with a suplex, and they continue that on Raw by obliterating poor Leif Cassidy with a cobra clutch suplex. A cobra clutch suplex. On Raw. In 1996. The match itself is boring, but man, you were just waiting for these guys to forget where they were and start head-dropping fools.

If you aren’t familiar with their work, do yourself the biggest favor ever and watch the following match. It’s them vs. Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi from May 25, 1992. I know I already blew my “greatest thing ever” load with Austin and Hart, but without hyperbole, this might be the greatest tag match ever. Without going to deeply in a Raw column, you know how Japanese wrestling audiences are usually very quiet and respectful? Want to see a match so good it turns a Japanese crowd into the ECW Arena?

Wait, I didn’t even mention Flash Funk debuting at Survivor Series. Do we still have room for a bunch of great 2 Cold Scorpio matches?