The Best And Worst Of WWF Monday Night Raw 10/21/96: Dead And Buried

Previously on the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw: The storied build to BURIED ALIVE that you and your friends all still talk about in hushed, reverent tones concluded with Jake The Snake faking alcoholism to cover for actual alcoholism, Ahmed Johnson wearing a jacket that said AHMED JOHNSON and Sunny outing Kevin Kelly as a DNB. Also on the show, Undertaker and Mankind dug graves in undisclosed locations and I guess just left them empty, because they couldn’t use them in the buried alive match.

Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network, and here to watch Buried Alive.

Before We Begin

Here’s what you need to know about In Your House: Buried Alive, the show that explains what happens when you bury someone inside instead of in a graveyard.

Undertaker Was Buried Alive Due To Interference From The Corniest Wrestler Ever

The Undertaker wrestled Mankind in a “buried alive” match. To win, you have to literally bury your opponent in a grave (helpfully provided by the production team) while they’re alive. Then your opponent is dead, and they remain buried in this enormous pile of dirt inside whatever arena it happened, and local hockey teams or whatever have to work around it.

Things are going well for Taker until he’s attacked from behind by THE EXECUTIONER, the wrestler 80% of regular people would create if you handed them a pencil and a sheet of paper and said, “make up a wrestler.” It’s Freebird Terry Gordy in a costume from Party City, carrying a plastic ax (also from Party City, assumedly purchased at the same time). He might as well be “The Masked Marvel” or “The Masked Menace” or some other fictional sitcom wrestler. He attacks Taker from behind with a shovel and buries him alive, covering him with dirt via a “squat and push dirt backwards through the five-hole” technique that makes him look like a weird, giant dog. It’s so ineffective that the other heels on the roster have to wander out and help him shovel dirt.

Also, Undertaker Is The Shredder

When the match is over and Undertaker is buried, Mankind punctuates it by stabbing his shovel into the dirt pile. Lightning strikes it, and the Undertaker’s hand pushes up out of the grave like he’s M. Bison in the Street Fighter movie post-credits scene. Yes, there’s a post-credits scene in Street Fighter. Yes, I’m the only person who got far enough into the movie to see it.

Aside from Terry Gordy showing up as a Monty Python extra and Undertaker showing he’s not dead during a match that shouldn’t actually kill him, nothing happened on this show. It’s a “one match show,” and not in the good way. The Smoking Gunns breakup is taking an entire month, Ahmed Johnson beat up Faarooq as a “receipt” for exploding his kidney and Jim Ross is promising Bret Hart for Raw while everyone gaslights him and makes him seem crazy.

The good news is that the following Raw marks a turning point in the show, so let’s dig ourselves out of this hole and check it out. Here’s the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for October 21, 1996.

Worst: Owen Hart Is Not A Miracle Worker

If you thought WWE Babyfaces as macho psychopaths who don’t respond to cause-and-effect like fully-formed human beings was a recent development, I’d like to point out any other era of WWE programming.

Sid has a WWF Championship match against Shawn Michaels set for Survivor Series, and the announce team puts it over as these great friends having to put aside their intense bond in the name of competition. You may know this as “Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose.” At least with Reigns and Ambrose they tried to actually make them seem like friends … here, you’ve got this 7-foot tall, soaking wet, throbbing muscle with a poodle mullet gritting his teeth through interactions with a tiny, sassy egomaniac and WWE passing it off as “bros.”

For example, Sid defeats Owen Hart when he decides he’s sold enough moves and it’s time to hit the chokeslam. He does, then sets up for the powerbomb for like 15 minutes so The British Bulldog can run out and cause a disqualification. Owen and Bulldog put the boots to Sid while he kinda kneels in front of them punching and not being hurt, so Shawn runs out to even things up. He runs off the heels, and of course Sid is upset about it because HE DON’T NEED YOUR HELP. Sid and Shawn have a long, silent conversation in the ring to work out their problems.

I’d make my normal “why am I supposed to cheer for these people” joke, but I think the idea is that everyone watching’s on the same page as me, which is why the ratings are in the toilet. Things don’t pick up until they give us people we actually want to see do things. As good as Shawn Michaels was — and this version of him was good enough to get a great match out of Sid, which could be an argument for sainthood — he didn’t have “it.” That thing that makes you want to tune in every week and watch him do stuff. WWE revisionist history and Common Wrestling Fan Opinion will tell you otherwise, but nobody wanted to watch this dude. He’s good as f*ck, he’s just not The Guy.

Worst: The Smoking Gunns Are (Still) Breaking Up!

Speaking of “not The Guy,” Billy Gunn’s about to get a singles push. Jesus take the wheel.

As you know if you’ve been reading the column (or read the boldface), the Smoking Gunns are breaking up. Sunny briefly managed them when they were WWF Tag Team Champions, and they lost because Billy’s more concerned with pulling that sweet Smoky Mountain Wrestling trim than winning matches. Here they wrestle the Godwinns, and Billy just wants to win to impress Sunny, and Bart’s like, “hey, can you stop being unrealistically hetero for like five seconds so we can do cowboy moves?”

They lose, of course, and would go on to break up on SUPERSTARS. You know you’re prestigious when they bump your barbershop window moment to syndication. Fun note: Billy’s terrible solo push and The Road Dogg’s terrible solo push both start on next week’s Raw, and we’ll follow them through their impossible-to-like country music gimmicks until they give up, start wrestling in airbrushed South Park shirts and accidentally become one of the most popular tag teams of all time.

Best: Stone Cold Is So Good Right Now

Speaking of “The Guy,” here’s the f*cking guy.

One of the best parts of the show is this brief clip from Livewire wherein Stone Cold Steve Austin is tired of being stuck in a “damn green room” and interrupts the show to talk at length about how he went to Canada and beat up the Harts in their own house. He took Bret Hart down into the Dungeon and “whipped his ass” for 30 minutes, put the Sharpshooter on him for 10, then whipped Stu’s ass for telling him to let it go.

I’ve typed it before, but Steve Austin was basically a one-man nWo and almost instantly became the coolest guy in wrestling by being the opposite of everything around him. He’s fresh, dynamic and dangerous. He’s great in the ring. He’s a bad guy for being a boastful liar, but you love him for how ridiculous it gets, and get the idea that he could back it up. Stone Cold in late 1996 is the most undeniable wrestler you’ve ever seen. He pops out of the screen. It’s either him, Johnny B. Badd doing bad moonsaults or Billy Gunn trying to do guillotine leg drops in jeans.

Additionally, Sunny.

brian-pillman-bret-hartBest: Bret Hart Is Back, Vince McMahon Is Relieved, And Brian Pillman’s About To Get An Ass-Whipping

The centerpiece of the episode is the return of Bret Hart, who looks like he just rolled off a Carnival cruise and hasn’t moved faster than a slow walk in 6 months. He talks to Jim Ross about his future in the WWF, saying he’ll be here “forever” despite WCW offering him a ton of money and being good dudes about it. The best non-kayfabe part of the promo is Vince McMahon’s reaction, because he reportedly had no idea what Bret was going to say, leading to maybe the most genuine “Mr. McMahon” moment in WWF history. Bret’s like, “I’m staying here,” and Vince goes WULL ALL RIGHT and looks like he’s straight-up about to cry with joy. I mean, it’s either “joy,” or “I was SO CLOSE to being done with this guy,” depending on your perspective.

The best actual part of the promo is when Bret says he’s working his way back up to challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship, and will accept Stone Cold Steve Austin’s challenge for Survivor Series. They jump backstage to show the roster watching the feed, and when Hart says he’ll fight Austin Brian Pillman pops SO HARD. Austin turns and glares at him, which is the precursor to a broken ankle and a home invasion gun battle. If you were around for that, yo know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t, it’s sort of the WWF equivalent of “Yeti attacks Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc,” not in that it was stupid, but that it requires like 8 paragraphs of explanation.

Bret returning kickstarts all the stuff that would eventually kickstart the Attitude Era, from Austin’s rampant crime-committing to Shawn Michaels as an unforgivable, dick-obsessed goof. Shawn’s character turn creates “Triple H,” the eventual Bret and Shawn issue creates Mr. McMahon, Stone Cold gets made and everything falls into place. Can you imagine how different things would be if Bret had said, “I’ve decided to take WCW’s offer?” I want to go back and write historical fiction about it. Does Shawn still lose his smile? Austin is probably still fine, but does The Rock ever develop into “The Rock” without the foils created by this ripple? If Bret jumps ship to WCW in October of 1996, does Crow Sting never happen? Is Bret the hero, and does Sting just get pushed aside again?

Worst: This Year’s Hall Of Fame Class Is A Real Murderer’s Row

I’d make more jokes here if the Best and Worst of Nitro column wasn’t already a weekly exercise in disassociating a murderer from his work. I’ll just say that I never liked Jimmy Snuka, because he had the athleticism of half an Uso and the personality of one of their shoes.

Best: Johnny B. Fooled

Okay, so, let me catch you up.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley has a different valet every week, and Mr. Perfect’s been showing up to “steal” them. They’re possessions, I guess? They show up to sorta mindlessly clap for Helmsley, then Perfect shows up, has a short conversation with them and escorts them out. He’s perfect, so whatever he says instantly works. I appreciate the adherence to canon. Anyway, this has been pissing off Helmsley (rightfully so) and causing him to lose a bunch of matches. Meanwhile, Perfect was coaching “Wildman” Marc Mero to victory in the tournament for the vacant Intercontinental Championship. This all comes together. Kind of.

Eventually Helmsley gets pushed too far with the constant interruption of his Tinder game and challenges the semi-retired Perfect to a match. Perfect accepts, and this is week’s main event is supposed to be his big return. They showed hype videos last week, and this week he’s backstage doing squats, looking intense … until H shoves a production cart into him and injures him again. Whoops! Monsoon won’t let Perfect compete until the test results come back, so Perfect suggests Mero take his place. Helmsley’s okay with that if Mero puts the IC title on the line, and Mero does, after a small amount of YEAH OF COURSE HE’LL DO IT, WON’T YOU prodding from Perfect. You probably see where this is going now.

Perfect ends up swatting Mero in the face with a chair, and Helmsley hits the Pedigree for the win and his first-ever championship. It turns out that Perfect has been stealing H’s ladies to motivate him, in what I guess is a George Costanza situation where not thinking about sex allows him to focus and become smart enough to assassinate cerebrums. We don’t get to find out much else about it, though, because Perfect leaves the company a few weeks later en route to WCW. Oh well, at least he gave us our first instance of Triple H winning a championship on a screwy finish that barely makes sense. Leave the memories alone.

Next Week

The New Age Outlaws are here (sort of), Steve Austin throws Pillman in a figurative woodchipper and we begin the 1996 Karate Fighters tournament, which is a lot like Lucha Underground, but with toys.