The Best And Worst Of WWF Smackdown 9/23/99: The Five Labors Of Hunter Hearst Hercules

We’re back! Previously on the Vintage Best and Worst of WWF Smackdown: WWF referees went on strike, and madness quickly followed. The Undertaker began hinting that he didn’t want to play ball with the powers that be, Ken Shamrock and Chris Jericho continued their feud, and tensions between Triple H and Vince McMahon hit a new high when McMahon defeated HHH for the WWF Championship (with an assist from Stone Cold Steve Austin).

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And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Smackdown for Sept. 23, 1999.

Worst: Everyone Loves Mr. Belding!

So, chalk it up to hindsight, but I still can’t get behind Benevolent Babyface Vince McMahon. Granted, he’s the least terrible person in the room when he’s sharing a ring with Triple H and Chyna, but he still gives off that authoritarian vibe of a high school principal who sits backwards on his chair and tries to relate with the students. And of course, he’s lofting some “please like me” softballs at the audience here by devoting this entire episode of Smackdown to putting Triple H through the wringer.

Vince was reinstated on Monday Night Raw, and as punishment for making his recent life a living hell, he decides to force Triple H into a series of matches throughout the night. The next pay-per-view is Unforgiven, and if he wants to keep his place in the Six-Pack Challenge for the WWF Championship, he’ll have to wrestle all five of his possible opponents in that match AND defeat at least three of them. It’s a total deck-stacking move that seems way too vindictive for someone who’s supposed to be the good guy, but at least it accomplishes something. Triple H was still relatively new as a championship-worthy main event guy, and this really works to solidify him as a guy who can run the gauntlet when the chips are down. Plus, it sends the fans home happy, having seen Triple H get clobbered by five different men, each with their own individual grudge.

The first match is a Chokeslam Challenge against The Big Show, and it goes about as well as you’d expect. It’s a real short blip on the radar, but it works well in setting the pace for the kind of night Triple H is going to have. The fans in Dallas love it, of course, especially the guys with the “CANNABIS 4:20” and “I [heart] SLUTS” signs. Man, arena security must have been the easiest job in the world in 1999.

Best: Michael “Pretty Swole” Hayes

Michael Hayes is sitting in for Jerry Lawler this week, and geez, did he always have guns like this? Maybe it’s just a really small shirt, I don’t know. In retrospect, I forgot that I actually kind of like Hayes on commentary. He’s more of an analyst than Lawler, and he’s easily less jokey. I mean, they’re equally well-versed in their old-school knowledge of wrestling, but Lawler insisted on calling himself the king while acting like a jester. Hayes just played it straight, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, between listening to this episode and his Freebirds induction speech at the WWE Hall of Fame, I’d like to see how he’d fare managing Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson on Raw. Start calling him “Good Brother #1” or something.

Best: The Dudley Boys, Union Busters

Meanwhile, the referee strike is now continuing into its second week. I feel like that’s the kind of sentence that should be delivered via a 1930’s newsreel. “Our boys in black and white are having a tough go of it out there on the picket lines!”

But suddenly, the Dudleys arrive and target Teddy Long for a nasty beating. With the Undertaker on his way out for a while (more on that later), we’re kind of letting the Ministry personnel do their own thing. This includes humanizing the Acolytes by highlighting Farooq’s long-standing working relationship with Long, which soon becomes a target for Bubba Ray and D-Von. We’re actually very close to the advent of the Acolyte Protection Agency here, even though the name doesn’t pop up until 2000. And all it took was poor Teddy Long getting beat up! Even when he’s getting pummeled, he’s creating iconic tag team feuds, bless the guy.

Also, D-Von almost goes Full Ahmed Johnson when he’s yelling at Teddy here. He screams “Dudley Boys” in a way that makes it sound like “Deadly Boys,” which is just begging for Fun With Ahmed subtitles. He should’ve told him to eat a reef.

Worst: What Can D’Lo Brown Do For You

Next up, we’ve got European Champion Mark Henry defending his title against X-Pac. It’s over extremely quickly, since the match itself isn’t really the story. Rather, D’Lo Brown is at ringside providing commentary, trying to get under Sexual Chocolate’s skin before their match at Unforgiven. Henry gets counted out after a suspiciously fast ten-count from replacement referee Tom Prichard, and he and Brown quickly get into a shoving match afterwards.

While I’m thinking of it, I have a question about X-Pac: The Bronco Buster is useless, right? It’s just a guy sack-tapping his opponent’s sternum at top speed. In terms of bad finishers, it’s gotta be right up there with the Overdrive. Or maybe it was never meant to be a finisher in the physical sense after all. Maybe it’s just so demoralizing that people gladly lay down for the pin afterwards. “Well, X-Pac just tried to get my neck pregnant, I think I’ll call it a day.”

Worst: I Can’t Figure Out What Luna Vachon’s Voice Reminds Me Of

It turns out that I totally forgot that Luna Vachon was still on the WWF roster at this time. I think her appearances were a bit more sporadic than the other women, but yeah, that completely slipped my mind. And as I’m mentioning here, I know I’ve heard her voice somewhere before, but I’m drawing a total blank right now. The closest guess I have right now is “the entire cast of Tiny Toon Adventures speaking at the same time.” Anyway, Luna’s the #1 contender for Ivory’s WWF Women’s Championship. She proposes that their match at Unforgiven be contested under hardcore rules, and Ivory agrees to the challenge.

I would have more to say about this, but I’m still thinking about Luna’s voice. Rita Repulsa on muscle relaxers, maybe? Dang it, I’m going to think of it weeks from now when the moment has already passed.

Worst: Pretty Much Everyone In The Jeff Jarrett/Chyna Feud

I’m more or less done harping on Jeff Jarrett’s awful rhetoric at this point, and I’m instead choosing to poke fun at his looks. He looks what you’d get if the lead singer of Smash Mouth drove his car into a mall kiosk selling fake Oakleys and spray tanner. If there was a Guys Trying Too Hard Magazine, he’d be the cover model for the 1999 year-end double issue.

Jarrett comes to the ring flanked only by Miss Kitty, the living embodiment of Stockholm Syndrome. Debra is absent after being attacked by Jarrett post-match on Raw, and Kitty seems to be taking it all in like a recent lobotomy patient. Seriously, Jarrett goes on and on with his He-Man Woman Hater schtick, and she reacts with a blank stare that says “I’m still thinking about that cloud I saw today that looked like a duck.”

Jarrett is about to figure-four a female stage manager at ringside to really drive his point home, but Chyna gets some long-overdue payback. She returns the favor from last week, laying him out with a frying pan and dressing him in an apron. But what makes her think that she can simultaneously be the underdog babyface in this feud while still being allied with Triple H, the audience consensus pick for Just The Worst Human Ever? You can’t have it both ways. So, Jarrett is a rampant misogynist, Miss Kitty is vapid and useless, and Chyna is purposefully two-faced. There’s no one to root for here. Also, Chyna ends the segment by stealing Jarrett’s trunks so she can literally “wear the pants.” Call me old-school, but thievery of pants is strictly heel territory.

Best: You’re Not Helping, Kane

Triple H’s next challenge of the night is an INFERNO MATCH versus Kane, because Kane and fire go together like Twenty-One Pilots and my disappointment in the youth of America. It’s interesting to note that this is not only the second Inferno Match of 1999, it’s the second Inferno Match ON FREE TV in 1999. Russo wills it, I guess.

I can’t help but think how terrifying it must be to hit the ropes during one of these matches, even when all the proper safety precautions are in place. At least Kane has the luxury of a full bodysuit, Triple H is just out there in boots and trunks. That’s one way of getting rid of leg hair, I guess. Anyway, it ends up being the shortest Inferno Match since Baloo vs. Shere Khan back in ’67. Kane gets distracted by the Ministry as they deposit a bloody X-Pac on the entrance ramp, which gives Mideon and Viscera enough of an opening to shove Kane into the fire and light his glove ablaze. Here’s some trivia: This makes Triple H the only non-Brother of Destruction to win an Inferno Match. The hilarious part is when Kane runs back up to X-Pac with his hand still on fire, fully intending to resuscitate his small green friend with the healing power of flame. Kane studied medicine under Theodoric of York, clearly.

Backstage, the Undertaker is in full Mentally Checked Out attire, gloating with the Ministry about how they keep getting the best of Kane and X-Pac. He fumbles his lines a bit and says “whiveling,” which I can only assume is a combination of “whimpering” and “sniveling.” Also, he makes it clear that he’s not going through with the casket match that Vince has planned, because … I don’t know, because it’s five o’clock somewhere? He’s just fed up with taking orders, so when Vince personally shows up and threatens to remove him from Unforgiven, ‘Taker keeps walking.

This is the last time we see Undertaker until May 2000. He’s started to telegraph the American Bad-Ass run with his attire here, maybe it was a screen test of sorts. But unfortunately, this’ll be an Undertaker-free column for several weeks to come. When he returns, you can either roll with him or [RADIO EDIT].

Best: The Heyday Of Texas Hockey
Worst: The Exact Opposite Of 2016’s Tag Team Problem

In the first of The Rock’s appearances on this episode, he’s scheduled for a tag team match with Mankind, but not before giving a shout-out to Mike Modano and Brett Hull of the reigning NHL champion Dallas Stars. Now, I know what your first question is. You’re wondering if this leads to another entry on the list of Things The Rock Threatens To Turn Sideways And Stick Straight Up Your Candy Ass. Of course it does!

6. The Stanley Cup

Ouch. But also, it’s a nice bit of nostalgia to when Dallas was a Western Conference powerhouse and we were all worried about Y2K destroying our power grids. However, we get much less favorable nostalgia here when we realize just how volatile the tag team scene was at this point. Rock and Mankind have already won the tag team titles twice over the admittedly short duration of these Vintage Smackdown recaps, and (spoiler alert) they’re now about to lose them. There’s nothing wrong with titles changing hands on free TV, just ask Sasha Banks if you don’t believe me. But out of the 15 tag team title changes in 1999, 13 of those happened on either Raw or Smackdown. This was a division with too much fluidity, that’s all I’m trying to say. No single team was ever given time to be built as much of a threat, in my opinion. It was a roulette wheel with too many spaces, whereas the tag team scene today is a roulette wheel with just one space. And it comes as a prize in a box of Booty-O’s.

Rock and Sock face off with the newly reunited New Age Outlaws, who are proclaimed by Michael Cole as “perhaps maybe the greatest tag team in the history of the WWF.” First of all, that comment makes me want to time-travel back to this episode and show Cole that Revival/DIY match from Takeover: Toronto. But in all honesty, it’s a well-oiled match between familiar foes, and the Outlaws begin their fourth reign as Tag Team Champions.

Best: Motocross Mideon

When you have to be the Undertaker’s minion at 6, but you have to ride with the Metal Mulisha at 7.

Since ‘Taker has bailed on the WWF, Vince McMahon reschedules things on the fly and makes Triple H’s casket match into a handicap match against Mideon and Viscera. That’s right, it’s the first ever HANDICASKET MATCH. Triple H returns to the ring yet again to handle business, and I’ve got to say, his hair must be extremely well hydrated by this time. He does his full entrance every time (except against Big Show), complete with dumping about half a bottle of water over his head. He probably taught Roman Reigns everything he knows about hair wetness.

Much like the chokeslam challenge, this is set up to be a literal impossibility. Triple H thinks he’s won when he dumps Mideon into the casket and closes the lid, but Shane McMahon comes out and enlightens us on Handicasket Match rules – namely, you have to get both opponents inside. Since the casket we’re dealing with is a regulation-sized one, there’s no way in hell that Viscera is going to fit, and HHH eventually ends up inside the casket himself. By the way, take a look at guest referee Harvey Wippleman as the eternal deer in the headlights.

Homeboy looks like the love child of Jim Cornette and Pauly Shore. But also, I have to give this a supplemental Worst for making me think about Viscera and caskets for too long. Rest in peace, big man.

Worst: Man Nearly Bites Dog

Geez, we’re still doing this?

Much like D’Lo Brown and Mark Henry, Al Snow’s match against Hardcore Holly really just takes a back seat to setting up the events of Unforgiven in a few days. This becomes clear when, during the middle of their match, we see video of Big Boss Man backstage, antagonizing a dog in the back seat of a car. Cole and Hayes point out that this is one of the attack dogs for the Kennel From Hell match.

So, let me get this straight … a pack of Rottweilers has been touring with WWF personnel for at least a week? Do they fly coach? Is Bradshaw making them dress in the hallway because they’re new? Did someone at least crack a window in that car? It’s September in Dallas, it’s still going to be hot outside.

This’ll be over soon, just keep telling yourself that. Also, supplemental Worst to referee Jimmy Korderas for crossing the picket line to work this match. The union’s going to hear about this, man.

Best: I’m Not Locked In Here With You …

Up next in Triple H’s Worst Day Ever is a Boiler Room Brawl against Mankind. Even for its flaws, the film student in me likes this match because it’s shot so strikingly different. Even your average backstage fight doesn’t quite look like this. My new dream project is to stage a one-take Boiler Room Brawl directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, by the way. Throw in some furious jazz drumming and we’re cruising to awards season!

In case you’re not up on Boiler Room Brawl lore, the competitors start enclosed in the arena’s boiler room, and the first man to escape wins. Now, you would think that Triple H had the distinct advantage in this case, being a good 10-15 yards closer to the door than Mankind when the match starts. In fact, you’d think that the best strategy in this match is to just run for the door and pray that the doorknob doesn’t stick. Alas, this is the part where I smack you on the wrist with a ruler for trying to apply logic to professional wrestling. Stop doing that.

This match is basically an Olympic-level clinic in Grunting and Bumping Into Things, due to the sometimes claustrophobic nature of the room. I also can’t help but wonder what the legal proceedings are when you’re setting up a match like this. I mean, if Mankind bumps into a circuit breaker or something, who’s to say that the entire arena won’t go dark? Just saying, there’s probably a good reason we don’t really see these matches any more.

It looks like Mankind has the match won, when suddenly someone off-screen bumps him with a metal pole and sends him flying through a table. This means one of two things:

  1. Triple H had an inside man going into this match
  2. There’s a ghost in the Reunion Arena boiler room who hates masked wrestlers

Either way, we have a mystery on our hands, and Triple H’s chance to make it to Unforgiven remains alive.

Best: Chris Jericho Hockey-Fights Ken Shamrock Out Of The WWF

So, if you’re Chris Jericho and you’re heading into a First Blood Match against Ken Shamrock, obviously you’re going to do the most Canadian thing possible and protect your self in full hockey gear. And of course, you’ll make sure it’s Buffalo Sabres gear, because you’re deep in Dallas Stars territory and being a heel is as natural as breathing to you. Basically, he’s the best and I wish he was my father. His top-knot is coming out of his helmet, you guys.

Speaking of the helmet, I can’t imagine taking a back bump in that thing, but that’s pretty much the only part of his game plan that isn’t perfect. For added insurance, Curtis Hughes rushes the ring once Shamrock manages to get the helmet off Jericho, which is just enough distraction for Y2J to find his hockey stick and start wailing on Shamrock. Eventually, Shamrock starts bleeding from the mouth and the referee declares Jericho the winner.

This is the last image of Ken Shamrock in the WWF we ever see. After this, he leaves the company and returns to mixed martial arts full-time. He doesn’t even make it to Unforgiven. The World’s Most Dangerous Man, stomped out of sight by Curtis Hughes and the 1,004 Holds guy. But hey, good luck with Tito Ortiz!

Best: Bulls On Parade

Vince McMahon now has a pay-per-view main event to save. With the Undertaker walking out of the company, the Six-Pack Challenge for the WWF title now only has five men competing (four if Triple H fails to defeat The Rock tonight). Luckily, the British Bulldog seems to be in a charitable mood, offering not only to fill the gap at Unforgiven, but also to referee tonight’s Brahma Bullrope main event.

It’s worth noting that Cole and Hayes have been hyping the Brahma Bullrope match as The Rock’s “specialty” match, which is as hilarious as it is wrong. The Undertaker and casket matches? That works. Kane and inferno matches? Perfect. The Rock has no specialty match, unless it’s some kind of tag team match with Kevin Hart or Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Regardless, we get a Brahma Bullrope match featuring the Brahma Bull himself, refereed by the British Bulldog. That’s a lot of bull. Why did we stop here? Can we bring in Bull Dempsey, Bull Buchanan, and Bull Nakano for good measure? Or better yet, can I just have dinner with Bull Nakano?

Bulldog is the first forceful, authoritative referee we’ve seen in about two weeks, and it’s kind of a welcome change of pace. It’s weird to see Triple H back down from anyone in zebra stripes, let alone a guy who’s an actual wrestler. As for the match, we get some pretty good brawling in and out of the ring. The playing field gets leveled a bit when Jeff Jarrett sneak-attacks Chyna, taking her out of the equation. But just when The Rock hits a Rock Bottom and looks like he’s about to win, Bulldog clotheslines him and essentially hands Triple H the victory. His motives aren’t clear, but it’s definitely not what Mr. McMahon was planning on when he put him in for Unforgiven.

This means Triple H has gone 3-2 on the night and his spot in the Six-Pack Challenge is safe. Next week, we’ll address the Unforgiven fallout, and I’ll try to make as few Metallica puns as I can in the process. Until then, stay away from Rottweilers and guys in custom Buffalo Sabres jerseys!