– Click here to watch this week’s episode on WWE Network. You can read about previous episodes on the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag page. As a reminder, we coordinate these columns with the Best and Worst of Nitro.
– Click this share button! These shows are almost 20 years old, so a little love on social media goes a long way. At least tell them about Jerry Lawler’s hatred of 1996’s top grossing films.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night RAW for June 17, 1996.
Best: The First Stone Cold Stunner (That Mattered)
Stone Cold Steve Austin faces Savio Vega in round two of the King of the Ring tournament, because in spring of ’96, Austin was contractually obligated to wrestle Savio Vega at all times. It’s like when you want to go to the mall with your friends and your mom’s like, TAKE YOUR LITTLE BROTHER.
The highlight of the match is the finish, featuring one of the first major “whoops, important” moments of 1996 Raw. Vega clubs Austin into the ropes, so Austin stumbles backwards, grabs him by the head and drops to his *ss. Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your butts: This is the Raw debut of the Stone Cold Stunner, roughly a week and a half after he’d dropped Joey Abs with it on Superstars. Vince marks this special occasion with one of his classic calls:
“WHAT A MANUEVER BY STUH … HUP ONE TWO UNBELIEVABLE”
Austin hasn’t been “The Ringmaster” for a while, lost Ted DiBiase (to Savio Vega, of course) at In Your House: Beware Of Dog Part The Second, and now he’s got the Stunner. Six days later at King of the Ring ’96, he’d gain the next important piece in becoming the biggest star in the business: saying something cool enough that they put it on T-shirts.
It’s really crazy to revisit these middling, mid-’96 Raws and see Austin as the only guy here with forward momentum. He’s this living, breathing, developing character, and everyone else is a bad LJN action figure.
Worst: This Is The Most Boring Show
The next second-round matchup is Owen Hart (yay!) vs. Marc Mero (boo!), and it’s so f*cking boring that paint stops drying, falls off the wall and f*cking dribbles away. Raw used to be taped in a style similar to how NXT’s done now, so since this is the show right before the pay-per-view, everybody privy to this 10 minutes of Marc Mero chinlocks has already sat through more than three hours of wrestling. The crowd is so dead they’re suddenly covered in sympathy flowers, and no amount of Johnny B. Wild mugging for the camera will save them. He eventually beats Owen with a rollup.
I hate throwing shade at something Owen’s involved in, so don’t worry, he’s still pretty great. He gets mad that a kick to the midsection accidentally hit his injured arm, and complains after the match that Mero’s an awful person for targeting it. That sentence feels a lot like when you break up with your girlfriend, and you’re like, “Well, we had some good times, too.” And it’s like, nope, this sucks, this is all terrible.
Worst: Let’s Jump To The Better Show, Already In Progress
To illustrate how bad this episode is, they jump to Jim Ross interviewing the British Bulldog at a live event happening right now, on the WWF “Ruthless Aggression” Tour. Bulldog talks some badly-phrased smack about WWF Champion Shawn Michaels, who runs out and starts punching him. To say that more succinctly, WWF had to go live via satellite to a different show to see what their champion and top challenger were up to. Meanwhile, over on terrible WCW that was never any good, Dean Malenko’s powerbombing Rey Mysterio Jr. so hard his soul falls out. WCW ruined everything, am I right folks?
Best: So What If Scott Hall And Kevin Nash Showed Up On Nitro? We’ve Got Five NEW SUPERSTARS Coming Soon, Maybe!
According to the Superstar Line, WWF’s scooped WCW by picking up 5 new stars. I can’t like, go back in time and know exactly who they’re talking about, but a light amount of research makes these the top possibilities: Faarooq (as a gladiator, or whatever), Olympic hopeful Mark Henry (who is at least nine years away from deserving a 10-year contract), 2 Cold Scorpio (as PG pimp “Flash Funk”), Rocky Maivia (a total chump who never accomplished anything, if I’m remembering correctly) and … Salvator Sincere?
I don’t know. They probably hadn’t signed any of them at this point, and were just like WHO CARES ABOUT RAZOR RAMON AND DIESEL, WE’LL HAVE OUR OWN HOSTILE TAKEOVER, WITH BLACKJACK, AND HOOKERS.
Worst: I Disrespect You, Booker-Man
I’m not sure if he counts as one of the five new WWF Superstars, but we send it over to quarantine for the contract signing of former WCW star Brian Pillman. From The Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro, specifically the recap of SuperBrawl VI:
The story is that Brian Pillman had joined the Four Horsemen as a “new breed” of Horse Man, and his crazy antics had pissed off all the veterans. Arn Anderson wanted to discipline him in-house, but Kevin Sullivan got tired of waiting around for crappy ’90s parents to discipline their terrible millennial children and attacked them both. That led to this match, a “Respect Match,” wherein you have to strap your opponent with a leather strap until he says he respects you.
The hook here is that the Respect Match is secretly a fulcrum for the DESTRUCTION AND REINVENTION OF PRO WRESTLING AS AN ARTFORM. I’m typing that in all caps so you know how serious I’m being. It was a shoot inside a worked shoot inside a shot work. The match goes for about a minute of apparently real fighting until Pillman grabs the mic, says, “I respect you, booker man” to actual WCW booker Kevin Sullivan and walks out with his middle finger in the air. The idea was that Pillman was supposed to “break the fourth wall,” get himself fired, go work for ECW for a while (as it was the cool “underground” thing) and return as the Hulk Hogan of postmodern, dadaist wrestling. It was an attempt to make an increasingly jaded, knowledgable audience say “all that other sh*t’s fake, but this is REAL.” It worked, too, because nobody — including the announcers, crowd, fans at home or the wrestlers themselves — knew exactly what was going on.
The aftermath is even more confusing. Pillman does go to ECW for a while, but ends up signing with WWE instead of returning to WCW. Whoops!
We join the whoops already in progress. Pillman’s signing his WWF contract at WWF headquarters only a few days after almost dying in a car accident that more or less ended his career. If you think he looks and sounds bad, they dragged him out of a hospital with a high fever to tape it. It’s basically Raul Julia trying to film Street Fighter II while fatally ill, but with better wire work.
Pillman’s contribution to pro wrestling was being Fort Sumter in the war against kayfabe. His contributions to WWF specifically were “pulling a gun on Stone Cold Steve Austin once,” and “having his face shoved into a toilet, literally and figuratively.”
Best: Jerry Lawler Kinda Rules Right Now
A week after painting a Velvet Elvis of Ultimate Warrior only to bash him over the head with it, The King responds to accusations that he’s afraid of his upcoming showdown with Warrior by interrupting a scheduled Hunter Hearst Helmsley/Aldo Montoya match and piledriving Aldo to death. Then he’s like, YEAH, ULTIMATE WARRIOR AND ALDO MONTOYA ARE BASICALLY THE SAME THING, IT’S FINE, I’M GREAT.
If you don’t remember Aldo Montoya, he’s the “Portuguese Man O’ War.” A Portuguese man o’ war is a jellyfish. I know it sounds cool and has “man” and “war” in it so you’re like, “maybe he’s Kratos,” but no. It’s a f*cking jellyfish. Justin Credible’s WWF gimmick was “he’s a jellyfish,” and they made him wear Hulk Hogan’s underwear on his face.
Lawler sacrificing him feels a lot like my brain manifesting itself as a 1996 wrestling character and doing yeoman’s work. Warrior isn’t here because he’s busy doing 10,000 bicep curls and yelling at Rob Liefeld to give his plasma rifle two shafts.
Best: Goldust Vs. Jake The Snake Is 20 Minutes Long, And 19 Of It Is Stalling
This week’s main event is Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts vs. Goldust, built around the idea that Goldust is absolutely terrified of an old Christian man and a burlap sack full of docile animals. Goldie spends the early (and middle) portion of the match cowering in the ropes, covering his face and leaving his butt open for hilarious spankings.
The highlight of the match is Goldust continually forgetting where the snake bag is and almost kicking it out of the ring. At one point he gets hiptossed, falls on his belly and backs up until his junk’s resting on it. Vince starts FREAKING OUT, yelling “THAT SNAKE IS BETWEEN HIS LEGS,” and a dozen North Carolina psychiatrists simultaneously get anime stress teardrops on their heads. The finish is Goldust blinding Jake by throwing glitter in his eyes, which sadly does not lead to a Hobby Lobby street fight.
Best: Raw Buries Mission Impossible
I have no idea why this happened, but Jerry Lawler devotes a portion of Roberts/Goldust to burying Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible. It’s not even subtle, he just brutally spoils it. Here’s a transcript, with my own spoiler-alert disclaimer in case it’s taken you 19 years to catch up on the franchise:
“Hey speaking of this weekend, McMahon, Goldust told me he and Marlena sat through the movie Mission: Impossible four times he’s such a big Tom Cruise fan. Hey, if you haven’t seen the movie Mission: Impossible let me save you some time. Jon Voight, he’s the bad guy, he and his wife, looks like they get killed at the beginning of the movie, they’re really not dead. They come back later, yeah they’re not dead really, they come back later and of course Tom Cruise really kills them in the end. But not really, ’cause it’s just a movie.”
He spends the rest of the match talking about how Goldust is going to give Jake “artificial insemination,” so maybe we should just keep talking about movies.