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Up first, let’s see what happened at that surely pro-Christianity wrestling tournament:
Before We Begin
Here’s what you need to know about King of the Ring ’96.
Stone Cold Steve Austin Won The King Of The Ring And Cut A Promo You’ve Probably Heard
The 1996 King of the Ring tournament tells one of WWE’s greatest stories.
Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts is a decade past his prime. He’s a recovering addict. He’s out of shape. He’s given his life to God. He’s constantly outmatched by bigger, stronger, faster opponents, but through some combination of experience and dumb luck, he keeps winning. He makes it deep into tournament. He makes it to the finals. He’s defeated primitive versions of future WWE Champions — Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Justin ‘Hawk’ Bradshaw — and lucks out in the semi-finals when Vader gets himself disqualified. Roberts moves on and Vader freaks out, injuring the old man’s ribs. So now you’ve got this Cinderella man who has risen up from rock bottom to prove he belongs, injured by one of the most dangerous men in the company only moments before stepping into a tournament final against the most brutal, most unforgivingly-confrontational young upstart in WWE.
What makes the story so great is that Jake doesn’t win. He battles and gets injured and battles some more, and even though he should be in a hospital, he’s in the ring trying to stand up to this cold-hearted panther. Austin starts ripping at his bandages and dropping elbows on his ribs, to the point that Gorilla Monsoon has to step in and try to stop the match. Jake refuses. He gets a second wind, but it’s not enough. Austin uses his bulletproof new finish — the Stone Cold Stunner — and puts Jake down. The end. Story over.
Jake gets carried away by referees, but he’s on his feet. What should be a moment of celebration for a battle well fought is overshadowed by Austin, who climbs his coronation steps and ridicules Roberts for believing in God. God doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is Stone Cold Steve Austin. In a moment of hateful sacrilege, Austin drops the bomb: “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
The next part of the story writes itself, doesn’t it? Austin becomes the most hated man in the company, and a man whose hubris has him putting himself above God. He’s Alec Baldwin in Malice. Jake heals up, begins a new uphill climb and, as heroes do, proves that when you fly too close to the sun there’s always a motherf*cker there to bring you back down to Earth.
Funny enough, the opposite happened. People watched Austin beat the sh*t out of Jake and throw God under the bus and were like, “wow, this guy’s awesome.” He didn’t immediately catch fire as the next big thing, but by the time Bret Hart returned and started throwing hands with him, he was ready. He bled to death in a Sharpshooter at WrestleMania and became a cult hero for every jaded ’90s wrestling fan who’d stopped believing in superheroes and was just pissed-the-f*ck-off. The next year, he main-evented WrestleMania and won the WWF Championship. He got an Era named after him. Jake’s next feud was against Jerry Lawler, who constantly reminded him what a failure alcoholic he was. The payoff was Jake relapsing for real, being fired from the company and getting a divorce. His last appearance as a WWE regular was at the Royal Rumble was eight months after King of the Ring, in January of 1997.
He was eliminated by Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Sunny Is Being Threatened By The Buffalo Bill Version Of Sunny
In lighter news, the new manager for The Bodydonnas is “Kloudy,” a guy dressed like Sunny. WWE spent most of the ’90s and early 2000s dressing up guys like women and laughing their asses off about it, from WWF Women’s Champion “Hervina” to Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco’s Evening Gown Match to Mark Henry’s sexual tryst with “Sammi.” In 2009 they had Santino in women’s clothing calling himself a “lesbiano” for laughs. It’s not a WWE problem specifically, though, lest we forget Ms. Atlanta Lively or J.J. Dillon in women’s underwear.
Not trying to be preachy in the middle of a King of the Ring ’96 recap, but man, if wrestling’s got a dash phobia about something, it’s absolutely trans.
This entire story should’ve been the Bodydonnas bringing out Kloudy, Sunny staring at them for a few seconds and saying, “this kind of sh*t is why I don’t want to be friends anymore.”
Ahmed Johnson Is Intercontinental Champion
Ahmed Johnson is feuding with Goldust over the Intercontinental Championship. If you’ll recall, their issues started when Goldust gave Ahmed “mouth-to-mouth insemination” while he was unconscious and Ahmed woke up, freaked out and started smashing doors. Also, Goldust keeps rubbing the IC title on his crotch and calling Ahmed “Mandingo.” Jesus Christ what was wrong with WWF in 1996?
Anyway, Goldust has the match won with a sleeper hold but gives it up for another chance to French Ahmed Johnson. That Frenching gives Ahmed SUPER GAY PANIC POWERS, and he destroys Goldie to win the Intercontinental Championship. That should have just been his character, if we’re being honest: an enormous, muscular black man from Mississippi who gains Popeye-spinach powers when he’s gay-kissed.
Paul Bearer Is Working The World’s Slowest, Most Obvious Heel Turn
Up until now, Paul Bearer has seemed like your average, good-hearted mystical funeral parlor owner in possession of a magical urn full of light that can give dark powers to reanimated monsters. Lately, though, things have been kinda shaky.
Paul really seems interested in this “Mankind” guy, and he’s losing interest in The Undertaker. Here, Mankind and Undertaker wrestle until Paul “accidentally” raises the urn way over his head and smashes it into Taker’s face. Taker loses and is all, “aw man,” not yet knowing that this fat f*ck at ringside impregnated his mother on the funeral home floor and is keeping his Sloth-ass burn-victim little brother locked in the basement watching tapes. Eventually they wok out their problems and Paul is murdered in a concrete crypt, resurrected and killed again via falling.
Wrestling is weird. Here’s the Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw for June 24 and July 1, 1996.
WWF Monday Night Raw 6/24/96
Best: Eric B
Good for you, Eric.
Worst: The Ahmed Johnson Era Has Begun
Ahmed Johnson wrestles the kind of matches I imagine Vince McMahon loves. The beginnings are exciting, the endings are exciting, and nothing in the middle matters. He was like Goldberg, honestly. Goldberg was SPECTACULAR at squashing jobbers, but when you got him in a match longer than 2 minutes it was just a whole lot of him staggering backwards, shaking his head. That’s how Goldberg sold. Ahmed did the same thing, where he’d just lie there making an angry face and that was it. Goldberg was great at starting and finishing matches, too. Maybe Ahmed was just in the wrong promotion.
He opens the show against Triple H, a guy who in 2015 could conceivably rehire Ahmed, put him in NXT as a novelty and bring in Shinsuke Nakamura to wrestle him without breaking a sweat. Ahmed wins this one easily, because H is still just moving his pawns. After the match, Dok Hendrix interviews Ahmed about being the first African-American Intercontinental Champion, which has gotta be a thrill for Dok. Ahmed calls them, “aftermericans.” He also calls Dok “Mike,” because “Dok” isn’t a f*cking name.
Lawler: “I still say he’s the Buster Douglas of the WWF … he won’t last long!”
Worst: Babyface Bodydonnas
The second match is the babyface Bodydonnas against The Brooklyn Brawler and Jerry Fox, in case you were wondering why everybody decided to watch Nitro for a while.
This Bodydonnas run can only be explained by a madman. They wanted them to be faces, right? They had Sunny, a heel manager who was super secretly a stunning blonde who was great at her job and beloved by the fans for existing. To make the Bodydonnas faces, WWF was like, “let’s take away Sunny and replace her with a Sunny drag queen. THAT’LL make middle-America cheer for them!” Absolutely insane.
Sunny’s on commentary for the match and promises to bring in a singles wrestler to challenge Shawn Michaels, which eventually turns out to be (spoiler alert) outer-space gladiator Faarooq Asad. He’d eventually become a monosyllabic bounty hunter, because “guy who was great at college football and is now a great wrestler” never worked for anybody.
Worst: King Of Boring Trios
You wouldn’t think I’d give a Worst to something with Owen Hart and Vader in it, but here we are. Hart, Vader and The British Bulldog have a match coming up at In Your House: INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT against Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson and The Ultimate Warrior. As a warmup, they face the unbelievably testing trio of Savio Vega, Aldo Montoya and BARRY HOROWITZ. If you aren’t familiar with those characters, they’re wrestling Grade-F Caribbean Stone Cold Steve Austin, a jellyfish with underwear on its face and a Jewish man whose gimmick is that he’s not only Jewish, but has an inflated sense of accomplishment. Choosing between a match with Dean Malenko in it over a match featuring these f*cks is like choosing free pizza over being punched in the *sshole.
I need to travel back to the 1996 version of the internet and see if there was some Brandon Stroud equivalent on AOL keyword “sh*tty wrestling” writing dense paragraphs about how Aldo Montoya deserves a push, because he’s obviously the best guy in the match.
Worst: Good To Know WWE Booking Hasn’t Changed In 20 Years
On Sunday, Stone Cold Steve Austin won the King of the Ring tournament and cut the promo of his life, setting in motion a character that would change the direction of the company. On Monday, he loses via disqualification by being the third wheel in a feud between Goldust and The Undertaker. I’m expecting Savio Vega to wander out here with a plunger at any minute.
That’s your main event. Yes, the show’s already over. Yes, the only thing I gave a “Best” to was a guy sucking dick. That’s the kind of show it was. The main includes two commercial breaks, too, in case the pace of the matches hadn’t already hypnotized you into a coma. I’m really happy the shows are a few weeks away from (being forced to be) better, because man, I might as well still be reviewing episodes from 1993.
WWF Monday Night Raw 7/1/96
Antiquated Best: Tyler Breeze’s Grandpa
Vince McMahon is one of my least favorite announcers ever, no matter what, but when Shawn Michaels is around, he goes NUCLEAR. It’s mind-blowing. Shawn will hit a bodyslam 2 minutes into the match and Vince will start growl-screaming about how “YASSS YASSS IT’S TIME FOR THE SWEET CHIN MUSIC, YASSS EVERYONE LOVES THE HEARTBREAK KID, LOOK AT THE SEA OF HUMANITY THAT IS THE KLIQ.” I can’t even make a joke about him furiously masturbating while he does it, he’s transcended furious masturbating. He’s Star-Childing Shawn Michaels whenever he’s on TV.
They’re also really into getting over “The Kliq” as Shawn’s fanbase (and not just his group of secretly-clandestine burnout wrestling friends), so Vince puts his Shawn hyperbole into crowd shots, too. Shawn enters with the “Kliq Cam,” which is a handheld camera allows him to film parts of the roof while blurry people pop in from the bottom of the screen. Think of it as the ancestor of Tyler Breeze’s live-streamed selfie entrance. At least Breeze doesn’t drag his Tio to the ring when he’s doing it.
Best: I’m Sorry, I Used To Love You
Great Raw matches from this time period are few and far between, but this one’s just beautiful.
It’s Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty, a match longtime fans have seen several times. They used to be tag-team partners, until that fateful day when they walked into a barber shop and one of them got thrown through a window. They broke up and had a series of matches to prove who was the better man, but that was years ago … since then, Shawn has matured (so to speak) into a champion. He’s this precious, beloved adonis who loves children and would never hit on another man’s wife, who makes the owner of the company gargle like Mer-Man from Masters Of The Universe whenever he’s around. Marty has more or less stayed the same. He’s regressed, even, and fallen down to jobber status in “The New Rockers.” He hangs out with Al Snow, if that tells you anything. Based on their positions in the company, it should be a jobber squash. Shawn’s overpowered enough to beat Bret Hart in an Iron Man Match now, he should just skin the cat into the ring for no reason, superkick Marty and fancy-dance his ass to the back.
That’s not what happens, though. Marty’s a jobber now, sure, but he still tagged with Shawn for years and has his number. He knows how to beat him. That’s the story of the match, and it’s surprisingly great … they start off with like 8 minutes of this uneasy feeling-out process where they don’t really know what to do anymore, and then their autopilots kick in and it’s whoosh, perfection. The final 7 or 8 minutes of this are as good as anything you’d see on Raw in this era or today, with Shawn and Marty trading holds and counter each other in ways you wouldn’t immediately expect, like rolling through sunset flips. It’s not Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask, but it’s two old friends who showed up to a high-school reunion after 10 years apart and fell right back into their rapport.
The finish is what it needs to be. After Marty’s gotten the best of Shawn on a few exchanges, Shawn’s like, “nope,” and just piledrivers him. That sets up a flying elbow and a Sweet Chin Music for the three. It’s honestly a lot like the Shawn/Undertaker WrestleMania matches, especially the rematch at 26, with Shawn AS the Undertaker … he’s the confident one underestimating his opponent and pulling his punches until it’s time to stop f*cking around and put him away.
Al Snow runs in after the match and tries to interfere, and Shawn dispatches him with a superkick in like 15 seconds. You know, for emphasis.
Best/Worst: Sunny Got Slopped
That’s my second-favorite Shawn Colvin song.
Anyway, for whatever reason they made Jim Ross moderate a discussion on Superstars between Phineas Godwinn, Faulknerian idiot wrestling manchild, and Sunny, the woman who manipulated him so she could have the Tag Team Championships and won’t stop for some reason. There’s a chance this entire promotion is Faulknerian Idiot Manchildren and, like, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Anyway anyway, Sunny goads Phineas into admitting that he loves her so she can smack him in the face and tell him she could never love him. This sounds extreme, but … well, I’ve been there. I once took a girl to a Puff Daddy concert and had to hold her jacket while she and her friends danced, that’s more or less being slapped in the face by a cowboy-themed wrestling valet. This ends with Phineas threatening to slop Sunny and refusing, then reconsidering and slopping her anyway. Vince gets audibly horny watching this, yelling about how he can see “the big chunks.”
Worst: Speaking Of The Big Chunks
The wrestling garbage man wrestles a guy dressed like a turd.
Mankind (sorry for calling you a turd, you’re great, but you’re super doo-doo brown) wrestles Duke The Dumpster Droese, and it’s just background noise for a commentary table argument between Jerry Lawler and Jake The Snake. You see, Jerry thinks it’s hilarious that Jake was an alcoholic. He thinks he’s STILL an alcoholic. Jake says those days are behind him. Replay those previous three sentences on loop for 10 minutes and you have this Mankind/Duke Droese match. It’s like the Bella Twins as old men.
Mankind goes crazy and Mandibly Claws Jake, but really all that matters is that the worst feud of 1996 is upon us, assuming that the Doomsday Cage from Uncensored ’96 caused us to black out for the spring.
Worst: See You In A Mirror in A Couple Of Years, Warrior
So, this is fun.
Despite him ending the pay-per-view posing with his Muscle Friends, The Ultimate Warrior is gone from the WWF and won’t be back until he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014. You can call the hotline to find out why, or I can just tell you here: Warrior’s father died around this time, and Warrior started missing house shows and taking time off to grieve. Problem is, Vince McMahon said Warrior was estranged from his father and hadn’t talked to him in a decade, so that couldn’t be the reason. Turns out the actual reason he was bailing on shows is because WWF was selling Ultimate Warrior merchandise without giving him a percentage. This is a guy who in 1996 was shilling “Warrior University,” writing himself into comic books and wearing homemade Ultimate Warrior baseball caps, so yeah, that’s a much more “Ultimate Warrior” reason.
Don’t worry, kids, Vince has a suitable replacement for Warrior at International Incident. A replacement that has half the brain that you do.
Goldust wrestles Marc Mero in the main, and it’s exactly what you think it is: Goldust holding Mero’s hand through the important stuff and going for chinlocks when it doesn’t work out. There are a lot of chinlocks.
Two important things:
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin sits in on commentary with Vince McMahon. That alone should make you want to watch the match. Austin says he would have beaten Undertaker without Goldust’s interference and that he’ll “beat him somewhere down the line” (true) and threatens to punch McMahon in the mouth if he keeps interrupting him. It’s great, and you can imagine someone backstage watching, going, “hey, maybe we should do more of this.”
Austin calls Mero, “the biggest joke in wrestling,” and says that when he won King of the Ring, he defeated everyone else in the WWF by proxy. The only people he didn’t beat were The British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels, but everybody knows he could beat them. Which, you know, he eventually does. IF YOU WANT THEM TO STOP DOING MARC MERO MATCHES AND GET TO THE PART WHERE AUSTIN STARTS DRIVING VEHICLES INTO THE ARENA AND DRUNKENLY STOMACH-KICKING EVERYBODY GIMME A HELL YEAH.
2. The story of the match is that Marlena is sexually harassing Sable because “mind games,” so there’s lots of Marlena just kinda wandering over to her and aggressively smoking a cigar while Sable makes side-eying Chloe faces. Years later, Sable would pull the same act on Torrie Wilson, because WWE’s only got like six possible stories for women, and “someone’s trying to get GAY on me” is one of them.
Mero loses the match because he’s so distracted by Not Lesbian Action, and Goldust gets the win. Austin’s at the commentary table in a polo shirt thinking, “Man, how many times are they gonna make me wrestle Johnny B. Badd before I can start commandeering Zambonis and crashing them into things.”