Vintage Best And Worst: WWF King Of The Ring 1996

David D. here again (Follow me on the Twitter).

Nothing much to say here but thanks for the kind words about my first ever Best & Worst. I had a blast writing it. I took your suggestions into consideration and I’ll going mostly in order, skipping a few here and there and taking breaks if you feel particularly passionate about a specific event.

With that said, the next installment is WCW Hog Wild 1996, which features one of the most uncomfortable moments in wrestling ever.

So without further ado, here’s the WWF’s King of The Ring 1996, which took place just a few weeks before WCW’s Bash 96. Which is absolutely insane.

Best: WWF Production Team

Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy for me to look back at WWF and WCW pay-per-views and say that I knew all along that the WWF would win the war. Because back in the 90s, I had no clue who would come out on top. But just watching the two companies put on events side-by-side and it’s just clear that Vince was going to win.

And it all starts with the production. Even when I was watching the 1993 pay-per-views on the Network, seeing Giant Gonzalez chloroform Undertaker in WWF and Sting vs. Vader tear it up in WCW, I still found myself more excited about WWF events because they just seemed bigger. What Vince knows beyond anyone else is spectacle. And nobody does it better.

Take for instance the opening video to KOTR. Even 20 years ago, it was boss. Compare it to the recap video for Bash which looked like an MS DOS screensaver. It’s no surprise this was the team that made Limp Bizkit songs seem like the most perfectly epic track for the best WrestleMania main event ever and made the Miz seem like he belonged anywhere near a WrestleMania main event.

Just watch the video and tell me WWF can’t sell you whatever the hell they want forever.

Worst: Marc Mero Is A Baaaaaad Wrestler

When people think about the worst wrestlers of all time, it’s easy to point the finger at guys like Bastion Booger or Giant Gonzalez (two mentions: DRINK!) or Cory f*cking Graves. But those guys were never really asked to or expected to put on good matches. When I think of the worst wrestlers of all time, I think about guys who get put in matches for good wrestlers like TV title matches that go the time limit or 20-minute tag matches and still can’t put together anything good to save their lives.

I watched every WCW pay-per-view from 1993 to 1996 and I can say definitively that Marc Mero never had a good match. Regal carried him a few times to something decent, but Mero was horrible. In my brain, he seemed okay because he looks like a guy who should have a good match. But he didn’t. He’s basically The Miz in blackface. Dammit, I just gave the Miz an idea on how to freshen up his career, didn’t I? Also, f*ck Mero’s shucking and jiving fake Little Richard gimmick he started with.

That brings us here, to WWF in 1996 for the semifinal round of the King Of The Ring against the newly-minted Stone Cold Steve Austin. Pre-Neck surgery Austin was legit one of the best workers in the world and he bumped and sold for Mero until they put together a 20-minute match that was light years better than it had any right to be. Of course, he caught a hard way cut from it.

More on Austin later, but the point here is that Mero was awful. Easily the second-worst wrestler I’ve seen since watching the network. The worst? Marcus Alexander Bagwell.

Worst: Jake Roberts :(

Remember pre-Benoit when dead and might die soon wrestlers were funny? Like, how it was really funny that Jake Roberts was going to die from alcohol abuse one day? WWF, you so crazy.

Beyond that, Jake Roberts dressed as one of Shawn Michaels’ Survivor Series 1993 masked teammates was just depressing to watch. His matches were bad and he was just poorly out of shape. Clearly he didn’t get the memo that all the other guys like that were in WCW. Thankfully, they kept his matches short here, but not so much in other pay-per-views that I watched to entertain you!

Best: Fat Vader Is Still Awesome

Jake’s first match of the night was a semifinal bout against Fat Vader. This makes me sad.

Vader is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. His feud with Sting in 1993-94 is my absolute favorite feud of the 90s (Rock/Austin runs into the 2000s so they sort of don’t count) and he was just the most awesome force. Vader would go out and murder guys and beat top babyfaces clean, which was pretty rare in the 90s.

Then Hogan showed up in WCW, buried Vader and he went to WWF where he gained a bunch of weight and got bullied by Shawn Michales (Vader was a shoot teddy bear apparently, to the detriment of his career) until he was relegated to the mid card.

The good thing here is that Vader didn’t have to move much. He just had to beat the banana sh*t out of Jake and it’s never bad when Vader is allowed to just punch people’s ears off. I have a soft spot in my heart for Vader murder matches…even if he’s waddling around the ring.

Best: Coliseum Home Video!!!!

WWE Network is apparently showing Coliseum Home Video versions of events instead of live PPV feeds, which takes me back to my childhood, renting at Blockbuster and feeling like I saw something special because I saw Mankind in jeans and a snapback.

Worst: I Have A Slight Suspicion Some Of This Music Is Dubbed

The worst part about all of these shows on the Network is the company having to dub over music instead of buying or finding the rights. *pours out liquor for Adam Rose’s theme*

Sometimes the editing is depressing, like this Godwins theme which is at least eight octaves higher than anything else going on. These dubs are worse than watching Juice on network TV.

Worst: I Think Sunny Is Talking About Sex

Ugh. Sunny. If we’d done our ranking of the hottest WWE women of all time more recently, then I wouldn’t have ranked Sunny anywhere near the top. I remembered her as being hot, but probably because she showed up right around when I’d finished reading My Body And Me. But watching her now is the worst. She’s basically Jerry Lawler with boobs. There’s no innuendo. She’s just basically finding new ways to say “jizz on me” as obviously as possible. Here’s how her promo sounded in my brain: “I’m here with the Smoking Gun! I bet they have looooooong pistols for me to enjoyyyyyy orallyyyyy if you know what I mean, Todd! Penises!”

Basically, she’s the Godmother of TNA.

Worst: British Bulldog’s Victory Is Going To Be His A Few Short Hours Away

One of the most underrated sh*tty talkers in wrestling is the British Bulldog. WWE put Jim Cornette AND Johnny Cochran as his mouthpieces and Bulldog still couldn’t tell a coherent story.

As a bit of background, the story here is that the heels are trying to accuse Shawn Michaels of sexually assaulting Bulldog’s wife, Diana, as a psychological advantage for their main event match. Sounds like Shawn needs Olivia Pope on his side *snaps in a Z formation*

The point here is that Bulldog made absolutely zero sense. The best part is seeing Owen’s “WTF” face every time Bulldog talks.

Worst: Lawler Was A Good Wrestler Once, Right? RIGHT?!

The only Jerry Lawler matches I ever saw were on ESPN when I was like five and in the WWF. None of his WWF matches were good. Even with Bret Hart, which is pretty incredible. This match is Lawler vs. Warrior based on a painting and a hat or something. Whatever the case, the match is three minutes too long. Because the match it five minutes long. A five-minute Warrior/Lawler match is basically watching Lawler vs. Michael Cole or that match where Bret Hart hit Vince McMahon with a chair fortyleven times. Just give me the shoulder block, splash and let me get on with it.

Also, if you listen closely you can hear Lawler’s scepter clanging against the crystal Macho Man lodged in the top of Warrior’s head that turned into one of the Infinity gems or whatever Warrior said back then.

Added Best for Warrior’s jacket being the cover to the first issue of his comic book, which I definitely bought and still have somewhere at my mom’s house.

Best: Mankind vs. Undertaker Is The 2nd Most Important Feud Of The 90s*

*Not including WWF vs. WCW.

We can all pretty much agree that Vince vs. Austin was the most important feud of the 90s. It redefined the business, made it popular and let America know it’s okay to fake shoot your boss in the brain.

But beyond that, we’ve got to say that Taker vs. Mankind is right there. Think about it: Undertaker was wrestling freak show matches and still turning on lights with his mystic fingertips. Mankind humanized Undertaker and brought him into the Attitude era. This isn’t to say that Mean Mark wouldn’t have figured out how to last on his own, but Foley sure did help. By the same hand, Undertaker got Mankind over. He made Foley in the WWF and helped Foley in turn make stars and add dimensions to feuds for the next decade. They have each other to thank.

And it all started here with their first major match. The coolest thing about this is watching Undertaker sell more than ever, and he did it for a guy who was getting a quirky offense over and selling his ass off too.

I don’t want to spoil things for you – which is hard to do for a storyline almost 20 years old – but Undertaker lost to Mankind for damn near the whole rest of the year and didn’t get a hug victory until Hell In A Cell two years later.

I love going back and watching these matches because Undertaker is figuring himself out in his new vulnerable phase and Foley is figuring out the Mankind character. It’s just great to watch.

Best: Hey, Look, A Slow Build!

The match ends with Paul Bearer, who shouldn’t be ignored here, “accidentally” hitting Undertaker with the urn to cost him the match. Of course, it’s foreshadowing a heel turn he’d make a few months down the road, but if this were in 2014, Bearer would have cost Undertaker the match then turned on him immediately and each guy would be feuding with Ziggler or something. And nobody wants that.

Worst: Why Does Anyone Hire Mr. Perfect to referee?

I never understood the way WWF decided special guest referees. They’d hire a guy, he’d turn heel, then he’d disappear only to be the big reveal when they announce a new special guest referee. They did it with Pilled out Shawn Michaels and they did it with Perfect before him. Now, Perfect is the referee for Micheals/Bulldog for no reason at all and he’s being all mysterious. Perfect should have been fired the moment he allowed Yokozuna to put a nerve hold on Luger for 27 minutes straight at WrestleMania 10.

Worst: Black Guy vs. The Gheys Who Ya Got?

Sigh. Dustin Runnels made magic with Goldust. I’m pretty sure that when Vince drew up the character, the dry erase board just said “DUSTIN = RELATED TO DUSTY = LET’S MAKE HIM HAVE THE GAYS LULZ” before he erased everything by whipping his junk out and peeing on it. But Dustin Runnels tried his damnedest to make a three-dimensional character who preyed on jocks’ homophobia to screw with them and get the psychological edge.

Unfortunately, this match was pretty much just look at the big ghetto homophobe and the gay guy work out their issues in the ring. Basically it’s a squared circle UPN sitcom. Still, I guess the whole thing of Goldust kissing Ahmed was sort of the WWF making its early forays into the Attitude Era so there’s that.

The ending, though is basically Ahmed turning Super Saiyan based on the strength of his homophobia and destroying Goldust. So basically, a guy rubbing his junk is the same as Frieza killing Krillin.

I wish they were feuding in 2014 so Goldust could cut a promo and end it with “‘Damn, right’ – Ahmed Johnson as Suge Knight in Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story” but alas.

Worst or Holy Sh*t: How Is Ahmed Johnson Not Dead?

Remember when The Undertaker dove outside the ring at WrestleMania 25 and tucked his head in just the right amount of time to not die? Well, this dive is that without the last-minute flexibility. Ahmed just cleared the top rope, landed on his shoulder blades and I have no clue how he survived. I can’t stop watching just this part.

Best: Goldust Is Really In His Prime In 2014

Goldust was always at worst a really good wrestler. But he really is wrestling his best matches in 2014. He’s in his best shape and busting out moves he never tried in the 90s. DDP Yoga FTW, I guess.

Best: Locker Room Celebrations

I love, love, love locker room celebrations after title wins. It’s just a nice touch to make belts seem important. More of these. Especially if they end in Vader busting through and cutting the promo of his life like he did at Starrcade 94. But that’s neither here nor there.

Best: Brian Pillman – No Chill

Man, Brian Pillman was batsh*t insane. He really walked to the ring and made Dahmer jokes. Incredible.

Best: A Steve Austin Promo You May Have Heard Before

Remember the Michael Jordan shot he hit in the 1991 NBA Finals Game 2 against the Lakers? You know, the one where he goes up with one hand, switches the ball in the air and lays it up with his other hand? It’s one of the most remarkable shots in NBA history. But by the time I was paying attention to sports, that shot had been everywhere. It was THE NBA highlight through the early 90s. I’d become so accustomed to seeing the shot that I never really paid attention to how amazing it was. Then, I watched that game in full on ESPN Classic and saw it in real time and it blew me away. The shot had been so replayed that it had become routine. That’s what happens to classics. We see them so often that we get desensitized to just how game-changing they are.

That’s how Austin’s King of the Ring promo had become. Most of us can probably quote the whole damn thing and know exactly when he’s going to say “Austin 3:16 said I just kicked your ass.” It’s easy to sleepwalk through this part of the PPV. But don’t.

The beauty of WWE Network is that we see these moments in real time, watching the crowd reactions and the buzz. Not only that, but if you watch the events in chronological order, you’ll see history’s trajectory change in pivotal moments. For instance, from the moment Shawn Michaels baseball slides the ladder into Scott Hall at WrestleMania X you can hear the crowd react unlike they react to anything else that year. The same goes here for Austin.

WWE crowds were still following stories for the most part. If Bret Hart says Owen is a heel, then Owen is a heel. We boo him. We’re supposed to boo Stone Cold the same. And there had definitely been huge pops in events from 1996, but nothing was like the crowd after Austin’s promo. You want to hear a crowd BUZZ? That’s a crowd that’s buzzing. You can see Austin gain momentum as he’s speaking and he knows he has it. He knows he’s saying something that will be remembered. You can hear the crowd realizing Austin just did something special and they start cheering, but are still hesitant to cheer for a heel. The best thing the crowd does is clap. Like, there are fans clapping for Austin. Not cheering. Clapping. Because what he’d done was beyond heel and babyface cheering. He cut a kick ass promo and he deserved applause.

And you want to know how committed to his character Austin was? As the fans start to rally behind him, he scowls, looks away and mouths “piss off.” Goosebumps, man. You can look at 1998 Austin and how he was a WWF Main Event style caricature of himself, but hoop earring-wearing, tweener badass was the best Austin.

Honorable mention goes to tiny cowboy hat Austin.

Best: I’m Always Here For HBK/Bulldog

I hope they induct British Bulldog into the Hall Of Fame as “Best In Your House Main Event Jobber Of All Time.” Because he was. He just went out there and tore it up with Hart and Michaels and lost. But he was great at it. Michaels and Bulldog had two great matches in 1996 (and a really good one in 1997 that made Bulldog want to stop living or something according to Bret Hart). If you want to compare Hart and Michaels, don’t look at their matches against each other – mostly because none of them are good – look at their matches with Bulldog as that’ll be the best litmus test.

This match was really one of the few times Michaels had an athletic relatively smaller guy to wrestle while he was champion, so this really showcased his skill. There were a few too many rest holds in this match for my liking, something Michaels wouldn’t have done after he came back from his back surgery. I think HBK would get nervous about putting on long matches, so he’d fit in rest holds that he didn’t really need (see also: WrestleMania 23). But those nitpicks aside, HBK/Bulldog is rapid-fire back-and-forth insanity. HBK was still bumping like a heel and letting Bulldog get over his power moves, then HBK would switch to sentimental babyface and remind everyone about the story they’re telling.

By the way: British Bulldog needs a DVD set. Give me his tag team days, this era and his “I studied abroad in Jamaica” braid WCW era and my money is yours.

Worst: The Ending.

One of the best ways WWE booking has improved in the last 10 years or so has been the need to give us definitive endings to the big events. 1990s events were annoyingly convoluted and this is no different. Here we get Mr. Perfect stopping the ref from making the three count only to count along with him. Then we get Owen and Bulldog bumping for Michaels before Vader hops in and we have the end of KOTR promoting a Summerslam match they just came up with. Basically, this was a RAW ending.

With that said, oh man the Warrior/Ahmed promos could have been legendary. I just know that d*ckhead HBK was losing his mind thinking about being in a match with these two on his team.

Best: Summer 96 Was BOSS

As I mentioned before, there are only thee weeks between Hogan turning on WCW and joining the NWO and Austin’s KOTR promo. So we had Austin getting his character together, the NWO before they sucked and the Luchadores popping up in WCW. I don’t care how many hands wrestlers give birth to or times I have to watch Glacier, I’ll keep telling lazy ass Millenials that they didn’t get to live during the Golden Age. Whippersnappers.