Classic WWF Pay-Per-Views: 1996
January 21, 1996
Whether it was the lackluster WrestleMania XI or the crowning of King Mabel, I lost interest in the WWF over the coarse of 1995, but the promotion made a turn beginning in 1996 with the Shawn Michaels concussion angle, Sunny introducing programming in provocative vignettes, and Goldust taking a “shine” to Razor Ramon. It was compelling television once again.
Vince McMahon and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig were your commentators for the Royal Rumble, a PPV which featured the first ever free-for-all match. Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. The winner would enter the Royal Rumble Match at #30 while the loser would be stuck with #1. Hunter had initially won by using an illegal foreign object, then WWF President Gorilla Monsoon reversed the decision. Jeff Jarrett vs. Ahmed Johnson was the opening match of the actually PPV. Johnson won via DQ after Jarrett broke a guitar over his head. “Double J” made the jump to WCW not long after this event.
The Smokin’ Gunns (Billy & Bart) successfully defended the WWF Tag Team Titles against The Bodydonnas (Skip & Zip) w/ Sunny, despite Sunny feigning an injury in an attempt to distract the champions. Razor Ramon lost the Intercontinental Championship to Goldust, who was being joined at ringside for the first time by Marlena. The 1-2-3 Kid interfered in that match and cost “The Bad Guy” his title. Goldust now had all the gold, if I can paraphrase Mr. Perfect. Wrestling fans had never seen anyone quite like the bizarre Goldust and he clearly made some people uncomfortable.
For the first time, the Royal Rumble Match was not the main event ( I’m not counting the 1988 Royal Rumble because that was not a PPV). Hunter Hearts Helmsley was #1 and the first superstar he had to contend with was Henry Godwin, his opponent in the infamous “Hog Pen” Match. Mr. Bob Backlund and Jerry “The King” Lawler were the next two entrants, then Godwin covered all three heels in nasty slop. Jake “The Snake” Roberts returned to the WWF at entrant #7 to a huge pop and he used a new unnamed python to drive Jerry Lawler from the ring. The King then hid under the ring for about a half hour. Yokozuna, the winner of the 1993 Royal Rumble Match, entered at #9.
The 1-2-3 Kid (#10) was chased to the ring by Razor Ramon, who was not entered in the match. Actually, Scott Hall never competed in a Royal Rumble Match. Usually, he was defending the Intercontinental Championship. Vader (#13) made his WWF debut, being managed by Jim Cornette. “The Rocky Mountain Monster” was WCW’s resident monster heel in the early to mid 1990s. Shawn Michaels, returning from his kayfabe injury at entrant #18, eliminated both Vader and Yokozuna. Vader then gave Yokozuna a cheap shot, reentered the ring and cleaned house, but WWF Gorilla Monsoon allowed all grapplers to remain in the match. This setup animosity between Monsoon and Vader, which played out the next night on RAW. Vader actually Vader-Bombed Monsoon and put him out of commission until WrestleMania XII. Shawn Michaels then found Jerry Lawler hiding under the ring and eliminated The King just as “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel entered the match at #22. Diesel eliminated Hunter Hearts Helmsley, who’d been in the match four nearly forty five minutes. I guess only The Kliq could eliminate one other?
“The Ringmaster” Steve Austin made his WWF Pay-Per-View debut as #24. After he received a much needed gimmick makeover several months later, this superstar would revolutionize professional wrestling. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (#29) lasted until the final four for the third time in his career, but for the second year in a row he was eliminated by Shawn Michaels. Diesel eliminated Kama (#23), then HBK super-kicked his former paid bodyguard over the top rope for his second consecutive Royal Rumble victory, tying a record with Hulk Hogan. Diesel appeared as if he was going to batter Michaels, but the two dudes with attitudes shared a high-five instead.
However, Diesel was still a sore loser as he confronted The Undertaker and Paul Bearer while they made their entrance for the main event. Diesel was peeved that he wasn’t the challenger for Bret “Hit Man” Hart’s WWF Championship. Diesel claimed that he was not afraid of the dark. When the match finally began, the crowd support was split right down the middle. Both baby-faces bent some rules and were jeered accordingly. It had been over four years since Tuesday in Texas, over four years since The Phenom was the WWF Champion, and looked like he had the title won after he planted Bret Hart with his signature Tombstone Piledriver, but Diesel returned and pulled the referee out of the ring before he could count The Hit Man’s shoulders down. The Undertaker had won the match by DQ, but obviously not the championship. Diesel also flipped Undertaker the “bird.” Such audacity from Big Daddy Cool.
On the Royal Rumble post-show (a short lived segment), The Undertaker vowed that he would have his revenge, so Gorilla Monsoon decided that Bret Hart would face Diesel in a Steel Cage Match at In Your House VI: Rage in the Cage. The Undertaker was not deterred and, in horror movie like fashion, emerged through the ring canvass and pulled Diesel down into the abyss. Bret Hart was booked almost as if he was lucky to still be champion. Regardless of that, The Hit Man had a date with destiny at WrestleMania XII with Shawn Michaels.
March 31, 1996
Shawn Michaels was living the dream, becoming the focal point of WWF programming even though Bret “Hit Man” Hart was still the WWF Champion. First, HBK put his #1 Contender’s spot on the line in a match with Owen Hart at In Your House VI: Rage in the Cage, then WWF President “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (filling in for Gorilla Monsoon) declared that the main event of WrestleMania XII would be a sixty minute Iron Man Match.
On the free-for-all, The Bodydonnas (Skip & Zip) w/ Sunny won the vacated WWF Tag Team Championships from The Godwins (Henry & Phineas) w/ Hilly Billy Jim. “The Huckster” defeated “The Nacho Man” in a farcical match with Billionaire Ted as guest referee. The joke was that WCW had nothing but old dogs who couldn’t be taught new tricks. Little did the WWF know that they were poking the bear. Vince McMahon and Jerry “The King” Lawler were on commentary for the Pay-Per-View. Camp Cornette (Vader, Owen Hart, & “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith) defeated Yokozuna, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, & Ahmed Johnson in the opener. If Yokozuna’s team had won, then he would’ve had five minutes alone in the ring with Jim Cornette, his former manager.
Razor Ramon had failed a drug test, conveniently right after declaring his intentions to jump to WCW, so “Rowdy” Roddy Piper took his place in the angle with Goldust. They would face-off in a Hollywood Backlot Brawl. The Intercontinental Championship was not on the line. The first half of this brutal fight was taped the day before, then footage of the O.J. Simpson chase was shown to bridge the gap between the pre-tape and their arrival at the Arrowhead Pond. The Hot Rod beat Goldust down, then tore his ring gear off, revealing lacy lingerie underneath. Though there was no way to technically win this street fight, Roddy Piper’s bagpipe music blared, so I guess he was the victor.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase) defeated Savio Vega by using The Million Dollar Championship as a weapon. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, just like Steve Austin, was making his WrestleMania debut. Helmsley was escorted down to ringside by Sable. He had a different valet for every match during his blueblood gimmick, but Sable was the only one who was incorporated into a storyline. His opponent was making his return to the WWF… The Ultimate Warrior!!! Triple H is now the self-proclaimed “king of kings,” so I find it enjoyable to see him decimated by The Warrior. It was a short lived return for the man from parts unknown, but the crowd was electric to see him in action once again. An underrated WrestleMania moment. After the match, Helmsley scolded Sable and got into a scuffle with “Wildman” Marc Mero, formerly Johnny B. Badd in WCW, whose interview he’d interrupted.
The Undertaker vs. “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel was the co-main event of the evening. Diesel had gone full blown heel after turning on Shawn Michaels at a houseshow. The Undertaker’s undefeated streak was still an afterthought at this time, but Diesel was his biggest opponent in terms of star power. Jimmy Snuka and Jake Roberts were basically past their prime while The Giant Gonzales and King Kong Bundy were the monsters of the month. Diesel was the longest reigning WWF Champion of the 1990s and a soon-to-be free agent. Diesel actually dominated the match and planted The Undertaker with two Jackknife Power-Bombs. However, The Phenom rose to occasion, recovered and went 5-0 with his patented Tombstone Piledriver.
Jose Lothario, the trainer of Shawn Michaels, was on hand to witness HBK make the most daring entrance in WrestleMania history, zip-lining from the rafters and down into the crowd. Bret “Hit Man” Hart, the reigning WWF Champion, was stoic as always. A contrast in personality to say the least, but the these two world class superstars put on a wrestling clinic for sixty minutes. The Hit Man caught Michaels as he was coming off the top rope and locked in the Sharpshooter. The finish of their first title match back at Survivor Series 1992, but this time Michaels held on until the time limit ran out. Draws mean that the champion retains his gold automatically, but Gorilla Monsoon was back from his injuries and ordered the match to resume under sudden death rules. Bret Hart was clearly not happy with the decision, returned to the ring and was hit with two super-kicks. HBK scored the winning pinfall, becoming WWF Champion (and a triple crown winner) for the first time in his illustrious career. Bret Hart did not shake hands with his successor. It also appeared as if Shawn Michaels was gloating and rubbing salt in the wounds. Bret Hart went on a eight month sabbatical after this while Shawn Michaels continued to live the dream.
The WWF may not have been at its most popular in the mid-1990s due to stars jumping to WCW and steroids / sex scandals, but WrestleMania XII should be ranked as one of the best ever. A solid card, top to bottom, with many new superstars debuting alongside established ones. It’s also nice to see the Bret Hart / Shawn Michaels rivalry revolving around competition and titles as appose to petty jealousies like it would in 1997.
KING OF THE RING
June 23, 1996
After In Your House VII: Good Friends, Better Enemies, both Diesel and Razor Ramon made the jump to WCW. Hunter Hearst Helmsley was initially penciled in to win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, but his inclusion in the Madison Square Garden incident (where he and Shawn Michaels celebrated with Diesel and Razor) left him out in the cold. This was a pivotal moment in WWF history as new superstar would emerge to win the crown and set a new era in motion.
Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and Owen Hart (sidelined with an injury) called the action. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was no longer being managed by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase after he lost a “Caribbean Strap” Match to Savio Vega at In Your House: Beware of Dog II. (A rematch necessitated by a blackout.) DiBiase would also join WCW with The 1-2-3 Kid. Stone Cold defeated “Wildman” Marc Mero (w/ Sable) in the semi-finals, then he went to the hospital to have his mouth stitched up. Meanwhile, Jake “The Snake” Roberts defeated Vader (w/ Jim Cornette) via disqualification in the other semi-final match.
The Smokin’ Gunns (Billy & Bart) w/ Sunny successfully defended their WWF Tag Team Titles against The Godwins (Henry & Phineas) w/ Hilly Billy Jim. Sunny turned out to be some gold-digger, chasing the belts. She went from The Bodydonnas (Skip & Zip) to The Godwins to The Smokin’ Gunns in a matter of weeks. Ahmed Johnson won the Intercontinental Championship from Goldust. It seemed as if Ahmed was on the fast track to becoming the first African-American WWF Champion. The Ultimate Warrior defeated Jerry “The King” Lawler in what turned out to be The Warrior’s final PPV for the WWF. Mankind, A/K/A Cactus Jack in both WCW and ECW, made his WWF in-ring PPV debut, scoring an upset victory over The Undertaker with some “inadvertent” help from Paul Bearer.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin returned to best Jake “The Snake” Roberts in the finals of the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. Dok Hendrix was on hand for the coronation. Stone Cold wasn’t interested in wearing the crown or holding the scepter, but he did utter the phrase “Austin 3:16 says I just whopped your ass.” He wasn’t pushed right away, but his potential was now blatantly obvious.
In the main event, a rematch from In Your House: Beware of Dog, Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) defended the WWF Championship against “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (w/ Jim Cornette and Diana Hart-Smith). Obviously, Owen Hart wasn’t all that impartial on commentary. He led the cheering section for his brother-in-law. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig was originally signed as the guest referee, but Gorilla Monsoon switched him to the outside enforcer at the last minute. The British Bulldog had a long history of losing big matches to HBK. The Intercontinental Championship back in 1992 and the 1995 Royal Rumble Match. Their title match at In Your House: Beware of Dog ended in a draw since they pinned each other. Shawn Michaels was the victor yet again in this match, but was immediately jumped by Vader and Owen Hart. HBK was saved by Ahmed Johnson and The Ultimate Warrior. The WWF was setting up a six man tag team match for In Your House: International Incident.
So much for “best laid plans” as The Ultimate Warrior was indefinitely suspended from the WWF for failing to appear where advertised. Psycho Sid returned after almost an eight month absence to team with Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson against Camp Cornette. Vader scored the winning pinfall on HBK, thusly becoming #1 Contender for the WWF Championship. This was so much more interesting than the summer of 1995 with King Mabel, but it was all for not as the eyes of the wrestling world was focused on WCW after Hulk Hogan turned heel at Bash at the Beach, aligning himself with The Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) to form the nWo.
August 18, 1996
The most anticipated free-for-all (at least for the male viewers) was the Bikini Beach Blastoff. The “beach” turned out to be an aboveground pool with sand sprinkled around it. At least WCW actually went to the beach for Bash at the Beach 1995. The highlight was seeing Sunny, Sable, and Marlena clad in swimwear. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the reigning King of the Ring, also defeated Yokozuna on the free-for-all in a match where the top turnbuckle snapped off when Yoko attempted his patented Bonsai Drop.
Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig called all the action. Owen Hart defeated Savio Vega in the opener. Owen was infringing on “Cowboy” Bob Orton by wrestling with a cast on his arm that he could use as a weapon. The Smokin’ Gunns (Billy & Bart) w/ Sunny successfully defended their WWF Tag Team Championships in a 4-Corners Match. One of the contending teams was The New Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Leif Cassidy). Cassidy would later become better known as Al Snow. Psycho Sid defeated “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. Jim Cornette was not in the corner of either Owen Hart or The British Bulldog during their matches because he was too busy preparing Vader for his title match.
Goldust (w/ Marlena) was victorious over “Wildman” Marc Mero (w/ Sable). Mankind came down to ringside during this match and called Sable “mommy.” Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler played up on The Snake’s real life struggles with substance abuse. “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry served as the guest color commentator and tried not to laugh at The King’s drunk jokes, but he could not help himself. Lawler won the match by using a bottle of whiskey as a weapon.
Faarooq (former WCW Champion, Ron Simmons) had recently made his debut in the WWF, taking out Ahmed Johnson with a stiff kick that caused a legit injury. Johnson was forced to relinquish the Intercontinental Championship and he never truly regained his momentum. Faarooq was to be managed by Sunny and have gladiator gimmick, but that was all dropped in the fall of 1996 when the Nation of Domination was formed.
The Undertaker vs. Mankind in a Boiler Room Brawl was another match that brought us closer to the Attitude Era. The match began in the bowels of the arena and the goal was to get to the ring first and retrieve the urn from Paul Bearer. They fought with pipes and garbage cans. Mankind was even pushed off of a ladder. The Undertaker arrived at the ring first, but Paul Bearer would shockingly refuse to hand him the urn. Undertaker was dumbfounded, then Bearer bashed him over the head with urn. The same thing that had happened at King of the Ring, but this time there was no way for Bearer to pass it off as an accident. Bearer then polished up the urn before handing it to Mankind. Bearer and Mankind exited together, leaving The Phenom in a heap. The Undertaker’s druids then appeared and carried him away as if he’d been martyred.
Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) defended the WWF Championship against Vader (w/ Jim Cornette) in the main event. The match initially ended with HBK being counted out, meaning that Vader was not the champion. The match was resumed, then HBK was disqualified for using Jim Cornette’s tennis racket. Vader was still not the champion. The match was resumed once again and Shawn Michaels finally won via pinfall. Jim Cornette gripes to this day that Vader was meant to win the title and that Michaels had politicked his way into retaining the belt. Vader had been ascending the ladder since his arrival at the 1996 Royal Rumble, but it was basically downhill for him following this match, while HBK was still golden.
Backstage politics aside, of which I am sure every WWF Champion was guilty, Shawn Michaels was on top of his game in 1996. No one could really touch him. Every match was better than the last. His next title defense was against Mankind at In Your House: Mind Games. Vader, Psycho Sid, and The Undertaker all got involved. WCW was now winning the ratings war, but the quality of main event competition in the WWF was still second to none.
November 16, 1996
New York City, New York
Jim Ross (sort of) turned in heel in the fall of 1996 and claimed that he had negotiated the returns of Diesel and Razor Ramon. They turned out to be imposters. Glenn Jacobs, who had earlier portrayed Dr. Isaac Yankem and would go on to be Kane, was the fake Diesel. Bret “Hit Man” Hart returned for real though, accepting the challenge of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Psycho Sid defeated Vader in a #1 Contender’s Match at In Your House: Buried Alive, setting up the main event of the 1996 Survivor Series.
The WWF returned to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, for a Pay-Per-View for the first time since WrestleMania X. Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and Jerry “The King” Lawler were on commentary at the start of the show.
The reigning WWF Tag Team Champions (Owen Hart & “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith) teamed with The New Rockers (Marty Jannetty & Leif Cassidy) to take on The Godwins (Henry & Phineas) w/ Hilly Billy Jim and the new duo of Doug Furnas & Phil Lafon. Surprisingly, the newcomers, Furnas & Lafon were the survivors. Mankind was defeated by The Undertaker in the “Buried Alive” Match at the previous In Your House, but since The Phenom was jumped by Paul Bearer’s goons following the match and buried, the perception was that he was the loser. Paul Bearer was kept in a cage for this contest. The stipulation being that Undertaker could get his hands on his former manager if he was victorious. Undertaker descended from the rafters in new, all black ring attire. This was the most tame of the four PPV matches these two superstars had in 1996, but Undertaker finally picked up the clean win. However, he did not get to Paul Bearer because he was attacked by The Executioner (Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy of The Fabulous Freebirds).
“Wildman” Marc Mero (w/ Sable) teamed with “The Stalker” Barry Windham, Rocky Maivia, & Jake “The Snake” Roberts. This was the first PPV (or closed circuit) WWF event for Barry Windham since the first WrestleMania. Jake Roberts was filling in for an injured Mark Henry. Getting injured would become the hallmark of Mark Henry’s career. And most important of all, this was the debut of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Their adversaries were captained by Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the new Intercontinental Champion. Helmsley was briefly mentored by “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, but Hennig vanished from the WWF for a third time. This time, he would jump to WCW and not return to the WWF until the 2002 Royal Rumble. Helmsley’s team was comprised of Goldust (w/ Marlena), Crush, and Jerry “The King” Lawler. Since The King was in action, Sunny joined Vince McMahon and Jim Ross on commentary. The match came down to Goldust and Crush against Rocky, who pulled off the upset, becoming the sole survivor. The fans chanted his name… even though they would soon turn on the rookie sensation.
Bret “Hit Man” Hart, like all the great champions, became synonymous with Madison Square Garden. It is where he won the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991 and the WWF Championship from Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. The only one not impressed with Bret Hart’s legacy was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Stone Cold derided Hart for his pink tights and good guy persona in general. This match has been overlooked over the years because their match at WrestleMania XIII was such an epic showdown, but the finish was quite clever, harkening back to Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII, with The Hit Man countering the Million Dollar Dream into a roll-up. “The Excellence of Execution” was back, but he had not seen the last of Steve Austin.
Yokozuna competed in his final PPV, teaming with Savio Vega, Flash Funk, & Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. Snuka was the surprise mystery partner. Flash Funk was making his WWF debut. Funk had previous competed as 2 Cold Scorpio in ECW. There opponents were Vader, Faarooq, Diesel, & Razor Ramon. Again, these were imposters portraying the Diesel and Razor Ramon gimmicks. Jim Cornette served as a commentator instead of staying in the corner of Vader. Perhaps due to time constraints, the match ended on a quick double DQ.
Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) defended the WWF Championship against Psycho Sid in the main event. HBK received the sort of crowd reaction that is usually reserved for John Cena nowadays. New Yorkers were ahead of the curve when it came to jeering baby-faces. Sid resorted to striking Jose Lothario with a TV camera. This was enough to divert HBK’s focus and Sid won the match and the title with a Power-Bomb. The dream was over for Shawn Michaels. I guess this was suppose to turn Sid heel, but just like the confrontation with Hulk Hogan at the 1992 Royal Rumble, the fans were vocal in their support of Sid. Vladimir the Super-Fan (look him up on Facebook) was one of the first to congratulate Sid, the new WWF Champion.
Psycho Sid successfully defended the WWF Championship against Bret “Hit Man” Hart at In Your House: It’s Time. Shawn Michaels was a guest color commentator and HBK inadvertently (?) distracted The Hit Man. Thus bringing and end to what was a bounce back year for the WWF in terms of quality storytelling even if it would take until 1998 to turn the ratings war with WCW around.
Posted on August 5, 2013, in Pro Wrestling, WWF, WWF/WWE and tagged Ahmed Johnson, Bob Backlund, Bret Hart, Diesel, Goldust, Gorilla Monsoon, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Jake Roberts, Jeff Jarrett, Jim Cornette, Jim Ross, King of the Ring, Mankind, Mark Henry, Marlena, Marty Jannetty, Mr. Perfect, Owen Hart, Psycho Sid, Razor Ramon, Rocky Maivia, Roddy Piper, Royal Rumble, Sable, Savio Vega, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, SummerSlam, Sunny, Survivor Series, Ted DiBiase, The 1-2-3 Kid, The British Bulldog, The Godwins, The Kliq, The Smokin' Gunns, The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, Vader, Vince McMahon, WrestleMania, WWF, Yokozuna. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.