Don’t call it a comeback.
Hello and welcome to the first edition of Wrestling in the Clinton years in quite some time. If I can be slightly personal for a moment, my break from this was due to a severe bout of depression that nearly claimed more than just my blogging hobby so in an effort to return to the things that make me happy, I return to WitCY with a bite-sized bonus blog to ease back into the swing of things. So for this training wheels assisted edition, I turn to the WWF in July of 1996 to see just how the Fed is doing as WCW begins its ascent thanks to the recently formed New World Order and surprisingly, it’s doing some things quite well, just not all things.
WWF Monday Night Raw, July 8th 1996.
The confusion comes thick and fast at the start of the show as we first see a sombre WWF president Gorilla Monsoon, announcing the “indefinite suspension” of the Ultimate Warrior who had only returned to the WWF in March, for failing to appear at house shows over the previous weekend. Despite his transgressions Monsoon does offer Warrior an olive branch, promising that the WWF is willing to reinstate Warrior if he pays an “appearance bond” in the future. Quite why the WWF would air this on television is quite baffling, especially as the WWF has a tailor-made excuse for Warrior possibly not being at the upcoming International Incident pay per view event built right into the story of this pre taped episode. The pretaped nature of the show does cause the WWF a headache though as Warrior is booked to face Owen Hart to further develop the main event story ahead of the ppv. So this appears to be a ham-fisted way of explaining away why Warrior is here as Gorilla reveals that Warrior is “live” on the show.
Monsoon signs off stating that no one wrestler is bigger than the WWF. History of course tells us that Warrior never posts that bond and would never return to the WWF until 2013 just before his death. The animosity between Jim Helwig and Titan Towers would run very deep as anyone who saw “The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” dvd hatchet job released in 2005 will remember, this company holds grudges.
After the intro, Owen Hart and manager Jim Cornette are already in the ring. Owen has his arm in a cast due to a dubious injury and has his Slammy award tight in his grip. He’s very proud of that trophy.
The commentary team of Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler debate if this really is the last time the Warrior will appear on Raw as his theme hits and Warrior races to the ring amid cheers and fireworks.
Owen cowers on the outside until he sees an opportunity and attempts to attack Warrior from behind but as he rushes forward, Warrior sidesteps and Owen is sent sailing over the top rope.
Everyone takes a quick break as Owen stews outside the ring, Warrior poses and Vince has a chat with Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson who are live by satellite from Titan Towers. Quite why both men decided to remove their shirts while being interviewed is never explained but perhaps the air conditioning is broken in WWF headquarters? Anyway the purpose of this deeply erotic interview is for Shawn and Ahmed to tease the reveal of their “third man” to replace Warrior in the 6 man tag match against Camp Cornette at International Incident later in the show.
The match finally resumes with Owen attempting to hit Warrior with a clothesline only to be countered with a Warrior clothesline and a pair of hiptosses to pop the fans and another trip over the top rope for Hart via another clothesline.
Warrior’s dissection of Owen continues with a flapjack and punches in the corner followed by a powerslam and sidewalk slam to “The king of Harts” as Vince again waffles about Warrior’s suspension that had me still bemused at the WWF airing its dirty laundry so publicly.
Owen does eventually get control after a wheelkick and clotheslines that Warrior is initially reluctant to sell but more punches and kicks keeps Warrior down for a brief time. Warrior reverses a suplex and goes for his splash finishing move but as he bears down on Owen, Hart lifts his knees and Warrior injures himself as he crashes down on them. Expert technical wrestler Owen sees an opening and begins a beatdown focused on Warrior’s chiseled abs. Jim Cornette even makes his presence felt too as he manages a couple of shots with his nefarious tennis racket while the referee isn’t looking. What a dastardly heel!
Owen looks to have the match won after an enzugiri but instead of pinning Warrior, Owen decides to take time out to pose with his Slammy Award that he’s so so proud of. Now tradition dictates that such a display of pride must precede a humiliating reversal of fortune but in a neat twist Owen actually hits his missle dropkick from the top rope but as he tries to lock the Sharpshooter on the prone Warrior, he is sent flying across the ring as Warrior kicks out, rising to his feet and shaking with the power of the little warriors in the crowd.
As Warrior powers up, Hart’s stablemate The British Bulldog saunters to ringside to cheer on his brother-in-law but alas, Owen appears to be in real trouble as Warrior feels no pain or inclination to sell and he drills Owen with his signature flying tackle. In a last-ditch effort to save Owen, Bulldog hops up into the ring and tries to attack Warrior, causing a disqualification but even he can’t get the better of the Ultimate Warrior.
Lastly, a thankfully clothed Vader joins the fracas as Camp Cornette begins to overwhelm and destroy Warrior with a cast shot by Owen, a Powerslam by the Bulldog and a crushing Vaderbomb from Big Wang Vader, leading to Warrior being helped to the backstage area by WWF officials. This of course begs the question, why didn’t the WWF use this beatdown as the excuse for Warrior’s disappearance? This was a powerful image coming off the back of Warrior’s second or third best match ever, Camp Cornette would have looked like even more of a threatening force if they were booked as the reason Warrior had to vanish due to the injuries sustained here. I just can’t see the logic in having Gorilla Monsoon act as the company’s mouthpiece to air the WWF’s real life grievance with Warrior on television when it had a great explanation built into this show. Maybe they thought they could shame the Warrior into falling back into line? If that was the case it certainly didn’t work. Whatever the reason this was a hugely enjoyable basic tv match thanks to Owen doing what the Hart brothers do best and making his opponent look like a real star. Very well done.
More chaos ensues at the start of the next match as Brian Pillman (a recent arrival fresh from capturing the wrestling world’s attention thanks to a series of bizarre and controversial antics across WCW and ECW) attacks Savio Vega as he makes his way to the ring to face Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, who has “Uncle Zebekiah” Dutch Mantel in tow. Zebekiah would of course make a return to the Fed as Zeb Colter.
Vega and Bradshaw have an incredibly even match between them with neither man gaining the advantage. This is refreshing to see after an entire year of WWF squash matches when I covered Raw throughout 1994 and is another indication of the times changing on both sides of the Monday Night War. That’s not to say this match is good however, Bradshaw’s discount Stan Hansen act is enjoyable but sadly his plodding offence is not. Neither is the sight of his trunks disappearing between his buttocks revealing more of the future JBL than is strictly necessary. As should be the way with heelish managers, it’s Uncle Zeb who proves to be both a boon and hindrance to Bradshaw, interfering twice to firstly cause Savio to be distracted giving his man a chance to attack the Puerto Rican sensation but the second time Zeb tries to help sees him tripping Vega as Bradshaw lines up for his finishing lariat, causing Bradshaw to miss and careen into the ropes, bouncing off straight into a wheel kick by Savio and the cowboy is left counting the arena lights as Vega picks up the win. Vega’s victory is short-lived however as after the bell Bradshaw blasts Savio with a lariat to the back of the head and a few blows from a cowbell brought to the ring by “Hawk” to keep this feud alive.
The lowest point of the show occurs here as during the match, Lawler and McMahon resort to some of the oldest jokes in Christendom as they ponder just who Shawn and Ahmed’s mystery man is. The duo drag up the ancient “Who’s on first?” routine with the punchline being the wrestler Who? This is actually still funny until Vince tries to overly explain the gag which is the death knell for any witticism. Where’s JR when you need him?
The main event of the show sees Vader and the British Bulldog return to face the pig farming Godwinns. Despite his angry tirades against my beloved Lucha Underground and modern life in general, Jim Cornette parking himself at the commentary desk is a very welcome development as he and Lawler play off each other expertly throughout the match and Corny is a very welcome addition.
The match itself begins with Bulldog and Henry O. Godwinn (H.O.G. geddit?) Starting off with a quick pace for a match containing such burly participants and they exchange headlocks, shoulderblocks and hiptosses that leave Bulldog back pedalling to bring in the massive Vader. Poor Henry O is on the receiving end of Vader’s trademark brutality for quite a while until Henry not only blocks but reverses a Vader suplex, hoisting Vader into the air in an incredible display of power by Godwin and leaping ability by Vader.
Phinneas I. Godwinn (P.I.G. Oh! My sides!) tags in to take over for his brother but despite clubbering his opponent, the wang they call Vader is soon in control thanks to a wicked clothesline. The heels take turns to attack both Godwinns for a good portion of the match bit of neither can keep the brothers down for the count. This frustrates Cornette who repeatedly leaves and rejoins commentary to rejoin his charges to inspire them to victory.
Vader squashes Henry with a corner avalanche but as he charges for a second crushing blow, Henry shows off his strength again, scooping Vader up in his arms and drilling him into the mat with the move Mark Henry would take as his finisher giving him the chance to tag his brother Phinneas to even the odds. The match descends into a four-way brawl with the referee struggling to restore order and in the chaos, Bulldog manages to hoist Henry onto his shoulders for a running powerslam to eke out a win for camp Cornette in another surprising match. Stupid farmer gimmicks aside, the Godwinns appear to have something about them I can enjoy. They are big guys for sure but they can move and Henry especially impressed me as he manhandled Vader. By no means a classic but a fine way to end a television show.
To close out the show Jim Cornette is backstage to gloat about the profitable night for his stable with Warrior gone and a victory over the Godwinns. His parade is soon rained upon as Shawn and are ready to reveal the third man. Cornette’s face dropping is a picture as a returning Sycho Sid’s frame fills the screen and Sid cuts a great “Sid” promo to close out the show with balance restored to the ppv main event.
This was a pretty good episode of wrestling television, Owen Hart gave Ultimate Warrior one of his best matches, Vader, Bulldog and the Godwinns had a very enjoyable tag team match and even the non entities of Bradshaw and Savio Vega didn’t stink up the place. I only wish better sense had been made of the Warrior suspension as it only served to confuse and possibly wrongly raise the hopes of Warrior fans hoping he’d be back on tv soon. As it stands though this is a good show but it does show why WCW was starting to pull away in the War with its loaded shows and overall razzmatazz.
Thank you so much if you made it this far and I hope you’ve enjoyed this return of Wrestling in the Clinton years. Until next time folks.