King of the Ring
June 23, 1996
Steve Austin . . . starts his path to becoming the biggest superstar of the modern era.
Goldust . . . finally starts looking like something resembling the worker he was in WCW.
Shawn Michaels . . . makes the most of his chance to make up for the poor match he had the month before.
STEVE AUSTIN vs. MARC MERO (King of the Ring semi finals)
Here's more proof of how great a worker Austin was before 1998. His work itself isn't anything very flashy, his only big spots are the hotshot variation and the stunner that finishes off Mero, but Austin makes it work by being as ruthless as his "Stone Cold" nickname implies. Once he starts focusing on Mero's back, he's almost perfect. Even the most basic of moves, the vertical suplex, looks like it almost kills Mero. The only mark against Austin (and Austin isn't the only one guilty of it) is the Boston crab, because it's application is such that it's crystal clear that Mero is going to escape it.
Much like his match the month before with HHH, Mero puts on another good performance. His selling when Austin is working him over is excellent, and Mero is great at taking small openings to get in his own offense, like his escaping of Austin's backdrop suplex and getting a near fall from the rolling prawn hold, and the crowd comes alive whenever he does. Mero finally gets a big run of offense himself and starts reeling off big spots, two dives to the floor onto Austin, a dropkick off the top, and a rana off the top all in short order. Austin returns the favor to Mero by going all out to put them over like he's an inch away from losing.
Aside from Austin's poor application of the crab, there are a few areas where things could have been better. The more glaring one is their miscue that causes Mero and Austin to run into each other. Austin also gets the hotshot that leads to the stunner, a bit too easily. Seeing as Mero had just dropped him with the rana off the top for a near fall, Austin needed more then a single kick to the gut to turn the tide, especially so drastically. He should have either had more time to recover, or done some kind of surprise block or counter. This is another match that tends to get forgotten about, because there were so many classics worldwide during the year, there were several during the month of June alone, but this is definitely worth checking out if only to see how good a worker Austin could be, and how serviceable Mero could be. ***1/2
VADER vs. JAKE ROBERTS (King of the Ring semi finals)
This really isn't much of a match. It's more of an exhibition to give Jake as much sympathy as possible going into the finals against Austin. Vader puts over Jake as good as he possibly can. Vader sells huge for things that he normally wouldn't bat an eyelash at, the best thing being Jake's short arm lariat. It's probably not the best way to use the monster heel of the company, especially when he was on his way to a title program with Shawn, but it's great for giving the idea that Jake still has it in him. Vader gets in some offense on Jake as well, but he's more or less just toying with him. Vader pays the price when Jake stuns him with a boot to the face and does the DDT, but Vader pushes the ref on the way down to get disqualified. Vader destroys Jake afterwards, and puts Jake that much more behind the eight-ball for the finals.
BILLY GUNN/BART GUNN © vs. HENRY GODWIN/PHINEAS GODWIN (WWF Tag Team Titles)
There are some fun moments from the Gunns in the form of stooging and overselling, particularly Billy's missed splash in the corner and Bart's missed legdrop from the top, but, on the whole, this is forgettable at best. The Gunns work over Henry's back for the bulk of things, but they're pretty uninteresting about doing it, and Henry's idea of selling is to lie around like a sloth rather than actually sell and put over the damage the Gunns are causing. Henry hot tags, the match breaks down, and the champions cheat to win.
THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR vs. JERRY LAWLER
Normally I'd complain about the mediocrity of this, but I'm just glad that they actually attempted to have a match, rather than the extended stall tactic Warrior and Goldust had in April. There's only three real spots of the whole match. Most of this is made up with Lawler's cheating tactics, and Warrior totally blows off the piledriver to start his comeback. But at least this had some wrestling in it.
THE UNDERTAKER vs. MANKIND
This was decent when UT was on offense, which isn't a big surprise since Mick was always at his best when he was taking bumps and selling for others. The problem is that UT isn't on offense very much and Mick isn't always all that interesting when he has to be in control. The only good things from Mick are his typical Cactus Jack spots (the elbow off the apron, the double arm DDT, and the piledriver) and a running knee to the head. The rest of Mick's offense is pedestrian brawling and rest holds. UT sells for him, but it's the same sort of selling that UT did when he was working with Bundy, Yoko, Mabel, etc. there's nothing really special about it.
The match picks up about ten notches when UT is on offense, and Mick is taking bumps and selling. Foley even goes the extra mile to sell when it's something relatively simple from UT, like the short flurry of headbutts while Mick was in the ropes. The finish comes off about as well as it could, planting the seed for Paul Bearer's heel turn, but Bearer hitting UT with the urn looks accidental enough. If anything, it puts over Foley that much more since Bearer was trying to cheat to help UT win, and Foley saw it coming and tossed UT in the way.
GOLDUST © vs. AHMED JOHNSON (WWF Intercontinental Title)
Hey, this is actually pretty watchable! Ahmed is fired up to start and Goldust does some good bumping and stooging. When Goldust takes over, after Ahmed's mediocre bump over the top, he's surprisingly aggressive while working Ahmed over. It's hard to equate Ahmed Johnson with good selling, but he's decent here, especially his bump and subsequent selling of Goldust's piledriver. Of course, we're talking about 1996 Goldust, so there are still some. . . . . let's just say suggestive, things from him, the main one being the near fall he gets when he slowly crawls onto Ahmed so they're laying totally vertical. Goldust has it won with a sleeper but decides that he needs to give Ahmed mouth to mouth. Ahmed roars to life from the rage and hits a big spine buster and then does the plunge to take the title. This doesn't even sniff Dustin's best WCW work, but it's about a thousand times better than you'd expect from this pairing.
STEVE AUSTIN vs. JAKE ROBERTS (King of the Ring finals)
As far as workrate goes, this isn't much of a match, but it's great for further establishing Austin's character. He goes right after Jake's injured ribs from the get-go, and doesn't stop until Jake doesn't get up. Jake's selling is perfect too, it looks all but hopeless for him, and Austin looks like that much more of a cold-hearted bastard for stealing Jake's moment in the sun. Gorilla Monsoon offers to stop the match, but Jake wants to keep fighting, so Austin goes back to the ribs and finishes off Jake with the stunner. Austin follows the match by cutting his famous promo.
SHAWN MICHAELS © vs. DAVEY BOY SMITH (WWF World Heavyweight Title)
I can only assume that Shawn felt the need to make it up to the fans for the underwhelming match he and Davey had the month before. Shawn goes out of his way to work in a bunch of cool spots and unique offense, Shawn's armbar stuff wasn't really much more than filler, although it did allow Mr. Perfect (the second referee, on the floor) to get involved when Davey was grabbing the ropes. It's not a surprise at all that Shawn can pull off a jumping rana from the apron the floor, but it's not something you'd see regularly in the WWF at the time. Shawn continues putting on a show by bumping huge when Davey is on offense, he takes a press slam from inside the ring to the floor, and he soars from Davey's running lariat. It seems to take Davey some time to get warmed up, but once he does he adds some good stuff of his own, Davey countering the second rana into a Lygerbomb was pretty sweet, and he even takes a Shawn-esque bump in the corner.
Despite their good intentions, there are still some bumps in the road, mostly thanks to Davey getting crossed up and killing their momentum. The first sign that Davey may be having an off night is when Shawn leap frogs and Davey just stands there, Davey quickly picks him up for a press slam that Shawn counters, but it's clear that they goofed up. Later on in the match, Davey attempts a diving headbutt (not unlike his former tag partner was so fond of) and comes up very short of his target. Again, Davey seemed to need to get himself warmed up for awhile in the match, a lot of his early offense revolves around him holding Shawn in a headlock, and it's a stark contrast from Shawn and Davey’s quick headlock exchanges early on that ended with Shawn outsmarting Davey so that Davey couldn't take him over.
The finish is another case where it seems like somebody screwed something up. Shawn tunes the band and hits the superkick on Davey, but Perfect, for no real reason, runs in so he and Hebner can count together. Owen Hart pulls out Perfect, but Hebner finishes the count. Seeing as Perfect's impartiality was in question, it'd seem more logical for Owen to pull out Hebner and then have Perfect roll in and count the pin. Despite the weird finish, this is still a good match, and the brawl afterwards between Shawn, Ahmed, Warrior and Cornette's boys perfectly sets up the trios match for next month. ***1/4
Conclusion: There's nothing really surprising here, aside from Goldust finally deciding to work for a change. There's good stuff from Austin, Shawn, and Foley, and the rest is rather forgettable, although nothing is downright horrid.