MONDAY NIGHT RAW
January 6, 1997 (taped 12/30/96)
Owen Hart . . . puts on yet another fun and engrossing TV match.
Phil Lafon . . . is very capable, but even he’s not enough of a miracle worker to overcome the fake Razor and Diesel.
Bret Hart . . . finds himself in the unenviable position of having a match, where the actual match is playing second fiddle to various storylines.
MANKIND vs. OWEN HART
The TV shows from this time frame apparently are chock full of hidden gems in the form of Owen matches. This isn’t overly long, and the finish is a bit sudden, but Owen and Mick pretty much stay busy the entire time, and put on a rather engaging match. It’s really fun to watch Owen sharking on Mick, first the hand, to prevent the Mandible Claw, and then his midsection after their scrum on the floor, where Owen hits him in the ribs with the Slammy. Foley does just about the perfect bump and sell job for Owen’s enzuigiri, and Foley hitting Owen over the head with the bin when they brawl on the floor for the second time is a great revenge spot. There’s more smartness in the form of Owen outwrestling Mick and reversing the neckbreaker into a DDT, and Foley getting the Mandible Claw while Owen was in midair doing his dropkick, and thus, unable to do anything to counter or prevent it.
The only real issue with the match is that the finish seems to come out of nowhere. Owen misses a corner charge and takes a shoulder bump into the post, and Foley gets the pin after a piledriver. There was nothing that seemed to indicate that the match was winding down. It’d have worked better if Mick had gotten a near fall from the piledriver, and his slight delay in making the pin would lend credence to that, and then followed up with the double arm DDT for the pin. Foley getting the pin on a flash cradle would have worked too, and that would have made the bump into the post more meaningful. But, at worst, all that their finish does is end the match on a bit of a sour note, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to diminish all of their good work that came before it.
DOUG FURNAS/PHIL LAFON vs. DIESEL/RAZOR RAMON
If Furnas and Lafon had as much time to actually work as their opponents had to basically do their best Hall and Nash impressions, then this might have been OK. Watching Diesel and Razor reminds me of the old Jim Cornette adage that you can teach a chimpanzee to do a moonsault, but not to emote why it’s doing it. You don’t get the idea that Diesel and Razor are truly trying to build a match or tell a story with what they do. They’re just doing the spots that the other guys who played Diesel and Razor were known for doing. There are some nice moments from Furnas and Lafon, but, the match was far too long and far too lopsided for them to do much of anything to salvage it.
BRET HART vs. VADER
Unfortunately, the Harts go 0-2 tonight. This is almost the polar opposite of Owen’s match. Owen and Mankind had a busy match because they both did smart things and put on a compelling match as a result. Here, Bret and Vader’s match is busy in spite of their work. Between Shawn Michaels on color commentary and the run-ins from Sid and then Austin, it gets hard to notice that Bret and Vader do some nice things while all this is going on.
All things considered, Vader was probably too giving to Bret. Bret’s bodyslam to Vader was a nice moment, and it got a decent reaction, but, Bret using a backdrop suplex is a bit much. It’s nice that Vader is able, and willing, to take bumps like this, but with Bret just casually giving him a suplex it makes the reaction to the bodyslam seem silly. Bret working over Vader’s shoulder after he takes the bump into the stairs makes for some nice filler, especially after Owen’s post bump was basically made meaningless, and if Bret wants to try to win by wearing down a body part, the arm/shoulder is definitely the best choice for him. Vader’s missed Vader bomb is another smart touch, with Vader wanting the moonsault and then going back to the Vader bomb, which gives Bret time to recover and get his knees up. The spot itself looks ugly, but, if Vader had come down all the way with it, he’d have probably wrecked Bret’s knees. They play off that for the finish. Austin gives Bret the stunner on the floor, and Vader takes advantage of the opening. He doesn’t waste any time doing the Vader bomb and gets the pin. But, instead of making the match and the result seem like the big deal that it probably ought to, instead, the show cuts to the locker room to continue the Sid/Shawn feud going into their title match.
Conclusion: The Bret and Owen matches are both very fun affairs, and there’s very few things that it would take to make either of them into great matches.