August 18, 1996
Psycho Sid . . . bumps and sells for the British Bulldog a million times better than one would probably expect.
Marc Mero . . . introduces the WWF to the shooting star press (and it ceases to make a lick of difference).
Shawn Michaels . . . puts on yet another stellar main event, but unneeded overbooking ultimately drags it down.
OWEN HART vs. SAVIO VEGA
Thanks to Owen this was fun, even if it wasn’t exactly good. The arm work on both Owen and Vega was really only filler, but Owen made it enjoyable filler. His selling and reactions to Savio dropping his arm across the corner and dong the simple armbar were great, and when Owen got his turn to work on Savio he’s just as good at being the aggressor, especially the armbar takedown. After the arm stuff, the match sort of falls apart although there’s still some good things. Owen and Savio have a fun little battle of kicks, and Savio takes a pretty good bump off the enzuigiri. The finish makes it clear that Owen is just as much of a jerk as he’s ever been, using the cast to KO Vega, and then doing the sharpshooter for the ref stoppage.
BILLY GUNN/BART GUNN © vs. HENRY GODWIN/PHINEAS GODWIN vs. MARTY JANNETTY/LEIF CASSIDY vs. SKIP/ZIP (WWF Tag Team Titles)
Matches like hadn’t been done to death at this point, but there’s nothing all that special about this match, it’s pretty much a standard Survivor Series sort of match, with the finish that nobody wanted. Billy sells and stooges early, and takes the biggest bump of the match about a minute in, a face eraser from Henry. Billy and Bart both get tagged in and are forced to wrestle each other, but get out of it by tagging back out. Zip gets tripped from the outside and pinned after an elbow, despite taking no real punishment. The next phase is mostly comedy, with the Rockers and Gunns trying to work together, but the Rockers keep screwing things up, there’s a cute spot where Snow gets tossed into Marty and he takes a flipping bump into the ring. Marty gets pinned right afterwards with the Slop drop. That leaves the Gunns and Godwins, and, like the other Gunns title defenses, their heel control segment could cure insomnia. After what seems like forever, Phineas gets a hot tag and cleans house. The Godwins have the match won with the Slop drop to Billy, but Sunny distracts the ref and the champions cheat to win.
DAVEY BOY SMITH vs. PSYCHO SID
If you’re of the mind set that Sid fits the stereotype of being a useless muscle head, then this is something that you’ll want to check out. Sid takes a quite a few bumps here, including a lariat on the apron, a front suplex across the ropes, and he gets up for both Davey’s vertical suplex and the piledriver. His selling isn’t anything special, aside from the goofy face he makes when he’s in the chinlock, but he does sell. Actually, goofy is the best description of Sid here, his idea of crowd playing is to make a bunch of wacky faces and dance around like he just scored a touchdown. The finish is the same stale booking that had been done to death at this point: Davey has it won with the powerslam, gets distracted by shenanigans on the floor, and Sid comes back with the chokeslam and powerbomb.
MARC MERO vs. GOLDUST
This isn’t a complete waste, but it’s pretty close. It’s watchable thanks to a few sadistic bumps from Mero, and Goldust following up with some smart work to target Mero’s midsection. The Mankind run-in is a complete waste, it didn’t lead to program between Mero and Foley, or an alliance between Foley and Goldust. All it did was force everyone to watch Sable overact like she was being stalked by the killer in a slasher film. And leave it to the WWF to hype up Mero debuting a new move (SSP), have it get a huge reaction, and then be a throwaway near fall before the finish of Mero laying down anyway. Mero throws in a few other flying spots, but the SSP is clearly the highlight, and even that winds up being a lowlight because of how it was treated.
JERRY LAWLER vs. JAKE ROBERTS
At least this was kept short. Lawler stalls and taunts Jake with alcohol, Jake snaps and bumps Lawler around to get a little revenge, Lawler escapes the DDT twice and hits Jake with a bottle of Beam to win. Five matches in, and so far only two clean finishes on the second biggest show of the year. Lawler forces the booze down Jake’s throat afterwards. Compare this garbage to WCW having the Cruiserweights putting on matches not before seen in the U.S. and it’s no wonder that WCW was killing them.
THE UNDERTAKER vs. MANKIND (Boiler Room Brawl)
Aside from the Paul Bearer turn, which wasn’t even that well-done in itself, there’s not much surprise here. The match is mostly built around prop shots, along with a few huge bumps from Foley. That style of match is relatively fresh for the WWF, although even Vince points out that they did the ridiculous Back Lot Brawl at WrestleMania (although this is much better), but, one could still see this sort of match on a nightly basis in ECW. This is also drags out for far too long, almost thirty minutes, and the obviously fake “technical difficulties” (despite the WWF watermark still being present, only add to the flaws. Again, the Bearer turn is the most famous thing here, and even that gets mucked up by being drawn out too much, so it doesn’t get the shocked reaction that it probably would have if Bearer just clocked UT with the urn, rather than pussyfooting around. Look at almost any good heel turn from WCW for example. Did Flair stop and hug Arn and Pillman first? No, he just popped Sting in the face. Did Hogan high five Hall and Nash first? No, he just hit the ring, soaked up the cheers, and then dropped the leg on Savage. If the turn was done to try to get some of the buzz that the Hogan turn got for WCW, that’s fine, but it faltered by them being too cute about it.
SHAWN MICHAELS © vs. VADER (WWF World Heavyweight Title)
There's no reason why this shouldn't be the best match of 1996, Vader was amongst the best big men in the business, and it's only perfect to put him with a bump machine like Shawn. There's nothing wrong with this from a strict work standpoint. It's structured how one would expect, Vader uses his size and power, while Shawn uses his speed and agility to try and stay ahead. They work in a bunch of good spots and sequences to play off that, my favorite being Shawn's attempt to skin the cat and take Vader over the top and Vader just yanks him up and plants him on his face. Vader's first big spot is catching Shawn on his attempt rana him on the floor and powerbombing him on the floor. Vader isn’t shy about returning the favor and bumping for Shawn, but, there are times that Vader takes it a little too far, Shawn takes him over on a rana really early in the match, when Vader should have been far too fresh for that. A minute later, they take things to the floor by Shawn victory rolling Vader to the floor. But, more often than not, Vader is exactly what he needs to be, like when he misses the corner charge, but isn't hurt at all and turns around and drops Shawn with a big lariat. They've got a great finish, with Vader having it won with the Vader Bomb (same thing that pinned Shawn the month before) but opts to go one better with the moonsault, and misses. Shawn follows up with his own moonsault when Vader gets to his feet, and his knee catches Vader in the head to stun him long enough to keep him down for the pin. There's a great moment early on that hints at that, when Shawn takes Vader down with a leg sweep and starts throwing knees and fists at his head.
The main things that drag this down is the overbooking, it's just like the Paul Bearer turn in the last match, they get too cute with it. Vader wins by count out, and Cornette demands a restart so that Vader can win the title. Shawn gets DQ'd for using Cornette's racquet a few minutes later, and Cornette demands another restart, then they do the actual finish with Shawn pulling off the upset. Vader didn't need to be protected that way, he'd drawn first blood on Shawn by pinning him the month before. One of the finishes and restarts would make sense if they wanted to set up a rematch down the with no DQ or count out, to play off the idea that Vader technically beaten Shawn twice. Aside from Vader occasionally selling and bumping too much for Shawn (which itself isn't necessarily a bad thing), the only other mark against this is their apparent miscue with Shawn's flying elbow causing him to stop in mid move. It's really too bad that this wound up being their only meeting (thanks to Shawn), because they deserved another go-around to see if they could clear up their issues and put on the best match of 1996. ***3/4
Conclusion: A very good (but not great) main event is the only thing that’s worth hunting down, and being their only match makes it somewhat of a novelty. But there’s nothing else here worth tracking down (even the Mankind/UT brawl had been done better).