March 23, 1997
Goldust . . . doesn’t look all that far removed from his WCW days as “The Natural.”
Steve Austin . . . bleeds his way into becoming the biggest star in the business.
PG-13 . . . outshines their NOD stablemates in a match that they’re not even officially a part of.
MOSH/THRASHER vs. HENRY GODWIN/PHINEAS GODWIN vs. DOUG FURNAS/PHIL LAFON vs. BLACKJACK WINDHAM/BLACKJACK BRADSHAW (#1 Contenders Match for the WWF World Tag Team Titles)
From the beginning, when the Blackjacks hit the ring and start the big brawl up until the double elimination of the Blackjacks and Furnas and Lafon, this just a spotfest. Everyone gets a chance to do something, with only Doug’s rana to Windham getting any sort of reaction, which they kill right away by repeating the spot with Windham getting a counter. But, there’s no rhyme or reason for anything. Bradshaw shoves the ref to get his team disqualified, and Furnas and Lafon are apparently counted out. The Godwins/Headbangers is structured like a typical tag match, but the work itself is pretty basic, outside of the Headbangers’ dives, and neither really does much to get any heat. It also doesn’t help that Phineas telegraphs the finish by setting up Mosh for the slop drop and then standing and waiting for Thrasher to break it up. That triggers the brawl and Phineas gets hit with a stage dive and pinned by Mosh. At best, this is an inoffensive way to get the teams involved, but they’d have been better served to try to tell a story, rather than just kill time and accomplish nothing.
ROCKY MAIVIA © vs. THE SULTAN (WWF Intercontinental Title)
Wow. This makes the Rocky’s match with HHH from the month before almost look like a masterpiece. Once again, Rocky gets almost nothing to do other than a few token spots and a bunch of punching and kicking. It seems like the match might be going somewhere when Rocky lariats the post, but Sultan does two spots to work the arm and then drops it. It was impressive to see Sultan’s diving headbutt, considering his size, but there isn’t much else to see from him other than that. Rocky makes the comeback and seems to have the match won with his flying body press, but Iron Sheik distracts the ref, and Rocky gets the pin on a flash roll up. The heels attack afterwards and Rocky Johnson makes the save and father and son clear the ring. You’d think the hot young rookie would get to look good at his first WrestleMania, especially with a title belt and the fact that Sultan’s character was all but dead already.
HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY vs. GOLDUST
This is easily the best match that Goldust has had on PPV up to this point, of course looking at the field surrounding it, that’s not exactly a shocker. It’s got the hate and intensity that was missing from their match at the Royal Rumble, along with HHH stooging all over the place for him. This is as close as Dustin would probably ever get to truly looking like “The Natural” in the WWF, right down to the near fall from the bulldog. HHH looks just as good here as he did the month before with Rocky, taking shortcuts to stay ahead and just generally acting like a jerk whenever he gets the chance to. It has the same finish as their previous match, but it works better here, with HHH having already been countered out of the Pedigree and nearly hit with the Curtain Call. The distraction from Chyna gives HHH the opening for the cheap shot and to hit the Pedigree for the win. It’s too bad the feud simmered out after this match, it’d have been nice to see them go one more round in a Bunkhouse or Texas Death match. ***1/4
DAVEY BOY SMITH/OWEN HART © vs. VADER/MANKIND (WWF World Tag Team Titles)
Even before the lame finish, this never seemed to be going anywhere. The champs were defacto babyfaces, with both of them being worked over to build up to a hot tag, but neither of them seemed to get much as far as crowd reaction goes, although the reaction to Davey tagging in was much better than the one for Owen. If nothing else, the finish puts over the Mandible Claw strongly, with Davey being completely incapacitated as the ref counts. Mick won’t release the hold (not that it would have mattered, since the titles wouldn’t have changed hands anyway) resulting in both teams getting counted out. There were a couple of cool moments, like Vader bumping for Owen, and Vader holding Davey in place for Mick’s elbow off the apron. But, they’re hard to appreciate amongst the lack of story and the non-finish.
BRET HART vs. STEVE AUSTIN (Submission Match)
This isn’t a great wrestling match, but, like Jim Ross said “It’s a hell of a fight.” Bret more or less takes out all of his recent frustrations on Austin here, as they brawl all over the arena. The prop shots all work in the context of the match and their feud. The finish and aftermath perfectly facilitate the double turn. You can see exactly how much intensity and hatred there is in the first minute when Bret whips Austin into the post, with an audible smack, and Austin sets Bret on the guardrail and lariats him with enough force to send them both tumbling over. The rules seem to be a little fuzzy when it comes to rope breaks. Bret’s ringpost figure four looks to be perfectly legal, but when Austin uses a Boston Crab, Bret gets the ropes and Austin has to break. The other surprise is that it’s Austin who remembers the object of the match first, and tries to win with an ugly looking juji-gatame.
There are some really smart touches here, especially from Austin. One of the first wrestling spots of the match is Bret surprising him with a swinging neck breaker. It doesn’t really mean anything long term, and it certainly doesn’t factor into the finish. But, a minute later when Bret drops a knee across the back of Austin’s neck, his selling and reaction is amazing. With how much Bret works over Austin’s knee, it was disappointing to see Austin ignoring it when he went on offense, especially because it wasn’t like Bret was just doing perfunctory work and using basic holds. But, Austin does add one great moment. He picks up Bret as though he’s going to do a backbreaker, but instead of dropping him across the knee, he slams him straight to the mat. He may not have been selling the knee, but he showed that he was thinking about keeping it protected.
The other really surprising (in a good way) aspect is how well they use the prop shots. There are a only a few of them, but they’re treated as match breakers. The first is the chair, which Bret uses to help wear out Austin’s knee. Austin’s first comeback comes when Bret wants to Pillmanize him, but Austin slips his leg out the chair and hits Bret with it. Bret had tried and failed to lock up the sharpshooter, but, when he clocks Austin with the ring bell, in order to get Austin to quit choking him with the extension cord, it stuns Austin enough to let Bret lock it in. The finish is flawless. Austin is battered, bloodied, and in the sharpshooter with no way of reaching the ropes. He won’t quit, and he uses the last of his energy to try and break the hold. He does, but only momentarily, which puts over Bret’s technical skills to some degree. Bret gets it back on, and Austin has nothing left and passes out.
The win isn’t enough for Bret, who continues the assault and then sulks off after Shamrock physically restrains him. Austin slowly get his bearings and gives the stunner to another ref for trying to help him up, and then limps to the back on his own. Even the fans who were cheering for Bret had to appreciate it. It’s just too bad this feud never got the proper payoff it deserved, between Bret’s knee injury and then his decision to leave the WWF. ***3/4
AHMED JOHNSON/ANIMAL/HAWK vs. FAAROOQ/CRUSH/SAVIO VEGA (Chicago Street Fight)
Coming after Bret/Austin makes this even a bigger letdown. It has all of the prop shots and none of the other things that made the previous match so special. Faarooq is the only one who takes any bumps and tries to sell. The rest of them just mindlessly brawl and trade prop shots. Eventually it ends when Crush gets hit with the Doomsday Device and then a 2x4 assisted double lariat, but it’s hard to care much about it. Hell, the aftermath with D’Lo, Wolfie, and JC Ice taking the finishers of the babyfaces comes off better than anything that happened during the match proper, since they actually understand the concept of taking a big bump and putting over in an appropriate manner.
PSYCHO SID © vs. THE UNDERTAKER (WWF World Heavyweight Title)
To no surprise, this isn’t exactly a wrestling clinic. The only real story they try to tell is Sid working over UT’s lower back, ostensibly to set up for the powerbomb. But, Sid’s work isn’t exactly inspired, nor is UT’s selling, so it doesn’t get very far. Sid’s near fall from the Tombstone is nice, although the camera telegraphs it by showing how Sid had his hands clasped and into position while UT still had him up. I’d complain about the Bret interference to go after Sid, but that’s the only time that anything really picked up. The first time is when Bret goes after him with two chair shots to the back and it gives UT the opening to work over Sid’s back a little. The second time comes when Sid stops his powerbomb attempt to thwart Bret, and gets his throat dropped over the top rope, which causes him to stumble into the Tombstone for UT to win the title. It’s an appropriate way for Sid to lose, given the circumstances of how he won it. Sid wins the title with some help he didn’t ask for, or even know that he got. Sid loses it because Bret gives UT some help he didn’t ask for, or even know that he’d gotten.
Conclusion: Bret versus Austin is the big reason to check this out, but there’s a pleasant surprise in the HHH/Goldust match, and the rest is offensive at worst and certainly worth sitting through to see the good stuff.