WWF King of the Ring 1996
The MECCA Arena – Milwaukee, WI
Commentators: Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and “The King of Harts” Owen Hart
Semi-Final Match in the King of the Ring Tournament:
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero (w-Sable)
Result/Analysis: Austin via pinfall (16:50) following the Stone Cold Stunner. Mero loses his first match in the WWF in a borderline classic! Austin’s big night is underway, though he exits the match with a bloody mouth courtesy of a jawbreaker on Mero gone awry. JR calls Austin’s approach to attacking Mero calculated and methodical. It sure is that. Austin’s prime years to come would overshadow how technically sound a worker he was as this bout with Mero showcases. It also helped that Austin and Mero had a previous history with each other, wrestling many times in WCW. Mero mixes in his aerial high-flying, high-risk maneuveurs around Austin beating the literal snot out of him with a particular psychological focus on Mero’s lower back. Austin first attacks Mero’s back outside the ring slamming him onto the exposed concrete with the padding pulled up. From there, Austin works the lower back with various blows before settling in on a Boston Crab twice over. Mero hangs in long enough to make his comeback after Austin becomes bloodied from his mouth off the jawbreaker. Mero gets Austin reeling and nearly defeats him with inventive cradle pin attempts and a frankensteiner executed to perfection as Austin is in a seated position on the top turnbuckle. The crowd really gets into the match as it goes along and Austin’s support is noticeable for the first time. Austin gets Mero up for what appears to be a powerbomb but he instead tosses Mero over his shoulders and onto the ropes in a stun gun variation. That gets Austin a two count. Instead of messing around further, Austin hits the stunner and Mero sells the move in agony. 1-2-3! Austin wins!!! Having JR on the call makes the match feel extra special as you associate him with Austin’s career. Owen’s commentary is full of levity but also expertise. He’d have made a brilliant color analyst. No joke. This is a very good match to begin the PPV.
Meanwhile, the sentimental favorite amongst the fans anyway, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, delivers pre-match comments to handsome Dox Hendrix. Jake speaks in biblical proverbs to motivate himself. He has to defeat the 450-pound mastodon Vader to advance to the finals versus Austin.
Semi-Final Match in the King of the Ring Tournament:
Vader (w-James E. Cornette) vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Result/Analysis: Roberts via DQ (3:29). Vader shoves referee Mike Chioda down as Jake simultaneously goes for the DDT and Chioda disqualifies Vader. SMH. Jake advances to the KOR finals. The match is entirely Vader controlled with Jake unable to muster any offense. Jake winning clean wasn’t a possibility going in but him going over to face Austin was bound to happen. Vader is incensed at being disqualified so he ambushes Jake after the match with corner splashes and damages Jake’s ribs with a Vaderbomb to leave him laid out and assisted backstage by WWF personnel. Jake should be slim pickings for Stone Cold later on. Vader’s push needs a re-boot.
Dok Hendrix has Sunny and The Smoking Gunns pulled aside prior to their Tag-Team Titles defense against The Godwinns. Sunny is humiliated and weirded out by Cloudi, the new manager of The Bodydonnas, who’s a he dressed as a she to model Sunny. Turning to The Godwinns, Sunny says Phineas won’t be able to concentrate tonight given what she’s wearing (a brand new cowgirl outfit). Billy Gunn tries to back up Sunny’s displayed confidence but he trips all over his words. Well this match ought to suck! It would be a while before the WWF Tag-Team Titles had any legitimacy.
WWF Tag-Team Championship:
The Godwinns [Henry & Phineas] (w-Hillbilly Jim) vs. The Smoking Gunns [Billy & Bart] (c) (w-Sunny)
Result/Analysis: The Smoking Gunns via pinfall (10:12) when Billy pins Phineas. Seeing Billy and Bart as heels took getting used to. Bart was shitty in the ring and he wasn’t naturally a dick-head like Billy to pull it off. To that end, The Gunns are more aggressive as Owen astutely points out on commentary. Henry is face in peril for the bulk of the match leaving Phineas on the apron gawking at Sunny. Owen credits Henry for being the smarter Godwinn and calls Phineas an imbecile. Did I mention how great Owen is as an announcer? His snark analysis allows this heatless match able to be watched to its conclusion. Phineas eventually gets the hot tag. The crowd anticipates the end. Thank God. Billy and Phineas are legal but Bart and Henry make it a pier-six brawl. That only allows for referee confusion and a quick ending as Bart hits Phineas with his boot allowing Billy to get the pin. The Godwinns go all sore afterward as Owen points out their poor sportsmanship. A Sunny chant breaks out at ringside as The Gunns stagger away still the champs. Sunny flaunts the belts.
Rating: ** (mostly thanks to Owen)
Backstage, Dok Hendrix is with The British Bulldog, Diana, Cornette, and Clarence Mason. Cornette is busting with confidence that tonight Shawn Michaels’ first class ride as WWF Champion will end. After all, there won’t be any wishy washy referee this time. Mr. Perfect, tonight’s special referee, walks in to finish getting himself dressed. Yeah, Perfect seems like he’s on the up and up. With Diana gleeing looking on behind him, The Bulldog tells us he’s going to join the triple-header club tonight when he becomes the WWF Champion, reminding everyone he previously was an Intercontinental and Tag-Team Champion.
Jerry “The King” Lawler is introduced for his match with The Ultimate Warrior. King stops by the stage to inspect the throne, crown, robe and sceptor. He’s been there and done that. Ha! King insults the people of Milwaukee and calls them losers just like the Brewers, the city’s baseball team. He says the team’s name, Brewers, says it all. They’re drunk! The insults continue as King walks to the ring as he points out the fat guys who get soused up to then find entertainment seeing the farm animals. LOL. Even the kids take on the verbal abuse. Wow … that’s going low! An unkept, unattractive overweight blonde takes the brunt of another Lawler crack as he says she’s at least off the streets asserting the strip club is closed tonight. OMG. Yet, it gets better as two teenage girls are insulted for their facial appearance with King telling them it’s their kind that turn other men into people like Goldust. Unreal. Lawler finally makes it to the ring and says the crowd is full of pathetic losers who don’t deserve to see royalty and that they should all be down on their hands and knees kissing his royal feet. King finishes his tirade on The Warrior. He says Warrior has overstayed his welcome. King references the painting he made as a peace offering but which he framed on The Warrior after being insulted. King promises to hang his framed painting tonight (The Warrior in actuality) just like a Picasso Painting. HaHaHaHa! Cue The Warrior’s music!!!
Jerry “The King” Lawler vs. The Ultimate Warrior
Result/Analysis: The Ultimate Warrior via pinfall (3:51) following a flying shoulder tackle. No gorilla press slam. No flying body press. Warrior’s offense consists of three clotheslines and the flying shoulder tackle and that’s after he completely no-sells the piledriver, Lawler’s finishing move. The King uses every dirty trick in the book for three minutes to draw the ire of the crowd and control the match-up. He first uses the sceptor as a weapon and choking device. Next it’s the tape on his wrist he pulls off which is used for more choking. Of course Lawler uses an illegal foreign object from out of his tights, too. The King makes this match, though it’s nothing more than a side show. Warrior’s crowd reaction was meager in comparison to the old days. It’s sad Warrior was using the WWF for money and Vince was utilizing him as a ratings grab when he could no longer draw. Time filler match. The King’s long-winded pre-match dissing of the crowd provides the entertainment fix here.
Warrior celebrates with the fans but he’s got a check to cash and a plane to catch so it’s brief.
WWF President Gorilla Monsoon is with Dok Hendrix as Jake “The Snake” Roberts is getting his ribs taped. Gorilla says he’ll allow Jake to compete in the KOR finals because only Jake knows how badly he’s hurt, and with Jake being 41 years old, quite frankly, how many more chances is he going to have at a major accomplishment. Still, Gorilla says he’ll be watching closely and if he has to stop the match to protect Jake then he will. Owen gives Jake credit for wanting to wrestle but he calls him stupid given he’s 88 or 90 years old. Owen says this with a straight face. I loved that man!
Mankind vs. The Undertaker (w-Paul Bearer)
Result/Analysis: Mankind via submission (18:20) with the mandible claw after Bearer inadvertently, or so it seems, strikes The Undertaker with the urn. Mankind had accosted the urn to use on The Undertaker but Bearer wrestles it away from his clutches. The Undertaker goes to throw Mankind into the corner but Mankind reverses the exchange and Bearer hits The Undertaker squarely. Mankind applies the mandible claw and The Undertaker passes out. I call this a pre-Attitude Era match as the bending of the rules and the allowance of extra-curricular strategy is allowed, in alot of ways, for the first time. Mankind isn’t just a deranged or mentally disturbed individual here, but he’s more resemblant of a hyena tearing into his prey or the wounded animal that can’t be killed which squeals on repeat. The first-ever match between these two sets the tone for the countless battles to come. No one before Mankind had ever taken The Undertaker to the max and stayed on the attack as much. Despite the long, slow and tedious pace, Mick Foley, as Mankind, completely sells his gimmick in a big spot, and, after he toiled around fighting lackluster competition for 2+ years, save for a brief feud with Diesel prior to, The Undertaker finally met his equal in the ring in terms of ability, playing a character to perfection, and crafting a larger narrative beyond a match.
Dok Hendrix questions Mr. Perfect about officiating tonight’s WWF Title match. Michaels interrupts to give Perfect his two cents wanting the match called fair and square. Perfect says he’ll call the match right down the middle but questions Dok, once Michaels walks away, if Shawn seems nervous to him. Perfect says he’d be nervous facing The British Bulldog.
WWF Intercontinental Championship:
Goldust (c) (w-Marlena) vs. Ahmed Johnson
Result/Analysis: Johnson via pinfall (15:35) following the Pearl River Plunge. Ahmed wins the Inercontinental Championship on his very first try and at the height of his career popularity. Vince McMahon always had a great feel for when to capitalize on the stardom of his talent and this was the time to go with the hot guy. Ahmed would prove to be a flash in the pan over his career though Goldust being Goldust helps his cause here. The match resulted after Goldust on his own accord gave Ahmed mouth-to-mouth on RAW after Ahmed had been rendered unconscious from Owen Hart’s cast during a match with Vader. Ahmed went beserk afterward and Goldust continued his mind games and his proclivity for “chocolate” leading into the PPV. Ahmed attacks Goldust upon his introduction and Goldust is on the defensive for the first 2/3 minutes. Goldust uses the ring steps to ground Ahmed and take over. He uses wear down holds as the pace really stalls out after the frenzied start by Ahmed. Goldust plays mind games and more then once he fondles Ahmed as Owen is even put off by the histrionics yet he still sides with Goldust as the heel voice on commentary. Goldust works a sleeper hold and that puts Ahmed out cold on the mat. Goldust chooses against pinning Ahmed, however, instead deciding to rekindle his passions and again resuscitate him with mouth-to-mouth. After two lengthy go arounds, Ahmed comes alive and he snaps. Goldust takes a spinebuster. The crowd anticipates the title change. The Pearl River Plunge follows and Ahmed is legitimized as an upper-echelon babyface by capturing the IC Title. Goldust, meanwhile, would have a lesser role going forward as the character transformed for Dustin Rhodes.
In Your House 9: International Incident is the WWF’s July pay-per-view offering and a cheezy promo airs. Vancouver, British Columbia is the host city in Western Canada.
Ahmed celebrates his title victory in the good guys locker room. Michaels is there to hug Johnson.
The newly signed Brian Pillman hobbles to ringside on crutches as he still recovers from the automobile accident which nearly took his life. Pillman is in full character here as he turns to insult the fans as he makes his way over to JR for an interview. Prepare for The Loose Cannon and fasten your seat belts. Pillman asks JR how the family is doing but admits he doesn’t give a DAMN about his own family. Furthermore, he says, “And I think even less of this sewer of human waste that sits before me! It’s easy to see why Jeffrey Dahmer tried to consume this whole state from head-to-toe. Haha.” JR doesn’t think that’s funny. He asks Pillman how he thinks he’ll measure up to the level of competition that’s in the WWF. Pillman scoffs and calls JR a stupid SOB. Vince has to apologize. It’s a good thing most every RAW is taped I might add. Pillman goes off, as he continues, “What I’d like to know is how do you feel being one of the members of the wretched refuse sitting paralyzed with fear while Brian effin Pillman does, says, whatever he wants. (chuckle) We’re going to find out real soon if one of your so-called WWF SuperStars has the guts to stop me. HaHaHAHa. Now take a good look, I’m the brightest star that’s ever stepped foot on God’s green Earth. While you crown a new King of the Ring, the leader of a new revolution ascends to his throne. I’m gonna rape, pillage and plunder this entire Federation! HaHaHaHaHa.” Owen’s response to Vince … “There’s no doubt he’s a little demented. Vince answers, “Uh, Yes.” Vince chimed in during Pillman’s comments that he’s a time bomb if there ever was. The WWF truly did get “RAW” with the Pillman signing.
King of the Ring Tournament Finals:
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Result/Analysis: Austin via pinfall (4:38) following the Stone Cold Stunner. Jake’s legit injured ribs prevent him from putting up a fight or any resistance. Austin attacks Jake right away with a focused assault on the bandaged ribs. He’s relentless in his beating that Gorilla Monsoon comes out to stop the match on Jake’s behalf. Jake begs off and convinces Monsoon not to stop the match so Austin just inflicts further punishment before he ends the match with the Stone Cold Stunner to become King of the Ring for 1996. Austin resembles a total bad ass in the moment as his career arc would reach no limits beyond this night. Jake’s next feud, meanwhile, is with Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Dok Hendrix interviews Austin on the stage near the entrance where the throne, robe and crown is. Austin’s first decree as King is asking for that piece of crap (Roberts) to be removed from his ring … not just the ring, but out of the WWF! Austin says he proved without a shadow of a doubt Jake doesn’t have what it takes anymore. Austin mocks Jake’s recital of the biblical passage John 3:16 by saying, “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16, Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” Hello!!! “The Attitude Era” has begun! More importantly, the single greatest catchphrase in WWF/WWE history was just uttered for the first time. Stone Cold, as a heel, is instantly “OVER.” Austin finishes his victory speech saying he doesn’t give a damn about the other WWF SuperStars – – – their time will come – – – nor does he care about the Championship Match, for whether it’s Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, “Steve Austin’s time has come and when I get the shot, you’re looking at the next WWF Chanpion and that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so!”
*Special Outside Enforcer/Referee: Mr. Perfect*
“The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (w-Diana and James E. Cornette)
vs. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (c) (w-José Lothario)
Result/Analysis: Michaels via pinfall (26:25) following Sweet Chin Music. Davey Boy Smith brought it for this match as he often did when being in the Main Event. It’s his career second-best match next to SummerSlam ‘92 when he defeated Bret Hart at Wembley Stadium to win the Intercontinental Championship. Shawn was so phenomenal at this point that anybody he was wrestling he could elevate to their next level to match his. Admittedly in June 1996, being 15 years old going on 16, I had much on my mind and I was absent from the WWF scene particularly. I’d seen this match just once previously and only recalled Michaels winning to retain the title. The match begins with at least a minimum of 30 minutes left. Thus, the initial pace is slow as Michaels counters every move Bulldog tries and the side headlock is settled upon to kill clock. I sense an Iron Man feel. Owen is pro-Bulldog on commentary and he doesn’t try to hide it. Superb. Shawn electrifies his Kliq by diving at Bulldog off the apron before he poaches Cornette of his tennis raquet and gives him a good ole spanking. Owen is beside himself. Back inside, Bulldog uses his power and weight to gain leverage but Michaels loosens another side headlock and counters with a cross armbreaker. Nice. Shawn works in a sleeper but Bulldog powers free. Shawn hits a flying double axehandle but Bulldog wins the next exchange catching him with a press slam that ends with Michaels dropped outside the ring. Shawn looks dead! Perfect keeps Lothario at bay as the old codger shows concern. Bulldog stays on the attack and suplexes Shawn on the mat. He press slams Michaels back inside as Owen touts Shawn as a gutless coward that intended to get himself counted out so he can retain the title. Bulldog gets a two count, followed by other near falls that Owen thinks should be three counts off a backdrop and legdrop. Vince touts Michaels resiliency and credits The Kliq for giving him added strength. Owen says that talk is nonsensical and untrue as true winners win matches based on their ability alone. By God, Owen is good. He could have retired, lived more importantly and become even greater than Jesse “The Body” Ventura or Bobby “The Brain” Heenan as an announcer should he wanted to. Anyway … Bulldog stays on Michaels with a clothesline and chinlock. Both guys are sweating profusely as the match builds. Shawn does a nice crucifix into a pin for a two count but Bulldog regroups and clotheslines Shawn into a 360 twirl. Again, Shawn is dead. Bulldog adds a piledriver but neglects a pin. Instead he goes up top for a high-risk maneuveur which is a diving headbutt that he misses connecting with Shawn on. Owen points out Bulldog slipped, naturally. Better yet, since no one else saw it, Owen speculates and accuses Lothario of pulling the ropes down. Ha! Bulldog is still in better condition so he catches Shawn scaling the top turnbuckle allowing to execute a superplex which lands Michaels halfway across the ring! Bulldog tries for another but Michaels this time counters into a body press, which results in a two count. The end is near as the pace quickens. Michaels tries a hurricanrana but Bulldog counters with a sit-out powerbomb. Somehow that only nets two for Davey Boy. I should add that Diana’s facial expressions throughout are just classic. She played the part of the concerned wife/cheerleader and someone that felt what she was watching was real-life. Earl Hebner gets bumped as Bulldog slams Michaels and you think Perfect will have to take over. That’s only teased, though, as Michaels does a kip up with both he and Bulldog grounded. Flying elbow drop. Sweet Chin Music! Earl Hebner counts, Mr. Perfect does, too. 1-2 (Owen pulls Perfect out?) and 3! Great match!
Owen and Bulldog fight with Michaels post-match and get him down to where Ahmed Johnson runs in to aid Shawn. Vader arrives next as Camp Cornette has a 3-on-2. Vader goes to attempt a moonsault on Shawn in the corner but out comes The Ultimate Warrior to clean house! Shawn, Ahmed and Warrior stand tall as Camp Cornette flees with Vince announcing to the PPV audience the six men will compete in the Main Event next month for In Your House: International Incident in a six-man tag-team match. The match construction here is excellent. Bulldog equaled Shawn’s brilliance for one night. What results is a forgotten classic, a match seemingly lost in the consciousness of time and betwixt major events happening in WCW. Seeing the match again, however, I won’t let leave my wrestling brain. Having Michaels as the top dog, the one to carry the flagship, despite his own personal troubles, was the one advantage the WWF still had. That Stone Cold fellow … yeah, he’s about to change the landscape, too. WCW had the eyeballs but the WWF had the hang time as 1996 in the short-term proved. Work rate always trumps angles.
The Verdict: Austin 3:16. Brian Effin Pillman. A classic WWF Championship Match! Owen Hart a Slammy Award-winning commentator on his first night. Mankind and The Undertaker getting acquainted in their first-ever match. Old-School Jerry Lawler running down the peasants. A NEW Intercontinental Champion. Work rate, work rate, work rate!!! Such little garbage can be found on this PPV. The Federation may have fallen to #2 in the TV ratings war on Monday Night’s but KOR 1996 is a show to come back to over-and-over-and-over again! Check it out.