No one will dispute the fact that the Attitude Era was a wonderful time for wrestling. Not only did it rocket it back into the mainstream, but for a wrestling fan, it was the most exciting time to watch a bunch of grown men beat each other up for our entertainment. What people do dispute, however, is when the Attitude Era began. The WWF Attitude logo appeared at the 1997 Survivor Series – the same PPV that had the infamous Montreal Screwjob – but WrestleMania XIV is also cited as the beginning of the era with the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. If we keep going, we can imagine that Goldust’s introduction, the use of Sable’s sex appeal, gore within matches and use of profanity through the mid-nineties could be the starting point of the era.
However, the “passing of the baton” as it were happened twenty years ago today on June 23rd 1996 with the fourth King of the Ring tournament. Over the next four weeks, I will review this important PPV from the perspectives of a fan looking back at it after two decades as well as my original thoughts as a teenager watching it at the time.
WWF King of the Ring 1996
To Battle is Honor… to Win is HELL.
That tagline makes no God damned sense, which is probably where the New Generation of the WWF is leeching into the Attitude Era somewhat. I mean, they tried to be edgy but Christ Jesus they did not do a good job. Are we to believe that winning is worse than losing? Then why take part? Why not just lose the payday? Wrestling is so confusing.
(Note: Before the PPV began, there was a 30-minute show called Free-For-All, which was the nineties equivalent of the Preshow, full of promos and summaries of recent TV matches. There was an exclusive match on Free-For-All which featured The Bodydonnas (Skip AKA Chris Candito and Zip) w/Kloudi def. The New Rockers (Leif Cassidy AKA Al Snow and Marty Jannetty) in a tag team match. It was forgettable. There was an equally forgettable dark match featuring a young upstart named Hunter Hearst Helmsley def. Aldo Montoya AKA Rat-Faced Knacker Justin Credible in a measly three minutes, which is cheap, even for a dark match.)
We’re treated to a promo clip show that looks like it’s been cobbled together in a dingy basement. It’s all flashes and filters and typewriter font. Remember that time when the level of the hipness of something was dictated by how much like a typewriter the font resembled? Well we’re deep into that territory tonight, people. The red WWF logo is followed by The Ultimate Warrior startling Jerry “The King” Lawler so much that the King hits him with a painting. We see Wildman Marc Mero do a bunch of hurricanranas on lads. Stone Cold looks middle distance. Vader jumps at Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who replies by holding Damien over his head and smiling. Mankind destroys a perfectly good coffin and the Undertaker looks mighty annoyed by that. Which is fair enough, like. Good coffins are hard to come by, and they’re Taker’s bread and butter, surely. They’re not cheap. In a stunning juxtaposition, we see the Godwinns do a jig with each other just before their former valet, Sunny, gets a good old kiss from Bodacious Bart Gunn. She then shows off her cleavage because it’s the Attitude Era, almost. To remind us of that, we have Goldust giving Ahmed Johnston the kiss of life and the man goes ballistic and smashes down a door because no matter how edgy this may be, it is still the nineties. Then, finally we see Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog punch the face off each other whilst Mr. Perfect looks on like the Adonis he is.
We are ready to start in the MECCA Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 8,762 attended. Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart arrives with a booboo on his wrist, storming clean past Jumping Jim Ross and Pre-Mr McMahon Vince. All three are in tuxedos and looking snazzy as fuck. Even JR, despite the fact that he does not wear a tie, like an Amish man. The entryway is manned by two court jester-styled gentlemen and out walks our first participant…
King of the Ring Semi-final: Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Wildman Marc Mero w/ Sable via pinfall in 16:49
Stone Cold Steve Austin is rocking the moustache/soul patch combo in this match. He clearly saw Wildman Marc Mero’s mental horseshoe of a lip-warmer and thought, “I ain’t gone let no damn son-of-a-bitch beat me in no God-damned facial hair game.” It will be a while before his beard will grow to the iconic Stone Cold goatee that we are used to. But this is not a blog post on Stone Cold’s wonderful face. Bit of a promo showing how much of a dick Stone Cold has been over the last few weeks. He Tazzmissions and Stunners people left and right because he simply does not care. He gives off to the referee for a while. Out comes Wildman Marc Mero and his mental wife Sable before she went off to marry an infinitely inferior but much more popular man in Brock Lesnar. Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart talks about his hand for a while and the two greasiest men in Christendom start to wrassle.
The match isn’t bad at all, a lot of near falls at the start and Stone Cold really sells his heel gimmick by glaring at Wildman any time he gets some offence in. Sable is trying to keep Mero in the match by hammering on the ring mat but she can’t keep time at all. Mero goes for the flying head scissors and Stone Cold stands outside forever, looking in at him. Stone Cold gets back in and we have rest holds to show off Marc Mero’s wonderful Solid Snake mullet. More rest holds. Sable keeps horrible time outside like some demented jazz singer. Irish Referee Tim White looks on as Stone Cold goes for the Lou Thesz Press and jumps too high, so just stomps a mudhole in Mero before going for the throat and shouting at the crowd. Great bump when Stone Cold rolls out of the ring and calls for a time out from the ref!
Test of strength from the cowardly hell Austin as he goes for the gut and holds Mero’s knuckles to ransom. A fan gently caresses Marc Mero as he lies outside. Stone Cold wastes no time removing the mats from outside the ring to expose the concrete before Bowl Cut Kid himself leans over the barrier and shouts at the camera. Mero takes a bump on the concrete and Stone Cold hits a brutal suplex in the ring. Stone Cold goes for Mero’s neck for a while like the bastard he is. Rakes Mero’s eyes on the ropes, Irish whips him from corner to corner. Sable prays to whatever God she believes in but none answer her. Dodgy ribbreaker from Stone Cold followed by a Boston crab. Stone Cold walks about for a while, keeping Mero from the ropes but the Wildman reverses it. Rollup to Irish whip and Stone Cold is back in control.
Another Boston crab and the two men have a wee breather while Sable hits the ring in some horrible 3/4 timing. Some nice near-fall reversals for a while and Stone Cold gets wrapped in a sleeper hold, reverse to a stunner. Wildman gives Stone Cold an ass-bump from the turnbuckle, a brutal missile dropkick that busts Stone Cold open legit. Then there’s a double axehandle smash followed by two dives over the rope from Marc Mero. Another drop kick and Stone Cold is bleeding bad when Mero gives him a hurricanrana off the top rope like a total psycho. Potential botched powerbomb before Stone Cold gets angry and stunners the Wildman for the pin in 16:49.
Looking back after 20 years, this is still a decent match. Stone Cold is not amazing and it really is a Wildman match. He shows off all his moves and really comes over as a babyface in this match. The fact that Stone Cold survives all the offense and walks away with a bust mouth makes him look like a hero. Good match, good start.
I actually did not watch KotR 96 until about 1998 because my family could not afford the channels that had wrestling and I could only see them by stealing VHS tapes from my friends. Back then, though, I remember being disappointed by the little blood, little boobs and this weird guy named Marc Mero. He didn’t exist two years later, funnily enough, and I could not really understand why. He seemed amazing with his flips and mental hair. Really, my biggest disappointment was the lack of Stone Cold glass smashing music.
We have Dok Hendrix AKA Fabulous Freebird Michael Hayes interviewing Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Jake cuts a promo praising Jesus, who is the Christ.
Straight-up shoot fact: Stone Cold had been given a big smack in the mouth by Marvellous Marc Mero during the match and was driven straight to the emergency room after the match, sewn up and driven back to the arena for the King of the Ring final. Remember this. It is important later.
King of the Ring Semi-Final: Jake “The Snake” Roberts def. Vader w/ Jim Cornette via disqualification in 3:34
Big Van Vader, otherwise known as the man who ruined Mick Foley’s ear, is a towering beast of a man. Apparently, he’s a big softie in real life but that does not take away from the fact that the man is huge. At six-foot-five and 450 lbs, the man is a “mastodon” according to Vince. Owen rips on Jake Roberts, calling him 51 years old (changing it to 61 later), older than Robert’s real age of 41. Vince references the drug and alcohol problems old Jake has been open about recently. Jake, on his way to the ring, flings Revelations, his God-damned albino Burmese Python, towards Vader and Jim Cornette. Corny has a tennis racket for some reason. It’s all very strange.
Owen keeps talking about how old Jake Roberts is and Vince talks over him. Fuck Vince, even back before he became Mr. McMahon. Vader controls Jake until one single kick to the face turns the tide. Roberts calls for the DDT and is overpowered. Vader batters Roberts left and right. Roberts dodges a punch and hits Vader with a clothesline which barely fazes the monster. Roberts goes for the DDT and Vader, in the fall, pushes the referee and the ref disqualifies him! Whole match lasts 3:34. Vader beats the crap out of Roberts as Corny keeps the ref in the corner. Vader hits the Vader Bomb, the bell keeps being rung and the ref calls for more officials. Corny comes to his senses and holds Vader back. There’s a pushing match in the middle as Jake is brought backstage to advance into the final of the King of the Ring tournament with our man Stone Cold.
In a Coliseum Home Video Exclusive, it shows Vader crying like a child and bullying Corny, who seems to be in some sort of abusive relationship with Big Van. How odd.
I love Vader, I love Corny and I love Jake Roberts, so this shit was amazing. Yes, the match was nonsense and seemed to be called on the fly, but I loved the pantomime of it. That said, it wasn’t a great match at all and I didn’t really understand the point of it. Who was going over here? Were we supposed to hate Vader and love Roberts? Because no one goes over. Vader looks like a big baby and Roberts looks old and weak. The win by DQ is a great way to get a villainous heel over but it looked like a genuine mistake (and the only time a ref has ever stopped a match because they were hit, in my memory).
Had Vader gone for a choke in the corner and the ref had tried to stop him, Vader had pushed him and the ref went flying, then Vader would have looked like a machine. That man can push a ref so hard, he springboards about the ring? What a champ! If Roberts had hit the DDT then and officials had entered the ring to check on his damaged neck whilst Vader rose to his feet in the background (he pushed a ref like a ragdoll and shrugged off a DDT? This man is a monster!) then Vader hit the Vader Bomb, both would have gone over. This was just sloppy.
I hated Vader back in the day because he was the reason Foley lost an ear. I didn’t know who Corny was and Roberts was not a great watch.
On The Card will return on June 30th, 2016 for Part 2 of King of the Ring 1996.