Thursday, 15 September 2016

PPV REVIEW: WWF KING OF THE RING 1996

June 23, 1996
MECCA Arena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When I first sat down to write this WWF King of the Ring '96 review, I did so with an introduction which stated that -at the time- this particular pay per view didn't seem like it was going to be all that big of a deal. 

I wrote this for the simple fact that -being 12 at the time- that's exactly how I remembered it. OK, so we all know that this one event would mark the very beginning of a new era for the World Wrestling Federation and serve as the launching pad for one of pro wrestling's most successful characters ever, but I couldn't quite remember the show being hyped by the WWF as being anything particularly ground-breaking.

Then, tonight's opening video package kicked in, and boy was I ever wrong.

A usually stellar video production, this one didn't just claim that WWF king of the Ring 1996 was going to be a great show, it promised to be 'The Greatest Card EVER in the History of The World Wrestling Federation King of the Ring.'

Given that the previous years' event featured far too many Savio Vega matches (and was ultimately won by King Mabel), it wouldn't take much to live up to such hype and -for the most part- this mid-summer event delivered.


Let's cut the intro here and get down to the arena for tonight's review.

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 -  Owen Hart was commentator for the evening with Jim Ross and Vince McMahon Owen Hart is Your Guest Commentator

For seemingly no other reason the 'King of the Ring' being his gimmick (and having nothing else to do on the show), Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart joined Jim Ross and Vince McMahon, making up our three-man commentary team for the evening. Not too surprisingly, the King of Harts did an above-average job on commentary and, for this writer's money, could have easily made the transition to the announce table had his in-ring career ended in less than tragic circumstances.

As 'Wildman' Marc Mero made his way to the ring, Owen claimed he had been cheated out of a spot in this year's event by Mero in their recent qualifying clash on WWF Superstars.

WWF King of the Ring Semi Final
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Wildman Marc Mero (w/ Sable)

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 -  Marc Mero and Sable head to the ring
For the second pay per view in a row, Marc Mero was involved in a really good match with one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era. OK, so his promos were largely awful and nonsensical, but give he man credit where it's due; when you put Mero in the ring during this period, he usually did his job well.

Even still, it was fairly obvious even then that this wasn't really about The Wildman at all, but rather about 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin who at this stage of the game was still shedding the final layers of his 'Ringmaster' gimmick and morphing into the bad ass sumbitch fans would cheer on in their millions in the years to come.

Sure, he had the bald head, the swagger, and the don't-give-a-damn attitude, but he also had that eiry, here-comes-the-doom, synth-heavy ring music and hadn't quite perfected his Stone Cold Stunner. Yet none of that really mattered tonight.

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Steve Austin got a bust lip in his match with Marc MeroWhat mattered was that Austin battered, brawled and wrestled (as in actually wrestled) through a very good opening match, picking up the victory on what would prove to be a career-changing night for the former Hollywood Blonde.
Your Winner: Stone cold Steve Austin (Advances to the 1996 King of the Ring Final)

Backstage, Doc Hendrix interviewed Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, who first insisted that he couldn't possibly lose with God on his side, then changed tune and said that only 'if' he got by his upcoming opponent, Vader, would he get to face Steve Austin in the final.

WWF King of the Ring Semi Final
Vader (w/ Jim Cornette) vs. Jake 'The Snake' Roberts

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Jake 'The Snake' Roberts interviewed by Doc Hendrix
The big story here was that this was Jake's last chance at securing glory in the World Wrestling Federation after all, at 41 years-old, he wouldn't likely have too many chances left because 41, you see, was apparently very old.

Trust me, if McMahon and Ross mentioned that Roberts was 41 once, they mentioned a hundred times. What they never mentioned, not once, was that his opponent tonight -Vader- was (is) exactly the same age. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, Vader may even be a few months older.

Age aside, the two veterans went at it in a slow, largely forgettable and rather uninteresting contest which ended with the kind of finish that today would send Internet messageboard commentators into a flurry of rage.

After absorbing a whole bunch of punishment, Roberts (he's 41, remember) fought back and went for the famous DDT, only for Vader to pull on the referee's shirt and ultimately get himself disqualified.

Either way, Roberts won, and was through to the final.
Your Winner via DQ: Jake 'The Snake' Roberts (Advances to the 1996 King of the Ring Final)


WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Vader injured Jake Roberts in their King of the Ring match
Not that Roberts looked like much of a winner. Afterwards, 41 year-old Vader launched into a full on assault of 41 year-old Roberts, dragging him into the corner and destroying his mid-section. By the time he was done, a big question mark hung over tonight's WWF King of the Ring final: Would Roberts be able to make it to his match with Austin? Or would the damage done by the big man render him unable to compete?

Only time would tell.


Colliseum Home Video Exclusive: Vader is Angry


"I can't believe they would do something like this to Vader!" yelled Cornette before the big man grabbed hold of him and continually yelled "I'm the King of the Ring!" like a spoiled child who coudln't face coming in second at a school sport's day.

Backstage Sunny -flanked by WWF Tag Team Champions The Smoking Gunns- complained to Doc Hendrix about The Body Donnas new manager, Kloudi. Having finally composed herself, the Slammy Award winning manager guaranteed a win for her boys against tag team championship challengers, The Godwins.

World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Championship Match
WWF Team Champions The Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart Gunn w/ Sunny) vs. The Godwins (Phineas I. & Henry O. Godwin w/ Hillbilly Jim)

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Sunny led the Smoking Gunns to victory against The Godwins
As Billy, Bart, and Sunny made their way to the ring, JR expressed his utter disgust at the champions for snubbing a couple of young Smoking Gunns fans in the hotel lobby.

'They [the fans] had their foam hats on and everything,' declared Ross, showing us just how dispicible the champs had become since siding with Sunny.

To their credit, Billy and Bart were actually pretty good in the heel role. Despite never being a truly remarkable mouthpiece for the team, Billy did seem much more comfortable playing a dastardly baddie, especially when he took to the microphone to announce that he had made Sunny feel like Phineas never could. This, naturally raised the ire of the challenger, who raced forward, only to be clocked from behind by Bart.

It's at this point that I would say the match was officially on, but within the space of a minute, we were distracted by a split-screen interview with Kloudie (one of Chris Candido's mates in full drag). Kloudie said nothing of note, other than the fact that she could fill out one of Sunny's old Body Donnas outfits better than Sunny herself ever could.

With that out of the way, we were free to focus on the match itself which was -for all intents and purposes- actually pretty decent.

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Split Screen interview with Body Donnas manager Kloudi
Sure, mid-90s WWf standards weren't exactly high to begin with, but as a standard, textbook tag team match, this one was more than respectable, and much credit for that has to go to The Godwins.

With the passage of time, it's easy to look back and think of Henry O. and Phineas I. as little else than just another example of the terrible gimmicks which were so prevalent during this period. Indeed, as a fan at the time, I seem to recall they were basically dismissed as such back in 1996, too.

Yet having watched several of their pay per view bouts recently, I'm inspired to say that -as a pair of pro wrestlers- The Godwins were rather overlooked.

Sure, they weren't going to go hold-for-hold with Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart (or even Austin, when he could still wrestle circles around everyone), but that wasn't what they were there for in the first place. What they were there for, was to entertain the younger members of the audience whilst at the same time posing a serious threat to the titles when the occasion -such as it did now- called for it.

To that end, both men did their jobs well both here, and throughout their WWF tenure. sadly however, merely being good at your job wasn't enough for Henry and Phineas to walk away with the gold on this night. Instead, Bart took off his boot, leveled Phineas in the back of the head with it, and covered him for the three count.
Your Winners and Still WWF Tag Team Champions: The Smoking Gunns 

To the delight of the crowd, the challengers gained some modicum of revenge in the post-match by beating up on the champs and sending them hightailing to the backstage area.


Doc Hendrix interviews Camp Cornette

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Doc Hendrix interviewed Jim Cornette and Davey Boy Smith
Backstage, Doc Hendrix got a word with Jim Cornette and The British Bulldog. As Clarence Mason and Dianna Hart-Smith stood by, Cornette insisted that nothing could stop his client from defeating Shawn Michaels tonight. As Cornette rambled on, tonight's special-guest referee - Mr. Perfect - wandered into the dressing room.

"What? You think Mr. Perfect is going to change in Shawn Michaels locker room?" asked the Bulldog. "He might get his wallet stolen!"

For reasons unexplainable, that was hilarious.

Not content to leave it there, Davey Boy reminded us all that he'd been both the WWF Intercontinental Champion and one-half of the WWF Tag Team Champions, and was now about to join the WWF 'Triple-Header' club. Always the most eloquent of promo men, The Bulldog wrapped up his pre-match comments by saying that he would beat HBK "In less than a few short hours away." 

Indeed.

Jerry 'The King' Lawler vs. The Ultimate Warrior

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Ultimate Warrior faced Jerry Lawler
Much like The Godwins, The Ultimate Warrior had a specific job to do during his short-lived 1996 run with the WWF. Unlike The Godwins, that job was to deliver the spectacle and excitement of the trademark 'Warrior entrance and post-match celebration.

For some strange reason, those in charge at the time believed that the best way for Warrior to do this was to engage in a series of short squash matches and stupid comedy bouts. First came the debut against Hunter Hearst Helmsley at Wrestlemania 12, then that awful non-match against Goldust at In Your House: Beware of Dog, and now this; a nothing-match against Jerry Lawler which served as little more than a respite from the more serious competition.

That being said, both men played the roles they were handed to nigh on perfection here.

Lawler was in a league of his own has he first grabbed a scepter from the King of the Ring coronation area, then proceeded to berate, humiliate, insult and verbally abuse the live audience, getting them so riled up that they couldn't have been more eager to see The Ultimate Warrior charge to the ring and kick The King's royal ass.

Sadly for Warrior, and the fans, that didn't happen. At least not at first.

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Ultimate Warrior races to the ring to face Jerry Lawler
Instead, Jerry interrupted Warrior's rope-shaking shenanigans by choking him with the scepter, then proceeded to beat him from pillar to post. At one point, as Warrior was being choked out in the corner, this reviewer was struck with an odd sense of nostalgia, remembering how this was the very same man that headlined multiple pay per views just a few years earlier (including that epic clash with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania) and had been the WWF Champion.

Eventually *that* version of the Ultimate Warrior did surface, no-selling one of Lawler's patented piledrivers before clocking him senseless with a series of clotheslines and the famous warrior Splash for the three count.
Your winner: The Ultimate warrior

Backstage, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts was shown getting bandaged up by a medical professional whilst Doc Hendrix asked World Wrestling Federation President, Gorilla Monsoon, whether Roberts was in fit enough condition to compete.

'I don't know [and] the doctor doesn't have X-Ray glasses, so he doesn't know!' Monsoon yelled in response, which makes me wonder what the hell kind of medical staff they were hiring back then.

Anyway, X-ray specs or nay, Monsoon declared that he was going to allow Jake to compete because he might not have many chances left. After all, he was 41 years-old, and apparently that was practically ancient.

Mankind vs. The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer)

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Mankind and  Undertaker had a great match
If I ever get round to writing a list of my favourite WWF pay per view matches from the mid-1990s, this one will surely be up there.

The first of several awesome bouts these two would have over the next few years was utterly captivating.

After years of dreadful Undertaker pay per view matches (his 1995 year-long feud against the Million Dollar Corporation still gives me nightmares), this violent, well-paced match was incredibly refreshing.

It wasn't just The Undertaker who looked good here. In his first WWF PPV match, Mankind was particularly impressive, and certainl proved why he was well deserving of the main event run he would enjoy a few short years down the line.

Speaking of Mankind, it was the basement-dwelling alter-ego of Mick Foley who picked up the win here. After dominating the bulk of the contest, Mankind took 'Taker to the corner, where Paul Bearer was waiting on the apron. It looked as though Bearer was trying to attack Foley but accidentally struck The
WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Mankind Dives into a Chair held by Undertaker
Phenom instead. With hindsight, I don't wonder now if this was an incredibly subtle way of beginning the Paul Bearer heel turn, especially with Owen Hart speculating on that very same thing at the end of the match.

Either way, Bearer drilled his own man with the urn, allowing Mankind to pin synch in the mandible claw for the win.
Your Winner: Mankind

Backstage, Doc Hendrix asked Mr. Perfect why he'd changed in the Camp Cornette locker room.

"What, you're watching where I'm getting dressed now, Doc?" asked Perfect in response.

At that point, World Wrestling Federation Champion, Shawn Michaels arrived on the scene, threatening Perfect with some kind of trouble if tonight's special guest referee didn't call things down the middle. After HBK left, perfect promised that he would indeed be fair and impartial.

World Wrestling Federation Intercontinental Championship match
WWF Intercontinental Champion Goldust (w/ Marlena) vs. Ahmed Johnson

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Goldust lost the Intercontinental Title to Ahmed Johnson
With Goldust's Intercontinental championship victory over Razor Ramon at the 1996 Royal Rumble feeling like a whole other lifetime ago, The Bizarre one put the title on the line against the latest WWF sensation, Ahmed Johnson.

Though exciting in the early going, with Ahmed taking out his promised revenge against Goldust (Goldie had -for all intents and purposes- sexually abused Johnson on several occasions) in a frenzied attack, it did get really boring really quickly once the champ took over with a series of prolonged headlocks.

Unfortunately, that all but killed the match, right up until Johnson regained control, hit the Pearl River Plunge, and ended what had otherwise been a long, tedious match.
Your Winner and New Intercontinental Champion: Ahmed Johnson

Backstage, in a Colliseum Home Video Exclusive, we saw new champion Johnson being congratulated by The Godwins, Savio Vega and, of all people, The Bushwackers. Shawn Michaels turned up for a hug, and with that, it was back to ring side.

The Loose Cannon is Here

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Brian Pillman cut a cryptic, bizzare promo
Up next, Brian Pillman arrived on the scene for an interview with Jim Ross. Ross asked Brian how he thought he'd stack up against the current WWF superstars, to which Pillman responded by calling Jr a 'son of a bitch' at a time when such words were akin to dropping an F-Bomb on today's programming.

Pillman then went off on a cryptic spiel talking about he would 'rape, pillage, and plunder' the entire World Wrestling Federation, and cause some sort of revolution.

As Pillman began making his way backstage, Austin arrived on the scene. In a surreal moment, The two former Hollywood Blondes partners had a stare down in the ilse, though Austin was far too concerned with his upcoming bout to give Pillman much time.

King of the Ring Finals:
Stone cold Steve Austin vs. Jake 'The Snake' Roberts

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Former partners Brian Pillman and Steve Austin had a showdown
According to all reports, this was originally planned to be a straight-forward, evenly paced, back and forth match between Roberts and Austin. That was until the former was genuinely injured in his earlier match against Vader, prompting a change in script which led us to this: The courageous, past-his-prime veteran valiantly going for one last shot at glory against the take-no-prisoners upstart with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

For what it was, it made for a highly emotionally charged match. Roberts absorbed a great deal of punishment before Monsoon arrived and asked the 41 year-old (remember, he's 41 folks) whether he wanted to give up. He didn't, and made a short comeback, only to fall victim to Austin, and finally be put out of his misery thanks to the Stone Cold stunner.
Your Winner and 1996 King of the Ring: stone Cold Steve Austin 

Of course, it was nothing Austin did between the ropes that made his performance tonight legendary. That would happen next, as he took to the coronation area, and let rip with the one single promo that would ultimately change everything.




'The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don't just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I've proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain't got what it takes anymore! 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!.
' All he's gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime.
'As the King Of The Ring, I'm serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don't give a damn what they are, they're all on the list, and that's Stone Cold's list, and I'm fixing to start running through all of 'em.'

At this point, Austin could apparently hear McMahon trying to wrap up the segment via the PA system, and uttered a very audible, 'piss off,' before continuing his promo.

'And as far as this championship match is considered son, I don't give a damn if it's Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin's time is come, and when I get that shot you're looking at the next WWF Champion, and that's the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.'

World Wrestling Federation Championship match
World Wrestling Federation Champion Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) vs. The British Bulldog (w/ Jim Cornette, and Dianna Smith)
Special Guest Referee: Mr. Perfect

As Perfect made his way to the ring, we were once again reminded of the dodgy outcome of last month's In Your House: Beware of Dog.

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - British Bulldog challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWF Title
That was followed by the entrance of both champ and challenger, and finally of Gorilla Monsoon, who, in a classic example of bait-and-switch announced that Perfect was now only going to be an outside official, with Earl Hebner calling the shots between the ropes.

As for the match itself, it was -as you may expect- good fun, and gave the earlier Undertaker/Mankind clash a run for match of the night honours.

Personally, I preferred the first installment of Michaels/Bulldog, but that's to take nothing away from what was basically a very fine effort, albeit one with a weird ending.

Following a big ref bump, Perfect took to the ring, just in time for HBK to hit the Sweet Chin Music and make the cover. Perfect started the count, Hebner recovered and started his own count, and then Owen hart - Inexplicably - yanked Perfect (the ref it had been strongly hinted at was on Camp Cornette's side) out of the ring.

Why he did that was never quite explained, and as far as I know, remains a mystery to this day. Either way, a three count was made, and Michaels retained his title.
Your Winner and Still WWF Champion: Shawn Michaels

WWF / WWE - King of the Ring 96 - Ultimate Warrior, HBK, Ahmed Johnson celebrating after the show
Afterwards, Owen attacked HBK, only for Ahmed Johnson to rush in and make the save. He was promptly followed by vader, and lastly by Ultimate Warrior for a three versus three showdown. Naturally, the good guys cleaned house just as Vince McMahon informed us that Gorilla Monsoon had announced next month's In Your House: International Incident main event - Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson, Ultimate Warrior vs. Vader, Owen Hart, and British Bulldog.

Finally, we ended with another Coliseum Home Video Exclusive interview with Camp Cornette. This time, Jimmy insisted that the whole thing had been a conspiracy, Bulldog insisted he was still a better man than Shawn Michaels, and Owen Hart - hilariously- declared 'we've got a great cast here,' whilst holding up the gimmicked cast on his hand which he wore for much of 1996 for absolutely no reason.

And that folks, was all she wrote.

On the whole, I have to say i really enjoyed that show, the opening Austin/Mero match was highly entertaining, Undertaker/Mankind and Bulldog/Michaels were equally excellent, and only the Intercontinental Championship match between Goldust and Johnson proved to be anything less than decent. That said, King of the Ring 1996 is twenty years old this year, and nobody really remembers any of the matches. What they do remember however, is *that* promo, that immortal, legendary promo which served as the catalyst for the huge changes that would sweep through the World Wrestling Federation for the next several years. All that, my friends, is still to come. 

Until then, thanks for reading, and I'll see you again soon for my International Incident review.

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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.