Back again with #2 of 12....
Introduction To In Your House 6
Coming off the Royal Rumble, the WWF had two main goals: get the plotlines to where they had to be for Wrestlemania, and put together a reasonably attractive lineup for this show. The obvious match up on top was Diesel vs. Bret Hart, off the strength of Diesel's claim as the former champion to be the #1 contender, now that Undertaker's bid had fallen short the previous month. This match up had been done to death at this point however (this was their fourth and final PPV match in the WWF), so they were given the cage stipulation in order to draw. Below that on the card, the WWF had to figure out what to do with Shawn Michaels; it was crucial that he look strong going into his planned title victory at Wrestlemania, but on the other hand he couldn't be put over a top guy, since such a move would reduce his pool of opponents as champion with whom he could later draw. They needed someone who had some sort of name and who Michaels could beat, but who wasn't considered a top guy; Razor Ramon would have seemed a natural for this position, based on his history with Michaels, but sadly Ramon was occupied at the time finishing off his own lengthy program with the 1-2-3 Kid. The person chosen then was Owen Hart, based on his plotline of having been the one who "injured" Michaels a few months back with an enzuigiri in the famous quasi-worked shoot incident from Raw, to give him some time off for whatever; I think it was a knee injury or something that time, though I'm really guessing on that one. The stipulation for this match was everybody's February favorite, as Michaels put up his guaranteed title shot at Wrestlemania in exchange for a match with the King of Harts. Trivia note: this was the last IYH to be simply numbered, instead of getting it's own little subtitle. Here we go....
Free For All
A collection of promos and videos focusing on the friction between Diesel and Taker and Shawn and Owen, Vader's issues with authority and Gorilla Monsoon, and a horrible match between Jake Roberts and Tatanka (on his way out- I believe this was his last PPV appearance, if this counts). Guess which top guy didn't have a coherent program? And people wonder why Bret went off to pout after 'Mania. Fast forward all the way.
Match #1: Razor Ramon vs. 1-2-3 Kid (w/ Ted Dibiase)
This is the quasi-infamous "crybaby match", a wrestlecrap special, in which the loser was to be diapered and powdered. I have no logical explanation for why anyone thought this was a good idea, other then perhaps it's a relic of when the WWF was still trying to appeal to kids, instead of kidz. Kid and Razor had been feuding for quite a while, based on Kid, a former Razor protégé of sorts, turning his back on Mr. Toothpick to join Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Corporation. Given that both were leaving, I suppose the WWF braintrust decided they might as well blow this thing off at some point, and move both guys on to a month or two of jobbing on their way out. Kid commences hostilities by hitting Ramon in the head with a stuffed animal, and Razor responds with the ritualistic toothpick chucking. What an...odd...sequence. They exchange slaps and Razor gets the headlock, off the ropes, duck under, big shoulderblock from Ramon. Right hands and a lariat dump the Kid over the top, and he conferences with Dibiase. Kid comes back in with a springboard lariat for two, and hits his kick combo in the corner. He keeps on top of Ramon with a pseudo-martial arts striking sequence, as Lawler makes jokes about how ugly Ramon was as a child. Kid's strikes in the corner are reversed, however, and Razor strikes back with hard chops and a huge hiplock out of the corner. He whips him back in and connects on a lariat, then whips him off the ropes and misses a lariat, but catches the Kid's crossbody attempt and reverses it with the Scott Hallaway slam (blockbuster suplex). He goes for the edge, but Kid scrambles out to the apron, where Razor drives him to the floor with a right hand. When Razor tries to follow up, however, Dibiase catches him in the eyes with baby powder (oi...what can you say?) letting Kid come off the top with a missile dropkick for 2. Kid hits the snap legdrop twice, then a standing dropkick. He comes off the top with a big splash for 2 _, then follows up with jabs and kicks. He seems to run out of ideas though, and goes to a sleeper. Razor sends him off the ropes and they blow a chokeslam spot. Razor gets a knee lift and sends the Kid off the ropes a second time, and Kid reapplies the sleeper. King: "he was so ugly as a baby, his mother used to breast feed him through a straw". The sleeper drags on until Razor reverses by crotching Kid on the top rope. After a Kid 2 count, Razor fires back with the patented Scott Hall right hand based offense and puts Kid up top. The nino elbows Ramon off and hits a twisting bodypress which Razor rolls through for a two count. Back and forth in the ropes and Razor misses a lariat, only to be met by Kid with a big flying kick/leg lariat for 2 _. A whip is reversed by Razor and he catches the Kid's bodypress again, then goes to the second rope with him and hits a super blockbuster, and THAT'S IT, says Hall. The ref distraction/powder combo from Kid and Dibiase doesn't work so well a second time, as Razor kicks the powder back into Kid's eyes and hits the Razor's edge. He pulls the Kid up at 2, but in the only instance of this I can think of in the WWF, he simply hits a second edge to get the win at 12:03. Kid is diapered and powdered as per the stips, and it's about as stupid and embarrassing as you might imagine. Well. Fun match here, a great example of the virtues of WWF 1996: a fast paced, well worked match, with a clean pinfall by the face in the big match on PPV. That's promotion 101, and it's something they seem to have forgotten about over the years, to their detriment. Good enough stuff all around, here, though probably most enjoyable if you have an attachment to the wrestlers in question. **1/2.
Match #2: Triple H (w/random valet) vs. Duke Droese
Well, that's the worst of WWF 1996, as future top shelf performer HHH is stuck in bad gimmick limbo as an "American aristocrat" of sorts, a character type which was showing its age by 1996 (though the talent of William Regal has managed to revivify it these days). Also, Hunter was nowhere near the performer back then that he has been for the past year and a half or so; on the bright side, he was about 30-40 pounds lighter. Yeah. Duke Droese is the same guy basically as was seen at the gimmick battle royal this year; this was his only PPV appearance outside the Rumble, to my knowledge. He was another in the long line of inane WWF "employment gimmicks" from this era, in which people with gainful outside employment apparently all decided spontaneously to wrestle as a side line, for about three or four years in the mid '90's. Great numbers of them may be found enshrined at Wrestlecrap.com. These two were basically thrown together for a "rich man/poor man" socioeconomic feud, with not much in the way of deep build behind it, though HHH had shaved Droese's hair previous to this. Hunter must have been so happy to go from HOG to Duke Droese on the feud food chain.
Punching kicks us off (shocking) and Droese runs through his basic offense (punches, back body drop, whips back and forth, high kick) as Vince gives us the immortal line "Duke "the Dumpster" Droese, more that just your neighborhood garbage man." Thanks Vince, now he's a hero to kids for sure. Droese continues with the aimless pounding as HHH begs off, until Hunter hits a snake eyes to counter a ten punch count in the corner. Jerry Lawler interviews Hunter's valet to no particular effect, as Droese hits an inverted atomic drop, but gets backdropped over the top on a charge. Hunter then runs through HIS boring and basic offense (whips, punches, kneedrop, high knee, etc.) with none of the current ability that makes his still basic offense acceptable. These days he has an excellent knack for pacing and timing, making each move count when he uses it, and making each one mean something, often, within the context of the match. The matches he designs these days have a complicated ebb and flow to them, and have quite a bit going on beneath the surface; this match, by contrast, has the annoyingly basic non-storytelling setup of "I'll run through my offense, we'll do a reversal, then you do yours". The result is something painfully basic in regards to moveset, without the value of drama in the match to save it.
Hunter keeps running through the moves he knows in random order, hitting the suplex and following it with kicky-punchy. Droese gets a reversal on a charge in the corner though, and after a double knockout spot Duke hits a nice spinebuster. More basic offense in basic combinations (backdrop, powerslam, twisting powerslam), and then he goes outside for a trash can. The ref takes it from him, however, and as he watches it get thrown outside like a lummox, HHH whacks him with the lid for the pin at 9:38. Well then. The very definition of basic may well be this match, but nothing was really bad, per se, and it wasn't all that long. *.
Match #3: Yokozuna vs. British Bulldog (w/Jim Cornette)
Yoko hits a backdrop and lariats to open, but misses an elbow, allowing Bulldog to get some offense in. He hits several lariats and gets Yoko down, then chokes the big man in the ropes allowing Cornette to get a few shots in. Back vertical Yoko reverses a whip and squashes Bulldog in the corner, but Cornette pulls the Bulldog from the ring as Yoko goes for the Banzai drop. On the outside Yoko hits the post on a charge, and back in the Bulldog hits a flying axehandle. A second one allows Yoko to hit him in the ribs, but Bulldog gets a succession of lariats, which do nothing. Yoko hits a Samoan drop and a belly to belly suplex, and Cornette runs in for the DQ at 5:02. Surprisingly energetic, considering Yoko was reduced to doing five minute matches as a single due to his increasing immobility. Not painful. *. Vader runs in after the match to pummel Yoko, and he and the Bulldog give him a working over, including a handcuffing to the ropes. Just the complete wrong way to use Vader, who has to be allowed to absolutely mug smaller guys who'll sell for him in order to get over as a true monster. Once that had happened, a match of the giants with Yoko might have made sense short term, but as a first WWF feud it was disastrous because of Yoko's physical inability to sell well for anyone, let alone Vader.
Match #4: Owen Hart (w/Jim Cornette) vs. Shawn Michaels
HBK does his entrance dancing on the roof of the house set used at all the early IYH's. Vince is just screaming about how great Shawn is, the hard sell for Vince's new chosen one. Owen attacks before the bell, but Shawn throws him over the top and runs through his stripper-esque pre-match routine. Brief stall before we start, and they run through a brief duck-and-dodge sequence culminating with Michaels sliding through Hart's legs and out to the floor, where he slaps hands around the ring with his "clique", his 1996 quasi-in joke name for his fanbase. Back inside and Owen starts things in a quasi-psychologically adept technical fashion; his first goes for a headlock, putting pressure on the area of Michaels' physique he thinks most vulnerable and simultaneously letting Michaels know that's where he's going to focus his attack, almost as an intimidation attempt. They do another duck and dodge sequence with Owen going to the floor between Michaels' legs this time. He taunts and argues with the fans, and gets caught by Michaels coming off the top with a twisting cross body; it's a succession of spots designed to make Michaels look especially good and build him up, as he is expressly shown to be able to utilize the same tactic as Owen Hart, except better. Also, it's illustrative of the basic psychology of "a man sees a move coming the second time", as Michaels recognizes Owen doing what he just did. It's quite artfully done, and very effective at both boosting Michaels, the point of this, and constructing internal logic and drama in the match. Back inside, Michaels hits a flying double axehandle for a 2 count, then grabs Owen in his own headlock, a sort of answer to Owen's implicit challenge. Owen goes for a backdrop but Michaels flips out and does a double leg trip from behind, then literally walks on Owen for a moment. Owen pops up angry, and gets caught back into the headlock. Owen pulls the hair to try to escape and tries to get out by running the ropes, but Michaels pulls him back in...by the hair. A nice touch to build an Americanized strong babyface. As Cornette complains, Michaels takes the opportunity to blatantly pull Owen's hair, again building himself as a "takes no crap" type face. Owen finally escapes the headlock by running the ropes, takes a shoulderblock and goes down, ducks under a running Michaels, hits a hiptoss, is pushed off by Michaels' legs, and hits a stereo kip up with Michaels. It's a sequence which helps establish both man as excellent technicians. Michaels ducks a punch and runs Owen into the ropes with a rear waistlock, rolls back to his feet as Owen holds on, comes off the other side of the ropes and connects with a rana. He holds on and pummels Owen with punches, then pulls him to his feet and sends him into the ropes. Michaels goes for a backdrop but Owen reverses to another whip, Michaels ducks the lariat, and Owen hits the brutal belly-to-belly. Great, well executed sequence, which fits perfectly within the match. The first segment was devoted to building Michaels; this was organized around building Hart as legitimate competition, so when Michaels beats him he's beaten someone who's good on his own merits. It's a subtle thing, and an important element in constructing a match that truly puts someone over while simultaneously making the loser look good.
Owen stomps away on Michaels and hits a side backbreaker, good basic psychology building to the sharpshooter. Hard whip to the corner works the back some more, and a hangman's neckbreaker goes back to the original point of attack, Michaels' head, with an impact move. It gets a 2 count. Owen goes for the sharpshooter quick, hoping Michaels is dazed by that blow to the head, but Michaels pushes him off. Owen goes to the back with a forearm smash and a sort of bow and arrow, transitioned quickly to a camel clutch, all putting more pressure on the back. Michaels powers up to a standing position and breaks the hold with strikes to the abdomen, but Owen ducks under him coming off the ropes and hits a knee to the gut. Hart pulls him back to the middle of the ring and rolls forward with both legs for a pinning combo and a 2 count. He keeps the pressure on Michaels with a chinlock, which makes sense in context. Michaels powers up again, Owen ducks under again, but this time instead of the midsection, Owen goes for the head with a leg lariat. It's a neat trick of playing off the familiar psychology of a move being countered on it's second application, and obviously it fits with the "work a body part" psychology of the match. Michaels rolls to the floor. Owen tries to suplex Michaels back in, but Shawn counters and suplexes Owen to the floor. A rather odd place for a reversal of momentum. And in fact, it doesn't go far, as Owen catches Michaels coming off the apron and powerslams him on the floor. A good tease spot for the eventual Michaels comeback. Owen rolls Shawn back in and goes up top, waiting for him to reach his feet, and hits him with a missile dropkick. It gets 2. Owen moves Shawn to the corner and keeps on him with European uppercuts, whips him from corner to corner, but Michaels slips out of a press slam attempt and hits a rolling clutch for 2. He pounds Owen's head to the turnbuckle and tries a cross corner whip, but Owen reverses and triggers the Michaels trademark bump in the corner. Michaels comes down off the buckle and is leveled by Owen with a diving lariat, and Owen taunts him with foot shoves to the head. He applies the sharpshooter, but Michaels won't tap, and eventually makes the ropes. Owen slams him, with Shawn selling the back, but as Owen stands over him taunting the same way as before, Michaels hooks Owen's arms with his legs and rolls him up for 2. Nice. But as they return to their feet, Owen feeds Shawn the leg and nails him with the Owenzuigiri. Outside Shawn goes, selling like he's been shot in the head with a high caliber sidearm. Owen goes outside and gets him, bringing him back in, but the lateral press (no leg hook) only gets 2 _. A well worked use of the inevitable Owenzuigiri spot; it puts over Shawn's resilience as he kicks out of the Move Which Kills and which injured him, and which looks especially good since Owen went and got him to make sure the pin attempt came quickly. Owen pounds Shawn in the corner with shoulder thrusts to the abdomen, whips him corner-to-corner, but a charge misses and Owen ends up crotched on the second turnbuckle.
Shawn nails him with an inverted atomic drop as he comes out, ducks under a lariat as they run the ropes, and hits the Michaels sequence: flying forearm shot, kip up, (an additional flying forearm and stomps) and the Michaels elbow from the top. Cornette gets up onto the apron, but Michaels dispels him with a right hand and signals for chin music. Owen ducks under the first attempt, Shawn ducks an Owenzuigiri attempt (nice psychology, as a desperate Owen goes for a big move to forestall the end) and Michaels hits the Sweet Chin Music superkick for the win at 15:56. Well now. An excellent match overall, with great WWF style psychology and a brilliant effort at keeping Owen strong while building Shawn up huge; all in all, a marvelous go at achieving the desired end of making both guys look better coming out of the match then they did going in. This was the absolute antithesis of the Kevin Nash style of "putting someone over" by mauling them the whole match before slipping on a banana peel for three seconds, in that both men were made to look good in turn as the match flowed, meaning that Owen was put over as a threat and Shawn was put over as a guy who beat that threat. In addition, it benefited from the great technical ability of both guys and their knowledge of how to work a match, as everything was well executed with no blown or badly executed spots. A fine, fine match. ****. Shawn celebrates with an urchin after the match and slaps many hands.
Match #5: Diesel vs. Bret Hart
Cage stips here, the blue non-cyclone fencing mid-'90's WWF variety, designed specifically to NOT be like the ones used for those great old WWWF/NWA cage matches. For the record, I haven't seen this match in a year or so, but the last time I did I liked it more then most people. They circle each other warily to start, and Bret cuts the crap straight off the top as he goes for the knee, his strategy in each of their preceding matches. He works diesel over with strikes as Diesel responds in kind, including his trademark...slow...knees...in the corner...to get control. Boot choke. Hard whip into the turnbuckle represents Diesel's first attack on the back, his strategy in matches two and three of the series. Bret fights back with kicks to the knee, but Diesel ain't selling much and fires back with iffy right hands. Bret slams Nash's head to the steel on a reversal and gives him a general working over with strikes. His first attempt to escape is caught and Diesel hits his knee strikes while standing on the top turnbuckle. He pulls Bret down and bangs his back to the cage. And then...nothing. Just Nash wandering slowly towards the door. Bret catches him as he steps over the top rope and pounds him with strikes. Headbutt to the abdomen. Bret rushes the door and gets pulled back. Same thing, roles reversed. Bret goes to the knee and hits some butt splashes in the ropes and a hamstring stretch. Diesel gets to his feet for whatever reason, punches Bret, and hits a short arm clothesline. The problem with that is there's no logic to the match flow; Diesel just decides to stop selling at some random point and go back of offense whenever it suits him, not when it suits the internal logic of the match. That's one of the things which often go unnoticed when people attempt to classify a worker qualitatively. Side slam from Diesel works the back, and a big elbow drop misses. Diesel goes for the door, Bret goes to climb out, and then has to break to catch Diesel before he escapes. He recommences going after the leg, and stays on it with knee drops and hamstring jerks. Bret goes to escape, Diesel catches him, and slams him back in. This match is very much Diesel and Bret having their standard formula match, and the cage serves little function other than as an excuse to kill time with randomly timed escape attempts, the bane of the WWF cage match style of escape as a win. Basically, this is an example of something which has always particularly annoyed me, a gimmick match in which the participants are more or less ignoring the gimmick. There's a three fold problem with that: first, it cheapens the gimmick's importance by suggesting it has little real meaning for the match and the wrestlers, and by extension, therefore, the public; second, it inhibits the match quality, since almost all gimmicks by nature reduce some area of possible activity within a match in order to accentuate another area; and third, it's just annoying to watch performers be given a larger or simply different stage upon which to work, and have them not utilize it to any new effect. It's a lost opportunity.
Diesel whips Bret to the corner and charges him, eating boot and then suffering a bulldog headlock follow up. Bret attempts to escape, but Nash stops him and then hits a backdrop. Bret goes for the door, Diesel stops him, hits an elbowdrop. Diesel charges Bret in the corner (again, despite it backfiring on him once already) and hurts his leg on a missed running high knee. Bret follows up with more knee work, including his second rope elbow drop delivered to the wounded appendage. Nash reverses a whip, and Bret takes the signature chest first bump in the corner. Diesel commences with the clubbering and hits the knees and elbows in the corner AGAIN, his moveset having been exhausted already, and walks around without any limp. Great. It makes the matches both Bret and Shawn were able to get out of him all the more amazing, when you realize just how fundamentally bad Nash was even during his peak as a worker. Bret comes out of the corner kicking at the knee and gets enough separation to try an escape, but gets caught and dragged back in. Slow offense from Diesel, and Bret takes his big chest bump again. Diesel with the running buttsplash choke on the second rope thing and he tries the snake eyes, but gets it reversed by Hart. Bret tries the sharpshooter (in an escape rules cage match?) but Nash rakes the face to escape. Bret works the back for a bit, and hits a Russian leg sweep. Bret hits a top rope elbow drop after an escape attempt is blocked, another escape attempt ends with Nash punching Bret low, causing him to then crotch himself on the way down on the top rope. Diesel goes for the door, no dice, Diesel breaks and tries again, when a hand emerges from the mat. And quickly following it is the Undertaker, who drags Diesel beneath the ring as smoke pours from the hole, allowing Bret to escape at 19:15 for the win. BLAH. No much good there, not nearly as much fun as I remembered it, even in a non-critical sense. The booking is foolish as it again makes Bret look a lame duck champion, and puts the big focus on Diesel vs. UT, instead of the big match that was expected to take up more than a third of the next pay per view. The match itself was a textbook on bad match flow and aimless escape attempts, really the two biggest flaws of WWF style cage matches from this era (and to a lesser extent, the current era). Iffy psychology that goes nowhere (how could it when the finish is zombie-ference?), atrocious selling, Nash's god-awful punches and an under motivated Hart=nothing you need to see. *1/2. Diesel and UT do a stare off as the show closes. Bret WHO? Champion of WHAT?
The WWF was most definitely still working out the kinks at this point, phasing out rampant idiocy like Duke Droese and phasing in the performers, and style of show construction, which would dominate the year. The essentially logical midcard booking (and actual midcard programs, imagine that) were in place in the form of Razor vs. Kid and HHH vs. Droese, setting patterns which would continue through the year, though with radically different personnel. On top, the great run of Michaels (among the great year long runs in history, up there with Flair '89, Kobashi '93, perhaps HHH '00, and several others) was heating up and beginning to provide the more or less consistent **** matches on top which would mark this year for the WWF. He was a talent uniquely suited to carrying bad workers to good matches, and somewhat good at having great matches with great workers; thus, from this show on out, the main event booking for the WWF centered around selecting the next opponent for Michaels. As a philosophy, it made sense on paper, but over the months it would produce a multitude of unintended consequences. This show itself is good but not great. The Michaels match, while not essential, is a very fine example of its genre, the putting-a-man-over-honestly match; as such, for some people it would be instructive as a refresher course on what that phrase really means. The main event is fun if you're big into those two characters, but as a match it's nothing. Razor vs. Kid is a good, clean, definitive end to a midcard feud, and as such is a fun rarity. HHH vs. Droese is worthless, and Bulldog vs. Yoko is just filler for a more important feud. Really nothing more that the same sort of functional show the Rumble was, but this show had one superior match, hence it's probably about a 6/10.
Next up: Wrestlemania XII, and I get to both do play by play and analysis for an iron man match. Yeesh.
(Email me if you can't find another place to get the tape ;-) - CRZ)