(All screen captures are the property of World Wrestling Entertainment)
King of the Ring
June 23, 1996
News & Notes: The WWF decided to back off the Diana part of the Shawn/Bulldog storyline. Stu Hart’s concerns about the angle caused a change. Instead, they focused on the controversial finish of the Beware of Dog match. Bulldog and Cornette complained about the officiating. Clarence Mason agreed not to sue the WWF for his injuries. In return, Camp Cornette could choose the ref for the rematch. They got their wish and picked Mr. Perfect. This was a problem because Shawn Michaels and Mr. Perfect never got along. It appeared they stacked the deck against Shawn.
Meanwhile, the King of the Ring tournament began on TV. They decided to air the first two rounds on television. The semifinals and finals would happen on PPV. (I prefer this method. The PPV feels less bloated.) The original plan was for Hunter Hearst Helmsley to win the tourney. But, the Curtain Call happened and changed those plans. The WWF decided to go in a different direction. That direction would change the course of history.
I have a couple of things to cover before we begin. First, Brian Pillman signed with the WWF. However, he fell asleep at the wheel of his car and had an accident. The wreck shattered Brian’s ankle. The doctors fused it. But, this injury would forever change Pillman’s in-ring style. He could no longer do the high-flying wrestling he used to do. It also led to a painkiller addiction that affected Pillman’s life. The WWF still used Brian on TV while he healed.
My second bit of information concerns the tag team division. The Smoking Gunns won the tag titles on the Beware of Dog preshow. Sunny once again followed the gold and became their manager. This turned the Gunns heel. It also saddened Phineas Godwinn and pissed off the Bodydonnas. The Donnas countered by searching for a new manager. They chose a rather strange one. The Donnas mocked Sunny by dressing a muscular man in drag and calling him Cloudy. He wore some of Sunny’s old outfits. The Donnas with Cloudy faced The New Rockers on the King of the Ring preshow. Yes, I said The New Rockers. It’s the team of Marty Jannetty and Leif Cassidy (Al Snow). They’re heels. The gimmick is they’re painfully uncool, unlike the original Rockers.
Affiliate of the Week:
The show opens with a dramatic video package! Tense music plays while we get sound-bites for each of the matches. The Ultimate Warrior believes he will kick Jerry Lawler’s ass. Various tournament participants believe they will be King of the Ring. Mankind believes he destroyed The Undertaker. Taker says Mankind’s soul is his. Goldust wants Ahmed Johnson to melt in both his hands and his mouth. Plus, Shawn Michaels wants to kick The Bulldog’s teeth down his throat. The narrator says it’s the greatest card in King of the Ring history! (I looked back at the other cards and realized he’s not wrong.)
Vince McMahon welcomes everyone to Milwaukee and King of the Ring. He’s with Jim Ross. (Lawler is busy, so they’re mixing it up on commentary.) Owen Hart joins them. He shoves his way between Vince and JR and steals Ross’s mic. Owen tells them to get on with it. He wants to give his expertise. (Owen does commentary for the entire show. He has some pretty good lines. Also, he brought his Slammy Award with him. He’s so proud of it.)
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Wildman Marc Mero (w/ Sable)
Notes: In the first two rounds, Austin defeated Bob Holly and Savio Vega. He beat Savio with a new finisher, The Stone Cold Stunner. (He hasn’t added the kick to the gut yet. That comes later.) Mero beat Skip and Owen Hart to advance. Owen accuses Marc of cheating. They show Owen attacking Mero with his cast. Owen claims he slipped while trying to shake Marc’s hand. Owen also insults Sable’s looks and managerial abilities. He calls her a hosebag at one point.
The Match: They trade headlocks and hammerlocks until Mero uses a headscissors. Austin regroups and avoids a dive. Then, they trade arm wringers and takedowns. Austin also nails an early form of the Thesz Press. (He’s still perfecting it.) They fight back and forth through a knucklelock before spilling to the floor again. Austin pulls up the mats and press slams Marc onto the concrete. He takes control with submission holds. But, Mero counters with pin attempts. One of them is a rolling prawn hold. He catches Austin in the mouth with his boot. It busts Austin’s lip. Mero continues his attack with planchas, dives, and a missile dropkick. Austin counters with a form of the Stun Gun. It’s not enough, so Austin follows with the Stunner for the win.
Thoughts: This was a solid opener. I like how they built to a crescendo. It started slowly and grew over time. The fans were quiet at first, but they won them over by the end. This is Mero’s first loss, but he looked strong enough for it not to hurt him. Also, the image of Austin with a bloody lip added to the match. It made Austin look tough.
Winner: Steve Austin (16:49)
They show a closeup of Austin’s lip as he walks to the back. It looks nasty. He received stitches backstage. (For years the rumor was they took him to a hospital. Bruce Prichard said they stitched him there at the building. The WWF has a medical staff, so that makes sense.) Meanwhile, Vince comments on the replays. He stumbles while trying to say World Wrestling Federation.
Dok Hendrix interviews Jake Roberts before his semifinal match. He calls Jake the sentimental favorite. He overcame many obstacles in his life. Jake says he was blind but now he sees. He was deaf but now he hears. He was saved by the blood of the lamb. How can he lose with the lord on his side? Then, Jake compares fighting Vader to robbing a bank. He says he won’t walk through the door. He will sneak up from behind. If Jake gets by Vader, he faces Stone Cold. Jake looks again for help from above and heads to the ring. (They pushed the storyline of Roberts finding faith and getting clean. It’s a good way to get sympathy for him, but it also sets up what happens later.)
Jake the Snake Roberts vs. Vader (w/ Jim Cornette)
Notes: Vader beat Ahmed Johnson with Owen’s help. He had a bye in round two because The Warrior and Goldust fought to a double-count out. Jake advanced by defeating Triple H and Justin Hawk Bradshaw (JBL). Vince says Jake is 41 years old. Owen says he’s 51 or 61. (That number increases throughout the night.)
The Match: Vader takes Jake to the mat and attacks his arm. He also nails some avalanche attacks and a splash. Jake counters with a boot to the face and a knee-lift. But, Vader blocks a DDT and peppers Roberts with punches. Then, both men attempt short-arm clotheslines. Vader succeeds. He follows with a corner splash, but Vader misses. Jake capitalizes with the DDT. However, Vader grabs the ref on the way down. The ref calls for the bell.
Thoughts: I get they want to protect Vader, but that was a lame finish. You couldn’t see Vader grab the ref because of the camera angle. It was confusing. It’s for the best they kept it short. But, this was forgettable and poorly executed.
Winner: Jake Roberts (by DQ) (3:34)
Jake goes for his snake, so Vader splashes him in the corner twice. Cornette holds back the ref while Vader continues attacking Jake. Vader then nails a Vader Bomb. He wants to do another, but the officials stop him. They help Jake to the back while he holds his ribs in pain.
We get a Coliseum Exclusive on the network. Jim Cornette is backstage with an angry Vader. Jim says the ref was crooked. Vader screams no one beat him. He’s the King of the Ring! Jim agrees with him because he’s scared.
During the entrances for the next match, Dok interviews The Smoking Gunns and Sunny. He shows footage of Cloudy, which annoys Sunny. She accuses Dok of humiliating her. She calls Cloudy gross and fat. Dok then asks what tricks Sunny has for Phineas. Sunny says he won’t keep his eyes off her because of what she’s wearing. Next, Dok asks Billy Gunn for his thoughts. He talks about Sunny and says, “She’s beautiful award-winning—manager.” (Well said, Billy. He played it off like he was distracted. He might have flubbed his line.) Sunny tries to save the segment. She worries about facing the Bodydonnas next. Sunny doesn’t want to be out there with Cloudy. Vince tells them they’re stalling because he wants to end this segment.
Tag Team Title Match: The Smoking Gunns (c) (w/ Sunny) vs. The Godwinns (w/ Hillbilly Jim)
Notes: The Godwinns carry goats to the ring. Owen tells them to get the animals out of there. They smell worse than the hillbillies. Vince calls out Owen for liking Sunny. Owen questioned the idea of a female manager earlier. Owen says Sunny got results. She’s also a Slammy Award winner like him. Meanwhile, The Godwinns try slopping Sunny. The Gunns stop them. Billy then mocks Phineas because he has Sunny and Phineas doesn’t. (Also, Vince interviews Cloudy during the match. He’s dressed like Sunny. Cloudy claims he fills out the outfit better. He then blows a kiss to Vince and JR. Owen says Cloudy has potential.)
The Match: Bart attacks Phineas while he’s distracted. The Gunns double-team him until it riles Phineas up. He removes Billy’s boot, so the Gunns regroup. Then, Henry enters the match. The Godwinns work on Bart’s arm until Billy kicks Henry in the back. The Gunns take control and Billy hits the Fameasser. (It isn’t called that yet.) They work over Henry’s back for a while. The Gunns use illegal switches and ref distractions to maintain control. But, Bart misses a flying leg drop. Both men then tag and Phineas cleans house. Everyone brawls, and the Godwinns do a little do-see-do. However, the ref is distracted when he tells Henry to leave. Bart uses the opening to nail Phineas with his boot for the victory.
Thoughts: This was a basic match. It was dull. The focus was more on Sunny and Cloudy. The match itself wasn’t great. I like the Gunns new attitude. They did well at playing heels. But, it didn’t save this bout.
Winners: The Smoking Gunns (10:10)
Dok is backstage with Camp Cornette. He accuses them of stacking the deck against Shawn Michaels. They have their ref, and Owen is ringside on commentary. Cornette ignores that comment. He quotes the late Dick Murdoch. Jim also says there won’t be any wishy-washy refs or WWF presidents to help Shawn. Bulldog will win the title. While Jim speaks, Mr. Perfect walks into the frame. Dok questions why he’s in their locker room. Bulldog says Michaels would steal Perfect’s wallet if he dressed in the other room. Bulldog then lists his accomplishments. He says he will join the triple-header club by winning the WWF Title. (He means the triple-crown.) Bulldog says Michaels is his in less than a few short hours.
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Jerry the King Lawler
Notes: Since Lawler is an artist, he mocked The Ultimate Warrior’s comic book. (I don’t blame him. That thing is ridiculous.) Jerry pretended he wanted peace. He presented Warrior with a hand-painted portrait. When I say presented, I mean he broke it over The Warrior’s head. (Warrior wore a baseball cap during the segment. He didn’t want glass in his hair. People backstage called it unprofessional.) Meanwhile, Lawler insults the fans before the match. He calls the Milwaukee citizens drunks and losers. He also insults a few kids. It’s good stuff as usual. Lawler also steals the scepter from the King of the Ring set. Lawler finishes by saying The Warrior over-stayed his welcome in the WWF. (He’s not wrong. Also, Lawler’s hands are taped. He claims someone spilled coffee on them. It’s an excuse to have tape to choke Warrior.)
The Match: Lawler attacks The Warrior with the scepter. He chokes him with it until the ref removes the weapon. Jerry then rams The Warrior into the steps and chokes him with his own jacket. He also chokes Warrior with his hand tape. Lawler continues his cheating. He retrieves an object from his tights and throws loaded punches. After more choking, Jerry nails a piledriver. However, The Warrior immediately pops up to his feet. He hulks-up and hits some running clotheslines. The Warrior then follows with a shoulder tackle to end the match.
Thoughts: They at least kept it short. It wasn’t great, but it was exactly what it should have been. The fans reacted well to it. The match was inoffensive. I had no issue with it. Lawler was amusing. It was short because The Warrior had a shoulder injury at the time. However, this is The Warrior’s last PPV match in the WWF. (I’ll explain more in my International Incident review.)
Winner: The Ultimate Warrior (3:50)
Dok interviews Gorilla Monsoon about the condition of Jake Roberts. You can see the medical staff taping Jake’s ribs in the background. Gorilla says only Jake knows how injured he is. The doctor doesn’t have x-ray glasses. (He doesn’t? That’s disappointing.) Gorilla says Jake could have broken ribs or a torn—something or other. (I won’t try spelling that medical term.) Monsoon says Jake his a burning desire to continue. He’s 41 years old. How many more chances will he get? (Hey! That isn’t old! A few members of the 2020 WWE roster are around that age. It’s funny they considered that over-the-hill in ’96.) Owen thinks Jake can’t continue. He’s 80 or 90 years old! (Owen is great.)
Mankind vs. The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer)
Notes: I’ve covered most of the build in the last few reviews. Not much has occurred since Beware of Dog. Mankind cost The Undertaker a match against Bulldog. He then gave him a pulling piledriver. They show replays of the incident before this match. Ross says Mankind came to the WWF to accost, assault, and eliminate The Undertaker. The lights go out for Taker’s entrance. Paul Bearer emerges, but Taker isn’t behind him. Then, the lights come back on to reveal Taker is on the top rope! He nails a flying clothesline.
The Match: Taker flusters Mankind with rapid punches and even an Iron Claw. He also tries to remove Mankind’s mask. Mankind answers with a running knee to the head and a Cactus Elbow off the apron. They keep fighting to the floor and use a chair. Bearer distracts the ref so Taker can use it. Both men block each other’s finishers and they brawl to the floor again. Mankind nails a running knee against the steps. Then, he tries another Cactus Elbow. Taker raises a chair into Mankind’s face. Back in the ring, Taker lands a jumping clothesline. Mankind counters with a pulling piledriver. It doesn’t work, so Mankind freaks out. He rams his own head into the mat and yanks out his hair. He also steals the urn. Paul Bearer takes it back and tries to hit Mankind. But, he hits Taker by accident. (Or, was it an accident?) Mankind puts the Mandible Claw on Taker. The ref sees Taker is unconscious, so he calls for the bell.
Thoughts: It was slow at times, but it had good intensity. These two have better matches in the future. It’s not even the last time we see them wrestle at King of the Ring. The bout wasn’t great, but I liked it well enough. There were some good spots. Plus, I liked the story and the finish.
Winner: Mankind (18:21)
Owen thinks Paul Bearer hit Taker on purpose. He says Paul is tired of The Undertaker. Jim Ross says the match resembled a human demolition derby. While they speak, Mankind chases Paul Bearer with a chair. Taker stumbles after them.
Dok is with Mr. Perfect. Hendrix can’t believe Mankind beat Taker. He also can’t believe Perfect dressed in Camp Cornette’s locker room. Perfect says, “What? Are you watching where I’m dressing now, Dok?” Dok says no, but it smells of collusion. Perfect says, “You can’t even spell collusion!” Shawn Michaels then interrupts. He tells Perfect to call it down the middle and raise his hand. When Shawn leaves, Perfect says Shawn seemed nervous. He then promises to call it down the middle. He’s the perfect referee and will do the perfect job. Dok then throws it back to Vince and JR. Owen calls him an idiot for forgetting him.
Intercontinental Title Match: Ahmed Johnson vs. Goldust (c) (w/ Marlena)
Notes: Owen Hart knocked out Ahmed with his cast. Goldust revived Johnson with mouth-to-mouth. (When they agreed to do the segment, Dustin told Ahmed he would cover his mouth with his hand and kiss the hand. He didn’t. Goldust kissed him. It was a rib on Ahmed. He wasn’t pleased.) Goldust antagonized Ahmed farther. He posed naked with the IC title covering his crotch. Goldust dared Ahmed to come and take it. Also, I have to point out Ahmed’s entrance. He bursts through the door at high speed. It sends the doormen flying!
The Match: Ahmed attacks Goldust while he disrobes. Goldust regroups, so Johnson dives head-first onto him! (He almost plants himself into the floor!) Ahmed also whips Goldust into the steps and throws them at him. Goldust takes control when Johnson misses a corner splash. He returns the favor with the steps and nails a jumping clothesline. Then, Goldust slows the pace with some holds. He focuses on Ahmed’s back and rubs him a few times. Goldust follows that with a piledriver and sensually crawls into a pin. (Owen points out the ref waited too long to count.) Next, Goldust continues working on Johnson’s back. He also uses a sleeper hold, but he releases it when Ahmed fades. Goldust wants to revive him with more mouth-to-mouth. He does, but it pisses off Ahmed. He grabs Goldust by the throat and wails on him with punches. Johnson then nails a spinebuster and the Pearl River Plunge to win the bout.
Thoughts: The match dragged when Goldust was in control. Ahmed’s offense was intense and amusing. He seemed determined to break his own neck in this bout. But, it didn’t save this from being dull. However, I liked the closing moments. This was a big moment for Ahmed. Unfortunately, not everything was rosy. Someone keyed a racial slur into his car after the show. (Ahmed said in shoot interviews he thinks it was Austin. I’m not sure I believe that.)
Winner: Ahmed Johnson (New Champion) (15:34)
Next, they show a weird commercial for In Your House: International Incident. Aliens abduct a wrestling fan. They try to experiment on him, but he doesn’t want to miss the WWF. They seem intrigued, especially when the fan shows them Sunny. The aliens say she requires closer inspection, so they teleport Sunny to the living room. (Well, that was something.) Then, Ahmed heads backstage where wrestlers celebrate with a champagne bath. Even Shawn Michaels congratulates him.
Before the next match, Brian Pillman walks to the ring on crutches. Jim Ross interviews him. Brian sarcastically asks how his extended family is doing. He doesn’t let JR answer. He says he doesn’t even like his own family. He also doesn’t care for the sewer of human waste in the arena. Pillman says he can see why Jeffrey Dahmer tried to eat the whole state. JR asks Pillman about wrestling in the WWF. Pillman calls him a stupid son of a bitch. Vince apologizes while Pillman claims he says and does whatever he wants. He dares any of the superstars to stop him. Brian calls himself the brightest star that stepped foot on god’s green Earth. While they crown a King of the Ring, Pillman will ascend to his throne. Brian promises to rape, plunder, and pillage the WWF. Vince apologizes again for Brian’s comments. (This was great stuff. Pillman is good at portraying a madman. His eyes and facial expressions sell it well.)
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Jake the Snake Roberts
Notes: Austin passes Pillman in the aisle. The former tag team partners exchange glances. Pillman wishes Austin luck in his match, but Austin glares at him. Vince talks about Austin getting stitches after his last match. Roberts limps to the ring while holding his ribs. He has to drag the snake bag because he can’t lift his arm. Austin attacks him the moment he enters the ring.
The Match: Austin stomps and punches Jake’s ribs. He trash talks Roberts while hitting him with forearms and axehandles. Austin even slaps him in the face. Jake fires back with punches, but it’s not enough. Austin rips at Jake’s rib tape. Then, Gorilla Monsoon arrives. He wants to end the match, but Jake pleads against it. Roberts rallies with more punches and signals for the DDT. But, Austin drives him rib-first into the corner with shoulders. Austin then ends it with a Stunner.
Thoughts: I loved the storytelling of this match. It was short and not a lot happened. But, It did exactly what it needed to do. Jake looked sympathetic and Austin was a killer. It was the perfect length. On the surface, it seems disappointing for the finals. However, this was more about the story. Plus, what happens next is more memorable.
Winner: Steve Austin (4:28)
Dok hosts the coronation ceremony. Austin tells them to get Jake out of both the ring and the WWF. He proved Jake doesn’t have what it takes anymore. Jake thumped his bible and said his prayers, but it didn’t get him anywhere. Austin then says, “Talk about your Psalms. Talk about John 3:16. Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” (The fans cheer when he says this.) Austin then tells Jake to go buy a bottle of Thunderbird and find some of his old courage. Then, he serves notice to all the WWF superstars. They’re all on Stone Cold’s list. Austin also takes a moment to tell someone off-screen to piss off. He continues by saying he will be the next WWF champion. That’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so! (This is an iconic moment. It was supposed to get him heel heat. He mocked a man’s religious beliefs. However, Austin 3:16 signs popped up in crowds. That one line would make Austin and the WWF millions of dollars in t-shirt sales. The WWF wants you to believe they immediately strapped a rocket to Austin. He wrestles on the next PPV, but he’s on the preshow of SummerSlam. The push doesn’t begin until the fall.)
WWF Title Match: Shawn Michaels (c) (w/ Jose Lothario) vs. The British Bulldog (w/ Diana Smith & Jim Cornette)
Notes: Owen promises to stay out of the match as long as no one messes with him. Then, Mr. Perfect gets his own entrance. They show replays from Beware of Dog while he enters the ring. Bulldog enters next. Owen stands on the announce desk and cheers for both Bulldog and Diana. (He makes sure to hold his Slammy Award while doing it.) After Shawn makes his entrance, Gorilla Monsoon arrives. He says Mr. Perfect will be an outside referee. Earl Hebner will call the match in the ring. Cornette and Owen are both annoyed by the decision. Owen also complains about Jose Lothario. Hart thinks he’s Mexican wrestler Jose Estrada. (That made me laugh.)
The Match: Bulldog shows off his power. Shawn shows off his mat wrestling skills. He also gives Davey headscissors and hurricanranas. Shawn even swats Cornette with his own racket. Then, both men trade some more holds. Eventually, Bulldog takes control when he dumps Shawn to the floor with a press slam. Davey controls the match with chinlocks and submissions, including a surfboard stretch. Shawn shows signs of life, but Bulldog whips him around the ring. Davey also uses a piledriver. But, Bulldog slips while trying a flying headbutt. He recovers and uses two types of superplexes. Shawn reverses the second one. Davey counters by reversing a hurricanrana into a powerbomb. Then, Shawn hits a jumping forearm and kips up. He slams Bulldog, but it clips Hebner in the process. Shawn then tunes up the band and nails Sweet Chin Music. Perfect starts to make the count, so Owen pulls him out of the ring and complains. However, Hebner makes the three-count while they argue.
Thoughts: I liked this match. I know it was a bit slow, but I thought they set a good pace. It ebbed and flowed well. Plus, there were some great sequences. This was far better than their Beware of Dog match. They had the long match they wanted at that PPV.
Winner: Shawn Michaels (26:24)
Owen jumps Shawn. Michaels fights him off and puts Owen in a Figure Four. Bulldog also attacks, so Shawn fights both of them. But, they get the better of Shawn. Owen and Davey hit a double-suplex. This draws out Ahmed Johnson to help. He press slams Owen and Bulldog. However, Vader arrives and attacks Johnson. Camp Cornette continues attacking and Owen nails Shawn with his cast. They set Shawn up for a Vader splash, but The Ultimate Warrior arrives! He shoves Vader off the ropes and hands out clotheslines. Camp Cornette bails, so Shawn, Ahmed, and Warrior pose in the ring. Vince announces Gorilla Monsoon signed a match for International Incident. Shawn, Ahmed, & Warrior will face Camp Cornette. (That changes. I’ll cover it in my next WWF review.)
They show another Coliseum Exclusive. JR interviews Camp Cornette. He tells them they should be ashamed of this gang fight. Cornette says Shawn had every friend he’s had since grade school out there. Jim also claims Jose pulled a switch-blade on him. Then, Cornette says his friends pulled them off of him. If they want a gang fight, they got one! Next, JR shames Owen for getting involved. He was supposed to be a commentator. Owen denies he interfered. He says he was shoving Mr. Perfect to tell him to make a count. Cornette agrees the officiating was bad. He calls Earl Hebner a homeless wino. Jim thinks they will get a fair shake in Canada at International Incident. He tells Shawn, Ahmed, & Warrior their future is grim. Bulldog then speaks. He didn’t know Shawn had that many friends. He’s confident because he has Owen and Vader. Finally, JR asks Cornette if he has a final statement. Cornette says, “Yeah! You’ve got the biggest jowls I’ve ever seen in my life!” (This makes Vader laugh.) Owen threatens Ross for telling Cornette to shut up. Cornette then adds, “Vader would eat you alive if he wasn’t on a low-fat diet!”
Austin’s promo and character work.
Owen Hart’s commentary was great.
This PPV had some good storytelling.
Mankind/Taker was decent.
The main event was good.
The finish of Vader/Jake was lame.
The tag title match was dull.
The Cloudy stuff.
Performer of the Night:
It has to go to Steve Austin. This was his night. He is the most memorable part of the show.
This event is remembered for Austin’s promo. But, I thought it was an overall solid show. There was some good action and great storytelling. None of the tournament matches were memorable, but it was more about the characters and story. They accomplished that goal. This set up the rest of the year nicely. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Triple H won the tournament. That was their original plan. Maybe there’s an alternate universe where that happened.
Thank you for reading. My next review is an important one. It’s WCW’s Bash at the Beach ’96. Look for it next Sunday!
You can like and follow the Facebook page by clicking here. You can follow the Twitter page by clicking here. If you want merchandise, go here. Also, check out my b-movie review blog by clicking here.