The Million Dollar Corporation – worst stable ever?

Craig Wilson

As I continue my reminiscing drift through the history of the WWE, I stumbled upon some footage from the period of late 1994 to 1996, not the greatest time in the history of the WWE. One of the mainstays of that time was the Million Dollar Corporation, led by Ted DiBiase. Whilst operating for the best part of two years in the WWE, the group achieved very little in the way of in-ring success, but is that really all that surprising?

No, not really. Not when you look at the roster of largely washed up, or at best mid carders, that filled the stable. The initial incarnation of the group included Nikolai Volkoff, whose best days were gone by the mid-eighties; Bam Bam Bigelow and DiBiase’s former tag-team partner IRS. They were soon joined by the fake Undertaker and Tatanka. Not the most dominating of forces.

When you consider how long the group existed, officially from April 1994 until May 1996, the group had a staggeringly bad record at winning titles with the only listed accomplishment being the Million Dollar Title held by The Ringmaster (Steve Austin) but even that was presented to him. Sure, one of their guys headlined a Wrestlemania. But he, Bam Bam, lost to an American Footballer, Lawrence Tayler, in the main event of Wrestlemania XI which is arguably the weakest Wrestlemania of all time. And what about the other charges that were to join the group? Well, you had King Kong Bundy who again was past his 80s best, Kama, The 1-2-3 Kid and Pyscho Sid. Am glossing over Xanta Klaus because thankfully that was very short lived.

It’s not at all surprising that the grouping failed. Baring really Steve Austin, they had very little in the way of potential talent with the bulk of the group being those on their way down, if you will and even Austin himself found his fame after the group. Now, the idea of the corporation itself was a good one. A corporation founded round the idea of having wealth is always going to draw heat from the crowd, heck, you only need to see how over Vince McMahon’s Corporation was some years afterwards to see how well such an angle gets over. Another example is of course the JBL character which was built around the idea of being wealthy and better than most.

Unfortunately, for DiBiase, his stable was doomed from the outset. Containing guys whose best matches were long behind them – Volkoff, Bundy and IRS; mid-carders – 1-2-3 Kid and Tatanka and with only, at that time, Bam Bam and latterly Psycho Sid being anything like credible main eventers, the group never stood a chance. Perhaps there best success came when the Corporation Team defeated Lex Lugar’s team at the 1994 Survivor Series but after that, although involved in and around the main event, they never really challenged the top faces in the company at the time. On top of that, a number of skits and segments are best forgotten – namely the fake Undertaker and that brutal main event at Summerslam 1994, Kama melting the Taker’s urn to forge a gold chain for himself and IRS travelling around graveyards finding dead tax cheats.

Perhaps the longevity of the group highlights the problem with the WWE at the time, relying on washed up talent while at the same time the WCW was using high flying and innovative cruiserweights and by 1996 relying on a stable made up of mid-carders whilst the WCW were creating the NWO which changed the Wrestling landscape forever. Is it the worst stable ever? Certainly in terms of time existed compared to success, few can rival The Million Dollar Corporation when it comes to that!

3 matches from RAW History

James Giles

With the 1000th episode of RAW on the horizon, many fans are looking back and remembering their favourite moments from the shows history. There is nothing we like better on this blog than a bit of nostalgia, and the original plan was to adapt the Matches from History format to look at my favourite bout from over the years. The more I browsed YouTube though and tried to settle on just one, the harder I found it; there are far too many examples to pick just one, and it felt as futile as trying to select one classic album or one most beloved movie. Instead I decided to use this as an opportunity to revisit the period of RAW’s amazing run that I have the fondest memories of, and select three matches I feel represent it best.

Running from April 2nd 2001 until early July (the start of the Invasion, and the beginning of the end for me), every episode seemed bursting with an excitement and energy that has never been recaptured since. So let’s start at the top…

The Day After

As stated above, this illustrious era began on April 2nd 2001, the day after Wrestlemania X-Seven, a PPV still regarded by many as the greatest ever. Steve Austin turned heel in the main event, excepting help from long-time nemesis Vince McMahon in defeating The Rock for the WWF Championship. Although on the night you couldn’t really tell from the partisan Texas audience reaction to Austin, Stone Cold made plain his new allegiance with Vince was permanent and there would be no about turn (The Rattlesnake did cleverly tease one mind you). The Rock, incensed by the turn of events, demanded his rematch for the title, and was given it in a Cage match at the end of the show.

The first of my three bouts, it deserves special mention as is often forgotten in the Stone Cold Vs The Rock series. Like all their match-ups, it is intense from the get go, with both men brawling around the ring, and Stone Cold is busted open before they even enter the cage. Once they do, the already crazy crowd volume escalates. Austin takes charge briefly before Rocky manages to slap on the sharpshooter. Stone Cold taps but McMahon distracts the referee. The Rock then hits the Peoples Elbow and the pin, but Vince drags the ref out before the three count. When the ref re-enters, the Rock hits the Rock Bottom, but Vince again interjects and knocks out the ref, creating another electric near-fall. By this point, the crowd is absolutely nuts and solidly behind The Rock. Austin though regains the advantage with a low-blow, and he and Vince begin a two-on-one beat-down of The Great One. Just when the odds seem insurmountable, HHH’s music hits; The Game had teased dissension earlier in the show, seemingly pissed that his father in law had aligned himself with Hunter’s most hated enemy (HHH and Stone Colds epic feud had ended only about 6 weeks before at No Way Out). The crowd pops HUGE for Helmsley, but it is revealed as a swerve when he engages in a stare-down with Austin, before bashing The Rock with his sledgehammer, thus setting up the Two Man Power Trip tag team.

Overall, this was an edge-of-your-seat thriller, even with most people knowing Rocky was leaving to film a movie and couldn’t really win. The audience may never have been behind The Rock more, and I’m convinced that had he stayed around and continued his battles with Stone Cold, then the fans may have eventually accepted Austin as a heel, to The Rock’s super-over face. Without that definitive baby-face opposition, the fans never really took to heel Austin in the way WWE would have liked.

The Brothers of Destruction Vs Two Man Power Trip

With The Rock now out of the picture, and HHH, Stone Cold and Vince in cahoots, the three of them began throwing their weight and power about, brutally attacking wrestlers including the Hardy Boyz and even Lita. HHH also gained the Intercontinental Championship from Y2J due to interference, making the duo double champs (The Game also briefly lost it and regained it from Jeff Hardy, but the less said about that debacle, the better). Tag Team Champions Kane and The Undertaker were not prepared to stand for it and stood up to the Two Man Power, calling them out and challenging them to a bout at Backlash, where all the titles would be on the line.

To build heat for this encounter, on the RAW before Backlash 2001, Mick Foley as the departing commissioner booked an 8 man Tag Team match in the main event; pitting Stone Cold, HHH and Edge & Christian Vs Undertaker, Kane and the Hardy Boyz.

Viewed now, this battle seems relatively short but is very action packed. There is always something happening, in seemingly every part of the screen, and despite its brief length, they do manage to tell a decent story, with Kane being the target due to his injured arm. After the initially flurry, everyone moves to their corner, and the heel take the advantage by isolating Kane and working over his arm. It must said, the Big Red Machine does a great sell job, and these few months probably saw the big man at the peak of his abilities. After many attempts to get back to his side, with the crowd noise rising each time, Kane finally gets the tag to Matt Hardy. Soon after, all hell breaks loose again, and Undertaker manages to hit a choke-slam on HHH, looking to enable Matt to pick up the win. Taker is pulled out of the ring soon after by E & C though, and Austin sneaks in, delivers a Stunner to Hardy, and allows the Game to get the winning fall.

What probably stands out most to me about this battle, even after all these years, is how big and momentous the match seems. I can’t remember the last time I saw a RAW main event that had an atmosphere anything like this. The audience is going ape-shit from start to finish and every single participant is incredibly over. They all appear thoroughly energised as well, something that also seems lacking in the performers today.

The ultimate feel-good victory on RAW

Sadly, The Brothers of Destruction lost their gold at Backlash, but their rivalry with Austin and HHH continued. Kane regained some revenge for them after beating HHH for the Intercontinental Title in a Chain Match at Judgment Day 2001. Undertaker would also continue his battles with Austin, but was never able to relieve him of the WWE Championship. Also at the Judgment Day PPV, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, once bitter rivals, won a Tag Team Turmoil match to become the No. 1 contenders for the WWE tag titles. They immediately challenged Stone Cold and HHH the next night on RAW, and in doing so had one of the most absorbing and heated bouts in WWE history.

From the get go, the pace is pretty relentless; all four work incredibly hard to get the crowd into it. Y2J and Benoit take the advantage in the early going, seemingly one step ahead of the Two Man Power Trip, before Austin and Hunter manage to isolate Benoit. The Rabid Wolverine does his best to get to Jericho but keeps getting cut off, whilst the audience roots harder and harder for them. In one particularly tense moment, Y2J makes the tag, but the ref is distracted by the Game and does not see it, much to the crowds chagrin. Thanks to a well placed top rope drop-kick, Benoit finally does tag Jericho in and he proceeds to dominate both guys. He locks in the Wall of Jericho on Austin, at which point live audience practically has a mass embolism. HHH makes the save though, and tears his quad in the process. Ever the professional, Hunter continues the match and even lets Jericho put in him the Walls on the announce table as planned.

As that happens outside the ring, Benoit hits the diving head butt on Austin, but the ref is distracted by the commotion outside. As Benoit calls for the ref, Stone Cold recovers and hits the Stunner on Benoit. Just before the ref can count three, Jericho pulls him from the ring, in a fall so close, it possibly caused some hearts to stop. Y2J then hits the Lionsault on Austin, as the game appears in view with the sledgehammer. He goes to strike Jericho as he pins Stone Cold, but Jericho dodges and the Game bashes Austin instead. As Benoit takes HHH down, Jericho scores the insanely popular win. In this moment, the fans finally get to see HHH and Austin get their comeuppance after months of dominating the rest of the roster.

This match, from start to finish, had not just me but my whole family who were watching too, right on the edge of their seat; the eventual pin-fall and victory for the ultimate under-dogs had us pumping the air with joy and elation. In all my time watching RAW live on SKY, no single moment ever put a bigger smile on my face.

From here, RAW overall started to go down-hill for me; it remained mostly decent (if uneven) throughout the Invasion story-line, but once that was over, it never seemed to regain the same momentum and never really thrilled again in quite the same way. Within two years of the Tag Team Championship match, I’d stopped watching RAW regularly, and within three, I’d stopped altogether. As much as I still find WWE entertaining today, I’ve not been devoted to it in the same way, and it is my belief that in terms of pure entertainment, it will never reach the lofty peaks of early 2001 again.

Memorable Raw moments: Marty Jannetty wins the Intercontinental Championship

Craig Wilson

As we approach episode 1000 of Raw, I am going to lay my cards on the table. Marty Jannetty was as good an in-ring performer as Shawn Michaels. There, have that.

Unfortunately for Jannetty, he lacked the charisma of his former tag team partner and he wasn’t able to make as big a name for himself as Michael’s did. A great pity because his ring work was top notch. The Rockers were a fantastic team and deserved a run with the tag titles in the early nineties despite hte WWF tag team division being land of the giants stuff compared to them. Heck, it was only a broken top rope that prevented them from taking the belts from the Hart Foundation.

Anyway, I’ve gone off topic and reminiscing about great tag team wrestling again!

After the Barber Shop incident where The Rockers split up, Jannetty returned to the WWF in October 1992 and challenged Michael’s to a match at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Unfortunately, the match was below par and soon after Jannetty left the WWF again. Rumours abounded that the reason behind his departure was that the Rumble match was poor because Jannetty was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He has claimed to this day that he was just tired and Curt Hennig, then on very good terms with Vince McMahon, lobbied for Jannetty’s return. In May of 93, Jannetty once again returned to the WWF fold challenging his former tag team partner, and then current Intercontinental Champion, Shawn Michael’s to put his title on the line at Raw.

The match comes about with Shawn Michaels in the ring being interviewed by Vince McMahon where the Champion claims he’ll defend his title against anyone. A hooded man comes to the ring and soon reveals himself to be Marty Jannetty and the Championship match is scheduled for later that night.

They look up in the corner to start and Michael’s gets a cheap shot to take control. Jannetty soon reverses and gets a two count from a roll-up. It’s a high paced match-up from the outset as Jannetty gets another two from a leapfrog straight into a roll-up.

The challenger then reverses a hip toss attempt with a clothesline and he takes the champ to the outside then skins the cat before a high cross body block has Michael’s down on the outside with the crowd going wild with “Marty” chants.

A head scissors gets Jannetty a long two count as the challenger kept in firm control. A quick aside, Bill Alfonso was the referee for this one, pre his time in ECW with the whistle. Michaels’ breaks out of the head scissors but runs straight into a back body drop. Then it’s time for Michaels’ trademark bump into the turnbuckle before he grabs his belt and makes for the back. Unfortunately for him, he’s met by Mr. Perfect who forces him back into the ring.

We return from an advert break and, as Macho Man on commentary states, it’s been all Marty Jannetty although at that point Michaels blocks another head scissor attempt by dropping his former tag team partner throat first on the top rope and takes advantage with a series of punches in the corner.

Michaels goes to the well once too often with dropkicks and Jannetty catches him and slingshots him into the top rope and the challenger is back in control. A trademark high elbow gets a great pop from the crowd as does a huge slam off the ropes that gets yet another long two count for Jannetty. A feint from the top rope then a high cross body gets another two for Jannetty as does a roll-up for both guys with Michaels using the tights for leverage. A superkick has Jannetty down but instead of going for the cover the Champion begins to taunt Mr. Perfect at ringside but Perfect throws his towel in the Champions face and Jannetty capitalises by rolling Michaels up for the three count and to win his first, and only, singles title in the WWF.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated voted this 1993 Match of the Year and its little surprise. A really nice little high paced bout between two guys that knew each other so well and that made a big difference. The number of near falls kept the crowd on their feet and they were hot for this one. The match, and title change, was also great for Raw itself. Firstly, the appearance of the match coming from nowhere gave the impression that anything could happen on Raw during a time that they tended to announce matches for Raw a week in advance. The title change itself also legitimised the programme and showed that title changes weren’t PPV only and, as well as that, the match was totally different from anything else at that time in terms of style.

Ideas! Ideas! Ideas! – Improving WWE

Jamie Lithgow

I’m the creative sort so on this occasion instead of casting my opinion on what WWE is up to I’ve decided to list some ideas that I think might be kind of cool to see.

  • A wrestler who actively tweets and posts on Facebook, even during matches. I’m sure we all know people who spend far too much time on social network sites, so why isn’t there a wrestler to reflect this rather annoying section of society? They would have to be a heel and could even use text speak during promos. I think this idea is totes amaze, lol.
  • A match or event that uses two or more rings, like WCW’s War Games or World War 3, only it would have to come from Vince’s mind. WWE could use a new gimmick match because it’s done all it can with the cage and ladder concepts, get another ring out there!
  • I may have missed the boat with this but some kind of vampire/occult inspired faction. I’ve seen a few vampire/horror themed TV shows airing on TV and Twilight, however crap, is still ridiculously popular with young teens. Looking back a few years The Brood were really popular for a low card group and The Ministry still has a cult following (no pun intended) to this day, regardless of how bad most of it’s members were.
  • A new WWE logo. It’s still the Attitude Era logo that they modified when they changed their name, just seems a bit out of date now. I like the logo you see being used whenever you see trailers and stories about this WWE Network which probably won’t happen. If the Network doesn’t happen they could at least use the logo. It’s fresh and new but enough like the old one that people will still make the connection.
  • New sets for both Raw and Smackdown. Something a bit more understated would be my preference. I really liked the original Smackdown set with the oval-tron off to the side of the ramp. Something like that would be a nice change of pace.
  • Another 4 Horsemen style group. These almost always work so long as they are allowed to be dominant, like the early days of The Horseman and Evolution. You take four guys who are already successful in their own right and bring them together, but not through a mutual hatred for a babyface, rather a mutual love for fame and success. I would love to see Alberto Del Rio, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger band together. Having these guys dress in Armani suits and win (albeit by cheating) all the time is all that you need to create a super faction that can be used at the top of the card.
  • A post match style show for all the weeks WWE TV. A bit like The Xtra Factor on ITV2. Instead of Afterburn we could have this show which could show brand new footage of behind the scenes moments, reactions and even exclusive interviews. Obviously it shouldn’t be too behind the scenes, kayfabe and all that, but the level that the news section of WWE.Com operates at is ideal for this kind of thing. Instead of hearing little bits and pieces from wrestlers through Twitter we could hear it straight from the horses mouth on this show.
  • Themed PPVs. I think this is what WWE is trying to do, but it’s hard to tell. I would make every PPV have a theme or gimmick, except Wrestlemania and Summerslam. Those are the big ones that host the big matches that don’t need dressed up. Obviously some of the events do this already; The Royal Rumble speaks for itself, Survivor Series has it’s tag matches, Extreme Rules, Money in The Bank, Elimination Chamber etc. Something to set each event apart and make each one special is what I’d be looking for.

A few random thoughts…

Jamie Lithgow

Here are some random wrestling thoughts that have been bumping around the empty chasm that is my head.

  • How good are The Usos!? Solid ring work, great move set, good look, cool entrance, they have their own crowd chant and were easily the most over team in the fatal four way at No Way Out. Even more impressive is that they seem to have achieved all of this without any help whatsoever from the creative department.
  • What is the purpose of Hunico? I like the guy but it seems that his whole reason for being employed is to lose to Sin Cara. Yes he is Cara’s nemesis, but I don’t remember him ever defeating him. There really is no point to their matches anymore.
  • I can’t take The Big Show seriously. Yes, I know he’s been rubbish for years but even if we ignore that and concentrate on recent times he’s still a joke. For starters Mr McMahon himself said that he hasn’t been useful since 1999. Secondly, he contradicts himself in promos. Apparently he’s willing to get fired from the company he begged not to be fired from a few weeks ago. Lastly he’s supposed to be the number one heel, a giant, a monster a wrecking machine yet he comes out week after week wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a bear on it and a woolly hat that’s at least two sizes too small for him.
  • I don’t really care about Triple H vs Brock Lesnar. Both are part timers so as a fan that watches every week I don’t really care who wins or what happens because it will have very little bearing on what happens from week to week in WWE. Yes, I know Undertaker vs Triple H fell into this bracket but Brock Lesnar is not The Undertaker and he certainly doesn’t have any kind of streak to defend.
  • The King is getting worse on commentary. It’s like he’s not The King anymore, it’s like he’s a robot that has been programmed to use phrases The King might say. He seems to just chip in with a stupid comment from his library of stupid comments stored in his internal hard drive at random intervals during matches. Then when Michael Cole or Booker T question or correct him he short circuits and proceeds to make an even stupider comment.
  • I don’t want to like this Hunter Hearst Sandow, sorry Damien Sandow character on Smackdown but I do, almost anyway. He’s a blatant rip-off/reincarnation of Triple H which is why I don’t want to like him, I hate copy cats, but he’s really good in the role. I’m interested to see how this character develops.
  • Speaking of copy cats, Ryback wants to take on three jobbers at a time now. Good for him, but that won’t make the “Goldberg” chants go away. What will make them go away is a carefully scripted promo where he is allowed to acknowledge the chants and Goldberg himself. Until then Ryback is just going to appear as a Goldberg tribute act.
  • I was slightly disheartened to see Dolph Ziggler lose cleanly to Sheamus, but because of the quality of the match he won’t have been hurt too much. Please let his defeat of Jack Swagger on Raw be the start of a prolonged Ziggler push. I’d like to see him kept away from the big guns for a month or so to allow him to build up some wins and make us forget about all the losses he has picked up this year. I’m just thinking back to when CM Punk shattered the glass ceiling. There was a certain promo that he delivered but he also built up an impressive win/loss record last spring/summer. Winning and losing is still the bread and butter of reaching the top in wrestling and Ziggler needs a few wins to get him on his way.
  • AJ is not just the best female character but the best character in general to emerge in ages. She reminds me of when Mickie James first debuted, you just don’t quite know what to expect from her. I thought her and Kane’s addition would take away from the Punk/Bryan feud but it has actually added to it. I’m sure Punk andBryanwill have many more matches together in the years to come, which is why I think WWE have done a good job of not going over board with this feud. We want another Hart/Michaels or Rock/Austin not a Cena/Orton affair where they face each other on what seems like a weekly basis.
  • Good to see Vince back on TV, the guy is top class. I may not agree with all the decisions he makes and who he decides the champion should be but when the camera is on him he never fails to entertain.

New Vacancies – Bad guys needed for multi national sports entertainment organisation

Jamie Lithgow

The date as a write this is June 20th 2012. In order of prestige here are WWE’s current champions –

WWE Heavyweight: CM Punk
World Heavyweight: Sheamus
Intercontinental: Christian
Tag Team: Kofi Kingston & R-Truth
United States: Santino Marella
Divas: Layla

Other than holding titles what do all these superstars have in common? They are all babyfaces. Having all face or all heel title holders has happened many times before and will happen many more times. However this time I don’t honestly see this changing any time soon. I see all of the above superstars holding onto their gold until at least Summerslam. There is a case for the tag team and US titles switching at a moments notice, but that would require The Primetime Players to really step up and for Santino to find a genuine foe to battle.

Also, you will notice that this list doesn’t include the biggest babyface of them all; John Cena. Nor does it include the currently suspended Randy Orton or Rey Mysterio.

Furthermore, of the few top heels that WWE does have 2 of them are already borderline babyfaces. Daniel Bryan is the most over wrestler in the company; Vince just needs to snap his fingers and he’ll have another top level babyface to make money from. Kane also appears to be in limbo, but then again he always does. Kane has the kind of character and cult following that allows him to comfortably switch between good and evil whenever WWE wishes.

Much as I don’t appreciate yet another Big Show push, I do understand it. WWE needed a heel and needed one quickly, so they turned to Show. He’s been there and done it so casual fans will accept him in the role. Problem is he only lasted a month before Super Cena beat him and now he is looking likely to be demoted to a feud with Brodus Clay.

At least Chris Jericho is returning next week, but what a shame that he has been used as a ‘put over’ guy for 6 months. It’s fairly common knowledge that Jericho will be returning to rock n’ roll after Summerslam so has thus lost the majority of his matches in order to put over the guys that are staying put. That would have been fine had there been a good level of depth to the heel ranks, but there hasn’t been. Jericho should have been treated like a true headliner and won the WWE title from Punk at some point. Therefore his opponent, who no doubt will beat him at Summerslam, will be defeating a genuine player and not a has-been on a losing streak.

What about Brock Lesnar? Well I’m not going to bother mentioning him in this article. He’s a part timer, a special attraction who looks set to wrestle other part timers until his contract ends next year. If I add Brock Lesnar’s name to the heel ranks then I would have to add the more weighty names of Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker to the babyface numbers too.

Something clearly has to be done; John Laurinaitis is the top heel for goodness sake! Granted Vince was once the top heel but Big Johnny is nowhere near the Mr McMahon character. At least when Vince was feuding with Austin it was actually entertaining, plus there were heels like The Rock, The Undertaker and later Triple H operating too.

WWE has two options. Turn a couple of their precious money making babyfaces or put in some effort by building some legitimate headliners to oppose the likes of Cena and Punk.

Alberto Del Rio hasn’t really worked because they made him look too weak against the big boys. This can be repaired but WWE has to be willing to let the top babyfaces actually lose and show weakness against him. Del Rio needs to look like a genuine threat, thus when a babyface does beat him it looks like a genuine achievement. Dolph Ziggler looks like he might be getting push; hopefully not a short lived one. A returning Wade Barrett could do a job in a headline position, if given the chance to look like the monster heel he could potentially be.

WWE has done such a monumental job of protecting its babyface merchandise machines that it has all but destroyed the heel ranks. I see absolutely no bad guys that would pose a threat to John Cena and only two that could potentially defeat the other babyfaces; Big Show and Daniel Bryan. Show was the stop gap solution who could very easily be working further down the card in a few weeks while Bryan may as well be a babyface with amount of fan support he has. Please WWE, good guys winning all the time is unbelievably boring and lame.

When WWE Was Cool – My First Raw

Jamie Lithgow

As the 1000th episode of Raw fast approaches I’ve found myself thinking about all the great episodes I’ve watched and what better place to start than the first one I ever saw. I’m sure I’m not the only one, even on this blog, who can say that their first Raw was also how they got into/back into wrestling.

Like pretty much boy at the time I was wrestling mad in the early 1990’s. My favourites included Bret Hart, The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker and Macho Man Randy Savage. However watching WWF, as it was back then, was always a special treat for me because I didn’t have Sky TV. The only time I would get to watch it was at big events like Wrestlemania and Summerslam because I would go round to my mate’s house. Thus when he stopped watching wrestling so did I. The last event I remember watching from around that time was probably the 1994 Royal Rumble. It’s hard to forget something like the casket match between The Undertaker and Yokozuna and Taker’s apparent ascent to heaven afterwards.

For the next few years I didn’t follow wrestling at all. Firstly I did not have the means to watch it and secondly it wasn’t seen as particularly cool anymore. If we fast forward to late 1998 and early 1999 I am now a 14/15 year old boy whose only interests are football and page 3 of The Daily Star. Before you judge this was before we had internet in our house! Anyway, I would hear some of my mates (Craig being one of them) talking about The Rock, DX, Mankind etc. and I would have no idea what they were on about. I did obviously find out that these were wrestlers but I really just didn’t take part in those conversations. That was until the big day arrived; the Lithgow house was getting Sky TV!

I don’t remember the exact date, because that would just be sad, but it was somewhere in mid March 1999. We got Sky Analogue installed and my life was changed forever, mostly due to those random German channels towards the top end of the channel list! Anyway, after a week or two of being able to watch Simpsons episodes that the BBC didn’t show and Premiership football without getting my Dad to take me to the pub I decided to see what all the fuss was about with this WWF stuff. So I sat down at 10pm on a Friday night and took in 2 hours of the coolest TV show I had ever seen.

The Raw in question was episode number 308, broadcast in the states on Monday 29th March 1999 and shown over here a few days later on the Friday of that week. I was able to recall this because at the start of the broadcast there was a graphic telling us that “this programme was recorded 24 hours after Wrestlemania 15”. I have obviously viewed this episode recently to allow me to write about it but there are still things I remember from watching it first time around, this graphic being one of them for some reason.

Something I also remember from watching first time around was one of the episode-long storylines in which Stone Cold demanded to have his smoking skull championship belt returned to him by Mr McMahon. I recall that I did know who Stone Cold was because I had seen him on mainstream TV, most likely Celebrity Death Match. However it didn’t click with me straight away that Mr McMahon was the guy I knew from commentary that used to say “whatta manoeuvre!” Something I had forgotten about this however was just how funny Vince was in this segment. He wasn’t for giving Austin his belt back, until Austin threatened to open a can of whoop ass at which point Vince hit him with the original title belt and ran away up the ramp like a child, priceless.

The other episode-long storyline also sticks in my head, so much so that I didn’t need too much prompting from re-watching the episode. The Undertaker and his Ministry hit the ring at the end of a women’s match involving Sable. Taker grabs Sable around the throat and orders Vince to come out to the ring. Vince heads to the top of ramp leaving Stephanie in his dressing room only to rush back there when he realises what is going on. It was actually pretty clever stuff because I bet some fans didn’t even register what was going on at first. The Ministry was in the ring; however The Acolytes were mysteriously absent. They were obviously abducting Stephanie while Vince was away. This was subtly done and Michael Cole and The King didn’t take us by the hand and make sure we picked up all the clues. These were the days when the audience were treated as adults, because most of them were.

Vince deployed Corporation member Ken Shamrock to look for Princess Stephanie, which brings me to the point of this show that has stuck in my head for years, as random as it is. Shamrock also had to compete in a match, against a member of The Ministry of course. Just after he makes Gangrel tap out to the ankle lock the lights cut out, The Brood’s music hits and the red strobe light begins. As a first time viewer I’m thinking what the hell is going on but then the lights come back on, Shamrock is covered in blood, Gangrel has disappeared but Christian didn’t escape in time and is still left at ring side. Shamrock grabs him, slaps on the ankle lock and makes him confess that Stephanie is in the basement. I’m not sure if it’s because I thought The Brood were really cool or because I had never seen anything like this in wrestling before but this was the moment that I decided WWF was cool and that I would definitely be watching from now on. Incidentally the following week Christian was beaten senseless by the rest of The Ministry which prompted him and his Brood team mates to leave the group. It’s from this point on that I developed an interest in Edge and more specifically Christian who would become my favourite wrestler.

Anyway, back to the show and the last thing that has genuinely stayed with me since the first time I watched this episode over 13 years ago was seeing The Rock for the first time. I had heard his name mentioned in conversations and had a preconception that he was going to be a giant of man who rarely spoke and kicked everyone’s ass. I was simply basing this on his name; it implied to me that he would be an absolute tank and not much else. How wrong was I! This guy comes out to a huge pop, despite being a heel, with massive sideburns and aura of a superstar. I was instantly drawn to him, what a performer he was, and to be fair still is. On the show he defeated Billy Gunn in an extremely entertaining match and would later come out with Stone Cold’s smoking skull belt and start a fight with The Texas Rattlesnake to end the broadcast.

Other happenings on the show that I did need to be reminded of include the fallout from Wrestlemania with Triple H leaving DX and defecting to The Corporation. Big Show turned babyface and left The Corporation after knocking Vince out the previous night. Kane also left The Corporate Team and fully turned babyface as a knock on effect of the Triple H leaving DX storyline. Goldust defeated Road Dogg for the IC title. There were also two things that I had totally forgotten about. Firstly JR was working as a manager for Dr Death Steve Williams and from what I could tell was supposed to be a heel. Secondly The Legion of Doom were still employed at this time, they looked absolutely terrible in their loss to tag team champions Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett.

So that was my first Raw and I must say that I couldn’t have wished for a better place to start. It felt like a new dawn in the WWF with all the fallout from Wrestlemania. Looking back it was like I had gotten lucky and started watching a TV show from episode one of a new season, rather than half way through. After re-watching this episode I can see that it is drastically different to Raw these days. There was so much happening, hardly any idle time at all. It felt like a machine gun approach in that if you don’t like the current match or segment then don’t worry, another one will be along in a minute. This was a really good episode which left me wanting more, and when I got more and wanted more again, and again, and again…

Matches from History: Ronnie Garvin v Greg Valentine at Royal Rumble 1990


Craig Wilson and James Giles

Background: Greg Valentine and Ronnie Garvin had been feuding since a match on December 30, 1988 in Madison Square Garden (MSG) which Valentine won by grabbing the tights for leverage. On the April 22, 1989 episode of Superstars, Garvin defeated Valentine in a match. On the following edition of Superstars, they both faced each other in a retirement match where the loser could not wrestle any more in WWF. Valentine won the match, sending Garvin into retirement. Garvin became a referee for WWF. During this time, he disqualified his rival Valentine in a match against Jimmy Snuka and was suspended after the match. Valentine was so irate that he demanded for Garvin to be re-instated as a professional wrestler and his request was accepted. At Survivor Series 1989, they both battled in a match on opposing teams.

Craig: The 1990 Royal Rumble is one of my favourite Rumbles of all time. Allegedly Perfect was supposed to win the Rumble but Hogan, who else, put the kibosh on that so won it and then went on to win the follow year’s event as well. Anywho, while the Rumble is good the undercard tends to get ignored. Sure, the Beefcake v Genius match was a comedy squash and one of the other matches was Bossman v Duggan but the undercard did have two other good matches – a surprisingly good match between the Fabulous Rougeau’s and the Bushwakers and this submission match between Garvin and Valentine. Before we get started, as an interesting piece of trivia, as well as being an accomplished pilot, Ronnie Garvin is also Jimmy Garvin’s, of Fabulous Freebird, fame.

Anyway, the match itself is a very brutal and extremely stiff affair with two legitimate tough men in the ring hitting lumps out of each other. There’s more to it, however, than just that with a neat storyline running through the match. A submission match at that time was a quite alien concept and during the course of this bout both men going for pinfalls which, I felt, was a nice angle.

The commentators are even taken aback by the stiffness of this encounter with Tony Schiavone saying it is “high impact” and Jesse Ventura stating that it is the “ruggedest (sic) match” he’s ever commentated on. And they aren’t wrong. From hard jabs, slaps to the face and chops that would make Ric Flair proud, this match is really unlike anything you would see at that time.

While Garvin’s good days were behind him, from his time at the NWA, this is arguably Greg Valentine’s last great match before the stupidity of the Rhythm and Blues run with Honky Tonk and the event more stupid face run. As I said, I really love this whole event and the more often I watch this match, the more and more that I appreciate it. The storytelling is tight and the stiffness of the offense is something the WWF just wasn’t known for in the early 1990s and that made this match even better. There’s also a great moment early on when Valentine has the figure-four applied but Garvin’s shin protector, the Hammer Jammer, prevents the move inflicting much damage and Garvin sits up and pulls faces at Valentine.

James: I have to confess that when Craig suggested this match, I didn’t have much knowledge or memory of either participant. All I could recall of Valentine was his series of brutal Dog Collar matches with Roddy Piper in NWA, and Garvin’s name didn’t really register at all. Considering this, and the time period in WWE the bout was from, my level of expectation was lukewarm at best. It was satisfying then that this turned out to be a pleasantly entertaining piece of work.

From the bell Valentine, accompanied by Jimmy Hart, takes the control, with stiff looking fore-arm blows, punches and knees, and heavy elbow drops. Garvin fights back with chops and punches, before they collide with an unconvincing head-butt. This is the first of several dodgy collisions throughout the match, and a few more moments are mistimed. Thankfully the intensity of the performances, and the quality selling and story-telling, engages enough to make them forgivable. There are more back and forth exchanges for a few minutes, before the script of the bout and feud comes to the fore; Valentine has a shin guard which add impact to his elbow drops and figure four leg-lock, and Garvin has a similar guard which he uses to counter the extra pressure on the submission move. This is illustrated when Valentine manages to apply the figure-four and Garvin no-sells the pain.

As things progress steadily, so does the crowd noise as they are drawn in. Neither holds anything back with their offence and they absorb some serious punishment. The Hammer eventually wears Garvin down enough, using a backdrop on the floor, for Jimmy Hart to sneakily remove Garvin’s brace, and Valentine again re-applies the move. Rugged Ron bravely holds on though and reverses it to a big pop. After working over Valentine some more, Garvin is able to apply is own submission, The Sharp Shooter, and score the popular victory when Valentine gives up. There is, unfortunately, one large gripe I have about it; despite it being a submission match, both men repeatedly go for pin-falls. Logically, they should do this maybe once or twice, probably in the heat of the moment and to remind people of the stipulation. But it happens about eight times, and makes them both look as if they can’t remember a simple rule.

Overall though, the match is a hard-hitting and gripping encounter, and holds up better than many mid-card battles from the same era. It has also increased my appreciation for Garvin and Valentine as workers, and I hope we examine more involving these two in the future.