The Way We Was: WWF King of The Ring 1996

Jamie Lithgow

Just like last week, today we bring you another bonus edition of ‘The Way We Was’. What’s the occasion this time I hear you ask? Well on this week 20 years ago the WWF presented King of The Ring, a pay per view billed as “The Greatest Card Ever in The History of The WWF……. King Of The Ring”. Hindsight tells us that this was a significant event in wrestling history, but let’s see what Austin 3:16 had to say on the matter…

The MECCA arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the venue for the WWF’s annual pilgrimage to crown a new king. As I watched the Network version I did not see the Free For All, but as ever it sounds like I missed nothing of importance. The Bodydonnas defeated The New Rockers after an assist from their new manager, more on that later. Also, my one time favourite to win the King of The Ring tournament, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, defeated Aldo Montoya. Elsewhere, with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler booked in a match and Mr Perfect set to referee the main event there was a vacancy for a heel commentator. Luckily the hilariously deadpan Owen Hart made for a more than capable substitute. Having berated Vince McMahon and Jim Ross, Owen Hart whipped the announce team into shape just in time for match number one…

King of The Ring Semi Final #1
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Wild Man Marc Mero

A solid effort, but Stunning Steve vs. Johnny B. Badd would have been better. The actual match was perfectly fine, but the crowd’s complete indifference to Mero sucked all the drama from this one. The story of the match was Austin’s “heartless” and “mechanical” approach to targeting Mero’s back. Moments of note include Austin suffering a bad looking mouth injury before hitting his newly named ‘Stone Cold Stunner’ to hand Mero his first WWF defeat. As with last week, the Stunner looked a little like a Diamond Cutter/RKO and was hit ‘outta nowhere’ rather than with a kick to the gut. The Wild Man sold the move by writhing around while holding his throat. Some work to do until we see the Stunner we all know and love then. Oh, Owen Hart kept describing the PVC clad Sable as “homely”…

Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin

King of The Ring Semi Final #2
Jake The Snake Roberts vs. Vader

This was more of an angle than a match. The actual contest lasted less than four minutes, with Vader pummelling the 41 year old Roberts for most of it. Jake actually ducked down in the corner a couple of times to make Vader back off. The DQ finish was called after Vader grabbed the referee as Jake hit the big man with his famous DDT. Vader subsequently lost it and beat the holy shit out of Jake, with his ribs taking much of the punishment. Will he be able to compete in the final??? He’s a babyface, so probably. On commentary Owen insisted that Jake was “an old man” and 51 or 61 years of age. Owen’s perception of Jake’s age increased the longer the show went on. By the end of the final he had Roberts pinned at 80 or 90 years old!

Winner, by DQ: Jake The Snake Roberts

WWF Tag Team Championship Match
The Smoking Gunns (c) vs. The Godwinns

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs...

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs…

This match was as you imagine; crap. The main point of interest actually came from the Free For All recap when we were introduced to Cloudy – get it? – The Boddydonnas new manager. She(?) did a cut-in interview during this match. Sunny couldn’t see this as she was at ringside, but as she was already aware of Cloudy’s existence she was not in a good mood. Oh, The Gunns scored the win after Bart nailed Phineas with his boot to allow Billy to make the cover.

Winners, and still WWF Tag Team Champions: The Smoking Gunns

During a backstage interview with The British Bulldog we saw Mr Perfect – referee for Bulldog’s match with Shawn Michaels – getting changed in the Camp Cornette dressing room along with Davey Boy. I know what you’re thinking, but no, we didn’t get to see anything.

Ultimate Warrior vs. Jerry Lawler

The result you expected from a match that lasted as long as you expected, but not quite the way you might have expected. The pair were largely fighting over King costing Warrior a spot in the quarter finals of the King of The Ring tournament before smashing a framed picture over his back the next week. After verbally abusing the audience – including easy targets like a fat kid and a sad woman – The King bossed this sub-four minute match until Warrior no-sold a piledriver en route to his miraculous comeback. Bizarrely the ref chose to ignore Lawler’s blatant use of his wrist tape to choke Warrior. This rather large booking flaw was highlighted by the commentators who were equally mystified as to why a DQ had not been called for.

Winner: The Ultimate Warrior

Backstage, Jake Roberts vowed to face Steve Austin despite being patched up by doctors while he was trying to speak. WWF President, Gorilla Monsoon, allowed this but said he would not hesitate to stop the match should he need to.

Mankind vs. The Undertaker

This is going to hurt...

This is going to hurt…

Finally, the first match between these two, and it did not disappoint. It is important to remember that up until the beginning of 1996 The Undertaker was still wrestling in his slow-paced, robotic style. Since facing Bret Hart at the Royal Rumble we have seen a different side to The Deadman i.e. one that can wrestle more diverse opponents than Harvey Wippleman’s latest goon. This one started off as a wild fist fight with Taker duping Mankind by not entering via the aisle during his entrance. Perched on the top rope as the lights came up, The Undertaker started with a flurry of punches. Owen Hart called it perfectly on commentary when he said we would not see any technical wrestling, but a good brawl can be just as exiting. There was a nice piece of trivia from Vince McMahon – I know, who knew? – when he mentioned that Mankind’s Mandible Claw finisher was actually devised and introduced to pro wrestling by Dr Sam Shepherd, the neurologist turned wrestler who spent 10 years in prison for a murder he was eventually acquitted of. That last piece of trivia was actually from me, let’s not give Vince too much credit. Back to the match and we got to see the Cactus Jack elbow for the first time in the WWF, only The Undertaker managed to grab a chair as a counter. He then used said chair to deliver a sick looking unprotected chair shot to Mankind’s head. Viewing stuff like this today really does make you wince. The end came after Mankind grabbed The Undertaker’s urn only for Paul Bearer to grab it back. Bearer then tried to hit Mankind with it, but nailed The Deadman instead. This allowed Mankind to apply the aforementioned Mandible Claw for the win. Post-match Owen Hart was not shy in speculating that Bearer hit The Undertaker deliberately. This was rubbished by both Vince and JR.

Winner: Mankind

Backstage Mr Perfect vowed to call the WWF Championship Match between Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog right down the middle. When a referee has to say that you know something fishy is going on…

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match
Goldust (c) vs. Ahmed Johnson

And nobody noticed that Ahmed's shoulder's were down for a lot longer than 3 seconds

And nobody noticed that Ahmed’s shoulder’s were down for a lot longer than a three count

You can forget about the IC Title here, because I sure did. These guys were fighting because Ahmed Johnson does not like being groped, kissed and sexually harassed by other men. In an attempt to clarify that Goldust is not a baddy simply because he appears to be gay – as with his Razor Ramon and Roddy Piper feuds – he is a baddy because he is a predatory sexual deviant… who also appears to be gay. Good job guys, that’s much better! The action in this match was nothing to write home about – aside from Ahmed’s insane suicide dive to the floor – rather it was the crowd that elevated this one. Due to the nature of the storyline, the crowd could not help but be interested. Goldust gained massive heat by grabbing Ahmed’s ass, covering him in very suggestive ways and providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, again. To clarify, The Bizarre One put Ahmed to sleep with a sleeper hold, but relinquished the hold while the referee checked to see if the big Johnson had gone limp. Goldust revived Ahmed, which was an undoubted mistake. This marked Johnson’s comeback, which fans went wild for. Ahmed hit his Pearl River Plung for the win, a huge pop and the Intercontinental Title…… which I had totally forgotten was on the line.

Winner, and new Intercontinental Champion: Ahmed Johnson

We saw a promo for the next In Your House, International Incident, so titled because it will be held in Vancouver. What was not so obvious, however, was the use of aliens in the promo. Are Canadians aliens? Is Roswell actually in British Columbia? Answers on a postcard folks.

The WWF’s newest signing, Brian Pillman, came out to cut a promo and leave us in absolutely no doubt about his role as babyface or heel once he is cleared to wrestle. Much of what he said was inaudible due to how quietly he spoke, but most of what I did hear was deeply offensive. He closed by saying that he intends to “rape, pillage and plunder this entire federation”. Yikes! As he was making his way to the back he crossed paths with a certain Steve Austin…

King of The Ring Final
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Jake The Snake Roberts

We were told that Austin had visited a local hospital in order to get 16 stitches in his mouth after his match with Marc Mero. This did not help to build sympathy for Jake Roberts who was trying to sell a kayfabe rib injury. As with Jake’s first match of the night, this was a short and one sided affair with Austin targeting the ribs. Gorilla Monsoon did appear, but Jake continued to fight until he fell victim to a Stone Cold Stunner after around four minutes.

Winner, and 1996 King of The Ring: Stone Cold Steve Austin

Okay, so nobody remembers the match, but Austin’s coronation and subsequent promo are now etched in wrestling history. With only a minute or so to work with, the man who had previously barely said a word on WWF TV coined two iconic catchphrases – and made Vince McMahon millions in t-shirt sales – with possibly the best wrestling promo of all time. Here it is:

“The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I’ve proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore! You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!

All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime.

As the King of The Ring, I’m serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don’t give a damn what they are, they’re all on the list, and that’s Stone Cold’s list, and I’m fixing to start running through all of ’em.

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

WWF Championship Match
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith

Hey kid, aren't you Matt Hardy?

‘Hey kid, aren’t you Matt Hardy?’

Before the match could start Gorilla Monson bumped Mr Perfect down to outside referee – a bit like a ringside enforcer, I assume – and inserted senior referee Earl Hebner as the in ring official. I guess Mr P should have changed in the referee’s locker room after all. That said, with Perfect, Jim Cornette, Diana Smith and Owen on commentary, The Bulldog was doing better than Shawn Michaels who only brought Jose Lothario with him. As was the case for most Shawn Michaels matches around this time, his opponent was on offence most of the time. Granted there was a lot of rest holds, but there was also plenty of drama stemming from this personal rivalry. Sadly, in a match of such high quality one of the main spots was a blown one. Bulldog went for a top rope something and ended up hitting a top rope nothing. He didn’t slip, it’s like he jumped off the top rope and forgot what he was trying to do and thus landed in a heap. Owen Hart covered immediately by claiming that Jose Lothario tripped him. This was genius from Owen. The other big moment was Bulldog landing a release Superplex, which looked amazing… assuming it was intentional. Sadly the end of the match was a bit of a confusing let down though. Hebner took a slight ref bump, meaning Mr Perfect could assume main ref duties. After a fantastic sequence Michaels landed his Superkick – it’s not called Sweet Chin Music, yet. With Hebner now conscious and Perfect still in the ring both referees started to count Bulldog’s shoulder’s down. However, Owen Hart left commentary and dragged Mr Perfect out of the ring at the count of two, leaving Hebner to count the three in the ring. Was Perfect really going to count three? Why didn’t Owen pull Hebner out? What was going on here?!

Imagine this was The Kliq...

Imagine if this was The Kliq…

Winner, and still WWF Champion: Shawn Michaels

Predictably, Owen and Bulldog battered Michaels after the match. This prompted Ahmed Johnson – who Michaels had congratulated after his IC Title victory earlier in the show – to make the save. This logically brought out Camp Cornett’s top trump; Vader. After what seemed like an age, The Ultimate Warrior came out to help the good guys and clear the ring. All that was missing was an appearance from Teddy Long to confirm a tag team match on the next PPV.

This was a request made to Sable. Give it a couple of years mate…

Overall Thoughts

So that was the 1996 King of The Ring, and it was better than I expected. Prior to binge watching Raw from 1996 I had assumed this event to be Austin’s 3:16 promo and not a lot else. However, having followed Raw in the lead up to the show I felt more invested in the storylines, most of which delivered a good payoff. As a vehicle for getting Austin over, the King of The Ring tournament was excellent. Mankind vs. The Undertaker was very good and left me hungry for more, and the main event was every bit as good as you might expect from Shawn Michaels and The Bulldog. Even Lawler vs. Warrior and Goldust vs. Ahmed were satisfying, if not thrilling. The Tag match was rubbish, but I’ve come to expect that from the WWF in 1996. While not as good as last week’s Great American Bash from WCW, King of The Ring 1996 is still well worth revisiting on the WWE Network should you feel the need for some nostalgia.

You can read all previous ‘The Way We Was’ pieces here.

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3 thoughts on “The Way We Was: WWF King of The Ring 1996

  1. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2016 week 27 | Ring the Damn Bell

  2. It’s too bad the WWE Network version didn’t have the Free for All, which included a pretty good tag match between the Bodydonnas and the New Rockers.

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  3. Compared to KOR 95 which is one of the worst PPV’s in wrestling history for the booking crap WWF did that night and that Mable won it when no one brought him being a top guy , this one comes out smelling of roses. Not just because of the famous promo we all know and love. I thought most of the matches were decent, got the crowd really involved when many WWF PPV’s barely got a reaction. Many seeds planted here and of course Own was a real delight on the commentary table, I wish he had got a run on it like Punk did in 2010. Owen is someone you always love listening to.

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