The Cowboy Goes to Class – King of the Ring 1996

In this new weekly feature, the “Cowboy” Roger Morrissette saddles up and heads to school for a re-education about the wrestling business. Roger grew up a wrestling fan but faded away for nearly twenty years, only returning to his roots on brief occasions throughout the last two decades. Now, his professor, Justin Rozzero, will be doling out weekly homework assignments geared at educating Roger on everything he has missed. Roger will provide thoughts on the matches and angles he watches and will include grades on each as well. So, join the Cowboy as he heads to class, PTBN style.

This Week’s Assignment:

King-of-the-Ring-1996

King of the Ring – 1996

After a one week hiatus due to the holiday, the Cowboy is back and ready to go to class. I hope everyone enjoyed their Fourth of July as much as I did. There’s nothing like barbecue, fireworks, and drunk relatives to get you psyched up for some mid 90s wrestling! This week’s assignment is a great one. I was tasked with watching the whole King of the Ring pay per view from 1996. This was my junior year of high school and I was too busy chasing girls and trying to be cool to watch this show when it first aired. Taking a look at the card, I think this may be my best assignment yet. What a group of heavy hitters this show features…Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels, Ultimate Warrior, Jake the Snake, Undertaker, Mankind, and even Jerry “the King” Lawler.  My first impression of the card, simply based on the names involved, is that we are in the infancy of the Attitude Era. Will the old guard be able to stay relevant? Let’s see!

Match of the Night: Shawn Michaels defeats the British Bulldog to retain the WWF Championship:

This was the toughest Match of the Night call I’ve had to make in the whole series. It came down to the Main Event between Michaels and the Bulldog, Undertaker vs. Mankind, or surprisingly fun Stone Cold vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero bout. All three matches were very deserving of the honor and I think it really comes down to personal preference. I’m a huge Shawn Michaels guy which probably clouded my judgment to a degree. I feel that Shawn exemplifies what the WWF Champion should be: Great attitude, great entrance, and top notch in-ring talent. All were on display in the title tilt against the Bulldog. It was a classic power vs. technical superiority match and these guys were both great. Adding to the intrigue was Gorilla Monsoon stopping guest referee Mr. Perfect from actually working the match only seconds before the bell rung. Monsoon inserted the venerable Earl Hebner as the in-ring referee while Perfect was the outside-the-ring ref. Finally, the Bulldog’s crony Owen Hart was one of the color commentators for the match. Owen, in full heel mode, had been part of the announce team for the whole show but his close ties to the Bulldog definitely added some tension to the Main Event. With the deck seemingly stacked against him, Shawn put on a show. He broke out every move in the book against the Bulldog and even whacked Quentin Tarantino look-a-like Jim Cornette in the ass with his own tennis racquet. The match had multiple ebbs and flows and there were a couple of times that it looked like the Bulldog would take the gold, particularly after landing a brutal powerbomb on Shawn as the champ attempted a Hurricanrana. In the end, Shawn was able to land the big elbow followed by some Sweet Chin Music to put the Bulldog down for the three count and retain his title. The aftermath of the match saw Bulldog, Owen, and Vader lay a brutal beatdown on Shawn and Good Samaritan Ahmed Johnson. With Shawn laid out and Vader heading to the top rope, none other than the Ultimate Warrior came in to save the day. Warrior cleared the ring out and he, Shawn, and Johnson celebrated in the ring together. Given the events of the past year, seeing Warrior do his thing gave this author a chill down is spine and a lump in his throat. Great stuff.

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Performance of the Night: Mankind

On almost any other card the Mankind vs. Undertaker match would have won Match of the Night. It was a great back and forth affair which Mankind was surprisingly able to win with the Mandible Claw after Paul Bearer mistakenly clocked Taker with the urn. I thought the match was a real showcase for Mankind. Basically known for a total disregard for his body, its easy to forget how well Mick Foley played the role of the deranged weirdo. The total package was on display in this bout. Mankind’s awkward, but effective, moves (My personal favorite was the full lap around the ring to nail Taker with a knee to the face while he was prone against the ring steps) were spot on. His crazy antics, specifically doing a perfect “pig squeal” while Taker had him hung up in the ropes, were as creepy as ever. I was also pretty freaked out by him ripping out his own hair during the bout. Overall, a great performance from the legend Foley where he didn’t end up in the hospital afterwards.

Biggest Positive Surprise: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero

This was the opening bout on the card and was clearly the best of the King of the Ring matches. I had never seen much of Mero before, which indicates that his relevance was short lived, but I thought he put on a hell of a match with the Rattlesnake. The match earns extra points for Sable’s presence. Good lord…I had forgotten what type of “talent” she brought during her prime. Overall, this was a fantastic match. Stone Cold, obviously on the verge of a huge push, dominated most of the action and seemed to be in control. However, Mero generated some good offense of his own and put the Rattlesnake in just enough precarious positions to keep me interested and the outcome in doubt. These guys’ styles blended very well together and I was thoroughly entertained. Also, it was very interesting to see the crowd getting behind Austin, the obvious heel, in what was a precursor of what was to come in the WWF. Great match, great angle, and Sable. What more can we ask for?

Biggest Negative Surprise: Jake “the Snake” Roberts

Jake, Jake, Jake…I was very happy when I was previewing this card to see Jake in the King of the Ring tournament. He is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time and could always be counted on to deliver. Unfortunately, this was the Willie Mays on the Mets version of the Hall of Famer. His first match with Vader was a total dud. Jake’s whole offensive arsenal consisted of jabs and straight right hands followed by going for the DDT as soon as he knocked his opponent down once. His outfit was awful as well. I can’t imagine a scenario where that vest was a good idea. Vader should have won this match against Jake as it would have set up a great King of the Ring final between the big guy and Austin. Instead, Jake was awarded the bout on a sketchy DQ and Vader proceeds to beat his ass after the bell. Jake’s best performance of the night was selling his rib injury. Unfortunately, Jake is allowed to continue on to the final against Austin. He is thoroughly decimated and simply looks too old to compete at a high level anymore. Sorry Snake but it’s time to hang up the boots.

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And now some quick hits on what I felt was good and bad about the show:

What Worked:

  • Ultimate Warrior and Jerry “the King” Lawler – While their match was certainly nothing special, I thought both guys succeeded in doing what they do best. Lawler riled up the crowd with a fantastic roast on his way to the ring and Warrior brought the manic energy and charisma he is known for.
  • The Smoking Gunns – Their tag team title match with the Godwinns was a solid affair and I loved the Sunny is in Phineas Godwinn’s head angle.
  • Ahmed Johnson vs. Goldust – The “mouth to mouth” angle wouldn’t play today but I thought these guys pulled it off well. Also, a great moment for Johnson winning his first IC title.

What Didn’t Work:

  • Other than the aforementioned Jake “the Snake”, the only complaint I had with the card was the underutilization of Mr. Perfect in the Main Event. Why even have him there if he is going to not really get into the action?  This is a small gripe.

Overall, this card was awesome. Two Thumbs up.  Until next time… Cowboy out!

Author: Cowboy

The Cowboy is an avid sports fan and all around jam up guy. He likes all sorts of combat sports, witnessed Mike Tyson win his first Championship and viewed UFC I in his mother's basement. He still visits there from time to time to type these articles for you.