In just a few days, WWE will be holding a pay-per-view event. It doesn’t really matter when you read this, as WWE seems to run one every two weeks nowadays, but the one I have in mind is Clash of Champions.
It’s all part of WWE’s expansion to a 19-event schedule on the WWE Network, with each minor show running three hours long, and each major show expanding further and further until Wrestlemania 35 spans the entire season of Lent.
But even back in 1995, when the WWF started running two-hour “In Your House” event every month between its Big Five shows, the Federation’s pay-per-view market seemed over-saturated.
Not only did October 1995 see the WWF’s second consecutive cut-rate show, it also saw two big injuries among its top stars, both of whom had been booked in high-profile matches. Without The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, In Your House’s card risked falling apart like a house of, uh, cards.
Life had given the WWF lemons, so they pissed in a pitcher and sold it as lemonade.
Eight days prior to In Your House, Shawn Michaels was attacked in the infamous Syracuse night club incident, where nine thugs had beaten Michaels so badly that he suffered a major concussion, but not so badly that he couldn’t count exactly nine of them.
With Shawn Michaels’s status in jeopardy, it was more important than ever for fans to catch the pre-show to get the official word on Shawn’s match.
Federation President Gorilla Monsoon? He wouldn’t say on the pre-show whether Shawn would wrestle that night.
Sure, he did call the possibility “highly unlikely,” but he said that about everything. He did, however, guarantee an Intercontinental title match, the details of which he didn’t know yet.
Monsoon would indeed figure out the details, but would you believe his luck? It was already two minutes into the pay-per-view, and too late for viewers to cancel, when he informed the everyone who’d paid to see Shawn Michaels that he most certainly would not be wrestling.
Dean Douglas was to be awarded the Intercontinental title before defending it against Razor Ramon…
…whom Monsoon decided should get two title shots that night, in case his tag team title match didn’t work out.
Vince McMahon hyped up the next two hours of action to be held in front of what he called a “capacity crowd” in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
He would have gotten away with it, too, if the opening fireworks hadn’t exposed large sections of empty seats and an entirely vacant upper deck.
The night’s opening match saw Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Fatu, the newly-repackaged Samoan American from the streets of San Francisco trying to make a difference.
Kudos to the WWF for finally giving a Samoan a non-stereotypical gimmick.
Instead of getting dropped on his thick head, then popping right back up, Fatu got dropped on his thick head, popped right back up, and danced!
What little feud there was going into this match revolved around Triple H thinking that Fatu smelled bad.
In fact, at the outset of the match, Fatu yanked the perfume away from Helmsley. What was Hunter so afraid of? That Fatu would make him smell heavenly?
And why didn’t Fatu just use the Raid to kill the roaches?
And how did this fan manage to get his sign past security?
I don’t have answers for any of those questions, but Triple H had some answers for Fatu, putting his opponent away with the Pedigree to prove himself the better-smelling man.
Razor Ramon and the 1-2-3 Kid then wrestled the champion Smoking Gunns in a rare tag match featuring four faces and no heels.
Or, as Jim Ross might say after reading some Apter mags, four fan favorites and no rulebreakers.
The challengers looked poised to win until the Kid insisted that he be the one to make the pin.
Instead, Billy Gunn reversed the cover to win the match and retain the titles. The Kid then went nuts on the Gunns, while Razor Ramon took the loss in stride, as if he could just be handed a title shot whenever he wanted (against Dean Douglas, for example).
Speaking of Douglas, the WWF’s resident professor took notes on The Bad Guy throughout the bout. And when I say took notes, I mean literal notes, in dialectical journal format with in-line citations and everything.
Barry Didinski might not have been on hand to push merchandise, but that didn’t mean Dok Hendrix couldn’t promote the life-size WWF Superstars cutouts…
…or try to sell kids on the idea of Bret Hart standing in their bedrooms all night, watching them sleep.
Great White North also offered the debut, or “premiere”, of the bizarre Goldust, and more significantly, a rare look into those brief few weeks when the announcers could pretend that “bizarre” wasn’t just their euphemism for “gay”.
But, make no mistake, Goldust was bizarre. How bizarre?
So bizarre that when he took off his gold wig for the first time…
…Vince thought he had just scalped himself.
Under the face paint and unflattering body suit was, of course, Dustin Runnels, who in 1995 was many years removed from his physical and technical prime.
Goldust may have been bizarre, but he was bizarre with a purpose, playing mind games to defeat Marty Jannetty.
Now, if you really wanted “bizarre”, you should have checked out the fan in the front row who came dressed as a vampire, and no one knew who he was or why he was wearing makeup and a cape.
A subsequent close-up served only to rule out Joe Flaherty.
The next match was originally scheduled to feature the Undertaker and King Mabel, but after Mabel crushed Taker’s orbital bone with a leg drop…
…the Dead Man was subbed out for Yokozuna, Mabel’s fellow heel and partner in crime.
The story leading into the match, therefore, was one of two allies with no animosity towards each other being forced into a match where nothing was at stake. In that sense, the ensuing match highlighted both men’s unparalleled commitment to storytelling, as neither Yokozuna nor Mabel gave a flying body press about putting on a competitive match.
Whereas an earlier match between the two men, released the year before on home video, saw the two behemoths trade body slams…
…their rematch consisted mainly of the two stalling and occasionally running into each other.
Most live telecasts operate on a seven-second delay, and so did Yokozuna when selling Mabel’s bulldog.
Both men ended up outside of the ring, where Yokozuna tripped on Jim Cornette and could not get back in, ending this catch-as-catch-can farce via countout.
Even Vince himself called the bout a “less than stellar matchup”.
Yoko and Mabel then stared each other down for what felt like longer than the match itself until the two mammoths realized that violence was not the answer and hugged it out.
Forget Fatu; Yokozuna and Mabel were the ones making a difference.
After watching a match like that, can you really blame these fans behind the announce table for putting away a beer or five?
It was then time for Shawn Michaels to not wrestle.
I’ll cut this pay-per-view some slack here: at least there were unavoidable real-life reasons for pulling Undertaker and HBK off the card… unlike at that year’s King of the Ring tournament, where both men were eliminated in the first round on purpose.
A battered Shawn Michaels made history by forfeiting his title for only the fourth or fifth time in his WWF career.
It would have been a very emotional scene, were it not for that fan dressed up as a vampire for no reason.
Dean Douglas snatched the title belt away and wasted no time celebrating, making the most of his (literal) fifteen minutes of fame before he’d have to lose it to Razor.
I get that Dean was living large now as champion, but that was no reason to put his hands on the referee, which Vince McMahon deemed “very uncool”.
The match was humming along until Razor Ramon hit a standard belly-to-back suplex, with which he had never beaten an opponent, then lay down and draped his arm over the Dean while his own shoulders were down. For good measure, Douglas stuck his leg out of the ring.
The referee saw none of these things, nor did Vince McMahon until he saw two replays. But the referee nonetheless counted to three to the confusion of the audience.
But if you didn’t like it, Razor had two words for ya.
Dean Douglas really got screwed over by the Clique here, holding the IC title for the shortest length of time in history. At least the doubly-screwy finish would have made the perfect justification for a rematch, had anyone ever mentioned it again, which they didn’t.
It was certainly an anti-climactic ending to a title match, but not an anti-climactic ending to the pay-per-view. if you wanted that, you’d have to stick around for the main event featuring Big Daddy Cool Diesel and The British Bulldog.
Backstage, Dok Hendrix asked Diesel (who had been betrayed by the British Bulldog in a tag match, pinned by the Bulldog in a six-man tag, and even cost a match against Waylon Mercy by countout because of Bulldog’s distraction) what his mindset was. It was a pertinent question, with a less-than-pertinent response:
Well, if anyone knew funky, it was Dok.
Eleven months into his planned years-long run, Diesel had failed to have a decent match with anyone but Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, but Vince figured that he could count on a technician like Davey Boy Smith who also had the muscle to manhandle the seven-foot Kevin Nash.
Instead, the fans in Winnipeg were subjected to the most effective cure for insomnia since Steve Urkel’s Snooze Juice, with even less entertaining wrestling action.
Instead of throwing the champion around, Bulldog tried to immobilize Diesel by applying leg hold after leg hold, with varying degrees of success.
Bret Hart, who was on commentary with Vince, critiqued Bulldog’s application of a sharpshooter so sloppy that if The Rock were watching, he’d say, “Damn, that’s almost as bad as mine.”
At least the plodding, ground-based strategy would have been excusable if it had in any way figured into the outcome of the match.
Instead, after working over Diesel’s leg with rest holds for 18 minutes, Bulldog inexplicably walked over to the announce table and slapped Bret Hart.
By far the biggest pop of the match, nay, the night, occurred when Bret Hart ran in to punch out the Bulldog.
You know, maybe Vince should have put the Canadian guy on the card.
He then got into a skirmish with Diesel that emptied the babyface locker room.
The (two-thirds) capacity crowd went wild.
But the result? A disqualification victory for Bulldog.
If Diesel and Bulldog had managed an entertaining bout, it’s likely that Vince would have stuck with the seven-footer as the top guy. Diesel would have retained his title the next month at Survivor Series, and the WWF would have run on Diesel power for months or years to come.
Maybe Kevin Nash would have never left for WCW.
Or maybe he would have left anyway the following May, and the MSG Curtain Call would have become the MSG Screwjob.
Instead, so frustrated was Vince McMahon with Diesel’s performance that, according to sources at the arena, he threw down his headset and said “Horrible!” after the show went off the air. Then again, you have to wonder how reliable those sources were.