‘Sup, Lords of Pain? No clever or chatty intro today. The wrestling world lost a legend this week, a legend who was such a perfect fit in the era this series is discussing. She did a lot of insane things during Attitude (a time when she was amazingly in her 70s) which we are going to have fun revisiting down the line.
ATTITUDE! - Revenge of The Taker (CPR Productions)
By Maz & Mav
Jan 16, 2014 - 8:34:32 AM
Rest in Peace Mae Young
Maverick: Well Maz, last time out we looked at Wrestlemania XIII as the reset show that allowed Attitude to come about; the Hart vs. Austin match in particular created a dynamic and a “feel” to the shows that would take the company forward into a brave new world of must see angles and hot matches. The post-Mania PPV in 1997 was Revenge of the Taker, which involved most of the key players of the next year or so, bar Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who was presumably playing polo or whatever else Connecticut Bluebloods do in kayfabe...
Mazza: Yeah, the thing with In Your House PPVs at this point in time is that they were only two hour events. Now even though the 1997 WWF roster was pretty thin, it would still mean guys would be sitting things out. Aside from Hunter, names like Sid, Vader and Goldust jump to mind as being missing here in addition many of the tag teams who strutted their stuff a month earlier at Mania. But there was still plenty of talent on show and the continuation of one storyline from WrestleMania 13 in particular. So let’s not hang about and take a deeper look at...
The Event: In Your House 14: Revenge of the ‘Taker
The Date: 20 April 1997
The Place: War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, New York
BACKGROUND AND BOOKING
We discussed the deceptive depth of 1997’s tag division last time around and the build to In Your House 14 featured a great deal of Owen and Bulldog. Having squabbled their way through the winter months, be it because of the younger Hart’s Slammy wins or because of Bulldog defeating Owen in the finals of the European Title tournament, the tag champs’ chemistry had been faltering...but it all came flooding back when big brother/brother-in-law Bret came along and ran an in-ring intervention. He explained how he had history with both of them but that ultimately family had to stick together. The tag team champions agreed, settled their differences and aligned themselves with The Hitman to form Hart Foundation version 2.0. Their feud with Legion of Doom was built around Davey and Owen’s heel smarts and they generally got the better of Hawk and Animal throughout the three week build to the pay-per-view.
Speaking of tag team wrestlers, Billy Gunn, now minus Bart, was rechristened “Rockabilly” after a brief alliance with the Honky Tonk Man, whose services had been turned down by Jesse James with an acoustic guitar attack. Rockabilly and James therefore began a lame feud which would thankfully have a far better conclusion than anyone could’ve thought possible at the time...
Another prominent midcard talent, Rocky Maivia, was to defend his Intercontinental Title against Savio Vega, who was backed up by the entire Nation of Domination. This was fairly bog standard “babyface against the odds” stuff and almost overshadowed by Farooq’s obsession with Ahmed Johnson, but the match promised to be a decent affair; Savio was an underrated hand who did much to elevate the likes of Rocky and Stone Cold in this transition era.
After two stellar matches, Bret Hart and Steve Austin were due to duke it out for a third time in a number one contendership match, after Sid “no showed” Raw (he was, in fact, being kept off TV for a return as a babyface). The Hitman swore to finish the job this time and put Austin in the hospital, from where he was unlikely to return. With Owen and Davey lurking about, Stone Cold could not relax for a moment as the resourceful brothers-in-law continued to do their stable leader’s bidding.
Meanwhile, The Undertaker’s “reward” for retaining the WWF title was yet another match against Mankind, who had caused him problems throughout the previous year. The Deadman had refused to take Paul Bearer back as manager, and so the deranged Mankind attacked the WWF Champion and a match was booked between them for the gold. With such rich history between the two men, it was richly anticipated indeed and slated to be the main event, as befitted the championship match. But this was the beginning of Attitude so anything could happen to the card order...
The Legion of Doom defeated Owen Hart and The British Bulldog in 10:11 by Disqualification in a match for the WWF Tag Team Championship (Hart/Smith retain)
A lot can happen in a month in the crazy world of wrestling but as Mav pointed out, this was particularly true during the Attitude Era. The company didn’t follow through on turning one or both of the tag champions face post-Mania and they found themselves reunited with a newly heel Bret as a new version of the Hart Foundation was being built. The team that fought to a double DQ with the champs and the team that won a number one contenders match at the previous PPV (Mankind/Vader and The Headbangers) were out of the picture. The Godwinns were starting to play a bit of a tweener role in the division but Owen and Davey would defend their titles against a very face and very over Legion of Doom. We start out with Power vs Speed as Animal takes on Owen but it soon flips to Power vs Power as Bulldog gets tagged in. Attitude creeps in as Hawk gives a “fuck you” sign whilst the USA vs The Rest of the World angle is starting to be talked up at the announce booth. Davey Boy amuses me by doing a bounce that would become a signature of Brock Lesnar’s entrance down the line before the match seems to end quickly. LoD’s high impact smashmouth style leads to a powerslam from the second rope on Davey for the three count. While the Road Warriors celebrate with the titles, a second ref comes down to explain that Owen was in fact the legal man and the match continues. The champs toy with just walking away but it is announced that if they do, the titles will change hands. Hart and Smith continue to use the heel handbook to stay in the match by the skin of their teeth. Eventually LoD hit their finisher, the Doomsday Device on Owen but Bret hits the ring to cause the disqualification before the three count… but barely. The ref had to stall for a few moments as The Hitman seemed to miss his mark (or assumed he could run quicker than he actually could). It wasn’t enough to totally ruin the ending though. The action was decent here but the match was used more as a vehicle to cement the new version of the Hart Foundation. The tension between the champs was laid to rest by having them work through every dirty trick in the book together against the uberpopular Animal and Hawk. Big Bro making the save in the end further solidified the Hart family reunion and would be a great set up to a storyline that would be front and centre over the next six months of WWF programming.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **1/2
Doc Hendrix interviews the champs backstage. Owen borrows his brother’s famous catchphrase when denying that they got lucky. They seem upset by the fact that Doc saw Austin at the arena and Hart’s ability for hilarious one liners comes out by asking if Hendrix was sure because “there’s a lot of bald guys walking around”.
Savio Vega (With The Nation of Domination) defeated Rocky Maivia in 8:33 by Countout in a match for the Intercontinental Championship (Maivia retains)
With LoD moving on post-Mania, The Nation of Domination switched focus to the IC champion Rocky Maivia (as well as continuing their issues with Ahmed Johnson). Rocky cuts a backstage promo before the match with Kevin Kelly which is bland yet comfortable. The rookie clearly has a strong base of pro-wrestling savvy, it’s just not very interesting. That continues in the ring as he hits some arm drags early on which are well executed but cringeworthy in just how cheesy they look. Things get interesting as NoD leader Faarooq makes his way to the announce booth with his arm in a sling. They talk about a challenge laid down to Ahmed Johnson for a gauntlet match against the three main Nation members and Faarooq says he will disband the faction if Ahmed wins. The past and future Ron Simmons is actually pretty entertaining at the booth and he adds a little spice to the solid yet standard action in the ring. The action spills to the outside where Crush hits Maivia with his finisher, the Heart Punch. Savio picks up the win by countout but not the title and he is unhappy with his stablemate, taking over the interteam tension Owen and Davey left behind them. Faarooq jumps in the ring to smooth things out and they all take their frustrations out on Rocky until Ahmed makes the save. The Nation scatter despite still having a huge numbers advantage. Johnson then accepts Faarooq’s challenge by saying he will beat the “illegal immigrant, the convict and yo black ass”. Rocky and Savio were definitely playing second fiddle to the build up to the gauntlet match here and it was one of those segments that probably would have had more of a place on Raw. It goes to show that even in an era where the IC title was still a big deal, it still got some bad treatment at times.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **
Backstage an interview with Marc Mero and Sable is cut short due to a hullabaloo in the toilets. We see the tag team champs leaving after apparently assaulting Steve Austin.
Jesse James defeated Rockabilly (With The Honky Tonk Man) in 6:46
How did everyone enjoy the recent Miz vs Kofi feud? Well imagine it ten times worse and you will get a clue over what is going on here. The Honky Tonk Man was looking for a protégé to lead to greatness even though it seemed like nobody was interested. Jesse James was floundering at the bottom of the card since his days as Jeff Jarrett’s “Roadie” but had turned down HTM’s advances by smashing his guitar. Honky vowed revenge by having a new recruit take James down at the PPV. James came down to the awesome With My Baby Tonight before HTM builds to the surprise reveal of his new protégé. To no heat whatsoever, it is Rockabilly (Billy Gunn in a stupid jacket), which is particularly dumb seeing Billy had already turned HTM down on TV. There was no female division at this period of time in the WWF but this was everything a divas stinkfest is today. Short yet seemed to go on forever, poor action, roll-up finish (well an inside cradle but whatevs) and zero heat. The best thing about it was Billy being referred to as a “hunka hunka burning geek” by JR. Everything about this screamed New Generation and the crowd reacted accordingly.
ATTITUDE! Rating: *
Kevin Kelly is backstage with Gorilla Monsoon checking on Steve Austin. Stone Cold says he can compete and Monsoon changes the running order to give Austin maximum time to be ready. We also have an interview with Bret, Owen and Davey. They say that Austin provoked the attack in the toilets and Bret is notably already more interesting than he was throughout the majority of his WWF career as he asks Stone Cold “who’s crying now”.
The Undertaker defeated Mankind (With Paul Bearer) in 17:26 to retain the WWF Championship
So the WWF title match goes on ahead of schedule. The feud here runs deep. Over the years the WWF had debuted a lot of monsters to throw at The Undertaker. They all fell to the wayside rather quickly until Mick Foley showed up with his Mankind persona. Foley impressed in the initial feud and under the tutelage of Paul Bearer and was primed to mix it up with The Deadman once more following his title win at WrestleMania. The memorable moment in the buildup to this match was a fireball thrown in the champion’s face. There is that Attitude sense of urgency from the get go as Mankind attacks the Deadman as he makes his entrance. We have the obligatory brawl into the crowd before they head back to the ring where Bearer and the urn get involved. This leaves Mankind in control and pace slows. We get a chairshot on the outside before Foley goes after the bandages on Taker’s face (due to the aforementioned fireball). Mankind continues to throw everything at the champ including a couple of piledrivers. A ref bump is followed by the Mandible Claw and the “Deranged One” takes out a replacement ref. Mankind introduces another chair and steel steps to proceedings but as he goes to use the stairs The Deadman nails him with a drop kick. It isn’t very pretty but it’s The Undertaker doing a motherfucking drop kick. Taker then uses the chair and then the steps to knock Mankind off the apron and through a table. Foley’s head is amazingly buried deep into the table afterwards which makes it look mental. He gets back to the ring where he manages to kick out of a chokeslam at two before The Deadman finally ends things with a Tombstone. After the match Taker gets his revenge (not just a clever PPV name) post match by momentarily setting a piece of paper on fire next to Bearer’s face. This was a match of two halves. The first half was pretty slow and a bit dull but did a job of setting the story. The second half was great non stop high impact action. Again very representative of the era we were entering with ref bumps, brawling in the crowd, weapons and plenty of illegal action. Fun title match between two guys with great chemistry together.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½
THE MAIN EVENT
Steve Austin defeated Bret Hart in 20:09 in a Number One Contenders Match
I spoke last time of my fondness for wrestling storylines which run through an event like a stick of rock, with Sid’s title defence against The Undertaker actually being used as vehicle to cement The Hitman’s heel turn, both in the opening mic work and in his ultimate vengeful interference. WWE sensibly carried this onto Revenge of the Taker with Owen and Davey first being worried about but then going after Stone Cold in order to help their stable leader’s cause, meaning that the card order changed so this match became the main event, probably a pragmatic choice as much as a storyline one, since this was clearly a bigger match than Mankind and ‘Taker. As Maz mentioned, Bret’s smug pre-match interview is borderline genius, both because of the “who’s crying now?” line and because of the way he cites the two times he’s beaten Austin already, which doesn’t seem to be enough for people. The way Hart’s character work was based seemingly on genuine resentment for how he’d been treated by the company down the years really made every word he said convincing and compelling, and it made want to the matches more must see because of that.
The lingering influence of Owen and Davey Boy is dealt with from the beginning of proceedings, as the referee intercepts them in the aisle and sends the goons back to the locker room. Bret appears furious, but when he hits the ring, his face changes to one of resolve and determination. As Austin makes his entrance, the evolution of the Attitude in-ring style is immediately apparent, as Bret ambushes Austin as soon as he enters the squared circle, but of course, this is playing the Rattlesnake at his own game, and Stone Cold soon gets the advantage in the smashmouth brawl that spills outside the ring. It’s interesting to note that Austin still had something of the heel about him at this stage and would indeed retain that feel for most of his main event career; more than anyone else, Austin pioneered the art of transferring a character from face to heel with very little alteration of the character. It just so happened that this was the late nineties, and everyone loved an anti-hero back then. Whitebread babyfaces were now to be despised, which was the problem Rocky was having down in the midcard. So Stone Cold’s brutal treatment of Hart outside the ring; flinging him into the ring steps, then over the barrier, and then back into the steps (the classic blue steel steps, don’t you just miss those readers?) gets a huge reaction from the crowd. It is, of course, a smaller crowd than a ‘Mania one, so it’s not quite so loud, but the match feels almost as heated.
Indeed, watching the bout unfold, one realises that this is the cruelly forgotten step sibling of the much vaunted Survivor Series and Wrestlemania contests. It took place at a minor pay-per-view and held less importance as a result, but it was certainly key to the development of that Attitude main event style Maz and I broke down for you two weeks ago and doesn’t suffer much in comparison to the other two. Indeed, when Bret gets hold of a chair and begins to viciously beat the Rattlesnake down, we can already see the difference in style even from the Bret of the Wrestlemania XIII match. His cold rage is apparent with every single chair shot. As he moves to work over the legs, we know exactly what he intends; to make Austin give up or pass out, just as at the Grandaddy a month earlier. It’s brilliant psychology on Hart’s part and the audience invest hugely in Stone Cold’s howls of pain as he’s trapped in the ring post assisted figure four. As is typical with the man’s character, he fights back gamely, driving The Hitman back, but each time, a swift kick to the leg sends the Rattlesnake reeling so Bret can dominate again. It’s simple and effective story to tell, one which keeps the fans constantly invested.
Austin, however, is much more than some plucky babyface. He can play dirty, too. A low blow, taking advantage of the lenient refereeing which would become an increasingly important part of the time period, floors the Pink and Black Attack, and Stone Cold is soon using a length of cord to choke his opponent, before having it taken off him. This is yet another example of foundations being laid for the entire era to follow, as is the frenetic finishing sequence, which involves both men running through their signature offense, before Bret gets the better of things with a superplex and prepares to lock in the Sharpshooter only for Austin to nail him with the knee brace and put the Sharpshooter on Hart...but he forgets about the lurking danger of the Foundation, who hit the ring to distract the Rattlesnake. Despite running them off the first time, the Bulldog manages to get in the ring a second time to blast Austin with a chair, saving Bret from having to tap to his own finisher, but awarding Stone Cold the number one contendership for the next pay-per-view.
But of course, this is Stone Cold Steve Austin we’re talking about, so he takes it right back to The Hitman after the bell, stopping an attempted assault with a ring bell, wearing out Hart’s knee with a chair and putting the Sharpshooter on for a third time with a whole host of referees attempting to haul him off. It’s a fantastic visual and a testament to the heated feud being portrayed. It also allowed Bret to take some time out of in-ring competition due to a nagging injury he needed to rehab in time for a blockbuster WWE summer; after a further injury angle played out on the 4/21 Raw, he had knee surgery two days later.
The fact is that this match, barely mentioned as it is today, deserves more recognition from the IWC. Hart worked the match injured and yet you could barely tell, the involvement of the Hart Foundation was thrilling, and it was brilliantly done in terms of setting up The Hitman as top heel for the summer. I’d urge you all to give it a YouTube at your earliest convenience.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½
I have to say that the solid double main event changed Revenge of the Taker from seeming like a bog standard Raw episode to a decent PPV. The fact that the event was a short one however meant that the big rivalries between Taker and Mankind and Bret and Austin took up well over half the show. I really enjoyed the evolution of the Hart Foundation as a faction throughout the night and I believe that was the key point of the show. I think the biggest negative here was the lack of clean finishes. The challengers won the first two matches on the card in ways which would see them miss out on taking the titles. The main event would also end by disqualification despite a WWF title shot on the line. That’s three out of five matches on the card which seems a lot, even for the Attitude Era.
Truthfully I enjoyed Revenge of the Taker quite a lot. There’s a lot to be said for two hour pay-per-views; there was barely any fat on this one, and even the Road Dogg/Rockabilly atrocity ended up having a positive impact down the line. Add in the consistent storytelling and enthusiastic presentation from the three man announce booth of McMahon, Ross and Lawler, and you have an event that stands up pretty well to historical scrutiny, although I do agree that the multiple screwy finishes jar a little to modern eyes..
Revenge of the Taker Overall ATTITUDE! Rating: **3/4
So overall Revenge of the Taker scores a quarter star less than the much higher profile event a month before. The length of the shorter In Your House editions definitely helped things. As Mav hinted at, there was a lot less of the filler than there was at Mania which was always a positive with these events. There were a handful of strong superstar performances at the PPV but just who gets the nod from us as the best of the night?
MVP - OWEN HART
Aswe’ve spent much of this review discussing the contribution of the Hart Foundation to the new attitudinal product, the MVP award really had to go to one of its component members, and no-one had a better night on April 20th 1997 than baby brother Owen Hart. Between carrying much of the workload in the opener, cracking one liners in the backstage area and generally coming across like a smug, hateable douchebag, the Rocket showed just how much he brought to the table. He could talk, he could work, and he was vital to the product of the time. A well deserved victory!
Owen was always a strange one for me on the mic. At times he looked like he didn’t have a clue what he was doing (“that’s why I kicked your leg out of your leg” anyone?) and others he seemed to have excellent comedic timing. There were even times where you couldn’t be sure whether it was one or the other. Here he was definitely on point, and he played a great game in the “supporting actor” role. But it is the larger story of the night that is this week’s...
THE ONE TO WATCH
Well Maz, this was really all about the Hart Foundation’s influence on the storylines wasn’t it? The creation of the stable in the days following Wrestlemania was exciting enough, but seeing them woven through the tapestry of the evening at Revenge of the Taker was even more so. With Bulldog as the enforcer, Owen as the unpredictable flier and Bret as the technical genius, they were a formidable group, and they were about to expand further to REALLY give the roster a kick up the backside...
Yes, these were early days in the growth of the New Hart Foundation and I think it was important that they solidified the roles of Bret, Owen and Davey before any others were brought in. The history between all three men ran deep, even outside of the family ties. Bret hadn’t played the heel since the early days of the original Hart Foundation. Owen had played the jealous baby brother since their epic feud in 1994. Davey had played both sides of the fence during that time but going into WrestleMania 13, the thought of all three forming a cohesive unit seemed impossible. Bret was the good guy, Owen was the bad guy whereas Davey was the bad guy seemingly about to see the light. A promo can only go so far in convincing people that wrestling’s most dysfunctional family were on the same page.
Revenge of the Taker really solidified the Hart Foundation as an extremely cohesive, extremely villainous unit. The first thing on the agenda was proving that the dissension between the tag champs was very much behind them. They worked and cheated together against the Legion of Doom in the opening match of the night before Bret came down to help them hold the straps. Owen and Davey immediately proved it was a two way street in their post-match interview by showing concern that Austin had showed up and then attacking Stone Cold a few minutes later. A backstage interview will all three men unified further cemented things before Owen and Davey interjected themselves in the main event, despite being thrown out before it begun. There was no doubt by the end of the show that they were all on the same page and the group was ready to move forward in a big way.
It’s interesting how many of the major players of the next couple of years were taking part in the action at Revenge of the Taker. Bret, Owen and Davey would go on to carry the in-ring element of Monday Night Raw all the way through November ‘97, while what seemed like a pretty poor attempt at a feud between Road Dogg and Billy Gunn actually ended up creating one of the all-time great tag pairings, the New Age Outlaws. Mankind and ‘Taker’s business together was far from finished, while Rocky Maivia was due to have a lot more to do with the Nation later that year and LOD would stick around a little longer, helping the company with their name value even if their ring work had depreciated somewhat.
Even more than Wrestlemania XIII, the fourteenth edition of In Your House demonstrated just how many of the elements of Attitude were already established and growing stronger. The care paid to the storylines, the interference, the backstage shenanigans, the brawling, the big names...the product already felt markedly different to that of April ‘96, which relied heavily on the main event and not much else, and the WWF were about to embark on a hot streak of PPVs, which might not have eaten much into WCW’s lead to begin with, but did set the foundations for the gradual overhaul of the lead that followed in 1998 and 1999.
Talking of WCW, whilst WWF were building an awesome stable and wrestling’s next big superstar, they were taking things easy. WCW Champion Hollywood Hogan had the night off at their Spring Stampede PPV which was headlined by a number one contenders fatal four way between The Giant, Lex Luger, Stevie Ray and Booker T in addition to a grudge match between Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Savage. Even so, WCW won out in the April PPV buy rate battle (0.60 to 0.55) but the WWF would definitely be looking to change that in May with Stone Cold Steve Austin and his increasing popularity getting a title shot at The Undertaker.
You can hear more from Mazza and Maverick on The Right Side of the Pond, part of LoP Radio. New episodes every are out every Friday at 9pm UK time/4pm EST.
In tomorrow’s episode we discuss the latest episode of Raw, the WWE Network and Ryback’s Twitter rampage with Joey Shinobi. In addition to Plan and Mav bringing you the next audio edition of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, looking at The Rock vs Chris Jericho from the 2002 Royal Rumble.
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