WWE: Best of 1996 – Prelude To Attitude (Cert 15)
2 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 355 minutes approx.
The Attitude Era is when the WWF went stratospheric on the backs on Steve Austin, The Rock, DX, and Al Snow. Okay, that last one was a joke, but in terms of success, WWF was hotter during this period than even the first Hulkamania run of the ‘80s! Most importantly, it saw Vince McMahon leave his comfort zone of family friendly tosh for edgier, adult material to counter WCW’s dominance thanks to the nWo freight train.
The theme of marking the period just before the company reversed its fortunes in 1997 is undeniably fertile, yet this potential is not met at all in this release. Instead of an in-depth discussion from those involved at the time, we simply get a collection of PPV and TV matches in chronological order and the occasional big(ish) angle.
Most of the matches feature Shawn Michaels since he was champ for most of the year so HBK fans will are well catered for though they would already have many of these bouts on other DVDs. Triple H features a few times too (I wonder why?) while hissing away in the background is a certain Texas Rattlesnake.
WWF IC Title Match – Razor Ramon (c) vs. Goldust – Royal Rumble January 21st 1996
This match marked the debut of Marlena (known only as the Director) to add a layer of intrigue to Goldust’s androgynous persona. Originally conceived as a weird movie buff, they decided to make Goldust sexually ambiguous, the homosexual overtones of which Scott Hall objected to. He famously cut a shoot promo on RAW about this being bad for his kids watching, and later revealed Goldust was one reason why he left WWF. If you watch this match, Hall works quite stiff with Goldy yet still lets him rub his hands over his body! I guess drugs will cloud your judgement.
The next clip is from RAW the night after the Royal Rumble, where Vader beats up some referees then attacks WWF President Gorilla Monsoon for suspending him. If Paul Orndorff could flatten Vader, imagine what Monsoon could do!
No 1 Contenders Match – Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart – In Your House February 18th 1996
This came about after Owen’s enziguri kick put Shawn on the shelf during a match on RAW in November 1995, the idea being he could injure HBK again and face brother Bret at Wrestlemania for the WWF title. Yeah right…
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley – RAW March 11th 1996
My Birthday! This was a warm up match for Bret before Wrestlemania with a pre-Triple H Paul Levesque. Look how trim he is compared to his bulky prime. I guess Vince had a lock-up full of Ico-Pro he needed getting rid of.
Mankind’s first attack on The Undertaker from RAW the night after WM 12 (April 2nd) is next, which was actually censored on UK TV when it first aired because SKY were a bit squeamish about kids copying the Mandible Claw, and subsequently cut it from all recorded broadcasts, and the BBFC followed suit for many home video releases.
WWF Title No Holds Barred Match – Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Diesel – In Your House “Good Friends, better Enemies” April 28th 1996
Kevin Nash’s TV farewell before returning to WCW (he would still appear on the road in the infamous Curtain call shortly after), this featured the first Powerbomb through a table and Mad Dog Vachon’s prosthetic leg as a weapon, yet choking is censored.
Wildman Marc Mero vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley – In Your House “Beware Of the Dog” May 26th 1996
This was before Sable got really popular. This match was one of just two to air on the PPV before the generator blew from heavy rain, necessitating a re-recording a few days later. It also reminds us of how dull a wrestler Hunter really was then.
Undertaker vs. Mankind – King Of The Ring June 23rd 1996
A wild brawl as Taker gets his first televised revenge against Foley and takes a rare loss in the process after a botch from Paul Bearer. Had I seen this for the first time today, I would have noted this as the start of Bearer’s heel turn but back then, I didn’t.
KOTR Finals – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts – King Of The Ring June 23rd 1996
Nothing match as Jake was selling the injured ribs from his match against Vader earlier, but it was the victory speech afterwards where the new King proclaimed “Austin 316 says I just whooped your ass!” that is the memorable moment here. I don’t remember if they did much with him after this.
Another angle, this time from Superstars on June 29th where Sunny convinced Phineas Godwin to confess his love for her only for Sunny to humiliate him So he gets his revenge by pouring a bucket of slop over Sunny! ***** for Sunny’s outfit.
Shawn Michaels, Ahmed Johnson, & Sycho Sid vs. British Bulldog, Owen Hart, & Vader – In Your House “International Incident” July 21st 1996
Ultimate Warrior was supposed to be the third man on the face side but he was fired (again) a week before the show, so they drafted Sid in as his replacement. Insert your own joke here.
RAW Invitational Battle Royale – RAW August 5th 1996
Just to show how depleted the roster was in 1996, most of the top names of the time are in this match yet it still feels small time. It opens with the unusual visual of zombie Undertaker running to the ring to get to Mankind, before the others start the match. IC champ Ahmed Johnson won with his prize being a title shot against the winner of HBK vs. Vader at Summerslam, but a kidney ailment forced him to miss the match and vacate the IC title, derailing his momentum.
WWF Title Match – Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Vader – Summerslam August 18th 1996
This match is famous for two things as Shawn was in prime dickhead mode here. First, he refused to drop the belt to Vader so they did two lame non-finishes in Vader’s favour to compensate. Then, in one infamous spot, Vader was supposed to move for an elbow drop but didn’t and HBK threw a tantrum in the ring. Unfortunately for Vader, Vince took Shawn’s side which effectively killed Vader’s monster aura for good.
WWF Title Match – Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Mankind – In Your House “Mind Games” September 22nd 1996
If Shawn won’t put Vader over, maybe he’ll oblige Foley? Not a chance. Again another situation where they needed to protect both champ and challenger so they went for a brave DQ finish. However, the match was different from the usual HBK fare a Foley brought the hardcore out of him featuring the famous table bump that would soon be a staple of wrestling everywhere other than just ECW!
IC Title Tournament Finals – Wildman Marc Mero vs. Farooq Asaad – RAW September 23rd 1996
Since Ahmed was on the shelf, they needed a new IC champ and it came down to Mrs. Sable and Ron Simmons dressed as a gladiator! Even having Sunny as his manager couldn’t save this lame gimmick, and you could see it on Simmons’ face he hated it too. What stands out here is how sable had the personality of a shed compared to Sunny and the fact the first person to do a Shooting Star Press in WWF was…. Marc Mero!
Final angle time from Superstar on October 27th 1996, and it’s the famous Pillmaniser spot where an angry Stone Cold destroyed Brian Pillman’s ankle by trapping it in a steel chair and jumping on it, hence the name being used hereafter. This was actually quite brutal for the time.
Team Mero vs. Team Helmsley – Survivor Series November 17th 1996
Notable because some kid named Rocky Maivia made his WWF debut here, not that he amounted to much…
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – Survivor Series November 17th 1996
Bret took a sabbatical after losing to HBK at WM 12, during which time he was open to discussions with WCW, which panicked Vince to offer Bret a $20 million 20 year contract to stay with WWF. Bret trusted Vince enough to stay with him and everyone lived happily ever after. During the match, it was announced that the winner would be the next no 1 contender for the WWF title, which leads us to…
WWF Title Match – Sycho Sid (c) vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart – In Your House “It’s Time” December 15th 1996
Sid famously beat HBK at Survivor Series as the fans turned on the champ but it was a short run as Shawn won the belt back at the Royal Rumble before losing his smile to avoid dropping the belt again. Well, Bret tried but Sid was too clumsy and of course some McBooking was required to keep everyone looking strong.
And that was 1996 for the WWF. If you weren’t there at the time and judge it on this release you might wonder how this was a prelude to the maverick rule-breaking mayhem of the Attitude Era. To be frank, there were more memorable moments left on the shelf than featured here that better exemplify this shift towards more controversial ideas, notably the antics of Goldust and Mankind, both very much ahead of their time in that regard, although this version of Goldust would be cancelled in a heartbeat today.
This also applies to Stone Cold. Who could forget the infamous episode of RAW when he crashed the home of Brian Pillman, who was waiting for Austin with a loaded gun? Sure, it is terrible now but at the time, it was extreme for a WWF that had wrestlers who were plumbers, hockey players and half man, half bull!
We also have to consider the issue of the match selection focusing largely on HBK, which not only incurs a dull sense of repetition but acts as a sleight for everyone else active on the roster that year. To be fair, not everyone was capable or afforded the time to have great matches like Shawn did, but they still could have dipped a little further into the archives and found some rare gems from TV and PPV undercards.
No doubt some of the lesser seen TV matches will evoke a sense of nostalgia for older viewers like me who lived through this at the time whilst younger audience may finally understand why the Attitude Era was necessary.
Rating – ***
Man In Black