September 24, 2009
Scott Criscuolo & Justin Rozzero

IYH: Final Four
February 16, 1997
UTC Arena
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Attendance: 6,399
Buy Rate: .5
Announcers: Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler

Fun Fact: This is the first PPV without Vince McMahon on commentary since King of the Ring 1994, which featured Gorilla Monsoon, Randy Savage and Art Donovan, ending his streak at 25 straight PPVs.

Dark Matches:

The Godwinns defeated The Headbangers

Actual Show:

1) Marc Mero defeats Leif Cassidy (Al Sarven) after a Shooting Star Press at 9:26

Fun Fact: According to sources, Marc Mero was supposed to turn heel right after this show and go on to beat Rocky Maivia for the I-C Title at Wrestlemania, but this would turn out to be his last match for 10 months, as he was sent to the sidelines with a serious knee injury. He would resume his heel turn upon his comeback in November, but most of his in-ring skills deteriorated by that point.

Scott: For the second time in 3 months, Leif Cassidy opens a PPV, and for the second time in 3 months we are entertained with another snorefest. In December he fought Flash Funk, and although it had its bright spots it was very average. This match doesn’t even reach average. Cassidy is slow, plodding and downright dull. Mero is the unfortunate surprise. He was starting to show some heelish tendencies in this match, as he shoves the referee and starts getting a little overprotective with Sable. However the worst part of this is that his work in the ring is starting to slip. He does lots of punches and kicks and not much else. Cassidy is dictating most of the tempo by focusing on Mero’s leg. However just his speed and footwork in the ring seemed to be much slower than normal. As we now know his knee was really hurt, and he would be gone for the majority of the year. He does win with a crisp “Wild Thing”, and Cassidy continues to be curtain jerking fodder. Disappointing for this opener. Grade: 1.5

Justin: A pretty pedestrian and slow match, especially for these two, that can be seen as somewhat disappointing. Mero’s knee must have been bothering him big time here, as this match is no where near the exhibitions he had been putting on throughout 1996. Cassidy is pretty much on his last legs here and he was nearing the end of his run. Mero has started to show more of an edge and was becoming very Randy Savage-like with Sable. He even had a confrontation with Rocky Maivia on an episode of Shotgun when Rocky came out and saved Sable from Diesel and Razor while Mero was down and out. The heel turn definitely seemed to be in the cards before surgery trumped it. A poor match for Mero in his last encounter as a face just one month short of his 1-year anniversary in the Federation. Grade: 2

2) Crush (Brian Adams), Savio Vega (Juan Rivera) & Faarooq (Ron Simmons) defeat Bart Gunn (Mike Plotcheck), Flash Funk (Charles Skaggs) & Goldust (Dustin Runnels) when Faarooq pins Gunn after a Crush leg drop at 6:40

Scott: Not much backstory to this match, but Goldust and Bart Gunn did lose matches on Raw to Crush and Faarooq respectively. It was also an example of the Nation of Domination’s new found power. Not a well-wrestled match, but not completely unwatchable. This is Crush’s fourth incarnation since joining the WWF in 1991. First he was part of Demolition, then he was the orange-clad face from Hawaii, then he was the paint-on-his face heel with Mr. Fuji, and now he’s an ex-convict with a weird tattoo on his face. Goldust takes a break from feuding with Hunter Hearst Helmsley to join this thrown together team. This match was put together at the last minute when Shawn Michaels threw the federation into chaos the previous week, but more on that later. I have to say the NOD was a pretty cool looking group at first, particularly when they would enter the arena through the crowd. However I couldn’t stand those two idiots PG-13, whose bad rapping ruined the intimidation of the entrance music. Savio Vega should have changed his outfit to black from his babyface red colors, because he looked out of place on the apron with Faarooq and Crush. The action is average, with a lot of double and triple-teaming from the Nation. They move on to a big brawl at the biggest show of the year next month. Otherwise, this match is forgettable. Grade: 2

Justin: A pretty sluggish six man, but, to be fair, this match was a pretty late addition to the card, as it was added due to the card reshuffling. Savio had joined up with the Nation in late January at a MSG house show when he turned on Ahmed in a tag match, solidifying this incarnation of the Nation. Gunn and Funk were relegated to Jobber status at this point, so the outcome of this match is not really in question, and just ended up being a reason to showcase the new Nation as solid unit heading into Wrestlemania and to take up some time on a depleted show. I am not sure how I feel about Savio hooking up with the Nation. I feel like he was best suited for the underdog face in peril role as he was great at selling and making fired up comebacks, but as a heel he has slow, boring offense that really ends up ruining his matches. It was good for him that he ended up with a pretty good role here, but it definitely affects his in ring work. Grade: 1.5

3) Rocky Maivia (Dwayne Johnson) defeats Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Paul Levesque) to retain WWF Intercontinental Title with a German Suplex at 12:28

Fun Fact: OK, here we go. According to a few sources, Helmsley was never scheduled to lose the I-C Title at the big Thursday Raw Thursday show, but his buddy HBK inadvertently screwed him again. At the Thursday show, Shawn was supposed to lose the title back to Sid, but he refused to job and came out and talked about a “knee injury” and claimed he had “lost his smile” and was thus forfeiting the World Title instead. So, not wanting to screw the Lowell, MA fans out of a title change, Vince booked Hunter to lose to Rocky in a shocking upset. Hunter was pulled from his match with Goldust here and booked into a rematch instead. Before all that, Helmsley was originally supposed to defend his I-C Title against Ahmed Johnson here.

Scott: At the time this match was happening, who would have thought that just 3 years later, these two men would headline a Wrestlemania. At that point it would be Triple H and the Rock, but here it’s two men still finding their identity. This is their first meeting on PPV, but they already met in a high profile match. As mentioned above, the still green Maivia defeated Helmsley on the special Thursday RAW 4 days earlier to win the IC title in a huge upset. Here, Helmsley tries to get it back and their chemistry, although a little rough, definitely worked here. The problem was neither man really had any heat, so the crowd was kind of dead. Goldust comes out to distract Helmsley, causing Maivia to hit the German Suplex bridge for the win. However, the moment that will be remembered in this match is what happened after the bell. A big, muscle-bound, ugly woman comes out of the crowd, jumps Marlena and chokes her out. This is big for many reasons. First, there was never a “tough chick” in the World Wrestling Federation, and particularly one that was completely unattractive. Second, there was finally a piece of the gimmick that would get Helmsley some heat. The soon to be named Chyna would help the blueblood cheat his way through wins, as he starts a feud with another piece of the future “attitude” puzzle in a couple of months. He must first finish his feud with Goldust, which happens in our next review. Maivia holds on to his title, and defends it again next month. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A pretty good match that crowd could give a shit about, as Rocky was just flat out not over and hot-shotting the title on him was the wrong move at the time, but I guess in the long run it helped, because the violent crowd backlash he received led to his heel turn, which saved his career. As Scott mentioned, Chyna makes her debut here and finally gets Hunter over that hump he was stuck at the bottom of since his debut. Not only was Chyna the first big, unattractive woman in the WWF, she was also the first woman to beat up men and be seen on a level as them. From what Mick Foley has said, a lot of guys refused to sell for her in the early days, but the ones who did helped establish her and Helmsley as stars. Helmsley started getting more and more heat, because who wouldn’t boo a guy who had a girl fight his battles for him. It was a great partnership that launched Helmsley to the next level. The Goldust- Helmsley battle is extended here, with a new dimension added on heading into Wrestlemania. Lost in all this, Rocky keeps his belt, but his title reign and face run were on borrowed time at this point. Grade: 2.5

4) Doug Furnas & Phil Lafon defeat British Bulldog (David Smith) & Owen Hart by disqualification at 10:38; Owen & Bulldog retain WWF Tag Team Titles

Scott: This was a pretty good tag match with a lot of psychology involved in it. Owen and Bulldog have been bickering for a while, which continued the teasing of a Bulldog face turn. Owen had screwed his partner on a few occasions, most notably tossing him at the Royal Rumble, and accidentally hitting him with his Slammy during a singles match on Raw. Furnas and Lafon, who were wildly successful in Japan, never really received their real due in the WWF as they wouldn’t receive a PPV title shot again. Here, Bulldog’s about to finish Lafon off, but Owen comes in to hit Lafon with his Slammy, and get the team DQ’d. The facing out of Bulldog would be scrapped after Wrestlemania by another relative, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Bulldog and Owen are arguing, but still hold the tag straps after a very good match. Grade: 3

Justin: A solid, well worked tag match between four true ring generals. Owen and Bulldog had pretty much dominated the Tag division since September, but this was the first time their Tag Titles were seen to be in danger as they finally met a team who could match them in the ring. That point is hammered home in the cheap ending; where Furnas and Lafon were about to win but Owen gets intentionally DQ’d to save the titles. I think Furnas and Lafon were definitely victims of circumstance, like so many other great teams that we have chronicled in these reviews, because the titles were about to be taken off of Bulldog and Owen when they split and Bulldog turned face. By the way they were booked in this match I feel that they probably would have been in line for a run with the straps. However things would change drastically after Wrestlemania. Then, ala Power and Glory, Furnas and Lafon also got shoved to the back of the tag ranks by a very famous tag team who were about to return just one week after this show. For now, the dissension is there for Bulldog and Owen, but they were on the verge of participating in one of the hottest and greatest feuds in WWF history. Grade: 3

5) Bret Hart defeats Steve Austin (Williams), Vader (Leon White), and Undertaker (Mark Callaway) in a “Final Four” match to win WWF World Title

Eliminations:
Bret Hart throws Steve Austin over the top rope at 18:08
Undertaker throws Vader over the top rope at 22:32
Bret Hart throws Undertaker over the top rope at 24:03

Fun Fact: This all according to wrestling insider legend. After Austin’s controversial win at the Royal Rumble, President Gorilla Monsoon set this match to determine the number one contender at Wrestlemania, and Undertaker was set to win this match to earn that spot. Sid was supposed to regain the World Title from Shawn at Thursday Raw Thursday, and take on Taker for the strap at Wrestlemania. Shawn would then face Bret and return the job from WM XII. Well, Shawn broke out his teary-eyed speech and forfeited the belt, necessitating a way to find a champion and eventually get the belt back on Sid. So, the Final Four match was changed from a Number 1 contenders match to a World Title match just days before the show, with Sid getting a crack at the winner the next night on Raw. By the way, Shawn was back 3 weeks later doing commentary and participating in angles, and returned to the ring in May. So I guess we found out how serious those career-threatening injuries were.

Scott: Gorilla Monsoon said Austin’s “cheap” win at the Rumble wasn’t going to count. So they set this match up. Then Shawn Michaels “lost his smile” on Raw and forfeited the WWF Title. This was where the real friction started between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Hart thought (and he was probably right) that Michaels made up the whole thing so he wouldn’t have to return the job to Hart at Wrestlemania. Instead, this match was now for the title. Austin blows his knee out when Taker tries to toss him out and he whacks it on the apron, and Hart tosses him out first about 18 minutes in. The real nasty part of this match is the hideous cut that Vader has over his right eye, and just about everybody pounds on it at some point in the match. Vader goes to give Taker a chair shot, and Taker kicks the chair into Vader’s face. The thick edge of the chair went right into his eye. Towards the end, it was so disgusting (yet cool at the same time) that it looks like Vader’s eye fell out of his head. This was a great, physical match that saw these four studs pound the crap out of each other. They treated this match like a true blue World Title match. Vader even took his bloody mask off to continue the fight. Paul Bearer whacked Taker with the urn in the match to continue their feud. So the Hitman wins his fourth (and cheapest) world title. He would be the one jobbing to Sid the next night, thanks to interference from the Rattlesnake. That would jack that already awesome feud up to off the charts proportions, and leads to their “I quit” match at Wrestlemania. More on that next month, as it deserves its own stage. Undertaker would get the title shot against Sid at Wrestlemania, and Vader would be de-pushed slightly to a tag match. The guy I’m most impressed with is Austin. After toiling around and getting his character down for all of 1996, I think Vince knew this guy was gaining support from the fans and was quite possibly a guy he could bank the future on. As the year progresses Austin’s support grows and grows. Bret wins the title, but the next night would not only lose that title, but start to lose the babyface in his character also. This was a great, physical title match. Grade: 3.5

Justin: A really, really good match, as these four just beat the shit out of each other for 25 minutes. Vader’s cut is friggen nasty as it looks like his mask is the only thing holding his eyeball in its socket. This match sort of reestablished Vader as a player and a tough Mother Fucker, which is just what he needed after being kicked out of the Main Event scene in October. This match showed that the tone of the WWF was changing, and the matches were getting stiffer and more realistic. Bret comes out on top, but his reign would last just one day thanks to Stone Cold. This match has some really good buildup, and the switch to a World Title match added a ton of intrigue to it and made it that much better. The Main Event scene was so renewed and refreshed at this point, and you could feel that in the matches and shows. Instead of a dominant champion and month to month challengers, we had a handful of legit over wrestlers in the mix, which would lead to intricate booking and well wrestled matches. Check out this match if you have never seen it, because it is definitely a classic on a lost show. Grade: 4

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Scott: This was a good, but not great, prelude to a thrown-together Wrestlemania. The matches got better as the show progressed, which simply means that all the real good talent was at the top of the card. That’s not a good sign for a company trying to get back into the Wars. This grade may be a little weighted with the front end of the card, but the main event was really good and the tag match was solid, even with the lame ending. The storylines are a convoluted mess after Michaels pulls his “I’m taking my ball and going home” speech. This would be one of the most poorly prepared Wrestlemanias of all time, and he should solely shoulder the blame for it. Vince was really at his lowest point financially here as well. Creatively it wasn’t as bad as 1995, and nowhere near as pathetic as 1993. However, there are many similarities to what Hulk Hogan did in 1991-92 to what’s happening right now. Shawn Michaels is Hogan, Bret Hart is Ric Flair, Undertaker is Randy Savage, and Sid is, well Sid. This may not be an exact analogy, but fairly close. Wrestlemania will be remembered for a man long overdue for a title, and for a match for the ages, but more on that in our next review. For now Bret’s champ (for the moment), Austin is getting better and better…and oh yeah, Shawn Michaels just threw the entire company into creative chaos. Final Grade: B-

Justin: This a great time for the WWF fans, but the ship was a little rocky for Vince. The ratings and buy rates were low, but Vince was flushing out the Federation and starting to rebuild the whole thing. The Federation was now rebuilding with a solid group of wrestlers and some, new, fresh and exciting storylines, mainly spearheaded by Austin and Hart. Raw would return to its original home, the Manhattan Center, for a special Raw on February 24th (featuring the return of a legendary Tag Team and the legendary ECW invasion), and then on March 10, live from Worcester, MA, Raw, now extended to 2 hours, debuted its brand new “War Zone” set (with brand new Titantron) and all new, live, hardcore feel to the show. Vince had officially fired his return shot at WCW, signifying his return to the War, and, while the waters are still rocky, Vince would never really look back. This show brought a close to the Old School era, and the next few shows would bridge the gap to a brand new era, one that would bring Vince McMahon success that he hadn’t seen since the late-80s glory days. Final Grade: B-

MVP: Main Event
Runner-up: Chyna
Non-MVP: Shawn Michaels (For once again caring about himself)
Runner-up: Rocky Maivia

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