December 19, 2007
Scott Criscuolo & Justin Rozzero

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King of the Ring
June 23, 1996
The Mecca
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Attendance: 8,762
Buy Rate: .6
Announcers: Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Owen Hart

Free For All Match

The Body Donnas defeated the New Rockers in 8:06

Fun Fact: In an attempt to gain revenge on Sunny for deserting them, the Body Donnas held a contest where fans could vie to be their manager. Each week we would get updates on the contest and see pictures of the candidates, some of which were pretty hot females. It was announced that the winner would debut alongside the team on the Free For All. Well, the…”winner” was Cloudy, who was a guy dressed like Sunny. A very anticlimactic ending to what was an interesting little concept.

Dark Match

Hunter Hearst-Helmsley defeated Aldo Montoya in 3:00

Semi-Finals:

1) Steve Austin (Williams) defeats Marc Mero (Marc Merowitz) with a Stone Cold Stunner at 16:46

Qualifying Matches: Steve Austin defeated Bob Holly (Robert Howard); Marc Mero beat Skip (Chris Candido)

First Round Matches: Steve Austin beat Savio Vega (Juan Rivera); Savio Vega had defeated Marty Jannetty (Marty Oaks); Marc Mero beat Owen Hart; Owen Hart had defeated Yokozuna (Rodney Anoia)

Fun Fact: Austin first used the Stone Cold Stunner on the June 17, 1996 edition of Raw. He used the move to defeat his arch-rival Savio Vega.

Scott: The first big night of Steve Austin’s career begins with a big win over the “Wildman.” This year’s KOTR was a little disappointing because the WWF shortened the tourney to just the semis and the finals. For me, it didn’t matter. Anything was better than last year’s pile of shit. Austin and Mero put on a great match, and it ends with Austin’s new signature move: the Stone Cold Stunner. Since DiBiase was gone, using the Million Dollar Dream as a finisher seemed quite silly. Austin would use it at times throughout the year, but not as his finisher. Mero was somewhat shoved out of the way for Austin here, and if it wasn’t for Austin he probably would have been the man to replace HHH as the winner. As you know this was HHH’s only punishment for the “Curtain Call.” Instead, Stone Cold moves on to face the Jake Roberts/Vader winner. Mero would have a better second half of the year. This was the show where you really saw the new blood of the WWF taking control. The weak, talentless mid-card of 1995 was finally gone. Instead there was solid, hungry talent looking to make a mark. Owen Hart’s award-winning commentary also adds to this match, and the whole show. Grade: 3

Justin: A hot opener to kick off the fourth King of the Ring. Right off the bat, you see the new blood being featured prominently in a major PPV card. Vince really did the right thing in 1996 by fleshing out his weak mid-card and restocking it with solid wrestlers and exciting new talent. For the Main Event scene, he pushed up a handful of guys who survived the mid-card flush out, and bang, a whole new, fresh look. Austin and Mero put on an excellent, back and forth match. They fight quite stiff (Austin is busted open hardway) and break out some innovative moves. I remember being very shocked when Austin won at the time, as I assumed the finals would be Mero vs. Vader, with Vader most likely going over. It was a nice surprise, and one that worked out in the end, I would say. These two would rock it the next month again, but that wouldn’t be giving this match its full attention. This was a great effort for these two, new rising stars. Grade: 3.5

2) Jake Roberts (Aurelian Smith Jr.) defeats Vader (Leon White) by disqualification at 3:28

Qualifying Matches: Vader defeated Ahmed Johnson (Tony Norris); Jake Roberts defeated Hunter Hearst-Helmsley (Paul Levesque) First Round Matches: Vader advanced via a bye when Warrior (Jim Hellwig) and Goldust (Dustin Runnells) were both counted out in the Qualifying Round; Jake Roberts defeated Justin Bradshaw (John Layfield); Justin Bradshaw had beaten Henry Godwinn (Bill Canterbury)

Fun Fact: This was Jake Roberts’ first WWF PPV singles win since Wrestlemania VII, when he defeated Rick Martel in a Blindfold Match.

Scott: This match at first was puzzling, but then I figured it out. Austin being a heel wasn’t going to face Vader and then not have a clear cut winner. So instead have the big upset, with Roberts dropping a quick DDT on Vader, the referee got popped in the midst of it, and Vader gets DQ’d. It’s the sentimental choice, and Vader really doesn’t lose any heat. In fact, Vader pummels Jake after the match to bring all the heat back. It gives the fans a sentimental choice for the title, but at the same time sets up Roberts to face another calculating vicious heel. Vader also injures Jake’s ribs, which sets up the basis for what will happen against Austin. Grade: 1.5

Justin: A quick match with one point: make Jake the undeniable, unexpected, complete and total underdog. In the pre-match interview, he prays to just get by Vader without injury (a nice foreshadowing). Jake picks up a cheap win, which establishes two goals: 1) Jake looks like even more of a lucky underdog and 2) Vader stays strong by not jobbing to the 40+ year old Roberts. To really add to Jake’s underdog status, Vader destroys the old man after the match. This way Vader is still an unstoppable monster and Jake has some serious doubt heading into the finals. I think they positioned it beautifully, as you could have seen Jake possibly pulling the huge underdog upset and winning the crown. Also, by having Jake be injured so badly, you establish Austin as that much more of a badass, because he could give a shit about Jake’s injuries. You also establish Jake as a tough SOB with a no-quit attitude. Not bad for 3 minutes and 28 seconds, huh? Grade: 2

3) Smoking Gunns defeat the Godwinns to retain WWF Tag Team Titles when Billy (Monte Sopp) pinned Phineas (Dennis Knight) after hitting him with his boot at 10:10

Scott: The Gunns, now full-fledged heels, retain the titles thanks to good ol’ fashioned cheating. Sunny is now with Bart & Billy, finishing the head games she played with Phineas. This was where she was at her best. Flashing her feminine wiles to get what she wants. This was also the start of the slow split between Billy and Bart. Bart was focused on keeping the belts, won over the Godwinns the previous month. Billy was focused on Sunny, like the rest of us. To the fans, it didn’t matter. Sunny’s hot, but once again the Godwinns get screwed. I think most fans wanted to see Bart kick Billy’s ass anyway, but more on that later in the year. The tag team division was hurting at this point, as the other teams in the WWF at the time just didn’t have that star power that these two teams did, contextually speaking anyway. Eventually two solo stars would team up and be a very formidable team. We’ll document that as it happens. For now the Gunns are on top and Sunny’s on top too. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A solid, if unexpected tag title rematch. The Gunns finally have the titles back and would dominate the tag division until the fall. As Scott said, this match started the slow, slow burn to the Gunns split that would finally happen later in the year. The Godwinns float around the tag division as faces for a while until getting a new attitude. Not much of note here besides a nice little title defense for the Gunns. Grade: 2.5

4) Ultimate Warrior (Warrior) defeats Jerry Lawler with a shoulder block at 3:49

Fun Fact: The Ultimate Warrior’s final PPV record is an amazing 15-4. He was 0-3 at the Royal Rumble (0-2 in rumbles), 4-1 at Wrestlemania, 1-0 at King of the Ring, 1-0 at In Your House, 5-0 at Summerslam and 4-0 at Survivor Series. Amazingly he survived all four Survivor Matches he was in. The only two men to pin the Warrior on PPV were Rick Rude at Wrestlemania V and Sgt. Slaughter at the 1991 Royal Rumble.

Fun Fact II: This started on the May 27 edition of Raw, when Warrior was facing Goldust in their qualifying match for the KOTR. Warrior chased Goldust and Marlena back to the locker room, and both men were counted out. Lawler left the broadcast position, saying he wanted to chastise Warrior for intimidating helpless Marlena. He tried to get Marlena’s chair, but Warrior got it and destroyed it. On the June 10 Raw, Lawler tried to apologize for his interference by giving Warrior a framed portrait of him that Lawler had painted himself. Warrior refused both and when his back was turned, Lawler pasted him over the head with it. Lawler would criticize Warrior on the controversial Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD by saying the hat he wore to the ring ruined the effect of the picture shot with all the shattered glass. Such was life with the Warrior in 1996.

Scott: This was a typical Jerry Lawler waste of time. Since his loss to Bret Hart at last year’s KOTR, he’s been a running joke. Now, he’s fodder for the Ultimate Warrior. Lawler is only brought out every once in a while to put over an established star. Why that was necessary is beyond me. Other than Bret Hart, what worthwhile feud did Lawler have in his in-ring WWF career? His match with Roddy Piper at the 1994 KOTR was painfully average. Now here we see the Warrior act and dance his way though his third PPV opponent of the year. Helmsley at Wrestlemania was a squash, and that disaster of an IC title match against Goldust at Good Friends Better Enemies. Most of this entertainment was Lawler ripping on the Milwaukee crowd. The match itself was a joke. Warrior’s pops were OK, but probably nowhere near what Vince was hoping for. Mercifully this match is short. Grade: 1

Justin: A really boring Memphis-style stall-fest. The best part of the match was Lawler’s pre-match comedy routine, where he just makes rude comments and jokes at random Milwaukee-ites on his way to the ring. Warrior’s pops were not justifying his outrageous salary at this point, as the fans were just not digging his stale act anymore. Thankfully, he would be gone within the next 3 weeks. Lawler is always good for a laugh, but this match was a mess and there was no point, as it put no one useful over. Grade: 1

5) Mankind (Mick Foley) defeats Undertaker (Mark Callaway) with the Mandible Claw after Paul Bearer (William Moody) accidentally hits Taker with the urn at 18:18

Fun Fact: Here’s the skinny on the man behind the mask. Mick Foley was born in Long Island, NY and fell in love with wrestling immediately. Making home movies with his friends, he jumped off the roof of his friend’s garage as the imaginary character Dude Love. He hitchhiked to Madison Square Garden on October 17, 1983 to see Jimmy Snuka splash the Magnificent Muraco off the steel cage. He trained with Dominic DeNucci while going to college, sleeping in his car while driving from New York to western Pennsylvania. He had a tryout with the WWF in the mid-80s as a jobber. There’s a well known squash match when Mick (known as Jack Foley) takes a beating in a 1986 tag match against the then-WWF Tag Team champion British Bulldogs. He made his break on the Indies as Cactus Jack, and that was the character he would enhance during his time in WCW. He feuded with Sting and Vader, as well as a memorable tag match with Maxx Payne against the Nasty Boys at Spring Stampede 1994. It was also in 1994 when Foley had his ear ripped off against Vader in a match in Germany. He really plied his craft in ECW as a sadistic crazed lunatic who didn’t meet a weapon he didn’t use, and then switched gears and played a masterful anti-hardcore gimmick in the home of extreme. He also had a following in Japan as the King of the Death Match, defeating Terry Funk in the finals of a tournament that involved barbed wire, fire and explosives. Vince scooped him up, but obviously felt the Cactus Jack character was a little over the top for his WWF product at that time. So he changed to Mankind, a deranged former piano prodigy whose hands were smashed in his piano by his angry mother. He then turned to life in the sewer, living with rats and becoming a sadistic madman who was only soothed by the piano music played after he maimed opponents. Vignettes started airing in January and he debuted the night after Wrestlemania.

Scott: See what I meant in the last review about unpredictability? Mankind gets his first of a few wins over the Deadman. You can tell immediately that these two didn’t mind throwing the potatoes, as both men really laid into each other. There were big shots on the outside, onto the floor, and in the ring. Both men knew each other’s pain threshold, and just beat the shit out of each other. This was a great brawl that really brought out both the viciousness and the emotion of the Undertaker character. Two of the sweetest shots of the night were 1) When Mankind drilled Taker’s head into the steps with his knee, and 2) When Mankind went for his apron elbow, and Taker caught him with a vicious chair shot. This feud no doubt lit a fire under Taker’s ass and brought the real goods out of both of them. In the climax Paul Bearer would get on the apron, and accidentally hit Taker with the urn. Or was it an accident? Owen Hart hints that maybe Paul Bearer was sick of the Undertaker after six years. We would see in a couple of months. A great brawl that showed that Undertaker is back to the forefront and Mick Foley took a completely different character than he was ever used to, and hit a home run with it. Mankind would also have the distinction of being the first wrestler in WWF history to have a different post-match music theme then his pre-match music theme. The pot continues to stir in an early Feud of the Year candidate. Grade: 3 Justin: An extremely stiff battle here in the first match of what would become one of the fiercest rivalries in WWF history. These two beat the snot of each other, and Mankind establishes himself as psychotic madman who could withstand pain if it meant his opponent was hurting just as much, if not more. After a putrid 1995, it was nice to see Taker’s loyalty rewarded with a solid and intriguing feud. Also, for the first time, Taker was able to put on solid exciting matches, rather than being stuck in feuds with big useless monsters that couldn’t get it done in the ring. There were rumors of Taker jumping to WCW around this time, but I think the Mankind feud reinvigorated him and was probably the sticking point to him re-upping with Vince. Looking back at the time, it would have been pretty dumb for Taker to jump, mainly because the Undertaker name couldn’t go with him. It would have been a little goofy to see him show up with another name, or his real name. Anyway, a great start to a great feud and another sign that Vince was turning the corner. Grade: 3

6) Ahmed Johnson (Tony Norris) defeats Goldust (Dustin Runnells) to win WWF Intercontinental Title with the Pearl River Plunge at 15:32

Fun Fact: This feud was kicked off on the May 27 Raw where Ahmed was knocked out by Owen Hart during his KOTR qualifying match against Vader and had to be stretchered out of the ring. In the back, officials and doctors were trying revive Johnson, when Goldust showed up and gave him mouth-to-mouth. This woke up Ahmed and he spazzed, but Goldust took off before Ahmed could get a hold of him. Later that night, Ahmed was searching for Goldust and in another classic Raw moment he ran straight through a guy guarding a locker room door, taking both the guard and the door with him into the room. Who could forget his awesome yell when he did it as well: “YAHHHDAHDAHDAH!!!?”

Scott: This is the peak moment for the powerhouse from Pearl River. If you paid attention to the crowd pops and the hype Johnson received since his debut in November, he was prepped to be Intercontinental Champion. It was a perfect time for Goldust to lose too, since he really needed some time to let his injured knee heal properly. Plus since winning the title in January he was involved in stagnant mini-feuds with Savio Vega and Ultimate Warrior and an off-an-on feud with Undertaker. Unfortunately, Ahmed’s moment wouldn’t last too long. A kidney injury in the summer would force him to relinquish the title, and he would never see it again. His career would suddenly float in limbo, as newer faces would come in the fold and pass him. Goldust wouldn’t see the Intercontinental Title again for a few years, and his character would quickly start to get stale and float around aimlessly. An exciting title match, but its really lightning in a bottle considering what happens to these guys by the end of the year. Grade: 3

Justin: A pretty entertaining I-C title match, and probably the last truly good match Ahmed would put on, as injuries and weight made him quite boring, ineffective and dangerous for his last year and a half with the Fed. Ahmed was super over here and unleashes an awesome no hands dive over the top rope to open up the match. This contest was pretty much a formality, but it was still exciting to see Ahmed get his revenge on the Golden One. The crowd was solidly behind him and stays pretty hot for the whole match. Towards the end, Goldust tries to put the lip lock on Ahmed again, but Johnson freaks out, pummels him and polishes him off for the biggest victory of his career. He would stay pretty hot for another month or so before everything came crashing down on him. Grade: 3

*** At this point, one of the most underappreciated wrestlers of all time makes his WWF debut. After having a brief interview during the Free For All, out of nowhere Brian F’N Pillman hobbles down to the ring (on crutches, due to a recent car accident) to talk to Jim Ross. Pillman had positioned himself as a free agent, after he worked his way out of a WCW contract, and lit up a bidding war between Vince and Eric Bischoff. As usual, Bischoff offered more money, but Vince offered a better opportunity. Pillman was officially the first free agent of the Monday Night Wars as he was the first to ignite a major bidding war for his services. In a matter of moments, Pillman establishes his loose cannon personality by calling Ross a “stupid son of a bitch,” and say he is going to “rape, pillage and plunder” the whole Federation. This was way over the top for the time, as the “Attitude” era was still a good 18 months away. Then, in an awesome nod to smart fans everywhere that remember the Hollywood Blondes in WCW, as Pillman is leaving Steve Austin is coming to the ring. They nod, and Pillman points to the ring and crosses his throat, telling Austin to go kick Roberts’ ass. This was just an awesome moment. ***

FINALS:

7) Steve Austin defeats Jake Roberts to become King of the Ring with the Stone Cold Stunner at 4:37

Fun Fact: Austin actually went to the hospital and received stitches in his mouth between matches. Austin’s lip was lacerated by an errant Marc Mero boot in the opener.

Fun Fact II: According to multiple sources, Hunter Hearst-Helmsley was originally scheduled to win the Tournament here, but due to his punishment from the Curtain Call, he was pulled from the show altogether. Vince decided to put another mid-card heel in his spot, and thus, Austin 3:16 was officially born.

Scott: The match wasn’t much, but it really doesn’t matter. This was the moment. This was the moment Stone Cold Steve Austin put himself on the wrestling landscape. It was no surprise at this point that Austin was going to win this match. The memorable moment came after the match, when Austin comes to the throne to be interviewed by Dok Hendrix. He talks trash about Roberts, saying how thumping his bible got him nowhere. “You talk about your psalms, you talk about John 3:16. Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!!” That was it. One sentence, and the next night on RAW there were Austin 3:16 signs all over the place. Steve Austin jumped himself another level. He would still be mired in the lower mid-card. The real elevation would come in November, but this was the first step. From a marketing standpoint, what an easy T-shirt they would end up making. It would be one of the highest selling T-shirts in wrestling history. Jake Roberts would hang around for a few more months, but he would fall off the wagon, and Vince couldn’t ignore it. Damn shame. Grade: 1

Justin: Well, the match is nothing to write home about, but the interview after may be the most important moment in WWF history. The match is itself is an unmitigated slaughter, as Austin just kills Jake from bell to bell. In a nice touch, Gorilla Monsoon comes out to stop the match, but Jake insists the match continue. A minute later, Austin polished him off with the Stunner to win the crown. As Austin is up on the podium for his coronation, he sees Jake hobbling from the ring. He tells the officials to get that “piece of crap out of my ring.” He runs through a list of guys he is going to start going after (Bulldog, Michaels) and then nails the most important line of his career: the Austin 3:16 one Scott mentioned above. He then polishes off the interview with the debut of “and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold Says So.” Austin wouldn’t get his push for another 4 or 5 months, but his underground popularity began to swell, and the crowds started begging for him to be pushed to the upper part of the card. For once, Vince listened to his fans, and the rest is history. Grade: 1.5

8) Shawn Michaels (Michael Hickenbottom) defeats British Bulldog (David Smith) to retain WWF World Title with a Superkick at 26:21

Fun Fact: Since the referees (or, the ref getting knocked out so easily) played such an important role at Beware of Dog, Jim Cornette demanded that Gorilla Monsoon name a special enforcer to make sure there were no shenanigans this time around. To avoid a lawsuit from Clarence Mason on another matter, Monsoon allowed Cornette to pick the ref and James E. chose Mr. Perfect. Right off the bat, there was uncertainty in the air, as Perfect and Michaels had feuded in the past, and Shawn would not forget that small fact. Perfect however, swore up and down repeatedly, that he would call everything down the middle. In a hilarious pre-match segment, Dok Hendrix is interviewing Camp Cornette in their dressing room when all of a sudden Mr. Perfect walks in and starts going through his bag in the background. He looks around, and then walks off. Monsoon came out before the match to announce that Perfect would be the outside ref and Earl Hebner would be the inside ref.

Scott: This feud was extended another month due to the no-contest finish at Beware of Dog. Let me tell you, I certainly didn’t expect these men to put on another stellar match like they did in May. But honestly in my opinion, this match was better. Shawn Michaels really takes bumps better than anybody. Bulldog really stepped up his game also, and there were a handful of moments when it looked like Bulldog was going to take the title. Diana was continuing to look quite attractive during this period. However, the feud between Michaels and Bulldog went away from her and this is the last time you see her on TV for a while. With Owen at commentary this match is a solid package of wrestling, psychology and very entertaining commentary. The individual feud with Bulldog may end here, but the HBK/Camp Cornette feud continues, as Owen and Vader come in to attack Michaels after the match. He gets help from Ahmed Johnson and Warrior, setting up our next PPV main event. As we’ll see that match will change participants slightly. For now a great main event ends a very solid PPV. Grade: 3.5

Justin: A really good, fast-paced and lengthy Main Event, as is usual for the Heartbreak Kid, and once again the Bulldog hangs with him every inch of the way. In a great pre-match moment, as Bulldog, Diana and Cornette make their way to the ring, Owen gets up on the commentary table and starts cheering for his stable-mates by screaming “we love ya Davey, we love ya Diana…whoo!” He is also waving his Slammy around in the air as he does it. Owen was the man. The excitement of this match is ratcheted up a bit with Owen on commentary and Perfect roaming ringside, adding quite a bit of unpredictably to the ending. Perfect, as was his word, calls it down the middle and even jumps in the ring to help Hebner administer the count, but Owen yanks him from the ring. Hebner is able to count three however, and the match ends clean (after a poor looking Superkick). After the match, Camp Cornette lays out Michaels, but Ahmed and Warrior run to his aid and clean house. The show ends with Shawn, Ahmed and Warrior posing in the ring, setting up the original version of the International Incident Main Event. Grade: 3.5

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Scott: This was head and shoulders better than last year’s KOTR, although flies fucking would have been better than that. This had great matches, great psychology, and two WWF newcomers make their first mark (Austin and Foley). Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog put on another top-notch title match. The roster was slowly fleshing out the losers. Let’s look at the main eventers in 1995 and the main eventers in 1996. Wow what a difference in quality. The mid-card is also cooking with some gas, as the fresh personalities on both face and heel sides really bring an exciting dynamic to the WWF show. WCW will be starting the biggest storyline of its history in a few weeks, and Vince will be working from behind for the next couple of years. However we can clearly see he has the seeds planted for a future renaissance. For now, we get a glimpse of how great booking and exemplary talents make for a fantastic show. Final Grade: A-

Justin: A great show that had a lot of solid wrestling and told some excellent stories. This show launched the WWF career of Steve Austin, and was the first step in the resurgence of the Federation, thus it is one of the most important shows in the history of the company. Owen on commentary was gold, and I wish he would have done more shows as he was so funny and old-school (“That hosebag Sable belongs at home in the kitchen, not at ringside”). This show firmly established the new blood into major position in the company and also continued the great trend of building up the next month’s main event as the show was closed out. This time, they didn’t announce the match officially, but any wrestling fan could predict what was on the way in July. This was a very, historic and under-appreciated show and definitely the best KOTR to date and probably the best overall show of 1996 so far. The whole feel and attitude of the Federation had changed and freshness could be felt in the whole product. For as stale as 1995 was, the past few months of 1996 have been equally as refreshing. Final Grade: A-

MVP: Steve Austin
Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels/British Bulldog and Mankind/Undertaker
Non MVP: Ultimate Warrior (for taking up a spot he didn’t deserve)
Runner-Up: Jerry Lawler (For his out of date Memphis style wasting time)

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