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Cheers, gang. Like most of you, I’m a lifelong fan of wrestling. Like some, I’m obsessed. Like a few, I have spreadsheets dedicated to the history of the WWE. When I first subscribed to the WWE Network – on day one, of course – one of the first orders of business was to watch all of their pay-per-views in order. While this was intended merely as a venture for fun, it’s left me wondering if the WWE itself wouldn’t stand to gain something by doing the same.
Mistakes and successes are many, and history sometimes gives us an idea of how we got there. That’s what this feature is all about.
I’m at the end of 1999 in my journey, and for a long while, I wallowed in the mire of the often-frustrating mid-1990s. With that in mind, I decided to start by taking a look at one of WWE’s greatest curiosities – King of the Ring 1995.
Stephanie Wiand, the co-host of WWF Mania, tees up the broadcast by introducing us to the Pre-Show match. Wiand didn’t hang around WWE for long. In 2014, she was the producer of a movie called Revenge of the Bimbot Zombie Killers, which did not receive any Academy Award nominations.
Pre-Show Match: Savio Vega vs. IRS
Savio had just recently been introduced as an old friend of Razor Ramon’s; he had previously worked in WWE as the masked Kwang the Ninja. Razor was slated for the tournament but suffered an injury, leading to this last-minute qualifier. This was brief, given the night ahead, and Savio won a by-the-numbers match with a nondescript spinning heel kick. IRS would compete in the next In Your House pay-per-view and would leave after that.
Pay-Per-View Opener: Savio Vega vs. Yokozuna: King of the Ring Quarterfinals
Vince McMahon and Dok Hendrix are calling the action tonight, and their biases are very black and white throughout; they want to capture the Monsoon/Heenan dynamic but it never comes off as genuine.
The match is all about Vega trying to knock down Yoko. He’s positioned as a heavy underdog who keeps fighting, and the psychology there is the next best thing to actually having a decent match. Razor is at ringside, and is jumped by Owen Hart late in the match, which draws out the competitors. Vega slides back in for the countout victory, drawing an okay reaction, though this opener and finish would be treated much worse today (or even a couple of years after it aired). A graphic shows us that Vega will next face the winner of the Roadie-Bob Holly match, which betrays the fact that our final match will have at least one lower-midcard guy.
Bob Holly vs. The Roadie: King of the Ring Quarterfinals
Bob Holly is in his post “Thurman Plugg” days and pre “Hardcore Holly” days. The Roadie will become The Road Dogg before long, and at this time was accompanying Jeff Jarrett to the ring and cheating on his behalf. Dok calls this out as a “dark horse” match and admits both of these guys are longshots to win the tournament, which is a nice touch when normally, WWE is in the business of protecting egos.
It’s a fast-paced, watchable match early which settles into a slower mat-based bout later. The Roadie does some lame frat boy dancing that makes him an effective heel here and would make him an effective face in the Attitude Era. The finish comes when Holly is caught with a boot off the ropes. He clearly kicks out but the three is called, and it’s unclear whether this was a botch or a protection of Holly.
Shawn Michaels vs. Kama: King of the Ring Quarterfinals
Shawn’s qualifying match victory over King Kong Bundy and Kama’s win over Duke “The Dumpster” Droese are covered. At the time, it was considered almost too obvious that Shawn Michaels would win this tournament, as he had never won the World title but seemed destined to do so before long. Michaels was just a month into a face turn, and Kama – the future Godfather – was in Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, who had a long run near the top but never actually won any titles.
Technique vs. Power is established as the story early on, and Shawn works in a lot of the character moments that would make him the biggest star in the company. He completely wakes up the crowd after a series of underwhelming PPV contests that played to polite applause at best. A cowboy in the front row hates Kama to a distracting degree and repeatedly gets out of his seat to swear at him.
The match settles into a slower pace as Kama takes control and Shawn naturally bumps all over for him. Shawn gets dumped from the ring for an eight-count as the crowd desperately cheers him on, probably because they can see the rest of the bracket. We get more old-school wrestling – bigger heel dominates while the face gets a few hope spots -until the time limit counter shows up on the screen, which telegraphs the impending finish. Naturally, Shawn has the match won as time expires, which ends all hope for the live crowd, who wave off the finish and go quiet. Shawn gets the moral victory and runs off Kama, but the crowd is dead silent.
Before the next match, Bob Backlund is featured in a strange package where he tours Philadelphia and yells about pseudo-politics. The editor must have fallen asleep, because in one shot Backlund stares blankly into the camera for a good five seconds before his outburst.
The Undertaker vs. Mabel: King of the Ring Quarterfinals
Mabel won a quick qualifying match over Adam Bomb that was actually featured on the previous In Your House Pay-Per-View, which should have been an indication of future plans. The Undertaker took out Jeff Jarrett to get here. Mabel and his partner Mo of Men on a Mission were freshly-turned heel, but for some reason their festive purple almost-mumus survived the turn.
Stephanie Wiand interviews Mabel on the way to the ring, which is the only time she does this. In retrospect, it’s all pretty obvious where we were headed. The Undertaker wakes up the beleaguered crowd like Shawn Michaels before him.
The Undertaker uncharacteristically plays the underdog, and when he takes control, Mo jumps in for the distraction to help Mabel settle into a chinlock. I assume the Undertaker was distracted by Mo’s cool all-black suit. At any other point in the history of these two guys, Undertaker would be in complete control, but Undertaker gets beaten down for the majority of the match as Mabel’s mega-push is in its toddler stages.
Referee Mike Chioda gets bumped late, allowing Undertaker to get the visual victory, but Kama runs in to help Mabel close out the win and suck what was left out of the crowd. Undertaker would chase Kama and the rest of the Million Dollar Corporation around for a lengthy feud that gave him something to do while giving him an excuse for not being in the title picture.
WWF Hall of Fame segment. Pedro Morales, The Grand Wizard, Antonino Rocca, The Fabulous Moolah, George “The Animal” Steele, Ernie Ladd and Ivan Putski are inducted. Steele is inducted by Bill Murray riding an elephant, which manages to be the weirdest thing on a show where Mabel begins a main event push.
Savio Vega vs. The Roadie: King of the Ring Semifinals
The Hall of Fame segment was nice, but I would have taken a buffer match between the quarterfinals and the semifinals. Vince mentions that the Roadie calls himself “The Road Dogg,” so I guess things were already in motion. Jeff Jarrett, the Intercontinental Champion, and Razor Ramon are both at ringside again. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Savio has a big “SV” shaved into the back of his head that thankfully didn’t last long (and if it did, I forced it out of my memory).
Good energy early, as I feel is often the case when two guys are given a real push for the first time. The two hit some signature spots and have an okay match, but the distracted crowd chants “Throw him out! Throw him out!” at something happening off camera. Jarrett jumps up to the apron to interfere, and the Roadie gets tossed into him, leading to the rollup victory for Vega. The announcers lay it on thick that Vega just won his third match, covering for the fact that he’s not winning the last one.
Carlos Cabrera interviews Savio Vega at ringside, with both speaking Spanish. Dok Hendrix jumps in to “translate” and he pretends Vega is bemoaning his inevitable loss to Mabel. Good enough for a smile.
Bret Hart is interviewed backstage preceding his “Kiss My Foot” match with Jerry Lawler that was largely hyped by showing Lawler intentionally ignoring foot hygiene in the hopes of forcing his disgusting foot down Hart’s throat. Lawler is interviewed by Stephanie Wiand on the way to the ring and they reinforce the smell coming from his feet. If this doesn’t get you excited for the blowoff to a long-running feud… anything else will.
Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler: Kiss My Foot match
Bret was in a similar spot as The Undertaker, given a long feud to make an excuse for his absence from the title picture. Although this feud didn’t produce any great matches, it did provide some decent TV, as Lawler was so relentless toward Hart’s family that you just wanted to see him get beaten to a pulp.
Lawler quickly draws Hart outside where he rams him into the guardrail so he can take temporary control in the ring. He hits the piledriver, his finisher in his prime in USWA, then another, and another, but Bret kicks out. The audience, almost certainly unfamiliar with Lawler’s Memphis days, doesn’t treat this like a big deal. Lawler dumps Hart outside again, then takes off his boot to display a discolored sock. He hits Hart with the boot as Hendrix acts like he can smell the festering foot from twenty feet away. Lawler hits Hart with the boot out of the ref’s view to retain control in what’s essentially playing out as a squash, but Hakushi runs in to interfere on behalf of Lawler, and it backfires. They run off as Hart hits his signature moves, culminating in the Sharpshooter and quick submission.
Bret sits on a turnbuckle and removes his boot for the kiss. Hakushi runs in again (why didn’t he just stay before?) and Bret makes quick work of him again. Bret shoves his big toe in Lawler’s mouth and Lawler oversells it (if you’re going to do this, you may as well go all the way). Bret proceeds to shove Lawler’s own foot in his mouth and Lawler plays up his gag reflex. As a match, this was not great for Lawler and really weak for Hart, though I can see why it was booked the way it was.
Savio Vega vs. Mabel: King of the Ring Finals
The coronations of Bret and Owen are shown to remind fans that great wrestlers usually win the tournament. The announcers reinforce Savio’s underdog “Rocky Balboa-like” story and mention that this is his fourth match in under three hours. Vince repeats this repeatedly – man, he drills home those talking points.
Savio and Mabel lock up to start what’s still the most surprising KotR final the company has ever run. Savio gains the advantage for a spell before Mabel grabs him for an awkward leaning bear hug, and I find myself drifting away despite the fact that it’s my job not to. These two just don’t have anything left and the crowd is too dead to inspire them to do more. Mabel leans on Savio while Angry Front Row Cowboy finds reasons to yell at Mo. Razor slaps the ring from the outside to try to keep the crowd engaged, but they soon chant “E-C-Dub.” Mabel splashes Savio a couple of times to take home the most unlikely of King of the Ring crowns.
Razor Ramon puts down Mo with a couple of punches after the match, but Men on a Mission double-team him to set up a feud I’m pretty sure was never blown off. The 1-2-3 Kid joins the fun, and like those before him, he takes out Mo before Mabel puts him down. The machine was firmly behind Mabel, for sure.
Mabel sits on his throne as generic regal music plays. Mo applies the robe and kneels, handing Mabel the sword. The crowd is dead until Mo produces a scroll and starts to speak, at which point they let loose and boo everything. Mabel, for his part, looks a little bored and disengaged as Mo reads the proclamation. It isn’t exactly Mabel 3:16 here. Razor, Kid and Savio are held back as the coronation ends.
Elsewhere, in a bathroom, Jerry Lawler downs an entire tube of toothpaste as the camera gives us a good shot of a puke-stained sink.
Elsewhere again, Stephanie Wiand interviews Sycho Sid and Tatanka, with Ted DiBiase. Sid gives a reasonably decent insane promo and Tatanka shows okay chops as a heel.
Diesel and Bam Bam Bigelow are interviewed by Todd Pettengill. Diesel is settled firmly into his Kevin Nash persona, playing his character like an actual person, which always stood out among the weird characters surrounding him. Bam Bam says they’re going to go after the heels 220 percent. That should be enough, I would think.
Main Event: Diesel & Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Sycho Sid & Tatanka
As Pay-Per-View main events go, this is right up there as one of the strangest. I remember being annoyed that it was billed as the main event rather than the tournament final, but of course, I thought the final would be Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon.
Bam Bam had his weird plastic fire collar at this point. He had turned face after leaving the Million Dollar Corporation, and this collar was the one big negative to come out of it. WWF Champion Diesel is introduced last.
Diesel opens with Tatanka, and it’s a mess. Bam Bam comes in to fight some injustice that hasn’t happened yet, opening the door for Sid to ram Diesel into the turnbuckle to allow Tatanka the early advantage. Sid comes in to work the arm until Diesel makes the hot tag, and the audience responds well to Bam Bam. Bam Bam and Sid work a slow power match before Tatanka tags in and makes an immediate cover for some reason. The heels control the majority of the match, mostly against Bam Bam, while Diesel comes and goes in short bursts. Bam Bam finally hits the hot tag after a cannonball/enzuigiri combo on Tatanka and Diesel hits a quick jackknife on Tatanka, then pulls him up at the two count because he wants to get his hands on Sid. Sid walks, so Diesel hits an elbow on Tatanka for the pin. Diesel’s music plays and he and Bam Bam slap hands and hug before a relatively quick fade-out.
Legacy of King of the Ring 1995
Believe it or not, I liked Mabel at the time. He wasn’t going to have classic matches, but he was a reasonably frightening monster. Still…why not change his name? His attire? Wouldn’t he have had a better chance of being taken seriously if he had dressed more like Mo did on this night?
Diesel had a long title reign, but it wasn’t a very memorable one, and later feeding him Mabel at the second-biggest show of the year couldn’t have helped. Of course, the Kliq was wielding a lot of backstage power at this time, so they may have had some say in Diesel’s opposition.
Bam Bam Bigelow was getting his biggest push in some time, and his reactions were fairly strong, but this ended up being his penultimate Pay-Per-View with the company as he would leave a few months later, apparently after having issues with the Kliq.
It should be fairly easy to see where these frustrations were coming from, even on a show like this where one Kliq member went out in the first round of the tournament and the other only worked a few minutes; Razor Ramon ended up coming off as one of the stars of the night despite not wrestling, and The Kid was featured as well. I like every member of the Kliq, but looking back, it’s very difficult to ignore the group regardless of the match in the ring, and I’m left flabbergasted that the WCW saw this happen, witnessed the erosion of morale, and ended up having the same problem in their own company with some of the same talent.
Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler had a memorable feud, but it sure produced some garbage at times, and this is Exhibit A. As I said above, I understand the booking of a match like this given the history of the two competitors, but in the end, I wonder what kind of match they actually could have had at the time, when Bret was still in his prime and Lawler wasn’t all that far removed from it.
This experiment would prove to be a one-time thing. Bret and Owen Hart had won the two previous PPV tournaments, so I think it was natural to assume that it was going to be all about the workers. Even now, Mabel stands out as a huge exception to the rule, as the only other mild surprises in the mix are Ken Shamrock and Billy Gunn, who could both have decent matches whether or not they were “worthy” of the crown.
The major reason I chose this show was Bam Bam. He really could have been a great uppercard babyface, but the powers in the locker room just weren’t going to let that happen, and his departure should have served as a warning of the damage that could be done when inmates run the asylum.
(Kelly Wells will feature a “PPV Lookback” as a new regular feature in the Specialists section of PWTorch.com where he reviews a past PPV from the perspective of today, and assesses the legacy of the PPV and its place in pro wrestling history.)