A lot of people have written and talked about the Attitude era of WWF as some sort of monolithic 4-year period, but savvy viewers will realize that there are chapters to its story.
Chapter 1: Wrestlemania 13 through Survivor Series 1997
Chapter 2: The dark period between Survivor Series 1997 and Wrestlemania 14, when WWF was still losing the ratings war to WCW, but Steve Austin was ascending.
Chapter 3: Wrestlemania 14 through Fully Loaded 1999, the Austin/McMahon feud.
Chapter 4: Summerslam 1999 through No Mercy 2000, when the in-ring product improved immensely, and Chris Kreski contributed coherent storylines.
Chapter 5: The home stretch of amazing PPV’s and angles from Survivor Series 2000 through Wrestlemania 17.
The show we’re reviewing today, Unforgiven 1999, takes place at the beginning of Chapter 3, as this is the last PPV entirely under the auspices of creative force Vince Russo, who had been the main writer and booker of the promotion since early 1997. Also, this show features the PPV debuts of Chris Jericho, the Dudley Boys, and Stevie Richards, a farewell to Ken Shamrock, the second to last show from Jeff Jarrett, and we are only a few months ahead of the arrivals of Tazz, Kurt Angle, Rikishi, Too Cool, and the WCW Radicalz. Also, within 2 months, the company would be without the top two main eventers of 1998 and the first half of 1999, Steve Austin and the Undertaker. The winds of change are all over this show, and it’s damn entertaining to watch the company change direction with a new cast of characters.
The company had just launched SmackDown! as a weekly show on the UPN network, and therefore had twice the content to produce, but offered no help to writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, thus running the two ragged as they tried to produce quality television at the company’s hottest period. This draining led to them leaving the WWF in October for WCW and a hell of a lot of money and perks, thus the WWF of 1997, 1998, and most of 1999 was coming to an end, as new voices were coming into power. Also, this is the time when the WWF became a publicly traded company, thus changing even more about the company’s corporate structure and taking more of Vince McMahon’s attention. Thus, it was a very tumultuous period in the WWF’s history backstage, though the on-screen product was stable, and would be tremendously improved in only a few months.
UNFORGIVEN, SEPTEMBER 26, 1999
We open the show with the typical video package, hyping what, to this point, may be the most star-studded title match in WWF history, not including the 1992 Royal Rumble. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are in the booth and show us that the referees are picketing outside the building and are on strike.
Val Venis v. “The Lethal Weapon” Steve Blackman
The Brooklyn Brawler is the scab referee. Perfect opener of a hot babyface and a solid mid-card heel. This match is happening because Venis fucked with Blackman by replacing the martial arts weapons in his bag with vibrators and dildos and whatnot. This is silly and goofy, but I love it for 2 reasons. Firstly, these are two guys who were directionless, with Venis not being featured on a PPV since May and Blackman coming off convincing losses in his feud with Ken Shamrock, so they have some direction and something for people to sink their teeth in to. Secondly, the fact that each match on this show, including this seemingly lame opener, has a backstory and something for fans to connect with is a HUGE deal. It has meaning, it has a reason to exist, and it furthers Val’s character as a face, and Blackman’s as a no-nonsense ass kicker.
As for the match, it moves along and warms the crowd up, all without overstaying it’s welcome. When Val hits the “Moneyshot” for the victory, the crowd pop is fairly raucous.
RATING: 2.75 stars
Michael Cole is in the back and we get a lame Big Show interview.
Lillian Garcia, new to the WWF, is interviewing Mark Henry, who is flanked by two… uh… I’ll go with hookers. He is totally embracing the Sexual Chocolate gimmick. He whispers something dirty in Lillian’s ear and gets slapped. Pretty entertaining.
European Title Match
Mark Henry (c) v. D’Lo Brown
The video package for this, recounting the long friendship of D’Lo and Henry, torn apart by D’Lo pushing Mark to be healthy and Jeff Jarrett paying him off with the European title to turn on D’Lo, is actually pretty great, and again we have a reason to care and a reason for this match to exist. Wrestling is actually pretty simple, and for all the shit he takes from fans, Vince Russo seemed to at least grasp that. Your scab ref for this match is Tom Prichard in ridiculous blue pants. Bodydonna Zip really hit the skids.
Henry getting on the mic and claiming he can’t compete because Lillian’s slap gave him a “brainerism” is fucking gold, and D’Lo’s entrance and hot start has the crowd hot. Henry, who really wasn’t a good worker at this point, does some boring heel offense in the middle, and D’Lo navigates a hot ending stretch to end and win the title with the Lo Down. The crowd going nuts for D’Lo, and the hard work he put in as a ring worker, makes me think he could have fit in well with Jericho, Angle, the Radicalz, and Tazz in 2000 if he hadn’t fallen apart mentally after paralyzing Droz. Decent stuff.
RATING: 2 stars
Michael Cole interviews the Acolytes, done with the Ministry of Darkness stuff, but not yet the APA. The rip into the newly arrived Dudley Boys, and make allusions to driving them from the company as they did another former ECW team, Public Enemy, earlier in the year. You can literally see Bradshaw becoming the locker room cocksucker you hear about today. Afterward, a bunch of guys beat up Headbanger Mosh/Beaver Cleavage/Chaz because he *allegedly* hit Mrs. Cleavage/Marianna, his girlfriend. Mid-1999 was fucking insane to keep up with.
Intercontinental Title Match
Jeff Jarrett (c) v. Chyna
Here, almost 19 years later, is a match that I enjoyed 100 times more than I did in the moment, and for one reason only: Jeff Jarrett made a very green and untested Chyna look like a legitimate and decent professional wrestler. This is also the time-period that gave Jeff Jarrett more heat than he ever had before, as he was a misogynistic prick and probably the number 2 or 3 heel in the company, legitimately. The anti-woman schtick was tailor-made for a Chyna feud, and elevating her into the mid-card against men, a revolutionary act on the national level of pro wrestling, was a big deal at the time. Vince Russo was also pushing for a Jarrett-Austin feud, but Steve hated Jeff and nixed it from the get go. So, we get a hot heel against a face that fans bought into due to her being protected as a badass and never really putting any men over for 2 years.
Your scab ref is Harvey Wippleman. The match is fine, especially considering it’s a straight match without gimmicks. Mae Young and Moolah, now just appearing on WWF TV as the old lady version of Briscoe and Patterson, are at ringside and get involved when scab referee Harvey Wippleman gets bumped, allowing Debra (who was on the outs with Jarrett) to clock Jarrett with the guitar. Chyna gets the pin and the crowd explodes, but head scab Tom Prichard runs out and reverses the decision due to interference, getting huge heat on Jarrett. A good match, great presentation, and a fantastic first chapter of this story.
RATING: 3.5 stars
Dudley Boys v. The Acolytes
This match is here for a reason, and any long-time fan of WWF knows why. The Dudleys were fresh on the scene, still in their ECW tie-dye, and Buh-Buh sporting a stutter, and the Acolytes were 2 veterans who seemed to be locker room leaders. They had this match to test the Dudleys, both as workers and as company men, and its safe to say that the Dudleys passed with flying colors.
Jimmy Korderas, the lone ref to cross the picket line, is the referee. The match is ok, just 2 hoss teams working hard and putting on a show, but the Acolytes didn’t have much character at this point and the Dudleys were new, so the crowd heat is minimal here. Stevie Richards, dressed as an Acolyte with “UPN” painted on his chest, hits a superkick on Devon to give the Acolytes the win, and they kick his ass anyway. Solid enough.
RATING: 1.25 stars
WWF Women’s Title Match
Ivory (c) v. Luna
This is a hardcore match, and it starts in the back. 4 minutes of the women throwing themselves around against stuff, and Tori runs in to get her ass kicked for no adequately explained reason. Whatever. After the match, Lillian is with Mae and Moolah, but Ivory cuts in to talk about how great she is and she has to sell a beating from the septuagenarians.
Rating: ¼ star
WWF Tag Team Title Match
New Age Outlaws (c) v. Edge and Christian
One month earlier, Billy Gunn was in a semi-main event at Summerslam against The Rock, and his heel singles push was such a fuck up that they immediately put the Outlaws back together because they were both garbage without one another. The opening mic package is still over, but even here in September of 1999, these guys seem soooooo dated with the Hardys, Dudleys, Acolytes, and their opponents now filling up the previously depleted division.
As for the match, I think it is not only fair to say, but I’m positive that this is the best Outlaws match since their match against the New Midnight Express at King of the Ring 1998. It’s that damn good, with Edge and Christian bringing their youthful exuberance, and the Outlaws being game for everything because they’re re-energized to be back together. It is a damn fun match, and I think it definitely gives viewers an insight to where tag team wrestling in the WWF was headed, even if the NAO weren’t going to be a part of it. The Outlaws win when the New Brood (The Hardys and Gangrel in a weird, and ultimately stupid, angle) interfere and take out Edge.
RATING: 3.75 stars
The British Bulldog and Triple H are in the back and have nothing interesting to say.
Kennel from Hell Match
Al Snow v. Big Bossman
OK, this is one of the most infamous matches in company history, and I don’t know that I can write anything about this match that hasn’t already been written, however, I will give some quick opinions and then we’ll move along.
Much like the opener, this was a fine mid-card feud, and the storyline was actually pretty great, with Bossman kidnapping Snow’s dog, killing it, and then feeding it to Snow (reportedly, this was loosely based on an alleged story regarding the devious one, Mr. Fuji). Bossman was such a dick, such an asshole heel, he was fantastic, and, for the first time, we saw some range and character development from Snow. This was a solid feud, and the build up was fantastic. Also, don’t tell me that Bossman’s act was stupid and silly, because if they did something like that on Boardwalk Empire or Breaking Bad, you’d all be marking out for it.
The match, and therefore the blow off to a fine feud. This match was all the excesses of Vince Russo that fans despise. The match could never get going, it was disjointed, heatless, and brutal to watch due to the 2 cages, the leashed dogs, and the layout of the match. It is a bad match, and it’s understandable that it would overshadow the feud as a whole, but I just want to give both men props on a solid TV angle.
RATING: ½* because both guys were pros and tried to work through it.
Mankind does a typical 1999 punch-drunk, Rock & Sock-era promo.
Chris Jericho w/ Curtis Hughes v. X-Pac
This match was originally booked to be Ken Shamrock vs. Chris Jericho, and the segments on TV during the build up were excellent, with the unhinged, serious lunatic Shamrock being outsmarted by the fresh Jericho, who was still very much in his WCW mode, which is just great because it’s one of my all time favorite runs by a wrestler. Each week was something new, fun, and fresh and I was geeked for the match. Unfortunately, Kenny didn’t make it to Unforgiven.
At the time, I wanted the Jericho/Shamrock feud in the worst way because I was a mark for each guy. However, Shammy left the promotion a few days before this show, allegedly to pursue more accolades in the world of shoot fighting, and the brilliant build up to a match between the World’s Most Dangerous Man and the recently debuted, still 1998 WCWish Jericho was wasted. Sadly, we got Sean Waltman as a replacement, and yes, he is one of the wrestler’s I most despise in the history of wrestling. Fuck that guy. But he came through this night.
Tom Prichard is the scab referee here. Curtis Hughes at ringside is odd to see, as he was with Jericho for about a month, and added next to nothing to the presentation of Jericho at this time. X-Pac was in the midst of a great angle with Kane, where he was the underdog partner to the monster, and tried to humanize him. It was a solid angle and was perfect for the story arc of Kane while giving X-Pac direction after the dissolution of DX. Again, these characters evolved, giving us a reason to care about their matches and weekly advancement, which is necessary for exemplary pro wrestling.
This match is a ton of fun, as Russo, McMahon, Pat Patterson, or whoever made the call to put X-Pac in the match did a great thing, because he is one of only a few guys on the roster at this time who could hang with Jericho in this sort of match while also acclimating him to the WWF style, change in ring size, etc… And the two put on a damn fine performance. I especially love hearing Jericho bust out “Ask him” in his first WWF PPV match. It’s a fast-paced affair, and something that is sort of a hidden gem in 1999 WWF wrestling. Hughes interferes to get the DQ, which is a shit ending to a really good match. If they had issues between Jericho and Waltman as the buildup, I would have been much more invested and added a bit more to the rating, but as it is, you won’t find many better in ring matches in 1999 WWF.
RATING: 4 stars
WWF TITLE SIX PACK CHALLENGE
Triple H v. The Rock v. Mankind v. Big Show v. The Bristish Bulldog v. Kane
OK, there is a lot to cover here that I will get through really quickly.
-Steve Austin loses the title to Mankind at Summerslam
-Triple H beats Mankind the next night
-Triple H loses the title to a returning VINCE MCMAHON, who fights to defend his wife’s honor.
-Vince vacates the title
-Undertaker, Big Show, Kane, Rocky, Mankind and HHH all have claims, all get involved.
-British Bulldog returns, defeats Big Bossman for the Hardcore Title and gives it to Al Snow.
-Bulldog turns on Rocky, aligns with Triple H
-Undertaker doesn’t want to follow Vince’s orders, leaves to fly with his “creatures of the night”(really, taking a much needed break to heal long-nagging injuries), and Bulldog takes his place in the Six Pack Challenge. On a side note, the Undertaker at this point, between Summerslam and Unforgiven, was already morphing into the American Badass character that he would take on upon his return in May 2000. The 2 months between Fully Loaded 1999 and this PPV are some of the most fascinating weeks to watch of UT as a character.
-Steve Austin is named special enforcer for the match.
This gives us the inaugural Six Pack challenge, along with a few weeks of schizophrenic television, basically visual evidence that Vince Russo was fraying at the edges.
As for this match? I love it, I love the different combinations, the chaos, the fact that 7 main event caliber guys are all within the barricades, blowing off feuds, building new ones, all in an effort to capture the World Wrestling Federation Title. If you don’t take wrestling too seriously, this is comfort food, and it tastes delicious. The rules of two legal men, with a man in each corner, and first fall wins, add a sense of urgency and excitement. If you want to see the perfect distillation of the best of this era of WWF, this match, with it’s great work, excitement, drama, and mayhem is the best of what Vince Russo offered. We also get a fun payoff to the referee strike angle that was running throughout the evening.
RATING; 5 stars
THE LO DOWN
This show is… well, it’s just fun. This is a great melding of old school wrestling and the best parts of sports entertainment, and that is pretty much why the WWF was over the moon in popularity at this time with insanely high ratings that they can only get maybe ¼ of today. If you didn’t live through it, I doubt you will be enthralled by it, because it’s hard to recreate or imagine the buzz around this stuff, but it’s rewatchability, especially the last three title matches, makes this a great show to check out on the network.