Review: In Your House: Final Four
February 16th, 1997
We are back into the Retro-Reviews, and this one is a doozy of a show, packed with tons of backstory, excitement, and my favorite thing in wrestling—the winds of change!
Going back to Survivor Series 1996, Sid beat Shawn Michaels and finally killed one of the worst babyface title runs in company history, and Bret Hart defeated Steve Austin in a virtual #1 contenders match. In the lead up to the December and January PPVs, these four men interacted with each other weekly, all straddled the lines of face and heel, and they were eventually joined by Vader and the Undertaker as men who all vied, and had claims to, the World Wrestling Federation Title. How did this all happen and culminate?
Firstly, the 1997 Royal Rumble, where Shawn Michaels got his rematch and vanquished Sid, and the rumble match itself, wherein Steve Austin was eliminated by Bret Hart, but the officials did not register it due to breaking up a fight on the outside. Austin, still a sociopathic heel with a blood-boiling hatred of Bret Hart, re-entered the Rumble and illegally eliminated Bret, Vader, and the Undertaker to win a title shot at Wrestlemania. Also of note, Vader defeated Taker in a one-on-one match earlier in the night. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The next night on RAW, Bret Hart threatened to quit (thus beginning the whiner part of his character that would lead to his spectacular heel turn in 2 months), while WWF President Gorilla Monsoon put together a Final Four #1 Contender’s elimination match to take place at the February In Your House Event, featuring the wronged parties of Bret, Vader, and Undertaker against Austin, with a the caveat that over-the-top-rope eliminations would be enforced along with pinfalls and submissions. This brought Bret back, and mayhem ensued.
However, in this month of upheaval and chaos, Shawn Michaels would not be outdone, and he claimed doctors had told him he had a knee injury that would force him to retire, and thus vacate the belt, which he did on the historic THURSDAY RAW THURSDAY before Final Four. This also featured the horrid “Lost My Smile” promo which is the wrestling equivalent of Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech, and the entire issue calcified Shawn’s reputation as a pilled-up assclown who wouldn’t job to anyone, regardless of circumstances. Don’t forget, this guy never got pinned to lose most of the titles he won at this point in his career.
So where does this lead us? The Final Four match becomes a WWF Title match, and the winner faces Sid, cashing in his rematch, the next night on RAW. Needless to say, the main event scene in the WWF from November 1996 through Wrestlemania 13, is absolutely insane, invigorating, and aside from certain acts like The Nation of Domination, Owen Hart and the British Bulldog, these six men carried the company through shades of grey storytelling that is also the hallmark of Vince Russo, who was just beginning to get his voice heard backstage at this period of time. If anything, this show was giving fans something it hadn’t had since 1992—excitement, unpredictability, and complex storytelling.
IN YOUR HOUSE: FINAL FOUR
We open with one of my favorite things, the PPV promo packages that opened shows. These were fantastic from mid-1996 right through the Attitude era. Also, no Vince McMahon in the booth, as it’s just Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross. They’re still very good, but nowhere near their peak just yet.
LEIF CASSIDY vs. MARC MERO
I’m so disappointed that Vince isn’t in the booth, as I’d love to hear him yell “WILDMANMARCMERO” 2,371 times during this match. Leif is the future Al Snow, still clinging to the New Rockers gimmick even though Marty Jannetty had been released, and I can only assume it’s due to copious drug use like back in the early 90’s. It was reported by sources at the time that Mero was set to turn heel for an Intercontinental Title program at the next month’s Wrestlemania against a young, fresh face champion whom we’ll get to later, but he hurt his knee sometime in the week after this match and was out of commission until November of 1997.
This match comes off very odd, as Mero and Cassidy both have aerial repertoires, and Cassidy was a renowned indie talent in the mid-90’s, but these guys don’t use quick pacing or exciting maneuvers; they use mat work and heavy psychology. It is by no means a bad match, just not what I could expect from these two guys, and it leads me to believe that the Mero-heel turn rumors were true as he was much more subdued and working a more mat-oriented style until hitting the Wild Thing on Cassidy to win the match.
RATING: 3.25 stars
Honky Tonk Man, a favorite of mine, comes out to his music, but nothing comes of it as they just they go to a recap of Shawn Michaels announcement on THURSDAY RAW THURSDAY. Vince’s expression is so sullen and his eyes are broken as he listens to his boy toy half-assedly retire. For a few months, that is.
Backstage interview as Kevin Kelly is with SID! Sid promos are my guilty pleasure, and he talks about getting his belt back. Awesome.
FLASH FUNK, GOLDUST, AND BART GUNN vs. THE NATION OF DOMINATION
Again, I wish Vince was here to get down and cheer on Flash Funk and his Funkettes as they dance out to the ring. I have no idea what the faces have to do with the heels in this match, although they put over a Faarooq v. Bart Gunn RAW match from 4 weeks earlier as an issue, as well as Goldust vs. Crush from 2 weeks earlier. Whatever. Face Goldust from late-96 through mid-97 is just the worst that character ever was.
The Nation, in my opinion, is an awesome group by this point, and Faarooq from Survivor Series 96 through King of the Ring 97 is phenomenal as a promo. Also, PG-13 as the emcees of the Nation are fucking great as they rap the group out. The stable, with Savio Vega, Crush, Faarooq, PG-13, D’Lo, Clarence Mason, and nameless guys dressed like Malcolm X just looks impressive, and their message and reason for being is also logical and great for future evolution in pro wrestling.
This match…. Man, for as much as I love the individuals in this match, it just doesn’t work. It’s essentially a random house show match, which is good, but forgettable. Also, along with Razor Ramon vs. Bob Backlund at WM 9 and Mideon vs. the Godfather at No Mercy 99, this might be the most random PPV match to ever take place. Solid, competent work here, but that’s it. Nation wins when Crush leg drops Bart Gunn likes he’s Hulk fucking Hogan and Faarooq gets the cover.
RATING: 1.75 stars
Dok Hendrix is with Steve Austin. Terrific stuff from Austin, as he just doesn’t give a shit and calls Dok a jackass while calling out Gorilla Monsoon. You can see superstar written all over this early version of Stone Cold.
INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH
HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY vs. ROCKY MAIVIA (c)
Rocky is coming off a title win over Hunter 4 days earlier at THURSDAY RAW THURSDAY, and the white meat babyface act is pure and utter trash. Hilarious to hear Rocky billed from the South Pacific and slapping hands with a dopey grin. This is also the first PPV match between 2 guys who would set the world on fire from Summerslam 98 through the year 2000. Of course, it wouldn’t be chippy, ass kissing upstart Rocky vs. blue blood snob Hunter, but wrestling is great that way.
This match exists. At this point Rocky is just bland as fuck with his offense, and HHH is not much better as a heel who has to carry a match, plus he doesn’t look nearly as impressive physically as Rocky because he’d yet to find the magic (anabolic) beans and HGH that would inflate him by early 1999.
One thing that is good about this match is Rocky’s selling. It’s not too much, as he would show off later in his career when he became a charismatic Tasmanian Devil, but it’s legit-looking and well-executed—the bad part is that he is not sympathetic and he’s goofy as fuck, so the fans don’t really get behind him, but the selling itself is there even if the crowd reaction doesn’t match accordingly.
A headlock spot in the middle of this match is just killing it. About ¼ of the crowd is into the match, just killing it dead and making the rest spots and slow pace even worse. It’s entertaining, however, to see Rocky throwing dropkicks and crossbodies, things that we would seldom, if ever, see again after his heel turn in the late summer. Again, this match is competent, but very basic. Not much to it, but I don’t hate it. They also gave these guys over 10 minutes to work, and at this point in both their careers, it’s just too much to ask.
Goldust comes out and distracts Hunter, rubbing his golden ass, and Rocky hits a back suplex for the win and title retention. That finish was weak as fuck and makes Rocky look like even more of a nerd.
After the match, Goldust and Marlena continue to taunt Hunter when a fan reaches over the guardrail and begins choking Marlena. It’s a large butch woman, and yes, it’s the debut of CHYNA! Goldust yelling “throw her in jail!” is funny to me for some reason, mostly because it was with a Texas twang.
RATING: 1.50 stars
Wrestlemania promo commercial.
Kevin Kelly is with the MASTODON VADER and Paul Bearer. Vader fucks up canary and gator, spitting out “canator” as part of his promo before correcting himself. Bearer is money as usual. Weakest of the promos thus far, but still effective.
WWF TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH
OWEN HART and THE BRITISH BULLDOG (c) vs. FURNAS and LaFON
Furnas and LaFon have the most generic ass rock theme ever. Owen and Bulldog are in the midst of a tag team breakup that featured Owen eliminating Bulldog from the Royal Rumble, and Bulldog beating Owen in the finals of the brand new WWF European Title. However, this angle was aborted in favor of the Hart Foundation formation after Wrestlemania, so the dissension between and Owen and Bulldog was forgotten and brushed away.
This match is fantastic, and it is a hidden gem in the pantheon of great tag team matches in WWF PPV history. You have great to capable workers in there, especially the unsung Furnas and LaFon who worked a technical, Japanese-influenced style that meshed well with Owen’s work and Bulldog’s power. What we get is a match that builds and builds to a very hot final finish that goes out like a dud firework with Owen using his Slammy Award to garner a DQ as Bulldog is about to plant LaFon with a Powerslam.
This match was GREAT, and the Owen/Bulldog dissension—with added emphasis when Bulldog throws down Owen’s Slammy after the match—added an extra wrinkle that gave it another dimension. Check this match out.
RATING: 4 stars
The participants in the main event make their entrances, with Bret being last and cutting a bitchy, pitch-perfect promo backstage before going through the Gorilla position and making his way to the ring, all pissed off.
WWF TITLE FINAL FOUR MATCH
VADER vs. THE UNDERTAKER vs. BRET HART vs. “STONE COLD” STEVE AUSTIN
One of the most star-studded matches in company history up to this point, and an absolute classic. I wrote about this match here on the It’s Damn True blog a few months back, as I lamented that modern day multi-man matches irk the shit out of me and the current talent and road agents should study this match in order to properly book and lay out such matches these days. This match is the gold standard and one of my favorite matches of all time due to it’s uniqueness, it’s chaotic and non-stop action, and the perfect storytelling featured throughout.
During this match, Undertaker and Vader pair off as Austin and Bret bludgeon one another, and the four men rotate the pairs both inside and outside the ring, the absolute highlight of the match being a chair shot to Vader’s face that opens up one of the bloodiest faces I have ever seen. Legend has it that a pre-existing eye injury was aggravated and Vader’s eyeball actually popped out and he had to shove it back into the socket. MOTHERFUCKER, Vader is a wrestling God.
I really don’t want to go move-by-move here, because it doesn’t do this match justice. It’s, for me, one of the few perfect matches in the company’s history, and Vader is the MVP, though all 4 are superb. Also, of note, is that due to the Royal Rumble elimination style, none of the guys take a pinfall or submit, thus keeping their characters strong, and still giving each man a legitimate claim. Austin goes first, followed by Vader, and finally Bret eliminates Undertaker as Austin stalks around the ring like a madman to be pain in Bret’s ass, as he would be for most of 1997.
PLEASE WATCH THIS MATCH!
RATING: 5 stars
THE ‘LO DOWN
This show starts off well, falls off a cliff, and then comes back with two money matches for a combined 9 stars at the end. The show overall, is must-see, and one of the best shows between the golden Federation era and the onset of the Attitude era. The characters are becoming fresher and more realistic—even the Undertaker is slowly becoming more humanized—and the energy from the crowd for the last 2 matches in infectious. The Attitude era pretty much kicks off the next month with the beginning of RAW IS WAR and the Bret/Austin double turn, so this show definitely has historic appeal, and the action is excellent.