RETRO RAW Review - June 30, 1997

RAW 216

JUNE 30, 1997

Marty The Moth Martinez Explains Absence From Wrestling, Back Training At Nightmare Factory

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

You’re looking at and listening to the most boisterous, loyal fans in the world! We’re LIVE from Des Moines, Iowa! World Wrestling Federation fans exercising their freedom of expression, and boy are they ever going to express themselves in enthusiastic ways tonight, here on RAW!" -Vince McMahon

Synopsis: The dark side of The Undertaker's past is finally brought to light. Plus, The Hart Foundation, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and many more!

Rating Guide

10- Perfect, 9- Excellent, 8- Great, 7- Very Good, 6- Above Average to good, 5- Average, 4- Slightly below average, 3 or below: Poor

Each match starts at a 5 and slides up and down based on entertainment, execution, time, environment, reaction and stakes. The ratings are in no way an indication of a "star rating," which is a completely different system.

***

If you missed last weeks recap, you can find it here.

RAW starts with a "previously on" video montage that explains the Undertaker and Paul Bearer's relationship. This is a device employed by many television shows and immediately lets you know the main focus of the episode.

Here is what Jim Ross had to say:

"From the Dark Side, they battled the evils of the World Wrestling Federation. With the brains fueling the brawn, Paul Bearer and the Undertaker climbed to the greatest of Federation heights. But then, the unthinkable happened! In a fury fueled by greed, a friend turned on a friend. With revengeful eyes, the Undertaker set his sights on making Paul Bearer’s life a living hell. But, at the height of the Grim Reaper’s madness, the Crypt Keeper dropped a bomb. Unless his Undertaker returned to his side, he would unleash a terrible truth. A secret that is so hideous that if told it would change the Undertaker’s life forever. Feeling like he had no other choice, the Undertaker made the unthinkable decision when he rejoined the same man who stabbed him in the back. Threatening the Undertaker by holding the dark secret over his head, Paul Bearer attempted to turn the Reaper into his personal instrument of destruction. But last week, the man from the Dark Side snapped. Now, with the Undertaker out of his control, there was only one thing for the diabolical Paul Bearer to do ..."

General Thoughts: This was the go-home show to In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede and I found it to be hit-or-miss. There are segments that fire on all cylinders, but there were too many stretches that had me daydreaming. Maybe if the matches were better I would feel differently, but alas that isn't the case.

This episode focuses on three different stories and spends the full two hours progressing them. Surely there are cleverer ways of doing it than having someone interfere in a match, but at least it wasn't an inconsequential marathon. I'm looking at you, 2018. It also helps that the writers and producers allotted ample time to each angle. The shows today are longer, but so many different things are happening that none receive the necessary care and attention to be impactful.

Ken Shamrock defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna)

6/10

  • Shamrock's snap arm drags are delivered with an unparalleled ferocity.
  • Jim Ross mentions that Shamrock has been training diligently to incorporate the Catch-as-Catch-Can style within his No Holds Barred fighting style.

  • J.R. also mentions that Shamrock was a fan of Pat Patterson and the late-great Moondog Mayne growing up. This is a nice touch that lets you connect with the performer on a personal level.

  • Earl Hebner pulls Helmsley by the hair after refusing to break a hold. It was nice to see a referee exert their authority during a match. This was short-lived, however, as Chyna gets involved and drives Shamrock through the steps on the outside. Helmsley causes a distraction, but the volume of the thud combined with the scattered steps and Shamrock's fallen body should have been enough to alert the official of something mischievous. This was the beginning of an awful night for the stripes.

  • Ken Shamrock was deemed "uncoachable" in high school due to his competitive nature.

  • Mankind comes down the ramp and distracts Hunter long enough for Shamrock to hit his Belly-to-Belly Suplex for the victory. It's discouraging to think that wrestlers are still losing matches in this fashion.

  • In all the matches tonight, I noticed that the losing superstar would kick out emphatically right after the three count. Is this a coincidence or a conscious effort to make it seem like the competitors are more evenly matched than we know them to be. I'll be monitoring this moving forward.

Backstage

  • Legion of Doom cut a goofy promo with “our newest broadcast colleague, Michael Cole.” They exclaim that when they’re done with the Nation, they’re going to be "nothing more than a large pile of steaming backwater and other small animal excrements …WHAAAAAT A RUSH!

WWF Tag Team Tournament Semi-Final

Nation of Domination defeated Legion of Doom

4/10

  • The Godwinn's are watching from the stage. Henry is seeking revenge after sustaining a cracked C7 vertebra at the hands of L.O.D. at Shotgun Saturday Night.

  • D'Lo and Animal have some sloppy exchanges before the inevitable chicanery ensued.

  • The referee is, once again, distracted by fighting on the outside. Henry Godwinn jumps into the ring and hits Hawk with a slop bucket. Faarooq, who is not the legal man, then pins Hawk for the victory. How this happened, I have no clue. The official was watching Faarooq, no less than 20 seconds earlier, brawling by the barricade.

  • Nevertheless, Nation of Domination advance to the finals of the Tag Team tournament.

In-Ring Segment

  • After the match, Vince McMahon is summoned to conduct an interview with the Nation of Domination.

  • It is revealed that Ahmed Johnson tore ligaments in his knee during last weeks brawl and will be forfeiting his title opportunity against Undertaker. Vader was named as his replacement, but Faarooq believes one of the other Nation members should be taking that spot. Faarooq says that Vader was chosen because "he's a white man." Vince quickly deflects and moves the conversation onto another white man, Crush.

  • Faarooq says that Savio Vega and Crush were canned from the Nation because they couldn't get the job done. Savio enters the scene and pulls the old "I didn't get fired, I quit" routine.

  • On a night rife with cultural insensitivity, Faarooq tells Savio that if he wants revenge to "jump his jalapeño picking ass in the ring right now!" Savio proceeds to bring out three other men (Los Boricuas) and storm the ring. J.R. and Vince are quick to call them a gang. The phrasing feels deliberate given the fact that D.O.A. is referred to as a "brotherhood".

  • D.O.A. follow on their motorcycles and we're in the midst of an all-out turf war. The crowd is going bonkers during this segment. Police are brought in to break up the fight. It all ends rather awkwardly, but this was my favourite part of the show, even if the writing was obvious and heavy-handed.

Brian Christopher defeated Scott Putski

5/10

  • I enjoyed the pre-match history lesson on the Putski family and Polish Power.

  • Brian Christopher cackles loudly and it's super agitating.

  • Referee's counted faster in the 90's.

  • Jerry Lawler is insufferable during this match and does nothing but utter derogatory remarks about Polish people.

  • The crowd is dead.

  • Lawler interferes and allows Christopher to get the victory. Unsurprisingly, the referee didn't notice anything.

Backstage

  • Undertaker pleads with the audience. Asks for a chance to tell his story after Paul Bearer tries to poison them with lies.

  • Production, whether backstage or in the ring, use lots of upward-looking shots.

  • WWF Magazine is promoting a secret tryst between Sunny and Brian Pillman. I can't get over the emphasis they placed on seeing pictures of a woman in a bikini. To be fair, I was only seven years old at the time.

Brian Pillman defeated Mankind via Count-Out

5/10

  • I was excited to watch this match, but it never hooked me. 

  • Mankind is wearing a "Pick Me, Steve" shirt again. Austin, who is on commentary (via satellite) says that Mankind is smart for wanting to be his tag partner, but that he "sucks" because you never know which personality you're going to get. This made me laugh.

  • Pillman was trying to bite/rip Mankind's ear off the entire match. Classic WWF/E glomming onto and trying to associate themselves with something that happened recently and garnered plenty of coverage.

  • Pillman hits Mankind with the ring bell, but the referee sees nothing. Triple H and Chyna attack Mankind and this somehow doesn't result in a disqualification. Hunter accidentally hits Pillman with a chair shot (one of the worst ever). Mankind abandons the match to give chase.

WAR ZONE

  • Paul Bearer is hilariously attacked by a female fan and hit with a double leg takedown. J.R. says that she must be one of Undertaker's "creatures of the night."
  • Bearer tells the story of how he met Undertaker. Calls him a little red-headed punk. Reveals Undertaker had a brother named Kane. Says he saw the brothers taking flammable chemicals from the embalming room, but didn't do anything because he was on his way to his Mortuary Sciences class. Claims the boys smoked cigarettes too. The crowd cheered. Finishes by revealing that Undertaker is an arsonist who killed his family. 

  • Paul Bearer's story does nothing but make me question why he did nothing to stop the boys. He knew something was up and stayed silent. 

  • Undertaker immediately refutes the claims. Admits that he and Kane were playing with matches and that their father scolded them when he found out what they were doing. He saw Kane leaving the rear door of the embalming room but it never occurred to him what he would do. He goes on to say that Kane was his responsibility and that when he returned from doing chores he was forced watched the funeral home burn down (insert Seth Rollins entrance theme here).

  • Undertaker reveals that he didn't attend the funeral because Paul Bearer dragged him to the neighbouring funeral home (why are there so many in this community?) in the middle of the night to show him his dead parents' corpses. This would scar any person and, for television purposes, makes for a deeper and more compelling character. I understand why he would be ashamed, not to the extent that I'd let someone control my life, but everyone handles grief differently. Undertaker is instantly sympathetic while Bearer is solidified as a heel.

The first clue for your SummerSlam Million Dollar Chance is "THE KEY"

WWF Tag Team Tournament Semi-Final

British Bulldog and Owen Hart defeated The Headbangers

5/10

  • Bret Hart is on phone “from Calgary“ and says the Canadian fans speak for the rest of the world in the sense that they know the American wrestling fans "worship this maggot, this living hyena, scum!" (in reference to Stone Cold). Claims that they like good wrestling, but "we’re in there with a bunch of scoundrels and we’re going to have to fight fire with fire and they know that."

  • Mosh gets rolled up and pinned by Owen but gets up and continues fighting. It seems like he didn't know that the match was over. Making things more awkward was the fact that Bulldog was literally doing cartwheels and posing in the background. 

  • Jim Cornette appears randomly on the ramp and brings out a new tag team (The Arabian Butchers) with the purposes of attacking the Hart's. The Headbangers confusingly join the fight and wind up taking the brunt of it all. The worst of which was a moonsault that brought J.R. out of his chair.

Vader defeated Rockabilly via Disqualification

N/A

  • This wasn't really a match so it's hard to give it a rating. It was a reason to get Vader in the ring so Undertaker could interfere and confront Paul Bearer.

  • Rockabilly hit Vader with a guitar right after the bell rang, but the referee didn't disqualify him. A puzzling decision to say the least.

  • When Undertaker appears, Paul Bearer grabs the microphone and screams "MURDERER" repeatedly. Undertaker finds him and delivers a number of hilarious slaps while demanding for the truth. This is when Bearer reveals that Kane is still alive and "breathing, just like everybody in this room."

  • Did Paul Bearer abduct Kane after the fire and raise him? How didn't Undertaker know? These questions need to be answered.

Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart via Disqualification

6/10

  • Everyone involved in Sunday's tag team match is watching backstage. I appreciate that they're all watching the monitors normally and not at the ridiculous side angle that we see nowadays.
  • Austin's body slam to Anvil on the ramp sounded devastating.

  • SURPRISE! Bret Hart isn't in Calgary! He attacks Shamrock backstage and hits him with an oil drum.

  • This match isn't great, but the crowd cheers and invests because they care about the character and story. A match on RAW should be used to advance an angle. I'm still readjusting to this format. So much of RAW today feels inconsequential.

  • Bret comes down and attacks Austin. His corner stomps are excellent and I love the sound the ring makes. He also applies a figure four leg lock using the ring post as leverage. Mankind comes to help Austin but gets demolished with chair shots. 

  • RAW goes off the air with the beatdown still happening. I like that the show can end at any time. It gives it an air of reality and doesn't feel as staged. Obviously, this wouldn't always work, but it fits here. The Hart's stand tall heading into this Sunday's PPV.

***

Not a great show, but an enjoyable one that moves the various plots forward in significant ways. I'm interested in watching Canadian Stampede, but next weeks RAW will be the real treat. It takes place in Edmonton, Alberta and is the first wrestling show I ever attended. Join me then as I review episode 217 of Monday Night RAW!

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