Happy Saturday Everyone!
I enjoyed doing Royal Rumble 98 and the follow up Raw last month, so I decided I’d do the February pay per view from 98 as well. I actually watched this tape A LOT back in the day and it’s the Silver Vision VHS version I’m reviewing this week, so if there’s any notable differences between what I’m seeing and what’s on the WWE Network then that’s why.
The big story coming into this one was that Shawn Michaels was out with a back injury, meaning that Triple H and the New Age Outlaws needed a replacement partner for their non-sanctioned Main Event brawl with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Owen Hart, Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie. Our Semi-Main is Vader being basically the last guy physically strong enough to actually challenge Kane in some form, meaning that he’s essentially the WWF’s last hope of stopping him.
The event is emanating from Houston, Texas on the 15th of February 1998
Calling the action are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler
The VHS version actually includes the Free For All. Sadly there isn’t a bonus Free For All match, but there are some good video packages and whatnot. The most well-known part of it is probably Sunny doing an interview with Vader, only for Road Warrior Hawk to pop his head out behind a door before quickly heading back because he’s so supposed to be a surprise on the main show later on. Sunny’s incredible pink outfit is another notable highlight of this section of the tape.
I think Houston had notoriously been pretty bad when it came to drawing houses, but they’ve got something like 16,000 in there tonight, which highlighted how hot the WWF was getting even though WCW was still technically winning the wrestling war at the time.
Marc Mero and The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust w/ Sable and Luna Vs The Head Bangers (Head Banger Mosh and Head Banger Thrasher)
Mero and TAFKA Goldust were united by their dislike of Sable at the time, even though they were pretty diametrically opposed as characters besides that. TAFKA Goldust was doing a thing where he’d dress up in different wacky outfits, so he’s doing the Marylyn Manson thing now because of the mini-feud with The Head Bangers. The Head Bangers always kind of reminded me of the Attitude Era equivalent of The Bushwhackers, in that they were the loony mid-card babyface tag act who were good at opening shows but weren’t especially great wrestlers.
Mero decides to send Sable to the back before the match starts for cheap heat, and it succeeds in getting The Head Bangers a nice pop for their entrance. This is your standard opening match, with Mero and TAFKA Goldust doing all the traditional Heel spots to anger the crowd whilst The Head Bangers shine on them in the early going to get the crowd excited. It’s not an amazing match from a purely mechanical perspective, but it heats the beats it needs to and does a good job of warming up the crowd.
Thrasher ends up getting a bit of colour after taking a journey into the ring steps, which adds an extra element of drama to things, especially as blood was usually rationed during this period unless they had a situation that called for it. Thrasher not surprisingly ends up taking some heat following that, and does a good job selling for the Heels, with the crowd getting behind him in the hope that he will make a comeback. Mero and TAFKA Goldust keep the work to mostly basic opening match fare, which is fine and achieves what it needs to.
Mero is actually a really good cocky Heel, constantly gurning and being as annoying as possible. He was never going to Main Event with this gimmick but it was a really good mid-card act and was always good for a cheap bit of Heel heat. Thrasher eventually manages to counter a Mero TKO attempt into a DDT, which gives us hot tag Mosh (to a sizeable pop from the crowd) and he does a nice comeback, keeping it simple with punches and whatnot.
The finishing stretch has a lot of moving parts, with Luna and a returning Sable both getting involved, leading to The Head Bangers doing the switcheroo into a Thrasher inside cradle on Mero for the three count and a big pop from the crowd.
WINNERS: THE HEAD BANGERS
Decent opener that the crowd really enjoyed, even if the wrestling wasn’t especially great
Sable wants a fight with Luna following that, with the crowd being super into the idea. Sable eventually shoves Mero down and storms off to a gigantic pop. Sable was absolutely fantastic in that post-match angle, and if she could have just maintained that fire her eventual in-ring career could have possibly lead to better matches.
Kevin Kelly is backstage with The Jackyl (Don Callis). Jackyl says the replacement partner in the Main Event tonight will bring about a cataclysm. I love how they were just hyping this partner like nuts, especially when you realise who the guy ends up being.
Michael Cole interviews WWF European Champion Owen Hart. He’s happy to co-exist with Stone Cold tonight so long as Austin stays out of his way, as he’s more focused on hurting Triple H.
Sunny joins us to do ring announcing for the next match.
WWF Light-Heavyweight Title
Champ: TAKA Michinoku Vs El Pantera
Pantera had originally been a tecnico upon entering the WWF but he’s since become a rudo after pinning TAKA in a tag match with the loaded mask gimmick. Sunny actually gives TAKA a smooch before the match starts, which I believe actually led to some rumours that they had a thing going on back in the day. Brian Christopher joins us on commentary for this as he was feuding with TAKA at the time, with the gag being that everyone knows Brian is Jerry Lawler’s son but they both deny it.
This match is pretty good as both men are adept at adapting to the respective styles of their opponent, and they tell a good story of Pantera targeting TAKA’s back after sending TAKA spine first into the metal railings around ringside following a Tope Suicida. TAKA sells that really well and Pantera does a lot of really nice submission holds, along with some targeted offence specifically to the back such as a fabulous flipping senton from inside the ring whilst TAKA is lying out on the floor.
Lawler and Christopher spend most of the match having fun at TAKA’s expense and getting annoyed whenever TAKA gets any offence in. They border on being annoying at points, and things even get a bit problematic when Christopher starts talking about TAKA’s eyes, but there are some funny moments too, such as when Lawler says that America is so much better than Japan that even Barney could take down Godzilla if they were to fight.
The crowd doesn’t really bite that much, which kind of happened a lot when they did these Light-Heavyweight matches as the fans just didn’t think the belt was that important and saw the matches as an excuse to sit on their hands, even though TAKA was one of the best in-ring guys the company had at the time and he always brought the goods when called upon. I’m surprised the fans don’t bite on it more actually, as it’s a psychologically strong bout and TAKA’s selling really is fantastic, including a moment where he tries the Michinoku Driver and his back gives out. TAKA keeps coming though and manages to eventually get the move on his second attempt for the last gasp win, which does succeed in a getting a pop.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: TAKA MICHINOKU
Good match that told a strong story and featured impressive selling from TAKA. It’s just a shame the crowd didn’t get into it
Lawler and Christopher try going after TAKA following that, but he dives out onto them and then flees through the crowd, which gets him a nice pop. Lawler is of course absolutely furious about being shown up and sells it great by yelling at Jim Ross about it.
Kevin Kelly is backstage with Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie. They don’t care who the mystery partner is, they just want revenge on the New Age Outlaws. This was a decent promo from the Hardcore Legends and advanced the feud with the Outlaws nicely.
Les Québécois (Jacques et Pierre) Vs The Godwinns (Henry O. and Phineas I.)
This was a really weird feud, as both teams were Heels as far as I can remember and cost each other matches against Los Boricuas on the weekend shows to set this up. However, because both teams are Heels the crowd really has no one to cheer for here, meaning that the match is pretty heatless as a result. Were they that bereft of babyface teams at the time that they had to program two Heel teams together like this? Why not turn The Quebecers babyface? It’s not like Jacques couldn’t be an entertaining personality and you could let Pierre tap into the stuff he did during his PCO days.
Jacques seems more interested in plugging the Canadian hockey team than working a match here, although the wrestling isn’t terrible or anything once they get going. They actually tell a story that make sense, with The Godwinns focusing more on brawling whilst The Quebecers focus more on doing technical stuff and double teams, so stylistically it isn’t the worst match, but the crowd could just not care less and the atmosphere is flatter than Arnie at end of the first Terminator flick.
It kind of seems like The Godwinns are playing Heel for the night, but they never officially turned The Quebecers and getting the hog farmers to be the Heels in Texas against the America hating French Canadians seems like a scenario designed to fail. Pierre gets a “hot tag” at one stage for instance, and actually looks good, but he may as well be fighting in a morgue based off the silence it’s greeted with. Jacques even does a dive to the floor at one stage, but the crowd still doesn’t care and Henry cheap shots Pierre with a Lariat to give The Godwinns the win.
WINNERS: THE GODWINNS
I really do not get what the point of this match or feud was, as it made no sense for two Heel teams to be feuding like this and the crowd wasn’t remotely interested in the match itself. The actual wrestling wasn’t that bad, but when you’re wrestling in a library it’s hard to have an entertaining match most of the time
The Godwinns clobber The Quebecers with their slop buckets post-match, which I think pretty much wrote The Quebecers out as they were gone soon after.
Michael Hayes is with WWF Tag Champs The New Age Outlaws. They don’t know who the mystery partner is and are annoyed they haven’t been told.
WWF Attitude video, with Ahmed Johnson being in it possibly for the last time before they switched him out for, I believe, Marc Mero but feel free to correct me on that one.
Jim Ross interviews NWA North American Champion Jeff Jarrett and Jim Cornette. Cornette says Jeff Jarrett doesn’t need any help to defeat Bradshaw tonight. Jarrett says he doesn’t have to throw a Lariat like a barroom brawler because he’s a wrestler, and tonight he’ll beat Bradshaw with a wrestling hold.
NWA North American Title
Champ: Aztec Warrior Jeff Jarrett w/ Jim Cornette, Barry Windham, Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson Vs Blackjack Bradshaw
Windham and Bradshaw had been a tag team, but Windham betrayed him to join up with the NWA contingent. I actually LOVE Jeff Jarrett’s theme from this period and think it was by far the best part of this act. Bradshaw is pretty over in Texas of course, and he clears the ring of all the Heels with his bull rope. Jarrett of course won’t get in the ring whilst Bradshaw has the rope, so to get him to put it away the referee kicks everyone but Cornette out of ringside. Cornette sells that fantastically in his own imitable way.
Jarrett had tried to break Bradshaw’s leg in the build up to this one, so Bradshaw is surly about that and takes it to Jarrett with stiff punches, kicks and chops. The issue isn’t really that over, but this is the right match for the story they’ve been telling up to this point, with the vengeance seeking babyface almost more interested in kicking the absolute cheesy fries out of the Heel that tried to injure him than they are winning the belt, with the Champ desperately trying to find a way to survive.
Jarrett does eventually manage to work some heat on Bradshaw, with Cornette of course getting in some cheap shots whenever the situation allows. I actually think that if they hadn’t bothered with the whole non-over NWA storyline and just done anti-Attitude Era old school Heel Jeff Jarrett with his trash talking old school manager in Cornette they probably could have been a solid Intercontinental Title level act that would have gotten over.
Cornette hits Bradshaw in the leg with his tennis racquet at one stage, which allows Jarrett to target it in preparation for the Figure Four, which Bradshaw sells well. The crowd isn’t super into this one, but they do kind of care a little bit, enough to chant “Jarret Sux” and cheer a bit whenever Bradshaw looks like he might fight back. For a home-state babyface you might have hoped that Bradshaw would have gotten a bit stronger of a reaction, but they’re by no means working with a dead crowd here either. Bradshaw eventually makes a comeback and takes out both of the Heels, but this allows Jarrett to clock him with the racquet and the ref catches him for the DQ.
WINNER BY DQ: BRADSHAW (JARRETT RETAINS)
Give that a finish and I might have gone a bit higher, especially as the crowd was just starting to bite at the end there. Part of me almost thinks that the ref accidentally caught Jarrett when he wasn’t supposed to but then had to call it as a shoot because otherwise he would have looked stupid. He was pretty much distracted by Cornette when the shot took place but then he turned around to see the racquet in Jarrett’s hand and it was pretty obvious what had happened so he needed to make the call. That may have been the finish as they wanted to do it though and I’m just overthinking things
The NWA Faction runs back down to try and injure Bradshaw once and for all, but The Road Warriors end up making the save. It’s supposed to be a surprise run-in, but Hawk had kind of spoilt it by showing up earlier in the pre-show.
Michael Cole is backstage with Triple H and Chyna. Triple H says that they aren’t going to have a partner later on because no one can match Shawn Michaels, so they might as well just go 4 on 3 instead. Cole says the WWF might just assign them a partner in that case, which Triple H doesn’t care about. This was a good promo from Triple H.
Michael Hayes is backstage with The Nation of Domination. The highlight of this promo is The Rock mugging in the background whilst Faarooq talks smack. Rock showed amazing charisma in this segment.
The War of Attrition
Nation of Domination: Faarooq, WWF Intercontinental Champ The Rock, D-Lo Brown, Kama Mustafa and Mark Henry
Ken Shamrock, Ahmed Johnson, Skull, 8-Ball and Chainz
This was supposed to be an elimination match I believe, but now it’s just a ten man tag, so it doesn’t really need the name attached to it. I’m not sure why they removed the stip, but I’m guessing it’s because they didn’t want to book a bunch of finishes in the same match? Shamrock and Rock are the ones with the main issue here due to Rock bonking Shamrock in the face with multiple chair shots. Ahmed is pretty over as well, being that this is his hometown.
The most entertaining part of the match is probably when Ahmed gets in to be honest, as the crowd is super into him and pops big when he body slams Henry. I’ve always found this match to be kind of boring, even though there is some decent wrestling in it at points. D-Lo gets an amazing Lo-Down on Ahmed at one stage for instance, clearing almost half the ring with it. Rock and Shamrock get to do a bit together at one stage to keep their feud cooking, whilst Ahmed and Faarooq get to do a bit together for old times’ sake as well.
The problem is that, outside of Shamrock and Ahmed, the crowd doesn’t really care that much about the babyface team, meaning that they aren’t that invested when Skull, 8-Ball and Chainz are in there. Honestly, considering how over Ahmed was I think it would have been prudent to give him a bit more to do. After some pretty boring heat on one of Skull/8-Ball its hot tag Shamrock and that finally wakes the crowd up, with Shamrock getting a clean submission win on The Rock to set him up as a challenger for Mania XIV.
WINNERS: TEAM SHAMROCK
This was pretty dull in the heat, but the reaction for Shamrock was something else and it was nice that Ahmed got to win in his hometown
Rock and Faarooq argue following that but Rock does eventually agree to do the Black Power salute after some cajoling. This was all to sow further seeds of dissension within the group so that Rock could eventually oust Faarooq as the leader. This was a very good post-match angle and succeeded in getting Rock his heat back following a clean submission loss. Faarooq as the angry teacher having a go at the misbehaving student on the field trip was pretty entertaining too.
Michael Cole is backstage with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Stone Cold doesn’t care who the mystery partner is, but he is happy to be back in Texas.
Kane w/ Paul Bearer Vs Vader
This was classic wrestling storytelling, as they had a big monster Heel in Kane that no one had been able to really do anything with yet, so they put him in there with the biggest monster babyface they had left on the roster in the form of Vader. Obviously the eventual end game was to bring back Undertaker from his Royal Rumble roasting as the one to finally stop Kane, but having Kane kill off Vader first would only make Undertaker’s achievement all the more impressive.
Vader gets a real superstar pop for his entrance, with the crowd clearly believing in him. It shows I think that fans were into the idea of the arse kicking Vader from WCW getting a proper shot in the WWF, but by this stage the WWF higher ups were pretty much over Vader and were ready to phase him out. This is mostly a stand up brawl, with Vader getting a chance to clobber Kane with his usual array of punches.
Kane mostly shrugs it all off, but Vader keeps coming and isn’t squashed here. They manage to get the balance right between making Kane look like an unstoppable monster whilst also making Vader look like a tough fighter who won’t give up and is capable of having Kane on the ropes a few times. The way the WWF booked Kane in this first year or so was pretty much perfect, as he went from potentially being a monster of the month for Undertaker to slay during Mania season to being an enduring long running character that would last for years.
Matches like this played a big part in that as having Kane come in and pick up big decisive wins over established guys in hard fought matches went a long way to showing him as the read deal in the fans’ eyes. Vader sells quite a bit following a brief flurry to start, but he does then start making more of a comeback, getting a big splash and a Moonsault off the top. Kane sits up from that Undertaker style, but Vader doesn’t freak out and just keeps fighting him, which is a nice touch.
Vader tries a fire extinguisher on Kane next, which the ref misses because he’s arguing with Bearer, which leads to Vader getting a powerbomb back inside. Kane gets up from that as well though and gets a Choke Slam. Vader is able to pop up from that in order to not look too weak, but he finds a Tombstone Piledriver waiting for him and becomes just another victim to Kane’s Path of Rage.
That was pretty much perfect as far as what they wanted from a storyline perspective, as Vader didn’t look like a chump and had Kane on the ropes a little bit at points, but Kane still got the clean decisive win when all was said and done, looking like even more of a monster in the process and setting him up nicely for his big WrestleMania match with Undertaker
Kane clobbers Vader right in the face with a wrench following that, giving Vader a reason to come back and seek some revenge in the spring, although he wouldn’t end up getting it.
Triple H, Road Dogg Jesse James, Bad Ass Billy Gunn and Savio Vega w/ Chyna Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWF European Champ Owen Hart, Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie
The New Age Outlaws had locked Cactus-Chainsaw in a dumpster and shoved it off the ramp, whilst Triple H had been feuding with Owen for a couple of months. I actually thought Owen’s babyface act during this period was decent but they didn’t really protect him that much and it quickly fizzled out. He’s actually barely in this match at all outside of a few brief moments, which seemed weird to me at the time but maybe he was nursing some kind of an injury? Savio is of course a thoroughly underwhelming replacement partner after all the hype throughout the night, although he does hate Stone Cold so it kind of makes sense in that regard.
Cactus decides to New Jack this up a bit by bringing a mini-dumpster full of weapons with him. In fact, this match is a lot like a wild ECW one in a lot of ways, as it starts out as a crazy weapons filled brawl before gradually morphing into more of a standard tag match. I must admit that I always felt that stretched the boundaries of common sense to a certain degree, but they’ve got 17 minutes to fill and they can’t just do a brawl for that long so the tag portion is kind of needed. Austin is of course over like rover in his home state and the fans LOVE watching him destroy the Heels (with Billy Gunn getting the worst of it).
Things finally settle into the tag match portion of the bout when Chainsaw takes a powerbomb through two chairs courtesy of The Outlaws, leading to some heat on him in the Heel corner. Chainsaw sells that excellently, although the fans seem a bit taken out of it that they’ve now got to watch a mostly normal tag match following that anarchy to start us out. It might have made more sense to do the tag bit first and then move into the brawl portion.
Chainsaw is eventually able to tag out to Cactus, which leads to Cactus getting a brief flurry before getting cut off as well. Cactus also does an excellent job selling, including a period where he gets wrapped in barbed wire in order to freak the crowd out. Austin gets our second hot tag following that and we quickly go home as a result, with Road Dogg taking a Stunner and getting pinned by Stone Cold.
WINNERS: TEAM STONE COLD
I think it lost some steam once they got into the Heel heat portion of the bout, but it was still a good Main Event with the crowd pleasing win for Stone Cold to keep his momentum going into WrestleMania
Chyna makes the mistake of getting in Austin’s face following the match, which leads to her taking a Stunner when she just won’t let it go. Interestingly Austin did try and walk away at first there, but once Chyna flipped him off it was a case of;
Austin then celebrates with the crowd following that, looking like a gigantic star in the process. At this stage it would have been insane not to belt Austin at Mania, and thankfully the WWF didn’t mess around and got him belted as soon as they could.
This show was all about setting up WrestleMania XIV, which it did quite successfully. Both Stone Cold and Kane look strong going into the biggest matches of their career, Sable and Mero’s problems continue to build, Shamrock gets his win over The Rock in order to get him back in the IC Title hunt, Triple H and Owen keep their issue ticking along and The Outlaws got to work some further spots with their Mania challengers.
As a show all on its own, IYH 20 is kind of middling, but as part of the overall journey towards Mania XIV it works very well and hits all the beats it needs to. As a pretty inoffensive use of 150 minutes to get you interested in watching Mania XIV again it’s a decent enough watch, but aside from that I’m not sure you really need to go out of your way to see it, especially as the Main Event is on the In Your House DVD release WWE put out a few years back.
Not a recommended show