The 1996 edition of King of the Ring was the fourth year that WWE did the King of the Ring PPV with Steve Austin having a big night thanks to a memorable promo leading to the birth of “Austin 3:16.”
It was also a show that had a lot of intriguing stories behind the scenes.
(I wrote the majority of this in 2016 for the 20-year anniversary of this show although I have added some things to make it consistent with some of my other reviews. I added some updated 2021 comments in blue font as well.)
Here are a few tidbits about this show.
– This is one of those shows where the phrase “plans change, pal” really comes into play when you try to tell the story about what happened. The original winner of King of the Ring 1996 was going to be a rising heel named Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H). However, during a live event at Madison Square Garden in May 1996, something nicknamed the “MSG Incident” took place. That was the night where Hunter took part in a group hug with his Kliq buddies WWE Champion Shawn Michaels, Diesel (Kevin Nash) and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). As the story goes, some WWE officials were furious about it since Michaels and Ramon were faces while Diesel and Hunter were heels, but it was also the end of Diesel and Razor’s run in WWE before going to WCW, so the four friends wanted to have a special moment. Due to their actions, Hunter was punished in terms of booking and did a lot of the losing the rest of the year while WWE decided to go in a different direction for King of the Ring. As for Michaels, he was the top babyface WWE Champion, so he wasn’t going to get punished at all. I’ll get back to telling the story during the review and how it relates to Steve Austin.
– Bret Hart was absent from WWE during this time. It was at a point where Bret was taking a break to do some acting, rest his body, figure out some contract-related things and because of that, he was off TV from WrestleMania 12 until he came back in the fall for the Steve Austin feud. A lack of star power meant that Vince McMahon had to call upon some older stars to fill roles on this show like The Ultimate Warrior, Jerry Lawler and Jake Roberts to name a few. We’ll get to all of them during the show.
(I wrote that above part in 2021 for what it’s worth.)
– This was Mankind’s WWE in-ring PPV debut. He was known as Cactus Jack in WCW and ECW prior to using the Mankind name in WWE. He was one of the big stars in WWE over the next four years even though we didn’t know it at the time.
– The Ultimate Warrior was on the poster for the event. He returned to the company earlier in the year and there was a hope that he could be a main eventer again. It ended up being his last WWE PPV match. I’ll get into the details as to why later. At the time, nobody would have thought this would be the last time he was on WWE TV until 2014, but that’s what happened.
– While the Attitude Era didn’t start officially until the end of 1997, they were showing signs of doing edgy things at this point. They had three women managers (Sable, Marlena & Sunny) on this show that were showing a lot of skin. A year or two earlier they barely had any women on their shows. Plus, the stuff Goldust was doing was very risqué.
– King of the Ring 1996 did 197,000 pay-per-view buys, which was just an average number during a down period for WWE. It was about 47,000 buys higher than the previous year and it beat the following year by 20,000, so at least it was good compared to them. It also beat SummerSlam 1996 and nearly beat Survivor Series 1996 as well.
Here is the synopsis on WWE Network:
“’Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Vader, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Marc Mero compete for the honor of being crowned the King of the Ring. Shawn Michaels defends the WWE Championship against The British Bulldog. The Ultimate Warrior faces Jerry “The King” Lawler. Mankind goes one-on-one with The Undertaker. Ahmed Johnson faces Goldust and much more.” (PG – L, V)
The DVD and poster looked like this:
WWE King of the Ring
MECCA Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
June 23, 1996
The opening video package showed clips of the matches sent to take place. The voiceover guy said: “It’s the greatest card in the history of the WWF King of the Ring.” True? I guess so.
The great Slammy Award-winning Owen Hart walked to ringside to join commentary for the show. It’s Vince McMahon and Jim Ross on commentary with Owen, who had a cast on his left hand. That was merely a work because he had healed from his left hand injury by this point.
Steve Austin made his entrance. They showed clips of Austin beating Bob Holly and then Savio Vega to reach the semifinals. JR noted it was the first time Austin used the Stunner. Vince was way too excited for Mero’s appearance. Owen was critical of Sable’s managerial skills. That was funny. Mero beat Skip and then Owen Hart to get into the semifinals.
King Of The Ring Semifinals: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. “Wildman” Marc Mero (w/Sable)
Pre-match notes: Austin was a heel while Mero was a face. Sable’s outfit is fantastic.
Mero with a headscissors takedown early. Austin came back with a hiptoss. Mero grabbed a headlock while JR put over Austin’s mat wrestling skills. He was a great mat wrestler, but the major neck injury he suffered a year after this changed his style. Austin hit his Thesz Press takedown although it wasn’t as smooth as he did it years later. Mero with a back body drop leading to Austin going to the floor. Mero ran the ropes, Austin avoided him and sent Mero over the top to the floor. Austin removed some padding off the floor. He picked up Mero and dropped him face first onto the floor. Austin with a suplex followed by an elbow smash to the throat. Austin with a hard whip into the corner two times. Austin applied a Boston Crab submission in the middle of the ring with Owen calling Mero gutless and a quitter. Mero was able to twist his way out of it. Mero with a small package gets two. Austin came back with a back elbow. Austin went back to the Boston Crab submission again. Mero was able to get a couple of nearfalls. Mero used his feet to rollup Austin in the same move that he used to beat Owen, but Austin kicked out at two. Mero applied a sleeper, but Austin countered with a jawbreaker that Vince called a “devastating maneuver” because that’s what Vince does.
Austin tossed Mero into the turnbuckle, so Mero jumped back and hit him with a flying back attack. Back to their feet, Mero nailed a dropkick that hit Austin right in the mouth. That led to a bloody mouth for Austin. Mero with a back body drop. Mero with a double axehandle off the top rope for two. Mero sent Austin over the top and then Mero nailed a somersault plancha onto Austin on the floor. Huge move. That looked great. There’s a good shot of Austin’s bloody mouth. With Austin still on the floor, Mero took him down with a suicide dive. Back in the ring, missile dropkick by Mero. Mero with a hurricanrana (Frankensteiner) off the top for a two count. Austin picked him up with a stun gun on the top ropes (that was his finisher in WCW). Austin picked him up and hit the Stone Cold Stunner for the win at the 16:49 mark.
Winner by pinfall: Steve Austin
With the win, Austin moves on to the King of the Ring Finals. Austin actually went to the hospital during the show and got 14 stitches to fix his lip.
Analysis: ***3/4 This was a great match that was very competitive from start to finish. I’m glad they got a lot of time to tell a good story and build to the finish well. Mero’s offense was tremendous when he made the comeback. It was early in Austin’s WWE career and the Stone Cold gimmick, so some of the moves he did weren’t what we became used to. Mero was awesome in this match. He didn’t have a great run in WWE, but he showed how talented he was here. I’m not sure if he had a WWE match that was better than this. As for the Stunner, they put it over as a deadly move. He obviously did it in a better way in the years that followed because it was a lot more fluid than what he did here.
(This match is great. If somebody wanted to go to four stars for it then I wouldn’t argue with it. I think maybe it went a bit long and that they could have gone for nearfalls a bit more often, but I still really liked it overall. Austin having to leave to get stitches is a pretty crazy story, yet he was able to come back and make a huge impact.)
Jake Roberts was interviewed by Dok Hendrix, which is the WWE name of Michael Hayes. It was a bit of a religious promo. There wasn’t much to it other than Roberts saying he was ready for Vader.
Vader entered with Jim Cornette. He started with WWE in 1996 after dominating WCW and was on the verge of a big push. Vader beat Ahmed Johnson in the first round, then Goldust and Ultimate Warrior had a double countout, so Vader made it to the semifinals. Vince hyped up Jake as a 41 year old that has turned things around. Jake beat Hunter Hearst Helmsley in round one and then he beat Justin Hawk Bradshaw (JBL) to get into the semifinals.
King of the Ring Semifinals: Vader (w/Jim Cornette) vs. Jake Roberts
Pre-match notes: Vader was a heel and Jake was a face.
Owen was ripping Roberts for being old and kept calling him a “has-been.” Vader did an armbar takedown on Roberts to wear him down. Vader with a running body splash or as Vince called “oh forget about it” and he did it again. Splash on the mat by Vader gets two. Roberts got his boot up and a knee lift knocked Vader down. Vader pounded on Roberts in the corner with punches. Vader hit him with some more punches. Roberts hit a short clothesline, but Vader knocked him down again. Vader missed a corner attack and Jake hit a DDT. While that happened, Vader tossed the referee down. The ref (a young Mike Chioda) rang the bell giving Roberts the win by disqualification at the 3:34 mark.
Winner by disqualification: Jake Roberts
Post match, Vader splashed Roberts in the corner two times. Cornette blocked the ref from stopping it. Vader hit a Vader Bomb off the middle ropes. Other referees came out to prevent him from doing it again. McMahon was questioning if Roberts can compete later. Owen was hilarious saying Vader didn’t grab the referee even though it’s clear he did.
Analysis: * It was a quick match with a weak finish. The ref bump was poor. They could have done it in a better way that looked better than what they came up with. I remember hating the finish back then because I wanted Vader to get the win since I was a huge fan of his. However, it made sense since Vader’s a heel and so is Austin, so it would have been an awkward finals matchup. Vader lost, but it didn’t hurt him that much.
(Vader was a much bigger star and WWE was pushing him, but they obviously didn’t want to have a heel Vader against a heel Austin in the finals, so they had to figure out how to get Jake over. I don’t think the finish was great, but it had to be done. I just think they could have done it in a better way.)
Here come Phineas I Godwinn (P.I.G.) and Henry O. Godwinn (H.O.G.) with some animals. Sunny did an interview with the Smoking Gunns pre-match. Owen was ripping on her managing so many teams.
Analysis: Sunny in her prime was absolutely gorgeous. She was in her early 20s here.
Prior to the match beginning, Billy bragged to Phineas about how he made her feel like Phineas could, so Bart attacked from behind.
Tag Team Titles: The Smoking Gunns (w/Sunny) vs. The Godwinns (w/Hillbilly Jim)
Pre-match notes: The Smoking Gunns were heels and The Godwinns were faces.
Phineas was aggressive early on. They did an interview with Kloudy backstage. Kloudy was the new manager of the Bodydonnas and it was a dude that wrestled under the name of Jim Hammer. Henry took control against Bart. Billy hit a cheap knee to the back on Henry as the heels seized control. Owen told JR to keep his comments to himself, which is funny to say to an announcer. Billy hit a Fameasser like move, but it didn’t have a name yet. The heels continued to work on Henry. A small package by Henry almost won them the match, but Gunn kicked out and the heels took control again. Billy missed a splash in the corner. Bart tagged in with a backbreaker. Bart missed a top rope legdrop, here comes Phineas with the hot tag against Billy. The crowd was into a bit, but not that much. Godwinns hit some double team offense. The ref told Henry to get out of the ring, so Bart hit Phineas in the back of the head with his boot and Billy covered for the pinfall win at the 10:10 mark.
Winners by pinfall: The Smoking Gunns
Analysis: *3/4 A below-average match that didn’t have a lot of heat. The finish was quick and not built up that well. The Gunns did perform well as heels, but The Godwinns just didn’t have a lot of star power especially as a face team. The highlight of the match was clearly Sunny’s outfit.
(I stand by my final sentence. Not much more to say about this one.)
There was a locker room interview with Davey Boy Smith, Jim Cornette, Clarence Mason and Diana Hart Smith done by Dok Hendrix. Referee Mr. Perfect was in the background getting changed with Hendrix wondering why he was there. Cornette talked about how it’s going to be a fair fight. Bulldog said he’ll be in the triple-header club since he’s been Tag Team Champion and IC Champion.
Analysis: A basic promo by the heels talking about how ready they are for Bulldog’s match later.
Jerry “The King” Lawler made his entrance with a microphone. He walked over to the KOTR set. “Shut up McMahon!” Lawler said he’s been there and done that, so Owen said “me too.” Lawler stone the scepter that was there. Lawler insulted the crowd by saying they were losers like the Milwaukee Brewers – he said they’re all drunk. He insulted some fans on his way to the ring. Lawler to a kid: “Is that your face or did your neck throw up?” Owen: “He speaks the truth.” He asked a woman if the strip club was closed tonight. Lawler to a woman fan: “It’s girls like you that turn men into…well…people like Goldust.” Crowd laughed. Lawler called them pathetic losers that don’t deserve to be graced by royalty like him. Then he did a promo against The Ultimate Warrior.
Analysis: Lawler is one of the best heel promo guys ever. He may not be high up on the list for a lot of people because his in-ring career in WWE was short, but he had no problem saying anything to get heat. Some of those jokes were hilarious.
(Some of those jokes were hilarious while some of them also wouldn’t be allowed today. That’s for sure.)
The Ultimate Warrior did his usual sprint to the ring. The crowd was going wild for him and Vince was going nuts on commentary too.
Jerry Lawler vs. The Ultimate Warrior
Pre-match notes: Lawler was the heel and Warrior was the face obviously.
Lawler attacked Warrior with the scepter before the bell. Referee Jimmy Korderas was able to take it away from him. Lawler choked Warrior with his own rope. Then Lawler choked Warrior with some tape that he had on his hands. More choking with the tape by Lawler. Lawler did some more choking with the tape. Lawler hit a piledriver. Warrior no sold it and started running around the ring. Warrior did his huge comeback shaking the ropes. Warrior hit three clotheslines. Warrior ran the ropes and hit a flying shoulder tackle leading to the cover for the win at the 3:50 mark.
Winner by pinfall: The Ultimate Warrior
Analysis: DUD An easy win for Warrior once he got going on offense. Lawler’s offense wasn’t much to speak of other than the choking that he did, but he knew how to get heat. It was basically a squash match as it should have been. At this point in his career, the easy win for Warrior made a lot of sense because the hope was that he could be a top guy again. That didn’t happen.
(Shitty match. At least it was kept short.)
Warrior celebrated the win with the crowd cheering wildly for him. Vince was really putting him over as a legend on commentary.
Analysis: As I said earlier, Warrior was gone from WWE shortly after that. Warriors no-showed a bunch of dates shortly after this event. He was fired soon after and never appeared in WWE again until 2014 when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame. I’m not sure what would have happened if he stuck around during this time because they did need his star power, but it would have hurt the growth of the stars that carried the Attitude Era as well. Looking back, it was probably for the best that Warrior’s return didn’t work out better.
(I wasn’t sad that Warrior was gone. He was part of the previous era. He wasn’t a good fit with these current stars.)
The on-screen WWE President Gorilla Monsoon was shown in the locker room with Jake Roberts as Dok Hendrix asked Gorilla if Jake can compete. Jake was shown getting his ribs taped up. Gorilla said he’ll let him compete and watch the match closely.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)
Pre-match notes: The Undertaker was the face while Mankind was the heel that was new to the company.
Undertaker, who was rocking the purple gloves as well as purple on the boots, hit a top rope clothesline and was very aggressive early on. Taker hit his patented Old School Clothesline to a nice ovation from the crowd. Mankind was able to come back with a running knee attack in the corner. The crowd chanted “Rest in Peace” because that’s so much fun for kids to chant! Yes that’s sarcasm. Funny moment as a ringside fan took a picture of Mankind and Mankind yelled in his face. Mankind with an elbow off the apron onto Taker on the floor. Nice clothesline by Mankind. Mankind sent Undertaker into the steps. The ref was looking at Paul Bearer, so Mankind grabbed a chair. Taker kicked the chair into his face and then Taker did a back body drop that sent Mankind onto the chair. That’s a painful bump, which was typical for Mankind. The ref talked to Bearer again even though he was doing nothing, so Undertaker hit Mankind in the back with a chair. The ref is apparently deaf long with being blind. Mankind was able to come back with a swinging neckbreaker. Both guys were down.
Mankind got back to his feet with a leg drop. Undertaker blocked the Mandible Claw attempt. Running elbow by Mankind led to Undertaker sitting back up. Nerve hold by Mankind to build up the Taker comeback. Owen said Bearer shouldn’t be allowed there. Another “Rest In Peace” chant to rally behind Undertaker. This nerve hold lasted about two minutes, which is too long. Undertaker came back with punches. A clothesline by Taker sent Mankind to the floor. Mankind brought Undertaker outside the ring and that led to Mankind running around the ring leading to a running knee attack against the steps. Mankind with the most gentle body slam on Undertaker on the floor. Here’s another Mankind elbow off the apron onto the floor, but Undertaker held up a chair to block him. Ref talking to Bearer again for some reason, so Undertaker hit Mankind with a stiff chair shot to the head. Ouch. That was nasty! Back in the ring, leaping clothesline by Undertaker. Mankind came back with the pulling Piledriver for a two count. Mankind pulled some of his hair out. Mankind grabbed the urn from Bearer, but Bearer was able to get it back from him. Undertaker sat up. Mankind with the Mandible Claw. Undertaker fought back. Bearer swung the urn, missed Mankind and accidentally hit Undertaker in the head. Mankind put the Mandible Claw again. Undertaker was out, so Mankind won at the 18:21 mark.
Winner by submission: Mankind
Post match, Mankind had a chair in his hands as he stalked Paul Bearer with it. Bearer made it to the back while Undertaker was too hurt to get back there. It ended there.
Analysis: ***1/2 This was a very physical match that was entertaining from start to finish. It may have ran a little long, but it was a big match that deserved a lot of time. Mankind getting the win was definitely a shock back then because Taker rarely lost and if he did it was due to heavy interference. Feuding with The Undertaker right off the bat was pretty huge for Mankind in terms of making him a big deal early on in his WWE career. They did an outstanding job of putting over The Mandible Claw as a deadly finisher. When you can beat a guy like Undertaker with the move, it gives it instant credibility. My biggest gripe is that ref Mike Chioda missed a lot of weapon shots and they didn’t do a good job of setting that up. Two months later at SummerSlam, Bearer turned heel on Undertaker, Mankind won again and Bearer started to manage Mankind. The feud continued on from there. Their most famous match was at King of the Ring 1998 due to Hell in a Cell, but I liked their 1996 matches too.
(This was a huge win for Mankind. It let the audience know he was a big deal right away in his WWE run. The fact that Undertaker put him over here and SummerSlam told the audience that Mankind was a big deal. If Undertaker beat him at those PPVs then what happens to Mankind? He might not have been anything, but when you beat Undertaker twice, that’s a big way to get your career going in the right direction.)
Mr. Perfect was interviewed by Dok Hendrix. Shawn Michaels showed up to tell him to call it down the middle and raise the hand of the better man. Shawn left. Perfect said he gave his word that he’ll call it down the middle. Dok threw it back to Vince and JR without mentioning Owen, so Owen called him an idiot.
(Owen calling Dok an idiot made me laugh so much! I loved that.)
The Intercontinental Champion Goldust entered with Marlena, who was Terri Runnels. They were married at the time. A highlight aired of Goldust doing the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Ahmed Johnson in the build up to this match. WWE pushed the envelope with Goldust by teasing him as a gay character, but then they put Marlena with him to show he was just eccentric. The Attitude Era may have started a year later, but Goldust was doing risqué things before anybody in WWE and it worked really well. As for Marlena, she makes it three for three in terms of really attractive women at ringside on this show. Ahmed ran to the ring.
Intercontinental Title: Goldust (w/Marlena) vs. Ahmed Johnson
Pre-match notes: Goldust was the heel champion and Johnson was babyface challenger.
Johnson nailed clotheslines early on. Johnson nailed a dive over the top to take out Goldust that looked like a rough landing for Johnson, but he was okay. Johnson sent Goldust into the ring steps. Johnson sent Goldust into the turnbuckle once, then he did it again, Goldust moved and Ahmed went crashing to the floor. Goldust attacked him outside the ring while Goldust slammed the top half of the ring steps onto Johnson’s back. The ref was apparently distracted by Marlena. Goldust nailed a clothesline. Slam by Goldust followed by a chinlock. JR did a good job of putting over Goldust’s in-ring skills while also saying that the theatrics are part of the reason why he’s successful. Another chinlock by Goldust. Ahmed tried a comeback after a punch, but Goldust punched him back – admittedly two of the punches missed pretty badly. Goldust nailed a piledriver on Johnson. It didn’t look that good. JR said he didn’t get all of it and he’s right. Goldust crawled on top of Johnson to cover him for a two count. Another chinlock by Goldust. Johnson came back with some clotheslines. Goldust whipped him into the turnbuckle and hit a knee to the back to knock Johnson down again. Back to his feet, Johnson hit some punches and then Goldust held onto the ropes to avoid a dropkick. Another two count by Goldust.
There’s a sleeper hold by Goldust. Johnson’s arm dropped twice and Goldust let him go. Goldust went down for some mouth to mouth resuscitation. The crowd was screaming at the sight of this while JR said this is sick. Johnson grabbed him by the throat. Johnson unleashed punches on Goldust in the corner. Spinebuster by Johnson. Johnson hit the Pearl River Plunge leading to the pinfall win after 15:34 of action.
Winner by pinfall: Ahmed Johnson
There was a big ovation for Johnson winning. The crowd cheered loudly for him as Johnson wore the Intercontinental Championship.
Analysis: ** An okay match with the right guy going over clean as it should have been. The intensity from Johnson was on point in this match. He should have been angry from the start due to what Goldust did to him and then he was fired up even more later in the match. It really took three moves by Johnson, but that’s all that they needed to do. Goldust was a really good upper midcard heel that has no problem doing anything for heat, so it was smart for WWE to book Johnson to beat him. WWE had high hopes for Johnson as a top guy. He really wasn’t able to get past this level, though. He was a likable guy at this point in his career, but he wasn’t much of a talker and some of his work in the ring was sloppy. There were rumored drug issues too.
(The fans were into it. The story worked because Goldust was such an awesome heel and it was easy to root for Johnson. This was before Johnson’s career went downhill and he was probably at his peak at this point. The title change felt like a happy moment for the fans for sure.)
A commercial aired for the July 1996 PPV In Your House: International Incident in Vancouver.
The great Brian Pillman went down to the ring in his crutches. His left foot was in a cast. Ross interviewed Pillman with Pillman saying that he didn’t care about his own family and it’s easy to see why Jeffrey Dahmer tried to consume the whole state from head to toe. Ross asked how he could measure up to the competition. Pillman called him a “stupid son of a bitch” while Vince apologized. Pillman wondered if a so-called WWE superstar had the guts to stop him. He called himself the brightest star that has ever stepped foot on God’s Green Earth. Pillman said he’s going to rape, pillage and plunder this entire federation. That was it.
Analysis: Pillman was always one of the most intense guys in the business at this time and this was a bit of a crazy promo without much direction. He just let loose without targeting anybody specifically.
(That was such a great promo. I was a huge Pillman fan. I wish he was healthy and in the right frame of mind during this WWE run. He would have been amazing.)
Steve Austin made his entrance. He looked at Pillman on his way to the ring. They were an outstanding tag team in WCW called the Hollywood Blondes although the announcers didn’t mention their history. Vince mentioned Austin needing stitches.
King of the Ring Finals: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Pre-match notes: Steve Austin was the heel and Jake Roberts was the face. Dare I say it, they also have two of the best nicknames in wrestling history.
Austin jumped him before the bell by attacking the taped up ribs of Roberts. Austin kicked away at the ribs, punched him repeatedly and he hit a double axehandle on the ribs. Roberts got in a couple of punches, but Austin came back by going after the ribs again. Vince was ripping on Austin for targeting the ribs so much while Owen credited Austin for doing anything it takes to win. Gorilla Monsoon went into the ring. He sent Austin to the corner while Owen said he shouldn’t stop because no bell rang. Roberts told Monsoon that he didn’t want to stop. Roberts came back with punches. Austin did a great job of overselling the punches. Austin did some shoulder blocks to the ribs. Austin hit a Stone Cold Stunner and he covered for the win after 4:28 of action.
Winner by pinfall and King of the Ring: Steve Austin
Analysis: * A dominant win by Austin as he continued to work over the injured ribs of Roberts. I like the way Austin was relentless from the beginning of the match right until the end. When Roberts made his comeback, the crowd backed him and then Austin cut him off quickly. A clean ending for Austin was the right way to go.
(There was no doubt about who the winner would be. Austin was a star on the rise while Jake was an aging veteran. They probably should have booked a different final match instead of this, but then we wouldn’t have got the post match speech, so I guess we should thank WWE for booking it this way.)
Austin celebrated the win while Ross called him one of the biggest shining stars in WWE. He was right about that! The announcers also put over Jake’s effort in putting up a fight.
Austin walked over to the side where the King of the Ring stage was set up. Dok Hendrix was there to interview him as he congratulated Austin for being the 4th King of the Ring. Then Austin delivered this legendary speech.
“The first thing I want to be done is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF, because I proved, son, without a shadow of a doubt, that you ain’t got what it takes anymore! You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16…AUSTIN 3:16 SAYS I JUST WHIPPED YOUR ASS! All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to get back some of that courage he had in his prime. As the King of the Ring, I’m serving notice to every one of the ‘WWF superstars.’ I don’t give a damn what they are, they’re all on the list, and that’s Stone Cold’s list, and I’m fixin’ to start runnin’ through all of them. As far as this championship match is considered, son, I don’t give a damn if it’s Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels. Steve Austin’s time has come, and when I get the shot, you’re lookin’ at the next WWF Champion, and that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so!”
Analysis: So good. Amazing promo. What was so special about it is that he adlibbed the whole thing and it came off so well. It’s a reminder of how great people can be if they are allowed to freelance a bit. In today’s WWE, they have promos written for them for the most part. Back then, it wasn’t like that and for the birth of Austin 3:16 it definitely wasn’t like that. I’ll have more on that speech in the epilogue section of this review.
I’m also including The New Day’s version of the Austin 3:16 speech because it’s amazing also.
Mr. Perfect made his entrance as a referee. Davey Boy Smith aka the British Bulldog walked out with his wife Diana (Bret & Owen’s sister) and manager Jim Cornette. When Bulldog made his entrance, Owen stood up on the announce table giving his brother-in-law a standing ovation. Owen was hilarious. The WWE Champion Shawn Michaels made his entrance along with his trainer Jose Lothario. Big pop for Michaels as the top guy.
Analysis: I know business wasn’t great in WWE at the time, but Michaels received a massive ovation from the crowd. This was three months into his WWE Title reign. He was clearly the most popular guy on the roster at the time. Michaels was my favorite wrestler ever and definitely was at this time although Austin was rising up too.
Prior to the start of the match, Monsoon talked to the ring announcer Howard Finkel. It was announced that Mr. Perfect was moved to being the referee outside the ring and Earl Hebner is inside the ring. The heels complained about it with Owen saying that Shawn gets everything he wants.
Analysis: I don’t think anybody thought that Michaels would lose the match going into it, but they did a decent job of trying to tell a story.
WWE Championship: Shawn Michaels (w/Jose Lothario) vs. “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (w/Diana Hart Smith & Jim Cornette)
Pre-match notes: Michaels was the WWE Champion that had the title for about four months at this point. Bulldog was a heel.
There was a slow start early on with Michaels grabbing a long headlock. Owen was complaining about Monsoon again. Michaels did a cool spot where he sent Smith to the floor with a headscissors. Michaels hit Cornette in the butt with Corny’s tennis racket. They literally spent the first five minutes doing headlocks. First, it was Shawn doing it for a few minutes and then Davey did one. Bulldog went for a press slam, Michaels broke free and hit some arm drags. There’s an armbar by Michaels. This armbar took a few minutes as well. They got to their feet, had a quick exchange, Michaels applied a sleeper and Bulldog sent him to the corner. Bulldog did a couple of hard whips that sent Michaels into the corner. Another headlock, this time by Bulldog. Michaels fought out of it and hit an armbar takedown followed by a double axe off the top for two. Bulldog picked Michaels over his head and basically dropped Michaels over the top to the floor. Vince was yelling about how Bulldog did that on purpose and he should be disqualified, but it’s not like that is a rule anyway. That was a nasty bump for Michaels, which wasn’t new for him since he did all kinds of crazy bumps in his career. Bulldog with a delayed vertical suplex on the mat outside the ring. Both guys ended up with some Goldust glitter on their backs.
Back in the ring, headlock time for Bulldog again. Michaels did a flip bump against the turnbuckle and then Bulldog hit a clothesline. Bulldog put Michaels in the surfboard submission. Another chinlock by Bulldog. Vince busted out his “anything can happen in the WWF” line. Bulldog with a knee to the ribs followed by a back body drop and a legdrop to the head. There’s another headlock by Bulldog. Owen was ripping on some fans again and did a great job of it. Michaels was able to get a nearfall, but Bulldog stopped him with a clothesline and here’s another headlock. Bulldog went for a Powerslam, Michaels slipped out of it, Michaels went for a superkick, Bulldog held the ropes and nailed Michaels with a clothesline. Bulldog hit Michaels with a piledriver. I think that’s the third piledriver on this show. Bulldog up top, he went for a headbutt, he didn’t connect and Michaels moved. It looked a bit sloppy as if Michaels was too far away anyway and there was no need for him to move. Michaels whipped Bulldog into the turnbuckle. With Michaels on the top rope, Bulldog hit a dropkick to crotch him on the top. Bulldog connected with a superplex for a two count. Owen complained about it saying that if Mr. Perfect was the ref it would be a three count.
Bulldog set up Michaels on the top rope for a back suplex, but Michaels turned it in mid-air as he landed on top for a two count. They did a collision spot where both guys were down in the ring at the same time. Michaels went for a hurricanrana, but Bulldog turned it into a sitout Powerbomb for two. Awesome counter there. Michaels tossed Bulldog into the corner and Bulldog did a flip into the turnbuckle. That was an amazing bump. Michaels ran the ropes and hit a flying forearm to knock Bulldog down. Michaels slammed Bulldog. As he picked him up, the feet of Bulldog knocked Hebner down. Michaels hit a top rope flying elbow drop on Bulldog. Sweet Chin Music Superkick by Michaels although it didn’t connect that well. Hebner counted the pin. Perfect also counted the pin, but Owen pulled Perfect out of the ring before he could finish the count. That was weird. Michaels got the win at the 26:24 mark.
Winner by pinfall: Shawn Michaels
Analysis: **** It’s four stars out of five. That was a great WWE Title match that is forgotten by a lot of people, but they told an awesome story. Going into the match, most didn’t think Smith could win. They did a good job of building up to some believable false finishes. The first 5-7 minutes were pretty boring with the headlocks and armbars, but they probably knew they had nearly 30 minutes for the match so they had to stretch it out. What really stood out to me was that both guys went at such a fast pace for a lot of the moves and they made it look easy. You could tell they were so comfortable working together. The last five minutes were strong. In today’s WWE they likely would have had a lot more nearfalls towards the end. For a mid-90s main event level match it was very good.
(Slow start, but then when they picked up the pace towards the finish it was an awesome match. I liked it a lot. Much better than the previous PPV too.)
Post match, Owen went after Michaels and was unsuccessful as Michaels gave him an atomic drop. Michaels ended up putting Hart in a Figure Four Leglock and he grabbed Bulldog in a cradle to show he could handle both. Owen came back with a spinning heel kick. Double suplex by Hart and Bulldog. Ahmed Johnson ran out for the save with slams for both heels. Vader ran in with a clothesline on Johnson and then a body slam. Vader splashed Johnson against the ropes. The crowd was chanting “Warrior” as the heels continued to dominate. Vader went for a top rope splash on Michaels, but here comes Warrior.
Warrior ran down to the ring, he shoved Vader off the top rope and hit Bulldog and Hart with a clothesline. The crowd was going crazy for Warrior. That may have been the biggest ovation of the night. The three face wrestlers posed in the ring as the crowd cheered them.
The WWE Network version of the show was the Coliseum Video tape, so they had a promo by the heels.
Analysis: The closing angle was done to set up a six man tag for the International Incident PPV a month later in July. It was supposed to be Michaels, Johnson & Warrior vs. Hart, Bulldog & Vader aka Camp Cornette. The match changed because Warrior left the company. It was also done to set up Vader challenging Michaels at SummerSlam.
This event had a runtime of 2:49:45 on WWE Network. It was longer because of the Coliseum Video additions.
Austin has talked about the Austin 3:16 speech on countless WWE DVDs and interviews he’s done over the years. Here’s his explanation from an interview in 2012.
“I don’t know if you remember, but I was kicked in the mouth by Marc Mero in an earlier match. They took me the hospital in an ambulance to get 14 stiches in my lip. When I came back from getting my mouth stitched up, I was just getting out of the ambulance and Michael P.S. Hayes came up to me. The guy who invented the Stunner or at least brought it over to me. He said, ‘Steve, I just want you to know that while you were gone, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts cut a religious-based promo on you. You might want to remember that when you do your King Of The Ring speech later on.’
“So, as it was back in the day, you always saw John 3:16 signs in the endzones and I immediately thought of Austin 3:16. I just put two and two together, I came up with the ‘thumping your bible’ stuff and it turned out to be a grand slam. A good night at the office. If it hadn’t been for Jake cutting that promo, if it hadn’t been for Michael P.S. Hayes telling me about that promo — hell — if it hadn’t been for Marc Mero kicking me in the mouth, none of that would have happened.
“It was a fluke, but it happened on the spot. I thought of it right before I went to the ring and I just let it fly. And, as a bonus part of that question; after I said the Austin 3:16 part, I heard Vince trying to wrap me up on the promo. So, that’s when I said, ‘And that’s the bottom line, ’cause ‘Stone Cold’ said so.’ I just needed to wrap up that interview. So, [I had] two grand slams in one at bat.”
It’s pretty incredible how it all happened. If Triple H wasn’t punished for the MSG Incident then he was going to win the tournament. Then there’s the point Austin made about Mero causing the bloody mouth. Add in the part of the speech about Roberts that Austin only really got from Hayes. Those are three significant things that happened that weren’t part of any script or plan. They just all happened. Give Austin credit for delivering such a memorable promo at the biggest moment of his career.
What’s sad is that something like that probably can’t happen today because of how overly scripted WWE is. The lesson is that it’s okay to let your performers go off the cuff a bit because most of the time they know what to do better than a writer.
In terms of best speeches in WWE history, this is probably in the top five of all time. Maybe even number one just because of what happened in the years that followed.
Show rating (out of 10): 8
Great show. Three matches above 3.5 stars on the card, plus an iconic speech from Austin and a lot of other fun moments throughout make this one of the better PPVs in 1996. I really loved Survivor Series 1996 if you want to watch another one from this year. Some point form thoughts on the rest:
– The speech by Austin is what I’ll always remember. I remember watching it with a buddy with him commenting that it was going to be a huge moment in his career. It turned out he was right. The next night on Raw and the weeks that followed, Austin 3:16 became a phenomenon like nothing before it or since.
– Goldust was so entertaining in this time period. I think turning face in 1997 hurt his character a lot. When he was a heel he was at his best.
– I enjoyed Owen Hart on commentary. He was really over the top as a heel announcer, but that’s okay because that’s what heels should do. Owen had some funny lines too.
– The Warrior stuff is interesting in hindsight. Vince was trying so hard to put him over as being back in full force on this show and the crowd was buying it. They set him up for the big spot of the night with the save at the end and it worked perfectly. Then he was out of the company.
– That win by Mankind was huge. I liked that it was booked like a bit of a fluke with Bearer accidentally hitting Undertaker because at SummerSlam it was Bearer turning heel on Undertaker. I just think it was so smart to book Mankind this way from the beginning because he was seen as a major star. Obviously, they did it that way because he had about ten years of experience coming in, so it’s not like Mick Foley was some unknown rookie. They knew he had talent.
– The Michaels/Bulldog match was great, but I think it would have been even better if they shaved off 7-10 minutes. The timing of their moves were perfect. Michaels really only took one crazy bump, which was less than normal for him at this point in his career. They had a competitive match that I liked a lot.
It was an enjoyable show from start to finish. I know people think of 1996 as a down year for WWE and in a lot of ways it was, but it was also the start of their turnaround. This is a show worth checking out again.
(I don’t have much more to add here. Maybe I would rate it at 7.5 out of 10 now, but I’ll leave it at 8. I really liked the show.)
1. Steve Austin
2. Shawn Michaels
3. The British Bulldog
4. Marc Mero
5. Mankind/The Undertaker
Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. The British Bulldog (**** out of 5)
Worst Match: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Jerry Lawler (DUD)
Most Memorable Moment: The legendary “Austin 3:16” speech by Steve Austin. Huge moment.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.
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