It's rare that I'll sit and watch an entire wrestling show in one sitting these days, and while I didn't watch THIS show in one sitting, I DID watch the whole thing (in two sittings, which I guess is the next best thing), shitty IRS matches and all.
Razor Ramon v Bam Bam Bigelow (King of the Ring 1st Round Match)
This wasn't a great match or anything, but Bigelow looked pretty damn good as this big bear with flames tattooed on his dome. They do an extended torture rack spot here that was pretty weird. Bigelow hoists him up and Razor just kind of lays across his shoulders for like 3 whole minutes. It's an interesting choice for a resthold since standing still with a 250 pound lump of dead weight on your back is hardly the best way to get your wind back, and by the time Bigelow drops him he looks suitably fucked. A good old chinlock probably would've done the trick just fine. Bigelow's bump for the finish looked pretty gnarly, though.
IRS v Mabel (King of the Ring 1st Round Match)
Rotunda's promo pre-match is great in a totally "this is crap, but it's funny crap" way. He points at Mabel and starts talking about Tatanka and how after he's done with Mabel Tatanka will never have to face IRS again. Uh, what? He also stammers over lines and it was no Antichristo promo. "I AM TAX MAN! MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" probably would've made me legitimately piss myself. Match itself is a tad shitty. Mabel hits a pretty looking northern lights suplex for a morbidly obese guy, but it's strange seeing him dance around like DJ Casper to "whoomp, there it's is" chants. I guess I just conditioned myself to look at him as the guy that sexually harassed Lillian Garcia before turning into the monstrous (in the BEST way) Big Daddy V. Finish was a really lame "grabbing the ropes for leverage" spot. Mabel goes to splash IRS from the middle rope, but Irwin pops up and shakes the ropes to cause Mabel to fall off (and he does hit the mat hard). He quickly scoots over and, without putting any pressure on Mabel's shoulders at all, hooks the leg, puts his hand on the bottom rope and just kind of sits there while the ref' counts to three and Mabel tries to make it look like he's actually struggling to break free without lifting his shoulder off the mat. In the end he just looked like an overweight walrus. I'm a fan of cheating spots like that when it looks like the guy is ACTUALLY using the ropes for leverage. This wasn't one of those times.
Owen Hart v Tatanka (King of the Ring 1st Round Match)
This starts out a little weird, with Tatanka - the babyface - jumping Owen - the heel - before the bell and laying into him briefly before slowing it down with a headlock. And he stands there and doesn't do anything with it. I can't say I've watched a ton of Tatanka matches recently, but surely he has some better stuff to kill time with than THAT (cool spot where Owen throws him high over the top and he lands on his feet, though)? Owen eventually takes over and things become a little more interesting. Owen's a guy that I've basically been apathetic towards my entire time as a wrestling fan. I can see that he's good and he does lots of things well and he's involved in a bunch of matches I like/really like...but I've never had much of an opinion either way. Fuck if I know why, but this solid-if-totally-unspectacular match sort of got me excited about watching a stack of Owen Hart matches for this project. I mean, this isn't a match anybody needs to go out of their way to see, and it's not even an Owen performance that stands out from the million performances I've seen from him, but for some reason, for the first time ever, I actually feel like I give a shit about Owen Hart. At some point Tatanka does his warpath Hulk-Up thing and I dig how he throws these overhand tomahawk strikes rather than regular punches. He also plants Owen right on his head with a DDT that had Art Donovan marking out. Ultimately forgettable match, but if it winds up making me an honest to goodness Owen Hart fan then...then I'll still not be sure why.
123 Kid v Jeff Jarrett (King of the Ring 1st Round Match)
Man, Waltman might be the second best guy in the company in '94 (I wouldn't call myself a huge Bret Hart fan, but I'd say he was pretty unfuckwithable as the best guy in the company in '94 and I can't see me changing my mind on that any time soon). He isn't quite fucking with a Rey Mysterio, but his timing is great, has awesome and varied hope spots, takes monster bumps, has a ton of great looking kicks, and generally comes across as a dude you want to root for. People often point to the Owen match later in the show as an example of a great sub-5 minute match, but this was pretty fucking choice in its own right. Kid comes out at the start in a karate stance so Jarrett bails and ends up dragging him out to the floor. From there he wails on him while Kid peppers in his hope spots. Jarrett hits a slingshot suplex, Kid replies with a victory roll. Most of Kid's openings actually come from Jarrett missing something of his own and he's really good at trying to "seize the opportunity." Awesome spot where Kid charges into the corner and Jarrett kicks him in the back of the leg so Kid takes a fucking Psicosis corner bump and lands right on his neck. Finish is also cool, as Jarrett spots his opening (with Kid selling the leg) and goes for the figure-four, but takes his sweet time and gets rolled up for three. Post-match he hits 3 piledrivers and storms off, and I wish these guys wrestled in Memphis because that would RULE.
Bret Hart v Diesel (WWF Title Match)
So I really like the Royal Rumble '95 match between these two. I really dislike the Survivor Series match from later that year. Diesel was good in the former and sucked for large parts of the latter. I hadn't seen this, which I think is their first televised match together, in years, but it's definitely closer to the Rumble match than the Survivor Series one. Diesel is capable enough here and brings enough to the table that I'd say he was "fine" (although he starts to gas pretty noticeably towards the end), but this is a total Bret show/Bret formula and I thought it turned out to be a Hell of a match. They use the first few minutes to establish the roles you'll have seen in a hundred Bret v huge guy matches. Diesel's inexperienced but he's HUGE and already gave Bret a monster Jackknife on a previous episode of RAW, so Bret wants to avoid that happening again. Bret needs to stick and move until he can create an opening; he's the technician and he doesn't intend to go toe to toe with the big guy (okay, so the backstory's different, but it's the same "Bret v Big Guy Psychology" in the end). When he eventually takes over he goes to the leg, and it's all pretty much Bret101. Not a knock, it just is what it is. They do a slow transition into Diesel's control segment, first by having Shawn catch Bret with a GREAT cheapshot (Shawn is awesome as Diesel's douchebag second in this). That leads to Anvil chasing him all around the ring in a cool cat-and-mouse segment, culminating with Diesel dismissively sidestepping an attempted plancha to take over. Nash is fine in control, working bearhug spots, leaving Bret open for more Michaels cheapshots...it's pretty standard stuff, but it's effective enough. Still, the whole stretch run is what puts this over the top. Maybe it's just because I haven't watched any WWF (or Bret Hart) main events from around this time in ages and I'm struggling to remember if most of them were built like this, but it was a really fucking good finishing run..."epic", even. Bret being up in a Canadian backbreaker and slowly wriggling free, turning himself around and throwing on a sleeper, all while practically scaling Diesel's body, was a great catalyst for a comeback. The heat for everything is through the roof, Bret's still getting nearfalls off of most of his signature comeback stuff, he takes his crazy turnbuckle bump (dude is one of the best turnbuckle bumpers ever. Slaughter's signature bump is still the gold standard, but Bret running full speed into the corner and crashing chest-first into the buckle is right up there with any other signature corner bump ever), and Michaels just HURLS himself into a ridiculous guardrail bump off a punch (he's up on the apron acting like a jackass again). Finish is whatever, but if you took the best parts of this, the best parts of the Rumble match and the best parts of the Survivor Series match (an actual finish being one of them) and stick them all together, you've got some really great shit. Definitely the best match I've watched so far.
Razor Ramon v IRS (King of the Ring Semi-Final Match)
Well this wasn't very good. I like a bunch of Scott Hall/Razor Ramon matches and Rotunda has generally always been one of those "solid hand" type guys, but this was basically 7 minutes of nothing with a few worthwhile spots thrown in and then a finish that just kinda happened. At least Irwin does a "feet on the ropes for leverage" spot that could plausibly give you leverage this time. I don't know if I could go as far as to say this was disappointing, because I wasn't expecting anything all that great anyway, but both guys had better first round matches and it's not like those were blowaway or anything, either.
Owen Hart v 123 Kid (King of the Ring Semi-Final Match)
Totally great sprint. You tend to find a lot of the people championing Owen as a superworker pointing to this match as "evidence" (even if it's only about 4 minutes long). I always kind of brushed it off as hyperbole, but it really is a cracking little match. Don't think it provides any more evidence for Owen as a superworker than it does for Waltman, but that's beside the point. Owen's baseball slide as Kid is about to get in the ring looked CRAZY. It wasn't quite on the level of that one Nogami took on the New Japan 80s set, but it was ridiculous all the same. They manage to cram a ton of shit into this and they're moving through it all pretty quickly, but I was surprised at how everything they did still came across as being as big as it aught to. The spot where Kid tries a spinning wheel kick and Owen catches him and PLANTS him with a German was especially fucking awesome. Owen just yanks him out the air and Kid's feet barely touch the floor as Owen is setting it up, so it looked like a really impressive strength spot. NASTY powerbomb straight into the Sharpshooter for the finish looked boss, too. I think I had this in the bottom spot on my Greatest WWF/E Match Ever ballot for the Smarkschoice poll. I didn't really remember much about it going into the re-watch, but I can see why I stuck it on there when I did.
The Headshrinkers v Yokozuna & Crush (WWF Tag Team Titles Match)
Man, how about THIS for a fuckin' Yokozuna bump highlight reel? He seriously takes like 5 awesome obese guy bumps in this one match. He does his through the middle rope bump THREE fucking times and every one was GREAT. He also misses an avalanche in the corner and staggers out before falling flat on his face. I love how they start this out. Spots built around Samoan wrestlers having heads made of granite are the bomb and they do this bit where Crush and Yoko pair off with a Headshrinker and each give them a headbutt. Obviously neither guy is fazed, so each Headshrinker fires back with a headbutt of their own. Strangely, Yoko and Crush also seem to have rock hard noggins (Yoko actually IS Samoan, Crush is from Hawaii...do Hawaiian wrestlers have hard heads as well?), so Fatu and Samu just headbutt them in the cheek bone instead (which is where Yoko takes his first bump to the floor. He staggers around all dizzy and shit after it as well which totally ruled). Back in and Yoko whips Samu into the corner, charges in and winds up getting drilled right under the chin with a superkick. Then Fatu compresses Crush's spine with a FUCKER of a piledriver. I mean God damn, Jerry Lawler must have stood and applauded if he was watching backstage. Crush and Yoko take over when Crush brings Fatu down with a drop toe-hold and Yoko murders him with an AWESOME twelve hundred pound leg drop. Do people ever talk about Yoko's leg drop? His middle rope bump gets praise - and rightfully so, because it's fucking ace - but I can't remember anybody talking up his leg drop. They should, though, because that's also fucking ace. Loved the spot after the hot tag where Samu is about to splash Crush off the top, but Fatu pushes Yoko into the ring post and it causes Samu to lose his balance and crotch himself on the turnbuckle. Gorilla on commentary says the ring moved four feet or some ridiculous Gorilla Monsoon shit like that. It obviously wasn't four feet, but Yoko has 78" thighs and weighs as much as a forklift, so you could buy him crashing into the post and actually causing the whole ring to shake (and he hit the post Samu was climbing next to, anyway). Like an elephant knocking a cat out of a tree. They run some Luger distraction bit at the end, but it leads to a cool finish where Samu, who's the legal man, gets clotheslined over the top by Crush, and as Crush starts jawing with Luger, Fatu sneaks in and cracks him with a superkick while Samu stops Yoko from making the save. I thought this was a blast. Gets about 12 minutes to flesh out, has a great shine segment with the Headshrinkers doing their thing and Yoko bumping like a loon, a great transition spot, a solid FIP section, and a fairly hot finishing run with one really sweet spot and a fine finish. Not a sleeper MOTYC or anything, but the kind of thing that makes a project like this totally worthwhile.
Owen Hart v Razor Ramon (King of the Ring Final)
Disappointing final. Razor hits a big back suplex off the top that looked pretty nasty and he busted out a sweet chokeslam, but other than that I'm only remembering a headlock segment before Owen takes over and works an abdominal stretch (where he's too busy jawing with the crowd while grabbing the top rope to notice the ref' looking right at him. Then the ref' just seems to ignore it so they can milk the cheating some more...made him look pretty stupid). Razor goes for the Razor's Edge and gets backdropped to the floor, at which point Anvil hits the scene and helps him up. And then clotheslines him and rolls him back in. Owen finishing it off with a nice top rope elbow while Savage is disgusted on commentary was a cool finish, at least.
Jerry Lawler v Roddy Piper
Piper's promo earlier in the show was spectacular. He just goes off on one and makes no sense at all. It was seriously fucking great. Lawler comes out to the ring staring at people with complete disdain. There's this one lady with a sign that says "Piper for President" and Lawler notices it, bursts out laughing, then shoots her a look of pure disgust. If this match happened ten years earlier it probably would've been tremendous. By '94 that ship had sailed, but it's not because either guy sucks (shit, Lawler is STILL awesome in 2011, never mind 1994). Lawler is my personal pick for greatest puncher in pro-wrestling history, and it's unsurprising that he throws a bunch of GREAT looking punches. Piper's punches aren't nearly as good, but what he has is a GREAT eye poke. He casually pokes Lawler in the eye after a flurry of punches and I honestly rewound it about 4 times. Best moment of the match (which is as good as any moment on the entire show) is Lawler peppering Piper with first class punches while Piper is propped up against the ropes. Piper is belligerent to the end, telling him to bring it, spitting on him, using the ropes to drag himself back to his feet. When he throws a big haymaker, Lawler goes down like a ton of bricks and the arena pops like it should. Not a great match, but it's something a fan of either guy can enjoy.
1994 WWF Project