The Rock's WWE Debut & Bret Hart Returns: The Cultaholic Time Capsule - November 1996
Hop in our DeLorean...
The 1996 Survivor Series is one of the more memorable cards of the Series chronology. Not only were there excellent singles matches on the card, but the elimination bouts provided some genuine entertainment in the spirit of the event's origin.
Best of all: the WWF actually hyped up the Survivor Series in 1996, building excitement for it. Perish the thought.
With an assist from The Wrestling Observer Newsletter of the day, let's take a gander back at what was going on wrestling at this point a quarter century ago, as I've picked out some blurbs from the WON that caught my eye.
Away we go.
1. Psycho Sid wins the WWF championship from Shawn Michaels in the main event of the 1996 Survivor Series
Not only did Michaels' seven and a half month reign come to an end, but his status as lead babyface took a few hits when the Madison Square Garden crowd booed him like the precursor to Roman Reigns '15.
The squeaky-clean babyface act had long worn thin.
As for Sid, after years of being booked to come up short in big situations, the towering heavyweight finally made good on what most would assumed was his destiny, a reign as undisputed heavyweight champion. Despite several tenures with WCW and WWF over the preceding seven years, this was Sid's first belt in either company.
2. Bret Hart wrestles his first match in the United States since WrestleMania 12, defeating Steve Austin in a heralded bout at Survivor Series
No rust was evident in Hart as he and Austin put together a dramatic struggle across 28 minutes, culminating in Hart countering Austin's Million Dollar Dream by pushing off the ropes with his feet and rolling back into a pinning combo (the same way he defeated Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 8).
Interestingly, on commentary, Vince McMahon seemed to be cutting down Hart at every turn. Just one month after signing Hart to a front-loaded 20 year deal, McMahon tried calling attention to Hart being rusty and a step slow. When fellow announcer Jim Ross said he believed Hart could beat Michaels and the other top guys on this night, Vince *loudly* disagreed. Hmm.
3. Rocky Maivia wrestles his first televised WWF match, becoming sole survivor in an eight man elimination bout
Maivia overcame Crush and Goldust in the end, pinning both in about a 30-second span. Curiously, the captain of the heel team was Hunter Hearst Helmsley, making for a very curious first meeting between "The Great One" and "The Game".
Though history has it that Maivia was unanimously hated for his milk-and-cookies babyface demeanor, the son of Rocky Johnson was, in fact, well received on this night by the Garden crowd. It wouldn't last, but here, things were quite copacetic.
4. In addition to Rocky, Doug Furnas, Phil Lafon, and Flash Funk (2 Cold Scorpio) all debut at Survivor Series
Holy roster changes. All Japan standouts Furnas and Lafon looked fantastic in their elimination bout, particularly when it came down to them against three capable wrestlers in Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Leif Cassidy (Al Snow). Check that match out if you never have, it's a gem.
As for Funk, Scorpio departed ECW the night before after putting over promising youngster Louie Spicolli. His debut here was a bit marred by the fact that his elimination match ended with everybody being disqualified. Ah well.
5. Curt Hennig no-shows several WWF events, after agreeing to terms with WCW
At the time, Hennig was serving as mentor to Helmsley, whom he helped win the IC title one month earlier. The "Hennig to WCW" story will draw out for many months, as the WWF filed tampering charges against WCW, due to Mr. Perfect still technically being under WWF contract at the time. Ultimately, Hennig won't make the promotional leap until the early summer of 1997.
6. Eric Bischoff turns heel for the first time, joining the nWo in an angle where the group beat down Roddy Piper
Bischoff dipped so easily into the "smiling sleazebag" role that it's hard to ever imagine him as a babyface at all. The role of power-toting "anything you want!" sidekick to Hogan suited Bischoff. While Mr. McMahon went on to play the archetypal heel boss, Bischoff is probably the second best to ever do it.
7. The Observer lists off the names of the participants in WCW's World War 3 battle royal, a 60-man, three ring brawl for a future shot at the World title
And because there are 60 participants, not every entrant was exactly "main event adjacent". Helping fill out the numbers were Boston-era indy veteran Tony Rumble, territory era heel Pez Whatley, former Heavenly Body Jimmy Del Ray as a street punk called "Jimmy Grafitti", company trainer Dewayne Bruce as a military man called "Jack Boot", and the 400-pound Roadblock.
Also, a bunch of WCW and nWo headline stars were in it too, but whatever. That's not as fun.
8. The WWF holds its annual Hall of Fame ceremony the night before Survivor Series
Captain Lou Albano, Killer Kowalski, Baron Mikel Scicluna, The Valiants, Johnny Rodz, Pat Patterson, Vincent J. McMahon, and Jimmy Snuka comprise the class. For the ceremony, Shane McMahon makes one of his earlier high-profile appearances to induct his grandfather.
This was also the last company Hall of Fame ceremony until 2004, at which time the induction classes moved to WrestleMania weekend, and skewed more toward the Rock n Wrestling era. Nowadays, people from the Ruthless Aggression era get inducted, just to remind us that time is undefeated and that we are all mortal.
9. The WWF negotiates with Macho Man Randy Savage in an attempt to bring him back, but the two sides can't come to terms
Savage entered free agency from WCW following Halloween Havoc, but ultimately returned to the promotion in January.
The story at the time was that the WWF wanted to use Savage's name for the short-term boost, but didn't want him on top for too long, due to his age. They also didn't want to sign him for a short term deal, just for him to jump back to WCW in a year's time. Whatever the WWF and Savage each sought, they couldn't get on the same page.
10. Sabu and Taz have a famous staredown at ECW's November to Remember, an indication that the long-awaited dream match is near
Sabu vs. Taz had been anticipated for a full year, dating back to the 1995 November to Remember, when Taz bitterly turned heel. The two stayed far apart, cementing their resumes with big wins, until Taz called Sabu out at the 1996 show.
The lights in the ECW Arena went out, and when they came back on, Sabu and Taz stood across from each other, each striking their trademark pose as the Philly fans lost their minds. There would be no physicality on this night, though, as the lights dimmed once again, and when they came back on, both men were gone. Oh, the intrigue.
11. At the same event, Bubba Ray Dudley defeats D-Von Dudley in a singles bout, performing a "Bubba Cutter" for the first time
The Dudley brothers were actually at odds long before they ever became a cohesive team. As for this match, it's especially notable for the use of the cutter. Three months later, Bubba turned heel to reunite with D-Von, at which time they realized, "Hey, if D-Von lifted the opponent by the legs *before* Bubba dropped him with the cutter, that'd be an awesome finish." And that person (whoever they were) was right.
12. The Blue World Order officially forms at November to Remember
After months of parodying various wrestlers and musical acts, Stevie Richards and company commence their most memorable lampooning by becoming Big Stevie Cool, Da Blue Guy (Blue Meanie), and "Hollywood" Nova.
Few would've ever imagined the three men (in the same gimmicks) would wrestle at the WWE Great American Bash nine years later. Mostly because nobody in 1996 would understand why the WWF would change their initials, or why they'd own the Great American Bash trademark presently in use in WCW.
13. Bam Bam Bigelow competes in his only ever MMA fight, losing via submission (rear naked choke) to Kimo Leopoldo in Tokyo
Bigelow himself later claims to have taken a dive in exchange for $10,000 (though that's frankly debatable). Strangely, Bigelow was seconded to the fight by Ray Apollo, who played Doink the Clown in the WWF from 1993 to 1995 (and was a nemesis of Bam Bam earlier in that run).
14. A match between John "Earthquake" Tenta and controversial sumo prodigy Koji Kitao is added to a December card at Sumo Hall
The significance is that the two faced off on a WWF/SWS joint production in 1991, and the match devolved into a shoot. Kitao was upset about being asked to lose to Tenta (himself a former sumo), and things grew tense between the two inside the ring. Ultimately, Kitao ended up backing down from Tenta, and threw a verbal tantrum over the microphone as the match ground to a halt.
By all accounts, the 1996 bout went off without a hitch.
15. Hollywood Hogan and The Outsiders appear at the 1996 Cable Ace Awards, where they end up beating up host Drew Carey
Today, they're all WWE Hall of Famers. Try explaining that to those in attendance for the WWF's 1996 ceremony.