1. Steve Austin vs. Undertaker- (IYH: Cold Day in Hell) - 3
2. Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels vs. Owen Hart and British Bulldog - (Raw '97) - 4
3. Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels - (King of the Ring '97) - 5
4. Steve Austin and Dude Love vs. Owen Hart and British Bulldog - (RAW '97) - 4
5. Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart - (Summerslam '97) - 6
6. Steve Austin vs. Dude Love - (Unforgiven '98) - 8
7. Steve Austin vs. Kane - First Blood Match - (King of the Ring '98) - 3
8. Steve Austin vs. Kane - (Raw '98) - 3
I found the first two matches both disappointing. The Undertaker and Austin, two of the biggest names in professional wrestling history, made a go of a feud during this era, but with both being beloved good guys it didn’t have the fire and drama necessary to really carry it. Notable in this match in their series is all five members of the Hart Foundation being seated ringside in front-row seats. Of course, they get involved, sometimes involuntarily, as both guys mix it up with them throughout it. For me, with two guys this good, this match just doesn’t ever take off. Surprisingly, a lot of it is mat-based, with Austin working several submissions, notably an STF and a rather lazy standard side headlock. In terms of selling, Undertaker eats Austin’s punches well, whipping his head and hair back with every shot, but outside of that there isn’t much in that department worthy of a mention, as the bulk of the match is the aforementioned mat sections, Austin’s increasingly dwindling brawling move set, and the superfluous outside antics.
The second match also falls short of my expectations. Here, the action’s quicker and all four of these guys are pretty hot commodities at the time, so regardless of its problems it’s still entertaining. Shawn does the bulk of the selling, which helped, especially giving the heels’ credibility against two super hot good guys. But, being squeezed into the confines of a TV time limit, whole sections felt rushed and uneven. I think for the angle advancement at the time, this was a nice fit, but given the talent involved it doesn’t hold up now particularly strongly.
The disappointment streak continues, as I also wasn’t very impressed with the Michaels match they chose. For starters, a mentally handicapped teen falls over the guardrail and starts trying to get into the ring. Now, I can’t discredit the match for this alone, but its what transpires afterwards that hurts it. Michaels goes out to assist the guy, but Austin grows impatient like us fans and attacks him. Moments later, Shawn goes back outside the ring yet again, this time walking the aforementioned teen all the way up the aisle. When the wrestling finally starts another odd occurrence becomes a distraction, some of the most wildly uneven and theatric camera work I’ve ever seen in a WWE broadcast. It was almost as if they were trying to shoot it like a Oliver Stone film, with dramatic close-ups, uneven handheld stuff, and cameraman actually standing on the apron shooting, giving the impression of being in the ring itself with the wrestlers. In theory, this is kind of cool, but of course it goes awry, as a cameraman gets knocked off the apron and takes a violent spill to the floor. Then, Shawn, in typical unprofessional asshole mode, starts smirking and spitting at the cameraman while working Austin in a headlock. The whole match seems like a puzzle missing pieces, and for two of the eras best, this runs a little south of the recommendable category.
The following tag is another against Davey and Owen, this time with Dude Love as Austin’s partner, making his debut in fact. This is very similar to the other tag match, given TV time constraints, but is also equally inoffensive. They weren’t concerned with the wrestling as much as the bigger picture so I can’t recommend it. The next match is the infamous bout where Austin gets his neck broke. Unfortunately that incident overshadows the fact that it’s otherwise a damn fine wrestling match. For the first time really on this disc, Austin shows signs of his earlier potential, and works almost as well with Owen as he does his brother Bret. One minor nitpick about Owen, his selling of Austin’s punches is real bad, and since at this point punching made up the majority of Austin’s offense, it’s hard to ignore. For every punch, Owen will sway his head way back, then bring it back forward for the next, yet the entire time he has a very expressionless look on his face. It’s a shame Austin got hurt, both due to the loss of his career’s longevity, and because otherwise this would be pimped as one of the better Intercontinental title matches of that era.
The match with Dude Love is the lesser remembered and discussed of their major singles bouts on pay-per-view against each other, yet I was totally digging it and easily choose it as the best match on the second disc of this set. I have to give tons of credit to Mick Foley. From what this DVD showcases, while Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are bigger names, Foley works harder, and gets more out of Austin than either men combined. Besides having a frenzied and fired up Austin, Foley is just killing himself, taking all kinds of sadistic bumps, including getting tossed off the entrance ramp onto concrete, and taking a disturbing suplex right onto the steel ring steps. There’s a lot of bullcrap involving McMahon potentially “screwing” Austin, a la Bret in ’97, but it didn’t distract enough to really interfere with this match’s awesomeness.
Both of the Kane matches suck, a lot, and I’d rather watch some random WCW Saturday Night ’95-era squashes. The first, a First Blood, is so overbooked and garbage, with the Hell in the Cell cage randomly lowering and rising, as McMahon and Rena Mero (Sable) watch from a luxury skybox. I think he was fingering her. Kane’s doing the whole “dead man” gimmick still, not selling much of anything, and is immobile and goofy and wow this is just awful. Austin starts bleeding from his back, but the ref doesn’t call it, so they basically change the rules on the fly given the impromptu plasma purging. The next night on Raw they have a rematch, it’s even less interesting, but a hot crowd saves it from being completely abysmal. The second disc was less of a treat than the first, but not entirely bad, so we’ll see how things conclude when I tackle the third and final disc next week. NHO 3:16 says “I just reviewed your ass!”