#WF188(UK) – The Fab 4
James Dixon: And now for something completely different, as the WWF profiles four greats of the game on a Sky Sports UK special broadcast designed to promote the One Night Only double main event (Shawn Michaels vs. the British Bulldog and the Undertaker vs. Bret Hart), which was then released as this tape. The format is simple: Jim Ross conducts sit-down interviews with the four guys as they talk half-candidly yet kayfabed (it’s very odd…) about their careers and some of their most famous matches. Nothing like it has been done before or since really, and the unique VH1 style presentation adds an interesting flavour.
“There’s not much of a relationship left with Brother Love” says Undertaker, who declares that former manager Love was merely doing a favour for Paul Bearer until he could join him. We get brief footage of Bearer and Taker on the Brother Love Show, and then the factual inaccuracies start as JR calls his match with Superfly Jimmy Snuka at WrestleMania VII “the first pay-per-view appearance of the Undertaker”, completely ignoring his impressive debut at Survivor Series ’90 and his 15-minute run in the 1991 Royal Rumble. Taker calls Snuka a “legend”, as we see the finish of that, before moving on to Taker’s brief WWF Title win in 1991 against Hulk Hogan. When asked about his experiences working with Hulk, Taker says: “He called himself the immortal one, we have come to find out that that wasn’t true”. Regarding his loss of the title days late to Hogan, Undertaker bungles his facts, saying: “Gorilla Monsoon felt there was too much outside interference in the match”, but he means Jack Tunney, who was still on-screen WWF President. In fact, it would be another four years until Monsoon got the job.
Because this is filmed for UK consumption, we have to discuss SummerSlam 1992 at Wembley Stadium. “88,000 people, it raised my intensity level even further” remarks Undertaker, before calling cartoon buffoon Kamala “dangerous”. Sure, anywhere but the WWF maybe. Taker says the hearse (or “hurst” if you are JR) that he rode down in was for “mind games”. Fair enough, I always just assumed that because the aisle was so big and Taker walked so slowly, that we would lose the main event due to his 20-minute entrance otherwise. They put the Legion of Doom on bikes too, which turned out to be a mistake as Hawk was so drunk/drugged-up that he couldn’t drive it right and ended up parking it on Animal’s leg, badly burning him. Thankfully, Taker had no such problems.
We take a brief look at the horrid Undertaker-Giant Gonzalez match from WrestleMania IX and Taker puts over Gonzalez’s height, which is the only thing he had going for him. Fast-forward nearly a year past the rest of that horrid feud, and we go to Royal Rumble ’94 and the Undertaker’s first of many demises. Taker says he might be able to mask pain well but he is still skin and bone and thus he needed to heal and “get in tune” with his body again. Hippy. JR uses the term “Underfaker” to describe Brian Lee’s portrayal of Ted DiBiase’s version of the character. “Evidently he had studied my mannerisms and my moves” adds Taker, and more brief highlights follow, with the real Undertaker putting away Underfaker following some Tombstones.
“What drives people to team up against you?” Hey, if one person hates you then that’s their problem, if two people hate you then that is still their problem, but if dozens of people hate you then that is YOUR problem. Maybe that is the price you pay for years spent putting people in bodybags and caskets against their will. Folk don’t like that!
Undertaker tries to play off the urn as being more a memory jogging trinket and symbolic inspiration than a magical spiritual object, spouting some shit about it containing the souls of soldiers past (passed?) and he is merely a soldier. I think that Paul Bearer urn shot to the head did him some permanent damage and he has got his persona confused with Sgt. Slaughter. This explanation of the urn serving as an inspiration is all well and good, but how does he explain its ability to emit both incredibly bright light and thick bellowing green smoke?
We skip ahead a few years to WrestleMania XII and Taker’s feud with Diesel. “He likes to be called “Kevin Nash” these days” says JR with derision. Yeah, fuck that guy! How dare he use his real name and actually get over with it instead of with some silly cartoony bullshit. What a wanker! JR takes another big credibility dump when he claims a long-term Diesel-Taker rivalry could have been like a modern-day Frazier-Ali. There must be something in that BBQ sauce. Curiously Undertaker doesn’t criticise Nash leaving for WCW, simply saying that each man does what is best for him. JR flat-out asks Taker if he has any designs on leaving for “Atlanta”, but Taker says he doesn’t foresee that happening, and instead challenges anyone from WCW to come to the WWF and face him. Of course Undertaker must have realised that he would have struggled in WCW without his gimmick, which he wasn’t permitted to use, because he was such a strong character that to see him do anything else at that point would have been utterly galling. His signing would have been to hurt the WWF only, but he probably would have gone the way of the likes of Bret Hart or Curt Hennig or Davey Boy Smith and been lost in the shuffle.
Taker puts over Mankind and calls him his toughest challenge, getting a dig in at Hogan along the way by saying he is not in the same league as Foley. Taker says if he went into battle, he would want Mankind by his side as he would fight tooth and nail. This kind of comment would have been pretty astonishing at the time given their extensive feud still being fresh in the memory, but nearly two decades later it doesn’t even register.
JR moves on to Paul Bearer’s betrayal at SummerSlam ’96 as this starts to drag on a little. The concept of this tape/TV special is tremendous and potentially can do a lot for the characters of those profiled, and add a little humanisation to the men in question too. But the problem is that in character the Undertaker is not a very interesting interviewee. Because of the nature of his gimmick, he talks slowly and fairly monotone, and the footage laced in is so brief that it is almost pointless. The next few minutes are a complete pass, as Taker drones on about getting revenge on Bearer ad nauseum. Strangely enough, years later after countless reconciliations and fallings out, Taker did get revenge when he “killed” Bearer at the Great American Bash in 2004. Bearer was one of very few WWE characters to actually be killed off on screen, though the WWE changed its tact when they received a number of complaints, as simulated murder is not exactly wholesome family entertainment, and Bearer wound up managing Taker again, only to turn on him once more and side with storyline son Kane. You would think Undertaker would learn from his experiences.
Of all the matches to show slightly extended highlights of, the snoozefest between Undertaker and Sid at WrestleMania 13 is not a good pick. At least what is shown removes the plethora of rest holds that dragged the match down. JR asks him if after the match he went back to the hotel and got chance to “spread your legs out”, which is a strange thing to ask someone. There are boundaries, Jim, and you just crossed one.
The music video used to introduce Michaels shows him doing everything except wrestling. It is just two minutes of dancing, posing and pyro. Way to capture his strong points!
Michaels discusses his early career, mostly out of character, and it is fairly interesting. He comes across well, which is in stark contrast to the prick he was notorious for being in 1996/97. Jose Lothario and the AWA get a mentioned, before we cut to extended highlights of the Rockers against Haku & the Barbarian at WrestleMania VII. The WWF loves crediting this match as one of the first great Shawn Michaels performances, and they often far overstate both its importance and quality. Of course Shawn had far better matches prior to that, though I suppose you could make the argument that this was the biggest so far due to being on WrestleMania and the crowd response, but in actuality Michaels was still nearly a year away from going solo.
Michaels’ surprise IC title win over the British Bulldog is shown, as is his subsequent stripping and suspension. Michaels claims he was “not destructive”, which is a laugh, even more so considering when this interview was filmed. Never has there been a more destructive backstage politician than Michaels in the WWF. The only person that comes close to his machinations is his good buddy Kevin Nash over in WCW. Shitty attitude aside, Michaels was still the undisputed star performer in between the ropes, as evidenced by his epic ***** ladder match with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. I would have had no complaints about the WWF recycling and replaying the whole thing again here, but instead we have to settle for highlights of the final moments. It gives a reasonable representation of the quality on display, but the bout needs to be seen complete to be fully appreciated. What rarely gets mentioned about this match is the negative side, with Razor and Michaels going far beyond their allotted time and thus shafting ten guys out of a WrestleMania payoff (the scheduled ten-man tag was bumped off the card and ended up taking place on the Mania television show), which infuriated Randy Savage who chewed them out. Still, I would take the ladder match over anything involving the likes of IRS any day, and I am sure the WWF were secretly glad too, given the mileage they have got out of that particular contest.
To Royal Rumble ’95 and the final stages of the shoddy Rumble bout, which I attest is one of the worst in history due to the dearth of star power. The WWF was a horrible place in 1995 and the final four emphasises that, with Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog having been in from the start, and they are joined by the no longer over Lex Luger and the appalling Crush. The finish is fairly well known, with Michaels holding onto the ropes and only one foot touching the floor, before he returns to the ring and eliminates Bulldog, who thought he had won it. I guess he just wasn’t bizarre enough. Michaels talks about the chemistry he has with Davey Boy and says they always clicked, which is mostly true. That was not the only thing they had in common though, because they both also had something of an affinity for Sunny, which ended up causing a rift between the two. Unsurprisingly, this is not mentioned, not that it ever would be.
To the unheralded classic between Michaels and Jeff Jarrett at In Your House 2, which remains easily Jarrett’s best ever match by some distance. Considering what a colossal bore Double J was, it speaks volumes about Michaels’ ability that he was able to get something so remarkable out of him. Only the final seconds are shown here, but Michaels discredits the achievement, essentially saying he was above the belt by this point. He is right though; he should have been WWF Champion a year earlier than he was, and probably should have beaten Diesel at WrestleMania XI. That match, by the way, is completely skipped over despite the Rumble win being shown. Like on other comp tapes in this volume, the WWF are reluctant to show a current WWF star getting beat by a current WCW star. It is fairly petty behaviour. Showing WCW guys getting beat is no problem though, and we get highlights of the even better ladder match from SummerSlam ’95 between Shawn and Razor, which I think surpasses the original for drama, intensity, and creativity too. Both are 5* classics, but this is the better one, despite popular opinion to the contrary.
For some inexplicable reason, the next point of discussion is Survivor Series ’96 and the belting match that Shawn had with Sycho Sid, where he lost the WWF Championship to the sound of thunderous applause. Michaels brushes off the booing he received from New York and calls it “fun”, saying how New York doesn’t want to see David vs. Goliath, they want to see Goliath win. He has a point, but there is no doubt that the reaction was galling and surprising to both him and the WWF. The match is another triumph creatively for Shawn though, and once again is the best match his opponent ever had. There is a reason that the WWF put up with Shawn’s horrible attitude, and it is because of performances like this. The highlights here are long enough to capture the drama and the crowd response, but the camera shot that led to the match winning powerbomb is omitted, for whatever reason. The pop for Sid’s win is absolutely immense though. It causes goosebumps.
Michaels calls Bret Hart his “favourite person” and says they are wonderful for each other. Shawn says they don’t get along, which is an understatement, but puts it down to lifestyles. “He is a cool, calm and collected dude, and I am the only man who has the ability to push his buttons so he gets mad” he says. Well, there is no doubting that one either. Michaels comes off here as respectful of Hart, which is ironic given what went down each week on television and then infamously at Survivor Series ’97 between them. Then abruptly, that is the end of the Michaels feature, with no footage at all shown of his “boyhood dream” ascent up the card and his WWF Title win over Hart at WrestleMania XII. I can only assume it is being saved for the Hitman bio, but surely it would have made more sense to include it here?
Bret’s ‘You Start the Fire’ video introduces things, before Bret starts his interview in a self-effacing way, questioning whether he is still the “best there is..” (yadda yadda) and talking about how his body is starting to suffer. Quickly we move on to Bret’s youth, and he says he never wanted to be a wrestler and instead wanted to be involved in television and movies. Footage of Bret “acting” in Lonesome Dove confirms he ended up making the right career choice. Bret tells a nice story about an amateur wrestling medal he won as a kid, and says that changed his relationship with father Stu almost immediately. “It was as if I had pulled a sword from a stone” says closet Disney fan Bret. Fitting footage to match this would have maybe been Bret’s first WWF Title win over Ric Flair, his epic match at Wembley against Bulldog or even something from Stampede Wrestling, but instead we see the final 40 seconds of the WrestleMania XII Iron Man Match, which finally gets an airing. This shoddy placement further justifies the notion that this should have been in the Michaels section of the tape.
JR asks Bret how he wants to be remembered, and he humbly responds: “I just hope they remember me at all”. To me that kind of question should come at the end of the interview, because it doesn’t segue into Bret’s anti-American/pro-Canadian persona at all. Bret and JR engage in a reasoned philosophical debate about American culture, interspersed with shots of Bret running down the US in promos and calling the nation as a whole “arrogant”.
Logic continues to be defied as we loop back to Bret’s (original) Hart Foundation days in tandem with Jim Neidhart. Bret calls Jim “the best partner anyone ever had” and we see the duo winning their second WWF Tag Team Titles from Demolition at SummerSlam 90. It’s as good a choice for inclusion as any. Of course the matches against the British Bulldogs come up, and Bret refers to his former rivals as the greatest team of all time and the bouts with the two as the greatest tag matches of all time. As any readers of the History of Wrestling Superstar Series: The Hart Foundation will be well aware, those matches were all very, very good, but they had better with others (such as the Rockers and the Brain Busters). Many, including Bret, claim that the best matches they ever had were untelevised encounters where they could really let it all hang out, but sadly they are forever lost to the sands of time so we will never truly know. Can you imagine, by the way, what the 1997 Hart Foundation could have been like if Dynamite was fully-fit and a part of the group? Imagine for a moment the mouth-watering prospect that is Dynamite Kid vs. Shawn Michaels.
Bret’s foray into singles competition is covered, including some action from the classic with Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam ’91. For Bret Hart detractors who say his matches don’t hold up today and are slow in places and even boring in others, I say watch this. You will struggle to find much at all wrong with it, and given that Perfect was badly injured and took over a year off to recover afterwards, it is even more impressive an accomplishment. Equally superb was Hart’s underrated bona fide classic with Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII, where he became one of a very select few to pin Piper cleanly. As has become commonplace for this tape, we skip out a significant and important chunk of Hart’s career, spinning on two years to WrestleMania X and the ***** match between siblings Bret and Owen, and then their overrated return cage match at SummerSlam ’94.
The subject matter changes to one Shawn Michaels, who Bret says make him “want to puke”. Bret doesn’t hold back on his verbal tirade against the Heartbreak Kid, as he frequently tended not to do, saying: “A very corrupt, rotten and evil force got him into power. He had the public completely convinced that he was an angel, but he is none of them things. He is like a cancerous polyp that needs to be cut out”. Jeez Bret, tell us how you really feel! Bret goes on to put over Shawn as an athlete, but says he is not a great wrestler. Not a great amateur wrestler maybe, but in pro wrestling he is probably the greatest in-ring performer of all time, from any era. Bret says the Iron Man Match the pair had at WrestleMania XII was “tailored to Shawn”, but that doesn’t really make sense. Bret was always pushed as the stamina guy, whereas Shawn was all about resilience (ie. his ability to take a beating) and explosive athletic displays. If anything the match was better suited on kayfabe paper to Hart. We get the last few minutes of the bout and then all of the overtime and Michaels winning, which again would have fit better in the HBK profile than it does here. JR claims Bret and Shawn have only had one match, which is a really stupid thing to say. Even if you discount the tag stuff between the Rockers and the Hart Foundation, and even the Coliseum Video matches, they still had encounters on pay-per-view at Survivor Series ’92 and then again on opposite teams the following year. Bret says he never wants to do business with Shawn again because he doesn’t trust him, like him or respect him.
One man he says he has “immense” respect for is the Undertaker, and this was filmed prior to SummerSlam ’97 because he says he has never beaten him by pinfall. We go back in time to the 1996 Royal Rumble and see Taker hitting the Tombstone and nearly beating Bret, and Hart says he doesn’t know what would have happened if there wasn’t interference. Jim Ross tries to stir the pot and asks if Bret would ever defend the WWF Title against the British Bulldog, but Hart says he has just got the family back together and it would be difficult to have a match with high stakes like that without it tearing them apart again.
The British Bulldog
In a tremendous decision from whoever was responsible for putting this thing together, the legendary Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog match from SummerSlam ’92 is shown almost in its entirety, with the odd comment from Davey’s interview inserted over the top where appropriate. Davey calls it the greatest moment of his career, which it certainly is.
We go back to cover Davey’s early days in wrestling, Dynamite Kid getting him his break with Stampede and his eventual marriage to Diana Hart. Even though Davey is far from the most eloquent interviewee, this is still pretty interesting and sadly is about the closest thing to a Davey Boy Smith official biopic out there. The WWE really should release a British Bulldog triple disc DVD set, because it is sure to shift plenty of copies in the UK and there is plenty of material to work with. Maybe we here at HoW will just have to do his career justice with a Superstar Series book instead.
Bulldog’s partnership with real-life cousin the Dynamite Kid is featured, though only very brief highlights are shown. Davey then discusses his other partners Lex Luger and Owen Hart, saying how things didn’t click with Luger, but that Owen is comparable to Dynamite. JR mentions the classic encounter they had in the finals of the European Title tournament final in Germany, and Davey kayfabes it, saying he had to ring Diana and tell her he was wrestling one of her brothers again. The match is fantastic and another highlight of Smith’s career, and a decent chunk of it is shown here, but the show it took place on actually had a massively detrimental effect on the WWF and the business as a whole in the long-run. The shoddy lighting of the show combined with the dry nature (it was all long matches, which wrestling fans didn’t want in 1997) meant a poor TV rating, and Vince flipped. Even though all of his creative staff knew it was a shitty show, only Vince Russo had spoken out about it, so McMahon turned to him and decided that they were going to start going with his “cutting edge” ideas. And then the Attitude era was born and damaged pro wrestling in a traditional sense almost beyond repair.
Bulldog and Owen clashed again on Raw but the match got interrupted by Bret Hart, who told the pair to stop fighting and listen. Bret went on to blame America for causing a rift between the Harts and turning them against each other, and a touching reconciliation occurs that results in the formation of the Hart Foundation. JR just won’t give up on trying to probe and cause issues though, and repeats the question he asked Bret about a potential WWF Title match with Davey. Bulldog says he would consider asking Bret for a match at One Night Only but that Hart might question his motives. This tape really is all over the place, mixing and matching kayfabe and reality.
Summary: There is nothing else really like this out there, which makes it a unique offering that may be worth seeing for curiosity alone. The format is an interesting one and perhaps something the WWF could and should have explored further with different personalities, but for whatever reason they never did. What we get here manages to nicely encapsulate the respective career of each guy condensed into 50-minute blocks, and would serve as an ideal start point for those unfamiliar with any of their work. There are problems though, such as the endless flitting back-and-forth between reality and fiction, JR’s often surprising lack of knowledge of the product (oftentimes from prior to his arrival in the company, so it is nearly forgivable), the lack of any full matches (with one notable exception), the bouncing timeline and the glaring omissions, but none of those things particularly rancour. The biggest criticism ironically enough is that there is probably too much here, certainly for one sitting anyway. Undertaker and Davey are not great subjects to interview, Taker because he is fully in character and Davey because he manages to make most sentences sound like they have just been in a blender, but Shawn and Bret have plenty of insight and opinion worth hearing. Probably worth tracking down, especially for North American fans who are likely to have never seen any of this due to the UK exclusive release. I would strongly suggest picking it up as part of the Silver Vision tagged classics DVD release where it was paired with the phenomenal One Night Only show that it was promoting though, rather than paying over the odds for the VHS.