When I began watching wrestling in the early 1990’s, there were four WWF Pay-Per-Views a year; Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. That’s it. Now to some new wrestling fans that might seem insane. To some, it might border on sacrilege. To others, it might seem like a very good idea, considering the Battleground hate I’ve read on Twitter this last week, but I’ll save that for a separate column.
In 1993, Vince McMahon expanded by adding King of the Ring, the 5th “major”, as it were. In the years that followed, whether it was in response to the growing popularity of the competition in WCW or just as an experiment to try to earn more money, Vince added “In Your House”. Originally designed as a shorter, cheaper PPV, the In Your House series would be the ‘minor’ spectacles to fill the monthly gaps between larger events.
For our next Lessons from the Network, we take a trip to the IYH event from December of 1997. WCW has taken over the lead in the Monday Night Wars, and at this point, WWE is on the ropes. This is also the first PPV after Survivor Series ‘97, also known as the Montreal Screwjob. On the cusp of the Attitude Era, we now sit under the learning tree known as Degeneration X: In Your House.
Just before the Tag Team title match (Legion of Doom vs. Road Dogg and Billy Gunn), Road Dogg is blatantly stalling for time, though at least he does so in an entertaining way, but more on that later. Also, Jeff Jarrett faces The Undertaker in a match that has no other purpose than to waste multiple minutes before Kane makes his entrance. (Historical note: Kane had recently made his debut and was trying to goad ‘Taker into a fight, which wouldn’t happen until ‘Mania the following spring.)
To completely illustrate the lesson, at least 5 minutes of screen time is filled by Goldust (clad in pink spandex, barefoot and on a leash held by Luna Vachon) reading from Green Eggs and Ham. Did this do anything other than to fill airtime? I can’t honestly imagine so.
Which brings us, oddly enough, to Lesson #2:
I know that seems a. . . excuse me, but bizarre thing to say considering the shell of a man we see on this PPV, but I mean it. Dustin Runnels was on the card for our first Lesson from the Network (Battlebowl 1993), he is part (in his own way) of IYH, and he was on RAW this past week. That’s over a 20 year career, and there is absolutely no argument that the Goldust of 2014 is in the best physical condition of likely any point in said career.
Not only counting the historic lineage of the Rhodes’ family, but Goldust absolutely changed the wrestling world when he made his debut in the mid-90’s. There had been unusual characters who had tiptoed on the feminine side before (Adrian Adonis comes to mind), but Goldust blatantly and feverishly crossed the line as often as possible. In an age where homosexuality was not nearly as publicly acceptable as it is today, he pushed the envelope big-time.
While he had his own demons to fight (and the character of Seven to answer for), Dustin turned his life around and is now both an active wrestler and backstage presence in WWE. Looking at his career in its entirety, he has to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, though I doubt his appearance on this particular card is one that will be included in his promo package.
Obviously, Goldust would be one example of this, though I am specifically referring to two talents on the card who, if you took them at face value, wouldn’t seem to be that impressive, but showed surprising amounts of talent and toughness.
The first is one of the members of Los Boricuas, the Puerto Rican gang led by Savio Vega who battled with the Nation of Domination and the Disciples of Apocalypse. While I like Savio (and expect we’ll have an entire lesson or two about the Kwang character at some point), I’m actually referring to his comrade Miguel for this lesson.
Miguel is. . . how shall I put this delicately. . . He’s the hairy one. The “Shave your Back” chants you hear at IYH? Those are for him. He does not look like your modern day vision of a wrestler, and one would expect him to be a brawler through and through. That’s before Miguel pulls off an incredibly impressive standing moonsault that was nowhere in the vicinity of anything I had seen coming. He also, at the end of the match, does a rather nice somersault leg drop. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw with Miguel, which is good, because the rest of the match was terrible.
Our second example of not judging a book by its cover is Sgt. Slaughter. Now, I’m not denying his earlier successes; the man was WWE champion at a point when he was arguably already past his prime. I’ll also go on record and profess my love for the Cobra Clutch, as my cousins and childhood friends can attest, though I’m sure they would have preferred I learn how to do it right first.
The reason I bring up the Sarge is that in 1997, he is 49 years old and wrestles in a Boot Camp match with Triple H, back before HHH was a member of The Authority and back when he had incredibly silky hair. As with Miguel, one would expect this match to be a slow-paced brawl, and while that’s a lot of what happened, at one point, HHH whips Slaughter into the turnbuckle, who launches himself into the air, over the buckle and down to the arena floor. Again, let me point out that he is 49 years old.
A few minutes later, he takes another bump over the top rope. Now I’m not shocking the world here when I say that former members of the military are tough, but you have to be impressed by the commitment Slaughter gave to this match. He hadn’t been an active wrestler in years, but Sarge took some risks that many everyday competitors would hesitate at. Didn’t see that coming.
Speaking of things you didn’t see coming...
The second to last match of the night features blossoming Nation of Domination member Rocky Maivia, who is trying to get a new name to catch on. . . I think it was “The Rock” or something. . . battling Intercontinental champion “Stunning” Steve Austin. . . No wait, that’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Now this match,up until this point on the PPV had not been mentioned once.
Think about that for a second. The Rock and Steve Austin. Two wrestlers who headlined 3 Wrestlemania’s battling each other and countless more in their own matches. The two men who arguably stole the show at Wrestlemania XXX by taking turns making fun of Hulk Hogan for not knowing where he was. Easily two of the most successful professional wrestlers in the history of the world… And their match is almost a throw-in at Degeneration X: In Your House. When I saw that, I was flummoxed. I couldn’t understand why this match wasn't the most hyped one of the evening, especially considering that the main event was Shawn Michaels defending his title against Ken Shamrock, of all people. As the lesson states, however, you need perspective.
In December of 1997, Austin and Rocky weren’t crazy huge stars yet. Austin had his 3:16 moment the year before, but remember that the evil Mr. McMahon character comes as a direct result of the Montreal Screwjob, which had only recently just happened, and Austin needs McMahon in order to become uber-famous. As for Maivia, he was still trying to fix his hair and get his catch phrases down. So while the unheralded match might seem absolutely insane to the 2014 viewer, we need to treat the WWE Network with the right amount of historical perspective in order to fully appreciate its lessons, because. . .
If you are a true fan of wrestling, the Network is a must-have. Watching this single card gives you an incredible appreciation for the evolution of talent, character building and the WWE as a whole.
Example 1: Watching Slaughter’s entrance, I said to myself, “Self, why is he entering to Kurt Angle’s music?” Now, of course, Angle hadn’t made his debut yet, so technically all this time, Angle was using Slaughter’s music, which was very cool to learn.
Example 2: If you’re like me ( a super wrestling nerd), you love seeing the history of wrestling moves. The first match of the night was Taka Michinoku vs. Brian Christopher in the finals of the Light Heavyweight title tournament. At one point, Christopher uses the leaping legdrop, then known as the Rocker Dropper. Marty Jannetty used it, Christopher used it, Billy Gunn would ‘fame-ass”-ly use it, and now Dolph Ziggler uses it. Heck, even John Cena uses it, though to his credit, he does it from the top rope.
Christopher then uses a full nelson face plant, which became known as “The Stroke” when Jeff Jarrett had it as his finisher, and was the “Skull-Crushing Finale” when Miz had it.
(Note: I understand many of you are, in fact, not like me, so these little bits of trivia aren’t as exciting to you. However, since this is my column, I’m sharing the dorky.)
Example 3: The catch phrases. I mentioned Road Dogg and Billy Gunn before, and some may have noticed that I didn’t call them the New Age Outlaws. That’s because at this point, they weren’t the Outlaws yet; in fact, they had just begun to team up. Watching IYH, you can see Road Dogg working on his entrance hype. It’s not anywhere near DX quality yet, but the seeds are there. The Rock does his “Finally” line, kind of, and also does the People’s Elbow, though it wasn’t a named signature move yet.
The WWE Network allows us to watch, sometimes week to week, and learn how these supremely talented individuals tweaked, fine-tuned and finessed all the facets of their personas, making them into the successes (or in some cases, the failures) we know them as today, and there’s no better lesson than that.
In Your House as a whole was not the best PPV chain in history, and soon after this card, WWE moved on to individually naming their events. However, the lessons learned here will serve us well as we continue our exploration of the wonders of the WWE Network.