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WWF @ Madison Square Garden - January 26, 1996

by Scrooge McSuck

Bret hart

- The World Tour de Force returns to Madison Square Garden for the first time in 1996. We're missing a few matches from the card, including Tatanka & Isaac Yankem def. Fatu & Bob Holly, Duke Droese (subbing for Razor Ramon) def. The 1-2-3 Kid (ouch), and a match that we see a bit of on this tape between Hakushi and Owen Hart is incomplete, probably due the tape used to record the footage being of mixed quality. Unfortunate, because the few minutes we see was really good.

Ahmed Johnson vs. "Double J" Jeff Jarrett

We're Joined in Progress, with Jarrett stalling outside the ring. MEMPHIS STYLE IN THE HOUSE. Ahmed chases him back in the ring, only for Jarrett to bail out again. Back inside, Jarrett grabs a side headlock but Ahmed powers out and tosses him across the ring. Jarrett forces Ahmed into the corner and unloads with shoulders to the midsection. Ahmed blocks a hip toss and counters with his own. Jarrett goes to the eyes to slow Ahmed down, but damn if he'll sell anything, countering a whip with a short clothesline. He sends Jarrett to the corner and dives into a boot. Jarrett with a flying clothesline, followed by a seated splash across the ropes. Ahmed goes back to no-selling as Jarrett comes off the ropes with double axe-handles. Whip and Ahmed counters a back body-drop with the Pearl River Plunge for the three-count at 4:58 (shown). The match at the Royal Rumble PPV was better, even with the clean finish here. *

Henry O. Godwinn vs. The Ring Master (w/ Ted Dibiase)

This one could be interesting. In an alternate reality, I wish the Ring Master weren't a technically savvy wrestler, but the literal Ring Master of a Circus. Lockup, Godwinn grabs a side headlock and comes off the ropes with a shoulder tackle. Crisscross and Ring Master pops Godwinn with an elbow. Godwinn gets the better of a slugfest and charges into the corner with a clothesline. He connects with a second clothesline to the back of the head (BOOMERANG) and drops an elbow. Ring Master thumbs the eye to cut him off, takes Godwinn over with a snap mare and drops a knee. Light "ECW" chant, then "We Want the Sandman" chant. Godwinn comes right back with another clothesline for a two-count. Ring Masters with elbows to break a chin-lock (why a heel rest-hold?) but a sunset flip attempt is blocked, despite the best efforts at pulling the overalls. Whip to the corner and Godwinn misses a charge, allowing Ring Master to clip the knee to take control. Snap mare and Ring Master stomps across the chest. Things slow down with a seated chin-lock. Godwinn counters, breaking the hold with an electric chair drop (I swear, one day I'm looking up the origin of that name). Godwinn with a series of kicks but Ring Master goes low away from the view of the referee. He goes for a slam but Godwinn shifts his weight to fall on top for two. Choke cross the middle rope but Ring Master straddles the ropes missing a splash. Godwinn lays him out with a clothesline (move of the match, I guess) and pounds away. Another clothesline sends Ring Master over the top rope. Back inside, Godwinn with a back body-drop, but a distraction from Dibiase saves Ring Master from the Slop Drop. Ring Master form behind with a knee and he hooks the Million Dollar Dream for the victory at 11:21. Perfectly fine wrestling. Henry Godwinn was a lot better than I originally gave credit as a youngster. **1/2

The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) vs. Yokozuna

I'm a bit surprised to see this one brought out of the mothballs in 1996, especially as a singles match. Paul Bearer comes out alone, a diversion for the Undertaker to make a surprise entrance with the lights coming on and him flying off the top rope with a clothesline (I think they recycled that for one of his matches with Mankind later in the year). Taker unloads with shots to the throat and comes off the ropes with a DDT. Double reverse to the corner sees the referee get taken out. Whip and Taker with the diving lariat, followed by the Chokeslam (oh God, it was almost as bad as Hogan's in 2002), but there's no referee to count. Owen Hart rushes in and gets taken out, too. Yokozuna recovers and hits a Samoan drop, followed by a Massive 5XL leg drop. Loud "We Want Bret" chant as Yoko and Owen drag Taker to the corner. Yokozuna with two Banzai Drops as the referee continues to play dead. Here's the cover and a revived referee to make the count but Taker is up at two, tossing Yoko ONTO THE REFEREE on the kickout. Owen hops on the apron with a chair but accidentally whacks Yoko with it. Taker comes off the ropes with a big boot and that's good for three at 4:23. Post-match, Owen and Yoko bicker, with Yokozuna shoving Owen down and chasing him from ringside. This was an odd spectacle, but it was watchable. *1/2

WWF Tag Team Championship Match: The Smoking Gunns (c) vs. The Body Donnas (w/ Sunny)

I could've sworn Billy Gunn was injured at the Royal Rumble, setting up the chain of events that led to the titles vacated and a tournament culminating at WrestleMania XII. After a quick check, looks like he was shut down immediately after this leg of the tour. Bart and Zip start. Lockup and they fight over a hammer-lock. Zip picks the leg, but Bart kicks him off. Rinse, repeat. Bart sends him to the corner and tosses him with a press slam. Back in the ring, the Gunns take turns working the arm. Skip tags in and immediately pulls the straps down. That shtick might work in the South, but we're in NEW YORK CITY. Skip rolls through a sunset flip but is caught in an over-head slam. Another series of counters ends with Billy hitting a short clothesline for two. Combo drop toe hold and elbow for two. Sunny picks the leg of Bart, but Skip can't capitalize. Bart gives chase and gets caught in the ring with a flap jack. Flying sunset flip and clothesline from the Body Donnas for a two-count. Skip with a snap suplex and Zip drops a knee across the forehead. Bart escapes a chin-lock but is caught by surprise with a blind tag DDT. Bart blocks another suplex and counters with his own. The Body Donnas prevent the tag and straddle him across the top rope. Bart blocks the super-plex, dropping Skip face-first to the canvas. He tries going high risk, but Zip straddles him on the turnbuckle again. Billy still manages to get the hot tag and runs wild with right hands. Bart and Skip scuffle on the floor as Billy takes Zip over with a modified sunset flip for three at 8:34. Nothing to get excited for, but fine for what it was. **

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match: Goldust (c) vs. Savio Vega

Goldust won the Championship earlier in the week, and with Vega slowly falling down the depth chart, by 1996 standards I wouldn't expect Savio walking away with the gold. Lockup and Savio goes to work on the left arm. They trade holds until Goldust forces a break in the corner and starts working on his mind-games strategy to draw some questionable heat based on his alleged sexuality. Savio backs Goldust up into the corner with chops. Crisscross and Savio stops to give Goldust a spanking that he seems to enjoy receiving. Whip to the corner and Goldust does the pop-out bump. Savio with mounted punches but Goldust counters by dropping him face-first across the turnbuckle. Goldust with a running hip attack before sending Savio's shoulder into the post. Now it's Goldust's turn to work on the arm. Whip and Savio surprise him with a cross body press, but Goldust quickly regains control. Savio with another teased comeback, cut short by the drop-down uppercut. VINTAGE GOLDUST. Savio fights out of the corner and turns Goldust inside-out with a clothesline, but meets the knees going for a splash. Goldust takes his sweet time climbing the ropes and gets straddled across the turnbuckle. He fights off a Super-Plex attempt but meets a boot on the way down. Savio with right hands and inverted atomic drop. He sends Goldust over the top rope with a clothesline. Goldust tries taking a walk, but Savio sends him back in the ring. He slips out of the Curtain Call but whiffs on a standing heel kick, and Goldust takes a walk at 12:38. Jesus, there's bad finishes and there's lazy finishes. This was the latter. Decent match until the end. *3/4

Shawn Michaels vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Just to give everyone perspective, Michaels is in the midst of a WrestleMania Championship journey, and Helmsley is transitioning from a feud with Henry Godwinn to Duke Droese. That's how far apart they were in the big scheme of the company in January 1996. Lockup and Helmsley bops Michaels with an elbow to break a hammer-lock. Crisscross and Michaels gets tossed, but he skins the cat and sends Helmsley flipping out of the corner and to the floor. I was expecting the Harley Race bump, but we got the Nature Boy, instead. With the pacing and stalling, I expect this to go long. I'm mostly-sure there's an edit, as we see Michaels take Helmsley down and grab an arm bar. Whip to the ropes and they do a series of counters until Shawn picks the legs and literally walks all over Helmsley. Hunter quickly retaliates, hitting Michaels coming off the ropes with an elbow. He unloads with his flurry of boots and right uppercuts. Michaels fires back with rights of his own but Helmsley reverses a whip and muscles Shawn over with a back body-drop before sending him flying over the top rope with a clothesline. Helmsley doesn't give him much time to rest, popping him in the face with a baseball slide. Helmsley gives chase around the ring, sending Michaels into the steps. Back inside, Hunter with more abuse in the corner. Whip and Helmsley with the running high knee for two. Snap mare and he drops a knee across the forehead for two. Whip to the ropes and Hunter grabs a sleeper, but Michaels fights free with elbows to the midsection. Helmsley reapplies the hold, this time broken with a momentum lunge into the corner. Michaels reverses a whip but meets a boot charging in. Helmsley climbs and is slammed down. Michaels tries coming off the top and is met with a fist to the midsection. Whip to the ropes and Michaels with a diving clothesline. He nips up and unloads with rights. He bounces off the ropes with the diving forearm, plants Helmsley with a slam, and comes off the top with an elbow. He sets up for Sweet Chin Music but Hunter powders out. Back inside, Michaels sends Hunter into the corner and now he takes the Race bump to the floor. Suddenly, Owen Hart makes another appearance, hitting the ENZUGUIRI OF DEATH for the Disqualification at 16:05. BUT WAIT! Michaels comes back to life and demands a restart! Helmsley attacks from behind with a knee to the back and gives Michaels a suplex on the arena floor. Back inside, Hunter with more rights and kicks. Whip is reversed and Shawn meets the post. Pedigree is blocked and Michaels finishes with Sweet Chin Music at the 20:00 mark (including the conference with the referee). I hope Owen is getting paid overtime for this performance. Good match that started slow but turned into what we'd be used to from Hunter: an ode to old school heels that isn't terribly exciting by done reasonably well. ***1/4

WWF Championship; Steel Cage Match: Bret "Hitman" Hart (c) vs. Diesel

Oh, goody. I've seen two cage matches between these two from this particular period (one being the PPV snooze-fest) and I have little hope of this one being much better. Bret circles Diesel like prey, despite the obvious size difference favoring the challenger. Diesel catches Bret with a knee to the midsection, but Bret is quick to start putting the boots at the knees. The trade blows, and that's going in Diesel's favor every day of the week. Bret blocks being rammed into the cage and gives Diesel a taste of the cold, hard steel instead. Bret climbs, but Diesel is able to grab him without having to leave his feet. Diesel climbs up too and punishes Bret with more knee lifts. Bret keeps going for the leg to chop the big man down to the canvas. Bret climbs until he notices Diesel going for the door and has to cut him off. Diesel withstands the punishment and hits a side slam (Dino Bravo would be proud of that move). Bret straddles Diesel attempting to escape and goes back to the leg. Bret is practically to the floor, but Diesel somehow pulls him back over to keep the match going and slams him half-way across the ring. Whip to the corner, Bret brings up the boot and hits a clothesline from the middle rope. Diesel stops another escape and sends Bret chest-first to the turnbuckle. They fight for the door, with neither man successfully making their exit. I bet you can't guess what Bret's next plan of attack is. If you said, "work the leg", a winner is you. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter, but Diesel thumbs the eye to block. Bret punishes the back with headbutts and takes Diesel down with a Russian leg sweep. Bret climbs and Diesel casually hits him low, causing Bret to drop down and straddle across the top rope. Diesel's knee is so wrecked at this point he crumbles to the canvas, and now both men are incapacitated. Bret climbs and Diesel goes for the door, with Bret reaching the floor first to retain at 13:22. Post-match, Diesel sends Bret back into the cage to dish out some more punishment until THE UNDERTAKER makes an appearance. Woah, here's SHAWN MICHAELS and we've got Shawn and Bret brawling with Taker and Diesel in the opposite side of the ring going at it too! The locker room empties to restore order, and that's how you build to a Main Event for the next card at MSG. Maybe I'm feeling it, but this was much more watchable than the other cage matches between the two. ***

Final Thoughts: Not much to speak of until the final two matches, with the post-match of the Main Event setting up the big tag team match when the WWF returned to the Garden on March 17th. I'm not sure if I have that show on tape, but I'm sure the tag match between Bret/Taker and Shawn/Diesel is on a DVD/Blu Ray release that I've covered in the last few years. As for this show, the muddy video quality is a big negative, so despite two strong matches on top, I can't give a recommendation unless a better quality video is available.

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