Retro Recap – Unforgiven 1998

Retro recap time!  I got the urge to do an Attitude Era recap as way of pointing out just how not so awesome it could be at times.  The Attitude Era gets way too much credit today, especially by people who like to crap on today’s product.  So here we are in 1998, in the direct aftermath of Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the WWF Championship and being certified as face of the company.  The company was poised to take back the number one spot from WCW, which had been dominating it for over a year.  There was only one problem: Austin needed a rival.  With Bret Hart run out of town and Shawn Michaels out for the next four years with a back injury, that left the Undertaker.  But they had to save him for Summerslam, so someone had to be elevated.  Enter Mick Foley.  Foley would do a snap heel turn while in his Dude Love persona, joining evil owner Vince McMahon to set up the main event here.  Other than that this card was chock full of rematches from previous shows and some call outs to whatever old NWA fans there were in the Greensboro Coliseum, an old stronghold of Jim Crockett Promotions.  So how was this show?

Farooq, Ken Shamrock, and Steve Blackman vs The Nation of Domination (The Rock, Mark Henry, and D Lo Brown)

The Nation had just recently kicked out Farooq (Ron Simmons) as its leader and replaced him with the Rock, still being announced as Rocky Maivia.  Nation member Kama Mustafa was beginning his transition to The Godfather here and was wearing an all black version of what would later be his pimp attire.  Blackman and Shamrock were two of the ‘If Only They Could Talk’ All-Stars; good in the ring but death on the mic.  Henry was still learning his way around the ring and the Rock was still a better character than wrestler.  Consequently Brown did most of the in ring work for his team, both selling and getting in offense on their opponents.  Jim Ross makes a point to stress on commentary that most of the competitors are young, an obvious slap at WCW and it’s 40 year old headliners.  Match wasn’t bad but started to lag after a while, going 13 minutes when 10 would have sufficed.  In what would become a rare occurrence Farooq gets a clean pin on The Rock for the win.  Crowd was pretty hot for this one.

We now get an in ring segment where Austin comes to the ring, gets on the mic, and threatens to beat the crap out of the timekeeper if he screws him as per Vince McMahon’s wishes.  

That was as 1998 Attitude Era as anything; running Austin out there to kill a few minutes in addition to having a match later on.

European Title Match: Triple H (c) vs Owen Hart

Chyna was put in a shark cage for this match to keep her from interfering as she had a month earlier at WrestleMania.  Like Kama Mustafa, Hunter was starting to evolve in that he was still wearing his Hunter Hearst Helmsley robe to the ring while coming out the DX theme music.  Hart was in the midst of a brief post Montreal Screwjob face run before he’d join up with the Nation later.  They really missed a chance for a brief face Owen/heel HBK program between the Screwjob and WrestleMania; obviously Owen wouldn’t have won the title but a couple of great matches between those two would have been a really good way to pass a few months.  Oh yeah, what about the match?  It was ok.  Hunter was still at that phase where he was still relying on everyone else to be interesting (Chyna, DX, etc) so while his ring work was good you didn’t really care much after his entrance.   The trick to any shark cage match is how the person in the cage will manage to get involved despite being in there.  Well here Chyna pulled out a file and cut through the lock, then DX member Road Dogg lowered the cage so she could jump out and go to the ring.  Then while that was going on X-Pac sneaked in and nails Owen to help HHH win.

The Midnight Express vs The Rock n Roll Express

And now, back to 1986!  Not really.  Instead of Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane, or some younger guys who could approximate them, we get a long haired Bob Holly and Bart Gunn vs Ricky and Robert, coming out to the Rockers old theme music.  Yeah……..  This was during the short ‘NWA in the WWF’ phase where the NWA was working with the WWF and letting it’s titles be put on and challenged for by WWF guys.  This show being in Greensboro made it a perfect chance to suck up to the old NWA fanbase by having a reprise of one of the best rivalries in NWA history.  A few ‘Rock n Roll!’ chants broke out, but nobody was checking for the Great Value Midnight Express, even with Jim Cornette in tow.  Cornette comes into the ring at one point to fight the referee, about the only way to get any heat with the crowd here.  This match was a whole lot of meh….the fake Midnight Express wins to keep the titles.  Do yourself a favor and dig up some of the real stuff between these two teams from 1986 to 87 instead.

Evening Gown Match: Sable vs Luna Vachon

Didn’t watch this.  Sorry not sorry.  While there’s plenty of room for legit criticism about the women’s division today all you have to do is go back to this period to see how far they’ve come.

Tag Team Title Match: New Age Outlaws (c) vs LOD 2000

Having washed Hawk and Animal here was another sop to the Greensboro crowd; they were clearly past their prime.  And the crowd knew it so they didn’t get as loud as they would have were it 1988 and not 1998.  Even a rebranding as LOD 2000 and a new manger in Sunny couldn’t convince anyone that their time hadn’t passed.  Match was just ok; Hawk and Animal could still do their old moves but without the same intensity that they used to.  We get a Dusty finish with a double pin, only fitting in Greensboro I guess.  LOD crushes the referee afterwards.

We now get a ‘song’ from Jeff Jarrett backed by country band Sawyer Brown, introduced by Tennessee Lee, formerly Col Parker in WCW.  Yeah, this was bad and another attempt to kill time.  And like any song or wedding or contract signing or trophy presentation it gets interrupted, this time by Steve Blackman.  Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Inferno Match: Undertaker vs Kane

Inferno matches are just dumb.  Having a literal ring of fire on the ring apron is a really stupid idea, as is the goal of the match (tossing your opponent into the flames!).  No exception here.  Kane was still not very good at this point, mostly punching, kicking, no selling, and mimicking his brother’s moves.  For added effect the simmering flames would shoot up every minute or so.  

The effects made for a more compelling match than their WrestleMania encounter; this match wasn’t bad even with the stupid premise.  Anyhow, late in the match Kane manages to get through the ropes without getting burned and tries to bail only to be forced back to the ring by Vader.  Taker does a spectacular tope to the floor and takes out both men, and the fight goes into the bandstand area.  Seeing that alone should reinforce the sentiment that Taker needs to stay retired.  When he was younger and could move it was like night and day compared to now.

Main Event – World Title Match: Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) vs Dude Love

This was your basic Austin brawl, punctuated by Foley taking a lot of offense from Austin early in and out of the ring.  Austin couldn’t take serious bumps at this point so having Foley do most of the selling was the way to go.  He was also largely a punch and kick man at this point, something to keep in mind the next time you want to complain about a certain guy whose last name rhymes with Plains.  A lot of good back and forth throughout, and Foley took a lot of hard bumps.  Austin was a good in ring storyteller and it helps that the crowd was so invested in him that even simple stuff got big reactions.  The finish was real screwy – Vince comes to ringside, eventually gets taken out, the ref gets taken out, and Austin covers Foley while counting three himself.  Then he leaves and Vince crony Gerald Brisco says he’s disqualified…..come on man.

Final Verdict

An ok show at best.  Lots of rehashing (HHH vs Owen, Kane vs Taker, Outlaws vs LOD) and although the Kane-Taker match was a good one, there was a real forgone conclusion factor in some of them.  The fake Midnight Express wasn’t very good, either.  Foley was ready for the main event as far as his in ring work, but hadn’t reached that point characterwise so it looked like a mismatch going in.  Throw in screwy finishes for your two top title matches and a evening gown match and yeah……  This show would get crushed if it ran today for match quality and because it was an obvious placeholder being used to set up future episodes of Monday Night RAW.  It gets by in hindsight on Attitude Era nostalgia and that’s it.  You can really skip it if you’re thinking about watching it.

 

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