People forget that Austin’s rise to the the top wasn’t a straight line from King of the Ring 1996 to the WWF Championship. HHH was actually due to win KOTR 1996, but his involvement with the Kliq and the infamous ‘Curtain Call’ put that to rest for another year. Austin didn’t win the WWF Championship until 1998! In between, he had lots of ups and down…but on the bright side, he fought Triple H (known as Hunter Hearst Helmsley back then!) for the very first time on a PPV headlined by Mankind and The Undertaker in a (you guessed it!) Buried Alive match. And, it was alright? Half-decent?
Stone Cold was due to wrestle Savio Vega, but due to an injury the latter was unable to compete. So, HHH was pushed into the bout…meaning a rare heel vs heel match was on the card! Yes, even after his famous KOTR speech, Stone Cold was still a heel. He ostensibly plays the babyface here and the crowd are half-heartedly cheering for him. But it means the crowd aren’t into the match. And it’s a match that’s all about outside shenanigans than the match itself.
First of all, JR’s microphone keeps cutting out, meaning we only hear half of his commentary. I guess it was something to do with Vince McMahon/a running storyline, but it’s surprisingly distracting. And Vince/Jerry Lawler talk about it more than what’s happening in the ring. At times, I thought of muting the TV, just so I could concentrate on the bout. But even the cameras kept cutting to JR (in the opening minutes, a tech guy comes to sort out JR’s headphone, and the camera focuses on him rather than the two wrestlers!)
Secondly, Mr. Perfect turns up in the last five minutes! It’s something to do with Mr. Perfect starring on Monday Night Raw the following night and a storyline with Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Stone Cold warns Mr. Perfect off (the solitary Steve Austin did not want or need any help!!!), and admittedly the interference only lasts a few minutes. But this is yet another distraction after the commentary chaos.
It’s a shame, as it’s two future WWE legends going head to head for the first time. Before his neck injury at the hands of Owen Hart, Austin was a technical magician in the ring. HHH, a lot lighter back than, was more agile and energetic. It would have been a great opening bout to a PPV without the distractions. Unfortunately, the commentary and Mr. Perfect only serve to devalue the work going on in the ring. Of course, Austin and HHH would go on to have an epic feud in the early 2000s…but I don’t think they ever had a great bout together (the 3 Stages Of Hell bout is very overrated).
Hammy’s Rating: *** (out of 5)
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