Many fans would dismiss the idea of 1996 WWE being worthy of a retrospective. Yet even though it was a year that the WCW, courtesy of the New World Order, became the “number one” (in America at least) the idea that nothing of any interest or note was happening in the WWE at that time would be a fallacy. Welcome, to the Prelude To Attitude.
Of course marketing-wise it’s linked into the “Attitude” era to draw in those with fond memories of that period of time. There are hints of what would be to come during this two-disc compilation as well as some choice wrestling action.
It’s a straight compilation so no links or historical explanations here. We kick off at the Royal Rumble with the Intercontinental Championship Match between Razor Ramon and Goldust. Many thought Vince (and Dustin Rhodes) had lost their mind with the Goldust character though it proved, one way or the other, to have amazing longevity. The match itself isn’t a classic but as an indication of what the WWE might become it’s still quite fascinating.
From there we go to the subsequent RAW where Vader, one night after debuting in the WWE, destroys Gorilla Monsoon in what was a very effective angle that (despite his suspension as a result) marked Vader as the top heel prospect in the company. Even if we all know how that went… Prelude To Attitude continues with Shawn Michaels against Owen Hart from In Your House seeing the WrestleMania title shot that Shawn won at the Rumble on the line. And if the result is never in doubt it is still a typically strong effort from both men. Bret Hart against Hunter Hearst Helmsley from Raw is not bad either, though clearly is here because of who is against who rather than it being an all-time classic.
The debut of Mankind is covered, before we get the No Holds Barred match from April’s In Your House pitting newly crowned World Champion Shawn Michaels against Diesel. It’s an excellent match with a few surprising twists for those who haven’t seen it before. It was also, of course, Diesel’s final PPV appearance for the WWE before jumping ship to WCW.
Marc Mero against HHH from Beware of Dog again is ok but seems to be here more because Hunter is in it than it is an all-time classic. They would go on to have many more famous matches but the King of the Ring clash between The Undertaker and Mankind is a good effort with a shocking (at the time) ending. And we couldn’t have a 1996 retrospective without seeing Steve Austin’s King of the Ring win, defeating Jake Roberts in the final. The match itself is pretty awful, but the post-match coronation promo was genuinely one which changed everything (even if the WWE were a little slow to capitalise on it at first). Sunny getting “slopped” by the Godwinns from Superstars is also here, though who knows why. Disc one finishes with the International Incident main event that pits Shawn Michaels, Sid and Ahmed Johnson against the Camp Cornette trio of Vader, Owen Hart & The British Bulldog. Ostensibly it does its job in terms of setting up the Michaels/Vader Summerslam clash but any good work is largely undone when post-match Shawn comes to life and destroys all the heels anyway.
Disc Two of Prelude To Attitude kicks off with a Raw Invitational Battle Royale where a title match against the champion on the post-Summerslam Raw is up for grabs. As these things go it’s relatively entertaining and it’s amusing to see that a battle royale cuts to three advert breaks during it. As such, and given that there are a decent amount of names in it, it is allowed time to develop and brings in a number of storyline strands.
HBK’s title defences against Vader (Summerslam) and Mankind (Mind Games) are up next. The former is a good effort, despite seemingly cutting Vader’s main event career in the WWE off completely. The match with Mankind is excellent and one of the best of the era. It remains one of Mick Foley’s favourites and stands up well today as one of the best of the era. The non-finish is a shame but shouldn’t detract from the efforts of both men.
The Intercontinental Championship Tournament final between “Wildman” Marc Mero and Faarooq is ok though shorn of any context about what would follow seems a little out of place. The angle where Stone Cold Steve Austin takes out Brian Pillman is a good one and was so famous that the steel chair on the ankle attack that Austin used here became commonly known as being “Pillmanised”. For historic reasons the Survivor Series elimination match that pits Jerry Lawler, HHH, Goldust & Crush against Marc Mero, Jake Roberts, The Stalker (Barry Windham) and an unknown kid called Rocky Maivia had to be included. Say what you like about The Rock’s initial babyface run being a bust, but the WWE clearly saw something in him and pushed him to the moon right from the off.
A much better match from that show is the return of Bret Hart to take on Stone Cold Steve Austin. With their 1997 WrestleMania XIII match being a much more famous clash this one goes a little under the radar but is a fantastic match that, again, holds up well today. It’s about as close to the “Stunning” version of Steve Austin that we would see in the WWE and it’s well worth re-visiting. We close things off with the final PPV main event of the year, from “It’s Time” as Sid defends his World Title (won at Survivor Series against Shawn) against Bret Hart.
The In Your House subtitle might suggest Vader was in line for the belt at some point and he against Bret would have more appeal. That said, considering Sid is in there it’s a good effort and Shawn Michael’s acerbic commentary at ringside is well worth a listen too.
Whilst it’s perhaps a little disappointing that this is just a straight match (and promo) collection with no new footage/links as a two-disc set of wrestling action it’s a very entertaining one. Most matches are either good (whenever HBK is on the screen, Bret/Austin, Taker/Mankind) or have a value from a historic sense (King of the Ring, Rock’s debut) and there’s very little filler on here. It’s a great trip down memory lane and highlights a lot of what was good about a relatively forgotten year in WWE history.
8 out of 10 | Photographs courtesy of Fetch and WWE.
Thank you to WWE Home Video for our review copy of The Best of 1996 – Prelude to Attitude which is out Monday 22 November on DVD. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk by clicking here.