It’s coming up to 20 years.
20 years since I started to lose the passion for wrestling I had had since I was a kid in the 70s. I continued to wrestle for just over another decade, and I still watched the programming… Then came 2007. By 2013 I was done.
But 1999 was when it all started to lose its appeal. I had a match on June 12. It was probably the best I ever went in the ring. I was pinned after a little over ten minutes, but I wasn’t doing it for me. I wasn’t even doing it for the crowd (all 90-odd that turned up). I was doing it because I had to prove to myself that I still loved doing this.
Because in May 1999 one of my favourite wrestlers died.
He died in the ring after a stupid accident for a cartoon stunt that he was forced to do (if you believe the stories) because he was being punished for his brother leaving the (then) WWF.
Owen Hart fell from the roof of a sports arena, landed on a freakin’ ring-post and died…
Just like that. He was gone.
It’s coming up to 20 years.
I pulled out the old VHS tape I made of Raw Is War the next night. I’m 50 years old now, so I thought it would be interesting to go back and watch this show.
I am FIFTY.
I teared up. I actually had a tear in my eye. How can something that happened so long ago to a guy I never even met do this to me, a grown adult with kids, post-grad university qualifications, an ex-wife and a life of experiences? Still, I watched it.
We open with the standard Raw opening. “Attitude” it says.
The ramp-way is filled with the locker-room and the McMahons while the crowd chants, “O-wen! O-wen!” over and over. This is sombre. The crowd rises for the Fink and we get the 10 bell salute. And the crowd actually, for the most part, falls silent. Peoples are crying. This is not going to be easy on anyone. Jeff Jarrett looks inconsolable.
A video tribute to Owen is played, narrated by Vince McMahon. It sounds sincere. There’s even video footage of Bret and British Bulldog – I would have thought that was a no-no at this time of the Monday Night Wars. This really affected them at Titan Towers.
Stephanie McMahon is shown when we come back crying (well, she was a kid back then); Vince looks like he’s struggling. It is then announced all of Raw will be a 2 hour tribute to Owen. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler sound like they are struggling right from the word go.
I should also point out that well over half the performers are wearing black armbands in honour of Owen tonight.
First video tribute comes from Mick Foley. He tells how his son Dewey (who I believe now works for WWE) considered Owen his favourite wrestler. Mick holds it together and he focuses on family. Nice way to start. He loses it at the end.
Bradshaw (before he was JBL) next and he talks about Owen saving money for his family. Family is his theme as well. Another good one.
First match. Jeff Jarrett (with Debra) v Test (Andrew Martin in TNA). Jarrett was one of Owen’s good friends and his tag team partner at the time, so kudos to him for even coming out and doing this on this night. Now, I don’t do play-by-play, so deal with it. Nice back and forth match, both guys pulling out the stops here. Debra runs the stripping distraction (on a tribute show? Really?) and Jarrett locks in the sharp-shooter as a tribute to Owen for the submission win. Short but decent match. A motivated Jarrett is a good Jarrett. (See WCW 2000 for the opposite).
Mark Henry reads a poem that he apparently wrote. Not too shabby. Some nice verbal visualisations there. He struggles, and we have crier number one. He has to force himself to finish.
Droz next. Newbie, and he talks Owen’s personality. Not much to see here. However, he still clearly feels it. Considering what ended up happening to him… Yeah, this show is depressing.
Next up – tag team champions X-Pac (Sean Waltman) & Kane v Edge & Gangrel (of the Brood) (with Christian). The Brood use the Freebird rule of 3 men, any 2 can be tag team partners. Edge v X-Pac was a good pairing, Edge v Kane was not too bad, anybody v Gangrel was… okay. Going alone to Edge & Christian (with 5 second pose) was the best thing they did. Decent enough little match, carried by X-Pac and Edge. Kane chokeslams Gangrel then press slams X-Pac onto him for the pin.
Triple-H and Chyna are next. Chyna starts and she talks calmly about Owen outside the ring and the happiness he brought. Triple-H is next. He loses it completely and struggles. This feels incredibly real and I started to tear up about here. He can’t speak for a while and when he does he talks through tears about Owen being the best of people. He even says Owen had balls. High praise from the man. This had to be real; he would not cry for effect, it went so against his character. This is such a break of character it was mind-numbing at the time, and still resonates.
Dave Hebner is next. He reiterates the happiness and goodness Owen brought. He loses it, too. Owen tying his shoes together when he went for the count reffing a match is something that made me laugh, and I wonder how the hell he did it.
Now we have The Hardy Boyz (with Michael Hayes… speaking of Freebirds) v TAKA Michinoku & Funaki. This is a great little match. These 4 guys could really go when motivated, and tonight everyone seems motivated so far. High-flying and fast-moving. I enjoyed this match-up. JR botched a call – corkscrew 450 called a corkscrew moonsault, but this is out of his old school comfort zone, and look at the emotion of the night, so he can be forgiven. Hayes helps out, we’re in and out of the ring. Matt pins Funaki with a twist of fate (not called as such yet) for the win.
Bruce Prichard talks of Owen’s joking and his performing. Short, sharp and shiny.
Dustin Runnels next. Called that, not Dustin Rhodes or Goldust. Wow. Unheard of at the time. He tells a story about Owen adding hot sauce to Harley’s chilli, resulting in Harley chasing Owen with a stun gun. Nice story. That is a good way to remember a friend/colleague.
Hardcore Holly v Ken Shamrock. I always liked Shamrock; I just wished he’d been allowed to do more. Shamrock is on fire, even hitting a Northern Lights suplex. Shamrock hits a rana as well! Wow! Shamrock locks in the ankle lock for the pin. Just an extended work-out for Shamrock. Harmless and showcasing Shamrock’s skills.
Farooq (not Ron Simmons) talks about a love for Owen and missing him. He has that anger sound in his voice, which is not uncommon in grief.
And Test tells a tale of talking to an alleged promotor and being blamed for cancelling a show. Funny story. But the punchline is tough – he only found out that very morning that it had been Owen all along. He’d been ribbed, and he didn’t know until after Owen died. I don’t… This made me feel uncomfortable.
I should mention the commentary (JR and the King). It is a lot more subdued (because – duh!) and it is really good to hear these two actually call the wrestling, interjecting little Owen stories throughout.
‘Mr Ass’ Billy Gunn v Mankind. Gunn on the mic: “If you’re not down with Owen Hart, I’ve got two words for ya…” Crowd: “Suck it!” JR talks about Owen hiding his hat while the wrestlers do the feeling out thing. Decent little back and forth match by two veterans. Again, when motivated, good matches happen. Gunn goes after the knee, grabs a chair, but walks into a Mr Socko mandible claw. Even though Gunn is on the apron, Mankind is called the winner (which confuses JR and rightly so). Still, for such a little match, not bad. Foley then grabs the mic and gives a ‘Woo’ for Owen Hart.
Jeff Jarrett next for the tribute. He really loses it. He clearly loves Owen. This is when my own tears started. I’m 50! This was 20 years ago! Why is this doing this to me? This is the most heart-rending thing in this show. Still tough to watch. His emotions are raw and honest and open. Wow. I mean… wow.
I have to pause the tape and collect myself.
Come back, press PLAY and Michael Cole is outside and introduces highlights of Triple H v Rock and Undertaker v Austin from the PPV, which was incredibly good of the WWF because they did not allow a replay of the show. They actually looked after the fans. Mind you, the Austin/Undertaker match was all story-line with not great wrestling… but if you can catch Rock/HHH, it’s not too shabby.
Edge talks about the Canadian mafia, of which Owen was the leader. He clearly looked up to Owen. He also talks about Owen’s ability to make people laugh. He wrestled Owen in his last match, and that so obviously means something to Edge. He’s also struggling. I felt this one as well…
D-Lo Brown & Mark Henry (with Ivory) v The Acolytes (Farooq & Bradshaw). Now Farooq is allowed to be referred to as Ron Simmons. JR: “Owen’s probably already playing ribs on St Peter…” King tells a story about Owen starting a fight between Bradshaw and Steve Blackman. Match is nothing special, but not horrible or anything, just maybe dull. Miscommunication between Acolytes allows D-Lo Brown to roll up Bradshaw for the upset pin.
Pat Patterson next talks positive things about Owen. He loses it at the end.
Hardcore Holly now. He gives the highest praise to Owen – Owen volunteered to put Holly over in Holly’s home town. That shows the sort of man Owen was. This says more about Owen than most. He was a genuinely nice guy (aggravating sometimes, apparently) and didn’t do things just for Owen. Holly struggles, but somehow keeps it together.
Road Dogg v The Godfather (with Ho Train) (IC Champ). Road Dogg doesn’t finish his sing-along spiel because this is about Owen, not him. Wow. That says something. But the match doesn’t happen. Godfather comes out. Gets on the mic, does his usual, then says he and Dogg should just go share some beers, some spliff and some hos, and tell Owen stories. Road Dogg agrees and they walk off together. Well, that was… odd.
Paul Bearer recites the opening of Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’. To many, that is the Ode of Remembrance, and it means a lot. I think it’s apt here.
X-Pac talks now about Owen’s sense of humour. He’s struggling to hold it together. This affected me as well, and I’m really not sure why.
Al Snow (Hardcore Champ) (with Head) v HHH (with Chyna). Non-title, non-hardcore. Al starts off well, HHH takes over, Chyna gets her cheap shot in, HHH continues to dominate. Al comes back. Again – motivation does wonders. Al misses a top rope moonsault, HHH hits the pedigree for the pin.
Road Dogg struggles from the get-go. Short and heart-felt.
Gerald Brisco talks of how he related to Owen, and it makes sense. Calm and collected. Felt maybe a little rehearsed.
Big Show v Goldust and The Blue Meanie. Ahh, the Meanie’s cup of coffee in the WWF. Big Show vaults into the ring! Paul Wight had amazing athleticism for a guy of his size. Handicap match. Show takes them both out with a double flying clothesline. Chokeslams for both, pins them both – Squash City. Too short to be anything.
Debra (women’s champ at the time, later Steve Austin’s ex-wife) waffles a bit, but she is obviously sincere with what she is saying.
Shane McMahon talks Owen’s pranks, and even tells a Bret Hart/Owen Hart story! Shane loses it. Short, and another one that got to me. Just the way he couldn’t hold it in.
Val Venis v The Rock. Val mentions Owen, Rock mentions Owen. Val works on the Rock’s ‘broken arm’ until a Rock Bottom and People’s elbow out of nowhere finish it just like that. Well, that was… short.
JR and The King talk live about Owen. JR loses it; King talks about Owen’s last moments. King also struggles. Don’t go out without telling your loved ones you love them. This was the last thing that got to me.
Steve Austin comes out to end it. He doesn’t say anything, but leaves a beer in the ring. This was the part that frustrated me about the show. Austin did not like Owen (broken necks do that to people) and even held him down (allegedly), and, further, Owen didn’t drink. For him to finish the show was just pandering to the crowd, not doing anything for the memory of Owen.
But, that aside, what a show. 10 matches. One didn’t happen, the other 9 ended clean. No DQ’s, no screw-jobs, just wrestling in the ring. That was unheard of in 1999. But it wasn’t about the wrestling. It was about celebrating. And that it did. In spades.
The fact I still find it hard to watch at times says more about me, I guess, than the show. The thing was, this was real.
Now, look at the performers on show here. Three other people have since died with one a quadriplegic now (and that actually seems to be a really low number, all things considered), but I didn’t feel anything seeing them. What’s really odd is that over half the people still wrestle for (even if part-time) WWE. Twenty years later.
But this show…
I’m glad I watched it again. But maybe I’ll wait another 20 years before I try next time.
Tags: raw is war, retro raw, WWF