Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels
8 June, 1997
Civic Center; Providence, RI USA
Part 2 Part 3
Reviewed by the suggestion of RP Ludwig.
Shawn Michaels looks stoned out of his mind on the way to the ring. It kinda goes down hill from there. Michaels looks totally disinterested at the beginning of this match, and it gets even rougher when a young mentally challenged boy hops the ringside rail. For whatever reason, Michaels decides to leave the ring (I imagine to diffuse the situation; the kid isn't trying to "go after" anyone from what I can tell, it looks like he just decided to hop the rail to "help Shawn"). Austin obviously has no clue what is going, on, so he nails HBK from behind, and in the process appears to knock over the kid and security surrounding him at ringside. For the next couple minutes we have a weird brawl outside the ring, before everyone kinda takes a "time out" and they get the kid away from ringside.
This obviously screws up the timing of the wrestlers, and for the next ten minutes or so, they exchange holds and do basic wrestling maneuvers. It is kinda boring, although in a way, it is pretty good from a technical perspective. It is somewhat boring, because it is slow paced, and it just seems like they are stalling for some reason. They never seem to be firing on all cylinders and getting this match moving. After a heated back and forth exchange, Austin sends Michaels into the ropes, where he runs into a cameraman who appeared to be on or close to the apron. I dunno if that caused something to click with Michaels or what, but from that point on the pace picks up, and the match is a pretty nice back and forth match.
I think my issue with the match is that both of these guys are supposed to be babyface fan favorites here, and Austin is totally wrestling as an evil rudo, and Michaels is not really playing a strong babyface either. The reason a heel/face dynamic works is that the rudo gets heat on the babyface, and then the crowd will go nuts for the big comeback of the babyface. What you have here is a face vs. face match that somewhat divides the fans, but you also have Austin playing the heel, and Shawn not playing "face in peril" to get Austin that heat.
A matchup between two fan favorites can work - but the dynamic of the match needs to find a balance where the fans can cheer for both men. Although there are several ways to do that, none of those options are taken here, so you have Austin playing the blatant heel with HBK not allowing him to get his heat. These guys are the tag team champions together and are supposed to be fighting against the Hart Foundation, but instead you have them against each other, and it seems that the fans do not want to cheer anybody.
On top of that, you have a ridiculous finish. Austin mistakenly clotheslines the referee, which in turn leads to Austin giving him a Stunner. This is an obvious example of Austin working as the heel here, as there is no discernible reason that Austin could be justified in doing this as a hero. What, is Austin upset that Tim White couldn't count the pinfall? Well, that would be the fault of the man who clotheslined him (Austin). When the second referee, Mike Chioda, comes into the ring, after Michaels hits Austin with the Superkick, Chioda slides right past HBK as he covers Austin, to check on White. In all the years I have been watching wrestling, I have never seen this before. So, when Chioda finally turns to count the pinfall, he gets Superkicked as well. Michaels, who is a babyface here, at least has a justification for his action that Austin didn't have. When third referee Earl Hebner hits the ring, he declares a double disqualification and everyone goes to the showers.
Why not just have Austin and Michaels wrestle to a time limit draw? Or, why not have Austin accidentally clothesline White. Austin, upset at himself, tries to revive White, but Michales goes for a superkick on Austin. Austion ducks, hits Michaels with the Stunner. After ringside folk check on White while Austin has HBK covered, Chioda slides into the ring and quickly counts the pinfall, but HBK kicks out. Austin could then have argued with Chioda about how long he had Michaels covered, and then given him the Stunner. As Austin flips off the downed Chioda, Michaels staggers up and hits a desperation Superkick, and both men are down for the count. Then, you have time expire.
Simple, and virtually the same ending. Why you would have had a match between two fan favorites laid out this way, with this horrid finish, is beyond me. The kid jumping the railing at the beginning didn't help things, and knowing the backstage drama at this time with HBK (and him perhaps being under the influence), that probably had an influence. This match was a huge disappointment.