We have reached the end of September, and WWE plans to commemorate the occasion with an NXT pay-per-view: No Mercy. As such, it seemed like a good idea to look back at a past September show, which brings us to In Your House: Mind Games.
This show — which emanated from the then-CoreStates Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia — featured six matches on the main card. In the main event, Mankind — fresh off of beating The Undertaker in a Boiler Room Brawl at SummerSlam 1996 — challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship (likely a reward for easily giving Taker his most compelling feud).
By In Your House standards, the PPV did okay commercially, bringing in 120,000 buys (which was only 37,000 less than SummerSlam), but was this show okay from a critical standpoint? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss (somewhat) today.
What went right/wrong at In Your House: Mind Games?
Right: ECW “invades” In Your House
Mind Games kicked off with a Caribbean Strap match between Savio Vega and Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw (the future John “Bradshaw” Layfield). If that stipulation gave you hope for a brutal brawl, then you need to adjust your expectations, especially since this was 1996 WWF.
Vega tried to get the crowd into it with some strap shots to Bradshaw, but that only made this one slightly less boring and pointless than it would’ve been. However, this was likely by design, as the match featured some “unexpected” guests from Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Early in the contest, ECW’s The Sandman (who was not named by the announcers) doused Vega with his customary beer before “security” escorted him and Tommy Dreamer from the arena, an early instance of the local promotion’s working relationship with the WWF (which led to more substantial angles in 1997).
So, at the very least, this added some historical significance to an uneventful opener and gave a sanitized WWF product a slight element of unpredictability.
Wrong: Fake Diesel and Razor Ramon
We only saw a bit of “Diesel” and “Razor Ramon” on this show — they attacked Savio Vega without showing their faces — but even those brief appearances are annoying enough when you know the reasoning behind the storyline and how it turns out.
As a reminder, the WWF started a storyline around this time where Jim Ross teased that “Diesel” and “Ramon” had signed with the WWF. Of course, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall — the men who respectively portrayed Diesel and Ramon — left the WWF in early 1996 to join WCW, but the WWF apparently believed that those gimmicks could get anyone over, and handed them to Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs. Worse yet, the story was also used to turn Ross heel for no good reason.
This wouldn’t be the last attempt by WWE to undermine wrestlers’ value to the company, and it shows how petty and delusional the people in charge were (and still are, to some extent).
Right: The British Bulldog and Owen Hart win the WWF Tag Team Championship
Pitting the Smoking Gunns against Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart seemed like a bizarre choice — both teams went into the match as heels — and it somewhat impacted the crowd’s interest in this one, but they eventually rallied behind the challengers, understandably so.
Perhaps the WWF knew that the relatively shrewd crowd would gravitate to the smark favorites in Hart and Smith, and it’s probably why they won the tag team championship. Even if it wasn’t, the promotion made the right choice.
Even with a heel turn and Sunny as a manager, the Gunns didn’t have much juice as tag team champs, and with a more interesting team on the other side, the decision became clear.
Wrong: Unnecessary matches
Fans only had to pay $20 for this show, but that didn’t give the WWF license to fill the In Your House midcard with matches that they would barely accept on television (even by mid-90s standards).
Wasting a PPV spot on Jim Cornette vs. Jose Lothario is one thing — one could argue that fans would enjoy seeing heat magnet Cornette get beat up, but that match could’ve happened on Raw — but putting the then-very green Mark Henry on the show far before he was ready exposed the company’s thin roster depth, especially when compared to WCW.
Right and Wrong: Shawn Michaels and Mankind tear it up…and are let down by a cheap finish
Like most WWF shows in the ’90s, the company turned to world champion Shawn Michaels to save the show. As always, “The Heartbreak Kid” was up to the task, and so was his In Your House: Mind Games dance partner: Mankind.
Around this time, Michaels had a reputation for leaning more on spots than psychology, but he showed in this match how overstated those criticisms were, doing things like stomping on Mankind’s hand to prevent the Mandible Claw or working over his knee after they careened into the steps.
He conformed well to Mankind’s brutish style and the combination created the most vicious match wrestlers could have in this era of the WWF. It is an underrated gem that gets lost in history too easily.
Part of the reason for that is the finish. Michaels had the match won after hitting a leaping superkick to the challenger, but before he got the pin, Vader ran to the ring to draw the disqualification.
WWE booked this finish to keep the Michaels/Vader feud alive and to keep Mankind from taking a pin, but this made the show feel like an even bigger waste of time. Plus, knowing that the plans to put the WWF Title on Vader never materialized makes this look worse in hindsight.