Mankind vs. Val Venis (10/17/99)
The night after that, Jim Ross returned on Monday Night Raw to further the Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole feud, rescuing us all from the very awkward, very blown up Grandmaster Sexay and giving the feud levity and weight Cole and King were only capable of when Cole brought up Lawler’s recently deceased mother (Lawler is at times a great promo, and Cole has made for a surprisingly good annoying heel, but I can only take so much bickering before, during, and after a match. Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon are the benchmark for what’s acceptable, and King and Cole went way past that a very long time ago.) Not only does Ross sell a submission move better than 90% of pro-wrestlers (even a goofily applied one, as Cole is capable of), but his promo packed one hell of a punch. It wasn’t just that the words “rat bastard” violate the WWE’s PG protocol or that Ross is actually very underrated when it comes to giving interviews (he could have and would have been a tremendous heel manager on two occasions, had not Fake Razor and Fake Diesel been horrible in every conceivable way and had not Vince Russo determined that the best time to turn Ross heel was after his recovery from Bell’s Palsy), but that Ross speaks simply, with confidence, and without needing to shout his every word.
If bad announcing can make an average match seem horrible (as TNA’s Victory Road event proved), then great announcing can make an average match better, and maybe even memorable. I think Mick Foley may have written somewhere about how disappointed he was in his program with Val Venis, and it probably is one of the great let downs of 1999. For one, they were feuding over an airbrushed sock; ridiculous not only because they airbrushed a sock, but because this sock had special significance to a guy who routinely threw other socks out to the crowd after he’d stuffed them down his opponent’s throat. Granted that airbrushing is a more expensive, perhaps more aesthetically pleasing way to dress up a sock than taking a Sharpie to it, but it was still an incredibly stupid way to put the two together. Worse, the matches they had were nowhere up to the standard the two men were capable of. Foley, when motivated, was an incredible performer able to gel with just about anybody, and Venis was (and maybe still is) one of the most underrated WWE midcard workers ever. It’s pretty clear that this was the program meant to break the glass ceiling for Val, but it had the opposite effect, forever damning him to the steady hand category of wrestlers–good for a match, but not for a main event. It probably doesn’t help that this match is horrifically illogical and should have ended in a DQ no less than four times, but who’s counting?
But nevermind all that. Watch this match and listen to Jim Ross’ play-by-play. There are several typically tremendous Jim Ross moments, like when Mankind is back suplexed onto a chair and Ross says that he mangled it, or the way he calls the testicular claw that ends the match. But this match happens a few days before Mick’s first autobiography comes out, and Ross has read a few chapters of it and knows from calling over five year’s of Foley’s work what he has given to be a professional wrestler. When Val Venis is about to drop a knee on Mankind’s head, Ross says “You know, long-term Mankind may pay for this kind of punishment in his lifetime, but he’s giving it all he’s got.” I don’t know why, but I like that call as much as I like anything he said during the Mankind/Undertaker Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring ’98. It seems so genuine and heartfelt, nothing at all like “KNEE TO THE BACK OF THE SKULL,” which is what you’d get if this match were wrestled this year. It didn’t give me chills or anything, but it made me feel for the competitor in the ring. When you can say that about a call during a lackluster match in the middle of a show, that’s saying something.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.