By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Steve Austin and Dude Love vs The British Bulldog and Owen Hart
WWF Tag Team Title Match
Whilst I have often decried the decision to put two singles wrestlers together and put them over an established tag team, sometimes the storyline that accompanies it is just too good not to go in that direction. Considering that the WWF had already had Diesel and Shawn Michaels win the belts, with a perhaps more egregious example being the crowning of Michaels and Austin, considering their rivalry at the time, the tag team titles were no longer just for the tag teams, or so it would seem.
Though Owen Hart and The British Bulldog were never a tag team in the classic sense of a Hart Foundation or the Rockers, their close personal relationship always made them feel legitimate in a way that two singles wrestlers teaming rarely does. A substantial title reign after defeating the Smoking Gunns also helped matters, yet the Austin and Michaels defeat felt somewhat detrimental to the division. Even with the star power that Austin and Michaels brought to the contest, it still felt like the collective experience of Bulldog and Hart should have been enough to claim a victory.
It was off the back of the dissolution of the Austin and Michaels team (due to a backstage argument between Michaels and Bret Hart) that an opportunity arose for the reinvigoration of Mick Foley. With the death of the tag team specialists outdoing the singles wrestler narrative, the WWF decided that they might as well use the tag titles as a way to elevate a new gimmick. Having spent weeks trying to convince Austin that he would make the perfect tag team partner, Mick Foley as Mankind had had no success. It was time to switch up the plan.
Entering the match on his own, Austin hit the ring whilst Hart and Bulldog had their back turned, allowing him to initially take control even with the numbers against him. A spinning wheel kick slowed him down for all of a moment, but a ducked enziguri saw Austin try and lock Hart into the sharpshooter. The Bulldog would enter the ring to stop the submission and the numbers game would finally begin to tell as the heels double teamed Austin. Austin would end up getting sent to the outside, dropping throat first on the guard rail and sent careening into the ringsteps.
Before heading to break, a pair of white boots were shown strutting in the backstage area as Vince McMahon loudly proclaimed that Austin’s partner had arrived. However, they hadn’t shown up by the time the show came back on air, as Austin was still struggling to contend with the two-on-one assault. Every time it looked like Austin was making some headway, he would get blindsided by the second man, Hart in particular hitting him with a chop block to slow him down.
Hart took a risk that didn’t pay off, heading to the second rope for an axehandle, only to be met with a punch to the stomach. Austin went for the Stunner, but would be sent into Bulldog, knocking him off the apron. A charging Owen would get backdropped over the top as well, leaving Austin standing tall in the centre of the ring. Just as Austin goaded the former champions, music would hit the PA system and a tie-dye wearing Mick Foley was seen on the Titantron. Foley could understand why Austin didn’t want to team with Mankind, but he’d never said anything about Dude Love.
Dude Love had been the character that Foley had played when taping himself wrestling as a teenager, videos that had been shown on WWF television in the past. Thus, the Dude Love character got a good reaction from the Texas crowd, even more so when Austin made the decision to tag him into the contest after spending the majority of Love’s entrance looking thoroughly perplexed. His charitable nature didn’t extend to accepting a tag a minute later, but a Stunner behind the referee’s back on Bulldog would allow Love to make the cover and win the titles for the newly formed team.
Love handed the title belt to Austin; Austin handed it back to him and offered a handshake too. Out of the ashes of Michaels and Austin sprung a new tag team, and a new opportunity for Foley to show his wrestling chops near the top of the card. That Love became an enduring character is as much due to the strong introduction as anything else. Winning a title with Austin in Texas on your first night? Can’t do much better than that.