Listen to our February 1997 WWF podcast, reviewing the angle where Shawn Michaels "lost his smile" and when ECW took over Raw.
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Shawn Loses His Smile – The latest in the ongoing saga of Shawn Michaels saw him come to Raw for "Thursday Raw Thursday" and forfeit his WWF Title. The promo is famous for the line where Shawn says "most of all, I lost my smile" but is otherwise a quite listless effort, Shawn jumps from one emotion to another with very little rhyme or reason (and not in a way that really befit the situation). More pertinently was the crowd reaction – a minute into it they started chanting, quite loudly, for Sid. Not the best.
You What? - The ongoing feud between Taskmaster and Chris Benoit had a new part, as Sullivan had his own woman by his side – Miss Jacquelyn. Anyway... while the feud was starting to gain traction by osmosis if not just brute force, the minute by minute still continued to make no sense. No more so than a promo that Sullivan cut on February 10th. Well, it would've been a promo, save for the fact Sullivan opened with the line "this isn't a wrestling interview". What followed was a listless shoot – referencing a phone call with "Paul E." (who was was having a busy month in the Monday Night War), before telling how he was having a major part in a ratings success. Much like his marriage with "Nancy" - that was never mentioned and just assumed, they were assuming everyone knew he was booker.
Raw Goes Extreme – With Raw's expansion to two hours being a late call, they had a Monday that needed a show but the bulk of the crowd in Europe on tour. So they did what they do? What anyone would've done – they called in ECW! Six months removed from a two night angle they had Jerry Lawler call out Paul Heyman and ECW, only for the group to answer the challenge on Raw at the Manhatten Cent the following week.
The whole thing was almost bizarre: opening with the Eliminators hitting their total elimination finisher on a stage hand, we then had a series of ECW matches between ECW guys. It came to a head during the final match when Lawler and Heyman (on commentary) started arguing before having to be pulled apart in a heated and quite shooty segment. As Lawler said: ECW should be very thankful they were being given a platform to promote their PPV on. Quite what the WWF got out of it, beyond a few forgettable matches, is anyone's guess.
Steinerised – Well, we'll put this one down as one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. We open Nitro on February 17th with Tony Schiavone saying they'd had reports that the Steiners had been involved in a car accident. Cut to Hall, Nash and Syxx coming out and saying they had video tape footage (shot from inside the car with Syxx's handheld camera), that absolved them of any blame in the incident. Never mind that they were never really suspected until they volunteered the footage, but more pertinently that the footage absolutely put them in it.
The three minute clip, viewable here, is bizarre. The Outsiders spot the Steiners coming out of a petrol station (think you yanks call it a gas station) - and then they just tail them. This is all very becalmed until Nash rams the car into the back of the Steiners' car. There's about 20 seconds of the cars travelling quite quickly side by side down a relatively narrow road, before a shaky-cam jump cut transitions into a stunt car being flipped by a pneumatic ramp at the side of the road (the ramp is hidden well enough) and the car ends up on its back. It was memorable, but it made almost no sense. Why would the Outsiders even volunteer the footage? Why would WCW show it? Where were the police?
ECW Rules – The ECW angle on Raw actually started the week before. With a lot of the WWF crew on tour and unavailable for the final show in February, they partially setup the ECW invasion as a way to fill a two hour show that as of about a month previously didn't exist. Lawler, on commentary, pulled a sign from a fan in the crowd before running down ECW "What athletes do they have? The Blue Meanie? Sandman?" Paul E later phoned in and said he’d accept Lawler’s challenge next week, providing law enforcement would let Lawler into the area (a not particularly well-veiled reference to Lawler’s past legal troubles).
The Rock – No... not that one – Alcatraz! With Superbrawl in San Francisco, Roddy Piper decided the best course of action was to spend his week at the old Alcatraz prison. Cut to a great, emotional Roddy Promo from inside a cell... I mean, why not? Like most things Piper did, if you try to break it down it all made little sense (how would preparing for a world title match in an old prison be remotely good for him?) - but Piper's delivery saved it. He stayed there for the rest of the week, before Superbrawl opened with a video of him leaving the island.
The Most Dangerous Man In The World – The WWF signed UFC fighter Ken Shamrock in February 1997 to a $1m a year contract, ending Shamrock's days as an MMA fighter, at least for now. Let's be clear here, as we've documented on the MMA 20 Years Ago Podcast, Shamrock was a big deal at the time, and a PPV draw the likes of which WWF had very few contemporaries. So how do they debut him? On the February 24th Raw we cut to the front row at the Manhatten Center, only to see a puzzled Shamrock with Vince McMahon saying "I beleve that's Ken Shamrock". The rest of the presentation left a lot to be desired too, with Shamrock being made to sit through some truly awful stuff (a Savio Vega match, a women's arm wrestling contest and even being interviewed by Tod Pettengil). Still, they just about got there – Shamrock had arrived in the WWF.
Rocky Sucks – We opened the special edition of the horrendously named “Thursday Raw Thursday” with a match between Rocky Maivia and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. If you were hoping for a serious dose of nostalgia, you’d perhaps be left wanting after a flat, formulaic match in front of a best half interested crowd. But we did get some early “Rocky sucks” chants out of them, and after an appearance from Honky Tonk Man, Rocky won the title after playing possum and getting the inside cradle on the surprised Helmsley. Rocky winning his first singles title, being presented as an underdog despite being pushed to the hills. Remind you of anyone?
Something Is Going On – After putting away The Renegade with a super Diamond Cutter, Dallas Page was greeted by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash stood on the entrance way carrying lead pipes. It was reminiscent of arguably the best angle of 1996, except this time the Outsiders were interrupted in the stands by both Sting and (clad in black and white) Randy Savage. The segment ended in a stalemate, but sometimes you can get an angle over with what you don’t do – as Bobby Heenan said: “Something is going on here” – we just didn’t quite know what, yet.
Sid – I think this goes down as the first WWF title change on Raw (if you can overlook the Diesel title win over Backlund, which happened at a live event but aired – the full nine seconds – on TV). After Michaels forfeited his title, Bret Hart won the four way at In Your House: Final Four over Steve Austin, Vader and Undertaker – earning him the title with an immediate defense against Sid the next night. After a twice abandoned match (thanks to Austin getting involved) they finally closed the show with a surprisingly decent match, and one that far exceeded their outing at In Your House: It's Time in December. Sid busted out a sunset flip and a second rope leg drop, only to win after Austin hit Bret with a chair. We had a new Champion.
Leader Of The Opposition – It's still fucking Jim Duggan. I swear – with just about everyone, mysteriously, being unsure about where they stood on the NWO group since it formed, the only guy you can point to on the WCW roster who has been unwavering in his pro WCW stance has been Jim Duggan. After a squash victory on Nitro, Duggan cut a promo bemoaning Randy Savage's turn to join the group. With Sting, DDP, the horsemen and others all inconsistent with their treatment of the group (even if Page is now fully against them) - at least good ol' Hacksaw has our back.
Dark Match – Raw’s move to two hours, which started at the beginning of February, seemed for all the world to a very quick decision, as based on venues the WWF had (and, more crucially, hadn’t) booked for Raw tapings we’re able to cover the new nights they needed. So along with adding in tapings at the Manhatten Center they also did the show on February 3rd from the Toronto Skydome that was clearly originally slated to be a house show. While the attendance was clearly big, the lighting looked like a dingy WWF show from the early 1980s and really made you appreciate the modern lighting of TV shows.
Unpicking The Iceman – February 24th 1997, mark the date in your calendars – some genuine character development from Dean Malenko. While Malenko was proving why he was in the top 5 wrestlers in North America on a weekly basis, it was hard to get into him when his character was non-existant. So, after some fuckery with Eddie Guerrero and Syxx that cost him his Crusierweight Title, Malenko finally got some mic time – and he was pissed off. It wasn't quite the reaction he got on his final night in the ECW arena, but it was progress.
Chyna – The bulk of it happened on the PPV, but a mention for it here as she did appear on Raw also, jumping over the guardrial and getting a brief attack in before being escorted away.