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1997 marked only the second time the WWF had ran a pay per view between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. In many ways it’s always in an awkward spot – the Royal Rumble decides generally both the challenger and the champion for Wrestlemania, so anything in between is always in a tough spot. As they did in 1996 and as they have done in many many years since, they had to manufacture something to fill the show in between to try and create intrigue without undoing too much of what had already been done. After a fucked finish in the Rumble match, the In Your House had been setup for a four corners elimination match involving the tainted Rumble winner (Steve Austin) and three of the men he illegally eliminated (Vader, Undertaker and Bret Hart – although strangely not Diesel).
And then Shawn Michaels “injured his knee”.
The validity of the story is widely known. Shawn very likely had injured his knee, but whether it was anywhere near as severe as was being made out was quite another story. Michaels appeared on “Thursday Raw Thursday” ahead of the pay per view and announced that he had an uncertain future and in a teary promo forfeited the WWF Title before saying that he’d “lost his smile” somewhere in the past six months. It was a promo that should’ve carried serious gravitas, but clearly something was awry when the crowd started chanting for Sid about a minute into Michaels promo. Michaels walked off, with comments from Jim Ross saying it’d could be the last time we see Michaels in the ring.
But something was off... Michaels had previous here. In 1993 Shawn Michaels forfeited the WWF Intercontinental Title, in 1994 Shawn and Diesel forfeited the WWF tag team titles and in 1995 Shawn forfeited the Intercontinental Title – although in that case at least there were circumstances beyond Michaels that probably forced Michaels hand. But that was always the point, wasn’t it? There was always a reason never to do the job. Whether that was to Bret at Wrestlemania or indeed, in addition, to Sid that very night, it’s hard to be clear; but something was likely up.
Still, it caused an almighty scramble in the WWF, as it only really became apparent the day before the Raw that Michaels would be forfeiting the title and would be out indefinitely. They made the decision to largely go unchanged, with the slated four way match to go as planned – although with an added over the top stip that likely would’ve been made regardless – and Sid facing the winner of the now title match on the next Raw. Otherwise this was a nothing show going in, Rocky Maivia won the Intercontinental Title off of Hunter Hearst Helmsley thanks to a roll up, but other than that rematch and a long overdue title match between Owen/Bulldog against Furnas/Lafon there wasn’t anything of note on the card. It’d show, too.
Wildman Marc Mero (w/ Sable) vs Leaf Cassidy
They’ve given Wildman a bit of a change of look, as has Sable (sunglasses indoors), but this match was a real let down. Go back to 1995 and Cassidy (Al Snow) was involved in arguably the best match of the entire year, and Mero (as Johnny B Badd) was a riot in 1995 too. This just didn’t work, the action was too slow, too deliberate, and the crowd doesn’t care about either guy. More the shame, as I feel like these two are capable of working a far more exciting match – although it is possible Mero was carrying a knee injury by this point. As it was, Cassidy shapes to hit Sable, who pulls him into harms way – as Mero takes him down, then hits a shooting star press for the win. It was OK, but could’ve been so much more.
Bart Gunn, Flash Funk and Goldust vs The Nation Of Domination (Farooq, Crush and Savio Vega w/ The rest of the Nation)
What is there to say about this group of guys? Probably that I feel for Scorpio (Funk) that he’s being dragged down to this level (he was losing to The Sultan in house shows at this stage). This match sucked – the fans weren’t into the faces (Goldust’s turn really hasn’t stuck) and the heels are a group that is far stronger than the sum of their parts (That is to say: not very strong in either sense). This ends with Gunn coming off the top rope with a bulldog, Crush turns it over with a leg drop and the Nation win. Make it stop.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs Rocky Maivia for the WWF Intercontinental Title
So with Helmsley struggling to really gain any traction or any credible opponents they put him in the ring with someone much greener? This was really sloppy – both men fucked up at points, including Rocky screwing up a DDT to the point where Helmsley ended up driving his own head pretty hard into the mat. The crowd, again, aren’t really into anyone at this point, and it showed. There was a pop when Goldust came out, and Rocky won off the distraction. After the match Marlene gets strangled from behind by a woman in the crowd (the debuting Chyna) – which I guess along with the two men involved makes this historically significant enough to go back and watch, even if it is that bad.
Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon vs Owen Hart and The British Bulldog (w/ Clarence Mason) for the WWF Tag Team Titles
This match was really good at Survivor Series (certainly once they’d gotten rid of the other four) and it was also a really good match on Raw in January. This, while technically sound, was a big let down. They teased the break-up of Owen and Bulldog so many times in the match it made it hard for most of the other action to stick, which is a shame because Furnas and Lafon are so good that they can work a match that doesn’t need any shenanigans. All the more, though, was that some of the back and forth with Owen and Davey was actually quite clever – which makes the awful finish (Owen hitting Furnas with the Slammy while Davey was about to powerslam him), all the more annoying. The champs retain, when they really didn’t need to, and Davey breaks the Slammy afterwards but it seems like they left just about together.
The Undertaker vs Bret Hart vs Vader vs Steve Austin for the WWF Title
This was originally going to be a four way elimination match where only pinfalls or submissions would’ve counted, but perhaps understandably they added in the over the top stipulation (that was involved in every elimination) to stop having to pin three of their top guys.,
This was really good; really really good. My initial reaction, when the match started, was how it just felt like Steve Austin belonged with these three guys – in every sense. Undertaker and Bret were both well tenured by this stage and Vader, despite his mistreatment, had the background that many fans knew and also, let’s be honest – it’s Vader! Austin came in very much as the fourth wheel but he didn’t remotely feel out of place and, given all that was going on, didn’t particularly feel like a bad shout to win it outright – not that anything made sense given what had happened in the few days prior.
This went 24 minutes, but the first elimination didn’t happen for a long while giving all four men the time to get a lot in, and they did. Vader bled (with what was probably a blade job), Undertaker walked the top rope – which given the stip, doing an Old School wasn’t theoretically the smartest move. Still, this was by some distance the best Vader had looked since joining the WWF – the blood under his eye combined with his red mask made him look even more demonic than normal.
This whole thing was carnage, the action spills to the outside and at one stage well into the crowd as Vader puts a sharpshooter on Bret (yes, that way around). Austin was the first one eliminated, which was a bit of a surprise, as Bret fireman carries him over the top. Vader goes for a top rope move, but Bret hits him with a superplex which was real nice. Vader returns to the second rope for a Vader bomb, Undertaker gets up and low blows him, causing him to tumble over the top to the floor for a massive reaction – the crowd gives their biggest pop of the night and there’s so much excitement the hard camera starts shaking.
We’re down to Bret vs Taker – I’m not sure that was inherently the best idea, as the crowd is probably much more behind Taker than they are Bret – the place is going nuts for Taker. Austin returns, and after a couple of bungled distractions Bret throws Undertaker over the top to win the WWF Title for a fourth time – which he doesn’t exactly looked thrilled about. But what a match that was – first real time we’d seen a multi man main event (that wasn’t a tag) in the WWF that I can remember – four big names and it didn’t disappoint.
Score Rating: 6.5/10
Go Back And Watch: If there’s any nostalgia in an early (if pretty dire) Rock vs Triple H match… then I’d probably say go and watch the match from the Raw a couple of days before. Other than that the main even is one of the most fun matches I’ve seen in the WWF in a long time.