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One Night Only was a UK-exclusive Pay-Per-View held by the WWF on Saturday 20th September 1997. This was notable in that it was an event which took place in canon (unlike the likes of 'Battle Royal At The Albert Hall' in 1991), and was promoted and built on worldwide WWF television. When news of the show broke in the Wrestling Observer and Pro Wrestling Torch in the Summer, the main event was originally mooted to pit Bret Hart against The British Bulldog, five years on from their classic at Wembley Stadium. Perhaps wisely though, the Federation decided that having the Hart Foundation explode just six months after they formed wasn't the best idea. Instead Bret and Bulldog would be facing familiar opponents in the two big matches: Hart defending his newly-won WWF Title versus The Undertaker, and Davey putting the European Title on the line against Hart Family nemesis Shawn Michaels.
So, in front of a hot sold-out crowd at the NEC Arena in Birmingham, here is One Night Only.
Dude Love v. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
The fourth big match between these two in just three months, the main point of note here was of Dude Love trying to wrestle his way to victory. It's not often you see Mick Foley break out things like arm-wringers and Indian Deathlocks(!), so the change of pace here was very welcome. All that time training with Dominic DeNucci was well-spent after all! Helmsley however was not putting in anywhere near the same amount of effort, and once more lumbered around the ring thinking he was Harley Race c.1976. A strange finish to this one too: Dude hits a DDT for a 2-count after Chyna puts HHH's foot on the ropes, then they both just stand up so Helmsley can hit a Pedigree for the win. We only had to wait two more days for them to go at it again, although Mick would come back in another guise....
Tiger Ali Singh v. Al Snow
Singh debuted on the inaugural two-hour RAW back in February, yet this is only the second time we have seen him in the ring since. After this showing, one has to hope it will be a very long time until Match No.3. He is utterly awful here: his punches miss by light years, he barely maintains his own balance on kicks, and he clearly has no idea how to position himself for a superplex. Spare a thought for poor old Al Snow here too. He was loaned out to ECW the month before this, then he gets the call from Vince...only to find out it is to be flown halfway around the world to try to get something vaguely watchable out of an utter incompetent performer. Unsurprisingly this task was beyond him. After a mercifully brief four minutes, Singh wins with a horrifying top-rope bulldog which McMahon calls "The Tiger Bomb". TIger-bombed alright..
WWF Tag Team Titles. The Headbangers (c) v Miguel Perez Jr/Savio Vega
Having surprisingly won the Tag Team titles at the Ground Zero event thirteen days earlier, Mosh and Thrasher make their first defence against two of Los Boricuas. This match is pure 90s tag-formula stuff, with all the spots you would ever care to see. Heels cutting off the ring? Check. Phantom hot tag which the referee doesn't see? Check. All four men in after the real hot tag? Check. Despite all of that, the crowd remain with the 'Bangers throughout. What they lack in in-ring ability they certainly make up for with endearing, shambling charm. Thrasher gets the pin on Miguel here with a sit-down splash.
The Patriot v Flash Funk
If the WWF thought that having Del Wilkes come to the ring brandishing Old Glory would get him cheered by a UK audience, after they had promoted inter-country battles all year long, then not for the first or last time they were sorely mistaken. The boos rain down on him here, and he doesn't really know how to deal with it. It doesn't help that he is in there with Flash, who despite being a jobber these days remains deservedly popular by dint of his in-ring ability. This never feels like a match inasmuch as just as an exchange of moves - although many of Funk's are as impressive as ever. The best of which is when he hauls himself off the mat whilst holding the ropes, back-flips onto the top turnbuckle an then crossbodies off in the same movement. It's to no avail though, as The Good Old Uncle Slam secures a three-count for the American Hero. And yes, he waves the flag again after the match..
Legion Of Doom v The Godwinns
How many more times do we have to see this match? Neither of these teams have anything to offer when facing each other. In fact, they don't have anything to offer full stop. Not only did the LOD look tired and washed-up here, they didn't seem to care about that fact - so they put in a performance even worse than their usual 1997 fare. When the highlight of any match is Jim Ross giving a precis on the history of the Confederate Flag during commentary, you know you have problems. Oh, and we are still playing up the Henry Neck Injury thing for whatever reason. The Warriors win with the usual. Yeesh...
Owen Hart v Vader
With so much of the roster on this show just running through their normal stuff from A-Z, it was hugely refreshing to see these two old pros coming up with something a little different. They read the crowd early on, and when they hear that Owen is getting the lion's share of the cheers here, they go on to work an excellent little Underdog Babyface v Monster Heel match. (When was the last time Vader came across as a the bullying badass he always should have been?). Both men seemed to revel in being able to work in this sort of environment. They managed to incorporate a tertiary story into the match of Owen trying to slam Vader until he finally suceeded. After some fine action, Vader turns a flying bodypress by Owen into a massive powerslam for a victory which was both emphatic AND believable. If they ever did want to turn Owen face at some point down the road, showings like this suggest it would be far from the worst idea.
WWF Title. Bret Hart (c) v The Undertaker
Bret has only been champion for six weeks, and already both of his title defences have been in non-main events.Just like old times... Unlike their match at Summerslam which was extended to thirty minutes just before they went out to the ring, this one was booked to be that length and as such was a slightly more coherent watch. It also helped that Undertaker was not completely overshadowed by Shawn Michaels this time (a point he even touches on his pre-match interview). As you would probably expect, a lot of this match sees Bret Hart trying to work the leg of the Undertaker in order to soften him up for the Sharpshooter. Your enjoyment of the contest will therefore hinge on whether or not you find that line of atttack interesting - which itself is a regular source for debate here at Wrestling 20 Years Ago Towers!
The crowd reactions here are fascinating. After giving both guys pops during the entrances, they then resort to booing whoever happens to be on offence at the time. It makes for a highly original atmosphere, although probably not one the competitors (Bret in particular) were expecting. For a lot of people watching the real story here was how this match was going to finish, as nobody saw Bret dropping the title here and there was no way Undertaker was taking a clean loss. The ending was again one few would have been able to predict though, as Undertaker goes for a Tombstone but too close to the ropes. Bret ends up getting tied up in them and after a few punches from the Dead Man the ref calls for the bell. Hmmm. What this finish had in originality (and believability?) was overshadowed by what it definitely didn't have in drama. Chalk this one up as WWF Booking Themselves Into A Corner #379814. For the record, the final decision was a win for Bret via DQ. Undertaker takes out his frustrations on officials afterwards.
WWF European Title. The British Bulldog(c) v Shawn Michaels
Despite being all-but booed out of the building during his pre-match promo, Michaels still slaps a few hands when he comes down to ringside. Bulldog gets the proverbial Hero's Welcome, and accompanying him to the ring is his sister Tracey. She has been battling cancer since the age of one, and sadly looks in a very bad way here. During the media rounds for this match, Davey promised that he would win this match for her.....
The first fifteen minutes of this are very good indeed. Shawn doesn't show a massive amount on offence - as doing so would likely overshadow Davey - so instead he sells and bumps like an absolute champion. He even manages to make simple moves like back body drops look like death. Not that Bulldog is a slouch in this one though as he is clearly highly motivated here in his home country, and treats us to things like a swank sit-out powerbomb and his always-impressive deadlift electric chair out of an armbar. Just as you start to convince yourself this one might end cleanly though, here comes Rick Rude. Swiftly followed by HHH and Chyna. So when Bulldog goes for the running powerslam on the outside and gets his foot caught between the guardrail and the mats, they are ready to pounce. HBK delivers Sweet Chin Music to Bulldog, and then we end up back in the ring..
Michaels then removes Bulldog's kneebrace, and in an utter dick move throws it into the front row where Smith's family are seated. He then slaps on a figure of four whilst Bulldog screams in pain. The crowd initially start to rally Davey Boy, but after Rude prevents a reversal of the move they soon quieten down as they know the game is up. Sure enough the referee stops the match as he deems Bulldog unable to continue, and Shawn Michaels is the new European Champion.
As if that wasn't unpleasant enough, Michaels and co continue to do a number on the helpless Bulldog afterwards. It takes a ludicrous amount of time for the Hart Brothers to appear and finally chase the heels off. Our final shot sees Shawn gleefully parading about on the ramp with his new toy, as British Bulldog's homecoming ends in pain and failure. Ugh.
Score Rating. 4/10
Go Back and Watch: Until the final three matches there is nothing here going out of your way to see. Owen v Vader is a ton of fun and a masterclass in calling it in the ring. The WWF Title match isn't to everybody's tastes and is probably one for Bret Hart badge-holders only. The bulk of the main event is very good indeed, but your heart will sink as soon as you see Rick Rude appear.