Subscribe to the podcast via: iTunes | RSS Feed | Email Newsletter
1997 felt like it was formally motoring by August for the WWF, after what has held up as one of their best pay per views ever they strung together a series of memorable quartet of TV shows divided between Canada and the USA, stoking the hottest angle and story they’d had in at least five years and continuing the build towards what was shaping up to be a white-hot rematch between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.
Summerslam itself was shaping up actually quite nicely. Bret Hart vs The Undertaker seemed like an odd pairing on top, in the sense that it was two guys pre-occupied with other things, but also a match that presented an important milestone for two of the promotions most important characters. For Undertaker, who’d been feuding with Paul Bearer without anything memorable since Mankind, at least had something to sink his teeth into with the soon-to-be-introduction of his brother Cane/Cain/Kane.
For Bret, while the Michaels match was certainly where the money was at, he wasn’t going to be returning to the ring fully just yet, and while him vs Austin was still the hot feud given that they’d done it twice already this year it was probably a good thing they were kept apart for now. The x-factor for the main event came in the form of Michaels as special guest referee. The stipulations laden on Bret (who would have to win) and Michaels (who would have to show impartiality) and that if either or both failed in their goals then neither could wrestle in the United States again.
The stipulations kept coming further down the card: Austin vowed to kiss Owen Hart’s ass if he couldn’t defeat him, Brian Pillman would wear one of Marlene’s dresses were he to lose to Goldust and (in what was awkwardly the opening match) Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s third outing with Mankind would be inside a steel cage.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Chyna) vs Mankind in a Steel Cage Match
The placement of this in the opener was essentially due to the amount of time it took to setup and set down the cage. In front of a hot New Jersey crowd these two put on a really good effort, easily the best of Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s career and miles better than anything Foley had done in the WWF with the exception of that great match with Shawn Michaels a year prior.
This though, really, was a handicap match, with Chyna getting involved at frequent intervals to keep Hunter in it. They do a superplex spot early, then Mankind charges at Hunter and gets backdropped into the cage. Mankind attempts to crawl out of the door but Chyna smashes the door in his face (something that Foley has said since was one of the most painful things he’s ever experienced).
Mankind rallies, DDTs Hunter onto a chair that Chyna threw into the ring, then climbs to the outside. He gets near to the floor, whips his mask off, then climbs back up. Jim Ross is on hand for a kind reminder of the comparison between this and what Foley saw Jimmy Snuka do all of those years earlier. Mankind drops an elbow from the top of the cage, then climbs back out. Bit of a shame this was on first, really, really good.
While sticking the cage match in the opener did avoid having to kill time building it, it did still mean they’d have to kill time taking it down. So they unveil Christy Todd Whitman, the Governor of New Jersey who was credited with helping lower the taxes that enabled the WWF to return to the area. They call her the “Tax Crusher” which, if this was 1994, would be a gimmick. She then cuts a promo better than any member of the Hart Foundation before posing with the WWF Title belt.
Goldust (w/ Marlene) vs Brian Pillman – If Pillman loses he must wear one of Marlene’s dresses
Yeah… you’d be forgiven for watching the main event last month and thinking these two were over. Fortunately the crowd was hot enough where it wasn’t that easy to notice. Pillman goes after Marlene and runs into a big lariat from Goldust on the floor. The rest of the match is pretty forgettable, save the finish where Goldust fucks up a sunset flip, they recover, Pillman gets smashed in the face with Marlene’s hand-bag and Goldust wins to a big pop.
Legion of Doom (Animal and Hawk) vs The Godwinn’s (Phineaus and Henry)
This actually wasn’t that bad – four big guys who all have their limitations but aren’t phoning it in to the levels that say some WCW tag teams were in 1993-94. Some of it works – Henry takes Animal over the top and they both land hard, some of it doesn’t – Phineaus comes off the top with an attempting flying clothesline, and sorta lands on his feet then flops to the mat. The LOD win it with a double team spike piledriver. Not horrible this.
The Million Dollar Challenge
I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, this may not have been quite as bad as the Miss NWO contest in January, but boy… So they had been teasing a Million Dollar Giveaway in the weeks leading up to the show, offering up clues so that people would have the chance to win. So we get to the stage area, and out walks Todd Pettengill with Sunny, Sable and two of the contestants. The gimmick, apparently, is that there’s 100 keys on a big board, and each contestant can pick a key with a chance to unlock the casket full of cash.
So each of the two contestants picks a key – but they don’t get to try them first up, instead we go to the phones. As Tod Pettengil attempts to get further contestants on the line. We get a couple of people who don’t pick up, a false number, and even someone who wants to participate who actually isn’t even watching the show. Vince McMahon, while all of this is going on, is finding this *way* too funny.
Anyway, so two phone contestants select individual keys, Sable and Sunny work out they’re the wrong ones. Then both of the contestants who are there try and fail, and that’s it… Four keys out of one hundred and it turns out they’re not giving any money away after all? The whole thing is saved when, after Sable hugs one of the two contestants who failed (a 12-year-old boy) Todd Pettengill says: “You might not know it yet, but that’s better than a million bucks”. Scrap all that... this was a great segment.
Ken Shamrock vs The British Bulldog for the WWF European Title
I was ready to write the final death nail in the coffin for anyone hopes of Ken Shamrock being a major player in the WWF, but by the end of this I think they still left the door ajar… just. The match wasn’t much of note, a couple of restholds either side of some decent power moves. The match ends when Shamrock smashes some dog food over Bulldog’s head (which Bulldog would’ve eaten if he’d lost) for the DQ. Afterwards Shamrock submits Bulldog with a chokehold out cold, then beats up some refs. Quite good that.
Los Boricuas vs DOA (they know it stands for Dead On Arrival, right?)
I’d actually been quite the fan of this storyline so far, recycling eight guys that people don’t care about and creating two groups that they do, sorta. Which is partly why some of the interactions worked – just eight guys fighting. This was a match and it was less good. Eventually the NOD come out, Ahmed Johnson hits Chainz with a Pearl River Plunge on the floor that looked way worse on him than it did on Chainz, before the Boricuas won. Move on.
Owen Hart vs “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the WWF Intercontiental Title
This is more like it, big reaction for Austin and some decent boos for Owen too. Owen was the ideal opponent here, credible enough to be in the semi-main yet not to the point where he couldn’t take a pounding. More the shame we didn’t get to see how this would’ve ended.
Some lively action as Austin chases Owen as he legs it up the ramp, and another where he flies out of the corner into a big clothesline, Owen hits a sweet ass German Suplex for a good near fall as these two keep the fans invested. Then Owen goes to hit Austin with a jumping tombstone… and it all goes wrong.
As Austin setup, his head was at least three inches lower than it should’ve been, Owen hit the move and basically Austin wore the entirety of the impact on the top of his head. Austin lay spark out as Owen wondered what to do, after a good minute Austin decided he had just about enough to be able to limply roll Owen up and get the three. Finish looked weak, but I think everyone understood. The pop for the title change was subdued also. Austin gets assistance to the back (but is at least walking) and I’m left wondering why he isn’t stunnering these refs.
Bret Hart vs The Undertaker (w/ Shawn Michaels as special guest referee) for the WWF Title
The feud may have been nothing, but this still felt like it had a big match feel to it. Michaels is doing his best to be impartial but it’s great every time Undertaker snaps back at him Michaels shits himself. The action itself is fine, but Michaels’ addition as a major part of it basically killed any chance of it being a classic. Which was fine, Michaels added much more to the match than he took away, and the story of his inexperience as ref played out very nicely.
For instance, when Owen and Pillman walk out, after Taker gets some shots in Michaels goes to the floor to deal with them. In the time it took him to do that Undertaker chokeslams Bret then waits for Michaels to return. As Taker gets angry with Shawn, Bret almost rolls him up for the win.
Then we get to the finish, Bret spills into Michaels on the floor. As Michaels sells the hit Bret smacks Undertaker with a chair and Michaels doesn’t see it. Michaels goes into count the pin and Bret almost wins it there anyway. Michaels sees the chair, works it out and goes to remonstrate with Bret, Bret gobs in his face, Michaels winds up with a massive chair shot only to smash it in Taker’s face when Bret ducks. Bret makes the cover, Michaels (who must be impartial) has to make the three and we have a new champion. A really nice finish to a good match, one that was ultimately a net positive with Michaels’ inclusion.
Score Rating: 7.5/10
Go Back and Watch: Opener is really good, as is the main event. The rest varies, and Owen/Austin is probably significant enough to match it worth catching. Very good show, but a few pegs short of great.