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It’s hard writing a preview piece like this – to try and summarise the build to WWF Survivor Series 1997 would take more words than it would be worthwhile. But needless to say that the story of Bret Hart’s exit from the WWF is a long and winding one that even in the days and hours leading to the show seemed to go one way or another.
Regardless of the whys and the hows, the whats were this: Bret Hart had handed in his notice to the WWF after being told by Vince McMahon to pursue a deal with WCW he nearly made a year earlier. While that wasn’t in doubt, the exit strategy very much was. Such was Bret’s leverage in 1996 that he was able to negotiate “reasonable creative control”, while he couldn’t necessarily dictate the terms of his exit positively, he was at least able to prevent it happening negatively.
And, really, there was only one negative. Bret was willing to drop the title to anyone – Mankind, Ken Shamrock, The Undertaker, even Jeff Jarrett of all people. Just not Shawn Michaels, and not on this night. Which, theoretically, gave the WWF any point up until four weeks after Survivor Series to take the title off of him. But there was a problem: with the news beginning to break and Bret having signed a deal with WCW, even if he couldn’t appear there until after his contract expired if WCW were able to announce on television Bret’s impending arrival, if he was still the WWF champion it would make him a lame-duck until the time in which he left and, more the point, would make it look like Bret had only lost the title because he was about to join WCW.
It created a perfect firestorm for Vince McMahon. It had to be that night and, given the magnitude of the match, it had to be Shawn Michaels. Caught between a rock and a hard place… it left apparently only one choice…
In some ways the story of Bret’s departure is only part of the bigger amazement going into this show. If you were watching Raw in the weeks leading up to the show you’d be forgiven for wondering whether there was even going to be a match at all, such was the oddities surrounding the build. With Shawn and Bret now both fully heel, it made pairing them off at anytime on TV particularly difficult, especially given Shawn’s… (how can I say it) willingness to say and do things that some parties wouldn’t find acceptable. One thing that had helped drive a rift between Bret and Shawn so big that Bret was no longer willing to lose to him, even on the way out.
The build that did exist was almost bizarre. The Hart Foundation got drawn into a storyline that involved someone defacing the Nation of Domination locker-room with racial slurs because nobody had the balls to tell Vince McMahon what a completely stupid idea it was. So the Nation made their case, both to Steve Austin: who responded by not overtly denying the accusation, and to Bret Hart and the Foundation: who responded with a political “non-denial denial” saying that where he was from, everyone was treated equally.
Quite what the plan with any of this I don’t quite now. But with Bret seemingly in a dead end (seemingly because him outright saying “no, it wasn’t me” would’ve got the heel group sympathy), it was left to Shawn Michaels and the newly named “Degenaration-X” to chime in. Shawn accused Bret of being racist to the core, and call him “The Grand Wizard along with the rest of the members of the KKK”. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (who hopefully will become Triple H soon so I don’t have to keep writing that out!) followed that by suggesting he’d heard that the “n-word” was used while they were doing it.
The whole scenario was preposterously, doubly so when you realise there was zero pay-off. It was all in the name of building to the big match something that, hindsight does not show enough, the WWF did a terrible job of. The buyrate for this show ended up being modest, even after a late burst of interest when the Bret to WCW broke. When you compare the build of this to WCW’s build of Hogan vs Sting – which if it was any more overt would smack you in the face on a weekly basis - the results prove the point. The WWF badly got this wrong.
As for what remained of this card – there wasn’t much else. Owen Hart against Steve Austin was meant to be (and ended up being) the semi-main, but given that Austin’s neck was still a big issues and Owen had his own issues too it meant that would largely have to be smoke and mirrors. Beyond that it was almost a non-event, a card that would only further go to expose the hideous lack of depth of the WWF undercard.
The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) and the New Blackjacks (Bradshaw and Windham) vs The Godwinns (Henry O and Phinueas I) and “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn and The Road Dogg
No WWF… please don’t throw your best acts out fir… oh. If you wanted an illustration of how bad the tag division was at this point then this would be a good palace to start. The New Blackjack’s are faces purely due to the fact they’re no longer heels – and we get a strange confederate angle/tie-in between Billy and Henry. No Road Dogg or Billy Gunn early doors as we get the Godwins working with the Headbangers.
As is the case with Survivor Series matches, you really have to lower the bar for pins. Henry is randomly rolled up by Bradshaw, Windham gets pinned by a clothesline and Mosh gets eliminated with a running slam. It doesn’t really improve, Bradshaw kicks out of a pin but the ref eliminates him anyway. And after Thrasher counters a pumphandle slam into a crossbody on Road Dogg, Billy Gunn completely misses a leg drop from the top, but apparently he didn’t and that’s enough for the win.
The Truth Commission (The Jackal, The Interrigator, Rekon, Sniper) vs The DOA (Crush, Chainz, Skull and 8-Ball)
Jesus… no, wait – he’s part of Los Borricuas. This was something else. Noteworthy things in this match: Bill Buchanan, the Interrigators neck… and that’s about it. There were FOUR eliminations in this match via sidewalk slam, I have very little else to say about this match over than it was terrible. Interrigator is the last man standing and nothing of note was gained.
Team USA (Vader, Steve Blackman, Goldust and Mark Mero w/ Sable) vs Team Canada (Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Phil LaFon and Doug Furnas).
A head count on the number of Canadians in team Canada… zero. The fans, at least, finally have something to cheer for, as Bulldog in particular gets a lot of cheers as he goes through his 1993 routine with Vader. Steve Blackman, as is par for the course for new guys we’re trying but-not-really-trying to get over, gets eliminated via countout, the first of a few quick eliminations as Jim Neidhart and Phil Lafon are both taken out by Vader.
Goldust is working this match with a cast on. I say working, I mean standing on the apron. After the only good prolonged piece of action in the match between Vader and Doug Furnas, Goldust just fucks off, being eliminated by count out. Vader takes care of Furnas but Bulldog whiffs him with a ring bell as, of course, neither ref can see. Bulldog is the sole survivor and smart booking wins out.
Mankind vs Kane (w/ Paul Bearer and Mood Lighting)
This might have been the high point of the show. The match underscored by the deep red lighting that kind of gave both guys the out to have a match as good or as bad as they like. This was a Mankind special, with much of the action on the floor and the ring steps in almost constant use. He piledrives Kane mid-ring, then after putting the mandible claw in on Bearer, Kane sits up and chokeslam’s him off the apron through the Spanish announcers table.
Within 60 seconds Mankind is up and about, Kane has enough time to lob him off the second rope straight onto the floor as Mick Foley’s body takes another absolute pounding on pay-per-view. Kane hits a tombstone piledriver that still looks hideous on his knees and picks up the win. Decent match, Mankind both got over and got Kane over in a losing cause. The Kane train, at this stage, seems unstoppable. And the WWF, it should be said, have done a tremendous job presenting him so far.
The Nation of Domination (Farooq, Rocky Maivia, Kama and D’lo Brown) vs Ken Shamrock, Ahmed Johnson and the Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal)
A match of frequent eliminations, and one that (perhaps surprisingly given Farooq’s recent status) seems solely aimed at getting Rocky and Shamrock over. You can say a lot about this show, but the booking is pretty solid if nothing else. Rocky whips out a Rock bottom in this match and eliminates Hawk – he also breaks out a people’s elbow (sans elbow pad) which is perhaps the only thing more ridiculous than the People’s elbow is doing it while getting zero reaction.
Ahmed eliminates Farooq very early with a pearl river plunge, that’s a setup for Farooq costing Ahmed and an elimination a few minutes later and sending him to the back. After Animal is eliminated via a Road Dogg distraction, we pick off the pieces until we’re down to Rocky and Shamrock. They’re given a good few minutes, Rocky dominates but Shamrock turns and armbar position into an ankle lock for the clean submission victory. Not for the first time tonight, the booking was probably stronger than the match was.
Steve Austin vs Owen Hart (w/ The British Bulldog, Jim Neidart, Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon) for the WWF Intercontinental Title
While it was Calgary in July, and Montreal here, the reaction that Steve Austin gets is perhaps the most fascinating of all. Some of it will be a slightly softer reaction to Bret later in the show, but there were a lot of Austin 3:16 shirts in the crowd at this stage, and even against Owen there was a fairly split reaction across the board.
This match, predictably, was a bit of a non-event. Austin’s neck was still a bit all over the place and Owen didn’t come in healthy either. After a bit of back and forth on the outside, Austin nails Owen with a stunner for the win and wins the title to a pretty big pop.
Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart for the WWF Title
Well here we are. We get full walk through from the back scenes after a video package that completely belied the lack of build of this feud. Shawn comes out to a bad but not “we wanna kill you reaction” – he does get a beer chucked at him for his troubles. There is a big pop for Bret’s entrance, both he and Shawn came out a lone. Oh, and as Bret gets in the ring there’s a very prominent CHYNA IS A MAN sign in the crowd.
This whole scenario is… weird to say the least. Very easy to say in hindsight, but the whole thing has a strange vibe to it, after an early brawl at ring side there’s about eight refs out there, along with the likes of Vince and Pat Patterson. It makes the whole match feel very cramped – especially as much of it doesn’t take place in the ring. Bret and Shawn go into the crowd, as Bret’s big matches generally do these days, and they get *very* up close with the fans as they’re brawling.
They brawl up the aisle way, then finally into the ring. We settle into a typical Bret pace of match as the pair both settle down. Save for one of Bret’s best turnbuckle figure fours and a fan in the front row, alone, chanting “SHAWN IS GAY” over and over, very little is actually happening. Michaels rolls over a figure four in the ring, then Bret comes off the top but Michaels pulls Hebner into the ring for a ref bump.
And this is where things get weird. Michaels gets Bret set for a sharpshooter, Hebner shoots up much quicker than expected, takes one look at Bret and calls for the bell. It’s hard to really describe the action – the match hasn’t been going on long enough for it to feel a remotely organic conclusion. Hebner hi-tails it out of the building, Bret spits at Vince, Michaels looks pissed off, grabs the title and walks off and nobody is really sure what to make of it. And that’s how the show goes off the air, the stuff with Bret drawing “W C W” in the air and trashing the place happens after the live feed has stopped.
Score Rating: 2/10
Go Back And Watch: I mean, you do have to see the main event – but it’s really not all that. The rest of the show is entirely skippable.