Over the last month, it seems that this blog has become something of a Bret Hart fan site. So as the end nears for the Hitman Book series (finally!), let’s take a look at the all-time high point for the Hart Family and perhaps wrestling in Canada: the July 1997 In Your House from Calgary, which took place in the shadow of the annual Calgary Stampede. Our hosts from the Calgary Saddledome are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler, and Lawler’s ill-fitting cowboy hat that covers his eyes. Meanwhile, Ross is going to drive me insane with the pronunciation of “Sasuke” as “Sass-OOH-kay” instead of “Sass-kay”.
Triple H (w/Chyna) vs. Mankind
This is a King of the Ring final rematch, as Trips got his crown. If he’s the King of Kings, does that make Steph the Queen of the King of Kings? In any event, he owes Mick Foley for life because this is a rare example of someone making another guy twice on different levels. Here in 1997, Foley elevated HHH from goober midcard guy to solid upper midcarder who could realistically be paired with someone like Shawn Michaels in a DX. Then in 2000, he put Trips over to establish him as a legitimate main eventer after months of trying in 1999.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley (as he was still known) had the “Ode to Joy” music, which I really like as a theme and could work for someone today. If “Pomp and Circumstance” was good enough for Randy Savage for years, then this should be fine too. We get a quick reminder that 8% of all fans in the late 90s were douchebags with laser pointers as we see the red dot in the review package. King asks a question of Vince that is much funnier now: “Has Helmsley ever tried to buy the WWF?”
Mankind controls early and does that curtsy bow to mock Helmsley. The bow was pretty goofy and retired as he landed in DX the next month. Helmsley scores with a knee to Mankind. Go ahead and watch Triple H from 1995-98: move than half his offense is either high knees, or a knee lift, or some other knee move. There are so many people with signs, and you can’t see any of them and people are going to walk across an aisle opposite the hard camera for this whole show. Trips takes the Harley Race bump over and out in the corner, and bails to the top rope when Mankind scales the top rope. We saw that the Hart family is sitting ringside and unfortunately they let Bruce Hart come too. Vertical suplex by Mankind on the floor, followed by a WWF classic: the King of the Mountain spot. This is where a guy tries to get back in the ring, but keeps getting belted to the floor. Watch some MSG shows from the early and mid-80s and you’ll see what I mean.
Sunset flip by Triple H to come in, and Mankind responds with the mandible claw, but Chyna reaches it to deck him over the ref’s head. Mankind heads out to confront Chyna and catches Helmsley as he sneaks up, but Chyna throws Mankind into the steps. Trips follows up by hitting Foley’s leg with a chair, not sure if this is no DQ or what.
Back inside, HHH works the leg and Jim Ross puts over the guts of Mankind. Figure four by Trips with assistance from the ropes and Mankind keeps points for the referee to see this but he doesn’t the first few times until finally the hold gets broken. Looks like Mr. Levesque wants to live out the Flair/Harley fantasy camp in this match. Pedigree try is blocked, then Mankind is pushed to corner then falls to “accidentally” head butt Trips in the little Hs. Helmsley AGAIN goes upside down in the corner and Foley follows with the “pull on the pants” piledriver and gets a near fall. Mankind with a clothesline over the top and ends up outside too.
Mankind gets a chair, but Chyna grabs it from him and the two heels take turns working over Foley. In the ring, Triple H goes up top but Mankind falls into the ropes causing H to crotch himself. Lot of nut pain for him here. Mandible claw again, but Chyna grabs the leg. Boy, she’s busy today. The two end up outside again and fight into the crowd and it’s a double countout.
This SEEMS like a crap finish but it actually works because the fans are into it and these guys go nuts. They fight into the penalty box, a great visual in Canada except they screw it up and never get a close up of it so we can’t see. JR name drops the Flames, who had just had a down year despite 50 points from rookie Jarome Iginla (who just happens to be one of my 10 favorite NHL players of the last 20 years). The team wouldn’t sniff the playoffs again until 2004, when…stuff happened.
A video review of the events around the Calgary Stampede, including a parade. The winner of Mrs. Calgary 1997 was British Bulldog’s wife Diana Hart Smith, who I am sure would have won if her name was Diana Stankowski Smith, right?
Dok Hendrix is with the Hart Foundation but the scene is quickly crashed by an insane Stone Cold Steve Austin, alone, looking to take on five guys by himself. The awesomeness of Stone Cold during this time cannot possibly be overstated.
The Great Sasuke vs. Taka Michinoku
But wait, there’s more from the first match as Mankind and Triple H continue to fight around the arena and Trips is now bleeding.
The WWF light heavyweight division was in its infancy with no champion yet so these two were brought in as a sort of introduction. Taka was something of a protégé of Sasuke and took the Michinoku name in tribute. Personally, I saw it as these were the best two guys the WWF could get for this since most of the best guys were under contract to WCW. But holy crap, did they put on a show here even if they fell in love a bit with basement dropkicks. It is hilarious to listen to Lawler commentate on this match, musing that maybe he should add dropkicks to his repertoire.
There’s not much need to go move by move here, but they cut a fast pace and the Canadian crowd digs this big time. Vince says, “What a samurai warrior this Taka Michinoku is!” Right, because all Japanese people are Samurais. Quick aside: I knew people at Boston University who took a class called “Cult of the Samurai” just because it had a cool name. Turned out it was a difficult history course
Sasuke’s array of offense is cool, and these guys do not miss and have great chemistry. Missile dropkick from Sasuke off the ropes, then an Asai moonsault that only gets two. No more screwing around as Sasuke hits the Thunder Fire Bomb (nasty power bomb variation) and a Tiger suplex with a bridge for the win. Taka would go on to be the first light heavyweight champion, but it was supposed to be Sasuke. Instead, he decided to be a dick in interviews with the Japanese press and was fired quickly. He would go on to job to Justin Credible in ECW about six months later, a match result at the time that so offended my sensibilities that I hated Credible forever after that. In any event, Taka and Sasuke had a rematch the next night in Edmonton on RAW.
Mankind and Triple H are now outside, fighting near a school bus. “The home of the Calgary Flames has never seen action like this!” says JR. Oh really? Check this out from 1984, and these are not worked punches.
Review of the lead up to the Vader-Undertaker world title match, which was supposed to be Ahmed Johnson as the challenger but he got hurt again (of course). Johnson had turned on Undertaker in a tag team match on RAW and joined the Nation of Domination, and accused Taker of sending the Disciples of Apocalypse after him.
Paul Bearer and Vader are with Dok Hendrix. Bearer: “How can you [Taker] look at yourself in the mirror? Murderer!” Just the prior Monday on RAW, Bearer not only revealed the Undertaker burned the funeral home down killing his parents, but also that his brother Kane was alive. Vader promises that this will be déjà vu since he already defeated Undertaker at the Royal Rumble six months ago.
The Undertaker (C) vs. Vader (w/Paul Bearer) for the WWF World Championship
Let it be known that I consider 1997 Undertaker to be the best Undertaker. He still had parts of his early character, mixed with a dusting of his later badass character, and with a touch of vulnerability for the very first time. And he now had better opponents like Mankind and Vader instead of Giant Gonzalez and an older King Kong Bundy and wasn’t shackled to Paul Bearer anymore. Bearer cowers at ringside, and man does he ever ham it up in this match. If I did a star rating, Bearer would add at least ½ and maybe a full star to this match.
Undertaker dominates early and connects with the Old School rope walk, as JR says “this would not be a Brisco-Funk classic”. Vader literally bounces back out of a corner, but Taker hits his jumping clothesline that he does. Vader gets a side headlock to slow things down and JR stresses how Vader can lean his weight in and slowly gain an advantage. And that is why current announcing sucks: they can’t take a simple hold, or ANY hold, and make it seem important or relevant. The Deadman fights out and connects with a boot that sends Vader to the floor. Outside, Taker gets caught and sent into the steps in very ugly fashion. Paul Bearer then lays in some goofy cheap shots and yells “MURDERER!” at the camera. Meanwhile, this is the exact same transition spot as in the Mankind-HHH match.
Not so fast: Taker hotshots Vader’s throat on the top rope from the apron then hits a flying clothesline off the top. We are told that the Honky Tonk Man and Sunny are on the 900 number hotline now as I ponder what those two could possibly have in common. Oh wait: they’ve both fucked over their share of boys in the back over the years.
Vader is again sent to the floor and Undertaker starts stalking Paul Bearer, who is waddling backward in a very funny visual. Vader gets a shot from behind to send Taker down and Bearer takes a shoe off and goes to work. This prompts JR’s line of the night: “If the heel don’t get him, the smell will!”
Clothesline from the 2nd rope gets a two count for Vader, followed by a vertical suplex and a big splash that also gets two. Vader locks in a nerve hold, usually a crowd killer, but the Alberta fans are way too jacked and actually COME ALIVE DURING A REST HOLD and Taker fights out of it but is quickly cut off. Vader corners the champion, but Taker fights back and goes for a chokeslam, but is kicked in the nuts.
And now for a spot I cannot believe they tried because of the degree of difficulty based on the size of Vader and Undertaker. Vader gets caught and set up for the Tombstone, but he drops down to reverse the hold and get Undertaker in the same move. But they end up falling over with Taker on top. That was way too hard, and I don’t know if that was the original finish. Here’s a rule: don’t try the “reverse tombstone” move. Hell, it nearly paralyzed Steve Austin 4 weeks later.
Vader lands a back elbow in the corner, to set up a Vader Bomb. But he spends too much time doing the bouncy thing on the ropes and Undertaker does the sit up. Then he gets a low blow in response to the earlier one. Chokeslam from the 2nd rope gets 2 3/4 , and another chokeslam gets a near fall. Throat slash as Taker says screw this and lands a very good looking Tombstone on the 400+ lb Vader to get the victory. Bearer throws a child-like tantrum at ringside and Undertaker defends his WWF title on PPV for the final time in 1997. Crowd definitely elevated this one, and it was a helluva big man match.
More footage of the Stampede festivities. We get it, the Harts are popular in Calgary.
A review of recent events that kicked off the Gang Wars era with the DOA, Los Boricuas, and the Nation of Domination. The Hart Foundation is placed above each of those groups.
An interview with the odd team led by Austin. Goldust says he created all this, Ken Shamrock says something in a way where you can tell he’s trying to remember his line. Animal of the LOD does his usual, and Hawk tells ’em. Austin says nothing, because he’s insane.
Farmer’s Daughter, a Canadian female country trio, sings the Canadian National Anthem. They are composed of a redhead, blonde, and brunette.
The Premier of Alberta Ralph Klein is introduced at ringside, and isn’t booed! Wow, surprising to see in an age where almost all politicos get booed. Stu and Helen Hart are introduced.
The introductions on this match are fascinating: Shamrock gets a bit of a pop for being on the “heel” team here. The LOD and Goldust get pretty much nothing. Austin gets booed and he looks so happy, the last time he would be a true heel until Wrestlemania X-7. In fact, a few people cheer him anyway. Brian Pillman, who had barely wrestled in the WWF, has a huge smile on his face for the insane pop he gets as the first one introduced. He was in such pain, and this was his last great moment. Pillman came up in Stampede wrestling and was a huge local favorite, despite being from the Cincinnati area. Jim Neidhart even gets a massive reaction. The Bulldog parades his wife out, and I gotta say she doesn’t look all that attractive. The outfit isn’t flattering, honey. Owen Hart gets a nice ovation, but it pales next to the noise for Bret Hart. You can barely hear the music over the crowd. Kudos to Bret for boosting the spirits of Canada after their loss to the good old USA in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. (I kid, I kid!)
Going to take a different approach on this match and will be “live” blogging it as I watch. The Hitman missed much of the prior three months with an injury and this is the last time he would share the ring with Steve Austin on a big stage. Those two have a staredown before the bell as Ross references documentary cameras.
Hart and Austin start, no screwing around and Bret gets the edge and the hard camera position is shaking. Boos as Austin gets control and Austin flips them off, but Hitman gets a clothesline. Hitman rakes Stone Cold’s eyes on the ropes in a total heel move, but Austin gets a low blow to regain command. Austin gets the Million Dollar Dream but again Bret walks the ropes but this time Austin gets out of the pin. The Rattlesnake is now in peril but he gets the Thesz press on the Anvil. Tag to Shamrock and Neidhart is wary. Pillman breaks things up for a bit and my God, the joy on his face. Shamrock is kind of dominating Anvil, who tags to Pillman. The early Shamrock: 1997 into the middle of 1998 was a force of nature. If he could have talked, he would have easily been in the world title picture. Pillman covers Shamrock and as he does that, “taps” Shamrock’s arm like he was submitting.
Tags to Owen and Goldust and it is crazy to hear Owen Hart as the super-over babyface. An “Austin sucks!” chant happens. I am telling you right now, this match is crazy. Hawk hits a splash off the top but only a 2 count. Bulldog is in next to work Hawk over, and gets his powerslam. Pin is broken up, because this match makes so much sense. In a ten man tag, you SHOULD be doing that. Bret faces off with Animal. The Harts and LOD had a match in 1991 filmed for Coliseum Video that apparently didn’t go well as Hawk was in bad condition. Goldust in the tree of woe and he gets worked over by everyone until a save is made. Owen misses a charge and Goldust tags Animal. Spinning heel kick by Owen on Animal. One of the great things about this match is the combinations of guys you can have in the ring. Neidhart vs Goldust? Sure, why not?
Animal has Owen set up for the Doomsday Device and it connects! But the pin is broken up, because that MAKES SENSE. Austin grabs a chair and slams it into Owen’s leg. Then he hits Bruce Hart in the front row for the hell of it, doing everyone a great service. Bret makes the save and takes the chair away. Owen is hurt and they get him out of there and he goes to the back, but not in the 2016 Royal Rumble Roman Reigns way. He just got beat down good.
Austin now gets beat up in the corner, but Shamrock comes across to save the day. Austin fights his way out on his own. Pillman literally shows ass before Austin hits the Stunner. But no pin because Bret grabs a leg and slams it to the ringpost, and follows with the ringpost figure four until Hawk breaks that up. Hawk gets an edge on Bulldog but ends up crotched when he goes to the top rope. Officials try and drag Austin to the back and eventually succeed. Which works because holy shit does this match need a cool down period because it is fitting on fire in the home of the Flames. Cool seeing Bret and Anvil work a double team. Not sure these guys ever teamed again.
Shamrock looks to work Bret’s leg, and they are making him look super strong, but Pillman comes in and clotheslines the former UFC fighter. But that barely fazes Shamrock, who works over Bret. The Hitman does send Shamrock to the floor, and Pillman sends Ken into a table. Hawk ends up tossed into the metal steps. “Hawk jerking Pillman off the apron,” said Ross ineloquently. Shamrock makes a tag to Goldust and he gets a bulldog on the Bulldog. Curtain Call is set up, but Pillman AGAIN breaks that up before it can happen. The use of Pillman here is way more effective than I remembered. Everyone is getting a little bit of shine. Pins are constantly being broken up.
Austin hobbles back out to give his side a 5 on 4 power play and he tags in but is met by the Hitman. Bret hits the buckle sternum first, then a vertical suplex for a two count. DDT by Bret as Stone Cole put his head down. If you listen to Austin’s older podcasts, he should be selling this DDT like crazy. No time, as Bret gets the backbreaker/elbow combo for a two count. Sleeper by Bret is quickly countered into a jaw breaker, which is so close to a Stunner. Hitman takes down the Rattlesnake for the Sharpshooter, but Animal makes the save. Now Austin with a Sharpshooter and he flips off Bret for good measure. But wait, here is the King of Harts back to save the day! He tags in but is quickly sent to the floor.
Austin lays the boots in to Owen and Bruce Hart tosses a drink at Stone Cold, who then grabs Stu Hart and punches Bruce. There is a melee with Bruce and Smith with Hawk over there as well. But this is the finish: as Austin climbs back in, Owen rolls him up to get the win. But as referenced in Bret Hart’s book, the live crowd had attention diverted to Bruce’s unplanned comeback on the floor:
When the referee made the all important three-count, no-body was paying attention to Owen because everyone was riveted to Bruce’s unscripted comeback! Owen was furious at Bruce for stealing his big pop.
It was seen on camera fine though, and Owen had his big moment even if you could tell he was legitimately pissed during one closeup of him. The brawl continued even as the match ended. Various Harts fill the ring along with WWF officials and things calm down a bit. Austin is still pissed off, though, and he comes back alone and takes on everyone. Police hit the ring and take Austin away in handcuffs (not before Pillman gets in a final taunt), but he still manages to flip off the crowd with his hands cuffed behind his back! That is a top guy, right there. The Harts (and also some kid who snuck in claiming he was a Hart) all celebrate in the ring with Stu and Helen in what would sadly turn out to be a high point for the family, and probably the final great moment before Montreal and Owen’s death tore everything apart.
Summary: Holy shit, this was amazing. This show is 1 hour 49 minutes and is what I’ll call a Lake Wobegon Show. In the Garrison Keillor world, all the children are above-average. On this show, all four matches were above average, one of which was a cruiserweight classic and another that is without question THE standard for ten man tag matches. This show totally holds up and is an absolute must see.