Since the last WWF PPV review I did was Canadian Stampede, might as well go to the next show which is the 1997 Summerslam. I was very excited for this card at the time since I was too dumb to figure out there was only one way they could logically book the main event. And you had stipulations all over the place like an old Mid-South card. Our hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and Jerry Lawler from the then-Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey.
Introduction to the show is on the odd triangle of Bret Hart and his Canada First policies, Shawn Michaels and his dickishness, and the Undertaker who just happens to be the champion.
Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) (Steel Cage match)
This is the end of their old school three match series for the summer that had started with Hunter’s King of the Ring tournament victory. Adding to that old time flavor is Howard Finkel as the ring announcer and the Big Blue Cage! I don’t think they used this after this time, since they tended to go more with the Hell in a Cell and a black cage for traditional cage matches. It is strange to have a steel cage midcard match, though it’s good that it leads off because you won’t have the long interruption to put up and take down a cage.
This was roughly the end for the belt-wearing Greenwich snob character since D-Generation X would be formed by the end of the month. Just as well since this character had definite limits and Chyna was starting to overshadow him a bit. Vince says that New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman will be joining the broadcast at some point, and man are there some doozies of segments on this show.
Mankind gets some offense in and lets out the Cactus Jack “BANG BANG” to foreshadow the arrival of THAT character, which would take place at the Sept. 22 MSG RAW. Chyna is able to reach into the cage to detain Foley, and she does this quite a bit. It’s a healthy reminder that Triple H never develops if Chyna wasn’t there to help get him over. Superplex by Helmsley and he could walk out but doesn’t. Escape the cage rules suck; they were developed by the WWWF in the 1970s because it was an effective way to end Bruno Sammartino matches. Bruno would just leave some dude laying, and he would walk out the door once he got tired of kicking ass.
Nice spot where they fight on the top rope, which ends with H getting crotched and then tied up in the rope by his foot. Mankind goes to leave but Chyna slams the door on his head. So let’s see: was Chyna too involved in matches? At some points, yes it would get very distracting and eye roll inducing. But this was an all hands on deck thing to get Helmsley over because he had nice hair and a good look.
Helmsley is slingshotted into the cage and knocks Chyna into the railing on the floor and a small “Superfly” chant breaks out. Foley had those famous interview segments with Jim Ross early in the summer and the story of his hitchhiking to MSG to see Snuka-Muraco in 1983 was told, and how Foley would dive off the top of his house. Historical reminder: Snuka LOST that match, by accidentally knocking Muraco out the door, and then dragged him back in for the splash off the top of the cage. Chyna comes in the cage here for a second, then just leaves as if she screwed up or something. Then Mankind comes off the top (well, as close as a dude that size can get) with the elbow. Now Chyna is back in to help, but Mankind climbs over and out for the victory.
A forgotten Mankind thing that I loved: how he had different themes for his entrance and exit. But after a short time, the Dude Love song plays and Foley starts tapping his foot before he gets up to celebrate and leave. As Dude Love he was half of the tag champs at this point with Stone Cold Steve Austin, a sign that maybe the tag division was very weak since singles guys had to double up.
A shot of the Stridex blimp inside the arena, and there is no more wrestling ad aimed at teens than that. I hated this products back in the day, just felt like they burned the shit out of my face. Then I took Accutane and somehow it was even worse.
Gov. Christine Todd Whitman Interview Segment
Not putting this in italics because of just how fucking weird this segment was. Todd Pettengill (in his final PPV appearance) is with New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who gets roundly booed. They then bring out Gorilla Monsoon and the Headbangers to try and get some cheers into the mix which helped a little. Gorilla makes her “honorary World Wrestling Federation champion” and gives her a real title belt. Vince on commentary is gushing, saying that she should run for President, and Lawler wonders if she can help with a tax audit.
As you might guess, Whitman got rid of taxes on wrestling shows in the state which brought the WWF back for the first time in several years. Her policies were very much fiscal conservative/social liberal, which was in vogue for Northeast Republicans at the time, back when they were allowed to exist. Just ask Bill Weld. She narrowly defeated incumbent Jim Florio by 26,000 votes in the 1993 election and was up for re-election in November 1997. Hmmm. So this was like a campaign stop? That explains it. She did win her race that fall by about the same margin as before, becoming the first Republican woman ever to win two terms as a governor anywhere in the country. She never did reach 50% in either race, and in early 2001 she resigned to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush.
Tiger Jeet Singh and Tiger Ali Singh are shown in the crowd as Vince says Ali will be coming to the WWF soon. That would be a complete disaster in every way.
Goldust (w/Marlena) vs. Brian Pillman
If Pillman loses, he wears a dress for a month, or something. Pillman is wearing a Marilyn Monroe shirt which is especially sad in hindsight; both died in their mid-30s. This is a very strange time for Goldust: he still had some of the androgynous overtones but that had been scaled back as a babyface, and Marlena was there and her only purpose seemed to be reminding the audience that Goldust is not gay. He does lay a kiss on Pillman off an inverted atomic drop attempt.
Pillman was on top of the world at Canadian Stampede and it is so sad how fast the fall was. He clearly can’t move around like he once did.
This match has a very botched finish when Pillman is too far from the ropes for Goldust to do a sunset flip attempt so that ends up looking like shit. They then adjust position so that Pillman is near the rope and Marlena can hit him with a purse. Pillman is taken down and pinned and he is upset about having to wear a dress. Fun fact: Pillman and Marlena dated when both were in WCW in the early 90s. The less said about this match, the better.
The Godwinns vs. The Legion of Doom
Godwinns have a Confederate flag with them because that makes you a heel in 1997, which they didn’t know a decade earlier during “The Rebel” Dick Slater’s ultra-forgettable babyface run. The issue here is LOD did a Doomsday Device on Henry Godwinn that legitimately injured his neck, and would eventually lead to Dennis Canterbury’s retirement. Bad year for neck injuries, as we’ll see. Lawler rips on the NY Jets as match starts, though they would go from 1-15 to 9-7 after hiring Bill Parcells. Excuse me, stealing Parcells from the Patriots.
This is a strange match too: The Godwinns dominate much of it with both LOD members playing face in peril. For some reason, Capt. Lou Albano is in the front row scouting. I’m not sure why they always looked into bringing him back; leave the memories alone. He wasn’t going to work as a babyface manager at that point.
Hawk gets a very lukewarm tag since this crowd isn’t into the LOD like they once were. He hits a Rude Awakening on Henry to work on the neck. The Doomsday Device is stopped, but as referee is distracted the LOD hit a spike piledriver(!) to get the win. At least the move looked good. Who would have thought at the time of this match that the Godwinns would end up having more staying power than LOD?
The Million Dollar Challenge (Bizarre Game Show Segment)
In the middle of this show, they had a contest where someone could win $1 million. The mind immediately goes to the stupid idea years later on a RAW when they had all sorts of technical issues. They flew two fans in for this, one of them a 12 year old boy and the other a middle aged man. Hosted by Pettengill who was accompanied by Sunny and Sable, they had to pick a number from 1 to 100 and they would get a key, which if it worked would open a chest filled with the cash. For what it’s worth, the kid picked #52 and the adult (Patrick Stevenson) picked #13.
In addition to these two, Pettengill calls someone….and there’s no answer. He tries a new number….which is disconnected. I cannot believe they left this in the show. They finally reach someone with the third call. Todd: “Are you watching Summerslam on PPV?” Guy on phone: “No I’m not, my cable company doesn’t carry it.” Despite all this, they let him pick a key and he chooses #33.
On the 4th call, the person was definitely prepared. So kudos to you, Rebecca Cohen of Missouri. She picks number 14.
Long story short, they try the keys and every one of them fails. To prove this wasn’t a con game (in wrestling? No way!), some dude takes the winning key and opens it up. The winning number was #3.
How this doesn’t get brought up as one of the strangest segments ever, I don’t know. And this is one of their biggest shows, not In Your House from Louisville.
The British Bulldog (C) vs. Ken Shamrock for the WWF European Championship.
Bulldog says he’ll eat dog food if he loses. Since I was working at PetSmart in 1997 at this time, I can tell you that the can they use (and put a new label over to cover the trademark) is Pedigree brand dog food. That’s why I’m here. This was set up as part of an arm wrestling angle, where Bulldog attacked Shamrock before losing and smeared him with dog food.
There is a quick ad for the One Night Only PPV. Holy crap, is that one a doozy. It’s also a show that WWE Network revised because they originally put up the Coliseum Video version which was missing the Bret Hart-Undertaker title match.
Here is the sign of the night: “Chris Puskarik Sucks” and the kid holding it is determined to get that on screen. If you look up that name on Twitter, he seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with Kelly Clarkson at one point.
Vince mentions UFC on commentary and says Shamrock is adapting. The dog food might be the stipulation, but this match is complete dog shit. On the first chinlock and maybe the second, I figured Bulldog was just calling spots. But something was very wrong here; Bulldog might have been blown up or injured or something because we get a third chinlock as we see Shamrock is bleeding from the mouth. Outside the ring they go, so they can have a mistimed spot there. So it’s back in and time for chinlock #4.
Ken gets sent outside and gets hit with the dog food, which causes him to snap for the DQ. The crowd is brought out of its collective coma as Shamrock beats the hell out of Bulldog and grabs my attention by putting on a Kokina Clutch! Somewhere in Huntington Beach, California, 18 year old Samoa Joe is nodding in approval. Five referees can’t pull him off, so the road agents hit the ring. Pat Patterson, because he’s awesome, takes the first belly to belly. Jerry Brisco and two referees follow and the crowd likes this. Awful match, good post-match.
Shawn Michaels is with Todd Pettengill and says he’ll be a fair and impartial referee.
Los Boricuas vs. Disciples of Apocalypse
GANG WARZ! The Boricuas all have fedoras on in the graphic so this must be where Andrade Cien Almas took his current look from. They shake hands with the Spanish commentary table that includes Tito Santana. DOA come out on their motorcycles. The white pants on the Boricuas just make them look like ice cream men to me. Hear that, GQ Magazine?
My only note here: “I can’t take this seriously” The Nation of Domination comes to the ring, which is only notable because it’s that very short period where they had Ahmed Johnson healthy and on the team. Boricuas get the win here. Let me just lay out the remainder of my notes on this one:
“Ahmed hits shittiest Pearl River Plunge on Chainz on outside. All groups fight after. I yawned. Crush tries to run everyone over with bike.” So yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Nice video package to set up the next match, with the clip of Owen Hart saying “I was the man who beat Stone Cold Steve Austin” over and over again. This refers to the prior PPV.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart (C) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship
Our Summerslam Stip for this one: Austin will kiss Owen’s ass if he loses. That’s very important for the finish here. On his way to the ring, newcomer Michael Cole gets all up in Austin’s business and gets the “you trash” “you and your stupid little bow tie” speech from the Rattlesnake. Vince: “Cole doesn’t know Austin very well.” While they are very different in so many ways, there is a lot of crossover between Austin in 1997 and Bad News Brown in 1988. Except Brown was never cheered for what he did.
Owen goes right at the left knee at the bell, which is smart since Austin his the giant bionic brace on it that screams “ATTACK THIS” to any opponent. Just like Robert Gibson’s knee wrap at Great American Bash 1991, except people actually give a shit about this match and show. Austin makes a comeback sending Owen chest first to the turnbuckle, then starts working the left arm. This of course is the last match for Stone Cold as Technician Austin because the injury would turn him into Brawler Austin. What happens without the injury? He still becomes the top star, but I don’t think they let the character develop the way they did with him Stunning everyone for several weeks. It’s an interesting rebooking exercise, but I’m a lousy booker.
Cool spot: Austin hits the post when Owen pulls his legs back before Austin can slam a leg to the post. Next, Owen goes to town on Austin’s hand and starts BITING HIS MIDDLE FINGER. Now that’s some really on the nose shit. Ross says Owen can be DQ’d and Austin would still have to kiss his ass, noting Austin said he would do that if he did not win the title. So then later they had to explain why Owen wouldn’t just get DQ’d or counted out by saying his Canadian pride wouldn’t allow that. Or you know, you could have just skipped the stipulation. In fact, Hart tries to leave but Austin brings him back.
Owen gets a belly to belly off an Irish Whip in another cool spot. He follows with a neckbreaker and now JR starts talking about Austin’s neck issues which predated even this match. One doctor even told Austin to retire shortly after WrestleMania 13 but he pressed on, You’d think he’d be more careful about neck spots going forward, but here we are. Elbow off the top by Owen only gets a two count.
Now the match kicks into a new gear as Austin reverses a crossbody for a close two count that the crowd bought as a near finish. The King of Harts gets control back with a sick looking German suplex, but can’t put him away so he works the neck with a Camel Clutch followed by a DDT that also gets two. The two exchange sleeper holds but Austin gets out of his with a jawbreaker that fooled the crowd because it looks very much like the Stone Cold Stunner. That would have been a neat finish if he got a Stunner out of a sleeper. In retrospect, I’m sure all would agree.
Owen goes back to a chinlock rest spot where he puts feet on the ropes to get some heat. And now this is where it happens: whip to the ropes and Austin looks to go for something like tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, which Owen reverses into a Tombstone position. Austin is moving his feet around and his head is waaaaaay too low. Owen compounds things by doing a sitout piledriver which made it worse. So then he has to stall as the referee checks on Austin. Owen argues in a way to put himself into position for a sorry looking rollup, but Austin was so badly hurt it’s amazing he could even do that.
There are problems with that spot beyond the injury itself: 1. It was a very risky move at that point with both guys tired and sweaty and thus you would be more prone for that mistake and 2. It was using the finisher (albeit sitout) of a guy in the next match (Undertaker). Austin has said on his podcast that this would have been the closest near fall spot….but why the hell would you try that when you KNOW your neck is hurt? Austin was calling the match in the ring, so this is partly on him even if Owen went the wrong way with it.
Video review of the travails of Bret Hart. Did you know he lost a match on RAW to The Patriot? Distraction rollup, yes. But he still lost!
Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. The Undertaker (C) for WWF World Title with Shawn Michaels as special referee
Lots of background needed here. Michaels hadn’t wrestled since June and was in a legitimate backstage altercation with Hart on June 9 in Hartford whereupon Shawn walked out for a while. Bret vowed that he would never wrestle again in the United States if he didn’t win the title. Meanwhile, Michaels was named special ref which so pissed off Bret that he attacked Vince McMahon at ringside on a RAW. To make things right, Michaels would not be allowed to wrestle in the United States if he favored the Undertaker. And the champion Undertaker was distracted by the Paul Bearer “Kane is alive!” angle. He only has the world title at stake. As I said in the intro, there is only one real booking outcome here though at the time I wondered if they would write one of the other guys off for a bit.
Bret gets the mic after his entrance and asks for the Canadian National Anthem to be played. Sadly he doesn’t sing it like some sort of Albertan Nikolai Volkoff. You’re not going to get me to hate Canada because I love it there and still have $50 leftover from my June Toronto visit.
Bret and Shawn bicker during the instructions and the Hitman grabs the belt to hit Taker as the match begins. Once outside the ring, the champion controls by tossing Bret to the railing and the ring post. There’s a lengthy shine sequence for Undertaker here as I start to wonder if this is turning into a 1982 Bob Backlund match, which were famous for Bob giving his opponent very little before winning in the end anyway. This is probably why babyface Undertaker as champ is so weird.
Finally Taker is hit in the left leg and Hart goes to work to keep the bigger guy down. Not the most exciting stuff in the world, but I trust Bret in terms of building to a crescendo. Figure four leglock is slapped on as Paul Bearer comes to ringside. Undertaker turns the hold over and when broken, he confronts Bearer on the floor. “No no no no no!” says Bearer and his former charge decks him anyway. This allows Bret to chop block the distracted Deadman and gain the edge again. This leads to the Ringpost Figure Four, a move I love despite the fact that you need clear help from your opponent to make it work.
Owen Hart and Brian Pillman arrive at ringside to check things out, and I dream of a Pillman-Michaels program. What would have been the ideal year for such a thing without regard to them being contracted to opposing places? I’ll say late 1992 with Pillman coming off the Liger series and Shawn coming into his own as a single. Moot point, since they hated each other and wouldn’t have worked together anyway. Seems like a common thing with Shawn. The Hitman keeps working the leg as I realize that this match would be 25% better if this was the 2000s era MMA Undertaker.
Once out of the hold, Taker flings himself backward over the rope nonchalantly and drills the two Hart Foundation members. Michaels leaves the ring to make sure those two head back to the locker room, but Undertaker hit a chokeslam on Bret and covers but no count. Pissed off by this, Undertaker grabs the Boy Toy but gets rolled up for a two count. Back to the floor and Hitman starts working the back by throwing Taker into the apron and ringpost. Inside, the backbreaker gets two. And now a very interesting moment: Hart goes to 2nd rope and flips off the crowd before hitting an elbow. He then gives the finger toward where Vince is sitting. I should be clear that per Hart’s book, the two were not having issues at this point.
I always found it strange that Hart used the headbutt a lot. But Taker fights back lifting and driving the Hitman into the corner. After a trade of offense, Taker hits his flying clothesline setting up another odd moment. Off a whip, he gives Bret the big boot and follows with a running leg drop. BROTHER, DUDE, YOU’RE STEALING MY MOVES, BROTHER. That’s good for only two, because it’s not the blond guy with the muscles. Hart is on the apron but Taker chokeslams him back in. The champion tries Old School but gets crotched on the top rope. After Taker slips on the first attempt, the Hitman gets the superplex. Sharpshooter is slapped on but Taker breaks the hold.
With this newfound momentum, Taker goes for the Tombstone but Bret slips out and gets a Sharpshooter around the ring post. Michaels slips outside to lay a five count, but the Deadman kicks out of the predicament and Hart collides with Michaels. HBK is down for a bit, so Bret calmly grabs a chair and just drills Undertaker right in the fucking head with it. Nasty. But when Shawn counts it, Taker gets the left shoulder up.
At this point, Shawn sees the chair in the corner, grabs it and starts to argue with Bret. The Hitman channels his inner Roberto Alomar and hocks a loogie at his rival. It’s a gross one too with the froth built up over a 20+ minute match. Michaels swings the chair and he too hits Undertaker right in the head. Because of the stipulation, he has to count three, giving the title to Bret. There is silence at commentary which makes the moment even cooler. I love this finish because of how shocking it was at the time, and with Taker taking two huge shots. The problem for the new champ was that all of his heat was now transferred to Michaels for his war with Undertaker because that was a fresh matchup. The Hitman would be relegated to facing The Patriot on the next PPV, which is kind of like defending the World Title against Dolph Ziggler on PPV. The Hart Foundation of Bulldog, Owen, and Pillman hit the ring to celebrate as Bret might have won the title, but he lost all his heat in the process.
Verdict: Love the main event with the slow build to the hot finish. The opening cage match was a lot of fun between two guys on the way up. But there was a lot of turds in the middle, some of it by accident since I presume they didn’t want to cripple their hottest act. Does that make this a turd sandwich? Maybe. It’s a historical marker and I still can’t believe they did a segment with a sitting governor AND a money giveaway game where they gave away no money and called a disconnected line. Thumbs firmly in the middle. There’s enough nostalgia here for me.