April 20th 1997. Rochester, New York
There’s always something a little lacking in the few weeks after a WrestleMania. It’s almost as if the entire force of the WWF is spent with putting on the biggest show of the year and they’re desperate for something approaching a break before launching into another year. Some matches repeat themselves whilst others just seem thrown together. Revenge of the Taker certainly feel this way in places.
Our opener brings us the tag team title match of Owen Hart and The British Bulldog (who seem to have held these belts for an age now) defending against The Legion of Doom. Last month it felt like Owen and Bulldog were the faces against the heel team of Vader and Mankind, their allegiance with the newly turned Bret Hart blows that out of the water.
The Legion of Doom always worked stiff and this is certainly no different. Owen takes a few brutal looking bumps early on. You’d think he’d had enough of those with Vader last month. Control eventually goes to Bulldog and Owen as Hawk end up being the good guy getting beat up. During all of this we get a split screen double feature as the cameras in the back pick up on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s arrival in the arena. Back to the match, at one point Bulldog is shoved into Owen when Owen is the legal man. Animal then plants Bulldog down with a power slam and a pinfall. The crowd erupts as LOD win the tag titles.
All however is not as it seems as it transpires (after much discussion between two referees) that Animal has not pinned the legal man so therefore the match must continue. Owen and Bulldog are in the aisle obviously thinking they’ll just get counted out. Alas this plan is void by the fact the ref suddenly makes one of those ‘only in wrestling’ decisions when he states the tag titles shall belong to LOD if they don’t get back into the ring now. They make it back to the ring on the count of 9. The match continues well enough until Bret Hart gets involved to break up an LOD pin attempt causing a DQ finish. LOD may have won (again) but they’re not taking the belts home with them tonight. In fact the ref has to sprint down the aisle to give them back to Owen and Bulldog.
When interviewed moments later backstage, Owen and Bulldog also seem is disbelief that Stone Cold has made it to the arena.
It’s also around this time that we see Brian Pillman and Sunny (hey, remember her?) who are almost engaging in foreplay on the Superstar line. They’ll be ‘up all night’ apparently. Honestly, it’s a mystery why that girl is constantly rumoured to be doing porn as she seems such a wholesome individual.
In the latest chapter of probably the most injury riddled angle of all time we have Savio Vega of the Nation of Domination challenging for the Intercontinental Title held by Rocky Maivia. Obviously, in months to come the Nation will be a bigger part of Rocky’s WWF career but here they are standing on the opposite side of the ring to him. The Nation’s entrance features the usual white man rap stuff but Farrooq is notable by his absence.
Apparently this match should have been Vader vs Rocky with Vader going over as a reward for his performance at Final Four. Unfortunately for Vader he was still being held in Kuwait for what we’ll call a ‘slight diplomatic misunderstanding’. In fact it was about this..
Vader’s loss is Savio Vega’s gain, if you can call being dragged into this Nation vs Ahmed Johnson feud a gain. The crowd don’t seem to be into this one at all which is probably a result of Savio Vega not being over and nobody liking the character of Rocky Maivia no matter how much he smiles. There’s a promo before the match gets underway as Rocky is interviewed by Kevin Kelly. Considering the amount of verbal barbs The Rock will throw at Kelly in the future it’s unusual to have Rocky here saying he’s nervous and Savio Vega ‘might win’. This is a face champion lacking confidence, this is never good.
As the match begins Farooq appears sporting an arm sling and he takes up a position on the commentary booth. His mic isn’t working initially so Jim Ross hands over his. This allows Faarooq to complain about the anti Nation agenda operating in the WWF. He also comments on the challenge The Nation have issued Ahmed Johnson. Farooq reckons that if Ahmed can beat Crush, Savio Vega and himself in one night then he’ll disband The Nation. At the time of this match Ahmed has yet to respond.
After some fairly standard action Savio ends up throwing Rocky out of the ring and knocking Crush backwards in the process. Crush then Heart Punches Rocky behind the ref’s back meaning Rocky gets counted out. Savio gets pissed off that Crush has cost him his chance at the title. Faarooq leaves the announce table to pull rank and The Nation beat up a prone Rocky. Suddenly Ahmed Johnson appears wearing what look like pajamas and chase off Faarooq and company. Whilst holding a 2×4 Ahmed accepts the challenge. There are no specifics given as to when this gauntlet match will take place.
We go backstage to Doc Henrix who is interviewing Sable and Marc Mero which seems like a complete waste of time as they have absolutely nothing to say. For some strange reason they’re right outside the gents toilets and Stone Cold is seen stomping through the door. There’s a commotion from inside before Owen Hart and British Bulldog walk out of the door, see the camera and run away.
Next up is a match which is complete throwaway as Jessie Jammes takes on a competitor chosen by The Honky Tonk Man in the shape of ‘Rockabilly’. These two would go on to form The New Age Outlaws in a few months time, probably one of the most over tag teams at the time, so it’s a surprise to see them have a contest held in a charisma vacuum. It feels like five minutes of a match that nobody in the building cares about. After getting a bit cocky Billy manages to get himself wrapped up in a small package. That’s pretty much the only highlight.
Gorilla Monsoon is backstage with an injured Stone Cold who has refused medical help after being attacked by Owen and Bulldog. Austin also says he’s not backing out of his match against Bret Hart tonight. Monsoon does say he’ll move Stone Cold vs Bret Hart to the last match as this will give Austin more time to recover.
The Hart Foundation themselves are seen explaining their side of the story. Apparently Owen and Bulldog were just celebrating their earlier victory over The Legion of Doom in the men’s toilets and Stone Cold burst in threatening them. Quite how you celebrate in a men’s toilet I’m unsure.
So our next match is the World Wrestling Federation Championship match between The Undertaker and Mankind. The last time Mick Foley was in a match for the biggest prize it was against Shawn Michaels back at Mind Games. That match was a blinder and this, whilst not quite breaking upwards to that level, it’s still a pretty good watch. Foley seems to have made a career in the WWF/E over the years in being one of the top guys but not the top guy. There’s no shame to this and I’m not knocking Mick’s ability at all but his talents were at the best when he was bringing up a new talent or cementing the place of an established star in the top line.
This match seems to have come around because Undertaker was hit in the face by a fireball that was Mankind’s doing. As such Taker arrives sporting a massive plaster over his right eye. It’s nowhere near as impressive as the mask he wore at Survivor Series 95 to protect his cheekbone but there you go.
Foley absorbs his traditional level of punishment, at one point being rammed back of the head first into the guardrail twice in quick succession. They also brawl into the crowd just after this. One very impressive part is when Undertaker goes for Old School from the ropes, realisies he’s a little too far out for it but transfers it into a flying clothesline instead. It comes off really well.
Now, I might be going a bit deaf or maybe I was taking a sip of coffee at the time but I don’t remember this match being billed as No DQ but steel chairs and ring steps quickly get involved. It’s a chair shot then renders Mankind strung up by the neck in the ropes as Taker rips his mask off. Right after this Mankind is driven head first through the announce table. I mean head first, he’s kind of planted there for ages. Back in the ring Taker gets a two count from the chokeslam and then a three from a Tombstone. Now comes the bit where it derails slightly.
I think I remember hearing an interview Mick Foley gave when he said that this spot had gone right on so many occasions before but it failed on the night. The spot was apparently meant to have Mankind blow a fireball towards Undertaker, Taker would pull Paul Bearer in front of him so he would take the blast instead. The Lighter they have however will not light for anything so, to buy time, Undertaker grabs it and fights Mankind off whilst Bearer sits in the corner waiting and wailing. Finally, after what seems like an age Taker lights the thing in Bearer’s face.
Now let’s take a moment before we carry on to appreciate Bret Hart’s heel character. Despite the fact he apparently hated being the bad guy he absolutely nails it as the Canadian with a superiority complex in the middle of American arenas. His reprised allegiance with Owen and Bulldog also works really well.
This Stone Cold versus Bret Hart match lacks the science of their Survivor Series 1996 encounter and also doesn’t have the sheer intensity of last month’s WrestleMania classic but it’s still brilliant. It’s the first match in which Stone Cold is a face so the dynamic has changed. The match is still utter class though.
Bret’s early attacks focus on Stone Cold’s knee, including a chair shot to it and a corner figure four. Stone Cold screams the place down during this brutalising of his joints. Stone Cold’s knee actually gives out on him during a piledriver attempt which is followed by Bret delivering a superplex into Austin’s loose knee brace. The knee brace comes back into play when Stone Cold batters Bret with it allowing him to lock in the Sharpshooter. Whilst at risk of tapping out of his own move Bret is helped by Owen and Bulldog who storm the ring. Stone Cold fights them off before returning to the Sharpshooter. Bulldog ends it with a chairshot to a prone Austin. Yes, it’s another DQ finish for the evening but you know this feud hasn’t ended here to it’s fine in these circumstances.
So the WrestleMania hangover is blown away by the last two matches after a fairly terrible undercard. Bret’s heel character is brilliant (and it’s sad that he only had six months at it) and Stone Cold is finally getting somewhere nearly one year after winning King of the Ring and giving us the infamous ‘Austin 3:16′ quote that history would have you believe rocketed him to main event status within days.