June 8th 1997. Providence, Rhode Island
Usually the opening video packages of PPV shows are really just to push the main event. The difference with King of the Ring 1997 is that a lot seems to have happened on Monday Night Raw in the last month.
Firstly, after months of holding the titles and going through such a high class of opponents as LaFon and Furnas and The Fake Diesel and Razor Ramon, Owen Hart and The British Bulldog have finally dropped the tag team titles to the odd combo of Stone Cold Steve Austin and a returning Shawn Michaels. The storyline reason for these two teaming was that they both hated The Hart Foundation with such a passion that they were willing to join forces when it came to having a title shot against Bulldog and Owen on Raw. This soon developed into a contest of them trying to out do each other, culminating in the tag team champions facing each other tonight.
Also, Faarooq appears to have been named number one contender to The Undertaker’s title simply as a result of having The Nation attack him. At least he’s not facing Ahmed Johnson again. Paul Bearer is still a heel but seems to now be back with The Undertaker having threatened to reveal ‘a dark secret’ if the Phenom doesn’t march to his tune.
The actual King of the Ring tournament itself is once again taken up from the semi final stages on the show itself. The WWF seems to have settled on this format due to the risk of the crowd getting bored of watching the same wrestler three times in one night (although Bret did a very good job in 1993). The first semi final up tonight is Hunter Hearst Helmsley versus our good friend Ahmed Johnson. As Vince McMahon and Jim Ross say on commentary this is a battle of opposites as Hunter is the blue blood born wealthy and Ahmed who was brought up in the streets. They don’t go as far as to say ‘rich white guy fighting poor black guy’ but it’s certainly put forward in that way.
As a side note before the match begins, Chyna and Ahmed appear to have the same style of leggings.
The opening moments feature Hunter getting pushed around a lot as Ahmed shows his power. Hunter does manage to get a chop in during all of this but Ahmed no sells it completely. Only after Ahmed misses an elbowdrop can Hunter gain some kind of offense by Irish whipping Ahmed into the ring steps. Hunter then hits Ahmed with an axe handle which he once again no sells. The rest of the match features more examples of Ahmed’s somewhat reckless style as he hits a scissor kick to Hunter in the small of the
back rather than the shoulders and a spinebuster which drops Hunter directly into his arse.
Chyna was always going to be the difference here and her presence comes into play at the end as she climbs the apron forcing Ahmed to confront her. Hunter then does a running knee into Ahmed’s back which forces him into the turnbuckle. Hunter then gets the Pedigree for the three count. It feels a bit out of nowhere as Ahmed was dominant beforehand and a simple shove into the corner shouldn’t really slow him down that much, Ahmed then gives chase to a fleeing Hunter and Chyna but the guys holding the entrance doors don’t open them in time forcing Hunter to go around the side. Ahmed goes through the doors but visibly stops dead as soon as he crosses the threshold. It’s a passable opening match when you consider Hunter would have to save himself for the final later on.
After years of attacking any faces who won the tournament itself Jerry Lawler is actually competing in this one. His semi final against Mankind is up next. When Mick Foley’s
persona first entered the WWF he was portrayed as a loner who enjoyed inflicting pain and had spent most of his life in a basement. Here starts the Mankind babyface project as J.R says that Mankind’s popularity ‘has grown over the last few months’. When Mankind gets in the ring he gives the gun motion complete with ‘Bang bang’ which is nothing to do with the Mankind character. Later in the match they’ll refer to him as Mick Foley. The character is being humanised gradually. The biggest difference in the Mankind character though is the fact that Paul Bearer seems to have left him to it. According to Mankind it seems ‘Paul has other business tonight’.
Jerry Lawler is interviewed backstage by Todd Pettingill but it doesn’t last long. Lawler soon steals his mic, walks through the curtain and starts to yell at the crowd through it. Lawler sure likes the word ‘peons’. I was expecting at this stage another match full of Lawler like shenanigans such as his matches with Ultimate Warrior and Mark Henry the year before but he does actually go for it during this. I’ve have heard of wrestlers working over their opponents knees, ankles, legs, backs, necks, arms and elbows but Lawler chooses to focus on Mankind’s ear during this match.
Yes, the one that had been ripped off years before in that match against Vader. Quite what deadly lobe attacking submission move Lawler has planned to finish this match off I have no idea. Lawler makes good use of the pair of brass knuckles (at least we assume that’s what it is, we never actually see the object in question) he keeps producing from his trunks. Mankind also gets his head rammed into the rail just as J.R mentions Cactus Jack. Lawler gets two piledrivers in, enough for Mankind to start selling the neck but alas, a sunset flip attempt leaves the King wide open to The Mandible Claw which gains Mankind a KO victory. Your final is set between Triple H and Mankind.
Brian Pillman is backstage being interviewed about Stone Cold when the man himself appears behind him to attack him and attempt to flush his head down a nearby toilet. Strangely, there’s a camera inside the cubicle that is focused straight onto the pan. Either this is for drug testing purposes or somebody gets their kicks in strange ways.
Onwards, to a match I’d actually forgotten happened until I checked my notes! Goldust versus Crush. In a similar idea to Mankind they also refer to Goldust by his real name as he makes his entrance. They also acknowledge Marlena is his wife. There’s a shift already away from simply having wrestling versions of people and instead giving them backstories, even for people who have been in the WWF for a couple of years already.
This is a fairly nothing match and feels a bit thrown together. The undercard in the WWF at this time seems to consist of The Nation, Goldust, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Rocky Maivia (who is nowhere to be seen tonight) and Marc Mero (ditto for him actually). Matches seem to be conjured up between this group as filler. Crush’s style seems to be high impact moves followed by some of the longest rest holds you’ll ever see. A high impact Irish Whip into the corner by Crush is followed by holding Goldust in a chinlock for what feels like a month.
J.R points out about halfway though the match that he’s ‘never had a six foot six guy try and give me a kiss’. Vince is obviously not sure how to respond to that.
Eventually the gathered members of The Nation, which amounts to about three of them as the numbers seem to be shrinking each month, try to intimidate Marlena at ringside. Goldust goes to the outside to save his wife, gets attacked from behind by Crush but quickly snaps a DDT for a pinfall victory. Once again this seems to come out of nowhere and I’d be interested to know when the last match before this to be settled by a DDT was.
The Legion of Doom were a brilliant tag team but the promos were awful. Sid’s promos were also terrible as he often fluffed his lines and lost track of what he was saying. They’re interviewed backstage and Hawk bellows, Animal bellows, Sid bellows and then goes really quiet before bellowing some more.
Then we go to the Hart Foundation team of Jim Neidhart, Bulldog and Owen. They all bellow some more.
They might have lost the tag belts but Owen still holds the I.C title and Bulldog has the European championship around his waist. Sid seems to have gone from being a face this time last year, a heel at Wrestlemania against Undertaker when he dropped the title and now face again as he teams with Legion of Doom. All we need is for him to turn heel again tonight and he’ll be the precursor to The Big Show.
Owen always seemed to be the guy who took the major battering whenever The Hart Foundation faced anybody bigger. In the opening moments of this match he’s thrown around like a rag doll. Bulldog is tagged in and Sid completely ignores a vertical suplex that he takes, Hawk also seems to suffer no ill effects from a Bulldog piledriver. It looks like it’s going to be a long night for Manchester’s favourite son. Later on it’s Animal who plays the face getting beat up.
At this point we learn though the commentary that Diana Hart (remember her?) is up for the award of Miss Calgary. Quite what she has to do as part of this contest is never revealed.
Neidhart and Owen go for a double clothesline on Hawk, he just runs right through it. The match finishes as Sid tries to powerbomb Bulldog, Owen leaps over him and gets a very messy looking sunset flip allowing him to get the three count. It’s a match that seems a bit disjointed but fine enough to fill in the time.
In years gone past the final of the King of the Ring tournament was usually last on, a mark of the importance given to the contest itself. Also it was usually an opportunity for the winner to get the coronation and push them further up the card. Here we are however, about halfway through the PPV and we’re about to see the final of the 1997 edition. Mankind keeps grabbing his neck, Hunter has Chyna by his side. The beginning of the match is slow, almost painfully so, as we have what amounts to headlock city. It’s not long before Dude Love is mentioned on commentary and a lot is made of Mankind’s resilience and ability to absorb pain. Early on Mankind gets his head wrapped up in the top and second rope which tears his mask off leaving him to put it back on hastily on the outside. Hunter then baseball slides Mankind into the railings. Foley sure got mileage out of smacking the back of his head off metal and concrete.
A Mankind DDT only gets a two count because Chyna distracts the ref. There’s then a spot when a Pedigree is reversed into a back drop which Hunter turns into a sunset flip allowing Mankind to try and lock in the Mandible. Chyna comes to Hunter’s aid by pulling Mankind out through the ropes. We enter the next phase with Mankind’s clothesline over the top rope. As Mankind takes flight to elbow a prone Hunter on the outside Chyna pulls Hunter out of the way leaving Mankind to crash into the rails again.
There follows a spot in which Mankind is Pedigreed through Vince and JR’s announce table. The table doesn’t break that well though, leaving Mankind head first through it. As Mankind attempts to get back into the ring he is battered with the royal sceptre by Chyna. Mankind gets wrapped into another Pedigree for a three count.
Hunter might have won the whole thing but his ‘coronation’ is nothing compared to previous illustrious winners such as Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Stone Cold and…Mabel. He’s
basically handed a robe by Todd Pettingill and uses the crown to beat Mankind up even more. There’s no memorable promo from Hunter, no shift in his character, he just walks off.
With the formality of crowning a winner for the tournament which gives this PPV a name out of the way we head to the main matches. Stone Cold versus Shawn Michaels is really good, maybe not Stone Cold/Bret or Shawn/Mankind good but good all the same and very enjoyable. The underline for this clash is that they are the current tag team champions, they don’t want to put each other out of action too much and The Hart Foundation are waiting for them to tear each other apart.
Before all this can get underway however there’s a small matter of Bret Hart coming out with the rest of The Hart Foundation to cut a promo saying he’s nearly fit and ready to go again. Also he lays down a challenge to any five wrestlers to face The Hart Foundation next month at the Canadian Stampede PPV. He’s apparently going to do commentary on this match but there’s no table left and a spare headset cannot be found. The entire faction is therefore kicked out from ringside. Stone Cold is shown in the back before his entrance through the curtain flipping the bird to Brian Pillman and he’s wrestled away by security.
Before Michaels and Austin can get properly going there’s a slight incident with security at ringside. A fan who Vince describes as ‘a special Olympian’ jumps the barrier. Essentially, all he seems to want is a hug from Shawn Michaels which he actually gets as HBK escorts him down the aisle to the back. Austin pretty much has to find a referee to yell at whilst all this is going on in order to keep up the persona.
Early on Shawn seems to revert to chinlocks after a little bit of rope running which is conducted full force. Shawn is rammed into the rail at one stage and he’s seen laughing it off. This period of time would have been smack in the middle of Shawn being a complete arse to everybody. Later on in the match Austin lifts the ringside crash mats and Shawn ends up getting press slammed onto the concrete. This is followed by a moment in which Shawn tries a cross body but there’s nobody home so he just slides out of the ring. The match is just building up a nice level of intensity when we get the screwy finish.
Austin manages to run into referee Tim White. Stone Cold’s pin attempt whilst White is out obviously doesn’t count so he Stunners White instead to take out his frustration. A
second ref receives a Sweet Chin Music from HBK. Chaos erupts until Head of Refereeing Earl Hebner comes down to disqualify them both. Stone Cold and Shawn exit together with a complete look of distrust towards each other.
In Vince’s words Faarooq might become ‘the first person of colour’ to be WWF Champion tonight. Between that and ‘special Olympian’ he’s really pushing the diversity card tonight. Paul Bearer is also sporting the smallest plaster on his face to sell his burns he gained last time around. Honestly it looks like he cut himself shaving.
Bearer says he’ll reveal to the world this dark secret of Undertaker’s if he loses the title. It’s good to see Bearer back with The Undertaker and this spin on the dynamic is keeping things fresh at least. Also add Undertaker to the list of wrestlers the WWF are trying to give more of a human background to.
Undertaker walks the opening of this match, including a great spot in which he goes up for Old School but ends up diving off the ropes the other way towards the grouped Nation members below. When Undertaker tries this a second time the Nation members attack him so he ends up crotching himself however. The Nation then continue to attack on the outside.
Faarooq grabs the ring steps and tries to attack Undertaker before a big boot from the Dead Man plants them back in his face. A Faarooq piledriver only gets a two count not long after this. Faarooq soon goes for the Dominator but he gets backdropped which is followed by a lovely spot when Faarooq tries to crossbody Taker from the top rope only to get power slammed.
Having the Nation ringside for this match must have seemed a good idea for Faarooq at the time but when crush and Savio Vega start to argue the leader has to step away from the match to check on them. This distraction ends up walking Faarooq straight into a Tombstone for the three. Paul Bearer stops Taker from leaving the ring as he wants him to chokeslam Faarooq at least twice. Undertaker has no choice but to comply. Ahmed Johnson then comes down to remonstrate with Taker and tell him to ignore Bearer and do his own thing. Ahmed then Pearl River Plunges Taker and leaves the ring. A disgruntled Undertaker walks after Bearer as the show ends.
King of the Ring 1997 isn’t a bad show and it feels a bit better put together than In Your House did last month. There’s effort taken to develop more backstories for even the more well established wrestlers, HBK and Stone Cold look to have something of a future as they’ll face each other again and Bret Hart continues to be rather good in the heel role. Next month we get those roles completely reversed however.