July 6th 1997. Calgary, Alberta
The Canadian Stampede might have been just another B-show were it not for the small detail of taking place in Calgary. The main event sees the usual face team led by Stone Cold go up against the heel Hart Foundation led by Bret Hart. This is Canada though and the fans were always going to cheer for the Harts even if they’d committed mass murder in the car park before the show.
I have a very distinct memory of the WWF production crew trying to lessen the impact of the crowd’s reaction to the Hart Foundation. The DVD copy of this show I bought a few years ago does seem to have had the audio filtered somehow to soften it. The WWE Network presentation features none of this however, the opening video mentions how the roles will be changed tonight so it’s not like they weren’t prepared for this.
The second thing to notice in the opening segment is that Jerry Lawler is wearing the most oversized Stetson hat ever. It’s probably between him and Yosamite Sam for that title.
It’s a fairly short card tonight for this two hour show, featuring only four matches on the main presentation. Firstly we have the rematch from the King of the Ring last month with Mankind taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. It’s notable that Hunter doesn’t have anything to do with the ‘King’ gimmick despite being the winner of the tournament. He doesn’t have the robe nor does he wear a crown. It’s almost like that whole thing can be forgotten about fairly quickly. He does have Chyna with him though, who has awesome hair this evening.
What? It looks really nice and shiny.
Mankind doesn’t wait for the bell, he goes straight for Hunter and does a rather fantastic mocking bow after attacking him. Mankind quickly backdrops Hunter out over the top rope to the outside and suplexes him on the ramp. J.R describes Mankind as ‘the Prime Minister of parts unknown’ which is an election campaign I certainly would have liked to have seen.
Mankind stalks Chyna on the outside, Hunter tries to axehandle him from the turnbuckle and is quickly punched in the gut for his troubles. The turning point comes when Hunter Irish whips Mankind towards Chyna and the 9th Wonder of the World hiptosses him with such fury that his knee clatters off the steel steps. Mankind’s leg is hurting for the rest of the match, especially after Hunter uses a chair on it.
Hunter goes for a pedigree but Mankind grabs his legs in time for a floored Hunter to shove Mankind back into the turnbuckle. Mankind then rebounds, falls face first and lands right in Hunter’s crotch. The following Mankind fallback piledriver gets a two count only.
After Mankind’s clothesline over the top and a sneaking Chyna attack the fight goes over the railings. Both men are then counted out meaning the match ends up a no contest. It’s a strange ending to the match itself which was building up a great head of steam but there’s more to come. For now though they vanish into the back, still taking lumps out of each other.
Remember last month when we found out Diana Hart Smith was in the Miss Calgary competition? Well it looks like she won. Congratulations to her, we can only assume it wasn’t awarded for acting ability.
The Hart Foundation nearly get to cut a promo in the back, mainly because Stone Cold interrupts.
Back in January at the Royal Rumble we had a six man tag featuring Mexican wrestlers. Here, whilst in Canada, we’re getting two Japanese wrestlers battling in the WWF ‘light heavyweight division’. Perhaps this was an effort to gain viewers who had been enjoying WCW’s rather brilliant Cruiserweight division of the time but it seems very out of place here. Taka Michinoku vs The Great Sasuke is a match which starts out slow but ends up having some brilliant moments. It’s a big shame that the WWF fans, reared on a diet of massive muscle men lumping each other like Gods atop Olympus, are all walking out of the arena towards the food stands and toilets.
Before we get fully under way however Mankind and Hunter come back to brawl some more on the arena floor. The crowd liven up for the two of them punching each other lights out in the penalty box. They eventually end up outside in the car park as Hunter cracks a shovel over Mankind’s back.
Jim Ross is the obvious savour of the commentary team on this match, being the only one who seems to have watched any Japanese wrestling at all. He’s able to tell viewers about the Michinoku Driver for a start. There are elements of the more full on Japanese style here, those kicks to the head are fairly brutal looking. The height Taka gets on a plancha to the outside is also very impressive. Sasuke follows a spring board elbow with a stunning moonsault. The home stretch involves Sasuke drop kicking Taka out of the air and following with a bridging suplex for the 3 count. It’s been plucky young buck against legend, it’s been good, the crowd don’t care.
Ahmed Johnson must have been the most injury prone wrestler on Earth in 1997. He’s benched again as last month’s Pearl River Plunge to Undertaker has to be swept under the carpet in favour of Vader taking his place in the title match. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise as it gives Paul Bearer a chance to accuse Undertaker of killing his parents in a housefire and say he has a brother who, whilst long thought dead, is actually alive and plotting revenge. Vince McMahon actually says the name ‘Kane’ on commentary but I’m not sure he’s supposed to as nobody else does. Still, he’s hardly going to yell down the headset at himself is he?
It’s very handy they can refer back to Vader’s Royal Rumble victory over Undertaker as a basis for this match, otherwise it might seem like they’ve just promoted him out of nowhere. The crowd goes nuts for the entrances of both wrestlers but for some reason end up deathly silent during the first few moments of the match itself. They do say Canadians are polite though.
Taker utterly dominates the opening segment of this match, flooring Vader with both a flying clothesline and Old School. A lot of the early going involves Undertaker trying to get his hands on his ex manager who is cowering around one corner of the ring. At one point Undertaker is on the outside and Bearer aims the weakest kick ever seen at him before ruffling his hair a bit. It’s a lowest key illegal attack ever seen in wrestling.
Vader’s offence amounts to headlocks and clubbing forearms up to this point. Now however he breaks out the top rope clothesline of his own and a splash. When Taker fights back from this the camera is actually shaking from the noise of the crowd. They’re truly going completely crazy over this. Undertaker goes for a chokeslam but Vader kicks him in the groin right in front of the ref who does nothing at all. Taker then goes for a Tombstone which Vader manages to go backwards to reverse but they both lose balance and kind of flop into a pile.
Vader tries a Vader Bomb once Taker is down by the corner but Taker gets up just as Vader is climbing the turnbuckle so he can punch him in the gentleman’s area. Once again it’s right in front of the ref and once again nothing happens. Undertaker uses this opportunity to get a Chokeslam which earns him a two count followed by a final Tombstone for three. The Undertaker retains and Paul Bearer runs like hell up the ramp. It’s been a fairly intense match and far better than the match Taker had with Faarooq last month.
“This has nothing to do with USA versus Canada” screams Animal during team Stone Cold’s promo. This is clearly a nonsense, this has everything to do with nationalism otherwise this show wouldn’t be selling the amount of tickets it was. Despite the fact the Hart Foundation has an English Bulldog, an American born Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman from Cincinnati the fans in Canada are won over when they’re alongside Bret and Owen Hart.
Stone Cold clearly loves all this. He gets to be the heel he always wanted the character to be and is only too happy to flip the fingers up to the Hart family members at ringside. He’s doing all this whilst grinning his head off. We also learn that Goldust’s wife Marlina is home looking after their daughter tonight so cannot be ringside. ‘Being a Mom’ as J.R puts it. The Goldust character has, in about a year, gone from bisexual touchy feely pervert to a family man who dresses up in an all in one gold jumpsuit. I’m not sure which I should be more worried about.
Bruce Hart is also ringside wearing terrible sunglasses indoors. Who lets Bruce into these things?
The match itself is fantastic, the build up is good and the crowd are so far into the action that it really comes across well on TV. Also, you know you’re in for a big match when they save the national anthem for before the bell rings rather than the top of the show itself. I had to Google Farmer’s Daughter, they look like a Canadian version of The Corrs.
Stone Cold and Bret Hart begin the match and Bret very quickly beats down Austin into a corner much to the delight of the fans. Stone Cold does try to apply the Million Dollar Dream (although it’s not referred to by that name, possibly because Ted DiBiase was plying his trade for WCW at this time). Bret rebounds off the turnbuckle and tries to pin Stone Cold whilst the hold is still applied. I’ll give this the unofficial name of the ‘Piper Finish’ in the future.
Before long Anvil is tagged in for the Harts and Ken Shamrock enters the fray for Team Stone Cold. There’s a fantastic moment where Shamrock goes into a MMA pose to strike and Anvil copies him. Shamrock actually manages to apply the anklelock but Pillman runs into the ring for the save. Before long Pillman is the legal man and bites Shamrock. Owen and Goldust end up crossing paths soon after in which Owen manages to lock the Sharpshooter in but Animal breaks it up.
After only about eight to ten minutes of this match we’ve seen everybody in the match legally. There are no passengers in this match, everybody is in the thick of the action.
Owen Hart always seems to be the one taking the huge bumps in these matches lately. Despite giving Animal a huge missile drop kick he falls victim to a powerbomb followed by a Doomsday Device which is saved by Anvil. This gives Stone Cold a golden opportunity to drag Owen to the corner and ram his knee into the post. Bruce Hart tries to get involved by punching Austin and then throwing beer at him. Owen’s knee needs medical attention, he’s sent to the back and the match carries on four against five.
Revenge is very swift however as Bret manages to get Austin in the corner a few minutes later and uses a fire extinguisher as a weapon on Stone Cold’s knee cap. Austin is also sent to the back for medical attention and the match goes on four versus four. There’s a reprise of the original Hart Foundation’s double team move as Anvil backbreakers Animal for Bret to drop an elbow on. As Pillman sends Shamrock into the announce table and Hawk is thrown into the ring steps Vince declares it ‘nationalism gone awry’.
As Bulldog superplexes Goldust Austin limps back down the aisle and rejoins the match. He’s soon battling Bret again in the middle of the ring, even reversing a sleeper into a Stunner. Austin then snaps on the sharpshooter only to have Owen run down the aisle to distract him. Before long Austin is at the railings having a fight with any member of the Hart family that moves. He’s then dumped back in the ring among all this chaos where Owen rolls him up (and pulls the tights slightly) for a three count. Pandemonium erupts as beer cups are thrown at the retreating Americans.
Austin doesn’t go lightly though, managing to grab a steel chair and attack with it. It’s quickly thwarted thought as the entire Hart Foundation and seemingly the population of Canada pile on top of him. Austin is quickly cuffed and is led down the aisle still giving the middle finger to everybody in the crowd. Like I said, he’s loving every minute of this. As he passes the people either side of the aisle one fan holds up a sign saying ‘BRETT RULES’. If you’re going to support a wrestler then probably best you spell his bloody name right.
The Canadian Stampede is a really good show. It’s brief at only four matches but they’re all pretty good quality and the main event is a brilliant example of a tag match done right. As such it’s worth going back for a watch. One of the more tragic things about it though is that of the ten men who contested the main event four have since died. This includes Brian Pillman who would pass away only three months after this match.