The PPV Project – SummerSlam 1997

August 3rd 1997. East Rutherford, New Jersey

It goes some way to ruining Vince’s look of stoicism during the opening national anthem when somebody has a sign behind him saying ‘Bischoff Smells Turner’s Ass’. Right after this poignant moment we get our opening video on the topic of life being fair. If life was fair, the narrator says, then Bret Hart would be a man idolised by millions, Shawn wouldn’t be carrying an injury and the Undertaker would be given far more prominence in this package than he actually gets.

The first thing notable is that the old school blue cage is up around the ring for our opener of Mankind versus Hunter Hearst Helmsley (I’m hoping he officially becomes
‘Triple H’ soon as I’m sick of typing his full name’). This will be the third show in a row these two have faced each other but quite sensibly they’re booked in a gimmick match for the final part of this trilogy. Hunter is with Chyna as per usual and J.R seems to think that Chyna won’t have a part to play as she’ll be outside the cage. I reckon he might just be wrong on that one.

Before the bell even rings Mankind gives some indication of his intent by kissing the bars of the cage. Hunter runs straight towards the cage door in an attempt to escape before any contact is made. Mankind drags him back in as Jerry Lawler insists that there’s ‘no way Hunter is scared of Mankind’. It’s notable that Mankind gives the Cactus Jack ‘Bang Bang!’ salute at this point which isn’t the only nod to his alternative egos in this match.

Mankind manages to get the Mandible Claw on fairly early but Chyna chokes him through the bars forcing him to release it. Mankind then goes for a cage escape but Chyna waffles him leading to Hunter suplexing him from the top of the cage. Once again, Mick Foley’s capacity for pain comes into play as he’s also backdropped against the bars of the cage at one point.

At one point Hunter crotches himself on the ropes and gets his foot caught leaving Mankind with a clear opportunity to get out of the cage. He would have made it too had Chyna not attacked the ref and slammed the door shut on him. Chyna then places a steel chair in the cage which Hunter is supposed to Pedigree Mankind onto but it’s reversed into a slingshot towards Chyna. Mankind then DDTs Hunter on the chair instead.

Then comes the huge highlight of this match in Mankind ignoring this wide open opportunity to escape. He climbs to the top of the cage, rips his shirt and elbow drops Hunter from this very great height. ‘Shades of Snuka’ screams J.R. Chyna doesn’t seem to know what to do with herself as she’s in the ring to try and stop Mankind, then she leaves and comes back in again in a vague effort to stop Mankind climbing out over the cage top to win. It’s been a really good opening match filled with just enough involvement from Chyna to be heelish but not get totally annoying.

Then comes the slightly odd bit. Mankind is on the floor trying to come to terms with the pain he is in. Then he starts dancing, J.R screams something about Dude Love as the Dudester’s music plays. Mankind leaves the arena doing that cross armed touching knee thing. The project to show Mankind as something more human goes on.

I’ll hold my hand up and say I put the next bit on fast forward. The governor of New Jersey is brought up on the stage alongside The Headbangers (who are from New Jersey it would seem) to be congratulated in getting rid of the ‘pro wrestling tax’. The reason the WWF haven’t had a show in New Jersey for eight years is that there was a state tax put in live wrestling which has now been abolished. She makes some incredibly corny jokes about ‘body slamming those taxes’ and gets a replica title belt for her trouble.

There’s a few examples of self imposed stipulations in this show. The sort of thing when Wrestler A says that if he/she fails to beat Wrestler B then he/she will leave the company/never challenge for the title/go and live in Antarctica. The first one of the night is Brian Pillman who says that if he doesn’t beat Goldust he’ll wear a dress the next night on Raw. Why there’s a dress ringside tonight in that case is a complete mystery. Pillman
makes his entrance and he’s wonderfully intense. It’s not a Stone Cold like intensity of a killer but more a guy who is a part time clown giving up children’s parties and doing jail canteens instead. Once again this seems to be a case of Goldust getting revenge for another wrestler having a thing for his wife.

The match itself is fine with flashes of early Goldust as he kisses Pillman after messing up an atomic drop. At one point Pillman holds Marlena as a human shield which goes wrong for him. There’s a moment in commentary when J.R says Marlena is ‘full of spunk’ but I assume he means she’s a feisty lady. The ending is a bit botched as a Pillman sunset flip has to be moved further to the ropes so Marlena can waffle Pillman with her handbag. Goldust then pins Pillman for the three before stomping around the ring. “Tomorrow night means Pillman in drag!” screams J.R. If this is the deal breaker for you tuning into Monday Night Raw then please take a look at yourself.

When the Legion of Doom fought Money Inc at Wembley Stadium five years prior to this I’m pretty sure they didn’t think their next SummerSlam match would be against some pig farmers. Heel pig farmers none the less as The Godwinns walk to the ring holding a rebel flag. They’ve gone from barn hoe downs to setting fire to crosses in a matter of months. This match has come about due to Hawk and Animal breaking Henry Godwinn’s neck a few months previously. Often it’s the face coming back from injury for a revenge match, not the other way round.

It’s easy to see why Henry had his neck broken as the Legion of Doom work pretty stiff, this match included. In the early going Hawk tries to play the face getting hurt in order to hot tag but he sells for almost nothing so the tactic doesn’t quite work. Animal is then shoved off the apron and nearly lands in Captain Lou Albano’s lap as he’s sitting in the front row. Animal does manage to get into the ring eventually only for him to fall victim to sustained attack. A hot tag to Hawk and he manages a neckbreaker to Henry, a call back to his previous injury. “Hawk said the last time they broke his neck it was an accident but tonight it’ll be on purpose” says J.R. A Doomsday Device goes a little bit wrong so it’s a Spike Piledriver that earns Legion of Doom the win. “This issue is far from over” is the closing comment of J.R, he’s probably not wrong.

There’s then another segment concerning the giving away of a million dollars to somebody over the phone. Sable and Sunny are there either side of Todd Pettingill and there seems to be something about unlocking boxes with keys. I put the fast forward on as soon as there’s a moment Todd is eye level with Sunny’s breasts and makes some kind of joke about it.

There are many weapons that can be used in a wrestling match. Things such as stop signs, kendo sticks and the traditional steel chairs have been involved. A tin of dog food is a new one though but it shows up a fair bit in this feud between The British Bulldog and Ken Shamrock. The match tonight is for Bulldog’s European Championship. Shamrock walks to the ring like this is the fight of his life yet they seem to have toned down his cage fighting style a little. Gone is the martial arts stance instead replaced by
something more usual.

In the second example of self inflicted stipulations tonight Bulldog will apparently eat dog food if he loses. There’s a can at ringside for such a purpose. It doesn’t take very long for SummerSlam 1992 to be mentioned in reference to Bulldog which is probably something of a millstone around his neck being the highest point he ever got to in the WWF. It’s also J.R’s excuse to give thanks to all the UK fans who are watching live at 2am. J.R’s little mentions of us British fans staying awake were always a highlight.

This is a pure brawl right from the start with Bulldog’s power against Shamrock’s technical ability. Bulldog manages to get in his usual moves with some huge suplexes but these are very much interspersed by chinlocks. Shamrock is shoved into the ringsteps outside and Bulldog uses this opportunity to take the dog food, grab a handful and throw it at a busted open Shamrock. Perhaps it’s the combination of his own blood and meaty chunks but Shamrock throws an absolute crazed fit. He firstly batters Bulldog with the tin which instantly gets him disqualified, then he attacks Bulldog full force before getting him in a chokehold and squeezing the air out of him. The usual crowd of officials surround Shamrock trying to get him to release the hold, he only does so when the Bulldog is knocked out. Shamrock, for good measure, suplexes the officials too.

Shawn Michaels has been made special guest referee for tonight’s match between Bret Hart and The Undertaker. He gives a promo at this point in the show which includes the line “There is nothing between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart”. Can we get this man under oath?

I’ve watched some really good matches as part of this project, matches which I had heard so much about but never really had the chance to watch fully in the context of a show. I’ve also sat through some utter dross of which this next match is certainly a contender for the worst. It’s terrible mainly because it features a whole raft of wrestlers nobody has ever heard of and it’s a spin off of a feud that simply will not die. I give you Los Baricuas led by Savio Vega versus The Disciples of Apocalypse led by Crush. It would seem to the rumbling of discontent between the two members of The Nation of Domination has resulted in them splitting up and starting their own gangs. Crush has gone down the biker gang route of having colleagues named ‘8-Ball’ and ‘Skullz’ meanwhile Savio appears to have seen West Side Story one too many times.

The in ring action between the eight wrestlers in question is fine enough but the crowd are dead because nobody upon nobody cares about the match. There’s only a slight raise
in the temperature when The Nation, still led by Faarooq, come down to the ring. The most surprising thing for me is that it seems Ahmed Johnson has turned heel and joined The Nation even after those months of having to battle them. The end  arrives when Chains is laid out on the concrete arena floor, rolled back into the ring and pinned. There then follows a mass brawl which is met with no reaction at all.

Stone Cold Steve Austin had to take a year out of wrestling in 2000 to have surgery on his damaged neck. It was said to be a build up of wear and tear over the years but Owen Hart dropping him on his head during a botched Tombstone Piledriver in the following Intercontinental Championship match didn’t help matters. In the third example of self inflicted stipulation Stone Cold has said he’ll kiss Owen Hart’s arse if he doesn’t win tonight.

Austin doesn’t even get his entrance over with before Owen jumps him and starts to focus on Austin’s knee. Austin locks in an armbar, Owen flips out to reverse it only to have Austin simply punch him in the face for his trouble. Knowing what we know now of how this match turns out it’s odd how the commentary all the way through seems to almost lead into the neck injury. It’s not like such a thing would be possible, Owen didn’t go out to break Austin’s neck deliberately but comments throughout this match make it
look like some kind of work.

Vince McMahon says “Austin is manoeuvring quite well” fairly early on.

Owen tries for a Hurricarana but Austin reverses it into a Powerbomb. Not long after Owen tries to walk off down the aisle but an enraged Stone Cold goes right after him. It’s
at this point that Lawler seems incredibly excited about the prospect of one man kissing another man’s arse in front of him.

“Austin has had neck trouble throughout his career” says J.R.

Austin comes back with a massive clothesline but Owen returns to working the neck.

“That’s more damage to Austin’s neck” says Vince after Owen delivers two German Suplexes.

Further into this match there’s a fantastic spot in which Austin locks on a sleeper, Owen reverses into his own sleeper and Austin brings out the Stunner to answer back. It’s also at this point the fact that Stone Cold is still tag champion is mentioned. Owen spends a good portion of this match attacking Austin’s fingers. Maybe he really doesn’t like getting the bird flipped his way?

Then comes the moment this match is known for. Austin goes for a Tombstone which Owen reverses into his own. Austin’s head looks to be too far down though and Owen does jump the piledriver. Austin’s head has nowhere to go. Stone Cold is out in the middle of the ring motionless. The initial camera view doesn’t really show that much but the replays give full view of Austin’s neck bending to the side.

Owen tries to stall by talking to the crowd. Lawler screams something about not wasting time and just pinning him but it’s not like he can. If  Austin were to lose this match then Owen’s arse would be out and Stone Cold’s killer image would take a direct hit. The only option open to them is exactly what they did. Owen walks over and has to fall over himself so Stone Cold can roll him up in the weakest looking way possible. Owen starts to look like he’s shaking to get out of it at the two count but stays where he is. Austin can just about make it to his feet to lift his newly won Intercontinental Championship but is packaged straight off to the emergency room for checks. It’s been a brilliant match, just a
shame about how it ends.

One thing I’ve learned from watching these PPV shows is that Bret Hart’s heel gimmick was incredible. Obviously he’s heading back to being a babyface once he hits WCW very
soon but the overbearing Canadian who hates America and takes himself far too seriously is wonderful. I regret that he didn’t have more of a chance with it. Tonight he walks to the ring with a huge Canadian flag and tries to get the crowd to remain silent for the national anthem of his home country. Whilst most of the arena boo Bret looks
upwards with that wonderfully wistful look in his eyes. Your final example of self inflicted stipulation tonight is the fact that Bret says he’ll never wrestle in America again if he doesn’t win the title tonight.

This display of patriotism is blown away by the entrance of Shawn Michaels. The crowd go nuts for HBK walking to the ring with his ref’s shirt on. As soon as Shawn gets in the ring he’s walking right up to Bret and pointing at his stripes. This match is truly all about if Shawn can call this down the middle and not try to get one over on Bret, it’s really nothing to do with The Undertaker.

Taker doesn’t even have a chance to take his coat off before Bret jumps him (must be something the Hart boys have agreed on). Shawn uses to early going to make it obvious
he’s going to be a complete pain in the arse to all involved. Once Taker finds his feet and settles he starts to dominate over Bret via his sheer size advantage. Bret, in retaliation, tries to take down Taker’s legs. In fact he locks in the figure four near the opening.

Paul Bearer wanders down to ringside. He’s still talking about how Taker’s past will catch up with him and continually mentions Kane. He decides to goad Taker from the apron but is quickly removed when Taker gets out of the leg lock and batters him. Bret eventually goes for the corner post figure four and only breaks it once Shawn gets to four. Bret yells in Shawn’s face for a bit as Pillman and Owen come down to the ring. Bret goes back to tearing lumps out of Taker’s legs. Taker actually resorts to stamping on Bret to get out of leg locks.

Undertaker decides to go outside to fight Owen and Pillman as well, flooring them both. He gets back into the ring to deliver a chokeslam to Bret and tries to pin him. Shawn isn’t there to count because he’s outside checking on Pillman and Owen. A suplex by Bret allows him to take charge for a while which includes the traditional second rope elbow which Taker sits up from. Bret tries a Sharpshooter but Taker manages to grab him in a
chokehold. Undertaker does power out of a succesful Sharpshooter a few minutes later though. Bret then wiggles his way out of a Tombstone before it hits.

Bret goes for a Sharpshooter in the corner which looks really strange. Shawn stands right next to Bret just as Taker kicks full force meaning Hitman lands right on top of HBK. Bret then gets a chair and hits Taker with it. A sluggish Shawn gets in the ring and only gets a two count. Shawn then sees the chair in the ring and starts to question Bret about it. During the following argument Bret spits on Shawn. Shawn then takes an all mighty swing of the chair, Bret ducks and Shawn hits Undertaker with it instead. Bret covers Taker and Shawn has to reluctantly count to three. Bret wins the WWF Championship for the fifth time in a really good match which continues the feud between Bret and HBK as well and spinning off into having HBK go against Taker as well. Cups rain down
into the ring as Bret celebrates with Pillman and his younger brother.

There is another sign in the crowd with ‘Brett’ written all over it.

SummerSlam 1997 is a strange show as it starts out with a brilliant cage match before dipping down into complete nonsense like the eight man tag. The last two matches bring
it back up though even though Stone Cold gets a stinger at the end of his match. The main event proves how good Bret’s heel persona was and that Undertaker can do far more than just ‘the wrestling zombie’.

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