Ground Zero- In Your House

September 7th 1997, Louisville, Kentucky.

Shawn Michaels looks like he’s turning
heel again. In the opening video package we hear him described as
some kind of fallen hero for attacking the Undertaker on more than
one occasion and fans describe him as a turncoat for his chair shot
to the Dead Man at the end of Summerslam. The achiever of his
‘boyhood dream’ eighteen months beforehand is gone only to be once
again replaced by the cocky Heartbreak Kid we all know. This is the
first In Your House event that was a full three hours rather than
just two, as a result not only do we have the first one on one
meeting between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels but also Bret Hart
defending the WWF Championship against The Patriot.

But first here’s Brian Pillman, a man
who is so angry at being forced to wear a dress that he decides to
have a match in which winning will gain him his opponent’s wife for
thirty days. This apparently stems from the fact Pillman is claiming
to be the father of Goldust’s daughter. If Goldust loses this match
then it looks like Pillman is going to be spending some time with
Dakota and Marlena back home. Much is made by Jim Ross of how much
this will effect the family. Quite why Marlena agreed to this is
beyond me.

As any man defending his wife should do
Goldust jumps Pillman in the aisle during his entrance. There’s a lot
of the early going that seems to involve harm to Pillman’s
‘gentleman’s area’ as he’s firstly reverse atomic dropped in it and
then hung up on the ropes. In between times Pillman is suplexed on
the ramp.

It’s a hallmark of a different era of
wrestling when Jerry Lawler spends most of the time on commentary
either making suggestions of what Pillman will do once he has Marlena
to himself for a month or making lewd suggestions about Marlena’s
bedroom habits. “Marlena has been in more laps than a napkin” he
squeals at one point. Watching it back, firmly in the PG era we are
now, it’s uncomfortable to hear a WWF commentator essentially
advocate sexual violence against a woman.

Pillman does get some offence in,
mostly choking Goldust out with his shirt but the tables are quickly
turned again when Marlena slaps Pillman after he stalks her outside
the ring. The ending however goes a little bit wrong for The Bizarre
One. Goldust has Pillman set up for the Curtain Call but his trailing
arm hits the ref who falls down. Marlena uses this opportunity to try
and attack Pillman with her hand bag. Pillman grabs the bag and uses
it to clobber Goldust. Pillman then pins Goldust for three as the ref
wakes up.

Brian Pillman then grabs Marlena by the
arms and drags her back through the curtain. A dazed Goldust runs
after then upon his recovery. “Pillman assisting Marlena to the
back” says Vince as if assisting a woman involves hauling her by
her biceps whilst laughing. We cut to the back to see Pillman throw
Marlena into his car before driving off with Goldust running after
him. The bag is still at the commentary position and Lawler reveals
it has half a brick in it. Lawler then ponders aloud about the damage
Pillman could have suffered if the brick had hit him.

Because obviously, a heel would defend
the sex pest who has just kidnapped a woman against her will. This is
1997. They then ask if who will ‘make Dakota’s bottles’. Dakota
Runnels was three years old at the time of this match, I’d like to
think she’d have been on solids by that time.

Next we have the complete filler that
is Scott Putski versus Brian Christopher, the main bulk of the story
being that Jerry Lawler is in complete denial about Brian being his
son. This is even after Brian Christopher begins to use some of
Lawler’s mannerisms. That laugh is very easy to place.

It’s a nothing match as Brian
Christopher runs through his arsenal of moves against the charisma
vacuum that is Putski. It ends in really strange fashion as
Christopher axe handles Putski from the top rope to the outside
causing Putski to buckle his knee. Doctors attend, the whole thing
looks like it could be legit and the match is awarded to Brian
Christopher by forfeit. Jerry Lawler leaves his commentary position
to congratulate his son…sorry, congratulate a young wrestler he
admires very much.

The Nation of Domination still seem to
be going even though the line up keeps changing. Now that Crush and
Savio Vega have left Faarooq has drafted in Rocky Maivia, D’Lo Brown
and Mustafa. This is actually the first time I’ve seen Rocky in the
Nation on PPV during this project. They have a very short promo about
how Faarooq will defeat Savio and Crush in what seems to be WWF’s
first ever PPV Triple Threat Match (there seems to have been a
televised three way match between Owen Hart, Pillman and Hunter
Hearst Helmsley on Raw a couple of months prior). I only suggest this
because they have to explain the rules on screen beforehand.

I’m never usually a fan of triple
threat matches due to the set formula they seem to have. All three
start off in the ring until Wrestler A in thrown over the top rope to
the outside to allow Wrestler B and Wrestler C to fight before they
revolve the order. The general consensus seems to be that your
average viewer of wrestling couldn’t possibly follow the action of
three wrestlers in the ring at once.  With this being one of the
first it seems they haven’t quite worked out that formula yet. It
does lead it to be one of the more refreshing watches though.

All three men brawl early on, usually
interrupting each other’s attacks and saving any pinfall attempts.
There are even moments when the third man will come out of nowhere
and sneak a pin attempt on an opponent who has just received the
other wrestler’s finisher. Uneasy alliances are also formed, the
highlight of which being Vega and Crush’s Spike Piledriver to
Faarooq.  Eventually Vega is thrown out, Crush Heart Punches Faarooq
and Vega comes flying back in with a heel kick to Crush before the
man from Hawaii can get the three. Vega then pins a flattened leader
of The Nation for the win. In all honesty this match isn’t that bad
considering it’s the continuation of a feud which never seems to die
(and probably should now Ahmed Johnson seems to have left).

For those interested we now get an
advert for The Stone Cold Steve Austin ‘Too Hot For TV’ VHS tape.
It’s all the bits they cannot possibly screen during an episode of
Monday Night Raw due to the WWF being all fun loving and reserved. Oh
the changes we are about to see in the next two years.

It is hardly the best kept secret that
the WWF were dying on their arse in 1997. The WCW policy of signing
big names to huge deals was actually working at the start (but would
back fire in grand style in a few short months from here). A lack of
money is probably what is forcing WWF to fill in time on this three
hour show with something like the next match. It involves two Mexican
midget wrestlers, which is how WWF describe them anyway. Welcome to
the sheer weirdness that is El Torito versus Max Mini.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair
because, for being presented as a side show, there’s actually some
good skill on show here in the opening. The heel El Torito uses his
power advantage to clobber Max Mini, the face then manages some high
flying moves over the top rope to the arena floor. Before long
however the whole thing goes full on comedy as Mini goes to the
outside, sits on Lawler’s lap and steals his crown. Max Mini wins
with a Sunset Flip that seems to come out of nowhere. As an
exhibition of wrestling skill it’s not bad, as comic relief it rather
outstays its welcome.

Stone Cold Steve Austin’s neck injury
at the hands (or rather flailing arms) of Owen Hart at Summerslam has
rendered him unable to wrestle for the immediate future. It’s the
sort of thing that would have instantly derailed any other wrestler’s
push yet Austin always had that little something else. The next
segment proves that point.

With Austin injured he has been
informed by Commissioner Slaughter that he must give up the tag team
title he has alongside Dude Love. Slaughter stand in the middle of
the ring with J.R waiting for the two team mates to each come down
and hand back their belts.

As a side note to this you can
certainly tell that Slaughter was wrestling in his prime when
television wasn’t as big a thing as it is here. For playing the role
of the representative of the powers that be he’s incredibly wooden.
He does just about manage to deliver the wonderful line of ‘Steve
Austin has more guts than brains’ in the video package though.

Dude Love sways down the aisle and,
despite offering to defend the titles himself, ends up handing over
his half of the prize anyway. Cue Austin as the crowd go mental. The
Texas Rattlesnake gets in the ring, gives a quick two fingered salute
to J.R, tells Slaughter that if he wants the belt he can ‘drop and
give me twenty’ before throwing the belt over and giving J.R a
Stunner. Chaos erupts as Dude is noticeably concerned about J.R’s
health as he’s carted away.  

In one ten minute promo they’ve
enhanced Stone Cold’s driven, unpredictable nature wonderfully.

This carries smoothly through to the
interview with Owen Hart and The British Bulldog as they are one of
the four team competing in the Fatal Fourway match to crown new
champions next. “Austin should be jailed” says Owen in relation
to Austin’s attack on J.R. This is topped two minutes later by Vince
McMahon saying “Stone Cold is a jackass”. He’ll be saying much
worse in a year’s time.

So it’s Owen and Bulldog going up
against The Godwinns (a gimmick that is rapidly fading), The Head
Bangers and The Legion of Doom. It’s also elimination rules so if
you’re partner is pinned or disqualified then you leave as well.

The opening exchanges of this bout are
ponderous at best and the crowd seems incredibly flat. The general
line of thought seems to be that the titles will only really end up
with either Owen and Bulldog or LOD. Surely they’ll never waste their
time by putting the straps on pig farmers or Marilyn Manson
wannabees? At least this time everybody seems clear on the rules this
time, you will have to fight your partner if they’re tagged in
opposite you.

Early highlights of this turgid match
are Owen Hart doing a chicken impression along the apron when one of
the Godwinns doesn’t want to be tagged in and Hawk tagging in Bulldog
by punching him. Whenever Bulldog is in the ring Vince makes sure to
get plenty of references to the upcoming One Night Only PPV from
Birmingham, England. This includes saying that Bulldog’s European
title is ‘in great jeopardy when defended against Shawn Michaels’.

In the first example any anything
actually happening LOD manage to grab the slop bucket from The
Godwinns and eliminate themselves from the match by using it as a
weapon. The Headbangers and The Godwinns then have an extended period
of combat leaving Owen and Bulldog to sit out. At the end of all this
Phineas is pinned by Thrasher to leave the Headbangers with the two
members of The Hart Foundation. The obligatory ‘U.S.A’ chants begin
and somebody appears in the background holding a sign saying ‘WCW
Sucks’. World Championship Wrestling at this time were building up to
Hulk Hogan vs Roddy Piper which would in turn get round to Sting
beating Hogan for the WCW Heavyweight Championship at the year’s end.
I’d say for now, they were far from sucking.

Owen manages to heel kick Bulldog in
error which mean Mosh can get Owen into position for a powerbomb.
Thrasher mounts the top rope and hesitates for what feels like aeons
because Bulldog has to get back to his feet to knock him off. Before
long it’s enter Austin time as the referee has his back turned
meaning Stone Cold can sneak in, Stunner Owen and leave him prone to
a pinfall. The Headbangers are the new WWF tag team champions. They
go off a celebrate with some very large breasted women.

J.R is then shown backstage, holding
ice over the back of his neck, complaining to Slaughter that
something has to be done about Austin. “You just can’t trust that
son of a bitch” mutters J.R. Slaughter agrees.

Next comes a prime example of WWF
pushing somebody to the hilt in a very short time simply because they
need to fill a gap. With Undertaker and Shawn Michaels locking horns
later on tonight and Austin out injured, who else can possibly
challenge Bret Hart for the title? Considering Bret is running around
clutching a Canadian flag who better than The Patriot Del Wilkes?
This mid card act has been thrust into the main event spot light in a
very short time, calling for a video package detailing The Patriot’s
career thus far. It’s notable for two reasons in that it firstly
shows his career wrestling in Japan wrestling the likes of Misawa,
Sabu and Kobashi. I’m pretty sure that this is the first time any of
them have been shown on WWF television. The second reason is that it
also gives insight into Del Wilkes’ football career playing for
the…ahem…South Carolina Gamecocks.

Before he can get to the ring The
Patriot is interviewed by our good friend Sunny who is wearing a
dress that just about keeps her breasts in check. She manages a sly
wink to the camera before The Patriot walks down the aisle. It’s
strange to look back on his entrance now as his music is the very
same tune that Kurt Angle used during his seven years in the WWF/E. I
think Kurt was perhaps the better man for doing the all American
gimmick but we can only imagine what a Bret Hart versus Kurt Angle
match would have been like during this era.

Bret Hart does make a valid point
during his pre match interview by saying he doesn’t really care about
American fans being against him as his title belt says ‘World’
Champion not ‘American’ champion so the majority is with him.

As soon as Bret enters the ring to the
rain of boos he goes after The Patriot and the initial exchanges are
arm bar city before Bret starts to attack the legs to work towards
the Sharpshooter. Bret also gets to use his regular Figure Four
around the turnpost spot. Whilst it looks like Patriot is struggling
Lawler makes the point on commentary that he’s wrestled many times in
Japan right before Vince says that “This is the WWF, not Japan”.

The British Bulldog turns up at
ringside just as The Patriot is coming back into this via a suplex,
sunset flip and a DDT. Not long after this Bret is sent flying
towards Bulldog and is nearly pinned as a result. This is the set up
for Vader to come down to the ring, attack Bulldog and Bret right in
front of the ref with no disqualification decision at all.

All the way through this Lawler crows
about how the key to Patriot getting the win is to use both his Uncle
Slam and Patriot Missile moves. The latter is done near the end of
the match, a shoulder tackle from the top rope. Whilst all the
confusion goes on with Bulldog and Vader, Bret falls victim to an
Uncle Slam but a dazed ref only gets a two count. The Patriot then
attempts to lock on his own Sharpshooter which Bret reverses to force
a submission victory. Bret then attacks Patriot further, chokes him
out with his American flag before also attacking Pat Patterson who
has marched down to ringside to help save the situation.

“The Patriot came close but not close
enough” screams Vince.

“Just like Vietnam!” adds Lawler to
Vince’s obvious disgust.

Before our main event we get something
of a rare occurrence in that an interview with The Undertaker is
screened in which he doesn’t bang on about death and demons of the
night. He’s just sat there, talking like a human being, about how
he’s going to beat Shawn Michaels.

Shawn himself takes an age actually
walking through the curtain. His music seems to be going for that
uncomfortable length of time in which you think either something has
gone wrong or it’s an angle. “Shawn Michaels is making this crowd
wait” says Vince, quickly followed by “One thing about Michaels
is he’ll get in your face”. It’s almost like he’s talking from
personal experience. Shawn’s firework display mistimes completely and
he looks like he doesn’t really care. This is ‘a bad omen for
Michaels’ according to Vince. The Undertaker’s light show works
perfectly.

This match is really just contained
chaos. Obviously these two have had matches in later years in which
are widely regarded as some of the best matches of all time. This is
the first time they’ve ever met one on one. I said contained chaos
because the first thing Taker does is attack the referee meaning that
Michaels makes a run for it back down the aisle. Slaughter comes
marching down and forces HBK back into the ring. The assaulted
referee is then launched over the top rope towards Michaels.

The two then brawl up the ramp leaving
Shawn scrambling at the front door of the In Your House set before
Taker throws him into the shrubbery. This is all punctuated by that
flip flop selling that Michaels always did when he wanted to take the
piss. Undertaker then chokes out Shawn with a mic cord as Earl Hebner
makes his way down to the ring to take over officiating duties. As
Michaels attacks Undertakers knee the bell finally rings to get us
started.

Undertaker then low blows Michaels
right in front of Earl with no disqualification before Shawn makes
something of a comeback with a swinging neckbreaker. Taker gets a
steel chair and Earl tries to take it off him only to be hit with it
in the process. We are two refs down.

Rick Rude appears to wander down to the
ring and hand Shawn a pair of brass knuckles which he uses to lay out
The Undertaker. By the time a third ref gets to the ring he can only
get a two count. Triple H and Chyna then get down to the ring and
both throw Taker into the ringside steps. Shawn attacks a recovering
Earl to prevent him from rejoining the match.

Shawn clotheslines Taker over the rope,
Taker lands on his feet before Triple H ruins any chance he has of a
comeback by kicking him. They then use a mic cord to choke Taker out.
A later HBK attempt at Sweet Chin Music is reversed before Taker
introduces his own brass knuckles to waffle Shawn with. This only
gains him a two count. Earl Hebner returns to the land of the living
only to get chokeslammed by Taker. Tim White runs down to the ring
and calls the whole thing off. We’re not quite done though.

The Undertaker is caught up in the
ropes, Shawn gathers a steel chair and charges only to get it booted
back in his face. All the refs and officials then come storming down
to the ring only to be beaten up by HBK and Taker. Towards the end of
this exchange Taker tombstones Triple H as Shawn is about a metre
away from him. Almost the entire locker room then empty to try and
separate them only for Taker to break free and plancha Michaels and
the crowd gathered around him on the arena floor. The broadcast signs
off amid this utter crazy.  

Ground Zero is a fair to middling show
which seems to set up more than it actually resolves. Bret Hart’s
match with The Patriot isn’t one of his best mainly because there’s
no reason to believe that Del Wilkes could beat him. The Undertaker
versus Shawn Michaels isn’t really based on any great wrestling
rather than setting up their Hell in a Cell match next month. The tag
team titles being carried out by the Headbangers seems like an effort
to just lump the belts on somebody new rather than any forward
thinking. There’s also the matter of Pillman coming across as a sex
pest, something which you’d never see on WWE programming today. The
match between Undertaker and Michaels is probably the best match of
the night and is the one to check out if your revisiting Ground Zero.
Next we move on to the United Kingdom and the night The British
Bulldog realised that Shawn has a certain mastery of the art of
persuasion.

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