September 20th 1997. Birmingham, England
Shawn Michaels is a man of God these days, often crediting his discovery of Christianity with extending his career beyond his devastating back injury in 1998. The year before that though he was at the height of his back stage power trip. With Bret Hart now known to be negotiating a contract with WCW as a result of the WWF being in no financial position to improve his terms, Shawn knew that he could pretty much do anything and Vince wouldn’t be able to touch him. History would have worked out very differently had HBK been revealed as a member of the NWO over on Nitro circa 1998. Shawn’s greatest act of bastardry didn’t even take place on American soil however, it’s his actions at this One Night Only PPV show from Birmingham in England that really hits the lowest low. For many reasons the match between Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog for the WWF European title has gone down in infamy.
We open in a similar fashion to how SummerSlam 1992 began. If the WWF are going to do a show from the UK then they must remind everybody that they’re not in Kansas anymore. J.R voices a video package saying that The British Bulldog will tonight be “Defending a title, a country and a young boy’s dreams”. Even though I wasn’t watching wrestling at this time I’ve still heard all about this match. This however, marks the first time I’d ever seen it fully.
First though we have our opener of Dude Love against Hunter Hearst Helmsley (can I call him Triple H officially now?). Dude Love gives a fantastic British themed promo which is pitched just right, completely opposite to Lawler’s guide to British slang he’ll end up giving us on commentary all night. “This bloke is a burp” says Lawler as Dude Love enters the ring. I’m British and I have no idea what he’s on about so what the hell an American audience thought to this we’ll never know.
Dude gets a lot of the early going, pasting Hunter from corner to corner and taking time to dance in between moves. There is an attempt made at a comeback from Hunter when he runs around the ring but only ends up getting clotheslined off the top by Dude. As Dude locks in an arm bar Lawler decides to label him ’ a pillock’ and it’s really obvious that Vince spends a good ten seconds hoping he hasn’t said anything too offensive on air.
Hunter goes off for another run around the ring but this time Chyna is on hand to smash Dude in the face. At this point Hunter finally manages to get some offence in. A face buster gets him a two count.
“Imagine Chyna as a Page 3 Girl” yelps Lawler. Little did he know at the time that there’s much worse to come that her simply taking her top off. Hunter locks in an abdominal stretch which the ref breaks up. Hunter then shoves the ref and the ref shoves him back. The crowd get really into it. A Pedigree attempt is reversed into Dude’s turnbuckle sling shot followed by ramming Hunter’s head into the low, middle and top turnbuckles. Dude
then goes for the Double Arm DDT just as Chyna holds his foot down. This distractions allows Hunter to get the Pedigree for a sly three count. It’s a really good opening match with some enjoyable back and forth action.
There’s a video shown of some fan interviews from outside the arena. A selection of late 90’s haircuts talk about if they’re cheering for Bulldog or Shawn tonight. It’s mostly Bulldog apart from the teenage girls who want Shawn to win.
Hang on a moment…here comes Sunny and she’s actually wearing something resembling clothing. Perhaps it’s because of the British weather. She seems to only be there to introduce our second match of the evening in the shape of Leif Cassidy against Tiger Ali Singh who is accompanied by his Father Tiger Jeet Singh. To be perfectly honest, this has filler written all over it. For a start we have Spanish guitar music for an Indian wrestler billed as being from Canada. Tiger is booed by the crowd after giving a promo about being drug free and Leif attacks before Jeet has a go on the mic.
Tiger has the early going. This is right up until the point Vince comes out with the line “A page from his Father’s footsteps”. At one point Lawler suggest that Jeet Singh looks ‘like a New York taxi driver’ much to Vince’s obvious disgust. There’s a superplex in which Tiger doesn’t seem up with the gameplan as the landing is so awkward. Eventually, after what seems like an hour, Tiger wins with a top rope bulldog and a three count. A general waste of ten minutes of show time.
Sunny still hasn’t left the ringside area by the time the next match starts. She’s prancing around like a show pony at the top of the ramp as Savio Vega and Miguel come through the curtain for their tag team title match against The Headbangers (a team name which sounds really strange in a British accent).
Now is probably a good time to comment on the two Beefeaters that the WWF have decided to place halfway down the ramp. One of them looks like he’s just got out of bed and been plonked there. Every single wrestler tries to get a reaction out of them and they respond to nothing. This is all very well but perhaps the WWF have got them confused with the guards at Buckingham Palace.
It looks like the WWF are cobbling together tag teams again. The Headbangers only seem to have been around for about ten minutes and yet here they are defending their tag team titles in a match overseas. Los Boricuas are simply something to use up Savio Vega’s time since he turned heel.
A special mention must go to Mosh at this point who has left behind his usual Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson t-shirt and gone for Birmingham’s own Napalm Death instead. All credit that man for a little nod to the locals.
The action is this one is fairly straight forward with the heels distracting the referee in order to gain some kind of advantage. “In a tag team situation the official can be made to look very foolish” says Vince as the ref turns his back on yet another Los Boricuas double team. The entire match is based on Thrasher needing to hot tag Mosh. Once this tag happens the Headbangers get the three count when Mosh launches off the top rope to attack Miguel after he commits a terrible powerbomb to Thrasher. As if the tag team titles were ever going to change hands on a UK only show.
A sit down interview with The British Bulldog conducted by J.R is shown next. Bulldog says he’s dedicating this match to his sister Tracy who battled cancer at a young age and has recently had to go through it all again. His Dad, Mum, Wife, Brother and trainer will all be ringside for him tonight and he’s dropped two stone in weight to deal with Shawn’s speed. This is also apparently the most important night of his career. Why he’d rate this
over SummerSlam I have no idea. At least it’s heart felt and it’s making the European title, which will be a throw away trinket come the Attitude Era, the most important thing of this night.
At the last show we had The Patriot go up against Bret Hart for the WWF title. This time around however he’s facing Flash Funk in a mid card match. It’s a hard price to pay for failure and proof that he was nothing more than a stop gap in Bret Hart’s final few months in the WWF. The America gimmick, complete with flag waving, might well have been a hit in the States but it’s booed out of the building here. “They still haven’t forgiven the Boston Tea Party” quips Lawler in his first comment of the night that actually has some wit behind it.
They start this match with a handshake of respect. The vast majority of the entertainment in this match is nothing to do with the wrestling. It’s more listening to Vince try and justify in his head why The Patriot is getting an unfavourable reaction. “Well I suppose some Americans can be seen as arrogant” is the best statement in reasons given as to why the British crowd are not taking to this slow, dull and forced character. During my notes for this match I think I’ve written the words ‘rest hold’ about
four times. There’s a wonderful moment when The Patriot blocks a kick from Flash but proceeds to do absolutely nothing in response leaving Funk with no other option than to just clothesline him. The Patriot also gets to trot out his Hulk Hogan routine, hulking up in the corner during a barrage of Funk’s attacks. The Patriot manages to get his knees up when Funk tries to hit a moonsault meaning he can execute his second Uncle Slam of the night for a three count victory.
The crowd still hate his guts.
We then get a promo from The Legion of Doom which seems to feature Hawk reciting some children’s poetry. Apart from that it’s the usual shouting nonsense.
“Here’s a tag team that could really give LOD a run for their money” says Vince as The Godwinns make their way to the ring. As faces Henry and Phineas were dancing pig
farmers, as heels they’re just sweaty racists. The crowd go crazy for LOD when they enter. Hawk and Animal were never the greatest of technical wrestlers and they often sold for absolutely nobody but they were insanely popular.
The opening exchanges are dull however until Hawk manages to bash his shoulder into the turn buckle. He also gets Slop Dropped early on also but it takes ages for The Godwinns to attempt a pin. Hawk then suffers further from being choked out with the Godwinn’s rebel flag. J.R has to explain the significance of the flag to a UK audience by saying it’s ‘favoured by those from the Southern states”. Maybe the whole “They really hate black people” part was cut from the broadcast?
Even though they’re supposed to be the faces in this match LOD don’t allow the Godwinns much time to get any kind of upper hand. Even though he’s being double teamed Hawk still manages to run out of a corner and clothesline both Henry and Phinaes one after the other. Animal also manages to land on his feet after a Godwinn Double Suplex and turn around to batter both of them. The ending arrives when Phineas receives a Doomsday Device so strong that he over rotates and lands on his neck.
Next up we have Ken Shamrock who comes down to the ring for a live interview with J.R. Shamrock has been injured by Faarooq during the previous tournament for the Intercontinental Championship. During this match Shamrock apparently gained a lung puncture. Ken says he loves the UK and is really disappointed to not be cleared to wrestle in front of these fans. Billy Gunn comes down and starts to say Shamrock isn’t tough.
Shamrock then snaps, attacks Gunn and puts on the Ankle Lock. It’s fair to say that Ken Shamrock is doing really well for a guy with a punctured lung.
Bret Hart is interviewed by Vince via a video link to backstage. “The people still believe in me” says Bret as he’s drowned out by boos. This actually seems to really catch Bret off guard as he stumbles his way through the rest of the promo. It’s obvious he thought that the Canadian stuff would work in the UK as well on account of it not being America. Sadly, he’s very wrong.
The night so far has started well with Dude versus Hunter and has gone a bit downhill from there with meaningless drivel like Cassidy against Singh. Had it ended here then
One Night Only would have been a complete waste of time. The final three matches though kick this event up three gears and bring out the big guns. The final three matches are why this event is well worth watching.
It’s Vader time! The big man himself seems to have a new addition to his Titantron video, they’re actually showing the footage of him attacking the news guy in Kuwait. Seems like all is forgiven with that then. Owen Hart is roundly cheered as he walks down the ramp. Lawler actually does question why the fans have turned on Bret yet Owen remains popular. Perhaps because Owen never seemed to have a overblown opinion of himself. One of the major things about Owen I’ve realised during this project is that he wasn’t afraid to be absolutely flung around the place by bigger guys. In the opening phase of this match he gets levelled by Vader on many an occasion, often bouncing off the mat as a result. When Owen nearly locks on the sharpshooter it’s Vader’s kick out that sends Owen sliding halfway across the ring.
J.R then mentions the Kuwait incident on commentary. Nobody was executed, we can all laugh about it now.
On more than one occasion Owen tries to body slam Vader only to crumble. It’s the common thread throughout this entire match. It’s Vader’s power against Owen’s agility and it works really, really well. Vader does get a little bit of technical wrestling in though as he leg locks Owen at one stage. A Vader bomb attempt is reversed by Owen into an Enzuigiri as well. Owen’s Sharpshooter is finally locked in but Vader makes it to the ropes. Owen then manages to bodyslam Vader on about the fourth attempt and the crowd love it.
The home stretch is sublime. Owen goes to the top rope, leaps off and is instantly caught in a powerslam from Vader. The move is smooth and looks devastating. Vader gets the three count and this wonderfully produced battle is in the books. This match is good but there’s better to follow.
“Has the Undertaker come here tonight to extract Bret Hart’s very soul?” asks Vince. Probably not, but they do have a fantastic wrestling match that lasts for around about
half an hour but never feels too stretched out as a result. A brawl at the start sees Bret getting levelled with everything Taker has. Bret then nearly gets Taker in the Sharpshooter, Taker kicks him across the ring (much like Vader did to Owen), Bret then jumps back and full force clotheslines Taker as he’s doing his sit up routine. Bret knows he needs to keep Taker on the floor as much as possible. The Hitman gives up any notion of being a fan favourite in the UK when he removes one of the turnbuckle pads. They stay away from it for a while but it’s Bret who ends up going into it full force with his chest. The Undertaker starts attacking the chest of Bret Hart straight after that.
During a charge into the corner in which Bret moves the knee of Taker is smashed. Bret focusses on this straight away, knowing that this is key to victory with the Sharpshooter. It leads to his favourite ‘legs around the turnpost’ hanging figure four spot. Whilst the hold is released it does mean that Taker is walking like Ozzy Osbourne for the rest of the match.
Taker manages to get a big boot up when Bret jumps off the turnbuckle. Bret later reverses a legdrop into a Sharpshooter which Taker just about manages to kick out of. Bret then goes for the ring bell and attempts to use it before being booted in the head. The ref then grabs it from Taker before he can use it. Bret is then thrown out of the ring with great velocity, landing full force on a cameraman as a result.
Bret Hart goes for his own version of a Tombstone before Taker reverses it. Before he can hit it though Bret grabs the ropes and Taker drops him next to them. The Undertaker then sees that Bret Hart is caught up in the ropes by his neck. Taker continues his assault on a prone Hitman and the ref disqualifies him. An infuriated Undertaker then chokeslams the ref before also chokeslamming Pat Patterson. Owen Hart comes down to rescue his brother. This is said to be Bret Hart’s last great televised match in WWF. In fact a couple of people, when considering his WCW run, insist that this is his last great televised match. It is amazing though with two participants who know this wrestling game inside out matching each other each step of the way.
What could possibly make the fact Shawn has wormed his way into making Vince change his mind about the ending of the European title match worse? We already know that Bulldog is wrestling in England, we’ve also heard how he’s dedicated this match
to his cancer stricken sister. What if aforementioned sister walked down to the ring with Bulldog and sat ringside so she could watch all this unfold personally? Yes, that would probably do it.
Shawn enters first though and on the way down to the ring he manages to not only mime sticking a Bulldog action figure down his pants but also rubs his face into the chest of a girl who looks about 14. Despite the few teenage girls at the barrier he’s not getting a positive reception. Vince says “Shawn isn’t used to this kind of crowd reaction” blissfully forgetting Survivor Series 96 less than a year ago. Shawn is obviously off his nut on something.
Tracy Smith, bless her, nearly jumps out of her skin when Bulldog’s pyro goes off at the top of the ramp. The crowd response to Davey Smith walking down to the ring is louder.
Shawn spends the early part of this match being beat up, including a really strange spot when he scales the turnbuckle backwards whilst still in a lock up and ends up getting thrown across the ring by a dominant Davey Boy Smith. At this point the ref has to stop Bulldog from Military Pressing Shawn over the top rope to the arena floor.
Bulldog just manages to get in his Delayed Suplex when Rick Rude walks on down to the ring. So begins Shawn’s DX mates working in his favour. After breaking up a pin attempt on Shawn, Rick Rude whips Bulldog into the turnpost outside the ring and pushes his lower back into the ring apron whilst the ref’s back is turned. Shawn then gets a Sleeper Hold on when Bulldog makes it back into the ring. Later he has an armbar in until Bulldog just dead lifts him out of it. Both men collide full force in the middle of the ring.
It’s at this point that Triple H and Chyna turn up. This is not going to end well.
Bulldog ends up hitting his shoulder off the ringpost and Shawn uses this opportunity to Elbow Drop him from the top rope not once but twice. He tunes up the band for Sweet Chin Music but Bulldog is still laid out on the floor. Shawn eventually misses with the kick and Bulldog gathers him up for a Running Powerslam. It’s quickly nullified by Rick Rude holding onto Bulldog’s legs though.
The action spills to the outside of the ring as Bulldog tries to Powerslam Shawn onto the mats but he ends up jamming his right leg into the gap between the mats and the guard rail. Upon getting back up Bulldog falls victim to both Chin Music from Michaels and a Pedigree from Triple H. Back in the ring Shawn takes off Bulldog’s knee brace and throws it to Diana Hart Smith who is at ringside. Shawn then snaps on the Figure Four Leg Lock with occasional help from Chyna and Triple H on the outside as they grab
Shawn’s arms to give him extra leverage. The crowd are willing Bulldog to get though this and his selling of this move is brilliant. His pained screams can be heard quite clearly. On one occasion Bulldog makes it to the rope only to be punched out by Rick Rude on the outside.
When the referee calls an end to the match due to Bulldog not responding the entire Birmingham NEC turns nasty. The announcement of a new European champion is greeting by a couple of plastic bottles being thrown into the ring. As Shawn celebrates with the belt held aloft the couple of bottles have turned into a torrent. Just before she jumps the barrier and attacks him with the knee brace Shawn gets on the mic, looks at Diana Hart Smith and says that “This one is especially for you”. Bret and Owen come down to check on their fallen Hart Foundation comrade,
Apparently Bret Hart’s book touches on the booking at the end here. Bret states that he thought it was a pretty stupid idea to have four heels attack Bulldog throughout the match and not have Owen and himself come down to even up the numbers. He’s probably right but then we wouldn’t have these scenes of sheer, thermo nuclear heat to observe. Not only has the heel won but he’s done it in the face’s home country and in front of his cancer suffering sister whom he’s dedicated the match to. The original plan
to send the fans home happy went completely out of the window. The match itself remains brilliant to watch, the ending makes it all the more memorable.
One Night Only remains probably the best British PPV show the WWE have ever put on to this day. For years after this we’d get shows like Rebellion and Insurextion but nobody
ever remembers any of the matches that took place on those cards. The last three matches lift One Night Only for average filler to essential viewing in the space of around ninety minutes. As such it’s a worthy stop on this project.
As a side note this PPV show is one of only two shows I’ll write about that were staged in arenas I’ve actually been to. The other one being WrestleMania XIV at the Fleetcenter in Boston.