December 7th 1997. Springfield, Massachusetts.
Shawn Michaels must be a happy man now that Bret Hart has vanished off over the horizon towards Atlanta. He’s got the World Championship again and there’s really nobody left for him to face. The Rock and Steve Austin are both battling it out over the Intercontinental Championship, The Undertaker is otherwise engaged with Kane and most of the other big names they could bring back are firmly cashing in the big pay cheques Ted Turner is giving them. So who will face HBK for the title at an event named after his own faction? Step forward Ken Shamrock as the embodiment of WWF’s experimentation which mixed martial arts is fully fit from his recent injuries.
With no disrespect meant to Mr Shamrock this is hardly the most high profile WWF Championship match of all time. Whilst World Championship Wrestling are about give viewers the culmination of a long feud between Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Sting at
Starrcade 97 this WWF response seems almost lightweight in comparison. Then again I’m struggling to name a WWF/E December PPV show that actually didn’t feel like end of year filler. The opening video package features a very breathless woman asking for somebody to ‘degenerate’ her. This seems a rather specialised request. One thing to notice about the opening here is that, after Montreal, the venue seems really small.
Our opening contest is the finals of the tournament to crown the first WWF Light Heavy Weight Champion. The brackets are shown on screen but almost every single name on there will be completely alien to any WWF fan at the time. The last two men standing are Taka Michinoku and Brian ‘not Jerry Lawler’s son in any way whatsoever’ Christopher. They’ve given the new belt a lovely red leather finish, noted as it’s held up by the ref before this contest gets underway. Before the bell rings though we get the sight of Brian pretending to wipe his arse with a sign supporting Taka. For small mercies, at least it wasn’t a Canadian flag.
This is a match based on Taka’s speed going up against Brian’s power. It’s also about Jerry Lawler being in denial about Brian Christopher being his offspring. Brian starts with a scoop slam and an arm drag as the crowd begin to chant ‘Jerry’s kid’ at him. A Brian Christopher German Suplex is reversed by Taka by flipping over and landing on his feet. Taka then responds with a Spinning Heel Kick and a Springboard Plancha to the outside. This causes Jerry Lawler to leave his commentary position to check on Brian. Taka then Moonsaults to the outside.
Lawler manages to just about get back to the commentary desk as Brian gets a Full Nelson Slam and a Powerbomb in for a two count only. Brian is now noticeably bleeding from his mouth as he aims a Missile Drop Kick to the back of Taka’s neck followed by a Famasser. As Brian aims slaps towards Taka it’s a moment for Jerry Lawler to scream “That’s just how I slapped Andy Kaufman!”.
Taka absorbs another German Suplex and is ripe for a Top Rope Leg Drop. Cocky Brian spends ages setting this up only to have Taka move out of the way at the last moment. As a result of this mistake it’s not long before Brian is hoisted up for the Michinoku Driver and pinned for the three. Taka becomes the first WWF Light Heavy Weight Champion, Jerry Lawler holds his head in his hands as Gerald Briscoe presents the winner with the belt in front of a group of Japanese photographers. This makes it look like a really big deal yet this, alongside the WWF’s European title, will soon be forgotten about. The WWF’s introduction of the Light Heavyweight Championship was a reaction to WCW’s Cruiserweight Division, the idea being to have matches featuring smaller and more agile wrestlers. In WCW it allowed then to showcase a different style that perhaps hadn’t had an airing on American television before. WWF’s fixation with larger heavyweights would render the whole exercise null and void over the next few years.
Crush has been injured so tonight the Disciples of Apocalypse are three men facing Los Boricuas. I am frankly bored of this feud and the matches it keeps producing which are declining in quality with each passing month (and they weren’t that great to begin with). Even Savio Vega, the only other guy in either of these factions given any kind of background, is told to leave ringside at the start only to appear again at the end to aid his comrades in victory. Jim Ross once again struggles on commentary as he admits he cannot tell the difference between the members of each team. When a guy who works for the company cannot tell them apart then what chance does the audience in the arena or at home have? Please let this end soon.
Butterbean is described as a boxer by everybody it seems apart from himself. Apparently he’s ‘a fighter’ who is here tonight to take on Marvellous Marc Mero in a four round boxing match. Butterbean has fought only 24 hours previous to this and Sable, Mero’s valet, was with him at the time. This has irked Mero greatly, adding fuel to the fire of this match. Michael Cole asks ‘The Bean’ about Mero’s treatment of Sable. The response of ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ is probably something you don’t want to hear in the promo for a wrestling match. Sable is interviewed as well but doesn’t really get a chance to say anything because Mero comes to drag her away.
This ends up being one of those matches that walks a very fine line between a novelty and a waste of time. As an attraction it really does end up outstaying it’s welcome and the joke wears a bit thin before the third round. The opening round features an angry Butterbean chasing Mero down as he constantly goes for the ropes. The Bean gets one punch in before the round ends and Mero punches him in the back of the head as they walk towards their corners after the bell goes. For some reason this does not call for any kind of disqualification. The second round begins with Mero aiming a knee to Butterbean’s face and ends with Mero getting a dropkick in. Mero only goes down again in the third after Butterbean beckons him to punch with his best shot. Bean eventually snaps and tips a bucket of water over Mero in between rounds.
In the fourth Mero is floored again and comes back by punching Butterbean in the groin and smashing the wooden stool over his head. Mero then heads for the hills. “We haven’t seen the last of this situation” says J.R which is slightly ominous to say the very least.
Next up is one of the strangest segments yet seen during this entire project. Luna Vachon appears with The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust attached the the end of a leash. He then reads from Doctor Zeuss before being dragged to the backstage area. It doesn’t really do much to promote anybody.
Road Dog and Billy Gunn are Tag Team Champions. It seems recently the tag team belts are changing hands on Raw far more than they are on PPV shows. The title defence against the Legion of Doom begins with Hawk and Animal backstage with Michael Cole. Hawk gives a rather strange promo comparing Gunn and Dog (who are still not called the New Age Outlaws but have thankfully avoided being called ‘Gun Dog’.) to the contents of his nasal passages that he cannot quite get rid of.
The champion’s entrance takes three attempts as Road Dog goads the veteran challengers by getting on the mic and saying “Welcome to Jurassic Park”. They both end up going back up the aisle to finish ‘stretching’. Eventually a whole bank of officials herd them down to the ring to start the match. Animal actually gets away with a belt shot after the bell has rung in the opening moments. LOD have a bit of fun attacking Road Dog until he manages to reverse his fortunes by punching Hawk.
Later there’s a moment when Billy Gunn goes to attack Animal on the outside yet gets dropped on the steel steps instead. It’s at this point that Gunn and Dog try to leave the arena and give the match up as a losing cause. They’re quickly brought back in an Hawk is assaulted with an ice bucket not long after. Billy Gunn’s celebration of this is met with derision by Jim Ross who simply says “Gyrating is a waste of time in my book”. It depends on the circumstances Jim.
Billy Gunn finally gets in legally and, in a wonderful moment of selling absolutely nothing, Hawk is whipped into the corner only to simply rebound and strike right back. Animal is tagged in and commences ‘Shoulder Block City’. Just when this match looks like it’s going into a really good home stretch Henry Godwinn comes down to the ring with a bucket. Before he can do anything Hawk grabs the bucket and uses it against the champions causing a DQ decision. “That might be it for LOD” says Lawler, something I highly doubt.
The wrestling story line of ‘Older wrestler takes on cocky young wrestler to show him the error of his ways’ is a sound one and it’s on show next as Sergeant Slaughter comes out of retirement to take on Triple H (for they’re finally calling him that) in a Boot Camp Match. Essentially this stipulation means no disqualification but that doesn’t have an army theme so away with it. Slaughter hasn’t wrestled in the WWF since his loss to Nailz
in October 1992.
Firstly we get Triple H being interviewed by Michael Cole backstage. He says that he’ll finish off Slaughter tonight and then drive over to see Mrs Slaughter and ‘let her take a smoke of this peace pipe’. I’m not sure, it’s very vague but he might mean his penis. Meanwhile Sarge is with Jim Cornette and his promo is actually really, really good. I’m not sure if it’s a WWE Network overdub but Slaughter comes out to the same music The Patriot did a couple of months ago. I still keep thinking it’s Kurt Angle every time I hear it.
Triple H gets hammered in the early going as Slaughter aims a right hand with such velocity he nearly falls over himself. He walks around the ring at a slow pace beating on his younger opponent. Sarge tries to pin Triple H on the outside but is quickly informed by the ref that he has to attempt pinfalls inside the ring. It’s good to know the rules were made clear to everybody at the start.
Slaughter takes off his belt and uses it to whip Triple H across his back. It must be an old military thing. The assault only ends when Triple H whips Slaughter over the ropes and out to the arena floor. Triple H attacks the time keeper and grabs the ring bell as a weapon. He can’t use it as Slaughter clotheslines him. Triple H soon wraps a chain around his fist to punch Slaughter. This is probably the point in the match when Slaughter begins to fade.
Whilst Sarge does get his boot up to stop Triple H’s aerial attack he finds himself unable to bodyslam him. Triple H applies a sleeper hold which is reversed by Slaughter into his own dreaded Cobra Clutch. Chyna gets involved by attacking the ref and then Slaughter himself. Despite getting chalk thrown in her face Chyna still manages to kick Slaughter in the gentleman’s area allowing Trip to get the Pedigree and a winning pinfall. The crowd never seem to get into this much even though it’s a good effort from both.
Jeff Jarrett was in the WWF before I stopped watching it. He left for WCW in 1996 and, despite the Atlanta based company’s dominance at this time, opted to return to the WWF. Double J faces The Undertaker tonight and it’s hard to see this as anything but just giving Taker something to do whilst Kane twiddles his thumbs in the background.
Jarrett manages to avoid two Undertaker lunges into the corner but he’s finally caught in the third as Taker goes to work with punches. This is then followed by a clothesline that knocks Jarrett’s head back. Undertaker then moves on to Old School as JR utters ‘Undertaker walks those ropes like Taka Michinoku’. Jarrett manages to get something in the match by avoiding a Big Boot and knocking the Undertaker off his feet. Jarrett tries to attack the knees as best he can but doesn’t get anywhere as Taker applies a back breaker. Suddenly the organ music starts and Kane walks down the aisle with Paul Bearer. Jarrett looks like a bit of a spare part once Kane is in the ring until he is chokeslammed by The Big Red Machine. Kane then slaps Taker, does his blazing ringposts and then leaves. Jeff Jarrett wins the match via DQ but he signs off by getting chokeslammed by an irate Undertaker also. Mark Henry is in the crowd! He’s sitting with the sponsors! He’s still injured!
Part of the fun of watching these PPV shows is seeing the origins of some of the more famous wrestlers. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin will go on to face each other in the main event of Wrestlemania 15, 17 and 19 but here they are in the Intercontinental Championship Match about eighteen months before they’ll class in the most important match in the WWF’s calendar. The Rock (as he’s calling himself now, therefore another piece of the jigsaw is complete) has stolen the IC belt and Stone Cold wants it back. Whilst The Rock walks down to the ring with his fellow Nation of Domination members on tow Stone Cold arrives by driving a pick up truck down the aisle. He parks it right next to the ring. If he’s not careful he’ll end up with a ticket.
The match is fairly brief, coming in at just under six minutes in total. Based on the premise that Stone Cold is pretty much taking on all the Nation at once it’s a wild brawl. Stone Cold goes straight on the attack and finds himself tangling with D’Lo first, back dropping him over the ropes and onto the bonnet of his truck. D’Lo nearly ends up going through the windscreen. To complete this picture D’Lo then gets a Stunner on the roof which dents nicely.
The Rock gets a few punches in but Stone Cold comes back with a Lou Thesz Press. Rock then throws Austin out of the ring to face Kama and Faarooq. Kama has the bright idea of going for a chair shot which Austin ducks as Faarooq takes the brunt of it instead. Kama stands there is disbelief before getting slammed into the truck himself. Austin’s going to have fun filling out that insurance claim form.
Once Austin is back in the ring he gets Scoop Slammed by Rock who follows with the move that will be known soon as The People’s Elbow. I don’t think any wrestling move on Earth has such an elaborate build up for so little. Well, it’s actually second place to Scotty 2 Hotty’s Worm when you consider it. It only gets a two count. The Rock tries to run through the same sequence again only to be cut off at the pass by Austin.
Austin goes for Kama and Faarooq on the outside but ends up turning around and delivering a Stunner to the ref by mistake. The Rock has some brass knuckles and goes to use them against Austin who blocks it and delivers a Stunner to Rock. A second ref counts the three and Stone Cold is either the new IC champ or has successfully defended it depending on who you ask. It seems to be a match simply to confirm Stone Cold as the WWF’s secondary champion at this time. This might just change in a few months.
So who does Shawn Michaels face to defend his WWF Championship? Bret has left and his programme with the Undertaker seems over now that their Hell in a Cell match has
finished. Add the fact that Undertaker is heading for a clash with Kane soon (ish) and it seems Michaels is running short of challengers. The most logical person to face him would be Owen based on recent events with Bret but apparently Shawn’s worry was that the younger Hart brother would take out an entire family’s worth of frustration on him if they were ever to face each other. As a stop gap measure we’ll make do with Ken Shamrock. This isn’t a knock on Shamrock as a performer, more that he hasn’t really carved anything like a path towards the title. He’s pretty much only found his feet
in pro wrestling in late 1997 so this feels a little bit like setting him up to fail against the much more experienced HBK.
Shamrock is with Jim Cornette as he talks about how, when he’s in his zone, he inflicts pain. It’s sounds fair enough. Shawn Michaels then gets a backstage promo in which he calls J.R ‘a fat tub of goo’. To be fair they’re fairly putting Shamrock across as a threat by calling up his MMA background and saying how Shawn has never faced anybody with those type of skills before. As the match begins Shawn tries to copy Shamrock’s MMA
stance, it’s somewhat hilarious. There follows a bit of rope running which ends with Shamrock delivering a mighty knee. Shawn bails to the outside for a time out.
Chyna soon gets involved by distracting the referee and Shawn tries to sneak attack Shamrock yet only gets punched in the jaw for his trouble. Shawn’s only comeback is to spit on Shamrock before attacking him in the corner. Lawler chimes in by saying that one good thing Shawn has done is ‘get rid of the Hart Foundation because Bret’s gone South’. At this moment Shawn escapes the ring again to have a team talk with Triple H. They end up getting their heads clocked together. As Shamrock goes for a bear hug Shawn pushes the ref out of the way enabling him to low blow. Shamrock is then clotheslined outside and, whilst the ref is dealing with Shawn, Triple H attacks the challenger.
The DX led assault carries on as Chyna shoves Shamrock into the cornerpost. HBK then gets a Splash off the apron before Triple H continues to attack. A HBK Dropkick back in the ring only gets a two count. A further HBK Crossbody is rolled through by Shamrock for a two count. The match then goes into rest holds as HBK locks on a Chin Lock followed by a Sleeper Hold. There’s some sound strategy from Shawn at this point as he’s trying to avoid Shamrock’s strikes. Much like Stone Cold earlier, Shamrock is facing more than one opponent tonight.
Shamrock’s Powerslam only gets a two count as does a later Powerbomb before Chyna and Triple H attack him again. A HBK Bodyslam sets up the Top Rope Elbow. It’s at this moment Shawn seems to have victory in his grasp, going to the corner to tune up Sweet Chin Music. The kick doesn’t connect as Shamrock grabs Shawn in a Belly To Belly Suplex. The Ankle Lock is then applied but not for very long as both Chyna and Triple H storm the ring to attack Shamrock. Shamrock wins by DQ but doesn’t get the belt. It’s been much more of an entertaining match than it really had any right to be.
In closing Shawn celebrates on the apron facing the irate fans. As he does this Owen Hart runs down to the ring, pushing Shawn into the announce table below and continually
punches him. Triple H eventually picks off Owen before he runs off through the crowd,
Degeneration X feels a bit knocked together as a show. Bret Hart’s departure seems to have left something of a void especially as Stone Cold and The Rock aren’t quite being given the main event treatment just yet. It’s also a December PPV which the WWF/E traditionally don’t really give a toss about anyway. Shamrock versus Michaels is a pleasant surprise but nothing really on Shawn’s previous title defences against the likes of Vader or Mankind. The boxing match between Mero and Butterbean is fine for a few minutes but ends up repeating the same lines again and again. Taka’s win is an uplifting one but it’s doubtful it’s going to go anywhere afterwards and The Legion of Doom are once again shown to be sticking to a given formula no matter how rigid it is.
Onwards next month to the 1998 Royal Rumble or ‘Karma Gonna Get You’ as Shawn Michaels might call it.