The main event on this show was the much anticipated first-ever PPV match between two WWE mainstays, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. At Summerslam 1997 one month earlier, Michaels was the referee for The Undertaker’s WWE Title loss against Bret Hart. Shawn hit Undertaker with a chairshot that was intended for Hart, which ended up costing The Undertaker the WWE Title and that’s what led to this feud. Michaels was now a full-fledged heel again for the first time in over two years while Undertaker was humanized more than he ever was before. Meanwhile, the story of the Undertaker’s younger brother (Kane) was a big part of his storylines as well.
Bret Hart was the WWE Champion going into this show and we didn’t know it at the time, but he only had two months left in the company. His character was strongly against America, so it was only natural that his opponent would be The Patriot, who was a masked American wrestler that proudly waved the flag of his country. Hart got pinned clean by The Patriot on Raw to earn the title shot on this show.
The other big news was Steve Austin’s neck injury that caused him to be out of action for this show. Owen Hart’s errant piledriver at SummerSlam injured Steve’s neck so severely that Austin was on the shelf. He was scheduled to drop the tag titles he held with Dude Love (Mick Foley) on this show due to the injury.
The last historic note is that this is the first In Your House PPV to go three hours. Previously only the big five PPVs (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, Summerslam and Survivor Series) went three hours with the other IYH shows going two hours. A big reason for that was because all of WCW’s PPVs were three hours, so the WWF felt like they had to match that. Now that you’re caught up on the main angles, let’s get to the show.
Note: There will not be any play-by-play rundown of these matches. It wasn’t a format I was using when I wrote this, so it’s a summary of the matches and thoughts on them all.
WWF In Your House: Ground Zero
Louisville Gardens in Louisville, Kentucky
September 7, 1997
The announcers are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. This would be the second last PPV with Vince as an announcer.
Goldust (w/Marlena) vs. Brian Pillman
This is a rematch from Summerslam when Goldust won and Pillman had to wear a dress afterward. The story here was that we found out that Marlena, Goldust’s wife, used to date Pillman and I guess he missed her. However, Brian was a heel now, so she wasn’t into that idea. As a result, they had a match for Marlena’s “services” for 30 days. If Pillman lost, he’d leave the company. By this point, Pillman really wasn’t a good worker due to all the injuries that limited him in the ring, namely the ankle that he hurt in a motorcycle accident. The actual match was pretty forgettable although the crowd was pretty hot for it because Pillman really was a great, crazy heel. They went about ten minutes when Goldust hit his Curtain Call finisher while also knocking the ref out accidentally. That allowed Pillman to steal the loaded purse of Marlena (we later saw that there was a brick in it) and crack Goldust in the head with it to score the pin.
Winner via pinfall @ 11:05 – Brian Pillman
Analysis: ** There was a lot of running and chasing without much semblance of a story in the match due to the limitations of Pillman. This was the last PPV match he would ever wrestle.
Brian Christopher vs. Scott Putski
Very forgettable match. Four minutes into the match, Christopher jumps off the side of the ring into the arms of Putski, who proceeds to destroy his knee. It snapped and it was a torn quad. Putski never really came back from that as far as I could remember. Putski looked huge here, by the way. He wasn’t passing a wellness test if they had them back then.
Winner via countout due to the explosion of the knee @ 4:40 – Brian Christopher
Analysis: ½* It was not much of a match due to the injury to Putski, who had the look of a wrestler, but did not deliver in the ring.
Faarooq vs. Crush vs. Savio Vega
Part of the reason why I didn’t want to do a full play by play of this show? I remember how bad this match was. I watched it on fast forward and it was still difficult to hide the crap. Basically this is another match in the feud between the former Nation of Domination, which honestly wasn’t even needed by this point. Vega could be an okay worker with the right opponents, but the other two just weren’t it. The finish saw Vega win with a spinning heel kick. Yes, that was a finisher here. Better than Crush’s dreaded “Heart Punch.”
Winner via pinfall @ 11:29 – Savio Vega
Analysis: -1/2* I don’t give negative stars often, but this one deserved it. There were botched moves, there was no pace and no story told. Just a bad match that filled some time. Too bad it wasn’t the end of this rivalry.
Max Mini vs. El Torito
You might be wondering who are these guys? Little people. In Max’s case, a very little person since he was announced at 83 pounds here. It’s a pretty good match even though I think it’s crazy to ask people to pay money to watch little people wrestling when it doesn’t advance any storylines. Max had some comedy spots with Lawler throughout while also winning the match with a sunset flip.
Winner via pinfall @ 9:20 – Max Mini
Analysis: **½ the match was okay. It was not a bad way to fill ten minutes on a PPV. It was also not something anybody was going to remember a minute after it happened. This was an example of how thin the WWF roster was at this time.
Next up was the ceremony where Steve Austin had to give up the tag team titles with Dude Love. Due to his injury, he wasn’t able to compete, so he had to give up the titles. The fans had sympathy for him because he never actually lost the belt, yet he was being screwed over by management because they didn’t like the language he used or the middle finger salutes he always did. This was huge because Austin was continuing to get over as the hottest character in the WWF. Even though he was hurt, he was kept on TV to get the character over even more. Jim Ross interviewed him with Commissioner Slaughter also in the ring too. When Austin was told to give up the belt, he dropped it and made Slaughter pick it up. Then, without warning, Austin gave a stunner to Ross just because he was furious with the authority figures in the WWF. Ross wasn’t even in that position on camera, yet the fans ate it up because it was different from the things they were used to seeing. More people ate stunners after this and the fans loved it.
Analysis: At this point, Austin hitting Stunners on everyone was still very fresh and something I remember talking about with my friends in the days that followed because it only added to the cool persona of Stone Cold. Awesome segment.
Elimination WWE Tag Team Titles: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog vs. Legion of Doom vs. The Godwinns vs. The Headbangers
Hey look, three of the four teams actually have names. I like that. We need more of that in wrestling. This match was for the tag titles that were just vacated. It was done elimination style. The crowd really wasn’t into it that much since they had to follow Austin, who of course was the one that the crowd most wanted to see. The first team to get eliminated was LOD when Animal hit the Godwinns with the slop bucket. Let’s just say that LOD didn’t like getting pinned very much. A couple of minutes after that, the Headbangers get the upset pin on the Godwinns with a sunset flip. The story picked up a bit with the Headbangers being the underdogs due to never being tag champs before. They got overwhelmed by the better team, Owen had the Sharpshooter on and then bang…there’s Austin with the Stunner. Austin was able to stay hugely popular even though he was hurt. Headbangers take advantage for the pinfall win.
Winners via pinfall and New WWF Tag Team Champions @ 17:15 – The Headbangers
Analysis: *1/4 Pretty bad tag match that went too long even with four teams. I always got the sense from watching LOD and the Godwinns that they legitimately didn’t like eachother, which could have played a part in Henry Godwinn breaking his neck while receiving the LOD clothesline. Anyway, the Bangers won their first and only tag titles here although it didn’t really last that long. It was good to see because they did work hard and were popular with most of the fans. I just don’t think Vince McMahon ever had that much faith in them.
WWE World Title: Bret Hart (c) vs. The Patriot
There are over 350 million Americans in the world and the best representative of the country at this time was The Patriot? Let’s just say I was glad to be Canadian when it came to rooting for somebody in this one. I don’t think anybody ever believed Hart would lose the belt in this match, not for a second. That’s not to say it was a bad match because it’s Bret Hart, who is somebody that rarely had a bad match. It’s just that it’s hard for fans to get behind the babyface wrestler when they know he has no chance. Hart had his working boots on like usual, busting out one of my favorite moves early: the ring post figure four. The British Bulldog came out to help him cheat while Vader came out to help Patriot fight off the cheaters (the four would have a tag match a month later). Patriot came back, used his power advantage well and he did get some decent nearfalls. The finish came when the Patriot put Bret in the Sharpshooter, Bret reversed it into one of his own and The Patriot tapped out for the predictable loss.
Winner via submission @ 19:20 – Bret Hart
Analysis: ***1/4 A good match that was typical of what Bret Hart could do on a regular basis. Patriot wasn’t a bad worker by any means. He just didn’t last much longer after this because his character was very bland. I think Hart could see a bit of the writing on the wall when he was booked in a match like this while Michaels was given the spot as the top heel going against Undertaker.
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
The story here is that the Undertaker’s pissed at Michaels for being the chickenshit heel that he is while Michaels is scared of Undertaker even though he won’t admit it because he’s too cocky to do that. Commissioner Slaughter comes out to prevent Michaels from running away, so Undertaker tosses a ref onto Slaughter and Michaels. The crowd was eating this up. They went for a few minutes before a ref finally rings the bell to start the match.
They had a match where Undertaker can’t be hurt by Michaels, so every time Shawn goes at him Undertaker comes back strongly to dominate the action. The only way Shawn got control was when he used a chair and the ref got accidentally bumped (which seemed to be a common theme on this show), which led to heel tactics being used. There were lots of believable false finishes here, which is the sign of a good match. Michaels had help from Hunter Hearst Helmsley (soon to become Triple H as a regular name) and Chyna because this was around when Degeneration X was formed. There’s even a cool spot with Michaels using brass knuckles, then Undertaker steals them from him later and uses them himself. Right after that, Undertaker Chokeslammed a ref and another one came in to throw the match out.
Match ruled a No Contest @ 16:03
At the end of it all, with most of the wrestlers out to separate the two, Undertaker did a huge no hands plancha (leap over the top rope) onto about eight guys. That was very memorable. I remember they replayed it a bunch of times on Raw episodes for weeks after that too. For a guy that’s a legit 6’10” to do that is pretty scary. I don’t think anybody can ever question how good of an athlete Undertaker is for somebody his size.
Analysis: ***3/4 It was a fun, smartly booked match that holds up a decade later because it was a really fresh match that the crowd was very interested in. From a booking perspective, the finish made sense because they didn’t want to give away a clean finish the first time Michaels met Undertaker. That was a wise move. On its own, this is not an all-time great match that you have to absolutely go out of your way to see. However, if you want to see why Hell in a Cell was so amazing I think it’s important that you remember how this match did a perfect job of building to it. This was the appetizer for what would be a very memorable main course to come.
The show went off the air by driving home the point that the Undertaker/Michaels story wasn’t finished yet.
This event had a runtime of 2:50:57 on WWE Network.
Three Stars of the Night
1. Shawn Michaels – Shawn was at his absolute best here.
2. Undertaker – I’d say 1997 was his best calendar year and this match was a shining example of that.
3. Bret Hart – Carried a nobody like The Patriot to a good match.
3.5 out of 10 – That score is for the last two matches plus Austin’s stunners. The rest? Nothing to get excited about.
This was not a show that a lot of people remembered. It just kinda happened without much news coming from it. Remember that this was at a time in the WWF when the roster was very thin and they were on the brink of becoming something really special. The last two matches were pretty good although Undertaker/Michaels obviously had a better match one month later while the Hart/Patriot match was as predictable as any title match in the history of WWF PPV. The segment with Austin was also pretty important in his growth as a top guy in the WWF, so at least there is something you can take from this PPV as being memorable.
The problem is everything else on the show was largely forgettable. It’s basically bad match after bad match with very little happening in the way of newsworthy events. It was a sad sign of how poor the midcard in the WWF was at this time. It’s okay to look back at it now because we know that things got better, but Ground Zero was a bad show.
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