The 10th WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view had a memorable Bret Hart-Undertaker main event (thanks to Shawn Michaels as the referee) while Steve Austin suffered a serious neck injury that would shorten his career.
This show came at a time when WWE was really starting to turn a corner. It wasn’t showing yet in terms of money, but if you watched regularly in 1997 as I did then you know it was one of the better years in WWE history. There was more excitement during 1997 than in the five years before it. The roster wasn’t that great from top to bottom, but they were slowly building up to something with a young group of talent that would lead the company to great success (hello Borat) in the years that followed.
Bret Hart was the challenger to the Undertaker’s WWE World Title. He claimed that if he didn’t win the belt he would never wrestle in the United States again, which is something the American fans loved because Bret was doing the anti-American gimmick with the Hart Foundation at this point. Since the show was in New Jersey, it would mean that the already favored Undertaker would be even more beloved by the fans. Meanwhile, Shawn Michaels wasn’t in a match for the show so he asked to be the referee of the match. His wish was granted although he had to agree to a similar fate. If he did anything to cost Hart, his hated rival on screen and off, the match he would not be allowed to wrestle in America either.
The Hart/Michaels issue wasn’t just something for the cameras. There were legit problems there. They had a pull apart fight in the locker room in June 1997. There were even reports that Michaels threatened to quit the company, but ultimately stayed around. WWE chose to give Michaels a bit of a break from television. As a result, Michaels also lost the tag team title he held with Steve Austin, who now had Dude Love (aka Mankind) as his championship partner.
There were a lot of questions going into this show about how Michaels and Hart would be able to work together in a major setting like SummerSlam. I remember not having any idea how they might book the finish of the main event, so I was very intrigued by it.
Most of this review was written for an old site I was a part of in 2008 and I re-posted it on here a few years ago. I’ve tweaked some things along the way, but the format is a bit different than my regular style. Let’s get to it.
WWE SummerSlam 1997
Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey
August 3, 1997
The United States national anthem played to start the show off.
The video package, in black and white, tells us how Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels all have their various problems going on with Bret being hated by America, Undertaker being tormented by his past and Michaels having a lot of problems with Hart. Pretty cool video and I’ve always liked the voice guy they used in that era.
Announcers are crazy Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler.
Analysis: This was Vince’s last SummerSlam as an announcer. What a maneuver!
The first match is Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Mankind. They wrestled first at King of the Ring two months earlier with HHH winning, then they had a double countout brawl at Canadian Stampede a month earlier so this was the end of that feud. The idea was that the brawl at Canadian Stampede was so wild they needed to be contained in a cage. HHH is out first with Chyna and Mankind was cheered for his entrance.
Steel Cage Match: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) vs. Mankind
(Pre-match notes: Hunter was the heel and Mankind was the face.)
The only way you can win this match is by exiting the cage through the door or over the top. It should be noted that the cage is the blue one that they used in the ’90s.
Hunter runs for the door immediately, but Mankind holds onto him. He beats Hunter down a bit, then Hunter tries to climb out so Mankind chucks him back into the middle. Mankind tries to put his head up against the cage, but the crappy blue bars leave a lot to be desired in a cage. Running knee in the corner by Mankind followed by his customary pulling piledriver. He puts on the Mandible Claw, but he’s near the cage so Chyna reaches through and chokes him with a belt. Hunter whips him in only to be caught with a clothesline by Mankind. He climbs the cage only for Chyna to climb up and punch him in the balls. Hunter meets him at the top, then suplexes him off the top of the cage to the mat. That’s a nice spot that I guess we can call a super-cage-plex. Hunter’s able to get out, then changes his mind and walks back in to whip Mankind head first into the cage. There’s another hard whip into the cage. After a head ramming into the cage he beats on him in center ring with fists. Six more hard head whips into the cage follow that. Helmsley goes to climb out of the cage (why do people not use the door?), but Mankind climbs up to get him. He gets kicked off by Helmsley. There he comes back up though, bringing Helmsley back down into the ring. Mankind chokes him over the ropes, so Chyna reaches through and gouges his eye. Atomic drop by HHH, then Mankind does one and hits a clothesline. This match is very slow paced at this point with the crowd making little noise. Knee smash by HHH. Mankind suplexes him into the cage so HHH’s legs are at the top of it and then runs the ropes to elbow HHH in the face. Hard whip into the cage by Mankind and then two more just for fun. Like the lunatic he is, Mankind charges in and Helmsley gives him a back body drop into the cage back & leg first. They fight along the top rope, Foley wins it and HHH gets crotched on the top rope. Helmsley’s leg is stuck in the ropes, so Mankind crawls to the door and Chyna whips the door hard right into his ear. He wrote about that in his book. It was as painful as it looked. Then she rammed the ref face first into the steel steps. She tosses a chair into HHH, but his Pedigree attempt is reversed as Mankind slingshots him into the cage where Chyna was hanging around for some reason. She’s down. Mankind drops him with a double arm DDT on the chair. Chyna goes in the ring to try to pull HHH out the door. That doesn’t work and as that’s going on Mankind makes it out of the cage. He’s near the bottom when he chucks off his mask and climbs back up with the crowd going nuts. The fans are chanting “Superfly! Superfly!” because this was around the time when they were talking about Foley’s past where he saw Jimmy Superfly Snuka leap off a cage against Don Muraco and then knew he wanted to be a wrestler after that. He sets his feet on the second rung of the cage, opens his shirt to reveal what was supposed to be a Dude Love heart on his chest and comes off with a sick elbow off the top of the cage! Crowd is going crazy, which was proof that this storyline was working for the guy. He goes for another climb while Chyna tries to pull HHH out on the other side. Mankind touches the ground first. Why wouldn’t she try to stop him when he’s climbing down? I’m not going to get an answer to that, so we’ll pretend like it’s not even asked. The match went 16:13.
Winner via exiting the cage: Mankind
Analysis: **3/4 Average match built around some big spots like the cage dive by Mankind. It wasn’t all bad because Mick Foley was really taking off as a babyface character at this point and Hunter would soon become a degenerate. Basically this was good in terms of furthering an angle, but as a match it was a bit of a letdown. They had better matches three years later, but some of their other matches in 1997 were better too. The match at Canadian Stampede the month before this was definitely better. In terms of the storyline, it was big for Foley because he was going through that babyface turn where he was developing the fun Dude Love character to make him likable. As a match, it could have been better.
Post match, the Dude Love music that I love so much strikes up and Mankind struts his way around the ring. At the time, Dude Love was a tag champion with Steve Austin.
They bring out the Governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman, who gets booed by most of the crowd. Basically, she allowed this show to take place because the WWF had been out of Jersey for a while due to some tax issues. First time in eight years that there was a PPV in Jersey. They give her a replica title belt as the crowd booed some more. Good times.
Analysis: Most politicians get booed at wrestling shows. It’s just how it is.
There was a shot of Tiger Jeet Singh with his son Tiger Ali Singh. They tried to get Tiger Ali Singh over as a wrestler in the next few years, but it didn’t really work out.
Brian Pillman vs. Goldust (w/Marlena)
(Pre-match notes: Goldust is the babyface here while Pillman is a part of the heel Hart Foundation group.)
If Pillman loses this match he has to wear a dress on Raw the next night. Just for fun, there’s a mannequin with a dress on it.
Pillman jumps Goldust to start. He whips Goldust in, who comes back with a back elbow off the middle ropes and then unloads a kiss on Pillman. Yes, a kiss. A punch sends Pillman out to the floor. Back in, Pillman whips him in and gets a back elbow. Then he stalks Marlena, which is a bad idea because Goldust clotheslines him on the other side of the ring. Back in, Pillman gets a club to the back, then beats on him with fists. Suplex by Pillman, then he goes up top and Goldust crotches him on the top rope. Marlena blows some smoke into his face. Pillman uses her as a shield, then DDTs Goldust on the floor. He rolls Goldust back in, then hits a clothesline off the top for a couple of two counts. He slows it down with a chinlock. Goldust goes for a pinfall, but Pillman counters with a clothesline for two. Whip in, Goldust gets his own clothesline and then they exchange punches with Goldie winning those. Whip into the ropes, Goldust goes for a bulldog only for Pillman to counter by shoving him off. Shoulderblock by Goldust, who then goes for a sunset flip but that doesn’t work. He didn’t fully get over. Pillman then leans forward so Goldust is fully under him, then Marlena hits him with her purse (ref didn’t see it) and that leads to the one, two and three for the Goldust win at 7:17. The finish was messed up.
Winner by pinfall: Goldust
Analysis: * Poor match. Pillman’s injuries really limited what he could do in the ring. His offense was really weak. Goldust did everything he could to make it work, but it just didn’t work well at all. The crowd was mostly into it even though they recognized the botched finish. Sadly, Pillman’s body was breaking down and he passed away two months after this. He was such a good performer when his mind was right and he had developed such a good character, but his body just couldn’t take it anymore.
Post match, Pillman beats up the mannequin and rips up the dress because he had to wear it the next night on Raw. Feel the comedy!
The Godwinns (Henry O. aka HOG and Phineas I. aka PIG) are out first for a tag match. They were farmers that wear overalls. The video shows us that LOD broke Henry Godwinn’s neck with their Doomsday Device finisher several months earlier. The Godwinn’s came back with cheap attacks, so that’s how we’ve got this match.
Legion of Doom did a yelling promo about how payback is going to be hell. They loved to yell.
Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal) vs. The Godwinns (Henry & Phineas)
(Pre-match notes: LOD were the faces and The Godwinns were heels. Considering the combatants I’m not expecting much in terms of quality.)
They brawl to start with Legion of Doom dominating, sending both Godwinns out to the floor. Can’t deny LOD’s popularity because the crowd sure loves ’em. Animal misses a charge on Phineas, so he tags in Henry, they go for a double backdrop but then Animal gets a double clothesline to send them out to the floor. Henry’s in there with Hawk now as he drapes him across the top rope. A legdrop misses, so Hawk follows him out to the floor and whips him headfirst into the steps. He rolls Henry back in, then hits a couple legdrops for two. Henry fights back, then tags in Phineas who hits Hawk with a neckbreaker choke type move. Hawk fights out and each team tags out so it’s Animal up against Henry. Animal works on the arm. Henry whips him in, Phineas knees Animal in the back and then Henry clotheslines him out to the floor. With Animal on the apron, they push him in the back and he goes neck first into the railing. There’s Captain Lou Albano in the crowd! Back in, bodyslam gets two. Tag to Phineas who slows it down again with a long bearhug. Animal tries to fight out, but Henry tags in. He misses a clothesline, then continues to work on Animal. Tag back into Phineas, he goes for something off the middle ropes that Animal is able to counter with a clothesline. He hot tags Hawk while Henry comes in. Powerslam, then punches for both. Whip in, then a clothesline and another clothesline, this time for Phineas. Neckbreaker for Henry, which is an ode to the broken neck idea. Animal takes Phineas out. They whip Henry in then each guy hits a running clothesline in the corner. They go to set up Henry for the Doomsday Device finisher, but Phineas comes in, so Hawk just clotheslines him. Animal picks up Henry for a piledriver, Hawk goes to the middle ropes and they spike him with the piledriver for the pinfall victory at 9:15
Winners by pinfall: Legion of Doom
Analysis: *1/2 It was a formulaic tag match for the most part. LOD started hot, then the Godwinns slowed it down, Hawk got the hot tag and that was the end of the match. Everybody worked hard and the crowd was really into LOD, so what they did clearly worked well. Love the Legion of Doom for their look and star power, but their matches in WWE at this point were rarely good. The Godwinns were never that good. Also, doing a Spike Piledriver finish on a guy that broke his neck months earlier is pretty crazy. You won’t see that in WWE again.
There are two Million Dollar Chance finalists standing by with Pettingill as well as Sable and Sunny, who looks so damn hot. Why didn’t they use Sunny more in these days? This is awful. Why the hell am I reviewing this? Oh yeah, because Sunny’s there. There were 100 numbers to pick and only one key to open a case for $1 million. Nobody wins. This took literally seven minutes to complete. What a time waster. At least Sunny looked good.
They show a video of a week earlier on Raw when Bulldog and Shamrock had an arm wrestling contest. Bulldog beat up Shamrock with a chair and then put dog food all over his face. They added a stipulation to this match: If Bulldog loses then he has to eat the dog food. Bulldog is out first with Shamrock out next to a big pop.
Analysis: Shamrock was still fairly new to in-ring action at this point. He did most of his wrestling training at the Hart house in Calgary, so I’m sure he was tight with Bulldog at this point.
European Championship: British Bulldog vs. Ken Shamrock
Shamrock starts out on fire, hitting a belly-to-belly suplex. He beats on him all over the ringside area a bit, then they go back in the center and he goes for the ankle lock. Bulldog gets the ropes, then Shamrock pounds on him in the corner and gets a high knee to the face. Bulldog comes back with a clothesline, then fists to the back and a headbutt. Delayed suplex by Bulldog gets two. He gets a chinlock to slow it down. Shamrock fights out, then charges in and leaps over top of Bulldog for a sunset flip that gets two. Clothesline by Bulldog, then another chinlock. They grapple in the corner, then Bulldog kicks him low and the ref doesn’t even DQ him for it. I guess he didn’t see it even though he clearly did. Bulldog gets a small package for two. Bulldog slams him shoulder first into the steel post. Hard whip into the steps. He picks up the steps to use them as a weapon only for the ref to stop that. They roll back in the ring, Bulldog punches him some more and goes for another chinlock as Shamrock’s lip starts to bleed. Shamrock tries to fight back, so the Bulldog throws him out to the floor and bodyslams him there. He grabs some dog food, then tosses it into Shamrock’s face and that’s enough for Shamrock to snap. I love when he snaps! So does the crowd because they’re going crazy. Shamrock smacks Bulldog in the back of the head with the dog food container and that gets him disqualified. I guess a dog food can to the back of the head is worse than a blatant low blow. Match went 7:29.
Winner by disqualification: British Bulldog
Analysis: ** It was a decent match with Bulldog on offense for the majority of it. I thought he went for the rest holds way too much although that could have been a sign of Shamrock not having that many matches under his belt at this point. The key thing here was the post match angle, which worked really well. Much like the earlier matches on the show, the angle was much more important than the match. The refereeing was pretty awful in this match or maybe it was just some miscommunication for whatever reason.
Post match, Shamrock continues to beat on him and even shoves the referee down. Shamrock puts on a tight sleeper to choke the Bulldog out. All the refs come in to try to break it up. This was Shamrock’s gimmick. He’s the guy that lost his mind on a regular basis. It takes a couple minutes to pull Shamrock off. There’s a belly-to-belly by Shamrock for Patterson, then one for Brisco, one for ref Jack Doan and one for ref Mike Chioda. Fans were chanting for Shamrock. Then Shamrock does the patented, “Get out of my way!” yell. Man, I loved Shamrock in this era. The crowd really loved his yelling since it was the era of the babyfaces that had an edge to them.
Analysis: Shamrock was still fairly new as an in-ring competitor, but I was always a big fan. He was so intense and brought a lot of credibility to the table as a legit UFC fighter. Also, Shamrock freaking out after the loss was pretty great. He was so good at doing that. Plus, it made sense for him to snap in this case. Watch WWE today and they don’t even have face characters as interesting as Shamrock and he was just a midcarder.
Backstage, Todd Pettengill talks to the ref of the main event, Shawn Michaels. He says he’s going to be an impartial, unbiased, fair referee. Michaels: “Nothing will get past the keen eye of Shawn Michaels.”.
Analysis: Michaels was a face at this point, so when he said things like that we believed him.
Los Boricuas (Savio Vega, Miguel Perez, Jesus Castillo & Jose Estrada) vs. Disciples of Apocalypse (Crush, Chainz, 8-Ball & Skull)
(Pre-match notes: Savio and Crush were in Farooq’s Nation of the Domination, but they ended up getting fired when Faarooq had new members join his group. As a result of that, Savio recruited some Puerto Ricans to be in his croup while Crush got some fellow bikers to join him in DOA. The babyfaces in the match were the DOA because people like bikers apparently.
Skull starts out against Estrada, who puts him down with a bulldog and then Skull comes back with a big boot. Tag to 8-Ball, who is his twin brother. Sidewalk slam, here comes Crush with a back elbow and a couple legdrops for two. Perez, aka a very hairy dude, is in next and he falls victim to a tilt-a-whirl slam by Crush. Chainz comes in against Castillo, hitting many elbows and then tags in Skull. He punches, then tags in 8-ball and they drop the guy head first into the turnbuckle. Crowd is pretty quiet for this. There’s Savio Vega coming in to get a cheap shot. The Boricuas beat on him in the corner. Hairy guy works over bald guy, hitting a clothesline and then bringing Savio into the match. Bald guy hits a clothesline on Savio and there’s the Nation walking out through the crowd. That group at this time was Faarooq, Kama, D-Lo Brown and Ahmed Johnson. In the ring, Jesus gets an axe kick on Skull, says Vince. I guess it’s Skull. Savio gets the tag and hits an arm drag, then goes for a chinlock. How do brawlers fight? With chinlocks, apparently. Perez hits a missile dropkick. This is such a disjointed match. People are all over the place. They do a move, then they tag out and quadruple team the guy. The commentary’s hilarious because they don’t know how to explain this mess either. Finally bald guy gets the hot tag to Chainz although nobody really gets excited because it wasn’t a good beatdown. Like idiots, they run at him one at a time and they all go down. Now it breaks down into a fight with all eight guys. The Nation interjects itself and Ahmed hits a Pearl River Plunge on Chainz on the floor. Savio rolls him in while everybody else fights and hairy guy Perez drops an elbow on Chainz for the three count as Chainz kicks out just a hair too late. It went 9:08.
Winners by pinfall: Los Boricuas
Post match, all 12 guys brawl. What, no chinlocks? Then Crush rides his bike around the ring to break up the fight. Oh no, he’s slowly riding a motorcycle around a ring surrounded by 20,000 people! Look out!
Analysis: 1/4* What an ugly match. I really should give it a DUD, but I’m giving it a quarter star because I am amazed at how much body hair Miguel Perez has. It’s really a sickening amount. There was no psychology, high spots or anything really of note here. I guess it was done to put over Ahmed’s heel turn as part of the Nation because his move led to the finish, but even that was done poorly. Just a mess, really. I’m not sure why Vince was obsessed with booking so many stables in 1997, but he was for whatever reason. Perhaps it was the NWO influence? Not sure.
There was a video package hyping up the Owen Hart/Steve Austin match for the Intercontinental Title. This was built up from the previous month when Owen pinned Austin in the ten man main event at Canadian Stampede. The stipulation is that if Austin can’t win the title then he has to kiss Owen’s ass.
Owen Hart was out first to a lot of boos. Backstage, Michael Cole tries to interview Austin, but that doesn’t work as Stone Cold tells him to kiss his ass and Austin emerges to a massive ovation from the crowd. Clearly the biggest ovation of the night so far.
Intercontinental Championship: Owen Hart vs. Steve Austin
Austin goes for his four turnbuckle pose, but Owen cuts him off after the second one and goes after his chronically injured left knee. Austin comes back with a Thesz Press, then a cross corner whip and Owen takes a Bret Hart-like chest bump into the turnbuckle. Austin grabs Hart by the hair a few times, then goes for this splash on the back on the middle rope. Hart moves, so Austin decks him for two. Austin works on his left arm a bit. Austin drops him with a hammerlock suplex, then works on the arm some more with an armbar. Owen shoots him in, then this a back elbow to send Austin to the floor. Austin goes to crotch him on the ring post, but Owen pulls back and Austin goes headfirst into the post. Hart slams his hand into the ring steps, then bites it because he’s hungry I guess. Then we find out he’s trying to break the middle finger that Austin likes to salute people with. He ties Austin up in the ropes, then pulls on the fingers some more. Austin gets out of that and drops Hart neck first with a stun gun. Hart goes for a hurricanrana that Austin counters with a powerbomb. Clothesline sends Hart out. Owen leaves, so Austin chases him up the aisle and hits him in the back of the head. He rolls him back in and Owen hits a lightning quick belly to belly followed by a neckbreaker. Legdrop gets two. Bodyslam for Owen, then he goes up top and hits a top rope elbow for two. Owen works on him with a neck vice as JR mentions Austin has had neck problems in his career. Those are some prophetic words. Owen whips him in, but Austin comes back with a hard clothesline and goes for a Sharpshooter that Owen powers out of. There’s a clothesline for Owen followed by a legdrop on the back of the neck. Hart whips him in, Austin counters and Owen springboards off the middle rope with a crossbody. Austin rolls over top for a near two, then Owen comes back with a bridging German Suplex that gets him a near two. Great nearfalls. Camel Clutch by Hart as the story of Austin’s neck continues. Austin fights out of that, whips him in and Owen hits a nice looking DDT for two. Whip in, Owen gets a shoulderblock, then Austin grabs a sleeper, so Owen gets one of his own and Austin drops down with a jawbreaker to get out of that. He climbs the middle rope, but Owen counters with a punch to the gut. Neckbreaker by Hart gets two.
Hart wraps him up in a body scissors while putting pressure on the neck of Austin, then puts his feet up on the middle rope for some leverage. It takes Earl Hebner a good minute or so to realize it. Hart argues with him, so Austin punches him, then whips him in. He goes for a backbreaker that Owen counters into a Tombstone Piledriver…and that’s the one move that would change Steve Austin’s career since Owen hit it improperly. More on that in a bit. Owen looked to cover, but clearly Austin was telling him he was hurt, so Owen stalled by walking around the ring, berating the crowd. “I’m afraid Austin is hurt and hurt badly,” says Vince. Damn right he’s afraid because Austin was his meal ticket. Owen starts a Canada chant to delay things. Somehow, Austin crawls over to Hart, gently rolls him up, Owen lays flat on his back and the ref counts the pinfall for Austin even though he’s legitimately hurt. Match went 16:16.
Winner by pinfall and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Steve Austin
They had to do the pinfall because the stipulation was that if he lost he would have kissed Owen’s ass, so it was something they had to do. Post match, the refs try to help Austin out of the ring, but he barely lets them do anything. He finally raises the belt as the refs do help him out. They should have had medical personnel out there immediately, which I guess they didn’t do to protect Austin’s character. Still, I think a man’s health is a bit more important.
Analysis: ***3/4 The match was tremendous up until the unfortunate accident that would take place. They really did a good job of telling a story in the match with Owen working over the neck while Austin kept on fighting as best he could. It really got over their characters with Owen being the technical wrestler while Austin was the brawler that never quit. There probably was another 5 minutes or so that was going to take place in the match that obviously didn’t happen, but what they did was still very good. Also, have to credit both guys for doing a good job coming up with a finish after Austin’s injury because they were really in a tough spot.
Back to the piledriver that caused the injury, here’s what happened. Instead of dropping onto his knees when he delivered the move (like the Undertaker does in order to protect the guy you’re holding), Owen dropped to his ass and that led to Austin’s head slipping between his legs. That left Austin’s head unprotected since it slipped between Hart’s highs. That’s what compressed his spine and injured his neck. Here’s a clip of the move in question to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
Bonus Analysis: In Austin’s book, he talked about how before the match they went over how it would go and for that spot Austin insisted that Owen drop to his knees for it. Owen told him he’d do it although he never said he’d do it on his knees. Austin felt safe enough with Owen to trust him because of his rep as a great worker, as well as Austin’s respect for the Hart family. Plus he knew Owen was a ribber, so he figured he was just joking. Austin felt like there was no reason not to Owen in that situation. Can’t say I blame Austin for that. Apparently the story was for Owen to continue to work on the neck, hence JR mentioning the sore neck earlier, and then Austin would end up winning with a Stunner out of nowhere. That way they put over the strength of that move. Even though Austin did eventually go on to become one of the biggest stars ever, his career was shortened because of this move. That’s why this was a very historic match.
If you want to hear Austin talking about it, here’s a clip of that. It’s also covered in Austin DVDs that WWE produced and he’s talked about it on his podcast plenty of times.
Analysis: Austin ended up forfeiting the IC Title and was able to return to action three months later. He had major neck surgery in early 2000 and missed nearly one year of action. In 2003, he retired earlier than he intended because of issues with his neck. As for Owen, sadly he passed away in 1999 at Over The Edge after a stunt gone wrong that never should have happened.
There was a video package about Undertaker vs. Bret with Bret saying if he can’t win the WWE Title at SummerSlam then he won’t wrestle in the United States again. Shawn Michaels was added as the refereee.
Bret’s out first to huge boos. He asks for the Canadian anthem to play while dedicating it to all Canadians that feel the same way about Americans and as a Canadian, I stand to listen to it. Okay, not really, but I would if I was at the building. Shawn’s out next to a big babyface pop. Undertaker’s out last to a good reaction as well. Entrances alone take over eight minutes. The match would have plenty of time, though, don’t you worry. Prior to the match, Michaels checks the boots of each guy, then holds the belt up high over his head.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart (Special Ref: Shawn Michaels)
(Pre-match notes: Undertaker was the face champ and Bret was the heel challenger. If Bret lost, he could never wrestle in America again. If Shawn somehow screwed him over in the match then he could never wrestle in America again either. If Undertaker lost…well then he lost the belt. Simple, yes? I think with stipulations like that the outcome was a bit obvious, but the question was how would they reach that point? This was a huge match at the time.)
Bret takes the belt from Shawn and hits Undertaker in the back with it. I guess it’s not a DQ because the match had yet to start. Now the bell rings. Undertaker overpowers Bret into the corner, throwing a lot of fists. Whip in, clothesline by Undertaker as Bret bails to the floor and eats some steel railing for his troubles. Then some ring post. Michaels tells him to get back in the ring, but he ignores that and misses a clothesline on Bret around the post. Hart tosses him hard into the steps. Hart jumps on him on the floor, Taker catches him and rams him twice into the post. Michaels keeps telling him to get back in the ring or there will be a disqualification. Back in the ring, Undertaker gets a backbreaker for two. Now he puts Bret in a bearhug. Hart bites his way out of it, then gets booted in the face. Elbow misses by Undertaker. Big boot misses, then Hart kicks away at the knees. He works over the left knee some more by smashing his ass against the point of the knee. He kicks at the back of the knee, then works over it some more in usual fashion. Hart puts him in the figure four leglock in the middle of the ring. There’s Paul Bearer walking down the aisle. This was during the days when he was claming the Undertaker’s brother (Kane) was still alive. After about a minute or so, Undertaker turns it over to get out of the hold. Undertaker smashes the knee of Hart into the mat, then goes outside the ring to punch Paul Bearer in the head. That allows Hart to chase him out to the floor and clip the back of his knee. Other refs come out to send Bearer back to the dressing room. Hart positions Undertaker in the corner for my favorite move, the figure four leglock around the ringpost. Love that. Michaels counts to four, so he breaks it. They argue a bit. In the ring, Hart works over the knee some more as Brian Pillman and Owen Hart walk down the aisle. Michaels warns them. Hart pulls Taker to the corner and wraps his knee around the ringpost. Michaels warns him to keep it in the ring as the announcers talk about how good a job he’s doing. Hart slows it down some more with a leg grapevine on the mat. Undertaker breaks it by using his healthier right leg to pound Hart in the chest. He flips over the top rope and pounds Owen and Pillman on the floor. Michaels sends them to the back. Back in the ring, Bret charges in and Undertaker hits a chokeslam. Michaels is looking up the aisle, so he never sees it and Undertaker was pinning Hart for a good five seconds. Undertaker grabs Michaels, which allows Hart to roll up Taker for a close two count thanks to some pulling of the tights. Undertaker clotheslines Hart while Taker stalks Michaels some more and hilariously Michaels climbs the middle rope to talk eye to eye to Undertaker. Hart yanks Undertaker out to the floor, then rams his lower back into the side of the ring apron. Then he picks up Undertaker to slam him back first into the post. Michaels warns him some more.
Hart rolls Undertaker back in, then hits a double ax to the back. He works on the lower back some more with headbutts, then a backbreaker for two. Suplex by Hart, then the diving elbow off the middle rope after giving people the middle finger. That was great. Yes, I’m biased. That gets two. DDT gets two. Undertaker blocks a headbutt, then drops Hart face first into the top turnbuckle for two. That slows Hart down only for a bit as he gets more headbutts to the spine, then the Russian legsweep. A couple of legdrops follow that as the crowd yells some more at Bret. Hart steps through his legs for the Sharpshooter, but Undertake counters by grabbing the throat and buries a knee to the ribs. Punches in the corner, then a hard whip and Bret gets his knees up to block a charge. While on his knees, Undertaker punches Bret in the ribs to send him down. After a whip into the ropes, Undertaker hits his awesome looking high clothesline. There’s the patented sternum bump in the corner by Hart, which gets two for Undertaker. Whip into the ropes, Undertaker hits a big boot and a legdrop that gets two. That was the Hogan sequence right there. Hart’s on the apron, Undertaker picks him up and chokeslams him into the ring. He’s slow to cover, so Hart’s able to kick out just before three. Hart counters the old-school clothesline by kicking the top turnbuckle, then he climbs up for a superplex. Undertake slipped, but Hart tries again and hits it. That was impressive looking. Hart hooks the legs and puts on the Sharpshooter although Undertaker is pretty close to the ropes. Somehow JR says it’s right in the middle of the ring, but it’s really not. After about 15 seconds, Undertaker pushed Hart off of him, sending Hart all the way to the floor. JR goes nuts saying nobody ever broke the Sharpshooter, which is probably wrong. Undertaker gets a clothesline, then tries for a Tombstone that Bret is able to fight out of. He yanks Undertaker around the post, puts on what looks like a Sharpshooter using the pole and Undertaker pushes him off right into Michaels on the floor. Shawn grabs at his knee, which allows Hart to grab a steel chair and drill Undertaker in the head with it while HBK is out on the floor. In Michaels’ first match as a ref, he apparently became both deaf and blind. After a good twenty seconds, Michaels comes in to count the pinfall that gets two. Hart argues with him, then kicks at Taker and Michaels sees the chair. He yells at Bret about it, asking him why there’s a chair. Bret peaks back, Undertaker stands up and that’s the cue for Bret to spit on Michaels after Bret said “fuck you” to him. In his book, Hart said he told Shawn he’d spit on his chest, but most of it hit him on the face because he says he was tired. I’m guessing it was probably not an accident. Speaking of accidents, Michaels swings the chair at Hart, who then ducks and the sickening chair shot absolutely destroys Undertaker right in the head. I’m talking top of the head as hard as I’ve ever seen a chair swung! Damn! It was sick then and it’s sick today. The crowd is going nuts. Hart quickly rolls Undertaker over for the cover and Shawn has to count due to the stipulation so he counts the fall 1…2…3. Bret Hart is the new champion and the crowd hated it. Match went 28:10.
Winner by pinfall and NEW WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Bret Hart
Analysis: ***1/4 I think if this match was 20 minutes instead of nearly 30 it would have been better in terms of quality because there were times when it seemed to drag on. My guess is that they were supposed to go five minutes less, but had to go longer because the Hart/Austin match ended earlier than expected. Anyway, I really thought Bret was tremendous in this one as he was all year, really. He did all the heel tricks you could do like cheap attacks, blatant cheating and then outsmarting the stupid babyface, two in fact, in the end. Undertaker did his job well too although he was the one on the defensive for much of it, so a lot of his offense wasn’t even present in the match. The story was great, though. Even though it’s not a four star match it really was one of the best angles the company did that year and it would lead to even greater things in the future that we’ll cover in the next few PPVs.
Michaels quickly bails to the floor after it’s over, pissed off about what happened. The crowd is buzzing, booing the hell out of Hart and tossing garbage into the ring. Undertaker stumbles his way up the aisle while Hart poses with the title he won for the fifth time.
Post match, Shawn left right away while The Undertaker went after him. Undertaker was furious about the loss.
Analysis: That set up Michaels becoming a heel, which led to Degeneration X being born with Triple H and Chyna joining him and then two months later at Badd Blood 1997 it was Michaels vs. Undertaker in the first Hell in a Cell match that was also the debut of Kane.
The crowd was in shock and Vince was on commentary too: “I can’t believe this.” The other Hart Foundation members come into the ring to celebrate with Hart. I remember celebrating myself during this. It really was a great America vs. the World angle and a lot of people I watched wrestling with in those days (other Canadians) were really happy about this. The show ends with the Hart Foundation members walking up the aisle to the jeers of the crowd.
Analysis: We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last SummerSlam match for Bret as a full-timer. He was Mr. SummerSlam for the ten years of the event, but he was out of WWE a few months later due to Survivor Series 1997. Bret did return for a SummerSlam match in 2010 although he couldn’t take a bump and had a minor role. It was not the same as when he was in his prime.
This event had a runtime of 2:49:01 on WWE Network.
FIVE RANDOM THOUGHTS
– This is a memorable show for a couple of reasons. The result of the main event set off a chain of events that would dominate the company for the rest of 1997 and produce some awesome matches along the way. I think the Hart/Undertaker match was one of the better main event matches that the WWF had in 1997, so from that respect you have to say it was a match worthy of being in a SummerSlam main event. Plus, the angle that closed the match was done perfectly and drew a huge reaction.
– Austin’s injury was a huge story. Obviously, it was of great concern to management because Austin was the guy they were going to build around going forward. By the end of the show, they didn’t know how severe the injury was. He would end up being out of the ring for three months, which probably wasn’t enough time for him to heal up. It would also change the way he worked. In this match alone you’ll notice he took a lot of head bumps like DDTs, neckbreakers and moves that like. In the years that followed he rarely took bumps that compromised his head/neck area, which is certainly understandable. Who knows what would have happened if Hart protected him better while doing the move? Austin likely would have been able to wrestle longer, but it wasn’t meant to be.
– The growing popularity of Mankind aka Mick Foley was a big part of the show. He was really starting to show the personality that would make him a huge star in the years that followed and that’s what won him the adulation of the fans. Plus, I liked the Mankind/Helmsley series of matches for the most part. They would have better ones in the future, of course.
– There was a lack of depth in the midcard and I think it showed with some of the poor matches. As I said, the booking was better than the previous years. People rip on Vince Russo a lot, but this was his first year as part of the creative team and he did a good job of developing talents that we would see in big roles one year later.
– This show did 235,000 PPV buys, which was a solid number considering it beat the two previous years. We didn’t know it at the time, but a year later at SummerSlam 1998, they would do over 450,000 more buys for that show. Like I said before, it’s clear that this event was a key building block to WWE reaching new heights in the years to come.
Show rating (out of 10): 5.5
It’s a slightly above-average show with better booking than previous years because most of the finishes were building to something. The main event was very historic and is one of those matches I’d recommend you see if you haven’t done so already. I wouldn’t call it a classic match from Bret and Undertaker, but it was memorable with Michaels as the referee. Also, the Austin/Owen match was looking like a classic up until the neck injury. The rest of the card was okay although the eight-man tag was downright awful.
1. Steve Austin
2. Bret Hart
3. The Undertaker
4. Shawn Michaels
Owen had the best match, but I can’t include him due to Austin’s injury.
Best Match: Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart (***3/4)
Worst Match: Los Boricuas vs. Disciples of Apocalypse (1/4*)
Most Memorable Moment: Austin’s neck injury stands out the most because of how serious it was. I’ll never forget that. I also thought that, from a booking perspective, the main event ending was fantastic in terms of how it finishes the match and set up an Undertaker/Michaels feud.
That’s all for me. Check out the full list of my WWE PPV Review archive right here. Thanks for reading.
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