October 11, 2009
Scott Criscuolo & Justin Rozzero

Summerslam 1997
August 3, 1997
"Hart & Soul"
Continental Airlines Arena
East Rutherford, New Jersey
Attendance: 20,213 (WWF record for the arena at the time)
Buy Rate: 0.80
Announcers: Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler

Fun Fact: Thanks to then Governor Christie Todd Whitman putting the key-bosh on taxing wrestling events, this is the first PPV in New Jersey since Summerslam 1989. The article talking about the tax break acknowledged that wrestling was “sports entertainment”, the first time it had been labeled such.

Fun Fact II: This would be the last Summerslam event with the original Summerslam logo.

1) Mankind (Mick Foley) defeats Hunter Hearst-Helmsley (Paul Levesque) in a “steel cage” match when he escapes the cage at 16:24

Fun Fact: On the July 14th Raw, Steve Austin and a partner of his choice were set to face Bulldog and Owen (who had won a tournament) for the tag team titles. Austin was technically still champion, but was a man without a partner after Shawn Michaels was injured. Well, being the tough son of a bitch that he is, Austin refused to pick a partner and went into the match all-alone. Just as they were about to take a mid-match commercial break, Vince announced that Steve’s possible selection had arrived, and the viewers were treated to a brief shot of white boots walking in the backstage area. When Raw returned on air, the match continued, with Owen and Bulldog dominating Stone Cold. All of a sudden, a man dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt and headband appeared on the Titantron, yelling that he was here to save Steve Austin and the WWF. That man was Dude Love, one of Mick Foley’s alter egos that were first introduced in those sit-down interviews with Jim Ross in May. The Dude was Mick’s character in his home movies that had been based upon wrestling, and it was always his dream to wrestle as the Dudester. Well, the strains of the now famous Hey Dude Love song were cranked up and Mick strutted his way down to the ring to help Steve Austin retain his Tag Team Title (and win his first). Steve even enjoyed the Dude’s antics and, for once, dropped his Don’t Trust Anybody motto and embraced having a new tag team partner. Mick would wrestle as the Dude from July until December, except for three occasions (whenever the peace-loving Dude was not cut out for a certain sort of match, the diabolical Mankind was called upon): and one of the situations was a certain cage match against Helmsley.

Scott: This was the final chapter to the 3-PPV feud that started at KOTR, continued at Canadian Stampede, and now culminates in that foolish blue-barred cage that started at Wrestlemania II. Thank god this cage was ditched soon. I’m old school, and when I want a cage I want the mesh, flesh-ripping fence. That would return by the start of the next decade. Hunter had been on a good roll since getting Chyna as his bodyguard, and in particular his tainted King of the Ring victory. The match itself is exciting and very stiff with a couple of good spots, including Helmsley hung upside down by his feet on the cage, with Mankind doing a somewhat Tree of Woe. Chyna’s interference with the match made the crowd thirsty for Mankind to win it in the end. Finally, Mankind gets to the top of the cage and is about to escape, when he feels something. Something he’s wanted to do since 1983, when he saw Jimmy Snuka do it. He sits on the top of the cage, looks down on Hunter, rips his costume, and dives off the top with an elbow. Mick Foley felt like a million dollars. He then climbs the cage, and beats Helmsley to the floor for the win. Chyna almost blew the ending, when she came into the ring before Mankind was going to drop the elbow. Still a rookie, the jacked-up bitch (As Hunter would call her in 1999) almost botched it. They would fight a couple of more times, including the WWF debut of Mick Foley’s third personality in September on RAW. As for PPV, they wouldn’t meet again one-on-one until January 2000. Grade: 3.5

Justin: A very, very stiff match that features some awesome selling between two of the best. There is one moment, where the selling was very real. At one point in the match, Mick is about to escape the cage, but Chyna runs around the side and slams the steel door on Foley’s unprotected skull as hard as she could. Foley has said it is the most pain he has ever felt in a match and that he nearly blacked out from the pain. Mick had finally made the transition to full-blown face by this point, so the crowd is insane to see him get the big win. Mick has also said that when he was about to do the Superfly splash from the top of the cage, he was to rip off his shirt and there was going to be a Dude Love heart tattoo drawn on his chest. Well, after 16 minutes of balls to the wall action the marker faded, so when Mick ripped the shirt the heart was barely visible. Finally, to cap off the boyhood dream as Mick lays on the floor after escaping, the Dude Love music fires up and his foot starts tapping on its own volition, and then Mick rises and struts out of the Meadowlands a victorious and very over face. This feud was solid from start to end, and both men came out strong and more over than they were when it started, which was a very good thing and helped bolster the upper mid-card. Grade: 3.5

2) Goldust (Dustin Runnels) defeats Brian Pillman with a sunset flip at 7:14

Fun Fact: Heading into this show, all five members of the Hart Foundation added guaranteed stipulations to their matches, the first of which was Pillman promising to wear Marlena’s dress on Raw if he lost the match. Pillman had spent the few weeks leading into the match claiming that he had been with Marlena in WCW before she got with Goldust (the threats before this show were minor compared to the shit they bring up the next month) and promised a big win here. Also, Jim Neidhart did not have a match here, but promised that if any Hart Foundation members lost, he would shave his famous goatee. Of course, the week before Summerslam was the last time he was seen until November, and by that point the stipulation was long-forgotten. That crafty Anvil, not only is he the lone member of the Hart Foundation that hasn’t passed away or nearly paralyzed, but he also escaped Summerslam 1997 with his goatee intact.

Scott: This is a very average match, probably because Pillman’s ability is so eroded from injuries to drug abuse, he’s almost unwatchable. It really is a damn shame, because in his prime he was one of the most electrifying wrestlers in the business. Now he’s become a Memphis-style heel with a lot of punching, kicking and posturing. Goldust puts this dud to bed with a very sloppy sunset flip, and he moves on. The stipulation here is that Pillman must wear a dress on RAW if he lost. Well, he did, and he does. Within two months, Pillman’s career and, unfortunately, life will end. This feud continues after this match, but the match itself wasn’t anything special. Grade: 2

Justin: A really bad match that is mainly due to Pillman’s run-down body. He had so many injuries and surgeries that he was pretty damn useless in the ring at this point. He was still awesome on the mic and had a shitload of heat on him, but he just couldn’t bring it in the ring anymore, which is a damn shame considering how awesome he once was. This feud was pretty hot heading in, and would keep on cooking right until Pillman’s untimely death. Grade: 1.5

3) Legion of Doom defeat The Godwinns when Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) pins Phineas (Dennis Knight) with a spike piledriver at 9:48

Fun Fact: The Godwinns turned heel early in 1997, when they assaulted their manager, Hillbilly Jim and went on a tirade about how they were misused and tired of being goofy flunkies. Just as their heel push was starting, the Godwinns faced the LOD on Shotgun Saturday Night. At the end of the match, LOD gave Henry the Doomsday Device and when Henry landed, he fell straight on top of his head, breaking his neck in the process. The Godwinns disappeared for a few months, but popped back up in July to get revenge on the LOD.

Fun Fact II: This was the debut of the Godwinns’ creepy “Deliverance-type” heel theme.

Scott: This was a pretty good tag match, as both teams were in the thick of things, and were working on a consistent basis. The Road Warriors were still humming along with a lot of support from the crowd, and they both were still in good shape. The Godwinns continue to plod along, but now they’re heels with a bucket of slop. Being nasty heels now made them stiffer in the ring and since the LOD was always stiff to begin with. Instead of the Doomsday Device, which broke Henry’s neck earlier in the year, they finish him off with a Spike Piledriver. Yeah, that’s a much safer alternative. However both moves are two of my favorite all-time finishers, so I’m not complaining. LOD wins this one to set itself up for a long-awaited tag title match. By the end of the year, however, the sun would begin to set on their career. Grade: 3

Justin: A solid tag team encounter considering who was involved. The Godwinns may not be technically sound, but now that they are heels, they became ultra-stiff, and they took this opportunity to showoff their new found aggression. I was digging the Godwinn heel run, as the type of characters they played seemed better suited to be creepy, weird hillbillies than fun loving goofs. LOD was floating in between the upper-card and the mid-card, taking a break from the USA/Canada feud for a couple months to engage in this battle. LOD would reach the peak of their comeback in 2 months, but by December, it would be the beginning of the end for the Road Warriors. Grade: 3

4) British Bulldog (David Smith) defeats Ken Shamrock by disqualification at 7:26 to retain WWF European Title

Fun Fact: In the US/Canada stipulation fest, Bulldog had promised he would eat a can of dog food if Shamrock beat him for his European Title.

Fun Fact II: Before the match, Vince pimps the “One Night Only” PPV, slated for September 20 in Birmingham, England. The main event was already booked as the Bulldog vs. Shawn Michaels.

Scott: This was the first time this title was defended on PPV. The other stipulation was if Bulldog lost, he would have to eat a can of dog food. The match itself was OK, as Shamrock was still learning the WWF style after spending so much time at UFC. Bulldog is in his first real singles feud since Shawn Michaels last year, but it’s also really just an extension of the USA/Canada feud. The match was very stiff, and mildly entertaining. After Shamrock gets a face full of dog food, he snaps, hits Bulldog with the can of food, and is DQ’d. Then he tosses Belly-to-Belly suplexes around to all the refs. This is also where he says his famous “GET OUT OF MY WAY”, said so many times afterward in WWF vignettes. Shamrock is becoming a very over face, and would even get a title shot by the end of the year. Bulldog is currently floating around in limbo, but still European Champion. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last. Grade: 2.5

Justin: A good match between two solid players in the US/Canada feud that was tearing up Raw on a weekly basis at this point. Bulldog was in a groove in 1997, as he was in great shape mentally and physically and was putting on good matches left and right. Sadly by November, his career and life would be tossed into limbo and he would never recover or come close to the success he achieved in 1997. Shamrock, on the other hand, was just starting out and was quickly climbing the mid-card ranks. He always had the intensity, and after training with Bret Hart, he was finally starting to piece together the in-ring aspect of his persona and by the end of the year, he was a bona-fide star. Bulldog keeps his strap here, but the good times were coming to end shortly, so enjoy all of the Hart Foundation moments while you can. Grade: 2.5

5) Los Boricuas defeat Disciples of Apocalypse when Jose Estrada defeats Chainz (Brian Harris) with an elbow drop after Ahmed Johnson (Tony Norris) hit the Pearl River Plunge at 9:06

Fun Fact: This is Ahmed Johnson’s only PPV appearance as a heel. When he is kicked out in a couple of weeks, he is replaced with a very interesting candidate, and one that would eventually change the entire wrestling world, but more on that at Ground Zero.

Fun Fact II: One week after being fired from the Nation, Crush showed up on the scene backed by 3 guys dressed like a biker gang and riding to the ring on motorcycles. Crush introduced the world to the Disciples of Apocalypse: Chainz (Brian Lee, the former Fake Undertaker from Summerslam 1994), Skull and 8-Ball (Ron and Don Harris, the former Blu Brothers from 1995). Of course, Ahmed was inured immediately during this first battle, but we went over that already. The next week, Savio Vega came out dressed up like an Ice Cream man from the Bronx and introduced his new faction, Los Boricuas: Miguel Perez, Jose Estrada and Jesus Castillo. There was an internet rumor was always floating around that the DOA was slated to be linked to the Undertaker storyline wise, but nothing ever came of it.

Scott: Another mildly entertaining if not very sloppy match. The impetus was to counter the NWO in WCW by creating bands of street gangs to battle for the WWF turf, thus began the “Gang Wars”. The problem here is that usually at least one guy of any previous faction brought legitimate workrate, like a Tully Blanchard. However with these two teams, you had 4 guys on each that really weren’t the greatest workers on earth. So any match combination revolves around a lot of kicking and punching, which after a while is quite boring. So this match is pretty much power moves, and simple strikes. Not much to go on. One great visual is the arrival of the original gang of 1997, the Nation of Domination arriving through the crowd in mid-match. Crush starts a skirmish on the outside with Ahmed, who drops the Plunge. Savio rolls him back into the ring, and match is over. The first of many jobs the DOA would do over the next few months. A painfully dull match this is spiked somewhat by the post-match fight with all 3 teams. Grade: 2

Justin: Another battle in the ongoing Gang Warz, and as usual, the Boricuas come out on top. These teams would wage wars over the next 6 months or so, with most of them being somewhat boring and very non-descript. The teams were solid, but they fought so damn much that everyone lost interest a couple of months into the feud. The Nation would be re-vamped once again in mid-August and would pretty much escape the Gang Warz by October and wind up stepping up to the Main Event scene more often than not. The NOD gets involved here to add a little excitement to the mix, and it was cool seeing Ahmed in the mix as a nasty heel, as he played the role well and had the look. Of course, that wouldn’t last as the man couldn’t stay healthy, but it was neat while it lasted. This was an OK brawl that we will see ad nauseum for the next 5 or 6 months. Grade: 1.5

6) Steve Austin (Williams) defeats Owen Hart to win WWF Intercontinental Title with a roll-up at 16:16

Fun Fact: Owen Hart put up his I-C Title after Austin agreed that he would kiss Owen’s ass if he lost the match.

Scott: Here is the match that would change Steve Austin’s life forever, in many ways. First, he would win his first singles championship in the WWF, winning his first I-C title. That’s not new to him, though, as he was a successful United States and Television champion in WCW, so he knows how to be a secondary champion. This match is exciting, with both men firing back and forth, and the crowd eating all of it up. However, it’s the ending that would make the biggest impact. At one point, Austin goes for a tombstone piledriver, but Owen reverses it. It’s very clear that Austin’s head is way too low, and Owen should adjust how he has him up before he drops it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t, and he executes the move, dropping Austin flush on his head. Austin can’t move, and the referee quickly finds out if Austin is OK. Owen tries to stall for time while Austin tries to get some movement in his extremities. Once he does, he rolls over Owen with a roll-up Freddie Blassie could kick out of, and the match is over. For the rest of his active career, which ends in March 2003, Austin would be haunted by that neck injury, in one place or another. His mobility would be greatly stunted, and his bumps would be very limited, at least for a while. The Steve Austin who tore up 1997 in a great feud with Bret Hart is gone, and Austin would have to adjust his style to counter his now limited mobility. Damn shame. He would take a few months off, be stripped of the title, and have to battle for it again in the future. The injury would catch up to the Rattlesnake by the summer of 1999. More when we get there. It’s unfortunate because Owen, like his brother Bret, is a very technically sound wrestler, would be the last one to botch such a simple maneuver. Why he was so stubborn to not change the style of piledriver is anybody’s guess. In any event Austin wins his first singles gold, but really can’t enjoy it. Grade: 3

Justin: A really, really good match that had tremendous heat and was cooking along until the terrible ending. According to Austin’s book, Owen and Austin argued before the match about how to do the Piledriver. Austin wanted Owen to do an Undertaker-esque version (drop to your knees) but Owen was adamant about doing it his way (fall on your ass). Austin was weary but said he trusted Owen and left it at that. Of course, Scott detailed what happened, and Austin never really forgave Owen for fucking up his career. It was a pretty crushing blow to Vince to have his hottest star in years go down with a serious injury, but they did as good a job as they could with the injured Austin and found creative ways to keep him on TV every week leading up to his return at Survivor Series. It would be this injury, however, that would spark the McMahon/Austin war in September, and so it wasn’t all bad. Owen added some much needed credibility to the I-C title since winning it in May and had a nice run with the belt before dropping it here to the red hot Austin. Grade: 4

7) Bret Hart defeats Undertaker (Mark Callaway) to win WWF World Title after a Shawn Michaels (Michael Hickenbottom) chair shot at 28:07

Fun Fact: In the final stipulation tonight, Bret promised he would never wrestle in the US again if he lost. Also, Shawn promised he would never wrestle in the US again either if he did not call the match down the middle.

Fun Fact II: Shawn Michaels had been off TV since early July after his backstage brawl with Bret at a Monday Night Raw taping. Michaels refused to ever work with Bret again and walked out on Vince. Vince finally convinced Shawn to come back (with a huge contract, which is referenced in Shawn’s return promo, when he mentions his new mansion in San Antonio), but Shawn only agreed to come back if he did not have to wrestle Bret (in real life, not a storyline). So, Shawn popped up a couple of weeks prior to Summerslam and begged “management” to allow him to participate in Summerslam, and they complied by naming him the Special Guest Referee. As word spread around the Internet that Shawn would not work in the ring with Bret, rumors began flying that Shawn would actually join the Hart Foundation, thus avoiding having to have him and Bret face off in the ring. Those rumors died quickly after this show, and it was revealed that Shawn would be turned heel to temporarily avoid him and Bret having to feud directly. Of course, Shawn would change his tune and face Bret at Survivor Series, but we are not touching that now.

Fun Fact III: In the ongoing Undertaker saga, we had mentioned in the Canadian Stampede review that Paul Bearer came down on an episode of Raw and confronted Undertaker, claiming that he killed his whole family by allowing them to burn. Taker got very pissed and assaulted Paul. Just as he was about to kill him, he was choking him out, Bearer screamed out that Kane was still alive. He said that Kane had been badly burnt and that he had been living in seclusion, but he was still alive and very jealous of his brother. Bearer kept taunting Taker as the weeks past and claimed that Kane was biding his time, but that he was on his way.

Scott: This match was extremely long, and started off very slow, but the end was well worth the wait. HBK is the special referee, and he said that if he didn’t call it down the middle, he would never wrestle in America again, same as Bret’s stip if he lost. That alone should tell you who was going to win this match. It was an exceptional match, with Bret the heel dictating the tempo. He and Shawn are constantly sniping at each other throughout the match, more excellent psychology. There’s also nice reverse psychology, as Taker had Hitman in a pin attempt, but Michaels was too busy outside shooing off the rest of the Hart Foundation. In the climax, Shawn chastises Bret for something, and Bret spits at him. Shawn, with a chair in hand, looks to whack Bret, but the Hitman ducks out of the way, and Shawn plows the chair into the Deadman. Bret goes for the pin, and Shawn, sticking to the stipulation, counts 1…2…3. Hitman wins his unprecedented fifth WWF Title, tying Hulk Hogan for the most. Michaels leaves in disgust, knowing he pissed off the wrong man. Unfortunately for Bret, his turning heel in March is now completely forgotten, as Shawn soon turns heel and starts a feud that energizes the Federation, and leaves Hart, now World Champion, in the background. No wonder he wanted to kick Shawn’s ass. Grade: 4

Justin: I think Scott summed it up nicely, so I won’t add too much here. This was a solid match that featured a couple of side stories throughout. Halfway through the match, Paul Bearer showed up and continued espousing the mysterious whereabouts of Undertaker’s brother Kane. Also, Pillman and Owen come to ringside during the match, but do not get involved at all. Bret wins amid controversy, but backstage he was very, very nervous about Shawn turning heel, as he was now buried behind Undertaker, Austin and Shawn on the Main Event level, and those fears were proven to be very real come November. This outing easily tops their last PPV singles match at the 1996 Royal Rumble. In that match, both men were face and Bret was a lame duck champion, so the match was a bit disjointed. Here, the face and heel lines are clear and, with Shawn in the mix, the match runs a lot more smoothly. The Hitman picks up his 5th World Title and continues to roll along as a top notch heel. Grade: 4

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Scott: One of the better Summerslams of the past few years, after unspectacular events in 1995 and 1996. The card had its sluggish moments, but less of those and more electric matches, with characters that are growing by the day. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were both big babyfaces when the year started. Now Bret is a full-blown heel, and HBK is now in a very deep shade of gray. Steve Austin is now super-hot, even though he’s almost crippled, and the tag team scene is an ugly mess. Undertaker’s laundry list of enemies has now grown by one, as he not only is after Paul Bearer, and the ominous messages of his brother, but the “Boy Toy”. The year continues to be a growing process for the WWF, and Vince McMahon continues to tweak and fix to come up with the right formula. Things continue to look up, but the next few months would be the most tumultuous times in wrestling history. It also would almost lead to the end of the World Wrestling Federation. But, for now this is a great Summerslam, but the beginning of the unknown. Final Grade: B+

Justin: A pretty good show, as the WWF was continuing to roll along and regain its following. Losing Austin was a major blow, but the creativity in keeping him on was able to mask the repercussions in the short-term (that would all catch up to them in 1999) with the majority of the crowd never really realizing just how injured their hero was. By the next PPV, a brand new faction would be formed, and that faction would lead the way into the Attitude Era and help revolutionize the WWF just like the NWO did for WCW just 14 months earlier. The mid-card was still shaky, but being fleshed out, however, just a couple of weeks after this show, an unexpected returning superstar would also help sure up the mid-card and also play a role in building for the future. Until then, check this show out for historical purposes, and to see Bret’s final PPV moment in the sun. Final Grade: B+

MVP: Bret Hart, Undertaker & Shawn Michaels
Runner-Up: Steve Austin
Non-MVP: Owen Hart
Runner-Up: Los Boricuas & DOA

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