July 18, 2005
Graham Cawthon

August 3, 1997. Shawn Michaels accidentally cracks a steel chair over the Undertaker’s head at Summer Slam, costing Taker the world title.

In the days and weeks that followed, the WWF did everything they could to use the accident in turning Michaels into a full-fledged heel.

On the August 11th edition of Raw is War, Michaels debuted his new ‘insurance policy’ in the form of the returning “Ravishing” Rick Rude.

The following week he was paired up with Hunter Hearst Helmsley against the duo of the Undertaker & Mankind. The Heartbreak Kid seemed hesitant in working alongside a heel the likes of Hunter but, by the end of the match, it was Shawn and not Helmsley receiving the most boos from the audience after twice hitting Taker with a steel chair, busting the Dead Man’s head wide open in the process.

It was played up on TV that Michaels had the chance to back down after landing that initial chair shot, from which the Undertaker sat up. It could have been argued that the infraction was done because Michaels was in the heat of battle and let his emotions go a little more than he should have… but when HBK again slammed the cold steel across Taker’s head – that was the final nail in the coffin. Shawn Michaels, who for the past two years was arguably the most popular man on the roster, was once again a heel.

The two would headline the first 3-hour In Your House pay-per-view event, entitled Ground Zero.

Sunday, September 7, 1997
Louisville, KY
Louisville Gardens
Vince McMahon & Jerry Lawler on commentary

A sell out crowd of 4,963 is on hand. This is a fourth of the size of the Continental Airlines Arena (Summer Slam) and the Kiel Center (Bad Blood). All three pay-per-views sold out.

The pre-match video package highlighted Taker’s recent issues with Paul Bearer as well as the three previously mentioned chair shots from Michaels.

We’re then taken to Shawn Michaels, standing by backstage, who cuts off Vince McMahon’s question and cuts a promo on Taker, saying he “doesn’t rest in peace for anybody.” All the cheers he receives during the backstage segment and ring entrance come from the 14-year-old girls and the fat desperate housewives in attendance. The men in the crowd are solidly behind Taker.

Michaels’ in-ring pyro comes in a little late on the mark and Vince mentions it might be a bad omen.

The Dead Man looks royally pissed as he enters the ring. He quickly disrobes and begins stalking Michaels around the ring, eventually grabbing referee Mike Chioda and punching him out to pop the crowd.

Michaels, now realizing what Taker has planned for him, immediately slides out to the floor and tells Vinnie Mac that he’s had enough and is taking off. HBK begins walking up the ramp but is met half-way by the newly appointed WWF Commissioner, Sgt. Slaughter, who orders Shawn back to the ring.

At the same time, Taker pulls Chioda up to his feet, then dumps him over the top onto Michaels as Shawn approaches the ring. The battle soon goes to the floor as Taker connects with a blow to the face, sending HBK up the ramp. Shawn attempts to escape through the In Your House gimmicked front door but it appears to be locked. Taker pulls Michaels away, punches him again, and then press slams him onto the steel stage. Another blow sends HBK into the ‘front lawn’. The final punch sends him bouncing all the way down the ramp to the ring.

Back at ringside, Taker slams Shawn’s head into the steel ring steps and begins choking him with one of the many chords found on the floor. HBK soon tastes the steel restraining barrier and is knocked on top of the French commentary table as Raymond Rougeau looks on.

With Slaughter and Chioda gone and the bell still not sounded to officially start the match, Taker continues his assault inside the ring but quickly realizes he can’t score the pin if no referee is present. Moments later, he throws his foe into the corner, with Shawn bouncing over the top to the floor.

Slaughter soon reemerges with referee Earl Hebner. Michaels staggers around ringside and begs Hebner to disqualify Taker but the official refuses and orders Michaels back inside the ring.

Seconds later, Michaels finally sees his opening. He slides back inside the ring and jumps a distracted Dead Man from behind, immediately laying in a series of hard blows that send the Undertaker reeling. At the same moment, the ring bell is sounded to start the contest.

Michaels pounds on Taker in the corner but is thrown off. He jumps right back to it immediately thereafter but is again thrown off. As he comes in for the third time, Taker catches him with a choke, with obvious intentions of hitting the chokeslam and making this as short an official match as possible. Michaels kicks him away and repeatedly punches the forehead before heading up top. Shawn comes off but catches a blow to the midsection and is summarily clotheslined to the floor.

HBK fights his way back inside the ring, taking a few shots in the process, and sets Taker up for a sunset flip. The Dead Man grabs Michaels around the throat with both hands, picks him up off the mat, and throws him across the ring.

Moments later, the Undertaker throws Shawn into the corner, with Michaels landing hard across the top turnbuckle, a spot seen in many of his better IC title matches. Three kicks to the midsection follow, the last of which knocks Michaels up off the corner so that he lands with the top rope in-between his legs. Taker then shakes the ropes so that Michaels falls inside the ring, then connects with a clothesline to drop HBK to the mat. A 2-count follows.

With 3 minutes gone in the official battle, these two men appear to have already gone through a 10-15 minute war.

Taker goes to work on Michaels left arm and sets him up for the trademark standing blow off the top rope but Shawn sees it coming and causes Taker to crotch himself on the ropes, knocking Taker to the floor. A baseball slide from HBK follows.

Michaels attempts a plancha over the top but Taker catches him in mid-air and rams Shawn back-first into the steel ring post. The Dead Man does it a second time before rolling HBK back inside the ring.

Vince and Lawler discuss the referee having many opportunities to disqualify the Undertaker but has opted not to. At the same time Taker tosses Shawn high in the air with a backdrop. Michaels goes to crawl out of the ring but Taker grabs him by the tights, resulting in the cameras getting the once-obligatory bare ass shot from the Heartbreak Kid.

Back on the defensive, Shawn surprises Taker with a swinging neckbreaker but the Undertaker still gets to his feet before HBK. A desperate Michaels rolls out to the floor and grabs a steel chair but Taker kicks him in the face before the weapon can be used. Moments later, Taker attempts to use it himself but Hebner grabs it, distracting the Dead Man long enough for Shawn to dropkick Taker into the referee.

Taking full advantage, Michaels pounds away at his opponent and, with 9 minutes elapsed, connects with his trademark elbow off the top. With Hebner still down, Shawn goes back up and drops another elbow for good measure. The Heartbreak Kid makes a cover and a near fall but Taker presses him off onto Hebner as we see Rick Rude make his way down to ringside.

The Ravishing One blatantly tosses Shawn a pair of brass knuckles and, in an example of poor planning, we’re shown a close up of Shawn putting on and wearing the knuckles so that they wouldn’t possibly injure the Undertaker. Despite that, Taker sells the blow like death when he’s punched. Shawn then stuffs his crotch with the knux, turning the ladies on even more, as Rude leaves ringside.

Another referee slides in the ring and makes a 2-count on Taker before being punched out by Michaels for not counting to 3. We then see Triple H & Chyna at ringside as Vince notes it was they who brought the new referee out to the ring.

Michaels pushes Taker out to the floor, allowing Hunter to land a series of blows before he and Chyna throw the Dead Man full-force into the steps.

With 12 minutes gone, Michaels gingerly helps referee Hebner back up to his feet, checks on him, and then rams his head into the middle turnbuckle.

Once Taker is pushed back inside the ring, Michaels continues his assault with a series of stomps. Undertaker attempts a comeback but it’s Shawn, surprisingly, who wins the punching battle and clotheslines his opponent out to the floor. The Dead Man lands on his feet and attempts to quickly reenter the ring but is jumped from behind by Helmsley. Just as Taker grabs Hunter in a choke, Michaels comes off the top with a double axe handle.

A little kid can be heard yelling, “In your face.” Stupid kid, it’s called In Your House. Another local can be heard calling Michaels a queer.

Hunter eggs on the gay chants around ringside while, back inside the ring, Taker catches Michaels foot mid-way through the superkick and throws him into the corner.

Taker goes into no man’s land (or is it?) by digging in Michaels’ tights for the knux. Thankfully we’re not cursed with another badly timed close up of how they’re worn as Taker knocks Shawn upside the head with the weapon.

With 15 minutes gone, Taker stuffs the knux into his own pants and then punches Hunter off the ring apron. The Undertaker crawls over to cover Michaels and the dazed Hebner slowly makes the count, with Shawn kicking out right before 3. Shawn is bleeding just under the eye.

Taker, clearly upset that Hebner can’t count to 3, hits a chokeslam on the official. Michaels attempts to take advantage of the opening but eventually sustains the Dead Man’s trademark flying clothesline. Seconds later, referee Tim White runs down and stops the match at 16:02 as Taker picks Hunter off the apron with a choke and then throws him into Shawn. Hunter is dumped out moments thereafter, with the Undertaker turning around and walking right into the HBK superkick, the result of which sees Taker’s arms tied up in the ring ropes.

Hunter punches out White as Chyna hands Shawn a chair to use on the incapacitated Undertaker. However, Taker kicks the weapon into Michaels’ own face, frees himself, and fights off both men. Moments later, a slew of officials, among them Tony Garea and Gerald Brisco, hit the ring but are either punched or superkicked by Michaels (Garea takes a superkick to the gut and barely sells it, aside from rolling to the floor).

Seconds later a long list of wrestlers come out to separate the two men, among them the Sultan (in street clothes but still wearing the mask), Billy Gunn, Jesse Jammes, Brian Christopher, the Legion of Doom, Scorpio, Los Boricuas, a loafer-wearing Rocky Miavia (who accidentally starts chumming with the face contingent before waking up and realizing the heels were on the floor), DOA, the Godwinns, D-Lo Brown, and several others.

Taker eventually pushes away the fellow babyfaces in the ring and hits an amazing tope onto Michaels, the Godwinns, D-Lo, and several others on the floor. Michaels, Hunter, and Chyna quickly retreat backstage as both the wrestlers and fans try to digest what they had just seen.

Taker, back inside the ring, slams a chair to the mat in frustration that he didn’t have a chance to beat Michaels 1-2-3. The ominous theme music of the Undertaker is heard as the lights dim in the arena and Taker drops to his knee.

My View:

Quite the contest. Ten times better than the previous month’s Taker / Bret match and one of the Undertaker’s best matches up to that point. Defiantly worth checking out.

At the time of the show, I’m sure there was some resentment for having a main event contest go to a no contest. After all, that had never happened before on WWF pay-per-view. Now … I don’t have a problem with the finish. After all, we all know what it led to.

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