SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Two weeks ago, I tackled the beast that is King of the Ring ’95, and followed with a soothing tonic known as Royal Rumble 2000. Tonight I take on a show in between those two, from the exciting mid-1997 era, which produced a successful USA vs. Canada storyline, something that had failed repeatedly (and has failed since) in my lifetime.
Bret Hart had been portraying a virtuous hero, but Steve Austin’s rogue antics were grating to Bret and it caused an interesting rift where the Hart Foundation were the faces in Canada but were the heels in the States, despite not acting any differently regardless of where they were working on any given episode of Raw.
The Undertaker was the WWE Champion, but the battle of the border took center stage on Raw, and most certainly at this Pay-Per-View, which should be one of your highest priorities if you subscribe to the Network.
July 6th, 1997. The dark match saw The Godwinns defeating The New Blackjacks. I’ve never seen the match so I can’t say whether this was the worst match on the show. On the other hand, this was the worst match on the show.
Opening montage focuses on the ten-man tag main event, culminating in a shot of Steve Austin flipping the double birds to Bret Hart.
Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler call the action. Vince can’t wait for the “extraordinary Japanese match” of Great Sasuke vs. Taka Michinoku.
(1) Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
This is the second of many meetings between these two on Pay-Per-View. Triple H became the King of the Ring the previous month, winning the final match against Mankind. He put the boots to Mankind after the match along with his cronies, setting up this rematch.
They’re still using the facade of a house for the wrestlers’ entrances. At the first In Your House, the WWE gave away a house. After that, the name didn’t make a lot of sense for these shows, but endured anyway. Maybe the fake house signed a multi-year deal and they figured they needed to get the proper amount of use out of it.
Crowd is hot, despite having just watched Godwinns vs. New Blackjacks. Decent pop for Mankind on the way to the ring. The two trade punches to open. Mankind takes control to start and hammers Trips to the floor early. He mocks Hunter’s curtsey in a bizarre visual. Hunter regains control with a kneelift but Mankind flips Hunter over the top. Chyna is in Triple H’s corner, to be clear, since she’ll probably figure in later.
The action heads back in, but Mankind tosses Trips to the corner where he does the Flair Flip and falls to the floor. Hunter attempts to walk out, where he’s clotheslined from the back. Mankind suplexes Hunter to the steel ramp. Mankind re-enters the ring and does his rocking bit and clutches his claw. Hunter fights his way back to the ring, where Mankind keeps on the offensive. Hunter flips over Mankind into the ring and attempts to roll through for a cover, but Mankind hits the Mandible Claw. Chyna interferes to break it up, and Mankind heads out after her. You’d assume Hunter takes control here, but Mankind continues to beat down Hunter until the numbers game catches up and Mankind gets thrown to the steel steps.
Finally they head back inside. Hunter hits a shoulder block to Mankind’s leg and continues to work the left knee to take Mankind to the mat. Hunter takes Mankind down into a corner and pounds his head, then goes back to the hobbled left leg. He hits the figure four and uses the ropes for leverage, which referee Jim Korderas misses since heels still cheated a lot at that time. Korderas finally catches it and kicks Hunter’s arm, allowing Mankind a small opening to regain control. Mankind kicks Hunter with the left leg and sells the pain. Hunter tries a Pedigree, but it’s reversed, and Mankind hits an accidental low blow. He follows up with a hard knee to the head as Hunter is laid out at a turnbuckle. Hunter gets put up in the Tree of Woe and Mankind continues the beating, then hits the piledriver for two. I think that was the first cover of the match.
Clothesline by Mankind takes both men out of the ring yet again. Mankind grabs the chair, which Chyna grabs as he winds up for the headshot. Korderas gets tied up with Chyna as Hunter grabs the chair and takes it to Mankind. The ref gets back to the action and backs up Hunter while Chyna gives Mankind a hard clothesline to the floor. Hunter rolls Mankind into the ring and goes up top; Mankind hits the ropes and Hunter gets crotched on the turnbuckle. Mankind hits the Mandible Claw, but Chyna reaches in and yanks Mankind into the ring post to even the low blow score. The two of them fight outside the ring again, leading to a double-countout.
Hunter, Mankind and Chyna fight into the crowd to make up for the lack of a clean finish. The issue is clearly unresolved as they fight to the back. This was a strong brawl with good psychology, as these two just meshed well in the ring from the beginning, and Hunter was starting to really make the most out of his initial big push with much stronger work than he’d offered in his first year or so.
Dok Hendrix narrates a montage of events that the Superstars attended around Calgary. It serves the extra purpose of showing how beloved Bret Hart is in his home country.
Dok, now live, interviews the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog and Brian Pillman). Only one question is asked before Steve Austin barges in, attempting to go after all five members as officials hold him back. Bret says to hold back, as he’d rather win 5-on-5, and beating up Austin 5-on-1 proves nothing.
(2) Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke
Taka is 23, but doesn’t even look that old. The Great Sasuke enters; it would be a short stay for him in the WWE, although I think initially he was meant to be the big signing out of this match. Cameras cut back to Trips and Mankind, still battling in the crowd. They return to the back and the bell rings to start the match.
Sasuke throws martial arts kicks to Michinoku early, which he avoids or blocks. Michinoku pushes Sasuke to the ropes and makes a clean break. The audience doesn’t know what to do with this match yet. Sasuke catches Michinoku in a headscissors. Michinoku escapes but gets trapped again, which he again quickly escapes and wrenches the arm. Sasuke hits a loud thrustkick on Michinoku, shutting up the few guys loudly yelling “Boring” like they’ve never seen a match that started with mat wrestling.
Michinoku gets a little aggressive and bats Sasuke on the side of the head and follows with a legdrop, then strikes Sasuke but gets flipped over the ropes to the outside. Sasuke comes off the top rope to the outside with a martial arts kick and both are laid out on the floor. Both get back in, and Michinoku gets kicked to oblivion at the turnbuckle and sells confusion. Sasuke hits a shot to Taka’s face, laying him out. Taka fights his way back up and catches Sasuke’s next kick and wrenches the leg. He sends Sasuke out, then runs the length of the ring, jumps to the top rope and then jumps outside to hit Sasuke with the plancha. The crowd is awake again at this point. Taka returns to the ring and begs Sasuke to follow, and cuts him off when he does. Taka tries to suplex Sasuke in but he lands on his feet. He catches Taka in a belly-to-back suplex but Taka lands on his feet, then hits a huracanrana for two. This is easily the fastest-paced match I’ve covered so far in the Lookback.
Taka attempts a rollup for another two. He comes off the ropes, but Sasuke cuts him off, tosses him to the outside and hits a springboard moonsault. The two slowly get back in. Taka hits a belly-to-belly for two. He follows up by tossing Sasuke to the turnbuckle, then jumping off the turnbuckle with a dropkick to the back, then a Michinoku Driver that only gets two. Taka flies off the turnbuckle but Sasuke hits a dropkick for two and goes on the offensive. Sasuke hits a powerbomb and bridges Taka for the pin, which looks like an underwhelming finish after such a high-octane match, but it was Sasuke’s finish at the time. This was a great match that provided WWE fans with something many of them had never seen. If you ever seek out tapes from Japan, I wholeheartedly endorse Sasuke’s entire catalog if you dig the fast-paced cruisers.
Mankind and Hunter are still fighting, now outside the building. Hunter is bleeding, of course. Mankind beats Hunter into the side of a company bus. The officials finally break it up and we head back to the ring.
The Undertaker was supposed to face Ahmed Johnson at this show, but was jumped by the Nation of Domination and an injury left him out of the match. Vader slid into the challenger’s spot.
Dok Hendrix interviews Vader and his manager, Paul Bearer. Bearer had ditched the makeup and the black hair dye; regular Paul Bearer with red hair still weirds me out. Vader doesn’t speak, as Bearer talks up the storyline where Undertaker killed his whole family.
(3) The Undertaker (WWE Champion) vs. Vader
Vader is introduced, and then The Undertaker gets a sustained pop through his entire entrance. This may be the era when Taker looked the coolest. Vader flips his crap when the pyro at the turnbuckles go off. I love when heels sell it like that.
Bearer cowers outside the ring, just peeking over the edge of the ring. Undertaker takes the boots and fists to Vader to begin and follows with a clothesline and legdrop for the early two-count. He whips Vader to the turnbuckle and jumps up for the splasth, then covers for another two. Taker hits Old School, which I guess was just School at that point. He tosses Vader to the turnbuckle again, but Vader comes off with hard forearms to take control. Vader hits the headlock, attempting to slow Taker’s roll, and comes off the ropes for a shoulderblock, but is hit with a big boot shortly after and is dumped to the outside.
Taker follows and hits Vader with a headbutt but is slingshotted into the steps. Bearer gets all up in Taker’s face and taunts him. Taker goes up to the apron and drops Vader’s neck to the ropes and enters with a clothesline off the turnbuckle for two. Undertaker continues with body shots and an uppercut that puts Vader back out. Taker follows and stalks Bearer as the crowd eats it up; Taker is hit from behind by Vader and Bearer puts the boots to Taker and struts around. Taker gets back into the ring and Vader continues beating him in the corner. Vader goes up to the second rope and blocks Taker for a two as Bearer loses it, claiming it was three.
Vader hits a suplex then a splash for two. Vader puts pressure on Undertaker’s shoulder but Taker fights to his knees and pounds Vader’s stomach, but the comeback is short-lived as Vader clotheslines him down. More hammering in the corner but Taker fights back with rights and lefts of his own. Taker sets up a chokeslam but Vader quite obviously kicks Taker in the goodies, and Ross wonders aloud why he wasn’t disqualified. Taker puts Vader in the turnbuckle, but Vader hits the elbow as Undertaker charges. Elbow drop after Taker goes down. Vader heads to the second rope for the Vader Bomb, but Taker gets up and low-blows Vader, then follows with the chokeslam for a very near fall. Chokeslam #2 also produces a kickout. Undertaker does the throat-slit and catches Vader with an effortless-looking Tombstone for three. These two could have matches of nearly any quality together, I think, but something was in the air in Calgary and this was a very entertaining, hard-hitting power match with a minimum of rest holds. A dejected Bearer walks Vader up the ramp as Vince wonders aloud if “Undertaker’s brother” really lives, in what was a long-burning tease. There’s too much TV to build that kind of anticipation anymore.
Montage lays out the Austin vs. Hart Foundation feud that’s been running for most of the year, including the famous bloody-face shot of Austin at Wrestlemania. Hendrix interviews the USA team. Dustin Rhodes speaks in his own voice despite being made up as Goldust, which is jarring. Ken Shamrock keeps it short and sweet, thankfully. Animal yells a lot and says it’s not about USA and Canada, it’s about survival of the fittest. Hawk says “What a rush” and Hendrix fails to get a word out of a very intense Steve Austin.
“O Canada” is sung by Farmer’s Daughter, a successful all-female country band up there. Up in the rafters, fans have hung the American flag upside-down. Seems like this might be about USA vs. Canada, despite Animal’s protestations.
(4) Ten-Man Tag Match: Stone Cold Steve Austin & Ken Shamrock & Goldust & The Legion of Doom vs. Bret Hart & Owen Hart & The British Bulldog & Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart & Brian Pillman
Goldust is introduced first. He isn’t particularly booed but doesn’t get the reactions he would in the States. Shamrock is next to a mixed reaction. Legion of Doom fares a little better and gets a mild pop. Austin gets loud boos with some cheers mixed in.
Brian Pillman is announced first for the Hart Foundation to a huge pop, and we revs up the crowd. Jim Neidhart is next to a similar reaction, and the two stay on the ramp so the Hart Foundation can all stand together, giving this a big-match feel. British Bulldog gets the biggest reaction so far. Owen is out next to take that crown, and of course, Bret leaves everyone in the dust. Diana Smith, Bulldog’s wife and a sister to Bret and Owen, is at ringside.
The Harts head into the ring and all ten men face off and jaw at one another. Jim Ross refers to the documentarians at ringside that are filming what will become Wrestling with Shadows.
Bret and Austin start and punch the hell out of each other. Bret backs Austin into a corner and kicks him down, and the crowd is electric. Austin reverses to boos but Bret comes back with a headbutt and inverted atomic drop. Bret grazes Austin’s head against the top rope but Austin stops his momentum with a low blow and heelishly mugs to the crowd, then stomps the mudhole in Bret. Austin locks on a sleeper but Bret kicks off the ringpost and gets two. Austin misses a charge on Bret at the ropes, and Bret tags Anvil. Neidhart tosses Austin to the ropes but he returns with a not-so-pretty Lou Thesz press. Austin tags Shamrock.
Neidhart gets into a fighting stance and smiles broadly when Shamrock misses a kick, allowing an opening for a kick that connects. Shamrock hits the anklelock but Pillman interferes. Neidhart tags Pillman, who gets armdragged and driven into the turnbuckle, but Pillman punches his way out and bites Shamrock’s face. Pillman hits a backbreaker and uses Shamrock’s arm to pretend he’s tapping out. Pillman throws Shamrock into a turnbuckle, but Shamrock reverses and ends up hitting a belly-to-belly. Goldust and Owen are tagged in and there are loud “Owen” chants.
Punches and kicks until Owen hits the enzuigiri. Goldust punches Owen in the counter and an “Austin sucks” chant ensues. Goldust tags Hawk who hits a rough legdrop for two and follows with a flying fist. Hawk heads to the top and hits a splash for two. Hawk misses a dropkick and Owen cinches on the Sharpshooter, which is broken up by Animal. Bulldog tags in.
Bulldog dominates and hits the running powerslam, and Goldust saves. Bret and Animal are tagged in. Lockup and Animal shoves Bret to a corner. He throws Bret to the opposite corner and charges into a waiting boot. Animal tags Goldust back in and the go for a test of strength, which Bret wins. Bret hamers Goldust and sets him up in the Tree of Woe in the Hart corner. The Harts all gang up on Goldust while the US contingent breaks it up. The ref regains control and Owen is tagged in.
Owen misses a charge into the turnbuckle and Animal re-enters and controls things until Owen counters with a spinning heel kick and a sweet dropkick from the top. Owen goes for a huracanrana which is blocked into a powerbomb. LOD sets up the Doomsday device, broken up by Neidhart, leading to another total breakdown where all ten men get involved. Austin beats down Owen’s knee with a chair but Bruce Hart, at ringside, gets involved. Owen is able to tag out to Neidhart and Owen sells injury while being helped to the back. Austin is in for USA. Neidhart brings him over to the Hart corner and he’s pummeled, but fights off all four.
Pillman is tagged and Austin drags his former Hollywood Blondes partner around by the trunks, mooning the crowd. Austin hits a Stunner but Bret yanks him from the outside and posts Austin’s knee just like Austin did to Owen. Bret takes a fire extinguisher to Austin’s leg and hits the figure four around the post from the outside, broken up by Animal.
After the chaos, Bulldog and Hawk are in the ring. Hawk hits a bodyslam and goes up, but Bulldog crotches him on the top rope. He gets two as the refs try to take Austin to the back, but he refuses at first before he’s talked into going to the locker room. Neidhart tags in and he and Animal have the test of strength. Animal gets the leverage but Neidhart fights to his feet and kicks his way out. He tags in Bret and they hit a tandem move from their tag-team days. Bret gets kicked by Animal and Animal tags Shamrock. Shamrock sets up another anklelock but Pillman flies in with a clothesline and Bret takes control for a moment, but is thrown hard into the turnbuckle after a reversal. Shamrock is about to hit the anklelock but allows Bret to get up to face him in a fighting stance, and of course Bret takes advantage and dumps Shamrock to the outside, where the eight remaining guys battle and Hawk gets shoved into the ring steps.
Inside the ring, Bret hits a Russian leg sweep on Shamrock, but Goldust breaks up the cover. Bulldog tags in and dominates Shamrock. Shamrock fights back with a low blow and tags Goldust, who whips Bulldog and hits a bulldog on Bulldog. Goldust sets up a reverse DDT and Pillman flies in for another interference. Goldust goes up but Bulldog catches him with a superplex. He covers, but Hawk breaks it up.
Austin hobbles back down the ramp to boos. He reaches for the tag. Goldust tags him but Bulldog hits the hot tag to Bret. Austin controls Bret and charges him into a turnbuckle and gets two. Bret regains control and starts to hit his usual setup moves. Sleeper from Bret, but Austin drops down and drives his head into Bret’s chin and gets two. Bret gets up and applies the Sharpshooter, but Animal saves. Austin puts Bret in Sharpshooter, but Owen charges back to the ring and breaks it up to a big pop. Bret tags in Owen, but Austin takes control and dumps Owen from the ring. Austin beats down Owen on the outside, then goes after Stu Hart, and then Bruce and Keith. Austin goes back inside, and reaches to the outside to get his hands on Bret, but Owen rolls him up and grabs the handful of tights to get the three to a huge reaction.
The battle continues in the ring and everyone is involved again. A slew of security guys gt into the ring to break things up, and the US team goes to the outside. Hebner raises the hands of the Harts as the US team is sent to the back. Bret’s music plays (why not Owen’s?) and the celebration is on.
Austin re-enters and takes a chair to Neidhart, but the Hart brothers beat him down. Referees and McMahon’s Goons try to regain control again. Austin is handcuffed. Austin walks back up the ramp but leans over and flips the bird with his cuffed hands. Bret’s music plays again. Bret helps Stu into the ring and Owen escorts his mother. Diana and some grandkids enter as well. Owen holds a Canadian flag in one hand and, I think, his son Oje in the other, then his daughter Athena. The ring fills with more family members as the gang signs off. One of the last images is Oje holding an action figure of Owen, which is a fitting but heartbreaking end.
This is as much as you can ask for in a multi-man tag match. Dudes get thrown together willy-nilly on Raw for tag team main events, most of which are okay but have no stakes and no consequences. The fact that the Harts won this match felt like a huge deal, with the burden of carrying their home country on their backs. All ten guys got their moments, with Owen, Bret and Austin naturally getting a little more focus than the rest.
The Legacy of Canadian Stampede
This feud clearly did not end with this match, but this still didn’t have the feel of a transitional pay-per-piew. This was the biggest night for the Harts for the entire length of the feud. Bret would win the World Title in August but would lose it at Survivor Series in the Montreal Screwjob, which I won’t bother covering. From there, the Hart Foundation story was over, and a couple of members (Owen and Bulldog) would have decent careers in the midcard. Neidhart peaked here, and wouldn’t be around much longer. Pillman entered a feud with Goldust centering around Goldust’s wife Marlena, but would die in his sleep the night before the feud was meant to be blown off. The Legion of Doom were past their primes – Hawk in particular – but would continue to be contenders to the gold for the next couple of years before disappearing. Hawk had a hard time calling it quits, and would resurrect Road Warrior-style teams until 2014. Ken Shamrock was on his way up, and would be a valuable, believable contender for titles as both a face and a heel. He won the King of the Ring tournament in 1998.
The Great Sasuke didn’t end up staying in WWE, but Taka Michinoku did, and was the first holder of the Light Heavyweight title in a division that was meant to rival WCW’s popular Cruiserweight division. The division was not treated anywhere near as seriously, and the talent available wasn’t exactly the level of Dean Malenko. Taka would end up losing the title to Christian in Christian’s debut, and Christian would lose it to Gillberg before it was quietly forgotten.
Vader came up short in this title shot, as he always would in WWE, where he surprisingly never had a run with the world title. He was meant to win it at a show called “It’s Time,” but Shawn Michaels instead insisted on losing the title to Sycho Sid. Vader ended up not even being booked on “It’s Time,” rendering the title meaningless.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley would be known as Triple H before long, and the feud with Mankind would never go away for long before they ran into one another again. Triple H ended Mankind’s career in a Title vs. Career match at No Way Out 2000 during Triple H’s long run as the company’s top heel.
This show almost feels like it can’t exist. It’s four matches, all good to excellent, and many of the players were hugely de-emphasized or passed away within the next couple of years as Attitude got filthier and focused on new and edgier characters. Everything just came together on this night, and although nobody is going to instinctively say “I really need to watch In Your House 16,” you would do yourself a mighty favor by checking it out.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS PPV LOOKBACK: What is the legacy of the Royal Rumble 2000 including Cactus Jack vs. Triple H, Dudleys vs. Hardy, Holly vs. Chyna vs. Jericho