Arnold Furious: Host is Todd Pettengill but thankfully he doesn’t get a long intro, just takes us straight into the action.
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Rocky Maivia (c) vs. Vader
This is from Germany, and given that Vader used to work extensively in the country as “Bull Power” and was CWA champion, he’s got a reputation outside of the WWF. He mangles Rocky from the offset and leaves Maivia as a plucky underdog. Rocky doesn’t let himself be intimidated and hits a few aggressive moves before Vader crushes him again. If they wanted to avoid Rocky being hated they should have just switched the belt here. Cut that run short and have Vader as the unstoppable champion and strengthen the IC belt in the process. Of course that didn’t happen, but it would have been an interesting switch in the booking. Rocky gets a sweet near fall by countering Vader off the top into a “powerslam”, which was more like a hip toss. He does come flying back with a belly-to-belly and a floatover DDT though, and the fans really respond to his dominance against big Vader. Mankind runs out, for no apparent reason, to knock Rocky out with the urn and that’s a DQ. Vader is somewhat confused as to why his tag team partner at WrestleMania just “saved” him. Before the dumb finish, used to protect both guys, it was a humdinger. Rocky’s youthful exuberance versus Vader’s full-bore destruction. I think they missed the boat on Rocky by having him continue on as IC champion too long, but it led to the fans resenting him and a subsequent heel turn, which set the world on fire.
Final Rating: **½
Sycho Sid (c) vs. Mankind
Foley, despite a prior PPV title shot against Shawn, isn’t seriously considered for the belt here, which shows you what a terrific job he did of humanising his character and making himself into a sympathetic Rocky Balboa-like star over the following two years. Mick’s approach to this one is a bit weird and he tries to work Sid’s throat, but can’t convince Sid into buying that psychology. Sid just bumps everything normally and mounts a comeback. Sid wasn’t only limited in the ring, he was limited in the brain. So poor Mick Foley is left to take a few silly bumps to get the match over while Sid’s contribution is yelling and being muscular. Mankind continues to work the throat and still can’t get Sid to sell it. It’s all an attempt to disrupt Sid’s breathing, which assists with the Mandible Claw, so when it’s hooked, in the middle of the ring it should be over, but Sid just shrugs it off and powers out. Considering the Undertaker couldn’t do that, Sid shouldn’t be able to either. I guess it gives the serious viewer thought as to Sid being stronger than Taker, but to the casual fan it just destroys Mankind’s finish. Silly spot. Having seen his A-game come up short, Mankind resorts to a sleeper, which also doesn’t work. Sid mounts another comeback with those horrible punches of his before an obvious heel miscue with Paul Bearer; as Sid was constantly looking over his shoulder for Mankind. Sid wins with a powerbomb after Mankind sets early on a backdrop. At least the finish was good. The whole finishing sequence was pretty hot, albeit stilted. I feel bad for Mick here because he brought all the bumps and the psychology, but Sid had no idea how to deal with it. So the match was pretty poor but it was all Sid’s fault. His run in the sun was nearing an end.
Final Rating: *¾
WWF European Championship (Vacant)
Owen Hart vs. The British Bulldog
These guys are tag team champions as well as brothers-in-law, but they’ve spent the last month or so getting increasingly frustrated with each other. This is the blow off for the storyline as the Hart Foundation reunion is right around the corner. Seeing as the title was created specifically for Davey, it’s pretty obvious who will win. We’re JIP, unfortunately, clipping away half of a fantastic match. As we join, Owen is working heat. Owen litters it with high impact moves including a belly-to-belly suplex at speed. The urge to win a belt gets the better of Owen and he starts to cheat, using the ropes on a pin. The counters in this match are sharp, sudden almost, like Davey countering a superplex into a crossbody. He does it so fast that Owen can barely even get him up. They sneak in some nice tributes to Warrior-Savage with Owen lifting the Savage Elbow and Davey hitting the multiple clotheslines. Owen brings the German suplex… because we’re in Germany! It doesn’t get a big pop, surprisingly. Davey goes after his powerslam, but Owen counters in mid-air into an inside cradle before he clocks Davey with the enzuigiri. This time Davey was confused by Owen switching gears. Sharpshooter follows but Davey powers into the ropes. They go back into the counters with Owen attempting a Tombstone only for Davey to counter right into the powerslam… for two! Owen kicks out! How? Because Davey hooked the wrong leg. Yes, they even have some tidy psychology on a finisher kick out. Owen goes after a victory roll, but Davey blocks it into the pin to echo the WrestleMania X finish between Owen and Bret, only this time Owen is on the wrong end of it. The selling near the end gets a wee bit suspect and there are a few rest holds in the middle section, but apart from that this match is awesome. One of the best of the decade and one of the best to ever feature on Monday Night Raw. Everyone suspects that Owen will sucker-punch Davey in the back, but instead they shake hands. For one night at least, Owen accepts that Davey is the better man.
Final Rating: ****¾
Vader & Mankind vs. Sycho Sid & Undertaker
Sid and Undertaker are set to face each other at WrestleMania while the unorthodox team of Vader and Mankind will get a tag title shot. You’d think the heels would go over to stress the issues between the two championship participants, and thankfully that’s exactly what happens. The match follows formula with Sid taking heat until a hot tag to Taker. Chokeslam for Mankind, but as Sid comes back in Taker accidentally punches him. Sid takes umbrage, so Taker chokeslams him and hits a crazy outta control zombie plancha on the heels. Luchataker! Sid grabs him though and hits the powerbomb. This leaves Taker as easy pickings for Vader. It also gives the fans food for thought as the fan favourite Undertaker was beaten by big Sid’s finishing move. It implied the possibility of him not winning at WrestleMania. The match is a decent TV affair, with Taker busting out his A-game.
Final Rating: **¼
The Legion of Doom vs. Savio Vega & Crush
This was set up last week when Ahmed announced the LOD would join him in the Chicago Street Fight at WrestleMania. So they play loose with the rules here, which helps with the limitations of the weaker members of the respective teams. Crush, especially, who’s a bore in normal matches. The Nation work over Hawk but Vince cuts away to speak to Faarooq, who’s not there, before talking to Ahmed again as Faarooq jumps him from behind. It’s one of those ghetto beatdowns I’ve been hearing so much about. During that Animal got a hot tag. Not that the WWF seems to care about wrestling anymore, and Vince insists on cutting away to interview someone or show footage from another show at the drop of a hat. I’ll cut them some slack with this match, which has been decidedly uninteresting. Faarooq runs down to break up the Doomsday Device and that’s a DQ. It’s also a notice of intent concerning the Chicago Street Fight. Ahmed runs in with a 2×4 for the save and poor D’Lo takes the Doomsday Device. The match was nothing, but the hints of violence at WrestleMania were tempting.
Final Rating: *
Steel Cage Match
Sycho Sid (c) vs. Bret Hart
I wanted Bret to win this match so bad in 1997, but I guess they didn’t want the title to overshadow the double turn at ‘Mania nor have a champion switch from face to heel with the title. Although, they did that with Randy Savage. JIP after Austin had already come down and stopped Sid escaping once. Bret gets caught with a powerbomb, this time clean as a whistle. Sid tries to climb out so Austin climbs the cage to stop him once again. This leads to Austin and Bret double-teaming Sid to further their own gains of a WWF title match at WrestleMania. The Undertaker has seen enough of that and comes down to eliminate Austin and return this to a one-on-one contest. Bret still has a minor advantage and hits a superplex. Austin opens the door for Bret, but Taker slams it in his face allowing Sid time to climb out and retain. The match was more about the storyline between Austin and Bret than Sid and Bret. As if the WWF would ever completely re-jig WrestleMania six days before the biggest PPV of the year.
Final Rating: **
Post Match, Bret Hart is fuming. Vince McMahon makes the decision to go in there and interview him. Not his greatest idea. Bret shoves him over and calls the finish “bullshit” (uncensored! RAW!). Bret goes off on an almighty rant about how he was screwed, again, and nobody cares about it. He pops off his catchphrase. “If you don’t like it, tough shit”. Austin gets on the Titantron to say he tried to help Bret, but the Hitman is a loser. Bret calls him gutless for talking from the Titantron and that brings out Sid, as Bret proclaims himself to be the true champion. “I don’t know shit” says Sid. Ain’t that the truth. That brings out Undertaker and Bret hits him with a tope, incensed about the finish, and Austin, ever the opportunist, runs down to kick Bret’s ass. Taker and Sid end up brawling in the ring while Bret and Austin brawl on the floor. Bret even angers Vince in the brawl by knocking out Hall of Famer Pat Patterson. “That dirty son of a…” With everyone brawling around, Shawn Michaels comes out for a better look. I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be doing out there but he seems to be perfectly mobile.
WWF Tag Team Championship
The British Bulldog & Owen Hart (c) vs. The Headbangers
The Headbangers won this title shot at WrestleMania in a four team match. The WWF had already quit on Furnas & LaFon, unfortunately, denying us a potential classic here. Davey and Owen’s team, despite issues with each other, has been a highlight of 1996 and 1997 Raw’s. The Headbangers work Davey over with some fairly creative double-teams, but the crowd boo them, thus proving Davey’s face turn is pretty much cemented. Owen gets a hot tag, which isn’t that hot because of the weird dynamic, but clears house with an assortment of cool stuff. Owen’s petulance is amusing as he quickly tags out and then gets pissy about being tagged back in. His moveset is wonderfully creative for a heel. Thrasher gets trapped in the Sharpshooter, but Mosh saves so Bulldog runs in and powerslams Thrasher. Owen gets all pissed off about that, claiming he can do it himself, so Davey shoves the ref over for the DQ. A solid TV match, though the tag champs brought the majority of the psychology and spots. Owen’s bitching after the bell causes Davey to lay him out as they finally stage a break up. Owen grabs the mic to say he’s sick and tired of carrying Bulldog, before demanding a European title match. Owen’s punctuation is calling Davey a “gutless coward”. Davey gives him the match but says it’ll be the only shot he’ll get.
Final Rating: **½
WWF European Championship
The British Bulldog (c) vs. Owen Hart
They’ve been clever with this angle as Bulldog and Owen were coexisting fine, even after Davey won the European title, but the announcers kept needling them to fight until they did. Which is exactly the point Bret Hart will make later. These two had the Raw MOTY in Germany at the start of the month, so there is an air of excitement for this rematch. JIP near the finish, which is a pity. Davey murders Earl Hebner by mistake and Owen bails for a chair. Another cracking ref bump from Earl. Davey grabs the chair and Bret runs in for the save, which confuses everyone including both wrestlers. Bret plays peacemaker as Vince calls him selfish. Skewed view of reality there. The actual match is ***¾ but hardly any of it was shown here.
Final Rating: **
Post Match: Bret Hart grabs the mic and says Americans want them to fight. He says Americans know nothing of family values. “I need you” he says to Owen and Davey. Bret reminds us of Davey’s win over Bret at Wembley and how the American fans turned them against each other. And especially Bret and Owen. Owen listens to Bret and seems to take it onboard. As if he’s finally talking in a language Owen understands. Owen’s acting is amazing. Bret asks for Owen and Davey’s help. “I don’t care about these people. Not anymore. Owen, I love ya”. That breaks Owen into tears and they hug. The crowd, on seeing two brothers hug it out after a three year feud, boo. And thus the 1997 version of the Hart Foundation is born. Great opening to Raw, as Bret really started to change the landscape of the WWF. Reconciling with Owen was a wonderfully emotional moment. A pity it couldn’t take place in Canada.
Promo Time: Undertaker vs. Paul Bearer
Undertaker opens by saying he can never forget betrayal but he may be able to forgive. The fans don’t care much for that viewpoint. Especially not as Taker hands the WWF title over to Paul Bearer. But then Taker sucker punches his former manager, who was blatantly just scheming, as was evidenced by a sly wink to camera in between belt and punch. Taker stalks Bearer with the urn only for Mankind to sneak in blindside and throw a fireball at the champ. Sid runs in for the save as Taker rolls around on the floor holding his face. This was a tidy little angle to get more heat on the upcoming PPV match with Mankind and tie it into Taker’s previous relationship with Bearer. The two would remain intertwined for the remainder of the year, and indeed through most of 1998 with the Kane angle.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust
Interesting to note this actually followed the Taker segment on the episode of Raw it occurred on. No skipping. JIP with Hunter in charge and running through his spots; suplex, kneedrop, curtsey, chinlock. Goldust’s attempted comebacks are routinely cut off. For some reason these two never really clicked. I think it’s a combination of Hunter’s inexperience in big matches and the Goldust character not really working as a face. The angle where he turned was over, but the matches afterwards were a bit of a drag. Oddly enough later in his career, when the character became more comedic, it worked just fine. Curtain Call for Hunter, but Chyna runs down and punts him to cause the DQ. The match just existed to further the angle and establish Chyna as being able to beat the crap out of a man. Hunter continues the assault only for Pat Patterson to make the save in his role as “official”. Why was Pat making a comeback on Hunter? Chyna gives him a kicking too and Goldust makes the save.
Final Rating: *¼
No Holds Barred Exhibition
Ken Shamrock vs. Vernon White
On to April then. Vernon gets entrance music and it’s cool. All bluesy. Vince McMahon attempts to name some martial arts; “jujitso”. Close but no cigar, Vinny. White escapes an early ankle lock attempt before they roll around on the mat, with some worked shoot stuff that feels ahead of its time. Vernon tags Ken with a big kick to the chest, which causes Shammy to change gears. Shamrock mounts and punches White into submission. I remember this being radical and different at the time, but looking back it comes across as awkward and the whole “worked shoot” has been done better since. Shamrock against Vader for example.
Final Rating: *
Steve Austin vs. Mankind
Austin is getting a lot more love, but the last time they wrestled the crowd cheered him regardless. This is Austin’s second match of the night as he subs for an injured Sid. He’s already scored a victory over Billy Gunn. Not because he’s gutsy, but because he wanted another match with Bret Hart in exchange for saving the show. 1997 is a weird place as any long term plans get shot to hell in a matter of weeks because of injuries, dissention backstage or massive swings in popularity. Austin joins the long list of bastards to take advantage of Mick Foley’s good nature, by shoving him head-first into the rail. There’s a lack of action in this one as the focus is on Owen and Bulldog at ringside and the subsequent arrival of LOD to run them off. So Steve and Mankind run a basic brawl and keep it in second gear. Vader runs in, accidentally flattens Mankind, and that’s a DQ. Disappointing compared to other terrific matches between these two, but the storylines rather dominated proceedings.
Final Rating: *¾
Mankind & Vader vs. The Headbangers
This is the following week, with Mankind & Vader getting refocused and getting their team in the right direction. The Headbangers try to work heat on Vader, which goes about as well as you’d expect. I think they’re supposed to be faces, but the 1997 lines were extremely blurry. This match actually took place in Muncie, taped a week beforehand, while the rest of Raw took place in South Africa. As best as I can recall, the rest of the show sucked the meat missile. Poor South Africans. First Apartheid, then sanctions and now a terrible Raw show. Mankind & Vader coexist quite well and should easily beat the lower card Headbangers. Mosh spits something into Mankind’s eyes for the DQ and he accidentally Mandible Claws Vader. Could he not tell Vader was a lot bigger than both Headbangers? It just serves to prove the Mandible Claw will put anyone down, but it made Vader look like a bit of a punk. The WWF’s 1997 rebuild job on him burns out after a few months.
Final Rating: *½
Ahmed Johnson vs. Crush
This is from the South African show. Any Crush singles match is awful. Even when he was carried, he barely scraped over **. Against Ahmed he’s got no chance of putting on a decent match. Crush botches moving out of the way of an elbow drop and Ahmed lands his back clear across Crush’s face. That hurts both guys. Both physically and in terms of their work. Neither guy seems to have any idea how to execute something smoothly. Crush chokes Ahmed out and Johnson seems fairly animated in his attempts to mount a comeback. Shame Crush constantly cuts him off. Ahmed does a ridiculous spin kick to escape a Heart Punch. Why not just duck? Ahmed actually nails a sweet roll-up for the finish, showing that he could execute holds, just not complicated ones.
Final Rating: ¾*
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
Austin challenges Bret Hart, once again, to a fight. Bret is tentative, allowing Bulldog and Owen to run-in and blindside Steve. It’s a 3-on-1, but Shawn Michaels runs in, complete with pastel suit, with a chair for the save. Owen takes a chair shot, but Bret avoids everything and sneaks back in to continue the assault on Austin. Both guys work in jeans and t-shirts to emphasise the “street” nature of the fight. Austin takes such a shoeing that Bret is able to set up the Pillman spot with the ankle, but Austin dodges it. Austin chair shots the knee and leaves Bret down and hurt. He really did have a bad knee at the time, so Austin’s viciousness was probably not appreciated. Bret’s injury came at a lousy time for him as he was tearing it up as a heel. Austin continues the assault until the Sharpshooter leaves Bret screaming for help. Referees run in to get Austin to break it up, which makes no sense as Bret never gave up. Why should Austin break a legitimate submission hold? This match was never going to be wonderful or anything with Bret’s bad knee, but the storyline felt like it came up short. Austin’s viciousness was OTT compared to the Harts’ relatively soft assault on him. He came across as a bully.
Final Rating: *¾
Backstage: Bret is carted out on a stretcher and into an ambulance. Bulldog and Owen yell support as he’s loaded in. We clip to the driver’s seat to see Austin. “I told you, we’re going straight to hell” and he attacks Bret in the ambulance. Austin was vindictive.
The Undertaker vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Hunter had crept up the card sufficiently to work a Raw main event against the WWF Champion. Taker has his silly “burn” makeup on, which makes him look like Mikhail Gorbachev. Jerry Lawler even makes the gag because that big purple blotch stands out so much. Hunter runs through some fairly dull offence until Taker starts with the zombie no-selling. That’s Mankind’s cue to show up with a blowtorch, which is perhaps taking things a little too far. Chokeslam for Hunter but Mankind waffles Taker with the oxyacetylene bottle. That’s a pretty swift DQ. Mankind gets the blowtorch going again, but Taker knocks him out of the ring.
Final Rating: ½*
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Rocky Maivia (c) vs. Owen Hart
With Bret injured and Davey the reigning European champion, they gave Owen a chance at the IC belt, with the idea being that the Harts were trying to take over the company on behalf of Canada. Meanwhile Maivia’s rookie IC title run had run its course somewhat, although there are audible Rocky chants combined with the mild boos during his comebacks. 1997; everybody’s a tweener. Rocky runs though the basics of babyface offence until Owen takes his leg. I love that Bret is looking after Owen’s prized Slammy awards after mocking him for stealing one the year before. Rocky mounts a comeback with the floatover DDT as we get a shot of Bulldog acting as cheerleader. Rock Bottom gets two as that wasn’t Maivia’s finisher until he turned heel. Owen clocks Rocky with a spin kick immediately afterwards, showing the urinage wasn’t a big deal in 1997. Strange how moves are perceived differently once they’re simply called a finisher. Owen gets a slick roll-up as Rocky moves in for the kill, to take the belt off the incumbent and capture another shiny gold belt for the Hart Foundation. “I did it Bret, it’s all ours” says Owen as he presents the IC title to his wheelchair-bound big brother.
Final Rating: **¾
The Undertaker vs. The British Bulldog
This is not for Taker’s WWF title. As we’re JIP, Bulldog takes a chokeslam and Owen runs in for the DQ. Post match: The Hart Foundation give Taker a kicking, but Steve Austin runs in through the crowd for the save. But then he opts to pose with the WWF title right in front of the Undertaker, much to the champion’s chagrin. Taker stares a hole through him, so Austin boots him in the guts and hits the Stunner. Taker doesn’t sell it like death, and as Austin flips off his carcass the Dead Man grabs a goozle and chokeslams him. Steve bails and spots Bret Hart, all alone in his wheelchair, with the other Harts having been run off. But as Austin gets closer Jim the Anvil Neidhart makes a dramatic return to the WWF to blindside the Rattlesnake. Bret takes the opportunity to nail Austin with the Hitman’s crutch to claim a moral victory. Anvil’s arrival completed the Hart Foundation. Neidhart hadn’t been seen since a poor run under a hood as ‘Who?’ in mid-’96. Before that, Anvil hadn’t been around since Survivor Series ’94, so this was a pretty big shock return and it was a bigger shock perhaps that WCW never considered hiring him to ruin it. Either way, the match is nothing, but the antics afterward are tremendous fun. The whole of 1997 saw all the main event guys mix it up with each other. Everybody hated everybody. It was a concept somewhat borrowed from ECW, but the WWF perfected it in 1997.
Summary: April is a bit of a damp squib for in-ring combat, but the storytelling was pretty good. March was a better month for in-ring, with the outstanding Davey-Owen European title match in Germany highlighting the action. The match is clipped unfortunately, and appears in full elsewhere (on the Hart and Soul: The Hart Family Anthology DVD and on the Best of Raw – 15th Anniversary set). Even with only one high quality bout, the two hours whip by at pace as almost everything is clipped to the exciting conclusion, so it’s never boring. The Raw tapes were usually good viewing, though you’d never get away with it nowadays. Releasing a tape with highlights of two months of free TV on? Who would even consider buying that? It shows you how desperate the wrestling fans were for content in 1997 that this would be considered and that it would sell. And I have five of them in my collection!