James Dixon: It is 1997, yet Michael Cole still somehow finds his way onto the tape, guaranteeing idiotic falsehoods and cockamamie theories. I would have taken The Toad over him, I honestly would. This release covers action from Raw in May and June 1997, with Steve Austin on fire, Shawn Michaels back on television (briefly) after having acquired a smile and the Hart Foundation tearing through the WWF.
Jim Ross conducts an in-ring interview with Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin, as HBK tries to belittle Stone Cold by constantly calling him “son” and Austin in response says he will kick his teeth down his throat. Michaels takes offense to that, given that he is the “master of Sweet Chin Music” and says he might give Austin a Stunner. While the two form a begrudging union due to their mutual hatred of the Hart Foundation, they don’t get along at all. Inevitably it turns to fisticuffs and they have to be separated by officials.
Next is the angle that Bret and Shawn discuss on their WWE rivalries DVD, the one where Bret berated Michaels over and over again, missing the time cue and resulting in Raw going off the air without Michaels getting in his rebuttal. It was mistakes like this being misread that caused a lot of their heat. Hart rips into Shawn for the usual crimes, including shaking his ass and posing in Playgirl, and says he didn’t have the guts to face him at WrestleMania 13. I should note that Bret is in a wheelchair during all of this, though he stands up at the very end to tell Michaels he doesn’t have the guts to hit him, to which Shawn belts him with the superkick, knocking him back into the wheelchair where he falls over. The Hart Foundation run down and Shawn spends the next two minutes ducking, dodging and diving them before getting caught by Davey Boy. Shawn tries to bail up the aisle but the numbers game beats him, until Steve Austin comes out for the save. Shawn’s hair and expressions during this segment were both immensely comical. He looked like an 80s throwback who was trying to do his best “tough guy” face.
Steve Austin vs. Jim Neidhart
We get about 20-seconds of this before Brian Pillman comes in and wallops Austin in the back with a crutch. The rest of the Harts, sans an injured Bret Hart, run in to take Austin apart. Shawn Michaels comes out with a chair to make the save, belting Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart in the head. Pillman wants none of that, and bails. Then the announcement comes that Austin and Michaels are being forced to team up the following week against WWF Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. Austin and Michaels respond to this by brawling with each other again.
The Legion of Doom vs. Brian Pillman & Jim Neidhart
You might think logic would dictate putting the tag title match that was just announced next, but this bout serves as part of the build-up due to what happens at the end. Pillman and Neidhart is pretty much the worst Hart Foundation tag pairing in regards to in-ring abilities at this stage, because Pillman is a shadow of his WCW self in 1997. This is actually his Raw in-ring debut, a year after he first signed with the company. This is the usual LOD match, with no-selling aplenty and shoddy bumping from Anvil. Pillman has a few timing issues with Animal on a clothesline over the top spot, and his calling is very blatant here too. Put it down to ring rust. Brian Pillman and his ‘Loose Cannon’ persona is actually one of my all-time favourite characters, and I can only imagine how brilliant he could have been opposite Steve Austin in 1998 if he had survived through to the Attitude era. After a few minutes of decent but not brilliant action, LOD go for the Doomsday Device on Pillman so the Harts run in for the save, only for Austin and Michaels to run out and brawl with them. Then, just like last week, they are unable to get along and have a brawl in the aisle.
Final Rating: *
WWF Tag Team Championship
Owen Hart & The British Bulldog (c) vs. Steve Austin & Shawn Michaels
It’s a big night on Raw for debuts and returns, as this is Michaels’ first match in four months, with his smile presumably now fully intact. This is a long back-and-forth match and the heels run heat on both Michaels and Austin. The whole thing is smooth, crisp and constant. Owen and Davey are almost Brain Busters-esque in their delivery of this portion of the match, and while it contains all of the usual formula, the execution is so good that it never gets dull. Shawn Michaels hasn’t missed a beat since being away, and that was always the case with him when he returned from various hiatuses. Hell, he was out for over four years and came back and had a 5* match with Triple H in 2002. At one point when Davey and Owen are cheating like good heels, referee Earl Hebner goes into business for himself, as he often does, catching them cheating and refusing to allow a tag because he didn’t see it. Way to kill the heat-building pal. JR doesn’t shower himself in too much glory either, referring to an Owen Hart spin kick as the move that put Shawn Michaels on the shelf over a year ago, but that was an enzuigiri, everyone knows that. The finish of a cracking bout sees Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music on Davey, and Austin fall on top for the pin and his first WWF gold. Another brawl immediately follows, with Austin leaving Michaels for dead in the ring with the Hart Foundation so he can take out a still injured Bret Hart in the aisle. Well worth tracking down if you have never seen it.
Final Rating: ****
Ahmed Johnson vs. Faarooq
These guys have now been embroiled in a bitter feud for nearly a year, and thus Ahmed is pumped up, shiny and volatile for this, and starts strong. He leathers Faarooq with a belt behind the referee’s back and takes him down with a wild scissor kick. JR tries to bring his usual sporting references, discussing Ron Simmons’ football background, which Vince McMahon ignores completely. As usual we have a brawl, with the Nation coming out to surround the ring, which brings out Faarooq’s King of the Ring opponent the Undertaker, who fends them off. In the ensuing melee Taker accidentally whips Faarooq into Ahmed, and Faarooq scores the pinfall. Ahmed is less than thrilled with Taker’s involvement and gets in his face, which results in a chokeslam. Man, I can’t explain it because I know it would be rotten, but I would love to see that match.
Final Rating: *
WWF Tag Team Championship
Steve Austin & Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Legion of Doom
This is another really strong outing from the odd-couple duo, but given how hot both men were in 1997, that probably shouldn’t be a surprise. The Legion of Doom don’t get enough credit for their role in this year either, and I think they added a lot to a previously struggling tag division, and they proved a number of times that they could still very much go. Fast forward a year and the same cannot be said, but here they more than match the immensely talented champions. Once again there are shenanigans, because god forbid we have a clean finish on Raw in 1997, as Animal accidentally wipes out the referee, and thus there is no-one to count after Austin waffles Hawk with the title belt. Cue the Hart Foundation, who Michaels wants to fight, but is prevented from doing so by another referee. Austin comes out to drag Michaels away and make him focus, because he realises that distraction tactics are exactly what the Foundation are trying to employ. They end up getting counted out and a helpful graphic on-screen informs us that LOD have won the match but not the belts. Well, duh. As is customary for them, Michaels and Austin brawl after the decision.
Final Rating: ***
The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
This is a rematch from the woeful main event at WrestleMania 13, but with a significantly reduced running time and the lack of pressure, it is a much better match. Instead of being filled with rest holds, there are actual moves, and indeed movement, and even a clean finish to boot as Taker polishes off the former champion with the Tombstone, just like at WrestleMania. The Nation of Domination hit the ring afterwards for yet another post match brawl. There was gang overkill in the WWF in 1997 and it meant the majority of matches on Raw didn’t have clean finishes, and if they did they were followed by things like this. WCW was just as bad, if not worse, and you would be lucky to ever get a main event on Nitro that had a conclusion. There is no rhyme or reason to the Nation attacking Sid, he just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which I actually like because it makes sense. At one point Sid hits a chokeslam on Crush in the chaos. Man, just imagine a singles match between those two guys…
Final Rating: *½
Goldust vs. The British Bulldog
This is joined in progress, meaning we miss quite significant chunks of the action, including an overturned pinfall. What we get instead is chinlock, lots and lots of chinlock and the horrible double count out finish. The bout is all about the post-match angle, with Davey ramming Goldust into the steps and getting slapped by Marlena for his troubles. All that does is piss him off, and he brings a chair into play and threatens to whack Goldust with it, whether Marlena is in the way or not. Ken Shamrock comes out to be the moral police, and takes Davey out with a belly-to-back suplex, and Bulldog bails. You know, something struck me while watching this regarding Marlena and the cigar that she smokes at ringside. Now, granted she very rarely actually takes a drag, but I wonder if that character nuance was suggested by her or creative. If it was her, does she buy the cigars each time? Where does she get such massive ones from? If it was creative, then doesn’t forcing your employee to smoke violate all manner of employer codes? Things like this keep me up at night.
Final Rating: *
Sycho Sid vs. Owen Hart
This is from a very famous episode of Raw from Hartford, Connecticut. The notoriety of the show relates to something that happened outside the ring rather than in it, with the venue being the scene of the legitimate shoot between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels backstage, in a catfight that saw Michaels lose a chunk of his hair. The story goes that the two had an altercation in a bathroom while Jerry Lawler was sat minding his own business taking a dump, and things escalated to the point that Michaels took the chunk of hair that Bret ripped from his head, and slammed it down on Vince’s desk before demanding his contract release so he could go and play with his buddies in Atlanta. Vince, obviously realising he couldn’t afford to lose Shawn, balked at this. Both guys were sent home from the show for their “very unprofessional conduct” (Vince) and their relationship remained frosty at best for the remaining five months of Bret’s WWF career. As far as this match goes, it is actually the final match on Raw for Sid for some 15-years, when he was brought back as part of the build-up to the Raw 2000 show, smashing through the hapless Heath Slater while looking not much different to how he did here. Given that, the outcome in this one is a surprise, with Sid getting the clean win following a chokeslam. Prior to that Owen had bossed much of it, smartly targeting the leg as he had done in previous outings between the two, at one point loudly exclaiming: “I’ll break his knee off, I’ll snap it off. With the benefit of hindsight, that comment brings up the queasy memories of Sid’s horrific leg break in WCW in 2001, which remains probably the worst injury I have ever seen in a match. Ken Shamrock is on commentary for this, for whatever reason, and has various issues with Owen cheating and using the post as a weapon in his leg assault, and with Jim Neidhart interfering. The Anvil gets involved one time too many for Shamrock’s liking, so he belts him with a suplex on the outside, leading to Sid’s victory. Poor Owen.
Final Rating: **
Brian Pillman vs. Mankind
This was scheduled to be Brian Pillman vs. Steve Austin as the Hollywood Blondes explode, but for whatever reason it got changed, with the story being that Austin was jumped by the Hart Foundation and injured. Mankind is a decent replacement because he has started to get over thanks to a series of incredible sit-down interviews with Jim Ross, but they are sadly omitted from this tape, including one from this show. Equally disappointing is the lack of Rob Van Dam, who battled Flash Funk (Too Cold Scorpio) on this same card as part of the WWF’s working agreement with ECW. Vince is unable to hide his kayfabed disappointment at the scheduled Austin battle not occurring, but Mankind tries to change his mind by taking his usual over-the-top bumps, including a nasty back suplex on the ramp. Geez Mick, come on, it’s only Raw! This is a mess, a scrappy bitty brawl with little going for it. Pillman’s main offensive moves are forcing Mankind to eat his own hair and trying to rip off his mask. At one point Pillman delivers a headbutt, and then sells it himself. It makes sense in a way, but it does look rather silly. Vince has given up on this and calls it shit in his own words, condescendingly offering: “They are having a go here”. Mankind locks on the Mandible Claw, but predictably that leads to the Hart Foundation coming in to deliver a shoeing. Steve Austin has revenge on his mind and appears to be recovered from his earlier beating, and he cleans the Harts’ clocks, alongside Ken Shamrock, who is again out here because it is the right thing to do. Who does he think he is, Batman? Actually, wait a minute… he is Batman. He certainly fits the bill… After the Harts are successfully dispatched, Austin gives Shamrock a Stunner too, just because he is Steve Austin and he can. This match was horrid.
Final Rating: ¼*
Brian Pillman vs. Steve Austin
The stipulation for this is that the Hart Foundation are handcuffed to the ring on the outside, which is entirely baffling. I mean, why would they ever even agree to something like that. Was it so important to the faction that Pillman got to wrestle Austin, that they complied? Naturally it leaves them all prone for random assaults from Austin when he gets the chance. Pillman gets his nose busted during a fracas on the outside and it bleeds all over, making a mess of his face. He doesn’t seem overly concerned and chokes Austin with a camera cable, then works him over. It is all rather messy, with punch-kick brawling the order of the day. Vince and JR bring some interesting commentary to the table, with Vince referencing the infamous gun angle from last year which he promises will “never be shown on USA again” while Ross mentions how these two “fell out of favour politically” in WCW. They brawl and brawl some more, but it is a major disappointment compared to what you would hope from a Hollywood Blondes collision. A highlight sees Austin wipe out the referee as the announcers lose it and question his motives. He doesn’t have motives, he is Steve Austin! Somehow the Hart Foundation gain access to a key for the handcuffs, which is absurd. No-one came out and gave them it, meaning they must have had it anyway, which of course begs the question of why they didn’t just use it earlier when Austin was pounding on them. For a change, a mass brawl follows, with Ken Shamrock and Goldust getting involved to assist Austin. Stone Cold doesn’t want any help and goes to belt Shamrock, but he is wise to it and suplexes Austin down, and then they break out into a brawl. The Legion of Doom come out to split them up as bedlam ensues, and there is your Hart Foundation opposition team for Canadian Stampede.
Final Rating: *½
The Undertaker & Ahmed Johnson vs. Faarooq & Kama
“When I make a promise, I eat liver” says Faarooq, as he introduces long-time Undertaker nemesis Kama Mustafa as the new Nation of Domination member. As has been alluded to elsewhere in this tome, at one point Charles Wright was pencilled in to reprise his Papa Shango role rather than continue on as the new militant variation of Kama, but the impending introduction of Kane put paid to that. The Nation have also promised another new member tonight, and Vince and JR discuss who it could be, throwing out names of any black wrestlers they can think of such as Butch Reed, Abdullah the Butcher and even the Junkyard Dog. Ahmed doesn’t even make it into the ring for this, but for good reason as you will read in a minute, and Faarooq and Kama just systematically dismantle the Undertaker. It is complete dominance, and Kama pins Taker cleanly in the middle of the ring following a spinning Rock Bottom, which is a result I certainly never would have predicted given how protected Taker usually was and the fact he is WWF Champion! He lost to friggin’ Kama! That win has been some two years in the making for Kama, who could never get the job done against Taker when he was a supreme fighting machine. Post match, the Nation go to continue the beating on the Dead Man, but Ahmed stands over him and they bail up the ramp. Then in a shocking moment, albeit one met by a surprisingly muted response given how over he once was, Ahmed turns on Taker and hits him with the Pearl River Plunge, then joins the Nation on the ramp and gives the black power salute. But, you have been feuding with them for a year!!! Shame the turn lasted all of ten minutes before Ahmed was switched back to a vastly diminished response. Once the trust is gone, you can’t get it back. This was supposed to lead to Ahmed-Taker at Canadian Stampede, but Ahmed got injured. Again. From there the Undertaker-Nation feud rather fizzled out, and Taker worked with Vader at the PPV instead. Logically, shouldn’t he have faced Kama, given that he jobbed clean to him here?
Final Rating: *
Mankind vs. The British Bulldog
Mankind comes out wearing a Steve Austin shirt and a sign around his neck saying “Pick me, Steve”, as he continues to politic Austin to pick him as his tag partner due to the temporary departure of Shawn Michaels because of the Hartford cat fight. Austin calls in and refers to Mankind as a “nice man”, but he has no interest in teaming with him. Unfortunately the call serves as a distraction to the match, which was a frequent problem on Raw in 1996. They would run random extra-curricular frequently and it was commonly a detriment to the action. That has been the case far less in 1997, with the unnecessary interjections replaced with copious run-ins and non-finishes. I am not sure which is worse. Once Austin hangs up, Davey and Mankind have a brief solid but unspectacular match. Mankind floats out of a running powerslam attempt into the Mandible Claw, but Davey escapes with a low blow. Bulldog then goes to his increasingly frequent last resort in the shape of a chair, smacking Mankind around with it, including some vicious shots to the head, for the DQ. Hang on, what is Davey’s beef with Mankind all of a sudden? Wasn’t he trying to do the same thing to Goldust just a few episodes back? And then wasn’t that all leading to a feud with Shamrock. Too many balls in the air, Davey, too many balls.
Final Rating: *½
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Owen Hart (c) vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust
This is the first triple-threat match on Raw, and Pat Patterson is the referee for the occasion. “It is almost as if the Intercontinental Championship is vacant coming in” says JR when he explains the rules. That’s true, which is why multi-man matches or any bout that removes the champion’s advantage are stupid. Goldust looks to have this won when he pins champion Owen following the Curtain Call, after Owen had prevented the Pedigree on Goldie from Hunter with a spin kick. However, Owen had his foot on the ropes and his corner man Brian Pillman remonstrates wildly about it. Gorilla Monsoon comes out to restart the match, robbing the fans of the babyface victory. The same thing happened to Goldust a year earlier when he was champion and Savio Vega beat him thanks to shenanigans, so he can’t have too many complaints. Chyna gets involved and throws in a rana, prompting JR to refer to her as a “phenom”. I don’t think Undertaker will be too thrilled with that. Owen wins this when Goldust comes off the top to drop an elbow on him, but Owen moves and Goldust hits Helmsley, and Owen scurries on top for the win.
Final Rating: *¾
The Undertaker & Vader vs. Faarooq & D’Lo Brown
Taker is forced to team with his Canadian Stampede opponent here, because Paul Bearer manages both of them, though with Taker it is against his will because of the “big secret” Bearer blackmails him with. Earlier in the show the Nation had a mass brawl with the newly formed DOA, which for some reason isn’t shown on the tape. There has been an awful lot of the Nation on here, with more yet to come, and no-where near enough Bret Hart. I know he was injured, but he was still on television. It sure beats watching Faarooq and D’Lo plod through the motions half a dozen times. Vince mentions that Ahmed Johnson was injured in the brawl with the DOA, and he sounds frustrated and annoyed about it. That’s his push over and done with then. Too unreliable, despite how incredibly shiny he was. This only exists to further the issue between Taker and substitute PPV opponent Vader, but I have to say that really should have been at least a multi-man based on the television, even if the overall quality would have undoubtedly suffered. Like all NOD matches this just plods along, and then Taker and Bearer have an argument causing Vader to interject, so Taker belts him in the chops, causing Vader to turn into a Faarooq clothesline and get pinned. Post match Taker and Vader argue some more, so Taker hits the Tombstone. What an awful way to build a title challenger, sub or not. First he gets pinned from a nothing move as if he is at Survivor Series and then the champion wipes him out decisively. It should have been the other way around and Vader should have crushed Taker.
Final Rating: ½*
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Ken Shamrock
Hunter is the new King of the Ring, but he is still dull in the ring. Shamrock is not the right opponent to bring the best out of him, as he needs to be led by someone exciting to have a good match. Hunter in 1997 was much the same, hence why his matches with Mick Foley were pretty good: he was carried. Shamrock spends much of the match working out of an armbar, which is just riveting stuff. Chyna, still square-jawed and man-like, hurls Shamrock into the steel steps to give Hunter an advantage, but Mankind begins to wander down the ramp. The distraction allows Shamrock to hit a belly-to-belly and he scores the pin. This was boring.
Final Rating: ¾*
The Legion of Doom vs. Faarooq & D’Lo Brown
Good lord, yet more Nation! We start with footage of the LOD breaking Henry Godwinn’s neck on the Doomsday Device, which frankly I am surprised didn’t happen more given how vicious and unsafe that move was. This is exactly how you would picture LOD-Nation to be, which means lots of clubbing and little in the way of refinement. After a mercifully short outing, Henry Godwinn interferes with a slop bucket to the head of Hawk, and Faarooq covers for the win. The Nation have been on fire on this tape, they have beaten everyone!
Final Rating: ½*
Steve Austin vs. Jim Neidhart
Again! Hell, the 20-seconds we got from their last encounter more than did it for me. “And this is not going to be good” says Vince as we start, which about sums it up. Neidhart’s offence is not exciting, and he relies on the usual 1997 staples of hitting and resting. Austin fights out of a sleeper with a jawbreaker, which I attest was a baffling choice of move for him. If he had done it like Jeff Hardy and turned around to differentiate it from the Stunner it would have been fine, but it looks almost identical. Austin turns things around and that results in a run-in from nemesis Bret Hart and thus another DQ on a tape already chocca-block full of them. Bret locks Austin in the ring post figure four as Neidhart holds him in place, so Mankind comes out to make the save with a Mandible Claw. Brian Pillman comes out to try and get him off, but his shots do little to quell Mankind, as the bell rings and we go off the air. I like that Jim Neidhart matches are only used to set up other things featuring better workers, it seems somehow fitting.
Final Rating: ½*
Summary: Raw was a lot of talk and angles in 1997, but it is primarily matches on this tape that have followed angles or set things up, without any of the threads holding them together. Thus as stand-alone matches they do not hold up particularly well, despite the importance of some of them to the bigger picture. Yes I realise I am complaining about too much wrestling on a wrestling tape, but actual in-ring action wasn’t what made Raw good in 1997, it wasn’t the show’s strong point. Indeed this tape starts well with some strong angles and some really good matches, but the second half is a complete slog as far as match quality goes, and the unacceptable amount of Nation bouts is just too much to bear. Worth picking up to see the tag matches, but the rest is strictly background material.