James Dixon: The series continues, this time focusing on the red hot period of July and August 1997.
Scott & Ivan Putski vs. Brian Christopher & Jerry Lawler
This may be the oddest match on Raw to date, given that Putski is 56-years old and frankly looks like he is wearing a bodysuit made of skin over the top of his own. Hey, that is what happens when ultra-inflated guys get old and saggy. The Putskis are father and son, as of course are Lawler and Christopher. ‘Polish Power’ endears himself to the San Antonio crowd by singing to them, so the Lawlers belt him. The well put-together Scott starts out for his team and his first two moves are a powerbomb and a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, which shows a shoddy grasp of pacing and a mentality of “getting your shit in”. He is another example of a second generation son of a legend, who ultimately failed. He is still worlds better than David Sammartino though. Scott’s style is certainly high-octane, and he flies around the ring adding in flips where flips are not needed, but it does get a reaction from the crowd. Given his status on the bottom rung of the ladder, that is commendable at least. The Memphis duo cut the ring off and work Scott over like a well-oiled team, and based on this I actually think there would have been some mileage in using them as a duo more frequently. Lawler was a dull worker in 1997, but with his ring savvy and in a tag team setting alongside his more explosive son, they could have had some pretty good matches. They are certainly better than the likes of Skull & 8-Ball, the Godwinns and a number of other shoddy teams clogging up the division. Hall of Famer Ivan finally gets the hot tag and unloads on Lawler before pinning him following the Polish Hammer, which is met with a huge pop. Nice to see the WWF fans giving the old-timer a positive reaction, and I really enjoyed this too. It was nothing fancy or particularly memorable but it was fun and entertaining, which given the fact it is just a throwaway undercard tag match on free television, is all you can really ask for.
Final Rating: **¼
Ken Shamrock vs. Vader
Our boy Ken made his WWF PPV debut opposite Vader in a brutal and underrated tussle at A Cold Day In Hell some two months earlier, and if this is anything like that match then we will go 2-for-2 on this tape. We see brief highlights of some of the more vicious moments in the aforementioned bout, including Vader’s utterly filthy near knockout blow, directly to the side of Shamrock’s noggin. My only criticism of that match was that it was fought under submission rules, which was an obvious disadvantage for Vader. Here there are no such limitations and Vader starts strong, popping off shots and generally overpowering Shamrock before crushing him with a splash. After that match in May, the WWF quickly toned down Shamrock and removed some of the more vicious aspects of his style for fear of him injuring everyone on the roster. While sensible both from a perspective of safety and business sense, because you just can’t wrestle that way every night without seriously damaging yourself and others, it did hurt Shamrock’s lure somewhat. He quickly become just another wrestler, and with a severe lack of personality in an era and indeed business driven by them, it was a tough sell to get him over. This match is worked much more safely and is very much a WWF wrestling match rather than a pseudo-shoot, with Vader’s manager Paul Bearer getting involved where he can. Vader is much the aggressor for the majority and connects with a top rope splash, but eats knees on a Vaderbomb attempt. Shamrock rallies and unloads with kicks, but gets caught on a rana and powerbombed from the ring to the outside (very safely, it sounds better than it was). Shamrock’s SummerSlam opponent the British Bulldog interferes (to a pop given that we are in Canada and he is part of the Hart Foundation) and hits his running powerslam on the outside, which keeps Shamrock down for a count out. Disappointing finish, though it had a purpose so I can forgive it. This was not a patch on their belter two months ago, but it was never boring and achieved what it set out to. Once again, that is good enough for me from a television match.
Final Rating: **
Steve Austin, The Undertaker & Dude Love vs. Bret Hart, Owen Hart & The British Bulldog
Check out the talent in this thing: four World Champions and two guys who absolutely should have been! A shame then that they are limited by the horrible “capture the flag” rules. It makes no sense is the problem. While the rules are never stated (is it capture the flag only or do pinfalls count too like at Badd Blood a few months from now?), whichever way they work it brings issues. If it is capture only then why is this not a tornado match, with everyone in the ring at once? It doesn’t make sense to go for tags. Unless only the legal man can reach the flag? But then, if it is no DQ and capture only, what would happen in that case if a non-legal man was to get the flag? Would they re-mount and start again? If pinfalls count as well, then it makes sense that you have to tag I guess, but if that is the case then why are they bothering going for the flag? Surely that takes longer than just going for a pin? I am positive that I am not the only one to think this way, and thus that explains the relative lack of heat for this, despite it taking place in Canada at the peak of the Canada vs. USA feud and featuring six bona fide main event level stars. The action is of course fine, and the obvious face team are heels tonight because of the setting, and smartly work the match that way too. There are far more rest holds than I would hope to see from a six-man though, with long sections of sleeper holds and chinlocks on Owen Hart, until he finally counters Dude Love with a back suplex and a spinning heel kick, works a brief but wonderful sequence with Austin and then makes a diving tag to Bret. Obviously there is a lot of history there, and the crowd finally does start to react, briefly, but they could be louder. Taker comes in and hits a crappy looking chokeslam on Bulldog, before he and Bret go toe-to-toe and end up both down from a double clothesline. This has picked up a lot since the comeback. Bret and Taker both go for the flag and Brian Pillman interjects himself to stop Taker, giving Bret time to retrieve the Maple Leaf for the win, and finally a hearty pop from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Not bad, if not slightly underwhelming given who was involved.
Final Rating: **
Bret Hart vs. The Patriot
The pre-match stuff here is all tremendous, with Bret arguing with Shawn Michaels, who is on commentary, and HBK brushing it off completely. Bret asks for the Canadian anthem and forces the Pittsburgh fans to sit through it, as Michaels hams it up on the outside. The Patriot comes out and JR reels off footballs facts, with Michaels asking: “How do you know that? He’s wearing a mask!” Brilliant. The Patriot asks for the US anthem and gets it, but Bret Hart jumps him during it to major heat. The audience are stuck though, because if they boo it is like booing the anthem, but you can see the rage on their faces and the gasps of incredulity when Hart attacks him. They wouldn’t have gotten away with doing that today, would they Fit Finlay? All of this features in highlight form on the superb Wrestling With Shadows documentary movie as well, but it is even better in full. I actually think the Patriot got a bit of an unfair shake in the WWF, with his political status and injury problems resulting in a very brief spell in the company. I thought he was decent, and while he was elevated too high up the card too early purely because of his pro-America gimmick in a time of “war”, he could have been a solid midcard hand. He always moved around the ring well, looked good and was a solid worker. I don’t see what the problem with him was. Here he scores a major upset victory over the Hitman thanks to shenanigans from Shawn Michaels, with Patriot catching a cradle for the win. By virtue of that he would receive a WWF Title match with Hart at Ground Zero in September, which was definitely far too early, but is actually a good match, and again one that doesn’t perhaps get the plaudits it deserves. It comes in around ***¼, but is often dismissed and rated much lower than that by others, which again is confusing to me. Answers on a postcard for that one. This match being a quickie TV affair doesn’t quite get into second gear, but it is worth seeing for the pre-match heat building.
Final Rating: **
The Patriot vs. The Sultan
The Patriot cuts a passionate promo before the bout, telling Bret Hart: “America: love it or leave it… GET OUT!!!” and nicely building the story for his upcoming WWF Championship bout with the Hitman at Ground Zero. I never had Del Wilkes pegged as a good interview, but I thought this was tremendous. The match against Sultan, not so much. It is a styles clash to say the least. The pairing of the two in combat was almost inevitable though, given the WWF’s love for on the nose booking. Sultan starts with a back suplex, and the lack of shine for Patriot suggests another quickie TV match, and indeed that is exactly what it is. Patriot quickly polishes off his large foe with the Patriot Missile and the Uncle Slam, then the Hart Foundation immediately appear. They make their way to the ring, but Commissioner Slaughter intervenes and cuts all but Bret off at the pass, only the Hitman doesn’t realise he is alone. Hart engages in a shouting match with Patriot from outside the ring and when he turns around he sees his back-up isn’t there, giving Patriot chance to jump him from the ring. For a change on Raw, a brawl breaks out. This only existed to set up Ground Zero, but it was watchable due to its brevity.
Final Rating: *
Owen Hart vs. Dude Love
This is from the night after Owen broke Steve Austin’s neck at SummerSlam. Bret Hart joins the commentary team for this. One of the two Dudettes in the crowd is Mick Foley’s smoking hot wife Colette. She dances to his music as the cameras get a close-up shot of her waps. Considering the guys involved, this no-where near meets expectations. Mick Foley was cursed when he donned the Dude Love tights prior to 1998, because his performances as the Dudester were usually pretty rough. Here he works over Owen for an age, despite being the babyface, with nothing really happening. Entertainment is found from Bret Hart ripping into Dude and America for rule-breaking, and then mockingly shouting: “Stooooppppiiiid. That’s what he is; stupid” when Love misses a running diving elbow on the ramp. What a painful bump to take for such a pointless nothing match. Foley has just essentially worked a heat, so the last thing I want to see is Owen doing the same, but unfortunately he does. I mean don’t be mistaken, this is not a bad match, far from it, I just think they could have had a much better one. The arrival of the British Bulldog at ringside sufficiently distracts the referee enough for Bret Hart to get involved and nail Dude, making me wonder why a Foley-Hart match was never booked on pay-per-view. I guess there wasn’t a lot of time due to Hart’s 1996 hiatus and 1997 departure, but I think they could have had an incredible series given their collective wrestling brains. Steve Austin, broken neck and all, comes out and belts Owen with his own Slammy and Dude gets the win. Post match, Colette straddles him in the corner and macks off with him. How the hell did Foley manage to score someone so fine!? Pardon the Red Dwarf reference, but: “What a guy!”
Final Rating: *¾
Brian Pillman vs. Flash Funk
In a nice touch, Pillman gets pushed through the curtain due to his reluctance to come out, as he is currently being forced to wrestle in a dress. I never realised prior to this how excellent and terrifying Pillman’s music was. It’s even better than Sid’s on the list of fantastic psychotic themes. Is it better than evil Doink’s music though? Hmm, I’m not so sure about that. Because Pillman is all character and no longer much cop in the ring since his broken ankle, the match is not that interesting. In fact, it is sufficiently uninteresting that Lawler, Vince and JR discuss Lawler’s upcoming appearance on the ECW Hardcore Heaven pay-per-view and namedrop the likes of Tommy Dreamer and Sabu. That doesn’t sound particularly interesting now, but at the time it was incredible for the WWF to be promoting another company’s pay-per-view. Like last week on Raw where Pillman lost to Bob Holly via count out thanks to Goldust and Marlena sat in the front row (of which highlights are shown), the shiny twosome come out and distract Pillman again, this time with a video of him getting changed into the dress backstage playing on the Titantron. Flash rolls Pillman up for the upset win, and Pillman is boiling.
Final Rating: ¾*
Owen Hart & The British Bulldog vs. The Patriot & Ken Shamrock
“Things are getting quite political out here” says Vince McMahon as Patriot makes his way to the ring. “I know that’s right” responds JR. While Vince meant due to the Canada vs. USA war, JR was quite clearly referring to the backstage struggles Wilkes had with the Harts, who for whatever reason just didn’t like him. Shamrock comes out and he is OVER like rover and gets a phenomenal reaction. This is a hot, hot crowd and it gets Vince all pumped up too. Someone needs to get Shamrock a towel to dab himself down with though, because he looks like he just fell into a tub of grease. Bret Hart wanders out during the middle of the bout as JR mentions his “Jim Jones-like influence”, which is an absurd thing to say. Jones, for those unaware, was the leader of the Peoples Temple, a cult group who partook in a mass murder/suicide in 1978 of over 900 of its members in Jonestown, Guyana. Jones was a koolaidist who brainwashed people into thinking they were moving on to a better life, which is hardly comparable to the Hart Foundation’s hatred of America. Well, Jones was frustrated with America too due to the country’s condemnation of communism and the fear of a backlash he would receive for his Marxist views, but that is not quite the same. Wrestling is escapist entertainment, comparing anything that happens in it to one of the biggest mass losses of American life (war aside) in history is never right, off the cuff comment or not. So, history lesson and moral outrage out of the way, what of the match? Well, it’s blah, but the crowd makes up for it by reacting to everything. Shamrock and Owen end up on the outside and the referee is distracted by them, and Patriot hits the Uncle Slam on Davey onto a chair for the win. He gets a huge pop for that, and the more I rewatch the Patriot, the more I think that perhaps the WWF missed the boat with him. Though, I guess once the Hart Foundation dispersed at the end of the year and left the company, he would have lost a lot of his appeal.
Final Rating: *¾
Mankind vs. Shawn Michaels
This is Michaels’ first match since his tantrum in June and a rematch from their classic a year ago. Foley is back under the mask as Mankind rather than Dude Love, which probably means this match will be better for it. Credit to Foley for getting in the zone for three characters in such a short space of time though. Mankind brings a bin to the ring but Michaels is the one who uses it. They do a fun spot with Michaels clocking Foley while the bin is on his head, and when it comes off he is wearing the bin bag that was inside. You would think that would hamper him, but it doesn’t, and he manages to put on the Mandible Claw while still trapped inside the bag. It makes for a unique visual. Lawler and JR discuss the forthcoming ECW Hardcore Heaven, which has Vince scrambling to point out that it is not a WWF show. JR shills it again and Vince gets annoyed at the match getting ignored and asks JR if he is “commentating on it or something”, and JR says: “I should be!”. Poor Joey. Michaels and Mankind brawl on the outside and Michaels tries a back body drop through the announce table, which fails. Michaels tries again and hits a flying elbow, but the table doesn’t sell for him. Ouch. Back in the ring, Michaels hits the Savage Flying Elbow as JR throws in a snide “Nobody delivers that elbow off the top like Shawn Michaels”, which is a sly and not so subtle dig at Randy Savage, who for the record does do it way better. Better than anyone in fact. Mankind ducks a Sweet Chin Music attempt and catches the Mandible Claw, which sends them tumbling to the outside again. Michaels ups the aggression by brutalising Mankind’s head into the ring steps and the post, then tries a backdrop onto the table, which still refuses to break. Michaels will have a tantrum with it soon and politic for it to lose its spot. To the catering room for you, announce table. Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna come out to watch, though the assumption is that their presence is due to their current ongoing feud with Mick Foley, but in reality it is the first chance for the WWF to pair Michaels and Helmsley together as they begin the formation of D-Generation X. Shawn was technically still a babyface at this point, though he has pretty much dominated this match and is probably more of a heel than Foley. Mankind manages to rally and drives Shawn’s head into the mat before hitting his running knee in the corner, but then suddenly Ravishing Rick Rude strolls down the aisle in his first WWF appearance since 1990. Hunter trips Mankind as the referee struggles to keep track of things, and Rude BELTS poor Mick in the head with a chair, allowing Michaels to hit the Sweet Chin Music for the win. Undertaker comes out as the outsiders involved reaches four, but he is stopped in his tracks by Paul Bearer on the Titantron, saying the waiting is nearly over and Kane is coming. This was a pretty good match, though no-where near their Mind Games classic, obviously. That Rude chair shot though… Jesus.
Final Rating: ***½
Brian Pillman vs. Jesse Jammes
Back to this angle then, as Pillman continues to work in a dress due to his inability to win a match. Jammes seems like a good opponent for him given that he was still a few months away from being the Road Dogg and turning his career around. In other words, he was a jobber. A perverted one at that, as he gets his kicks lifting up Pillman’s skirt, which gets him chopped. Pillman is thrilled when Jammes misses off the top with something because it gives him an opening to win the match, but Goldust wanders out and casually drops an elbow on Double J, and of course causes the disqualification. Clever swine. Goldust thinks it is funny, but Pillman is pissed off now, and that is a volatile cocktail. Pillman wants one more match with Goldust and puts his WWF career on the line, but in return Goldust has to stake Marlena’s services as Pillman’s “personal assistant” for 30 days. Goldust bottles it and Pillman goads him, saying he knows Marlena as “Terri” and that Dustin’s daughter Dakota is actually his. Goldust takes the bait and charges the ring, then Terri jumps her cue and accepts the challenge while Pillman is still ranting, meaning everyone misses it. She repeats it three or four times with the most awful wooden delivery I have witnessed from a WWF personality this side of Kaitlyn, and the whole thing almost gets killed stone dead right there. Terri was bad, really bad. There is a modicum of truth to some of this angle as the lines between reality and storyline blur, because Pillman used to date Terri when they were both in WCW in the early 90s prior to her getting with Dustin. It’s a murky road to travel down, especially with the intended payoff being Terri leaving Goldust for Pillman, but that sadly never came to pass due to Pillman’s death two months later.
Final Rating: ¾*
Shawn Michaels & Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. The Undertaker & Mankind
Another outing from the yet to be officially formed D-Generation X, with the two teaming for the first time, whereas Mankind and Undertaker have a long and storied rivalry and thus their alliance is shaky at best. Everyone in this match has had a long and storied history with everyone else in it at some point in their respective careers. All four are of course legendary figures in the WWF, with multiple World Championships to their name, and three of the four can be comfortably considered among the great workers of their generation. The fourth merely thinks he is and is positioned as such, even though everyone else knows it to be false. Hey, there are perks to marrying into success… As you would expect, Mankind is on the receiving end of the majority of the offence, with Hunter and Michaels actually very coordinated as a tandem, busting out clever tags and nice double-teams. Mankind eventually avoids Sweet Chin Music and applies the Mandible Claw, only for Hunter to save and go for the Pedigree, which is switched into a slingshot and then switched again into a kick into the buckles, with Mankind falling on Hunter’s balls as we go to a triple down. Taker gets the tag and cleans house, so Rick Rude comes over with a chair to belt him, but stops in his tracks when Taker spots him. Good job too, because if he had hit Taker like he hit Foley the other week, he would be in trouble. That prospect doesn’t stop Michaels though, who belts Taker in the head with a chair shot so hard it sends him crumbling to the mat and breaks the chair. Obviously, that’s a DQ. Michaels stands with Hunter assessing what he has done, and when Taker sits up they all scarper, as the tape comes to a close. Fun match, some nice spots, but a solid TV main event and nothing more.
Final Rating: **¼
Summary: I enjoyed this tape, and the two hours absolutely whizzed by. There is nothing bad on here at all, which is exactly what a “best of” should be, given the title. Some of the matches are surprisingly good and everything is at the worst decent, with even the weaker bouts (ie. the two Pillman ones) attached to angles that made their inclusion worthwhile. Mankind-Michaels comes close to being a must-see bout, but it is not quite there, though is certainly worth seeing once. Without a blow-away match on a tape with so many bouts, the score is never going to be as high as it might be, but you won’t be disappointed if you do pick up a copy of this. Recommended for a fun two hour trip down memory lane, from a time when Raw was pretty great.