Arnold Furious: As James mentioned at the beginning of his Best of Raw 9 review; the series was thrown out of order in late 1997 by the departure of then WWF Champion Bret Hart, with the Montreal Screwjob having ongoing repercussions outside of the wrestling ring. The normal two hour run-time for the Best of Raw tapes is gone here with almost half the footage left on the cutting room floor, as it followed the antics of a guy who now wrestles for WCW. Is it petty? Yes. Is it predictable? Entirely. Vince McMahon went from taking pot shots at WCW on a weekly basis (Billionaire Ted’s war room) to pretending they didn’t exist at all. Bret Hart left the WWF. Ok. Where did he go? He simply vanished into the ether, never to be heard from again. WCW? What’s that? We wouldn’t know here in the office as we’ve watched so much WWF action from the time period that it’s been erased from existence. Vince’s change of tack was refreshing for TV as I’d grown tired of the constant back-and-forth and the even pettier assaults on the rival’s programming, but the change is jolting. It did have another benefit and that’s when the WWF did decide to take shots at WCW, like DX invading Nitro, it actually came as a big shock. This tape is one of many to suffer from the WWF’s change in tactics however.
Best of Raw 8 covers matches from September and October 1997. Host is Michael Cole, sporting a yellow shirt and a goatee. Luckily he doesn’t do many segues at all and merely opens and closes the tape.
Brian Pillman vs. Owen Hart
Unlike earlier releases this match is retained in full, as are many others, including Owen’s ring entrance and his police backup to uphold the restraining order on Steve Austin. This was right near the end for Brian Pillman and he has Marlena hostage, tarted up in leather. Both guys are in the Hart Foundation so they don’t want to wrestle each other. Pillman comes out with a sling on his arm claiming fate has deprived us of this match. He claims he slipped in the bathtub and broke his arm while screwing Marlena. This brings out Sgt. Slaughter to accuse Pillman of shenanigans, who throws the mic to him. Pillman catches it with the broken arm and the match is on. The arm angle didn’t get the right reactions here. This is a match in the Intercontinental championship tournament, with the winner going to the final at Badd Blood. Pillman mockingly does the little bit of wrestling that Hulk Hogan knows at barely quarter speed. It made me laugh. I think it was lost on the fans. They finally get going and run into each other on crossbodies, but Goldust runs in for the DQ. Owen gets hit first so he wins while Pillman bails with Marlena. Like most Attitude matches on Raw, there was a lot of storyline but almost no wrestling.
Final Rating: ½*
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Dude Love
This is a great angle, in MSG suitably. Hunter had run Mankind crazy to the point where he regressed to his teenage character; Dude Love. So the Dude appears on the Titantron to introduce Hunter to a “kooky type of cat”: Mankind. And the two characters chat back-and-forth, talking about wrestling Hunter. The two agree that someone else would be better off in this environment; CACTUS JACK!! “He’s ALIVE” – Mankind. “Mrs Foley’s little boy has come home”. I have chills.
Falls Count Anywhere
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Cactus Jack
A strong “ECW” chant kicks off immediately as Jack comes out with a trashcan. It has actual trash in it. It looks like he just found it somewhere on his way to the ring, which lends credibility to it as a weapon. Cactus leads off with a swinging neckbreaker on the floor and as falls count anywhere, that’s a near fall. BANG, BANG! There are no rules in this match so Chyna goes after Cactus and clotheslines him into the crowd. The workers brawl into the back where Hunter scores a slam on the floor. This is all a set up for Cactus using a fire extinguisher. Hunter then gets whipped into the rail and takes out the entire one side of it. The hardcore vibe to this match is sensational and the fans bite into it like the biggest apple you’ve ever seen, which is appropriate as we’re in New York. Cactus goes for the Cactus Elbow but Hunter moves and Foley eats trashcan. I love that Mick tries to work actual wrestling into the hardcore environment and he hits a sunset flip off the apron. As Cactus is taking charge, Chyna chair shots him, but Mick no sells it only for Hunter to knee him in the back and Chyna gets wiped out into the steps. She is out and a non-factor in the rest of the match. Hunter shows his usual level of compassion and carries on like nothing happened. Hunter brings out a table to another rousing chant of “ECW”. Jack blocks the Pedigree and hits a piledriver through the table for the win. MSG goes absolutely nuts on the finish, which was hardcore awesomeness. They timed everything really well here and made a point of hitting the spots like beats of a drum. It had terrific structure for a hardcore match and was one that helped them set the pace for their better PPV matches a few years later, where Hunter had the same freaked out reaction to Cactus Jack’s appearance, as if he had no problem beating Mankind and Dude Love because they were just guys, whereas Cactus Jack was a hardcore legend. Hunter hadn’t been known for his psychology to this point but he did a grand job of selling for Cactus. At the time a few reviewers, Dave Meltzer included, gave this a whopping four snowflakes. It’s not quite that good, but for a Raw match it’s at the top end of the 1997 scale.
Final Rating: ***½
The Undertaker vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Or as the screen says; Undertaker vs. Triple HHH. Hunter Ninefold? DX jump Taker before the bell to use their numbers advantage. HBK spends too long celebrating, allowing Taker to lay out Hunter and back down Shawn. Hunter jumps from behind and the bell finally rings. Taker dominates Hunter and hits a quick chokeslam. Taker is more interested in Shawn. Taker sets for the Tombstone but Rick Rude runs down and hits the Dead Man with his briefcase for the DQ.
Final Rating: ½*
Post Match: Shawn superkicks Taker and they put him in a body bag. This was right before the Hell in a Cell so Shawn was trying to get the psychological edge on the Dead Man. It doesn’t work here as Taker just sits up, body bag and all, and makes his comeback. Shawn ends up running for the hills. However, when he reaches the backstage a weird red light stops him. Hunter tries again to jump Taker, but this time he takes a Tombstone.
Kane vs. The Hardy Boyz
This is right after the Hell in a Cell where Kane debuted and he just appears with a tag match due, taking the place of the Truth Commission. Both Hardys get chokeslammed at the same time. Matt gets thrown to the floor and then Jeff is pressed onto him. There’s no bell so there’s no match. Paul Bearer takes the opportunity to talk for a bit instead. “Laugh at the fat man”. He goes on to remind us of the storyline so far and Taker’s fear of Kane. One of the many forgotten initial traits of Kane was that he was “missing an eye” from the fire.
Final Rating: SQUASH (Not rated)
DOA vs. The Truth Commission
This is part of the 1997 Gang Wars (or should that be Warz?) that ruined many a midcard during the year. The Truth Commission was the oddest gang; a bunch of white supremacist South Africans who replaced their leader with cult figure Don Callis, aka Jackyl. James doesn’t like him but I have fond memories of his run in ECW so, for me, he’s one of the few highlights to be had from this dull angle. Vince is so bored he starts talking about Janet Reno. This match is Recon & Sniper vs. the Harris Brothers. JR is the only one paying attention as Vince and Lawler start making jokes about Paula Jones. Vince points out that “…every year I get audited. Not to be vindictive”. Vince vs. the US Government was a long, long feud. You can forgive Vince and Lawler for ignoring the match, as it is utter shit. It’s technically mediocre, utterly heatless and devoid of creativity. The whole thing is a bunch of clubberin’ with bad spots. Jackyl low bridging 8-Ball is the finish and they botch that. That’s a DQ and a big brawl breaks out between all eight guys. A real yawner. It needed more Interrogator.
Final Rating: DUD
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Godwinns (c) vs. The Legion of Doom
This was a Raw main event, but to be fair it is a tag title switch with the LOD finally getting the gold. If the LOD lose they have to retire, just to make it really obvious what will happen. The angle leading into this was that LOD broke Henry Godwinn’s neck, so the Godwinns want revenge. They’ve only had the tag titles for two days after defeating the Headbangers at Badd Blood. Considering how important this match is for the LOD, it’s surprising how little happens. It’s as if the LOD are just stuck in their ways and can’t switch gears on an act that got stale years before this. They were still over, but in wrestling, as in life, you adapt, change or die. The Godwinns work heat on Hawk extensively, throwing in the usual spots as the ref misses a hot tag and Animal gets laid out on the floor with a shoulder injury. They do work in a nice spot where Animal is being escorted out and it looks like the LOD are done. Hawk is already hurt and being worked over, now he has no one to tag. Slop Drop for the ref means it’s a DQ and the LOD’s career is over. The rest of the refs don’t see it though and Animal comes running back down for the save. Doomsday Device is broken up with Uncle Cletus, former plumber and Dirty White Boy, jumping in. The lucky horseshoe miscues and Hawk hits a diving clothesline on Phineas for the career-saving pin and the belts. The match gets bonus points for the significance of the title change, LOD’s second WWF tag titles, and the emotional conclusion.
Final Rating: **
The Legion of Doom, Ken Shamrock & Ahmed Johnson vs. Faarooq, Rocky Maivia, Kama Mustafa & D’Lo Brown
Ahmed gets a decidedly mixed reaction after turning heel to join the Nation, getting injured and flopping back face again. Shamrock gets the biggest pop of all the faces as the WWF were positioning him high on the card at the time. “This is not supposed to be an eight-man match up” moans Vince, but that’s what it says on the video box so that’s what I’m going with. The actual match is Ken Shamrock & Ahmed Johnson vs. Rocky Maivia & Kama, in case you were interested. Not that any tags are made and Shamrock goes solo against Rocky for most of the match. DX join us from the stage to make fun of the seriousness on display. Chyna holds up a sign saying “Spank me, Vince”. Hunter’s sign reads “Who booked this crap?” How inside of him. Shamrock bosses things in the ring until the Nation use the numbers game on Ken, who isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s the Most Dangerous Knife in the drawer, sure, but he’s a bit dim. Shammy won’t be held down and comes back with a rana on Rocky. Meanwhile Rick Rude strolls down to have a chat with Faarooq. This is all connected to the Hart Foundation, so the angle won’t go anywhere on this tape, where the faction doesn’t exist anymore. The match muddles on with Shamrock going back-and-forth with Maivia. Faarooq jumps in and KOs Shamrock with Rude’s briefcase while Hawk stupidly distracts the ref.
Final Rating: *¾
WWF Intercontinental Championship
WWF European Championship
Owen Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels (c)
This is far as we get with the DX vs. Harts storyline as Owen is still under contract. No one is at ringside with both guys going solo. Shawn pinballs around for Owen, showing he’s still the top dog in the ring. The title vs. title stipulation pretty much guarantees a schmozz and yet no-one really expected Shawn to go over against Bulldog in England, but that happened. “I think Shawn’s a bigger ass than Owen” – JR. Shawn continues to out-bump the world as the match continues, bouncing off everything he can. There were few greater sights in wrestling than Shawn Michaels on his game. He starts to outshine Owen and hits the Savage Elbow, but Owen ducks the superkick and hits the enzuigiri. This brings in Steve Austin for the DQ, as he Stunners the ref. Shawn superkicks Owen but there’s no ref. Bret Hart runs out to attack Shawn, thus making a rare appearance on this tape to set up Survivor Series. DX run in to save Shawn. Even though this is a throwaway match to hype Survivor Series, it still had moments of quality from both guys. They had terrific chemistry.
Final Rating: **¼
Los Boricuas vs. The Legion of Doom
This is how we end the Best of Raw 8. Inauspicious. Boricuas are Savio Vega and Miguel Perez. The focus is on the New Age Outlaws at ringside. They nab the LOD’s spiky shoulderpads to set up a title match down the line. This was part of their gimmick, as they’d earlier stolen the Stetsons of the New Blackjacks. The match is nothing so the camera stays on the Outlaws goofing around with the shoulderpads. As per usual the LOD run through their stuff with Hawk getting somewhat isolated. He hits a terrible waist-high dropkick, but Road Dogg accidentally trips Miguel Perez, doing his usual blind trip that cost Jeff Jarrett the IC title two years earlier, and Hawk gets the pin. Afterwards, both teams chase the Outlaws to the back because of the finish and the shoulderpad theft.
Final Rating: ½*
Summary: This butchered tape shows “highlights” of two months that were dominated by Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Shawn wrestles once and Bret only appears in one segment. So it isn’t the highlights at all. At least Hunter vs. Cactus Jack makes an appearance on this tape. It’s one of few WWF hardcore matches that actually holds up now and isn’t just a bunch of crap tacked together for the sake of violence, which is probably why their matches from 2000 were so good. It had the madcap spots of a violent Indy and structured mentality of the WWF. Kudos to Mick Foley for marrying the two so successfully. That match aside the tape is pretty disappointing though. Should Boricuas vs. LOD or DOA vs. Truth Commission make a “best of” anything tape? I realise the WWF had slim pickings with the Hart Foundation stuff excised from the tape release, but hey, that’s their decision.