For nine years, over ten Pay-Per-View events, the King of the Ring ruled the month of June. Home to some of the WWF/E’s most memorable and important matches the King of the Ring holds a special place on the history of the WWE and in the heart’s of fans around the globe.
At this point in 1997 the WWF was only 12 weeks into the new “RAW is WAR” era and just beginning to push back against an unchecked World Championship Wrestling. But the WWF had their work cut out for them. WrestleMania XIII drew the lowest buyrate in WrestleMania history, their television ratings were stagnant, and there was seemingly no end in sight to WCW’s growth. Marking the rise of Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Mankind, as well as Shawn Michaels’ first PPV match since January’s Royal Rumble, the ’97 offering finds the World Wrestling Federation in a state of transition as the old, traditional ways of the doing business were slowly giving way to the more edgy and adult “Attitude Era”, with the WWF feeling their way forward as they went.
If you’re worried about context, don’t be, it’s all here. All previous editions of Monday Night RAW as well as all prior PPVs are currently available to watch on the WWE Network.
WWF King of the Ring 1997 (WATCH)
Date: June 8, 1997 – Location: Providence Civic Center, Providence, Rhode Island
Attendance: 9,312 – PPV Buyrate : 0.5 (>177,000 homes)
Commentators: Vince McMahon & Jim Ross – Interviews: Todd Pettengill & Dok Hendrix
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME
WWF World Heavyweight Champion: The Undertaker
WWF Intercontinental Champion: Owen Hart
WWF European Champion: “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
WWF World Tag Team Champions: Shawn Michaels & Stone Cold Steve Austin
A video package opens the show, telling us this will be a “night of firsts”: the first time reigning WWF Tag Team Champions (Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels) will square off against one another as well as Faarooq potentially becoming the first African-American WWF World Heavyweight Champion should he defeat The Undertaker.
After the pyro goes off Vince McMahon welcomes us to the show and introduces the foreign announce teams before Ahmed Johnson’s music hits and the action heads to the ring.
— Semi-Final Match of the 1997 King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 2:26)
Ahmed Johnson vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsely w/Chyna
These two met in the quarter-final round on the May 12th edition of RAW in a match Ahmed Johnson won by DQ. Helmsley, claiming he was not told a DQ would cost him the match, successfully gained a second shot against Crush on the May 19th edition of RAW which Helmsley won, setting up this match. This match isn’t exactly a dud but the timing issues and numerous miscues don’t help matters. In the end, as Ahmed prepares for the Pearl River Plunger, Chyna distracts Johnson which allows Helmsley to take advantage, hit the Pedigree, and score the pin at 7:42 to advance to the finals. After the match Ahmed chases Helmsley and Chyna to the back.
WINNER is Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/Chyna (Pin, 7:42)
As Mankind comes to the ring we see footage of the previous week’s RAW where Jerry Lawler and Mankind fought at ringside before an errant blow by Crush allowed Mankind to defeat Savio Vega and advance to the semi-final round. In the ring, Mankind asks the crowd which kind of king they wanted him to be. Mankind says Lawler is the emperor with no clothes, “a pawn in Mankind’s game.”
In the back Todd Pettengill is with Jerry Lawler. After showing highlights of Lawler cheating to defeat Goldust on the May 26th edition of RAW and Goldust rolling Lawler down the ramp, Lawler calls Pettengill a “moron” and heads to the ring doing his usual insult comic shtick. At ringside Lawler starts mocking Mankind. “Ya know when he was born,” Lawler says, “his mother took one look at his rear end and one look at his face and said, ‘My God, Siamese twins!'” After a few more jokes Mankind chases Lawler off the mic and the match begins.
— Semi-Final Match of the 1997 King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 14:22)
Mankind vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler
This event took place as the classic Jim Ross/Mankind interview segments (concluding the next night) were airing on RAW, segments that would catapult Mankind to the moon. As for the match, it’s arguably one of the worst King of the Ring tournament matches to this point. Lots of stalling, lots of Lawler reaching into his trunks, and lots of pointless brawling. The outcome of the match, despite Lawler’s best efforts, was never once in doubt. Eventually Mankind reverses a Lawler piledriver and turns a sunset attempt into the mandible claw for the win at 10:24 to advance to the finals of the 1997 King of the Ring tournament.
WINNER is Mankind (Submission, 10:25)
Next Todd Pettengill interviews Brian Pillman about his part in the Shawn Michaels/Stone Cold Steve Austin feud. Pillman says he “reeled that sucker right in.” Pillman talks about Bret Hart inspiring his actions and looking forward to seeing what Shawn Michaels leaves for Pillman to fight. Stone Cold suddenly appears, guzzles Pillman, and dunks Pillman’s head in the toilet before walking off.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 33:57)
Crush w/Clarence Mason & D’Lo Brown vs. Goldust w/Marlena
A battle of King of the Ring quarter-final losers, this is the first real wrestling match of the night. Utilizing solid timing and decent psychology these two produce an entertaining match that while watchable is far from a classic. Late in the match D’Lo and Mason move in on Marlena, distracting Goldust, who is then attacked from behind by Crush. Back in the ring Goldust reverses a gorilla press slam into a brutal DDT for the pin at 9:57. After the match Goldust and Marlena celebrate in the ring.
WINNER is Goldust w/Marlena (Pin, 9:57)
Backstage Dok Hendrix interviews the Road Warriors and Sycho Sid, who can’t help mouthing Hawk and Animal’s words! Hawk talks about getting revenge while Animal asks Sid if he can be trusted. Sid sidesteps the question and says that “tonight is gonna be the worst night for the Hart Foundation.”
Next Todd Pettingell interviews Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, and “The Anvil”. Davey says history will repeat itself when they defeat the LOD as they did in April. Owen says the Hart Foundation is family and the LOD can’t even trust each other let alone Sid. Neidhart says that if Sid thinks he’s crazy Sid hasn’t seen anything yet.
— “6-Man Tag Team Match” (WATCH – 48:38)
The Hart Foundation (Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, WWF European Champion “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, & WWF Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart) vs. Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) & Sycho Sid
This Stampede-inspired six-man is one of the best matches of the night. A highly physical, psychological match that sees all six men (even Sid) shine and had the crowd on fire. Late in the match Sid clears the ring and goes for the powerbomb on Davey Boy when Owen lands a sloppy sunset flip on Sid for the 1-2-3 at 13:39.
WINNERS are The Hart Foundation (Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, WWF European Champion “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, & WWF Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart) (Pin, 13:39)
Next Jim Ross and Vince McMahon talk about who will be the King of the Ring before we see highlights of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s tournament winning night in 1996.
Backstage Todd Pettengill interviews Mankind who says that he’s not going down and, quoting the Lion King, says “I just can’t wait to be king!” We see highlights of both men’s semi-final wins prior to the match.
— Finals of the 1997 King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 1:09:30)
Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/Chyna
Key to Helmsley’s evolution from the “blue blood” to “The Game” was Helmsley’s matches with Mankind. While Helmsley wasn’t quite “Triple H” as of yet, all the signs are visible in this match. The match itself has all the ingredients to be a classic war but is instead held back by its stop and start nature that prevents any real momentum from getting going. The match picks up in the later stages but not enough to save it from being average. After brawling on the outside, Pedigreeing Mankind through the announcer’s table, and Chyna smashing the scepter across Mankind’s back, Helmsley hits the Pedigree in the center of the ring at 19:38 to win the 1997 King of the Ring tournament.
WINNER and 1997 WWF King of the Ring, Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/Chyna (Pin, 19:38)
After the match Chyna drags Todd Pettingill in the ring to make the coronation. Chyna puts the purple robe on Helmsley before Helmsley uses the crown to attack Mankind. Helmsley and Chyna walk to the back as Mankind crawls after them.
Next we get a vignette highlighting the Austin/HBK feud. Afterwards JR and Vince talk about the courage of Mankind before Bret Hart comes out with the rest of the Hart Foundation for commentary. Bret grabs a mic and tells the fans to shut up, saying it’s nearly time for him to return to the ring and fight, laying out a challenge to any five WWF wrestlers to take on the Hart Foundation at the In Your House: Canadian Stampede PPV the next month in Calgary where Bret says he’ll make his in-ring return. Bret tries to sit down for commentary when WWF officials come out and escort Bret to the back.
In the back Dok Hendrix interviews Stone Cold Steve Austin who says that he’ll stop short of crippling Shawn Michaels so the two can continue to make money as Tag Team Champions and that if Michaels forces Austin to “raise the violence factor, you can damn well bet I’ll do it!”
With Austin in the ring Dok Hendrix interviews Shawn Michaels in the back. Michaels says he won’t give the Hart Foundation what they want and doesn’t know if the fans will get the classic they think they’ll get between himself and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
— “Non-Title Champion vs. Champion Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:37:36)
WWF World Tag Team Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. WWF World Tag Team Champion Shawn Michaels
Before this match can even get going it grinds to a halt as a handicapped fan comes over the railing and tries to get in the ring. After few minutes Shawn Michaels hugs the young man and walks him up the aisle. From that point on the match is practically non-stop action and intensity with plenty of clever psychology. Taking place before Austin’s severe neck injury and Michaels debilitating back injury, this match finds both men in their absolute prime putting on one their all-time greatest matches. After a series of near falls and false finishes the referee goes down. After hitting the Stunner on Michaels Austin then hits the Stunner on the injured referee! Michaels then hits Sweet Chin Music on Austin and delivers the same to the next referee who comes out! Eventually Earl Hebner comes in and disqualifies both men at 22:31, much to the chagrin of the crowd in Providence. After the match Austin tries to cheap shot Michaels with the Tag Team title but Michaels blocks the attempt and the two have a standoff as referees come out to break it up.
NO WINNER declared (Double Disqualification, 22:.31)
Next we see highlights of the Nation of Domination pummeling The Undertaker from the previous week’s RAW as Pettengill interviews Faarooq about becoming the first African-American WWF World Champion. Faarooq says “chance is for old folks and fools”, telling Undertaker “don’t worry about Paul Bearer’s blackmail, you worry about this black male.”
With Faarooq in the ring Dok Hendrix attempts to interview Undertaker about being forced to partner with Paul Bearer when Paul Bearer interrupts, telling Undertaker that as long as he has “the secret” over Undertaker’s head Taker will do as Bearer says, when he says to do it, at any time.
— WWF World Heavyweight Championship (WATCH – 2:20:00)
Faarooq w/Savio Vega, Crush, D’Lo Brown, & Clarence Mason vs. The Undertaker(c) w/Paul Bearer
Though Faarooq was being pushed as being potentially the first African-American WWF World Champion, no one actually believed it would happen. The match is almost entirely Faarooq thanks to repeated interference by The Nation. Under different circumstances this match may have over-delivered, but these two just didn’t mesh well together. Late in the match Crush and Savio Vega start arguing, distracting Faarooq. Undertaker takes advantage and hits the tombstone piledriver to retain the WWF World title at 13:44.
WINNER and STILL WWF World Heavyweight Champion, The Undertaker w/Paul Bearer (Pin, 13:44)
After the match Undertaker chokeslams Savio Vega and Crush before Paul Bearer berates The Undertaker into chokeslamming Faarooq three times. Ahmed Johnson runs out and gets in Undertaker and Paul Bearer’s face, telling Undertaker to “get it together.” Finally Undertaker goes for Johnson, who ducks and then hits the Pearl River Plunge on Undertaker, leaving the crowd dumbfounded. Paul Bearer kicks at Undertaker until he sits up and stares down Bearer, who bolts from the ring as Undertaker stalks him and the PPV goes off the air.
With only two great matches, the 6-man and Austin/HBK, the 1997 King of the Ring is a bit of a dud, feeling more like a 1995 WWF PPV at times. That being said, it’s not a terrible show. The matches, combined with solid promos and excellent commentary by Jim Ross, make the show quite entertaining.
The 1997 King of the Ring, however, has not aged well, and is a good reminder to younger fans complaining about the current WWE product just how far the WWF/E has come in 20 years. If you’ve never seen the event by all means give it a watch. You’ve got nothing to lose, right?
Currently subscribed to the WWE Network? Then hop over to the Network now and stream the 1997 King of the Ring to re-live all the action or see it for the very first time! As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.
In need of more WWE Network buzz? Then be sure to visit our pals at WWENetworkNews.com.
Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
Watch every King of the Ring, Money in the Bank 2017, and over 8,000 more hours of content on the WWE Network. Your first month is FREE! Click here to subscribe to the WWE Network.