Since 1988 SummerSlam has marked the unofficial end of summer for fans all around the world.
In anticipation of the 30th annual SummerSlam coming up on August 20th, Throwback Thursday once again dips into the archives of the WWE Network; this time to revisit SummerSlam ’97 which took place 20 years ago today!
Featuring one of the greatest main events in the PPV event’s history, SummerSlam ’97 came as the WWF was gaining steam and preparing to overtake World Championship Wrestling. Though Bret Hart’s contractual situation with the WWF was about to explode and Stone Cold Steve Austin would suffer a career-shortening neck injury at the hands of Owen Hart at this event, the future was bright for the WWF. Where WCW was struggling to push the next generation’s stars, the WWF couldn’t push theirs fast enough, as SummerSlam ’97 vividly illustrates.
For those wondering, all previous editions of Monday Night RAW as well as all prior PPVs are currently available on the WWE Network for you to enjoy right now!
WWF SummerSlam ’97: Hart & Soul (WATCH)
Date: August 3, 1997 – Location: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Attendance: 20, 213 (Record for the venue) – PPV Buyrate: 0.80 (>285,250 homes)
Commentators: Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, & Jerry Lawer – Interviews: Todd Pettingill & Michael Cole
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: Stone Cold Steve Austin & Dude Love
The show opens cold with the U.S. national anthem, during which a sign reading “Bischoff smells Turner’s ass” is visible above over Vince McMahon’s shoulder. After the anthem we get the usual open followed by yet another classic opening vignette focusing on the main event between Undertaker and Bret Hart, who is described as “a fallen idol”, and special referee Shawn Michaels. “Life isn’t fair, but whoever said it would be?”
In the arena, with steel cage already set up and the pyro going off, Vince McMahon welcomes us to the show. Vince introduces Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler and the three do a stand-up next to their table to discuss the coming main events before going to the ring for the opening contest.
Before Mankind come out we see clips of the Helmsley/Mankind brawl from July’s Canadian Stampede event as well as the brawl from the previous week’s RAW.
— “Steel Cage Match” (WATCH – 4:37)
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/Chyna vs. Mankind
This match, for my money, is the match that marks the end of the “Greenwich blue blood” and the birth of “Triple H”. A classic war that truly gets better with age, this match features a litany of truly unforgettable moments. The physicality and psychology in this one are both topnotch, as one would expect, with Chyna stealing the match with her repeated interference, be it choking Mankind through the bars of the cage or slamming the cage door on Mankind’s head. After taking care of Chyna, Mankind nails the double arm DDT on a steel chair and climbs out of the cage. Before touching the floor Mankind stops, removes his mask, and climbs back up. At the top Mankind opens the front of his shirt before hitting a massive elbow on Helmsley. Mankind climbs back over the cage as Chyna struggles to pull Helmsly out and wins the match at 16:24.
WINNER is Mankind (Escape, 16:24)
After the match Vince talks about seeing a heart on Mankind’s chest but the tattoo obviously rubbed off. Mankind’s music stops and Dude Love’s music starts. Mankind, still lying on the floor, begins tapping his foot and dancing to the music, quickly standing up and dancing/hobbling his way to the back as we see replays of the finish.
Next, Todd Pettingill interviews then-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, who comes out with Gorilla Monsoon and The Headbangers. We see a variety of press clippings regarding Whitman’s successful bid to eliminate taxes that were keeping the WWF from running televised shows in the state for nearly 8 years. Pettingill thanks Whitman for her work and Whitman says that they’re “ready to rumble in New Jersey.” Whitman calls the Headbanger’s “New Jersey’s best”, which is just frightening. Monsoon calls Whitman the “true people’s champion” before naming her honorary WWF Champion and presenting the governor a WWF Championship title belt.
Before the next match we see Tiger Jeet Singh and his son Tiger Ali Singh in the crowd and footage of the “beach party” that took place in the Continental Airlines Arena parking lot that featured a slew of WWF talent from The Road Warriors to Shawn Michaels.
As Goldust makes his way to the ring we see footage from last week’s RAW of Pillman attacking Goldust and Marlena jumping Pillman’s back. As Pillman comes to the ring we see a pre-taped promo from Pillman saying he’s not that easy, that Marlena will need to “wine and dine” Pillman before he’ll get into Marlena’s dress.
— “Grudge Match” – Brian Pillman Must Wear a Dress if he Loses (WATCH – 30:04)
Goldust w/Marlena vs. Brian Pillman
This match is an even, back and forth contest through out with neither man getting any real sustained momentum. Though the match is relatively slow at times it features enough creative spots and good action to keep it fun. In the end Goldust botches a sunset flip which Pillman somehow manages to save. Pillman grabs the ropes only for Marlena to deck him, allowing Goldust to score the pin at 7:16. After the match Marlena slides the dress wearing mannequin in the ring which Pillman promptly destroys before leaving the ring.
WINNER is Goldust w/Marlena (Pin, 7:16)
Next we get a shot of the Empire State Building and Vince announcing the record-breaking attendance of 20,213.
As The Godwinns come to the ring we see footage of the Legion of Doom breaking Henry’s neck with the Doomsday Device from the April 26, 1997 edition of Shotgun Saturday Night (a series currently unavailable on the Network), an injury that would eventually end his career. Next we see clips of the The Godwinns retaliating by trying to break Road Warrior Hawk’s neck.
Backstage Hawk and Animal cut a promo about the fight ending tonight and that “payback is gonna be hell”.
— “Tag Team Grudge Match” (WATCH – 42:58)
The Godwinns (Henry & Phineas) vs. The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal)
This one starts out as a street fight before settling down to a more traditional match. This isn’t a bad match but it may have been better for this to be a “no DQ” match or falls-count-anywhere considering the story. The story is pretty simple with the Road Warriors wanting revenge for the attacks and Godwinns looking to break Hawk’s neck. The match breaks down into a fight late with the Road Warriors eventually hitting a spike piledriver on Henry Godwinn for the pin at 10:21.
WINNERS are The Legion of Doom (Road Warrior Hawk & Road Warrior Animal) (Pin, 10:21)
Next up is one of the true, legendary train wrecks in WWF/E PPV history. Todd Pettingill, joined by Sable and Sunny (who clearly are not fans of the others work), is standing with two contest winners. Behind them is a casket filled with $1,000,000 cash. The goal is to pick the key that opens the casket to earn the money. But the two winners are not alone. Two fans from around the country who answered the “clues” are also eligible, at random, to pick a key and try for the prize. Pettingill only has to call them. What could go wrong? Pettingill dials the first number and no one answers; the second number is out of service; and the third number is to “Michael”, who isn’t watching because his cable company doesn’t carry it. “Michael” chooses a key but it doesn’t work. Todd next calls “Rebecca”, whose key also doesn’t work. Next the two winners on stage try their keys and neither of the keys work. Pettingill asks Norm, a contest supervisor, to reveal the winning key (#3) and open the casket. Indeed, inside the casket was a million dollars in one dollar bills.
Next we see footage from the previous week’s RAW of the Davey Boy/Shamrock arm wrestling contest in which Davey attacked Shamrock, smearing canned dog food all over Shamrock’s head and chest.
— WWF European Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:06:24)
“The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock vs. “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith(c)
This one starts with Shamrock taking it to Bulldog from near pillar to post before Bulldog takes over. Shamrock is extremely green in this one but it’s not as bad as one might expect. The match becomes a street fight on the outside of the ring when Bulldog smears a handful of dog food on Shamrock’s face. Shamrock goes berserk and gloms Bulldog with the can of food twice, leading to the DQ in Bulldog’s favor at 7:26. After the match Shamrock shoves the referee away and stomps the bejabbers out of Bulldog before choking Bulldog out in the middle of the ring as numerous officials run in to get Shamrock off of Davey Boy. Shamrock then hits the belly-to-belly on Pat Patterson, Brisco, and three referees, becoming a star in New Jersey in the process.
WINNER and STILL WWF European Champion, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith (Disqualification, 7:26)
In the back Pettingill interviews Shawn Michaels who says he’s there to be impartial and fair and that there’s “nothing” between himself and Bret Hart.
At ringside, as the ring is being cleaned up, Vince, Lawler and JR talk about Shamrock being a loose cannon.
Next we see footage of the origins of the Disciples of Apocalypse and Los Boricuas including the events that led up to the following match.
— “8-Man Tag Team Warfare” (WATCH – 1:22:28)
Los Boricuas (Savio Vega, Miguel Perez, Jr., Jose Estrada, Jr., & Jesus Castillo, Jr.) vs. Disciples of Apocalypse (Crush, Chainz, Skull, & 8-Ball)
Another match that starts fast and loose before settling down a bit. Billed as 8-man “tag team warfare”, it’s anything but. While there’s some good tag work in the match it’s more of a random mess than a solid tag team contest. Partway through the match the Nation of Domination come to ringside through the crowd. In the ring Los Boricuas take over and pummel Skull. Not surprisingly the match breaks down in the end and Skull ends up going after Ahmed Johnson, who delivers the Pearl River Plunge on Skull before rolling him back in the ring where Miguel Perez, Jr. hits the big elbow for the win at 9:08. After the match the D.O.A. and the Nation brawl as Los Boricuas walk to the back. Crush gets on his motorcycle and looks to try and run somebody down before circling the ring and riding straight to the back.
WINNERS are Los Boricuas (Savio Vega, Miguel Perez, Jr., Jose Estrada, Jr., & Jesus Castillo, Jr.) (Pin, 9:08)
Next we get a vignette highlighting the Owen Hart/ Stone Cold feud. With Owen in the ring Michael Cole tries to interview Stone Cold about his promise to kiss Owen’s ass if he didn’t win the title. Austin roughs up Cole and threatens to make Cole kiss Austin’s ass before storming to the ring.
— WWF Intercontinental Championship – “Champion vs. Champion Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:37:41)
WWF World Tag Team Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Owen Hart(c)
This one is easily one of the most infamous matches in WWF/E history and a match that changed the direction of the World Wrestling Federation forever. Owen jumps on Austin before the bell and attempts to destroy Austin’s knee until Austin lands the Lou Thesz Press. After posting Austin, Owen goes after Austin’s fingers. The match settles into a very good back-and-forth battle of wills until Owen hits a sit-out reverse piledriver that leaves Austin unable to move in the ring. Somehow Austin manages to pull off a school boy for the pin, and the Intercontinental title, at 16:16. This marked the end of Owen’s first Intercontinental title reign at 97-days and was Austin’s first Intercontinental title win.
WINNER and NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion, Stone Cold Steve Austin (Pin, 16:16)
After the match Steve Austin can hardly move. Three referees come out and help Austin out of the ring and to the back. As Austin is led to the back they replay the piledriver that injured Austin.
Next we see an excellent vignette highlighting the Bret Hart/Undertaker feud and Shawn Michaels’ role as special referee, including HBK’s proclamation that if he doesn’t call the match fairly then Michaels, like Bret Hart (should Hart lose), will never wrestle in America again. “In the biggest WWF title match of the year pride, power, and conflict will rule.”
In the arena Vince, Lawler, and Ross discuss Stone Cold’s injury and what will happen in the main event. The banter, reminiscent of what one might hear/see prior to a main event of a “legitimate” combat sport, adds a feel of legitimacy and urgency to the upcoming WWF title match.
Bret comes to the ring first and tells the crowd to “stand back and listen to the Canadian national anthem.” Hart then dedicates the match to all the Canadian fans who feel as he does about America and its citizens.
— WWF World Heavyweight Championship – If Bret Hart Doesn’t Win He Will Never Wrestle in the United States Again (WATCH – 2:00:52)
Special Guest Referee: Shawn Michaels
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. The Undertaker(c)
Few matches in the history of the WWF/E are as important as this one. The match itself is a physical, psychological, see-saw tour de force with everyone playing their parts perfectly. It is, in many respects, an early “Attitude Era” main event in that it’s as much a brawl on the outside of the ring as a wrestling match inside of it. Be that as it may, it’s an excellent match and one of the very best WWF Championship matches to this point in event history.
After 27-minutes of intense action Bret puts Undertaker in the Sharpshooter around the ring post only for Undertaker to kick Bret off and onto Shawn Michaels on the floor. With Michaels still hurt on the outside Bret grabs a chair and blasts Undertaker in the forehead with it. After a two-count Michaels and Bret begin arguing over the chair and Bret loses his cool, cussing at Michaels before spitting in the Heartbreak Kid’s face. HBK loses his temper and swings the chair, braining Undertaker with it by mistake! Bret Hart pulls Undertaker away from the ropes and makes the cover as a shocked Shawn Michaels reluctantly counts the 1-2-3 at 28:08. This brought Undertaker’s 2nd WWF World Heavyweight title reign to an end at 133-days. This also marked Bret Hart’s 5th (and final) WWF World Heavyweight title win, matching the record set by Hulk Hogan in 1993.
WINNER and NEW WWF World Heavyweight Champion, Bret “Hitman” Hart (Pin, 28:08)
After the match an outraged Shawn Michaels heads to the back as a shocked Undertaker staggers behind. In the ring, as the garbage flies, Bret celebrates his win. “The impossible has happened at this year’s SummerSlam,” Vince says. After replays of the finish Bret is joined in the ring by the rest of the Hart Foundation. The irate New Jersey crowd begins to file out in droves as the Hart Foundation walk up the aisle and the PPV comes to a close.
SummerSlam ’97, when compared to past SummerSlams, is a nearly perfect show.
Featuring an excellent opener, semi-main, and main event, the card is stacked with decent (though repetitive) matches from start to finish. For those wondering, this event marked the end for Todd Pettingill in the WWF. Michael Cole, whom Pettingill suggested, takes Todd’s place after this event.
Already subscribed to the WWE Network? Then you can relive SummerSlam ’97, or see it for the first time, right now! And as always, let us know what you think down in the comments below.
Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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