The SmarK Rant for WWF Summerslam 97: Hart & Soul – 08.03.97
(Turns out I had just redone 97 back in 2019, so I’m gonna skip the repost of 96 for the moment and buy some time with 97 and 98. Mostly because this series is going to put my kid through college at this rate and I’d like to milk it for as much as I can before my vacation is over this weekend.)
Live from East Rutherford, NJ, drawing 20,213 and a gigantic $500,000 gate, but with a cruddy 230,000 buys, or a 0.8.
Your hosts are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler.
Cage match: Mankind v. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Hunter dives for the door, but Mankind hauls him back in and kind of gently presses his face on the blue bars. Well that closeup wasn’t terribly impressive. He follows with the running knee in the corner and piledriver, but decides not to go for the door. Mandible claw time, but Chyna reaches through the cage and chokes him out to save. Mick puts him down again and climbs the cage, but Chyna saves again and allows Hunter to get a superplex from the top of the cage. It actually came off as way less impressive than it sounds. Hunter decides not to escape and goes to work on Mankind instead, running him into the cage a few times before deciding to climb out. Mankind follows him up for the slugfest and hauls him back in for more punishment on the cage. And then Chyna interferes AGAIN and Hunter takes over. They fight for a suplex and Mankind hangs him on the cage off that and runs him into the cage a bunch of times. They fight on the top rope and Hunter gets crotched as a result and gets his foot caught, so you’d think Mankind would just walk through the door and win. But NO, Chyna slams the door on his head and beats up the referee, then throws a chair for Hunter to use. Pedigree is reversed into a catapult that knocks Chyna off the cage for the first real heat of the match, and Mick DDTs him on the chair. And then Chyna interferes AGAIN while Mankind climbs out, but that was a botched spot on her part and Hunter had to send her back because she was early. So Mankind changes his mind, climbs to the top of the cage and delivers a flying elbow off the top of the cage, and then climbs out again while Chyna gets the spot right this time and tries to pull Hunter out, but Mick drops first at 16:32 to win. Definitely felt like the feud was out of gas by this point and this was pretty disappointing, with too much Chyna. **1/4 Of course, they’d have one last showdown a month later, which was much better.
Todd Pettingill welcomes Governor Whitman, because she gave the WWF a tax break and so they could return. I find it hilarious that they’re putting their political maneuvering on display as a part of the “entertainment portion of the show”. Where’s IRS to complain about Vince not paying his fair share of taxes? It’s not like they were barred from coming to the state, they just had to pay a tax. As usual, when it benefits them to be sports, they’re sports, but when they need to be entertainment, they’re entertainment.
Meanwhile, Tiger Ali Singh and his dad are in the audience, about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
Goldust v. Brian Pillman
So in the first of our stipulation matches for the evening, if Pillman loses, he has to wear a dress on RAW. Pillman attacks in the corner to start, but Goldust hits him with an elbow and slugs away. Pillman bails off that and comes back with an elbow, but decides to run after Marlena and Goldust cuts him off on the floor. Back in, Pillman gets a suplex and goes up, but Goldust slams him and Pillman decides to take the bump by falling on the top rope and bumping to the floor. I don’t know why he went in that direction with it, but it looked like he nearly broke his neck taking that fall and it was really dumb of him. Goldust follows and Pillman DDTs him out there and back in for the chinlock. Goldust fights back with a backslide for two, but PIllman cuts him off with a clothesline for two. They slug it out and Goldust wins that to make the comeback, but Pillman blocks the bulldog and Goldust bumps to the floor. Back in with a horribly botched sunset flip, and for some reason they decided to keep trying to finish the move with Pillman struggling to “block” it by grabbing the ropes, which allows Marlena to hit him with the purse for the pin at 7:15. Just sad and embarrassing to watch. ½*
The Legion of Doom v. The Godwinns
Big brawl to start and Hawk clotheslines Henry off the apron, so the Godwinns retreat and throw a tantrum. Back in, Animal misses a charge on PIG, but comes back with a double clothesline on both Godwinns and they bail again. Back in, Henry chokes Hawk, but they fight to the floor and Hawk runs him into the stairs. Back in, Godwinns take over on Hawk and PIG gets a hangman’s neckbreaker on Hawk, which goes nowhere. Over to Animal and works on Henry’s arm but gets caught in the corner and bumps into the railing to get the heat. Captain Lou is randomly sitting ringside for this one and I’m wondering if he was trying for a job yet again. Back in, Phineas with a bearhug as this drags on and they manage to botch a heel miscommunication spot. So it was a mis-miscommunication spot, I guess. Hot tag Hawk and the crowd’s not particularly hot for it, and the neckbreaker gets two on Henry. LOD double-teams Henry with corner clotheslines and set up the Doomsday Device, but PIG saves and they do a stuff piledriver instead to finish at 9:50. Because THAT’S way more safe on the guy with the broken neck, I guess. ½*
Meanwhile, it’s the $1 million giveaway, where they’re totally going to give away $1 million! So there’s a board with 100 keys on it and two contestants pick keys. This was NEVER explained on TV leading up to this, by the way. It was just “Enter the contest and you could win $1 million!” And then Todd calls two more contestants, and the first number doesn’t answer. LIVE TV! The second number is disconnected, because of course it is. LIVE TV! And then the THIRD call is to a guy who isn’t watching the show. And then his key doesn’t open the money anyway. Luckily the fourth person called actually answers the phone, but no one wins the money and that’s the last we ever heard about this whole deal. Good thing Vince learned his lesson about trying to call people and give away $1 million live on TV!
European title: British Bulldog v. Ken Shamrock
So your next Cornette stipulation is that whoever loses has to eat a can of dog food. Or maybe just Davey Boy? I don’t think it was ever really clarified after the stip was announced that one week. Pretty obvious how they’ll get out of this one but the feud didn’t have any particular heat anyway. Shamrock quickly goes for the ankle, but Bulldog makes the ropes, so Shamrock clotheslines him for two. Ken slugs away in the corner, working the BREADBASKET, and follows with a kneelift. Bulldog comes back with a clothesline of his own to take over, and a delayed suplex gets two. We hit the chinlock and Bulldog pounds away on the ropes, and a small package gets two. Back to the chinlock as Shamrock has managed to start bleeding from the mouth somehow. They fight to the floor and Shamrock makes a comeback, but Bulldog goes low and tries a suplex onto the stairs, which just kind of results in Shamrock flopping to the floor to block. Back in, Bulldog with another chinlock and he dumps Shamrock again, but makes the mistake of throwing some dog food at him and Shamrock SNAPS and I guess they’re both counted out at 7:34, or maybe Shamrock was DQ’d for going crazy, I dunno, it was never announced. And then Ken goes nuts and puts him in a sleeper, drawing way more heat than for anything in the match, until the Usual Gang of Idiots break it up and he beats them all up as well. Just a super basic match for Shamrock. **
Los Boriquas v. DOA
Time for the highlight of any 1997 PPV, the GANG WARZ! Skull and 8 Ball slam some Boriquas and 8 Ball gets a sideslam on Jose, and Crush comes in with a legdrop for two. Backbreaker on Miguel gets two. Chainz comes in and drops elbows on Jesus, and the Harrisses drop him on the top turnbuckle. Skull gets caught in the Boriqua corner and worked over, while the Nation heads down through the crowd to watch at ringside and suck even more attention away from the match. Skull continues to sell in the corner as this is going nowhere and it’s just Skull getting the heat forever. Finally Chainz gets a hot tag and does some impressive power stuff as everyone brawls aimlessly. Chainz goes to the floor and goes after Ahmed for some reason, resulting in Ahmed powerbombing him on the floor and tearing up his own knee yet again. Back in, Chainz gets pinned at 9:15 to end it as Boriquas win again despite being the least over of the groups. And then Crush drives his motorcycle to ringside, apparently trying to kill someone live on PPV. I’m pretty sure that’s a violation of probation. *
Intercontinental title: Owen Hart v. Steve Austin
You may have heard of this match before. Owen goes right after the bad knee and KICKS THE LEG OUT FROM UNDER HIS LEG during Austin’s entrance, but Austin fires back with the Thesz Press and the crowd finally has something to go crazy for. Austin with a hairtoss and he chokes away on the ropes and clotheslines Owen for two. Austin works a wristlock and goes after the arm, but Owen sends him into the post to take over. We get some SMALL JOINT MANIPULATION as Owen bites the fingers and pulls on them. I feel like pulling Austin’s finger would be dangerous. Austin gets tied in the ropes and Owen beats on him there, but Austin escapes and blocks a rana with a powerbomb. Clothesline puts Owen on the floor and I’m disappointed he didn’t follow with a tope con hilo, I’m not gonna lie. Owen decides to take a walk and Austin hauls him back in and stomps away in the corner, but Owen cuts him off with a belly to belly. Neckbreaker and legdrop get two. Owen goes up with a flying elbow for two and goes to a neck vice as JR talks about Austin’s historical neck problems and how he’s having trouble with it in this match. You don’t say. Austin fights back with a clothesline out of the corner and tries a Sharpshooter, but Owen is the inventor of the hold and fights out easily. Clothesline gets two off that. Austin rolls through a bodypress for two, but Owen hits a great german suplex for two. Owen with a camel clutch as JR is still talking about Austin’s injured neck, but Austin fights back until Owen gets a DDT for two. Owen with a chinlock, but Austin fights out and gets a sleeper. Owen reverses and Austin escapes with a jawbreaker, but goes up and gets hit on the way down. Owen with a Russian legsweep for two and he goes back to the chinlock to put more pressure on the neck, and he puts his feet on the ropes for leverage like a good heel. Austin makes the comeback and tries a gutwrench, but Owen reverses to a tombstone and that’s the fateful piledriver. Austin is out cold and Owen stalls for time because the finish was supposed to be three piledrivers and then Austin coming back with the stunner, but instead Owen walks around the ring and gives Austin his back, as Austin miraculously manages a rollup for the pin and the title at 16:20 despite being unable to move. Easily the best match of the show before the horrific botched piledriver that changed the course of wrestling. ***1/2 Man, these days they would have immediately thrown up the X and taken him out on a stretcher, but here Austin manages to get to his feet and three referees help him out. So as we’ve discussed endlessly, Austin had to change his entire style as a result of the neck injury, going to a pure brawler that defined “main event style” for years to come.
WWF title: Undertaker v. Bret Hart
Speaking of changing wrestling, Shawn Michaels is special referee here just before doing the heel turn that would win the Monday Night Wars. According to the documentary. So Bret is at the absolute peak of his heel run here, and of course it was a very sharp descent downwards for him immediately afterwards. Bret nails Undertaker with the title belt before the bell and beats on Undertaker, but that goes badly for him and Taker chases him to the floor and runs him into the railing. Back in and Taker pounds away on Bret while Vince lets us know that Austin has been taken to the hospital with neck problems. Taker with the bearhug and he tries the big boot, but Bret goes after the knee like in every other Undertaker v. Bret match ever. Bret with the figure-four and Taker fights out, so Bret heads out and takes out the knee again, setting up the RINGPOST FIGURE-FOUR, one of the most ridiculous spots ever to get over as big as it did. Back in, Bret stays on the knee while the Hart Foundation joins us, and finally Taker stomps Bret from his back to escape and goes after the Harts to get rid of them. Bret goes for the knee again, but gets chokeslammed as a result, and Shawn is busy with the Harts and isn’t there to count. Bret rolls him up for two and Taker puts Bret down with a clothesline while Shawn wisely cries innocence and runs away, but that gives Bret a chance to go after UT’s back this time. Bret goes up with the middle rope elbow, which gets two. DDT gets two. Crowd’s not popping for any of these near-falls. Taker comes back with a version of Snake Eyes for two, but Bret gets the legsweep and legdrop. Time for the Sharpshooter, but Taker chokes him to make the comeback and Bret goes to the knee again to cut him off. This gives us what I believe is the historic LAST EVER “See saw matchup back and forth” from Vince before he left commentary duties for good. Taker whips him into the corner for the Bret Hart Turnbuckle Bump, and that gets two. Big boot and legdrop get two. Bret bails to the apron and Taker and brings him back in with a chokeslam for two. Shawn’s got a hell of a count as a referee, actually. Moves pretty well for a guy recovering from career-ending knee surgery. Taker with the ropewalk, but Bret crotches him to set up a superplex after a botched first attempt. Both are out and Bret recovers first with the Sharpshooter this time, but Taker powers him out of the ring to escape. Taker comes back with a clothesline and tries the tombstone, but Bret takes the knee again and tries a new wacky variation on the Sharpshooter around the ringpost. That goes badly for him, and Shawn gets bumped in the process, causing him to finally sell that darn knee injury. Back in, Bret nails Taker with a chair, and that gets two. Finally Shawn can take no more and grabs the chair himself, prompting Bret to spit on him and an enraged Shawn to take a home run swing with the chair…and he hits Undertaker, allowing Bret to get the pin and the title at 28:14. Oh man, Undertaker is going to be VERY unhappy with Shawn about that, I’d bet. And the garbage rains down on Bret as he claims his fifth and final WWF title. Technically solid match with a HELL of a finish that led to some very big stuff, but wasn’t a classic on its own or anything. ***1/4
Overall, I’d call this one a huge disappointment. The RAWs building up to it were incredibly effective and they sold the place out well in advance, but it just collapsed under the weight of its own expectations. On the scale of Burn It / Avoid It / Skim It / Watch It / Binge It, I’d go with SKIM IT. The last two matches were really good and worth watching, but it’s not enough to go full thumbs up on it. Bret and Taker had a way better match at One Night Only later in the month.
Totally random note: The closing credit is “Copyright 1997 Evart Enterprises”, so the Network version is actually the Coliseum Video one instead of the PPV feed. Dunno why.