I just fancied watching this pay-per-view, which was the first In Your House event to be shown live in the UK, so a review follows. This was from the mature peak of my fandom as a fully-fledged Bret Hart and Hart Foundation fan, although the rising Steve Austin was a big favourite too.
Held on April 20th, 1997, at the Rochester Community War Memorial in Rochester, New York, with Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary.
Could this be the first PPV with Freddie Blassie providing an ominous voiceover on the intro video?
Legion of Doom vs. British Bulldog and Owen Hart
Some kid in the crowd looks like he’s dug his 1991 LOD shoulder pads and toy tag team belt out of mothballs. Even though this was a period I very much liked, it wasn’t saying much that the Road Warriors had done a job to the heel Godwinns via outside interference in the buildup to this match. Davey and Owen were glorious here with three belts and two Slammy awards between them. Animal starts with Owen, elbowing him with a shot that looked like it had a foot between the tip and Owen’s head. Then Hawk and Davey in, with at least Hawk’s chops sounding like they sting. Owen reacts brilliantly to an “Up yours!” from Hawk. Vertical suplex on Hawk that I’m shocked he sold. Owen back in, but Animal gets the better of him after a failed Sharpshooter attempt. In a cutaway, Steve Austin makes a late arrival after a flat tyre and calls Pat Patterson a jackass while Hawk gets a splash that lands on Owen’s head. Enziugiri swings it back to the Harts, though. Heel miscommunication ends with Davey getting squashed with clotheslines from front and back and Animal hitting a Gravedigger powerslam from the second rope to seemingly win the tag belts, but Plane Ride from Hell apologist Mike Chioda comes out to clarify that the illegal man was pinned, so the match must continue.
So, back in with Animal and Davey Boy, but Owen gets a leg lariat out of nowhere. Neckbreaker and legdrop for one. Hawk gets tagged in and clotheslines both guys multiple times. Doomsday Device looks to finish, but Bret Hart, running late and the ref having to stall before going for the interrupted three-count, runs in for the DQ. Bad match with terrible timing and relatively little heat given the capabilities of all involved. 0/1.
Dok Hendrix interviews the champs backstage and delivers the bad news that Steve Austin has turned up, implying that they might have had something to do with his delay.
Sunny and Brian Pillman flirt with one another while promoting the Superstar Line. Don’t know if this was before or after their brief affair.
Savio Vega vs. Rocky Maivia
PG-13 modify their Nation of Domination rap to focus on Savio. Savio had actually beaten Rocky in a non-title match in the infamous Johannesburg episode of Raw that saw Vince Russo become the lead writer straight after. Rocky, as defending IC champ, shows zero confidence in his pre-match promo or entrance. His look, white babyface boots aside, was improving, though, although he was wrestling as his dad at this point. Faarooq comes out to join the commentary team but his headset won’t work, so JR falls on his sword for the greater good. Savio gets his inside to the outside leg lariat in the corner to take over on Rocky. Faarooq pushes his gauntlet match challenge to Ahmed Johnson, which was actually originally booked for this show but Ahmed had legitimately injured him too badly for them to be able to do it. Nervehold on the inside barely electrifies the crowd while Faarooq, head of the Redundant Party for Redundancy, says “That fool is an idiot” in reference to Johnson. Rocky gets a Perfectplex out of nowhere, but Savio puts him back down with a spinning kick while suggesting that if Ahmed or Rocky joined up with them then they could settle their issues, which in both cases ended up happening. Hurricane DDT gets two for Rocky. Comeback commences, including a nice back suplex that Rocky kips straight up after delivering. Rock Bottom before it was Rock Bottom gets a nearfall. Rocky takes a tumble and falls on Crush, so Crush gives him the heart punch on the outside, leading to a count out win for Savio while Savio just stands there and lets it happen rather than dragging him back in for the pinfall. Another shit finish that made no sense other than being an early setup for the Gang Warz. 0/2. The beating continues on Rocky until Ahmed, doing his Jim Duggan impression, runs in for the save and to accept the challenge.
Backstage, Ken Shamrock sit with the American Online guy while looking like it’s the first time he’s ever seen a computer as Vince babbles about him challenging Mike Tyson in something that went nowhere although it wasn’t the last time we’d hear about Mike Tyson in the WWF.
Dok Hendrix catches up with Sable and Marc Mero next to the toilets in a low key classic moment. Steve Austin stomps by to go to the loo, but we hear yelling from the outside, followed by Davey and Owen running out with a bent pipe, giving an awesome double take at the camera before running off. But what was Dave Hebner doing in there as well? Really funny bit.
Jesse James vs. Mystery Opponent
From classic to stinker in seconds. James had turned down the Honky Tonk Man in his search for a new protege, as had Billy Gunn, but for the lack of being able to sign Disco Inferno we get a retcon that Billy had shown a nastier edge, so he gets to be Rockabilly, with the bejazzled jacket being the only difference between Smoking Gunn Billy Gunn and Rockabilly. James knocks Billy out of the ring and gets his flying clothesline off the apron, a move he strangely ditched when he and Billy became the New Age Outlaws. Back in, Billy gets his SLOOOOOOOW heel offense. To say these two took a long time to find their feet is an understatement. JR is basically stealth burying both guys on commentary. Rockabilly sets up a tornado DDT of all things, but gets small packaged and defeated in his repackaged debut. Honky tried to look enthusiastic and make some of it work, but the embarrassment shone through. 0/3.
Dok tries to sell an Undertaker door banner, which I’m sure they probably still have piles of unsold copies of somewhere.
Kevin Kelly talks to Austin in the locker room, who says he’ll still wrestle tonight. Gorilla Monsoon, looking out of place, has shuffled the lineup to buy Austin some recovery time.
LANCE WRIGHT talks to the Hart Foundation in their locker room. Davey and Owen concoct a story about having a celebration in the toilet – strange place. Bret keeps it simple: “Who’s crying now?”, before smugly walking off. Heel Bret was the biggest dick of all time at this point.
Weird promo video for the WWF championship match, where every bit of strange footage has been included regardless of the link to the Undertaker and Mankind, almost Lynch-like with the slowed down dialogue and reversed speech. Good recap of the awesome matches between them in the year prior before switching to the fireball Mankind threw in Undertaker’s eyes. Mankind then cuts a promo before the match with snot in his beard.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker
Taker rushes in in a strange move for him and puts the boots to Mankind. Is there an argument to be made that these two were each other’s greatest opponent? Mankind attacks the injured face and gets his Cactus clothesline, but everyone knows that Taker just lands on his feet on that kind of move, so he double goozles him into the railing one side and sends him into the crowd on another. These two knew what to do to wake up the crowd after the insomniac matches earlier. Nasty ramming of Mankind’s head into the railing, although Mick has said that you could hit that leather mask with anything and it wouldn’t hurt him. Old school, but Mankind breaks the wristlock and walks away, so Taker adjusts and hits a sweet flying clothesline. Tombstone set up but abandoned when Paul Bearer comes up, so Mankind hits Taker with the urn for two. Running kneedrop into the corner follows. Mick had pretty much very pedestrian offense, but his body language was so much better than anybody else’s that it made everything he did look deadly. That’s except the nervehold he goes to, although the crowd actually rewards them by getting into it. Taker breaks with fists of fire, sending Mankind out in a stiff bump. Mankind gets a glass jug from the French announce table and hits him with it on on the outside. Chairshot added to the punishment. Taker just took that full on, no hands up. Flying elbow from the second rope to the floor feels anticlimactic given what it followed.
Back in, Mankind hits his stuff piledriver, which Undertaker, with how tall he was, was pretty much the best at taking and making look nasty. Lawler dream books Mankind, WWF champion, being crowned by Gorilla Monsoon. Vince: “I’m sure we’d find some way to market it.” Taker makes his comeback while Vince refers to the WWF Magazine as a “periodical”. The ref gets squashed in the corner on a clothesline, then Mankind puts out Taker with the Mandible Claw. Another ref comes to take over, but Mankind Mandible Claws him out as well and Paul throws a chair in. That’s not good enough for Mankind, though, so he brings the ring steps in as JR refers to the Jo-Jo Miller incident. Taker dropkicks them (just about) into Mankind’s face. Taker hits Mankind stiffly with the chair too, then traps his head in the ropes too. The mask comes off for the first time, but luckily no ear. As Mankind climbs back up to the apron Taker hits him again with the steps, leading to a dive through the Spanish announce table, going through it headfirst, leading to the awesome visual of him looking like he’s fallen through ice on a pond with his top half sticking out. Back in, chokeslam only gets two, so Taker hits the tombstone for the pin. Awesome match. Bit of a SNAFU afterwards, as there was supposed to be a heel miscommunication leading to Mankind accidentally throwing a fireball in Paul Bearer’s face instead of the Undertaker’s, but Mankind couldn’t get it to work so Taker just improvised and threw it in Bearer’s face instead. Despite the obvious two flubs, I think the final result was better and a better revenge link to the debut of Kane. Forgotten classic match. 1/4.
Backstage, Bret Hart talks about it being a war between him and Austin with sarcasm oozing out of every pore while Paul Bearer wails away in the background.
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Bret comes out with his boys as backup, but the referees cut them off and send them back. Gorilla comes out to make it official while Owen rants hilariously (“That’s my brother!”). Quick start again to win over the previously deflated crowd once more. Steve gets a snap suplex that would soon be a forgotten part of his offense when he reinvented his style due to injury. Bret gets thrown into the stairs on the outside. Austin was the top babyface in the company by this point but still playing it pretty heelish to differentiate himself from everybody else. Bret gets sent into the crowd and Steve launches himself off the railing with a double axehandle. Back in, Austin drops the elbow off the second rope for two, leading to Bret taking a powder. They fight for a chair over Gorilla. Lawler heckles Monsoon from the commentary table, so Gorilla tells him to shut up loudly in his foghorn voice off mic in a funny bit (Lawler: “Don’t tell me to shut up!”). Bret brings a chair in and the ref gets knocked over on a dropkick, so Bret attacks Austin’s knee and neck with the chair in something that would be mirrored the next night to write Bret out of action for surgery. Bret works over the knee while Austin does his best to fight back, but Bret has the ringpost figure four in mind. After the break it’s more chair shots to the knee, although it’s clearly the post getting hit and not the knee. We get to see Paul Bearer being wheeled out with a burnt face while swearing up a storm about the Undertaker in a fantastic bit of heeling. Austin finally gets a break by punching Bret in the balls. Another shot at an elbow off the second just further injures his knee, so Bret twists his leg in the ropes and kicks away. He foregoes the Sharpshooter for the figure four. Austin’s brace comes off after a break, but Bret can’t get take two of the ringspot figure four and is dumped again into the crowd. Austin was really subtly turning his punches into classic babyface punches as the match went on. Back in, Bret takes his classic turnbuckle bump for two. Piledriver, but Austin’s leg buckles on it and Bret is back up faster. Stun Gun into the turnbuckle for a two count. Austin goes for the Stunner but Bret holds onto the ropes and then kicks him in the balls in a bit of payback. Bret muscles him up for the superplex off the top and goes for an awkward Sharpshooter, but Austin’s brace is nearby so Austin hits him with it and they transition right into a Sharpshooter reversal. Davey and Owen try to run in for the save but get cut off before Davey sneaks in with a chair shot to the back for the DQ. Good match, but not on a par with their prior matches and the famous streetfight aside they never did have their ultimate final encounter given Bret’s departure. Bret goes for the bell, but Austin hits his knee with a chair and returns to the Sharpshooter to establish Bret’s knee injury for the following night. 2/5.
Melting it down: The story with WCW at the time was awesome undercards and shit main events, while the WWF was vice versa, and this was pretty evident here.