The Rope Break RETRO: WWE Summerslam 1997

By Curtis Suthard – 8/6/2017

 

The Rope Break RETRO:

Summerslam 1997

Credit: WWE

There is some debate for just when the “Attitude Era” began in the late 90’s. Some say that it all started at The King of the Ring 1996, where Stone Cold Steve Austin first informed everyone that Austin 3:16 says, “I just whooped your ass!”. While, others point to Survivor Series 1997 and the “Montreal Screw-Job” as the moment that everything changed. When the outcome of the Main Event was altered, unbeknownst to the current champion, Bret Hart, who was on his way out of the company, and things got out of control. The chaotic reality that was on display that night, is something wrestling fans still talk about and dissect to this day. WWE did officially swap things over to the “Attitude” logo after this event in early December. Though, there are still others who point to a moment a little further down the line, at Wrestlemania 1998 as the official starting point.

Whichever date you may choose to point to as the start of the “Attitude Era”, it is undeniable that Summerslam 1997 was one of the cornerstones in its foundation. With seven hard-hitting matches, this show was laying out the groundwork for everything that was soon to come. From Mankind and Triple H’s rough and tumble steel cage match. Which was highlighted by one of the most memorable Mick Foley moments in his career. To Stone Cold getting his neck broken by the late, great Owen Hart. And, rounded out by the Main Event which saw Undertaker taking a beating from Anti-American heel, Bret Hart with Shawn Michaels as the referee. A match that helped lead in to the very “Screw-Job” that was to come only a few months later at Survivor Series. This was a good PPV and a very important moment in WWE history, if not wrestling history all together. So, let’s break it down and take a look back at all of the highs and lows of Summerslam ’97.

Credit: WWE

Hunter Hearst Helmsley W/ Chyna VS. Mankind (Steel Cage Match): A great match to start off the whole shebang. It warms my heart a bit to see those big blue bars of steel surrounding the ring instead of chain-link fencing. And then, throw Mick Foley/Mankind into the middle of it and I am hooked. Of course, as an added bonus, we also get Chyna along with Pre-Triple H, Blue-Blood, Hunter Hearst Helmsley. If you are looking for a pure show of technical wrestling, go find something else. Because this is going to be a rough and tumble series of stiff shots and bumps.

Credit: WWE

Mankind was going through his “Faces of Foley”-gimmick at this point, having introduced the world at large to Dude Love, one of his pre-professional wrestling characters. Mick would slip between the two characters at times and was even one half of the Tag Team Champions, as Dude Love, with Stone Cold Steve Austin. In some of his early home videos, a younger Mick Foley would record him and his friends in goofy backyard wrestling segments. In one of those videos, Foley, as Dude Love, leapt off of the roof of his friend’s home, copying one of the finishing moments in a pivotal match for Foley, which occurred between Superfly Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco. Foley would go on to reenact that moment a bit more accurately at the end of this match in a moment that many fans can easily recall as he dove off the top of the cage, much like Snuka had done so many years before.

Credit: WWE

Though that finish was definitely memorable, the rest of the match was pretty decent, for a steel cage match. Hunter was hardly ever on the offense in this match at all. Hunter’s biggest offensive moment came in the form of a Superplex that he gave Mankind, who was perched in the corner of the cage. That bump, to me at least, was possibly the hardest one Mankind took in the whole match. But, beyond that, the match was all Mankind…and Chyna. Chyna was on fire! Choking Mankind through the bars with her belt, taking shots at Foley as he poked his head out between the bars of the cage and slamming the cage door, hard, on his noggin as Mankind was trying to crawl out and escape the cage for the win. That shot is another that makes me cringe a little, as it just looks like Mankind takes the slamming steel bars of the door full force. You can see his head and neck almost compress a little from it. Foley suffered a concussion from that shot. Oh, Chyna also punched Mankind square in the nards as well. So, kudos to her!

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And, yes, because it is a steel cage match, we get a heaping helping of those nonsensical moments where either one of the competitors could have easily escaped for the win, but chose not to. Both Foley and Hunter could have just called it quits, but instead opted to keep things going. Though, both of these moments were handled pretty well. The one time Hunter was just walking out of the open cage door, he decided to go back and dish out some more punishment to a seemingly defenseless opponent. Because…y’know…Bad Guy. And, of course Mankind could have just dropped the remaining foot and a half to the floor, after climbing up and over the cage, for the win. But, instead chose to head back up in order to do the famous Elbow Drop/Bodysplash onto a prone Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The moment that was kinda lame, was just as Mankind was climbing out for his leap, Chyna came in the ring and started to try to pull Hunter out. But, at some point, I guess she just decided to give up. Because, all she really ended up doing was reposition Hunter for Mankind to drop onto. Which might have been the reason that she went in there to begin with. But, it just seemed odd that she didn’t pull Hunter out with more urgency then or even just stand in the way of Mankind’s elbow. Or, maybe, I’m overthinking it. Anyway, Chyna then went back into the ring and attempted to pull a motionless Hunter out of the ring in a race against Mankind who was climbing over once again. Fortunately, Mankind managed to be the first to touch the ringside floor and win the match.

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Winner: Mankind

Credit: WWE

We then get treated with a little segment of Todd Pettengill interviewing the Governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd Whitman, accompanied by The Headbangers, who helped repeal some tax on pro-wrestling or whatever. She gets a belt presented to her by Gorilla Monsoon. The only real take away from this whole thing is that Headbanger Mosh makes his signature monkey face behind the Governor, which in turn, made me laugh. So, I felt the need to mention it here because…well…I’m writing this. So, Nah!

Credit: WWE

Goldust W/Marlena VS. Brian Pillman (If Pillman Loses He Must Wear a Dress on RAW): I was a big fan of both of these guys. But, I often forget just how much I liked Brian Pillman. Granted, most of Pillman’s best stuff is pre-WWE/WWF, but he was still doing some fun stuff. This match isn’t really a stand out or anything, but it is decent. Brian Pillman’s whole gimmick at this time, was that he was out of his mind and nicknamed “The Loose Cannon”, so, of course, Pillman starts everything off by attacking Goldust as he is letting Marlena out of the ring. A few moments into the match Pillman backs Goldust into the corner and seems to bite his nose. Which causes some of Goldust’s face paint to transfer all around Pillman’s mouth and nose. Seconds later, Goldust kisses Pillman, spreading even more of the face paint around his nose and mouth. So, to me, it looks as if Pillman had been huffing paint and just fell ass-backwards into a fight.

Credit: WWE

Like I said this was a decent match, mostly because it was relatively short and pretty fast-paced. Two real standout moments seemed to be two botches. The first moment came as Goldust shoved Pillman off of the top turnbuckle, in, what I guess, was an attempt to crotch him on the top rope. Instead, Pillman seemed to miss or slide off of the top rope and landed hard on his shoulder on the ring apron. The other botch came at the finish of the match as Goldust attempted a Sunset Flip from outside to the inside of the ring, to flip Pillman over and pin him. The mistake came as Goldust dove over Pillman, didn’t quite clear him and instead slid down his back and landed awkwardly head first. Pillman held onto the ropes until Marlena bonked him on the head with her possibly loaded purse and Goldust finally finished rolling him up for the win.

Credit: WWE

This match also had a silly stipulation to it that stated if Pillman lost the match, then he must wear Marlena’s dress on RAW the next night. Of course, he did lose and so the next night on RAW he was ordered to put on the dress but refused. That is when the new Commissioner, Sgt. Slaughter informed Pillman that he would wear a dress every match until he won. That first night, good ol’ Sparky Plug (UGH! Or Bob (Hardcore) Holly, if you’re nasty) got to take it to “The Loose Cannon” as he flew around the ring in a very short, gold dress. Pillman also seemed to be wearing women’s panties underneath the dress, which I don’t recall being a part of the deal. So…cool! I guess. Pillman also lost that match and would continue to lose for a few weeks as he continued to suffer the indignity of being forced to wear a dress.

Winner: Goldust

Credit: WWE

The Godwinns VS. The Legion of Doom: The whole setup for this match was a case of getting revenge on the guys who were out to get revenge. You see a little while before this, Henry Godwinn was legitimately injured in a match against L.O.D. when he landed on his head while in L.O.D.’s Doomsday Device finisher. Godwinn cracked his C7 vertebrae and missed a couple of weeks, even though doctors had suggested that he miss a bit more than that. A handful of weeks later, the Godwinns would attack The Legion of Doom on RAW and sort of Scorpion Death Drop Hawk on top of the metal entrance ramp, busting the back of his head open. So, to sum it up, the Godwinns were getting revenge for the injury that the L.O.D. were responsible for when they attacked them. And now, The Legion of Doom are out for revenge for the revenge attack that the Godwinns hit them with. Got it?

Credit: WWE

The match itself was a hard-hitting, often sloppy affair, that ran just enough, but not so long as to become really boring. I love L.O.D, but they were pretty rough around the edges a lot of the time. Hawk and Animal could and did have some really good matches over the years, but more often than not, it was glaringly obvious that these guys would never be confused for technically sound wrestlers. Most offense consisted of clubbing forearms and stiff clotheslines with a Bodyslam or Powerslam thrown in here and there. The Godwinns, Phineas (aka Mideon aka Naked Mideon) and Henry, could also have decent matches and were good workers, but never really stood out too much, at least for me. They too relied a lot on hard shots and strikes, though at times, some technical skill would shine through in some of their matches.

Credit: WWE

Anyway, these four bruisers went at it pounding each other back and forth. The match had a pretty good pace to it and there was some good Tag Team wrestling throughout. Though, there were some obvious moments of bad timing, where the teams were clearly not on the same page. Everything wrapped up with The Legion of Doom going for the Doomsday Device once again on Henry Godwinn. Though, just as Animal was about to lift him up, onto his shoulders, Phineas would come in to try and break it up. Of course, L.O.D. just threw him out of the ring and opted to instead add some insult to injury when Animal decided to give Henry Godwinn a Spike Pildriver with an assist from Hawk who leapt off of the ropes, instead. And, that was that.

Winner: Legion of Doom

Credit: WWE

Next up we get a little segment with my old favorite, Todd Pettengill, along with the very cheeky Sunny and Sable, trying to give away a million bucks in some goofy contest. Two participants, some scrawny Stone Cold look-a-like and some young kid were there live and got to hand pick two keys that may or may not open a chest full of the cash. On top of that, Pettengill also calls up a few people on the phone to give them a chance to pick a number and win. Spoiler Alert: No one wins it and besides the hokey-ness of the whole thing, as well as Sunny and Sable looking fantastic, it’s pretty lame. But, lame in that good way.

Credit: WWE

British Bulldog VS. Ken Shamrock (European Championship/Bulldog Has to Eat Dog Food If He Loses): Members of the Hart Foundation were featured as the heels in four out of the seven matches of this show. Each had a little stipulation tied into it as well. Pillman already lost his match, so would go on to wear a dress. Something we would all be looking forward to (Just admit it!). So the stip for this one was that if Bulldog lost, he would have to eat a can of dog food. Now, no matter how much you may dislike a guy, do you really want to watch someone eat dog food? I mean, I’m not a huge fan of the Bulldog. Heck, he even once flipped me the bird and told me what he thought of me and my buddy at the Palm Beach Auditorium (we deserved it! And, it is still a highlight of my live wrestling experiences). But, even I don’t care to watch the guy eat dog food. Sure, I know, Bulldog dumped dog food all over Shamrock on the previous RAW and all. So it makes sense, I guess. Still a dumb punishment.

Credit: WWE

This was an okay match. I was never really sold on Ken Shamrock and the only times I found him interesting is when he lost it and went berserk. But, he kind of stunk as a pro wrestler. Bulldog carried this match as Shamrock just took a pummeling throughout nearly the whole thing. Bulldog went for a Suplex or something outside of the ring at one point towards the end, but both guys slipped and just fell flat. After throwing Shamrock into the ring and beating on him a bit more, Bulldog rolled him back outside and Bodyslammed Shamrock at ringside. Davey Boy then grabbed a handful of wet dog food out of a can and slapped it into Shamrock’s face, which set him off. Ken went ballistic (the one thing he was good at), hit Bulldog over the head with the dog food can, which got him disqualified. But, that didn’t stop Shamrock. He rolled Bulldog back into the ring and choked him out as refs and officials tried to pull him off. After letting Bulldog go, Shamrock then just started slamming all of the officials in a continuing fit of rage. So…cool? A nice tidy end to a pointless match.

Winner: British Bulldog

Credit: WWE

Los Boricuas VS. D.O.A. (8-Man Tag Match): So, there was a time when gang…ahem…”Faction Warfare” was a thing in WWE. You had Los Boricuas, the Puerto Rican contingent; D.O.A. or Disciples of the Apocalypse, the white guy biker gang; and The Nation of Domination, the militant African-American group. What fun, huh? Not really. Why couldn’t we just have a good one-on-one match between Savio Vega from the Boricuas and Crush from D.O.A.? That would have been fine. Like we really needed all of the others. And, if you disagree with me, a simple challenge then: Name the rest of each faction! Go on. Without looking it up and cheating. Maybe, you could name one or two of D.O.A., sure. But, just thinking “Uh, the two bald twins!” does not count. You can’t! Note that I left out The Nation’s members, because, come on, those were all talents. But, the other two factions stunk.

Credit: WWE

Anyway, this match was chaos from the start. All eight guys were going at it to start off the match. Things finally steadied out and we were just left with a boring multi-man tag match. Sure, there were some okay moments and some decent Tag Team wrestling, especially from Los Boricuas. But, then things broke down into chaos once again. The Nation of Domination came out and lingered around the ringside area. Eventually, Chainz, from the D.O.A. rolled out of the ring and took a shot at Ahmed Johnson of The Nation. Ahmed took the shot and returned it with one of his own and added a screwy looking Pearl River Plunge (his Sitdown Powerbomb finisher) to boot. Meanwhile, Savio rolled someone up in the ring for the win. Not that it really seemed to matter at this point.

So, of course, at this point all twelve men from the three teams just calmly walked back to the locker room. Right? Nope! Shock of shocks, everything broke down into a brawl. Fists were flying, insults were hurled and Crush jumped on his motorcycle and seemingly tried to run somebody down. It was only then that everyone just sort of shrugged and walked off.

Winner: Los Boricuas

Credit: WWE

Owen Hart VS. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Intercontinental Championship/If Austin Loses, He Said He Would Kiss Owen’s Ass): So, most people know this match to be the one where Stone Cold’s neck gets broken in a botched Pildriver. What I don’t think most remember though, is just how good this match is before that horrible mistake happens. Owen Hart was in his prime and near perfect throughout. Playing the dastardly heel to the limits. He took cheap shots, put his feet up on the ropes for leverage and even just decided to try to take a walk to the back, losing by count out, but not losing the title. I mean heck, Owen even tried to bend and twist Austin’s middle fingers in an attempt to deny Stone Cold the use of the one piece of Sign Language he seemed to know. Owen even bit Austin’s finger and went for the Marty Scurll finger break! I love it.

Credit: WWE

Now, as hot as Owen was, Stone Cold Steve Austin was a raging inferno. It hadn’t been all that long since the “Austin 3:16” proclamation and fans were firmly behind the Rattlesnake. And, rightly so! Austin went at it full tilt in this one, giving just as good as he got. I don’t know if Austin always gets credited enough for his in-ring technical abilities, but they were on display in this match. Locking Owen up and working his arm for the first half was executed perfectly. Austin was also a master at pacing a match well. The slower moments in this match were never too long and always lead to some explosive counter or response to what either man was doing. Really! Go back and watch this one. It is incredible.

Credit: WWE

But, of course, there is that mistake. Owen had begun to work on Austin’s neck in the later moments of the match, setting up for the Piledriver spot. As Austin started building momentum and seemed to be going for a Tilt-A-Whirl or something on Hart, who was rebounding from the ropes, Owen reversed it into a Piledriver. But, Austin’s head was a bit too low between Owen’s legs. So that when Owen dropped onto his rump, Austin’s head was driven straight down into the mat. Owen seemed to be going for a cover but knew quickly something was wrong and, sort of clumsily, waved it off and stood up to gloat and give the ref a moment to get in there. You could see Austin trying to move his hands and arms, but it looked as if he had very little real control over them. Owen yelled at the announcers and insulted some fans as Austin rolled over and talked with the ref. Finally, Owen positioned himself with his back to Stone Cold and allowed Austin to weakly pull him down and roll him up for a pin, sticking with the planned finish to the match.

Credit: WWE

After this, Austin had a real hard time forgiving Owen, if he ever really did. Austin has said that this one event definitely changed the way he treated Owen afterward, essentially up to Owen’s untimely, tragic death and that he sort of regrets it. Some of that animosity allegedly stems from Owen maybe not reaching out to Stone Cold immediately after the injury. Though, Bret Hart, Owen’s brother, has said that was not the case and Owen immediately expressed his remorse. But, who knows? It was a sucky situation for all. I’m sure that’s something everyone could agree on.

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Austin would go on to have surgery on his neck and miss some time in the ring. But, not before showing up the next night on RAW. Austin walked out to the ring at the beginning of the show, neck brace in hand and cut a little promo on the Hart Foundation and Owen in particular, setting up a rematch for that night. Of course, Austin was way too injured to actually go at it, so his Tag Team partner Dude Love stepped in. Austin did get involved in the match, taking a shot at Owen, which would lead to Dude getting the win.

Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin

Credit: WWE

Bret Hart VS. The Undertaker (WWE Championship with Shawn Michaels as Guest Referee): Alright! Main Event time and this one is loaded. Literally, there are so many goofy stipulations and storylines intertwining here that it is borderline too much. I’ll try to cover it all quickly. The main stipulation, that seems to be brushed to the sidelines from the start, was a promise made by Bret Hart himself that if he did not win the WWE Championship, he would never wrestle in the U.S. again. Then there was the special guest ref, Shawn Michaels. There was some question on whether or not Shawn could be impartial throughout the match. So, Michaels seems to have offered up a self-imposed stipulation of his own that if he comes off as favoring The Undertaker, then Michaels would also not wrestle in the U.S. again. Okay, with me so far? That was just the setup to the match.

Credit: WWE

My only real problem with the match were the two kind of pointless moments of interference. First, about halfway through, a blonde Paul Bearer comes strutting down the entrance, shouts about Kane and then just stands at ringside wringing his hands and doing his trademark “Ohhh yes”. This seems to upset The Undertaker, who, for some reason, feels the need to roll out of the ring and give Paul a shot to the jowls. Now Paul Bearer wasn’t really doing anything out there, but because ‘Taker took his eyes off of Bret long enough to sock Paul, it opened him up to a cheap shot to the knee from behind by Hart. The second moment comes when Owen Hart and Brian Pillman come down to the ringside area and also decide to just stand around shouting things. ‘Taker once again, having not learned his lesson from only mere minutes ago, rolls out of the ring and starts attacking Owen and Pillman. This time things don’t work out exactly the same though as Michaels is the one distracted with throwing the two members of the Hart Foundation out of there Undertaker heads back into the ring and gains the upper hand on Bret. This leads to ‘Taker going for a pin, following a Chokeslam, but Michaels isn’t paying attention. Which, of course upsets the “Deadman”.

Credit: WWE

Beyond all of that, this match is actually really good. Bret looks great, constantly working on ‘Taker’s legs, all in an effort to weaken him for the Sharpshooter. I’ll admit to being a bit biased, as Bret Hart is possibly my all-time favorite wrestler, but he is just sooooo good. There is no wasted motion in this match. Everything Bret does is setting up for something else or leads to yet another bit of strategy. The Undertaker looks fantastic in this, as well, almost never missing a beat and keeping right up with the “Hitman”. Undertaker constantly comes back from all of Bret’s strategic offense with plenty of hard-hitting shots of his own. Shawn Michaels as the ref adds to this match overall, as well. Michaels was trying to not appear to favor ‘Taker over Bret, so there are plenty of times where he almost comes off as possibly favoring Bret. Which doesn’t sit well with the Undertaker, either.

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So, eventually, Bret seems to have exhausted nearly everything in his bag of tricks and opts to smack ‘Taker upside the head with a chair while Michaels isn’t looking. Yet, Undertaker still manages to kick out. Shawn Michaels then notices the chair lying in the corner of the ring and questions Bret about it. Which leads to Bret Hart expertly hawking a massive loogie into Michael’s face. Shawn Michaels, enraged as anyone would be after being spit upon, goes to strike Bret with the chair. Only to have Bret Hart duck out of the way at the last second, leading to Shawn Michaels cracking the Undertaker with the chair instead. Bret then covers the Champ as Michaels does one of the more begrudging three-counts I have ever seen.

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Winner: Bret Hart

Credit: WWE

This led to Bret winning the title for the fifth time, something only 1 other had done before him: The Immortal Hulk Hogan. Which was really something for that time. Bret would go on to eventually have the fateful Main Event WWE Championship match at Survivor’s Series a few months later, which would forever be known as the “Montreal Screwjob”. Shawn Michaels would cut a massive heel-turn promo the next night on RAW, which never really took hold and led to the formation of Degeneration X with Triple H and Chyna.

Credit: WWE

So, was this good? Absolutely! There are plenty of throw away, stinker matches. As a matter of fact, nearly half of the card kinda stunk. But, Mankind VS. Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Owen Hart VS. Stone Cold Steve Austin and even the WWE Championship match were all golden. Goldust VS. Pillman was also pretty fun, warts and all. This is definitely one of the classic PPVs that led into the “Attitude Era” and is a must-see for any fan of WWE/WWF or even just wrestling in general. It is for these reasons and maybe even a few more that WWE Summerslam 1997 gets a 4 out of 5 on the Official Nerd Nation Radio Pocket Protector Scale!

So, there you go, the first Rope Break Retro is in the books! Be sure to check back here frequently to see more moderately entertaining, possibly insightful pro wrestling goodness. You can always reach my on the Facebook and drop me a line there or, if the mood strikes you, at curt@nerdnationradio.com!

Or you can reach my personal secretary and stunt double at jack@nerdnationradio.com

Credit: WWE