So I’ve started a re-watch of WWF RAW starting with the RAW after Wrestlemania 13. I’ve made my way to the King of the Ring 1997, so why not use that as my next retro review?
Backstage things are chaos. Originally this was going to be Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin vs Brian Pillman. But Bret Hart’s knee was not fully healed. And lets just say things weren’t the best between Hart and Michaels right now. Shawn had already done his “Sunny days” promo and tensions would break the next night on RAW with a fight between the two.
But Bret is now a heel and the leader of the Hart Foundation which is just an all time great heel stable. Steve Austin is rising through the ranks and faces his tag team partner and co-champion, Shawn Michaels, here on this show instead.
Undertaker is the WWF Champion and Paul Bearer continues to have a looming secret he is hanging over Taker’s head. Even though he is champ, Taker always felt like a second fiddle to everything else going on in the WWF world. Tonight he faces Faarooq for the belt.
Anyways, I’ll talk about the WWF at this point in 1997 more as I review!
We get one of those great PPV intros to start the show with that awesome voice over guy. To remind you how we are in the 90s, this event is brought to you by Super Soaker. Never had one of those squirt guns as a kid.
Vince McMahon and Jim Ross are on commentary. No Jerry Lawler as he is in the King of the Ring tournament. This is one of those random pairings that you rarely saw. Lawler was always with these three.
King of the Ring Semifinals Match: Ahmed Johnson vs Hunter Heart Helmsley w/Chyna
I’m always reminded how OVER Ahmed was on my 97 rewatch. It is a shame he could never put everything together when it came to ring work and staying healthy. Ahmed qualified via a DQ victory, over his opponent tonight. Hunter got in after Vader, who qualified, could not compete due to a broken nose. Hunter also threatened to sue the WWF because he did not know he could get eliminated by DQ. So Hunter took Vader’s place and beat Crush to get here. Everyone got that?
Johnson completely out powers Hunter early as you would expect. Ahmed gorilla presses Hunter and does a couple reps with him up there. Hunter went extra hard on the spray tan this evening. Hunter rakes the eyes of Ahmed then puts him into the ring steps.
Did anyone ever ask Ahmed why he had like four knee pads all up and down his legs? Its baffling. Ahmed catches a ducking Hunter with an axe kick to the back and a spinebuster Arn Anderson would probably give a 3 out of 10. Chyna jumps on the apron to distract Ahmed. Hunter then knees Ahmed in the back and hits the Pedigree for the win in an upset.
Ahmed gets right up afterwards and chases Hunter and Chyna down the aisle, completely no selling the Pedigree. Clunky match that had a few mistakes and miscommunications between both men.
King of the Ring Semifinals Match: Mankind vs Jerry Lawler
Mankind just started turning face and kind of cemented it on the Free For All. He’s also in the middle of doing his series of sit down interviews with Jim Ross on RAW. Mankind is asking where Uncle Paul is. Of course Paul Bearer is back with the Undertaker. We cut to a sign in the audience that is just some person’s e-mail address. Weird. Mankind says something about Lawler being a king walking around without clothes, and the only thing uglier would be himself walking around without clothes.
Lawler is with Todd Pettengill, but Lawler just takes the mic and walks to the ring and berates some fans. He asks a woman if her massage parlor closed early tonight. He then asks some guy if his parole officer knows he is out this late. Lawler then gets to Mankind, He says when Mankind was born, and his mom looked at his face then his behind, and thought she had Siamese twins. Okay that was funny.
Mankind attacks Lawler outside the ring as Lawler is taking his jacket off. Mankind goes for the Mandible Claw early but Lawler bails. When Lawler is getting back into the ring, he asks the ref to back Mankind off. This allows Lawler to get something out of his tights and use it on Mankind. Lawler does this a few times to keep control. They go to the outside. Mankind pushes Lawler into the steps. Mankind charges and goes head first into the steps. Lawler then drops him head first onto the guardrail.
Lawler hits a piledriver on the mat outside. Lawler then hits a running dropkick, knocking Mankind off the apron, then hits a piledriver in the ring but only gets two. Mankind starts a comeback and lands a running knee in the corner. They mess up what looked like it was going to be a swinging neckbreaker. Lawler hits a fist off the top and goes for another piledriver, but Mankind backdrops Lawler and applies the Mandible Claw for the win.
Brian Pillman is interviewed. He talks about his match with Stone Cold tomorrow on RAW. Austin then comes up behind him and attacks and gives Pillman a swirlie.
Goldust w/Marlena vs Crush
Prior to the Mankind interviews, Goldust did a set of his own explaining he is Dustin Rhodes and why he is doing the Goldust gimmick. They bring up his dad being Dusty Rhodes and how Dustin is trying to gain his respect. JR brings up Crush formerly being in Demolition, which is odd.
Crush slows things down early and kind of kills the crowd after an early Goldust flurry. This is nothing but a snoozefest. Sorry I can’t provide more commentary but every time Goldust tries a comeback Crush stops it and goes to a rest hold.
D-Lo Brown and Clarence Mason on the outside surround Marlena. Goldust knocks out D-Lo as a kid yells “GOLDUST BEHIND YOU” as Crush comes after him. Back in the ring, Goldust catches Crush with Shattered Dreams for the win. Next.
Legion of Doom and Sid are interviewed. A true highlight is Hawk saying “By-didali-doo-squat, revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Owen Hart, British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart vs The Legion of Doom and Psycho Sid
The Hart Foundation have these really awesome matching leather jackets/vests. One of my true regrets in life is never being able to be next to the aisle when Sid came to the ring and have him fist bump me. Sid also still has his “SID” pyro sign at this point which kind of surprised me.
Owen starts the match for his team and in typical Owen fashions bumps around the ring like only he knows how. Sid comes in and successfully jumps off the second rope with an axe handle. Bulldog finally tags in and wants to do a test of strength with Sid. Bulldog kicks him but Sid comes right back and takes out the heels. The crowd loves Sid and chants for him even when members of LOD are in the ring. The crowd always loved that man. And he was always one of the biggest what if cases in the world of wrestling to me.
Animal gets the brunt of the beat down from the heels. They keep using Earl Hebner to get the faces out of the ring to continue the beatdown. Earl would have his revenge on the Hart family by the end of the year. Animal finally tags in his partner Hawk but he is quickly beaten down by the heels as well. Sid then gets the hot tag that everyone has been waiting for and goes to work.
All six men end up in the ring. Sid chokeslams then goes to powerbomb Bulldog, but Owen sunset flips over Sid and gets the pin. Meanwhile, LOD and Neidhart are still working in the ring for some reason. Sid was pretty much in the doghouse at this point.
King of the Ring Finals: Mankind vs Hunter Heart Helmsley w/Chyna
The one problem with the King of the Ring tournament is that when a guy is out there multiple times in one night, it takes away the luster and crowd reaction for the wrestler. You can tell that early here as the crowd is very quiet in the first few minutes. Of course, they also were just cheering their lungs out for Sid. Ross asks if Hunter ever tried buying the WWF. Just wait 20 years or so JR. He’ll be COO soon enough.
It is also another match where the heel has control early on. That is until Mankind low blows Hunter with his leg. Mankind charges at Hunter but Hunter ducks and Mankind gets hung in the ropes. When he gets released his mask comes off and it looks like half his hair comes off too. Hunter delivers some knees to the back of the head of Mankind as we get some boring chants. I have to admit they are deserved at this point.
Mankind hits a running knee in the corner then backdrops Hunter to the outside. He then hits an elbow drop off the apron. Chyna distracts the ref. Mankind hits a double arm DDT and the distraction is enough to let Hunter kick out at two. Mankind backdrops Hunter after a Pedigree attempt and applies the Mandible Claw. Chyna grabs Mankind and pulls him out of the ring.
Back in the ring Hunter pulls off the mask of Mankind then hits a thumb to the eye. Mankind recovers with an atomic drop then his running clothesline to the outside sending them both there. Mankind dives off the apron but Chyna pulls Hunter out of the way. Hunter then tosses Mankind into the steps and hits a Pedigree on the announce table. Ah the days before the Spanish announce table was always the target.
Chyna grabs the scepter and nails Mankind with it coming back into the ring. A few pieces go flying and I am surprised they didn’t hurt someone in the crowd. Hunter knocks Mankind off the apron and he hits a photographer on the way down. Hunter only gets two. He then hits a Pedigree to get the three and become King of the Ring.
Hunter and Chyna continue the beat down of Mankind as Mankind crawls back up the aisle to try to get to them. Match was fine. A little too long and obviously these two would go on to have better matches.
After a video package for Austin/Michaels, the Hart Foundation comes out. Bret talks about how much he loves these men and that he will make his return at Canadian Stampede next month. Bret goes to do commentary but is instead taken away by officials. Of course, the real story is that HBK “didn’t trust” Bret out there on commentary for some reason. I swear the WWF locker room is worse than high school at this point.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels
A stare down to start and Austin then shoulder tackles HBK down and flips him off. Then a mentally handicap individual tries making his way into the ring but is stopped by security. Michaels goes to check on him but Austin comes out and attacks Michaels and they go back to the ring. Michaels arm drags Austin then flips him off and goes to help the individual to the back, well at least up the ramp. Good on Michaels for doing that as the individual was clearly upset with Austin and was trying to “help” Michaels.
More back and forth in the ring as Austin takes down Michaels then mocks Michaels by doing his pose. Austin atomic drops Michaels then sends him to the outside hard with a clothesline. Michaels counters a suplex into the ring and gets a rollup for two. Austin out strengths Michaels but Michaels gets up and backdrops Austin.
Austin Thesz Presses Michaels and lands some punches but we then get some great near fall exchanges. Michaels then charges at Austin but Austin moves and sends Michaels flying to the outside again. Michaels gets on the apron but Austin shoves him back to the outside into the guard rail. Austin exposes the concrete and tosses Michaels into the steps. Austin then press slams Michaels up and drops him down onto the exposed concrete.
Austin slows things down after a second rope elbow. Michaels fights out of the headlock and lands some punches. This time it is Michaels who tosses Austin to the outside and hits a baseball slide. Austin counters the apron suplex this time but Michaels hits a flying forearm. Michaels charges Austin in the corner but Austin moves and Michaels goes shoulder first into the post, back when that spot wasn’t done every other match.
Shawn hits a reverse crossbody but Austin uses his momentum to get the pin for two. Austin clotheslines Michaels again and gets a two. Michaels throws Austin into the ref. Austin connects on a Stunner but the ref is out. Austin tries getting the ref up but hits the Stone Cold Stunner on him. Michaels then hits Sweet Chin Music. Another ref comes out but goes to check on the first ref. Michaels then hits the Sweet Chin Music on him and the original ref counts two. Earl Hebner finally comes out and throws the match out and calls for the Double DQ.
The crowd obviously boos the finish but it is the only way to protect both of these guys. Multiple officials come out to try and calm both men down. Austin actually suffers a knee injury here that prevents him from wrestling Pillman on RAW. Both men walk up the aisle together afterwards. Outside the ending it is a great match. What could have been if not for both men’s injuries at Wrestlemania 14.
WWF Championship: The Undertaker (c) w/Paul Bearer vs Faarooq
Faarooq is interviewed before the match and has a good line: “Undertaker, don’t worry about Paul Bearer’s blackmail, worry about this black male.” Faarooq attacks Undertaker from behind to get the match started. Taker gets attacked by other Nation members at ringside. Taker catches Faarooq with a boot and goes for Old School, but instead he hits a crossbody off the top onto the Nation.
Taker goes for Old School again back in the ring but Crush distracts the ref and D-Lo crotches him on the ropes. Taker gets sent to the outside. Faarooq grabs the steps but Taker boots them into Faarooq. Taker telegraphs a duck back in the ring and Faarooq hits a piledriver.
Faarooq applies a long headlock. Taker gets out of it with a jawbreaker. Faarooq goes right back to some punches and another piledriver but Taker counters it. Faarooq goes to the top but Taker catches him and powerslams him. But Faarooq ducks Taker’s off the ropes clothesline.
Suddenly on the outside, JR says Crush pushed down Clarence Mason. We don’t see that on camera. Crush and Savio Vega argue as Taker recovers and hits a Tombstone for the win. Savio and Crush eat chokeslams. Paul Bearer demands Taker chokeslam Faarooq again. Taker reluctantly does. He makes Taker do it again. We get a third as Ahmed Johnson comes out to talk some sense into Taker. Instead, Ahmed hits a Pearl River Plunge on Taker and leaves. Ahmed would join the Nation but would quickly be on the shelf after, so it never went anywhere.
Overall, middle of the road show. Austin/Michaels was great. Everything else was average outside of Crush/Goldust. But it is shows like these that set the tone for what was to come in 1997 in the WWF.