‘Sup, Lords of Pain? It’s Thursday which can mean only one thing… Oliver’s NXT Review! But you clearly have a few minutes to spare after reading that so welcome to ATTITUDE! This is normally the place where I have something to say about the latest happenings in the wrestling world but I honestly don’t have much this week. Actually I do have one thing. Blue Dot Christian is the most awesome gimmick idea ever. Also, whilst I love the guy, I totally get where Vince was coming from. Happy now? Good, because it is now time to jump in the LoP Delorean and head back to the summer of 97.
ATTITUDE! SummerSlam 97 (CPR Productions)
By Maz & Mav
Feb 13, 2014 - 10:46:47 AM
Mazza: So here we are, coming off the hot Canadian Stampede PPV and moving onto the hottest party of the summer. SummerSlam 1997 historically proves to be a huge crossroads in the story of Attitude but we will see that influence later on in the series. Today we are looking at how we got to the event and whether it was any good. The potential was definitely there as the Hart Foundation headed back to hostile foreign soil and they would all be putting something on the line as they moved on from their great night in Calgary.
Maverick: My memories of Summerslam ‘97 are that it was built up as a hugely significant event, just as the second most important pay-per-view of the year should be. Bret Hart’s dual alignment character lit a blue touchpaper that burnt its way all the way through the wrestling world and gave WWF the opportunity to set down a marker to WCW reading “we will not lie down”. There are some huge matches on this card, not least the main event, which featured the New Generation’s three most significant figures making sense of this brave new world they called Attitude. So without further ado, let’s roll the footage, fire up the laptops and take a look at...
The Event: SummerSlam 1997
The Date: 3 August 1997
The Place: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey
BACKGROUND AND BOOKING
The night after The Hart Foundation’s apotheosis at Canadian Stampede, Monday Raw moved to Edmonton, and to show Canadian solidarity, Bret wore an Edmonton Oilers jersey down to the ring, despite being from Calgary himself. By putting aside this local rivalry, The Hitman cemented the “us against them” mentality in the Border Wars angle. The Pink and Black Attack swore he would never, ever let his Canadian fans down and that he was so confident that he wouldn’t, he made a vow to never wrestle in America again if he lost the WWF title match against The Undertaker at Summerslam. In the weeks that followed, Hart made more and more worked shoot remarks about the USA on controversial subjects such as gun control, healthcare and education, all areas where Canada was significantly more progressive than the States. It was a fantastically heated storyline, and ‘Taker was brought back into relevancy in defending the ideals of his country in a way that would come more into focus in the second half of the era when he changed his gimmick. Interestingly, WWF also played off the Deadman’s uncertainty over the revelations of Paul Bearer about Kane’s survival. It was all written in such a way as to make the audience doubt whether the Phenom’s head was truly in the game. The third element in this combustible mix was Shawn Michaels, who soon came back into the fold once Vince threatened to stop his $11000 per week pay cheques. Odd parallel to the current CM Punk situation when you think about it! Still injured, he was booked as guest referee, but with all the history behind the two men, we were left to doubt whether HBK would call it down the middle, even though he continually protested that he would.
Meanwhile, on the same episode of Raw in which Bret made a vow to not wrestle in America if he lost at Summerslam, his faction members each made a promise also. Davey Boy Smith vowed to defeat Ken Shamrock or he would eat a can of dog food; this was reinforced when he assaulted Ken Shamrock during an arm wrestling contest and then force fed him the Bowser; nasty. This sort of vomit inducing gross out humour would, of course, get more and more popular as Attitude went on. Pillman, who had been feuding with Goldust, offered to wear Marlena’s dress if the Bizarre One pinned him, and Owen, who was boasting about being the man who pinned Stone Cold, put his title on the line with Austin having to kiss his ass if he lost to him. These vows and stipulations kept the continuity going from Canadian Stampede, and provided enviable good sense in terms of the feuds branching off from that event.
Elsewhere in the micard, Mankind and Hunter’s feud was due to come to a conclusion in a steel cage, a very sensible decision as Chyna’s interference had marred the disturbed one’s attempts to deal with the Blueblood. Tag action was also due to take place with the Legion of Doom taking on The Godwinns in something of a grudge match (Henry was meant to have had his neck broken by the Doomsday Device in a previous bout) and the two new gang factions formed from Farooq’s dismissal of Savio and Crush from the Nation, Los Boriucas and Disciples of Apocalypse, were due to take each other on in an eight man cluster-you-know-what.
All in all, Summerslam was booked extremely well, hyped convincingly, and looked set to be a great event. I’ll be back with the main event later, but for now, here’s Mazza with...
We have a really good video package to start things off. The theme is “if life were fair” and it was looked at the main event from the perspectives of Taker, Bret and Shawn.
Mankind defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (With Chyna) in 16:13 in a Steel Cage Match
When a PPV starts out with a blood feud and a the big blue cage, it really does put you into the zone. We are told that there would be no pinfalls or submissions so thankfully we are spared from a few minutes of trying to work out the rules (which would become an issue at points during the era in certain gimmick matches). As Mav alluded to earlier, the cage match was the perfect gimmick with not only the heat the pair had generated but also the fact that Chyna had constantly been interfering. Hunter uses his brain from the get go by trying to fly out of the door as the bell rings. Mankind thwarts the attempt but HHH then tries to climb out. Foley stops him again and dominates the early goings, grating Hunter’s face on the steel and using big moves like the piledriver and the Mandible Claw. We soon find out however that whilst the cage is keeping Chyna out of the ring, it isn’t going to keep her out of the match. She climbs the blue steel and chokes Mick through the cage. She then stops an escape attempt by climbing and crotching Foley on the cage, allowing Helmsley to hit a suplex from the top. We then see a change in Hunter. Whereas he tried to escape as soon as possible at the beginning, when halfway out the door with Mankind down he decides to come back in and have some more fun. Classic heel work. His aggressive streak really kicks in as he uses the cage to punish Foley, including slamming his head multiple times into the steel. When Helmsley does try to escape the cage though, Foley stops him. He takes control again for a while and we get a nice spot where he suplexes Hunter into the cages, where he remains hanging from his legs. Mick proves he is not afraid to use the cage in the same way his opponent did before we get the obligatory fight at the steel’s highest peak. Both men fall but Helmsley manages to crotch himself and get tied up in the ropes. Foley tries to leave through the door but Chyna slams it onto his head (a move Mick calls one of the things that hurt him most during his career). She then takes out a ref and throws a chair to Hunter. He goes to hit a Pedigree but Mankind counters before catapulting HHH into the steel and Chyna who was once again trying to interfere. A double arm DDT to the chair leaves Foley with all the time in the world to leave the ring. Chyna misses a mark as she goes through the door and checks on Hunter but then leaves again. Mick is almost to the floor when he reacts to the crowd chants of “Superfly”. He goes to the top of the cage and hits Hunter with a flying elbow. Mankind climbs again and this time Chyna hits her mark as she tries to drag Helmsley out of the cage. She is not quick enough however and Foley picks up the win by hitting the floor first. Foley is out of it but the Mankind music stops and the Dude Love music kicks in. His leg starts to dance to the beat and he celebrates in what must have been a very nice moment for him. Whilst the rivalry between the two men still had a whole load of gas still in the tank, this was a nice way to end the first chapter. Hunter had picked up plenty of heat along the way, finally had his reign as king and had really begun to establish his aggressiveness and ruthlessness. Mick had cemented his face turn by living out his childhood dreams of emulating Jimmy Snuka and becoming a ladies man character. Really hot start to the PPV.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½
We get a highly cringeworthy segment as Todd Pettengell brings out the New Jersey Governor who apparently helped bring SummerSlam to town. We get Monsoon and the Headbangers (who are apparently local boys) out too. The crowd boo and with good reason. Horrible segment for such a big event.
Goldust (With Marlena) defeated Brian Pillman in 7:17
As Maverick stated earlier, the stip here was that if Pillman lost he would have to wear a dress until the next time he won. With the stakes being so high (I guess), The Loose Cannon attacks as Goldust tries to escort Marlena from the ring. Whilst Goldie’s gimmick had been less “in your face” since he became a babyface, he brings back the psychological warfare early on as he kisses Pillman. The action is explosive with Dustin in control and he lands a big clothesline on the outside as Pillman stalks Marlena. Mrs Runnels is soon involved again and the formerly Flyin’ Brian uses her as a shield which allows him to take control. A chinlock of doom allows him to live up to his Loose Cannon gimmick as he flashes some facial expressions you can just tell had been on Dean Ambrose’s study list. Goldust eventually breaks free and it turns into a slugfest. The finish then comes and it horribly botched. Goldie comes from the apron with a sunset flip but it does not get hooked in properly. They find themselves in the middle of the ring trying to lock in the move as well as move back towards the ropes. They eventually manage it and Pillman grabs the rope to prevent the fall. Marlena then whacks Brian with her handbag allowing her husband to pick up the victory. Marlena throws the dress (which is on a mannequin) into the ring and Pillman flips out and destroys it. The match was pretty disjointed for two notoriously good workers. The finish was abysmally executed and despite flashes of potential throughout, the match failed to deliver anything near what you would expect.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **
The Legion of Doom defeated The Godwinns in 9:15
We get to see our regular LOD promo to start things out and they get a great reaction once again. We start things out with a staredown between the two teams and you can really appreciate here just how big the Godwinns are. The match isn’t pretty, just two rugged teams roughing each other up. It works well for the Godwinns who appeal to me a lot more as tough SOBs with bad attitudes as opposed to cheesy square dancing good guys. We eventually transition into a short face in peril routine as Henry and Phineas cut off Animal. Eventually he manages to make the hot tag to Hawk and business really picks up. The Road Warriors tap into their heelish side by focusing on the neck they had previously broken. Henry finds himself on the end of neckbreaker before Phineas breaks up a Doomsday Device attempt. It is all in vain however as the LOD finish Henry off with a spike piledriver. This was actually pretty fun for what it was. Sometimes seeing tough guys beat on each other is more than enough despite us IWC members being conditioned to want technical classics. There was another interesting side of Attitude on show here as the faces went out to injure the heels and the fans lapped it up. It was the kind of action that may have caused a heel turn five years earlier.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **
After almost succeeding with the Governor of New Jersey, we finally hit the jackpot of PPV segment suckitude. Todd is now hosting some strange competition. They don’t explain what is going on but there is a casket, a load of keys, a kid, a skinny Stone Cold looking dude, as well as Sunny and Sable. Todd tries to call people up but doesn’t have much luck. On the third attempt he manages to get through to someone and they aren’t even watching the PPV. He has to choose a number between 1 and 100 and the matching key would try and open the lock on the casket. You don’t have to be a genius to work out the odds and surprise surprise, his key isn’t the one. The kid and Skinny SCSA also fail in their guesses before some guy posing as an independent adjudicator comes out to prove one of the keys did work. Turns out there was like a million dollars in there and I guess the odds were infinitely better than a lotto win but damn. This was a near ten minute segment. I can’t imagine the backlash if the company tried to pull that shit today. Still, there was a silver lining in it. Sunny looked positively babelicious.
The British Bulldog defeated Ken Shamrock in 7:29 to retain the European Championship
Next up is the second chapter in the “Hart Foundation tries to avoid a stupid stip” saga. The can of dog food that Davey Boy will have to eat if he loses is already open on the announce table, and it looks a lot more Aldi than it does Pedigree. They go at it from the moment that Shamrock hits the ring. Bulldog is in his element however and takes the early control with a chinlock as the crowd chants “USA”. The action soon spills to the outside where Shamrock is thrown into the steel steps. Davey then goes to hit Ken with the steps but the ref stops him (I can only assume it is a variation of the whole “ball to hand” or “hand to ball” theory). Shamrock fights back but Smith’s experience comes into play once more before he botches a suplex on to those steps again. Bulldog goes back to the chinlock and we see that the challenger is bleeding from the mouth. It’s not long before we are back on the outside where Davey slaps Shamrock with a handful of dog food. The causes “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” to flip out and attack Smith with the can, causing the DQ. Shamrock continues the beatdown after the match and takes out some refs. He chokes Davey out and the officials can’t pull him off. He eventually lets go and takes out Pat Patterson and Gerald Briscoe with belly-to-belly suplexes. The crowd are on fire although there is a portion showing a negative reaction. This mental version of Shamrock reminded me of why I was not a fan after he impressed me in his previous encounters in this series. As for the match, it wasn’t a bad showing but it could have had a better structure. Shamrock still needed some seasoning in the squared circle when it came to working the company style.
ATTITUDE! Rating: **
Todd is out again backstage, this time with HBK who is rocking a zebra shirt. He says that his issues with Bret were settled at Mania 12 when he beat him (trolololol) and that he will be an impartial ref. That is followed up with a video package showing how the Nation of Domination split into three factions following the firing of Savio Vega and Crush.
Los Boricuas defeated The Disciples of Apocalypse in 9:08
The teams come out and I can only imagine it resembles the waiting room for auditions to join the Village People. We have a bunch of bikers and what appears to be a bunch of sailors. I am not particularly clued up on what Puerto Rican gang members wore in the late 90s but I sincerely hope it wasn’t similar to the Boricuas get-up. We begin with… you guessed it… a brawl but order is soon restored. The action is fast and we get lots of quick tags but it seems to be more in the name of giving everyone a go in the ring. We soon have the new Nation of Domination making their way through the crowd in the style of another faction currently doing the rounds. An “Ahmed sucks” chant gets thrown at the Nation’s newest member after he joined them following months of torment in the style of another story that was recently doing the rounds. The action in the ring slows down with the Nation’s arrival. There is no flow to it at all and it eventually breaks down. NoD get involved and we see Ahmed nail Chainz with a Pearl River Plunge on the outside. Savio, ever the opportunist, sees this and rolls the DoA member back into the ring. This allows Los Boricuas to pick up the win and we then get to witness a three team brawl that looks like something from a Grand Theft Auto side mission. Crush then jumps on his bike and rides it around the ring, allegedly trying to run some people over. The theory would have made more sense if there was actually anybody around his route. Anyway, I remember being quite into the gang warfare storyline at the time, but I struggle to remember why based on this mess.
ATTITUDE! Rating: *¼
We have a recap of this feud and how Austin switched focus from big brother to little brother following Canadian Stampede.
Steve Austin defeated Owen Hart in 16:16 to win Intercontinental Championship
A random thought before this one gets underway. I LOVE Owen’s theme music. I am not even sure why but I always thought it was a perfect fit. Anyway, the first thing Hart does when he hits the ring is remove the turnbuckle pad. We get a shot of a young Michael Cole trying to get an interview with Austin as he makes his way towards his entrance. As Stone Cold does his pre-match posing, Owen attacks his knee. The IC champ goes to work on the knee but Austin fights through to aggressively take control. Stone Cold also goes after a limb, focusing on the champ’s arm. The tide turns once again however and Hart goes after the challenger’s finger, which had flipped him off earlier. Another change in momentum has Owen go for the walk away before Stone Cold brings him back. Back and forth is definitely the mot du jour and the champ goes to work on his third body part of the night - the neck. There is an eerie foreshadowing moment on commentary as they discuss Austin’s previous neck issues and possible new injury. A bit of work on the neck leads to the infamous piledriver where Stone Cold legitimately broke his neck. You can tell something is wrong pretty much immediately and Hart tries to stall. He amusingly tries to start a “Can-a-da” chant which obviously gets the crowd screaming “USA”. Austin crawls towards Owen and manages a very weak looking roll up to win the match and the title. The new champ tries to celebrate with his title but you can tell he is bad shape. This was a very good match until the injury. It would have definitely deserved a spot among those great SummerSlam Intercontinental title matches had the finished been decent. Still, aside from the ending which will have a huge bearing on the era, it was an enjoyable encounter.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ***½
THE MAIN EVENT
Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker in 28:19 to win the WWF Championship
Back in August 2013 I wrote a daily column series analysing every main event of the New Generation, and in said series, I covered the Royal Rumble 1996 effort between Bret Hart and The Undertaker. In it, the Deadman was still carrying traces of wrestling his gimmick, that is, slow and methodical. Hart adopted a technical, cerebral approach, grinding down his taller opponent’s vertical base. It was sinfully dull, in all honesty, half an hour when it should have been fifteen minutes, with the interference of Diesel the undoubted highlight. Think about that for a minute.
Twenty months later though, everything has changed; ‘Taker developed a more mobile style during his feud with Mankind and was suddenly able to put on excellent bouts like the one with Vader from Canadian Stampede covered by Maz last time out. The Hitman’s heel turn allowed him to work a more furious pace and inject more brawling into his ring game. It made him an even better performer. The vicious nature of the villainous version of Calgary’s favourite son lent his matches a must see quality through this window of time. As Hart marches to the ring for the main event of Summerslam ‘97, defiantly carrying the Canadian flag, it’s easy to see exactly what a heat magnet he really was. American audiences legitimately hated him. There aren’t many times I can think of when the heat was so genuine, as opposed to our modern trend of admiring heels for doing their job well. Vince in ‘98, Trips in ‘99, Punk in ‘09...but there aren’t many others. Here, Bret manages to out do himself, shooting on Americans, praising the Canadian and International fanbases, and then demanding that fans in attendance listen to ‘Oh Canada!’ in its entirety as he stands proudly in the middle of the ring. Great stuff.
Michaels is next to come down to the ring, and he’s still pretty popular at this point, even though he’d started to show tweener tendencies in-keeping with his real life attitude (no capital!) and the fans pop for his dancing and thrusting. He even gets some primitive pyro, a funny thing to watch when you consider its modern day sophistication and ubiquity. In a neat touch, once ‘Taker’s entrance is over (am I the only wrestling fan that finds it way too long? Probably) Shawn checks the boots and tights of both men, asserting the rules of the bout, showing that he intends to call the match down the middle, just as he had assured us in his backstage promo earlier in the evening. Bret is unimpressed and grabs the championship from the guest referee to set about ‘Taker in a sneak attack that ramps up the heat to boiling point as the bout proper begins. Bret manages to get in a whole raft of cheap shots by entangling the Phenom in his trenchcoat, as Shawn attempts to separate them. The pace is already frenetic and only grows more so as The Undertaker reverses the advantage by flinging Bret into a corner and hitting him with rapid rights and lefts in a convincing bit of simulated boxing he would make into trademark in future years (Jim Ross had yet to begin calling ‘Taker the “best pure striker” and such). As Bret is given a hard Irish whip to the turnbuckle and a clothesline that looks as if it could decapitate him, the crowd pop huge.
The Hitman is forced to take refuge outside the ring, but of course this is Attitude and that means outside brawling, with ‘Taker flinging his opponent into the barricade, only for the hardy Canadian to come back and fling the champ into the steel steps. It’s fantastically violent and entirely in keeping with the volcanic nature of the angle that led to the bout. As Bret is caught by the Phenom and rammed back-first into the post, Michaels begins to threaten a disqualification and he really does play the role of referee beautifully...better than many actual officials, in fact! Inevitably, the bout takes something of a breather after the hectic opening, but even this portion, where Undertaker works over the back with backbreakers, forearms and bear hugs, is fascinating. However, with the Demon of Death Valley emulating Bret’s technical style, he is playing his opponent’s game, and a chop block and a series of elbows to the knee cut the WWF champion down to size. All the while, the crowd are still hot, even during this more cerebral section of the contest.
Further intrigue is provided in the middle portion of the match by Paul Bearer approaching ringside, the distraction costing The Undertaker when Bret ambushes him from behind with chop blocks, elbows and the ringpost figure four. As the action moves back into the ring, Owen and Pillman also make their presence felt; Maz and I spoke in our prelude about how much outside interference and distraction there was during Attitude and this match proves the point, with Hart’s comrades luring Michaels away from his job so that Bret can continue to work over the leg, which ‘Taker sells well, showing how far he’s come as an in-ring competitor at this point. But this is still a man booked as superhuman, to a degree, and he breaks away from Hart eventually to take the initiative and drive away Bret’s cohorts outside the ring, with Shawn’s help in his capacity as referee. In a fantastic twist though, Undertaker’s chokeslam on Hart does not get him the three as the guest official is too busy ensuring Pillman and Owen return to the backstage area. The fury of the Deadman almost gets him disqualified twice and also almost leads to Bret winning with a sneaky roll up. It’s just so compelling, and playing up tension between both men and the official creates real suspense, as any good drama should.
As the bout speeds towards its conclusion, Hart is unsuccessful in applying the Sharpshooter several times, with The Undertaker’s striking ability preventing the submission hold from being locked in. A flurry of offense from the Phenom- a sick flying clothesline is particularly eye catching- amps up the pace and heat once again, only for The Hitman to foil an attempt at Old School by crotching him on the top rope, after which the Pink and Black Attack hits a picture perfect top rope superplex on his larger opponent. This allows Bret to finally slap in the Sharpshooter, but like Austin at ‘Mania, ‘Taker has no intention of submitting, and he breaks the hold with sheer leg strength, which sends JR wild on commentary. After that frustration, Hart ups the ante, going for his signature manoeuvre around the ring post, but Shawn breaks the hold up, being hurt in the process. This allows Bret to careen a chair off the Deadman’s skull, but it takes Michaels some time to slither into the ring to make the count, and the champ’s shoulder comes up at two, yet another exciting moment in a bout full of them. What happens next is, of course, legendary. After seeing the blue chair in the corner, HBK remonstrates with The Hitman, who responds by spitting full in the referee’s face. Michaels swings the chair in a vicious arc but accidentally strikes ‘Taker as Hart ducks. True to his word about calling the match fairly, Shawn reluctantly counts the three and walks away in disgust.
Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart’s win here was his fifth WWF title, tying up Hogan’s record. It was clearly a special night for him, and he wrestled as such, in a main event that really does stand the test of time. Fantastic storytelling, and plenty of plot points to take into the autumn. An epic.
ATTITUDE! Rating: ****¼
Well Maz, what a terrific pay-per-view that was. I think, upon watching it for the first time in ages, I would put it right up there with 2008, 2009, 2013 and (whisper it) even 2002 in the all-time great Summerslam stakes. Aside from the gang warfare match, which was a bit of a hot mess, everything on the card delivered for me. I like the way that the Hart Foundation members each had stipulations attached to their bouts, and that main event was just a brilliant watch. Even that abysmal segment with Pettengell was saved by Sunny at her most charismatic (and titillating). This was a WWF that was growing in confidence and delivering a great product.
You said “tit”! You’re meant to be the mature one. I don’t think I am quite as enthused about the event as a whole than you. I mean it was topped and tailed very well indeed but a lot of what went on in the middle was pretty standard fare. Certainly a long way from being a bad event though. The opener did a great job in continuing an ongoing rivalry and raising the stock of both men involved. The main event was compelling viewing, even after all these years and knowing what was going to happen. The IC title match was certainly on its way to potentially snagging match of the night status before the botched piledriver. It made for uneasy viewing and did hurt the tone of the event for a while there.
SummerSlam 1997 Overall ATTITUDE! Rating: ***
MVP - BRET HART
Throughout the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, Bret Hart was a master of his craft between the ring ropes. However, when it came to the personality and charisma side of things, he was nowhere near as comfortable, even though people tend to exaggerate his weakness in this area. His tweener and heel turns changed everything. Suddenly, there was a biting, incisive character to go with the shining storytelling inside the squared circle. It meant that four of his best matches took place in the last few months of his WWF career: Final Four, the submission match at Wrestlemania XIII, the ten man tag at Canadian Stampede and the title bout at Summerslam ‘97 for which he wins the MVP award today. For almost half an hour, The Hitman treated us to a masterclass in wrestling psychology, storytelling and character work, as well as displaying his customary ring generalship and a new found aptitude for brawling in the Attitude style. For a great performance at a pay-per-view where he was always very strong, we salute you Bret.
It’s funny how you don’t realise the range a lot of wrestlers have until they have a heel turn. It has happened so often over the years and it is why so much of the IWC is desperate for John Cena to defect to the dark side. The added character it gave to Bret in 1997 gave us an absolutely amazing main event scene. Here he not only gave The Undertaker a great match, it would be the catalyst for him to have some more at upcoming events. Obviously, those would be with the man that essentially handed the title to Bret, Shawn Michaels. The rivalry between these bitter rivals was at fever pitch backstage and that may have actually added something to their on-camera needle. They bounced off each other really well and they set in motion what would be an absolutely crazy end to the year.
THE ONE TO WATCH
As for today’s One To Watch, there was only really one choice. We will get to the chain of events the main event set in motion as the series goes on but it’s the end of the IC match that would have a huge effect going forward. Whilst the injury would only keep Austin out of the ring for a couple of months (and he remained onscreen throughout much of this time) it would cause him to change up his in-ring style. The technical side of Stone Cold’s game would be marginalised in favour of the brawling he became famous for. It wasn’t just Austin that would be painted with that stereotype. The Attitude Era as a whole is often defined by the brawling style, and although we have seen the growth of knock-down, drag-out affairs through this series, we had reached the stage where that would become more and more magnified.
It is also interesting to note the timing of the injury in the grand scheme of things. The technical prowess of Bret Hart and the athleticism of Shawn Michaels which defined the New Generation would both be gone from the company over the next few months. That would leave a limited Austin as top dog and guys like The Undertaker and Mick Foley as a supporting cast, both of whom were most at home in a similar environment. The Rock and Triple H were the rising stars who would adapt to fit into that mould whereas the other main event guys who would show up during the first half of Attitude (Kane and Big Show) certainly didn’t scream “iron man match”. It would be interesting to see how different the main event wrestling scene in the WWF would have been in 1998 and 1999 if it wasn’t for the piledriver.
I don’t think there was another option apart from Austin soldiering through however. Nine months or so out at this vital moment in the Monday Night Wars would surely have been the final nail in the WWF’s coffin. His popularity was approaching fever pitch and while time on the sidelines may well have changed the paths of Bret and Shawn, they may not have been able to patch the gaping hole that would have been created (there’s a Sunny Days comment in there somewhere but I won’t stoop so low). By the time he did go for surgery in late 1999, WWF were in control, Foley had become wildly popular and Rocky and Trips were both equipped to carry the company. Interestingly, by the time Austin returned from surgery in 2000 the game had changed. Technicality and athleticism had returned in the form of rising stars like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and the Radicalz. Hunter and Rocky were more than comfortable in that environment too and Austin, with a new lease of life, would wrestle some of the best matches of career. Interestingly, some of the best brawls of all time would also pop up during this period and that blend would start to signal a new era - Ruthless Aggression… but more on that in 2015!
You know, I’ve had a pet theory for a long time that nowhere is the Ancient Greek concept of fate better illustrated than in the world of professional wrestling, and 1997 was full of these accidental events that turned out to come together in such a way as to define the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era. Owen’s botch, as painful to watch now as it was then, actually ended up doing WWF a favour. Austin, already the most over face on the roster, was able to focus even more on his “arrive, raise hell, leave” badass character as he rehabbed his neck, and his heat grew with every single appearance, so that by the 1998 Royal Rumble, his Road to Wrestlemania was both crystal clear and an indicator of a new era in the WWF, particularly as, by then, Michaels and Hart were both gone and Trips and Rocky were picking up pace in the midcard.
The brawling style Maz mentioned is also hugely important. Personally, I prefer the matches Austin wrestled in 1996, 1997 and 2001 to anything he did “at his peak” but there’s no denying that the audience of the time were hot for the smashmouth brawling the Rattlesnake was forced to adapt to. Of course, there was always a huge element of this to his game anyway, but it was amplified to fever pitch after the injury. Another consequence of Stone Cold being limited physically was the storyline with Vince McMahon, undoubtedly a huge box office smash which was essentially constructed because it hid all of his limitations; no-one was likely to notice that Austin was finding it tough physically if all he was doing was kicking the boss’ ass around the arena. Without Austin vs. McMahon, we can be fairly sure that WWF would not have had the kind of momentum which saw them dominate the second half of the war. All in all, Stone Cold’s broken neck had massive consequences for the rest of the era.
Heading into the next In Your House event (Ground Zero) the Michaels/Taker beef would really take off and Shawn was poised to go full blown heel, a development that Bret Hart was none too pleased by, since he was very much meant to be the heel champ and the heat seeker, and HBK sharing that villainous spotlight did not seem like good business to the Hitman. Add in the various backstage shenanigans that were taking place with ever increasing frequency and we were talking about an ever more combustible WWF locker room. Funnily enough, all of this real life tension led to a way more compelling product as 1997 wore on. Most significant on that score was perhaps the advent of a certain faction we’d come to know as Degeneration-X...
Shawn would definitely need some kind of equaliser with a pissed Deadman on his case and we will be looking at just how that went next week as we head to Ground Zero. As for the numbers, SummerSlam saw a rise in buyrates for the company, hitting 0.80 and outdoing WCW’s Road Wild which saw a drop from the previous month to 0.65. The numbers were still a long way from great for the WWF and SummerSlam was a big event for them but it is still good to see things moving in the right direction as well as getting a tick in the win column against their rivals. Road Wild was an interesting card on paper and we finally saw Hogan defending his world title on PPV against Lex Luger. Ground Zero would be a real test though of whether the WWF could sustain those stronger numbers with the title on a heel Bret Hart.
You can hear more from Mazza and Maverick on The Right Side of the Pond, part of LoP Radio. New episodes every are out every Friday at 9pm UK time/4pm EST.
On tomorrow’s show we discuss the latest happening on Raw, look Batista vs Ziggler in 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die and look at 5 different types of big match the WWE deliver in their February PPVs.
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