WrestleWatch Vault- WWF Survivor Series 1997
FINALLY... The Mick has come back to the ATTITUDE ERA!
Had to. More specifically, this was the birth of the Attitude Era. You mention the name "Survivor Series 1997" to any long-time wrestling fan, and they'll know the significance of this night. It would be Bret "The Hitman" Hart's last appearance in WWE (or as it was known then, the WWF) as he lost the WWF Championship to hated rival Shawn Michaels in controversial fashion. Michaels locked Hart in his own submission hold, the Sharpshooter, and referee Earl Hebner called for the bell. However, Hart had not submitted. Vince McMahon- who was an announcer on screen, but behind the scenes was the owner of the company, instructed Hebner to ring the bell. An apparently confused Michaels grabbed the WWF Championship and quickly left with DX as the enraged crowd threw trash. Bret spat in the face of Vince, and after Survivor Series went off the air, he trashed the television equipment at the ringside area. This would go down in history as the Montreal Screwjob. Hart refused to lose the title to Michaels in Montreal, so Vince McMahon legitimately screwed him out of the championship to ensure that the belt wasn't taken to his new home of WCW. There was precedence for this- Alundra Blayze left the WWF and appeared in WCW as Madusa. She took the WWF Women's Championship and threw it in the trash live on an edition of WCW Monday Night Nitro. Vince was afraid of Bret doing the same thing to the most prized championship in his company, so hatched this plot. There has been speculation over the years that it was an elaborate work, but given the bitterness of Bret Hart following this incident, and the fact that he refused to appear in a WWE arena for another 13 years... it was real. Plus, many wrestlers, including some in Bret's family, were so angered by the Montreal Screwjob that they were going to walk out of the WWF. Some did, some opted to stay, but if it was all fake, a quick backstage meeting would have sorted that mess. Plus, Bret had no reason to keep working it once he was forced to retire and WCW folded shortly after. The Montreal Screwjob was a rare dose of reality in the fictional world of the WWF.
(Note: I'm going to try and refer to Vince's company as the WWF in these historical reviews. Today, WWE retroactively call everything "WWE", but I feel it's more historically accurate to say "WWF".)
But, Survivor Series 1997 was far more than the drama between Bret and Shawn. The WWF was in a transitional period, where the kid-friendly content was giving way to a show with a little more edge, a little more Attitude. We weren't firmly in the era at this point, but we were right near the starting point. Shawn Michaels shed the "boyhood dream" persona to start the rebellious faction "D-Generation X" (we were a couple of months into the existence of DX here), and Stone Cold Steve Austin was the hottest thing in the company, with the crowd filled with Austin 3:16 signs and t-shirts. Pro wrestling was about to change forever, and the 1997 Survivor Series took a massive step in that direction.
The PPV poster sums the state of the WWF up nicely at this particular time. The show was sponsored by a toy company, and we still had the "New Generation" mid-90s WWF block logo, but the spraypainted "Gang Rulz" and shadows lent itself to a darker aesthetic than the "New Generation" typically had. Of course, the New Generation featured bad-ass legendary figures like Sparky Plugg, The Goon, and Doink The Clown.
Match 1: The Godwinns & Billy Gunn & Road Dogg def. The Headbangers & The New Blackjacks (at 15:25)
Thoughts: Now, the Wikipedia page says that The Godwinns & The New Age Outlaws won this match, but after watching this Survivor Series event and the month of television following it- Gunn and Dogg weren't yet called the Outlaws. They did the "Oh you didn't know" intro, but the name "New Age Outlaws" had yet to be born. So, I'm not using it here. As for the match, pretty standard opening action. Barry Windham of the Blackjacks was eliminated early, which was a little surprising to me- I know of Windham as somewhat of a legend in wrestling, but he wasn't much of a factor at this stage of his career. His partner, Bradshaw- pre-Acolytes/APA and VERY pre-JBL- showed flashes of that smashmouth style. The Headbangers had some nice energy- I believe they were fairly new to the WWF around this time, and from memory were a nice fit in the Attitude Era. I remember playing them in the WWF Attitude video game on the Playstation One before I ever saw them wrestle. The future Outlaws get the shine and final win after Billy comes flying off the top with a leg drop. He over-shoots a little, but damn, that athleticism! You could tell Gunn & Dogg were headed for big things here. An okay way to get things started. (**)
Match 2: The Truth Commission def. DOA (at 9:59)
Thoughts: Okay, this was painful. DOA had the biker gimmick in the WWF way before American Badass Undertaker was a thing, but they weren't that over or great in the ring. On the other side of the ring, The Truth Commission included Jackyl- later known as Cyrus in ECW and better known today as commentator Don Callis in NJPW/Impact Wresting. Great talker, not a good wrestler at all. And they had the imposing presence of The Interrogator, later known as Kurrgan. He looked like a million bucks, but to say he was limited in the ring is putting it mildly. He hit a couple of the worst looking sidewalk slams I've ever seen. This was 10 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. (DUD)
Match 3: Team Canada (British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, Doug Furnas & Phil Lafon) def. Team USA (Vader, Goldust, Steve Blackman & Marc Mero w/ Sable) (at 17:05)
Thoughts: Since we're in Montreal, Team Canada gets cheered even though they're all heels, and Team USA gets booed- except for Sable, who looked gorgeous! Things fall apart for Team USA. This is Blackman's WWF debut, he was a martial artist picked out of the crowd on Raw, and while he had some cool kicks, he still had a lot to learn before becoming the Lethal Weapon that we know and love. Goldust was apparently injured and refused to tag Vader, so the team implodes. Bulldog uses the ring bell to the back of the head of Vader for the win. Canada rejoices! Better than the first two matches, for sure. Vader does some cool stuff, and it reminds me that he should have had a far better WWF run. He was one of the most feared big men in the world in WCW in the early 1990s. (**3/4)
Match 4: Kane def. Mankind (at 9:27)
Thoughts: To give you an idea of how long ago this all was, this was the official in-ring debut of Kane, after first making his presence known a month earlier, Tombstoning his brother the Undertaker inside Hell In A Cell. Anyway, this was more spectacle than match, but what a spectacle it was! Kane dominated Mankind, and the crazy bastard Foley threw himself through the announce table, on the floor and generally just made Kane look like a million dollars. A really selfless performance by Foley, but damn it was fun to watch. Mankind was a firmly established wrestler at this point, but Kane running through him like that really put a stamp on him. (***)
Backstage, we have a very young Michael Cole interviewing WWF Commissioner Sgt Slaughter and Vince McMahon! Whoa, didn't realise Cole was in the company this early. Slaughter has been established as an on-air authority, but Vince was largely a commentator- although there were some veiled references to Vince being the owner from Jerry Lawler from time to time. Anyway, Cole asks Vince who is going to win the main event. Awkward pause as Vince says, "I don't know." Oh, he fucking knows!
Match 5: Ken Shamrock, Ahmed Johnson & LOD def. The Nation Of Domination (at 20:28)
Thoughts: This was the beginning of Shamrock's push as a top guy, although on the other side of the ring, Rocky Maivia was finding his feet as a heel in the Nation. Really fascinating to see Rock and Shamrock work at this embryonic stage of their career, knowing the battles they would have over the next couple of years. They were the clear stars of the match, but Shamrock forces both D'Lo Brown and The Rock to tap to the Ankle Lock. Eat your heart out, Kurt Angle! (who at the time was doing pizza commercials in Pittsburgh, trying to figure out what to do after winning the Olympics). Good action, although LOD were a little past their best and the Kama character wasn't clicking, the actual wrestling was solid throughout before the "star" portion of the match. (**1/2)
Match 6: WWF Intercontinental Championship- Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Owen Hart (at 4:03)
Thoughts: The story of this was that Owen broke Austin's neck at Summerslam, and Austin was a tough SOB to come back as soon as he did. Big video package to hype that up pre-match. Because Canada, Stone Cold's reaction is a little quieter than usual, while Owen gets a hero's welcome. Austin basically doesn't bump during this, because neck, and they keep it short and sweet. The Rattlesnake opens proceedings with a Stunner to Jim Neidhart. Owen goes for a piledriver but Austin reverses with a back drop. Owen tries to get disqualified choking Austin with a cable but no dice. Stunner puts Owen away, post-match Austin Stuns the other members of Team Canada too. In spite of themselves, Canada cheers the new IC Champion on here. Not much of a match really, but a fun bit considering Austin's health at the time. (**)
Big time video package and entrances. DX (comprised of HHH, Chyna and Rick Rude) is with Shawn Michaels, while Bulldog and Neidhart are with Bret. However, they both leave their entourage behind to go solo. Oh, it is on!
Match 7: WWF Championship- Shawn Michaels def. Bret Hart (at 12:19)
Thoughts: The time of the match is deceiving. Hart and Michaels spend an extended stretch brawling outside of the ring and through the crowd before the match ever starts. Serious intensity here. It would become a common-place trope of the Attitude Era, but at the time, wrestlers kept the action largely in the ring, so this approach was fresh and exciting. Eventually, they got in the ring and the match officially started. Bret would work the legs of Michaels to set up for his Sharpshooter finisher and slow down the younger, quicker HBK. Good psychology. I'm not a big Hart fan, but in spite of the animosity (or maybe because of?), he actually has a quality match here with Michaels. The Figure 4 Leg Lock around the ring post looks agonizing. Then the finish. Arguably the most famous finish in wrestling history. It's been duplicated since in storyline, but you can't capture the raw emotion and drama that this had. Big time scenes of confusion as we quickly go off the air. Even JR and King don't know how to react. (***1/2)
Survivor Series 1997 was probably the most controversial night in the history of WWE/WWF. Bret was too proud to drop the title to Shawn, Vince was too paranoid that Bret would take the belt to WCW, and if the originally agreed plan of Bret relinquishing the title on Raw had happened, maybe Bret Hart would have been back in the WWE fold sooner. Maybe the roster would have continued on happy, and they wouldn't have lost talent like Neidhart and Bulldog in the days and weeks that followed. However, the hate that Vince attracted for this decision, and the interviews that came on Raw in the following weeks- with "Bret screwed Bret"- was the genesis of the "Mr. McMahon" character, which drew record ratings and business for the company, helping them win the war over WCW. But regardless, the Attitude Era WAS happening, and on Survivor Series, we saw the seeds sprouting, from early New Age Outlaws, all the way to Rock, Ken Shamrock, and of course, Stone Cold Steve Austin. The actual wrestling on the event ranged from below average to good, but the historical importance of the show, and the drama and emotion surrounding the main event, elevates it all to a passing grade for me.
Until next time, take care,