Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The History of WWE SummerSlam (1997)

In the late 90s SummerSlam returned to a Big Four feel, starting with the 1997 edition....

SummerSlam '97 - Meadowlands Arena - 8/3/97

Now this is a fuckin' SummerSlam, part 2.  SummerSlam '97 was the climax of the awesome USA vs. Canada feud that resulted in a slew of singles matches involving the Hart Foundation vs. their American opponents.  The stakes of each match was very high, particularly the World Title match, where if Bret Hart failed to beat The Undertaker, he would never again be able to wrestle in the US.  Special referee and Bret's mortal enemy Shawn Michaels was also subject to a stipulation, whereby if he showed any favoritism toward Taker, HE would never be able to wrestle in the US. 

The match itself was a methodical but drama-filled epic, with the Bret-Shawn dynamic adding another layer to the tension.  Taker almost seemed like a third wheel as the power struggle between the other two took center stage.  After 25 minutes of action, Bret and Shawn got into an argument, where Bret provoked Shawn into swinging a chair at him, only to duck as the chair knocked out Taker.  Bret covered him for the pin and Shawn was forced to make the count.  This was absolutely genius booking, but had the unfortunate effect of making Bret the third wheel as Shawn and Taker then engaged in a landmark feud.  Odd that both the prologue and aftermath of this match saw the WWF Champion as the afterthought.  Anyway, damn good main event.

Some belated 4th of July FIREWORKS!

In the semi-main slot was the I-C Title match between Owen Hart and Steve Austin.  For sixteen minutes these two tore it up in what would easily have been the match of the night, had Owen not botched a Tombstone piledriver, temporarily paralyzing Austin.  Owen had to stall for about a full minute while Austin recovered enough to execute the worst-looking rollup in wrestling history.  It was a very unfortunate incident, both for the match itself, and for the longevity of Austin's wrestling career.

This match was so good until Owen tried to kill Austin.

The third real standout was the opener - a Mankind-Triple H Steel Cage match.  This violent, hate-filled display of brutality arguably stole the show, and is a rare case where the blue bar cage (which I've historically hated) was used effectively as a weapon, and amazingly without either guy blading.  Mankind got to re-enact Jimmy Snuka's death-defying leap from the top of the cage, albeit by changing the move to an elbowsmash.  Really good opening contest.

Three of the undercard matches were pretty good, one stunk up the joint.  Goldust vs. Brian Pillman was a nice little match with the stipulation that if Pillman lost he'd have to wear a dress for a month (Spoiler alert: he lost, and he did wear a dress).  Good psychology and decent action here.  The Legion of Doom vs. Godwinns match was a hard-hitting, satisfying brawl (one that didn't get much love as I recall but I thoroughly enjoyed it), and Davey Boy Smith vs. Ken Shamrock was fun while it lasted.  The DQ ending was kinda lame, as was the stipulation that the loser would have to eat dog food, but that's a minor gripe.  The only stinker on this card was Los Boricuas vs. The Disciples of Apocalypse.  Just a boring 8-man tag that kicked off the rather half-assed 3-way faction war between Faarooq, Savio Vega, and Crush.

Overall SummerSlam '97 was a really strong card and the company did an excellent job building to the PPV so it felt like a huge deal.  This was the best PPV of 1997 as far as I'm concerned and it began a string of SummerSlams that largely managed to outclass WrestleMania.

Best Match: Undertaker vs. Bret Hart - I like this match just slightly better than the cage match, though it's tough to compare the two.  But for drama and significance I have to go with the main event.  Of course if Owen hadn't botched that piledriver the I-C bout would take it.
Worst Match: Los Boricuas vs. Disciples of Apocalypse
What I'd Change: I'd have told Owen to execute a proper Tombstone, for Chrissake!
Most Disappointing Match: I guess Owen vs. Austin just because of how it ended.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Just how the end of the main event was booked.  Genius in its simplicity and execution.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania 13? - Yes


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