Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Vader was HELD HOSTAGE in Kuwait after getting in an interviewer’s face about whether or not wrestling is fake. In extremely real wrestling news, The Undertaker burned off Paul Bearer’s face with a fireball.
If you haven’t seen this episode, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for April 28, 1997.
Best: Prayers For The Handicapped, An Episode-Long Best
A running theme of Raw Is War is that probably 75% of the wrestling is plodding and boring and most of the stories are for Lennie and not George — Ahmed Johnson hates this gang! The Honky Tonk Man wants a friend that’s also the Honky Tonk Man! Girls are sexy! — but Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart is exciting as hell and one of the best executed pro wrestling stories ever. Ever. It still manages to trigger emotions in you 20 years later, even if you were around 20 years ago and know where it goes.
This week’s show begins with the returning Brian Pillman, finally dressed like he is on the cover of his DVD, leading a big, exaggerated prayer for Bret Hart’s recovery, the forgiveness of the people who got joy from watching Bret get beaten up, and “those many among us who exalted in the devious actions of Stone Cold Steve Austin.” It’s a master class in the same toe-in-the-water sacrilege that made Austin 3:16 such a hit, and would eventually go too far and deplete itself during the Vince McMahon vs. God thing. Pillman’s brand of pissing people off is so great, because he always seems in control of his own sanity, and can dole it out in little portions long after a normal person would’ve stopped.
Pillman keeps going and praying until Austin pops up on the TitanTron and tells him he’d better “pray I don’t come out there and beat the hell out of you.” Pillman says he’s not afraid of the devil, and that the good book says to turn the other cheek. So, of course, he points his asshole directly at the TitanTron. Probably shouldn’t do that to the guy who literally broke into your house and no-sold you trying to murder him with a handgun. But yeah, Austin shows up and suddenly so do Owen Hart and the British Bulldog, so Austin scoots out of there and escapes into the crowd. How revolutionary is it to see a WWF Superstar thinking that a situation might be a trap, and just keeping an eye out for it?
Not satisfied with the sneak attack being avoided, Pillman goes back to the prayer, inviting Owen and Bulldog to join him in a “moment of silence,” because the “family that prays together stays together.” Meanwhile, Stone Cold Steve Austin rummages around in the back for something he can beat the shit out of them with. This story’s like 1/4 of the way done 5 minutes into the episode and already has more depth and logic than most modern stories.
Owen is magical here, asking the crowd in his whiniest voice to “please, please pray for my brother Bret to help him heal!” It’s so over the top that even Owen Hart fans are hoping Austin drives back out in a monster truck or something and runs them over. Austin eventually finds an axe handle, which is a thing you find lying around backstage at pro wrestling shows, and runs back out to attack them. McMahon mentions that it’s starting to “border on the absurd,” and all I can think about is how three guys feel comfortable taking on Stone Cold Steve Austin, but not Stone Cold Steve Austin with a stick.
Austin’s response as they flee is glorious:
“–” is WWE Network closed captioning for “ass.” They have a guy on the roster who spent 15 years wrestling in a headband that says “BAD ASS” across his forehead, but yeah, let’s type “–” so deaf fans watching a redneck curse won’t get too exposed.
Brilliant opening segment, though, and Pillman spends the rest of the show backstage praying for Austin’s demise. Meanwhile, we find out that Bret Hart is coming to the arena tonight IN AN AMBULANCE, which I guess is how hospitals work when you’re a crybaby trying to make a point. When you get hurt, an ambulance takes you TO the hospital, so of course it’d drive you back when you’re well.
Once he’s actually at the arena, Wheelchair Bret — arguably the best-ever version of the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be — launches into another anti-American tirade about how the fans are just “lousy, stinkin’ hyena” for cheering as Stone Cold Steve Austin hurt him. Bret went to that same school of 1980s wrestling insults as Hulk Hogan, where even deep into the 1990s they thought they could make anything worse by saying it stinks.
The crowd starts chanting “U-S-A,” so Bret is like, “go ahead and chant USA, my mother’s American,” and just smirks his ass off at them. I don’t think Bret’s ever gotten credit for being as good a heel as he was, probably because they just wheeled the dude out onto the stage and told him to be himself. Owen and Bulldog stand guard as Bret happily remarks that he’d like to send Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin to the hospital. Shawn’s at home trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle of the Bill of Rights with his smile, but Austin’s around here somewhere.
After that, we get the merciful end of Rocky Maivia’s Intercontinental Championship run, as he somehow manages to get zero face pop against the God-demeaning foreign crybaby wheelchair guys and loses the strap to Owen. It’s one of those matches that retroactively should be a bigger deal — Owen and Rock both ended up as legends, and once Bret’s gone they end up in the same black militant separatist faction together (don’t ask) — but Rock is, at best, “slightly better than Prince Iaukea” at this point in his career and it kinda sorta feels like nothing.
The good news, though, is that Owen Hart has his first singles title, and it’s the title Austin will eventually challenge for at SummerSlam. Hope nothing bad happens in that match!
Owen celebrates the victory by giving Bret the championship so he can hold it up as Bulldog pops wheelchair wheelies for him, and Bulldog celebrates with something that’s either “dancing” or “spamming Ultimate Warrior’s taunt from WWE 2K.”
What is Austin’s response, you might be asking?
To bring his OWN wheelchair to the ring and challenge Bret. “Who wants to see a WHEELCHAIR MATCH?” Austin then disqualifies himself from his own hypothetical wheelchair match, saying he’d probably just get out of the wheelchair and beat Bret’s ass. I love that Austin’s psychotic obsession with Actually Murdering Bret Hart turned him from the company’s best heel to its best face based solely on Bret’s smug ass reaction to it.
Austin halfheartedly mentions the Undertaker (who he’s got a championship match with at the next In Your House for some reason), but before he can leave, the Hart Foundation show up on the Tron and promise Austin will be in Bret’s Uber ambulance or whatever before the end of the night. Foreshadowing, y’all!
Here’s a picture of this week’s main event, The Undertaker vs. The British Bulldog. It ends about a minute in, because if you announce a main event on a weekly wrestling show in 1997, it is contractually obligated to end in 90 seconds or less via disqualification.
Here, Bulldog gets caught with a chokeslam and Owen charges the ring to save him. Austin runs in to even the odds and helps fight them off, then, in a moment of Austin-specific hubris, he grabs Undertaker’s WWF Championship and holds it over his head on the ropes. Taker is like, “da fuq, rest in peace,” and Austin is like, “KICK WHAM slow set up to the STUNNER.” Austin’s hubris knows no bounds, so he stands over the Undertaker and middle-fingers him until the guy classically known for no-selling finishers by sitting up and grabbing you by the throat sits up and grabs him by the throat. Austin eats a chokeslam, rolls out of the ring and tries to regroup.
At that point, Austin looks up the ramp and realizes Bret Hart’s up there in the wheelchair by himself. But in the ring, The Undertaker just chokeslammed him. He has to pick one thing to angrily rage at, and guess which one he picks? Come on, take a guess. I BET YOU KNOW IT.
Austin bumrushes Bret, and it looks like Bret is officially Screwed until Brian Pillman’s prayers miraculously come true in the form of … Jim Neidhart?
Neidhart jumps Austin from behind, freeing Bret up to attack Austin and baseball bat him off the stage with a crutch. And that’s the conclusion of this week’s Bret/Austin story; the Hart Foundation keeps building itself up from within, Austin can’t make any friends and keeps making more and more enemies, and Bret’s promise to send Austin home in an ambulance comes true.
Top shelf material.
Now, let’s look at the bottom shelf.
Worst: Furnas And LaFon Are Trying To Turn Heel, But Nobody’s Paying Attention
In one of the weirdest production choices I’ve seen in a while, Jim Ross interviews Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon backstage in real-time while Furnas and LaFon are in the ring. It’s supposed to be “moments ago,” but I feel like they just forgot to do it during the Legion of Doom’s entrance and figured nobody was paying that much attention.
Anyway, the story now is that Furnas and LaFon don’t know why they aren’t bigger stars, and why the Legion of Doom gets a “home field advantage every night” with the fans for being “painted up like clowns” and not knowing how to wrestle. Phil LaFon knows how to do SUPLEXES. That makes him GOOD AT WRESTLING. It also makes him sound like the most Canadian dude in the world when Ross is like, “why aren’t you guys clicking with the crowds,” and he’s like “OH HI DON KNOW DERE AH JEEZ.”
The LOD beats them in like three minutes. Furnas and LaFon get another tone deaf in-ring promo to challenge for a rematch, saying the referee cheated them and that it took “two of dem to beat one of us!” Because … tag teams?
Worst: He’s An Ass, Man
Remember how weird it was for WWF to build to the reveal of the Honky Tonk Man’s new protege by including a segment where he offered the role to Billy Gunn and got turned down and punched, only to have Billy be the protege after all, then LOSE? Here’s Rockabilly losing again, this time to Flash Funk, who has the forward momentum of a zamboni in reverse and is only in the company so Vince McMahon can spend 80 seconds of a Raw going “OH MYYYY” and shoulder-dancing at black women.
Flash wins when one honky hits the other Honky. After the match, they attack him with a guitar, because Jeff Jarrett’s still in WCW right now and they’ve got a warehouse of collapsible acoustic guitars full of powder to burn through.
Worst: Jim Ross Thinks Wrestling Is Real
If you’re wondering what happened to the other guy who beat Rockabilly, Jesse “Jammes” James, he gets squashed by Vader, who is back from his $160 dollar fine WWF played up as an international incident threatening to bring actual physical war to a pro wrestling company. After the match, Jim Ross asks Vader if he’s embarrassed about what he’s put everyone through, and Vader somehow turns this into wanting to beat up JR for the guy in Kuwait asking him if wrestling’s fake. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ross says he isn’t going to ask Vader if he thinks wrestling is fake or not, because he “doesn’t agree with the question.” That’s the most U.S. Government way of answering that question I’ve ever heard.
When it looks like Ross is about to get got, Ken Shamrock shows up and suplexes Vader. I love that screenshot because out of context, it looks like Vader is happily surprised at Shamrock hugging him.
Worst: Sunny UNDER COVERS
Somewhere between the Shawn Michaels Heartbreak Hotel and Edge’s live sex celebration is SUNNY UNDER COVERS, the Shotgun Saturday Night interview segment where Sunny invites people to join her in bed and then gets mad when people join her in bed. It’s a lot like that photo op she was offering at conventions a few years ago. This time out she asks anyone who wants to join her to come out, the Headbangers show up, and she’s like, “ew, not you!” Great segment, guys.
Best: Chyna Takes A Powder
In the only other thing on the show resembling a wrestling match, the Goldust vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley feud soldiers on with Marlena throwing powder in Chyna’s eyes, blinding her and causing her to accidentally choke-lift Triple H. That gets H counted out instead of disqualified, because reasons. It’s probably the best match in their feud, and next week they push fast forward that weird “I’m actually Dustin Rhodes, human being, and I’m just a pansexual Oscar statue for fun, I actually love women and my family” retcon they pulled to get people to cheer their gay panic character.
It is notable that this is the only match on the show featuring people who are still actively competitors for WWE. Not that Flash Funk and Rockabilly don’t deserve to be the Executive Vice President of Talent and a legacy vet.
Did anything else happen on this show?
Ahmed Johnson is in a gang. He’s a gang MEMBER!
Nope, nothing else, ending it there.