Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: Canadian Stampede went In Canada’s House and divided them against the United States, a division made even worse by the next night’s Raw about how Canada represents families and happiness and America is a crazy dude in jean shorts who won’t stop trying to kill everyone he works with. So, you know, an accurate depiction of modern politics.
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 July 14, 1997.
Best: Patriot Games
After a week-plus in Canada, the World Wrestling Federation returns home to the United States, specifically the People’s Republic of Texas, for some down-home American patriotism. That feeling is perhaps best illustrated by this screen grab of a smiling San Antonio child waving a tiny miniature flag.
And somehow even more accurately by the sign behind him.
The illustration of a reptile-tongued Bret Hart about to happily eat a bare as like groceries really brings the poster together. But I’ll be honest, maybe I’ve got a warped perspective on what constitutes a good guy, but I’d rather hang around with someone who was gonna eat my ass than kick it. Anyone who eats ass is a pure white-meat babyface.
So this week’s show starts off like last week’s, with the Hart Foundation hitting the ring to talk about how confident they are that they’ll win every match at SummerSlam. Bret Hart uses the stipulation from his aborted Shawn Michaels King of the Ring match and says that if he loses at The SummerSlam — Bret calling it “the” SummerSlam is extremely Bret Hart — he’ll never again wrestle on American soil. Owen uses Blistex to illustrate how Stone Cold Steve Austin will be kissing his bare ass. British Bulldog says he’ll eat a can of dog food if he loses to Ken Shamrock. Brian Pillman says he’ll wear a dress if he loses to Goldust. Jim Neidhart says that if ANY of the Harts lose, he’ll shave his goatee on Raw.
What these proud Canadians don’t realize is that as of tonight, American Patriotism has become sentient and is coming for them.
Meet The Patriot, a masked representation of American pride so universal and mysterious they openly call him “Del Wilkes, the Patriot.” If you’ve never seen him wrestle, imagine someone wrapped an American flag around Bob Holly’s face and sent him to the ring without cutting the eye holes.
He debuts when Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts the Hart Foundation promo and introduces a number of possible tag team partners for tonight’s Tag Team Championship match: USA Guy, Ken Shamrock, Sycho Sid, and even the former and current (?) other half of the tag team champions, Shawn Michaels. Turns out it’s actually none of them, because America’s not going to help you through ANYTHING unless you’re already halfway through it.
Best/Worst: Puh-puh-puh POLISH POWER
You know, if there’s one story WWE keeps trying to get over despite it being 100% impossible, it’s, “a second-generation star isn’t catching on, so let’s bring back the first generation to fight their battles for them.” It didn’t work for Bruno and David Sammartino, it didn’t work for Rockies Johnson and Maivia, and bringing 60-year old Ivan Putski out of retirement to win matches for Scott isn’t going to fare any better. It certainly didn’t work for Ric and David Flair, or any of the “Legacy” angles they try to do. I think the only time a dad and a son teaming up wasn’t a joke or regressive for the son’s career is the Dusty/Dustin Rhodes The View Never Changes promo, because that was built around Dustin having established himself a little, being betrayed for trusting veterans, and Dusty openly ASKING to be his partner because he viewed himself as old news and Dustin as his superior.
In contrast, Scott Putski, a wrestler nobody would like if he came with a coupon for a free soda, gets beaten up by Jerry Lawler and Brian Christopher until he can make a tag to his dad, who instantly wins. I think the most difficult thing to explain of any of this is Ivan’s pre-match ritual, which involves singing Bobby Vinton’s ‘My Melody of Love.’ If you’re unfamiliar with the Putski Brand, watch:
Just imagine how that would go over today. Imagine if like, Tony Nese stopped a match and brought out The Premiere Dad Abner Nese or whoever to sing a song from The Laurence Welk Show.
Still, I’ve got to give it at least half a Best for the time-displaced absurdity of the situation I just had to explain, and to the match for keeping it super simple and getting a crowd to react to Scott Putski for the first and only time in his wrestling career.
Best: Baby Buzzsaw
Hey, here’s an exciting surprise: the Raw singles debut of Yoshihiro Tajiri. We If you’re a modern fan, you might know him best as the oldest man in the inaugural Cruiserweight Classic. If you’ve been around a little longer, you know him as the most decorated Asian athlete in WWE history, with four runs as either the Cruiserweight or Light Heavyweight Champion, two tag title wins and a United States Championship. He also held the tag team and television titles in ECW. He also once posed as a doctor to cockblock Maven. Before this, he’d gotten some tag jobber duty.
Tajiri is brought in as enhancement talent for Taka Michinoku — still called TAGGAMIDGINOGO by the announce team — because the Great Sasuke has been fired. So now Taka’s in the Sa-sooky role, and Tajiri gets to be Additional Japanese Guy. It’s a hell of a little match, too, far (far) ahead of its time and featuring modern day tropes like strike exchanges, dueling dives and stiff kicks to the chest. Tajiri still did these better than anybody.
What’s a little depressing is that the crowd doesn’t know what to do with it. They need Heel capital H versus Face capital F, and they don’t know what to do with competitive wrestling. Tajiri essentially wrestles the match as a scrappy but talented babyface, and after he hits a beautiful dive to the outside he slides back into the ring and throws his arms up. The crowd boos him, mostly because they saw a video package for the other guy before the match, and that means he’s the one they’re supposed to cheer.
Tajiri only gets a few more Fed matches before he heads back down to CMLL. The good news is that by December of 1998 he gets noticed by Paul Heyman, gets brought into ECW, tears down the house with Antifaz Del Norte and meets his twin flame Super Crazy. It’s all uphill from there.
Worst: Savio Vega Drags The Disciples Of Apocalypse
Early in the night, Los Boricuas show up in four (4) matching outfits with only two (2) women in a low rider painted to show their appreciation for Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 epic magical realism romantic drama classic The Fountain. Two of them — assuredly the two without girlfriends — win a tag match against the Headbangers, who are still bald dudes that dance in place to public domain “punk” demos and don’t actually headbang.
After the match, Los Boricuas gang up on the Headbangers until the Disciples of Apocalypse make the save. If you were concerned about the only babyfaces in the Gang Warz being the white guys, check out this bit where they show up to save a couple of skinheads. The fight ends up continuing into the back, and culminates with the Boricuamobile driving off and dragging one of the Disciples’ motorcycles behind it. All this needed was the Nation of Domination showing up in a Faarooq monster truck and running over somebody.
Ironic Best: Wink Collins
Speaking of the Headbangers, they make another appearance in a commercial for the SummerSlam One Million Dollar Challenge Brought To You By Discovery Zone®. I am so excited to get to The SummerSlam to let you know how it pays off, but all you need to know now is that you’re supposed to watch Raw to find “clues,” which you then write on a ticket you can get at your local Discovery Zone and mail in for a shot at winning one million dollars. In this one, Mosh gets struck by lightning for trying to cheat at golf, which is something Headbangers do. The clue is, “life.”
These bits are hosted by a “Wink Collins,” who I’m 90% sure is Broken Matt Hardy traveling back in time to try to get his dad to win a million dollars. He’s a randomly occurring WWF personality who winks sometimes, so they call him “Wink.” Get it? He appeared in some of the “Billionaire Ted” skits and makes one (1) live Raw appearance seven months after this to tell the crowd WrestleMania tickets sold out fast. If WWE has an Uatu The Watcher, it’s Wink Collins. *wink*
Best: Do The Funky Vader
I had a whole bit about how good the Vader vs. Flash Funk match was even though it’s only about four minutes long and how stupid they were for not putting 2 Cold Scorpio in the damn Light Heavyweight division, but then I took this screen grab. Now all I can write is please look at this screen grab. It’s like Vader is super-manning into the top turnbuckle from the sky and Paul Bearer is begrudgingly accepting it.
Vader wins, and moves to SummerSlam to face nobody for nothing.
Best: The Godwinns Save Us From A Blackjacks Match
We’re supposed to be getting a Legion of Doom vs. The New Blackjacks match, but the Legion gets jumped by the Shirtless Heel Godwinns before the match and everything gets thrown out. I can’t believe I’m typing this, but thank you for your contribution to the wrestling show, The Godwinns!
Here’s something interesting: go to this episode of WWE Network and fast forward to the 1:10:50 mark. Henry Godwinn Slop-drops Road Warrior Hawk on the ramp. Instead of it making a loud “clang” when he hits, it’s silent. Then, a second later, we hear a strange alien noise. At first I thought maybe they broke some sound equipment under the ramp and that’s what caused the weird interference, but then I saw the wound on the back of Hawk’s head:
That is clearly Heptapod language for, “Farmer is dead.”
Worst: Jim Neidhart Is Maybe The Worst Wrestler
I don’t think I’ve spent enough time shading Jim Neidhart, especially late ’90s Jim Neidhart. I don’t think there’s ever been a higher quality dip between tag team partners than Bret Hart to Anvil. Like, imagine if AJ Styles spent seven years in a tag team Tony Schiavone. That’s Bret hart to Anvil.
Anvil contributes the only truly horrible thing from this episode, a singles match with Ken Shamrock that ends with him “tapping out” to a sleeper. I put tapping out in quotes because he literally claps his hands like a seal to tap.
Seriously. This might be the saddest submission in wrestling history, and I’ve seen Chavo Guerrero Jr. tap out to a pre-match handshake.
After the match, British Bulldog attacks so that Shamrock will have to fend off 1 1/4 tough wrestlers. Del Wilkes The Patriot makes the save, debuting the very best thing about him: a full nelson slam he calls UNCLE SLAM. Okay, second best thing. The best thing is his entrance theme, which you’ll recognize.
And Now, The Best Day Of Vince McMahon’s Life
This tops the list, with the birth of Stephanie at #2, the first WrestleMania at #3, and the birth of Shane somewhere in the low 200s.
This is honestly one of the weirdest loopholes I’ve ever seen in a WWE Championship situation. So, Shawn MIchaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin won the Tag Team Championship. Shortly after that, Shawn and Bret Hart got into a backstage fight with Shawn threatening to quit the company. He walked out, so Stone Cold became the tag champs by himself. So the WWF held a tag team tournament to name new number one contenders, with the winners moving on to face Austin and “someone.” Mankind’s been petitioning Austin to get that spot. So now that the tournament is done and Austin’s about to defend the titles, he introduces his possible new tag team partners and one of them is Shawn Michaels.
Shawn cuts this promo with Vince to beg for a spot at SummerSlam, because he wants to be there when Bret Hart’s career ends — don’t worry buddy, you’ll be there — and says that whether or not he’ll be Austin’s partner is “up to Stone Cold Steve Austin.” But, like, is it? Shouldn’t the mystery be over if you came back to work before the mystery partner had to debut?
Anyway, this promo’s basically an excuse for Shawn to put himself over as Vince McMahon’s Chosen One, which becomes pretty important later, and for Vince to make heart-eyes at Michaels every time he moves.
Find yourself someone who looks at you the way Vince McMahon looks at Shawn Michaels. And someone who will tell life to “ring the damn bell” when you’re on top.
Best: Man Kinder
When it’s time for the main event, Stone Cold Steve Austin is forced to go it alone against Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. Ken Shamrock already wrestled, The Patriot is just here to defend America and Sycho Sid has a softball game or something. He does pretty well, too, but he needs a partner. The only guy who wants to help him is Mankind, but Austin punked him out last week because he’s horrible to people. Twice the announce team tries to interview Mankind, and twice he just sits there not saying anything.
Austin fares pretty well, but Bulldog and Owen are a top-shelf team. About four minutes into the match, Vince McMahon gets word that Austin’s partner “has arrived,” and before we go to commercial we get the Saturday Night Fever shot of walking feet.
A few minutes later, Austin’s interrupted by a strange sight on the TitanTron: Mankind, now wearing tye-dye and sunglasses, using the name of his Shawn Michaels character from the Jim Ross sit-down interviews, “Dude Love.” Austin sells it brilliantly with an A+ “what the fuck” look, which is something Austin didn’t get to do a lot.
A Bee Gees soundalike hits, and Dude Love makes his debut. Austin begrudgingly accepts the help, because he’s gone the entire match by himself and needs a break. I love that they have the character accepted out of necessity, and not a random change of heart from serial killer-ass Steve Austin. Dude does okay, getting Bulldog in the Mandible Claw — soon to be called the “Love Handle” — but Owen breaks it up by dropkicking him from behind. As the referee is shooing Owen out of the ring, Austin smartly takes advantage of the distraction, Stunners Bulldog and gives Dude Love the win. Austin has retained the Tag Team Championship, and Dude Love just won it.
It’s really outstanding how this came together, especially given the Shawn MIchaels tantrum that caused the entire angle to move forward. I’m telling you, between this and him “losing his smile,” WWF was never better than when Shawn left them high and dry and made them get creative to make up for it.
Worst: This Dancing
Foley’s dancing aside, that girl on the right needs to take Triple H’s advice on making money. It’s her national TV debut and all we see is the back of her head.
Anyway, that’s this week’s Raw. Mostly a good show with (surprise surprise) killer content from the Hart Foundation and Stone Cold Steve Austin, some exciting light heavyweight stuff and the Legion of Doom at least bleeding if they’re gonna be on TV.
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Next week we head back to Canada for a flag match, proof that the Undertaker’s brother Kane is still alive, and Shawn Michaels getting his feelings hurt again.