Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: SummerSlam ’97 happened, and now everything’s happening in a landslide. Bret Hart is the new WWF Champion thanks to Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker wants to kill Shawn Michaels, and Owen Hart nearly paralyzed Stone Cold Steve Austin. Now we’re stepping into what might be the two most important Raws of the year, back-to-back.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War for August 4, 1997.
America Still Needs Your Help
Up first this week is one of WWE’s favorite tropes: celebration of exciting wrestling things interrupted by middle-management decision-making.
With former anti-American fat guy heel Gorilla Monsoon unable to fulfill all of his duties as WWF President, a former anti-American heel fat guy Sgt. Slaughter was named Commissioner. If you aren’t familiar with Slaughter’s work, he started as an evil drill sergeant who eventually saw the light when America needed to be defended from the Iron Sheik. But then, you know, Hulk Hogan showed up, so Sarge was chopped liver. He eventually came back to the WWF and sided with the Iraqis during the Gulf War, winning the Championship. But then, you know, Hulk Hogan showed up, so Sarge was chopped liver. Somewhere in the middle he joined G.I. Joe and shot lasers at, but never hit, Cobra.
WWF Commissioners make it their duty to be critical to heels and mistreat them for misdirected babyface reasons until jerks like me side with them, so Slaughter opens Raw by getting in the face of the entire Hart Foundation. He signs Bret Hart to a WWF Championship match with The Patriot at Ground Zero, promises Owen Hart he’ll have to face Stone Cold Steve Austin again when Austin’s healthy, gives British Bulldog a TBA match with Ken Shamrock and threatens to suspend Brian Pillman if he doesn’t wrestle in a dress. In fact, Pillman will now have to continue wrestling in a dress until he wins a match. He also decides it’s okay to physically drag Pillman to the ring in the dress:
Pillman ends up losing to Bob Holly, arguably the worst wrestler on the roster, via count-out when Goldust and Marlena distract him at ringside. And Sarge is still like, “that counts a loss, you still have to wrestle in the dress,” despite the extenuating circumstances. And also the crowd chanting gay slurs, because 1997.
The good/bad news here is that Sarge is completely emasculated by November — thanks, D-Generation X — and is a corporate heel lackey by 1998. All the story needed to come full circle is Hulk Hogan showing up and being better at being browbeaten and following orders.
Worst: America STILL Needs Your Help
I don’t have much to say about the Godwinns vs. the Headbangers, other than noting one of the first instances of a “boring” chant on Raw and pointing out Henry O.’s post-match promo, which consists of him holding up the Confederate flag to the camera and yelling, “THESE COLORS DON’T RUN!”
And hey, speaking of Ahmed,
Worst: To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn
Ahmed Johnson, now with Buff Bagwell-style choker, takes on Chainz of the Disciples of Apocalypse. And he wins, too, which results in … the Nation of Domination turning on him and whipping him with a belt?
Me either, guys.
I guess the Nation of Domination finally realized they’d offered membership to a guy they hated, couldn’t understand, were embarrassed to be seen with and couldn’t rely on to get through a Gang Warz brawl without blowing out 1-3 knees. You can put 15 kneepads on a horse but you can’t make it drink, you know?
I’ll jump ahead a week and retroactively give this turn a Best, though, because it sets up next week’s Chainz vs. Faarooq match. Trust me, you’ll like how that one ends.
Worst: Ken Shamrock, Boricua
In this week’s other Gang Warz-related news, Kama Mustafa loses a match to Ken Shamrock when Los Boricuas show up and beat him up at ringside. In a move that I’ll chalk up to a barely functioning brain instead of being a bad babyface, Shamrock somehow doesn’t see any of this in his peripheral vision (pictured) and suplexes Kama for the cheap win. It’s a pretty big step down from flipping out and murdering the Bulldog and a bunch of referees at SummerSlam, but at least I can pretend this led to Shamrock joining Los Boricuas and rocking that white pants and fedora look.
Brakkus Is Still Almost Here
(Other way, honey.)
Best: Shawn Michaels Degenerates
And now we get to the multifaceted segment that makes this one of the most important Raws of the year.
At SummerSlam, Shawn Michaels was the special guest referee for the WWF Championship match between The Undertaker and Bret Hart. Shawn hates Bret, so they gave him a stipulation: if he didn’t call the match down the middle, he’d never be able to wrestle in the United States again. The match ends with Bret spitting in Shawn’s face, and instead of like, disqualifying him, Shawn tries to hit him with a steel chair. He accidentally hits the Undertaker, costing Taker the match and handing over the championship to his blood rival. Also, he didn’t even kind of call the match down the middle. They write around that by having Shawn say he did, and everyone going ¯_(ツ)_/¯
The good news is that Shawn is now officially sick of everyone’s shit, and is going to tell us about it. He blames the fans for blaming all their problems on him, screams in Vince McMahon’s face until even World’s Biggest Shawn Michaels Fan Vince is rolling his eyes, and, in a moment of shooty goodness, drops this for the first time:
Vince gets so alienated and disappointed that he leaves, leaving Shawn to run his mouth for a while about the Undertaker. That of course brings out Taker, and they set up the match for Ground Zero that in turn sets up the first Hell in a Cell at Badd Blood. Next week, on the same show where the Nation of Domination rockets to era relevance, Shawn throws in with a pack of degenerate cronies, starts telling people to suck his dick, and takes the “change wrestling forever” torch from the nWo.
But that’s not all! Speaking of the Undertaker and Hell in a Cell …
Undertaker’s promo gets interrupted once again by Paw Bear, who promises that he talked to Kane last night, and that Kane is coming soon. Taker tries to leave, but as he does, his spooky blue lights turn red. There’s no explanation as to why yet, but man, knowing where this goes, how great of an image is that?
Just think about how brilliantly this all comes together. Shawn and Bret have issues. Those issues get Shawn selfishly involved in Bret’s match with Undertaker. Shawn’s hatred for Bret (and Bret being a manipulative dick) ends up costing Taker the title to Bret. Now Taker wants to kill Shawn, so Shawn’s got to enlist a bunch of goons to watch his back. Meanwhile, Taker has to watch his back, because his old manager’s bringing in a dude to kill him. It’s not deep character development or anything, but it’s simple and easy to follow, and goes from A to B to C to D in a logical, exciting, and compelling way. We even get a relatively subtle (considering) fourth wall break, character consistency through creative honesty, and a ton of foreshadowing.
I would give anything for Raw to be this good again. And I’m saying that about a show with Henry Godwinn waving the Confederate flag and a conversation about how sexy Brian Christopher is while Brian Christopher’s dad makes waggly eyebrows at him.
I think that’s every Internet post about the Divas from 2008-2016.
Note: Brian Christopher Is Not Very Sexy
Brian Christopher takes on (and loses to) TAGGAMIDGINOGO, and it’s so uneventful I spend most of the match (1) noticing the hilarious Batman ’66 rogues gallery cam they use for special guest ring announcer Sunny, and (2) dissecting Sunny’s signature “sexy” stance. It goes:
1. hug yourself like you’re holding in poop
2. pop a squat like you’re pooping
3. wipe the poop in your hair
Good luck ever seeing anything else.
Best: The Final Hunter Hearst Helmsley Match
Everything changes for him next week, so this is technically the final Raw appearance of classic, non-degenerate Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Isn’t it absolutely insane that the career-making faction-joining for Triple H and The Rock happened on the same episode?
Helmsley gets a match with Vader, who at this point might as well be a tumbleweed in a Vader mask. He’s such an unbelievable afterthought. The match ends about two minutes in when Chyna dropkicks Paw Bear — not captured on camera, as the ring blocked the shot in one camera and Paul’s giant body blocked it in the other — and both men end up brawling to the floor and getting counted out. Vader’s so bummed about life that he can’t even throw a convincing temper tantrum:
Next week, Shawn MIchaels is like, “hey man, have you ever considered telling people to suck your dick?” And rich guy Hunter Hearst Helmsley is like, “huh, I’ve been going about this all wrong.” In two weeks, they’re teaming up. In a couple of months, they’ve got a team name. And you know, in a couple of years Triple H is WWF Champion, and in a couple of decades he’s running the company. For want of a crotch chop.
Worst: Come On, Come On, Listen To The Money Talks
This match between a tongueless Muslim sovereign and a man dressed like an American flag is brought to you by Money Talks, director Brett Ratner’s first, less successful attempt in the “Chris Tucker nasally sasses someone culturally different from him” genre. The pre-match discussion is mostly about Charlie Sheen, who shows up on Raw only 15 years later! Via Skype!
The Patriot wins easily with the hilariously named UNCLE SLAM, because he’s suddenly got a title match and nobody gives a curly-toed shit about the Sultan. Bret shows up after the match for a brawl, because the first line in Vince Russo’s contract stated, “there must be 3-5 ringside brawls per episode or I walk.”
Best: Two Things
Firstly, it’s good to know that even spinally shocked Stone Cold Steve Austin is the coolest guy on the show.
He suffered a bruised spinal column and temporary paralysis at SummerSlam, so of course he interrupts the opening segment of Raw to shit-talk the Hart Foundation during their middle management meeting with Sgt. Slaughter. He’s not wearing a neck brace … he’s carrying one. When Owen Hart tries to use interference from Bret and the British Bulldog to defeat Dude Love in the main event, Austin shows back up, tricks the Hart Foundation into distracting everyone at ringside, and blasts Owen in the face with one of his own Slammy Awards. Dude Love wins, and Austin can somehow still outmaneuver like eight guys while his neck’s practically broken.
Of course, Austin would still have to relinquish the Tag Team and Intercontinental Championships a little over a month later due to the severity of the injury, and would be sidelined until Survivor Series. But he still finds time to show up and unofficially kick off the most important feud in WWE history while he’s on the DL.
Secondly, in a point similar to but nowhere near as notable as the “Triple H decided to start helping Shawn Michaels on the same show The Rock joined the Nation of Domination” thing, check out this appearance from the future “Stooges” Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco on the same show where the third Stooge, Sgt. Slaughter, returned and became Commissioner. Things are just falling into place right now whether they’re supposed to or not.
- a couple of undercard guys throw in with groups and set themselves up to become two of the biggest stars of this (and the next) era
- a legend returns to become an “insurance policy”
- Shawn Michaels and Mankind have one of the best TV matches of the year
- Raw is suddenly really good