Previously on the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: We’re balls-deep in the great United States and Canada beef of 1997, with the Hart Foundation teaming up to throw every stipulation imaginable at the wall to see what sticks, and the United States enlisting the help of a man vaguely named THE PATRIOT who loves America so much but is more symbolism than man. Also, most of the international issues revolve around eating dog food and wearing dresses.
If you haven’t seen this pay-per-view, 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.
This is one of the most important shows of the year, so please make sure to share the column on social media and drop down into our comments section to let us know you enjoyed it and/or what you thought of the show. We can either talk about this, or a Natalya championship match at SummerSlam 2017. Your call.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF SummerSlam for August 3, 1997.
Best: First, Here’s The Greatest Picture Of Vince McMahon Ever Taken
The World Wrestling Federation in August 1997 is obsessed with national pride, so we open SummerSlam with an indie show-style Star-Spangled Banner on cassette tape. While they pan the cameras around to show everyone beaming with American Grit, we see Vince McMahon looking like Sam the Eagle with BISCHOFF SMELLS TURNER’S ASS by his face.
When Vince McMahon dies, this picture should be the only thing on his tombstone. Not even his name.
Best: Watch Where You’re Punching, Chyna
While I’m sure this match was booked to end with the dramatic reveal of Dude Love, a flying elbow from the top of a steel cage meant to evoke Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka vs. Don Muraco and a fist-pumping, feel-good win for the underdog Mankind, you probably remember the SummerSlam 1997 opener as “that time Chyna punched Mick Foley right in the asshole.” I mean, look at it.
The most interesting thing about this match for me is that the only thing that really elevates it from a normal, by-the-numbers WWE cage match is the severity of Foley’s bumping. Go to extremes in both directions and that’s exactly what turns him into an American folk legend or whatever less than a year later: a cage match that’s barely a match, propelled to legendary status by Mick Foley bumping harder and crazier than any one man should. Although to this match’s credit, while it doesn’t have anybody falling through a cage roof or As God As His Witness Being Broken In Half, it does probably feature the reason Foley had to write city names on his palm when he was Raw General Manager:
Hunter and Foley would have better matches a few years later — hell, the Canadian Stampede opener kicks this match’s ass — but WWE isn’t about “good matches” as much as it is “creating moments,” and that’s what this did. Even if Mick sweated off the Dude Love heart before his big spot and had Chyna’s arm up to the elbow inside of him.
Worst: The Tax Crusher
Remember back in March when the Undertaker presented New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman a construction-paper tombstone to celebrate the death of a tax bill that would allow “sports wrestling” to return to the state? If not, go watch it.
She calls it “sports wrestling,” which is wonderful, and is like, “I don’t like wrestling myself, but my wiener kid liked it. He doesn’t like it anymore, but I bought all the figurines, which is how grandmas say action figures, so I’m not going to make you go all the way to Madison Square Garden to see it.” Big ass Undertaker is just standing there in his goth Dracula samurai robes with prison teardrops on his face, posing for mark photos with little kids while Linda McMahon exchanges secret handshakes with the other lizard people.
This finally pays off at SummerSlam, where she shows up, gets booed out of the building and is awarded a WWE Championship belt for no reason.
Christie Todd Whitman: the original Big Dog.
Worst: Poor Brian Pillman
It’s really a shame to see Brian Pillman at this point in his career, only two months before his death. He’s clearly in a lot of pain, and while he’s got a great character going and could do great character work in his sleep, he’s limited physically, his offense has almost nothing behind it and he’s not able to do simple stuff like, say, get tossed off the top and crotch himself on the ropes. He misjudges it, clips his leg and falls shoulderblade-first on the apron. Goldust is doing all he can to keep it together, but what can you do?
The finish is supposed to be Goldust going for a sunset flip, Pillman hanging on to the ropes, Marlena swatting him in the face with a purse and Goldust completing the flip for the pin. Instead, this happens:
Pillman’s nowhere near the rope, so Goldust undershoots the sunset flip attempt and almost breaks his neck. Pillman still has to get them where they’re going for the spot, though, so it’s a tug-of-war teabagging until he can scoot them close enough to the ropes to get hit in the face with a purse. In the shadow of a mannequin. And his boot is about to fall off. It’s not the best Brian Pillman memory.
Worst: Tag Warz
This show features two tag team matches so bad they’d straight-up turn me into Grandpa Simpson at La Maison Derrière if the rest of the card wasn’t lousy with historical significance.
Most notably is the Gang Warz 8-man tag between Los Boricuas and the Disciples of Apocalypse. The Nation of Domination shows up to look intimidating, and we get an unbelievably terrible moment where Ahmed Johnson, a guy whose knee is just healthy enough for him to stand at ringside and maybe interfere but definitely not wrestle, tries to Pearl River Plunge Crush on the exposed arena floor and, I shit you not, gets none of it. He powerbombs Crush onto his own legs, hurting himself again. How do you miss THE FLOOR?
Thos Boricuas steal a win off Ahmed’s accidental appropriation of Teddy Hart’s moveset, and a three-team brawl breaks out. Thankfully, Crush is there to slowly ride a motorcycle around the ring to clear everyone out. Nothing says intimidation like a motorcycle moving through a small corridor at 3 MPH while 20,000 people watch!
The other match, which I’m not even going to bother to screencap, is the Legion of Doom vs. the Godwinns. These guys have been feuding and attacking each other and covering one another in pig’s food for MONTHS, and this is yet another in their endless series of “we accidentally broke Henry O.’s neck once and none of us can get over it” matches. The LOD wins with a spike piledriver, because they’re dicks.
I hope nobody actually breaks their neck on this show!
Best: Surprise! Fans Love Bad-asses Who Can’t Stop Kicking Ass
British Bulldog vs. Ken Shamrock isn’t great — Shamrock isn’t Bret Hart, Owen Hart’s busy and Dynamite Kid isn’t standing in the corner, which are the three possible good British Bulldog matches — but the ending is FANTASTIC.
It’s pretty much Chinlock City, Bitch, until the fight goes to the outside. British Bulldog has promised to eat dog food (or something) if he loses to Shamrock, so there’s an open can of dog food on the announce table. Bulldog feels froggy, scoops out a handful and smacks Shamrock in the face. This is the moment when we find out exactly what not to do with Ken Shamrock, as he starts “seeing red” and spends the next like, 5-10 minutes brutally murdering the Bulldog. Like, he kicks the shit out of him and puts him in a rear naked choke that actually probably would have medically killed the man if wrestling was real. Trainers, EMTs, referees down, but Shamrock won’t give it up. When they’re finally able to break the hold, Shamrock starts suplexing THEM. The crowd goes ape for all of this, and by the end of it is chanting SHAM-ROCK SHAM-ROCK.
This guy just lost a match by disqualification because of dog food anger and is the most over guy on the show. Dude’s bleeding from the mouth with a thousand-yard stare, and suddenly he SCREAMS and the crowd ROARS behind it. It’s great. Ken Shamrock might’ve only been able to do one pro wrestling thing well, but he did it really well.
WORST EVER: Stridex Presents ‘Seven Minutes In Hell’
If you’ve never seen this, you’re in for a treat. Right alongside Dino Bravo lifting weights, the Katie Vick wake and Bayley This Is Your Life on the list of worst and most embarrassing WWE segments of all time is Your SummerSlam Million Dollar Chance, brought to you by the kids in the ball-pit at Discovery Zone. Remember how Mr. McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania ended with the stage collapsing and the set falling on him? That’s The Revival vs. DIY compared to this.
Here’s what you need to know: Over the past MONTH, WWF has aired commercials during Raw (starring almost-personality “Wink Collins”) featuring “clues” that if collected, analyzed and submitted, would give you a chance to go to SummerSlam and win one million dollars. The fourth commercial featured all the clues so you didn’t have to watch the first three, but whatever. They called a couple of people during Raw but only two of the three answered, and nobody was like, “maybe we should pre-tape the phone call parts of this just in case something goes horribly wrong.” WWE has never heard the idea, “live, outgoing phone calls on live television” and thought anything but WOW, CAN WE DO IT FOR TEN MINUTES?
Who cares about that bombing, tell me more about this wrestling contest.
Sunny (with a personality) and Sable (without) join Todd Pettengill and the contest winners — a disinterested child and a Stone Cold Steve Austin cosplayer — to stand near a WWF logo covered in post-it notes and a coffin full of money to make some live-ass phone calls on live-ass pay-per-view. The first person they try to call doesn’t answer. The second person gets disconnected. The third person’s mom answers, and when they finally get him on the line, he tells them he’s not watching SummerSlam because his cable company doesn’t carry it. It’s such a brutal process that Todd starts doing a tits-centric bit while a 10-year old stands like, two feet away.
It’s also worth noting that Sunny’s wearing so much body glitter it becomes TV-MA and may have put me through puberty. Like, just now.
Once we finally get a couple of callers to agree to understand what’s happening and try to win a million dollars, they get to pick their numbers (and the corresponding keys to the coffin) first. Congratulations on being flown out to SummerSlam and hanging out on stage with the talent, contest winners, you better hope these bothered strangers don’t win it first!
The good news (for them) is that neither caller wins. But then the kid doesn’t win either. And the Stone Cold Steve Austin guy doesn’t win. WWE held this contest for over a month with the help of two corporations, aired four different commercials about it, orchestrated live phone calls on multiple live broadcasts, flew two families to SummerSlam and gave them TV time on pay-per-view for nobody to win the contest.
Unbelievably, hysterically, historically bad. I hope Vince has that coffin buried in his backyard.
Best, And Then Tragically Worst:
So, the stage is set for a great match. Stone Cold Steve Austin has spent the past year having some of the best matches anybody’s ever seen with Bret Hart. Here, he’s up against Bret’s brother Owen for the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam. It’s the peak of USA vs. Canada, Canadian Stampede blew the roof off pretty much every building in Canada and this gives Austin something to do while Bret and Shawn Michaels … uh, work through their problems.
And as you might expect, it’s really good. Then, about 15 minutes into the match, Austin whips Hart into the ropes and tries a side slam. Owen reverses it into a sit-out Tombstone piledriver. Then, the course of WWE changes completely.
To clarify, Austin didn’t actually break his neck here, but he DID get a bruised spinal column and temporary paralysis. And he had to win the match anyway with the world’s saddest and least believable roll-up FROM A TEMPORARILY PARALYZED MAN because the pre-match stipulation said Austin would have to kiss Owen’s ass if he lost. So we go from a dream to a nightmare in every direction.
“As soon as my head hit that mat, I was thinking Christopher Reeve. Cause I knew I was never gonna walk again, ever. I couldn’t feel anything from my neck down …
“Man, I’m laying there, and now pain’s starting to set in, and my interior delts are burning like fire. There was no way I was gonna lay there and let some ambulance or bunch of paramedics carry me out of that ring. I hit him with the roll-up; it looks like shit. One, two, three; I’m the champion. I grab the belt, and I held it up in the air, and when I looked back at that footage, and I look in my eyes, if you look at my eyes, the lights are on there, but there ain’t nobody home. I’m … pretty fucked up, and I’m really hurt. But I did it. I remember going to the back, I sat down on a bench, and I was in a world of hurt. And I was confused and I was … didn’t know what was gonna happen to me. When you come that close to almost being paralyzed for the rest of your life, it really fucks your head up.”
Honestly, it’s crazy to think how much this changed things. Changed everything. If Owen had like, chosen to work the leg instead of the neck, Austin wouldn’t have had a career-threatening injury at the height of his rise. Without that injury, he could’ve been on top of the company for another 5-10 years, easy.
And God, if Owen hadn’t made the mistake and had walked out of this match with a classic under his belt, he might’ve been positioned as a top guy in the late 90s. That means he wouldn’t have gone back to being the Blue Blazer for comedy, which means he might still be alive today. All because of this one piledriver where he went to his butt instead of to his knees. Your knee to the floor, that’s the difference between two lives, two careers and millions of dollars.
Best-ish: The Main Event
Want to see someone who isn’t into what they’re doing? Keep an eye on Owen Hart as he has to hang out at ringside and act like a heel distraction like 15 minutes after possibly ending the career of the company’s biggest new star.
The pre-match stipulation on this show of absurd-ass stipulations says that if Bret Hart can’t defeat the Undertaker for the WWF Championship, he’ll “never wrestle on American soil again.” He tried to back out of it via semantics, but they’re holding him to it. Shawn Michaels just decided he also wanted to be on the card somewhere, so Vince McMahon (in an ongoing theme of favoritism that goes to some pretty unfortunate places by the end of the year) makes him the special guest referee. To keep Bret from flipping all the way out, they explain that if Shawn doesn’t call the match down the middle, HE will never be able to wrestle on American soil again. And then as the match is happening, Paul Bearer and the Hart Foundation are both at ringside. It’s encumbered by everything, and Shawn’s not even wearing his official referee booty shorts. The hell, guys?
If you’ve seen Bret Hart wrestle Sid, or have a boring match with Kevin Nash, you’ve seen this main event. It’s a good 20-minute match stretched into 30, which kills it, but was probably necessary after what happened to Austin. So they’re in here with too much story already telling even MORE story, like Shawn missing Undertaker pinfalls because he’s busy trying to clear the ringside area of ne’er-do-wells. And then Michaels is out here taking ref bumps, which is the opposite of what a wrestler ref is supposed to do, allowing Bret to cheat.
Bret wears Undertaker out with a chair, but then Shawn comes to and tries to stop him. Bret drops an f-bomb on him and spits in his face, so Shawn tries to take his head off with the chair. Bret ducks, because of course he does, and Shawn knocks out the Undertaker. Bret covers, Shawn has to make the count, and Bret Hart is now the 5-time WWF Champion. And uh, Shawn Michaels totally caused the finish with an illegal weapon shot and by every imaginable definition “didn’t call the match down the middle,” so what, we never gonna let him wrestle again? Or have we already forgotten that part?
So that’s The SummerSlam.
A lot of sadness. The stories of Bret Hart, Brian Pillman, Owen Hart, and frankly everyone in the Hart Foundation take sad turns. The stage is set for Montreal. Austin is injured for a few months, and the Intercontinental Championship he just won will have to be vacated. The Undertaker’s brother is about to show up and start setting shit on fire. It’s a dark time.
On the bright side, we’re only a Raw away from the arrival of the Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment. By SummerSlam 1998, everything has changed.