A look back at WWF SummerSlam 1997, featuring the USA vs Canada rivalry as Bret Hart battles The Undertaker with Shawn Michaels as the referee!
The day is August 3, 1997 and The WWF and WCW are in the middle of the heated, Monday Night Wars. We are in the midst of the WCW’s 83 week run but the WWF is starting to make some noise with the “Attitude Era”. The ratings leading up to SummerSlam are as follows: 7/07- RAW- 2.15 WCW-3.4, 7/14- RAW- 2.6 WCW-3.5, on 7/21 there wasn’t a Nitro, 7/28- RAW-2.9 WCW-3.4. 20,213 fans are in the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey and another 235,000 estimated to be tuning in on PPV. This is a positive for the WWF at the time, as last years SummerSlam only had 157K PPV buys. Stridex is again the major sponsor and the theme songs for the evening are “Real City” and “Queen’s Finest” by Jim Johnston. This is also the first televised event in New Jersey in 8 years for the WWF. More on that later.
The show opens with the crowd standing, hands on hearts, as The National Anthem is being played. Except for Vince, who’s hand is on his belly. The crowd gives a standing ovation when the song comes to an end. The narrator comes on next and tells us all about the WWF being broadcast to “more than half a billion people worldwide” each week.
The opening vignette comes on and it is one of the best that I can recall. The narrator begins with “In a perfect world there would be no villains, no conspicuous manifestations of hate. Heroes remain heroes forever.” It shows this to be true, calling Bret Hart a “Fallen Idol” and “America’s Public Enemy Number One.” Bret is the hot heel and the heat is still there from the amazing PPV the month prior, Canadian Stampede. (More on that here) It shows the events leading to the Main Event and some of the things the narrator uses to describe The Undertaker are phenomenal. Things like “Survivor of Deception” and “Conquer of All Earthly Hell.” It finishes by showing why Shawn Michaels had to vacate the Title and is the special referee in the Main Event. The narrator describes it as “Surrendering your boyhood dream to search for the Lost Smile of Youth.” Even if you have no intention of watching this show, I would recommend you go out of your way to watch this vignette.
We enter the arena and the crowd is hyped up for SummerSlam “Hart and Soul”. The pyro is blasting and we can see the steel cage around the ring for the first match. Vince McMahon introduces his team for the night, “Good Ole JR” or Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. JR tells us that “three titles will be on the line tonight”, as Vince introduces the first match of the night.
The “1997 King of the Ring”, Hunter Hearst Helmsley makes his way to arena first and is joined by Chyna. She goes to work checking the perimeter of the old-school, blue cage as Hunter climbs the corner of it and curtsies. The crowd pops when “the demented” Mankind makes his way down the aisle and he waste no time entering the structure. As he is entering Vince tells us that New Jersey Governor, Christie Todd Whitman would join the broadcast, live, later. Helmsley doesn’t waste anytime either because as soon as the bell sounds he tries to run to the door and escape. Mankind grabs the waist of Hunter and manages to make the save. He drags Hunter back in the ring by his feet and goes to work with some blows to the head. As soon as Helmsley reaches his feet he tries to escape, this time by climbing the cage, but Mankind grabs a handful of tights and slams him to the mat. The momentum is still in Foley’s favor for a bit and the crowd pops after a running knee to the face of the prone Helmsley. The “BANG BANG” finger guns he follows it up with send the crowd into a frenzy. After he hits a pulling piledriver, Mankind is headed for the door to make an exit. Chyna is waiting there and keeps the door shut. The bumps in this match do not disappoint.
As the ref is having words with Chyna, Mankind raises he arm in anticipation of the Mandible Claw. When he puts the claw on Hunter the crowd is, again, going bonkers. Helmsley manages to back Mankind into the cage and this allows Chyna to climb up and choke Mankind with a leather strap. It does break the hold and both men are on the mat. Mankind gets the advantage, after a little back and fourth, and is soon climbing the corner of the cage. When he begins to crest the top, Chyna is there waiting and delivers an ass punch. This allows Hunter to climb up and suplex Mankind off the top of the cage. The bump doesn’t look friendly for either man. Helmsley goes for the exit but when the official opens it he changes his mind and instead tells him to close it. Hunter stays on the offensive by using the cage as a weapon. After a few Irish whips to the cage, he curtsies on the downed Mankind and the crowd puts the heat on Helmsley. He beats Mankind off the cage before trying to climb and escape. After one leg is over Mankind makes the diving save by grabbing the ankle of Hunter. This causes a wishbone of sorts but Helmsley manages to kick him down and send him falling to the mat. Mankind pulls him back in the ring and they exchange some moves. There is a really cool spot in this sequence when Mankind attempts to suplex Hunter but hooks his feet atop the cage instead. When he splashes into the inverted Helmsley next the crowd goes nuts. Helmsley gets his foot caught in the ropes after he and Mankind have a tightrope fight. Mankind attempts to escape through the door but Chyna is there, once again, to make the save. The shot to the head of Foley, from Chyna, really concussed him. She attacks the ref next, who is giving her the business. Chyna climbs the cage next so she can throw a chair to Hunter. Helmsley sets up the Pedigree but Mankind pulls his legs out from under him, causing his head to hit the chair. The next spot is pretty sweet. Mankind slingshots Hunter into the cage, hitting Chyna and knocking her of the cage and into the railing. The crowd is wild and they can’t contain themselves when Mankind hits his patented, Double Arm DDT. Mankind makes his way up the cage and start to descend when the magic happens. I’m sure this next spot is a memorable spot in Mick Foley’s legendary career. Mankind, at about two feet from the bottom, stops and removes the mask, as he is eyeing the top of the cage. He begins to climb back up and the crowd is chanting “Super Fly”. The significance of this being that the very thing that made Foley want to join the business was watching “Super Fly” Jimmy Snuka leap from the top of the cage at Madison Square Garden onto “Magnificent” Muraco. And here he is about to replicate it.
Mankind tears his shirt open and you can see a faint heart painted on his chest, an homage to his teenage wrestling gimmick, Dude Love. When Foley comes soaring of the top of the cage, to deliver the elbow, the crowd erupts. This is pure wrestling magic and what the business is all about. Mankind returns to his feet and begins to climb out but Chyna is in the ring and trying to pull Hunter out. Mankind falls from the cage and the crowd erupts as Mankind is the winner. As Mankind lays on the mat, presumably unconscious, we hear Dude Love’s theme song come on. Slowly, Mankind’s foot starts to tap and before long he is on his feet dancing. And Dude Love is alive. I usually try not to play-by-matches but its hard not to when there are so many great spots in a match. Every time I watch an old match between these two legends it reaffirms that moniker. This is a must watch match for an wresting fan. Match Time: 16:13
We see the Stridex Blimp in the arena before Todd Pentingill introduces NJ Governor, Christie Todd Whitman. She is joined by The Headbangerz and Gorilla Monsoon. We see a picture of The Undertaker, with Whitman, from a newspaper that reads “Whitman buries tax on wresting events”. This why the WWF returned to New Jersey. This is what led to Vince calling it “Sports Entertainment”, as to avoid paying a tax to the Athletic Commission. Todd thanks her for removing the tax. WWF President, Gorilla Monsoon makes her a honorary WWF Champion. The whole “Sports Entertainment” thing caused some controversy with some of the older guys, as it broke kayfabe, but it was for the best and allowed the business to grow.
Vince and JR tell us the stipulations to next match, between Brian Pillman and Goldust. If Pillman loses he has to wear a dress on the following nights RAW. Weird stuff, but what can you expect from “The Loose Cannon”, Pillman. Vince introduces us to two members of the crowd, Tiger Jeet Singh and his son, Tiger Ali Singh. Jeet was a former wrestler, in mostly Japan, and once held the Asia Heavyweight Championship in NJPW. Vince says “We expect to see Tiger Ali Singh here in the WWF very soon.” Ali never really panned out in the WWF even though he was with the company from 97-02. He tried to sue the company for 7 million dollars over an injury, but famed WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Next we see the tailgate party, that took place in the parking lot of the arena. Vince calls it a “beach party” as apparently sand was dumped into the parking area. They have various Superstars on hand for the reported “15,000-20,000” fans. I’ve heard that the crowd response died out toward the end of the show due to people being exhausted from the heat and booze.