It’s 1997 and the WWF was in the midst of not only struggling to keep pace with WCW, the Turner group that had taken a dominate lead in the Monday Night wars, but a plague of injuries hampered their plan ahead of the biggest show on the calendar. Plus, Shawn Michaels, who was given the spotlight the previous year, had conveniently “lost his smile” a month before the broadcast and vacated the belt instead of dropping it, sending the management to scramble to book a different card without one of the key players on the roster.
A four-way tag team match kicked off the show with The New Blackjacks vs. The Headbangers vs. The Godwinns vs. Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon. The match itself was fine, but appeared to be more of a way to shoehorn more teams onto the card, as The Blackjacks and the team of Furnas and Lafon were counted out just minutes into the bout. Eventually, the Headbangers beat The Godwinns to become the number one contenders for the WWF Tag Team titles, but there are a few other things to discuss here. Most importantly, Furnas and Lafon are an extremely underrated tag team on the American scene, and it seems like they just weren’t at the right place at the ring time in terms of exposure to an American audience. The two made names for themselves with stellar matches in All Japan for years so it makes sense that the WWF, especially at a time when it needed fresh tag, would try to recruit them, but their style just didn’t fit with the more entertainment based presentation that was approaching with the Attitude era. That’s not to say those two aren’t adaptable because their skills are definitely worth of a featured spot, but rather that management simply didn’t know what to do with them. Through the deal with ECW, the team worked there through 1998, which was actually their second stint in the organization after they worked their briefly in 1996, which originally put them on the WWF radar. Another note, the New Blackjacks were doomed from the start, not because of a lack of talent, but rather any gimmick that is branded as the “new” anything is almost always a flopped because it automatically implies that it’s a rip off of older more successful gimmick. The New Rockers was such a lame idea that it drove Al Snow crazy to the point that he started talking to a mannequin head. The New Midnight Express of Bodacious Bart and Bombastic Bob, what was supposed to be Bombastic about Bob Holly? Not surprisingly, Hardcore Holly got over with a character that was based on something more realistic as the grizzled veteran that would fight anywhere.
The Sultan challenged Rocky Maivia for the IC belt. As I mentioned previously throughout this series of articles, the presentation of a competitor is key to their success, and this bout is textbook example of that. Both Rocky and Sultan would go on to have very successful career, with the Rock being one of the biggest starts in all of entertainment, but he would’ve never reached that level if he had remained tacky baby face Rocky Maivia. While I always enjoy seeing the Iron Sheik, The Sultan gimmick had a limited run from the start because the cartoonish attire and the entire basis of the character wasn’t going to get over as the company moved into the Attitude. I’m not sure why Bob Backlund was here other than the company was keeping him on the payroll as The Sultan’s extra manager because he wandered to the ring seemingly on his own instead of alongside The Iron Sheik and Backlund. For much of the same reason the Sultan gimmick didn’t get over, Rocky as the typical baby face wasn’t going to get over either. It was a generic baby face gimmick, and the fans just didn’t buy it. The crowd was already chanting, “Rocky sucks” and they didn’t really rally behind him during any of the designed spots in the match. It should be noted that if Rocky Maivia didn’t turn heel then he would’ve have eventually got over as one of the biggest stars of all time as The Rock. This speaks volumes to why a heel turn for Roman Reigns would’ve been beneficial a few years ago. As for the actual match, it went too long and got a lukewarm reaction at best. After Rocky retained the title, he was attacked, but Rocky Johnson made the save so there was a nice moment for the two of them in the ring.
Triple H vs. Goldust was a solid match that saw the finish when Chyna rag-dolled Marlena, allowing for Triple H to hit the pedigree for the pin. This was the first WM appearance for Chyna and while her ability as a wrestler was minimal and probably overrated, the effectiveness of her portrayal of the body guard character can’t be understated. She had a presence that made her a star, and the sum total of her run ultimately opened the door for more of a variety of roles for women in the industry as something more than strictly valets at that point in time. It’s very sad that she struggled with mental health and addiction problems during the latter stages of her life. Hopefully, her story can be used as a precautionary tale for others to avoid the same path and get help.
The Owen & British Bulldog vs. Mankind and Vader match was solid with a lot of good action, but a rather flat count out finish. The main takeaway here was that Mankind and Vader were a solid team and it makes you wonder why they didn’t get a longer run, or at least Vader could’ve been paired with someone else to form a tag team, which might’ve helped his rather disappointing stint in the WWF. This ended up being his last WM appearance, as he was reduced to jobber status before he left the company in 1998. The reasons for why Vader didn’t get over in the company are numerous and well-documented. While some of those reasons were because of Vader himself, the majority of the reasons were probably outside factors. First, Vader didn’t do himself any favors being known as difficult to work with because Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire is usually an efficient machine and those that aren’t there to do business usually have a brief run. Vader’s style took a toll on his opponents, but also on himself, as over a decade of work in Japan before he arrived in the WWF probably put his better days behind him when he signed a contract. Speaking of his style, the stiff nature of his work wasn’t something that was common place in the WWF either. Plus, he left his weight balloon at certain points, which wasn’t going to help his status either.
The classic Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin I Quit match was just a master piece, both from its in-ring work and its story telling. It was a physical bout that projected intensity. The double turn and how both performers worked it was brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, Austin was surging in popularity at the time of this match, but the iconic visual of him digging into the mat and pushing himself up to try escape the sharpshooter while blood streamed down his face put him on a new level. Austin didn’t need to win the match, the fact that he didn’t quit is really what solidified his status. Plus, Bret’s post-match attack when Austin was defenseless is more or less his official heel turn.
The Chicago street fight of The Nation of Domination vs. Ahmed Johnson and the Legion of Doom was a fun brawl, but went too long and because repetitive by the time Ahmed and LOD won the match. As far as edgy content, the Nation was one of the first stables to push the envelope as far as the gimmick and the promos. The LOD were majorly over in Chicago, but as history showed, their run in the WWF at this point was on borrowed time. If I had to guess, I think the Road Warrior, specifically Hawk, could’ve had more to offer if they would’ve evolved their gimmick. Unfortunately, they were a little older by 1997 and the LOD playbook had been seen extensively for the previous 15 years so their style wasn’t as effective as it was in years prior. Still, Hawk was very charismatic and LOD is arguably the greatest tag team of all time.
The WWF title match of Sid defending against The Undertaker was okay, but went too long to the point that it began to drag on and was an example why Sid could only be used in short runs in a promotion. Don’t get me wrong, Sid’s intensity and presentation was great, but he was very limited in the ring in terms of his ability to be a versatile performer. With Sid, he had to play the greatest hits so to speak and stick to the signature spots or the match became sloppy. As mentioned, Sid’s intensity was there, when it wasn’t soft ball season. As far as in the ring, after the audience saw the basic Sid match for a certain amount of time, that was all that he could bring to the table. Switching from promotions throughout his career, while not intended, allowed him to return with a fresh coat of paint for another run after he had been away for a few years. Ironically, he would leave the promotion just a few months later to heal injuries and eventually resurfaced in ECW and later another return to WCW. The Undertaker won the title at the conclusion of the match, which he definitely deserved because he was one of the most over athletes on the roster, but it also provided a sense of stability for the company because of the competition of the industry.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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