Venue: Canadian Arlines Saddledome
Commentators: Vince McMahon, JR, King
Ring Announcer: Howard Finkel
Hunter Hearst Helmsley v Mankind
Hunter and Mankind would have a big rivalry throughout 1997 which firmly established the two superstars as major players going into the Attitude Era. A month previous, the two warriors would compete in the King of the Ring finals and Helmsley would win the prestigious tournament and attack Mankind after, also with help from Chyna, which led to this rematch. The match starts off hot with brawling and Hunter does his best to escape Mankind’s offence, the two practically brawled throughout this match, with the rivalry being heated at this point. Chyna did a great job at ringside acting as Hunter’s muscle and getting some great shots in on Mankind behind the referee’s back. Eventually the brawling would be too much as they both went over the security rail and into the crowd for a double count out. The finish actually elevated the feud and left the crowd wanting more. A solid brawl-filled opener to get the crowd pumped for the rest of the night.
Match highlight: Hunter whips Mankind into Chyna, who then gives Mankind a hip toss on to the steel steps knee first, that looked painful.
Side note- Mankind and Hunter would be shown later in the show brawling all the way to the outside where Hunter ended up getting colour.
Our rating: 3.25*
Taka Michinoku v The Great Sasuke
There wasn’t any real build for this match, but it was definitely a strong addition to the card. Both guys started off using strong strikes, especially kicks and the strong style continued throughout in a time where mainstream American fans would not have seen it that often. The two worked so well together and really hit each other hard, adding to the excitement of the match. Both showcased great athleticism as well, including Springboard Moonsaults and Planchas which got audible gasps from the crowd. Sasuke’s spin kicks were wince inducing too, especially one in the corner which nearly knocked Taka out. In the end Sasuke hit a mid air Drop Kick, Moonsault, Powerbomb and Dragon Suplex for the win. A spectacular showing from both with incredible athleticism, high flying and stiff strikes which had the crowd invested throughout in a generation where this type of wrestling was seldom seen.
Match highlight: Taka leaps directly on to the top rope and Planchas onto Sasuke on the floor, brilliant leaping ability and hang time.
Our rating: 4*
WWF Championship Match
Undertaker (c) v Vader w/ Paul Bearer
The feud going into this one was mainly between Paul Bearer and Undertaker, as Bearer had recently mentioned that Taker’s brother, Kane, was still alive. Vader was effectively a side note here, but a 450+ pound, strong as an ox side note who was more than a worthy challenger for the championship. Bearer was at ringside and constantly got involved, playing the slimy weasely heel manager really well, calling Taker a murderer whenever the camera was on him and getting cheap shots in behind the referee’s back. The match itself was solid if not spectacular, but considering these two were super heavyweights, they had a fairly fast paced match and had the crowd hooked from start to finish, with Taker being very over as a babyface at this point. In the end Taker hit a huge Chokeslam off the top rope, another Chokeslam and then a Tombstone for the win and to retain his championship. A very well put together match and a good showcase for Taker as champion, although the Kane story was the bigger deal here, which would culminate months later in one of WWF’s best told stories in a long time.
Match highlight: Taker’s huge Chokeslam off the top rope was a great visual.
Our rating: 3*
Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, British Bulldog & Brian Pillman v Steve Austin, The Legion of Doom, Ken Shamrock & Goldust
Where to start with this wild, chaotic, lawless and crazy free for all match. The feud going in was mainly between Austin and Hart who had a historic, critically acclaimed rivalry throughout 1997, including one of the best matches in WWF history at Wrestlemania 13. Austin was coming out as the anti hero babyface, and Hart had transitioned into a whiny heel, however on this night, in Calgary, Canada, Hart and the whole Hart Foundation, were cheered like absolute heroes. The crowd were absolutely rabid throughout, their unmatched enthusiasm never wavering. This match is a car crash from start to finish but in the best way, Austin doesn’t slow down in the face of adversity, even brawling with the members of the Hart family at ringside (he even took a cheap shot at 82 year old Stu Hart!) Ear Hebner was redundant here and in the end after 20 minutes of brawling, chaos, confusion and anarchy, Owen rolled up The Rattlesnake for the win to a massive pop and the whole Hart family got in the ring after for the huge post match celebration to a huge ovation from the partisan crowd. Austin, ever the no f’s given babyface, got in the ring with a chair and still tried to take the fight to the Harts, even when it was about 20 on 1. The police handcuffed him and escorted him out, and, in an iconic shot, Austin flipped off the crowd with his hands handcuffed behind his back. Austin may have eaten the pin, but he came out the real winner here, getting even more over than he already was. The PPV was worth it just for this match.
Match Highlight: Hard to actually pick a highlight because it was just carnage throughout, although Austin battering Owen’s ankle on the ring post was cool which then forced The Rocket out of the match temporarily. However, although not part of the match, Austin’s post match gesture was absolutely iconic.
Our rating: 4.75*
Author: Alex Bakothanasis
Photo Credit: WWE