PHANTASM review
Published 17 August, 2021

August 3, 1997

East Rutherford, NJ, USA

Continental Arena

(Attendance: 20,213)

Above: The commentary team welcome us to Summerslam ‘97

Steel Cage Match

Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna)

And here we go. This feud had been going on since Helmsley beat Mankind in the KOTR ‘97 finals months earlier. The ole’ blue Hogan and Bundy cage will decide the fate for these two, what a way to kick off Summerslam! Hunter initially opts for the cowards way out, scrambling to the door and is stopped by newly minted fan-fav, Mick. Throughout this, Vince on commentary really drums home plenty of Foley backstory, setting the table and foreshadowing the aftermath to come. The impetus to have this feud culminate in the cage is largely to keep Chyna from interfering on the behalf of Triple H, for which had been the pairs shtick since Chyna first debut February 16th of that year and rag-dolled Marlena at IYH 13. Mankind gets some revenge by locking the mandible claw onto the ninth wonder of the world through the cage, stemming her chances of yet another run-in. The New Jersey crowd is going banana for Foley, Chyna kills their enthusiasm with yet more interfering, this time with a bunch knuckles to his vulnerable scrotal sack.. oh have mercy! After a Hunter super-plex, for which lands with a mighty splat, this match turns and slows down into a heel-led beat down, generally consisting of Mankind’s brains being introduced into cold blue cage. Clearly, the narcissistic Helmsley feels that the deranged Mankind is beneath him, his arrogance on display makes him a truly despised SOB. Helmsley’s newly acquired mean streak comes into play, a dimension that the character needed in going forward. As we all know, in the coming weeks, Triple H and Shawn Michaels would spawn D-X and the character would evolve to the sophomoric brat with a love for crotch shots and chair shots. Here, the blue-blooded aristocrat exchanges right hands with his boiler room dwelling opponent, this is the pairings blow off match for sure and a worthy one at that.

Above : Mankind and Triple H do battle. Credit WWE.com

Mankind tries to escape via crawling through door (a confusing wrestling trope that really diminishes a match) and as his head is protruding out the door area, Chyna swings the blue steel door at full speed to his cranium, reverberating shock from Mick’s skull all the way through his errant body. In Foley’s 1999 autobiography Have a Nice Day, he described this shot as one of the most painful of his career- the impact caused his left arm to go numb from the force made to his head.

Above: Chyna interferes

Hunter hooks up his signature Pedigree, Foley counters with a slingshot, shooting Helmsley into a climbing Chyna: to the absolute delight of the crowd. A Cactus Jack double-arm DDT later and Mankind then ascends the blue steel cage. Chyna jumps her cue and rolls in the ring to pull Hunter out, presumably HHH tells her to “get the fuck out and come back in about two minutes, stupid”. Mankind has climbed over and is about to jump to the floor for the win, instead he looks skyward, symbolically slipping off the Mankind leather mask and showing the wrestling world his true self. The first insight into the life of the real Mick Foley took place months earlier, with the June 97’ sit down interview with Jim Ross. This gave a look behind the curtain on the Mick Foley story; a story that needed to be told. Mankind climbs the steel, reaching the (almost) highest peak of the cage, while a helpless Helmsley lays prone on the canvas below. Foley rips the brown Mankind attire, revealing a sweated off ‘love heart’ on his chest. The crowds initial buzzing turns into loud chants of “Superfly, Superfly”: a homage to Foley’s childhood hero who similarly jumped from high off of a cage. And in mirroring the moment that convinced Mick Foley to become a professional wrestler, he soars through the air, landing HARD with an elbow on to Helmsley’s prone body. Chyna finally hits her cue to roll in ring and drags Hunter’s carcass towards the open door, while Mick climbs down once more, this time dropping to the outside floor and winning the match to an enormous crowd explosion! Foley is good. After a few moments while Mankind is laying on the outside mat, fun loving music hits the PA system, causing Mankind’s deranged leather clad foot to start tapping. Is Mankind a big music fan? No, its Dude Love! The ever fun-loving, jive-talking, tie-dyed walking, chick magnet is here and ready for a summer of lovin’.

Above: Mankind leaps from the cage

The perfect kick off to any big PPV event. Both guys open the show with caged fury, putting on a spectacle for fans for which would give both a figurative leg up the ladder in the promotion.  The exclamation point on a great, months-long, at the time- career defining, feud for which deserved a Summerslam stage to play out the final chapter. Mankind and Triple H are big stars on the rise in this moment in time and will play a key part in the federation over the next several years to come. Very unique having a cage match as a PPV opener. Generally these are main event gimmicks, but this really works here. This match played out well and had it all- Drama, violence, inspiration, payoff. You can’t ask for any more in a match. Meltzer only gave this 2.5 stars; but who cares what one man thinks.

Winner: Mankind (16.25)

8.3/10  ~ Thumbs up

Above: It’s Dude Love


Singles Match

Brian Pillman vs. Goldust (w\Marlena)

Ok, if memory serves me correct, this one is a bit of a train wreck. It is good to see that in this point in wrestling time, the anti-hero and outcasts are being portrayed as sympathetic baby faces . Look at Mankind, Undertaker, SCSA and here, Goldust. Guys that were all initially baddies due to their edgy  or controversial personas, yet naturally get over with the crowd with their real life, on-screen presence and dedication to the persona. WWF were doing great character backstory work around this time, exposing the human beings behind the “superstars,”as evident with Mankind’s aforementioned sit down with J.R and Dustin Runnels similar sit-down. Goldust with Marlena in tow in August is definitely on track to be a main event star (not this match but in general) and it is great that they are portraying the real life partnership on camera.

Above: Pillman vs. Goldust

Throughout this match, Goldust lays a lip-lock on the errant Pillman, who does not like that much at all. Oh and BTW, if Pillman loses, he has to wear a dress. The loose canon botches a top rope crotch shot, then locks in a headlock, allowing the camera man to zoom in on his schizophrenic eyes darting around his head. Apart from the obvious weakness of Pillman’s in ring work in his WWF tenure, (largely due to a shattered ankle and other injures attained in a car accident) the loose canon persona is highly underrated. Pillman has as much edge as anyone and basically pre-dated ‘attitude’ with his character work. The guy seriously blurs the lines between fact and fiction with his Kurt Cobain-esqe persona, he would work administrators even better than in-ring opponents, no one truly knew where he was coming from. Pity Brian could not get on top of his personal demons, as he would have revelled in the attitude era going forward. (Note, Brian Pillman tragically passed away in October of 1997) This match ends with a dirty botch. Goldust tries to sunset flip Pillman from the apron, but falls short and kind of lands in a heap, flopping around like a fish out of water, while Brian kind of stands there squirming in an awkward exchange. Marlena clocks Pillman with a loaded purse after what seems an eternity, handing Goldie the win.

Uninspiring and forgettable. Total contrast to the opening match. Goldust is just there as a token body, going through the motions of a match on second. It is hard to watch Pillman wrestling in this time period, knowing the personal struggles he was undertaking. Check out The Dark Side of the Ring S03, E01/02 for more information on Pillman. 

Winner by pin-fall- Goldust (7:15)

2.3/10  ~  Thumbs down


Tag Team Match

The Godwinns vs. The Legion of Doom

Above Backstage with the LOD

Slobberknocker time. LOD come out to an LOD-ish pop…not exactly a Summerslam 1992 type of response. A pretty violent series of events leading to this one- a nasty slop drop to Hawk on the ramp on Raw, not to mention the LOD breaking Hog’s neck with the Doomsday Device weeks earlier. The big boys plod along for a while, not a whole lot happening, not a whole lot of in-ring technical talent in this one. Slow heel work and basic regulation tag team formula from the Godwinns, not a wrestling move in sight. Even the LOD time in control is so very, painfully slow and dull. I am personally a long time LOD fan from way back, but this is not great to watch through in full honesty. The fans begin to wake up towards the end as all 4 men fight in the ring, a spiked piledriver later and the LOD pick up the victory. 

Above: LOD vs. The Godwinns

Slow paced, sluggish, crud looking offence and not much in ring creativity in any way considering the big stage. The LOD are a shadow of their former ‘80’s selves, while the Godwinns are their usual underwhelming selves, plodding about. I mean, the guys names are literally acronyms for PIG and HOG, so that pretty much says it all, as this match is the squealing shits. The only positive is that this is LOD and fans love that stuff. 

Winners by pinfall- LOD (9:15)

3/10  ~ Thumbs down


Todd Pentigil, Sable, Sunny

God awful circa ‘97 fan competition. Skip this, a mega waste of PPV time. Thumbs down


WWF European Title

The British Bulldog (c) vs. Ken Shamrock

History will show Shamrock as ultimately underwhelming and a major disappointment considering what the company had in plan for him. Jim Ross’ handpicked shoot fighter would not reach the stars as he was seemingly destined to do. He is hot as hell here, the gimmick is fresh and unique, giving another dimension to sports entertainment with the MMA “real” style. Good little build up for this one, dog food, arm wrestling contests and embarrassment. Good size and similar strength match-up between these two leads to an awkward early exchange, the Bulldog breaking things down with a series of loooong headlocks. 

Above left and right: Bulldog and Shamrock battle it out.

Jim Ross is certainly putting his boy Shamrock over, with all the talk about “in the zone” and “snapping” etc. Bulldog’s endless headlocks and sluggish offence is a bit difficult to watch at times. How could he spend so much time with Bret and Owen and not be able to a technical master? I guess if you think about it, British Bulldog has never had a great match. Wembley in ‘92 was good, but rewatch and you realise it is good, not great. In his podcast “Grilling with J.R”, Ross described Davey Boy Smith as someone who would deliberately work average matches until he got the “push” he believed he deserved. Apart from the disastrous main event match/matches with Shawn Michaels at Beware of Dog and King of the Ring ’96, the push would never come. And no, I’m not including being Rock Bottomed onto dog shit in ‘99 as getting a push. Shamrock and Bulldog fight outside and Bulldog botches a suplex to the outside mat. Ken is busted open from his innards, as he would be in roughly 25% of his big matches. I guess that botched, wimpy assed suplex caused internal bleeding? This isn’t really explained, but the blood bubbles out of Kenny’s mouth none the less. Bulldog grabs the can of dog food sitting at the announce tables and smears it over Kenny; who is not a happy camper. Snap O’clock. Shamrock unloads with a series of stiff shots and starts screaming- to the crowds delight. The ref DQ’s Ken after pounding the dog with the can of dog food… bit soft, but oh well. He then gets in the ring and beats down the Bulldog with an endless headlock of his own until Davey Boy turns purple. Pretty heel-ish stuff, but the crowd are eating it up. Ken then screams again and starts suplexing pinstripes left and right! Right on! Beating up refs is just so satisfying to see, as it cannot be done in other sports without lifetime bans. Ken screams one last time and gets the crowd to fever pitch, walking away with his head held high.

Above: Shamrock snaps

Not much going on throughout the match itself, yet the post match is quite entertaining. The whole deal here is about the attraction of Shamrock getting psyched and unloading in a fit of rage, so the segment is a success in that regard. It was reported that the officials being suplexed, old timers such as Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco were quite shaken up from these throws. Due to the vigorous, stiff throws executed to these 60+ yo road agents, the next time Shamrock duplicated this sequence, that being at Wrestlemania 14, local independent wrestlers were used as ‘officials’ to take the rough bumps. The Shamrock snapping gimmick at this point in time was really exciting and looked to have Shamrock as a future star. Two years later, Ken barely changed any of his tricks and the fans would shit on him. Then he would miss house shows out of complacency, leading to his termination. At this point in time though, a thumbs up strictly due to the post-match snap-fest.

Winner by DQ- British Bulldog (7:29)

3.3/10 ~ Thumbs up


Backstage- Shawn Michaels

Thumbs up

Above: Shawn Michaels backstage


Eight Man Tag

The Disciples of Apocalypse vs. Los Boricuas

Look out- it’s the Amercian Ba…. oh wait, just the DOA. There has been a slight dip in this PPV since Mankind/Dude Love left strutting up the aisle, hopefully this one will turn the tide lol. Perhaps the office should have actually gone with the proposed (heavily rumoured) Dreamer/ Sandman vs RVD/Sabu, cross-promotional match, an idea that was very strongly considered to make it on this card, yet never eventuated due to backstage politics. The highlight of this clusterfuck is King Lawler’s comment “His family portrait is a courtroom sketch” haha nice one King. The commentary combo of Vince, J.R and King is fantastic. Such great chemistry. Cant say the same thing for this match though. Vince was really trying to throw gangs together at this stage to rival WCW’s New World Order faction. Good idea in theory, he unfortunately just put guys that no one gave a crap about into these groups. Until DX vs the Nation, it didn’t really work. The Hart Foundation and at times, early Farooq-led nation were strong, but such groups as the DOA, Los Boricuas, Truth Commission and the Oddities are nothing but a joke. Anyway, back to live action and we have a headlock! Should have named the event Summerslam ‘Hart and soul-sucking with all fucking headlocks.’ Bald gang member #2 gets hit by hairy back guy with a hideous looking dropkick. Los B get the win finally, thank gosh that ones over. 

Pointless, bad bad bad filler. Could have dropped this match to Sunday Night Heat or just had another million $ phone call challenge. Good match to go to the toilet or catch up on your house chores. A waste of writing. A waste of money if you happened to be live in attendance, or fork out for the PPV. As it turns out, WWE would often book multiple man matches like this, so that plenty of workers would receive a payday. I wish they would pay these people NOT to perform and waste my time.

Winner- who cares (9:07)

2.2/10  ~ Thumbs down


WWF Intercontinental Title

Owen Hart (c) vs. Steve Austin

OK, we need this. Stone Cold to the rescue. Plenty on the line here, a very personal, long time feud, with the stipulation that the loser kisses the winners ass. While the “’man who beat Stone Cold Steve Austin” makes his way to the ring with Slammies in tow, a young, dashing Michael Cole tries to get an on the spot scoop. Glass then shatters and a big pop follows, the rise of SCSA is well on its way. Watching Austin climbing the card throughout 1997 is a great thing to re-watch in hindsight for sure. His rise is perfectly organic and in no way overly WWE orchestrated (see John Cena and Roman Reigns) Owen is such a good heel to bounce off too. The two start out with some hot spots, Lou Thez press and a sternum buckle buster puts the momentum in Stone Cold’s hands, who has every fan in the arena on his side. In Owen Hart’s own words: “The crowd was right where we wanted them. Everything was perfect. I could do no wrong. Everything [Steve] did, the crowd responded to. It’s like [having] a dance partner. You go out there, and you do your stuff, and everything is going well. And then, all of a sudden in a split second…” [snaps fingers]

Above left: Austin working Owen. Credit WWE.com
Above right: Owen hits a suplex

This would prove to be Austin’s final, technically worked match, due to the unfortunate circumstances for which end this match. The King of Hart’s takes charge of the action, working Austins fingers (yes fingers) and being a no good SOB in general. I really do miss watching Owen’s in ring work. Hart tries to take the cheap way out- Austin says “oh hell no” to this and starts brawling with the black HartSCSA stomps a mud-hole, Owen counters with a suplex and an elbow drop. Then in an eerie foreshadowing, Owen starts working Austin’s neck, for which J.R eludes “Austin has had neck problems in his career”. Shit. The livid crowd chant for “Austin Austin,” this allows SCSA to subtly ‘Hulk up‘ in his own, modern, less cheesy way. Owen locks in a camel clutch, then the lads start whipping each other off the ropes. Austin nails a jaw-jacker (not the stunner) the wounded Rattlesnake gets knocked down again. Solid heel work from Hart, as per usual. Never the biggest guy in the fight, but he always tried to be the smartest. Classic psychology. Vince, J.R and King are all on fire and really enhancing the match. Austin launches a comeback once more, then it happens. When I first witnessed this as a 13 year-old with no idea how the business worked, I still knew that this was really bad and not at all part of the show. As Owen looks down on Austin’s prone body after the misplaced, inverted, sit-down piledriver, his face reads of true fear- that there has been a serious accident. 

Above: The piledriver that broke Steve Austin’s neck

The ref checks Austin, who barely registers and who’s legs are not moving much at all. His arms are moving, (albeit locked upwards) so a good sign there. Owen was probably in shock and had no idea what to do: the match clearly intended for the action to build towards a Stone Cold stunner into the victory, there is no way Austin can complete this in his current state however. The commentary team say “stinger”, I’m sure they were thinking “paralysis” though. Owen has nowhere to hide and nothing he can really do- taunting the crowd, talking to the referee, allowing SCSA to talk to also communicate to the ref to “buy more time” and hopefully come to. The old wrestler way- finish the match no matter what. Imagine if in the NBA, a player got flipped on their head and was unable to move, yet the game continued while the injured player laid there. Wrestling is a weird, weird world. The show must go on and it does, in a way that is hard to watch, as SCSA, without the use of his legs, musters every ounce of strength in his body to slowly crawl over and “surprise” his opponent with something that resembles a surprise roll up for the 3 count. “Owen Hart was in shock” was the call on live commentary, the reality was they just had to go home and get Austin backstage for treatment. The crowd pops with a noticeable edge of concern. Officials are able to raise Austin to his feet, wobbly as hell, dazed, glassy look on his face, long enough for the new champion to raise his newly acquired belt. The title is of secondary concern due to the state of Steve Austin’s health.

Above: Austin wins gold

Great match leading up to the accident. Amazing chemistry, strong in ring psychology and high stakes. As the future would tell, Austin was forced to change his in-ring work style following this match, leading towards a more brawling style over technical. That shift would ultimately be the final piece of the puzzle for the Stone Cold Steve Austin persona. A blessing in disguise for his character going forward and the Attitude era in general, yet a curse for Austin’s long term wrestling career and general health, with his final match taking place at Wrestlemania 19 in 2003. Retirement largely due to neck problems. SCSA has stated in his podcast that before the match, Owen wanted to use the inverted piledriver as a high spot before the finish and Austin asked him 3 times to make sure he lands on his knees, just as The Undertaker would. Owen would jokingly respond “not to worry, I’ve got this”. For some reason, Owen went with the sit-down version on the night, for which is begging for injury. In Austins’s words: “As soon as my head hit that mat, I was thinking Christopher Reeve. Cause I thought I was never gonna walk again, ever. I couldn’t feel anything from my neck down.” On rewatch, Austin’s neck is several inches lower than what it should have on point of impact. Austin has stated that there was a loud “thwack” noise and he was instantly unable to move, but was highly alert. He would require neck surgery and be out of in-ring action for several weeks, although never really leaving WWF TV programming.  It is scary rewatching the concern on the faces on those in the ring following that ill-fated piledriver, I’m sure while sitting at ringside, Vince McMahon was wearing as much concern as anyone that night. 

Winner by pin-fall and new Intercontinental champion- Stone Cold Steve Austin (16:16)

6.8/10  ~ Thumbs up (Thumbs down for the accident)


WWF World Heavyweight Title

Special Referee: Shawn Michaels

The Undertaker(c) vs. Bret Hart

Amazing promo, classic of the ‘97 era inspirational video production. The WWF production team would consistently out do themselves. Hairs on the back of the neck. And the stakes could not be higher. If Bret Hitman Hart loses, he will no longer wrestle in the United states. Similarly, if Shawn Michaels shows bias against Bret: he will also be unable to wrestle in the US. Will vengeance flow  through his unbiased heart, ensuring that tonight will be the last time we see Bret Hart wrestle in the US again? Meanwhile, the judge, jury and executioner- the Undertaker, is placed directly in the middle as WWF Heavyweight champion. This is the penultimate moment in the ‘us vs them’; Canada vs. USA war of 1997. An enormous step towards the impending Attitude Era, unfortunately, history has not been to kind to this daring storyline. Placing USA as the ‘always in the right’ good guys and every other country as the glorified enemy and certain bad guy, does nothing but to highlight Vince McMahon’s blatant xenophobia, a blinding bias that has always plagued his way of life and thinking, affecting the World Wrestling Federation since its inception. (see practically any European, Asian or Muslim representative wrestler as far back Vince McMahon Sr was booking wrestling.) This angle will always do more harm than good: separating people politically and advocating cliches of racism can not be condoned in any form. The notion that the USA is ultimately ‘good’ and that Canada is ‘bad’, or that anyone that dares challenge the Unified States is basically a terrorist, is as harmful an idea that someone could project to a mass audience. For a modern example of this, see John Cena vs. Rusev from 2015.

Left, middle, right: Bret, HBK and Undertaker’s entrances

Anyway, back to wrestling, rant over. 😁 The Hitman forces the live crowd to endure another rendition of ‘Oh Canada’, while HBK dances his way to the squared circle and becomes the first referee in the business to get pyro. Lights out. There is a chill in the air to signify the arrival of the reaper of Death Valley. As the phenom stalks his way to the ring, the bright purple lights singe his aura, illuminating the gold strapped around his waist as industry leader. The Undertaker to this point has been not only the conscious of the World Wrestling Federation; but the backbone in regards to on-screen talent, performing night in and night out through the dark ages of ‘93-‘96. This can also very much be applied to Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Taker blows the roof off of the building with his raising of the lights, giving the crowd pop of the night and Bret the jitters. The bell rings, I am 13 again and lets get it on!

Above: HBK laying down the law

A Bret cheap shot starts things out, which results in furious and wild corner punches from the Undertaker to Bret’s body in the corner and it doesn’t take long for the competitors to make their way to the outside brawling and whipping each other into a multitude of steel objects. Both men exchange offensive manoeuvres and have their moments. Taker delivers slow, methodical moments of dominance, Bret, as per his usual repertoire, tries to chop down his larger opponent with offence directed to the knee. Most of the matches worked by these two have similar formula- Undertaker works the giant, unstoppable heel who slowly stalks and is looking for the power move to finish you, while Bret assumes the role of small babyface chopping down the monster. Undertaker has stated in his career memoir documentary ‘The Last Ride‘ that he favoured wrestling smaller opponents because he “’understood the psychology of wrestling a smaller opponent”. This match is the exception to that rule though, Bret is clearly the heel and doing an excellent job of it. He locks on a figure four leg-lock as Undertakers nemesis at the time- Pail Bearer smugly swaggers his rotund self towards the ring. 

Above: Undertaker working the back

Vince reminds us of the nightmare Taker has endured over the last several months playing hostage to PBs secret regarding his long lost (and yet to debut) brother. Taker lands a potato into PB’s forehead and cops a shot from behind from Bret. So far Shawn has been wallpaper for this match and shows no bias. As he escorts Bearer to the backstage, Hart applies the ’round the ring-post Figure Four’ eliciting a count of 4 from HBK to cause the break. (RIP William Moody– what a great guy) Great storytelling, with the impending doom of Kane, The Hart Foundation make their presence felt at ringside, while Bret works the deadman’s leg, slows the pace and dominates the match. Taker finds some energy, nailing the Hart Foundation with punches and throwing Bret Hart skyward with a mega choke slam. A near fall as Taker grabs a distracted HBK back into the ring and BH capitalises with a surprise roll up from behind. They all go to the outside as HBK slowly but surely becomes more involved, aggressively warning the hitman that he will count him out. Bret get several shots to Taker’s back now, leading to a back breaker, suplex, second rope elbows drive. The champion sits up, he’s not un-dead yet. A side Russian leg sweep, then X2 leg drops sets up for the sharpshooter. Undertaker eventually counters with a flurry of gut punches to the Canadian, followed by his signature flying clothesline off the ropes.Taker controls the match: big boot and leg drop, brother. Near fall. So far no HBK favouritism. 

Above Left: Figure four around the ring post
Right: HBK and Hart exchange words

Undertaker grabs Bret from the apron and choke-slams him back in the ring with a bang! Next he goes old school, when it was still just ‘school’ and is chopped down. Bret climbs up and attempts a super-plex but it messes up and almost ends up in catastrophe. No harm to anyone done though and Bret attempts again, this time nailing the champion with the move. Thank God these guys are pros, as anything could have happened there. A good example of the smaller opponent wearing down the larger opponent in a believable fashion. Undertaker throughout the 90’s was often paired with opponents similar or larger in size, due to the fact Vince did not believe that the fans would buy a small opponent beating the near 7 foot deadman. Bret Hart makes you believe, he was especially good when stepping in the ring with another strong worker, as his realistic wrestling style had you believe he was always fighting for his pride and lively hood. In the main event of Summerslam, Bret is at his best. This match is a shining example of the excellence of execution nearing the end of his great run, as WCW would kill his great aura and in-ring career. Thanks Goldberg. Time to go home boys. The Hitman locks in his signature sharpshooter in the middle of the ring. Shades of Wrestlemania 13, but unlike SCSA, Undertaker shows no signs of humanity, instead pushes with all his strength and becomes the first person to ever break the Hitman’s finishing hold! Bret sells it like he’s rolling down a set of stairs, cartwheeling through the ropes and half way up the entrance ramp. The fight continues. The crowd is alive and buzzing, the stakes are so so high. Undertaker decides it’s over, signalling for the Tombstone. Bret counters, trips Taker and goes for a sharpshooter from the corner of the outside apron, using the post as leverage. Once again, Undertaker breaks the hold, hurling Hart forward, who then canons into Michaels before he can call for a DQ. Shawn sells the knee while incapacitated on the outside, Bret grabs a steel chair and brings into the ring, cracking the Undertaker’s back with a crack. Shawn slips into the ring to make a close 2 count, sending the fans into a frenzy. Bret has had enough, taking out his frustration on his most hated foe: in kayfabe and in real life.

Above Left: HBK accuses Bret
Right: The final moments of the match

Ever Since Shawn not so subtly accused Bret of having an affair with Sunny, the Hitman has been out for blood. (Ironically, Michaels was in fact slipping it to Sunny around this period of time.) As the argument subsides and Hart goes back to work on a vulnerable Taker, Shawn notices the smoking gun laying in the corner of the ring. He picks up the chair and accosts Bret Hart, who blames everyone in the arena as the culprit rather than himself. Tempers are flaring and restraint is now a thing of the past. Bret ignores an accusing Michaels and goes back to furiously stomping a completely depleted Undertaker. A now enraged Micheals demands answers, but instead cops an enormous loogie right smack in the face, thanks to the Hitman. As the Undertaker slowly rises to his feet, HBK reacts in the heat of the moment, swinging wildly to the fences with the steel chair, Bret ducks, and Michaels nails the Undertaker right across the skull, knocking him completely out. Shawn, after seeing red, realises what he has done and remembers the consequences of his actions. So as Bret makes the cover on the champion, Michaels regains his bearings enough to make the 1, 2, 3 count and award the match to Hart. 

While Bret Hart celebrates his 5th world title win draped in the Canadian flag and surrounded by hostile boos, Undertaker stalks Shawn Michaels to the back, beginning what would be “the most satisfying program of (his) career”. Bret takes in his final WWF world title win with his Hart foundation family, a sobering image given a 2021 lens. 

Above: The Hitman scores the win

Just fantastic work from three of the all time greats. The match has one of the more memorable build-ups and big match consequences, with a shocking pay off in the end. The match was given sufficient time to tell an old school story, with the unique dichotomy of Shawn Michaels involvement. Well crafted beginning, middle and end. Great classic heel vs. babyface format with multiple layers of storytelling; from Undertaker being psychologically tortured by Paul bearer, to HBK’s final involvement and split second decision to begrudgingly make the count for his all time nemesis. So dramatic, Bret gets to spit in the face of a guy he legit hates in front of the world and not only get paid- but get a world title! The looks on those faces showed the real life animosity that existed between the two. Undertaker is almost a victim of circumstances, being caught in the middle of a red hot war. This is a blue print for a perfect main event in many ways. Three of the greats, in a main event worthy of a Wrestlemania stage. Class in-ring with a great twist ending, a match replay-able for the future generation to come. 

Winner and new WWF Heavyweight Champion- Bret Hart (28:09)

8.5/10  ~ Thumbs up

Above: The Hart Foundation celebrate

Final thoughts:

Summerslam 1997 is bookended strongly, with some weaker moments in between. The infamous moment that will be forever associated with the event is the piledriver of doom that almost derailed the future 3:16 Attitude era, a move that would have resulting consequences for the Federation going forward. Another memorable moment is an inspired Mick Foley paying tribute to teen idol Jimmy Snuka, with his pseudo- Superfly leap off the old blue cage. The final act of the main event has gone down in Summerslam lore, this act cemented Michaels as a bonified heel, began the legendary HBK/Taker fued and would add another layer to the Bret-Shawn rivalry. Oddly enough, this event marks the first time that the WWF title changed hands at a Summerslam. This would be Bret Hart’s final WWF title win and the last time all members of the Hart Foundation were together on PPV. (All except Pillman would console Bret after the Montreal screw- job) Between August of 1997- August 2018, all the men surrounding the Hitman would pass away. But in this moment in time, the Hart Foundation, led by Bret the Hitman Hart, stands tall and proud, on top of the wrestling world. Bret Hart’s days on top were very numbered after this night, from the controversy surrounding his Montreal exit, right until the concussion injury that forced his retirement. As the stunned New Jersey fans jeer and litter the the ring with rubbish and disapproval, Summerslam 1997 will be remembered as Bret Hart’s final, true in-ring triumph; his last hoorah. Wrestling as in life, is not always fair. But whoever said it would be.

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