The road to Wrestlemania is often littered with many twists and turns. More often than not, the big stories are set by the time the last man is eliminated from the Royal Rumble. Sometimes, stories and matches are tweaked for various reasons in the two months leading to the Showcase of the Immortals.
In 1997, the road to Wrestlemania was unclear until literally the week of the show. You can thank Shawn Michaels losing his smile for that. But we would finally get clarity on one of the most controversial episodes of RAW is WAR in the show's history.
That's the focus of this week's episode: the 201st episode of Monday Night RAW, taking place March 17, 1997 from the War Memorial in Syracuse, New York.
On this episode, Bret “Hitman” Hart will finally get his one-on-one rematch for the WWF Championship just a week before Wrestlemania 13 as he challenges champion Sycho Sid. If Bret can win the title, Stone Cold Steve Austin will get that title shot he had earned (albeit illegally) at the Royal Rumble. Otherwise, the battle of the Skyscrapers will go on as planned.
And other stuff will happen, I assume.
The Live Retro Blog begins at 8pm ET Saturday. That’s 7pm CT, 5pm Pacific, 3pm Hawaiian, and 1am early Sunday in Britannia. Everywhere else, figure it out. Of course, active WWE Network subscription is required, as we’ll be watching the Network of the show. If you watch any other version, you’re taking a chance. This blog will be treated as live, so you’ll need to refresh often. GIFs and pics are okay, but don’t abuse it.
We hit the road to Wrestlemania hard this Saturday night.
Hi! I’m Eddie Mac. Let’s watch some retro wrestling together.
Ok, before we begin this little episode, a little background on where everything stands heading into this episode. I'll begin with of all things, a quote from comedian Chris Rock.
“You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it's your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You're probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you're gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
Last summer, WWF got hit by that proverbial bus. That bus was in the form three men turning the wrestling world completely on its head in the New World Order. Since the group's formation, WWF has been caught and passed by WCW in the ratings, and now that “promotion down south” is clear for takeoff. Now the “worldwide leader in sports entertainment” is looking for anything that can generate positive momentum. Sure they have a star of the future in Stone Cold Steve Austin, but... times are bad. Very bad. Since the year started:
- RAW finally expanded to two hours.
- Just one month prior, Shawn Michaels forfeited the WWF Championship, throwing the road to Wrestlemania into complete chaos.
- Bret Hart would win the WWF title that weekend, only to lose it the next night (like literally THE NEXT NIGHT) to Sycho Sid.
- A week and a half later, ECW people ran up on their show. No, seriously.
- The next week, WWF crowned its first European Champion, and no one watched the show. Like literally no one. A shame really: Owen vs. Bulldog was really good. But a 1.9 rating (the lowest in the show's history until last year) tends to put the fear of God in people.
- So the show got a massive makeover, and Monday Night RAW became RAW is WAR. New theme, new set, new attitude. Same ring ropes. That'll change soon enough.
This is the first (or at worst, second) show with Vince Russo as the head writer. You will not need long to notice the difference.
Rated TV-PG (LV).
The World Wrestling Federation. For over 50 years, the revolutionary force in sports entertainment.
THORN IN YOUR EYE! (v1) I believe this is actually the first episode to use the most iconic theme for RAW is WAR.
PYRO AND BALLYHOO! You are looking live at the War Memorial in Syracuse, New York. That building holds a dubious place in wrestling history. I'll tell you what at the end of this blog thingie.
Match 1: The Legion of Doom defeated Savio Vega and Crush via disqualification at 9:00. Ahmed Johnson, who warns us about the adult content you might see in the street fight at Wrestlemania, gets nailed with a nightstick by Faarooq. He does the same to Animal, triggering the DQ. Some jabroni (D-Lo Brown, as it turns out) takes the Doomsday Device.
Plug for the Slammy Awards, this Friday night at 11pm on USA.
Steel cage match later may or may not be for the WWF Championship. Also Shawn Michaels is on his way. And Stone Cold's in the building.
Match 2: Hunter Hearst Helmsley defeated Flash Funk at 5:47. Muscular woman gets a name: Chyna. Chyna's a grown ass woman. Also RAW is WAR.
Shawn Michaels has arrived. Why is he here?
Match 3: Mini Goldust and Mascarida Sagrada, Jr. defeated Mini Vader and Mini Mankind at 2:57. MINIS! FUTURE EDDIE MAC ALERT: Yes, that is Mascarida Sagrada of Lucha Underground fame. Dude's still going 20 years later. Also, Mascarida did a dive off the stage and it was awesome.
WWF President Gorilla Monsoon says the steel cage match for the WWF title is on. Timing sucks for the Undertaker, but tough shit.
Ad for WWF Full Metal: The Album.
Kevin Kelly with an in-ring interview with Bret Hart. Bret says he will give Undertaker a WWF title match should he retain. He's also ok with Ken Shamrock being the special referee for his bout with Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania. Bret trying not to be triggered for two whole minutes is amazing. He wants to go in on all these people so bad.
WWF merchandise ad with “superfans” Adam and George.
Match 4: The Sultan defeated Mike Bell in just 59 seconds. Smiling white-meat babyface/Intercontinental champion Rocky Maivia on commentary. Sultan gets in Rocky's face, but Tony Atlas steps in with this piece of advice: “Hey, kid, if you wanna make it to TV someday, you can’t be losing your temper.” Right.
Vince McMahon with an in-ring interview with Shawn Michaels. Shawn says he'll be back in the ring soon, and he found his smile between the couch cushions in San Antonio. But he's gonna make a stop on the way to see Dr. Jim Andrews: Chicago. For Wrestlemania. Yes, Shawn may have been drugged up in this promo.
Match 5: The British Bulldog defeated Vader via disqualification in 8:00. Wait... who's face in this again?
Match 6: Billy Gunn defeated Aaron Ferguson via submission in just two minutes. Billy Gunn, shitty MMA fighter, calls out Ken Shamrock, less shitty MMA fighter. It does not work out well for Billy. FUTURE EDDIE ALERT: Ironically both Gunn and Shamrock were fired from their job in recent years for peeing dirty. No, seriously.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, not impressed, appears on the titantron and tells Ken Shamrock to call the submission match down the middle or he's catching an ass whipping. Also, he's there to make sure Bret Hart wins. Austin does have a stake in the title match. If Bret wins, the submission match is for the WWF title.
Sycho Sid is ready. He's sweaty, he's shouty, he's ready. And he's the master and ruler and all that.
Slammy Awards presented by WWF Full Metal: The Album, this Friday at 11pm ET on USA.
Match 7: Sycho Sid defeated Bret Hart at 7:40 (shown) in a steel cage match to retain the WWF Championship. Both Undertaker and Austin interfered, but not for the people you expected. They interfered for their Mania opponent as they both wanted their title shot to be at Wrestlemania.
WWF Rewind presented by Milton Bradley Karate Fighters replays the end of the title match.
Still a little time left, so after the break, Vince McMahon tries to get a word with Bret Hart. It does not go well. What the hell? Here's a transcript.
Vince McMahon: "Bret Hart, you've got to be terribly frustrated, extremely frustrated over what has just happened." [Hart grabs the mic and shoves McMahon down.]
Bret Hart: "Frustrated isn't the goddamn word for it! This is bullshit! You screwed me! Everybody screwed me! And nobody does a goddamn thing about it. Nobody in the building cares, nobody in the dressing room cares. So much goddamn injustice around here! I've had it up to here!
Everybody knows it! I know it! Everybody knows it. I should be the World Wrestling Federation champion! Everybody just keeps turning a blind eye. You keep turning a blind eye to it [referring to Vince McMahon]. I got that Gorilla Monsoon, he turns a blind eye to it. Everybody in that goddamn dressing room knows that I'm the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be! If you don't like it - tough shit!"
Steve Austin: [via titantron while Hart continues his rant] "...my ass, Bret. All you wanna do anytime you go out in the ring is cry like a baby. I tried to go out there and help you and you threw it all away because you are a loser! It could have been you and me for the championship at WrestleMania, but you blew the whole damn thing because you are a loser! At WrestleMania ...you will quit. And one of these days, well, it's you and me for the title. You're looking at the next champ! And there is nothing you can do about it!"
Hart: "You know what? They call you Stone Cold 'cause your stones are so cold, your stone... You will come out here and step in the ring with me? You always gonna jump me from behind. You don't got the guts to come out here. Come on! Everybody knows... well, there's Sycho Sid. [Sid comes down to the ring] If you think for one second that that belt belongs to you, you are wrong! That is my belt. You know it, I know it and everybody in this building knows it!"
Sid comes out, and Bret and Sid get into a shoving match before Undertaker appears. Then Austin appears. And all hell breaks loose. Bret punches Pat Patterson's lights out. Undertaker and Sid and Austin and Hart have separate brawls as Shawn Michaels looks on to end the show.
EDDIE MAC'S QUICK REVIEW
This is a tale of two Monday Night RAWs. The first three-quarters of this show is mostly skippable. I mean, sure it has its moments (LOD, Mascarita Sagrada, drugged-up Shawn Michaels, Ken Shamrock tapping fools), but the show immediately ramps up the second Steve Austin appears. This was during his “can't nobody tell me nothin'” phase (pre-broken neck). You'll not pay attention to most everything else, but the second Steve Austin is on the screen, you stop the remote and pay attention. He sticks out THAT much from everybody else on the show around this time.
The matches on the show were far from spectacular, but that's secondary. The purpose of this episode was to sell Wrestlemania 13. I wish I could say the show did its job, but I can't. A record low 237,000 homes ended up buying the show. Not only that, the show didn't sell out in the building. But if it's any comfort, it wasn't for a lack of trying. Without Austin-Hart, they might have done worse.
Everything after Ken Shamrock is absolutely worth your time. Everything before then, well, your mileage may vary. On the strength of those last 20 or so minutes, I will give this show an 8 out of 10.
BTW: The War Memorial in Syracuse's infamous place in wrestling history: that was the building where David Arquette won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in April 2000.