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WWE Retrospective: SummerSlam 1997 — The Attitude Era Begins

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SummerSlam 1997 is a milestone show for a lot of reasons.

It saw the beginning of Bret Hart’s last major run with WWE. Steve Austin very nearly saw his career end there. The ground work for the very first Hell In A Cell match was laid.

And, for all intents and purposes, it gave birth to the Attitude Era.

There are other milestones one could argue began the Attitude Era, like the Austin 3:16 promo. Or the Hart vs. Austin submission match at WrestleMania 13. But those were all just appetizers.

SummerSlam 1997 gave rise to a new way of telling stories through professional wrestling. And once the final bell rang, WWE changed forever.

Opening

The opening video package pretty well illustrates that things were coming together to start the Attitude Era. It’s all about the “shades of grey” that Vince would preach about so heavily in his “Get it?” promo. And it outlines how there are no clear-cut heroes or villains in the main event.

Triple H and Mankind in the cage

Steel Cage Match – Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/ Chyna vs. Mankind

I would have to do some digging, but I’m reasonably sure SummerSlam 1997 might hold the record for the most stipulations of any WWE pay-per-view up to this point.

Triple H was still dressing as the aristocratic “blue blood” and using ‘Ode To Joy’ as his entrance music, but the character was clearly moving toward the early D-X version. Foley started to see a surge in popularity around this time, having already switched from Mankind to Dude Love and back.

Helmsley makes a break for the door right from the opening bell, but Mankind pulls him back and lays the boots to him. After a knee to Triple H in the corner, Mankind does the Cactus Jack “bang bang” gesture, already teasing the third face of Foley. Mankind hooks the Mandible Claw, but he’s too close to the cage, and Chyna grabs him by the hair to break it up.

Triple H, 22 years and 500 pounds of muscle ago, takes a stiff clothesline from Mankind who starts to climb the cage. Chyna races up to meet him and hits a Greco-Roman nutshot to stop him in his tracks. Triple H climbs up and hits a suplex from the top of the cage. He keeps the advantage, slamming Mankind hard into the wall of every side of the cage.

After some back-and-forth, Mankind has the opportunity to escape through the door, but Chyna slams the door hard on his head. That was brutal. Foley maintained in his first book that it was the most painful thing he’d ever experienced in the ring.

Mankind scales the cage and has all the time in the world to climb down, but he changes his mind. He rips open his shirt to reveal a heart “tattoo” on his chest and hits a Superfly Splash from the top of the cage before escaping. The crowd cheers loud enough for Mankind that he could probably get away with murder.

Foley is laid out on the floor, and Dude Love’s music starts playing, signifying a transformation back into Dude Love.

Winner – Mankind

We bring the show to a screeching halt so Vince McMahon can plug the governor of New Jersey, Christie Todd-Whitman. Up to this point, New Jersey taxed the hell out of live events, so Vince basically gives her free campaign advertising and an opportunity to make terrible wrestling puns.

Because politicians and sporting events are historically stupid things to mix, the crowd boos the hell out of her.

Goldust w/ Marlena vs. Brian Pillman

If Pillman loses, he has to wear a dress the next night on Monday Night Raw. Classy.

Pillman jumps Goldust from behind to start and beats him down in the corner. He whips Goldust into the opposite corner, but Goldust puts on the breaks and hits a springboard back elbow. Pillman goes for a punch, but Goldust pulls him in and kisses him on the mouth. WWE had toned down the homophobe-baiting with Goldust by this point, thankfully.

The action spills outside, and Pillman goes after Marlena and eats a clothesline from Goldust as a reward. On commentary, Vince namedrops Dusty as Goldust’s father, which was pretty rare at the time, considering Dusty was still working for WCW.

Goldust and Pillman let the match degenerate into a slugfest. An attempted bulldog by Goldust is broken up, and Pillman slams him face-first into the mat. Back in the ring, Goldust goes for a sunset flip, but Pillman breaks it and pulls himself up by the ropes only to get punched backward by Marlena. Goldust gets the pin and the victory at SummerSlam 1997.

After the match, Pillman throws a fit about having to wear a dress, and I try to rationalize to myself why I watch this stuff.

Winner – Goldust

SummerSlam 1997 - Godwins vs LOD

Godwins vs. Legion Of Doom

The Godwins are Phineas I. Godwin and Henry O. Godwin. P.I.G. and H.O.G. I hate Vince McMahon so much.

The SummerSlam 1997 crowd is solidly behind L.O.D. Frequent tags from the Godwins lead to a double-team, but Animal escapes an attempted double suplex. Both Godwins spill to the outside, and Hawk tags in.

Henry lays the beatdown on Hawk. With Hawk draped across the bottom rope, Henry goes for a legdrop, but Hawk dodges it. They fight on the outside, and Hawk tosses Henry into the ring steps before rolling him back into the ring. Hawk hits a pair of leg drops and gets a two-count. The L.O.D. was actually moving pretty well here, considering they were a combined 497 years old at the time.

Phineas tags in and locks in a hangman choke on Hawk. Henry and Animal both tag in, and Animal hooks Henry in an arm lock. He whips Animal into the corner, and Phineas sneaks a kick in from behind before clotheslining Animal over the top rope. Animal goes crashing into the barricade. He rolls back into the ring and gets bodyslammed by Henry for two.

I like this match. There’s not a ton of action going on, but the frequent tags and back-and-forth keep it well-paced and consistently interesting. Animal has been isolated for awhile now. Phineas goes to the second rope and tries a flying clothesline, but Animal rolls out of the way and makes the hot tag to Hawk.

Hawk cleans house and hits a neckbreaker on Henry for two. Phineas tries to run in for the double-team, but Animal cuts him off. L.O.D. hit the Doomsday Device for the pin and the win.

Winners – Legion Of Doom

Embarrassing Contest Time

Okay, so WWE had a great idea to give away a million dollars live on SummerSlam 1997. Part of the gimmick was that they would call a phone number, and if you answer you win. The first number doesn’t get an answer. I feel it incumbent to mention at this time that Sunny used to be hot.

The second number is disconnected. They try a third number and get an answer, but nobody wins. Kind of like modern-day WWE. The guy on the phone says he’s not watching the show. Kind of like modern-day WWE.

SummerSlam 1997 - Bulldog vs Shamrock

European Championship Match – British Bulldog (C) vs. Ken Shamrock

The loser of this match has to eat a can of dog food. Okay, I swear, the Attitude Era does start on this show eventually.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I count the dollars WWE could have made if they’d done something with Shamrock.

Shamrock takes the advantage early, and the announcers are still in denial that UFC is any kind of competition, constantly referring to it as the “ultimate fighting world.” Bulldog takes over and hits a standing suplex for two before locking in the Bulldog Headlock of DOOM!

Get it? Bulldog doesn’t know many moves. Shamrock fights out, but Bulldog puts him back on the mat and cinches the headlock again for about six or seven hours. A rooster crows and Shamrock fights out and hits a sunset flip on Bulldog for two. Bulldog hits a clothesline and hits a 619. Just kidding. It’s another headlock. Shamrock breaks free again, and the fight spills to the outside, where Bulldog slams him into the ring post and the steel steps.

Back in the ring, Bulldog lays in the punches, and Shamrock is on dream street. He hits a snapmare, and I’ll give you three guesses as to what hold Bulldog hooks in. The first two don’t count. Bulldog breaks the headlock and tosses Shamrock to the outside, where he suplexes him on the floor and throws dog food in Shamrock’s face.

Dog food is apparently a triggering mechanism for Shamrock, who beats Bulldog over the head with the can and gets himself disqualified. Right, that’s why they didn’t do much with Shamrock.

Because he was an idiot.

Winner – British Bulldog, by disqualification

After the match, Shamrock continues his idiot rage, beating up a bunch of referees and Pat Patterson.

Backstage, Shawn Michaels promises to be impartial in refereeing the WWE title match between Undertaker and Bret Hart in the main event.

Los Boricuas vs. Disciples Of Apocalypse

Here we see a rivalry from ancient Egyptian times reignited at SummerSlam 1997: Biker gangs vs. street-wise Hispanics. Believe it or not, there was a time when WWE didn’t quite know what to do with wrestlers who weren’t white dudes.

WWE had three ethnicity-based stables at the time. There was the D.O.A., kind of like Sons Of Anarchy for the incredibly lame. The Nation of Domination was a lame play on the Nation of Islam. And Los Boricuas were the aforementioned street-wise Hispanics. Because Vince McMahon is nothing if not progressive.

As goofy and dumb as the feud in general was, it was the start of WWE starting to push the envelope by actually acknowledging culture, albeit in a pretty tone deaf manner.

To their credit, all eight guys in this match could go, but it just goes on too long with no real direction. Neither team ever really gets an advantage, and no real effort is made to get anybody in particular over. The match ends when Ahmed Johnson, having recently joined the Nation, hits a piledriver on Chainz on the concrete outside.

Savio Vega throws him back in the ring, and Los Boricuas get the pin. Ya see kids, this is what you call “filler.”

Winners – Los Boricuas

Stone Cold vs Owen Hart

Intercontinental Championship Match – Owen Hart (C) vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

The “Austin 3:16” promo made Steve Austin a merchandise-mover. The end of this match made him a superstar in the worst way imaginable.

The stipulation here is that if Austin doesn’t win, he’ll have to kiss Owen’s ass. On the way to the ring, Michael Cole tries to get a word with Austin. Austin threatens to beat the living crap out of Cole. Another reason to love SummerSlam 1997.

Owen jumps Austin from behind before the bell and starts going to town on Austin’s injured knee. He slams the knee into the ring post a couple of times, but Austin fights back and hits the Thesz press.

Stone Cold maintains control until Owen manages to slam him into the ring post. Owen goes right after Austin’s middle finger, trying to break it and then just biting it like a crazy person. He ties Austin up in the ropes and keeps trying to break Austin’s fingers before stomping ye olde mudhole.

Austin breaks free and stunguns Owen on the top rope before whipping him into the ropes. Owen goes airbound, but Austin catches him and powerbombs him. I’m not sure I ever saw Austin use a powerbomb after this. Owen starts walking to the back to get himself disqualified, but Austin chases him down, and they slug it out on the way back to the ring.

A pair of neckbreakers from Owen paint a dark omen for the end of the match. Owen hits a legdrop and gets a two-count before dropping a flying elbow for another two-count. Austin gets back to his feet and goes for the Sharpshooter, but Owen kicks him off and puts Austin back down with a clothesline before zeroing back in on the neck with a pair of leg drops.

Owen cinches in a headlock, but Austin fights out and locks in the Million Dollar Dream before Owen counters again. Austin reaches his hands behind Owen’s head and hits a jawbreaker, but Owen stays in control. After more back-and-forth, the complexion of the match changes, and the Attitude Era officially begins.

Austin goes for a piledriver, but Owen reverses it and botches the landing, dropping Austin straight on his head. Owen stalls for a few minutes while Austin tries to figure out whether or not he can move. Austin finally crawls over and gets a weak roll-up for the pin and the championship.

Steve Austin didn’t wrestle again until that year’s Survivor Series, and in the interim he let his promos turn him into the biggest star in the history of the business. And it all started with a botch at SummerSlam 1997.

Winner and NEW Intercontinental Champion – “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

SummerSlam 1997 main event

WWE Championship Match – Undertaker (C) vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart With Special Referee Shawn Michaels

Okay, let’s unpack all of this first thing. If Bret doesn’t leave SummerSlam 1997 as the champion, he can never wrestle in the United States again. Shawn Michaels, if he favors the Undertaker, also won’t be able to wrestle in the United States again. And Undertaker, of course, stands to lose the WWE Championship.

This was during the height of Bret’s “Canada vs. United States” angle. In a nice touch, Bret demands that the Canadian national anthem be played prior to the match.

Bret goes straight after Undertaker, but Undertaker overpowers him quickly. The Hitman heads to the outside for a breather, but Undertaker gives chase, slamming Bret into the ring post. Michaels admonishes Taker to get back in the ring, giving Bret the opportunity to throw Taker into the steel steps.

Hart tries to drop an elbow on a dazed Taker on the outside, but Taker catches him and shoves him spine-first into the ring post. Michaels continues to play the role of the impartial referee. You know, as much as Bret and Shawn hated each other, they were total pros in the ring, playing their parts to perfection.

Bret tries to take Undertaker’s knees out, eventually hooking a kneebar. Owen and Pillman come out as reinforcements for Bret, but Michaels keeps them outside the ring. Taker fights out of the kneebar but staggers outside the ring, where he puts a beating to Owen and Pillman.

Michaels manages to eject the Hart Foundation back to the dressing room, but while he’s distracted Taker hits the chokeslam and goes for the pin. There’s no referee, though, and Taker drags Michaels up to the apron. Michaels threatens to disqualify him, and while Undertaker is distracted, Bret rolls him up in a small package for two.

Undertaker keeps jawing at Michaels for missing the earlier count. Bret drags Taker outside and slams his spine into the apron a couple of times. Back in the ring, Bret hits his five set up moves, and Undertaker keeps weakly doing the zombie sit-up.

Taker hits a big boot and a legdrop (brother), but Bret kicks out. Undertaker chokeslams Bret from the apron into the ring, but it only gets two. Michaels continues to count steadily, calling everything right down the middle. Undertaker goes Old School, but the Hitman kicks him down onto the turnbuckle and hits a superplex for two.

Bret locks the Sharpshooter in the middle of the ring, but Undertaker straight muscles out of it. He signals for the Tombstone, but Bret slips out and tries to lock the Sharpshooter around the ring post. Taker powers out again, but Bret falls right into Michaels, taking him out.

The Hitman grabs a chair and takes Undertaker’s head off with it. Bret gets Michaels back in the ring, but Undertaker kicks out at two. Hart argues that the count was slow, and Michaels notices the chair. He questions Bret about it, and they jaw at each other until Bret launches the most disgusting loogie in human history in Michaels’s face.

Michaels swings at Bret, who ducks, and Undertaker takes another chairshot to the face. Bret makes the cover, and Michaels has no choice but to deliver the three-count, and Bret Hart becomes a five-time WWE Champion at SummerSlam 1997.

And with that match, three months’ worth of storylines are set up.

Winner and NEW WWE Champion – Bret “The Hitman” Hart

The Breakdown

In the months between this show and Survivor Series 1997, Steve Austin would begin his battle against the WWE machine. He would hit the Stunner on Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross, and finally Vince McMahon. On top of all that, he would start to have some interaction with some kid named Rocky Maivia.

Meanwhile, Undertaker and Shawn Michaels locked on a collision course that ended in the first Hell In A Cell match, en route to Michaels challenging Bret at Survivor Series 1997.

And we all know what happened there.

Every year, WWE likes to talk about the “Road to WrestleMania.” If the Attitude Era was a racetrack, the start line would be painted clearly at SummerSlam 1997.

All images courtesy of WWE.

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