WWF RAW: March 3, 1997

Last week on RAW, one of the most wildly chaotic nights in pro-wrestling took place. ECW invaded the WWF’s flagship show, and with tensions rising, Jerry Lawler hauled out his trust gas can and blew that som’bitch to high heavens.

Robert Davis: I had just begun getting ECW on Primestar when this Raw happened. I thought it was one of the coolest shows theyd done in years and for me this is the episode that truly kicked off the “Atitude Era” as it was truly so against the grain of the WWFs usual show that it really showed times were going to change.

Well – we’re close. Tonight, however, things return to a semblance of normal, as the main roster continues to tour through Europe, stopping in Germany for a pre-taped RAW. Up against the return of Roddy Piper (despite the fact we know how THAT turned out), they’d be forced to turn up the heat to keep it close.

VINCE MCMAHON reminds us that the Cold War is over, the Berlin Wall has come down, and the first ever European champion gets crowned tonight. I want to make fun of the incredibly dated Berlin Wall montage as somehow being culturally relevant enough to reference in 1997, but this is a company that still wants to trot Hulk Hogan back into the fold in 2016, so this may actually be the most trendy discussion point Vince McMahon has ever touched on.

Speaking of dated throwbacks, THE HONKY TONK MAN joins McMahon in the commentary booth. JIM ROSS is unseen, largely because he’s certainly not there, but through the magic of post-production, he’s present and accounted for.

BRET HART is backstage, and promised to stay focused tonight despite Steve Austin’s continued interference in every match he’s taking part in. In fact, he hopes Austin’s watching what he’s about to do to Hunter Hearst Helmsley.

HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY (4-5-0) vs. BRET HART (4-2-0)

Make no mistake about it, there are two things the Germans love – and that’s David Hasselhoff, and Bret Hart. From the second that guitar riff hits, the stylish designer sweater wearing throngs of Bratwurst scarfing Aryans lose all semblance of their bodily functions, finding themselves locked in a screaming wave of near orgasmic pleasure. Basically, Bret Hart is the fluffer for their all-expenses-paid orgy.

During the lock-up, STEVE AUSTIN is seen arriving at WWF studios in snowy North America.

Helmsley takes over early with some mat-work, but Bret wriggles free and works a head-lock. Triple H drives a knee into Hart’s midsection and takes over, just as we head to our first commercial.

Upon return, McMahon tells us absolutely nothing has changed. How is it possible that in 20+ years of RAW, that not only has no match ever ended during the break, but momentum hasn’t changed once? The odds against this have got to be astronomical. While Hunter slows down the action with a DDT into his signature move – the incredibly long stall, I’m going to conjure up an email for Nate Silver and his team to investigate this commercial break business.

Eventually, Hart takes back over by catching Hunter on the top rope and delivering a superplex. That sets up the Russian legsweep for two, and the backbreaker isn’t far behind. The elbowdrop sets up a vertical suplex, and if Scott Keith’s taught me anything, that means we’re nearing the end. Sure enough, the Pedigree is blocked, Hart catapults Helmsley into the buckle, and the Sharpshooter is blocked with a hairpull. Hart flips out, locking Helmsley in the tree of woe and refuses to break, shoving the referee aside for the DQ at 8:47. CHYNA rushes the ring to challenge Hart to a fight, but SECURITY (Jerry Brisco sighting!) escorts her away. Those two mailed that one in with more vigor than Amazon’s warehouse on Black Friday. **

Elsewhere … well, they try and have a sit down with Steve Austin, but he’s nowhere to be seen – but we ARE treated to a toilet flushing. Oh.

VADER (4-3-1) (with Paul Bearer) vs. ROCKY MAIVIA (7-1-0) (for the WWF Intercontinental title)

During the entrances, we’re flashed back to the Final Four. See, in the glorious old days, if someone bled, you were gonna hear about it for eternity, and dang nabbit, we liked it that way!

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As a result of his beast-like performance, Vader has been granted a title shot, and even the announcers are treating this like a slam dunk – Maivia is as good as cooked. Frankly, I’m rooting for this, if only to make WCW have Prince Iaukea subsequently drop the TV title to, oh I don’t know, Anyone Else. Vader gets all up in Maivia’s grill, and Rocky shows a little personality for the first time in his life, feeding it back and looking every part the bad-ass. Vader responds by about taking Rock’s head off with some mammoth punches, and clotheslining him right past Hell, and back to North America. Vader gets cocky, and a schoolboy shocks him with a 2. Of course, that just serves to piss off the old guy, and next thing you know, Rocky’s getting knocked around like a tennis ball in a schoolyard game of Butts Up. Rocky manages to block a suplex, and then somehow throws the big guy with a vertical suplex of his own, getting 2! Bearer prays to the urn for reasons that seemingly make sense to Vince McMahon, and as Rock starts throwing clotheslines, we take a break!

We’re back JUST in time to see Vader dropping a splash on Maivia for 2! Vader turns into Harambe, and drags Rock to the corner, and a splash off the second rope gets 2, despite Vince telling us “forget about it, he’s got it!” You’d think his 20 years at the announce table would cause him to eventually slow down and count organically, and even Paul lets him know it wasn’t a 3.

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Vader ties up Rock in the kind of hold that’s usually reserved for my trips to the local Philippine massage parlors, but unlike me, Rock won’t tap out. Vader ain’t impressed, so he powerslams Rock like a bitch, and heads up to finish. Demanding to know who’s the man, Vader flies off the top – right into a powerslam from Rock, and he gets a close 2! A belly to belly suplex gets 2, and Rock’s got some momentum now. The floatover DDT catches the big guy off guard and knocks his mask right off! Rock heads up to finish with the crossbody, but Vader rolls through to escape the pinfall. Rocky dropkicks the Vader to the floor, and is hot on his heels, causing MANKIND to rush in, grab the urn from Paul, and clock the champ upside the head to save his buddy – which of course means a DQ at 7:19. Vader is *not* thrilled about this at all, feeding it to Mick for a second, before drawing Rock back in the ring and smacking him around with his big-ass bear paws. This was quality stuff, and Vader’s been on a roll these past few weeks. ***

We recap last week’s ECW invasion, causing JERRY LAWLER to jump on the phone and call long distance to Germany. He, speaking on behalf of the entire WWF roster, is completely embarrassed that McMahon opened his doors to them, and calls it the darkest day in the history of the company. He says if Paul E shows up again in Worcester next week, he’s going to be sorry, and this time they’ll finish him off.

THE SULTAN (2-2-0) vs. FLASH FUNK (1-2-0)

Vince reminds us that this is emanating all the way from Germany, and with a little luck, they’ll leave both guys there. Sultan puts both Flash Funk and everyone at home to sleep with one transitional move, but thankfully…

PAUL E DANGEROUSLY has also found the number to tonight’s show (which we can presume he called collect), and he’s had enough of being challenged by Lawler. He throws in a shot about Lawler’s cheap boss not even ponying up a ticket to fly him to Berlin, and Vince stutters, moving it along. Heyman, smelling blood, flat out says since Lawler works for him, he accepts again, but he’s not promising it’ll be in Worcester – they may just invade the Garden. Vince wraps it up, and Heyman reminds him “don’t forget to say Sunday Night April 13th now!” Vince: “Errrr, sure, thanks.” My first date in high school was less awkward than this mess.

In the ring, Funk hits a moonsault for 2. A rana is tried, but Sultan sits down midway through the move, and Funk falls square on his face, knocking himself out. Camel clutch ends this one seconds later at 4:07. DUD

Earlier today, SYCHO SID yelled about Mankind. Whether he’s referring to Mick Foley or the general population is up for interpretation, but one thing is clear – he is the master and ruler of the world.

AHMED JOHNSON is here in his wrasslin’ gear – but he’s not fighting, he wants to respond to Faarooq’s challenge to a street fight at Wrestlemania. Honky Tonk expects Ahmed to do the right thing, be a man, and refuse to take the match. Actual promo: “Faarooq – you won summon me tutu street fie? Welcome! All separate challenge. But I won’t comb myself. Yacht sometime.” Once that’s translated in German to the crowd, he’s got more. “I got worms for Faarooq! URF GONE DOWN! URF GONE DOWN! URF GONE DOWN!”

MANKIND (2-1-0) (with Paul Bearer) vs. SYCHO SID (1-3-0) (for the WWF world heavyweight title)

Mankind does a pre-match promo in German, sold as part of his deranged genius character – but keen-eyed readers of Have a Nice Day will remember he learned German during earlier European tours with WCW years earlier, including losing his ear to the garbage can because he didn’t know the German word for formaldehyde. Sid and Mankind start brawling right off the bell, and find themselves on the floor trading punches. Back in, Sid works a chinlock, while we head back to the USA…

STEVE AUSTIN has finally decided to show up for his scheduled interview. He’s pissy because he was flown into WWF studios sitting in seat 36-C – right next to the airplane outhouse. He was forced to eat a stale sandwich in a brown paper bag; and while you might be right to assume that’s what made him sick, it was actually Bret Hart whining and crying every time he’s on TV. Vince cuts him off, promising to get back to this later.

In the ring, Mankind is squealing like a hog, riding on the back of Sid. Good lord. Foley throws a series of blows at Sid’s head while he’s rocking precariously on the apron, but Sid doesn’t go down. Instead, he trips up Mankind, and slams his face to the buckle. A trio of nasty boots to the face have Mankind wobbly, but his fourth misses, and Sid’s crotched in the ropes – just in time for commercial!

We’re back as Mankind is getting knocked to the floor, and the fans are solidly behind Sid. Bearer threatens to whack Sid with the urn, but he’s spotted, and opts to run away. Sid chokeslams Foley head first into the ring post (Jesus!!!), and the champ is in good shape. He drags Mick back to the apron to finish, but Mick drops down with a guillotine over the ropes! A legdrop gets 2, and Foley quickly puts on a chinlock. Sid gets loose, but Mankind is waiting with the Mandible Claw, and Sid is quickly down on the mat, gasping for life. A couple of close 2 counts follow, but Sid finds a burst of energy, gets on his feet … so Foley kicks him in the nuts and hits the double arm DDT for 2! That was slick. Mankind goes for a sleeper hold, but Sid breaks out, charging at the challenger … walking right into a big boot! Foley jumps on his back, rearing back on a sleeper, but Sid drops backwards, sending all of Mick’s weight crashing to the mat. Bearer gets involved, but Sid stops him, and heel miscommunication causes Mankind to knock his own manager off the apron. A chokeslam is on point – but Mankind kicks out at 2, drawing some pretty shocked gasps from the fans! Sid figures to hell with that, nails an impressive looking powerbomb, and that’s all she wrote at 10:22, drawing a MASSIVE pop! Sid is an enigma, both running around as the company’s top babyface AND second biggest heel at the same time. He’s the best. ***

Tune into La Femme Nikita!

STEVE AUSTIN once again joins us from WWF Studios, and Vince brings up the fact he’s been a pain in Bret Hart’s ass for months. “What is it with you?” Austin says he’s sick of Bret talking about being screwed since he’s been screwed for every one of his seven years in the business. When Shawn Michaels hurts his knee he gets a special video, when he’s sick they need to announce it to the whole world – but at Final Four, he was sick as a dog with a “blowed out” knee and he didn’t say a damn word. “How many one-legged people could go 25-minutes with three of the best wrestlers in the world? And I ain’t makin’ fun of no one-legged people!” He feels he’s the rightful World Champion, whether he’s been crowned or not. At Wrestlemania, he’s accepted a submission match with Bret Hart, despite the fact he doesn’t know but one or two moves himself. He’ll just beat the hell out of Bret Hart until he quits. “I ain’t got no quit in me, and you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t look at the ref and say I quit. And that’s the bottom line, cuz Stone Cold Said So!” To the best of my knowledge, that’s the first time he’s dropped that money line – but we’re about to hear it a whole lot more often. Quality stuff, as always.

OWEN HART (1-1-0) vs. THE BRITISH BULLDOG (1-3-0) (for the WWF European title)

There’s been a fictitious tournament running throughout their European tour in order to crown their first ever European Champion – which is more or less meant as a vanity belt to be defended during their twice-yearly trips over the pond. The tension is palpable here, with Owen’s continued shenanigans having pushed Bulldog to the brink of explosion, and a tournament is a creative way to get them in the ring without a full-fledged breakup to drive it. The pair trade wrist-locks, and Owen breaks the monotony with a monkey flip attempt – blocked by Bulldog. Owen tries a rocker dropper, but Bulldog fights out, so Owen goes to the hiptoss instead. Right away, the message is clear – Bulldog knows Owen inside and out and has a counter to everything he’s got in his repertoire. Owen offers a hand for the clever manoeuvering, and Bulldog takes the props.

A test of strength is won by Bulldog to the surprise of no one, but Owen escapes using a double leg flip off the ropes to reverse the hold. A rana is blocked with a vicious powerbomb, and Bulldog holds on, catapulting Owen over the top to the floor, and a MASSIVE pop! Bulldog holds the ropes for his partner, and Owen gingerly gets back in, with no dirty stuff. Back to action, and Owen’s victory roll gets a close two. Bulldog starts to work over Owen’s arm on the mat, and once it’s loosened up a bit, he pulls him up in a hammerlock, and slams him down right on the arm as we head to break!

Bulldog remains in control, and a crucifix gets 2! Owen leaps up and goes for an enzuigiri, but Bulldog knows it’s coming and ducks, allowing him to rapidly lock Owen in the Gory special! Owen pulls on to Earl Hebner to escape, but he manages to do only that before finding himself caught in a keylock. As they wrestle through the holds, Owen backdrops Bulldog to the floor and celebrates like he just won another Slammy! The crowd boos – but Owen returns the favor to Bulldog by holding the ropes as he gets up, and he doesn’t strike, much to the surprise of everyone in attendance. Owen’s got the smarmy shit thing down, and there isn’t a fan alive who trusts him to borrow a dollar, let alone take care of his partner and brother-in-law.

Just as things start to heat up again, Owen wrenches his knee, and the match may be coming to a premature end. Bulldog heads over to check, and Owen stomps the shit out of Bulldog’s knee as soon as he’s within striking distance. That sets the crowd off, and Owen proudly goes for the Sharpshooter. Bulldog uses his core to fight Owen off, and he preps the running bulldog – but Owen cinches free and smacks Bulldog with a violent spinning heel kick. A backbreaker sets up a whip to the buckle, back-first, and as Bulldog collapses, Owen drops a leg for 2. Bulldog fights back to his feet, but Owen drives his knee into Bulldog’s stomach. Honky Tonk goes into an amazing Stu Hart impression now, telling us “errrr, eh, Owen’s taking some errrrr … liberties with Davey Boy ehhhh”.

Bulldog takes a few moments to walk things off, and he limps back to the ring apron. Owen heads over to attack, but Bulldog was playing possum – quickly re-entering with a slingshot sunset flip, getting 2! Owen’s up first, and he drops an elbow on Bulldog’s face, before applying a chinlock as we head back to our final break.

Action’s moving fairly quickly when we’re back, with Bulldog getting launched onto another continent from an overhead belly to belly! Owen leaps onto Davey’s back with a camel clutch attempt, but he can’t cinch it, and Bulldog is up, dropping Owen with the electric chair! Bulldog charges, but Owen boots him in the face, and tries the pin with his feet on the ropes, getting 2. Rather than argue, Owen hits a neckbreaker, following up fast with a flying elbowdrop for 2! Back to the chinlock – Davey’s looking like a guy who’s at the end of a war, and has next to nothing left. Owen puts the gassed Bulldog on the top rope, and the superplex is turned mid move into a DDT with Bulldog landing on top – but SOMEHOW Owen kicks out at 2!!! Bulldog feels it now though, hitting a trifecta of running clotheslines, setting up his patented vertical suplex for 2! With an overhead gorilla press, Owen is dumped on the top rope, crotch first! The referee considers a DQ, but better judgment keeps the match moving.

Bulldog clearly feels a smidge of guilt, and helps Owen back in – a huge mistake when he finds himself on the receiving end of a German suplex for 2! Into the corner, Owen finds himself caught on Bulldog’s shoulders, and the powerslam seems eminent … but Owen hangs on to the rope, blocking the move, and it gives him enough to cause Davey to collapse at the knees, and Owen lands in a pinning position for 2! A springboard flying forearm shot is countered by Bulldog, rolling through for 2! Owen, frustrated, whips out his laser fast enzuigiri, and the Sharpshooter is right behind it. Bulldog fights with everything he’s got, forcing the break at the ropes, and Owen is beside himself. He charges into a tilt-a-whirl, but lands on his feet and goes for the tombstone! Bulldog rocks backwards to counter the move, right into the running powerslam, but Owen kicks out of his finish! That simply didn’t happen in 1997! As Bulldog argues, Owen leaps from behind into a monkey flip, but Bulldog reverses it at 2 and scores the pinfall at the end of this marathon to claim the belt at 18:24!

To quote Stefon: This match had everything. Emotion? Brothers-in-law dealing with family nonsense have some serious pent up frustration they need to get out of their system. Action? There were dozens of nearfalls, counters upon counters from two guys who know each other better than anyone else alive, all off of a combined repertoire of never-ending fresh moves. Intrigue? Could Owen play it straight, and could Davey control his temper enough to get through this without attempting homicide? And, just to cap it all off – Owen manages to show enough class to raise Davey’s arm, while continuing to linger JUST close enough behind him during the celebration that you’re left to wonder if he might actually be enough of a piece of garbage to attack him during his moment. He doesn’t, instead shaking his hand one more time, cementing this as the absolute best match in RAW history. *****

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