Mike Reviews – WWF Monday Night Raw 17th March 1997

Hello You!

Seeing as we’re approaching WrestleMania later in the month, I decided to go back and review the go-home show for WrestleMania 13, seeing as it features quite a famous show closing moment. Mania 13 isn’t always well regarded, but it’s got a couple of good matches buried in amongst the early 97 malaise, along with an excellent match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin. I’ve actually reviewed it before and you can read what I thought if you like by clicking right HERE.

The event is emanating from Syracuse, New York

Calling the action are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler

I do like the old Raw intro with the warehouse as it reminds me of playing WWF War Zone on the PlayStation back in the day. Not a great wrestling game but I’m heavily nostalgic for it regardless.

Opening Match
Legion of Doom Vs Crush and Savio Vega w/ Clarence Mason, PG-13 and D’Lo Brown

The LOD are of course very over here, especially as they’d only recently returned to the WWF after a brief stint in WCW during 96. This match is to hype up the LOD and Ahmed Johnson Vs Nation of Domination match at Mania, with Ahmed and Faarooq being barred from ringside so as not to jeopardise that match.

The match is a brawl right from the off, and it’s quite fun actually. Ahmed pops in for a backstage promo as the match goes on, saying you can’t predict what you’ll see at Mania because it’s a street fight and they’re wild by nature. Faarooq chimes in with his own thoughts, saying no one has better unity than The Nation and that when you see the word “street” you see Faarooq next to it. Kind of like how you see a picture of Jamie Kellner next to the word “wanker” I guess.

Not unlike in ECW, the match goes from being a wild brawl into a standard tag match after a certain point, and the quality dips not too soon after, especially as Hawk and Crush especially have little to no interest in selling anything. We even get an advert break during the bout, where we get a plug for Cool Boarders and clips of Undertaker doing a plancha from the previous week’s edition of Raw.

Hawk does eventually get cut off for a bit and worked over, whilst Faarooq jumps Ahmed backstage with a weapon of some kind. Back in the ring, Animal wakes the crowd up with the hot tag and the match breaks down again. Doomsday Device looks to follow on Savio, but Faarooq runs down with a nightstick for the DQ.

WINNERS BY DISQUALIFICATION: LEGION OF DOOM
RATING: *

Match started off okay, but it started to drag in the heat and the DQ finish dragged it down as well

Ahmed makes the save with a 2X4 and The Nation scarpers. Ahmed gets a good reaction at least and the match at the pay per view delivered an enjoyable brawl to pay all of this off.

Gorilla Monsoon is on his way to the arena to address rumours surrounding the Bret Hart Vs Sycho Sid Main Event tonight.

Match Two
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/ Chyna Vs Flash Funk w/ The Funkettes

Chyna was still a pretty new part of Hunter’s act and they hadn’t officially explained her relationship to him yet. Hunter was feuding with Goldust at the time and they’d go on to have a cromulent match at Mania. Funk would be better known as Too Cold Scorpio and he’d jumped to the WWF from ECW during the autumn of 96. We get the commercial spot during Hunter’s entrance and you can see how desperate SEGA were to get people to buy Saturn’s at this point, as Lawler notes you can get three free games with the console if you buy one! The Saturn actually isn’t a bad console, but it lagged behind the PlayStation and N64 considerably when it came to game library in my opinion.

I’m not sure of the identity of The Funkettes, but they’d be cut a few months after this in an effort from the company to save money. They do some nice dance moves during Funk’s entrance, but they were essentially window dressing for a lower card act as they never really let Funk beat anyone so he never got over like a star despite having an assortment of hot moves and a decent physique. They obviously couldn’t import Scorpio 100% from ECW, but I’m not sure they needed this completely new character for him when the Too Cold gimmick was a solid act that could have easily been tweaked for the WWF.

Hunter has pretty much switched from being a poncy posh bloke to a generic arrogant heel lording it up that he has this beefy lass with him that no one is allowed to attack, thus officially welcoming him to the Attitude Era as he gets to play a character more in tune with his real life personality rather than working a cheesy gimmick that was handed to him from up above. He was fine mechanically as a worker by this stage, so freshening up the act with Chyna was just what he needed to get a proper foothold and the association with Shawn Michaels later in the year pushed him over the edge into being a genuine star.

This is a standard quick TV match, as Funk gets to shine on Hunter to start until he gets cut off and worked over for a bit. There is the odd moment where they aren’t on the same page, but in general its fine. Chyna of course gets involved at one stage, distracting Funk so that Hunter can get a German Suplex for two. As a match it’s pretty similar to the one they had on pay per view at an In Your House event in May 97. Funk looks to have it won, but Chyna gets involved again and that allows Hunter to get The Pedigree for the win.

WINNER: HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY
RATING: **

This was fine

Hunter and Chyna put the heel beat down on Funk following that, just to be jerks.

Shawn Michaels arrives at the building.

Match Three
Mini Vader and Mini Mankind Vs Mini Goldust and Mascarita Sagrada Jr

Vader and Mankind were tagging at the time, so their mini versions are tagging too. That’s the sort of continuity the current product could do with having sometimes. We also get clips of Undertaker showing up to a press conference in New Jersey with a gravestone to celebrate the death of an abrasive tax on pro wrestling. 1997 was an interesting time…

Having mini versions of the regular wrestlers isn’t unusual in Mexico so the WWF decided to have a stab at it themselves but I don’t think it ever really got that over and it didn’t last for long, with the mini’s eventually just going back to their usual looks. Mini Goldust gets a decent reaction for his entrance, but the crowd heat pretty much dies once the match starts, even though the lads are having an okay match.

Sagrada is good enough that the crowd actually gets into watching him do his stuff, especially as Mini Mankind is a very good base for all his wacky high flying moves. Vader takes his head off with a big boot and actually draws some heel heat for it in the process. Mini Goldust gets a cannonball off the apron onto Vader at one stage (Wouldn’t it make more sense for Mini Mankind to do that?) and Sagrada rolls up Mini Mankind back inside the ring for the win.

WINNERS: MINI GOLDUST & SAGRADA
RATING: N/A

Too quick to rate (I could have gone with “too short” to rate, but even I’m not so low on standards that I’d go for such low hanging fruit. I mean, I AM, but that’s beside the point!) but it was fun for what it was and the crowd actually got into it at one stage

Sagrada chases Mini Vader away following that in a funny moment and then dives off the stage onto him in a pretty darn impressive spot for a bloke his size.

We get a Mania 13 hype video.

Gorilla Monsoon (The authority figure at the time of this) confirms that the Main Event tonight will be Sid defending his WWF Title against Bret Hart in a steel cage. He admits the timing stinks being that this is prior to Mania. If Bret wins, then his match with Stone Cold Steve Austin at Mania 13 will be for the Title.

Bret Hart joins us following an advert for the WWF Full Metal entrance music CD. Kevin Kelly is there to do an in-ring interview, and asks Bret for his thoughts on the cage match. Bret says he wants to change the face of WrestleMania and thanks Monsoon for letting the match happen. He sows the seeds for his heel turn by saying he doesn’t care if people don’t like him getting the shot because he’s earned it. He adds that after he wins the belt tonight he will give Undertaker a Title shot down the line, so Taker shouldn’t be worried about missing out on a Title shot at Mania against Sid. He also takes a moment to address Stone Cold, calling him a “hyena” and asks that guest ref at Mania, Ken Shamrock, calls it fairly. This was a very good promo and worked well for the Vince Russo “Shades of Grey” thing they were going for, as Bret was slightly heelish but was still ostensibly a babyface at the same time.

WWF Intercontinental Champ Rocky Miavia joins us, sadly without his famed fanny pack. He joins the guys at the commentary desk for the next match.

Match Four
The Sultan w/ Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik Vs Mike Bell

Sultan was Fatu/Rikishi under a real stinker of a gimmick, as he played a tonguless Arabian with pointy boots who had Backlund and Sheik do his talking for him. They decided to make him the challenger for Rocky at Mania and they would go on to have a pretty miserable match. Rocky had beaten Hunter for the belt in a big upset, but it was too much too soon and he’d lose the belt to Owen Hart in post-Mania season. Originally I think Marc Mero was supposed to get the match, but he got injured so Sultan got substituted in. This is a squash, as Sultan gets a couple of high impact moves and then makes poor Mike Bell humble for the submission win.

WINNER: THE SULTAN
RATING: SQUASH

As a TV squash match it was executed how you’d want it to be, but it didn’t really make you excited for the Mania match between Sultan and Rocky

Sultan points at Rocky following that, as Rocky looks on sternly. Yeah, this did not even remotely feel like a WrestleMania level IC Title match. Tony Atlas comes out of the crowd to calm Rocky down before anything can happen. Atlas looked pretty hench here I must say.

Shawn Michaels will join us after the break.

SSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN MICHAELS (Few things killed Shawn’s cool factor more than Vince gushing all over him) joins us to a big pop. He’d been out since February after injuring his leg and losing his smile. Of course some question whether he actually was that hurt to begin with and just came up with the knee injury as an excuse to not do a job for Sid, but who really knows at this stage? Shawn does a pure babyface promo and thanks the fans for their support when he was out, which leads to the women in the building loudly cheering for him like they’re at a Take That gig and he’s Gary Barlow. He says his knee is coming along well and he’s found his smile again. He hopes to be back in the ring in a couple of months all being well. He also adds that he’d like to attend WrestleMania, seeing as he can walk now and all, and that he’ll be doing guest commentary for the Mania Main Event.

Match Five
Full Sized Vader w/ Paul Bearer and Full Sized Mankind Vs WWF European and Tag Champ Davey Boy Smith w/ WWF Tag Champ AND Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart

Mankind and Vader will be facing Owen and Davey for the tag belts at Mania, so this is a match to hype it up. Davey is pretty much a babyface here whilst everyone else is a heel. The eventual match at Mania was pretty good and is often overlooked in my opinion, although a crappy finish hurts it a bit. Vader and Davey were always two guys who could have a good match together but they never had top level chemistry like Vader had with Sting and Davey had with Bret Hart. They were usually in the *** territory most of the time.

This is another one of those occasions, as they have an entertaining bout, with Davey getting the always impressive hanging vertical on Vader at one stage just in time for an advert break, although we don’t get furnished with any picture in picture. When we return, it’s Vader who is control, as he comes off the second rope with a splash for two. Davey manages to dodge a sit down splash though and makes a bit of a comeback until Vader is able to counter a crucifix into a Samoan Drop.

This feels quite a bit like an abbreviated version of their match at WCW Slamboree 93 actually, which is a decent effort but a level below being great. The crowd is into Davey’s displays of strength, but aren’t quite as in to watching Vader work some heat, even though Vader’s offence has the usual nice snap to it. Bulldog counters a cross body into a slam and makes a comeback, even managing to muscle Vader up for the Running Powerslam. That is Mankind’s cue to interfere though and we have another lame DQ finish.

WINNER BY DISQUALIFICATION: DAVEY BOY SMITH
RATING: **1/2

Fun match until the rubbish ending

Vader and Mankind try a beat down following that, but Davey grabs the urn from Bearer and clears the ring to stand tall.

Match Six
Billy Gunn Vs Aaron Ferguson

Ken Shamrock joins us for commentary here, as he will be the guest ref between Bret Hart and Stone Cold at Mania. Gunn was a heel here following the breakup of the Smoking Gunn’s tag team, and he makes sure to jaw with Shamrock whilst working the squash match. Gunn went through another gimmick as Rockabilly before finally getting over as Bad Ass Billy Gunn in the New Age Outlaws tag team. He works some basic submission holds on Ferguson and finishes with an arm bar as a way to rile up Shamrock.

WINNER: BILLY GUNN
RATING: SQUASH

Gunn is not a submission expert, but that was kind of the point so that Shamrock could show him how it’s really done

Gunn calls out Shamrock following that, so Shamrock steps into the ring to show him up to pop the crowd. This was a good way of showing off Shamrock’s credentials so that the fans knew he was a match for Bret and Stone Cold at Mania. Gunn did well in his role as a stooging heel in order to make Shamrock look good.

Stone Cold cuts a promo from the locker room. In a funny line he says that he isn’t impressed with Shamrock because Gunn had just been in a “brutal match” and wasn’t at 100% when Shamrock showed him up. I love that, it was almost a line Stunning Steve would say. All Shamrock has to do is call it fair at Mania, or Stone Cold will punch his lights out. He says he’s happy that Bret has a Title shot tonight, because it means that if he wins then Austin gets a Title shot at Mania.

WWF Champ Sycho Sid cuts a promo, where he threatens Stone Cold to stay out of his business tonight.

This was back before they used to hang the cage from the top of the arena, so stagehands set up the old school blue barred cage, which just always looked brutal to get thrown into.

Main Event
Steel Cage
Champ: Sycho Sid w/ The Undertaker Vs Bret Hart w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin

This is WWF escape the cage rules, so there are no pins or submissions. Taker hates Sid and Austin hates Hart, but they are in the unique position of wanting their hated rivals to win here so that their bout at Mania will have the WWF Title on the line. That’s actually a really fun twist actually and one of the occasions the “Shades of Grey, Bro” stuff actually works because there is a rational reason in place for heels to help faces and vice-versa.

Sid, as always, is absolutely awful, throwing some horrific looking punches and just generally being a big uncoordinated oaf who can’t sell or wrestle to any sort of reasonable level. Bret holds it all together well enough though, and it’s not bad as a WWF cage match, which often come down to being walk around brawls crossed with climbing competitions. Austin interferes whenever it looks like Sid might win, and the crowd is hot for all of it, as this sort of storytelling was still new and fresh in 1997.

Undertaker eventually decides to help Sid out when it looks like the combined forces of Bret and Austin will be successful, which leads to a wild four way brawl atop the cage. WCW was a hot product during this period and they would remain well ahead in the ratings battles for the rest of 97, but this sort of stuff was something you wouldn’t see outside of ECW and I can totally get why the WWF started eventually rebounding, especially when they could go further on USA than WCW would be allowed to go on TNT.

Austin and Taker brawl outside the cage whilst Bret and Sid go at inside, as the show has just descended into anarchy and it’s great stuff. Eventually it looks like Bret is going to win going out of the door, but Taker swings the cage door in his face and that allows Sid to climb out to retain the belt.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: SYCHO SID
RATING: ***

As an actual wrestling match it wasn’t much, especially as Sid is beyond all kinds of suck, but the storytelling was on point and that boosts the rating for me

Bret hasn’t left the ring following the ad break and shoves down Vince when he tries to do an in-ring interview, before cutting a profanity laced promo in one of the best ever Raw moments. Bret thinks everyone keeps screwing him (Just wait till the end of the year Bret…) which leads to Austin chewing him out on the big screen for blowing the cage match. Sid comes back down to the ring, quickly followed by Undertaker, at which point Bret gets a TOPE SUICIDA out onto Taker! Austin comes down as well and the Mania marriages pair off for some more wild brawling. That was one heck of a go-home segment, especially when Vince and Ross went into hype mode on commentary. I’d sure buy WrestleMania 13 after watching all of that!

In Conclusion

This was a so-so hype job for Mania until the cage match, at which point it became one of the all-time best episodes of the show and the harbinger for what helped the WWF finally turn the tables on WCW in 1998 by presenting an anarchic ECW styled product with high end production values and elite workers like Austin on top.

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