Mike Reviews – WWF Raw is War (22nd September 1997)

WWE ran MSG yesterday (I’m writing this ahead of time but I assume that show still went ahead) so I thought I’d go back in time to look at another occasion where they ran The Garden during a September. This episode of the show was seen as a symbolic attempt by the WWF to fight back against WCW after being on the losing end of the Monday Night War for over a year, and it featured some genuinely memorable moments that have made their way onto “Best of Raw” compilations for many years since.

The WWF was beyond the really rocky period of 1996 by this stage and were tootling along just fine business wise, but they were still out in 2nd place when it came to WCW and that just boiled Vince McMahon’s blood, so they were pushing hard to get back into the race. I’m watching this on WWE Network, so if anything is missing then it’ll likely be because they cut it out so as not to anger the folks at Peacock.

The event is emanating from Madison Square Garden on the 22nd of September 1997

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

We get an MSG tribute package to open us up, complete with footage of Hulk Hogan, Billy Graham, Bob Backlund, Pedro Morales, Roddy Piper, Andre The Giant, Iron Sheik and even Bruno Sammartino. It’s shocking that they acknowledged as many guys as they did there because the WWF never really talked about its history during the Attitude Era, with the idea being that the previous eras were lame and that right now was all that mattered, which was a very 90’s attitude in general to be honest.

Then we get the awesome intro at the warehouse that always reminds me of playing WWF War Zone on the PlayStation.

Opening Match
WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament Quarter Final
The Rock w/ Faarooq, D’lo and Kama Mustafa Vs Ahmed Johnson

Stone Cold had been the Champ but an injury had caused the belt to be vacated, so now we have a tournament. Ahmed had been in The Nation but got kicked out due to injuries. Rock is drawing good heat here, with a hearty “Rocky Sucks” chant going on. WWF commissioner Sgt Slaughter comes out to send The Nation to the back. The winner of this gets Faarooq in the Semi-Finals, whilst the other Semi will be Owen Hart Vs Brian Pillman later on.

Captain Lou Albano joins us at ringside, whilst Ahmed gets a babyface shine until getting cut off by Rock’s “Laying The Smackdown” DDT. Speaking of War Zone, that DDT was always a fun move to do on the wrestling games. Ahmed actually does a decent job selling during the heat and Rock does a good job playing to the crowd and being an unlikable Heel. He’d been a babyface at the start of the year but the fans rejected it, so the WWF listened and turned him. Fancy that eh?

We get a double down but Rock is up first and he makes the mistake of slapping Ahmed a couple of times, which leads to Ahmed waking up and then catching Rock with The Pearl River Plunge for the rare clean pin fall victory here on an Attitude Era Raw.

WINNER: AHMED JOHNSON
RATING: **

Decent quick TV match, with Rock being a good Heel and Ahmed popping the crowd

Later tonight it’s Owen/Pillman, Dude/Hunter and Bret/Goldust

Stone Cold Steve Austin is in amongst the crowd, because you can’t have Raw at MSG without him. Tonight someone is going to have a can of the ass whip opened on them.

We get a wacky video where Sable plays Lazer Tag with Howard Finkel.

We get a recap of One Night Only from Birmingham, where Shawn Michaels refused to put Davey Boy Smith over and thus got to win the European Title, treating it like a joke and basically killing the belt until D’Lo Brown and X-Pac had a good feud over it in 1998.

Undertaker is out for an in-ring promo with Vince McMahon to hype Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels. Vince makes it clear that there is no way in or out of the cage, which is why the subversion of Kane breaking his way in by clean ripping off the door was so great. Taker cuts a good promo to hype the match. He’s going to beat Shawn in the Cell and then he’s going to defeat Bret Hart for the WWF Title. Works for me! Shawn Michaels joins us with his new European Title and cuts a good insufferable Heel promo to do his part of hyping the match up as well. The build and pay off for this first Cell match was so great and it’s no surprise that HIAC became an enduring gimmick bout as a result.

Sunny joins us to do some guest ring announcing. 97 Sunny was a sight for sore eyes.

Match Two
The Legion of DOOM (Hawk and Animal) Vs The Nation of Domination (Faarooq and Kama Mustafa)

Faarooq gave Ken Shamrock one of the first recorded cases of Ken Shamrock Disease last week with a big Spine Buster. LOD got a good pop coming out, but the crowd isn’t really into it once they start actually wrestling, whilst the opener managed to maintain the heat from the entrances. This is a quick match, where LOD get the better of things until Rock and D’Lo run in for the DQ.

WINNERS BY DQ: LOD
RATING: N/A

Too short to rate, but what we got wasn’t bad

Ahmed Johnson runs down to try and make the save, but the babyfaces are still outnumbered so he gets taken out as well. Eventually a gaggle of refs and agents run down to try and break it up. This was a strong Heel heat angle, and it worked pretty well as a way to sow the seeds for the eventual LOD/Ahmed/Shamrock Vs Nation match at Survivor Series in November.

We get clips of Jimmy Snuka jumping off the cage against Don Muraco.

Match Three
WWF Intercontinental Title Tournament Semi-Final
The Slammy Award Winning Owen Hart w/ cops Vs Loose Cannon Brian Pillman w/ Terri Runnels

Owen has the cops with him to make sure Stone Cold doesn’t violate a restraining order. Terri was with Pillman because Pillman had defeated Goldust at the September pay per view, and she’s all gothed up as a result. She looks pretty hot actually, and I think the eventual plan was for her to go Heel with Pillman down the line but Pillman’s death scuppered that plan. Pillman has his arm in a sling, with the idea being that he slipped in the bath tub whilst having too much fun with his valet and that has caused him to have to forfeit the match.

Sgt Slaughter isn’t buying this of course, and says that the match will go on as scheduled or Pillman is sacked, so the bell rings and the match is on. Owen is hilarious arguing that Pillman is injured and he shouldn’t be wrestling him. Owen and Pillman chain wrestle but deliberately take it easy on one another, thus drawing the ire of the crowd and announce team. However, Terri hits Owen with her purse, which causes Owen to attack Pillman full bore in annoyance. In a nice touch, Terri walks away with a sly grin on her face that she managed to get them fighting properly.

Pillman was so banged up and drug addled by this point that he couldn’t really wrestle a full on match anymore, so the action isn’t great but the storytelling isn’t bad. Eventually though Goldust runs down to try and attack both men, but he clocks Owen first, meaning that Owen wins the match by DQ.

WINNER BY DQ: OWEN HART
RATING: *

More an elongated angle than a match

Goldust chases Pillman away following that, whilst Austin storms in to attack a gloating Owen, leading to the cops pulling him off and threatening him with night sticks. Vince climbs into the ring to try and calm things down. Vince tries to talk Austin out of doing this sort of stuff and instead work within the system by using the power of empathy, but that sort of stuff doesn’t work on Stone Cold and he makes history by dropping Vince with a Stone Cold Stunner to pop the crowd big time and get arrested. This was a fantastic angle that did an amazing job of getting Austin’s anti-authority character over, making him the coolest character on either Raw or Nitro. The most incredible aspect of this was that Austin couldn’t even work at this stage due to a legit neck injury, but he only got more over due to the WWF having to get creative in order to keep him a presence on the show.

A quick memorial video for Bulldog Bower.

Match Four
Falls Count Anywhere
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/ Chyna Vs Dude Love

This was pretty much the feud ending bout to bring their summer rivalry to a close, but Dude and Mankind show up on the big screen in an excellent promo package to say that neither of them fancy it tonight and that Cactus Jack will be working the match in their stead, with the announcement of “Cactus Jack…is BACK!” getting a great response from the MSG crowd.

Cactus showing up gets the big “EC-Dub” chant from the crowd of course, and the following brawl is a lot of fun. Yeah, Mick Foley and Triple H having a good match together, what are the odds eh? Next I’ll be telling you that water is wet or Sting missed a Stinger Splash on the guardrails outside the ring. Chyna gets her licks in as well, with her even clotheslining Cactus into the front row at one stage. Mick Foley did more to get Chyna over than anyone outside of maybe Goldust by just regularly letting her beat the absolute apple crumble out of him.

Triple H takes some pretty big bumps in this one as well; including the big Flair bump over the top all the way to the floor, and the match in general is just full of big bumps and wild brawling. It’s basically an ECW match on WWF television, and is another example of the WWF basically stealing ECW’s product and toning it down a little bit in order to get itself back in the game following the New Generation Era. And it was smart of them to do that too, although it sucked for ECW that they were the ones with the cool counter culture product but they never got to really showcase it on a national scale until 1999 when the WWF had already beaten them to it.

Cactus of course takes an unprotected chair shot to the head from Chyna at one stage, but he no sells it and ends up accidentally taking her down when HHH attacks him from behind and she gets sandwiched between Cactus and the steps as a result. That not only gives them a way to take Chyna out without anyone actually hitting her but it also adds to the general madhouse vibe the match already has by having it happen just randomly like that out of nowhere in the midst of all the general commotion. Eventually a table gets set up in the entrance way, but Cactus piledrives HHH through it and that’s enough for three.

WINNER: CACTUS JACK
RATING: ***3/4

This was a super entertaining wild brawl that helped enforce WWF as the crazier of the two Monday Night products, which eventually played a part in the WWF winning the ratings war over WCW

In a nice touch there, Cactus didn’t so much pin HHH as he happened to land on top of him following the move, adding to the general wild theme of the bout. We also get the iconic image of Cactus lying on the metal stage seemingly smiling after his big win whilst grimacing in agony.

We get clips of Andre slamming John Studd at Mania 1.

They recap One Night Only again. I thought they’d have to acknowledge the show due to Shawn now having the belt, but they’re actually going into more detail than I expected. The way it was sold to Davey was that they would eventually re-match in England and he would get his win back (I bet Shawn was promising that through tears of outright laughter). Of course Davey ended up leaving for WCW following Montreal, but the match wouldn’t have happened even if he had stayed due to Shawn being done after WrestleMania XIV for four years, so he wouldn’t have even been able to work the Manchester event where the he was supposed to give Davey his win back.

Shawn Michaels is back out to talk about winning the European Title, but he addresses Undertaker again before doing that. Shawn actually calls Undertaker out, which makes me think…

Indeed. And of course it is, as HHH runs down to help Shawn and we get a two on one attack as a result, with Rick Rude and Chyna coming down for good measure. This is of course a good angle to do as it gets heat on Shawn but also works as a selling point for the pay per view as the whole point of the Cell match is that no one is going to be able to get into the cage to help Shawn there, so this isn’t going to happen and you can order the show confident in the knowledge that Shawn is going to get killed.

Main Event
WWF Champ Bret Hart Vs Goldust

The Title isn’t on the line here. Bret makes sure to say he isn’t afraid of who he has to face, regardless of who wins the Cell match. Goldust is of course fired up over his wife being stuck with Pillman, and he shows that here by being all intense in the match itself. Bret survives that early onslaught and works over Goldust’s leg in order to weaken it for the Sharpshooter, with Goldust selling it well. It’s a pretty slow paced match actually, with these two not seeming to have much in the way of chemistry, but it’s psychologically sound.

Shawn Michaels joins us to the keep the SHADES OF GREY BRO stuff going, a Shawn and Bret are both clearly Heels but they also don’t like one another, so Shawn is here to mess with The Hitman, besmirching his new Title belt in the process. Look, I get Shawn arguing that he shouldn’t get pinned by Davey. Fine, do a DQ then, because not only did Shawn winning wind up the local fans but it also gave him a belt he didn’t need, which led to the belt just becoming a pointless trinket. Have Shawn win by DQ or Count Out if he HAD to win, but there’s no need to switch the belt and then Bulldog can send him packing following the match so the crowd can go home happy.

Goldust eventually makes the comeback, selling his leg along the way, but the match still doesn’t really pick up. I’m not sure why they’ve worked this at such a gradual pace to be honest. Bret eventually catches Goldust with The Sharpshooter out of nowhere for the clean win in order to pay off all the leg work.

WINNER: BRET HART
RATING: **

Kind of a dull match there and they made Goldust look pretty weak by having him get battered for 90% of the match only to end up doing a clean job, but I can’t argue with the ring psychology, as Bret weakened a particular body part for his submission finisher and then applied that submission finisher to win. Can’t really argue with that

There’s a big brawl following the match, with The Hart Foundation, D-X and Undertaker going at it. Undertaker Choke Slams both Bret and Shawn to close us out.

In Conclusion

The Vince/Austin and Cactus/HHH parts of the show make the show itself an easy thumbs up. You can watch shows like this and see why the WWF eventually managed to turn things around, as the product was getting there and it just needed the big spark from Austin Vs McMahon to finally push it over the edge.

Recommended show!