WWF Monday Night Raw – February 17th, 1997

Got to put the pause on the WCW reviews with a work colleague leaving and my workload getting a lot bigger, but fancied giving this a watch just over 25 years to the day of Raw beginning to change into the multi-hour show it is now, when that was a good thing. In the UK at the time we were experiencing a weird one week delay with violence cuts, so this was edited down to an hour, but by the middle of March we were back up to schedule with some creative editing and doubling up (the European Championship show was presented as a separate event).

From Nashville, Tennessee, hosted by JR and the King. The screen capture for this episode looks like Chyna is trying to pants Marlena. It’s live and one night after Final Four, with Bret Hart the world champion again, much to Lawler’s chagrin.

Sid vs. Bret Hart

Straight in with the world heavyweight championship match, with Sid having the advantage because he didn’t wrestle the night before and Bret fought three other men to win. Even though Bret is the ultimate WWF champion to me, he no longer looked right as a babyface champion in ’97. The match can’t even get started, though, as a hobbled Steve Austin runs in as much as he could run this evening, ostensibly to take shots at Bret, but ends up clipping Sid’s left knee. Sid gets to angrily curse right into the camera and tells everyone to leave him alone in a tough guy moment wants to still go ahead, but a delay is called while Bret smiles about the change of fortune like a dick.

Back to Thursday Raw Thursday, with the even worse hobbled Shawn Michaels, who can’t even be bothered to limp, forfeiting the title, then photos from Final Four, with Vader getting a massive redemptive moment at this point by bleeding like a pig in his last great match.

In the locker room, Sid cuts an intense promo about not letting anything stop him and taking the match later.

Marc Mero vs. Savio Vega

Sable is in a full PVC catsuit that doesn’t really work for her. Better is the red deal she wore in Mero’s match against the Undertaker on Superstars prior that almost earned her a chokeslam and got Mero a tombstone on the concrete. PG-13’s entrance rap for the Nation of Domination was so much better than just playing the backing track. Newly heel Savio, who’s still wearing his babyface red shirt, attacks early, but gets armdragged around and dropkicked out, leading to a somersault plancha from Mero onto him and Crush. Back in, Mero runs into a back kick and is choked out. Spinning heel kick in the corner, as it’s not an interesting match on paper but they’re moving at a fair clip. Just realised that Mero had grown out his moustache into a really terrible evil Spock goatee. Savio stun guns him onto the top turnbuckle with a dramatic sell and dumps him for J.C. Ice to get some boots in. Sable comes round and kicks him in the ass, with Jamie Dundee willing to sell them like Marty Jannetty. Back in, Mero’s Samoan drop sets up the Wild Thing, but Sable runs in after Crush, Wolfie D and D-Lo Brown corner her, leading to the match getting thrown out. Shame, I was enjoying that. Ahmed makes the save in his MC Hammer tracksuit with a 2×4.

Leif Cassidy vs. Rocky Maivia

Bret Hart interview from the locker room, who’s getting increasingly dickish about looking for number one prior to the Rock coming out. Zero reaction for Rock, or Al Snow for that matter, although when you have someone who looks like him and that aura of something about him you had to keep at it. Sunny, in her glory days, comes out to be the guest timekeeper, flirting with Rock and getting blown off. It was a pretty good run for her the year prior as a championship whore. Dull kicking and punching/armbar match while the King reminisces about roasting Stu and Helen Hart and Tiny Tim years ago before returning to the Manhattan Center. Leif gets a nice enzuigiri to take control and a stiff clothesline. This match is so dull they should’ve just had anyone and everyone do a pop-in promo. Rock hasn’t even got some Flex Kavana goodwill towards him. Cut to ringside to show someone stood behind the King with an ECW sign… foreshadowing! Leif with a blow off the top for two. Another try gets him slammed off and Rocky finishes with the shoulderbreaker. Nothing match, but after the match Jerry gets annoyed with the ECW sign guy and grabs it, then rants about a friend of his going to a WCW show in Memphis with a King sign and getting it confiscated, then talks about ECW as a misfit haven of WWF and big time rejects and throws out an open challenge to them to come on Raw while they’re in New York. Lawler’s still working that angle today if you speak to him.

Interview with Goldust, who really wasn’t taking as a babyface at this point, so they made Marlena the sympathetic one, so she pretty much drops the Marlena character and talks like Terri to confirm Goldust is all man and her man. Hunter Hearst Helmsley comes out and throws a drink in Goldust’s face to continue their issue, beating him down and hitting the pedigree in quick fashion. Marlena slaps him to a big pop, then the unnamed Chyna comes in to an even bigger pop and reverse bearhugs her until security pulls her off. The women got over big, but the men didn’t, which wouldn’t really change until later in the year.

The Headbangers vs. The Hardy Boys

Way before Matt and Jeff became anything, still with their hair untouched and in boots and tights. Mosh and Thrasher attack before the bell, but Jeff gets a nice flying clothesline. Matt comes in off the top, but gets powerslammed. Blind clothesline off the ropes by Thrasher as Faarooq cuts in to talk about Ahmed Johnson knows nothing about poverty while driving two cars and living in a big house, then challenges him to a Chicago street fight at WrestleMania, which would get a lot bigger and better by the time we got there. Thrasher tries to drop Matt on the ropes in an awful botch that looked like it would’ve broken his nose or busted his lip rather than going across the throat, followed by a bad Rockerplex. Elbow misses and Jeff tags in with dropkicks, but flips big on a clothesline from Mosh and the Stage Dive finishes. The Headbangers were as subpar as always, but the Hardy Boys showed something, even just in appearance.

Sid vs. Bret Hart

Take two! Replay of the Austin interruption from earlier to kill time, but Austin attacks Bret backstage from behind, so Sid runs backstage to break it up. Even Vince, working behind the scenes this episode, gets involved in the pull apart. So, no match, AGAIN! Can see what they were going for, but could it ran the risk of pissing off the audience to where they changed channels out of frustration.

Backstage, Gorilla Monsoon makes an increasingly rare cameo to confirm the match WILL go ahead while throwing shade on WCW. A part of me wonders whether if his health had held up that they’d have Austin as a babyface give him a Stunner, but feels a bridge too far.

Flash Funk vs. Owen Hart

Flop gimmick, but did love Flash’s entrance music. Part of the problem was that they gave him zero promo time and 2 Cold Scorpio is a natural s--- talker, talking about drugs, sex, his dong and kicking ass. Marlena is apparently coughing up blood backstage, so is heading to the hospital, which sounds questionable but at least is better than saying someone has anal bleeding just to make Vince McMahon laugh. Owen has Clarence Mason with him, which would be dissolved by Davey Boy soon after, and didn’t really take. Owen does whooing for fun and flexes his guns ahead of a test of strength, seemingly knowing his audience as Paul “Paul E Dangerously” Heyman, owner/operator of ECW, calls in to reply to Lawler and accuses him of just being a puppet for Vince McMahon and informs he’s bringing ECW to Raw next week. Pretty big for the time. Funk does a flip bump off a clothesline out of the corner from Owen, who tries to hook the Sharpshooter but gets distracted by bad advice from Mason. Bulldog comes out to argue with Clarence and sends him backstage on the break.

Back from break, rolling pinning combinations lead to an Owen German suplex for two and a legdrop. Steve Austin drops in to threaten to kick Gorilla’s ass and makes an impassioned case for why he should be WWF champion by now and it’s all a conspiracy against him because he’s not about glitz and glamour, then runs through a few of his catchphrase. I love Ric Flair, but Stone Cold was obviously so much better than him as far as raw energy. Funk makes a comeback and gets a moonsault for two. Davey hits him in the back of the head with a Slammy and then holds down the leg from the outside after Owen hits a leg lariat for the win. That’s a pretty protected loss for Funk at this point. Pretty decent match, with Davey having a s--- eating grin on his face after as he holds up the belts and the Slammy.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Bart Gunn

Hunter is at least decent enough to not where the claret jodhpurs he was wearing the night before. Ode To Joy was a massive improvement on the pipe music he was using originally too. The Honky Tonk Man comes out to join the commentary team for shits and giggles, and JR delays the match getting started again after five minutes of entrances and breaks to speak to Helmsley about who the mysterious Amazon is. Hunter claims ignorance about “who this women (sic) is”. Even though Gunn’s impact on the business wasn’t significant beyond winning the Brawl For All out of nowhere and getting buried for it, it was nice to see he’s happy, healthy and well as the world’s toughest electrician on Dark Side of the Ring. He works the arm and nothing happens until Goldust runs in out of nowhere and chases Hunter out of the arena, Goldust tripping on the floor on his way. Bart wins by count out. Wet fart of a match and angle.

Update from Dr. James Andrews in Alabama on Shawn Michaels’ knee, which he dates back to the injury he had in 1990. “It’s real SORE!”, says Andrews. They’re going to go for rehab instead of putting him under the knife. Yeah, Shawn definitely needed a rehab of some sort.

Sid vs. Bret Hart

One more time, with double the amount of replays to burn off more time. Then a commercial break! Back again, they lock up (Lawler: “Finally! FINALLY!”). Sid fires away with punches King calls machine guns, but with Sid they’re more like popguns given his knocking on the door fists. Clothesline and Sid stands around thinking about what to do, then going LUCHA SID with some elevated stomps off the bottom rope, ignoring his supposed knee injury. Bret comes back with a backbreaker and elbow off the second, and now Sid is remembering the leg, walking around like he’s s--- himself, as if that would happen. Sid gets his own backbreaker, which he purposely drops on the wrong knee, with the injury forgotten again. Stompsville as JR comments that Sid has “simplified this match”, which is the understatement of the year. Bret sweeps the leg and goes back to work on the supposed injury again. Then we get the debut of the ringpost figure four, which was both a good and bad move at the same time, because they’d sell it like it was devastating on commentary but you could never win with it because it’s outside the ring and upside down.

After a break, Bret carries on with the work on the leg. Sid Hulks up in the corner to a decent pop and gets a clothesline and legdrop for two. He actually gets a flying legdrop off the second rope (one of his early finishers) without breaking his own leg. Try for the chokeslam, but Bret rakes the eyes to break and ties Sid into the ropes, but misses a charge and crotches himself. Sid gets bumped to the outside as Steve Austin runs in from the crowd and gets nailed. Then the unique visual of Sid just about sunset flipping in, but Bret rolls through and gets the Sharpshooter. Austin pops up again with a chair to the head for Bret, limping out with the damage done to him and his enemy, then Sid nails the powerbomb for his second and final WWF championship. Flawed but decent match, especially in the closing moments, which had Bret’s fingerprints all over it. The Undertaker comes out during Sid’s celebrations to stare him down.

Melting it down: It would’ve had me on the verge of being fifteen rock hard from start to finish as a different and exciting show after a long dry period and ahead of some of my favourite runs of wrestling ever, but holes so big in it that you can see now that you could steer a ship through.