THE YEAR THAT WAS: 1997
This is the first in what I hope will be a regular and reocurring feature column type-thing from me.
The whole idea and premise is to recap a year of wrestling, cover the major events of the North American scene, and see how a year turned out for the business. I'll use month-by-month scoring, based on quality of the promotion, to track the progress of the year between the WWF, WCW, and ECW. With that said, the first year to cover is...
The WWF was coming off a definite down year, but picked up just a bit toward the end of '96. WCW was off their best year ever, and only the second half had been red-hot due to the introduction of the New World Order. WCW's money was being tossed around like nobody's business by Eric Bischoff, while Vince McMahon said they would simply use their creativity to counter WCW's ongoing domination.
Coming into '97, the WWF's world champion was Sycho Sid, but Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Bret Hart were still undeniably the top draws in the company. After King of the Ring, 96's King, Stone Cold Steve Austin, came out of the gates like a bat out of hell, challenging Bret Hart, who was on a sabbatical after losing to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XII, and generally just raising hell on all those around him. Austin's rise was beginning, and it became apparent at the Survivor Series '96 show, where he lost to a returning Bret Hart at Madison Square Garden.
WCW, on the other hand, was much less chaotic. There were definite "classes" of wrestlers. Whereas in the WWF, Shawn Michaels could work with Goldust, Mankind, or other mid-carders, WCW's world champion, and leader of the nWo, Hollywood Hogan, would never be seen in the ring with Chris Benoit or Steven Regal.
The nWo had undeniably become WCW's number-one marketing ploy. Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Hogan, and a handful of others had taken the company by the horns and were dragging it into position to break its neck, both on-camera and in-character as well as behind the scenes, where their power-plays were seldom turned down.
The World Wrestling Federation started off the year on a bit of an experimental mode, trying to find a way to get a leg up on WCW. They debuted Shotgun Saturday Night on January 4th, billed as a weekly live show from the streets of New York. And, of course, the first PPV of the year was the Royal Rumble. The show eminated from the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas, on January 19. The crowd was almost certain to be a hot one, as hometown legend Shawn Michaels was to challenge Sycho Sid for the world title. The WWF also decided to tinker around with an experiment that had paid off well for WCW, that of using Mexican cruiserweights for a possible cruiserweight division.
As a crowd of 60,625 rocked the Alamo Dome, Shawn Michaels pinned and defeated Sycho Sid to regain the WWF world title at 13:42. The Texan crowd was given a second bonus next, as Stone Cold Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble match, albeit under shady circumstances, last eliminating Bret Hart. Jake Roberts, Mil Mascaras, Cibernetico, Latin Lover, and Terry Funk competed in the match as "special entrants", likely just a cover for a shallow WWF roster. Also on the show, Fuerza Guerrera, Jerry Estrada and Heavy Metal lost a six-man tag match to Perro Aguayo, Canek and Hector Garza. The WWF tried to heavily tout Garza as an amazing prospect and even a young Shawn Michaels, but it never panned out and Garza would eventually land in WCW and go nowhere there, either.
WCW's year started off with experimentation, too, as Eric Bischoff decided to see just how much he could pull from the nWo angle, as the New World Order "ran" its "own" pay-per-view on January 25, entitled Souled Out. 5,120 fans paid to see the show at the Five Seasons Center in Des Moines, Iowa, which no doubt was a pre-cursor to the mess that would follow.
WCW proceeded to put on an absolute mess of a pay-per-view on this night. Two countouts, a Dusty Finish to end all Dusty Finishes, and a no-contest main event between Hollywood Hogan and The Giant spelled disaster flat-out for this event. The highlight of the night was the United States title ladder match, in which Eddy Guerrero retained the title over the nWo's Syxx.
Win: WWF, for getting 60,000 people in the seats in San Antonio
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 1 :: WCW 0 :: ECW 0
On February 13, 1997, on a special "Thursday Live Thursday" edition of RAW, world champion Shawn Michaels forfeited the title, citing reasons such as "losing his smile." In all actuality, Shawn really just didn't want to job the belt to Bret Hart, and feigned an injury to get out of it.
With that, Vince McMahon took four men from the disputed Royal Rumble finish, and placed them in the main event for the vacant WWF world championship: Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Vader and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
On the 16th of February, the WWF presented In Your House: Final Four at the UTC Arena in Chattanooga, Tennessee in front of 6,399 fans. Rocky Maivia, who had upset Hunter Hearst Helmlsey for the Intercontinental title earlier in the month, defended against and again defeated Hunter. Other WWF newcomers, the highly talented team of Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon, fell short in their quest to win the tag titles, defeating champions Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith by DQ.
In the main event, it was controlled chaos at its best. Steve Austin, booked to win the match and the title, suffered an injury during the match, forcing a new ending to be made up on the spot. Bret Hart then took the win, pinning The Undertaker after botched interference from Austin for the final fall and his fourth WWF world title.
The next night on RAW, Austin's interference succeeded during Bret's first defense against Sycho Sid, and Sid took the belt from Bret in Nashville. The Undertaker came to the ring to stare down the new champion, and we had the makings of the two matches that would ultimately headline Wrestlemania XIII the next month: Sid vs. The Undertaker and Bret vs. Austin.
WCW's February PPV outing fared far better than the January one, but still wasn't a strong effort, overall. SuperBrawl VII was live from the Cow Palace on February 23rd, in front of 13,324 paid. The opening match was teacher vs. student, as Dean Malenko faced Syxx for the cruiserweight title. Malenko ultimately lost the belt to Syxx, due to Eddy Guerrero's mistimed interference. Just prior to this show, WCW went for another experiment, this time involving the television title. Steven Regal lost the belt to Prince Iaukea, a jobber with no heat, on an episode of Nitro. To this day, this is looked at as a WCW takeoff of the WWF's Maivia Experiment at this exact same timeframe, and its quite impossible to argue that. It was one of many wrong turns for the company this year. Iaukea defeated Rey Misterio Jr. on this night. Eddy retained the US title against Chris Jericho, and DDP pinned Buff Bagwell, providing a solid first half of the show, which was starting to become sadly repetitive for WCW: good first-half, then "the nWo half."
The main event saw Roddy Piper get a world title shot at Hollywood Hogan. At this point, Sting and Randy Savage were hanging out together in the rafters as silent "free agents", but both came to ringside for this matchup. Savage helped Hogan score the victory over Piper in a move that did NOT impress anyone, as the marks were basically calling for Piper to have the belt put around his waist at this time. Savage would join the nWo out of this.
The next night, the WWF again broke out a big idea to try and turn the tide against WCW, as ECW invaded Monday Night Raw. Taz, Sabu, Mikey Whipwreck, Little Guido, Tommy Dreamer, The Dudley Boyz, The Sandman and Raven all appeared, as did ECW head Paul Heyman, who did color commentary and shilled his ass off for ECW's first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, which would take place in April. This was a memorable Raw, no doubt about it.
Win: WWF, for getting people to pay attention
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 2 :: WCW 0 :: ECW 0
On March 16, WCW returned to PPV for the Uncensored show. Dean Malenko and Eddy Guerrero ended their feud, as Malenko defeated Eddy for the US title in the opener, a match that was absolutely wonderful. Also, Glacier and Mortis had their first match together. Glacier was a heavily-hyped martial expert, and Mortis [portrayed by Chris Kanyon] was a figure from his past. Glacier won on this night, keeping his undefeated streak alive in a very solid match. In a bonehead booking move, Prince Iaukea again retained the TV title, after cleanly pinning Rey Misterio Jr. for the second straight pay-per-view show.
Jeff Jarrett had come into WCW recently, and was begging for a spot in the Four Horsemen. Only Ric Flair seemed to like him, as Jarrett was doing his best to impress Flair for admission into the group, and Jarrett was made a "member" of the Horsemen by Flair. The main event was a three-team match, with four men on each team. The nWo would have a team, WCW would have a team, and then Roddy Piper had his own team. Piper recruited a rag-tag group of misfits [which included John Tenta] to be his teammates, but Ric Flair offered up Jarrett, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael to back his cause. Piper accepted. The nWo team consisted of Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Randy Savage, and WCW's reps were Lex Luger, The Giant and The Steiner Bros.
The nWo team won the main event, and, of course, celebrated thoroughly. However, just as the show was supposed to go off the air, Sting came down from the ceiling and beat the living shit out of everything that had anyting to do with the nWo in sight as the crowd went apeshit.
The WWF ran its yearly Big Show, Wrestlemania XIII, on March 23 from the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. The show was an overall letdown, but Bret Hart and Steve Austin pulled off an unbelievable submission match, with the legendary double-turn being pulled off here. The Undertaker also won the world title on this show, pinning Sycho Sid.
Eight days later on Raw, Bret verbally laced into American fans for cheering scum such as Austin, and reunited with brother Owen and brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, forming the Hart Foundation.
Win: WWF, for the signifigance of the Austin/Bret double-turn
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 3 :: WCW 0 :: ECW 0
April 6, and WCW was back on PPV with Spring Stampede. The company had created a red-hot feud out of nowhere with Randy Savage and "Diamond" Dallas Page, and it was used as a selling point for this show. The other major match was a four-way match for a shot at the world title between Lex Luger, The Giant, and the members of Harlem Heat, Booker T and Stevie Ray. The Giant had the match won, but tagged Lex Luger in, who then racked Booker and gained the title shot rights. In another absolutely stupid move, Prince Iaukea AGAIN retained the TV title, this time beating Steven Regal. Luna Vachon made her WCW debut, costing Madusa a win over women's champion Akira Hokuto. Kevin Sullivan cost Chris Benoit the US title in his match against champion Dean Malenko, reigniting their feud from 1996.
DDP pinned Randy Savage in the final match of the evening, pretty much shocking the marks. The smart contingent, of course, saw this as Bischoff getting another one of his buddies into the main event scene, but, in reality, DDP was gaining popularity as the perennial underdog, and the timing was right for a big-time win over someone with the status of the "Macho Man".
On April 11, the WWF suffered a major embarrassment during a tour of Kuwait as Vader attacked television host Bassam Al Othman, and was then detained by Kuwaiti authorities. The WWF attempted to make a marketing ploy out of this, but nothing good came of it.
The following Sunday, Philadelphia's Extreme Championship Wrestling hit the pay-per-view airwaves with Barely Legal, live from the ECW Arena. Despite a live crowd of only 1,250, ECW put on a very solid show, main evented by the epic Taz vs. Sabu angle that had built for about half a year up to this show. Terry Funk also won the ECW world title on this show, defeating champion Raven. The show did a very impressive .26 buyrate, which was amazing considering just how little PPV exposure and availability they had.
The WWF presented In Your House: 'Taker's Revenge on April 20, with a main event of Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart. The match marked Austin's only televised win over the Hitman, a DQ victory after interference from Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. The Honky Tonk Man, back in the WWF and scouting a protege, presented Rockabilly, the made-over Billy Gunn. Rockabilly lost to Double J Jesse James. In the world title match, The Undertaker pinned old rival Mankind to retain his championship.
The following night, WCW made an on-air power move against the nWo, as J.J. Dillon announces that Eric Bischoff no longer has any power within WCW, acting under the authority of Turner Sports President Dr. Harvey Schiller. It was the first major blow that the nWo would suffer.
Win: ECW, for making their first crack at PPV count
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 3 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
On May 11, the WWF aired In Your House: Cold Day In Hell. The main event was world champion The Undertaker against Stone Cold Steve Austin. Rocky Maivia's de-push and near-burial pretty much started right here, as he jobbed to Mankind. Ahmed Johnson failed to rid the WWF of the Nation of Domination in his gauntlet match, coming up short against Faarooq in the third and final test. In one of the selling points of the show, Ken Shamrock made his WWF wrestling debut. Shamrock had been the referee for the Austin-Hart match at Wrestlemania, and faced and defeated Vader on this night in a match that was worked quite stiffly by both men. In the main event, the Hart Foundation cost Austin the title, as the Undertaker pinned him and retained.
The following night, the WWF and ECW sparked their relationship back up. Rob Van Dam comes on Raw with Jerry Lawler, ECW's main WWF enemy, at his side, dubbing himself "Mr. Monday Night". RVD pins Jeff Hardy.
Six days later, WCW ran its Slamboree card. Ric Flair returned to the ring ater being injured for eight months, and he, Roddy Piper and Kevin Greene defeated the nWo's Syxx, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in the main event. Also on the card, Steve McMichael beat Green Bay Packer Reggie White, Wrath [formerly Adam Bomb in the WWF] made his WCW debut, interfering against Glacier in his match with Mortis, Dean Malenko beat Jeff Jarrett to retain the US title, and Meng beat Chris Benoit in a death match, much to the chagrin of smart fans around the globe. Luna Vachon lost to Madusa, ending the pathetic one-month feud between the two, and Steven Regal won the TV title back from Ultimo Dragon, who had defated Prince Iaukea for it, mercifully. Japanese import Yuji Yasuraoka was pinned by Rey Misterio Jr.
Now, that doesn't sound so bad, does it? Well, it was worse than can be explained in a paragraph. Just a bad and boring pay-per-view that had nothing to it. No quality, no major events. Everyone was expecting either a Raven or Curt Hennig appearance at the show, but absolutely nothing happened here. And the Mongo-White match was beyond Not Good.
Win: WWF, for using ECW as a lightning-rod once more
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 4 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
ECW started the month off on June 7 at the ECW Arena with a big-time effort. Raven was finally pinned by Tommy Dreamer in a loser-leaves-ECW match before leaving for WCW. It was Dreamer's first pinfall over Raven in a feud that had last almost two years. As soon as Raven cleared out of the ring, Rob Van Dam attacked, to be followed by Sabu and Jerry "The King" Lawler. The three men, operating under the WWF banner, destroyed nearly all of ECW's babyface contingent, nearly starting a riot.
The following night, the WWF presented the King of the Ring pay-per-view. Sid made his first PPV appearance since Wrestlemania, and it would end up being his final WWF PPV appearance to this day, as he and The Road Warriors lost to The Hart Foundation's Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. Hunter Hearst Helmlsey, who was supposed to win the '96 tournament, was the '97 victor, beating Mankind in the final match. Faarooq was The Undertaker's challenger this time, and was hanidly defeated by UT, who was back under the guidance of Paul Bearer against his own admission. Bearer had a secret he would reveal if Taker didn't execute his evil orders, which included destroying Faarooq post-match. Shockingly, Ahmed Johnson, Faarooq's long-time arch-rival, was the man who saved his former enemy. The show-stealer was a no-contest between world tag team champions Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels, which ended as both men destroyed every referee and official that tried to contain them.
One Sunday after that, and WCW was back on PPV with the Great American Bash. Chris Benoit defeated Meng in a return match from Slamboree, and Akira Hokuto pinned Madusa to "retire" her. Kevin Greene got a one-on-one match with Steve McMichael that had been a year in the making, and pinned him after botched Jeff Jarrett interference. The sell factor here was the double main event. The Outsiders beat Ric Flair and Roddy Piper to retain the tag titles as Flair abandoned Piper to chase Syxx, and Randy Savage pinned Diamond Dallas Page after Scott Hall interfered against DDP.
Win: WWF, for continuing to build Austin, Shawn and The Hart Foundation
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 5 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
On July 6, the WWF put on a pay-per-view from Calgary, with a solidly pro-Hart Foundation crowd that rocked the Saddledome from start to finish. Mankind and Hunter Hearst Helmsley put on a wild brawl in the opener, continuing their feud from the King of the Ring tournament. Vince McMahon went back to a cruiserweight experiment, this time turning to Japan instead of Mexico, bringing in The Great Sasuke and Taka Michinoku. Sasuke was to be the WWF's big juniors star, as he took the win in a great match at this show and another one over Taka the following night on Raw, but the fans took to Michinoku more than Sasuke. The world title match was supposed to be The Undertaker against Ahmed Johnson, a recently turned heel because of the Gang Wars that had just started, but Johnson was injured, and replaced by Vader. Taker and Vader went on to produce a tremendous power match in which UT retained the belt once again.
Then, the main event. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The Legion of Doom came to represent the United States against The Hart Foundation: Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman. An amazingly hot crowd made this match an instant classic, and the PPV as a whole was just tremendous. Owen pinned Austin at the end, as the Harts celebrated to a wonderful ovation from the Albertan crowd.
The next Sunday, WCW gave us its retort to great wrestling: Dennis Rodman and Hollywood Hogan vs. Lex Luger and The Giant. That was becoming Eric Bischoff for ya at this point. The Bash at the Beach show itself wasn't so bad, in my opinion, but the main event was hideous. Scott Keith said that he never saw one mention of Rodman in the legitimate press concerning wrestling, but I must assure him that I did, indeed, several SEVERAL mentions and clips of footage from the match. Ric Flair jobbed to Roddy Piper here also, and Chris Benoit retired Kevin Sullivan. Curt Hennig made his WCW debut as DDP's partner against Scott Hall and Randy Savage, but turned on Page at the end of the match. Hennig did not, however, join the nWo. Raven was also in attendance at this show, with Stevie Richards, sitting at ringside as he had been doing for a short while before, quoting poetry.
It was becoming apparent that while the WWF was looking to the future and trying to get over losing the Monday night ratings battle weekly, WCW was basking in their glow from the year previous, and letting Hogan, Hall, Nash and friends dictate whatever the flying fuck they wanted to do, no matter how stupid it was and how much it made fans groan. The spiral was starting pretty well here.
Win: WWF, for putting on a whomp-ass pay-per-view
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 6 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
The WWF kicked August off with a bang on the 3rd of the month, as Summerslam rolled around. Five months in building, Bret Hart's world title shot was tonight in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Shawn Michaels was to be the special referee for the match.
Mankind beat Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a cage to end their feud, one that would kick up again at the end of Mick Foley's in-ring career. Goldust defeated Brian Pillman next, causing him to wear a dress the following night on Raw. Davey Boy Smith and Ken Shamrock put a stop to their three-month long feud with a lacklustre match. The final two matches made this show, however.
The first was the Intercontinental title match, between champion Owen Hart and challenger Stone Cold Steve Austin. The match itself was great, but the infamous botched piledriver from Owen that nearly paralyzed Austin for life was the huge story here. Thankfully, Austin was relatively okay and able to return to the ring after he got the remarkable rollup for the pin, and the WWF was able to turn it into an angle I loved, the Owen 3:16 program. And, due to a mistimed Shawn Michaels chairshot, Bret Hart won the WWF world championship for a fifth time in the main event, making The Hart Foundation not only heels but dominating heels with the world title in their possession.
The following night, Hollywood Hogan's WCW world title reign was stopped six days short of one full year by Lex Luger, who racked and defeated Hogan to a wonderful crowd reaction on WCW Monday Nitro. This may have been the only point in his career that Lex Luger was TRULY worthy of a good world title run, so what does WCW do with it?
On August 9, Luger jobbed his title right back to Hogan at the Road Wild PPV. It absolutely deflated every bit of faith anyone had had that WCW was ready to move to something other than Everything Is NWO. Curt Hennig and DDP put on a pretty good match from their dispute the previous month, and Ric Flair beat Syxx in the blowoff match of their shitty feud. The Outsiders lost to The Steiner Bros. via DQ, which made fucking NO ONE happy at all, which was becoming a really redundant theme with WCW at this point.
A black day came for the industry on August 16, when 29-year old female Japanese wrestler Plum Mariko died as the result of head injuries suffered in a match the day before.
August 17, and ECW returned to PPV with Hardcore Heaven. Sabu had won the world title just prior to this, and defended in a three-way match against Shane Douglas and Terry Funk. Douglas won the title back here, but the real selling point of the show was the blowoff to the long Tommy Dreamer of ECW vs. Jerry Lawler of the WWF and Memphis feud, which Dreamer won. Overall, the show was so-so, and a bit of a letdown after the good first shot with Barely Legal.
Win: WWF, because Summerslam was a precursor to history
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 7 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
September 5 marked a historic day for ECW, as founder and commissioner Tod Gordon and the company severed ties after it was found out that Gordon was the mole negotiating ECW talent into WCW. Sadly for ECW, they lost Perry Saturn because of this entire story, as Paul Heyman had accused Saturn of being the WCW mole. Saturn signed with WCW.
The start of the PPV month is September 7, as the WWF ran Ground Zero. By this time, Paul Bearer was threatening The Undertaker with his brother Kane coming back, and accusing UT of murdering his parents. As if that wasn't enough to distract Taker, he had an issue with Shawn Michaels now, and the two would meet for the first time ever in the main event. Vince McMahon had also brought in Del "The Patriot" Wilkes to oppose Bret Hart, causing a nice little short-term solution to whom Bret would feud with while UT and Shawn were busy.
The Michaels-Taker match ended up being a wild, wild brawl that went to a no-contest, and the fans loved it. The Headbangers won the vacant world tag team titles here, too, in a four-way match over LOD, the Godwinns, and Owen and Davey Boy. The light heavyweight division continued to be pushed, as Brian Christopher beat Scott Putski and ended his WWF career due to knee injury. Brian Pillman got revenge on Goldust, and gained the services of Marlena for 30 days in the opener.
The WWF also ran a UK-only PPV on the 20th, One Night Only, where Shawn Michaels beat Davey Boy Smith for the European title in the main event in a booking move that was pretty much a sign of things to come, more or less.
WCW's Fall Brawl show on September 14 lacked star power, and thus did an awful buyrate. The main angle heading in was Arn Anderson's retirement, then the giving of his spot in the Four Horsemen to Curt Hennig. This inspired the infamous nWo skit, which was downright funny in a completely disrespectful manner, and thus the War Games match, where Kevin Nash and three mid-carders [Syxx, Konnan and Buff Bagwell] took on the Horsemen team of Ric Flair, Hennig, Chris Benoit and Steve McMichael. Hennig turned on the Horsemen, and Ric Flair was beaten to a bloody pulp in the aftermath. A really great Eddy Guerrero-Chris Jericho match was the show-stealer here as the opening match. The show overall was pretty good, but did bomb huge numbers-wise. On September 29, Ric Flair disbanded the Horsemen "for good."
Win: WWF, as they kept building on great new stuff while the nWo stuff fizzled
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 8 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
The month started on a sad and shocking note: the death of Brian Pillman. Pillman's death rocked the wrestling world, and it happened the afternoon of the night that the WWF put on its Badd Blood show.
The undercard was all forgettable, even with a pretty good tag match pitting Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith against Vader and The Patriot. But, the main event was pure magic.
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, unable to settle their rift at the Ground Zero show, participated in the first ever Hell in the Cell match. The match featured Shawn bumping like an absolute maniac, and UT just absolutely beating the holy shit out of him for about twenty minutes. And, then...
Sure, its only Glen Jacobs. But so what? Kane's arrival was a fantastic bit of execution, and the two would feud without a match until Wrestlemania XIV in March of 1998. Shawn won the match as he laid over Undertaker half-dead and gushing blood, and DeGeneration X would soon be fully launched on the world.
WCW was finally developing a hot new character on its own: Bill Goldberg. The rookie ex-NFLer was on a big win streak, and was to face Steve McMichael at Halloween Havoc on the 26th in his first "big test". Goldberg went down with an injury and missed the show, and was replaced by Alex Wright, whom Debra was now with as Jeff Jarrett had left WCW abruptly.
The Halloween Havoc card featured imported talent from Japan [Yuji Nagata as Sonny Onoo's new charge and Gedo as a one-night jobber for Chris Jericho], a match where Jacqueline defeated TV champion Disco Inferno [non-title], Lex Luger and Scott Hall wrestling to a no-contest, and Randy Savage picking up another win or nemesis DDP in a death match. The only true bright spot was an amazing lucha match between cruiserweight champion Eddy Guerrero and challenger Rey Misterio Jr. It was title vs. mask, and the two put on an incredible display. Curt Hennig met and beat, via disqualification, Ric Flair to retain his recently won United States championship.
The main event of Halloween Havoc was what everyone knows really killed the show: Hollywood Hogan vs. Roddy Piper in a cage, not even for Hogan's world title. Dubbed "Age in the Cage" and even ripped on Raw the following night by Jim Ross, it was a dismal failure that NO ONE wanted to see. Leave it to WCW to allow two deteriorated men in their 40s to get their kicks before the audience can get theirs.
Win: WWF, because of a legendary main event and not having Hulk Hogan
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 9 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
[Checking out Dave Meltzer's in-depth report about the following matter will explain it more than I ever could or would care to.]
Survivor Series. November 9, 1997. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. World champion Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels. As we all know, Bret had quit the WWF after Vince McMahon said he could no longer afford to pay Bret's salary, and was leaving for WCW very soon. Vince promised Bret that he would not have to lose the title to Shawn Michaels in Canada.
The show started off blandly enough. Some forgettable survivor series matches, Kane beating Mankind and Steve Austin getting the Intercontinental title back from Owen Hart in his return from the Summerslam injury. Then, the main event came.
A wild brawl between Hart and Michaels was expected, and delivered. The ending was to have Shawn putting Bret in the sharpshooter, and Bret reversing the hold, cuing the DX and Hart Foundation run-in for the no-contest. But, as soon as Shawn Michaels locked in the sharpshooter, Vince McMahon ordered the match to be stopped, and Shawn Michaels was the world champion.
Bret went on a rampage, destroying video cameras and spitting in McMahon's face before finger painting "WCW" in the air. Backstage, Vince came to confront Bret about what he had done, and caught a punch to the face for his troubles.
It was the biggest story in wrestling history, most likely. Here it was, Vince McMahon REALLY screwing Bret Hart out of the WWF. This wasn't about a swerve, or a work or a shoot. It had nothing to do with blurring the lines of kayfabe. No, this was just one man doing what he felt he had to do for the betterment of his company.
Shawn Michaels and DX took over the WWF after this. Bret, Davey Boy Smith, and Jim Neidhart left for WCW.
On November 17, both Monday night shows had events worthy of rememberance: Nitro, broadcast live, saw Rick Rude show up with the nWo, at the same time he was on a taped RAW with DX. On that raped RAW, Vince McMahon coined the infamous line, "Bret screwed Bret."
That Sunday, WCW began the build to Starrcade with its World War 3 pay-per-view. Perry Saturn had arrived with Raven and The Flock from ECW, and quickly won the TV title on a previous edition of Nitro. Disco Inferno challenged Saturn on this night, but lost. An absolutely forgettable undercard was in store, and even Rey Misterio Jr. and Eddy Guerrero couldn't help this show out. Curt Hennig again beat Ric Flair and Scott Hall was the winner of the 60-man battle royal to close the show.
WCW was treading water. The WWF was starting to sizzle. And everyone knew it, too.
ECW closed out the pay-per-view month and its own PPV year as they brought November To Remember to the airwaves. Taz again continued defending the TV title, as tonight he dissected Pit Bull II. Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam kept the ECW vs. WWF storyline alive, although the WWF had washed their hands of it on-air long ago, and brawled to a no-contest. The main event saw Shane Douglas regain the world title from Bam Bam Bigelow, who had won it previously that very month. Overall, the show was ECW's second straight downer on PPV after the very good Barely Legal showing in April.
Win: WWF, for stirring up shit and getting attention
Month-by-Month Score: WWF 10 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
The WWF rolled the dice this month, naming their pay-per-view after their brash heel clique, DeGeneration X.
Vince McMahon also finally got the gears fully in motion for a light heavyweight division and title, as he had a tournament to fill the vacant title. Taka Michinoku, Brian Christopher, Scott Taylor, Super Loco, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and three other men who I can't place made up the field. Taka and Christopher made it to the finals, and Taka became the first new-age WWF light heavyweight champion on December 7 in the opening match at the DX PPV.
Also, Eric "Butterbean" Esch, the really fat boxer that would knock Bart Gunn flat-out in a legit fight two years later, did a "toughman contest" with Marc Mero. The "fight" was obviously worked, and it didn't succeed as a show-seller. The WWF world tag team champions, a rag-tag team of former curtain jerkers named The New Age Outlaws, defeated the LOD by DQ. The Outlaws would go on to be a huge success, and the seeds were being planted right at this time.
Jeff Jarrett's in-ring return to the WWF was against The Undertaker, and he was subsequently chokeslammed by Kane. It would take Jarrett about another year to start to pay off in any way again. The main event was Shawn Michaels defending against Ken Shamrock, but the match ended in a DQ after DX interfered.
The next night on RAW, Stone Cold Steve Austin refused to defend his Intercontinental title again against "The Rock", Rocky Maivia, whom he had defeated the night before. He handed his title over to Maivia, and his war with Vince McMahon was started right then. It would go on to be the biggest feud in wrestling history.
Seven days later, Bret Hart came out on Nitro in his first WCW appearance. Eric Bischoff announced that Bret would ref the match between himself and Larry Zbyszko at Starrcade, as WCW made Bret another nWo "is he or isn't he" victim.
Starrcade rolled around after a year-and-a-half of building to Hogan vs. Sting. The MCI Center in the nation's capitol of Washington, D.C. had 23,000 fans on December 28, but the show just couldn't live up to anything.
Lacklustre performances in most of the matches [Eddy Guerrero-Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn-Chris Benoit, Buff Bagwell-Lex Luger] and a no-show by Kevin Nash for his much-awaited match against The Giant set a tone for the show that the main event just couldn't overcome. DDP did win the US title from Curt Hennig in what really is probably the high point of the show.
The Sting-Hogan match itself was really bad, and that couldn't be avoided, I guess. But the bullshit with the "fast three-count" because Hogan couldn't lay down to someone who was more over than him and was bigger money than he was at that point. Sting did win the title, but the decision was reversed and overturned and the title vacated soon after. WCW alienated its fans to close out the year. And all because of Hulk Hogan.
Win: WWF, for no reason other than Starrcade being absolute shit
Month-by-Month Final Score: WWF 11 :: ECW 1 :: WCW 0
You know, people look at WCW as a second "great year" for WCW. And, yeah, WCW had a great roster and produced some great matches.
But the fact of the matter is that for this entire year, WCW could not produce one completely solid pay-per-view. As far as ratings go, this was WCW's year. But as far as quality and building for the future and execution of the little things, the WWF trounced WCW for this entire year.
The WWF did so many things right. Steve Austin's ascension to superstardom, the Undertaker-Michaels feud, the birth of DX and "Attitude", The Hart Foundation vs. America feud that truly captivated audiences for the entire summer, and the wonderful Canadian Stampede pay-per-view.
Even ECW got themselves on the map and produced some good stuff, with the help of promotion from the WWF and their arrival on the PPV scene. ECW began making waves as more than the biggest indy in the US, but as a viable alternative to the WWF and WCW in North America.
WCW just did too much wrong this year. Allowing the egos to come first with Hogan, Piper, Nash, Hall, and others. Not capitalizing on the marketability of Sting and Lex Luger. Eric Bischoff getting himself over ahead of talent. WCW did so much shit and put on so much garbage that it became unforgivable. The nWo was getting tired, but WCW wasn't listening. Sounds familiar.
So, that was 1997, from my perspective. The WWF wasn't perfect, and maybe not even "good" all the time, but they were sure as hell better than a bunch of old goofs, basketball players, football players, and wasted talent that lost their motivation.