Saturday, December 29, 2012

WWF Canadian Stampede (July 6, 1997)

And here's where it starts really getting good.

This show is considered one of the top-to-bottom best WWF pay-per-views ever, with no bad matches, some new flavor (that didn't last long, but whatever) on the undercard, and one of the hottest crowds ever for the main event in particular.

It's a show that can't really be duplicated. The Hart Foundation thing was damn impressive to pull off, with the group huge babyfaces in Canada -- particularly Calgary -- and major heels in the United States. I don't know that there has been a Canadian wrestler since Bret Hart to even come close to the level of love he received from that audience, and the Hart name itself meant something that almost surely, no other name will ever mean in Canadian wrestler. Texas will never have another Von Erich dynasty, and Canada will never have another Hart family.

By now, Paul Bearer has revealed his secret, that The Undertaker killed his parents and fucked up his brother, shockingly named Kane (weird parents), and that he'd been in contact with Kane. Undertaker was set up to face Vader for the WWF title on this show, as all the real contenders were kind of busy with other stuff going on, and, well, Vader's right there.

Also, Mankind and Hunter Hearst Helmsley have continued their feud, and get more chances to have a better match than their KOTR final.

July 6, 1997, from the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The Godwinns vs The New Blackjacks

The Godwinns have turned heel so they've stopped wearing undershirts and hanging out with Hillbilly Jim. This is the Free For All match. Bradshaw's moustache is great. I guess it's easy to understand why the New Blackjacks didn't happen. Bradshaw was just doing a Stan Hansen impression, and that wasn't him. Then you had Barry Windham, all past his prime and only sort of giving a crap. Plus he just looked old. The Godwinns win after a nutshot. Poor Blackjacks. They never got to do shit.

The PPV intro voiceover is pretty heavy-handed:

"We no longer live in a world of black and white. Rather, the landscape has become a canvas of muted greys, where good is indistinguishable from evil, and renegades receive a hero's embrace."

Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) vs Mankind

Dok Hendrix does a Ben Wyatt-level voiceover for the video package here. Bobby Newport. Bobby NEWport. BOBBY NEWPORT. Hunter Hearst Helmsley has never had a REAL job...IN HIS LIFE.

The two of them are getting familiar with one another and putting together some good stuff at this point. Chyna is even getting more comfortably involved overall, and gets to catch Mankind running and hurl him into the steps. Helmsley looking better and better on offense as the year goes along, and Mankind settling in well in a babyface role, able to take big beatings and come off very sympathetic, and also able to dish out significant punishment -- but mostly through punch-kick stuff. Chair comes into play, Chyna preventing Mankind from using it, Hunter gets to do so, and Chyna clotheslines Mankind, who is putting Chyna over as a major problem as much as he is Helmsley. They end up going to about as hot a double countout as you can have, brawling in the crowd.

Over the weekend, Jim Neidhart rode in a parade float with no shirt on. Then Dok talks with the Hart Foundation, while Steve Austin tries to interrupt them but is stopped in his tracks by Pat Patterson and Tony Garea.

Before the next match can begin, HHH and Mankind fight in the crowd some more, which nicely draws some attention away from the match at hand.

TAKA Michinoku vs The Great Sasuke

JR runs down some of Sasuke's accomplishments and Vince is like, "...Clean break there." Every comment about not knowing Japanese gets a cackle from Vince, basically. I have always wondered who brokered this deal to bring the Japanese over. WCW had done a bit there, but had mostly taken their cruisers from Mexico and the States. The WWF went into Mexico for Royal Rumble, but got a lot of the wrong guys in, but that still made sense for San Antonio. In Calgary, where a lot of these fans had been conditioned to enjoy foreign wrestlers over many years through Stampede, this is a better fit. And these guys are getting reactions early and often. Vince didn't understand the lucha, but this seems to make more sense to him. Sasuke with a ton of kicks, TAKA selling like all hell.

If the WWF had really invested in a light heavyweight division, it absolutely would have gotten over and been a great addition to the roster and to the cards. And I don't think it's that they didn't intend to, especially after getting a load of these two, I think it just sort of got lost in the shuffle; it wasn't really a passion project for Vince or probably anyone else who could convince Vince to really run with it. They had a lot going on otherwise, for one thing, and this was never going to be a focus, it just could have been something awesome. Sasuke wins clean, but TAKA was the star of the match.

Outside, Mankind and Helmsley continue to battle. Now here's a clip of Ahmed Johnson injuring his knee in a fight with the Disciples of Apocalypse and losing his WWF title shot.

Dok wonders how Paul Bearer can stand himself, all accusing Undertaker of killing his family and shit. Paul's OK with it. Vader makes moronic faces. Didn't anyone tell him to stop that? That was some WCW mini-movies shit and he just kept doing it forever. Look, if you've read this blog much at all, you know I love some Vader. But he was corny as fuck and way too often, for being so awesome a pro wrestler, looked like a guy pretending to be a wrestler.

WWF Championship: Vader (w/Paul Bearer) vs The Undertaker (c)

Undertaker dominates the early going before Vader starts making a move, but then Vader stops making much of a move after Paul Bearer keeps screaming, "Murderer! Murderer!" I mean Vader's just getting his ass whipped in there.Then Vader gets the advantage, and the fucking crowd in Calgary goes so apeshit trying to rally Undertaker that the hard cam shakes.Vader falls over limply trying to tombstone the Undertaker, and we get a couple low blows that Tim White just ignores, then Vader gets monstrously chokeslammed from the second rope trying to execute the Vader Bomb, and it's one of the more convincing, ONE TWO HE GOT HIM NOs of Vince's career. Another chokeslam, this one regular, and that just gets two. Vader gets a good start into a tombstone and that finishes it off. This was better than their Rumble match, mostly thanks to the insane ass Calgary crowd. It was also more or less Vader's last ride as a WWF main event talent.

Here's a video package about Vince Russo and his fucking Gang Warz.

Goldust: "You remember, I put this thing together. I was the peacemaker. And they wanna play Clint Eastwood? You're lookin' at the best five that can do it tonight, and we're going to."

Ken Shamrock: "I've been in unfriendly territories before. And I've been in with unfamiliar and untamable fighters before. But when I enter my zone, it's time to get it on."



Austin: "(leaves, embarrassed, enjoying Coca-Cola)"

Goldust, Ken Shamrock, The Legion of Doom & Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Brian Pillman, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Owen Hart & Bret "Hitman" Hart

The Americans aren't really booed as much as you might expect; it's not about hating them, it's about loving the Hart Foundation. Bret wins the familiar trade of right hands with Austin to start the match, and then stomps the shit out of him in the corner as the crowd goes completely off its ass. Austin turns it around, and NOW it's about hating them.

It's a match you have to watch to get. There's no real describing it. It's not that it's such a great match, filled to the brim with top-notch work. I mean, this match has Jim Neidhrt, The LOD, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and the 1997 version of Brian Pillman. Plus there's 10 guys. It's a lot of punch-kick and crowd work. But the crowd is so great, the stakes feel so high, that it's a remarkable match entirely because it's exactly what pro wrestling is supposed to be -- guys working a crowd into a frenzy and making them want more, all while nobody's getting killed in there.

Owen Hart, for instance, has never been more over in his life. Hell, nobody on the Hart Foundation side ever was, including Davey Boy, and that's counting Wembley in '92.

One thing they do that's unusual here is have more than one "all hell has broken loose" brawl. Owen gets hurt on one of them, as Austin busts up his knee with a chair and the ring apron. So Owen has to leave, and it's 4-on-5, but the Harts take advantage by being a better team and beating the shit out of Austin in their corner, where it's 4-on-1. We get the Austin-Pillman moment, and Flyin' Brian eats the stunner, but Bret gets in there and takes Austin's knee to the ringpost. Really simple shit like this gets over like crazy. Fire extinguisher to the knee. The figure four gets on, and Hawk finally is the one to break that up.

It goes on and on. Austin has to leave, but he comes back to lock it up again with Bret, which comes after Davey Boy Smith has his most inspired few minutes in a long time, totally feeding off the crowd. Austin gets the sharpshooter on Bret, but Owen runs in and saves it, and Owen gets the tag a moment later.

Out the floor, Austin is hit with a drink from Bruce Hart, and the other brothers get involved after Austin goes after Stu. Back into the ring, and Owen rolls Austin up for the win while everyone else just keeps fighting. Officials and security get in there, the Hart family gets in there, and the Americans have to peter out.

As the family celebrates, Austin comes back alone with a chair, hits Neidhart, and then he's taken out again. Austin gets cuffed and loses it. "Goddamn it, get these fuckin cuffs offa me!" Lawler with a great line: "They better put leg irons on him, too, or he'll kick somebody else's ass!"

After all that, the family makes its way into the ring, including Stu and Helen, all the kids and grandkids. It's really quite a moment. I ain't got no shame saying I'm a little misty-eyed here, 15 years later. A few of these kids wound up back in the ring years later.

"This is a very special moment in our business, a very special moment in this industry, as Calgary pays tribute to their favorite wrestling family. And whether you love them in the States or you hate them, this is a family affair, and they are home."

Jim Ross' words hit on the mark. This is a truly wonderful show, with a wonderful ending. There are four matches (Free For All doesn't count), and all of them are good, and you've got an extraordinary audience on hand that makes everything that much better than it is. There have been shows with more great matches, with much better matches than anything here, but this is compact and atmospherically very special.

The story of the Hart family, of the Dungeon, of Stu and Helen and the kids and the grandkids and everyone else, is one that hopefully will live on through generations of new rasslin fans. They're not going to be hit as hard with it as my generation was; there's not another Bret Hart coming out of the family, and the Dungeon no longer exists. But they should know and understand how incredible this family's contribution to professional wrestling was. And if that's too serious or too dramatic or too whatever for you, I don't really care. When it's done right, wrestling is about the connection between an audience and a performer, and to see a remarkable connection, all you need to watch is the main event of this match. Nothing was ever any more sincere than the love that the Calgary fans in the Saddledome had for the Hart Foundation on July 6, 1997.

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