In the fifth edition of the Hidden Gems series, Screen Critics go back to 1997 to see Shawn Michaels take on Owen Hart in a post Montreal Screwjob world.
In 1997 the WWF was undergoing major changes. While under attack from WCW, who were actively trying to put them out of business, the WWF found themselves up against a wall, where they needed to adapt, otherwise they would perish in the fire known as The Monday Night Wars. It opened the doow for the likes of Owen Hart and Shawn Michaels.
WWF needed to get grittier, they needed to get edgier, and that’s exactly what they did in 1997. Gone were the days of The Goon, Mantaur, and Max Moon. The Fed was getting serious about the threat known as WCW, and this year was the start of turning it all around in their favor. Two key players of that turn around are in action in this week’s edition of the Hidden Gems series. Shawn Michaels throughout much of 1996 and 1997 was dealing with his personal demons in the form of drug use and general jackassery. He “lost his smile” in early 1997 after being the top babyface for much of 1996, and in doing so he’d forfeit the World Wrestling Federation Championship. When he came back, however, he showed a side of himself that fans had rarely ever seen. He was much more cocky, arrogant, and brash. It wouldn’t be long before he joined up with Hunter Hearst Helmsley and his bodyguard Chyna, as well his own “insurance policy” Ravishing Rick Rude. Together, those four superstars would form “Degeneration X” and they would torment the WWF superstars throughout the rest of 1997 and into early 1998.
DX’s main target during this time frame however, was The Hart Foundation, which consisted of Bret and Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and The British Bulldog. The Hart Foundation had a banner year in 1997, seeing British Bulldog become the first ever WWF European Champion, Owen Hart becoming Intercontinental Champion, those two men together becoming the WWF Tag Team Champions, and Bret Hart becoming the WWF Champion at SummerSlam of that year. They were on top of the world, and The Hitman especially was taking down everyone from Stone Cold to The Undertaker. However once Shawn Michaels defeated The Deadman inside Hell in a Cell at In Your House: Badd Blood, Bret saw himself once again against a familiar foe. Seeing as Shawn and Bret hadn’t touched since their WrestleMania 12 main event almost two years prior, this was a huge match for the WWF, and arguably the biggest match they could possibly put on for the upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view event.
Survivor Series was being held in Montreal, and it would end up becoming the site of one of the most famous moments in pro wrestling history. When egos get the better of everyone, and situations need to be corrected, sometimes drastic measures have to be taken, and that’s what happened here. Vince McMahon was desperate to get The Hitman out of his 20-year contract, practically willing to send him to WCW. He knew that Bret was having discussions with Eric Bischoff, and needed a way to get the title off of The Hitman, as he couldn’t risk having his main title show up on WCW programming. This all helped lead to the Montreal Screwjob, where during the course of the main event, HBK would lock Bret Hart into a Sharpshooter and Mr. McMahon would have the timekeeper ring the bell, despite Bret not tapping out. It was a shoot finish that only half of the match participants were aware of. Bret Hart, naturally, was pissed off afterward and would destroy the ringside area, spit in Vince McMahon’s face, and even punch McMahon backstage after the show went off the air.
This event saw not only Bret Hart leave to WCW, but The British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart as well. This left Owen, whether by choice or not, the only remaining Hart family member in the WWF. In a rare instance (at least at the time) of WWF playing into real life drama, Owen Hart was booked on the final RAW of 1997 against The Heartbreak Kid in a WWF Championship Match. The Black Hart was wildly popular at the time, as he was defending the honor of his brother, Bret, against the dastardly Shawn Michaels. Not only that, but he was in line to possibly win the very title that HBK stole from The Hitman at Survivor Series. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, and Owen would never truly get a main event push like he (arguably) should have gotten after the Screwjob. That, however, doesn’t mean we didn’t get some good action while Owen was briefly at the top. In fact, we got this hidden gem right here. A very overlooked, super fun brawl of a match. Let’s get into it.
Right away as Owen Hart comes out, JR makes you believe he can pull off the win here tonight. He talks about how Owen has accomplished everything in the WWF, and that he feels tonight will be his night. Even Jerry Lawler jumps in and puts over Owen, which was awesome. The commentary is making this match feel like a huge deal. Shawn enters with Chyna, and before he can get into the ring, Owen leaps out onto him, and starts raining down punches. Owen starts walking towards Chyna as HBK hilariously tries to get his entrance attire off while selling. This man was amazing. Did y’all see him as Colonel Sanders at SummerSlam? I thought I was having some kind of fever dream. Owen turns around just in time to land a right hand on HBK, and down goes Shawn. More right hands follow as these two men travel up the ramp. I love how dark and dirty this arena looks. Everything these days is so polished and bright. This atmosphere helps to sell that these two guys, and really everybody on the show, genuinely hate each other and are there to fight. Plus, the crowd is hot as fire. So much energy. I love it, Maggle.
Owen lands a huge suplex onto the steel ramp. He then picks up HBK and slams him face first into said ramp. What a showing for Owen. He’s destroying Shawn Michaels. Back in the ring now, and Owen ties up Shawn Michaels in the ropes Andre-The-Giant-style. He then proceeds to whale away on his restricted nemesis. Shawn escapes the evil ropes, but gets caught with a back drop by Owen, and once more to the outside they go. Back from a commercial break here, and Owen drops Shawn onto the metal barricade on ringside. HBK up to this point has gotten no offense in, and it’s quite amazing. More right hands from Owen here, who is dominating. Meanwhile, we see that Triple H has arrived, on crutches, to ringside. Owen is unfazed however as he crotches HBK on the barricade. Owen then drags Shawn into the ring by his hair and proceeds to unload more right hands. Shawn shoots him off into the ropes, which leads to Chyna tripping up Owen. Shawn was able to take advantage of Owen being on the apron and sends him off into the barricade throat first. Ouch. On the bright side, Shawn can finally get a reprieve from The Black Hart.
Shawn goes off the apron with a double axe handle onto Owen, while someone in the crowd clearly shouted “LOOK OUT LOOK OUT, BEHIND YOU!” to Owen. Help us help you, Owen. I also want to add that the ringside area is disgustingly dirty. In terms of looks, it’s freaking awesome. However, the (undoubtedly this late into the show) lack of cleanliness is getting to me. I wouldn’t want to be wrestling in that. HBK hits some hard rights on Owen now as he mocks him by saying things that I am not able to pick up. Back in the ring, Shawny Boy sends Owen into turnbuckles with quite a bit of force, which causes Owen to fall over. HBK is in full control as he grabs Owen and hits a piledriver. He goes for a cover, but only gets a two count. Owen shoots Shawn off the ropes, yet Shawn gains control once again and hits a DDT. Another pin attempt leads to another two count. Soon after this HBK gets Owen into a sleeper hold. Who would have thought Shawn Michaels would be the one to slow down the pace of this match. This is wild.
Owen briefly broke free of Shawn’s sleeper hold grasp, but Shawn quickly locks him back in. Second verse same as the first, Shawn will not let up. JR is beginning to lose his voice while shouting about the last RAW of 1997. It’s quite lovely. Owen hits a suplex, and now both of these men are down. Owen gains some momentum here as he picks up the pace. A back body drop is followed by a 10-punch in the corner, and Shawn is now in trouble. He shoots HBK into the opposite corner, where Shawn does his classic flip onto the top turnbuckle, and when he gets down he’s met with a huge clothesline. A pinfall attempt yields a two count for The Black Hart. He picks up Shawn and nails him with a spinning heel kick. Rapid fire pin attempts here by Owen after every move, including a huge belly-to-belly suplex. Shawn attempts Sweet Chin Music, but he gets caught with a famous Owen Hart enziguri. He then applies the Sharpshooter, however before Shawn can tap, Triple H nails him with one of his crutches (after hilariously missing on the first attempt). This one is called, and it’s a disqualification ending. DX double team assaults Owen as RAW goes off the air.
Match Rating: 4 Gems
That match was amazing, guys. There was so much emotion there. The crowd was heavily into it, JR and The King were into it, they made you believe tonight was the night where Owen was going to become the champion. Granted the DQ finish ended this classic match on quite a sour note, it doesn’t take away too much overall. This was a perfect display of Shawn’s selling ability, and how a brawl with a hot story and crowd will always be superior to a good wrestling match without a purpose. I mean, hell, Shawn didn’t even hit a move until the second half of the match, and yet, this still felt like a back-and-forth, anything goes contest. Truly a special match, at a special time in wrestling history. I highly, highly recommend viewing this one.
Stay tuned for next week’s article as we’ll travel to 2009 to watch what was in my opinion, the greatest match in WWECW history. Until then I am JeriKane, and this is the Hidden Gems series.