Since 1988, SummerSlam has been WWE’s second biggest show of the year. As we count down the days to the 2016 edition, the Top Ten will rank the annual event’s matches year-by-year to determine the best SummerSlam matches of all time.
SummerSlam 1997 – August 3, 1997 – Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, NJ
About six weeks before this show, a week before my high school graduation, I was at Monday Night Raw up in Lake Placid, NY. And just a few weeks before I started college, my family bought me a present – two tickets to SummerSlam! Sure, they were in the cheap seats of the arena formerly known as the Meadowlands. Regardless, it would be my first live pay-per-view and I was excited! All of the build from WrestleMania 13 on, with the Bret Hart anti-American angle, was some of the best TV the WWF had produced in a long time. And SummerSlam 1997 was built almost entirely around the Hart Foundation vs. USA ongoing feud, with each Hart Foundation match having some stipulations attached.
There were a few really memorable moments during this show, and it’s a sentimental favorite for me, for obvious reasons.
Best Match: Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated Undertaker (c) – WWF Title Match. With Hart rival Shawn Michaels the special referee, this was a great chapter in the Harts vs. USA feud. If Bret lost, he would never wrestle in the US again. If HBK was biased against Hart, HE would never wrestle in the USA again. If Undertaker lost, well, he wouldn’t be WWF Champion any more. Honestly, Undertaker was an afterthought in this match, as he had his own story going on with Paul Bearer in the lead-up to the introduction of his baby brother. There are a lot of shenanigans here, but they work with the three guys in the ring. And the match flawlessly moved the heat from Bret-Shawn to Shawn-Taker. It may not be the best Bret Hart SummerSlam match, but it sure is memorable.
Worst Match: Los Boricuas defeated The Disciples of Apocolypse. I hated the whole concept of the GANG WARZ in 1997 WWF, with Los Boricuas, Disciples of Apocolypse and the Nation. The Hart Foundation was really the only group worth a damn and the rest was just needless filler. You’ve got 12 guys or so in those three factions and it got ONE MATCH, with 8 guys. A real waste of time, in my opinion.
That Piledriver: SummerSlam 1997 is probably best known as the event that shortened “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s career, as Owen Hart broke Austin’s neck with one of the worst-looking sit-out Tombstone piledrivers I’ve ever seen. The match was going along at a pretty good clip at that point, but as soon as Hart hit that move, it was clear that something went wrong. Aiding his opponent, Owen stumbled into an awful schoolboy to give Austin the match and the Intercontinental Title, which he later had to give up because he couldn’t compete. Lots of “what could have been” thoughts come out of this match.
A Huge Leap: One of my favorite steel cage matches opened up this show, with Mick Foley, as Mankind, beating Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Helmsley’s program with Mankind in 1997 plus his program in 2000 was a huge reason why Triple H had any credibility heading into the 21st Century, regardless of his claims that no one laid down for him. Although, here, he was laying down for Foley, who went to the top of the cage to have his Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka moment. The match just barely misses an addition to the Top Ten, but it’s easily one of the best SummerSlam matches up to this point.
The Other Stipulations: I mentioned earlier that all of the Hart Foundation matches had a variety of stipulations attached to them, like the WWF Title match. Had Austin lost the Intercontinental Title match, he would have been forced to kiss Owen’s ass. In the Ken Shamrock vs. Davey Boy Smith match, Bulldog would have been forced to eat dog food if he had lost. And Brian Pillman was forced to wear a dress after losing to Goldust. Jim Neidhart was supposed to shave his goatee if any of the Harts lost their match, but I believe he was suspended between when that was announced and the day after SummerSlam, so he got out of that stipulation.
Self High Fives: The WWF shoehorned two grating and self-congratulatory segments into the first hour of the show, one with then-New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman getting a replica WWF Title for her elimination of taxes on WWF so the company could do TV in the state (which led to the governor getting a chorus of boos when she was introduced) and another where they attempted to give away $1 million. The giveaway saw WWF yet again fail to get a hold of winners ahead of time, so there were a few phone calls that led nowhere. But at least Sunny jiggled in front of Todd Pettengill to make him uncomfortable. Overall, again, a couple wastes of time.
The SummerSlam Top Ten!
Bret Hart adds his final match to the Top Ten!
*DISCLAIMER* The Top Ten is for discussion purposes only and is in no way an official or authoritative list. It is simply my opinion.
1 – Bret “Hitman” Hart (c) defeated Owen Hart – WWF Title Steel Cage Match (1994)
2 – Shawn Michaels (c) defeated Razor Ramon – Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (1995)
3 – Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated Mr. Perfect (c) – Intercontinental Title Match (1991)
4 – Davey Boy Smith defeated Bret “Hitman” Hart (c) – Intercontinental Title Match (1992)
5 – Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard defeated the Hart Foundation (1989)
6 – The Hart Foundation defeated Demolition (c) – 2-out-of-3 Falls Tag Team Title Match (1990)
7 – Ultimate Warrior defeated “Ravishing” Rick Rude (c) – Intercontinental Title Match(1989)
8 – “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan defeated Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant (1988)
9 – Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated Undertaker (c) – WWF Title Match (1997)
10 – Ultimate Warrior defeated Honky Tonk Man (c) – Intercontinental Title Match (1988)