Rewriting The Book – What if Bret Hart lost at Summerslam ’97? (Part III)

11 Submitted by on Tue, 19 July 2016, 19:35

If you missed the first two installments, here’s Part I and Part II

Our story continues the night after In Your House: Badd Blood. Once again, the Hart Foundation turned the night upside-down … but the World Wrestling Federation struck back in kind. Owen Hart recaptured the vacant Intercontinental Championship, albeit with help from Stone Cold Steve Austin. But Davey Boy Smith lost the European Championship. And while Bret Hart may have left Vader in a pool of blood, WWF Chairman Vince McMahon – weary from months of abuse from the Harts – attacked the exiled WWF Champion in the parking lot. But most notable of all was the main event, a first-ever Hell In A Cell match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, for an interim WWF Championship. Undertaker spent the overwhelming majority of the match on the offensive, and looked to have the match won and payback secured … until his demonic brother Kane surfaced, tore the door off the cell, and cost him the match. With the win, Shawn captured the interim WWF Championship … and more importantly, a date with Bret Hart at Survivor Series in Montreal …

Oct. 6, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Kansas City, MO)

After a recap of the shocking events from Badd Blood, Raw kicks off with action, as Jim Neidhart is set to take on the Interim WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. Neidhart comes to the ring first, accompanied by The Hart Foundation. The music for Shawn hits, but at first, he doesn’t come out. And when he finally does (after two restarts of the music), he comes out with D-Generation X and a belt just like Bret Hart’s on his shoulder … and in street clothes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there’s a hierarchy in the World Wrestling Federation,” he says from the stage. He puts his hand palm down and at about waist level. “Right here, you got your guys like the Puerto Rican gang or the hog farmers … guys who gotta struggle to stay mediocre.” He moves his hand up a little higher. “Here, you got D’Lo’s and your Marc Mero’s … you know, guys who have just enough talent so they think they got a future, but everybody else knows they’re never getting any better.” The hand comes up a little higher. “Then you got your guys who got almost all the pieces … but we all can see they don’t have all of them and they can’t. So they’re always gonna be under the main eventers, wondering when they get to break through. Guys like … well …” Shawn smiles. “Guys like Steve Austin and Owen Hart. And maybe Bret.” The crowd does not like this; Bret and Owen are equally not amused. “Right above them, you got your true blue superstars. The cream of the crop. Top of the mountain! And until last night when I pinned him one-two-three in the middle of this ring, you coulda said Undertaker was one of them. Now, I don’t know who this company has!” Shawn moves his hand way up, stretching it as high above his head as it’ll go, and even standing on his tiptoes for an extra inch. “And then here’s me. The Showstopper … The Main Event … The Icon … The WWF Champion!” That infuriates Bret even more, but Shawn is on too much of a roll to notice. Shawn then squats down and puts his hand millimeters from the stage floor. “And here’s Jim Neidhart, riding the coattails of the more successful, semi-talented members of his extended family. Now, you may see a guy on the first level hang with a guy on the second, or a two with a three. What you don’t see is a guy in the main event slumming it against guys who struggle to get on the show.” Shawn stands up straight and points a thumb at himself. “And guys like me never open a show, and certainly not to guys like Jim Neidhart!”

Shawn starts to turn away when Bret steps forward, a dastardly smile on his face. “So, if I’m hearing you right, Shawn Michaels, you’re forfeiting the match. You’re giving up. You’re giving up to a guy you just called a jobber.”

Shawn turns around slowly. “I’m not Marty McFly, Bret. I don’t get all defensive because you twist my words and make me sound like a coward.”

“I never used the word ‘coward’, Shawn,” says Bret, the smile growing bigger.

Now it’s Shawn’s turn to sneer. “Shawn Michaels doesn’t open shows. And Shawn Michaels doesn’t wrestle guys like your fat failure of a brother-in-law. Period.” Shawn holds up his interim championship. “This belt says I get to make the rules now. ‘He who has the gold makes the rules’, isn’t that right, Mr. Tradition?”

Bret holds up his and his expression becomes deadly serious. “This is a championship. You’re looking at a champion. I beat a champion to become a champion, the way every champion has done it since Frank Gotch! Who did you beat, Shawn? Nobody. You got that … that thing the way a kid gets a Super Nintendo on Christmas morning! It’s a vanity plate, bought and paid for in the boardroom of your buddy Vince McMahon! These people may not like me or want to listen to everything else I say, but they know you’re not a real champion! Even your buddy Vince can’t bear to call you ‘champion’; he has to put ‘interim’ in front of it! You’re a fraud, Shawn! You’re a placeholder!”

Shawn is not amused and it comes through in his Antarctic glare. “Get to the point, Bret.”

“If you wanna be looked at like a real champion, act like one. Wrestle Jim tonight. We can even get Vince’s stooges to put it the main event, so you can look yourself in the mirror. If you want, we can even put some stakes on it. Say, when Jim wins, you renounce that atrocity in your hands and acknowledge me as the one true WWF Champion.”

Shawn chuckles, a sound entirely without mirth behind it. “Fine, okay. I’ll play along. If Jim can beat me, sure, I’ll drop this off in Vince’s office personally. But when I beat your boy …” Shawn jerks a thumb in his own direction. “I get to name a stipulation for our title unification match at Survivor Series.”

“Done. You made the biggest mistake of your life, Shawn, when you cozied up with Vince McMahon. I’d say he’ll run you till you drop and leave you to die … but I don’t plan on letting you stay around that long, because I’m going to dismantle his little empire piece by piece.”

“You just keep that in mind when I kick your teeth in, Bret,” says Shawn before heading back to the locker room with DX.

With the Neidhart/Shawn match postponed until the main event, the card gets shuffled about a little, so Raw’s first match ends up being Goldust’s first European Title defense. The challenger is none other than the man who lost the championship not 24 hours ago, and without being pinned, Davey Boy Smith. But before the bell can ring, one more party makes their presence felt: Vader. The Rocky Mountain monster joins Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, he says, because he hasn’t forgotten how the Bulldog has been harassing and attacking him. Bulldog gives Vader a piece of his mind, threatening him and reminding him of the beating he took the night before. Vader lets Davey Boy ramble on before pointing behind him and says Davey Boy needs to keep his eyes on the game, not the sidelines. Davey Boy turns around and gets clobbered by a vicious clothesline. As soon as Davey Boy gets to his feet, Goldust grabs him from behind and nails the Curtain Call. That’s all he needs to get the three-count and retain his championship. Goldust drops out by the commentary side, gives a fist-bump to Vader and gestures to the ring with his head; “He’s all yours,” says Goldust before collecting his belt and leaving. Vader, however, says he’s not going to jump Davey Boy from behind like a “sissy-boy” and goes to leave. He gets as far as the end of the ramp when Bulldog, having collected himself and realizing the match is over already, slides out and tries to ambush him. Vader turns around just in time, blocks Bulldog’s swing and returns in kind, peppering Davey Boy with clubbing blows from skull to midsection. By the time Vader is done, Davey Boy is on the ground, leaned up against the steel steps and not knowing what day it is. Vader tells Bulldog that if he steps again, he’ll get double that and leaves Bulldog to count the stars floating above his head.

When Raw returns from commercial, Jose Estrada Jr. is already in the ring with his fellow Los Boricuas outside, waiting for his opponent Marc Mero. Just as Mero gets to the bottom of the ramp, the lights cut out. The arena becomes bathed in a low, ominous red light. Horrific organ music plays, and through the curtain comes Paul Bearer, leading out his newest charge, Kane. Stupidly, Mero rushes Kane and pays the price for it, getting a right hand to the jaw that drops the boxer in one shot. Estrada also crosses the line between bravery and stupidity and gets a choke-slam that leaves him on the ground as still as a corpse. The rest of the Boricuas try to triple-team the demonic figure, but Kane makes it look easy; he grabs and holds Jesus Castillo by the throat while hitting a rushing Miguel Perez with a boot that knocks him over the top. After choke-slamming Castillo, Savio Vega gets drilled with a Tombstone. Kane stands in the middle of the ring, surrounded by bodies, his unreadable mask an ominous blank slate of fear. Beside him, the rotund Bearer gets a mic.

“Oh, Undertaker … Undertaker … I told you your brother was alive! You didn’t believe me, nobody believed me! I told you that he lived, and that he was coming for you, and you’ve now seen it with your own eyes! You’ve seen the brother you left for dead in an inferno! You’ve felt the wrath that has been growing inside him for years! A wrath you caused, Undertaker, when you murdered your parents and …” Bearer pauses, as if choking up. “And you scarred your innocent baby brother in that horrible fire you set! The secrets are out for the world to know, and the world knows you for a monster and a liar! And now,” he says, almost in a penitent, priest-like way, “the time has come, Undertaker … the reckoning all men must face when they see the face of their maker. The time has come to pay for your sins, and the wages are flesh. The eye of judgment now looks upon you, and it has set you on a collision course you cannot avoid! Face your brother! Face him, Undertaker! You owe him the opportunity to send you to hell where you belong!”

With that, Kane raises his arms and thrusts them down, igniting eruptions of fire from the four ringposts. Paul Bearer stands in the middle of the ring, cackling madly in the fire’s flickering light. Jim Ross asks the obvious question: if Kane could not be slowed down by three men at the same time, how could anybody withstand his onslaught?

When Raw returns from commercial, “WE ARE THE NATION OF DOMINATION!” booms through the arena, calling down the Nation – specifically Faarooq and Scorpio, but all five come down – for a tag match. The two most prominent rivals of the Nation, Ahmed Johnson and Ken Shamrock, show no fear of being outnumbered 5-to-2, rushing the ring and going right after the Nation’s leader and their latest recruit. There isn’t a bit of science to the match … and very little that actually qualifies as a match, given that there isn’t a single tag to speak of. Just barely-controlled anarchy, with the Nation on the outside, waiting pensively, like a coiled cobra waiting to strike. When it becomes clear there is no chance of getting Ahmed, Shamrock and the Nation to separate and observe the rules of the match, the ref throws out the match. The ringing of the bell acts like waving a flag in front of a bull, as the rest of the Nation jumps in the ring and begins the beatdown of their enemies.

For all of a few seconds, that is, until five men in black SWAT-style paramilitary garb rush down. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler recognize them as the stable formerly known as The Truth Commission, once a troupe of camo-clad bullies from South Africa. Missing, however, is their leader, The Commandant. In his place is a wiry man with long, flowing hair and mirrored aviator sunglasses. Gone also is the South African military garb; in its place, they all wear all-black paramilitary garb with silver adornment. Recon and Sniper have batons, while the new guy has a cattle prod; the remaining two, Tank and The Interrogator, are massive enough to not need weaponry. The group interjects itself between the Nation and their victims rather violently, delivering a few shots with the baton, and D’Lo taking a blast from the cattle prod, before the Nation finally retreat. The Nation back up the ramp, eyes wide and tempers fuming at the uninvited incursion, as Shamrock and Ahmed look on in confusion at their saviors. Only Recon looks back at them once, and says nothing, just regarding them with a scowl. The long-haired one barks out an order; without so much as helping up Ahmed and Shamrock or checking on their condition, the troop drops to the floor and heads back, leaving Ahmed and Shamrock even more confused.

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler get a little face-time and are previewing what’s left for the show – an Intercontinental Title defense by Owen Hart against Cactus Jack, and the Shawn Michaels/Jim Neidhart main event being the two marquee matches – when they interrupt themselves at the sight of Vince McMahon coming down the ramp. The sight of the Chairman is a surprise, as JR explains he wasn’t expected to be here tonight. He is far from the picture of professionalism and corporate precision he normally puts forth. He has bags under his eyes, a couple of the top buttons on his shirt are undone, and his hair isn’t in its usual sculpture-perfect ‘do. He gets in the ring, running a hand through his hair, sighing before he starts.

“When I bought this company 13 years ago from my father, I never wanted the spotlight on me,” he begins, eyes cast down to the mat. “The World Wrestling Federation has always been about sports entertainment, not about executives. It’s about the men who step inside this ring and wrestle, day in and day out.” Vince’s head raises and his eyes are positively glowing with fury. “But time after time, I keep getting pulled in to the maelstrom. Steve Austin giving me the Stunner in Madison Square Garden … Undertaker, chasing me and threatening me a couple weeks ago …” Vince takes a deep breath, his hateful expression darkening even more. “Bret Hart. All year long, from that temper tantrum back in February to now.” Vince takes a deep breath, and for a moment, his expression softens. “My father instilled in me certain values, the values of what truly makes a man; hard work, honesty, sacrifice, doing the right thing … and, when necessary, fighting for what he believes in. I’ve fought every day of my life since I became owner and Chairman of the World Wrestling Federation. I’ve fought cable companies who didn’t believe in the product when I knew it could set the world on fire. I’ve had to fight off rival companies who want to drive me out of business. I had to fight the Federal government! I’ve always known being in the position I am would lead to jealousy and people trying to tear me down … but I never expected it from the inside. I made a promise to my father.” Vince turns to the stage, the rage coming back into his eyes. His voice becomes a guttural yell, almost inhuman. “Bret Hart! Get your ass down here right now!”

It doesn’t take more than a moment for the embattled WWF Champion-in-exile to come down, the championship belt on his shoulder. He stands at the head of the ramp with a smirk on his face before coming down the ramp and getting in the ring. As he approaches his boss, Vince suddenly shoves Bret with both hands, sending him to the ground. Bret looks up at Vince, his jaw so unhinged it’s almost dislocated. Bret moves to get up, but Vince looms over him and yells “STAY DOWN!”. Vince bends down and scoops up the WWF Championship belt from the mat, speaking while looking at it.

“Every loss, every misery, every moment of suffering you’ve had, you’ve blamed the World Wrestling Federation, and you’ve taken it out on me. You’ve made a mockery of me, of the company that’s been in my family for three generations …” His eyes raise up to look at Bret; he holds up the title. “And you’ve brought shame and disgrace to this.” Vince lets the title drop from his hand and looks at it almost as though it were toxic to the touch. Again, his eyes flare with the fires of rage. “Your father did everything he could to get you in the ring. Mine made me promise to stay out of it … and last night, you made me break that promise.” Vince’s upper lip curls, his eyes narrow. “Next week, Bret … you and me, in this ring, one-on-one.” The crowd goes absolutely insane. Bret pulls himself up, never taking his eyes off Vince, as he measures Vince’s seriousness. When it’s apparent Vince is not backing down from what Jim Ross calls a “kamikaze mission”, Bret smirks.

“You really think you can last more than a couple minutes with me?”

Vince answers that with a stiff sucker-punch that rocks Bret back a step. Bret checks his lip to make sure he isn’t bleeding, and when he’s satisfied, he gets right in Vince’s face, nose-to-nose.

“Street fight.”

“Done,” says Vince without a moment’s hesitation.

“But when I beat you? You reinstate me.” Bret’s cocky smirk comes back. “Or I walk, right now.” He adds after a suitable pause; “Maybe all the way to Atlanta.”

Vince sneers, almost visibly restraining himself. “If that’s the carrot you need to bite, fine.” Bret turns and is about to leave when Vince adds something else. “But when I win … you forfeit the World Wrestling Federation Championship!”

Bret glowers at Vince for a few tense moments, brow furrowed as he considers the gamble he just made. Finally, Bret mouths three words – I hate you – picks up his championship and leaves.

Raw’s semi-main event sees Owen Hart in the unenviable task of having to defend his newly re-won Intercontinental Title 24 hours removed from winning it. When he gets in the ring, he begs the referee, trying to get out of the match. When the ref gives him no attention, he gets on the stick and begs Vince McMahon not to “stick him in the ring” with a “madman”. When his entreaties fall on deaf ears, he curses the McMahon family as “bloodthirsty monsters” setting him up for failure, and that he refuses to be a part of it. He moves to walk out …

Only to come to a halt when he sees the five men of the Truth Commission, standing on the stage. The stone-faced resoluteness of the five men tell Owen he won’t be going anywhere. Reluctantly – and fearfully – he watches the stage as the five part ways so his challenger, Cactus Jack, can come through. The crowd starts chanting “you’re a dead man” as the extreme icon as he comes down the ramp. Owen looks like he’s seen the grim reaper itself when he comes face to face with the fearless Cactus Jack. As soon as the bell rings, Owen lets out a yelp and cowers … but Cactus does not charge. Amazingly, he offer a hand instead, which Owen responds to by going for a sucker-kick in the gut.

Only Cactus catches it. Owen’s eyes go as wide as the moon when he gets caught and sees Cactus’ expression change from cordial sportsmanship to righteous anger. Cactus drops Owen’s leg and surprises him with a clothesline. From there, it’s as one-sided as a match can be, as Owen spends the duration either on the run or getting knocked around like a pinball. After only a couple minutes, Owen is on his knees, begging for mercy, a request Cactus responds to with a kick in the chest. Within five minutes, Owen is crawling across the mat to find somewhere safe from his assailant, but Cactus gives him no quarter. When he plants Owen with a stump piledriver, everybody knows what’s coming next.

Which is when Steve Austin runs down – stolen Intercontinental Title in hand – and hits the Stunner on Cactus Jack.

The ref calls for the disqualification right away as Austin runs his mouth at Cactus – “I said nobody beats Owen Hart but me, ya dumb son of a bitch!” – and goes to leave. When Austin gets to the top of the stage, Hunter Hearst Helmsley comes out and gets in his face, livid that he just spoiled a chance to get the IC Title injected into his feud with Cactus Jack. Austin listens to about seven seconds worth of Helmsley’s bluster before kicking him in the gut, bouncing his head off the steel framework holding the Titantron, and finishing him off with a shot in the face from the title belt.

When it’s time for the main event, Shawn Michaels comes down with only Chyna by his side. Jim Neidhart does not, as the Hart Foundation is behind him in full … for all of thirty seconds. Before they can so much as get comfortable, the five soldiers of the Truth Commission reappears on stage.

And leading them is Rick Rude.

Bret marches right toward Rude, meeting him near the end of the ramp. Bret walks up, arrogant smile on his face. He starts to ask Rude how his jaw is feeling when Rude drops him with one punch. Rude looks down at Bret, his normal stoicism gone and in his place, anger. Rude points to the back, not saying a word; Bret gets up and tells Owen and Davey Boy to come along. Bret is the last to leave, and as he passes, Rude grabs his arm and holds him there for a few seconds.

“That was your receipt,” grumbles Rude. “Don’t let there be a next time, or payback comes with interest.” Rude releases Bret’s arm, who makes a show of “taking it back”, holding Rude’s unflinching gaze a moment longer before walking off. Rude’s soldiers part to let Bret and his family walk by, all of them with hands on their holstered riot weapons. Once gone, Rude signals to the referee to begin the match.

From the opening bell, it’s obvious Neidhart’s strategy relied heavily on the presence – and likely interference – of the Hart Foundation. Without them, all he has is his power game, and Shawn’s versatility is more than capable of handling Neidhart’s limited skillset. With a surgical stick-and-move strategy, Shawn has little issue keeping Neidhart on the defensive. So much, in fact, that Bret comes back out to yell at the ref that Shawn is dragging out the punishment on purpose. Rude ignores Bret’s arguments until Bret puts his hands on the “corporate troubleshooter”. Rude knocks Bret’s arm away and gives him a two-handed shove, all in one smooth move. Rude tells Bret “martial law has arrived” in the World Wrestling Federation, and the Hart Foundation will fall in line. Bret strikes back, knocking Rude to the ground and races for the ring. Shawn is there, in the corner, setting up for Sweet Chin Music. Bret reaches in and grabs one of Shawn’s legs. The distraction is enough for Neidhart to charge and crush Shawn in the corner. But Bret pays the price, as Rude and his soldiers descend upon the ring, where Rude backs up his promise to Bret, ordering a thorough beat-down. Neidhart sets to charge again …

Only, like Shawn was, Neidhart finds his leg captured, this time by D-Generation X bodyguard Chyna. Neidhart wrestles his foot away from the brawny Amazon woman, just in time to turn right into Shawn’s superkick finisher. The pin is academic, and with it, Shawn gets the right to name the stipulations for Survivor Series. Shawn and Chyna leave, stopping by Rude and offering a hand. Rude looks down at the hand, back up at Shawn and turns away, telling his troops to take Bret and throw him out of the building.

Oct. 13, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Topeka, KS)

No sooner is Raw’s opening pyro done than Bret Hart – alone, for the first time in recent memory – comes out, the original World Wrestling Federation Championship on his shoulder. He would be the picture of the Bret Hart fans across the world loved and admired, but for the sour expression on his face, and the hatred that spews from his mouth.

“Once again, the bias and conspiracy present against the Hart Foundation in the World Wrestling Federation reveals itself,” says Bret and gestures to the Titantron. Video from last week’s main event runs, showing Bret interfering when he prevented Shawn Michaels from hitting Sweet Chin Music. Shortly thereafter, Rude and his troops pounce on Bret, pulling him away and beating him to the mat. “Okay, now see here,” says Bret. “Look at the other side of the ring, where my brother-in-law is. Look at his feet.” The footage is zoomed in to show Chyna reaching in and doing the same thing as Bret had. “Right there! Where’s Rick Rude and his stormtroopers? I’ll tell you where! They were following the orders of Vince McMahon not to interfere with the boy-toy Shawn Michaels winning that match! Vince McMahon has protected the boy-toy and his buddies for three years, and my family is the one who gets screwed every time!” Bret looks at the apron camera and leves a finger. “As God as my witness, Vince, tonight, I am going to make you pay for every time you’ve screwed my family! I am going to hurt you in ways that will last the rest of your life … and then I will go on to take that fraud of a championship from Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series and –”

As if saying his name invoked him, Shawn comes out, his interim World Wrestling Federation Championship around his waist. Shawn makes sure to do his entrance posing, which only makes Bret fume more. When he gets a mic, Shawn makes sure to put his title on his shoulder, keeping it front and center in Bret’s line of sight.

“Ya know, Bret, I couldn’t help but notice something,” he says with no small amount of smugness dripping in his voice. “Back before you bored everyone to death with your usual ramblings, you showed a little something up on the Titantron. Some footage from last week, where I kicked your buddy Jim’s teeth down his throat. Should we watch that part? Let’s see that part!” The Titantron shows the kick connecting with Jim Neidhart’s jaw. “Let’s watch it again in slow motion!” The video rewinds and then plays again at one-quarter speed. “Do we have another camera angle?”

“Enough!” Bret yells. “Yeah, you won, what’s your point?”

“Well, you haven’t mentioned the big part, the most important thing: by winning, I get to name the stipulation for Survivor Series!” Bret sneers, obviously not wanting to be reminded of that fact.“Now, I’ve had a week to think about it. Could do a steel cage match, but I think I’ve had my fill of large steel structures for a while. Could do a street fight, but that’s too easy. Iron Man match, repeat; casket match, gimmick infringement; one-hand-tied-behind-your-back match, just not fair to the paying fans –”

Get to the point!”

The humor goes out from Shawn’s expression and his voice. “The last time we faced, it was straight-up. One-on-one, best wrestler wins. And I won.”

“In a BS overtime period I didn’t agree to! Just another screwjob by the McMahon family and their corporate puppets!”

Shawn continues on as if Bret hadn’t interrupted. “The last time we wrestled, the world said I couldn’t hang with you. I beat you at your own game in a straight-up wrestling match, and I took your title.” Shawn steps up to Bret all of a sudden. “And you ran home like a kid with a skinned knee for eight months to lick your wounds.” Shawn pauses, letting Bret chew on that. “Those eight months were the best eight months of my career, because I didn’t have to deal with you. We didn’t have to hear you ramble on about ‘tradition’ and ‘the way things ought to be’ and be the paragon of virtue that only you think you are and only you measure up to. I’d give anything to re-live those eight months! And beating Jim last week gave me that chance.” Shawn gets even closer to Bret, almost nose to nose. “When you beat Vince tonight – cause, let’s face it, I’m sure you will – then you gotta deal with me at Survivor Series. One-on-one, a plain old wrestling match, may the best man win. Because that best man will be the undisputed WWF Champion … and the loser will leave the WWF forever!”

The crowd comes out of their collective seats at the announcement of a title unification match with a loser-leaves-town stipulation. Bret and Shawn hold their gaze for what seems like forever, and everyone holds their breath, waiting for the explosion. Only it never comes. Bret, unable to change the course of events, just stands there, jaw clinched, the fury radiating off him like desert heat. Shawn finally breaks the moment with an obnoxious smile and a clap on the shoulder.

“See ya in a few weeks, Bret!” he says mockingly. Shawn turns to leave, only he stops at the ropes. “Oh, one more thing, Bret,” he adds without turning around … and then goes for Sweet Chin Music.

Only Bret catches Shawn’s foot. Bret sweeps the other leg out from under him, but before he can step through to apply the Sharpshooter, Shawn kicks out, scooting out under the bottom rope. Suddenly he realizes that, while he got out quickly and painlessly, he forgot the interim WWF Championship. Before he can reach in and grab it, Bret snatches it. For a long moment, he looks at it, then looks at Shawn … and then tosses it outside like garbage out a car window. Shawn grabs his title, never taking his eyes off Bret in the ring, years of animosity passing through the air between them. With a crotch-chop, Shawn bids Bret goodbye and walks off, holding up his belt as if he’s the one true champion.

The first match of the night is one of two title defenses scheduled, with newly crowned European Champion Goldust defending his title against Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Having had a vicious rivalry earlier in the year that put Marlena in harm’s way, Goldust takes no chances and sends her away before Helmsley and Chyna come out. Helmsley does not, in kind, send his woman away, but he does “promise” to the referee that Chyna won’t play a role in the match. Once the bell rings, though, Helmsley’s promise is exposed as being as worthless as a three-dollar bill. On three occasions, Goldust gets the upper hand and has Helmsley on the defensive, only for Chyna to provide a timely distraction, allowing Helmsley to make the comeback. After the third time, Marlena comes down, showing no fear against her much larger nemesis and nails Chyna with a slap. Quickly, she sees the error of her ways, as Chyna chased her around the ring. Goldust abandons the match to save his woman, sliding out and getting in between the two. Chyna is not the least bit intimidated by Goldust, and shows it by shoving him. The shove knocks Goldust back a step into Marlena, which sends her into the steel steps. Goldust turns to check on Marlena, the match and his opponent forgotten entirely. That proves to be his undoing, as Helmsley comes out and knees Goldust in the back, sending him into the steel post. Helmsley tosses him in the ring, rolls in and quickly hits the Pedigree. The ref makes the count, and three seconds later, Helmsley is announced as the new Word Wrestling Federation European Champion.

And then the lights go out, and a red glow – and an ominous organ music – fills the arena.

Paul Bearer leads Kane to the ring. Helmsley and Chyna decide to choose discretion over valor and make a very hasty retreat. Marlena rushes to Goldust’s side, trying to get him up as fast as she can. Unfortunately, by the time he’s with it enough to understand what’s going on, Kane is stepping over the top rope. The crimson monster moves with the speed of a cheetah, grabbing Marlena by the air and yanking her up to her feet. Marlena flails and screams, trying desperately to get free, until Goldust gets up and unloads on Kane with punches. Kane’s grip on Marlena’s hair loosens enough for her to scramble out of the ring, but that just allows Kane to focus on Goldust. One swift kick to the gut ends Goldust’s offensive volley. Kane picks up Goldust, turns him upside down and drills him into the mat with a Tombstone. After igniting the pyro from the ringposts, Kane and Paul Bearer leave the ring, as Marlena slides back in to check on Goldust.

When Raw returns from commercial, the sound of glass breaking whips the audience into a frenzy for the arrival of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The angry Texan salutes the audience from all four corners with his standard pair of middle fingers before asking for a mic.

“This ain’t how ol’ Stone Cold likes to do business, but right now, I got a few things to say,” he begins. “In four weeks, I’m gonna lace up my boots at the Survivor Series, and I’m gonna get in the ring and do what I do better than anybody in the world! And when I’m done stompin’ a mudhole in Owen Hart’s ass, I’m gonna take back my Intercontinental Championship, and that’s the bottom line! I respect the fact that Owen Hart’s got a lot of people knockin’ at his door for a shot, but the fact of the matter is, I owe him the ass-whipping of a lifetime, and I never lost that belt! Cactus Jack, Mick Foley, Dude Love, whatever stupid little name he wants to call himself today, I got all the respect in the world, but it ain’t your place to take what belongs to me! And Ken Shamrock, I hope you’re listening, cause that go–”

“You won’t be doing anything of the sort!” a loud, booming voice cuts in. Austin’s head whips to the stage, where Rick Rude comes out, leading his troops to the ring. The five members of the squad stand behind Rude in the ring in a straight line, arms clasped behind their backs.

“You think I’m scared of you and your boys?” asks Austin. “You can damn sure bet if they take me down, I’m takin’ a few down with me!”

“Steve, I’m not here not here to start a fight. I’m here to prevent chaos. The board of directors of the World Wrestling Federation have serious concerns about the day-to-day operations of this company. Sgt. Slaughter was unable to weather the storm that has been raging over the past few months. Vince McMahon has gone rogue; they no longer trust him with handling this company’s continued future, and the safety of the WWF Superstars.” Rude pauses, letting the implication hang in the air for a moment. “Effective this week, I am in charge of the World Wrestling Federation, and I have declared a state of emergency. Martial law is required … and these men – Sniper, Recon, The Interrogator, Tank and The Jackyl – are the embodiment of Martial Law. They will help me crack down on the insanity that has infected this company. And tonight, that starts with you.” Rude checks his watch. “We got fifteen or so minutes until Owen Hart defends his Intercontinental Championship against the man you screwed at Badd Blood, Ken Shamrock. That match will go down without a hitch, and I can assure that because if you even try to set foot anywhere near ringside, I will fire you on the spot!”

Austin’s eyes flare with surprise, then anger. “You can’t do that.”

Rude’s response is curt and matter-of-fact. “Watch me.”

After a long, tense staredown, Austin breaks the silence. “I ain’t the only one that’s got an interest in this match.”

“Don’t worry. The same consequences I’ve laid out for you also stand for the Hart Foundation and the Nation Of Domination. Any of them gets anywhere near this ring and they’ll be fired too.” Rude pauses, then adds; “And if you got your dander all ruffled up, now’s the time to keep it to yourself. I won’t be letting you hit me with a Stunner today. Or any other. Now get out of the ring so we can keep this show moving.”

Austin steps up to Rude, prompting Martial Law to take a step forward; Rude puts out a hand, gesturing them to stop. “If Owen Hart don’t walk out of here Intercontinental Champion, I will take a piece out of your ass, and there ain’t nothing you or any of your buddies can do to stop me, and that’s the bottom line, cause Stone Cold said so!” Austin flashes a pair of middle fingers to Rude, waves them around in Martial Law’s direction, and then stomps away as his music plays. Rude watches him go as Jim Ross says how maybe Rude is biting off more than he can chew in his new position.

With the consequences imposed by Rude for interference, Owen and Shamrock don’t have to spend the match looking over their shoulders. And with the experience of having wrestled each other at Badd Blood, they know each other well and adjust accordingly. Owen goes to a more mat-based offense like his brother to minimize the risk of Shamrock getting to his ankle. Shamrock, no stranger to rolling around on the mat, plays Owen’s game, making sure to sneak in plenty of vicious MMA strikes. Over time, the strikes become the difference-maker, as Owen isn’t able to go hit-for-hit with an experienced UFC champion. Once Shamrock firmly establishes dominance, he’s able to work over Owen at will. But Shamrock makes the mistake of going for a sleeper; Owen uses his brother’s trademark push-off-the-turnbuckle pinfall reversal to get out. As soon as Shamrock breaks, Owen pops up and goes for a kick; Shamrock catches it, and Owen hits the enziguiri. Owen takes charge of the match from there, using nothing but his Dungeon-learned knowledge of wrestling to break down Shamrock.

After continuing to work him over through a commercial break, Owen looks to have everything well in hand. He goes up top, measuring Shamrock for a double axe-handle, only when he comes down, he lands awkwardly, rolling his ankle. Owen screams in agony as he clutches at it, giving Shamrock ample time to get back his wherewithal. When he’s up on his feet, Shamrock sees Owen is pulling himself up and can’t put weight on the ankle. Shamrock zeroes in on the injured body part, kicking it out from under him. Once on the mat, he wrenches it and kicks it and punishes it every way he can. When he issues a primal scream, everyone knows it’s time for the ankle lock. Owen trying to pull himself to safety, but Shamrock is right there, dragging him from the ropes and twisting it in ways the foot is not meant to.

And then the Titantron comes to life. In the backstage is a cameraman, and in front of the camera is Rocky Maivia. “Ken Shamrock, you stupid piece of trash … you may be safe out there in the ring because of that racist corporate puppet Rick Rude, but the fact of the matter is the Nation knows how to get to you and your buddies! Come on, D’Lo!”

Behind Rock, Faarooq kicks in the nearest door; inside are the Legion Of Doom and Ahmed Johnson. Completely outnumbered, the Legion and Ahmed are overwhelmed within seconds. Shamrock releases the hold and runs out to save his friends, leaving behind the match and the Intercontinental Championship he was seconds from winning. By the time he gets to the locker room, the Nation is gone and his friends are a bloody mess on the locker room floor. Shamrock curses and is about to tear out of the room to look for them when Faarooq appears in the doorway.

“We end this at Survivor Series, boy,” he says. “The Nation Of Domination and your crew … if you make it that long.”

With that, The Rock comes out of hiding behind Shamrock and blindsides him. After battering him down for a minute, Scorpio and Kama position Shamrock on the ground with his head against the interior of the doorframe. Rock is about to kick the door into Shamrock’s head when D’Lo yells out that Martial Law is coming. The Nation abandons the scene, but the damage is done.

Raw returns with Michael Cole at the backstage interview area, where he welcomes Vader.

“Vader, since the summer, you’ve been the target of numerous attacks by the Hart Foundation, specifically by the British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart,” says Cole.

“And I’m still standing!” Vader bellows. “Two of them against me, and they can’t get the job done! They’re boys playing a man’s game, Cole. I play for blood! I play for keeps! Anvil! Bulldog! We ain’t done till I say we’re done!” Cole points behind Vader, but he’s too focused on his rant to notice. “They can come at me any – stop it, son, don’t interrupt me – they can come at me any time, any place, any day. I said stop, boy, what’s your problem?” Vader turns around and comes face to face with Bulldog and Anvil. Vader looks completely unimpressed. “Nothing between us but air and opportunity, boys.”

Anvil breaks out in his maniacal cackle, while Bulldog’s expression doesn’t change. He steps up to Vader, eyes never leaving his enemy’s. “Big talk from someone standing all alone. You got no family, you got no friends … you got–” Now it’s Vader’s turn to point behind, with a smirk. Bulldog sneers at Vader. “What? I’m not falling for some primary school trick so you can sucker-punch–”

Instead of turning around, Bulldog and Anvil are turned around physically, by The Interrogator and Recon, with The Jackyl right beside them. Bulldog and Anvil take a step back in the face of the two much larger athletes, and bump right into Vader. Interrogator and Recon step forward, virtually sandwiching the Hart Foundation members. Jackyl steps up, taking the mic from Michael Cole.

“Hello, gentlemen,” he says, his voice dripping with condescension. “Is there a problem here?” Interrogator cracks his knuckles, while Recon cracks his neck just by tilting his head. “I’d hate there to be a need for physicality. We’ve already seen so much unpleasantness tonight, and I’d hate to be given cause to continue unnecessary violence.”

“You won’t get away with this,” mutters Anvil.

“On the contrary, dear Jim,” says Jackyl, holding up a finger. “I don’t have to ‘get away’ with anything. I am the law. Now stand down.” Interrogator and Recon step aside enough for Bulldog and Anvil to move. Reluctantly, they start to walk away … until Jackyl puts a hand on Bulldog. “There will be peace in this company, and we will be the agents who usher it in. You were the recipients of my mercy tonight. Next time, you may not find fortune’s favor.” Bulldog tears his arm away from Jackyl’s grip and walks off in a huff.

A weird pallor sets over the arena as the main event looms. Jim Ross comments how nobody is looking forward to this, and that numerous people have tried to talk Vince McMahon out of it. Even Jerry Lawler, always on the side of the heels, says he has a bad feeling about what’s about to happen. As Vince is introduced, cameras cut to the back to show his wife, Linda, and two kids, Shane and Stephanie, watching on a monitor, all looking like they’re about to throw up. Bret, by contrast, comes out looking calm, cool and collected, the World Wrestling Federation Championship prominently around his waist. Bret rubs it in a little more by coming to the face-off in the middle of the ring and holding up the title in Vince’s face. Vince looks Bret in the eye and says loudly enough to be heard on the ring announcer’s mic; “You wouldn’t have that if I.” Bret’s snarky smile melts away with Vince’s comment.

The ref calls for the bell, but neither Bret or Vince move for a long handful of uncomfortably silent moments. It is Bret who breaks the moment by offering his chin. Vince only glares at Bret, who openly dares Vince to do his worst. Again, there’s a long, tense standoff, Bret sticking out his head and Vince just looking at him. When it becomes apparent Vince will not take the bait, Bret starts to pull his head back in … and that’s when Vince charges, performing a double-leg takedown, mounting Bret and throwing a hurricane of wild haymakers. Bret pushes Vince off, but the owner of the WWF comes right back before Bret can get to his feet, tackling him and punching again. Bret again squirms out and rolls out, but Vince follows, grabbing a TV camera cable and strangling Bret with it. Bret paws at the cable to get it off, but Vince pulls back as hard as he can, trying to deny Bret oxygen.

Ever the wily veteran, though, Bret lunges forward and drops down, slipping out of the hold and giving Vince unwanted momentum that sends him crashing into the steel steps. After coughing a few times from the burning sensation of air in his throat, Bret stomps a few times on Vince, then seeks some hardware. He finds what he’s looking for in the old classic, the steel chair. With it in hand, Bret stalks and waits for Vince to get to his feet and turn around, then brings it crashing down between the eyes of the 52-year-old Chairman. When Vince manages to get to his feet, blood is pouring down his face. Bret lays into him with a few punches, then bounces his head off the steel steps and throws him into the ring. After tossing the steel chair into the ring, Bret rolls in. He picks up Vince and hits his trademark backbreaker, then follows it up with the equally familiar diving elbow. But surprisingly, when Bret covers him, Vince kicks out, and Bret almost looks offended.

Bret picks up the chair and waits for Vince to pull himself up on the ropes, dragging out the moment on purpose. Like before, he waits until Vince turns around and brings the chair down, hitting the skull with a sound like a rifle shot. The bleeding is so noticeable, the ref tries to step in to check on Vince’s condition, but Bret won’t allow it. He batters Vince all over the torso with the chair, a total of eleven shots and five guillotine blows. Bret steps back a moment, looking over the battered, broken form of his boss … and with what little strength he has, Vince turns his head and looks right at Bret. And then punctuates that look with a weakly offered middle finger.

Bret drags Vince up off the mat, pulling him towards the chair and positioning him above it. The ref begs Bret not to do what he’s about to (and so does Jim Ross, standing up from his chair and yelling at Bret). But the champ has no time for anyone’s protests and follows through on piledriving Vince onto the chair. Vince’s body hits the mat like a lump of clay, but his attacker isn’t done, delivering another piledriver. Vince’s wife Linda comes out, begging Bret to stop. With a sick, sadistic smile, Bret says “okay”, then makes a big show of putting on the Sharpshooter. It doesn’t take more than a moment for the ref to see Vince is out cold and will not be submitting on his own, so he calls for the bell.

Only Bret doesn’t release the hold. The ref orders Bret to, but the Hitman refuses to, laughing as he continues to crank back on the painful submission move. It isn’t until Martial Law rushes the ring and The Interrogator physically pulls Bret off Vince that the hold is broken. Without even seeing who broke up the Sharpshooter, Bret gets to his feet and shoves The Interrogator, prompting a two-handed shove back from Recon. The Hart Foundation rush down to ringside, but Bret bails, seeing that he’s not only outnumbered even with his reinforcements, but that they’re physically outmatched as well. Paramedics rush by with a stretcher and board on which to put Vince’s lifeless form. As Vince is being tended to, The Hart Foundation clap Bret on the shoulder and give him atta-boys for his work.

But for Bret, there’s one more thing to do. As the medics pass by with Vince on the stretcher, Bret stops Linda. He holds her gaze for what seems like forever, a demented grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye to match, before saying five simple words:

“I’m just getting started, Linda.”

Oct. 20, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Oklahoma City, OK)

Raw opens with a video package, recapping the end of last week’s Monday Night Raw, showing the savage beating Bret Hart inflicted on Vince McMahon. Jim Ross provides voice-over at the end, informing viewers that in moments, there will be a special announcement regarding the state of the WWF. Sure enough, right after the intro, Rick Rude comes down the ramp, with Martial Law right behind him.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there are a number of issues I must discuss with you tonight,” he begins, sounding more sober than usual. “I will start off with the good news. Bret Hart! Tonight, in this ring, you’ll be putting up your World Wrestling Federation Championship against a competitor who represents steel and determination and hard work and pride. Despite doctors recommending that he stay out longer, he asked to come back, and I have granted that wish. That man is The Patriot!” The crowd applauds for the return of the star-spangled warrior, but Rude gives them no time to truly celebrate.

“But now I must move on to bad news. As you saw in the intro package, last week, the WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, was mercilessly beaten in his street fight against Bret Hart. He lost a significant amount of blood, suffered multiple contusions, two broken ribs and a broken collarbone. More importantly, he and his family have all been psychologically scarred by the events. I stood with Linda McMahon in the emergency room last Monday night as she cried until she had no more tears in her body. I had to look in the eyes of his son and his daughter and see that they now feared the company her family had built. That they now feared the men in this company. They grew up in this company; they grew up around these men, and now, they have to wonder if these men want to hurt their family and destroy their father’s life’s work. Last Wednesday, while Vince McMahon lay in a hospital bed, I met with this company’s board of directors. After discussing how Vince McMahon has increasingly been pulled into the events of the past year, and how it all led to last week’s disgusting situation, they agreed that urgent and decisive action is necessary. Effective immediately and indefinitely, I have been granted full executive emergency powers.” The crowd murmurs, unsure of how to feel about that. “Matchmaking, personnel, all day-to-day operational powers have been transferred to me until the plague that has infested in the body of the World Wrestling Federation has been cured.” Rude looks in the camera and hikes a thumb in his own direction. “I am that cure. The chaos and insubordination will end tonight, and there will be consequences for those who don’t fall in line. Hart Foundation, Nation Of Domination, Stone Cold Steve Austin … anybody who can’t toe the line will get left behind. Period. Those who stand beside me and fight for the ideals that put oxygen into the lungs of this company will find opportunity. This is a dark period for the WWF. I will bring the sun back to our shores. Those who stand in my way will be burned where they stand.” Rude departs to the back abruptly, leaving the audience – as well as JR and Lawler – in stunned silence.

The first match of the evening is a big one with which to kick off the show, pitting two rather odd-couple teams against each other: Cactus Jack and Ahmed Johnson against Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Faarooq. Cactus and Ahmed are introduced first, followed by Helmsley and his bodyguard, Chyna. But when Faarooq is introduced, he only comes out as far as the stage.

“Ahmed Johnson, we will have our day in three weeks, when the Nation Of Domination puts you out of the World Wrestling Federation once and for all!” boasts Faarooq. “But I sure as hell ain’t gonna stand there next to that piece of trash for a partner! And Rick Rude, my name ain’t Toby, so you don’t scare me! You ain’t nothing but full of–”

Faarooq’s diatribe ends prematurely when Ahmed jumps out of the ring and runs up the ramp. Faarooq turns tail and runs, leaving Cactus alone against Helmsley. The ref asks Cactus if he’d like to continue on as a singles match; Cactus agrees enthusiastically. Before Helmsley can give an answer, though, Chyna comes up from behind and crotches Cactus. Helmsley quickly grabs Cactus’ head and nails a perfect Pedigree. Helmsley looks at the ref and tells him he’s now ready for that singles match to start. The glower from Chyna is enough motivation for the ref to call for the bell, make the count and call for the bell again. Helmsley gets up and crotch-chops at Cactus … until Cactus does a picture-perfect impression of Undertaker and sits up. All the color drains from Helmsley’s face and he wastes no time getting out of the ring and running for safe cover.

When Raw returns from commercial, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler get a little face time to discuss the card for the upcoming Survivor Series, noting the new addition of Cactus Jack versus Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a stipulation to be decided. As they’re about to run down the rest of the card, they’re interrupting by a surprising sight. Coming down the ramp in a dress shirt and blazer, his blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, is former Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett. JR’s only comment on the return is; “Well, look who’s back.” Jarrett gets in the ring and asks for a mic.

“I know this wasn’t supposed to happen for a little while, but I’ve got something to say and I’m going to say it right now,” he begins. “Last week on Monday Nitro, Jeff Jarrett was declared everything but dead. Since I refused to accept Eric Bischoff’s offer and re-sign with WCW, he did everything within his power to bury me on the way out the door. Being the coward that he is, he even hid behind his computer and announced to the whole world that he had pulled the offer off the table. Well, Eric, the only thing you ever pulled from Jeff Jarrett was opportunity. Since I wasn’t one of your boys, you put a lid on my potential. I was only going to go as far as you wanted me to. There was never, ever any ladder of success for me to climb. I was one of the younger, more talented wrestlers that you had, Eric, but you let me drown in mediocrity just because my stroke wasn’t strong enough. Look who you put me with: an ex-football player who can’t even lock up and his ex-wife, who gives new meaning to the term ‘dumb blonde’!” The crowd pops for that, but Jarrett is on a roll.

“Yeah, you like me burying WCW, but the fact of the matter is, I left the WWF two years ago for the same reason! Eric Bischoff did it out of either ignorance or inexperience of the wrestling business. What were the excuses here? Remember the gold tooth, the country music star? Vince McMahon had a vision of what you wanted ‘Double’ J Jeff Jarrett to be. A vision that, quite honestly, in all due respect, sucked! I was booked with a clown, a drug addict, and a man who can’t even speak the English language, let alone wrestle for five minutes without injuring himself! They tried to bury me and kill me off, but they didn’t get the job done. And not only did I survive, but I walked out on my own terms! And now, here we are, Jeff Jarrett back in the WWF. Isn’t it ironic that we make a deal and get back together and you pay me a whole lot more money the second go around. You know why? Because the WWF needs Jeff Jarrett. You need me to put people in seats and ratings on the board! And you need me to stand up to the garbage that’s going on around here! You can bet you won’t be hearing ‘With My Baby Tonight’; from here on out, it’s going to be Jeff Jarrett’s way.” Jarrett pauses, letting it all sink in for a moment before picking up again.

“Now, on with the state of affairs in the World Wrestling Federation. Bret Hart – the best there was! Bret, you are so right … with ‘was’ being the key word. All your past accomplishments … you’ve been living off name recognition. All the respect you’ve gained over the past fifteen years, well that runs out tonight! I don’t respect any man who hides behind friends – especially a group with a has-been and a couple never-will-bes – and beats up on 52-year-old-men for the fun of it! Your day is coming, Bret, and if I have anything to say about it, it’s coming fast!” The crowd loves the anti-Bret rhetoric. “And the there’s Shawn Michaels! Physically, this guy can only wrestle once a week, and he’s proud of that! Shawn, you call yourself ‘The Showstopper’, ‘The Main Event’, ‘The Icon That Can Still Go’? Well, I got a question, how often can you go? It seems all you do lately is run around here, hold up silly little signs, point at your crotch, and give your little hand signals to your boys in Atlanta. Shawn, one day you were the main event, you were WWF Champion. You were the attraction. Now all you are is reduced to hiding behind your infantile attitude and your errand boy you call a best friend. I–”

Jarrett’s rant comes to a screeching halt when Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart walk to the ring. Jarrett, to his credit, doesn’t look bothered at all by being outnumbered 2-to-1. “Hey, speak of the devil! Jim Neidhart, the answer to a question nobody asked! When was the last time you drew a dime without Bret nearby?” Jarrett looks at Bulldog and chuckles. “And you … you may be the saddest of them all, Davey. You know that spot should be Dynamite’s, but he burned out. Every minute of your career has been time you borrowed from someone else, and you’ve wasted every second of it!”

Bulldog and Anvil waste no time and advance on Jarrett, but never get the chance to do anything. The sound of the crowd popping gets their attention, and they turn around to see Vader charging at them like an angry bull. Caught in a pincer, Bulldog and Anvil lose the advantage and only put up a nominal resistance before taking a powder. They vow payback as they back away, leaving Jarrett and Vader together standing tall in the ring.

With Faarooq still on the run from Ahmed, Scorpio has no one to tag with, and he is without half his opponents. Scorpio stands with his NOD brothers and tells Ken Shamrock that if he can scrounge up a partner, they’d be glad to kick their “lily white asses” back to “the suburbs”. But instead of Shamrock, the music of the Legion Of Doom cues up. Hawk and Animal waste no time rushing the ring, squaring off with D’Lo and Kama, as Rock and Scorpio strategically roll out. The ref calls for the bell, making the whole thing official (and prompting a couple members of Martial Law to escort Scorpio and D’Lo to the back), but it hardly looks like much of a wrestling match. The LOD, victims of beatdowns and kept out of the title hunt by the distraction of the Nation, swarm their opponents like they would a decade prior. Kama and D’Lo never get out of the starting blocks, as Hawk and Animal run roughshod over them. Both of the NOD representatives are nailed with the Doomsday Device. Without the numbers game in their advantage, and with their star players taking a powder, the lowest men in the NOD totem pole are left to die. The message, sent through their utter annihilation of Kama and D’Lo, couldn’t be clearer; the NOD cannot win in a fair fight.

Raw returns from commercial to the sound of breaking glass, bringing the crowd to their feet. The WWF’s lead hellraiser, stolen Intercontinental Championship in hand, stomps down to the ring and does his four-corners-of-fingers salute to the crowd. The moment Austin has a mic in his hand, he paces, anxious and as wound up as ever.

“Every second I have to wait to get my hands on that beady-eyed son of a bitch Owen Hart feels like a damned eternity!” he exclaims. “I still got three weeks before I can stomp a mudhole in his ass right in the middle of this ring, and every day, I get more and more pissed off that it ain’t Survivor Series!” Austin stops and looks right at the camera. “Owen Hart, you know damned well that you never beat me for this, and that’s why you ain’t got it around your waist! You know and I know that on your best day, you couldn’t lace my boots, never mind beat me fair and square, and the only reason you’re still walking right now is because of that stupid restraining order! Vince McMahon, I know you can hear me, and I know you’re here, hidin’ in some corner like a schoolgirl scared of the dark. If you had half the guts you think you have, you’d–”

The military-sounding music of Martial Law comes up; Rick Rude, accompanied by Tank and Sniper, enter the ring. As always, Rude’s face is a stone mask of seriousness. He offer his hand to shake, which Austin eyeballs for a long moment, a playfully malevolent smirk on his face.

“Steve, if you’re even giving a moment’s worth of thought to doing to me what you did to Vince McMahon in Madison Square Garden, you can put that idea right out of your head,” he says with lethal calmness. “Unless you want to suffer the consequences.” The smirk disappears from Austin’s face as quick as it arrived. “Now then, we have some business to discuss.”

“The name on the bottom of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s paychecks says ‘Vince McMahon’. You and me got nothing for each other.”

Rude holds up a finger. “On the contrary, Steve. Three out of the four McMahons work for the World Wrestling Federation, and all three endorse me keeping their family enterprise afloat in this turbulent time. More importantly, the board of directors assigned me. Virtually every high-ranking executive in this company recognizes me as the authority figure for day-to-day in-ring operations.” Rude gets up in Austin’s face all of a sudden. “So please believe me that, when I say we have business to discuss, you and I will discuss it.”

Austin, eyes locked on Rude, holds his place for a few moments, then backs up a couple steps. “Fine. Discuss.”

“Excellent. The fact of the matter is, Steve, that”–he says, pointing, at the Intercontinental Championship–“is not yours. I know you believe in some warped way of thinking that you’re still the champion, but you’re not. You were stripped of the title, and with sound justification, as you were unable to meet the physical requirements to defend that title. You do not have the right to possess that title belt unless you are the undisputed, recognized champion.”

“Are you sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’?”

“Yes, I am, Steve. I need you to surrender the Intercontinental Title to me. It belongs to Owen Hart, and return it to him, I shall.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” screams out a nasally whine, followed by Owen Hart coming down the ramp at a run. He rolls right into the ring as Austin rolls out, the Intercontinental Title still in hand. “That man has embarrassed me, he has humiliated me, and he stole my Intercontinental Title after he threw the original into a river!” Owen looks at Rude, a smug, satisfied smile on his face. “I want him to come into this ring and put the title around my waist, where it belongs!”

“The hell I will!” Austin bellows from the arena floor.

“Steve Austin, you get your butt in this ring and put that title around my waist!”

“Owen,” says Rude, “I don’t think you understand what you’re asking–”

“I know exactly what I’m asking, and I don’t need Vince McMahon’s stooge to tell me! I’m taking a stand against the tyranny and injustice in this company, starting with that … that … hoodlum!” he yells, stabbing a finger in Austin’s direction.

“Owen, really, there’s more to this than–”

“Shut up! This is just like a McMahon puppet, always trying to screw the Hart family–”

“No, I’m not, if you’d just listen–”

“I’m not listening to a thing you have to say, Rude, unless it’s about that foul-mouthed thug getting in this ring and giving me–”

“I’d rather junk the damned thing again before I let your greasy little hands on this!” Austin declares. Austin turns, shoves the timekeeper out of the way, and grabs his hammer. Austin lays out the belt on the ring bell and raises the hammer up like a blacksmith ready to strike a piece of hot steel. Owen freaks, slides out and rushes Austin, shoving him to the arena floor. As quick as a hiccup, Owen snatches up the belt and makes a run for it.

Only Austin is chuckling as he stands up. “Hey, Owen! I may not be the smartest guy in the room, but I do know one thing; you just violated that restraining order!” Owen stops and turns around, mouthing “no” over and over again. “Yeah, just like I can’t be within 25 feet feet of you or whatever the hell that paper says, you can’t be that close to me neither!” Austin looks up at Rude. “You gonna do it or what?”

Rude sighs, nods and says something to Sniper, who pulls out a walkie-talkie. Before Owen has the chance to think about what he’s going to do, uniformed security converges on Owen. Rude tells Owen resisting will only make it worse, but Owen refuses to go quietly and gets pepper-sprayed when he takes a swing at Sniper. Rude collects the Intercontinental Championship off the steel ramp as security cuffs Owen and takes him away, screaming with every step.

Goldust is scheduled to wrestle next, but when he’s introduced, he comes out in street clothes. His opponent, a gangly, long-haired kid by the name of Jeff Hardy. Unfortunately, for Hardy, he’s never able to get out of the starting blocks, as Goldust swarms him from the first moment. In only a few short minutes, Goldust runs through him like a chainsaw through butter, showing a far more aggressive, ruthless side than ever before. Once done, Goldust snatches the microphone from the ring announcer.

“I want you to see me as I am,” he says. “A man. Not a weirdo in facepaint, but a man. A man with a kid … and a wife. I want you to see this, Kane … Paul Bearer … the man that I am. And the monster you’ve brought out in me. You’re not a monster, Kane. You’re a shell. A tool of Paul Bearer. And you’re a man … which means you can be brought down. You may be bigger than me … but you threatened my wife! That makes me the most dangerous man you’ll ever meet. I’m not coming to beat you at Survivor Series. I’m coming to beat your head in! I’m coming to leave you lying in a pool of blood, until the paramedics take you back to whatever rock you crawled out from.” Goldust deadpans into the camera. “And that, Kane, is just the beginning of what I’m gonna do to you.”

When Bret Hart comes out for his title defense against The Patriot, he tells The Hart Foundation to stay in the back, a rather self-assured smile on his face. He refuses to meet The Patriot in the middle of the ring for a handshake, instead mocking him by patting his own shoulder and pretending to be in pain. The obnoxious attitude and juvenile insulting vanishes, though, as soon as “Sexy Boy” starts pumping into the arena. The Interim WWF Champion takes his time coming down the ramp, making sure to give Bret an eyeful of the championship belt on his shoulder, before taking a seat next to Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. Immediately, JR questions Shawn what business he has at ringside for a match he has no stake in.

“I have a huge stake in this,” says Shawn. “This could change who I beat at Survivor Series to become the undisputed WWF Champion!” Shawn flashes his devil-may-care smirk. “Besides … I think Mister Honor And Tradition in there has forgotten all about Survivor Series, and he’s forgotten all about me. I think he needs to be reminded his number-one problem isn’t Vince or Rick Rude or Martial Law … it’s ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels!” Shawn waves at Bret with a big, obnoxious smile on his face; Bret’s reply is a disgusted sneer.

Once the bell rings, The Patriot tries to use his size advantage to out-muscle Bret. For a couple minutes, it almost seems to work, as Bret gets tossed around like a ragdoll. But when he tries to chain-wrestle while on the mat, it plays right into Bret’s strengths and the whole thing goes up in flames. Bret targets Patriot’s wounded arm like a heat-seeking missile; he stretches it, strikes it, twists it and every other possible way to inflict pain on the appendage. All the while, Shawn watches from the table, waving and trying to get Bret’s attention. Nothing works, though; Bret shows a single-minded focus, doing everything but literally tearing Patriot’s arm out of the socket. After a good five minutes of softening up the arm — which JR calls “protracted torture” — Bret slaps on a cross-arm breaker in the dead center of the ring. With no way out, nowhere to go, and an injury re-aggravated, Patriot has no choice but to submit. Shawn stands up and gives Bret a rousing ovation full of sarcastic yelling and over-enthusiastic clapping.

Bret rolls out, grabs his championship from the timekeeper and gets in Shawn’s face, holding up the belt. Wordlessly, the two heated rivals stare at one another for a seeming eternity, until Shawn chuckles, collects his championship and starts to walk away.

Moving at the same time, Bret swings with his belt while Shawn turns and swings with his, both hoping to catch the other unawares. When they see they’ve had the same idea to ambush, they freeze. Again, Shawn smirks, but Bret does not see the humor. A half-step late, Martial Law arrives on the scene, keeping the two separate. Shawn obligingly backs away, giving Bret a couple crotch-chops for a goodbye. The Hart Foundation try to come to Bret’s defense, but Martial Law keeps the peace, leaving Bret to stare down his nemesis from afar.

Oct. 27, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Tulsa, OK)

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler announce a huge Raw on the road to Survivor Series; a European Title defense, a one-on-one match between Ahmed Johnson and Faarooq in the semi-main, and Goldust versus Shawn Michaels.

But before any action can get underway, The Hart Foundation come out. Despite suffering their share of humiliations the previous week – Owen’s arrest, Bret having to stand down from Shawn Michaels, Anvil and the Bulldog getting turned back by Vader and Jeff Jarrett – but none of them show it. In fact, Bret is all smiles as he takes the mic.

“The way you destroy a table is to knock out the legs,” he begins. “Over the past couple months, my family and I have systematically knocked the legs out from the table of the World Wrestling Federation!” Bret holds up a finger. “The propped-up puppet Commissioner Slaughter … he ran home and quit after a few weeks!” Bret holds up another finger, and continues putting them up as he counts off. “The Patriot, this company’s precious American hero and number-one apple polisher? He’s back on the shelf, and he may never come back! My brother Owen already put a stop on that foul-mouthed cretin Stone Cold Steve Austin, and in two weeks, he’s gonna do it again! And two weeks ago …” Bret points to the announce table. “The man that used to sit right there, between good ol’ JR and ‘Burger King’ Jerry Lawler. The Chairman of this company, Vince McMahon! There’s only a couple left before this company comes tumbling down: one is the corporate golden boy Shawn Michaels! Shawn, don’t think for a minute I’ve forgotten you. Not … one … minute. I know you’re who the suits in the front office want holding this belt instead of me, but that’s not gonna happen. There won’t be a time limit at Survivor Series to save you this time. I can get you in the Sharpshooter any time, any way, and you won’t be able to stop me. I’m gonna wipe you out of the World Wrestling Federation, boy-toy, for good! Then you can go to Atlanta and be with your buddies and leave real wrestlers like me and the Foundation to restore the pride and tradition back to this company!” The crowd boos heavily, but Bret is unbothered. “And then there’s my other problem, and that’s–” The music of Martial Law cuts off Bret’s rant, but Bret actually smiles a little. “Well, speak of the devil!” he exclaims as Rick Rude walks down the ramp. “Just the man I was looking for!”

Rude gets in the ring and gets right in Bret’s face. “You don’t have to look hard for me, Bret. Wherever you go, chaos follows … and I’ll be one step ahead of you to keep the mess from happening.”

“It’s funny you should mention that, because the only people I see making a mess is your goon squad. Intimidation, violence … pepper-spraying my brother! He’s not a violent criminal! He’s not some thug holding up a bank! And half the time, they can’t be found when it counts! Where was your militia when that seven-foot tall freak put his hands on Goldust’s wife? Where were your boys last week when Vader ambushed Jim and Davey as they went out to talk to that loud-mouthed wash-out Jeff Jarrett?” he asks, punctuating each question by stabbing a finger in Rude’s chest. “Where were you–”

Rude grabs Bret’s finger, twists it and uses it to spin Bret around into a chicken-wing. The Hart Foundation start to move, but stop from Rude’s frozen, baleful glare. Just as quickly, Rude releases the hold and pushes Bret away. Bret stares at Rude through squinted eyes, more hurt by the embarrassment than the physical pain.

“I know you’ve got some sick, twisted fantasy that the World Wrestling Federation lives and breathes because of you, Bret,” says Rude. “You know what happened to the last guy who thought that? He’s playin’ grab-ass down south with a Magic Marker beard on his face trying to be cool! Wresting changes, Bret, and the World Wrestling Federation is not immune to those changes. That’s why they appointed me to this position; to safely shepherd the WWF from one era to another. Martial Law is the law around here … but we are not omnipotent. I have five men. Not ten, not twenty. Five. They cannot be everywhere.”

“Then how come every time we turn around, they’re in our business?”

Rude smirks. “Ever hear what John Dillinger said when he was asked why he robs banks? He said ‘that’s where the money is’. We go where there’s trouble. Nine times out of ten … you’re causing the trouble.” Rude holds up a finger. “But I have an idea for you, Bret. Since you’re so concerned about our location, and since you have this fantasy that you’re leading some crusade to clean up the World Wrestling Federation, I have an idea.” Rude gestures with a wave to the Foundation. “Your family … versus Martial Law. Tonight. Eight-man tag.” Rude turns and walks off, icing any rebuttal or smart remark, leaving Bret seething and the Hart Foundation murmuring between themselves.

The first of the evening’s big matches is Hunter Hearst Helmsley’s first European Title defense since winning the championship from Goldust. His opponent – not revealed to anyone prior to coming out – is none other than Jeff Jarrett. Within seconds of Jarrett getting to the ring, Davey Boy Smith is back out, yelling loudly about how unfair it is Jarrett is getting a title shot in his first match, and how he hasn’t gotten his rematch. His protests are quickly muffled, though, by Recon and the Interrogator. Davey Boy fusses, but ultimately relents and leaves under his own power. With the distraction of Davey Boy gone, the match is able to proceed. Gone is the Jarrett of old, with lots of taunting and flashy, self-centered mannerisms; in his place is a no-nonsense fighter who can mix it up on the mat or brawl. The change in attitude throws Helmsley off his game, as Jarrett is far more relentless than expected. Neither man ever truly takes control for the duration of the match, but as the minutes tick away, Helmsley finds himself ceding more and more ground. With desperation setting in, he gives a subtle call-out to Chyna for some assistance. The Amazonian bodyguard positions herself by the ropes, ready to interfere and save her charge’s reign … only when Helmsley goes to whip Jarrett into the ropes, Jarrett reverses. Chyna doesn’t see the switch, and subtly reaches in, tripping her own man. Making matters worse, the ref sees the attempt at cheating and orders Chyna to the back. Chyna and Helmsley try to argue it, but the ref isn’t hearing any of it. Forgotten in all of this is Jarrett, who backslides Helmsley. The ref makes the count, and three seconds later, the European Championship has changed hands yet again, giving Jarrett gold in his return match. Jarrett gets out of dodge before Helmsley can get his hands on him. Up at the top of the ramp, Cactus Jack comes out, clapping with the crowd; he congratulates Jarrett on the stage, and mocks Helmsley with a “suck it!” and some rather uncoordinated-looking crotch-chops.

Jarrett comes back out for the next match, accompanying Vader for a match against the Sultan. JR confirms that, per Rick Rude, Jarrett and Vader will tag against Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith at Survivor Series. Jarrett’s presence – complete with a steel chair he plants himself in by the ramp – acts as an effective deterrent for any interference by their Hart Foundation rivals. Neidhart does come out and jaw-jack with Jarrett, but it’s little more than noise as Vader dispatches The Sultan without much concern. Once Vader has his win, he comes out and stands side-by-side with Jarrett, virtually daring Neidhart to come get some. Neidhart, not wanting to run afoul of Martial Law, wisely retreats to the back.

When Raw returns, Paul Bearer and Kane are deep in the dark bowels of the arena. Kane stands silent, his eyes two supernova suns of anger set in his ominous red-and-black mask, but the histrionic Bearer is front and center.

“I want you to look at a real monster! Not a funny little man in a silly little suit!” yells Bearer, gesturing to Kane. “This is what happens when your brother sets fire to your house, kills your parents and leaves you for dead for twenty years! That is a monster, Goldust! Kane is a monster! You’re not a monster, you’re just angry! But if it’s Kane you want … oh, Goldust … oh, yes, Goldust! You can have him! You can have him at Survivor Series! And you’ll see what a monster truly is! And your pretty wife will see what a monster is! Oh, yes, ohhhhhhhhh, yes!”

Appropriately enough, Shawn Michaels’ match against Goldust happens right after Paul Bearer’s warning … although the man who steps through the curtain hardly looks like Goldust. Wearing a white tank top and blue jeans, no make-up, and knuckles and wrists taped, the man who walks down the aisle is straight-up Dustin Runnels. Adding yet another wrinkle to the fabric is Bret Hart, who comes out before Shawn does, and takes a seat at the table alongside Jim Ross. Bret claims to be out scouting, and finds it amusing how Shawn insinuates Bret isn’t a fighting champion, when Shawn has yet to defend his “corporate-sponsored” championship. Bret yells at Dustin to “save some” for him; Dustin’s response is a succinct middle finger, which Bret declares symptomatic of the “cancer” that he will cure in WWF.

Finally, Shawn comes out, and he looks none too happy seeing Bret at ringside, and confused about his opponent not being quite the man he expected. Indeed, once the bell rings, Dustin is a completely different wrestler; gone are the demonstrative gestures and the flamboyant persona. Instead, when the bell rings, Dustin is all business and pounces on the Interim WWF Champion like a caged animal set free. While he is no stranger to brawling, Shawn is thrown off his game by Dustin’s straight-forward onslaught and has to bail to regroup. At first, Dustin is relentless and gives chase, but Shawn bails a couple more times (which prompts Bret to say “I thought only old men who play air guitar did that”), disrupting the pace. By doing so, he’s able to get the match more into a framework he can deal with, grounding Dustin and working a chain wrestling strategy that Bret criticizes (“he’s a chain wrestler like I’m a quarterback”). For several minutes, Dustin is kept horizontal by Shawn, working a glacial pace as he transitions from hold to hold that Bret considers an insult to mat wrestling.

But Dustin won’t be held down for long; every chance he gets, he lands some kind of strike, chipping away at Shawn’s vaunted resilience. With the desire to send a message to Kane driving him, Dustin wills himself back into the contest. A classic lariat off a whip catches Shawn by surprise and kicks off the comeback. Very little of Dustin’s final offensive volley is anything remotely scientific, relying mostly on fisticuffs, clotheslines and other straight-forward attacks that count high on impact but low on style points. In a move that really gets the crowd pumped, Dustin sits Shawn on the second turnbuckle, drapes his legs over the ropes on either side, then kicks up into the turnbuckle, jamming it into Shawn’s groin. Dustin is moments from capping off a stunning comeback and scoring a notable upset, having Shawn in position for the Curtain Call …

… until fire erupts from the four turnbuckles. Dustin releases Shawn, looking around frantically for any sign of the monster Kane. He completely forgets about Shawn, giving the wily (interim) champ time to clear enough static from his head to surprise Dustin with Sweet Chin Music. An exhausted Shawn literally falls onto Dustin and gets his arm raised while still laying on the mat, hardly looking like a winner. Bret can’t resist getting in one more dig, pointing out how he’s won all his matches since Summerslam with “dignity and poise”, while Shawn’s only “escaped defeat”, and that he won’t give Shawn the same chance at Survivor Series.

Backstage, Owen Hart joins Michael Cole. He is still conspicuously without the Intercontinental Championship, and looks none too happy for it.

“Owen Hart, in thirteen days, you defend the Intercontinental Championship against Stone Cold Steve Austin–”

“A title stolen by that McMahon family puppet Rick Rude!” Owen exclaims. “That poor excuse of a man humiliated me and my family last week when he stole my Intercontinental Championship, and had me arrested like a common criminal!”

“Well, Owen, you did–”

“I was pepper-sprayed, Michael Cole! Your cameras didn’t show that injustice, did they? Yeah, they said I was too ‘unruly’, so they blasted me with toxic pepper-spray! I could’ve been blinded! Those reckless thugs Rick Rude has for security–” Owen’s rant stops when the object of his disdain appears. “Well, if it isn’t the McMahon family stormtrooper himself. Are you here to issue a formal apology and give me back my property?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I am,” says Rude, holding out the championship. Owen looks from Rude to it to Rude again. “This is yours, rightfully.” After a few more awkward seconds of Owen eyeballing the belt with suspicion, Rude asks; “Aren’t you going to take it?”

“I don’t trust you. Nothing’s ever this simple with the McMahons.”

“I don’t represent the McMahons, Owen. I represent Titan Sports and its board of directors. I serve the best interests of them, and the employees who work under them.” He pauses ever so briefly, then adds; “Which includes you.” Rude offers the championship again. “A champion should not be without his belt. It sends a poor message, and Steve Austin was wrong to take it from you.”

Owen eyes Rude and the belt a little longer before finally snatching it up and holding it close to his chest. He turns to walk away, but Rude reaches out and puts a hand on his arm. Owen turns back, his lip curled in anger. “You lied! There is a catch!”

“I did not lie. There is no catch. But I do have something else to say.” Owen lets loose of an annoyed sigh. “Owen, just as this company needs its champions to be represented with gold, it needs active competitors. Like it or not, Steve Austin is popular with the people. He moves t-shirts, he draws ratings, and he puts butts in seats. Having him on the shelf hurts this company.” Rude holds up a hand to stop Owen’s protest. “What happened at Summerslam was an accident. I understand that. I know you would never intentionally try to break someone’s neck and risk paralysis. But I also know the realities of wrestling; you’re trying to wear down someone through physical battery. You know and I know there are acceptable ways to do it. Ways that hurt, but don’t cripple. I need to know that you’re going to do the right thing next Sunday.”

Owen blinks long and hard, frozen in abject shock. “Are … are you asking me to go soft on him?”

“No, but–”

“That man is a foul-mouthed piece of trailer trash! He’s an alcoholic! He’s attacked God knows how many people in this company who don’t have a minute’s worth of training, and he kidnapped my Intercontinental Championship for weeks! He is not the kind of wrestler this company should showcase, or even let in the building! He is a walking time bomb! And you want me to go easy on him, so a bunch of suits in the front office can feel good about their profits?” Owen emphatically shakes his head. “No way. Not a chance. When my family came together this year, it was to with a mission to help restore the integrity and honor this company had thrown away. Men like that freak Goldust, or that devil-worshipper The Undertaker, or that deviant Shawn Michaels are what’s killing this company, not my family! We’re doing the work you and the McMahons are too afraid to do! So, yeah, I’ll ‘do the right thing’ next Sunday … but not what you think is the right thing!” With that, Owen walks away, leaving Rude watching after, jaw clinched in frustration.

The semi-main bows next, and right before the clash can happen, Rick Rude appears and proclaims that security will be doubled at ringside to prevent any and all “interested parties” from appearing. Once the uniformed security is stationed, Faarooq walks the aisle, forced to leave the Nation behind, a situation Faarooq looks none too pleased about. Before departing, Rocky Maivia tells Faarooq to “take care of business”; Faarooq narrows his eyes just a bit to Rocky’s barked command. Ahmed Johnson comes out proud and unafraid, giving high-fives and knuckle-taps to Hawk, Animal and Ken Shamrock before walking down the ramp.

What follows is hardly a wrestling match and more like two angry bulls running at each other at full speed. It takes less than thirty seconds for it to spill out of the ring, at which point the ref realizes he’s lost all control and gives up trying to enforce the rules. For the majority of the match, an Irish whip is the most “wrestling” move either man uses, as everything else is punching, kicking and using the environment to bash in the other’s brains. But Ahmed fight with a deeper intensity that Faarooq can’t match; whether it’s from the year and a half of being hunted and tormented, or not needing the support system Faarooq has, no one is sure. What is sure, though, is that Ahmed’s will to win runs deeper than Faarooq, and his resiliency is stronger. In the closing moments, Faarooq is on his knees, begging for amnesty, but Ahmed is having none of it, regardless of the gesture’s authenticity, and kicks Faarooq in the face. A Pearl River Plunge later, and Faarooq is defeated cleanly and decisively. Ahmed spits on Faarooq before leaving, passing the Nation on the ramp; Ahmed and Rocky share a terse stare for a moment before leaving for their respective destinations. Rocky leads the troops into the ring, where D’Lo and Kama help Faarooq to his feet. Rocky questions Faarooq’s heart and his strategy, and tells the leader of the Nation that they can’t afford to be embarrassed by their leader. Faarooq looks none too pleased at being called on the carpet by the youngster, and gets right in Rocky’s face, telling him he won’t take “sass” from a “punk-ass kid”. Faarooq tells Rocky to know his role; Rocky comes back that he does, but questions whether Faarooq knows his, and if he can lead them to victory at Survivor Series. While they all leave together, Faarooq leads the pack and Rocky stays at the back, staring daggers at the back of Faarooq’s head.

Finally, the main event begins. With The Jackyl sitting out to keep the sides even, Martial Law takes to their side, shaking hands with Rick Rude, who sits in with JR and Lawler. When asked if he’s hoping to see the Hart Foundation lose, Rude says that he wishes it didn’t have to come to this. That the Hart Foundation need to see that Martial Law is not a group of “throwaways”, but a group Bret and his family need to take seriously if they’re to co-exist. JR reminds Rude that that co-existing is contingent upon Bret winning at Survivor Series; Rude counters that the lesson being taught tonight could serve for anyone who refuses to toe the line.

Unlike the 10-man tag at Canadian Stampede, the Foundation’s opponents are not a disparate gang of individuals, but a collective with a unified purpose. And with their military mentality, that unity combines with a precise, surgical offense that the Harts find themselves unprepared for. Martial Law use isolation tactics and frequent tags to keep the Harts on the defense for a while. Even when the Hart family get to tag out, Martial Law is right on top of it, isolating the new participant and putting the screws to them. It takes a solid six minutes before the Foundation to get out of the starting blocks, and it takes Bret coming in to do it.

Once Bret is in control, they flip the script on Martial Law, pulling the very same trick of cutting the ring in half … only they keep Sniper in the ring, instead of allowing tag-outs and working over everyone. Sniper is put through the paces by the entire Foundation, who take the occasional opportunity to cheat as well. The Jackyl sees every instance and lets the ref know, getting almost nothing out of it. The last time Jackyl lodges a complaint, the ref threatens to eject him for interference. Furious with the ref’s dismissal of his complaints, Jackyl has words with his superior. Rude stands up and calls the ref to the side, bringing the match to a sudden halt.

Bret drops down from the apron and interjects himself into the argument between Rude and the ref, an intrusion neither the ref or Rude appreciate. Bret, not surprisingly, goes on about favoritism by WWF officials and administration, and accuses The Jackyl of “harassment” and “persecution”. The Jackyl denies this, pointing out the numerous ways Bret, Owen, Davey Boy and Jim all cheated during the course of the match, while Rude insists there is no bias, only a desire to see a fair fight. What they don’t see, at least not at first, is the situation in the ring descending into chaos; without the ref, the Foundation flood the ring to batter on Sniper 3-on-1 … only Martial Law fight back, turning the ring into a war zone. Fists fly in every direction, and quickly thereafter, so do bodies. Bulldog and Sniper tumble out and fight up the ramp, while Interrogator sends Owen up and over like a kite, leaving Neidhart against Tank and Recon. Bret dives in to try and make the save, but Recon flattens Neidhart with a bicycle kick, leaving Tank to cut off Bret. The ref slides in and makes the count, sending the crowd into hysterics; the mighty Hart Foundation, bane of the World Wrestling Federation, the tight-knit wrestling family trained under the same roof … undone, defeated. Sank by hubris and monomania of Bret Hart.

The Hart Foundation’s captain gets right back in the face of Rick Rude, once again railing against the injustices of the WWF and Rude’s “corporate thugs”. Rude again defends himself and Martial Law as playing it “by the book” and “down the middle”, but Bret keeps cutting off Rude. Bret is so into his tirade, he dismisses Rude’s gestures, which point out that Shawn Michaels has come out of nowhere behind the Hitman. Shawn preps, waiting for Bret to turn … and finally, after Rude gets Bret to shut up for just one moment, he does.

Only Bret catches Shawn’s foot, jerks him off the other, and slaps on the Sharpshooter. Shawn screams in pain as Bret wrenches back as far as he can, putting terrible pressure on the legs, knees and back. Rude tries to get Bret to break the hold, but the smile on Bret’s face says he isn’t going anywhere, certainly not because someone is asking him to. Once security hits the scene to diffuse the brawl, they disengage from the Foundation and force Bret off Shawn. But Raw ends with Shawn obviously in pain, and Bret laughing maniacally, having proven that he is, in fact, a step ahead of Shawn in the skills department.

Which could be the step Bret needs to push Shawn out the door.

To be concluded …

Written by

Creator, editor and semi-sorta-retired original author of Rewriting The Book, husband, father of three, gamer, lover of 90's MTV animation.
11 Responses to "Rewriting The Book – What if Bret Hart lost at Summerslam ’97? (Part III)"
  1. Hulk6785 says:

    Man, I can’t wait for the last part. It will be interesting to see how the Survivor Series plays out.

  2. System Error says:

    The Truth Commission, oh man. Forgot those guys even existed. Curious, what goes into deciding who – besides the expected players – play major roles in these? Like them here, or Rick Rude not as DX member, but as an enforcer/authority figure.

    And agree Hulk6785, Survivor Series is going to be interesting. The fallout too – since it’s looking unlikely Vince will turn heel as a direct result of Shawn vs. Bret.

    • Jed Shaffer says:

      That is a great question. Mind if I save the answer for the aftershow edition? I have a feeling it’ll be a rather lengthy reply.

  3. Unknown says:

    The dumb blonde Jeff Jarrett mentions, hilariously enough, became Steve Austin’s wife (for a while)…

    Can’t wait to see Survivor Series, BTW…

  4. John Q Occupier says:

    Loving this story- can’t wait for the denouement!

  5. Charles Belles says:

    I had a great RWB idea if you want to hear it sir?

  6. MWeyer says:

    So the Truth Commision become a 1997 version of the Shield? That’s actually genius.

    • Jed Shaffer says:

      I knew someone would make that comparison. And I can’t deny the similarities. It wasn’t intentional, but once I saw that’s the direction it was heading, it was too late to cut bait. And I think it worked, in a weird way.

  7. CMC says:

    Tremendous stuff as always, Jed! Glad to see you back, and I’m also glad I’m not the only one to spot the similarities between Martial Law and The Shield. Can’t wait to see the end!

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