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

11 Submitted by on Mon, 11 July 2016, 20:57

Missed Part I? Find it here!

Our story continues the night after In Your House: Ground Zero, a night that saw The Hart Foundation continue to wreck havoc on the World Wrestling Federation. A brutal attack by Foundation leader Bret Hart on Vader was only the beginning. The British Bulldog would squeak away with the European Championship, even after Mick Foley reverted to his Cactus Jack persona to try and combat the Hart Foundation. But most notable was the main event, WWF Champion The Undertaker defending against Owen Hart. Thanks to the Hart Foundation, the match descended into chaos; Rick Rude, corporate peacekeeper, ended up assaulted by Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith. Brian Pillman took out Shawn Michaels, who had inserted himself into Undertaker’s corner to “level the playing field”. And Bret almost cost Undertaker the championship with a steel chair, until Vader returned for revenge. By the end of the night, half the roster would be engulfed in a riot, and Undertaker would chase Bret out of the arena, looking for revenge.

Sep. 8, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Cincinnati, OH)

After the standard still-pictures-and-voice-over recap of the previous night’s PPV, Raw kicks off with wrestling, a #1 contender’s match for the WWF Tag Team Championships. The Legion Of Doom head to the ring first and pace the ring like caged animals, waiting for their opponents, The Nation Of Domination’s Kama Mustafa and D’Lo Brown. The NOD come out and stop at the top of the ramp, giving their black-power salute to the jeers of the crowd.

So they don’t notice The Undertaker coming up behind them. Undertaker spins Kama around, grabs him by the throat and drills him into the steel ramp with a chokeslam. D’Lo tries to save his compatriot, but his punch has all the effect of a mild breeze. A kick in the gut by Undertaker leads to a Tombstone on the stage for D’Lo. Without missing a beat, Undertaker turns quickly and heads down the ramp; Hawk and Animal, seeing that there’s nothing to gain in staying, beat a quick retreat, giving Undertaker the ring. But the WWF Champion doesn’t want the ring. He circles around it, stopping at the announcer table, leans over it and locks eyes with Vince McMahon.

“I want him,” he says with lethal seriousness. “Now.”

“Who?” says Vince.

Undertaker reaches over the table, grabs Vince by the lapels and literally drags him over the table. “You know damned well who, boy! I want Bret Hart!

Rick Rude, in his normal position by the timekeeper, knocks Undertaker’s hands off Vince. The champ burns holes through Rude with his glare, then wraps a hand around Rude’s throat. But before he can chokeslam the Commissioner’s troubleshooter, Rude manages to eke out one word through his clinched throat: “… stripped …” Undertaker’s eyes narrow and he releases the hold on Rude’s throat. As Rude is doubled over coughing, Undertaker looks at the WWF’s Chairman again; Vince’s eyes go wide and he tries to back away, even though there’s nowhere to go.

“Bret Hart is the head of a venomous snake,” says Undertaker, looming over Vince like the shadow of death. “I’m gonna cut the head off that snake. You find a way to give him to me in that ring. And you figure it out tonight.” Undertaker leans in closer, close enough to almost be nose-to-nose. “You won’t have time to regret it if you don’t.” Undertaker turns to Rude and looks him in the eyes. “Next time you threaten me, you best come at me with something more than a championship.” Undertaker turns and leaves ringside, leaving behind a very shell-shocked Vince McMahon.

When Raw returns, JR, Lawler and Vince run down the action for the night; the beginning of the Intercontinental Championship tournament, and a main event of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels against The Nation Of Domination’s Faarooq and Rocky Maivia. Presently, Vader comes down the ramp to square off against the Nation’s Kama Mustafa. Vader cuts a short promo before the match begins, vowing to hunt down every member of the Hart Foundation and “rip their heads off”. Once the bell rings, it’s an old-fashioned hoss battle, nothing but fisticuffs and power moves. As it’s really getting good, Savio Vega and Crush, leaders of the rival gangs Los Boricuas and Disciples Of Apocalypse, come out of the crowd on opposite sides of the ring. Vader and Mustafa notice the incursion of the two gang leaders and put aside their differences to mount a defense. Nobody counts on Davey Boy Smith running down and attacking Vader just as Vega and Crush make their move. But he only manages a shot or two on Vader before everyone sees who else has joined the party. Whatever hatred they have for each other is nothing compared to that for The Hart Foundation. Everyone turns to Davey Boy and lets him know with their eyes that his time is short. Davey Boy bids a hasty retreat before anyone can get their hands on him, but Vader isn’t satisfied and gives chase to the back. Security ends up having to separate them in the hallways of the arena, and by that point, Davey Boy is busted open, but clawing and fighting to get at Vader like a rabid dog.

Commissioner Slaughter comes to the ring and wastes no time getting to business. “Stone Cold Steve Austin, come to this ring right now with the Intercontinental Championship!”

The glass breaks and out comes Austin, Intercontinental Championship over his shoulder. He stomps in the ring and starts to go from corner to corner like normal, but Slaughter cuts him off as he goes from one corner to another by putting a hand on his chest.

“Austin, I’m not here to play games and watch you stall,” he says. “I’m here for an answer to one question. Have you been cleared to compete by WWF doctors?”

“You know damned well what the answer is, ya silly bastard,” Austin fires back. “This ain’t no Cool Hand Luke situation. They’re your doctors. They don’t care I gotta put food on the table and beer in the fridge. They’re lookin’ out for one thing”–Austin leans to look past Slaughter, right at Vince McMahon–”and that’s your bottom line.”

“Then hand over the Intercontinental Championship, so we may commence the tournament at once to fill the vacancy.”

“What if I had a deal for ya?” Austin asks. “Would ya give me the chance to lay it out?”

“Steve Austin–”

Austin pushes Slaughter aside and walks up the ropes on the announce table side, leaning over to look Vince dead in the eye. “Vince, ya know damn well you’re leavin’ money on the table with me on the shelf and Bret on the bench. I know I can’t get ya to change your mind on me, cause you’re stubborn as a mule and twice as stupid–” The crowd pops for this; Vince stews in his seat.

“Steve, please–”

But Austin pays no mind to Slaughter’s attempts to get his attention. “Here’s my offer for ya. You got a locker room full of people who want Bret Hart, me bein’ just one of them. If you don’t give ’em what they want, you’re gonna have a problem. You want this–” Austin holds up the championship “–and they want Bret. Do I gotta spell it out for you?”

“This is not a negotiation–”

“I was talking to Vince, ya stupid bastard!” Austin looks back to Vince. “What’s it gonna be, Vince? You get the belt, the boys get Bret … everybody’s happy.”

Vince clears his throat and stands up to respond. “It’s not that simple, Steve. Bret Hart signed a contract. As much as it annoys the men behind that curtain, and as much as it hurts me financially to not have Bret Hart on the card at every WWF event, I intend to hold Bret to that contract. And I will not have my championships held hostage in an attempt to change my mind!”

Austin shakes his head. “I had a feeling you’d be too stupid to listen.” Austin looks at Slaughter, looks at the championship in his hand, then back to Slaughter. “I guess if there’s nothing I can say to convince ya, then I’ll just–” Austin kicks Slaughter in the gut and nails a Stunner out of nowhere! Rick Rude quickly slides in just as Austin slides out, taking the Intercontinental Title with him into the safety of the crowd, flipping birds back at Rude, Slaughter and Vince to the delight of the crowd.

Even without Austin’s forfeiting the actual championship, the tournament begins right away. It is announced as an 8-man tournament, with the four quarter-final matches spread out between tonight and the next week; the semis happen one per Raw in the two weeks before Badd Blood, and the finals at Badd Blood itself. The first of the tournament matches pits two former champions against one another: Hart Foundation lieutenant Owen Hart and the enigmatic Goldust. The match is a straight-forward affair, back and forth for the first couple minutes, followed by Owen using his speed (and clever skirting of the rules) to take the lead. Eventually, Owen makes a mistake, taking too much time on the top turnbuckle and allowing Goldust to shake the ropes and crotch him. Goldust looks to have the match in the bag, with Owen in position for the Curtain Call, when someone walks down the aisle and approaches Marlena, Goldust’s director, with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. Goldust drops Owen, rolls out, grabs the bouquet and snatches up the card. When Goldust reads it, his expression darkens in an instant. He demands to know why “he” is sending Marlena gifts, and that he thought they were “done with him”. As Goldust rants about the gifts, Owen clears away enough cobwebs in his head to come from behind, ram Goldust head-first into the steel post and roll him back in the ring. A DDT later and Owen Hart has advanced to the semi-finals. As Owen rolls to the floor, Brian Pillman comes down to congratulate him. They exchange hugs, then Pillman regards Marlena with a wink and says “hope you liked them” before walking away. Marlena throws down the gifts and backs away from them as if they’re made of poison.

Before another match can kick off, Shawn Michaels comes down to the ring, and he doesn’t look amused. “Next week, in this very ring,” he begins, “I’m supposed to take part in a fatal-four-way match, and the winner goes on to face the WWF Champion at Badd Blood. Now, if you know anything at all about me, you know being WWF Champion means everything in the world to me. All that stuff about a ‘boyhood dream’ before Wrestlemania last year wasn’t some marketing idea the suits thought up; it’s damned real. Every time I set foot in this ring, it was a stepping stone to get to the top of the mountain. I beat mat wrestlers and maniacs; big guys and bad guys.” Shawn stops, winks at the camera and makes a wolf’s-head gesture with his hand. “And make no mistake, I want it back, and I want it bad. But the fact of the matter is this, ladies and gentlemen …” Shawn takes a deep breath, raises an arm and points at Vince McMahon. “That man is full of [bleep].” The crowd explodes, but Shawn is not amused, and neither is Vince, who tries to offer an apology to the viewers before Shawn steps on it. “Don’t talk, Vince. Your breath smells like a sewer, and every word that comes out of it is another nugget that just won’t flush away. You see,” he says, stepping through the ropes, “this man says Bret Hart can’t be reinstated. This man says he’s bound by a contract. You know what contract that is?” Shawn leans over the table, looking Vince dead in the eyes. “The one where he’s on the hook for Bret Hart for twenty years, bleeding your wallet dry every time he sets foot in the ring!”

Vince stands up, putting his hands out as if to stop someone from running into him. “Shawn, let’s not –”

“Please, Shawn!” he says, imitating Vince’s gruff bass voice. “Don’t make me look like a bigger [bleep]hole than I already do in this stupid jacket!” The crowd oohs, and now Vince doesn’t know what to do with Shawn on a roll. “You could put Bret Hart in this ring right now and ring the [bleep]ing bell and get a hundred thousand people to flip over from Nitro! You know it, I know it, everybody here knows it! Me, Taker, Shamrock, the Nation, Vader, Mick Foley … there’s literally a dozen guys back there that can headline a PPV with Bret tomorrow and make you rich … but you’d rather punish every one of us that’s worked every day of their lives to get here then pay the man so we can punch him in the teeth!” Vince tries to put in, but Shawn just keeps going. “No, no, shut up. Just shut up. You shut me up when you suspended me over the summer. Now I got a live mic. You got your head too far up your own ass to see you’re helping WCW kill this company by not reinstating him! Every day he sits out is another day this company burns to the ground around you. What happened to the guy who killed the territories? What happened to the guy who orchestrated Black Saturday? What happened to that Vince?”

Vince stammers and struggles to form words. “Shawn, I, I … it’s not that simple … it’s–”

“[Bleep] or get off the pot time, Vince. You gonna reinstate Bret so I can kick his head off?”

“Shawn, it’s not–”

Shawn cuts off Vince one more time. “Well, as someone used to say … Shawn Michaels has now left the building!” Shawn drops the mic and walks off. A cameraman follows him as he walks to the locker room and grabs his luggage (muttering a ton of bleeped-out curse words). Before leaving the locker room, Shawn stops and turns to the camera. “Don’t worry, Vince. I’ll be back next week … to make your life a living hell.” With that, Shawn puts a hand on the camera and pushes the cameraman away, telling him not to follow as Shawn heads towards the parking garage.

The second tournament match pits one brand of insanity against the other, with the “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman against the hardcore legend Cactus Jack. Pillman, familiar with Cactus Jack’s reputation, plays it very cagey, stalling as much as possible and doing everything he can to throw Cactus off his full-steam-ahead style. Cactus, though, is no rookie, and puts the screws to it by keeping his cool and not biting when Pillman dangles bait. Flipping the script back on Pillman ruins his plans and drives him to act rashly, which Cactus uses to take control. So it comes as quite the surprise, five minutes in, when Pillman baseball slides under a Cactus clothesline, does a schoolboy and grabs a handful of tights. The ref somehow misses the blatant cheating, which is enough to keep Cactus down for three, giving Pillman a huge upset victory … and, as Jim Ross points out, pits Pillman against Hart Foundation brother-in-arms Owen Hart.

When Raw returns from its final commercial break, it isn’t the music of the Nation that hits first, as is expected for the main event; it’s the high-pitched whine of electric guitars that belong to Bret Hart. The exiled Hart Foundation leader comes out and takes up residence at the announce table, on the opposite end of Vince McMahon. When asked why he’s out here, Bret says everyone else has had the chance to air dirty laundry, so he should too. Seeing Bret prompts Rick Rude to move ever so closer to Vince, something Bret can’t help but point out as further “proof” of Rude being a “McMahon lackey”.

“WE ARE THE NATION … OF DOMINATION!” blares out, signaling the arrival of Faarooq and Rocky Maivia for the main event. The Nation give their salute to the chorus of boos from the audience, then look at Vince McMahon with a disgusted sneer. When the lights go out for the WWF Chanmpion, the only deference Faarooq and Rocky show is getting out of the ring; there is no fear in their eyes. After the pomp and circumstance of his entrance, Undertaker is about to hand over his championship when Commissioner Slaughter comes out.

“Undertaker, while I salute your bravery in coming out here alone, I can’t let you wrestle alone. Furthermore, with people like Bret Hart at ringside, you’re only further outnumbered, and I can’t in good conscience allow that to go unnoticed. I have found a replacement partner for you.”

Music that hasn’t been heard in a few months kicks in, and through the curtain steps Ahmed Johnson. Last seen getting the boot from the Nation and getting injured in the process, the powerhouse from Pearl River rushes the ring and goes right at Faarooq, hitting him like an express train. Undertaker – whose last experience with Ahmed Johnson was when he turned on the champ earlier in the summer – doesn’t miss a beat, moving to intercept Rocky. The ref never really gets hold of the match, as Ahmed is too fired up to be stopped, Undertaker is just Undertaker, and the Nation are not known for showing mercy. The result is a wild brawl that sees Ahmed and Faarooq wander into the crowd while Undertaker and Rocky stick to the ringside area, but by no means do anything you could accidentally confuse as wrestling. All the while, Bret hammers away at Vince with comments and questions; how much trouble they’ll get in for Shawn Michaels swearing up a storm earlier (and what would happen if he did it), how he can let degenerate scum like Shawn stay employed when he’s been a pill-popping troublemaker who refuses to work with anyone he doesn’t approve of and is blatantly trying to get fired to run to the competition.

Finally, Vince stands up, takes off his headset and yells at Bret. “What do you want from me? If you don’t like it here, then just go!”

Bret chuckles. “Oh, Vince. Sit down. You’re embarrassing yourself again. Why don’t I just get to the point? I’m here because Undertaker wants me, and I want his WWF Championship. And there’s a way we can both get what we want.” Bret smirks. “We have an event in the UK in two weeks.”

“No way! Not happening!”

As the war wages in the ring between Rocky and Undertaker (and Ahmed and Faarooq are still nowhere to be found), a new voice enters the ringside debate. To everyone’s surprise, it’s the man who supposedly left the arena earlier: Shawn Michaels. HBK jumps the guard rail, stands in front of the table and looks Bret dead in the eyes.

“There’s a number-one contendership match next week for Badd Blood. So you’re not skipping to the head of the line just because this company’s going overseas for a long weekend.”

Bret’s smug smile has vanished upon seeing Shawn. The headphones come off and he comes aroud the table. “For what you’ve done to me, to my career, I ought to punch the smile off your f–”

Bret’s threat is cut off by The Undertaker, leaping over the top rope and crashing into the both of them like a guided missile. Shawn and Bret are crushed under the weight of the WWF Champion and his suicide dive, but Undertaker gets right back to his feet. Undertaker picks up Shawn Michaels by the hair, drags him over by the steel steps, then kicks the top half of the steps of their moorings. Undertaker picks up Shawn and puts him in position for a Tombstone that would come down on the steel steps. Officials try to intercept, but it is too late; Shawn Michaels is condemned, and the executioner is Death himself. His head bounces off the steel steps like a superball, and his body collapses in a heap. Undertaker wheels around and puts his murderous gaze now on Bret Hart, who is pulling himself up using the table. Rocky Maivia, forgotten in the ring, comes out onto the apron and tries for a double axe-handle, but Undertaker punches him out of the air and resumes stalking his prey. Bret turns around right into a choke hold.

Undertaker never gets the chance to hit the chokeslam, though, as Bret kicks Undertaker square in the balls, dropping him to one knee. Bret grabs one of the monitors off the announce table and cracks him in the head with it. The Undertaker tries to get back up, revealing a face covered in blood, but he is weak and dizzy … at first. When he does get to his feet, Bret’s face turns white and his eyes well up with pure terror. Bret breaks out into a mad run, leaving behind a staggering Undertaker, fighting against the weakness of his own blood loss. The last image of Raw is of Vince McMahon watching Undertaker’s slow, injured lurching around the ring while medics attend to Shawn Michaels, and Jim Ross asking the question of how long Vince McMahon can stand back and watch the WWF tear itself apart over Bret Hart.

Sep. 15, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Muncie, IN)

A fatal-four-way for the number-one contendership headlines Monday Night Raw, along with the second two quarter-final matches of the Intercontinental Title tournament. Kicking off the show, however, is Commissioner Slaughter and, surprisingly, Vince McMahon (and Rick Rude). Slaughter does all the talking, while Vince stands in the background, hands in pockets, his gaze cast down.

“Undertaker, please come down here right now,” Slaughter growls. Shortly thereafter, the lights go dark and the familiar dirge-like music ushers out the WWF World Champion. The Undertaker doesn’t bother with his theatrics, though; he just gets in the ring and stands in front of Slaughter, his cold eyes staring a hole through the Commissioner.

“Thank you for coming down–”

“I don’t take well to being summoned. Not by you …” Undertaker’s gaze shifts to Vince, who looks up long enough to meet Undertaker’s hateful glare before looking back down. “Not by anyone.” Undertaker looks back at Slaughter. “So make this quick, before you trample on what little patience I have.”

“Very well, Undertaker. We are here to make sure you understand you cannot accept Bret Hart’s challenge for the One Night Only pay-per-view in England this Saturday.”

Undertaker looks from Slaughter to Vince and back again. “You’re not serious.”

“I’m afraid we are.”

Undertaker looks at Slaughter for a moment, then to Vince. “Look at me, Vince.” When he doesn’t, Undertaker starts walking toward him, until Rude gets in the way. Undertaker’s eyes turn lethal, but Rude doesn’t so much as flinch, returning the cold, baleful gaze in turn. Finally, Undertaker looks at Vince; Vince still does not return the gesture. “You can’t be serious, Vince.”

Finally, Vince lifts his head up, as if its weighed down by a small planet. “You don’t get it. You don’t get the position this company is in. You don’t get the position I’m in.” As he speaks, his voice shows more fire, more strength, enough to draw him out of the corner. “It’s not your family business on the line, is it? Champion or not, your paycheck still clears! If all this goes up in flames, it doesn’t bother you, because you got a name! You can still go anywhere in the world and step between the ropes and make a living. I don’t have that luxury! If I lose what my father – what my grandfather – built, there’s no coming back! My name will be worthless in the business community! You honesly expect me to gamble my family business, the business that will be passed down to my son and my daughter, on you beating Bret Hart?”

“It’s not a gamble,” Undertaker says, and the tone of his voice underscores that he isn’t boasting. He’s just stating a fact.

“He’s got the Hart Foundation! They will stop at nothing to put the belt around Bret Hart’s waist and ruin my company!”

Undertaker gestures to the stage. “And you have thirty men back there who will keep that from happening. Put them around the ring.”

Vince looks long into Undertaker’s eyes. “There’s no way we can talk you out of this, is there?” Undertaker’s response is wordless. The harsh stare, the clenched jaw, it all spells out that his feelings are as immovable as he is. Vince sighs. “Fine. It’s a lumberjack match.” Undertaker turns to leave, but Vince reaches out and grabs his arm. Undertaker wheels around, his temper microseconds away from boiling over. He looks down at the hand, then looks back up; Vince, amazingly, does not move it. “Don’t fail me. This ring may be where you bury your victims, but this business is where I bury mine. You’ve been here long enough to have seen it happen.” Vince releases Undertaker’s arm. For a long handful of seconds, Undertaker’s fists clinch and unclinch, something Rick Rude notices and moves into intercept position for. Finally, Undertaker walks away, having gotten what he wanted.

The third tournament match features two more former Intercontinental Champions in Ahmed Johnson and Rocky Maivia. With the way gang warfare has torn apart the WWF in recent weeks and months, it’s no surprise that Ahmed comes to the ring with back-up, in the form of Ken Shamrock and the Legion Of Doom. Acting as equalizers to Rocky’s Nation cohorts, the match itself is actually able to proceed without interference. Mainly because those who would interfere all end up brawling on the outside in short order. The confusion on the outside makes the referee paranoid about possible interference, so he’s constantly looking over his shoulder for an incursion. Rocky tries to take advantage by pulling the padding off a turnbuckle, but Ahmed reverses the Irish whip and launches Rocky into the exposed steel. A Pearl River Plunge later and Ahmed moves to the semi-finals.

Brian Pillman comes to the ring for a match with Flash Funk, carrying a bouquet of flowers. Pillman takes the mic from the ring announcer before he can introduce Funk.

“Nobody cares about him and that dime-store trash that follows him around,” he says, before getting a dreamy, far-away look in his eyes. “Not when there is the pristine beauty that is …” Pillman sighs. “Marlena!” The crowd boos, thoroughly skeeved out by Pillman. “If the past month or so has taught me anything, it’s that I’ve been going about this issue with Goldust all wrong. I need to be fighting for something, for a reason. And that reason is to liberate Marlena from the clutches of that perverted, twisted, psychotic freak! So I propose a challenge to you, Dustin … this weekend is an event in the United Kingdom, One Night Only. I challenge you to another match … and if I win, I get the full compliment of services of Marlena for thirty days. If I lose, never shall you see me again!”

Pillman hands the mic back to Howard Finkel and turns to the stage to watch his opponent approach. He never sees Goldust – sans make-up, dressed in street clothes – jump the guard rail and slide in. Goldust decks Pillman, jumps on top of him and starts strangling Pillman, screaming the whole time about how Pillman will “never touch her” and how he’ll “kill” Pillman. Security floods the ring and pulls Goldust off Pillman, who staggers away, clutching his aching throat. As he retreats up the ramp, he again doesn’t see what’s happening behind him, which is Goldust escaping the clutches of security and rushing Pillman from behind. Security chases and apprehends Goldust once again, but not before he’s had the chance to get in a few good shots, opening up a cut below Pillman’s eye.

The last opening round match in the Intercontinental Title tournament pits Ken Shamrock against the leader of the Nation Of Domination, Faarooq. The referee, knowing how combustible the situation is likely to get given the participants, bans the Nation, Ahmed Johnson and the Legion Of Doom from ringside. Surprisingly (and perhaps because of the omnipresent security and the looming presence of Rick Rude), it actually leads to a straight-up match with no shenanigans. Shamrock is able to slide out of the Dominator,takes down Faarooq from behind and uses the ankle lock to get the decisive victory and advance to the semi-finals.

After the commercial break, Commissioner Slaughter is in the ring, with Rick Rude by his side. “Stone Cold Steve Austin, you come down here this minute and surrender the Intercontinental Championship belt!” he barks. Austin’s music is played not once but twice, and gets the same response both times: nothing. Slaughter sneers and juts out his lantern-like chin, as if posturing will magically make the recalcitrant rebel appear. “Steve Austin, if you don’t appear in the next ten seconds, I will be forced to–”

The TitanTron switches from the live shot in the arena to a shot outside. Standing there is Steve Austin, and he’s standing on the walkway of a bridge.

“It’s a beautiful evening out here, but I get the feelin’ it ain’t gonna be a good day for none of you back at Monday Night Raw,” he says. “Ever since I set foot in the World Wrestling Federation, everybody’s tried to tell Stone Cold Steve Austin when to jump, how long to stay up there, and when to come down! Ya give me a stupid belt with dollar signs on it, call me the Ringmaster and let me spin my wheels like some piece of trash off the street! ‘Ya can’t say this, Steve, ya can’t use bad language, ya can’t drink beer!’ And now, after Owen Hart drops me on my head, ya tell me I can’t wrestle and I gotta give up the Intercontinental Championship! If anybody’s got a right to bitch about this company havin’ it out for someone, it’s ol Stone Cold!”

“Steve –”

“Shut up! The fact of the matter is, if the WWF is gonna keep me from doin’ what I do better than anyone in the world, if they’re gonna make my life a living hell, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s gonna do the same right back!” Austin holds up the Intercontinental Title. “It hurts like hell to do this, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t give a damn about you or the World Wrestling Federation. If you can’t pull your heads out of your ass to make things right, you ain’t getting’ any help from me!”

With that, Austin hurls the belt into the evening sky, over the edge of the bridge and into the river below. The camera tracks the flight and descent of the belt right into the White River. Slaughter freaks out and tells Rude to take a crew of people and personally oversee the effort to recover the belt.

Finally, it’s time for the main event, which will determine the #1 contender for Badd Blood … although, as The Patriot is introduced first, Jim Ross brings up a salient point: if Bret Hart is somehow successful in wresting the WWF Championship from The Undertaker at One Night Only, what happens to the #1 contender then? The Patriot is followed by Vader; the two share a handshake, then wait for the third opponent. It is Owen Hart, who refuses to get in the ring with two well-noted rivals of The Hart Foundation. The last to be introduced is Shawn Michaels, setting foot in a WWF ring as a competitor for the first time since King Of The Ring. Given his actions of late, the crowd is unsure how to receive Shawn Michaels, giving him a polite but not entirely enthusiastic welcome back.

From the outset, the structure of the fatal-four-way match proves impossible for the referee to officiate in a proper manner. Everybody wants to pummel Owen, and nobody wants to let Shawn get yet another crack at the belt. The result is, for all intents and purposes,a melee that the ref gives up on bringing under control less than a couple minutes into it. With the protections of referee oversight all but gone, Owen becomes a sitting duck and spends much of the time on the run. Eventually, this works out to his advantage as, while he runs from adversaries, Davey Boy Smith sneaks in and does the Pearl Harbor job on Vader. Likewise, Jim Neidhart sticks his nose into the proceedings, attacking The Patriot and ramming him into the stairs. With two of the obstacles down, that only leaves Owen and Shawn in the ring.

With Vader and The Patriot down, The Hart Foundation – now joined by Pillman and Bret – surround the ring. Shawn, ever the professional, manages to stay away from the ring ropes, lest grabby hands cause interference. But he can’t stop members from getting on the apron in an effort to tilt the odds. And with Rick Rude off-site rescuing the Intercontinental Championship from the briny deep, security is hardly staffed well enough to play enforcers for WWF’s administration.

Just when it’s looking like the Hart Foundation will use their numbers game to steal another win, the locker room empties. Everyone who could possibly have a grudge against the Foundation and even some that don’t pour out and turn ringside into a killing field. Overwhelmed by the numbers, the Hart Foundation can offer no support to Owen, although, in those closing moments of Raw, he hardly needs it, as Owen nails Shawn with an enziguiri (a move Jim Ross reminds everyone put Shawn out of action for a few months at the end of 1995). Shawn crumples like a house of cards in a windstorm, and Owen slaps on the Sharpshooter. With the chaos around the ring and the ref checking on Shawn for the submission, Owen’s attention is focused on wrenching back on the submission move.

He never sees Hunter Hearst Helmsley slide in with a chair, wind up and swing. The chair smashes Owen in the face, breaking the hold. Shawn grabs the ref and pulls him close, time Helmsley uses to get out of the ring and take the chair with him. Once Helmsley is gone, Shawn crawls over, pushes Owen onto his back and makes the cover. As Jim Ross asks “what the hell is going on”, the ref makes the three-count. Thanks to timely interference, Shawn has punched his ticket for Badd Blood.

Sep. 20, 1997: One Night Only (Birmingham, England)

Emanating live from the UK, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler thank everyone watching and explain (for those watching the event on VHS at a later date) that, due to a clause in his contract, Bret Hart was able to block the event from being available in the United States. Among other matches, the entire Hart Foundation is in action, they explain; Jim Neidhart against The Patriot, Hunter Hearst Helmsley against Owen Hart, the British Bulldog against Vader, Brian Pillman versus Goldust in a street fight (with the services of Marlena on the line), and the main event, with The Undertaker defending his WWF Championship one more time against Bret Hart in a lumberjack match.

The first of the showdowns is Jim Neidhart and The Patriot. The masked defender of America shows no fear standing nose to nose with the stocky powerhouse of The Hart Foundation. It is, by no means, a scientific affair, as Patriot is no mat technician, and Neidhart, even less so. Patriot, however, is a far more versatile and refined wrestler, and has Neidhart frustrated and looking for escape. A kick lower than low manages to stop Patriot’s patented Uncle Slam finisher. Unfortunately, the ref sees it and calls for the disqualification. Neidhart acts indignant and tries to claim it never happened, but the ref is having none of it. Neidhart vents his frustrations by punching the referee and then putting the boots to Patriot. Neidhart blows a snot rocket on Patriot and walks off.

Next up is Vader’s long-brewing showdown with the British Buldog. After weeks of attacks and ambushes and brawls, there’s no collar-and-elbow tie-ups, no takedowns and reversals. It’s just a war from the word go, like two bulls running at each other full speed, intent on running into and through each other. Despite the size difference, Bulldog shows no fear in attacking Vader head-on, trying to use his muscle as much as possible to rock Vader, and any shortcut possible if necessary. Likewise, Vader – never to be confused as a saint – is not above coloring outside the lines. But where both are bullies and violent thugs, Bulldog has something Vader doesn’t in the form of a family behind him. Owen provides the timely distraction of the ref, allowing Bret to sneak in and blast Vader in the back of the head with Bulldog’s European Championship. Bulldog makes the cover as Owen lets the ref get back to his job, scoring a highly tainted pinfall. The three family members walk off together laughing, not caring that the victory was dubious, only caring at having shown up – as Bret says into the camera – “another worthless American scum”.

The third of the Hart Foundation’s matches is Brian Pillman’s match with Goldust, with the highly personal and highly disturbing stakes of Pillman keeping his distance waged against the “services” of Marlena. Goldust paces the ring like a caged animal who sees prey on the other side of the bars as he waits for Pillman, but the Loose Cannon slowly approaches the ring, arms behind his back. When he gets to ringside, Pillman produces a bouquet of flowers for Marlena, which only serves to incense Goldust, who slides out and atatcks Pillman. But Pillman retreats, the first of many times he does it through the course of the match. In fact, stalling and mind-games seem to be the bulk of Pillman’s repertoire, and the more he does of it, the more it drives Goldust over the edge. He charges in without any semblance of strategy, and taking wild, uncharacteristic risks. Some of it hits, but much of it leaves him open for Pillman to strike. Marlena tries to get Goldust to focus, but all it does is inspire the attention of Pillman in the form of blown kisses and romantic declarations, fueling Goldust’s rage even further, which causes him to be more unfocused and reckless. Pillman uses Goldust’s mistakes to take control of the match. As he dishes out the punishment, he stops every so often to shower Marlena with affections and let her know they’ll soon be together. After watching Goldust get more punishment dished out at a methodical, almost taunting, pace, Marlena can stand it no longer. She gets up on the apron and starts to unbutton her blouse. Pillman stops in his tracks, distracted by the emergence of Marlena’s ample cleavage. Goldust pulls himself up and comes up from behind, locking Pillman in the inverted headlock that sets up the Curtain Call. But Pillman counters with a mule kick to the nuts. Goldust staggers away, holding his aching testicles as Marlena, seeing what happened, covers up and drops away, aghast. Pillman rolls up Goldust, grabbing a handful of tights as insurance, and scores the three-count. Pillman celebrates with whoops and hollars, then rolls out and approaches his new chattel. Marlena’s eyes are wide and she takes a few small, tentative steps backwards as Pillman approaches her, promising to be nothing but the perfect gentleman … until he snatches her up by the wrist and pulls her away from ringside. Goldust gathers himself just in time to catch one last glimpse of Marlena, turning to see Goldust one more time, before Pillman pulls her up the ramp and out of his life for the next month. She mouths two words – “help me” – before he jerks her like a disobedient dog on a leash through the curtain.

The youngest Hart brother comes to the ring looking angrier and more indignant than usual. He takes the mic from the ring announcer before his opponent comes out, the sneer on his face seemingly engraved into the flesh as if it were stone.

“Last week, I was brutally attacked by Shawn Michaels’ degenerate errand boy, Hunter Hearst Helmsley!” he yells. “I was robbed of my birthright, my rightful place as number-one contender to the World wrestling Federation Championship by that piece of trash, and he did it to save his meal ticket! Let me tell you something, Hunter; don’t think your connections will matter when you step in the ring with a Hart! This is our kingdom, and you’re about to learn a hard lesson about that!”

Helmsley (and his Amazonian bodyguard Chyna) are not impressed by Owen’s threatening boasts, and he lets Owen know that with a chopping gesture at his crotch. Owen calls Helmsley a degenerate again, and then the match begins. It’s a highly technical, fast-paced match, and very back and forth throughout the duration, a sharp contrast to the shenanigans from the other Hart Foundation matches of the evening. Being so evenly matched actually frustrates Owen, as he obviously expected Helmsley to roll over and die instead of being a highly capable wrestler. And interestingly, despite the fact that both men have no problems stretching the rule book to their advantage, neither even try, as if their pride won’t allow it … at least at first. As the match progresses, the temptation grows within Owen every time Helmsley manages to counter or reverse something, until the frustration builds to a boiling point. A thumb in the eyes gives Owen the chance he needs to mount an uninterrupted offensive volley. During his control of the match, Owen tries multiple pinfalls, many with some illegal assistance (handful of tights, feet on the ropes), but they all end with Helmsley kicking out at two. But Helmsley won’t stay down for long, no matter how much Owen works on him, and the longer it goes on, the more mistakes Owen makes, giving Helmsley a chance to chip away at Owen. Finally, he makes a big mistake in going for the spinning heel kick he’s known for, only for Helmsley to duck. No sooner does Owen get up than Helmsley is right there to grab him and nail the Pedigree. Helmsley, tired from the beating, can’t make the cover, but he does get to his feet as Owen does and wins a battle of fisticuffs. After working over Owen a few minutes, Helmsley has Owen ready for another Pedigree to finish the match. But Owen squirms out and bails, all the way to the back, preferring to take the count-out loss with the tournament semi-finals looming.

Finally, the main event arrives, and with it, a massive chunk of the WWF’s roster does as well, taking post around the ring as lumberjacks. And while many have rivals on opposite sides of the ring (the Nation, the DOA and the Boricuas stand on opposide sides, for instance), they are all united in their hatred of the challenger. Bret Hart doesn’t give a single one of them the satisfaction of being intimidated, staring down as many of them as he can with obvious contempt before getting in the ring. Meanwhile, though many are no friend to The Undertaker – Faarooq and Mick Foley are but two of them – they all clap for him or wish him well as he enters the ring.

But just as the ref is about to call for the bell, the lights go out and flames erupt from the four ring posts. The high-pitched voice of Paul Bearer echoes through the arena, reminding Undertaker that his brother is still coming to find him and get his revenge, and that it’ll be sooner than he thinks. When the lights come back on, Undertaker is livid and comes after Bret like an angered bull. Bret, not prepared for it, takes a short but memorable ass-whipping, getting thrown from turnbuckle to turnbuckle hard enough to almost rock the ring, and peppered with Undertaker’s boulder-sized fists. Bret bails to the outside, forgetting that the outside is no longer a safe zone. Bret gets tossed back in, but not before getting mugged by The Nation Of Domination and The Godwinns. Once Bret gets tossed back in, Undertaker is all too willing to give more of the WWF roster that Bret has alienated a chance to vent their frustrations, tossing him outside again to the side with the Legion Of Doom, Ken Shamrock, Goldust, Flash Funk, The Patriot and Vader. After a second assault by the thoroughly impartial lumberjacks, Bret is tossed back in and Undertaker begins working over Bret on his own. And unlike normal, Undertaker doesn’t work his trademark methodical pace; instead, he comes at Bret full force, stalking Bret as he scrambles away and dishing out the punishment with relentless wrath.

But the resilience Bret learned in the Dungeon, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of mat wrestling, add up to him never being out of the match. And that know-how pays off when Undertaker goes for a chokeslam prematurely; Bret manages to get out of it, dropping behind Undertaker and clips him in the knee. While that doesn’t bring Undertaker’s onslaught to a full stop, Bret continues to chip away at the leg, slowing him down and weakening his base of power. At one point, Undertaker reverses a whip and makes Bret eat some boot sole, but the move brings Undertaker to his knee. He rolls out and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the lumberjacks (the DOA, Flash Funk, The Headbangers and Brian Christopher) give Undertaker a wide berth and allow him the opportunity to walk it off. But Bret isn’t willing to give Undertaker a chance to catch his breath; he hits a baseball slide dropkick, sending Undertaker crashing into the barricade. He goes after Undertaker’s leg again, but the lumberjacks converge like scavengers on carrion.

Unfortunately, the mixed parties of lumberjacks finally cross paths with each other, and whatever they may have in common in hating The Hart Foundation evaporates as proximity brings grudges back to the surface. Within moments, responsibility is forgotten and the ringside area becomes open warfare, with fists flying and bodies getting tossed around in every direction. The referee, along with a fleet of back-ups and security, are immediately tasked with putting out the raging inferno of chaos, giving the opportunity for Bret to tap into his hatred. Bret strikes first blood, whipping Undertaker into the steel steps. Bret fetches a steel chair and slides in the ring as Undertaker hobbles into the ring. Bret swings, but Undertaker catches the chair, rips it from Bret’s hands and throws it aside, his eyes burning with Hell’s fire. Bret kicks at Undertaker’s leg, which sends him staggering back … until it doesn’t. Bret kicks again, and the stagger back is a little less, and the recovery a little quicker. Bret’s face is sheet white as Undertaker comes forward; Bret throws a right that gets blocked, and Undertaker grabs Bret’s throat. Instead of going for a chokeslam, Undertaker just holds it, glaring at Bret, daring him to fight back as he struggles for air. After holding the strangling grip for what seems like forever, Undertaker delivers a chokeslam hard enough to send Bret to Hell itself. Undertaker calls for the end and throws Bret over his shoulder … but his leg buckles under the weight and he drops to one knee. Bret somehow pulls himself up, slips behind and grabs Undertaker’s legs, and applies the Sharpshooter. The Hart Foundation come out to the stage (but wisely stay far, far away from ringside) to cheer on their leader.

With everyone busy still trying to get a handle on the prison riot outside, there’s no one around to see Shawn Michaels slide in and nail Bret with Sweet Chin Music. Shawn pulls Undertaker onto Bret’s prone body and goes to fetch the referee. After arguing with him to come do his job for far longer than necessary and getting nowhere, Shawn returns to the ring, only to find Undertaker awake, upright, and unappreciative of Shawn’s interference. Undertaker decks Shawn, then picks up Bret, intent on finishing what he started. Undertaker gets him over the shoulder, his leg shudders, but he withstands the pain and gets Bret in position. Undertaker slowly turns so that he can look the Hart Foundation straight-on as he drills their leader into the mat … only Shawn comes out of nowhere with Sweet Chin Music on Undertaker. The champ falls back, Bret on top of him as Shawn walks off, giving the whole situation the bird as he backs away. One of the refs at ringside sees there’s a pinfall situation going on and slides in. Everyone holds their breath as the ref’s hand hits once … twice …

And then it hits a third time. The Hart Foundation rush down the ramp and hit the ring before the timekeeper can even ring the bell. Vince McMahon comes out from the back and gets in Shawn Michaels’ face at the Gorilla position, asking why he would do such a thing. Shawn shoves McMahon away and walks off. One Night Only goes off the air with the Hart Foundation holding up Bret, the new WWF Champion, a champion in exile … and Vince McMahon looking on as if he’s watched a loved one die in front of him.

Sep. 22, 1997: Monday Night Raw (New York City, NY)

Raw opens cold with a video recap of the events at One Night Only, focusing on how Shawn Michaels inserted himself in the main event, leading to Bret Hart becoming the WWF Champion. Jim Ross says that questions swirl around the future of the WWF Championship and the #1 contendership that Shawn Michaels won a week ago. Questions, Ross says, that will be answered tonight in a special announcement from Commissioner Slaughter.

Once the opening pyro and ballyhoo is out of the way, Shawn Michaels makes his way to the ring … but he isn’t alone. With him are Hunter Hearst Helmsley and his bodyguard Chyna. Shawn grabs a microphone as the crowd, having seen what he did at ONO, lets him have it.

“I stood in this ring almost two months ago, and I said how you can’t please everybody all the time,” he begins. “I’m understanding that in a whole new way now. I can’t please anybody anymore. I try to help The Undertaker, and he tries to take my head off. I show some backbone, and I piss off Vince McMahon. I accidentally cause Bret Hart to win the WWF Championship, you people turn on me.” The crowd responds in kind; Shawn nods. “Yup. It’s all my fault.” He gestures to himself and Helmsley. “All our fault, right, Hunter? Generation X. The kids who don’t respect authority, who don’t play by the rules, we’re ruining the world! We’re scum, we’re losers, we’re degenerates! D-Generation X, that’s us, right?” Shawn points to Helmsley. “When you’re in this business, you find friends. Friends like this guy, who’s always had my back! Friends like big Kev and Scott”–Shawn makes a wolf’s-head hand gesture at the camera–“who’d be standing here today if they could. They understand. They get it.” Shawn pauses a moment. “They get it … and you people don’t! Well, if all you’re gonna do is crucify me for mistakes, maybe it’s time for The Heartbreak Kid to stop trying to please you, and start pleasing myself! Maybe it’s–”

With that, the snarling music of the Hart Foundation hits. The Hart Foundation congregates on the stage, with Bret in the center, a smile on his face and the WWF Championship on his shoulder. Shawn, Hunter and Chyna do not share the jubilant attitude of the Foundation, who are acting more like they’re in a beer commercial.

“Shawn Michaels, I’m not out here to pick on you or put the blame on you,” he says. “I’m here to thank you. Whether you realize it or not, your actions have helped right a ship that was headed for the rocks. This company now has someone who exemplifies the word champion.

“Last I checked, Bret, you’re closer to a terrorist than a champion. And the only thing that’ll be hitting the rocks is your reign in two short weeks.”

Contrary to Shawn’s threat, Bret’s smile remains. “Maybe you forgot, Shawn, but I’m barred from wrestling in this country. And unless St. Louis up and moves out of the country, we won’t be doing anything at Badd Blood.” Bret looks at the Foundation and makes a gesture to the ring. “But if it’s a fight you’re looking for, we can give it to you any time.” With that, the Foundation start down the aisle, the humor gone from their faces and a look of menace in their eyes instead.

That is, until Rick Rude comes from the timekeeper’s area and parks himself at the foot of the ramp, arms crossed. Bret locks eyes with Rude, weeks of tension hovering in the air between them. Rude looks down – with his eyes only – at where the ramp meets the arena floor, then looks back at Bret. The message behind the gesture is clear: there is a line, and you’d best not cross.

Bret laughs humorlessly. “You’re kidding, right?” He holds up a hand with all five fingers up. “Five against one, Rick. Just stand aside.” Rude’s reply is stoic silence. “Fine, have it your way.”

With that, Bret sucker-punches Rude. The corporate troubleshooter is rocked back, dropping to one knee. The only one who isn’t stunned is Bret himself; both his fellow Foundation members, as well as Shawn, Helmsley and Chyna, are too shocked to move. As soon as Rude stands back up and Bret charges, the paralysis breaks. Neidhart, Pillman, Owen and Davey Boy rush forward, headed for the ring. Shawn, Helmsley and Chyna quickly drop to the floor and intercept, igniting a full-scale brawl. With the numbers in their favor, the Foundation look to have their enemies eliminated.

Until the lights go out. When they come back on, The Undertaker is at ringside, a chair in hand, and he swings like a major league home run king. Neidhart, Pillman and Helmsley all take vicious blasts that leave them on the ground counting lights. Owen eats a shot to the back, and he ends up crawling away and falling off the side of the ramp. Undertaker is about to clobber Bret with the chair when Shawn distracts Undertaker. The former champ turns and gets nailed with Sweet Chin Music that sends the chair into his face. The crowd gasps as Shawn stands over Undertaker, chopping at his crotch and mocking him (meanwhile, Bret has the common sense to run away). Shawn and Chyna help pick up Helmsley off the floor and are about to leave, when Shawn spares a look at his fallen foe. The Undertaker, his forehead busted wide open, sits up anyway. Shawn almost drops his friend when he sees the Undertaker rise up, first to a sitting position, then to his feet. Fortunately, the Undertaker is still too groggy from the hit to chase the trio with any semblance of speed. Still, Shawn and his friends retreat with great speed.

Neidhart returns to the ring a little later to face The Patriot. Still a little worn from the chair-shot from The Undertaker, Neidhart looks to be easy pickings for The Patriot. The tide turns when Patriot comes off the top rope for a cross-body and Neidhart dodges. Patriot hits the mat and cries out in pain, holding his shoulder. The ref tries to check on him, but Neidhart pushes him out of the way and stomps away on Patriot. The ref tries to command Neidhart to back off, and when he fails to comply, the ref tries to physically move him, but Neidhart levels him with a punch. Neidhart cackles madly as he punishes Patriot and doesn’t seem bothered by the ref calling for the disqualification. But Neidhart does stop when Vader comes out of nowhere and makes him, walloping him with stiff shots like crowbars upside Neidhart’s head. After a vicious powerbomb leaves Neidhart as flat as a pancake, Vader grabs a mic.

“Bret Hart! I ain’t lookin’ to wrestle you! I’m lookin’ to fight!” he yells. “I’m lookin’ to beat your ass and shut you up! Badd Blood, son! It don’t have to be in the ring! It can be in the parking lot, the stands, the Missouri River, I don’t care!” Vader drops the mic, scoops Neidhart off the mat and powerbombs him again. Vader points to the thoroughly unconscious body of the Anvil. “That’s you, Bret! That’s gonna be you! Come get some, boy! Come get some!” Vader sadistically slaps the face of the Anvil to rouse him enough to be powerbombed back into the oblivion of unconsciousness. Vader points at Neidhart and yells out “That’s your boy, Bret! Come save your boy!”. Of course, Bret doesn’t show, leaving Vader to go back to the locker room to hunt down the Foundation leader.

As Ahmed Johnson comes down the aisle for a match against Nation’s Rocky Maivia, JR takes a moment to provide an important update; Rick Rude has been taken to the hospital, and Commissioner Slaughter has accompanied him. What that means for the announcement is unknown. With that, they get back to addressing the action in front of them, such as it is. To no surprise, Maivia is not alone, as his NOD brotherhood are right there with him. Without Rude or Slaughter to do anything, the match is mostly a joke, with Johnson fighting off interference and distractions all throughout. In the final moments, Ahmed gets back-up from Ken Shamrock and the Legion Of Doom. As the ringside chaos erupts, someone else joins the party – Flash Funk. The doctor of funk runs down and slides in the ring … and then shocks everyone by clotheslining Ahmed. The ref calls for the bell, disqualifying Rocky, but that doesn’t stop the NOD, now a man up, from putting the screws to their enemies. Ahmed especially gets worked over, ending with Faarooq giving Ahmed a Dominator into a steel chair laid out in the ring. Funk seals the deal with the Nation salute, standing beside Faarooq and his crew.

The first of the two semi-final matches kicks off with Owen Hart and Brian Pillman (with an obviously miserable Marlena in tow) coming down together, all smiles and high-fives. When they get to the ring, they take the ring announcer’s mic and sneer him into leaving.

“I know all you savages in New York City would love to see two friends – two family members – like Brian and I go at each other like rabid dogs,” says Owen. “That’s how your sick, sad culture works, isn’t it? Look at your television shows like Jerry Springer, your rap music with men killing cops and abusing women … that’s your country’s legacy! That’s what you want us to become!”

Pillman takes the mic after the crowd’s jeering sufficiently dies down for him to be heard. “There is a reason I renounced my citizenship to this dystopia and moved to the Great White North! A land of class and dignity and culture!” The crowd’s taunting of the Hart Foundation overwhelms them for a few moments. When he is able to speak again, Pillman continues; “It is behavior like that that underwrites our decision not to indulge you in your bloodlust! We are protesting this biased, rigged tournament bracket! We will force this administration to recognize this act for what it is: a transparent attempt to tear this family apart!”

As Pillman sleazes on Marlena, much to her disgust, Owen once again takes the microphone. “Tonight, we will walk to the back and force Commissioner Slaughter to do what is right; to re-seed the tournament, or we will-”

Owen never gets to finish his sentence, as Stone Cold Steve Austin comes out from the crowd with a chair and lights up Pillman and Owen. Pillman takes one right across the back and rolls to the ground, while Owen gets the chair jabbed into his stomach. Austin kicks him once in the gut, grabs his head and delivers a Stunner that leaves Owen limp. As Austin is scooping Owen’s limp body off the mat, the cops rush down, as well as Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart. The presence of the cops makes Austin back off Owen’s body, which allows Bulldog and Bret to grab him and pull him to safety, while Anvil gets Pillman.

But as they retreat and Austin is about to be handcuffed, a gruff voice from the back yells out; “NO, NO, NO! WAIT A MINUTE! DON’T ARREST HIM!” From the back comes Vince McMahon, rushing past the Hart Foundation, yelling the whole way down. “NO, STOP! STOP! DON’T ARREST HIM!” Vince gets in the ring and puts himself between the cops and Austin. “Stop! Just give me a minute! Just give me a minute!” Vince turns and looks at Austin. “What’s the matter with you?” The cops try to encroach upon Austin again, nightsticks out, but Vince faces them again. “I said give me a minute, please! Just a minute!”

Vince turns back to Austin, takes a deep breath and holds out a hand to the cops, who are now congregated in a corner opposite the one Austin is standing in. “What’s the matter with you? I get it … you had to forfeit the tag team titles, the Intercontinental title, we all get why you’re upset. I understand you’re upset, not being able to compete, I can understand that. But don’t break the law!” Austin looks right past Vince and starts mouthing off to the cops; not appreciating his colorful language and mocking, the cops move forward, but Vince again puts himself in between. When the moment has passed and both parties have backed up a little, Vince continues.

“Steve, don’t you understand? Don’t you understand why you’re not allowed to compete, you can’t get that through your head? Don’t you know why? Don’t you know that you’re not physically able to compete?” Austin fires off an off-mic but very obvious four-letter retort. “Your doctors say you’re not ready! These people don’t want to wind up in a wheelchair! They want to see you compete, everybody wants to see you compete! But in due time, Steve, in due time. Get a hold of yourself.” Austin looks at his watch and asks if it’s time yet; Vince sighs and paces for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.

“Listen, Steve … you’ve forced my hand here. I wasn’t going to come out until later. I was going to come out and talk about this situation, and talk about the World Wrestling Federation Championship all in one breath, but you’ve forced my hand.” Vince sighs one more time. “The people here care about you, Steve. The people here in the World Wrestling Federation care. The doctors, the lawyers, they care. And I care. That’s why … that’s why I talked to your doctor, and he believes you can be ready by Survivor Series. If I–” The crowd, already raucous, goes electric at the mere mention of a possible Austin return date. “If you work with me, Steve, work within the system … play by the rules … I can pencil you in for Survivor Series in your first match back against Owen Hart!”

Austin looks at Vince, as if studying him for a clue to a lie or trick. The crowd absolutely flips out, and so does Bret Hart, who yells about how it isn’t fair to book his brother against a “certifiable lunatic”. Bret even starts to come up the steps until the cops take a step forward to discourage it. Bret stays on the step, telling Vince there’s no way he’ll allow his baby brother to wrestle against an “alcoholic sociopath”. Nobody gives him the time of day, but Austin does finally respond to Vince.

“You know as well as I do this is what I do for a living,” he begins, obviously agitated. “This is all that I do, and can’t nobody tell me I ain’t the best in the damn world!” The crowd agrees with that enthusiastically. Vince opens his mouth, but one glare from Austin shuts it down. “Don’t even open your stupid mouth, Vince. Don’t do it. Ya sit there and ya tell me to ‘work within the system’! You ain’t the one sittin’ on your ass in the house like I am! Ya take my championships, ya take the way I make a living, and you damn well know as well as I do that on their best day, none of them Hart bastards can lace my boots on my worst day, and that’s the bottom line!” The audience is in thorough agreement with that. “But if that’s what it takes to get you and the World Wrestling Federation off my ass and let me back in this ring where I belong … hell, I feel like Cool Hand Luke, I’ll work within your stupid little system.”

“That’s all these people want, Steve–”

Austin grabs Vince’s arm and pulls him and the microphone back. “I appreciate the fact that you and the World Wrestling Federation care! I appreciate the fact that you’re gettin’ your head out of your ass and puttin’ me back in the damn ring!” Austin pauses for a moment and shrugs just a little. “And hell … since you done pulled your head out of your ass, you can kiss mine!”

In the blink of an eye, Austin puts a boot in Vince’s midsection, then snaps off a Stunner. The crowd loses their minds, and within seconds, front office staff Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco are in the ring, checking on Vince. Brisco tells the cops to arrest Austin, an order they have no problem compying with. While Austin doesn’t fight as they slap handcuffs on him, he doesn’t quiet his rebellious mouth, trash-talking everyone and anyone nearby until the cops take him away.

When Raw returns from commercial, a match between Jesus Castillo and 8-Ball is just about to get underway. No sooner has the bell rung than The Undertaker comes out. Castillo and 8-Ball, confused by the incursion, suffer the consequences of not moving out of the way with chokeslams. Once Undertaker literally kicks the bodies out of the ring, he demands a mic.

“I have two things to say,” says Undertaker, holding up a finger. “First, Steve Austin. Because of you, my fate – the fate of my World Wrestling Federation Championship – is on its way to the hospital. At some point in the very near future, you and I will have a conversation, and you will not like how it ends. But right now, I have more important matters.” Undertaker levels a finger at the camera. “And that’s you, Shawn Michaels. You finally took the World Wrestling Federation Championship off of my waist … and you couldn’t even do it man to man. You stuck your nose in my business over and over, and when I pushed back, you cost me the championship. It’s time for your reckoning, boy. I want you, Shawn Michaels. In this ring, at Badd Blood … and I don’t want to see your stupid friends, or Bret Hart and his family either. I want nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and nobody to save you. I want you inside a steel cage!” The crowd goes nuts for the idea as Undertaker leaves the ring just as fast as he arrived, moving with the speed and demeanor of someone on the hunt.

The main event of the evening brings Cactus Jack to the ring. Cactus politely asks for the mic from the ring announcer.

“The only thing I don’t like more than a bully is a coward,” he says. “Hunter, you hide behind your bodyguard, and you ride Shawn’s coattails, and you’ve made a career out of it … and you helped your buddy cost The Undertaker the WWF Championship. Undertaker may not be a friend of mine, but he’s more of a champion than you’ll ever be! There’s enough people around here who think they run the place. We don’t need any more!”

Not surprisingly, Helmsley doesn’t come out alone; Chyna and Shawn Michaels come out as well, although they stop at the top of the ramp. In Shawn’s hands are a number of cardboard signs, which he holds up at various points during the match: “WHO BOOKED THIS CRAP?!?”, “I’D RATHER BE IN CHYNA”, and a crude drawing of the Canadian flag with the maple leaf replaced by a toilet. Cactus pays no attention to the clownish antics of D-Generation X and focuses on battling Helmsley. To his credit, Helmsley doesn’t show fear of the legendary survivor of Japanese deathmatches … but as the seconds tick by, and Cactus shows no signs of relenting, Helmsley starts to panic. Nothing Helmsley does has any positive effect, whether its offense or some kind of cheat, and pain – whether he’s dealing or receiving – appears to fuel Cactus even more. The look of panic turns to terror when Helmsley takes control of the match, but nothing Helmsley does keeps Cactus down for long. Even taking it outside and using the environment doesn’t get Helmsley much traction, as Cactus is like a Terminator following his mission. Finally, when Cactus kicks out of a Pedigree at two – not two and a fraction, but a clean two – Helmsley decides it’s a lost cause and starts to retreat.

But he only gets partway up the ramp when the Hart Foundation come out and cut off the avenue of escape. Michaels and Chyna stand beside their friend and get into a yelling match with the Foundation (from a safe distance), forgetting the angry, reckless madman in the ring. Cactus comes at them with a chair, giving Michaels and Helmsley smashes across the back. The Hart Foundation take the opportunity to pounce on their fallen mortal enemies.

And that brings out other enemies of the Foundation, like The Patriot, Vader, Goldust and Ken Shamrock. And general antagonists, like the Nation Of Domination and Los Boricuas.

And virtually everyone in the locker room, as the ringside area turns into a 40-man riot. Security makes a valiant effort to diffuse the situation, but they’re outnumbered four-to-one, and nobody is listening to reason. When it becomes apparent that they’re completely overwhelmed – especially after a few uniforms go down to the rampant violence – security gives up and retreats. And when the body of D’Lo Brown gets tossed over the announce table and Savio Vega crawls over it to get at him, security helps JR and Jerry Lawler evacuate through the audience.

That’s when the lights go out.

And when they come back on, The Undertaker is standing in the middle of the ring, surveying the chaos around him … until he sees the one man he wants. Bodies start getting tossed left and right as he cuts a path to Shawn Michaels. The smarter members of the roster get out of the way, allowing Undertaker a clear path. Shawn sees that the roster is betraying him and runs for his life. Raw ends with Shawn, careening through the hallways of Madison Square Garden, literally bouncing off walls and stumbling over whatever is in front of him as Undertaker stalks him, and ringside consumed by the violence of a roster without any sort of authority to control it.

Sep. 29, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Albany, NY)

“This was the scene after Monday Night Raw went off the air last week,” Jim Ross begins, explaining the video that opens Raw. With WWF’s own security gone, the police descend upon ringside, brandishing batons, billy clubs and pepper spray to help quell the chaos. “NYPD had to be called in to stop the madness that consumed the entire roster and get the ringside audience away from the danger zone.” A series of still pictures goes by, showing numerous WWF Superstars and the bruises, welts and other injuries received from the melee, then switches to the moments right before the riot began. “This riot began when The Hart Foundation attacked D-Generation X during a match between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Cactus Jack. And this wasn’t the only crime perpetrated by Bret Hart’s terrorist faction.” Footage of the earlier fight that injured corporate “troubleshooter” Rick Rude runs. “Rick Rude was assaulted earlier in the night, an attack that sent him to the hospital. Between this, the riot and the attack perpetrated by Stone Cold Steve Austin on Vince McMahon, WWF Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter was prompted to send WWF his resignation, citing failure to control the roster and fear for his personal safety.” The video switches to the live shot of the arena, where Albany police outfitted in riot gear are stationed every six feet around ringside and up the ramp. “Security has been beefed up by Albany’s finest tonight. But with a main event putting Undertaker and Cactus Jack on the same team against D-Generation X, will the police be enough? We’ll find out on Monday Night Raw!”

After the intro, Vince McMahon comes out, but he doesn’t resemble the man everyone has seen for over a decade. He is without a tie, his top button is undone, bags hang from under his eyes, and his hair – normally coiffed with near-military precision – is anything but. When he gets in the ring, he paces and runs a hand through his hair.

“My grandfather founded this company in 1952 with Toots Mondt,” he begins. “Sadly, he didn’t live very long, and my father took it over in 1954 after Jess passed away. My dad took it independent in 1963 and helped it become a powerhouse in the northeast. And I took over, the third-generation McMahon to be a wrestling promoter, in 1982. Since then, I took the company to places no promoter ever dreamed of. We put 90,000 people in the Silverdome, a record that still stands to this day. We got wrestling on MTV, and turned wrestlers into movie stars. Forty-plus years, this company has been around, fifteen of them on my watch.” Vince sighs and lowers his head. “And as I sat in an emergency room last Monday night, getting my neck x-rayed from Stone Cold Steve Austin’s cowardly attack, I had to hear how the show ended in a riot. And how they had to call 9-1-1 and bring in the NYPD. And that Sgt. Slaughter felt so bad about how he did his job and so scared of what’s become of the World Wrestling Federation, he quit.” For what feels like a long time, Vince stands there, head cast down in shame, the defeat radiating off him like a spotlight.

And then Vince raises his head, in his eyes is a fire that would burn in the ocean’s deepest trench. “I have not fought competitors, TV networks, and the federal government to fail now! I will not stand by while a group of terrorists like The Hart Foundation tear my company apart! You want my attention, Bret? You want to push the system? Now the system pushes back! Your little brother and your friend? Yeah, there will be no re-seeding of the tournament. They fight each other, or we crown a new Intercontinental Champion right here tonight between Ahmed Johnson and Ken Shamrock!” The crowd erupts for that. “And that announcement I had last weekend that was ruined by Stone Cold Steve Austin, you need to listen to very closely, Bret, because Undertaker and Shawn Michaels won’t just be fighting in a steel cage match this Sunday, because I have no confidence you won’t find a way to ruin it. I have commissioned a new structure, a cage that completely surrounds the ringside area, including a roof. This cell will be locked with a padlock and chain, and only the referee inside will have a key. There will be no way you can poison this match with your terrorism, Bret, because this match will mean more to you than you can possibly understand. You see, Bret, the winner will go on to meet you, in Montreal at the Survivor Series.” The crowd goes absolutely nuts for that. “And that match, Bret, will be a title unification match.” The crowd murmurs in confusion. “Oh, did I not mention? This company can’t move forward with a part-time champion. I’ve taken the action of naming an interim WWF Champion. Given his status as a two-time WWF Champion, as well as having won a #1 contender’s match two weeks ago, the only logical choice is Shawn Michaels!” Any good will Vince may have earned by sticking it to the Hart Foundation is washed away with the news of Shawn being handed a championship. Vince looks directly into the camera, talking over the disapproving crowd. “I tried to step back and let the company run itself. I tried to hire competent professionals to do the job for me. This company can no longer survive without proper leadership. My leadership. And I will have it. And there will be hell to pay for anyone who stands in my way.”

When Raw returns from commercial, Owen Hart is sulking his way to the ring. He tries to convince the referee not to allow the match to proceed, but the ref couldn’t care less. Even when Brian Pillman joins in and hectors the ref, it doesn’t get them anything but the bell being rung. After a full minute of arguing and pleading, Vince comes back out and tells Owen and Pillman that they have ten seconds to start wrestling, or they’ll both forfeit the match. Reluctantly, they begin wrestling, and with much hesitation; they stick to mat-wrestling and suplexes, totally avoiding strikes … at first. As the minutes tick away, the want to win starts coming out in both of them. Pillman is the first to break the peace, catching Owen off the ropes with a fist to the face. Owen looks on at Pillman with shock that he’d do such a thing … and then brings down Pillman with a double-leg takedown, mounts him and starts swinging away. Owen and Pillman roll around like a prison-yard scrum until Bret runs down and separates the two.

“This is what Vince wants you to do!” he yells. “He’s trying to turn us against each other! It’s more of their lies, don’t fall for it!” Bret calls them in for a huddle, and when they part, Owen and Pillman embrace and apologize to one another. Bret looks in the camera. “Vince, you’re going to have to try harder than that to break our spirits! We are family! We are a unified f–”

Bret’s rant gets snuffed out due to a commotion behind him. When he turns around, Steve Austin, dressed in the SWAT gear worn by the ringside police, is quickly leaving the ring, having dropped Owen with a shot from his police baton. The ref has no choice but to call for the disqualification, giving the match to Owen. Bret and Pillman drop out to chase down Austin, but Goldust – dressed in street clothes – pops up in the audience and tackles Pillman. The real cops are able to get to Goldust and drag him away in handcuffs, but not before opening up a nasty gash on Pillman’s head. Goldust vows to get Pillman one way or another as he’s being taken away, leaving Bret to help Owen to the back.

Raw comes back with Bret standing by Owen as a doctor checks out Owen in the training room. Bret second-guesses the doctor at almost every opportunity, telling him how superior the care is in the Canadian medical system over what American doctors provide. As he questions whether or not Owen will get fair treatment from a doctor on Vince’s payroll, the door explodes open. Vader comes roaring in like an angry grizzly bear, attacking Bret. Owen tries to help, but gets blasted with one of Vader’s monster fists, knocking him off the exam table. Vader’s onslaught is too much for Bret to take head-on, so he kicks Vader low, grabs a tray and bashes him in the skull, dropping Vader to one knee.

“You want me?” Bret kicks at Vader a few times, dropping him to both his knees. “You want a piece of me? You got it!” One more kick, soccer-style, right in the ribs puts Vader on his back. “Parking lot brawl this Sunday?” A few stomps, for good measure, keep Vader from getting up and fighting back. “You got it, fat man!”

Accompanied by his new friends in the Nation Of Domination, Flash Funk comes out for a match against Rockabilly. It’s a thorough squashing of the hapless Rockabilly, finishing off the former Billy Gunn in just over three minutes. Afterwards, Faarooq takes to the stick to make an announcement; Funk has renounced his “slave name” and the “insulting caricature” of Flash Funk. Faarooq says “cartoons like Flash Funk” is how “ignorant” white people see strong black men, and it’s how they keep those strong black men in cages. Tonight, in a statement of “independence”, he renounces his “slave name” and demands to be called 2 Cold Scorpio. Faarooq promises the Nation, now stronger than ever, will annihilate its enemies, starting with Ahmed Johnson at Badd Blood.

Backstage, Michael Cole introduces The Patriot for an interview. The star-spangled man, Cole notes, has his arm in a sling. The Patriot explains he injured his triceps muscle the previous week on the missed cross-body from the top rope, and doctors have recommended he take time off to recover.

“So, what does this mean for this Sunday at Badd Blood, where you’re slated to face Jim Neidhart?” asks Cole.

Patriot exhales deeply. “The price of patriotism is that it always must remain vigilant,” he says. “There are no days off, not when the enemies of our great country would stab at our hearts if we gave in to those weaker moments. Just as our brave men and women can’t rest, neither can I. The Hart Foundation are enemies of the state; they spit in the face of everything we stand for as a country.” Patriot takes his arm out of the sling and takes the sling off from around his neck. “I will not let this stop me from doing my duty as an American! Jim Neidhart, I’m coming for you this Sunday! This arm will not stop me, pain will not deter me, and your terrorism will not scare me away! I’m coming for you, Jim Neidhart, and America’s coming with me!”

Up next is the other semi-final tournament match, also pitting two allies against each other in Ken Shamrock and Ahmed Johnson. And much like the Patriot’s date with The Anvil in six days, Ahmed comes into the match at less than 100%. Shamrock and Ahmed shake hands and wish each other luck, but as soon as the bell rings, all pretense of friendship goes out the window and they go full-tilt at each other. Ahmed has a nearly hundred-pound advantage, and in the initial goings, he uses his raw strength to establish dominance. Over time, though, Shamrock’s speed and MMA experience allow him to counter Ahmed’s arsenal, and use stick-and-move offense to wear him down. Shamrock targets the torso, long Ahmed’s weak point, every shot stealing more and more oxygen from his lungs. Ahmed gets a moment of hope when Shamrock goes for a hurricanrana, only to get caught and powerbombed into oblivion. Ahmed goes for a Pearl River Plunge, but the weakness in his torso makes it too difficult to get Shamrock up off the ground. Shamrock takes the opening to sweep Ahmed to the ground, mounts him from behind and locks on a sleeper hold with body scissors. Ahmed refuses to give in, but between being robbed of oxygen and the pain from Shamrock’s legs around his ribcage, Ahmed’s body betrays him. The ref checks Ahmed’s arm; it falls like a rock in a lake once, twice, three times, giving the ref no choice to call the match. Michael Cole is there waiting for Shamrock at the top of the ramp, congratulating him on advancing to the finals on Sunday, and asking him how he’s feeling.

In between gasps of air, Shamrock says; “I wish .. I wish Ahmed could’ve been at full strength … but I’m happy I get the chance to take down Owen Hart this Sunday.” Shamrock looks into the camera. “Steve Austin … do the right thing and don’t get involved. That would make me angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

After the commercial, Raw comes back for the main event. JR and Lawler note how seeing Mick Foley and The Undertaker on the same side is a mind-bender … but not nearly as disturbing as it will be for D-Generation X. It’s even weird for Cactus and Undertaker, as they look at each other with not-even-thinly-veiled suspicion. But that’s nothing compared to the expressions of Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who look like they’re staring at their certain doom. Shawn and Helmsley get most of the way down the aisle before deciding there’s nothing to gain by facing two very angry, very dangerous men. Shawn and Helmsley decide to back away, until Vince shows up on the stage with members of the Albany police force, forming a human wall. Turning their backs to the ring proves to be a huge mistake, as Undertaker and Cactus rush up the ramp and blindside DX.

What follows doesn’t even come close to resembling a wrestling match, and never even becomes an official match. Undertaker and Cactus spend the better part of five minutes beating the ever-loving hell out of DX to the delight of the crowd. With the police surrounding ringside and cutting off the only entrance/exit, there’s no one – like The Hart Foundation – to stick their noise in it and unintentionally save DX. And since the fighting is contained, the police have no reason to get involved, leaving Shawn and Helmsley to take the beating of a lifetime. Undertaker punctuates the beating by choke-slamming Shawn through the announce table, while Cactus puts the cherry on his beatdown of Helmsley with a double-arm DDT into the ring bell.

Once Undertaker is satisfied that Shawn is not getting back up, his head snaps around and looks up at the stage. Vince’s eyes go wide and he dramatically gulps in fright. Moving deceptively fast, Undertaker marches towards Vince, yelling his name and cursing him for handing Shawn a championship. Vince sends the cops at the top of the stage to defend him, but Undertaker dispatches them as if he were swatting away mosquitoes. After they’re all left laying, that leaves Undertaker staring daggers at Vince. The WWF Chairman turns and runs, and the Undertaker gives chase. Cameras follow the chase through the bowels of the arena into the parking garage. Undertaker gets a hand on Vince’s jacket just as he dives into his limo, but Vince slams the door on Undertaker’s arm. Undertaker loses his grip; Vince slams the door shut and the limo peels off into the night. Undertaker is left standing there, seething with rage …

… until he turns around and gets laid out by Sweet Chin Music. Shawn stands at Undertaker’s head and crotch-chops at him … until Undertaker sits up. Michaels wastes no time in getting the hell out of dodge. Raw ends on Undertaker getting to his feet and going on the hunt for Shawn Michaels.

Oct. 5, 1997: Badd Blood (St. Louis, MO)

Before the show can begin, Jim Ross has the unfortunate responsibility of letting the home viewers know that Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room earlier in the day. Because of this sudden and devastating loss, the card has some changes, most notably the addition of a European Title defense by Davey Boy Smith.

That match happens to kick off Badd Blood. To the British Bulldog’s dismay, he has not just one opponent but two: Crush, the leader of the Disciples Of Apocalypse, and Pillman’s intended opponent, Goldust. Bulldog lodges another complaint in the typical vein of the Hart Foundation’s problems with the World Wrestling Federation: bias, conspiracy, typical American obnoxiousness. This does nothing to endear him to his distinctly American opponents, who set aside being opponents for the first few minutes to punish Davey Boy. Inside of the first four minutes, Davey Boy gets eats a choke-slam and a Curtain Call and looks to be absolutely cooked. But with a championship on the line, partnership only lasts so long, and it’s Crush who succumbs to temptation first, attacking Goldust to go on the advantage. Crush smartly goes back and forth between the two, but ends up more focusing on the loathsome Bulldog. This gives Goldust a chance to come back and truly make it a match. Bulldog does his best to fight back, but his initial disadvantage hinders him from mounting much of anything for offense. In the final moments, Goldust ducks a clothesline attempt by Crush, which hits Bulldog and sends him tumbling out of the ring. Goldust grabs Crush and hits the Curtain Call to make the pin, giving him the win and the European Championship.

The next match up is one of only two on the night not featuring either the Hart Foundation or D-Generation X. It is the culmination of a feud brewing since July of the previous year, a one-on-one showdown between Faarooq and Ahmed Johnson. Much to Faarooq’s dismay, the referee declares before the match starts that the Nation Of Domination must go back to the locker room. Faarooq and his minions protest, but the ref is having none of it, and gets his way when he threatens to award the match to Ahmed. Once the Nation is gone, the ref rings the bell, and immediately the match goes from zero to hundred, with nothing in between. There are no tie-ups, no chin-locks, no arm bars; just pure power and naked aggression, hitting each other with everything they got. The ring is no help in containing their war, and the ref wisely gives them the latitude to fire every bullet in their respective guns. Taking advantage of the ref’s generosity, Faarooq and Ahmed take their war on a tour of the ringside area, bringing their violence to new heights. Ahmed gets driven into the apron back first a number of times, hitting on the kidneys that Faarooq injured the previous year. Ahmed refuses to stay down, though, and gives as good as he gets, introducing Faarooq face-first to many things around ringside. Eventually, after several minutes outside the ring, the ref starts to get antsy and tries to urge them back in the ring. Neither give the ref so much as a millisecond’s worth of time, not with their most hated enemy left standing and gas left in the tank to take down that enemy. Finally, the ref begins the count, as Ahmed slams Faarooq’s head off the Spanish announce table and pushes him up onto it. The ref stops his count to tell Ahmed not to do what he thinks is going to happen; Ahmed, of course, pays him no mind. To the ever-growing delight of the crowd, Faarooq eats a Pearl River Plunge that puts him through the table. The ref, having lost control of the match, calls for the bell to throw it out.

As if ringing a dinner bell to summon home hungry children, the end of the match draws out the Nation, as well as longtime Nation foes the Legion of Doom and – seemingly forgetting his high-stakes match later on – Ken Shamrock. With Faarooq eliminated from doing anything, the battle is four-on-four, and the Nation doesn’t ken much to even odds. After throwing down for a minute or two, they retreat, dragging their barely-conscious leader with them. As they go, Ahmed gets on the stick and says he’s ready to end the war once and for all, and wants a match at Survivor Series: a classic elimination tag with the Nation versus him and his “crew”. The Nation doesn’t give him an answer, preferring to get out of dodge while they can do it on their feet.

No sooner has the Ahmed/Faarooq match finished than Jim Ross says a situation is brewing in the back. Cameras switch to a locker room, where Hunter Hearst Helmsley has ambushed Cactus Jack before their match. Cactus staggers out of the locker room as Helmsley batters him with a Singapore cane. Once in the hallway, Helmsley takes Cactus on a very physical tour of the area; he gets bounced face-first off a craft services table, whipped into doors and suplexed onto a stack of pallates. All throughout the punishment Helmsley inflicts, Cactus keeps getting to his feet, keeps coming at Helmsley, putting a damper on the strategy to weaken him before the match. Hemsley’s plan really backfires when he whips Cactus against a concrete wall and then tries to punch him; Cactus ducks, causing Helmsley to deliver what would’ve been a knockout blow to the wall of the Kiel Center. Cactus grabs Helmsley’s hand and bites it; Helmsley walks away, clutching his hand as Cactus staggers off in the direction of the broken pile of palattes. Cactus rips a plank off one of them and inspects it; the camera gets close enough to see the nails came with it, and Helmsley sees that too. Helmsley runs, as JR puts it, “like the devil himself is on his heels”, to which Lawler says that Cactus is way worse than the devil.

Helmsley emerges on the stage, and Cactus is right behind him. Hemsley makes the mistake of turning around to see if Cactus is on his tail, which gives Cactus the opportunity to jab the end of the board into Helmsley’s gut. But when Cactus raises the board up like an executioner with the nails in position to plunge into Helmsley’s flesh, he takes a bit too long. Helmsley gets a shot in Cactus’ jewels, dropping the deathmatch master to one knee. Helmsley gets up quickly and drops Cactus onto the steel grating of the stage with a DDT, then goes into the back again. When he re-emerges, he is carrying a cinder block, and Cactus is slowly getting up. Hemsley drops the cinder block, quickly grabs Cactus and positions him over it in position for a Pedigree. Only Cactus frees up his arms, wraps them around Helmsley and pushes him back … except there’s nothing behind them but the end of the stage. Cactus and Helmsley both go plummeting off the edge and through some tables set up alongside it. Trainers and referees immediately descend upon the wreckage, in which Cactus and Helmsley lie motionless. EMTs are called in and, after much careful maneuvering, load the pair onto gurneys and wheel them away.

As Howard Finkel announces to the crowd that the next match is for the vacant Intercontinenl Championship, Stone Cold Steve Austin joins JR and the King. JR asks him what he’s doing out here, and notes how without Slaughter, Rude or Vince McMahon here, security hasn’t been beefed up, giving Austin a nice opportunity. Lawler just cuts right to the chase to ask if he’s going to screw Owen Hart. Austin says he’s just here to see who he’ll need to beat to get his championship back. Ken Shamrock comes out first, and he makes it a point to confront Austin, telling him not to get involved or else. Austin smiles and chuckles – both without a shred of real humor – and tells Shamrock he needs to be concerned with Owen, and not some “bald-headed cripple” outside the ring. When Owen comes to the ring (accompanied by Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart), Austin’s expression darkens; the referee’s head whips back and forth from Owen to Austin, making sure Austin doesn’t interfere before the match can get underway. But Austin remains right where he is, next to Jim Ross, hands up as if to show he had no ill intentions. Once the referee is satisfied, he starts the match.

The match is fast-paced yet mat-oriented, pitting Owen’s Hart Dungeon training against Shamrock’s MMA experience. Submission holds are exchanged and countered as fast as they can be put on. JR asks Austin how he thinks he’ll be able to handle Shamrock should “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” knock off Owen and become the champ. Austin says shown the world that he’s the best wrestler in the world and can go toe-to-toe with anybody the WWF wants to throw at him, so he’ll do to Shamrock what he does to everybody; “stomp a mudhole in his ass and walk it dry”. Every so often, Owen stops what he’s doing and casts a glare Austin’s direction, just to make sure his nemesis isn’t up to any tricks. Every time he does it, it costs Owen a few precious seconds, giving Shamrock the chance to work on Owen’s leg, softening it up for the ankle lock submission. As the match progresses, Anvil and Bulldog look more and more concerned as the attacks on Owen’s leg give him a pronounced limp. JR notes the disability will hamper many of Owen’s signature moves; Austin says Owen is a “clever little bastard” who can find a way to win. As the minutes tick by, though, Owen does far less countering, putting Shamrock firmly in the driver’s seat. When Shamrock nails a belly-to-belly suplex and lets out a primal scream, everyone can sense the end is near.

Which is when the Nation (minus Faarooq) shows up.

Understanding that the Nation’s interference will result in a disqualification that puts the strap on Shamrock’s waist, the Hart Foundation intercepts … and, surprisingly, so does Steve Austin, taking a chair with him. Rocky Maivia and D’Lo Brown eat steel, evening the odds. The ref, however is still concerned with the gang fight on the outside …taking his eyes off the ring, where Austin slides in and bashes Shamrock with the chair while he has Owen in the ankle lock. Austin drapes the arm over Shamrock’s body and slides back out to the announce table as security gets hold of the situation, allowing the ref to come back in. Seeing a pinning predicament, the ref makes the count. Three seconds later, Owen Hart is announced as the new Intercontinental Champion. JR immediately asks why he would attack Shamrock and hand the title to Owen Hart.

“Ain’t nobody beatin’ that mealy-mouth, beady-eyed piece of trash except Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s the bottom line!” he proclaims. As Owen gets to his feet, the ref tries to hand him the belt, until Austin slides in. Just as quick as a hiccup, Austin kicks Owen in the gut and nails the Stunner. Austin snatches the new championship belt from the ref, poses with it at the corners, and walks off, taking the belt with him.

After some plugs for the sponsors, JR and the King get a little face-time. JR says that next up is something that, as far as the World Wrestling Federation is concerned, isn’t happening. It isn’t sanctioned, it has no rules, and there will be no official or authority on hand to declare a winner. In fact, he explains, there won’t be a winner; only a survivor. And, he adds, since this is neither sanctioned by the WWF or will resemble a wrestling match in any way, there will be no commentary.

With that, the feed switches to the parking garage, where Vader is waiting in street clothes, surrounded by cars with their lights on. Bret walks in, also in his street clothes; Vader smiles.

“Come on, boy! Come get ya some!” exclaims the Rocky Mountain monster.

Bret charges and tries to tackle Vader, but he outweighs Bret by easily 200 pounds and stuffs the takedown with ease. Vader lets Bret get to his feet, and even lets Bret try to match fisticuffs with him, but it is a gross mismatch. Bret’s punches are laughably ineffective in comparison to the soupbones Vader lands on Bret. Vader’s onslaught overwhelms Bret, and soon, the WWF Champion is on his knees, taking a merciless pounding. But given the unsanctioned, lawless nature of the confrontation, there’s no issue with a low-blow retaliation, and Bret does just that. The shot makes Vader stagger, so Bret hits another, and that brings Vader down to one knee. Bret pulls himself up as Vader fights the aching in his groin, then starts laying into Vader with punches and kicks. Eventually, Bret decides he needs a little more oomph to his shots; he kicks off the side-view mirror from a car. But when he comes back to batter Vader with it, Vader runs at him, grabs him by the waist, and drives him into the front end of a Cadillac. Bret’s head gets bashed off the hood a half dozen times before Vader picks him up in a military press and tosses him into the windshield. Again, Vader taunts Bret, telling him to “come get some” (even as he wipes a little blood from his mouth). Vader hauls Bret off the car and starts to drag him around back, but Bret manages to sucker-punch Vader in the kidneys, stopping him cold. A couple more shots have Vader reeling; Bret takes the opportunity to ram Vader’s head into – and through – a passenger window. Bret opens the door, grabs Vader and positions his leg inside it. With a mighty heave, Bret slams the door closed, crushing Vader’s leg. The monster screams out in pain as Bret kicks at the door, jamming it into Vader’s leg again and again. After thoroughly destroying Vader’s leg, Bret stomps at Vader a few times, then kneels down and bashes his head on the concrete floor.

“I’m the best there is!” he yells as he punches Vader in the face. “The best there was!” Another punch. “The best there ever will be!” Yet another punch. “And I just kicked your ass!” Bret stands up, checking the back of his head and coming back with some blood. The sight of it makes him kick Vader one more time. “Don’t mess with the Hart Found–”

Bret collapses to the ground, a man standing behind him with a baseball bat. When the camera comes around to see who it is, Jim Ross can’t help but break his silence.

“That’s Vince McMahon, King! That’s the Chairman of this company! He just assaulted the WWF Champion! I can’t believe what I’m seeing!”

For a long moment, Vince stares down at at Bret, seething and shaking with anger at the man representing his company as champion. Finally, Vince spits on Bret and walks off.

Jim Neidhart comes to the ring in a surly mood. The Patriot is fired up and wastes no time getting the action started, but it’s obvious he isn’t 100%. Even something as simple as a collar-and-elbow tie-up takes a concerted effort, and that’s as good as painting a tatget on himself. When he takes a run at Neidhart in a corner and Neidhart dodges, The Patriot goes between the ropes and spears the ringpost. Neidhart follows it up with another toss into the post for good measure, and then zooms in on the arm. The Anvil attacks the injury like a shark smelling blood in the water; a trifecta of arm-trapped body slams, targeted clubbing blows and lots of arm wrenches to keep the pain fresh. Patriot tries to mount a defense, but with one arm, he can’t do much of anything productive. After an arm-trapped powerslam, Neidhart slaps on a chickenwing in the middle of the ring. With nowhere to go and searing pain coursing through his injured arm, Patriot has no choice but to surrender almost instantly. The ref calls for medics to come down and help The Patriot back to the ring, leaving Neidhart in the ring singing “Na-ha-hey-hey-goodbye” all by himself.

After a video package showing the tangled path leading from Summerslam to now for Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, the gargantuan structure known as the Hell In A Cell is lowered. The chain-link-fence caging not only surrounds the ring, but the ringside area itself, leaving all but the announce tables and a very narrow walkway around it outside the cage. Jim Ross explains that, unlike a normal cage match, escape is not a winning condition and, in fact, not even possible; the ref inside will have the only key in the building. Pinfall and submission are the only ways to win, and the enclosure will guarantee none of Shawn’s or Undertaker’s myriad enemies will spoil the proceedings. Once the cage hits the arena floor, the referee stands inside the door, holding the large chain and padlock that will separate Undertaker and Shawn Michaels from the world.

Shawn is the first to be introduced, and despite the rules having been made perfectly clear, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna try to get in the Cell with him. The ref reiterates the rules, which Helmsley and Shawn try to convince the ref to break, to no avail. And just to be sure nothing untoward can happen, the ref sends D-X to the back. When Shawn steps into the ring, panic sets in; he looks around rapidly, the awesome size and confines of the Cell – and what it all means – finally sinking in. Shawn starts heading for the door when the lights go out and the familiar gong sounds throughout the arena. Shawn freezes in his tracks, eyes wife and jaw unhinged as The Undertaker deliberately walks down the aisle. Undertaker stops a few feet away from the cage, removing his trenchcoat without ever taking his eyes off Shawn. The murderous glare of The Undertaker drives home the finality – and potential fatality – of his antagonizing The Undertaker, so Shawn runs around the ring. Undertaker slowly stalks Shawn, letting him expend his energy. Shawn tries pleading with the official outside the cage door to let him out, but the official won’t even look at him, let alone entertain the idea. Shawn slides in the ring as Undertaker climbs the steps. Shawn bounces off the ropes, hoping to use his speed to strike first, but he runs right into Undertaker’s big boot like a car hitting a wall. Undertaker pulls Shawn off the mat, who gets in some shots to the gut, but they’re as effective as a flyswatter on a bear. Undertaker whips him hard to the corner, sending Shawn ass-over-teakettle and right back into another soupbone to the jaw. Undertaker draws out a merciless beating, punching, kicking and throwing Shawn around at will no matter what Shawn can muster in response. A hard whip sends Shawn tumbling to the outside; Undertaker follows and whips Shawn into the steel several times, hitting some clotheslines in between for good measure. Undertaker wraps his arms around Shawn’s waist and drives him backwards, ramming him into the cage, then hits a flurry of punches from skull to stomach up against the steel. Undertaker tries to drive Shawn head-first into the steel of the Cell, but somehow Shawn manages to reverse it and sends Undertaker into it. Only it serves to anger Undertaker more, as he bounces off like it’s a trampoline and nails Michaels again. Shawn counters that by going low, then bouncing Undertaker’s head off the unforgiving steel of the ringpost.

Finally, the match stops looking like a bear toying with a deer, as Shawn gets in some offense; a running punt to the face from the apron is followed by a suicide dive that drives Undertaker back into the Cell wall. Shawn gets back on the apron and hits a flying clothesline, but Shawn is visibly tired, and nothing he’s doing is nearly as impactful as what Undertaker has done .. and Shawn knows it. Fearful for his life, Shawn resorts to the plunder; he summons up every ounce of strength left to lift the steel steps and slam them into the spine of the Undertaker a few times. But when Undertaker won’t stay down, Shawn grabs Undertaker’s head and hits a piledriver onto the steel steps. Undertaker still refuses to stay down, and Shawn starts looking around for something, anything to help him slay the dragon. Shawn rolls into the ring and climbs the turnbuckle, waiting for Undertaker to come in, then hits a double axe handle. Shawn rolls out quick, searches under the ring and finds a chair. As Undertaker is getting up, Shawn drives it into his gut, then cracks him across the back, but the pinning attempt only gets one. Shawn’s eyes go as wide as the moon. Shawn connects with Sweet Chin Music and moves to make the pin, only for Undertaker to sit up like nothing has happened. Shawn hits it again, then runs to the ref and begs to be let out. When the ref refuses, Shawn forearms him in the face and steals the key.

Shawn runs for the door and starts unlocking the door, but fumbles with the key. Just as soon as he gets the key in the lock and turns it, Undertaker is right behind him, shoving him into the door. The door swings open and Shawn’s face scrapes along the steel, ripping open his forehead. Undertaker slingshots Michaels into the Cell wall, turning the cut into a gash and drenching him in blood. Undertaker then drapes Shawn over his shoulder and throws him face-first into the Cell wall like a javelin. The outside ref tries to get them to go back in, but Undertaker puts out the official’s lights for daring to speak. The distraction is enough of an opportunity for Shawn, desperate to flee, to climb the Cell in an insane bid to get anywhere The Undertaker isn’t. Undertaker follows, but Shawn has the high ground and stomps on Undertaker as he comes over the ceiling line.Shawn pulls him to the center of the roof and positions him for a piledriver, but Undertaker hits a back body drop to get out of it. Undertaker grates his face into the ceiling and stomps on the back of Shawn’s head, compressing the already mangled features into the steel mesh. Undertaker drags him to the edge and sets up for the chokeslam, intending on sending him to his near-certain death from a twenty-foot fall. The crowd is begging for Undertaker to do it as JR, Lawler and a host of people are begging him not to. Shawn elbows out of it, kicks Undertaker downstairs again, and then tries to climb down … until Undertaker shrugs off the nutshot and grabs a handful of hair. Undertaker hammers on one of Shawn’s hands until it losses its grip on the rim. He then stands up, slashes across his throat and stomps on the other hand. Shawn plummets off the Cell, right through JR’s and Lawler’s table.

Undertaker climbs down, pushes away the trainers and officials who’ve gathered around Shawn and picks him up in a fireman’s carry. Shawn tries to fight once, but Undertaker just rams him into the Cell and that stops Shawn’s minimal protest. Once he crosses the threshold of the door, the officials lock the door shut again. Undertaker deposits Shawn on the top turnbuckle and delivers a thunderous chokeslam off it. In perhaps a fitting karmic payback, Undertaker picks up the chair and waits for Shawn to get to his feet. When he does, Undertaker unleashes like a medieval executioner, bringing the chair down right between Shawn’s eyes. The sound of steel on skull is like a gunshot; Shawn hits the mat dead as a doornail. Undertaker drops the chair and gives the throat-slash gesture one more time. He picks up Shawn and has him over his shoulder, positioning for a Tombstone on the chair.

And then the lights go out.

When they come back on, it’s in a red glow. Paul Bearer walks down the aisle, a sick smile on his face, Behind him, like a demon from Hell, is a tall, bulky monster of a man, covered in a red jumpsuit (less one sleeve) and a mask a little Jason Voorhees, only red and stark. The monster – whom JR and Lawler assume is Undertaker’s long-thought-dead brother Kane – comes to the door of the Cell. He pauses for all of a second before literally ripping the door off its hinges. Undertaker drops Shawn, completely forgetting about the match as his baby brother climbs in the ring. For perhaps the first time ever, Undertaker’s expression is one of shock and perhaps horror. Kane stands in front of his brother, not moving; Undertaker steps forward, as if to touch Kane and see if he’s not just an apparition. Instead, Kane raises his arms and then brings them down suddenly, prompting fire to spit from the four turnbuckles. Undertaker is taken off-guard by this, so he doesn’t see Kane coming to snatch him up and hit a Tombstone on the steel chair Undertaker had laid out. Satisfied by the destruction, Bearer takes Kane and leaves. Shawn, with the last ounce of strength he has, pushes himself close enough to Undertaker to drape an arm over his body. Despite JR crying out “no, not like this!” over and over, the referee’s hand hits the mat three times. Howard Finkel announces Shawn the winner, who looks nothing like a winner by comparison, and by virtue of such, the interim WWF Champion.

And #1 contender to champion-in-exile Bret Hart for Survivor Series.

To be continued …

Written by

Guilty of creating Rewriting The Book and The Greatest Night In The History Of Our Sport, and publishing them somewhat infrequently. Father of three, husband, avid gamer, lover of 90's MTV animation. Available for podcasts and children's birthdays at
11 Responses to "Rewriting The Book – What if Bret Hart lost at Summerslam ’97? (Part II)"
  1. Hulk6785 says:

    So, will this story go beyond Survivor Series? Or, does it end there?

    • Autrach Sejanoz says:

      I’m guessing it ends at/not long after Survivor Series. After what Bret’s done in the storyline, let’s face it – Vince has a damn good reason to say “RING THE FUCKING BELL!”

  2. Joey says:

    I have to admit, Bret giving out about American doctors made me laugh.

  3. saintstryfe says:

    Not to be an arse, but ‘briny deep’ wouldn’t happen in a river – a river isn’t salt water and I’m 90% sure Austin threw it into a River.

  4. System Error says:

    This one…disappointed in a bit of a subtle way. In the Goldberg Aftershow hypothesization about this one, you emphasized that “the Undertaker/Shawn feud may not happen, which means Hell In A Cell may not happen”, yet it’s in the product anyway. Still, enjoying this so far!

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