Each and every Thursday, I will look back at a different event pay-per-view event wrestling history via the WWE Network. Want to see a certain event covered here? Send your suggestions to @VaughnMJohnson on Twitter.
Last week, I looked back at WWE In Your House 10: Mind Games.
Survivor Series 1997
Date: November 9, 1997
Venue: Molson Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The Godwinns & The New Age Outlaws def. he Blackjacks & The Headbangers (Survivors: The New Age Outlaws)
The Truth Commission def. The Disciples of Apocalypse (Sole Survivor: The Interrogator)
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Doug Furnas & Phil Lafon def. Goldust, Vader, Steve Blackman & Marc Mero (Sole Survivor: The British Bulldog)
Legion of Doom, Ahmed Johnson & Ken Shamrock def. The Nation of Domination (Sole Survivor: Ken Shamrock)
Kane def. Mankind
Intercontinental Championship – Stone Cole Steve Austin def. Owen Hart
WWE Championship – Shawn Michaels def. Bret “Hit Man” Hart
- Let’s address the big, bright pink elephant in the room: the WWE Championship match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Unless you know absolutely nothing about the history of professional wrestling, I’ll say now that this was the site of what is now known as the Montreal Screwjob, which made this night probably the most infamous in the history of the WWE. At the end of the match, Michaels puts Hart in his own move the sharpshooter. Once Michaels turned Hart over to lock it in, referee Earl Hebner immediately called for the bell saying that Hart had tapped out and awarded the match and the WWE Championship to Michaels. However, it as very clear that Hart didn’t tap out. In fact, he was attempting to perform the next spot in the match, which was him reversing the sharpshooter.
Was Hebner a crooked referee? No. He merely executed an elaborate plan thought up by Triple H, given the green light by Vince McMahon and executed by Shawn Michaels.
Let me get this thought out of the way right here, right now. This is not a work! For the love of everything that is good why would anyone think that McMahon, Hart and Michaels would keep an angle going for almost 20 years is beyond me. If it was an angle then where was the pay off? WrestleMania 26 with that debacle of a match between McMahon and Hart? I don’t think so. This was real as real can get. There was nothing scripted about this.
Let me clear another thing up, I’m not going to place a heap of blame at Triple H and Michaels for their role in what happened. Triple H came up with the idea and Michaels executed the plan, but it was McMahon that essentially wanted all of this to happen. He’s the man that should shoulder the bulk of the blame as to why it happened. However, some blame should go to Hart as well for not wanting to lose to Michaels.
The issue was based around the fact that Hart was leaving the WWE for a financially lucrative contract with World Championship Wrestling. Hart has said many times since that he never really wanted to leave the WWE, but couldn’t turn down how much money WCW was throwing at him. On his way out of the door, McMahon wanted Hart to lose the WWE Championship to Michaels at Survivor Series, but because of Hart’s real-life issues with Michaels, he did not want to lose to him in Canada or anywhere else for that matter. He didn’t feel that Michaels respected him enough.
Hart offered what he considered a compromise, where he would somehow walk out of Survivor Series with the title, but would drop the title the next night on Raw by either losing it to Stone Cold Steve Austin or simply handing it over and saying that he was leaving the company.
McMahon didn’t like that idea because he was rightfully leery. McMahon was leery that he thought was going to burned again like he was with Madusa, who was Alundra Blaze in the WWE. Madusa went to WCW as the WWE Women’s Champion, appeared on WCW television with the title and dropped it into a trashcan.
Although it wasn’t necessarily in Hart’s character to do such a thing, McMahon felt he couldn’t afford to take that chance with the most prestigious prize in his company. McMahon was looking out for his business moving forward. Although some blame could be placed on Hart for not wanting to do what’s best for business and lose to Michaels, in fairness to him, he did have a clause in his contract that said he had creative control over what he did during the final 30 days of his deal. Hart was in the final 30 days, but McMahon didn’t necessarily honor that clause.
The match itself was good. You felt the tension between the two men and it felt awesome. You don’t feel that type of heat too often. That’s probably because hart Michaels really didn’t like each other. I’m not sure you can manufacture that type of vibe. The vibe was little odd, however, as McMahon, Sgt. Slaughter and a number of other WWE officials were at ringside for the match. Watching it in hindsight, it almost gave away the fact that something strange was going to happen during the match.
As expected, the finish came out of nowhere. Michaels looked as if he had no idea what happened because that’s what he was told to do by McMahon. Michaels knew full well what was going to happen and had to execute his marching from his boss. As did Hebner, who apparently didn’t know what to do until right before he walked through the curtain for the match.
Hart laid on the mat and looked surprised for a second, but as soon as he saw McMahon standing right by the scene of the proverbial crime, he instantly knew what happened. He had been had. Hart grew up in the wrestling business and had seen these things happen before. Believe it or not, a guy losing a title against his will had been done before, especially during the territory days of wrestling. Hart knew this and immediately stood up and spat in McMahon’s face.
No one other than McMahon, Triple H, Michaels and Hebner knew this was going to happen. Maybe a few other security people knew, but that’s it. This was clear by Jim Ross’ shocked tone on commentary. Michaels picked up the belt, was escorted of the arena by a ton of security and the show abruptly went off the air. It was a strange ending to say the least.
- The aftermath of this night was just as interesting. The locker room was pretty upset at what happened to Hart, as he was seen as a leader of the “boys.” The wrestlers threatened to walk out on Raw the next night, but none of them actually went through with it — none except for Mick Foley who really didn’t show up. He quickly realized that he was alone in his cause and got back to work.
Hart went on to WCW where he was paid a lot of money, but was misused from the time he left the WWE. WCW inexplicably left him off television for more than a month after Survivor Series for reasons that couldn’t possibly make any sense. Hart was the most talked-about wrestler in the world at this point and keeping him off television for that long was kind of silly. Then, he appeared on television and misused some more. Eventually, his career ended after suffering a severe concussion.
Michaels suffered a severe back injury two months later at the Royal Rumble during a casket match with The Undertaker. He managed to make it through WrestleMania XIV, so that he could lose the WWE Championship to Austin. Michaels essentially retired after this night to get his back and personal issues in order. Once he did, he came back to the ring and had another amazing run.
McMahon turned the real-life hatred for him into dollar signs by becoming the hated boss on television. What came next was one of the biggest feuds in wrestling history: Austin versus McMahon. It was the angle that turned the tide for the WWE and put the company ahead of WCW for good.
- There was a bit of foreshadowing that would lend some credence to the argument that this was all an elaborate work. Michael Cole interviewed McMahon backstage and his line of questioning would have led you to believe that something controversial was going to happen during that match. Cole even flat out asked McMahon who was going to win the match, which doesn’t make a ton of sense given that we’re supposed to believe that the men in the ring decide the winner, not the boss. McMahon’s response was simply, “I don’t know.” It was all kind of odd.
- Believe it or not, other things actually happened on this night, all of which gets completely lost to history because of what happened during the main event. This night was pretty important in the career of Austin, as this was his return from the near-debilitating neck injury he suffered at SummerSlam earlier that year.
Austin was on the upswing on his way to the top of the wrestling industry, which is why he took the title back from Owen Hart during his first match back. Evidence of Austin’s popularity was that the Montreal fans booed every American. Austin was the only one to receive any amount of cheers from the crowd. The Canadians didn’t care that he was American. They identified with his attitude (no pun intended) and couldn’t get enough of it.
- I know this may seem odd nowadays, but there were actual Survivor Series matches during this show. The reason that seems odd is because the WWE doesn’t do them anymore despite still calling the event Survivor Series. Instead of one or two Survivor Series matches, there were four, which took up the entire first half of the show. Not all of the matches were fantastic, but they were nice to see again. It reminded me of the potential a Survivor Series match could have.
- The Jackal took part in one of the Survivor Series matches as the leader of The Truth Commission. It turned out The Jackal, real name Don Callis, is used to heading to commissions. Callis went from pro wrestling to a life of politics. At one time, he worked as a Media Relations Specialist for the House of Commons in Canada and is currently the Executive Director, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Manitoba Trade and Investment Corporation. It turns out he had a real knack for leading people.
- It’s pretty funny The Interrogator as this super serious, unstoppable force during this night, as the WWE eventually turned him into Kurgan of the Oddities. Kurgan went from decimating people in this Survivor Series match to wearing tie-dye shirts and dancing.
- The WWE had an American Online room where fans could log into a chat where the wrestlers were answering their questions. At one point, Austin took part in one of these, as Kevin Kelly interviewed him. Although it seemed pretty cool, there were a ton of keywords and hoops to jump through just to get to the chat. Oh, the Internet during the 1990s.
- Steve Blackman debuted as a fan not long before this show and took part in a Survivor Series match. Blackman is from Annville, Pa. and was brought in as a man that didn’t know much about professional wrestling, but held a black belt and simply knew how to fight.
- Blackman was apart of Team America during its match against Team Canada. Team America was probably eclectic group of Americans the WWE could put together at that point with Vader, Marc Mero and Goldust, who painted his face black for whatever reason. Team America also used The Patriot’s/Kurt Angle’s music. When the music hit, I thought for just a second that Angle was coming to the ring. Then I remembered what year it was.
- Despite being eclectic, at least Team America comprised of actual Americans. I can not say that about Team Canada, which only had one Canadian in Phil Lafon, who was from Quebec. British Bulldog (England), Doug Furnas (Oklahoma) nor Jim Neidhart (Nevada) was Canadian, but I guess it didn’t matter. The Canadian fans cheered them anyway. Bulldog even wore the Union Jack on his trunks.
- This night was also the official in-ring debut of Kane. Although the man playing Kane, Glenn Jacobs, had appeared in the WWE as other characters, this was his first real match as the Kane character. At this point, Kane was damn near invincible and it showed during his match against Mankind on this night. Although his match with Mankind was good, Kane rarely left his feet, which was done on purpose. He was being built up for an encounter with his storyline brother The Undertaker at WrestleMania.