While WCW Monday Nitro was enjoying its ratings peak, few fans realized the product the then WWF was producing week after week. Honestly, I don’t think any self respecting fan from that era of wrestling can deny that the WWF in 1997, at the top of the card, was a tremendous product, far outperforming WCW. World Championship Wrestlings undercard was, without a doubt, destroying what WWF had to offer, no doubt. Would you perfer the Disciples of Apocalypse versus Los Boricuas in the “Gang Wars” for the umpteenth million time, or Rey Mysterio vs. Dean Malenko? WCW’s unappreciated undercard was crushing what WWF had to offer. Crushing it. However, at the top of WCW’s cards at that point in 1997 was the NWO crushing…well…everyone. There was no storyline advancement. Every match where “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan would defend his title against the WCW contender jobber of the week either ended up with Hogan domination, or against stiffer competition, a full on NWO run in. I watched both shows at the time: I was an absolute wrestling junkie. After a while, it got to be the same old shit over and over again, pardon my french. The Sting angle was still hot, as were some of the undercard feuds, but the product overall just felt stagnant.
Over on WWF Monday Night Raw, the opposite was occurring. The mid card was dead. D.O.A. (see what I did there…oh fuck you…). The main event scene, however, was jumping. At the time, you had Bret Hart leading his Hart Foundation Canadian Patriots, consisting of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Brian “F’N” Pillman, Owen Hart, and British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, the lead heels, feuding with a group of wrestlers who were toeing the line, good or bad, fighting for a common cause, America. Vader, Ken Shamrock, The Legion of Doom, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. There was a lot of firepower there, as the WWF Main event scene was, never had been, and never will be, stronger. Just a powderkeg of great workers and great booking.
Earlier in 1997, Shawn Michaels had won the WWF Championship from “Sycho” Sid in Shawn’s hometown, San Antonio, Texas, at the Royal Rumble. The initial plan was for Shawn to lose the title to Bret Hart, who, twelve months prior, had agreed to lose the title to Shawn at WrestleMania 12. And Bret did, with kind of flying colors (e-mail me about that kind of). Weeeelllll….
…Shawn at this point was not only addled on drugs, he was the poster child for painkiller abuse. He was a brilliant performer, but the absolute dregs of the earth backstage. Just a complete and utter problem child who had the promoters ear (Vinnie Mac). (Some also say that Vince McMahon had not only a crush, but a down low secret man on man relationship with him…but that can’t be true..right. Right….?????). So rather than lose the title to Bret, who, by the way, was turning 40 and wanted nothing more than to make Shawn the next superstar of wrestling, as long as he did right by the traditions of the business, Shawn faked a knee injury, and, in a rather infamous speech in Lowell, Ma in February 1997, stated he vacated his title because he “Lost his smile.”
Well, Bret had put up with some of Shawn’s histrionics before, and would deal with more even after this. But this was the straw that broke the camels back. Shawn missed WrestleMania, which blessed us with THE best WrestleMania match EVER, Hart V. Austin, submission match (I will post a piece explaining the history of that match at a later date. Suffice to say, it is the best and most influential match in wrestling history, bar none), but doomed us with a Sid-Undertaker Main Event, in, which rumor has it, Sid shit his trunks.
So Shawn took his smile and went home. Unfortunately for him, he took his ridiculous painkiller and har drug addiction with him to San Antonio, and when those guaranteed checks from Vinnie Mac weren’t coming in monthly, he decided, “Hey, Vince, my knee feels fine!”
The match you see here is Shawn’s return following his “Career threatening knee injury.” Suffice to say he bounces around the ring like a fucking superball. Is that a dated reference? It also features “Stone Cold” about a month before Owen Hart screwed up Austin’s neck and altered his wrestling, and, moreover, the style of WWF main events, forever. Austin before the neck injury could GO, man. Anyway, this match is one of the greatest in the history of Raw, and probably the most forgotten, with star power and workers they WISH they had these days. Enjoy.