Our story begins in the main event of SummerSlam 1997, as The Undertaker defends his WWF Championship against Bret Hart. But there is more at stake then Undertaker’s 5-month title reign: should Bret Hart fail to win the championship he so covets, he will be barred from wrestling in the United States. Throwing another element into the already combustible mix is guest referee Shawn Michaels, who has gone from a respected rival to a bitter enemy of Hart. Hanging over Michaels’ head is the consequence that, should he show favoritism to Undertaker, he will suffer the same consequences as Hart would. In the closing moments, Michaels and Hart argue over whether or not Hart used a steel chair to get a near-pinfall …
Aug. 3, 1997: SummerSlam
Neither Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart, whose back is turned to The Undertaker, sees the WWF Champion pull himself up in the corner; they’re too busy arguing over the steel chair in Shawn’s hand. Finally, Bret has enough and lets loose with a glob of spit in Shawn’s face. In an instant, Shawn forgets he is a referee, forgets the stipulations, and forgets his environment; the man he hates more then anyone is in front of him, disrespecting him in the nastiest way, in public no less, and he himself is holding a steel chair.
Shawn unleashes with a home-run shot … but Bret ducks. The chair cuts through the air, impacting with The Undertaker’s skull instead of Bret’s. The champ collapses to the mat in a heap, and Bret seizes the opportunity to make the cover. But Shawn won’t make the count, and after a few seconds of waiting, Bret leaps to his feet again and gets in Shawn’s face. Shawn points to Undertaker and says something to Bret, but the microphones don’t pick it up. Whatever it is, it’s enough to enrage Bret and make him forget his surroundings; he rears back and takes a swing. Unlike Shawn’s chair-shot, Bret’s sucker punch finds Shawn’s jaw.
Bret stands over Shawn and taunts him, until Shawn turns to the timekeeper and signals for the bell. Bret’s eyes go wide as the ring announcer makes it official; the winner, by disqualification, is The Undertaker. Bret has failed in his quest for the WWF Championship, and as a result, his wrestling career in the United States is over. The crowd is stunned, too stunned to even react at first. So is Bret; he drops out of the ring to the floor, pacing, unable to comprehend what has happened. Bret’s compatriots in The Hart Foundation – baby brother Owen Hart, brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and family friend Brian Pillman – come out and circle around Bret. As he comes to accept it, Bret’s temper explodes. He kicks the ring stairs and starts throwing monitors from the announce tables in a world-class tantrum. Suddenly, Bret stops as he is about to smash another monitor on the floor, and turns his head to one of the men sitting behind the table: Vince McMahon. Bret drops the monitor and walks up to Vince, who cowers in his seat.
“Hey, what are you doing?” exclaims Vince.
“You put him up to this, didn’t you?” yells Bret. “You got Shawn Michaels to screw me again!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Every god[bleep] time I turn around, I’m getting screwed by the World Wrestling Federation! From the moment I came back last November, I get screwed and screwed and screwed again, and you just let it happen! Bret’s a stand-up guy, he doesn’t mind being stepped on! And when I finally stand up to the bull[bleep] around here, you get an errand boy to screw me out of my job!” Hart slaps the headset off McMahon’s head. The crowd gasps; McMahon looks terrified. “You’re gonna regr–”
Bret’s words die in his mouth when Shawn spins him around and pops him in the mouth. Immediately, The Hart Foundation rush over and are about to tear Shawn limb from limb when reinforcements arrive: Ken Shamrock, Vader, The Patriot, Mankind, Goldust and the Legion Of Doom race down the aisle, making a beeline for the Foundation. The two gangs converge on each other, turning the ringside area into a full-scale riot. Vince, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler have to scramble out from behind the announce table as Brian Pillman gets tossed like a paper airplane by Vader right over the table and into their chairs.
But the next person to go flying is the man whom everyone has forgotten: The Undertaker. The champ leaps over the top rope in a suicide dive, right into the middle of the group, sending everyone he touches to the arena floor. Just as quick, he gets to his feet and heads right for Bret. Seeing a very angry Undertaker coming his way, Bret scrambles away as best he can, and his troupe follow suit as they’re able to put distance between themselves and the angry mob. As the Foundation retreat and their antagonists watch on, Undertaker suddenly turns, grabs Shawn by the throat and chokeslams him through the abandoned announce table. SummerSlam ends with Undertaker staring down at the unconscious Shawn, and nobody wanting to get too close to check on him for fear of The Undertaker’s wrath.
Aug. 4, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Bethlehem, PA)
As soon as the opening fireworks die down, Jim Ross, standing in the ring, says; “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the referee in last night’s controversial WWF Championship match between The Undertaker and Bret Hart … The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels!”
The reception Shawn gets is mostly positive … but scattered amongst the cheers are a few dissenters. One fan at the guard rail holds up a sign that says in big, bright pink letters: “YOU SCREWED BRET”. Shawn ignores the naysayers and plays up to his fans for a minute before coming to Ross and the microphone.
“Shawn, you’ve heard all about it, I’m sure,” says JR; “your fans are saying you did the right thing last night. Bret Hart’s fans are saying your actions were biased, and you should suffer the consequences as laid out in the match stipulations. Tonight, there’s going to be an official ruling from WWF management. But before that, the world wants to know what was going through your head last night in those now controversial moments.”
“Jimmy, there’s an old saying; ‘you can’t please all the people all the time’. I guess I kinda proved that one true. Look,” he says, “the fact is this: I was hand-picked by the World Wrestling Federation to be a troubleshooter last night, because they knew there’d be trouble. They needed someone whose shoulders could carry the burden of a huge match like that. Anybody can ref a match, but with all the elements in the match and around it, they didn’t need just anybody. In the end, they knew there was only choice, so they came to The Heartbreak Kid. Now it’s no secret me and Bret don’t get along; that’s why they hung that sword over my head if I didn’t call the match down the middle. But I got news for all you Bret Hart fans; I did the right thing. I–”
The music of The Hart Foundation hits, and Bret Hart, all by himself, storms to the ring. The ringside security leave their posts and jump in the ring, forming a human wall between Shawn and Bret. Hart tries to get past security to no avail, and finally gives up, going on a tirade instead. “You’re just as big a coward hiding behind these guards as Vince McMahon is by sending you to do his dirty work!” yells Bret. “I’ve given this company over ten years! I wrestled with injuries, with hundred-degree fevers, I wrestled my own family … and how does he show his gratitude? By letting me get screwed over and over again! And then he caps it off by getting you to finish the job!”
“Now, Bret, there hasn’t been an official ruling –”
“Oh, give me a break, JR! You know damn well this was a conspiracy between the boy-toy Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon! They’ve been working together to push me out the door for God knows how long, and I’ll betcha, I’ll just betcha, that whoever’s making the call on last night is their puppet!” Hart looks past the line of guards at Shawn Michaels, who doesn’t look too comfortable even with eight security guards keeping him safe. “Watch your back, Shawn Michaels. Watch your back. Just because you and Vince have driven me out of this ring doesn’t mean I still won’t catch up to you somewhere, somehow, and beat the living hell out of you!” Hart gets in McMahon’s line of sight and levels a finger at him. “And you, you mark my words, you miserable son of a bitch! I’m not some old horse you drag out back behind the barn and put a bullet in when they get too old to pull the plow. You will not shove me out the door that easily. I will show up at every Raw, I will be at every live event, and if I have to, I’ll be on your front lawn, making your every waking minute a living hell! And the split second this company steps out of the God-forsaken hellhole called the United States, I’ll be in this very ring, just like my contract says, and I will cripple whoever you’re stupid enough to put in the ring with me! This company needs a hero! You may be okay with letting degenerate scum like Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin run wild in this company, but not me! There’s a new sheriff in town, and –”
Military-style theme music cuts off Bret’s tirade; everyone looks to the stage to see former WWF Champion Sgt. Slaughter – dressed not in his familiar fatigues, but in a suit – come down the aisle. The crowd gives him a hero’s welcome as he enters the ring, shaking hands with Jim Ross and giving Bret a very stern, disapproving glare.
“Bret Hart, the only new sheriff in town is me!” says Slaughter, punctuating his words with a stabbing finger in Bret’s chest. “There’s one thing you and I agree on, and it’s that this company is in need of some law and order, and effective today, that’s exactly what I’m going to do as the WWF Commissioner!” Bret’s eyes narrow; the crowd pops. “And my first act as WWF Commissioner will be to enforce the stipulations from last night’s championship match as I see fit.” Slaughter turns to Shawn, glaring at the former WWF Champ. “Shawn Michaels, your attack on Bret Hart was unacceptable behavior for a WWF official. But I believe you would not have done that if Bret Hart had not egged you on, and I’m not going to punish you for reacting to the actions of a man who knows better.”
“What?!” yells Bret. “How in the hell is that fair? This is bulls–”
Slaughter turns quickly to face Bret, jabbing his dagger-like finger at Bret’s face. “Shut your mouth, you little maggot! You signed a contract, and now you’re gonna live up to it! As of this moment, you won’t be lacing up your boots and wrestling a match for the WWF on the beautiful shores of these United States!”
Bret seethes, burning a hole through Slaughter and Shawn with his glare. Finally, through clinched teeth, he spits out; “This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. I’ll make you regret this decision. You, and the boy-toy Shawn Michaels …” Hart steps aside a bit, leveling a finger at Vince McMahon, seated at the announcer’s table. “And especially you, Vince! If you want the inmates to run the asylum, as God as my witness, I’ll give you exactly what you want! And when WCW kicks your ass right into bankruptcy court because you didn’t stand up for yourself, you can look no further then tonight to wonder why you’re broke and Eric Bischoff is laughing his ass off!” Bret throws the microphone, leaves the ring and storms off. Slaughter leaves the ring and converses with Vince for a minute, but as Shawn moves to leave, Jim Ross stops him.
“Wait, Shawn, one more question!” Shawn turns and comes back, looking put out. “Last night, The Undertaker choke-slammed you for what he thought was you hitting him with the chair. What are your feelings on what transpired?”
“Jim, I’m a forgiving man. The Undertaker saw something, and he thought he understood what he saw, and he took action based on that. I don’t blame him. I would’ve done the same thing. I can’t say my head or back feel all that good, and I certainly don’t wanna feel that again. But I’m willing to let bygones be bygones and chalk this up to a misunderstanding … as long as that’s all it is.”
For a little while, Raw continues without incident, with the announcers hyping up the main event of Owen Hart versus Dude Love, speculating whether the Hart Foundation member will even show up after the decision rendered by Commissioner Slaughter. During a match between the Headbangers and two members of Los Boricuas, the viewers get a roundabout answer, when the Hart Foundation come down to the ring and pulverize everyone in the ring, including the referee. With the rest of the Foundation stomping away at the victims of their Pearl Harbor job, Bret leans over the ropes on the announce side, looks right at Vince and yells out; “You asked for this, Vince!”. The very next segment is slated to have a match between Kama Mustafa and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but it never gets off the ground, as Kama is ambushed on the ramp by the Hart Foundation and laid to waste. Helmsley wisely stays in the back and avoids a beatdown. Bret sends another message to Vince via some not-quite-textbook sign language as his family and friends put the boots to Mustafa; a kiss on his palm, and a self-applied slap on the backside.
But the Hart Foundation finally overplay their hand for the night when they come out during a match between Goldust and Vader; the two see the Hart Foundation coming and put up much more of a fight then the Foundation expects. Vader and Goldust repel the invaders, with the crowd cheering on the unusual duo as they shake hands after the smoke is cleared.
When it comes time for the main event, predictably, Owen Hart is accompanied by his compatriots, who flank the ring on either side of his corner. Dude Love, meanwhile, comes out alone, looking more then a tad concerned. His fears are quickly confirmed as Bret directs The Hart Foundation like a symphony of mayhem, sending one member to distract the ref while the rest aid give Owen plenty of unnecessary help. Commissioner Slaughter comes down to ringside and gets in Bret’s face, but Hart shows no signs of backing down; when Slaughter orders the Foundation to the back, Bret responds by shoving Slaughter to the ground. The chaos from the Bret/Slaughter showdown draws the attention of everyone, save Owen and Dude, who continue to fight in the ring.
Suddenly, the crowd explodes as Stone Cold Steve Austin runs down the ramp, slides in the ring and takes Owen to the mat, lighting him up with punches. Shortly thereafter, the ringside area is flooded with reinforcements against the Harts, including Vader, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, the Legion Of Doom and The Patriot. The brawl comes to a sudden stop — save for Austin, stomping a mudhole in Owen in the corner of the ring — as the lights go out and the ominous gonging of a bell signals the entry of The Undertaker. Immediately, the Hart Foundation regroup, extricate themselves from their one-on-one brawls and try to go after the champ. Undertaker shows no discrimination, tearing through anyone in his way to get to Bret, who is backing away, hands up in front of him.
Behind Bret is another surprise: Shawn Michaels, having come through the crowd and hopped the barricade. Shawn spins Bret around and starts laying in with punches, and, when he thinks he has Bret weakened enough, Shawn drops back and then charges forward with Sweet Chin Music. But Bret sees it coming and ducks, and instead of putting out Bret’s lights, it is The Undertaker who eats the killer kick. Raw goes off the air looking like a battlefield, with the Hart Foundation outnumbered in a melee but fighting on anyway, Owen fighting off Austin in the ring, and Shawn and Bret on the outside, trading fisticuffs, and officials trying in vain to regain control of the situation.
Aug. 11: Monday Night Raw (Biloxi, MS)
A huge six-man tag headlines Raw, pitting Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart against Vader, Dude Love and The Undertaker. But Raw starts off with Shawn Michaels coming down to the ring to a growingly mixed reaction. The number of boos actually stops Shawn on the ramp, making him look around the arena in surprise. It takes almost a full minute for the crowd to stop expressing their mixed sentiments.
“I guess, judging by your reaction when I came out here, that we need to clear the air. Again,” says Shawn once in the ring. “Because if there’s one thing that’s been true in my career, whether you loved me or you hated me, I have always been straight. Some of you, you fans of Bret Hart, you’re mad at me because of what happened at SummerSlam. I can respect that. But what you need to remember is that Bret was the one who brought in the chair and hit The Undertaker. And when Bret got mad at me because I wouldn’t count a pin where Undertaker’s foot was clearly under the ropes, he attacked me. That’s the long and short of it, folks. Me and Bret may not see eye to eye on … well … anything, really, but the fact of the matter is, when called upon, the Heartbreak Kid always does the job he’s asked to do. I was told to referee that match, and that I’d be looking at the end of my career if I didn’t call it down the middle. I did my job. I didn’t screw Bret, Undertaker didn’t screw Bret, Vince didn’t screw Bret. Bret screwed Bret. He knows it, I know it, and whether you wanna admit it or not, you know it, too. There are some things I’ll apologize for that I did, but I made the right call, and I’m not gonna apologize for that.”
Shawn takes a deep breath as the crowd gives another mixed reaction. “But really, it isn’t Bret and me that’s got all your underwear in knots, because you don’t like Bret just as much as he doesn’t like you. No, what you’re all giving me grief over … is The Undertaker.” The crowd explodes with applause for the WWF Champion. Shawn waits patiently for it to die off, then continues. “Hey, he’s a stand-up guy. Good champion. I got nothing against him. And maybe I need to repeat that, so all of you understand: I have nothing against The Undertaker. What happened at SummerSlam, and what happened last week on Raw, those were misunderstandings and bad timing. I have nothing personal against The Undertaker. We may not have a lot in common, but he and I have never had one thing go down between us … before SummerSlam, that is, and that was just an accident. Hell, we even hate the same guy! There’s no reason we can’t co-exist peacefully. And even if I did have some reason to go after Undertaker, I’d go face to face with the man and let him know my intentions.”
An ominous bell-clap fills the arena and the lights go dark. The audience comes out of their seats as The Undertaker makes his way to the ring. The WWF Champ foregoes all the ceremony of his ring entrance, walking with purpose and gets right in Shawn Michaels’ face. Shawn swallows nervously and extends a hand. “Um, hi. I guess we’ve never really been in the same ring tog–”
Undertaker clamps his hand over the hand Shawn is using to hold the microphone and jerks it up towards his own mouth. With a snarl firmly carved into his stone-like face, Undertaker growls; “We have nothing in common, Shawn Michaels. You continue to walk this earth by my good graces. But if these … misunderstandings … keep happening, my good graces will give way to a reckoning.”
Undertaker shoves with the one hand clamped over Shawn’s, sending Shawn sprawling back on his butt, staring as Undertaker leaves the ring … until the massive face of Paul Bearer fills the TitanTron. “Ohhhhhh, Undertaker! Oh, yes! I haven’t forgotten you, Undertaker! You may have forgotten your brother, Kane, but I have not! And when you are weakest, when you least expect it, ohhhhhhh yes! I will bring Kane to you! He is coming, Undertaker! Kane is coming! Kane is coming home!”
The first match of the night is slated to be the Nation Of Domination’s D’Lo Brown against The Patriot. As soon as the bell rings, though, The Patriot steps through the ropes and stands with his arms crossed, looking up at the ref. The ref has no choice but to start counting out The Patriot, and that is exactly what happens. The fans, at first, are confused and start to boo The Patriot, until he takes a microphone and stands in front of the announce table. “If you’re going to let bullies like Bret Hart impose their will on this company, then so am I!” he says. He leans on the table, looking Vince McMahon in the eyes. “I will take a stand against the incompetent tyranny that allows thugs like the Hart Foundation to run free and spit on this great country! You won’t make a dime off my sweat and blood until you reinstate Bret Hart and let him face justice inside the ring!” Patriot tosses the microphone in Vince’s lap and walks off, now to a much more receptive audience.
The Patriot’s bold stance turns out not to be an isolated experience, as Ken Shamrock refuses to take part in a match against Savio Vega. The Legion of Doom also exercise their right to dissent in a match against The Godwinns. Even The Godwinns join the LOD in protesting and demanding the reinstatement of Bret Hart. Jim Ross grills Vince, but the owner deflects the issue onto the Commissioner and persists with a “no comment” platform for the remainder of the evening.
One match that actually happens is a showdown between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Goldust. But after only a couple minutes of wrestling, Brian Pillman comes out and verbally runs down Goldust and his wife, Terri. As he comes down to harass Terri at ringside, Goldust leaves the ring and confronts Pillman. But when Pillman tries to make his escape, he backs into a surprise: Helmsley. Together, Goldust and Helmsley put a hurt on Pillman until he manages to escape, leaving Goldust and Helmsley standing alongside one another in an uneasy peace. Helmsley gets a microphone and, looking Goldust in the eye, offers up a succinct explanation: “I may not like you, Dustin, but I like the Hart family even less. And I’ll be damned before I see them try and ruin this company!” Helmsley offers a hand, which Goldust hesitates on, but the unexpected cheering of the audience compels him to take the hand and shake it. Afterwards, Helmsley looks right in the camera and punctuates the moment by saying: “Hart Foundation, I got two words for you: suck it!”
Right before the referee can signal for the bell to start the main event, the ring announcer surprises everyone with one more introduction: “And, introducing the special guest referee: Rick Rude!”
Virtually everyone in or around the ring looks baffled as the former Intercontinental Champion enters the ring, looking a far cry from the man everyone remembers. With a severe haircut and full but well-manicured beard and a suit, this Rude comes off as icy and no-nonsense. JR asks Vince if he knows anything about it, which once again Vince puts off as the domain of the Commissioner. As the match progresses, Rude inserts himself when his instructions aren’t followed, physically restraining members of The Hart Foundation when they violate a five-count or won’t make a clean break. To everyone else, Rude looks to be a no-BS-taking referee, calling a fair contest; but to Bret Hart and the Foundation, every call is suspect, and Bret issues his protests as loudly and as often as possible. Over the course of the match, Owen makes it a point to target The Undertaker, and proves to vex the champion a fair bit by using his speed to strike quickly and surgically. In the closing minutes, after a count for Owen pinning Undertaker that Bret believes is intentionally slow, Bret confronts Vince McMahon, saying Rude is a corporate stooge. Vince denies it, leading to Bret grabbing the lapels of Vince’s jacket. Security convenes immediately, separating the two. With the distraction, Brian Pillman sneaks around, grabs the WWF Title belt and slides it to Owen, who uses it to blast Undertaker in the head. But when Rude turns around, he sees the title belt laying in the ring and refuses to make the count. Owen stands up and argues with Rude; when Rude tells Owen to respect his law, Owen responds by pushing Rude. Rude responds by slapping Owen hard, sending him in a staggered spin, right into the waiting hands of Vader. The monster powerbombs Owen into oblivion and, with Dude Love, cuts off Hart Foundation interference, while The Undertaker throws an arm over Owen and gets the pin.
The loss makes Bret’s temper snap; he lunges at Vince, but security repels him. Bret starts swinging and taking out security staff, desperately trying to get at McMahon. Within seconds, Shawn Michaels runs down and makes a beeline for Bret. Right behind him is Steve Austin, who slides in the ring and goes after Owen yet again. For the second week in a row, Raw ends looking like a prison riot, with fistfights in every direction and unconscious bodies littering the ringside area.
Aug. 18, 1997: Monday Night Raw (Atlantic City, NJ)
Jim Ross is in the ring as Raw opens. “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, please welcome the WWF Commissioner, Sgt. Slaughter!” says JR. But instead of Slaughter, the announcer is joined by The Hart Foundation. JR rolls with the punches; “Commissioner Slaughter, you’re looking different these days.”
Bret fails to find the humor in JR’s quip. “Jim Ross, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since coming back almost a year ago, it’s that in this company, you no longer get what you’ve earned; you take what you want, or you go without. If we waited for Vince McMahon and his corporate puppets to give us a few minutes to talk, we could’ve stayed home instead of coming to this God-forsaken hellhole!”
“Well, since you’ve commandeered this time for yourself,” says JR over the boos of the crowd, “fine, get it out of your system, so I can get on with what I’m here for.”
Bret takes the microphone from JR. “The first problem I have is that we get here, and we look at the card for tonight, and what do we see? My brother-in-law, Davey Boy Smith, and a close, personal, family friend, Brian Pillman, are wrestling tonight against the boy-toy Shawn Michaels and his prissy little buddy, Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Morons like them are exactly what’s wrong with this company; no honor, no respect, just a couple degenerate punks. But what makes this really stink to high heaven is that this company has wrestlers who exceed the standards a wrestler should aspire to, like my brother, Owen. What’s he doing tonight? Sitting on the sidelines! Last week, he out-wrestled The Undertaker, and actually knocked him out cold. But instead of wrestling for the WWF Championship, he got beat up not once but twice; first by that fat thug Vader, and then by that foul-mouthed redneck Steve Austin! It’s just more BS politics,” rants Bret, moving over to the side of the ring facing the announce table and stabbing a finger in Vince McMahon’s direction. “It’s just another one of your attempts to crush the Hart family, just like you always have! Well, it doesn’t matter how many times you make us fight degenerates and trailer trash; we will always prove we’re better then they are! Men like my brother will get their chance at the top, whether you like it or not, because we’ll fight for it until you can’t deny us what we’ve earned! And, for the record, you can hire all the stooges you want, because we all know that’s exactly what Rick Rude is; he’s your henchman, Vince, because you can’t look me in the eye and tell me he called that match down the middle and didn’t screw my brother. You know the truth,” he says, suddenly dropping down to the arena floor and approaching the chairman. Security immediately start to move towards the announce table. “You know the truth, Vince. Rick Rude is a hired gun, and you’re gonna keep shooting that gun until you kill us off. Read my lips, Vince; no matter how many times you try, you will never –”
The music of Vader fills the arena, and the Rocky Mountain monster steps out onto the stage. “If your pipsqueak brother wants his time, well, son, there’s only one time! Vader time! Come on, boy! Come get some! Come get what your daddy shoulda given you every day!”
Owen is saved from having to answer the call of Vader by another incursion: the intended guest of the segment, Commissioner Slaughter, accompanied by Rick Rude. “Well if it isn’t the corporate puppets!” says Bret, getting back in the ring. “And how do you plan to oppress us today, Slaughter?”
Slaughter ignores Bret’s trash-talking and gets right to the point. “I’m out here to prove you wrong, Bret Hart, by granting your wish. Tonight, your brother’s going to fight for the #1 contendership at Ground Zero, and he’s going to fight Vader!” The crowd pops for the announcement; Vader eyeballs Owen like a predatory bird looking at a mouse, rubbing his hands together, while Owen looks very nervous. Bret claps his brother on the shoulder and starts to say how he’ll be in his corner to for reassurance.
But Slaughter quickly dumps a bucket of cold water on that idea. “If you think you’re gonna stick your nose in it, Bret Hart, Rick Rude will be at ringside!”
Bret laughs without a shred of humor to be found. “Of course he will! He’s the corporate stooge! He’s here just to screw us!” Bret looks at Rude and jabs a finger in his chest. “If I see you screw my brother, so help me G–”
Rude suddenly snatches Bret’s finger, executes a quick turn and twist, and has Bret in a chicken wing. Bret hollers in pain as Rude puts on more pressure; the Foundation start to move to save their leader, but Rude’s icy glare is enough to give them pause. His yell is loud enough to be heard without microphone: “Come any closer and I will break every bone in his arm from the elbow down!” The Foundation backs off, and Rude unceremoniously dumps Bret on the mat, then takes Slaughter’s microphone. “The only agenda I’m working on, Bret, is one of law and order around here, something this company has been sorely lacking lately. There’s no conspiracy against you or The Hart Foundation.” Rude squats down to look Bret in the eye, his voice as lethally calm as the quiet before a hurricane. “But there will be if you don’t straighten up and fly right in a hurry. Understand?” Rude gives the microphone back to Slaughter, exits the ring, and stations himself right next to the timekeeper, hands clasped in front of him, his face expressionless.
With Rude staking out the ring, The Hart Foundation is loathe to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. A Ken Shamrock/Brian Christopher match goes off without a hitch, as does a mixed tag match. But behind the curtain is a long way away from ringside, and that is where the chaos hits. Except it’s courtesy of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who lays into Christopher, Rockabilly, and the Headbangers, one right after another following their matches, telling the camera he’s got a “six-pack of whoop-ass” he’s ready to share.
The Undertaker and Dude Love are partnered against the Godwinns, a match that goes off smoothly, with a dominating win for the champ and his tie-dyed partner. Rude at ringside is enough to keep the nosy Harts at bay … but Owen can’t resist coming out on the stage to watch anyway. As soon as Dude Love gets the pin, Owen tries to sneak up to the ring, but freezes when The Undertaker sees him plain as day. Owen starts to backpedal up the ramp, but backs up into Austin. Owen manages to get away, but not before taking several good shots from a frenzied Austin, who gives chase through the bowels of the arena.
When Raw comes back from commercial, the ring has cleared out and Austin is back, microphone in hand. “Every damn week, I’ve come out here and beat the ever-lovin’ hell outta Owen Hart, cause it’s what the little piece of crap deserves” he says. “And every week, I show up to Raw, and I don’t see Stone Cold Steve Austin’s name on the card. It don’t really matter where I get my hands on that sniveling piece of [bleep]; it could be a parking lot, a grocery store, an airport, wherever. The fact of the matter is, the sumbitch has one hell of a beatin’ comin’ to him courtesy of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that’s the bottom line! But you can bet your ass that beatin’ him ain’t enough for ol’ Stone Cold! I want him in this ring, eyeball to eyeball, because here, not only can I beat his ass, I can humiliate him in front of the world, and there ain’t a damn thing him or his stupid family can do about it!” Austin stomps over to the announce side of the ring and fingers Vince. “But I can’t do that until you pull your head and that stupid-lookin’ rug on your head outta your ass and let Stone Cold wrestle. Maybe you forgot who the hell I am; the fact of the matter is, broken neck, broken back, cut my legs off, it don’t matter, cause I’m just gonna keep comin’ and keep comin’ until I get what I want! And if I gotta make you and that sack of crap Commissioner you got sweat by beatin’ up everyone in sight, then that’s just what I’m gonna do, and that’s the bottom line, cause–”
Commissioner Slaughter comes out, flanked by several police officers and Owen Hart. The group enters the ring, and the police immediately move to encircle Austin. “What the hell’s going on here?” he demands.
“Steve Austin,” says Slaughter with some reluctance, “since you are not medically cleared to compete in a WWF ring, you’re not protected by any rules about being an active competitor. Attacking Owen Hart is considered assault, and he wishes to press charges.”
Even though he is outnumbered and the opponents are armed police, Austin lunges for Owen; the police stop him, push him to the ground and handcuff him behind his back. As they pick him up, Austin fakes a lunge at Owen that makes the younger Hart brother jump, despite Austin being restrained. Austin’s smile and glare say all that needs to be said as he’s escorted from the ring and up the ramp. Midway up, he pauses, bends forward and, with his hands clamped in handcuffs, flips a pair of birds at Owen before being led out of the arena as the crowd comes unglued for his antics.
Bret Hart escorts Brian Pillman and the British Bulldog to the ring for the semi-main, a tag match against the pairing of Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Shawn Michaels. As if the tensions between Shawn Michaels and the Hart Foundation weren’t bad enough, he and Helmsley come out in outfits playing up Canadian stereotypes: fur-lined logger’s hats, RCMP shirts, carrying bottles of maple syrup and hockey sticks. Once in the ring, Helmsley asks for a microphone.
“Hey, eh? All you American hosers wanna hear us sing the national anthem of the best country in the world, eh? Mr. Dunn, can I get some music, eh?” Hunter and Shawn clear their throats, stand next to each other, and let loose in voices so off-key, they could bend steel: “O, Canada … it’s the U-S-A’s bitch!” The dig prompts Bulldog and Pillman to rush Hunter and Shawn. But before Bulldog and Pillman can use the hockey sticks on their foes, Rick Rude comes in and takes the sticks away. Bulldog and Pillman argue with Rude, as does Bret from the apron, but Rude takes the sticks with him. Pillman takes exception to Rude’s actions and follows him out, the argument leading to a push. Rude responds with a push of his own that sends Pillman stumbling backwards into the ringpost, smacking it with his head. Rude follows it up by grabbing Pillman and throwing him in under the bottom rope to a ready-and-waiting Helmsley. Bret yells across the table to Vince McMahon, yet another tirade on anti-Hart family conspiracies. When Vince won’t feed his anger, Bret calls for his troops to leave. Pillman and Bulldog extricate themselves from the match and take the count-out loss, but in their haste, they forget their Canadian flag. Shawn and Hunter grab it and proceed to defile it with obscene gestures and acts, but Bret orders his minions to just keep walking.
As Owen Hart and Vader make their entrances for their high-stakes match-up in the main event, cameras catch numerous superstars watching on monitors in the back: Bret Hart and The Hart Foundation, Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Ken Shamrock, Dude Love, and the WWF Champion himself, The Undertaker. At first, Owen uses his speed to stick and move, especially targeting the legs to try and take the blocks out from under the behemoth. But that quickly changes when Owen tries a double-axe handle off the top turnbuckle; Vader catches him with a lariat that almost sends Owen’s head into orbit. From there, Vader knocks Owen around like a human pinball. Owen tries every shortcut in the book to gain the advantage – thumb to the eyes, raking the face, even a subtle low-blow while trapped in a rear waist-lock – and they do little more than buy a few seconds of time before Vader comes right back at him. Finally, Bret sees enough of his little brother being abused, and makes his way to the stage, but Rick Rude is right there to keep him from getting to ringside. As Bret and Rude argue over his being near the ring, the other members of The Hart Foundation execute a brilliant multi-pronged attack, coming through the crowd from opposite angles to create a distraction for the ref on one side while on the other, Vader is assaulted with a steel chair. The Hart Foundation pulls back, allowing Owen to make the cover and steal the pin, and with it a title shot at Ground Zero.
But before they can celebrate, the lights go out. The roll of thunder fills the arena, and the echoing, booming voice of the WWF Champion fills the arena. “Hart Foundation … Ground Zero will be your … final resting place.”
Aug. 29, 1997: Friday Night’s Main Event (Chicago, IL)
With nine days to go before Ground Zero, Raw airs on a Friday instead of Monday, with a card including a WWF Championship defense by Undertaker against the leader of the Nation Of Domination, Faarooq, as well as Dude Love versus Brian Pillman, and Ken Shamrock against Jim Neidhart. JR, Vince and Lawler all push it as a huge night on the road to Ground Zero.
As soon as the fireworks die down, The Hart Foundation come out en masse. The announce team talks about how, three of the five members of the group have a match at Ground Zero; Vader takes on Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog defends his European Title in against an opponent to be determined, and Owen challenging The Undertaker for the WWF Championship. But if the collective challenges facing the group – either at Ground Zero, or just the enemies list that keeps growing by the day – bothers any of them, they don’t show it; instead, they radiate a smug superiority.
“I want everyone to take a look at the man standing next to me,” says Bret, gesturing to his baby brother. “This man’s career in this company would’ve put a lesser man in the mental asylum. He was put under a silly mask, he was partnered with a washed-up jobber whose claim to fame was holding a bird … and when those brilliant ideas didn’t work, men like Vince McMahon poisoned his mind against his own family.” Bret looks over at Vince, a big grin on his face. “Well, Vince, look at us now; we’re stronger then ever, and Owen is nine days away from becoming the centerpiece of your company, and you have only yourself to blame. We really should thank you for it, but the fact is, you didn’t want this to happen. This is your worst nightmare come to life, Vince. For some reason, you’ve spent your entire life trying to screw my family, from the day you forced my father to sell Stampede to you and extinguished his dreams and hopes. You’ve spent a lifetime making my family your personal toys to torture to your glee. In nine days, we turn it back on you. We will avenge every injustice you’ve dumped on our family when my brother beats The Undertaker and thrusts you into a nightmare we’ll never allow you to wake from. A nightmare of a Hart family dynasty on the WWF Title. Because if there should come a day that Owen loses it, Davey Boy will be there to issue the next challenge. And so will Anvil, and so will Brian Pillman. I want you to enjoy these last nine days, before the Hart family takes control of this company, because once it happens, you’re helpless. You won’t be able to buy your way out of the problem – lord knows, you don’t have the money for it anyway. You won’t be able to bully us, and you won’t stop us, no matter who you throw in our way. Stone Cold Steve Austin, that fat bully Vader, your corporate stooges, the boytoy Shaw–”
Just then, the music of the very person on Bret’s lips hits the sound system, and the Heartbreak Kid steps out onto the stage, flanked by Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna. “Bret, you’re nothing if not reliable,” says Shawn. “Well, okay, you’re a lot of things besides reliable, but I’ll have the censors all over me if I say those things.” Shawn shrugs and smiles at the camera. “So, instead I’m just gonna stand here and let you in on a little something. An idea I had because, by golly, you gave me the idea in the first place, so I thought I’d share it with you before anybody else!” Shawn strolls down the aisle, Hunter and Chyna right behind, and slides in the ring. “See, Bret, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal … there’s not much more that makes me sick in this world then the idea of you being WWF Champion. But the idea that you might help Toucan Sam here win the belt makes me wanna hurl, and we just can’t have that! So, I figure, since your ugly – er, I mean, baby – brother has you as a corner man, ol’ Tall, Dead and Scary needs someone standing in his corner, too. You know, to keep the odds balanced. And there’s nobody better suited for the job then me!”
Bret steps up in Shawn’s face, mere inches away. “Try it and I’ll knock your teeth down your throat.”
All the humor saps out of Shawn’s face. “That might be hard after I kick your lights out, Bret.”
Before the situation can escalate, Rick Rude slides in and inserts himself between the two, pushing Bret back. “That’s enough, Bret! Back off!”
Bret’s jaw drops. “What about him? He’s the one who–”
Rude’s demeanor and expression show no mercy. “Cool your jets, or I’ll cool them for you.” Rude turns to Shawn and holds up a hand. “Shawn, do everyone a favor and just walk away.” Shawn complies without hesitation, although he winks at Bret and makes a chopping motion at his crotch, mouthing suck it. Bret’s eyes go wide, but Rude blocks him before Bret can even twitch. Bret tries to move around anyway, but Rude grabs Bret’s wrist; Bret tries to shake loose, but Rude has a tight clamp. Bret shoves Rude, prompting Rude to let go as he takes a couple steps back. The anger in Bret’s eyes is palpable, but Rude diffuses that quickly with some well-chosen words.
“That was your freebie, Bret. Next time, I put you in the hospital, after I recommend to Commissioner Slaughter to give you your outright release. I’m not some empty suit you can push around, Bret. I can – and I will – fight back.” Rude turns with military exactness and exits the ring, leaving Bret to lead his gang out in a huff back to the locker room.
Despite getting humiliated, the Hart Foundation continue to exert their strength on the Superstars of the WWF, starting with the showdown between Dude Love and Brian Pillman. The “Loose Cannon” of the Hart Foundation grabs the ring announcer’s microphone before the match begins and goes on a tirade on Dude Love (calling him fat and crazy, and insinuating that if he were alive in the 1800’s, his ugliness would result in him being put down like a horse instead of being allowed in public), Goldust (calling him sexually confused, and drawing a conclusion between that and why Terri is interested in him), and Hunter Hearst Helmsley (calling him a “talentless coattail-rider, destined to watch from the sidelines”). As he spews his rhetoric, The British Bulldog ambushes Dude Love before the match can begin; Pillman drops the mic and joins in as the crowd comes unglued …
… until Hunter Hearst Helmsley runs out with a chair and runs off the Foundation contingent. As they back up the aisle, Hunter grabs the microphone and looks at Dude. “Mick, I know there’s a million people you’d look to as a partner before me, but we got two things in common: we both love this company, and we hate The Hart Foundation.” The crowd explodes in cheers. “So, you think for tonight, if we can get those two pinheads to come back to the ring and face us like men, we can set all the crap between us aside and beat their asses together?”
Dude stands up and looks Hunter in the eye, as the Bulldog and Pillman watch. “You know,” says Dude, “maybe it’s the headache I have from just getting my ass kicked, or maybe I’ve been dropped on my head one too many times, but what you’re saying right now makes sense!”
Hunter smiles and sits on the middle rope. “How ’bout it, boys? Care for a fair fight this time?”
When Raw comes back from commercial, the match is on. It doesn’t take long, however, for it to fall apart, as Goldust runs out to get in some punishment on Pillman. After the bell, Ken Shamrock joins in to put the hurt on Bulldog, until the Foundation squirms away. Goldust gives chase to his rival, but Shamrock, Hunter and Dude all find themselves in the ring together, much as they will in under two weeks, as opponents. Dude is the first to leave, slowly, cautiously, followed by Hunter, leaving Shamrock in the ring, watching his opponents back away.
Having seen sworn enemies ally themselves together to beat them back, The Hart Foundation keep their distance from the ring when Jim Neidhart steps into the ring with Ken Shamrock. Unfortunately for The Anvil, the pragmatism doesn’t pay off, as Vader gets involved and, with Shamrock, put the boots to Neidhart, sending another strong message: the WWF’s roster won’t be terrorized by The Hart Foundation.
As Vince pimps the upcoming main event, JR interrupts him. “Vince, I hate to cut you off, but I’m getting word – yes, we have Stone Cold Steve Austin on the phone. Stone Cold, why are you calling in?”
“Well, JR, after what happened last week on Raw, I got to thinking about things between me and Owen Hart, and how I’ve been handling it. Obviously what I was doing wasn’t making no impact.”
“So you’ve finally seen the error of your ways?” asks Vince. “That you were just making more trouble for yourself?”
“You could say that, Vince. And you could also say you’re the biggest jackass this side of the Hart family!”
Vince stews while JR picks up the questioning. “So, what are you saying, Steve? What did you call in for?”
“Well, assuming someone else don’t beat Owen’s ass between now and then – cause God knows, who the hell don’t wanna do that? – at the end of the show tonight, I got a surprise for Owen and for the world. I’m figuring to show you all, once and for all, how serious I am about getting my hands on Owen Hart, how important this is to Stone Cold Steve Austin.”
Before the participants for the main event are announced, Bret Hart surprises everyone by joining the commentary booth, and immediately starts hammering Vince McMahon with snide remarks and pointed questions about conspiracies, losing in the ratings war to WCW, favoritism and his vendetta against the Harts. Vince ignores all of it, keeping his comments limited to what happens in the ring between Undertaker and Faarooq. But after ten minutes of Bret’s verbal diarrhea grates on everyone’s nerves, finally, Vince has enough and snaps, standing up to deliver a scathing diatribe.
“If I had it out for you, Bret, why would I still keep you under contract? You’re not making me any money by sitting on the bench! You’re not doing this company any good by ruining match after match after match! You claim to stand for some old-school principles against men like Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels, but your actions are way worse than their words! Maybe you need to take a look back over the past year and ask yourself how much of this you brought on yourself, how much is you operating under some delusion that you’re the planet we all orbit around! Or maybe I was wrong all these years, and you’re not half the stand-up man I thought you were!”
Bret gets to his feet and gives Vince a shove; Rick Rude comes racing down the ramp to try and break up the scuffle between Bret and Vince that has Lawler and JR caught in the middle, but The Undertaker beats Rude to the punch by coming out, turning Bret around and decking him. Faarooq tries to get involved, but Taker socks him in the jaw. Within minutes, the situation goes from chaotic to a near-riot, as Shawn Michaels, The Hart Foundation, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Nation Of Domination, Dude Love, Vader and Ken Shamrock are all involved, trying to get at the Harts. Security’s attempts to reign in the insanity fail miserably, as Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler scramble over the barricade for safe harbor from the brawls all around.
But the fight starts to thin out when The Undertaker gets his hands on a steel chair. Friend and foe, ally and enemy, those who don’t go running get a taste of steel upside their skull as Undertaker clears a path to get at the brothers Hart. Bret and Owen run like hell to get off the killing floor, and The Undertaker gives chase, allowing security and medical personnel to clear the ringside area one person at a time as the show goes to commercial.
When Friday Night’s Main Event returns from its final commercial break, Jim Ross is in the ring. Notable is the presence of increased security around the ring, to the point that it almost looks like a lumberjack match using police. “Ladies and gentlemen, at the request of Stone Cold Steve Austin, I’ve been asked to summon the following four men into the ring: Bret Hart, Owen Hart, WWF Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon.” McMahon and Slaughter come to the ring right away, while the Harts take their sweet time. The Harts purposefully keep themselves far away from Slaughter and Vince, although Bret looks across the ring with naked disgust at his boss. “Okay, I understand Stone Cold Steve Austin is standing by – Steve, can you hear me?”
The voice of Austin fills the arena. “You got everyone with ya, JR?”
“Yes, Steve, they’re all here. Mr. McMahon, Commissioner Slaughter and the Hart brothers.”
Suddenly, the TitanTron comes alive, broadcasting Austin, outside in the growing dark of night, outside the front door of a house. “There’s only two reasons why I ain’t there live to stomp a mudhole in every one of your asses right now: one is because that gutless piece of crap Owen Hart has a restraining order on me. But the second reason is that the doctors and the suits like you, Vince, and your fat friend next to ya, you think if ol’ Stone Cold gets in the ring and gets hurt again, I’m gonna sue you blind. Well, the fact of the matter is, Stone Cold Steve Austin don’t care about being rich or owning no company, and I sure as hell ain’t got a use for lawyers. All I wanna do is wrestle, and I wanna wrestle the Hart family, until I’ve run every last one of ’em back to Canada where they belong! And since not a one of ya think I’m serious when I put the boots to Owen week after week after week after week, and can’t none of ya can listen worth a damn, I’m gonna show you how serious I am, and that I will not stop until you put me back in that ring and let me do what I do better then anybody in the world!”
With that, Austin turns, grabs a sledgehammer leaning against a wall, faces the door and swings. The door explodes inward, splinters of wood flying as the door bangs against a wall. Screams can be heard from inside the house. Vince and Slaughter look concerned and confused, but on the faces of Owen and Bret, there is sheer panic. Bret looks at Vince and yells at him to do something, but there’s nothing anyone can do.
Austin enters the house, and is immediately confronted with Bruce and Keith Hart. Austin dispatches with them both using of the hammer, and starts stomping through the house. “Stu, ya crusty old sumbitch! Where the hell are ya? I got somethin’ for ya!” As Austin hunts for the Hart family patriarch, he casually swings the hammer, turning whatever exists in the hammer’s arc to junk. Austin stops at the door to the Dungeon and turns to the cameraman following him. “I don’t think y’all got the message yet about how serious Stone Cold is in gettin’ what I want. But maybe you’re listening now, maybe you’re getting it now. But maybe y’all are still as dumb as ya look, and you think I’m bluffing. Let’s see if you think I’m bluffing when I find that dried-up carcass you call a daddy. Maybe he’ll listen to me, and maybe if I can get him on the same page, he can talk some sense into the four of ya.” Austin tries the door handle, but it’s locked. Austin grins, and uses the hammer to bash in the door, then looks at the cameraman. “You just plant your boots right here.” Austin closes the door as best he can behind him, and after a few seconds of still picture accompanied by screaming and yelling, the signal dies. Raw ends on the faces of Owen and Bret, white as sheets.
Sep. 5, 1997: Friday Night’s Main Event (Chicago, IL)
The final episode of WWF programming before Ground Zero, a mere 48 hours before the big event, starts off with the Commissioner, Sgt. Slaughter, in the ring. “Stone Cold Steve Austin, come to the ring right now!” he bellows.
The audience jumps to their feet when the sound of shattering glass hits the speakers. Austin enters the ring with his two championship belts in hand, silently glaring a hole through the Commissioner with a sneer frozen on his face.
“Steve, what you did last week–”
“What I did last week was what you made me do, ya silly bastard!” Austin snaps. “All I wanna do is what I do better than anybody in the world and that’s wrestle, and you and Vince and the doctors and the lawyers are standing in Stone Cold’s way! Blah blah, your neck, blah blah, lawsuit, blah blah, medical clearance! It’s a bunch of crap! None of you will let me do what I do best, and that mealy-mouthed little bastard Owen Hart, I can’t even get near the sumbitch without getting arrested! So I did what I could to make my point and maybe get your attention. And if you think you’re gonna tell me to stop and I’ll stop, eh-eh!, that just ain’t gonna happen!”
Slaughter’s expression grows dark. “Steve, as a WWF Superstar, you can’t go into people’s homes and terrorize–”
“But I ain’t a WWF Superstar right now! That’s what you said to me! You banned me from wrestling! I can’t get near Owen Hart, and I can’t be in this ring unless I’m listenin’ to one of you suit-and-tie-wearin’ jackasses flap their gums! Besides, I didn’t lay a hand on their old man anyway!”
“That’s not the point! The point is, you’re a loose cannon, and you’re an embarrassment to this company, and as Commissioner, I have to take action!” Slaughter squares his shoulders and levels a finger right in the face of Austin. “As of right now, you and Dude Love are stripped of the WWF Tag Titles, and if you can’t get medical clearance by Monday, you’ll be stripped of the Intercontinental Title as well!”
The crowd absolutely hates the decision. Austin is a long minute absorbing Slaughter’s stunning announcement, and he spends the whole minute burning a hole through Slaughter with his glare. Finally, he nods, and the tension melts from his posture. “Well,” he says with his eyes cast down, “you do what you gotta do … and I’ll do what I gotta do.” Suddenly, Austin puts a boot in Slaughter’s midsection, grabs his head and drops the Commissioner with a Stunner. The crowd goes ballistic (as do JR, Lawler and Vince) for Austin’s literal abuse of authority. Security runs out of the back, Rick Rude leading the charge, but Austin jumps the barricade and disappears into the crowd, turning every so often to flash the double-bird. Vince McMahon leaves the announce table to check on Slaughter, while Jerry Lawler demands Austin be fired for his actions.
Once the dust has settled, JR and the King give a run-down of the show, featuring a main event of Owen Hart against Shawn Michaels, as well as Vader & Dude Love against The Headbangers, a four-team “gangland rumble”, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley against Ken Shamrock with the winner facing Davey Boy Smith for the European Title at Ground Zero. And, in conjunction with the stripping of Dude and Austin, a four-team elimination match is booked for the PPV to fill the championship vacancy.
One of the first matches of the night pits the visually incongruous team of Vader and Dude Love against The Headbangers, who are announced as one of the teams in Ground Zero’s match to fill the vacant championship. The match starts off with an amusing bit of comedy, with Dude Love starting off against Headbanger Mosh; the two styles, truly a generational clash, prompt a dance-off. The crowd likes Dude’s good-natured shuffle way more than Mosh’s whirling-dervish spinning and slam-dancing. The Headbangers, looking to build momentum for Ground Zero, use Dude’s dancing as an opportunity to blindside their opponents and take control for a little while … until the all-too-common incursion of the Hart Foundation, in the form of Anvil and the British Bulldog, attack. As if in response to the previous week’s forming of convenient alliances against them, the Foundation make it known they won’t tolerate an uprising against them and put an especially brutal beating on Vader and Dude, opening up a nasty cut on Dude’s forehead by bashing him in the face with the ring bell, and tearing off Vader’s mask as a trophy. Medics try to tend to Dude, but he pushes them away, staggering off into the backstage with a look in his eyes that’s far from the chill composure the Dude is known for.
British Bulldog returns a little later and joins the commentary team for the Shamrock/Helmsley showdown. While both Shamrock and Hunter exchange words with Davey Boy, it stays peaceful, thanks in no small part to the looming presence at ringside of Rick Rude. When the Bulldog makes to stand up, Rude is right there. The first time gets Davey Boy a warning glare; the second, he physically restrains Davey Boy by holding his wrist. Bulldog loses his temper and pushes Rude, which prompts the troubleshooter to slap the taste out of Bulldog’s mouth. The match ends in a time limit draw, which pleases neither Shamrock or Hunter given the stakes. The Bulldog looks pleased until Rude passes along a message received from his earpiece; due to the tie, and as a result of his actions earlier in the episode, Davey Boy’s title defense will now be a fatal-four-way match against Helmsley, Shamrock and Dude Love. Davey Boy flips out and tries to rush the ring, only for Rude to restrain him and, with the help of security, escort him to the back.
As the Godwinns, one of the four teams in the match at Ground Zero, come to the ring for a tune-up match, Stone Cold Steve Austin comes back, brandishing a chair. With two swings, the pig farmers get their lights dimmed. Once again, security runs out, but Austin gets away again through the crowd, flipping off the authorities the entire way to the delight of the crowd.
Backstage, Shawn Michaels, flanked by Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna, are about to have an interview when The Undertaker walks up. Shawn tries to play it off like he’s glad to see the WWF World Champion and starts to talk “strategy” for Ground Zero; Undertaker cuts that off by putting a hand around Shawn’s throat and wrenching the mic out of the interviewer’s hand. Helmsley and Chyna move to save their friend, but one glare from The Undertaker is enough to make them back off.
“Listen to me very carefully,” says Undertaker as he locks eyes with Shawn’s. “I didn’t ask for your help on Sunday, and I sure as hell don’t want it. You keep what’s between you and the Hart Foundation out of my match with Owen Hart.”
“Sure, sure, whatev–”
Undertaker tightens his grip and cuts off Shawn’s words. “One more mistake, boy, and you won’t have to worry about healing your bum knee … because I’ll rip the damned thing off and beat you with the stump. Are we clear?”
“ARE WE CLEAR?!?”
With little more than a whisper, Shawn gets out, “Crystal.” Undertaker releases his grip and walks off before Shawn can say anything.
The Gangland Rumble takes the semi-main spot; featuring two members of the Nation (Rock and D’lo Brown), the DOA (Skull & 8-Ball), Los Boricuas (Savio Vega & Miguel Perez) and the Legion Of Doom, the match is a no-DQ tornado fatal-four-way match. Not surprisingly, the lack of rules allows many more people to get involved, the other members of the Boricuas, Nation and DOA. But the tide is turned by two men in short succession; firstly, Ahmed Johnson, who specifically targets the Nation and helps the other teams stomp them into puddles. The second, not surprisingly, is Steve Austin, who comes back down with his chair and hits virtually everyone left standing, up to and including fan favorites like Hawk, Animal and Ahmed. By the time he leaves, the ring has enough motionless bodies to look like a World War II battlefield. Animal manages to drape an arm over Savio Vega for a Pyrrhic victory as the authorities, once again, try and fail to apprehend Austin.
When the main event rolls out, Owen Hart is flanked by his Hart Foundation compatriots, as expected. Owen takes to the stick and announces that when he wins the WWF World Championship, he promises to be a fighting champion, just like his brother was, and announces that Monday will be the launchpad for a world tour, where he’ll defend the championship in Japan, England, Germany, South America, Africa, and all over the “greatest country on Earth”, Canada … but that he will never set foot in the United States again, and promises to burn his work visa. With his speech over, Bret, Brian, Davey Boy and Jim take station next to the announce table – on the far side of Vince McMahon and Rick Rude, who is standing sentry next to McMahon – and await the entry of Shawn Michaels.
Only after three short runs of his music, Shawn doesn’t show. Finally, Commissioner Slaughter comes out and announces that Shawn Michaels has left the building and will not be wrestling tonight. In Shawn’s place, however, will be another capable wrestler, and one with far more upstanding moral character: The Patriot, who doesn’t even wait for his music before rushing the ring. Owen slides out, leading The Patriot on a chase right towards where The Hart Foundation is standing … only for Rick Rude to intervene, stopping The Patriot from running into a gang beatdown. Bret, Jim and Davey Boy all jeer Rude inserting himself into the “match” (even though the bell still hasn’t rang), but it is Pillman who takes action, pushing Rude aside and sucker-punching The Patriot. Rude pulls Pillman off The Patriot, but before he can do anything else, The Hart Foundation takes the opportunity to lay out Rude. With Rude down, Bret takes the opportunity to stalk Vince McMahon, laying every wrong at Vince’s feet, cursing up a blue streak. Before Bret can turn threats into actions, The Undertaker comes down and lays waste to as many Foundation members as he can get a hand on … until Owen clobbers him in the back of the head with the ring bell. Owen grabs the championship belt and holds it up like he’s won it as Bret taunts Vince that Sunday will end just like this, and it’ll be the last time he ever sees the WWF World Championship.
Sep. 7, 1997: Ground Zero (Louisville, KY)
The first three-hour In Your House pay-per-view kicks off with the four-team match to fill the vacancy caused by the stripping of Steve Austin and Dude Love, with the Legion Of Doom, The Headbangers, The Godwinns and The Nation Of Domination, represented by D’Lo Brown and Kama Mustafa. With the Nation hip-deep in a brutal gang war between Los Boricuas and the Disciples Of Apocalypse, the Nation are eliminated early on thanks to interference from their hated rivals, pinned by Hawk. The Godwinns are the next to go, leaving the legendary LOD and the Headbangers. Still sore about being eliminated and having a long-standing rivalry, the Nation come back out and take out their frustrations on the LOD, allowing the Headbangers to get away with the victory.
The music for Vader cues up, but it isn’t the monster from the Rocky Mountains that comes out; it’s the unpredictable Brian Pillman. The “Loose Cannon” slides in the ring and snatches the mic from Howard Finkel’s hand.
“Folks – because I dare not call the people of Louisville, Kentucky ladies and gentlemen,” begins Pillman to a chorus of boos. “Folks, among you walks a hypocrite! A two-faced, money-grubbing liar walks among you, and speaks for you, and serves your will! And he calls himself a ‘patriot’ – no, no, not just a patriot, but The Patriot! This is a man whose principles are so rock-solid, he walked out on this company a month ago because he refused to prostitute himself for that whoremonger Vince McMahon … but when Mr. Stars & Stripes himself Sgt. Slaughter needs him, here he comes to cash that paycheck!” Pillman pauses a moment, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “You know, on second thought, what am I saying? He’s the perfect mouthpiece for a country so corrupt, so void of culture and class! He’s just like–”
The prideful revelry of The Patriot’s entrance music cuts off Pillmans hate-speech. The Patriot wastes no time rushing the ring, but Pillman backs out. The Patriot picks up the mic Pillman leaves behind.
“It’s time to show you actions speak louder than words, Brian Pillman!” he snaps. “And we can do that by getting a referee down here so we can make it official when I pin you 1-2-3!”
Surprisingly, Pillman accepts the offer, coming into the ring tentatively. The Patriot shows a lot more class, letting Pillman get to his feet and looking to tie up. Pillman, however, shows none of the same class, and takes every shortcut he can, from a thumb in the eyes to a questionably low knee. Once he has firm control, Pillman devotes a lot of time and energy to ripping away the mask of The Patriot, but his iron will is too strong to let Pillman have the satisfaction. About seven minutes into the match, the lights suddenly change color to a golden haze, and the theatrical music of Goldust cues up. The arrival of the Bizarre One, who defeated Pillman at Summerslam and forced him to wear a dress for 30 days, sends Pillman into hysterics. The distraction gives The Patriot the perfect opportunity to come from behind and hit Uncle Slam, which is enough to get The Patriot the pin. Goldust and The Patriot, an odd pairing to say the least, leave together smiling as Pillman wigs out in the ring, stomping and kicking the ropes, coming emotionally unglued at being humiliated by Goldust two months in a row.
The second match of the night to feature The Hart Foundation is the Jim Neidhart/Vader contest. Neidhart comes to the ring holding the stolen mask of Vader. Once in the ring, Neidhart yells to Vader (who isn’t in the ring yet) that he’ll tear him in half just like the mask, and proceeds to rip the mask apart. Vader – sans mask – comes to the ring looking angrier than ever and gets right up in Neidhart’s face. The Anvil – no slouch of a man in stature, but positively dwarf-like next to Vader – shows no fear with he monster of the Rocky Mountains in his business. Vader dares Neidhart to take his best shot, and allows several in fact, all to the same effect; none at all. Not used to being confronted with a man he can’t overpower, Neidhart starts to backpedal a little, but Vader gives no quarter. Vader puts on a slow, methodical beatdown of the Anvil the likes of which he has never encountered, nor the audience has ever seen, tossing him around and putting the screws to him at a leisurely, torturous pace. At least, that is, for a few minutes, before his brother-in-law and leader Bret Hart puts his nose in, bashing Vader across the back with a steel chair. Bret jabs him in the stomach and sets up to DDT Vader onto the chair, but Vader lifts him and launches Bret as if he were a basketball. The bell long having been rang to signal for the disqualification, nobody in the ring pays any attention to it; Vader stalks Bret, but in doing so forgets about Anvil, who snags the chair and saves Bret with a home-run blast across the back. Together, the two stomp the living daylights out of Vader, eventually tying him up in the ring ropes. Anvil hands Bret the chair. Bret makes a very big show of winding up for a kill-shot right to the head … only before he can swing, Rick Rude slides in and rips the chair out of Bret’s hand. Bret is furious, but he and everyone else can see in Rude’s eyes that there will be no prisoners taken if Rude has to take further action. Bret and Anvil back off together, Bret keeping his eyes locked on Rude’s the entire time as he backs up the ramp. Rude looks right at Bret, holds up one finger and yells out “that’s your one warning!”.
The music for Dude Love plays to usher him out as the first challenger for the four-corners match, but the Dude never shows up. They have no choice but to bring out Ken Shamrock and Hunter Hearst Helmsley before trying Dude Love again, only to get the same nothing. The champ is introduced, and the smile on his face couldn’t be bigger, seeing the number of challengers decrease by one. That is, until, a voice rings out from backstage. The voice, once that of a cool cat, is trembling, edgy, on the brink of psychosis.
“I see now … the Hart Foundation has made this place no place for love … no place for the Dude. The Dude is a good man, but he has no business challenging for any championship. Not against men like that. But I know a man … I know a man …”
A snarling, raspy electric guitar riff plays, a southern-influenced metal beat. For those who aren’t familiar with it by sound, they know the face when he steps through the curtain: it’s one of Mick Foley’s other alter egos, and not the deranged Mankind, but the most dangerous. The man who survived Japanese deathmatch tournaments and having an ear ripped off: Cactus Jack. Shamrock looks stunned; Helmsley, knowing the hell that is Cactus Jack personally, shakes his head and backs away. Bulldog is sheet-white and unable to move. The fearless, maniacal legend of hardcore wrestling comes down and immediately goes after the champ. The surprise in Shamrock clears up long enough to join in, and after a moment, even Helmsley can break his paralysis and get in a shot side by side with his nemesis from not so long ago. But partnerships lead to failure in a winner-take-all environment, and they know that as well as anyone, and it quickly devolves into a free-for-all. Most often, it’s either Cactus Jack, Davey Boy Smith or both taking the beating – one for being in the Hart Foundation, and one because he’s too much of a threat to allow to be standing. But Cactus is not so easily kept down, and everything he takes, he gives back with a little extra, especially to Bulldog. Finally, it settles into two pairings, only it’s not the expected pairings. It’s Shamrock who figures out that Cactus can’t be taken out by coming straight at him, but by going after the legs to ruin his vertical base and eliminate his ability to use his recklessness. Zeroing in with surgical strikes and other maneuvers, Shamrock gives Cactus enough to change the course of the match. That leaves Bulldog and Helmsley to focus on each other and just wrestle, with Bulldog trying to overpower Helmsley, who has more technical prowess. The wrestlers change focus a few times, especially with Cactus hobbled, but after the chaos of the first portion of the match, any changing of dance partners in the second is mostly strategic and orderly.
But in the final minutes, that all comes undone. Cactus powers through the pain to bring his brand of anarchic wrestling back into the mix, turning the last few minutes once again into a barroom brawl. Pinfalls happen so fast the ref can’t keep up, to the point where the ref ends up counting two at the same time, looking like a man in the throes of a very demonstrative prayer. The final moments have finishers reversed in stereo; Cactus’ double-arm DDT on Shamrock gets turned into an ankle lock thanks to a crafty double-leg takedown and roll-through. Meanwhile, Helmsley’s attempt at a Pedigree goes up in smoke when Bulldog lifts up Helmsley, readjusts and nails his powerslam. With Cactus refusing to even crawl for the ropes, let alone surrender, Shamrock is too focused on keeping the ankle lock twisted to notice Bulldog pinning Helmsley. It doesn’t sink in until he hears the bell that Bulldog has pulled off a miracle. And no sooner has the bell rung than Davey Boy rolls out, grabs his belt and leaves, not wanting to stick around for any possible aftermath.
Not surprisingly, Owen Hart does not come with only his big brother in tow; the Hart Foundation en masse is there, standing sentinel, ready to be on hand for Owen’s coronation. Bret climbs in the ring and rubs Owen’s shoulders, giving him final words of encouragement during the long, theatrical entrance of the WWF Champion. The eyes of The Undertaker are firmly locked on Owen and Bret, and vice versa … until he steps through the ropes and his entrance music is cut off abruptly and replaced with “Sexy Boy”. Undertaker wheels around and glares his approaching – and unwanted – corner man, Shawn Michaels, who parks himself in the corner of the champ and tells Undertaker “you got this!”
From the moment the bell rings, it’s obvious the match is not going to be limited to the participants in the ring. The first few minutes are fine, but Shawn’s inability to keep his taunting mouth shut gets him plenty of attention from the rest of the Hart Foundation. Shawn gets into a shoving match with Brian Pillman that has to be broken up by security and the referee, which serves as a distraction for Bret to sneak in the ring. Only Rick Rude, stationed at the timekeeper’s table, sees this, and runs in to stop Bret from clipping Undertaker’s knee. Bret slinks away, mouthing some uncouth words in Rude’s direction as he backs off that Rude pays no mind. The match continues and is surprisingly balanced; Owen’s blend of speed and Hart family technical prowess is a potent combination for the champ, while Owen has his hands full with Undertaker’s strength, surprising agility and, most of all, anger. Bret, worried that his little brother isn’t making enough headway, again tries to interfere, once again using the multi-pronged approach. But Rude doesn’t fall for it, and has to physically restrain Davey Boy from getting in the ring. This prompts a shoving match between the two that ends when Shawn Michaels comes from out of nowhere and hits Sweet Chin Music on the Bulldog. Bret loses it, yelling and screaming about Rude’s “biased” approach to being a troubleshooter. Quickly, the group convenes in a huddle as Owen and Undertaker continue to wrestle a stalemate. When they break, they go back to watching the match, with Bret telling Owen to “bring it home”.
Moments later, Owen tosses Undertaker into the ropes. Undertaker goes for his flying clothesline, only Owen ducks and Undertaker ends up cleaning the clock of the poor referee. Vince McMahon, as always on commentary, utters “oh, no”, as the plan springs into action. Pillman, consciousness regained from the superkick earlier, sneaks around the long way and ambushes Shawn Michaels. As Rude goes over to break it up, Anvil and Bulldog attack Rude, neutralizing all the potential threats. That leaves Bret to slide in and blast Undertaker in the head with a steel chair, then works on getting the ref awake again. But before he can get the zebra back to reality, Vader runs in and tosses Bret like a sack of potatoes. Bret scrambles away, but right into the rest of the reinforcements; Cactus Jack, Ken Shamrock, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, his bodyguard Chyna, the Legion Of Doom, Goldust, and even the Nation Of Domination. With nowhere to run and vastly outnumbered, the Hart Foundation take the beating they have so long earned outside the ring.
Inside the ring, with the referee finally stirring, Owen heads up to the top rope, looking to polish off The Undertaker. Owen positions himself for a moonsault, but takes too long and doesn’t see Undertaker standing up. Owen flies and Undertaker catches him and immediately drops him in a Tombstone. While the ref is groggy and the count is long, he could count to ten and Owen wouldn’t move. The Undertaker retains his championship amid a full-scale prison riot on the outside. Through tired and groggy from the competitive war he’s just been through, he scans the outside until he finds the man who almost cost him the WWF Championship, Bret Hart. Undertaker hits the ropes to gather enough so as to launch himself up and over, a nearly seven-foot tall missile coming down on Bret Hart and anyone else around him. Those who didn’t get hit are smart enough to back away from an obviously enraged Undertaker. The champ rips up the protective padding on the floor and makes a slashing motion across his throat. Undertaker picks up Bret, looking to Tombstone him on the bare concrete … but Bret wiggles out the back, quickly hops the barricade and runs for his life. Undertaker, Vader and Patriot give chase to the Hart Foundation’s leader, while security has their hands full trying to regain control over the massacre of the rest of the Foundation.
To be continued …