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10 Things We Learned From WWE Survivor Series 1997

The one with the Montreal Screwjob...

I'm glad that we here at Cultaholic are taking the opportunity to discuss Survivor Series 1997, because it's a show that never seems to get talked about. Other Survivor Series events get to bask in the scenic view from their spots on Cloud Nine, whereas Survivor Series 1997 is relegated to the basement of history. So little mention is afforded to the Montreal show that, oftentimes, people forget that a Survivor Series even took place on that date.

I mean, sure, the main event pitting Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels against one another has spawned more conspiracy theories than your average cataclysmic event, but what of the rest of the show? Steve Blackman's PPV debut, The Truth Commission wrestling as a quartet, a Canadian team consisting of one Canadian, two Americans, and an Englishman - I mean come on! We're talking history-making stuff, here!

Attempt at thickly-laid sarcasm aside, of course Survivor Series 1997 is a memorable and historic night, entirely because of the ending and implications of the main event between Hart and Michaels. An entire Oliver Stone movie could be made about the events of that night (with Ray Liotta playing Vince, hopefully), and the fact that 21 years later it's still heavily discussed tells you all you need to know.

10. Change Is In The Air


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To say that the WWE roster in the Attitude Era was in flux would be a gross understatement. A year later, Bret Hart would be shuffling around WCW's upper midcard with minimal enthusiasm, while Shawn Michaels would be largely in retirement due to back injuries. And those were the two men that went on last of a highly-hyped card. They wouldn't be the only ones out of the picture in 365 days.

Of the 38 men that wrestled at the 1997 Survivor Series, only 11 would wrestle on the following year's show. Those include Steve Austin, The Rock, Kane, Mankind, Ken Shamrock, Goldust, D-Lo Brown, The New Age Outlaws, and The Headbangers. Accounting for 71 per cent of those 38 wrestlers not appearing were many exits (Vader, Davey Boy Smith, among many assorted undercarders), as well as a few wrestlers, like Legion of Doom and Kurrgan, who were nearing that door as well.

9. A Different Weapon


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One of the odder substitutions in Survivor Series history was made six nights before the pay-per-view. "The Patriot" Del Wilkes was slated to wrestle on Vader's team, only to be sidelined with a severe triceps injury. He would never return to the ring, retiring due to that injury, as well as other lingering pains from his years of both a wrestler and football player.

Vader's team needed a fourth man, and they got it in the form of the debuting Steve Blackman, who jumped the rail on that go-home Raw to save Vader from an assault at the hands of Davey Boy Smith's team. Blackman was a relative unknown to WWE fans at the time, so the fill-in seemed rushed and a little desperate, but something had to be done in that 11th hour. And hey, it introduced a larger portion of the fanbase to the ultra-tough Blackman. Fun fact: "Haku" is the Tongan word for Steve Blackman.

8. Fiery And Victorious


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Glenn Jacobs' first televised match under the Kane mask and bodysuit was simple and to the point - he destroyed Mankind, flinging the madman from pillar to post in order to establish Kane to be on par with the unyielding power of his own flesh and blood, The Undertaker. The win was a necessary one for the commodity that was The Big Red Machine.

It was also unique, in that it marked Glenn Jacobs' first PPV win under *any* name. Debuting two years earlier as Isaac Yankem DDS, and later being re-costumed into the role of doppelganger Diesel, Jacobs ran up a record of 0-3-1 on WWE pay-per-view, including two failed attempts to win in the Royal Rumble, which each prior role. Kane, as it turns out, was ironically a hellish Godsend.

7. Abbreviated Mayhem


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Lost in the hoopla of the main event (which will have five bullet points alone dedicated to it) was the *other* title change from Survivor Series 1997. In that instance, Stone Cold Steve Austin would defeat Owen Hart to capture the Intercontinental gold for the second time in his career. It may surprise some people to see the official match time for the bout pitting those two, running a brisk four minutes and three seconds.

The match was kept short due to lingering injuries for both men. Austin had not fully recovered from the neck-crunching piledriver at the hands of Owen at SummerSlam that year, and was still working short matches (with the bare minimum of bumps) to compensate. Owen, meanwhile, had only just recently recovered from a concussion, and wasn't fit to do a long match, either.

6. An Unlikely Consensus


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Because of past hostilities with Shawn Michaels, and owed to Shawn's apparent refusal to do jobs, Bret Hart refused to drop the WWE Championship to him in Montreal at Survivor Series (Hart did volunteer to drop the belt at an earlier or later time, but not to Shawn in Canada). This put Vince's grapefruits in a vise - he needed Hart to lose by Survivor Series' end, lest Eric Bischoff go on Nitro the next night and announce that he'd signed away the reigning WWE Champion.

Bret's fate was pretty much sealed four days before the pay-per-view, when two very different men suggested something similar to the eventual "screwjob". Jim Cornette, part of Vince's creative inner circle, off-handedly suggested a forcible move, reminding Vince: "It's your f**king belt." Later in the day, Vince took a conference call with Michaels and Triple H, and when the two were told that Hart didn't wish to lose, Triple H angrily suggested that they, "Do business for (Bret)". With two people of disparate mindsets suggesting aggressive deception like an in-ring screwing, Vince knew then that it was probably his best option.

5. Lemme Give You A Hand


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Bret had been advised by allies like Davey Boy Smith, Vader, and others to not let Michaels catch him in a hold, fearing the result that we'd eventually get. Bret was wary, but figured that with close friend Earl Hebner officiating the match, he'd be safe. That's why he had no problem suggesting a Sharpshooter-reversal spot to Shawn hours before the match. Michaels realized that would be the prime moment to "ring the f**king bell", and cordially agreed to the idea.

In the match, when Michaels went to apply the Sharpshooter, he began to cross Hart's legs in an incorrect manner. Not realizing that Hebner was awakening from his pre-ordained bump just behind his head, Hart covertly whispered to Michaels that he was doing it wrong. That's like a condemned criminal helping the executioners fix the guillotine. Of course, Bret didn't realize what was seconds away from occurring.

4. Voice Of Reason


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When the "Screwjob" went down, all hell started to break loose. The boys and girls in the back were beside themselves in shock and anger. Hart, after calmly spitting in Vince's face, set about destroying the TV monitors at ringside. Once backstage, Vince holed up in a locked office with Sgt. Slaughter, Gerald Brisco, and others. Hart found the office once he came through the curtain and tried to get inside, to no avail. It seemed that Hart and Vince would not cross paths again.

That is, until louder knocks came at the door minutes later. Reportedly, it was Brisco who answered the door expecting Bret, only to find an irate Undertaker. It was Taker who bellowed at Vince that he needed to address Bret and the other boys in the locker room. If Undertaker did not intervene, what happened next would likely not have happened at all.

3. No Pain, No Gain


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The big scuffle between Bret and Vince really came down to just one punch, an uppercut that would coldcock McMahon. The scene of a limping Vince played out on the Paul Jay documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, with Vince's stumble being later explained by Bret as the boss rolling his ankle while falling down after the punch. But Hart himself did not come out of the brawl unscathed.

Hart actually broke his own hand delivering the punch. Hart recalls it was "just below the knuckle" on his right hand, but wasn't specific which finger(s) were near the epicentre of the break. Regardless, that must have been some punch to not only knock a man unconscious, but to wind up breaking your own hand from the sheer force of it.

2. Foley Takes A Walk


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Before the punch, Hart advised the present wrestlers in the locker room that this sort of betrayal could happen to any one of them down the line. However, Hart wasn't going to begrudge any of them for staying, since they all had to consider money and family before anything else. And some wrestlers actually did quit, albeit one was temporary.

Mick Foley, a good friend of Hart's, was so enraged by the events of the night that he quit the company. His exit would only last for 24 hours (through Monday's Raw), after which time Jim Ross and Jim Cornette convinced him to return. Foley later rationalized that with Hart being more than taken care of financially in WCW, that the situation wasn't worth his giving up his WWE contract over. Bret even conceded that Foley, with his strong WWE push, made the right choice, and that going back to WCW would've been bad for him.

1. Conflict Sells


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This could be subtitled "replays sell" as well. WWE's pay-per-view market in 1997 had bottomed out, with WrestleMania doing its lowest pre-Network number ever (237,000 buys). In part due to the Hart-Michaels saga, as well as the newsworthy events inspiring purchases of the event replay, the 1997 Survivor Series gets to make a unique claim.

For the only time in history, a Survivor Series pay-per-view drew more buys than the WrestleMania from the same calendar year. The 1997 Survivor Series did 250,000 buys, with curious aftermath purchases no doubt a contributing factor. But there's a darker side to the number - this would be the last time that Survivor Series did less than 300,000 buys until 2009. Clearly, 1997 wasn't WWE's overall strongest year, but better days were ahead. Were they ever.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.