When discussing the second half of 1997, only one subject is frequently discussed by wrestling journalists and pundits. That’s the one night in Montreal where Bret Hart loses the WWF Championship to Shawn Michaels. it’s the main focus of discussion but there is one feud that changes wrestling history and the shape of the Monday Night wars.
Their feud begins at Summerslam 1997, the main event of the biggest show of the summer saw The Undertaker defend his WWF Championship against the now anti American Bret Hart who despises everything about the country. The special guest referee and antagonist for Hart is Shawn Michaels. The ending of the match comes as Hart is about to hit Undertaker with a chair but HBK pulls the chair away from the Hitman. An enraged Hitman spits in the face of HBK, in revenge, Shawn swings the chair attempting to hit Hart who ducks. Missing Hart, Michaels accidentally hits the deadman by mistake and Hart makes the cover. Shawn reluctantly makes the count and crowns Bret Hart as the new WWF Champion.
The ending of the match was to set the stage for the match down the road at Survivor Series but also set a new feud for Undertaker and Shawn Michaels until Survivor Series. Bret Hart moved into a feud with The Patriot while Undertaker went on the hunt for revenge against The Heartbreak Kid. The feud between the two doesn’t get as much attention as it should, this feud and what happens between Summerslam and Survivor Series changes wrestling history forever.
After the ending of Summerslam, Undertaker vowed revenge on Shawn Michaels for costing him his championship. Michaels would cut a heel promo in the ring with Jim Ross telling him that Undertaker and everyone shouldn’t blame him for the result of Summerslam. On the Raw is War episode on August 11th, the main event was HBK vs Mankind and in this match we would see the beginnings of the legendary faction D-Generation X
DX wasn’t the Degeneration X we are told to remember today, The beginning started in this main event of Raw. In order to defeat Mankind, Shawn Michaels would have the help of Triple H, Chyna and a returning Rick Rude who would interfere and help Michaels pick up a victory. The next week on August 18ththe main event was set as Shawn Michaels and Triple H teaming up against the team of The Undertaker and Mankind. This is the tag team match that is famous for the start of DX where Shawn Michaels hits Undertaker with a chair. Triple H, Rick Rude and Chyna join forces with Shawn Michaels to become a faction.
All this leads to a match at the Ground Zero pay per view between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker in the main event. The match was an intense, wild brawl that goes all the way up to the entrance ramp and stage and is a classic forgotten WWE match that you must see. Shawn Michaels is at his over selling, take a beating for a bigger man best. He keeps the audience waiting when his music hits and when his pyro doesn’t go off on cue, his reaction is fitting to his new, cocky, arrogant attitude. The Undertaker plays a great monster who can’t wait to deliver a beating and hates his opponent. Triple H and Chyna come down to ringside and the match ends a no contest with no winner but this helps set up the need for the match at the next pay per view and also helps build the new budding relationship between Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
After their match at Ground Zero, Michaels and Undertaker are booked into a new concept match called Hell in a Cell. Hell in a Cell is just another gimmick in this era of WWE but in 1997 nobody really knew what to expect, it was exciting and we knew that this feud needed to end and it would at Bad Blood.
But before we reached Bad Blood, their was the UK event called One Night Only. At this event Shawn Michaels pinned The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith to win the WWF European Championship. This match brings the involvement of the Hart Foundation and current WWF Champion Bret Hart. Hart is in the middle of a feud with The Patriot and Vader but starts interjecting with the HBK, Undertaker feud to start the build to Survivor Series.
This leads us to the hectic and wonderful Raw is War episode on September 22ndlive from Madison Square Garden, New York. This is the famous episode where Cactus Jack makes a surprise appearance for his No Disqualification match against Triple H, it’s also the episode where Stone Cold Steve Austin starts his feud with Vince McMahon as Austin gives him the stunner for the very first time. I would highly recommend going back to watch this classic episode of Raw from September 1997. It is also announced on this episode that the winner of the Hell in a Cell match would receive a WWF Championship match at Survivor Series.
At Bad Blood, Triple H and Chyna accompany Shawn Michaels down to the ring to create even more of the idea that they are a cohesive unit, without a name. The match between Undertaker and Michaels is an instant classic, Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer awarded the match 5*. This is the only Undertaker match to receive that honour and surprisingly is a higher rated match than their future matches at Wrestlemania 25 and 26. The match is a brawl inside the cage and when the door is opened they brawl to the outside. They then go on top of the cage and when coming down Michaels falls and goes through the announcers table.
The ending is one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history as Kane makes his long awaited appearance. Over the last year we had learned about Undertakers dark past and that he had a brother. Kane would rip the cage door of its hinges and when entering the ring he would tombstone his brother to the crowds gasps. Michaels would crawl over and earn a pin fall victory to set up his highly controversial match at Survivor Series against Bret Hart.
From Summerslam to the end of Bad Blood this feud has as a series of events that change the landscape of professional wrestling. We have the formation of DX, which is now regarding as one of the main driving points of the attitude era. A new concept of a match that in 2020 has its own pay per view named after it in Hell in a Cell. We see a new character debut that lasts over 20 years and becomes a legend in his own right holding many WWE titles in Kane. It plants the seeds for the most controversial match in wrestling history by making Shawn Michaels the number one contender and building tension ready for their Wrestlemania 12 rematch.
The Hell in a Cell match would also be the final pay per view match that Vince McMahon would call as a full time commentator. These events and angles all happen on the back of a great feud between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker and should get a lot more credit and attention than it receives. I highly recommend going back and visiting this feud if you haven’t done so before and if you have, it’s worth revisiting.
This article was first published by Wrestlingculture.com