“If you want some heat, have me screw him in his hometown.” - Shawn Michaels, Heartbreak and Triumph.
The crowd are throwing bottles, rubbish – hell, they’ll throw anything they can get their hands on. The ring is quickly becoming littered with the disgust of the people. They are livid. “Alright, all you Limeys” announces Shawn Michaels over the microphone as he is pelted by the passing debris, “I want you to take a look at your champion.” The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith lays in the middle of the ring, a beaten and defeated man. “Then take a look at the new Grand Slam winner.”
This crowd hates his guts. Skulking around the ring are Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude, provoking the crowd and applauding their new champion. “Hart family – this is for you”. Bang! A bottle cracks Shawn in the face as he fails to defend himself. “And Diana Smith, my sweetheart, this one is especially for you baby.” Bulldog’s wife, an incensed Diana Smith, sits in the front row beside her sister-in-law as they have to endure this despicable onslaught. Shawn Michaels continues to humiliate the Bulldog, systematically cranking him back in the figure four leg lock as he is lying motionless. This is a gang beating. A robbery. Memories still fresh of Wembley five years ago; this wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Where the hell is The Hart Foundation? The crowd are close to rioting.
“You have to do what you’re told. I thought ‘those bastards’ – why are they doing this to him and in England? Where does it leave him?” - Diana Hart-Smith, speaking about the incident on Inside the Ropes in June 2012.
The History and Controversy
Fifteen years ago today, on Saturday 20th September 1997, ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels defeated The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith in front of a hot crowd in at the NEC in Birmingham, England. Davey Boy Smith, who just five years previously triumphantly headlined SummerSlam 1992 at Wembley Stadium, was systematically triple-teamed by the soon to be formed DX in the controversial ending to the first ever UK pay per view. After watching victory being stolen from the hands of the Bulldog, the crowd were left to watch as the arrogant Shawn Michaels posed at the top of the ramp with the WWF’s European Championship. This show was built around Bulldog and the country expected a feel good moment. We had been starved of wrestling and then we eventually got something, an event that seemed like a big deal, only to have it all thrown back in our faces. The decision to put Michaels over is still contentious; especially considering Davey Boy Smith dedicated the match to his cancer stricken sister earlier in the show. And in the months before One Night Only, the tension between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had been growing, both on and off the screen. Was the actions perpetrated on this night a clever build towards the forthcoming Bret and Shawn match, or was there something far more sinister happening? Was the Bulldog, in fact, an early casualty in Shawn Michaels’ Machiavellian power play over Bret Hart; and was what happened on this night just a precursor to the now-infamous events in Montreal?
“The explanation, which made and still makes logical business sense, is that they wanted to build, to a bigger show, a second PPV from Smith’s hometown of Manchester, England, where Smith would regain the title — the same scenario the WWF did to draw 60,000 fans in San Antonio with Michaels in the other role working a program with Sycho Sid. So while it all made sense, it was rather strange he wasn’t approached with the idea until just the start of the show.” - Dave Meltzer, writing in the November 17, 1997 edition of The Wrestling Observer.
The decision to have Shawn Michaels defeat The British Bulldog in his home country is undoubtedly controversial, but watching the match again today, without any attachment to what is happening, I thought it was genius. For a match to elicit such a reaction from the crowd, one can only imagine the business that would have been generated for a rematch. The crowd on that night were ready to lynch Michaels; as Shawn said, it was heat.
This is not something particularly new. Vince McMahon has some perverse pleasure from seeing the hometown hero be destroyed on television; I’ve lost count of how many times Jim Ross has been humiliated in front of his Oklahoma faithful to get heat on a heel. It was also only recently that the heel Chris Jericho booted and disrespected the Brazilian flag, which not only caused him to be suspended but they also narrowly avoided a riot; and JBL caused quite the scene in Germany a few years back, by Goose stepping along the ring apron to rile up the locals. And who could forget the contemptible storyline following the death of Eddie Guerrero, using his sad passing as a way of getting heat on the Big Show?
And why shouldn’t the Bulldog lose in England? We already had that feel-good moment from SummerSlam 1992 – surely any other victory would just be treading on familiar ground and would never be able to replicate that magic moment from Wembley? The very fact that we are still talking about this means that it was memorable – how many people talk about The Bulldog’s Hardcore title victory over Crash Holly in London several years later with reverence, or any pop for a William Regal victory on Raw from the UK, in the same breath as they do Wembley?
This was the first UK exclusive PPV, so what a way to kick it off. You could say it leaves the audience with a sour taste, but a title change happening outside North America – and in such a way - was very big news at the time. With the WWF needing to establish this UK PPV concept, they needed to start off with a bang, especially considering the fragility of the WWF at the time – so a big money making return match between the two would be a no brainer.
“It’s my understanding that Bret really got him wound up about losing in his hometown. For Bret, the important thing was not about what was right for business, but about looking like the good guy in the eyes of the wrestling industry.” - Shawn Michaels, writing in his autobiography.
With the animosity between the two of them being at an uncomfortable level, perhaps this only exacerbated the feelings of betrayal which was felt by The Bulldog and the fans. If Shawn had not been such an effective heel and this real life situation hadn’t clouded people’s judgement’s, then there wouldn’t have been this much controversy. As we would soon discover, Bret Hart would also take great umbrage in losing in his territory.
“We wanted to do something different England … What happened there that night was the right call.” – Shawn Michaels, My Journey.
In his recent DVD anthology during a sit down interview with Michael Cole, Michaels was unrepentant, adamantly standing by his decision. Today’s Shawn Michaels is different to the one of 1997. He is the consummate professional and since his return in 2002, he was a class above everyone else on the card. Coming back from his sabbatical he had a string of awesome matches, most famously his series with The Undertaker at WrestleMania. The new Shawn Michaels has absolutely changed people’s perceptions of him as well as his legacy, and may have even surpassed that of Bret Hart. So if he would still do it today, then maybe it was always his intention to have the big rematch which, considering the reaction, would have been huge. And you shouldn’t forget that Bret and Shawn had a match scheduled for the Survivor Series just a couple of months later – so what better way to create heat on the match than to screw Bret’s brother-in-law?
But what if there was more to this than just business? Why was The Bulldog told throughout the promotion of the show that he was going to win, only for plans to change so suddenly just one hour before the show started? Smith was said to have been devastated. Bulldog had told various tabloids in the promotion of the show that he would win, and he even dedicated the match to his sister Tracey, who was battling cancer. With the final decision being made so close to the event, with all of the false promises Davey had made, this all had the feel of a premeditated screwjob.
“If I’d had been Davey, because Davey was more than capable of doing it, I would have just knocked him the fuck out and just fucking won it and said ‘fuck all of you’ on my way out with my mother and everyone there. But he was very professional and fucking did the job for the little prick that he could beat like that. Because once again, Shawn had a problem, Shawn had an issue…” – Jim Cornette ranted in his own inimitable way on the recent 1997 Timeline series, courtesy of Kayfabe Commentaries.
Long before Shawn was ‘saved’, he was a prima donna. It can only be assumed that The Bulldog hated the fact that he had to put over Shawn on a night where he thought he was going to enjoy a hero’s welcome.
What would Shawn’s motivation be to win? Was it his insatiable ego? Bret talked about Shawn’s lust for the WWF Championship in his autobiography and how Shawn broke down in tears when Vince told him that he was getting the belt from Bret. In defeating Smith, Shawn became the first ever Grand Slam winner, being the only man at that time to have held the Tag Team Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, the WWF Championship and now the European Championship. But with the European title effectively being a mid-card title, why would Shawn want that belt other than ego, spite and greed? Was this no more than a way to just get one up on Bret Hart; to make Bret look weaker than him?
“He can’t even go to fucking Birmingham because he and Bret hate each other so bad, since Davey’s on Bret’s side. In front of the guy’s family in a fucking English pay per view, and the hometown babyface can’t even win?!” – Jim Cornette, who was on the booking team in 1997, discussed Shawn Michael’s egregious actions on a recent Kayfabe commentary production of WWF 1997 Timeline series.
In the climax of the match, The Hart Foundation was nowhere to be seen, despite the audience having seen Bret Hart in the penultimate match of the show. Bret wrote about this strange and exasperating ending in his autobiography:
“Vince, Brisco, Shawn and Hunter took great delight in intentionally designing a finish that made me and Owen look like total idiots. For the entire match, we were nowhere in sight as Hunter, Chyna and Rude worked Davey over while the British fans waited for The Hart Foundation to rescue him.”
Why would Vince McMahon allow all this to happen? Jim Cornette was equally as perplexed when asked this on the recent Kayfabe Commentaries’ Timeline series:
“For a guy who was a control freak and had so many idiosyncrasies and a control freak, [Vince] would let the top guys get away with fucking murder, politically and creatively… I never got it.”
The answer to these questions could have easily come two days after One Night Only, when Bret Hart was summoned to Vince McMahon’s office. Vince told Bret that he was unable pay his new 20 year contract and Bret was free to start negotiating with WCW. McMahon explained that the WWF was in financial peril. With the company suffering and Vince looking at ending Bret’s contract he’d obviously yield to every whim of his top star.
Diana Smith Hart was also aware of the special treatment given to Shawn:
“I wasn’t there all the time, but I felt like Shawn and Hunter were getting carried away with being the teacher’s pets.”
Of course, The Bulldog never did receive his planned rematch in the following UK-only PPV. Two months later, following the events of Montreal, Bret left for WCW and Bulldog followed him.
One month after that, Shawn bequeathed the belt to his DX cohort Triple H in such a flippant way, after the two were ordered to face one another, truly showing his feelings about the belt. The match is famous for being a predecessor to the much derided ‘finger poke of doom’ between Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan – in this case, Shawn Michaels lay down for Triple H in the middle of the ring, dropping his European Championship in the main event of the December 22nd Christmas edition of Monday Night Raw. With this title change happening after The Hart Foundation exodus, whether Shawn Michaels had any intention of dropping the belt to Bulldog in a rematch is anyone’s guess. It could have just been part of Shawn’s game of chess with Bret, finding new ways of getting to him. Or maybe Shawn never had any intention of a rematch.
For Smith, this was much more than winning in his home country. For Shawn not to understand that is absurd. The Bulldog was told that he was winning, which is why he felt the ease to dedicate the match to his terminally-ill sister. Had he not been so sure of the fact that he was going over, do you think he would have even discussed his sister’s illness? With everything that went on, and with Tracey accompanying Davey to the ring and Vince making a point of telling us of her plight on commentary, it all just seemed exploitative.
Bret Hart perhaps sums it up best in his 2007 autobiography Hitman:
“As I pretended to help the wounded Davey back to the dressing room, we passed … Davey’s sister Tracey, who was terribly upset and crying. I thought, In wrestling, never make a promise you can’t deliver. I saw the light die in Davey’s eyes that day, darkness seeping out of the heart giving out.”
One Night Only drew a sell-out crowd of 11,000 to the NEC Arena in Birmingham. With the WWF no longer the leader of all things sports entertainment, trailing WCW in the Monday Night rating wars, they had to look to Europe in hope of a nice pay day, and to also quench the thirst of the UK fans that were ravenous for more WWF.
Despite Summerslam 1992 setting the company attendance record at Wembley Stadium with more than 83,000, the PPV buy rate did little to replicate that record. That event garnered an audience of 280,000 paying for the show, much under the previous years’ summer show. The poor buy rate was blamed, at the time, on SummerSlam airing to the North American viewing audience several hours after the event had finished. In the current era of communication there would be absolutely no way that a WWE PPV would hail from the UK with the hindrance of the all-encompassing accessibility of the Internet and social media. It must be noted that the 1992 edition of SummerSlam was also the first big show without Hulk Hogan, and this would prove just how important ‘The Hulkster’ was at that period in time. With the impending steroid trial for Vince McMahon adding to their woes, the WWF’s popularity was waning. All these factors added to a low buy rate, which clearly stayed with the company for a long time following, and thereby would explain their hesitance to return to the UK for a big show.
But on September 20th, 1997, the WWF teamed up with Sky Box Office and started a precedent for wrestling; One Night Only would be the first of a series of UK exclusive pay per views, bypassing the time difference between the US and the UK. Back then, all the monthly shows were available on the subscription channel Sky Sports - so this really was a novelty.
I was one of the 11,000 in attendance at the Birmingham NEC for One Night Only and, considering everything, it was a memorable experience. I had been a fan of the WWF since watching SummerSlam 1991 on my Grandparents’ sofa, which at that point was on Sky Movies – obliterating any illusions of pro wrestling being a shoot sport! I had gone to a WWF show a few years before to watch the ‘Rampage’ tour which was headlined by Bret Hart and Ric Flair, but this one felt bigger to me. It was live on PPV!
Before the show began I managed to endure the mass scrum at the merchandise table to buy a handful of merchandise that, in retrospect, looks truly awful. Seriously, what was I thinking – what young boy would want to wear a Goldust t -shirt which looked as if someone had sneezed glitter all over it? Purchase made, I joined a gathering gawping at the announcer’s desk. So that’s where they’re going to sit. Incredible. There were technicians scurrying around the ringside flipping up the ring apron as everyone attempted to see what it concealed. At this point in time not many people were smart to these things – of course, later on in life we’d all discover that it would be The Little People’s Court that is under there! What struck me more than anything else was how unglamorous it all looked. The sleek presentation on television was replaced by the electrical tape and a snake pit of cables. The ring was elevated on a little stage.
In making this show feel more special than the usual WWF tours, there was a special programme called Fab Four produced leading up to the September show, where Jim Ross interviewed Bret, The Undertaker, Shawn and Davey Boy Smith in what was like a cross between a UFC countdown show and an episode of Parkinson. This little touch made the upcoming event feel important like the boxing PPVs that had recently become popular at around about that time.
In the opener Hunter Hearst Helmsley defeated Dude Love
It was a decent opener. Foley and HHH had been embroiled in a feud, just coming off a steel cage match at the previous month’s SummerSlam where Foley wrestled as his Mankind alter-ego. The story of the match was Chyna being the difference maker, going to malevolent means to ensure her man won. Dude Love controlled the beginning of the match up until HHH averted the ‘sweet shin music’ and retreated out of the ring. Dude chased HHH around the ringside, but in his pursuit he ran right into a clothesline by Chyna. Back in the ring HHH capitalised on this advantage. The finish came when Foley fought back, hitting an arm drag off the top rope. This allowed him to hit Hunter with the sweet shin music and double arm DDT combo. Before the official could hit the mat for the third time, Chyna put Hunter’s foot on the bottom rope. With Love distracted, HHH was able to hit the Pedigree for the victory. This match acted as a taster for what was to come in the main event.
The next segment showed various ‘Oliver Twists’ backing the Bulldog later in the show - then out came Sunny, who had the honour to pout and pose her way through the introduction of the next match.
Tiger Ali Singh defeated Leif Cassidy
Leif Cassidy, the artist more commonly known as Al Snow, battled Tiger Ali Singh, the artist never commonly known. Ali Singh was terribly green in this match. At the end, Cassidy struggled to lift the clumsy Singh to the top rope. Once there, Cassidy was pushed off, allowing Ali Singh to leap off the top rope driving Cassidy’s head to the mat with a bulldog to the utter indifference of the crowd.
The Headbangers defeated Los Boricuas
If the team from Finding Bigfoot were watching, they would have mistakenly captured Miguel Perez. Vega and Perez double teamed Thrasher throughout the match, keeping him in their corner. There were false tags from the heels and wonderful heel psychology which was tremendously effective as the crowd were really getting into the match. With both men down, Thrasher didn’t really jump for a hot tag for Mosh, he just sort of stumbled over. Nevertheless, Mosh cleared house of Los Boricuas, with Savio and Mosh going to the outside. Inside the ring Perez power bombed Thrasher, while unknown to him Mosh back body dropped Vega on the outside, freeing him to jump off the top with the seated Senton on to Perez for the pin.
Next was an interview where Davey Boy dedicated the match to his sister Tracey who, as he said in the interview, had battled cancer twice and they didn’t think that she would pull through again.
The Patriot defeated Flash Funk
With Flash Funk in the ring, some very familiar music played. Could it be? No, it can’t be? Is it Kurt Angle? Oh no, it’s The Patriot Del Wilkies, sharing the same ring entrance music that would go on to be made famous by ‘The Olympic Gold Medalist’ two years later. Sharing the same ring entrance is about all Angle and Patriot share. The UK crowd disregarded that often spoke about special relationship and booed the flag waving Patriot. The best part of this match was in the commentary when King accused JR of being with an 18-stone slapper, to which Vince McMahon laughed, “Oh King, you are a riot tonight.” The match wasn’t much. Flash Funk missed a moonsault and landed on Patriot’s knees; with Flash incapacitated the Patriot briskly hit Funk with the Uncle Slam for the pinfall. The Patriot then left to boos.
The Legion of Doom defeating the Godwinns
When we last saw them in England, The Legion of Doom rode their Harley Davidson’s up the entrance way at Wembley Stadium; this time they had to settle for an encounter with The Godwinns. LOD scored a victory after Hawk tagged in Animal. The Godwinns were taken out by a double clothesline and then Henry Godwin was disposed over the top rope. This left Phineas alone in the ring. Animal hoisted him up on his shoulders and Hawk jumped off the top rope for the Doomsday Device.
We then joined JR in the ring where he interviewed Ken Shamrock, who was advertised to wrestle Owen Hart. Unfortunately Shamrock was unable to wrestle, as he repeatedly said. Continuously. Over and over again. Anyway, Billy Gunn interrupted him and Shamrock put him in the ankle lock and that was that; hardly worth the nine-hour plane trip.
Bret then gave a baby face interview, to a mixed reaction from the crowd. Bret had been doing the gimmick where he was a heel in the United States but a baby face in his home country of Canada. Vince goaded Bret by telling him that he doesn’t think the crowd likes him, really painting Bret as the heel.
Vader defeated Owen Hart
An excellent bout. The story of this match was can the plucky underdog defeating the bigger man. Throughout this encounter the two told the story of quickness versus power. It was such a compelling match, with this being another reminded at just how great Owen was. The match started with Vader overpowering Owen. Then in a juxtaposition to Vader’s dominance, the next series of moves showcased Owen’s quickness: sunset flip, a hurricanrana and a cross body all in succession.
At numerous points Owen tried to lock the Mastodon into the Sharpshooter but to no avail. During the match the younger Hart was resilient and showed tremendous courage in his stand up to Vader and tried to slam him, but he was just too formidable. The match was back and forth throughout. After getting the advantage, Vader successfully squashed Owen with a big splash for a two count. Vader, now sensing victory, lifted Owen up for the powerbomb, but Owen slipped out and instead clocked Vader with an enzuigiri. Now with momentum on his side, Owen tried for the Sharpshooter, managing to turn the bigger man but Vader was too close to the rope. The crowd were really behind Owen at this point, Owen finally managed the big slam on Vader for a two count. After a Vader bomb went awry, landing on Owen’s knees, Owen continued his use of speed and aerial moves in his attempt to beat the bigger man hitting him with a drop kick off the top and spinning heel kick. Vader was just too strong to pin. With the story of the match being the high flying quickness of owen against the power of Vader it ended perfectly as Owen attempted a cross body off the top but he was caught by the power of Vader into a big slam for the one…two…three.
Bret Hart defeated the Undertaker by DQ in the WWF Championship match
These two had an awesome match and was the clear match of the night in this writer’s opinion. The two had wrestled the month before at SummerSlam with Bret capturing the Championship for the record number of reigns, five times (can you believe that?), through interference from Shawn Michaels as the referee, who inadvertently tattooed ‘Taker with a chair shot swinging for Bret.
The first announced Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin match had to be cancelled due to Austin suffering a career threatening tombstone piledriver from Owen Hart at SummerSlam a month previously. So considering the ending of The Undertaker and Bret from SummerSlam, a rematch between the two was the natural conclusion. Bret Hart wrote in his autobiography that he believes that this was his last truly great match with the WWF.
The story of the match was Taker going out for revenge at Bret Hart for what had transpired at SummerSlam. Interestingly on the commentary Vince painted Bret as the heel in this match. The crowd were extremely mixed for this contest with both men receiving an equal share of cheering and jeering. The beginning had both men brawling outside with ‘Taker very much the aggressor.
The turning point for this match was Bret taking out The Undertaker’s left leg in defending himself from ‘Taker’s vengeful barrage. With the Dead Man now hampered, Bret Hart spent the duration of the match methodically pulverising his vulnerable leg. Bret was meticulous in his attack, debilitating ‘Taker in preparation to fasten in his Sharpshooter, at one point wrapping ‘Taker around the ring post like a pretzel in a figure four leg lock.
After Bret broke the move he continued the leg lock in the centre of the ring. Bret was unrelenting, like a shark smelling blood, he attacked the left knee with precision. The Undertaker managed to turn over, reversing the pain onto Bret. The Dead Man’s retaliation was truncated when Bret ducked under the big boot and took out the only leg standing, the wounded left leg. He then employed his familiar move set – a side Russian leg sweep, a big suplex, all setting up the Sharpshooter. The Hitman sat on the turnbuckle ready to drive his elbow into the heart of ‘Taker, but instead he was met with a boot. Both men were then quickly neutralised after they collided in a double clothesline. The Undertaker sat up first. He then proceeded to drop his leg into Bret’s lower abdomen. Then in shades of SummerSlam 1991, Bret caught ‘Taker’s leg and did as he had done to Mr Perfect at the end of their clash all those years prior, countered into the Sharpshooter. He cranked back, really applying the pressure, but he couldn’t contend with the uncanny strength of ‘Taker, who powered out of the move.
It was now ‘Taker’s opportunity for vengeance, pounding away with a flurry of fists and this time hitting Bret with the big boot. Bret retreated to the outside, feeling his WWF Championship slipping away, and grabbed the Timekeeper’s bell. But once he returned to the ring he was quickly disarmed with a massive big boot. The Undertaker picked up the weapon ready to terminate Bret, but before he could, the referee intercepted the ring bell from ‘Taker’s cold grasp. This allowed Bret to seize the opportunity and chop out his adversary’s injured leg, but this was short lived as ‘Taker kicked Bret out of the ring.
Outside, ‘Taker manhandled his opponent, throwing him into the ring steps, and then back in the ring Bret was whipped into the corner with such velocity his back crashed into the ring post. ‘Taker then went ‘old school’, walking the top rope, but before he had the chance to take out his prey, Bret countered into an arm drag sending ‘Taker flying off the top rope.
Bret scooped up ‘Taker, but his opponent’s size proved to be too much, and he reversed. Bret was now in the perilous position of an impending Tombstone, but the Hitman grabbed onto the ropes for dear life, not letting go. ‘Taker dumped him down, capturing him in between the ropes with his neck entwined, hanging him. The ropes were acting as a vice around Bret’s throat and ‘Taker, still with revenge on his mind, continued to pound away at Bret. The referee called for the bell, which only infuriated the Dead Man further, who took his frustrations out on the official. Owen came to the ring to try to relieve Bret from the strangulating ropes, and while this was all happening, The Undertaker chokeslammed Gerald Brisco who was one of the ‘officials’ out to release Bret. For me in the arena that night, I can remember vividly running into the congested aisle with fans trying to get to the front to see what was happening. To get a closer glimpse at Bret caught within the ropes. As soon as Bret was released he retreated up the entrance way, and was shortly stalked by The Undertaker, still out for revenge.
Shawn Michaels defeated Davey Boy Smith to win the WWF European Championship
This was a very good main event, and could very well of been Davey’s last really good match. Despite your opinion on the conclusion of the match, Shawn made Bulldog look great at the beginning. Bulldog controlled most of the early part of the match exhibiting a variety of power moves and in fairness Shawn did a tremendous job at bouncing around the ring, even taking a back body drop over the top rope on to the outside. Bulldog looked the better man in the one on one contest, throwing Shawn about to the approval of the Birmingham crowd who would vociferously chant for the Bulldog. Every time Shawn managed to comeback it was curtailed by a far more formidable Bulldog.
Military press slam, power bomb, and vertical suplex were all part of Smith’s dominating arsenal before Shawn’s Insurance policy, Rick Rude, strode down the ramp and changed the course of the match.
Rude was quick to get involved shoving Bulldog back for Shawn to reverse his roll up for a near fall. Bulldog returned on the offensive but at this point it was apparent that Rude was going to be a thorn in Bulldog’s side, tripping Smith when he bounced against the ropes. While Davey had his back turned Michaels pushed him out of the ring, which is when the double teaming continued. Outside, Rude pushed Smith into the ring post, leaving him for Shawn to jump off the top rope to the outside, landing on him with a double axe handle on the back. As soon as Shawn slipped back into the ring, Rude continued the ambush, pushing Smith’s lower back into the ring apron.
Once Davey was back in the ring, Shawn clasped him in a sleeper hold. At this point the crowd were getting behind their hero, stomping their feet and cheering him on, knowing that the big Bulldog fight back would happen. This psychology has happened time and time again, the heel uses nefarious tactics to beat the face down and then the match builds to the babyface’s big comeback. That was what we were thinking.
Davey made a short comeback and after being temporarily detailed, he powered out of a short arm scissors leaving both men down in the ring. Before we had any chance to build up our hopes, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna, HBK’s allies in the group soon to be known as D-X arrived to the condemnation of the audience echoing around the NEC.
Smith’s comebacks were becoming frustrating and futile, this time cut short by Davey missing Shawn and landing his shoulder thwacking against the ring post. Shawn capitalised setting him up for the sweet chin music, but Davey ducked, hoisting him up in his Running powerslam finisher, except Rude on the outside blocked this, grabbing onto Bulldog’s legs. This was becoming ridiculous. The action moved to the outside, with Bulldog lifting Shawn up again ready to powerslam him on the ring mats. Remember that raised stage from earlier. The match continued to destroy the Bulldog character as he dropped his foot in the gap between the guard rail and the stage. Smack! Michaels hit Bulldog with the Sweet Chin music on the outside. With Shawn retreating in the ring, Rude and Triple H attacked Bulldog like Hyenas. They rammed the guard rail back and forward crashing into Smith’s knee that was highlighted by its knee brace. The crowd in the front row, not wanting to be bystanders to the annihilation of their Hometown hero, held back the guard rail preventing any more of the attack.
I remember looking to the entrance way, along with many others, waiting for the save. They’ve been unmercifully beating on Bulldog and a Hart Foundation run in would obviously be imminent. Hunter took Davey away from the guard rail and planted him with a Pedigree.
A loud chant for Bulldog reverberated around the arena, with the crowd still having that last remaining tingle of hope. Why should they think any different? This is Bulldog’s territory. There were expectations. He dedicated the match to his dying Sister. Surely he had to win. And where the hell was the Hart Foundation?
A prone Bulldog lay in the centre of the ring as Shawn Michaels removed his knee brace. Back in 92, Diana looked on at her Brother and Husband with tears in her eyes cheering both men, on this night an enraged Diana had to witness her husband humiliated and his dreams’ be tarnished. To rub salt on the wounds Shawn tossed Davey’s knee brace at Diana.
Despite the bleakness, I remember still having a glimmer of hope; this is Bulldog country after all. Shawn hammered in the final death nail, applying the figure four, whilst the Triple H and Chyna pulled back on Shawn’s arms creating extra leverage, with Davey withering in pain on the mat. Bulldog pounded the mat for one last tease of a fight back. Using all his strength, all of his might, Bulldog managed to turn HBK over, but in the final shot, Rude punched him, knocking him back on the mat. The figure four continued for what seemed like an eternity. It got to the point where someone had to make a save. It couldn’t end like this. All hope was gone. The referee Earl Hebner rang for the bell, a foreboding scene that looked like a dress rehearsal to what would happen at the Survivor Series from the same year.
“Sometimes if I wonder if it was connected to the Montreal Screwjob. Sometimes I don’t wanna think that because then I start thinking about these conspiracy theories. It was something in the works then and we didn’t know it.” - Diana Hart-Smith, in the interview with On The Ropes, had the same sinking feeling.
The crowd knew none of this made any sense. They were doing all they could to voice their absolute disgust at this controversial booking decision. There was an uneasy atmosphere in the NEC that night, with no one truly understanding what had just happened.
After DX goaded her, Diana jumped the guard rail clutching her husband’s knee brace, but when she entered the ring she was apprehended by Chyna.
“I thought she was un-necessarily rough with me. I know Chyna is strong, I felt she was un-necessarily aggressive with me.” Diana Hart-Smith would later say in the interview with On the Ropes.
The ambush continued as the crowd were yearning for Bret and Owen to make the save. The assault continued. In what surely must have been a power play making the Hart Foundation look weak with the long delay before they made the run in.
As the ring became more littered, and the crowd were irate from abject confusion at what had just transpired, I remember thinking how cool it was. I wanted a true pro wrestling experience and I had seen the announce desk (like off the telly) and I had seen the fireworks (like off the telly) and so I got my genuine wrestling moment as the rubbish was thrown into the ring, just like I had witnessed during the WCW Bash At The Beach PPV when Hogan turned heel and joined the nWo. I don’t think I really appreciated the magnitude of what actually happened that night.
Shawn Michaels’ music blared out of the speakers as he was carried up the ramp by Triple H, brandishing the European belt, to the total and utter dismay of the crowd. At the end of the ramp Shawn and Hunter posed with the belt riling up the already hostile crowd.
The Show’s Legacy – 15 Years On
And that was One Night Only, the first WWE foray in the UK pay per view market. With the momentum on their side, WWF had set the foundation for the rise of the ‘Attitude Era’ and this show was a forerunner in the beginnings of that new direction. Disregarding a bunch of filler in the middle, this show was tremendous; a shining example of the quality WWF was producing in 1997. It was to no one’s surprise that WWF and Sky would continue these events presented for a UK audience after the first of these PPV experiments generated approximately 20,000 buys.
The success of this show spawned several other shows. And who knows if the WWE would be having Raw twice a year from the UK if they didn’t take a chance of giving their UK fans something special; producing events where title changes could happen.
The one thing that is most ddening about this whole affair is the passion from the fans. These days there is a passive response to what is happening in the ring, rarely would the crowd be so wrapped up in the personalities that they would react to this degree. Why should they? No one is given reason to care. The belts have been de-emphasised; we have been trained to believe that wins and losses don’t matter and rarely is there a feud which verges on the crowd investing in it.
Shawn was never the first person to play politics in wrestling and he won’t be the last. This business is fiercely competitive with the performers giving it all to be considered the best and win the championship. You can’t blame Shawn for doing what he thought was right.
Fortunately, the Bulldog would return to his homeland with the WWF in 1999, first with Rebellion where he was strangely miscast as a heel in his home and then later when he defeated Crash Holly in what was to be one of his last matches. What Bulldog was robbed of was another moment, to catch lightning in a bottle and be the wrestling hero all of Britain knew him to be.
The story of One Night Only was supposed to be the triumphant return of the home town hero. It was just five years previously when The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith defeated his brother in law, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart in a scintillating match in front of a sold out Wembley Arena at Summerslam 1992. The WWF returned to the UK in 1997 and there were parallels and similarities to that summer night back in 92. At the end of this night in late September, the show ended with both Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith standing side by side in the ring. We also witnessed Diana Hart-Smith jump the guard rail and join her family members as she did on that summer night back in 1992. These are where the similarities end.
Instead of the jubilations from the rapturous crowd that day back in 92, the scenes were much different this day in late September. In the summer of 1992, Bret Hart suggested to the Chairman of the WWF, Vince McMahon, that he should lose the Intercontinental Championship to the British Bulldog as it would mean more for business in England, this time in 1997 it is still debatable whether business was the prime consideration in the result of the match.
And just two months after these events in September 1997, neither Bret Hart nor Davey Boy Smith would even be in company. Bret Hart had a very public double crossing in his Canadian backyard at the Survivor Series; Davey Boy Smith had his on this night. This was the story of the WWF’s return to the UK for One Night Only back in September 1997, seemingly a lifetime after that summer night back in 1992.
This article was written by Richard Hattersley.
Richard is the newest contributor to Collar & Elbow Wrestling – keep an eye out for future articles coming soon from him. In the meantime, follow him on Twitter @DickieHatts.