Thursday, 24 May 2018

PPV REVIEW: WWF One Night Only 1997

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review  - Event poster
September 20th, 1997
N.E.C Arena, Birmingham, England 

I'll be honest with you, I've been looking forward to, and dreading this review in equal measure. 

Looking forward to it because, for the first time since I started Retro Pro Wrestling five years ago, I get to write about a WWF PPV I was actually live in attendance for.

You see, apart from Summerslam 1992, those of us here in the UK were largely deprived of any opportunity to attend a PPV event (or even TV in those days) unless hopped on a plane and flew stateside.

Then, in 1997, the company decided that the best way to improve profits in the face of increasingly dominant competition from WCW was to capitalise on the one market Eric Bischoff and Ted Turner hadn't been able to beat Titan Sports at:

The UK.

So, on September 20th, 1997, we got our first PPV in the UK since Summerslam 92, headlined once again by Britain's most successful pro wrestling export ever, Wigan lad Davey Boy Smith, The British Bulldog.

And that, my friends, is the exact reason why I'm dreading tonight's show.

In September 97, I was 13 years old, young enough to be swept up in kayfabe yet old enough to know the truth about how wrestling really worked.

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review - My Event Ticket Signed by British Bulldog


So when Davey Boy met his fate on tonight's show, I was royally pissed and legitimately heartbroken, because I knew that what we were watching in the ring was only half the story - the other half was that foul, backstage shenanigans were at play and I -and most of the crowd- knew it.

Not only did we know it - we were livid about it.

To be perfectly truthful with you, I'm not entirely happy about reliving that memory again.

But hey, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's head down to the Birmingham NEC for One Night Only, the UK's first WWE PPV in five years.

Davey Boy Defends His Dream 

After a rather chipper British chappy welcomed us to

Sky Box Office's presentation of a 'World Wrestling Federation Extravaganza,' we got the New WWF intro that told us how many countries the company was popular in.


That took us to a sentimental video package in which Jim Ross told us that Davey Boy Smith had grown from humble beginnings in Manchester (technically Wigan, technically Golborne, but hey) to one of the most popular superstars on the planet.

Tonight, he was coming home to defend the WWF European title (against who, Ross didn't say), and despite being a heel in America, was very much expected to be the hometown hero tonight.

With that, Vince McMahon growled his usual welcome to the show before we got down to our first match.

Jolly Good Bun

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review - Dude Love did a horrible Austin Powers impression backstage
Despite being there, the fact that 20 years has passed from an event that rarely ever gets talked about means that I only remember exactly four things from One Night Only:

1: The main event

2: The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart Match

3: Tiger Ali Singh was there

4: This Dude Love promo.

I remember it mostly because of the awful joke he made about missing two teeth (well, they're gone but I don't miss them! Ho ho ho!) , and also because, on two occasions, Foley said 'Jolly good fun' but it sounded like he said 'Jolly good bun.'

I remember this because -despite this entire promo being cringe-worthily awful, myself and the friend I went to see this show with would often randomly quip 'jolly good bun!' at each other.

Look, I know that's not very interesting, but then neither is this promo.

I'm doing my best, OK?

Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/ Chyna) vs. Dude Love

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review - Triple H sizes up a Beefeater
From their initial meeting at King of the Ring 1997 to their steel cage match at Summerslam 97, via their tremendous, show-long brawl at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and the various alter-egos of Mick Foley had spent much of the year at war with one another.

Tonight, they squared off again in a match with an entirely different vibe.

Rather than a heated battle between two sworn enemies, this came off as a basic, by-the-numbers warm-up act between two masters of their craft.

And you know what?

It worked.

Helmsley and Foley worked well together in producing a solid outing that really got the crowd into the show.

Ok, so it was far from the best match these two would ever have together, but it certainly served its purpose well, and was very enjoyable as a result.

At random points, Jerry 'The King' Lawler (who joined McMahon and Jim Ross on commentary) tried to show off his knowledge of British vocabulary, first calling his colleagues 'pillocks' and then suggesting that Dude Love was 'as bent as a nine bob note.'

I don't think anyone had explained to Lawler what that actually means. It was as bad as the time he straight out asked Goldust if he was 'you know, queer.'

Anyway, back to the match, and despite being on the receiving end of a serious Dude Love beating, Hunter landed the Pedigree to pick up the first win of the evening.
Your Winner: Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Prior to our next match, we got vox pops from the Birmingham faithful, giving us their picks on who was going to win between Shawn Michaels and The British Bulldog.

Despite a few fans being all for HBK, the majority were, obviously, rooting for the hometown hero.

I'm only sad that they didn't go back and reinterview the kid from Summerslam 92 who said that Bulldog was going to win 'whether he wants to or not.'

Sunny is Here

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review - Sunny was guest ring announcer for one match
OK, here's something else I remember - being 13 and swooning like a modern day Justin Bieber fan when the absolute love of my life, Sunny came to ringside to introduce our next match.

Honestly, was there anyone in the world hotter than Sunny at that time?

Leif Cassidy vs. Tiger Ali Singh (w/ Tiger Jeet Singh)

Tiger Ali Singh (remember him?) came to the ring as a good guy, hi-fiving the Birmingham crowd and generally being all smiley-babyfacey nicey-nice.

Then he immediately became a heel -not entirely on purpose- by getting on the mic to talk about how proud he was to be an Asian Canadian (the crowd hated that!), how we should all stay drug free (hilarious that the crowd booed that!), how he was the new, true Messiah, and how with the support of his Canadian fans, he was going to 'set the wrestling world on fire.'

This was like one of those promos when the bad guy pretends that he's really a good guy to get heat, except you got the idea he wasn't pretending, and either didn't know that the UK wasn't in Canada, or had been told to cut this god awfully cheesy promo as a rib.

Al Snow Leif Cassidy put us out of our misery by attacking the confused Canadian from behind, though not even he could stop Tiger from picking up the win after a thankfully short and completely unforgettable contest.
Your Winner: Tiger Ali Singh

Let's keep this party going...

World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Championship
WWF Tag Team Champions The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) vs. Los Boricuas (Savio Vega & Miguel Perez)

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review -The Headbangers Successfully defended the WWF Tag Team Titles against Los Boricuas
Having upset Owen Hart and The British Bulldog just days earlier at In Your House: Ground Zero, Mosh and Thrasher put their new titles on the line against Savio Vega and Miguel Perez in a match that was fun, if not a little too long.

Suffering the same fate as many a match before it, this one exploded to life in the early going with a flurry of excitement and finished with a hot ending, but basically dragged on in the middle.

The Headbangers retained after the better part of 20 minutes (seriously), though they could have produced the same result with as much fun in half that time.
Your Winners and Still WWF Tag Team Champions: The Headbangers

'The Headbangers have pulled one off!' exclaimed McMahon. You can pretty much write your own joke there, can't you?

Davey Boy is Ready

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review -Davey Boy Smith sits down for an interview with Jim Ross
Up next, we were taken to a pre-recorded interview in which Jim Ross asked a calm and collected Davey Boy Smith about tonight's match.

The Bulldog dedicated the match to his sister, who had recently undergone a battle with cancer, and claimed that in order to match Shawn Michaels on quickness, he had dropped about two stone, or 28lbs.

The interview was unlike Davey Boy's traditional snarling, 'you're going down!' promo style, and this worked well to help establish the champion as a likeable favourite we could all get behind later on in the show.

Flash Funk vs. The Patriot

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review -The Patriot was booed by the British crowd in his match against Flash Funk
I had honestly blocked this match, which saw the pro-USA Patriot heavily booed by the UK crowd, far from my mind.

Trying to save face (in some ways quite literally), Vince told us that The Patriot received a 'mixed reaction.'

The match itself was fine, though hardly designed to set the world on fire.

The weirdest part, for me, is watching it back as though seeing the match for the first time, despite the fact that I was there in person when it happened.

Anyway, The Patriot won with the Uncle Slam, and the crowd -who hadn't given a damn about anything in the entire match- booed him right out of the building.
Your Winner: The Patriot

What a Rush

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review -Legion of Doom cut a backstage promo about their match with The Godwins
Five years after their long ride to the ring on Harley Davidsons, The Legion of Doom were back in the United Kingdom, this time to take on The Godwins.

In an uninspired backstage promo, Hawk and Animal went through their usual schtick of vowing to maim and decapitate their opponents.

Ohhh, what a rush.

The Godwins (Henry O. & Phineas I. Godwin) vs. The Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal)

This one was the perfect example of how some matches can fun to watch in person yet don't necessarily strike the same chord when you watch them back on TV.

You see, LOD vs. The Godwins was as dull as the proverbial dishwater and basically felt like one really long chinlock followed by a Doomsday Device.

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 Review -Legion of Doom vs. The Godwins
The Birmingham crowd however, were stupidly into it, though that had more to do with Hawk & Animal being insanely over than the match being very good.

After several minutes of nothing happening besides the crowd raising the roof for the LOD, it was Phineas who ate the pin to create one of the biggest pops of the night.
Your Winners: The Legion of Doom

The most interesting part of the match was Jerry Lawler just about exhausting his knowledge of British colloquialisms and apparently just making stuff up.

At one point, The King dropped the word 'niffy' as an insult but refused to explain what it meant.

That could be because it doesn't mean anything, unless Lawler meant 'nifty,' which is generally a positive thing.

Anyway, I digress.

On with the show.

Jim Ross Interviews Ken Shamrock

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 - Billy Gunn confronts Ken Shamrock
As The World's Most Dangerous Man made his way ringside, McMahon reminded us that Ken Shamrock had recently been injured at the hands of Nation leader, Farooq.

Live in the ring, Jim Ross told us that those injuries had ruled Shamrock out of action tonight, meaning we wouldn't see him take on Owen Hart as scheduled.

Instead, Vader would lock up with Hart, and Shamrock would talk to us all about how disappointed he was at being unable to compete.

Before Ken had a chance to leave, however, Billy Gunn (of all people) made it to the ring.

Truthfully, it was only at this point that your writer finally remembered watching this segment live, and that's only because I remember my friend pointing out a couple of moles on Gunn's back (yes, we were that close) that we decided looked like Bisto Gravy Granules.

Anyway, Gunn mocked Shamrock, claiming that he'd gotten a doctor's note for a 'tummy ache,' to get out of wrestling.

Naturally, our man Ken didn't take too kindly to that and slapped Gravy Granule Gunn in the Ankle Lock.

The Fans Don't Like Bret

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 - Bret 'The Hitman' Hart cut a backstage promo
From one interview to another next, as Vince McMahon spoke via video link to WWF Champion Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, who was standing by backstage.

Hart received a genuine mixed reaction from the live crowd, but, despite this, insisted that the British fans still believed in him and that he was going to do right by us by defeating The Undertaker, who The Hitman said was likely to be Bret's biggest fight yet.

Vince asked if Bret could hear the very loud boos he was getting, and I have to believe that he was, if only to explain the way he fumbled awkwardly through the entire promo.

I mean sure, Bret always seemed to lack a certain smoothness to his mic work, but this was bad even for him.

Vader vs. Owen Hart

WWE / WWF - One Night Only 1997 - Owen Hart was hugely over with the UK crowd
Having just booed Bret as loud as they could, the NEC were firmly behind The Hitman's younger brother Owen Hart, a fact acknowledged -and questioned- by Jerry Lawler.

Owen played up to this admiration, smiling and hi-fiving fans on the way to the ring for a match with his former Camp Cornette teammate, Vader.

Though it would later prove not to be the best match on the card, Owen/Vader certainly proved a worthy contender for that title, with the smaller Hart flying around the place and Vader using his bulk to dominate the bulk of the contest.

All in all, it made for a very exciting match which really got you on the edge of your seat, rooting for babyface Owen to score the big win.

At one point, it even looked as though he were going to, with a sharpshooter and a flying top rope dropkick rocking The Mastadon.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

Hart tried a second top rope dropkick but was sadly caught, squashed, and pinned.
Your Winner: Vader

WWE / WWF One Night Only 1997 Review - Undertaker cut a backstage promo on Bret Hart
Prior to our next match, The Undertaker cut a backstage promo, promising Bret Hart that tonight, we wouldn't see a repeat of Summerslam 97, when Bret beat 'Taker for the title thanks to a misplaced chair shot from special guest referee, Shawn Michaels.

With that, it was on to the first of two big title bouts.

World Wrestling Federation Championship
WWF Champion Bret 'The Hitman' Hart vs. The Undertaker

By September 1997, 13 year-old me was aware that all was not what it seemed when it came to pro wrestling, but this match made me forget all that.

This match sucked me into the kayfabe drama of professional wrestling like no other match had before, or has since.

I was at every big WWF and WCW event from the UK during the Attitude Era, but no match that I ever saw live ever lived up to this one.

It remains one of my favourite matches of all time and watching it back now for the first time in years, I'm reminded why.

WWE / WWF One Night Only 1997 Review - Undertaker faced Bret Hart in an awesome WWF Championship match
Absolutely exhilarating from start to finish, the match started with Bret getting his ass kicked by his larger opponent before resorting to his usual strategy for fighting big men - kick 'em in the knee.

That levelled the playing field and gave us a terrific back and forth battle that has me as fully absorbed in the action now as it did 20 years ago when I watched it in person.

I remember that back then, my friend Dale and I had taken a huge Undertaker sign that I, being the arty and creative kind of child that I was (still am) had spent weeks getting just right.

Half way through the match, I found my heart truly wanting The Hitman to win, and dumping that sign on the floor.

I don't think I was alone, either. The more the match went on, the more the Birmingham crowd got fully behind the champ.

Sadly, there was nothing we could do to stop him getting his head caught in the ropes were Undertaker, now the defacto heel in the finest, pummelled away at him.

That caused the referee to throw this one out, and eat a chokeslam as a thank you from The Dead Man.
Your Winner by Disqualification and Still WWF Champion: Bret 'The Hitman' Hart.

Not content to leave it at that, Undertaker also chokeslammed Gerald Briscoe, who had come to help Bret break free, and then went after the ring announcer, who apparently hightailed it out of there.

HBK Is On His Way

WWE / WWF One Night Only 1997 Review - Shawn Michaels cuts a backstage promo
Greeted to a rapturous chorus of boos, The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a boastful and arrogant backstage promo in which he promised not only to juice us the match of the night, but to capture the European Championship in the process.

World Wrestling Federation European Championship
WWF European Champion The British Bulldog vs. Shawn Michaels

And so it came to this, the one match that I've been absolutely dreading rewatching.

Yes, I know pro wrestling is fake, I knew it then, but that only made me more angry on this night because I knew that the whole thing was a result of backstage politics more than anything else.

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Things started with Shawn making his way to the ring to a very mixed reaction - loud boos coupled with hysteria from girls on the front row and -hilariously- one young fan beating the shit out of Shawn with a British Bulldog Hasbro action figure that uber-heel Shawn stole and dropped down his pants.

WWE / WWF One Night Only 1997 - British Bulldog faced Shawn Michaels in the main event
Davey Boy made a humble and straightforward entrance, accompanied by his sister, who he'd dedicated the match to.

Things started off well, with Michaels being a Super Dick Heel and getting his comeuppance at every turn thanks to the overwhelmingly popular Bulldog, who was wrestling better here than he had done in a long time.

I'm even prepared to say that, for the first five or ten minutes, this was even better than the two WWF Championship matches they had at King of the Ring 1996 and In Your House: Beware of Dog, but then Michaels' 'insurance policy,' Rick Rude came down and things descended into a long, slow, and painful-to-watch slog that saw HBK take apart his opponent.

Davey recovered a little and gave plenty of hope to his countrymen, but the arrival of Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna soon dashed those hopes.

The numbers game prices too much, and Bulldog succumbed to a Triple H Pedigree before eventually -after a valiant battle- passed out in a Shawn Michaels Figure Four.

OK, so the match was a lot better -and a lot less emotionally traumatic- now that I'm watching it back for the first time in 20 years, but that still sucked as an ending.
Your Winner and New WWF European Champion: Shawn Michaels

Afterwards, Michaels and Hunter tormented the live crowd whilst beating on Bulldog some more until Diana Smith, Bret Hart, and Owen Hart, all rushed to Davey Boy's aid.

As a way to establish Michaels and his entourage as the company's top heel outfit, I admit that this was actually a perfect move, but it was not what any of us wanted, and boy did we let the heels know it by pelting the soon-to-be D-Generation-X with an onslaught of plastic bottles as our hero bravely tries crawling to his feet.



You know, I started this review not looking forward to that main event, but after watching it -and the entire show- again, I actually find myself filled with a sense of gratitude.

I'm grateful because, at an age when I was accepting that pro wrestling was all a big work, One Night Only gave me that one last chance to suspend my disbelief and act like it was all real.

From Owen Hart's plucky battle against Vader to Bret's dramatic title defence against The Undertaker and that truly heartbreaking main event, I was able to lose myself completely in the emotion of pro wrestling, not just when I was there live as a 13-year-old kid, but even now, 20 years later.

We all laughed when that kid broke down and cried that it was still real to him, dammit, but you know what?

I think I'd give anything to go back to that time when I was just able to lose myself in the stories pro wrestlers told us and avoid all the worrying about ratings, work rate, and smart fans, wouldn't you?




1997 events reviewed so far:
  1. WWF - Royal Rumble 1997
  2. WCW - Souled Out 1997
  3. WWF - In Your House 13: Final Four 
  4. WCW - Superbrawl VII 
  5. WCW - Uncensored 1997 
  6. WWF - Wrestlemania 13
  7. WCW Spring Stampede 1997
  8. WWF - In Your House 14: Revenge of The Taker
  9. WWF - In Your House 15: A Cold Day in Hell
  10. WCW - Slamboree 1997
  11. WWF - King of the Ring 1997
  12. WCW - Great American Bash 1997 
  13. WWF - In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede 
  14. WCW - Bash at the Beach 1997 
  15. WWF - Summerslam 1997
  16. WCW - Road Wild 1997
  17. WWF - In Your House 17: Ground Zero
  18. WCW - Fall Brawl 1997
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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.