MONDAY NIGHT RAW
July 7, 1997
TAKA Michinoku . . . nearly ends his life with a botched dive, but still impresses enough to become the focus of the upcoming Light Heavyweight Division.
Steve Austin . . . seems to be one of a very few people on the card tonight that remembers that it says ‘WRESTLING’ on the marquee.
Brian Christopher . . . has an almost ridiculously watchable and engaging squash match, showing what sort of potential the Light Heavyweight Division actually had.
THE GREAT SASUKE vs. TAKA MICHINOKU
This isn’t vastly different from their match the night before. It’s perfectly watchable (even with TAKA’s botched dive), but there’s only so much they can do with only five minutes to work. The strikes look good, the little bit of matwork that they do is rather fluid, and the dives are incredible. The finish is a little bit better this time, although I still wish they’d pay some more respect to the Michinoku Driver II. TAKA plants Sasuke and instead of going for the pin, he opts to attempt a moonsault. Sasuke gets the knees up and uses that to transition back to offense, with a near fall from the Tiger suplex followed by his Thunder Fire powerbomb to get the win. It’d be nice to see them get enough time to tell a real story and show how good they really are, but that was never going to happen in this promotion during this time frame.
SAVIO VEGA vs. CRUSH
This hardly qualifies as being an actual match, since almost nothing happens. The announcers bring up the fact that Savio is a better overall wrestler and will need to use that to his advantage, but aside from surprising Crush with his spin kick, there’s nothing that actually gives that impression. These two more or less just kill a couple of minutes and then give their respective factions an excuse to start fighting with each other so that the ref can throw the whole thing out. If nothing else, this works as an exercise of how much more over Crush and DOA are here than Savio would ever be during his WWF run.
OWEN HART/DAVEY BOY SMITH vs. FAAROOQ/D’LO BROWN
Considering the buzz that Owen had for himself after pinning Austin the night before, this seems a bit anticlimactic. Granted, the Nation does more heat mongering than good work, but you’d think that Owen and D’Lo would have been able to put together a few nice sequences. The heels working over Davey and having Owen be the hot tag is certainly nice, but the best thing that comes from it is Owen hitting his spinning heel kick to both D’Lo and Faarooq, and Kama interferes right afterwards to trigger another brawl on the floor. Owen manages to roll back in before the ref counts to ten to give the Hart Foundation the countout win. It seems like this was booked to give the Hart Foundation a win in Canada, without anyone actually putting them over. Why couldn’t Owen have submitted D’Lo to the sharpshooter or outwrestled and pinned Faarooq with a flash cradle or something?
STEVE AUSTIN vs. HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY
As far as the actual work goes, this would probably be on par with their match from the previous October. There’s nothing as far as a story goes, until the finish with Mankind thwarting HHH using the chair on Austin and giving him the chance to hit the stunner, but it’s nice to see them both just work a straight up wrestling match. HHH takes a nice bump from the corner whip, and after the commercial break there’s a nice sequence where the momentum keeps shifting, and it’s done in simple and logical ways. HHH counters Austin’s attempt at a superplex and then comes off the second rope and Austin gets both boots up, Austin whips HHH into the corner and charges into a boot of his own. Even the overbooking with Chyna and Foley works as far as furthering both the Foley/HHH feud as well as Foley wanting Austin to accept him as a partner. Foley doesn’t touch HHH, he simply provides a momentary distraction, which is a lot less than Chyna had done earlier. This certainly isn’t a classic, but it’s a damn fine TV match and nothing at all like the matches these two would have later on when they became top guys.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER vs. ERIC SHELLEY
Considering that this is supposed to be a quick squash to set up the tag match with the Putskis the following week, this is actually pretty damned watchable. Shelley adds some nice looking matwork and does such a great job of selling for Brian, that there are several points that it looked like the match could have easily ended, and each one would have seemed like a fitting way to cap the match off. For his part, Brian is more than willing to let Shelley look good in Canada, including a huge bump over the top from a standing dropkick. It’s just too bad that nobody gave the announcers a heads up that there was a pretty engaging match going on, since they treat it as a vehicle for Lawler to tell jokes (some of which are actually funny). The only thing that seems off about the match is Shelley’s dive to the floor, he seemed to hesitate before doing it, either due to nerves from the bump to the floor or maybe just giving Brian an extra second to make sure he can get out of the way. But Shelley is as good as finished after the bump. He sells like he’s completely out of it, and even when he makes his small comeback he moves noticeably slower, and once Brian gets an opening to take over again, he makes sure to finish him off quickly. This obviously wasn’t close to the level of what WCW was pumping out at the time, but the simple and effective work makes it stand out in its own way.
BRET HART vs. GOLDUST
Overall, this is a pretty underwhelming main event. Neither Bret nor Dustin is bad or anything, but this just never comes together enough to turn into anything special. It also doesn’t help that there are teases of interference from DOA, the rest of the Hart Foundation, Shamrock and the Road Warriors, plus Austin, and nothing ever comes of any of it. So, the only thing that it serves to do is seemingly take focus off the match. Pretty much the only thing to really take away from this is the fact that Bret wins, but it’s done in such an out-of-nowhere fashion that even that doesn’t have the impact that it probably should. It’s the same sunset flip counter sequence that Davey and Bret used in their SummerSlam match, but if you watch them both back-to-back, it’s easy to see which one comes off better, and it’s got nothing to do with the crowd. It would seem like Bret and Dustin getting ten minutes to work in front of a vehemently pro-Bret crowd would have some good results, and while the booking and all the extra people involved didn’t help, their actual work didn’t seem too inspired either.
Conclusion: There were a couple of very pleasant surprises here, but it’s hard to not feel let down, especially by the matches involving Hart Foundation members.