Wrestling Review: WWF In Your House: Canadian Stampede 1997

Image Source: Cageside Seats

Today’s anniversary review is for a very famous card, the sixteenth In Your House, held on Sunday July 6 1997. It was notable because of its location being in the Calgary Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which of course is the hometown of the Hart family. So imagine five Hart family members/representatives teaming against five of the WWF’s top babyfaces at a time when the Canada vs. America storyline was at its peak, and the end result is an atmosphere to rival any in wrestling history. What’s more, the show as a whole is also fondly remembered, making this an all-time favourite for longtime fans. Let’s get to it!

Mankind vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley

For a show that is so well-renowned, this represents the least memorable battle between Mick Foley and the soon-to-be-renamed Triple H on an American soil PPV. But that isn’t to discount its quality, and more to highlight their incredible legacy together (King Of The Ring 1997 tournament final, SummerSlam 1997 Cage match, Royal Rumble 2000 Street Fight, No Way Out 2000 Hell In A Cell match). After all, this was a wild brawl occurring at a time when Mankind was really getting over as an underdog babyface character; this version of Mankind, coming after the madman heel run but before the Mr. Socko lovable bozo of 1999, and right before Dude Love and later Cactus Jack arrived on television, is one of the more underrated stints of a career packed with memorable gimmicks. Chyna’s presence at ringside gave Helmsley a major helping hand, as well as getting her over as someone who could pose a believable threat to male competitors. It soon developed into a fight that saw both men counted out, but they then brawled through the crowd, backstage and all the way outside the arena, by which time Hunter had been cut open. Scraps like this were a rarity in the WWF at this point, allowing it to leave a strong impression, and to kick the night off on a high.

Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke

There is a long-standing belief that the WWF/WWE could never produce cruiserweight/light heavyweight action to rival that of WCW’s division during its 1996-1998 glory days, and that is true. There have been times, though, when the company did manage to put on some top-drawer bouts involving the lighter competitors, and this match is a perfect example. It was Taka’s WWF debut and Sasuke’s only PPV appearance for the Federation, and while both men were basically unknown to WWF fans, their efforts in this contest ensured that they would have name value after the match ended. There were plenty of high-flying aerial attacks on display here, with Sasuke eventually wrapping things up with a Tiger Suplex. It could be argued that this was the greatest cruiser-style match ever in WWE, in part because it felt like a WCW bout in a WWF environment. It would later be downhill for the Light Heavyweight division, but here, it shone like a beacon, which would greatly impress those who are fans of sub-200 pound competition.

WWF Championship Match
The Undertaker (C) vs. Vader

There’s a story to this one, well a few actually. Ahmed Johnson had recently turned heel on Undertaker and joined the Nation Of Domination, and was scheduled to face Taker here for the gold. But he got injured almost immediately afterwards, to the point that Vader had to be inserted as a replacement. What’s more, the revelations of Taker’s back-story were beginning to dominate WWF television, as Paul Bearer had announced the previous Monday on Raw about the infamous fire that Undertaker had started which seemingly killed Kane along with their parents, only to reveal that Kane was actually still alive and was en route to the WWF. All of this overshadowed what was an enjoyable championship match, though Vader’s status as a stand-in meant that the result was never in doubt. Sure enough, Undertaker triumphed with a Tombstone on the 400-pounder (which was quite a visual), as Bearer (who was managing Vader again here) scurried away, knowing that he still had Kane to eventually unleash on Taker. Damn, 1997 was awesome in the WWF, and we haven’t even covered the main event yet.

Ten-Man Tag Team Match
The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart & Brian Pillman) vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust & The Legion Of Doom

Judged solely on the in-ring action, this was a very good match, if a little formulaic at times. Judged in the wider context, however, this was an iconic battle. Usual American babyfaces Shamrock and co. were booed, with Austin – who was on the verge of becoming the hottest babyface ever – getting the loudest jeers. In contrast, the homecoming Canadians, usually heels in the States, were treated like heroes, with even the lesser-ranked members receiving massive pops; Bret’s cheer was so loud that it was almost inaudible. Parts of the arena were almost shaking during the most climactic moments of this match, which began with a Bret-Austin fistfight and led to various square-offs throughout. Of note, Austin injured Owen’s knee forcing him to go backstage for treatment, while Stone Cold himself was helped out at one point for a similar reason. Both would return before the finish, but the layout portrayed Owen as being more valiant than Steve. This partly contributed to the finish, where after a huge skirmish at ringside when Austin attacked Bruce Hart and tried to attack Bret’s elderly parents Stu and Helen (which included Bruce laying in some kidney shots on Austin that legitimately hurt him, thus preventing Bruce from joining the faction proper), Owen rolled up Steve and held the tights for the victory to the expected massive pop.

Afterwards, there was a huge Hart family celebration with dozens of family members and associates (including future stars such as Tyson Kidd, DH Smith and Natalya), but it was interrupted midway through by Austin who continued fighting the Harts alone, leading to his first of multiple on-screen arrests. A defiant Steve gave middle finger gestures to those in the ring and to the crowd, all while cuffed, in a hilarious scene that perfectly captured the Stone Cold character. What makes this so memorable were the reverse crowd reactions, something we often see nowadays but never did back then, especially with such responses being influenced by the WWF themselves. It was the equivalent of an away game/road game in sports, but with the normal faces acting more heelish (especially Austin, who visually relished the opportunity to be a villain again, for one night at least), and with the usual heels playing to their adoring fans. The announcers did a great job of both presenting the Harts as a respectable crew on their own turf, while not praising all of their occasionally-questionable actions. The audience being as hot as any wrestling crowd ever has was also a major factor in this main event being a success. Add to that the strong in-ring action on display, the popular (in Canada) outcome, and the brilliance of the storyline as a whole, and it’s easy to see why older fans love reliving this bout. It could have been even greater had Shawn Michaels been involved (since HBK was even more detestable to Canadians than Austin was), which was the plan before the backstage altercation between Bret and Shawn the previous month.

It’s a four-match show that runs for two hours, and yet it’s one of the most famous and much-lauded WWF/WWE events in history. Every bout has something to offer at a high level, and though WCW was easily winning the ratings, from an entertainment standpoint, the WWF had never been better at this point. The first three matches are all well worth watching, but it’s the headline attraction that truly enjoys legendary status. If you only watch one match from Canadian Stampede, it must be the main event, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing for you to check out the whole card, because it really is awesome and worthy of its status as an all-time great PPV show.