25 Years On – WWF In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede

Bret Hart and Steve Austin at Canadian Stampede

Its been twenty five years since WWE In Your House Canadian Stampede, which was the sixteenth WWE In Your House PPV Event. Held on July 6th 1997 from the sold out Canadian Airline Saddledome in Calgary Alberta Canada in front of over 12,000 fans.

The name of the show not only came from the event being held in Canada, but also to honour the annual Calgary Stampede rodeo festival and exhibition that had concluded the day before.

Held at a time when the WWF was showing increasing signs of the attitude that would soon follow, the event played perfectly on the ongoing red hot Canada vs. USA feud through main protagonist Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. Ahead of the show the star had launched a campaign against America, regularly cutting anti-American promos while reuniting The Hart Foundation.

Hart was a modern day hero in Canada. His character was revolutionary, he would be booed throughout the United States but still beloved in his homeland and on international tours. His main rival at the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin spiritually led the US contingent, although for Austin, the feud was more of a bitter hate towards Bret and co. rather than a fight against Canada.

Hart and Austin had been at war since The Hitman returned to the WWF the previous November. Tensions had escalated in the prior months, with Bret once again aligning himself with his brother Owen, brothers in-law Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart and close friend Brian Pillman to combat the threat that Austin and others possessed.

For the stacked Canadian Stampede ten-man tag team main event, Austin begrudgingly banded together with a group of misfits to raise hell with him, with no other common alinement other than to destroy the Foundation.

The Austin vs. Hart feud had been the WWF highlight of the year to that point, with some tremendous battles, segments and matches, including the superb submission match at WrestleMania 13. Add in a molten fire cracker of a Canadian crowd to an already hot feud and you had all the makings for one of the best WWF/WWE pay-per-views of all-time.

Elsewhere, The Undertaker was in the midst of a long WWE Title reign that had begun at WrestleMania 13 when he Tombstoned then pinned Sycho Sid. At Canadian Stampede ‘Taker was scheduled to face old nemesis Vader along with his former Manager Paul Bearer, who had recently revealed The Deadman’s big secret.

Not only had he murdered his his family in a fire, but that his younger brother Kane, long thought dead, was actually alive!

Hunter Hearst Helmsley had won the King of the Ring tournament the month prior, brutalising new crowd favourite Mankind in the final to win the crown. Mankind’s popularity was growing amongst fans who had begun to cheer him after his compelling and honest set of sit down interviews conducted with Jim Ross that had aired the previous month.

To round off the nights action, the WWE had flown in Japanese legend The Great Sasuke to take on WWE prospect Taka Michinoku, in the first PPV Light Heavyweight Division match up. At this point it was Sasuke who was being positioned as the frontrunner for the new division and not Michinoku.

On the 25th anniversary of the explosive event, we look back at Canadian Stampede.

Free For All: The Godwinns vs New BlackJacks

The Godwinns had recently returned following The Legion of Doom breaking Henry’s neck with the Doomsday Device. A back and forth slug fest, The BlackJacks are over with the fans in attendance. It soon breaks into a four man brawl, Phineas rolls up Windham to pick up the pin at 5:32.

It’s your typical Free for All bout, nothing special but it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The PPV itself begins with the WWF Worldwide Leader in sports entertainment montage before a brilliant, voiceover and video monologue introduction that sets up the nights main event perfectly.

“We no longer live in a world of black and white, rather the landscape has becoming a canvas of muted greys, where good is indistinguishable from evil and renegades receive a hero’s embrace”

The fireworks explode, the crowd is up for it and the House set stands proudly at the top of the ramp, surrounded by hey and wagon wheels, the detail perfect for the PPV. Interestingly, the video wall was built into the window of the set at the prior In Your House 15, A Cold Day in Hell, but here, the screen is back above the set with the logo vinyl instead inside of the window.

Vince McMahon welcomes us as only Vince can. He’s alongside Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and Jim Ross at the announce desk. Cowboys for a day, the trio are decked in cowboy gear and hats, the King’s humorously oversized.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley (with Chyna) vs Mankind

Hunter Hearst Helmsley Triple H

They start tooth and nail straight away, picking right up were they left off at King of the Ring. An early Double Arm DDT from Mankind is followed by a cute curtesy mocking Helmsley that gets a huge cheer, before Mankind back drops Triple H over the top to the floor. We get our first glance of the entire Hart family, situated at ringside in their home town, in support of the Foundation in the main event. This becomes significant later on.

Helmsley decides he’s had enough and starts up the ramp, before Mankind follows him and gives him a Suplex onto the metal. JR refers to mankind as “The Prime Minister of parts unknown.”

Chyna hovers ominously as Triple H sun-set flips back in before nailing Mankind with a forearm to stop the momentum. Referee Jimmy Korderas takes an elbow to the face allowing Chyna to body slam Mankind into the steel steps before Hunter follows up with a sickening chair shot to Mrs Foley’s baby boy.

Back in the ring, Hunter Hearst Helmsley slows down the pace of the bout, concentrating his attack on the injured leg of Mankind. “I love to see Kings doing well” praises Lawler.

Chyna stops Foley using a chair before clotheslining him. Mankind topples Helmsley, straggling him on the top rope, before the Mandible Claw is briefly applied before Chyna once again breaks it up.

The pair fight over the guard rail and that’s a double count out. Mankind dumps Helmsley into the arena penalty box as the fight continues to heat up, the pair fight through the crowd and into the back. This won’t be the last we see of them.

Match time 13:14. A great brawl, even with an unsatisfactory finish, the feud was continuing to heat up and build to their Steel Cage match the next month at SummerSlam.

Dok Hendrix recaps the local festivities from the Calgary Stampede Festival. Diana Hart Smith is Mrs Calgary 1997. The Harts are so over, with thousands lining the streets to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

The WWE gets gifted the key to the city of Calgary during a tug of war competition.

Dok in white cowboy hat, interviews the Hart Foundation, Stone Cold Steve Austin immediately interrupting the interview, being held back by Pat Patterson and Tony Garea.

Bret says it would prove nothing beating him up five on one back here. He wants five on five in the ring and that’s where they will get the job done.

Taka Michinoku vs The Great Sasuke

Howard Finkel announces the match as a Junior Heavyweight Match, although Vince does call it a Light Heavyweight Contest on commentary.

Mankind and Helmsley brawl back into the arena, over a guardrail and then back out of sight. Earl Hebner pushes some overzealous fans who overstep the mark.

Match begins tentatively with both feeling each other out. JR takes over the majority of the call, name dropping Tiger Mask. Vince suggests that Sasuke has more to lose in this match than Taka. JR confirms that Sasuke is the favourite.

A Sasuke spin kick gets the crowd into it, before a half Boston crab has Taka scrambling to the ropes. A series of brutal kicks is followed by a heel palm strike by Taka and a kick to the face of his own.

Taka is elevated to the floor before Sasuke delivers a martial arts kick from the top rope. Clearing the cobwebs, both make it back into the ring as Vince admits that “we in the WWE haven’t seen action quite like this for some time”. He’s not wrong.

Another kick to the face puts Sasuke back in control, before Taka executes a leg whip and we see the first of many springboard planches from Taka during his career after Sasuke slides to the floor.

Standing Hurricanrana from Taka scores a near fall, before a springboard elbow and moonsault from Sasuke takes Michinoku out.

Huge drop kick to the back of the neck by Taka is followed by the Michinoku Driver, Sasuke just barely raising his shoulder. Eventually a thunder fire bomb and tiger suplex finish Taka off. Great Sasuke wins by pin fall in 10:00.

Great encounter between the two that built and built over the time it was allotted. It all looked so promising for the Light heavyweight division here. As is often the case, Vince quickly lost interest in the idea and once Sasuke decided not to join the WWE, it left Taka out on his own against a series of credible yet unspectacular opponents.

Even though Taka would be crowned the first Light Heavyweight Champion in December 1997, this match was as good as the division got until 2000.

We re-join Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Mankind, now brawling into the parking lot, Mankind thrown headfirst into some beer barrels before regaining the upper hand and back dropping Hunter who is busted open.

Returning to the arena, Vince talks about Ahmed Johnson, the man that The Undertaker was originally supposed to meet tonight. Unfortunately Ahmed was injured in a mass brawl with the Disciples of Apocalypse (DOA) on his first night with The Nation of Domination and has been replaced by Vader.

Dok asks how Paul Bearer can even look himself in the mirror after his revelation that The Undertaker murdered his family in the fire at their home. Paul humorously says looking in the mirror is the best thing that he does.

They cleverly remind everyone that Vader has already pinned The Undertaker on PPV in 1997, with that win coming at the Royal Rumble. “It will be déjà vu“, Bearer announces, “déjà vu”.

WWF Championship Match: The Undertaker (champion) vs Vader:

Undertaker starts off strong, dominating Vader with kicks, clotheslines and a leg drop. JR calls Vader a Buffalo. JR reminds us of Vader’s past in Japan, as Vader fires back with body shots before a high clothesline puts The Undertaker back on the front foot.

Clipping Vader’s jaw with a big boot that sends him over the top, Vader then reverses the champion into the steel steps. Undertaker sends Vader outside again before stalking Paul Bearer around the ring. Bearer attacks Taker with his shoe after Vader had put The Deadman down once more.

Vader scores several near falls, one from a big splash, before Undertaker fires back much to the crowd’s approval. Vader hammers away at the Champion, breaking up an attempted Chokeslam with a low blow.

As both men tire, Vader sets for a Vader bomb, but gets caught by an Undertaker low blow of his own, before he hits a massive choke slam onto The Mastodon from the second rope for a two count. A second Chokeslam still can’t put Vader away, but the tombstone piledriver can. Undertaker winning by pin fall to defend the title in 12:39.

Solid outing between the two rivals, both motivated to have a good bout here. The Undertaker’s storyline with his brother Kane just beginning to be alluded to.

Ten Man Tag Team Match:

Hart Foundation- Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, British Bulldog and Brian Pillman vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, L.O.D

Steve Austin Bret Hart

The entrances alone of the Hart Foundation rock the house. The outpouring of adoration is incredible. It’s a unique atmosphere. Bret is visibly moved by the reaction, one of the best of his entire career. The partisan crowd hold aloft a sea of Maple Leaf flags as The Hart Foundation make their way to the ring.

A ten man stare down to start. The anticipation for the match up palpable even twenty five years on. Jim Ross mentions that cameras are at ringside documenting a film on Bret Hart’s life. That documentary would be Wrestling With Shadows.

Hart and Austin unleashes a deafening roar from the crowd. “The building is shaking” shouts Lawler as Bret takes control of his arch nemesis. Austin stops the momentum with a low blow to a chorus of boos. They re-create the finish to their 1996 Survivor Series match which is a nice touch, Austin nearly pinning himself early whilst having the Million Dollar Dream attached to Bret.

Shamrock tags in and tackles The Anvil. There is an ‘Anvil’ chant in the Saddledome. The pair exchange shots before Brian Pillman takes over on Shamrock with a backbreaker. Shamrock turns the tide before tagging in Goldust.

Owen Hart enters, nailing Goldust with an enziguri as the crowd chant “Austin sucks” in unison. Hawk splashes Owen for a two count, before an Owen sharpshooter attempt is broken up by Animal.

It breaks down with all ten men competing in the ring. Austin drags Owen to the ring post and nails him with a chair as Hart brother Bruce attacks Stone Cold from behind the guard rail. Owen is hurt and officials escort him back to the locker room.

The remaining Foundation members attack Austin in the corner, Austin fighting back like the rattlesnake he is. Stunner for Pillman, but Bret drags Austin to the ring post in retaliation for the actions of Austin on Owen and wraps Stone Cold’s legs around the post for a figure four after battering his knee with a fire extinguisher.

With Austin’s leg damaged too, he is also taken to the back, meaning we are down to four on four. Animal is the victim of a ‘heart attack’ double team from the original Hart Foundation of Bret and Anvil.

Bulldog dominates Shamrock in the corner, then takes control over Goldust with a Super-plex. Austin hobbles back to the ring to a chorus of boos from the Calgary faithful as he tackles Bret head on. Owen returns just as Austin puts Bret in his own Sharpshooter, saving his older brother.

Austin sends Owen over the top before Bruce interferes again, throwing a drink over Austin. Believing it to have been father Stu, Austin attacks him causing mass confusion as the remaining Hart brothers jump the guardrail to attack Austin.

In the melee, Owen rolls up Stone Cold for the pin at 24:31. The hard camera visibly shakes with the un-adulterated passion of the crowd as they roar in approval of the Harts victory.

The entire family descend on the ring as Austin defiantly flips the bird at the crowd as he is handcuffed and led away after one more attempted attack. The Hart Foundation on this night are victorious.

It’s sad to look back now with twenty five years of hindsight as the family all enter the ring to celebrate. By 1997’s end, only Owen Hart would remain on the roster, with Brian Pillman sadly passing away only weeks after this event and Bret, Anvil and Bulldog leaving for WCW after the Montreal Screw job. Future superstars Natalya and Davey Boy Smith Jnr are a part of the celebration.

Austin would have his neck broken by Owen at the next month’s SummerSlam before skyrocketing to superstardom and the WWF Title in 1998. This was really his last major showdown with Bret.

The buy rate for In Your House Canadian Stampede was 171,000 buys, the most for an In Your House Event in over a year. The WWF was on the right track and although trailing to WCW still by quite a distance, business was on the up for Vince and company.

The WWF finally got the two hour In Your House formula right here. The time flies by and each match delivers. It’s a shame that every In Your House from this point moved to three hours and often contained ‘filler’ matches to help pad it out. Here everything belongs and is different to each other. The main event is one for the ages, with a fired up crowd adding to the atmosphere and outcome.

A brilliant two hours of sports entertainment, even twenty five years on. The PPV was awarded Best Major Show for 1997 by Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter and is still widely regarded as one of the best wrestling PPVs of all time.

WWE In Your House Canadian Stampede was the night that Calgary came together to celebrate its most famous wrestling family and The Hart Foundation stood a top of the wrestling landscape together. Go and re-visit it for yourself.