WWF In Your House Revenge of The Taker, was the fourteenth such In Your House PPV, held a month after WrestleMania 13. WWF swung into Rochester New York on April 20th 1997 at The Rochester Community War Memorial, a popular WWF venue of the eighties and early nineties, (Mr. Perfect had beaten the Texas Tornado to win the Intercontinental Title at the venue in late 1990.)
The now traditional, two hour, In Your House card featured all three titles on the line, including the Undertaker’s first major challenge since defeating Sycho Sid for the WWE Championship back at WrestleMania as his arch nemesis Mankind was in the title hunt.
Already having fought many times, in this instance it made perfect sense having Mankind as number one contender, fighting ‘Taker again as he had unquestionably the best win loss record of anyone against the Deadman.
Having burnt the new champion in a grizzly scene at a recent RAW, Mankind and his manager Paul Bearer had made their intentions clear. This time, they wanted the gold.
“Fire in the eyes, fire in the eyes!” exclaimed an exasperated Jim Ross as The Undertaker rolled around ringside after being burned. The new champion was out for revenge, handy given the title of the PPV.
The other main event would see a WrestleMania rematch between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin. This time though, Hart was not battling alone, as he had reformed The Hart Foundation in the weeks prior, allying himself with brother Owen and brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith in the battle against Austin and the WWE.
With WCW on top in the Monday Night Wars and ECW having recently joined the PPV battle with Barely Legal, 25 years on, we go back to see how the WWE was competing at the time and check out just how good or bad the Revenge of The Taker was for the approx. 141,000 homes who bought the event in North America.
The In Your House set was always a favourite of the time period, the big house set acting as the prominent part of the walkway down to the ring. Sadly, we only get a bit of the set here, around the entrance tunnel. Ironically it was the Undertaker and Mankind, the two Superstars scheduled to compete in the main event of this card who had destroyed it at In Your House Its Time back in December.
Also missing was the In Your House black ring apron skirts we had become used to at the PPV. The generic WWE blue ring apron skirts of the time are instead around the ring. It’s a tiny detail, but with the black ones missing and the camera side on making the venue seem smaller than it was (over 11,000 fans were actually in attendance), it does give the card a bit of a ‘B’ show feel. It’s the little things that matter sometimes.
It was celebration time for fans in the UK though, as this PPV marked the first time that an In Your House PPV had been broadcast across Sky Sports to fans in the country.
The classic commentary threesome of Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler bring us the action.
Free For All: Sultan Vs Flash Funk
The Sultan had challenged for the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania 13, Flash Funk who had only debuted at November’s Survivor Series, was already competing in his second Free for All match up, not ideal for a fairly new addition to an already thin roster.
In truth, both already felt stale and cartoonish in an era where the attitude was brewing in the company. Immediately feeling like the pair where rushing through their move set, the match was never destined to last long.
An attempted Frankensteiner from off the top rope by Flash, gets countered into a power bomb off the top, giving The Sultan the win in under three minutes.
This would actually mark the Sultan characters last PPV show appearance- all be it on the Free For All Flash Funk would compete on the main card of the following month’s In Your House Cold Day in Hell, once again in a losing effort to Triple H, before fading into obscurity for the rest of the year.
WWE Tag Team Title: British Bulldog and Owen Hart (champions) vs Legion of Doom
The main card kicks off with a bang as the tag titles are on the line in a hotly anticipated match up. The Legion of Doom have been chasing the belts since their return in February, having been side-tracked in their mission by a war against the Nation of Domination and more recently the Godwinns.
Owen and Davey had reformed The Hart Foundation along with Bret after WrestleMania and walk to the ring to Bret’s theme tune here.
A back and forth to start, the Road Warriors eventually gaining the upper hand with power moves before Davey Boy starts to take over. Vince claims that Davey is every bit the technician in the ring that The Hitman.
A split screen shows Stone Cold Steve Austin arriving at the arena. It’s hilarious as Pat Patterson asks Steve where he has been as he is late: “I was changing the tyres you silly jackass”, is Austin’s response.
Back to the match and suddenly, Davey is ran into Owen, who takes a brilliant bump to the outside, before Hawk passes Davey up to Animal on the second rope, who delivers a vicious power slam on the Brit, (a really cool manoeuvre that you didn’t see the LOD execute all that often).
A three count later and the Legion of Doom have regained the tag team titles five and a half years after their first reign.
The reaction of the crowd, tells you they are not buying it however and sure enough, referee Mike Chioda runs to the ring to inform the original referee Jack Doan that Owen was it fact the legal man. Meaning the pin fall on Davey does not count.
The match restarts with Vince who is already on great form tonight stating that the commentary team didn’t know who was legal in the match as “we were not doing are job all that well”, before following up with “It’s tough refereeing a match up when you have hooligans in there like Davey Boy and Owen”. Indeed.
Owen takes control until Hawk receives the hot tag and Owen takes the ride on the Doomsday Device. The referee pauses before making the count, allowing Bret Hart to hit the ring and save his brother, causing the disqualification and giving the Legion of Doom the win in 12:16. Alas, no title change here.
Solid enough opener between the four, with a non-finish the obviously conclusion. Even though they had held the titles since September, Owen and Davey had only just formed the New Hart Foundation with Bret, so it would have been silly for them to lose here. Equally the LOD still had their own momentum, having only returned to the fold weeks earlier.
(Side note: At the RAW/Shotgun taping the next night at Binghampton, New York, Henry Godwinn suffers a broken neck after taking the Doomsday Device).
Dok Hendrix interviews the still reigning champions, claiming they were lucky to retain their gold. Dok tells the pair that Austin has arrived to the arena, which Davey Boy and Owen can’t believe. The plot thickens.
WWE Intercontinental Title: Rocky Maivia (champion) vs Savio Vega
The Nation has arrived. J C Ice and Woolfie D bring the group to the ring for Savio’s challenge of the IC Title. Savio has already pinned the young champion recently. Unfortunately, Savio is a year past his feud with Steve Austin, his Federation peak and the rookie Rocky, is six months away from finding his niche and personality, ironically once he joins the Nation.
An injured Faarooq joins commentary to berate his old foe Ahmed Johnson and to challenge him to take on the entire Nation in one night. If he defeats Savio, Crush and then Faarooq himself one after the other, Faarooq promises to disband the group forever. The bout would take place at the following months In Your House PPV.
The crowd, commentary team and everyone at home are just not into this one. It’s a slow pace and full of rest holds and exists to give Faarooq the chance to develop his challenge to Ahmed.
Eventually Rocky takes over, executing a belly to belly suplex, and a move that would later become the rock bottom. Rocky is thrown to the outside were he nails an unsuspecting Crush, who proceeds to deliver a heart punch to the champion and causing a count out which means Savio won’t win the title.
Savio wins the match by count out in 8:33. A poor showing, the tone suggests that Rocky is lucky to be the champion and telegraphs he will be losing the title shortly.
Savio is obviously upset at Crush as his comrade just cost him the intercontinental title. Faarooq acts as peacemaker, with the pack of dogs’ attacking Rocky before the inevitable save by Ahmed Johnson, channeling his inner Hacksaw Jim Duggan cleaning house with a 2×4.
Ahmed accepts the challenge from Faarooq before posing with the perceived ‘fluke’ Intercontinental champion. The novelty of Rocky Maivia was wearing thin as evidenced by his portrayal here.
Dok interviews the injured Wildman Marc Mero along with Sable, suspiciously outside the Men’s room. Mero says nothing of interest before, sure enough, Stone Cold enters the room behind the pair before a skirmish is overheard. Davey Boy and Owen then guiltily run from the room, weapons in hand.
WWE official Dave Hebner confirms to Dok that the pair had just attacked Austin. With the car incident earlier in the day and now this attack suggesting that the Hart Foundation really didn’t want Bret to have to face Austin once again.
Double J Jesse James vs Rockabilly
The New Age Outlaws explode!
The Honky Tonk Man had promised a new protégé for weeks, who would take down the real Double J at the PPV.
Having been turned down by several superstars, including Double J and Billy Gunn in the weeks leading up to the event, Honky stumbles over his words before introducing Billy Gunn, now under the guise of Rockabilly as his new protégé to zero reaction.
This was a huge let down at the time. Rockabilly is still wearing his smoking guns outfit, but he now has sparkles across a denim jacket.
The match is doomed after the poor revelation, with James already being another character on the rocks and falling down the card. The match is actually a fine back and forth contest, it just has nobody interested in it.
The ‘real’ Double J takes control early and nails Rockabilly with a flying clothesline from the apron before Rockabilly eventually takes over.
The commentary team again ignore the action as they concentrate on Austin’s ‘mugging’ that has just taken place, before Jim Ross debates the integrity of Bret Hart.
The Superstar set to become the Road Dog finally catches his soon to be tag team partner with a small package to pin him in 6:46. It’s as if they gave up on this storyline and just went through the motions with a reveal for the sake of it.
Dok is back again, this time plugging a massive Undertaker Wall Banner, a bargain at $29.95 plus shipping!
We return to the locker room, where Steve Austin is fuming over his attack. He tells Kevin Kelly that there “Ain’t no way he isn’t fighting Bret Hart”. Then In a rare sighting 1997 sighting of WWE President Gorilla Monsoon, who buys the rattlesnake some time, rearranging the line up to give Austin longer to recover. Undertaker vs Mankind will now go next.
In an even rarer Lance Wright sighting in the WWE, he interviews the Hart Foundation trio, Davey hilariously says that Austin attacked Owen in the men’s room and they were retaliated, acting in self-defence. His innocent face is a picture. With a Stone Cold statement, Bret tells Austin, “Who’s crying now?”
A spooky video package airs, re-capping the epic feud between Undertaker and Mankind. “Ultimately they only face each other in the deranged battle field of the mind”. Great stuff.
Dok interviews Mankind along with his manager Paul Bearer. Bearer says he can still smell the burning flesh of The Undertaker and Mankind cutely says that the champion’s screams will be music to his ear.
WWE Championship The Undertaker (champion) vs Mankind
There’s no one quite like ring announcer Howard Finkel. He was simply the best.
JR asks Vince how he would like Mankind as the poster boy of the WWF as the deranged Mankind walks to the ring carrying a fire extinguisher. “I’d rather not think of that”, says Vince.
Already having faced each other four times one on one on PPV the previous year, you could be forgiven for thinking you had seen it all with these two, however this is an interesting war from the get go, with the pair always having great chemistry, no matter how many times they battled.
Undertaker is sporting a bandage, courtesy of the RAW fire ball attack. Within two minutes, Mankind is rammed back of his skull first into the guardrail before being tossed over into the front row.
Even though they have met several times before on PPV, even on In Your House, the crowd are eating this one up, genuinely buying into Mankind as a legitimate threat to the champion.
The pair kick it up a gear, brawling on the outside where Mankind nails ‘Taker with a glass water pitcher to the face, followed up by a wicked chair shot. Undertaker finally gains control by drop kicking the steel steps, brought into the ring by the challenger back into Mankind’s face before Mrs Foley’s baby boy finds himself all tied up in the ropes.
After losing his mask, Mankind is nailed once again by the steps which sends him perfectly through the announce table head first in a shot that has been replayed many times. It’s perfect.
A brutal choke slam eventually leads to the match winning pin at 17:26. The Undertaker retains his WWF Title. The Undertaker would go on to have his longest reign in 1997 until his World Title reign of 2009, battling Steve Austin, Faarooq and Vader on subsequent PPV’s, before dropping the title to Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1997 after 133 days as champion.
Another entertaining brawl in the series between Undertaker and Mankind. Paul Bearer eventually has a fire ball set off in his face, ignited by The Undertaker, (after it originally seems Mankind would be doing the deed), ultimately gaining his Revenge as the PPV title suggests.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret the Hitman Hart
Originally Bret vs Sycho Sid, the bout was changed to give Stone Cold his WrestleMania rematch after an enforced storyline back injury to Sid, kept him out.
Bulldog and Owen are kicked out of accompanying Bret to the ring by the WWE officials who had a busy night themselves.
The first six minutes continue the epic brawl from WrestleMania, up the aisle and over the rail, before Bret takes control with his figure four around the ring post. Concentrating on Austin’s injured knee, Bret attacks with a venom normally seen by the Texas Rattlesnake, bringing a chair into proceedings to further damage Austin’s leg.
Austin gains the advantage pummelling Hart over and over and when he puts Bret in his own Sharp Shooter looks to be on the verge of gaining a clean win for the first time over The Hitman. Instead, Owen and Davey return the favour from earlier in the night, saving Bret and giving us our second DQ in five matches at 21:09.
The feud would continue on RAW the next night with Austin battering Bret’s knee, legitimately injured here and putting him on the shelf for months.
Although their least successful match on PPV, the bout is still a good and full of intensity, a focus WWF would continue with over the next few years.
Overall In Your House Revenge of The Taker is an enjoyable two hours with the two main events saving the show. A solid if not spectacular In Your House two hour PPV.
Undertaker vs Mankind is a fine addition to their series, cementing The Undertaker as the dominant new champion, and any Stone Cold vs Bret Hart match should be cherished, especially as Bret would be gone by the end of the year, unthinkable at this point.
This match is good, difficult to criticise, but nowhere near as memorable as their previous meetings and the DQ ending is frustrating and hurts Austin’s momentum.
Austin winning clean here would have given him his win against Hart and would have set him up perfectly for him to challenge for the WWE title the following month.
The undercard suffers because of two non-finishes, matches filled with wrestlers who were simply not over and a terrible reveal in the ‘mystery man’ scenario.
With stiff competition on PPV from WCW and now ECW, WWE needed to change tact on paid for events, instead of treating them like another episode of RAW in order to compete successfully. They would as the year wore on, gaining viewers from the competition and learning from their mistakes.
Attitude is indeed in the air during this PPV. Matches are edgier and feuds more meaningful. You can see the direction that The Federation is heading, especially with the advantage of hindsight.
The top end of the WWE cards consistently delivered and did on this night. Austin waged war successfully against The Hart Foundation and The Undertaker stood atop of the company, with plenty of new challenges awaiting over the coming months.
You can watch In Your House Revenge of The Taker exclusively on the WWE Network.