WWE Classic of the Week: The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart from SummerSlam 1997

Erik BeastonFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2015

Credit: WWE.com

On August 23, The Undertaker will return to SummerSlam, a show that has housed some of his greatest and most infamous matches. It is the event at which he and Mankind waged war in a Boiler Room Brawl, the culmination of the Highway to Hell between him and Steve Austin, and the site of his notorious main event against the doppelganger Undertaker.

When he enters the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, for his match against Brock Lesnar, he will do so chasing yet another summertime classic.

In 1997, the Deadman was WWE champion, enjoying his greatest main event run to date. His opponent for the huge SummerSlam event was Bret Hart, who was in the midst of the anti-American gimmick that made him the most hated villain in the industry.

With Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee and stipulations barring him from costing Hart the title, the main event of the biggest part of the summer was guaranteed to be an explosive one.

Who would leave East Rutherford, New Jersey, as the WWE champion, and what role would Michaels play in the outcome?

Find out now.

But first, their story.

 

The Background

Undertaker completed a six-year journey back to the top of the WWE mountain at WrestleMania 13 when he defeated Sycho Sid for the company's heavyweight title. In the weeks and months that followed, he would successfully defend against the likes of Mankind, Vader and Faarooq.

They were hard-hitting, physical brawls that showcased Undertaker's ability to work quality matches against fellow heavyweights of varying styles.

At the same show that Undertaker won the title, Bret Hart underwent a character change that would alter the course of history forever.

His knack for complaining and whining about being screwed had already been established in the weeks leading into at WrestleMania 13, so it should have been a surprise to no one that the fans greeted the longtime hero with jeers, opting to throw their support behind the antihero Steve Austin.

After beating Austin into a bloody pulp and winning his Submission match against the Texas Rattlesnake via referee decision, Hart continued beating on the unconscious foe. It earned him further scrutiny and just 24 hours later, he officially turned heel.

The issues between Hart and Shawn Michaels intensified over the summer, with each Superstar taking shots at the other. These were more than scripted insults hurled between two on-screen enemies, though. These were pointed and personal jabs between professional rivals hell-bent on keeping the other from stealing their spot.

By the time SummerSlam rolled around, the intense dislike between Hart and Michaels was as intriguing and must-see as the feud between the Hitman and the Deadman over the WWE title. When Michaels was added to the title match as guest referee—his future in WWE threatened if he did anything to intentionally cost his enemy the championship—intrigue was at a high.

Hart would vow never to wrestle in America again if he lost to Undertaker, adding even higher stakes to the bout and making it the can't-miss match of the year.

 

The Match

 

The Analysis

Bret Hart and Undertaker had wicked chemistry with each other throughout their careers in WWE, so it should have been no surprise that they would deliver a quality match when the pressure was on. As good as their title bout proved to be, though, it was the ending sequence that remains one of the best and most memorable finishes ever.

Hart attempted to use a steel chair, but Michaels pulled it away from him. The Hitman, disgusted, spit in the face of Michaels, enraging the referee and causing him to swing wildly with the weapon. Hart ducked and Michaels blasted Undertaker, then he was forced to count the three and award the title to Hart.

It was a brilliant bit of storytelling that not only furthered the issues between Hart and Michaels but also ignited a rivalry between HBK and the Deadman.

An epic conclusion to a match that was as intriguing and interesting as any in SummerSlam history.

 

The Aftermath

After the match, Michaels found himself the object of Undertaker's rage. Soon, he would turn heel and align himself with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, laying the groundwork for the D-Generation X faction that would dominate the company for years to come.

At In Your House: Ground Zero, Undertaker got his chance to pummel Michaels into the ground, and he did just that, though the match ended in a draw. A month later, he would get his hands on HBK inside Hell in a Cell, bloodying him and beating him to a pulp before the debut of Kane cost him a victory.

By way of Michaels' victory over the Phenom, he was awarded a WWE Championship opportunity against Hart at Survivor Series in Montreal.

And you all know how that one ended.