On August 3rd, 1997, at SummerSlam, two legends gave their heart and soul to the WWE fans. However, after the smoke cleared, only one was WWF Champion. Despite all the odds against him, including special guest referee Shawn Michaels, Bret “Hitman” Hart defeated The Undertaker for his fifth WWF Championship. Due to his recent actions, many of the United States fans turned on Hart. Bret would give shoot/work promos on how he wasn’t so much Anti-American but pro-Canadian. He realigned himself with the Hart Foundation. Hart lived up to his Hitman name and became more brutal in his matches. He targeted fan favorites like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and The current WWF Champion The Undertaker.
High Stakes at the Hottest PPV of the Summer
After In Your House Canadian Stampede, Bret and the rest of the Hart Foundation remained heroes to every other country besides the USA. As a performer, this is something that is almost impossible. It was a definite once-in-a-lifetime story. Never before has a wrestler been a face everywhere but America. At the same time, American fans tastes shifted, and they began to look for an edgier product. Known as the dawn before the attitude era, this time in WWF was chaos. Arguably this was the most exciting time to be a fan. The level of passion and enthusiasm will probably never be seen again.
It was only natural that eventually, the biggest heel in America would challenge the most popular star. On an episode of Monday Night Raw Bret Hart stated that if he did not win the WWF title from the Undertaker at Summerslam, he would never wrestle in America again. The WWF put that stipulation in the contract for the match. To make things more interesting, WWF officials made HBK Shawn Michaels the special guest referee. This did not sit well with either Bret or The Undertaker. Both have had a heated rivalry with Michaels.
However, to Bret, this was the ultimate setup. He was livid and attacked both Vince McMahon and HBK. Even though Shawn promised to call it right down the middle, it was questionable what HBKS motives were. To make things more even for both superstars, if Shawn did not call it right down the middle, he would also never wrestle in America again.
Hart and Soul
The Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, waited in anticipation for this match. Previously Hart vs. Undertaker were classics in their own right, but this was going to be different. The added drama between all three superstars was off the chart. All three had something to lose. Bret Hart was introduced first. He walked to ring with the Canadian flag on his shoulder. Just as he had been doing recently, he asked for the Canadian Anthem to be played. He knew he had to do whatever it took to win the WWF championship.
As Shawn Michaels was introduced, Jerry Lawler commented that;
“Shawn Michaels ego is so big that when he goes to a funeral, he’s upset because he’s not the corpse.”
This statement was the truth, as HBK posed as no other referee has. The look of disgust on Harts’s face was evident. He couldn’t stand HBK. As the familiar gong rang out, The WWF Champion, The Undertaker, arrived. The legendary entrance always sent a chill down your spine. There is nothing like an Undertaker entrance. Both Bret Hart and The Undertaker had nothing but respect for each other. In a 2021 interview with Sports Illustrated, Bret said that;
“Undertaker gave his all. He will forever be one of the guys I respected the most.”
The Undertaker felt the same about Hart. In a 2021 Interview, The phenom thanked the Hitman for being one of his greatest opponents.
Hitman vs. The Deadman
The match was a wrestling clinic. Both Superstars gave the match of a lifetime. Hart immediately attacked The Undertaker, focusing on taking the big man off his feet. Like any technical wrestler knows, get an opponent on the mat, then he’s the same size as you. Undertakers’ strategy was to target Harts back. At one point, he rammed him into the steel ring post repeatedly. Michaels was unbiased and warned both superstars of the risk of disqualification. The WWF champion continued to punish Hart’s back with a backbreaker followed by a bearhug. The Undertaker dominated Hart until the Hitman zeroed in on the Undertaker’s leg. Then, Bret Hart began to do what he did best, excellently execute his opponent.
Every offensive move was targeted on The Phenoms leg. Undertaker kept fighting back, but the pain was unbearable. As he was being punished in the ring, his former manager Paul Bearer came to ringside and mocked the legend. Paul Bearer had been mentally torturing the Undertaker for weeks, claiming he had a secret to spill. That secret, as we will find out later, was Undertaker’s brother Kane. He went after Paul Bearer, but while he was distracted, Hart hit him with a chop block. Then, he wrapped The Undertaker’s legs around the ring post and applied a figure four. Shawn Michaels chased Paul Bearer off, but The Hart Foundation made their way to ringside. Shawn Michaels also chased them off.
Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker For His Fifth WWF Championship.
HBK truly was calling it right down the middle. Back in the ring, Hart went back to work on the Undertaker. Finally, he locked in the Sharpshooter on The Deadman. To everyone’s surprise, Undertaker broke the Sharpshooter and propelled Hart to the arena floor. Frustrated, Hart rolled back in the ring but was met by a clothesline as the Undertaker went for a Tombstone. Bret blocked it and put him in a Sharpshooter again using the ring post. This time Undertaker powered out and sent Hart crashing into Michaels. Hart grabbed a steel chair and hit the Undertaker across the head with it. He went for the pin but only got a two-count. Hart argued with HBK calling it a slow count.
Michaels then noticed the steel chair in the ring and went to question the Hitman. An argument ensued between the two. Bret spits at HBK. As Shawn went to hit him with the chair, Hart ducked and hit the undertaker. The look on Shawn Michaels’s face was priceless. He knew he screwed up. Hart covered the Undertaker. HBK had no choice but to make the three count. Bret Hitman Hart was the new WWF Champion.
Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker For His Fifth WWF Championship.
Shawn Michaels literally was a deadman. Undertaker wanted revenge and blamed HBK for the title loss. Arguably Undertaker stalking Michaels was the reason for the creation of the original Degeneration X. HBK recruited HHH, Chyna, and the insurance policy Ravishing Rick Rude. Their rivalry culminated at the first-ever Hell in a Cell Match at Bad Blood. WWF Champion Bret Hitman Hart went on to defend his WWF title against the likes of the Patriot, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Vader. Hart kept the Championship until the infamous Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997, shortly after Bret Hart left WWF for WCW.
In an interview on the WWE network, Bret Hart called this match one of his favorites. He even complimented Shawn Michaels as the referee.
“I will say this match wouldn’t have been that great without Shawn Michaels. He was a big part of the match. The added element of the condition that if he didn’t call it right down the middle, he would never wrestle again in America. There is a certain timing in the spit and that chair shot. It was as genius as wrestling can get.”
Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker for his fifth WWF Championship before leaving the company later same year due to the infamous Montreal Screwjob.