On Sunday, WWE revisits their past with NXT’s latest TakeOver paying homage to the original WWF pay-per-view franchise, In Your House. From 1995 to 1999, the series ran as WWF’s PPV brand, as supplementary PPVs alongside the company’s Big Five at the time – Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series – and were designed to combat the decision by competitors World Championship Wrestling (WCW) which had expanded their own PPV schedule in 1995. On July 6, 1997, WWF held In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede live from Calgary, Alberta, Canada in the middle of Calgary Stampede Week, an event that has become for many, the best In Your House pay-per-view in the franchise’s four-year run. And during a time where shows without an audience has become the norm due to COVID-19 restrictions, the show is a reminder just how important a crowd’s reaction is to an event and a story – as it was the ravenous Calgary audience that practically stole the show and made it the moment in time that is has become. Earlier this year in a review of must-see events on the WWE Network, the late great wrestling journalist Larry Csonka of 411Mania stated that “Make no mistake, this show is almost perfection.” In 1997, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer named In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede “Best Major Wrestling Show of the Year”. Canadian Stampede would also be the final In Your House event to be numbered, and starting the following month, In Your House would serve as a subtitle to the pay-per-view’s actual name, Ground Zero: In Your House. The final event to use the In Your House branding (prior to Sunday’s NXT TakeOver: In Your House) was St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: In Your House on February 14, 1999. While April’s Backlash originally featured In Your House as its subtitle early in the promotional stages, by the time the event aired on April 25, 1999, In Your House was completely removed, making it the first non-Big Five pay-per-view to abolish the In Your House branding.
In Your House: Canadian Stampede – THE UNDERCARD
For much of In Your House’s run, the events were roughly two hours in length, more supplementary pay-per-views than the longer Big Five events, meaning less matches on the card and with more time spent on each. The event opened with a dark match that featured The Godwinns (Henry O. Godwinn & Phineas I. Godwinn) defeating the New Blackjacks (Blackjack Windham & Blackjack Bradshaw) and while it didn’t air for those watching live, the match did appear as a bonus match on the event’s release on home video. The show’s televised opener featured the Connecticut blue blood, Hunter Hearst Helmsley – who was still a month away from uniting with Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X – taking on Mankind. It was only the third singles meeting of these two stars at the time – Mankind had defeated Helmsley by DQ on Shotgun Saturday Night that May and followed it up with a meeting in the King of the Ring finals that June, that saw Helmsely win the crown.
But these two were far from done, and at Canadian Stampede they took their feud to a new level of brutality, with their best match together to date. At the time, Mankind was still new to much of the WWF Universe, many of whom were unaware that under that leather mask lurked former WCW star and international hardcore icon Cactus Jack. But that night Mankind showed all kinds of Cactus Jack mannerisms and unleashed some brutal offense on the pre-Game, back before WWF switched gears and made Mick Foley more of the proverbial punching bag that simply a tough brawler who could take the lumps instead of just taking them. The match also featured plenty of interference from Helmsley’s new ring side enforcer, the 9th wonder of the world, Chyna, who had only just made her debut that February at In Your House 13: Final Four. The brawling would be unstoppable, and the match ended in double count-out as Mankind, Chyna, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley (who was quite bloodied) ended up out in the stands and into the parking lot. “Probably one of the best and most underappreciated openers in WWE pay-per-view history,” said Brandon Stroud in a retro review of the event for Uproxx in 2017. The story of Mick Foley and Triple H would continue through WWE history for years to come.
The second match was a rare time when the WWF actually seemed to care about its fledgling rebooted Light Heavyweight division. The event marked the in-ring debut for Michinoku Pro star TAKA Michinoku in the WWF and for his opponent, the WWF went outside their own promotion, bringing in TAKA’s mentor and trainer (and Michinoku Pro founder) The Great Sasuke. At the time of his introduction to the WWF Universe that night in Calgary, Alberta, TAKA Michinoku was a former Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW) Junior Heavyweight Champion (who would win the title again just over a month after the Canadian Stampede pay-per-view). It would also mark the official WWF debut for The Great Sasuke, which is ironic considering he had won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship the previous year in his quest to win the coveted J-Crown Championship.
The WWF Light Heavyweight title had originally been created in 1981 in association with the WWF’s Mexican alliance with Universal Wrestling Association (UWA), and in 1995, its ownership was transferred to Michinoku Pro in Japan. In 1997, when WWF decided to officially create its own Light Heavyweight division in the United States (in an answer to WCW’s popular Cruiserweight Division), they took back ownership of the title and stripped Shinjiro Otani of the belt later that November. In December of 1997, at In Your House: D-Generation X, TAKA Michinoku would defeat Brian Christopher in the finals of the Light Heavyweight Championship tournament to become WWF’s first official Light Heavyweight Champion. The title was ultimately merged with WCW’s Cruiserweight Championship when X-Pac (the reigning WWE Light Heavyweight Champion) defeated WCW Cruiserweight Champion Tajiri in 2001, unifying the titles. But in July of 1997, TAKA Michinoku and The Great Sasuke brought puroresu to the WWF Universe for the first time proper, and despite losing to Sasuke that night (as well as losing the rematch to Sasuke the following night on Monday Night Raw in Edmonton, a star was born in TAKA, that would propel him to his title victory that December. The location of TAKA’s debut couldn’t have been better either – the Calgary crowd was well accustomed to both Japanese wrestling and junior heavyweight wrestling thanks to a healthy dose of Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling over the past six decades. One of their own stars, Chris Benoit, had actually held the WWF Light Heavyweight title in Mexico in 1991 as the Pegasus Kid.
The last match before the 10-man tag team main event was for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, with the reigning champion The Undertaker facing former 3x IWGP Heavyweight Champion and 3x WCW World Heavyweight Champion Vader. Despite his pre-WWF accolades and accomplishments, to paraphrase Dante Hicks from the Clerks films, Vader wasn’t even supposed to be there. The Undertaker was originally supposed to face Ahmed Johnson at Canadian Stampede in a World title defense, but the Pearl River powerhouse – who had recently turned heel during a tag match as Taker’s partner and joined Nation of Domination – got hurt (again) and had to be pulled from the storyline (in a strange twist of fate, Johnson’s injury led to Rocky Maivia taking his place, leading to the rise of The Rock). Vader, who was being managed by Undertaker’s former manager Paul Bearer, became the last-minute replacement, and now Bearer was seeking revenge on his former protege due to Taker being the one who burned down the house that killed his parents. Unfortunately, the Vader that arrived in the WWF at Royal Rumble 1996 was a far cry from his dominant Mastodon who had terrorized Japan and Ted Turner’s WCW. His body hurting and his confidence shot, Vader did his best to compete against arguably the WWF’s most reliable performer in the Undertaker (don’t worry, Vader would regain that confidence and become a 2x All Japan Triple Crown winner following his 1998 departure from the WWF). Thankfully, the Calgary crowd’s focus was still intently being reserved for the main event, and Vader managed to pull a few moves out of the tank to rise to the occasion and he got arguably one of his best matches in the WWF.
In Your House: Canadian Stampede – THE MAIN EVENT
In 1997, gang warfare ruled the WWF Universe. The Nation of Domination, lead by former WCW World Champion Farooq (Ron Simmons) and featuring Ahmed Johnson, D’Lo Brown, and Kama Mustafa (aka Godfather). The NOD was in the midst of a gang war that featured two new factions led by two men that had only been fired from NOD the previous month. Crush (Bryan Adams, who had debuted as the third man in Demolition in 1990) had formed the biker gang DOA (Disciples of Apocalypse) with Chainz (Brian Lee) and the Harris twins, Skull (Don Harris) and 8-Ball (Ron Harris). Savio Vega reached into his Puerto Rican wrestling heritage, creating Los Boriquas featuring 5x World Wrestling Council (WWC) Caribbean Heavyweight Champion Miguel Pérez Jr., 4x WWC Tag Team Champion José Estrada Jr. (who competed in WWC as Super Medic III), and Jesús Castillo Jr., who as Huracan Castillo Jr. was a 5x WWC Junior Heavyweight Champion and only a year previous was the WWC Universal Champion. But despite that gang warfare, the biggest star power faction in the WWF was the newly reformed Hart Foundation, lead by former 4x WWF World Heavyweight Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart. Earlier that year, Bret Hart had begun to turn on the US audience of the WWF, breaking the fourth wall to reveal Vince McMahon as the owner of the WWF on television and turning heel in arguably pro wrestling’s greatest double-turn at WrestleMania 13 that April against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. For months prior to Canadian Stampede, the new Hart Foundation – that saw Owen Hart, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman, and original partner Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart join Bret – became an anti-USA stable disgusted by the current state of not only the United States of America but pro wrestling fans in general. The star power of the group was overwhelming and it didn’t take long for the new Hart Foundation to become WWF’s top core of heels in the company, with Bret Hart as the company’s number one bad guy.
With Bret Hart firmly in control of the number one heel position, his star power was once again used to continue the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as the company’s top new star. WWF World Champion The Undertaker was still a top name in the company, but Shawn Michaels‘ attitude had derailed his own push with Hart as the company’s top face a year prior – and Canadian Stampede was still a few weeks shy of the creation of D-Generation X. Oddly enough it was Goldust, who had become a fan favorite in the US, who helped create the American stable that was going to head to the Great White North to face the villainous Hart Foundation in their home and native land. He brought in former UFC star Ken Shamrock, who had debuted earlier that year in the WWF, and legendary tag team the Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal), as well as Hart’s principal nemesis, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“This might be, without hyperbole,” Brandon Stroud mentioned in his 2017 retro review of the event in Uproxx, “the greatest sustained reaction to a wrestling match I’ve ever seen.” And it all started with the intros. The American team came out first and for the most part, received reactions from the Calgary crowd that would be more akin to slightly known enhancement talents in their home town. This crowd had no energy for any WWF Superstar who was not born, bred, or trained in Calgary. And it showed. Goldust’s entrance was practically ignored, Ken Shamrock was slightly more acknowledged, while even the legendary LOD got little more than a gentleman’s reaction. But “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, while still far and away from the monstrous crowd response he would get for much of the later 1990s, was showered in boos and indifference that lead to Stroud mentioning in Uproxx in 2017 that he “gets treated like he’s Roman Reigns“.
By contrast, the Hart Foundation came into the arena like they were the greatest selection of wrestling superstars of all-time. Not only was it Canadian Stampede week in Calgary, but it was the culmination of Canada Day celebrations (July 1st in Canada is akin to July 4th in the US). And to heighten the pro-Canadian stance, the Canadian national anthem was sung just moments prior to the main event itself, rather than at the entire event’s intro. Brian Pillman entered first and received the biggest ovation of the pay-per-view till that point. While American, Pillman, a former NFL star, had played for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders before becoming a star with Stampede Wrestling prior to heading to WCW, ECW, and finally, WWF. Jim Neidhart followed next, to the biggest ovation of his career, followed by Davey Boy Smith and his wife, Hart daughter Diana, to an adulation more akin with Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Owen Hart followed next, to an even bigger homecoming, before Bret’s own entrance dwarfed any reaction that even Hulk Hogan had received on Canadian soil. The battle lines were drawn and set. While the Hart Foundation was the most hated faction in the United States, in Canada they were still royalty. And while many other villains would spit on their home towns or countries, the Hart Foundations maintenance of Canadian ethics and values abroad made sure that no matter their degree of hatred in other countries, they would still be seen as heroes in their home country. And what transpired on July 6, 1997, proved just that. In their own home country, in their own home town, the Hart Foundation made not only the top heel team the biggest babyfaces in the company, but became the first city since “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s coronation as the new face of the company to cast him aside.
The match itself was not a technical marvel, but it did involve some historical iconic names in pro wrestling history. But the crowd’s rabid encouragement propelled the Hart Foundation to work harder than ever than to outshine their counterparts. Every movement was a movement of national importance, every movement against an act of defiance – even Austin was somebody to be defied. And speaking of Austin, his team’s loss to the hometown Hart Foundation marked the end of his feud against Bret Hart. Bret would return to the World title picture, and due to the ending, that saw Owen Hart pin Austin following interference from the Hart brothers at ringside, Austin would enter the Intercontinental Championship picture and start feuding with Owen Hart – and it would start the following night in Edmonton in Raw.
But this match would create one of the most visual spectacles based on fan participation ever, launch a heel group that turned the WWF Universe in the US not only against the Hart Foundation, but Canada itself, and reinvigorate the US fans to rally around “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, their new anti-hero. The post-match celebrations, as the Hart Foundation cheered to their hometown crowd and brought in family members from throughout Stampede’s history. It also led to the appearance of such future talents as WWE Superstar Natalya, former WWE Superstar Tyson Kidd, and Major League Wrestling (MLW) wrestler and former star with NJPW and WWE, Davey Boy Smith Jr., and controversial indie star Teddy Hart, who all joined their families in-ring. Months previous, at a WWF House Show in Calgary on October 5, 1996, Smith (11 years old), Kidd (16), and Teddy Hart (16), appeared in a match at a previous WWF Calgary event.
While the WWF made had had better singular matches on various other In Your House events throughout the brand’s four-year run, the full card and explosive main event have made In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede one of the most fun and complete cards of the series. And as the new Hart Foundation exercised its dominance on the top stars of the American contingent, it helped further multiple angles that made the event a huge part of the Dawn of the Attitude Era that was just around the corner.
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