365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
What makes a good match? And, when evaluating a match, how much does what happen before and after the bell influence things? How about the surrounding environment?
These questions prove relevant in this entry of 365 Wrestling: The Undertaker taking on Hunter Hearst Helmsley in this episode of Shotgun Saturday Night from February 8, 1997.
Lest we offend the copyright gods, I’ll just tell you you can find this match online through a little bit of shrewd searching.
Shotgun Saturday Night started at the beginning of 1997. and the initial run of episodes aimed to present an edgier product and wrestling matches from unlikely venues — such as Penn Station, the site of this match.
If you’re going to judge this match solely by what happens from bell to bell, you’re going to be disappointed. There are two commercial breaks — one right as Undertaker hits the ring. Much of the action unfolds in the punchy-kicky style that was more common than it should have been during the Attitude Era. Helmsley’s Intercontinental Title is on the line but he retains when Undertaker drills Helmsley in the head with the belt, right in front of the referee.
The setting — smackdab in the middle of Penn Station — adds so much to the presentation. Helmsley’s snob gimmick perfectly fits the environment. He arrives in a stretch limo that pulls up outside, says a few quick words about how he wouldn’t get caught dead riding one of the trains at the station, and then descends a staircase into the concourse. Undertaker’s entrance is even more surreal in the context of Penn Station, coming through the crowd.
Standard WWF/WWE programming carries a sameness from show to show and week to week… and has since the promotion truly “went national” in the late 1980s. Here, we get wide panning shots to take in the crowd and the limited space, unlike the glut of camera cuts that characterizes WWE shows today. The ring looks considerably smaller than the 20-by-20-foot squared circle WWE typically uses. It catches the eye and draws your interest.
The post-match is the best part of the entire endeavor. After taking a chokeslam, Helmsley tries to retreat and a chase ensues up the stairs, where the Deadman grabs Hunter and delivers a tombstone at the top of the escalator. Taker stands tall, soaking in the cheers of the crowd as Helmsley’s unconscious carcass heads down the escalator.
Final Rating: 6.1
The atmosphere, the entrances, and the post-match make this highly entertaining even if the in-ring action is nothing special. Given the status that both Undertaker and Triple H have achieved in WWE lore since then, it’s surprising to me that this match has flown under the radar. That tombstone on the escalator should have been fodder for so many video packages.
Some good ole-fashioned geopolitical tag action.