Clash at the Castle marked 30 years since the WWE had been on UK shores for a “Stadium show” but September 2022 also marks another anniversary in WWE history; 25 years since the first ever “UK Pay-Per-View”, One Night Only. Matthew Roberts hops into the TWM Time Machine to revisit a show he was in attendance for.
Back in 1997 as an 18-year-old me and some mates had acquired some of the hottest tickets in town. I was actually starting University in Birmingham two days later so had to drive up from the North West of England for One Night Only, and drive home the same night to drive back down the next day with a car full of my worldly possessions for moving into Halls of Residence. But that’s by the by.
It’s ironic, given Queen Elizabeth II’s recent passing, which Clash missed by a week, that the build-up to One Night Only had had its own royal tragedy. The untimely death of Princess Diana. This led to the cancellation of a press conference/fan party a few weeks earlier in Birmingham City Centre that was to have involved Davey Boy Smith.
It was a much-changed card that we ended up seeing, compared to the original plan due to his injury sustained at Summerslam that year, Steve Austin was not on the show so couldn’t have his scheduled match with Bret Hart. Thankfully with the Undertaker’s opponent Ahmed Johnson also being on the shelf, he stepped up to take on Hart instead. We were supposed to get Ken Shamrock against Owen Hart too but Ken was also injured and was replaced by Vader.
As another aside, the WWE spammed some nonsense that this show was NOT available on US pay-per-view because World Wrestling Federation Champion Bret Hart “had exercised a clause in his contract to block the event from being shown live in the US” (2 Months before the Screwjob, by the way)
The atmosphere was white-hot in the NEC for One Night Only as people filed in. More than most of the UK-only PPVs that followed, this felt like a big event that actually meant something in terms of the ongoing TV shows.
After the opening promo video introduction (which pushed the idea of homecoming king Davey Boy Smith being the star of the show) we had a quick Austin Powers-style interview from Dude Love before his match with Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
One Night Only: Dude Love Vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
As the two were in a feud (even if it had really peaked at Summerslam) this was a good choice as an opener; two over guys with a history. There’s perhaps the point that the audience made this match feel better than it was a little bit but it was still a very good match and arguably the best of their series in many respects.
Tiger Ali Singh and Leif Cassidy had no chance of following. The most interesting thing about this match to the fans in attendance was guest ring announcer Sunny. Tiger looks good, of sorts, but was a terrible wrestler. This match was so bad that apparently, it led Cassidy, who newer fans may know better than Al Snow, to ask for his release as he was sick of looking back and jobbing to nobodies. He didn’t get it, but did manage to make some, ahem, headway in ECW before returning to the E. I’ll say one thing though; this is by no means the worst Tiger Ali Singh match I’ve ever seen.
The WWE Tag Team Titles were on the line at One Night Only too, as the Headbangers defended against the Los Boricuas duo of Savio Vega and Miguel Perez. Again the crowd made this one; after all, they were starved of live WWE action at the time relatively speaking and this was following an absolute snooze-fest. It was formulaic tag team stuff but very well done…
After a clip where Davey Boy Smith dedicated his European Title defense to his sister and her battle against cancer, we got the strange match-up of Flash Funk against The Patriot. It wasn’t that bad when all things are considered; Funk, despite the daft gimmick, was still the talent he was when his name was Too Cold Scorpio, and The Patriot, though dull as a character, was a competent enough grappler. And it was funny to see the fans give the latter a “mixed response”. Commentator Vince McMahon was being very kind there.
The Legion of Doom against the Godwinns was next. It was generally unremarkable again, but the British fans were absolutely deafening in their support for Hawk and Animal. This was followed by an in-ring interview with Ken Shamrock who was injured and couldn’t face Owen Hart tonight. Luckily the WWE had flown over Billy Gunn to get in Ken’s face and then eat the Ankle Lock.
A Bret interview was up next, via backstage video link. There was a bit of a mixed reaction for Bret who nevertheless insisted that the British fans were 100% behind him. Vince McMahon pushed the fact that there were boos and Bret mumbled through some more verbiage.
Despite the boos for Bret, Owen Hart got a kings reception when he came out for his match against Vader. Even Jerry Lawler had to note the positive reaction. His match with Vader was a real treat. We rarely saw an Owen Hart THIS is good as the good all-around babyface on WWE TV so that’s a treat in itself. The contrast in size between the two was well handled and you could believe that Owen would chop down Goliath. He didn’t, but it was no less a great match for all that.
After a generic Dead Man promo, we got the
WWE Championship; Bret Hart Vs. The Undertaker.
The two had met at Summerslam in a great slice of WWE storytelling (Shawn Michaels was the guest referee) and whilst this perhaps lacked a little of the tension of that one it was arguably even better in the ring. The two really went at it back and forth. And if Bret had got that “mixed reception” earlier, by the end of the match the fans seemed firmly behind the Hitman. The only real drawback about this one, arguably the last GREAT Bret Hart performance of his career, was the DQ finish.
And so time for the main event. European Champion Davey Boy Smith defending against Shawn Michaels. A pre-match promo from HBK set the scene (although for a real laugh look up his backstage promo with Sunny from the pre-show – it’s a classic of sorts) for one of the great heel performances of our time. Davey was accompanied by his sister, which turned out to be unfortunate.
You can’t discuss this match without going into the background. Davey was originally scheduled to win; after all, despite what the WWE did with other “hometown” guys over the years, Davey never lost in the UK. But Shawn Michaels, being Shawn Michaels, politicked and got the result switched. Which is fine if you believe the story that Shawn’s reasoning was that this would make a rematch the following year on the WWE’s next UK PPV all the more of a draw, and he would do the return job there. (And by the time of that scheduled show, Mayhem in Manchester, Shawn was retired, Davey had gone to WCW and the show became a glorified house show). The only problem was that Davey had publically dedicated the match to his very ill sister and apparently hadn’t the time to tell her he now wasn’t winning. That side of events seems debatable (Davey is with his sister before the bell) but still.
The match is VERY good and the crowd is super into it. I remember at the time turning to my mates about a third of the way in and saying “Shawn is winning this” because Davey was having a bit too much offense. HBK rallied but it took the interference of his D-X buddies Rick Rude, Chyna, and Triple H to seal the deal. There is the argument (made by Bret) that it made no sense for the Hart Foundation to wait until after Davey had lost to run to his aid but that illogical piece of business aside, this was a fantastic main event. You can argue about Shawn’s behavior all you want but part of the reason he got away with it is that he was that good in the ring. And this was more than likely Davey’s last great performance too.
Historically a UK PPV can’t hold a candle to Summerslam 1992 or even Clash at the Castle 2022. But it was a big thing at the time and it has certainly aged well. The last three matches are all excellent and the undercard is rarely boring (Ali Singh/Cassidy aside). The atmosphere helps carry the few down moments too. All in all, a wonderful success for One Night Only…