1997 saw the Monday Night Wars between WCW and the WWF continue at a fever pitch. ECW is gaining more and more publicity as they are now on pay per view. How would fans vote for the year end awards? Lets check them out.
1997 Rookie Of The Year: Prince Iaukea (17,520)
1st Runner-Up: Ernest Miller (13,002)
2nd Runner-Up: Chris Chetti (11,046)
3rd Runner-Up: Brakus (5,237)
Prince Iaukea winning the award largely due to the exposure he got in WCW and winning the WCW Television Championship during the year. Iaukea was hardly a good worker and didn’t connect very well with the crowd, but accomplished the most out of everyone listed. If I were to base this award purely off of in-ring ability, I’d hope for Chris Chetti winning. Chetti was an underrated competitor and worked well in ECW when given the opportunity with the right opponents.
1997 Inspirational Wrestler Of The Year: Terry Funk (29,873)
1st Runner-Up: Steve Austin (15,504)
2nd Runner-Up: Perry Saturn (12,012)
3rd Runner-Up: Roddy Piper (10,851)
It’s a clear cut choice for Terry Funk to win the award considering his age and the story he had for winning the ECW World Championship. I’m not at all surprised by the overwhelming vote difference in this category. A guy in his 50s hitting a top rope moonsault or going through the punishment he experienced in ECW is just remarkable. Austin gets a good showing thanks to his WrestleMania XIII never give up performance against Bret Hart and neck injury he suffered against Owen Hart.
Perry Saturn being out with a busted knee for six months when many experts thought his career was over is one of the often forgotten about stories in wrestling. With his busted knee he hit an elbow drop on the Dudley’s to retain the titles, if I recall correctly. Lastly, Roddy Piper gets some notice for his comeback from hip surgery.
1997 Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year: Ken Shamrock (20,834)
1st Runner-Up: Steve McMichael (16,341)
2nd Runner-Up: The Headbangers (12,396)
3rd Runner-Up: Alex Wright (8,893)
I’m not entirely sure how anyone can say Shamrock was the most improved considering he didn’t wrestle in 1996 and voters could only compare his in-ring stuff to his UFC days. Shamrock probably should have won the Rookie of the Year award, honestly. I think the real winner here was Steve McMichael who was becoming a very entertaining baby face act for WCW and his matches with Jeff Jarrett were some of the better matches on a weekly basis for WCW Nitro.
1997 Comeback Wrestler Of The Year: Bret Hart (20,950)
1st Runner-Up: Curt Hennig (18,082)
2nd Runner-Up: Brian Pillman (15,388)
3rd Runner-Up: Ric Flair (10,943)
After a seven month hiatus from competing in the ring, Bret Hart returned in November of 1996 and soon thereafter won the WWF World Championship. Bret didn’t lose a step as he had several memorable matches with Steve Austin and the Undertaker upon his return. Hennig had a highly publicized return to WCW in the summer of ’97 but quickly turned heel, which may have impacted his votes. Hennig didn’t seem to be the same wrestler he had been prior in the WWF. Brian Pillman and Ric Flair came back from ankle and shoulder injuries respectively. Pillman was a shell of himself, but his comeback was nice to see.
1997 Manager Of The Year: Bill Alfonso (17,492)
1st Runner-Up: Jacquelyn (13,811)
2nd Runner-Up: Paul Bearer (12,020)
3rd Runner-Up: Ted DiBiase (9,771)
Alfonso wins pretty easily thanks to his association with Sabu and Rob Van Dam winning championships in ECW. Jacquelyn was managing Kevin Sullivan for a short period of time before getting involved in wrestling matches with Disco Inferno. Paul Bearer had success thanks to having control over the Undertaker and kept acts like Vader and Mankind strong in the midcard. DiBiase was the New World Order manager and considering the group had plenty of championships and victories he was made to look pretty good.
1997 Feud Of The Year: Randy Savage vs. Diamond Dallas Page (23,220)
1st Runner-Up: Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart (17,923)
2nd Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper (14,093)
3rd Runner-Up: Sabu vs. Taz (9,433)
The most personal feud of ’97 between Savage and DDP wins as they not only had an entertaining angle but their matches largely delivered on pay per view. It’s the feud that made DDP into a main event guy for WCW, too. Despite not ever defeating Bret Hart, Steve Austin and Bret Hart collided often during the year and their intense battles are still talked about today. Hogan and Piper wrestled on PPV two times each time with Hogan walking out with the WCW World Championship. Sabu and Taz waited a year before they locked up at Barely Legal in what was perhaps the most anticipated singles match to ever happen in an ECW ring. It’s good to see that the feud was getting some press in a national magazine.
1997 Most Popular Wrestler Of The Year: Sting (24,447)
1st Runner-Up: Steve Austin (22,956)
2nd Runner-Up: Ric Flair (16,264)
3rd Runner-Up: Diamond Dallas Page (10,856)
Despite wrestling only one match throughout 1997, Sting managed to get the most popular wrestler award. Fans were eating up his attacks on the New World Order and badly wanted to see him get revenge on Hulk Hogan after a year and a half of waiting. Austin’s rise to the top is noted here as he missed out on less than two thousand votes. Austin hadn’t reached the peak of his massive popularity until the following year, anyway. Flair and Page get respectable showings with Page being the more impressive considering in 1996 he was not highly thought of and the huge 1997 he would end up having.
1997 Most Hated Wrestler Of The Year: Bret Hart (21, 558)
1st Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan (21,038)
2nd Runner-Up: Owen Hart (8,954)
3rd Runner-Up: Curt Hennig (7,013)
The whining, complaining and anti-American Bret Hart managed to overtake Hulk Hogan as the most hated wrestler in 1997. Hart’s continued insults of America and defeating of Steve Austin throughout the year clearly annoyed fans far more than Hogan’s constant interviews and cheating antics to defeat the likes of Piper, Luger and Giant throughout the year. I’d imagine that Owen’s treatment of British Bulldog for the first quarter of ’97 and assault on Austin leading to his injury played a significant part in his third place finish. Hennig’s return was highlighted by turning on DDP to join the New World Order.
1997 Match Of The Year: Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart At WrestleMania 13
1st Runner-Up: Eddy Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. at Halloween Havoc (18,278)
2nd Runner-Up: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at Badd Blood (13,434)
3rd Runner-Up: Terry Funk vs. The Sandman vs. Stevie Richards at Barely Legal (7,266)
From a storytelling, action packed and character development standpoint, the match between Austin and Hart at WrestleMania wins this hands down. Eddie and Rey had a fantastic display of aerial offense and perhaps is the best WCW match during the Monday Night War era for the company. However, there wasn’t a lot of substance behind the action. Taker and Michaels had a memorable first ever Hell in a Cell match, but the finish involving Kane kind of diminishes it as a match of the year contender. The three way at ECW Barely Legal was solid too as it continued the remarkable run for Terry Funk at the time.
1997 Tag Team Of The Year: The Outsiders (24,792)
1st Runner-Up: The Steiner Brothers (19,563)
2nd Runner-Up The Road Warriors (14,101)
3rd Runner-Up: Lex Luger & The Giant (6,943)
As you can see the tag team division in World Championship Wrestling was far superior to any promotion going at the time as three of the four spots were taken by teams in WCW. The Outsiders and Steiner Brothers had a year long feud with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall having the more success of the two teams. Nash and Hall didn’t regularly defend the tag titles but they were one of the most popular acts in wrestling. Road Warriors chased after the WWF World Tag Team Championships for all of ’97 feuding with the likes of Owen and Bulldog and the Godwinns throughout the year. Their chase would lead to a 48 day title reign, their last reign as champions.
1997 Wrestler Of The Year: Lex Luger (22,754)
1st Runner-Up: Steve Austin (19,928)
2nd Runner-Up: The Undertaker (11,145)
3rd Runner-Up: Diamond Dallas Page (7,046)
Apparently two victories over Hulk Hogan in a two month span, one of them leading to a five day title reign, was enough for Lex Luger to win the Wrestler of the Year award. Of the four guys listed, I’d think that the Undertaker had the more successful year with a five month title reign and victories over guys like Vader, Austin, Bret Hart, Psycho Sid and Mankind. Luger wasn’t a great worker in the ring, either, so I’m kind of stumped as to how or why he would have been voted for this award.
What are your memories for 1997 and would you have awarded the awards any differently?
Thanks for reading.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.