Monday, March 24, 2008
The Wrestlemania Story - Part III: The Attitude
We last left off with Shawn Michaels proving to be professional wrestling's Iron Man, and the WWF appeared poised to enter a new era with Michaels as the new standard bearer. This could not have come at a more opportune moment, as the WWF's competition, WCW, had reached new heights and a "Talent War" broke out between the two companies as several wrestlers continuously made shifts between the two promotions (plus a third company, ECW), and to put it mildly, the WWF was on the losing end of this war, having seen several major stars go to the WWF. The two companies engaged in a bitter ratings battled dubbed the "Monday Night Wars" as WWF Raw went head-to-head with WCW Nitro every Monday night. The WWF was definitely losing this battle at this point, and in the months leading up to Wrestlemania XIII appeared like they may just be on their way out of business.
Lucky for the WWF, their champion, Shawn Michaels, remained true to the company. However, unfortunately for them, he was injured a month before the show, and was forced to forfeit the title. The match was put up for grabs in a fatal-four way match, won by Bret Hart, who then lost the title the next day to Psycho Sid (the re-christened Sid Justice, from last time) thanks to interference from Hart's rival, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. After Sid won the rematch, it was decided that the top two matches for Wrestlemania XIII, from the Rosemont Horizon, in Chicago, Illinois would be The Undertaker challenging for the title, and Bret Hart would go one-on-one with Steve Austin in a Submission Match.
Two men who would engage in brutal rivalries, both with one another, and with Steve Austin, in the coming years, both achieved victories at this event. "The Rock" Rocky Maivia made his Wrestlemania debut by successfully defending his Intercontinental Title against The Sultan, while Triple H defeated rival Goldust.
Entering the evening, Bret Hart was the fan favoured "Good Guy", as he always followed the rules, and was able to repeatedly overcome the odds while Steve Austin was undeniably the "Bad Guy", since he routinely broke all of the rules, would swear and give the audience the middle finger on a frequent basis. The Submission Match between the two raged all over the arena as both men gave their all in an attempt to win. They used everything from fists to camera cables to the ring bell to try and best one another. As the match neared its conclusion, Bret had Austin locked in his trademark sharpshooter, as blood was pouring from Austin's forehead. Austin attempted to break the hold to no avail, but he refused to give The Hitman the satisfaction of giving up. After what must have felt like an eternity for Stone Cold, he ended up passing as a result of the extreme pain and blood loss, and Bret Hart was declared the winner of the match. Bret, not quite satisfied to merely defeat his opponent, kept Austin locked in the sharpshooter when something surreal happened. The fans turned on The Hitman and started to boo him, and cheer Steve Austin, a new era was dawning, one where the previous lines of good and bad would be blurred, an era known for it's Attitude (To read my thoughts on this match, which I may add is my favourite wrestling match of all time, plus more detail into the complicated Title scenario that lead to this match occurring, click here).
Bret Hart's night was not quite over then, as he repeatedly became involved in the Main Event, featuring Psycho Sid and The Undertaker, a match that he claimed that he should have been in. In the end, Bret attacked Sid, which allowed The Undertaker to hit his Tombstone Piledriver and claim his first WWF Championship in almost 6 years. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 6-0.
Over the course of 1997, the wrestling landscape continued to change, as WCW continued to gain a solid fan base, and attract more established talent than the WWF. In the fall of 1997, the unthinkable happened, as WWF stalwart, Bret Hart, left the company for WCW after the infamous Montreal Screwjob. To make things appear even bleaker for the WWF, current Champion Shawn Michaels sustained a massive back injury at the 1998 Royal Rumble, but was still had plans to tough it out for another chance at glory in the Main Event.
This would be the first Wrestlemania to not feature either Hulk Hogan or Bret Hart, instead it relied on a new anti-hero, the same man who had lost to Bret Hart the year before, Steve Austin, who had won his second straight Royal Rumble in 1998, and was scheduled to face Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIV, from the Fleet Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Famous boxer, Mike Tyson, was named the Special Guest Enforcer, and repeatedly got into verbal and physical altercations with Austin. Tyson would then shock the world and join Michaels's faction, D-Generation X. Coupled with the fact that owner Vince McMahon, had stated that he did not want to see Austin win the title, and the odds were firmly stacked against Stone Cold heading into the event.
Another member of Degeneration-X, Triple H was able to defend his European Championship (which had debuted in the winter of 1997) against Owen Hart. Triple H's future Wrestlemania opponent and rival, The Rock was also able to defend a title, as he retained the Intercontinental Title with a disqualification victory over Ken Shamrock on the same evening that he would debut his famous catch phrase "Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?".
In the fall of 1997, The Undertaker's half-brother Kane would debut and routinely attack The Deadman, even throwing him into a casket and setting it on fire. The Undertaker would return from certain death and challenge his brother to a match at Wrestlemania. The match between the two brothers would be very evenly matched, but in the end The Undertaker was able to hit Kane with three Tombstone Piledrivers, and secure victory. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 7-0.
The fans met the main event with rabid zeal, as their beer guzzling renegade anti-hero, Steve Austin challenged a star from the previous era, Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship. The match was the ultimate display of manliness, in addition to Michaels's back problems, Steve Austin had also suffered a severely debilitating neck injury in the summer of 1997 that was flaring up at the time. Despite their health problems, both men gave it their all in this match, and left it all in the ring. After the referee was knocked unconscious, Steve Austin was able to hit his trademark Stone Cold Stunner on Michaels. In a shocking move, Mike Tyson dove into the ring, and counted the three count, awarding the title to Austin (to read McNutt's thoughts on this match, click here).
Michaels, enraged, confronted Tyson, who proceeded to punch Shawn in the face, and rip off his D-Generation X shirt to reveal a Steve Austin shirt underneath. The show closed with Austin celebrating alongside Mike Tyson, as Shawn lay on his injured back in the middle of the ring. Shawn wound up retiring after this match, and would not return to the ring for another 4 years.
The WWF changed their logo and slogan to exemplified this new approach, as they no longer used the classic emblem and were now about "Attitude", and no longer about "The New Generation". This Attitude was of course best exemplified by Steve Austin, and his legendary rivalry with WWF owner Vince McMahon. Vince tried throwing every obstacle at Austin in attempt to ensure that he was not the Champion, and Austin was able to repeatedly overcome the odds. This struggle grew a great deal of interest from fans, who began tuning away from WCW, and back into the WWF in record numbers over the course of 1998. Finally in September of 1999, Vince was able to get his wish as Austin lost the WWF Title. After a few months with a vacant belt, Vince was able to crown a new "Corporate Champion", The Rock, who he felt better exemplified the values of the company.
In a surprising twist of fate, Vince McMahon himself was able to win the 1999 Royal Rumble by last eliminating Steve Austin, after interference from The Rock. McMahon and Austin would do battle inside a Steel Cage at the next Pay-Per-View, St. Valentine's Day Massacre, with the Wrestlemania Title shot on the line. Austin wound up winning the math, despite interference from the debuting Big Show (himself a member of The Corporation). So the match was set for Wrestlemania XV, from the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as Steve Austin would challenge The Rock for the WWF Title
The Main Event, was deemed so large that it needed a special guest referee, so a match took place at Wrestlemania between Mankind and Big Show, with the winner being declared the referee for title showdown. Big Show ended up getting disqualified after chokeslamming Mankind through two steel chairs, but Mankind would appear too injured to fulfill his refereeing duties.
Not only did The Corporation have problems with Steve Austin, but they also had issues with D-Generation X, headed by Triple H after Michaels's retirement. This boiled into a heated one-on-one showdown between Triple and Corporate Member, Kane. The match ended in a disqualification when Chyna, who had defected from D-X to the Corporation months prior, attacked Kane and reunited with Triple H. It appeared as if Chyna was going to rejoin D-X, but it would all be a rouse, as both Triple H and Chyna turned on fellow Degenerate X-Pac later on in the evening to reveal their allegiances to the Corporation, which now excluded Kane.
The Corporation was also involved in a third major battle heading into this time of the year, as they were at odds with yet another faction, The Ministry of Darkness. This lead to a Hell in a Cell match between the Corporation's Big Boss Man, and The leader of The Ministry, The Undertaker. The presence of the cell ensured that it would be a straight up one-on-one match with no interference. In the end, The Undertaker was able to score a victory with a Tombstone Piledriver. After the match, Ministry Members, The Brood, consisting of Edge, Christian, and Gangrel, repelled down from the ceiling and proceeded to hang The Big Boss Man from the Cell. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 8-0.
The Main Event was truly an epic match, as Austin and The Rock gave it their all for the duration of the match. As each man appeared destined for victory, the referee was repeatedly rendered unconscious, and the match continued. This continued until Mankind hobbled his way to the ring in a referee's shirt and counted the pin for Steve Austin after he hit his trademark Stunner. In an interesting historical note, Steve Austin would officially become the first man to win the WWF Title at two consecutive Wrestlemanias.
While Wrestlemania XV was all about Steve Austin's moment of glory, he would be foreced to watch the next years event from the sidelines, as a neck injury left him sidelined for almost a year. This left a large power-vacuum at the top of the WWF, and two men quickly tried to fill the void. The Rock, who had rejected the values of The Corporation, had replaced Austin in the fan's eyes, as they cheered relentlessly for "The People's Champion", and Triple H, newly married to Vince's daughter Stephanie, had replaced Austin as the WWF Champion for the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000.
For the first time in Wrestlemania history, the WWF Title would not be contested in a straight up single's match. Through a complicated series of matches, and rulings, it was decided that the Main Event would be a Fatal Four-Way Elimination Match, with a member of the McMahon Family in every corner. Stephanie would support her husband, the WWF Champion, Triple H, Vince having been turned on by his own daughter months prior would side with his old ally, The Rock, Shane would be in the corner of his friend, The Big Show, and Linda McMahon allowed Mick Foley (aka Mankind, aka Dude Love, aka Cactus Jack) to return from retirement for one last match.
By this point the WWF was firmly ahead of WCW in the "Monday Night Wars". As a result, the period from August 1999 to January 2000 saw perhaps the greatest influx of talent to the WWF in the companies history, as Chris Jericho, The Dudley Boyz, Tazz, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn, all defected from WCW. Add to the fact that amateur wrestler turned pro-Kurt Angle entered the WWF, and several of their younger talent that debuted a few years prior had been coming of age, and the scene was set for a memorable Wrestlemania 2000 (chronologically this was of course Wrestlemania XVI, but it was given the name to match the year, and garner some attention from all of the Millennium Hype of the time), coming from the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.
This would mark the first time that all three of the Tag, Intercontinental, and European titles would be competed in matches that all involved competitors making their Wrestlemania debuts. The Tag Champion, Dudley Boys, would defend their titles against the two teams of The Hardy Boyz, and Edge and Christian in a Ladder Match. In a wild and innovative match, Edge and Christian were able to climb their way to success as they gained their first championship as a unit, however this would prove to be just the beginning in the year long rivalry between these three teams.
The newly debuted Kurt Angle, was able to quickly climb his way up the ranks, and win both the Intercontinental and European titles within three months of his debut. It was ruled that he would defend both of his titles against his two rivals, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, in a special Two-Fall Two Title Match, where the three would compete in two consecutive matches with the first being for the Intercontinental Title and the second being for the European Title. Benoit was able to pin Jericho in the first fall to earn the Intercontinental, and shortly thereafter, Jericho pinned Benoit to win the European Title. Kurt lost both of his prestigious titles without ever being pinned.
There was another, less glamourous, Wrestlemania debut of a future World Champion at this event, as Eddie Guerrero teamed with fellow members of The Radicalz, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko, to face the object of Eddie's affection, Chyna, and her friends Too Cool, Brian Christopher and Scotty Too Hotty. Chyna was able to hit Eddie with a sleeper slam, and earn victory for her team. While Eddie's Wrestlemania debut did not go as he had planned, things would turn around for him four years later.
The Main Event for the evening was a wild and chaotic brawl, as all four men, and all four of their corner people were striking one another with everything that they had. Shane was the first one to have his hopes dashed, as The Rock pinned The Big Show. Fifteen minutes, and a Pedigree onto a steel chair later, Mick Foley's wrestling career was officially over (for the next four years at least). The Rock and Triple H battled tooth and nail for an opportunity to be called the best for the time being. Just as The Rock appeared destined for victory, Vince, his ally, stunningly turned on The People's Champion by striking him with a steel chair. This signaled the beginning of what would be called the McMahon-Helmsely Regime, which would dominate the company in the coming months. While Yokozuna became the first heel to win the WWF Title at a Wrestlemania seven years prior, Triple H became the first to leave Wrestlemania the Champion on this fateful night.
Perhaps the biggest change in the wrestling landscape in the history of the industry over the 12 months that followed Wrestlemania 2000. In January 2001, the #3 ranked promotion in world, ECW, a long source of talent for both WCW and WWF, folded, only to have its owner begin working as an announcer for the WWF. More importantly on March 23, 2001, eight days before Wrestlemania X-7, the most monumental deal in the history of professional wrestling was signed, Vince McMahon and the WWF had purchased WCW from Ted Turner. The era of the "Monday Night Wars" was officially over.
In the months before the event, Steve Austin returned with a vengeance from his neck injury, and went on to win his record setting fifth Royal Rumble. The Main Event was set for Wrestlemania X-7, The Rock, WWF Champion, would do battle with Steve Austin, the challenger for the second time in Wrestlemania history. This time both men would go in as fan favourites, in the first face vs. face match up in 5 years. However, this would take place in Houston, Texas, Austin's home state.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: I would like to point out one important thing, throughout this series I have tried to remain very objective and even keeled in my presentation of this story, however I am uncertain if that can be maintained for this event. I firmly believe that this is not only the greatest Wrestlemania of all time, but is a strong contender for the great wrestling event of all time. If any wrestling fans have not seen this event, I question if you can truly call yourself a fan, and if any non-wrestling fans out there are curious as to what all the hype is about, I encourage you to open up your mind and watch Wrestlemania X-7, and maybe you will understand. I apologize if I come across as too big of a proponent of this event during this section of the blog.)
The undercard of the evening featured two future world champions winning title matches for less prestigious single's titles, as Chris Jericho was able to successfully defend his Intercontinental Title against Commission William Regal, and Eddie Guerrero was able to capture the European Title with a win over Test. Two other men who would play a pivotal role in the event in three years did battle in a scientific classic as Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle had a technically classic one-on-one match. The ending of the match saw Kurt Angle hook Benoit's tights for an underhanded pin.
In the previous sixteen Wrestlemanias there had only been two matches to occur at seperate events, Hogan-Andre happened at Wrestlemanias III and IV, and Hart-Yokozuna, happened at the ninth and tenth installments of the event, however at this event there would be two Wrestlemania rematches. The Main Event, as previously mentioned, and also the Tag Title Match. The Dudley Boyz once more defended their Tag Team Titles against The Hardy Boyz, and Edge and Christian. While in the previous year the match had been a Ladder Match, this year the stakes were raised even higher as it was a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (or TLC) Match, dubbed TLC II (the first was between these three teams, and took place at Summerslam 2000, and was won by Edge and Christian). In a wild match that legitimately needs to be seen to believed, Edge and Christian once more climbed their way to victory, this time with help from their friend Rhyno, to win their record seventh WWF Tag Team Title.
The Undertaker missed the previous Wrestlemania, due to a variety of injuries, but he returned in May of 2000, with a different persona and outlook. Instead of being "The Deadman" he was now "The American Badass", a biker. This persona would make it's first Wrestlemania appearance at this event as he did battle with Triple H. As The Game struck The Undertaker with a sledgehammer it appeared as if The Undertaker would finally lose at Wrestlemania, but The American Badass fought back and hit his new finishing move, The Last Ride, on Triple H to win the match. The Undertaker's Wrestlemania record stood at 9-0.
Immediately before the Main Event began, it was announced that it would be a No Disqualification Match, despite never having been announced before the match. The two men proceeded to give it their all throughout the contest, and proved willing to do whatever it took to win, including use foreign objects and one another's finishing moves. Late into the match Vince McMahon (who had lost in a Street Fight to his son Shane earlier in the show) came down and sat at ringside. In a sudden, and shocking turn of events, Vince began to help Steve Austin. The crowd looked on confused, as they were unsure as to what was happening. Not to be denied, The Rock mustered up all of the strength he could and repeatedly kicked out of any pinning attempts made by Austin. Finally, after approximately twenty chair shots, The Rock was down, Austin won the title, and shared a beer with his long time rival, Vince McMahon in celebration (To read my talk in far greater detail about this match, click here).
This match, coupled with the purchase of WCW, marked the end of the Attitude Era. When describing the importance of this match last year in the entry linked above I said "The important story of that entire era of the WWF was Steve Austin in his great fight against the evil boss. This match marked the last chapter of this story. In the end, Austin, the rebel, gave into the boss. He tried to stick it to The Man, but The Man stuck it to him in the end. He loved Big Brother."
In four short years, we witness the dynamic rise of Steve Austin to the ranks of the greatest of all time, and then a sudden and dramatic turn and fall. Tune back tomorrow as we look at a dream match, a massive botch, a dream come true, lightning striking twice, a trial by fire, and old meeting new times two, in the final installment of the Wrestlemania story.
Until next time,