WrestleMania was the second ‘Mania of the Attitude Era and the second time in as many years that Stone Cold Steve Austin would challenge for the WWF Title in the main event. In the months leading up to it, Austin had been screwed out of the title by Vince McMahon who used a bunch of machinations to install the Rock as his Corporate approved champion, against the wishes of the fans who’d began cheering him before Vince put the belt on him. The company at that point was being carried by Austin and his star power. Yeah there were other talented workers on the roster but everything was being shuffled around Austin vs Vince McMahon. With an Austin victory to regain the title all but assumed some extra elements had to be concocted to add some suspense.
What they came up with was all over the map. Vince entered and won the Royal Rumble to get a title shot for himself at the big event. He was beaten by Austin a month later at No Way Out to give Austin the shot instead. Meanwhile, the Rock and Mick Foley were trading the title before it finally settled around the Rock’s waist in February. Then a match was made between Foley and WWF newcomer the Big Show to decide who would be the special referee in the main event. And while all that was transpiring Vince’s Corporation faction was beginning a feud with the Ministry of Darkness, a group founded and led by the Undertaker. Yeah….that’s a lot to digest. So how was the show?
Hardcore Title Match: Billy Gunn (champ) vs Al Snow vs Hardcore Holly
This was the opener. Hardcore rules were basically no holds barred, falls count anywhere. Hardcore matches usually featured all kinds of strange foreign objects and very little actual wrestling. This was no different. The match itself wasn’t long, about seven minutes, and was won by Hardcore Holly. Holly got himself a nice second act to his career thanks to the Hardcore division. The match was ok.
Tag Team Title Match: Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett (champs) vs D-Lo Brown and Test
Talk about random matchups…Brown and Test were literally paired together earlier that night in a pre-show battle royal. You had two very good/great workers in Jarrett and Hart on one side….and an underrated worker in Brown with a stereotypical big man in Test. The challengers’ dysfunction as a result of never working together was played up through a very short (four minutes) match that was ultimately won by the champs. So far this show is shaping up like a very special episode of RAW.
Brawl for it All
The Brawl for it All goes into the ‘Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time’ Hall of Fame. Imagine a tournament of shoot fights between pro wrestlers set up with the intention of getting over a specific wrestler by way of him winning it. In other words, instead of a scripted series of matches or even freestyle fights to elevate a guy you throw him in a tournament of straight up fights against guys who have real life fight experience (including former amateur boxers like Marc Mero and Bart Gunn). The guy who was supposed to win was Steve “Dr. Death” Williams, and he was promptly knocked out in an early round match by Gunn who went on to win the whole thing. As a reward (more like a punishment) Gunn got to be in a Brawl for it All fight at WrestleMania against Butterbean, a former three round professional boxer. Yeah this is as bad as it sounds.
Imagine a team of college basketball players who never tasted the NBA being thrown onto the court in an NBA game against a team that was in the playoffs. This was about as one sided as that would be. Gunn was knocked down quickly, then laid clean out in 35 seconds of the first round. Gunn was released from the company soon after. For all intents and purposes he screwed his own career by winning an event that wasn’t a work but was supposed to function like one.
So far three matches in, and nothing that made you feel like you should have shelled out 50 bucks.
Big Show vs Mick Foley (winner gets to be the special referee in the main event)
Foley went from competing for the title to this. Big Show was new to the company and was described as the biggest free agent in the business (to capitalize off his departure from rival WCW). And yet at the biggest show (see what I did there) of the year he’s in a gimmick match of sorts. Another short (just under seven minutes) and decent brawl the inexplicably ends when Show brings a bunch of chairs into the rings, lays out Foley, and gets DQ’ed. Vince comes out and belittles Show afterward then gets laid out as Show makes the first of a million face/heel turns in the company. Foley looks like he can’t make it to the main event as the special referee due to Show’s attack. Ugh…..
Four Corners Intercontinental Title Match: Road Dogg (champ) vs Val Venis vs Goldust vs Ken Shamrock
Venis’ gimmick was that of a former porn star who got in feuds by sleeping with the onscreen wives, girlfriends, and sisters of other wrestlers. Thank you, Vince Russo. Shamrock was a former MMA champion who’d made himself into a pretty good in ring worker. Venis and Shamrock had a longstanding beef from Venis hooking up with his sister Ryan and that bled over into this match. Ryan was, at the time, accompanying Goldust to the ring for his matches. The match was under elimination rules with the last man standing getting the title. Shamrock and Venis eventually fought outside the ring and got counted out together leaving Road Dogg and Goldust. Road Dogg wins with a rollup after Ryan Shamrock mistakenly trips Goldust. The match went almost ten minutes and was pretty good minus the finish(es).
Kane vs Triple H
OK, here we go. Kane was part of the Corporation, and had been joined by Chyna who used to be part of Degeneration X with Triple H, Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, and X-Pac. D-X had been getting in fights with various Corporation members in the weeks leading up to the show so that was enough to set the scene for this match. Kane was not very good at the time so Triple H was carrying the load here. This was the first match on the show that didn’t feel like it belonged on RAW instead. Match was ok for the ten minutes plus that it lasted, right up until the convoluted finish. Chyna comes down to the ring, seemingly to support Kane. She comes in the ring with a chair and….nails Kane with it. Hunter gets a chair and attacks then the two leave together, reunited. Kane wins by DQ. Alrighty then….
Women’s Title Match: Sable (champ) vs Tori
Sable had turned into an ok women’s wrestler by Attitude Era standards. Tori was in her first match here….and it showed. She just wasn’t very good and had several near botches. And another convoluted finish with a ref bump (yeah, that’s believable) leading to a run in by Nicole Bass on behalf of Sable who goes on to pin Tori. No reason to believe that Sable would need help to beat Tori. Match wasn’t very good at all for the four minutes and change it lasted.
European Title Match: Shane McMahon (champ) vs X-Pac
Shane was very capable in the ring on the occasions he got in there. Good athlete, could sell people’s offense well and the man took some crazy bumps when he was competed. This was the classic non-wrestler vs wrestler who was small enough to look like a possible mark match and it was well done. The two guys went out to entertain here and was the first match that did so to the level one would expect for a show like this. The finish was…..convoluted. After repeated interference on Shane’s behalf by Test Triple H and Chyna come down to apparently help their D-X teammate. And then they turn on him and join the Corporation. And then with Test they beat down X-Pac, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn. Huh? Triple H and Chyna reunite to beat down Corporation member Kane then….join the Corporation 20 minutes later? OK…….
Hell in the Cell: Undertaker vs Big Bossman
The least anticipated and desired Hell in the Cell match ever, and the one with the biggest forgone conclusion of a winner. Bossman was the enforcer of the Corporation and ‘Taker was leading his new faction against McMahon’s. Bossman put up a good fight and all but ultimately assumed the position and took the L. Afterward, Ministry members Edge, Christian, and Gangrel descend from the rafters, put a noose around Bossman’s neck, and hang him. Yeah you read that right.
WWF World Title Match: The Rock (champ) vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
This is the first of three WrestleMania clashes between these two, and was a remarkable come up for the Rock who’d been completed hated on by the crowd in his opening match at WrestleMania 13. Vince McMahon had installed himself as the new special referee in light of Foley’s injury but wait….here’s Shawn Michaels! Michaels was one in a storied history of onscreen commissioners whose job was to either thwart the heels or put obstacles up for the faces. Here he was doing the former as he orders Vince to the back and says he’ll pick the special ref himself. Match starts and lives up to the hype. Rock and Austin had styles that complemented each other perfectly and it was obvious even this early. Huge brawl, and on comes the inevitable ref bump. With no ref in sight, down comes Foley! He was hurt but not incapacitated after all. Austin hits the stunner, gets the 1, 2, 3 and is crowned champ again.
Overall grade: Yikes!
A bunch of mostly RAW-worthy matches with short running times and convoluted overbooked finishes. The main event, despite being overbooked itself, delivered. This was life in the Monday Night War era, when even the biggest show of the year had to used to set up the following night of free television. The saving grace was the final match. No matter what Vince’s faults, and he has plenty, he knows how to bring the right ending when he has to. That was the biggest advantage he had over Eric Bischoff and company in WCW. In essence, WCW’s 1999 follies helped Vince in that even when he served up a lackluster event like this there wasn’t a better product on the other side to champion over his. Don’t even bother punching this up on the WWE Network. I watched it so you don’t have to.