For the 10th WrestleMania, WWE returned to where it all started. This pay-per-view sold out MSG in seconds and was primarily about the WWE title thanks to a controversial finish at the 1994 Royal Rumble.
The winner of the Royal Rumble match earned a title match at WrestleMania and for the first time in Rumble history there were co-winners, Bret “Hitman” Hart and Lex Luger.
WWE champion Yokozuna was technically scheduled to defend the title twice, first against Luger and then the winner of that match would take on the Hitman in another title bout later in the night.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
The first match of the pay-per-view was brother vs. brother when the late Owen Hart faced his older brother, Bret. This was one of the best wrestling matches at any WrestleMania with some going so far as to say that it was the absolute best at WWE’s biggest event.
I can’t disagree.
Owen upset Bret, which added additional intrigue to the brotherly rivalry. This outcome provided Bret, who would win the title later in the evening, with a viable, opponent in his brother, Owen. A duel that always delivered as WWE was inching toward more of an emphasis on the bell-to-bell aspect of their product.
Yokozuna was managed by Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji. The masterful manager Cornette was one of the best on the mic while Fuji legitimately took care of many of the 600-pound Yoko’s personal needs on the road.
Another memorable bout at WM X was the Intercontinental title ladder match featuring Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. This was a groundbreaking match and was one of the most exciting presentations that WWE fans had seen on pay-per-view in years.
Two of wrestling’s brightest minds were essentially left to their own devices in deciding how the match would be executed and they nailed it. Both men entered MSG claiming to be the Intercontinental champion, which added to the depth of the story line.
In one of my most unique assignments in WWE, I did a news feature on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid on July 4, 1993, to begin the storyline pitting Luger vs. Yoko in a body slam challenge. WWE had a long-term plan to attempt to establish Luger as its “next big thing,” and to groom him to eventually become champion – in essence, the next Hogan.
The “Lex Express” never quite finished the race but it certainly was no fault of WWE as it did all it could to recreate the magic of the Hulkster, but to no avail.
Some fans will remember that at WM X Little Richard sang “America the Beautiful” and that Hall of Fame ring announcer Howard Finkel had a “NEEEEW” head of hair thanks to Sy Sperling, president for the Hair Club for Men.
Thanks to Owen vs. Bret, Bret eventually winning the WWE title in his long overdue “WrestleMania Moment” and Heartbreak Kid vs. The Bad Guy Ladder Match, WM X was one of the better in-ring WWE extravaganzas to date.
More importantly, it enhanced Bret Hart and Michaels’ star power, which would lead to WWE featuring a more improved-in ring product than it had featured in years.
With WM XI a year away would WWE continue to feature more “steak” than “sizzle” or provide a little of both?
Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, Conn., April 2, 1995
For a variety of reasons, some pundits feel that WrestleMania XI was not one of WWE’s finer creative efforts. Personally, I thought it was unnecessarily panned for a variety of reasons.
As a huge football fan I was stoked to hear that the greatest NFL defensive player of all time, the incomparable Lawrence Taylor, was going to train at a WWE warehouse to prepare for the main event vs. the late Bam Bam Bigelow. I attended these workout sessions nightly as LT worked diligently to earn a sizable and much-needed pay day.
Bigelow – one of the business’ great, super heavyweights at 350-plus pounds – spent hours in a secluded warehouse practicing with LT to get the former New York Giant and first ballot NFL Hall of Famer ready for their pressure-packed WrestleMania Moment.
The LT vs. Bam Bam match would go on last at WM XI, which made WWE champion Diesel — aka Kevin Nash — and his opponent Michaels none too happy. Even though WWE garnered immense publicity by using Taylor, I can’t argue the fact that the WWE title bout should have closed the show, especially since the new, 7-foot champion was a fan favorite and was going to defeat his villainous challenger and former mentor, HBK.
Diesel vs. Shawn made sure that the LT-Bigelow match would have to be at their overachieving best to follow the title bout that would precede the much-hyped novelty match.
To everyone’s surprise, the football-themed match did exactly that.
In all my years in the business, I’ve never seen anyone from outside the pro wrestling business do better in their debut match than Taylor. LT showed why John Madden said that Taylor changed the way defense was played in the NFL by willing himself to respectability inside the squared circle and doing better than anyone could have possibly predicted. Taylor defeated the veteran Bigelow, who made LT look much better than No. 56 actually was.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Another unsung hero in this match was referee and WWE Hall of Fame member Pat Patterson, who helped put the match together in the WWE warehouse and who “called the plays” during the contest while wearing the striped shirt.
WM XI was where I met and became friends with the late NFL legend Reggie White. The “Minister of Defense” was simply the biggest wrestling fan that I met from the world of football who never got into the business, a la Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel or Bronko Nagurski.
Reggie also indirectly saved my life by alerting me to sleep apnea, from which we both suffered. Other members of LT’s team included Chris Spielman, Ken Norton Jr., Ricky Jackson, Carl Banks and future WCW performer and former Chicago Bear Steve “Mongo” McMichael.
In the locker room before the show began I was the football players’ liaison and regaled in their colorful stories, especially Mongo, who seemingly cursed vehemently with every other word that would keep the ordained minister White constantly rolling his eyes and saying multiple prayers for McMichael.
An “I Quit” match between Bret Hart and Bob Backlund with Roddy Piper as the special referee was memorable as Bombastic Bob was completely over the top as a somewhat newly minted villain. Mr. Backlund actually made the incomparable Hot Rod look sane.
Pam Anderson escorted Diesel to the ring while Jenny McCarthy, who I had done a broadcaster’s audition with around that same time, accompanied HBK to the ring. Along with singing duo Salt ‘n Pepa, actor Nick Turturro and actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the lovely blondes, Anderson and McCarthy, rounded out the celeb allotment for WM XI.
Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif., March 31, 1996
This main event made WWE Hall of Famer Patterson cry … tears of joy. The Montreal native had been on a break from WWE when he got a phone call from McMahon inviting Pat to attend WM XII because the main event was going to be “special.”
It would feature an idea that Patterson had suggested a few years earlier.
Two of Patterson’s favorite in-ring performers of all time, Bret Hart and Michaels, would face off in a 60-minute Iron Man match for the Hitman’s WWE title. The wrestler that earned the most decisions within the time limit would leave with the glory and the title.
At the end of regulation, neither Hart nor Michaels had earned a decision. WWE “President” Gorilla Monsoon came to the ring to order the match continued with sudden-death rules, which had not been previously promoted.
Michaels won the classic one-hour plus match, as McMahon, who was doing the play-by-play, proclaimed, “Shawn Michaels’ boyhood dream has come true!”
This match still holds up as one of the best-executed main events at any WrestleMania and is a great learning tool for wannabe wrestlers or new fans.
This event was unique in that it foreshadowed what were big things to come for WWE, including the Monday Night Wars and some of the key participants who would play major roles in that competition between WWE’s “Raw” and WCW’s “Nitro.”
The Undertaker continued his winning ways at WrestleMania events with a victory over Nash, who would be a key player for “WCW Monday Nitro.” Eighteen years later, the Undertaker is still undefeated at WrestleMania.
Future WWE Hall of Fame inductee Jake Roberts – in one of his last meaningful, in-ring roles in WWE – was the victim of a Vader Bomb in an all-star, six-man tag that featured Yokozuna, Ahmed Johnson and “The Snake” vs. manager Cornette’s trio of Vader, Owen Hart and Davy Boy Smith. What a star-crossed assortment of talent.
In the pre-Austin 3:16 days, “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin defeated Savio Vega as Austin’s “manager” Ted DiBiase looked on at ringside.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
WM XII also is remembered for the white Bronco chase involving Piper and the controversial Goldust and their Hollywood Back Lot Brawl. The car chase was a spinoff of the O.J. Simpson/Al Cowlings saga. My assignment for this WM XII was to help produce the scenes involving these performers that would lead them to the arena, where they would have their match.
Another of my assignments was traveling to Calgary to produce the Bret Hart training vignettes. I was finally “trapped” in the Hart Family Dungeon, where patriarch Stu Hart demonstrated a few submission holds on me, much to my chagrin.
After the Piper-Goldust match, I walked Roddy out to the parking garage, where McMahon told me to give the white Bronco to the Rowdy One, who drove it to his home in Oregon.
Another 2014 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, the Ultimate Warrior, returned to WWE at WM XII after a long absence to defeat Hunter Hearst Helmsley, better known today as Triple H. The Helmsley persona at that time had a different female accompany him to the ring each night and on this occasion he was accompanied by the then-Mrs. Marc Mero, who the WWE had never seen before.
Marc Mero was introduced to the WWE Universe in a backstage interview. Mero’s then-wife, Sable, went on to become a huge star in WWE and today is Mrs. Brock Lesnar.
This WrestleMania was built around two men, the Hitman and HBK, who were not physical giants but who were certainly Leviathan-like in-ring performers. The tide had turned in WWE as it related to the company’s in-ring presentation, where more emphasis was put on in-ring ability than primarily the “look” of the performer.
WWE was one step closer to finding its ground-breaking new “Attitude.”
Rosemont Horizon, Chicago, March 23, 1997
This will forever be remembered for the perfectly executed, “double turn” involving Bret Hart and Austin.
Even though the undefeated-at-WrestleMania Undertaker challenging Psycho Sid for the WWE title was the main event, it was the Submission Match between Austin vs. Hart that stole WM XIII.
Bret entered the pay-per-view a beloved fan favorite who was still in the hunt for the WWE title against the controversial Texas Rattlesnake, who also had his sights set on the top prize but along the way had gotten into a highly personal issue with the Hitman.
On a televised promo leading into WM XIII, Austin said, “Add an ‘S’ to Hitman and you know exactly how I feel about Bret Hart, and that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so!”
Combining personal issues with meaningful championships are generally a winning combination in the world of sports entertainment and WWE had a winner in this pairing.
The Submission match could only be won when one man gave up or was unable to defend themselves and would be refereed by MMA legend, WWE superstar and legit tough guy Ken Shamrock, who the fans knew would not be intimidated and who would add another unpredictable element to the equation.
“When you talk about Bret Hart, WrestleMania XIII, you talk about how important that match was for my career, you talk about executing the double turn in a semi-main match that blew the main out of the water with all due to respect to those two cats. You can’t beat WM XIII,” Stone Cold said.
The table was set for the perfect storm … the frustrated, ex-WWE champion and proud Canadian being challenged by the brash-talking Texan Stone Cold, who was hell-bent on becoming the top dog in WWE no matter who he had to step on or over to accomplish his obsession.
With a busted-open Austin in Hart’s patented Sharpshooter submission hold, Austin’s loss of blood caused him to “pass out” and left referee Shamrock no choice but to stop the contest and award the match to Hart.
Hart then attacked the defenseless Austin, which fully turned the crowd on Bret and made the defiant, $2-steak-tough Stone Cold an instant fan favorite.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
“That iconic image of Stone Cold passed out in a pool of blood with the Sharpshooter. It was just two guys who went out there,” Austin said. “We thought we were going to stink the joint out. I am not a submission wrestler. I only know about three damn holds. … At that time, I owned Chicago. Chicago was my favorite town to work in. It was a special night. Everything worked. Bret the Hitman Hart, one of the greatest of all time. Probably the greatest match I ever had.” The psychology of this contest was picture-perfect and a wonderful piece of creative planning by WWE, performed expertly by all involved. It is a match I’ve suggested young talents watch over and over to fully understand how imperative in-ring psychology is in the world of pro wrestling.
“That was the break,” Austin remembered. “Still a lot of work to be done on the backside. That was certainly a key moment. Bret Hart gave it everything he got. One of my favorite competitors to work against or with and just in general as far as a body of work, Bret Hart is in my top three. Everything he did worked for me.”
The Undertaker-Sid main event and show-closer became a no-holds barred contest for the WWE title and, again, WWE game-planning was spot on as Hart and Michaels – who was “injured” and unable to wrestle on the card – were reasserted into the title-match picture with a pre-match confrontation that would eventually lead to their controversial WWE title bout a few months later at the Survivor Series that became known as the Montreal Screw Job.
WM XIII also saw The Rock, then known as Rocky Maivia, the Intercontinental champion, get a solid, resume building win over the masked Sultan. (Aka Rikishi and Rock’s “cousin.”)
HHH, still known then as Hunter Hearst Helmsley and being accompanied to the ring by the 200-pound, “monster” female Chyna, had a strong match with Goldust. Many fans still remember the massive Chyna bear-hugging and shaking Goldust’s real life wife ‘Marlena,’ Terri Runnels, like a rag doll at ringside.
Both Rock and HHH would go on to play major roles in the Attitude Era and WWE’s battle with Ted Turner’s WCW on Monday nights.
The Austin-Bret, 22-minute classic is must-see TV for any fan and is readily available on the WWE Network. This clinic of a pro wrestling match was huge in ushering in the “Austin Era,” one year later at WM XIV.
FleetCenter, Boston, March 29, 1998
“The Austin Era has begun!”
That’s how WrestleMania XIV ended, as Austin’s first WWE title victory ushered in the infamous “Attitude Era.”
Arriving to this conclusion, however, wasn’t uncomplicated or as easy as one might perceive.
It almost didn’t happen.
Michaels entered WM XIV the WWE champion, after winning the championship in controversial fashion at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal vs. Bret Hart. The uber-talented HBK hadn’t wrestled since severely injuring his back in January at the Royal Rumble in a casket match vs. The Undertaker.
After WM XIV, Michaels would not wrestle again until August of 2002 at Summer Slam, an absence of four years, but getting that one match in Boston was a photo finish mired with uncertainty right up until match time.
Only HBK knew his exact mindset or how much he could physically do in the ring vs. the white-hot Austin. Michaels, again, validated what an amazing in-ring performer he was, getting through the match with a dreadfully painful back injury while also suffering from massive burnout.
The Austin vs. Michaels match may not have been the masterpiece each star would have ideally wanted, but it accomplished all that it was supposed to. That was to pass the torch to the Texas Rattlesnake and to see if Austin’s title reign could lead WWE past WCW in the Monday night, TV ratings war.
Having DX, specifically HHH, and the legendary Mike Tyson at ringside for the WWE title bout added greatly to the presentation and put fan favorite Austin in significant and obvious jeopardy, which is always a good scenario to create.
Tyson’s contributions to WM XIV were immense and arguably one of the most strategic, creative moves WWE made during their intense competition with WCW.
WWE retaining the services of the “Baddest Man on the Planet” was a stroke of creative genius. Tyson’s surprising right cross that decked HBK was another highlight of the pay-per-view. It was Tyson’s first punch since the fight where Iron Mike bit Evander Holyfield’s ear months earlier.
This is often overlooked, but this WrestleMania was an eight-bout show that featured a whopping six title bouts.
It also marked the first appearance at WrestleMania by MLB legend Pete Rose, as guest ring announcer, who insulted the Boston faithful with a classic line, “I left Bill Buckner tickets but he couldn’t bend over to pick them up.”
That verbal dagger was followed by the arrival of Kane, who promptly delivered a Tombstone Piledriver to Rose in the first of three Rose appearances at WrestleMania events all involving Pete and Kane.
Kane would then lose to his “brother” The Undertaker as Taker would continue to add to his now legendary WM streak.
With Bret Hart gone to WCW and Michaels sidelined for four years with a back injury, WWE hit the reset button with Austin as the WWE champion, which led to the “Attitude Era,” featuring Mr. McMahon as Stone Cold’s top antagonist, the ascension of such future Hall of Fame talents as the already legendary Undertaker, The Rock, HHH, DX, Mick Foley and a heightened focus on the “Divas,” including the popularity of Sable, among others.
WM XIV will always be looked back upon as one of the key WrestleMania events in WWE history as it relates to genre superiority and talent development of several main event stars.
First Union Center, Philadelphia, March 28, 1999
One year after the Austin era began at WM XIV, the WWE’s top box office star arrived for WM XV as the challenger for the WWE title held by The Rock. This would mark the duo’s first of three WrestleMania main events, and the one filled with the most controversy and extended “cast.”
WWE made a huge storyline issue as to who was going to referee the main event as no less than five individuals, including Mr. McMahon, Foley aka Mankind, Paul Wight — aka The Big Show — Tim White and Earl Hebner were all involved in the officiating conundrum.
The obvious angle for the referee storyline was to make sure that fan favorite Austin would not win back the coveted WWE title against his arch-rival The Rock, who had aligned himself with WWE honcho Mr. McMahon, who continued to go to great lengths to ensure that Austin never become WWE champion again.
The Austin-McMahon rivalry was, arguably, the most significant and meaningful, creatively and corporately, in WWE.
For me, Rock vs. Austin would be the first match that I would broadcast since suffering my second bout of Bell’s palsy back in December of 1998, while on the air only 24 hours after learning that my mother had unexpectedly passed away.
With so many new stars developing their individual skill sets, WWE had great momentum and was winning the Monday Night War vs. WCW Nitro. Example: The day after WM XV, Monday Night Raw earned a 6.5 cable rating led by a match featuring former partners HHH vs. X-Pac, while Nitro did a 2.8 TV rating in head-to-head competition.
Plus, Austin won the WWE title at his consecutive WrestleManias, which would only intensify Austin’s rivalry with Mr. McMahon. It was a marriage made in wrestling heaven.
“Wow, I’ve had a chance to see so many great WrestleMania matches while with WWE,” Foley said. “I think being the special referee for that classic between the Rock and Stone Cold in Philadelphia in 1999 may have given me the best view in the house for an atmosphere that was second to none. I don’t know what it looked like to the fans in the arena or those watching on television, but from my vantage point, it was a slobber-knocker of the highest degree.”
WM XV is also known for the finals of the much maligned Brawl for it All, featuring tournament winner Bart Gunn vs. pro boxer Butterbean, who won in under a minute. Gorilla Monsoon was one of the judges for the unscripted fight, which would mark Gorilla’s last WWE pay-per-view appearance before his death seven months later.
Rose would turn up again in a cameo. After commandeering the San Diego Chicken’s suit, Rose found himself upside down in another of Kane’s Tombstone Piledrivers that had to make MLB commissioner Bud Selig happy.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
The amazing Undertaker continued to build on his unprecedented WrestleMania winning streak vs. The Big Boss Man inside Hell in a Cell.
Plus, it was a pay-per-view that contained many story line twists as villains became fan favorites, including Chyna, only for her to become a villain thereafter, as did the Big Show and Kane, who went from “bad” to “good.”
WM XV was a financial success on largely a one-match show, which was all about the WWE championship. It was also when the title’s credibility was on a definitive high note because so many main-event-level talents had their sights set on the top prize in the company.
The next year at WM XVI, the multiple-star chase for the WWE championship would garner even more of the event’s focus.
WRESTLEMANIA XVI (WM 2000)
Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif., April 2, 2000
The most die-hard WWE fan often has a difficult time remembering this event, primarily because it wasn’t called WM XVI, instead it was marketed as WrestleMania 2000.
Nonetheless, the pay-per-view was a plethora of bouts that had essentially the same concept: They primarily featured multiple participants. There were nine bouts and only one, a fight between Terri Runnels vs. Stacey “The Kat” Carter, was one-on-one.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
The main event was a Fatal Four-Way Elimination for the WWE title match that featured WWE champion HHH vs. The Rock vs. The Big Show vs. Foley, plus each participant had a McMahon in their corner.
An intriguing aspect of this Fatal Four-Way was that there had to be three eliminations unlike today’s Fatal Four-Way bouts, which generally are all “sudden death,” meaning the first person to score a pin or submission wins.
The three eliminations allowed for a more compelling story to be told in the Fatal Four-Way main event.
HHH retained the championship by eliminating The Rock in the deciding fall after Rock defeated Show, HHH eliminated Foley and Mr. McMahon shockingly returned to his villainous ways by striking Rock, who McMahon was representing, twice with a steel chair that aided in the HHH victory.
It would be the first time in WrestleMania history that an antagonist would retain the WWE title in the main event.
The Triangle Ladder Match for the WWE tag-team titles pitting Edge & Christian vs. the Hardy Boyz vs. the Dudleys was excellent, innovative and saw E&C win the championship. One of the many highlights of this match was Jeff Hardy executing a Swanton Bomb off a ladder, through a table onto Bubba Dudley.
“Guess I’d have to say my biggest WrestleMania regrets would be Jeff and I not getting a chance to win one of the high-profile ladder matches,” Matt Hardy told me recently. “I actually have no ‘true’ WrestleMania regrets. I was honored and blessed to do so many great things at multiple WrestleMania events. The older I get, the less wins and losses mean — the memories that we create for ourselves and fans are the biggest rewards that can come out of any pro wrestling match.”
Another unique match was a triple-threat match for two titles, the Intercontinental and European titles that featured challengers Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. IC & European champion Kurt Angle. Benoit beat Jericho in the first fall to win the IC title. Jericho won the second fall, beating Benoit and thus became the European champ.
While this match had some memorable moments, the concept was somewhat convoluted. Angle lost both titles without being pinned or submitted.
WRESTLEMANIA 2000 featured the in-ring debuts at a WrestleMania event of Angle, Benoit, Jericho, Edge, Christian, the Dudleys, the Hardy Boyz, Chyna, Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn.
Rose made his third consecutive WrestleMania appearance, where he was welcomed back by, of all people, Kane and a chokeslam.
WRESTLEMANIA 2000 was without the Undertaker and Stone Cold, as both were out with injuries. Both would return the next year at WM XVII in the Houston Astrodome, where business would pick up.
Astrodome, Houston, April 2, 2001
For many, this is considered to be the best WrestleMania that WWE has produced. I will leave that distinction up to you, but it certainly ranks at the top of any list of WrestleMania events that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them all.
It was almost 13 years ago but seems like yesterday, when WWE sold out the Astrodome with a record-breaking crowd for the historic facility of just shy of 68,000.
WM XVII had many milestones when one examines the event. It was the first WrestleMania to have fans attend from all 50 states. It was arguably the end of the amazing Attitude Era and it coincided with WCW going out of business and selling its assets to WWE, leading to the Mr. McMahon vs. Shane McMahon, father vs. son, storyline.
It also was the second WrestleMania main event featuring Austin vs. The Rock for the “Great One’s” WWE title.
“Two bad-asses at the height of their career,” Diva Eve Torres said, “and they delivered one of the best matches in history!”
However, it was Stone Cold’s TV persona change going from beloved fan favorite to becoming a wrestling villain and aligning with his long-time nemesis Mr. McMahon that was WM XVII’s show-closing, most memorable moment.
Austin “made a deal with the devil” and screwed Rock out of the WWE title with a major assist from Mr. McMahon. While everyone involved in the process had the best intentions in this major storyline twist, it was not considered a creative success.
The largely Texan crowd loved their Texas Rattlesnake like my late father did John Wayne. The difference is that the Duke was never cast as a villain and, in hindsight, neither should have Austin, especially in his home state.
“If I knew how it was all going to work out with me making the turn, I’d have called an audible in the ring, toasted McMahon with the cold, beer and then ‘Stunned’ him,” Stone Cold told me.
Two days later in Oklahoma City at a SmackDown taping, Austin’s TV and real-life friend “Good Ol J.R.” attempted to help with the persona change, and I still have the permanent scar on my forehead to prove it.
The fans truly did not want to boo and jeer Austin. It was the first time that I can recall a fan favorite that was so “over” with the audience that the fans simply refused to accept him as a legit antagonist.
Lord knows … we all tried.
WM XVII should also be remembered for an amazing TLC – Tables, Ladders and Chairs – match, featuring the Dudleys vs. the Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian that was as breathtakingly exciting as any match that I’ve called in my 40-year career.
Let Bubba Dudley tell the story of how this masterpiece came together.
“Expectations were insanely high after Mania 2000 and TLC 1 at SummerSlam,” Dudley remembers. “How could we possibly top what we had already done without killing ourselves? WWE wanted us to incorporate Rhyno, Spike and Lita into the match. The match is hard enough to design with six moving parts … now we needed to add three more.
“We went to the Dome the night before to start laying out the blueprint of the match. All nine of us were there. Myself, Matt and Edge came up with the body of the match and the others would help fill in the blanks. We would always discuss Jeff’s ‘spots’ first. His were always the most death-defying and spectacular.
“As we were standing in the ring, going over the match, I noticed Rhyno was sleeping at the ringside announcer table. … I was pissed. I love Rhyno and knew him from ECW. But this was his first Mania and we are trying to come up with a run-in and spot that feature and highlight him … and there he was sleeping. I told Edge, ‘Ya might wanna wake up your boy before I wake him up for you.’
“Day of show, we disappeared into a luxury skybox in the Dome to put finishing touches on the match and discuss the finishing sequence of ‘bumps.’ We argued for about two hours as to what would be the final huge bump. Was it going to be me and Matt being pushed off the 15-foot ladder by Rhyno and crash through four stacked tables on the floor. Or would it be Edge ‘spearing’ Jeff as he hung onto the belts hanging over the ring.
“It was very tense in that skybox. I voted for the spear spot (which is still played on WWE programming to this day). I was out-voted. The match was a huge success, but when we all came through the curtain, we were disappointed. The sound in the dome traveled straight up, so we did not think the people were reacting. This match is one of my all-time faves and I’m proud to say will never be forgotten when speaking of Mania.”
The match was so good that, after further review and speaking with the talents after they were paid, it was decided to increase all six men’s pay. In case you’ve forgotten, E&C won it, but all three teams gave us the performance of a lifetime.
“My favorite WM match is the TLC match from WM XVII,” Matt Hardy recalled. “I prefer this match over the triple-threat ladder match at WM XVI because I felt it was much stronger from a story-telling aspect.
“WM XVI will always be special, as it was my WM debut, but WM XVII stands out because we created a match style in the TLC match. And it will live forever in the industry.”
The Angle vs. Benoit match was a wrestling classic that had the fan favorite (Benoit) outwrestle the villain (Angle), which motivated the antagonist to cheat to win. Simple philosophy albeit amazingly executed.
The Undertaker returned after a year’s absence from WrestleMania to add another victim to his undefeated streak, HHH. The heavy metal band Motorhead was live in the Astrodome and played HHH’s “The Game” theme song live. With the victory, Taker ran his WrestleMania record to 9-0.
WM XVII was also unique at the broadcast table as I worked with the talented Paul Heyman, who was participating in his first WrestleMania event.
“I had to keep reminding myself to listen to JR and call the action at WrestleMania XVII because it was easy getting swept up in the history that was unfolding in front of our eyes, and we had the best seats in the house,” Heyman said. Growing up in Oklahoma as a Bum Phillips/’Love Ya Blue’/Houston Oilers fan, I always wanted to attend an event in the world’s first all- purpose domed stadium. Without question, the WWE’s first pay-per-view in the state of Texas will be remembered fondly, and the next year the traveling extravaganza would head north of the border … brother … if you smell what I’m cooking!
SkyDome, Toronto, March 17, 2002
The WWE held its premier event outside the USA for the second time, heading north of the border and packing 68,237 into the SkyDome.
The event will likely be remembered more for the Rock vs. Hogan match than anything else on the card. The “Icon vs. Icon” contest, as it was billed, certainly did not go the way most thought going into the show.
Rock had become one of WWE’s all-time, most popular and successful superstars. Hulk had returned after many years away from WWE, including a highly successful run in WCW, as a part of the nWo. Going into the match at WM XVIII, Hulk was positioned/cast as a villain, however, someone forgot to inform the fans in attendance of such.
The emotional investment that the fans gave Hulk was one of those much talked about “WrestleMania Moments.”
While the talents had one gameplan in mind prior to the opening bell, they called an audible after hearing what the crowd was buying and what the fans wanted to see. Even though Rock won the match, at the end of the night and after Hogan’s “teammates” Scott Hall and Nash, attacked Hulk, necessitating a Rock “save,” the icons posed together in the ring much to the delight of the 68,000-plus.
Obviously, in hindsight, this match should have closed the show at WM XVIII, as nothing could adequately follow it.
It’s easy for one to be critical of the order of events but closing the show with the WWE title match, featuring the returning HHH vs. his estranged wife Stephanie’s representative and undisputed champion Jericho was the logical show-closer going into the event.
No one behind the scenes lobbied for anything else to close because no one thought that the Rock vs. Hogan match would be received as it was. I know that it shocked Jerry Lawler and I who provided the commentary.
Actually, HHH vs. Jericho had an excellent match but it was the simple fact that the crowd had peaked during the Rock vs. Hulk performance.
Austin, after a failed experiment as a TV wrestling villain, returned to his original role as a fan favorite against the nWo’s Hall but that match did not create the magic of past Austin WrestleMania performances.
Austin was so frustrated with the situation that he unexpectedly flew home to Texas the next morning from Toronto.
The Undertaker ran his WrestleMania record to an attention-grabbing 10-0 with a bloody victory over Ric Flair, who could not prevail despite the help of his former Four Horsemen teammate Arn Anderson.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
Two of the more underrated bouts on the card were Angle vs. Kane and a women’s title bout with triple-threat rules featuring the vastly underrated Jazz vs. HOFers Trish Stratus, a Toronto native, and Lita. The ladies followed the Rock vs. Hulk match, which did them no favors.
“I couldn’t write a better personal WrestleMania moment,” Stratus said. “To be competing for the women’s title at that point in my career and to have it in my hometown was amazing.
“And, we’re Greek – so you can imagine how many tickets I had to wrangle up – that, plus a box was needed to accommodate my big fat Greek WrestleMania.”
The next year at WM XIX the WWE would go outdoors for the first time since WM IX and it would mark the unexpected last match of one of WWE’s greatest talents.
Safeco Field, Seattle, March 30, 2003
From top to bottom, this was one of the best-booked pay-per-views WWE produced. The in-ring product that emanated in front of 54,000-plus was stellar from start to finish.
This particular WrestleMania was significant for many reasons. It was the first WrestleMania under the “WWE” banner after the legal fiasco with the World Wildlife Fund forced a move away from the WWF name.
It was also the first WWE pay-per-view after the brand extension, so there were Raw matches and SmackDown matches, featuring each brand’s top titles. WM XIX also utilized three announcing teams, Raw with Lawler and yours truly, SmackDown with Michael Cole and Taz, and the Spanish duo of Carlos Cabrera and Hugo Savinovich.
More importantly, it was Stone Cold Steve Austin’s last wrestling match, though that matter wasn’t advertised or included in the broadcast.
Check out all the highlights from this WrestleMania.
The show-closer at WM XIX was SmackDown’s Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for Angle’s WWE title, which almost ended in tragedy. The near 300-pound Lesnar missed landing a spectacular Shooting Star Press. It would likely have broken an average athlete’s neck.
However, there’s nothing average about Brock Lesnar. He reluctantly went to the hospital after the event, accompanied by Jerry Brisco, where it was determined that Brock had a concussion. “The Next Big Thing” almost wasn’t.
There was discussion prior to WM XIX of Rock vs. Austin III closing, but the night before the pay-per-view, Austin had to be hospitalized after ingesting too many energy drinks, which increased his heart rate and caused anxiety issues.
McMahon and I were both at Steve’s side at the hospital on Saturday night, where it was decided to not put him in the pressure-cooker show-closing position and to go with Angle vs. Lesnar, which was obviously the right decision.
Austin did not want it publicized that he was having his last match due to lingering issues with his neck. Calling Steve’s last match but not being able to expound on it was one of the harder things that I had to do as a WWE broadcaster.
Perhaps the audience was tipped somewhat to the significance of the situation as Rock won the match and then left the ring for Stone Cold to have an “unofficial” final moment in the ring with his fans.
WM XIX also featured a tremendous one-on-one bout between Michaels, who was wrestling in his first WrestleMania since losing the WWE title to Austin at WM XIV and Jericho. HBK won in a wrestling clinic. This is a must-see match if you’ve never seen it or haven’t seen it since it happened live.
Plus, in a street-fight match billed as 20 years in the making it was Mr. McMahon vs. Hogan. McMahon bled profusely while losing to Hogan. This contest may have been a little “Bowling Shoe Ugly” but it was long on aggression.
The Undertaker was challenged by the Big Show and A-Train but still remained undefeated at WrestleMania events. Nathan Jones was originally scheduled to team with Taker but an 11th-hour decision saw Jones pulled from the match. The big Australian did make a “cameo” in the bout near the finish.
The Divas division was particularly strong during this era and the trio of Victoria, Jazz and Stratus had an excellent triple-threat match. All three women were excellent athletes and had viable mat skills. Jazz, a former college basketball star, was an underrated talent, while Victoria started out in WWE as one of Godfather’s Hos and became one of the top women grapplers in the business. Trish went into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
WWE’s tag-team talents were impressive during this era as well as the tag champs Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin retained the titles in a three-way match that included Benoit & Rhyno and the Guerreros. A hell of a tag team performance by the three teams.
“Walking out for me and Charlie’s tag title match WrestleMania XIX in Seattle — it was my first Mania, the biggest crowd I’d ever seen and I felt like I was a part of something great,” Benjamin said. “Again, I was kinda awestruck by it all. The match itself wasn’t the greatest, but it was good. The experience itself was golden. When I look back at who was involved in our match, it still makes my jaw drop.”
The first match on any pay-per-view is ultimately important to set the tone for the night and Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio did exactly that as Hardy successfully defended the Cruiserweight title.
What happened after this pay-per-view was equally as significant as what happened during the show. Austin was finished, Angle would miss several months due to neck surgery, Rock would leave a month or so later to focus on his movie career, Hulk was soon gone, Goldberg would debut the next night on Raw, and the focus would then turn to putting the spotlight on several new talents, including John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista.
Indeed the times were a changing and just in time to prepare for a historic WrestleMania XX the next year in Madison Square Garden.
You can follow Jim Ross on Twitter @JRsBBQ, listen to him on the Ross Report Podcast, and see him live at RINGSIDE: An Evening with Jim Ross. JR’s products are also available online at wweshop.com, americansoda.co.uk and beyondtheropes.co.uk