WrestleMania. The word is infused with magic. The descriptions surrounding it give credence to something not of this world. “The Showcase of the Immortals”, “The Grandest Stage of Them all”, “The Show of Shows”; phrases that sound like they belong more on a magician’s Las Vegas show than to pro wrestling. In twenty-four hours, the 32nd annual WrestleMania will air on the WWE Network.
This time of year is always a reflection. We look back on what happened over the last year, where we’ve come, and where we are going. I’ve seen a lot of WrestleManias in my lifetime. It’s tradition. In the spirit of that, my co-writer and wife will join me in discussing our favorite matches in WrestleMania history. I’ll begin.
The year was 1997. The place was Rosemont, IL at WrestleMania 13. Stone Cold Steve Austin was hot off his King of the Ring victory the previous year. Austin 3:16 was catching fire, but one obstacle in his path was Bret “The Hitman” Hart. A few months earlier, Austin had cost Hart a shot to win the then WWF World Heavyweight Championship. This feud was exploding and the tension leading up to this match was thicker than deep dish pizza.
Both men fed the hype machine leading up to this match. Bret Hart believed he was, “Screwed by the WWF, screwed by Steve Austin,” and it would leave him an angry, disgruntled man. Bret Hart’s fans began to turn on him. “Bret Hart on his best day can’t lace my boots. And I’m gonna prove that to the world.” That was the pissed off Austin going into this brawl. The peak of their verbal sparring came when Austin told Bret, “If you put an S in front of the Hitman, you have my exact opinion of Bret Hart.” It was a no DQ, no count out, submission match. And both men would be tested.
Ken Shamrock was the special guest referee to ensure things were fair and even. Stone Cold comes out first and even back then he had signs and t-shirts in the crowd, with a pretty decent pop. The rocket was on and he was shooting straight for the moon. Austin gets in Shamrocks face and the two yell at each other. Bret Hart comes out to a mixed reaction from the crowd. Austin’s eyes never leave Hart as he makes his way into the ring. Hart walks towards Austin and the Rattlesnake explodes out of the corner and takes him down. The bell rings and they go to war. It leads to trading punches outside of the ring.
Austin picks him up and drops him right on his testicles on the steel barricade, then clotheslines him over. They start fighting through the crowd. Austin takes a fan’s Coke, takes a sip and then slams it into Hart. They continue fighting deeper into the crowd. Once they get back outside the ring, Austin throws Hart hard into the steel steps, then waits for him to get up, flips him the bird and drops on him. Austin picks up the steel steps but Hart catches him in the stomach with a boot and he collapses. Austin pulls Hart face first into the corner post. And finally they roll back into the ring.
Hart hits a devastating spinning neck breaker and takes control of the match. He goes to work on Austin’s left knee. Austin writhes in pain. Shamrock asks if he wants to quit and Austin flips him off. Austin hits Hart with a Stunner. Hart locks in a figure four leglock using the ringpost for leverage. Austin refuses to give up. Hart picks up the ring bell and a steel chair. He puts the chair on Austin’s left ankle. He climbs the top rope but Austin pops up with the chair and decks him with it. Hart falls to the mat. Austin hits him with another chair shot and the crowd erupts. Austin whips Hart into the corner, then hits a suplex. Austin climbs to the second rope, flips off Bret and then drops an elbow on him. Austin stomps him in the groin. Bret Hart’s daughter is shown ringside covering her eyes.
Austin suplexes Hart and locks his arm into a submission hold. Austin breaks the hold, only to put Hart in a Boston crab submission. Hart reaches the ropes and Shamrock breaks them apart. Austin goes to put Hart in a Sharpshooter, but Hart rakes his eyes. Austin tosses Hart out of the ring. Hart whips Austin into the timekeeper area onto some chairs. Austin is now busted open after colliding with the security railing. His forehead is open and blood starts going everywhere, running down his arms and pooling on the floor. Hart throws Austin’s head into the turn post. Back in the ring, Hart pounces on Austin with kicks and punches to his bleeding head. The ring mat is smeared with blood, but Hart doesn’t let up.
He goes after Austin’s left knee again with chair shot after chair shot. Austin stops a Sharpshooter submission and kicks Hart in the junk. Austin whips him chest first into the corner. Then proceeds to stomp a mud hole into Hart. Austin’s face is a mask of blood. He lifts Hart onto the top rope. He climbs up and suplexes him onto his back. Austin leaves the ring and grabs a long extension cord. He wraps it around Hart’s neck. Hart gropes the ring and finds the ring bell. He smashes it right into Austin’s bleeding head wound. Hart locks in the Sharpshooter. Austin screams but continues shaking his head when Shamrock asks if he wants to quit. Blood drips from his head onto the mat. Austin visibly begins to fade. He struggles one last time to fight out of the hold. He nearly breaks it, but Hart keeps it locked in and Austin reaches for the ropes. Ken Shamrock yells, “Steve, do you give up!” Austin is unable to respond because he is unconscious. Shamrock stops the fight.
The history books record this one as a Bret Hart victory, but truth be told Stone Cold Steve Austin never tapped out, he never said I quit. He embraced the pain until it consumed him. After the match, Hart attacks Austin’s knee. Shamrock puts a stop to that and the crowd goes bananas. Hart leaves among boos from the crowd. Someone holds a sign up towards him that says CRY BABY. A ref comes out and tries to help Austin up. In typical Stone Cold fashion, Austin hits the ref with a Stunner and walks out under his own volition, solidifying himself as the toughest son of a bitch on the planet. Crowd starts chanting “Austin! Austin! Austin!” as he limps up the ramp into the back.
WrestleMania 13 isn’t the greatest Mania of all time. The match card was weird, featuring a couple of odd tag team matches. But Austin vs Hart has been my favorite WrestleMania match for almost two decades. Nothing has ever topped it for me. It was a crowning achievement that featured a rare double turn, with The Texas Rattlesnake turning from heel to babyface, and The Hitman turning from face to heel. This would ultimately lead to Bret Hart escaping to WCW via The Montreal Screwjob and Stone Cold ushering in The Attitude Era, forever changing the landscape of wrestling forever.
My husband challenged me to write about my all-time favorite WrestleMania match, and I quickly realized that it was going to be near impossible for me to do. I only started watching wrestling on a regular basis during CM Punk’s championship reign when we learned that The Rock was coming back to compete, and prior to that had only seen highlights of past Manias. I went from being a very casual and sporadic viewer to tuning in every single week, but there was still a lot that I missed. Even now, with a handful of Mania’s under my belt thanks to the Network, picking one single match is impossible. Instead, I want to take a look at my all-time favorite WrestleMania; the 30th annual event in New Orleans, Louisiana.
This was the first Mania to be broadcast on the Network and via PPV simultaneously. CM Punk, having walked out of the company after the Royal Rumble, was sadly not present in any of the matches. The preshow match, a fatal 4-way tag elimination match, was all about Cesaro. Even though he failed to win, his team was responsible for eliminating two of the four teams present, plus he got the final moment in the match after turning on his partner, Jack Swagger, and putting him into the Cesaro Swing. He came back later in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal and won via huge upset by eliminating Big Show. It was a major show of strength and such a huge honor to think so highly of Cesaro that you would give him the first ever win in this new tournament.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker was a match I will never forget. The two went at it for nearly half an hour, with Lesnar dominating Taker from the second the bell rang. The Undertaker looked worn down and outgunned, but he would not give up. Submission holds, F5s, chokeslams, and powerbombs didn’t seem to be quite enough to put either man down, but we all watched with the knowledge and expectation that Taker would somehow find a way to win. When Taker attempted a Tombstone Piledriver, Lesnar managed to counter and hit an F5 that put Taker down. The second that the ref’s hand hit that mat for the third time, I was frozen. Everything was silent; the arena did not immediately hit Lesnar’s music, the crowd didn’t say a word, and no one in my house could even take a breath. Eventually, the “21-1” graphic was displayed as Lesnar exited the arena to a chorus of boos. The Undertaker received a standing ovation and I was pretty damn sure that we would never see him wrestle again. It was such a shockingly good ending to the match, and part of me still wishes that it was the last we saw of Undertaker, because what a way to go out.
I truly felt for the Divas to have to follow that; they not only had the job of putting on a fantastic match, but they had the job of getting the crowd back in the right mindset. At the time, AJ Lee was our reigning Divas champ, and in my opinion, the best we’ve had in recent history. She was paired with Tamina Snuka as her bodyguard, but was forced to defend her title in a 14-Diva match where the first fall or submission won the title. Not every Diva involved brought their best, but AJ always did. She was the first female to ever defend this title at WrestleMania, and she did so successfully via the Black Widow submission hold. While she didn’t compete at the two previous Mania’s, she was important enough to be present at both and have an impact on the matches. AJ broke us out of our sorrow over the fall of Undertaker and got us cheering again with her historic and successful title defense.
We can’t talk about WM30 without talking about Daniel Bryan, who competed twice. The first match on the main card saw he and Triple H face off for a spot in the main event match for the WWE World Heavyweight title. We had been hearing Bryan get called a B+ player for months, told he wasn’t good enough and didn’t look the part by Steph and her husband, something you know for a fact was the honest feelings of Vince and/or Creative. He was short and scruffy, lacking in defined abs or a chiseled jaw, but he was capable of doing amazing things and us fans couldn’t care less about whether or not he looked like a clone of Randy Orton or the guy who changes our oil at Walmart. Bryan was our guy, and watching him get screwed over time and time again made us insanely excited to see Triple H get beaten. After Daniel Bryan won his match against Triple H and qualified for the main event, he suffered a beating that looked as if it would put him out of the main event. We were certain that we just saw Bryan get screwed one last time.
The main event was a triple threat match between Batista, Bryan, and then-champion Randy Orton. This was the WWE’s day of fixing their mistake of having Batista win the Royal Rumble, a choice that the fans revolted against so strongly that it resulted in this rewrite. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Batista, but it was a kick in the face to see him win the Rumble almost immediately after returning while Bryan continued to get passed over. This match was intense and Bryan did not stop for one second. He destroyed Orton and Batista, took out Triple H and Steph, and even managed to get rid of referee, Scott Armstrong (who was sent in by Triple H). At one point, Bryan was loaded onto a stretcher and carried from the ring, but he was able to quickly return to action. We had a moment where it looked as if Batista was going to steal a victory, but Bryan took the win with his YES! Lock, forcing Batista to tap and beginning one of the most phenomenal YES! chants in history. Watching the confetti rain down as Bryan held the two belts above his head, seeing him embrace his family, and watching every single person in that arena raise their arms in the air alongside him was such a fantastic sight.
This is the WrestleMania I want to watch over and over again. The moments that were great the first time around are still just as great the 20th time I see them. For someone who only got serious about wrestling a few years ago, I connect a lot more strongly with the current (and recently retired/departed) roster than I do with some of the older lates and greats. There are countless legendary WrestleMania moments out there that I have yet to lay eyes on, but for me at this moment, nothing comes close to beating WrestleMania 30.
Article by Mr and Mrs Jamie Baker