It was early 1996.
The WWF still had Michaels and Hart as well as Sid and the Undertaker…but, honestly, Michaels and Hart were at the peak of their popularity and both were aging. Hart was disillusioned with the direction of the company and his popularity started to wane following the spectacular match he had with Bret Hart. The Undertaker, while loyal, was a darker character and Vince was hesitant putting him at the top because he wasn’t sure that a guy with a “deadman” persona would be the person to lead the company.
The WWF was locked in a battle with WCW who was dominating them in the ratings. By this time, the WWF had lost some prime talent – Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Roddy Piper, Madusa, the 1-2-3 Kid, Lex Luger, and Curt Henning, among others. While a few people thought that the Kid, Nash and Hall were minor and Hogan and Piper were past their prime, the entire nWo angle had propelled them all into a new realm. Hogan had become the face of the company, overruling Sting and Ric Flair.
The storyline had been that Hall and Nash had “invaded” WCW from “another wrestling organization”. It would all come to a head at Bash at the Beach where Randy Savage, Sting and Lex Luger would face The Outsiders, Hall and Nash, along with their mystery partner. When the match came, The Outsiders didn’t have their partner. It was only at the end of the match, when it looked like Savage was done for and Luger was taken out that Hulk Hogan came down to make the save and chase the Outsiders from the ring. Everyone cheered…and then went into simultaneous shock: Hogan went off the ropes and leg dropped Savage! Hogan was the THIRD MAN.
That Monday, he was revealed as the head of the “nWo” which was comprised of Syxx (the Kid), Nash, Hall, Henning, DiBiase, and a few others. He had remade himself – he wore black tights and a bandana with a black shirt that had his image on it with the name “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. Hogan was not only the face of the company, he was the de facto heel and he pushed Nitro past Raw Monday after Monday.
The WWF had to do something…
In early 1997, Vince tried a mutual partnership with ECW where WWF and ECW wrestlers would co-exist in the same “universe”. Eventually, Stone Cold Steve Austin would be a budding rose…only Vince just hadn’t really pulled the trigger.
Vince’s ideas, however, were becoming more and more subversive as he realized that things needed to become more and more violent to keep fan interest.
Between Wrestlemania 12 and 13…we had this:
- The Intercontinental Title would change hands a dozen times over the next couple of years, eventually landing in the hands of Rocky Maivia. Sounds like a loser, right? Rocky is Dwayne Johnson – The Rock. He was a newcomer in the WWF. Because of his wrestling heritage, the WWF pushed him hard and fast, despite his lack of in-ring experience. In three months, he would beat a young Hunter Hearst Helmsley to become the WWF Intercontinental Champion. Rocky would defend the IC belt against “The Sultan” who was, otherwise, known as “Rikishi”.
- By this time, the WWF Tag Titles had gone through about seven or eight teams and would, eventually, land in the hands of Owen Hart and the British Bulldog. The two would defend it against the team of Vader and Mankind. Mankind was Mick Foley who had left WCW in 1994 (as Cactus Jack), gone through ECW, and came to the WWF to immediately begin a feud with the Undertaker. During his feud, the Undertaker would fall to Mankind with the help of Paul Bearer who would betray him and go heel. He would manage both men here.
- Shawn Michaels would stay WWF Champion for almost the entire year until his former friend, Sid (now dubbed, “Sycho Sid”) defeated him at Survivor Series in November of 1996. Michaels would win the title back at the 1997 Royal Rumble but, would forfeit his title, explaining that he had a “knee injury”. There are many rumors circulating that Michaels had a long-standing mutual hatred of Bret Hart and that he refused to job the title to him and Wrestlemania 13. As the belt was vacated, an immediate “four corners” match was made – Vader, Hart, Austin, and The Undertaker would fight it out. Eventually, Hart would win the match and become the WWF Champion again. However, on the following night, Hart was scheduled to face Sycho Sid and defend his title. After Bret had Sid in the Sharpshooter, Austin came down the aisle, grabbed a chair and whacked Hart with it, allowing Sid to hit the powerbomb and get the pin and the belt. Austin would, immediately, feud with Hart. With Vader out of the way in the WWF Tag Team Championship match, and Austin and Hart in their own feud, The Undertaker was the ONLY one left to feud for the WWF Championship, which Sid would defend against him here.
In other news…
- The Headbangers, New Blackjacks, The Godwinns (w/ Hillbilly Jim), and Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon would get into a Fatal Four Way match to determine the #1 Contender for the WWF Tag Team Championship.
- After losing his Intercontinental Title, Hunter Hearst Helmsley would feud against Goldust. During this time, Helmsley would enlist Chyna as his new bodyguard. The two would face off here.
- A six-man street fight would ensue between the returning Legion of Doom with Ahmed Johnson and newcomers, the Nation of Domination.
- Finally, Bret Hart and Steve Austin would face off in a Submission Match. The first person to submit lost the match. The special guest referee would be none other than Ken Shamrock.
With all that said…let’s take our first step into the pre-“Attitude” era…
We get black and white clips about Wrestlemania being WWF’s “greatest spectacle”. THIS TIME, however…things will be darker…ooooo…
We’re live from the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago! This would be the second time that the this venue was used for Wrestlemania. The last time was Wrestlemania 2.
Vince McMahon introduces himself, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and the newest member of the crew – Jim Ross – making his return and first call since Wrestlemania IX.
MATCH#1: The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) vs. The New Blackjacks (Blackjack Windham & Blackjack Bradshaw) vs. The Godwinns (Henry & Phineas) (w/ Hillbilly Jim) vs. Doug Furnas & Phil LaFon in a Four-Way Tag Team Elimination Match for the #1 Contender Spot for the WWF Tag Team Championship
This was a convoluted match for the number one contender for the WWF Tag Team Titles…which is like competing for a giant pile of shit. Good thing we got four of the shittiest tag teams in WWF history to go get them, huh? This is a four-team elimination battle. A tag can be made to any man. When a man is defeated, so is his team. The one team remaining is the winner. The match is comprised of a couple rocker retards, two French guys from the 80’s WWF, two backwoods morons lead by Hillbilly Jim who I THOUGHT was done with the WWF years ago…and two male strippers with cowboy gimmicks, Windham and Bradshaw. The latter not only sport cowboy vests and 6-gallon hats, but also ACT like cowboys (complete with “yee-haw” attitudes) and have matching dumb-looking mustaches like they’re taking on Sam Elliott in a facial hair contest. Not surprisingly, they’re the first ones eliminated. The crowd sounds really disinterested. It’s really plain that the WWF really had nothing going for them as far as the undercard was concerned. The only good teams in this match were The Godwinns and the Headbangers. The end comes when team members on both teams brawl. Hillbilly Jim distracts the ref but this enables the Headbangers to hit a beautiful splash off the top rope. All-in-all, a good match.
WINNERS: The Headbangers via splash
GRADE: B-. Surprisingly, a decent match.
- The New Blackjacks broke up later in the year. Barry Windham would return to WCW where he finished out his career and called it quits in 2001. Layfield (Bradshaw) would go on to a very successful singles career and continue on with the WWF.
- After failing to get over with the WWF Universe, Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon went back to ECW later in the year. Furnas would retire in 2000 after developing early stages of Alzheimer’s. Just 18 days ago (March 2012), Furnas passed away due to heart disease and a losing battle with Parkinson’s. LaFon would retire in 2005, due to injuries.
For some reason, The Honky Tonk Man is out to do commentary. He doesn’t even look like he’s aged and still has the same clothes and hair style.
MATCH #2: Rocky Maivia (champion) vs. The Sultan (challenger) (w/ Bob Backlund & The Iron Sheik)
Rikishi originally had a really lame gimmick called The Sultan where he was masked with a veil and looked like Bane when he disrobed, if Bane wore red and had baggy pants. He was managed here by the ironic duo of The Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund. The Rock looks SO green here. So young and inexperienced. Not like The Rock we all know and love. The Sultan spends most of his time wiping the mat with Rocky. KING: “[Rocky Maivia’s champion speech] was SO boring, even Christopher Reeve got up and walked out.” Heh. The match just rolls on. At one point, Maivia starts to no-sell shit like Hogan…I’m glad they didn’t continue that crap with his real character. He hits an impressive array of moves, however, including a DDT after rolling off of The Sultan’s back. He has Sultan for a pin but Sheik distracts the ref. Sultan hits a side kick on Rocky but ONLY gets a two-count. This is where the match picks up. Sultan hits a piledriver for a two count. Rocky rolls up Sultan after this and gets the pin.
WINNER: Rocky via roll-up pin.
GRADE: C+. It was decent but was The Rock before he was The Rock.
Post-match, Sultan attacks Rocky, then tosses Rocky into the ring where Backlund, Sultan, and Sheik gang up. Sultan hits a HUGE body splash from the top rope. Sheik hits the Camel Clutch. Finally, Rocky’s father comes to his aid and attacks Sultan, threatens Bob Backlund. Then Sultan gets the Iranian flag and just beats on Rocky’s dad. The three heels continue to beat on him. Rocky gets to his feet and knocks Sultan out of the ring, then goes after The Iron Sheik, slamming him. Rocky Johnson slams Sheik as well, then the two team up and beat him. Sheesh.
- Sheik made sporadic appearances and would be seen again on WWF TV.
- Backlund would leave the WWF after this but return in 2000 in a failed angle with Kurt Angle (and angle with angle…fitting). He would leave after this and tried to get into politics, running for Congress in Connecticut but was unsuccessful. He would go on to operate a bail bonds company after that before returning to pro-wrestling’s TNA organization in 2007. He would make a short, one-time return to the WWE the same year and has made sporadic returns to WWE TV since then.
- “The Sultan” gimmick would vanish, train more, add 100 pound to his frame and Fatu would return as “Rikishi”.
Backstage, Todd Pettengill (Seriously? Dude’s like a bad penny.) is with Ken Shamrock. Shamrock says he was hired to ref the match because he knows submission. He will not be intimidated.
Dok Hendrix interviews Triple H and Chyna. He says that he’s ready for his match and that he’s gonna take out Goldust.
MATCH #3: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (with Chyna) vs. Goldust (with Marlena)
Helmsley is out first to Beethoven’s 9th, one of my favorite pieces. Goldust is out next with his cinema gimmick. This was a match of two greats. I liked Goldust. Dustin Rhodes was a great wrestler as was Triple H and both show some incredible ring prowess. Goldust didn’t last as long as Helmsley, obviously, but he can take a beating. Chyna was another person I really liked. I always thought that she was a beautiful woman who should have gone further in the business. The match is great. As I said, both men are so technically experienced. There are so many reversals and big moves, it’s hard to keep up. This version of Goldust, by the way, is different from last years. Gone are the homosexual overtones. He is now armed. Near the end of the match, Chyna just walks over to Marlena and talks to her. Triple H is about to hit the Pedigree and Goldust steps up for a backdrop but lets go and helps Marlena. Triple H knees Goldust in the back. He drops Marlena into Chyna’s arms and she shakes Marlena around like a rag doll. Triple H hits the Pedigree and that’s all she wrote.
WINNER: Triple H via Pedigree
GRADE: B+. I liked this one.
Post-match, Goldust consoles Marlena and helps her up, carrying her around the rind and falling to his knees, holding her. Triple H and Chyna escape the ring.
Backstage, Shawn Michaels is trying to figure out his laptop.
MATCH #4: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog (champions) vs. Mankind and Vader (challengers) (w/ Paul Bearer) for the WWF Tag Team Championship
Owen Hart. I wish he had done better than this. I don’t know if this was because his brother held him back or what. The British Bulldog had become a heel again. Owen was a mix of both face and heel. The match was a mix of power and skill. Even being a wrestling fan, I had NO idea that the Bulldog hung onto the WWF this long. The match goes for over fifteen minutes…far too long in my opinion, for a tag match. The end comes when Mankind hits a Mandible Claw on The British Bulldog and two are knocked out of the ring. The ref counts them both out. It was a mercy kill.
WINNERS: Nobody. Double Countout.
GRADE: D-. Man, this sucked. This show, while good, was why the WWF was failing.
Post-match, Owen checks on the Bulldog while the heels celebrate.
- Vader would continue to wrestle in the WWF for the next year with the WWF until 1998 when he would wrestle independently. From 2003 to 2006, he would make various appearances in TNA and the WWE. In 2007, he would retire from wrestling and coach high school football.
- The British Bulldog would leave the WWF after “The Montreal Screwjob” in November of 1997. He would wrestle in WCW for a year, only to return, for a year, following the death of Owen Hart in 1999. He had family issues in early 2000 and the WWF released him. In May of 2002, Davey Boy Smith would pass away of an apparent heart attack. Bruce Hart said that it was a result of steroid use and stress. He was only 39 years old.
Another promo for Hart and Austin. They’re plugging this more than Undertaker-Sid. That should tell you something about the focus of the company.
MATCH #5: Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin with special guest referee Ken Shamrock
Shamrock is introduced first. He’s in the ring, awaiting the competitors. Shattered Glass hits and the crowd has a pop…that’s a bit better than last year. Austin is riled up. He taunts Shamrock who gives it right back to him. Hart is out next. The crowd still cheers for him, despite his heel turn. This match is the first where the fans actually give a damn. The match pours outside at one point. Austin grabs somebody’s drink, sips it, then slams it on Bret and kicks him. I love it. The match is just a grudge match. Hart and Austin fight inside the ring, outside the ring, in the crowd, back in the ring…it’s amazing. It’s not Michaels/Hart, of course, but it’s still great. During the match, Vince starts showing shades of “Mr. McMahon” and wonders what excuses Hart would give when he loses. One of the best moments in the match happens when Hart sets up a chair to clip Austin’s leg. He goes to the top rope…but Austin gets up, removes the chair and clubs Hart with it. This drives the crowd NUTS. I think it was this point when Vince said, “Austin’s the one…” and aimed to change things. Austin, unbeknownst to me, knows some submission moves. He hits an interesting one, stretching Bret’s arm away from his head. Then, he hits a Boston Crab. At one point, he goes for a Sharpshooter…and King remarks about how funny it would have been if Hart submitted to that…choice words…Austin is busted open and dripping all over the outside…I mean, he must have punctured a damn vein. There’s a trail of blood from where he was cut to where the stairs are. We get a close up and OUCH. Austin is cut wide open. Somebody should have told him how to blade properly. Hart just uses a chair to beat Austin senseless. Damn…this match is BRUTAL. Hart finally applies the Sharpshooter but has issues turning it over plus Bret breaks out. Austin comes back and beats the crap out of Hart, flipping him off (which was kinduva no-no back at this time) and then beating him some more. Austin hits a HUGE Superplex…but, WOW, is he cut the fuck open. His entire face is covered in blood. He goes for some cable outside the ring and tries to use it to choke the shit out of Austin but Hart grabs the ring bell and uses it club Austin in the face. Hart grabs the leg and turns the Sharpshooter over. My GOD…Austin is dripping with blood…there’s blood all over the fucking mat. Austin refuses to submit. Shamrock keeps asking if Austin gives up but he won’t. Then he breaks out of the Sharpshooter! But, no, Hart puts it right back on…Austin’s face just says it all…it’s soaked in blood. Shamrock, again, asks if he gives up but Austin doesn’t answer. He’s passed out and covered in blood. Hart wins. Wow. What a match. The mat around Austin has big blood stains around it.
WINNER: Hart via Austin passing out
GRADE: A-. This match was really good.
Post-match, Bret beats on Austin but Ken Shamrock slams Hart to the mat, stopping it. The crowd pops, BIG-TIME. Hart gets out of the ring. Shamrock picks Austin up and helps him but Austin hits a Stunner and leaves the ring.
- Bret Hart would have one of the most controversial WWF career finishes of all-time. At Survivor Series of 1997, he was supposed to be part of a disqualification where he would retain his WWF Championship…except that’s not what happened. Instead, Shawn Michaels would apply Hart’s Sharpshooter and Earl Hebner would call the match in favor of Shawn Michaels right away and Michaels would get the belt. Hart, in disgust, left the WWF right after that, signing with WCW. This incident was HUGE and it’s still debated on whether or not it was a work or a shoot. Several wrestlers quit the WWF and went to the WCW in protest. Hart would wrestle in WCW until 2000. He would return to the WWE in 2005.
MATCH #6: The Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal) (w/ Ahmed Johnson) vs. The Nation of Domination (Farooq, Crush, and Savio Vega) (w/ D. Lo Brown, Wolfie D, J.C. Ice, and Clarence Mason) in a Chicago Street Fight
This is the first time I’ve ever seen The Nation of Domination wrestle. OOOOOWAAAA WHAT A RUSH!!! Wow…surprisingly, this is only the SECOND time The Legion of Doom has been to Wrestlemania. I cannot believe that. These guys were freakin’ badass. This match is nuts. The beginning of it is Hawk, Animal and Johnson clearing the ring. The rest of it is pure chaos. This match is pure badassery. This is what the WWF had been missing – pure wrestling goodness. The crowd was just as lit up at this as they were with Hart/Austin. I can’t even keep up with the match. It’s just a gigantic free-for-all with a bunch of weapons. It’s still insane and spectacular. It ends with the NOD beating up on LOD…the LOD clears the ring and then hits the Doomsday Device on somebody…then they club him with a 2×4 for good measure. Good night.
WINNERS: LOD via DD.
GRADE: B+. WHAT A RUSH!
Post-match, another free-for-all but LOD clears the ring and celebrates.
- Ahmed Johnson would leave the WWF in early 1998 and wrestled in WCW in 2000 known as “Big T”. He would be released the same year due to weight issues. He would wrestle, independently until 2003 when he would retire.
- Brian Adams, AKA “Crush”, would leave the WWF in 1997, in protest over the “Montreal Screwjob”. He wrestle with the WCW from 1998 to 2001. He would return to the WWF in 2001 but was released the same year. He would wrestle, independently, for a few years until 2007 when he passed away to complications linked to steroid abuse. He was only 43 years old.
- Wolfie D and J.C. Ice now wrestle independently.
- Clarence Mason would be fired after Wrestlemania, would go to WCW and, eventually, go back to being a lawyer.
Whew…this is the most tiring Wrestlemania I have ever had to research.
Forgive me, I’m slightly smashed on cocktails. Sid cuts a promo. It sucks because a) he’s unintelligible and b) he fucking whispers through half of it.
MATCH #7: The Undertaker (challenger) vs. Sycho Sid (champion) for the WWF Championship
I love The Undertaker…I love him even more when he isn’t in matches with giant buffoons who can’t wrestle. Seriously, I cannot believe Sid is still wrestling. Shawn Michaels is helping out in commentary. Sid comes out next…then Bret Hart for some reason. Bret grabs a mic and starts to trash talk about Michaels and his knee injury. He turns to the Undertaker and tells him they are no longer friends. The Undertaker looks like he could care less. Hart turns to Sid and trash talks…Sid laughs…and then hits Hart. Then powerbombs his sorry ass. Oops. Sid tells Hart to take his “whining ass out of here”. Sid says when he’s done kicking the Undertaker’s ass, he’s gonna go get Hart…but, fuck that, Undertaker wants some action. The Undertaker is in his old school dress complete with grey leggings and gloves. Michaels says that the Undertaker has been screwed over so many times and has never complained because he’s a man’s man. Amen to that. The match is…I wish it was good. Sid is so slow and is just a power-wrestler. He doesn’t know much as far as moves go and relies on his size too much. It doesn’t get interesting until The Undertaker clotheslines Sid to the outside of the ring. Then it slows right the fuck down again because all Sid can do is slam and choke…and he chokes here. The Undertaker hits a flying clothesline from the top rope, getting a two-count. He calls for the Tombstone and gets Sid up in it but Sid reverses and hits the same move instead. TWO-COUNT! As the Undertaker and Sid fight outside, Bret Hart comes down to ringside with a chair and clubs Sid with it. Undertaker slams Sid into a ringpost and puts him into the ring. He hits a HUGE chokeslam on Sid and then covers and only gets a two-count! The Undertaker gets hit by a knee by Sid off the ropes. Sid picks him up and goes for the Powerbomb and…friggin’ Bret Hart comes out to interfere. Michaels: “JEE-SUS…doesn’t he EVER get tired of being beaten up?!” Heh. Anyhow, The Undertaker attacks Sid, who is preoccupied with Bret and hits the Tombstone. The Undertaker is your new WWF Champion for the first time in six years.
WINNER: The Undertaker via Tombstone.
GRADE: B-. Hart really ruined the match with his constant spots. He was really hitting Hogan levels of arrogance. The Undertaker, at this point, hit 7-0 at Wrestlemania.
- Sid would leave the WWF the same year, after this event. In 1999, he would return to WCW where he would wrestle until WCW’s demise. He would get injured near the end and get surgery and go through rehab for it. He has wrestled, independently, ever since and has made remarks about returning to the WWE.
A good event…but the WWF had one more to go before making things really click…
GRADE: B-. At least Wrestlemania was in this range at this point.
See you next time!