The Attitude era is upon us!
Things were getting bad in the WWE by 1997. Raw’s ratings were falling while Nitro’s were moving up. The solution? Completely revamp Monday Night Raw. What we got the week following a disastrous (ratings-wise) edition of Raw emanating from Germany with low quality camera shots. A huge video wall replaced the dorky RAW entrance, new music was added and a cool new intro where it looked like everyone was fighting in the apocalypse. It was a new look for Raw, and in its place came a new attitude.
Guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin ushered in the attitude era by, well, being themselves. WWE now exists under a sterile environment where no one gets over because they’re not allowed to be themselves, among a myriad of other factors. When Stone Cold Steve Austin stopped being the goofy ringmaster and ditched DiBiase, he got over! When Rocky Maivia stopped being a smiley babyface, he got over! And yes, when Triple H ditched the blue blood gimmick, he got over too! When people get to be themselves, they know better than anyone else how to get over, and when that happens you get a cast of actual characters who can resonate with people. It’s pretty awesome.
To me, that is what the Attitude Era was about. Yes, there is a lot of swearing and risque stuff as well, and that I think is a part of what made it successful as well. They were being different, but different in a way that got the right people over. They weren’t completely successful with this formula at first (in fact, this WrestleMania has the lowest buys of any WrestleMania to date) but once Austin became white-hot the following year, well, things would be even more different.
As for this show itself, the tagline is not “Heat!” as some posters claim. Rather, it’s “plans change”. Originally, it was supposed to be a rematch between Bret Hart and Shawn Micheals over the WWE championship. But two things happened: first, Shawn injured his knee and had to go “find his smile”. What a coincidence this came a few months before dropping the title to Bret, which was in fact the original plan. The other thing was what I mentioned above, RAW’s sagging ratings. Business overall was down, and when Vince McMahon panics about business the first thing he thinks about is TALL GUYS. They always get over, right? He put the title on Sid, and Undertaker ended up challenging him for the championship. So Sid, even though he stuck up the joint at WrestleMania VIII, gets to headline again! Yay!
The other main event was Steve Austin taking on Bret Hart in a submission match. Following their first encounter at Survivor Series 1996, Bret started a subtle heel turn. He was pissed off at the Royal Rumble when Austin eliminated him. He got even more pissed when he initially won the WWE title following the Final Four PPV, only to lose to Sid the next night on Raw. And when he lost the steel cage rematch, he was ENRAGED. Shoving then announcer Vince McMahon down, he unleashed a tirade of swear words, calling his loss, and I’ll quote him, “bullshit.” After using every variation of that four letter word, it ended up in a huge brawl between the four aforementioned wrestlers, leading us to this card. To say that the buildup to big matches has changed since the first WrestleMania would be an understatement.
The Godwinns vs. The Headbangers vs. Doug Furnas and Phillip Lafon vs. The New Blackjacks: Well right from the start, we’re in a different era here. I think this is a fatal four way tag team match. Vince Russo’s fingerprints are starting to seep in, it appears. Wait, no. The rule is anyone can tag in each other because I dunno. Vince Russo definitely booked this match. So there’s a spot where Mosh and Thrasher are both tagged in and they have to wrestle. Why? I don’t like these rules. Furnas and LaFon looked great here and easily were the most athletic guys in this match. Too bad they were saddled with a “we’re boring” gimmick soon after this and proceeded to, shockingly, not get over due to this amazingly great gimmick. WWE is so great at self-fulfilling prophecies. Bradshaw shoved one of the refs in what Vince McMahon rightfully called a “stupid maneuver” so the Blackjacks are gone, and for whatever reason so are Furnas and Lafon. Headbanger and Godwinns go at it. Phineas SPAT at Thrasher at one point and that was kinda gross. Mosh actually did a SPRINGBOARD CROSSBODY on Henry Godwinn. Well that was amazing. Thrasher with a MOONSAULT. What on Earth? Phineas tries for the slop drop but one of the Headbangers runs in and lays him out. Mosh goes to the top and hits a top rope Thesz press for the pinfall. Pretty decent once it became a singles match. **1/4
Honky Tonk Man is back as he’s in the ring. Wait, no, he’s out to do commentary. He sang his song.
WWE Intercontinental Title – Rocky Maivia (c) vs. The Sultan: There is already a “DIE ROCKY” sign in the crowd. Man, fans were mean back then. There are so many secondaries out here. Tony Atlas, Captain Lou Albano and Arnold Skaaland are looking in the crowd. Bob Backlund and the Iron Shiek are on the outside. The Honky Tonk Man is on commentary. Talk about trying to camouflage two guys who aren’t over. They had a match that was just there. Sultan worked on him for a while Rock made a comeback and eventually won with a crossbody. It was fine. **
The heels beat up Rocky afterwards, including the Iron Sheik putting Rock in the camel clutch until finally Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson runs in. He gets taken out initially, but both father and son eventually make a comeback and send the heels reeling as they celebrate.
Ken Shamrock interview. He goes into intricate detail on the submissions he applied to Billy Gunn last week on RAW. He’s refereeing tonight’s submission match and he won’t be opinionated.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley interview. Dok Hendrix wants to know the relationship between he and Chyna. Hunter declined to answer. Marlena’s the loser tonight because she denied him and now she’ll have to answer to Chyna.
Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Goldust: Yup, Goldust turned face in the last year. He renounced being gay and it was established that he was Dustin Rhodes who just wanted to get out of his father’s shadow by doing the most flamboyant gimmick possible. They tried to have this great back and forth match. In reality, it was just OK. The heat wasn’t there as Goldust wasn’t over and Hunter at this point wouldn’t be over until later in the fall. Match went way longer than it needed to go too. Goldust went for the final cut, but got distracted by Chyna going after Marlena, only to lay out Hunter and pulled Marlena to the top rope…only for Hunter to shove her into Chyna’s arms, bear-hugging her as Hunter pins Goldust after a pedigree. **¼
Shawn Michaels is shown trying to figure out how a computer works. My favorite part of this WrestleMania so far is that the logo is the number 13 on FIRE.
WWE Tag Team Championship – Vader and Mankind vs. Owen Hart and the British Bulldog ©: Owen Hart and Bulldog were teasing dissension during this time, and unlike on RAW today where they’d tease a breakup for weeks only for it not to happen…well, actually, they ended up not breaking up either. ANYWAY. This was another match that I just wasn’t feeling. This time I think it was because of the heel/heel dynamic and the people weren’t into it. Lots of back and forth stuff. It then ends in a double count out when both Mankind and Bulldog were on the floor with Mankind choking him out with the mandible claw. There were some brief fun moments, but otherwise dull with a bad finish. *½
Bret Hart/Stone Cold video package. That promo where every other word is a four letter word is pretty amazing to witness in 2015. I think it was even amazing back in 1997.
Ken Shamrock is the special referee for the next match…
Submission Match – Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin: Austin jumps Bret immediately after the bell. Bret posts Austin, but he responds by crotching Bret on the ring ropes. They brawl into the crowd. Within the sea of people, Bret actually back body drops Austin on the stairs. FUN. Bret takes it back into the ringside area. Bret works on the knee repeatedly. Austin stuns him with, well, a Stunner. Bret comes to his senses quickly and continues to bang up Austin’s leg, including the figure four on the post. Bret grabs a ring bell, and a chair, and tries to Pillmanize Austin’s leg with the chair but Austin gets him and repeatedly hits Bret with a steel chair. Austin manages to lock in a wacky lucha submission, but Bret refuses to give up. He tries for a sharpshooter but Bret rakes his eyes. Bret whips Austin into the announcers area and his head on the guardrail, busting him open. Bret repeatedly punches Austin in the forehead and drills his knee with a steel chair, but Austin still refuses to get put in the sharpshooter. Austin comes back with a low blow. He makes a fiery comeback, stomping Bret in the corner. He tries to choke Bret with a cable cord, but Bret manages to get the ring bell and smacks it across Austin’s face. He locks in the sharpshooter and blood pours from Austin’s face, forming a pool of blood under him as he writhes in pain. He tries to power out of it, and manages to do so for a fleeting moment…but Bret responds immediately and locks it in again. Not able to find a solution he likes, Austin ultimately passes out from the pain, Bret Hart wins. An amazing match. This kind of sounds dumb coming from me, who is fact not a wrestler, but if you ever want to break into the business, you have to see this match. This is the match that will teach you why people love the storytelling aspect of wrestling. Anyone can go out there and do amazing moves. But when it comes to telling a story, shifting Austin from a heel to a babyface and vice versa when it comes to Bret…it’s amazing. Everything about this match is amazing. One of my favorite matches of all time. *****
Bret Hart attacks Austin after the match, but Shamrock pulls him away. Bret confronts Shamrock for a moment, but ultimately leaves to a chorus of boos. Austin, coming to, stuns the referee trying to help him and leaves under his own power, a bloody mess from the battle that had just ensued. People chant his name as people leave .
We go to an interview with Farooq. He promises pain tonight.
Chicago Street Fight: Nation of Domination (Farooq, Crush and Savio Vega) vs. Legion of Doom and Ahmed Johnson. Since the show was in Chicago, the LOD got a massive reaction. They’re also back after spending the last few years apart, then reuniting in WCW and finally hopping over here for a run. The faces destroy some of NOD’s entourage (there’s so many extras here I don’t even know who’s who) as a bunch of weapons brawling ensues. Ahmed flies through the crowd and smashes Crush with a shoulder tackle. Animal tries to piledrive Farooq through a table but fails miserably. Ahmed eventually bodyslams Farooq into the table. The NOD finally get the heat after a fire extinguisher shot as more weapons are used and Ahmed is hanged with a, well, noose…not touching that one. Ahmed escapes but Hawk is soon choked out as well. This is very long. Ahmed’s ready to give Farooq the Pearl River Plunge but all of NOD’s members run in. They get booted as LOD hit the Doomsday Device on Crush then smack him with a 2×4 for the win. A really, really long garbage brawl. *1/2
D’Lo and PG-13 come in after, but Ahmed lays D’Lo out with a Plunge and then gives PG-13 a double Doomsday Device as they all celebrate in the ring.
Shawn Micheals arrives for commentary. They show different signs, including, and I swear this is real, “Shawn Michaels Cream Team”. UMM, MOVING ON.
Sid promo. He’s not scared of the Undertaker. He says this while both YELLING REALLY LOUD and talking quietly at the same time.
The wrestlers make their entrances, but then Bret Hart comes back to the ring for some more whining. He points out Shawn’s bum knee and calls him a phony. He whines about the Undertaker. He whines about Sid. The latter responds by powerbombing him to a pop and tells him to get his whiny ass out of here. I lol’d. I think I’ll like these next few WrestleMania cards if only for the bad words because I’m pretty sure we won’t get anything really great in-ring-wise for a while.
WWE Championship – Sycho Sid © vs. The Undertaker: “This will not be a technical masterpiece” Jim Ross says as Sid enters the ring. YUP. Sid’s selling was hilariously awful early. Undertaker hits a splash but Sid responds with a bear hug. They wind up on the outside where Taker takes a huge bump into the announcer’s table and Sid takes advantage. Sid was on offense and looked bad in everything he did. Like I said at WrestleMania VIII, he’s good at every aspect of wrestling…except the wrestling part. Undertaker gets some heat back after the leaping clothesline but Sid comes back with a long resthold. Undertaker breaks out of it and responds with a NERVE HOLD. Double boot stomp that looked goofy. Faint “boring” chants can be heard here, in the main event of WrestleMania. Sid climbs to the top rope and hits a sledge, which I think is the first athletic move he did of the night that didn’t look goofy. Undertaker comes back with a top rope clothesline and goes for the Tombstone, but Sid counters and hits one for a nearfall. They wind up back on the outside where Bret Hart smacks Sid in the back with a steel chair out of nowhere. Undertaker rams Sid into the post then follows with a chokeslam for the nearfall. I think Sid botched a back body drop for a comeback. Sid goes for a powerbomb, but Bret Hart comes in AGAIN. This distracts Sid long enough to walk into the tombstone for the pinfall. The finishing sequence wasn’t bad, but that simply just took this out of negative star range. DUD
Undertaker poses with the championship as the show goes off the air, including a really long sequence of what is probably Shawn Michaels clapping for an uncomfortably long period of time.
Not a very good show without the submission match. It’s my favorite match of all time, but beyond that everything was either soild, forgettable or bad. WWE’s match quality really takes a downturn for the next couple of years as a bunch of guys who aren’t great wrestlers are coming in, but hey, considering they entered a boom period I guess you didn’t need great wrestling to get people over, just strong personalities. And speaking of personalities, boy are we going to have an interesting one for next year’s WrestleMania…