The Monday Night War is over. The winners? Of course, WWE.

It’s kind of funny, because even a few years prior that didn’t seem like a feasible reality. In 1998, World Championship Wrestling was one of the most profitable wrestling companies of all time. Yes, they made dumb booking decisions, and they held a lot of talented people back, but what they were doing was working in terms of business. That quickly ended when the bad started outweighing the good. They beat Goldberg, their only homegrown star during this era, with one of the lamest finishes of all time. Sting, who was supposed to be the savior of WCW, ended up being booked like an ineffective moron and eventually joined the nWo Wolfpack because I guess it was cool to be anything but a WCW wrestler during that time. The nWo became overinflated and uninteresting, people joining and leaving on a weekly basis. Throw this together with more hideous finishes, terrible event promotion, a overinflated roster with some real dud workers and just bad booking in general (Hi Vince Russo!) and by 2001 execs at Time Warner were done with they company. They never wanted to have wrestling in their portfolio, never wanted to do much with them because of what they were and now that they were losing money, it was time to cut their losses. There had been talk of selling before, but when television was cancelled out of nowhere, WCW was all but doomed. With no one else interested in picking up wrestling programing, the only company who would profit from a WCW purchase would be Vince McMahon. After all, with a potential invasion angle PLUS the library that’s still making them money to this day, how could the wrestling industry go wrong?

Well, look where we are today. It’s 2015, and WWE is still the only game in town. TNA tried, but that’s a whole other story. While admittedly not nearly as bad as what WCW was putting out in 1999 and 2000, WWE is an utterly boring and stale product that maybe only picks up interest during WrestleMania season. With no competition to speak of, they’re free to do what they want and push whoever they want, as well as  piss off as many people as they want because there’s no one to go. People theorized this when WCW was sold to WWE in 2001, but I don’t think many people ever realized how bad it was going to get.

Especially when you look at WrestleMania 17. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were two of the biggest stars of all time, and they were headlining this show at the Houston Astrodome. Everyone felt like a star in their own way. People were over for being themselves, and people were given the freedom to be different and try new things. The television product itself was still hot, and while the industry was not as hot as it was a year prior, it still had mainstream appeal. One thing would change that, however, something that would effectively start a cooling off period far faster than anyone would have expected.

Show opens with an AWESOME intro highlighting past WrestleMania matches and moments.

WWE Intercontinental Championship – Chris Jericho © vs. William Regal: Weird thing about this is that they had both guys make their way to the ring, THEN they played the hype video. Er, ok. Jericho starts off hot, including hitting a tope but it barely connected. Regal went into control and landed a german that sent Jericho crashing right on his head in what must have been a fun moment. Jericho made a comeback after escaping the Regal stretch and won with the lionsault. Never got going and looked weird at times, definitely a styles clash. **

A WCW limo pulled up as Shane came to the building late. Maybe he should be fined. Clearly never worked a promotion where Bill Watts was in charge.

APA promo. Jackie is there because, well, I dunno. Bradshaw does what he does best, ramble on about Texas and how they had to win it or something. It eventually gets them pumped up for their upcoming match.

Val Venis, Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather vs. APA and Tazz: This was pretty short. Heels got the heat on Bradshaw, but he makes a comeback. Any hopes I had for Bull Buchanan as a STAR were dashed here was these guys were pretty much geeks. Goodfather missed a splash and Bradshaw drilled him with the clothesline from hell for the victory. Nothing of note.

Trish wheeled down a catatonic Linda McMahon down a hall backstage. Remember, she was in a catatonic state because Vince McMahon wanted a divorce, and she was SO STUNNED by this she became a vegetable. That or they were drugging her, or something like that, I have no idea. Stephanie came up to them and admonished Trish for being late, then asks her to hand crush ice later for their big party when Vince wins his match.

WWE Hardcore Championship – Raven © vs. The Big Show vs. Kane. I like how they cut to one sign that just says “RAVEN” in big capital letters. I wonder why they guy brought the most generic sign ever to WrestleMania, as well as why they cut to this generic sign. Raven doesn’t even wait for Big Show to come out as he jumps Kane to start things off. They brawled in the audience for a bit, then brawled backstage where they pelted each other with weapons. Kane threw Raven into a glass window that the crowd gasped at. They go through what is clearly a gimmicked room setting where they throw each other into the walls with ease. This is so goofy and unbelieveable. Speaking of, Raven drove away in a SECURITY CAR but Big Show stopped him. This didn’t stop from Kane driving his own cart (this needs a gif) and nearly running over Raven with it. Raven is thrown into a bunch of Snapple cans. That’s so wasteful. As someone who is a purveyor of tea, I was much disgusted by this destruction of Snapple. They make their way to the entranceway where Kane booted Big Show (who was lifting up  Raven) which sends them both through a gimmicked area off the stage. Kane dove with an elbow and pinned Big Show to win the title. Some clever spots, but pretty goofy. **½

Kurt Angle is looking at footage where Benoit tapped him out in an earlier match. Edge and Christian walk up and try to talk to him about what happened. Kurt Angle cooly says that if there was no official ref, then there was no match and there was no tapout. Edge and Christian eventually back off, thinking he’s one step away from loonyville.

The Rock arrived late to the show. Maybe he should be fined too. He’s in the main event and everything for crying out loud! If this were real…

They interviewed a fan who travelled 30 hours to arrive in Houston for Wrestlemania. Their one message to fifty countries worldwide? “WWF RULES!”, it was. Seems like a waste of a message to me, but okay.

WWE European Championship – Test © vs. Eddie Guerrero: This was a match that happened. Why? No idea. To Test’s credit, he worked his butt off here, and they were having a pretty good back and forth match until Test’s foot got caught in between the ropes as it takes a minute or so to free him. Eddie worked on the leg until he’s caught by a tilt a whirl slam. Perry comes in while the ref is distracted and laid him out. Eddie went for the frog splash but Test grabs him and laid him out with a pumphandle slam for a nearfall. Test hit the boot on both Perry and Eddie but when he goes for the pin Dean Malenko came and pulled him off. Test is distracted as Eddie comes in with the belt, smacks him and wins the belt. I thought this was pretty good stuff, though the finish was a bit overbooked. ***1/4

Steve Austin arrived hideously late as well.

Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit: They started off with some awesome mat wrestling, with Angle getting the better. More mat wrestling ensues until Benoit tries to transition into the crossface but Angle grabs the ropes. Benoit argues with the ref and Angle blindsides him with a punch, sending him out of the ring. Angle drove him down with a number of belly-to-belly suplexes. Benoit came back with some chops but Benoit returned the favor. Benoit gives him a german and tries for another but Angle transitioned into an ankle lock which Benoit transitions to one of his own. Same thing happens with the crossface, this time it’s Angle who managed to transition into it. Ref bump by Angle caused him to fall into a crossface, but the ref is down. Benoit tries to wake him but Angle comes back with the Angle slam for a nearfall. Angle with a moonsault but Benoit blocked it and hit a headbutt. Benoit goes for an armbar but Angle transitions into a pin and hooks the tights for the win. This was SO AWESOME. So completely different from anything WWE ever does. Just a great back and forth match with tons of cool transitions and wrestling. I wish this were five more minutes as this was so great to watch. ****1/4

William Regal is backstage being interviewed when he sees Kamala toying around in his office. He was, in fact, repulsed. How goofy.

They showed a WWE rally at a military base. It looked fun.

Kevin Kelly interviews Kurt Angle. Angle says he’s proved that he’s the best in the WWE when Benoit attacks him from behind and puts him in the crossface. This is a feud I want to see continue.

WWE Women’s Championship – Ivory © vs. Chyna: The story here is that Ivory and the Right to Censor took Chyna out with a neck injury. Chyna, complete with more surgery besides her broken neck, comes back after a while looking for revenge.  The RTC wanted her to waive her legal rights and in exchange the RTC wouldn’t interfere ringside. Chyna said fine. This makes no sense from the get go. Why would the RTC care if the WWE gets sued? And why would the RTC happily volunteer to not be at ringside? Ivory came out looking completely petrified at these stipulations. She jumped Chyna at the bell, attacking her neck, but Chyna sold this for about, oh, ten seconds before utterly destroying her and burying her ten feet under in an even bigger squash match than Warrior/HHH at Wrestlemania XII. Nice to have people in high places…though, for Chyna, that wouldn’t last much longer. DUD

Vince McMahon backstage. He wants to make sure everything is set when Michael Cole and his frosted tips walks in for an interview. He talks about the WCW purchase, but Vince cuts him off and promises tonight will be shocking.

I didn’t want to talk about this Vince/Shane video package that aired before the match, but Vince saying “I’ll never forgive your mother for giving birth to you” is the funniest thing ever.

Shane McMahon vs. Vince McMahon: From the very, very start this whole Invasion angle was a flop. Shane came out and gave a shout out to his WCW boys. The camera first pans out all the way to the nosebleeds but can’t find them. Then they cut to them and none of them look happy at all to be there. Doomed. Vince punched Shane into the corner to start things off. Shane walloped him with a clothesline and beats him up from here. He sent him to a table, goes to the top and leaps off with a huge elbow but Vince escaped, causing Shane to crash into the table. Shane was green as grass as a wrestler, but back then you can’t deny he was super athletic for a guy who was never trained as a wrestler. Meanwhile, Trish came out with Linda and tries to soothe Vince…only to turn on him by slapping him. Stephanie is irate and the two brawled. Mick Foley, the guest referee, breaks it up but gets slapped by Stephanie. She escapes as Trish chases after her. Meanwhile, for no real reason, Vince McMahon looked at his wife and calls her a bitch, I guess because he’s mean. Linda did not emote, and thus it was her best acting performance ever. Mick tried to take Linda away but Vince jumps him with a steel chair and took Linda into the ring. He puts her in a chair as he beat up her son. Suddenly, LINDA RISES FROM HER CHAIR, NO LONGER A VEGETABLE. She low blowed Vince to a huge pop. Mick Foley comes back and laid out Vince as Shane puts a steel trash can on Vince and goes coast to coast, dropkicking Vince with the trash can. Largely overbooked, but you kind of need to be in a match with Vince McMahon, and at least it was fun. **¾

 WWE Tag Team Championship – Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz © vs. The Hardy Boyz (TLC #2): Like their match last year, this was full of chair shots and broken tables. Spike Dudley, Rhyno and Lita all came in to help their respective teams, including Spike giving the Dudley dog to both Edge and Christian. Jeff Hardy hit a HUGE swanton off a gigantic ladder onto Spike Dudley and Rhyno. D’Von and Christian grab the belts but the ladder is taken away from them, leaving the two dangling in the air. Jeff Hardy climbs to the top rope as they both fall and Jeff tried to climb across the three ladders set up in front of him, but it didn’t work out as he fell and had to climb up again. Bubba grabs the ladder from under Jeff and Edge ends up spearing Jeff Hardy in a cool visual. Rhyno pushed Bubba and Matt off the ladder and onto a sea of tables at ringside. That was a sick bump. Edge holds back D’Von as with Rhyno’s help Christian is able to grab the titles and win it. They lived up to last year’s expectations and had an even bigger stunt show that was something to witness. ****

WrestleMania 17 attendance: 67,925. At least, that’s the announced number. If anyone knows the real number, let me know!

MEAN GENE AND BOBBY HEENAN ARE BACK! They are here to call the next match.

Gimmick Battle Royal: Participants are the Bushwackers, Duke the Dumpster Droese, Iron Sheik, Earthquake, The Goon, Doink, Kamala, Repo Man, Jim Cornette, Nikolai Volkoff, Michael Hayes, One Man Gang, The Gobbledy Gooker, Tugboat, Hillbilly Jim, Brother Love and Sgt. Slaughter. Gooker’s the first one gone, followed immediately by Tugboat. What an easy job for them tonight. Bodies flew everywhere. Iron Sheik won, last dumping out Hillbilly Jim. Slaughter comes back and lays him out because he’s mean. In actuality, I think Sheik was so immobile by this point he couldn’t even do a bump to the floor so they let him win here. That about describes this match. ¼*

Triple H vs. The Undertaker: Triple H came out to Motorhead, who played his theme. Lemmy proceeded to not know the words to the song. Well, he knew the song actually, just not in the right order. Everyone makes mistakes, guys. They brawled around the ring until Triple H takes out Undertaker with a kneelift and goes to get his sledgehammer. He argues with the referee, which allows the Undertaker to gain momentum. Ref bump. Undertaker with a chokeslam, but Triple H kicks out. Then, because I guess it’s a cool babyface thing to do, the Undertaker destroyed the ref. Long brawl around the ring into the stage area. They battle around a stage area until Undertaker chokeslamed him through…somewhere. The camera doesn’t show it. Ah, eventually they show him on a platform on the floor. EMTs try to check on Triple H but Undertaker actually jumps off the camera tower area with an ELBOW. Undertaker took him back to the ring, with the ref still laid out, and goes for the sledgehammer. Triple H low blowed him but Undertaker responds with a big boot. Triple H tried for a tombstone, but Undertaker reverses it. The ref is still laid out, however. Undertaker tried to take him for the Last Ride but Triple H has the sledgehammer and smacked him with it, busting him open. Triple H takes him to the corner but Undertaker counters it with the last ride and, lo and behold, Triple H is pinned clean. I mean OKAY, he does do it a lot here at WrestleMania — but it’s not often overall. ***¼

Rock/Stone Cold video package. The whole subplot of Debra being the Rock’s manager (that was quickly dropped) could have been left out, but otherwise this was some fantastic stuff, especially the sitdown promo between the two.

WWE Championship – The Rock © vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin immediately jumped Rock at the bell and tries for a belt shot, but missed. They end up outside where Austin busted Rock open with the ring bell. You can tell this crowd is totally behind Austin. Rock fired back with some great punches and grabbed the bell, smacking Austin with it, busting him open. Rock worked him over on the outside until Austin fires back and slingshots him into the post. Austin went for the Stunner, but Rock grabbed his leg and puts him in the Sharpshooter. Austin grabbed the ropes, then locked in a Sharpshooter of his own. People like to knock Rock on his Sharpshooter, and it doesn’t suck, but man did Austin’s look better. Rock grabbed the ropes, BUT REMEMBER, this is no DQ so Austin doesn’t let go till he’s ready. He then locked in the MILLION DOLLAR DREAM, his finisher back in the year of 1996 when he was still the Ringmaster. Rock does the Bret/Piper finish from 92 where he jumps off the ring post and pins Austin while still in the submission but Austin kicks out. Rock laid out Austin with the stunner for a nearfall. 

Suddenly, Vince McMahon arrives to the ring. Rock laid out Austin and lands the People’s Elbow. McMahon pulls Rock out of the cover. Rock chases McMahon around the ring until he walks right into a Rock Bottom by Austin for a nearfall. Ref bump, and Austin low blowed Rock. Austin points to McMahon to get the chair and McMahon obliges. McMahon hits Rock with the chair but HE KICKS OUT. Austin goes for another chair shot but Rock hit the Rock Bottom. McMahon’s distracting the ref again, however. Rock throws McMahon in and punches out Vince, then walked right into a stunner for a NEARFALL. McMahon gives Austin the chair and a HUGE chairshot to the head by Austin but the ROCK STILL KICKED OUT. Austin proceeded to destroy Rock with chairshot after chairshot after chairshot, then finally pinned him to win the championship. Such a fantastic, heated match and even with the turn, the finish was a unique one. ****½

Jim Ross was awesome here, repeatedly calling him a SOB and asking why he’d done it. Austin celebrates with Vince, then takes out Rock with a belt shot for good measure. He leaves with Vince, with the Rock stirring as the show goes off the air.

Final Thoughts:

The show was completely awesome. It encapsulated everything that made the Attitude Era what it was, and also why most of us follow professional wrestling to the degree that we do today. Again, this was a hot crowd with guys who were totally over, and everyone had a different role on the show that made it well worth watching. Today, it’s a lost art, and that’s kind of frightening. Also frightening was the result of turning Stone Cold Steve Austin heel. People weren’t ready for that, and with the Rock gone business tanked, never really recovering but steadying around to what we consider normal today. Wrestling stopped being a mainstream thing, but that hasn’t stopped Vince McMahon from trying to appeal to a wider audience aside from the hardcores who still watch, often doing his best to alienate them at best. Hell, we just saw it at the Royal Rumble and it’ll continue to be that way while he’s in charge. It’s a completely frustrating dynamic, but it’s the way things are now. This show was one of the best shows of the attitude era, but it also marked the end of said era, and now we continue to reel from a world where Vince McMahon is in complete control of the industry in North America.