Sunday, July 5, 2015

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania 13

Wrestling historians tend to point to WrestleMania XIV as the beginning of the "Attitude Era:" that oft-romanticized period of unprecedented profitability for the then-World Wrestling Federation during which competition with WCW pushed Vince McMahon & co. into new, more adult-oriented (read: high school male-oriented) creative arenas. Most wrestling fans prefer to remember the Attitude Era as a time when raunchier storylines were accompanied by a marked increase in hardcore wrestling styles and a continued uptick in in-ring workrate that began with the ascension of Bret Hart during the "New Generation" era of roughly 1993-1998. (They either prefer to ignore the rampant sexism and outright misogyny or insist that it wasn't a big deal because of the target demographic, but inches upon inches could be written about the more problematic aspects of having "Attitude.") But let's be real here--the Attitude Era started long before "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's ascendancy to the WWF World Title. By March 1997, there were plenty of cuss words and middle fingers being thrown say nothing about the pistol "Loose Cannon" Brian Pillman threatened Austin with in an infamous segment of a late 1996 episode of Raw:

So if we're going to use a WrestleMania as a signpost to the beginning of the official "Attitude Era," i suggest we use the moment where Steve Austin, the next face of the company, transitioned from the despised villain that broke into his former friends' homes to the authority-cursing antihero whose hell-raising antics caused more audience glee than consternation--the WrestleMania 13 Double-Turn. (If nothing else, this 'Mania was the turning point that caused the ramp-up to what was probably the real beginning of the Attitude Era: the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series '97, which, if you're actually reading this and don't know what that is, demands your attention be directed to this phenomenal Radiolab episode.)

Man, have i been waiting for this one. Not for the main event--the WWF World Title picture in Spring 1997 was a complete mess and that it shook out into Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid was pretty unfortunate...but it did free up Bret Hart and the rapidly ascending (and already super-popular despite his status as a "heel") Austin to settle their burgeoning blood feud with one of my favorite 'Mania matches ever: their semi-main event submission match.

OK, here's the story: Shawn Michaels held the title he won at WrestleMania 12 all the way until the 1996 Survivor Series, where he lost the title to Sid after the big man cleaned Michaels' clock with a TV camera. Shawn won it back at the Royal Rumble in January '97 by delivering a taste of Sid's own medicine courtesy another camera, but before the February pay-per-view, Michaels ended up vacating the title. The reasons why are left to the speculative lens of history; the storyline involved a knee injury and Shawn's need to "find his smile again," while more nefarious theories point to Michaels choosing to forfeit the title rather than lose it back to Bret Hart in a scheduled rematch at WrestleMania 13. 

So regardless, the title was vacant and thus, a four-way elimination match was booked at In Your House: Final Four featuring Vader, Undertaker, and the final two Royal Rumble competitors, Steve Austin and Bret Hart. Austin won the Rumble under controversial circumstances that prolonged what was already a growing feud between Hart and him, and at Final Four, as the Hitman eliminated Austin en route to winning the match and his fourth WWF World Title, Austin refused to let it go. (Somewhere in here Austin's guaranteed title match at WrestleMania was conveniently forgotten about--probably because he got a shot at Final Four? I guess?) The next night on Raw, Bret defended his new title against Sycho Sid and Austin interfered, leading to Sid's victory for the title and a fresh layer to the grudge between Austin and Hart. If that wasn't enough, after Undertaker/Sid and Hart/Austin were set for WrestleMania, a cage match for the title was booked for the March 17 Raw between Hart and Sid, which could have affected which match actually ended up being for the title. After Sid won again due to interference from the Undertaker, Bret launched into an expletive-laced tirade as he complained about the WWF being out to "screw" him. all that? Shawn Michaels gives up the title and goes bye-bye for a spell, the title changes hands twice in 24 hours, and Bret's growing frustration with the company, which started during the build to WrestleMania 12, was boiling over as more and more people were slowly beginning to cheer for established "bad guys" like Austin. How can you argue with that buildup? Hell, you almost don't even need the undercard--although, who's gonna argue with Rocky Maivia vs. The Sultan? Wait--don't answer that. Let's just watch the damn show.

Interesting opening montage, what with lots of "WrestleMania is supposed to be a time for rejoicing, but this year dudes be all pissed 'n' shit" and montages of past 'Mania celebrations and victories (from Shawn's entrance last year to...Lawrence Taylor getting carried back to the dressing room at the end of WMXI, so apparently Vince isn't sufficiently ashamed of that yet) interspersed with black and white footage of today's stars being angry and delivering the gritty beatdowns. It's not all smiles and rainbows this year, unlike that year when Hogan and Andre hugged it out instead of getting all mad and fighting and stuff like THIS year.

This *is* them hugging it out, right?

It's March 23, 1997, and we're in the Rosemont Horizon in suburban Chicago, which is a good thing, because there's a Chicago street fight on the card, so holding it in Des Moines would have been awkward. Vince McMahon's voice welcomes us over a montage of crowd shots, and he doesn't waste any time with appearing on camera, which is very unlike him, but apparently he wants to get things going right off the bat, and we're starting with a four-way tag team elimination match to determine the #1 contenders to the Tag Team Titles! Hot shit!

And speaking of shit, as in "PIGs in," here come the Godwinns, Henry O. Godwinn and Phineas I. Godwinn, which are very clever stage names (if you overlook the idea of a hillbilly being able to remember a three-syllable name). I'm thrown for a loop when they come out to ringside all smiles and slappin' hands with Hillbilly Jim in tow, and i suddenly remember that they weren't always creepy Deliverance-style swamp redneck characters. Now i'm wondering which teams here are the heels?

Oh, here's the on-camera shot of McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. Cool, at least we get Jim Ross announcing a WrestleMania again...and in pants this time! Ross explains the rules of this elimination match as the Headbangers, "Mosh" and "Thrasher" (hoo boy), make their way to ringside. A tag can be made to any man regardless of team affiliation, and it's elimination match rules, Survivor Series-style. Which, i'll be honest--i wish most triple threats and fatal four-ways were elimination rules, but i guess sometimes you just don't want the champ to get pinned when he loses his belt. Whatever. Anyway, this isn't a title match, just a #1 contender's match. Who else we got?

Match #1: Henry & Phineas Godwinn (w/Hillbilly Jim) vs. The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) vs. Doug Furnas & Phil LaFon vs. The New Blackjacks (Windham & Bradshaw) in a four corners elimination tag team match for a WWF Tag Title shot at tomorrow's Monday Night RAW

Oh man, i totally forgot that they did a "New Blackjacks" gimmick with Barry Windham and Justin Hawk Bradshaw, aka Bradshaw, aka John Bradshaw Layfield. Before they make their entrance we get a quick video clip of classic Blackjacks Mulligan and Lanza holding the WWF tag belts, looking like super-tough cowboy ranch studs, and then we go to an interview with the New Blackjacks...who look like fucking strippers. Barry, i hope your daddy beat your ass through those chaps when he saw how fucking lame you two looked. LOOK AT THIS:

The man on the right eventually joined Shawn Michaels in the exclusive club of "WWE Champions who once used a strip-o-gram gimmick"

Seriously, i've seen photos of the Fabulous Ones that were less Playgirl calendar than this. Anyway, it's a chaotic four-team brawl as the Blackjacks storm the ring and bell signals violence time! Eventually it settles down to Bradshaw vs. Henry Godwinn and the match is underway. Godwinn levels Bradshaw with a clothesline and then tags out to Thrasher. These guys are bald, have LOD-ripoff face paint, and wrestle in t-shirts, jeans, and flannel shirts tied around their waists, because this gimmick can't tell grunge from metal, apparently. Bradshaw drops Thrasher with a pump-handle slam, i realize that's not flannel, it's just, like, a sheer skirt or something. I have no idea what this team's going for, image-wise. But then we're talking about a team where one member went on to be known briefly as "Beaver Cleavage" (no, really), so let's not bring their better judgment into this. 

Henry Godwinn tags Mosh in to wrestle Thrasher, which leads to a semi-cute spot where they bounce off the ropes and slamdance into each other before Thrasher tags Phil LaFon and they take him for a double-team faceplant ride. LaFon tags in Furnas and Mosh tags out to Windham, which leads to Furnas connecting with a sick, rapid-fire hurricanrana for a two-count, after which Barry catches Furnas with one arm in mid-air and slams him to the mat. It looks pretty badass, actually, despite that insanely stupid handlebar on his face. Eventually, the action spills out of the ring and as the Blackjacks brawl with Furnas and LaFon, the ref tries to pull them apart and Bradshaw shoves him hard to the floor. WHOOPS! The Blackjacks are disqualified and have to head to the back, where they can now prepare for their shift later that evening at "The Nut Hut" or whatever.

 As the action returns to the ring, Furnas & LaFon head to the back as well, and Ross claims they were counted out, but Vince says they were disqualified as well. Well, the point is that it's down to the Godwinns and Headbangers, i suppose. Gosh, what fun. The Godwinns punch Thrasher a whole bunch, who, incidentally, is wearing a White Zombie t-shirt, if that interests you. (Pretty sure it's a shirt for the band and not the movie, in case you were looking to award cool points to the guy wearing leopard-print boxer shorts underneath his skirt.) "McMahon, you ever listen to White Zombie?" Lawler asks McMahon. "Um, did they ever play with Tony Bennett?" "I bet you think Fleetwood Mac is a new burger at McDonald's." 

After some actually-pretty-ok double-teaming by the Headbangers, Thrasher misses a moonsault attempt which enabled Henry to get a hot tag to Phineas, who starts cleaning house and clotheslining Thrasher out of the ring. But when he storms back in, Henry heads him off, leading to in-ring chaos that results in Mosh connecting with a top-rope leg lariat on Phineas--"made popular by the late great Ray Stevens!" observes J.R.--and gets the pin on the Godwinn! I'll give the Headbangers this--they got a chance to show off some decent moves in this match. Too bad about the gimmick.

Winners: The Headbangers via pinfall in 10:39

Upon replay, it looks less like a leg lariat and more like the Jacques Rougeau trademark flying crotch to the face, but whatever, a win's a win. (Spoiler alert--they don't win the titles at RAW the next night. Sorry.)

...So, for some reason, the Honky Tonk Man is in the ring shaking his ass as McMahon points out Captain Lou Albano and Arnold Skaaland at ringside. OK, we've got some legends in the house, that's nice, but why...oh, i see: Lawler invites Honky to sit in on commentary for the Intercontinental Title match, because Honky was the Greatest Intercontinental Champion Of All Time, in his mind. "You guys are pretty close. I'd think you were cousins or something," Ross slyly observes. I see what you did there, J.R. 

Match 2: Rocky Maivia(c) vs. The Sultan (w/Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik) for the WWF Intercontinental Title

Oy, what a mess this "Sultan" gimmick was. You've got former champ Bob Backlund AND the guy who beat Backlund for the title in '83, the Iron Sheik, both seconding a Samoan who's under a mask so he can play Arab, because brown is brown, right? Meanwhile, the Intercontinental Title has been a hot potato since 'Mania 12, leaving Goldust to hang out with Ahmed Johnson, who vacated the title due to injury so Marc Mero could win it in a tournament and then drop it to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who held it for 115 days before dropping it to the BLUE CHIP ROOKIE PHENOM ROCKY MAIVIA, who is hilariously wrestling his cousin Rikishi in this match, not that anyone in the audience knows this. 

Ah, yes, Rocky Maivia. McMahon and Ross rattle off his credentials--the first third-generation wrestler in WWF history; son of Rocky Johnson; grandson of High Chief Peter Maivia; and wholesome fresh-faced do-gooder who is certain to win the fans over with sheer exuberance and willingness to fight hard and play by the rules. How could this gimmick fail?

As the cousins face off in the ring, Honky Tonk Man starts laying into Rocky. "You see him growing his sideburns there--he's trying to be like the Honky Tonk Man!" "But can he play guitar?" Vince asks. Um, yes, actually. The match starts with a flurry of offense by the future Rock, blasting the--snerk--"Sultan" with a clothesline and two dropkicks that send the former Samoan Swat Team/Headshrinker out of the ring. Rocky gives pursuit as we hear the first stirrings of the classic "Rocky sucks!" chant. What? Bret Hart is higher up on the card lamenting how the fans are all cheering for the bad guys and we're stunned that people are chanting "Rocky sucks" at the new super-babyface rookie? God forbid. Rocky misses with a clothesline and slams his arm into the ringpost, and it's the Sultan's turn to toss Rocky back in the ring and get in some offense. Meanwhile, Honky Tonk Man is yelling and getting super into the match. "You can't win the match outside the ring, Rocky! Get him back in the ring, that's where you win!" Gosh, Honky, how quickly you've forgotten how every single one of your title defenses ended in an intentional DQ loss.

The Sultan goes on the attack, stomping Rocky in the batch and whipping him into the turnbuckle, following up with a hard back-flattening clothesline that pancakes the champ to the mat. He slaps on a nervehold as the crowd chants "Rocky Sucks" some more and Honky Tonk yells something about how by now he'd have finished off the challenger and would be in the back combing his hair. Ya know, with them both on the mic, it's really apparent how alike Honky Tonk and Lawler's voices are. The Sultan lands a legdrop and then flies off the top rope and hits a sort of headbutt! It doesn't look like it really connects, but it's still the dude who eventually drops his ass on people's faces flying off the top rope, so it's impressive regardless. Less impressive is the long chin lock that Rikishi slaps on Rocky that slows the match to a crawl. Not that it was a flurry of activity to start with, but now it's making Inoki vs. Ali look like an arial spotfest. Rocky fights out of it eventually, though (obviously), and after a brief double-clothesline stalemate begins the superman babyface comeback we've been waiting for. He peppers the Sultan with punches and as the challenger drops, Rocky does some spastic dance to fire up the crowd (seriously, he looks like he's having an episode), and fells the suspiciously Samoan-looking masked Arab with a dropkick and a belly-to-belly suplex for a two count. The Sultan whips Rocky to the ropes but the champ counters with a beautiful float-over into a DDT that he follows with his trademark flying bodypress (which, seeing the Rock do a flying bodypress is hilarious in retrospect) for the one, two...wait, the ref's not counting because he's distracted by the Iron Sheik! This enables the Sultan to recover and nail a nasty looking superkick that drops Rocky like a sack of pebbles. He puts his hands on Rocky for a one, two, and kickout! A piledriver scores a two count and from out of nowhere, Rocky rolls up the Sultan for the three count. So, i guess that's that, then. A little anticlimactic, but ok.

Winner: Rocky Maivia via pinfall in 9:45 to retain the Intercontinental Title

After the match Jim Ross tries to get in a word with Rocky at ringside, but the Sultan goes on the attack! He blasts Maivia over the head with his own belt, then throws him into the ring, where the Iron Sheik slaps on the feared Camel Clutch! Honky Tonk Man sounds like he's watching BDSM porn as he eagerly yells "yeah! Yeah! Stretch 'im, Sheik! STRETCH 'IM!" But who should save the day but Rocky's very own dad, Rocky Johnson himself, who runs into the ring and starts beating on people until the Sultan cracks his flag over Johnson's back, which gives Maivia and opening to fight back and chase the heels from the ring, and then he hugs his dad and it's all very sweet and blah diddly blah, can we go to the next thing? 

Oh man. Someone help Rocky Johnson! Can't you see he's having a heart attack?

Oh shit, the next thing is a Todd Pettengill interview. Can we go back to the hugging in the ring? Well, he's talking to Ken Shamrock, who is tonight's special guest referee for the Hart/Austin submission match. We get footage of Shamrock applying submission holds to Billy Gunn on RAW (and come on, watching Billy Gunn squirm in pain is always a good time), and Shamrock explains that he's been selected to ref this match because, as a UFC competitor, he knows submissions. Well, i guess that could come in handy if one combatant was in danger of permanent injury or passing out from pain or something like that. I wonder if that could happen tonight?

We go next to an interview with Hunter Hearst Helmsley and his...well, Dok Hendrix (*smirk*) isn't sure exactly what she is. Is Chyna a bodyguard? A manager? Hunter's boss? Hunter explains that it's none of anyone's concern and that everyone should focus on Goldust, whom he can take "any way i want to, and today i'm gonna take him straight up." I'm...not sure what that means? (Actually, i'm pretty sure what that means.) Chyna's jaw is set as she stares, stone-faced, into the camera. Chyna was so awesome back in 1997, you guys. Hey, Hunter, your music is playing! Get out of the interview area! Oh, wait, this was probably pre-taped. As you were, Hunter!

Match 3: Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) vs. Goldust (w/Marlena) 

So, i'm guessing this is sometime around the series of vignettes that the WWF aired to humanize Goldust's character and interview him out of costume as Dustin Runnels, because no way is this a heel vs. heel match, and no way in hell is Hunter a babyface yet. So Goldust is the babyface here, right? As Hunter makes his way to ringside with "Ode to Joy" playing (nice), Vince says something about how Hunter has been making passes at Goldust's lady, Marlena. Ah, there ya go. Goldust is defending his manhood! No one hits on his wife without getting beat up in a wrestling ring! That's just how civilized gentlemen in outlandishly androgynous costumes and face paint settle their grievances! 

So, this is an interesting feud, actually, because among the four participants, you have some people that, gender-wise, have managed to confuse the living fuck out of some of the less secure, shall we say, of the WWF's audience. Chyna, of course, got noticed immediately for being a supremely muscled, "masculine" woman (in quotes because who the hell says women can't be totally ripped?), which apparently led to all sorts of gay panic in the 1997 WWF audience, as evidenced by these horrible, horrible children:

Vince, of course, cackles when the camera focuses on these signs, because he is completely awful. And frankly, you damn well know that Vince booked this feud to get the WWF's two most "bizarre" couples in the ring against each other, because he's a fucking carny and sees the circus sideshow angle in everything. Cool, bro. I mean, it's not like you've spent your entire life repressing anything, what with your weird obsession with super-jacked roid freaks...

Aaaaah yes. As the crowd pops for Goldust and Vince says that we're learning "more and more" about "the most bizarre competitor in the World Wrestling Federation," i remember that Goldust turned babyface when Jerry Lawler, in an in-ring interview, asked Goldust if he was a "fag," which was bleeped on live TV. Goldust then responded "no," shoved Lawler to the turf, and the crowd popped! Yay! He's not gay! We can cheer him now! 

Oy. Sometimes, fuck you, WWF. Or, way to troll your fanbase into behaving like deplorable bigots so that decades later we could all look back through the lens of history and be taught a cold, sobering lesson about the nature of prejudice? Eh, probably fuck you, WWF.

The bell rings and while Vince, Lawler and Ross pontificate about Marlena's well-being at ringside (are they afraid Hunter's gonna slip her some tongue mid-match?), Goldust crouches and stares Hunter down from below. Hunter seems confused until Goldust springs up and surprises him with a wicked clothesline to kick off the action. 'Dust takes it to Hunter early, smacking him with his trademark kneeling uppercut before backing him into a corner to pummel him further, sealing his punches with...a kiss? Looks like the homoeroticism that is so often subtext in pro wrestling will just be "text" during this match...and when Goldust follows up with an inverted atomic drop knee to the balls, i'd say the countdown is on to these two just boning already.

Goldust continues the offensive, tying Hunter in the ropes and peppering him with fists to the schnozz and clotheslining him back into the ring, then hitting a powerslam with some real "torque," to hear Jim Ross describe it. "Some real torque on that powerslam!" I mean, sure, technically, he's using the word correctly, but that's just showing off, isn't it? Finally, Hunter gets an advantage when both men fight for initiative on the top turnbuckle, Helmsley scoring by shoving Goldust off the top rope, face-first onto the apron with a smack that "oooohs" the crowd. And Chyna silently looks on, expressionless.

Hunter gets Goldust back into the ring and scores the first two-count after a top rope chop to the head, then backs 'Dust into the corner and unzips the man's bodysuit. Straight up starts to disrobe his opponent. Ostensibly this is so his knife-edge chops cause more damage, but we know the real reason, don't we? At least Dustin was smart enough to not wear lingerie under his suit this year. Goodness, the potential embarrassment! 

A neckbreaker scores Helmsley a two-count before slapping his opponent into an abdominal stretch so they can spend some time planning out their next few sequences. Marlena, meanwhile, puffs away at ringside on her cigar, which is just a cigar, we assure you, naive innocent viewers. Eventually, Helmsley grabs the rope for more leverage on the stretch, but it's in plain view of the referee and as he kicks Hunter's arm off the rope, Dustin flips Helmsley over and escapes the hold. Well, that was pretty stupid, Hunter. He stays on the attack though, connecting with a high knee and then slapping on a chinlock, at which point the camera closes in on Goldust's face just as he's calling the next sequence by telling Hunter what they're going to do next. Busted! Lawler hilariously covers for him, though. "There it is! Goldust just gave up!" "I don't think so," replied Vince. Aaaand another shot to the nards as Goldust sinks his knees into Hunter's batch in order to turn the tide. That show Ow, My Balls from Idiocracy didn't have this much ball abuse. But the tide doesn't stay turned for long as the future Triple H hits a nice floating suplex and then mounts Goldust dude what the hell oh wait it's just a cover for a two-count. Goldust holds his hand in the air, signaling for his fellow heterosexuals in the audience to begin feeding him the power of their applause, which he channels into a flurry of punches to Hunter's face in the corner...until he tries to whip Hunter into the ropes for a back body drop that's reversed into a DDT. Take that, Captain Fabulous!

Goldust soon rallies, though, scoring a quick sequence of several two-counts until both men collide and drop to the mat for a referee 10-count that Hunter beats about 8 counts shy of the bell ringing. He climbs to the top rope and as he flies off...Goldust counters by sticking his ass in the air and knocking an airborne Helmsley to the mat with it. What the fuck.


A "Keister clobber" Lawler calls it. JR says "Goldust hit him with his Lawler." Either way, we've officially crossed over from the routine homoeroticism of any pro wrestling match into the weird stuff. I'd ask where Rikishi is to back his ass up into someone's face, but he's still recovering from his loss to Rocky Maivia earlier. Anyway, whatever you call it, the descent into full-on ass play lights a fire under Goldust's, and a hard whip into the turnbuckles sends Hunter tumbling into a vicious bulldog that pops the crowd and scores a two-count. But as Goldust rallies, Chyna starts slowing moving toward Marlena in a threatening fashion, to the point where Goldust abandons his Curtain Call lifting inverted DDT in order to lift Marlena onto the apron and out of harm's way...unless you count Hunter driving a running knee into Goldust's back and sending Marlena flying off the apron and into a Chyna bearhug "harm," in which case, ya done fucked up, Goldy. Hunter hits the Pedigree (which i'll point out involves placing 'Dust's head between Hunter's legs, just to bring it on home), and 1, 2, 3, it's over. "Ode to Joy" erupts in the arena as the victorious couple survey the damage they have wrought upon the couple who refused to come to their key party. That'll team 'em to not swing!


Winner: Hunter Hearst Helmsley via pinfall in 14:28

Goldust lifts Marlena off the mat and cradles her in his arms, which is definitely the thing to do when your valet has potentially suffered a severe back injury. He carries her to the back and we cut to a quick clip of Shawn Michaels trying to figure out how "The Internet" works for some reason. It's apropos of absolutely nothing (i guess superstars are chatting in an AOL room while the show goes on...OH MY GOD THAT IS ADORABLE), but it's still sort of amazing:

"Why the little people in the math box say i hold down the roster?"

"IT'S TIME! IT'S TIME! IT'S VADER TIME!" Leon White's badass-by-1997-standards music hits and the challengers to the WWF World Tag Team Championship head to the ring. It's Vader and, making his WrestleMania debut, the man who lost his ear in a match against this same Vader--Mick "Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love" Foley! He's still just Mankind for now, though, as Paul Bearer leads the two of them to ringside to challenge the tag champs, Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart. (oh yeah, this was one of those time periods where The Undertaker and Paul Bearer were at odds...but Paul's got 'Taker's urn! What does this portend for the main event later tonight?!?) Um, with these four dudes in the ring, this match better RULE IT.

Match 4: Vader & Mankind (w/Paul Bearer) vs. Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith for the WWF World Tag Team Championship

Interestingly, this is a heel vs. heel/face tag team match--as European Champion Davey Boy and Owen (whom Davey Boy defeated in a tournament final to recently become the first Euro champ, because the WWF was totally going to hang out in Europe enough to make a European title mean something, right? Suuuure) make their way to the ring, Jim Ross meets them in the aisle to ask babyface Davey Boy what he thought about recent comments heel Owen made claiming that he was the leader of the team and that he was smarter than the British Bulldog. Owen of course answers first, yelling at JR to stop trying to sow dissension in the ranks, while Davey Boy also insists that "we have the belts, he's got the Slammys (it was always amazing how proud Owen was of his Slammy awards), and stop trying to stir it." JR: "So who's the leader of the team?" Owen: "I am, now go away." Awesome. Goddammit i miss you, Owen. 

The match starts off with Vader basically backing Owen into a corner and using him as the slab of beef in his personal Rocky training montage, all lefts and rights while the announcers explain that the beef between these teams started when Owen dumped iced tea all over Vader at the Slammys. Hey, ya gotta have some sort of beef. It's WrestleMania. And speaking of beef, Owen's still getting tenderized as an attempt to, what, hurricanrana Vader?--that was dumb--backfires into a nasty power bomb that Vader celebrates by slowly and awesomely turning his head toward the Bulldog to shoot him a "what're you gonna do about it?" look. Bulldog points at him, which sure is an effective retort. Davey Boy does eventually enter the fray, though, bringing Mankind into the ring for some four-person chaos that turns the tide back the champs' way. Davey fells both challengers with a double-clothesline, and when they get back up, Owen meets them with a double-dropkick. The fans pop for Davey's move, and are stone silent for Owen's. It's great. The teams reset and Davey stays in the ring against Mankind, even though neither man actually tagged his partner. "I guess the ref is allowing a little bending of the rules here," observes Vince. Or he just doesn't wanna interrupt things. I mean, could be awkward to be all, "um, excuse me guys, i hate to butt in, but..." Oh wait you're a ref that's your job.

Bulldog goes to work on Mankind, but the real work starts when Vader jumps back into the ring to run interference, to which Davey Boy says, "oh yeah, Vader? Taste my vertical suplex!" and then, sure enough, he gets the big man up. Even knowing that Davey Boy's blood was equal parts plasma and steroids, that's impressive. Once Vader's back on the apron, he yanks down the top rope just as Bulldog runs toward it, spilling both him and the action outside, where both members of Team Bearer use the urn as a weapon against the Bulldog. How will this affect its magical Undertaker-charging abilities? Or does that even matter when Paul and 'Taker are broken up? Man, those two are like Ross and Rachel. Maybe someday they'll get their shit together and make it work. Crazy kids.

With the advantage taken back, Vader throws Bulldog into the ring and starts getting nasty, hitting a gorgeous and forceful vertical suplex and following it up with a gut-busting avalanche in the corner. Holy shit am i glad Davey Boy didn't eat anything right before the match. The second rope splash he then hits looks equally painful and i do NOT know how Davey Boy kicks out at two. (No, i know it's scripted for him to kick out...i just have no idea how he still had the ability to do it because you can't tell me he didn't feel those last three moves.) Mankind tags in and slams his knee into Davey's slumped face in the corner, then takes him for a ride with a back body drop before tagging back out. Vader climbs the top rope, but as he leaps, Davey grabs him in mid-air, using his momentum to turn the attack into a slam! Nice sequence. Bulldog crawls to his corner, makes the tag, and Owen re-enters the match with a tope-rope dropkick whose aim is true. He climbs again and actually knocks Vader over with a high cross-bodyblock that scores a two-count! He runs the ropes and...gets absolutely blasted by a desperate Vader who rings Owen's bell and tags out to his partner. The heels toss Owen out of the ring and Vader sets Hart over his knee, allowing Mankind to connect with an elbow off the apron! Hey, that's Demolition's move, sort of!

Mankind continues to work Owen over until an opening presents itself: Mankind whips Owen hard, chest-first, into the turnbuckle, and follows not a split-second later with an avalanche in an attempt to take Owen out. But Mankind knocks his chin into the back of Owen's head, and as he staggers back, Owen connects with a desperation spinning heel kick for a two-count! Super great sequence. Vader tags in and starts working over Owen, pelting him with meaty rights and lefts (only Vader and Brock Lesnar can make punching look like a technical wrestling clinic), then dropping an elbow into his kidneys. He covers Owen for the pin and Vince McMahon says "this one's history," which means that Owen's definitely kicking out at two. Mankind tags in and Owen desperately fights back, connecting with a belly-to-belly suplex out of nowhere and then stunning Mankind with an enziguri to the back of his head! Owen falls about three inches away from the Bulldog but still makes a show of having to work hard to make the tag, because he's a drama queen until the end. Hot tag to Bulldog and Vader loses his mask in the ensuing scrum! Holy crap! It was Leon White all along! (It's so funny how Vader looks like a fearsome monster with his leather-strap mask on, but take it away and he's suddenly a big cuddly teddy bear. It's like the mask is the source of his powers. 

Oh dear god sir please refrain from killing me all the way dead

Aw, buddy! Let's go grab some wings and a pitcher!

Davey Boy goes to town on Mankind, trying to pick him up for a powerslam, but Mankind slaps on the mandible claw! The mandible claw! (The mandible claw, by the way, is one of the freakiest submission holds i've ever seen in my life, at least before Mankind started wearing Mr. Socko during its application, turning it into a comedy spot. The Wikipedia description of the hold: "The hold is applied when the aggressor places his middle and ring fingers into the opponent's mouth, sliding them under the tongue and jabbing into the soft tissue found at the bottom of the mouth. The thumb and/or palm of the same hand is placed under the jaw, and pressure is applied downward by the middle and ring fingers while the thumb/palm forces the jaw upwards." Fucking GYAH. Another fun fact: the mandible claw was invented by the real-life inspiration for The Fugitive, Dr. Sam Shepherd, during his time spent post-acquittal as a pro wrestler capitalizing on his notoriety. It's a pretty fucked up story, honestly. But the point is that Mick Foley re-popularized the move because he was super into how creepy it looked and that it was designed by a medical doctor who became a wrestler called "The Killer" after getting released from prison, where was serving time for killing his wife. Fuckin' weird, man.)

Anyway, Owen jumps into the ring to break up the claw, and Vader interjects, blasting Owen with a shot that sends him flying into Bulldog & Mankind, who tumble out of the ring. Mankind throws the claw on again and is so intent on causing pain that he forgets to listen to the referee's count, and both men fail to answer the 10. A double countout! Lame non-finish, but a pretty damn entertaining hoss-fest leading up to it. Lots of dudes just wailing on each other and making it look stiff as hell. Good stuff.

Winner: double-countout at 16:08; Davey Boy Smith & Owen Hart retain the WWF World Tag Titles

After some extracurricular carnage that includes Mankind refusing to release the claw until the refs pull him off Davey Boy, we get a video package explaining the events that have led to tonight's semi-main event--the Steve Austin-Bret Hart submission match. AW SHIT, IT'S HERE. GIVE ME SOME HISTORY, PETTENGILL:

"Imagine: for over a decade, you've fought to reach the pinnacle of your profession. Through sweat and dedication, you've earned the respect of fans, friends, and even your adversaries. Then, you walk away. When you return six months later, nothing is the same. There are no friends. There is no respect. Even your fans have changed. At the heart of this change is a man who spits in the face of your every accomplishment. He has gained fame by attacking you physically and verbally. This man mocks your legacy. He uses it as a steppingstone. Like a false prophet, he spews forth his rhetoric. His followers carry placards singing his praise. Injustice after injustice has finally caused you to snap. Now, the finger is pointed at you--YOU'RE the one who's changed. They say your ego is your enemy. What happened to you? There's only one solution--to awaken from this nightmare, you must defeat him. To regain your life and resume your legacy, you must make him beg for mercy and squeeze the will from his bones. But what if "Stone Cold" Steve Austin wins? What becomes of Bret "The Hitman" Hart then? 


Match 5: Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (submission match)

GYAH. We just went from a badass, brooding, black-and-white video package to the cheesily upbeat WrestleMania theme song as Howard Finkel introduces our guest referee, The World's Most Dangerous Man, Ken Shamrock, who is scowling in the ring, probably because this music does not suit him AT ALL and he's rightfully pissed. I love how Vince keeps calling him one of the best in "the Ultimate Fighting World" because MMA isn't quite a thing yet and he probably would have to write a check if he directly referenced UFC. This kinda makes me want Ronda Rousey to referee a match between Sasha Banks and Bayley. Can we make that happen please?

The glass hits, and Stone Cold's music starts up, popping the crowd and leading to one of the all-time iconic WrestleMania entrances, as the "AUSTIN 3:16" in front of the entryway shatters into a million pieces and Austin tromps over them like he gives no shits about glass splinters. Because he's wearing boots. The better to stomp a mudhole into you with, dumbass.

"Stone Cold has said that there is no man on the face of this Earth who can make him say 'I quit,' and i think i believe him," says JR. The submission match is the perfect stipulation for this fight--a technical-wrestling, submission specialist vs. a guy who is about as unlikely to quit as John Henry. And as the guitar lick fires up and indoor fireworks pop, that submission specialist heads to the ring to the cheers of his still-faithful. Despite everything that's happened in the last few months--all the frustration, all the swearing on camera--Bret "Hitman" Hart is still the babyface heading into this match. Still the ostensible hero. But his face is all business, scowling as sternly as Austin and Shamrock in the ring. Vince paints a picture of a "mixed reaction," but it sounds awfully positive to me. That said, Austin was getting plenty of cheers on his way to the ring as well. This event definitely signaled a sea change from big events filled with marks blindly cheering the good guys to crowds dominated by "smart marks" who cheered whoever they wanted because of their talent and character, not their alignment. (It had happened before--Royal Rumble 1992, notably--but those shows were becoming less outlier and more standard.)

After Bret still does the babyface move of giving his wraparound shades to a young kid in the audience, he steps into the ring and there's about two seconds of down time before Austin scowls to his right, then charges into Hart, taking him down and forcing the bell to ring. We're underway and the brawl is ON. "Austin doing what he does best, but the Hitman's pretty good at it too," says Vince. "Austin not a submission wrestler, but he can beat you until you say 'i quit.'" Excellent way to open the commentary, explaining why we shouldn't bet against Stone Cold in a submission match. Both men roll out of the ring and continue to punch away at each other until Hart launches Austin into the ringpost. We haven't seen a single wrestling hold yet but this is already more compelling than any Hulk Hogan match this side of WrestleMania III. Bret tries to execute the first actual maneuver when he attempts to suplex Austin onto the steel ringside barricade (which: OW), but Austin blocks it, gets the Hitman up, and drops Hart's knee onto the steel. A follow-up clothesline sends Hart into the front row seats, right in front of Captain Lou Albano and Tony Atlas! They get the hell out of dodge while the fight spills farther back into the audience.

"We can't even follow this!" McMahon exclaims as Austin takes a swig of a random soda before slamming into Bret's head. The crowd's eating it up and mugging for the camera as it passes by. "This is more of a bar fight than a wrestling match," Ross observes as Vince says that Bret is falling right into Austin's game plan. The Hitman can brawl with the best of them, though, as he drags Austin and slams his head into some steps as Shamrock follows, acting more as crowd control than referee. Hart pops the crowd with a massive "OOOH" as he back body drops Austin back down the steps in what would certainly be a sick spot if we could see through the mob surrounding the two men in this match.

Bret tosses Austin back over the rails into the ringside area, and Austin thanks him by whipping him into the ring steps with a sickly THUD as the crowd "OOOHs" again. "We've spent thirty seconds in the ring, and several minutes outside," observes JR. Austin climbs onto the apron, shoots the Hitman a pair of middle fingers, and launches into a flying clothesline as the fans respond giddily to the obscene gesture. "OHMIGOD Austin just flipped off Bret! My mom would ground me for a week if i did that to her! He's so badass!"

There is no technical wrestling happening whatsoever. Austin lifts up the steps to crack them over Hart's head, but Bret counters with a kick to the gut. He punches away at Austin's head until Stone Cold counters by launching Bret into the ringpost. And finally Austin rolls Hart into the ring and meets him with...a boot to the head. Still completely engrossing. Finally, Austin whips Hart to the ropes and lowers his head for a backdrop, but Hart reverses it into a swinging neckbreaker. A wrestling move! The second one of the match! As Hart continues the attack with a second-rope elbow and a wrenching of Austin's knee, McMahon observes that "if the Hitman comes up short, you have to wonder what his excuse will be, because he'll have one in my view." Lawler chimes in with "of course he will! He's a whiner!" "That seems to be the case as of late," agrees McMahon. "It's too bad." JR, though, is assigned Hitman advocacy here, and retorts with "i don't share that view, but be that as it may..." Bret continues to work on the knee, "perhaps softening him up for the Sharpshooter," theorizes Ross. "You know it's bound to come sooner or later." Not to belabor this, but the announcing in this match is actually exquisite--putting the storylines of the match in their proper contexts and enhancing the view.

After more tearing up of Austin's knee, Stone Cold finally dodges a strike by the Hitman and responds with a Stone Cold Stunner from outta nowhere! But pinfalls don't count, and Lawler curiously calls out, "you'd better be careful, Stone Cold--Bret can't say 'i quit' if he's unconscious!" Uh, guys, did you fill Lawler in on the result beforehand, or didn't you? He's gonna feel really stupid for saying this after the bell rings. JR, fortunately, covers for him. "If Bret Hart's knocked out, the referee would just have to call for the bell. That's easy." See, King? Ya big dummy.

Hart's back up, though, and begins working over Austin's knee again. "How well can a one-legged man do in a butt-kicking contest? We're going to find out." JR is on fire as Hart drags Austin over to the corner and blows everyone's goddamn mind by applying a figure-four leglock around the ringpost! Bret explained this move in his autobiography: he'd wrap his opponent's legs in the figure-four position around the post, then drape himself off the apron while cranking on the shins of his opponent. It actually didn't hurt any worse than a regular figure-four, but it looks hardcore and the fans at WM13 collectively shit themselves when they see it for the first time. Austin screams and slaps the mat in pain, but he doesn't give up and eventually Hart breaks the hold. "Bone-chilling pain perpetrated by the Hitman," exclaims JR. Hart starts looking for weapons, tossing the ring bell into the corner before introducing a chair into the match and wrapping it around Austin's ankle. The crowd is deafening and are completely eating up the raised stakes that the Hitman--not Steve Austin--has introduced here. Austin, the alleged babyface, is one-upping the uber-violent brawler, proving that he can play rough just as easily as anyone in the WWF. The crowd is mental.

However, when Hart climbs the ropes to drop down onto that ankle, Austin recovers, grabs the chair, and slaps Hart across the back with it, sending him crumpling to the ring and sending the crowd into a still louder frenzy. Amazing sequence as the tide swings toward Austin's favor, cracking the chair across Hart's back once again as Lawler cackles "IT'S WRESTLEMANIA, BABY!"

Now it's Austin's turn to prove that he can play Hart's technical wrestling game. He connects with a vertical suplex and climbs the ropes, dropping a typically Hitman elbow from the second rope. Each man plays the other's game as the camera cuts to a shot of Hitman's daughter covering her face. Austin connects with a side Russian leg sweep (another Hitman standard) and applies a makeshift submission hold as he cranks on Bret's arm while twisting the Hitman's neck the other way with his battered leg. Hart shakes his head, refusing to give up, and Austin responds to his refusal by turning Hart over into a Boston Crab--"very basic, very elementary, but very lethal," opines Jim Ross, who continues to push this match into the stratosphere with his commentary. Eventually Hart claws his way to the ropes, forcing a break (which is always a little suspect in a match with no DQ--what does Shamrock do if Austin doesn't answer the five-count?), which Austin responds to with a death stare in Shamrock's direction. And finally, Austin gets a little too cocky; when he mockingly begins to wrap Hart's legs into a Sharpshooter position, the Hitman strikes with a rake of the eyes, catching Austin off guard and regaining some agency in the match.

And here's where shit gets real. Austin tosses Hart outside the ring, and if you're watching closely, you can see Hart position something small in his right hand. Austin heads out after him (after jawing with the fans to give Hart some time to prepare), and the Hitman whips Austin across the ring floor, over the timekeeper, and into the steel ring barricade, which Austin connects with headfirst. Hart jumps on him, grabbing his head, clawing at his forehead, then peppering it with closed fists, and as he drags Austin away from the barricade, we see that Austin's been cut open.

During the planning of the match, Hart says in his autobiography, he suggested to Austin that, regardless of the WWF's no-blading rule, the match would become more dramatic if they "got a little juice." Austin, reluctant, explained to Hart that he had never bladed before in his life, to which Hart responded with "if you trust me, i'll do it for you." Which, Hart explains in his book, is something you should never do (because seriously, who would you trust to slice you open with a razor blade during a high-impact athletic exposition?), but he repaid Austin's trust in him by nicking him just enough to make it look good. And boy, does it look good. And Hart's right--the blood ups the stakes and the emotional impact of the match big time. After a few more spots with the steps and the ringpost, Austin rolls back into the ring and the crowd gets their first real shot of Austin's wound, and it looks gnarly. Blood is pumping out of his forehead and the crowd goes apeshit.

Bret continues on the attach with a foot stomp and several punches to the head, and after pausing for Shamrock to check on Austin, connects with a backbreaker over the knee. "Bret Hart has been waiting for WrestleMania," says JR. "Was this the match he wanted (referring to the fact that it's not a title match)? Who knows. But Bret Hart is here. He's going to erase, perhaps, what happened last year against Shawn Michaels in the match of the year." Second rope elbow drop on Austin's bloody head as the crowd continues to deafen anyone within a half mile of the arena. Hart grabs the chair and drives it into Austin's knee. "Only a coward would use a chair," says Lawler, who was cackling with glee when Austin used it earlier. Hart tosses the chair out of the ring and tries to throw the Sharpshooter on, but Austin responds with a rake of the face that causes Hart to hit the mat, their legs still pretzeled around each other. Hart gets up and backs Austin into a corner, and as he peppers Stone Cold with closed fists, Austin acts in desperation, connecting with a solid kick to the groin that sends Hart crumpled to the mat in a heap. "He was hit somewhere down around Saskatoon!" says JR.

Austin, with renewed vigor, grabs Hart and launches him into the opposite turnbuckle, which Hart collides with sternum-first with a sick, jarring CLANK than rebounds him halfway across the ring and back into the arms of a fired-up and red-faced Stone Cold, who "is ready to rock and roll," exclaims Ross. He repeatedly drives his boot into a slumping Hart as JR is feverishly putting him over. "Stone Cold is one tough SOB, and he is--mah gawd, he is stomping a mudhole in Bret Hart." Austin perches Hart on the top turnbuckle and connects with a second-rope superplex, "but Austin hit his head as well." McMahon started the heavy lifting of the announcing in this match, but as the action, the theater, escalated, Jim Ross slowly took the reigns and is now running full steam ahead. "Remember, there are no pinfalls, no countouts, no disqualifications--the only way to win is by submission, and Austin is a bloody, bloody mess." Austin leaves the ring and goes for broke, grabbing a power cable and wrapping it around the Hitman's neck, trying to almost literally hang Hart from the ring apron. But Hart's somehow grabbed the timekeeper's bell that he had tossed into the corner earlier, and clocks Austin over the head, breaking the makeshift "hold." Are you kidding me? Hart tossing the bell into the corner earlier was a throwaway move, and it pays off bigtime here. That's storytelling, folks. "Oh, what a war!"

And then it happens--Hart applies the Sharpshooter, and he's got it cinched in the middle of the ring.  Ken Shamrock yells "Say the word, Steve!" as Austin audibly screams in pain as the now-iconic picture of his bloody face fills the screen:

That image put asses in seats for the next 5 years and birthed WWF Attitude. Do not doubt it.

The crowd is on their feet as Austin visibly struggles to keep conscious and fight the hold, exclaiming "NO!" every time Shamrock asks him if he gives. And soon, he begins to fade. "Steve! If you do not answer me, i will stop this fight!" exclaims Shamrock, but Stone Cold is slipping away into Neverland. But no! Austin, with one final burst of strength, pushes himself up on his hands and knocks Bret over! The crowd explodes, thinking Austin's broken the hold, but Bret does not let go, resetting and re-sinking into the Sharpshooter, and that's it. Austin's last gasp becomes one last scream as he collapses in pain, finally blacking out.

Steve! If you do not answer me, i will stop this fight!"


"That's it! That's it!" Shamrock signals for the bell and waves to Bret to release the hold. The bell clangs, Shamrock wrenches Hart off Austin's prone body, and his theme music blares over the PA. Your winner, by submission, is Bret "Hitman" Hart, but importantly, Austin never said "I Quit." Best match in WrestleMania history to this point? Maybe.

Winner: Bret Hart via knockout in 22:05

As the crowd screams their approval, Vince McMahon proclaims "Bret Hart has to be one of the gutsiest individuals in the history of the World Wrestling Federation, but i have never seen a display of intestinal fortitude like the one we have just seen from 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, who is still unconscious and quite frankly, needs medical attention right now."

And then, it all goes to hell.

Bret grabs the unconscious Austin's bad knee and starts working it over again. "Good God, Bret. Enough is enough!" protests JR. "I'm a Bret Hart fan, but that's enough." The bell rings in protest as Shamrock forces Hart off his prone opponent, but he sneaks around Shamrock and starts to put the Sharpshooter back on--that is, until Shamrock wraps his arms around the Hitman and tosses him to the mat! The crowd pops as JR exclaims "Ken Shamrock just took down the Hitman!" Shamrock gets into fighting pose, nearly pleading with Bret to try something, and when Hart opts to turn and leave the ring, the boos rain down on him. The turn is complete, and just to make sure you know that Bret Hart is finally a heel, he flips off a fan on his way back to the dressing room area.

Meanwhile, in the ring, Austin regains consciousness as an official offers to assist him back to the locker rooms. Austin, though, defiantly refuses all help, connecting with a Stone Cold Stunner the ref and hobbling out to the floor under his own power. As he limps down the aisle, the chant rises out from the crowd: "AUS-TIN! AUS-TIN! AUS-TIN!" If any of these fans were booing him at the beginning of the match, they're believers now. Steve Austin is a full-blown hero, and is now on his way to having a rocket to the top strapped to his back. The Austin Era--the Attitude Era--is fully underway.

Steve Austin's best Jackson Pollock impression

And now...Todd Pettengill. Fack. He's with the Nation of Domination, which at this point is the original, lesser-remembered lineup of Faarooq (aka Ron Simmons), Crush, and Savio Vega, with a whole bunch of other schmucks surrounding them (including the USWA tag team PG-13, consisting of two dudes who seriously thought it was a good idea to name themselves "JC Ice" and "Wolfie D." A gimmick's a gimmick, i guess (JC Ice was also known as Jamie Dundee, son of Memphis legend Bill Dundee). Anyway, Faarooq's yelling at the Legion of Doom and Ahmed Johnson, with whom he has beef, although someone forgot to tell him that Hawk and Animal must be referred to as the "Legion of Doom" because he totally refers to them as the "Road Warriors" in this promo. Which is either an awesome fuckup or a moment of "fuck you Vince, they're the Road Warriors. Everyone knows they're the Road Warriors, everyone calls them the Road Warriors. Knock this shit off and let people call them the Road Warriors." 

Match 6: The Nation of Domination (Faarooq, Crush, & Savio Vega w/PG-13, D'Lo Brown, Clarence Mason, The Grand Wizard, Oprah Winfrey, and a basketball coach) vs. The Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal) & Ahmed Johnson (Chicago Street Fight)

To this day, it has been proven inconclusive as to whether or not a street fight has different rules than a no-DQ match or a no holds barred match, or whether or not the rules vary depending on what city the "street fight" is named after. How is a Chicago street fight different than a Philadelphia street fight? The world may never know, although i'm willing to bet one of those is more likely to use a cheesesteak as a foreign object. Anyway, the boos reign down on the Black nationalist faction as, holy shit, PG-13 are rapping their way to ringside. Those guys couldn't be whiter if their last names were Van Winkle. The mass of humanity in the ring proclaims "One nation under Faarooq with liberty and justice for no one, by any means necessary," and then raise one fist in the air, in case you weren't able to figure out the schtick. D'Lo Brown has also carried a trash can of weapons to ringside, because street fight. This whole batch of nonsense just screams "bathroom break match" between the match of the year and the main event, still to come. 

OK, well, shit, Ahmed Johnson coming out in matching spiked shoulder pads with the LOD, with all three of them raising their fists, looks pretty goddamn badass. I will give them that. They have brought a 2x4 and literally brought The Kitchen Sink (it's in their corner, waiting to be dispensed to an opponent's head area), so they are ready to go. Does anyone actually think the Chicago native LOD are going to lose a Chicago street fight? I mean, come on. 

Still, it's bedlam as the bell rings and action is spilling out everywhere. Faarooq is beating on Animal with a nightstick while Hawk and Ahmed are beating the snot our of Savio and Crush, Ahmed going so far as to somersault over the railing onto Crush in the audience. Man, Ahmed had some ups before he got fat. "Ahmed Johnson, taking it to the streets," says McMahon, whitely. Animal cracks the trash can over Faarooq's head while Crush limps back into the ringside area behind his leader, only to get leveled by a flying shoulder tackle courtesy Ahmed. This is a complete fucking mess just as planned, and the crowd is eating it up. Animal positions Faarooq on the French announcer's table, gets him up for a piledriver, and...sort of clumsily falls off the side of the table while trying to piledrive the NOD's leader. I mean, it still looks fucking debilitating, but it's not as cool as it would have been had they broken the table, i mean, come on. 

Meanwhile, Crush, who is on like the fourth version of his character now, is cracking the trash can over Ahmed's cranium now. Like, is Crush even still from Hawaii technically? Did they retcon that so he could join a Black Power Movement? Eh, who cares. Faarooq just got nailed with a fire extinguisher, by the way. I mean, we don't get to see it, but the announcers explained why there's suddenly a fog around Faarooq's head that's literal as well as metaphorical. And now there are two garbage cans being thrown around the ring. I mean, i've heard of garbage wrestling, but this is ridiculous, nyuk nyuk. 

Oy, what a shitshow this is. "I don't think i've seen anything as physical, as intense, as brutal as this at any WrestleMania in history," says Jim Ross, who obviously wasn't watching when King Kong Bundy dropped that elbow on Little Beaver. The director has no idea which camera shot to go with; Hawk is draping a garbage can over Crush's head in the ring for a comedic spot, but it's happening in the corner of the shot and pans out of frame as we end up watching a less entertaining garbage spot at ringside. Meh. But the camera is right there when Ahmed finally slams Faarooq through that broadcast table, so we finally get that on screen. OK! 

Oh, what the hell. NOD manager Clarence Mason throws a noose into the ring, and Savio Vega and Crush throw it around Ahmed Johnson's neck. The White and Hispanic members of the Black Power gimmick are straight-up lynching the Black dude who's *not* ripping off the Nation of Islam. The politics of this whole sequence are completely confused. I...I think i'm running out of steam here, guys.

Not pictured: Good Taste

Ahmed Johnson these days often speaks out about the borderline racist gimmicks and storylines the McMahon family tried to saddle him with. Frankly, if anyone thinks he's making all that up, looking at this spot at WrestleMania should be enough for anyone to ask themselves, "shit, why would he need to make anything up?"

Finally, apropos of nothing, the LOD hits Crush with the Doomsday Device and the trio follow it up with a clothesline on Crush with the 2x4, which is good for the three-count, which is basically incidental and serves to only end the segment before the main event. Who the hell cares.

Winners: The Legion of Doom & Ahmed Johnson via pinfall in 10:45

Man, doesn't it suck when the far and away best match on a card isn't the last one, so you're stuck having to slog through a garbage hardcore match and a world title match between two big dudes? I mean, the Undertaker has gone on to have some seriously five star matches in his career, but i'm gonna go out on a limb here and assume that one of them ISN'T the upcoming main event against Sycho Sid. Sigh. 

But first, apparently Shawn Michaels is coming out into the arena for some reason. Oh, good. He couldn't be bothered to job away the title in the main event, but he can show up in street clothes and hang out, because god forbid they close the show without him. People cheered this guy! That's amazing! 

...Jesus Christ, this goes on and on, doesn't it? He's slappin' fives with the crowd, he's in the ring doing his strutting and posing and whatnot, and they've re-started his song at least once. "What would WrestleMania be like without Shawn Michaels?" asks JR. I dunno...shorter? Dude, stahhhppp. As his sparklers fire off in the ring, Jerry Lawler and i finally agree on something. "Give me a break, he's not even wrestling!"

Todd Pettengill is now backstage with "the most intimidating WWF Champion in history," according to Vince....Sycho Sid. How intimidating can someone be when they can't even spell their own name correctly? 

Oh wait

Well, at least we get an entertaining rant full of flubbed lines from Sid. "WrestleMania is the biggest event in the yea---of the WORLD!" He alternates between whispering so quietly i can't hear him and screaming to the point where i'm convinced that he really wants to scream the whole time but maybe he didn't drink his hot tea with lemon before the interview so his voice is blowing out on him every fifteenth word. Anyway, back in the arena the gongs strike, and the lights go dark, and you know what that means--the Undertaker is on his way to ringside, bathed in enough black light to choke a raver. Austin said it himself on RAW--his match with Bret could have been for the title, but instead, this gets to close the night. Hmm, maybe Bret Hart was a heel before tonight after all.

Match 7: The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid (c) for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship 


Sid makes his way to the ring to his hilariously cheesy Hitchcockian violin stab Psycho remix while McMahon grills Michaels on his respect level for both competitors, because apparently Vince knows this match is gonna blow and thinks that maybe if Shawn is flapping his face all over our earholes during the match, we'll flash back to last year when the main event was amazing. Anyway, bell rings and let's get this over with. 

Wait a minute, shit just got interesting. Bret Hart just walked out to ringside, hopped into the ring, and grabbed a mic. "What a shock, Bret Hart complaining that he's not in the main event," Michael snarks. Bret immediately starts off by slamming Shawn and his "pussyfoot injury" and tells him to go somewhere to "find your smile, just stay out of this match." Yes. He then turns to the Undertaker. "When you slammed that cage door on me, that was the end of our friendship. There's a different set of rules with you and me now." And finally, he turns to Sid, calling him a "fraud" who doesn't deserve to hold the title, "because i'm the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be." So Sid responds by socking him in the face and powerbombing him into next week, to the delight of the fans. "Take your whining ass out of here!" Sid exclaims and starts to continue his rant before getting jumped in the back by the Undertaker, and we're finally underway. OH GOOD.

Undertaker gains the early advantage after a quick flurry by Sid, grabbing the champ by the throat and tossing him into a corner, punching him repeatedly and whipping him to the mat for a quick early two-count. Michaels: "Bret wants to talk about how often he's been screwed, but Undertaker's gotten the shaft so many times...but you never hear him complain about it, because he's a man's man." At least Michaels has no qualms about equating homoerotic subtext with manliness. That's very progressive of him! Taker walks the top rope and connects with a forearm, trying to follow up with a splash in the corner that is reversed into a bearhug by Sid. Nice, Sid's slowing things to a crawl already. 'Taker tries to escape and eventually Sid breaks the hold, connects with some forearms to the back...and slaps the bearhug back on. Here's an artist's rendition of the excitement level of this match thus far:

Finally, Sid releases the bearhug, and connects with a pair of forearms to the back...and slaps the bearhug back on. AGAIN. Did i just roll the video back accidentally? Holy Christ.

Finally, we're done hugging, and Sid clothelines 'Taker over the top rope so he can do that thing where he lands out on the floor on his feet and then drags Sid out to ringside to punch each other some more. At least 'Taker's getting all his shit in. Sid, though, kicks 'Taker over the Spanish Announce Table and starts using the railing to abuse the challenger. As Sid drops 'Taker on one of the announce tables, McMahon reads a late bulletin from WWF President Gorilla Monsoon: apparently, due to the nuttiness of the previous few bouts, both competitors petitioned Monsoon to make this a no-DQ match, so just scroll back up to the bold text announcing this match and assume i typed "(no DQ)" at the end of it, because apparently we need to cover for all this foreign object usage on the outside. Good thing they have Vince on the mic. "Oh shit, they should probably get disqualified for all this shit. Um, i'll just say Gorilla made it no DQ. That's the ticket!"

Sid rolls 'Taker back into the ring for a two count, and the dead man fights back with a kick to the gut before Sid takes control again, slapping on a reverse chinlock that brings the crowd to its feet, by which i mean everyone is sitting on their hands and making no noise whatsoever. After a double axehandle off the turnbuckle by Sid, 'taker fights back with some shots to the ribs before Sid whips him to the ropes for a half-assed powerslam that scores a two-count. Man, i've seen Great Khali and The Big Show work faster-paced bouts than this. Sid tries three straight two-counts, which JR calls "smart" before Michaels retorts with "I dunno--if the first pin doesn't work you better start beating on him some more." Holy shit, that actually makes sense. Now i'm agreeing with Shawn Michaels, officially making this the worst 'Mania main event ever.

Sid whips 'Taker to the ropes, but the dead man ducks a clothesline, bounces off the other side of the ring, and connects with a leaping clothesline of his own that takes Sid out of his boots while Michaels expounds on 'Taker's agility. Sid recovers (read: no-sells) right away, though, connecting with a few more shots before getting tossed to the floor by the Undertaker, who sends Sid over the railing and then onto the ring steps. 'Taker rolls Sid back into the ring and attempts a legdrop which misses the mark, leading to another scintillating Sid chinlock. Whoo, all that punching made him sleepy! Time for another rest hold. Geez, is Sid trying to call a spot here? How much explaining do you have to do with your dance partner when all you're gonna do is punch him some more? "We certainly hope you're enjoying the action at home," Vince says to the audience, who are certainly enraptured by this high-paced, rapid-impact chinlock.

But wait! 'Taker punches his way out of the chinlock, and when Sid bounces off the ropes to come at him, bro, 'Taker turns Sid's momentum into a powerslam that leads to a two-count for the dead man! What dynamite sequence will he follow that up with? ...Oh, cool, a nerve hold. Thrilling. Sid breaks free with an elbow, and after 'Taker connects with a clothesline, both men connect with simultaneous boots to the face, sending both men to the mat for the ref's count. Holy god, is this the most boring main event in 13 WrestleManias? This is damn near unwatchable, to say nothing of what it sounds like with Michaels on the mic.

Sid starts hopping up onto the second turnbuckle, waits for 'Taker to stand, then levels him with a clothesline. He climbs another turnbuckle, waits for 'Taker to stand, then knocks him down again by...i dunno, shoving his palm into 'Taker's neck or some shit. It looks stupid. He tries it a third time, but 'Taker counters with a punch to the gut and a kick to the ribs, then gets slammed to the mat for his trouble. As Sid climbs to the top rope, Michaels refers to it as a desperation move, but Sid's facial expression is about as desperate as a nap. As Sid reaches the top, 'Taker does his magic sit-up recovery, popping the crowd and sparking a classic Hogan-style comeback, connecting with closed fists and tossing Sid off the top rope. 'Taker climbs to the top rope this time and connects with a flying clothesline for a two-count. Jerry Lawler opines that both men are scared of using their finishing maneuvers out of fear that the other guy will kick out, and just as he says that, 'Taker makes the throat-slash motion that signals his intent to use one of his finishing maneuvers. Good call, Jerry! 'Taker lifts Sid into Tombstone Piledriver position, but the champ reverses it into a Tombstone of his own, driving the dead man's head into the canvas! Sid crosses 'Taker's arms across his chest in the challenger's trademark dead man's pin attempt, but he only scores a two-count, much to Sid's disbelief. Well, to be fair, big guy, you didn't exactly hook any legs on that attempt.

Sid dumps 'Taker to the outside and slugs him in the chest, but 'Taker fights back and suddenly, Bret Hart comes out of nowhere and slams a chair across Sid's back! Twice! Referees escort Hart away from the action as the announcers declare that Bret Hart has lost his damn fool mind. Well, that was all just really silly. But of course it leads to 'Taker slamming Sid's back into the ringpost and a chokeslam in the ring that results in the one...two...KICKOUT! Oh man! The drama! Well, i suppose they need to make it a little interesting as...oh jeez, Hart runs back out to ringside and drapes Sid's throat across the top rope as Michaels hilariously moans, "JEE-ZUS." Sid stumbles into a Tombstone Piledriver from 'Taker, and that's finally it. One, two, three, we have a new WWF World Heavyweight Champion. Well, that's nice.

Winner: The Undertaker via pinfall in 21:19 to win the WWF World Heavyweight Title; streak at 6-0

The Undertaker stands tall in the ring with the title belt, and it's only the second title reign for the dead man, who previously held the belt for a whopping 9 days in 1991. So it's a monumental title change, but unfortunately it came about after maybe the most boring main event i've recapped yet for one of these things. If the WWF's Attitude Era had been based around having a positive attitude toward naps, this would have been the match that started it all. Hilariously, the WWE Network recording of the PPV just kinda of awkwardly fades to black with the Undertaker still in the ring, like "um, ok, let's just wrap this up and be done." Sounds good to me, guys. Sounds good to me.

NEXT TIME: Well, Mike Tyson's the guest referee for the main event, so i'm sure we'll have fun with that. OK then!

No comments:

Post a Comment