The countdown to the biggest show of the year in pro wrestling is on. WrestleMania is to pro wrestling what championship games are for professional sports. No matter how may pay-per-views the WWE may hold in a year, WrestleMania is always the biggest. In counting down to the big event, I will take a look at my top five WrestleMania shows of all time.
The criteria in determining the top five WrestleMania shows is a little complex. For one, I look at historical significance. The first WrestleMania is historic as the original and gets high consideration on that alone. Other WrestleMania shows may be historic for crowd attendance, availability, a particular point in wrestling history, matches, appearances, or a variety of other reasons.
There are a lot of great matches from WrestleMania but only a few are considered the greatest. It is common for a terrible WrestleMania to be looked upon far more favorably years later due to one great match. One great match can make a WrestleMania and put the show in the history books forever.
Star power is another big component in the mix. The power of the stars may be just as much about wrestling star power as it is power from the outside world. There is a big difference in a WrestleMania stacked with great stars as opposed to a show without a Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart, etc. One WWE superstar doesn’t make a show, but a collection of stars is something that can truly make a WrestleMania special.
5 – WrestleMania XIII “Heat” 03/27/97 Chicago, IL.
This was such a pivotal show for the WWE. At the time, the WWE were getting the beaten in the ratings by WCW Monday Nitro. For the first time in decades, the WWE were no longer seen as the big show in pro wrestling. The N.W.O. was taking over WCW, yet one man was able to bring life back to a company left for dead by the critics.
Absent from WrestleMania for the first time since WrestleMania V was Shawn Michaels. Michaels had stolen the show at the previous three WrestleMania events and was on his way to cementing his WrestleMania legacy when he “lost his smile”. A month prior to WrestleMania 13, Michaels forfeited the WWF championship citing a knee injury. The planned Michaels vs. Bret Hart WrestleMania 12 rematch was now off the books and the company scrambled with a month to go to come up with a new WreestleMania card. The pressures worked and the new WrestleMania plans opened the doors for a mid-carder who along with Bret Hart put on a performance which would change the landscape of the WWE forever.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin ushered in a brand new era into the WWE. The era of WWE Attitude was officially underway with the buildup of WrestleMania 13. Pressure from WCW and inspiration from ECW caused a major shift in the WWE. The WWE was no longer your daddy’s wrestling. The WWE was now becoming the wrestling of a new generation of fans that were tired of the old, and thirsting for something new.
Steve Austin was taking the WWE and all of pro wrestling by storm. Steve Austin was in the fourth month of a feud with WWE icon, Bret “Hitman” Hart. Hart had just returned from a lengthy sabbatical yet had never left the minds of WWE fans. The two had an incredible chemistry that was apparent from their first promos and interaction with one another.
The mood was changing within the WWE. The fans were getting tired of Bret’s corny phrases and his typical match sequences. The fans were getting behind Steve Austin more and more with his rebellious attitude and intense style inside of the ring. Austin wasn’t going on television talking about kicking Bret Hart’s butt. Austin said he wanted to kick Bret Hart’s ass which is something we can all relate to. This match was the show, whether it was in the main-event slot or not.
Early on in the show a future WWE Hall of Fame superstar made his WrestleMania debut. Rocky Maivia made his WrestleMania debut taking on the Sultan. The Sultan was a masked Arabian character played by the wrestler who would later be known as Rikishi. The match was nothing special, as a matter of a fact it did more to hinder the progress of Maivia than help him. Fans resented him for constantly being shoved down their throats. Maivia would beat the big man in his WrestleMania debut. A great WrestleMania moment were the fans chanting “Die Rocky Die” at Rocky Maivia. Years later these same fans would be screaming “Rocky, Rocky” at the top of their lungs.
A very underrated match on the show featured the return of former WWE tag team champions, the Legion of Doom. The Road Warriors returned to WrestleMania in their hometown of Chicago that night. Animal and Hawk teamed with Ahmed Johnson and took on the Nation of Domination in a Chicago street fight. The match was wrestled like a street fight with action spilling all over the arena. This is probably the best and only good match Ahmed Johnson ever had on pay-per-view (or anywhere). Animal pinned Crush to win the match.
The WWE title match and main-event saw Psycho Sid take on the challenge of the Undertaker. This was an interesting match because the WWE was at a crossroads. Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and Steve Austin ushered in a more athletic style of pro wrestling. However, Vince just couldn’t get away from putting the big men on top. This would be quite a contrast from next year’s main-event featuring Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin.
The Undertaker had broken through as a multi-dimensional wrestler and was no longer just a character. Sid was caught in the Bret-Austin crossfire. Sid won the title from Bret Hart just a few weeks before WrestleMania. As a matter of a fact, it was a title rematch between Sid and Bret in a Steel Cage on WWE RAW before WrestleMania that really set up the new WWE Attitude era. This was Sid’s last stand as he wouldn’t wrestle on WrestleMania ever again.
The Undertaker beat Sid for the title. The Undertaker represented the old era, yet changed his style to adapt to the more athletic WWE. The ball was really with the Undertaker who was the only legend to appear on the show. The match lasted almost thirty minutes which ranks this up there with some of the most boring matches in WrestleMania history.
Bret Hart and Steve Austin brawled all over the arena, the stands, in front of the fans, and just about everywhere. The match quickly turned into a bloodbath with the final moments of the match being a scene for wrestling history. Hart wound up winning the match after Austin passed out while in the sharpshooter. The match was unique because for the first-time ever in WWE history, both wrestlers turned.
The match was booked to turn Steve Austin babyface and finally give fans the hero that they wanted. Ironically the match was also booked to turn Bret Hart heel and capitalize on that same new wave of Austin support. The double turn was is a rarity in pro wrestling, yet the two pulled the double turn off brilliantly and started one of the most memorable eras in WWE history.
Complete WrestleMania 13 Results…
Billy Gunn defeated Flash Funk
The Headbangers beat The New Blackjacks, The Godwins, and Phil Lafon and Doug Furnas in a four corners match.
Rocky Maivia defeated the Sultan in a WWE I-C title match
Triple H defeated Goldust
Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith vs. Vader and Mankind ended in a double count-out in a WWE World Tag Team title match
Bret Hart defeated Steve Austin in a submission match
The Legion of Doom and Ahmed Johnson defeated the Nation of Domination in a Chicago street fight
The Undertaker defeated Psycho Sid to win the WWE World title
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