From The Fleet Center in Boston, MA
March 29, 1998
If you were born in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, the WWF seemed to sync itself perfectly with the discernments of a person your age. Through the mid 1990’s, the WWF was still a light-hearted, inoffensive product whose brand of half-baked silliness was safe for familial consumption.
By the end of 1997, however, when the people in the aforementioned age demographic became teenagers and young adults, their newer, more carnal sensibilities were treated to a WWF quite unrecognizable from its former image.
Gone were the days of rope-muscled heroes, vowing to slay giants and right wrongs, while encouraging the kids at home to eat right and stay in school.
[adinserter block=”2″]In their place, there was a bald Texan with a foul mouth, and an even fouler outlook on the world around him. Stone Cold Steve Austin was now the WWF’s biggest star, brandishing a pair of middle fingers that he looked to unleash upon any bystander who wanted to question his morals or manhood. Austin raised mayhem of all sorts, driving his pick-up truck into the arena, attacking authority figures, cursing in every other sentence, and downing beers in the middle of the ring to celebrate his batch of Hell raised.
On the other side of the coin, the WWF presented D-Generation X. Shawn Michaels, as WWF Champion, had finally pushed the envelope of overt sexual aggression to its brink, pointing to his crotch with battle cries of “SUCK IT!” He, Triple H, and Chyna routinely gave migraines to Standards and Practices with phallic references, partial nudity, and sexual innuendo.
Throw in Sable’s barely-covered, oversized breast implants, Kane digging up the caskets of his parents, and The Rock finding his voice with his own entendres, and you have the foundation of a new era in professional wrestling.
The Attitude Era.
With the Attitude Era blossoming into a formidable howitzer to be used against WCW in the “Monday Night Wars”, it made sense to have Austin, the icon of the juncture, win the 1998 Royal Rumble by ousting WWF Intercontinental Champion The Rock, whose 51 minute jaunt in the Rumble match assured his bright future.
Austin would be matched up with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels, whose controversial title victory over Bret Hart at the 1997 Survivor Series, the “Montreal Incident”, helped spark the company’s anti-hero taction.
In an attempt to force the long-gone media to pull a U-turn and amble back to the WWF circus, McMahon brought in heavyweight boxer, and ex-convict, Mike Tyson to serve as guest enforcer for the World Title bout. The media bit the bait, and news outlets were flocking to get out word of Tyson’s involvement. With WrestleMania XIV taking place just nine months after Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear, Tyson’s name commanded front page attention.
However, there was little story to the Austin-Michaels match. After his questionable knee injury one year before, Michaels worsened lingering back injuries at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a casket match against The Undertaker by landing on the crease of the coffin lid with his sciatic region. Michaels would collapse in his home in February 1998 and would miss that month’s PPV.
To keep interest strong for the match with Michaels partially incapacitated, the WWF had Tyson turn heel and join DX to stack the odds against Stone Cold. If that wasn’t enough, Vince McMahon, still a babyface but leaning over the disposition line, shadowing on heel, publicaly declared that having Austin as champion would be a “nightmare”, and that he was basically rooting against Stone Cold at WrestleMania.
Elsewhere on the card, The Undertaker would finally face Kane after nearly six months of buildup. Kane had attacked Undertaker in his debut at Badd Blood in October 1997, and “The Dead Man” had refused to fight his flesh and blood. After the two formed a brief allegiance in January, Kane turned on Undertaker again to cost him his WWF Title shot, stuffed him into a casket, and set it ablaze.
Undertaker would return weeks later to avenge the wrongdoing, finally accepting a one on one match with his disturbed, masked brother.
Much of the midcard was filled out with building blocks of the WWF’s army in their war with WCW. Future World Champions The Rock, Triple H, and Cactus Jack were all in title matches. Rock would defend his Intercontinental Championship against a personal nuisance of several months, Ken Shamrock. Shamrock had made Rock submit to the ankle lock in several tag team matches, and was primed to finally take the title.
Triple H would represent DX by defending his European Title against Owen Hart, who had hounded the group since his brother Bret’s fateful WWF exit. Meanwhile, Cactus and Terry “Chainsaw Charlie” Funk would go for the WWF Tag Team Championships against the New Age Outlaws in a dumpster match.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler provided the call from ringside. Chris Warren and the DX Band performed a punky version of “America the Beautiful” before the event to a mixed reception. Controversial celebrities Pete Rose and Gennifer Flowers added to the show’s moderately degenerative atmosphere.
LOD 2000 won a fifteen team battle royal last eliminating the New Midnight Express in 8:19
(In other words, this was a way to get everybody on the show. This is like Money in the Bank without high spots, creativity, fun, and Shelton Benjamin. Sunny looked hot, though)
WWF Lightheavyweight: Taka Michinoku def. Aguila in 5:57
(Some fun spots in there, but predictably short. What Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero were doing in this time frame was completely blowing this away. Still, it was enjoyable)
WWF European: Triple H def. Owen Hart in 11:29
(Much like Hart vs. Austin from the previous year, this led to a double turn, not on story, but on fan sentiment. Owen would become a bitter heel, and HHH a crotch grabbing hero. Yep, it’s 1998. Good match in any case)
Marc Mero/Sable def. Goldust/Luna Vachon in 9:11
(Probably the best mixed tag match in WrestleMania history. Sable looked like a total star, as Luna sold for her like crazy, and the fans ate it up with a spoon, begging for more)
WWF Intercontinental: The Rock def. Ken Shamrock by disqualification in 4:49
(Short match, non-sensical reverse decision (Shamrock won initially), and not a lot of action otherwise. At least we got the awesome visual of Rock holding the belt up in victory while laying on the gurney)
WWF World Tag Team/Dumpster Match: Cactus Jack/Chainsaw Charlie def. The New Age Outlaws in 10:01 to win the titles
(Good hardcore match without the blood, unless you count Terry Funk‘s hip grating and Billy Gunn’s nosebleed. Sadly, the victory would be short lived, as Cactus and Funk used the “wrong dumpster” to win. Hey, rules are rules)
The Undertaker def. Kane in 16:58
(That’s seven. Decent big man match, albeit slow, and lacking the epic feel that the feud was crying out for. Kane, at least, looked like a monster in defeat, needing three Tombstones to finally succumb. This was also begin a three year WrestleMania tradition of Pete Rose getting mauled by Kane, as Rose mocked the Boston Red Sox before the match)
WWF World Championship: Stone Cold Steve Austin def. Shawn Michaels in 20:02 to win the title
(And thus Austin was off and running as the face of the movement. Excellent match, especially considering how messed up Shawn’s back was. How Michaels got through the latter half of the match is anyone’s guess, as his eyes were watering and bugging out like he was walking on shards. In his last match for four and a half years, Michaels still managed to steal the show)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
What Woodstock was to the peace and free love movement in America, WrestleMania XIV was to the Attitude Era in wrestling. Very rarely does one show sum up a wrestling promotion from top to bottom, sufficing a dictionary picture to match this definition.
[adinserter block=”1″]With WCW spinning its wheels with a stale main event scene, lackluster main events with Hollywood Hogan, Sting, Randy Savage, and Roddy Piper, un-pushed younger stars, and a mass of indefinable mid-carders, the WWF was putting on a more polished product.
When you get past the first two matches of the night, with neither being terrible but inconsequential, you’re left with six matches with easy-to-follow stories attached, and well-defined characters.
Austin standing tall at the end of the night was merely icing, although inevitable. Unless there was a swerve in the works, there was no way that Austin’s money-shoveling shtick wasn’t going to be pushed to the forefront of Vince McMahon’s show. Having Mike Tyson make the final count and raise Austin’s hand, and then to have Tyson cold-cock Michaels with a right jab ended one era, and began a new one.
And speaking of McMahon, the stakes get higher as the puppet master soon joins the show.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
[amazon_link id=”B0009E32TI” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]WWE: The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the ’80s[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B00HRUQA8C” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Wrestlemania 30 DVD[/amazon_link]