March 23rd 1997, Chicago, Illinois
This doesn’t look like a WrestleMania. WrestleMania VIII (my first) looked like it was a huge event under a dome, even the rubbish that was presented at WrestleMania IX still had the feeling of a big event being outdoors. We’re used to massive sets for modern WrestleManias but the thirteenth edition just looks like any other PPV. It’s nothing against the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago but the annual ‘Showcase of the Immortals’ has looked more spectacular either side of this.
After a short video package detailing the main matches of the night between Stone Cold and Bret Hart and the title match between Undertaker and Sid we’re straight into our presentation with a number one contender’s Four Way Elimination Tag Match between The Godwinns, The Headbangers (making their first PPV appearance), Furnas and LaFon and The New Blackjacks with Bradshaw ditching his old gimmick and taking part in resurrecting a tag team from the 70′s that they actually have to show footage of to remind everybody who they were.
The rules of the match mean that whilst there are only two wrestlers in the ring at one time you can tag anybody. Once one member of the team is eliminated his partner must leave the ring as well. It’s pointed out early on that this could feature team mates being forced to fight each other and, unlike when The Smoking Gunns were tagged against each other in a similar match previously, the Headbangers actually go all out against each other when the time comes.
A small point about Mosh and Thrasher of the Headbangers. Surely, by 1997, the grunge movement in America was pretty much dead in the water? Exactly where did Vince think this was going?
Also, I’m only watching the PPV shows for this and not the Raw episodes in between. It’s taken me this long to click that The Smoking Gunns have split which proves how much that feud mattered.
The first two eliminations come up both simultaneously and in a really strange way. The Blackjacks and Furnas and LaFon end up battling in the aisle, Bradshaw pushes a ref out of the way which results in his team getting disqualified. During all of this LaFon and Furnas are counted out. Even the commentary team seem confused by this turn of events.
The match goes down to The Headbangers versus The Godwinns. By the fact this is a number one contender’s match and we seem to have had enough of the Godwinns over the last few months (I know I have) then it’s a fairly safe bet the Marilyn Manson boys are winning this. They do indeed as Thrasher hits Phineas with a cannonball senton for the win. A passable opener but it did highlight the shallow pool of tag team talent in the WWF at the time.
Onwards to Rocky Maivia defending his Intercontinental Championship against The Sultan. What the hell has The Sultan done to deserve a title shot? Who knows but the future Rikishi is here anyway and The Rock has yet to morph into the cocky heel he shall become. A lot is once again made of describing Rocky as ‘this kid’ and ‘rookie’ despite the fact he’s walking into this as the champ. It’s a traditional tale of huge guy vs guy who is fast and can fly a bit. Currently however, Rocky looks less like a wrestler and more like a walking advert for tooth whitener so the crowd don’t seem that into it. After winning with a roll up Jim Ross interviews the victorious Rocky outside the ring until The Sultan attacks again. After The Sultan, The Iron Shiek and Bob Backlund lay into him it looks bleak for Rocky until his Dad Rocky Johnson turns up to defend him. He also end up getting beat up but the two rally against the heels eventually to leave them hugging in the middle of the ring. There is no way on Earth that the later version of The Rock would have his Dad turn up to save him though.
The mid card frenzy of the Intercontinental Title resumes as the newly face Goldust takes on current champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley. This isn’t so much the story of the two wrestlers but more their female associates. We were introduced to Chyna last month as she reached over the barrier to assault Marlena. At that time we had no indication of if she was in cahoots with Hunter or not but there’s no doubt now as she’s beside HHH during his pre match interview.
The match itself is fairly turgid, capable enough but never really hitting the high gears as per the IC division at the time. Goldust dominates early on but then Hunter comes back with submission moves. Eventually Marlena gets up on the apron and Hunter shoves her off into the large arms of Chyna. Chyna then (and there is no other term for this) shakes Marlena so hard it’s scary. Goldust then falls victim to a Pedigree and Hunter retains. Marlena is soon carted off in Goldust’s arms.
So what of the tag team division? During the time of me watching all these PPV shows I’ve only seen two teams being top of the hill. The Smoking Gunns were damned by association with Sunny (who oddly hasn’t been seen since) and The British Bulldog and Owen Hart took over and have had the belts since. Tonight they face the odd team of Vader and Mankind who only seem to have been brought together because they are both now managed by Paul Bearer. To be honest, compared to the charisma free zones of LaFon and Furnas and the fake Razor and Diesel, these two are the champs most credible challengers to date. All four men in the ring tonight are certainly no slouches and it shows. Before we get started however there’s the small matter of an interview with Jim Ross as he asks Owen about eliminating Bulldog from the Royal Rumble. Owen says all is fine in the garden, Bulldog bellows a bit.
The match itself is really good with Owen trying to take down Vader early on and failing in the process. This format continues until Bulldog gets a hot tag. There’s just something really crisp about the exchanges in this match with Vader and Bulldog being the two powerhouses and Mankind and Owen being the quicker counterparts.
Eventually the urn comes into play as Vader uses it to waffle Bulldog on the outside. The Mandible Claw is applied on Bulldog as Owen and Vader brawl. It’s a double count out but it doesn’t feel like a cheap way out due to the action we’ve just seen. I’d certainly like to have seen these two teams tangle once again.
For the rest of the evening the referees might as well have gone home because the remaining three matches all have some kind of No DQ stipulation attached.
Stone Cold Steve Austin had, at this point in time, won both King of the Ring and the Royal Rumble and had his heart set on becoming the number one heel in the company. Jim Ross often tells the tale of how he would sit with Austin and say he’d make a great babyface, much to Steve’s obvious disgust with the idea. Regardless, the next match is the one that seals that deal as the cold blooded, intense Stone Cold character starts to become the major good guy he would become known as. Bret Hart often says he and Austin had such a great chemistry in the ring and he’s right. The technical proficiency of the Hitman rubbed up wonderfully alongside the all out brawling of the Texas Rattlesnake. This match does prove that Bret could hang in an all out fighting environment as well though.
Obviously, I’d seen this match before but it’s part of the pleasure of watching these matches in context that I get the full story rather than just seeing it as a stand alone in a box set. If anything, seeing the build up makes this even better.
It hits the outside of the ring very early on, when I say outside the ring it’s almost outside the arena floor too as they fight all the way up the stairs as fans pat them on the shoulder on the way up. They brawl in the stands and back down again before going over the guard rail. The ring steps are brought into play as a weapon and, after working on Austin’s leg, Bret has Stone Cold wrapped up in a figure four whilst hanging outside by one of the turn posts.
There’s also the moment Austin is Irish whipped into the guard rail and starts to bleed and bleed a whole lot. This is no minor trickle, no flesh wound, this is a full on pouring out. At one point Austin has Bret by the neck with a mic cord and Bret uses the bell to hit Austin over the head thus forcing him to let go.
Then the celebrated ending as Bret snaps the Sharpshooter on Austin who refuses to tap out, instead simply passing out. Then Bret attacks him some more before getting into a tangle with guest referee Ken Shamrock (whose contribution to this is also immense). Austin then refuses help for his injuries, delivering a stunner to a ref in the process. Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler and Vince all put across how tough Austin is on commentary and how the crowd will have appreciated his fight and his heart.
So, in a twenty minute match Austin is raised even through defeat and Bret Hart turns heel. This also looks nothing like a normal wrestling match, it’s a pure out and out fight between two guys who just simply don’t like each other and as such it’s amazing. It’s certainly up there with one of the best matches I’ve seen during this era, right alongside the Shawn Michaels versus Mankind match from Mind Games.
Geordie Alan had a piece of advice for the next match. It mainly consisted of him saying “Just switch your brain off and enjoy it”. So the Nation of Domination consisting of Faarooq, Crush and Savio Vega take on Ahmed Johnson and The Legion of Doom in a Chicago Street Fight. To be honest I don’t think they every wanted this feud to last this long but it has for medical reasons.
Yes ladies and gents, welcome to NOD vs LOD.
The pop the Legion of Doom get is incredible but then we are in Chicago and Ahmed has even turned up dressed for the occasion with his own spiked shoulder pads. They even have (and get ready for the visual joke here) a kitchen sink with them.
It’s garbage wrestling but it entertaining garbage. Stops signs, fire extinguishers and tables. To be honest it’s pretty much impossible to follow anything that’s going on but the crowd are well into it because of LOD’s Chicago connections. It takes a plank of wood to settle the score here as Animal hits Crush with one to pin him. This is right before The Nation’s two rapping flunkies get a Doomsday Device for their efforts. One small interesting fact to note is, according to Animal, Ahmed never gave back the spiked armour they gave him for the entrance.
Now Shawn Michaels may have cried off wrestling at this event due to a knee injury but it doesn’t seem to stop him being able to turn up for commentary complete with his entire entrance including fireworks as well. He’s hardly limping it has to be said. Shawn takes up his position on commentary for the World Championship match between The Undertaker and Psycho Sid.
The Undertaker is out first to the traditional huge pop and we also have a backstage interview with Sid in which he bumbles his lines again. Before the match can start officially Bret Hart makes another appearance to…
1) Accuse Shawn Michaels of faking an injury.
2) Say that his ‘friendship’ with Undertaker is over.
3) Tell Sid he’s going to get his belt back off him.
At least that seems the basics of it, Shawn helps a lot by talking over the top of it.
Sid tells him to get lost and then power bombs Bret for his trouble. It’s a think line to cross because this process almost turns Sid face again. Undertaker attacks Sid and we get underway.
Now it seems really odd but it takes until halfway through this match for the commentary team to say this is a No DQ. I didn’t hear it mentioned during the introductions and it’s only when the ref doesn’t count as The Undertaker is on the outside that they work it out.
It quickly becomes apparent that Sid should never be in a match of this duration. His basic offense and his lack of any kind of audience connection exposes him here. As a powerful heel he was fine in short doses. Taker does the whole face tactic of getting beat up for ages and then coming back for a short while. Sid sure loves his bear hugs as well.
Bret comes back out and beats Sid with a chair before security lead him away. We then go into the home stretch which is very wobbly. Taker goes for a flying clotheslines which Sid fails to react to meaning Taker has to just kind of twist in the air and land on the apron. Sid then goes to power bomb Taker but waits for what seems like an age for Bret to come back and attack him. Bret drops Sid throat first across the top rope leaving a staggering Sid to walk straight into a Tombstone Piledriver for the three count. Your winner and new World Wrestling Federation Champion is The Undertaker. It seems odd that this was only Taker’s second title win seeing as he had been in the company nearly seven years at this stage and was very popular. The showcase annual event of the WWF ends with lightning strikes and bells chiming.
WrestleMania XII is an odd one, the first half pretty much sums up the faults with the company at the time in having cartoon character versions of wrestlers fighting pointless battles. The second half mostly had some excellent action, an upcoming Stone Cold Steve Austin, a wonderful Bret Hart heel turn and The Undertaker winning the title which left the crowd happy. WCW were mauling WWF at this time by loading their cards with established names but the signs are certainly here that the WWF were about to turn things around.
Next time around we arrive at ‘In Your House 11: Revenge of the Taker’. Quite what the World Champion has to be vengeful about I have no idea.