March 29th 1998. Boston, Massachusetts
I went into this viewing of WrestleMania XIV having just come away from the all out media blitz that was the 32nd version of the event from Dallas.
Compared to the one hundred thousand strong crowd sitting in the Levi Stadium, the Hall of Fame ceremony the night before, the fan access events staged at various times around the weekend going back to 1998 seems small in comparison. The Fleetcenter in Boston is a fine arena but seem now more suitable for hosting episodes of Monday Night Raw and the occasional B level PPV show than a WrestleMania card of the modern era. One of the many conclusions I’ve come to during this project is that the WWF/E has grown enormously over the last twenty years or so. Often by far more than you think.
“Has tradition deserted WrestleMania?” asks the gruff voiced gent in the video package at the start of the show. Footage is shown of WrestleMania’s past and it’s lined up to look like some kind of noble contest between foes. The message is that Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels are edgy characters, much more in your face and are therefore far different from any of the older men that perhaps WCW have signed in recent years.
The TV audience seem to be arriving late for this one as the vast majority of the entrances for the opener are done. Faarooq and Mustafa walk to the ring as team number thirteen in this match. It’s an over the top rope tag team battle royal. Put simply, if your partner is thrown over the top rope then you have to walk away as well. The only thing is the first camera shot of the ring shows a mass of wrestlers just standing around. Some teams are obvious such as The Headbangers, other teams are completely thrown together (Bradshaw and Chainz?). With thirteen teams already in there’s apparently a surprise waiting as far as the last entrants are concerned. It’s not long until the Legion of Doom are revealed but perhaps not quite as we’ve seen them before. Shorter trunks,
silver armour and bike helmets seem to be the order of the day. Sunny is somehow their manager now, keeping up her record of managing every single tag team in the WWF at some stage in their careers. It takes both Hawk and Animal what seems like an age to remove all this armour before they start the match.
I won’t be able to give my usual analysis of this opener for the simple reason that it’s a mess. It’s revealed to be a Number One Contender’s match as well so the winning pair get a tag team title shot at Unforgiven, next month’s PPV. With L.O.D being given such an entrance it’s hardly a shock when they win. The only other highlight is Mark Henry having a clear chance to Gorilla Press Slam Brian Christopher over the top and yet somehow he just drops him near the ropes. It’s off to a strange start this one.
Not a lot of time is wasted until be get to our next match for the WWF Lightheavyweight Championship as Taka Michinoku defends against Aguila. The WWF’s Lightheavyweight
Division at this time seems to consist of Taka, Brian Christopher and anybody else they can get from Mexico. Aguila goes for it early doors as he hits a Huricanrana, a scissor kick, a baseball slide and then follows this up with a Asai Moonsualt to the outside. As is usual practise for WWF versions of Cruiserweight matches the spots come thick and fast, often without time to sink in.
Taka gets some offence back with a crossbody to the outside. Later Aguila does a great looking Top Rope Arm Drag and Corkscrew Plancha. Taka later misses his own Plancha from the top allowing Aguila to follow with a Moonsault for a two count only. The end comes when Taka misses another Moonsault, Aguila goes up top but Taka recovers enough to Dropkick him out of the air and lead into the Michinoku Driver for the winning three count. Whilst far better than the opening free for all this match has the usual faults of matches involving Cruiserweights in WWF at the time. It goes past far to quickly for anybody in the crowd to actually absorb what’s going on.
The Rock gives an interview to Jenny Flowers (who she?) in which the character that will come to headline next year’s event is just about there. He talks about how he would fix various problems in America. For Dwayne Johnson, the future is rapidly falling into place.
Owen Hart seems a little bit lost now that The Hart Foundation have vanished without him. Bret is obviously away in WCW now and Jim Neidhart and Bulldog will eventually end up there as well. It’s a certain that Owen was never going to challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWF title even after his attack of HBK at D-Generation X in December 1997. It would have made perfect sense with a vengeful brother being the lone gun standing against DX with Vince having to choose a side. It falls to Triple H to give Owen his shot at some form of Hart family redemption. Chyna, who for so long has been the difference maker in Triple H’s matches, will be handcuffed to Sergeant Slaughter throughout this match in an effort to somehow stop her. Owen is actually booed slightly as he walks to the ring. Maybe a hangover from The Hart Foundation being a heel faction or perhaps more likely because DX are technically the heels who the crowd love.
A small side note also is that Triple H and Chyna have their entrance music played live by ‘The DX Band’. They’re pretty awful. It’s not actually shown on the UK Network version of this show but apparently they sang the national anthem at the start also and were roundly booed by the audience in attendance.
This whole match revolves around the moment that Chyna will get involved and she tries to give Slaughter the slip early on but he stands firm. Owen begins by getting in a really soft looking Powerbomb and a Sharpshooter attempt. Triple H responds with a high knee. J.R uses this moment to describe Triple H as ‘a former King of the Ring’ on commentary even though he won the 1997 event and we’re a couple of months away from the 1998 version so he actually still is the King of the Ring. Triple H has been allowed to ditch the robes and crown within a few months meaning he’s slightly luckier than more recent recipients such as Wade Barrett and Sheamus.
Owen goes into this match with an injured ankle and it’s this that provides a target for Triple H. After a DDT gets a two count he applies pressure to Owen’s foot in an effort to make him submit. Owen sports a bleeding nose already. Triple H is quickly dropped onto the top rope and the momentum switches to Owen. A Missile Dropkick gets him a two count, A Belly To Belly Suplex gets him another two count and after connecting with the Enziguri Owen clutches his ankle. Owen goes for a Huricanrana but Triple H reverses into a Powerbomb.
J.R then refers to the ‘coveted European Championship’ belonging to Triple H. It’s so coveted that Shawn Michaels saw it fit to drop it in an angle to his DX chum.
Owen gets the Sharpshooter locked on but Triple H kicks him to the corner. A dazed Owen falls forward onto Triple H’s crotch. Eventually Owen gets the Sharpshooter again but Chyna just manages to pull Triple H towards the ropes. Slaughter gets involved (finally) but Chyna throws a pack of chalk into his eyes. This gives her the opportunity to low blow Owen from the apron which results in the younger Hart falling victim to a Pedigree for the winning three count. Chyna punches Slaughter for good measure. It’s the best match of the night so far but the bar has been pretty low.
If you listen to one Mr James E Cornette on his podcast or various interviews over the years you’ll get the impression he wasn’t much a fan of Sable. Apparently she had no interest in learning how to actually wrestle properly and was simply in the business for the exposure so she could get an acting career out of it and move on. Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn are said to have had some kind of school boy like fixation with her hence she got as far as she did.
For months now Marc Mero has tried to keep the far more popular Sable away from his spotlight. This led to trouble with Goldust and Luna with the two women trying to claw at each other whenever they’ve been face to face. Tonight Sable teams with Mero to go up against Luna and Goldust. Just to be clear, this match features three heels and one face who can’t wrestle. As the WWF draws the line at male on female violence at this time (being years before Bubba Ray Dudley was smashing women through tables in a very uncomfortable angle) the rules state that once one team tags the other has to also.
For all Sable’s flaws with her actual wrestling ability she does do ‘crazy women glaring’ very well, as is very much in evidence as she walks down the aisle. This entire match is built towards Sable getting to fight Luna though. Goldust and Mero might start but it’s only for about thirty seconds until Goldust tags Luna in. Mero is then forced to tag Sable in, the crowd go bonkers until Luna meekly tags her partner back in.
Eventually the inevitable happens and both women end up facing each other. Sable goes completely nuts and also attacks Goldust. J.R rather generously calls her attacks ‘martial arts kicks’ which is rather overplaying the situation to be honest. Goldust shows his gentlemanly credentials by spitting at Sable, she goes for him again. Later a Mero Huricanrana off the top to Goldust gets a two count. Mero gets his TKO finisher on Goldust but Luna breaks the pin by jumping on Mero’s back. In the process of this Sable manages to tag in and get a pinfall attempt on Goldust. Luna gets to the top rope and tries a Splash but Sable moves at the last minute meaning the two team partners collide. Sable then gets a Powerbomb and her own TKO for the victorious three count. She’s looked pretty awkward throughout this entire match, the other three participants have had to carry her through it but it seems like the WWF is hell bent on cashing in with Sable’s popularity. As a match this at least had something of a story going into it but it’s mostly designed around one person. Goldust seems to be drifting in his current heel persona, the WWF promotional machine will soon ensure that Sable overtakes Mero.
Jeff Jarrett is walking down to the aisle for some reason alongside a woman who I guess is a country singer that I’ve never heard of. She’s here to introduce Ken Shamrock and The Rock who will go head to head for The Rock’s Intercontinental Championship. Shamrock has been getting the better of the man formerly known as Rocky Maivia in the last couple of months but it’s usually him being ‘in the zone’ that means he doesn’t quite get the job done.
Shamrock instantly bolts down the aisle after The Rock and kicks him hard. Being the heel in this The Rock takes off down the aisle as Shamrock gives chase. They brawl on the
outside before Shamrock is sent flying into the steel ring steps. Once back in the ring The Rock gets The People’s Elbow for a two count. Once Rock is dumped out of the ring Shamrock goes for a steel chair. The referee tries to take it out of his hands but gets knocked over in the process. In the end The Rock ends up using it instead behind the ref’s back. This only gets him a two count though. A Shamrock Powerbomnb gets him a two count also.
As the final stretch of the match comes Shamrock gets The Rock in the Ankle Lock (that’s very nearly poetic back there). The Rock begins to tap like mad and the members of The Nation descend. Faarooq isn’t with them initially though. Shamrock takes them all on, throwing D’Lo Brown around with ease and even attacking Mark Henry full on. After each member of The Nation goes down Shamrock goes back to The Rock to reapply the Ankle Lock. WWF officials start to gather around to try and separate the two. Faarooq appears, walks down to ringside, looks at The Rock who is now bleeding and walks away again. The final split in The Nation seems to have taken hold. Shamrock then, for some strange reason, starts attacking the officials. With the whole ring a pile of broken bodies the referee reverses the decision and allows The Rock to keep his title. Both The Rock and the title belt are wheeled down the aisle on a stretcher but Shamrock catches up with them and continues to fight on the music stage reserved for the DX Band. It’s a very brief match ending in utter chaos but then these two have faced each other a couple of times before so there’s a need to make it different somehow.
Terry Funk has dropped all pretence of being ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ for the next match as he walks down the aisle with Cactus Jack wearing his usual ‘Funk Academy’ shirt. It’s the Tag Team Title match with Cactus Jack and Terry Funk taking on The New Age Outlaws. It’s the first ever Dumpster Match in which the winning team must place both members of the opposition into a large dumpster and shut the lids. In a way it’s like a Casket Match only with council property.
Road Dogg and Cactus go one way, Funk and Gunn go the other in this no holds barred fight. It’s broken up when Cactus tries to Cannonball off the turnbuckle as Dogg is leaning against the Dumpster. He misses and ends up in a crumpled heap. This is probably there on the list of reasons why Mick Foley has such trouble with his spine these days. Funk is backdropped into the Dumpster, Cactus soon follows and it’s up to Cactus to Mandible Claw his way out before the lids are closed down.
Cookie trays are a vital component of any wrestling ring construction so obviously there’s a bundle of those about the place. Cactus Jack gets a cookie tray assisted Elbow Drop off the ring apron. A ladder soon comes into play and Gunn and Cactus fight all the way up. Eventually though the ladder is toppled with them still on it and they both tumble into the bin. After a short while Funk is Powerbombed into the Dumpster but Cactus remains in the aisle meaning The New Age Outlaws have to give chase. This leads them backstage and into what seems like a massive pile of steel chairs and shelves. There’s a bit of awkward two on one brawling until Funk makes his return from the arena and uses, of all things, a forklift truck. Both members of the Outlaws are hoisted up by forklift, dumped in the nearest bin and the truck is then used to hold the lid firmly shut. Terry Funk mutters something about how ‘we got the bastards’ and we have new champions. At least it seems like we have new champions, there might be a little bit of debate about the regulation bin being still at ringside. For now though there’s the chance for Cactus and Funk to have a moment after a match which, despite the efforts of all involved, didn’t really take off.
The Undertaker has been saying he wouldn’t fight his own flesh and blood ever since Kane set foot inside the Cell at Bad Blood and cost him the match against Shawn Michaels. This was until the Royal Rumble when Kane set fire to the casket containing The Undertaker. With this line crossed the Man From The Dark Side meets his brother one on one tonight. It’s a storyline six months in the making which makes it something of a rarity as far as wrestling is concerned.
There’s a really strange beginning to all this though as baseball player Pete Rose (I only know him from wrestling, my knowledge of baseball is pretty much zero) comes down
to the ring to have a pop at The Red Socks and Boston in general. This is until Kane turns up and Tombstones him. The crowd love it but I’m really wondering why the heel in this match would have been given such a crowd pleasing action to do. I can only suggest it would have seemed even more strange had Undertaker done it. Undertaker comes down to the ring alongside his Druids with their flaming torches.
Undertaker’s Wrestlemania opponents have varied in their ability as we’ve seen him go against everybody from Jake Roberts to Giant Gonzalez. Usually it’s something along the
lines of ‘big man comes to threaten everybody but Undertaker must stop them’. This is probably the first time there was a considered story leading into a match at Wrestlemania as far as Taker is concerned. It’s also helped by the fact Glen Jacobs can actually wrestle and the Kane character looks to have far more appeal than Fake Diesel ever did.
Kane glances off Undertaker’s hard punches in the opening moments. Not long after this he brushes off a clothesline. Kane goes for the Tombstone early but doesn’t get it. The referee is absolutely petrified at all of this. Kane begins to take control until Undertaker somehow manages to get up on his shoulders and punch him in the mask repeatedly until Kane just drops his brother backwards on his ankle. Kane later throws Undertaker to the outside and brings down the steel steps on his back. Even Paul Bearer has a go at this point. Undertaker is soon suplexed back into the ring from the apron.
It’s at this point that J.R says Undertaker’s first Wrestlemania was at 8 versus Jake Roberts. I’m not sure if Jimmy Snuka wasn’t on speaking terms with the office at this point.
Next comes a really brutal spot. After being content with rest holds for a short while Kane ends up back on the outside next to the announce tables. Undertaker flies through the air, over the top rope only to have Kane move out of the way. Undertaker goes crashing through the Spanish announce table and nearly breaks Tito Santana as well. Undertaker goes for the Tombstone but Kane reverses it and applies his own. It only gets a two count. Undertaker gets a chokeslam followed by his own Tombstone which only
gets a two count on his little brother. After an Undertaker legdrop Kane is back up and into a second Tombstone which, once again, only gets a two. Undertaker then goes up to the top rope and launches a Flying Clothesline which connects. A third Tombstone gets Undertaker the win even if it looks awfully like Kane was kicking out at two and a half.
Kane isn’t done yet though. Paul Bearer leads an assault in which Undertaker gets Tombstoned onto a steel chair. Kane might have been defeated for the first time on WWF television but it is he who walks away from the ring unaided. It’s not a bad match, the Undertaker finally defeats his nemesis but Kane remains looking strong. There’s still a bit of fuel for this fire.
Urban legend has it that Shawn Michaels was reluctant to drop his WWF title even with the back injury that would rule him out of wrestling for more than four years. A further
rumour has it that it took Undertaker to threaten him backstage into handing the title over. Shawn has, at this stage in his career, become the embodiment of the saying ‘writing cheques your body can’t cash’.
The main event of WrestleMania XIV is built well. Convicted rapist and currently banned boxer Mike Tyson walks down to the ring as the Special Enforcer for this match. I’m not quite sure what exactly he’s supposed to do as he’s certainly not the referee and the only people who would interrupt this match would be Triple H and Chyna and Tyson has already been seen to align with DX. The Baddest Man On The Planet walks down the aisle crotch chopping. Cameras go backstage to follow Stone Cold as he walks from his dressing room to the ring. The same thing occurs for Shawn Michaels who walks to the Gorilla Position with Triple H and Chyna. Before he goes through the curtain Shawn turns to the camera and says ‘This one’s for you Earl’. He’s referencing referee Earl Hebner who was in hospital suffering the effects of a brain aneurysm at the time.
It’s obvious from the first moments that Shawn’s back injury isn’t going to allow him to go full tilt in this match. Whilst he still puts on a good performance each spot is interspersed with Shawn grabbing his lower back and gritting his teeth. The opening bell rings, Shawn just dances around the place whilst Stone Cold stares at him before flipping the bird. Shawn goes into quick jabs, Stone Cold levels him with a clothesline. Steve Austin is walking that fine line between looking after Shawn’s back and making the match look as hard hitting as possible. Shawn is very quickly backdropped into Triple H outside the ring. Chyna and Triple H then use this opportunity to attack Stone Cold whilst Mike Tyson does nothing, playing up his DX connections even more. After a sustained period of Stone Cold being thrown around the referee insists that Chyna and Triple H are sent to the back. This does beg the question as to why Chyna couldn’t have just been sent to the back during the earlier match with Owen Hart, it might have saved Slaughter getting the handcuffs out.
Back in the ring Stone Cold wails in with punches and a truly massive Irish Whip to the corner which probably won’t help any recovery from surgery. Stone Cold then brings out the Stun Gun again as he drops Shawn chest first across the top rope. After this he very nearly gets a Stunner in. Austin is then Backdropped over the guard rail into the crowd, Shawn gathers the ring bell and uses it to crack Austin over the head.
Shawn flips the bird in Austin’s direction but falls victim to a Lou Thesz Press. Not long after this Austin is shoved right into the announce table from a Shawn Baseball Slide. HBK then snaps on a Figure Four Leglock which Austin rolls over on before pushing Shawn into the turnbuckles. After a HBK Sleeperhold there’s a ref bump which leads into the home stretch. HBK gets an Elbow Drop from the top and tries to go for Sweet Chin Music. Stone Cold ducks it, tries the Stunner, Shawn moves and tries the Chin Music, Stone Cold moves around this and finally gets the Stunner in. With the referee elsewhere it’s Mike Tyson who counts the three. Stone Cold Steve Austin has won his first WWF Title Shawn recovers to stand, realised Tyson has counted the three and asks him why he’s turned his back on DX. Tyson then lays out The Heartbreak Kid with one punch. Stone Cold gives Tyson an Austin 3:16 t-shirt as he celebrates over Shawn’s prone body. It’s the result that the WWF were going for although rather more out necessity than any great design. If Shawn had been fully fit then it might have been so much more but considering the limitations it’s the best they could have done.
Shawn Michaels has been a major part of this project so far, starting as I did just after WrestleMania XII when he won his first WWF Title. In the two years since Shawn was a
driving force behind the WWF staying somewhere close to the runaway success of WCW. Despite his troubles backstage and his real life animosity with Bret Hart he became the guy who helped kick start what would become the Attitude Era. DX’s more risqué antics on Monday Night Raw opened the door for the rest of the roster to go a little nearer the knuckle in the late 90’s and appeal to a much older audience. The cartoonish wrestling the WWF had been presenting for the last few years is on the way out here, what comes next is still talked about today.
Michaels himself would leave Boston after WrestleMania and wouldn’t wrestle a full match again until Summerslam 2002 against Triple H. This would be in a match put together by then Raw General Manager Eric Bishoff, the very man who is trying to drive the WWF to dust as head of WCW around this time. Sometimes it’s strange the way wrestling works out.
WrestleMania XIV isn’t one of the greatest WrestleManias. A lot of the show seems slung together in the hope something will fly. Last year’s annual extravaganza from Chicago
might have been equally as muted but at least it had one absolute, concrete classic on there in the shape of Stone Cold versus Bret Hart. The WrestleMania of 1998 doesn’t have any match that people still look fondly back to these days and it suffers as a result.
With Shawn gone from the picture Vince McMahon was probably looking around the locker room trying to find somebody who would be able to match Stone Cold in a programme going forward. It might not have crossed his mind to begin with but the answer was looking at him in the mirror every morning. Steve Austin is about to have a disagreement with his boss and the results would change American pro wrestling forever.