28th March 1999, Philadelphia PA
It’s still strange to see Wrestlemania shows in the late 90’s taking place in the the kind of arenas they would usually hold Monday Night Raw and Smackdown tapings in today. We’re in Phillly but we’re two years away from Wrestlemania X7 being held in a gigantic stadium in Houston. The WWF are slowly rising again
I’d totally forgotten that the 24/7 rule concerning the Hatdcore title only really came into effect when Crash Holly held the belt in the early 2000s. It’s going to be a while until we have fights in children’s soft play areas and airport lounges. For now we have Al Snow and Bob Holly going up against the current champion Billy Gunn. There isn’t that much to this match bar a lot of hockey sticks being broken over each other. Al Snow sets up a table but end up going through it himself. Snow also gets a Fameasser directly onto a steel chair but Bob Holly manages to sneak in and pin him after attacking Gunn. Bob Holly is therefore your two time champion. It’s put over like the greatest achievement he’ll ever do.
If you think the WWE tend to chuck singles wrestlers into tag teams these days then it’s got nothing on this show. There was a battle royal on Sunday Night Heat and the last two standing would be paired together to go up against Jeff Jarrett and Owen Hart for the title. It ends up being Test and D’Lo Brown who actually continue fighting as they try to tell them they’re now a tag team. Once again, bless him, D’Lo is chucked head first into a team he seems to have little in common with. Whilst Test and D’Lo have Ivory in their corner Owen and Jeff are accompanied by Debra.
The match itself is a bit of a waste to the talents of at least 75% of the participants. Test is obviously very new to this so D’Lo does a whole lot of heavy lifting for his team (D’Lo seems to have spent almost an entire WWF career doing this). Test and D’Lo get some really good offense in initially including a grand looking Power bomb from Test to Owen.
“Owen Hart told me earlier today that Jeff Jarrett is the best tag team partner he has ever had“ says Jerry Lawler. Whilst I rate Jeff Jarrett highly I still think The British Bulldog would like a word.
Jeff and Owen get back into it with a Dual Clothesline. Owen breaks up a pinfall attempt on Jeff just after a Low Down. Ivory and Debra begin to argue outside the ring. Owen dropkicks D’Lo off the top corner and the argument outside the ring turns heated. Test goes outside to sort it out leaving D’Lo to fall victim to a Jarrett roll up pinfall. Both D’Lo and Test then punch each other some more as they leave.
The Brawl For All tournament in which WWF wrestlers fought for real was probably one of the worst things the WWF ever put on TV. The idea was born to get Dr Death Steve Williams, a legit fighter, over as a force in pro wrestling. That plan quickly backfired when he pulled up injured during the tournament leading to the eventual winner being the unfancied Bart Gunn. Gunn’s prize for that display? A boxing match against Butterbean on this show. There’s a video package that features Bart talking about how hard he hits.
The judges are introduced but the crowd do nothing until Gorilla Monsoon is announced. There is standard chugging guitar intro music for the both of them and we’re off to the races.
For about thirty seconds…
Butterbean swings two heavy haymakers. The first rocks Gunn to the corner and the ref checks up on him. As he goes another the second hit clubs Bart Gunn to the floor and the fight is called. Not even the appearance of a man dressed as a chicken and being punched by the ref can save this from being a waste of everybody’s time and Vince’s money.
Of all the strange stipulations for matches to have being able to referee the main event is one of the strangest. Here’s Paul Wight, now called The Big Show, to go up against Mankind for this privilege. This being Show’s first WrestleMania they put him with somebody reliable like Mick Foley.
They go straight to it with fists flying and Show gets a big boot in as well. Mankind whacks Show’s head into the stairs. Not long after this sees Socko join the fray. There follows a few minutes of Big Show trying to break out of a Mandible Claw. To really set this off Big Show sets up two chairs in the ring and chokeslams Mankind through them. He automatically gets disqualified. Vince stomps on down to admonish him before Show punches him in the face. One thing you can learn from this is that Big Show has turned face after being in the company a month. His switching back and forth started really early.
Next we have a four corners match for the Intercontinental Championship. The champion Road Dogg takes on Val Venis, Goldust and Ken Shamrock. Goldust is led to the ring by The Blue Meanie and Ryan Shamrock. This is elimination rules but only two people are allowed in at once.
Ken Shamrock gets a stiff Clothesline onto Road Dogg before both men tag out and Val Venis gets a great looking Spinebuster to Goldust. Both men screw up a Superplex attempt and then Val gets a really good looking Fisherman’s Suplex in. Ken Shamrock snaps an Ankle Lock on Venis. After breaking free Val walks off down the aisle but Ken gives chase. Both men are counted out. Shamrock goes into his usual rage and attacks everybody. Road Dogg manages to roll up Goldust after Ryan Shamrock messes up an attempt at distraction.
Big Show is backstage being lead into a police car after Vince has him arrested for assault. It’s all rather calm and collected.
Kane versus Triple H begins with a video package that has a whole lot to do with fire and flames in general. Chyna has seemingly left DX for the Corporation. Their match begins with Triple H jumping Kane from behind before dumping the Big Red Machine over the top rope. Kane is then hurled into the ring steps. Later Kane ends up trying what looks like a Plancha over the top rope but ends up splatting directly on Trip to the outside.
Chyna appears at ringside and places the ring steps inside the ring. Triple H Drop Toe Holds Kane down onto them and, when Triple H is outside, Chyna welts Kane with a chair. After Triple H manages to Pedigree Kane on the chair he gets the winning three count. Chyna is back home with DX! Celebrations all around. “Blood is thicker than money” says Cole in a statement which makes zero sense.
Kevin Kelly finds Vince McMahon backstage. Vince says that Big Show has been arrested and Mankind is in hospital so it means Vince himself will have to referee the main event.
Nothing I have ever seen of Sable has convinced me she should be anywhere near a wrestling ring. Yet here she is with WWF Women’s Title and something of a heel attitude. This involves doing some bloody awful hip swaying move which makes her take on the appearance of a futuristic sexbot running out of batteries. Her match here against Tori is awful as no part of Sable’s offense is anywhere near convincing. Nicole Bass turns up at the end to slam Tori so Sable can win. Cue more dreadful grinding.
Before Shane McMahon based most of his matches on falling off something very high he was European Champion and facing X-Pac for the title. In a pre match promo Triple H pretty much speaks for X-Pac as they acknowledge that DX is complete again. “Shane, get ready for pain” says X-Pac before demonstrating the togetherness of the group by walking down to the ring alone and getting batters by Patterson and Briscoe.
There are some strange rules in this match that fly in the face of any kayfabe. Test is outside backing up Shane and flings X-Pac bollocks first into the ring post. The ref does nothing. After missing with a Corporate Elbow Shane takes a leather belt and clobbers X-Pac with it. There is no call for a DQ but I can perhaps understand it if they’re going with the idea that Shane will fire the ref if he ends the match against him.
On the outside The Mean Street Posse, Shane’s mates from high school, jump X-Pac. Still no DQ is called. Back inside the ring X-Pac gets a Superplex in but Test breaks up the pinfall. X-Pac ends up with the leather belt and beats Shane with it. Still there is no DQ so the idea of Shane being able to take advantage is blown out of the water.
All the way through this I was wondering where exactly the newly reformed DX were? Why have they had this promo displaying their rediscovered unity only to leave X-Pac alone? The answer is in the finish of this match as DX finally show up only to have the ref get distracted by Chyna and then Triple H Pedigree X-Pac so they can drag Shane’s limp body over to make the pinfall. Billy Gunn and Road Dogg run down only to have Triple H, Test and Chyna beat them up too. The DX reformation lasted all of about half an hour and I had to watch a Sable match in that time too. Triple H is now officially in line with Vince and Shane in what must be the precursor of the McMahon-Helmsley era in the 2000s.
Vince may have aligned with one thorn in his side but another, much darker, one remains in the shape of The Ministry of Darkness. Tonight The Undertaker takes on The Big Bossman in a Hell In A Cell match. I’ll state something of an opinion here by saying HIAC matches started out great but then got worse as the years rolled on. Shawn versus Undertaker at Bad Blood is brilliant, the King of the Ring 98 match is memorable, the Armageddon 2000 match was utter chaos loaded with star power but the rest are always a bit bland. It’s no different here. After an initial brawl Bossman gets a pair of hand cuffs and ties Undertaker to the cell wall. After the first shot with the night stick Undertaker falls and the chain of the cuffs snaps completely. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be something more of an assault but circumstances mean it feels cut short. As a result of this The Undertaker is bleeding. A chair ends up being used which results in the Bossman bleeding also. The Undertaker crotches himself on the top rope after Bossman reverses an attempt at Old School. Then, after a few more punches, Undertaker scoops up Bossman and delivers a single Tombstone for a winning three count. The match seems to end abruptly.
The main memory many have is not of anything that happened during this match but more the aftermath. Gangrel, Edge and Christian are lowered down from the roof onto the cell and they feed a noose through the top. Bossman is then strung up alongside the raising cell. It’s a public hanging and looks very brutal as part of a wrestling show. Undertaker, alongside his Ministry, were skirting close to the knuckle in some of the stunts they were pulling but this seems like a line crossed. The original broadcast was apparently much longer and lingering than the current Network version.
The main event is up next as Stone Cold Steve Austin takes on The Rock in the first of their trilogy of WrestleMania matches. The whole thing picks up greatly because Michael Cole leaves the commentary desk to be replaced by Jim Ross who was on the recovery from a Bells Palsy attack. It’s great to hear his voice again.
Vince walks down the aisle and prepares to take charge until Shawn Michaels’ music hits. The Commissioner says that Vince doesn’t have the power to choose a referee for a Wrestlemania main event. Quite how this works is anybody’s guess. It ends up being a regular referee taking charge. The Rock gets huge pop, Austin gets an even louder one even as he shoves a cameraman off the ring steps.
This is, for reasons unknown, now a no DQ match so the battle goes straight into the crowd. They brawl up the steps, return to ringside and then go right over the barrier at the other side of the arena. Austin chokes The Rock with a camera cable, the favour is returned with The Rock slamming Austin’s legs on the lighting rig. The Wrestlemania sign above the entrance is also used as a weapon. Austin elbow drops The Rock on the announce table but it doesn’t break. Thankfully it does on the second attempt.
The Rock drags the ref to use as a human shield against an Austin chair shot. This is the first ref bump of the match, keep count because there will be more. The Rock turns the tables by using chair shots on Austin but he kicks out at two once a replacement ref has ran down to the ring. Not long after The Rock applies a Rock Bottom to this ref. A Stone Cold Stunner leaves The Rock prone but there is no ref to count the pinfall. Earl Hebner is the third ref but his progress is cut short by Vince returning to welt him one. Mankind runs back down the aisle having returned from hospital and takes his place as ref. Austin moves out of the way of a Corporate Elbow, gets a Stunner in for the winning three count. Stone Cold is champ again, Vince is distraught and Earl wakes up enough to join Austin in his beer bash celebrations. This culminates in another Stunner to Vince. It’s a main event full of chaotic twists and turns and it’s certainly match of the night.
Is 15 one of the best Wrestlemanias? Probably not as the undercard is often a little underwhelming, the Hell In A Cell match has a post match sequence far more memorable than the match itself and it suffers from all the eggs being put into the main event basket. The first part of the Stone Cold versus The Rock trilogy is well worth a watch though.
Next time we move on to Backlash 1999 in Rhode Island.