“You’ve got the WWF Title Rock, and I want it.”
No clever titles here for this one. We’re just going to lay the smackdown and get straight to the bottom line of this one. See what I did there? Hell yeah? Hell yeah? No? You totally did. You didn’t?… IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU DIDN’T!
This will be an easy series to write and one that’s going to be a lot of fun. A self-indulgent, self-righteous look at the professional wrestling encounters that my brain has deemed to be at the apex (predator) of Mount Grapsmore.
Even if you’re a casual fan, chances are that at least one of these masterpieces will hit home with you. Otherwise, I hope this gives you a new match to watch and piledrive into your head.
And I will say this now…any other subsequent entries into this series will not be in any order.
THIS…is the one. This has been my favourite match for the better part of 15 years. Nothing has topped it. It’s possible nothing will. Enough promo work, let’s shoot from the hip and get to work.
The Astrodome in Houston, Texas. 67, 000 people. The greatest wrestling PPV ever put on by any company.
A night that had featured…
An emotionally charged father vs son Street Fight.
An indescribable, car crash stuntfest in the legendary TLC II match.
An absolute 5-star, wrestling clinic between Kurt Angle and himself (joke).
And two, future, Hall of Famers trying their best to end each other’s career, all across the arena in a battle for the ages.
This night is fondly remembered for a plethora of reasons. But, even if the madness had ended after the first eleven matches, it would still be a contender for best wrestling PPV ever.
Then you had the main event.
Two of the greatest of all-time.
The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Attitude Era’s two biggest stars, for the WWF Championship.
Before the era of 7-hour Wrestlemania’s that were so bloated, you’d have thought they’d gorged on a 3-course meal of gluttony, greed and a side helping of gluttony, you had a perfect show like this clocking in at less than 4 hours.
The crowd had already been treated to some astonishing entertainment and they were still, fresh off the grill, hot for this sumptuous final match in prospect. It was the main event that everyone wanted, and before Vince’s senility kicked in, he actually used to know what his fans wanted.
Rocky was the champion, Austin was the plucky challenger; not an underdog by any means. Despite the partisan atmosphere within the venue, this was very much a face vs face scenario in the main event of Wrestlemania. Given how traditional the WWE are with regards to their match psychology, it made for a unique dynamic.
The pre-match package is still the best I’ve ever seen, and it still gives me goosebumps now. Limp Bizkit’s ‘My Way’ was such a fitting song that really narrated the inherent desire of these two men to walk out of Wrestlemania with the most coveted title in all of pro wrestling.
It was that simple. I’m better than you. They fought on RAW and Smackdown in the weeks leading up to it and you just didn’t know which way this was going to go.
Needless to say, the spine-tingling pop when Disturbed’s awesome version of ‘Glass Shatters’ hits sets the tone from the get-go. Austin fearlessly made his way to the ring. Rock soon followed to a large chorus of boos. He was a face, but this was Texas. Rattlesnake country.
Another modern day trope that this match avoided is the pre-match, in-ring introductions to give it that big fight feel. Literally, Rocky descends from the top rope after doing his signature pose and Austin just blasts him in the face and the bell ring-dings.
This main event, at a fairly hefty 30 minutes, absolutely flies by. Even Sonic The Hedgehog experts couldn’t do Green Hill Zone Act 1 quicker than this match takes to complete.
If you went to a bar and asked for a specialty drink of its finest liquors, it would be this match. A blank canvas delicately sprinkled with sugar, spice, and everything nice…not to mention some tasty blade jobs too. Man do these guys bleed in this match; a rarity given how rarely The Rock bladed.
The argument can be made for no chair shots in modern day wrestling (which if protected would be fine), but some colour can really add to the drama of an intense match. The claret certainly flowed in this match and so did the action.
Brawling in the ring, brawling outside the ring, brawling in the crowd. Wrestling in the ring, wrestling outside the ring…more brawling in the crowd. They absolutely held nothing back in this No Disqualification, championship epic.
They used chairs, announce tables, the ring bell, the WWF title itself; anything that wasn’t glued down would normally be considered an illicit object became a tool of destruction in this physical, sordid war of attrition.
In addition to all of this tomfoolery, the storytelling is simply on a different level here. Harking back to the pre-match package; the mission statement here was clear, win at all costs.
As the match motors towards its epic finale; both men, beaten and battered, begin to pull out a variety of manoeuvres, in desperation more than anything. The Rock commonly used the Sharpshooter in his matches, so Austin stole it. Austin even used ‘The Million Dollar Dream’, a submission hold he hadn’t used since the days of his old ‘Ringmaster’ gimmick. You just wondered if he would fall short.
The iconic play-by-play of Jim Ross and Paul Heyman really added to the ferocity of the action and sold the action beautifully. The match crescendoed magnificently into a game of ‘what’ve you got left hombre?’. They hit their own finishers. Still they kicked-out. They hit each other’s finishers. They still kicked out. The crowd was absolutely electric and they went berserk for everything.
No one sold the Stunner better.
…and then it happened.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon idly, trundled towards the warzone; I mean, he is the owner of the company so he can pretty much do what he wants. The Rock basically had Austin beaten after a People’s Elbow and McMahon would aid Austin in his conquest to capture the gold. Vince lobbed a chair into the proceedings, leaving Stone Cold caught between a rock and a hard chair.
After a admirable display of intestinal fortitude from The Rock, Austin lost his cool, and metamorphosed from fan-favourite ass-kicker, into his heelish don’t give two sh*ts about anyone psychopathy.
One vicious steel chair beatdown later, and Austin won the WWF Title, aligning himself with his long-time nemesis in the process. It’s a heel turn that is largely regarded as a failure, it did have its moments, but who’s honestly going to boo Stone Cold Steve Austin? Really?
This was a main event clash that blended technical wrestling, attitude era-style brawling, unteachable ring psychology and organic storytelling.
An unrelenting pace of face vs face that AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura could really have learnt from for their disappointing Wrestlemania 34 match. That was two babyfaces competing for the WWE Title, but lacking any serious heat or proper motivation; which is amazing when you consider the talent on-show.
I’ve been watching wrestling for nearly 20 years, nothing has bettered this match in my eyes…yet.
Till next time folks. What’s your favourite match of all-time? Let me know.
– Andy.H. –
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