Report by Kevin Gregg of Powerwrestling.com
Have you ever experienced that one defining moment in life? That extraordinary event that captures your heart and lives in your soul until the day you die. For these men and women, Wrestlemania is that moment. A 20 foot ring of canvas and steel is their stage and their battlefield. For some, it feels like home. Once inside these ropes, a moment can last a lifetime. The reward for success can be great but the price of failure is always devastating. It is on this grand stage called Wrestlemania where dreams become reality, athletes forge legacies and mortals become legends. This is the story of one Wrestlemania, two days in the lives of a few very different people heading in different directions bonded by a common passion. Each year, this is the one event that changes lives forever. For some, it is the culmination of a lifelong dream and for at least one, the dream will end.
Seattle, Washington was home base for Wrestlemania XIX and as usual, Wrestlemania fever has taken over the town.
As said by Triple H while sitting in a limousine with Ric Flair: “This is the hottest ticket there is, I mean there are people from every country just about, from everywhere, Australia, Japan, Europe.”
Wrestlemania started as a one time experiment in 1985 and has evolved into an annual world wide phenomenon. But this one was feeling more personal.
Triple H said that this group is like a group of brothers and some brothers you get along with better than others and you have that one brother that you don’t like that much so you put up with him at dinner and stuff like that. Guys like Triple H, Austin, Rock, Shawn Michaels and Taker were out there wrestling when this company was down. They were wrestling in front of smaller crowds and to see some of their careers winding down for one reason or another is emotional.
For more than a decade, the Undertaker has remained undefeated at Wrestlemania in matches and in theatrics. From the dark days of the Deadman to the last ride of the American Bad Ass, Taker always gets the show rolling. Before Wrestlemania XIX hit the air, the Undertaker greeted Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit and later that night, Limp Bizkit performed the Undertaker’s theme song “Rollin'” live in front of the crowd at Seattle. The Undertaker said that there’s just something about Wrestlemania time that everybody lifts their game up. It’s a definite rush, even as long as he’s been in there. There was a couple years back when he was contemplating retirement but he still has a passion to do this. When he rode his motorcycle out onto that stage, it was one of those situations where the hair on your arm stands up. At this point in his career, he’s achieved every goal that he ever set for himself. He’s doing this for fun; where else can he punch someone in the head and get away with it?
For The Rock, Wrestlemania XIX is a homecoming. The business that has made him an international icon also opened the door to Hollywood stardom. And the people’s champion kicked it down. Now, The Rock is torn between his new passion and his first love. The Rock said that a lot of people ask him why he wants to go back because he doesn’t need to do that. The Rock stated that it’s not about the money, it’s about his passion. He never thought well he wants to take Hulk Hogan’s place. Not only does he want to do that, he wants to do better. He’s got stunt doubles in Hollywood but here in the WWE, it’s him kicking ass.
As said by Vince McMahon, “The Rock, as popular as he is, was never Stone Cold Steve Austin.” Steve Austin said that they tell everybody they’re sports entertainers but everything they do and say is 110% real. He feels this and lives it and that’s why he was put on the face of the earth. That’s what he loves to do. It’s been a blast and he never figured it would happen. He just wanted to be a wrestler but he wanted to be a top guy.
Stone Cold Steve Austin the Superstar is at ease performing before millions but Steve Williams the man always keeps to himself. A few months before Wrestlemania XIX, Austin shocked everyone by leaving WWE without warning. He later cited creative differences but that wasn’t the whole truth; Austin hid the fact that he was in constant pain and on a personal level, things were even worse. His third marriage was breaking up. After the dust settled on his divorce, Austin was anxious to return to the one place he felt most at home. But after an eight month absence, his return caused some resentment in the locker room.
As said by Jim Ross, “The way he left here months ago was not the way that he does business. He had a lot of things he wanted to make right.”
While Austin mended some broken fences, his body was another issue. A neck injury back in 1997 started a domino effect. Stone Cold Steve Austin stated that he’s at the very end of his rope; he can’t take very much more. He’s not even supposed to get knocked down or have any whiplash effect in his neck and he doesn’t need any more of that. He’s also got problems with his legs and he didn’t want anybody to know about his problems because he’s Stone Cold Steve Austin and he’s not supposed to be hurt.
Despite the pain, his heart was still willing but his body was not. It was time to finally face the whole truth. “Yeah, yeah, tomorrow is it.” – Stone Cold Steve Austin. It’s like the shirt he wears to the ring that says Bulletproof. He feels bulletproof but when the adrenaline wears off and he goes back to being Steve Williams and he’s flapping his gums about doing more matches, he doesn’t have any more business to be in the ring.
A loner by nature, Austin chose to bow out quietly. He told no one that Wrestlemania XIX would be his last match. Stone Cold said “Really, who cares, you know. No one is going to feel sorry for me and no one is going to sit there and say this is his last match.” Its entertainment and entertainment is a machine, this is wrestling. You’re a gear in the machine work and he understands the system, he knows how it works which is why he doesn’t want any sympathy. He’s a gear that got used up, you pull this gear off and you put Austin in the pile of old gears and you put a new gear in and the machine keeps rolling. All it means that a spot has opened up and someone else will get a chance to do what he has done. That’s the brass tax of it. Stone Cold was good and very successful for the company but he can’t be that guy anymore; that’s the part that sucks. If you put the emotion back into it, he loves this place. He’ll hate to step out of the ring and have so many great memories with Vince McMahon; he’ll do anything for him, damn near anything for him because of his gratitude for everything Vince has done for Austin and the great relationship they have. Austin will sit there and act like he’s a gear but if you put the emotion back into it, he’ll do just about anything for this company and he is this Sunday.
All Austin ever wanted was to become a wrestler. He became the biggest superstar of all time. Now, he just wanted to have one great last match but the business he loved was about to exact one last toll. Stone Cold said it’s a hard business to get out of but he’s been forced out. Those were the cards he was dealt. He has a bunch of problems and his biggest deal is tomorrow, he doesn’t want to get hurt but he keeps rolling the dice and he doesn’t want to get hurt but he doesn’t want to stink the joint out; that’s his biggest concern about tomorrow. A few hours after this interview, Austin returned to his hotel room. Moments later, he placed a frantic phone call for help and his close friend Jim Ross was there.
As stated by Jim Ross, ‘We took Steve to a hospital in an ambulance and his heart rate was at heart attack level. He thought he was dying; Stone Cold thought he had come to Seattle to die.”
Wrestlemania is the grand stage and no one has ever seized the spotlight with the flamboyance of the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels. As said by Chris Jericho, “He was definitely the guy that I looked up to as far as what I wanted to be in the ring. And to be with Shawn in a featured match is going to be a classic match to be remembered for always.”
In the mid-90s, Shawn Michaels was the WWE’s top star but his life was way out of balance. Then, a back injury sent him to the sidelines. Now, five years later, the prodigal son has returned.
“I’m a brand new person so this is a brand new event for me now. This is all the things that are good about life, coming back from an injury, and coming back from certainly from underneath,” said Shawn Michaels. Before, this work was his life. Now his life is his life, his family is his life, his faith is his life and his work is his work. As long as he’s breathing in and out and as long as his wife and son are safe and healthy, his life is just as wonderful as it could possibly be. Shawn said that he wants to live for a long time but if God forbid he didn’t, seeing the birth of his son and he loves his wife and he’s been able to come back and do this; everything above and beyond this is extra. It’s an awesome thing being back with this company and on this show and in front of all these people is pretty cool.
For every WWE Superstar, the chance to perform on the grand stage is the ultimate thrill but for a rookie in the main event, Wrestlemania can be overwhelming even if you are the Next Big Thing. “It’s Saturday, the day before and I went over to the Safeco and that’s when it really sunk in. I started looking around and I even went up to the Gorilla Position and walked down so I can absorb it and be one with the arena. I got the big air out of me and tomorrow I won’t walk through the curtain and feel overwhelmed,” said Brock Lesnar. As said by Ric Flair, “He is a phenomenal athlete. He’s got more physical gifts than 90% of the guys I’ve ever met in my life. From his vertical jump to his balance, his size is awesome, his weight, his control and he’s careful. That all comes from being a precision amateur athlete.” Brock Lesnar stated that there are some nights that he lays in bed and really believes that God put him on this earth to be a professional wrestler.
Brock Lesnar is a farm boy from Webster, South Dakota, Population 1,952. His amateur career began at age five and culminated at the University of Minnesota where he won the 2000 NCAA Division 1 Heavyweight Championship. Brock’s opponent, Kurt Angle is still one of the most celebrated amateur wrestlers in U.S. history. After winning nearly every title there was, Angle reached the pinnacle in 1996.
Kurt Angle said that when he first considered the WWE, it was back in 1996 after he won the Olympic Gold Medal. He didn’t take a serious approach because this was fake and what he did was real and he was better than that. He didn’t understand what it was but a couple years later, he sat down and watched RAW is WAR and he learned that night that these guys are not just athletes, they’re tremendous performers and then he realized this is something that he could do.
Amateur or professional, the competitive nature of an athlete never changes. Kurt said that there’s a little envy and jealousy. Kurt is an Olympic Gold Medalist and a two time National Champion and Brock Lesnar isn’t. Could he have done those things? Maybe, maybe not. Kurt thinks they always wonder in the back of their minds who is better and who is better now. It’ll always be like that as long as they are both in sports entertainment. Days before Wrestlemania, Angle began to question his decision to compete. A serious neck injury from his Olympic Days never fully healed. Angle needed surgery but he chose to wrestle one more match despite the risk of paralysis. Kurt Angle stated that he wants to make the right decisions in his life. When his daughter is 5, 10 or 15, he wants to be able to play with her. If he looks back and he’s not able to do those things, then it wasn’t worth it. Right now, all he sees is that he’s living in a good house, making great money and providing for his family. It’s worth it now but he does want to be able to play with his children when he retires.
On Sunday morning as fans were gathering at Safeco Field, Stone Cold was still at the hospital. A dangerous combination of energy drinks, coffee and stress made for a very long night. “When we got to the hospital, you could tell he was really scared. His blood pressure was on a stroke level, his heart was racing, he was headed to have a heart attack,” said Jim Ross. Jim Ross continued, “All the stress that he had piled on him, going through his divorce, his health issues were a great concern, he had more than he could handle and his system shut down.” They checked out of the hospital on Sunday morning and Jim Ross knew he was hard headed enough that he was going to work the match, come hell or high water.
As match time approached, The Rock and Stone Cold were a studying contrast. The Rock was seen walking through Safeco Field and he said that it’s a big day, 50,000 strong booing his ass. Jim Ross said that Stone Cold was really apprehensive. He wondered if his timing would be off because he hasn’t had a match in 8 months or so, he just came out of his hospital stay a few hours ago, is his heart rate going to go back up and return in the middle of this match? The Rock on the other hand had a lot of adrenaline going through his body, pumped up for his match against Stone Cold. Backstage, wrestlers wished Steve Austin the best of luck.
Jim Ross knew that it was probably going to be Steve’s last match, but the killer was that he couldn’t say it to anybody. Stone Cold said that he thinks The Rock knows that this is going to be his last match and he originally talked to The Rock about trying to do one more but that’s not going to be the case now. The Rock said that it’s emotional, considering everything he’s done in the business and considering that The Rock and Stone Cold didn’t like each other when they first met. The Rock got on Stone Cold’s nerves so many times that Austin hated him.
Steve Austin said a lot of time, he’s looking forward to the match and the ride throughout the match but this time, he’s looking forward to the bell at the end of the match. Stone Cold said that he was nervous because he didn’t want to do anything wrong in the ring and stink the joint out. He didn’t want people saying they were glad this was Austin’s last match because he sucked.
There’s a fine line between imitation and flattery; The Rock and the Rattlesnake completely obliterated it in their final match together by using each other’s finishing moves, several times. Stone Cold said that he wants to keep doing it but when reality sets in, he has to look at the quality of life and everything and that part sucks and he’s forced to face the fact that he’s a human being and he’s ready for the match to be over.
As The Rock celebrated with his family at ringside, Austin faced the reality of the end alone. Stone Cold said he was laying out there in the middle of the ring and The Rock beat him one, two, three, it was like someone took a 500 pound weight off his back because he was so relieved. When he walked down the stairs, it was like it was over. He still has to deal with that in the weeks and months to come as far as really accepting it, but right then and there it was tremendous. The Rock stated that if you look in the ring after the pinfall, he made a point of it to sit up and actually talk to Stone Cold in the ring. He pushed the referee out of the way, telling him that he can’t hear this and said something Austin wanted to hear. As said by Stone Cold, “54,000 people watching in the arena probably knew something was going on and I can just sit here and say this was something between me and The Rock. There’s a lot of things I didn’t share in my life but I will share this because it meant that much to me; he said he loved me and he said he sure appreciated it and he said he doesn’t know how much this means to me. I told him I loved him too and they both meant it. In this business, you don’t have a whole lot of friends because that’s the way the system is. You have a lot of acquaintances and a lot of people you ride up and down the road with but I consider The Rock a friend and a good friend and I wish him well. I was glad to do that match and finish his career with The Rock like that and getting beat by The Rock.” The Rock stated that there’s no one he would rather work with than him. The Rock admires and respects Stone Cold Steve Austin as a co worker and a friend.
“You live for the performance and you get out on the stage in front of that many people and you experience that one time and you wait the rest of your life waiting to get that feeling again. It’s just something that’s indescribable.” – Triple H. Chris Jericho and Booker T also made comments about how much of an adrenaline rush it is to walk through that curtain at Wrestlemania.
10AM on Sunday: It’s a very nerve wracking time for Kurt Angle. All morning, all he can think about is what if he hurts his neck or what if he doesn’t put on the performance he wanted to? Emotionally, he was having a rough time. He knows when he goes into this that there’s a chance he could hurt himself really badly but at the same time, he’s so excited about being in the main event that he feels like nothing can stop him. So it’s kind of a roller coaster right now. Sometimes he feels like screaming for joy and sometimes he feels like crying.
Brock Lesnar said that he doesn’t consider himself the Next Big Thing anymore, he is the big thing. He really is. The Undertaker said first and foremost, he’s going to have to get by the jitters of being in his first ever Wrestlemania, being that it’s such a marquee match. Brock admitted to there being pressure there but he said that he loves it. He lives, breathes and eats pressure. If there’s no pressure, there isn’t worth breathing or living. “It’s funny, I hear how Brock Lesnar is the next big thing but he’s a pretty big thing now isn’t he? Ya know?” said Triple H. Brock said that there are a lot of eyes on him and there are a lot of people out there thinking “Brock Lesnar, does he deserve this spot?”
Every WWE Superstar strives for the chance to compete in the main event at Wrestlemania; to pass up that opportunity would be difficult under any circumstances. As said by Triple H, “There is no second string Kurt Angle that comes in and takes his place. It’s do or die and it’s all on you and I don’t think it becomes an issue of letting anybody down but yourself. Because if it was just for other people, if it was just to say ‘Wow, you don’t want to let the fans down and we all love the fans,’ I don’t think that anybody would love the fans that much that they would risk a broken neck.” Trish Stratus stated that it’s his livelihood and everything he’s dreamed about. She understands it completely as a competitor and that competitive spirit, that’s what you do. Chris Jericho said that he doesn’t know how he feels about that, there’s a lot at stake and God Bless him, he hopes it all works out. He doesn’t even know if he wants to watch that match to be honest, he just wants to see him come through the curtain at the end of the match to make sure he’s OK.
“I have a great respect for Kurt Angle, in 1996 when he won the Gold Medal, I was graduating high school. I followed wrestling internationally, collegiately and he was the best of the best. And he was the guy that I wanted to be like and train like, so I’m going into the ring with a guy that I somewhat idolized but also wanted to wrestle and also wanted to beat just to see if I could hang with him,” said Brock Lesnar.
Kurt Angle said that if he was going to Wrestlemania and he’s in the main event and he has the choice between a Triple H and a Brock Lesnar, he knows with the experience in Triple H, he wouldn’t worry so much about his neck. But Brock Lesnar is 300 pounds, he doesn’t know his own strength and he’s very inexperienced and going into this match with a guy like that, you tend to worry a bit more. Worst case scenario, Kurt Angle may not be able to walk out of Wrestlemania healthy and he may never walk again. “It’s worth going out there and performing because I’ll be honest with you, I’d rather die in that ring than give it up because I can’t do it anymore when I know I can,” said Kurt Angle.
In any match, one wrong move could spell disaster. This match would be no exception. Brock Lesnar said that he was worried just touching the guy because his neck could have snapped at any second so he was really worried with anything he did with him. Thinking back, he was very nervous and he doesn’t get nervous very often. But for that particular match and just because it was his friend; He and Kurt Angle have a relationship that Brock doesn’t have with a lot of guys in the locker room, just because of their roots and what they’ve done.
“I like to have wrestling matches. I like people to give me credit for having wrestling matches. I like to have two guys go at it, no interference. If this guy beats me, he beats me, if I beat him, I beat him. Having a match with Brock, that’s the kind of match I wanted to have.” – Kurt Angle
After messing up the shooting star press, Kurt Angle thought he was dead or paralyzed. Brock said from that point on when he was hit, he was pretty much knocked silly. He remembers things just echoing and he remembers feeling his head and his neck getting very warm. Kurt said that he was out of it. He had this blank stare and he didn’t know where he was. Kurt tried to get Brock to talk to him and all Brock would say was “yeah, yeah, yeah” and Kurt thought that they were in trouble.
As said by Kurt Angle, “And I remember at the end after he pinned me, he was out of it again and I remember hugging him at that particular moment and saying ‘Are you ok?’ Nobody was home, nobody was inside. This deafening stare was staring beyond me. I thought oh my God, he might just have a concussion and he might have knocked himself loopy for good. I said thank you for the match and I said hey, take the floor.”
What should have been the crowning moment of Brock’s fledgling career seemed more like a bad dream. Brock remembers standing there and gazing. It was a really funny feeling. It felt like he was in a little locker room and as he started coming to, the building got bigger and he didn’t know what was going on and then he would know what was going on. It was really weird for him because he’s never been knocked unconscious in his entire life. He doesn’t remember a lot of things from that night; it’s all pretty blurry to him. Backstage, Brock was getting warm and getting sick and he had all these people surrounding him and Brock was going nuts. People were grabbing him and wanting him on a stretcher and in the ambulance but Brock wasn’t having any of that. He’s just a bear and everybody said he was hard to handle and he can imagine that he was.
Ric Flair said thank God he spent all those years doing neck bridges in amateur wrestling because that would have killed anyone else. Flair would still be laying there; first of all, he wouldn’t have tried it at 24 or 54. Jim Ross noted that he did it for the same reason that all of the talents do high risk moves to entertain the audience. The motivation is right but don’t put yourself in the position that the greatest odds are that you lose.
In doing the shooting star press, he saw the people, the top of the arena, the mat coming and then he saw Kurt’s singlet so he thought he was OK but it just came too fast. Brock was reaching for Kurt but Kurt wasn’t there and just wasn’t far enough. Brock didn’t get enough spin. Now looking back at that match, he probably wouldn’t do the shooting star but everything else he would keep the same because Kurt didn’t get hurt any worse than he was. And then he caught wind that Kurt had gone into shock.
“I was in a lot of pain and was very agitated about knowing I had to go to neck surgery and I started feeling upset about it. That particular time I was uncertain of the choice I made. I was very angry, very upset that this might be my last Wrestlemania and this is not the way I want to go out.” – Kurt Angle
It appeared Kurt Angle had miraculously made it through his match unscathed, and then the adrenaline wore off. Kurt’s body broke down, he started having chills, his teeth were chattering and before he knew it, he was cracking up. He was laying there naked and he was just shaking so hard he couldn’t stop.
Karen Angle, Kurt’s wife stated that they put three coats on him and they tried to put his socks and clothes on and he was just shaking and trembling. It was a horrible feeling knowing his neck injury and seeing him act this way. They didn’t know what was going on and in Karen’s mind, looking at him; she said none of this is worth it. This isn’t worth what his body was going through.
Before Kurt Angle’s neck surgery, Kurt prayed to the good lord that this surgery works out. He’s dealt with neck pain for the past 7 years and he was at the point where he couldn’t function without pain killers. He has a lot of calcium build up due to wear and tear of his neck, a lot of bone spurs and he has two discs sticking into his spinal cord.
The normal procedure for this type of neck injury would keep him out of action for one full year. Angle opted for an alternative. If it works, he could be back in two months. If it doesn’t, his career could be in jeopardy.
Dr. Hae-Dong Jho, Kurt Angle’s surgeon described the injury. Kurt said that he didn’t know what the hell he was thinking. He was very confused but he also knew that this was the direction he was going to go. Only God knows if it was the right way for Kurt Angle. After the surgery, he was feeling pretty good and besides having a hang over, he felt instant relief and he felt that the surgery worked. He was able to move his neck and he didn’t have the clip in his spinal cord. Kurt described the surgery as a miracle.
Unless you’ve stepped inside this ring, you can never fully understand its allure. For those few who have, it’s considered an honor and a privilege. To them, this is sacred ground. Inside this tiny square, dreams come alive and they also end but the experience of living the dream even for just one day, that’s what makes these people and this event so special.
On Wrestlemania XX, Stone Cold said that it’s real special. Wrestlemania is the platform and it gives you the stage and opportunity to go out there and make a name for yourself.
“Every week that goes by, there’s another notch in your adrenaline level leading up to that big day.” – Triple H.
“There’s an intangible that I can’t really explain, you just got to feel it.” – The Rock.
“I think you should get lost in every split second of that moment.” – Shawn Michaels.
“You know it’s time to gear it up because Wrestlemania’s coming.” – The Undertaker.
“Wrestlemania is definitely the showcase to see who has what it takes to live forever in the mind of the wrestling fans.” – Chris Jericho.
And that ends the Mania of Wrestlemania. Check out Wrestlemania XX this Sunday night on pay per view at a special start time of 7pm EST!