Location: Hartford Civic Centre, Hartford Connecticut
Date: April 2nd, 1995
The Winning Match: WWF Championship – Shawn Michaels (w/ Jenny McCarthy) v Diesel (w/ Pamela Anderson) – 15 votes
WrestleMania XI is regarded as one of the poorer events to carry the name, but, to be fair, there were some nice matches on the card. The three matches listed in the runners-up section below were all good matches (with LT doing very well for a guy having his first – and only – wrestling match).
All the hype going in was for the Bam Bam/Taylor main event, but it was Shawn Michaels’ first WrestleMania main-event that took the honours here. The build to this one had been close to perfect; Diesel, the 7ft giant, had been brought in by HBK to be his bodyguard and help him attain the WWF Championship. The two formed an on-screen (and off-screen) bond that became a dominant tag team, winning the WWF Tag Team Titles along the way. But, as with all good things, it came to an end. Diesel had been on the end of two errant superkicks by his friend, but, at Survivor Series 1994, a third kick (after Diesel had eliminated four of the five members on the opposing team by himself) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. HBK ran for his life as “Big Daddy Cool” would take no more and turned face. Three days later, Diesel would win the WWF Championship in EIGHT SECONDS from Bob Backlund and become the new figurehead for the company.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with Shawn; the man he brought in to help him win the title was now walking around wearing it. At the 1995 Royal Rumble, Michaels would become the first man to enter at #1 and go on to win the match (it should be noted that The British Bulldog was #2 and also lasted to the end… and that the match itself lasted around 45mins). Later, during the main-event match where Diesel defended the WWF Championship against Bret Hart, all manner of interference and shenanigans involving HBK (as well as Owen Hart) resulted in the bout being thrown out and the big man retaining the belt. With all obstacles out of the way, the “Road to WrestleMania” was under way. Going into the event, Michaels promised to win the title and have Pamela Anderson (at the time, THE hottest female on the planet) in his corner when he did so. Come bell time, Anderson (who looked uncomfortable to be in the building) had actually decided to arrive with Diesel and Michaels made do with Jenny McCarthy as her replacement.
The match itself is OK, but is overshadowed by the matches that followed (especially their No-Holds-Barred encounter at In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies, where, in a role-reversal, Michaels was the champion face and Diesel was the embittered heel challenger). Going too long at over 20mins, the action sags at times, but the crowd were well into it and this carried things along nicely. Michaels may call himself Mr. WrestleMania, but this is not the match to show if you want people to believe you (especially with the botched powerbomb for the finish).
2nd Place: WWF Intercontinental Championship – Razor Ramon (w/ 1-2-3 Kid) v Jeff Jarrett (w/ The Roadie) – 5 votes
3rd Place: Tie – Bret/Backlund & Taylor/Bigelow – 2 votes
Location: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, California
Date: March 31st, 1996
The Winning Match: WWF Championship Iron Man Match – Shawn Michaels (w/ Jose Lothario) v Bret Hart – 12 votes
Another landslide (there was only six matches on the card) and the second WWF Championship attempt for HBK, this time against his most famous and heated rival, Bret Hart. The build to this began at the Royal Rumble where Michaels won the event for the second year in a row. This, along with Bret Hart retaining the title at the same event against Undertaker (after ‘Taker had Tombstoned Hart, only for Diesel to pull the referee out of the ring and cause a DQ… leading to Diesel/Undertaker at this WrestleMania), set the scene for what promised to be an unforgettable main event.
The hype videos leading up to the show focused on the training of both men and how their characters were so different. Bret was shown being stretched (for real) by his father, while, in Texas, HBK was going through his regime at the hands of José Lothario, the man who trained him all those years ago. To add to the prestige, WWE Interim President, Roddy Piper, declared that the WWF Championship Match would be an Iron Man Match and the winner would be the person to garner the most falls inside SIXTY-MINUTES. He also said that, if there was a draw at the end of the time-limit, then the match would go to sudden death (but this seemed to have been forgotten by Hart).
The most memorable aspect of the bout was the entrance by Shawn Michaels. Zip-lining from the roof of the building, HBK electrified the arena and began his rise to becoming Mr. WrestleMania. Bret, on the other hand, walked to the ring with purpose and determination. After the instructions by Earl Hebner, the match was under way. Michaels, who was in the best physical condition of his career, took the early advantage as the first 15mins were quite exciting (culminating in an errant superkick – he does excel at these – to the chin of a seated Tony Chimel). The middle of the match does drag a bit, but is understandable considering they have to wrestle for an hour. People (understandably) compare this to the Rock/HHH Iron Man Match, but most forget that the latter had a lot of outside activity to help with keeping things interesting. HBK/Hart had two guys in the ring and nothing else to tell the story. Anyway, the last 15mins kick things into overdrive and the last three minutes go supernova as Michaels pulls out all the stops to get the pin… until a mistimed missile dropkick allows Bret to lock on the Sharpshooter (a perfectly applied one at that) with just over 30secs remaining. The crowd were on their feet to see if Shawn would give up this close to the end. He wouldn’t and, with the bell ringing to signify the end of the 60mins, Bret grabbed his belt and headed to the back. Re-instated President, Gorilla Monsoon, came out, reminded everyone about the sudden-death ruling and ordered a restart, much to Bret’s dismay. Hart continued to assault the back of his opponent until an Irish-whip was countered and Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music (only for him to be so fatigued, Bret got to his feet again first). Tuning up the band, HBK landed a second superkick and covered the champion for the 1-2-3. We had a new champion and “the boyhood dream had come true.”
The sight of Michaels, on his knees, completely exhausted and the title belt in his lap, is one that has been replayed many, many times. It’s also as real as you can get, as Michaels had attained a status he had been told, as Bret had been previously, was beyond him. The doubters had been proved wrong and Mr. WrestleMania had finally been born.
2nd Place: Tie – Austin/Vega, Undertaker/Diesel & Piper/Goldust – 2 votes
3rd Place: n/a
Location: Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois
Date: March 23rd, 1997
The Winning Match: Submission Match (Ken Shamrock as the referee) – Steve Austin v Bret Hart – 16 votes
Much like the run of matches from WrestleMania IV, V, VI and VII, the matches from X, XI, XII and 13 all featured one of two guys. This time out, it’s Bret Hart’s turn to take the Randy Savage role and feature in three of the four bouts chosen. This is, by far, the moment that WWE began to turn the corner. People say that it was when Austin won King of the Ring, but they forget that Stone Cold was back in the midcard straight after that event (he wrestled in the pre-PPV match at Summerslam against Yokozuna, a full two months later).
Austin had been on TV and challenged Bret Hart to return to the WWF (Bret had left after WrestleMania XII). He insulted Hart and the Hart family until Bret could take no more and agreed to meet Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1996. The two men had an awesome match that was incredibly heated and had a great finish (a re-run of the Bret/Piper match from 5yrs earlier). This bled into the 1997 Royal Rumble as Hart actually eliminated Austin from the match, only for the two ringside referees to miss it (they were trying to break up a Mick Foley/Terry Funk brawl at the time). Stone Cold re-entered the ring, hurled Bret over the top and was declared the winner. Hart, incensed at the decision, came out on the RAW the next night and went ballistic. After reviewing the footage, WWF officials decided to have a Four-Way Elimination Match (a wrestler could be pinned, made to submit or go over the top rope to the floor), with the winner getting a shot at the WWF Title at WrestleMania. The ante was upped when Michaels, on a special Thursday night edition of RAW, vacated the title due to him having lost his smile. The winner of the four-way would now become the champion outright.
Bret came out the victor in a stellar contest (it was the main event of In Your House 13: Final Four, has Vader’s best outing in the WWF and is another of those matches that needs to be seen by everyone), but lost the title to Sid the following night, thanks to interference by Steve Austin. Hart would lose the subsequent rematch (inside a steel cage) due to interference from Undertaker (Austin had interfered to help Bret, as it would mean their upcoming ‘Mania match would be for the title) and turn his attention to eliminating Stone Cold for good.
The promos leading up to the Submission Match focused on Bret’s array of wrestling holds in comparison to Austin’s brawling style (in truth, Austin is a very good technical wrestler, but this wasn’t what the people wanted to see from him). Ken Shamrock, who was to debut as a wrestler not long after this, was the special referee and the match began with Austin taking down Bret and laying into him with right hands. One of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time, Bret v Austin will be remembered for two things. First, and foremost, the double-turn of the two wrestlers and secondly, the sight of Austin, trapped in the Sharpshooter with blood running down his face. Bret has gone on record and said that this is his favourite match and, with it being the last WrestleMania appearance for “The Hitman”, it’s a fitting swansong into the bargain.
2nd Place: WWF Championship Match (No DQ) – Sycho Sid v The Undertaker – 2 votes
3rd Place: WWF Tag Team Championship Match – Owen Hart & The Bulldog v Mankind & Vader (w/ Paul Bearer) – 1 vote
Location: Fleetcenter, Boston, Massachusetts
Date: March 29th, 1998
The Winning Match: WWF Championship Match (Mike Tyson as the Special Enforcer) – Steve Austin v HBK (w/ Triple H & Chyna) – 18 votes
“TYSON AND AUSTIN! TYSON AND AUSTIN!”
With that one call, Jim Ross captured the emotion of an event that is the very definition of “you had to be there.” Steve Austin had won his second Rumble match in a row as Mike Tyson watched from an executive box. The next night on RAW, Vince McMahon proudly introduces Mike Tyson to the crowd and installs him as the special guest enforcer for the WWF Championship Match between Shawn Michaels (now of DeGeneration X) and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. As Vince interviews the boxer, the glass shatters, the entire arena comes to their feet and the TV viewers are focused on events unfolding. Austin enters the ring, cuts a blistering promo on Tyson and then, to the shock of McMahon, flips him the bird. “Iron” Mike responds by shoving Austin in the chest (heralding the above JR comment) and all Hell breaks loose. Vinnie Mac’s cry of “You ruined it” are pitch-perfect and start the ball rolling on Austin v McMahon. In the weeks to follow, Michaels would also challenge Tyson to step into the ring with him, only for this to be a ruse; the boxer joined DX and participated in angles to humiliate Austin. This meant, going into the match, Michaels had the outside enforcer in his pocket, thus protecting his title reign.
WWE kept it very quiet at the time, but HBK went into this match with a very serious back injury (he wouldn’t wrestle again until Summerslam 2002 – over four years later). That he could even compete is astounding. That he put in the performance he did (although, the threat of an Undertaker pounding may have had something to do with it), is all the more amazing. The bout was heated, fast-paced and had almost everything. Brawling, wrestling, high-flying, shenanigans, etc… they were all present and correct, including the, at the time, obligatory ref-bump. The finish was wonderful; HBK goes for Sweet Chin Music (he had hit it on Austin numerous times in the weeks prior to the show), Austin ducks and attempts a Stunner. Michaels shoves him off the ropes, goes for the kick again, “Stone Cold” catches the foot, spins HBK around, kick to the gut, STUNNER!!! Mike Tyson slides into the ring (fast-)counts Michaels down and awards the title to Steve Austin. He also follows this up by landing a knockout punch to HBK after “The Showstopper” gets back to his feet and demands answers. This is when the Attitude Era came of age (I believe it started at the previous year’s event) and WWE never looked back. “Steve Austin’s time had come and there ain’t nobody that can stop me” – never a truer word has been spoken.
2nd Place: WWF Tag Team Championship Dumpster Match – Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie v New Age Outlaws – 3 votes
3rd Place: Kane (w/ Paul Bearer) v Undertaker – 2 votes
Location: First Union Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date: March 28th, 1999
The Winning Match: WWF Championship Match (No DQ) – Steve Austin v The Rock – 21 votes
To many people, the Rock/Austin rivalry is the best in-ring feud of all time; the only pairing to headline three WrestleManias, Steve Austin v The Rock was just magical every time it happened… and it happened a lot.
The Rock had become the WWF Champion at Survivor Series ’98 in a worked re-run of the Montreal Screwjob. Mankind, who was McMahon’s lackey, ended up trapped in a Sharpshooter at the hand of The Rock, who had come into the event as a super-over babyface due to his rivalry with Vince, only for McMahon to call for the bell and award the championship to the future movie star. Survivor Series ’98 was an absolutely stunning piece of booking. A show-long angle that caught virtually everyone by surprise and made The Rock the company’s top heel by a wide margin. Rock would trade the title back and forth with Mankind over the months of January and February while, alongside this, the Austin/McMahon rivalry got physical as Vince won the Rumble and then had a blistering cage match against Stone Cold at the follow month’s In Your House event. Austin’s victory in the cage granted him the shot at WrestleMania and the stage was set.
Jim Ross, who had been out with Bell’s Palsy, was reinstated to call this match (rumoured to be at the behest of Austin) and did a stunning job of calling the action alongside Jerry Lawler. Brawling all over the arena, the two perennial rivals tore the house down until the inevitable ref-bump and chaos resulted in Mick Foley (who had defeated Big Show in a match earlier in the night to referee the main event, only to be injured by the giant and rendered unable to comply) coming to the ring and counting down The Rock after the most over-zealous selling of a Stunner yet seen. Austin had won the WWF Championship two years running and would cement his position as THE top star in the industry.
2nd Place: WWF European Championship Match – X-Pac v Shane McMahon (w/ Test) – 2 votes
3rd Place: Tie – Kane/Triple H & Hardcore Holly/Billy Gunn/Al Snow – 1 vote
> PART 4