(I’ve got nothing else to offer this morning after days of reviewing DVDs, so here’s another look at the greatest show of all time, which took place 19 years ago today! Of course, all the Wrestlemanias are currently available for free right now on the WWE Network, at watch.wwe.com, if you want to follow along.)
The SmarK Retro Rant for WWF Wrestlemania X-7
– Live from Houston, TX
– Your hosts are Jim Ross & Paul Heyman
– So this is it, the peak of North American wrestling and the point from which you can draw a clear line downwards again, quality-wise. This is the start of the current “Stadium show Wrestlemania” format, as well as the four hour format. After the show myself and many others called it the greatest PPV of all-time, but does it hold up 8 years later? Note for those wondering: This show is coming up on 24/7 next week, but I’d rather watch the unedited DVD version.
For fun, we’ll start with the Heat match from the DVD extras…
Grandmaster Sexay & Steve Blackman v. X-Pac & Justin Credible
Brawl to start and Too Lethal clears the ring, but Albert clotheslines Sexay, allowing X-Pac to hit a spinkick and take over. Credible yanks him out of the corner with a powerbomb and X-Pac gets another spinkick, but Sexay gets a double-clothesline and makes the somewhat hot tag to Blackman. Blackman faceplants Credible, but goes after Albert, allowing X-Factor to hit him with a double superkick for the pin at 2:44. Well I’m pretty sure this won’t affect my evaluation of the show one way or the other. 1/2*
Intercontinental title: Chris Jericho v. Commissioner William Regal
The video package is much appreciated here as I totally forget this whole era. Jericho attacks and hits a leg lariat to put Regal on the floor, then follows with a pescado that overshoots by about a foot. Well, can’t fault him for enthusiasm. Back in, Jericho gets a back elbow off the top for two. Regal tries to take him down by the leg, but Jericho counters into the Walls, and Regal kicks out of it. He directs Jericho into the post, twice, and uses a nice wristlock takedown to work the arm. Regal works him over like a mechanic, but Jericho elbows out and tries the Lionsault, which hits knee. Regal rolls him up for two off that miss. Release german gets two. Regal removes the turnbuckle and sends the shoulder into the STEEL, then throws some nasty high kicks to pound on the shoulder. Jericho fights him off with an enzuigiri and they’re into the hard-hitting offense tonight, and follows with a missile dropkick for two. He charges and runs himself into the post again, allowing Regal to bring him out of the corner with a rare butterfly superplex, which gets two. Jericho escapes a backdrop suplex and goes for the Walls again, but Regal hits the bad shoulder and counters into the Regal Stretch. Jericho makes the ropes and fights back with HARD chops, but Regal kicks his face off. Jericho sends him into his own exposed turnbuckle, however, and bulldogs him to set up the Lionsault for the pin at 7:07. Well that was kind of out of nowhere, but it was clean and made sense at least. These guys were just beating the hell out of each other here and loving it. ***1/4
Meanwhile, Shane McMahon arrives in his WCW limo.
Right to Censor (Val Venis, Bull Buchanan & The Goodfather) v. The APA & Tazz
Steven Richards gets his ass kicked in the initial brawl, and Bull gets a springboard clothesline on Faarooq to start. Faarooq powerslams him for two and Tazz comes in with a suplex, but Bull boots him down. Val comes in with a legsweep for two. Goodfather drops the leg and follows with a backdrop suplex for two and the Ho Train (or whatever the heel version was called), but a pump splash misses. Hot tag Bradshaw (who reminds JR of Dick Murdoch & Stan Hansen, although these days it’s more like Ted Dibiase minus the talent) and the brawl erupts again. Bradshaw brings Val to the top for a backdrop superplex, but Bull breaks up the pin and powerbombs Bradshaw. Goodfather sets up for another Ho Train, but the Clothesline from Hell finishes at 4:15. Short and energetic enough to hide all the weak points. **
Meanwhile, Trish (in her phase as Vince’s mistress) wheels a catatonic Linda into the arena (but how do you tell the difference?) and gets bitched out by a decidedly smaller-boobed Stephanie. So weird to see her looking all normal.
WWF Hardcore title: Raven v. Big Show v. Kane
Raven attacks Kane before Show even enters, but gets nowhere. Kane tosses Raven at Show on the floor and then hits them both with a flying clothesline, and we head into the crowd already. The difference between Big Show here and Big Show today is amazing, by the way, as he’s clearly both in shape and sporting muscle definition here, although whether it’s muscles or “muscles” is left to the reader to decide. So backstage we go and Show slams Kane onto a pile of pallets and locks Raven into a supply closet of some sort, which Kane quickly breaks into. Raven wisely stands back while Kane takes out Show, and then attempts to choke him out with a rubber hose. Sadly, he doesn’t put it up Kane’s nose, but Kane does throw Raven through a WINDOW. Kane and Show fight over a chokeslam (Show, clearly not afraid of telegraphing his move, yells out “Chokeslam, right here on the floor!” which I’m hoping isn’t calling spots. Although he’d still be quieter than Ken Shamrock). Then things get silly as Raven charges in, driving a golf cart, but Kane steals in and runs him down. So over to the catering table for a couple of spots and we’re back to the stage again. Show tries to press Raven off the stage, but Kane boots them both through another stage and pins Show to win the title at 9:23. These matches just don’t hold up anymore, although there was enough crazy bumps to make it a fun match. **
Meanwhile, Edge & Christian debate semantics with a zoned-in Kurt Angle.
Meanwhile, the Rock arrives to a decidedly mixed reaction. Who arrives at Wrestlemania 40 minutes into the show?
European title: Test v. Eddie Guerrero
Well this is a lot sadder all of a sudden. Test fights off the Eddie attack and powerbombs him for two, and they brawl outside. Back in, Eddie slugs away in the corner, but Test presses him into the corner for two. Test with a back elbow and he goes up, but Eddie tries to bring him down with a rana and fails badly. Test comes down with a flying elbow for two. Speaking of failing badly, Test charges and is supposed to bump over the top rope, but trips and gets himself tied up in the ropes, leaving Eddie to stop and free him so they can continue. That’s a pretty embarrassing time and place to screw up like that. The look on Eddie’s face is pretty funny though, as he gives kind of a “what can you do?” shrug to the crowd. So back in, Eddie makes the best of it and starts working the injured right leg and then gets a sleeper. Test fights out with a tilt a whirl slam, and then another one that turns into a pretty wicked powerbomb for two. Blind charge hits elbow and Eddie goes low, allowing Perry Saturn to run in with the MOSS COVERED THREE HANDLED FAMILY GREDUNZA~! It’s kind of stretching credibility to say that the ref wouldn’t have seen that. Eddie misses the frog splash, however, and Test comes back with the Niagara driver for two. He boots both Eddie and Saturn down and gets two, but now Dean Malenko breaks it up. Test gets rid of him as well, but Eddie hits him with the belt and pins him to win it at 8:04. Kind of a mess, but not a total disaster or anything thanks to Eddie keeping his cool. **1/4
Meanwhile, Steve Austin arrives now, an hour into the show. Man, those guys are so gonna get fired when Vince finds out.
Kurt Angle v. Chris Benoit
This is my first Benoit match since the tribute show, so I figured I might as well make it a good one. Angle takes him down and they go into a swanky mat wrestling sequence, but it’s a stalemate. Angle takes him down again and neither can gain dominance. Angle with a double-leg takedown and they wrap each other up on the mat, but end up in the ropes for the break. Angle takes him down again, but this time Benoit hooks the crossface and Angle has to make the ropes. Angle shoots in again and Benoit hooks the crossface again, forcing Angle to bail and escape. Back in, Benoit shoots in and crossfaces him again, but Angle makes the ropes and then blindsides him with a forearm to take over. To the floor, and he sends Benoit into the stairs, and back in for a snap suplex that gets two. Angle pounds away in the corner, but Benoit fires back with the chops, so Angle fires off the belly to belly suplex. A great little Angle moment as he headfakes Benoit with a whip attempt and then turns it back into another belly to belly. Benoit clotheslines him down again, and they slug it out in the corner, with Benoit winning that exchange. Benoit elbows him down for two. Snap suplex gets two. Superplex gets two. Rolling germans, but Angle rolls into the anklelock, which Benoit reverses into his own. Angle gets flustered and charges in, which allows Benoit to take him down with the crossface, but he’s awesome enough to reverse to his own, forcing Benoit to make the ropes. Ref gets bumped and Benoit gets the crossface for the phantom tapout, but reviving the ref allows Angle to hit the Angle Slam for two. He goes up for the Anglesault, but hits the knees and allows Benoit to go up with the diving headbutt, for two. Angle goes low and they do another wrestling sequence, but Angle hooks the tights and gets the pin at 14:01. This was like a stand-up comic telling an epic 15 minute joke and then forgetting the punchline, as the finish felt like it was attached with a soldering iron. A great example of the “something for everyone” feel of this show, as they did a technical battle, into a brawl, a series of reversals and counters, and if it had a finish it would have been a classic. Still great, though, especially with the trading of finishers and obsession with submission wrestling that would come to define both their careers leading up to the epic 2003 rematch at Royal Rumble. ****1/4
Meanwhile, William Regal has problems with Kamala besmirching his office.
WWF Women’s title: Ivory v. Chyna
This is the payoff for the retarded angle with Chyna’s “neck injury” at Royal Rumble, although Chyna was basically so far above the star power level of everyone in the division that a broken neck was the only way anyone would buy Ivory as any kind of threat to win. This was also the downfall of Chyna, as her ego was, to say the least, wildly out of proportion to her worth at this point and resulted in her departure from the company. Ivory attacks her with the belt and pounds on the neck, but Chyna basically shrugs her off and backdrops her. Powerbomb gets two, as Chyna picks her up. Gorilla press finishes at 2:38 as Chyna completely squashed her and treated her like a joke. DUD To the shock of many, Trish Stratus would successfully revive the women’s division after Chyna buried it completely. I will say, however, that at least this was short and paid off the storyline in logical fashion, because no one was going to buy offense from Ivory anyway.
Street Fight: Shane McMahon v. Vince McMahon
To give you an idea of the awesome stakes here, Shane’s newly purchased WCW is banished to a skybox way up in the Astrodome, with a graphic saying “WCW wrestlers” to identify them and nothing else. It didn’t get much better for them. Mick Foley is the special ref here. At this point in the bizarre, bizarre era for the promotion, Vince was the heel and invading WCW owner Shane was the babyface, which lasted not very long until they realized how ass-backwards it was and changed it. Vince slugs away in the corner to start, but Shane spears him down and drops elbows, prompting Steph to come in and call off her brother. Shane is having none of that and baseball slides Vince out of the ring, then beats on him with a sign and chokes him out with a power cable. Shane finds the kendo stick and gives Vince a quality beatdown with that, then the dancing punches to put him down. He puts Vince on the dreaded Spanish Announce Table and goes up, but the elbow misses and Shane goes through it himself. And then we really ramp up the soap opera as Trish wheels Linda out and slaps Vince, then gets into a catfight with Stephanie as I’m just totally lost as to who I was supposed to be cheering for at the time. So the girls fight back to the dressing room and Mick tries to get Linda out of there, but Vince attacks with a chair and knocks him out. This leaves Vince free to drag Linda into the ring to witness his final destruction of Shane with a series of garbage cans previously unknown to mankind. NO HUMAN BEING CAN SURVIVE THREE GARBAGE CANS! However, Linda rises up as if from the dead and kicks Vince in the nuts, then Mick beats the hell out of Vince for the previous wrongs done unto him, and Shane wraps things up with a Shane Terminator (which, pre-RVD for the WWF, had no name) at 14:11. I…don’t really know what to think of this anymore. A lot of the initial appeal was in the moment of the big angle surrounding it, and taken out of that context 8 years later, it’s left as not much of a match. It was big and stupid and generally enjoyable, though, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. ***
WWF World tag team titles: The Dudley Boyz v. The Hardy Boyz v. Edge & Christian
I’ve gotta say, we’re only two hours into this and already we’ve had what would be show-stealing classics on any other PPV. Big brawl to start and the Dudleyz hit Christian with a flapjack, but the Hardyz double-team the Dudleyz. E&C use a ladder and take out everyone else, then hang Matt in the Tree of Woe and stomp on his nuts. The Dudleyz pound on Christian outside while Edge makes a go for the belts, but Matt hauls him down and climbs. Edge clotheslines him off the ladder and tries again, but now Jeff dropkicks him off and the Hardyz baseball slide the Dudleyz on the outside. Matt hits a yodeling legdrop off the ladder, but the Dudleyz get rid of him and it’s Whazzup off the ladders. D-Von gets the tables, and Bubba powerbombs Jeff onto Edge, through a table. Well there’s your first highlight spot. The Dudz set up four tables on the floor while Paul E runs through the family history of the Dudleyz for an unimpressed JR, but they stop and head in. Three ladders get set up in the ring and everyone climbs, and you just know this is going to end badly. And indeed everyone bumps off. This allows Spike Dudley to run in and hit E&C with Acid Drops, leaving Jeff Hardy to climb. But now Rhyno comes in on behalf of E&C and it’s GOAR GOAR GOAR for the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz. And of course Lita joins the fun and pulls Edge off the ladder, before hitting Rhyno with a rana. The Dudleyz hit the Dudley Device on Rhyno and Lita’s so fired up she starts stripping, but the Dudleyz hit her with 3D to get rid of her. That allows Edge to destroy everyone with chairs as this is just unmitigated craziness, and speaking of which Jeff sets up a ginormous ladder and puts both Spike and Rhyno through a table on the floor with a swanton. The super-ladder gets set up in the ring and D-Von races Christian up to the belts, but Matt pulls the ladder out and they’re stuck hanging on the ring. Both hit the mat and Jeff climbs another series of ladders and tries to walk to the belts, but everything falls over and ruins the spot. He tries again and also hangs from the loop, which allows Edge to climb up and SPEAR HIM TO THE MAT. That is fucking epic, man. I’m shocked no one had thought of that kind of spot before this. So next it’s Matt and Bubba fighting up there, but Rhyno shoves them over and they go through the four tables outside. So D-Von is left alone against E&C, as Rhyno boosts Christian up and Edge holds onto D-Von, which allows Christian to claim the tag titles back at 15:45. Total insanity and some of the craziest, most creative ladder match bumps I’ve ever seen, which now looks like a template for Money in the Bank. It set the stage and still delivers! *****
Gimmick Battle Royale
Before the era of WWE 24/7 and their constant navel-gazing for nostalgia fans, this was their first crack at it. Commentary is provided by Mean Gene and Bobby Heenan. So the participants are the Bushwackers, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese (looking like he’s still ready for a job), The Iron Sheik, Earthquake, The Goon, Doink the Clown, Kamala (complete with Harvey Wippleman), Repo Man, Jim Cornette, Nikolai Volkoff, Michael Hayes (with “Badstreet USA”), One Man Gang (what, no Akeem?), Tugboat, Hillbilly Jim, Brother Love, Sgt. Slaughter and the Gobbledygooker. The actual match is immaterial, because the point was just the entrances and giving everyone one last Wrestlemania payoff. And sadly in Quake’s case, it was his last one. Everyone just kind of takes gentle bumps out of there in rapid fashion, leaving the awesome final four of Sarge, Love, Hillbily and Sheik, and Sheik throws them all out to win at 3:00 because he’s the only one who can’t take a bump out of the ring. Slaughter gives him the cobra clutch for old time’s sake afterwards.
HHH v. Undertaker
And don’t we all miss HHH’s stylish “jean jacket over leather jacket” look? This was supposed to involve Shawn Michaels to set up his return, but he showed up in the old “no condition to perform” and lost his spot. I’m actually quite curious to see if removing this match from my HHH and Undertaker hate at that time has improved it or even affected it. This is the first of many appearances of Motorhead, playing HHH down to the ring. HHH is unfortunately not able to time his dramatic water spit properly to the live version, but I’m sure he forgave Lemmy. Undertaker was using the shitty Limp Bizkit entrance at this point, which will not be on the 24/7 version I’m sure. They slug it out on the floor right away and destroy ANOTHER Spanish table. That’s gotta be a rib. Into the ring and HHH gets the high knee, but Undertaker pounds on him and backdrops him. Corner clothesline as HHH sells like crazy, and that sets up a powerslam and an elbow that misses. He gets the flying clothesline, however, and we go Old School, but HHH yanks him down to counter. Neckbreaker gets two. He pounds on the neck and gets another neckbreaker for two. Facecrusher and he grabs his trusty sledgehammer, but the ref won’t let him use it. Pedigree attempt is reversed into a catapult and the ref is already bumped, as Undertaker gets the chokeslam for two. UT is upset about the cadence of the count, so he beats up the ref and we proceed without him. HHH takes the quite the bump to the floor and then another one into the crowd, and they head deep into the Astrodome for the brawl. In a unique spot, they fight into the actual sound mixing area, where HHH finds a chair and beats the hell out of UT with it. This is a LOT more brutal-looking than the usual “hardcore” sequences you’d see in matches like this, which is a nice touch.
UT revives and chokeslams HHH off the scaffolding, however, and luckily the camera can’t see the crash pad. The replay kind of ruins the mystique. Taker follows with an elbow and beats up the well-meaning EMTs and they head back to the ring, as JR is concerned about the well-being of the poor ref who’s been unconscious for going on 5 minutes now. He knew the risks when he donned that striped shirt. So now Undertaker has the hammer, but HHH goes low, then runs into a big boot. They slug it out in dramatic fashion and HHH tries a tombstone, but UT counters to his own. And there’s still no ref. UT revives him (obviously never having taken first aid before) and sets up for the Last Ride, but HHH grabs the sledgehammer on the way up and knocks Taker out with it. That’s an awesome spot, but it only gets two. Taker starts bleeding and HHH makes the all-time bonehead move and pounds away in the corner, which allows Taker to bring him down with the Last Ride to finish at 18:54. Yeah, I completely short-changed this one originally, as I was way more into the drama and hatred this time around. Hard work from both here, back when HHH could still go and was still willing to job clean as a sheet when needed. ****
And how can you follow that? With this…
WWF World title: The Rock v. Steve Austin
Austin gets the superstar pop to end all of them. Austin attacks and they immediately try to hit each other with Stunners, but brawl out to the floor instead. Into the crowd and they trade shots into the table, but Austin puts him down with a clothesline and they head back in. Austin chokes away on the ropes and gets two, then gets a superplex for two. Austin, clearly playing a heel despite the cheers, pulls the turnbuckle off, but Rock slugs back and gets the clothesline and belly to belly for two. He clotheslines Austin to the floor, but gets a ringbell in the face as a result. Austin beats on Rock in the wreckage of the tables, then back in for more punishment as the crowd eats it all up. Rock fights back, but Austin gets a neckbreaker for two. He pounds away on the mat and then stomps a mudhole in the corner, but Rock blasts out of there with a clothesline for HUGE boos. They slug it out and Rock sends Austin into the exposed turnbuckle and retrieves the bell while Austin blades. He puts Austin down with that, for two. Rock pounds him down with huge shots and Austin won’t go down, so Rock drags him to the apron and pounds on him to bring him to the floor. They slug it out there and Austin drops Rock on the railing and gives Rock the greatest catapult into the post I’ve ever seen. I mean, Rock bounced off that sucker head-first and flew three feet. Austin follows with a monitor to the head, and back into the ring for two. Rock is up so Austin tries the Stunner, but stops to flip him off first, which allows Rock to take him down with the Sharpshooter. And now Rock’s fanbase gets more vocal as Austin finally makes the ropes. Another try at it, but Rock also makes the mistake of flipping off Austin, and now Austin gets his own Sharpshooter. Rock powers out of that, so Austin goes to work on the leg and does it again. And Rock makes the ropes this time, to big heel heat.
Then we really get old school as Austin hooks the Million Dollar Dream, but Rock uses the Bret Hart counter for two. Austin pounds on the tired Rock, but it’s ROCK WHAM STUNNER for two. And now Vince McMahon heads out as they slug it out, and Austin gets a spinebuster for two. Rock gets his own to set up the People’s Elbow, but Vince pulls him off at two. Rock chases, and walks into a Rock Bottom from Austin, for two. He tries the stunner, but the ref is bumped, so Austin goes low instead. So Austin calls Vince in there with a chair and they blast Rock with it, but it only gets two, so Rock revives and hits Rock Bottom, then goes to beat up Vince. However, it’s KICK WHAM STUNNER and that should have been your finish. It gets two and Vince gives Austin a chair, and he blasts Rock for two. Finally he just destroys Rock with the chair, pounding him into nothingness, and pins him to win the belt at 28:07. Still awesome, still the two biggest stars in the history of the WWF at the peak of their powers. ****3/4 Of course, this was also the moment that officially ended the Attitude Era, with Austin doing an ill-advised heel turn and the company transitioning into the god-awful WCW Invasion instead of, you know, continuing to try to make money.
So is it still the greatest PPV I’ve ever seen? YES. I love it even more, as I was just as tremendously entertained by this viewing as I was on the first one, and that’s a truly magical show to be able to do that. All the finishes were clean, everyone was working hard (except for Chyna) and the crowd was incredibly pumped for a stadium crowd.
Best. PPV. Ever.
Until I watch Bash 89 again, then I’ll probably change my mind.