"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs The Rock- Wrestlemania 17
“Shaking hands with Satan himself.”
Wrestlemania 17, hands down, is the best Wrestlemania booked to date. Apart from a horribly short Women’s Championship match with Chyna facing off against Ivory, from the opening match to the main event, every match was great.
The main event of the show was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs The Rock. The previous year, Austin had been recovering from long needed neck surgery sustained at the hands of Owen Hart at Summerslam 1997. During his time away, superstars like The Rock and Triple H stepped up their game and became main event players in their own right. When you are out of action for close to a year, there is a very real fear that by the time you get back in the ring you would have lost a step or two. Or worse, that the fans would not take to you like they once did. Those fears were squashed when Austin made his return to the company in late September of 2000.
This time also saw the rise of the internet as a power unto itself for the wrestling industry. Information you could previously only get with a subscription to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter was now available for the casual fan to read. When the buildup to Wrestlemania 17 occurred, I came across a little tidbit that stated that Steve Austin was going to become a bad guy at the end of the show.
With that knowledge, I was able to finally understand what wrestlers talked about when they say they told a story in the ring. While the interviews for the match pretty much hinted at a heel turn, the match itself told you through Austin’s move set that he was reverting back to his heel ways. It was like a reverse time machine for Austin. You have the multiple kick outs to finishers The Rock and Austin had at Wrestlemania 15. You have Austin in a sharpshooter with blood pouring down his face like Wrestlemania 13. And Austin put The Rock in the Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold, a move that Paul Heyman, who was on color commentary at the time, pointed out that Austin hadn’t used since he was The Ringmaster and Ted DiBiase was his manager. That alone should have tipped the audience off as to how the match would end.
But no. Vince McMahon himself comes to the ring and helped Austin beat The Rock for the WWE Championship.
This match is considered one of the greatest matches of all time. While I would place it high on my list of favorite matches, the only negative was the heel turn. Austin becoming a bad guy in his hometown made no sense at all. Add to that the fact that Austin was in a spot that some superstars face where the fans like him so much that no matter what they do, the fans will cheer for them. The heel turn was a bad move and Austin has stated in multiple interviews that, hindsight being 20/20, he should have stunned Vince to end the show.
The Rock vs Hulk Hogan- Wrestlemania 18
“Icon vs Icon”
In March of 2001, Vince McMahon bought World Championship Wrestling, the company that came close to putting the WWE out of business. While fans dreamed of multiple fantasy match ups, the WWE promptly put together the worst story line in wrestling history, the WCW/ECW Invasion.
The biggest mistake made was not getting the names that people most associated with WCW to make the jump to the WWE. And why should they have? The superstars who sat on the bench for a while were receiving massive paychecks from Time Warner that allowed them to do nothing but enjoy life. Things started changing after the conclusion of Survivor Series in 2001 where it was revealed that Ric Flair had bought stake in the WWE from Shane and Stephanie McMahon. From there, at the No Way Out pay per view in February of 2002, the nWo made their WWE return.
All three men in the nWo were former WWE superstars. Hulk Hogan of course was, and still is, the most well known member of that group. He immediately began feuding with The Rock which led to them facing each other at Wrestlemania 18.
This match exceeded all expectations. Hogan tried his best to get the audience to hate him but no matter what he did, people were simply happy to see Hogan back in the WWE after being away for close to a decade. While Hogan ended up losing the match, thanks to the nWo kicking Hogan out of their group, The Rock ended up saving Hogan and the two headed back to the dressing room after Hogan raised The Rock’s hand in victory, symbolizing the proverbial torch being passed.
The only regret I have is that we didn’t get to see Hogan face off against "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The real money was in that match. Hogan and Austin were the two biggest names in WWE history, the two men who drew the most money for the company. No matter what the reason was, we as fans missed out by not having what would have been the more anticipated match in history.
The Nature Boy Ric Flair vs Shawn Michaels- Wrestlemania 24
“To be the man…”
Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels are the two greatest wrestlers ever. Period. There is no argument from anyone on this. There may have been people that made more money for the business but these two could put on a five star match with anyone.
About six months before Wrestlemania 24, Flair had disappeared from the WWE due to contract reasons. After some talk, he signed with the company again with the caveat that this would be his final run. He would have a retirement match and it would be against Shawn Michaels. For story line reasons, they had Mr. McMahon tell Flair publicly that he could continue to be an in ring performer as long as he didn’t lose.
The ending of the match was sad to see but it is a textbook example of what makes wrestling so great. Flair rose, tears in his eyes, and told Michaels to bring it. His body language showed that he knew he was beat but he wasn’t going to take the cowards way out. He was going out like a man. Michaels told him “I’m sorry. I love you,” and promptly gave him Sweet Chin Music, ending his career.
One of Ric Flair’s many catchphrases is “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” On this night, Shawn Michaels was the man.
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker- Wrestlemania 25
“Sometimes it’s hell getting into heaven.”
When people ask why I love professional wrestling, I talk about this match. It is the greatest wrestling match I have ever seen. It will take a lot to take it off the top of the list.
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker never really faced off against each other when Shawn returned to the company. So when it was announced that they would face off at Wrestlemania, fans were excited. They knew they would get a good match but man, these two exceeded all expectations.
The main ingredient to why this match is so loved has to do with the longevity of the superstars in the match. Nostalgia if you will. At this point, The Undertaker had been with the WWE for close to 20 years, Shawn close to 25. An entire generation of fans grew up watching these two on WWE television. As fans, we’ve invested a lot emotionally with these superstars so seeing them in battle, it didn’t matter that neither was a villain. They were two athletes that wanted to see who was the better wrestler. This match showcases everything that is good with wrestling.
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker- Wrestlemania 30
“Oh my God! Oh my God!”
Nobody saw this coming. Going into Wrestlemania 30, when it was announced that Brock Lesnar would face The Undertaker, folks expected a good match but they did not anticipate how the match would end.
The WWE fell into The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania winning streak. With the physical efforts these athletes go through on a daily basis, no one could have predicted that The Undertaker would last as long as he has. Yet The Streak turned out to be the one thing that, regardless of the quality of a particular Wrestlemania, would get the fans excited.
I remember watching the match on the WWE Network. The match was pretty straight forward up to the point that Brock gave The Undertaker a third F-5, Brock’s finishing move. The referee counted one, two, and three, causing wrestling fans around the world to stare at their television screens in absolute shock. The crowd at the Superdome were just as stunned.
Some fans are upset to this day that The Undertaker lost. I would disagree with them because The Undertaker being beat at Wrestlemania was going to make his opponent for life. Whether that opponent should have been Brock Lesnar or someone else is a different question for a different day. But I contend that seeing The Undertaker defeated at Wrestlemania was one of the last great emotional angles that we’re going to see in the WWE for a long time. The fact that fans are still emotionally invested in The Undertaker’s loss to this day for my money proves why The Undertaker losing was the right move.
Wrestlemania 33 is this Sunday on the WWE Network. New memories will be created. Moments that will live in our minds as fans for years to come. This is the one time every year where we as fans can get together and celebrate what makes professional wrestling so great to watch.
So what do you think? Were there any matches I left out? Did you think The Undertaker losing at Wrestlemania 30 was a good move? What do you think we’ll see at this year’s Wrestlemania? Sound off in the comments section below.
Don't forget to share this post on your Facebook wall and with your Twitter followers! Just hit the buttons on the top of this page.
Quisque iaculis facilisis lacinia. Mauris euismod pellentesque tellus sit amet mollis.