March 19th – 25th: This Week in Wrestling History

 

by Neil

Follow me on Twitter: @shootwrestling

That time of year is nearly upon us again already. Tomorrow we go into Wrestlemania week and the final week of programming before the event itself. A whole year of hype and build-up is almost over as John Cena takes on The Rock in The Great One’s home town of Miami, Florida. The match is big, the match is money and the match could hopefully provide some ‘Wrestlemania moments’.

A ‘Wrestlemania moment’ is a moment in time stopped, immortalised and replayed for years to come. Every year we still see Hogan slam Andre, Shawn Michaels fly from the ladder and The Undertaker destroy everything in his path. A ‘Wrestlemania moment’ is an assured legacy.

So for twenty nine years now men and women have been striving to perform on the “grandest stage of them all” and earn their right to be remembered, re-played and enjoyed for years to come but exactly what kind of ‘moments’ have been made at the big show? Well, three Wrestlemania’s have been held in this particular calendar week in years gone by and there are certainly a few ‘moments’ to highlight in This Week in Wrestling History: A Wrestlemania special!

Wrestlemania VII – “Macho King” Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior

Throughout the majority of his WWF career “The Macho Man” Randy Savage was shadowed by his manager and love interest Miss Elizabeth. The former WWF Champion won the King of the Ring tournament in 1989 and, following a feud with Hulk Hogan that saw his jealousy get the better of him, “The Macho King”  dropped Elizabeth and paired himself with the charismatic Sensational “Queen” Sherri.

Cementing his legacy with feuds and bouts with the likes of Hogan, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes, Savage had a new challenger standing in his way going into Wrestlemania 7 – The Ultimate Warrior. A man often criticised for a supposed lack of understanding or appreciation for his success and a limited move-set in the ring The Warrior was, however, adored by masses of young fans, including myself. His immense popularity led to Warrior successfully defeating Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship a year earlier at Wrestlemania 6.

These two forces would collide on March 24th 1991 infront of 16,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles, California and the stakes were high. The stipulation for the match stated that the loser must retire from the WWF. Miss Elizabeth was caught by cameras sitting ringside for the match and The Warrior, usually furiously energetic in his entrance, strolled perhaps anxiously to the ring in anticipation for the match ahead.

Arguably the two most high-profile omissions from the WWE Hall of Fame, these two legends battled a twenty minute encounter. Savage seemingly shouldering the majority of the workload, he, as the likes of Hulk Hogan had done before him, gracefully put the man from “Parts Unknown” over and helped to make Warrior look the dominant, powerful champion he had been in his time in the WWF. After an enjoyable match-up, Miss Elizabeth would be reunited with The Macho King and, on the grandest of them all, professional wrestlings original power-couple would take the stage and make an emotional Wrestlemania moment that would truly live forever.

Wrestlemania X – Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart

In quite possibly the most high-energy opening to a Wrestlemania ever, the brothers Bret and Owen Hart opened the show at Wrestlemania 10 on March 20th 1994 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

In a prime example of a “see-saw match” as Vince McMahon used to say, Bret and his younger brother Owen brought up the curtain on the 10th anniversary of Wrestlemania and stole the show. It’s a much used cliche when discussing wrestling but if there was ever a better example of one man being able to read the other perfectly in the ring and “knowing what he was going to do before he did it” than Bret and Owen then I don’t think I’ve seen it. The chemistry in the ring that the Hart brothers possessed was nothing short of spectacular to watch and this was a match for the ages.

The youngest of the Hart brothers, Owen always arguably stood slightly in the shadow of The Hit Man and his successful career. This was played out on screen as Owens jealousy became stronger and forced a divide between the brothers. By Wrestlemania 10 the relationship had imploded and Owen had a point to prove.

The understanding and fluidity of movement between Bret and Owen was, one would assume, the result of two brothers born with wrestling in their blood. Wrestlemania X was an opportunity for the brothers to show the quality of work they could prodice in the ring and for Owen to step out of the shadow of his brother Bret and begin to build his own legacy in the WWF. The resulting match-up from these two men was exhausting just to watch as the brothers battled, back and forth, for supremacy. What made this twenty minute classic even more impressive is that big brother Bret, as well as opening the show in such an exhausting fashion, would close it also – winning the WWF Championship from Yokozuna later that same evening in the main event.

 

Wrestlemania 13 – Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin in a Submission match

Simply put I would not be a wrestling fan and I would not be writing this if it wasn’t for this match. Without this match wrestling would be a distant memory to me – watching the likes of Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior as a small child in the late eighties and early nineties. My love for professional wrestling would never have been re-ignited had a friend of mine not gave me a tape of Wrestlemania 13.

On March 23rd 1997 over 18,000 fans packed the Rosemont Horizon in Rosement, Illinois. The main event for the WWF Championship was a no disqualication match between Sycho Sid and The Undertaker as the Dead Man captured the title. However it was a match lower down on the card that stole the show.

When I was watching WWF when I was a small child I loved Bret Hart and it was The Hitman that helped me to find that same excitment for it years later when I watched him face Stone Cold Steve Austin in a Submission match. In what was arguably a pre-cursor to the hardcore Attitude Era, the two men embroiled in a bitter rivalry at that time took the fight out of the ring into the crowd, a rarity in those days, and brought weapons into the match in the form of steel chairs and a ring bell into an intense match-up.

Bret Hart worked the majority of his WWF career as a baby-face, an example of right prevailing over wrong and good over evil and as a result, amassed a following of young fans to whom The Hitman was a role model. Bret has spoken with great pride of the opportunity the WWF gave him to represent such a character for his fans and so when the decision to turn him heel was made, fans were left stunned by what unfolded. Steve Austin was the antithesis of a good guy. The brawler from Texas was beginning to lead the WWF into a new era of the anti-heel, the villain that the fans could not help but love and support. As his bad behavior gained him more and more followers, the landscape of the WWF and the product they were broadcasting was changing dramatically. This match is often referred to as potentially the turning point and the birthplace of a new era. “Stunning” Steve Austin and “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin were no more and, alongwith his famous “3:16” speech at the King of the Ring the previous year and maybe even his old ECW promos where a legimately pissed off Austin ranted at his former employer WCW and Eric Bischoff for firing him, this match helped give birth to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

In the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania Bret Hart was venting his frustrations towards the WWF and Vince McMahon as Austin continued to gain momentum and threatened his spot within the organisation. This newly bad behavior from Hart culminated in the physical assault of Vince McMahon, as Hart shoved him to the ground in anger. The heel turn for the Hitman was almost complete and when these two men hooked up, the scientific wrestling ability of the former WWF Champion combined with the brawling style of Steve Austin was played out expertly as the match quickly became a war. The inclusion of the “Worlds Most Dangerous Man” and the former UFC Champion Ken Shamrock as a special guest referee also greatly aided the feeling of legitimacy in the contest as he struggled to manage the brutality of Austin and Hart. I also believe the big fight feel surrounding the match was enhanced greatly by Jim Ross at ringside, a perfect call from start to finish as he captured the drama and the tension of the contest.

When Austin attempted an Irish Whip on the outside of the ring and was reversed, sending the Rattlesnake to the steel railing at ringside, the match took on a whole new level of brutality. Austins head collided with the barrier and the Texan was legitimately cut, bleeding profusely onto the floor and the mat for the remainder of the match.

What followed as a result of this is one of the most iconic images in wrestling at this time and in the evolution of the character of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Locked in a painful sharpshooter, The Hitmans trademark submission hold, Austin tried desperately to avoid submitting and break the hold, screaming in pain and determination with blood streaming down his face and pouring from his head. Following the conclusion of this match the transition was complete. Bret Hart had cemented his place as the top heel in the WWF whereas Stone Cold Steve Austin, cheered and applauded from the ring, had taken The Hitmans spot as the most popular babyface (if its ever appropriate to call him that) in the company. The torch was passed in a stunning, enthralling match. The feeling of excitement I had watching it was, without question, mirrored by those in attendance as the fans rose to their feet. The deafening roar from the fans as they showed their appreciation for a true classic just added to the feeling of electricity I still get whenever I watch this match.

(The picture that became an iconic image in WWF)

I know that I often describe matches I write about here as classics. It’s unavoidable given the nature of the blog and the careful selection of highlights that I use for content here. I cannot however stress enough that this match is a true classic. An epic. In the 22 minutes that these two greats went to war I became a wrestling fan again. I found the excitment and the drama that had captured me as a child and I believe it is in no way an understatement to say that, fifteen years later, I still have an appreciation, a respect and a love for professional wrestling because of Stone Cold Steve Austin, because of Bret “The Hit Man” Hart and because of this spectacular match in particular. To those who do not share that same passion, have that understanding, or have no idea why anyone would find entertainment and legitimacy in professional wrestling I say to them – watch this match. If, by watching this, you dont see the allure or understand the enjoyment to be taken from watching a wrestling match then I suggest that you simply may never be able to watch wrestling the way I and countless others watch wrestling.

If a wrestling match is to be judged on the story being told then, in my opinion, never has a greater story been told in a wrestling ring than on this night.

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