Bell To Bell: Memories of Wrestlemania
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
A lot of wrestling fans are lucky if they’re able to attend one Wrestlemania during their lifetime. I’ve been lucky enough to go twice. First on March 23, 1997 for Wrestlemania 13. Then, it was Wrestlemania 22 on April 2, 2006. Both were held in my home state of Illinois at the Allstate Arena (formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon). The two events were almost a decade apart, and obviously a lot of the details have faded from my mind with time. But there are some things you never forget no matter how much time passes. And with that, I give you my very own Wrestlemania moments (with some strictly okay personal photos)…
I was 12 when my family took me to Wrestlemania 13. It was only the second wrestling event I’d ever been to. The so-called Monday Night Wars were in full swing by this point, and business was down for the World Wrestling Federation. But it was a grueling submission match between two of the all time greats that would usher in the dawning of a new era. An era of attitude.
1. Flash Funk’s Pyro
Kind of a weird thing to remember about what’s supposed to be the ultimate pro wrestling card, right? At that time, Charles Scaggs (formerly 2 Cold Scorpio in other organizations) was wrestling for the WWF under the name Flash Funk, a persona similar to the one Brodus Clay has now. A few seconds after his music would hit, the entrance ramp would light up with flashy and loud pyrotechnics. Before Wrestemania 13 officially began, Flash Funk wrestled Billy Gunn on the pre-show. When Flash’s music hit, I specifically remember turning to my dad and telling him “This is going to be loud.” Corny as it sounds, after seeing the entrance so many times on television, being there for it in person really drove home the fact that not only was I about to see all of this amazing action and drama unfold live in front of me, but that it was the most action-packed and dramatic night of the year.
These two had been rivals for months at this point, and this was the ultimate showdown. A submission match. The only way to win is to make your opponent surrender. Hart was a renowned submission wrestler, having grown up and been trained in the infamous Stu Hart “dungeon.” Austin on the other hand was a straight up brawler, who would do absolutely anything to torture Hart into submission. You couldn’t have had a better story coming into this match, and better story couldn’t have unfolded in the ring that night.
By Wrestlemania 13, Austin had already started developing the following that would catapult him to a level of superstardom seen only by Hulk Hogan before him. Most of the Chicago fans loved him, with a chorus of cheers rising up at his every mention. But Hart wasn’t without his followers, myself included. Watch the tape and you’ll see a sign in the crowd that reads “Hitman 3:16.” It was an obvious play off of Stone Cold’s “Austin 3:16″ catchphrase, but that didn’t make it any less awkward when my dad leaned over and asked: “Rob, what does Hitman 3:16 mean?”
Much of the early action took place outside the ring, and even in the crowd. Sadly, I was on the other side of the arena, and was frustrated to be missing the action. When they finally brought the action back into the ring, Austin was visibly bloody, and the ring would be smeared with his dried blood for the rest of the night. By far my favorite spot in the match was when Austin had Hart on the ring apron, choking him with some kind of extension chord, and Bret grabbed the ring bell and smacked Austin in the skull with it. Austin flailed backward, and the crowd loved it. I could have sworn I actually heard the bell chime all the way from my seat.
This match has one of the most famous finishes in wrestling history. Hart had Austin in his signature move, the Sharpshooter. Because he’d lost so much blood, Austin passed out from the pain and the match was stopped. Thus, the WWF found a very creative loophole in the submission match concept, which would be imitated time and time again through the years. Ring announcer Howard Finkel mentioned the fact that Austin had passed out, but through all the screaming from the crowd I couldn’t hear it. Thus, I assumed Austin had given up until I saw Raw the next night. It was an amazing finish to watch on television, but I’d wager it didn’t register with a decent portion of the live crowd.
Still, during the car ride home my dad seemed genuinely impressed by that match. My dad had never taken much of a genuine interest in wrestling, so to hear that from him made me feel pretty good.
3. Taker Gets The Title
For most of his WWE career, the Undertaker has been one of the company’s top draws, and certainly one of it’s most awe-inspiring performers. But until Wrestlemania 13, he’d never been truly acknowledged as the company’s top dog. He’d frequently be thrust into “monster vs. monster” matches against guys who weren’t nearly as mobile, agile or athletic as he was, i.e. Giant Gonzalez, Kamala, King Kong Bundy, Mabel, etc. Wrestlemania 13 was Undertaker’s crowning moment, where he finally took home the championship. His opponent? Yet another guy who wasn’t as mobile, agile or athletic as he was: Sycho Sid.
The real-life Sid Eudy had his moments in the ring. He had a great look, and a genuinely intimidating presence, but his delivery tended to be on the rigid side. His match with Undertaker is typically looked at as one of the worst performed main events in Wrestlemania history. Still, the end justified the means. Undertaker got his crowning moment. The crowd, which was hot for him from the beginning, gave him a much deserved ovation after the match. A fitting way to close Wrestlemania 13.
Fast forward almost a decade, and my dad and I were back at Wrestlemania. The World Wrestling Federation was now World Wrestling Entertainment, a publically traded company with a budget to match any other live entertainment company in the world. Bret Hart, who’d stolen the show with Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 13, had just been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. The Undertaker, now a multiple-time WWE Champion, was set to face Mark Henry in a casket match. And John Cena was about to become one of the most controversial men in all of wrestling, as he put the WWE Heavyweight Title on the line against Triple H.
1. The Undertaker
At this point, most of the wrestlers we saw at Wrestlemania 13 weren’t on the roster anymore. Triple H and Shawn Michaels were around (though the latter didn’t wrestle at the ’97 event). John Bradshaw Layfield had competed at both events, as had Mick Foley. But it was The Undertaker that left a lasting impression on my father that night. He said that out of everyone he saw that night, the dead man was the only one who truly had distinct presence about him. He left the audience in awe. That’s no small compliment from a man who still wasn’t a big wrestling fan.
2. Foley and the Fire
Edge and Mick Foley had a particularly violent match that night. I don’t remember much about the match itself, but what I do remember is the flaming table spot. The grand finale to the entire brawl was when the wrestlers doused a wooden folding table outside the ring with lighter fluid, set it ablaze, and then proceeded to crash through it. I could feel the heat from where I sat, which was a considerable distance away. The idea of two human bodies plunging into those flames sent chills up my spine. To make matters worse, Edge was shirtless during the stunt. He’s going into the Hall of Fame this year, and it’s not a mystery why.
3. Shawn Michaels
Wrestling events are few and far between for me. It’s simply a matter of money and scheduling. Thus, it had been almost a full decade since I’d seen Shawn Michaels wrestle in person.
During the ’90s, when the Bulls were in the middle of their six championship dynasty, my family managed to get to a few games. I remember my dad telling me that one day I’d be telling my kids that I once saw Michael Jordan play basketball in person. That’s probably true. But I’m just as likely to tell them that I saw Shawn Michaels wrestle, against Vince McMahon no less. HBK has always been a personal hero of mine, and to see him apply his craft on wrestling’s biggest stage was a privilege.
The match itself wasn’t a classic, but it was fun. Vince McMahon, who was WAY too tan that year, hammed it up in the villain role. At one point the Spirit Squad, a faction of wrestlers who dressed as male cheerleaders, got involved. I specifically Ken Doane being over the top rope and getting perhaps a little too much air. That’s not necessarily evident when you watch the tape, but trust me. You had to be there.
The most memorable spot in the match was Shawn hitting an elbow drop off the top of a ladder, crashing through McMahon, who’d been stuffed in a trash can on top of a wooden table. It made for a heck of a spot, a heck of a crash, and a heck of a picture.
4. Boo! Yay! Boo! Yay!
The crowd was pretty hot most of the night, but they never got any hotter than they were during the main event. John Cena, who at that point had assumed the all American hero role he plays in WWE to this day, against the villainous Triple H. Just as the Chicago fans had cheered for the villainous Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 13, they were cheering for Triple H here.
Once Hunter and Cena started cranking up the intensity in this match, the sheer volume of emotion generated by the crowd was almost surreal. Whatever Triple H did, 17,000 people cheered. No matter what Cena came up with, 17,000 people destroyed him with boos. At no point was this dynamic better illustrated than toward the middle of the match, when the two men started exchanging right hands in the middle of the ring. When Cena landed one, the crowd, in unison, yelled “boo!” For Triple H, they cried “Yay!” Back and forth. “Boo!” “Yay!” “Boo!” “Yay!” It was amazing.
This was also the match where, for some reason, WWE felt it necessary to dress Triple H up like Conan The Barbarian for his entrance, and John Cena like Al Capone. None of it made any damn sense, and the Capone entrance actually served to garner more heat for Cena as the crowd picked up on his pandering. What is this, a costume party?
In the end it was Cena who picked up the win via submission. When you watch the tape, there’s a great shot of an astonished fan just moments after Hunter taps out. Cena’s victory was something of a let down for the live crowd, but the sheer thrill ride of the match itself was enough to send us home happy.
Front page image from wwe.com. Image 2 and 3 from bleacherreport.com. Image 4 from thesquaredcircle.tumblr.com. Image 7 from oafe.net.