Previously on the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War: WrestleMania main-eventer and 7-foot-tall zombie mortician The Undertaker made a construction paper tombstone and presented it to a government official to celebrate the “death” of a tax bill. Shawn Michaels is back already, because of course he is, and Bret Hart is starting to lose his goddamn mind.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWF WrestleMania 13 for March 23, 1997.
Worst: In Your House: WrestleMania
One of the best decisions WWE ever made was to be up its own ass about WrestleMania. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have, right? The original … dozen or so WrestleManias are all about pomp and circumstance, full of tuxedos and celebrities and vulture entrances and Aretha Franklin. Things weren’t going well for the company in 1997, so they were like, “we can have Travis Tritt sing ‘America the Beautiful’ before the show or we can afford catering for Raw tomorrow, but we can’t do both.”
What you end up with is WrestleMania 13, a very long but very regular episode of Raw featuring a title change and, thank God for everyone involved, one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time. Without that, it would’ve been impossible to distinguish this from the weekly show.
A year later, WWF would get the Showcase of the Whoevers back on track with disgraced baseball player, a bunch of boxers and a Clinton mistress. Trust me, it’s better than it sounds.
Worst: Who Are These Bums?
I wanted to use the, “for an example of how this WrestleMania is just a long episode of Raw, here’s THIS match” joke for the opening four-way elimination tag team match, but I realized I’d have to use it four times in a row.
The opener to WrestleMania 13 (if you don’t count the pre-show Free-For-All Billy Gunn singles victory) features four teams who know varying degrees of absolutely nothing about what they’re doing: the Godwinns, the Head Bangers, the New Blackjacks and the Can-Am Express. The winner gets a shot at the Tag Team Championship the next night on Raw. I feel like if this had happened 20 years later they would’ve put a bunch of ladders in the ring with them, and everybody’d be losing their mind about how good it was.
Anyway, Furnas y LaFon and the New Blackjacks get themselves disqualified, leaving us with two active Godwinns. Tex Slazinger and Shanghai Pierce are a couple of real Misters WrestleMania. They’re left with the Head Bangers, and it’s honestly nowhere near as bad as it should be, even if it levels the crowd like a damn … leveler. The Bangers are trying their best to be the Spencer’s Gifts Midnight Express, even throwing a Rocket Launcher to the floor, but the Godwinns are gonna have to fuck a much higher quality pig to be the Rock n’ Rolls.
Mosh wins after a jumping butthole to the chest on Phineas, securing them a shot at (spoiler alert) Owen and the Bulldog on Raw. The good news? That match is the one that finally causes Owen and Bulldog to come to blows and sets up the NEXT week’s match, which is the match that leads to the reformation of the Hart Foundation. And that gives WWF the big angle they need for 1997. Thanks, Mosh’s butthole!
Worst: The Rocky, The
Speaking of bad content that accidentally leads to something great, check out the “DIE ROCKY” sign and “ROCKY SUCKS” chants in poor Rocky Maivia’s WrestleMania debut. The guy’s like, “look at me, I’m a precious wrestling baby,” and doing a weird, two-finger orchestra conducting trying to get the crowd behind him, and everyone’s like, if you died we wouldn’t be saaaaad.
As you know if you’ve seen any of those Prince Iaukea matches happening at the same time, Rocky gets his ass beaten by the Sultan for a while, fails to get the crowd on his side, pretends they’re on his side anyway and wins with a roll-up. That brings Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund into the ring for a 3-on-1 beatdown, and gets me thinking about how The Rock’s the only guy to get leg dropped by Hulk Hogan, camel clutched by the Iron Sheik, Stone Cold Stunnered by Steve Austin and Attitude Adjusted by John Cena at WrestleMania.
Anyway, Tony Atlas is as useless as an asshole right here, so the Rock’s father, ‘Soulman’ Rocky Johnson, has to make the save. They team up to do some wacky tandem foot-shuffly punches and hug each other a bunch. The crowd is like, “…. [polite applause] [internalized death threats].”
A year later, Rocky Maivia would be The Rock. Two years later, he’d be main-eventing WrestleMania.
Best/Worst: The Goldust/Helmsley Beef Continues
While we’re talking about wrestlers improving between WrestleManias, here’s Hunter Hearst Helmsley getting about 15 minutes against Goldust and winning a year after being the Ultimate Warrior’s personal spunk rag at 12.
This is the best of the first four matches of the show, but like the rest of them, it could’ve easily been slotted into any Raw. Goldust is especially working his ass off here, taking a superplex reverse bump off the top rope to the floor and hitting himself on the apron on the way down. The replay takes a little of the magic away. Remember when Triple H got chokeslammed by the Undertaker at WrestleMania X-7 and it looked great, and then they showed the replay and caught him bumping onto a bunch of mats and ruined it? Hunter’s got bad replay luck.
When things are looking especially bad for Helmsley, Chyna starts stalking Marlena at ringside. This distracts Goldust, who reaches over the top rope to grab Marlena under the armpits like a child of a figure skater or a figure-skating child and deposits her on the apron. Helmsley ends up kneeing Goldie in the back, sending him into Marlena anyway and launching her OFF the apron into Chyna’s arms. Chyna ragdolls her again as Hunter hits the Pedigree for the win. After the match, Hunter’s like, “man, I really want to tell this guy to suck my dick, but I don’t have any non-verbal ways to communicate that.” Give it five months, Hunter, you’ll get there.
The most disappointing and nonsensical match of the show is Owen Hart and the British Bulldog vs. Mankind and They Man They Made Us Call Vader for the Tag Team Championship. Look at the people in this match. This should be dope, right?
Instead, it’s dull as dishwater and ends, I’m shitting you not, with Mankind and Bulldog just kinda falling out of the ring and getting counted out. That’s what’s happening in the above picture. Maybe they just took that bump and were like, yeah, no, that’s it, shut it down.
As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the final steps of the scenic route to Owen and the Bulldog breaking up, which needs to happen so Bret Hart can show up and tell them to knock it off and be a family. What an awful waste of talent, though. I’m eternally sad that Vader never got anything resembling a “WrestleMania moment.” Dude was part of an Ahmed Johnson six-man tag, was the least important part of a count-out tag team match here, missed 14 completely and was out of the company by 15. Mankind literally spent WrestleMania 14 in a dumpster, and things were WAY better for him.
Best: Dah Lejah Ah Dahhh
It always made me mad that the Legion of Doom kept getting into scaffold matches or Chicago street fights where there were no rules, wore spiked football pads to the ring and didn’t just keep them on the entire time. Why would you take them off? Shit’s legal. It’s not your legal responsibility if the promotion says anything goes and Savio Vega accidentally planchas onto some spikes.
This is absolutely a one match show, but the surprise of the night is this garbage brawl between the Nation of Domination, the Legion of Doom and Ahmed Johnson. In true WWF fashion, Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler lose their minds over hardcore weapons spots only a month after burying ECW for doing them on Raw. It’s cool, y’all invented everything.
As blowoffs to “evil heel faction runs amuck” storylines go, this is better than most. The Nation holds their own, but Ahmed and the Legion beat the dogshit out of them with everything they can find, including the kitchen sink. Get it? This was, I guess, supposed to be the last hurrah of the Nation, but they just kinda kept existing anyway and it was fine. Who’s up for an Ahmed vs. the Nation gauntlet match?
But yeah, the Nation gets destroyed and PG-13 get double Doomsday Deviced to send the fans to the restrooms happy.
Best: Blood From A Stone
When you’re listing the best matches in WWE history built on rivalry, competition and grudge, you go Savage vs. Steamboat from WrestleMania 3. When you’re listing the greatest bloodbaths, iconic images and passionate babyface moments in WWE history, you’ve got to include Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL from Judgment Day 2004. If you want all of those things in one match, want it to be a true turning point in company history, want it to involve two of the best performers in history at their creative and physical peaks and want it to influence not only the direction of the promotion but everything that came after it … hey, here’s a match.
If you’ve been following along with the weekly story, you know why this is important. If you don’t, here’s what you need to know. Bret Hart is a second generation star who’s been around for over a decade. He’s very good at what he does, but he’s kind of a square and maybe thinks pro wrestling is real. He’s all about honor and respect, and not reminding you that he started off as half of a heel tag team. He’s better than that. He had a bad time with Shawn Michaels and decided to step away, but was brought back into the company by an obsessive possible-serial killer in jorts from Texas named Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin is hungry to prove that he’s the best everything ever and that everyone else in the world should shut up and kiss his ass. He’s mad about SOMETHING, possibly EVERYTHING, and chill-ass “who cares, I’m great” Bret Hart is the icon of his rage. Here’s a guy who gets everything he wants without even trying, because he’s naturally gifted and entitled. Bret thinks that makes him the good guy. It also makes him confused and whiny when things don’t go his way. Austin is like, I WANT TO DESTROY EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU.
Bret eliminated Austin from the Royal Rumble. The referees didn’t see it, so Austin slid back in and eliminated Bret. Due to the controversy, they ended up in a four-way match for the championship a month later. Austin blew out his knee, and Bret won. Austin cost Bret the championship the next night. Austin can’t handle this dude just eternally sauntering into privilege, and Bret can’t understand why this guy won’t just leave him alone and let him be great. Despite years of Bret being the hero, crowds are starting to see Austin’s point of view. They’re starting to like his vibe, and to appreciate how hard he works and how much he cares, even if he’s crazy.
The WWF’s done everything they can to please Bret. They gave him a mulligan after the Rumble, gave him another title shot in a cage right before WrestleMania, and have given him a SUBMISSION match (which he couldn’t possibly lose) against a guy he wants to beat up who barely does submissions. With a UFC star as the special guest referee. Bret’s still complaining.
What results is 22 minutes of, honestly, some of the best pro wrestling you’ll ever see. They illustrate everything I just typed through their physical storytelling and body language. When you’re done watching the match (or if you’ve seen it 200 times like I have), go back and watch it with Austin’s commentary. Everything is intentional. Everything matters. It’s so good that it turns the company completely upside down, recasting the upstanding do-gooder as the villain and the guy who just a few months ago was breaking into people’s houses and being threatened with handguns as the heroic everyman.
And, of course, Bret wins. He beats Steve Austin’s ass. That’s how the story goes.
What matters is the how and the why. This is the kind of match they point to when they tell you wins and losses don’t matter, without paying attention to how brilliant these wrestlers are and how not just anybody could do what they did. Bret plays it fair, at least within the confines of a no disqualification match that can only end in submissions, the entire match. Austin fights and fights. Bret bashes him in the head with a ring bell, locks him in the Sharpshooter and makes him pass out. The shot of Austin bridging up and fighting to reverse the hold is one of the best images pro wrestling’s ever gonna get:
But he loses. He passes out. Jim Ross is his nuclear best here, emphasizing every important beat and putting over Austin as one of the toughest sons of whatever he’s ever seen. Throughout the match, McMahon drops passive-aggressive comments about how even if he loses, Bret Hart’s gonna have an excuse. There’s even a little Montreal foreshadowing, with Austin getting Bret in the Sharpshooter and Lawler commenting, “Wouldn’t that have been incredible, to have to submit to the Sharpshooter?” Vince’s response: “Hey, it could happen.”
After the match, Bret soaks in the … kind of adulation of the crowd. A lot of people still like him at this point. When that proves to not be enough, Bret starts attacking an unconscious man, and that’s the moment everything changes. That’s the pro graps Siege Perilous. Ken Shamrock has to throw Bret off of Austin and more or less say to the crowd, “THIS GUY NEEDS TO GET HIS ASS KICKED FOR DOING THIS.” Bret backs down, because even he’s not sure where his head’s at, and he leaves with a new perspective on why he does what he does.
A referee tries to help Austin to his feet, so Austin hits him with a Stunner. The crowd goes wild. Even the defeated, barely operable man is so indignant and proud and stubborn and violent that even his empty shell of a body won’t stop resisting and fighting. The crowd chants “Austin, Austin, Austin” for the first time, but not the last. Austin leaves under his own power, on his own two feet. A hero is born. A flawed, fucked-up hero. The one we’d been looking for.
I don’t give star ratings because I gave all my stars to this.
Worst: And Now, The Opposite Of That
From our ranking of the (at the time) 29 WrestleMania main-events:
When you think of “WrestleMania 13,” what do you think of? If you’re like 100% of the wrestling-loving population, you think of Stone Cold Steve Austin bloody, screaming, refusing to give up in Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter and making himself a hero. You probably don’t think about Sid vs. The Undertaker, a No DQ match full of throat grabbing and punches to the stomach. I’m of the minority belief that The Undertaker didn’t have a truly good match until he became a biker.
I’m not totally sure why Sid main-evented TWO WrestleManias, but neither is a match you’d want to watch. At least the Taker match is better than the Hogan one, and its finish is only 3/4 as stupid: Bret Hart was unhappy that Sid had cost him the WWF Championship and the Austin match had turned Hart heel, so he interfered a bunch, got powerbombed and came back to basically stunner Sid on the top rope, allowing Undertaker to throw on a Tombstone and win. I had 100% forgotten about Hart’s involvement until I rewatched the match for the sake of this list, so.
What a pile. The result is good — The Undertaker is the champion, which means Sid isn’t but also Shawn Michaels still isn’t, which clears up the main-event scene for a while and lets things get comfortable through SummerSlam — but everything else about it isn’t.
And … well, that’s WrestleMania 13. The powerful, beautiful soliloquy of Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, surrounded by those garbage towers from Wall-E. Seriously, when the second best thing on your show is Ahmed Johnson in sadomasochistic shoulderpads, you know there’s a drop-off.
But hey, the fuse of the rocket that is the Austin Era has been lit. Here we go.