Previously on the (vintage) Best and Worst of WrestleMania: Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart put on a performance so good it saved an entire WrestleMania, propelled Austin into the superstardom that would lead to him main-eventing the next WrestleMania, and made another important main-eventer go, “actually, can we get rid of Bret Hart forever, k thx.”
If you haven’t seen this show, you can watch it on WWE Network here. Check out all the episodes you may have missed at the Best and Worst of WWF Raw Is War and Best and Worst of WWF Monday Night Raw tag pages. Follow along with the competition here.
Notable Re-post: If you want us to keep doing retro reports, share them around! And be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you think about the show. We’ve finally reached the point where Jim Ross just starts screaming about everything!
And now, the Best and Worst of WWF WrestleMania XIV for March 29, 1998.
Best: The Attitude Era Has Begun
Sure, it technically started back in March of 1997 when Monday Night Raw became Raw Is War (Backwards), but WrestleMania XIV is the official official beginning of the era, with (20-year old spoiler warning) Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the WWF Championship, Vince McMahon leaning into the “Mr. McMahon” character for real outside of the real-life Bret Hart stuff, and these still-very-cool commercials to give the era a name.
They play two of them during this WrestleMania, and the Legends version is even better than the “bodies have been bruised” precursor you see above. It does something you’d never see WWE do on a WrestleMania today: have the older stars say their time has passed, and that they cheer for the new guys now, because they’re way more impressive. The 2018 version of that would be Triple H grimacing and saying, “WE WERE MEN OF COURAGE, AND AT ANY POINT WE STILL MIGHT SHOW UP AND KICK KEVIN OWENS’ ASS, BECAUSE THESE GUYS JUST SIT AROUND PLAYING VIDEO GAMES ALL DAY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM, ANYWAY, CHEER US STILL.”
The only versions of these that live on the Internet today had “WWF” and “Attitude” scraped off them years ago, so when you watch them, imagine that they end with this transition.
Best: Sunny Takes A LOD
Anyway, speaking of old guys showing up to WrestleMania and destroying the entire roster, the surprise team in the 15-team over-the-top-rope battle royal turns out to be the Legion of Doom, Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal, only now Sunny is with them for some reason — we’re not complaining — and they’ve stopped being Evil Post-Apocalyptic Football Players to be Evil Post-Apocalyptic Hockey Goalies. They’re now the L.O.D. 2000, which is retroactively hilarious, because by November Hawk’s getting drunk and committing suicide on the TitanTron. They should’ve called themselves L.O.D. Remainder Of 1998.
Instead of being an evil Ice Girl or whatever, Sunny’s started wearing a skirt that looks like Finn Bálor’s demon headdress and a flame bra designed to make it look like she’s constantly about to fall out of it. None of this makes any sense, really, including “1998 Sunny convinced a couple of wrestlers to get along.”
The battle royal itself is the definition of boring, with nothing more dramatic than a clubbing forearm happening, and multiple eliminations happening when the referees and announcers can’t remember who’s in the match or who’s been eliminated. Kurrgan gets in there at one point, despite not being in the match, and Mark Henry stays in for like five minutes after his opponent’s been tossed. Barry Windham runs in to eliminate Chainz to thereby eliminate Bradshaw, because they’re still beefing, and the Godwinns jump back into the ring after being eliminated to hit the Neo Tokyo Road Warriors with buckets. This really could’ve just been the LODdydonnas squashing Los Boricuas Hollywood (Jose and Jesus) like they do the next night on Raw, but I guess they hadn’t come up with the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal yet and needed to get 26 people they didn’t really care about a WrestleMania payday.
Best-Ish: The Light Heavyweight Championship Is Still A Thing
TAKA Michinoku vs. (Mr.) Aguila for the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship is probably one of those matches where if you only got to see like, one pay-per-view and no weekly wrestling shows in 1998, it’d stay with you forever. It’s just a bunch of spots barely tied together while the crowd rests betwee popping for Road Warrior Hawk and popping for Chyna, and is best described in two seemingly conflicting truths:
- almost any cruiserweight match on Nitro or WCW pay-per-views absolutely scorches it; even some of the throwaway matches between your Hectors Garza and your Lizmarks Jr. have more than two good dives, and
- it’s probably neck-and-neck with Matt Hardy vs. Rey Mysterio at WrestleMania 19 for “best cruiser or light heavyweight championship match on a WrestleMania ever,” since the Cruiserweight Open at Mania 20 is a pile of garbage, and these days they won’t let the 205 Live guys get out of the very beginning of pre-shows
As a random note before I move on, I want to give a supplementary Best to this WrestleMania only being eight matches long. Oh my God, what I wouldn’t give for WrestleMania 35 to only have eight matches on the card. I’d just stuff money into an envelope and mail it to them for nothing.
Best: Meet The Rock
Over the past year or so, we’ve been chronicling the journey of Rocky Maivia to “The Rock,” and watching him slowly put the pieces together. They figured out that they should encourage people to boo him, check. Nothing makes WWE fans like someone more than having to boo them. They figured out he should talk all the time, because he’s really good at it, and refer to himself in the Third Person. He should have a big show-off move that is so stupid you can’t help but eventually love it, and call himself the “people’s champion” because all the people hate him. What else? Oh, maybe he should wear sunglasses and gaudy dress shirts, and go all in on being a terrible human?
That’s the last piece of the puzzle, and it manifests itself fully grown in Rock’s WrestleMania 14 interview with Clinton White House Mistress® Gennifer Flowers. Rock is in prime Rock form here, debuting his sunglasses and $500 shirt look — he’d been doing the glasses before now, but mostly with track suits — and explains to Gennifer what he would do if he were “ruler” of the country. Not the leader. The ruler.
A total classic. From “homeless pieces of trash” living in Kenmore boxes to unnecessarily backtracking through a question about the judicial system just to make a joke about being a “hung jury,” this is easily the best Horrible Human Being wrestling promo ever cut about being President one day by a pro wrestler who will probably actually be President one day. All hail President Camacho, born on this day. Miss you forever, Heel Rock.
Rock follows that up by being the best part of the modern era’s best Dusty Finish: the Intercontinental Championship defense against Ken Shamrock.
To catch you up, Ken Shamrock is a crazy, murderous rage monster who you can easily outsmart, but if you push him too far, he’s going to suplex you and everyone you’ve ever loved until you’re all dead. Several weeks ago, Shamrock tried to take on the constant interference of the Nation of Domination with expert wrestle-fighting and got smashed in the face with a chair by The Rock, a man who does not even KIND OF know his own strength, for his troubles. A couple of weeks before WrestleMania, Shamrock tried another strategy: meet the Nation face-to-face, challenge them in public to lure The Rock into a match, and compensate for the interference by saying he could beat D’Lo Brown in under two minutes. That still ended with interference from The Rock, though, and Rock turning Shamrock’s brain into a cheery ICEE with a steel chair. After those two chair shots, Shamrock showing up to WrestleMania for this match and NOT going apeshit on Rock would’ve been a let down.
Shamrock beats the living dog shit out of Rock here, to the point that the match ends with Rock bleeding from the mouth and screaming for his life in an ankle lock. Every time a member of the Nation runs in, Shamrock releases the hold long enough to suplex them, then goes right back to it. This builds up to Faarooq showing up, choosing not to help Rocky (who hit HIM in the head with a chair last week) and leaving him to lose. He does, and Ken Shamrock is your new Intercontinental Champion. For like, a second.
Shammy is so enraged that he refuses to release the ankle lock, bringing a bunch of Trainers, EMTS, Referees Down to stop it. Shamrock starts flipping out and suplexing THEM, then starts suplexing NPC “stooge” characters who are probably local wrestlers in suits, while Rock’s being carted away on a stretcher. That’s when the announcement comes in: the referee has reversed the decision, and Shamrock has been disqualified. The Rock is still Intercontinental Champion. Shamrock handles this like you might imagine: by sprinting down the ramp, flipping over Rock’s stretcher, and beating him to death some more. It’s AWESOME, and the best part is probably Rock holding the Intercontinental Championship up while being slowly rolled away on his literal death bed:
I’m honestly a little sad the YOU DESERVE IT ?? ?-?-? chant hadn’t been invented yet.
Worst: Sgt. Slaughter Is Worthless
Triple H vs. Owen Hart for the European Championship is fine, but it has three major things going against it:
- nobody can decide if Owen Hart’s totally fine or wrestling on a completely broken ankle, including Owen and Triple H, so it comes and goes and only seems to matter when they need it to. Keep in mind this guy was in a walking boot tapping out to a gentle leg pull the last time we saw him, and now he’s throwing enzuigiris with the bad foot and selling it by like, reaching down to touch it
- the entire build to this has been depressing, from Owen Hart “winning” the European Championship from Goldust dressed as Triple H instead of from Triple H himself, then losing it in an impromptu match while he thought he had a BROKEN LEG because Triple H showed up and said suck it to him
- the stipulation for the match stating that Chyna must be handcuffed to Commissioner Slaughter to keep her from interfering, which as you might imagine does not keep her from interfering even once. Near the end she throws an entire bag of cocaine in his face and incapacitates him so severely that she can get up on the apron and low blow Owen through the ropes. The stipulation might as well have been “Chyna must hold a suitcase while at ringside.”
Maybe that would make it too much of a WCW thing. But yeah, Triple H wins via Chyna interference in the Chyna Definitely Can’t Interfere Match, and Owen Hart once again looks like a complete goober. Also in this match: Triple H’s first of many “band playing a terrible live version of his entrance theme” WrestleMania entrances. Shout-out to Confederate Yankee, aka “The D-Generation X Band,” aka Napster’s Rage Against The Machine.
Best: Charlie Hustle Hustles, Gets Hustled
My favorite part of this entire WrestleMania is the special guest appearance of Pete Rose. You may know him as Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader (if you don’t count Japan), an analogy for putting your face in your cousin’s tits, or as the leader of the Three Stooges. He shows up to be the special ring announcer for KANE VS. THE UNDERTAKER for some reason, and decides to abandon that completely in favor of heeling on the Boston crowd.
Pete is hilarious here, because (1) Boston is the worst, don’t @ me, and (2) he can’t just insult the crowd, he has to insult them and then go, “HOW BOUT IT?” It’s great. His best joke is about how he left WrestleMania tickets at the box office for Bill Buckner, but he “couldn’t pick them up.” Extremely relevant 1986 baseball comedy on a 1998 wrestling show on this 2018 wrestling blog. Can we not have Braun Strowman knock out the Phillie Phanatic or something at next year’s WrestleMania?
Anyway, in one of the strangest decisions WWE’s ever made, KANE shows up and Tombstones Pete to thunderous applause. You’d think if they’d spent months building up this feud between the extremely popular babyface Undertaker and this fire-demon who strikes people with lightning and literally tried to murder the Undertaker on pay-per-view, they’d have had the UNDERTAKER be the guy to stand up for Boston. Right? Maybe Taker was still huffing kayfabe and didn’t want to do it.
I guess it makes sense given Kane’s hatred of the Phoenix Suns Gorilla, so maybe he just hates sports? This isn’t the last we’ll see of Pete Rose in a WWF ring, thankfully, and even in 2018 I hold out hope they’ll finish the story before Kane retires or Pete dies.
Worst: Kane Vs. Undertaker Matches
Your childhood probably disagrees with me, but Kane vs. Undertaker matches are forever the drizzling shits. Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2014 in our ranking of the Undertaker’s then 21 WrestleMania matches, where we named it the 12th best.
The WrestleMania 14 showdown against Kane is one of The Undertaker’s most memorable matches, and it sorta represents the best and worst (cough) of what Undertaker had to offer during the Attitude Era.
In terms of the best Taker had to offer, he’s always been THE character in pro wrestling. He’s the #1 gimmick ever. He’s a guy who took something ostensibly stupid (“wrestling mortician zombie?”) and turned it into hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. His entrance with the druids is iconic, his look (and entrance theme) were never better than during this era and the story with Kane is exactly the kind of thing that brings casual fans, especially the ones who listen to Metallica and draw Grim Reapers on their notebooks, into the fold. As for the worst, the match itself is a hell of a lot of punching and headlocks. It’s kinda boring. They just slowly hit each other because they’re working these weird immobile characters … and they’re about to just spam specials until the match is over.
At the same time, though, it works. Especially when it happened. Kane kicks out of not one but TWO Tombstones, requiring a third to put him away. An unprecedented feat. It felt like Taker had truly met his physical match and that Kane was on his level, and frankly Kane’s kinda been dickriding this match for the last 16 years.
The best moment is still Taker’s dive over the top to the floor through a table, which in your imagination seems like an incredible leap, but if you look at the picture they could barely fit Kane between the table and the ring. Still, I couldn’t clear the top rope on a dive at all, and I’m not 6-foot-10 and 300-ish pounds.
Best: Sable, Austin For A Day
As we’ve talked about at length during the build to this, the WWF had a perfect storm with this mixed tag: they combined the general overness of a pretty blonde valet in the Sunny vein with a Miss Elizabeth “my husband wants me around all the time but is also EXTREMELY JEALOUS of everything and might beat me up in his spare time, who knows,” then played up her very good natural fire with a pair of completely unlikable rivals — Goldust, doing an anti-Goldust thing to make everyone as uncomfortable as possible, and Luna Vachon, who’s probably better at making crowds uncomfortable than anyone in wrestling history — and boom, hottest possible inferno fire.
When this match happens, Sable is treated like a goddamn supernova. Everything she does is treated like a Stone Cold Stunner. The crowd wants this and Sable, to her credit, gives them everything they could’ve asked for. It’s the HoganAndre of mixed tag matches in the WWE, and my only criticism is that the Sable Bomb (above) didn’t end the match. That was THE MOMENT. They do some more stuff for a minute and end it with a TKO from Sable to Luna, but the fun of seeing a wife use her husband’s finisher doesn’t match up with the fun of seeing a “happy to be here” waving valet driven to such a rage that she’s powerbombing motherfuckers. A total hidden gem, and if you haven’t seen it, watch it and imagine ANYBODY getting the kind of 10-minute pop Sable gets here.
Best/Worst: You Should’ve Used A Regulation Dumpster
Like a lot of matches from this era — Iron Man Match at WrestleMania 12, I’m looking in your direction — the Dumpster Match between the New Age Outlaws and Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie is more famous for having happened than for anything they do. Mick Foley is in the “oh god, why did you do that to yourself” bumping business, which is the meat and potatoes of what they do.
Cactus and Chainsaw end up taking the fight to the back and winning by using a forklift to pick up both Outlaws simultaneously and dump them into a backstage dumpster, becoming the Tag Team Champions. For a second. As it turns out — and spoiler alert for anyone who was emotionally invested in this and wanted to wait a week to find out what happened 20 years ago — you had to win the match by putting the other team in a specific ringside dumpster, and the WrestleMania State Athletic Commission or whoever declared the match result void, giving the straps back to the Outlaws. This would set up a rematch for Raw, which (ta da!) would see the formation of a new D-Generation X. The ultimate in “Best slash Worst.”
Best: STONE COLD, STONE COLD, STONE COLD
Finally we have one of those matches important enough to define and change an entire era: Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels in the main event of WrestleMania 14, with Mike Tyson as the special “enforcer” at ringside.
This match absolutely shouldn’t work — Austin’s still recovering from a near career-ending neck injury and is experimenting with a new style of wrestling, Mike Tyson can’t even get the characters’ names right in press conferences, and Shawn Michaels is both dealing with a career-threatening injury of his own and he’s Shawn Michaels. There was just as much a chance he’d lose his chuckle or whatever and no-show. There were rumors that this was going to happen and Undertaker had to threaten him into performing, to the point that Michaels addressed it in an interview with Sports Illustrated decades later:
“Back then, Mark [The Undertaker] didn’t like me. But at no time has he ever claimed that he said anything to the face of Shawn Michaels, and that’s because he didn’t. Mark went to everybody and told them, ‘If this doesn’t go down the way it should, I’m going to have a big problem and Shawn is going to have a big problem. I’ll go over there and beat the heck out of him.’ But he never had to say anything to me. My whole intention at WrestleMania XIV was to drop the belt to Steve, but I was going to make everybody sweat it out and make them think I wasn’t. Obviously, I got that accomplished. That’s extremely unprofessional, but that’s exactly who I was and what I was doing.”
Regardless of that, and the pressure of WrestleMania, and the pressure of main-eventing a WrestleMania, and the pressure of WCW, and the pressure of EVERYTHING ELSE EVER, this is a good-ass wrestling match. Michaels is limited in what he can do, so he has to tone it down in the ring, and it works. Austin’s working in a lot of stuff he’d later abandon completely because his body couldn’t do it, but Michaels’ limitations and experience help make it easy on him. They do the things every WWF main-event for the next 15-20 years would do to make a match “exciting,” like brawling in the crowd, extremely heavy psychology and even the triple finisher reversal sequence at the end, before those things were so common.
It’s ahead of its time, in a way, and sits on a shelf of modern day WWE influence next to Hogan and Rock at WrestleMania 18, Benoit and Angle at Royal Rumble 2003, and a few others.
And speaking of that finishing sequence, it’s one of the most famous they’ve ever done. So famous, in fact, that they ended up recreating it in the intro to WrestleMania 2000.
Mike Tyson slides into the ring to count a quick three, raises Austin’s hand, and reveals that he’s either been in on this with Cold Stone all along, or is just a lousy frontrunner you shouldn’t trust. Michaels is rightfully like, “the fuck, man,” and gets punched into his first retirement. He’d be back on WWF television before the end of the year, because of course he would, but wouldn’t actually wrestle again until SummerSlam in 2002.
The night ends with confetti, a video package, and Jim Ross’ first classic call of, “STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD!” It’s truly the beginning of a new era, which continues into the next night on Raw, and into a roll that would push the company back ahead of WCW in the ratings and eventually put them on top for good.