It is considered the most prestigious event on the WWE calendar. Every year, all the superstars work their hardest in order to realize their dream of earning a spot on the ‘Mania’ card. In a continuation of my previous article, I will be reflecting on some great moments and matches from Wrestlemania’s 11-20.
The Tag Team titles were at stake at Wrestlemania 11, as Owen Hart and Yokozuna challenged the champions, the Smoking Gunns (Billy and Bart Gunn). The champions utilized their speed during the match, and occasionally it worked, but because of Yokozuna’s big build and strength, the challengers took over. The match ended once Owen pinned Billy Gunn, after his gargantuan partner performed the “Banzai Drop.” Owen and Yokozuna became the new WWE Tag Team Champions. Even today, people are still in awe of the late Yokozuna, because of his size. But, despite the fact that he weighed close to 600 pounds, he was extremely agile. He showed his quickness very often during his time in the WWE. Very few big men in today’s WWE do that. While Owen Hart was not very popular during his in-ring career, he was one of the gentlest, most compassionate individual I have ever met. A true gentleman outside the ring. What a loss for the WWE.
The main event featured Shawn Michaels challenging Diesel (Kevin Nash) for the WWE Title. This was a classic match of speed against power. After a hard-fought and gruelling match, Diesel pinned his challenger after performing his “jackknife” powerbomb. Diesel retained the championship. Shawn had many close calls during the match, but credit must be given to the champion for persevering throughout. While Michaels was disappointed with the outcome, his will and spirit were not broken. Like any great wrestler, his main focus was preparing for next year’s event.
Wrestlemania 12 was headlined by a one-hour Iron Man Match featuring two of the WWE’s best. Bret Hart battled Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. The only rule for this match was that the wrestler with the most decisions in an hour would become the champion.
The match began at a slow and deliberate pace, but got intense rather quickly. After 45 minutes of hard-fought action, the score was tied at zero. Later, Shawn tried hitting a top-rope elbow drop on the champion, but Hart barely kicked out at two. With 30 seconds left, Bret applied his ‘Sharpshooter’ submission hold. Shawn held on, and did not give up as time expired. So, it seemed that there was not going to be a winner, and Bret would remain champion…. Right? Well, not according to “acting president” Gorilla Monsoon.
When he entered the ring, there was a meeting with the referees and other officials. The decision was made to continue the match. Bret was angry, and he protested. But, despite that, the bell rang, and the two exhausted wrestlers continued the battle. Within a minute of the re-start, Shawn superkicked Bret. With Hart on the mat, Shawn covered Hart for the only pinfall of the match. Shawn Michaels finally realized his dream of becoming the WWE Champion. The fans were ecstatic. Shawn fell to his knees, clutching his newly-won title and became very emotional as Wrestlemania 12 concluded. It was great to see Shawn Michaels realize his dream. His drive and persistence during the match, revealed his tenacity and championship qualities. Congratulations to both for putting on a memorable performance on the WWE’s biggest stage.
Despite the loss at the previous year’s event, Bret Hart had a main event match at Wrestlemania 13, this time, it was against Steve Austin. It was a submission match, and it was a brutal affair. Chairs were used, a turnbuckle was ripped away, exposing raw steel, and all kinds of other weapons were introduced. Later, Bret grabbed the ring bell, and hit Austin’s head with it, busting him open. With blood gushing from Steve’s head, Bret applied his ‘Sharpshooter’ submission. The crowd started to cheer Austin, and fans saw him scream into the camera, as the blood flowed down his face, creating one of the most iconic images in WWE history. Unfortunately, with the amount of time he was in the hold, and the amount of blood lost, Austin passed out. The referee was forced to stop the match. Bret won, but Steve Austin never quit, and won a lot of new fans because of his grit and dogged determination.
What a hard-fought, intense match this was! I know fans enjoyed it. They were loud and boisterous throughout. I enjoyed it as well. It was a fight that had everything, and it proved that Austin had the ability to “hang” with any superstar.
Steve Austin had another chance to prove himself on the Wrestlemania stage. At the 14th edition, he had an opportunity to take the WWE title from Shawn Michaels. Mike Tyson was the special “enforcer” for the match. A few weeks before the event, Tyson joined the group Shawn co-founded, D-Generation X. So, from that fact alone, it seemed that Michaels was going to retain the championship. The conclusion of the match came once Austin hit his “Stone Cold Stunner” finishing move. With the referee knocked down, Tyson entered to give the count, awarding Austin his first WWE title. But, there was more drama ahead. After the match, Shawn and Tyson argued over what transpired, with Tyson knocking out the former champion, much to delight of the fans. I enjoyed the match, as it featured a turn by Tyson that made sense and a lot of drama during the match. But, in my mind, the bigger story was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin winning his first WWE Championship. What a comeback for him!
Wrestlemania 15 saw Austin receive another opportunity at the WWE title, this time, against the Rock. The champion played the heel (bad guy), and had the ‘backing’ of the owner, Vince McMahon. When the referee was knocked down during the match, the owner and the champion double-teamed Austin…. It seemed that all was lost for Steve, but someone had the courage to come out and help.
Enter Mankind (Mick Foley). With some speed, he ran into the ring, and disposed of Vince McMahon. The Rock then tried to finish off his challenger with the “Rock Bottom,” but Austin blocked it, and hit his “Stunner” for the pin. As a result, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became a three-time WWE Champion. This was a tremendous, hard-fought and intense match with a great ending. It was also the beginning of a great rivalry in the WWE.
Officials did a few unique things for Wrestlemania 16. In my opinion, one of them was putting two titles on the line in a triple threat match. Rules for this match were different. The champion did not have to factor in to the final outcome to lose his title, or in this case, titles.
This match featured the WWE Intercontinental and European Champions, Kurt Angle against the challengers, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. The first belt at stake was the Intercontinental title. All three men wrestled a great match, and were close to winning on many occasions. After Benoit threw Angle over the guardrail (which separates the fans from the wrestlers on the arena floor,) Benoit climbed to the top rope and quickly delivered a diving headbutt to an exhausted Jericho inside the ring for the pin. Fans were elated with the first result – Chris Benoit winning the Intercontinental title. But, the exciting action continued.
The same three wrestlers competed for the European Championship. After delivering a suplex to Angle, Benoit tried to end the match with the diving headbutt. He missed because Kurt moved out of the way. Jericho then leaped onto the second rope and connected with one of his finishers – the Lionsault for the pin
to become the European Champion. What exciting action from these great competitors. The fans were into every move. The guys involved should be proud of their performances that night.
Kurt Angle fought Chris Benoit at the following Wrestlemania, and it was a tremendous match. The action was fast-paced and well executed. The two traded holds and finishing moves to the pleasure of those in attendance. The end came when Angle utilized a simple roll-up to gain the pin. The fans were not happy with the result, because Kurt gained some leverage by holding on to Benoit’s tights.
Wrestlemania 18 was once again held in Toronto. What a great event it was! The crowd was enthused the entire night. One of the headlining matches that night featured the Rock against Hulk Hogan. Before the bell rang, the two stared at each other in the ring, then they both turned to the crowd. Over 60,000 screaming fans showed divided loyalties. Half the crowd chanted for the Rock, while the other half cheered for Hogan. It was a great moment to watch.
When the match officially began, every move the wrestlers performed, even the underhanded ones, was cheered by the crowd. The Rock won the match after performing three Rock Bottom’s and hitting the People’s Elbow for the pin. The two future legends shook hands after the match, much like Hogan and Warrior did at Wrestlemania 6. I enjoyed this, especially the beginning seeing and hearing the crowd respond to both men – it was a sight to behold!
One of the best matches at Wrestlemania 19 featured Shawn Michaels. This time, he battled Chris Jericho, and what a great match it was. The crowd ‘ooh’d and ‘ahh’d with every move, countermove, and all the high-flying action provided by both these proud wrestlers. The end came when Jericho kicked out of Shawn’s superkick at two. Chris attempted a back suplex, but Shawn countered, and rolled up his opponent for the win to conclude this exhilarating match.
The twentieth anniversary of Wrestlemania was held at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. This night featured many great matches. Titles changed hands, and new stars began to emerge. One of those stars was made in the first match. John Cena made his Wrestlemania debut against the United States Champion, the Big Show. The champion dominated most of the match with his power moves. But, the challenger displayed his strength by placing Show on his shoulders, and dropping him with the FU (later re-named the “Attitude Adjustment”) for the pinfall. As a result, John Cena became the new United States champion. In my opinion, the right guy went over, and the WWE proceeded to make Cena one of their biggest stars.
The main event was a triple threat match as WWE Champion Triple H went up against Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit. The challengers attacked the champion at the outset. There were many pin and submission attempts during the match. This contest ended when Benoit countered a Triple H ‘pedigree’ attempt, and applied his “crippler crossface” submission. The champion tried to hang on, but eventually was forced to tap out. The fans rejoiced as Chris Benoit finally realized his dream of becoming the WWE champion. As he celebrated, his friend, Eddie Guerrero, who retained the World Heavyweight Championship earlier in the night, entered the ring, and embraced his friend. It was one of the most emotional moments in wrestling history. This was an exciting, fast-paced and thrilling battle, where the fans were entertained and pleased with the end result.
Reflecting on the final image of the show, it is sad that Benoit and Guerrero were gone before their time. I think that if both men had wrestled for another 5-7 years, they may have won the WWE title a few more times. Sadly, fans would never know how much better either one of them could have been.
Wrestlemania’s 11-20 had some tremendous moments and matches. Wrestlers displayed tremendous work ethic in their matches, and demonstrated great determination. The WWE officials should be proud of their athletes and the ongoing commitment they have for this entertaining sport. In my next article, I will share some memories from the remaining Wrestlemanias.