In the build-up to WrestleMania 32, the Flickering Myth writers look back at previous installments of the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’.
The Godwinns vs. The Headbangers vs. The New Blackjacks vs. Doug Furnas & Phillip LaFon (Four Team Elimination Match)
IC Title Match: Rocky Maivia vs. The Sultan w/The Iron Sheik & Bob Backlund
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/Chyna vs. Goldust w/Marleena
WWF Tag Title Match: Mankind & Vader vs. Owen Hart & The British Bulldog (Double Count-Out)
‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin vs. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart (Submission Match)
Ahmed Johnson & The Legion of Doom vs. Faarooq, Crush & Savio Vega.
WWF Title Match: The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
Peculiarly, the lowest point of this event also just happens to be the WrestleMania debut of a future WWE Champion and global icon; Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
Wrestling under the name Rocky Maivia (a homage to his father and grandfather respective), ‘The Great One’ had started his WWF career with success, picking up the Intercontinental Title. Here he would defend against The Sultan; a character played by Solofa Fatu Jr, who would later become Rikishi.
Both characters drastically lacked any real momentum or connection to the crowd. Rocky was a white-meat babyface who had all but been rejected by fans who were ready to embrace edgier characters. The Sultan was a cartoonish heel; a relic of an era that had already come and gone. By 1997, pro wrestling crowds had changed their appetites, and both these competitors would have to overhaul their gimmicks to reflect that change before they were able to gain any traction.
The in-ring action was as lacklustre as the characters involved. The Sultan applies a Chinlock for what seems like eternity, effectively sucking the life out of the entire arena in the process. Then, out of the blue, Rocky pulls off a roll-up victory. Not even the likes of The Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund were able to breathe any life into this one.
There are two stand-out matches on the WrestleMania 13 card; one is a criminally underrated main event, and the other has a legitimate claim to being called the ‘Greatest WWF Match of all Time’.
The Submission match between ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Bret Hart was something of a backup plan heading into the event. Originally, ‘Mania 13 was meant to see Hart conquer Shawn Michaels in a rematch of the previous year’s main event. However, due to Michaels’ back injuries/unwillingness to lose to his arch-nemesis, the plans had to be reshuffled.
Although it may have been Plan B, if the Hart/Austin feud was rushed then you couldn’t tell at all. Hart played the role of the returning babyface, perplexed as to why the fans who once cheered for him were now supporting Austin, a loudmouth heel. It was a fascinating build, culminating a masterful double-turn.
The match itself was a total show-stealer, battled out by two masters of their craft (it’s easy to forget what a fantastic technical wrestler Austin was, prior to his broken neck). If fans wanted to cheer ‘The Texas Rattlesnake’ before this match, then by the end of it they were simply desperate to. His brash refusal to submit, combined with the increasingly despicable actions of Hart, confirmed his status as the most popular member of the roster. In short, this match propelled Austin to unprecedented heights.
Given the quality and drama of the Submission Match, following it was always going to be an impossible task. Perhaps it is for this reason that ‘Mania 13’s main event gets a bad reputation, but it’s an unjust one.
Like Hart/Austin, the rivalry between Sid and Undertaker was a late-addition due to the Shawn Michaels’ absence. Sid was an adequate heel champion, but was never really seen as more than a placeholder (think 2015’s Sheamus). The Undertaker was in the early stages of ‘The Streak’, and some way off churning out the level of performances he has in the past decade. All these elements combined seemed to be the perfect recipe for a poor-quality main event…
…but it wasn’t.
It was never going to be a technical masterpiece like the aforementioned match, but as a gritty clash of giants it was solid. The in-ring work was of a high standard (higher than you’d expect from Sid), and both men had their gimmicks nailed on. It’s also worth noting that The Undertaker was long-overdue a decent WWF Title reign (his first was just 6 days).
Like its main event, WrestleMania 13 is often underrated. Austin versus Hart alone make this a must-watch, but the rest of the card is above-average also.
It is perhaps to think of this as a ‘transitional’ edition of the event; wedge between two distinctive eras of professional wrestling. The Attitude Era may not have officially kicked off until ‘Mania 14, but the seeds were certainly sewn here. The Rock, Mankind, and Triple H all appear on this card, while Austin and Undertaker hit major career milestones.
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn
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