Wrestlemania is always supposed to be WWE’s biggest show of the year, but for a while, it seemed that every other year the focal point of the wrestling calendar would stink to high heaven. Think about Wrestlemanias 9, 11, and 13; if the WWF wanted to break the odd-numbered Mania curse in 1999, they would have to pull out all the stops for Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, during the Attitude Era, that meant taking the Monday Night Raw booking philosophy (already suffering from ADHD) and medicating it with speed instead of Ritalin to multiply the hyperactive insanity!
Sure, things started out smoothly; “America the Beautiful” was sung by Philadelphia’s Boys II Men. No, not Rob Feinstein’s favorite chat room, but the vocal group from Philly.
But then the “Showcase of the Immortals” kicked off its action with a Hardcore title Triple Threat match that was supposed to pit Hardcore Holly, Al Snow, and Road Dogg against each other. This match would have made sense, since the belt had been held by Road Dogg, vacated due to injury, and then won by Holly in a match against Snow.
But, and this is a big “but” (a shapely, toned, well-groomed “but”), Mr. Ass won the title for no good reason just two weeks before the biggest event of the year, taking his partner Road Dogg’s spot. On an unrelated note, Vince Russo was WWF’s head writer at the time.
The match came to an abrupt end when Holly used a chair on Gunn to break up a pinfall, then pinned Al Snow. But hey, they had to make time for a much more important match right afterward.
Or, failing that, a tag title match pitting Owen Hart & Jeff Jarrett against two singles wrestlers who won a battle royal just half an hour earlier. If you looked up “afterthought” in the dictionary, you’d be investing more time than the bookers did putting this match together.
The match itself was a groundbreaking experiment: Could two strangers, one heel and one face, coexist and and defeat the champions with no planning?
The answer was no.
Owen Hart’s victory in his record-setting tenth Wrestlemania brought his record to 5-2-1. You might notice that that only adds up to eight matches, not ten, You might also have noticed that ten Wrestlemanias is still two fewer than brother Bret’s 12. The announcers, on the other hand, didn’t notice any of this. Woo! Wrestlemania history!
At least someone in this arena knew their Wrestlemania history!
Next up was the infamous Brawl For All shoot fight between Bart Gunn and boxer Butterbean. No one’s quite sure whether this was punishment for Gunn knocking out Dr. Death that summer, or whether someone in Titan Tower actually thought Bart could beat a real boxer, but either way, the match ended in a knockout in 35 seconds. Fortunately for Billy Gunn’s kayfabe brother, Bart was spared the nickname “Mr. Ass-Kicked.”*
*Because he was immediately fired.
In a slightly longer bout, special referee Vinny Pazienza uppercut the San Diego Chicken, who was in Philadelphia for some reason.
In a featured bout, “Big Show” Paul Wight wrestled Mankind for the opportunity to referee the main event. Mankind won by disqualification because the Big Show is an idiot. Still, the chokeslam onto two chairs was somehow enough to render Mankind, who in June had continued wrestling after two twenty-foot drops, unable to even referee a match two hours later.
Phew, that was a close one! For a second there, I thought a stipulation would actually be honored.
Vince McMahon then slapped Wight, who knocked out the boss for face turn #1 of the night. It was shaping up to be an amusing episode of Raw. Yes, it was extremely thin on action, but sometimes you’ve got to tease the audience to convince them to buy the upcoming pay-per-view, especially Wrestlemania.
Next out was the Road Dogg, who — oh right, this *was* Wrestlemania. And here I just assumed all these thrown-together angles and stunts were just ploys to keep viewers from flipping to Nitro.
Anyway, this four-way match was supposed to pit Ken Shamrock against his sister’s lover Goldust and her former love interests Val Venis and Billy Gunn, all for the Intercontinental title. Instead, Road Dogg won the strap from Val for no reason two weeks before Wrestlemania (the same night Billy Gunn won the Hardcore title, also for no reason), putting both Outlaws into matches where they had no backstory. Shocking!
Too bad Russo didn’t have The Rock drop the WWF title to X-Pac and really shake things up! You know, looking back, Russo really dropped the ball on that.
Dogg pinned Goldust after both Venis and Shamrock got counted out. Goldust was disappointed because this was the Attitude Era, when title shots didn’t just grow on trees — unless there was a tree that could grow ripe fruit within 24 hours, since that’s how soon Goldust won the title from Road Dogg on free TV.
It was barely an hour into the show, and the WWF had already plowed through five matches. Even Wrestlemania 12, which had to leave time for an hour-long iron man match, had a better-paced card. Ain’t that right, Hawk?
Big Show got taken away in a cop car, while Mankind was taken away in an ambulance…
…and, perhaps in hopes of bringing in the fire department to complete the emergency services trifecta, the next match pitted Kane against Triple H after an angle revolving around shooting people with fireballs.
Besides reenacting Street Fighter II Turbo, Kane and Chyna had become an item since the latter turned her back on DX and joined the Corporation. They were quite the odd couple, as on one hand, you had a huge, hideous beast with a face only a mother could love, and on the other you had…
…The Ninth Wonder of the World, Chyna. Oh, were you expecting a cheap punch line there?
The San Diego chicken attacked Kane during his entrance, only to be unmasked as Pete Rose and tombstoned. This, along with Bart Gunn getting knocked out by Butterbean, were this event’s two defining “Wrestlemania moments” that would be replayed for years. Maybe I should have just started off this induction with those last two sentences and called it a day.
At last, with the Big Red Machine facing Triple H, it looked like we’d finally have a match that wouldn’t be rushed or have an unsatisfying, abrupt ending.
The announcers worried about who would officiate Austin-Rock for much of the match, which ended abruptly when Chyna hit Kane with a chair. Face turn #2! As if things couldn’t get any worse for Kane, his next girlfriend would also leave him for a member of DX later that year.
Hunter and Chyna had an emotional reunion reminiscent of Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, if Liz had been wearing high heels and leather booty shorts.
I’ll give you a few moments to process that last mental image.
Finished? Alright, moving on. Vince McMahon updated us all on the most important story of the evening. No, not who would win the main event, but who would referee it, a role Vince claimed for himself. Yes, a match between the company’s top two stars, and the only match on the card with a build longer than two months, still needed some extra drama the night-of to get the viewers interested in the show (the show they had already paid for).
The women’s title was up for grabs as Tori took on the ever-popular breasts of Sable (and the person attached to them). Sable had recently turned heel, as the fame of being in Playboy had now swollen her head to ridiculous proportions, as well. Michael Cole didn’t understand why Jerry Lawler would need 15 copies of the same issue of Playboy, and the King refused to explain it, so I’ll let Reverend D-Von give you a hint. Speaking of which, King took some time to fawn over Sable’s “cute little cheeks,” even though, for that double-entendre to work, he’d have to leave open at least the possibility that he wasn’t talking about her ass.
On that note, it wouldn’t be a crappy Wrestlemania without an airbrushed butt crack, and challenger Tori’s outfit paid tribute to Giant Gonzalez in that respect.
Meanwhile, both women paid tribute to the big man by being utterly incapable of taking bumps or executing basic moves correctly.
Here, Tori “countered” a Sable Bomb by landing on her butt…
…which had been enough to put Shawn Michaels away four years earlier.
Nicole Bass of the Howard Stern Show interfered on Sable’s behalf to help her retain her title, forging a brief alliance that ended when the two women filed separate sexual harrassment suits against the Federation.
Next, in both men’s Wrestlemania debuts, X-Pac battled Shane McMahon for the European title. X-Pac wanted to tear Shane a new one, and if anyone should know how to do that, it’s Sean Waltman.
Test and the Mean Street Posse kept interfering on Shane’s behalf, but X-Pac persevered enough to jam his genitals into both Shane’s and Test’s faces. Nobody back then thought of the bronco buster in those terms, though, because these were more innocent times.
Wait, no they weren’t!
What the hell was wrong with X-Pac?
Triple-H and Chyna arrived on the scene to even things out once and for all. Or so it seemed. Instead, Hunter pedigreed his DX teammate while Chyna distracted the official, allowing Shane to retain his title. It turned out that Chyna and Triple H had both taken the McMahons’ money in exchange for following their orders (a practice otherwise known as “signing a WWF contract”). That was also heel turns #1 and #2 for tonight.
Billy Gunn and Road Dogg arrived but were quickly beaten down by Hunter and Test — that is, until Kane entered to try to get his revenge. And there was face turn #3 for the night!
Owen Hart might not have made Wrestlemania history, but Vince Russo did, booking 5 face/heel turns in a single night, a record for Wrestlemania — or any pay-per-view as far as I know (though I haven’t seen all the WCW events churned out under his watch).
If all these swerves were too much for the audience, the next match provided a break from the confusion with a good old-fashioned battle of good vs. evil, complicated slightly by the fact that both sides were evil. Remember how just a few minutes ago, the evil Shane McMahon and his Corporation had broken up DX and robbed X-Pac of the title? Or how the evil Vince McMahon had been trying to screw over Steve Austin for months, up to and including half an hour ago? Well, their Corporation was being threatened by the Satanic Undertaker.
Forced to choose between evils, the few fans who gave a damn sided with the physical embodiment of death (sporting a neat Shredder costume), instead of the corporate rent-a-cop.
Michael Cole tried to get indifferent viewers invested in the match, hyping up the danger of the Hell in a Cell structure. “This isn’t your traditional steel cage. You could get a finger caught in there!” Fortunately, Jerry Lawler was there to mock Cole then so I don’t have to now.
Bossman cuffed the Undertaker to the cell wall until the handcuffs broke off literally seconds into the planned beatdown.
Taker won with a tombstone, then tied a noose around Bossman’s neck, taking the rather extreme measure of hanging him as the cell lifted up to the ceiling.
“Could this be symbolic!?” screamed Cole. “Could The Undertaker be hanging the Corporation in effigy!?” Yeah, maybe, but at least wait until the actual person being murdered gets cut down before you start worrying about symbolism! That’s just rude.
With that shocking image presented on our TV screens, Cole infamously segued into a plug for the previous night’s “Wrestlemania Rage Party.” If I were the Bossman, I would have been extremely insulted once I regained consciousness. Then again, you’ll recall that all the brutality and elaborate mind games involved in this match and this angle were all just a ruse to trick Steve Austin for some reason, so I guess Bossman took Cole’s slight in stride.
At last, it was time for the main event. Vince McMahon arrived to referee the match, but was given the boot by Shawn Michaels, whose nebulous powers as Commissioner now allowed him the exclusive right to pick the ref at Wrestlemania. It was all in the totally-not-made-up WWF rulebook, which I believe was published the same night that Pat Patterson won the Intercontinental title tournament in Rio.
Despite the whole convoluted referee plot that developed that evening, HBK simply installed a regular official, proving that Triple H-Jericho wasn’t the only Mania main event to revolve around a shaggy dog story. Michaels then barred Vince and all Corporate members from ringside. Actually, he clarified, maybe he’d allow Vince himself, but absolutely no one else. Whoops!
It reminds me of that riddle: A man brings his son to the emergency room. When the surgeon comes in, he says, “I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son.” Sorry, did I call the surgeon, “he”? I should have said, “he or she.” The surgeon might be a woman. With the final swerve of the night now blatantly telegraphed, Michaels escorted the boss out, and viewers at home no doubt expected the program to go to commercial break.
The no-holds barred match that followed started out with brawling inside the ring, then transitioned into some more brawling in the crowd, before progressing into some additional brawling in the entranceway. Unfortunately, this was pretty much all Stone Cold would be capable of until his neck surgery. To call this match a bit disappointing would be, well, still a pretty big compliment considering how much worse than “a bit disappointing” the rest of the show was.
And just when you thought the ref situation had been sorted out, Mike Chioda, Tim White, and Earl Hebner all got knocked out of commission in the final minutes of the match.
Along the way, Vince came back to the ring and stomped Austin. Good thing Commissioner Michaels specifically said this wasn’t against the rules.
Finally, Mick Foley had recovered from the brutal bump he took from several feet in the air earlier that night. Now the referee (which he should have been all along because of the advertised stipulations), Mankind counted the three for Austin, apparently earning Stone Cold the WWF title. Having gotten so caught up in the drama over who would officiate, you might have forgotten there was a championship on the line.
Vince was heartbroken, forgetting that he could just screw Austin out of the title anytime he wanted…
…preferably with another crooked referee.
If there is one positive we can take away from this event’s mess of overbooking, constant swerves, haphazard matchmaking, and inconsequential title matches (both the IC and tag team titles would change hands within the next two days), it’s that 1999 was the year those unsung heroes in zebra stripes finally got to shine at Wrestlemania.