Bret was long gone to WCW as were quite a few other wrestlers.
All hope for the WWF seemed lost.
But, then the strangest irony struck: WCW had LONG teased a big dream match between “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and Sting. Hogan’s “nWo” faction had been running all over WCW since mid-1996. Not to be forgotten as the “face” of the company, Sting had reinvented himself with a sort of “Crow” gimmick. Gone was the white hair, colorful tights and facepaint. In their place was a new Sting. He would dress in black suspender tights with a white scorpion adorned on them. His face was covered in white facepaint and black harlequin-style markings. He had long black hair. He would wear black boots and a leather trenchcoat. And he would carry a black baseball bat with him at all times, often using it to crash nWo post-match beatdowns and to attack members of the nWo as punishment for ganging up on WCW’s talent. James J. Dillon would sign the match and Hogan would accept. The two would face each other at December ’97’s “Starrcade”. The match, which saw Hogan pretty much carrying it for the most part, was anti-climatic. Hogan got a three-count when Sting’s shoulder was off the mat. It ended with Bret Hart making his WCW debut and claiming that the referee was corrupt in some sort of weird reference to the Montreal Screwjob. Bret Hart then ordered the match to restart with him as the referee. Patrick Harris, the referee assigned to the match would protest, Bret knocked him out and got in the ring. Suddenly, Sting came alive, giving the Stinger Splash and hitting his trademark Scorpion Deathlock. Hogan submitted and Sting was the new champion…however, the title was declared “vacant” after the weird finish and the subsequent rematch the next night on WCW Nitro. The fans were incensed. They had long waited for a clean finish and, instead, got this. The whole thing was officially settled at Superbrawl which also ended strangely when Sting hit a Scorpion Deathdrop on Hogan, SAVAGE entered the ring and hit Hogan with a spray can while he was already down…which makes absolutely zero sense.
The whole thing was booked horribly. Personally, and this is my opinion, I think Hogan’s fingerprints were all over this. The ego on the guy was huge. He didn’t want to lose cleanly to ANYBODY and, if he did, he HAD to hit his finisher first to show that he “tried” and almost won. It was fucking pathetic.
Sting only held the title for two more months. Hogan wanted it back but Sting refused to drop the title back to Hogan that soon. So, a booking was made so that Randy Savage would beat Sting…so that Savage could drop the title to Hogan the very next day. All the build-up was just gone.
The WWF took advantage of all of this. In December of 1997, Vince McMahon threw himself into the storyline. He was no longer the weak little face commentator. Instead, he became “Mr. McMahon”, a ballbusting prick of an owner. Instantly, he would start a slight feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin who had a career resurgence since being let go from WCW. He had become the new face of the company. The fans were enthralled for the first time in years.
The logo would change from the “Eagle Wing” design” to a more scratched design.
The ring ropes went from red, white, and blue to just blood-red. The women became more racy, the characters, darker. Swearing was allowed as were middle fingers.
While WCW had mega-talent, they also had issues with mega-ego. Eric Bischoff had pretty much given Hogan and Kevin Nash free reign with storylines and booking, meaning that faces rarely got victories if at all. Hogan, seemingly, would never lose matches. Sting had the title but, as mentioned before, Hogan got it right back and Sting was put right back into the background, away from Hogan.
Meanwhile, the WWF, from Wrestlemania 13 until now, had gone through changes.
Last time, on ALCATRAZ…
- In March of 1997, the WWF added a couple of new titles to the mix. The first was the WWF Light Heavyweight Title. The title had been established since the early 1980’s back in Japan and throughout Mexico but, as the WWF was in partnership with these wrestling leagues and Vince McMahon wanted to spice things up a bit by having more than three wrestling titles (World, Intercontinental, Tag Team), they would bring the title to the WWF. At In Your House, wrestler Taka Michinoku would win the tournament for the title. He would defend the belt here against Spanish wrestler, Aguila.
- In February of the same year, the WWF would also release the WWF European Championship. It was vacant and won, at a tournament, by The British Bulldog. Several months later, Shawn Michaels defeated the Bulldog and won the title. After not defending in three months, then-WWF Commissioner Slaughter ordered that Michaels defend it against Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Michaels intentionally lost the match and Helmsley was declared the new WWF European Champion. This is, of course, ironic, since none of these guys are European. Personally, I never saw the point of the title, other than the obvious excuse of just simply having a title. A month later, Owen Hart, (who did NOT leave the WWF because Vince McMahon, in real life, wouldn’t let him out of his contract) took on Helmsley on RAW and beat him. Two months later, in a rematch on RAW, Helmsley would regain his title. Helmsley would defend the belt, one more time, against Owen Hart.
- Speaking of Owen Hart, he would beat Rocky Maivia on RAW for the Intercontinental Title following Wrestlemania 13. For four months, he would reign as the Intercontinental Champion and enter a feud with Steve Austin. This feud culminated with Steve Austin beating him at SummerSlam for the title. However, Austin would sustain a legit neck injury and take some time off to nurse it. This meant that he would have to drop the title. A tournament was held and Hart won it — by helping Owen, much to the shock of the fans. However, Austin would explain that the ONLY reason he helped Owen was because he wanted to beat Owen for the title, himself. He would do so at the ill-fated Survivor Series in Montreal. Because Austin, at the time, was beginning to feud with Mr. McMahon, McMahon ordered that Austin defend the title against Rocky Maivia. Instead of doing this, Austin just forfeited the title to The Rock, and gave him a Stunner. The Rock would defend the Intercontinental Championship against Ken Shamrock who had stayed with the WWF (he was a legit fighter with UFC) after Wrestlemania 13.
- The Tag Team Titles would be on the line. They would go through about ten different teams before settling with the “The New Age Outlaws”, a group that consisted of “The Badass” Billy Gunn (a former “Smoking Gunn”) and “The Road Dogg” Jesse James (formerly, “The Roadie”). They would be defended against Mick Foley’s “Cactus Jack” incarnation and Chainsaw Charlie (formerly, Terry Funk) in a Dumpster Match.
- The big match, obviously, was the WWF Championship match. The Undertaker would be the WWF Champion for most of the year but would begin feuding with Bret Hart. McMahon would get involved and set up a match for the belligerent Hart – The Undertaker would defend the title at SummerSlam against Hart and if Hart didn’t win, he would never wrestle in the United States again. Hart took the challenge…but then McMahon made one more stipulation: Shawn Michaels would be the Special Guest Referee. Little did McMahon realize that Hart had a plan – he would bring a chair into the ring, use it on the Undertaker with Michaels’ back turned, and then pick up the chair to use it again. Michaels would take the chair away from Hart as the Undertaker got up. Hart spat on Michaels who, in his anger, swung the chair…and hit the Undertaker instead. Michaels, devastated, had to count the pin, which he did. Hart was the new champion. From there, Hart was a booking nightmare. The Survivor Series was coming up in November. Hart was in negotiations with WCW and was, legitimately, at odds with Vince McMahon. McMahon said that, since Hart was most likely leaving for WCW, he wanted Hart to drop the title at SS in Montreal. Hart refused, saying that he would drop it the next night on RAW but not in front of all the Canadian fans and NOT at a PPV event. Hart, at this point, was recalling how he felt when, instead of keeping the title and dropping to Hart at Wrestlemania 13, Michaels chose to forfeit the title because of an apparent knee injury that Michaels said was for real but Hart said that it was fake. This, along with McMahon offering a much bigger contract to Hart but not Michaels, were just a few of the sticking points between the very legitimate grudge between the two performers. When Survivor Series got close, McMahon agreed to Hart’s terms and said that the end of Survivor Series would be a disqualification. What happened was very different. The match ended with Shawn Michaels locking Hart in his own Sharpshooter move and getting a submission fall. Michaels would win the title and Hart was furious. He left the WWF that day. I’m not going to go into the rest of the drama here. Like I said, you can Google it yourself. This small bit is just to illustrate the storyline so we can move things along. In any case, Michaels now had the title…and Austin wanted it. In January, Austin won the Royal Rumble, securing the number one contender’s spot for the belt. In a skybox, sat none other than Iron Mike Tyson. At the end, Austin offered Tyson a fight and the two nearly did. McMahon, a few days later, said that Tyson would be an “enforcer” at Wrestlemania when Austin faced Michaels for the WWF Championship. As the weeks went on and the rivalry intensified, it was revealed that Tyson had an alliance to DX, Michaels, and Triple H, complicating things for Austin…
GRADE: A+. I don’t care. I miss them. Sad story to follow.
- The Legion of Doom…man…they only had three Wrestlemania appearances, including this one. I don’t know what it was that kept them from super stardom. Most likely, it might have been Hegstrand’s drug use. When you heard Hawk and his “WHAT A RUSH” line before their music hit, the crowd would pop BIG-TIME…they may have won this match but they didn’t win the titles after this. Sunny would leave the team and they would have a new manager in “Puke”. Don’t ask. For some reason, Vince McMahon thought it was REALLY cool to have a wrestler who could puke on command. Yes, really. There are times when I really question the man’s sanity…anyhow, they would go into an angle where Puke would pretty much become Hawk’s replacement. To add insult to storyline injury, Paul Ellering was brought back…to side with LOD’s rivals, DOA. The storyline would bring light to Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) and his real-life substance abuse. Animal would declare his drug-and-alcohol-ridden partner “unfit to wrestle”, at one point, causing Hawk to climb the giant Jumbotron on RAW and attempt to commit suicide by jumping off of it. In an extremely dark twist, after Hawk was “killed”, Puke revealed that he enabled Hawk’s drug and alcohol abuse so that he could replace him on the team. This was an angle that both of the members of LOD detested. The angle was dropped soon after the two LOD members complained about it, claiming that the angle was irresponsible and too close to home. They would come back and wrestle throughout early 1999 but left soon after that. From there, LOD would wrestle independently until Animal left for WCW to compete in a solo career while Hawk tended to his drug and alcohol addiction. LOD came back in 2003. Hawk was clean and the two made a push to, finally, be one of the premiere tag teams in the WWF…but it was not to be…Michael Hegstrand AKA Hawk would pass away in October of 2003. Hegstrand, along with his wife, were moving into a new condo in Florida and had been packing. Hegstrand told her that he was tired and would continue in the morning. When his wife went to check on him a few hours later, she found him dead of an apparent heart attack. He was only 46 years old. At the time of his death, both him and his partner, Animal, had been working on a book about their experience in the business. Animal would go on to wrestle in the WWF through 2005 and made Jon Heidenreich his new partner. The two would go on to win the Tag Team Titles in a match that Animal dedicated to Hegstrand. A month later, the new LOD would lose the titles. Heidenreich was released in January of 2006. Animal would be released a few months after. In 2011, Animal and Paul Ellering were inducted into the 2011 Hall of Fame. Animal told the hosts, that night, that the WWE was going to construct a physical hall of fame and, once they did, he was going to donate Hegstrand’s spiked shoulder pads to it. Later that year, Joe Laurinaitis AKA Animal, would finally release the Road Warriors’ book entitled, “Road Warriors: Danger, Death, and the Rush of Wrestling”.
- All four members of Los Boricuas would leave the WWF a few months after Wrestlemania. Some wrestled in Mexico as well as independently.
- The Truth Commission pretty much disintegrated after this. Luc Poirier (Sniper) would wrestle independently after this and now works as a registered nurse in Florida. He continues to do independent wrestling shows including an upcoming show in England this year. His partner, Recon, would wrestle independently for a few months in Ohio and return to the WWF in 2000 as “Bull Buchanan”.
- In late 1998, Brian Lee (AKA “Chainz”) was rumored to be having a real-life affair with the first wife of Mark Callaway (The Undertaker) and was let go for that reason. It is said that this pretty much ruined Lee’s career. It’s fitting, in a way – Brian Lee played the “fake” Undertaker when DiBiase brought him back as a heel in the mid-90’s. He would go on to compete in TNA Wrestling until 2003, when he left the company. He announced his retirement in 2004.
- Charles Wright – AKA Kama Mustafa – changes gimmicks like a woman changes shoes. He was asked to bring back Papa Shango but, since the WWF already had the likes of Undertaker and Kane, that idea was scrapped. After the Mustafa idea, Wright was turned into the character of “The Godfather”, one of the worst characters I’ve ever seen in the WWF, which he would continue to wrestle as.
- The great Jacques Rougeau and his partner, Pierre, would make one final run in WCW. Jacque would call it quits soon after this and would open a wrestling school in Montreal. He is a spokesperson and support for a suicide prevention organization and is also part of executive accounting for a trucking company. He was married in 2007 and went on to run a small community hedge fund. Pierre Ouellet was a tad different, wrestling for the next ELEVEN YEARS for WCW, IW, IWA, TNA, and for independent organizations. He expressed interest in returning to the WWE in 2008 but nothing ever came of it. He would retire in 2011.
- The Midnight Express would leave the WWF right after Wrestlemania. They still work, independently.
- DOA would wrestle in the WWF until Summer of 1999. After this, they would wrestle with WCW, returning as the Harris Brothers. This gimmick would follow them throughout 2005, to TNA and Independent Circuits. In 2005, both Ron and Don Harris would announce their retirements. Don would work backstage for TNA and head up security while Ron began work on his Christian music label, “Beach Street Records”.
- Flash Funk (AKA Charles Scaggs) would leave the WWF in 1999. From 2000 to 2006, he would wrestle with Pro Wrestling Noah where he would win two titles for the organization. He would make a return to the WWE in late 2006 but leave at the beginning of 2007. He would join Booker T’s independent wrestling league the same year but leave in early 2008. He would wrestle one match in 2010 for TNA.
- The Godwinns would have strange luck. Already with a cracked C7 vertebrae, Henry Godwinn would re-injure it in a match with a new gimmick in which him and Phineas were renamed “Southern Justice”. He would retire after this. The WWE claimed to have signed him to a new contract in 2006…but I can’t find any information about that.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: Taka via Michinoku Driver
GRADE: A-. This was awesome.
- Aguila would continue wrestling with the WWF under the name “Essa Rios”. However, failing to find a major angle, he would become extremely obscure and leave in 2001 to wrestle in Japan and Mexico until 2006.
WINNER: Triple H via Pedigree
GRADE: B-. Good match with an odd finish. That said, I never got the 103 titles the WWF decided to make. A “European” Championship? It was held, mostly, by Americans, so what was the point? It’s like allowing The Big Show to compete for a Flyweight Title.
Goldust hits the ring with a facepaint job reminiscent of nWo Wolfpac. Luna looks insane. Marc Mero and Sable are out as well. I hate mixed tag matches. They’re usually fucking boring. Mero and Goldust are enough. No need to complicate it. If you want the women to fight, make them fight in their own match. Once Luna is tagged in, Sable gets in and chases Luna. Sable does nothing and tags in Mero. See? Sable back in but Luna wants no part of her and won’t tag in. Mero tags back in and starts punching Goldust. Mero hits a crossbody at one point and gets a close three-count. The crowd is actually chanting for Sable. Goldust tags in Luna. Mero tags in Sable and, FINALLY, Sable gets to take Luna apart. Then, Sable knocks Goldust the fuck out. Then she clotheslines Luna. Mero in and he takes apart Goldust, throwing him into the ring steps. Good match so far, which is a suprise. Mero hits a low blow with the ref distratced with Sable and he goes for his final move but Goldust counters into a DDT. Then he goes for a Curtain Call but Mero counters and hits a knee-lift. Mero goes to the top rope and hits a Moonsault for a close two-count. Goldust goes for a high risk move but Mero stops him and hits a HUGE Hurricarana! Mero is about to deck Luna but Goldust interferes and hits Luna instead. Mero hits the TKO but Luna interferes. Sable is tagged in and covering Goldust instead. Luna hits a splash but hits her own partner. Sable hits the Powerbomb on Luna but gets a CLOSE two! Great match! Luna goes for a Bronco Buster on the ropes but misses. Luna goes for a move but Sable counters into the TKO! Sable gets the pin! Mero and Sable win! Wow! A great mixed tag match!
WINNER: Mero & Sable via TKO
GRADE: A-. Great match. And I hate tag matches, as you well know.
Post-match, the two celebrate. Sable tries to leave early and Mero pulls her back in to celebrate again. Sable looks agitated here.
- Luna was an interesting wrestler. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had a helluva temper at times. Her angle with Sable would continue through 1998 until later in the year when the two would patch things up. From there, she would join the Oddities. Sable would be suspended for a few months in 1999 for a legit fight with Sable backstage and would return later in the year. She was married to Gangrel and managed him for a while. She would wrestle with the WWF until 2000 when she was released for having another outburst backstage. Luna was outspoken and was against the sexualization of the WWF. For the next seven years, Luna would wrestle independently. During this timeframe, she would become a Born-Again Christian and, eventually divorce David Heath (Gangrel) in 2006. The two had kids and would remain friends. In 2010, Luna announced that she had officially retired from pro-wrestling. A few days later, she passed away from an overdose of Oxycodone and Benzodiazepine. Investigators found crushed pill residue and snorting straws all over the house which had been used even after she was in drug rehab in 2009. Luna Vachon was only 48 years old.
- Marc Mero received one last push in 1998 and then, along with Sable, left the WWF in 1999. Due to a shoulder injury, Mero didn’t wrestle again for another 18 months, at which time, he returned to WCW…but he didn’t stay as his condition didn’t allow it. He would, instead, join the XWF in 2001 but leave the next year and, then, join TNA in 2004, but leave the next year. Shortly after leaving TNA, Mero would announce his retirement from wrestling. In 2007, after Chris Benoit murdered his family, Mero admitted to steroid use and said many other wrestlers used them as well, contributing to their early deaths and, also, went so far as to provide a list of 25 wrestlers who had died. Immediately, the WWE went on damage control. Mr. Kennedy and Dave Finlay both dismissed his comments and called him names. Real big of them. Mero would star in many anti-drug and anti-bullying commercials. He’s one of the lucky ones who’s still alive.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: Ken Shamrock via Ankle Lock
GRADE: C-. Ugh. Ugly all over. The worst of the night.
Post-match, NOD jumps Shamrock. But Shamrock clears the ring easily, even slamming Mark Henry. Farooq comes out to help but won’t help Rock…Shamrock, through it all, continues to apply the Ankle Lock, then FINALLY lets go. A ton of referees PLUS Shane McMahon come out to stop him but Shamrock belly-to-belly suplexes just about everyone. Rock is cut open and bleeding badly. EMT’s get to him and take him away. The referees reverse the decision and disqualify Ken Shamrock. The crowd is pissed.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: The Rock via DQ
GRADE: F. Way to go. That makes it better.
WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie
- After this, Foley would resume his career as a mix of Mankind and Mick Foley.
- Because of the above, the legendary Terry Funk (Chainsaw Charlie) left the WWF in the summer of 1998. He would wrestle in WCW and ECW as well as independently for the next seven years. He would make a one-time return to the WWE in 2006 before returning to wrestle in the independent circuits. In 2011, he would wrestle, independently, against Jerry “The King” Lawler.
WINNER: The Undertaker via Tombstone
GRADE: I still don’t know how to rate this one. On the one hand, you have a great match with evenly-matched guys. On the other, Kane was like Jason friggin’ Voorhees and doesn’t stay down, even after three tombstones. How does the Undertaker get the win here if his brother seems more powerful? Oh well. I’d say B-. That’s generous. The Undertaker, at this point, was 6-0 at Wrestlemania.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin via Stunner
GRADE: A-. This match had it all – drama, power, reversals, everything.
GREAT?! This was A+ all the way. One of the best Wrestlemanias — albeit some terrible spots but they were kept to a minimum.
Tomorrow: Wrestlemania XV!