Safeco Field. Seattle, Washington. March 30, 2003.
Superstars from three different generations converged on the Pacific northwest for a show that would feature one of the greatest cards ever assembled. The greatest rivalries in the sport's long and illustrious history, as well as those that would carry it into the future, were presented to a WWE audience that was more than ready to eat it up.
2002 had featured the emergence and rise of the so-called "Next Big Thing", Brock Lesnar. A former NCAA wrestling champion, he quickly rose up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment, winning the King of the Ring tournament and capturing the WWE Championship from The Rock at SummerSlam. Considering his amateur wrestling past, it was only a matter of time before the monstrous competitor locked horns with the man many considered the absolute best professional wrestler at the time, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle.
Despite a lackluster build, thanks largely in part to Angle's severely injured neck (which would need surgery immediately following the event), fans waited with great anticipation for the WrestleMania XIX main event.
Angle and Lesnar had a tremendously physical match that saw each man utilize skills they learned on the mat to wear the other down. Kurt's performance in particular, with a neck hanging on by a proverbial thread, goes down as one of the gutsiest ever. Each man emptied their move sets in an attempt to keep the other down for a pinfall or to force a submission, but neither man would have it.
Late in the match, Brock delivered an F5 and headed to the top rope. In a stunning, unforgettable moment, he came off with a Shooting Star Press...and drove his own head into the mat. Angle had been too far away and Lesnar undershot him, injuring himself in the process. He was able to finish the match, defeating his one-time idol and taking his second WWE title. What should have been a milestone moment, and still was to an extent, was tainted by a scary situation.
The greatest and most competitive rivalry in the history of professional wrestling wrapped up prior to the main event when The Rock and Steve Austin clashed for a third time on the big stage. Rock was once again a heel, returning to the company with a bigger ego due to his success in Hollywood. He and Austin, like magnets and steel, were drawn to each other and a match between the two was made.
Unknown to viewers at the time, Austin had spent the night before WrestleMania XIX in a hospital following an episode that left him feeling like he was having a heart attack. The situation only helped to solidify the "Rattlesnake's" decision to hang up his boots for the last time following his final showdown with the "Great One."
Steve Austin and The Rock thrilled the crowd in the third part of their epic trilogy. They exchanged finishers, stole each other's trademark moves and kept the audience guessing with a series of nearfalls. After three thunderous Rock Bottoms, however, the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment finally swatted the monkey of his back by pinning Austin clean in the center of the ring.
The win only helped to solidify The Rock's position as one of the all-time great performers, while it brought to an end the career of the most popular star to ever lace a pair of wrestling boots.
Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon's personal issues came to a head in a bloody street fight, won by Hogan, while Triple H successfully retained the World Heavyweight Championship against Booker T, despite a racial storyline that indicated a title win for the former WCW standout. In the evening's best match, Chris Jericho lived his boyhood dream, competing at WrestleMania against the man who did more to influence him as a wrestler than anyone else, Shawn Michaels. The "Heartbreak Kid" won the match but Jericho got a measure of revenge with a swift kick below the belt.
WrestleMania XIX featured the very best performers professional wrestling has to offer, providing the type of entertainment only they could. They performed up to heightened expectations and pressure and, as a result, everyone else on the card did as well. Every one, from the first match on the card to the very last, featured superstars determined to deliver their best performances, because no one wanted to be overshadowed by the all-time greats further up the card.
Best feet were put forward and the show thrived because of it.