WWF Championship – Singles Match
Cited by many as the match that truly lit the fire underneath the Attitude Era of the late 1990s, WrestleMania XIV’s WWF Championship contest between the red-hot challenger Stone Cold Steve Austin and the outgoing champion Shawn Michaels was a genuine masterpiece.
At the beginning of 1998 and heading into the WrestleMania event, a resounding shift in direction was taking place within the World Wrestling Federation.
Steve Austin, largely due to his spectacular battles with the likes of the Hart Foundation throughout 1997, had become the leader of the new generation of performers emerging through the ranks, as his cool tweener character had struck a chord with the average fan and led to his ascension towards the top of the company becoming, by March ’98, inevitable.
Conversely, Shawn Michaels, the WWF Champion since the notorious Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997, was suffering several problems both personally and professionally, despite being one of the most outstanding WWF performers of the since 1995.
The time had come for Austin to take the reins at the top of the card, and WrestleMania was the destination for one of the most significant title changes in pro-wrestling history.
The 1998 Royal Rumble pay-per-view was an important event in the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
By eliminating The Rock to win the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match for a second year in a row, Austin booked a blockbuster showdown with the WWF Champion in Boston at WrestleMania.
This meant that the outcome of the WWF title contest the same night between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker would have massive ramifications heading into the Grandest Stage of them All.
HBK, with thanks to recent debutant Kane, defeated the Undertaker, but the bigger story occurred underneath. Towards the beginning of the bout, Michaels severely damaged three discs in his back, an injury that would ultimately sideline him for over four years.
Interestingly, both of these occurrences took place with “Iron” Mike Tyson in attendance. Tyson, an accomplished professional boxer and mainstream celebrity, would go on to become the special ring enforcer for the Austin/Michaels match at WrestleMania.
Tyson’s involvement was announced on the post-Royal Rumble broadcast of RAW is WAR, in a noteworthy segment. Austin, taking exception to Vince McMahon introducing Tyson as “the baddest man on the planet”, gate-crashed the big announcement and proceeded to engage in a brawl with the WWF’s newest celebrity friend.
A landmark segment in the career of Stone Cold, the Tyson vs. Austin angle is fondly remembered for being the start of one of the most entertaining WrestleMania hypes ever witnessed.
The bout at WrestleMania XIV was extraordinary considering Shawn Michaels was working with a debilitating back injury. Opening with the cocky champion playing a series of games with his challenger, Austin initially struggled to get his hands on the Heartbreak Kid before the inevitable fistfight broke out.
Austin eventually captured his first WWF Championship via a wicked Stone Cold Stunner after a strong 20-minute match and, in a true WrestleMania moment, the pin was counted by none other than Austin’s rival and initial D-Generation X ally, Mike Tyson.
Michaels, irate by Tyson’s double-cross, received a big right-hand from the boxer post-match, and Austin went on to celebrate scaling the heights of the what would become known as the Attitude Era.
An official passing of the torch, Stone Cold’s victory over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania represented the start of a new period of prosperity for the WWF and began a slow shift in the professional wrestling landscape.
Within a year, the WWF had gained ground on Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling and was starting to dominate the well-documented ratings war. Two years after WrestleMania XIV, and WCW was firmly on course for its ultimate decline into obscurity.