There are very few matches that one can look at and immediately identify the turning point of a company, much less the start of an era.
The WWE Championship match between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV is one of them.
One of the most hotly anticipated matches in WWE history thanks to the involvement of boxing star Mike Tyson as guest enforcer, the match was slated to be the main event of a card that was stacked from top to bottom with stars that would become synonymous with the Attitude Era.
Triple H, Sable, Goldust, The Rock, Mick Foley, the New Age Outlaws, Undertaker and Kane helped set the table for the heavyweight title match, ensuring that Austin and Michaels would have a great deal of pressure on them to cap off a tremendous night of action.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin became just the third man to win two Royal Rumbles in January of 1998 when he eliminated The Rock to win the 30-man Battle Royal and earn a shot at the WWE Championship.
The following night on Raw, he interrupted Vince McMahon's announcement regarding Mike Tyson's involvement in the WrestleMania XIV main event and came face-to-face with the so-called "Baddest Man on the Planet." Austin flipped Tyson the middle finger, a melee ensued and the company received an abundance of mainstream media coverage as a result.
On February 2, Shawn Michaels and Triple H were aided by the New Age Outlaws in subduing Austin. With The Texas Rattlesnake tied in the ropes, Michaels attempted to humiliate him by rubbing the belt in his face and trash talking the No. 1 contender to end the night's show.
Exactly one month later, it was revealed that Tyson had joined Michaels and Triple H in D-Generation X, ensuring that the odds would not be in Austin's favor come March 29.
A WrestleMania XIV press conference saw Austin and Michaels nearly become physical before Tyson got in between them. A public workout featured Austin trapped in the ropes once again, this time becoming the recipient of a kiss on the head from both Michaels and Tyson as the two men continued to poke and prod at the ornery Rattlesnake.
With Austin ready to strike and take the title away from the greatest performer in the history of WrestleMania, not to mention clash with "Iron" Mike Tyson if necessary, fans from across the globe flocked to Boston's Fleet Center and others ordered the pay-per-view to see what many believed would be Stone Cold's crowning achievement.
The match was a very good, above-average main event that the fans in Boston were very hot for.
Both Austin and Michaels entered the match with injuries affecting them. Austin's knees were troublesome, while Michaels had suffered a back injury during a Casket Match against Undertaker back in January at the Royal Rumble and would be forced into a four-year retirement immediately following the title defense against Austin.
It was clear from his facial expressions that every bump that Michaels took caused him to endure great agony. His performance in this match was one of the gutsiest in WrestleMania history.
The quality of the match itself is a testament to the level of performers that Michaels and Austin are.
They understood the pressure that was on them to deliver in that spot on that night, and they fought through tremendous pain to do just that. Mike Tyson's involvement late, as he counted the three that won Austin the title, gave the company all of the attention from outside outlets it had hoped it would and made WrestleMania XIV an undisputed success.
The Historical Significance
The main event of WrestleMania XIV ushered in the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin era. For the first time in his WWE career, there was no star bigger or more recognizable than him on the roster. Bret Hart was gone. Shawn Michaels was immediately following the match. Austin was the leader of the company and the man tasked with leading WWE out of the abyss and back to the top of the industry.
As history would have it, that is exactly what he did.
Austin would become the biggest Superstar in WWE history, the unquestioned face of the company's Attitude Era. His rivalry with Vince McMahon revolutionized the industry, and the success that came from that feud led to WWE reaching heights of success it had never achieved before.
From 1998 until 2003, Austin was the face of the company and the most popular star in the industry. Unfortunately, health issues surrounding his knees and neck would end his in-ring career much earlier than fans had hoped.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
Michaels, on the other hand, would return from his back injury four years after retiring and would star for WWE from 2002 until his retirement in 2010. His matches against Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, Chris Benoit and Ric Flair proved that Michaels had not lost a step and, in many ways, was better than he ever had been.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.