After the great success the first time around, I decided to methodically plot out a second and concluding chapter to the untold WrestleMania stories book. All of the urban legends, myths, tales, and mayhem of WrestleMania has been compiled throughout this document in the most in-depth way possible.
If you missed out on the first installment, you can find it here.
Part One of this series chronicled 27 Tall Tales from the first 13 events. So with 13 more to go over before the big one this year on April 3, it seemed only appropriate that we continue our quest with the more recent history of the Mania.
And maybe this time, I'll avoid making too many off-kilter remarks about Ezekiel Jackson and Ahmed Johnson. Though I wouldn't bet on it.
Hawk and Animal, the Road Warriors, will go down as the greatest tag team in professional wrestling history. There is no comparison or debate for the only team to ever win the real "big three" of wrestling tag championships: The AWA, NWA, and WWF tag titles.
But in 1998, the Legion of Doom had pretty much run their course. These mega-faces from the 80's weren't able to pulverize every enemy in their paths anymore as the crowd just wasn't buying it. New adversaries, namely the New Age Outlaws, made the Road Warriors nearly obsolete.
With one last chance to bring L.O.D. to some sort of relevance, the WWF booked an angle wherein Hawk and Animal would brawl until the duo was no more. In writing them off of television, absence would make the fans' hearts grow fonder, and soon they'd have no choice but to accept the Road Warriors back as their Superman tag team.
As part of the effort to reinvigorate the team, they were given a new manager, Sunny, and a complete and total new look. With updated biker helmets, pads, and outfits, they were to be known as L.O.D. 2000: The Tag Team for the new Millennium. Their surprise return during WrestleMania XIV was meant to signal the start of a new era for the greatest tag team to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Backstage, however, all was not well. Hawk and Animal already had a reputation as stiff workers who didn't care too much for their opponents, and being booked into a 15-team battle royal with 28 other workers (including fellow hard-nosed combatants like Bob Holly), didn't bode well for the team.
Instead of going along with the booking plan that the two were to run through the battle royal, both found that their various opponents were trying to look like equals in the ring with the almighty Road Warriors. Such a stark contrast from what the L.O.D. were familiar with led to the swift demise of L.O.D. 2000 and the introduction of a third member, Darren "Puke" Drozdov.
Within months, they had gone from the team that could last another decade with a sleek update to a divided mine field with personal tensions and issues running at an all time high.
The WWF Brawl-For-All Tournament was either the smartest or dumbest idea of 1998 for professional wrestling. The idea was to take a bunch of the WWF's mid-card athletes and stick them in a tournament that would combine boxing, shoot fighting, and mixed martial arts to see who was legitimately the toughest man in the company.
So yes, despite the fact that men like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker were running roughshod over the competition, THIS was the event to see the toughest wrestlers in the world. Amidst the WWF's campaign, though, it was well known that the company was lobbying for Dr. Death Steve Williams to emerge victorious and receive a major push heading into WrestleMania XV.
There was just one problem, and his name was Bart Gunn. Gunn was a southpaw who formed one half of the former tag team champions the Smoking Gunns during the mid-90's, but he hadn't done much of anything since. After floundering as part of the New Midnight Express, Gunn was set to take on Dr. Death in the second round of the Brawl-For-All. In one fell swoop, Gunn landed a stunning knockout and killed the last push Dr. Death would ever receive.
In fact, he would kill his own career in North America in the process. Despite marching through hard-nosed Bob Holly, Dr. Death, and finally Bradshaw en route to being the toughest guy in the WWF, he was booked into a one-sided boxing match against the devastating Butterbean. Though Butterbean had long been a novelty boxer, he was still far more serious and in-tune than Gunn had ever been heading into WrestleMania XV.
So instead of a potential rivalry between Stone Cold and Dr. Death, we were treated to a first round knockout in just about 30 seconds that silenced the Bart Gunn train forever. Though he would later be revered in Japan, Gunn became the poster boy in the United States of a horribly failed idea that admitted just how "tough" some pro wrestlers can be.
Overall, WrestleMania XV felt less like the biggest show of the year and more like a Monday Night RAW (business as usual) affair to the World Wrestling Federation. Several gimmicks, quick matches, and silly antics were put on display throughout the evening. Proving that the event could really have it all in just under three hours, the WWF scheduled a Hell in a Cell match for the first time to take place at the event.
It would also be the last time the match would happen at WrestleMania, and perhaps, with good reason.
The leader of the Ministry of Darkness, the Undertaker, was slated to take on Vince McMahon's right hand man, the Big Boss Man, inside the demonic structure. Though the legend of the Undertaker's epic WrestleMania streak was just now evolving, many forgot that the Boss Man entered this WrestleMania undefeated as well.
That's right: the records stood at 7-0 and 4-0 respectively. But the WWF didn't really promote that fact, nor did they promote Boss Man as anything close to a credible threat for the Taker's strength. In the end, the company decided they needed something bigger and more chaotic to focus on when this match was to take place.
And so, in a move that borders on bad taste in any day and age, the Undertaker won the match and proceeded to hang Boss Man with a noose from the top of the cell. Boss Man was then instructed to flail around briefly before simulating what was presumably his own demise. During a time when wrestling was become transparent for the consequences behind the scenes, Boss Man's career took a critical hit.
Though he would return soon after no worse for where, the whole angle drew massive scrutiny towards the company and forced them to rescind further plans on the Undertaker's "devil" character. Boss Man was almost immediately thrust into a laughable angle with Al Snow that took away what little credibility he had left, so that when he finally got a shot at the WWF title by the end of the year, he was little more than an afterthought.
In his latest book Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps, Chris Jericho details one of the better stories to come out of WrestleMania's past in the last couple of years. For you see, according to Y2J, he was supposed to be in the main event of WrestleMania 2000.
Mere months after debuting, Jericho was scheduled to be one of the main event players in the fatal 4-way contest with a McMahon in every corner for the WWF Championship. He was getting paid like a main eventer and the crowd was solidly behind him, so it only made sense that Jericho hit the big time with a big match on the biggest card of the year. But, for whatever reason, that didn't happen.
The most logical and likely of explanations is that Jericho, who was scheduled to be the fourth man in a match that also included the Big Show, The Rock, and Triple H, wasn't warming up too well in the locker room. The boys in the back, particularly Triple H, were none too happy with his antics on-screen. Though Jericho had made a living for the previous five or six years as a whiny heel that did childish things and belittled all of his opponents, that type of heel wasn't going to fly at the WWF level.
Unfortunately, by the time Jericho began to turn the corner, it was too late. All of the press materials that had been produced with Jericho's likeness were replaced with that of Mick Foley, who had "retired" and wrestled his last match less than a month earlier at No Way Out. Though Foley had no intention of going on full-time after his crazy Hell in a Cell match with Triple H, he was brought in for one last shot at the big time in the main event.
Foley lasted only half the match, finding himself as the second man out behind the Big Show. Triple H inevitably won the contest, retaining the WWF Championship.
Jericho, meanwhile, was demoted to a triple threat two-out-of-three-falls match with Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle that had two titles at stake. Despite the caliber of names on the marquee, the match did not steal the show and Jericho's win, which saw him take the European title, would be overshadowed when he dropped the title the next evening to Eddie Guerrero.
Jericho would not compete in the main event of any pay-per-view until the 2001 King of the Ring, nearly 15 months later. He would headline a WrestleMania just nine months after that.
One of the highlights of WrestleMania 2000 was the impending 15-minute train wreck known as the Hardcore Battle Royal. Since the WWF Hardcore Championship went to 24/7 rules, the results were often crazy and hilarious, highlighted by the "Houdini of Hardcore" Crash Holly.
Crash, however, was growing weary of the whole concept and was hoping to end it once and for all with a 15-minute opus at WrestleMania. It was an open invitation match where the belt could change hands as many times as possible during a 15-minute interval. Once time expired, whoever was the champion would be officially the Hardcore Champion and would be the last one to have such a title during the 24/7 rule.
Needless to say, this match was not booked move-for-move or minute-for-minute. Instead, most of the competitors were given free reign to do whatever they felt like doing as long as they kept sight of the finish. As the match was ending, Crash was supposed to regain the Hardcore title from whoever held it at the time, and then Tazz would lock in the Tazzmission choke hold. As he does, Crash's nephew Hardcore Holly would hit the ring with a jar of candy, smash it over Tazz and Crash, and then go for the pin only to have time expire before the referee counts to three. Not so complicated, right?
Wrong. Several stars were legitimately injured during the contest or seemingly served no purpose. Notably, Pete Gas of the Mean Street Posse was split open the hard way within minutes and bled so profusely it ranked on the Muta Scale. Though the match mostly showcased Tazz and Viscera, the finish was still about to go on as planned.
With less than a minute to go, Crash won the title back and was immediately swallowed up by Tazz. Hardcore Holly, who had spent the better part of the last minute resting against the announce table, hit the ring with the candy jar and smashed it to bits. As he went for the cover, referee Tim White lunged over to make the count. The only problem was both Hardcore and Tim White were about two seconds too fast, so when White's hand came down for three, he withdrew it with time still on the clock.
Howard Finkel, left with little other option, announced Hardcore Holly as the new champion, thus completely botching the finish. And the 24/7 rule? It stayed around for years after this match despite the plan to end it with Crash still champion.
These factors likely motivated Tim White towards his numerous suicide attempts years later.
One of the reasons so many of these early stories come from WrestleMania 2000 is because the WWF was banking on the event to be the biggest single financial boost the company had ever experienced. Seriously.
The WWF went as far as they could with the WrestleMania 2000 experiment, attempting to expand the pay-per-view to a nearly five-hour format before settling for the now customary four. Instead, they offered the extra incentive of a first time ever "post-game" show packaged alongside 12 hours of programming in total known as "WrestleMania All Day Long."
However, much like their previous experiments to gouge more cash out of their most profitable endeavor, the WWF lost sight of the big things and managed to overbook the card with tag team matches and smash and crash action. Much of it was underwhelming or a bona fide "spot fest," leaving a lot to be desired on the wrestling end of things.
Only one contest, a divas match between The Kat and Terri Runnels, was a one-on-one affair, the lowest total in the history of the event. The programming from earlier in the day of highlights and stories from past WrestleManias was for the most part revisionist history, as several huge names from WrestleMania's legacy were left completely out of the package.
And the only highlight of the post-game presentation was Hardcore Holly threatening to break Michael Cole in half while dropping an S-Bomb. Overall, grosses were about the same as they had been for WrestleMania XV, but they had failed to capitalize on much of the Attitude Era that had been brought forward from WrestleMania XIV. No "All Day Long" presentations were offered again from the WWF on pay-per-view.
One positive, however, to the whole show was that this would be the WrestleMania debut of Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, the Hardy Boys, Dudley Boys, and Edge and Christian.
For most fans, WrestleMania X-Seven is the greatest WrestleMania in history. From top to bottom, the card is the essential dream for wrestling fans and nearly every match delivers in one way or another. During the triple threat match for the Hardcore Championship, Raven nearly delivered himself and Big Show a quick trip to the hospital.
As the battle raged into the backstage area, Raven had come up with an idea to hijack a golf cart and drive it away from the scene with Big Show, Kane, and the referee tailing him. Big Show would then hope aboard his cart while Kane would take the referee in a second cart on hot pursuit. The spot was surefire comedy and Raven had looked at the vehicles previously in the day to make sure everything was in order.
When showtime came around, Raven pulled away with Big Show inside, but failed to play close enough attention to his distance from the edge of the platform in the Reliant Astrodome. As Kane followed, Raven crashed his cart into a pillar on the side causing half the wheels on the left hand side to slide over the edge. Had Big Show not been in the passenger seat, it is likely that the whole cart would've tipped over.
Escaping a fall that would have badly injured him was one thing, but as Raven stumbled out of his vehicle and around the backside, he forgot about Kane coming full speed ahead with little control over his breaks. Kane nailed Raven head-on, running over one of his legs with the cart.
The spot still looked good for television but would become one of the most notable botches in the careers of both Kane and Raven. One of the only reasons they got away with it was that Test suffered his own issues in the very next match, getting stuck in the top rope by only his boot. They later had it out and there were no hard feelings over Kane's attempted and accidental vehicular homicide.
When World Championship Wrestling folded capably into the hands of Vince McMahon in March of 2001, the wrestling world shook as the Monday Night Wars ended. The fate of WCW was up in the air, and with just a week to go until WrestleMania, it appeared as if one of the biggest stories would be who from this company could make their debut on the grandest stage of them all.
With a street fight scheduled between kayfabe WCW owner Shane McMahon and his father Vince, the creative team began churning out ideas as to who could perform the run-in that would cost Vince the match. While the biggest names in the company were the first thrown out, many failed to realize that McMahon had already sent them packing or wasn't about to sign them.
So the original proposal, ironically being Jeff Jarrett, was scrapped. The second idea that came up was for Paul Heyman to encourage Shane Douglas to get involved instead. Douglas, who had made a living as The Franchise in ECW before coming over to WCW, was still very much bitter about his treatment in previous tenures with the WWF and outright refused to do it. He would appear in the stands with the rest of the WCW talent during the event, but wasn't even outed by name.
The final proposition was for Booker T, the last WCW World Heavyweight Champion, to run-in and actually cost Shane McMahon the match instead. Believe it or not, the World Wrestling Federation axed this idea because they honestly didn't know where to go with it from there. So instead of promoting a WCW revolution on the biggest stage they had, the creative team spearheaded a Plan D.
Linda McMahon, who had been acting as a vegetable for the past several months, would rise out of her wheelchair and cost Vince the match. Though the crowd reaction was an immediately positive one for this decision, it would be a sad foreshadowing of things to come as the potential WCW Invasion was thrown by the wayside in favor of the McMahon family squabbles.
Fans love to mark out for nostalgia, and no one example was more obvious than the Gimmick Battle Royal inside the Astrodome. The idea of having a battle royal with some of the most and least memorable gimmicks of the past 17 years certainly was intriguing, but in no way was it going to be scientifically sound.
So it should come as no surprise that the WWF was pulling out all the stops when they introduced the special commentary team for the match: "Mean" Gene Okerlund and Bobby "the Brain" Heenan. Both Future WWE Hall of Fame inductees looked thrilled to be back and even more excited to be working with one another for the next few minutes. And while wrestlers may have ring rust, these commentators didn't quite process they were on the microphone at all times.
First, as Heenan went through the introductions, he referred to Okerlund as "Tony," likely referring to his days in WCW with Tony Schiavone. Not missing a beat, Okerlund responded with the question "Are you putting me on?"
The hilarity continued when Heenan and Okerlund shot on pretty much everything they could in the next ten minutes. Here's a look at some of the random shots they managed to take:
Heenan: "By the time the Iron Sheik gets to the ring it'll be WrestleMania 38!"
Okerlund: "If they wrap this cord around my neck a couple more times I'll be happier!"
Heenan: "About four years ago everybody got your mother-in-law..."
Heenan (re: Gobbledy Gooker): "Didn't you used to date her?"
They also managed to call Earthquake by his real name (John Tenta) and revealed that Brother Love was making a homecoming out of Houston, Texas. But its Okerlund and Heenan, so can you say you would've wanted it any other way?
Sidenote: The Iron Sheik won the battle royal because he would have torn at least four muscles in any attempt to go over the top rope. True story.
Heading into WrestleMania X8, the WWF reintroduced three men to the audience that would once again help revolutionize the industry. Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, collectively known as the New World Order, were on their way to the ring just one month prior to the biggest show of the year.
Meanwhile, Triple H secured himself a spot in the main event and both Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were without any definitive plans. And then there was Chris Jericho, who, despite being Undisputed Champion, never seemed to be a lock in the position. With the addition of the NWO, fans and wrestlers alike began to wonder of the fate that would befall them.
Initially, it was planned that Rock would face Hogan and Austin would face Hall while Kevin Nash would inherit the title from Jericho and take on Triple H. Rock/Hogan went full steam ahead, but Austin and Hall hit several road blocks. The largest issue was that Austin didn't want to work with Hall, citing his reputation as a worker and politician backstage as reasons for such.
So the plan was put in place to have Austin take the title off of Jericho and battle Triple H for the gold after No Way Out. Hall and Nash would be rewritten into a tag team match of sorts. When No Way Out was finished, Jericho still had the title and Austin would go back to working Hall. The next night, it was planned that Nash, the only one without a match, would take the title and face Triple H.
A Triple H/Kevin Nash main event? Not for another year, says the creative team, as Nash didn't even compete on the WrestleMania X8 card and all went down with Jericho still taking on the Game. Still, the rewrites made you believe that the once powerful NWO had all the power of backstage politics in their grip.
The "Icon vs. Icon" match at WrestleMania X8 was significant for many more reasons than one cares to count. But perhaps one of the most notable features to the contest was the overwhelming show of support for Hulk Hogan despite his opposition being the most popular wrestler in the world, The Rock.
On-screen, the two were defining characters of their generations who were sure to sellout arenas from coast to coast. As the WWF prepared to take the biggest show of the year back to Toronto, Canada after 12 years away, Hogan and Rock were both pensive about how their match would go. Perhaps the most important component of the contest was just who would be working as the face and who would be the heel.
If you had watched the programming leading up to the event, you'd know that Hogan was as dastardly as ever, going as far as to hit an ambulance containing the Rock with an 18-wheeler. Such acts could not warrant him playing the face, so it was on the Rock to rid the Federation of the leader of the New World Order. But in Canada, where wrestling was seen with a different climate and performers had different reputations (See: Hart, Bret), Hogan was a treasure.
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, the plan was for Hogan to put up a good fight but, inevitably, all of his cheating tactics would go nowhere when the Rock prevailed. It was the typical heel/face repertoire in a big match atmosphere. As media appearances and autograph signings continued, however, both men took note of the growing number of fans that were in support of Hulkamania and against the most electrifying man in sports entertainment. This would make for a fairly unsettling match that could get booed out of the building if it didn't deliver the goods.
Luckily for the company, Hogan and Rock were two of the smartest men the industry had produced. Both were well aware of how to milk the crowd and change on the fly, so with the exception of Hogan using his weight belt as a weapon, this contest was changed to a classic Hogan-style match where he would play a Superman to Rock's Lex Luthor. It worked perfectly, almost too well in some cases. Rock even went as far as to gain cheap heat by strapping the Hulkster in the sharpshooter.
By the end of the contest, even though Rock still won, the crowd was solidly in favor of Hulkamania. And so the NWO gimmick was derailed almost as quickly as it had arrived, when a run-in from Kevin Nash and Scott Hall signaled the end of Hogan's allegiance. As he posed for the crowd, we knew that Hulk still ruled this kingdom and that Rock was as important in putting it over for the audience.
The only problem was that they were too successful, and within one month they completely erased the inspirational story of Triple H's comeback by having him drop the Undisputed Championship to, you guessed it, Hulk Hogan. Brother.
Around the time of WrestleMania X-Seven, the WWE was looking to make a huge impact with WrestleMania by booking some of the biggest venues they could find. Only a few Manias in the past decade have exemption status from seating over 50,000 fans, and those include names like Madison Square Garden.
But while WWE was making big venues in big cities sell out, they picked an oddball candidate in 2003. Seattle's Safeco Field, a relatively new stadium designed to host 81 Seattle Mariners games per season, was selected as the host of WrestleMania XIX. The choice would turn out to be the most difficult the company had made in years, as behind the scenes, things were unraveling rapidly.
Though it had a roof structure attached, Safeco Field was, for all intents and purposes, an open-air, outdoor venue. The WWE had only have put on one outdoor WrestleMania to that point, and it was under the heat of Las Vegas, Nevada for WrestleMania IX. Now, ten years later, technology had evolved and wooden flats or cardboard stages simply wouldn't do.
Attempting to brave the elements, the WWE immediately had to battle a weather forecast that called for typical Seattle rains. That was an easy fix for the company, electing to keep the dome closed during rains so as not to detract from any facet of the event. But the sound and video boards were not nearly as fortunate, as the massive venue struggled mightily with the WWE-style use of pyrotechnics, lights, music, and video.
In the end, a lot of technical aspects from WrestleMania ended up flawed and the company had little recourse on the matter. It was, overall, a spectacular wrestling event that delivered on all fronts. But from a standard of "good show" quality, it was something of a miss. As a response to the growing concern that the company wasn't ready to handle the big venues and their ever-changing products, the next three WrestleManias returned to their roots.
WrestleMania XX was already scheduled to take place in Madison Square Garden, but the inclusion of Staples Center in 2005 and the Allstate Arena in 2006 were much smaller choices for an event that could easily draw 60,000 people a year.
When vignettes began airing in late 2002 for a man claiming to be the Colossus of Boggo Road, fans were treated to old school WWE build for a guy who appeared to be a massive foe for the future. His name was Nathan Jones, and he was, at the very least, terrifying to observe. Jones was being billed as the kind of guy who could rip your head off if he wanted to while also claiming he never would.
But when he finally made his television debut, Jones was a big softy who came across as needing a lot more time to learn the ropes and become the superstar we thought he would already be. So he was paired up with the Undertaker as his mentor in an attempt to get him over. Off-screen, Jones was as green as grass and completely impatient about the learning process.
He had already made a lot of money wrestling for World Wrestling All-Stars overseas, but the biggest stage was something he knew literally nothing about. Every time he hit the ring on SmackDown!, Jones went botch crazy, missing even the simplest of moves and selling offense with no method or reasoning. Even with the Undertaker, it was clear that Jones wasn't changing.
At WrestleMania, Jones was scheduled to pair up with the Taker to take on the Big Show and A-Train. Then, within a week, the match was changed to a handicap contest with Jones removed. Then Jones was put back into it, and, again within a week, he was dropped altogether. Somewhere behind the scenes, the creative team was at war on what to do with the Colossus of Boggo Road.
Several parties believed that despite his deficiencies he was still can't miss and couldn't be left off the Mania card. Others felt that continuing pressures to keep the card excellent and keep the Undertaker, who had major backstage pull, from annihilating everyone including Jones were more prevalent.
In the end, Jones only made a run-in at the end of the match where, not surprisingly, he almost fell down twice and missed a spin kick on a man as big as a bus. He quit the company later that year, basically throwing a temper tantrum on the way out.
It may well be the most iconic blunder in WrestleMania history, and with good reason. After a grueling 20-minute encounter with Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar planned on making a special moment for the fans in attendance by going for a shooting star press from the top rope. Such an aerial move, the finisher most commonly associated with Billy Kidman, had never been attempted by anyone Lesnar's size before...except Lesnar.
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, Lesnar stated in many interviews that he was going to try some new things at the event and would hopefully give the people something to talk about. Many speculated as to what exactly Lesnar was hinting at, as it was an underlying tone to nearly all of his interviews, including one in WWE Magazine.
If you had watched his Ohio Valley Wrestling career, you knew that despite his incredible size, Lesnar had great dexterity and flexibility and was able to perform moves that only smaller men had previously attempted. One such signature move was, yes, the Shooting Star Press, which Lesnar did in a manner that allowed him to lunge halfway across the ring. He had hit it several times before and was prepared to unveil it for the first time to a national audience at WrestleMania XIX.
Only problem was Lesnar hadn't attempted the move in nearly a year. Since coming into WWE, Lesnar was kept as a monster who would destroy folks with high impact throws and strikes. He hadn't even thought about the top rope arsenal since his call-up. So to say that he was rusty at executing such a dangerous finisher was an understatement.
To say that it would be ambitious to actually hit the move on Kurt Angle, who was more than three-quarters of the way across the ring would also be an understatement. As soon as he left the turnbuckle pad, Lesnar looked awkward and clearly didn't have the distance to nail Angle. Instead, he crash landed head first into Angle's side, briefly stunning himself for the remainder of the match.
Still, the show had to go on, and even though the botch was fresh in everyone's memories, a glassy-eyed Lesnar prevailed. A month or so afterwards, with Lesnar tearing up WWE as the biggest draw, Billy Kidman mentioned in an interview how he was offended that Lesnar had tried to steal his move, going as far as to say he would never attempt an F-5 out of courtesy.
Kidman never really received a push after that and was released some time later. It is unknown as to whether or not his widely publicized comments were a catalyst for punishment or demotion.
It should have been the biggest match in the history of WrestleMania, and by all accounts from the build, it was going to be. Brock Lesnar versus Bill Goldberg was a dream match-up of two of the greatest brawling powerhouses the business had ever seen. Each had a meteoric rise to the top and was seen as an unstoppable winning force, so the battle was a natural moneymaker.
WWE had been teasing the battle for months, showing backstage vignettes with both Lesnar and Goldberg that eventually led to physical confrontations costing both men championship opportunities. And so, the match as booked for WrestleMania XX, and to make it an even more extravagant affair, Stone Cold Steve Austin was put in as the special guest referee.
Certainly having two of the biggest stars in the business clash with one of the faces of the industry as the referee would go over well, right? Enter the crowd from hell, better known as the Madison Square Garden faithful.
As the clinical definition of "Smart Marks," the MSG crowd was always a rambunctious audience that didn't do what the WWE told them to do. They openly cheered Sycho Sid in his rampage against Shawn Michaels. They vehemently welcomed Tazz in his debut against Kurt Angle. These were the smartest fans in wrestling, and they certainly weren't going to let the WWE pull the wool over their eyes.
It had come to light via the Internet and the dirt sheets that Bill Goldberg's one year WWE contract was coming to an end and that he had lost a lot of popularity since his debut. Goldberg had no intention of continuing in the ring and wasn't about to give it his all.
Lesnar, on the other hand, had already grown disenchanted with the whole experience of sports entertainment and was looking to pursue a professional football career with the Minnesota Vikings. These two competing factors left little to be desired after such an ultimate match was booked. Then, the match actually happened, and matters were made worse.
Lesnar and Goldberg teased actual wrestling for far too long, posturing to one another while the crowd went from bitter and unwelcoming to totally chaotic. The only cheers that came from the MSG fanatics were ones after Stone Cold Steve Austin took out both men. Neither wrestled in the WWE ever again, and no WrestleMania Match has been so critically panned since.
When Chris Benoit began his stoic run to the top in 2004, it was always expected that he would take down the top dog on the RAW roster en route to the World Heavyweight Championship. That man was Triple H, and he and Benoit had already clashed in some old school affairs in the past.
Benoit was a consummate technician in the ring while Triple H had the skill and psychology of Harley Race. Together, the two were capable of producing big time thrills and chills. But when the WWE looked at the potential for having them face-off for the strap, something was missing. According to the company, what was missing was a true appeal and drawing power.
This was supposed to be the biggest WrestleMania of all time, and while Benoit was on the rise, he was far from being on the A-List. So it would come to be that Benoit's one-on-one encounter was replaced by a triple threat contest that would include a surefire numbers draw: Shawn Michaels.
While no official reports can be confirmed, there is a large line of though that indicates Michaels would fast track his way to an encounter with Evolution at WrestleMania. It was then he would team up with another few legends, Mick Foley and the Rock, to take on the three remaining members of Evolution (Batista, Ric Flair, and Randy Orton) in the most epic six-man tag match in Mania history.
So when the plans were rewritten starting in January during a no-contest finish with Michaels and Triple H. It continued until the big main event of WrestleMania, but oddly enough, it also worked heavily against Benoit. Few times was Benoit seen as an equal to his opponents, so by the time he actually claimed the title, he wasn't going over in nearly as large a way as he could have.
It would take to a series of rematches and victories over guys like Michaels that would finally put Benoit over the top. HBK's replacement in the six-man tag match? Nobody. The WWE instead changed the contest to a handicap match that was lackluster at best.
Since coming in as head writer of the WWE creative team, Brian Gewirtz has gotten a lot of flack. Not every idea Brian developed was a success; in fact a lot of them stunk to high heaven and gave fans complete and total headaches on Monday Night RAW. But for every poorly executed skit and over-the-top-rope challenge, Gewirtz delivers a gem worthy of noting. WrestleMania 21 was one of those times.
With an abundant supply of wrestlers still looking for something to do around that time of the year, Gewirtz took advantage of the glitz and glamor of the WrestleMania 21 venue (Los Angeles, California), and developed a ladder match that would change the face of the company. No, not the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, but instead the "Hollywood Dream" Ladder Match.
The idea was simple. High above the ring, some kind of object or symbol would hang while a number of superstars attempted to grasp it. The man who finally pulled down the object would be granted any single wish they wanted from the WWE. It was their dream fulfilled, so to speak. And when the concept came about, Gewirtz planned to have none other than Mr. Monday Night Rob Van Dam be victorious and usher in a return for ECW.
But as plans are made they can go awry in an instant, and they did just that when Van Dam went down with a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery. RVD now required almost a year of rehabilitation, thus scrapping the star of the match from competing. With the assistance of Vince McMahon, the contest underwent reconstruction of its own.
McMahon wasn't high on the "dream" idea and instead consulted Gewirtz to make it a contest for a title match any time in the next calendar year. When Gewirtz presented the final idea of a six-man ladder match for such an opportunity, McMahon agreed to it as long as the item hanging above the ring was a briefcase holding that championship contract. And so, out of the ashes of the Hollywood Dream Match, we received the Money in the Bank Ladder Match.
Edge would go on to defeat Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, Christian, and Chris Benoit during the stellar match that would become a staple of WrestleMania for the next five years. Though there are no plans to feature another such contest at WrestleMania XXVII, the Money in the Bank Ladder Match did spawn its own pay per view and collectible play set. Not too shabby.
RVD, meanwhile, would seek and get redemption by winning the second Money in the Bank Ladder Match just one year later. He would win the WWE Title from John Cena and be the leader of a new ECW revolution that brought on the land of the extreme as a third WWE brand.
Many superstars often find themselves on the unemployment line after WrestleMania. It has become a financial statement of sorts from the WWE that cutting costs and overhead by releasing several talents just after their most profitable event is the way to go, and so nearly every year many perennial mid-card and developmental talents are sent packing.
None of them, however, is more memorable than Rhyno, the Man-Beast from Detroit, Michigan. With a great look, ferocious offense, and fast-paced matches, Rhyno was one of the last great things to come out of ECW. It was another bonus that his jump to the WWE only helped his career, giving him legitimate, high profile feuds with the likes of Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
But as business slowed for Rhyno in 2005, the Man-Beast hit a boiling point. At the after party from WrestleMania 21, several stars were out and about to celebrate. Batista watched the replay, the Undertaker was talking up a storm, and Rhyno was cursing out his wife. Yes, you read that right.
Rhyno lost his composure in an embarrassing moment of poor judgment, completely exploding at his wife in front of the entire congregation. Reports that he also destroyed hotel property (a flower pot) came in soon after and the whole scuffle was on the internet and in the dirt sheets before you could save "Dave Meltzer."
Needless to say, the WWE wasn't about to let Rhyno get away with it, so they promptly fired him as part of their talent cuts. Such a move was drastic, even by WWE standards who hadn't really felt much scrutiny for their discipline system as it comes to the superstars in 2005.
When last Rhyno was seen wrestling for WWE, it was in a one-off appearance at One Night Stand later that year. The chants from the audience that evening made it clear that the company made the right decision, as echoes of "You Got Fired" blared through the Hammerstein Ballroom while Rhyno attempted to grapple with Sabu. He would not compete again for the WWE as of this printing.
When Batista took down the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21, he started up a new era of face that would take the WWE by storm over the next few years. At least, that was the plan. But after Batista jumped to SmackDown!, the climate again changed and Batista now had two new friends that were legitimate threats to his kingdom in Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio.
Both men had been working for years to elevate themselves to the status that main event players were earning, and now they had it within their reach. Guerrero, a former WWE Champion, began working with Batista in a series of matches designed to put over Latino Heat in a manner that wouldn't make the Animal look weak.
Meanwhile, Mysterio's yearlong rivalry with Guerrero gave the WWE great numbers and action and seemed like the blow-off match could really make bank. That was the plan all along. With numerous paths to choose from, WWE Creative was looking towards a Mysterio/Guerrero match that would put the World Heavyweight Title on the line while keeping Batista relevant with a high profile score to settle against the up and coming Randy Orton.
Two matches of that caliber would bring SmackDown! a double-barreled evening at WrestleMania 22 while RAW booked headlining acts with John Cena and Triple H. It all seemed so simple that nothing could possibly take away this moment.
But then, on November 13, 2005, just at the inception of the WrestleMania build, Eddie Guerrero tragically passed away in his hotel room. All plans, tentative or confirmed, were put on hold and it was suddenly up to the company to book Batista and Orton for the title while finding a new way for Mysterio to honor his fallen friend. A tribute match between he and Benoit was discussed at some length before the next disaster, when Batista took the first major injury of his career.
Now, both matches on the SmackDown! side were a distant memory. Mysterio became the go-to guy while Orton fell behind the curve for nearly two years. Though he was always on the top rung of the ladder, Orton, along with Kurt Angle, would become the fall guys for the unlikely championship reign of Mysterio that began at WrestleMania 22.
Months later, it would be one of the worst written and produced championship reigns of any in history, but you can't really fault the WWE for that. With all of the rewrites and booking changes that went into the event, It's a miracle Mysterio wouldn't also be sidelined...at least at the time.
WrestleMania 23 from Ford Field signaled the return of the grandiose, stadium-sized WrestleMania event. It was also supposed to signal the beginning of the Ken Kennedy era. For you see, it was during this particular WrestleMania that Kennedy successfully took down the Money in the Bank briefcase, thus earning a title shot any time in the next year.
The WWE hype machine got behind Kennedy full speed, as the charismatic superstar announced he would not cash in until WrestleMania XXIV, one year later in Florida. The announcement was quiet surprising considering how far in advance the WWE had thought it out, going so far as to have a countdown clock on WWE.com from the day of the statement.
Backstage, however, Kennedy was still in a bit of hot water and wasn't doing himself any favors. He wasn't well liked by some of the wrestlers higher up on the totem pole, namely Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton. Kennedy was also a chronic injury problem and even had trouble saying the right thing about the company in public. He may only have been human, but in the WWE, it would be his downfall.
Legend tells the tale that Kennedy was to become the new face of RAW when he would challenge John Cena for the title at WrestleMania XXIV, thus fulfilling his destiny and becoming the next huge star in the company. At least, that was the forecast one year in advance. The idea was to have Cena lose his title for the third time to a Money in the Bank winner, thus solidifying a reputation as it being his only kryptonite during this "Superman" style gimmick.
As the next few weeks progressed, Kennedy fell out of favor in both health and politics, and soon, was booked into a ridiculous match where he surrendered his title shot to Edge. The Rated-R Superstar would become World Heavyweight Champion less than a week later in another rewrite designed to take the strap off of the injured Undertaker.
All in all, however, it was Kennedy who was most injured. His WWE Career never fully recovered and he never again came close to the championship spotlight despite being a can't miss project with tons of charisma. Though he's succeeding at some level in TNA, not seeing him as one of the main draws in WWE is one of the biggest disappointments of the past five years.
From his inauspicious debut in the Fall of 2006 to his atrocious costume, Montel Vontavious Porter was a hard sell for fans coming into WrestleMania 23. With a pretty fresh gimmick (taken mostly from Jerry Maguire), MVP was an elite-caliber athlete with an inferiority complex and a penchant for dealing out slams.
But the MVP character needed a lot of work and ability if he was going to be keeping up with Chris Benoit at WrestleMania. After all, the most notable things about MVP to that point were his inflatable entrance tunnel and goofy get-up, prompting fans to chant "Power Ranger" at the new star. In the ring, he was still rather green and didn't have a lot established when he was thrust into a feud for the United States Championship.
Certainly he was being fed to the wolves and such was the feeling before he wrestled Benoit midway through the card. The company-wide belief was that if he couldn't be semi-decent here, he'd never get a big push anywhere (see other examples like: McIntyre, Drew and Benjamin, Shelton). So with the bright lights and the pressure on, Porter showed he could play like a true MVP.
He kept up with Benoit quite nicely and even earned a warm crowd response for his showboating. Though he lost the match, he showed incredible growth as a wrestler and ring psychologist, earning him a number of rematches that would continue the feud deep into the next few months. Eventually, MVP overcame Benoit and went on to be the longest reigning United States Champion of all-time.
Such a feat was bestowed upon him for his diligent Mania work, a rarity coming out of an era that buries more prospects than it does build them. Though the MVP train would derail a little less than a year later, he still had a remarkable campaign in 2007 that came directly from WrestleMania. He established that he could be a ratings and ticket draw while coming across more professional than anyone expected.
A shame, then, that a planned World Title program was scrapped after he was found to have a heart condition and, perhaps more importantly, his biggest selling point (beating Benoit cleanly) couldn't be discussed on television anymore.
Many fans don't realize that the greatest contributions Michael "P.S." Hayes has given the wrestling world came outside the ring. Though he was a multiple-time tag team champion as part of the Fabulous Freebirds, the man who walks the streets of Badstreet, U.S.A. is one of the most notorious writers and bookers in the industry.
From supposedly racist comments to wacky angles, Hayes has run the gauntlet of wrestling and takes with him a lot of wrestling intelligence on how to sell tickets. One of his self-proclaimed greatest ideas never came to fruition with the WWE, however, despite him trying to sell it twice.
At WrestleMania 22, John Cena overcame Triple H to truly establish himself as the top dog in the industry. The match wasn't the greatest ever, but it was still a solid affair where Cena and Helmsley entertained with heroic ring entrances and back and forth combat that kept fans interested throughout the affair. Despite claiming the defeat, fans knew that Triple H would return someday to reclaim the throne as the King of Kings, and that he'd go through Cena to do it.
Hayes, who had been writing for SmackDown! all of these years, developed the idea of booking Cena/Triple H II as if it were a boxing match. He was incredibly high on the idea, and had great reason to be, too. Some of the most iconic bouts in history were rematches, and Hayes recognized it in his attempted hype of the concept. Looking back at contests like Tyson/Holyfield II probably inspired him the most to create moments that were familiar yet incredibly chaotic.
So when WrestleMania 23 came around, Hayes went with full intention to get this thing booked. But Triple H wasn't as willing, considering he would suffer another major injury to his quadricep in January of 2007, thus creating a terminal void in the rematch idea. The match was passed under the table quickly, not to be spoken of again until one year later, as part of the brainstorm for WrestleMania XXIV.
This time, however, the problem was not Helmsley, it was Cena. Cena tore the pectoral muscle almost completely off the bone on his chest, and despite making a surprise return at the Royal Rumble that year, he was still nowhere near close to 100%. The huge risk of putting your biggest moneymaker in a demanding main event slot that was meant to up the ante on a previous encounter was just too great.
Only three times in WrestleMania history has a headlining attraction been featured again at the next WrestleMania as a rematch. Those instances were:
-Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III and IV)
-Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna (WrestleMania IX and X)
-Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXV and XXVI)
So despite Michael Hayes' consistent lobbying, we never got Cena/Triple H II at a WrestleMania (it would, however, occur at Night of Champions), and if the Undertaker has anything to say about it, we probably never will.
As WrestleMania XXIV was drawing to a close and the Undertaker stood supreme, things were just heating up in the stands. As the fireworks exploded throughout the Citrus Bowl, a hot cable designed to carry streaming pyrotechnics down a wire snapped and launched into the audience. Then the fireworks went off in the stands, injuring more than 40 people.
How and why the cable snapped remains one of the greatest mysteries in WWE history, mainly because the company was incredibly tight-lipped on the manner. Some were treated with minor abrasions and injuries and then sent home while a small few experienced burns from the stray pyrotechnic display. It would actually be the first of two separate incidents in two years involving the Undertaker and fireworks, though this was the only one to occur in the stands.
WWE's corporate side took over, launching a full scale investigation on the issue, though no results were ever fully disclosed or documented. It is the belief that the company settled several small suits out of court with ticket compensation, merchandise, and medical payments rounding out pocket change for Vince McMahon, and that the company laid the blame solely on the Citrus Bowl and not their own technical crew.
Accidents happen, and this one managed not to bruise the WWE's ego too harshly.
R.D. Reynolds, the creator of WrestleCrap.com and author of a number of biographical wrestling books makes a living by saying it: "Pro wrestling is dumb." And he's 100 percent right, especially when considering our next story.
In 2009, with the 25th WrestleMania helping the WWE reach an unprecedented milestone in pay-per-view event history, Vince McMahon decided that the event simply couldn't be big enough. And so, McMahon decided to forego logic, reasoning, and common sense by dubbing the evening not only WrestleMania XXV, but also the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania.
A note to all of you mathematicians, historians, and readers of the english language: In order for something to celebrate a 25th anniversary, an annual event must be taking place for 26 years, not 25. So even though it was the 25th WrestleMania, the silver anniversary wasn't actually due until WrestleMania XXVI.
But to Vince McMahon, it was like saying that you were one year old when you were born. And it was incredibly bold (read: stupid) move to market the event so much that we weren't even calling it WrestleMania XXV on television. Instead, commentators and announcers alike were instructed to refer to the event as the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania, even though every single one of them knew this to be false.
Ironically, had it lasted as long or been as successful, the only notable 25th Anniversary that year for professional wrestling wouldn't have been for WrestleMania, it would have been for Starrcade. But talking about the legacy of Starrcade and the incredible foibles there is a story for another time.
For now, we'll stick to the story about a company of minions who dare not explain to their boss that 25 and 26 were different numbers and that's not how anniversaries work.
Wrestling careers can't be "make or break" based upon a single move, can they? For the answer to this question, we must turn to the son of WWE Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.
Before settling into his most infamous role, Jimmy Reiher, Jr. took on a 50's greaser character named Deuce who was billed as being from "The Other Side of the Tracks." After the gimmick gained only minor traction and popularity, Deuce jumped to the RAW side of things and attempted his luck at singles competition by informing the crowd of his heritage and going by the name of Sim Snuka.
But Snuka was nowhere near getting over and the company shelved him indefinitely. While most would take this time to tune up their skills, Snuka was tapped to play an unnamed cameraman for a huge spot in the Undertaker/Shawn Michaels showdown at WrestleMania XXV. All Snuka had to do was catch the massive Undertaker when he went for a suicide dive over the top rope and to the floor.
And much like he had been his whole career, Snuka was out of place. Despite HBK's best efforts, Undertaker completely missed his far away target Snuka and came down on his head. Miraculously, Taker went on uninjured and the match became one of the greatest of all-time.
So with such an incredible botch on his record, Snuka wasn't used again and would be released from his WWE contract that Summer. All involved point at his carelessness and disregard towards such a major spot as the sole reason he hit the bricks, and even Michaels and Undertaker, two of the leading backstage politicians and businessmen in the industry, thought Snuka wouldn't work again for the WWE.
The backlash to John Cena as a character and a wrestler is well-documented. Cena is the epitome of a talked-about wrestler and, love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge his presence. At WrestleMania, the John Cena relationship with the fans is one of the most intriguing.
Cena's already won three World or WWE titles at WrestleMania and has successfully defended the strap twice. He's got only one loss at the event to his credit and, no surprise, it was in the title match. With Cena on top, there's bound to be haters, and none are more notable than a crew of fans who have made it their mission to see Cena at each WrestleMania over the past few years.
Appearing first at WrestleMania XXIV decked out in custom-made We Hate Cena Shirts, these fans proceeded to root against Cena all evening while sitting comfortably at ringside. While Cena lost at this particular event, he'd have his revenge in more ways than one.
Cena won the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania XXV and was exiting the ring when he caught a glimpse of the very same fans wearing the very same t-shirts, heckling him all the way. Ever the consummate professional, Cena went over to them and posed for a few seconds, almost as if to acknowledge that he could do whatever he wanted to them and they'd have to sit and stew.
The following year in Glendale, Arizona, the We Hate Cena brigade had grown larger in numbers and was even closer to the ring, so when Cena won the WWE Championship, he paused to reflect as only he could. Cena turned towards the camera and put his back to the guardrail, smiling proudly as he had once again bested the "Smart Marks" who despised his very existence.
There was a time when purchasing these custom shirts was cool and profitable. But since Cena and even the announcers have taken note of it, many are tight-lipped about it all. Whether or not the same crew will show up only to be in the background of another Cena celebration at WrestleMania XXVII is unknown.
Bret Hart is no longer a wrestler. He's no longer physically in any sort of condition or shape to wrestle, and the mere thought that he would enter a ring to compete with another wrestler is simply foolish. So when it came time for his showdown with Vince McMahon at WrestleMania XXVI, fans anticipated just how it would go down.
What they didn't see coming was the WWE pulling a fast one and extended the dialogue and rules of the match to such extremes that there was hardly a payoff worth writing about. First, Vince McMahon brought out Hart's family and the Hart Dynasty in an effort to show the odds were in his favor.
Then, Bret turned the tables, showing that his family would never sell him out as they sat at ringside and his brother Bruce remained in the ring to referee the encounter where Bret would pummel Vince for several minutes. It was easily one of the worst matches of the year and ended quite mercifully when the entire Hart family helped to lay waste to McMahon and Bret slapped on the sharpshooter.
Though the Hitman was once again on the rise, fans begged the question: why the sudden change? Did WWE lose faith in Hart? Was Vince micromanaging the situation? Was a surprise run-in canceled?
The truth is far simpler than all of this, for the WWE had planned the talking segment and Hart brigade escort from the very beginning. They even cut Rey Mysterio's match with C.M. Punk down to six minutes to ensure they had enough time for these shenanigans.
Truth be told, they were doing everything in their power to make Bret feel comfortable getting in the ring and feel like this was truly okay for a recovering stroke victim to do. Bret was hesitant to participate the whole way and the company felt like he might pull out if the situation appeared too dangerous, so precautionary measures were taken to plot out the entire sequence weeks ahead of time.
All that was left was to keep Bruce around Bret just long enough so he could stabilize the Hitman.
I hope you've enjoyed these 54 Tall Tales from WrestleMania with many more to come in the next 27 years. Thanks for reading!