WM PPV Countdown: #17 – WrestleMania 13

WrestleMania was the start of something special in the World Wrestling Federation. Feeling more and more pressure from World Championship Wrestling, the company knew they needed to do something to fight back and re-establish itself as a player in the industry. Thus more reality based stories and characters were infused into storylines to produce a darker, more adult program. While the term “Attitude Era” wasn’t coined yet and the infamous WWF “scratch” logo hadn’t yet debuted it was apparent that at WrestleMania 13, Attitude was on its way.

The show featured a hybrid of New Generation-era one-dimensional characters mixed in with the new darker characters that would lead the company into its most profitable era. Pig farmers clashed with old time cowboys in the opening four-way tag team match and the happy-go-lucky, smiling rookie good guy “Blue Chipper” Rocky Maivia battled the Middle Eastern Sultan. It was evident that the old characters were still featured on the roster, but were being phased out.

They mixed with a wild street fight between Ahmed Johnson and The Legion of Doom against the militant Nation of Domination and an ultra-rare WWF Tag Team Title match featuring two teams of villains as Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart (managed by Clarence Mason) battled against Vader and Mankind (managed by Paul Bearer.) In addition Hunter Hearst-Helmsley fought Goldust in a rivalry based over their respective valets (Chyna and Marlena) attacking each other.

Plus the main event featured two “good guys” in The Undertaker and Sid fighting over the WWF Championship. While both men were fan favorites, neither was the prototypical happy, smiling, hand-shaking hero that the company had promoted in the past. Instead of good versus evil it was a battle of “shades of grey,” where the two men’s ultimate goal was to win and be the best in the company, regardless of character alignment.

Speaking of shades of grey, the highlight of the night was the epic confrontation between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret “Hit Man” Hart. The two men had been feuding since Hart’s return to the company at Survivor Series ’96. Austin was the new red-hot character on the WWF scene that was shattering the old company philosophy one cuss word and middle finger at a time. He was the catalyst for the upcoming “Attitude” era and destroyed the old “good guy-bad guy” mantra. After Survivor Series the rivalry escalated. Austin, the foul-mouthed, middle-finger waving bad guy, was slowly gaining traction with the fans while the long-time hero Hart was becoming more of a whiner and complainer that fans grew tired of. The days of the clear-cut “good guys” versus “bad guys” was a thing of the past and the sides became blurred. Welcome to the era of “shades of grey.”

The stage was set for the culmination of the angle at WrestleMania 13; a submission match between Hart and Austin with Ultimate Fight Championship legend Ken Shamrock in the middle as the special referee. The only way to win was to make your opponent give up; no pinfalls, count outs or discussions. Austin entered the match still as the “bad guy” while Hart was still considered the “good guy,” but the jaded Chicago crowd was dictating different responses for both men. As the match raged on the crowd became more and more behind Austin. Hart’s mannerisms slowly started turning sinister and the crowd booed him mercilessly. Hart took control of the match and Austin was forced to fight from underneath, like any good underdog does.

In the end Hart locked Austin in his patented Sharpshooter. Austin writhed in pain for what seemed like an eternity, locked in Hart’s submission move as blood poured from Austin’s face. The image of Austin screaming in pain as blood rained down his forehead has become one of the company’s most iconic images. In the end Austin passed out from the pain and Shamrock had no choice but to stop the match and award it to the Hit Man. As Austin lie dormant on the mat Hart celebrated his victory to a chorus of boos.

After the bout Hart attacked Austin to add insult to injury. Shamrock forcefully pulled Hart off and dropped him with a suplex. Hart left the ring as crowd jeered him. Austin eventually rose to his feet under his own power and received a hero’s welcome. Austin walked into the match as a villain and left as the people’s champion, and the start of that match would be the last time that Bret Hart would hear cheers from American audiences for a long time. It was the most successful and well planned out “double turn” in wrestling history.

It was a monumental moment in that help shift the company’s paradigm, and it was an incredibly entertaining and well-put together match to boot. This match (and this show) help set the WWF down the road to the very successful “Attitude” era that would follow shortly thereafter that saw Austin become the company’s flagship and Bret Hart exiled to World Championship Wrestling.

Match Results:
– Billy Gunn beat Flash Funk live on the Free For All before the pay per view aired.
– The Headbangers (Mosh & Thrasher) beat Henry & Phineas Godwinn, Doug Furnas & Phillip Lafon and The New Blackjacks (Windham & Bradshaw) in a four team elimination match.
– Rocky Maivia (c) beat The Sultan in an Intercontinental Championship match.
– Hunter Hearst-Helmsley beat Goldust.
– Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith (c) went to a double count out with Vader & Mankind in a WWF World Tag Title Championship match.
– Bret Hart beat Stone Cold Steve Austin in a Submission Match. Ken Shamrock was the special guest referee.
– Ahmed Johnson & The Legion of Doom (Hawk & Animal) beat The Nation of Domination (Faarooq, Crush & Savio Vega) in a Chicago Street Fight.
– The Undertaker pinned Sid to win the WWF World Championship.

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