Few would argue against the importance of Wrestlemania 14 in the changing landscape of the then WWF’s fortunes. This was the one that changed things and is seen by some as when the Attitude era kicked off. Now, that is a point certainly up for debate but one thing is for sure – Wrestlemania 14 turned the corner for the WWF.
Not only on the visual aspect; gone was the old style WWF logo and replaced by the new ‘scratched’ logo but the change in direction witnessed on Raw was great for business with Wrestlemania 14 picking up a buy-rate of some 730,000 compared to just 237,000 for the previous year, which is to date an all-time low. It was also the highest buy-rate since Wrestlemania V.
Of course, the show wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, however it was important. Regular readers will be following my Raw Rewind column where I am working my way through every episode of Raw from 1997. These episodes are fascinating from a historical point of view as with Vince and the WWF’s back against the wall, we see the company doing anything that it could to catch up with the WCW who were tanking the WWF in the ratings war.
WCW had high-flying lucha libres that created spot filled matches that put viewers, both in the arena and at home, on the edge of their seats and had, in the nWo, the hottest angle and stable in perhaps wrestling history. How did the WWF counter this? Well, they brought in high flyers from Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) that they used throughout 1997 but in a directionless fashion, as I’ve discussed in the RawRewind pieces. These guys would have matches on Raw but the commentators barely bothered to talk about what was going on in the ring – making it difficult to care about what these guys were doing.
A gang warfare theme ran through WWF programming in 1997, whether it was the Hart Foundation, The Nation of Domination or the off-shoots in Los Boricuas and the Disciples of Apocalypse. These teams and the feuds that they were involved in helped to blur the lines of a WWF world that had previously positioned good guys v bad guys although to very mixed success.
However, despite all of this, the man that p;layed the biggest part in saving Vince’s WWF in the end was someone that had been with the WWF since late 1995: ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. After a spell as ‘the Ringmaster’, a gimmick where Austin was going nowhere, it took until winning the 1996 King of the Ring and the infamous “Austin 3:16” victory speech that really kicked things off for Austin and since that point he rode virtually roughshot over the WWF.
While Wrestlemania 14 was undoubtedly a turning point for the promotion, there was still a great deal of remnants left from the past – and nothing was a better example of this than the opening tag team battle royal where we saw such tag team luminaries as the new Midnight Express made up of Bart Gunn and Bob Holly as well as teams representing the NOD, Los Boricuas and the DOA in a match won by Legion of Doom 2000.
The New Midnight Express were also joined in this one by the long time rivals of the old Midnight Express – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. This was another part of the desperate measures being taken by Vince and the WWF. Desperate to tap into the mindset of any former WCW fans turned off by the companies change in direction, Vince brought in Jim Cornette to create a NWA invasion angle in the hope that any remaining NWA fans of old would watch WWF programming. The problem, however, was that the NWA were lower mid carders with little wrestling relevance – with Barry Windham being the biggest name in the mix.
However, another point in this angle was to create the impression of older wrestlers – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express etc – against the younger WWF stars, a nod to the impression that the WWF were trying to make about their war with WCW – that the WWF had younger stars such as The Rock and Stone Cold whilst WCW headlined events now with superstars from the 80s such as Hogan and Macho Man.
Wrestlemania 14 is a crucial part of WWF/E history and began a period of momentum that eventually culminated in the end of the WCW’s 84 week streak as winners in the Nitro v Raw ratings war. The card, however, was a mixed bag with the only real stand out matches being the main event and the match pitting Marvellous Marc Mero & Sable versus The Artists Formerly Known as Goldust & Luna Vachon.
But that main event, what a passing of the torch it was and saw the 1998 Royal Rumble winner Stone Cold Steve Austin pin the WWF Champion Shawn Michaels cleanly in the middle of the ring. Some had doubted the willingness of Michaels to put Austin over clean. After all, Michaels and his Kliq had run the backstage area for several years yet despite this – and his back injury that would eventually put him on hiatus from wrestling for some 4 and a half years after this event – it was Stone Cold that had his arm raised by the ringside enforcer ‘the baddest man on the planet’ Mike Tyson.
With the promotion’s star now in possession of the WWF title, the company would go from strength to strength as he would feud primarily with Vince himself in one of the biggest feuds in wrestling’s history and overtake WCW in the ratings in a war that would culminate in 2001 when Vince McMahon purchased his rival company.
This show is certainly turning point for the WWF, where the bridging of the gap between the old and the new is very visible. A lacklustre card, for sure, but carried by a very strong main event. We see many superstars that would go on to play crucial roles in the Attitude era such as Stone Cold, The Rock, Mick Foley, The New Age Outlaws Triple H and Sable. But also present were members of the much vaunted, but ultimately unsuccessful, ‘new Generation’ and stars, in The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, that would bridge both eras.