Craig Wilson, John Carbery, Jamie Lithgow
This past week marked the twentieth anniversary of the 13th instalment of WrestleMania. In today’s Sunday Sermon we cast our eyes back to that event and judge how important, in the grand scheme of things, that show was to the future of the WWE.
Craig: There is no denying that 1997 is a pivotal and vitally important year in the history of the WWE. A year that fully showed a change in the company from the cartoony days of old to a more edgier, ECW-influenced, output.
Some of the biggest, and most important, acts during the Attitude Era competed on that show. From Bradshaw and Farooq – although yet to be partners – through to Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Undertaker, The Rock, Goldust, Mankind and Hunter Hearst Helmsley they all found their way onto the card.
Reviews of the event are somewhat mixed, really the Bret Hart vs Stone Cold match being the only standout one. But in the grand scheme of things, just how important was WrestleMania 13?
John: It was a really weak sauce show. The main event was a complete washout, Sid vs Taker was a plodding mess. The mid card matches were a wash of inconsequential match ups. The tag team title match between Bulldog/Owen and Vader/Mankind was solid but had a crappy finish. The Chicago Street Fight between the Legion of Doom/Ahmed Johnson and the Nation of Domination was decent but in the long run didn’t matter.
Honestly, the reason Bret vs Austin is so memorable is because it’s the only thing worth remembering. It was a stunning match and very important in the long run as this was the match that made Austin.
Jamie: Putting the actual card to one side for a moment – and John has summed up my feelings towards it rather well – Wrestlemania 13 occurred at a time when the WWF were in a state of flux, and given that they stayed the course with their new ‘edgier’ approach, one could suggest that Wrestlemania 13 was a turning point for the WWF.
If you compare the look and feel of previous WrestleManias with the previous years’ instalment, they all feel fairly similar up to ‘Mania 12. For example, 12 and 11, are fairly similar, ditto 6 and 7, and I can barely tell 4 and 5 apart. Now compare 12 to 13. Firstly, the logo is on fire, secondly, there was a gang fight, thirdly there was permitted bloodshed. This is before you consider the change in some of the main characters. While I’ve been mainly following WCW in 1997 for the blog, I’ve also kept up to date with Raw and the change even since the Royal Rumble is quite dramatic. Raw is now two hours long and is called ‘Raw Is War’ with a kick-ass theme tune and casual swearing. To implement such a brand change just before your biggest show of the year sure takes some balls, and while WM 13 didn’t perform that well, it clearly didn’t perform that badly to make Vince McMahon change his mind regarding the direction of his company.
Craig: It is undoubtedly a transitional show. I like the comparison between two consecutive WrestleManias that you’ve done, Jamie. However, compare 12 and 14 and that highlights the journey that the company was on and probably wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t made.
Having made my way through episodes of Raw from 1997, as part of the Raw Rewind series of old, I got to watch the journey that the company are on. From the changing of the set right through Vince McMahon’s promo introducing the Attitude Era officially in December of 1997.
So, while John is absolutely spot-on when it comes to the quality of the show itself, is it fair to say that history will look back fondly at WrestleMania 13 due to it being, if you will, a bridging event between the WWF of old and the Attitude Era?
Jamie: Agreed, WM13 is not celebrated but should be considered the ‘missing link’ in WWE’s evolution from family friendly entertainment to the wildly successful Attitude Era. Indeed, much of the entire year of 1997 could be considered as such. Most people think the Attitude Era began towards the end of 1997, and some might even say it started at Wrestlemnia 14. However, if you go back and look at shows as far back as late 1996, it is clear that the company was well on the road to more adult orientated programming even then.
As for the actual show itself, I often think ‘would could have been’ with this Wrestlemania. I mean, Sid defending the title against The Undertaker was hardly plan A, was it? Granted we will have missed out on Bret vs. Austin, but Bret vs. Shawn II would have been the blockbuster main event this show was lacking. The company were also pushing hard to have Dennis Rodman appear, which was another plan that didn’t materialise.
John: While there may have been one or two building blocks set down for the attitude era at 13 it was barely a blueprint at that point. The wrestling world had changed dramatically in 1996, ECW had created a genuine underground sensation and WCW had revolutionised their product with the NWO.
When you think about it, the Attitude Era was the first new thing McMahon had done in 13 years. He made millions with Hulkamania and when that ran dry he just repeated the formula without the stars. The New Generation era was simply that, lots of gimmicks without the top level performers to get them over and by 96 said gimmicks were getting truly dire.
Just look at the WM 13 undercard and you’ll find a few hanging around like The Sultan, The Godwins etc.
It seems, looking back, that they were reluctant to change and that’s why there’s a feeling of “growing pains” with this show. Hart vs Austin was cutting edge but the main event was something you’d see on an early 90s USWA broadcast. By the next year, a lot of the fat was trimmed and the guy who became a star was on top.
So, I can agree that it’s an important transitional show as you guys have argued. However, I’d be reticent to give any credit outside of the Hart/Austin match.
Brian: I absolutely agree with that John 100%. The only match that was really worth a damn in my view was the sensational Bret Hart/Steve Austin match with the double turn. It really was unlike any of the sugary sweet stuff they did in the Hulkamania and new generation eras.
I even remember watching the show on pay per view way back when and thinking the same exact thing. Perhaps this match and this match alone was the unspoken bridge between WWF eras. I mean there was blood, there was a heel being cheered more than the babyface and of course throw in an MMA fighter in Ken Shamrock as special guest referee. It all makes sense.
John: They had a really weak roster coming out of the mid-90s. A lot of the players were long term projects to be fair. By the next year, guys like HHH and The Rock had come on some, though they weren’t ready for the big time yet.
Looking at the card it’s kind of puzzling to see Mankind in the tag match. Foley lit the federation on fire in 96, giving the Undertaker and HBK their best matches of the year only to reach his first Wrestlemania and be in a mid-card tag match with a duffer finish. Later on in the year, he’d be back in the spotlight under various guises, though. You’d have to wonder if Foley was a victim of circumstance here, did the whole Bret/Shawn mess ruin his planned match too or was he always supposed to be in the tag match?
Jamie: From watching the product in early ’97 there’s every chance that Mankind was always meant to be in a tag match. After his feud with The Undertaker ended at the tale end of ’96 he didn’t really do much of any significance in the singles ranks until after Wrestlemania.
I do agree that in terms of the matches and most of the wrestlers on the Wrestlemania 13 card, there’s not much to shout about. I’d also agree that Wrestlemania 14 is the more significant show. However, I’d still argue that ‘Mania 13 did provide an embryonic glimpse at the next ten years within WWE. Wrestlemania 14 showed an evolution and was thus way better but, in my opinion, Wrestlemania 13 and the conscious decisions about the direction of the company made around this time are, in hindsight, more significant than the show itself suggests. The Attitude Era ball had to start rolling at some point, and I’d argue that Wrestlemania 13 represented one of the first clear indications that Vince McMahon was consciously trying something different. Granted, he clearly took inspiration from ECW and had WCW to compete against, but he still consciously evolved his product rather than trying to shoehorn wrestlers into the voids left by the stars of the Hulkamania era.
John: I’d heard Steve Austin and Bret Hart had to petition Vince to allow them to use blood in their match. In the end Bret used his stroke as a main eventer to get it ok’d as Vince was against it. They’ve both gone on the record about it in the past, so I’d imagine his hand was forced more there rather than he made the decision.
What’s ultimately really important is that McMahon saw the value in this. While its only a part of what made that match great blood was something WWF could provide in buckets, if necessary. WCW’s hands were tied by standards and practices at the time which prohibited performers spilling gore around the place.
There were a few high-profile bloodbaths before the year was out too, famously the Hell in a Cell match between HBK and Undertaker. It might seem trivial and outdated, but blood was a huge draw during the attitude era or so it seemed at least. Every kid I knew was eager to see more and more bloodbath matches. By the time we’d reached 2002-2003 it’d become really cliched and just part of the show. I’d imagine if a match were to utilise the blade in the same way Austin and Hart did at Wrestlemania 33 it’d would cause a similar stir after so many years of censorship on WWE’s part due to their PG tag.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.