This whole story was quite a ride, the build-up, the little differences in the way Bret did things, Austin’s attitude towards the fans in his entrance, the match itself, the aftermath, all of it. There was no title involved despite Austin trying to help Bret previously win the WWE title to make the match a main event, but in my opinion, the match didn’t need the title anyway as Bret played into Austin calling him a cry baby and a whiner and let the heat build-up to the point of volcanic eruption.
Bret’s “Heel” Turn
Something I’d like to point out and get off my chest as I feel it flies under the radar too much. When Bret’s heelish tendencies started to show, shoving Vince over and punching out Pat Patterson, he was really the one who started the assaults on non-wrestlers. He did this months before Austin starting kicking lumps out of and stunning announcers, commissioners, and Vince.
It’s been mentioned from time to time but when you think of people assaulting non-wrestlers in WWE, it’s a fair assumption (and it is just that so tell me if I’m wrong) that most would think of Austin being the poster boy for it. That aside, the video package put together did an excellent job of getting Bret over as a cry baby and Austin as a badass, trash-talking son of a bitch. Austin called Bret out, no gimmicks, just a simple story that had an 11-year-old me on the edge of my seat and a 33-year-old me still on the edge of my seat when I watched it again.
Electricity from the start
Like I’ve said many times, to my mates, there is so much meat on the bone for this match the entrances included, which is what I’m writing about now. After the introduction of Ken Shamrock as the special guest referee, the sound of glass breaking came through the sound system and even with Austin playing the supposed heel, he received an increasingly loud pop. Actual glass breaking as Austin walked through the entrance blew my mind the 1st time I saw it and Austin has always been so simply stated with a B.M.F walk in his entrances, that even this could be considered fancy for him. The thing that fascinated me the most though was Austin’s interactions with fans in the aisle, yanking his arm away from 1 fan and tearing another fan’s sign up. He was clearly trying to be a heel. He then got in Ken Shamrock’s face (a guy who had been UFC super fight champion, the 1st non-Japanese king of Pancrase in Japan) showed the kind of balls that wasn’t the usual heel move.
Austin was a walking contradiction in the traditional heel/face paradigm which for me made him so interesting and why I caught Stone Cold fever. The start of Bret’s entrance was the standard Bret entrance, I loved it as a kid, often daydreaming about holding my hand out for the Hitman and him taking it. Vince commented during the entrance that Bret received a mixed response which personally I didn’t get, as all I could hear was the ovation he got. Looking back in hindsight now with a more mature mind I get it, Vince was trying to tell the story stated in the video package and getting over that the fans were starting to turn on Bret. However, back then in my mind, I was thinking “You’re talking rubbish, Vince.” The other thing that got me was Bret didn’t climb in the ring and play to the crowd in the way he always had, this was a 1st for me.
Let’s get it on!
Never had I seen it before, he simply removed his jacket, placed his shades on a lucky little kid (another thing I daydreamed about), climbed in the ring and gave a pitbull stare that matched Austin’s own. Then Austin tackled Bret to the mat and the fight was on!
Nearly an hour and a half into the 13th showcase of the immortals, a match was started that has to go down as 1 of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time. Funny thing is, it didn’t start out with wrestling and as a matter of fact, not a whole lot of actual wrestling took place. As JR put it on commentary, it more resembled a bar fight than a wrestling match because before the bell even rang, Austin tackled Bret to the mat and the two started pounding on each other. That’s what gave the story a believable feeling for me, instead of the usual fare of circle, play to the crowd and lock up, it was Austin’s wheelhouse and Bret looked like he wanted to kill Austin.
This was a street fight from the start!
They only spent a minuscule 14 seconds before rolling out of the ring to keep brawling on the outside. I was hooked! Matches always end in the ring and today, it’s so common it borders on clique for action to go outside the squared circle but here, though it did happen sometimes, it felt more special when it did happen so I was mesmerized by Austin and Bret beating the crap out of each other on the outside. I noticed as the action started spilling into the crowd that Stu and Helen Hart were ringside which gave me a good feeling as I remembered seeing them celebrate with Bret on his 1st IC title run at Summerslam 91. I also noted Captain Lou Albano and Tony Atlas as the brawl continued up the crowd and past a guy wearing an NWO shirt (too sweet), not a surprise as the NWO was red hot and EVERYWHERE in 97.
After 5 and a half minutes of fist fighting ringside and through the crowd, the match was back in the ring where Bret floored Austin with a swinging neck breaker. There were two things I liked about this was. First, it looked rougher than Bret’s usual smooth looking neck breaker so it gave off an air of Bret really wanting to hurt Austin for all his humiliations and two, how many matches of Bret’s did it take this long for his 1st wrestling maneuver to get hit? Answer, none so the real fight feel was in full effect and 22 years after seeing it for the 1st time, I was still watching with the excitement of seeing it live and by the time Bret wrapped Austin’s legs around the ring post for a modified figure 4, the crowd and myself were rocking! The hold looks so damn painful, I’d be tapping out in an instant. Like I said, Rocking! That’s what makes the match so special…no cage, no cell, no other stipulations other than 2 guys wanting to beat the other so badly that the other quit.
JR was getting louder than Vince by now too which amuses me considering Vince’s O.T.T style of play by play. But that’s another thing that got me all excited! Again, in hindsight knowing JR’s reputation, he was just a fan like the rest of us caught up in the tornado that was happening in and out of the ring and couldn’t contain his excitement. Not a lot of wrestling was taking place just a whole lot of fighting and now Austin’s head was gushing more blood than a politician gushing lies. I noted around 16 minutes into the match when Austin threw Bret out of the ring that Bret was fiddling with his wrist tape, could that have been the blade that Bret would use to cut Austin? Anyway, I digress, Austin was pissing blood and starting to fade as Bret worked his leg with a chair and anyone who knew Bret’s work knew that was a sign of the end coming, the Sharpshooter.
“That was down near Saskatoon, a low 1” said JR as Austin kicked Bret’s balls through the goalposts. I always got a kick out of this commentary of JR’s when Austin low blowed Bret which took the sting I felt out of Bret’s balls getting kicked like a football (any guy who’s taken a shot in the pills knows what I mean and Austin suddenly had a 2nd wind, trash-talking and stomping away on Bret like there was no tomorrow. This was the switch for me, I had already caught Austin fever but Bret was my hero as a boy. In this moment Austin went into “Stone Cold” mode, I was in, I started rooting for Austin to win.
It was a short-lived dream though as moments after choking Bret with cables, Austin got clocked with the ring bell and after 20 minutes of 100% pure adrenaline-filled excitement, Bret had the sharpshooter on Austin and it was gruesome watching Austin trying to get out of it with a head full of blood that would make Ric Flair proud. When Austin very nearly broke the sharpshooter, my heart leaped as I hoped he’d continue but nope, Bret was a fuck**g ringmaster and kept hold.
Finally Austin ‘passed out’ rather than quit and Ken Shamrock called for the bell 22 minutes after it 1st rang. Now I’ve been a wrestling fan most of my life and in the 30 years of that life watching WWE that I can remember, there are very few that I can recall that had more drama and excitement from build-up to the final bell!
The build-up, the entrances and the match itself had so much in them that I was gobsmacked by the end. Bret The Hitman Hart, my hero for so much of my childhood was victorious over someone who was taking everyone (including me) by storm. In hindsight, I completely get what was to come but back then I was a little heartbroken by Bret’s actions post-match because as I said, he was a childhood hero and when they prove to be less than a superman it hurts. It started hitting home when rather than standing triumphant after all the complaints of getting screwed, Bret just stood there as Shamrock raised his hand looking like a pissed off, post tantrum child. Yeah, he went to the ring corners to acknowledge his win but even then, he looked like he got socks for Christmas instead of a smartphone or his most wanted toy.
What came next completely shocked the 11-year-old kid called Graham watching it. Bret snapped and started lacing Austin’s leg with kicks. I did note that Ken Shamrock felt like a spare part most of the match but I was sold when he grabbed Bret and threw him like a tonka toy. Like I stated before, I had no clue as to who he was at the time but again, he looked like he ate wrestlers for breakfast and asked for seconds.
In hindsight now I get his presence as in America, he was a big presence and when Bret backed off as Shamrock challenged him, it broke my 11-year-old heart. It was this moment that turned me against the Hitman and he completed his heel turn. This made all the nuances throughout the build up, entrances, Ken Shamrock as referee and the fight itself made complete sense. After Bret flipping off a fan and leaving, there was an overwhelming chant for Austin getting going as he came to and even pop as he stunned poor Mike Chioda. Vince and JR really put Austin’s guts for not quitting over.
In hindsight (again) it makes sense in that way as they really told the story of a double turn Bret to heel and Austin officially a face because let’s face it, he was already face by default with most fans and with Bret now being something I hated, I wasn’t coming down with Austin fever, I had Austin fever in full effect! Austin finally limped through the entrance to the praise of the commentators and the roar of the crowd bringing to a close one of my all-time favorite matches.
Written by: Graham Midgley