Retro Wrestle Respawn – WrestleMania 13

In some ways, WrestleMania 13 lends a lot of credence to those of a superstitious persuasion. The number 13 is considered unlucky by some, and the WWF was certainly enjoying very little good fortune in the early months of 1997. As the year rolled in, the WWF had a plan for two key matches at that year’s WrestleMania event.

The first was to be a first time Pay Per View meeting between The Undertaker and Sycho Sid. Whereas Sid wasn’t an especially good wrestler, there would certainly be intrigue amongst the fan base of seeing the two big men go at it for the first time on the big Mania stage. And even if the match was to be a bit of a snoozer, the WWF had a huge co main event in mind to go alongside it, which was to be a rematch of the previous year’s main event of Shawn Michaels Vs Bret Hart.

However, disaster struck in February of 97 when Michaels went on Raw to relinquish the WWF Title due to a severe knee injury. Michaels gave a seemingly heartfelt interview about how the pressure of being the champion had broken both his body and will, and delivered the now infamous phrase that he had “lost his smile”

Some however suggested that Michaels’ knee wasn’t perhaps as injured as he was claiming, and that the main reason he vacated the title in such a manner was that he was unwilling to lose it in the ring to Sid on that very episode of the show. Regardless, with Michaels now out of WrestleMania the WWF scrambled to put a show together as best it could, but ultimately the loss of the marquee main event was too much of an obstacle to overcome.

Thus, WrestleMania 13 failed to match the lustre of previous Mania’s that had come before it and ended up doing a lower buy rate than rival WCW’s “Uncensored” show of that same month, which was hardly a gala event on the WCW PPV schedule and featured such epic bouts as Buff Bagwell Vs Scotty Riggs and Glacier Vs Mortis.

But how does WrestleMania 13 hold up as an actual show? Let’s take a look and find out!

The event is emanating from the Rosemont Horizon in Rosemont Illinois on the 23rd March 1997

Calling the action are Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler

Before the show starts we get a pretty dark opening video package covering how things were essentially going to hell in the WWF at the time, which has changed this year’s WrestleMania from the usual celebration to a far more depressing and gritty event. Talk about art imitating life.

Opening Match
Fatal Four Way Elimination Match
The Godwinns (Henry O and Phineas I) w/ Hillbilly Jim
Vs
The Headbangers (Mosh and Thrasher)
Vs
Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon
Vs
The New Blackjacks (Barry Windham and Bradshaw)

Sadly “Don’t go Messin’ with a Country Boy” is dubbed out on the WWE Network. Hopefully they stump up the cash for Jim’s Hall of Fame induction and have him come out to it. I’ve always seen Mosh and Thrasher as the Attitude Era Bushwhackers, in that they were essentially a comedy tag team who were very one note but still got a featured role because they maintained a base level of overness just for being a bit different from everyone else.

The winning team here gets a tag team title shot on the following evenings Raw. Big schmoz to start with everyone brawling. Eventually Bradshaw and H.O.G end up in the ring and commence smashing mouths, much to Ross’s enjoyment I’m sure. Frequent tags are made, with none of the teams gaining a clear advantage. At one point both Headbangers get tagged in against one another, so they mosh together in a cute bit before tagging out. LaFon and Furnas are clearly the two best pure wrestlers in this, and Furnas even delivers a standing rana to Windham for two. However, it’s not long before the Blackjacks and Furnas/LaFon brawl outside the ring and both teams are disqualified, leaving us with a traditional tag match between the remaining teams. What a waste of two of the companies’ best workers that was.

Thrasher gets worked over by The Godwinns for a while and the work is pretty sloppy. At one point Thrasher just randomly decides to stop selling and tag in Mosh, which looked really bad. H.O.G gets a Cactus Clothesline to send him and Mosh tumbling outside, but Mosh shakes it off and then throws Thrasher off the top rope onto H.O.G on the outside. Lawler mocks Vince for not knowing who White Zombie are and Vince states that he prefers the musical stylings of Tony Bennett. Wow, even in 1997 Vince was waaaaaaaaay out of touch with popular culture.

P.I.G gets a tag and runs wild before setting up Mosh for a reverse DDT. Thrasher puts a stop to that with a clothesline however and, whilst he scuffles with H.O.G, Mosh comes off the top rope with a Thesz Press onto P.I.G to give the Headbangers the win.

WINNERS: – THE HEADBANGERS VIA PIN FALL
Rating: *

A sloppy and heatless match with a few good spots, mostly from LaFon and Furnas. The Headbangers would not win the titles the following night but would enjoy a month’s title reign later on in the year before losing them to, you guessed it, The Godwinns when P.I.G would counter that same Thesz Press into a Powerbomb. Foreshadowing or an accidental call back? I’ll leave it to you to decide…

Honky Tonk Man comes out to do commentary for the next match. I think he was still looking for a new apprentice during this period.

Match Two
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Champion: Rocky Maivia Vs The Sultan w/ The Iron Sheik and Mr. Bob Backlund

Sultan would eventually go on to join the WWE Hall of Fame as Rikishi, but here he was a lower mid card masked heel called The Sultan. To steal a line from, I think, Jim Cornette, he was so un over here that he was under. The original opponent for Rocky was due to be a freshly heel turned Marc Mero, jealous that his woman Sable was giving Rocky the old googly eyes, but he suffered a pretty serious injury meaning that Sultan got shoehorned into the match instead. Rocky had only just debuted 4 months earlier at the Survivor Series and fans were starting to get a bit resentful of his big push.

Rocky uses his speed to stay on top to start, but he gets lured outside the ring by The Sultan and ends up clotheslining the ring post by accident. Back inside, Sultan clubs away and then goes to my least favourite rest hold of all time, the nerve pinch. I hate this hold so much, especially when big blokes like Sultan do it because it would make far more sense for them to apply a chin lock and force the babyface to carry their weight.

This match is going nowhere fast, although as I write that Sultan randomly heads up top for a diving head butt. He takes too long to go for the cover however and Rocky is out at a count of two. This story of Sultan taking Rocky lightly and being lackadaisical in going for the kill would probably work much better if he was in the least bit over and the crowd actually cared about Rocky. Oh well, the thought is there at least…

This match is doing nothing for the crowd, and a prolonged chinlock serves only to offend them further, and they actively boo when Rocky’s hand doesn’t drop at three because they want this to just end. Rocky fires up with some punches to finally awaken the crowd and then gets a very nice belly to belly suplex for two. Rocky gets a swinging DDT and then heads up for a big crossbody, but the Sheik is distracting the referee meaning no three count.

Sultan pounces on a distracted Rocky with a super kick for two and then follows up with a lovely piledriver for another near fall. Sultan goes for a slam of some sort, but Rocky slips out and gets an incredibly sloppy school boy roll up for the three count. There was absolutely no pressure on Sultan’s shoulders at all there and I kind of wish he’d just kicked out and Rocky pinned him with something else straight after.

WINNER: ROCKY MAIVIA VIA PIN FALL
RATING
: ¼*

Rocky was already an underdog champion here, so throwing him in with such a lame duck challenger was not the way to make the fans care about his match. The only positive was that Rocky at least got to pin The Sultan, because for a moment there I honestly thought they were going to do a lame disqualification ending where the seconds ran in to break up the winning fall.

Sultan and Sheik beat down Rocky post-match (To let Sultan get his “heat” back I guess) which leads to Rocky’s dad Rocky Johnson running in for the save. Sheik eventually takes some devastating body slams from the Johnson family and bails, leaving father and son to hug to crowd indifference.

Meanwhile, Todd Pettengill is backstage with Ken Shamrock. We see clips of Shamrock putting some holds on a confrontational Billy Gunn on the previous weeks Raw. Shamrock says he won’t be intimidated by either man in the I Quit match later.

Meanwhile (Part Deux), Michael Hayes is with Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna for a backstage interview. Hayes wants to know the deal with Chyna as she’d only just debuted. Is she HHH’s bodyguard, employee or even his boss? Interestingly the idea of her being a love interest wasn’t even suggested. HHH is not forthcoming and states that he will win tonight, at which point Marlena will be sorry that she rebuffed his advances.

Match Three
Hunter Hearst Helmsley w/ Chyna Vs Goldust w/ Marlena

This was the end to something of a four month feud, which started when HHH made unwanted romantic advances to Marlena. This led to a famous in ring segment between Jerry Lawler and Goldust where Goldy was “outed” as being straight and married to Marlena. HHH was transitioning from being stuck up Greenwich snob to being just a generic heel hiding behind a beefy broad, which was actually starting to get him over somewhat. That being said, Chyna was the more over act here and HHH was essentially her avatar as she wasn’t allowed to wrestle men yet.

Goldust wastes no time in hammering HHH with punches and clotheslines to start, before getting a big inverted atomic drop and a clothesline to send HHH outside. HHH gets tied up in the ropes and viciously pummelled by Goldust, selling it all magnificently. They’re really going for that big grudge match feel here but the crowd isn’t biting. Goldust heads up top but HHH joins him and then pushes him off the top rope to the floor to take over.

HHH works over Goldust back inside and shows some good intensity whilst Lawler makes lewd comments about Chyna on commentary, including that the movie “Gorillas in the Mist” was filmed in her shower. Ah, the 90’s eh folks? HHH continues to work over Goldust, taunting Marlena when he can, and goes to an abdominal stretch. Sadly Gorilla Monsoon isn’t on commentary to let us all know that HHH is applying the hold incorrectly, oh Gorilla where for art thou? Goldust gets the occasional burst of offence but HHH always retains control afterward.

Eventually both men bonk heads and HHH heads up top, only to get caught with a butt-butt on the way down in a nice spot. Goldust makes the comeback and gets a running bulldog for two, which is Chyna’s cue to start stalking Marlena outside the ring. Goldust sees this and lifts Marlena onto the apron out of harm’s way, but HHH uses the moment to hit Goldust in the back with a knee. This causes Marlena to fall into Chyna’s waiting arms and she rag dolls her in a vicious bear hug whilst HHH defeats Goldust in the ring with the Pedigree.

WINNER: HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY VIA PIN FALL
RATING: ***

Thus begins a tradition of Triple H being the heel who wins most of his feuds. The work here was solid and the story the match told was fitting considering the previous months of storylines, but sadly the crowd just wasn’t playing ball. The finish got Chyna over as a monster at least.

Shawn Michaels is backstage in the AOL Online section goofing around with a laptop. Considering he’s a noted technophobe, this is probably an accurate portrayal of him trying to use one.

Match Four
WWF Tag Team Championships
Champions: “The Two Time Slammy Award Winning” Owen Hart and British Bulldog
Vs
Mankind and Vader w/ Paul Bearer

According to Mick Foley’s first autobiography, this was supposed to be the opening stages of a storyline that would see the Vader/Mankind team combusting and eventually feuding with each other like they did in WCW, but it ended up getting dropped. Owen and Bulldog had been squabbling for months and had recently fought one another in the final of the European title tournament, where Bulldog had been victorious. Ross tries to stir things by interviewing the champs on their way to the ring, but they brush him aside. Owen and Bulldog are essentially defacto babyfaces here.

Vader pummels Owen to start and counters a rana attempt with a Powerbomb in a lovely sequence. Vader sets up for the Vader Bomb but Bulldog comes over to stop that. Mankind drags Bulldog into the ring but he hits the challengers with a double clothesline and Owen follows up with a double dropkick. Bulldog suplexes both challengers in an impressive display of strength and then goes to a chin lock on Mankind.

Mankind fights up and sends Bulldog to the ropes where Vader low bridges him to send him to the outside. Owen tries to rescue Bulldog, but whilst the referee deals with him Vader and Mankind bonk Bulldog with Paul Bearer’s urn to take over. Vader mauls Bulldog back inside in impressive fashion and even gets a big splash from the second rope for a count of two. Mankind, looking in great shape, continues the beat down with a running knee in the corner.

Vader goes for a crossbody off the second rope but Bulldog counters it into a suplex in an absolutely fantastic spot before making the tag to Owen. Owen gets some shots in on Vader but ends up getting mowed down and sent outside. In a call back to earlier in the match, the referee again misses double teaming by the challengers outside the ring as he has to deal with Bulldog. This allows Mankind and Vader to splat Owen with Demolition Decapitation on the outside of the ring. There’s just so much awesome stuff in this match.

Owen gets a desperation spinning wheel kick on Mankind back inside for two but ends up getting cut off again. Vader comes in and just batters Owen with some incredible looking strikes. What a scary man! Owen gets thrown out again but this time manages to catch Mankind with a belly to belly suplex on the floor. Back inside, Owen gets the enziguri and is finally able to tag in Bulldog, who runs wild on the challengers. Bulldog goes for the Running Powerslam on Mankind but it gets countered into the Mandible Claw. Owen tries to come in for the save, but a shot from Vader sends him stumbling into Mankind and Bulldog, which causes both of them to the tumble through the ropes to the outside. Mankind leaves the hold applied and both men are counted out in a lame finish to a great match.

WINNERS: DRAW VIA DOUBLE COUNT OUT
RATING: ***1/4

Man, give that a proper finish and I’d be tempted to mark it even higher. This was four experienced pro’s, when they could all still work at an elite level, going out there and just cutting loose and enjoying themselves whilst doing so. The work was tight and Mankind/Vader gelled well as a team. Kind of a forgotten WrestleMania gem this. You just don’t get guys who can work like this anymore. There’s no one in the current WWE who is as believable a bad ass as Vader was here.

We get a great video package for the upcoming Bret Hart and Steve Austin match. The video details that Bret is getting increasingly paranoid that he’s being screwed by everyone, whilst the rebellious Attitude Era crowd is starting to get behind Austin despite him being an anti-social jerk.

Match Five
I Quit Match
Guest Referee – Ken Shamrock
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Bret “Hitman” Hart

A wall of glass actually shatters in the entrance way for Austin in an iconic moment. I think they should have used that more on the big shows for him honestly. I remember he had it on the WWF Attitude game and I used to watch his entrance over and over because I thought it was so cool.

Austin wastes no time tackling Bret and the fight is on! The two brawl to the outside of the ring and even into the crowd as things get out of hand very quickly. They eventually brawl back to ringside and Austin whips Bret into the ring steps before coming off the apron with a running clothesline. Back inside, Bret fights back and starts targeting Austin’s knee, which is adorned with a heavy knee brace.

Austin manages to snap a Stunner off out of nowhere, but he doesn’t manage to get all of it and Bret is able to recover quickly enough to stay on the knee with a ring post Figure Four Leglock. Austin refuses to quit, so Bret goes outside to get a chair and the ring bell. He leaves the bell on the apron and then wraps the chair around Austin’s ankle so that he can shatter it with a stomp from up top. However, as Bret climbs, Austin recovers and smacks him with the chair as the crowd goes absolutely nuts. At last, the crowd are finally awake!

Austin kicks Bret in the groin, as the camera cuts to shot of Bret’s daughter covering her eyes. Austin goes to the Boston Crab but Bret refuses to quit and grabs the ropes to break. Now normally in a match with no rules a rope break wouldn’t count, but here it’s down to referee discretion and if Shamrock decides he won’t accept a submission if the guy is in the ropes then I’ll buy that the other wrestler will break the hold, because whose going to argue with Ken Shamrock?

Austin now decides to go for the Sharpshooter, but Bret fights him off and pokes him in the eyes to counter. The fight spills outside again and Bret whips Austin face first into the guardrail, which causes Austin to start bleeding. Bret goes after the cut inside in a manner most unheroic, and then takes Austin’s knee apart with the steel chair. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter but Austin desperately fights him off and then drills him with a big kick right into Bret’s dungeon.

Austin stomps a mud hole, as Ross is losing his shizzle, and then delivers a big superplex. Austin goes outside to grab a microphone cable and starts choking Bret out with it. However, Bret reaches down to the apron when he left the ring bell earlier and swings it back over his shoulder, knocking Austin down in the process. That was like something out of a Hollywood fight scene and was absolutely brilliant! With Austin down, Bret locks in the Sharpshooter and cranks it on. Austin, his face caked in blood, tries to power out in the second big iconic moment from this match, but after a brave fight he eventually passes out and Shamrock has no choice but to stop the match.

WINNER – BRET HART VIA REFEREE STOPPAGE
RATING: *****

An absolute classic and possibly the greatest match in WrestleMania history. This really felt like a fight between two men who truly despised one another, and had far ranging consequences on the history of wrestling.

Not happy with his win, Bret continues the assault post-match, much to the crowds chagrin, so Shamrock fends him off to a big pop. Bret skulks away to a chorus of boos, whilst Mike Chioda tries to help Austin. Austin gives him a Stunner however and then limps to the back under his own power as the fans chant his name. Thus Austin was officially turned face and his feud with Bret would rage on throughout the summer, as Bret would recruit Owen, Bulldog, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman to his side.

Meanwhile, Todd is backstage with The Nation of Domination. Faarooq says that Ahmed Johnson and The Road Warriors are in trouble tonight.

Match Six
Chicago Street Fight
Faarooq, Savio Vega and Crush w/ JC Ice, Wolfie D, D’ Lo Brown, Clarence Mason and other random Nation members
Vs
Ahmed Johnson and The Legion of Doom

So this was another chapter in Ahmed’s feud with Faarooq, as he teamed up with the LOD to try and get some vengeance for Faarooq injuring him. Ahmed has his own Road Warrior style body armour and Hawk has brought the kitchen sink with him. LOD are crazy over here of course, what with Chicago being their gimmick home town. The faces clear the ring to start, with JC, Wolfie and D’Lo all taking press slams.

The fight spills outside and everyone starts hitting each other with various types of plunder. You can really see the influence of ECW seeping into the WWF at this time, what with this match and the previous one. Animal tries to Piledrive Faarooq through a commentary table outside, but it goes awry and they both slowly tumble off. Animal makes up for this by blasting Faarooq with a fire extinguisher. JC and Wolfie hold Ahmed so that Faarooq can hit him, but he fights them off and slams Faarooq through the table that Animal tried to Piledrive Faarooq through just earlier. I don’t know if that was to make up for the previous Piledriver going wrong or if Animal realised mid-move that they’d earmarked the table for Ahmed to use and had to improvise.

In by far the classiest part of this show thus far, Savio finds a noose and tries to lynch Ahmed on live PPV television, but thankfully Hawk is there to prevent it. There’s just so much action here that it’s hard to call. The Nation uses the numbers advantage to take control for a bit but the faces hang in there and keep fighting. The LOD smash Crush with the Doomsday Device and then Ahmed clobbers him with a 2X4, which is enough for Hawk to hold him down for a count of three.

WINNERS: LOD AND AHMED VIA PIN FALL
RATING: ***1/4

This started well enough but went on a tad too long and started to lose the crowd at the end. Still, it was a crazy brawl and pretty fun for the most part.

Post-match, D’Lo takes a Pearl River Plunge whilst JC and Wolfie take stereo Doomsday Devices in an awesome visual

Shawn Michaels comes down to the ring to do guest commentary for the main event. He gets his full entrance complete with pyro of course, much to Lawler’s annoyance.

Meanwhile, Todd is backstage with Sycho Sid. He says that he’s the only one in the world who isn’t afraid of The Undertaker.

Main Event
WWF Championship
Champion: Sycho Sid Vs The Undertaker

This was pretty much the only marquee match for this show that the WWF was actually able to deliver on as planned. Undertaker goes back to his classic look of torn shirt and grey gloves for this one, which hopefully he might do for his eventual match with John Cena at WrestleMania 34. The continued popularity of Sid amongst certain circles of wrestling fan still baffles me. I mean, yeah, he’s big and has a unique charisma but his work is utterly abysmal.

Bret Hart comes out before the match starts to complain about not being part of it, so Sid Powerbomb’s him into heeldom once and for all. As Sid taunts a fallen Bret on the microphone, Undertaker attacks him and the match is on. Taker slugs away and goes to what we now call Old School, but was more like Contemporary School back in 1997. However, Sid catches him on a Stinger Splash attempt and cinches in a bear hug. The bear hug goes on for a while, and it’s thrilling stuff let me tell you.

Taker manages to fight out of the bear hug but Sid clotheslines him outside and then flings him over the commentary table. Sid drops Taker onto the guard rail a few times before slamming him onto the table, which doesn’t break. Back inside that gets two. Vince mentions on commentary that Taker and Sid went to WWF President Gorilla Monsoon and demanded that they be given some leeway from the referee here, which they’re clearly getting following that last sequence.

Sid now goes to a camel clutch, as this exciting exhibition continues to roll onwards. It at least makes use of his size, as opposed to a nerve pinch. Sid goes up to the second rope and comes off it with an axe handle smash, thankfully not destroying his leg in the process. Powerslam gets Sid a couple of two counts as the match continues at a leisurely pace. This match is like the wrestling equivalent of a Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside, but without the refreshing pint of Porter at the end to make it all feel worthwhile.

Sid’s stuff is just about passable as well, meaning I can’t take any comic value from that either. Taker gets a jumping clothesline but Sid cuts him off right away again, just as the pace looked to be picking up. Taker manages to send Sid outside and then throws him over the rail into the crowd. Sid sells some punches in his usual goofy manner, but back inside he’s able to dodge an Undertaker elbow drop and applies a chin lock. The LAST thing this match needed was another rest hold!

Taker finally fights out and gets a powerslam of his own for two, only to then apply a rest hold as well. Worst of all, it’s a bloody nerve pinch! Come on lads, pick the sodding pace up!! Who on Earth thought it was a good idea to have these guys go so long? You couldn’t have split the opening four way into two separate tag matches or something to fill some time?  Both men go for a big boot and knock each other down.

Sid recovers first and covers for two. Sid heads up to the second rope for another axe handle and then heads up to the second rope again for a really sloppy looking clothesline. Taker counters another second rope attempt with a punch to the gut but Sid cuts him off AGAIN before he can get any momentum going. Sid goes to the top, but Taker throws him off and then heads up himself for a big clothesline for two. Taker sets Sid up for the Tombstone Piledriver but Sid counters to one of his own for two.

The fight spills outside where Bret returns to hit Sid with a chair a couple of times before referees and officials drag him back. Taker rams Sid spine first into the ring post and rolls him back into the ring where he gets a Chokeslam for a near fall. Taker tries another running clothesline, but Sid ducks it and then tries for a Powerbomb. Bret runs out again at this point and scuffles with Sid on the apron before dropping him throat first on the top rope. Sid stumbles around into a Tombstone and Undertaker picks up the win for the title.

WINNER: THE UNDERTAKER VIA PIN FALL
RATING: **

You know, I can appreciate the psychology of Sid being one step ahead of Undertaker because he doesn’t fear him and methodically wearing him down, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to watch 20 minutes of it. I think they got the story across pretty adequately with the first two rest holds, so the subsequent 72 of them that followed were kind of redundant. Sid’s work was actually not that bad for once, although his selling was still terrible, but man did this match drag with a capital “D”.

Three Bret run ins got to the point of overkill as well, and it kind of made Taker look like a chump that he needed Bret’s help to win after getting dominated for most of the match. I guess they thought that because Taker was winning in the end, that they’d make Sid look as strong as possible in losing, but the lasting impression you’d get from watching this was that Sid was the better man and would had retained had Bret not gotten involved.

Final Thoughts
The middle portion of this show is way better than I remember, with three good matches and one all-time classic. Sadly the main event drags the overall score down a bit, owing to being far too long for the story they were trying to tell. If they’d chopped that down a bit and given some more time and an actual finish to the tag title match, then this show would have been really good. As it is, it’s a middling Mania with one of the very best matches you’ll ever see boosting its overall aggregate.

The Rosemont crowd didn’t help things with their disinterest for the first half of the show. Overall I’d recommend watching the four good matches in the middle of the show and then switching it off after the street fight. Definitely not an awful show though, just an average one that just needed a better crowd and perhaps one more really good match to nudge it over the line.

Next week we’ll be staying in Chicago but moving forward to 2006. Please join me for an event that was controversial at the time for a myriad of reasons but ended up featuring some very good matches.

Thanks for reading

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