Presented LIVE on Pay-Per-View on March 23rd, 1997, from the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, IL (also home for the middle portion of WrestleMania 2). Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and Jerry "The King" Lawler are calling the action, unless otherwise noted. We've hit the basement as far as WrestleMania interest goes, as this show did a reported number of 237,000 buys, not only making it 20% drop from the previous year's sad numbers but is (until the Network era) the least bought WrestleMania of all time. Yes, fewer than WrestleMania 2 when PPV was still in a limited number of homes, and they were selling the show as a closed-circuit theater experience.
Todd Pettengill gets an interview from the Nation of Domination. Faarooq is holding a noose to sell the level of violence we might see in the Chicago Street Fight. Jim Ross is still hanging his hat on the "dressed as you are aspect", and at least Faarooq is into that suggestion.
With the clock ticking down the final minutes before the PPV kicks off properly, the lights go out and we hear from the Undertaker over the public address system. ORDER WRESTLEMANIA 13! PLEASE! We promise to make it up to you next year! Can you believe they're still using the "WrestleMania" song first used in 1993?
Meanwhile, Henry works over Thrasher. Phineas wrings Thrasher's ears between his knees and takes him over with a delayed vertical suplex. Henry sends him to the corner and puts on the breaks in what looked like a blown spot. He audibles with a forearm and snaps Thrasher over for a two-count. Thrasher no-sells a headbutt from Phineas and they trade spit and right hands. Whip to the corner and Phineas charges in with a clothesline. Henry with a big splash for two. Mosh tags back in and gets sent over the top rope with a clothesline. Back inside, Mosh hangs Henry up across the top rope, followed by a diving body press over the top rope. Thrasher wants in on the fun and gets rocket launched onto Henry at ringside. Back inside, the Headbangers hit a double clothesline as Vince is puzzled at what "White Zombie" is. Thrasher misses a moonsault, allowing Henry to get to his corner. Phineas gets the lukewarm tag and runs wild with right hands and slams. Thrasher gets sent over the top rope with a clothesline but recovers to save Mosh from the Slop Drop. Henry works Thrasher over in the corner while Mosh hits the Stage Dive on Phineas for three at 11:40 to a decent pop (decent based on the lack of reactions for most of the match). Just like the last Chicago WrestleMania, the first decision of the night is a lame double cop-out, so hurray for continuity. The Godwinns and Headbangers had an OK match after that, but nothing that screams "WrestleMania." *½
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Captain Lou Albano and Arnold Skaaland are sitting in the front row. Jim Ross says Lou's been at the cocktail party since Thursday.
Todd Pettengill interviews Ken Shamrock about his role as the special referee. We see clips of him schooling Billy Gunn on the latest episode of Raw is War to put over his abilities.
Dok Hendrix interviews Hunter Hearst Helmsley. What is the relationship with Chyna? Helmsley says he doesn't need to know anything about it. Helmsley says the big loser tonight is Marlena. She had the chance and turned it down, so her special talent better be running from Chyna.
Hunter sends Goldust back in the ring and comes off the top with a forearm for two. He unzips the bodysuit and lights Goldust up with knife-edge chops. Hard whip to the corner as noted heel Jerry Lawler makes a joke at Chyna's expense. Helmsley with a boot and swinging neck breaker for two. He slaps on an abdominal stretch, blatantly grabbing the ropes to force the hold broken. Goldust teases a comeback but is cut off with the running high knee. More jokes at Chyna's expense, with dated jokes about Mr. Ed coming from JIM ROSS of all people. Helmsley with a snap suplex and a knee across the forehead for two. Goldust fires off a flurry of rights in the corner but is cut off again, this time with a DDT. Whip and Goldust counters a hip toss with a back-slide for two. Inside cradle for two. Helmsley pops up and blasts Goldust with a clothesline. Goldust ducks a clothesline and hits a cross body press for two. Crisscross and they smack heads for a double-down. Helmsley recovers first and is met coming off the top with a blind hip attack. Helmsley misses another attack, charging into the turnbuckle. Whip and a BAAAACK body-drop, followed by the bulldog for two. Chyna finally starts making her move, slowly pursuing Marlena. Helmsley flips out of the Curtain Call. Goldust counters the Pedigree with a slingshot but gives up the Curtain Call to pull Marlena to the apron to safety (HA). Helmsley from behind with a knee, bumping the two and knocking Marlena into the arms of Chyna. She rag-dolls Marlena again while Helmsley finishes with the Pedigree at 14:29. If you're a fan of the babyfaces shining at the end, well, look elsewhere. Good match that I think would've gotten a little more respect at the time if the Goldust character wasn't looked down upon. ***
We get an iconic moment of Shawn Michaels goofing around on a laptop for the WWF America Online promotion. WRESTLEMANIA BAY-BAY!
J.R. calls this the Bulldog's 9th WrestleMania appearance (it's the 7th, unless you count his match not happening at WrestleMania VIII). Back inside, Vader continues to punish the Bulldog in the corner. He crushes him with an avalanche and comes off the middle rope with a splash for two. Mankind with a series of short rights and a running knee to the face. Whip and Vader with a body block. He climbs the ropes again but gets caught with a slam. Owen with the hot tag, hitting a missile dropkick. He goes up again and hits a flying body press for two. Vader cuts him off, bulldozing him with a body block. They take it to the floor, with Mankind coming off the apron with an elbow as Vader rests Owen across the knee. Poor Owen gets worked over in front of his parents. Back inside, Owen spins through a neck breaker and hits a DDT. Vince (surprisingly) mentions "The Wrestling Classic" as the 1st PPV in this building. Sloppy spot in the corner as Owen takes the chest-first bump, but Mankind follows in and gets jarred, so Owen hits a spinning heel kick for two. Vader tags back in and pummels Owen. Mankind tosses him to the floor and gets caught coming around the corner with a belly-to-belly suplex. Back inside, Owen with an enzuigiri, finally getting the Bulldog back in. He runs wild as Vader tears off his mask to get pumped up. Mankind escapes the powerslam and applies the mandible claw. Vader and Owen go at it, knocking Mankind and Bulldog out of the ring in the process. Mankind keeps the hold applied, and we've got a DOUBLE COUNT-OUT at 16:09. Wow, what a cheap finish. The match was looking good, if a bit clunky, but COME ON... If rumors are true, there was intent to change the titles, but a last-minute change was made for the sake of a new creative direction. **¾
They finally make it back in the ring, with Austin stomping on the hands. Whip to the ropes and Bret surprises Austin with his head down, taking him down with a swinging neck breaker. "If Bret Hart loses this match, you wonder what he'll come up with as an excuse." Bret with an elbow from the second rope and starts working on the left knee that is sporting a heavy brace. Shamrock asks if he wants to give up and gets a double bird in response. Vince's hopeful commentary that we'll see Bret "go back to his senses" after this is all over is admirable. Austin avoids a seated splash and nails Hart with a Stunner. Bret recovers first, continuing to target the knee and pulls off the ring post Figure-Four. Yeah, that's a BABYFACE reaction if I've ever heard one. This crowd just loves to see both men beating the hell out of each other. Lawler says Bret can turn Austin's leg into White Sox third basemen Robin Ventura, Austin won't submit. Bret fetches some toys, namely a chair and the ring bell. He wraps the chair around Austin's ankle and climbs, but Austin recovers and smashes the chair across the back of the Hitman's head! Austin pulls back and gives him another shot across the back. Hard whip to the corner and Austin with a suplex. He comes off the second rope with his signature elbow drop as we see the camera cut to Bret's daughter covering her eyes. Austin with a Russian leg sweep into a modified Octopus stretch. He gives that up and turns Bret over with a Boston Crab (big pop, by the way). Bret gets to the ropes, and I guess rope breaks are a thing in a no holds barred match. Austin teases a Sharpshooter, but Bret rakes the eyes to cut him off.
Bret starts throwing more rights, but Austin side-steps a charge, sending him through the ropes. Austin follows and tries sending Bret to the guardrail, but Bret reverses, sending Austin crashing into the steel instead. When we get a shot at Austin's face, he's bleeding all over the place. Back inside, Bret targets the cut with boots and mounted right hands. Bret with a back breaker and second rope elbow drop. He picks up the chair and starts smashing the injured knee with it, eventually depositing it out of the ring. He fights for the Sharpshooter but Austin blocks with a rake of the eyes. Bret remains in control, punishing Austin in the corner. Austin throws a desperation kick, landing square between the legs. Austin uses the ropes to pull himself to his feet and sends Bret crashing chest-first into the corner. He picks Bret up, tosses him into the corner, and stomps a mud hole. He straddles Bret across the top turnbuckle and brings him down with a super-plex. Austin exits, grabbing some ringside cords. He chokes Bret out, but Bret finds the bell he introduced earlier in the match and smashes it across Austin's head to break free. Bret picks the leg and turns Austin over with the Sharpshooter. Austin fights for his life, giving us the iconic visual of Austin's face covered in blood, screaming in pain, unwilling to surrender. He fights with every bit of energy left in his body to push Bret off his back, but the hold isn't completely broken, as Bret re-positions and sits back with it again. Austin finally passes out, and with no other choice, Ken Shamrock rings the bell at 22:05, awarding the victory to Bret Hart. Bret doesn't accept in a sportsman-like way, attacking the leg and teasing another Sharpshooter until Shamrock forces him off, throwing him down with a waist-lock. Austin eventually regains consciousness and gives a Stunner to Mike Chioda for the audacity of trying to help him. This was an outstanding performance as it happened live, and nearly 25-years later, holds up just the same, and rightfully deserves its place among the greatest matches in not only WrestleMania history, but WWE history as well. *****
With all that out of the way (almost 15-minutes!), Undertaker attacks from behind as Sid continues to taunt Bret. Whip to the corner is reversed, but Sid meets a boot charging in. Undertaker tosses him into the corner, unloading with rights and lefts, followed by a stinger splash and slam for two. Taker wraps the arm and walks the ropes for a clothesline across the back. Sid catches a dive into the corner and holds on with a bearhug. Sid briefly let go of the hold to pound on the back, then goes right back to it. Glad to see Sid brought his working boots tonight (SARCASM). Taker breaks free by smacking the ears. Sid nails him off the ropes with a boot and sends him over the top and crashing over the Spanish announcer's table. Sid follows, dropping Taker across the guardrail. Vince says we've got a note from Gorilla Monsoon: THIS IS A NO HOLDS BARRED MATCH. WHA?!?! Meanwhile, Sid slams Taker across the table while Earl Hebner stands around with his thumb up his butt. Back inside, Sid continues to do very little, sitting across the back with a camel clutch. Sid makes an uncharacteristic move to the middle rope and hits a double axe-handle. There's a sign facing the hard camera that says, "bum me a smoke – Dino". That can't be a Dino Bravo reference in 1997, can it? Sid comes out of the corner with a big leg drop for two.
Lawler says he has an update on Bret: He's whining about something. Whip to the ropes and Taker with the diving lariat. He uses the tights to send Sid out of the ring, tossing him over the guardrail. That poor guardrail is working overtime tonight. Back in the ring, Sid avoids an elbow drop and grabs another rest hold. Taker escapes, throwing rights and lefts to the body. Sid goes to the eyes but gets caught off the ropes with a powerslam for two. Oh GOD, Taker grabs a nerve hold to really put me to sleep. Sid fights free but is laid out with a clothesline for two. Whip and they do the goofiest, most contrived double-down as both men hit a big boot. I swear the crowd did a collective groan. Sid with another flying axe-handle, followed by a clothesline from the second rope. Someone who looks that awkward coming off the ropes probably shouldn't be doing those moves. Sid cuts off a comeback with an eye rake and slam. Taker sits up, straddling Sid across the top turnbuckle. Taker brings him down with a slam and comes off the top with a clothesline for two. He signals for the Tombstone, but Sid counters and hits a Tombstone of his own for a near-fall. They take it to the floor, and here's Bret from out of nowhere, smashing Sid across the back with a chair. Shawn calls him bitter for not being in the spotlight. Back inside, Taker with the chokeslam but Sid kicks out at two. Whip is reversed and Taker misses the diving lariat. Sid sets up for the Powerbomb and here's Bret again! He hangs Sid across the top rope and Taker finishes him with the Tombstone at 21:22. This just kept going. It started bad, went long enough to get decent, then went too long and fell back to being mostly bad, with a last-minute change to the rules so late the crowd wasn't made aware and must've been baffled why Bret was free to interfere as much as he did at the end. Oh well, Undertaker winning felt like a good moment. *¼
Final Thoughts: Not nearly as poor of a show as I remembered it being, though it does have a lot of flaws and suffers from having a few matches that don't feel like they belong at WrestleMania, even with only 7 matches featured on the PPV proper. Bret vs. Austin is an all-time classic and a must-see for all fans, which almost makes up for the poor Main Event and some lackluster matches and finishes. I don't think it belongs in the conversation of a "Worst" Mania of all-time, but there's little that stands out other than that match and the Chicago Street Fight.
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