101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die ~ The Ones That Didn't Make It, ft. Maverick
101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die
The Ones That Didnít Make It
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
No Disqualifications Match
April 1st, 2001
Has there ever been a bigger match than this one?
It is essential that we think about the answer carefully. In many ways, Hogan vs. Andre at Wrestlemania III is the high water mark of Vinceís re-imagining of what the wrestling business could be. Hogan vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania X8, meanwhile, presents us with an inter-generational battle far more satisfying than the Hulksterís struggles against The Giant, whose body had broken down to the extent that it was difficult for him to work at all. You could nominate Hogan vs. Warrior as a titanic babyface match of similar stature to my candidate, and in the moment that might hold some truth, but we all know how Jim Hellwig actually worked out as the top guy. Some might point to recent efforts to promote The Rock and John Cena as deadly rivals representing differing eras with differing philosophies, but I donít believe that many could put hand on heart and say they enjoyed those matches. Others might cite The Undertakerís streak matches against Michaels and Helmsley, what the man hosting this column calls the Tetralogy, but those are bouts which centre around the histories of veterans in the twilight of their careers.
So hereís the definitive answer to my initial question: none of those matches are as big as Stone Cold vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania X7.
Iím not always fond of grandiose claims of this nature, but in this instance, I can more than justify it. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were the top two faces of the Attitude Era. They werenít in decline when they faced each other; they were not of different generations; their respective ascents to a maiden WWF title took place within seven months of each other. During their initial feuds, The Brahma Bull was the junior partner in the rivalry, but not here, not after heíd carried the company during the Rattlesnakeís absence through late 1999 into 2000. Now, two mega stars, two incredible box office draws, were colliding in a manner never before seen, and never seen since.
Here we are then, colliding with those two toxic words: ďdream match.Ē Itís a phrase which has, for me, taken on unpleasantly negative connotations due to the last four Wrestlemania seasons, because I refuse to believe that the phrase should apply to an out of shape or over the hill ďlegendĒ taking on a current headliner. I subscribe to the view that a true dream match constitutes the top two men of any given era having the opportunity to duke it out on the grandest stage during a palpable wrestling boom, and the only time that indisputably took place was in the Reliant Astrodome that balmy night in 2001.
Even thinking about how beautifully built this match was makes me break out in goosebumps. Do you remember the four minute promo video they played on the night to recap the feud? Of course you do. But maybe you donít remember its incredible power to move, so go and watch it right now. Extraordinary, isnít it? When have WWF/E ever got it so right with a big match countdown? I absolutely abhor Limp Bizkit, but when that song is spliced with all those Stone Cold Stunners and Rock Bottoms, it just fits perfectly.
Rocky and Stone Cold have the ring smarts to bring that story of personal competition to their in-ring performance. Austin is desperate to regain his position atop the Fed; lest we forget, he had not held the title since November 1999. Meanwhile, Rock is out to even the score after his loss at Wrestlemania XV. He will not be rolling over just because the Rattlesnake is the hometown boy. A surprise No DQ stip, sold superbly by JR and Heyman in the booth and announced by the Fink before the match, seems to disadvantage the champion, and yet we all know that both these men have triumphed in the hardcore arena before. Itís all about whoís the best, with no championship advantage.
The competitive friction between the two is sold from the minute the bell rings; thereís no stare down, no trash talk, just Austin barrelling in with those piston-like rights and lefts and an attempted belt shot, reminding us straight off the bat that there are no disqualifications and that the violence will only increase as the match continues. The pace is frenetic; this is the Attitude Era after all, the culmination of the Attitude Era actually, and so itís no surprise to see them go brawling through the ringside area and into the crowd. Undoubtedly, this is a trope that was over-used at this time, and as a consequence, the matches donít always age well, but here, itís uber-brawling from two of the artís best exponents, and the crowd are white hot for it. Watching it back today, all I could think was ďthis is the most fun Iíve had watching wrestling in ages.Ē
These are two men who employ incredibly distinctive signature offense; this is partially what made them such huge stars. Seeing Austin stomping mudholes or Rock exploding with a flying clothesline, you appreciate how much they understood how to work a crowd, how to build heat. The first truly shocking heart-in-mouth moment is the ring bell shot to the Great Oneís cranium, and the inevitable gushing of claret, which is expounded upon psychologically by the Bionic Redneckís assault upon said wound, until he too receives the bell to the skull and juices even more spectacularly. Visually, itís very striking, very much the epitome of Attitude and the kind of high drama that only wrestling can provide.
I mentioned earlier in the review that the theme of the match is utter determination and desperation to be the best and hold the belt, and this theme becomes more prominent as the bout enters its second act, with both men breaking out multiple secondary and tertiary finishers in order to surprise their opponent sufficiently to pick up the win. Thereís a nice nod to Wrestlemania past when Stone Cold is placed in the Sharpshooter, his face a bloody mask, but this time he does not pass out, as he did to the Hitman four years before, and even places that same hold on his opponent moments after his escape. Immediately following this breathless submission exchange, Austin uses the Million Dollar Dream, unused since his Ringmaster days under Ted DiBiase, a measure of how far the Rattlesnake will go to be the champ.
From here, they go finisher to finisher, move for move. Rock with the Stunner. Both men with spinebusters. Itís a blockbuster, a massive multi-million dollar blockbuster thatís not afraid to blow up entire cityscapes in order to wow its audience. We enter the third act with the entrance of Mr McMahon, the man who had been so integral to the rise of both men. His history with the two of them immediately creates questions for the viewer. Why is he there? What will he do? The intrigue is palpable as he prevents The Rockís attempt at a Peopleís Elbow, allowing Austin to score with a Rock Bottom but be denied the three count. I still mark for them using each otherís finishers to this day, by the way. It was a brilliant way to showcase one-upmanship.
Suddenly, the Peopleís Champ is facing two men, not just the one formidable opponent he thought he was. Thereís a new intrigue at play. I remember at the time just feeling confusion and disorientation, because I knew, just as everyone else did, that Stone Cold and McMahon were deadly enemies. The entire passage with the chair shots takes on a surreal, slow motion quality. Itís a bizarro world. This shouldnít be happening. Rocky sells this as the plucky, put upon babyface and he just will not stay down, until eventually, a frenzied assault leads to the inevitable dark, tainted victory and a marvellously executed heel turn for the Rattlesnake. Itís an ending thatís grim, uncomfortable, the beer toast between the evil boss and his former deadly enemy eliciting Jim Ross to bellow that a deal has been made with ďSatan himself.Ē Just like the match, itís an ending that feels significant, an event of great magnitude that finishes a show of great magnitude, if you will.
All of which rather begs the question of why it didnít make it onto ĎPlanís list of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die. Perhaps itís a match that people have come to take for granted, in the sense that itís become WWEís version of Sergeant Pepperís Lonely Hearts Club Band. Everyone loves it, but itís cooler to say that you like Revolver. Or maybe the way that events played out in the aftermath of Wrestlemania X7 harms the public perception of the actual bout, given that few will admit to enjoying the Stone Cold heel turn.
Primarily though, Iíd say that this match failed to make the cut due to the author of the seriesí personal tastes; Iím well aware that he prefers the more cerebral, carefully thought out conclusion to The Rock vs. Stone Cold trilogy that took place at Wrestlemania XIX, a match which, to date, also represents the last time Steve Austin wrestled a match. Also on the list is another Austin/Rock bout that took place at Backlash í99, indicating that this was not a rivalry that exclusively took place at the Showcase of the Immortals. The question I would ask is this: is the retirement match of Stone Cold more significant than the biggest main event of all time, the best built dream match? Is a ĎMania rematch at a minor pay-per-view more worthy of comment than an era defining contest? I personally donít think so, and would rate the Wrestlemania X7 main event in the all-time top ten for both quality and importance without any hesitation; it represents everything that the Attitude Era was, more eloquently than any words I or anybody else could write.
But of course, this is ĎPlanís list, not mine, and not yours, thatís been the beauty of the series and thatís why itís captured the imagination of the LOP community. These honourable mentions are, in a sense, a way of acknowledging the omission of some very historically important matches. And all I can say in signing off is that itís been an honour to honourably mention The Rock and Stone Coldís magnum opus.
Has there ever been a bigger match than this?
The answer, I think, is yes, but perhaps not one to have been as promoted as heavily as a pinnacle of achievement as this one was. Historically, the truth is this one marks more a middle point than anything else, at least if you subscribe to my own short history of the Attitude Era. Maybe, however, this disagreement of mine with my friend Maverick is born out of the much less prudish way I feel about the supposed dream match. Truthfully, the idea of categorising this encounter as a dream match is not one I could ever agree with, and given it is my list the two thus donít marry up. Nor am I sure people are shy of saying they love it either; everyone loves this ĎMania, everyone loves this rivalry and when Iíve argued its flaws Iím almost always met with fierce resistance.
As I hope recollection of my series would clarify, I think there are other matches that better represent the era, I think their second sequel is a superior match in every sense of the word and, to answer both questions Maverick posed, I remind the audience again that the matches in the list themselves arenít what are rated Ė itís what the matches represent; the issues these matches provide the catalysts for exploration for are whatís truly being ranked. In that sense, it should be easy to see why this one was relegated.
The reason I disagree with the dream match interpretation Maverick has posed is the fact it could and did happen several times, both before and after. As a result it was always far from just a dream. Even if you do agree though, even if you do call this a dream encounter, I would still argue about its level of significance. This match is often heralded as ending an era I felt ended long before. In terms of achievement its immediate effects were short-lived and any influence it could have on the larger product or industry had already been put in place years prior. It sits comfortably in the midst of history without forcing itself upon it. And is their minor rematch from 1999 more worthy of comment? Perhaps not the match, but it did highlight far more interesting and important issues.
So always remember the inner-workings of my intentions here. You must see these matches not because theyíre matches, but because theyíre representations of far greater industry wide and company specific issues, so where a match didnít make it I found it to be wanting on those fronts. As I do this one.
Admittedly I do love the cinematic quality of its build-up; the video package, the tense heartbeat playing out, Rock walking to the ring with intensity and Austin staring at his mirror image as if justifying decisions we now know heíd already made really create atmosphere and sometimes thatís often lacking in this day and age. This is treated as the calm before a storm, the spectators in the pit before the atom gets split. What becomes clear in the video package too is that this was a story of exacerbation, of escalation, particularly due to the interfering presence of Vince McMahon. The introduction of the Debra subplot and the inevitable concluding revelation that Austin turned to McMahon just to regain the title, the ever-growing amount of signature offense both in the feud and the match, even the splashes of red in the visuals all signify a slightly less competent version of the kind of story Diesel and Hart told in their Rumble í95 match Ė same story, more gratuitous.
Therein really lays the key for me. This is a ballsy match, an unapologetic kaleidoscope of aggression and intensity that does not hesitate to indulge in the eraís greatest flaws. It doesnít care what you think; Iíll go ahead and think anyway. My problem is that itís so uncivilised. Thereís so little actual content that, for me, no amount of adrenaline will compensate for the entire absence of cerebral storytelling. The pace is insane and the energy even more so but, in pursuit of those superlatives, sophistication and maturity become nothing more than sacrificial lambs to the god of good times. Itís so utterly simple and while sometimes thatís good itís important to make the distinction between a fun match and a good match. If itís good, it will always be fun. However just because itís fun does not mean itís good and make no mistake, this is not a good wrestling match.
What this match is, however, is a collection of verbose over-statements. The crowd is rowdy to say the least, and certainly a large contributor to the boutís feeling of intensity and emotion, and the announce team are as enthusiastic a booth as you could want for. The sense of scale is set up and followed up on with a great deal of confidence and zeal. The performers are clearly having the time of their lives, competitive or not, and as Iíve said many times before those emotional intangibles translate well through the television screen. But itís just so utterly basic; offensively basic actually, to me.
Perhaps Iím being too harsh. Perhaps its lack of content and complexity isnít all that important. I donít like dismissive wrestling though, I donít care for the assumption that thereís no need to actually wrestle because people would rather see two guys pretending to fight in a narrative most school boys follow in their own imitations of their favourite stars in the playground. Whatís so frustrating is that we now know they were capable of wrestling something far more intelligent than this ranting effort. If only they did that at the height of their physical prowess I may be more on side.
In the interest of fairness, on the latest viewing I did find it to possess a little more nuance than I could remember. Austin and Rock both have moments that actively mirror one another, such is their quest to be portrayed as absolute equals, and the inability of both to put the other away no matter the number of finishing moves is simply an attempt to voice that narrative philosophy, even if its over-statement is so crass I feel it shows a lack of confidence in their ability, or a lack of ideas. I also think there are interesting parallels between it and the Hogan/Warrior encounter too. At ĎMania VI, we got a perfect big man match wrestled where two men knew what they were famous for and indulged fan expectation in a match perfect in its pitch. The same applies here, but instead of a big man match we see the perfect brawl, and like before itís between the undisputable top babyfaces in the companyÖwho even had a stare-down encounter at the Rumble weeks prior!
The simple fact is, however, that I just cannot escape the demands of my own tastes. It simply isnít good enough. Maverickís highlighted issues are ones I feel best represented elsewhere in the list-proper, and his actual review focussed on the most simplistic basics of WWE-style main events, for paragraphs at a time. Why? Well thereís just not that much to discuss. Itís a one trick pony that is the best in the world at performing that trick, but that performs its trick a thousand times over in the hopes it cements something greater than the sum of its parts.
I think thatís a prevalent point though, one certainly linked to the idea of all this.
Out of all the reviews written for this mini-series, Maverick was (probably) always going to be the most difficult for me, simply by virtue of the fact the two of us are so similar. There is a reason, after all, Maverick was once (probably) unfairly labelled ĎPlan Jr. So if you think I miss the mark entirely on this one, be under no mistake itís probably because the man Iím analysing is a less acerbic version of me, or I a more acerbic version of him. Indeed, in some ways Iím looking at my own self in the mirror, just with a little more optimism and/or emotion. I find that to be both a disadvantage and an advantage though. On the one hand, how easy is it really to put your own outlook, or in this case one so similar itís almost identical, into the proper amount of analytical perspective? On the other, it does give me a leg up in understanding the processes at play.
You see, dear reader, my friend Maverick is an English teacher. Believe it or not heís even helped me understand a thing or two. As a result, he by necessity must have a level of linguistic understanding most of us novices may lack - who else here is actually physically paid to know what weíre talking about, right? His ability to analyse and criticise and scrutinise the written word has been a practice that he has, quite literally, had years to master. It may thus come as no surprise that I find his own takes on wrestling to be founded in his ability to dissect the process.
You know that scene in one of the Matrix films where Neo stops seeing ďrealityĒ and starts seeing it all in binary? I think thatís what fans like Maverick have: wrestling matrix vision. He understands not just what we get but why it is we get that specific thing. Maverick is a clock-maker; he is as familiar with the cogs as he is with the clock-face.
Simply look at the review my esteemed colleague wrote. In truth, it was always going to be content focussed, as my own effort was, precisely because it is a match defined I think by its content, or lack thereof at least. Having said that though, where my own review took a more over-arching look, Maverick identified specific beats, spotted not just the lexicon but the grammatical structure, went deeper and far more specific. His admiration for the video package hyping the match he expressed through his love for how well the visuals fit the rhythm, his assertion of the set-up being a true dream match founded by his dissection of such a concept into historical specifics and backed up by his identification of how the situations of both competitors at play here were different to their encounters that both proceeded and succeeded this one. You want to know the difference between the two of us? I often simply point the cogs out; what Maverick is capable of doing is understanding exactly why they turn the way they do and what that means for the bigger machine. Where I today went over-arching, he went microscopic. It all leads to one single apt word: appreciation.
I dare say my tendency for the grander, sweeping issues Ė indeed the very concept that created this series in the first place Ė leads to me often judging matches by the end result. I flirt with an understanding of the recipe but my ultimate interest is in the DNA of the final outcome Ė what it looks like, what it sounds like, how it tastes. Maverick is the same, but heís also more than that. Maverick is the man that sees the raw form of that final ingredient. He is the man whose interest in the final outcome is complimented by his understanding of why that final outcome is specifically what it is, which ultimately leads to a greater appreciation for the finer points.
I overtly wondered earlier if this match is a beast greater than the sum of its parts. My problem is that, while I may understand and identify those parts, I may not quite understand their specific importance as much as Maverick does; in other words, I may dismiss them rather than appreciate them. My focus is on the endgame Ė a paper-thin albeit fun brawl lacking in both content and maturity. Maverick, I dare say, may agree; why he likes it more, though, is because he can see how hard the cogs behind the clock-face are turning in order for us to get there in the first place, which empowers him to a level of appreciation far more expansive than my own. I gravitate to the grand history; Maverick I think gravitates towards the specific linguistics.
Iím going to say, perhaps controversially but with no intention of disrespect, fans like Maverick arenít necessary and may even go some way to killing off the magic of wrestling. Fans like Maverick perhaps represent the loss of innocence a fan like Oliver does so well to avoid. Unlike most though, I wouldnít consider that a bad thing. In fact, Iíd consider it a good thing, a vital thing even. Maverick and those of his ilk, with their minute understanding and their knowledge of the way wrestling language works, represent a movement of Enlightenment, of greater access to a business traditionally shrouded in mystery. By understanding each cog, they better appreciate every tick of the clock. As such, their appreciation runs so much deeper than yours or mine. That thirst for knowledge and quest for understanding isnít born out of an obsessive need to know; itís born out of adoration and a consuming desire to better love.
You know, they say ignorance is bliss, but if Dorothy never got to catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain she may never have gotten home to Kansas.
What kind of a fan is Maverick? Well let me just say that Maverick is a teacher, and not just in real life.
I do agree that there has never been a bigger match than Austin vs The Rock @ Wrestlemania 17. In some ways, Hogan vs Macho Man from WM 5 is that match that involves two of the era's best, but Macho Man wasn't on the level of Hogan. Perhaps, if Hogan and Ric Flair had wrestled in 92...may be that could have been as big. But it still would have felt lacking. They weren't exactly in their primes by then. Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels was about two legends, two veterans. Not two heroes in their prime. May be John Cena vs Randy Orton could have been that match back then. May be John Cena vs Batista could have been that match back then..not the one which was the last match of Batista. Every other big match has been all about passing the torch...this one was about determining the torch bearer.
We all keep making scenarios and fantasize about dream matches. And here we have a one of a kind main event. A one of a kind match up that took place on the right stage at the right time with the right stars.
This also furthers my opinion that Wrestlemania 30 should be headlined by CM Punk vs Daniel Bryan for the Undisputed title. This is just the apt time. No passing of the torch. No twilight of the careers. Just two stars who have risen to the top at or around the same time. Ohh well, the Straight Edge Messiah era don't count.
"I will give you every drop of sweat, every drop of blood, every ounch of energy I have. You are going to get the absolute best, of the Rock, at Wrestlemania."
The Rock has depended largely on humour and satire to bring his points across. However, this time around at WMX17, Austin and the Rock toned down the humour and hyped up the magnitute of intensity. The promo video remains my personal favourite from the WWE.
The most epic and crazy heel turn was strangely ignored by Plan here. Maverick, I experienced the same "dreamy, slow motion" image of Stonecold repeatedly hitting The Rock with the chair.
I watched it at a neighbour's house, very young and impressionable, and my neighbour's mum was screaming "ouch!" at every chairshot delivered. To her, it looked like it hurt like hell on The Rock. I remembered the Rock kicking out again and again. I remembered with every kick out, I felt a glimmer of hope that The Rock can prevail, or that maybe Stonecold didn't turned into a bad guy. I remembered Jim Ross shouting and selling the moment as one of the biggest shock of all time.
I remembered so clearly, the emotions running wild. I remembered. For all its flaws, it encapsulated the word "Memorable". On a night when WM was at its peak, this match still managed to stand out in my memory for a long, long time.
I was ready to object when I read this! But you followed it up with...
Originally Posted by 'Plan
Which is pretty close to my own opinion. Guys like Maverick (and let's be honest, we may not all be at the sharp, analytical level that he is, but guys like you, me, mizfan, Sidgwick - we all analyze and dissect to a certain extent), with their tools of dissection and deep insight, can "kill the magic" of certain matches - matches that perhaps, depending on your perspective, deserve to have their magic killed. A less jaded fan might've enjoyed the MitB match at WrestleMania 26, mightn't have he? But the pleasant side of the dissection tools is that certain matches, when dug into, when broken down, can present even deeper levels of enjoyment, and I think Maverick, and others like him, see that side as well. Perhaps a less jaded, more naive fan wouldn't plunge the depths of enjoyment of certain matches - the magic is still there, but it's not amplified. I think the tools of dissection possessed by guys like Maverick can be double-bladed, capable of "killing the magic", as you've put it, but also capable of digging into the deeper and more magical intricacies certain matches provide. I'll tell you one thing, 'Plan; I think your tools of dissection and analysis, which I've lauded justifiably and will continue to laud because you're one of the most insightful, intelligent writers I've ever read, are not so different from Maverick's. I've come to find a new appreciation of Triple H/Undertaker at WrestleMania 27 thanks to your deep take on it, resulting from your analysis and dissection. But you've also analyzed and dissected bouts like Rock/Undertaker/Angle from Vengeance '02, matches which might be enjoyed by many despite your digging. Suffice to say I'm glad to see you called Mav's dissection tendencies a positive! Though I was confused by you calling it "not necessary" and "vital" in the same paragraph...
Originally Posted by 'Plan
There were a few moments like that in both Mav's and 'Plan's bit here. Kind of unusual for you both - a byproduct of trying to fit around someone that you're both quite conscious is a bit similar, perhaps?
Originally Posted by Skulduggery
Good stuff, though. I could nitpick about a specific point or two, but it's still all there and a terrific read. And given the similarities between Maverick's job and my own, I'm even more curious to see what you're going to read into mine now...
I think Mav is correct to deem this the biggest match of all time. It was a total blockbuster between the two of the best wrestlers ever, at their best ever, at the best and biggest show ever. It wasn’t necessarily the best – or most important – but I can’t think of anything bigger. It was MASSIVE, but it wasn’t good. I agree with ‘Plan’s statement…
…but not really. It was great.
I do reject the idea that this is a “dream match” though, but that’s only by my personal definition. A dream match for me is just that; a dream. It’s a match that for whatever reason – wrestlers belonging to different companies or eras – can’t or is very unlikely to happen. In 2001, my ultimate dream match was Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels. It was inconceivable then due to HBK’s retirement. When it happened…my word…I watched it with friends and we were going absolutely apeshit during the last five minutes. Austin vs. Rock wasn’t a dream match. It had happened before and there was nothing to suggest it wouldn’t happen again.
Vince McMahon’s part in this match was unbelievable even by his own Attitude Era standards, so it was a little disheartening to see him overlooked. When Rock kicked out of that first chair onslaught, and Austin turned the air blue in sweary frustration, watch Vince’s expression. The terror on his face, that “what have I done?” look, sold the turn perfectly. Having “the devil himself” sell fear was a masterstroke. It’s just a shame the turn was ill-timed and ill-conceived. The fans, and not just the Texas crowd, didn’t have it in them to boo Austin and there was no babyface strong and over enough to oppose him.
It was heartening though to see Kevin Dunn get some recognition. The TV build wrote itself, but still managed to suck. The insertion of Debra, a catastrophically bad actress, was baffling and she didn’t have the chops to make it work. All that was forgotten with one exquisite hype video, which as Mav very correctly pointed was incredible in spite and because of the awful, awful Limp Bizkit song. Kevin Dunn has the power to make me enjoy Limp Bizkit. He must be a genius.
I felt the love-in element was a little cloying here – then again, I’ll be pissed off if I’m not treated with the same reverence so throw that complaint out the window!
Great work by both.
The Underage Pessimist
I liked the Limp Bizkit of old, but they are shite now. And that promo was pivotal in making me a fan of them. They weren't the best musicians around, but there themes were quite common and songs were catchy. That's what I only needed as a teenager.
I agree with 'Plan's logic that even though this match was hugely important, it wasn't THE biggest as: 1) It had already happened before and with better results. 2) The booking that followed this match took away all the luster. That said, I agree with Mav's thesis that this was a very FUN match. It was exciting as a fan. It draws the viewers in from the get go and leaves them wanting more. Maybe the last part of the sentence is it's biggest problem.
Great work again from both the individuals. And the fact that both of you disagree so much added to the brilliance of the column.
This is one of my favorite matches ever. Just two masters going at it for 30 minutes.
I'd say it was one of the biggest matches ever but not #1. I'd go with Hulk/Andre.
The biggest match question is an interesting one, isn't it? The thing is, and I don't mean this to rip up everything above, is that I don't even think this was the biggest match they could have put on in the first three months of 2001, let alone of all time. I don't disagree that, taking just the players in hand into account, yes this is the biggest possible thing they could have done. But they could have done something bigger, and in fact only really needed to change their booking slightly to have it happen - Triple H vs Stone Cold. Now, that looks odd on paper, perhaps, but Rock vs Austin had 35 days build towards this match, excluding the gravitas that the two names carry. Triple H vs Stone Cold could have had 18 months worth and some serious heat going in. Think how much bigger their No Way Out match could have been at Mania - they could even have done the three stages of hell stip. It would have been a huge story, the sort of thing that Mania really deserves. I'm picking holes in booking, of course, rather than the match itself, but I'd have loved to see Mania shape up with Triple H vs Austin and The Rock vs Taker. End of the day, I think Austin finally getting his revenge on Triple H at Mania, and with the title on the line to boot, AND in front of his home state, could have been an enormous main event. Obviously, the Austin turn might not have happened that way, but as it was kind of a bust anyway and arguably should never have been booked on this night perhaps that's no bad thing.
Anyway, that done - good work by both of you, as I expected coming in! Still loving these looks at peoples fandoms, Plan, a nice mini-series alongside the series 'proper'.
This as a match is overindulgent in almost every way, but to me that's what makes it work. It explores an extreme end of the wrestling world but consciously so and with reason, a raging climax to the several years that came before. I must say the phrasing of "fun not good" struck me poorly, because by god what on earth are we looking for if not have fun? If it is fun then it is surely good in the most important way. I can see the idea at play here and I don't necessarily disagree with it conceptually, but I think that phrasing reveals a dryness of fandom, if you can even call it that at that point, that I can't identify with. This match is not one of my all time favorites, as it is marred slightly by a lack of variation and a heel turn that only reminds me of the failures that would follow, but I do think it's highly enjoyable and has much to say, and I loved 'Rick's take on it.
I will say that I thought 'Plan's analysis of Maverick as a fan was extremely intriguing, more so than his thoughts on the match even. It was even, if I may say, rather poetic in a way that worked brilliantly for the thesis. I'll not soon forget that clockmaker analogy. Well done to both of you, excited for the rest of this.
The best thing about this match was that it, for all intents and purposes, ended the Attitude Era. Thank heavens for that.
Great column, almost too much to digest.
But I was going to throw out this thought -
Biggest match of all time is a tough call to make, but I am a little bit surprised that Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart at WM12 or Survivor Series 97' hasn't been mentioned yet. Those are two that could easily be considered the biggest matches of the 90s, so I'd kinda have to put them in the running based on that alone.
The other ones named (Warrior/Hogan, Hogan/Andre, Rock/Hogan) strike me as completely valid arguments as well. Had Flair/Hogan happened in the WWE in 92', I think you could've seen that as one too, as someone else mentioned.
Rock/Cena I might be argued for biggest match of the 2010s, but Rock/Cena II was so poorly executed, it kinda detracts from how much people were actually looking forward to Rock/Cena I.
Time to give this one some feedback!
Firstly, to ‘Plan for his lovely and fascinating breakdown of my wrestling mind- One thing I will say is that the microscopic analysis only comes after the moment. In the moment, I’m probably closer to Oliver and Mizfan than you realise. I was always taught at school, college and then university, that the first reading of a text is a superficial one, a sort of “experience” of the text. The second , third, fourth readings are where you find out how and why you experienced the text in that way. When I started writing here, I wasn’t writing like an English graduate, I was writing in a way that wasn’t me. People liked it, but they didn’t love it (apart from Triple R, apparently, who preferred 2012 me, but I’m sure he’s the only one) because I was just doing wrestling journalism by numbers. It was only when I began to see wrestling analysis as an extension of textual analysis, what I do day in day out with students aged 12 to 19, that things really clicked for me here. And seeing yourself and Doc and Maz break things down, I knew that I would have an audience for such dissections.
I certainly don’t think such microscopic analysis kills the magic of wrestling, either for myself or for anyone else. As you say, it is all about finding out why you love, or why you hate. And just as favourite books show you something new each time you pick them up, favourite wrestling matches do that too. You and me, ‘Plan, are the sorts of fans who buy DVDs and so on, specifically to watch high quality renditions of these matches in their proper context, so actually we are essential to WWE, because if everyone just watched the match on the night, where would they be? I like to see the magic (or lack thereof) on the night, but then find out more about it.
I’m flattered by your compliments and proud of this collab, and of all the radio collabs. It’s an honour to play such a big part in the life of the series. Thanks mate!
Newt- I certainly agree that a Bryan vs. Punk match down the line would be a great way of re-energising Wrestlemania. Not this year, but certainly in the future. I’d like to see Cena and Punk have one last blockbuster feud too.
Jacob- Yes, that promo line of The Rock’s was tremendous. And that last heel passage of the match…I’m glad you felt that too. I was 21 when the match took place and it even made me feel that way!
Skul- Interestingly, I didn’t always look at wrestling in the way that I do now. This is something I pretty much learnt from reading columns by people like Doc and ‘Plan, and I just thought to myself one day- I think it was writing the Triple H column in round 2 of NXT that got me right back in the competition- I can do that as well as they can. So I did! And I guess it’s become a signature writing trait of mine since. It makes perfect sense though, since I’ve spent my whole life, as a Literature student, as a Literature and Language teacher, dissecting novels, plays, poems and films that I love, and never has it ruined any kind of magic for me. So why not wrestling? I’ve always been a compulsive re-reader- I’ve probably read my ten favourite books at least ten times each- and indeed, re-watcher. So when I re-watch a wrestling match like this one, which was magic to me on the night, finding out why is important to me, just as how a close reading of ‘The Great Gatsby’ reveals why it’s the most emotive and profound passage in the history of the novel.
As for a danger of getting jaded, well, as ‘Plan said, I am the more optimistic side of him. I personally enjoy that Vengeance triple threat, ridiculous though it is, and I like ladder matches too, whereas he, famously, loathes them. Having said that, I’ve never met anybody, online or in person, that likes MITB at WM26! That match is just an abortion.
Prime- Yes, can’t wait to a) read your review and b) see what ‘Plan makes of Professor Prime…
Sidg- Glad we can agree on its massive box office appeal. There was really nothing else like it. I suppose what I was trying to say with the dream match thing was that the whole concept needs to be redefined. A TRUE dream match is the best of the company clashing in the biggest setting. That’s a very personal view, and one that I’m increasingly having to interrogate, since Bryan’s possible match against Michaels is undoubtedly one I would like to see, which makes me a hypocrite. I just have to tell myself that there’s a world of difference between Lesnar and HHH (urgh) and Bryan and Michaels! And Kevin Dunn, horrible wrestling hating douche bag though he is, is the absolute best video producer on the planet. Nothing else compares to his hype videos. The one for Orton and Cena last Sunday was terrific too.
Sub- Well, if wrestling isn’t about fun, what is it about eh? ‘Plan calls this sort of match “popcorn wrestling” and that is probably fair, but when it’s done this well, there’s nothing to compare to it in any entertainment industry.
The Hurra Duff- I think this one probably beats Hulk/Andre for me because that match was a re-imagination of what professional wrestling could be, and this one was the result, if you take my meaning.
Oli- I think, in fairness, that even though the feud itself only lasted 35 days, they’d been teasing it for much longer- at Armageddon in the six-man HIAC, at the Rumble where Rock almost won, in backstage interaction, and of course, with their previous history. Having said that, HHH at his peak vs. Austin would’ve been great, and I guess they could’ve saved the Three Stages of Hell for ‘Mania…but for me it’s difficult to imagine wrestling history without this match.
Mizzie- You know, I love Austin’s heel turn. Some day, I may write a column about it. I think people are harsh on it, and particularly, I think people sometimes allow their views of this match to be distorted because of their lack of love for heel Stone Cold and the Invasion. Which was awesome. And I definitely agree that wrestling should be fun, hence my love for the match in question, though I do see ‘Plan’s point about depth and so on (particularly when you put this alongside something like JBL and Eddie). The clockmaker thing is interesting- I’m not sure it’s 100% accurate, as I love my history almost as much as I love my books- but it is true that ‘Plan ascribes far more importance to the historical value than I do, whereas if a match is good, I often don’t mind what the historical outcome was.
T.O- I guess that’s the traditional end date, though the echoes of it stayed around until at least mid-05.
Josh- I think the Michaels/Hart argument is probably harmed by the lousy business at the time. This one took place during an enormous boom and a crushing victory over the competition, who were watching this match from a skybox…
TheMaskedNewton ~ You know, you may be onto something when you say a Hogan/Flair match would be the historical equivalent of this pairing, but it's interesting to me mainly to think how different a match that would have been, especially if it had happened when they were in their primes. A very different beast indeed. Better or worse? Hard to say. I think the closest modern equivalent we have in this age though would definitely involve John Cena, but it's hard to think of the other most suitable candidate. Orton and Bats are both obvious contenders but it says a lot I think that there doesn't feel to be quite the right fit out there. Truly, more so than any other, this has been a one man age. I'd certainly be right on-board with your Punk/Bryan headline pairing too but, alas, it seems such a main event is not yet going to occur.
JacobWrestledGod ~ The reason for lack of coverage on the heel turn was purposeful - it's more an issue to be discussed about what came after the match and had little bearing, albeit some, on the content at hand. My focus was on the latter, but for what it's worth I always felt the heel turn was a well done one. I disagree with your statement this was Wrestlemania at its peak - in actual fact it was only just kicking off a high-gear reset in my mind - but I can definitely understand why it is a match so powerfully etched in your memory. Impactful, intense and substituting entirely humour for gravity, it's a rare example of n Attitude Era bout deciding to drop tangents and put the entire focus on immediacy.
Skulduggery ~ Haha! You see? I always have a plan! If I were to respond to your opening thoughts, I would merely be repeating what you have already succinctly stated. Instead I shall limit myself to a mere, "I agree entirely." Thank you for the high praise and rest assured that the similarities between Maverick and I have never been lost on me - why do you think it was I went to him to co-host the 101 podcast? I make no apologies for my opinion on any match, be it a positive or negative one, and while I do not expressly set out with intentions of turning people against their favourite bouts I ask only that they take the time to re-appraise their long held suppositions. That people have responded to my writing by apparently doing just that is perhaps the biggest compliment I could be paid as a writer.
Ah yes, I'm glad you spotted that. Rest assured that it was, once again, a conscious selection of words. Allow me to phrase it a different way. Fans like Maverick and I aren't necessary because if we weren't around, if there were no-one like us, wrestling could still exist; we are not pre-requisites for the existence of pro wrestling. However I think that without fans like ourselves wrestling would just exist. Thus the reason I call us unnecessary but vital is because without the level of analytic thinking many of us engage in wrestling with it would never get the respect I feel it truly deserves. If fans like us weren't around there'd be much less talk, much less appreciation of pro wrestling's artistic endeavour - as I say, it would simply exist. Unnecessary to its survival we may be, but so too are we vital elements in its ability to surpass its societal expectations. I hope that made sense....
Prime Time ~ The aforementioned moment was a conscious one, as explained above; there may very well be the odd slip on rhetoric here and there and never hesitate to point them out to me in order for me to avoid slipping in the future my sometimes-friends, sometimes-rival. Nitpick away! I welcome it and enjoy the debate. Not had a properly deep look at your own Prime, but a few thoughts did occur on my initial read-through.
Sidgwick ~ Psht! Fine. Both be wrong! I think blockbuster is certainly the apt word to attach. I stand by my assertion in light of that even more - blockbusters are fun but to get a properly cerebral effort from one is rare. This match was no exception. I definitely get where you're coming from with the dream match angle too and I can certainly go some way to agreeing with you. Glad to see Vince's own performance get some appreciation too. He's as melodramatic as he ever was but somehow it seems to fit with the high emotion of the moment. Part of what made his Austin feud so successful, and I think makes us feel so nostalgic for it too, is that he never worried about looking like the cowardly, shitty, ineffectual heel to Austin's bad ass and I dare say the Rattlesnake would've been poorer if Vince hadn't been so good. Totally onside with the bizarre Debra tangent the feud took too. I'll give the whole thing another read through with an eye for the, as you put it, "love in" element and try to avert too much circle-jerking in future, but I'll never restrain myself from professing fandom, respect and appreciation for those who deserve it. There's a reason I asked the writers I asked to take part here after all.
Subho ~ I never liked Limp Bizkit, but their music does seem to fit WWE quite nicely, especially the Attitude Era. Finally someone sees it from my point of view! Hoorah for Subho! As I said before, fun doesn't necessarily equate to good, even if good always equates to fun. Definitely I will accede to its enthralling atmosphere though. It's so frantic it's every easy to let the world shrink away while you watch it. But Mav and I? Disagree?! Never....
The Hurra Duff ~ No way is Hulk/Andre the biggest match ever for me. So grossly over-stated is its influence I find it to border on farce. I grudge no-one their opinion though and certainly understand why some would pick it. I also take the small victory of you agreeing this wasn't the biggest match ever.
Oliver ~ I get the Triple H argument, but I can't get on board with the idea of that being a bigger bout than Rock/Austin. In terms of prestige, history, even taking a wrestling-centric view on the set-up, I could understand the choice but if you want the match that garners the biggest buyrate or garners the most attention you always go to the two biggest box office drawers and as good as Triple H was, and as integral as he was to the success of the era, he was still a distant third to both Austin and Rock in that department. You used the word gravitas - indeed that's what it was all about, regardless of history. Incidentally, Rock and Austin still had that in droves as well. Having said all that, I won't deny there's a deal of intrigue behind your own chosen method of booking the show but despite my dislike the reputation the match has, ultimately I must admit I am very glad the WWF went the route they did on that night.
mizfan ~ Overindulgent, eh? I can understand why the word fits. It's been so long since I wrote and read the column I can't remember if this was said or not, but this is a perfect fit for the two men involved. Austin and Rock were both primarily known as brawlers and so for them to work the best match together one has to think it would need to be a perfect brawl - in very much the same way Hogan and Warrior wrestled a perfect big man match. Both encounters played to the strengths of those involved while totally foregoing the weaknesses. I'm sorry you don't see things my way (but we so rarely agree!) but I do think it's an important distinction to make. If it's good it is, by default, fun. If it's fun, though, it's not necessarily of the best quality. I'm trying to think of some kind of example from a wider more mainstream medium but I am lost for one at the moment. Simply know that sometimes we find things fun because of their weaknesses, not their strengths - you said yourself this is overindulgent and that's what makes it work. But is something good if it's overindulgent? I don't think so. It's important for us all to think in less holistic terms and break things down and recognise the specific semantic meanings behind the specific deployment of words - good and fun always come together, but fun and good not so much. There's nothing dry about it; it just recognises the important differences in how we engage with wrestling, even if some aren't willing to see it the same way. I'm startled by your high praise of my rank amateur psychology though! Thank you indeed.
T.O. ~ Actually I'd argue the true Attitude Era ended long before this.
Josh ~ I'm glad you pointed that one out! It's interesting in the feedback that many have dropped down the comparison of what this match would be today or was in the 1980s, but perhaps Bret and Shawn is the only other time a true dream match ever happened, at least by the definition expressed by many here. The other biggest stars were all in WCW and all of them pretty much hangers on from the late 1980s anyway. Nice to see the greatest in-ring pairing of all time get the right recognition! Also totally agree on Rock/Cena II marring the memories of many of the first encounter, but that's going to happen if a specific concept is over-used.
Maverick ~ Naturally, I'll totally ignore all your f2f! No point in me tackling your conversations. I fully understand the teaching you had when you were younger - it's a conclusion I came to myself in the writing of this very series. Hence my stance on this idea reviews have to be up ASAP as being totally nonsense. Thanks for the high praise yourself, even if you did include that cretin Mazza in it, but I'll say no more for fear of continuing the circlejerk. I stand by my opinion that fans like Xan, who live entirely in the moment so much so they rarely revisit past matches to reappraise them, see wrestling on far more "magical" terms than ourselves though. I guess at the end of the day we could go round in circles forever bandying about specific definitions for rhetoric that ultimately drives at the same point - we all love pro wrestling, and all of us in different but no less enthralling ways. It's interesting you reached the same conclusion as me - I used the word vital, you essential, but again it drives at the same point. Always proud to have you involved in any piece of my work.
Cheers all for the reads and the feedback! We're back on the bandwagon now Christmas is soon on the downturn. It'll soon be over.