We're down to the final two matches in the Cageside Seats Greatest Matches Tournament. In yesterday's post, we looked at Finalist number one, "Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat, WrestleMania 3." Today, we'll take a look at "Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13."
The year was 1997 and it was a time of transition for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The competition from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was fierce, enough so that it forced a change in philosophy and general direction. The cartoon-like programs of the past were replaced with far more reality based storylines. The cartoon characters were still there, they were just edgier versions of themselves.
Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin were a sharp contrast in styles, the former representing the days when pro wrestling was a family friendly activity while the latter was essentially the polar opposite.
Whereas Hart just wanted to be a hero to those who loved him, and did everything he could to live up to those expectations, Austin didn't care what anyone thought. He was out only for himself, looking to raise hell for those who opposed him.
For much of 1996 and 1997, that was "The Hitman."
The shift in the pro wrestling landscape was on the horizon, it just needed a push in the right direction. The feud between Hart and Austin was exactly that. In fact, Bret slowly started playing on the fact that he was receiving less and less love from fans in America, who had slowly but surely started to cheer for "The Rattlesnake" and his rebellious ways. Stone Cold maintained the status quo but started incorporating a few quirks to help get him over as a top babyface instead of working as strongly as a heel.
It was a relatively slow burn but the seeds were planted for a double turn for the ages. What better place to do it than WrestleMania?
The stage was set. Austin would battle Hart in a submission match, already putting him at a disadvantage and setting up the fact that he was he who would have to persevere and overcome.
The two battled through 20 minutes of a technical masterpiece, a back-and-forth war of attrition that ultimately saw Hart lock in a Sharpshooter while Austin bled profusely from a cut on his forehead. The visual that resulted, Stone Cold screaming through the pain and a crimson mask, suddenly turned the rulebreaker into a sympathetic figure. When he never gave up, instead choosing to pass out from the pain, he was a full fledged babyface. Hart, meanwhile, solidified his turn to the darker side by refusing to let go of the hold when prompted by special referee Ken Shamrock. In fact, he had to physically be pulled off.
Winning wasn't enough. Humiliation was necessary.
By the time they walked out of the Rosemont Horizon, they had executed one of the most brilliant double turns in wrestling history. The best part was that it came after a classic match between two of the best workers of all time.
If this match wins the Greatest Matches Tournament, it will make Austin two-for-two in his Cageside Tournament career. It should come as no surprise, though, that the Greatest Wrestler of All Time would have a match in the finals of the Greatest Match Tournament.
Will he win? Voting starts tomorrow. See you then!