What are the indelible images that make WrestleMania unforgettable? This is not a top 10 list of the greatest WrestleMania matches, nor are we counting down the best feuds in WrestleMania history. These are the flashes of unforgettable-ness, if you will, where, to quote Jim Ross, you have an "out of body experience" and think "Wow; this is WrestleMania."
This is a countdown of the most memorable "moments" in WrestleMania history.
On to number three:
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin refuses to quit against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13
"The double turn."
WHY NOT HIGHER ON THE LIST?
Because they can't all be number one.
Here's the thing: the top three on this list were the first three I thought of when this idea was presented. After compiling the other seven entries, I easily settled on the order of numbers 10-7, but these last three kept hopping around, leapfrogging each other. I settled on an order, though I'm open to criticism and welcome other takes. The number-one moment was the most emotional, the number two was the most symbolic, and the number three moment -- presented here -- is the most Earth-shifting.
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
Here's the thing: I don't need to know the history of these two men, either on a legitimate level (how they came to be pro wrestlers, early struggles, etc.) or in kayfabe (why are they fighting). This match is, in my opinion (and yours, according to the Cageside Seats Greatest Matches Tournament), the greatest match of all time. You have one of the best in-ring storytellers at his peak and one of the best in-ring storytellers in his prime given 20-minutes on the grandest stage. Yeah, there's gonna be magic.
Does it matter that I know about Austin's struggles in WCW, and his early misuse in WWF? Does that add to this match? I don't think so. You can argue that the finish "made" Austin, but wrestling (especially the WWF) is littered with examples of performers the crowds fell in love with that were never given the ball and allowed to run with it. Austin wouldn't have that moment for another year (a moment that almost made the top-10 cut). So if you're looking for the moment that signifies the "Austin" Era, fast forward to WrestleMania 14. That's where you can relive the early struggles of Otto Von Ruthless and celebrate in the victory of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Is it necessary to know about Bret's personal history? We can talk about how he trained and trained and honed his craft, becoming possibly the best purely technical wrestler ever, yet would never have been considered for a world title run were it not for the steroids scandal, but does that somehow bump the match up a half-star? Do I need to remind us all how he won his first world title in ho hum fashion, and lost it in eye-rolling fashion, only to wallow in the mid-card while the fans kept cheering him in spite of his apparent career direction? If you're looking for a cathartic moment that pays off that story, it's already been covered (number 7 in our countdown).
No, this was not their first match, as this was a feud that had been brewing since Austin won the King of the Ring in 1996, and began calling out a then-out of action Hart. That led to a Survivor Series match, then a Royal Rumble face off until finally the hatred was so deep there was only one place they could settle the score once and for all.
But that's not needed here. This can be the very first pro wrestling match you ever see, and before the bell even rings you'll know all you need to know. Some of the fans are cheering, but most of them are booing Austin; he's the bad guy. The fans are cheering Hart, with only a smattering of boos; he's the good guy. Clearly they don't like each other. According to the nice bald man in the tux, this is a match where you must make the other man submit. A non-fan knows enough to know you typically have to pin them for a 1-2-3, but this is a match where you have to voluntarily quit. So this is not a test of talent, but a battle of wills.
The bell rings, and away we go. Not enough can be said about this match, the perfect match. The psychology, commitment to selling, pacing, emotion, all of it is just golden.They don't even enter the ring until five minutes into the bout. They go all over the ring, and even into the crowd, just brawling like mortal enemies. At one point, Bret ties Austin's ankle up in a chair and stomps on it. The crowd cheers for their hero. Austin gets his turn with the chair, slamming it twice across Hart's back. The crowd is decidedly mixed. Austin flips the bird, and the crowd groans and boos. Vince McMahon on commentary talks about Hart's inappropriate language that he has been using lately; this is a different era, but you can see the hints a new era trying to break through.
Austin tries for a sharpshooter but Bret nails him with a thumb to the eyes. The crowd cheers their hero's heelish tactics. Austin throws Hart out of the ring, to a chorus of boos, raises his fists to the crowd, and there are a great number of older male fans cheering, while the younger fans, the women and children all jeer.
Vince apologizes profusely for the blood Austin has pouring out of his forehead. The crowd gasps at the sight of it. Bret slams Austin's head with the ringbell (the crowd cheers). Hart moves over to the fallen Austin, crosses his legs and locks in the sharpshooter.
It all happens so fast. The sharpshooter has been locked in for an agonizing period. The camera catches Austin lifting his head up, blood pouring down from his forehead to his open mouth between his front teeth. Suddenly the crowd, which started out cheering the move starts screaming "Austin! Austin!" willing the bad guy to stay in it and not quit. Austin lifts his body, the crowd starts cheering, and he appears to break the hold, only for Bret to keep it locked in. Austin screams again, as blood rushes, and then he is out. Fink very particularly states that Austin lost consciousness and did not actually submit. The crowd starts to cheer for the finish, but immediately the sound turns mixed.
Post-match, "The Hitman" goes back to the unconscious Austin's leg, kicking it to near-unanimous boos. Guest referee Ken Shamrock physically removes Hart from his victim. Bret walks away now completely the villain. Austin comes to and -- typical Austin -- stuns the first man he sees. He limps to the back to a chorus of fans chanting his name.
Incredible. This match didn't just turn Hart and Austin. It turned the New Generation to the Attitude Era. Austin went into this match flipping people off, strutting around the ring, hitting low blows, mouthing off, stomping mudholes, etc. and the crowd booed. After the double turn, Austin would go into his matches flipping people off, strutting around the ring, hitting low blows, mouthing off, stomping mudholes etc. and the crowd would roar with delight.
The great irony is that this was the least-bought WrestleMania ever, yet the resulting Attitude Era would bring pro wrestling its second golden age. Of course, I'm not saying this one match "made" the Attitude Era; certainly not.
But this match kick-started the passing of the torch from New Generation to Attitude. Hart's frustration in the buildup to the match (and his subsequent feud with Shawn Michaels) represented the transition away from the simple, cartoon world in which Bret held court as King. The days of Doink the Clown, Vince screaming "Oh what a maneuver!" and moral-driven heroes were being replaced by D-Generation X, Hell in a Cell, and middle fingers.
Austin's title win at WrestleMania 14 would make it official, but here at WrestleMania 13, in that moment when the crowd sees a blood-soaked Austin (the bad guy) simply refuse to give up to Hart (the good guy), and turned to cheer him on, it became clear that pro wrestling would never be the same.
And that's number three. Stay tuned tomorrow for number two, and don't forget to comment below.
Tomorrow's number two moment encapsulates the entire idea of sports entertainment.
See you then!