clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

My favorite WrestleMania match: Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin

The year was 1998.

No. Let me start over. I should get a drink because I write best when I'm properly caffeinated.

(Ten minutes later)

The year was 1996.

No, let me back it up a little further.

1995. Yeah. That's a good place to start. April 2, 1995. Around 9 p.m. Closer to 9:30, I imagine.

It was probably at that moment Vince McMahon had an epiphany: as soon as I get out from under the Diesel reign, which has already proven to be a disappointment (we're not quite in historic disaster yet, but it's close), Shawn Michaels was going to be the man to carry the WWF into the new millennium.

One year later, Shawn Michaels was indeed the man carrying said WWF to the new millennium. But as someone once said, life is what happens when you make plans. While Shawn would be the centerpiece of a rebuilt WWF, WCW was doing some building of its own... with Vince's old guys. Not just old guys like Hacksaw Jim Duggan and The Big Boss Man, but old guys with serious name value. Hulk Hogan. Randy Savage. Kevin Nash. Scott Hall. Lex Luger. Those last three guys: they all left since Wrestlemania XI, which was on April 2, 1995. Those five men would be at the forefront of the resurgence of WCW.

Over the next couple years, WCW was beating the WWF left, right, and center with not only the guys Vince had ten years ago, but with guys Vince had ten months ago. And by the time WCW's biggest show ever came around, a guy Vince had ten weeks ago. Needless to say, Vince for a while was in a serious pickle. He needed that one guy that would bring everybody back into the tent. Vince thought Shawn Michaels was that guy. Well, he certainly brought the ladies into the tent. The guys: not so much. Luckily for Vince, an answer landed on his lap. You can say a prayer was answered.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

And this guy here was delivering the sermon. That guy: Stone Cold Steve Austin. Initially brought in to the WWF as The Ringmaster, Austin was quite the tactical performer in the ring. A tactical performer with the mouth of a sailor. In mid-1990s WWF, this was a no-no; after all, it was family programming. But over in WCW, they were starting to get edgy, especially with the beginnings of a faction of outsiders known as the New World Order. But life is what happens when you make plans. People took to this tactician with the sailor's mouth. Because he was different. He was us. He was the man held down by the system and beaten down by said system. During the time Shawn Michaels was dominating the WWF, Steve Austin toiled in the midcard, waiting for his opportunity. Or at least an opportunity he can take.

It came at Wrestlemania 13, the one Shawn Michaels sat out with a "knee injury". On that night, Steve Austin kicked the door of opportunity off its hinges and delivered a five-star performance in a losing effort against Bret Hart in a submission match. Just as Shawn did at Wrestlemania X with a stellar performance in a losing effort. It was only a matter of time before the face of the New Generation came face to face with the changing face of sports entertainment.  After Shawn controversially dispatched of the man that linked the two, Bret Hart, the inevitable collision was set in motion.

But during those few months, Shawn had become more brash. More arrogant. More controversial. This wasn't just Shawn Michaels. This was Shawn Michaels without a filter.  While it's easy to say he became like Austin, the truth is he was always that way, only now he had the means to do it. And ironically, it was Austin's success as...himself...that gave Shawn those means. In an effort to turn the tide of the Monday Night Wars, wrestlers were given a little more creative freedom; basically tap into their personalities and bring it out in a productive manner. This was before legends and sponsors and mainstream media gave out on WWF's content and lower quality programming. To hell with what they had to say; Vince was remaking the WWF, and he was going to do it his way, damnit.

In a bit of irony, McMahon (in storyline of course) was asked point blank by Kevin Kelly if he wanted to see Stone Cold Steve Austin as the WWF Champion. The chairman after beating around the bush for a moment replied with "not just a no", but a "Oh helllllllllllllllllll no!"

Vince McMahon...chairman of the WWF...decided the man who did crotch chops, imitated fellatio on camera, and told his adversaries to suck it...was a better fit for WWF Champion than a beer swilling, finger-gesturing, authority defying redneck from south Texas. Vince McMahon saw Shawn Michaels, a man who was partially responsible for the infamous Montreal Screwjob and one of the biggest divas in the locker room, as the lesser of two evils.

Mr. Brooks, your analysis?

Thanks, Phil. (gif via the always awesome

And with Mike Tyson, D-Generate through and through as the special enforcer (an announcement initially ruined by Steve Austin, no less) and with Triple H and his girlfriend Chyna at ringside, Vince McMahon may get his wish. But once again, life is what happens when you make plans.

Back up two months to the Royal Rumble match. In the opening moments of the Shawn Michaels-Undertaker WWF title match, Shawn gets backdropped onto the casket ringside. And it was an awkward backdrop. The backdrop jacks up Shawn's back bad enough that doctors advised him to call it a career. By all accounts, he probably should have. But he did have one last piece of business to take care of.


And that brings us full circle to the main event of Wrestlemania XIV. March 29, 1998. It might as well be the dividing line between the WWF of old and the WWE of now. Even more so than the bloody submission match of a year earlier, even more so than Rock-Austin II that capped off the Attitude Era, even more so than the final hour of Wrestlemania 21. This was a WWF that was in absolute need of a home run main event to bring people back under the tent. This was a company that was sinking until WCW somehow threw a life preserver in the aftermath of Starrcade the previous December.

After a killer video package highlighting Mike Tyson's involvement in the WWF over the last couple of months set to the D-Generation X theme, we get "the baddest man on the planet" introduced by Howard Finkel. Mike Tyson, special enforcer, fully entrenched in the DX camp. How's he gonna be impartial?

Then we get the challenger Stone Cold Steve Austin walking from his locker room to the Gorilla position. Not gonna lie, I wish WWE do this more often. It makes a fight feel bigger. Then, the glass. 19,000 people roar as one. The confident walk. The swagger. Austin getting in the face of Tyson. Steve Austin simply was not going to be denied on this night. Then Shawn Michaels approaches Gorilla with his BFFs Triple H and Chyna. Shawn says "this one's for you, Earl!" (in reference to Earl Hebner, who was in the hospital after suffering an aneurysm the night before), while Triple H mouths "this guy's a bad motherfucker". Chris Warren and the DX Band, who did an awful rendition of America the Beautiful to kick off the show (so awful they got booed and their performance was cut from all commercial releases of the event), plays in the WWF Champion and his degenerate friends.

Jim Ross: "Nobody has ever, ever outperformed Shawn Michaels in a big match situation, and folks, it don't get no bigger than this. This is what out business is all about. It's about earning the opportunity to wrestle in the main event at a Wrestlemania." There has to be a way to superimpose that in every Wrestlemania. Ever. Just saying.

As Ross runs down HBK's impressive resume (thrice WWF Champion, three-time tag team champion--including one with Austin, three-time Intercontinental champion, and European champion) , the crowd chants for Austin.

Bell rings. Show time. Michaels' back looks no worse for wear, at least as they circle. Oh, by the way, Mike Chioda is subbing for Earl Hebner, who would usually be in this spot. Much posturing and circling to build tension, then a quick left jab by Michaels. Then a second. Michaels takes off and when Austin catches up, it's on. Shawn's ass is out as he gets backdropped on to Triple H and Chyna. Triple H with a couple cheap shots right in front of Chioda, and Hunter and Chyna are tossed, much to the delight of the Bostonians.

Austin helps Triple H leave faster, and opened the door for Michaels. And here we would see a staple of Attitude Era (and for a few years after for that matter) bouts: the brawl to the outside. Back in, Steve retakes control with a hard Irish whip to the buckle. And now Michaels' bad back becomes an issue. Michaels tried to retake control, but Austin pulls out his WCW finish, the Stun Gun for a near fall. Michaels avoids the Stunner, but can't avoid getting a face full of announce table. Then a face full of steps. Tyson's literally a few feet away, but he's not been a factor.

REST HOLD. And the challenger has dominated the champion, much to the surprise of many. Jawbreaker breaks the rest hold, and Michaels tries to post Austin's left leg, but instead posts himself. Austin gets a full head of steam, and Michaels backdrops Steve into the crowd. Bell to the face by Michaels. No DQ. Apparently, they're gonna let them fight. Both men beat the count, and for the first time in the bout, the champion has a sustained advantage.

Right hands. Right hands. Many right hands. And Michaels winces. The back is very much a problem. And everybody knows it. But Shawn Michaels lays down for no man. Middle fingers to the Bostonians. And Austin takes down Michaels. Many right hands. And out goes Michaels to the floor again. Michaels trips, and this time, he wraps Steve's left leg around the post, not once, but repeatedly. The leg becomes Shawn's target. And it is here you realize why Shawn is one of the best in the world not just at the time, but any time. Yes, he's flashy. But he's got impeccable technique too. Technique that can only be refined through hundreds and thousands of hours of being in the ring.

Austin forced into retreat mode, but Michaels baseball slides the challenger to the announce table. Tyson drags Austin back in. The distraction gives the champion an opening to chop block Austin in the left leg. Michaels with the Figure Four leglock. Much wooing in the crowd. Michaels hangs on to the middle rope while Chioda watches Austin's shoulders and listens for the challenger to submit (not likely considering one year earlier, he decided nearly bleeding to death was an option over surrendering). Austin flips the Figure Four and Michaels quickly reaches the rope.

Both men are hurting like hell, but Austin right back on the offensive. Slingshot to schoolboy gets a near fall. MIchaels with a sleeper (second REST HOLD in less than three minutes). Austin breaks, but Chioda gets sandwiched in the corner. No referee as the two men continue to fight. Steve stomps a mudhole and so forth and so on. Backdrop by Austin, but the champion fires back with a sorta flying forearm. Shawn nips up, bad back and all. Signature is already activated with comeback. Michaels perched up and nails the elbow. Finisher engage. The mind is willing, but is the body?


STOMP. The crowd boos as they sense perhaps impending doom for the Rattlesnake.


STOMP. Sweet Chin Music imminent. Everyone that's been on the business end of it has gone down.


STOMP. Austin struggles to his feet.


Michaels charges, but misses. Kick to the midsection by Austin. Stunner is countered as Michaels pushes off, hoping to catch Austin on the rebound, but Austin catches the foot. Steve turns him around. KICK. WHAM! STUNNER! Mike Tyson, assuming referee duties, counts. 1. 2. 3. Well, that was a rather quick count. Doesn't matter. Steve Austin is your new WWF Champion.



Side nugget: three months earlier at Starrcade, Nick Patrick, the referee for the Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting match was supposed to a fast count in favor of Hulk Hogan. Instead, Patrick counted normally, pretty much throwing the whole match out of whack (as if what had happened in the few minutes prior didn't do the job already). I only recently came to the conclusion that Vince McMahon probably told Mike Tyson to count fast as a shot at WCW butchering their biggest main event ever. This is probably not true. But I'll say it is for the purposes of this story.

Stone Cold's eight-year journey culimates with WWF gold, as Austin poses with the WWF Championship belt for the first time (and only time with the winged eagle belt, as a new championship belt would be introduced the next night). Austin tosses Tyson an Austin 3:16 shirt, and Mike proudly holds up the most popular selling shirt in company history. Shawn, needless to say, is beside himself. Shawn points a couple times, then throws a right hand in Tyson's face. Then Tyson throws one of his own. Guess which one did the damage?


A couple middle fingers from Steve, and Tyson covers Shawn's face with Austin's shirt as confetti flies through the Fleet Center. The two baddest men on the planet walk off arm in arm with an unknown and bright future, leaving a grim and dark past behind. The New Generation was suddenly the old guard, put out to pasture with a single Stunner and a right hand that once ruled the boxing world.


Perhaps it was best that Michaels' bad back prevented him from any wrestling activities for quite some time. The New Generation, while it was supposed to usher in a new era for the WWF, only ushered in a whole new host of problems, including low attendance, low ratings, low revenue, low interest, and low morale; you know, the five things most any wrestling promoter cares about. Nearly every significant name from that era left for the bigger bucks of WCW or faded into obscurity. Shawn was the last of them. Exit heartbreak. Enter rebellion.

While I was all about WCW during the early days of the Monday Night Wars, it was Austin's chase and eventual title win that got me interested in the WWF again. And after the Fingerpoke of Doom nine months later, I never looked back. Sure I've gotten into other promotions since then, and sure I have a love-hate relationship with them, but if it wasn't for three of the most controversial figures in the history of combat sports, I probably wouldn't be doing this. You know, Eric Bischoff's right. Sometimes, controversy creates cash. Sometimes too, controversy creates fans. That's why the Wrestlemania XIV main event will always and forever be my favorite Wrestlemania match.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats