Wrestlemania XV: The Ragin’ Climax
March 28, 1999
First Union Center
Welcome to the Vince Russo Fever Dream Wrestlemania. This show is the epitome of Russo’s Crash TV booking philosophy gone wrong, as matches are thrown together throughout the card with no build or based on storylines that make no sense. The primary exception is the main event, as Vince McMahon’s prefered champion The Rock faces off against McMahon’s archrival, Steve Austin.
Austin was stripped of the title after being pinned by both Undertaker and Kane in a Triple Threat Match at Breakdown. Rock won a tournament at Survivor Series to crown the new champion and it turned out the entire thing had been a set-up as Rock joined McMahon and The Corporation. Austin and McMahon were the first two entrants into the Royal Rumble in January, and they proved to be the final two in the ring. McMahon shockingly won the match when Rock distracted Austin, allowing McMahon to eliminate him.
McMahon tried to decline his title shot, but WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels informed him that meant the title shot would lapse to Austin. Austin agreed to put his title shot on the line if McMahon would face in in a Steel Cage at the February pay-per-view. Austin decimated McMahon in that match, but only narrowly won when the debuting Big Show came up through the ring and slammed Austin through the side of the cage.
Meanwhile, Rock emerged from a heated rivalry with Mankind as the champion, and we were set for a clash between the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era.
Boyz 2 Men perform “America the Beautiful.”
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are our hosts tonight. Jim Ross had an attack of Bell’s Palsy back in the fall and had been on leave. Thankfully, he would return to call the main event here.
Hardcore Championship: Billy Gunn (c) vs. Hardcore Holly vs. Al Snow
Al Snow is crazy over here, or at least his entrance where everyone gets to yell “Head!” is. The New Age Outlaws split up to try singles competition. Gunn went after the Intercontinental Title and Road Dogg went after the Hardcore Title. So naturally a few weeks before this Gunn won the Hardcore Title and Road Dogg got added to the IC Title match. Standard Hardcore fare here. Lots of weapons shots, no psychology. Gunn hits the FameAsser, but Holly comes in and steals the pin to win the title.
Rating: *½. Decent opener.
World Tag Team Championship: Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett (c) vs. D’Lo Brown and Test
Test and D’Lo were the winners of a battle royal on Heat. A singles battle royal, where the last two guys got a tag title shot. This match only lasts three minutes, enough time for Test and D’Lo to not get along and Owen to take advantage.
Rating: ½*. Dumb idea for a match.
Brawl for All Match: Bart Gunn vs. Butterbean
Oh Christ. Okay, so in the summer of 1998 there was a legitimate tournament of toughman fights on Raw. It was designed to put over Dr. Death Steve Williams, but he ended up getting knocked the fuck out by Bart Gunn, who won the tournament by knocking out Bradshaw in the final. So to capitalize on that, Gunn fights Butterbean, a moderately famous freak show attraction who weighed close to 400 pounds.
You probably know what happened here. Butterbean knocked Gunn out in 30 seconds. It was actually hilarious. And idiotic. Oh, and they fired Bart Gunn right after this. Possibly right after he got back through the curtain. Was this his punishment for beating Steve Williams and screwing up the Brawl for All? Or did they actually think he could beat a 350 pound professional boxer? Anyone’s guess.
Mankind vs. Big Show
The winner of this match gets to referee the main event. Big Show was in great shape at this point, with his upper body uncovered for the only time in his career. Foley was already in pretty rough shape, but he took some pretty good bumps to put Show over. Show gets disqualified for Chokeslamming Mankind through two chairs, then knocks out Vince when he comes out to yell at him. Face turn for Big Show one month after debuting as a heel? Foreshadowed the rest of his run.
Rating: *. Didn’t have time to get going.
Intercontinental Championship: Road Dogg (c) vs. Val Venis vs. Goldust vs. Ken Shamrock
Goldust and Venis had been feuding after Venis made a sex tape with Terri. Road Dogg won the IC Championship randomly on Raw. And so we have this four way match. Not an interesting match. Shamrock and Venis fight outside the ring and get counted out, then Road Dogg pins Goldust with a Small Package.
Rating: *½. Not bad, but there just wasn’t much of a story here.
They show Big Show being loaded into a car. It’s not an Attitude Era show unless someone gets arrested.
Triple H vs. Kane
This is an extension of the DX vs. Corporation rivalry. Kane accidentally burned Chyan with a fireball, leading Triple H to retaliate with a flamethrower. They brawl all around ringside. The crowd is pretty into the match, but not much of interest happens. Chyna shows up as Kane slips out of a Pedigree attempt. Chyna gets in the ring and Kane holds Triple H for a chair shot, but Chyna hits Kane instead. DX is reunited!
Rating: **. Decent match. Really stands out like an oasis on this show.
Kevin Kelly interviews Vince. He says that though Mankind won the match, he’s been taken to the hospital. Vince appoints himself referee for the main event.
Women’s Championship: Sable (c) vs. Tori
This is a terrible match. Sable couldn’t wrestle, Tori wasn’t great. Sable hit a Powerbomb to get the win in less than five minutes.
Rating: ½*. Just some abysmal stuff here.
European Championship: Shane McMahon (c) vs. X-Pac
Shane pinned X-Pac to win the European Championship on Raw. And this is the rematch. This is a fun match with a ton of heat. Everyone remembers Shane as the bump machine of later years, but I liked him more as a chickenshit heel. It made more sense because it didn’t upstage the other wrestlers who couldn’t take one giant bump and then have months to recover between matches. Everyone interferes in this match. I think I might have made a run-in at one point. X-Pac hits the X Factor and has the match won, but Triple H turns on him and nails The Pedigree. Shane covers for the win. Triple H and Chyna join The Corporation in beating down DX, making their heel turn complete.
Rating: **¾. That was one of the best matches of the night.
Hell in a Cell: Undertaker vs. Big Boss Man
There was a hot program going here where Taker had gone insane and was trying to take over the WWF from Vince. He threatened Vince’s family, burning Stephanie’s teddy bear in front of Vince as he begged for mercy. So McMahon unleashes his attack dog inside Hell in a Cell on Taker. Great set-up. Unfortunately, this match totally blows. Slow and dull for two guys who are remarkably agile big men, or at least Boss Man had been before. Taker wins a dull match in about ten minutes.
Rating: Dud. Fuck it, that sucked that much.
And then somehow, things get worse. The Brood (Edge, Christian, and Gangrel) descend from the rafters onto the roof of the cell. Then they drop a noose into the cell so Taker hang Boss Man. And Boss Man showed up on Raw the next night like nothing happened. After Taker murdered him. Sigh. Vince Russo booking.
Vince comes out to referee the main event. Shawn Michaels, the WWF Commissioner at the time, came out to a big pop. Holy shit, HBK was really fucked up here. He slurs through a promo telling Vince only the commissioner can appoint a special referee, and that it won’t be Vince.
WWF Championship: Rock (c) vs. Steve Austin
The first of their Wrestlemania meetings. Rock was the Corporate Champion after he and Vince double-crossed Mankind at Survivor Series. Austin was thrown out of the Royal Rumble by McMahon when Rock interfered. Vince gave up his Wrestlemania title shot, only to be told that meant Austin would get the match. Austin agreed to put the title shot on the line against Vince in a Steel Cage Match at the February pay-per-view, which he won when Big Show debuted and slammed him through the cage.
This is my least favorite of the three Wrestlemania Rock/Austin matches, but it’s still pretty good. They bring the intensity, brawling all over the arena. A lot of it is the typical Attitude Era spots: crowd fight, announce table spot, fighting up at the top of the ramp. Rock hits a Rock Bottom, but Austin kicks out at two. Rock hits the referee with the Rock Bottom in frustration. Austin hits a Stunner, but Rock gets a shoulder up after Earl Hebner runs down to make the count. Vince comes down to ringside and he and Rock double team Austin. This brings Mankind down the ramp. He throws Vince out of the ring and takes over as referee. Rock hits another Rock Bottom, but misses the People’s Elbow. He goes for another Rock Bottom, but Austin reverses into the Stunner and gets the win.
Rating: ***. Pretty good, but they would have much better matches. Starting the next month at Backlash.
Austin Stuns McMahon, then drinks beer as the show goes off-air.
Overall: Weak Wrestlemania. Too much craziness, too many short matches, not enough wrestling. The thing is, this kind of wrestling was working at this point. This show did great business and I’m sure the fans were mostly happy coming out, but it doesn’t hold up well on re-watch.