As wrestling history dictates, from January until March/April, the “Road to WrestleMania” heats up and we begin to fInally see just how WrestleMania will shape up. Since 1996, it has been commonplace for WWE to hold an event between the two biggest events on it’s calendar; Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. The 6th In Your House Pay-Per-View kicked this tradition off with an overall solid card that included Bret “HitMan” Hart up against Diesel; retaining the WWE Championship inside a steel cage. However, the card that night did fit into the mold of pre-Attitude Era matches; with the 1-2-3 Kid up against Razor Ramon in a “Crybaby Match”.
On this particular “Road to WrestleMania”, we ended up witnessing an absolute classic at WrestleMania 12 in the form of “HeartBreak Kid” Shawn Michaels realising his boyhood dream and becoming WWE Champion by defeating then-champion Bret Hart in sudden death overtime by 1 fall to 0. This event also included the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper up against Goldust in the “Hollywood Backlot Brawl”; a pre-cursor to hardcore matches and street fights that became more regularly as we delved into the Attitude Era.
The “In Your House” series rolled on thereafter and the following year, January 19th 1997, we were back at the Royal Rumble where once again Shawn Michaels went on to win the WWE Championship from Sycho Sid who had dethroned Bret Hart at the previous event, In Your House 12: It’s Time. The 1997 Royal Rumble Match itself was won in controversial fashion by Stone Cold Steve Austin who had previously been eliminated by Bret Hart only to sneakily come back in and throw Bret Hart back over the top rope; in due part to referees being distracted by a brawl outside between Terry Funk and Mankind.
At the next In Your House Pay-Per-View, aptly named “Final Four” on February 16th 1997; any and all confusion was dealt with, as 4 of the 5 final entrants into the aforementioned Royal Rumble squared off in a Fatal Four Way Match to ultimately decide who was the WWE Champion as 3 days prior to the event, HBK vacated the belt citing he’d “Lost his smile”.
Bret Hart won this Four Corners Match by last throwing The Undertaker over the top rope; in part to a distraction by Hart’s bitter rival Stone Cold Steve Austin. This very same In Your House event, also had the birth of the illustrious rivalry between The Rock and Triple H.
March 23rd soon came around and that meant, so did WrestleMania 13 from the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. The main event for this WrestleMania was a No Disqualification match between The Undertaker and Sycho Sid; who lost his WWE Championship to the Deadman. Sid previously won his match against Bret Hart inside a steel cage; with Hart hinting towards a heel turn due to an expletive-laden rant at WWE Chairman Mr McMahon.
At this very WrestleMania, we became witness to just how important the “Stone Cold” name was to WWE and just how vital he was to their forthcoming shift in product. As mentioned, both Austin and Hart were embroiled in a bitter blood feud with Austin seeking out Hart as his next potential target on his list; whereas Bret Hart who had recently began portraying an Anti-USA gimmick thought that Steve Austin was stealing his spotlight.
Hart and Austin both agreed to a Submission Match, with special guest referee Ken Shamrock enforcing the rules. It was at this WrestleMania that we saw a double turn, thanks to Bret’s frustration at not being able to put Stone Cold out and due to fans warming to Austin and his “Anti Hero” persona that we know and love him for to this day.
As 1997 drew to a close, so did the Austin/Hart war and into another chapter. Bret denounced that he was no longer wrestling in America due to their treatment of him; instead he would be exclusively wrestling in Canada where; obviously he is a hero.
This time, Bret waged war with Stone Cold by introducing a numbers game and the team of the Hart Foundation; which was an extended stable of wrestlers associated with Hart through family ties. ”Hitman” and Steve Austin squared off in a multi-person tag match that consisted of the Hart Foundation facing off against Stone Cold, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and Legion of Doom at In Your House: Canadian Stampede; with the latter becoming victorious.
Significantly, the Pay-Per-views after that were focused on The Undertaker and his “brother” Kane, who (for storyline’s sake) was initially supposed to be “dead” but it was revealed to ‘Taker, by former manager Paul Bearer that Kane was indeed alive and coming for The Undertaker. At this time, the WWE had really shifted it’s focus by becoming more episodic; more dramatic and overall; alot more edgy which was a theme that went on for many years.
By and large, events between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania are hugely important to creating the best WrestleMania card possible. None more so than, moving to 2000 and the WWE No Way Out Pay Per View, where in the months post and prior to the event; Triple H and Cactus Jack had taken centre stage and ultimately fought each other inside the Hell in a Cell with Mick Foley’s career on the line as well as the WWE Championship.
It was in this high stakes PPV that also saw another portion of the WrestleMania Main Event begin to take shape; where The Rock and Big Show fought each other; with Big Show successfully toppling The Rock with help from Shane McMahon and he, Big Show, gaining a slight measure of revenge on The Rock for him “unfairly” losing the Royal Rumble.
Ultimately, because of these events occurring, the WrestleMania 2000 event turned out to be one of the more star-studded events of that era. We had an incredible Triangle Tag Team Ladder Match between Matt and Jeff Hardy, Edge & Christian as well as the Dudley Boys which served as a pre-cursor to the TLC Series that the 3 teams are most famous for.
Back into the main event though, Triple H who was at the time WWE Champion had to defend his championship against Mick Foley, who was brought back for one night only by Linda McMahon; as well as The Rock and Big Show both vying for a chance at the belt. The added element of this event; was the warring McMahon’s, who were in the corner of their respective combatant. Triple H had Stephanie, The Rock had Vince McMahon (albeit until the end of the event!), Linda McMahon was situated in the corner of Mick Foley who had previously been retired in the February No Way Out Hell in a Cell match and lastly, as I mentioned earlier; Shane was behind The Big Show.
2002’s WWE No Way Out was most definitely a deciding factor in many of WrestleMania X8’s matches. We had the beginning of the end for the Triple H / Kurt Angle rivalry as the two vied for the attention of Stephanie McMahon-Helmsely who was the special referee.
No Way Out 2002 will be remembered for the debut of the New World Order in the WWE, thanks to Vince McMahon’s maniacal urge to destroy “his own creation” and ultimately undermine then co-owner (for storyline’s purposes) Ric Flair. As such, two men were a target of the nWo running roughshod over the WWE: The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin.
In the weeks after No Way Out, the nWo had set out to try to eliminate Stone Cold and The Rock from WWE; even going so far as to drive an 18 wheeler truck into an ambulance where The Rock was; which was, by all accounts an amazing visual. In due part to these events, Austin and The Rock became somewhat like allies in trying to battle the nWo and as such; the two had their own singles contests against members of the faction. Stone Cold battled with Scott Hall whereas The Rock was pitted up against “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan in what was billed as an “Icon vs Icon” Match.
2003 was another key year for the “pre-WrestleMania” build up. This No Way Out event was held in the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada which was the same venue of the “Montreal Screwjob”. In a case of poetic irony, a screwjob is exactly what we got. Shortly after his victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8, The Rock had left to film a movie and returned suggesting that he was a better wrestler than Hogan ever was; Mr McMahon, who at the time was in the midst of a feud with Hogan, became somewhat of a motivator for The Rock in his bid to “End Hulkamania”.
Hogan and The Rock squared off one last time in a match billed as “Rock/Hogan II”, this time with shenanigans as the lights went out and due to distraction by Mr McMahon as well as biased officiating by an unknown (at the time) Sylvain Grenier; it was The Rock who ultimately won this match. At the end of this rivalry, both men were soon moved away from one another. The Rock continued his ever-long rivalry with Stone Cold, citing that he could beat him again; despite never actually beating him at WrestleMania, and Hulk Hogan, who was signed exclusively to SmackDown; continued his battle with Mr McMahon.
Moving towards 2013 and into the incredible work of one CM Punk. It’s no secret that CM Punk was quite literally, “The Best in The World” which was a claim further backed up by his extensive list of opponents that he beat to retain the WWE Championship for 434 days, which was indeed record setting. Punk went on to fight all up and comers from Dolph Ziggler to Daniel Bryan, John Cena to The Rock. You could say that he’d done it all and won it all. Until The Rock beat him for the title at the Royal Rumble.
CM Punk moved on to his next goal: ending The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak and “take away from the fans” as he believed they were responsible for his losing of the WWE Championship.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a scripted rivalry took a very real turn due to the sad passing of the late, great Paul Bearer. WWE, being ever the opportunist, saw this as something to further turn CM Punk into a fully-fledged villain by resorting to having him interrupt ‘Taker’s tribute to Paul Bearer and attacking Kane with the very urn that had been used to control The Undertaker for many years.
WrestleMania 29 was set, the two became embroiled in a bitter war that told an incredible story and it looked, for awhile at least, as if CM Punk may actually prove worthy of being called “The Best In The World”. The two traded off with various amounts of finishers and dangerous moments which told their story perfectly. In what was a stacked card that had the return match between The Rock and John Cena; in a very similar storyline to what Hulk Hogan and The Rock’s was; it was the CM Punk and The Undertaker match that really stole the show for many fans that night.
In WWE, nobody had the fans behind them quite like Daniel Bryan did. The rise of Daniel Bryan, at least from fans perspectives, was a slow and gradual one.
And in 2014, and now a surefire contender to the WWE Championship, Bryan had qualified for the very same match that he was first eliminated in the year before: Elimination Chamber. Unfortunately, he was also unsuccessful in his quest for gold.
At this point and in due part to wrestling fans becoming vocal at their displeasure of Daniel Bryan not being included in the Royal Rumble, as well as a returning Batista win; fans began to revolt and sky-rocketed an already deserving Daniel Bryan into the main event of WrestleMania; where he first ousted COO Triple H and then went on to defeat both Randy Orton & Batista in the main event; to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship as well as his WrestleMania moment.
So as Fast Lane approaches, it’s still not too clear what the full card will look like for WrestleMania this year. However, it is abundantly clear that the months of February and March are incredibly important to the WWE calendar and even more so, vital to WrestleMania itself.
Fast Lane needs to have a standout card or a moment that’ll change the course of WrestleMania; to encourage the WWE Universe to invest in the “Showcase of the Immortals”.