I’m still not sure what gave us the final push, sometime in 2001, to take the plunge and decide to go to WrestleMania X8 in Toronto. We’d gathered around to watch WM 17 and no doubt said “man, we should go next year” without ever REALLY thinking we would do so. After all, this was in the days before going to WrestleMania was the “in thing” to do and there were no, to our knowledge, organised trips. It was a case of booking everything ourselves and hoping it all came together. 20 years on, doing the same for Summerslam 2022 is a walk in the park. For four-early 20 something’s whose previous “holidays” probably stretched to a couple of nights in a Travelodge, it was quite a step into the unknown in 2002.
Once we found out that Toronto was the venue, it was off to the local travel agents (none of this online nonsense) to book flights and find a hotel. Without any real pre-planning, we found ourselves booked into the hotel that was connected to the Skydome (now the Rogers Centre). That would prove to be quite the coup as it happened.
Of course, having booked all the flights and accommodation, there was still the small matter of getting the Mania tickets themselves. We’d no fears as it was a large stadium type show and there were bound to be SOME tickets left. It didn’t prove to be as simple as that. Initial attempts when they went on sale failed, Canadian fans seemingly rushing to get tickets for only the second WM outside of the US), the secondary (i.e. touts ripping people off) market wasn’t what it is now and we seemed to be flat out of luck. Enter the barber (not Brutus) of a couple of us who heard about our troubles. With a little bit of insider knowledge thorough dealings with a Toronto businessman he knew, and alleged contacts at Sky Sports, we found ourselves with four-tiered tickets for the show. Everything was on!
As soon as we were faced with the “Welcome to Toronto – WrestleMania X8” sign in the airport customs lounge (where we nearly got immediately deported for ignoring the “no cameras” sign to snap a photo of us standing by it) it was the trip of a lifetime. As we checked into our hotel to see Maven (nice guy) and Bradshaw (most certainly not – he sneered at us when we just looked in his general direction as if to say “don’t come anywhere near me” when in fact we had no intention of approaching him) in the lobby area. The hotel bar looked right out into the Skydome (although as production started curtains were drawn over those windows and you peeked through upon the possibility of death) as well. Over the days to come it would be full of wrestling fans lucky enough to be in the same hotel as well as any number of WWE workers and officials.
A trip to the Hard Rock Café attached to the Skydome saw us close to Michael Cole. Like in some Hollywood movie, one of my mates asked the waiter to go and ask him what he wanted to drink. Michael refused anything alcoholic but eventually, we did get him a glass of coke that went on our bill. You’re welcome, Mr Cole.
Axxess was becoming a thing, so we made a trip to that as well. That got off to a great start when the taxi from our hotel initially set off without two of us before stopping and letting the others in. A surreal taxi journey ensued where our driver pointed out the “sights” of Toronto we might want to see (use your imagination) as well as ranting about his broken Armarni glasses (accusing the company of being the “mafia”) and telling us all about the sexual preferences of his Greek girlfriend. The absolute kicker was when we noticed his ID badge hanging from the back seat…only to realise it bore absolutely no resemblance to the nutter who was driving! Still, for all that we arrived safely at our destination with our last sight of the taxi driver being him cutting across four lanes of heavy traffic just to swing around and wave goodbye to us.
Axxess seemed a little more informal than today’s affairs. We queued up to meet Stacy Keibler where one of my mates told her about a non-existent “England loves Stacy” sign we were going to take to Mania. She didn’t know that the original plan was an “England loves Trish” sign, nor that neither sign would make an appearance at Mania.
For the princely sum of a $10 charity donation (per person) I was able to meet two WWE superstars for a Polaroid picture. Neither were on the card. The Big Show (nice enough fella) would travel back to host the gathering at WWE New York. Injury meant that Chris Benoit couldn’t wrestle. There are a lot of good and bad things you can say about him and I’ve no moral problem with his name being “forgotten” by the WWE. What I can say is that on this day he was a genuinely nice man who seemed interested in a conversation about me coming from Wigan, near the home of his idol the Dynamite Kid. Other than one of my mates interrupting a William Regal Q&A with a question about whether or not the CN Tower in Toronto compared to Blackpool Tower and a look around the exhibits (including the to-scale model of Stacy’s legs and arse) that was about it for Axxess.
There were other random sightings. The night before Mania we treated ourselves to a Steak in Canyon’s Creek restaurant (chosen because of the Kanyon link) and after having one of the finest steaks of my life a waiter noted my nWo tee-shirt and said that “one of the WWE wrestlers” was in the house tonight too. It turned out to be none other than Chris Jericho. Naturally, as he was with his family we didn’t disturb him, although we did take a rather circuitous route out of the restaurant to walk past his table.
We also managed to walk past Torrie Wilson and Billy Kidman outside the Skydome, without one of my mates even realising that Torrie, one of his favourites, had just gone past us! That might have ruined his trip if not for the glorious moment when we met Hulk Hogan. Memory is hazy but I think it was the morning before Mania. We went downstairs in the lift and when the doors opened up, there he was in the lobby. The immortal one. Again, he’s a name that will stir up a lot of varying opinions. On that day he was a class act. Kindly chat with us and pose for a picture. And then providing my mate (nearly 7 foot himself) with a story that not only made up for him missing Torrie, but a story he is still dining off twenty years later. Looking up at him towering over him, Hogan uttered the immortal words to… “I should have you as my tag team partner, brother!” We popped for that one.
Finally getting to the show, the anticipation was off the charts. It’s easy to look back twenty years and complain about the shoddy build-up to the card but none of that mattered a jot. We were here. We were in WrestleMania X8. A dream that seemed impossible as young kids but that was now a reality.
After a Sunday Night Heat matches pitting Rikishi, Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert against Mr Perfect, Lance Storm and Test (with the Canadian jobbing – some things never change) and a live performance of “Superstar” by Saliva it was time for the main card to begin…
WILLIAM REGAL Vs ROB VAN DAM – INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE
Although this screamed “clash of styles” and was somewhat hampered in the build up by having to wait for Regal’s feud with Edge to wrap up, at least the one true “outsider” in the Alliance farrago to actually get over (more than he was supposed to probably) in the form of Rob Van Dam is getting a title match at WrestleMania X8.
The storyline was pretty basic. Rob Van Dam was getting all his stuff in until Regal decided he’d had enough and slapped RVD around. The half nelson Belly-to-Belly suplex from Regal is particularly gruesome. As you’d expect given their prevalence in his act at the time Regal’s Brass Kunckles come into play at the finish. This time, however, after earlier in the match seeing Van Dam kick the first pair away, not even a second pair saves him as the referee sees them, confiscates them and this allows RVD the change to hit a kick and then the Five Star Frog Splash for the win.
It was a good solid opener that didn’t outstay its welcome and pretty much gave WWE fans what they wanted from an RVD match.
WrestleMania X8 | DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE Vs CHRISTIAN – EUROPEAN TITLE
Poor Christian has been saddled with the losing streak/tantrum gimmick so you don’t fancy his chances even in front of his fellow Canadians. He cuts a heel promo before the match to ensure that the fans boo him. In reality, the fans don’t seem to care about this match, only really seeming interested when a couple of big moves are hit. It’s a decent back and forth which ends when Christian manages to calm himself and NOT have a temper tantrum but Page can hit the Diamond Cutter for the win anyway. Post-match Christian finally has his tantrum.
Again, fine for what it was. But hardly a forgotten Mania classic.
Backstage the Rock verbally tears The Coach a new one. It’s the usual fun and you should note that at this stage of the evening the fans seem to be 100% behind Rock.
WrestleMania X8 | MAVEN Vs GOLDUST (Ft; Other Geeks) – HARDCORE TITLE
I mean as random Mania matches go this is one of the most random. Maven, winner of the first Tough Enough has battled through the backstage sniping (as if his path to the WWE or the contract he was given was his fault) to be over in the mid-card. Goldust returned to the WWE at the Royal Rumble and the nostalgia of that is already waning. This is your usual Hardcore stuff which ends when Spike Dudley runs in to take advantage of the 24/7 rule to pin Maven.
It’s poor stuff that no one really cares about and is only here to set up the running backstage gag of the title changing hands numerous times throughout the evening.
Later on, Al Snow tries to win the belt but Hurricane does. When he tries to leave the building. Mighty Molly turns on him to win the belt. Christian then wins it by slamming a door in her face before Maven ends the fun by attacking Christian as he tries to leave, pinning him for the belt and then steals Christian’s taxi to avoid any more shenanigans.
KURT ANGLE Vs KANE
This match is brought to you in association with the “there’s two big names who have nothing to do at the show so let’s toss them together and see what happens” school of booking.
They’d had a pretty good match on Smackdown in the build-up so there was some hope that the Mania stage would lead to something even better. It didn’t quite. Angle, still only a few years into his career, already looks like one of the best to ever do it. He effortlessly hits Kane with a series of suplexes at one point and it just looks so exceptional. Unfortunately the match itself never really clicks into top gear and the roll-up/leverage on the ropes finish seems soft. Would it really have hurt Kane to take a cleaner loss here?
WrestleMania X8 |THE UNDERTAKER Vs RIC FLAIR – NO DQ
Taker is 9-0 as we go into this as the hype over the Streak really beings to blossom around this time. The build-up has been a mix of intense goading from Taker as he lured Flair into taking the match by beating up his friends (Arn Anderson) and family (David Flair) along with seemingly pointless interludes between Flair and Vince McMahon that were actually the seeds for the upcoming historic “brand extension”.
The latter is largely forgotten about on the night as the two assemble what could at times be called a “methodical” brawl. It could also be described as a “slow” one too. But that funnily’s part of the magic. Even in 2002, the commentary team are playing upon how old Flair is so the slow pace allows us to suspend disbelief that Flair can go toe-to-toe with Taker.
We get a double juice job (which befits the feud for once) and we also get foreign objects aplenty and even an Arn Anderson run-in with a great Spinebuster. It all feels like a grudge match should and that is credit to both men. Taker wins with the Tombstone and goes 10-0, with Flair being added to the streak at the halfway mark. Mental that this goes on for 10 more years…
EDGE Vs BOOKER T
I mean I could just have about tolerated these two being thrown together as a “last minute” thing where both men wanted to fight the other and tear the house down. Instead, this is the infamous “Japanese Shampoo” feud where Edge usurped the role from Booker T that he thought was his. That is seriously a Mania level issue, isn’t it?
It doesn’t help on the night that they are only given about six minutes. They do their best with it but there seems to be a clear direction taken of cramming in everything they can as if they had previously been told they were getting double that time.
It would be the highlight of many a recent Raw or Smackdown in terms of match quality but it just doesn’t cut the mustard as a Mania moment.
WrestleMania X8 | STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN Vs SCOTT HALL
(RIP Scott Hall, who passed away at the time of this writing)
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time though I had no real conception of Austin having point blank refused to countenance taking on Hogan and when you’re looking at the card Austin going toe-to-toe with one of the nWo seemed a big enough gig for Mania.
Watching it now, even without knowing what is to come in Hogan’s match, it’s clear that the “nWo” are already treading water in the WWE only a month in. Austin isn’t motivated here (though neither does he short change us) and the majority of the match is him beating up Hall and Nash (who is earning a fortune for being at ringside, the absolute hero). It’s fine. And the star power keeps the fans interested enough. And Austin kicking the bad guys’ asses can never be too dull. It’s tempting to think that if this was on a “B show” PPV it would be a lot more fondly remembered than it otherwise is.
WrestleMania X8 | FOUR CORNERS ELIMINATION MATCH
Hardys Vs. Dudleys Vs. APA Vs. Billy & Chuck | WWE TAG TEAM TITLES
Aka, The Hardy’s and The Dudley’s go head-to-head for the 732nd time. Ok so it’s an elimination match that also includes the APA and the champions Billy & Chuck but most of the match does seem to revolve around the two teams who have already faced each other far too often facing off against each other again. Partly this is due to Billy & Chuck’s game plan of doing as little as possible (which makes sense from their point of view as champions – they can’t lose if they’re not in the ring to get pinned).
The APA go early, within four minutes, and when The Hardy’s eliminate the Dudley’s we’re over eleven minutes in. There are only two more minutes after that before a belt shot to Jeff enables the champions to get the pin and retain.
If you are being kind you could argue that the least established of the teams picked up the win over three more established rivals and that their match strategy worked in a heel way. You could also admit that as over-seen as it is, the Dudley’s and Hardy’s could walk through a decent match with their eyes shut so it made sense for them to carry the bulk of the work. But really this was nothing special at all.
WrestleMania X8 | Icon Vs. Icon
HOLLYWOOD HULK HOGAN Vs THE ROCK
And so we get to it. The true main event of the show. And, to be honest, possibly the greatest, most enjoyable half an hour of my life. You can talk all about “moves” and “action” and there is no doubting that there have been any number of matches with better “technical” wrestling than this one. But from the moment Hogan walks out into the arena the fans are absolutely on fire. Before we’ve ever seen The Rock JR is having to try and cover for the fact that Hogan, a few weeks on from trying to kill the Rock in an automobile incident lest we forget, is going to be a babyface here. “Mixed reaction”, Jim? Behave.
As soon as the bell rings the fans erupt. The two don’t even touch each other and the fans are going mental. And the thing is, this isn’t “planned” as such. There’s no great swathe of fans who have thought, “you know what. Sod all this. I’m going to cheer for Hulk Hogan tonight. Who is with me?” Fans are just reacting to the homecoming of the biggest star of the 80s and 90s who is coming up against the biggest (along with Austin, of course) star of the current era.
The fans go back and forth throughout the match, cheering offence from both men and being completely lost in the storyline. Hogan sticks to the script in terms of ball shots, weight belt shots and the like but when the fans start booing The Rock (his version of the Sharpshooter doesn’t help things) you just have to go with the ride. When Hogan “hulks-up” the reaction is deafening. At this point, it doesn’t matter that The Rock goes on to win the match. Hogan has it won where it matters.
Post-match Hall and Nash are annoyed and beat up on Hogan until Rock makes the save (which indicates that the Hogan face-turn (of sorts) was always planned) and the fans lap up the post-match posing from Rock and Hogan.
As I say, was this a “technical” classic? Of course not. But when you can get the crowd erupting by just looking at each other you know you are in the midst of something special. This is Wrestling Storytelling at its absolute finest and is the sort of spectacle that WrestleMania built its name on.
JAZZ Vs TRISH STRATUS Vs LITA – WOMEN’S TITLE
How do you follow one of the biggest spectacles of all time? You don’t really. And that’s why you have to feel sorry for the three women involved here. I mean Lita and Trish were/are two of the biggest names in women’s wrestling but they were on a hiding to nothing here. The fans are exhausted after the previous match and it’s clear that’s exactly why this is positioned where it is on the card. Being next to the last match could be seen as an honour. It was nothing of the sort here. They had a decent match with a good finish (Jazz hitting a top-rope suplex to pin Lita) but they couldn’t do any more than that. At the time it seemed incongruous that Trish wouldn’t get her “moment” in Toronto but perhaps it was for the best. No one would have remembered it anyway…
WrestleMania X8 Main Event
CHRIS JERICHO Vs TRIPLE H – WWE UNDISPUTED WORLD TITLE
Quite how Chris Jericho wrangled his way into the main event of WrestleMania instead of the planned Triple H Vs Stephanie match…oh wait, no. This was the intended plan all along. Now obviously this should not have gone on last. Jericho says he told the WWE so but that HHH was insistent on it. A rare misstep from Triple H really because it did him no favours at all.
Technically speaking the match was fine. But although wrestling can be at its best when results are “obvious” (Austin beating Michaels a few years earlier as one example) this was so far beyond obvious and had been so bafflingly been built up that no-one cared. Those rumours that thousands of people walked out during this match to miss the traffic? Well, I can confirm that thousands did.
It’s largely because Jericho has been made to look second fiddle to Stephanie in the build up, has done nothing since winning the title to make you believe that he is anything approaching “the man” and Triple H is a couple of notches below what he was before his injury so the whole match is fairly ponderous for large parts. HHH wins with the pedigree and those that are left do celebrate before heading for the exits.
You can blame the positioning on the card and that’s fair enough. But whilst this was solid enough it was neither the brutal grudge match it should have been nor the technical classic that it might have been.
And there you have it. That was WrestleMania X8. To call it a “one match card” would be slightly unfair but also has a ring of truth. Because when one match is so spectacular and memorable there’s little chance that anything else of note will be remembered. And there’s also the fact that I am biased. A decade long dream to watch a WrestleMania live in the flesh came true and coincided with one of THE most memorable matches in WrestleMania history. I would cross the pond again to go and watch WWE PPVs (see you here “next year” for the 20th anniversary of WrestleMania XIX) and I’ve enjoyed all the trips. But nothing can ever quite match up that that first time, brother.