WrestleMania 17: The One that is “The Best One”. It’s the WrestleMania that most often comes up when people discuss the greatest examples ever. For the generation that grew up in the Attitude Era, this is probably THE show the whole era was building to.
Epic video package to open, narrated by Freddie Blassie and focusing on the worldwide impact of the event. It gets a bit sappy but it’s a prototypical version of the packages we see pretty much every year these days. We’re finally back in the stadium, the Astrodome in Houston, something that immediately makes the show look even more special. Jim Ross is joined by Paul Heyman on commentary, the only time we’ll see Heyman commentate at Mania.
WrestleMania 17: Chris Jericho vs William Regal – WWF Intercontinental Championship
Kicking the show right off with a championship match. Regal is in the midst of his run as the Commissioner and has had the deal with Jericho being a thorn in his side. A personal feud that’s ramped up to a pretty intense level.
All very smooth work from two of the best technicians of the era. Regal takes over early on by focusing on the previously injured left shoulder of Jericho. In almost every Regal match, you’ll see some kind of rare grappling manoeuvre and this match was no exception, a subtle takedown in this case. Regal exposes a turnbuckle and starts to use that to further punish Jericho. Once Jericho manages to get some separation, he briefly fights back but Regal controls the pace well.
A rare move from the top rope for Regal as he hits a double underhook suplex. Jericho does get some brief moments of shine and finally gets a longer run after throwing Regal into the turnbuckle. A ‘Lionsault’ and Jericho wins to retain his title. A good match with a bit of an abrupt ending.
The APA and Jacqueline are backstage, Bradshaw talking about Texas sports legends before their match next.
WrestleMania 17: Tazz & The APA (Bradshaw & Faarooq) vs Right to Censor (The Goodfather, Val Venis & Bull Buchanan)
A clash of lifestyles and styles in general. Stevie Richards at ringside for RTC gets decked by Jacqueline, in the APA’s corner, before the match kicks off. Some surprising agility from Bull Buchanan to get us started as Tazz gets beaten up for a bit.
It’s definitely strange to hear Paul Heyman referring to ECW openly on commentary, and WCW being mentioned at various points as well. Bradshaw turns the match around when he gets involved. Big run for the APA, especially Bradshaw. A brief comeback for RTC is snuffed out and Bradshaw hits the ‘Clothesline from Hell’ to pin and win.
A quick crowd pleasing win.
We get a glimpse of comatose Linda McMahon backstage, being wheeled around by Trish Stratus. They’re both accosted by Stephanie McMahon, who’s patronising to both women.
WrestleMania 17: Raven vs Kane vs Big Show – WWF Hardcore Championship
What had been a feud between Kane and Big Show had Raven added fairly last minute, turning it into a Hardcore Championship match in the process. Jim Ross refers to the match as a ‘three way dance’ on commentary, perhaps as a reference to ECW, but it’s not strictly that, it’s one fall to a finish.
Kane and Raven are already fighting in the ring before Big Show makes his entrance. Pretty much as soon as Show makes it to the ring, Raven tries running away through the crowd. Some chaotic camera shots as security seem to have a hard time keeping a clear area in the crowd. The fight goes backstage where the three men have more room to work with. Big Show tries padlocking himself and Raven into an equipment area but Kane breaks the chain almost immediately. It’s lots of weapons shots and environmental destruction.
Kane throws Raven through a window before Big Show hucks Kane through a door. The two massive men fight their way through a wall. Raven steals a golf cart and in an infamous moment he almost immediately crashes it straight into an electrical conduit. Apparently, he was inches from cutting the power to the entire show. Back to the brawling, destroying the craft services table and what looks like the whiteboard with the running order for the show on it. This leads them back out onto the stage. Kane manages to kick both of his opponents off the stage and hits a leg drop onto Big Show. A pinfall, counted on the vertical edge of the stage, and Kane becomes the new Hardcore Championship.
A well-executed hardcore brawl, a lot of memorable moments packed in and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Kurt Angle is backstage, obsessing about the time that Chris Benoit made him tap out recently on TV. He’s so obsessed he doesn’t even let Edge & Christian lift his mood. We then hear from an Australian fan in the crowd, who’s journey apparently took 30 hours.
WrestleMania 17: Test vs Eddie Guerrero – WWF European Championship
Guerrero recently cost Test a non-title match on television to add a bit more heat to this title match. Eddie is accompanied by Perry Saturn in a fantastically OTT hat. Heyman on commentary pointing out how Texas used to be Mexico.
Eddie tries to get the jump early, but Test is powerful in response. A lot of back and forth action, Test looking very good, Eddie his usual classy self. Test gets hung upside in the ropes by his ankle and Saturn at ringside gets some cheap shots in. That intervention turns the momentum firmly in the direction of Guerrero for a while, as commentary go into detail about his family and their legacy. The power and size advantage of Test comes back into play as he takes back control but some sneaky tactics knock him off. With Guerrero face to face with the referee he hits a low blow backwards to Test, then distracts the referee to let Saturn his a move in the ring. A close call for Guerrero but Test fights back. Saturn gets involved again but the final distraction is from Dean Malenko. With that assistance, Guerrero hits Test with the title belt to pin and win.
A solid, fun match. The Radicalz wouldn’t last too much longer after this, so this match feels like a fitting send off. Test also holds up his end of the match more than enough, a great performance from him.
A backstage promo from Mick Foley about his role as guest referee for the McMahon vs McMahon match later.
WrestleMania 17: Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit
A battle of technicians. Kurt Angle gets some promo time on his way to the ring to really rile up the Texas crowd with digs at their state flag and their preference for Cowboy Hats. These two men had been two thirds of one of the better matches at the previous years show and whilst there are no titles on the line here, it’s a true clash of technical brilliance.
Immediately brilliant mat wrestling and grappling, so smoothly executed by both men. Shout outs to the Hart Family Dungeon and the New Japan Dojo on commentary. It’s Benoit who gets close to locking in his signature submission first, Angle getting to the ropes before the ‘Crossface’ is in, twice in quick succession.
Angle gets frustrated at Benoit seemingly out wrestling him and starts to throw strikes and play dirty. He also gives up his preference for a submission victory and starts to go for pinfalls. The pace picks up but is still so fundamentally sound and brilliantly executed. Angle starts throwing suplexes but mocks Benoit a bit too long and Benoit levels the playing field a bit. Benoit also abandons submissions as both become more desperate to win.
Benoit hits two of his three signature German Suplexes but gets caught in a Kurt Angle ankle lock, one Benoit turns around into an ankle lock of his own. The two then trade ‘crossface’ attempts. The referee gets knocked down before Angle taps out to the ‘crossface’. More great back and forth with both men going to the top rope, Angle missing a moonsault, Benoit hitting his diving headbutt. Angle recreates the low blow that Eddie Guerrero hit and grabs a handful of the tights to pick up a cheap and dirty win. The repetition of the low blow spot towards the end hurts things a bit but it’s a very well executed match.
William Regal is backstage and surprised by Kamala and Kimchee trashing his office. We then get a glimpse of a pep rally held at Fort Hood. Kurt Angle’s segments stand out the most. It’s back to live Kurt Angle after this package, Angle talking about his victory minutes earlier but getting attacked by Benoit for his troubles.
WrestleMania 17: Ivory vs Chyna – WWF Women’s Championship
Chyna had challenged Ivory back at the Royal Rumble earlier in the year but suffered a ‘neck injury’ in the process and couldn’t win the match. Ivory isn’t accompanied by her Right to Censor cohorts due to a pre match stipulation. There’s also a ‘hold harmless’ agreement in place meaning that Ivory can’t be held responsible if Chyna further injures her neck in this match.
Chyna gets a big spectacular entrance, Ivory saying goodbye to her title belt before using it for a sneak attack. A brief early flurry for Ivory but Chyna takes over quickly. Chyna gets a pinfall put pulls Ivory up to continue her attack. A nonchalant press slam, and a nonchalant pinfall, and Chyna wins to become women’s champion.
This was pretty much Chyna’s last major moment in the WWF, she’d be off TV by the following month and released by November.
We go backstage to Vince McMahon, with Trish and Stephanie. He’s checking that Linda is medicated before being interrupted by Michael Cole.
WrestleMania 17: Shane McMahon vs Mr. McMahon
Street Fight with Mick Foley as Special Guest Referee
A deeply personal father/son feud had even more stakes added when Shane became the owner of WCW just the week before. This was a slightly unnecessary wrinkle in the story given it was already incredibly personal stuff.
Shane McMahon is first to enter and gives a shout out to the wrestlers of WCW who are watching from a suite in the rafters before introducing Mick Foley. Both McMahon’s come out to ‘No Chance in Hell’ which is a pretty rare sight. Stephanie is in her Dad’s corner for this match after picking his side in the family feud.
It’s a street fight between two untrained wrestlers. So, it’s pretty sloppy from the off. A lot of strikes and choking etc. Stephanie gets involved early with a slap to Shane. The one thing the two McMahon men always brought to matches at this point was a willingness to put their bodies on the line. Neither is capable of much beyond brawling and daredevil car crash stuff but it’s fine as an example of that. A lot of weapons shots, Vince taking a beating around ringside. Shane throws his always useless looking punches; he looks better when using weapons rather than trying to work realistically. Paul Heyman’s outrage on commentary is entertaining stuff.
Vince ends up on the Spanish announce table but Stephanie pulls him out of the way of an elbow drop from Shane, who crashes through the table himself. This brings Trish out, rolling Linda down to ringside as requested by Vince earlier in the night. Trish though turns on Vince and slaps him, ending up in a fight with Stephanie. This marked the end of Trish’s alliance with the McMahons. Stephanie slaps Mick Foley for breaking up the fight and is chased to the back by Trish.
Vince starts to get in Linda’s face at ringside but Mick Foley protects her, Vince taking exception to it and attacking Foley with a chair. With Foley out of commission Vince puts Linda in a chair in the corner of the ring in order to make her watch. Four metal garbage cans end up in the ring, Shane taking a beating with them for a while with Linda watching.
In what has become an iconic moment, Linda stands from her chair to a tremendous ovation and low blows Vince. She wasn’t as medicated as Vince thought. Mick Foley is back and beats Vince down into a corner before Shane sets up his ‘coast to coast’ dropkick. It’s always impressive to see someone jump from corner to corner. Shane pins his father to win the match.
It’s more of an angle than a match, a lot of smoke and mirrors, but it’s entertaining stuff nonetheless.
We hear from the Hardy Boyz, speaking about TLC earlier in the weekend.
WrestleMania 17: The Dudley Boyz vs Edge & Christian vs The Hardy Boyz
TLC Match for the WWF Tag Team Championships
TLC II. A year on from their legendary triangle ladder match these three teams had already raised the stakes with the first Table, Ladders and Chairs match at the previous years SummerSlam. Each team has added a third member since the previous year, none are involved at ringside from the start though. There’s a certain brightness to Heyman’s voice as he intros the Dudley Boyz during their entrance. He gets a few chances mid-match to dive in the lore of the Dudley family, a nice nod to his own ECW.
With six men, tables, ladders, and chairs all involved, there is no point giving a play by play. The titular weapons come into play early and often. As do the big spills and crash landings. Edge takes Jeff down from the ladder pretty early on, before Jeff gets his revenge seconds later. The Hardys are the first to hit some real double team offense with a double dive from two ladders, the Dudley Boyz getting their own in straight after. The first table gets broken with Bubba Ray powerbombing Jeff through Edge, who’s laying on a table.
All six men climb ladders at the same time in a spot that would be repeated in every multi man ladder match for the rest of time. They all take a spill off, Christian going all the way to the floor in probably the worst looking one. Spike Dudley runs down to ringside and takes out Christian. Rhyno comes down to help out Edge & Christian, spearing Matt Hardy through a table. Lita joins the fray to make it even more chaotic. All nine people involved as the chaos ramps up even further.
Jeff dives off one of his signature 20ft ladders, through Spike Dudley and Rhyno on a table. More iconic moments as D-Von and Christian hang from the titles for a moment, Jeff Hardy trying and failing to take advantage before ending up hanging from the titles himself. In a moment that will be replayed from now to the end of time, Edge spears Jeff out of mid air. Rhyno takes out both Bubba Ray and Matt by pushing them through four tables on the outside. Edge holds D-Von down and Christian climbs on Rhyno’s shoulders to retrieve the titles and win the match.
It’s chaos, it’s a car crash. But it’s immense fun from all nine people that ended up being involved. A hugely influential match to this day, it set a ludicrously high bar for Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches.
It’s a shame we have to move along so quickly to a look at Mania Axxess. Mick Foley is a comedic standout, talking about scalping tickets and selling a personalised Mr. Socko for $200. Kurt Angle’s cameo is similarly funny.
WrestleMania 17: Gimmick Battle Royal
An entertaining look back at the past incarnations of the WWF. It’s a big collection of some of the silliest and strangest gimmicks the company ever put in the ring. And a couple of strange inclusions. One Man Gang is there because apparently the Akeem costume no longer fit. Michael Hayes was always flamboyant, but it seems a touch unfair to put him on the silliness level of the Gobbledy Gooker, for example.
In a classy hat tip to the past we get a change in commentary team. Reunited on WWF television for the first time in years, it’s Gene Okerlund and Bobby Heenan. Instant throwback vibes hearing these two for the first time since 1993. There’s two former WWF Champions involved here, the Iron Sheik and Sgt. Slaughter, but it’s primarily a fun look back at the companies cartoony past. The entrances take longer than the match but that’s not really the point of this segment.
Given that it is both a battle royal, and chock full of (far) past their prime talent it’s nothing interesting once the bell rings. But again, that’s not really the point. It’s a fun little spectacle and it’s only 4 minutes from start to end. The Iron Sheik wins, last eliminating Hillbilly Jim. Given how physically crocked he was by this point, going over the top rope probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for him. Sgt Slaughter gets some heat back for America by knocking Sheik out post-match. A fun diversion.
WrestleMania 17: The Undertaker vs Triple H
The forgotten first chapter in what would later become a trilogy of matches between these two at WrestleMania. Triple H had been taunting Undertaker, but also taking out a restraining order to keep him away from Stephanie McMahon. Undertaker finally got commissioner William Regal to out the match together by threatening to have Kane throw Stephanie off a balcony.
Motorhead are live in person to play Triple H’s entrance theme, not the last time they’d do it for their noted superfan. It’s not a great performance but it adds a layer to H’s entrance as he started to have more and more ridiculous entrances for Mania. Big entrance for Undertaker as well, barrelling to ringside on his motorbike, this being his first WrestleMania since taking on the ‘American Bad Ass’ persona.
They brawl straight from the off. Big old fist fight. Undertaker moved around a lot more as the ‘ABA’ than he had in his ‘Dead Man’ era, and he shows that right away. Heyman makes a neat little reference to his long-time connection with the Undertaker (he’d managed Taker back in WCW). After an early run for Undertaker, Triple H takes over but lets himself get distracted by arguing with the referee. That aside though it’s very even action.
Triple H goes to bring his sledgehammer into the ring but the referee once again draws his ire by disarming him. The referee is flattened straight away after this, once by accident and then intentionally by the Undertaker after counting only a two.
With this, the match goes into a different mode, becoming essentially a street fight. They brawl out into the crowd, all the way to the sound mixing desk. There are chair shots as they fight onto a scaffold, Triple H practically breaking a chair over Taker’s body. Taker recovers and chokeslams Triple H off the scaffold, ‘to hell’ as Jim Ross puts it. He follows up with an elbow drop onto Triple H. Taker fights off medics who try and attend to Triple H before dragging H back towards the ring.
The referee is still down when they reach the ring and Taker considers using Triple H’s sledgehammer on the man himself. When he goes for a swing, Triple H low blows to even the odds. After some more brawling Triple H tries to go for a ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ on Undertaker but Taker reverses it into one of his own. The referee doesn’t stir in time so Undertaker goes for the ‘Last Ride’ instead. Triple H uses the sledgehammer to fight out of the move, and the referee revives in time. Undertaker kicks out.
Undertaker catches Triple H with a ‘Last Ride’ out of the corner and pins for his ninth straight win at WrestleMania. A very enjoyable match that feels like a prototype of the WrestleMania epics that Undertaker would have in the future. The fact the referee was completely down for such a long time is a touch illogical, but it allowed the most interesting portion of the match to happen so it’s forgivable.
WrestleMania 17: The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
No Disqualification for the WWF Championship
The second chapter in the WrestleMania trilogy between the two top stars of the era. Austin had won his third Royal Rumble earlier in the year to claim this opportunity. The Rock won the WWF Championship at No Way Out in February to set this match up, becoming the first six-time champion in the process… The Rock has to win, but Austin HAS to win.
The video package breaking down the story for this match is a classic in its own right. Even without any nostalgia for the era, it’s brilliant.
The best use of Limp Bizkit’s music ever.
The No Disqualification stipulation is added just before the two men enter.
They brawl right from the off, it’s Austin/Rock after all, what else would you expect. It’s all about the intensity and the physicality. They’re onto the floor at ringside pretty early but keep fighting in and out of the ring. It’s back and forth, and back again.
Austin hits Rock with the ring bell and Rock is bleeding. Nothing pretty, or particularly smooth. But the intensity is off the charts. The Rock laying on the announce table before it spontaneously falls apart underneath him is unintentionally hilarious. Austin is taking full advantage of the surprise No Disqualification stipulation with a particularly aggressive and vicious style.
The Rock fights back by throwing Austin into an exposed turnbuckle, the hitting him with the ring bell, and Austin is bloodied. As the fight gets more and more vicious and Austin shows more of an unhinged side in his relentlessness, Heyman keeps questioning who made the match No Disqualification.
The Rock gets his bad looking ‘Sharpshooter’ locked in but it doesn’t hurt the match, the blood on Austin’s face giving us a Mania 13 throwback. Unlike at that show, Austin reaches the ropes in time to break the hold. Austin proves turnabout is fair play with his own pair of sharpshooter’s that the Rock just about manages to slip out of. The former ‘Ringmaster’ even pulls out the ‘Million Dollar Dream’, just proving quite how desperate Austin has become by this point. The Rock shows his own desperation by using Austin’s own ‘Stunner’ against Stone Cold himself.
The crowd are practically rabid at this point as Vince McMahon makes his way to ringside for unclear reasons. The two men in the ring trade spine busters before The Rock goes for his ‘People’s Elbow’. The Rock pins before McMahon interjects to pull him out of the pin. Rock chases McMahon but runs straight into a ‘Rock Bottom’ in the ring from Austin. Rock kicks out but the referee gets knocked down. Austin hits a low blow before McMahon re-enters the ring and hits Rock with a chair shot. McMahon then throws the referee in and we get a super close call on the pin, Austin virtually foaming at the mouth that he can’t put The Rock away. A McMahon distraction leads into another near fall before yet another chair shot to The Rock leads right into another one. A flurry of even more chair shots from Austin and he finally pins to win and become World Champion yet again.
We then get the iconic moment where Austin shakes McMahon’s hand. Austin has sold his soul to reclaim the World Title.
For many people, the Austin/McMahon handshake marks the end of the Attitude Era and the end of the company’s boom period. The near falls get a bit excessive towards the end. The length with which McMahon and Austin collaborated before the finish actually came undermined the impact of what was still a shocking moment. Other than that finish it’s still an intense and compelling back-and-forth contest, the finisher kick outs were just the norm for matches between these two men.
Even without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, this is a very good show. Your writer doesn’t have any nostalgia for the era and it was still incredibly fun throughout. After a couple of years where Mania felt like a supersized episode of TV, this felt like a real WrestleMania again. Even the weaker matches fulfilled a purpose and were either fun enough, or short enough, to add something to the whole package.
Jim Ross and Paul Heyman on commentary is a truly brilliant team, they bicker but not in a way that distracts from the action, and the detail they pack into every moment is great. It’s also a pleasure watching a whole show without some cringeworthy comment from someone like Jerry Lawler. When people say this is one of, if not, the best WrestleMania of all time, they aren’t telling a lie. It’s a great show.