|Image Source: WrestleNewz|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWF
Date: April 1 2001
Location: Reliant Astrodome, Houston, Texas, USA
With WrestleMania 31 just days away, the focus for this week’s retro event review is on the greatest WrestleMania of them all, and arguably the greatest show in WWWF/WWF/WWE history: WrestleMania X-Seven.
It is lauded as such because it saw the top stars of the entire Attitude Era converging on the grandest stage of them all, in the most legendary contests of their careers in some cases, all in front of a huge stadium crowd. Add to that the historical significance of this being the first PPV since the buy-out of WCW, and WrestleMania X-Seven stands out as a truly unforgettable night of action.
That being said, it took its sweet time to get going. The opening bout between Chris Jericho and William Regal for the Intercontinental Championship was a nice little match, but it ended a bit abruptly following a Jericho Lionsault; with a few more minutes, this match could have been a lot more memorable. As it stands, the most memorable aspect of this contest was the set-up which saw Y2J deliver a “pee-pee” flavoured-cup of tea for the then-Commissioner. Regal’s best moment of this card came later when he chased Kamala out of his office; the Ugandan Giant was dancing on his desk (yes, really), and the Commissioner’s response was priceless: “You want me to rub the bloody moon on his belly? Are you mad, man? Bugger off, you heathen!”
Bout two was even less notable; a short six-man between the team of Tazz and The APA and Right To Censor (remember them?). Besides Tazz losing his ring awareness on more than one occasion, this wasn’t that bad a match, just not very memorable. Bradshaw won with an ultra-stiff Clothesline From Hell and soaked up the cheers of the Houston fans in his home state afterwards. RTC would dissolve a few weeks later, although few shed tears over that break-up.
The third match was Raven vs. Kane vs. Big Show for the Hardcore Title. This was the era of hardcore matches which dissolved into downright silliness, and this bout was a perfect example. A lengthy chase around the inside and backstage area of the Reliant Astrodome saw such daft visuals as Kane tossing Raven through a glass window, Big Show taking an age to lock Kane in a cage which the Big Red Machine easily escaped from, Kane and Big Show chasing Raven (the defending titleholder) in golf carts only for Kane to accidentally run over Raven’s ankle, Big Show looking utterly knackered from all the running, and a bizarre legdrop off the stage by Kane which allowed him to pin Show and win the match (although the latter move didn’t really connect). It was all great fun and, for what it’s worth, was the highlight of the card thus far.
Next up was Eddie Guerrero vs. Test for the European Title. A forgettable bout with an even less memorable storyline, this was another example of a clash which suffered from a lack of time and a general lack of interest; on another night, this could have been a great match. As it was, I remember it solely for Guerrero somehow falling out the ring after Test got his foot caught in the ropes, and Eddie winning the gold after a distraction from Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko. Who could have foreseen that Latino Heat would enter WrestleMania as WWF/WWE Champion just three years later?
Match five pitted Kurt Angle against Chris Benoit. This was a really good technical wrestling match at a time when matches based on the mechanics of wrestling weren’t that popular. This crowd did appreciate the effort that went into the match, which Angle won by pinfall with a handful of tights. Their feud would continue, although the re-ignition of their rivalry in late 2002/early 2003 would provide truly classic wrestling action, by which point the audience was totally in approval.
The sixth clash was Chyna’s shot at revenge against Women’s Champion and RTC member Ivory for an injury suffered months beforehand. This at least had a story behind it, and Chyna was still quite popular with WWF fans, but the Women’s division definitely wasn’t a priority at this point (the women were to an extent, but the wrestling aspect wasn’t), and the RTC gimmick never resulted in much excitement. As stated, the Ninth Wonder Of The World dispatched of the titleholder quickly – too quickly – and won very easily. Chyna would reign as champ for two months, showing a bit of indifference it has to be said, before leaving the WWF that summer.
Now, up until this point you might be wondering “why is WM X-Seven regarded so highly given the action so far?” Well, here’s where things begin to change. The first six matches weren’t that memorable, and whilst one was very good and another was rather fun, the first half of the seventeenth Mania would not make any classic lists. What does elevate the show is the Street Fight between Vince and Shane McMahon. This was incredibly entertaining, a great story match surrounded by some big stunts and drama like only the McMahons can provide. A flying Shane elbow which Vince avoided that put the prodigal son through an announcer’s table; a betrayal by Trish Stratus on Vince leading to a catfight with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley; an apparently comatose Linda McMahon coming out of her chair (to a massive pop) to get revenge on Vince; special guest referee Mick Foley getting some shots in; and Shane hitting the Van Terminator on Vince for the first time to win – this was a real treat and a perfect example of how a great match isn’t always because of the wrestling involved. That some WCW wrestlers were in attendance to see their on-screen boss take down the WWF chief made it feel even bigger.
By the way, the then-retired Foley was originally slated to wrestle Vince, but there were disagreements which led to it not happening (different reports state different reasons why it didn’t go down), which led the Hardcore Legend to at least suspect that Vince’s chairshots on Foley in this match were unnecessarily hard. Hmmm …
Still, whilst the Street Fight was loads of fun, it would be topped – and the card would edge a lot closer to greatness – by TLC II. Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz rekindled their classic tag team rivalry for one more supercard showdown, the second ever Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. And what a stunt show it was: whilst some spots were familiar, they were all taken to new heights here. Brutal chairshots; violent table falls; hair-raising drops off ladders; interference from Lita and WWF newcomers Rhyno and Spike Dudley – it was all one lengthy portion of absolute carnage. E&C won the Tag Titles from the Dudleyz, becoming champs for the seventh and final time, but the match is mainly remembered for the insane moment where the Manbeast tipped a ladder that had Matt Hardy and Bubba Ray Dudley standing on it, causing them to drop through four stacked ringside tables, and most of all, the massive Spear from Edge onto Jeff Hardy, who was hanging by the titles around 15 feet in the air. This is one of the most replayed WrestleMania moments of the 21st century, and rightfully so.
There was minor disappointment that the Hardyz didn’t win, but nobody could be let down by the match itself. Although they joined Jericho and Benoit for one more – tamer – TLC bout the following month on SmackDown!, this was the last big chapter of the greatest tag team rivalry in company history. And what a way to go out: this was a stunt show classic, and the greatest or second greatest match of this kind ever (depending on whether you rank this above or below the first TLC match from SummerSlam 2000).
This bout perfectly showcased the 2001 WWF product – but match nine was a hark back to yesteryear. A Gimmick Battle Royal brought together a fleet of classic – or not-so-classic – characters from the old days in what was presented as a deliberately absurd homage to the era when many of these people were key WWF players. The cast consisted of The Bushwhackers, Repo Man, Duke Droese, The Iron Sheik, Earthquake, Jim Cornette, Tugboat, Michael P.S. Hayes, One Man Gang, The Gobbledy Gooker, The Goon, Doink, Kamala, Kim Chee, Hillbilly Jim, Brother Love, Nicholai Volkoff and Sgt Slaughter. On commentary were the legendary Mean Gene Okerlund and Bobby Heenan, which gave the match a real old-school feel. Both were rather funny, especially Heenan (as usual) who came up with the line of the night: “By the time The Iron Sheik gets to the ring, it’ll be WrestleMania 38.” He also made a comment about Slaughter, the former drill instructor, “firing blanks”.
The battle royal itself didn’t last that long; Repo Man was out within seconds, and some eliminations were too amateurish to believe (which may have been the intention). Tugboat eliminated Earthquake somewhat surprisingly, and Kamala’s dispatching of Doink was heavily booed (the clown was clearly the crowd favourite here). Sheik won only to have a very amateur exchange afterwards with Slaughter, who ended up locking his old Iranian rival in the Cobra Clutch. There was a rumour that Sheik won mainly because he simply couldn’t have withstood the bump to the floor via the top rope.
I personally loved that match – well, maybe not loved, but highly enjoyed it – but it was time to get back to the Attitude Era, and the semi-final was a true epic. Triple H vs. The Undertaker, for the first time ever on PPV. For some reason, to this day people say that they had never met before this match at all which is false, and some still say that HHH never ever beat Taker (which discounts the importance of their main event at InsurreXtion 2002; actually, maybe the answer is in there somewhere).
Regardless, the brawl they had here was superb, as it began in the ring, ventured into the crowd (where a Taker chokeslam over a camera railing to HHH was spoiled only by a replay which showed The Game clearly landing on a crash mat), and ended up back in the ring, where dramatic moments saw Taker bring back his Tombstone, HHH prevent a Last Ride with a timely sledgehammer shot, and Taker reverse a corner beat-down into a Last Ride (the first time he had done this, by the way) to beat Triple H in his home state at WrestleMania (something acknowledged here because he was in his biker phase, not his Dead Man incarnation). Jim Ross on commentary noted that the win allowed Taker to go 9-0 at WM; the Streak was alive but was not properly acknowledged other than comments like this, and wouldn’t be until 2005. For this reason, many were surprised that HHH lost; in hindsight, the victory actually launched the Streak because, if it was low priority but still important enough for Taker to get an unlikely win over the Cerebral Assassin, there must have been more to it. And, of course, Undertaker and HHH would meet again at future WrestleManias, with the Streak very much at stake.
It was now time for the main event, an eagerly-anticipated WWF Title match between home state contender Stone Cold Steve Austin and reigning titleholder The Rock. By now, Rock had become a WWF mega-star, but Stone Cold wanted his crown back after a year on the shelf. Both were babyfaces, but their feud escalated in the run-up to WM, encapsulated by the topnotch promo video for the match set to the Limp Bizkit song My Way, the theme of WM X7 (this was the best match promo package ever, in my opinion, and another great example of how an event’s theme song can elevate the show as a whole). Beforehand, most expected an Austin victory, but how would he win? It’s safe to say nobody expected what would go down.
Rock and Austin had met at WM XV in a superb match, but Stone Cold’s injury cast doubt over whether this one would deliver. As it turned out, they delivered and then some and then a whole lot more; this was the greatest WWF Championship match of all-time in my opinion. It was a super-intense, highly-charged brawl which saw a ton of big moves, a huge amount of drama and blood, and a brilliantly-told story of Stone Cold’s desperation to become WWF Champion again. So much so that when Vince McMahon came down midway through, it was to set up the unthinkable. As McMahon got involved by denying Rock victory on more than one occasion, at first it seemed that Austin was forsaking his legendary feud with Vince so he could beat Rock. But over the next few minutes, the truth became clear: Austin and Vince were together! Indeed, they teamed up on Rock to deliver chairshots, but the defending champion would not stay down. As this happened, and the fans were realising what was happening, Austin was beginning to receive boos, and the previously-booed Rock was gathering more cheers. A brutal 16-chairshot beat-down by Austin won the match, which did receive a big cheer (he was in his home state after all), but the post-match handshake confirmed Austin’s defection to the dark side, and a subsequent whack to Rock with the title and middle fingers to the crowd proved it beyond doubt. Jim Ross was beside himself with rage on commentary, with Paul Heyman brilliantly needling him throughout for supporting Austin, and now mocking JR because of Stone Cold’s heel turn.
Opinion is divided on whether Austin should have turned heel or not, and the impact this had on business. Stone Cold himself wishes he had called an audible and Stunnered Vince and remained a face. Others, including Jim Ross, say the heel turn was a mistake. No doubt, business dropped after WM X7; but this was a combination of factors. Yes, those who had supported Stone Cold for years probably felt uncomfortable with him as a villain, but consider that around the same time, the Monday Night Wars had ended (which reduced interest in wrestling as a whole, albeit accidentally); The Rock took the first real steps into what would become an extremely lucrative movie career; Triple H would be injured just a month-and-a-half later; and storylines were generally just not generating the same excitement as those from 1998-2000.
Plus, ratings had been sliding for months, not rapidly but they had been dropping since the move to TNN in September 2000. So, it is understandable that Austin going heel would be seen as a reason for the decline in business, but it was by no means the only reason. Also, the Attitude Era had peaked in terms of story-telling and, on this very show, in terms of action. It would be a long time before the WWF/WWE truly moved on from this great period, and even though it did and has done ever since, ratings have never again reached the sky-high levels of this once-in-a-lifetime chapter of history. Besides, Austin was great as a heel. At first, maybe not as everybody (including him) was adjusting to the change, but as he added elements of comedy in the summer, and became the brutal yet incredibly entertaining head of the Alliance, he became a real highlight of programming, and his heel run became a very memorable part of his career.
To me, the only way that Austin could have truly flourished as a heel would have been to have had a PPV rematch with Rock – that Steel Cage bout from the post-Mania Raw, perhaps – which then could have sidelined Rock for his movie role, with HHH then turning face to oppose Austin over the next few months before the WCW/ECW Invasion began and/or Rock returned to fight Austin again at SummerSlam, and so on. Had business remained steady following Mania, chances are that the invasion could have been held off until 2002 (which was the original plan) and could have featured the authentic names, and generally been a bigger boost for business. Under the circumstances, various factors meant the right move (Austin going bad) at the wrong time, and the knock-on effect on business led to rushed or incorrect decisions. Perhaps this is why John Cena hasn’t turned heel: as much as people want to see it happen, and feel that he could replicate the impact made by Hollywood Hulk Hogan in WCW, the situation with Austin’s heel turn may serve as a strong piece of evidence on why it shouldn’t happen in the minds of the WWE brass. And they may be right. Granted, Cena is far staler now than Austin was in 2001, and a heel Cena would be far fresher than a heel Austin was back then, but that’s another story.
For the purpose of this review, though, whether you agreed with the heel turn or not, it’s undeniable that it was a truly shocking conclusion – a real WrestleMania moment – to one of the best PPV main events ever, and the match itself was a phenomenal end to an incredible night of action. The greatness of the second half more than compensated for the lower quality first half, and the top matches here were all-time classics. Even the second string of top matches were superb. And on this large stage in front of the largest WWF attendance in the US since WrestleMania III, all while featuring the cast and creativity of the Attitude Era at its absolute best, it’s easy to see why WrestleMania X-Seven stands as the greatest in the event’s history. I would love to see WM 31 top it, but I don’t see it happening; and in fairness, even brilliant shows like WM XIX and WM XXIV were still missing something to truly overtake Mania 17. If you watch only one show to get yourself in the mood for WrestleMania 31, make it WrestleMania X-Seven, the grandest WrestleMania of them all.
Overall Rating: 10/10 – Perfect