Let me start off this review with some amazing information. Two actual pieces of amazing information.
Amazing info piece number 1: Kurt Angle wrestled in the main event with a broken freaking neck.
Amazing info piece number 2: The night before the show, Stone Cold Steve Austin was in the hospital after feeling adverse affects from stress, working out, and drinking high energy ephedrine laced drinks. He thought he was having a heart attack.
Those two guys sucked it up, and for the sake of the show, for the sake of the WWE, and for the sake of their boss, Vince McMahon, they wrestled their matches. But, Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon was seen as the top match and all the advertising was based around this match which would be marketed as “20 Years In The Making”.
Most of the WWE created hype surrounded the match that wanted to be the answer to the question of who created Hulkamania. It turned out to be a good match, but wasn’t close to the efforts that some of the other wrestlers provided.
Kurt Angle found out about a month before this Wrestlemania that he had a broken neck and was probably not going to be able to wrestle at Mania. He was going to need neck surgery and would likely miss over a year of ring time. He decided to tough it out and wrestle Brock Lesnar at Mania and defend his WWE Title. There was a ton of worry that Kurt would hurt his neck and become paralyzed. However, Kurt took the advice of a doctor that said he couldn’t do much worse in hurting his neck in the match and decided to go on and compete, albeit with reservation. The reservation was because Brock Lesnar had become the most dominant big man in the game and he wasn’t in there throwing the soft stuff. The match turned out to be a true classic, and in the end it wasn’t Kurt that everyone was worried about.
On the Raw brand side, HHH was defending his World Title against Booker T. During the entire build up to the match, it was made to seem that Booker was inferior and it wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough in the ring. It was a really bad angle as far as build up to the World Title was concerned as even if Booker was to win, he still wasn’t seen as on HHH’s level. Just another way for HHH to show that he needed to be on top. Booker was originally scheduled to win the title from HHH, but when you’re married to the boss’ daughter, you can probably change your mind and get your way whenever you wanted.
The show started with a spark, not a bang. It could’ve been a match that stole the show, but the two guys weren’t given enough time. Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio were only booked for a short match and while they put their all into it, with Hardy retaining the Crusierweight championship in a small upset, it was slightly disappointing. But it wasn’t their fault. I’m sure if they were booked for 15 minutes, they could’ve pulled it off.
The Undertaker was set for a tag team match with Nathan Jones against the Big Show and A-Train. Nathan Jones was taken out of the match for being as green as grass and also, probably because it made the Taker look better by beating two guys by himself. And that’s exactly what he did.
The Women’s Championship match wasn’t looked at as the worst match on the card in 2003. In actuality, one could give a strong argument that it was better than the Undertaker’s match. I know for sure that I liked it better. And of course, my next wife, Trish Stratus (when she gets divorced) left Safeco Field with the belt. The WWE Tag Team Championship match (The World Tag Titles were not on the big show) between Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas), Los Guerreros, and Chris Benoit and Rhyno was also considered a semi-disappointment considering all the guys involved in the match. Team Angle would go home with the belts.
The next match nearly just stolen the show. Chris Jericho idolized The Heartbreak Kid and this was his chance to prove to his idol that he was pretty damn good himself. They put on a show with some of the best back and forth action on the card and even though HBK won when Jericho could’ve been helped more with a victory, you could only applaud both guys. It was Michaels’ first Wrestlemania match in five years. Jericho would later say that it was his decision to put his idol over.
The World Title match between HHH and Booker wasn’t the best match on the card, but it was definitely above average. The best spot in the match was one in which Booker went to the top rope and fended off both Ric Flair and HHH and gave HHH the Harlem (Houston) Hangover which is a front flip into a leg drop from the top rope. It looked awesome coming from such a big person. I know he’d done it before, but never done at Mania. In the end, HHH went over and it was probably because Goldberg was coming. Goldberg would debut the next day at Raw and after wrestling the Rock and Chris Jericho over the next couple months, he was fed to HHH.
The match that all the advertising was behind was only third from the top of the card. I totally expected it to be last. But Vince saw that he needed Brock Lesnar to be on last. There’s one thing about Vince. He goes into the ring, and he works his ass off. He takes some of the best bumps and for being the guy who runs a multi-million dollar company. Hogan looked every bit of his over 50 years old in the face, but worked hard on his biggest stage of the year and along with McMahon, put on an entertaining match. Roddy Piper would interfere, laying Hogan out with a pipe, but Hogan would do his shake and no sell routine and pin McMahon, not having to retire, which was the stipulation.
Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jim Ross were supposedly the only two men who knew that this would be Austin’s last match. Not only was he in the hospital the night before, but his neck was killing him. He already had fused vertebrae in his neck and doing so again would probably mean he couldn’t do anything physical regarding his head or neck. As it was, he couldn’t do much anyway. And at Mania, he and the Rock put on a great performance, probably second to only the Wrestlemania X-Seven performance. They kicked out of each other’s finishers several times and had the audience eating out of their hands. Austin had beat Rock at Mania XV and X-7 and Rock had never beat him on this stage. Rock would eventually go over and in Austin’s last match, the biggest wrestling star the WWE had seen since Hogan’s 80’s run, had wrestled his last match. Austin might wrestle again as retirements are usually never final, but Austin’s situation is pretty severe and I wouldn’t be surprised if he never wrestled again.
Kurt Angle put on a heroic performance. There wasn’t a wonder if Brock Lesnar could be in a classic match. The only worry was that he’d falter under the pressure of being in the last match in front of over 50,000 people after such a hot show. But Kurt Angle was there to help him through it. He was about to show everyone in the world that with a broken neck, he could have a classic match.
While the common wrestling fan didn’t know about Kurt’s injury, the fans who read the newsletters or read some of the better internet sites knew what was going on. And it literally scared us. We winced every time Brock dropped Kurt, hoping and wishing that he would fall softly. But as the match went on, we just watched in amazement. And then one of the more spectacular things happened. Brock Lesnar went to the top rope and when he went up there, I knew what he was going to do. As a young wrestler who wanted to show off his athletic ability, he would pull off the shooting star press. The shooting star press was a move that some of the small guys could do, and even when they would do it, you wondered if they would hurt themselves. You leap from the top rope, pull off a backwards 360 and hit a splash on the wrestler on the mat. And Brock was carrying about 300 pounds at this time. As he went up to the top, I was worried that he would mistime his jump and maybe hurt Kurt in the process. But I also noticed that Kurt was kind of far away. Brock didn’t get enough air under his jump and like a lawn dart, nearly broke his neck coming up short on the backwards 360. It was amazing to watch, but immediately you wondered if he was ok. Kurt walked him through the rest of the match which concluded with Lesnar hitting Kurt with the F-5 to win the title.
It was an amazing Wrestlemania and one that is probably the second best of them all.
If there’s one negative of the show, it’s that Limp Bizkit had two long performances. The second was for Undertaker’s entrance so it wasn’t all that bad, but still, unless you’re a Fred Durst fan, this was just making you wait longer for the wrestling.
Cruiserweight Champion Matt Hardy w/ Shannon Moore def. Rey Mysterio
The Undertaker def. Big Show & A-Train
Trish Stratus def. Victoria & Jazz for the Women’s Championship
WWE Tag Team Champions Team Angle (Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin) def. Los Guerreros (Eddie & Chavo Guerrero) vs. Chris Benoit & Rhyno
Shawn Michaels def. Chris Jericho
World Heavyweight Champion Triple H def. Booker T
Hulk Hogan def. Mr. McMahon
The Rock def. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Brock Lesnar def. Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship
Photo of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar shared via Wikipedia