WrestleMania 13: The Transitory WrestleMania

Originally aired March 23rd, 1997 from the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, IL

1997 was a unique time to be a fan of the WWF. The company was getting spanked by WCW in the ratings, and the writing was on the wall: things had to change in some fundamental way. As the attitudes and desires of the fanbase changed, so did the product, but old ways die hard and slow, and the change to the Attitude Era had not yet taken full shape. The word here is transitional. WrestleMania 13 is the last WrestleMania with Vince McMahon on commentary. It’s the last one with the extremely dated and cheesy WrestleMania theme song in use. Even the intro video puts a dark spin on the proceedings of the 13th event; all was dark and changing by the minute, it seemed.

As a lifelong “WWF/WWE guy” who also watched the NWA/WCW regularly, I found it to be an exciting time. Everything was in flux, and while it made for an uneven product where the lows were quite low, the highs were also insanely high. I watched both shows religiously, flipping back and forth like a madman in an attempt to miss absolutely nothing. If you’re reading this, then you probably remember what I’m talking about.

So, let’s dig into the “Transitional WrestleMania”—what do ya’ say?

[Side note: I refer to all titles with the nomenclature of the day, i.e. WWF and not WWE]

Four Way Tag Team Elimination Match to Determine the #1 Contenders to the WWF Tag Team Championships: The New Blackjacks (Blackjack Bradshaw and Blackjack Windham) vs. The Godwins (w/ Hillbilly Jim) vs. The Headbangers vs. Doug Furnas & Phil LaFon

I’ll say right off the bat that I love the format of this match; it’s a “free tag elimination”, meaning anyone can tag anyone, potentially leading to tag team partners fighting each other (which does happen here). We get a heavy dose of the Blackjacks early (Bradshaw looks so young and Windham still looks great), though every team involved are hellacious workers giving it everything they have.

It’s a plethora of quick tags and odd pairings before the first fall occurs when Blackjack Bradshaw hits the ref and gets DQ’d, which also leads to Furnas and LaFon getting counted out while brawling with the Blackjacks. And just like that, you’re down to a traditional tag team match pitting the Headbangers and the Godwins against each other! The match settles into a standard but sound tag team match running about five minutes before Thrasher hits the Cannonball Senton for the win and a shot at the Tag Team Championships on Monday Night Raw the following night. Good pop for the Headbangers from what is notoriously one of the tougher crowds.


Intercontinental Championship Match: Rocky Maivia (Champion) vs. The Sultan (Challenger) (w/The Iron Shiek & Bob Backlund)

The ref holds up the arms of The Rock and Rocky Johnson at WrestleMania 13

Hey, look! It’s The Rock before he was The Rock. Instead, it’s Rocky Maivia, a longer-haired babyface who’s all smiles and high-fives. It’s a bit bizarre to see, honestly—your brain is so used to The Great One that you forget this dude ever wrestled in a WWF ring. At the other end of the ring is The Sultan aka Rikishi. It’s a family affair not pushed as such (missed opportunity in my opinion).

Rocky comes out all fists and fire for the first couple of minutes until The Sultan dodges a clothesline and Rocky ends up showing the ringpost who’s boss. This leaner and meaner version of the soon-to-be Rikishi works over Rocky for a few minutes slowly and methodically (and with solid crowd heat). The eventual comeback is super babyface stuff, pumping up and feeding off the inspiration of the fans. The two trade money shots for another couple of minutes of false finishes before Rocky catches Sultan with a schoolboy out of nowhere for the 3-count!

After the match, the heels immediately throw a beatdown on Rocky until (big pop) his dad, Rocky Johnson, runs down to make the save.


Backstage, Todd Pettengill (remember him?) interviews UFC star Ken Shamrock, the special guest referee for the Submission Match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin. They show footage of Shamrock grappling with various WWF Superstars to “show them who he is”. He says he won’t be intimidated by either Austin or Hart. Next, Michael Hayes (still going by Doc Hendrix) interviews Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Chyna. It’s a new association, and Hayes asks what the relationship between the two is. Helmsley tells him it’s none of his business before running down Goldust and Marlena for a bit.

Hunter Hearst Helmsley (w/Chyna) vs. Goldust (w/Marlena)

The presentation of the soon-to-be Triple H is, at this point, still that of the blue-blooded aristocrat, but you can see the next iteration emerging slowly but surely. And this is prime Goldust! It’s all Goldust early as he comes out with some of his patented mind games and a surprisingly vicious clothesline for the early advantage. Helmsley then gets twisted in the ropes, Andre the Giant style. Goldust with more offence until Helmsley counters a superplex and spills Goldust to the floor outside from the top rope in a memorable nasty spot. Then the cerebral assassination is on! A series of knees, peppering right hands, and an abdominal stretch give Helmsley control. He then slows it down with grounding submissions.

The back and forth picks back up, and Goldust counters a double axe-handle in the most uniquely Goldust way possible, utilizing his ass in a perfectly-timed jumping butt strike. Then Chyna starts stalking Marlena around the ring, leading to the distraction that allows Helmsley to create friendly fire between Goldust and Marlena. That’s when Chyna catches Marlena and does the infamous ragdoll, one of the funniest “brutality spots” of all time (which also made Chyna look superhuman, which she was). A seriously distracted Goldust is hit with the Pedigree for the win!


WWF Tag Team Championship Match: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog (Champions) vs. Mankind & Vader (Challengers)

The British Bulldog has two titles (Tag Team and European) and Owen has a pair of Slammy Awards…what a combo! The match starts off with classic Vader on Hart—snug as hell and really physical. Tags switch it over to Mankind and Bulldog. The ref is having noticeable trouble maintaining control here. It’s chaos outside the ring to follow. Foley looks to be in the best shape of his career, and he does much of the heavy lifting during the more controlled portion of the match. Vader does hit a truly nasty splash (but weren’t all of Vader’s splashes nasty?) that Bulldog somehow survives and then goes on to hit a strong vertical suplex on the four-hundred-plus pounder; it’s easy to forget how freakishly strong The British Bulldog was! Mankind gets control of Bulldog back outside the ring again and locks in the Mandible Claw, which leads to a double count-out. Say what? A double count-out? What in the happy crappy is that? One of the worst booked finishes in WrestleMania history for what was a wild, entertaining, physical match.


Submission Match (w/ Special Guest Referee Ken Shamrock): Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

Bret Hart takes a swing at Steve Austin outside the ring at WrestleMania 13

It’s the match that was voted “Match of the Year” for 1997 by the Wrestling Observer and is considered universally to be one of the best matches in WrestleMania history. Inarguably, it’s the match that kicked off the ‘Attitude Era’ style of wrestling.

Austin attacks Hart before he can even get his ring jacket off, and before you can blink, the two men are on the floor and into the crowd, whipping each other into ring posts and barricades and nailing each other with every foreign object imaginable. Every punch thrown in this match is the definition of working stiff; these two absolutely bomb each other throughout. Once Austin starts to bleed outside the ring, it gets a bit one-sided with Hart laying in some heavy offence, despite having eaten one of those classic Attitude Era chair shots to the head a bit earlier. Austin bleeds profusely, however, and it’s getting concerning even before Hart locks in the Sharpshooter. They are telling a hell of a story with full intensity. It’s the star-making match of both men’s careers.

It’s also easily the best submission match finish in history, as Austin spends a friggin’ eternity in the Sharpshooter, blood streaming down his face in rivers before he finally passes out from the pain and cannot respond. Shamrock calls the match and declares Hart the winner, though Austin never submitted. There’s some post-match physicality between Shamrock and Hart when Bret refuses to let go of the Sharpshooter before Bret cries off and exits to a chorus of boos, suddenly a heel despite entering as (more or less) a babyface. Austin awakens to cheers, suddenly a babyface despite entering as a firm heel. It’s the elusive double-turn, and it happened organically through killer in-ring work and a commitment to tell a violent story. Easily the best match of the show and the one that WrestleMania 13 is remembered for despite not being the actual main event.


Backstage, Todd Pettengill interviews Farooq and the Nation of Domination. Farooq keeps it short and sweet: they’re bringing everything including the kitchen sink. It’s time for a Chicago Street Fight.

Chicago Street Fight: The Nation of Domination (Farooq, Savio Vega, & Crush) vs. The Legion of Doom & Ahmed Johnson

Three words: “Road Warrior Pop”. This is a match that’s impossible to call in any conventional sense. With a full-strength Nation of Domination that included biker backup from Crush and his crew, this match is essentially a seven-on-three street fight in a ring laden with weapons, from chairs to trash cans to stop signs to electrical cords. The fire extinguisher spots are particularly problematic for the ventilation at ringside; the ringside commentary area ends up covered in white reside for the rest of the show! And still it’s over ten minutes of a seriously violent (and much better than remembered) street fight. A pair of Doomsday Devices spells the end of the Nation, and all is right with the world.


No Disqualification WWF Championship Match: Psycho Sid (Champion) vs. The Undertaker (Challenger)

A victorious Undertaker holds up the WWF Championship belt at WrestleMania 13

An injured Shawn Michaels (still in babyface mode pre-DX) makes his way out to the ringside area for commentary on the main event to much applause, all while hamming it up and collecting a ton of high-fives and clamoring hugs from fans. It’s the longest entrance of the night, though both Sid and Undertaker’s slow and methodical entrances take a good while as well.

Before the match can even start, Bret Hart is back out in the ring and calling for a microphone. He runs down Shawn Michaels, tells the Undertaker their friendship is done, and calls Sid a paper champion before Sid powerbombs his whiny ass and sends him packing. Undertaker takes advantage of the distraction for the early advantage, but Sid soon gains control and holds it after countering an attempted Stinger Splash with a bear hug that he maintains for about two or three minutes (snooze).

The next few minutes are all Sid, with heavy forearms, fists, and even a couple of aerial moves. He even hits the Undertaker with his own Tombstone Piledriver at one point! Before you can say crybaby, however, Bret Hart is back out and taking it to Sid. Undertaker, in a match where he had maybe three minutes of the total offence, takes advantage of the dazed Psycho Sid and nails the Tombstone for the win as the fans lose their collective minds.

Afterwards, it’s all purple lights and the noise of thunder as Undertaker poses with his newly won title.



It is easy to see why WrestleMania 13 isn’t remembered as one of the all-time great WrestleMania shows. The card feels truncated (at least by today’s bloated standards), with only seven matches on the main card. The Intercontinental Championship match features a babyface Rocky Maivia in a sound but uninspiring contest, and there’s even a double count-out in the Tag Team Championship! I mean, a damn double count-out at a ‘Mania? Seriously?!

Still, the Chicago Street Fight overperformed and the Triple H vs Goldust match told a nice enough story. Then there is the utterly legendary Submission Match between Bret “Hitman” Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and that is worth the price of admission alone. The main event just doesn’t feel like the main event though, having to follow Hart and Austin’s performance. Everyone gave their gameday best, it’s true, but most of the card just didn’t have great storytelling, instead feeling like a bunch of random Monday Night Raw matches without much build. It’s a 2.5 out of 5 stars for me.

Written by Stuart Monroe

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