With the WWE bringing us a Network Special live from Madison Square Garden this weekend, Fave Five returns with a look at five of my favourite moments from the WWE In it’s hallowed home territory. This is not intended to be the definitive, most important moments from WWE’s history in the building. More, as it says on the tin, five of my favourite moments from the hundred of cards the WWE has held in North America’s most famous arena. And with all due respect to WrestleMania I, Snuka leaping off the cage and Hulk Hogan wining his first WWF Title, I was far too young back then for any of that to resonate.
BRET HART WINS THE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE
Back in 1991, life was much more simple for the 11 year old me. I wasn’t’ smartened to the “business” so I didn’t know that Mr. Perfect had an injured back or that this was pre-destined to be Bret Hart’s moment to grab his first singles belt in the World Wrestling Federation. Of course when you find out, some years later, that Curt Hennig almost got off his hospital bed and risked further injury to an already badly injured back you can have a new found layer of respect for the match. This came from a time when title changes actually mattered and that winning your first Intercontinental title was something that marked you out as someone to watch.
WRESTLEMANIA X LADDER MATCH
Anyone who knows me will know that I consider Shawn Michaels to be the greatest in-ring performer I’ve ever seen in the WWF/E. He was a favourite of mine even before he made his way to the top of the company. I may have been the only person in my class to have been quite happy when he dethroned the British hero Davey Boy Smith as Intercontinental Champion. But as much as I thought he was great, this match changed everything, It wasn’t just that it was so different from anything we’d seen on WWF television up to that point. This was one of those “star making” matches when you knew you were witnessing the birth of a true star. You knew that this was a huge step on the, ahem, ladder towards Shawn becoming the face of the WWF. Of course, the path would not run smoothly, even though Michaels kept up this level of performance for the next two years. But you knew this was something special.
STONE COLD STUNS THE BOSS
As vital as the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin was to the WWE’s catching up to, and eventual overcoming of, WCW in the mid-late 1990’s there was perhaps nothing more integral to the upswing in fortunes for the company than his feud with main man Vince McMahon. In September 1997 that was still some way from fully forming but the seeds for arguably the biggest money making feud of all time it the form of Austin Vs McMahon were planted on September 22nd 1997. After interrupting an Owen Hart promo and fighting off half a dozen or so of “NYPD’s finest” who tried to stop him, Austin was faced with the compassionate Vince (who, remember, had yet to screw Bret Hart and turn heel at this point), eager to explain that Austin, who had been injured by Owen Hart the previous month, was in not condition to compete and was still injured. Austin’s answer to this compassion? A Stone Cold Stunner to his boss that set MSG alight and led to Austin being handcuffed and dragged out of the building in handcuffs. Vince surely heard the booming ovation for this act of defiance and saw the dollar signs swirling in front of his eyes. Although it would take other catalysts to really set the Vince heel turn and the feud between him and Austin into motion, this was the genesis of the storyline that changed everything.
CACTUS IN THE GARDEN
This actually happened on the same night as the Stone Cold Stunner mentioned above. Imagine that, two memorable moments on the same episode of Raw… Anyway, it was the thing we thought we’d never see. When Mick Foley made his WWF debut as Mankind it would have seemed incongruous to imagine he would ever grace the big stage as Cactus Jack. The rise of Dude Love seemed to hammer another nail into the coffin on that score too. But on this night, all three characters collided (in a wonderfully daft bit of video) and Cactus Jack made his belated debut on WWF screens, As the pop showed, even those fans entrenched in WWF fandom knew about the legend of Cactus Jack. The way HHH sold the moment was brilliant too. One of the most maniacal wrestlers in history was back in the building. The Streetfight match that they had was pretty solid too.
TRIPLE H RETURNS
You would have thought, in the aftermath of HHH’s 2001 injury that no other wrestler in WWF History had ever been injured. Weeks and months of emotional videos of the injury occurring, Triple H going in for surgery and then heroically rehabbing to make his return did get a little overbearing. The montage set to U2’s “Beautiful Day” has to be one of the most ego-driven presentations that the WWE have ever given us as well. And yet… the sheer noise of the thunderous crowd pop, that surely rivaled (if not surpassed) anything that Hulk Hogan got in the same building was something of pure beauty. Although it was one of those “engineered” crowd responses in some ways, with Vince playing the WWE’s crowd like Pavlov’s dogs, it was nevertheless something that could in no way be accused of being “manufactured”. This was not a instant reaction to a surprise, this was something that fans knew was building, that they knew was coming. And they absolutely blew the roof off the MSG.
There’s been numerous other moments to savour at Madison Square Garden over the years, and these are just a few. Maybe a few more will be made this weekend…