WrestleMania 15: The One with Austin Vs Rock #1. It’s Russo-Mania. By this point, the WWF had firmly turned the tide of the war with WCW and were back on top of the North American wrestling landscape. This was in part due to the crash TV style that was a Vince Russo trademark and this show is arguably the peak of that style and how it worked for WrestleMania 15. Or didn’t work as the case might be…
We get ‘America the Beautiful’ to kick us off, Boyz II Men with an acapella rendition. An almost ridiculous video package is next, saved entirely by the conviction of ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie’s voiceover. This package alone is the kind of pomp that helps kick off an event of this size on the right foot. We’re in Philadelphia tonight with Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler on commentary – with Jim Ross not around until the main event after suffering with Bell’s Palsy.
WrestleMania 15: Billy Gunn vs Al Snow vs Hardcore Holly
WWF Hardcore Championship
One of the hallmarks of this period was the growing inclusion of Hardcore wrestling into the WWF product. The Hardcore Championship had come into existence in November the previous year and is being defended at WrestleMania for the first time.
Billy Gunn had swapped places with his tag team partner Road Dogg having been in the Intercontinental Title picture until just two weeks before this show. The match is just a big hardcore brawl. A lot of the usual weapons you’d expect, chairs and the like. Periodically something a touch more unusual comes into play like a hockey stick or a broom. Al Snow ups the bizarre factor by using his sidekick ‘Head’ (a polystyrene head) as a weapon.
The match finishes out of nowhere with Hardcore Holly pinning Billy Gunn after a chair shot. Holly is the new Hardcore champion and we move on. A bit of controlled chaos to open up.
WrestleMania 15: Owen Hart & Jeff Jarrett vs D’Lo Brown & Test
WWF Tag Team Championships
D’Lo Brown and Test became a team on the pre-show after becoming the final two men left in a battle royal. Brown has Ivory by his side, sporting a bandage on her face after an attack from a lit cigar by Terri Runnels. The champions haven’t even made it out before the challengers are arguing with one another. Hart and Jarrett are accompanied by Debra, which means Lawler is completely distracted the entire time by her sheer presence.
Brown and Test get the jump early on but Owen Hart is able to briefly get some fight back but the sheer size of Test gives him some difficulty. Brown saves Test from the ‘Sharpshooter, Test returns the favour by yelling at him. It becomes a touch more even, Brown in particular getting some good offense in. Debra and Ivory distract the referee, and Test, by arguing and Hart & Jarrett isolate Brown. Brown gets pinned and the Champions retain. Filler, it’s well executed but it’s a TV match.
After a video package for the coming match, we get a glimpse of Isaac Hayes and an early appearance for the Mean Street Posse.
WrestleMania 15: Butterbean vs Bart Gunn – “Brawl for All” Match
Bart Gunn’s reward for winning the legitimate fighting tournament the ‘Brawl for All’ the previous year is a fight against legendary knockout artist Butterbean. Boxer Vinnie Pazienza is the guest referee and the referees are trainer Kevin Rooney, boxer Chuck Wepner, and wrestling legend Gorilla Monsoon. This was Monsoon’s final on screen appearance for the company before his death in October that same year, and he gets a rightful standing ovation.
A lot of pomp and ceremony with the ropes being set up to resemble a boxing ring and a complicated scoring system. Butterbean gets one good shot in and knocks Gunn down. Gunn makes it back to his feet before a second knocks him out. 35 seconds officially.
The Brawl for All was a dumb idea that both hurt the characters and the real bodies of a lot of people the previous year. This match was, if anything, even worse. It feels like Gunn is being punished for his unexpected victory by being fed to a far more experienced, renowned, fighter.
Sports mascot The San Diego Chicken arrives and mocks Pazienza. The Chicken gets knocked out for its trouble.
WrestleMania 15: Mankind vs Big Show
A fight to become the guest referee in the main event. These two had brawled on the Sunday Night Head episode before the show. This marks Big Show’s first WrestleMania of many. A strong, brief, promo from Mankind before the match.
Big Show is already looking larger than he was at his athletic peak in WCW but he’s not lumbering just yet. Mankind puts a lot of effort in to trying to knock him down early on but can’t. They fight to the floor and back in as Big Show takes control. Show goes to the floor and gets caught in the mandible claw submission three times after getting back in, all assisted by Mr. Socko as was the norm at the time. Mankind hits a low blow which goes unpunished before Show slowly fights out by falling backwards and dropping his whole-body weight on top of Mankind.
They go back outside and Big Show starts to use a chair on Mankind, despite being warned by the referee, who looks pretty ineffective. Show sets up two chairs in the ring and chokeslams Mankind through them. Finally, the referee disqualifies Big Show. A dumb finish. Finishes that make referee’s look stupid are never good and this is a particularly bad one, the referee looks weak for failing to enforce the rules for such a long time. Vince Russo was the lead writer at this point and that is a trademark of his.
Post-match, Mr. McMahon comes down to berate Big Show for failing to become the guest referee for the main event. After a couple of teases Big Show knocks McMahon out and breaks away from the Corporation. This would start the long running theme of Big Show’s every changing morality for the rest of his career. Mankind is taken out on a stretcher.
WrestleMania 15: Road Dogg vs Goldust vs Ken Shamrock vs Val Venis
Four Corners Elimination match for the Intercontinental Championship
The other half of the New Age Outlaws swap was mentioned earlier. Road Dogg has moved over to the Intercontinental title fight, swapping with Billy Gunn. Dogg is first out and gets his full microphone spiel in. Val Venis is next out, the man Road Dogg beat for the title just two weeks before. Venis gets microphone time of his own. Goldust has The Blue Meanie and Ryan Shamrock with him. Ken Shamrock is last out and the least gimmicky of all four men.
Rather than having all four men legal in the match, this features tags and only two men in the ring at a time. This means that the action in the ring has a little bit more room to breathe but unfortunately it takes a while before the format actually settles down. Instead of regular tags and changes of personnel, we get some long stretches of uninteresting singles action. There also aren’t any eliminations for quite a while, which given the speed of the action means there isn’t much going on. Ken Shamrock and Val Venis are the first to be eliminated, in an unsatisfying fashion by being counted out after brawling up the ramp. Shamrock snaps and attacks both Road Dogg and Goldust before finally leaving. There’s apparently a miscommunication with Ryan Shamrock on the outside and she costs Goldust the match, Road Dogg pinning him to win and retain.
Perfectly fine action left down by weird formatting and a boring layout. Long stretches of nothing with everything packed into the last minute.
Big Show is backstage getting ‘arrested’. In other words, he’s getting put into a normal car with a bunch of extras dressed as police.
WrestleMania 15: Kane vs Triple H
The root of this rivalry revolves around Chyna. She had turned her back on Triple H and joined up with the Corporation, forming a bond with Kane in the process. As Kane makes his entrance, the San Diego Chicken reappears and attacks Kane. It’s Pete Rose trying to get some revenge from the previous year, it doesn’t go well, and he eats a ‘Tombstone Piledriver’.
Triple H sneaks attacks Kane from behind whilst his music plays on the stage and they’re brawling straight away. Kane takes a big spill into the steel steps and two quick follow ups into the ringside barrier. It’s all Triple H early on until Kane manages to turn it around and throw H into the Mean Street Posse in the front row. A big beatdown from Kane, it gets a bit long in the tooth after a while.
After Triple H finally turns things around Chyna appears to distract him. Chyna pushes some steel stairs into the ring which backfire on Kane repeatedly.
With Kane in charge Chyna looks to be bringing a chair into the ring to help Kane but she betrays him. The match is thrown out and Chyna reunites with Triple H. An angle disguised as an overlong match.
Kevin Kelly is backstage trying to find out who will referee the main event. Mankind is apparently off to hospital, so Mr McMahon is going to step in.
WrestleMania 15: Sable vs Tori
Tori had debuted as a Sable superfan who eventually felt let down by Sable’s apparently new attitude. Sable is one feature of the Attitude Era that is difficult to parse in retrospect. Sure, she’s an attractive woman, but she’s got zero acting ability or charisma and little wrestling skill. The fact she was so inexplicably popular is a bit sad when you think of it, it’s a good job we’ve come so far in the 20+ years since.
As much as Michael Cole might call Sable a ‘tremendous’ in ring performer, the action is barely passable. Tori had wrestled in Japan earlier in her career but a five year break before this match clearly hadn’t helped. It’s sloppy in its entirety. Howard Stern personality Nicole Bass makes her debut and helps Sable whilst the referee is knocked out and Sable wins.
A terrible match. Unfortunately, it would be quite a while yet before Women’s matches got the respect they deserve at WrestleMania.
WrestleMania 15: Shane McMahon vs X-Pac
WWF European Championship
Another part of the ongoing feud between the Corporation and D-Generation X, who have a promo pre-match now they are whole again with the return of Chyna. Corporation stooges Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson attack X-Pac during his entrance but he fights them off easily.
A lot of stalling and ga-ga early on, Shane running away from X-Pac, and celebrating like a goof when he pulls off an impressive leap. Test actually does more of the work for McMahon early on, attacking X-Pac with the referee’s back turned. With X-Pac hurt McMahon finally starts to go on the offense. He goes for The Rock’s ‘Corporate/People’s Elbow’ and misses but starts to cheat more openly. The referee admonishing him but doing little to actually stop it.
The Mean Street Posse at ringside try and get involved but X-Pac fights them off, the distraction allowing Test to get another shot in. A brief run for McMahon before X-Pac almost gets the win after a superplex, Test once again getting involved to drag X-Pac out of the pinfall. After teasing it earlier X-Pac finally hits the ‘Bronco Buster’ but is taken out by Test yet again behind the referee’s back. More and more Test shenanigans mar the match before DX finally come down to even the odds. Or so it seems. Triple H turns on X-Pac and hands the victory to McMahon.
A car crash. Way too much interference but there were at least a few moments of interesting action. After just reuniting, DX are over as Triple H and Chyna side with Corporation. The New Age Outlaws try to come down to save X-Pac but are fought off. Kane then comes out to close out the segment.
WrestleMania 15: The Undertaker vs Big Boss Man
Hell in a Cell match
Oh boy. It’s the forgotten Hell in a Cell match. The Undertaker has morphed into the leader of the quasi-Satanic Ministry of Darkness by this point, the darkest he ever got. His Ministry have been feuding with the Corporation and have gone to war with the McMahon family in particular. This whole storyline is building towards the ‘Higher Power’ reveal later in the year, a historically bad storyline conclusion. But for now, the story is pretty compelling stuff, dark and ridiculous stuff sure, but its got decent stakes. Rather than face Mr. McMahon in a match, The Undertaker is taking on Corporation head of security Big Boss Man. The anticipation for such a hellacious match is somewhat undercut by Michael Cole shilling M&M’s during Big Boss Man’s entrance.
Once the bell rings, it’s not all that interesting. These two men are both good to great workers but it doesn’t show here. There’s nothing about the action that really justifies it being inside Hell in a Cell. Taker does get handcuffed to the Cell wall, but it breaks almost immediately. The referee in this match seems far too interested in trying to enforce some kind of order, trying to bring the two men back into the ring etc.
The match ends up going less than ten minutes but it somehow feels like twice that. Other than some blood from both men it’s not wrestled all that differently to a regular match of the period. Undertaker finally hits his ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ and he wins. A bit of an out-of-nowhere way for the match to finish. But we’re setting up for something else…
Ministry members Gangrel, Edge, and Christian rappel their way down from the ceiling and drop a noose down to Undertaker. The noose goes around Big Boss Man’s neck and the cell is raise, hanging him in a particularly graphic visual. It’s one of the most out-there visuals of the era, and one that it’s surprising no one got in major trouble over. Cole shouting ‘is it symbolic?!’ over the Boss Man getting murdered on live PPV before cutting to footage of the ‘WrestleMania Rage’ party is one hell of a contrast… I’d like to say another Hello to Vince Russo at this point… What a mess.
WrestleMania 15: The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
No Disqualification match for the WWF Championship
Another chapter in the ongoing saga of Austin vs McMahon. The Rock was the handpicked Corporate champion, having won the belt at the previous year’s Survivor Series. Austin had defeated Mr McMahon a month prior to earning this title shot after McMahon won the Royal Rumble. Jim Ross is out to commentate on this main event. Mr McMahon is the guest referee.
Commissioner Shawn Michaels cuts him off. Michaels informs McMahon that only the Commissioner can appoint officials. He takes a long road to get there, rambling, given that it’s obvious from the moment he comes out that this is why he’s here. Michaels also bars the Corporation from ringside but does say he might let McMahon come down.
It will never not be weird to see the Champion come out first for a title match. Even if in this case it does give Steve Austin the big entrance moment. Austin isn’t wearing his usual vest having apparently left it at home. Trash talking from The Rock leads straight into fists flying as the bell rings. 30 seconds in and this is already the most exciting action of the whole night. They fight out of the ring, back in and then right out into the crowd. The camera shots of this part of the match aren’t great but thankfully these segments aren’t too long. They move from the crowd to the entranceway where there is more clear space to see what’s going on. Austin takes a painful looking back body drop onto a piece of lighting equipment as the two men fight into and around a lot of production equipment.
The Rock takes over with a suplex on the concrete floor as they come back down to ringside, but it doesn’t last particularly long. Austin tries to elbow drop Rock through the Spanish announce table but it takes two attempts before the table actually breaks. More good-looking brawling around the ring before The Rock manages to hit a ‘Rock Bottom’ back in the ring. Austin kicks out and the Rock responds by getting a chair to use as a weapon. The referee gets taken out with said chair. The Rock uses the chair for a while before Austin kicks out after a second referee joins the match.
Things slow down for a while with the Rock in control. Yet another Austin kick out leads The Rock to beat up a second referee. This gives the Rock time to kick out of an Austin ‘Stunner’ when a third referee runs down. Mr. McMahon is out now and gets straight into the ring. McMahon takes out the third referee and joins The Rock in beating down Austin.
As this is going on, Mankind appears, having apparently returned from the hospital. He throws McMahon out and takes over as referee. All a bit chaotic to say the least. A jam-packed sequence of finisher attempts before Austin hits a ‘Stunner’. Pinfall and the win for Austin. Stone Cold is the new world champion as Mr McMahon looks distraught on the outside.
Bogged down in all the overbooking tropes of the era, the match was at least compelling and well-fought. It might go down as the weakest of the WrestleMania trilogy between Rock and Austin but it saves the show as a whole from being completely mediocre.
Overall – WrestleMania 15
It’s essentially a glorified episode of TV. The main event is probably the only decent match and even that is let down by an overbooked and car crash finish. The rest of the matches are either too short, have a bad ending, or both. Most of it feels like it is building to things down the line rather than being the pinnacle of a storyline. The fact that the second-best match on the night featured non-wrestler Shane McMahon and was full of run-ins and other BS tells you all you need to know.
Michael Cole is inoffensive on commentary but it takes a big step up when Jim Ross returns for the main event. Not a good show at all, one of the weaker WrestleMania, especially considering the star power that was available to the company at the time.