WrestleMania 19: It’s the one with Rock Vs Austin 3, and the brand split era has come upon us. With the roster having exploded with the infusion of WCW and ECW talent, and a growing crop of talent coming up from developmental, the newly renamed WWE had split the company down the middle, creating defined separate rosters for Raw and SmackDown. This mostly impact the show in that the company now has two major World Titles, which are still being effectively portrayed as equal by this point.
The video package opening the show recycles some comments from the previous year, peppering in some from the newer wrestlers at the top of the show. We’re at the SafeCo Field (now T-Mobile Park) in Seattle. With this being post brand split, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are on commentary. Ashanti sings ‘America the Beautiful’ but it’s not on the Network.
WrestleMania 19: Matt Hardy vs Rey Mysterio – WWE Cruiserweight Championship
New WWE Hall of Famer Rey Mysterio making his WrestleMania debut against the cult classic ‘Version 1’ of Matt Hardy. Complete with Shannon Moore and a vague relationship to the cruiserweight weight limit. Mysterio is dressed in ‘Daredevil’ inspired gear.
A jam packed, rapid match. Both men involved pack an awful lot in, as does Shannon Moore whenever the referee is distracted. Tazz is something of a verbal blur himself on commentary. A lot of high flying lucha libre moves from Mysterio, Hardy fighting back with his size advantage. Mysterio goes for the ‘619’ but Shannon Moore trips him up, Mysterio kicking out of a ‘Twist of Fate’ not long after. Mysterio hits a top rope ‘Hurricanrana’ but Moore again interjects himself. A ‘619’ from Mysterio but Hardy manages to roll him into a pinfall with a rope assist. Sneaky victory after a good quick match to start us off.
We go backstage to the ‘Miller Lite Catfight Girls’ who prove quickly they weren’t hired for their brilliant acting skills. Limp Bizkit are here. It is 2003 after all.
WrestleMania 19: The Undertaker vs Big Show & A-Train
The match that was supposed to see The Undertaker take part in his first tag team action at WrestleMania, but his planned partner Nathan Jones was taken out of the match at the last minute. Apparently, he couldn’t get up to speed so an angle was filmed where Big Show and A-Train took him out.
The Limp Bizkit performance thankfully leads straight into the Undertakers entrance. A-Train spits on Taker’s bike during his way to the ring, a Big Show sneak attack doesn’t work well for him. Undertaker has apparently dedicated this match to his nephew, who was deployed in the then new Iraq War. Lots of sneaky double teaming from Show and A-Train, with the referee more than happy to be virtually blind in order to facilitate. Undertaker is at his most athletic here and his sequences on top are pretty good, Show & A-Train are a bit slower.
It’s a bit slow for too long to be really interesting but there are some dynamic comebacks from the Undertaker to keep things from getting too dull. Big Show abandons going for a pinfall to run up the ramp to try and stop Nathan Jones from interfering. It doesn’t work and Jones is quickly in the ring and helping Undertaker pin A-Train to further his streak.
There’s a reason this match doesn’t come up very often in retrospectives of the Streak. It’s not terrible by any stretch, it just feels like filler…
The Cat Fight girls are back. Talking about how much they’re enjoying the show despite seemingly being backstage this whole time, just walking around. They bump in Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler and have a perfectly natural conversation. Jim Ross gives a shout out to the troops in Iraq, hoping they’re back soon.
WrestleMania 19: Victoria vs Trish Stratus vs Jazz – WWE Women’s Championship
It’s the second triple threat in two years for the Women’s title. With two of the same three women. Victoria comes in as the women’s champion, replacing Lita from the prior year. She has Steven Richards with at ringside.
It takes about 20 seconds for Lawler to make some sort of dubious reference to one of the women’s appearances. Jazz is physically dominant early on, Victoria not far behind her in that area. There are some sloppy double team moves to Stratus, but she manages to fight her way out. Jim Ross makes reference to Lawler’s relatively recent divorce by saying he must be “done with blondes”.
The tentative Jazz/Victoria alliance keeps recurring but almost never lasts more than a couple of moves before a miscue or miscommunication. Steven Richards breaks up a Jazz submission on Stratus for his first involvement in the match. Not long after he goes for a chair shot to Stratus, misses and hits himself and is taken out. Stratus hits Victoria with a kick to the midsection and pins to win the Women’s Championship, her fourth reign.
Jonathan Coachman is backstage, trying to get an interview with The Rock. Rock claims he has sold out every WrestleMania he has been involved in and runs down the fans who turned on him for going to Hollywood. It’s classic Rock, on the verge of off the rails but not quite falling off.
WrestleMania 19: Team Angle (Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin) vs Chris Benoit & Rhyno vs Los Guerreros (Eddie & Chavo) – WWE Tag Team Championship
After the Raw tag titles were defended on the pre-show, it’s the SmackDown equivalents who get to appear on the main card. This combination of six men isn’t quite the fabled ‘SmackDown six’ of the era but it’s close enough. It’s definitely six fantastic in-ring workers.
A lot of rapid tags mean we get a lot of different combinations, not of which outstay their welcome. A good pace to the action, the mix of styles work really well across all the combinations of talent. Rhyno & Benoit bring intensity, Team Angle bring mat grappling, the Guerreros bring high flying and underhanded tactics. Eddie Guerrero goes for the first big move but Benoit reverses a ‘frog splash’ attempt into a superplex and it’s only Charlie Haas breaking up the pinfall that saves Guerrero, something he does twice more in short order afterwards.
Benoit hits his triple German Suplexes on Chavo, who gets a tag out that Benoit misses. Its almost near constant action from this point. Rhyno hits a ‘Gore’ on Chavo but Eddie breaks up the pin, allowing Shelton Benjamin to slide in and pin Chavo to retain the titles for Team Angle. A very enjoyable match that manages to be constant action without losing any structure.
More Catfight girl’s stuff. Keibler and Wilson start arguing about who really made WrestleMania. Stacy Keibler is right. The Catfight girls argue themselves, more natural looking acting.
WrestleMania 19: Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho
A clash of generations even with only a five-year age gap between them. Jericho looked up to Michaels when he was starting out and the two men have attacked each other on several occasions since Michaels returned the previous year. It’s all about Jericho feeling like he’s been held down for years by people calling him ‘the next Shawn Michaels’. This is Michaels’ first Mania since he dropped the world title to Steve Austin at Mania 14. Some of the confetti cannons Michaels tries to fire during his entrance don’t work but he covers for it well. It’s a spectacular entrance, Jericho looking increasingly irritated by the pomp as it continues.
A slow feeling out process early on, grappling exchanges from both men. All smoothly executed as you’d expect from these two men. Jericho is the first to start throwing strikes as the intensity starts to ramp up. Michaels shows off flashes of his high flying and submission skills with ‘figure four’. It’s a big mixture of styles, blended very well by two men known for their wide repertoire.
They fight to the outside, Jericho locking Michaels in the ‘Walls of Jericho’ on the entryway before starting to target the previously injured back of Michaels. This slows Michaels down and allows Jericho to take over for the most one-sided period of the match so far. Michaels does get a bit of a comeback, but Jericho continues to mock him by stealing some signature Michaels spots and poses.
The two men trade pinfall attempts before another ‘Walls of Jericho’ attempt is countered into another sequence of trading back and forth. After even more compelling exchanges, Jericho gets the ‘Walls’ in but can’t force the tap out. Jericho starts to get a bit desperate and goes to the top rope before impersonating Michaels and hitting the ‘Sweet Chin Music’ on the man himself. There’s a kick out though.
It’s just a very good, well executed match, full of clever work and interesting moments. The finishing sequence post Jericho ‘Sweet Chin Music’ feels like its own mini match in and of itself. Michaels wins with a roll up, a clever finish that sells how equal the two men were and how close it was.
Post-match, Jericho looks like he is accepting a show of respect from Michaels. The two men hug before Jericho steps back and low blows Michaels. This was the first match in a feud that would bubble along for the rest of Michaels’ active career, really flaring up again in 2008.
The attendance is announced as a SafeCo Field record before Limp Bizkit are back. They perform the theme for the event ‘Crack Addict’. It is, once again, very 2003. (Editor Note: This song was actually never released by Limp Bizkit as a single or on an album, and it was only ever used for this show)
The Miller Lite girls are back yet again. They’re here to have a catfight on a bed on the stage, emceed by Jonathan Coachman. It’s just titillating, objectifying, filler. Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson join in just because. The dumb segment ends with Coachman somehow losing and the four women posing with their backs to the crowd.
WrestleMania 19: Triple H vs Booker T – World Heavyweight Championship
Oh dear, it’s that match. The one with all the coded racism from Triple H towards Booker T. References to ‘nappy hair’, ‘street thugs’, and ‘somebody like you’, capped off with HHH throwing a dollar to Booker to get him to get him a towel. It’s not aged very well, and it wasn’t acceptable at the time.
Triple H is out first as the Champion, which will always be a strange visual. Lawler plays into the narrative around the match as Booker T makes his entrance, calling him a ‘street thug’. Jim Ross is at least a touch more sympathetic towards Booker.
It is unfortunately, not a particularly good match to follow that build up. It’s very Triple H dominated, which means slow and fairly plodding. Jim Ross and Lawler bickering about the relative merits of the two men is distracting, mainly for Lawler’s attempts to justify the coded racism. Booker T does get some manner of a fight back, but it doesn’t raise much interest. Ric Flair getting involved on the outside is the most interesting thing about it. That and Jim Ross losing his mind over Triple H using the rare ‘Indian Deathlock’ hold. Unfortunately, because it’s Triple H, the match is also far too long. Flair tries to get involved, Booker fights him off, as Lawler goes overboard in complaining about the injustice.
Triple H hits the ‘Pedigree’ and famously takes an excessively long time to crawl over for the pinfall, making Booker look like a chump. Awful match. Boring and overlong with a let down of a finish on top of the shite build. The only thing that could have saved it would have been Booker T walking away the winner but we didn’t even get that.
WrestleMania 19: Hulk Hogan vs Mr McMahon – Street Fight
20 years in the making. It’s a battle over who helped create Hulkamania and by extension WrestleMania. There’s a lot of real-life tension involved, the steroids trial in 1994, Hogan leaving to go to WCW, all that stuff. Hogan has put his career on the line to get this match.
Hogan is in the classic red and yellow attire but came out to his nWo era ‘Voodoo Child’, this is dubbed over on the Network, which makes Hogan’s air guitar playing look a bit awkward. It’s not a technical classic, it’s a street fight where the youngest (Hogan) is almost 50, and McMahon is closer to 60. But both men know how to control a crowd and McMahon was always perfectly willing to take a beating if it enhanced a match or a moment. It’s a big sloppy brawl. Campy pantomime fun after the drabness of the previous match.
McMahon is the first to bring weapons into play, missing a chair shot on the floor, before taking a beating right to the head. McMahon immediately bleeding like a leaking tap. Hogan gets some more presumably cathartic chair shots on his boss, and one on Spanish commentator Hugo Savinovich as well. McMahon brings a ladder out after Hogan starts to bleed himself. After a bit more brawling McMahon hits a leg drop from the ladder through Hogan on an announce table. Hogan kicks out from two successive pinfall attempts by McMahon, who looks disgusting with all the blood pouring down his face. An iconic visual as McMahon peers up from behind the apron, steel pipe in hand, he is low blowed before he gets the chance to use it.
With both men down a man in a trench coat climbs into the ring and takes the coat to reveal it’s Roddy Piper, making a shock appearance. He spits at Hogan and berates McMahon but eventually attacks Hogan with the pipe and leaves. But still Hogan kicks out. McMahon responds by taking the referee down and calling for his personal referee, Sylvan Grenier. Hogan Hulks Up in response. The Big Boot, three Leg Drops. The win for Hogan.
There’s a lot of stalling, and overbooking tropes, and it’s a bit long. But it’s at least some campy fun. Shane McMahon comes to the ring to check on his father post-match. Because we’ve got to keep the McMahon’s in the spotlight, I guess.
WrestleMania 19: The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
The final match in an iconic trilogy between two icons. Austin was pretty much done with the company and on the verge of retirement entirely. Not that this was common knowledge at the time. Neither was The Rock’s upcoming sabbatical. A stellar video package, soundtracked by ‘Crack Addict’, because it is 2003 after all. Both men’s entrances are somehow both big time feeling and understated at the same time, no histrionics, just naturally massive reactions.
There’s a brief face off before Austin gets the first shots in. They brawl as Rock & Austin always did. Fighting out of the ring and all the way around it. It’s all Austin in the early going. The referee keeps berating Austin for his shortcuts, which distracts Austin long enough for the Rock to take over. Much like a lot of their previous matches, it’s helped by the referee being very lenient as both men take plenty of shortcuts. They generally just brawl, it’s about the two men’s charisma more than their in-ring work. The Rock’s bad looking ‘Sharpshooter’ makes its return, giving Jim Ross a chance to talk about Bret Hart.
Rock puts Austin’s entrance jacket on but gets some comeuppance for his arrogance once he’s back in the ring. Even handed back and forth, Rock still wearing Austin’s jacket for a while. The two men trade each other’s finishing moves, both kicking out. They then hit their own moves, more kick outs. Austin manhandles the referee and allows Rock an opening to low blow him. Rock goes for the ‘People’s Elbow’ but misses. A second attempt, without the jacket this time, hits but Austin kicks out. A ‘Rock Bottom’ gets the same result. A second, and the kick out. A third ‘Rock Bottom’ and the Rock finally wins.
It’s not the best of their trilogy, but it’s probably the middle of the three. It gets a bit too finisher kick out heavy, but that was the style of the matches between these two. As a finale to Austin’s career (at the time) it’s fitting that he put over his greatest rival one last time.
WrestleMania 19: Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar – WWE Championship
Two men with claims to having had the best rookie years in company history. Lesnar was already a former World Champion and former King of the Ring before winning the Royal Rumble in January to set up this match. Angle was struggling severely with a neck injury going into the match, and it was touch and go for a while if he would even participate. There’s a video package to illustrate the path from the Rumble to here, and all the diversions Angle had tried to put into the road.
The odds are evened out, if anyone interferes on Angle’s behalf, or he gets disqualified or counted out, Lesnar wins the title. The second World title match of the night where the champion comes out first. Michael Cole sounds like he’s losing his voice a bit during Angle’s entrance. This also marks the first time that two men using their real names headlined WrestleMania.
An intense face off leads straight into a feeling out process. As two of the most decorated and capable amateur wrestlers to step into a WWE ring, both men are smooth as silk in early grappling exchanges. Lesnar has a 60-pound size advantage, but Angle uses his speed to stay alive. Lesnar’s taped up ribs also come into play, Angle getting some moments of hope by targeting them.
It’s good back and forth. Not exactly rapid, but there are few of the long stretches of truly slow action that sometimes mar a more ‘technical’ match. Tazz on commentary does a great job of explaining the various submission holds that both men use in the match.
There’s the first big drop in pace with a long succession of holds from Angle, thankfully he switches holds often enough so it’s not a single static hold. Lesnar manages to power up to his feet and break the hold by running backwards into two turnbuckles. It’s still primarily Angle even after Lesnar fights to get some separation. Both men finally start to throw more strikes, the action ramping up again. Some big displays of power from Lesnar, throwing Angle around like a ragdoll with some suplexes, Angle giving them right back.
Some more back and forth, a couple of finisher attempts are traded before Angle throws a beautiful German Suplex that makes Lesnar do a full rotation in mid-air. Angle’s straps come down and an ‘Angle Slam’, Lesnar kicks out. Lesnar hits his ‘F5’ and Angle kicks out in return. According to commentary it is the first time either moved has been kicked out from, which might be true for the ‘F5’ at least. Angle gets the ‘Ankle Lock’ back on, this time with a grapevine that Lesnar manages to fight his way out of. An ‘Angle Slam’ attempt is countered into an ‘F5’ and Lesnar doesn’t go for the pinfall straight away.
He looks towards the corner and smiles. It’s time for THAT moment. Lesnar in his OVW was known for hitting a ‘shooting star press’ and he goes for one here. Infamously, he underrotates and lands right on his neck/head. Lesnar is instantly concussed. A third ‘F5’ and Lesnar pins to win.
An ending sequence that will go down in history, Lesnar probably only walking away without being paralysed because of the strength of his neck. That finishing sequence does hurt the match as a whole but it’s a good contest that is markedly different in style from the previous few years.
When people discuss which WrestleMania count amongst the best of all time, they often mention XIX. And rightly so. It’s not perfect by any stretch but all the big matches deliver (Triple H/Booker T aside). The tag team triple threat is a hidden gem. The one-two punch of the final two matches is a particular delight, something that parallels Mania X-7, the other show that generally comes up in discussion around the greatest Manias. There is an awful lot of Limp Bizkit, and the Miller Lite Girls, but they are largely confined to the first half of the show so they don’t drag things down too much.