With Wrestlemania 31 fast approaching, I was appointed the task to compile some sort of list to commemorate the dumbest or craziest or coolest or whatever moments of Wrestlemania. No easy task. But I set out to compile a list of the best matches, and a lot of them shared a common theme: they were mostly from the same Wrestlemania. Interested in why, I fired up the WWE Network and turned on Wrestlemania X-7 (17), and was reminded of why I became a wrestling fan. Wrestlemania 17, my friends, is the greatest Wrestlemania of all time. Read on to find out why.
On April 1st, 2001, fans packed the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas, ready for the culmination of what was possibly the greatest run of storytelling in WWE history. Almost every match that night was main-event material, and every fan knew it full well. Six different titles were on the line that night, and everyone was psyched for every single one, not to mention the other five non-title matches. Everyone seemed to go above and beyond that night, and it definitely paid off.
The first two matches were good, not spectacular, which may have worked to their advantage. The first was all right, Chris Jericho VS. William Regal, very technical, pretty short, on to the next one. Tazz teamed up with Bradshaw and Farooq of the APA to take on a newer group that never really took off: the prudish Right To Censor, made up of Val Venis, the Goodfather, and Bull Buchanan. Four minutes in length, mostly brawling, Tazz and the APA win, ok, whatever. At this point, it seems like an everyday house show, so what’s the big deal?
That. The next match was Kane, Big Show, and Raven facing off in a triple-threat match for the Hardcore Title. The fight ended up going backstage and saw, among other things, Kane throwing Raven through a window, Kane shoving Raven’s head through a wall, Big Show throwing a metal bookcase onto Raven (jeez, poor Raven), Big Show using Kane’s body to break down a door, Big Show riding piggy-back on a golf cart being driven by Raven, hands wrapped around his throat, and Big Show and Raven being thrown off the mainstage into a glass container, only to be leg-dropped by Kane and pinned for the victory. That was one of the lower-key matches of the night. Yeah.
From that match, Eddie Guerrero faced Test for the European title. Guerrero is a legend, even post-mortem, so back in his heyday this caused quite a huge fuss.
Then, we got to see the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon, take on his son, Shane McMahon. Shane was taking revenge on his father for (warning: serious drama ahead) heavily sedating his mother and confining her to a wheelchair so he could flaunts his affairs in front of her (I warned you). The match starts out rough, since neither of them are trained wrestlers, but quickly becomes a guilty pleasure as you watch Vince get beat to all hell to atone for his crimes, and you watch Shane pull uncharacteristically athletic moves, be it elbow-dropping through the announcer’s table or jumping from the opposite turnbuckle to kick a trashcan into his dad’s face.
After the crowd is jazzed up from seeing the biggest villain in the WWE get what he deserves, the next match is being set up: A six-man tag-team triple-threat Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match.
The Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boyz, and Edge and Christian will do battle for the tag team titles, which are suspended far above the ring. The only way to get them is to climb the ladder and detach them. The three teams go at it, and metal is flying, be it a ladder bashing into the skulls of Matt and Jeff Hardy, or Edge and Christian’s ally Rhyno being swanton-bombed through a table.
It’s pure mayhem. Over 60,000 fans scream at the top of their lungs as Edge and Christian make it to the top of the ladder and retrieve their titles. Voices are hoarse from hollering, hearts race from witnessing increasingly death-defying stunts, and then a stunning realization settles over the audience: This isn’t even the main event. The tension is at an all-time high. Coming off the greatest adrenaline buzz known to man, the fans look around. What’s next? What’s following THIS?
Oh, boy. Well, no Pay-Per-View is perfect, right? Following one of the most incredibly brutal matches in wrestling history, they held a Gimmick Battle Royal. All of the characters from the 80s that made it hard to be a wrestling fan in public meet up in the ring and have a punch-up that’s almost immediately over. In fact, introducing each and every one of the performers, nineteen in all, plus the announcer Bobby Heenan and the commentator Gene Okerlund, seemed to take much longer than the match did. All-in-all, a terrible booking decision. Awful in every way. So how did they win the fans back after insulting and lowering the collective IQ of the viewing public?
Triple H VS. The Undertaker. A classic that many seem to forget about, this knock-down drag-out slobberknocker had a live rendition of HHH’s intro music performed by Motörhead themselves. It wasn’t good, but hey, it was Motörhead, so that’s neat. The match itself, though, was one of the all-time greatest bouts in WWE history, featuring plenty of appearances from Triple H’s token sledgehammer and the Undertaker winning with a REVERSAL Tombstone Piledriver. If you aren’t a wrestling nut, you may not know what that means, but…just trust me. It’s awesome. So how did they wrap up an event where the roof had already been blown off and reattached multiple times?
Behold, the greatest feud ever, marked by the greatest promo ever, culminating in arguably the greatest main event in Wrestlemania history. The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin were fan favorites, both at the absolute height of their popularity, so this match meant money. Big, big money. And it delivered. An unpredictable, bloody, twenty-eight-minute bout, masterfully and carefully enacted by two of the greatest performers to ever step in a squared circle, led to the crowd being putty in their hands. Each reaction was garnered at the right moment with the right move. No awkward, stilted pauses, no botches, it was exactly what drew so many of us to wrestling during the WWE’s Attitude Era. It had heart, blood, sweat, and tears. The Rock and Stone Cold put their absolute all into every second of the match, and the crowd rewarded them with praise. Vince McMahon made a surprise appearance near the end, helping Austin cheat his way to victory, and the only reason the crowd accepted it was because they were enthralled by the story unfolding before them. They were able to lose themselves in the event and give as much as they were getting.
This year’s Wrestlemania lineup seems promising, with Sting and The Undertaker taking the stage alongside Triple H and Bray Wyatt, but Wrestlemania X-7 is a forever-present force looming over the WWE. Every subsequent Wrestlemania is a comparison, and while some do match up, others fall short. WWE has seemingly been on its last legs as far as story goes, and gone are the deep, enthralling arcs of the past. Will Wrestlemania 31 stack up? Find out this Sunday.