Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Ramblemania Rewind 14 - WWF Wrestlemania XIV: D-X Raided (1998)

Date: March 29th, 1998
Venue: FleetCenter - Boston, MA
Attendance: 19,028

(Note: The following post was written prior to the McMahon lawsuit from January 2024).

Wrestlemania XIV was the show that sold me as a wrestling fan and began a long, fruitful investment that continues to this very day. While I didn't catch the show live, I did get to watch a replay of it at a friend's house and it was also one of the first WWF home video tapes that I purchased. I won't lie and tell you that a lot of the enjoyment and pleasant memories of this show are fueled by nostalgia, but I've always contended that this was my favorite Wrestlemania card and one that I go back to often.

Now whether that statement holds true today is another story, as I have bore witness to every Wrestlemania since then and I can count a number of those shows that have surpassed or even exceeded my enjoyment of that one show to the point that it's been years since I lasted Mania 14. And since I'm on this trip of revisiting these older shows, the question invariably becomes whether this show still holds up or has it aged about as poorly as most of the Attitude Era stuff has?

Some context before we begin: Survivor Series 97 and the whole screwjob in Montreal proved to be a turning point for the WWF. What was thought to be the final death knell for the company turned out to be the moment where things started to turn around. Vince McMahon, knowing people hated him for his role in that whole mess, decided to turn himself heel and position himself as an antagonist towards the company's fast rising star, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Then the WWF brought Mike Tyson into the fold, teasing a fight with Austin, but then making him the special enforcer for the eventual Austin/Michaels WWF title match at Mania XIV. While there were other stories going on - the ongoing Undertaker/Kane feud and the Rock/Shamrock rivalry going full boil among others - that one major angle was the thing that all eyeballs were on.

-o-

The show opens with a tag team battle royal that is won by the returning Legion Of Doom, who were repackaged as LOD 2000 with new ring gear, new hair cuts, and a new manager in Sunny, who would not see better days going forward and that's being kind. Anyway, it's a battle royal. Nothing special. You've seen one of these things, you've seen them all.

WWF Light-Heavyweight champion Taka Michinoku pinned Aguila in a short match to retain the title. So the Light-Heavyweight title was introduced as the WWF's way of countering WCW's highly-regarded Cruiserweight division and needless to say that the results weren't very inspiring. The match itself was a thing that happened; nothing bad or terrible, but it's nothing that you didn't see done better on Nitro. For whatever it's worth, this was probably the weakest match on the card, but not for a lack of effort.

European Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley pinned Owen Hart with an assist from Chyna, who was handcuffed to Sgt. Slaughter in order to minimize her interference, but clearly that didn't work because Chyna was able to hit Owen in the King Of Harts, allowing Helmsley to retain the title. Owen apparently had a bad ankle that was being worked on, but this is the kind of bad ankle injury that occurs whenever it's convenient to the storytelling and disappears when it's not. The match itself was alright, but I've seen better with these two.

Marvelous Marc Mero and Sable defeated The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust and Luna Vachon in a mixed tag match. Yeah, so at the tail end of 97, Goldust would break up with former manager Marlena and join up with Luna, calling himself the "Artist Formerly Known As Goldust" in a clear spoof of  pop icon Prince, who renamed himself into a weird symbol but because nobody can pronounce it, they just called him "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" or just "Prince." I feel nobody got the joke because whenever the nameplate would pop up on screen, they'd spell out "The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust" instead of replacing his name with a weird symbol nobody can pronounce. Me thinks this Russo fellow isn't as bright as he claims to be.

Oh, by the way, Goldust would ditch the make up and became Dustin Runnels, evangelist warning people of the second coming. Oh, boy, was it Jesus? Nope, turns out it was... Goldust. Well, that was a waste. But I digress.

As for the match? It was alright. Obviously, Dustin can work and so could Mero. And while Sable wasn't the same caliber of performer as Luna was, she held her own and showed a little fire. It's funny because when I think of Sable, I think of the woman who'd be grinding with the title and was just there for the sex appeal. I'd argue more so than Sunny, because at least Sunny had a clue on what she was doing... back then, at least. With Sable, if she had kept her ego in check and honed her skills, she could've been someone decent and not someone whose ass had to be carried by more talented women such as Luna or Jacqueline. I blame Russo... because the poor bastard needs material for his podcast now that he can't complain about RAW ratings anymore.

Ken Shamrock defeated Intercontinental Champion THE ROCK via submission to win the title in a really beautiful shot of Rocky, bleeding from the mouth, whailing in pain while Shamrock has him trapped in the ankle lock. Sadly, Ken holds on to the submission way too long despite various warnings from various officials and the decision is changed to a DQ win for Rock, who retains the title. Shamrock, angered by this latest screwjob - although, really, he has no one to blame but himself - attacks more officials and even beats up poor Rock some more as he's being stretchered out of the arena. Fortunately, in his limping, bleeding, broken form, Rock raises his belt in the air, further proving himself to be the BEST DAMNED INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMP THERE EVER WAS, IF YOU SMELL WHAT THE ROCK IS COOKIN', JABRONI.

Terry Funk and Cactus Jack defeated WWF Tag-Team Champions The New Age Outlaws in a "dumpster" match to win the tag team titles. The next night, however, the titles would be held up because, as it turns out, the champs were dumped into the wrong dumpster... because there is a designated dumpster that is the legal dumpster and any other dumpster would be an illegal dumpster and thus doesn't count. Apparently, nobody clued the refs on this technicality because otherwise they would've told Cactus and Terry that they got the wrong dumpster and they need to use the right dumpster or... holy fuck, this sounds stupid. BUT if you take that out of the way, the match was pretty fun, mostly for Cactus' sick bumps than anything else, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.

The Undertaker pinned Kane after hitting three Tombstones. This was their first match and needless to say, it showed. Both men were slow, plodding, lumbering oafs who traded blows in slow motion. It reminded me of the Undertaker/Undertaker match from Summerslam '94, except this seemed to go on forever. It's funny because watching the video packages build this up - and make no mistake, the video packages that the WWF would put together to hype up matches or simply get you up to speed were second to none in the business at the time - you'd expect a pretty epic encounter. Hell, when I wrote the original Ramblemania blurb for this show a decade ago, I had called this a good brawl, but I don't know about that now. Maybe time and perspective has colored my feelings... or maybe I've seen so many Undertaker/Kane matches over the years and most of them would underwhelm. So is this a matter of these two never having good matches unless it involved a gimmick? I don't know. I will say that the entrances were pretty good and that bit with Kane tombstoning Pete Rose will never get old. Sadly, they'd bring poor Pete back a couple more times in subsequent Manias to kill the joke dead.

Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated WWF Champion Shawn Michaels to win the title. Mike Tyson, serving as the special enforcer - essentially an outside referee who'd take over if the actual referee was taken out - administer the weirdly quick three-count that nobody acknowledged... well, unless you consider Lawler's claim of Tyson double-crossing DX as acknowledgement of fast count. Austin would claim that this wasn't a good match, but honestly, I think it's a fantastic match. When you consider the back injury that would result in a four-year retirement, it's amazing that Shawn got anything done at all and yet outside of the occasion wincing of pain here and there, you'd almost never notice that he was hurt. Austin was slowly finding his footing as more of the brawler type that would be his style for the rest of his wrestling run and the end result is something more grounded, but perhaps told the better story overall, where every action took a toll and really, it could have gone either way.

The smart decision to remove DX from the equation made for a more intense match and also cast doubt on Mike Tyson, who was indoctrinated into the group beforehand, thus questioning whether he'd be forthright in his judgment. The match might not have been to everyone's liking, but I think it holds up fine. It told the story it needed to tell. And the final moment of Tyson punching out Shawn and then "burying" him in an Austin 3:16 T-Shirt was the sign of a new era truly beginning going forward... and boy, what an era it was going to be!

Wrestlemania XIV is an entertaining show. Obviously not up to the standards of later shows when they'd start bringing some truly talented people and honestly, there's only a couple matches that I would consider must watch - the main event being one of those matches, of course. That said, I did enjoy the show, whether it was the in-between bits such as the "interview" segment between Rock and Gennifer Flowers featuring a lot of stuff that probably wouldn't fly today or the Pete Rose stuff. Hell, I even dug the DX Band playing live and stuff. This might not have taken place in a big stadium, but the impact that Mania 14 made is easily comparable in size and scope. An excellent show.

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