This was my first Wrestlemania. I was watching wrestling beforehand, but this is where my memory starts for sure and I can confidently say that I remember this. I remember Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels. I consider that match to be the one that made me love wrestling. It was the perfect scenario of me coming along at the right time and Austin being the guy to take the reigns from Michaels. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the WWF had changed dramatically in just a short time. Last time we were together, we saw the glorious victory of HBK against Bret Hart in the Iron Man match to win the WWF Championship for the first time. Fast forward to Wrestlemania XIV two years later, and everything is different.
When “The Boyhood Dream” became a reality at Wrestlemania XII, the WWF was a very different place. Since then, the famous Austin 3:!6 speech was delivered. HBK lost his smile and he didn’t compete at Wrestlemania XIII, but Austin and Hart had my favorite match of all time there. Austin was face, Michaels was heel and the Montreal Screwjob took place before Bret Hart left the WWF. Most importantly to The Heartbreak Kid, his back had been broken at the Royal Rumble and he was going to perform at Wrestlemania XIV despite the injury to pass the torch to Stone Cold before leaving for almost four years from competition to heal his injuries and his life. He would not return the same person. This is the last match of this Shawn Michaels. I consider this the closing match of Act One of Mr. Wrestlemania. Because only he can, The Showstopper fought to give what could have been his last great performance on the grandest stage of them all.
Back in 1998, Mike Tyson was the best boxer in the world. That is arguable, but it cannot be denied that he was the most vocal and mainstream boxer in the world. He was at least “The Baddest Man on the Planet. At the Royal Rumble, Tyson would cheer in the skybox and Stone Cold Steve Austin would win his second straight Rumble match to challenge the WWF Champion at Wrestlemania XIV. A short time later, Tyson was about to be announced in relation before Austin showed up, confronted Tyson face to face and their was almost a brawl between the two parties. In the meantime, Tyson was announced as the Special Enforcer for the title match between Austin and Michaels. Not only that, but he had joined and held allegiance with Michaels and Degeneration-X.
The odds were stacked against Austin, but Stone Cold had something Michaels had two years ago. This match-up was the same, determination against experience. Only the roles had reversed and it was time for Austin to rise up to the challenge and Michaels to retain his position. Michaels had grow from just becoming the Champion. HBK was the Champion. It was time for The Heartbreak Kid to do only what he can. Give us the show that we have never ever seen before. Wrestlemania XIV in Boston, 19,000 saw The Heartbreak Kid wrestle Stone Cold with a broken back just to prove he is the best in-ring performer Wrestlemania has ever seen. Stone Cold Steve Austin would capitalize on the opportunity and take the torch from Michaels to bring the company into the future win, lose, or draw.
In the Fleetcenter, the crowd is stirring. The atmosphere is building. Out of the gate first is Iron Mike Tyson. The Special Enforcer who is there to protect and make sure everything goes smoothly during the match. Will he be impartial with his allegiance to DX? Tyson walks down the aisle slapping hands taunting the DX chop to the crowd of Bostonians with the DX theme blaring through the arena. It seems pretty clear where his faith is aimed.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is next. We see an empty hallway before The Rattlesnake turns the corner and walks determined to the gorilla position. Like clockwork, the glass breaks, the crowd erupts and Stone Cold Steve Austin walks to the right with the sole intention of whopping somebody’s you know what, with a can of you know who. Stone Cold poses on each of the ropes to acknowledge each fan appropriately on their big night. OF course, it isn’t long before Tyson and Austin are eye to eye. Their exchange is just trash talk and taunting. Austin can’t get into a fight with Tyson before he goes for the title and Tyson doesn’t want to fight Austin yet. It’s not smart money wise. The two men enter a stalemate as Austin preps in the corner for the opportunity of a lifetime.
Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Chyna walk through the hallway of the arena and The Game flips a bird to the camera before they enter the gorilla position. Michaels looks confident as always, but if we can break kayfabe for a second, think about what is going through his head.. He’s wrestling for the last time in what could absolutely be the last official match of his life. Not to mention, he does everything during this performance with a broken back. Just keep that in mind as “Are you Ready?” echoes in the arena from the live band. The DX full theme, “Break it Down” plays through the arena as The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels makes his way out with Trips and Chyna following behind. Michaels and company prepare for the match as Michaels goofs around by the band, enters the ring and does the tradmark HBK pose with the fireworks in the background. Shawn Michaels is ready to go and as the music stops, the crowd chants for Austin while the man himself paces, devests and waits in the corner. The two men circle each other in the ring as the bell sounds.
The match begins as Jim Ross reminds us that Shawn Michaels has never ever been outperformed in a big match situation. Stone Cold doesn’t care about performing. He cares about winning. Michaels dances around the ring to avoid the lockup and to play with Austin. Stone Cold has a response to that.
The games were over. The two men went to lock up before Michaels tricked and caught Austin with a jab. Austin disliked that, but Michaels would do the exact same thing again. Austin’s frustration made him chase Michaels and HBK used his superior speed to slid inside and outside the ring, run the ropes and duck Austin’s strikes, but a last forearm shot hit Shawn to the mat. Austin bounced Michaels’ head into a couple turnbuckles before exposing the backside of The Heartbreak Kid. Austin bashed HBk across the room, but Michaels fought back with speed until Michaels was backdropped over the top rope and onto Triple H. Austin went back to Michaels, but HHH attacked Austin from behind with a lariat and a drive into the barricade. In any other situation, the match would be a disqualification, but not at the beginning of a match for the WWF Title at Wrestlemania. Instead, it got Triple H and Chyna thrown out of ringside. Michaels was obviously not thrilled, but he can handle the situation of his own. He’d hit a double axe handle onto Austin on the outside. He batted him towards the ramp and Austin recovered and went to fight HHH. Austin threw him across the old stage, but by the time he turned around, Austin got leveled by a Shawn Michaels clothesline on the concrete. Michaels grabbed a drum and rammed it into the face of Stone Cold. Austin hit strikes, but Michaels reversed with whip into a dumpster from the tag match earlier. Michaels pulled Stone Cold down the ramp as the crowd chanted for their guy. Michaels threw Austin in the ring and ascended to the top rope. The match has Michaels in charge for now. Things can always change.
Michaels leaps off the top rope, but Austin catches him in the gut. Austin pounds Michaels around the ring and Irish whips him into a hard turnbuckle that turns Michaels inside out and back to the mat. Stone Cold hit an inverted atomic drop and went for the first pin of the match-up. A two count that Austin quickly recovered from to start work on the arm of HBK. He’d escape with a punch to Stone Cold and Shawn went to run the ropes, but Austin caught him and threw him against the ropes to slingshot him down to the mat. Michaels went to try to beat Austin with speed again, but The Rattlesnake almost caught him with a Stunner and Michaels escapes and back off onto the apron, but Stone Cold charges and hits Michaels face first into the announce table and back onto the outside in clear pain.
Stone Cold battered HBK a little on the outside before returning both men to the ring. Stone Cold continued the assault onto Michaels with elbows, a two count and a chinlock. Michaels would use a jawbreaker to break the hold. Michaels regained control and dragged The Rattlesnake towards the post. His intent was to work on Austin’s knees, but instead he was dragged face first into the ringpost. Austin has been beating Michaels to the punch the entire match. He continued to punch Michaels all the way to the ring bell and the barricade. Michaels saw it as an opportunity to backdrop Austin over the railing and hit him in the face with the ring bell. Tyson comes by to see the hurt Stone Cold on the concrete. Austin climbs to the other side and HBK throws him back into the ring to reset.
The Showstopper is beating on Austin in the ring while clearly in pain from the broken back. Something is clearly not right with him physically. His offense shows that as he unloads on Stone Cold with simple strikes and elbows. He wants to take as few bumps as possible. It’s a very conservative Shawn Michaels which is not his game. Michaels had Austin down, but he decided to flip a bird at as many fans as possible. Austin seized the opening and took down Shawn with power and a desire to lay an ass whopping on him. Several punches to Michaels before he was sent sailing over the top rope and onto the floor. By the time he recovered, HBK took Austin back to the corner and the ringpost, only this time it would work. He used his energy to break Stone Cold’s leg by throwing it against the ringpost and steps. Michaels has a moment where he gets back into the ring and really has to take his time to get back in. It’s clear he’s having trouble walking, let alone wrestling.
HBK worked on the leg with various kicks and holds all over the ring. Michaels tried to lock in a figure four, but Austin kicked him into the inside of the ringpost and pull him back into an inside cradle for a quick two count. HBK went right back to the leg to ground Austin. Stone Cold tried to get some time on the outside, but a baseball slide from Michaels sent him across the announce table. Austin would stagger to his feet just long enough for Tyson to physically put him in the ring which is within his duties. Austin was too distracted from Tyson, he didn’t see the chop block from HBK coming. This time Shawn Michaels was successful in locking in the figure four leg lock. The seasoned veteran used the ropes for the unfair advantage. After enough damage, Austin was able to turn the hold onto Michaels, but the hold was quickly released. Back on their feet, Stone Cold attacked hard with punches and a catapult that sent Michaels’ head right into the top turnbuckle and a close and long two count.
Michaels secured a sleeper on Austin. Austin struggled in pain until he backed Michaels into a corner with referee Mike Chioda behind Michaels. The Rattlesnake bashed both men three times which knocked out the referee. Tyson now had the power in his hands on the outside. Austin picked up Michaels on to the top turnbuckle, brought him to the middle with punches and another throw into the turnbuckle. Then HBK was sent into another turnbuckle for good measure and was stomped all the way onto the mat. Austin brought Michaels back to the center and whipped him into a huge back bodydrop onto Michaels. Austin tried again, but Michaels ducked and flew into Austin with a lariat that put both men down to the mat for a stalemate.
This is the magnificence of Shawn Michaels. In a match against the new top guy in the company at Wrestlemania in his last possible match ever, Shawn Michaels will not be outdone even with a broken back. Michaels nipped up somehow, ascended to the top rope clearly in a lot of pain. However, he would hit the flying elbow with perfection as expected. The Heartbreak Kid was not in good form, but he had enough to win here. As Austin got back to his feet, Tyson paced on the outside and Shawn Michaels tuned up the band for Sweet Chin Music. Austin turned around, Michaels went for it, but Austin ducked it and tried a Stunner that Michaels countered into a push off. Austin caught Michaels foot for the second attempt at his finisher. Austin spun Michaels around and successfully hit the Stone Cold Stunner as the crowd in Boston erupts. Mike Tyson surprises everyone as he slides into the ring and counts Michaels down for the three count. Stone Cold is the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion.
The Austin Era has begun, and it is going to take the company higher than it has ever been before. Shawn Michaels lays in the ring as Tyson and Austin celebrate. After realizing Tyson’s betrayal, he gets into a fight with Tyson and Michaels takes a knock out blow from Tyson to end the reign of Shawn Michaels.
This is the last official match that Shawn Michaels had in nearly four years. Michaels being the competitor and champion that he was at the time, may not have liked it, but he did it anyway. In this closing act, HBK wrestled Stone Cold for twenty minutes with a broken back. Was the match that great? No, but it still told the story that it had to. Just imagine if Michaels had been at 100%. Just imagine how much better this match could have been under dream circumstances. Yet, the work that follows here will make up for it. The way I see it, this match is what validates Shawn Michaels for me. It may not have the glory of Wrestlemania XII, or the performances in anything after this. This match may not have been great, but the will of Shawn Michaels and the story of Stone Cold winning the title for the first time is enough to make this match historic and important. Because Michaels vs. Austin at Wrestlemania XIV still looks great on paper doesn’t it. When you look back on this match don’t look back on it with distaste for the match quality, or the performances. Accept it as the dawning of a new era, or the changing of the guard as Michaels departs to make room for the Austin 3:16 and Attitude Era train. Michaels only would have made that better, but he left knowing that he did the right thing and that the company he had worked for this long had a very bright future with Austin. Shawn Michaels went out a winner the first time. He accomplished everything he ever wanted to accomplish, but it was a bittersweet moment to know that he still had more in the tank, but for right now. The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels had to leave the building.