Bret Hart had the monicker of “The Best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
The boys in the locker knew it, the fans live at the event knew it, and more importantly, the fans at home knew it. If it wasn’t for Bret Hart in the mid to late 1990s, WWF wouldn’t have become what it is today. The company was attempting to get younger and grow into something that people wanted to come and see every time they were in that town. At this point, Bret had faced them all and beat each and every one of them.
With Hart being the measuring stick, there were many youngsters in line to take on “The Hitman.”
The man for the job was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He was not new to the wrestling business, but he was new to the WWF and he was ready to take the company to the top no matter what. The match that was to come in Chicago at WrestleMania 13 had the build to be a great match - maybe one of the best matches of all time. This match was going to be a brawl; this match was simply going to be a war, and there was one man and only one man that could control them, that man being UFC legend Ken Shamrock.
The famous Rosemont Horizon was the focal point for this epic encounter between two of the best wrestlers of all time in the WWF. There was no better stage than WrestleMania to showcase what Bret Hart and Steve Austin could do when given the proper guidance and time to tell the story that they wanted to tell.
At this point in 1997, the war was on with World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and both promotions were doing what they had to do to survive and come out as the ultimate professional wrestling promotion in the world. This match was the perfect example of what the WWF was doing ensure the tides of wrestling dominance flowed their way.
Chicago, Illinois is one the the most popular cities in the country to wrestle in. The fans are one of a kind, and the venues are always sold out and filled with historical significance.
Some would say this is when the Attitude Era started for many different reasons. Whether it was the constant jaw-jacking between Hart and Austin prior to this match on Raw or in promos. The vignettes prior to the match beginning were the perfect way to set up on of the most anticipated matches in WWF history.
The story that was being told that Austin wasn’t a submission wrestler was entrusting the sense of doubt in the minds of fans that Austin could compete with the “Excellence of Execution.” Hart was the man was raised in the “Dungeon” where he was taught to grapple at a young age. We all soon found out that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was in fact ready to face the music and stand up to the former WWF Heavyweight, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Champion and have the first of many Wrestle Mania moments in his historic wresting career.
The rivalry began between Hart and Austin just after the King of Ring in June. It then spilled into the Survivor Series in November, and fans knew they were on a crash course going into the Royal Rumble. That was what exactly happened as they entered the Royal Rumble match itself. Hart had originally eliminated Austin from the match, but Austin's elimination was considered unofficial because the officials did not see it as they were busy attending to a brawl between eliminated wrestlers Mankind and Terry Funk. They were the participants in the Four Corners Elimination match for the vacant WWF Heavyweight Championship, which Hart later won. The next night on RAW, Austin cost Hart the title in a match against Sycho Sid when Austin hit Hart with a steel chair while he had Sid locked in the sharpshooter. Sid would then power bomb Hart winning the title, thus setting Hart and Austin up on an extreme crash course to Wrestle Mania and their submission match.
Seldom in professional wrestling do we see a match that has all this build and gusto that actually stands true to all of it. This match did just that. The build was phenomenal, the execution of the match was second to none.
These two Hall of Famers put on a show that was in my opinion the turning point from the comedic era of the WWF to the Attitude Era.
Some may disagree with me and that is absolutely fine, it wouldn’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. However, to say that this match didn’t have an impact on the wrestling business is complete and utter blasphemy.
RJ Kruszynski is the host of Ringside Rant podcast. He is a lifelong wresting fan and a huge Yankees and Bills fan. Follow him on Twitter @Ringsiderant_RJ