It’s that time of the year again. World Wrestling Entertainment’s biggest event of the year is just around the corner. Today I conclude the top ten of the best Road to Wrestlemania builds in history chronologically. Wonder if some of your favorites made it? Lets find out.
Baddest Man on the Planet (“Wrestlemania XIV”)
Following the respective “Royal Rumble” event victories of WWF champion Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin the two former tag team partners were headed for a collision at the main event of “Wrestlemania 14”. But things weren’t going to be so simple for the champion and/or challenger. Not long after the “Rumble”, Vince McMahon introduced a man who watched the entire “Royal Rumble” pay-per-view play out as the special guest enforcer. That man was none other than former boxing heavyweight champion of the world and, arguably, the baddest man on the planet, “Iron” Mike Tyson.
With his entourage in tow, Tyson entered the WWF ring to be greeted by Vince McMahon and a hostile “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. That hostility caused a confrontation between Austin and Tyson that would eventually become an iconic moment in WWF history. But the problems between Tyson and Austin didn’t end there. A few weeks after the situation, Shawn Michaels’ growing ability to get inside Austin’s head led to a huge revelation – Mike Tyson was a degenerate.
Tyson, originally an impartial special guest enforcer, joined the Michaels-led D-Generation X group; stacking the deck against Austin even more. Tyson’s involvement in the main event of “Wrestlemania XIV” not only helped usher in the era of “Stone Cold” while sending Shawn Michaels into semi-retirement, but also assisted the WWF turn the tide in its war with WCW that would eventually lead to Vince McMahon purchasing his rival organization.
Rock-Austin II (“Wrestlemania XVII”)
Things had changed greatly between “Wrestlemania XV” and “Wrestlemania XVII”. Two years prior to WWF’s first “Wrestlemania” in Texas saw Steve Austin take on The Rock in its main event. Though Austin had the numbers of The Corporation – Vince McMahon’s stable that featured The Rock as its crown jewel – against him, “Stone Cold” overcame and became the new WWF champion.
Fast-forward to 2001 and Steve Austin found himself in the same position as 1999 – a challenger to the champion Rock at “Wrestlemania”. What had changed was The Rock’s status. The once hated Rock had become a man of the people – an electrifying superstar starting to surpass the confines of wrestling and break into Hollywood as an action-oriented actor. Austin, still suffering from years of abuse to his neck and knees, was hoping he still had it in him to actually beat the white-hot Rock.
The build up to their second “Wrestlemania” clash started off pretty mundane as Austin’s wife Debra was forced to manage The Rock rather than Austin as per the order of Vince McMahon. When Kurt Angle hurt Debra on Rock’s watch, Austin obviously blamed the champion and led to a series of back and forth sneak attacks that usually ended with one man laid out thanks to either the Stone Cold Stunner or the Rock Bottom.
But the rivalry’s aura suddenly gained the true level of importance a match of this magnitude deserved. In a sit-down interview with Jim Ross, The Rock and Austin verbally reflected on everything that led to their second “Wrestlemania” clash. During the interview, Austin admitted his want and need to prove himself by beating the new top star of the company.
All the corniness and typical interaction leading to a “Wrestlemania” match was forgotten. Nothing else mattered more to the opponents and the fans watching than who would walk out of Houston the WWF champion. It was the perfect setting for two of the biggest stars in wrestling history fighting over the grandest prize of them all.
Battle of the Icons (“Wrestlemania XVIII”)
The concept was simple: take two of the business’ biggest names both past and present and put them in the main event of the biggest show of the year. The icon himself Hulk Hogan made a return to the WWF after a nine-year absence with his nWo companions Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The Rock was following in “The Hulkster’s” footsteps, entering the Hollywood action scene while continuing to electrify millions in the squared circle. The feeling of seeing two of the greats finally facing off created a buzz not seen in many years. But that’s when things went off the tracks for The Rock.
Rather than stick to the honorable nature of his old self, Hogan joined Hall and Nash in attacking The Rock and leaving him vulnerable for an attack involving a semi truck and an ambulance. It would take The Rock several weeks after the heinous attack by Hogan and his crew before he could make his return and set the stage for a three on two handicap tag team bout that ended with Hogan pinning his “Wrestlemania” challenger.
Though a twist was added to keep the two apart for as long as possible, it only made the people want to see the two clash more. This simple action helped add to the already electric atmosphere this storyline created.
Evolution (“Wrestlemania XXI”)
In 2003, WWE World champion Triple H looked to create his own version of the Four Horsemen by enlisting the services of the Horseman’s front man Ric Flair, third generation prodigy Randy Orton, and unproven powerhouse Dave Batista – Evolution. Things didn’t necessarily go the way Triple H planned as Orton progressed faster than expected and took the World title from the man who defeated Triple H from the gold. Dumping Orton from the group proved that Triple H feared his protégés becoming bigger forces than him.
Batista – gradually gaining fan support during 2004 – started recognizing this fact not only because Orton was kicked out of Evolution, but also due to Triple H actually using Batista to save himself from losing the World title to Orton in an Elimination Chamber match at “New Year’s Revolution”. With the World title in his possession, Triple H tried to convince the 2005 Royal Rumble match winner – Batista – to choose WWE champion JBL as his “Wrestlemania XXI” opponent. Batista seemed to be on the verge of doing what Triple H asked of him, but “The Game’s” big mouth cost him and Batista power bombed his way to “Wrestlemania” … literally.
By giving his leader the “thumbs down” motion (the same thing Triple H did to signal Orton’s forced exile from Evolution) and Batista Bombing Triple H through a table after finding out Triple H’s master plan of keeping the belt on Evolution’s leader while sending Batista over to “Smackdown” to take out JBL, “The Animal” took the next step toward wrestling immortality.
In using Triple H’s own arrogant brilliance against him, WWE not only put a unique spin on the “student vs. teacher” storyline, but also created a new main event star with perfect pacing and beautiful storytelling that spanned through two separate storylines.
The Final Chance (“Wrestlemania XIV”)
Heading into the 2007 “Survivor Series” event, Mr. Vince McMahon gave “Nature Boy” Ric Flair an altumanitum – win or retire. For the next several months, Flair proved the skeptics wrong by winning each match put in front of him. But the realization that “Wrestlemania” was nearing made Flair contemplate whether or not he could keep winning much longer. Rather than face just anybody, Flair challenged his friend and the man he considered the best in the business, Shawn Michaels, for a match at the “Grandest Stage of Them All”. After much coaxing, Michaels accepted the match.
With the match scheduled, Michaels took it upon himself to help Flair win any match before their encounter, eventually infuriating Flair. “The Nature Boy” called out “HBK” near the eve of “Wrestlemania”, demanding the self-proclaimed “Mr. Wrestlemania” to show up rather than the friend who had gone out of his way to help Flair in recent weeks. The heated exchange saw Flair remind Michaels how much Shawn idolized him as a child, Michaels calling Flair “Old Yeller,” and Flair slapping the ever-loving taste out of his future opponent’s mouth. The stage was set and, for the first time since the match was announced, emotions were running high beyond the possibility of this being Flair’s last match.
Though the outcome seemed like a guarantee, the mixture of real life emotions and the honoring of one of the business’ greats helped close a magnificent chapter in a legendary career.