WrestleMania XV – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of The Attitude Era

The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WWE WrestleMania 15

A look back at the overbooked, and underwhelming WrestleMania XV.

On April 6th, 2024, WWE will return to Philadelphia for WrestleMania 40 — the first time the spectacular has been held in the city since 1999. In the present day, WWE is firing on all cylinders. The in-ring product has arguably never been better, and there are interesting storylines in play throughout the card. There’s also the small matter of The Rock returning to the company and performing to a level many thought impossible at this stage of his career.

When The Rock steps in the ring to team with Roman Reigns in the main event of night one, he’ll do so 25 years after he headlined WrestleMania for the first time. On that occasion, despite being WWF Champion, he was still a star on the rise, riding in the beer-soaked slipstream of Stone Cold Steve Austin. In fact, Rock will be the only person to wrestle at both events.

With Triple H at the creative helm in 2024 many feel WWE has turned a corner. The fractured and whimsical storytelling of the late Vince McMahon era appears a thing of the past, with storylines playing out logically, and with an eye on the future, not an instant “pop.” The contrast with the last Philadelphia-based WrestleMania is stark.

WrestleMania XV is fondly remembered by precisely no one. It featured one of the worst Hell In A Cell matches in history and felt more like an episode of Raw than the biggest show of the year. But somehow, it didn’t matter.

The Road To WrestleMania

There’s a strange nostalgia-fuelled idea that between 1998 and 2001 the WWF was an unstoppable juggernaut that could do no wrong. Storytelling reigned supreme, the biggest stars in history were shining brightest, all of the roster felt relevant and a heady cocktail of sex and shock value meant television was unmissable. However, that’s only partly true. If Survivor Series: Deadly Game was Vince Russo’s zenith as the company’s top creative mind, in hindsight, WrestleMania XV showed the limits of his formula and hinted that things needed to change.

The ‘Road to WrestleMania XV’ was paved by financially successful but decidedly average pay-per-views — a theme that dominated 1998 and 1999. Following Survivor Series, the WWF delivered a typically underwhelming UK PPV in Capital Carnage, Rock Bottom was universally panned, the Royal Rumble hosted arguably the worst Rumble match in history, and the main event barely saved St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Despite this, events continued to sell out, and fans tuned into Raw and later SmackDown in their droves.

The main storyline heading into the event was Vince McMahon’s increasingly desperate attempts to keep the WWF Title away from Steve Austin. A year earlier, McMahon had been hellbent on removing the title from The Rattlesnake after he won the gold at WrestleMania XIV. This saw McMahon force Austin to go through a Buried Alive match to even enter the Royal Rumble, while he made sure Austin had to enter at number one by the time the match began and even put a bounty on his head. To add even more sizzle to the steak, McMahon entered at number 30 and emerged the winner.

However, Commisioner Shawn Michaels later declared that the World Title shot that came with victory should go to Austin. But Austin then put it all on the line in a Steel Cage match against McMahon at St Valentine’s Day Massacre. At the event, Paul Wight emerged through the ring to make his WWF debut, coming to the aid of McMahon. Yet, by throwing Austin through the cage he ensured McMahon lost. This moment just minutes into his debut seemed to encapsulate Wight’s entire WWF/WWE career.


WrestleMania XV might have been billed as the ‘Ragin’ Climax’ but it had more in common with a hastily arranged one-night stand that ends with an apology and a promise that it won’t happen again.

While in 2024 WWE is doing everything possible to make it seem like WrestleMania is the biggest show in the history of the world, WrestleMania XV felt like an episode of Raw. The show was packed with illogical finishes, backstage angles, and shenanigans galore. There was also a public hanging. Obviously.

The main storyline running through the show was who would get to referee the main event and prevent Austin from winning the World Title. This played into the match between Paul Wight and Mankind, with the winner donning the stripes. However, Wight was disqualified for attacking Foley with a chair. The assault meant he was taken to the hospital, and the subsequent argument between Wight and Vince McMahon saw the giant flatten his boss with a right hand. As a result, Wight was carted off to jail.

The show had opened with the World Tag Team Title match between Owen Hart & Jeff Jarrett and the thrown-together team of D’Lo Brown and Test who won a Battle Royal on Heat. Hart and Jarrett grabbed the win after Terri ran in and distracted Test on the outside — something the cameras managed to miss. This was followed by Butterbean destroying Bart Gunn in a boxing match that had no place on PPV, let alone WrestleMania. Not even guest referee Vinny Pazienza knocking out the San Diego Chicken could make people care.

Big Show vs. Mankind was followed by a totally no-descript Intercontinental Four-Way match won by Road Dogg, and Kane beat Triple H via Disqualification after Chyna reunited with Helmsley. The D-X reunion proved to be brief, however, as later in the show, Triple H turned on X-Pac to cost him a win over Shane McMahon, signalling that he and Chyna had joined The Corporation. The match in the middle saw Sable beat Tori with help from Nicole Bass. Things were so off the rails that Sable could be heard by those at ringside complaining Tori was hitting her too hard.

The semi-main event was the disastrous Hell In A Cell match between The Undertaker and The Big Boss Man. In the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer described the contest as a “calamity of a match,” and it would be tough to find anyone who disagreed. The match was greeted by “boring” chants, and when Undertaker was handcuffed to the cell, the cuffs broke leaving him standing there waiting for the beating to continue.

After a Tombstone from nowhere, ‘Taker won, and then The Brood descended from the rafters to hang Boss Man with a rope noose. As Boss Man was hoisted into the air and seemingly murdered, Cole screamed “Is it symbolic?!” before the broadcast cut to a promo package for the WWF Rage Party from the night before. Bizarrely the hanging was never mentioned again.

In one of the highlights of the entire show, Jim Ross was brought out to call the main event, ending his disastrous and ill-advised heel turn weeks earlier. Ross had been absent after a Bell’s Palsy attack in late 1998 but called the main event at the behest of Steve Austin.

Vince McMahon came to the ring for the main event after declaring himself the referee, but he was interrupted by Shawn Michaels. HBK kicked McMahon out of the ring and installed Mike Chioda as referee while barring The Corporation (crucially not McMahon) from ringside. What followed was the best match on the show by a country mile, filled with the shenanigans that made the Attitude Era famous. Following run-ins galore, ref bumps, and 17 minutes of chaos, Austin pinned Rock to claim the WWF Title.

The Vince Russo Conundrum

The incredible thing about WrestleMania XV is that despite its numerous and obvious flaws, it was a success. The event was a sell-out and was at the time the largest live gate in North America for almost a decade while notching up an estimated 830,000 pay-per-view buys. Stone Cold Steve Austin standing tall with the WWF Championship was also unquestionably the right decision. But that was the cherry on top of a stunningly average cake. In short, this was Russo-Mania.

The show included all the hallmarks of a Vince Russo script and was unquestionably the image of what the WWF’s Head Writer believed WrestleMania should be. Aside from the reliance on shock value, Russo’s WWF tenure was based on the premise that the action in the ring didn’t matter. On his watch, he was adamant that no TV match should last longer than eight minutes, and even here, just one match went longer than ten.

On the ten-match main card, there were two Disqualification finishes and a count-out during the Intercontinental Title match, while interference led to the finish in five other matches. That leaves a grand total of two matches with clean finishes. Around the in-ring action, the soap opera was a heavy presence with Mankind going to hospital and Paul Wight getting arrested. Furthermore, Vince McMahon is all over the show, which in 2024 is something that’s aged like milk in a heatwave.

The Hell In A Cell match between Undertaker and Boss Man managed to be one of the worst Cell matches of all time, and yet, one of the most controversial. The WWF had been determined to push the envelope as far as possible during this period, and here they went for broke. Aside from the offence caused by the hanging stunt, it insulted the intelligence of fans. Pro-wrestling is about suspending disbelief in the name of entertainment, but asking fans to buy into someone getting hanged is lunacy.

Incredibly, in the lead-up to WrestleMania, there had actually been external pushback against this kind of programming.

The event also saw the death of Brawl For All — another Russo creation. The original tournament helped no one and Butterbean’s demolition of Bart Gunn all but ended the latter’s WWE career.

For all the criticism of the Russo era and disputes over how much influence he really had, WWF’s big shows tended to hit the right note by the time they went off the air. Whether that was creating intrigue for Raw the following night or delivering a moment to get fans talking, there was always something substantial. To that end, WrestleMania XV was a success, but as history has proven, that wasn’t enough.

The Rock and Steve Austin went on to have better matches — even just a month later at Backlash. There’s even an argument they’d had a better match on Raw a year earlier. Much of the lower card continued to simply exist in increasingly outlandish storylines and the Vince McMahon/Corporate Ministry storyline went totally off the rails. Just three months later McMahon was revealed as the Higher Power causing legions of fans to put their heads in their hands.

Full of controversy, shocking turns, and soap opera-style action, WrestleMania XV was effective at the time, but not fondly remembered by history. Much like the man who played a central role in creating it.