WrestleMania 17. Utter those words to any wrestling fan in their 30s or above and prepare for them to wax lyrical. Widely regarded as the greatest WrestleMania of all time, 2001 boasted an embarrassment of riches on the event’s match card. Although the PPV had memorable moments from start to finish, there was no denying the most anticipated match was the main event of the night. Icon vs Icon. Challenger vs Champion. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock.
Nineteen years on, the love for WrestleMania 17 has yet to fade. And like all great memories, this one comes complete with its very own soundtrack. Our King of the Ring, Andy Spoors, takes us down nostalgia boulevard and explains how Limp Bizkit provided the perfect soundtrack for that promo video.
Ahh, April 1, 2001. That was a simpler time, right? The world hadn’t come to an end by the Millennium bug. Movie fans would soon get the first instalments of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Shrek and The Fast and the Furious.
The rock scene seemed to be pulling away from the grungy underground image it had cultivated in the 90s and lurching into an almost adolescent period of trying to find its place in a world of pop princesses and smooth R’n’B acts. Classic rock, Britpop and even grunge gave way to a flood of bands labelled as ‘Nu-Metal’.
Guitar solos became few and far between, instead replaced by turntable scratches and rapping. Electronic and unnatural noises dominated riffs. Brash but polished. Something resonated with not just the outcasts that metal and rock had attracted through the 90s, but also the mainstream public.
Bands like Incubus, Linkin Park, Papa Roach and Korn ensured Kerrang became the obvious alternative to MTV in the early noughties. But one outfit seemed to benefit more than others from the explosion of the genre: Limp Bizkit.
Fronted by the sweary, backwards baseball cap-wearing Fred Durst, the band became the poster child of the genre with the release of Chocolate Starfish And The Hotdog Flavored Water.
In the UK, the album was certified 3x platinum, in the US it was 6x platinum. One of its tracks, Take A Look Around, featured on the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack. Lead single Rollin’ took the number one spot in the UK on its release.
Limp Bizkit were everywhere.
This was especially true for wrestling fans. Rollin’ featured as The Undertaker’s theme music for a year and a half, as he rode his chopper motorcycle down the entrance ramp to the ring. But it wasn’t their most commercially successful song that would engrain the band into the hearts and minds of wrestling fans…
Wrestling’s crossover appeal
Unlike rock and metal, wrestling had found its groove in 2001.
The Monday night wars between WWE and WCW had come to an end, as Vince McMahon purchased WCW ‘s trademarks and back catalogue of matches. The Attitude Era was in full swing and the array of talent on the books was astonishing.
Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, The Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and Chris Jericho all became household names. But the Superstars that seemed to cross over into the mainstream consciousness were in a league of their own.
During the late 90s and early noughties, wrestling fans adored Stone Cold and The Rock.
Steve Austin’s anti-establishment, beer-swilling character struck a chord with anyone that had ever wanted to get one over on over-bearing bosses.
The Rock meanwhile, oozed charisma. During the course of his pre match interviews, he could have the audience laughing or get them pumped up with just one of his catchphrases.
Although you could of course like both Superstars, most fans were either an Austin guy or a Rock guy. Two talents that at any other period in WWE history would have undisputedly been the top draw. Fortunately for the WWE Universe, they got to see both men each week. The Hogan to each other’s Savage. The Flair to their Steamboat or the Hart to their HBK.
As 2000 ticked over into 2001, Stone Cold celebrated his return from neck surgery by winning the Royal Rumble in January, guaranteeing a shot at the (then) WWF Championship at WrestleMania. The final piece of the puzzle for that match would fall into place when The Rock captured the title from Kurt Angle at No Way Out.
Tensions between the Texas Rattlesnake and The People’s Champion escalated over the next few weeks, trading blows in the ring and repeatedly receiving each other’s finishing manoeuvres. The use of Austin’s real-life wife and on-screen personality, Debra, as The Rock’s manager escalated the rivalry to new levels.
Enter Limp Bizkit
So, where does Fred Durst and his infamous red cap some into the story?
Just days before WrestleMania 17 beamed live to the world from Houston’s Astrodome, WWE played a promo for WrestleMania and its main event on Raw. The promo featured Limp Bizkit’s fourth single from their latest album, My Way, set to the visuals of Rock & Austin’s rivalry.
With Raw and SmackDown furthering the rivalry with more action and a sit-down interview trading verbal barbs, the video package wasn’t the final product, but did give fans a glimpse of what would go on to become one of the best pre-match hype promos of all time.
Laying out how we reached this boiling point to the intro to My Way, gave the usual gratuitous stare down visuals a fantastic soundtrack. “You think you’re special, you do. I can see it in your eyes. I can see it when you laugh at me, look down on me and walk around on me.” With both men considered special talents of their time, the lyrics seemed to provide us with an inner monologue for the pair’s biggest showdown.
Bizkit’s track temporarily gives way to generic filler music as both Superstar’s roads to WrestleMania are explained. But the genius of the promo follows shortly after. As Stone Cold is shown delivering his famous stunner to the Rock a couple of weeks earlier, My Way begins to play in perfect sync. Replays of the stunner from different angle match the beat.
The shot of both men sharing a beer as Durst vocals drape over the images provide the calm before the storm, “Just one more fight and I’ll be history. Yes, I will straight up leave your shit and you’ll be the one who’s left, missing me.”
As the tension builds over increasingly robust cheers, the track bursts into life as champion and challenger trade back and forth blows. Each punch once again matching the beat. The video package finishes with the ominous words of Stone Cold warning his opponent. “I need to beat you Rock. I need it more than anything you can imagine.”
That warning would act as a foreshadowing of what was to come.
To this point Stone Cold’s pursuit of the WWF Championship had been nothing out of the ordinary. But his decision to align himself with arch nemesis Vince McMahon to win the title shocked the entire WWE Universe. Taking place in Austin’s home state of Texas might, WWE underestimated the loyalty the Lone Star fans would show the Rattlesnake. What should have been deafening boos, were in fact cheers of delight that a home-town hero captured the title inside the Astrodome.
It didn’t matter.
In just under four minutes, WWE had created a benchmark for wrestling fans.
Was it the grandeur of WrestleMania? Was it the action that had proceeded the main event? Was it the Superstars involved? Was it anticipation for the match to come? Or was it Limp Bizkit’s My Way?
In truth, it was all of those things. WWE rode a lightning bolt straight into a bottle. In a few minutes, the feeling of the Attitude Era was encapsulated into a video package. Yes there have been a few other promos that have come close: CM Punk vs John Cena at Money In The Bank 2011 or The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 26.
Limp Bizkit would continue their special relationship with WWE, performing live at WrestleMania 19. It seems strange that a band whose glory days are deep rooted in the turn of the millennium continue to be held in such high esteem.
But here ends the lesson. Just like the rest of the world, wrestling fans are suckers for nostalgia.
But it’s a dangerous drug.
In creating something that is held in such high regard, a rod was created for their own back. WWE have had the talent. They always have the highest quality promo packages. But for many, the magic of that night in 2001 has never been replicated.
Something is missing.
When people yearn for something made nearly two decades ago, it places WWE in an untenable position. Bands have been stuck in the same predicament for years. Play the greatest hits and stick to the winning formula and your product becomes stale. Try something new and fans want the familiar.
It’s time to acknowledge that WWE and Limp Bizkit may well have set the bar. But they also became victims of their own success in the process.
For WWE’s sake, let’s hope the next great promo is right around the corner, starting with this Sunday’s Hell In A Cell PPV…