WWF Mayhem In Manchester took place on April 4th 1998 in front of 18,514 fans, paying a total of $518,000 at the NYNEX Arena (AO Arena) in Manchester, England.
The show still stands as the second largest gate for a wrestling event in England behind only SummerSlam in 1992, which saw 78,927 fans in attendance at the old Wembley Stadium.
However, while the show was a success on paper it has very much been lost to the annuls of time, with little to no lasting legacy.
The event took place just six days after WrestleMania XIV. On that show, The Undertaker and Kane went one on one for the first time and Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels in the main event for the WWF Championship.
Mayhem In Manchester should have been the biggest wrestling event held in the UK since SummerSlam 1992. It should have helped usher in the ‘Austin Era’ and launch the WWF crashing into the most talked about and often most revered period in it’s history. Except it didn’t.
The event came and went with little fanfare outside of the UK and appears as little more than a dusty footnote in the history of WWE and the company’s presence in the United Kingdom. So what happened?
The seeds were sown for Mayhem In Manchester’s demise long before the show actually took place. In fact, to fully understand why the show was considered so underwhelming, you have to go all of the way back to September 20th 1997.
For One Night Only
At WWF One Night Only in Birmingham, England, Shawn Michaels defeated the British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith in the second of the show’s double main events for the European Title. The result was met with complete disgust by the those in attendance who expected to see their ‘home town’ hero triumph. Especially as Smith had dedicated the match to his sister who was seriously ill at the time.
Little did the fans know, Bulldog had initially been set to win the match. However, Shawn Michaels, using the backstage influence he became infamous for, ensured that he would get his hand raised. The caveat being that Michaels would lose the European Title back to the Brit at Mayhem In Manchester the following April.
The Montreal Screwjob is remembered as one of the most infamous and controversial incidents in the history of professional wrestling. The fallout from that November night in Montreal was felt far and wide for more than a decade afterward, forever altering the history in ways that could have never been imagined.
While Bret Hart was already leaving the WWF for WCW, the screwjob set into a motion a series of events which would have far reaching ramifications. Upset with how things went down in Montreal, Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart followed Bret to Atlanta. Neidhart stayed with the WWF until December, while Smith didn’t return to a WWF ring until re-joining the company in 1999.
This of course blew a hole in the proposed main event for the company’s return to Britain the following April. Just to hammer the point home, Shawn Michaels all but handed the European Title to Triple H in December after being ordered to defend it against his close friend. Then to tie a bow on events, Michaels effectively retired following his defeat to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV, citing a serious back injury. The former world champion wouldn’t return to the ring until the summer of 2002.
The Dawn Of A New Era
On June 17th 1996, Monday Nitro beat Monday Night RAW in the ratings, scoring a 3.4 to WWF’s 2.3. While this wasn’t the first time that WCW had gained the upper hand, it was the first time that momentum seriously shifted in their favour. Scott Hall had re-joined the company at the end of May, Kevin Nash followed in early June and Bash At The Beach was about to change the wrestling landscape forever. WCW Monday Nitro continued to beat Monday Night RAW in the ratings for another 82 consecutive weeks.
Despite being dominated in the ratings, change was also coming to the WWF. At the 1996 King Of The Ring on June 23rd, Stone Cold claimed the crown and cut his legendary ‘Austin 3:16’ promo. While Austin didn’t become a huge star overnight as history sometimes suggests, this moment set him on the path to his crowning moment at WrestleMania XIV.
With an nWo-led WCW laying waste to WWE in the ratings, the WWF slowly began to re-tool, reshape their roster and reimagine their entire way of thinking. With that, came a shift towards more mature content and a presentation geared towards the often discussed male 18-49 age demographic. While the shift was gradual, it came to a crescendo during a two week spell in Spring 1998.
Mike Tyson had already got the ball rolling by appearing on RAW that January, but things shifted into another gear at WrestleMania. Acting as the special enforcer, Tyson was the man who counted the pin for Austin to beat Shawn Michaels and claim the WWF Championship. To add insult to injury for Michaels, he then got a stunning right hand from the former undisputed heavyweight champion for his troubles.
While Michaels would now head into retirement, Austin’s popularity continued to soar. A matter of days after the showpiece event on April 13th, RAW finally beat Nitro in the ratings, with Austin vs. McMahon advertised as the main event.
The WWF may have lost stars such as HBK and the British Bulldog among others in the lead up to their trip to the UK, but the company had arguably never been hotter. However, there was one final hiccup to overcome before the WWF touched down on British soil.
In the run up to the show something of a standoff had developed between the WWF and Sky Box Office, who aired WWF pay-per-views in the UK. Talks ran right up to the event, but the two companies failed to reach an agreement over profit share. This meant that the show would no longer be the pay-per-view extravaganza that both parties had hoped.
By the time that Mayhem In Manchester took place it was a glorified house show. Albeit arguably the most expensive house show in history.
While there was a TV crew in operation, it was the bare minimum, with the resulting footage looking more like it was shot by fans than the biggest wrestling company in the world. To make matters worse, some of the Superstars’ luggage was lost in transit. This meant that LOD 2000 were short of some of their trademark ring gear, and The Undertaker wrestled the main event in his street clothes, looking more like the American Badass than the Lord of Darkness.
Interestingly, to further cement WWE’s transition into the Attitude Era, this is was the last ever show to feature the classic blue ring apron, along with red, white and blue ropes. In addition it was also the final WWF event to use the ‘New Generation’ logo before the company switched to the classic ‘Scratched’ Attitude Era graphic.
Mayhem In Manchester Full Card
- Jeff Jarrett def Brackus
- Bradshaw def Marc Mero
- The Godwins def DOA
- TAFKA Goldust def Cactus Jack
- LOD 2000 def The New Age Outlaws (WWF Tag Team Title Match)
- Ken Shamrock & Owen Hart def The Rock & D’Lo Brown
- Stone Cold Steve Austin def Triple H (WWF Title Match)
- The Undertaker def Kane
The show itself was a mixed bag with Steve Austin’s first title defence against Triple H stealing the show. Austin pinned the challenger to a thunderous ovation, a cheer matched only by the post match stunner to Chyna. Elsewhere the Legion of Doom overcame the New Age Outlaws via DQ thus having their hands raised, without winning the gold.
Meanwhile after Goldust pinned Cactus Jack, the ‘Bizarre One’ and Luna began to put a beat down on Foley. The building came unglued as Sable ran down to make the save, continuing the rivalry between the former Women’s Champion and Luna.
At the other end of the scale Jeff Jarrett took on Brakus in the opening match. The German, former bodybuilder had only previously appeared on WWF television once despite a series of vignettes and was gone from the company by the end of July.
Despite a huge reaction from the crowd, the main event between The Undertaker and Kane was something of a non-event. Coming hot off the heels of their match at WrestleMania, expectations were high. But appearing in street clothes, Taker dispatched his brother in just over three minutes featuring mostly brawling at ringside. In the Wrestling Observer, Dave Meltzer noted:
“The show ended on a real downer… they threw some lame punches, and got in the ring when they blew one attempt at a spot and then Undertaker Tombstoned and pinned him in 3:30. This was said to have been worse than any match on Nitro, RAW or PPV this year and you can imagine what that takes in.”
Despite the lacklustre headline bout, the main event that never happened, and the event itself becoming a glorified house show, Mayhem In Manchester did little to dampen enthusiasm for the WWF in the UK. The more than 18,000 in attendance where hugely excited to see their heroes and for the WWF’s part they returned to the same arena for No Mercy a little over a year later.
After morphing into WWE, the company have continued to regularly visit the UK, taping episodes of RAW and SmackDown in England as recently as 2019.