The gloves come off

The gloves come off

March 29, 1998 was an historic night for World Wrestling Entertainment. The D-Generate champion was the company's Showstopper, and he knew it. His challenger, an ornery Texas Rattlesnake, was poised to strike the jugular of sports-entertainment. Their special enforcer was boxing's "Baddest Man on the Planet." And the result? One hell of a main event at WrestleMania XIV, and the defining moment in WWE's "Attitude" era.

What makes's No. 4 Most Rugged Road to WrestleMania particularly noteworthy is the fact that after the January 19, 1998 edition of Raw, almost none of these historic events came to fruition. Here, let's break it down:

After weeks of negotiating and promoting, Mr. McMahon welcomed "Iron" Mike Tyson and his entourage down to the ring. The WWE Chairman began to announce the controversial pugilist's involvement in WrestleMania XIV when he was suddenly interrupted by the sound of breaking glass. It was Stone Cold, who one night earlier had won the 30-Superstar Royal Rumble, thereby earning the right to face WWE Champion Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. Security rushed to the ring as the Rattlesnake wasted no time in spewing his venom at the so-called "Baddest Man on the Planet," telling him that his beady lil' eyes were now fixed on the "World's Toughest Son of a Bitch."

"Let me make it short and sweet," he added. "What I'm telling you is that I want a piece of Mike Tyson's ass!" And if that message wasn't loud and clear enough, Austin's sign language—a pair of middle fingers directly in the boxer's grille—certainly was. Tyson shoved Austin back, and despite WWE personnel's best efforts, all Hell broke loose. As both men were restrained and Austin forcibly removed from the ring, a seething Mr. McMahon screamed at the Bionic Redneck, "You've ruined everything!"

Shawn Michaels was loving it. With D-Generation X's Triple H, Chyna, and New Age Outlaws Road Dogg & Bad-Ass Billy Gunn in his corner, he "owned" the mountaintop that kept Austin from attaining his first WWE Championship. Though he assured, "The Heartbreak Kid lays down for absolutely nobody," he'd jokingly volunteer to surrender his WrestleMania title defense and guest-referee a bout between Stone Cold and Iron Mike. However, no one, especially Austin, was laughing after the vicious DX ambush later that night—an assault that ended with the Rattlesnake involuntarily coiled in the ropes, and HBK waving the elusive gold in his face.

Always one to dish out as good as he took, Stone Cold stole the WWE Title from under Michaels' nose the following week, and he wouldn't relinquish it without making sure that he, Owen Hart, Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie first opened up a can of whoop-ass on DX. The foursome finished that can with an 8-Man Tag Match victory over the D-Generate faction at No Way Out six days later, though The Showstopper himself would no-show. He'd simply promise that he would "wreak havoc" around World Wrestling Entertainment in the days building up to WrestleMania.

Come March, Michaels would fulfill his bold proclamation. With Tyson officially agreeing to act as a special enforcer at WrestleMania XIV's main event, Mr. McMahon and WWE fans watched in horror as HBK challenged the Chairman's guest to a fight. As the two began to spar, Michaels suddenly ripped away at Iron Mike's shirt…revealing a DX shirt underneath. The two men hugged and celebrated, and it became painfully clear to the dismayed Chairman that his "impartial" enforcer was the newest crotch-chopping member of D-Generation X. Michaels would add further injury to insult that night by orchestrating Austin into a match against Kane, then sucker-kicking him with Sweet Chin Music as he headed to the ring.

It's not too much of a stretch to conclude at this point that the Texas Rattlesnake was…agitated. Forcing Mr. McMahon to confront him on Raw the following week, he bore his fangs and accused WWE's "yellow bastard" Chairman of privately backing the DX-Tyson union. (And he wasn't wrong; Mr. McMahon soon admitted that he thought having Stone Cold as WWE Champion would be "a P.R. nightmare" for the company—a precursory opinion that ultimately escalated into the now-legendary McMahon-Austin War.) Meanwhile, believing that HBK wasn't in the arena, the Bionic Redneck decided to send him a message with an ass-whoopin' on Triple H. Unfortunately, it was Michaels who sent the message, surprising Austin in the ring and laying him out with Sweet Chin Music for a second consecutive week.

By all appearances, The Showstopper, a DX-garbed Mike Tyson and the spiteful WWE Chairman had Austin's number a week before the grandest of spectacles in Boston's FleetCenter. Yet one wouldn't know it to hear the unflappably tough S.O.B.—"I do what I want, when I want, right here in this damn ring, and can't nobody stop me!" "The greatest WWE Champion of all time" begged to differ, arguing that had the upper hand—or in this case, fist—with DX's newest member. "What's gonna happen if Stone Cold gets in your way?" HBK asked Tyson, who replied, "I'm gonna knock him out!"

As WWE fans swarmed Boston's City Hall Plaza for a pre-WrestleMania workout, Michaels, Tyson and the D-Generates would take some final parting shots at Austin, tying him up in the ring ropes and subjecting him to head-slapping antics that would make even Benny Hill chuckle. However, Stone Cold would have the final laugh at WrestleMania XIV. With the referee incapacitated, Mike Tyson indeed became the "DX" factor instants after Austin caught Michaels with the Stunner—by impartially counting the 1-2-3 and awarding Stone Cold the WWE Championship. Shocked by his betrayal, an irate HBK got in Tyson's face, only to taste canvas once more after a mean right hand from the "Baddest Man on the Planet." Iron Mike then showed his true allegiance, removing his DX shirt and replacing it with an "Austin 3:16" tee. And at that unforgettable moment, WWE's "Attitude" era had officially begun.

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