From Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, NV
April 4, 1993
WrestleMania IX chose to theme itself with a Roman backdrop, hailing Julius Caesar, for whom the venue was named. In addition, WrestleMania was billed as “The World’s Largest Toga Party”, with many of the performers playing along with costumes befitting of decadence, before Hannibal and the elephants ruined the gala.
Outside the ring, however, life wasn’t exactly a party for Vince McMahon.
With federal investigators continuing to build their case of illegal drug distribution against the wrestling giant, the WWF found “Saturday Night’s Main Event” turfed from network television, airing on Fox in November 1992, for the final time for fourteen years. Steroid charges resulted in The Ultimate Warrior and Davey Boy Smith being shown the door.
Things were changing in the WWF.
Helping the WWF distance themselves from the ghosts of Titan’s past were three interesting sets of champions. If Warrior and Bulldog were Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, these gentlemen would be a quartet of Ichiro Suzukis by comparison.
The WWF Champion was Bret Hart, whose humble demeanor, fighting spirit, and international renown made him a prime candidate for Vince McMahon to put his focus behind. Shawn Michaels reigned as Intercontinental Champion, keeping the midcard interesting by bumping for babyfaces of all styles and backgrounds. In the tag team division, Ted Dibiase and IRS reigned still as the nefarious Money Inc.
However, one ghost would return from the beyond, serving to haunt the WWF’s new generation
A ghost bedecked in red and yellow.
Indeed, Hulk Hogan returned as a not-so-conquering hero, fresh off a ten month hiatus wherein “The Hulkster” achieved little more than landing a pilot for “Thunder in Paradise”. According to Bret Hart’s memoir, “Hitman”, Hart claims that Vince McMahon personally informed Hart of Hogan’s impending return, and then assured him that the former four time WWF Champion would not be a threat to Hart’s status as champion.
Hart had his own fish to fry, a 500+ pound behemoth named Yokozuna. Barely three months into his WWF tenure, Yoko won the 1993 Royal Rumble, becoming the first man to cash in on the stipulation of the Rumble’s winner getting a World Title match at WrestleMania.
One famous moment in the Rumble occurred when six men attempted to dump Yoko, and they couldn’t even lift his back past the top rope. Yoko would then dispatch of the thirtieth entrant, Macho Man Randy Savage, after no-selling his patented Flying Elbow Smash.
In the weeks leading to WrestleMania, Yoko injured Hacksaw Jim Duggan on WWF Superstars with several Banzai drops, resulting in Hacksaw being stretchered out. Yoko would also injure Hart during the contract signing for the match, first by ramming the conference table into his ribs, and then landing a Banzai Drop for good measure.
Established as a monster threat on the level of Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy before him, Yokozuna was pushed hard out of the gate. However, with Bret Hart playing the role of Canada’s Hulk Hogan, perhaps Vince McMahon was hoping to rekindle the David-vs-Goliath story of WrestleMania III.
Speaking of Hogan, the pretense for “The Immortal” returning was to help friend Brutus Beefcake, whose weakened facial features (due to a parasailing accident in 1990) were attacked by Money Inc. Ted Dibiase held Beefcake, while IRS smashed “The Barber” with his steel briefcase.
The highlight of that angle was when Jimmy Hart, Money Inc’s manager, turned face for the first time in his nine year WWF run by developing compassion, trying to stop his two charges from permanently injuring a defenseless man. Hart accompanied Beefcake to the hospital and, with Hogan returning, the three formed the “Trio of Megamaniacs”. A World Tag Team Title match was signed for the April 4 spectacular between the two teams.
Rounding out the title picture, Shawn Michaels would defend his Intercontinental Championship against Tatanka, who had been undefeated for over one year. Tatanka had pinned Michaels twice, once in a non title match and again in a six man tag, to establish himself as a contender. Michaels’ ex-flame, Sensational Sherri, was still out for revenge, but Michaels would have a deterrent.
Also of note from the event was the debut as lead announcer for Jim Ross, fresh from a controversial WCW exit in February of that year. As Ross has mentioned on many occasions, he did indeed wear a toga for the event. Ross formed an eclectic trio with Bobby Heenan and Macho Man Randy Savage, whose wrestling talents were sorely missed from the show. While the event opened with a Roman circus-style parade (complete with Bobby Heenan riding a camel backwards), there was little celebrity involvement, except for Natalie Cole being interviewed.
But no worries; while there were few stars, an unwelcome one would steal the limelight at the conclusion.
WWF Intercontinental: Tatanka def. Shawn Michaels by count out in 18:13
(Decent match, and, sadly, the match of the night. Michaels neutralized Sherri’s involvement by bringing Luna Vachon in as back-up. Luna would maul Sherri, setting up a feud that never concluded due to Sherri being released that summer with drug issues. Pretty sad, really)
The Steiner Brothers def. The Headshrinkers in 14:22
(An underrated brawl. Two spots made this memorable: Scott Steiner getting hot-shotted over the top rope with a bad landing on the floor, and Rick sitting on one Headshrinker’s shoulders, catching the other one flying in with a powerslam. It was a spotfest before the concept existed)
Doink the Clown def. Crush in 8:28
(Sure it was a lousy match, but it featured the classic Double Doink “man in the mirror” routine. For that alone, it gets props)
Razor Ramon def. Bob Backlund in 3:45
(The cool heel was cheered over the milk-and-cookies babyface. This caused WWF to change their formula around in 1998, and change it back around in 2005 for some reason)
WWF World Tag Team: Money Inc def. The Megamaniacs by disqualification in 18:27
(Average match. Hogan, of course, posed for about fifteen years after the match. You had a feeling he wasn’t going to go away easy. And he didn’t)
Lex Luger def. Mr. Perfect in 10:56
(WOLFPACK IN THE HOUSE! All this match was good for was allowing Shawn Michaels to randomly begin a feud with Perfect after the match. Even the pinfall was messed up, as Perfect somehow had BOTH feet on the ropes and the ref missed it)
(Do not watch this match while operating heavy machinery. Although I’m not sure what match you COULD watch under those circumstances, actually. That’s three for the Dead Man, by the way)
WWF World Championship: Yokozuna def. Bret Hart in 8:55 to win the title
(Bret Hart, champion of nearly six months, and the new hero for all the fans to get behind, was apparently knocked unconscious by Mr. Fuji throwing salt into his eyes. I have no problem with Yoko as champion, but you could at least treat Hart like a worthy one in defeat)
WWF World Championship: Hulk Hogan def. Yokozuna in 21 seconds to win the title
(Mr. Fuji challenged Hogan, who came to the ring to “check on Bret”, and Bret told Hogan to “do the right thing” and get the gold back. Hogan’s ego pinned Yokozuna with a legdrop seconds later)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
If you are to believe Bret Hart, then Vince McMahon only told him the Friday before, to his astonishment, that Yoko would be winning, and that Hogan would win it moments later to set up Hogan vs. Hart at Summerslam. Hogan would then balk at the match, leaving Bret twisting as a pink and black pawn in some bizarre mind game between the WWF’s boss, and its faded hero.
WrestleMania IX was a virtual disaster, and is regarded as the worst entry in the annual series. No truly memorable feuds led to the showcase, with Hart and Yoko barely qualifying as a feud, save for the contract signing incident.
The Megamaniacs/Money Inc story line was merely a ploy to get Hogan back into the spotlight so that he could take over as franchise player yet again, despite his best days being behind him.
Hogan never once appeared on Raw as champion, and lost the belt two months later to Yokozuna at the King of the Ring. Hogan would not appear in the WWF on television again until 2002
WrestleMania IX shows what happens when McMahon allows his worst instincts to get the best of him, at the worst possible time.