Call it political influence or writer’s job security, but somehow or another...
WrestleMania VIII: A Portrait in Wrestling History
From The Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, IN
April 5, 1992
Through scandals involving steroids, sexual misconduct, and child abuse, the WWF was a walking zombie by 1992. With new drug testing measures nailing a number of bulky talents, as well as shifting a focus on wrestlers with leaner frames, the company barely resembled what it was even one year prior.
The Ultimate Warrior had run out on the company at Summerslam 1991 (literally, in mid-match). Macho Man Randy Savage was back from retirement, wearing a glorified pajama shirt to hide his streamlined physique. Mr. Perfect had retired with a back injury, and was now serving as consultant to WWF’s new top heel, Ric Flair. Flair had also won the WWF Championship at the 1992 Royal Rumble, by entering the match at #3 and going the distance, dumping out fellow fresh face/Horseman ally Sid Justice.
Things were changing for sure in the WWF, and the biggest change of all would be happening at the top of the card.
Making the coincidence even more interesting was Hogan’s body, which shrank like a weed sprayed with chemicals, as his 303 pounds of muscular granite had dwindled to a leaner 275. His structure was slightly bonier, and he looked nowhere near as mighty as he’d once had.
Hogan’s star was fading away, as the generation of The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and a host of colorful midcarders were ready to take over.
Hogan was expected to face Ric Flair for the WWF Championship, in what would have been wrestling’s greatest dream match realized. Sadly, the WWF and WCW kingpins were not to meet on the grand stage, as Hogan’s impending exit threw conventional wisdom into disarray.
Potentially, with Hogan and Flair penciled in as the main attraction, Macho Man Randy Savage would have likely faced Jake “The Snake” Roberts in a blow-off to their months-long personal war. Instead, Savage was granted Flair for the title. Meanwhile, with Roberts needing a match, a hypothetical showdown between Undertaker and Sid Justice was scrapped, with Taker turning face out of nowhere, to face Roberts, with whom he’d aligned.
That left Sid twisting in the wind, but not for long.
The ending of the 1992 Rumble was designed for Sid to toss out Hogan, leaving a scorned Hulkster to accost Sid, allowing Flair to dump out the Arkansas giant to claim the WWF Championship. Sid and Hulk had a pull-apart after the match, establishing a feud between the two men.
Justice would soon take his anger out on a horde of preliminary talents, decimating them during matches, and then preventing them from receiving medical care after the match. Sid finally took his anger out on Hogan’s best friend, Brutus Beefcake, who was hosting his own “Barber Shop” interview segment during his injury period. Sid destroyed the set and chased Beefcake off, all the while calling out Hogan.
In the WWF Title match, however, things took an even more personal turn.
Ric Flair taunted his new challenger, Macho Man Randy Savage, by insinuating that he had been with Savage’s wife, Miss Elizabeth, before Savage ever knew her. To further stoke Savage’s envious fire, Flair produced (doctored) photos of he and Miss Elizabeth spending time together doing various leisure activities, such as lounging at a pool and watching a movie together.
The icing on the cake, however, was Flair claiming to have “centerfold” style photos of Miss Elizabeth that would be revealed on the stadium jumbo-trons if he were to win. All of these mind games stirred Savage up to no end, and provided a scandalous undertone to a highly anticipated title match.
Meanwhile, The Undertaker had solidified his face turn by saving Miss Elizabeth from an assault at the hands of Jake Roberts. The angle climaxed with Roberts locking Undertaker’s hand inside a casket, and then beating on Paul Bearer while Undertaker remained trapped. Then, to Roberts’ horror, Undertaker began to stalk Roberts while dragging the casket behind him, looking like a hell-bent Frankenstein’s monster as Roberts cowered away from his newest enemy.
Outside of the reshuffled upper card was the Intercontinental Title match, as Rowdy Roddy Piper defended the gold against the man who’d lost two months prior with a serious fever, Bret Hart. Hart and Piper expressed their admiration for each other, but it was a match that was sure to be a pull-no-punches brawl between two hungry friends.
Gorilla Monsoon (calling his final WrestleMania) and Bobby Heenan called the action, with Heenan having a vested interest in the World Title match. Country singer Reba McIntyre sang the Star Spangled Banner to kick off the show, and game show host Ray Combs served as emcee for the eight man tag by insulting the heel side.
Shawn Michaels def. El Matador in 10:39
(Michaels was tinkering with his villainous “pretty boy” persona, and succeeding at it. The match is a pretty good one, even though this marked Tito Santana’s seventh straight loss at WrestleMania. Santana is the WWF’s Jim Kelly: belongs at the big dance, but not allowed to win it)
The Undertaker def. Jake Roberts in 6:36
(Alcohol could never stop Roberts, but a Tombstone on a gym mat with his head not coming within six feet of the floor can)
WWF Intercontinental: Bret Hart def. Rowdy Roddy Piper in 13:50 to win the title
(A somewhat forgotten classic, as the two men outwit each other with street brawling (Piper) and technical wresting (Hart). Some of Bobby Heenan’s best one liners were during this match. By the way, notice how the first three winners were all important to the WWF’s growth in forthcoming years?)
Big Bossman/Hacksaw Jim Duggan/Sgt. Slaughter/Virgil def. Nasty Boys/The Mountie/Repo Man in 5:22
(It’s like auditions for a gimmick battle royal. But anything with Repo Man is fine by me)
WWF World Championship: Macho Man Randy Savage def. Ric Flair in 18:05 to win the title
(Just a bloody classic full of animosity, hatred, bitter gamesmanship, and provocative actions. The post match activity, which included a young, suit-wearing Shane McMahon, was also to behold, as Savage appeared to be, at several points, prepared to take Flair’s life. Just great stuff)
Tatanka def. Rick Martel in 4:33
(The match is preceded by a dance from the Lumbee Indian Tribe, who are as big of WrestleMania celebrities as freakin’ Rick Schroder)
WWF World Tag Team: The Natural Disasters def. Money Inc by count out in 8:39
(One of the cheapest endings in WrestleMania history. Ted Dibiase and IRS just leave, and the Disasters make no attempt to stop them. At least Dibiase got a belt, though)
Owen Hart def. Skinner in 1:11
(To think, if Jim Neidhart hadn’t been an idiot and gotten fired again the previous month, he and Owen could have faced Money Inc. Instead, Owen got to work for a minute and had tobacco juice spewed on him. Eh, still beats having to work for Bruce)
Hulk Hogan def. Sid Justice by disqualification in 12:44
(Papa Shango runs in for the inexplicable DQ, but the real story is the Ultimate Warrior returning after a seven month hiatus to clean house and celebrate with Hogan, in what was his going away moment, as the show came to a close. Out with the old, in with the sort-of new)
ITS PLACE IN HISTORY
As for Ultimate Warrior’s return, it was pretty clear why he was brought back after such a disgraceful termination the previous summer. With Hogan gone, McMahon wasn’t quite prepared to go forth with one time-tested main event babyface in Savage (with Hart and Undertaker waiting in the wings), and clearly felt he needed Warrior to recoup any Hogan fans that might have tuned out.
WrestleMania VIII is like a basketball team that puts up 65 points in the first half and whips the crowd into a frenzy, but then scores only 28 points in the second half with an uninspired, lifeless effort. Everything after Flair/Savage can be passed over, except for the shock of Warrior’s return.
Like last year, Savage has a tremendous match in the middle of the show filled with passion and intensity, and it’s still Hogan with a lackluster, hackneyed main event that fails to deliver. Hogan was clearly leaving, and WWF bringing Warrior back gives insight into Vince McMahon’s level of faith.