When I first discovered the internet, my wrestling websites were more or less the WWE and WCW websites. Oh, and some e-mail newsletter that claimed that the WWE was going to do a Raw at the ECW arena. Overall, as I began to discover more websites and forums, I began to hear about bad wrestling. It seemed like there was two PPV’s that were generally considered the worst: The 1991 Great American Bash and WrestleMania IX. I have seen both shows and I agree with the Bash being on the list since there is not one redeemable match on the card. Luger vs Windham is good but the crowd kills the match. Yet, I say that WrestleMania IX doesn’t belong on the list, in-fact it isn’t the worst WrestleMania of all time. I can name three WrestleMania’s that are worse than IX.
WrestleMania IV: The tournament concept doesn’t work resulting in some bad matches to only be saved by Savage/DiBiase at the end. The event fells like its being held in a funeral home and worst of all, Jim Crockett kicked Vince McMahon in the grapefruits with a superior event. Only redeemable match outside of the tournament is Demolition vs Strike Force.
WrestleMania XI: Another one-match Mania, an event which technical errors abound and a card that felt like everybody involved phoned it in. It just doesn’t feel like a WrestleMania, if it had been a Raw or In Your House, it would have been a great card.
What I am going to do today is defend WrestleMania to the best of my abilities. I don’t have any rose colored glasses for the card, I may have watched it once when I was a kid. When I got the 1-13 collection for Christmas, I may have watched a match or two, but that is it. Before we begin, I’d like to present my only piece of evidence that doesn’t involve any matches that we would see that night.
Piece number one: A Gutted Roster
If you look at the roster around WrestleMania VIII and look at the card for WrestleMania IX, you’ll see a roster that has been gutted in under a year. Now, five guys who were being promoted in the top three matches (Flair, Sid, Jake, Savage, Warrior) were gone and Piper was gone too. You could make an exception for Savage, but he was more of a part-time worker at this point. That also doesn’t count The British Bulldog (Cut from the card), The Legion of Doom (Appeared in a promo), The Big Boss Man, Sgt. Slaughter, and The Nasty Boys who all competed on the card and were gone. The roster in early 1992 might have been one of the most stacked rosters in company history which lead to a much praised Royal Rumble. The steroid controversy causes a lot of this to happen (Bulldog, Warrior, Sid failed a drug test) and the company was starting to lose money from lost sponsors.
Now, Vince didn’t take this laying down and he started pushing talent up the card like Hart, Michaels, Tantanka, and Undertaker. Mister Perfect was called back into action near the end of 1992 and the company signed up talent like Yokozuna, The Steiners, Razor Ramon, Bob Backlund, and Bam Bam Bigelow. Lex Luger came in from the WBF, but it still didn’t stop the internal bleeding. A roster filled with main eventer after main eventer had wilted down to just a few. Hart became championed in a time with limited challengers and the company more or less limped into WrestleMania. The fans were interested however, since it drew over 500,000 buys a number that wouldn’t be topped until WrestleMania XIV. Heck, even the gate at the box office which was over 1.1 million wouldn’t be topped until WrestleMania XV.
Now, in this post, were going to go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of the card. A word of note though, a certain part of the card will not be mentioned in any of these pieces, as it a big enough of a deterrent that it warrants its own section.
The atmosphere and the announcing: Personally, I’m always a fan of outdoor shows, especially one with a theme. Everybody seems to be having fun with the Roman theme, even if they probably hated having to wear togas. The card is also noticeable for Jim Ross’s PPV debut and the three man booth with Heenan and Savages seems cramped, but they make it work. Heenan riding a camel always gets a good laugh out of me still.
Tatanka vs Shawn Michaels: It is a rather good opener; it is not in the same echelon of Hart vs Hart or even Rockers vs Haku and Barbarian. Still, it is a good match and despite the potential of clash of styles they make it work. They hit some good spots (Tantanka countering top rope moves with power slams and arm drags) and Michaels goes overboard with the selling but in a way that make’s Tatanka look good. The rift between Luna Vachon and Sherri is well done and they don’t let it overshadow the match. The count out finish leaves a lot to be desired, but it makes sense when you consider they needed to keep both guys strong. Plus, looking at Sherri in skimpy clothing can never and I mean never be a bad thing.
The Headshrinkers vs The Steiners: As a child of the 6:05, I loved watching this match. The Headshrinkers and Steiners both looked like they had brutal offensive maneuvers back in the day. If you like a match filled with double team moves, then this is the match for you. The Steiners bust out a double clothesline with both men on the top rope, The Shrinkers do the old Demolition decapitation, and Rick counters being on one of the Shrinker’s shoulders by belly-to-belly suplexing the Shrinker coming off the top rope. There is also a modified Stun Gun in-which one of the Shrinker’s holds down the ropes, causing Scott to go crashing to the floor. A funny moment is Rick trying to hit the double noggin-knocker but you can’t head butt a Samoan and they double head butt him. They work a slower pace than what they probably would have worked in the NWA, but still check it out.
The Two Doinks: The match with Crush is a bit forgettable, but the moment with the other Doink makes it watchable. Matt Borne took a character that should have failed and made it work and took a joke character and made him into a complete monster. The moment in-which both guys mimicked each other’s movements is great and I wish Borne had more time with the character. The character had momentum, having some great matches with Perfect but the face turn killed the character. I think Doink playing mind games with Savage leading to a crazed Savage going after Doink would have rocked.
Money Inc. vs The Mega Maniacs: I loved the angle the lead to this growing up and four year old me believed they had really shattered Beefcake’s face. I did buy the whole “Savage punching out Hogan” story, but looking at Hogan’s eye up-close, it would have to been a killer punch. I liked that they gave credit to Money Inc. hiring some goons, it gave the match some good heat overall. Overall, the match does run long (Eighteen minutes), but it’s still a decent bout. The crowd stays hot for the duration of the bout and you should have funny moments. DiBiase trying to punch the “titanium mask” on Beefcake and selling it like he broke his hand is great. DiBiase gets some good heat for tearing the mask off, and pounding on Beefcake and leading to Heenan hitting some home runs. The finish of the second ref disqualifying the Maniacs is a bit lame, but Jimmy Hart throwing the ref out looked cool.
Bret Hart vs Yokozuna: Before we start the match, the company was under some heat by Japanese-American groups who disliked the way Yoko was portrayed. The attack on Jim Duggan and subsequent draping of the US flag and then Banzai Drop wasn’t aired in some markets. In Chicago, fans got to see the Ric Flair vs Mr. Perfect Loser Leaves Town match. If they were offended before, they should have watched Hogan’s promo. Yeesh. The match itself is great and I think if it had a few more minutes, it would be a fondly remembered main event. The best thing they did was have Bret go right at Yoko, throwing everything but the kitchen sink to knock him down. The crowd lost it when Bret trapped Yoko’s ankle in the ropes and began whaling on him. These two guys had a great extremely large cat vs mouse dynamic going on, with Bret looking like he had him, to only have Yoko knock him down. Bret and Yoko had some great matches after Mania, some great cage matches, a TV rematch in November and WrestleMania X.
Razor Ramon vs Bob Backlund: Razor was an interesting case at this point; he went from being in a top-level feud with Hart to facing Backlund. I presume that Razor just got lost in the shuffle. Once they realized that WrestleMania was coming up, they realized “Oh crap we forgot about Razor” and just threw him in a match with Backlund. Doink was supposed to be going against Davey Boy, so maybe Razor/Crush was planned? Overall, it’s a styles clash that resulted in a rather boring match that you just wait for it to end. The company would later try again with Razor and Backlund in 1995 at live cards, and only the presence of Dick Murdoch at ringside made it watchable. Heck, give him a match with Mach or something.
Lex Luger vs Mr. Perfect: I’m one of the last few Lex Luger fans left, hell I’m probably the only Luger fan left. I had high hopes for his match with Perfect, but it just wasn’t a good match. They didn’t click in this match. In a Kayfabe Commentaries shoot, Luger claimed that Perfect forgot about the layout for the match and Luger had to improvise an entire new match on the fly. It does seem like the match was being put together by the second.
One more thing: Bret Hart not getting any promo time before his big defense was not a good omen. You think they’d have him say something considering Yoko attacked him during the contract and was then knocked out by Luger.
The Undertaker vs Giant Gonzalez: I’ll be honest and saying that Gonzalez’s debut at the Rumble was awesome to see as a kid. I’ll be honest and saying that the attack still holds up to this day as an out of nowhere moment and it established Gonzalez as a monster. In an era in which “WE’VE NEVER SEEN THE UNDERTAKER BEATEN UP LIKE THIS BEFORE” as a joke, this was great. Unfortunately, it was all downhill as the match itself was more akin to getting a root canal. It didn’t help that Gonzalez’s attire was laughable and The Undertaker was tasked with something Flair couldn’t even do. Undertaker’s entrance was cool and when the entrance is the best part of the match that isn’t a good sing. Just an awful match all around should only be watched to torture worst enemy. Luckily, we never saw the much rumored Hogan/Gonzalez feud that was rumored for after Summerslam.
The Double Ugly:
Now, we address the red and yellow elephant in the room and this is the ending of WrestleMania. For one, the company booked itself into a corner by pushing Yoko against Bret. Yoko was being built up as a threat and Bret’s reign needed a big moment. Simply enough, the company needed to something to send the fans home happy, and Hogan taking the belt was supposed to be that moment. It’s funny to think about it, considering people on the internet insisted for years that the crowd showered Hogan with hatred after he won. Obviously, that wasn’t the case and what happened after is murky.
Vince told Bret that Hogan was going to drop the belt back to Bret, but Hulk told Bret that a deal was in place to drop it back to Yoko. It honestly seems like that Vince was trying to play Hogan against Bret in the hopes of one of recreating the try-outs scene from The Dark Knight about fifteen years earlier. So, what was supposed to happen? Well, only Hart has really talked about it, you can’t trust Hogan and Vince is Vince. I presume the moment he steps down, Vince will probably write a book and we’ll discover a lot of information.
Now, obviously, people soured because of what happened after WrestleMania. Hogan returned to filming his TV show. In fact, Hogan wouldn’t appear at a WWE event until May 21st and he would work tag matches against Money Inc. His reign would come to an end at the King of the Ring, in a match more designed to make Hogan look bad. Hogan was thoroughly dominated and lost via leg drop. What should have signaled chasing Yoko was put on hold for Lex Luger and the Lex Express to rev up. Hart wouldn’t sniff WWE gold until the next year.
I think if things were different, the finish wouldn’t be looked back as such an awful thing. They tease the match the next night, Fuji gets involved claiming Yoko deserves his rematch. Bret enters the King of the Ring and wins; Hogan defeats Yoko setting the stage for Summerslam. Bret gets the win, they do the handshake and all that jazz. The next night, Hulk makes a speech hinting retirement to only be interrupted by Luger. Luger attacks Hogan, hitting him in the back and front of the head with the loaded forearm, setting up Hulk’s return feud. It could either be at The Survivor Series or even WrestleMania X.
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