Vince McMahon had a new vision.
The vision of the Ultimate Rematch would have to be put on hold for now. He would need something to sell the fans on WrestleMania VIII or possibly for his next event, Summerslam. The Warrior had his chance in his mind, it was a nice experiment but nothing brought the fans in like The Hulkster. While you could bet the farm (If you have one) that Hogan would leave the Coliseum with the WWF Championship in The Ultimate Rematch, they needed something to go with what was happening in the real world. Vince saw the Coliseum decked out in the red, white and blue as far as the eye could see, WrestleMania VII would be “SuperStars and Stripes Forever” and Hulk would be front and center of everything: The poster, the commercial and the main event. His opponent? Sgt. Slaughter, the former patriot turned Iraqi sympathizer and WWE Champion. Vince knew that over 100,000 fans, nay PATRIOTS would cram the Coliseum and scream for Hogan to destroy Slaughter. Fans at home would also watch, shattering any record Tyson set. Hogan would not only be competing for himself, but all of America and those poor people overseas.
No doubt McMahon had his vision but now war had broken out and potential for American blood spilled on foreign soil was a reality. There were two sides of thinking when it came to the upcoming Rumble event: Change everything (Almost everybody in the company) or keep the ship going (McMahon). The first came from almost everybody in the company, who debated with Vince until the last minute to do one of two things: Change the finish to Warrior winning or modifying the Slaughter character. High level officials in the company threatened to quit the company, arguments with McMahon trying to change his mind. Even the wrestlers were debating whether or not the Slaughter character was the right thing for business. McMahon had made his mind up; Slaughter would win the title, setting up the beautiful vision.
In the shows leading up to the Royal Rumble, graphics were inserted into WWE programming proclaiming that the company did not condone the actions of Slaughter and they supported the troops.
January 19th, 1991: The 1991 Royal Rumble
The 1991 Royal Rumble began and the show was filled with the announcers wishing their best to the troops, Hulk Hogan said that he was winning this one for the troops. The national anthem played at the beginning of the show, it was announced that Hogan would visit military bases as a part of the USO Your. The Ultimate Warrior would wear paint of the red, white and blue even though nobody knows if Parts Unknown is even in the US. It would be a nice sentiment until you realized that Adnan would be waving the Iraqi flag during the match and Slaughter wearing a keffiyeh, borrowed from Ayatollah Blassie. Oh yeah, Slaugther cut a killer promo before the match proclaiming that Warrior’s reign wasn’t down to days, hours, or minutes. IT WAS DOWN TO MERE SECONDS.
The crowd was tense when the match began as Slaughter flopped around the ring for everything the Warrior threw at him. Lost in all this would be that Slaughter was at his best as a worker since the Sheik feud. Despite the obvious concerns about the character, Slaughter went all out in this period of time. After a run-in attack from Savage, Slaughter had the champion locked in the camel clutch (blog) as the champions feet were in the ropes. Warrior was passed out but the ref noticed it and called for Slaughter to let go. This would give the Warrior new life as he came back from the dead and had Slaughter all but defeated. That was until Sherri ran in then Savage and Warrior threw Sherri over the top rope until Savage who was outside. Slaughter would take the distraction and use it to his advantage, kneeing the Warrior into the ropes. Savage would hit the Warrior with his scepter (It sounded and looked brutal) as Slaughter would pin him 1,2,3. The bell rang as people wondered if Hebner caught the scepter shot or not. The crowd chanted for Hogan as Fink made the announcement: YOUR WINNER AND NEW WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION CHAMPION, SGT. SLAUGHTER.
It was said when Ivan Koloff won the WWE Championship from Bruno Sammartino, the reaction was silence. That was not the case as the crowd became unglued as Slaughter was handed the WWE Championship. At the end of the night, Hulk Hogan tossed Earthquake and what was left of Quake’s push out of the ring. As Real American played throughout the arena and Hogan waved the American flag, McMahon’s vision was coming to light. A few days later, the WWE would announce in USA Today that Hulk Hogan would indeed challenge Sgt. Slaughter for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania VII.
January 28th, 1991
“At what point does the allowable bad taste thrives upon cross the line? This question was debated heavily over the past week throughout pro wrestling, particularly within the offices of the World Wrestling Federation.”- Dave Meltzer in the January 28th, 1991 Wrestling Observer
In the January 28th edition of the Wrestling Observer, Dave Meltzer would write a scathing editorial about the whole situation. The editorial was set to appear in The National, which for those who do not remember was a newspaper dedicated to sports and sports only. Headed by the legendary Frank Deford, it featured every big name sportswriter at the time, so if you’ve watched Around the Horn, then you’ll know most of the roster there. He called out McMahon for creating this whole angle in the first place and for McMahon trying to promote patriotism while having Slaughter and Adnan antagonize the fans by waving the flag and saluting it. For saying that he’s going to tone down the character only after the war broke out. Hogan didn’t go unscathed either, Meltzer called him out for wanting to go on tour to only strengthen his babyface character. It’s quite the editorial and it resulted in a firestorm within the WWE.
McMahon would launch a campaign to fire Meltzer that was quite ugly, as an entire issue of the Observer was dedicated to the various letters back and forth between the WWE, Meltzer and Deford. Deford would back Melzter throughout it, eventually taking him off the story due to the stress of the situation. Many writers condemned McMahon and backed Meltzer, like a scrappy underdog that survived a fight against Brock Lesnar.
A few days later, a highly hyped Main Event primetime special meant to build hype for WrestleMania drew a 6.7 rating, the lowest for a NBC special. This would be a factor in NBC deciding to not renew their contract with the WWE. In order to build heat, Slaughter beats Jim Duggan so badly that he has to be taken out via stretcher and Hogan is beaten down by Slaughter. What else could go wrong?
Well, I presume much more when Vince McMahon saw how well the Mania tickets were selling. Vince was probably expecting that most of the tickets were sold, but the reality was a kick to the grapefruits that Vince hadn’t felt since 1988: 12,000 tickets sold. Many believed that 20-30,000 tickets had been sold but the 12,000 number came from a person at the box office.
Vince’s vision is no more.
February 11th, 1991
Vince’s glorious vision is dead. In order to save face, the company claims that the show is moved to the much smaller Los Angeles Sports Arena for security reasons. Did Slaughter receive death threats? Probably, but the security concerns excuse was pure bullshit. The Sports Arena would still be covered in red, white, and blue but gone is huge gate and record buyrate. If the company had stood firm, they probably could have had about 40,000 fans with the attendance being heavily papered but it would have looked awful on television. The company still pushes the security concerns as the main reason why the event is moved. Vince McMahon would put his tail between his legs and head to the Sports Arena. Fun fact: The original WrestleMania VII ad for the Coliseum was still on the original WrestleMania collection.
February 28th, 1991
Operation Desert Storm ends, leaving the company with more than two months of build-up with the main selling point (USA vs Iraq) gone. The build-up switches to Slaughter playing by his own rules, which meant him attacking Hogan at every corner. That didn’t prevent the company from presenting a doctored photo of Slaughter with Hussein. Hell, I’m not surprised that Vince didn’t pay Jerry Haleva (Well-known Hussein impersonator in Hollywood) to accompany Slaughter to ringside.
Overall, this is the last major point in the road to WrestleMania VII. The company would make it to the card and it’s a great card to watch. Hogan and Slaughter is a dramatic affair with Slaughter bumping like it is 1981. You already know about Savage/Warrior, but Rockers/Faces of Fear is great, Hart Foundation/Nasty Boys is good and Bossman/Perfect is fun to watch.
-WrestleMania VII would draw 477,817 buys, down from the previous two years. McMahon thought that the presence of a heel in the main event would drive the buyrate up.
-Hogan against Slaughter would continue, mostly since the WWE didn’t have any other heels to work with Hogan. Thank god for Flair, but check out The Desert Storm Match from MSG, it’s a good brawl.
-The Ultimate Warrior would start a feud with The Undertaker and then have an ugly breakup with McMahon at Summerslam 1991.
-Sgt. Slaughter would remain a heel until after Summerslam and would return as a babyface, claiming he wanted his country back.
-The steroid scandal would heat up and Hulk would make a legendary in the wrong way appearance on the Arsenio Hall show. Hogan tells Aresnio’s people and the WWE that he will come clean, but changes his mind and claims that he only took them for injuries. Hulk’s reputation is in ruins, causing him to go to Hollywood.
-George Zahorian goes on trial with Piper and others testifying. It takes the jury only three hours to render a guilty verdict on eleven counts. Zahorian was sentenced to three years in prison and was released in 1995.
-Vince would announce steroid testing in the beginning of an attempt to fight the wave of bad publicity, which leads to a gutted roster down the line.
Robert Goeman has been writing for CamelClutchBlog since 2014 and has written for FiveOuncesofPain and What Culture. Follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/RobertGoeman. After every article, Robert usually does “Talking Points” on twitter, bringin up points that didn’t make the article.
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