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WrestleMania XI: Help Me, Lawrence-Wan

-So we come upon an interesting show: one that is generally panned as one of the weaker entries in the annals of WrestleMania history, yet is also considered a show that helped save the WWF. On April 2, 1995, WrestleMania emanated inside a shopping complex at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, CT. The WWE at this point was in shambles, due largely to a stale and cartoony product. WCW was picking up steam due to the acquisitions of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, and would soon be knocking on Vince McMahon’s door with Monday Nitro. What to do?

-You bring in a retired all-pro linebacker, that’s what you do. But hey, we have time to get back to that. On with the show!

-Here to sing the national anthem, Kathy Huey who is a Special Olympian. She actually does a good job, given her condition, and it makes me feel good to see that sometimes Vince McMahon can show some sensitivity and compassion.

-Our hosts are Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler, with Jim Ross doing post match interviews in the aisleway. It should be noted that Ross did most of the interviews while shrouded in darkness, so that we couldn’t see the aftermath of his bout with Bell’s Palsy.

-Please don’t try and tie the last two thoughts together; I won’t be held responsible for your anguish.

-Hey, remember last year when Bret and Owen Hart kicked things off with a stellar match? This time it’s….The Allied Powers and the Blu Brothers. Because, you know, incredible opening matches are just SO 1994! The Blus have Uncle Zebekiah with him, who is Dutch Mantell. Could Dutch come up with an opener this bad when he worked in TNA? I believe he could.

-The Powers, for the unaware, are Lex Luger and Davey Boy Smith. Wow, Lex is opening? In a perfect world, sure, but I just never thought I’d see the day.

-The match is nothing more than a six minute exhibition to show the world that yes, Luger and Bulldog have plenty of power moves and that, yes, Luger can be forced to jerk the curtain. So I kind of half got what I wanted.

-I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Vince referenced the Battle of Normandy during the ring intros for some reason. That was the basis for the 1998 Tom Hanks Movie “Saving Jobber Luger”.

-Bulldog gets Jacob Blu with a top rope sunset flip for the pin. No one ever noticed that Jacob and Eli Blu was similar to Jake and Elwood Blues. Slick could have managed them in the Cab Calloway role. They’re on a mission from God….to completely suck.

-JR, the Phantom of the BBQ, interviews Zeb in the aisle, but the production on this show is so shoddy, you can’t make anything out. Bret vs. Owen ain’t got spit on this, kids.

-Nicholas Turturro of NYPD Blue tries to do an interview backstage, but the production woes continue. If that was his brother John holding the mic, everything woulda been smoother. Why hasn’t WWE had a character like Jesus Quintana? I already know what his catchphrase would be, but Eric’s never going to print it. So just look it up.

-123 Kid and Razor Ramon try an interview, but the production is bad there as well. Did Vince have to give a large up front fee to one of the celebs and it detracted from the show’s production? Just how much WAS Steve McMichael holding out for?

-Next up, we have Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett for the IC Title. Jarrett, the champ, is seconded by The Roadie, who was not quite fat yet. Razor has Kid, who is wearing something out of the Royce Gracie Ladies collection. Seriously, if Kid didn’t have a slight five o’clock shadow, he looks like Alanis Morissette dressed as a ninja.

-Quick shout out to Wrestlecrap.com forum member Jazzman, who is really big on Miles Davis and lives in New York. He won a mention just by responding to one of my posts. That’s right, I’m so bored with this show already that I’m giving out space to random strangers. I feel like Vince when he hires the guest hosts for Raw. “TIMBA-WHO?”

-Razor attacks, because he’s sneaky, and goes to town on Jarrett, who at the time was basically a heatless champion with a nasally hick voice that leeched off of a 1970’s heel act and seemed overly dated. Nowadays he….umm….yeah.

-Roadie helps Jarrett cheat and get to safety at various points. You know, The Road Dogg never gets his due. Yeah, he got lazy in the ring in later years, but he made bland talents like Jarrett and Billy Gunn look exceptional with his timing, natural ability, quick wit, and penchant for working the crowd. When DX was him, Gunn, X-Pac, and HHH, it was Dogg that had the most charisma. Shame that drugs dragged him down, because if he had a better look, he’d have easily been a main eventer. Oh, you didn’t know?

-Jarrett tries to take a walk after Roadie saves him from a Razor’s Edge, but is scared back to the ring by the Kid. What was Kid gonna do, sing “You Oughta Know”?

-Good seesaw battle, as at this point, Scott Hall was a damn fine worker for a man his size. I always liked his matches with Jarrett, because Hall could bring the charisma and timing, and Jarrett would do the basic legwork, and it evened out.l Kudos to both.

-Things begin to drag late in the match, when both men knock each other out on a couple of occasions. Way to bring it for the biggest show of the year.

-Jarrett manages to get the Figure Four, but Razor reverses. Soon, Razor goes into his finishing sequence, but Roadie clips him on the Edge attempt for the cheap DQ. Kid runs in to even things out and busts out a couple of pre-DX crotch chops. Awesome. Know what’s the opposite of awesome? All four of these men were in TNA in 2002, working in the main angle that ended one of the weekly PPV’s. It would have happened sooner, but Dogg was still under house arrest for his drug probation. Good thing TNA learned their lesson and stopped using drugged-out has beens.

-Meanwhile, Turturro catches up with Shawn and Sid as he does his best to try and find Pamela Anderson. Did he check the men’s room stall? I think his career was floating in the commode. Also, Sid screams and Jenny McCarthy covers her ears. Fun Jenny McCarthy fact: if you refuse to give her attention, she pouts and yells “MY KID HAS AUTISM!”. What a whiner.

-At ringside, former Chicago Bear Neil Anderson has a chance to kill Todd Pettengill and doesn’t take it. This makes Justin sad.

-Up next, Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy in a match over a stolen urn. Screw People’s Court, the ring is the best place to settle petty crime. Vince takes a moment to mention that Taker is undefeated at Mania. Hmmm….

-Your referee for this match: Striking baseball umpire Larry Young. He will face the CEO of Caesars in the finals for “least important WrestleMania celebrity ever”

-Bundy’s staggering through this match. I like the guy, but this was definitely a weird person to make a comeback, considering he didn’t have his 1980’s mobility. Undertaker gets bored with trying to have a passable match, steals the urn back from Ted Dibiase at ringside, and hands it to an overjoyed Paul Bearer. If the urn was a missing child, Bearer the kid’s dad, and Bearer acted that happy to see him again with that facial expression, I think I’d call Chris Hansen next.

-Kama comes to ringside and steals the urn, either to put a curse on it or give it as a gift to one of his escorts. The advantage of having multiple gimmicks. Next up on Schizo Wrestler Happy Hour: Glen Jacobs pulls a kid’s tooth, sets it on fire, and then says “Wanna see how I look in leather chaps?”.

-To further distract us from the thrillingly slow paced match, Quasi-Rosso interviews Kama, who promises to melt the urn down and make a chain out of it. There’s an idea for WWE films: melting a mystical urn and it creates a curse! Like whoever wears it will forget all but three moves.

-Taker ends it with a flying clothesline to improve to 4-0. His record in Mania matches that are actually good is still 0-0.

-Pamela Anderson is missing! So is Jimmy Hoffa, but I don’t see Nick Turturro looking all disheartened over that.

-MONGO! Wow, this show had the two best Horsemen ever: Mongo and Sid. Sid has half the brain you do and Mongo has twice the charisma of Paul Roma. All we need is Ole and Benoit and my dream stable is set.

-Meanwhile, Bob Backlund plays chess with a tentative looking Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Why’s he so nervous looking? Did Terry Garvin whisper something into his ear?

-Now for something with a bit more meat to it: The Smoking Gunns defend the tag straps against Owen Hart and a mystery partner, who is the returning Yokozuna. Speaking of meat, MAN Yoko got fatter during the layoff. He’s a blonde rug away from looking like Tammy Sytch. Owen picked Yoko for the simple reason that he’s beaten Bret. I love that little character touch that makes Owen look so petty. Basically, he’s just playing the role of his brother Bruce, who was watching with a beer in one hand while muttering “If only I were 6’2, if only I were 6’2….”

-The basic story is that when Owen’s in, the Gunns beat the hell out of him, but when he tags Yoko, the big man dominates. Basically, it’s Jeri-Show, V1. The Gunns were a decent team, but it was 1995 and nobody was taking cowboys seriously anymore. This was the first time I ever cheered for Yoko, as I just wanted Owen to have a belt. I don’t even care if he beat Alundra for the Women’s Title. I would have supported his decision.

-The Gunns manage to hit the Sidewinder, but the ref counts slow for some reason and Owen kicks out. See? Even the ref thinks that Owen deserves a belt more than Billy “Screaming means Selling!” Gunn.

-Wait, THAT’S why the ref slowed the count: he couldn’t end it until Yoko came in and applied a nervehold! That’s like ending one of Rock’s matches before he can do the People’s Elbow. All the pros have to get their moves in, man! It’s just how wrestling works!

-After Bart takes a header to the floor, Yoko CRUSHES Billy with a belly to belly and then lands the Banzai drop to an INCREDIBLE pop. Yoko tags Owen and you can hear the fans buzzing. Owen was just so fun to watch that even though he was a bitter heel, the fans wanted to see him compensated in some way. Sure enough, he pins dead Billy to get his first taste of WWF gold. He celebrates with both belts like a maniac in a truly priceless moment.

-Lawler says that Cornette exclaimed “Michael Jordan AND Yokozuna are back”. Well, except these days, you still hear rumors that Jordan’s mulling another comeback. Yoko? Not so much.

-Pettengill goes to interview Bam Bam Bigelow and the production snafus continue. This is like the production value on the set of an amateur porn. Umm, not that I would know how that goes….

-Up next is an I Quit match, where the loser must say “I QUIT” over the microphone. Quick time out to mention #11 for Mr. Howard Finkel. You go Howie.

-Rowdy Roddy Piper is the guest referee for this grudge match between Bob Backlund and Bret Hart, which Bret had the audacity to call the worst PPV match of his career. Concussions seem to have made him forget War Games 1998 but screw it, it’s Bret’s book.

-The match starts out as one would expect, with some back and forth feeling out, followed by frenzied attempts to get a submission from one another. Although the two men have a certain level of gravitas built up over their feud, Piper kills the mood by yelling “WHADDYASAY?!” over the mic during the submission attempts. Piper’s going to make a great homeless guy that hands out pamphlets one day, I can just feel it.

-Bret’s not comfortable at all, and Piper’s throwing him completely off his rhythm. Funny moment as Lawler tries to bring up the fact that Bret beat somebody kinda important at WrestleMania 8, and goads Vince into guessing who. Vince guesses the British Bulldog, and Lawler is flabbergasted. Way to play dumb, Vince. Just for a goof, Lawler should ask Michael Cole who Randy Orton beat for his first World Title.

-Bret locks Backlund in a Figure Four and Piper’s weird motions prompt Lawler to ask if he’s hitting Backlund with the mic. Piper hauling off and beating a man with a microphone is funny, regardless of the context. Also, Lawler insults the French commentators for being ugly. Notice how bored I am? I’m bored.

-Backlund begins to work the arm, setting up for his crossface chicken wing. Crowd is just enthralled I tells ya. Fortunately, Bret doesn’t want to keep his rat waiting, so he reverses Backlund’s chicken wing attempt into one of his own for the submission win. Remember how Bob was supposed to say “I QUIT?”. He just simply said “YEAH!” instead. What a gaffe by Backlund. Maybe he was in charge of the production staff for this show?

-Backlund says he saw the light. Then he was hit by the train. Stupid train.

-Pamela Anderson is missing, so the sympathetic WWF does the right thing and….pairs Jenny McCarthy with Shawn instead? Because, you know, if someone’s inexplicably missing, they just replace them instead of being worried. Tonight, Jenny McCarthy gets to play Johnny Nitro to Shawn’s CM Punk, then.

-Technical difficulties during a Diesel promo. This is as opposed to Diesel’s NORMAL difficulties, which include tearing his quad while running on a canvas.

-So the celebrity roll for the World Title match: Not-John Turturro (ring announcer), JTT as the kids called em (timekeeper), Jenny Mcarthy (Shawn’s broad) and….Pamela Anderson (Diesel’s broad). Pamela looks gorgeous as she always did in this time period, but is so bored to be here. You know, because Baywatch is so much more dignified and classy.

-Diesel beats down Shawn Michaels before the bell, with his song still playing, and then poses for the pyro with CJ Parker. I love when they make the heels look like dipwads in big situations. You know you’re in a “kid friendly” era when the heels look dumber than Batman villain sidekicks. Speaking of which, does anyone else think Cody Rhodes and Burt Ward are related?

-Shawn takes another header to the floor and a cameraman gets wiped out. Did I mention there’s like 50 cameramen there at ringside? It’s like the queue outside Spago when Kim Kardashian goes out to dinner.

-Now for a fun spot, as Shawn tries to slide between Diesel’s legs and gets double goozled, lifted, and dropped onto the top rope for the classic crotch-the-villain spot. Some things never get old. There must be a law of wrestling that states that no babyface must do the horsey-ride-on-the-top rope spot ever.

-Shawn decides “Screw this, I’m stealing the show again”, and performs the super reverse cross body off the top onto the floor on Diesel. Damn, I was hoping he’d wipe out a few more paparazzi.

-In hindsight, Vince was nuts for making Nash his guy. The one he should have pushed to the top was Razor Ramon, who had a better name, more charisma, was a better wrestler, and was in his prime. You have Shawn beat Razor for the IC belt in the fall of 1994, THEN have RAZOR beat Backlund for the title, then you do champ vs. champ at WrestleMania, so Shawn can cash in the “I beat the champ once, I can do it again” saga. Instead, there’s reserved Kevin Nash shoehorned into being Biker Hogan. Does anyone have the financials for 1995 handy? I need a good laugh.

-Shawn has to resort to a sleeper to try and keep Nash down. A sleeperhold on a boring champion. Mmmm, delicious coincidence. Another reason that this match wasn’t quite perfect is that Shawn’s the villain, but he’s fighting from underneath. Why not have Sid demolish Diesel outside the ring to make it 2 on 1 and make Diesel the underdog since he’s, you know, the babyface? I hope this doesn’t make too much sense, now.

-As the fight spills to the outside, Earl Hebner tries to jump out to keep Sid at bay, but twists his ankle on the landing. This is kinda important, because when Diesel and Shawn get back into the ring, Shawn nails him with Sweet Chin Music, and Hebner is nowhere to be found. Take note, Bret: Shawn never whines about the “Hartford Screwjob”, so you need to let go of your anger, man. Hebner is finally thrown back in by Sid, and Diesel kicks out on two. Crowd seems kinda sad and I, as a Shawn fan, was bummed, but hey, I don’t see HBK smashing monitors now.

-So to help swing things Shawn’s way, Sid cuts off the turnbuckle pad with a pocket knife. Is Sid such a pathetic wuss that he needs to cut the pad off? Just untie it or rip it, you fool. Notice that I didn’t make the “You mean he didn’t bring his scissors?” joke. I feel that I’m above certain lowbrow humor.

-After Shawn tries for the exposed buckle, Diesel blocks and lands a back suplex, then he begins to “rev up” with his “Diesel Power”. When Hogan does it, it’s cartoony and fun, but when Diesel does it, he just looks like a total tool and the fans let him know it. Who would have guessed that Diesel would be the funny one of the now just 14 or 15 months from now? Certainly not me?

-Rev rev rev, rev some more and Diesel ends it with the Jackknife to thoroughly piss me off and make me swear off WWF for about 26 seconds. 11 year old Justin was not happy. Diesel then celebrates with the B-level celebrities to put a definitive stamp on his title reign. Great match, thanks to Shawn, but the bad taste was evident.

-Sid cuts a crazed promo backstage while Shawn makes disgusted faces. Was Shawn disgusted over losing, or over Sid’s promo? We may never know for sure.

-Salt n Pepa perform “What a Man”, and I’m under the assumption that Jason Knight of ECW is coming out. Two great bits of comedy: in the show’s opening montage, Salt n Pepa posed with a smiling Bret Hart in a video that Julie’s lawyer called “Exhibit 56J”, and then Vince tops the insanity when Pepa shakes her booty at the camera by going “WOOOOOOOOOW”. For once, it seems Bret and Vince can agree on something.

-So Vince introduces each man’s entourage for the main event. On the heel side, King Kong Bundy, Tatanka, Nikolai Volkoff, Kama, IRS, and Ted Dibiase. For the faces, NFL all-pros Ken Norton Jr, Chris Spielman, Rickey Jackson, Carl Banks, Steve McMichael, and Reggie White. Wow, the NFL players have more collective United States Titles than the heels. That’s incredible.

-Bigelow and LT make their entrances. If that’s the best they can do for LT’s song, then Vince must harbor some hatred on the man. Maybe four years earlier, Vince had bet $50,000 on “no way Scott Norwood misses this kick”. I’m an Eagles fan, but c’mon Vince, no hate necessary.

-Pat Patterson is the referee. That’s because he knows LT’s laid some mean hits on wide receivers, and has even split open a few tight ends. Alright, I’m done now, I promise.

-Ever wonder why Bigelow got to be LT’s opponent? Rather than teach LT to throw worked forearms and punches, they just said to themselves “Who on the roster can take the world’s deadliest forearm smash and only be slightly fazed?”. Bam Bam, duh! LT throws some scary forearms too. If that were a lesser man taking them, he’d look like Mike Tyson after the Lennox Lewis fight.

-LT lands a nice bulldog as well. That’s the real reason Pat’s the ref: to communicate with Taylor as an experienced vet and help keep the flow going. It’s those little subtle tricks from WWE that you have to admire.

-The cornermen get into a skirmish just to add to the fun of the match, which has actually been pretty good by celebrity standards. Taylor even sells admirably, especially when Bigelow works in some submission holds. Now would be a good time to have Bill Parcells as LT’s manager. “GET UP! BE HURT ON YOUR OWN TIME!”. That’d be fun.

-Bigelow lands the moonsault, but blows out his knee and cannot cover. Maybe LT lived up to his reputation and sent some hookers to Bigelow’s room the night before? Maybe those hookers also went to Bundy’s room. That might possibly explain why a flying clothesline kept him down for the three count.

-LT gets himself a nice pop from the crowd by landing kind of a half powerbomb, half gutwrench suplex on Bam Bam. For the lack of real substance in this match, I have to give credit and say that LT’s doing his part. The only thing missing is Joe Theismann in Bigelow’s corner. He can hit us with gems like “Great wrestlers make great matches” and then kvetch about how you’re watching the sloppiest match in the history of time. On the upside, ESPN football’s been more watchable without him and Tony Kornheiser.

-Now to bring it home, LT lands a couple more forearm shivers, followed by one giant one off the middle rope for the win. The NFL players celebrate while Dibiase chews Bigelow out for losing to a football player. Could be worse. Wait 18 months when he loses to an overrated mixed martial artist named Kimo. The real MVP of the match was Pat Patterson, who should do refereeing every time there’s an inexperienced or potentially awkward performer involved. In other words, he would become Drew McIntyre’s personal ref. That might look fishy.

-The NFL players get down with Salt n Pepa to close things out. It’s not quite the Super Bowl Shuffle, but I guess I’ll take it. I’ve learned not to be too picky with shows from this era.

-CYNIC SAYS: Seven matches, eh? Granted, many things were accomplished. LT got the media attention that Vince wanted, Shawn and Diesel had a great match, Bret and Taker went over, Owen got his first belt, and Razor and Jarrett got their needed face time. Technically, I wouldn’t say this was a BAD show….

….but it wasn’t WrestleMania.

Had this been an In Your House, or even Summerslam, I don’t think it would have been given the flogging that it’s gotten over the years.

To put it insensitively, as a friend of mine did 15 years ago, the WWF’s involvement with the Special Olympics in this time period was interesting, since those events were held in Connecticut. The ACTUAL Olympics were held in Atlanta, the home of WCW, in 1996. So WCW’s backyard gets the world class athletes, and WWF’s stomping grounds host the events with the disabled and mentally challenged. I won’t make a joke here, but I will say that the parallel was definitely worth noting.

Solid show, but nothing I would call good. See you next time, as we discuss a sixty minute match and the inherent perils of trying to transcribe it into readable text.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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