WWE | Pro Wrestling

WrestleMania VIII: The Art Of Staggering A Show Properly

WWE WrestleMania 8-You know the usual. Let’s go back to April 5, 1992 to the jam packed Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. This was less than 24 hours after Indiana had been bounced out of the Men’s Final Four by Duke, proving that this isn’t the first time that the Hoosier State has been close to a title and fallen short. Except in 1992, there was no Peyton Manning to yell at his teammates to do exactly as he says, only to throw a lousy interception to a dude who shaves pictures into his hair. Peyton’s like a stuck up prep in some college comedy about slobs vs. snobs. If Super Bowl XLIV was just such a movie, then it would have ended with Peyton Manning getting crushed by a giant keg falling out of an airplane.

-This show is important as it was meant to be the last hurrah for Hulk Hogan, who was going to detoxify—er, retire after this show. As his going away gift, he gets to try and carry Sid Justice to a watchable match. Remind me to never leave WWE. Vince might give me a Corvette with no brakes.

-The show begins with a typical, raspy Vince dub job. Vince missed his calling as the emcee on The Price is Right. “GREG LARSEN, COME ON DDDDDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWN-AHH”.

-Also of note, Ric Flair has promised to show some revealing photos of Miss Elizabeth, should he defeat Randy Savage. Bobby Heenan spends the entire welcoming segment searching for them as Gorilla Monsoon berates him. If you’re ever going to a singles bar, leave Monsoon behind. Sounds like the opposite of a wing man, whatever that may be (Broken-wing-man? Buzzkill? Social malaria?)

-Here to sing America the Beautiful, Reba McIntyre. It’s 1992, and she has some rather prominent mall hair going. By 1992, the northeast had moved away from mall hair and the women were more into straightening theirs (some experimented with the Sean Young/Jamie Lee Curtis short look) while men had moved into rocker mullets (like the Phillies) and mostly simpler styles. Point being: the South is always behind on the times. You saw how long it took em to integrate schools, right?

-To kick things off, El Matador (Tito Santana) and Shawn Michaels. Matador had his furry hat with him that he carried, but never wore. How bad must a hat be when its’s the ONE thing that Santana WON’T sell for? Besides, what was the POINT of this gimmick? I know he’d basically been plain-as-toast Tito Santana for a decade at this juncture, but did they expect the fans to rally behind a bullfighter? My guess is that with neon colors being all the rage, that it was merely an excuse to put a man in green pants and pink boots. It’s like a wrestling piece of produce with that color scheme. Triple H could dress as Gallagher and whack him with the sledge. I’d pay to see it….

-Michaels, however, was oozing stardom about three months into his heel turn. The crowd reaction is mixed, indicating either there was still some residual love for The Rockers, or that Shawn was just so interesting that they really couldn’t boo him. This is, by the way, Sherri’s third WrestleMania in a row that she’s with a different guy. She’d have a different man the following year, too. Was this a social commentary on disloyal women, or just a parody of Missy Hyatt?

-Monsoon says that Helen Keller does Sherri’s make-up. I thought Heenan was supposed to be the callous heel?

-As Matador and Michaels work the mat superbly, I notice that the set-up is kinda similar to WrestleMania III, except with a side aisle. The circumstances are even similar: Savage in a great title match, Hogan has a limited opponent, and nobody cares about Rick Martel’s match.

-Sweet Chin Music! Well, not quite. At this point in canon, it was merely a set up move. The BIG finish? A teardrop suplex. This explains Shawn’s beer gut, as he spent 2 years drinking himself into a stupor, saying “My move is a suplex where I cross my arms under the guys’ CROTCH. OH MY GOD”.

-Michaels manages to win it by reversing a slam into the ring. At this point, I was eight years old and a BIG fan of Shawn’s. When Bobby Heenan said “The star of the nineties, right there”, I nodded. My brother’s friend Dave watched it with us and said, and I’m serious, “I think it’ll be Stunning Steve Austin”. Dave’s also the same man who bought Richard Roundtree’s autograph off of E-Bay for $3.50, but he’s still one of the best friends I’ve ever had. So here’s a shout out for the man.

-To waste some time, the LOD come out for an interview, bringing their old manager Paul Ellering with them. Heenan is flabbergasted to see this somewhat dangerous mind, but Monsoon has no idea who he is. Had he added “I never watched those other crappy promotions!”, he would have been my savior with brownie points to spare. Ellering’s doomsday speech goes over the head of the marks, but sounds really wicked now, especially the line “From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse”. Then he would bring in a dummy named Rocco and ruin the fun. Stupid kids entertainment.

-Next up, Jake Roberts will do battle with the Undertaker for the title of “Dennis Hopper’s Favorite Wrestler”. Roberts doesn’t have a snake with him, but does have his uber-eerie heel music. Try listening to it at 3 AM on low volume and see if you don’t feel a bit unnerved.

-A fan has a sign for Taker that reads “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, and I realize that later in the year, he was supposed to feud with Nailz in some “electric chair” matches. Reminds me of “Ride the Lightning”. Can I make wrestling jokes using Metallica’s entire Ride the Lightning album? Probably not, unless there’s a Japanese wrestler named Ktulu that’s flying under my radar.

-I immediately realize that this match was long before Undertaker was any fun. He was just a slow zombie character who didn’t have the submission based offense, nor the opponents to do his swank stand-up power brawls with. Especially not Jake, who’s phoning it in, and not even having the kindness to pay for overnight delivery. I think Jake wanted to be a booker after this show, and there was no spot for him, so he knew he was on his way out and was dogging it badly. Not good.

-Also not good: without Jesse Ventura, there are too many awkward pauses from Heenan, who tries to comprehend too much before speaking, or is at least trying too hard to make jokes. It just detracts from the whole.

-So Undertaker sits up from 2 DDT’s, which is unheard of (until the DDT became a transition move) and Jake goes for the urn from Paul Bearer, but Taker’s on the attack outside the ring. Taker then Tombstones Jake on the concrete. Well, actually, he tombstoned about 4 strands of Jake’s ratty hair, since that’s all that hit the concrete; his head was about nine inches short. It’s a rare time where WWE put the closest camera angle available onto a blown spot. Doesn’t happen often.

-Taker gets the pin on Jake, who passed out from the shame of blowing the finish. Or so I assume. Taker’s now 2-0, with no end in sight. Though next year’s match counted as a loss for anyone who watched it, but we’ll cross that bridge later.

-Backstage, Roddy Piper and Bret Hart do a dual promo before the IC Title match, in which Piper is nuts and Bret is bland. Good to see both stretch from their usual styles for this.

-As Bret Hart makes his entrance, you can hear the squealing of a cassette tape in the early portion of his theme song. Just one more reason that I’m glad we live in this digital age.

-Piper, meanwhile, is wearing a t-shirt promoting WWE’s UK Rampage tour. I thought it was the job of the midcarders to wear the event-specific shirts? You’ll find no better walking billboard in wrestling than Tommy Dreamer.

-While both men build their story with a mix of back-and-forth wrestling and frustrated tactics (spitting, etc), Heenan lets us know that if he was Bret Hart and trying to win, he’d have his agent buy it for him and, if that didn’t work, take Piper out back and waffle him with a tire iron. The Brain hath redeemed himself.

-It should be noted that Piper’s keeping up on the mat with Bret and is holding his own well. Here’s a message to Cena haters: it’s not that Cena CAN’T wrestle. It’s that main eventers in WWE work a “mainstream” style that’s much like a universal language. Cena speaks German, Hunter speaks French, Orton speaks Japanese, let’s say. Whatever English they have in common, they share with each other in communication. It just so happens that guys like Shawn and Jericho are tri-lingual and can communicate with a wider variety of performers. Think of it like that.

-Bret gets busted open off of a Piper left hook, which is actually where Bret blades, unbeknownst to Vince. Five years later, Bret lambasted WWE for becoming too sick, raunchy, and disturbing. Know what’s disturbing? Defying your boss’ anti-blade policy just to create sick drama for your match. Sounds like the Hitman is a hypocrite.

-Funny moment as Piper tumbles to the floor and falls against the rail, and the fan pushes it back into him. I miss the metal railings. So much personality.

-After the ref is bumped, Piper finds himself in a position to destroy Bret and retain his title, and does so by getting the bell. And we all know just how much the Hitman hates ring bells. Heenan exclaims “What the hell, use the bell!”. I think Vince came up with a more memorable slogan than that, actually.

-Piper has a change of heart and discards the bell. A struggle leads to Piper locking on a sleeper hold, and then Bret kicking off the turnbuckles into a complicated rolling pin to regain the gold. Crowd pops huge and Piper does the right thing, embracing Bret and putting the belt on him. Piper’s all, “sorry I was going to hit you with the bell” and Bret’s all “That’s ok, you’re going to be a joke in ten years from drug use” and Piper’s all “That’s ok, I’ll still be in better shape than most of your family” and then Bret said “Why, what have you heard?”

-Meanwhile, we go via satellite to Lex Luger’s house as he prepares to make his WBF debut, which never happened. Jeez, Lex can’t even win the big one in events OUTSIDE of wrestling either. Is it wrong that the entire time the video aired, I was thinking “I wonder if that’s the room Elizabeth died in?”

-Just to gnaw on my nerves, we have a filler eight man tag forthcoming with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt Slaughter, Big Bossman, and Virgil (wearing a Vinnie del Negro/Rip Hamilton face shield) taking on The Mountie, the Nasty Boys, and Repo Man(!!). The worst part? Ray Combs doing bad, amateur night ring intros for the heels. I think Brian Gewirtz traveled back in time and wrote Combs’ copy, myself. I know I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but….wait, I always do it anyway. In that case, you suck Combs. There, I feel better.

-This show only has nine matches, and even then they’ve crammed eight men into one match that lasts six minutes. No time for a story here, and Duggan HAS stories to tell. “One time, Iron Sheik and I were on our way to Asbury Park….”

-Saving grace of the match is Big Bossman lifting his knee to prevent a Repo Man sit-down splash, and Repo taking it to the sack. Yep, saving grace, I’m going with that.

-Fortunately, it comes to an end when Brian Knobs gets nailed with the face shield and Virgil del Negro scores the pin. I’d say more, but would you particularly care?

-Meanwhile, Sean Mooney interviews Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect, who are armed with the incriminating photos of Elizabeth. Mean Gene is on post outside Randy Savage’s locker room, though he’s not granting interviews. I think their assignments were backward. I KNOW Mean Gene thinks that. “C’mon, Sean, can’t we switch? I can get the inside on those nudie pix…”

-As expected, Savage goes wild on Flair at the start of the match, fighting for the woman he loves. When Savage is livid (in character), he has no peer. The man can, in storyline, be angry at The Berzerker for stealing his can of Mr. Pibb, and Savage, in the match, can make you believe that the soda meant the world to him by ripping Berzerker piece by piece.

-Other than Savage’s early frenzied pace, it’s a pretty slow build for a match that’s supposed to be intense and full of mind games and wild anger. This is what annoys me about Flair, and Bret was right about it: he tries to dictate the pace himself and do things that make no sense on the fly. In Flair’s book, he criticized Savage for planning things out ahead of time, saying good workers don’t do that. Really? I thought the whole point was to put on a great show for millions of paying fans, not have a pissing contest over who has the better improvisational skills. Those “five star matches” that Flair seems to get accolades for need to be reviewed by people who aren’t leaving their knee prints in the mud.

-Flair blades, and makes it look incredibly obvious, off of a Savage ax handle on the flair. If Flair didn’t spend all of his money on loose women, maybe he could have bought a better blade. And a book on practicing timing.

-Savage drops the big elbow and gets only two, when Perfect pulls Savage to the floor. That’s because Perfect saw that the remaining four matches weren’t any good and wanted to stretch the card out even more. Wise move, Curt.

-After some heel hijinx, Perfect clips Savage’s knee with a chair. I guess you can sense what’s coming. Sidenote: Is Kurt Angle the only wrestler in WWE in the last decade who actively worked a body part to set up his finish? I miss that. You can have Punk work on softening the chin or temple up for the GTS. It’s those little subtleties that make a character work.

-As Savage is in peril, Miss Elizabeth makes her way through the curtain (having figured out the combination to the door Savage locked her behind) and the officials trying to restrain her include…Shane McMahon! I can’t see the scuff marks from where Bret roughed him up the night before for touching his wife. Hey, it’s in the Hitman’s book, read it!

-Figure Four! And the crowd is sensing that Savage is done for. Flair’s got it sunk in, and the chair did the damage. Liz provides the moral support, and the whole scene is crazy. Other than Flair’s match with Vader at Starrcade 1993, Ric’s never had a WCW match that was this emotionally exhausting. Except maybe when Sting beat him for the title. It’s a big reason why WWE has survived so long: they do drama right.

-Flair slaps Savage when he tries to sit up in the hold. Good stuff.

-After Hebner forces the break when Flair’s caught using Perfect for leverage, Ric lands some more knee weakeners, and then woos at Elizabeth, before getting a punch blocked. Savage rolls Flair up and pulls the tights to capture his second WWE Title and letting the Hoosier Dome come unglued. If Savage had done that to Christian Laettner and Grant Hill the night before, he could have been elected governor.

-Afterward, an irate Flair kisses Elizabeth and then gets MAULED by Savage. Hot angle to end the match, though the promised centerfold never comes to light. No wonder nobody ever gave this match the full five stars.

-Both men have words afterward. Flair’s are exceptional, as he remains calm, albeit bleeding, while Perfect and Heenan go nuts at his side. He promises revenge in an eerie and metered tone. Savage, meanwhile, is a limping wreck, as he hands Elizabeth his title and basically promises to kill Flair for kissing his wife. Randy’s eyes during the promo are a sight to behold. If I backed into his car and he made that face at me, I’m driving off, leaving-the-scene charges be damned.

-At this point, I am advised to inform you that any goodness from this show has passed. A couple of four star matches, a fine opener, and a memorable Taker/Roberts match have given way to a remainder that is lacking in both quality and fun. If you wish to turn away now, you may do so. If not, then brace yourself for a wave of sarcasm and mockery that’ll erode the shorelines of merriment.

-Up next, Tatanka and Rick Martel, who had outlived his usefulness a year earlier. He does work in a “reservations” joke to take us back to the 1960’s when the joke was considered edgy. For an encore, Martel ‘s going to the sock hop later to spike the punch bowl with a foreign tonic. Oh, that darn Martel!

-Before the match, members of the Lumbee Indian Tribe perform a ritual dance inside the ring. I’m actually thrilled to see WWE do something cultural for a change. Of course, two years later, IRS would destroy Tatanka’s sacred headdress, so I’ll take anything that I can get.

-Sadly, the match is rather vanilla, and it stood no chance of holding the crowd’s interest after the roller coaster of a match that Savage and Flair just had. Maybe they should have made this match no DQ. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Tatanka and Martel wailing away on each other with tomahawks and war drums? The tribesmen have them at ringside, so why not?

-Tatanka wins it with a cross body. If that move were any more vanilla, it would have been drafted #18 overall by the Utah Jazz. Or maybe the Pacers would have snatched it up to give Tyler Hansbrough somebody to watch Cake Boss with. Let’s just move on.

-Now for the final title match of the eve, as Money Inc defend the gold against the Natural Disasters. Here’s what I never understood: why would a millionaire who is greedy and obsessed with picking on the lower class, why would he associate with a zealous tax collector who makes everyone hand over their hard earned money? Did IRS cut Ted Dibiase a deal to not go after him? Did Dibiase just have so much wealth that he didn’t care how much went to IRS, because he’d always have plenty left? Did I overthink this idea way too much? The jury’s still out on the aforementioned.

-Wait I figured it out: it was just a ploy to give Dibiase a legit title for once. Works for me.

-Double noggin knocker by Typhoon on the champs. Notice how heels never do double noggin knockers? Must be a law.

-I have to admit, I laugh every time someone steps on IRS’ necktie, and Heenan cries “He’s stepping on his tongue!”. I have no idea why it’s so funny. Maybe it’s the absurdity of the line. This match is really dragging, because fat hosses can’t do peril spots against smaller workers. Who’s going to buy Earthquake or Typhoon struggling to overcome Money Inc?

-IRS eats the Typhoon splash, and the Earthquake is teased, but Dibiase pulls IRS out and the champs walk away for the count out loss while the Disasters stood there like idiots. Biggest show of the year, yessiree.

-Brutus Beefcake is sad to see Hogan go. Good luck finding someone else who needs a sycophant there, Bruti.

-Here’s the next match: Skinner spits tobacco chaw into Owen Hart’s eyes, Owen kicks out of the gator breaker, and skins the cat to pin Skinner with a cradle. There, saved you a full minute. That’s the third time in four years that match before the main event lasted less than two minutes. Lazy booking? Can’t be! On a fun note, Carlito proved that he basically stole his shtick from Skinner, although his is less gross.

-Sid Justice taunts Hulk Hogan backstage and calls Mean Gene a “bald headed oaf”. Hey, let’s give Sid some credit. He didn’t accidentally call HIMSELF a bald headed oaf, you know.

-So here we go, the original “last hurrah” for the Hulkster, as he beats up Sid before the bell and throws him to the floor while “Real American” is still playing. I’d hate to think that that’s where New Jack lifted the idea from, but it’s a funny concept.

-The match wasn’t going to be slow enough, so Hogan and Sid have a test of strength, and it goes just like the Hogan-Warrior version, except with less interest than a corrupt bank. Hogan had definitely peaked and was going downhill in a hurry.

-Sid hits Hogan with a doctor’s bag, which is something I don’t say every day. What was the point of Sid being managed by Harvey Whippleman? What was the point of WHIPPLEMAN? What is he doing anywhere near the main event of WrestleMania? I’m grasping at straws here.

-Sid takes time to talk to the camera during the main event of the biggest show of the year. Not an offhand comment, mind you, but a full Shakespearian monologue where he rattles off the foods he’s eaten in the last thirty days. It’s going to take something big to save things here, but you know….we just might get it….

-Sid applies a nerve pinch, and THAT should end it. Just once, the main event of WrestleMania should end with a nerve pinch, just to see how people react. Unless Daniel Bryan made HHH submit to one, then in which case it would be lauded as a “brilliant move”.

-Hogan inexplicably breaks free of the nerve hold, but soon after eats the power bomb. BUT HOGAN KICKS OUT! I have no idea WHY Hulk’s retiring. He can no sell deadly finishers as good in 1992 as he did in 1985, if not better! Must be an outside force driving him away.

-So Hogan gets the usual sequence followed by the Leg Drop, but Sid has to kick out because the interfering Papa Shango missed his cue. Hey, pimpin’ ain’t easy, and apparently pulling off a simple run-in isn’t either.

-So after Whippleman causes the DQ, Hogan gets double teamed by Hoss and Hosser, until Ultimate Warrior (gone for seven months at this point) makes a surprise return, hitting the ring and saving Hogan. The two men celebrate, and Hogan’s basically handed the torch to Warrior again. Will Jim Hellwig drop the burning ember yet again? What do you think? Man, if Warrior never runs in here, then it’s a sour ending. As it is, it’s just “merely bad”.

-CYNIC SAYS: Well then. Seems that Vince did a lousy job stacking this card, didn’t he? Through Savage-Flair, you were looking at the greatest WrestleMania ever up to that point. It was almost flawless? Then the second half sank like a bale of ICO-PRO being jettisoned off of a drug raft. If this was Hogan’s sendoff, then was this the best that they could do? It clearly wasn’t the end for Hulk, and he provided many more great memories in later years, but it just felt so flat here. At least let the man who made millions for you pin Sid clean, right?

It’s a thumbs up show on the merit of all that was good, because what was good was GREAT. It’s enough to make it worth a watch, but keep those expectations low when you reach the climax.

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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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