Friday, March 15, 2019

The History of WrestleMania: VII-IX

Continuing with WrestleManias 7-9....

L.A. Sports Arena - 3/24/91

The seventh installment ended up being one of the most forgettable.  What was intended to be a record-smashing supershow in front of 100,000 fans at the L.A. Coliseum was relegated to the 15,000-seat Sports Arena when ticket sales fell horribly short of expectations.  That will happen though when your main event is little more than the exploitation of a minor real-life skirmish in the Middle East.  Why the WWF thought the US vs. Iraq angle would draw big business I'm not sure, especially since the real conflict ended over a month before WrestleMania.

Sgt. Slaughter was inexplicably brought in as a turncoat and almost immediately handed the WWF Title at the Royal Rumble, all so he could face the American Hero Hulk Hogan.  Surely a Hogan vs. Warrior rematch would've drawn the numbers they wanted, so I'm still unclear why they didn't go that route.

The match was what it was.  It certainly could've been worse, but it definitely wasn't good.  It's widely considered one of, if not THE worst all-time WrestleMania main event.  Slaughter was about as unworthy a WWF Champion as there's ever been and it was a sad day indeed when Hulk Hogan is by far the better worker in a given match.  This meandering brawl lasted over 21 minutes before Hogan mercifully put an end to the proceeding with the ol' big boot-legdrop combo.

Yep.  Can't imagine why this didn't sell 100,000 tickets.

'Mania 7 was saved however by the semi-main event of Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior, with the stipulation that the loser would have to retire.  This feud had been brewing for several months while Warrior was WWF Champion, but Savage was battling nagging injuries and was thus unable to compete for a while.  Though I don't consider this match nearly as great as most do, it was easily one of the WWF's best of 1991.  This match paved the way for the overuse of finishers in big matchups (see Austin vs. Rock).  Savage hit five flying elbow smashes in a row and failed to get the pin, and the Warrior finally won after three flying tackles.  Post-match Savage's manager Sherri Martel attacked him, having lost her meal ticket due to the retirement stip.  Who should come to Savage's rescue but Miss Elizabeth, much to the delight and tears of the crowd.  Savage would spend the next several months as a commentator before returning to action that November.

The rest of the card once again featured too many wrestlers in too many matches, but had a few minor standouts - The Hart Foundation got a solid match out of The Nasty Boys (one of my least favorite teams ever), The Rockers had a strong opener with Haku & The Barbarian, and The Undertaker went 1-0 against Jimmy Snuka (The Streak begins!).  One of the more baffling matchups was Demolition's final match against Tenryu & Kitao, two stars from Japan who beat Smash & Crush and then disappeared from WWF TV.  I'm not sure why this match was even on the card.  Also Mr. Perfect defended the I-C Title against The Big Bossman, with whom he seemed to have zero chemistry, and Jake Roberts had an excruciating Blindfold Match against Rick Martel.

This should've been the main event

'Mania 7 is definitely an entry that didn't at all feel like the biggest show of the year.  The ordinary arena setting didn't help, nor did the inclusion of a main event match few people wanted to see.  This show is remembered for only one match, and it's Savage vs. Warrior.

Best Match: Randy Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior
Worst Match: Jake Roberts vs. Rick Martel (Ya know for a good wrestler Jake's had some real stinkers at 'Mania)
What I'd Change: I'll sound like a broken record here, but cut some of the matches!  When you have two matches under two minutes, that's probably a good indication that there's too much going on.
Most Disappointing Match: Legion of Doom vs. Power & Glory - I was really looking forward to this one going in, and instead I got a one-minute squash.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The Rockers vs. Barbarian & Haku
Overall Rating: 5/10

HoosierDome - 4/5/92

'Mania returned to a more fitting venue in 1992, as the WWF took over the HoosierDome in Indianapolis.  This stadium actually resembles a smaller Silverdome, so it made 'Mania 8 feel like a big deal.  The influx of new headliners, fresh matchups, and the double main event certainly didn't hurt either.

Seemingly the obvious main event for the 8th edition was Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title.  It was the biggest dream match in the business, and throughout the 80s fans speculated on who was the bigger star.  Unfortunately the WWF somehow blew the whole thing by presenting this gigantic matchup with little fanfare, on a series of 1991 house shows.  And the match evidently didn't blow anyone's skirt up.  Couple that with Hogan deciding to take some time off in 1992, and the big dream match was off for WrestleMania.

Instead Flair defended the Title against a much more skilled opponent in Randy Savage, and Hogan once again tried to duplicate the Hogan-Andre dynamic by wrestling Sid Justice.

The WWF Title match was excellent and became the strongest WWF Title match in WrestleMania history at that time.  Flair and Savage put on a classic seesaw match that would launch the Macho Man back to the top of the roster.  Bafflingly, this match was not put in the main event slot, which sort of robbed Savage of his glorious WrestleMania moment.  Flair-Savage was fifth on the card of nine matches, and unfortunately everything that followed it was mediocre or worse.

Great shot.  Great match too.

Hogan vs. Justice closed the show and failed to capture the magic of Hogan-Andre while simultaneously not being as entertaining a match as Hogan-Warrior.  It also ended in a disqualification, further illustrating how unfit the bout was for the main event slot.  Sid's manager Harvey Whippleman interfered after a Hogan legdrop (which Sid actually kicked out of), and for some reason Papa Shango ran to the ring to attack Hogan before a returning (and noticeably smaller) Ultimate Warrior made the save.

The match that stole the show (pretty amazingly considering Flair vs. Savage was on the card) was the I-C Title match between Roddy Piper and Bret Hart.  These two put on a 13-minute classic that had more action, crisper wrestling, and even a better blade job than the WWF Title match.  Bret Hart recounted the story in his autobiography - the WWF had a no-blading policy at that point, and Bret's bladejob was so subtle and realistic, Vince thought he was legitimately cut and took no action against him.  Flair's bladejob on the other hand was very obvious and earned him a fine.

"What the hell, use the bell!"

'Mania 8 also spotlighted the newly-turned Shawn Michaels as he garnered his first high-profile singles win, and the newly-turned Undertaker defeated Jake Roberts in Jake's final WWF match of his prime years.  The rest of the show was entirely forgettable: a brief Rick Martel-Tatanka match, a dull Tag Team Title match pitting newly crowned Champions Money Inc. against The Natural Disasters, an 8-man tag with The Big Bossman, Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and Virgil against The Mountie, The Repo Man and The Nasty Boys, and a bafflingly short Owen Hart-Skinner squash.

Overall though, 'Mania 8 was a return to form that featured two classic Title matches, a fresh roster, and only 9 matches to avoid cluttering up the card.  It was also the first 'Mania since III to have a 3-hour running time so the show never dragged.  My biggest gripe is how weak the second act of the show is - four of the first five matches are worth a watch or better, while the last four matches aren't very good.  The show needed a stronger climax.

Best Match: Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart
Worst Match: Owen Hart vs. Skinner (they probably should've skipped this match if it was only getting a minute)
What I'd Change: That's easy - swap the two main event matches.  Hogan-Sid had no business going on last since a) it wasn't for the Title, b) it ended in a DQ, and c) it was anticlimactic.  Flair vs. Savage should've ended the show, giving Savage's Title win the significance it deserved.
Most Disappointing Match: Undertaker vs. Jake Roberts - this needed more time, and the Tombstone Piledriver on the outside looked terrible as Jake's head was clearly about six inches away from the floor.
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Bret and Piper were able to upstage even Savage and Flair.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Caesar's Palace - 4/4/93

What an odd little piece of wrestling lore this event was.  From the Roman-themed venue/set design to the size mismatch of the main event, this installment was nothing if not unique.  It was the first outdoor WrestleMania and the first without both Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura on commentary - Jim Ross made his WWF debut instead (helluva way to start a new job!).  It also featured a much younger overall roster than previous shows, as quite a few stars made their 'Mania debuts here.

'Mania 9 is considered by many to be the worst of the bunch.  I don't agree with that statement, but it's certainly something of a mess.  The show started out well enough, with a strong I-C match between Shawn Michaels and Tatanka that actually got more time than any other match and featured the added intrigue of Shawn's ex-manager Sherri Martel facing off with Luna Vachon.  Things continued from there with a very good Steiners-Headshrinkers tag match that included one of the crazier spots I'd ever seen - Rick Steiner countering a Doomsday Device by catching Samu midair and nailing a belly-to-belly suplex.  Even Crush vs. Doink was passable in slot three - a goofy but sort of enjoyable brawl showcasing Doink's diabolical heel antics.

The show took a downturn with the bewilderingly short Bob Backlund vs. Razor Ramon, and then became a total clusterfuck as Money Inc. took on the returning Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake for the Tag belts.  The match dragged on for 18 minutes and was painful to watch, and ended with a DQ win for Money Inc.  Sadly this would not be the last we saw of Hogan that night.

Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect looked spectacular on paper but failed to crack 2-star territory, and the Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales flat-out stunk up the place.

One of the most disappointing matches ever

Which brings us to the WWF title match.  What a bizarre main event - an established smaller workhorse against a totally unproven 500-pounder.  Bret Hart managed to get a quite entertaining little match out of Yokozuna, and then everything went to hell. 

First off, Bret lost after getting salt thrown in his eyes.  Like that's what caused him to get pinned.  I mean, couldn't Yokozuna have legdropped him or something after the salt?  Next up, Hulk Hogan appeared out of nowhere to protest the title change, even though Bret and Hogan had had zero prior interaction.  Then came the most idiotic, mind-numbingly stupid ending to a wrestling show, EVER.

Yoko's manager Mr. Fuji challenged Hogan to a Title match, on the spot.  Nevermind that a heel who's just won a championship would never in a million years suggest immediately wrestling another match against a fresh opponent.  Hogan accepted, Fuji mistakenly threw salt into Yoko's eyes, Hogan legdropped him, and the Title changed hands again.  The WWF actually gave Hogan the belt without him even being booked in a WWF Title match.  The WWF also managed to bury both official participants in the main event of WrestleMania by having Bret lose to Yokozuna in nine minutes, and having Yoko lose to Hogan in less than one.  Clearly Hogan had compromising photos of Vince's mother.  I remember thinking at the time, "the company must be trying to see how far they can go before people start actually booing Hogan."  That has to be about the least heroic way a babyface has ever won a championship.  Bravo guys.

Worst thing to ever happen at a wrestling event. 
And that includes the Gobbledy Gooker.
Based on the ending it's clear why this 'Mania is so universally reviled.  But I still stay there are worse editions.  This show at least had a handful of decent to good matches, even if it does contain the worst ending to any form of entertainment ever created by humans.

Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Tatanka
Worst Match: Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales
What I'd Change: Do I really need to answer this?  Really?  Side note, how do you relegate Randy Savage to color commentary instead of say, putting him against Razor Ramon??  I've gone into this in much greater detail HERE.
Most Disappointing Match: Mr. Perfect vs. Lex Luger
Most Pleasant Surprise: Jim Ross making his WWF debut
Overall Rating: 6/10

Part 2                                                                                                                                                Part 4

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