Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 9 (Lex Express)

In January 1993, for the second time in a row, I ordered a WWF PPV event.  The WWF Title match of Bret Hart vs. new top heel Razor Ramon interested me, as did the annual Rumble match despite the lack of star-power (What's the opposite of star-studded?  Star-missing?). 

But the big match for me that night was I-C Champion Shawn Michaels finally facing his former tag partner Marty Janetty.  This feud was a full year in the making, as Shawn had turned on Marty in January 1992 by superkicking him and ramming him head-first through a plate-glass window.  This was probably the most violent heel turn I had ever seen at that time and it immediately forced the audience to sit up and take notice of Shawn.  Still one of the most brilliantly-executed heel turns in the history of the biz.  Keeping Marty off TV for a year was genius too, as it added weight to Shawn's attack and made the eventual feud much more personal.

That's gonna leave a mark....

The Rumble '93 event was shockingly good considering how it looks now on paper.  I'll still dust this one off and watch it from time to time.  The Steiners made their WWF PPV debut in the opener against the Beverly Brothers - solid tag bout there.  Shawn vs. Marty was a damn good Intercontinental Title match, though it had less high-flying than I would've expected.  The Bret-Razor match was excellent and got both guys over.  Even in defeat, Razor looked like a million bucks.  There was even a Bam Bam Bigelow-Big Bossman match that was better than it had any right to be.
The Rumble itself as I said was almost devoid of believable winners, for the first time since it became a PPV event.  Only Ric Flair, Mr. Perfect, Undertaker, Yokozuna, and Randy Savage really had a chance.  I went into this event thinking Hogan would probably show up as a surprise entrant, win the Rumble and end up winning the WWF Title again at WrestleMania.  Strangely that scenario would've made much more sense than what actually happened that April.  Anywho, after Flair and Perfect were eliminated early (a huge mistake since they could've carried the entire match), and Taker was tossed out by a guy who wasn't even in the match (first time that had ever happened, and the company has changed the validity of such an elimination multiple times over the years), Yokozuna became the clear favorite.

Yoko had only been on WWF TV for a few months at this point, but he was presented as such a dominant heel who could move surprisingly well despite his massive girth, I went right along with it.  Yokozuna vs. Virgil from the '92 Survivor Series is one of the best-executed squashes I can recall.  Yoko won the Rumble after tossing out Randy Savage (who for some unknown reason tried to pin Yoko - pretty stupid ending), and was set to challenge Bret for the Title at 'Mania.

That's a whole lotta ass right there.

I'd be lying if I said Bret vs. Yokozuna struck me as a terribly exciting main event.  The two had no history together and the size mismatch would prevent a 20-minute classic, to say the least.

The Rumble was also notable for the WWF debut (and oh my lord was I pumped for this) of Lex Luger!  Luger had been my favorite wrestler for a few years but I was so dissatisfied with WCW I didn't bother watching him for quite a while.  That Luger was saddled with the idiotic Narcissist gimmick didn't matter to me - I saw a huge push in store for him, plus an eventual feud with Bret Hart (I still think they left money on the table by not ever doing this).

Shortly after the Rumble the thunderclouds gathered and the sky turned black, as The Big Orange Goblin struck again.  Hulk Hogan returned to the WWF to aid his pal Brutus Beefcake (fresh off a nearly three-year hiatus due to a terrible face injury) against Ted Dibiase and IRS.  Oh for friggin' joy.  This set up a Tag Team Title match at WrestleMania.  Obviously I couldn't have cared less about this feud, but since it was just going to be a midcard bout I was ok with it.

The big 'Mania match I was excited for was Lex Luger vs. Mr. Perfect.  This was my prediction for match of the night and I saw this feud lasting several months.  Yeah I know, I was way off on that one. 

I didn't order 'Mania 9 on PPV and this being pre-internet I didn't find out the results until the following Saturday morning (imagine not knowing the results of a PPV until six days later!).  I assumed Yoko would walk out with the Title and we'd have the first WrestleMania to end with a heel Champion.  Then I turned on the TV and saw the stills of Hulk Hogan standing tall with the strap.  "Wait, WHAT??!?"  To say this was the angriest I had ever been about a wrestling angle is an understatement.  It literally made no sense.  Hogan had been gone for a year and lost his only match since returning.  My first thought was, "Are they trying to see how far they can go before everyone turns on Hogan?"  Hogan would go on to defend the Title zero times in two months (back when they had a kayfabe 30-day rule for Title defenses).  And they wonder why house show business suffered around this time.

Is it possible to still be angry about something that happened 25+ years ago
in a scripted environment?  If so, I am.

That June the company resurrected the King of the Ring tournament as a PPV event, and used it to showcase the man who got royally (pun intended) screwed at 'Mania, Bret Hart.  Bret would carry the show, wrestling three good to excellent bouts and winning the non-prestigious crown.  Also on the card, Hogan dropped the Title back to Yokozuna and vanished from WWF TV for 9 years.  Yeah, good call on giving him the belt, guys.

With things back on track, the company decided to create a new Hulk Hogan by turning Lex Luger babyface and sending him after Yokozuna's Title.  17-year-old me thought this was a spectacular turn of events.  While I preferred Luger as a heel (and even then found his new All-American gimmick really phony), I beamed at the idea of him eventually winning the WWF Title, thus joining the elite group of WWF/NWA Champions (which at this point only included Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair).  I remember listening to radio station WAAF that summer and hearing an interview with Luger on his Lex Express bus tour.  Hearing a WWF wrestler on a mainstream radio station was totally surreal and awesome to me.

Once again I had to wait until the following Saturday to see the results.  They showed stills of Luger being held high by several other babyfaces, balloons and confetti dropping from the ceiling.  Lex Luger had defeated WWF Champion Yokozuna!  By countout.  Uhh.....what the flyin' hell??  They had him win by countout, but still celebrated like he had won the Title.  That's the stupidest thing since WrestleMania 9.  I was hugely disappointed but took it in stride since I figured they'd build up to a rematch at next year's 'Mania.

The 1993 Survivor Series was a return to tradition, as almost the whole card was comprised of elimination matches.  It was also the first PPV to ever take place in Boston, and being a college student in the city I was tremendously tempted to buy tickets and watch it in person.  But since I was heading home to the 'burbs for Thanksgiving I opted to watch the PPV instead.  The main event would pit Luger, Tatanka, and the Steiner Brothers against Yokozuna, Ludvig Borga, and the Quebecers.  However a week or two before the show Tatanka (who I had no interest in), was "injured" by Yokozuna on RAW and replaced with The Undertaker.  Holy AwesomeSauce!  Had the WWF been reading my diary?? 

Helluva Survivor Series team.

The '93 Survivor Series gets a bad rap but I still consider this one of the better installments since it's an actual Survivor Series card and they went back to bestowing the elimination matches with some importance.  I had a lot of fun watching this show and was more than satisfied with the results.  Owen Hart seemingly turned heel on Bret, setting up a potential feud, Shawn Michaels lost to the Hart brothers but put on a show-stealing performance that echoed Ric Flair's resilience, and Lex Luger stood tall at the end of the show, clearly being positioned to beat Yokozuna for the Title in 1994.

Of course plans tend to change......

Part 8                                                                                                                                           

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