Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pro Wrestling: A Mark's History, part 11 (Diesel Power)

The 1995 Royal Rumble changed things up in that the entry intervals between wrestlers was cut down from 2 minutes (or sometimes 90 seconds) to 60 seconds.  My reaction at the time was that it cheapened the idea of longevity as the total match time was cut almost in half, but at the same time it allowed the ring to fill up faster.  In hindsight it was not a good idea, which is why they've never done it that way since.  Anyway, Shawn Michaels became the first wrestler to run the table, entering at #1 and winning the whole thing.  Obviously there would forever be an asterisk next to his achievement, but it was still pretty cool.  He also executed one of the most entertaining near-eliminations of all time, dangling off the top rope for what seemed like an eternity while only one foot touched the floor.

Dude, look how close that is......

What this meant for me though was that my two favorite wrestlers, Shawn Michaels and Diesel (yeah he grew on me fast for some reason I still don't understand) would be facing each other at WrestleMania XI for the WWF Title.  I could not have been more excited!
Wanna hear something stupid though?  A couple of my friends decided to order the show in their dorm room, AND DIDN'T EVEN INVITE ME.  Unbelievable.  I'm generally the biggest wrestling fan in any group of friends I've ever had.  That's not an exaggeration - it's really a sick thing.  And these pals of mine didn't mention their plans to order WrestleMania until after the fact.  Christ!  Of course the show was kind of a stinker anyway other than the Title match, which astoundingly didn't even close the show!
Diesel retained the Title, but Shawn stole the show and even as a heel ended up winning over the crowd with his superb athleticism.  Diesel as it turned out wasn't exactly lighting the world up as WWF Champion.  The company once again tried to market a big man as the next Hulk Hogan and once again the fans' reaction was lukewarm.  Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were their real favorites, and it became so obvious that Shawn was turned babyface the next night.  I was a little bummed about this because it meant no more Shawn vs. Diesel matches, but on the other hand it would allow them to team up going forward, like the MegaPowers of the 90s.

Dude, how cool were they as a team?

In May of '95 the WWF introduced a new series of PPVs to be held on off-months, entitled In Your House - one of the stupidest PPV names ever, but they would be affordable, two-hour broadcasts.  Nothing wrong with a streamlined, filler-free PPV (though the first two editions didn't quite fit that description in all honesty).

Over the summer Diesel moved to a feud with Sid Vicious, which on paper seemed like a great big man feud to me, but it yielded some pretty terrible main event matches, the worst of which was probably the King of the Ring tag team main event of Diesel & Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Sid & Tatanka.  Good lord what an awful PPV that was.  Not one redeeming match on the entire card.
Shawn set his sights on the Intercontinential Title after inexplicably not winning the KOTR tournament (King Mabel?  What???), and I loved the idea of my two faves being co-champions.  This came to fruition at the second In Your House PPV when Shawn beat Jeff Jarrett for the strap.  Now that's what I call awesomesauce!!

The WWF's attempts to mold Diesel into another Hulk Hogan continued at SummerSlam, as Mr. Nash took on King Mabel for the WWF Title (Hogan vs. Bundy anyone?), in one of the weaker main events of the series.  The real draw for that card was a 'Mania 10 Ladder rematch of Shawn vs. Razor Ramon.  Originally Shawn was scheduled to fight Sid for the I-C Title, and if their makeup match on the RAW "season premiere" is any indication, it's a damn good thing the company subbed Razor in.  While not quite on par with the original, the rematch was quite good, and easily the best thing on the show.

Heading into the fall the WWF began shuffling things around a bit.  Davey Boy Smith turned heel for the first time in his career, setting up a feud with Diesel.  I loved this idea, as Bulldog was always a personal favorite of mine and the company previously hadn't been using him all that well.  Turning him heel also aligned him with Owen Hart and Yokozuna, making a killer three-man stable under Jim Cornette.  Adding to the freshness were imports Dean (Shane) Douglas, who I thought had potential despite his horrible professor gimmick, Goldust (Dustin Rhodes in bizarre gold and black facepaint), whose gimmick foreshadowed a major tonal shift in the WWF product, and powerhouse Ahmed Johnson, who upon his debut bodyslammed Yokozuna and sported a spectacular finisher, The Pearl River Plunge (otherwise known as the Tiger Driver).  The first time I saw Ahmed wrestle I predicted him to be a future WWF Champion.  Had his career not been repeatedly derailed with injuries I might've been right.  Johnson has to be one of the biggest all-time disappointments in terms of not reaching his full potential.

Dude, how much of a badass was Ahmed?
Anyway, the influx of new talent made for a very exciting product and felt like a changing of the guard heading into the late 90s.  The future of the company looked very bright.  With Diesel and Shawn as the top two babyfaces, all was well as far as I was concerned.  Then an incident in Syracuse, NY threatened to ruin everything.

Now the WWF embellished this story to absurd lengths, claiming Shawn was attacked by nine men and beaten senseless.  What actually happened apparently was that Shawn mouthed off to a US Marine at a bar, and a brawl ensued, involving Davey Boy and the 1-2-3 Kid, plus several Marines.  Shawn ended up with a concussion and had to drop the Intercontinental Title.  I was stunned, and actually worried Shawn's career might be in jeopardy.  He returned to action a few weeks later in a fantastic Survivor Series Wild Card match (The two teams were selected "at random", mixing faces and heels together - this was so cool and they should've made it an annual tradition), but seemed to suffer a relapse the following night on RAW during a match with Owen Hart, collapsing in the ring and stopping the show cold.  The commentary ceased as Shawn was attended to by officials, making everything look totally legit.  Even as a twenty-year-old (this was on my birthday as a matter of fact) they had me fooled.  I was devastated, fearing Shawn might never wrestle again.  In hindsight it was one of the most brilliantly-executed, realistic angles I had ever seen, and the first time I can recall the show actually being stopped like that.

Diesel's WWF Title run ended at Survivor Series when he lost to Bret Hart, after which he kinda sorta turned heel.  This was probably the first time I had seen a "tweener" character, where he acted like a bad guy but fought babyfaces and heels alike, and still got cheered.  This was also a bit of an Attitude Era precursor.  Sadly though, my HBK-Diesel dream team co-championship reign was over.

Dude, Nitro sucked.....

Down in Atlanta, WCW had begun airing their own Monday Night show opposite RAW, called WCW Monday Nitro (Seriously guys?  Was your objective to make the title sound as similar as possible to "Monday Night RAW?").  I didn't bother to check it out the first several weeks, but I did read about Lex Luger unexpectedly showing up on the premiere episode, which I had to admit was a pretty good stunt.  Luger's WWF career had floundered badly by this point, so jumping back to WCW seemed like a natural move.  Otherwise WCW still seemed to just be showcasing WWF stars of the 80s, even going so far as to recreate the Hogan-Andre feud by introducing their own Giant (and stupidly billing him as Andre's son).  I more or less wrote off Nitro as likely a flash-in-the-pan that could never possibly threaten the WWF juggernaut.  Yeah I was wrong about that one too.....

Part 10                                                                                                                                            Part 12

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