Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Great PPVs: WrestleMania X

Welcome to another edition of The Great PPVs, here at and!

Today I'll be revisiting another classic WrestleMania PPV, specifically the apex of the New Generation era, WrestleMania X!

'Mania 10 was the first WrestleMania I ever ordered on PPV (I'd gone to see WM5 on closed-circuit TV), and also the first WWF PPV in a while that I was urgently stoked for.  At the time I was a huge Lex Luger fan (yeah I know), and had been following his main event babyface push intently.  Vince was for several months banking on Luger becoming the next Hulk Hogan, repackaging him as an all-American hero, feuding him against the monstrous WWF Champion Yokozuna, and giving him a countout win in the main event of SummerSlam '93.  I was disappointed that he'd failed to capture the belt that night, but figured it was all building to a rematch at WrestleMania.  When Luger and Bret Hart became co-winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble (something that's never happened before or since), I thought, "This is his time, it's gonna happen!"  Due to the double winner, it was announced that Yokozuna would defend the title against one Rumble winner, and the second would face the champ later in the show.  I was sure Luger would finally unseat Yoko and then successfully defend against Bret in the main event, a match I was beyond excited to see.

Little did I know that the fans overall just weren't that into Luger as the top guy, and it was Bret who'd captured their attention and affection.  WrestleMania X would be a transformative show for me; as my childlike fascination with the already past-his-prime Luger would begin to fade, and my new appreciation for the company's two best workhorses, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, was just beginning.  Bret was one of those wrestlers I liked a lot, but he was never my favorite guy.  When he beat Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title in 1991 I was a little bummed because I liked Perfect better.  When he upset Ric Flair for the WWF Title I was excited at the company's new direction, but was sad that Randy Savage was no longer the focus.  By late 1993 I was all aboard the Lex Express, and Bret was probably my third-favorite babyface, after Lex and The Undertaker.  Meanwhile Shawn had caught my attention with great performances at Survivor Series 1992 and 1993 (both against Bret, coincidentally).

Bret had just begun a feud against his brother Owen, which I figured would occupy him for months and thus he wouldn't regain the title just yet.  After a coin flip that determined Luger as the first challenger, Bret would face Owen before getting his own title shot.  This was another match I couldn't wait to see, and I expected a classic.

The other bout of interest was Shawn Michaels challenging Intercontinental Champ Razor Ramon, which was changed to a Ladder Match shortly before 'Mania.  My only familiarity with Ladder Matches at this point were a pretty terrible Dusty Rhodes-Tully Blanchard match in 1985 and a disappointing Bret-Shawn bout that took place in 1992.  Thus my initial reaction to this announcement was "Dude, whyyyy??"  Keeping with this show's apparent theme of defying my expectations, the Ladder Match would prove me wrong in a profound way.

The show started unexpectedly with the Bret-Owen match, and these two delivered an absolute 20-minute clinic, displaying some of the best pure wrestling I'd ever seen up to this point.  Bret and Owen had worked out this match the night before, after Bret realized that the bout they had planned wouldn't play well.  Originally this match was designed to showcase Owen's considerable aerial ability and show fans (and the company) what they'd been missing all those years Owen was a glorified jobber.  Only problem was, if Owen performed a lot of flashy, crowd-pleasing offense, it would sabotage his new run as a vicious heel and undermine the whole feud.  So at the eleventh hour Bret envisioned a more gritty, personal match that would allow Owen to shine in his new persona.  It was the exact right move; the match brought the Madison Square Garden crowd to its feet, climaxing with a surprise victory roll counter that gave Owen a shocking win over his older brother and launching him into the main event picture for most of 1994.  At the time this match was seemingly upstaged by the other classic on the show, but in hindsight Bret vs. Owen is not only my favorite match here, but one of my favorites of all time.

Next up was a throwaway comedy match, as Bam Bam Bigelow and Luna Vachon faced the once-promising, now ruined character of Doink the Clown and his sidekick Dink.  This was inoffensive but illustrated how badly the company had dropped the ball with Doink, who'd debuted in late '92 as a maniacal, genuinely frightening evil clown only to be turned babyface a year later and made into....just a clown.  I guess the company thought he'd sell a lot more merch that way, but his career stagnated and he never offered anything beyond comedy matches.

The show rolled on with a big grudge match between Randy Savage (who'd been very poorly used over the previous year as a color commentator when he could've easily been a gatekeeper for some of the rising young stars) and the recently-turned Crush.  Their feud kicked off in the fall of 1993 when Savage made comments about Crush's less than admirable attitude, and Crush took them personally.  Since then they'd been involved in multiple pull-apart brawls, culminating in this Falls Count Anywhere match, which was kinda ruined by wonky rules.  Your garden-variety FCA match has one rule: the participants can pin each other anywhere in the arena.  But this bout was hobbled by a convoluted stipulation that you had to pin your opponent outside the ring and then get back to the ring in less than sixty seconds.  If your opponent made it back in time, the match continued.  If not, the match was over.  Who came up with this, Vince Russo??  Anyway this match had some decent brawling but since there were three falls, roughly a third of the running time was spent waiting for someone to either get back to the ring or not.  A standard FCA match would've been a lot of fun.  This was pretty weak.  Savage never had another WWF program after this (baffling, since a title feud against Bret could've been huge); he jumped to WCW by years-end.

Another throwaway followed as WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze faced Lelani Kai (who'd also challenged unsuccessfully for the Women's Title at the first WrestleMania), in a well-worked but very brief match that seemed engineered to introduce Blayze to a wider audience.  The former Madusa Miceli was still pretty new to the company, so this was an effective showcase.

One of the more underrated matches of the era was next, as WWF Tag Champs The Quebecers defended against Men on a Mission.  The tag team division in 1994 was a far cry from its 1980s heyday, and after The Steiners left the company there were precious few top babyface teams.  So MOM was next in line for the shot.  But these teams delivered a very enjoyable little tag match, meshing quite well despite the style disparity.  Jacques and Pierre sold like crazy for their larger opponents and eventually got themselves counted out to retain.  Nothing amazing, but this match was fun.

Finally we got to the first big WWF Title match, the finale in the Luger-Yokozuna feud.  And well, it kinda sucked.  Where the SummerSlam '93 match had a good amount of big man action, this bout ground to a tedious halt when Yokozuna relied almost entirely on a trapezius nerve hold that seemed to last days.  Luger wasn't able to get in much offense, and it was only in the closing moments that they won back the crowd.  Luger nailed his running forearm and went for the pin, but guest referee Mr. Perfect was more concerned about Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette, whom Luger had slingshotted into the ring when they tried to interfere.  Luger got in Perfect's face, lightly shoving him, and Perfect disqualified Luger.  Man, was I pissed.  Not only was the match not good, but the master plan was now ruined.  In my head I couldn't fathom Luger's long quest NOT culminating in a WWF Title win.

My woes would soon be forgotten, as after a pointless 35-second Earthquake squash over Adam Bomb, the Ladder Match took center stage.  Shawn Michaels had been I-C Champion in the fall of 1993 but was legitimately suspended over suspected steroid use (Shawn vehemently denies it to this day, and going by his chubby appearance at the time it's hard to argue) and the title held up.  Razor won a battle royal to determine a new champion, and upon Shawn's return he laid claim to still being the belt's rightful owner.  Hence the WrestleMania match.

It's hard now to explain how revolutionary this match was for its time.  Ladder Match car wrecks are so commonplace now that I've actually grown bored with them.  Virtually nothing new ever happens in one of these things in 2018.  But in 1994 this bout was unlike anything I'd ever seen; Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, and a ten-foot ladder (That's ONE ladder, mind you) would deliver perhaps the defining match of the 1990s.  The bout started out with excellent traditional wrestling between the two backstage buddies, with wild back-and-forth exchanges conveying Razor's dominant power and grit vs. Shawn's flamboyantly innovative offense.  But at the halfway point the bout's central weapon was introduced, and so were about a dozen signature ladder spots that are still in use 20+ years later.  Dives off the ladder, baseball slides into the ladder, suplexes off the ladder, and crushing blows with the ladder were all invented in this match.  The climactic moment came as both men climbed to the top, Razor knocked Shawn off, crotching him on the top rope, and Shawn's foot became entangled, allowing Razor to unhook the belts and fall exhausted to the mat as the undisputed Intercontinental Champion.  One could argue that this bout, along with Paul Heyman's industry-changing run as ECW promoter, helped pave the way for the Attitude Era a few years later.  Crazy, violent high spots, weapons-heavy matches, and an anarchic approach to pro wrestling became the norm by 1998, and this match set a riotously high bar for wrestling violence.

The main event would be the first-ever match to headline back-to-back WrestleManias, as Bret Hart would attempt to avenge his 'Mania 9 title loss.  Bret was selling exhaustion from the match with Owen, making him the babyface in peril for much of this contest.  While not as fast-paced as their first meeting, this match nonetheless had greater drama, as Bret simply had to survive and hope his massive opponent would tire himself out.  Yokozuna's size would ultimately cost him the match, as the champion went for his patented Banzai Drop off the second rope, only to lose his balance and come crashing to the canvas.  Bret pounced on top of Yokozuna for the three count, becoming a two-time WWF Champion and officially the new face of the company.  Much like Ric Flair's second NWA Title win, this felt like the WWF getting fully behind Bret, correcting their mistake of arbitrarily putting the belt on Hogan a year earlier.  No sooner had Bret won the match than all the prominent babyfaces joined him in the ring for a celebration to close out the show.

So yeah, WrestleMania X was uneven and included several filler matches, but what it lacked in consistency it more than made up for in delivering two of the best matches of all-time (certainly of the decade) and finally paving the way for a host of new stars to carry them through much of the 90s.  Bret Hart had fully emerged as the backbone of the company, while Shawn Michaels proved himself much more than an undersized midcard heel, carving out his place as one of the WWF's most valuable assets.  His main event run would begin in early 1995, as would his reputations as a backstage troublemaker.  'Mania 10 was a real turning point for a company still trying to find its identity after the loss of its biggest-ever star.  The failed push of Lex Luger as Hogan's replacement wouldn't be Vince's last attempt to build around a larger-than-life babyface, but for now it was clear the WWF was no longer the land of the giants.  As a result of this show, my loyalty shifted from Lex Luger (who had been one of my favorites of the 80s) to Shawn Michaels (who became my favorite wrestler of all time).  For its historical significance and its incredible one-two punch of life-changing bouts, WrestleMania X undoubtedly qualifies as one of The Great PPVs.

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