FLYBY GOES DAILY: The Wrestlemania Series (Week 1)
FLYBY GOES DAILY: The Wrestlemania Series
Salve, fair reader! You’ve probably guessed from the title that I’ve taken leave of my senses once again and decided to write a daily series, in this case, a column on each of the thirty Wrestlemania events, from 1985 to 2014. I’ll be delving into issues, controversies, classic matches, disappointments, pen portraits of wrestling greats and more. The last one of these I did was rather well received, so I hope you enjoy the ride. In week one, I’ll be taking a look the formative stages of Wrestlemania’s evolution, with thoughts on the first seven editions of the Show of Shows edited into this thread at the beginning of each day.
Wrestlemania I: The Blueprint
Those of you who have watched Wrestlemania I will know that the fundamental thing about it that’s strange is that it doesn’t truly feel like Wrestlemania. It’s low key, short on bombast, even intimate in its execution. We’ve grown so used to the military grade pyro, the stadiums, the thirty minute epic main events, the smorgasbord of rock and rap acts performing live and above all the hype that going back to more innocent times is deeply strange to modern eyes. However, if we take a more Structuralist approach to the event, we find that actually, most of what we expect from Wrestlemania was established all the way back in 1985 and runs in an unbroken line all the way to the modern day. There have been many innovations along the way, some of which became tradition themselves, some of which were abandoned as ill-conceived experiments, but ultimately there are certain non-negotiables with Wrestlemania which start with the construction of the card.
When we look at the line-up of the first Wrestlemania, a few things become apparent. The curtain jerker features one of the best technical workers of the time in Tito Santana, who was trusted to get the crowd going; this is of course a fundamental of any wrestling show to this day, but particularly with wrestling’s Superbowl. Think about last year, with The Shield marching through the MetLife Stadium’s audience to battle three main event talents in a hot six man opener, or JBL and Finlay’s weapons filled Belfast Brawl from Wrestlemania XXIV. The next match on the inaugural ‘Mania’s card was a squash between King Kong Bundy and SD Jones; this is, again, a tradition which has endured, with Kane’s eleven second destruction of Chavo Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s stealth humiliation of JBL both recent examples. Going deeper into that evening of wrestling in the spring of ’85, we find lots more to recognise. Variously, we have an Intercontinental Title match between two prominent midcarders in Greg Valentine and JYD, a tag team title match between American babyfaces and foreign villains (a trope which would define the 1980s and early 1990s) and a special attraction match with an odd stipulation. Ah yes, the “Bodyslam Challenge” between Andre The Giant and Big John Studd; I’m not quite sure why they thought such an odd gimmick match would work except for the fact that the thought of somebody slamming Andre would be impressive enough to carry the action for the crowd. However, there is no doubt that Andre was a huge draw and using him in this way masked his limitations better than a traditional singles match. The special attraction match as a genre does just what it says on the tin; for many of his first appearances at the Show of Shows, The Undertaker found himself cast in this role, and in latter Wrestlemanias, Vince McMahon himself took up the baton. The idea is that the audience get to see something different than they could see on a typical night of wrestling…and who, in 1985, could have imagined seeing Vince climb a ladder and drive Hulk Hogan through a table in a semi-main event eighteen years later?
The main event of Wrestlemania shows a tranche of tropes that would define future events but is also quite different from most of the headlining bouts that followed. From Wrestlemanias II to VII, the WWF Title match went on last, but here, the title holder and face of the company was in a main event tag match featuring Mr T as his partner. Now, in 1985 I knew absolutely nothing about wrestling; I was five years old and Vince’s circus had yet to make it to the UK. However, ‘The A-Team’ was my favourite television programme and I absolutely adored Mr T, or B.A Barracus as he was in the show. I imagine many young Americans felt the same way, so putting Mr T in the storylines was an absolute genius move on McMahon’s part. Hogan had of course played a cameo role in ‘Rocky III’ as ‘Thunderlips’ so the screen association of the two men was already established. Set them up against two gifted heels in Piper and Orndorff, with potential interference from Bob Orton, and you had guaranteed money. For the first ‘Mania, it made sense to put on such a match rather than a title bout. Celebrity involvement is indeed what most people would point to as the key part of Vince McMahon’s vision of what professional wrestling could become. We all know by now that Vince didn’t want to play by the rules of the regional territory system; he foresaw a national and international promotion which had mainstream appeal; no longer would professional wrestling have a niche appeal. As far as he was concerned, it was evolve or die, and the staging of a supercard packed with MTV and Hollywood talent was an important part of that evolution. In every single Showcase of the Immortals since, actors, sportsmen and musicians have played an integral role on the evening, drawing in casual fans and enhancing the big time feel of the evening. That is the enduring legacy of the first Wrestlemania.
For a modern viewer, this first attempt of Vince Mc Mahon at writing his name in the history books does not offer a great deal other than curiosity, but it’s important to understand how we got to where we are today. Wrestlemania I may not have the pyro, the bombast, or the epic matches but it sure as hell has the formula, and you may be surprised to find just how faithfully the company has followed that formula over the past twenty-nine years.
Hi Maverick. I was probably the first to read your column after you posted it. I love the theme you're going with here. A column for every WrestleMania. Will you be doing a column after WrestleMania 30? More of a review column, or will it fit into this series?
Break up paragraphs 3 and 4. A little jumbled there for the readers. Recognize not recognise, unless that's the way it's spelled in British English. Excuse me, if you're spelling it right in your native language. Make it Mr. T, instead of Mr T. He was 1 of my favorite 80s TV characters. I used to like Mr. T's lessons at the end. There would be a little segment where Mr. T would teach somebody the right way to act.
I'll never forget the kid that threw away the hot dog. Mr. T tells him, "that's a perfectly good hot dog you threw away." Super Bowl, not Superbowl. We're not talking about The Kayfabe Troll's Count Chocula cereal here. I'm joking with you there. Hyphen, comma, and semi-colon usage may not be completely correct. Don't quote me on that.
A great start to a great series. I don't recall ever viewing WrestleMania 1. This column makes me want to see it. I may not attempt to watch it, for fear of either falling asleep, or turning it off because it may get boring. I just may have to watch it though, so I can better see what your review covers, and the observations I make, myself.
Thanks for the column, and the series you have begun. I'll stick with you up until WrestleMania 9. After Hulk left, my interest left too. I didn't make it back until about 11, then 13. From 14, up to 29, I've been able to watch. No magic there for me though. Anything done from 3-9 was my favorite stretch of great WrestleManias. Take care, and good luck with these.
The Underage Pessimist
Its certainly unique to go back and watch these events now. And I don't use unique loosely. There is too much that was different then, but like you rightly pointed out, those events paved up the way for the pageantry that we're used to see now. The curtain jerker, and the over the top main event are couple of things that have become the pivotal parts of the show now, and its great to know that these symbolisms were put in place right back at event no. 1.
Great start, Mav. And I'm looking forward to following this Series as it goes along. I'll do my best to comment every day!
Dammit I enjoyed this; in fact my main criticism is that there should've been more! You really sucked me in with that second paragraph there pointing out how the majority of other Wrestlemania's have been influenced by this one, and then suddenly it was over. Damn you for leaving me wanting more! Rest assured I'll be back tomorrow for the next one of these.
Cult has a valid point mate - there should've been more. I'm not sure why you decided to go for a thirty-part daily again with this and I'm not yet convinced you can do each one justice in the few words the format demands because of that fact. I thought the limited space prevented you from properly following up on your premise - about how those earlier 'Mania events showed a similar construction of match card to modern ones - and so a lot of what we did get were fairly obvious points, albeit coupled with some interesting comparisons.
It's not a knock on the writing by any means, which was as strong as ever. I just think if you were going to do this you were better placed figuring out a different method other than the daily one you employed last year, which is one we happen to know you're talented enough to write in your sleep. Hence my tweet to you earlier (though one naturally peppered with the usual element of banter you should know me for by now!) But I do worry your decision to go with an execution you know, and we know, you can comfortably achieve may have been a mistake for something that's potentially so meaty. I'm certainly not writing it off - one in and it may just be there wasn't that much to say about the show - but I'm yet to be convinced you'll be able to do these issues justice in thirty mini-columns rather than a different, new approach in fewer albeit longer columns. So I look forward to you trying to convince me otherwise!
I hope you won't feel narked when I post my 'Planthology written accompaniment to those three podcasts we'll be doing for TRSOTP about 'Mania, which is something I've had planned for a while.
What I will say though is that, if you want on the MP, I AM sold on this being a great way to get yourself noticed again. It's a joke you're not on there already. As a matter of fact, I guess it's a bit of a D-Bry situation. I officially, on this day, give birth to the #MAVMovement. To the powers-that-be, get this dude on the page he belongs for the credit he is to LOP. For anyone who agrees with me, #MAVMovement!
I'll join your movement, 'Plan, but the likening of Maverick to Daniel Bryan is sour to me. I like Maverick a lot better. In my mind, I'll just consider him Dolph Ziggler, to whom I likened Mav back in the DBC. He's a show-off, but he backs it up and then some! And he deserves more! So I'll just silently tell myself he's DZ, not DB...
Mav, your line about Vince taking up the baton, while a great literary metaphor, had the juvenile in me picture a comical image of McMahon literally twirling a baton in front of a marching band. Hahahaha.
CW, "recognise" and "Mr T" are UK terms and perfectly correct. Though not as good as North American.
Originally Posted by CreativeWriter
Although I believe you're right on your "Super Bowl" crit! Mav, you spell our North American stuff right, damn it...
Ah, daily columns. They'll be fun for a week or two, but let me know what your state of mind s like a month from now
I get the argument of it being "too short" or "wanting more". However, the theme of this series is to describe the evolution of Wrestlemania from 1-30, not to review every show or whatnot. There's plenty of other columns who have done that in the past!
So for me, this was right on point.
CreativeWriter- Thanks for stopping by. Wrestlemania 30 will be more of a preview/issue based column, as March 30th is a week before the event itself. You should probably know that I am an English teacher by trade, and that we invented the language, so other than the Super Bowl correction, none of the other things you said about the technicalities of the writing were remotely correct. Not to worry, though. Wrestlemania I isn't a great watch, truth be told, but it's interesting from a historical perspective if nothing else. I was never a Hogan fan at all, so I was glad when he left, although I marked for nostalgia's sake at Wrestlemania X8.
Sub- Yeah, these early events are tough to watch with modern eyes, but there are lots of tropes that follow through to this day. Last year, with all the many singles matches featuring the likes of Ryback and Fandango, felt like a return to the old days in a way. Thanks for the read and feed, hope you enjoy the rest of the series.
Cult- Always leave 'em wanting more eh? I'm trying to keep these under 1000 where I can, although the one I'm about to post is longer. The issues I raise are going to thread through the series, so I'll be revisiting them for certain! Thanks for the feed my man.
'Plan- The idea is to try and say something profound about each of the events, hence the decision to structure the series in that way. I hope you'll see the method behind my madness, and see that this is a different and more ambitious daily series than the New Gen one, which was 30 match reviews. This will encompass far more meaty issues and include a mixture of structural analysis, personal reflection and historical trends. All will become clear! You're right to challenge me, and I daresay that one day I will go for something more patient and comprehensive re: 'Mania, but truthfully I've barely written about the Show of Shows in my time here, and I wanted to dip in and out of things first to leave more to say later, if that makes sense. By the way, I'm pumped for 'Planthology and for recording those TRSOTP 'Mania shows. Going to be fun. Thanks for the kind words, I'm sure it'll happen sooner or later!
Skul- It's a measure of how nice a bloke you are that nobody in the IWC has yet lynched you for your anti-Bryan stance! As for Ziggles, I'm still a big fan- ran a half marathon in his t-shirt a fortnight ago- but he's seemingly swimming in treacle at the moment, so who knows what's going to happen to him. Good on you for noticing the superiority of British spelling! Glad you enjoyed, thanks for the feed my man.
Chrisss- Managed to keep my mojo going through the New Gen series in August, so hopefully this'll be the same! Thanks for the kind words, that is indeed my intention!
Wrestlemania II: Hogan’s Patented Formula
I mentioned in yesterday’s first instalment that the special attraction main event would be replaced at future Wrestlemanias by headlining matches for the WWF title. The top star of the 1980s and early 1990s, as I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, was Hulk Hogan, and his matches followed a very specific pattern, particularly when he went on last at the Show of Shows. The superhero formula that McMahon and Hogan patented demanded a very specific narrative focus for the feud going in and for the booking of the match. Each time, The Hulkster would face an opponent who offered a never before seen threat to Hulkamania. Hogan would bear some sort of physical or emotional wound which led fans to doubt whether their hero could overcome the challenge. The early stages of the match would involve Hulk being beaten down by his foe, but the power of Hulkamania ran through his veins and at a key stage, he would “Hulk Up” and use the inspiration of his Hulkamaniacs to dig deep and vanquish the dastardly heel in front of him.
It’s a simple story, and it’s interesting to note that John Cena has mined the same formula to one degree or another for so long that a large proportion of the audience rejected it entirely, forcing Cena to switch up his game somewhat. Hogan was able to wrestle his matches in this way all the way up to Wrestlemania IX and well into his WCW tenure. It was only after the negative reaction to he and Randy Savage going through the entire heel roster like ripe cheese at Uncensored ’96 that executives in Atlanta began to realise how rotten the routine had become. It was not what wrestling fans in the 1990s wanted to see, that was for sure. The 1980s were a different matter though. McMahon exploited the renewed patriotism and embracing of family values of the Reagan Era to push the likes of Hogan, and later, The Ultimate Warrior, as cartoon heroes for children to idolise. They weren’t mere babyfaces anymore; they existed outside of wrestling arenas as larger than life figures. The advent of the ‘Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling’ cartoon was just one way in which Vince pursued this vision. Hulkamania was not just a slogan, it was a philosophy, where adherents said their prayers, drank their milk and took their vitamins. And if they did those things, they could overcome any challenge placed in front of them…
All of which segues us quite nicely into Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania II, which was the first time the Hogan formula was introduced to the Showcase of the Immortals. Bundy was an enormous man mountain of pale white flesh, bald as an egg and twice as ugly. His massive bulk and sheer physicality overwhelmed opponents and his 24 second squash of SD Jones at Wrestlemania I was part and parcel of grooming him for a future clash with Hogan. The first part of the formula for the title bout was put in place when Bundy assaulted Hogan at Saturday Night’s Main Event with his Avalanche finisher, breaking the Hulkster’s ribs in kayfabe. A mocking Bundy and his manager, Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, then goaded Hogan into accepting a title challenge in the Los Angeles portion of Wrestlemania II. With such a serious kayfabe injury and with a mountainous opponent, the deck was stacked against the heroic babyface, and to make matters worse, the action was to take place inside a steel cage, at the time the most frightening and most serious gimmick match available.
The blue bars of the old school steel cage are a nostalgic sight to make the heart swell as the camera swoops down to ringside, and when the guest ring announcer (the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers) finally gets around to announcing King Kong Bundy’s entrance, there is a chorus of jeers which is loud even by modern standards. The low angle camera shot as Bundy makes his way down the aisle gives us a sense of his massiveness and when the angle switches to show him from the back, one gets to see where the idea for Mark Henry’s current entrance came from. The intimacy I described yesterday with Wrestlemania I is present again, with fans close enough to reach out and touch the monster and his manager. Hogan’s entry into the fray is entirely different and a large part of what made him special; Rick Derringer’s ‘Real American’ is pumped around the arena as the champ appears, bronzed, clad all in yellow, with the title belt around his waist. He looks like a title holder should, although that is perhaps a measure of how much Vince has conditioned us all over the years. Shaking each side of the cage, Hogan gets the crowd instantly invested in his fate and allows them to believe he will overcome the odds, climbing to the top of the cage to rip his vest, another trademark that made him one of the most over professional wrestlers of all time.
As the bell rings, the two combatants circle each other, the taped rips prominently sold on commentary. Immediately, a duel of rights and lefts commences, with Hogan initially getting the better of things, with the audience behind every single punch, Irish whip and corner clothesline; this of course allows the pride that caused Hogan to go into the match with an injury to have that much more impact. Bundy’s focus on the ribs is psychologically admirable for the time and this beat down segment serves to be the pattern for every other heel challenge to Hulkamania for the next seven or eight years. The only difference with this bout is that it’s a cage match and thus has that cat and mouse element to it that works so well. Hogan stops Bundy from exiting the door several times, but Bundy exacts a heavy toll, choking the champion with his own bandages; it’s excellent heel work that sells the cage match as a lawless environment, but Hulk can play that game too, and does so by using the steel bars as an equaliser, ramming King Kong Bundy’s head into them time and again and attempting the climb out of the cage, even trying to choke his opponent on the top rope as he does so, but as the action spills back to the floor, Hogan’s hubris gets the better of him and he attempts a body slam that backfires, with Bundy’s bulk falling on top of him. This is, of course, the exact spot that had such an impact in the even bigger battle with Andre The Giant the next year.
The Avalanche followed by the big splash seem to have Hogan down and out, but this is where the key part of the Hogan formula comes into play. A second Avalanche has Hogan respond with that trademark no-sell headshake. An Irish whip is reversed, Bundy is powerslammed to the mat and Hogan hits the patented leg drop. Moments later, he is up over the top of the cage to the floor to retain his title, where he proceeds to exact retribution on Bobby Heenan. I think the interesting thing about Hogan matches is always how swiftly they end. Hulk up, Irish whip, body slam or big boot, leg drop. It’s the original “moves of doom” and barely any matches the champ wrestles through the 1980s deviate from that. Nowadays, of course, we have more sophisticated tastes, which is exactly why John Cena has been heavily criticised for his “five moves of doom” and indeed why that same wrester has switched up his game so much over the past year and a half or so, something for which he probably doesn’t get enough credit.
So, for this writer, the importance of Wrestlemania II lay in its establishment of a Hulk Hogan formula for title matches that would draw huge through the rest of the decade and beyond. The apex of this wrestling match as marketing strategy came the next year with Andre The Giant and in 1989 with Randy Savage, two matches which go down in history as two of the biggest main events in wrestling history. But every new product needs a beta test, and King Kong Bundy’s efforts inside the blue steel cage allowed the formula to be perfected over the next few years.
Hi Maverick. This was a well written edition. Paragraph 5, you'll want to correct taped "rips" with ribs. Paragraph 6, replace wrester with wrestler. Other than those spell checker misses, this was well written, and explained your opinion. I don't agree with anything negative said against Hulk Hogan, but you made your points.
We are all entitled to our opinions, especially if we're writing the column, however, I was knocked for my opinions against the WWE, and more importantly, the product shown to me, in the form of the PPV, Elimination Chamber. As your series continues, and it knocks Hulk Hogan each WrestleMania he's in, I hope the other columnists keep that in mind, when I bust out with my negative opinions of the Double W E.
I look forward to WrestleMania 3's edition. Thanks for the column.
The Underage Pessimist
Really liked this one. The bit about Vince conditioning us to the typical main eventer is something that I've been wondering a lot about. It has become such a norm that fans have coined phrases like 'looks like a champ'. That is something that I feel that we must strive against. Although, it did work, and has continued to work to an extent.
One thing I felt like you should have discussed was this event happening over 3 cities/venues. I know you're looking to create a chain of events and discuss larger pertinent issue, but I just wanted to read about that. No harm done, though. This was great as ever.
Maverick, this is excellent. I didn't read your daily last year, but if this is the quality for every day of 30 days, you deserve a permanent spot on the MP. Actually, you should already be up on MP. #MAVMovement
I remembered last year when John Cena pulled off the hurricanrana on CM Punk on Raw, and looked like he nearly broke his neck doing it. He still won the match though. Last month's match with Cesaro, Cena did the same move mid-match, and it was smooth as hell. Like you said, Cena has really tried to up his in-ring game recently and it shows.
For all the talk about the dangers of no-selling in wrestling, fans all over the world popped, and continue to pop, for Hulk's hulking up, no-selling routine. It's just an irony that baffles me sometimes.
And Jacob wrestled with God.
Odd to see a couple of spelling mistakes creep into your work, Mav - that aside, this is a splendid romp through the history of Mania. Personally, I preferred your look at I, and it being a template for the spectacular we see now, to II and its look at the Hogan formula, but it's cigarette paper stuff between them. Thematically, it's pretty rad to see you try and pinpoint a purpose to each Mania - in my opinion, some are more obvious than others, so it'll be interesting to see what you come up with for those that don't, in my mind, easily give you a hook. As usual, your writing sparks and fires off the page, so this promises to be a grand series.
CreativeWriter- Thanks for pointing out the typos. Even us veterans miss stuff on occasion! I didn't intend to give a negative opinion of Hogan here; I merely wished to point out how exactly his act became the biggest act in the history of the business. I'm not a fan, personally, but I recognise what he did for the business and do certainly mark out a little for him in the right context. Thanks for the read and feed!
Sub- "deal with it!" ha ha, it's very much in the news right now isn't it? Interesting that they have constructed entire heel narratives out of that over the padt decade, first with Hollywood Rock in '03 and then with Batista recently. I think the era of the muscle man as champ is as close to being over as it has ever been, but there'll always be the odd throwback. As for the 3 cities thing, I'm not sure I have that much to say other than "boy, that was a crappy idea", ha ha. Thanks for the read and feed mate.
JWG- Thanks mate! Appreciated. Cena has really upped his game since the Punk feud in 2011 and I will continue to praise him for that. He was cruising horribly from 06 to early 11, and then suddenly, those horrible matches with The Rock aside, he has been on damned good form in the ring. And yes, Hogan, Warrior and 'Taker no selling was a huge part of their act. That was a more innocent age though.
Oli- What can I say, I was lax on the proof read! As you're about to see, where there is an obvious or much talked about happening, I'm going to choose to go a little off piste. The idea is to talk about what I find interesting about each 'Mania as opposed to writing a definitive history. I'll leave that to Doc! Thanks as ever for the read and feed, glad you enjoyed!
Wrestlemania III: The Beauty of Tag Team Wrestling (A Personal Reflection)
In this series, I’m going to seek, at various junctures, to shine a light upon less heralded Wrestlemania moments. For so many, the third edition of Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment extravaganza is chiefly memorable for two matches- a scintillating workrate classic between Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat vs. ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and a blockbuster dream bout between former friends in Hulk Hogan vs. Andre ‘The Giant’- but let’s be honest, I and a thousand other critics have talked those contests into the ground by now. Instead, I’m going to discuss what I believe to be a criminally forgotten example of how to work a tag match on the grandest stage of all.
Some context, first of all. Wrestlemania III was one of the first wrestling tapes I ever owned. After being inducted into wrestling fandom around the rise of The Ultimate Warrior in 1990, I eagerly delved into the history of my new found obsession. In those days, any provincial Woolworths the length and breadth of the United Kingdom was packed with row upon row of wrestling videos. It’s a treasured memory for me, walking up and down that aisle in Faversham Woolworths, longingly gazing at those covers, at the larger than life figures represented upon them, and then flipping the case over to pore over the card listing. When I’d saved up the requisite tenner, I marched to the counter with the Wrestlemania III case, and the anticipation I felt as the shop assistant stuffed the VHS into it is something I still remember to this day.
When I got it home- it was a Saturday afternoon- I immediately fed it into the VCR and sat back for the next three hours to drink it all in. Little did I know that the match that would stay with me the most over the next two decades was the very first one on the card, a tag team bout involving three workers I didn’t even know and one working under a completely different gimmick. I should probably stop dancing around the point: the bout I speak of is the Wrestlemania III curtain jerker, The Can-Am Connection against The Magnificent Muraco and ‘Cowboy’ Bob Orton. There are a few intangibles that stood out to me straight away. For one thing, the contrast between the beaming, high energy, suntanned babyfaces in their white trunks and their more rugged heel opponents created an instant intrigue for me. Furthermore, the presence of Rick Martel, who was one of my favourites, working in an era before his ‘Model’ gimmick was one of my first experiences of character shifts in pro-wrestling. Here was someone I knew from my contemporary experiences of the product acting completely differently. That was a revelation. Finally, the experience of seeing the enormity of the Pontiac Silverdome in broad daylight made clear what a special occasion this match was cutting the ribbon for.
As a young wrestling fan, I adored the technical guys and the high fliers, and this contest provides both of those elements in spades. As the bell rings, Zenk is seemingly intimidated by the enormous muscularity of Muraco, but surprisingly manages to knock his bigger opponent down with a shoulder block, giving the early face shine to the sprightly young babyfaces. The commentary is another pleasure that I recall distinctly, the chemistry between Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon sparking off the airwaves, as the talent of both teams is talked up and sold. I particularly love Ventura’s assertion of Orton’s technical skills, “he can wrestle with anybody”, whetting the appetite for his eventual entry. That’s how you do pro wrestling commentary, JBL and Cole. Inevitably, the story whenever Muraco is in the ring is one of power vs. speed, and Zenk continues to make light of The Magnificent One’s strength advantage, escaping the big man with agility, hitting pleasing fan favourite offense- an early North American attempt at appropriating the huracanrana, a pair of hip tosses- and then some well-choreographed double team manoeuvres which force the villainous team to think again outside the ring. It truly is classic tag team psychology, and I adore it.
As the face ascendency continues, Bob Orton shows a command of selling which would utterly shame his son, staggering to the wrong corner to take a right hand from Martel. It’s only when Muraco is tagged back in that the heels finally gain the advantage with a sneaky knee to the back by Orton on the sending Zenk down like a sack of potatoes, but this bout moves at a staggering speed for the 1980s, and Martel is soon in off the hot tag to clean house, sending Muraco up and over the turnbuckle, and credit should be given to the big man here, seeing as that bump became a trademark of Shawn Michaels of all people. At that, The Cowboy rushes into the fray to help his partner, meaning that Zenk does the same. After a brief melee, the Can-Am Connection rid themselves of Orton and set up a schoolboy trip high crossbody that gains them the victory. It’s a finish that’s beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, a picture perfect end to a hot opener worthy of the name.
Back in the early 1990s, when I re-watched this match time and time again, I often wondered what happened to The Can-Am Connection. I knew that Rick Martel went on to team with Tito Santana in Strike Force less than a year after the encounter with Muraco and Orton and of course, I was watching him camp it up as The Model on a near weekly basis, but I didn’t have that missing piece of the puzzle. These were the days before the internet, or indeed, very many books about pro-wrestling, so it was many years later that I found out that Tom Zenk suddenly realised that Martel was paid far more than he, and quit pretty much on the spot. It’s a pity that their team shoot split acrimoniously, as watching this footage back today, it was clear to me that they were being positioned for a crack at The Hart Foundation’s tag straps. Such is pro wrestling.
My enduring love for the Wrestlemania III opener has caused me to be a huge advocate of tag wrestling at the Show of Shows. A few years ago, I despaired at the tag belts not even making it onto the main card, but now, it seems that the old school beauty of two pairs of grapplers taking each other on has finally been recognised again by the powers that be. Rumour has it, of course, that Triple H is behind this regrowth in the genre, and despite the break up or impending break up of several of the teams that have led the resurgence, I’m still optimistic that tag grappling is back and here to stay. Last April, when I saw Daniel Bryan and Kane stand in the middle of the ring and YES their hearts out after defeating Big E. Langston and Dolph Ziggler in a seven minute gem, I smiled broadly to myself and recalled the match I’ve spoken about today. So next time you think about Wrestlemania III, spare a thought for my pick. It’s well worth your time, dear readers.
The Underage Pessimist
This keeps getting better and better, Mav. The personal reflection was a nice touch, and I've only read loosely about it from you. So it was great to know about where you come from.
Tag Team curtain jerkers have become a favorite of mine, too. Last year's Shield match notwithstanding, 'Mania 22's Big Show and Kane v. Carlito and Chris Masters is criminally forgotten and so is 'Mania 26's Miz and Show v. Morrison and Truth. They weren't great matches but they got the ball rolling nonetheless.
it's really refreshing to see a historical perspective that do not hark on the common elements we usually see, especially for an event like WMIII. Anyone with lesser ambition would have easily latched on the 2 classic bouts (Rick vs Savage and Hulk Vs Andre) but you took an unique viewpoint of this event by focusing on the tag opener.
I love tag matches, and there was no tag division as incredible as the Smackdown 2002 run that the Smackdown 6 had. While the Hardys, Dudleys and E&C were pioneers in the clusterfuck hardcore mayhems, the class of Smackdown 2002 was the best pure tag wrestling division I have ever witness. The series of matches between Rey/Edge and Benoit/Angle were IMO hands-down the most exciting tag matches of any era. We often talked about tag team producing a Shawn (success) and a Jannenty (failure) but look at the entire divison during 2002, everyone of them got elevated, except perhaps Chavo. Eddie, Edge, Rey Rey, Angle, Benoit all became legends in their own right, with the foundation laid during the tag team runs in 2002. Only Angle had a claim as main-eventer, while the rest were all upper/midcard on Smackdown. The in-ring action cemented their legacies as future main-eventers.
The current tag division is following the same path to success, as long as WWE can allow them to continue to shine in the ring, fans will appreciate. Look at what Cesaro has achieved.
WMXXX should feature a ladder tag match, make it a draw like the TLC used to be. I would be pumped for such a gutsy display, and I have no doubt the current crop of stars can pull off a great match without the dare-devil stunts that their attitude stars did to their bodies.
And Jacob wrestled with God.
I miss Woolworth. Used to go to the one in Yeovil for pic 'n' mix when I lived there in the early 90s. Got my first album from there as well (on cassette!) - Take That's Greatest Hits. In fact, I think I got my first ever CD of any sort from there too - Hanson's I Will Come To You. And my Sega Megadrive came from there, I remember, although I think it was sold to Santa originally. Ah, Woolworths.
Great entry, Mav - I'm really interested to see what they do with the tag belts in the run up to XXX, given that for some reason they put the belts on The Usos last night. I can't believe the Outlaws get them back on Main Event tonight, and after that I'd assume there would be some new challengers. But who? The Brotherhood, perhaps? Real Americans seem to be in the middle of some other story with Big E, which is a shame as I would like them to have a title reign before splitting, PTP are gone...seems like it's The Brotherhood, RyBaxel or 3MB right now. And much as I'd love to see the copper around the waist of the three man band, I can't see them getting anywhere near the card.
Mav, finally got to read these. Such a great idea and you do very well with the daily format, so I'm enjoying this.
Also, it's neat that you're trying a little variety in your sharing for each event.
Wrestlemania I sets up the grandeur and importance of the event.
Wrestlemania II focuses on Wrestlemania's greatest star and discusses successful match formula for the hero, Hulk Hogan, while providing some fine analysis on his foe and the techniques of the top heel.
Wrestlemania III was my favourite though, sharing a more personal story alongside a review of the match you were drawn to the most in that event.
I'm keen to see how much variety you employ moving forward, or if you recycle through these format types again. Either way, they will be enjoyable reads.
Which tag teams do you think will get the shine at Wrestlemania XXX? Will there be a tag team classic? The Usos vs. Outlaws last night was an incredible moment and a very entertaining match, too. I think the Usos have an amazing opportunity in a month's time to create a match that another young Maverick-type fellow will be calling his favourite.
Sub- Thanks mate! I have talked origin stories before, but probably mostly before you joined! So I'm glad you enjoyed that side of things. That WM22 match is a nice little spectacle actually, good pick.
JWG- Thanks mate. I agree on Smackdown Six, they were tremendous. I've written on those guys before. Amazing stuff. Not so sure about a ladder match being the best plan for the current teams. I can feel 'Plan having a stroke from here...
Oli- Woolworths, RIP. I still think there are enough teams to make the division worthy, but more on that in the upcoming column...
JCooooool- Should be plenty of variety and off piste stuff as I move forward! Glad you enjoyed the first three my man. And yes, I'm a big Usos mark. Glad they havr the belts now!
Wrestlemania IV: The Glory of the Tag Team Titles (Further Reflections)
Yesterday, I discussed my experiences with the video cassette of Wrestlemania III, which I bought in the autumn of 1990 in the name of educating myself about the history of my new fascination. What can I say; I was pretty precocious for a ten-year-old. Looming large in my future plans was saving enough pennies to buy Wrestlemania IV, which exercised a feverish hold upon my imagination. You see, it was a double VHS, meaning it was over four hours long. Four hours! I can’t describe to you how exciting the idea of that much wrestling was to me at the time. Moreover, the main thrust of that edition of the Show of Shows was a tournament to decide the WWF champion. Being pretty ignorant of pro wrestling history, I had no idea who the eventual winner was, so that was a strong draw for me.
The thing is though, I’ve discussed my enduring love for that tournament fairly recently in the Davey Boy Cup (read it here if you like) so I’m continuing the thread I started to pull on yesterday about the position and importance of tag team wrestling in the 1980s. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to anybody bar the very youngest of you how stacked the division was at the close of that decade, and on March 27th 1988 at the Trump Plaza, a minor classic took place for the belts, one which has been cruelly forgotten amidst the brouhaha over the WWF strap and the Mega Powers angle that it ultimately spawned. The champions were Strike Force, consisting of yesterday’s hero Rick Martel and Tito Santana, the high flying Mexican technician who remained one of the few babyfaces I really liked well into the early 90s. Strike Force had held the belts a long time, since October of 1987 in fact, and essentially played off the same “good looking jocks” vibe as Martel’s previous tag team had. They had taken on all comers, but their challenge at Wrestlemania was very different…
Demolition was formed out of a direct desire of Vince McMahon to imitate the success of The Road Warriors. Bill Eadie (Ax) and Barry Darsow (Smash) bedecked themselves in Kiss style face paint, intimidating masks and studded leather. In a word, they were badass. I loved Demolition. I love them to this day, and their aesthetic and power based offense made them genuinely intimidating rather than camp. They also happened to have one of the very best theme tunes in wrestling history. Particularly in this first heel run, they were booked extremely strongly, as an unstoppable force mowing down rival tag teams, making Strike Force an obvious underdog.
It’s simple storytelling really, but it’s very effective. The team of good looking, sporting high fliers have to take on the tough, unscrupulous heels backed by their dastardly manager, The Devious One, Mr Fuji. Jesse Ventura is already passing a moratorium on their chances as the bell rings, and yet through the next twelve and a half minutes, the plucky babyfaces make one believe that they really can retain their titles. For me, it truly is a beautiful example of how to make the tag team titles feel important, something that was ultimately rediscovered for a brief window of time during Attitude and something which, as I mentioned yesterday, has been a feature of the past year or so of booking too.
The opening stanzas immediately draw attention to the respective strengths of the two teams, with Smash coming out of the gate with repeated double axe handles to drive Martel to one knee, and when the French-Canadian goes for a crossbody, the larger man is able to catch him, showing admirable power. However, the face team seem to have the better honed teamwork, as Santana dashes into the fray to dropkick the body of Martel so that he falls onto Smash. A brief melee results in Strike Force holding the aces, much to the disgust of The Body on commentary, who spent this entire era bemoaning referee favouritism towards babyfaces (he kind of had a point on that). The heels know how to double team too though, and they inevitably show this as Smash catches Santana in a bear hug for Ax to viciously clothesline one half of the tag champs to the mat. What follows is classic heel tag wrestling, with a distraught Martel trying to help his partner and being stopped from doing so by the official, whose turned back ironically allows Demolition the opportunity to pound away on the hapless Mexican. Those of you who have enjoyed the recent work of Erick Rowan and Luke Harper will find a lot to love about Demolition.
Tito takes an absolute pounding through the next passage of action and plays the face in peril to perfection, while Ax and Smash look like a million dollars hitting power move after power move, living up to their gimmick and their reputation coming into the match. The structure of the contest is that of the classical tag encounter, but performed so well that it becomes more than that. Watch how the hot tag is teased time and again, only for a member of Demolition to drag Santana away. When that separation is finally achieved by Tito with his patented flying forearm, the crowd go wild, and Martel is on fire when he heads into the ring, taking on both members of the heel team with alacrity, upping the pace to suit his own ring game. This rally by the heroes cannot last long though, as we head into a finish which remains one of my favourites ever. As Martel twists Smash into the Boston Crab and Santana sallies forth to deal with Ax, Mr Fuji steps onto the ring apron. The Mexican grappler switches his attention to the Devious One, who throws his cane to Ax, who, with the referee distracted, is free to crack Martel over the back of the neck with it. Smash falls onto the cover for the three count and new champions are crowned.
Quite apart from the beautiful simplicity of the match structure, the sound tag psychology and the excellent ring work by four all-time favourites of mine, what most stands out to me to this day is how seriously the titles are taken. They are a major, major prize and a draw in and of themselves; the bout actually went on second to last, so could be considered a semi-main event, technically speaking. When The Brotherhood took Reigns and Rollins’ titles the night after Battleground, I suddenly felt like all the work done by Hell No and The Shield had come to fruition because the belts meant something again. Many have asked me after yesterday if I foresee this tag renaissance continuing. Based on last night’s put over job by The New Age Outlaws, one modelled on the favours done to them by Legion of Doom and Jack and Charlie, I’d have to say yes, I think it will, despite the break ups of some of the long running teams. The Usos will no doubt need to fend off Rowan and Harper sooner rather than later, for example, and who knows when The Ascension will finally get their NXT call up? I just hope that the tag titles remain a ‘Mania fixture in forthcoming years, because they bring a real joie de vivre to the evening, in this writer’s view.
Last edited by Maverick; 03-05-2014 at 10:55 AM.
The Underage Pessimist
Now this was something unexpected. I really thought that you would tackle the Title Tournament this time, but I'm glad to see that you did otherwise. This match was certainly something that one might even skip through if they watch it today, but you justified the importance of this very well.
With The Usos winning the Tag Titles this past week on Raw, I just wish that a multi team match is help at the main card for 'Mania. If The Brotherhood is again relegated to the Pre-Show it'll be a giant waste of their talents and the effort that they have put through since October. The Usos deserve the same, if not more. As for NAO, I've been quite vocal about their inadequacies and I remain so. Just give them the shot next week on Raw, and have them done with. Harper/Rowan need a spot as well, even Rybaxel is better than them!
Sub-I don't agree on the Outlaws. I don't know if it's because you're a newer fan, but to say that they are inadequate is straight up bizarre to me. What the Outlaws bring is a huge amount of prestige and name value, as well as an amazing amount of tag team experience. Imagine how much The Usos have learnt from wrestling them. Billy Gunn can still wrestle better than most of the roster at 50, and Road Dogg is an all time great stick man. They've helped The Usos get over to hitherto unforeseen levels in my view. It's just like the job Legion of Doom did for them back in the late 90s, in fact, which was hugely important to the young Outlaws. For me, the best Wrestlemania result would be for Rowan & Harper, The Usos, The New Age Outlaws and The Brotherhood to have a four corners elimination match. So long as WWE work out some rules that make sense, it would be excellent from a wrestling point of view and would give The Usos a big rub too. As I said in the column, I wrote about the tournament in...the last tournament I entered, so it was the right thing to do to stick with the tag teams for this one. Now though, time for something different...thanks for the read and feed.
Wrestlemania V: A Ravishing Midcard Title Feud
Today I again eschew what might be a more obvious topic of conversation in the headlining “Mega Powers Explode” main event. That match was painstakingly built over the course of an entire calendar year, with Macho Man’s kayfabe insecurity in his status as top dog and his insane jealousy over Elizabeth’s friendship with Hogan (which some will tell you was based on shoot happenings backstage) creating huge interest in the “explosion” when it came. Needless to say, it was a massive draw and probably the best match of Hogan’s babyface prime as Macho carried him to something that transcended the formula I discussed in part two of this daily series.
However, the second most high profile pairing on the card retains more historical interest for me, both objectively as a critic, and in a partisan sense as a fan. At the moment where I was inducted into wrestling, The Ultimate Warrior was the WWF champion and therefore, when looking back at company history, I was naturally far more interested in him than Hogan, who seemed to my ten-year-old eyes to represent the past. Now, we all know how Jim Hellwig actually worked out as top dog, but that’s looking back with 20:20 hindsight. To me and to many other British youngsters, Warrior was the top babyface we could get onboard with. At my school, in fact, Hogan was notably unpopular. I remember distinctly my friends and I discussing how stupid it was that he wore all yellow, talked about “prayers” and told people to take “vitamins” (pronounced with the long i of California English, which we found hilarious). Not to offend any devout Christians or pill poppers out there, but my friends and I thought that stuff was pretty hokey and just patently un-cool. Warrior though, that was a different story altogether. As well as being jacked, he wore coloured tassels tied to his arms, had some sort of arcane design painted on his face and sprinted to the ring to shake the ropes like an escapee from a nineteenth century lunatic asylum. And the promos! Goodness gracious, has complete mumbo jumbo ever been as entertaining as that? Even as a kid I privileged work rate and technical ability- what a horrible little proto-smark bastard I was- but Warrior was the exception to me. I thought he was awesome. To this day, friends of mine who have long since stopped watching wrestling fondly reminisce with me about The Ultimate Warrior. One particular friend often makes drunken promises to get the Warrior symbol tattooed on his posterior. One day, I’ll make sure he keeps that promise.
Then there was Ravishing Rick Rude. You may not know this, dear reader, as I’ve not often had the opportunity to write about him, but Rick Rude was the first wrestler I ever called my favourite. He would still make a top five now. In an era of amazing characters and larger than life performers, Ravishing Rick Rude stood out even more than my other favourites like DiBiase and Roberts. There was the formidable curly mullet, the anchor tattoo, the porn star moustache, the robe, the most garish tights in the business…I loved how his saxophone led music was obviously that of a male stripper, and how he would get on the mic, say “cut the music” and then proceed to insult the fans of whatever city he happened to be in, before taking off his robe and showing off those rock hard abs to everybody. He was an arrogant, preening Adonis, but he could get it done in the ring too. That was all part and parcel of his character and I loved it. Rude’s two year feud with Warrior remains one of my favourite rivalries in all of wrestling history, and it illustrates to me a lot of important points about midcard booking and the elevation of talent that remain relevant to this day.
First of all, the way that the feud was set up was brilliantly high profile and convincing in terms of the characters’ respective motivations. In Vince McMahon’s 1980s World Wrestling Federation, the body was king, and the two wrestlers who most represented that ideal went head to head in a pose down at the 1989 Royal Rumble. Fearing he would lose and perhaps feeling a spasm of jealousy, Rude attacked Warrior with an iron posing bar, encouraged by his manager Bobby Heenan. Classic heel work from both men, and an interesting chink in the armour of the seemingly unstoppable Warrior was opened. Until that point, the man from Parts Unknown had been booked as a force of nature, and Rude was really the first heel opponent to steal a march on him. It was the ideal pairing really; Warrior was the midcard champion on the verge of breaking into the next level, and Rude was the heel who could elevate him through a series of very good matches over the Intercontinental Title. When people talk about the former importance and lineage of that belt, this is the kind of thing they mean. Within a year, The Ultimate Warrior was winning the WWF Title in the main event of Wrestlemania VI, all while still carrying the Intercontinental Title. A year or two ago, WWE got into the very bad habit of throwing together title vs. title matches with no build whatsoever, with no sense of stage or occasion, but when your midcard belt is functioning well, it should be just a tiny step down from the world title.
You see, the match that Rude and Warrior put on shows that the title is important to their characters. Facing a dangerous, riled, motivated champion like The Ultimate Warrior forces Rude and Heenan to get creative in thwarting him. It’s a cat and mouse battle of the Tom and Jerry variety; when Rude is caught, he suffers, and bumps like a maniac to make his opponent look good. On the other hand, the challenger’s superior mental capacity is shown as keeping him from getting squashed in the way previous heels had been, and once the initial storm is weathered, Rude is able to take advantage, putting the knees up on a splash attempt and proceeding to physically dissect the Warrior with piledrivers and suplexes, all the while selling the initial onslaught of the Warrior, holding his back and grimacing in pain. Rude even sells his pain straight after his signature pose down is used to mock the downed champion! Everybody gains from this sort of bout; the heel gets to show his chops, the face gains audience sympathy after their initial shine is stopped in its tracks. Just as with the tag matches we looked at the past two days, Warrior gets a hot face comeback, with all the special little touches he added to that trope. Watching Rude clinging onto then champion’s back for dear life as he shakes the ropes with ever increasing intensity is a wonderful moment, one that illustrates all that was great about the rise of The Ultimate Warrior. Ditto the power out of the Rude Awakening, which I was reminded of when Roman Reigns did the same thing to Sister Abigail the other week! Most badass babyface moments have a precedent, after all.
The finish is as well thought out as everything else in the match, with Rude falling on top of Warrior in a pinning predicament and Heenan sneakily holding the legs to stop the champ kicking out. This piece of booking strikes me as interesting for a few reasons. Not only did it fit the tone of the contest perfectly, it also reminded me that sometimes, it’s important for an up and coming hero to lose, something which the IWC in particular has lost sight of in recent months. What is a babyface? Somebody who has the support and sympathy of the crowd. How does one gain the second of those two things? Through either coming up short in a heroic effort or through being cheated out of the victory. Warrior was the hottest property in all of wrestling and yet he lost at Wrestlemania. Nowadays, I don’t doubt that fans would be hooting in derision, sounding off about “burial” and complaining about a screwy finish. But look what happened to Warrior after this, his first pinfall loss in the WWF; he regained his Intercontinental Title from Rude at Summerslam and roared into 1990 with all the momentum in the world behind him. It just shows you that men on the rise don’t always need to win every match to keep rising. That’s as true of Stone Cold as it is of Daniel Bryan, by the way. More on that theme tomorrow…
Last edited by Maverick; 03-06-2014 at 09:15 AM.
The Underage Pessimist
See, I don't have a problem with the Outlaws coming back for a nostalgic run and have a couple of matches with the new guys. But to actually put the Titles on them? That's something that struck me the wrong way. No matter how good they wrestle, they are certainly no match for the other teams, and to have RhodesDust just give up the Titles to them, in a Pre-Show match no less, made all the efforts to build the championships seem worthless. They have much to give to the newer tag teams, no doubt about it, but doesn't mean they should be champions.
As for the entry, it felt really genuine. I'm really liking your backstories with the superstars and its providing for some cool reads. Keep 'em coming!
Sub- You know that Goldust is of the same generation though right? Why would it be ok to keep the belts on him and Cody, but not ok for them to be on the Outlaws? In order to give The Usos a reign, transitional heel champs were needed. I can't think of many better transitional heel champs in history than The Outlaws. In no way have the belts been downgraded. You have a point about the pre show though. I wish they'd cut them the hell out to be honest. They don't serve any decent purpose as far as I'm concerned. As for 'Mania V, it was a pleasure to talk about Rick Rude. He is genuinely one of the greatest of all time. Cheers for the feed mate!
Wrestlemania VI: Did Hogan Crash Warrior’s Plane?
In professional wrestling, the passing of the torch between the fading star of one generation and the rising one of the next is a time honoured tradition. Truthfully, it isn’t as simple as that at all, because it’s rare that the defeated party actually exits stage left after they’ve put over the young buck. To give you a recent example, Triple H looked at the lights for Batista and John Cena at successive Wrestlemanias but I don’t think anybody doubted his character’s ability to bounce back from those high profile losses. Nevertheless, in the 1980s, when the champion was truly the face of the company, commanded the highest purses and received the best perks, giving up the title to the next guy was a big step to take.
Hulk Hogan had been on top of the wrestling landscape for six years by 1990. If his act was familiar and had barely changed, that made no difference whatsoever to live audiences, who continued to buy the merchandise and cheer the pose down with no questions asked. However, Hogan worked for Vince McMahon, who had an instinct for shooting down stars who were getting too big for their boots, and clearly this was what the boss was feeling at the beginning of 1990. Wary of eventually being held to ransom- a paranoia that he nursed well into the 1990s with tragic results for Bret Hart- Vince decided that he was going to put the belt on The Ultimate Warrior, whose meteoric rise coincided with Hogan falling out of favour. In a classic piece of wrestling politics, McMahon dared The Hulkster to put Warrior over clean in an “Ultimate Challenge” match where both the WWF and Intercontinental straps were on the line in a gigantic babyface vs. babyface match. There were all manner of backstage issues at stake here; Hogan’s pride and concern over his future, Warrior’s alleged prima donna locker room behaviour and Vince deciding that a changing of the guard would benefit both him personally and his business.
The thing is, despite the fact that Hulkamania was still running wild, McMahon was probably right. Hogan’s reign atop the business had been going on a long time and attention spans in this new decade were getting shorter. Nobody had turned on Hogan yet, but by Wrestlemania VIII and IX, he felt like an irrelevance to a degree, or at the very least, a bit of a dinosaur. The Hulkster himself has sought to propagate a mythology whereby he saved the WWF from a disastrous Ultimate Warrior title reign by stepping back into the top babyface shoes in time for Wrestlemania VII, but that ignores an awful lot of cold, hard evidence that suggests that Hogan fared no better than Warrior once he took the belt from Slaughter. The boom period in wrestling was subtly lurching to a close, and by 1993, steroid scandals and sexual harassment suits would cause serious embarrassment for the WWF and precipitate a steep decline in business.
That, however, is not to say that The Ultimate Warrior escapes blame. His poor attitude and egomania between late-1990 and mid-1991 is infamous for good reason. However, I’ve often wondered how Warrior might have done as a top draw had certain things not happened in the title match itself. After the match, Hogan allegedly said to Bret Hart “You watch. Warrior will fail. And Vince’ll be calling me begging me to come back.” What many, including myself, have often wondered is to what extent The Hulkster was planning that failure from the very beginning. Because whatever his faults as a human being, The Ultimate Warrior should not have failed as a top draw. He was as over as it is possible to be. If you watch the Hall of Fame video package for Warrior, you’ll see what I mean. The guy was just insanely popular with live crowds of the time. If that popularity didn’t translate to a successful title reign, we have to wonder why. Yes, he was a limited in-ring worker, but then again Hogan wasn’t exactly Dean Malenko either. Warrior had a lousy attitude, but anyone that knows the smallest thing about professional wrestling knows that Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest politicians ever to lace up a pair of boots. In an infamous promo given in the build to Toronto, The Ultimate Warrior uttered the following: “Assume the controls, Hulk Hogan. Shove that control into a nosedive, Hulk Hogan!” The question we have to ask is this: was it in fact The Ultimate Warrior’s plane that Hogan crashed that night in Toronto?
Item one is the “kicking out at three” controversy. Watching it back today, it looks worse than it ever has done, to me. Hogan misses a leg drop, Warrior comes back off the ropes with the splash, and as the referee’s hand comes down for three, Hulkster clearly and obviously kicks out a fraction too late. Although the new champion technically wins clean, the shine is taken off that victory through the inference that Hogan was only beaten because he mistimed a kick out. It looks like a lucky break for The Ultimate Warrior, and even Jesse Ventura on commentary sounds unsure as to what has just happened. The second piece of evidence suggesting that Warrior’s moment was comprehensively tarnished is the aftermath of the match, when his celebrations are infringed upon by The Hulkster’s histrionics, pacing about the ring and pointing to the sky at the God who let him down. Hogan then steps out of the ring, with a hang dog expression etched on his face, collects the WWF Title from Finkel and walks into the ring with it hanging over his shoulder. Hogan thus symbolically aligns himself as the rightful champion still. Walking into the ring, he hands over the belt, shakes his opponent’s hand and the two embrace. Now, you tell me, whose moment was that, Warrior’s or Hogan’s? I’ve mentioned before that Wrestlemania VI was the first one I ever watched, and at the time, I was too young to recognise it. I thought it was a pretty cool piece of sportsmanship. But six years later at Wrestlemania XII, Shawn Michaels muttered to Earl Hebner of Bret Hart “get him out of the fucking ring” and you know what? Even Bret says that Shawn was right to remind Hebner to do that. A new babyface champion should have the spotlight all to himself. Hogan made damn sure that wouldn’t be the case with The Ultimate Warrior.
Whatever might have been going on backstage and whatever might have happened over the next few years, a period of time where it became clear that Vince’s patented model for drawing crowds was falling perilously out of date, Wrestlemania VI was an amazing occasion, a truly massive event that is justly remembered as one of the great pageants of sports entertainment history. At its centre though was a fascinating spectacle that determined a great deal of what was to follow, for both men in the ring, and for Vince McMahon’s chosen method of storytelling. Join me tomorrow, when we’ll be talking about America…
To be honest, I think Hogan kicking out of Warrior's splash "late" might or might not be Hogan's idea. By keeping Hogan "strong" in defeat, maybe Vince wanted 2 mega heroes at the top of the food chain. The super hero act continues today with John Cena looking impossible to defeat.
And Jacob wrestled with God.
JWG- I'm not so sure about that. It's pretty clear from all the sources that I have read that Vince intended Warrior to be "the guy". He felt Hogan was becoming too powerful and influential, and he feared being held hostage. Hogan is maybe one of few guys who have matched Vince as a politician over the years, and it's pretty clear to me that he did everything he could to make the fans remember him and not Warrior. The fact Hogan was back as "the guy" a year later probably tells you everything you need to know. As for Cena, he's toned down the superman crap since The Miz programme in 2011. He's actually doing a fair few jobs nowadays and elevating talent when he wins in a way he never used to. Probably unfair on Cena to compare him to Hogan in that regard.
Wrestlemania VII: America F-Yeah?
In the Autumn of 1990, with tensions brewing in the Persian Gulf, Vince McMahon decided to roll the dice on a controversial storyline. It wasn’t the first time that wrestling had used political or cultural trends to make a buck and cause a stir, but it was the first truly high profile example since the WWF’s elevation to pop culture phenomenon. The posturing of the Iraqis over Kuwait led Vince to pick up the phone and call Sergeant Slaughter. “Sarge?” he is alleged to have said simply “It’s Vince.” Slaughter didn’t have which Vince it was. Through the late 70s and early 80s, Sarge was the prototypical All-American babyface who fought for the honour of Old Glory. He’d been semi-retired since the mid-80s but now McMahon pitched him a storyline: to come back as an Iraqi sympathiser and garner mega heel heat.
At first, Slaughter’s new gimmick caught on in exactly the way McMahon wanted. Listening to the heat he got at Survivor Series ’90, where Sarge performed admirably, in the ring and on the stick, all seemed to be proceeding to plan. McMahon even booked the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in anticipation of setting an attendance record of 100,000 paying spectators. However, following the Rumble, where Slaughter dethroned the Warrior after interference from the Macho King, WWF had huge trouble selling the tickets available and downgraded to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, which held a mere 16,000. The Fed tried to spin this as being due to bomb threats and various nebulous “security concerns” but this was widely sneered at by commentators even at the time. The truth, as Bret Hart points out in his autobiography, was that the Gulf War was over quickly and any heat from the Iraq vs. USA angle had largely dissipated by the time Hogan and Slaughter locked up at Wrestlemania.
Vince had built his company on the back of an All-American hero, and Hogan had birthed Hulkamania by defeating the Iron Sheik, an ethnic Iranian whose own gimmick had played off the Carter Administration’s Iranian Hostage Crisis. The triumph of Hulkamania was also the triumph of America. Throughout The Hulkster’s reign as top dog, the Stars and Stripes was never far from his hand, if not always literally, than certainly figuratively. However, the 1980s Reagan patriotism that took Hogan to the summit of the mountain was waning. Vince McMahon did not realise this for a long time, indeed, despite the relative failure of the Wrestlemania angle, he booked a tag match involving Slaughter and his stable against Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior (weirdly, as a kid, I remember being pumped for that bout!) which was infamous for Warrior holding Vince to ransom for more money and for Slaughter and Hogan offering to take care of the matter physically for McMahon.
In the years after Hulk left the company, Vincent K. McMahon consistently tried to make currency from pro-USA wrestlers and evil foreigners, with very limited success. Lex Luger was saddled with the All American gimmick in a programme with the “Japanese” Yokozuna, whilst The Patriot, Del Wilkes, was brought in for the Border Wars angle between The Hart Foundation and the rest of the Federation, again with little impact, even though the actual angle was as hot as you like. The thing was, the reason Bret Hart succeeded with an Anti-American gimmick was because it was far more real. What the Attitude Era did was to actually take plausible shoot happenings and work them into storylines. The truth was that Canada did have better healthcare, better living standards and better gun controls than the US. That was why it worked; Hart was shooting on real problems in American society. The problem was that the “heroic” American cartoon represented by The Patriot had no place in the modern product. The “new” hero was actually Austin, who represented a new set of wish fulfilment in every day Americans in that he stunned people first and asked questions later, did what he wanted and told the boss to go screw himself. When McMahon finally realised that 90s audiences wanted something different from a top babyface, Austin was pushed to the moon and made him a tonne of cash.
Therefore, Wrestlemania VII’s main event stands in history as the moment where Vince McMahon’s vision of what wrestling could be began to crack. The formula he had exploited so well was losing its potency, and though it would take him a while to realise this, it had profound impacts on the product later down the line. Interestingly though, I’ll leave you today with the idea that all ideas in wrestling are recycled, so it was that come 2006, John Cena was playing a marine, wearing cut off camo and dog tags, and saluting at the camera. By 2011, he was announcing the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death to an arena full of wrestling fans. I guess that for as long as Vince is alive, there will always be some measure of “America F-Yeah!” about WWE, even if the commercial potential of such storylines waxes and wanes.
Hi Maverick. I've caught up on my reading. I had the chance to read 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 now. On 3, I wish you would've made more mention of Hogan Vs Andre, and Savage Vs Steamboat, but your topic went well. On 4, I'll just say as a fan I'll take The Road Warriors over Demolition any day, even with Crush added to Demolition. Good match choice for 4 though. On 5, an excellent match choice again. I disagree with Savage carrying Hogan. I thought that it was the other way around. That feud between Rude and Warrior was great, so was the match, and you featured it.
It looked like booking wise it went Andre gets the main attraction on Mania 1. Hogan gets it at Mania 2. Andre and Hogan both get featured at Mania 3. Then teased at Mania 4, but we're introduced to Million Dollar Man and Macho Man in the main event. Savage emerges as a main eventer and WWF Champion. Now that Savage is created as a main eventer, someone for Hogan to go against in Mania 5. All while they create The Ultimate Warrior as the next big guy for Mania 6.
I would've went Andre goes into Mania 4 champ. Hogan puts over Andre. Million Dollar Man buys the belt from Andre after Mania. Million Dollar Man and Savage meet at Mania 5. Savage goes over. Setting up the first Mania 3 way for the WWF Title. Savage as WWF Champ vs Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior as IC Champ. Hogan goes over at Mania 6. Hogan drops the belt at Royal Rumble the next year to Savage. Savage as WWF Champ Vs Warrior at Mania 7. No retirement match bull. Warrior finally goes over.
As for your Mania 6 column, I think Vince and Hogan were going for the 1990 controversy, or shock the world shocker type of ending there. Something to keep people talking about the Mania finish. I don't think they knew they'd get people talking about it in 2014 though. I can remember a couple of people kicking out at Mania and other big pay-per-views though. Big John Studd, Earthquake, The Giant in WCW, Hogan at Mania 6. Sometimes it was done to show their love for the title, and their desire to compete like it was a sport back in those days.
The Mania 6 ending, I think it was fitting. Hogan handed over the keys to the "space ship" to Warrior. Poor Warrior didn't know what to do with the keys, far more, how to drive the WWF space ship for Vince McMahon. I've heard interviews from Hogan. He said he wanted to put Warrior over. He wanted Warrior to become a bigger star than him. He just wanted to be the guy to do it, so the fans would remember who "the guy" was before the Warrior became an even bigger star. Much like Andre did for him. Hogan wanted to put Andre over after Mania 3 as a thank you to the old big star. Hogan expected Warrior to put him back over at Mania 7. Both of those didn't get to happen.
Mania 7, I enjoyed seeing it happen during the time period as a patriot to my country. Other than that, you got it right in your column. Mania 7 had a terrible main event. Slaughter and Hogan were fouling that ring up. I would've liked an Iron Sheik return, with Sheik going over Hogan to pay back the birth of Hulkamania rub, if they were going to reach out for old legends. That would've stirred controversy for the rematch. Like I mentioned earlier, it should've been Savage WWF Champ vs Warrior. Warrior finally goes over in 1991, not 1990.
Thanks for the columns. I'm predicting a "Rowdy" Roddy Piper Vs Bret Hart IC Title Match as Mania 8's featured match you'll write about. Please include that Mania 8 featured 2 Main Events for the first time in Mania history. Can't wait for the next one.
Last edited by CreativeWriter; 03-07-2014 at 09:04 AM.
The Underage Pessimist
'Mania VI: I've always seen the ending of the event as a great moment. Even though I saw it as such a later date, the image still remains somewhat iconic. I hated that late kickout, but I always believed that it was done for the purpose of another greatly built match. The follow up to Warrior's reign, I believe, had more to do with Warrior's failure rather than that ending.
'Mania VII: Holy shit, that was a cheesy story or what! I just laugh at the fact that the war ended so soon, thus rendering the match worthless! Poor Muhammad Hassan. Cena would have had a field day with him!
I loved Hassan. There was so much truth in what he was saying, and I always think heels are at their best when they're simply telling the truth. Even today we're still seeing the America vs The World sort of storylines - if they're not building Rusev up to finally be beaten by an all American hero, I'll eat my shoe.
Curious point on this being the point in time where Vince's masterplan cracked, Mav. While I agree that this particular point in time was a failure, I think you equally show that there has been legs in the old dog yet. Perhaps the secret was that Vince had simply run this angle, or similar angles to this, a little too much by this point in time, although that's something I cannot support as my memory of this is pretty non-existent and I've not really got that in touch with the history of this period. Still, fascinating stuff so far - looking forward to VIII!
As a guy who lives 15 minutes from the border and Windsor, Ontario...Canada definitely doesn't than the US. Some people from here try to go to Canada to get prescription drugs (which have been priced artificially low through government negotiation) but a far larger stream of health care patients come over here for surgery, mostly because of doctor availability.
CreativeWriter- You did well to catch up with so much! Some interesting fantasy booking ideas there; I don't think I would change anything between 'Manias III and VI in terms of who faced who, but I would certainly, if I could, have averted Hogan's grotesque piece of egotism. When I was a kid I probably read it as Hogan putting Warrior over as the next guy, bit nowadays it comes off quite differently. He should have allowed the new champ some space. As for 'Mania VII, it was just out of step with the development of 90s culture. I don't think Sheik being the foreign challenger would have helped, either. He was in Slaughter's camp under the Colonel Mustafa gimmick, and he had lost a lot in the ring, as we saw at Summerslam '91. Today's entry...well, you will see what I've picked later!
Sub- Have another look at it, is my advice. Hogan completely steals Warrior's spotlight. In the eyes of a lot of fans, it made it look like Hogan was still the guy. Subsequently, his programme with Earthquake stole Warrior's thunder too. No doubt that Warrior was a terrible person, but his title reign should have worked out better, and I do lay that at Hogan's door.
Oli- I REALLY hope they don't do that to Rusev. He's way too good to be wasted like that. He needs to just shoot on people and beat them the fuck up. His Eastern European-ness should just be in his look. Just book him as wrestling machine era Kurt Angle, would be my wish. I think you misunderstood what I meant by Vince's vision cracking. I don't mean he was finished with no ideas ever again at all. What I meant was that Wrestlemania VII was the beginning of the doldrums that lasted until Austin/Hart at Wrestlemania XIII. Vince continually went back to the bag if tricks that had worked in the 1980s, but 90s audiences wanted no part of cartoon 'employment' gimmicks, patriotic gumph or daft storylines like Faker Taker. It took him a long time to put his finger back on the pulse and it almost cost him his business.
MI Fan- Have you seen Michael Moore's documentary 'Sicko'? I think that probably told me all I needed to know about US healthcare. I'd rather have a queue for a free doctor than pay to see one quicker, myself. Anyway, Bret was shooting in '97, before Obama-Care or anything like that. Still, as a Brit I do still find it bizarre that if I were run over by a car while on holiday in the States I could wake up in hospital with a $20,000 medical bill. Over here, you would be treated by the NHS free of charge.
THANKS ALL FOR THE READ AND FEED!
WEEK 2 WILL START IN A NEW THREAD AROUND 11PM GMT WITH WRESTLEMANIA VIII.
Last edited by Maverick; 03-10-2014 at 05:50 PM.