Big Show becoming grand slam champion, Kane beating the man many see as the second most important wrestler in the company, the World Title changing hands in a squash match, a movie-star beating the biggest wrestler on Earth right now, a black woman with a fake ass pretending to be Brodus Clay’s mother, Mick Foley punching a dead crab…
If you look around for people’s opinions, not many people thing this was a great WrestleMania, but, at the same time, no one’s saying it was the worst. What people do seem to agree on though, was that it was pretty… strange.
So that’s what this article is about; strangeness and weirdness and silliness; those three things that have created just as many iconic moments in WrestleMania history as anything else. So, let’s look at some of the more odd moments in the prestigious history of the greatest show on Earth.
Wrestlemania XV – Brawl For All
Since the early 1990’s, it’s been relatively common knowledge that pro-wrestling isn’t strictly a sport, but is more like a combination between a stunt show, a play and a live-action sports movie. Considering that this didn’t do anything to stop the boom that was the Attitude Era of the WWF in the late 90’s, it was a peculiar moment when, in 1998, at the height of it’s popularity, the WWF announced the inception of the Brawl For All. Unlike traditional pro-wrestling, the Brawl For All was going to be a “shoot fight”.
Shoot fighting had long been popular on the American country-fair circuit, and was a legitimate and popular sport in places like Japan. Roughly speaking, shoot fighting was the father of modern mixed martial arts; an unscripted, genuinely competitive fight fought under the rules of scripted pro-wrestling. In the prestigious NWA, shoot-fighters were often booked as champions due to unscrupulous bookers from various territories often encouraging their fighters to “shoot” on wrestlers from rival territories, thus changing the predetermined results of matches without the NWA’s blessing.
However, by 1998, the days of the NWA shoot-fighters were long gone, and the vast majority of wrestling fans were used to the over the top theatrics of modern superstars, and were (mostly) both knowing, and accepting of the sport’s pre-determined nature. The decision went ahead though, and the Brawl For All was booked as a 32 man tournament, with the winner facing super-heavyweight boxing champion Eric “Butterbean” Esch at Wrestlemania XV.
What followed was once described by Jim Cornette, one of WWF’s bookers at the time, as, “the stupidest thing that the WWF has ever done”.
The competitors were a combination of WWF wrestlers and one legitimate martial artist. Representing the WWF was Steve Blackman, Marc Mero, Henry O Godwinn, Bradshaw, Savio Vega, Droz, Road Warrior Hawk, Bart Gunn, Hardcore Holly, Quebecer Pierre, Dr. Death Steve Williams, The Godfather, Ron Harris and 2 Cold Scorpio. Representing the legitimate martial artists was UFC Hall of Famer and UFC 5 tournament winner Dan Severn.
And so the Brawl For All began.
Things started badly as every fight apart from one in the first round ended with the time limit expiring, followed by a judges decision. The lack of finishes to matches along with the lack of the scripted excitement and pantomime silliness that the fans had paid to see meant that people started turning on the Brawl For All almost instantly, with every fight being met by, at best, silence, and, at worst, loud chants of, “We want wrestling”. It wasn’t until the first round was over, however, that the true ridiculousness began to show through. Despite winning their fights, both Steve Blackman and Road Warrior Hawk were forced to drop out of the tournament due to injury, because that’s what tends to happen when you have a real fight, and ended up missing a series of WWF appearances. Also, the only legitimate fighter in the competition, Dan Severn, despite beating the Godfather, was pulled out of the contest because the UFC had realised that if, by some mad fluke, anyone managed to beat Severn, it would be the death of his legitimacy in the MMA world.
And that was only the first round. Going through to the quarter-finals were Marc Mero (despite not winning the first round), Bradshaw, Savio Vega, Droz (despite not winning the first round), Bart Gunn, Steve Williams, The Godfather (despite not winning the first round) and 2 Cold Scorpio.
The quarterfinals went very much the same way, with a series of slow, confusing, boring time-limit decisions. Apart from one fight. In one of the fights, Bart Gunn, a man who would go on to actually have a real MMA career after wrestling, was able to knock out Steve Williams. This was terrible news for Williams, who had been booked for his entire career as a legitimate tough guy, and had now been knocked clean out by someone no one had really heard of, effectively ending his career, but it was good news for the Brawl For All because it was starting to look like there was a possibility to actually make a star out of this.
And so it would continue, with Bart Gunn knocking out the The Godfather in the semis, and knocking out Bradshaw in the final. Gunn received prize money of $75,000 and prepared for his fight at Wrestlemania XV against Butterbean. Stardom was on the horizon.
It’s important to note that, at this point, the Brawl For All had been responsible for two wrestles suffering long term injuries, four wrestlers being knocked out and thirteen incredibly unentertaining matches. And now it was time for the pay-off, Bart Gunn, a WWF wrestler who’d just knocked out three men in a row with a long career ahead of him, against Eric “Butterbean” Esch, a boxer and kick boxer who was turning up for one appearance and then vanishing from the WWF forever.
I won’t insult you by telling you who won, but it’s important to note that the fight lasted 35 seconds and ended in a knock out. 35 seconds, that’s how long Bart Gunn was a legitimate tough guy in the eyes of the fans of the WWF.
So of course you guessed that Butterbean won, but can you guess whose idea the tournament was in the first place? I’ll give you a clue; it ends in Russo.
Wrestlemania VI – Roddy Piper Blacks Up
The early 1990’s were a weird time for wrestling. The New Generation, made up of guys like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, hadn’t really hit it off, and the Golden Age stars like Hulk Hogan were showing their first hints of over-exposure. One of the main results of this was a scramble to build new stars like the Ultimate Warrior, an understandable reaction to the circumstances. Another result was that the WWF started to go ever so slightly insane, as it was willing to try pretty much anything to see how it got over. Sometimes the results were bad, sometimes they were funny, sometimes they were great and at least one time, they were… uncomfortable.
The year is 1990, and Roddy Piper, already in his mid-30’s even at this point, is in a feud with former American judo Olympic medalist Allen Coage, wrestling under the moniker of Bad News Brown. If you hadn’t guessed from his ring-name, Brown was an African-American gentleman, and so started either the silliest or most mind-blowingly racist moment in Wrestlemania history.
According to Piper himself, in an interview he did with Wrestling News Live, the story goes like this;
Vince McMahon approached Piper to discuss the possibility of a Piper vs. Brown match at Wrestlemania VI. Piper agreed, but, not valuing Brown as much of an in ring talent, he let it be known that the match would require a large amount of promos to help build it up and, for one of these promos, Piper would like to have half of his body painted black as a sign of solidarity with black people around the world. Vince, being Vince and, due to it being 1990, probably being coked out of his mind, said he loved the idea.
It’s important to establish what we mean here by “painted himself black”. You may be thinking that he painted himself a shade of brown, or simple put on a large amount of fake tan. Oh no, he painted himself BLACK, as in the actual color, and, in true Al Jolson style, complimented the look by painting on white lips and having a giant white circle around his eye, because, as we all know, that’s what black people look like.
But even with all that, Piper didn’t reach “Your Granddad talking to you black friend” levels of awkwardness until he actually got into the ring (he entered doing a black power salute, obviously), half-blacked up, and started, oh yes, doing a little dance. ‘Cos ‘dats what we’s does mass’a. That wasn’t enough though, and Piper launched into a promo listing his, and I’m not exaggerating here, favorite black people from history.
Thankfully, the promo was over before Piper was able to reveal the fried chicken and watermelon buffet he had set up backstage, and the build for the match was over. When the match itself took place in Toronto, Canada Piper again appeared half blacked up, giving a black power salute and doing a “funky” dance.
I should be clear that I don’t think for a second that Piper was intentionally being racist, I just think he was accidentally being extremely thoughtless, a situation that soon became clear when the Toronto audience was polarized between those who were stunned by exactly what the hell was going on and those who were sick of waiting for the Black and White Minstrel Show to come out on DVD and found it hilariously funny to watch Piper effectively lampooning an entire race of people in a crude and failed attempt at promoting racial harmony.
Perhaps as a powerful metaphor for the lasting effects of racism on American society (or perhaps because he thought it was funny), the black dye stained Piper’s body for over a month thanks to a prank pulled by a disapproving Andre the Giant.
WrestleMania XV – The Death of the Big Boss Man
If you’ve been watching the Undertaker at WrestleMania for the past few years, you might be under the impression that the Phenom has been pulling match-of-the-year contenders out of his ass at this time of year for all of history.
Sadly, that’s not the case. There’s been some pretty flat out bad ‘Taker matches at WrestleMania, with his clash against Giant Gonzalez instantly coming to mind, but, as weird as a giant Mexican in a nude body suit is, none of them were quite as weird as what happened at WrestleMania XV.
The year was 1999; the beating heart of the Attitude Era, and all was well in the WWF. The Rock and Steve Austin were heading to one of the most important main events in WrestleMania history with Mankind and the McMahon family in brilliantly written and performed supporting roles. But that wasn’t the only McMahon involvement in WrestleMania that year.
Lower down the card, an awkward heel vs. heel feud had been under way for the past few week in which the Undertaker, leading his faction, the Ministry of Darkness, had been stalking Stephanie McMahon. The angle was played out with ‘Taker very much as the bad guy, harassing the McMahon family, whilst Vince attempted to bravely defend his young children. This would have been fine had Vince not, at the exact same time, been playing a grade-A prick in his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the villainous Mr. McMahon, and had Shane not, at the exact same time, been playing an equally well qualified prick in his feud with X-Pac. The fans were left confused and unengaged, not sure who’s side they were supposed to be on in this battle of two thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic groups; The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness, and Vince McMahon’s Corporation.
The feud was to be decided at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell match between the teddy bear burning Undertaker and the Chihuahua grilling Big Boss Man. Remember, this was 1999, long before WWE’s creative department hurled the Hell in a Cell format over the shark by putting on an estimated 87,000 Hell in a Cell matches in the last three years. Before this match, there had only been four Hell in a Cell matches, and two of those were stone cold classics; The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Bad Blood 1997, and the Undertaker vs. Mankind at King of the Ring 1998.
And so the match began.
And so the match ended; it lasted less than ten minutes, making it the shortest Hell in a Cell match in WWF/WWE pay-per-view history.
Now, that sounds pretty bad, and I said this wasn’t about the bad, it was about the weird and the silly, and the weird silliness was yet to come.
With the match won, the Undertaker summoned forth his minions, a faction known as the Brood, a three-man group that contained future superstars Edge and Christian and future fat porn-actor Gangrel. The three men, who were portraying weird, gothic vampires, probably influenced by the recent success of the film Interview With A Vampire (which was only five years old at the time, making it actually about ten years in the future in Vince McMahon years), descended from the rafters, landing on the top of the cell. They then passed a noose through the ceiling of the cage to the Undertaker, who then put the noose over Boss Man’s neck. ‘Taker then called for the cell to be raised, thus lifting Boss Man with it and effectively lynching him.
Now that’s pretty silly, but Boss Man wasn’t just raised kicking and gasping into the rafters, oh no, he died. He kicked and gasped and wriggled, and then he died. You can probably tell by my flippancy here that he didn’t actually die, but he DID pretend to die, in the middle of WrestleMania, doing a silly “I’m dead” face (Don’t Google Image search “Big Boss Man Hung” like I just did, seriously).
Of course, we now, sadly, live in a time when the Boss Man really isn’t with us, so the whole pretending to die angle somehow seems less fun, but, I think if the Big Boss Man would like us to remember him, I think he’d like us to remember that once, he wrestled the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, and he did a pretty impressive hanging stunt, and he did a silly face, and we loved him for it.
WrestleMania VII – Blindfold Match
Every now and then I really, really question myself. There are a few things in the world I can find absolutely no redeeming qualities in what so ever, and yet they keep happening, apparently for the sake of entertainment. It makes me wonder if I’m fundamentally missing something, and then I talk to people, and they agree with me, and so I end up going insane meticulously hunting down someone, anyone, who thinks the thing I’m describing is, in any way, a good idea.
Anyway, blindfold matches.
I’m going to be honest here, I don’t actually know the build up to this match, and, frankly, I’m not going to be looking it up, because I just had to watch this thing, and it’s just too ridiculous for me to want to waste my brain with any more information about it.
The blindfold match in question was a brawl between Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Rick “The Model” Martel at WrestleMania VII in 1991 (that weird period in wrestling I talked about earlier). Now these were both great, great wrestlers we’re dealing with here, but their ability wasn’t the silly part of this, the silliness was supplied entirely by the match format, in which both men would compete with bags on their heads.
Oh you heard me, bags.
I will now transcribe the entire match; Both men walk around not being able to see, they chase each other around in a circle on their hands and knees, Rick Martel falls over, there’s a bit of punching for about five seconds, they start walking around again, Martel falls over again, they walk around some more, Martel hits a body slam and then falls over, they walk around some more, Martel accidentally touches a snake in a bag and falls over, they walk around, Roberts falls out of the ring, Martel hits the ring with a chair, there’s about 15 seconds of wrestling, they walk around, Roberts hits the DDT and wins. That took almost seven minutes.
Now that sounds bad right? Wrong, it’s 1991, which means the crowd thought it was just about the greatest thing ever. Seriously, watch the video on YouTube, that crowd’s reaction to two men walking around and falling over, if heard in 2012, would probably be in the top five crowd reactions of the entire year. Add possibly the greatest commentary team of all time; Heenan and Monsoon, and a terrible match becomes a silly and, dare I say it, rather fun one.
Pro-wrestling at it’s most pantomime.
Wresltemania XX – Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar vs. The Internet
There are very few things that have had as much influence on wrestling as the mainstream dawn of the Internet in the early 2000’s. From the meteoric rise of the dirt-sheets, to the pedantic over-thinking of forums, the secrecy of “the business” was dead as soon as most wrestling fans had an Internet connection in their homes. And its first two big victims were Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.
I said big, and they really couldn’t have come much bigger. Bill Goldberg was perhaps the one single thing WCW had even done right from a talent-scouting standpoint, and, in the late 1990’s, his only equal in terms of popularity was Stone Cold Steve Austin himself. In the other corner was the man many had deemed to be the future of professional wrestling personified; Brock Lesnar, a man with a star look if there ever was one. One of the biggest stars of the 90’s vs. one of the biggest stars of the 00’s, what could go wrong?
Then the Internet got involved.
Although the WWE attempted to keep it to themselves, the information had leaked that both Lesnar and Goldberg intended to leave WWE within the coming weeks. This wasn’t part of any storyline and it was never openly referenced on WWE programming, it was a corporate secret.
And EVERYBODY found out about it.
Things weren’t helped by WrestleMania XX’s location, New York City, New York. If there was ever a crowd that was reading all the insider gossip, it was this one. Along with fans from Chicago and Toronto, New Yorkers are notorious, perhaps even infamous for their abject refusal to play along with wrestling-promotion’s expectations of how fans should react to things. The city’s reputation for being contrary eventually reached such levels that WWE based at entire series of pay-per-views around it; ECW’s One Night Stand, in which the fact that the native New Yorkers ripped apart anything and everything they took a disliking too, irrespective of how it was presented on television, was actually used as part of the storyline.
And so, given this attitude, it’s not surprising that the New York fans turned on this match almost instantly, booing absolutely everything that happened, ignoring the match, and amusing themselves by singing dismissive songs. Goldberg won, not that anyone would remember, because his win was met with total hostility. As the chants of “Hey, hey, goodbye” grew ever louder, the only possible way to salvage the moment was for Stone Cold Steven Austin, the match’s special guest referee, to deliver stunners to both men, a goodbye from WWE that seemed almost merciful compared to the fourth-wall-breaking brutality of Manhattan’s finest.
And that’s perhaps the best place to end the list, with talk of Brock Lesnar, a man who, despite his unceremonious departure, was having his name chanted on RAW this week without so much as a mention. And why? Because of leaked information on the internet of course. The very thing that booed him out of wrestling is the thing that’s cheering him back. What can I say, wrestling’s a strange business.