TheBigBoot’s Top Ten WrestleMania Opening Matches Of All Time

3. The Rockers (Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty) vs The Barbarian & Haku (w/ Bobby Heenan), WrestleMania VI


The Hype

Gorilla Monsoon (as Hulk Hogan grabbed an American flag having just won the WWF Title from ‘Iraqi Sympathizer’ Sgt Slaughter): “And put it all to rest, the war is now officially over.”

WrestleMania VII is remembered for many things.

The Gulf War angle that led to the above result, the classic ‘Career Ending’ Match I mentioned in my introduction, the start of The Undertaker’s legendary Undefeated Streak (now at an incredible 20-0) began with a win over WWE Hall of Famer ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, Jake Roberts and Rick Martel going at it in a Blindfold match, Virgil finally taking on Ted DiBiase, the The Hart Foundation’ last hurrah (losing the Tag Team Titles to Nasty Boys). That wasn’t the only tag team match on the card.

The opener was a fast-paced tag match between The Rockers and the future Faces of Fear, who were at this time members of The Bobby Heenan Family.

Heading into the event, this was one of the matches I was most looking forward to.

Growing up, The Rockers were my favourite tag team. When I became a fulltime fan in ’88 they were one of the first ‘new’ acts I saw (I had no idea they had had that cup of coffee there the previous year until many years later) and I liked them right away. When they first showed up they were like nothing I had ever seen before in terms of the speed running to the ring, the fast teamwork and the fact they seemed to come up with new moves every time I saw them. It never looked ‘scripted’ either because they would vary up their moves depending on the size/weight/ability of their opponents and the way they hit them just made it look like they were very good at sneaking in a quick team move rather than setting up a choreographed display. To this day, I think there are little touches in their matches that other teams haven’t matched in terms of coordination. Even the way they left the ring was fantastic. On the playground my friend Sean would be Shawn Michaels, and I was the Jannetty of the team. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Now as a kid I think the reason I preferred Marty was simply down to having the same hair colour but the truth is to this day I definitely still rate Jannetty over Michaels during their time teaming. Even though I did like both and Michaels was an okay Ricky Morton stand-in, it was the hot tags to Jannetty and his explosive comebacks that made the team at the time.

This was to be The Rockers final Mania outing since they would split up that December when Shawn Michaels threw Jannetty through the window of Brutus Beefcake’s Barber Shop. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Rockers were the perfect opening match act. Perhaps the best in PPV era wrestling history.

Hard to imagine as it must be for younger fans, this was the era when ‘The Big Four’ were WWF’s only pay-per-views. This was the second PPV of the year and Michaels and Jannetty had also kicked off the prior one, Royal Rumble, taking on The Orient Express (Tanaka and Kato version) in what is for my money one of the top five straight-up/non-gimmick tag team matches in company history.

In-ring no other team could touch them at this point. For a change, they were actually winning matches as well. Yes, in early 1991 they were on quite the roll and seemed to be heading for the Tag Team Titles.

Over the years they had developed their act to the stage where they could produce good matches against any team you stuck them in the ring against.

Their opponents were no slouches.

Babarian and Haku are one of the most underrated teams ever, IMO as they always seemed to work well together especially later on as The Faces of Fear in WCW. It wasn’t just a random team here either as in the build-up to this event, I remember them working a bunch of squash matches together and looking really solid.

One year previously Haku lost the WWF Tag Team Titles in a match where it was worked like a handicap match. Meanwhile. Barbarian had shown his chemistry with The Rockers in their underrated classic versus The Powers of Pain (The Barbarian and The Warlord) in January 1990.

As far as actual feuds go, there wasn’t much to write home about. In the build-up, ‘The Brain’ predicted this match “wouldn’t last a minute.” Given the way The Rockers were treated at times. There was a chance that could prove true.

Speaking of Heenan, this was the point in time when he was juggling colour announcing and managing, being the stand out best in both fields. At WrestleMania VII, he did both.

Yes, the great Bobby Heenan is ringside for the opener in a suitably showbiz glittery black jacket (I want one like it!!!). Since ‘The Brain’ is busy, his usual broadcast partner Gorilla Monsoon has ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan fill in as guest commentator for this match (Lord Alfred Hayes would do the same later in the night, when Heenan was managing Mr Perfect in his Intercontinental Title defense against The Big Bossman). One thing I’ll give to Duggan is that he was enthusiastic.

The Match

We start with Michaels and Haku. Shawn ducks and weaves but gets caught on a leapfrog attempt in a bearhug and Haku rams him into the turnbuckles. Michaels floats out of an over-the-shoulder powerslam (with Davey Boy Smith on the same card later that night why was Haku even teasing that move?) and a cool criss-cross spot ends in Michaels flying shoulder tackle which puts Cena’s version to shame takes Tongan down.

In one of many double-team highlights, Michaels ducks a big chop, tags Jannetty and the self-proclaimed ‘Tag Team Specialists’ take down Haku with  double-hiptoss into a double-elbowdrop into a double-kip-up (all in one motion) right into Barbarian clothesline which they both sell with a complete flip. You don’t see that often, even today.

The heel advantage is fleeting: Haku tries his luck with a double-clothesline attempt of his and they both duck and hit double-superkicks to the chest, Barb tries one again and they repeat the perfectly timed double-duck and double-superkick spot catching him on the chin and sending the heels reeling to regroup at ringside with ‘The Brain’.

That brings us to Barbarian versus Jannetty. Barb dominates with striking. Like Michaels before him, Jannetty has to rely on avoidance spots and leverage moves. At one point Marty goes for sunset flip but doesn’t have the muscle mass or body weight to take him down. What he does have is quickness and he shows this by niftily rolling out of the way leading to Barbarian punching the mat, following which Jannetty hits cool assisted ‘rana with Michaels dropkicking Barbarian in the back to provide the needed momentum to take him over.

Barbarian regains control with a headbutt. Jannetty goes for a ‘rana on Haku but this time the referee stops Michaels from coming in (quite right, too) and, in a cool revenge spot that allows the future Faces of Fear show off their double-team moves, Haku hits a hotshot with Barb delivering a Randy Savage hair-pull hangman rope-drop spot in a much cooler version of World’s Greatest Tag Team’s leapfrog spot, if only because it’s The Faces of Fear doing it. Barb hits an impressive Gorilla press slam (which Gorilla, on commentary, calls a “powerslam”). Jannetty and Haku collide mid-ring with dueling-cross-bodyblocks.

Haku goes after Jannetty’s back and hits a hard Irish whip into the turnbuckles (powerhouses like Haku were always great at making the simple things look like they hurt) and a nice repeated backbreaker spot (think the Three Amigos only with a backbreaker in it’s place). Marty’s selling here is great. Bobby Heenan tells them finish it and Barbarian promptly misses a diving headbutt from the top rope.

Double-hot tag and Michaels comes in with the Southern white-meat babyface comeback house-of-fire punches and Jannetty-style twisting back elbow and swinging neckbreaker to Haku. In a nice revenge spot, Michaels goes for a sunset flip on Haku only to find that much like Jannetty earlier he isn’t strong enough to muscle him over but The Rockers have learned from the experience and Marty delivers a clothesline giving Shawn the necessary momentum. Barbarian breaks up the cover.

All four men in the ring signals the finishing sequence as The Rockers take out Barb with a double-dropkick, Haku with a double-clothesline setting up the finish as both Rockers go up top as if for the simultaneous double-missile dropkick off opposite turnbuckles spot they used against The Big Bossman and Akeem at WrestleMania V, but here Jannetty hits a missile dropkick to Haku and then Michaels follows up with a crossbody off another turnbuckle just as he stands up for the 1-2-3.

TheBigBoot’s Post-Match Analysis: So, having grown up a Rockers mark how does this match stand up in my early thirties? Very well.

This was a really good opener and one of the better tag team matches in WrestleMania history. The Triangle Ladder (WrestleMania 2000) and TLC (WrestleMania X7) matches may have been better but in terms of straight, no-gimmick, traditional tag team wrestling matches at WrestleMania I don’t think there was one better.

The Rockers were on top form, using their speed to make up for their lack of size against two monsters with the fast-paced double-teaming. Not quite up to the standard of their classic against The Orient Express at that year’s Royal Rumble, this was nonetheless another example of just what an exciting team they were.

This match also dispelled the myth that the future HBK was always booked as the Ricky Morton of the team, taking the beatings and playing Face In Peril  before making the hot tag to Marty. Here is was Marty who adopted the ‘FIP’ position (a role he also played in the MSG match with The Powers of Pain, I mentioned earlier) and the bout didn’t suffer from it one iota.

On the other side, The future Faces of Fear show good chemistry together, considering they hadn’t teamed that often at this point. This was the second year running that a massive Haku found himself as the ‘smaller man’ on a Bobby Heenan managed team and it is a role he does surprisingly well.

Heenan shows from the way he works ringside why he is almost universally regarded the greatest manager of the modern era always giving advice (early on he tells his men to get one of The Rockers on their side of the ring so they can slow them down).

The smooth teamwork from the babyfaces is in stark contrast to the raw power from the heels. Everyone understood their part and played their roles well. My favorite bit is probably The Barbarian’s big clothesline to both Rockers which really emphasised the size difference here.

One-on-one you get the impression Haku or Barb could kill either Rocker without breaking a sweat. So the story of the match is two legit heavyweights asskickers trying to catch Jannetty or Michaels so they can wear them down, whilst The Rockers are smart enough to rely their speed and teamwork to their advantage and avoid getting squashed.

There are some really nice exchanges here and everything builds neatly to the finish. In the end quickness won over power and it was The Rockers’ superior team work that was the deciding factor.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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