After 29 Wrestlemania’s it is natural Vince McMahon would get a few wrong but in terms of completely mis-reading his audience Wrestlemania 7 takes some beating.
WWE booked Sgt. Slaughter (for years a proud American) to pledge allegiance to Saddam Hussain and Iraq and compete against Hulk Hogan, WWEs proud American hero. The only problem is, this storyline was introduced as the USA were at war with Iraq in the Gulf War. While there are many examples of WWE living it its own bubble, the insensitivity to it’s audience was astonishing. WWE were exploiting the war as Americans were coming home injured or dead. This was the only reason for WWE having to move the event to the 20,000 indoor arena, scrapping original plans to sell out the 70, 000+ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Remember a year ago WWE had been able to sell out 60,000 in Toronto, the storyline was just too close to home for audiences and someone in WWE should have had the gumption or guts to tell Vine McMahon to pull the plug.
Not that this was a bad Wrestlemania, indeed Ultimate Warrior for the second year running would have the best match on the card, again not bad for a man who attracts so much criticism. This time against Macho Man Randy Savage, the two men told an incredible story, helped by the loser leaves WWE stipulation. In the kayfabe era, minus magazines and the internet, this was an era where wrestling fans took such stipulations seriously. Underneath Hulk Hogan, Warrior and Savage had been two of WWE’s biggest stars for the last couple of years, one of them suddenly not being around was unthinkable to the audience.
There were so many believable near falls, the fans gasping at each near fall, at one point it seemed that the Warrior was for the first time doubting himself, questioning the heavens above before finally retiring Macho Man (at least for a while).
Fans were already exhausted by the drama but more was to come. Sensational Sherri turned on Savage which prompted the return of Miss Elizabeth. In one of the most emotional images in Wrestlemania history Elizabeth (Savages former real life wife) reunited with Savage in an embrace to give Macho Man a fairytale farewell. Watching it back is even more special when you consider that Savage and Elizabeth are no longer with us.
Wrestlemania 8 will always be referred to as the one that got away. Accepted as the dominant promotion, there was one thing WWE lacked, the heritage to appeal to the old school wrestling fans. Indeed many hardcore fans still saw the NWA championship as the most prestigious title, proudly held by Ric Flair.
For many wrestling fans it was a dream match, what would happen if Hulk Hogan ever faced Ric Flair? It was a dream match simply because many assumed it would never happen, such was Flair’s loyalty to the NWA and Jim Crocket. But a creative dispute in the Bill Watts era saw Flair leave WCW, taking his title with him all the way to Vince McMahon.
It seemed an obvious Wrestlemania main event, with WWE even announcing it as such on television. However this was later changed to a double main event, Flair would now defend the title against Macho Man Randy Savage while Hulk would face the suddenly jealous Sid Justice. While Savage and Flair was always going to (and did) be a better match then Hogan would of managed it was no where near the box office attraction Hogan vs Flair would have been. So what changed?
Officially the line from WWE has always been that Hogan and Flair encounters at house shows did not have the financial success they assumed it would. In reality it would appear egos got in the way. While Flair would happily lay down for Hogan countless times in WCW years later, this was when the ‘Nature Boy’ was in his prime, in his own mind (and in the mind of many others). There is every chance that Flair was as egotistical as Hogan was back then and that neither man wanted to do the favour, in the need to protect their spot as the face of wrestling (it’s worth considering their house show matches they normally ended in double count out/disqualification draws).
Historically it would be the first single matches a certain Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels would have at Mania, the typical emotional moment was provided by Savage’s outstanding title win over Flair (Savage’s selling was so realistic), while the Ultimate Warriors return gave the unexpected surprise that every Mania should have.
But none of that could of toppled what could have happened if WWE had stuck to their guns and given the fans the dream match.
While WWF artistically went to town with their Cesar Palace theme, this for me is a contender for the worst Wrestlemania of all time. WWE seemed to be in a flux, not knowing what direction to go to, stick with the same or try something new? This is perhaps best highlighted by the fact that two of the three title matches went to draws, insulting in any pay per view let alone the biggest one of them all.
To be fair to Vince McMahon, no matter how much he wanted to, this was perhaps the first time he couldn’t properly give his creation his full time and energy and it showed. Vince McMahon had just come off the back of a major trial where the government tried to prove that WWE encouraged their talent to take steroids to help the company make more money. While this could not be proven in court the fallout for the company was huge. Whether he felt he had to for political reasons or not Vince sacked or suspended most superstars who had boasted superman like physiques. It didn’t seem a coincidence that Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels (both considered small in the world of wrestling) were out of nowhere given the WWE World title and Intercontinental straps.
Hart in particular was a complete opposite to Hulk Hogan. Where Hulk was about the look and character, Hart was old school, all about wrestling and the time honoured traditions that his father had brought him and his brothers up with. WWE certainly seemed to be going in another direction, until Hogan returned to the fold.
It was a shock when Yokozuna (another welcome new face) beat Hart thanks to Mr Fugi but it was only to set up the latest Hulk Hogan Wrestlemania moment. Yokozuna challenged Hulk who of course did what Hart couldn’t do in seconds, beat Yoko, 123. It gave Wrestlemannia shock value and can be remembered for the first and only time the title changed hands twice in one Wrestlemania. However while Hogan will always have his Hulkamaniacs this did not garner the same reaction as previous Hogan triumphs, fans had seen it all before, they wanted something new.
The fact the best match on the card was the opening contest between Shawn Michael’s vs Tatanka, which ended in a count out says it all.
If Wrestlemania 9 achieved nothing else at least it firmly made Vince McMahon’s mind up for him. He was going to make his product fresher, younger, a new generation if you will.
WWE immediately corrected their wrongs from Wrestlemania 9 by having Hogan lose the belt back to Yokozuna at the King of the Ring pay per view.
This was my first Wrestlemnia as a child and I remember the special prestige it has (if it needed any more) because it was the 10th anniversary. Fittingly it was set where it was born, in Madison Square Garden, the same sentiment would be used for the events 20th landmark also.
Looking back I couldn’t have picked a better Wrestlemania to be my first as this had something different. There was a determination from McMahon to force home the idea of a new horizon for WWE, because of this drive Mania had something for everyone.
Owen and Bret had the best opening match to any Wrestlemania. Given the time, the two brothers were allowed to have a pure wrestling match that any old school fan would have been proud of, as well as a shout out to Stampede wrestling and more importantly it’s promoter, their father Stu Hart. It would be a sign of Bret’s upcoming title reign, putting on twenty minute pure wrestling matches, not the norm in the still cartoon world of WWE. Unlike Hogan, the Hitman’s selling point was the actual art of wrestling.
It also changed Owen from the jealous little brother to showing the world for the first time how talented he was in the ring. It would turn out to be Owen Hart’s most famous victory. Of course Bret was more than willing to put over his sibling cleanly.
Even little things like the Falls Count Anywhere match between Macho Man and Crush were unique, the first time the WWE would show action backstage like this.
Most revolutionary of course was the Ladder match, the first and not the last time Shawn Michaels would steal the show. While the rules were simple to follow, no one quite knew what to expect and certainly no one would have envisaged the risks Michaels and Razor Ramon would take or just how much the ladder would be used as a weapon. Since then there have arguably been better ladder matches but this was 1994, a moonsault was considered an outrageous move! Michaels and Scott Hall were acting out something never seen before in the wrestling world and because of that this Ladder match and event will always be famous.
The night ended with Bret Hart winning his second WWF World title. Unbeknown to him, Vince (then just an announcer to the viewers) and several babyfaces came into the ring and hoisted the new champ on their shoulders. The message was clear, McMahon was righting the wrongs from the year previously, this was his man and his new face of WWE, ladies and gentleman, the new generation had begun.
After the thrill of Wrestlemania 10 it’s hard to believe just how bad it would be one year later. Even from a technical standpoint there were frequent problems with audio sound throughout the night.
With Bret Hart and Undertaker only just returning from time off and Diesel and Shawn Michaels the only new headline faces a lack of talent may have been the reason why Vince McMahon chose to go back down the celebrity route. Participation from Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy made sure this Wrestlemania got it’s fair share of mainstream publicity but in the ring none of the matches were above average.
Obviously Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigalow caught the fans attention in America because of his football connections but as a resident in the UK it was hard to get emotionally involved. Taylor to his credit took his main event spot very seriously compared to other celebs. He wasn’t just there slightly embarrassed of the product but happy to take his pay cheque for five mins work, he trained hard for his match and religiously rehearsed with the Beast from the East to produce a solid match, which to be fair is all you can ask from a celebrity.
It did however take something away from the Shawn Michaels / Diesel match for the WWE title, you know what was meant to the most important thing to the company. Not being on last meant the title didn’t feel special, which is a good way to sum up the whole show.
The most entertaining part of this event was playing chess with Bob Backlund and I’m not joking.
Any true Shawn Michaels fan will always hold Wrestlemania 12 close to their hearts as it was the night the boyhood dream came true. Like many I consider HBK to be the greatest of his profession. You can give many reasons for this but the most important gift he possessed was his ability to make things as real as possible. Maybe because at the time he in reality was in an angry place, there was never a lot of difference between the man in real life and the character he played.
On this night there certainly was no character, yes the match was choreographed, yes wrestling’s fake but on this night every last bit of Shawn Michel’s celebration was real. We really were watching someone’s boyhood dream came true, someone who was written off, who had made mistakes, who had failed but who always kept trying. What human being can’t relate to that story?
It was Pat Paterson’s idea for the Iron Man Match concept, with wrestling an hour cutting down the undercard, making this Wrestlemania have the least matches of any card.
Like Wrestlemania 6 this was what a main event at Wrestlemania should be, the two best and two most popular with a big match atmosphere.
Opinions on this match vary, some think it’s a work of art, others feel with the amount of holds/stalling/resting along with a realisation after an hour that there wasn’t going to be a lot of falls found it slightly tedious. My view is that both told a story which explained and enhanced each others character. That’s why they needed the extra time, to make Michael’s first title reign as dramatic as possible and to help set up the Bret Hart ‘I’ve been screwed’ personality.
Just watching both men’s reaction at the end of the match is sad. Will WWE or the World title ever be that prestigious again?