We all have our favourite WrestleMania matches and we all remember the main-events, the huge grudge matches, the unforgettable ladder matches and most of the title switches, but what about those undercard matches that exceeded all expectation or helped push a wrestler on to greater things?
That’s the focus of this little article as we scan across the decades and pick out the forgotten undercard classic from each of the previous WrestleManias and, for WrestleMania XXX, we make a bold prediction as to which of the undercard bouts will join its brethren.
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
Date: March 31st, 1985
THE MATCH: King Kong Bundy (w/ Jimmy Hart) v S.D. Jones
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Because WrestleMania I was a one-match show.
WHY IT’S GREAT: It put Bundy on the map as a killer monster heel and set up his next 12 months where his run would culminate in a main-event WWF Championship against Hulk Hogan, inside a cage, at WrestleMania II.
Location: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York; Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois; L.A. Sports Arena, Los Angeles California
Date: April 7th, 1986
Attendance: 40,085 (combined from all three venues)
THE MATCH: Jake “The Snake” Roberts v George Wells
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Among the hype of “three cities, three main-events”, the Battle Royal, Hogan v Bundy in a cage and The Bulldogs reaching the summit, this match had little chance to enter the collective memory of wrestling fans.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Jake Roberts makes his WrestleMania debut and most of the fans of the WWF get their first glimpse at the finisher of the era… the DDT.
Location: Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, Michigan
Date: March 29th, 1987
THE MATCH: The Hart Foundation & Danny Davis (w/ Jimmy Hart) v The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Hogan v André and Savage v Steamboat. You’ll be hard pushed to have anyone name another match when asked about WrestleMania III.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This was a fun six-man that extended the great Bulldogs / Harts rivalry and had a well-worked finish.
Location: Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Date: March 27th, 1988
THE MATCH: 20-Man Battle Royal
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: There was a little tournament going on at the time.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The match itself was a really good Battle Royal, but it’s the closing moments that clinch the spot on the list. Bret Hart and Bad News Brown work together as heels to eliminate the good guys and are going to share the money… until Bad News blasts Bret with the Ghettoblaster and dumps him over the top. Hart returns, turns face and destroys the trophy. Hmmm… Bret Hart being a sore loser. Whodathunkit?
Location: Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Date: April 2nd, 1989
THE MATCH: The Brain Busters (w/ Bobby Heenan) v Strike Force
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: THE MEGA-POWERS COLLIDE!!! All eyes were on Savage and Hogan.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The Brain Busters (Tully & Arn) were one of the best in-ring teams of the era and Strike Force was an underrated commodity who was having some trouble. The action was great tag-team wrestling and the finish broke up Strike Force, giving us a heel Rick Martel and saw Tito blasted with a spike piledriver; a move so devastating, The New Age Outlaws brought it back for their initial run.
Location: Skydome, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: April 1st, 1990
THE MATCH: The Orient Express (w/ Mr. Fuji) v The Rockers
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Warrior v Hogan. Nothing else on this card could complete and a lot of people would struggle to name one other match on this card.
WHY IT’S GREAT: These teams had great chemistry and while they would have a better match at Royal Rumble 1991, this is a great little tag-match between two teams who had mastered the art of tag-team psychology.
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California
Date: March 24th, 1991
THE MATCH: Jake “The Snake” Roberts v “The Model” Rick Martel
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: With WWE continuing Gulf War I even though it ended in January and the amazingly good Savage v Warrior match, it’s easy to see why the rest of the card could slip through the cracks.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Possibly the first blindfold match most of us saw, this is also the only blindfold match that didn’t completely suck. The build-up to this made the stipulation make sense (Martel had sprayed his Arrogance perfume into the eyes of Jake, blinding him for a while – Roberts even showed up to conduct an interview and showed his bad eye to the world; which was quite a shock to the WWF fans in 1991). The psychological genius of Jake Roberts was at the fore here as he masterly worked both the gimmick and the fans on the way to a well-received DDT victory. “The Model” also deserves credit for the bumbling fool he portrayed in this one.
Location: Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis, Indiana
Date: April 5th, 1992
THE MATCH: The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) v Jake “The Snake” Roberts
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Hogan v Sid, the (first) return of the Warrior, Randy v Flair, “She was mine before she was yours” and Bret v Piper all conspire to leave this as a footnote in history.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Great may be an overstatement, but it is a really good match considering the limitations of the Undertaker character at this time. As with the previous year’s bout, Jake used his mastery of in-ring psychology to build a methodical structure around Undertaker’s perceived invulnerability. Three DDTs couldn’t get it done and a Tombstone on the floor saw that The Streak was officially on.
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: April 4th, 1993
THE MATCH: Doink the Clown v Crush
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Mainly because the entirety of WrestleMania IX has been scrubbed from the memory of most of us.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Heel Doink is one of WWE’s best creations, but also one of the biggest missed opportunities. Here, against his first real rival in Crush, he has a chance to shine on the big stage (unfortunately at the least-liked ‘Mania) and the conclusion with TWO clowns was great. As with anything, they built on it, but then ruined it by turning Doink face, giving him Dink and then just destroying any credibility the character ever had. In summary; Heel Doink = Good, Face Doink = Not Good.
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
Date: March 20th, 1994
THE MATCH: Randy Savage v Crush (w/ Mr. Fuji)
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Between the amazing opener of Bret v Owen, the stunning Ladder Match and the site of Bret Hart finally toppling Yokozuna in revenge for the WrestleMania IX debacle, the rest of the card was always going to be an afterthought.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The first real attempt at “hardcore” wrestling on WWE television, this had an interesting premise whereby you had to pin your opponent outside the ring, get back between the ropes and then your opponent had a count of ten to do the same. Basically, a variant on a Texas Death Match. Crush had defected to the dark side after apparently being slighted by Randy Savage (Macho Man didn’t call him after Yokozuna had put him on the injured list). This, of course, meant they had to fight and they brawled all over, with Savage finally pinning Crush backstage and then hanging him upside down to prevent any chance of the strongman getting back to the ring.
Location: Hartford Civic Centre, Hartford Connecticut
Date: April 2nd, 1995
THE MATCH: Bret Hart v Bob Backlund
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Diesel v Shawn, Pamela Anderson, Lawrence Taylor and Owen Hart’s mystery partner all relegated this down.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Another example of following up on a long-term story, this saw Bret Hart out to avenge his loss to Bob Backlund at the previous year’s Survivor Series. Roddy Piper was the referee (as he had been for Bret’s match at WMX) and the world had already seen Bob Backlund beat Bret for the title and place him in a submission hold Hart seemingly could not escape. This led to the great sight of Bret Hart finishing Backlund with his own hold. It’s always nice when you have a story that has a logical beginning-middle-end to it.
Location: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, California
Date: March 31st, 1996
THE MATCH: Steve Austin (w/ Ted DiBiase) v Savio Vega
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: The Iron Man Match, Warrior’s (second) return, the (rather fun) Backlot Brawl and Undertaker v Diesel were all more prominent.
WHY IT’S GREAT: It’s Steve Austin’s WrestleMania debut and, for some reason, he and Savio just worked really well together. This was the start of the build towards DiBiase leaving WWE, so we were about to get Stone Cold, but this match is a great little forgotten gem with a great finish that preserved the standing of both men going forward.
Location: Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois
Date: March 23rd, 1997
THE MATCH: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog v Mankind and Vader (w/ Paul Bearer)
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: Shawn Michaels lost his smile, Bret v Austin created history and Undertaker won the WWF Championship.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Owen Hart & The British Bulldog were just a fantastic tag-team and their combination of power and grace contrasted very well with the brutality and power of Vader and insanity of Mankind. The two teams put forth a great effort and the action was very well received. As for the finish; while a clean end is preferrable, the double count-out at least made sense here.
Location: Fleetcenter, Boston, Massachusetts
Date: March 29th, 1998
THE MATCH: Marc Mero & Sable v TAFKA Goldust & Luna
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: The ascension of Steve Austin to the WWF Championship, Mike Tyson and the first battle between Undertaker and Kane were all hyped coming in and were what stayed with the collective consciousness when all was said and done.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Sable was making her in-ring debut and it was felt that she would stand on the apron and look pretty before coming in at the end, hitting some feeble offence and then pinning Luna unconvincingly. The reality was as far removed from that prediction as you could imagine. Sable landed a fantastic superkick to Goldust, carried the rest of the match like a pro and hit a great powerbomb / TKO combo to win the match for her team.
Location: First Union Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date: March 28th, 1999
THE MATCH: Butterbean v Bart Gunn
WHY IT’S FORGOTTEN: It only lasted 36 seconds and was on the same card as the first WM meeting of Rock and Austin.
WHY IT’S GREAT: It only lasted 36 seconds, but in that time, Bart Gunn absorbed two absolutely evil shots from Butterbean and the rotund fighter again showed why it is not advisable for those who compete in a worked environment to enter the shoot world. It is a shame, however, how WWE decided to completely ignore Bart Gunn as he wasn’t the one they wanted to win the Brawl for All tournament.