MisfireMania: Three WrestleMania shows that almost killed the company

Okay, yes: WrestleMania 31 is probably going to underwhelm. Even if it ends up being a “good” show, which it very well might, it is very unlikely it will outperform the spectacle and outmatch the memories made at last year’s event.

But that’s okay. Even if this WrestleMania ends up only being “good” that would put it in typical company. Already we’ve broken down each WrestleMania event and ordered them among the best, middle and worst events. Among the whole host of them, there have only been a few that stood out as more than just underwhelming shows; they ended up being shows that darn near killed the company.

WRESTLEMANIA 2 continued the long 1980’s tradition of doing something weird with the second part of a trilogy. In video games, Mario 2 saw the hero throwing onions at egg-spitting dinosaurs. Zelda 2 saw Link jumping over villains and leveling up. In movies, The Empire Strikes Back saw the heroes lose the big battle, split up, get arrested and either be frozen and possibly dead, or find out space hitler is your dad. Not exactly the whimsical adventure that A New Hope and Return of the Jedi were (not that I’m complaining AT ALL). Indiana Jones is about him finding a dangerous buried treasure before the Nazis get there first. Except for the second film, which had voodoo witch doctors ripping your heart out of your chest (again, not that I’m complaining).

With each part two, the creators take a look at what worked and what didn’t and ultimately go back to the original concept when they make their part three. Mario 3 returned to the mushroom kingdom, only with much better graphics and gameplay from Mario 1. Zelda 3 returned to the overhead perspective and basically refined on the original game’s mechanics. Return of the Jedi was a light-hearted romp. The Last Crusade saw Indy once again killin’ Nazis. And so on.

Vince knew he needed to go bigger after WrestleMania 1 but how to do that was up in the air. WrestleMania 1 was a big hit, but as with all unique big hits, it can be hard to nail down just what in particular was the part people liked the most. WrestleMania hadn’t become a franchise yet, so there was no “conventional wisdom” to fall back on. With WrestleMania 2, Vince fell in the trap so many others do and decided to create a show that had a lot of the same characters but felt totally different. There was Hogan, Piper, Mr. T, Bobby Heenan, The Fink. The whole gang was there, plus a few new guys: Randy Savage, King Kong Bundy…Elvira. The problem wasn’t the characters, it was the stage(s).

Vince had the wild idea to take his goal of a national expansion and conceptualize it. He hosted WrestleMania 2 from three different locations: New York, Chicago, Las Angeles. The three biggest media markets in the country. The idea was bold, and certainly interesting on paper, but in execution it was lacking.

The show ended up being a financial loss for Vince (the only WrestleMania to lose money in history, which is amazing because WrestleMania 13 is still part of history), but that’s not an indictment on the title match. The financial loss was entirely due to running three shows at once. The show was simply stretched too thin; it couldn’t sustain itself or the attention of the live audience. The poor souls in LA had to watch the first two-thirds of the show on the monitors hanging above the ring.

All of the success achieved at WrestleMania 1 was undone the following year with an idea that was more ambitious than it needed to be. The struggles of the second edition meant that WrestleMania III had to be a success for the sake of the company (fortunately it was).

WRESTLEMANIA XI sucked. The WWF in 1995 sucked. So did WCW in fact. Were it not for the beginning of the ECW revolution, 1995 might have been the death of Wrestling entirely. Thanks to ECW’s innovations, both the WWF and WCW were inspired to step up their game and planted the seeds that would blossom the Attitude Era at the end of the decade.

But still, WrestleMania XI sucked.

Just one year earlier, WrestleMania X had been a smashing success at Madison Square Garden. A new face of the company had seemingly been anointed and rising stars were ready to be showcased. Though it seemed like Bret Hart was the future, Vince McMahon seemed to be using the Canadian wrestling sensation to keep the belt warm. Bret mid-carded King of the Ring (the main event was Roddy Piper vs Jerry Lawler) and though his title feud with his brother Owen was the hottest thing the company had, it was runner up on the SummerSlam card to an Undertaker vs Undertaker match.

By Survivor Series, someone (Vince) thought it would be a good idea to give Bob Backlund another title run. Because why not. So Bret dropped the belt to Bob (on the undercard, of course) who promptly dropped it to Kevin Nash. Nash retained against Bret at the Royal Rumble and headed to WrestleMania to face Rumble winner (and former tag partner) Shawn Michaels.

Now there’s no doubt that Bret was the better worker and all around better performer compared to Diesel, but Vince’s quest to find the next Hulk Hogan did not end with Bret Hart’s coronation at WrestleMania X. The bigger, less skilled-Diesel was to be the next top guy, while Bret was shuffled down to the mid-card only one year after his title victory at Wrestleholy crap it’s just like Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns.

Unlike with WrestleMania 31, the original Diesel didn’t work the main event (and he wasn’t booed more often than not, either, but I digress). His match with Shawn Michaels was given the runner-up spot on the card, while Lawrence Taylor (of the NFL) went toe-to-toe with Bam Bam Bigelow (a great worker and mid-carder in all three major promotions) in the actual main event of the night. Other matches included Undertaker vs King Kong Bundy and lol I’m not really going to recap this PPV.

WrestleMania XI sucked.

Here’s what was wrong with this show in a nutshell: HBK and Diesel seemed to have the perfect WrestleMania storyline: HBK, the high-flying bundle of charisma, takes on his former tag partner and current WWF champion. If Shawn had been a babyface and Nash a heel it would have been perfect for HBK to overcome the odds and win the belt. Instead, the roles were reversed; the title match became a David vs. Goliath match where Goliath was the good guy.

Meanwhile the most popular guy on the roster was working a midcard match with Bob Backlund, a feud that everyone knew was just a chance to give him something to do.

This was a show that reaped what had been sowed for the previous year. Almost as soon as WrestleMania X was over a host of bad decisions were made that seemed to strip away the star power and appeal from the company across the board. By WrestleMania XI enthusiasm in the company was a fraction of what it was just one year prior.

It was so bad that even a solid (if truncated) WrestleMania XII, and a WrestleMania 13 that…tired it’s best…were not able to recover from the damage done.

WRESTLEMANIA XXVII didn’t suck; it just had the wrong main event.

For the record, there once was a time when I found The Miz to be compelling. He was the little engine that could, the wanna be wrestler who worked really hard at his job until finally they gave him a chance. If you don’t remember, The Miz was once thought of by Internet fans the way a lot of people today think about Dolph Ziggler (minus all the talent in the ring, natural charisma and charm). He was the little guy seemingly being held back in John Cena’s world. He used to have this shirt that simply had Cena’s name with a circle-and-slash through it. I loved it. I loved him. So did a lot of older fans. The Miz!

I say again: At one time he was an Internet darling. Not a huge one, mind you, but he was one, and he was starting to get over. But like WWE is so fond of doing, they took a good thing and ruined it. Miz went from being an anti-establishment heel with a natural edge to his character (yes, The Miz) to a cookie-cutter, WWE-formula, weak heel who isn’t allowed to be taken seriously. As soon as creative started paying attention to him he lost all his luster.

At first it was okay: He used to call out John Cena and when the (injured) superstar no-showed, Miz would claim the win by forfeit. This lasted all the way up until the 2009 Great American Bash PPV when he lost to Cena in five minutes. He lost again in a squash on Raw and shuffled down to mid-card obscurity. He never recovered his fan support.

Then, after they had killed him, the creative powers at WWE naturally decided to do something with him. They made him the mentor of NXT rookie Daniel Bryan (back when NXT was a stupid game show and not the last bastion of hope for wrestling fans everywhere). This only pissed fans off more because by now The Miz had become one-dimensional and stale, his in-ring skills had never improved and he was “mentoring” an indie superstar.

With fans sufficiently sick of him, the WWE decided the time was ripe to put the title on him. Does anyone see the problem here? It’s not The Miz. It’s Vince McMahon and his band of merry idiots he has writing his shows.

Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and won the richest prize in the industry. He held the title high and proclaimed himself the greatest champ ever.

He then entered into a feud with Jerry Lawler.

At least Bret Hart had the decency to feud with Jerry Lawler after he lost the title.

wwe-the-miz-3

At WrestleMania he defended the title against Cena. In another world this would be a great WrestleMania storyline. The little wannabe getting a chance to take on the undisputed top dog, the man who just happens to be the guy who embarrassed him in his first singles push? That’s a great story. Too bad by this point The Miz was box office dead-weight and Cena was basically feuding with the celebrity host of the show.

Things would pick up creatively for the company later that summer. CM Punk would finally get his big break, Daniel Bryan would take the first steps toward getting his, and the buildup to WrestleMania XXVIII seemed much more confident than the buildup here.

At the time of WrestleMania XXVII though, the outlook of the company was bleak. Few if any new stars were being made, The Nexus debuted the previous summer and was squashed and killed dead by Survivor Series, Cena was at the top with no great challengers. Sheamus had been tried and flopped. Orton was old news. Triple H was winding down. On top of all that a lackluster WrestleMania with a main-event no one was dying to see happened. It’s a wonder there were any fans around when CM Punk dropped his pipe bomb later that year.

____________________

Whether it’s the result of a bad idea that should have been nixed in the planning stages, booking that mismanaged the stars, or an inability to create new stars, these three WrestleMania events deserve to be looked at as the bottom of the barrel, the nadir of the show of shows, events so bad they almost killed the company.

But, while WrestleMania 2 was bad, the lessons were learned what to do and not do, and they produced WrestleMania III, the show where the industry reached its 80’s peak.

WrestleMania 11 may have sucked but just one year later, WrestleMania 12 had a card featuring well-developed characters and properly booked stars all over the place. That laid the groundwork for WrestleMania 14-17 and the industry reaching a new peak.

It looked like another new peak was being reached last year. That show was the payoff to addressing the problems of WrestleMania XXVII. There were new stars all over the place and almost all of them were victorious over the old guard (Cesaro over Big Show, Shield over New Age Outlaws, Daniel Bryan over Evolution). This year’s edition doesn’t look to be as bad as any of these three, and though it will disappoint compared to WrestleMania XXX, it could be that seeds are planted on Sunday that bear fruit to the next great wrestling boom.

Tags

  • Red

    Now there’s four; Mania 32 was terrible.

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