Friday, March 23, 2007

Shades of Wrestlemania - Part I

In a mere 9 Days, the biggest event of the wrestling year will take place, Wrestlemania. Now regardless of what any of you think about wrestling, Wrestlemania is probably something special to you. Do you remember Warrior beating Hogan, Austin beating Micheals, Hogan starring down the Rock, or most importantly of all, Hogan slamming Andre the Giant? Well I have a feeling at least one of those memories made you smile just a little bit.

I have made it no secret here that I am a HUGE Wrestling fan, even now, when many of my former heroes are long gone. To me it is about the story, the drama, the athleticism, and the friends that I share it with. As a result, I have asked three of my very good friends to share their memories of different matches right here at this very blog.

In this series of posts, you will hear from:

Ryan McNutt, writer of McNutt Against the Music, he is the only person on the planet who is more committed to his blog than I am. He fully expects Bret Hart to return at any minute.

Kory Wade, author of The Ginormie Blog, although I don't think there has ever been an official post. He has defeated me in wrestling matches on multiple occasions.

Travis Smith, writes The Unloaded Gun. You may remember him from such Wrestling Blog Entries as Heel Heat.

And of course, me. But you know enough about me by now

So without further ado, I present to you the first installment of "Shades of Wrestlemania"...

Back Row (L-R): The Big BossGlen, The Ultimate Korriar
Middle: Hulk Hogan
Front Row (L-R): Ryan the Giant, The Macho King Randy Travage

(My comments as Narrator will appear in italics) The first one we will have here is from Wrestlemania IV, as Travis discusses The Million Dollar Man and his quest to get more than money can buy....

WrestleMania IV
March 27, 1988
Trump Plaza
Atlantic City, New Jersey

Ted DiBiase’s matches in the tournament for the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship
Ted DiBiase vs Jim Duggan
Ted DiBiase vs Don Muraco
Ted DiBiase vs Randy Savage

In the summer of 1987 Ted DiBiase returned to the WWF (he’d previously worked for the company, bringing with him the predecessor to the Intercontinental Title) under the gimmick The Million Dollar Man. Arguably the greatest heel to ever step foot in the ring, DiBiase attempted to use his vast wealth to purchase the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from the not yet Immortal Hulk Hogan. Hogan said DiBiase would have to beat him in the ring for it, leading to a short feud where Hogan got the best of The Million Dollar Man on each occasion.

Not one to give up, DiBiase approached Hogan’s nemesis, Andre the Giant, to win the belt for him. Andre and Hulk squared off in their rematch, the most watched match in wrestling history, on NBC’s “The Main Event.” DiBiase bought off the referee (Dave Hebner’s evil brother Earl counted Hulk down for the three even though his shoulder was up at two) and Andre surrendered it to him.

The WWF President, Canadian Jack Tunney, would have none of it, however, declaring the title vacant and scheduling a tournament for it at WrestleMania IV. Since Hogan and Andre had legitimate claims to the strap, they were granted a bye into the second round.

As for the tournament itself, the matches were relatively short due the number of brackets. In the first match of the first round, DiBiase beat “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan with a fist drop after Andre (who was in DiBiase’s corner along with Virgil) tripped Duggan. Duggan cleared the ring with his 2X4, but DiBiase was moving on.

In the quarterfinals Hogan and Andre fought to a double disqualification after both used chairs. This meant DiBiase would have a bye into the finals if he could defeat “The Rock” Don Muraco. On this day the Magnificent one would not be up to the challenge, with the Million Dollar Man eliminating Muraco from the tournament with a hotshot after about five and a half minutes.

DiBiase would meet none other than “The Macho Man” Randy Savage in the tournament finals. Savage had beaten Butch Reed, Greg Valentine and the One Man Gang earlier in the tournament. As DiBiase and Savage locked up the crowd began to chant for Hogan. Andre got involved a few times in the match: first he tripped Savage as he’d done to Duggan; later, after DiBiase was thrown from the ring by Savage, Andre stood over his downed friend preventing the Macho one from delivering an elbow from the turnbuckle.

Knowing the odds against him, Savage whispered something to Miss Elizabeth. She left the ring area only to return shortly thereafter with Hulk Hogan. After Andre distracted the referee, Hogan entered the ring with the steel chair he’d been sitting on and smoked DiBiase with it. Savage would take flight from the top turnbuckle and deliver his patented flying elbow drop. DiBiase was covered for the 3-count and Hulk Hogan would present Randy Savage with the WWF title, making him the new undisputed Heavyweight Champion.

The match is significant for a number of reasons. First off, Jim Crockett ran Clash of the Champions live on TBS the same night as WrestleMania IV. More people watched Sting and Ric Flair battle for 45 minutes on free television than saw The Macho Man claim the WWF title. That night launched the career of Sting to main event status for years to come.

The night also proved to be the last time Ted DiBiase had any real shot at the title. DiBiase was originally slated to win at WrestleMania, becoming the first heel to win in the main event. A dispute between Savage and the WWF over the Honky Tonk Man’s refusal to job the IC title to him led to Savage winning the Heavyweight Championship in the finals. Indeed in many minds, Ted DiBiase is the greatest world champion that we’ve never seen. His in-ring work was top-notch, his promo’s were original and effective, and he was paired with one of the most memorable gimmicks of all time.

DiBiase would go on to have a long and illustrious career, though. He’s been involved in some of the biggest events in wrestling history, be it debuting the Undertaker, financing the NWO, or introducing Steve Austin to the WWF. While integral to modern wrestling, DiBiase would never again reach the heights he did on that fateful night in March of 1998.

Next up, we fastforward two years and Kory talks about one of the most epic confrontations we have ever seen

Wrestlemania VI
April 1, 1990


Toronto, Ontario

Title vs. Title - Hogan vs. Warrior

To begin with, we all know how the career of the Ultimate Warrior ended up. However I’m going to ask you to put aside the all the craziness and weird conservative views aside when reading this post. We have to remember that at the time Warrior was a huge star, and looked like the apparent heir to Hogan. Besides wrestling fans can be strange and sometimes they cheer for the strangest people. (Like…Batista…*cough*) Anyway…this match was huge.

Even as a kid I was aware of the fact that there couldn’t be two huge stars(and egos) like Hogan and Warrior at the top of WWF at the same time. Both of them had gotten so big that we needed to know who the top guy was. Enter Wrestlemania VI, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in the Skydome. The match booking was brilliant, title vs. title. Which man would walk away champ? Who would the fans support?

The star of this match has to be the fans. The crowd was absolutely amazing. From the entrances to the final bell they went crazy for every move. One can sum up the match as a series of clothelines, body slams, and shoulder blocks. Add to that the no-sells (hulking up and calling upon the gods) and you have the match pretty much covered. The match does have a
series of near falls which only adds to the excitement the crowd is feeling.

In the end of course Warrior walks away champion, but the torch was never really passed (just like Hogan wanted). This marks the high point of Warrior’s career, and we all know how he eventually fades from wrestling history. At the time I remember having trouble choosing a side. I liked both wrestlers, and I am not ashamed to admit it. I still enjoy watching this match as I feel it is one of the best matches in the history of mania (again not so much for the wrestling skill). A high point for me has to be Gorilla Monsoon calling this match. No one could explain away the fact that Hogan was suddenly able to walk on a dislocated knee like Gorilla Monsoon.

Overall the excitement of this match and spectacle of this match is exactly what Wrestlemania is all about.

We jump forward another two years and yours truly talks about the most important match on one of the biggest cards that the company has ever put together, and you may be surprised which match I think it is...

Wrestlemania VIII
April 5, 1992
Hoosier Dome
Indianapolis, Indiana
Intercontinental Title Match - Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart

Bret Hart never ceases to amaze me sometimes. He made his way to the top of the mountain and this is really the only time that anyone put him over. Honestly, name one other time that another big established star ever put him over in a big match. Hogan was supposed to but refused, Flair dropped the title to Bret at a house show, and the rest of his career he spent fighting mid-carders and putting other people over.

People criticize Hogan for refusing to job, but you know Piper was worse. During the 80s and 90s Piper never lost, especially not cleanly. Hell, Hogan never pinned the man during their big feud in the 80s. But this time, in a mid-card match against one of his distant cousins things were different.

The build to was simple enough. Bret was the Intercontinental Champion and then dropped it to The Mountie at a House Show. Bret was supposed to get his rematch at The Royal Rumble but was “injured” by The Mountie (on a side note, the reason that they took the title off of Bret was because his contract was coming to an end and they were worried that he would jump to WCW with the Title…how is that for foreshadowing?) so Piper took his place and won the title. Bret never got a rematch against The Mountie so he challenged Piper for the title and voila we have a great match set.

An interesting note, this was Piper’s first run as a champion of any kind in the WWE. The only other chance with a title he had was his very brief run as Tag Champion with Ric Flair back in November. The WWE really wanted to say “Thanks for all of your hard work” and rewarded him with this IC Title reign.

Anyway, back to the match itself. Throughout the build there was this idea that Piper would turn on Hart and resort to his heelish ways (Hmmm….sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it?). Late in the match, Piper even had the ring bell and went to hit Bret with it but he stopped and listened to the crowd and set it down to fight fair. Bret wins with the greatest counter to a sleeper-hold ever when he runs up the ropes to cradle Piper in a very creative pin. Piper then shakes Bret’s hand and puts the title around his waist, cementing him as a true star.

So what do I love about this match? On a card that had two huge Dream Matches (Hogan-Sid and Flair-Savage), this is the most significant of them all. Hogan-Sid was supposed to be the old passing the torch to the new, but Piper-Hart outdid it. Flair-Savage was supposed to be the bloody, epic match with the great story, no offense but Piper-Hart outdid it.

In a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon/Butterfly Effect sort of way this is one of the most important matches the WWE has ever put on. Don’t believe me? Well this is the match that cemented Bret as a true star. While that is a big deal of course, who is the one that cemented Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin as true stars? Why Bret Hart of course! In an abstract way this is the match that set the tone for the late 90s/early 00s wrestling boom. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We change our pattern here and McNutt goes ahead one year to Wrestlemania IX, widely considered to be the worst Wrestlemania ever. Here he explains the main reason why...

Wrestlemania IX
April 4, 1993
Caesar's Palace
Las Vegas, Nevada
WWF Title - Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna

I’ve never quite understood people who would criticize my childhood interest in professional wrestling by pointing out, “You know it’s fake, right?” If anything, that the outcome is pre-determined and that wrestlers aren’t trying to injure one another makes it MORE entertaining. Pro wrestling has all excitement but none of the guilt and disgust of a real-life combat sport like Ultimate Fighting or similar crap. Plus, it smartly compensates for its lack of genuine competition with character development, giving the audience villains, heroes and anti-heroes to cheer and jeer for. The final moments of a great wrestling match are every bit as intense as any ‘real’ sporting event because, if the writers and bookers have done their job right, the audience is completely emotionally invested in seeing their favourite go home with the title.

My favourite is, was and ever will be Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart.

This is hardly unique; while the WWF (I refuse to use its new moniker) didn’t start playing up Hart’s Canadianness until well into his career, every Canadian wrestling fan treated The Hitman like a national icon. When Hart left for competitor WCW in the scandal forever known as the Montreal Screwjob, it created such a national anger that participants in the ordeal got booed and jeered throughout the country for a good decade after the fact. Hart even finished at #39 in CBC’s Greatest Canadian survey, ahead of (among others) Wilfred Laurier, Jean Chretien, Sir Sanford Flemming, Leonard Cohen, and William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Hart was different than many of his contemporaries. Mainstream pro wrestling in the 80s had been about guys like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, who were huge and steroid-driven, talented at the character side of wrestling but rarely had anything impressive to bring in the ring itself. Hart, on the other hand, was a technical wrestler, a pro through and through. Hart knew how to organize and plot a match, its ebbs and flows, its peaks and valleys. I didn’t really think about this much at the time; I just knew that Hart’s matches seemed to be way more exciting than anyone else’s.

When Bret Hart won his first WWF Championship, I couldn’t believe it; this was in part because the match wasn’t televised (it was a quick change done at a show in Saskatchewan). Hart defended the belt against all comers in the months leading up to the year’s biggest wrestling event: Wrestlemania. His opponent, the monstrous sumo Yokozuna, had won the Royal Rumble to earn his title shot, and (I believe) had yet to be even knocked off his feet at this point in his career. But I wasn’t worried, because I was smart enough to know the ultimate Wrestlemania truth (at the time): the good guy always wins the main event. ALWAYS.

However, there was something else going on in the WWF at the time: the return of Hulk Hogan. Hogan, who has since made a good career out of retiring and un-retiring, had left wrestling “for good” after the last Wrestlemania, but had made a big comeback to team with Brutus Beefcake to take on Money Inc. (Ted Debiase and IRS). I was troubled by was how much publicity this match was getting, as compared to Hart/Yokozuma. Shouldn’t the championship title bout get all the attention?

This was all taking place back in the days before satellite or cable and in order to watch a pay-per-view you had to spend a crapload of money to rent a converter box, which you then had to pick up on your own from the cable company, and after that STILL pay for the PPV itself. It cost a fortune. As such, my brother and I could only get a few of the shows a year at our house, and for whatever reason, that year’s Wrestlemania wasn’t one of them.

But here’s the funny part: on one of the TVs in our house – and ONLY one – if you clicked to the channel where you would have watched the PPV had you gone through the big ordeal, you could HEAR every second of the show crystal clearly, and occasionally the picture would unscramble just enough to hear what was going on. So on a big night like Wrestlemania, if my brother and I couldn’t afford the show, we would sit in our living room, do some homework and listen to everything that took place. It was so 1930s of us.

So anyways, I can’t remember if we were listening to the Hart/Yokozuma match live or if we taped it and listened to it later, but I distinctly remember my reaction to what happened: just as Hart had Yoko in his signature submission move, the Sharpshooter, Yoko’s manager Mr. Fuji threw salt in the Hitman’s face. I heard announcer Jim Ross announce that Yoko had nailed a legdrop and was going for the pin. I was worried but not TOO worried: remember, the good guy always wins.


That’s right – Bret Hart had lost the title. He had lost the main event at Wrestlemania. I was so shocked that I still don’t recall how I reacted to what happened next: Hulk Hogan came down to the ring to help out Hart, and Mr. Fuji challenged Hogan to a title match on the spot. Hart told Hogan to go for it, and in something ridiculous like 15 seconds, Hogan had defeated Yokozuna and was once again WWF champion.

Now I liked Hogan well enough, but once I recovered from the show I realized that this whole fiasco was completely, totally, 100 per cent WRONG. This was WRESTLEMANIA. This was BRET HART’s Wrestlemania, his chance to leave with the belt he deserved and it had been stolen from him. I couldn’t care less that this outcome was staged – I wanted justice, dammit.

Well that concludes the first edition of Shades of Wrestlemania. Tune back next week as we continue the countdown to every wrestling geeks favourite day of the year!!!

Until next time,


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