Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Wrestlemania Story - Part I: Manias Running Wild

Greetings one and all, I have returned from Laos, safe and sound. While I have a great deal of stories to share later, there is something far more important for me to start posting about. Wrestlemania is little over a week away, in the spirit of the "Shades of Wrestlemania" series from a year ago, this entire week on the blog will be devoted to the Superbowl of my favourite pseudo-sport, as I retell the story of the extravaganza.

A long time ago (1985), in a galaxy far, far away (Stanford, Connecticut), Vince McMahon had a dream, he wanted to take wrestling from the back rooms into the living room, and to do that he used one very important ally, MTV.

See MTV, was the darling new-hip channel in the 1980s, and everyone was all about watching it. Vince decided, for this special, and historic event, that he would get several celebrities, build a "super card", broadcast it on close circuit television from Madison Square Garden, and cross promote the event with the good people at MTV. He gathered a ton of celebrities from Liberace to Mohamed Ali, but there were two that stood out above them all. In the build up to the big show, he decided to feature Cindi Lauper on wrestling shows. She showed up many times, and ended up receiving a temporary "Manager's License" to guide Wendi Richter over Lelani Kai to become the new Women's Champion. And then there was the captain of the A-Team himself, Mr. T.

In the months leading up the big event, WWF Champion, and all around good guy Hulk Hogan, had a series of problems with Rowdy Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. The two challenged Hulk Hogan to a tag team match at Wrestlemania, and Hogan found himself quite the partner, Mr. T. The two trained together for weeks, and made several media appearances, including the first appearance by a wrestler on Saturday Night Live. In a thrilling Main Event, Hulk Hogan pinned Paul Orndorff to win the match for his team, to great rejoicing.

Also that night, there were two very large men who would start to build momentum for future Big Matches at Wrestlemania. King Kong Bundy, was able to defeat S.D. Jones in a reported 7 seconds, looking completely dominant in the process. In the very next match of the night, Andre the Giant faced Big John Studd in a special "$10, 000 Body Slam Challenge", where the first man to body slam his opponent would receive the money. Andre, proved to be un-slammable for the moment, and lifted Big John Studd up, and slammed him down, collecting the prize, which he subsequently gave away to the crowd in attendance.

The event was such a success that Vince decided to hold another event, the very next year, called "Wrestlemania II". His vision for the event was so grand, that he wanted to have the card take place at three different locations, Long Island, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with the Pay-per-view being broadcast from different parts.

In one of the matches from the Long Island Venue, rising star, Randy Savage, defended his newly won Intercontinental Title against George "The Animal" Steele, who had fallen in love with Savage's manager, Miss Elizabeth. During the match, Savage showed signs of greatness, but also signs of weakness. George Steele, did something unthinkable during the match, as he kicked out of Randy Savage's patented top-rope elbow drop, something that would not be done again for half-a-decade. However, Savage showed his desire to win at all costs, and was able to win after some underhanded tactics.

During the Chicago section of the card, the celebrity involvement continued, as there was a special WWF vs. NFL Battle Royal, as the ring was filled with 10 wrestlers, and 10 foot ball players. While the football players fared quite well, the final two men standing would be two future Hall of Famers, as Bret Hart, of the Hart Foundation, stood toe-to-toe with Andre the Giant. Now Bret, was still a long way from greatness, and was unable to defeat the Giant. When all was said and done, Andre proved to be the biggest, baddest man in either the WWF or NFL.

In the Main Event of the evening, emanating from Los Angeles, Hulk Hogan defended his WWF Title against the record breaking winner from the year before, King Kong Bundy, inside a Steel Cage. Hogan was able to defeat the giant, and even got to take in a few shots against Bundy's manager and perennial thorn in the side, Bobby the Brain Heenan.

The next year Wrestlemania took place in the Pontiac Silverdome in the Detroit, Michigan, shattering indoor attendance records, by having over 93, 000 people under one roof.

The undercard of the night, had two future legends make great strides towards greatness. Bret Hart, still stinging from his Battle Royal loss the year before, was one half of the tag team champions with his brother-in-law, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, together known as The Hart Foundation. The Hart Foundation, managed by Jimmy Hart, rendered the services of a crooked referee named "Dangerous" Danny Davis, and used the alliance to win their titles from the British Bulldogs (which featured another brother-in-law of Bret's, Davey Boy Smith). The crooked referee, entered the ring as a wrestler, and joined the Hart Foundation, to defeat the Bulldogs, and Tito Santana, with a little help from Jimmy Hart.

Also, Randy Savage, still enjoying his run as Intercontinental Champion, also took a villainous route. Earlier in the year, he had attacked and injured the throat of all-around-good-guy, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Steamboat, took a long road to recovery, but was finally able to return in time to challenge for the title, even enlisting the aide of George "The Animal" Steele to serve as his corner man. The match between Savage and Steamboat, is still considered one of the greatest matches that the WWF/E has ever put on as the two fought fast and hard for 14 minutes and 35 seconds. Both men were so fast, and so evenly matched, that it felt like it could be over at any minute. In the end, Ricky Steamboat was able to score a quick roll up on Savage, to win the title.

In the main event, there was the match that all 93, 000 people paid to see, the Main Event of all Main Events, Hulk Hogan was set to defend his championship against none other than Andre the Giant. In the months leading up the event, Andre turned on his former friend, and joined evil manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. Andre claimed that he never received the show against Hogan that he deserved, and demanded one for the event.

At the very beginning of the match, Hogan went to body slam Andre, but fell backwards, and was pinned by Andre for a very long 2 count. However, in the end, Hogan was able to do what Big John Studd was unable to do two years before, as he slammed Andre the Giant, landed his patented Leg Drop, won the match, and retained his title.

In the next several months, Hogan and Andre would be at one another repeatedly, but each gained an ally that would be extremely important to them over the next year. Hulk Hogan, became friends with none other than Randy Savage, who turned over a new leaf to fight on the side of justice and truth, while Heenan sold Andre's contract to the newly debuting "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase. Hogan and Andre had a rematch the following year, which Andre won...sort of. See Dibiase had hired a crooked referee (and twin of senior referee, Earl Hebner) to fast-count the match in favour of Andre. The Giant then sold the title to Ted Dibiase, making him the world champion. This decision was immediately reversed by Commissioner Jack Tuney, and the title was declared vacant.

Why is this important you ask? Well see the vacated title was put up for grabs in a special one night only tournament to be held at Wrestlemania IV. Fourteen men were featured in the tournament, as both Hogan and Andre were given a bye to the second round, to face one another, in the rubber match of their series.

Before the tournament started, there was a special 20 man Battle Royal, which featured most of the wrestlers who were not included in the tournament. During this Battle Royal, an unlikely alliance of Bad News Brown, and Bret Hart formed, and the two eliminated everyone in the field, and appeared ready to share the trophy. But Bad New Brown, stayed true to his name and eliminated Bret Hart when his back was turned. Bret would return to the ring, and demolish the trophy, showing the rage and frustration building in him that would surface nine years later.

The first round of the tournament, was relatively uneventful as Ted Dibiase, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Randy Savage, and the One Man Gang all advanced to the second round. Jake Roberts and Rick Rude exceeded the 15 minute time limit, eliminating both of them, and giving The One Man Gang an automatic advancement to the third round.

There were a few other matches on the card to not be included in the tournament, and one of them saw a rising star, The Ultimate Warrior, defeat resident strong-man Hercules Hernandez in under five minutes. While the match was short, it showed hints of the meteoric rise (and subsequent fall) one of the stars in the match would experience.

The second round of the tournament was far more interesting than the first, as Hogan and Andre faced off for the third time. Both men were the heavy (no pun intended) favourites to win the tournament and title, but to the surprise of just about everyone, they were both disqualified after using a chair. This gave Ted Dibiase (who had defeated Don Muraco), a free run to the final, where he had to face Randy Savage, fresh off hard-fought-victories over Greg Valentine, and the well rested One Man Gang.

The Main Event, appeared to be in favour of "The Million Dollar Man", as he was dominating the injured Savage. Both Andre the Giant, and Hulk Hogan cheered on from the corner, and at the climax of the match, both became physically involved. In the end, Hulk Hogan entered the ring with the very same chair that got him disqualified, and struck Ted Dibiase with it, allowing Randy Savage to win the match (to read Travis's thoughts on this match, plus Ted Dibiase's first two, click here).

While Wrestlemania IV ended with Hogan and Savage celebrating, things would be far different between the two in a years time. Despite the fact that Savage was the champion, he became very jealous of Hulk Hogan, and more specifically Hogan's relationship with Miss Elizabeth. Savage would snap on his friend, and propel the two Mega-Powers (as they had been dubbed) to collide at Wrestlemania V, once more from Trump Plaza.

In the undercard of that match, the Ultimate Warrior suffered his first career defeat at the hands of Ravishing Rick Rude, who walked off with the Warriors Intercontinental Title. Future Intercontinental Champion, Bret Hart, returned to the tag ranks after his failed attempt at a Battle Royal Victory, as he and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, defeated the team of Greg Valentine and The Honky Tonk Man after Bret struck the Honky Tonk Man with a megaphone.

Another future legend, Shawn Michaels, made his Wrestelmania debut on this night, as he teamed with Marty Jannetty, collectively known as The Rockers, to take on the Twin Towers of the Big Boss Man and Akeem, in a losing effort. While Shawn did suffer a defeat at the hands of Akeem, there were still many, many great things coming for Shawn in the future.

In the Main Event of the evening, the Hulk Hogan was able to defeat his former friend to reclaim the WWF Championship. This would be Hogan's second championship, and it would also mark the last time that anyone would hold the WWF Championship for over 365 consecutive days for a stunning 18 years.

The following year became all about one man, the Ultimate Warrior, it became apparent that his loss to Rick Rude, was just a stumbling block, as he regained the title a few months later. The Warrior went on an incredibly long, and dominant, run, he would take on all comers, and achieve victory in short order. Many fans began to speculate as to who would win in a match, the Intercontinental Champion and rising star, the Ultimate Warrior, or the World Champion, and long time face of the company, Hulk Hogan. The WWF decided to do something incredibly daring, as they agreed to put the two top names, and fan favoruites, in a match dubbed The Ultimate Challenge, where both titles would be on the line in an incredibly epic match, at Wrestlemania VI, at the Sky Dome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Also on the card for the evening, Randy Savage (now dubbed the Macho King) teamed with his new female love interest, Sensational Queen Shari to take on Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire in the first mixed tag team match in WWF history. Savage's team came up on the losing end, when Miss Elizabeth returned to the ring, attacked Queen Shari, costing them the match.

Two rising stars, whose futures would become very intertwined in six short years, were featured in different tag team matches with very different results. Shawn Michaels, once more teamed with Marty Jannetty, this time to do battle with the Orient Express. Sato, a member of the opposing team, threw powder into Jannetty's eyes, and forced him to be counted out. Bret Hart, continued his team with The Anvil, but this time they had turned their backs on evil manager Jimmy Hart. They used their new found attitude and support of their home country, to defeat the Bolsheviks in less than 20 seconds.

The main event for the evening was certainly one for the ages. Both Hogan and Warrior appeared to be very evenly matched as they provided counter after counter to one anothers powerful offense. As Hulk Hogan went for his patented Leg Drop, Warrior dodged, and nailed Hogan with his Warrior Splash, securing victory, glory, and possession of two title belts.

Hulk Hogan suffered his first loss at Wrestlemania, and it became apparent to everyone that his time at the top was nearing a close. A chapter of the WWF's history was ending. Everyone assumed that it would be the beginning of a new, Ultimate, era. It was the beginning of a new era, but the Warrior's time at the top would be far shorter than expected. The search for a new standard bearer would be far more complicated, and take far longer than anyone had anticipated.

Tune in tomorrow, as I chronicle the next six years of the Wrestlemania Story, which feature military traitors, styles and profiles, sumo wrestlers, ladders, linebackers, two iron men, and the beginning of a legendary streak.

Until next time,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!