November 13, 2019
Being a life-long wrestling fan, and having been a member of the online wrestling community for long enough to be of legal age in the United States, I've seen it all when it comes to bashing the "sport" we all say we love, but spend more time complaining about what bothers us instead of praising what works and entertains us. Whether it be an angle, a character, a push, or an entire show (among other aspects of the business), the "IWC" is known for hopping on bandwagons against one of the above checked topics, and riding their complaints about it into the ground, even years beyond when people would give a crap ("Did you know Diesel was a terrible draw? No wonder the New Generation sucked" or "Shawn is a dick for not putting Bret over in Montreal").
As I've grown older, and hopefully a little wiser, I've softened on a lot of things, trying to shake the stigma of one of those moody online jerks who stereotypically complains from the basement of their mother. Sure, there's some things I still stand hard against, but for the most part, I try to look at things without bias, trying to find the positive inside something with overwhelming negative responses. Heck, in recent years, I've learned to almost like the Phantom Menace, and have a list of all the good things buried in the poor writing and excessive focus on annoying characters. What does that have to do with anything? Well, by reading this, it should come as no surprise that I'm going to investigate the past, shine a spotlight on a topic in wrestling with an "infamous" reputation (if you don't know what infamous means, look it up. Unfortunately, a lot of people who work in WWE or publish content for their social media outlets don't know either). As a disclaimer, there might be an occasion where I look at something with overwhelming positive responses, but I don't know of many topics where I can put together an entertaining spotlight, unless I'm deliberately trolling people.
When you think of WWE and professional wrestling, odds are "WrestleMania" pops in your mind very quickly. "The Showcase of the Immortals" is easily the biggest and most recognizable, yearly event in professional wrestling, especially in the modern era where the big event is exclusively held in large stadiums where WWE can artificially inflate the attendance by 10-15,000 people just to pat themselves on the back a little more. If you're thinking of WrestleMania, you're probably going to remember the best of the best, either for the entire show (WrestleMania X-Seven or XXX) or for a given match (Taker vs. Shawn, Bret vs. Austin, Steamboat vs. Savage, etc. etc.). It's only natural you'd think of the greatest moments, but then there's the other side of the spectrum. WrestleMania isn't always great. Sometimes it's not even a good show. There's been plenty of sub-par WrestleMania's, and while a few shows get nominated here and there, one is universally panned as the absolute worst, almost without argument: WrestleMania IX (that's 9 for you youngsters who refused to learn roman numerals).
Held on April 4th, 1993, from Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, NV, WrestleMania IX is mostly remembered for the surprise ending where Hulk Hogan closed the show, winning his then-record setting 5th WWF Championship despite not being part of the advertised Championship Match. Though his official involvement was considered a "Main Event" match (the 2nd year in a row where this occurred, and coincidentally, both times he wasn't advertised to compete for the WWF Title), the Championship Match advertised for weeks was Bret Hart defending against the 505-pound Polynesian Sumo Grand Champion, Yokozuna, who earned the title shot by winning the 1993 Royal Rumble Match, the first time the prize for winning the match was a guaranteed title match at WrestleMania. I could cut things short and list all the other lesser reasons for the disdain this show has with the general population, but acknowledging the major factor is a great jumping point. Remember, in 1993, things were much more casual and handled in a standard way. There was no Money in the Bank Briefcase, like WrestleMania 31 when Seth Rollins inserted himself into the match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns during the closing moments to walk away with the WWE Championship. We were still 4-years away from Vince Russo having creative control over the direction of the product, so swerves were uncommon as well.
To set the stage properly, we must rewind the clock and revisit 1992. The WWF was rocked throughout the year, particularly through "WrestleMania" season, with scandals of sexual misconduct and steroid abuse/distributions. The cloud of controversy was so thick, it forced the hand of the WWF to send Hulk Hogan home on for an extended sabbatical to let the heat die down, which could be credited to his appearance in 1991 on the Arsenio Hall Show where he plead innocent to steroid abuse, except under doctor's care back in 1983 for an injury he never had. The domino effect was in full force, as the WWF lost star after star, including Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper, and Sid Justice. The Ultimate Warrior, who was brought back to fill the void left by Hogan, was gone 6-months after his arrival, fired along with Davey Boy Smith for importing HGH. The over-muscular physiques of guys like the Warlord were phased out. The two top stars the WWF had left, Randy Savage and Ric Flair, were performing poorly at the box office. Each PPV after WrestleMania VIII (SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and the 1993 Royal Rumble) saw fewer and fewer pay-per-view purchases. Combined with a thin pool of established "stars" and the industry rocked to it's foundation by scandal, things were looking bleak for the WWF.
In October 1992, the decision was made to put the belt on a new face to try and turn things around. Bret Hart, who spent the last 8-years of his career with the company, slowly climbed the ranks of the company, though the timing of his title win coincided with embarrassing booking, like being pinned by one of the Beverly Brothers (a tag team used mostly to put over established babyface teams), only to have the decision over-turned by the new trouble-shooting official, Sgt. Slaughter (an angle that went nowhere after a few weeks). With the sudden rise to the top, Bret was given the standard "fighting champion" storyline, defending the WWF Championship often, even against undeserving challengers (Virgil and The Berzerker, to name a few). Though fans had genuine respect for Bret, there wasn't much that could be done to turn the tide in decreased popularity for the company. Only days after the Royal Rumble, the WWF and Hulk Hogan agreed to terms that would bring the Hulkster back after a near-year-long absence. To explain his return in storyline, he would come to the rescue of his best friend, Brutus Beefcake, who was making a return to the ring after a near-fatal parasailing accident on July 4th, 1990, and feud with the reigning Tag Team Champions, Money Inc., Ted Dibiase and Irwin R. Schyster (otherwise known as I.R.S.), who had the intention of permanently ending Beefcake's career.
With the WWF Championship and Tag Team Championship Matches billed as the Double Main Event, the rest of the card featured: Shawn Michaels defending the Intercontinental Title against Tatanka, The Undertaker taking on the "8-foot tall" Giant Gonzales, Mr. Perfect going one-on-one with "The Narcissist" Lex Luger, Crush facing off with the evil clown, Doink, The Steiner Brothers battling The Headshrinkers, Razor Ramon clashing (styles) with Bob Backlund, and babyface Kamala versus Bam Bam Bigelow. Of the available talent, the only name curiously missing from the lineup is Randy Savage, who was pushed into a part-timer spot and used on the show as a color commentator. You look at that card, and you can see the desperation of bringing Hogan back to the company. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna is hardly a WrestleMania Main Event, and everything else underneath, while it could be a decent show for a hardcore audience, doesn't offer anything to entice casual viewers. Instead of promoting C-List celebrities, the WWF went all-in with the "World's largest toga party" idea, a concept that worked so well, you could probably count on one hand all the fans in togas in the crowd and have a few fingers left over.
Kicking off the show for the live audience (but a "Dark Match" for the PPV audience), "El Matador" Tito Santana picked up a victory over Papa Shango in a decent outing to warm everyone up. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't bother listing the match that "doesn't count", but Tito Santana had an epic WrestleMania losing streak that ran for 7-years, starting at 2 (losing alongside the JYD against the Funk Brothers) through 8 (losing in the opener to a freshly-turned Shawn Michaels). Though taped, the match didn't surface until 25-years later when it was added to the Hidden Gems section of the WWE Network. The show would start proper, with not only the introduction of Jim Ross (wearing a toga, and several years away from his "Good Ol' J.R." shtick) to the WWF audience, but a grand opening from Caesar and Cleopatra (don't ask), which ate up nearly 10-minutes of Pay-Per-View time, with about 30-seconds of it being worth looking at (that being Bobby Heenan comically arriving on a camel, backwards, and doing a pratfall). With only 2 hours and 45 minutes allotted for the show, we're almost 15-minutes into the show before the opening bell.
For the third WrestleMania in a row, Shawn Michaels opened the Pay-Per-View, defending the Intercontinental Championship (won from the soon-to-be-fired Davey Boy Smith back in October, televised several weeks later) against the "Undefeated" Tatanka. It's a case of "plans changed" here, as Michaels original opponent for WrestleMania IX clearly intended to be Marty Jannetty, but poor Marty was found in "no condition to perform" at the TV tapings the day after the Royal Rumble and was terminated. To fill the void, Tatanka was given two pin fall victories over Michaels, a singles non-title match on the February 13th episode of Superstars, and a Six-Man Tag on the February 22nd episode of Monday Night Raw. Adding to the pile, the Sensational Sherri accompanied Tatanka to the ring, still seeking revenge on Michaels for pulling her in the line of fire when Jannetty made his return. In an unadvertised debut, Luna Vachon came out to counter Sherri at ringside. Neither woman added much at ringside between the bells. Technically a good match, at times very good, but it went a little long, a detriment to Tatanka's experience, and the finish was a mess where it appears that Shawn Michaels is counted out, only for him to casually deck the referee for the Disqualification. Tatanka wins and keeps his streak alive, but the title doesn't change hands. That's our first poor finish of the night, for everyone keeping track.
Second on the card, the Steiner Brothers and the Headshrinkers arguably stole the show with a hard-hitting match that feels more like it belonged on a late 80's World Championship Wrestling Pay-Per-View rather than the WWF (and yes, I'm aware the Steiners and SST/Headshrinkers mixed it up in WCW years before this). Among the best spots, the Steiner Brothers both coming off the same top turnbuckle to hit a pair of clotheslines, Rick doing a belly-to-belly suplex while perched on the shoulders of one of the Headshrinkers, and last and definitely not least, the Headshrinkers were going for a double-team Hot Shot spot (dropping opponent throat-first across the top rope) but Scott was carried much too far and took the bump completely over the top rope and to the floor. Though a great match with a clean finish, there was no hype to it, and it was just a match for the sake of filling the card.
The program between Crush and Doink (the Clown) arguably was the most-hyped match on the show that didn't involve a Championship. The angle kicked off when Crush confronted Doink about the pranks he was pulling, threatening him with violence if he didn't knock it off. A week later, Doink responded by giving Crush a false peace offering before laying him out with a plaster-cast arm, "injuring" Crush, and taking him out of the Royal Rumble Match. As far as a revenge match goes, this was OK, I guess. Crush (Brian Adams) was never too good of a worker, but a good worker like Doink (veteran Matt Borne) could get something out of him. Honestly, an unremarkable showing until the finish, which is one of the most divisive on the show among the audience: Crush appears to have the match won, with Doink trapped in his finisher, the Cranium Crush (a Head Vice), but the referee has been laid out moments before that. Suddenly, A SECOND DOINK emerges from under the ring and KO's Crush from behind. The Doink's rip off an old comedy routine that I've seen from the Marx Brothers and on an episode of I Love Lucy (so stuff from the 40's and 50's, in Vince McMahon's range of being hip) before Doink pins Crush. So, Crush not only fails to win his big revenge match, but he's left laying like a geek. I'm fine with the finish, because it was creative and a great surprise, but that's two bad finishes on the show and counting.
I'd call the next match a cool down match, but the crowd wasn't that hot to begin with. Razor Ramon defeated Bob Backlund in the most meaningless match on the card in under 5-minutes with an inside cradle. Not much to say about this, other than it wasn't very good for the little time they had, and Razor, who headlined the last 2 Pay-Per-Views, was relegated to this. So far, the Steiner Brothers are the only babyfaces to win their match by a pin or submission.
We're at the halfway point of the card with the first of our double Main Event: Money Inc. defending the Tag Team Championship against THE MEGA MANIACS, who have enlisted Jimmy Hart as their manager. Why is Hart a babyface? He was Hulk Hogan's real-life business manager at this point, and OH-MY-GOD KAYFABE. Coming into the match, Hulk Hogan arrived with a hideously blackened eye. Depending on who you want to believe, it was either caused in a freak accident on a water-ski, or there was a real-life confrontation with Randy Savage (which I'll try to debunk later). Whatever the reason in real life was meant nothing in storylines, where Money Inc. wink-wink paid off some thugs to do a number on Hogan. I wouldn't say there was high expectations for this match coming in, but they fell way below the bar of even reasonable hope. On a show that was running long, the bell-to-bell was almost 20-minutes of house show shtick AT WRESTLEMANIA. The by-the-numbers work would've been fine with a clean finish but guess what... ANOTHER POOR FINISH. Hogan and Beefcake made the big comeback, the referee gets bumped, weapons get used, Jimmy Hart turns his jacket inside-out to reveal referee stripes and counts a fake fall, and somewhere in the colossal mess, Money Inc. retain by Disqualification. Hogan and Co. pose for 5-minutes anyway, handing out cash to front-row rans that was discovered inside I.R.S.' briefcase (along with a brick).
Coming back from intermission, we pick up where we left off (as in with bad finishes and under-performing matches) with the battle between Mr. Perfect and "The Narcissist" Lex Luger. With the sudden departure of Ric Flair, who asked out of his contract shortly before the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View, Lex Luger was immediately pushed as the next foil for Curt Hennig, debuting at the Royal Rumble in a bizarre spectacle where Bobby Heenan audibly orgasmed over Luger's physique as the crowd sat in silence. Even more bizarre was the reasoning behind the feud: Luger's body is better than Perfect. In all the years before this, I'm sure Mr. Perfect at times gloated about his looks, but he was more about being the perfect athlete. On paper, this should've been decent, but they were not only on different pages, but in completely different sections of the Library. Years later, Luger claims Perfect "forgot the spots", forcing him to call the match. If you're going to rib someone, why not do it at THE BIGGEST SHOW OF THE YEAR. Another underwhelming match and another match where the heel went over under controversial circumstances. In this case, Perfect was pinned with a back-slide, but his feet were on the ropes, and the referee missed it. Following that, Luger KO's Perfect with the mysteriously deadly forearm (it wasn't for another month or so where it was revealed, in storylines, that Luger had a metal plate in his arm from the motorcycle accident he was involved in the year before). If THAT wasn't enough, Perfect gets punked out by Shawn Michaels backstage when he goes looking for Luger! We're 6 matches deep, only 2 babyfaces won, and only 1 by pin fall (and that was the 2nd-least promoted match on the card).
If you expect me to say the next match under-delivered as well, you're mistaken. No one with a functioning brain would expect The Undertaker vs. The Giant Gonzales to be anything but a giant car wreck (pun intended). As a continuation of Undertaker's feud with Kamala, Jorge Gonzales, formerly "El Gigante" in World Championship Wrestling, was brought in, fitted with a body-suit with airbrushed muscles and fur (and on some occasions, the outfit consisted of fur stitched to the costume), and was the revenge brought forth by Kamala's manager, Harvey Wippleman, costing the Undertaker his chances of winning the 1993 Royal Rumble Match. Gonzales was promoted as an 8-foot monster, but as hard as they tried to convince everyone, his work was severely lacking, even as a freak-show attraction. The lone highlight of the match was for Undertaker's ring entrance, riding on a chariot with a Vulture accompanying him. The match ended in a cheap Disqualification, the only non-decisive finish of Undertaker's WrestleMania career, and according to Bruce Prichard, a match that Undertaker held against the creative department for years.
Finally, we've reached the Main Event (Kamala vs. Bam Bam Bigelow was quietly canceled, and only mentioned at the end of the version on Coliseum Video, due to being advertised on the box). For reasons we'll soon know, the last interview conducted before the match wasn't with Bret Hart, the WWF Champion, or Yokozuna, the Undefeated Challenger. It was with Hulk Hogan, who endorsed Hart and calmly called Yokozuna a "Jap." For the first time since the Steiner's vs. Headshrinkers, we get a competently worked match, that is unfortunately cut short. In Bret Hart's biography, he claims Yokozuna was gassed and went home early (the match doesn't even go 10-minutes), killing their momentum. Bret seems to have the match won with Yokozuna trapped in the Sharpshooter (Bret's leg-lock submission hold) when Mr. Fuji throws salt in his eyes, breaking the hold, and Yokozuna casually covers him to win the WWF Championship. ANOTHER F*CK FINISH.
No more than seconds after the three-count is made, HULK HOGAN storms ringside and argues the decision. Mr. Fuji just as quickly grabbed the microphone and (kinda-sorta) challenged Hulk Hogan to a fight. RIGHT THERE, RIGHT NOW.. FOR THE WWF CHAMPIONSHIP. "Urged on" by Bret, still selling the blinding effects of the salt, Hogan rushed into the ring, fought off the same blinding attack, and leg-dropped Yokozuna to win his 5th WWF Championship in 22-seconds. For the first time ever, the WWF Championship changes hands twice in the same night. Just as it had ended in almost all WrestleMania's past, the 9th WrestleMania ended with Hulk Hogan in the ring, the top dog of the World Wrestling Federation. Moments after the Pay-Per-View broadcast ended, Hogan was joined in the ring by his manager Jimmy Hart, friend-to-the-end Brutus Beefcake, Vince McMahon, and… Randy Savage?! You'd think someone who allegedly punched the Hulkster in the face days earlier wouldn't want to be in the ring boosting his ego, but they've always had a strange relationship.
When Yokozuna pinned Hart, it should've been a red flag (had Hogan not hit the ring almost as soon as the hand slapped the canvas a third time) to not only WWF fans, but wrestling fans in general. The WWF, for YEARS, was the babyface company, and rarely did the heel walk away victorious and standing tall above the top babyfaces, especially when the Championship changed hands (the match would be slotted mid-way into the show, and a face would win the finale to send the crowds home happy). Though Hogan left the winner, and the fans were sent home happy, WrestleMania IX wasn't kind to the rest of the babyfaces. The Steiner Brothers went over the Headshrinkers as clean as can be, but for the rest of the card, Tatanka won by confusing Disqualification, the Undertaker won by Disqualification, and all other matches were won by the heels, including the match where the face was seeking retribution for a career-threatening attack (Crush vs. Doink), and we've already pointed out Bret not only losing, but looking like a chump needing his "big buddy" Hulk to avenge him.
From a creative standpoint, and a quality in-ring product as well, WrestleMania IX failed to deliver a satisfying show that's supposed to be the biggest night of the year. Is WrestleMania IX the worst of all-time? Before we decisively answer, I will only judge WrestleMania IX against shows that came before it, and weigh in a little on shows immediately that followed. Of the "Hulk Hogan" era of the WWF, WrestleManias 2, 4, 5, and 8 have drawn the most negative attention. Looking to the future, some have argued WrestleMania 11 is also in the conversation, and rightfully so (1996 is the cut-off year for me, sparing 13, which is still a better show because of 1 match). WrestleMania VIII features some solid wrestling and feel good moments but falls off a cliff after intermission; IV and V are held in front of the coldest live audiences for professional wrestling. IV delivers a strong enough show-long story with Randy Savage, and 5 has a strong Main Event and decent wrestling throughout the card. 2 is marred by production and pacing issues, and the portion from New York is arguably the worst start to a WrestleMania as far as quality matches are concerned. Once the Chicago portion reached the 20-Man Battle Royal, everything flipped, and save for one match, the rest of the card was entertaining, saving it from the bottom.
Focusing back on WrestleMania IX, and ignoring all personal bias and apologetic tendencies, the card has some decent wrestling (Bret/Yoko, Steiners/Shrinkers, Tatanka/Shawn) and a fun atmosphere (open-air locations are almost always a win), but the show quickly falls down a rabbit hole, with poor match after poor match once we've reached the middle portion of the card, almost every match of importance has a cheap finish, and with the exception of a few stars, the crowd is mostly quiet. Taking all that into account, and weighing it against other WrestleMania's of the era, WrestleMania IX rightfully earned its place as the worst WrestleMania, and would hold the honor, in my opinion, for most of the decade. Who unseated IX for the worst of all time? That's a story for another day.
With the smoke cleared and the dust settled, WrestleMania IX accomplished nothing but set the company back, mostly creatively. WrestleMania IX did a decent Pay-Per-View number, decent enough to stop the bleeding of the last few PPV's setting new records of fan disinterest. However, Hulk Hogan's relationship with Vince McMahon quickly strained, as he made only a handful of live appearances, treating some as jokes (including one match where he turned it into a comedy routine with then-Chicago Bull Horace Grant getting involved in his match), never appearing at TV taping for the sake of syndicated programming, nor did he appear on an episode of Raw beyond his return on February 22nd. Hogan would drop the belt in his very next match (for a television/PPV audience), at the inaugural King of the Ring PPV, to the "beefed-up" Yokozuna (reneging on a deal where he'd drop the belt to Bret at SummerSlam), but not without controversy. Hogan was in the middle of his big comeback when a photographer hopped on the apron, clearly a plant in a bad disguise, and shot a fireball at Hogan to cost him the match. Hogan would depart from the company after a European Tour that Summer and would remain away from the WWF until 2002. Bret was put on the back burner, passed over with Hogan's return, then again when Lex Luger was abruptly turned babyface as the new conquering American hero. On March 20th, 1994, with the 10th edition of WrestleMania coming home to Madison Square Garden, the WWF "kicked off into the next decade" (of WrestleManias I'm assuming) with Bret Hart once again the WWF Champion. It took a full year to bring us back to where we were a year earlier, only now the company had fallen on harder times, both financially and creatively, and it would be a hole they wouldn't dig out of for most of the decade.
Any comments, complaints, or offers of psychological therapy can be forwarded to The McSuck Email Office in Suckburg. For the next few columns, I have a few ideas floating around without spoiling it (more "awful" Pay-Per-Views most likely), but I'm open for ideas and suggestions for future installments once I get through these first few. Thank you for reading, and have a great rest of your day.