Previously on WrestleMania: Through The Years...the early days of WrestleMania are covered. WrestleMania I stinks, but still gets free passes because "it was a different era", but WrestleMania 2, equally awful, is harshly judged and only a year removed. Double-standards? Maybe. WrestleMania III remains one of the greatest, if not THE greatest of all-time, and WrestleMania IV, V, and VI are all bloated and boring for their own reasons. If you want to get really down and dirty about it all, only 1 of the first 6 WrestleManias is a well built card that featured quality in-ring work. Other WrestleManias have their ups and downs, but WrestleMania III is the only “complete” package. With that out of the way, it’s time for WrestleMania: Through The Years… Part 2.
Lows: The entire idea to build the Main Event around the Gulf War. ‘Nuff said. Just like Mania 4, 5, and 6, this is another bloated card, so everything is fine until the halfway mark, and then it becomes a rapid fire series of undercard filler: Mountie/Tito gets 90-seconds, LOD/Power & Glory gets 60-seconds (although it was probably trimmed due to an injury), Valentine/Earthquake blows off the Valentine/Jimmy Hart program in less than 3-minutes, and THANK GOODNESS, that Demolition/Japanese Stars match went no more than 4-minutes. Bad finish to the hot IC Title Match, and Boss Man is quickly forgotten immediately after the show. Bad finish to Virgil/Dibiase, but it built up to a SummerSlam rematch that was infinitely better, so there’s that.
Stuff You Might’ve Missed: More of a botch than anything, but Hulk Hogan clearly blades in full view of the ringside camera. As a kid, this was the first time I actually saw someone in the act of doing it. I think I was happy to know it was real blood and not fake blood, as some people always suggested it was, so there’s that. The Undertaker makes his WrestleMania Debut, easily defeating Jimmy Snuka. After spending the second half of 1990 as Hulk Hogan’s butt buddy and featured in a prominent role, Tugboat is left completely off the card. The History of WrestleMania publications of the time for reasons unknown didn't list the LOD vs. Power & Glory match, but all other WrestleMania's from 2-whatever had everything intact.
Overall Rating: B-
Most of the key matches were either successfully blown off or had strong enough finishes that it doesn't hurt the card. The lone exception to this is the Intercontinental Title Match, which signals the end of a 7-month long program between the Boss Man and Heenan Family, and it ends on a low-key DQ run-in. The bloated undercard is present again, and the second half of the show suffers slightly because of it, but nothing key was sacrificed. Stuff like the IC Title Match and Virgil vs. Dibiase still got a decent amount of time, while everything along the lines of Tito vs. the Mountie was butchered to almost nothing. Easily the 2nd best WrestleMania at this point.
Lows: The show dies a horrible, painful death immediately after the WWF Championship Match. A near-negative star clash over the Tag Team Titles between Money Inc. and the Natural Disasters, a nothing undercard match with Tatanka and Rick Martel, a 60-second rush job between Owen Hart and Skinner, and finally, a poorly booked, poorly worked second half of the double Main Event between Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice. Elsewhere on the card is a pretty bad Eight-Man Tag and Undertaker vs. Jake Roberts in what appeared to be a match with two people trying to out sleepwalk the other.
Stuff You Might've Missed: Sid Justice is the first person to kick out of Hulk Hogan's leg drop finisher. The British Bulldog vs. The Berzerker was advertised for the card, but was cut due to time restrictions. I guess they figured the crowd would appreciate Owen/Skinner going 60-seconds instead of Berzerker/Bulldog. WWF Magazine's WrestleMania VIII preview is all kinds of off with the card, originally listing Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter as the challengers to the Tag Team Titles, and the New Foundation being involved in the big tag team match. While WWF Magazine isn't the definitive answer to everything, the publication was usually right 9 times out of 10, and probably is fed an "early draft" of the card to go to print with. I don't recall them ever being as off with the lineup as this.
Overall Rating: C+
This is easily classified as a two match show. With the exception of the WWF and Intercontinental Championship matches, nothing else is really worth giving a look. Michaels vs. Tito is probably the 3rd best match on the card, but it barely passes 2-stars. The bad stuff is really bad, as noted above where the last hour or so of the card is just four bad matches in a row, concluding with a bullshit finish. Given the troubles the company was in at the time, I'm not surprised WrestleMania 8 is one of my least favorite and least viewed vintage shows.
Lows: Sigh… where do I begin? I guess it begins and ends with the return of Hulk Hogan. When Hogan took his sabbatical following WrestleMania VIII, it was known by everyone in the company he would be back as soon as things related to the steroid accusations started to die down. I honestly could’ve accepted his role in the Tag Title Match. I swear, but then for reasons unknown, and from what I understand, this WASN’T a last-second power play, but the plan of Vince McMahon all along, the move was made to take the title off Bret Hart… and transfer it to Hulk Hogan via a lame 22-second “match” that seemed like something more suitable for a house show where we later found out “oh, it wasn’t sanctioned, so so-and-so is still the Champion.” Except here, that didn’t happen. Hogan parades around as the WWF Champion for a 5th time despite zero build and what turned out to be complete apathy from the WWF audience. Most of the card features heels going over, and even more matches feature awful, inconclusive finishes. Did I mention the Giant Gonzales?
Anything You Might’ve Missed: For the second consecutive year, a match is cut due to time limits. This year's victim is Kamala vs. Bam Bam Bigelow, a match that probably had no shot in hell of being entertaining. You thought the lineup for Mania IX was bad already? Imagine it with that match tacked onto it. Tito Santana, who has gone winless in seven consecutive WrestleMania’s, finally ends the streak with a victory over Papa Shango… in the dark match, so technically it never happened. For the first time in WrestleMania history, nobody sings America the Beautiful or the Star Spangled Banner. Matt Borne makes his first (and only) WrestleMania appearance since appearing at the inaugural show, under the Doink (the Clown) gimmick.
Overall Rating: F
There’s so little to write about with satisfaction, without coming off as a complete hypocrite. Cosmetically, the show is fun to look at. The commentary carries everything well, and makes the lesser quality matches slightly better because of that. The show opens with two really good, under-rated matches, and has a solid Main Event. However, there’s too many bad finishes. The IC Title Match opens the show with a lame finish. The Tag Title Match has a cop-out finish. Undertaker’s victory over the Giant Gonzales is a cop-out finish (and the only one of the streak to be so). Doink defeated Crush, Lex Luger defeated Mr. Perfect, and Yokozuna defeated Bret Hart through outside interference or other nefarious causes. The ending ABSOLUTELY SUCKED. Even though I enjoy the show, from an impartial perspective, it’s the Worst WrestleMania… so far.
Lows: Nothing can come close to how bad the mid-card Championship Match between Yokozuna and Lex Luger is, and how it almost killed the rest of the show. Booked to go a mind-boggling 15-minutes (plus intros, plus post-match shenanigans), and including a, and this is not an exaggeration, 5-minute rest-hold to fill time, the crowd just craps the bed for the majority of it. With several matches booked to go long, that means a lot of the undercard is rushed through. There’s some cheap finishes, with the 1st WWF Championship Match and the Tag Team Championship Match being booked with cop-out finishes. Little Richard performs “America The Beautiful” and is so obviously lip-syncing, its embarrassing. Other embarrassing celebrity appearance: Burt Reynolds, wasted off his ass, trying to do ring introductions for the second WWF Championship Match.
Stuff You Might’ve Missed: Randy Savage makes his final, televised, in-ring appearance for the WWF. Once again, a match is cut from the show due to time restrictions. This time it’s a whopping 10-Man Tag Team Match featuring the 1-2-3 Kid, Sparky Plugg, Tatanka, and the Smoking Gunns against I.R.S, Jeff Jarrett, Rick Martel, and the Head Shrinkers. Courtesy of WWF Magazine, Marty Jannetty was listed in Sparky Plugg’s place, but was fired before it was announced on TV. Other card substitutions actually announced: Ludvig Borga is replaced by Adam Bomb in a match against the recently-returned Earthquake, and Leilani Kai, making her first WrestleMania appearance since WrestleMania I, is filling in for Debbie Combs to challenge Alundra Blayze for the Women’s Championship. The latter was always going to be a short match to put over Blayze, but one has to wonder what kind of booking would be done to keep both Earthquake and Borga protected if the match did take place. The WWF Countdown Show leading into the PPV actually shows us the finish to the dark match between the Bushwhackers and Heavenly Bodies. As a kid, I felt ripped off that we weren't shown the match, but then I realized it's the Bushwhackers.
Overall Rating: B
When two matches are 5-star classics, the rest of the show can be a bunch of nothing and it will still be a highly regarded show. Take away those two matches, and the only match of quality worth mentioning is the uniquely stipulated match between Randy Savage and Crush, and even that is a mixed-feelings kind of match. There’s a so-so Mixed Tag Team Match, and alright for TV Tag Title Match, and the previously mentioned turd of a Championship Match between Luger and Yokozuna. On any other card, this would’ve been a below-par Wrestlemania, but Bret/Owen and Shawn/Razor were just that good.
Lows: WrestleMania XI was held in a MALL in Hartford, CT. That’s how bad the wrestling industry, or the WWF and WCW I should say, had become. Looking past that dubious honor, we can sit back and enjoy the beginning of the show, where Fishbone were a no-show, so Special Olympian Kathy Huey sings “America The Beautiful.” We followed that up with one of the most oddly chosen opening matches possible… Lex Luger and Davey Boy Smith as a super-team going over the heatless twin duo of Jacob and Eli Blu. Bret Hart has his worst PPV Match ever (at least for the WWF, and until WrestleMania 26) with Bob Backlund, the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak of stinker matches continues with a win over King Kong Bundy, and… that’s pretty much the whole card. 7 matches, 1 with a celebrity performer, and no dark matches. At least nothing was cut for time.
Stuff You Might’ve Missed: Salt N’ Peppa’s performance of “Whatta Man”, which has been removed from future releases for obvious reasons (spoiler: it costs them more money). Future Horsemen and WCW US Champion Steve “Mongo” McMichael is one of L.T’s corner-men, along with fellow NFL alumni Reggie White, Carl Banks, Ken Norton Jr., Chris Spielman, and Ricky Jackson. For the second year in a row, Roddy Piper is special referee for a Bret Hart match. Something I might’ve missed: My live feed of WrestleMania XI died during the closing minutes of the I Quit Match, so all I got to see was a blue screen with “WrestleMania XI” across it, and the audio returning just in time to hear the results. Call it bad luck or bad timing, but Sean Waltman never gets a WrestleMania match as the 1-2-3 Kid.
Overall Rating: F
This felt even less like a WrestleMania than the previous worst, WrestleMania IX. The main event was a bunch of bells and whistles to make up for the alleged lack of depth in the roster. The WWF Championship Match, while a good effort, features one-man completely upstaging the so-called new face of the company, and deliberately does things to make himself the star of the match. Terrible opener, dull IC Championship Match with a lame finish, an awful Undertaker/Bundy match, Bret Hart’s self-proclaimed (and hard to argue with) worst PPV match, and an underwhelming Tag Team Championship Match fills out the entire card. Almost everything has an actual finish, but there’s so little to get excited about, and no other WrestleMania’s have been both unremarkable and awful at the same time.
Lows: One of the worst WrestleMania crowds since the double-shot at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Very little gets significant reactions, and this isn’t the crowd to present a match like the IronMan Match to. They’re on their hands for the first 20+ minutes, get hot for the middle portion, then die again until the final sequences. It almost takes away the work of the match, it’s that bad. Roddy Piper vs. Goldust is nothing more than excuse to make O.J. Simpson references that were already out of date, and to parade Dustin Rhodes in women’s lingerie. The final saga of the Billionaire Ted sketches airs on the Free For All (putting it on PPV would be a lawsuit of its own), and while I found it comical at times, it was just the ending to a long running, mostly pointless, and at times hurtful, series of poor jokes aimed directly at Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Gene Okerlund.
Stuff You Might’ve Missed: Razor Ramon was originally booked for a “Miami Street Fight” with Goldust, but made Vince aware of his intentions to sign with WCW as soon as his contract expired. Almost instantly, he failed a drug test and was suspended for 6-weeks, taking him off the card and only used once more (on TV) before departing. The epic Tag Team Championship Tournament concluded with the Finals taking place on the Free For All. The Body Donnas, a “twin” gimmick where we are supposed to buy Chris Candido and Tom Prichard as near-identical people, went over the Godwinns, due to a helpful distraction of Sunny’s booty. For the rest of 1996, Sunny would be the only thing that could be considered “over” in the Tag Team division. Blink and you’ll miss Mr. Fuji as a babyface manager, still aligned with the recently-turned and growing in size by the day Yokozuna.
Overall Rating: C
This is one of the harder shows to judge, with so little featured. A WrestleMania card with only 6-matches, and one of those features a semi-retired performer who definitely violates the terms of the “New Generation.” Same goes for the significant appearances of recently returned names like Jake Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior, both making their first WrestleMania appearance since Mania VIII. The Main Event takes up a significant portion of the show, automatically making it a thumbs up, but nothing else comes close to that level, and the next best matches top out at “slightly above average.” It feels more like a WrestleMania, but the crowd sure as hell didn’t care.
Coming up next time, WrestleMania 13 through WrestleMania X-8. We enter the Attitude Era, the end of an era, and… the return of Hulkamania? See you next time for Part Three of WrestleMania: Through The Years…