Remember When Wrestlemania Was Worth Watching?
This week saw the end of March and the start of April, and there's only one thing that you can be sure will happen during this time of year. It's not warm weather or lame April Fools' Day jokes; it's Wrestlemania. I had been working on an article on yet another video game when one of my friends reminded me that Wrestlemania XXI was fast approaching. Then he suggested that I do an article on Wrestlemania. He clearly understands how the site works, so I'm pretty sure that he didn't expect me to write about WM21. If he did, he'll be real fucking disappointed. I was a pretty big wrestling fan for many years, up until around 2000 when things started to fall apart. I used to enjoy both WCW and the WWF*. ECW was also great, but its Friday night airtime was rather inconvenient; I had much better things to do than watch TV on Fridays. Once the WWF won its ratings war with WCW, WWF owner Vince McMahon got lazy. While WCW desperately tried to stay afloat by offering up fantastic cruiserweight matches and all sorts of gimmicks, Vince rested on his laurels. The writing got sloppy, the matches degenerated into punchfests, but Vince still had a strong talent base. Then Stone Cold's injuries and personal problems caused him to take several extended leaves from television before leaving for good, Mick Foley retired, and The Rock went off to Hollywood to star in second-tier action movies. Then Vince decided to rebuild his company around Triple H, an uncharismatic egomaniac with a big nose, gravelly voice, and excessively wrinkly forehead. If you put green makeup on this guy, he'd look just like the Wicked Witch of the West. HHH has had extended title reigns and usually gets an exorbitant amount of screen time, a fact which may have something to do with the fact that he's currently banging Vince's daughter Stephanie. At this point in time, the WWF churns out stunningly bad and repetitive shows. Any time in recent memory that Vince has tried to fix his shitty program, he's only made things worse. He's used reality shows to sign new wrestlers, wrestlers who have yet to win over the fans. Since winning the WWF's first Tough Enough competition, Maven has floundered around in the midcard because no one likes him. Even more brilliant was the decision to split the roster between the WWF's two main shows, RAW and Smackdown. By doing this, the company has effectively limited feuds, continuity, and viewer interest. Since there's rarely any fighting allowed between the two brands, each show has its own belts. That means there's no undisputed World Champion. Maybe I'm old school or maybe I've just been watching Lord of the Rings too much, but there should be ONE BELT TO RULE THEM ALL. In any case, I'm not the only person who thinks the WWF sucks ass right now; Spike TV has chosen not to renew their TV deal with the company. Take that, Vince.
By the time most of you read this, WM21's original air date of 04/03/05 will have come and gone and few if any of you will have watched it. Wrestlemania used to be a big deal. Not only was it the biggest wrestling event of the year, it was also one of the biggest sports entertainment spectacles of the year. These days, Wrestlemania is stale and half-assed. There are currently eight different title belts in the WWF but only three are being defended at WM21 and one of them is the fucking Women's Belt. Meanwhile, there's no defense of either tag belt. Fuck the Women's Belt. Most of the current WWF divas are nothing more than low-class whores. Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson are pretty hot and Lita has a substantial amount of in-ring ability, but Christy Hemme and the rest of them are mostly useless. Christy is such a disgusting skank that it's hard not to yearn for the days of Miss Elizabeth, back when a wrestling diva was allowed to have some dignity. It's appalling and it's quite representative of the state of things in the WWF. Wrestlemania has devolved into a paint-by-numbers snoozefest where Vince McMahon and his hack writers give the viewers just enough interesting moments to keep them from dozing off. Both the quality and quantity of matches have both dropped at WWF pay-per-views. Wrestlemania VII had no less than 14 matches; WM21 has only nine. To be fair, some of the WM7 matches were short. However I would much rather see the WWF make better use of its roster instead of dragging out a Triple H vs. Batista match for an extra five minutes. The WWF's poor use of its roster extends into television too. On the 03/28/05 edition of its two hour RAW program, the last fucking one before WM21, McMahon's cronies gave the viewers three matches, an arm wrestling contest, and a staredown. The staredown was the friggin' main event too. Rather than give fans a taste of their title match at WM21, Triple H and Batista ended the night by shoving each other until Rent-A-Cops broke it up. When you only have three proper matches in 2 hours, how do you fill up the rest of the time? With plenty of boring monologues and Wrestlemania hype, that's how! Triple H may not have actually wrestled, but that didn't stop him from getting at least 20 minutes of screen time. As bad as that was, it's been worse. During the abysmal McMahon-Helmsley era, Triple H and Stephanie would come out and talk for the first 20-30 minutes of the program and then HHH would wrestle in the main event. Shameful? Of course. But I fucking told you he had ego problems.
I could continue to rant about how much the current incarnation of the WWF sucks, but that's not what I set out to write about. I'm here to recall the good times, back before the creative control team tried to make the product all serious and shit. Wrestling is best when there's an element of cheesiness to it. Goofy gimmicks and showstopping theatrics make wrestling fun to watch; The Undertaker was much better as a shadowy figure who drew his power from a magic urn than he was as an out-of-shape biker with trendy rap-metal entrance music. Wrestling is all about guys in garish costumes shouting at the top of their lungs about how they're gonna beat their opponents. Wrestling is The Mountie vs. The Big Bossman. It's The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales. It's The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon. Wrestling is NOT supposed to be Tyson Tomko fighting some other vanilla gorilla with stupidass tattoos. Keeping with that philosophy, this article will recap the main events of Wrestlemanias V, VI, and VII. If you've seen these matches, you probably understand where I'm coming from. If you haven't, then class is in session. Before we begin, it's important to note that these matches were almost entirely done by improvisation. The winner was predetermined and a few big spots were preplanned, but the rest of the match was created by the two wrestlers reading each other's cues. It takes a certain amount of talent to do something like that. These days, Vince makes sure that every fucking second of WWF matches is scripted.
Wrestlemania V: Hulk Hogan vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage
At Wrestlemania IV, an unlikely alliance was formed. Due to certain shenanigans pulled by Andre The Giant and The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, WWF president Jack Tunney stripped DiBiase of the belt and held a single elimination tournament at WM4 to find a new world champion. Hogan had been feuding with Andre The Giant and to a lesser extent DiBiase, so when Macho Man defeated The Million Dollar Man in the main event, the Mega Powers were born. With Miss Elizabeth as their valet, Hogan and Savage were unstoppable. For almost a full year, Hulkamania and Macho Madness ran rampant side by side. All that changed at The Main Event on February 3, 1989. During a tag match against The Big Bossman and Akeem The African Dream, Savage was thrown out of the ring and landed on Elizabeth. Hogan carried Miss Elizabeth backstage for immediate medical assistance leaving Savage to fend for himself. When Hogan returned, Savage slapped him and left the match. Afterwards, a jealous Macho Man attacked Hogan as the injured Elizabeth tried to talk him down. Savage then challenged Hogan to a match for the gold at Wrestlemania V. Hogan was clearly the fan favorite, but in those days a second reign as WWF World Champion was largely unheard of; only Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino had done it before. In a stunning victory, The Hulkster beat Savage in 17:54 to regain the title belt. Wrestlemania V was held at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and Donald himself was in the audience for Hogan's shocking win. Other lame 80s celebrities at WM5 included Morton Downey Jr. and Run-DMC. Thankfully, Run-DMC didn't perform their offkey version of "Walk This Way".
Wrestlemania VI: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan
One year after Wrestlemania V, Hulk still had the title. That's a pretty amazing feat, unless you take into consideration the fact that the whole thing is scripted. This time the stakes were higher and the celebrity guests were far more lame: Robert Goulet, Steve Allen, and Mary Tyler Moore all got day passes from their respective nursing homes to attend the spectacle. Warrior's career was on the rise at this point and to lose this match would inevitably stall his career. Hogan, on the other hand, had been with the WWF for 11 years at this point and losing the belt probably meant that he would never regain it because at this point in time a third reign as World Champion was completely unprecedented. This was a rather unique matchup. Most title matches pit a fan favorite (face) against a bad guy (heel), but Hogan and Warrior were both faces going into WM6. Usually when two faces square off, one of them makes the predictable heel turn. That didn't happen here. Instead, there were just two guys giving their all to put on a good show for the audience. In the end, Warrior won out over Hogan in an epic match that ran almost 25 minutes long. Afterwards, a dejected Hogan left the ring and picked up the belt. For a moment it looked like he might run off with it or use it to whack Warrior upside the head. Instead, he presented the belt to his opponent and gave him a big hug as the fans cheered in approval. Due to its almost perfect execution and feel-good ending, this match still stands as one of the most memorable ever in wrestling history.
Wrestlemania VII: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
Wrestlemania VII's main event is probably one of the most controversial matches ever. Some people found it to be cheap and exploitative, others found it to be offensive pro-war propaganda. Well, those people are all douchebags who failed to see the match for what it was: unadulterated cheesy wrestling fun. Sergeant Slaughter, former G.I. Joe character and wrestling good guy turned his back on America during the Gulf War and sided with Iraq. He began coming down to the ring dressed like Saddam Hussein and brandishing an Iraqi flag and two months prior to Wrestlemania VII, he took the Warrior's title belt. Only a Real American could stop that turncoat bastard, so naturally The Hulkster stepped in. The WWF had more or less hit its first peak at Wrestlemania VI. By 1991, the crowds were dwindling. WM7 was originally going to be held in Olympic Stadium in LA, but it was moved to the smaller Los Angeles Sports Arena due to slow ticket sales. As a cover story for the move, Vince McMahon claimed that a sniper might try and kill Slaughter in the open air arena. Although Vince didn't have any legitimate security concerns, Slaughter's heel turn was garnering renewed interest in the WWF as well as several death threats addressed to Sgt. Slaughter. The move had paid off; everyone wanted to see Slaughter lose. In a savage match that clocked in at just over 20 minutes, Hogan beat the Iraqi sympathizer and ripped his flag apart, but only after Sarge made him bleed like a stuck pig. This match gave Hogan his third title, making him the first person ever to be a three time WWF World Champion.
Wrestling has totally gone down the tubes. It used to be violent without being a crass celebration of violence. It was so cartoonish that it was family friendly, like a live action Looney Tunes cartoon. It brought out the best in people instead of the worst: Hulk Hogan encouraged a whole generation of children to train, eat their vitamins, and say their prayers. Today's wrestlers are like politicians, they talk forever without saying anything at all. These days wrestling amounts to little more than a bunch of short-haired nobodies in generic black tights beating the shit out of each other with some cheap T & A thrown in for good measure, the type of bland stupidity that could only appeal to those rednecks who watch NASCAR. I've got a message for any would-be wrestlers out there: unless you have a badass nickname or an outlandish gimmick, get the fuck off of my TV. I long for the days when McMahon paid his wrestlers so crappily that they had to take second jobs as undertakers, cowboys, clowns, truck drivers, and dentists. The main difference between old school WWF and the current WWE is this: Old school WWF would sometimes make you groan because it was so goofy. The present WWE is generally so mindless and pointless that all you can do is shake your head, sigh, and wait for Vince to give us classic matches On Demand. While you wait for that to happen, why not watch some of the old Slim Jim commercials starring Randy Savage? Unlike McMahon's badly scripted matches, they never get stale.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
*I will NEVER refer to the old product as the WWE. The World Wrestling Federation was a worthwhile product at its various peaks. The WWE has yet to do anything even half as good as vintage WWF.