I would like to begin with an apology for what has now become a slightly misleading title. I was asked to write about my favourite WrestleMania and immediately chose X and XII as, from memory, they were my joint favourites. As I hadn’t watched either in full since they were originally broadcast I decided to revisit both which is so convenient to do now with the fantastic WWE Network. While I watched both I quickly realised as much as we complain about things in the present, we can also sometimes reflect on the past with rose-tinted specs. The great memories of the past were maybe not all we make them out to be and it is amazing how childhood memories can be distorted over time as we grow older (just look listen to Hulk Hogan for evidence of how more recent memories can become distorted!).
Regardless the standout WrestleMania memories I had were of my heroes as a kid, “Mr Wrestlemania“ himself, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels and “The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be”, one of the greatest technical wrestlers in WWE history Bret “The Hitman” Hart. The reason these WrestleMania’s became so lodged in my brain were their amazing, and timeless performances where they pushed themselves to their physical and mental limits.
Thankfully this is something that I hadn’t exaggerated in my mind (phew!) but whether or not I would still count these as my favourite WrestleMania events all these years later you will have to read the rest of this article to find out!
A landmark WrestleMania in that it was the first not to feature Hulk Hogan and it was also the last televised WWE appearance for the soon to be inducted in the Hall Of Fame “The Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Even back in 1994 WWE couldn’t make a firm decision on who they were putting in the WrestleMania main event. It was decided that in front of over 18,000 people in Madison Square Garden there would be two title matches. This came about after Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Lex Luger simultaneously eliminated each other at the Royal Rumble. A good old fashioned coin toss was used to decide who would take on the champion Yokozuna first, “The Hitman” lost and therefore took on his brother Owen Hart in the opening match.
This first match was exactly as you would expect from an encounter between Bret and Owen, a 5/5 and what must have been on the short-list for match of the year. An old fashioned tale of face against heel, excellent technical wrestling straight out of Stampede, the match did what a match at WrestleMania should and actually told a story and the 30 mins or so went by in a flash. Ok there was one surprise as Bret didn't win but then he was suffering with an ongoing knee injury (kayfabe) that looked certain to cost him his title opportunity later.
How can you follow that? Well in the sort of move you would imagine now 21 years later we go from the magnificent to the ridiculous and we are treated to a “skit” with Howard Finkel wearing a wig and then a 6 minute “comedy” match between a pair of clowns (and that isn’t just me throwing insults, it was Doink and Dink) against the man that was to incredibly headline XI Bam Bam Bigelow and his girlfriend (kayfabe) Luna Vachon. A Bigelow diving headbutt (a move that makes me shudder when I see it these days) wrapped things up quickly to put everyone out of their misery. If that wasn't a lame enough attempt to bring humour to the occasion the camera then bizarrely panned to a Bill Clinton lookalike.
Next was a “falls count anywhere” with a weird stipulation that you only won after a pin if your opponent didn’t return to the ring in 60 seconds. At the time I probably thought this was “extreme” and I was a fan of both Savage and Crush as a kid. However watching this now the strange gimmick didn’t do anything to help the quality of match and the hardcore element, fighting backstage etc, is pretty tame in comparison to what was being shown on Raw just a few years later. The fact Crush had two haircuts on one head couldn't help distract me from the fact Savage was massively over selling some lame shots from Mr Fuji's flag. Over in ten mins after Randy tied up Crush, I’d probably give it 2/5 just because it was Savage’s last ‘Mania.
We then get taken back to the Bill Clinton lookalike but this time for an interview! Absolutely bonkers. Back to the ring and in a match straight out of a 2015 edition of Raw, Alundra Blayze defended the newly reinstated Women’s Title against Leilani Kai in a match that was given less airtime than Finkel’s wig modelling earlier. The 2015 Hall Of Fame inductee wrapped things up in 3 minutes. Some things never change I guess (apart from hash-tags).
The Tag Team Titles were on the line next as The Quebecers defended their title against Men On A Mission with a future "King Of The Ring" Mabel looking slightly slimmer than in his later days as Viscera and Big Daddy V. It was actually a better match than the horror show I expected and went at a decent pace but ended with The Quebecers running away and keeping hold of the belts with a countout defeat.
The first of the nights title matches saw a now babyface Lex Luger dressed in the stars and stripes oiled up and ready to take on Yokozuna. The twist in the tale was Mr Perfect was to be the special guest referee on his return to WWE. He had actually feuded with Luger previously and they had fought at WrestleMania IX. Just as you could predict how Owen vs Bret would turn out, you can guess how this one played out. If you had a match like this in Stu's "Dungeon" you probably wouldn't get out alive. Luger couldn't even be bothered to look interested during the many rest holds. The match did end with some excitment when Luger had Yokozuna beat after a running forearm smash but Perfect was busy getting the battered bodies of Jim Cornette and Mr Fuji, who Luger had also taken care of, out of the ring. In his frustration at the lack of a count Luger grabbed Perfect who then disqualified Luger and turned heel in the process.
I'm not even going to give the next "match" any credibility by writing about it, but there were more wig jokes and Eathquake beat Adam Bomb in about twenty seconds. Of course then we had to hear more from the fake Bill Clinton, this time with Ted Dibiase. Flogging a dead horse springs to mind.
The next match was a ladder match, an Intercontinental Title match and the second 5/5 match of the evening. Shawn Michaels, accompanied by bodyguard Diesel against Razor Ramon in a coming together of "The Kliq". They may have been men with big egos but they knew how to deliver on"The Grandest Stage of Them All". It wasn't long before Kevin "Diesel" Nash was sent to the back after taking out Ramon despite being told a few minutes earlier that there were "no rules" by the announce team.
What then follows is about fifteen minutes or so of WWE at its finest. Even if you have never seen the match in full you will have seen most of the iconic moments that are used in almost every Wrestlemania (or just WWE for that matter) montage. The match ended similarly to Crush vs Savage earlier in the evening with Michaels left tied up for Razor Ramon to climb the ladder and collect the belts. There may have been much dangerous matches in the years since this, more insane bumps but at the time this was a game changer. If you haven't seen it, I implore you to get on the WWE Network right now and play it back.
The next match, an eight man tag, was cancelled due to time constraints (they could have shaved ten mins off Yokozuna vs Luger with no complaints) so in order to justify its exclusion we next see a kayfabe argument between the heel team unable to decide who would be captain.
Yet still before the main event we welcome Burt Reynolds as ring announcer and the legendary Roddy Piper as guest referree. As previously Yokozuna tries his best to stink the place out but Bret does all he can to make a match of it and for that alone he deserved the win and his WrestleMania moment. After a ten minute bout Bret "The Hitman Hart" wins by pinfall and is then joined in the ring by all the roster babyfaces who hold him aloft in the centre of the ring. A classic WrestleMania moment.
In part two I will look at WrestleMania XII, which was the best of the two and whether either can stands tall with the more modern WrestleMania events. Ok I'm sorry I may have slightly misled you again!
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