Monday, May 26, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania VII

Guys, i am not looking forward to this recap. Let's not get too flowery about it and just resign ourselves to the fact that we're about to slog through a whole bunch of hot garbage when it comes to WrestleMania VII. We've got two of the company's best talents, Rick Martel and Jake Roberts, in a match where they can't see each other. We've got Virgil turning on Ted DiBiase. Sure, we've got Randy Savage propping up The Ultimate Warrior, and we've got the Hart Foundation in a tag title match, but we also have--if memory serves, and knowing that i haven't revisited this PPV since it aired in 1991 leads me to think i'm right--a steaming pile of rancid horse crap of a main event, where WWF World Champion Sergeant Slaughter defends against Hulk Hogan. "Oh, hey, DJ--shit, isn't this the match where Slaughter is a pro-Iraqi turncoat?"


Wrestling has a long, inglorious history of co-opting or exploiting current events to make money. One of the WWF's best heels ever, The Iron Sheik, won the World Title from all-American goody-two-shoes Bob Backlund when the Iran hostage crisis was still fresh in America's memory. Decades of "Russian" wrestlers terrorized wrestling rings with their cold war chicanery. So when, in 1990 and 1991, the WWF began to exploit Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War, it wasn't particularly shocking, but it was particularly awful.

Not because it's completely crass and tasteless to profit off a war resulting in innocent lives being snuffed out in the collateral damage of SCUD missiles (although i'm sure Vince McMahon would tell us they were telling a morality tale to boost morale back home, like Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw), but because it was just so goddamn lazy. The moment that "Macho King" Randy Savage cracked The Ultimate Warrior over the head with his scepter at the 1991 Royal Rumble, leading directly to Sgt. Slaughter pinning the Warrior for the title seconds later, everyone knew that the WrestleMania VII main event was going to feature Slaughter dropping the title back to a Real American (and Jack Swagger and Cesaro weren't around yet, so guess who?). And frankly, i like to think i wasn't alone in being completely sick of Hulk Effing Hogan.

Well, shit. Let's get on with this then.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania VI

It was the pinfall that rocked a million grade schoolers.

In professional wrestling, there are countless ways to win a match, depending on the gimmick involved. You can escape a cage, drag your opponent to all four corners, toss 'em in a casket, even light 'em on fire. But a lot of these finishes are copouts--ways to give a victory to one wrestler while not making the opponent look too weak in defeat. Even in 2014, the way to really assert dominance over an opponent--to show them that you are truly better, to really defeat them--is through pinfall or submission.

And as of April 1, 1990, Hulk Hogan had not been cleanly pinned in nine years. The internet tells me that the last man to pin Hulk Hogan's shoulders to the mat without cheating before the advent of Hulkamania was Tony Atlas sometime in 1981. For an entire generation of kids who started watching the WWF in 1985 or so, Hogan was unpinnable. Seeing Earl Hebner count a bogus three in '88 with Hogan's shoulder off the mat looked surreal, as did the sight of the WWF title on Andre the Giant's shoulder for all of 40 seconds. These days, champions get pinned in non-title matches all the time to advance storylines--heck, Randy Orton got pinned cleanly more often during his last title run than The Honky Tonk Man may have been in his entire career. But in the '80s, the WWF protected its champions. You did not see a champ get pinned, even in a non-title situation, because it made the champ look weak.

And that's why the finish to WrestleMania VI made history.

The WWF for a time must have been convinced that The Ultimate Warrior was the future of their company. Like Hogan before him, he was huge, ripped, and his way...and incredibly over with the fans. Unless you were a wrestling purist or an NWA fan, it was hard not to get swept up in the energy and the hype of the Warrior...even if nothing he ever said made any sense.

I mean, come on--who wouldn't have wanted this guy as the face of the company?

In 1989, this dude was so goddamn popular that he was on a nonstop collision course with the--until now--unquestioned king of the WWF, the man who had held the title since beating Randy Savage at WrestleMania V, Hulk Hogan. And for the first time since WrestleMania III, there was legitimate doubt as to whether Hogan would actually win, even though conventional wisdom reminded us that he hadn't been pinned in nine years, and did anyone even remember seeing that match, anyway? Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior was the match that had to happen, even though neither guy could actually wrestle worth half a goddamn. And still, it was a main event that ended up being greater than the sum of its parts. Like Andre/Hogan at WMIII, the hype told more story than the in-ring performance. And Intercontinental Title vs. World Title was the cherry on top.

But first, it was apparently critical that "Rowdy" Roddy Piper wrestle in blackface.