Saturday, January 3, 2015

WWE Network World Tour: WrestleMania XI

The years immediately following Hulk Hogan's departure were a weird time for the WWF, who were trying to promote their "New Generation" of stars led by the Undertaker, Bret "Hitman" Hart and the "Kliq" of Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Diesel, and the 1-2-3 Kid. I wasn't following very closely at this point because, while the WWF made amends in 1994 by putting the title back on Bret Hart at WrestleMania X, the storylines and characters outside of Bret and Owen's adventures weren't very compelling (to say nothing of the WWF's positioning of their world champion as a mid-carder playing second fiddle to the Deadman--something to which i'm sure a certain CM Punk could relate). The WWF in general had doubled down on cartoonish, overly colorful characters in order to sell to kids, and the fanbase that had grown up with Hulkamania were hungry for something new and more grown up. While the WWF would finally capitalize on this desire with the Attitude Era (thanks in no small part to ECW's influence), there were some pretty thin years between the boom periods.

One of Vince McMahon's weaknesses, during thin times or fat, is an over-reliance on celebrities. McMahon has always seemed obsessed with wrestling's sports entertainment's legitimacy, and this obsession has often resulted in a questionable desire to insert famous actors, musicians, and athletes into his storylines during 'Mania season. When it's something as simple as Alice Cooper at ringside for Jake "The Snake" Roberts, it's fine--it's a fun glitzy addition to the business' premier annual showcase. But as soon as those celebrities get into the ring, it never ends well (when the closest example you can get to a legit crossover is Mr. T, you know it's slim pickings).

Considering the state of pro wrestling's mainstream popularity at the time, using recently-retired New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in the ring in a heavily-promoted match against Bam Bam Bigelow stank of desperation (especially when you consider Taylor's substance abuse problems and the stain McMahon's steroid trial had left on the WWF). Everything about the match--its hype, its placement on the card, and the way it was booked--was meant to attract mainstream media attention, but ironically, it only served in every way to discredit the very art form it was meant to promote. On top of that, the WWF's champion at the time was its latest attempt to push a bigger-than-life superman on the fanbase, "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel (aka the future nWo's Kevin Nash), a 6'10", 300-plus-pound beef slab that got a rapid-fire monster push the year before that hadn't been seen since Hogan's immediate placement at the top of the card 10 years earlier. In the span of one calendar year, Diesel went from Shawn Michaels' non-wrestling bodyguard to tag team champ (with Michaels), Intercontinental champ, and finally the World Title, three days after Bret Hart shockingly dropped the belt to an aging Bob Backlund at the 1994 Survivor Series. After a 35-minute submission match that ended with Owen Hart convincing his mom, Helen (who was at ringside in the Hitman's corner) to throw in the towel and do Bret's submitting for him (shades of Arnold Skaaland throwing in the towel on Backlund's behalf when he lost the title to The Iron Sheik in 1983), Backlund immediately dropped the belt three days later to Diesel in an 8-second house show squash:

Lots to unpack in this sequence of events: in 1983, the WWF wanted Backlund to turn heel in order to drop the belt to Hulk Hogan; he refused, leading to the need to use the Iron Sheik as a transitional champ, losing to Hogan at Madison Square Garden. In 1994, Backlund, working as a heel, became the transitional champ between another smaller, technically gifted titleholder and the muscled superman the WWF preferred as their standard-bearer--losing the belt in Madison Square Garden. That the legendary manager-throwing-in-the-towel gimmick was incorporated shows that the similarities were not lost on WWF creative; what they had not yet grasped though, was that the WWF audience was getting tired of the same old same old, and were desperate for something new.

Well, they didn't get it at WrestleMania XI, even with Shawn Michaels in the title match against his "former" buddy. But hey, let's recap it anyway, since we're here.

We open with an announcer taking us through video highlights of all the previous WrestleManias...specifically, the celebrity guests at the previous WrestleManias (V: Morton Downey, Jr. and Run DMC! IX: Jim Ross and an elephant!). Then he announces that WrestleMania XI stars Pamela Anderson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas of Home Improvement, Nick Turturro on NYPD Blue, and vaccine denier Jenny McCarthy. Well, this bodes well for a solid night of no-bullshit wrestling action. And if you believe that, you haven't been reading my recaps.

We're at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut with a capacity crowd of just over 16,000, so we're still in the lean arena years of WrestleMania, but that doesn't stop the WWF from pulling out the stops with production value. In fact, we get several thrilling, butt-clenching moments of...awkward silence, as the director gives us some random crowd shots, and when the opening strains of "America the Beautiful" are fired up, we hear Vinnie Mac's voice quickly faded up in the middle of his introducing Special Olympian Kathy Huey, our vocalist this year. Wikipedia tells me that Fishbone were originally advertised, so no offense to our Special Olympian, but had i tuned in expecting Fishbone and got this, well, i would have taken that as a portent of what's to come. Perhaps the WWF couldn't afford Fishbone after loading up Lawrence Taylor's room with all that cocaine.

God, i love when we get crowd shots of people with their hands over their hearts during "America the Beautiful," as if there's a requirement to do that for anything other than reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, these overly jingoistic days, if you don't put your hand over your heart for a "USA" chant from hacksaw Jim Duggan, you may as well be a terrorist sympathizer. ...I rant about this to try to distract myself from the fact that Kathy's kinda butchering the song right now, and i feel like i can't say anything about it without being the worst person ever. Sorry Kathy. I was really hoping for Fishbone. It's not you, it's me. Dammit, LT.

Oh, good, we have Vince and Jerry Lawler on commentary for a second straight year. Don't you have Jim Ross in the company right now, Vince? What the hell? "We would like to thank our loyal fans for once again joining us at WrestleMania, and we'd also like to thank those of you joining us for the very first time. Now, what is WrestleMania? Unquestionably, WrestleMania simply put is the standard of excellence in sports entertainment." Oh, holy fuck. Vince apparently is expecting thousands of new eyes on the product because of this Lawrence Taylor/Bam Bam Bigelow match. Well, good thing he's pulled out all the stops to stack the card this year! All these casual viewers who are used to laughing off pro wrestling sports entertainment as a cheesy carny game of grab-ass are sure to be converted into lifers by Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy.

Or the Allied Powers vs. The Blu Brothers, which is kicking things off. Whee!

Match 1: The Allied Powers ("British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith and Lex Luger) vs. The Blu Brothers (Jacob & Eli Blu w/Dutch Mantel Zeb Colter Uncle Zebekiah)

"Hey, Vince, did you know we still have Davey Boy Smith under contract?" "Who?" "You know, the British Bulldog." "Oh, shit, really? I guess we need to find something for him to do. Let's put him with Luger. If we pair Bulldog with Lex's bod he'll look smaller in comparison and no one will notice how 'roided out he is. Uh, Lex has been doing the all-American thing, right? And what's Bulldog's gimmick?" "uh, he's British." "Right! Make 'em both carry flags to the ring. The crowds'll go apeshit for that. We got any Nazis for 'em to fight?" "Uh, no, but we have the Blu Brothers--they're working an Appalachian hick gimmick, so i suppose they could be kinda racist." "Close enough! Book it! I smell money!"

The Blu Brothers are Ron and Don Harris, who actually carved out a nice little career as a big, bruising identical twin tag team over the years. They start this match by starting a four-man brawl and getting doubled up by Davey and Lex, who whip both twins to the ropes and follow up with simultaneous powerslams. Eventually we get one-on-one action as Bulldog connects with a vertical suplex on whichever twin starts things off, and when they try a double team again Davey Boy responds with a double clothesline that drops the brothers to the mat. When one twin hits Davey Boy with a shot from the apron, Lex tries running into the ring, leading to the requisite ref distraction, enabling the brothers to double team the Bulldog. He shows life, though, by rolling Jacob or Eli into a small package, but the ref's back is still turned, allowing Eli or Jacob to run back in and stomp the Bulldog on the back, breaking up the pin attempt. Thrilling stuff.

We get more offense from the Blu Brothers for a few minutes--a clumsy side slam here, an ugly body slam there--until finally one of the twins whiffs on a second-rope elbow drop, allowing Davey Boy to make the hot tag to Luger. Punch! Punch! Boot! Kneelift! The crowd seems to be thrilled--there's at least crowd noise, although the crowd itself looks like they're sitting on their hands. Lex hits his "controversial" steel-loaded forearm and goes for the cover, but the other Blu runs in to make the save, causing a ref distraction long enough for the fresh brother to roll the unconscious one out of the ring when everyone's back was turned. Ah, the old "twin magic" canard. I'm kinda thankful that the Bella Twins can't do that anymore; it's totally played out. Thanks for getting new boobs, Nikki! The fresh Blu Brother kicks out of Lex's pin attempt and he's shocked--shocked!--that anyone would kick out of a pin after he KO'd them with his loaded forearm. But that's ok, because fortunately the Blu Brothers are fucking stupid. Jacob (Eli?) tries to get Lex into a piledriver position, but they're right in the Allied Powers' corner, so Lex makes a tag, Bulldog climbs the ropes, and as Eli (Jacob?) keeps trying to ram Lex's head between his legs, Davey Boys leaps, stuns the mountain man with a sunset flip, and gets the pin. Well, that's just ducky. Oh, jeez, guys! Watch out! The wiring over the ring is shorting out and catching fire--oh, wait, that's just some "fireworks" getting shot off. Oy, the budget for this show.

Winners: The Allied Powers via pinfall in 6:34

As the Allied Powers enjoy a not-at-all-homoerotic posedown in the ring, we meet up with Jim Ross, who is trying to get a word from Dirty Dutch Mantel--er, i mean Uncle Zebekiah, who is a totally different character than modern-day Zeb Colter, no seriously, we swear. "I knew if we went to the big city we'd get hornswaggled! They pinned the wrong guy! Where is justice?" What does Hornswaggle have to do with any of this? He's gotta be like 11 at this point.

"We hear that Pamela Anderson is backstage causing a commotion wherever she goes. We're going to go to Nick Turturro who is standing by Pamela Anderson's dressing room." We then cut to a shot of Turturro inside what looks like the Million Dollar Corporation's locker room (Ted DiBiase's new stable of b-level talent, including the former Papa Shango (and future Godfather) Kama "The Supreme Fighting Machine" and the past-his-prime King Kong Bundy. There is no audio, and eventually Jenny McCarthy gets pulled into the shot right before they cut away due to the audio problems. They go back to the ring where the Allied Powers' music is still playing. Ya know, i was wondering how a seven match show was gonna get stretched out to two and a half hours. Now i know. (Also, this WrestleMania is only two hours and 30 minutes. Jesus, was the roster that thin in 1995? There's no way they're keeping the show this short out of mercy for the audience. They would have booked a Doink vs. Crush 30-minute Iron Man match if it would have eaten up some time, and packed the other half hour with product placement and ads for WWF Ice Cream Bars. Then again, maybe they kept it short out of mercy for themselves...) Oh my god, the music will NOT STOP. Vince and Lawler keep talking about the Lawrence Taylor match later, and Lawler tries to heel on the NFL. "The NFL is 11 guys trying to move a small object 100 yards. It's like the post office." What? Seriously, What? Lawler, you're making it so i sympathize more with the babyface announcer than the heel for the first time in eleven 'Manias, and the babyface announcer here is Vince Fucking McMahon. YOU SUCK, LAWLER.

Match 2: "Double J" Jeff Jarrett (w/"The Roadie" Jesse James Armstrong)(c) vs. Razor Ramon (w/The 1-2-3 Kid) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship

Holy shit, Jeff Jarrett's giving Doink a run for his money in the "wrestling clown" department. Get a load of this fucking guy:

Your proud Intercontinental Champion

Almost makes you want to root for Razor Ramon to win back the title and restore the dignity to the championship that only a white dude portraying an oily Hispanic stereotype can provide.

We get a quick recap of the "Roadie" (Your future New Age Outlaw "Road Dogg" Jesse James) interfering during Razor's title defense against Jarrett at this year's Royal Rumble, which led to the Jarrett title win, and we get an equally quick interview backstage with the 1-2-3 Kid (Sean Waltman, the future X-Pac) who i think says Razor is ready to fight, but i can't really tell because the audio is still totally borked. Waltman's a kimono? The hell? He's only barely less ridiculous than Double J (who was just ripping off Ric Flair's strut in the ring) in that thing.

Dear 1-2-3 Kid: You are not the Best Around, and someone is surely gonna keep you down. Eric Bischoff, probably.

Hahaha! Total timekeeper fail! Razor and the Kid charge the ring, Waltman chasing the Roadie out of the ring while Razor gets in a few licks on Jarrett before he bolts from the ring. The bell rings, starting the match, but suddenly Razor's sparks and pyro go off around the ring to finish up his entrance! Whoops! What is this, some froofy version of an Inferno match?

Jarrett climbs back into the ring and immediately starts eating some Razor fist. A few punches lead to a couple quick two-counts, and a clothesline sends Jarrett reeling out of the ring, bumping his chin into the steel barricades for good measure. The crowd's loving it as Jarrett sells a hurt chin and referee Tim White asks Razor to back off so he can start the 10 count. When Jarrett comes back in, he does a nice little jump to the ropes and head fakes a bodypress attempt, confusing Ramon enough to flip over him and attempt a sunset flip, but Razor doesn't budge, hits another punch to Jarrett's noggin and falls on him for a two count. There's a cartoonish bump where Jarrett runs into the Roadie, but not nearly hard enough to send him flying off the apron and into the railing or whatever he bounces off of when he hits the floor. Fortunately, he recovers in time to grab Jarrett's feet as he's being lifted into a dangling position by Ramon for the Razor's Edge finisher, pulling him out of the ring but making it look to the ref (apparently) like Jarrett just hooked his feet under the ropes and pulled himself out. At least, that's how it's explained to us by the commentary. It all looks a little sloppy.

Jarrett tries to head back to the locker room but he's stopped by the Kid, who forces Double J back through the gaggle of ringside photographers (seriously, there are a LOT of photogs at ringside hoping to catch a money shot of the Lawrence Taylor shitshow later on) and back into the ring to get rolled up for a two-count. Jarrett gets the upper hand on an Irish whip into a turnbuckle, though, which opens the door for rampant interference by the Roadie, choking Razor on the ropes when the ref's back is turned to admonish Jarrett for some perceived slight. Razor gets to his feet and Roadie tries to clothesline him from the apron, but Razor responds by slamming the future Road Dogg's head  hard into the turnbuckle, sending him flying to the floor, to be joined by the Intercontinental champ as he's tossed over the top rope by our "Cuban" challenger.

Jesus, i think there were fewer photographers camped outside Neverland Ranch in its prime than are camped out at ringside for this pay-per-view. There weren't this many cameramen at Princess Diana's crash site. These cameramen combined have seen more Sean Penn punches than the number of punches thrown in this...oh, you get the idea. TOPICAL HUMOR--IT'S WHY YOU'RE HERE.

Jarrett finally starts getting some offense in, landing some nice dropkicks and whipping Razor to the turnbuckle. Razor grabs his leg and Jarrett whiffs on the subsequent spinning kick attempt, but recovers to get Razor into a headlock on the mat as the crowd chants Razor's name. Both men start to speed things up, connecting with various back and forth offense until Jarrett swings around onto Razor's back, locking in the fearsome and dramatic sleeperhold. Tension! Nah, Razor shoves jarrett to the ropes to get out of it, but Jeff puts on the brakes, grabs Razor's hair, and whips him to the mat for a two-count. "That was an unbelievable maneuver right there," says Lawler, "because normally your hands would slip right off the greasy hair of Ramon." Nyuk nyuk. Back to the headlock and The Karate 1-2-3 Kid gets the fans chanting once again as Razor counters with a back suplex that drops both men to the mat. The ref starts a ten count, but both men get back up, bouncing to the ropes, colliding heads, and slumping to the mat again. Another 10-count, but both men are up at 8. Razor punches Double J in the head, and then as Jarrett drops, so does Ramon in exhaustion. Oh, good, another 10-count from the ref! Did this become a Last Man Standing match and someone forgot to tell me?

At about 8, Razor crawls off the mat just enough to fall onto Jarrett for a close two-count, and the Roadie sells extreme concern at ringside. More right hands from Razor, and when Jarrett attempts a run off the ropes into a bodypress, Razor catches him and hits his signature fallaway slam for another close two count. I guess this is the part where Razor starts to ramp up a fierce rally and connect with all his trademark moves before the heel champ cheats to retain, right? Whip to the ropes and a punch to the head! (Signature offense, see?) As the ref has words with Razor, the 1-2-3 Kid tries to crotch Jarrett on the ring post, but Jarrett uses his legs to kick the Kid off and into the ringside barricades. That's what he gets for trying to cheat, like a dirty two-faced cheater. What, he thinks because he's part of the Shawn Michaels Kliq that he can do whatever he wants? ....Oh, wait, yeah.

Ramon goes for an elbow off the ropes and totally whiffs, slamming his elbow on the mat and screaming in pain. He gets up limping and Lawler says "i think he fell on that weak knee!" Oh, the knee that was hurt at the Rumble by Road Dogg's interference? Woah! Ring psychology! Who woulda thunkit? Sure enough, Jarrett goes on the offense, dropping Ramon's knee across his, then signaling for the dreaded Figure-Four Leglock! Wait, so not only was Jarrett doing Flair's strut earlier in the match, but he's also copped his finishing move? Well, that's class.

Ramon sells extreme pain and fights to keep his shoulders off the mat, as every time he lays down, the ref starts to count a pin. "This is normally not a pinning maneuver," observes McMahon, which is complete bullshit, because how did Ric Flair win the strap back from Savage back in 1992? By locking in the figure four until Savage passed out and had his shoulders counted out on the mat. Jeez, McMahon, learn your own history! It was barely three years ago! Anyway, Razor reverses the figure four by turning it over, and after connecting with a back superplex from the second rope, his knee buckles again, preventing him from rolling over into a pin attempt. But it doesn't stop Razor from getting Jarrett up in the Razor's Edge, which forces the Roadie's hand. He runs in, clips Razor's healthy knee instead of the injured one (oops), and forces a DQ. Meh. This wasn't a bad match per se, but it was also one that was hard to give a shit about, because it's hard to give a shit about a country-singing rodeo clown and a fake Cuban in brownface.

Winner: Razor Ramon via DQ in 13:32; Jarrett retains the Intercontinental Title

The Kid runs into the ring to bail out his buddy and starts cleaning house, connecting with flying spin kicks to both of the heels, but just before he can really light up the Roadie, Jarrett grabs him and tosses him into the air, sending him crashing to the mat with a thud. "Yeah! Yeah! Pancake time!" screams Lawler. I have no idea what the fuck he's talking about anymore. Jarrett slaps the figure four onto the Kid as the Roadie lays into his head with some solid fist work, and eventually a bunch of refs have to come in and separate everyone because it's a pier six brawl!

Jarrett walks back to the dressing room with his title belt and a bloody nose as Jim Ross gets in his face and says he should be ashamed of himself, as this is all conduct unbecoming of the Intercontinental Champion. Indeed; the Intercontinental title is by no means a suitable vehicle for a loudmouth wannabe singer who pretends to play the guitar and gets intentionally disqualified in order to retain his...hey, wait a minute...

Oh, so the sound issues are now fixed in the backstage area, so they decide to hit the restart button on Nick Turturro's skit from earlier and basically make everyone do everything over again. So, apparently Irwin R. Shyster, Nikolai Volkoff, and Ted DiBiase have been embroiled in the same conversation for the last twenty minutes? Jenny McCarthy gets pulled into the frame again, but it pays off when Shawn Michaels and his new bodyguard Sid (ugh, yes, Sid) barrel into the room to start yelling about Diesel and their title match later tonight. Sid starts screaming into the mic and i honestly have no idea what the hell he was yelling about because A) Sid never makes any sense; and B) i was paying more attention to Jenny McCarthy comically plugging her ears in order to block out Sid's ranting directly above her. Her hair is SUPER 90s and she is laughing her ass off at what her management team got her into tonight. Someone's getting fucking fired, and i'm not talking about the doctor that tried to warn her about measles.

Match 3: King Kong Bundy (w/Ted DiBiase) vs. the Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer)

Apparently this feud started at the Royal Rumble as well, because Million Dollar Corporation member IRS "repossessed" the Undertaker's urn while he was distracted by Bundy. OK, i've heard dumber reasons to have a feud, i guess, so what the hell. Lawler points out that Bundy has the record for the fastest pin in WrestleMania history at nine seconds, which was actually 24 seconds, but shhhh, don't y'all worry your pretty little heads over that minor detail. It's not like the Undertaker is SD Jones, anyway.

Oh, hot damn, it's Todd Pettengill, and he's with former Chicago Bear Neal Anderson, making him get into a three-point stance before asking him about LT's chances tonight, and...fucking hell, it's gonna be like this the whole show, isn't it? The whole goddamn company is bending over backwards to fellate the NFL stars in the building because oh my god the real athletes are here and oh my god we so want them to like us and take us seriously PLEASE NFL FOOTBALL PLAYERS PLEASE LOVE US!!! Jesus, this is embarrassing. Vince McMahon's inferiority complex is worse than the one Milwaukee has over not being Chicago, to say nothing of the one Chicago has over not being New York.

And here comes the Deadman! After taking last year off, the Undertaker is back for his fourth WrestleMania match, this one to be officiated by American League umpire Larry Young for some reason. The WWF has spared no celebrity expense. Or they just have no celebrity expense (other than Lawrence Taylor's blow budget). DiBiase drops the urn on his way out of the ring, seeming fairly wigged out by the dude he brought into the WWF in the first place. I think my favorite thing about the whole "Undertaker gets his power from the mysterious urn" angle is that there have been about three dozen urns, at least, which makes one wonder--does he get power from just any old urn? If the Undertaker shows up at my place and my dad's urn happens to be visiting, can i use it to force 'Taker to clean my house?

Bundy tries to get the drop on 'Taker to start things off, but the Deadman sniffs it out, opening up the offense with some punches and one of his "vintage" wristlocks into a tightrope-walking leap off the ropes. A few clotheslines and Bundy is dropped onto the mat as McMahon observes, "you can bet Reggie White of Lawrence Taylor's all-pro team is watching every moment of this match because Bundy has singled out Reggie WhiteLOOKOUT!" as Bundy clotheslines 'Taker into a flip out of the ring, landing on his feet on the ringside floor, as he so often does. So, King Kong Bundy called out Reggie White before WrestleMania? Why, did Reggie make some sort of well-intentioned but clumsily racist observation about superheavyweight white bald guys? Did Bundy donate to Reggie White's church rebuilding fund and demand to know where the money went?

Anyway, since he's outside the ring, Undertaker decides to just walk over to DiBiase and take the urn right out from his hands, which is...anticlimactic, but kinda funny. All this drama over the urn being stolen. Will 'Taker be able to get it back? And just like that....yoink! He hands it to Paul Bearer, the crowd goes wild, 'Taker does that thing where he gets down on one knee and draws power from the urn, and then he hops onto the apron and starts no-selling Bundy's offense. Oh, good.

Oh, i see what happens next -- DiBiase waves toward the back to bring out Kama, who immediately runs over to Paul Bearer and gets the urn back. Suddenly, 'Taker's powers fade again and while he tries to wrest the urn from Kama's grasp, Bundy sneaks up behind him and clocks him one, gaining the advantage. Jim Ross runs over to Kama to admonish him for stealing someone else's property, and Kama's all "it's mine now! I'm gonna melt it down and make a necklace out of it!" Oh, so that's where he got all those gold chains for his Godfather costume. Wacky! Meanwhile, Bundy is now taking it to the Undertaker because his superpowers have been deactivated. Maybe 'Taker has a magic ring that has to be recharged in the urn every 24 hours?

Bodyslam and a big fat knee drop, and Bundy gets a two-count before cinching in a chinlock. Paul tried to get the crowd involved, in lieu of having a super-powered urn, i guess, and boy are they milking this rest hold. Eventually they get up and Bundy whips 'Taker into a corner and hits his patented avalanche running splash in the corner, which 'Taker abruptly no-sells, Hulk Hogan-style, which causes Bundy to double-take in disbelief. "Ah, fucking hell, not this shit again. I thought Hogan was off in WCW. This guy does a magic rally gimmick too?"

Holy shit, then Bundy charges at 'Taker and eats a big boot and a body slam. Seriously? Hit him with the legdrop next, 'Taker! Nope, it's a leaping clothesline and a pin for the three-count, because i suppose 'Taker wasn't gonna get him in the Tombstone piledriver any time soon. Man, that was some lazy nonsense. Bundy's out of the ring immediately and walking mater-of-factly to the back with DiBiase. "Ah, the hell with it. It's a paycheck!" So, the Undertaker wins the match, but possibly not the war, as he failed to retrieve his magical urn from Kama, and it's probably gonna turn into super cheap costume jewelry now. Ah well, i guess he can always go shopping for a new one at Just Urns, or maybe a Ralph's if a Foldgers' can will work in a pinch. I mean, just because we're bereaved, it doesn't make us saps, right Dude?

Winner: The Undertaker via pinfall in 6:36; Streak at 4-0

Nick Turturro is in the backstage area looking for Pamela Anderson, who is nowhere to be found! The word is that she had a huge argument with Shawn Michaels, whom she was to accompany ringside, and she has left the building. Has anyone checked Lawrence Taylor's dressing room? So Nick pulls in Steve "Mongo" McMichael, ringside buddy of LT and future WCW United States Champion (sigh...yup), to talk some trash back at whatever wrestler was dissing him earlier. I've honestly already forgotten who that may have been, i am so apathetic toward this crap. And, goddammit, into the frame wanders Green Bay Packer and future star of Reggie's Prayer, Reggie White. Well, that's just super.

Go, Pack, Go...Away

When i was 20 years old, in college, and in the midst of the Mike Holmgren/Brett Favre Green Bay Packers' ascent to Super Bowl relevancy, i still thought being at ringside for this match would be a colossal embarrassment for Reggie White (and i guess McMichael, since he had just retired after spending his final pro season with Green Bay). Granted, i had no idea that there was still a racist speech at the state capitol, a nationwide grift to raise funds for a church that was never built, and this trailer still to come, so comparatively, showing up at the of the worst WrestleManias in history is at least treading water instead of drowning in a lake of hubris.

Yes, that's The Big Show pointing a prop gun at Reggie's head

Reggie white tells King Kong Bundy that if he wants to call them out, they're right here. "If you want us, come and get us!" Big talk right after the dude just got clotheslined into next year.

Next, Nick wanders into another random dressing room only to find Jonathan Taylor Thomas playing chess with Bob Backlund. Meanwhile, somewhere in the arena, a mid-tier member of the WWF roster that got left off the show is kicking his monitor over because this crap could have been replaced by, like, maybe a wrestling match or something? Was Bob "Sparky Plugg" Holly on the roster yet in 1995? Bob "Sparky Plugg" Holly would have been better than this.

Searching for Bobby Backlund

Mercifully we finally return to the ring, where Owen Hart's music is playing. Thank god, at least we have a decent wrestler in this match. Owen is starting his run teaming with Yokozuna, and they are about to (hopefully) put the hurt on WWF World Tag Team Champions the Smokin' Gunns. In related news, the WWF tag team scene is maybe five months away from completely bottoming out at this point. I mean, The Smokin' Gunns are tag team champs, for frak's sake. In 1987 they would have been jobbing to the Young Stallions and Killer Bees on a weekly basis.

Match 4: Owen Hart & Yokozuna (w/Mr. Fuji & Jim Cornette) vs. The Smokin' Gunns (Billy and Bart Gunn) for the WWF World Tag Team Championship

Oh, wait! I guess we don't know it's Yokozuna yet. Owen's walking to the ring by himself and Lawler and McMahon are talking like this is a big surprise, so i guess Owen's partner was TBA. Got it.

Match 4: Owen Hart & his mystery partner vs. The Smokin' Gunns (Billy and Bart Gunn) for the WWF World Tag Team Championship

"And now, the moment you've all been waiting for," says Owen. "I give to you a man that went out and did something i've always wanted to do--beat my brother Bret for the World Wrestling Federation Title: YOKOZUNA!" Lawler is jubilant and McMahon is stunned. "Oh my goodness!"

Match 4: Owen Hart & Yokozuna (w/Mr. Fuji & Jim Cornette) vs. The Smokin' Gunns (Billy and Bart Gunn) for the WWF World Tag Team Championship

It's hard to judge which look was a more ridiculous one for Billy Gunn: the smiling cowboy with the mullet and dogshit mustache, or "Mr. Ass."

All i know is that his time spent as one half of "allegedly" gay tag team Bill and Chuck was easily the least embarrassing gimmick of his career, because at least that schtick wasn't closeted.

Owen starts off against Billy as Lawler raves about Yokozuna's thighs. "Can we get a shot of those thighs? The world hasn't seen thighs like that since the brontosaurus died out." Aw, how cute--it's 1995 and people still think the brontosaurus existed. Owen starts off with a slap to Billy's face which gets returned in kind a few reversals later. Ah, so these teams don't respect one another. Got it. Future "Brawl for All" champ Bart Gunn tags in and does some leaping thing where he crotches himself on Owen's arm while Billy holds it in place, and this apparently hurts Owen more than Bart. Owen tags out and the behemoth Yokozuna steps in, immediately gaining control with a few chops and a powerslam on Bart. However, Yoko tags out and Bart is able to regain control, slapping an armbar on the King of Harts. A tag to Billy, and they whip Owen to the ropes, catching him, holding him in place, and then sending him out of the ring with a double side Russian leg sweep which looks kinda cool but doesn't necessarily cause any more damage than i imagine a single side Russian leg sweep would. Well, like i said, the golden era of tag team wrestling in the WWF is pretty much over by this point, so let's just be happy Yokozuna was nice enough to sell the Gunns' subsequent double-dropkick, tumbling out of the ring while the Gunns play to the audience. Why the Hartford, CT crowd is rooting for a pair of Village People i do not understand, although i guess no WWF fan is ok with the heel waving a Japanese flag around. Whatever. 

The Gunns keep up the offense, connecting on a back suplex/neckbreaker double team that's good for a two-count, and then Bart holds Owen in place for a very high legdrop from Billy that might have scored a three, but Yokozuna steps into the ring to distract the ref, who admonishes him for leaving the apron before a tag. Of course, Billy's got Owen rolled up for about an 8-count before the ref notices, giving Owen ample time to kick out right at two. Of course, everyone knows that when this happens, the heel getting pinned actually knows the ref is unable to count, and is merely using this time to catch their breath before kicking out whenever they hear the ref's hand strike two. Trust me on this; i'm pretty sure that's the most rational explanation for the "heel kicks out at two no matter how long it takes the ref to notice" cliche.

Owen recovers and tags Yokozuna, who takes advantage of a Hart drop-toehold to drop a bronto apatosaurus leg on the back of Billy's goddamn head. Yikes. Advantage Yoko. The bad guys take total control, Owen ramming Billy's back into a ringpost after he rolls out of the ring in pain. Back in the ring, Yoko continues the attack, cinching in a nervehold in the middle of the ring--always an exciting rest hold. But after Billy's arm fails to drop a third time, Yoko stands him up and pins his arms back, readying for an Owen Hart missile dropkick that Billy, naturally, totally dodges, resulting in Hart's boots colliding with Yokozuna's face! And the crowd goes wild. (Meh.) Jim Cornette starts stomping the ring apron to motivate his men, but the crowd chant along with his stomping, yelling "U-S-A! U-S-A!" Ok, that's kinda funny. Bart gets the hot tag and starts cleaning house, sending Owen out of the ring and slamming Yokozuna to the mat by yanking his hair. "That was totally illegal, McMahon!" Lawler screams accurately. "Yes it was." "And you're condoning that?" "I'm not condoning it, i'm simply calling it." My kingdom for a Monsoon/Ventura call right now. Bart tags out to Billy and both Gunns attempt to double team the big man, but Owen recoveres enough to yank down on the top rope as Bart tries to bounce off it, sending him to the outside. Meanwhile, Yokozuna catches Billy in a belly-to-belly suplex that nearly renders Billy Gunn two-dimensional (like, physically. Everyone knows his gimmick is lacking dimension). Yokozuna drags Billy to the corner and hits the dreaded Bonzai Drop, and oh man, do i love seeing Billy Gunn get squashed all to hell.  If i could find an animated .gif of it i'd post it, but let's satisfy ourselves with this:

Ya think Yokozuna ever farted during a match?

Anyway, Bart Gunn comes back in just in time to make the save, but Yoko ends up backdropping Bart out of the ring and tagging in Owen, who simply drags Billy to the middle of the ring and pins Billy for the three-count. New tag champs! Owen jumps for joy--repeatedly and to great comedic effect--and hands Yokozuna his new belt as the two embrace and celebrate in the ring. It's Owen's first title win in the WWF, and as for Yokozuna, apparently all he does at WrestleMania is win and lose titles. That's not a bad position to be in, really.

Winners: Owen Hart & Yokozuna via pinfall in 9:42 to win the WWF Tag Team Championship

Seriously--the tag team division may be dogshit in the 1995 WWF, but you could do a LOT worse than these stately, imposing champions:

Hmm. While admiring this photo, it occurs to me that both of these dudes are now totally dead. Welp. That's a buzzkill, isn't it? Let's move on.

OK, we're officially one hour and 8 minutes into this pay-per-view. We have one hour and sixteen minutes to go. We've had four out of seven matches. That means we're in for only three more matches and a whole lot of bullshit filler. Well, at least it'll be over quick! -Ish!

Todd Pettengill is on the interview set with mothafukkin' BAM BAM BIGELOW and is interviewing him about the events that have led up to the impending confrontation here at WrestleMania XI. From shoving LT at ringside at the Royal Rumble to getting into a scuffle during the week's run up to the show, Bam Bam insists that he's been getting disrespected by LT and that he's been merely retaliating. I mean, let's consider the fact that LT was probably coked out of his gourd during all these incidents. It's probably not a stretch to say he instigated all this. Or maybe i'm just partial to rooting for the most underrated big man in the history of pro wrestling. Additionally, Bam Bam's jersey accent is a sublime joy to listen to in this interview. Next to Todd Pettengill's unrepentant shouting, Bam Bam's voice is practically musical. How often to you see a pro wrestling interview where the interviewer is more obnoxious than the interviewee? I mean, outside of Piper's Pit or something like that.

Howard Finkel is now in the ring, explaining the rules for the upcoming submission match, to only be ended when one man says the words "i quit" into a microphone being held by the guest referee. Hey, wait...a submission match with a guest referee? I thought Bret Hart's submission match with Steve Austin featuring guest referee Ken Shamrock wasn't until WrestleMania XIII! Hot damn, things are looking up! The Fink announces our special guest referee, hard-as-nails fighter and all-around badass...Rowdy Roddy Piper? Oh, wait, this is the Bret Hart/Bob Backlund submission match. Well, ok, fine. My boy Bret needs to get his win back from Survivor Series, where he lost the WWF World Title to Backlund when his mom threw in the towel. Fair enough. Let's do this.

Match 5: Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. Bob Backlund (submission match)

Finkel introduces Mister Bob Backlund, who struts to the ring chest-first in his I am a legit athlete and role model towel and robe while muttering to himself about the ungrateful booing cascading down from the audience. I'd take this time to lament what a strange turn this was for the former squeaky-clean and not at all insane WWF champ, except that apparently he's this batshit in real life, too (a friend of mine once was unable to get an autograph from Mister Backlund because he was unable to recite the names of every US President in chronological order, and it's been 20 years since he worked that gimmick. That's either commitment to a character or just plain being a character). As Lawler explains that Backlund is a true role model and let Jonathan Taylor Thomas beat him at chess so as to not crush a young boy's spirit, Bob hops into the ring and does a strangely hypnotizing but not-quite-appropriate booty-shaking dance in the ring. I'm...not into it. Fortunately, the Hitman's music hits and the crowd erupts, because, as Howard Finkel declares, it's "Bret! Hitmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan...HRT!" (Yes, i'm pretty sure he skipped over the vowel.) McMahon says that this match will end with one of these men saying words that they've never said before: "I quit" (And since it was Jim Neidhart that gave up when he and Bret lost the tag titles to Strike Force, i'll take Vince's word for it).

Bret wastes no time as the bell rings, immediately backing Mister Backlund into a corner and peppering him with fists and a whip into the opposite corner. As soon as Mister Backlund drops to his back, Bret goes for the Sharpshooter, but Mister Backlund shakes free immediately. He keeps on Mister Backlund, though, dropping an elbow across the back of his neck, after which Piper sticks a mic in Mr. Backlund's face, yelling "WHADDYA SAY?!?" before SeƱor Backlund flops wordlessly to the ground, much to the delight of the laughing fans. Oh, boy, this is gonna be tedious. Bret ties Sir Backlund up in the ropes, choking him, as Piper again yells "WHADDYA SAY?!?" into the mic. Herr Backlund responds with "NNNNNNNNNUUUUUUUH!" as the crowd cracks up again. Meanwhile, Jerry Lawler is trying to sew dramatic seeds into the match by calling McMahon's attention to who Bret Hart defeated at WrestleMania VIII to win the Intercontinental Title (hint: it was our guest ref! Ooooh, scandal!). "Come on, McMahon--who'd he beat?" "The British Bulldog." "WHAT?" "He didn't? Oh, excuse me." Seriously, Vinnie Mac sucks at his own history. ("WHADDYA SAY?" count: three.)

Backlund-san escapes a second Sharpshooter attempt but isn't able to shake a subsequent figure-four leglock, and as Hart locks it in, Lawler shames Bret for not only ripping off the Sharpshooter from Owen, but also stealing the figure-four from...Jeff Jarrett. Somewhere down near Atlanta a former WWF World Champ shakes his head with bemusement. "WHADDYA SAY?" (Four) "WHADDYA SAY?" (five) "I think Piper's hitting him with that microphone!" "Stop it." Ha! First funny thing you've said all evening, Jerry! Monsieur Backlund reversed the hold, putting the pressure on Bret and earning "WHADDYA SAY?" number six. The ropes are reached and a break is forced, but eventually Bret wears Pan Backlund (that's Polish, i think) back down into a leg scissors (and a seventh "WHADDYA SAY?"). "NOOOOOO!" he exclaims to more laughter. Man, Roddy Piper and his microphone sure are shitting all over this match. Well, except for the moment when Bret reapplies the legscissors and Piper yells "BACKLUND?" and gets a "NO!", then immediately asks, "Hart?" "Uh, no!" Solid comedy. "He's an imbecile," says Lawler.

 Meneer Backlund (I don't know) finally gets the upper hand ("Hart? Whaddya say?"), looking for the dreaded crossface chicken wing, which Hart is able to duck before getting whipped hard into the turnbuckles. ("WHADDYA SAY?!?") An armbar takedown into a hammerlock drives Hart's face into the mat as Piper just starts saying his name into the mic. "Hart? Hart?" "NO!" "WHADDYA SAY?" (That's ten!) Fun sign of the times in this match, by the way, in that the mic Piper's using has a long cord on it. All that money blown on WrestleMania production values, NFL celebrity appearances, and Lawrence Taylor's cocaine tray, and they couldn't afford a wireless mic? Well, Steve McMichael doesn't come cheap, it is true.

Bret hits a second-rope elbow across Oh Fuck It Backlund's neck, momentarily trying to cover Backlund for a pin before "WHADDYA SAY?" numbers eleven and twelve remind him that it's an "I Quit" match. He tries for the sharpshooter one more time, but Backlund rolls right through it into the ropes, which is a damn nice counter, actually. The crowd loudly "OOOOOHs" as Bret misses a charge into the corner and slams into the ring post with his shoulder, opening a door for Bob Backlund and the dreaded crossface chicken wing! Backlund stalks his prey then locks in his dreaded finisher as Hart immediately grabs the ropes and...Piper sort of stands there and lets Backlund pull Bret off the ropes. And just before he was forcing a break when Backlund rolled into the ropes, so what the fuck, Piper? Were you scared you wouldn't get to yell "WHADDYA SAY" too many more times if you enforced the rope break rule consistently? (Thirteen and fourteen, BTW.) "NO!" yells Bret as he ducks behind Backlund and suddenly reverses into his own chicken wing on our youth's role model! "WHADDYA SAY?" Fifteen! "WHADDYA SAY?" Sixteen! "WHADDYA SAY?" "YEEEEEEEAH!" Ring the bell! Bob Backlund just gave up and Roddy Piper said "WHADDYA SAY?" seventeen times!

Winner: Bret Hart via submission (duh, you moron, it was an "I Quit" match) in 9:34

Well, i think it's safe to say that this wasn't Bret Hart's finest work. Not that either of his matches with Yokozuna were any better, but Bret vs. Owen this sure wasn't. This was our last great hope for a decent match, too--we're now left with the Heartbreak Kid vs. Big Daddy Hits-His-Kid and Bam Bam vs. a football player. Can i say "it's all downhill from here" when we started on the top lip of a ditch?

Jim Ross corners Backlund on his way to the back: "Mr. Backlund, i never thought we'd hear you say 'I quit!' What do you say to that?" "I SAW A LIGHT! DID YOU SEE A LIGHT?"

Ooooo-kay, then.

Hey, do you give a shit whether Pamela Anderson is anywhere near this event? Well tough titties, cuz Nick Turturro is gonna update us anyway. And what's his huge update? "I've looked everywhere, and she's nowhere to be found. She's left the building. She's gone." Well, shit, now those two people who ordered the pay-per-view in hopes of seeing the fake rack they get to see on free TV every week during Baywatch are going to demand their $49.95 back! Well, the hell with her--let's go to Todd "These headphones make me look like a bigger idiot than the guy that used to wrestle as 'Oz'" Pettengill, who is about to interview a guy that used to wrestle as "Oz." Big Daddy Cool trips over his lines in awesome fashion, saying "Big Daddy Cool came here for one reason, and that's to reeg...teh...TO HOLD ON TO THIS TITLE!"

We're back in the ring, and Howard Finkel introduces our special guest timekeeper, ol' JTT the Chess Whiz himself, to brief screams from the little girls in the crowd before the dudes overtake them with boos, because who in the hell cares. "How old is he, anyway?" asks Lawler. "I believe about thirteen." "Well that tuxedo makes him look about ten years sillier," says the guy who wears a crown in public and leers after high school girls. He follows up with the most half-ass spur-of-the-moment excuse for this event's clusterfuck of an audio mix by saying, "hey, by the way, i unplugged this cord earlier, i dunno if that..." "Jerry 'The King' Lawler has been playing havoc with our audio system all evening long," declares Vince. Yeah, that's the ticket. Well, at least he didn't ride into the show backwards on a camel, right, Bobby Heenan? Bobby, shrug if you understand this show about as much as i do.

"And now, here is our special guest ring announcer--NYPD Blue's Nick Turturro!" More squeals from the ladies. Wow, 1995 was a dry period for celebrity hunkdom, i guess. Then again, they probably couldn't afford to order any hotter celebrities because they blew all their money on LT's blow. 

Shawn Michaels' music hits, and out comes the Heartbreak Kid, his bodyguard Sid, and Jenny McCarthy, who was singled out (sorry) by Michaels to be his valet after Pamela Anderson bailed. Hey, remember back in the mid-90s when you'd occasionally run into some hair metal heshers in rural Wisconsin that totally missed the boat on grunge and thought their Poison records were still the king shit?


The explosion of cheers as Diesel's music hits tells me that he's the babyface in this match, if anyone cares. Diesel walks halfway down the aisle, stops, then motions back toward the entrance with a "come hither" hand gesture that brings out...Pamela Anderson, if you couldn't guess. OH MY GOD WHAT A BRILLIANT PSYCHOLOGICAL PLOY. Apparently the news that Pamela Anderson has hooked up with Diesel is supposed to get under Shawn's skin, which makes me wonder what Jenny McCarthy is supposed to think about that. "Hey, what the fuck--i've been in Playboy, i'm a hot busty blonde, and i haven't been in Lawrence Taylor's room doing rails this entire show!" (Wait, i think i get what's been happening here--Pamala and Shawn had a big falling out because LT invited her into the party room and not him. It all makes sense now.) Pamela sits down next to Jenny and they immediately start debating who's more disease-ridden--Pamela, or Jenny's kids.

Match 6: "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels (w/Psycho Sid and Psycho Jenny McCarthy) vs. "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel (w/Pamela Anderson) for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship

Please note that this is the first time in WrestleMania history that the World Champion is not wrestling in the main event (unless you wanna really parse words and count the title tournament finals at IV). The champ got bumped for Lawrence Taylor, which has to be a great feeling. I'd probably be more outraged if the champ wasn't, ya know...Diesel. The champ tosses Michaels out of the ring, escorts Pamela Anderson in, and they pose as sparks rain down and shoot up from the ringposts. Diesel's tights read "DIESEL POWER" and he shoots the camera a smarmy, shit-eating smirk that makes me wonder how in the hell he's a babyface here, but whatever.

Both men start by crisscrossing each other in the ring until Diesel connects with a solid forearm blast that drops Michaels hard to the mat. "Devastating!" says Vince as Diesel stalks his prey. After a brief lockup, Michaels gets in some arm wringers before Big Daddy Cool powers out and gives Michaels a big ol' hiptoss across the ring and then and even bigger backdrop that Michaels sells by getting some huge air, wowing the crowd. "Anybody that goes that high oughta be accompanied by a stewardess!" says Lawler, who actually means "gets" instead of "goes" and forgot that Jenny McCarthy is right freakin' there.

The early goings of this match can be easily summed up by "Michaels bumps like crazy for Diesel's routine power moves." After a quick conference with his bodyguard at ringside (i believe Sid suggested Shawn hit Diesel with his fists and try to win by pinning him), Michaels eats another forearm, then tries twice to pound on Diesel in the corner until the champ shoves him off like an unwanted lap dance. It's all Michaels flopping around like an abused fish while Diesel looks all tough and, which in reality was probably their smartest choice. JTT and Nick Turturro are confused as fuck and seem to have no idea what's going on.

"No, I get that big guy is punching the little guy, but why is the little guy flopping around like he's in a Faith No More video?"

Michaels bumps himself into next week when Diesel knocks him into the ropes so hard that Shawn basically flies through them, hooking his toes on the bottom rope while he hangs upside-down across the apron, then crashes to the floor when Diesel stomps his feet loose. Sid goes to check on Shawn, asking him "did you forget our plan where you punch him a lot?" Shawn climbs back to the apron and thumbs Diesel in the eye to get a brief advantage, but eventually the champ responds by crotching his challenger on the top rope, bouncing the ropes up and down for maximum scrotal impact. Both combatants stagger to the other side of the ring and Michaels connects with a desperation clothesline that sends both men tumbling out of the ring, but Shawn keeps a handle on the ropes, pulling himself back in and following up with a flying bodypress from the top rope onto Diesel on the ring floor! The challenger gains his first true advantage of the match. A baseball slide connects as the cutaway shot shows two very bored-looking models outside the ring. I think they may have just missed Jenny McCarthy yawning as Michaels misses a second baseball slide and gets dragged out of the ring to get punched in his mulletted head. Diesel winds up for a second shot, but Michaels dodges, sending Diesel crashing into the ringpost, clutching his wrist and ribs in pain. The ref starts to count the champ out of the ring, but Shawn walks over to distract the ref and break the count, because everyone knows you can't win the belt on a count-out, unless that stipulation is added right before the match or something, which it wasn't. Diesel makes his way back in and Michaels goes on the attack, working over the now-injured ribs with his fists and feet. 

As Michaels measures a staggering Diesel in order to meet him with a flying bulldog from the top rope, McMahon explains that Michaels, a two-time Intercontinental champ, "knows what it's like to taste the gold," which reminds me of those halcyon days when the WWF had three belts and longer title reigns, as opposed to today, when approximately 75% of the roster has tasted the gold. Anyway, the bulldog connects and Michaels scores his first two-count. Diesel whips Michaels into the corner and Shawn counters by hopping onto the second turnbuckle and bouncing back with a rear elbow that scores him another two count, which Lawler seems to think is slow. "I thought you said Earl Hebner was a competent referee!" "He's very competent referee," replies Vince, once again proving that he sucks at his own company's history. A flying elbow onto Diesel's back and it's another two-count! After a brief Diesel rally, Michaels locks in the sleeper and it's rest hold city! The champ milks it for everything its worth, fighting for a good while on his feet before slowly crumpling to the ground, and waiting for the third arm drop from Earl Hebner to start showing signs of life again. He seriously lets his arm drop to about three inches off the mat before he starts his babyface rally. Sid is shaking his head in disbelief as Diesel stands up with Shawn on his back, walking backwards into the turnbuckles and finally breaking the hold. And we're back to Shawn selling like a maniac, making Diesel's clotheslines look like they'd decapitate a horse. 

Man, the crowd is super dead for this rally. Diesel is throwing Shawn all around the ring, eventually letting him spill over the turnbuckles and onto the floor, and no one seems to care until Diesel gets Michaels back in the ring and....grabs him by his tights and shows all the ladies in the crowd a tasteful glimpse of Shawn's butt. Man, Shawn is TOTALLY into showing the audience his ass. This is, like, multiple WrestleManias now. Dude has a problem, and it's not just the whole "wrestling commando without a jockstrap" thing. That just seems unsafe, but i'm not an athlete, so what do i know about rupturing testicles?

So both guys are outside the ring slugging away at each other when McMahon has to start reporting on things happening off-camera: "Wait a minute! Earl Hebner left the ring in order to keep Sid away from Michaels & Diesel, and he's hurt his ankle! He's on the ground right now!" This has all happened off-camera, of course, and i'm assuming the technical director of this show was totally fired after it went off the air. I mean, that was probably a classic Hebner Ref Bump™ and we missed it. Anyway, back in the ring, Michaels hits a superkick on Diesel and covers him for like a six count before Hebner gets lifted back into the ring by Sid. He counts an overly slow and dramatic ONE...TWO, and Diesel gets the shoulder up right on two. The crowd is booing and i'm not sure if they're pissed at Diesel for kicking out, or for Hebner for not counting it faster. Is the crowd turning on Diesel? I mean, i wouldn't blame them, but come on, guys, your alternative is cheering for 1995 Shawn Michaels, who would be King Shitbag of the WWF if Lawler would just lend him the crown. 

Meanwhile, Sid has removed the turnbuckle padding from the top of a corner! Oh no! Drama! Whoever shall have their face slammed into the exposed metal may surely lose this match! Fortunately for the champ, he reverses Michaels' attempt to ram him into the buckle by lifting Shawn up into a backdrop that leaves both men on the mat gasping for breath while Hebner counts to 10. He hits about 9 before both men get to their feet and Diesel manages to get Shawn off his and into a slingshot that should, in theory, send Michaels leaping over Diesel and face-first into the exposed turnbuckle, causing Sid's evil scheme to tragically backfire...except they're too far across the ring, so Michaels whiffs on the exposed turnbuckle and hits the padding on the middle one instead. A game effort to leap that far, though, and the contact with the second turnbuckle looks pretty sick regardless. Anyway, it's enough for Diesel to get Shawn up into the world's ugliest powerbomb as both Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy clap their support (way to support Michaels, Jenny, sheesh) and score the pin. Seriously, that's about the worst powerbomb i've ever seen. I'm so thankful WrestleCrap agreed with me enough to immortalize it as a shitty animated .gif:

And that's how the World Championship match at Vince McMahon's premier sports entertainment showcase and bonafide shot at mainstream celebrity-endorsed respect ends--with a complete botch. Appropriate. And with that move, Diesel becomes the first WWF World Champ to successfully defend his belt at WrestleMania since Hogan beat Andre. Aren't you proud to be a wrestling fan right now?

Winner: Diesel via pinfall at 20:35 to retain the WWF World Title

Diesel's music hits, and my wife Dixie asks if it's the theme music to Roseanne as the champ celebrates by inviting every celebrity guest into the ring with him to take a bow, as if this were some sort of theatrical production and not a legitimately contested athletic competition.

Promotional consideration for Home Improvement was paid for by the following:

Michaels is apoplectic backstage as he rants about the Sweet Chin Music (his superkick has a name now! Aww!) that would have won him the title had Earl Hebner not been at ringside taking sweet bumps. Speaking of sweet bumps, it's time for Lawrence Taylor now, right?

...Hmm, apparently not, as the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase's music hits and King Kong Bundy starts trotting out to ringside. Wait, what? Is the whole Corporation gonna be at ringside for Bam Bam's match? Cool, that'll sell pro wrestling to the mainstream as super legit, seeing their representative with a whole bunch of stooges at ringside to help knock off a dude wrestling his first match ever in the main event of a friggin' WrestleMania. Yup, here comes Tatanka, Nikolai Volkoff, Kama, and Irwin R. Shyster, capped off by Ted DiBiase as McMahon rattles off all their names for the sports fans watching at home. "Look at all these great athletes, mainsteam America! A Native American stereotype, an over-the-hill Lithuanian, a 'fighting machine' in pajamas, and a nerd! WrestleMania is surely the standard of excellence in sports entertainment!"

Aaaand here comes LT's "all-pro" team, to the strains of the classic Monday Night Football theme: Ken Norton and his stupid cowboy hat! Chris Spielman! Ricky Jackson! Carl Banks! Steve McMichael (nice, they show his Packers uniform on the intro screen and not the Bears getup he wore for his entire career! Hmm, considering the event, i'm not sure which team should be gloating here)! Reggie White! And i'm pretty sure they're all running to the ring that Salt -n- Pepa? Is that seriously Salt -n- fuggin' Pepa? Oh, why not. (NOTE: Wikipedia tells me they performed "Whatta Man" before the main event, so apparently WWE wasn't willing to fork over the cash for the rights to include it on the Network. HIGH PRODUCTION VALUE.) Once all the NFL dudes are in the ring, DiBiase's men try to jump them and are one by one decked by the football players and sent scurrying back to ringside to regroup, which is a sure-fire way to get pro wrestlers over as on par with pro football players. Bam Bam's music hits and he immediately fake-charges at Salt -n- Pepa, which leads to the short one getting held back by the other two lest she go all crazy all over the Beat From the East (is the short one Salt, Pepa, or Spinderella? I honestly have no idea).

Lawrence Taylor totally rubs his nose as he walks down the aisle toward the ring. That totally happened. And his warmup jacket looks completely ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as what he's about to wrestle in.


Match 7: Bam Bam Bigelow (w/the Million Dollar Corporation) vs. Lawrence Taylor (w/his NFL "all-pro" team)

Jerry Lawler is completely indignant that a football player with no previous wrestling training (before allegedly working with Diesel to get him ready for this match, so obviously he'll prove to be a technical wizard between the ropes) would think he could hang with the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow, who "has been wrestling his entire life." And dammit, he's right--Bam Bam Bigelow is one of the most underrated wrestlers in history, completely deserving of headlining a WrestleMania against, ya know...a wrestler. Sigh. 

I think Pat Patterson is refereeing this match? It sure looks like him, anyway. They probably have him in there to help LT through the beats of the match, which is actually pretty smart, as Patterson is one of the most well-respected road agents and talent coaches in WWE to this day. And Jesus, between the photographers, football players, and wrestlers at ringside, i think we have the makings of a lumberjack match, whether it was advertised as such or not. Anyway, Patterson (i think) spends a couple minutes giving instructions to the combatants while Bam Bam shoves LT to make a point. Taylor responds with a shot to the face and it's on! LT hits a forearm, a kneelift, and sends Bam Bam out of the ring with a clothesline, and he's fired up! Bam Bam's not tossed back into the ring by the NFL guys, so i guess this isn't a lumberjack match after all. 

Bam Bam comes back into the ring, and LT connects with a bulldog for a two-count! Huh, well, someone trained him in a few moves at least. More forearms and a hiplock takedown and the Corporation is in shock! Shock, i tell you! After an altercation at ringside that almost results in both posses starting a donnybrook, Bam Bam gets LT back into the ring and starts taking control with a series of kicks and fists. Either LT's doing a good job of selling Bam Bam's headbutt, or Bam Bam's just laying into him. Either way, the action so far as surpassed my basement-level expectations for this match. Not that it's good, but it's not Jake Roberts and Rick Martel in a blindfold match, so it's already not the worst 'Mania match of all time.

After a bodyslam and falling headbutt that misses, Bam Bam gets surprised by LT lunging from the mat and connecting with a stunning forearm that Bam Bam sells for a million bucks, whipping himself back to the canvas and popping the crowd. God bless Bam Bam for selling the way he is for LT. Is this dude a professional or what? Bam Bam recovers, though, and takes control with a rake to the face that sends Taylor crashing to the mat, doing a pretty good job of selling the pain to his face. Bam Bam turns LT over for a Boston Crab, and, well, it's not very good looking, unfortunately. He's not sitting down on the small of LT's back or bending him at all; he's just kinda squatting there awkwardly while holding Taylor's ankles, and if you don't know what a Boston Crab is, that probably sounds super pornographic. Bam Bam shifts into a single-leg crab while LT reaches for the ropes, then pulls Taylor further into the ring while clamping down on Taylor's left leg. The NFL troops get the crowd chanting for "LT," which apparently powers the New York Giant enough to reach the ropes and force a break. So of course Bam Bam pulls him back toward center ring again and re-applies the hold. After another break, LT tries to fight back, but Bam Bam applies a headlock...which LT counters with a sick-looking back suplex that drops Bam Bam damn near on the back of his head! Dafuq? That was a pretty good-looking move, LT! Bam Bam recovers quickly though, connecting with a series of headbutts and a legdrop before climbing to the top rope and hitting a twisting splash for count, as Bam Bam rolls off Taylor in agony, clutching his knee. Oh is this the out for Bam Bam to save his heel heat? A freak injury? He crawls back over LT for a two-count, and Taylor fights back, jackknifing Bigelow to the mat for a two-count of his own. Bigelow responds with a fricking enzuigiri kick to the back of a standing Taylor's head, and is Bam Bam Bigelow the most agile big man in wrestling history, or what? 

Finally, Bam Bam connects with a flying headbutt that results in a shocking two-count, as LT valiantly kicks out and starts a Hulk Hogan-style babyface rally that leads to him connecting from the second rope with a flying forearm that knocks Bam Bam clear onto his ass, leading to the pinfall win. Lawrence Taylor has shocked the wo--well, no one, really. Like they were gonna put a famous football player in the main event and not let him win. Blarg.

Winner: Lawrence Taylor via pinfall in 11:42

The football players storm the ring to celebrate as the Corporation retreats, DiBiase berating Bigelow all the way. "I've never been so embarrassed! A football player. You lost to a football player, Bigelow!" There's no music playing, and the last shot lingers on all of LT's buddies (and his kid, apparently) helping him to his feet as the show kind of just awkwardly fades to black. The hell? Is this how the broadcast really ended? Or is this just the only broadcast-quality transfer the WWE had to load onto the Network? Super weird. It's seriously, "Well, Lawrence Taylor won. Bye everyone!" Fade to black. Looks like the top-notch WWF production values that peppered this entire show carried on 'til the bitter end.

That being said, Taylor/Bigelow wasn't the worst match in 'Mania history--hell, it may not even be the worst main event of all time (Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter was pretty atrocious, you guys), but...yeah. Oof. This was a stinker of a show that nearly made me question the folly of continuing with this entire series. The best thing one could say about it is that it was shorter than three hours. This was the show McMahon hoped would net the WWF tons of mainstream exposure and new fans? No wonder the company floundered until the Attitude Era got going. The end.

[POSTSCRIPT: Hilariously, Wikipedia mentions that "Pro Wrestling Illustrated columnist Dave Rosenbaum stated that WrestleMania 'saved' the WWF in its feud with rival World Championship Wrestling. He argued that Taylor 'looked like a pro' and contributed to an 'incredible' match." Anyone know if Dave Rosenbaum was one of PWI's real writers, or if he was one of the fictional ones? As far as i can tell, the only positive review this event got was from a possibly fake writer, so that's a thing.]

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