Alan and I have differing opinions on this show. He actually liked it while I hated it. I’ll sprinkle in some of his thoughts as we go.
The Hulk Hogan era was supposed to be over. The WWF was slowly changing the guard. They were trying to change what they had ingrained into fans on what wrestling was supposed to be. Bigger than life characters. Huge muscle bound guys are always better than smaller, faster guys. And Hulk Hogan was the best of them all. However, there was going to be a time when Hogan wasn’t going to be around. And during 1993, they were trying to change what they had been teaching fans for 10 years. Bret Hart beat Ric Flair for the championship to get his first WWF World Title reign in late 1992. I remember the day when I heard Hart won the championship. My friend told me to guess who had just beat Flair for the belt, and because I never expected the WWF to get behind Hart, I must’ve went through five guys before I guessed Hart. And I expected him to be nothing more than a transitional champion. However, it showed that the WWF was trying to find someone new to carry the torch so to speak. However, Hogan came back into the picture. It was supposed to be the first Wrestlemania without Hogan. Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Wrestlemania preview didn’t even list Hogan as being on the card. Hogan came back into the picture quickly as Vince probably didn’t see Wrestlemania being big without him. Hogan held all the cards back then, which is a far cry from where he is today. Of course, Hogan reportedly wanted to win the belt immediately, but if Bret Hart was ever going to be anything, losing it to Hogan in a squash would’ve killed any steam he had. Hogan was then put into a quick feud with Money Inc. where he saved his good friend Ed Leslie, better known as Brutus Beefecake, from a beat down and they played up on the true story of Beefcake having to get reconstructive surgery on his face in a para sailing accident. Hogan and Beefcake were now to challenge Ted DiBiase and IRS (Mike Rotunda) for the tag team championship. They were terribly called The Mega-Maniacs.
(I seem to remember them announcing this terrible name on RAW. They were trying to come up with a name and all of a sudden, Hogan said the name The Mega-Maniacs. However, I believe Jimmy Hart’s jacket already had the name on the back before they were trying to come up with the name. Oops.)
It was a very boring match, but the crowd popped like crazy for it. Hogan was up to his usual antics very much so through the entire match playing up to the crowd. With DiBiase and IRS in the ring, it made the match at least watchable, but the fans very much so wanted a title change. The finish was extremely silly with Jimmy Hart counting a double pin fall that was later overturned by the referee. When Hogan and Beefecake didn’t get the belts, that should have told the viewers something, considering Hogan had never been in anything short of the main event in Wrestlemania.
Vince McMahon had it right on his plate. The biggest dream match in the history of professional wrestling. And he flinched.
In the summer of 1991, Ric Flair was unhappy with what was going to be a pay cut with WCW. He was scheduled to lose to Lex Luger at the Great American Bash, but was then subsequently fired as he didn’t want to drop the title without a new contract. Instead, Luger faced Barry Windham in a cage match with very little buildup and started a very forgettable championship reign. Across WCW arenas around the world, the loudest chants weren’t for Sting, or the newly crowned champ. The loudest chants were for Ric Flair. I went to a WCW event in the fall of 1991 and throughout most of the show was a chant of, “We want Flair”. But Flair was gone. He showed up on WWF television in the fall and had the old ten pounds of gold with him. Immediately, fans expected he and then WWF Champion Hulk Hogan to battle. It was a dream match that everyone had been wanting to see for at least 8 years. He started to become a thorn in Hogan’s side immediately. When Hogan lost the belt to the Undertaker at the Survivor Series, Flair was in the middle of it. And then on This Tuesday In Texas, which was just 5 days later on PPV, Hogan supposedly won the title back, but it was the held up. The title would be decided at the Royal Rumble. Ric Flair won the match by wrestling for close to one hour and outlasting everyone. It would seem that the logical challenger would be Hulk Hogan. Vince McMahon could then show the world that his champion was better than the old NWA champion. And it could be decided on the biggest stage in wrestling. Wrestlemania VIII was held at the Indiana Hoosier Dome. It could have been perfect. But McMahon flinched.
There were a couple of reasons why Vince would’ve flinched. For one, they went to Hogan vs. Flair very soon around the house show circuit and after a few runs, it wasn’t special anymore. And also, Vince has always been about pushing bigger guys. He saw a star in Sid Justice, formerly Sid Vicious. Sid was a huge guy with a jacked up physique who was supposed to be someone WCW was going to try and utilize as a top heel. He had one title match against Sting, but didn’t win it in an odd finish that saw Barry Windham dressed up as Sting and taking the pin. But the real Sting came out and then pinned Vicious. Yes, it was hoaky. But Vince came calling and Sid left WCW for New York. Initially, Vince put Sid with Hogan after SummerSlam 1991. Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior beat the team of the Iron Sheik who was at the time Colonel Mustafa, Sgt. Slaughter and their manager, General Adnan. Sid Justice was the referee. When Hogan and Warrior won, it was Hogan and Justice celebrating in the ring with Warrior no where to be found. If McMahon was going to flinch on the Flair vs. Hogan deal, this would be his backup. But who would Flair then wrestle?
In a hokey, but still effective storyline, Ric Flair promised the fans that he “had” Elizabeth before Randy Savage married her. The line was, “She was mine, before she was yours,” as if Elizabeth was some sort of property. Flair then showed pictures of himself with Elizabeth to further “prove” he was with Elizabeth before Savage was. Mean Gene Okerlund showed some investigative journalism later to prove that the pictures of Flair and Elizabeth were in fact doctored. Talk about going a long way for a storyline. Curt Hennig and Bobby Heenan promised to show some risque pictures of the lovely Elizabeth at Wrestlemania where Flair would defend his belt and against Savage. Talk about bait and switch. There were no pictures of Elizabeth. Instead of giving the WWF fans their dream match, Vince decided that Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice was a better fit.
On March 31, 1985 Wrestlemania was born. It was born at Madison Square Garden in New York City. While history will try to say that this was a great, entertaining event, some near 30 years later, it’s not the best wrestling show you’ve ever seen. But for its time, it was built as something very special. It was glitz and glamor. The legend says that Vince McMahon put all of his money into the show and was either going to live by the sword, or die by it. As you can tell, they lived.
The show was an event that tried to make wrestling nationally mainstream. It had Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Cyndi Lauper, and Mr. T. It would be like Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Torre, Rihanna, and Vin Diesel being involved in a wrestling show today. It was Vince McMahon’s official statement that wrestling was no longer just a regional business. Vince was in New York City with Liberace playing the piano.
They worked with MTV to help with promotion. MTV was hip and on the up and up with pop culture America and it was the perfect launching pad. With Lauper in tow and MTV in their back pocket, they could market Hulk Hogan, Vince’s hand picked superstar. History may try to say that Hogan was the star of the show, but in reality, it was Hogan piggybacking Mr. T’s popularity to rise to stardom. Hogan was already a huge wrestling draw while working in the AWA, but his popularity there would be peanuts compared to what he was about to become. MTV and WWE put on a special show titled The War To Settle The Score which was recap of all the angles they did with Cyndi Lauper, Lou Albano, and Roddy Piper. Piper’s character felt that Lauper had no place in wrestling and the new Rock N Wrestling connection was ruining his business. It was an absolutely silly show. Kenny Loggins made fun of Roddy Piper’s skirt. Piper did not in fact get to make fun of his beard. Tina Turner thought Piper was wrong. Dick Clark thought Piper would get his. Hulk Hogan had to come and save the day. Hogan and Piper wrestled on the show, which set up the WrestleMania main event. It was set up as Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
From a work rate standpoint, this was a bad WrestleMania, but Vince didn’t set out to shock the world with a wrestling show. He wanted to shock the world with a sports entertainment show.