Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho, WrestleMania XIX (by Marc Normandin)
I didn't always get to watch Wrestlemania growing up. Well, not live anyway: I had to rely on my friends whose parents would purchase that and every other pay-per-view in order to see their recorded version, or hope that I would get invited over to watch live. This kept me from seeing basically anything pre-Attitude Era that wasn't on free television, but that's okay, because by the time Chris Jericho faced off against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIX, the Attitude Era was already over and done with, and I was a teenager who could spend his own money on whatever goofy thing I wanted to.
It was a weird, transitional time for the WWE, which had only recently switched to that moniker, and had also split into separate Raw and Smackdown brands, essentially breaking off their product into two completely isolated shows. The Jericho and Michaels match was the perfect fit for this event, since the focus was on Jericho wanting to, in the words of announcer Jim Ross, "destroy his idol" rather than become him. Jericho no longer wanted to be Shawn Michaels, as he had growing up: he wanted to surpass him, and turn Chris Jericho into something even greater than the Heartbreak Kid. He wanted to not only defeat Michaels, but end his career with one epic bout at Wrestlemania.
I don't know what you look for out of wrestling, but outside of the vague idea of being entertained, I want tightly contested matches where both parties look their greatest. I want everyone watching to know just how great the combatants are, so that even if they don't like a particular performer, they're going to at least respect their abilities. Jericho and Michaels at Wrestlemania XIX was this very thing, as the two went back-and-forth, again and again, with Jericho seeming like he was in control only for Michaels to suddenly awaken a portion of his pre-back-injury self in order to drop an elbow from the top rope, tune up the band, or counter his way out of a number of Jericho's patented, eponymous Walls. Jericho, too, was on top of his game, never letting Michaels have the upper hand for too long, showing off the aggressive side of Jericho that always appeared when he was at his very best, and even taking the time to drop his own Sweet Chin Music on HBK, even if this stolen signature move only earned him a two count.
The match did not devolve into the tired act of trading finishers back-and-forth until one just so happens to finally land the critical blow. Instead, it ended as evenly matched fights like this one should: with an out-of-nowhere roll-up that surprised the victor and defeated parties equally. Even better, Jericho further cemented his heel status at the end (spoilers, I guess?): He hugged Michaels, who had been looking for the classic Handshake of Respect, and then kicked him right in the beans to remind Michaels that, even if he respected him, he hated losing much more than he respected anyone. As someone who adored both Jericho and Michaels, it was the perfect ending.
Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat - Intercontinental Championship match, WrestleMania III (by Brandon Stroud of With Leather)
It's probably cheating, but my favorite WrestleMania match also happens to be the most perfectly-wrestled professional wrestling match of all time.
It runs just under 15 minutes and feels like it runs three. It's two of the best wrestlers to ever perform -- Macho Man Randy Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat -- at the athletic and aesthetic peaks of their careers. It's on the grandest stage of them all, in front of the biggest WrestleMania crowd in history. It's for the Intercontinental Championship, the refined wrestling fan's WWF Championship. It's built on a rivalry involving professional jealousy and people having their windpipes crushed with ring bells. It is beauty, performance, violence, importance, gravity and spectacle wrapped into a neat, tidy ball and bounced by God.
Sure, that's probably overstating it, but there's a reason why Savage/Steamboat has influenced so many wrestling careers. It's not about WWF creating a thing and deciding it's great. It's not Hogan/Andre. Not a manufactured moment that resonates because they decided to put it in every video package. It's the rising up of an art form to MATCH the predetermined importance of the moment. It's Rembrandt and Van Gogh painting on the same canvas. Steamboat is Rembrandt because of his perfect eye and technical brilliance. Savage is Van Gogh because he's out of his mind.
This is pro wrestling. This is IT. There are matches that can provoke a greater reaction out of me ... get me madder, more detached from my preconceived notions of what's gonna go down, make me pump my fists more or scream at my television. There is not, however, a single match I'd put above this in the history of WrestleMania. And the history of WrestleMania is the history of WWE, right?
Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, WrestleMania X8 (by Patrick Vint)
I love nothing more than a good crowd. It's why I love college football. It's why I love Premier League soccer. And it's why I love The Rock versus Hollywood Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania X-8, a match made infinitely better by the best single-match Wrestlemania crowd ever.
The angle was relatively simple: The nWo's original three members -- Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hogan -- were "invading" WWF. They did usual nWo stuff, like spraypainting both Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. After beating down Rock on an episode of Raw, the nWo blocked the exits to the arena and hit the ambulance that was supposed to transport Rock to the hospital with a truck. Hall once hit Austin with a cinder block. Basically, the nWo were the worst people ever, and it was left to Austin and The Rock to uphold the integrity of the WWE against them. Throw in the general animosity held toward anything WCW-related by WWE fans in the immediate aftermath of the Monday Night Wars, and a match between The People's Champion and the carpetbagging Hogan should get nearly all of the crowd in The Rock's corner. They were firmly with Austin against Hall two matches before Rock-Hogan.
A funny thing happened at Skydome, though. From the moment that Hogan's music hit, the crowd was with Hogan. Like, huge. Hogan played air guitar. They went nuts. He ripped his nWo shirt off. They chanted his name. Jim Ross was forced to do that "Love him or hate him..." thing that WWE announcers always use when a heel has the crowd behind him (see Money in the Bank 2011). Both competitors get that look on their face, the look of not knowing just what is going on around them. A "Rocky Sucks" chant breaks out for the first time in years. This wasn't a Wrestlemania crowd. This was a Hulkamania crowd, and they got a big dose of old school Hulk Hogan.
The wrestling itself isn't anything that spectacular. Hogan does all of his old stuff: He throws Rock to the ground on a tie-up and flexes. He takes off his weight belt and attacks Rock with it. He calls The Rock "meatball" while throwing overhand rights. He scrapes his boot across The Rock's face after a series of elbow drops and rakes The Rock's back after a big whip into the corner. And the crowd, which had been dead up until the moment Hogan walked onto the ramp, only became more electric with every side suplex and bodyslam. Hogan plays right to it, and to his great credit, The Rock does likewise. He starts adopting heel mannerisms: He encourages more boos during a series of chops by gesturing to his ear. He refuses to release a Sharpshooter when Hogan reaches the ring ropes. He aggressively tries to revive a referee inadvertently knocked out. He even slaps Hogan silly with the weight belt.
Hogan eventually kicked out of a Rock Bottom and went into a full-on "Hulk Up" routine, complete with a finger wag and a big leg drop, that sent the crowd into a frenzy. But Hogan was never going to win this -- the WWE wasn't going to send out one of its two biggest stars to lose to a former turncoat at its biggest event of the year -- and once the nostalgia act had played out, The Rock took control. He kicked out, avoided a second leg drop, planted Hogan with a second and third Rock Bottom, then landed The People's Elbow -- a move so silly and wonderful and great that even the Hogan fans cheered -- for the win. Hall and Nash attacked Hogan after the match, allowing The Rock to defend the WWE's oldest and newest babyface and Hogan a chance at the full-on flex-down that the crowd really wanted. The nWo was dead, Hulkamania was back, and the Toronto crowd had reminded us how great that could be.
Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels - Intercontinental Championship ladder match, WrestleMania X (by James Dator)
The ladder match. At this point we've seen every permutation of contest and way in which a 10 foot ladder can be used as a weapon before finally being ascended to retrieve the belt. The inherent problem with its existence is that too many wrestlers use the ladder as a crutch, an excuse to mask shoddy ring work with a few memorable bumps that creates a facade in which you think it was great until you go back and watch it again. That lead to an arms race in the last 90's and early 2000's that saw multiple ladders, then tables ladders and chairs, the multiple ladders tables and chairs with too many superstars in the ring.
That's what made Michaels vs. Ramon different. They turned out a really great match in its own right, THEN used the ladder to add flavor to key moments. Rather than seeing long set ups for one big bump the ladder took on an ever-present threat which wasn't overused, but always in the back of your mind. At times you'd forget it was a special match, then in an instant you'd be brought right back into the fold when the sound of steel brackets reverberated through the arena after a hit. Great wrestling tells a story, that's what made the match great.
It can be argued that Michaels was never better. Before injuries mounted up and he needed to adjust his style, 1994 was when he competed at his most athletic. Sure, there were a few times he oversold (as Michaels tends to do) but both he and Razor were at their pinnacle competing for the Intercontinental championship with the added gimmick of Ramon's fake belt.
One moment that perfectly encapsulates the contest came just as it seemed the pair were bringing it home. Michaels was outside the ring, seemingly out and Ramon began climbing. The ring perfectly frames the bad guy climbing the ladder to win, while Michaels ascends the turnbuckle to stay alive. The two are in lockstep, until HBK makes a desperate dive without setup. It was quick, jarring and allowed the match to feel spontaneous in a way few are.
It ended with Ramon climbing a gnarled, twisted ladder to claim the title after knocking Michaels down and seeing him tied up in the ropes. It didn't need a traditional finish, the match gave us a conclusion that felt organic and real. HBK's desperation and hopelessness tied into the theme of the match, everything last second, every moment just being pulled out... except the one that counted most.
Not just a great ladder match, or a great Wrestlemania match -- but one of the best of all time. It was 18 minutes long and never overstayed its welcome. It felt like five, took over the event and completely overshadowed Bret Hart's win over Yokozuna for the title.
Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart - WWF Intercontinental Championship match, WrestleMania VIII (by Adam Jacobi)
To me, the best pro wrestling tells a story in and out of the ring. It has to be a good story, too; if your story is "these guys don't like each other and now they are hitting each other with metal trash cans," your story is probably not very good.
Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania VIII was a very good story, told by two guys who were some of the best at their craft, both operating at very high levels. The story was simple but compelling: old vs. new, fighting vs. wrestling, extrovert vs. introvert. All of those were in play, with the added tweak that the brash loudmouth was the old salt and not the young up-and-comer. Good setup!
The match itself was a delight. The over-the-top theatrics that dominate today's pro wrestling were positively muted by comparison. The match was awkward, stumbling and contact-heavy-in other words, precisely how you'd think a fight like this would play out. It's all theatrics itself too, of course, but the details are all pitch-perfect, like the wrestlers falling through the middle of the ropes, the awkward, fumbling block of the Sharpshooter, and Piper almost certainly landing some blows for real because OF COURSE he would do that. It was so well-planned, so well-executed that it didn't look rehearsed in the slightest, which stands in refreshing opposition to the packaged move sets that are by now inescapable. It is absolutely no surprise that both of these guys were slam-dunk Hall of Famers; this was a master class.
Let's talk about the ending. Piper sends Hart flying into the referee, which per usual incapacitates the ref--but, refreshingly, only for about a minute, because Bret Hart is not a Toyota Corolla. The brief freedom from the watchful eye of authority affords Piper the opportunity to brandish the bell and aim it at the dazed Hart's skull, only to reconsider and throw it away, because whatever lesson there is to teach the young punk about being a real man, braining him with a solid metal foreign object while he can't defend himself is not part of it. What a great moment! I mean that sincerely! The crowd roars in approval (can you imagine a 2014 crowd reacting positively to someone voluntarily putting down a weapon?) and the match continues, but only briefly, as Hart beautifully counters a sleeper hold off the turnbuckle and into a bridge on top of Piper's shoulders for the pin and the belt.
There are a lot of reasons to not like professional wrestling. A LOT of them. None of them were on display in this match. It was 15 minutes of logically consistent, zero-BS rasslin' with a coherent flow and finish. It was a standard to which more wrestlers should hold themselves to today.
Oh, and I was like 11 when I first watched that match. I sort of knew wrestling was fake by then, but I believed that match all. the. way. What a gem it was and continues to be.
Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior - WWF Championship vs. Intercontinental Championship, WrestleMania VI (by Bill Hanstock)
WrestleMania VI, live from the Toronto SkyDome, was the first WrestleMania I actually saw in its entirety, borrowing the tape from my best fifth-grade friend a couple of weeks after the event. (My friend's family bought all the pay-per-views -- all four a year -- and was nice enough to let me borrow the bootlegged VHS tape after they had watched it a few times through.) I loved it all and watching it back in 2014, it's still probably the single most formative wrestling event in my life, if not the most formative THING. WrestleMania VI was the first time I heard "O Canada," as sung by Robert Goulet. I marveled at what a thoroughly WONDERFUL national anthem Canada had and felt (not for the last time) supreme jealousy.
Several of the WrestleMania VI matches could be considered some of my "favorites." Demolition vs. Haku and Andre the Giant ("The Colossal Connection"), where Andre could barely move and the crowd was going absolutely bonkers for Demolition, despite Demolition never actually doing much of anything, which is proof of how far facepaint and a cool finisher can take you. (See also: Warrior, Ultimate.) Andre turning on Bobby Heenan and riding away on a tiny cart. The Hart Foundation dispatching the Bolsheviks in 19 seconds. Jake Roberts getting a moral victory over Ted DiBiase, although not being able to walk away with the Million Dollar Belt, as I desperately wanted my favorite wrestler (at the time) to do. A fantastic bout between Mr. Perfect and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, featuring Perfect getting catapulted over the turnbuckles and hitting the post, a spot that has been emulated one million times and has never been performed anywhere near as well as it was here.
Of course, the awful stuff from WrestleMania VI is EXCEEDINGLY awful. Roddy Piper painting half of his body black to fight Bad News Brown. A mixed tag team match between Dusty Rhodes and "Sweet Sapphire" against Macho King and Queen Sherri. Singles matches involving Hercules, Barbarian and Dino Bravo.
Luckily, it all culminated in the best WrestleMania main event to that date. What was supposed to be an end-of-an-era passing of the torch lasted less than a year, but the Intercontinental champ went up against the world champ in a meticulously booked and performed match that absolutely felt like two planets colliding and lived up to every ounce of its unbelievable hype. This holds up, people. almost 25 years later, this is still a match you can show people who don't even care about wrestling and even if they don't necessarily "get it," they'll be entertained. If nothing else, you can just watch the 60,000 people in the crowd lose their dang minds for 20-plus minutes. That's ALWAYS fun.
Or watch the Warrior's feathered, highlighted hair. It's great, too.
Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg, WrestleMania XX (by Peter Holby of Progressive Boink)
It's not like Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar had the wrong idea. Goldberg was in WWE to collect a substantial payday and go home. Lesnar, having spent enough time around Kurt Angle to get scared of what wrestling does to people, decided he'd rather try his hand at the NFL. Wrestling can be a nasty business, on both a physical and a personal level, and wanting to get paid and get out is a rather sensible position. The crowd, however, is deeply offended. They know that Lesnar and Goldberg are both leaving in short order, and by way of sendoff they ruin their match.
Lesnar and Goldberg circle each other in the opening minutes, building tension before the inevitable clash of titans. The crowd sings goodbye the whole time, and meets the eventual lockup with silence, then loud booing. The match progresses in the classic hoss fight style, and the crowd spends much of it chanting for a Hogan impersonator in the second deck. I read this as a defensive posture; wrestling fans understand what the business is but they love it anyway. Someone not loving it means we might be wrong, and that's not always a fun thing to think about.
Thankfully, Stone Cold Steve Austin was the match's special referee. Goldberg wins, but Austin is there to assert pro wrestling's superiority via a pair of stunners, one for each man. Our sense that wrestling is good and true is rescued by a terrible man who is splashing beer all over the place, exactly as it should be.
Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage - Retirement match, WrestleMania VII (by Thomas Holzerman of the Wrestling Blog)
Let me tell you why I'm a wrestling fan today. It is because a man and his woman finally got back together after years of estrangement. Wait, what? Before I explain why my seminal moment in wrestling history, the most formative event in making me a life-long wrestling fan, was a payoff befitting a romantic comedy or a Nicholas Sparks novel. One would need to know exactly what wrestling is.
The art of professional wrestling has been called a lot of things in its strange, wonderful, and mysterious history. It has been called most prominently a "soap opera for men," bogus nomenclature since I find nothing gender-exclusive to pro wrestling. Neither does WWE's audience, which has been estimated to be around 35% female at any given moment. It has also been called full-contact ballet, theater for the common man, the greatest sport in the world, and most amusingly, something that is still real to this guy, dammit.
However, at its root, no matter what fancy descriptors fans, critics, or cynics give to the grand art, wrestling is, at its heart, an expansive venture in storytelling. No matter how prolonged the grand narrative is, any wrestling promotion worth a damn will have various micronarratives ebbing and flowing, arcing and climaxing and resolving, all at various points in time. But the desired payoff is the same for any wrestling angle - catharsis.
"Macho King" Randy Savage's catharsis, in the form of personal redemption, wasn't coming in his career threatening match against the Ultimate Warrior At WrestleMania VII. It wasn't even on the radar until the cameras panned on Miss Elizabeth in the crowd. Liz, who had separated from Savage in character after Savage's famous teaming with Hulk Hogan exploded, watched as "Sensational" Sherri Martel scooped up her former beau. The duo reigned terror on WWE for two years, making their ultimately final target Warrior. Their conflict got so heated that careers were wagered. A reunion with Miss Elizabeth could not have been further from his consciousness.
One story would give way to a greater one, a tale that had been brewing for seven years. The short term narrative was settled as most things in wrestling are settled, with a match. While Savage was known as a master craftsman in the ring, Warrior's list of great matches begins and ends with this match. His weaknesses - his lack of cardiovascular conditioning, dearth of ring awareness, and propensity to sell about as well as an ice salesman in the Canadian Arctic - were hidden if not eliminated. Savage was a meticulous match planner, one of the first who preferred choreography to calling matches on the fly, so his almost anal attention to detail and Warrior eschewing his normal running entrance to the ring for a more serious power-walk.
It was the ring entrance that set the tone for the contest, one that featured two men fighting for their livelihoods. Every punch, slam, and flail was tinged with motivation of competitors who were literally fighting for a tomorrow in the ring. Warrior used his no-selling powers to enhance the story, shrugging off punches with supernatural authority. Savage's weapons were less brawny and instead the act of a wily devil, looking to cheat death and fight another day.
His greatest ally would turn out to be his queen, Martel, who took every opportunity to punch, stomp, slap, or jab the business end of a high heel into the flesh of Warrior. Wrestling fans have an awful habit sometimes of wanting men to waylay women they're three times bigger than just for the mere act of being in the corner of someone they didn't like. Sherri, however, at least earned all the shoves and menacing stares with her own machinations.
Thanks to Sherri and to Savage's guile, which at one point saw him throwing a chair into the ring to distract referee Dave Hebner so that the two could assault Warrior unabated, Savage got Warrior in position to deliver his patented flying elbow drop. He delivered it not once, twice, or even thrice, but four times. When Warrior kicked out, as a child, I got chills. No one, unless their name was Hulk Hogan, kicked out of one elbow. Warrior had the match in the bag until he landed his signature military press/running splash combo, which again no one kicked out of. Savage kicked out.
At that point in time, The Ultimate Warrior attained character perfection. He stared at the sky, and then into his hands, and then paced across the ring as if he accepted his destiny from the gods above, a point beautifully driven home by announcers Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. Side note, if this match had happened today, JBL would have crowed incessantly over Michael Cole's voice how Warrior was a pansy or something, while Jerry Lawler's gaze at the revealing outfit of Martel would have produced enough saliva to fill 30 water bottles. But I digress.
It took a cheap shot from Savage to snap Warrior out of his daze, a moment of extreme hubris from a self-appointed king. Warrior was content to walk away from his career, his livelihood, his very existence, and Savage could not leave well enough alone. Great villains in literature and entertainment oftentimes are undone by arrogance and pride. Savage was repaid for his desire to gain a win on his terms with three shoulder blocks (which from Warrior at the time were like Brogue Kicks or Sweet Chin Music) and defeat with one foot planted upon his chest.
If the segment, the whole story if you will, were to end with Warrior's victory, then the match would still hold my place as a favorite in Mania history. Even 23 years later, it still holds up. Savage's work is timeless, and Warrior's sudden bout of excellence wasn't just a nostalgia-coated mirage. Both men put in the effort and told a timeless story. But the match itself was not the reason why I was galvanized as a wrestling fan. I knew what I was getting with the in-ring action, but then after the match, Martel started kicking her king while he was down, broken, left without a kingdom to rule.
When Miss Elizabeth shot out of the crowd to chase the banshee away and console a man with whom she had seen the highs and the lows, I found the missing piece, the keystone to a complete, lifelong wrestling fandom. When Savage finally figured out who had saved him and they embraced, a tear found my cheek, and I found myself agreeing with Heenan's hyperbole. "This is better than Love Story, if you like this kinda mush."
Of course, as a child of ten, I hadn't seen the movie Heenan referred to, but I did know the catharsis of true love reuniting. Again, love stories aren't gender exclusive, no matter what the meatheads in the beer commercials want to reassure you. But for a show to give me not only excellent pugilism AND fulfilling emotional resolution meant that I had found the perfect combination of everything I loved in entertainment. I would be a professional wrestling fan for life, even if I would have more than a couple hiatuses in my life.
While I've found other matches to be better over the years - Savage's iconic WrestleMania III match against Ricky Steamboat comes to mind - no other story impacted me the way that the Warrior/Savage match and following angle did. It is, by far, my favorite WrestleMania moment ever, because it is the one thing that made me a wrestling fan. That has to count for something, right?
Steve Austin vs. The Rock - WWF Championship match, WrestleMania X-Seven (by Jason Kirk)
Entering the night, the two were the generation's two biggest faces, with the buildup having focused on how especially desperate both were to leave with the title.
During the match, much of the Houston began booing The Rock, so heel announcer Paul Heyman obliged by taking up cheering for him and accusing Austin of committing "assault" due to having used a weapon, minutes after The Rock had done the same. But Vince McMahon's intrusion on Austin's behalf, the kind of thing that usually ruins a main event match, actually served to swing the fans back toward the middle.
Good God Almighty
Good God Almighty
In the broader context, this marked an Austin heel turn and put an end to the most important feud in pro wrestling history (Jim Ross: "Son of a bitch! Drinking a damn beer with Mr. McMahon! Austin has sold his soul to the devil! Why, Steve? I thought I knew Austin!"), but within the confines of the match itself, it just made the crowd too worked up to do anything but cheer everything in sight. And that's good TV.
They later said in an interview that they put more planning into this match than they had for any before, and it showed. The exposed turnbuckle and the abandoned ring bell became weapons a quarter of the match later, not right away.
And the closing minutes were tightly choreographed and innovative. Counting submission finishers (including Austin breaking Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Dream out of nowhere), the two hit each other with 10 finishers, using both their own and each other's. Since we'd been conditioned to view these moves as match-enders, it worked brilliantly, especially since it set up another swerve: the match's actual finisher was a straightforward barrage of a dozen chair shots by Austin.
But because of that, this might've been the match that ruined the concept of the finishing move. Subsequent main events began relying on the video game-esque finisher parade as well, to nowhere near the same impact.
Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart, WrestleMania X (by James Dator)
Okay, so as it turns out Wrestlemania X had two of my favorite matches of all time and I completely forgot they were on the same card. It's always important to open strong and get everyone invested, which Owen Hart and Bret Hart did to near-perfection for 20 solid minutes.
It's one of those rare occasions where style means everything. Owen and Bret were very similar in the ring. Their body types straddled the line between power and athleticism, which allowed them to integrate some of the best elements of both styles while remaining small enough to feel like underdogs when facing larger superstars. As a tag team they were poetry, facing off they were spoken word -- pregnant pauses punctuated by a flurry of action that left you immediately wanting to rewind and see just what happened. Move and counter-move, near fall followed by near fall. The style of the match helped flesh out the story of two brothers, training since childhood, understanding each other's every move.
The match trod some well worn ground. Owen was the heel, so naturally he took advantage of low blows and grabbing the ropes but you never really cared. Things deviated from the norm just enough that it didn't matter when Bret reversed Owen's figure four (the most tired and obvious wrestling reversal) because we were rewarded with the amazing sequence in which Owen hooked in the sharpshooter only to see Bret power out and lock in his own. It's hard to count how many times moves were reversed in this match. Every time it happened the narrative was served, it pinged that these guys had eachother scouted. It made the match more exciting than it otherwise would have been because the tension was always there, "What was it going to take?"
No wasted motion. That's what I think when re-watching the match. This era in the WWE was gutsy enough to embrace non-traditional endings if it served the story of the match. Owen reversed Brett's sunset flip attempt off the top to win, showing he knew his brother well enough to scout the move. The push and pull was over, Bret would win the title later that night but in the back of your mind you remember that for 20 minutes earlier in the night he was bested.
Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy, WrestleMania XI (by Danielle Matheson of the Mandible Claw Podcast)
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that I am not a huge WrestleMania fan. My favorite WrestleMania moments from the two I've been to either involve independent wrestling shenanigans from earlier in the weekend, or skipping out on matches to go meet up with friends who live much too far away to see at any other time. I've always felt that the spectacle of the show is meant to show off to those who don't necessarily have an interest in it the remaining 364 days out of the year. The shows feel more like a teen movie trope: the geek set, parents out of town, have a party the popular kids finally show up to. It gets "epic" (is that a thing young people still say?), the party of the year, but when it's over everyone else gets to go home, and our less-than-cool protagonists are left to clean up Dixie cups and pizza crusts, their lives realistically relatively unchanged. WWE fans will recognize that as the post-‘Mania lull.
As such, WrestleManias end up becoming these nutty little time capsules. For example, WrestleMania XI begins by showing us the celebrity lineup for the event: Pamela Anderson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, "MTV's Jennifer McCarthy," Nicholas Turturro, Salt n' Peppa, and Lawrence Taylor's All-Pro Team. Now that's a cross-section of the mid-nineties you can set your watch to!
Undefeated at Wrestlemania
Seeing as my interest level has always been fairly low, I decided to go on a WrestleMania blind date. Using a scientific method for love based on which I can only assume the secret algorithm of that old eHarmony dude is based, there is 13% chance I will get married to the Undertaker. Luckily, there's also a 100% chance I'll write about his match against King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania XI.
Much like getting matched up with a fellow whose profile touts him as "a nice guy living in the friendzone," this is part of the Undertaker's Streak, so you already know the outcome of this match. We head into it with very little preamble, so let me break it down for those who are unfamiliar. Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, a rich and dastardly dude, has a group of similarly mean dudes that includes a Communist, a big fat guy with flames tattooed on his head, a Native American, a Voodoo priest turned shoot fighter (who would eventually steal the urn during the course of this match, melting it down to make a gold chain), an accountant with a serious adversity to sleeves, and a guy who looks like a melted candle -- the aforementioned King Kong Bundy. IRS (the accountant), stole Paul Bearer's trademark urn initially, then spent some time hanging out in graveyards to look for dead people who had cheated on their taxes to both psych out the Undertaker, and because wrestling is totally bananas.
The Million Dollar Man and his stable of bad-guy weirdos feuded with most of the good guy weirdos, and this match is one in a series of WrestleMania XI matches in this vein. This is only the fourth win in the streak, so we're not yet at the point where Undie gets grand, creepy entrances. That said, his entrance is still really, really cool. Even something as simple as turning the lights up is still incredibly effective. He's accompanied by an urn-less Paul Bearer, which, as many times as the urn (the power of the Undertaker, as we're told) has been stolen, is still so, so odd to see. He walks out with his hands in front of him as if he's still holding it, which leads me to believe it's similar to a phantom-limb situation, or like how I'll always go to push my glasses up when I'm not wearing them. Jerry Lawler refers to him as the "Urnlesstaker," then comments that he "looks like death warmed over in a waffle iron." Spoiler alert: 19 years go by and that guy's jokes do not get better.
The stars of this match are by no means Bundy and Undie. The match itself is ... not great, but as it goes on I find myself increasingly amused by the antics of DiBiase and Paul Bearer. DiBiase is such a character, and has always been one of my favorites in the ring as well as outside of it. The story told by DiBiase and Paul Bearer is so much more engaging than classic Undie's rope walk, or Bundy's lazy ... everything. At one point Kama runs out to get the urn back from Paul, and Jim Ross is JUST SO MAD that he's taking something that doesn't belong to him, let alone that he plans to repurpose it into some stylish jewelry. It's all so dumb ... and I love it? I love (and secretly covet) Undertaker's purple spats, and I love Larry the Umpire-cum-Referee's confused meandering around the ring.
In the end, I'm pretty charmed. I wouldn't let this match kiss me goodnight, but I would definitely favorite its tweets every once in a while to show that I while I'm not really into seeing it again, I am not utterly repulsed by its existence.