10. Bad News Brown screws Bret Hart (1988)
The Hitman’s first year in the WWF was awful. His good guy solo push was going nowhere and he needed to do something to get over quick since creative had nothing for him. So, when he decided to turn heel, team up with his brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and be represented by the unrelated Jimmy Hart, he essentially wrote his own ticket to success, at least for the next few years. The Hart Foundation would go on to become tag team champions in January 1987 and hang on to those titles ’til the fall that same year. For the most part, they were loathed everywhere they worked. The heel personas were clicking.
They were still a team going into the 20-man battle royal that opened WrestleMania IV in April 1988. Neidhart was eliminated fairly early so he was a non-factor in the match. In the end, it came down to Hart, the Junkyard Dog and Bad News Brown, the last three guys in the ring. The two villains teamed up to throw out the very popular JYD allowing them to raise their arms in victory. But then, Brown performed his patented Ghetto Blaster kick to the back of Hart’s skull and shortly thereafter, The Hitman found himself thrown over the top rope and to the floor.
As Brown celebrated his sneaky victory, Hart retrieved the trophy that was supposed to be awarded to the winner and slid back into the ring. Bad News got the hell out of there as Hart proceeded to smash his very large trophy to bits. The crowd ate it up. Little did anyone know at the time that this would become a significant moment not just for WrestleMania but for Hart and the WWF in particular.
Although The Hitman had wrestled numerous singles matches during his first four years working for Vince McMahon, he was primarily known for teaming up with The Anvil. He proved himself again and again in tag matches but rarely had important one-on-one encounters which mostly went unseen by a national audience. The renewed rivalry with Bad News Brown (Hart feuded with him originally in the early 80s in Calgary when he was Bad News Allen) was Hart’s first chance to move up the mid-card ladder.
Truthfully, the solo push wouldn’t last very long (Hart would work the next three WrestleManias with Neidhart in successive tag matches). In fact, you could argue it was premature. But of all the face and heel turns that happened in the early years of this event, this was the most significant.
McMahon needed to look ahead to a future without Hulk Hogan as his top good guy which was only 5 years away. He needed to steer his business away from the more muscular brawlers who helped make his company thrive in the 1980s and instead focus more on smaller talent who regularly showcased great technical skill in the ring, possessed a natural charisma and could deliver sharp, memorable promos. Bret Hart could do all three. He just needed a big push to get to the main event level. The face turn he received at WrestleMania IV was the first step to reaching that goal.
11. The Ultimate Warrior defeats Hulk Hogan for the World title in more than 20 minutes (1990)
Back in the day, good guys rarely squared off against good guys. For traditional storytelling purposes, it just didn’t make a lot of sense to book those kinds of matches very often. The audience needed someone to root for and someone to hate. But by 1990, the world of professional wrestling was evolving to the point where putting the two most popular wrestlers in a match together on a major supershow was not only good for business, it would help set the tone for future similiarly themed rivalries.
At the 1990 Royal Rumble, WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan and InterContinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior briefly squared off for the first time ever after completely clearing the ring at one point. It was an experiment to see if the audience would be excited for a future one-on-one match between the two. They were. After about a minute or so of action (which ended with each man clotheslining each other), the company knew what the main event for WrestleMania VI would be.
Besides being a “pass the torch” encounter, Hogan vs. Warrior was significant for two other reasons. First, without a doubt, they were the two most popular babyfaces in the WWF at that time. Having them battle it out in the main event of an otherwise traditional supershow was exciting and different. There was genuine suspense about whether one would turn heel and heated debates took place between fans over who would get the push. In the end, to the detriment of Hulkamaniacs all over the world, The Warrior won the World title.
Since their match in what was once known as the SkyDome in Toronto WrestleMania has showcased many memorable babyface vs. babyface encounters, particularly in the main event. Consider Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in their 60-minute Iron Man match at WM 12 or Michaels against John Cena (WM 23) and The Undertaker (WM 25 and 26). Rowdy Roddy Piper put over Bret Hart in their tremendous InterContinental match at WrestleMania 8 while Batista dropped the World Heavyweight Championship to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 23. Michaels retired Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24. And we can’t forget Triple H losing to The Undertaker for a second time at WrestleMania 27.
Second, in the 1980s there wasn’t a single WrestleMania match that lasted at least 20 minutes. Warrior and Hulk would go almost 23. Since then, many integral WM battles have hit the 20 minute plateau or have gone considerably longer. At WrestleMania VII, both the retirement match between The Warrior & Randy Savage and the WWF title match between Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter each lasted 20 minutes. The Owen Hart/Bret Hart opener of WrestleMania X went just as long.
Other WM epics that went 20 minutes or longer: Shawn Michaels and Diesel for the WWF title at WrestleMania 11 (20 minutes), Bret Hart and Michaels at WrestleMania 12 (61 minutes), Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 (22 minutes), Austin and Michaels for the WWF title at WM 14 (20 minutes), The Hardys vs. The Dudleys vs. Edge & Christian at WrestleMania 2000 (22 minutes), the Fatal Four-Way from that same show (36 minutes), Austin and The Rock at WM 17 (33 minutes), Jericho and Michaels at WrestleMania 19 (22 minutes), Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle from that same show (21 minutes), Angle and Eddie Guerrero at WM XX (21 minutes), the Triple Threat WWE title bout from that same show (25 minutes), Cena and Michaels at WM 23 (28 minutes), Flair and Michaels at WM 24 (20 minutes), Edge and The Undertaker from that same show (24 minutes), Undertaker and Michaels at WM 25 (30 minutes), Randy Orton and Triple H from the same show (24 minutes), Undertaker and Michaels at WM 26 (24 minutes), and H and Taker at WM 27 (30 minutes).
At WrestleMania 28, there are two good guy vs. good guy matches booked. Taker and H in a Hell In A Cell match with another good guy, Shawn Michaels, as the Special Guest Referee and the main event of the evening, John Cena vs. The Rock. Does anyone believe either battle will go less than 20?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 13, 2012