Influential WrestleMania Moments (Part Six)

12. The Undertaker defeats Jimmy Snuka (1991)

They had already wrestled each other twice before in the same year.  First in January at Madison Square Garden and then two months later at the Boston Garden.  The result for both encounters was the same.  The Dead Man came out on top.

But at WrestleMania VII when The Undertaker went up against Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka for the third time, little did anyone realize how influential the result of this particular match would be in the long run.  Slotted just before the retirement match between Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, it took all of four minutes for The Phenom to claim his first WrestleMania victim.  The tombstone piledriver finished off Snuka that night.

Taker had only been in the WWF for four months at that point.  Snuka was among a number of wrestlers, including mostly jobbers, who were putting him over repeatedly helping him build a strong rep as an unstoppable villain completely impervious to pain.  By the end of 1991, he had already won his first WWF World Championship.

After preventing Jake “The Snake” Roberts from attacking Randy Savage’s valet, Elizabeth, The Dead Man became a babyface.  At WrestleMania VIII, Taker beat The Snake in less than seven minutes.  Throughout the next decade, the list of combatants he would put away at the Showcase of the Immortals grew ever more impressive:  Diesel, King Kong Bundy, Giant Gonzalez, Sycho Sid, The Big Show, A-Train, Big Boss Man, Triple H, Ric Flair and his brother, Kane, twice.

By 2005, Taker’s untouchable record at WrestleMania (at that point he was 12 and 0, having only missed two shows since 1991), only addressed in passing during previous years, now became the central focus of every match he would have from then on at the annual supercard.  When Randy Orton expressed a desire to break “The Streak” at WM 21, Taker’s task at WrestleMania from that point forward was very straightforward:  remain undefeated on the grandest stage of them all.  All he needed was a worthy opponent who could give him a competitive match.

After disposing of Orton, Taker would successfully put Mark Henry in a casket (WM 22) and defeat both Batista (WM 23) and Edge (WM 24) for the World Heavyweight Championship.  When Shawn Michaels couldn’t get the job done at WrestleMania 25, he put his career on the line at WM 26.  Taker beat him yet again and retired him.  Ten years after defeating him at WM 17, Taker barely escaped with a submission victory over a very determined Triple H at WM 27.

This year, at WrestleMania 28, H gets an unprecendented third shot at breaking The Streak when he squares off against The Phenom in a Hell In A Cell match.  Michaels has signed on to be the Special Guest Referee which just adds to the suspense of how this whole “End of an Era” match will play out.

One thing is for certain.  From a storytelling perspective, at some point Taker has to lose at WrestleMania.  As long as he continues to be pushed he’ll have at least one big match every year in the WWE.  But once he is defeated, he can finally rest in peace.  And look forward to being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.

13. Razor Ramon retains the InterContinental Championship against Shawn Michaels in a Ladder Match (1994)

The concept dates back to the early 1970s but it wasn’t until the early 90s that it enjoyed mainstream success for the very first time.  Furthermore, it simultaneously paved the way for many future superstars to break through in their own right.  Two years after he would face Bret Hart in a ladder match for the InterContinental Championship, Shawn Michaels would try to win back his IC title from new champion Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X.

Behind the scenes a few months earlier, Michaels was being difficult.  He didn’t want to drop the belt in a one-on-one title match.  So, he was stripped of it.  Ramon won a battle royal to determine the new champion.  While The Bad Guy showed off the real gold he had legitimately been pushed for, Michaels would parade around with a replica belt proclaiming himself to be the real champion.  To settle the issue, both belts would be hanging high above the squared circle during an extraordinary match at WrestleMania X.

The way to win was simple:  the first man to place a ladder in the ring, climb it and retrieve those belts would become the undisputed IC Champion.  With no disqualifications, no count-outs, no pinfalls, no submissions and no third man in the ring, it was just two guys battling it out for supremacy with nothing but each other standing in the way.  Making things a lot more dangerous, the ladder itself could be used in combat.

Ramon and Michaels had a difficult task ahead of them.  They were booked on a show that had two WWF title matches plus a sibling rivalry encounter between Bret and Owen Hart.  In order to stand out, they had to be better than good.  Like The British Bulldogs and The Dream Team eight years earlier, they had to steal the show in order to leave their mark.

They certainly didn’t disappoint.  For nearly 19 minutes, Ramon and Michaels pummelled each other in a seesaw match-up, as Vince McMahon would say.  Featuring some of the most brutal bumps ever attempted in the pre-Attitude Era, the match has long been recognized as one of the best in WrestleMania history.  In the end, Ramon came crashing down to the mat after first retrieving both belts.

The match was so well regarded both men did it all over again the following year at the 1995 SummerSlam event.  Michaels came out on top in the 25-minute rematch.  During the latter half of the 90s, ladder matches started happening on free TV as well as pay-per-view events.  For the most part these were one-on-one battles.  But at WrestleMania 2000, three tag teams would reinvent the concept by adding tables and chairs to the mix.

The Dudley Boyz defended their tag team titles against Edge & Christian and The Hardys in a Triangle Ladder Match.  The scene-stealing confrontation easily surpassed the WrestleMania standard set by Ramon and Michaels.  All three teams would do it all over again at WrestleMania 17 the following year.  By that point, the match had been renamed a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match.

In 2005, the ladder match would be reinvented once more.  Chris Jericho and the writing team wanted to get more guys on the WrestleMania card and have the winner get a future chance to become a world champion.  The result was Money In The Bank.  Six guys (later bumped up to eight in 2007 and ten in 2010) clawing and scratching their way to the top of a ladder to retrieve a briefcase that symbolically represents a guaranteed opportunity to face either the WWE Champion or the World Heavyweight Champion at any time during a one-year period.

Edge won the first MITB at WrestleMania 21 and set the tone for how to cash it in.  Ten months later, after surviving a grueling Elimination Chamber match at New Year’s Revolution 2006, WWE Champion John Cena, bloodied and fatigued, didn’t stand a chance against The Ultimate Opportunist who decided this was the time to get his title shot.  Shortly thereafter, Edge was the new champion to the shock of all who were watching.

With the notable exceptions of Rob Van Dam and Mr. Kennedy, every successive winner of the MITB match has essentially followed the same pattern:  wait for a champion to be vulnerable (always after a tough title defense) and then pounce.  It’s a surefire if utterly predictable and not necessarily honourable way to get pushed.  The only variable is how long suitcase holders wait to cash in.  (While Van Dam booked a WWE title match with John Cena well in advance of the 2006 One Night Stand pay-per-view (which he won) Kennedy couldn’t cash his suitcase in because of a sudden, legitimate injury.  As a result, he lost it in a match with Edge who then cashed it in on The Undertaker to win The World Heavyweight Championship in 2007.)

CM Punk made history in 2008 and 2009 when he became the only performer to win MITB two WrestleManias in a row.  He has since gone on to become one of the top guys in WWE, having been a world champion on five different occasions (six, if you include his ECW title).  After the 2010 MITB match (which a fumbling Jack Swagger won), a whole pay-per-view has been built around the concept and therefore, it’s been dropped from WrestleMania altogether, although there was a faint hope it would return for WM 28.  (Because of the change and the division of the roster on Raw and Smackdown, there are now two such matches every summer on that show.  Each winner gets a shot at their respective brand’s championship.  Raw victors go for the WWE title while Smackdown winners go for the World Heavyweight Championship.)

Regardless of the change, the legacy of Ramon and Michaels at WrestleMania X lives on in the new Reality Era of WWE.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
11:52 p.m.

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] With Aftermath’s Greatest Entrance Theme Tournament and my seven part series on Influential WrestleMania […]

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