Steamboat vs. Savage. Austin vs. Hart. HBK vs. The Undertaker.
Three great feuds that inspired several classic matches on the grandest stage of them all. For 30 years, WrestleMania has showcased some of the greatest one-on-one encounters in the history of professional wrestling, memorable battles that have lived on beyond their original pay-per-view airings.
Sadly, not every match in its history has gone so smoothly. Throughout the decades, the Showcase of the Immortals has had its fair share of athletic fumbles, ill-fated encounters that suffered from bad bookings, missed spots, heatless programs & indifferent, apathetic superstars.
Here are 9 such examples presented in chronological order:
1. Mr. T “boxing” Rowdy Roddy Piper (WrestleMania 2)
The main event of the Long Island, New York portion of the second WrestleMania was a return match of sorts between two of the participants in the main event of the original WrestleMania. In 1985, Rowdy Roddy Piper teamed with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff to face Hulk Hogan & A-Team star Mr. T. Hogan & T got the win in a fun, entertaining tag match which helped begin the WWF’s launch beyond its then-territorial boundaries. The following year, for some reason, Piper & T were booked in a “boxing” match for WM 2. (Of course, T played Clubber Lang in Rocky III but still.)
The renewed rivalry began in February 1986 when Piper’s bodyguard “Cowboy” Bob Orton suddenly decided he wanted to box. On his behalf, Piper challenged anyone to be his opponent. Thanks to Hogan outsmarting Hot Rod during a Piper’s Pit segment Mr. T was one of two men who accepted. (Jose Luis Rivera was the first. He lost.) The result was a briefly worked match on Saturday Night’s Main Event which ended after 2 rounds. T won when Orton was knocked out of the ring. (Yes, he won by count-out.)
After the match, Hot Rod kneed him from behind and with Orton now back in the ring holding him down, Piper whipped T with his own belt. On a different Piper’s Pit during a weekly TV taping, Piper & Orton gave T’s friend, The Haiti Kid (a little person), an unwanted Mohawk haircut as a “tribute” to him. Then, during a pre-taped segment on another weekly broadcast, Piper visited “the A-Team set” where T had to be held back by his entourage after Hot Rod repeatedly insulted him.
Piper & T didn’t have to fake their intense hatred for each other. It was very real. So, why were they stuck in a contrived boxing match where both men were booked to routinely pull their punches? Wouldn’t a true contest have made more sense and been far more engrossing than a storytelling exhibition?
At any event, by today’s standards, the actual four-round match was a disappointing disaster. No devastating punches were ever thrown. Late in the bout, T was supposed to nail Piper with a roundhouse which would knock him right out of the ring. Unfortunately, when he threw the punch, T came nowhere near Hot Rod’s face who overcompensated by overselling the miss. When an enraged Piper returned to the ring, he threw his corner stool as hard as he could at a puzzled T. The match ended when Piper bodyslammed T, causing a DQ.
How badly did the Nassau Coliseum react to the match after it ended? They chanted “Roddy! Roddy!” as Piper & Orton left the ring. That’s right. They rooted for the villain who lost. After a brief hiatus, Piper would begin his first of many short-term babyface runs. Despite a short return as a referee “enforcer” in 1989, T would never work a WWE match again. On the plus side, he did get inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
2. Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter (WrestleMania 7)
The Ultimate Warrior was supposed to be the man, the top babyface in the WWF. After getting the ultimate push, a world title victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI no less, the plan was for him to have a long title reign.
But Warrior was no Hogan. And so, at the 1991 Royal Rumble, after just 9 months as champion, the villainous Sgt. Slaughter dethroned him, thanks to the constant interference of Macho King Randy Savage & Sensational Queen Sherri.
With Warrior & Savage set on a collision course for WM VII, Hogan was booked to take on Slaughter, the American military man who absurdly supported Saddam Hussein in the first Iraq War, in the main event. (His considerable mic skills made up for this implausible heel turn.)
With next to no suspense, Hogan & Slaughter wasted 20 minutes of the audience’s time in this seriously underwhelming title match. (How many times do we need to see Slaughter thrown chest-first into those soft turnbuckles?) Warrior & Savage’s “retirement” battle proved to be far more gripping & memorable. It also had an awesome post-match segment. (Elizabeth rescued a defeated Savage from a vindictive Sherri and then they reconciled through a touching embrace.)
Put simply, Hogan & Slaughter could not compete with them. In the end, as expected, Hogan became a three-time WWF Champion. It was less of a big deal than his two previous title triumphs. And despite the Gulf War already being over a month before WrestleMania VII even happened, the feud dragged on til late summer. Slaughter would eventually realize his mistake, beg for forgiveness and become a ‘face again.
3. The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez (WrestleMania 9)
Long before The Streak became an annual WrestleMania storyline filled with exciting, first-rate matches, The Phenom participated in plenty of snoozers. None was worst than his sluggish confrontation with Giant Gonzalez in 1993.
Manager Harvey Wippleman had previously sent Kamala The Ugandan Giant after him in 1992 to no avail. Now it was the nearly 8-foot Gonzalez’ turn to take on The Dead Man. (The feud began when he eliminated Taker from the 1993 Royal Rumble match without actually being an official entrant.)
Gonzalez was not known for his speed or scientific ability. He was slow as shit and moved awkwardly on his feet. Despite the valiant effort of The Undertaker to try to get something going with him, this was a loser right from the get-go. It ended mercifully when Gonzalez got disqualified for smothering him with a cloth soaked in chloroform (I’m not kidding) handed to him by Wippleman, one of the rare times an Undertaker WrestleMania encounter didn’t end with a pin or submission.
After seemingly being knocked out for a short while and stretchered out to the back The Undertaker would eventually return to beat on Gonzalez in an extended post-match scrum that was only slightly better than their actual boring match. It would be many years before Taker would start having great WrestleMania matches. Sadly, Gonzalez died in 2010.
4. Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna (WrestleMania 9)
Oh brother. Bret “The Hitman” Hart had just dropped the WWF Championship to the 1993 Royal Rumble winner Yokozuna in the main event of WrestleMania 9, thanks to Mr. Fuji throwing salt in the champ’s eyes while he had the challenger in the sharpshooter, which should’ve been the end of the much maligned Vegas show.
But it wasn’t. Just before the match got started, Hulk Hogan declared his intention to challenge the winner of this title bout. After Yoko’s victory, out he came to check on Hart outside of the ring. Hart motioned for him to take on the new champion. Fuji accepted his challenge on behalf of Yoko. In less than 30 seconds, Hogan was once again the WWF Champion. Hart has long complained about this booking and with good reason. (Hart claims he was supposed to face Hogan but the Immortal One was against the idea.) Why take away Yokozuna’s greatest professional moment with a deflating squash during the WWF’s biggest show of the year? And honestly, why did Hogan, who failed to win the tag titles with Brutus Beefcake in their WM match against Money Inc., need another title run at this stage of his career?
Just a few months later, however, Yokozuna would thankfully regain the title at King Of The Ring 1993. After a proper title run, he would eventually drop it back to Hart at WrestleMania X.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 4, 2015