That’s right, I can still write a blog not involving a live Monday format!
I am sitting watching the WWE Network, and it’s impossible not to be fascinated with all the programing they offer. I’ve personally been drawn to the Legends of Wrestling shows that have been uploaded over the last few weeks. I love the behind the scenes aspect of professional wrestling, so I truly enjoy hearing the perspectives of the men involved with delivering the product we all enjoy from behind the curtains we love to peek behind.
I have a very tedious habit of doing everything in order, usually chronologically. I’m currently re-watching all WWE PPVs, and am in the middle of Survivor Series 2003 (one of the most underrated events in my memory, and an indicator of how far WWE has fallen in terms of setting up several matches for a PPV), while I’m watching SuperBrawl III in my WCW viewing. But with the Legends of Wrestling, I’m watching them in order of release, and today I have noticed about a dozen programs added since I last logged in. So, I went to the earliest one, which is apropos: “WrestleMania.”
As Mean Gene goes around the roundtable asking for the opinions of the legends involved, I started pondering about the WrestleMania moments that mean the most to me. In general, I love to think outside of the obvious. Sure, I loved the “I’m sorry, I love you” ending to Flair vs Michaels, but I remember being in the Citrus Bowl and enjoying Money Mayweather’s bout with the Big Show more. Possibly because it wasn’t meant to be legendary, so I didn’t have high expectations. I think it’s why Savage vs Steamboat is commonly the main match mentioned when discussing Mania III, because everyone tuned in for Hogan vs Andre and got the memories they expected there, but didn’t expect to be blown away by the Intercontinental Championships bout.
I have that in almost every aspect of entertainment. I rarely like the singles from an album, but rather prefer the deep cuts, or I’ll take the underground horror slasher on VHS only over the big budget Hollywood affair. It’s just who I am.
So when it comes to wrestling moments, I tend to shine a light on memories that are locked in the back of your mind. Forgotten or ignored for whatever reason. Hopefully I can stir a reaction out of you to the tune of “Oh yeah, I remember that one!” with a fond memory of mine from the WrestleMania I still see as my nostalgic favorite, which is just in time for a match in New Orleans this year
WrestleMania IV: The Battle Royale
When I think of my youth as a wrestling fan, I remember the 80s WWF era above all else. I’ll also prefer the intro that let me know that “The World is Watching.”
Which led into the slot machine intro for WrestleMania IV from the Trump Plaza. It’s thankfully all part of the PPV on the WWE Network.
That is the best music and intro for any WrestleMania, in my opinion. I know, it shows my age, but it was perfect for its time, while making the impression required on me to stand out over 25 years later.
The event itself is ranked rather low in terms of quality, with almost none of the matches that stand out the way Macho Man vs The Dragon did a year earlier. But it was the first WrestleMania I can remember (as I have no memories of being in attendance at Mania 3 at 5 years old). I would rent that double VHS often, thinking I was getting the most bang for my buck; more wrestling content for the same price of a single VHS rental. Sweet.
I think the best match on the card was the Tag Team Championship, but I think that the opening match was the best way to start off an event the size of WrestleMania, which is probably why I am not part of the sour group against the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. And while I do appreciate the Mania 2 showdown between NFL players and wrestlers, and the gimmick battle royal at Mania X-7, and the tag team battle royale that gave us the first look at LOD 2000 with Sunny in their corner, the WrestleMania IV Battle Royale is the epitome of what a WrestleMania over the top rope contest should be. It was perfectly booked.
Or maybe it was executed excellently?
First, you had a component that will not be matched for Mania 30 no matter how hard they try: the best announce team in wrestling history of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse the Body Ventura. Sorry Heenan fans, but the Brain could never do the job Ventura did in getting guys over and credible. Heel or face, Jesse made them all look great with his heel leaning color commentary. Gorilla was the perfect straight man, calling the matches in a way that Michael Cole should learn from.
But on top of that was arguably the best use of a celebrity in wrestling history with WWE Hall of Famer Bob Uecker in the booth. This wasn’t Art Donovan. Bob knew what he was doing in there, fitting in like a glove, working off Jesse’s villainous character, and taking a genuine interest in the match. I still can hear him screaming “That was my pick!” when Hillbilly Jim was eliminated. Either he was coached by Pat Patterson for 11 weeks before arriving in Atlantic City, or he was a genuine fan, and it showed.
But it’s the match that I want to talk about more than anything. When we think of Bret Hart turning at WrestleMania, we think of the double turn with Stone Cold in Chicago of 1997 at Mania 13. And rightfully so. But it wasn’t the first time he was the center of the wrestling world playing with our emotions. After a successful run with the WWF Tag Team Titles, the heel tandem of the Hitmn and the Anvil, then known as the Hart Foundation, were in a bit of a slump. With Demolition winning the title later that night, Ax and Smash were in need of some challengers. So, because the British Bulldogs couldn’t be the only legit threat to the titles (and with the Young Stallions being essentially jobbers) the decision was made to have the Pink and Black attack turn face. And it was performed masterfully by the Hitman being a heel.
See, the end of the Battle Royale came down to the Junkyard Dog, in his last memorable WWF appearance, as the fan favorite looking to outlast Bad News Brown and the Hitman. The 2 heels decided to team up to dump the JYD, and then share the winner’s purse. And the plan worked, as the former Stagger Lee was thrown over the top rope, and the 2 heels high fived and posed for the paying audience as they booed them.
Eventually, Bad News showed his true colors and nailed Hart with his finishing move the “Ghetto Blaster” (an enziguri) and then tossed Hart over the top rope as well, and was declared the winner.
As Brown posed in the ring with his new 5 foot tall trophy, Bret snuck back in the ring behind him and launched him out to the floor to the crowd’s delight. He then smashed the trophy, and threw it down the aisleway.
Gorilla pitched in the perfect comment that stings a bit more after the Screwjob in Montreal:
“Don’t Double Cross the Hitman!”
Bret and Neidhart didn’t win the titles from Demolition. At least not until Ax and Smash won them again in 1990 as faces, and then turned heel with a 3rd member in the summer of that year. In a match of the year candidate, the Hart defeated Smash and Crush in a 2 our of 3 Falls match at SummerSlam.
But without that WrestleMania IV Battle Royal, would Bret Hart have ever become a voice on the Simpsons? It was the first time in WWF that Bret succeeded at being a fan favorite, and he did it by losing a match, and then being a dastardly jerk and destroying the property of another wrestler.
Funny, huh?And on that note, Peace out
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