Wrestlemania Countdown: 11

The Netcop Retro Rant for Wrestlemania XI – Live from Hartford, Connecticut. Original airdate: April 2/1995 – Your hosts are Vince McMahon & Jerry Lawler.Opening match: The Blu Twins v. The Allied Powers. And who the HELL thought of this one as the opener? For those who haven’t seen the show, there are a MILLION photographers surrounding the ring, which gets into the way of a highspot on at least one occasion. (Insecure much, Vince?) And wow, what a drop for Luger: Main eventer one year, opening match the next. (Add him to the list of biggest Wrestlemania downfalls, I guess.)  The Blu Twins are Ron and Don Harris. With WAY more hair. Luger and Bulldog blow a double powerslam spot right off the bat. Davey Boy jumps right into the Ricky Morton spot, getting beat on by the Blus. The gimmick for the Blus is that they’re brawling mountain men with their inbred uncle Zebekiah (Dutch Mantel). (And yet WWE can’t find a spot for the Briscoes.)  Zebekiah, being an all-purpose redneck stereotype, moved to Texas in 96 and became Bradshaw’s manager. This is a horrible match. Luger gets the hot tag and nails one of the Blus with the LOADED STAINLESS STEEL FOREARM OF DOOM but they pull the ol’ switcheroo. Jacob goes for a piledriver and Bulldog sunset flips in (the only nice spot of the match) and pins him. No tag, but they’re faces so it’s okay, I guess. (That’s one of the rules of wrestling, dummy.)  1/4* – NYPD Blue’s Nicholas Turturro is doing interviews in the back. Vince knew the show would suck, so he loaded up with celebs, I guess. (I would hardly call him a celebrity now.)  Intercontinental title match: Jeff Jarrett v. Razor Ramon. Ramon is seconded by 1-2-3 Kid, and Jarrett is seconded by the Road Dog. Stalling from Jarrett to start, then Ramon reverses a sloppy sunset flip for a two count. Some comedy spots from Jarrett and Roadie sew the seeds of dissention. Ramon goes for the Edge but Roadie pulls Jarrett out, who is then chased into the ring by Sean “What the HELL am I wearing tonight?” Waltman. Ramon takes out both Roadie and JJ, which pretty much shows that this was just building to the tag match that was supposed to happen at the first In Your House. Jarrett controls with some decent stuff, showing he’s not a totally incompetent wrestler at this point. (I don’t think he ever was.  He’s just boring.)  Ramon gets a two off a backslide, and they trade twos. Jarrett seems to have the same problem Shawn Michaels does: His managers go on to become bigger than him. Ramon makes the big comeback with a blockbuster slam, and the Kid tries to post Jarrett but gets kicked off. Ramon makes a tactical error and Jarrett slaps on the figure-four. Roadie assists. Ramon reverses the move, and Kid assists *him*. Cute. Ramon hits a superplex and goes for the Edge. Roadie runs in for the weak DQ. The Kid cleans house, and in a “holy shit” moment for me, he does the kick combo in the corner…then CROTCH CHOPS! I didn’t even realize he was doing it back then! Anyway, pretty good match. **3/4 – Nick Turturro interviews the Corporation (the Million Dollar one) and Shawn Michaels. Jenny McCarthy wanders in and Kama checks her out. Scouting hos? – King Kong Bundy v. The Undertaker. Yes, it’s another “Heel manager steals the urn angle”. It occurs to me that Mankind has the distinction of being the last guy to do that angle, and the only one to be successful, since UT never got it back. (I think Paul Bearer had possession of it in 2010 for that horrid Kane feud) Baseball umpire Larry Young is the referee, causing me to wonder if visual impairment is a prerequisite to being a ref. Midway through the match, Paul Bearer steals the urn back, but Kama runs out and steals it from *him*. Man, what an engaging storyline. He would melt it down into a chain, which he may still be wearing today as the Godfather. (Or maybe he took to Vegas and sold it to the Pawn Stars.)  Undertaker gets the pin…with a clothesline. Uh, yeah. DUD – Nicolas Turturro is searching for Pam Anderson…and finds Mongo! Yup, he’s part of “Team Taylor”, the group of football players who will be seconding Lawrence Taylor in the main event. He moves on to find Bob Backlund playing chess with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Pretty funny bit. – The first In Your House promo. There’s WAY too much filler here.  (That’s nothing compared to what you have to sit through today.)  WWF World tag team title match: The Smokin Gunns v. Owen Hart & A Mystery Partner. You see, Owen and Neidhart (father of current Diva Natalya, who is a frequent victim of Tamina, daughter of Jimmy Snuka!) were eliminated in the first round of the tag title tournament, but Owen claimed it was unfair circumstances, so the Gunns gave Owen & a partner a match here. So Owen brings out Yokozuna, and you might as well have handed the belts over right there. Both Billy and Bart ended up wrestling at Wrestlemania XV, although in drastically different types of matches. Who would have thought that either guy would end up being in the WWF years after the split occurred? The Gunns do all sorts of cool double team stuff, which begs the question: Why did the New Age Outlaws suck so bad in the ring?  (Because Bart was the good worker and Billy wasn’t, duh.) The backdrop/neckbreaker combo is killer, for instance. The Gunns hit the sidewinder (Bart does a side slam and Billy legdrops him in the air), but Owen tags in Yokozuna and everything the Gunns built while working on Owen goes BUH-BYE faster than you can say “Fat Ass Legdrop”. Yoko does about 30 seconds worth of work and then applies the VULCAN NERVE HOLD OF DEATH. Yoko, you fat pile of shit, it’s a TAG TEAM match. If you’re tired, tag Owen. The Gunns make the hot tag, but Billy promptly gets belly-to-bellied and Banzai Dropped. And that’s that. No, wait, Owen wants the honors, so makes the academic pin to FINALLY win his first title. *1/2 – Adam Bomb cuts a promo with the WCW Booking Committee, who are prepping for the Special Olympics. – “I Quit” match: Mr. Bob Backlund v. Bret Hart. Roddy Piper is the special referee. Okay, anyway, this match was setup because Backlund made Hart submit at Survivor Series 94 to win the WWF title. And yes, I know his mother threw in the towel, but history says he submitted. So now I guess Bret wanted the job back. Bret gets a figure-four about a minute in, showing how compressed this match is. Of course, the match at Survivor Series ran about 40 minutes, so anything would be compressed. They trade a couple of more submission moves on the mat, boring the crowd. Backlund works some psychology in, working on the arm and shoulder. Yawn. Backlund was always *vastly* overrated. I mean, he was technically proficient and a great heel in 1994, but he never really clued into the fact that it wasn’t the 70s anymore. Bret comes back with a couple of the MOVES OF DOOM, but Backlund rolls out of the Sharpshooter attempt. Bret misses a corner charge and messes up his shoulder. This sets up the Katihaj—er, I mean the Cross Face Chicken Wing. But Bret reverses the move and hooks his own for the submission. Backlund said during his big heel push that if anyone did that to him, he’d retire. Of course, Backlund never actually said “I Quit” here, so I guess you could say that Bob screwed…oh, never mind. **  (Bret really had nothing to work with on this show.)  WWF World title match: Diesel v. Shawn Michaels. Jonathan Taylor Thomas is the timekeeper and Nicolas Turturro is the ring announcer. Shawn brings Jenny McCarthy (and Sid) with him. Shawn takes a bump before the match even starts, getting backdropped over the top rope by Diesel so Diesel can pose with Pam Anderson, who makes Sable look like Olive Oyl. The Shawn Show begins as Diesel takes his head off with a clothesline after a wrestling sequence. He gets bumped over the top rope and runs into a photographer, so he shoves him down the aisle in frustration. Michaels keeps on Diesel, and keeps getting beat up. Diesel is moving faster than usual here, but the match is all Shawn. They end up outside the ring, and the photographers help screw up a spot again, this one being Diesel getting run into the ringpost. The bloodthirsty fans begin chanting for Sid. Wild. Shawn splashes Big Sexy from the apron to the floor. Back in the ring and Shawn continues working on the back, with a Randy Savage elbow for a two count. Diesel makes the comeback with some elbows, then Snake Eyes. They fight outside the ring and Hebner jumps down to stop them, but twists his ankle. Shawn and Diesel roll in the ring, and Shawn hits the superkick. Sid tosses the ref back in the ring for a two count. Sid cuts the top turnbuckle pad off. They do the double-KO spot and then Shawn tries a bulldog off the top, but gets caught with a side slam. Diesel hulks up (to big boos) and hits the big boot and powerbomb for the pin. Crowd is not entirely appreciative, which was acknowledged the next night when Sid turns on Shawn, beginning Shawn’s push to superstardom. This was voted Match of the Year by PWI, continuing Shawn’s MOTY streak (which ran from 1993-1997) but there were easily much better matches in North America alone in 1995. *** – Main event: Bam Bam Bigelow v. Lawrence Taylor. This of course came about because Bigelow shoved LT at Royal Rumble 95. Pat Patterson is the special referee, and both the Corporation and LT’s football friends (including future WCW “wrestlers” Steve MacMichael and Reggie White) are at ringside. LT dominates Bam Bam to start, with a clothesline over the top rope, a few hiptosses and a bulldog, making this better than almost any other celebrity matches to date. Bam Bam takes over with some kicks and punches. LT throws a wicked forearm, I’ll give him that. Bigelow applies a Boston Crab, and LT does a pretty respectable selling job. LT suplexes Bigelow out of a headlock, but gets the worst of it and Bigelow actually hits a sort-of moonsault. Bigelow comes back with a half-powerbomb half-gut wrench for a two count. Bigelow pulls out an enzuigiri and goes back to the top. His FLYING HEADBUTT OF DOOM only gets two. Why would he agree to kill his own finisher like that? ($$$) LT comes back with forearms and some shoulderblocks, then a big forearm. Bigelow is staggered, and Taylor comes off the second rope with a flying forearm to the head that looked as though it hit solid, and it gets the pin! **1/2 on the regular scale, ****1/2 on the “celebrity match” scale. End of show. The Bottom Line: Certainly not a *bad* Wrestlemania. Bundy-UT sucked the meat missile, but everything else was okay. This was just lacklustre more than anything else. Weak storyline buildup, mediocre wrestling, and an ill-advised celebrity main event that killed Bigelow’s career. But Shawn puts in a good performance, and Bigelow-LT is the Savage-Steamboat of celebrity matches, so the show is worth a look. Very, very mildly recommended. The SmarK Retro Re-Rant for Wrestlemania XI – Live from Hartford, CT – Your hosts are Vinnie Mac and Jerry Lawler – Sure, this is one of the lesser Wrestlemanias, but of course the untimely death of Bam Bam Bigelow made it a natural tribute to him. The Allied Powers (Lex Luger & British Bulldog) v. The Blu Twins The Blu Twins are of course the Harris Brothers, back when they had hair. The Blus attack to start, but the forces of democracy clean house and then stop to invade Iraq. Bulldog starts proper with, I dunno, Jacob and gets a delayed suplex for two. Clothesline for both Blus clears the ring again and he grabs a headlock, but a cheapshot turns the tide. The Twins switch off with some uneventful double-teaming and a sideslam, which sets up a double boot to the Bulldog. The Twins do the switch and Eli gets two. Jacob goes up and misses whatever, and it’s hot tag Luger. Wow! A kneelift! Why didn’t they just put the World title on him right then? Powerslam and the STAINLESS STEEL FOREARM OF DOOM get two, and it’s a donnybrook. Luger might as well be calling in his half of things from a cell phone in the corner. (They’d probably record the conversation and air that call as a smear campaign against him.)  Another switch and Jacob tries a piledriver in the babyface corner, but Bulldog comes in with a sunset flip to finish. You’ll note that once Luger jumped back to WCW in time for Nitro to begin, he became motivated again. (The Allied Powers d. The Blu Twins, Bulldog sunset flip — pin Jacob, 6:37, *1/4) Not one of the more stellar openers in Wrestlemania history, for sure. Intercontinental title match: Jeff Jarrett v. Razor Ramon The presence of 1-2-3 Kid at ringside, in his pajamas, reminds me of a show about Hollywood marriages gone bad, which I guess came from the E! Network, and one of the segments focused on the happy life of Sean Waltman and Joanie Laurer, which actually resulted in Waltman being involved in a serious interview about life as a celebrity. What next, an interview with Joanie about life as a woman? Ramon and his bitch clear the ring to start, and Ramon slugs Jarrett down for two. That’s quite the punch. Another one gets two. Maybe it’s the smell of hooch on his breath? God knows that Hall and Waltman together in the same room is a recipe for disaster… …allegedly. Ramon blocks a sunset flip for two and sends Jarrett into the Roadie for two, but an attempt at the Razor’s Edge is stopped by the Roadie and they regroup on the floor. The Kid does his scary karate moves at Jarrett to chase him back in the ring, and Ramon gets two. I wonder if he did that before beating Joanie… …allegedly. Ramon clears the ring, but walks into a dropkick from Jarrett, who proceeds to take over. We hit the chinlock, but Ramon blocks a hiptoss with a backslide for two. Jarrett slugs away and grabs a sleeper, then takes him down by the hair for two. We hit the chinlock and Ramon escapes with a backdrop suplex, but it’s a double-KO. Although it could just be that only Jarrett was supposed to be out and Ramon partied too hard the night before. Kid rallies the crowd, but I’m sorry, I just can’t seriously get behind a guy wearing silk dragon pajamas. (Now if it was a dragon fighting a TIGER, shit’s on!) Ramon recovers first with a fallaway slam for two. Discus punch and Kid gets involved, but it backfires on him, like making a porno video with his girlfriend. (He should have done the Hogan play and claimed he didn’t know the girl or remember making the video.)  Jarrett, now on a roll, takes out the knee and goes to a figure-four, but Ramon fights out of it, because I guess he got the really GOOD drugs that night… …allegedly. Ramon comes back with a backdrop superplex, but his knee is injured. Razor’s Edge, but the Roadie runs in for the DQ. Kid tries to save, but the forces of evil are too much, and Lawler notes that “The Kid just got hammered!” Truer words have never been spoken. (Razor Ramon d. Jeff Jarrett, interference — DQ, 13:29, **1/2) Technically competent, but it did nothing for me and felt like they were repeating the script from Royal Rumble. King Kong Bundy v. The Undertaker Hey, remember that angle where a heel stole the urn and then Undertaker fought him to get it back? Well, this was one of them. The special referee is baseball umpire Larry Young, so at least the steroid use won’t shock him or anything. Taker goes old school right away and tries to clothesline Bundy down, but takes three times to get him down. Bundy responds with his own, and Taker bails and steals the urn back. He stops to worship the almighty flashlight contained within. Let us all pay homage to Eveready, provider of light and AA batteries! Kama runs out and steals the urn right back, but Undertaker is remarkably nonplussed by the situation and goes right back to beating on Bundy. (He was probably all “Ha ha, fuck you, the batteries are almost dead anyway!”) Bundy comes back with a slam, which UT no-sells, and another clothesline puts him on the floor again. Back in, Bundy chokes away and they have an epic slugfest, which ends when Bundy drops a knee for two. We hit the chinlock, as apparently the drama of people stealing the urn and other people stealing it back has been exhausted and now we have to actually watch these guys wrestle… …allegedly. Taker fights up, but gets Avalanched, which he no-sells. He slams Bundy and gets the jumping clothesline for the pin. A clothesline? What is this, Survivor Series? (Undertaker d. King Kong Bundy, clothesline — pin, 6:38, 1/4*) This was more one of those matches that sounded like a dream match on paper, rather than something anyone in their right mind would want to sit through. WWF World tag team titles: The Smoking Gunns v. Owen Hart & Yokozuna Owen and Jim Neidhart were eliminated from the tag title tournament under dubious circumstances, so now Owen gets a title shot with a partner of his choice. Billy Gunn slugs it out with Owen to start, and the Gunns work on his arm in the corner. Owen brings in Yokozuna, who quickly slams Bart, but misses an elbow. Owen comes in with a criss-cross, but Bart takes him down with an armbar and the Gunns double-team him with a double legsweep, then clear the ring. A nice double-team sees Billy hitting a neckbreaker on Owen out of a backdrop suplex position by Bart, and Bart sends Owen into the corner for two. A sideslam/legdrop combo gets two for Billy. Owen makes the blind tag to Yokozuna, and a legdrop kills Billy dead. Not even his gigantic mullet could protect him from that one. Owen rams him into the ringpost for good measure. Back in, we hit the chinlock. Owen tries to come in with a missile dropkick, but it hits Yoko instead and it’s hot tag Bart. Press slam for Owen, but Billy comes in and runs into a belly-to-belly from Yoko. Banzai drop and Billy is a pancake, so Owen takes the pin and the titles himself. (Owen Hart & Yokozuna d. The Smoking Gunns, Owen pin Billy, 5:47, **1/4) This was an oddly structured tag match, with no real heat segment, and really just a sense of the inevitable title change to it. “I Quit” match: Bret Hart v. Mr. Bob Backlund This was the final blowoff of a rather underappreciated feud in the 90s — that of Bob Backlund taking on the forces of sanity and losing. (Vince McMahon has been fighting that battle for a few years now with similar results.)  Although Bob never really drew any money as champion, it still stands as testimony that someone, anyone, can reinvent himself into something of value given a chance. Except for Paul Roma, fuck him. Bret and Bob actually had very good chemistry together, as Bret was the kind of guy who could effortlessly work Bob’s ultra-old school style and make it look believable for the era in which he was competing. Bret hammers away to start, and drops elbows, to no avail. He chokes away in the corner and Bob still won’t quit. I’m as shocked as you. Bret tries the Sharpshooter already, but Bob counters out, so it’s a figure-four instead. Bob reverses and then makes the ropes, but Bret stays on the leg. This part is not very exciting, so Piper clowns it up by asking both Bob and then Bret if they quit. Bob recovers and starts to work on the arm, but Bret avoids the chickenwing. Bob hammerlocks him on the mat and works on a weak Fujiwara armbar and then a standing armbar. This whole portion drags on so long that I have time to write a haiku about my feelings: Montreal screwjob Gave Shawn Michaels the title. Fuck you, Vince McMahon. Bret comes back with a backbreaker, but misses the blind charge and splats into the ringpost, which sets up the crossface chickenwing, Bob’s deadly and unbreakable submission hold. Bret, however, reverses the move into his own, and Bob quits. (Bret Hart d. Bob Backlund, chickenwing — submission, 9:34, **) This was really much more boring than I remembered, basically coming down to Backlund working an armbar and then quitting from his own hold. WWF World title: Diesel v. Shawn Michaels This is one of those matches where it was the logical blowoff for the long-simmering feud between them, and makes perfect sense in hindsight (and mostly at the time as well), but it didn’t draw worth shit and they so completely overcompensated in trying to make Shawn look like a threat that it actually became sort of an assumption that Shawn would win the title here. (He probably should have.)  The big swerve here is that Diesel has Pam Anderson in his corner, back when people gave a shit about her. Remember when she used to be considered classy? Homemade porno and Hep C is a bad combination for your public image, kids.  (Just ask Chyna.  Although I have no proof of any diseases carried by her.)  Shawn slugs away to start and gets a rollup, but Diesel escapes and clotheslines that crap out of him. Shawn, in his first shot at the bigtime, sells it like death before coming back to work on the arm. Diesel casually tosses him into the corner and follows with a backdrop, and then Shawn takes a nasty bump out of the ring and takes out an innocent photographer in the process. Back in, Shawn dodges an elbow and slugs away in the corner, but walks into the original elbow. Diesel follows with a suplex and big boot, and Shawn bumps out again. Back in, they both get crotched on the top rope and Shawn clotheslines him out and follows with a bodypress to the floor. He follows that with a baseball slide as they keep cutting to a bored-looking Pamela at ringside. Shawn goes to work on the injured ribs, splashing him from the apron, and distracting the ref long enough for Sid to sneak over…although not long enough for Sid to do anything. Back in, Shawn starts slugging him down, not really working on anything in particular. Top rope bulldog gets two. He slugs Diesel down again and springboards out of the corner with an elbow for two. He keeps pounding away and goes up with a flying elbow to the back, which gets two. Diesel keeps fighting off a facelock attempt, as this match has a really bizarre psychology about it, with the little guy dominating with speed instead of acting as an underdog. Their 1996 rematch told a much better story, with heel Diesel kicking the everloving shit out of babyface champion Shawn, but Shawn using that speed and brains to overcome the giant. This is just…weird. Shawn grabs a sleeper, and Diesel miraculously recovers and chases him out of the ring, taking out the referee in process while making the comeback as they brawl outside. Back in, Shawn gets the superkick out of nowhere, but the ref is out of it. Sid undoes the turnbuckle, but once again irony proves ironic and Diesel counters with a backdrop suplex for the double KO. Shawn recovers first and gets two. Another bulldog attempt is countered into a sideslam by Diesel, and he catapults Shawn into the exposed turnbuckle. Sort of, as Shawn actually miscalculates and lands on the middle one instead, thus defeating the purpose of the spot. (Shawn had the turnbuckle fired the next day.  it’s currently working in a McDonalds in Newark.)  Diesel, oblivious to anal retentive wrestling fans snickering at the faux pas, powerbombs Shawn anyway and gets the pin. (Diesel d. Shawn Michaels, powerbomb — pin, 20:40, ***1/2) Eh, it had a beat and I could dance to it, but it was pretty much 110% Shawn bumping his ass off to carry the match, and they had far better matches later on. Diesel and all the pathetic C-list celebrities from this show (The kid from Home Improvement! Some guy from NYPD Blue!) celebrate at the end as they desperately try to give Kevin Nash every rub possible. Bam Bam Bigelow v. Lawrence Taylor This of course was the apex of Bigelow’s career, as he main evented a Wrestlemania and fought a celebrity. LT attacks to start and Bigelow bumps around for him, including a clothesline that puts him on the floor. Back in, Taylor catches a bulldog for two. He throws forearms, which is smart for someone who can’t do worked punches, and Bigelow bails. After some trashtalk between the two entourages, Bigelow gives Taylor a cheapshot and starts working him over in the ring. He pounds away. Powerslam sets up a headbutt, which misses. Taylor tries to fight back with another forearm, but gets sent into the corner by Bam Bam and choked down. Bigelow slugs him down, into a Boston Crab, but LT can’t sell it properly and Bigelow turns it into a leglock instead. Taylor makes the ropes, so Bigelow reapplies and LT makes the ropes again. Taylor keeps throwing the forearms, and suddenly comes back with a backdrop suplex. Bigelow recovers first and pounds him down again, then follows with the moonsault. He suffers an apparent knee injury on the move and can’t cover right away, and thus only gets two. Nice bit of disbelief-suspension there. Taylor catches Bigelow with his head down and tries a powerbomb, but only gets kind of a half-one. They explain that Diesel trained him, so no wonder it was half-assed. That gets two. Bigelow comes back with an enzuigiri and goes up to finish, as the diving headbutt gets two. Taylor comes back again and works him over in the corner, then throws another forearm to take him down. To the top, and a flying forearm gets the upset pin. (Lawrence Taylor d. Bam Bam Bigelow, forearm — pin, 11:42, ***) Actually quite a decent match, with LT throwing effective forearms and consistently going back to them because they worked. The selling was hit-or-miss, to say the least, but for a celebrity match it was quite worthwhile. The Horsemen v. Mongo/Greene match at Great American Bash 96 would easily top it, however, and Bigelow’s career revival ended up flaming out soon after this. Still, he got to have his moment, and didn’t disappoint when put in the spotlight, so that’s all you can ask of him.  (Taylor, on the other hand, is now a registered sex offender and was probably a bigger drug user than anyone on this entire show.  Yet he’s still around and so many from this show are dead.  The world is a strange place.)  The Pulse: Not the WORST Wrestlemania ever, but certainly one of the dullest, as they trumped it up with silly celebrities to disguise the total lack of direction that the promotion was suffering through at that point. Nitro really was the kick in the ass that Vince needed. Recommendation to avoid.