What the World Was Watching: WrestleMania XI

A video package quickly highlights the various WrestleMania’s.  It is notable that celebrities are emphasized in this package instead of wrestlers, partly due to the fact that Hulk Hogan, competing in WCW, was in the main event of most of them.

Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler are doing commentary and they are live from Hartford, Connecticut.  The Hartford Civic Center is probably the worst WrestleMania venue in history since it lacks the history and size of its predecessors and successors.  Its selection is an illustration of the problems that the company was experiencing the mid-1990s.

As noted in a previous review, the American rock band Fishbone was supposed to sing “America the Beautiful” at this event, but after McMahon reportedly saw their rendition he decided to scrap it from the show.  As a result, Special Olympian Kathy Huey sings the song.  The WWF was working a lot with the Special Olympics in this period as the Games were being held in New Haven, Connecticut.

Opening Contest:  The Allied Powers (1-0) defeat The Blu Brothers (w/Uncle Zebekiah) (6-0-1) when the British Bulldog pins Eli Blu after a top rope sunset flip at 6:34:

Lex Luger and the British Bulldog, who were both relatively directionless in the singles division, were made into a “super team” called the Allied Powers.  Just like today, they do not receive a new theme song but instead have both of their themes mashed together.  Luger and the Bulldog had also wrestled together earlier in the year against Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka, but this is the first time that they are heralded as more than a makeshift team.  This first match is also a good time to note that there is a sea of photographers around the ringside area throughout the show, which was due to the WWF desperately wanting the media to take lots of photographs and provide them with more mainstream exposure.  The choice of this match for the opener is curious as both teams work a slower style that is not going to excite the crowd.  The Blus do several illegal switches to try to thwart the babyfaces, but Luger and the Bulldog show very little vulnerability and manage to get the win when one of the Blu twins – I will just say it is Eli – moves too close to the Allied Powers corner on a piledriver attempt and the Bulldog tags in and hits a sunset flip to win.  Rating:  *

Jim Ross interviews Zebekiah in the aisle, who says that his team was cheated in the match because the wrong man was pinned.

Nicholas Turturro tries to do an interview with the Million Dollar Corporation but audio problems prevent him from doing so.

Footage of Jeff Jarrett winning the Intercontinental title at The Royal Rumble is shown.

McMahon interviews Razor Ramon and the 1-2-3 Kid, who are in the backstage area, and the Kid says that Ramon is going to get the job done and regain the Intercontinental title tonight.  Ramon is impatient to the get to the ring.

Intercontinental Championship Match:  Razor Ramon (w/The 1-2-3 Kid) (7-2) beats Jeff Jarrett (Champion w/The Roadie) (7-3) via disqualification when the Roadie interferes at 13:32:

The photographer problem immediately becomes apparent as Ramon tries to rush the ring but the photographers are in his way so he has to push them aside to get in.  One interesting thing about this match is that all of the main participants would not appear in another WrestleMania for another three to four years as the Roadie would wrestle at WrestleMania XIV, the Kid and Jarrett would return at WrestleMania XV, and Ramon would not have another match until WrestleMania X-8.  As expected, the Roadie interferes a lot and takes a beating, pulling Jarrett out of a Razor’s Edge early in the bout and choking Ramon behind the referee’s back before Ramon slings him into the exposed part of a turnbuckle and neutralizing him for a while.  Both men work a good match, with Ramon scoring near-falls off of his signature moves and Jarrett rushing the application of a figure-four after the Kid gets overzealous and tries to interfere, only to get kicked into the railing by Jarrett.  When taking into account Jarrett’s weak booking as champion – after all, he did struggle against Barry Horowitz a few weeks earlier – logic would dictate that Ramon would regain the title here, but we get a disqualification finish when the Roadie breaks up another Razor’s Edge attempt to continue the feud.  Rating:  ***

After the bell, we get a four-way brawl, with Jarrett putting the 1-2-3 Kid in the figure-four until Ramon is able to intervene to help his friend and WWF officials separate the competitors as the crowd reacts favorably.

Ross interviews Jarrett, who has a busted nose, presumably from a kick by the Kid, and Jarrett promises payback.  Ross tells Jarrett that he should be ashamed of himself.

McMahon throws things to Nicholas Turturro a second time, with Turturro saying that Pamela Anderson could not be found backstage, but he has found Jennifer McCarthy and Kama tries to hit on her.  Turturro asks Shawn Michaels where Anderson is and he says not to worry about it.  Sid saves all of this by saying that WWF Champion Diesel is scared for what awaits him in the ring later tonight.

Todd Pettengill interviews Neil Anderson of the Chicago Bears, who is in attendance, and he says that Lawrence Taylor will be ready to face Bam Bam Bigelow tonight.

The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) (2-0) pins King Kong Bundy (w/Ted DiBiase) (11-1) after a flying clothesline at 6:39:

The referee for this match is Major League Baseball umpire Larry Young, who was eligible for WWF employment because baseball was on strike, something that McMahon loved to poke fun at on commentary throughout the summer and fall of 1994.  The build for this match has been rather lackluster, with the Undertaker simply seeking to regain the urn which was stolen at The Royal Rumble by the Million Dollar Corporation, but part of that was due to the fact that the Undertaker was on the shelf for much of February and March due to injury.  Early in the match, the Undertaker takes the urn back from DiBiase and poses with it as the crowd pops huge, so DiBiase gets Kama to run out from the backstage area and attack Bearer to get it back.  In a hilarious moment, Ross interviews Kama mid-match, with Kama saying that he is going to melt the urn into a chain and wear it and Ross screams at him, in utter rage, “That doesn’t belong to you!”  After all this happens the match is downhill, with Bundy working a long chinlock and the Undertaker refusing to sell the Avalanche before finishing Bundy with a flying clothesline.  For as much of a build as Bundy got as a monster for the last three months it seems as if the Undertaker should have had to do more to beat him.  Rating:  ½*

Turturro is outside Pamela Anderson’s dressing room and says that she has left the building because of a disagreement that she had with Shawn Michaels.  Steve McMichael shows up and says he is looking for Kama.  Reggie White says that he wants King Kong Bundy, Carl Banks wants Nikolai Volkoff, and Chris Spielman wants “the Cigar Store Indian” (his reference for Tatanka).  Turturro then stumbles upon Bob Backlund playing Jonathan Taylor Thomas in chess.  Backlund acts ignorant of who Pamela Anderson is and while cutting a promo, Thomas puts him in checkmate.  Backlund then quizzes Taylor about current events, with Taylor answering all of the questions correctly, and Backlund storms off.  The Backlund bit was great and would only have been better if he put Turturro or Thomas in the crossface chicken wing.

WWF Tag Team Championship Match:  Owen Hart & Yokozuna (w/Jim Cornette & Mr. Fuji) beat The Smoking Gunns (Champions) (6-0-1) after Owen pins Billy after a Yokozuna Banzai Drop to win the titles at 9:41:

Owen’s search for a partner did not get a lot of attention on WWF television with zero vignettes filmed about it.  There were some rumors that fellow Canadian Chris Benoit may come in as his partner but instead the role went to Yokozuna, who came back heavier than ever after losing to the Undertaker at Survivor Series.  Owen gives Yokozuna a gleeful hug and after this pick the Gunns entrance might as well be their last walk on death row, with the crowd sensing that there is zero chance that they successfully defend the titles.  The Gunns still give it the old college try, doing their best when Owen is the legal man, even managing to hit the Sidewinder, but Yokozuna prevents the pin from being counted and then later destroys Billy with a belly-to-belly suplex and Banzai Drop, which lets Owen tag in to get the pin for the titles.  This is Owen’s first championship in the company and his joyous celebration is funny to watch.  Rating:  *½

Pettengill interviews Bam Bam Bigelow, who says he is not going to known as the man who lost to Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI.

“I Quit” Match with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as the Special Guest Referee:  Bret Hart (2-1-1) defeats Bob Backlund (8-0) via submission to the crossface chicken wing at 9:34:

The appointment of Piper as a special guest referee was a surprise and Lawler misses an opportunity to blast the WWF for favoritism as Piper refereed Bret’s title win over Yokozuna at the last WrestleMania and is a noted ally of the Hitman.  Due to the fact that Bret is already in a feud with Lawler and Hakushi this match seems like an afterthought, but as the recent edition of Monday Night RAW showed, the Hitman is tying up some loose ends to move forward in 1995.  The stipulation for the bout is fine, since both men specialize in submission holds, but Piper ruins things by constantly shoving a microphone into each man’s face and saying “What do ya say?!?!”  It becomes a running gag, just like Art Donovan asking how much people weighed at the King of the Ring a year earlier, and the crowd actually starts laughing midway through the match every time Piper asks it.  The other problem with the match is that it is far too short, with both men rushing into different holds because they have to work under a much more compressed time limit than they had for their submission match at Survivor Series.  And what is worse, the finish is questionable, as Bret escapes the “unescapable” crossface chicken wing and applying his own, but Backlund just grunts and Piper calls for the bell.  Maybe we should refer to this one as the “Hartford Screwjob.”  After all, this WrestleMania was close to Backlund’s current place of residence!  Rating:  **

Ross interviews Backlund in the aisle, with Backlund being wild eyed and saying that “he saw the light” and asking Ross if he saw it.  At the time, Dave Meltzer thought that this foreshadowed a face turn.

Turturro says that he cannot find Pamela Anderson and that some celebrity changes have been made.  Lawler says that Anderson may have left because Michaels wanted her to get a tattoo.

Pettengill interviews WWF Champion Diesel, who says he is going to show everyone why he is the champion and that he knows Sid will try to interfere in their match.

WWF Championship Match:  Diesel (Champion) (2-0-1) pins Shawn Michaels (w/Sid) (5-0) after a Jackknife at 20:34:

So our celebrities for this match are as follows:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas is the guest timekeeper and Nicholas Turturro is the guest ring announcer.  Instead of Michaels getting Pamela Anderson to accompany him, he gets Jennifer McCarthy of MTV and we find out that Anderson never left the building but preferred to accompany Diesel to the ring (although even then Anderson has a look on her face as if she is embarrassed to be here).  It does not take long for Michaels to throw one of his classic tantrums as he lands on a photographer when taking a bump and pulls him away from the ring.  One big flaw in the booking of the match, as Bret Hart has noted in his book and in interviews, is that Michaels does not really act like a heel against the bigger Diesel, thereby drawing a ton of sympathy heat by the time the match is over with.  For example, Michaels spends much of the contest doing high-risk moves and taking big risks that capture the crowd’s attention.  This results in Michaels getting “Let’s go Shawn!” chants and Diesel being loudly booed by the crowd (which has been taken out of the WWE Network version of the match) right before finishing Michaels off.  In addition, the questionable booking of Diesel as champion continues as Michaels hits Sweet Chin Music and gets a visual pin, which referee Earl Hebner is not able to register because he has injured his ankle trying to keep Sid from interfering.  Nevertheless, even if there were some puzzling events in the match, it is still a good one, utilizing sufficient psychology as Michaels wears on Diesel’s ribs, and stole the show, which is exactly what Michaels promised it would do.  Rating:  ***½

After the match, Diesel celebrates with the WrestleMania celebrities.

Pettengill interviews Michaels and Sid, with Michaels saying that he should be the champion because he hit Diesel with Sweet Chin Music and had him pinned for more than three seconds.  Sid echoes Michaels complaints and says that there needed to multiple referees in tonight’s bout.  Sid says Michaels is not done with Diesel yet and Michaels issues a challenge for an immediate rematch.

Members of the Million Dollar Corporation and Lawrence Taylor’s All-Pro Team get their own introductions to the ringside area courtesy of McMahon.  The All-Pro Team take turns knocking different members of the Corporation off the apron, with Steve McMichael taking a shot at Kama and Chris Spielman hitting Tatanka.

Lawrence Taylor (w/All-Pro Team) pins Bam Bam Bigelow (w/The Million Dollar Corporation) (6-0) after a flying forearm off the second rope at 11:45:

If you think about it, Bigelow is the anti-King Kong Bundy as he went from wrestling a midget at the previous year’s WrestleMania to the main event whereas Bundy had the reverse happen between WrestleMania II and WrestleMania III.  Pat Patterson is the referee for this bout, serving his function as an aficionado of handling celebrities as he also refereed Mr. T’s appearance at the WrestleMania I.  As with all celebrity matches, the biggest question was whether Taylor could wrestle and Bigelow does a great job wrestling himself, flipping big for Taylor’s hiptosses and throws and taking a blind charge into the buckle.  Both men were also smart keeping things simple, letting Bigelow work basic submissions and having Taylor’s offense be limited to forearms, a bulldog, and a side suplex, although his attempt at a Jackknife fails miserably since he is blown up nearly ten minutes into the bout.  In one of the more questionable decisions in laying out the match, Taylor is allowed to kick out of Bigelow’s flying headbutt finisher, and then uses that as a way to mount a Rocky-like comeback with forearms to put Bigelow down for good.  Bigelow’s career never recovered after this loss, but he did get a WrestleMania main event out of it, which is more than what the vast majority of wrestlers can say for their own careers.  Rating:  **¼

After the match, Taylor’s All-Pro Team hoists Taylor on their shoulders, while DiBiase yells at Bigelow in the aisle about how he has embarrassed the Corporation by allowing a football player to beat him.

The Last Word:  Thirty-three editions of “the greatest event in sports entertainment” has shown that this is not the worst WrestleMania of all-time, but the best thing that you can say about it is that it is mediocre.  The WWF title match is good and is a “coming out party” of sorts for Shawn Michaels, who would use the match to springboard himself into the top babyface spot in the company and win the title the following year, while the Bigelow-LT match is arguably the best celebrity-wrestler bout of all-time.  In fact, Diesel-Michaels was voted by PWI as the “Match of the Year” for 1995, which is humorous since there were two bouts in 1995 that were already better (Diesel-Bret at The Royal Rumble and Bret & Bulldog vs. Backlund & Owen on The Action Zone) and that is just from the WWF.  However, aside from the Intercontinental title match, the other matches fell flat and if you were not a fan during this era then there is not a lot to capture your interest.  Even the celebrities lacked a certain flare when compared to the celebrities of past WrestleMania’s.  And McMahon had to be disappointed with the buy rate of the show, which was down significantly – 50,000 fewer buys – over the previous year’s outing.

Attendance:  15,000

Buy Rate:  1.3 (-0.38 over the previous year)

Up Next (on Friday):  Monday Night RAW from April 3, 1995!