Lee Maughan: This tape eschews the chronological method of the 1992 and 1993 Year in Review releases in order to present linear storylines in isolation.
The Undertaker vs. The Undertaker
What a way to kick a tape off this is! The whole feud was completely nonsensical on every level, with the original Undertaker having disappeared from the WWF following his absurd casket match loss to Yokozuna at the 1994 Royal Rumble. Enter ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase, who introduced his own Undertaker clone, one who responded to money rather than the power of the Paul Bearer’s urn. Sound like enough of a cartoon yet? Following a high profile investigation by Leslie Nielsen (essentially reprising his Frank Drebin role from the Police Squad! television show and The Naked Gun trilogy of films), the original ‘Dead Man’ returned to action at SummerSlam to square off with his doppelganger in this wretchedly dire bout devoid of action, emotion or enthusiasm. Indeed, despite the original Undertaker’s switch from black and grey to his mid-90s black and purple ensemble, fans seemed unable to distinguish who was who during the match, resulting in a tepid response to both guys. Given the fact the fake Undertaker was portrayed by Brian Lee (later known as Chainz of the Disciples of Apocalypse faction) who lacked the height, facial features and mechanics of Mark Calaway, it’s almost unfathomable such a thing could have happened, but that’s a mid-90s WWF crowd for you. Amazingly, the match could have been even worse had the original plans for its conclusion come to pass; the ring to have been struck by lightning causing the two Undertakers to meld together into one presumably money-hungry, urn-obeying zombie grappling machine. “Yes, but who won the match?” I hear you ask. Undertaker did, obviously. One of the worst matches of the year, but at least things can only get better from hereon in.
Final Rating: -*
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Quebecers (c) vs. The Headshrinkers
Here’s quite the forgotten gem, as despite its somewhat broad availability (you can also find it attached to both the Paul Bearer’s Hits from the Crypt and Most Unbelievable Matches tapes, as well as on the RAW: The Beginning – The Best of Seasons 1 & 2 DVD set), it’s not a match you ever hear talked up as great, or even very good. Not in the annals of great tag team matches, not as a RAW classic, not as one of 1994’s best, nothing. And that’s a shame, because it’s pretty damn fantastic. I think the problem comes down to how underrated both these teams really were. Fatu was very agile for his size, and took some big time bumps, while his real-life cousin Samu had debuted in 1980 and been a WWF regular during the early part of that decade, and was a very good veteran hand by 1994. Jacques meanwhile had been around the business his entire life (his great uncle Eddie Auger, father Jacques, Sr. and uncle Johnny all wrestled, as did his two brothers, Raymond and Armand), and had been in the ring since 1977. He and older brother Raymond had been with the WWF for several years as the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, but as capable a worker as Raymond was, in many ways their team was eclipsed by the Quebecers, owing to Pierre’s youth, enthusiasm, and an uncanny ability to bump around the ring like a cruiserweight, despite his stocky frame.
When you throw into that mix a red hot crowd, a few time-tested tricks (the Quebecers bail on the match only to have referee Earl Hebner threaten to strip them of the titles if they don’t come back out to defend them), unique double-teams (the Quebecers’ assisted cannonball from the top in particular) and nary a lull in the action, you’ve got a really fun match. Perhaps the fact these teams don’t carry the same level of gravitas the likes of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart et al do hurts their standing amongst fans, or their relative lack of a back catalogue of classic matches results in their names not being at the forefront of the mind when it comes to discussing 1994’s best, and it’s a total shame because this is purely FUN professional wrestling, and sometimes, that’s all it needs to be.
Final Rating: ***½
WWF Women’s Championship
Alundra Blayze (c) vs. Leilani Kai
From the early days of the Alundra Blayze experiment in which the WWF brought the Women’s Title out of the mothballs and attempted to market a girl’s athleticism over her looks. Too bad they struggled to find much in the way of competition for her, dragging Leilani Kai out of presumably the same mothballs as they found the title in on the grounds of synergy (she had last challenged for the title at the inaugural WrestleMania some nine years prior) for a quickie three minute match, which Blayze takes with a German suplex. It felt like more of a standard WWF television match from the day than something that belonged on what is often called one of the greatest pay-per-view events the promotion ever put forth, but there you go.
Final Rating: *¼
Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon vs. Doink & Dink
This is a mixed rules bout, which as I’m sure you all know means the men can only wrestle the full-sized clowns, and the women can only wrestle the little people, because that’s all equal, right? Now get back in the kitchen and bake me a muffin. Or maybe a mini-muffin might be more appropriate? And what the hell is the point of a mini-muffin anyway? Muffins are already just miniature cakes! Where does it all end? With a crumb, I suppose. This, by the way, is the debut of Doink’s new ring-gear, which makes it much easier to tell that it’s now Ray “Apollo” Liachelli under the make-up, rather than the deposed Matt Borne. That might have been the best for Borne, even if he hadn’t got caught up with his demons, as despite the new look for Doink, he gets ripped apart by Bigelow and polished off with the diving headbutt to draw a line under their feud. Odd to see the heel coming out on top of a big program, but Bigelow wasn’t far off joining the soon-to-be formed Million Dollar Corporation, while Doink was being pushed down the card in a jobber-to-the-stars role. Bam Bam it should be noted went from having his match with dopey cannibal Kamala bumped off WrestleMania IX owing to time constraints, to this comedy outing one year on, before finishing his WrestleMania run the next year by main eventing the show… against a retired football player. A more curious WrestleMania history you may struggle to find.
Final Rating: *¾
Falls Count Anywhere
Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Crush
To recap, Yokozuna had destroyed Crush’s ribs with a series of Banzai Drops during a match on Monday Night RAW in the summer of 1993, while Crush’s friend Randy Savage sat at the commentary table and did nothing to help him. In Savage’s defence, he’d been barred from getting physically involved in matches by WWF President Jack Tunney, but with Yokozuna’s manager Mr. Fuji having gotten in Crush’s ear during his convalescence, Crush had discovered his “Japanese ancestry” and switched over the dark side, stabbing Savage in the back during their televised “summit.” This was the culmination of their feud, a “last man standing” match that was actually more of a falls count anywhere match, owing to some bizarre WWF-ized rules in which pinfalls had to take place outside the ring, then the guy who lost had 60 seconds to clamber back inside. Despite those cartoony “We Ain’t ‘Rasslin!” parameters, the match is still a pretty fun brawl by the standards of the day, and the finish is both creative and hilarious as Savage, having pinned Crush backstage, ties his legs up with cable around a scaffolding and hangs him upside down. And thus ends the reign of Randy Savage, Mr. WrestleMania the First. A good match, but not a great one, although arguably the peak of Crush’s career as a solo artist.
Final Rating: ***
Roddy Piper vs. Jerry Lawler
Piper was last seen in action losing the Intercontinental Title to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII and this is his one-time only return from retirement, followed only by his one-time only in-ring return to battle Goldust at WrestleMania XII, his one-time only in-ring return to challenge Hollywood Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Title, and his one-time only in-ring return to win the WWE Tag Team Titles with Ric Flair in 2006. That of course ignores all of his one-time only in-ring returns to Royal Rumble matches, WCW full-time runs, WWE returns, independent cards, etc. “The New Generation” folks, with a pay-per-view headlined by a retired 40-year old battling a 44-year old part-timer. Could the WWF have been any more obnoxious with this? How about the fact the match amounted to little more than a 1970s-style Memphis shortcut match in painfully slow-motion despite being held slap bang in the middle of the forward-thinking 90s, at a time when Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart and the 1-2-3 Kid were tearing things up. The crowd responds to the plodding comedy routine by practically falling asleep, because this is Maryland, not Tennessee, and the entire angle was built around an unknown kid who Lawler bullied into doing a Piper impression on an episode of his King’s Court talk show. And then the referee gets bumped, Lawler goes after the kid (who’s stationed in Piper’s corner), and Piper pins ‘the King’ following a sloppy back suplex after twelve tiresome minutes.
Final Rating: ¼*
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Razor Ramon (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
So this is it. The match that changed everything. Wrestling as it was known was blown wide open, and wrestling as it would become was blueprinted right here. Okay, it didn’t change the fortunes of an entire promotion like Hulk Hogan winning the WWF title or the New World Order debuting in WCW were able to do, but all those high risk stunt matches you saw in the 2000s? Here’s the genesis of all that. Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz destroying their bodies in those unforgettable TLC matches? Those were a direct result of Ramon vs. Michaels, with a dash of ECW sprinkled on top for good measure. Certainly an influential outing then, helped to its status as a long-standing classic by its placement on a WrestleMania card. It’s possible its esteem would be lowered had it only been included on a throwaway home video like the Michaels-Bret Hart ladder match from 1992. I must admit though that I do belong to the school of thought that regards the SummerSlam ’95 rematch as being better than the original, largely on the grounds that it tells a better story, and has more drama, from a simpler, yet somehow less-simple time, when ladder matches were actually logical. This version comes more from the school of “Wow! What a collection of outrageously cool bumps and stunts!” which is perhaps why ladder matches in later years followed that formula, rather than the one laid down by Bret and Shawn in 1992 that set the drama in the thrill of the chase rather than the increasing danger of the falls. Still, every last spot here was hit to immaculate perfection, none of them ever having been seen before. Little wonder then that it scored pretty much unanimous match of the year honours for 1994 from all of those who saw it, including respected publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Power Slam, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and the Pro Wrestling Torch. A match you absolutely owe it to yourself to see, and if you’re an avid WWF/WWE Coliseum collector, DVD devotee or Blu-ray buyer, chances are sooner or later, you will.
Final Rating: *****
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Razor Ramon (c) vs. Diesel
The second of two non-PPV matches to make the tape, and it’s another somewhat important one as Diesel snares the Intercontinental Title from Razor Ramon on free TV in what at the time was quite the unexpected change. Not that it’s much of an outing, just a sub-six minute bout that included a wear-down (rest) hold, which is pretty inexcusable for a match of this length, though the quality of the work between these two would increase dramatically in the months to follow. Razor hits an exposed steel turnbuckle and walks into a Jacknife powerbomb to give Kevin Nash his first professional wrestling championship. Standard Saturday morning stuff, but the crowd were absolutely red hot for it.
Final Rating: **
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Diesel (c) vs. Razor Ramon
In a shoot interview with Kayfabe Commentaries years after this, Kevin Nash admitted he and Scott Hall were so exhausted from working against one another on the road that by the time they made it to SummerSlam, they couldn’t muster the energy for a pay-per-view quality bout and just put on a “house show [level] match.” If that’s the case, then house show attendees in the summer of ‘94 certainly got their money’s worth because I thought this was really rather good, and might even be Hall’s best non-ladder singles match ever actually. Admittedly, it might as well have been billed as a triple threat match given the amount of work Shawn Michaels put into it, interfering liberally in between footraces with Ramon’s celebrity second, Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton, but then that’s what wrestling is all about, the whole makeup of a match, and this was fun stuff, and far beyond the expectations of Diesel as a worker at that point. Again, credit has to go to Shawn expertly calling his spots for him on the outside, acting as much as a real life coach as he did a kayfabe manager. And really, given how overtly he eclipses himself with both his singles career and Rockers tag team run, it’s easy to forget Michaels was a HELL of a manager for Diesel for those few, glorious months in 1994. The fact he was already well established as top level wrestler gave him a unique dimension that very few wrestling managers ever had, and he has long-deserved kudos for his time in the corner. Great stuff.
Final Rating: ***½
WWF Tag Team Championship
The Quebecers (c) vs. Bret Hart & Owen Hart
I’m sure you all know the story off by heart at this point, but to refresh: in June 1993, Bret Hart had won the WWF’s inaugural King of the Ring pay-per-view tournament, only to be accosted at his grand coronation by relative WWF newcomer Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler. Making things personal, Lawler began verbally attacking Hart’s parents, Stu and Helen, leading to the introduction (or reintroduction in one case) of Bret’s wrestling brothers Bruce, Keith and Owen to battle Lawler and his team of “knights” at the Survivor Series that November. Unfortunately, real life intervened, with Lawler becoming persona non grata in the promotion after he was accused of raping an underage girl (the allegations were later proven a lie and Lawler returned to the WWF at WrestleMania X). Despite this setback, the WWF proceeded with the match and had Shawn Michaels filling in for Lawler. The highlight of the bout was Owen’s elimination after he collided with a temporarily blinded Bret on the ring apron. The seeds for Owen’s eventual heel turn had been planted, but the two appeared to patch things up when Bret promised to pledge the rest of his career to teaming with Owen in the hopes of capturing the WWF Tag Team Titles.
This match with the underrated Quebecers is where they’d have their crack at glory, and it’s a riotously grand outing with not less than three heat segments, and a disastrous conclusion for the brothers Hart. with a heavily-injured Bret misguidedly attempting to apply his favoured Sharpshooter finishing hold in a vain attempt to try and win the match, rather than tag in his younger sibling. The state of Bret’s torn-up knee led to the referee stopping the match and awarding the decision to the defending champions, a decision which pushed Owen completely over the edge. Furious at what he viewed as Bret’s selfishness getting the better of him, Owen began kicking away at Bret’s knee whilst screaming “Why didn’t you just tag me, Bret?!” It was fantastic, and paved the way for…
Final Rating: ****
Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart
And now for that *other* WrestleMania X bout that hit the much-coveted ***** mark, and where the Michaels-Ramon ladder match certainly helped to change the business as it was known in terms of high-risk gimmick bouts, this battle of the brothers between Bret and Owen I always felt had more long-term substance to it. It’s a match that, when stood alone, is carried by its own merits as a great match, whereas with the ladder match, a lot of it is about context and what it meant for the business, and is a match that you can argue in many ways was eclipsed by what was to come, be it the increased danger in a lot of the highspots of latter ladder bouts, or by Michaels and Ramon’s own sequel, the SummerSlam ‘95 ladder match which added a deeper amount of psychology into the story. It’s something of a Citizen Kane in wrestling terms, a movie lauded by experts and fanatics alike as something undeniably great, but watching it cold, it becomes very easy to miss what all the fuss is about. This eschews all of that by just being an undeniably great old-school pro wrestling battle. Technical moves, one-upmanship, and the story of an embittered younger brother attempting to step out of what he perceives as the shadow of his older, more successful sibling. An old-school match? A modern classic.
Final Rating: *****
Yokozuna (c) vs. Lex Luger
To backtrack a little, Lex Luger had spent the better part of the summer of 1993 building himself up for a crack at Yokozuna’s WWF Title. In his “one and only attempt”, he failed. Bret Hart meanwhile was the deposed former champion who had been forced to settle for the runner-up prize of a King of the Ring crown and a slot playing second fiddle to Luger. Starting to doubt himself and unsure of what his fans desired heading into WrestleMania X, McMahon booked Hart and Luger as “co-winners” of the 1994 Royal Rumble, using the fans’ reaction to their individually having been announced as the winner as a gauge by which to measure the true sentiment towards both. Luger received a mixed response from the throngs in attendance that night, while Hart gained a hero’s response. On screen, WWF President Jack Tunney announced that as co-winners, both had earned the right to challenge Yokozuna at WrestleMania, though in an era in which the promotion had yet to co-opt triple threat matches, that meant separate singles matches. In order to level the playing field, a coin-toss was to determine who would challenge for the title first. Luger won, leading to this rather drab little outing that primarily served to prove the relative quality of their SummerSlam title bout had been little more than a fluke. With the lardy Yokozuna booked to wrestle twice in one evening, he couldn’t help but to eat up no less than seven of the fifteen minutes allotted to this match with a tedious nerve pinch. To rub salt into the wounds, special guest referee Mr. Perfect (dressed from head to toe in some utterly horrendous black-and-white striped pyjamas) disqualified Luger in the most unsatisfactory of finishes. Luger had clobbered Yokozuna’s manager Mr. Fuji, American Spokesperson Jim Cornette, blasted Yokozuna with his steel-plated forearm, and put his hands on Perfect in a vain attempt to try to get him to make a count. Really though, Luger had only himself to blame for that one, having been such a dick at WrestleMania IX where, still under his ‘Narcissist’ gimmick, he’d knocked Perfect out cold with that same steel-plated forearm before using the ropes for leverage to score a cheap pinfall victory. Unfortunately, Perfect left the WWF shortly after this, before any line could be drawn under his issue with Luger.
Final Rating: ¼*
Yokozuna (c) vs. Bret Hart
And we round the almost never ending WrestleMania X coverage out with Yokozuna’s second title defence of the night, his fairly mediocre loss to Bret Hart. Not to discredit the historical significance of a title change, nor the fact that Bret works the bout like someone who’s already had a twenty minute barn-burner some two hours hence and would have cooled off significantly, allowing the aches and pains to kick in, but the WWF was really asking far too much of Yokozuna to work two long matches on the same card at his size. Of course, the match makes perfect sense in the context of the show – Yokozuna is tiring rapidly, whilst Bret has an uphill struggle ahead of him, but that’s doesn’t make it any more visually exciting to sit through. Not only that, but the finish sees Yokozuna lose his balance whilst going for a Banzai Drop off the middle turnbuckle, causing him to fall off and get pinned, which in essence just means that Yokozuna actually beat himself rather than having being beaten by ‘the Hitman’. Yet that was somehow still considered to be enough as far as Vince McMahon’s subtle public apology to Hart in light of having kept him on the back burner after taking the title off him the previous year, with Hart waiting patiently as the likes of Hulk Hogan and Lex Luger came, saw, and collapsed as the WWF’s top babyface hope for the future. A satisfying conclusion for any ‘Hitman’ fan, but a blah match for his re-ascension to have occurred as a result of.
Final Rating: **
King of the Ring Final
Owen Hart vs. Razor Ramon
Razor made it to the finals with victories over Bam Bam Bigelow (decent) and IRS (tedious), whilst Owen scored his berth after wins against Tatanka (fair) and the 1-2-3 Kid (superb, one of the greatest four minute matches you will ever, ever see). This match falls somewhere along the quality spectrum around “average”, perhaps owing to the tournament format. I’m not entirely sure Scott Hall was the best guy to have work three matches in a single night because this is nowhere near as good as you’d expect a match between he and Owen to be, but it makes sense that in the finals of a one-night tournament, both would be close to running on empty, certainly in the case of the heavier-set Ramon. There’s also the fact the match is built around a big angle rather than the quality of the action, as Jim Neidhart runs out and decks Razor with a clothesline to cement his heel turn. Earlier in the night, he’d accompanied Owen’s brother Bret for his WWF Title defence against Diesel, clotheslining Diesel for a disqualification that ensured the title remained around Bret’s waist. A plot! A plan! A scheme! The grand design was to ensure Bret would still be champion so Owen could beat him for it after cementing his top contender status by winning the tournament. Why? Because ‘the Anvil’ was brainwashed by the jealous Owen into believing Bret had cast him aside as the Hart Foundation broke up in 1991 to allow Bret to pursue a singles career. Owen pins Razor with an elbow drop from the top to claim the crown after about six-and-a-half minutes before a reunited New Foundation puts the boots to Razor and wipes him out with an exclamation point Hart Attack for good measure. Just one questions remains however: “How much does dis fellah weigh?”
Final Rating: **
Steel Cage Match
Bret Hart (c) vs. Owen Hart
Following months of back-and-forth bickering and increased involvement from the members of the Hart family, it all comes down to this: Bret vs. Owen, one-on-one, for the title, in arguably the WWF’s greatest blue-barred steel cage match ever. I say “arguably” because I’d personally argue against that line of thinking, instead plumping for the Rick Rude-Roddy Piper battle at Madison Square Garden in December of 1989. That match had all the intensity and drama of this one, but clocked in with a much shorter run time. Usually, I’m someone who likes to advocate longer matches, as many of the bouts I do favour tend to hit the 20-minute mark and beyond, but the 30-minutes on offer here, not to mention preamble and post-match involvement of Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith et al, just serves to make things feel a little dragged out. Don’t mistake me, the action is every bit as top notch as you’d expect from these two, the drama is there in spades, the superplex off the cage is breathtaking… but it just feels like it goes on a little longer than it needs to, and the same story could have been told in a sharper 20-minute package than what was presented. Was it a great match? Certainly. Was it as good as their WrestleMania X outing? Not quite. Was it as epic as the 30-minute running time suggests? Close, but no cigar.
Final Rating: ****½
Summary: Did you love WrestleMania X? Do you want to watch most of it again in chopped up form? Get this tape! In a sense the tape works as a “best of” if you want an overview of the WWF in 1994 as a whole, but even that’s flawed given the clipped-up nature of everything. On top of that, if you’re enough of a fan to be buying Coliseum compilation tapes, you’ve probably already got all of the pay-per-view matches that make up the bulk of the footage on display here, leaving the two title changes from RAW and Superstars, both of which are out there on superior DVD releases (Headshrinkers-Quebecers you can find on RAW: The Beginning – Seasons 1 & 2 whilst Diesel-Ramon is part of The Greatest Stars of the 90s.) To that end, I can’t really recommend this tape, even if it does contain some genuine quality. Also of note is the fact that, much like the 1993 tape, there is very little content (if any) from the final quarter of the year, likely owing to a production turnaround deadline in order to get the tape out in time for 1994 to become 1995 and not have the release seem dated. It’s the same strategy that WWE employed in the DVD era. The Best Pay-Per-View Matches 2012 set for instance contained nothing from that year’s Survivor Series or TLC events, which resulted in the awesome Shield vs. Ryback, Kane & Daniel Bryan TLC match being omitted. What, they couldn’t wait an additional six weeks to put the discs into production? The result here is that two important title changes (Bret Hart losing the WWF Title to Bob Backlund at Survivor Series and Diesel beating Backlund for it a few days later at Madison Square Garden) are infuriatingly omitted. One final question does remain however: why didn’t the Year in Review series ever get released in North America? Obviously the European market was still very hot for the WWF at the time, but one would think if Coliseum Video were going to invest so much time into producing such relatively packed compilations anyway, that they’d at least try to maximise their revenue off said tapes by releasing them in the US and Canada as well? I mean, once they’re in the can you’d think all they’d need to do is duplicate a few copies, ship them out and advertise them? Somebody needs to get Marty Applebaum on the blower, pronto!