James Dixon: Apparently half a dozen tapes chronicling the history of the WWF’s “granddaddy of them all” isn’t enough, so here is yet another offering supposedly detailing the finer aspects of the group’s premier event. In 1998 the WWF went on a spree of releasing very politically motivated tapes, which readily buried anyone seen to have slighted the company in any way (i.e. anyone working for WCW) and being almost dismissive of the past and the people who built the company, with the emphasis firmly placed on the aggrandisement of current stars. This release features matches and events that we have now covered on multiple occasions, so there really is no need to retread old ground. Rather, I intend to look at how the WWF presented its history in 1998, and discuss some of the glaring omissions and baffling claims. Naturally the least informed man possible presents this 90-minute revisionist journey through history, in the form of one Michael Cole.
Because the WWF is backwards in pretty much everything in does during the Attitude era, we start with the most recent incarnation of the show, with highlights of WrestleMania XIV set to uplifting music. The fluffy nonsense spewed by Cole over the top of this is almost cringe-worthy. It is just needless hyperbole that cheapens the grandeur of the event rather than glorifying it.
One thing this tape does have going for it is the use of talking head interviews, which is something the WWF hadn’t really done before, but has since become synonymous with WWE DVD releases. The original WrestleMania gets some love, with Tito Santana talking about how the show became bigger than just wrestling. Because let’s face it, that is all the whole concept of WrestleMania was ever supposed to be: gaining the WWF acceptance in the mainstream and figuratively blowing people they perceived to be bigger stars. For the early years, it was all about the celebrities. WrestleMania was just a way of Vince rubbing shoulders with the entertainment aristocracy with the hope of being invited to the proverbial table to feast.
Because Andre the Giant died before he could fall out with Vince, a few seconds of his match with Big John Studd are shown. Michael Cole uses the worst segue of all time when he says “15 grand is a lot of moolah, but there were many more fabulous moments yet to come. Title challenger Wendi Richter and pop star Cyndi Lauper were dancing to a different drummer.” Jesus, how does he spew this incessant toss without throwing up over himself? This naturally leads to Leilani Kai against Wendi Richter, complete with comments from the Fabulous Moolah. They are all in character, so nothing of interest is said. The main event features comments from special referee Pat Patterson, because none of the four guys involved are on speaking terms with the company at this stage. The match gets more airtime than I thought it would given that Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan are WCW regulars, and the slow-mo nature of the highlights makes the match seem far more epic than it was. Michael Cole says something awful about Hogan and Mr. T being the A-Team, but I am trying to block him out already by shoving my fingers deep into my ears.
A frail and thin looking Gorilla Monsoon talks about how WrestleMania II was a challenge and that no-one knew how it was going to turn out, which is true. Running three venues simultaneously was a major risk for Vince McMahon, and had one of the feeds been lost, that quite conceivably could have been the end of the WWF. Michael Cole continues to shine by calling the Fabulous Moolah-Velvet McIntyre match on the show “perhaps the shortest in WrestleMania history”. Any good, competent, talented narrator would make sure they knew this to be true, rather than just plucking made-up “facts” out of the air. In actuality it was only the SEVENTH shortest match in ‘Mania history at the time this tape was made, with the list being (please note these are actual match times rather than WWF fictional match times):
0:19 Hart Foundation vs. Bolsheviks
0:24 King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones
0:34 Red Rooster vs. Bobby Heenan
0:35 Earthquake vs. Adam Bomb
0:59 Legion of Doom vs. Power & Glory
1:21 The Mountie vs. Tito Santana
1:25 Fabulous Moolah vs. Velvet McIntrye
“In less than a minute, the match was over”. See above. How anyone can defend Cole as good, passable or even merely competent as his job, is beyond me. For my money he is the all-time worst regular play-by-play man of all time. Mind you, the horrid “Uh oh!” Susan St. James would have easily surpassed him on the intolerability scale had she been a regular. Hearing her again as she butchers the audio on the George Steele-Randy Savage match gets my hackles right up. Steele is presented as the star of the match due to Savage’s WCW status and famous falling out with Vince McMahon. Steele, out of character, claims he didn’t really have a crush on Elizabeth but rather he just wanted her to “do my windows”. Is that some sort of freaky sexual euphemism that I am not savvy to? Andre the Giant “cements his legacy” by winning the WWF vs. NFL battle royal match, a bout in which he was the red hot favourite and half of his opponents had never set foot in a ring before. Whatever you say, Cole.
“What many people don’t know, is that literally thousands were turned away” says Gorilla about WrestleMania III. The reason no-one knows that, is because it is not true! We get a brief word with Ray Rougeau, who talks about how the noise from the crowd “distorted the sound in my ears”, which is a rather odd way of putting it and suggests he had sounds in his head already that were no longer audible rather than that the noise itself was distorted. I know, I am being picky and ridiculous now, but people should learn to speak! Incredibly the legendary Savage-Steamboat match is shunned yet AGAIN on a ‘Mania “best of” tape, and we go straight to the colossal main event between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. Much like featuring a minimum of two IRS snoozers became a Coliseum Home Video mandatory requirement, airing this match ad nauseum is also part of company policy. It has now by my count featured in some form in every volume of this book series, and must be clean through double-figures for sheer number of tapes that feature it. You would think given this that we would only get the odd highlight, but no, it is large chunks of the match. They could have easily halved this and shown some of Savage-Steamboat. Michael Cole’s assessment that Andre is the most beloved and enduring star in the history of sports entertainment, is brazenly idiotic and a rather obvious knock at the likes of Hogan, Warrior, Hart and Savage.
The battle royal at WrestleMania IV gets some airtime, with the winner Bad News Brown being someone in relative purgatory when it comes to relations with the WWF, given that he left on bad terms (having threatened Vince McMahon), but doesn’t work for WCW. The overly long WWF Title tournament is given lip-service, with Randy Savage’s “tainted” win over Ted DiBiase shown for all of ten seconds, before his post-match celebration is chronicled in full. The footage of him celebrating lasts longer than any of the highlights from anything else on the show. This tape needs to get its act together.
Given that WrestleMania V is a one-match show, the WWF has little choice but to focus on Hogan vs. Savage in the main event. To Michael Cole, the year-long Savage and Hogan union was “short-lived”. That is a bit rich coming from a man who commentates on the schizophrenic Attitude Era, where a few weeks constitutes a long-term rivalry and tag teams are formed with the intention of being split mere months later due to a lack of creativity when it comes to booking feuds. The Hogan-Savage issue on the other hand was masterfully crafted, with its roots and origins traceable back over two years to the Andre the Giant heel turn on the Hulkster, and even further than that to the feud these guys had in 1985. Gorilla Monsoon says the rivalry extended to “outside of the ring”, which is a shoot, brother. Michael Cole claims the WWF Title was secondary to the jealousy issue regarding Miss Elizabeth, which is a fair comment, but the WWF Title was hardly an afterthought. The rest of the laborious event is skipped over and just the highlights of the epic headliner are shown, with Hogan putting the world to rights after the usual. Good match, wrong result. Read about why in Volume #2!
WrestleMania VI has always been one of my favourites, even though the majority of it is truncated mismatches and nothing bouts. Sometimes you just have a strong nostalgic fondness for some shows. The main event is again the only focus, with the amazing Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan main event “leaving the SkyDome in awe” according to Cole, which is a far kinder assessment than I was expecting. I love the match and think it is among one of the best main events in the history of the show due to the strong storyline, wonderful build-up and the frankly shockingly good execution of the bout itself.
Now the revisionist history really starts to consume the tape, as Michael Cole presents WrestleMania VII as the coming of age of Shawn Michaels. He claims the same thing on the horrific Best of Survivor Series 1987-1997 tape about Survivor Series 1989. “His performance against the Barbarian and Haku, was staggering” says the whelp, in one of the more outlandish claims made so far. It was a decent match, sure, but if anything at WrestleMania VII could be described as “staggering” it is the 5* classic between the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage, which was a perfect marriage of intensity, story-telling, emotion and glorious career-best performances. Naturally, that is left off the tape (except a brief glimpse of Elizabeth throwing Sherri out of the ring), making that both of the Savage 5* matches that have been childishly ignored. Sgt. Slaughter then turns up to talk about his uninspiring match with Hogan in the main event, parroting the WWF’s favourite lie about the show having to be moved to a smaller venue due to security concerns, rather than because no-one gave a damn about the bad-taste shameless war cash-in storyline, or indeed Slaughter at all.
“On this night, the Heartbreak Kid would break out a new chapter in his storied career”. If this wasn’t in sequence, would you ever guess that this comment pertained to WrestleMania VIII? Of course not, because Michaels was merely involved in a slightly disappointing opening match with Tito Santana, in one of the most forgettable bouts on the show. Apparently the old-guard was forced to “sit up and take notice” (spoken over the top of the Undertaker doing his zombie sit-up in his match with Jake Roberts. The WWF: subtle) as the likes of Undertaker, Bret Hart and Michaels scored victories over long-time company veterans. Well yeah, sure, but only because most of them were leaving immediately after the show in one of the most damaging mass talent losses the group ever suffered. You can replace one big star, or at least live without them, but three in one night? (Piper, Hogan, Jake), no way. We get some highlights of “two veterans” Savage and Flair going at it in their excellent match, but the awesome return of the Ultimate Warrior is left off, with the Hogan-Sid main event ignored completely.
To WrestleMania IX next and Cole claims: “No match was more anticipated than the showdown between Giant Gonzalez and the Undertaker”. Credibility: SHATTERED. Footage of the Undertaker interview from The Fab 4 tape is used, but it is one of those neither/nor half-kayfabe, half-shoot situations, so offers nothing interesting. Cole turns my stomach with his assertion that “The Undertaker had once again risen to achieve the unthinkable; WrestleMania IX belonged to the darkside”. The last part is true, but only because the show is so horrid that it belongs in a pit of hell. As for the first claim? Taker won the match by disqualification in his least convincing WrestleMania display of all time, which is hardly cause for celebration. I know the show was dire, but ignoring literally everything else on it is hardly acceptable.
Obviously the WWF was never going to ignore the Ladder Match at WrestleMania X, despite Scott Hall’s prominence in WCW as a member of the nWo. The WWF often champions this as one of its greatest matches, and that for once is not hyperbole. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon raised the bar, putting on an immense showcase on the biggest event of the year. I still firmly believe that their SummerSlam ’95 encounter was the better match, but in the annals of history this will be remembered more due to the ‘Mania setting. No mention whatsoever is made of the other 5* classic on the show, Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart, but then Hart has been completely skipped over throughout this tape due to the WWF’s petty attitude.
For some reason though, Hart is given airtime at WrestleMania XI and his tedious submission match against Bob Backlund gets shown, with comments from Bret’s Fab 4 interview interlaced. Shawn Michaels losing to WCW’s Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash is not mentioned, because God forbid they show a WCW guy beating a WWF guy. Things like that used to matter then. They are quite happy to show a wrestler (Bam Bam Bigelow) lose to a footballer (Lawrence Taylor) though, with Ernie Ladd offering comment, and Gorilla calling it a “huge surprise”. It was, it was a far better match than anyone expected and should have made Bigelow into a main-event star. Unfortunately Kliq politics prevented that from becoming a reality, and this remains the highlight of his always promising, relatively successful but ultimate underachieving career.
To WrestleMania XII and the hokey OJ Simpson rip-off car chase between Roddy Piper and Goldust is shown, which baffles me greatly. Of all the things! It doesn’t get much airplay, before we move onto Diesel-Undertaker, as Undertaker says he wasn’t going to let “Kevin Nash knock me off”. Oh my! To the main event between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels then, because you can’t pretend a 60-minute match doesn’t exist. Hey, any match where Bret Hart gets beat is good in WWF eyes. I change my mind about this match more than almost any other in history, as do many fans in truth. Some think it is a classic, others a colossal bore. For me, it depends on my mood. I think it is technically excellent and well executed by two of the greats, but badly booked and very slow in places. Despite being a huge Hart fan in my youth and having grown to appreciate Michaels more and more as the years have gone on (naturally being a Bret fan I had to dislike him), it may be surprising to learn that I don’t think the two ever had anything approaching a match that came close to fulfilling their potential together. I think the Survivor Series ’92 match is often overrated, Montreal was obviously all about the Screwjob rather than the wrestling and then there is this, which suffers from the aforementioned issues. We should be talking about Hart-Michaels in glowing terms alongside Steamboat-Savage, but alas politics and pettiness got in the way. We see the last few minutes of the Iron Man, and then Michaels beating Hart with the superkick to win the title. Right decision, for sure, but the wrong way to book it. The whole 0-0 and going into overtime thing was a poor idea.
Steve Austin talks about the mixed reaction he received at WrestleMania XIII and how his match against Bret Hart was a turning point in his career, which it most certainly was. If King of the Ring ’96 is he show that made Steve Austin, then this is very much the match. I have stated a few times in this book already that I actually don’t rate the bout as highly as others, and think it is let down by a boring crowd brawl. I actually much prefer the straight-up bout they had a few months prior at Survivor Series ’96. Make no mistake though, this is still a really great match and I can see why others do love it. The feeling of hatred is palpable, and the “blood from a stone” visual will stand the test of time as one of the most enduring images in wrestling history. Undertaker vs. Sid on the other hand, is a chore. I liked Undertaker going back to his classic attire, complete with grey gloves and old-school garb, but the bout is less than riveting.
The difference visually when you see WrestleMania XIII immediately followed by WrestleMania XIV is really quite astonishing. It is as if in a single year someone fast-forwarded time about a decade. Unfortunately the opposite is true in the modern WWE era, with everything looking the same as it has for 15-years, but at the time the new look WWF was fresh and exciting. One think that really is very noticeable is the difference in the crowd response, with the crowd at ‘Mania XIV ravenous for everything. We see brief clips of Undertaker beating Kane before seeing the business-changing main event between Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. The rise of Steve Austin over the past nearly two years, all came to a head at this final showdown. That alone probably would have been enough to draw a decent buyrate, but the addition of Mike Tyson as DX member and guest enforcer, catapulted the company into overdrive and back to the summit of the industry, and they have never looked back since.
Summary: Nowhere near as grating as the Survivor Series retrospective, but this is still overall a pretty worthless offering. Nothing is given enough screen time to do itself justice and the links in between some of the matches say nothing of interest. The political hatchet job results in the actual best matches from the fourteen supercards being for the most part left off, with some of the omissions unforgivable. There are better WrestleMania tapes and DVD’s released than this one, which offer far more insight and a more accurate reflection of the shows. Don’t treat this like a plagued rat and avoid it, but certainly don’t make any effort to get hold of it.