Happy Wednesday Everyone!
Back with some more Opening Matches, this time covering WrestleMania VI to X.
There are two particular matches here that should be great, with Shawn Michaels featuring in three of the five matches. It’s almost like this section is cheating!
Rick “The Model” Martel Vs Koko B. Ware w/ Frankie The Parrot
Martel had turned Heel at the previous years’ Mania event and had taken on an arrogant Model gimmick with it. It was an excellent mid-card character but Martel’s in-ring work took a notable nosedive once he took the character on, with him becoming quite a dull wrestler to watch when he’d previously been quite an exciting one. Koko was one of the main lower mid-card babyfaces from the 80’s and early 90’s. He was usually there just to put people over but he was reasonably popular, not unlike a figure such as Scotty 2 Hotty in the Attitude Era.
Koko gets to shine on Martel to start but Martel knocks him out of the ring to cut him off and works him over with some Heel heat. The crowd doesn’t really care that much, even though Koko sells the heat well and Martel’s stuff is executed properly. Koko eventually makes the comeback and that wakes the crowd up a bit, with Martel bumping around nicely for it. Koko crashes and burns on a second rope cross body though and Quebec Crab ends it straight after.
WINNER: RICK MARTEL
This was fine. Just a match really. If you’ve seen a wrestling match before then you’ve seen this one. Martel would end up feuding with Jake Roberts and wrestle him in a blindfold match at next years’ Mania event, whilst this would be Koko’s Mania main show swansong, although he would work the dark match at Mania VII.
Haku and The Barbarian w/ Bobby Heenan Vs The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty)
Haku and Barbarian were both members of Heenan’s faction, so he’s pooled his resources to put them together as a dangerous tandem. The Rockers were pretty much at their peak of their WWF run here, having good matches and getting consistently good reactions from the crowds. They had actually won the WWF Tag Titles from The Hart Foundation at one stage but the top rope had broken during the match and it didn’t end up airing, meaning the reign never officially happened.
This match is great and probably the best opener we’ve watched for this feature thus far, as The Rockers run wild to start with some nice tandem offence and the Heels have to bail to the floor for some coaching from Heenan. Heenan actually gives good advice as well, commanding his bigger men to try and cut the ring in half to halt The Rocker’s speed advantage. Eventually the Heels get an illegal partner assisted Stun Gun on Marty whilst Shawn is trying to get into the ring to help him, leading to some heat on Marty.
Marty sells that well of course, and the crowd gets behind him to make a comeback. It’s not like this has been the most fluent match The Rockers have ever had, but it’s had great energy and the crowd has responded in kind. This is definitely four guys putting in “WrestleMania Effort” during a period when that wasn’t always a guarantee. Barbarian actually gets a pop from the crowd at one stage when he counters a Marty cross body attempt into a powerslam, with the fans just enjoying the match at this stage.
Shawn eventually gets the hot tag and runs wild, with the crowd being way into it. Shawn looks good whilst making the comeback as well, with this match being a bit of a showcase for him thus far. I’m not sure if that was intentional or if it’s just the way it’s worked out. We get some near falls leading into The Rockers coming off the top with a Missile Dropkick (Marty) and Cross Body (Shawn) onto Haku respectively for the three count.
WINNERS: THE ROCKERS
This was a darn fine opening contest, with hot action and an excitable crowd making it all the more enjoyable. Haku and Barbarian would end up teaming again in WCW, where they would have many a “mean guy” match with teams like Wrath/Mortis and The Steiners. This would be the first of three opening matches at WrestleMania for Shawn, which leads us nicely into the next match in fact…
Shawn Michaels w/ Sensational Sherri Vs El Matador Tito Santana
Tito was in the charming role of “Mexican Matador” during this period, which believe it or not was supposed to be the big repackaging that would reinvigorate him as a player on the roster, whereas Shawn had just thrown Marty Jannetty through a window a few months previously to start of his Heel singles run. Sherri was still singing Shawn’s theme song here, and it’s definitely got a certain charm to it.
Bobby and Gorilla’s banter during this match really is hilarious, as they are throwing zingers at will. Shawn acts like a jerk to start so Tito shoves him and gets a cross body for two. Shawn fights out of a side headlock with some fists, but gets clotheslined over the top to the outside in response. Shawn yells at the crowd on the apron and gets dragged in with another headlock in a cute spot.
Tito continues to show good technical tactics by grinding Shawn down with the headlock, going back to it whenever he can. Gorilla does his usual annoying trait of talking down the technical wrestling; by saying he’s never seen anyone win with a headlock before. Thankfully, Bobby is on form and replies “I have. I can beat guys in hundreds of ways. I once made a guy submit during instructions!”
Sherri yells words of encouragement at Shawn, and it seems to work as he rallies to send Tito over the top to the outside. Sherri stalks Tito on the outside, but he crawls onto the apron before she can get him. That was still a great tease though. I really liked Sherri and Shawn as a tandem, they were perfect for each other at that particular period in time.
Back inside the ring, Shawn delivers a big back breaker for two, before going to a chin lock. Tito fights his way out of the hold but ends up walking into a super kick from Shawn. However, this was before Shawn was using that move as finisher, so the match continues. Shawn goes for the Tear Drop Suplex (The move he was actually using as his finish at the time) but Tito is able to counter it and sends Shawn tumbling outside with a flying forearm smash.
Tito heads outside to send Shawn face first into the ring steps and sends him back in, where he gets a sling shot shoulder block for two. Tito delivers an inverted atomic drop and gets another forearm, this time to the back of Shawn’s head, but Shawn once again rolls outside to avoid getting pinned. Tito tries to bring Shawn back in the hard way, but he tenaciously grabs the ropes and hangs on for dear life, which allows him to fall on top of Tito and hold him down long enough for three.
WINNER: SHAWN MICHAELS
This was a solid opener, which did a good job of heating up the crowd whilst also giving the Michaels and Sherri pairing a semi-clean win on a big show. Shawn would end the year as Intercontinental Champ, ditching Sherri along the way and setting up a feud with former tag team partner Marty Jannetty. Tito would remain in the lower mid-card and eventually leave for ECW in 1993, although he did finally get to win at a WrestleMania again, albeit in a dark match at Mania IX.
WWF Intercontinental Title
Champ: Shawn Michaels w/ Luna Vachon Vs Tatanka w/ Sensational Sherri
Tatanka had been inserted into a feud with Shawn after Marty Jannetty had “Marty’d” things up for himself again following the Royal Rumble. Sherri had been Shawn’s previous manager, so she’s here in an effort to make sure Luna can’t help the Champ. Luna and Shawn wouldn’t be teamed up together for long and Luna would soon move on to Bam Bam Bigelow whilst Shawn would bring in Diesel as his backup.
Shawn is working hard here and the crowd is into seeing Tatanka shine on him to start. The show does have an interesting look with whole Roman theme and it seems like they’ve got a decent amount of actual wrestling fans in the car park to watch it, which helps with the atmosphere considerably. Shawn has a previously separated shoulder, so Tatanka focuses on that with arm drags and arm bars to start, which makes sense from a storyline perspective and Shawn of course sells it all well.
They do a very clever spot at one stage where Shawn throws a clothesline but he can’t get full power behind it due to his shoulder, so Tatanka just shrugs it off and goes back to the attack. That was great from a psychology perspective, and the crowd recognised what they were doing and popped for it too. Shawn eventually manages to catch Tatanka with a desperation Super Kick though, which allows him to cut Tatanka of and work a bit of heat. Shawn’s actual finisher at the time was a high angle back suplex, and I don’t think he fully switched to the kick until 1995 when he feuded with Diesel.
Shawn looks good in the heat, with Tatanka selling well for his offence. Luna and Sherri have the odd brief interaction to keep that story point cooking for good measure. This has been a solidly worked match thus far, with both guys looking good and it hitting all the required storyline points. It’s not been up to the “Mr. WrestleMania” standards that Shawn would go on to set in later years, but it’s still a decent opener.
Tatanka eventually starts Hulking Up and the crowd gets into it, with Tatanka making a good fiery comeback that Shawn bumps, feeds and sells for perfectly. Tatanka gets a nice near fall with a cross body block that the crowd totally bites on, as they do again when he gets a roll up following a catapult into the corner. The big downside for the match is that the finish is pretty lame, as they do a count out rather than a pin fall. It makes sense in that they didn’t want Tatanka to lose, but also didn’t want to change the belt. Starting a pay per view with such a flat finish is a questionable tactic though.
WINNER BY COUNT OUT: TATANKA
Good solidly worked match with a lame ending. Give that an actual finish and I might have rated it higher. Shawn and Diesel ended up being a much better pairing than Shawn and Luna, with both men riding the momentum they gained from it up the card until they were facing one another for the WWF Title at WrestleMania XI. Tatanka would continue to remain undefeated until the build to Survivor Series 93 when Ludvig Borga destroyed him with a chair to end his streak.
Owen Hart Vs Bret Hart
This one had quite the layered backstory. Bret and Owen had been on the same Survivor Series team at the 93 event, where Bret had accidentally collided with Owen leading to Owen getting eliminated. It looked like the two brothers were set to feud, but Bret didn’t want that and they were able to reconcile over Christmas, leading to them getting a Tag Title shot against The Quebecers at the Royal Rumble. The brothers ended up losing that match though when Bret’s knee gave out on him, leading to a bitter Owen kicking out Bret’s leg from under his leg because he felt Bret should have tagged him in. Bret would go on to win the Rumble match itself later on along with Lex Luger when they both went over at the same time, meaning he would get a WWF Title shot later on in the show after he had already faced Owen in the opener. Apparently Bruce Hart originally pitched the idea with himself in the Owen role, but Owen ended up getting it because Bret wanted to give him a boost.
In a funny bit the crowd thinks that Owen’s entrance will be for Bret at first, leading to them briefly cheering before switching to outright hatred. Being the younger brother, Owen has decided to play this as cocky arrogant little toe rag so that the fans don’t ever feel sorry for him that his bigger brother is beating him up. It was a genius move on his part, as apparently the matches between the two were getting mixed reactions from crowds at house shows at first when Owen was trying to play it a bit differently. The way they work this match here would make it near impossible to cheer for Owen due to how much of a berk he is being.
We get some excellent technical wresting to start and they build nicely to things getting more aggressive as the two brothers eventually start scrapping more with things like strikes and clotheslines. They have the crowd in the palm of their hands as well, with them popping for Bret finally getting a big offensive flurry on Owen during the shine, including when he clotheslines Owen out to the floor at one stage. Whenever Owen ever gets a chance to control things he always berates and yells at Bret to get across the story of how frustrated he is at having to take a backseat to Bret in recent years.
The storytelling in general in this match is great and they combine it with some great wrestling as well. Bret really sells big for Owen’s offence as well, which instantly gives Owen credibility as more than just the lower mid-card act he’d been portrayed as previously up to this point, especially when Owen actively gets the better of Bret with counters on certain occasions. Things become a real back and forth battle at one stage, with both men getting near falls and the crowd being completely engrossed with the action that is going on in the ring.
The big twist in the match comes when Bret gets a dive to the floor on Owen and comes up limping, thus giving him a target for Owen to focus on. Bret of course sells that really well and the crowd instantly picks up that things aren’t right with his leg. The crowd has been following every single story point in this match and have reacted exactly as you’d want them to. It’s been a masterful job from Bret and Owen to tell the story they are telling. This match is a great example of using a wrestling match itself to really advance and develop an ongoing feud or storyline.
Bret eventually makes a comeback but his leg injury is visibly slowing him down in the process. Bret gives the perfect example here of how to fight back whilst still consistently selling an injured body part. It’s a skill some wrestlers don’t have, but it’s so important when it comes to immersion from a storytelling perspective. It can be super annoying to see a wrestler sell a body part for a period of time only to then shrug it all off when it’s their turn to fight back. Bret gets the balance just right here with his comeback. It’s an underappreciated skill I think sometimes.
The finish is done superbly as well, with Owen trying The Sharpshooter on Bret, only for Bret to counter it to his own. His leg not being right means he can’t really cinch in it though, so the match continues with Bret trying to go for the Victory Roll he used to defeat Bam Bam Bigelow at King of the Ring 1993. Owen has his brother scouted though and counters the move into a pinning hold of his own, which leads to him picking up the clean three count to the shock of everyone. Not only does that actually give the fans a finish but it also gives Owen instant credibility and leaves the door open for a rematch, whilst also taking nothing away from Bret as it was a great match and he just happened to get caught.
WINNER: OWEN HART
This is still one of the best WrestleMania matches of all-time in my opinion. Combined with the awesome Shawn Michaels Vs Razor Ramon ladder match later on, WrestleMania X is an automatic thumbs up, even if the rest of the card is a bit middling by comparison. What I loved about this match is that not only was the wrestling executed perfectly but they nailed the storytelling aspect as well and the character work from Owen in particular was exactly what it needed to be. The crowd played a big part as well, as they were totally into the story being told and really appreciated the good wrestling that was going on as well. This is a must-see match if you’ve never seen it before. It still absolutely holds up.
Bret would go on to defeat Yokozuna for the WWF Title later on in the evening and that would lead to Bret and Owen re-matching at SummerSlam for the Title in another ***** affair. Both the Hart brothers totally delivered on pay per view in 1994, with basically every big five show from that year involving them having at least one good to great match every time out.
Well the match quality certainly jumped up this week didn’t it? Sadly it’s going to drop considerably next week I’m afraid, so I hope everyone had fun whilst they could.