Four weeks away from WrestleMania XXXIX, here is an interesting one from 1991, produced over the summer and part of the short-lived Hot Ticket series, of which another feature was Hulk Hogan: A Real American Story (and if I find that I’ll be reviewing it). It’s a look back over the first seven WrestleManias, with assorted stars from the time providing links between the matches and features. I’m not going to offer massively in-depth commentary on the things that have been reviewed a thousand times before, but I will try and capture some quotes from the wrestlers and managers.
Hosted by “Mean” Gene Okerlund, from a pretty plush suite. His guests this time are…
- Virgil, who has nothing to see.
- Jimmy Hart, who boasts about being in the first seven WrestleManias (and would make a clear run through to IX).
- Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, in his face run, who says Jimmy wouldn’t have made it to them without him.
- “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, who liked V.
- The Bushwhackers.
- Slick, towards the end of his heel run, who tells Luke and Butch to keep their hands off the suit.
- Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who becomes the co-host of sorts and is not a weasel.
After Bobby mentions the celebrities that have been a part of WrestleManias past, we get a medley of stars singing the national anthem, starting off with Vince’s growling introduction for Aretha Franklin and her opening, before seguing into Willie “Raided the Merch Stand” Nelson, Gladys Knight, Rockin’ Robin (who really should’ve been left out with her rain-bringing rendition), before going back to Aretha closing. Robert Goulet from VI is an obvious omission, and we needed Gene as much as we needed Robin, but how come no Ray Charles?
From that to Gene’s announcement at III of the attendance record that everyone knows and argues the number over, 93,173, then an edit into the entrance of Ricky Steamboat for the IC title match.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
And they leave Sirius in! More on that in a bit. This is an obvious inclusion as it’s considered one of the greatest matches of all time and probably the greatest at the time. Nobody ever seems to notice that Gorilla almost calls Ricky “the ragdoll”. I never realised that Elizabeth’s white dress is actually a better match for Ricky’s all-white gear than Randy’s, which would be remedied the following year. The famous story to go with this is that Randy sat down with Ricky and had him plan it out with him move-by-move, to the simplest detail, then they would have clandestine phone calls at night where Randy would have Ricky list off moves from random numbers. I always liked that not only did they include the obvious things but Ricky was also doing a lifted choke and an elevated wristlock to vary it up early on. Randy gets an early advantage with an elbow to the throat, which Ricky sells like he’s near death. Kneedrop for the same. Even stuff like a reversed Irish whip is good for sending him into the ropes across his throat to be dazed. George “The Animal” Steele, at ringside as Ricky’s second, gets some scorn off Jesse on commentary (Gorilla: “He speaks well of you too[!].”). He helps Ricky out of the ringside area after a massive shot from Macho to get further criticism. I always found Gorilla’s defence of him as not a manager but a friend touching. Later in the match, there’s a nice leap over Dave Hebner for Steamboat to get a near fall off a chop on Macho. I always found his Mexican roll/jackknife pin attempt a bit lazy, but makes sense that he’s running out of juice. Slingshot with a fall back into a sunset flip is nicer. Finish sees Ricky run into Hebner by Randy, taking another cool impact bump out of the corner. Randy drops the elbow for the apparent win, but has no joy, so goes for the killer blow, which is the bell. George steals it off him at first, but gets nailed and Randy gets the bell back and mounts the top. Steele pushes him off, and effectively it’s supposed to be that Randy hits his own head on the bell as he lands. Luckily the angle they choose makes it look like that, but it actually lands an arm’s length away. Randy goes for the final slam and gets small packaged to end his mega reign as IC champ and gives Ricky a sadly short run. Still holds up as a great match. And more Eye in the Sky snippets at the end!
Back to the present, Greg talks up the match as one of his favourites, then Bobby is asked to recall the main event of the first WrestleMania: “Hulk Hogan and… the bouncer against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff” as a nice little dig at Mr. T. Also interesting to hear the long-gone Orndorff, then doing occasional work for Herb Abrams, getting mentioned in 1991, but then he also got mentioned on an episode of Wrestling Challenge around the same time.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T (w/”Superfly” Jimmy Snuka) vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff (w/ “Ace, Cowboy” Bob Orton)
And this one has some of Eye of the Tiger playing! Liberace gets to shake his little glass bell in a fey moment. T, who looked like the biggest, toughest man on TV, is the smallest man in the ring. Roddy does an amateur wrestling bit with him, because that was all the heels were willing to do to maintain their cred. After a brawl, where Orton does a great begging routine, the heels head for the back. Muhammad Ali looks like he’s ready to go drag them back himself, so the balding MSG guy walks them back down. Hulk takes both Roddy and Paul on and T gets a nice hip toss on Orndorff. Orndorff gets a sneak attack to take down Hogan, with Gorilla imagining a foreign object in the hand, then Roddy adding a chair shot. Ali wanders in, either thinking it’s all real or trying to get his camera time, with Pat Patterson having to talk him down. I heard an interesting story from Orndorff’s son recently, in that he spent the second half of his life in constant pain from his injuries received during this era, but had to forego a lot of medication because of the effect it had on his stomach most of the time. Must’ve been hell. He even had to bring his right hand to his mouth with his left because of how useless it was. He misses a leap off the top and T comes in, but he’s quickly grounded himself. Roddy locks in the Richard Belzer special, which T lasts longer in than he did, and brings in Hogan. This leads into the finishing sequence, where T cuts off a Piper shot while Orndorff holds him, so Orndorff turns him to Orton, who jumps off the top and hits the wrong with the cast, giving Hulk and T the victory. Decent, which is more famous than good.
Back to the suite, where Greg Valentine recalls being one of the men that Randy Savage defeated on the way to becoming the undisputed champion at IV. This takes us into a series of clips of the ends of his respective matches with Butch Reed, Valentine, One Man Gang and the Million Dollar Man, with bits with Vanna White and Robin Leach peppered in. Vanna likes that Randy has a “woman person” behind him, which shows why her main job was standing on the side and turning tiles around. I always liked the funny bit after Gang was disqualified, with him hugging Slick and then Randy hitting him off the top with a shot and Gang squashing Slick. Leach says “whereas” more times than Vince says “notwithstanding”.
After that, Gene and his guests don blindfolds to preview the blindfold match at VII, although Bobby Heenan takes his off to play everyone up.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. “The Model” Rick Martel
This was a classic do nothing and play pantomime match. Bobby advocates for Rick not wearing a blindfold and just closing his eyes on the honour system. The match goes to the floor, with Martel finding a chair, then thinking he has Jake behind him and swinging at the post, hurting all his fingers. Back in, he does get the Boston Crab, but Jake powers out and gets the DDT not long after. Nice look of relief on his face once the hood comes off. The Arrogance atomiser gets stomped to end the angle and the snake gets put on Martel for a few seconds before he runs off to hide, which would be pretty much the end of his run at this particular time.
Back to the suite, with the blindfolds still on and Gene holding his big presentation book up the wrong way, Virgil is asked to put a sentence together based on his boxing expertise and his mentor Roddy Piper, which he fails to do, as we go to the end of the boxing match from 2 between Mr. T and “Hot Rod”. A pissed off Piper throws the stool at T’s leg and slams him for the DQ. Susan St. James starts calling for judge G. Gordon Liddy, of all people, to break it up. The first big flop in WrestleMania history.
Gene talks to Slick about the Bolsheviks meeting Steve Allen at VI. He says this was before he took them under his wing, but in actual fact he’d been done with them for over a year at that point. This was a bit daft and Steve was better talking about how Jimmy Snuka’s tights looked like Jayne Meadows’ underwear.
Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan
Not going to add too much on this one because everyone’s seen it and I reviewed it a year or two back when I reviewed the 1992 March to WrestleMania special. Only recent thing to remark on is that they don’t include Jesse’s sarcastic Belzer remark when Hulk locks in a front facelock. At the end, Hulk misses the legdrop and Warrior gets the splash for the win. I imagine this was recorded and produced before SummerSlam ’91, otherwise Warrior’s moment of glory wouldn’t have been included in a heroes compilation.
Jimmy Hart afterwards calls both men a pair of “powder puffs” before Gene throws us to the wrestlers vs. footballers battle royal from 2.
One of my favourites, even though I’ve never seen an American football match in my life. It’s fairly generic, with the footballers not knowing how to bump out of the ring over the top, until it comes down William Perry, Russ Francis, the Hart Foundation, “Big” John Studd and Andre the Giant, although Bill Fralic had great heel mannerisms. The Harts toss Perry (whose singlet is threatening to break and tights are threatening to drop), but he rolls through it and hits an awesome tackle that plasters them to the ropes. He then goes for Studd and gets one, but runs into an elbow on the next and gets thrown out. Perry promises to make peace with Studd and offers his hand in friendship, then pulls him out to a big pop. Russ Francis, who was allowed to stay until the end because he knew the business and his dad was a wrestler and promoter, is eliminated by Bret and Jim. Anvil gets an assisted tackle on Andre, who sells it like a shotgun blast to the gut, but Bret runs full speed into a boot. Andre grabs Neidhart by the goatee and boots him out for a funny sell. Bret goes to the top but gets caught and slammed off to the ground and the waiting arms of his partner, allowing Andre his umpteenth battle royal victory. Bret talked in his book about how Andre allowed him to engineer the finishing sequence of the match, hence why the quality picks up in the last few minutes. He also talked about how Perry was a natural for the business too, which was clear here, even if his clothes didn’t fit.
One more clip, with Hulk the champion for the third time at the end of VII, with Gorilla having to deliver the ridiculous line “The war is now officially over!”.
Gene signs off and thanks his guests, who do a “Was not!/Was too!” bit to finish. As a kid, I wasn’t too excited to see a special, even without the PPV rate added in the UK beyond Sky’s charges, of “old” matches, but this was reasonably well put together and they made some good, if obvious, choices. Maybe Piper/Adonis from III or Demolition regaining the tag belts from VI, followed by Andre’s final face turn, but they possibly didn’t fit contextually.