Friday, 1 April 2011
I guess there is a certain irony that perhaps my favourite Wrestlemania is the arguably the worst in history.
It isn’t because of some kitsch value or because I don’t know what I’m on about (a point you might argue, however) but because it was the first one I remember thinking about for weeks, month on end. It was Wrestlemania 9 (or IX, if you prefer) from Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada. My young brain didn’t know that it wrestling terms it was a pile of old toss, instead I drank in the spectacle and knew I wanted to go to one of these events some day (If you’ve been following the Mania blogs this week, you’ll know I did so, 16 years later, in Houston, Texas. Scroll down and you’ll find I’ve told you all about it)
The first Wrestlemania I ever saw was actually Wrestlemania 8. Wrestling was something other kids at my school were into, and ever since one had leant me a copy of Summerslam ’91 on VHS – yes kids, a video tape – I knew I wanted to watch this bizarre new spectacle I’d been introduced to. However, WWF was only on Sky television, and my house did not have Sky until about February 1992.
Reading my mates’ wrestling magazines, playing wrestling top trumps and pretending to understand conversations was my education in wrestling until that wonderful day in 1992 when our Sky was installed. I kid you not – the very first thing that worked on that satellite system was wrestling. Maybe that was a sign. It was a Sid Justice squash match. I watched Mania a few weeks later, but I was still very much on a learning curve.
By the time Wrestlemania 9 was occurring, I was obsessed. I watched every show I could. WWF Mania Saturday morning, WWF Superstars Saturday night, WWF Wrestling Challenge Sunday mornings. Heaven. I was a huge Bret Hart fan as a kid (still am) and so the whole build for me was about Bret v Yokozuna. The other aspect of the build I remember massively was Tatanka beating Shawn Michaels in a non-title match (The Native American was still unbeaten at this point) on Superstars and the crowd going crazy. I still think much could be learned from the booking of a secondary title on a heel the way Michaels carried that IC belt.
I loved Wrestlemania 9. I now know it sucked, but I was so immersed in the WWF at this point, completely sold on how much I loved Bret Hart, Randy Savage, The Steiner Brothers and Mr Perfect, totally in love with wrestling.
I think I knew it was a work. Obviously I didn’t understand the inner workings of the business (maybe I still don’t!!) at the time, but I can’t ever recall thinking “this is real”. I think the only part of WM9 I hated at the time was the two Doinks nonsense. I loved that Doink character, and never liked Crush for some reason, but hated that finish. I had good taste from an early age.
Actually, no I didn’t, because I remember being intrigued by Giant Gonzales. Stupid boy I was.
Wrestlemania 10 was one of my favourite Manias, and still is to this day. I think it was a decent show, certainly for it’s time, and stands the test of time. HBK v Razor in a ladder match was so ahead of it’s time. And if you watch it is so different from the types of matches that involve ladders these days. It wasn’t a flipping and flopping X-Division style match, it was a TLC/MitB stunt show. It was still a psychological classic, it just happened to use a ladder as a weapon. Some of the bumps Shawn took were crazy.
As a Bret fan, obviously I was intrigued by Bret v Owen. That was one of my favourite feuds of my formative wrestling years. There are a couple of Bret Hart matches which are held in massively high regard that I’m not fond of – specifically versus Owen in the cage at Summerslam and HBK at Mania 12 – but the opening match against his brother was a cracking effort. It made Owen a star.
I’ve always loved watching shows from Madison Square Garden. WWF always did a good job of making it feel special, and I’ve always liked the fact that the aisle faces the hard camera, especially for Royal Rumbles.
Aside from a brief cameo from the likes of Burt Reynolds to ring announce or perform a similar job, the early Manias in my life were Celebrity free. WM11 was the I saw to be heavy on that. From Lawrence Taylor in the main event wrestling Bam Bam Bigelow to Pam Anderson accompanying Diesel to the ring. They don't always get it right with the celeb involvement, but it was one of the things that by this point started to make Mania feel that little bit special. You didn't get Salt and Pepa singing for Survivor Series.
Tomorrow I'll talk some more about some of my favourite early mania memories.