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Wrestlemania: the legacy

posted by The W-D Staff on 4/04/01

In the giant and ever-expanding ladder of pop culture, professional wrestling perches near the top. Probably just below movies, television and popular music, wrestling is a curious crossbreed of all three. Hard to categorize, but difficult to ignore. Some see it as sport, others see it as an elaborate farce. The more understanding realize that it falls somewhere in between the aforementioned categories. Countless injuries and in-ring mishaps would dispell the alarmingly common belief that wrestling is a low-risk bout of light-footed prancing. But, because the results are pre-determined and the scripting is every bit as prevalent as on a soap opera, wrestling is often written off.

Wrestling has surged to popularity in the last five years. So much so that characters like The Rock, Steve Austin and Vince Mc Mahon have become household names, firmly engraved in the public consciousness. With the move away from gimmick-based wrestling characters and a renewed emphasis on actual wrestling ( with a predilection for edgy storylines ), the WWF, now the monopoly in Sports Entertainment has eclipsed all other promotions. In the mid-nineties it dwindled in mediocrity and looked to be dying a very public and humiliating death. The open cheque book of Ted Turner's WCW was prizing all the WWF's cream talent. Ratings fell, buyrates plummeted and morale was shockingly low.

Meanwhile, WCW was thriving.

Perseverance, as it tends to do, paid off. WCW, considered by many to be the successor to the WWF's crown, began to deteriorate. A string of appalling decisions and the negative influences of self-serving egotists proved detrimental to that promotion's long-term success. Meanwhile, the WWF began to improve. Towards the end of the nineties, they modified their style, improved their production values and strengthened their ranks. Ratings climbed to record levels; new stars caught the attention; a new wrestling boom was born. The rest, as those prone to cliches would say, is history.

Now the WWF is stronger than it's ever been, essentially stabbing the fatal blows into its two biggest competitors (WCW and ECW), by literally becoming unbeatable, an all-encompassing juggernaut. Mc Mahon started the XFL, an alternative football league, and he even had the chutzpah to buy out WCW ( his only major competitor ). ECW has all but folded, existing under the huge WWF Entertainment umbrella, whilst providing a memory of a time when extreme action was an innovative concept.

Wrestlemania was the spectacle that started it all. An annual event that serves to represent the WWF's best product, it began in the Hulkamania era of 1985. A lot has changed since then: the costumes, the style of wrestler, the production values and fan expectations, to name just a few of the notables. But one thing has remained constant: Wrestlemania is the premier, showcase event. The Superbowl of the wrestling calendar. The show that defines what wrestling is all about.

Not only has Wrestlemania taken on a legendary status within the ever-changing "wrasslin" industry, it's also played host to some of the most memorable moments in the history of the sport. Groundbreaking events and once-in-a-lifetime moments. The show weaves a certain magic, and confidently enters the realm of pure, unabashed entertainment. Even some of the cynics can claim to enjoy it: after all, Wrestlemania has featured Liberace, Donald Trump, Mike Tyson, Ali AND Burt Reynolds. Only local clinics can make such a boast.

With all this in mind, it's time for the skipping staff of Whatever-Dude.com to pay homage to the monolith that is... Wrestlemania:

Dave's view on Wrestlemania history

More than just predictions

Professional wrestling is kind of like the comedian, Gallagher. You either love it or hate it. There is no in between. The people that hate it can list a ton of reasons for their dislike... The thing is, they like to believe that wrestling fans are idiots, while at the same time voicing reasons for their dislike, that make a Shannon Tweed movie seem profound. Such gems as, "It's sooo fake." "It's just guys in tights rolling around with each other." and "It's demeaning to women and insults people's intelligence." are usually the cornerstone of a pro wrestling hater's argument.

The tragic flaw in their argument is that they seem to forget that this is the United States. This is a country where Keanu Reeves not only has a career as an actor... but is considered A-list. We're a country that can send an unmanned vehicle to Mars... but still has a major chunk of it's population hating strangers because of something as ludicrous as skin color. So until the day comes when people wake up and realize that it might be more important to take care of homeless people and starving children, than debate whether or not two-piece bathing suits should be allowed in the Miss America Pageant...sell your high brow view of America somewhere else.

Pro wrestling is outrageous. It's dramatic. Most of all, it is a temporary escape from reality. We know that the outcomes of the matches are predetermined. The outcome of the match is probably the least important aspect of wrestling. The drama, confrontations, and verbal sparring that leads up to the matches is what we tune in to watch. Most of the resolutions to these feuds take place on the monthly pay-per-views. The thing is, most people don't order the PPV's because they've already seen the more entertaining events that led up to the match. Who cares who actually wins?

One PPV is different though. It's the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. It's Wrestlemania!

It's the one "can't miss" event of the year. In the past, it was the event where the mainstream entertainment industry actually acknowledged the existence of it's sports entertainment cousin. From Liberace to Jonathon Taylor Thomas to Mike Tyson, various celebrities joined in the festivities.

Wrestling is a lot more entertaining than it was when I was a kid. The storylines are more complex and the moves that the wrestlers perform are a lot more dangerous. Does that make Wrestlemanias now more anticipated or memorable though?

Let's compare...

When I was 12...

I would ask my parents to order the PPV a few days in advance. In the days leading up to it, I would have my own versions of the scheduled matches using my wrestling figures. The day of the show, I would wake up and count the hours left until it would start. Then, proceeded to put the PPV channel on a good hour ahead of time... just to make sure it would descramble in time.

Now that I'm in my mid-twenties...

Wake up at two in the afternoon, hungover. Sit on the couch watching whatever TNT, USA, or TBS has to offer. If nothing good is on, check out HBO, Showtime or The Movie Channel. Chances are the pay channels are showing some mindnumbing movie like "Baby Geniuses"... so I flip to old trusty MTV and settle in to watch the weekly Real World/Road Rules Challenge marathon and catch up on a show I had no desire to see in the first place. In case of a "Fear" marathon, I flip to VH1 and watch the "Poison: Behind the Music" for the 25th time. Order up either pizza or chinese food and take a nap after I'm done eating. Wake up fifteen minutes before showtime and flip to the PPV channel. Hit the "order" button on the remote and immediately it comes on.

Instant gratification.

Now most people remember certain matches for a reason. Usually people find a match memorable for either the events leading up to it or for the match itself. Considering I can tell you off the top of my head that Scott Valentine is the actor that played Mallory's boyfriend, Nick, on Family Ties... but couldn't tell you all of the names of the people that are in my department at work... it's obvious that there is no rhyme or reason for why I remember things. With that in mind, let's look at:

The Three Wrestlemania Matches I Remember For Some God Forsaken Reason

3) "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. George "The Animal" Steele -- Wrestlemania II

This feud developed because The Animal had become smitten with Savage's wife/valet Miss Elizabeth. It was a regular case of Beauty and the Beast, being that "The Animal" was ugly, bald, with a green tongue... and more body hair than should be allowed by law. If this was a teen movie, Elizabeth would have seen the true beauty of The Animal's soul and ended up dumping her jock boyfriend who didn't appreciate her in the first place. Unfortunately, wrestling is a little more realistic than Hollywood and Savage won the match, kept the girl... and left The Animal to sit on the other side of the cafeteria, thinking that if people just gave him a chance, they would see what a great guy he is. Then, he would realize that's never going to happen... and plot ways to just kill all of the popular people, who are deep down just as insecure as he is, but just manage to put on a better act.

2) King Kong Bundy vs. S.D. "Special Delivery" Jones -- Wrestlemania I

This match is memorable solely because it even occured to begin with. King King Bundy was one of the biggest and baddest men in wrestling.... and S.D. Jones... well let's just say that the only thing "Special" this guy ever "Delivered" was an easy win for his opponent. Jones was not only one of the few black wrestlers in the WWF at the time.. but he also had a hole/scar on his back that could have doubled as a baby's crib. You could have switched the channel from The People's Court to this match real quick and Rain Man would have said, "Definitely missing Wapner. The black guy is going to lose. Definitely missing Wapner.". I believe Bundy pinned him in negative five seconds. Still the quickest match in Wrestlemania history.

1) Rick "The Model" Martel vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts (Blindfold Match) --
Wrestlemania VII

I know when I think of professional models, I immediately think of evil, narcissistic men who carry with them a bug sprayer filled with cologne, everywhere they go. This is all due to Rick Martel. He used to bring his cologne "Arrogance" with him to the ring... and one day, Jake Roberts was on the receiving end of one of the most heinous acts ever perpetrated in a wrestling ring. Martel sprayed him in the eyes with his "Arrogance". Now while getting cologne sprayed in one's eyes, might cause some stinging or possibly a trip to the doctor's to get one's eyes flushed.... in this case, it caused Jake Roberts to go temporarily blind. Jake was blind for a good two months leading up to this match... and the only way that would be fair for these men to settle their differences would be in a "blindfold" match. These two guys wandered around the ring blindfolded for what was in reality only a few minutes.... but seemed like an eternity... until Roberts got his hands on Martel and administered his trademark DDT maneuver for the victory. To put it into persepective... picture yourself taking a shit that doesn't break off cleanly.. and you have to go through a full roll of toilet paper and about five flushes to get yourself out of the bathroom. That would be more entertaining than having to watch this match.

Paul's take on men in tight trunks

Wanna see my golden hero?

Pro Wrestling is very much a Freudian Utopia, a "sport" with strong homosexual overtones and rabid fans who generally give humanity a bad name. The mainstream belief that wrestling fans are moronic losers is not helped by some of the psychological travesties flunking in the arenas. Nor does it make one beam with pride to be labelled a wrestling fan. Toothless, brainless, friendless - that's the perception in which we're held. And who can blame the naysayers? Consider this: two or more overweight men, grunting heavily, rolling around in what often looks like underwear; fans who cheer every time a competitor is busted open, bleeding like the proverbial "stuck pig" ; and commentators who compliment these pugilists on being " young studs ". Not only that, but the objective of a wrestling match is to pin your opponent to the floor for three seconds, or wait until he submits in pain.

More blood, sweat and tears than a rendezvous with Richard Simmons.

That's not even a huge stretch of the imagination, for this all sounds like some bizarre homosexual porn movie. And with some "wrestlers" who belittle their opponents by pretending to dry-hump, who boast of doing it "doggy style" and dragging it up in women's attire, you wouldn't be far wrong in that analysis.

However, I've been a wrestling fan for about nine years, and although the admission doesn't win me the award as "world's coolest guy", I'm not that ashamed. The shame has passed. I've accepted that I'm part of this subculture.

For about two years in the mid-nineties, I watched every single wrestling show. Even the repeats. I couldn't get enough of it. I was addicted (read:pathetic). My adoration has tapered off quite a bit, and now I watch one-two shows a week, if even that. I make a date to watch every Pay-Per-View, and my personal favorite is Wrestlemania. The show is known to deliver, as the WWF usually pull out all the stops to live up to past expectations. The show plays host to the cream talent, and the main event traditionally features a one-on-one title match with a heel (bad guy) going up against a face (good guy). In all but one Wrestlemania, the face has come out victorious, as this PPV is intended to induce fan satisfaction.

I've seen all Wrestlemanias, but the first live Wrestlemania I watched in its entirety was the reviled Wrestlemania IX. More than any other Wrestlemania, this show represented the descent into silly characters and pitiful matches. It was, true to popular opinion, an artistic nightmare. Set in the Caesar's Palace colosseum, the theme was very Roman. The commentary team were bedecked in togas, and the arena was designed like an old amphitheatre. I'm not at all sure of the reason or the relevance, but the brain trust figured it would be a good idea at the time. They also figured it would be a good idea to have an eight foot man, dressed in a monkey suit, wrestling on their flagship broadcast. I guess the stale Las Vegas air wasn't conducive to logic.


"You know, Brother Bruti, that looks like a brick. Perhaps I should end the agony now."

That particular Wrestlemania is a black spot on the WWF's history - bad booking; atrocious matches; non-sensical developments. But it's still notable for being the last time the "immortal" Hulk Hogan would ever hold WWF gold. From there, learning from this mammoth three hour comedy of errors, the WWF learned a few lessons:

1) Fans aren't that stupid.

2) The old stars were losing favor.

3) Style never wins over substance. Unless it's the Oscars.

Sure, it would take them a few years to iron out all the kinks, and put the realizations into action, but this triggered the alarms. That said, there's something alluring about WM IX. I enjoyed it a lot at the time - for the lively atmosphere it oozed. Only hindsight and mature perspective has soured it for me.

But Wrestlemania IX wasn't the only WM in the series to be blighted by atrocious gimmick characters. Oh, no. Far from it, in fact. The show has consistently been plagued by ideas that may have sounded good in theory but went down like flatuence in a moon-bound spaceship. Here's a somewhat abbreviated list of the worst characters ever to stain the Wrestlemania legacy:

Doink

Appeared: Wrestlemania IX, X and XVII
Gimmick: Serial womanizer. Duh. Look at the picture above and see if you can figure it out.
Overview: Doink was brought into the WWF in early 1993 as an evil clown, in an attempt to amuse fans and annoy wrestlers. That's all that can be said about him, really. Obviously a rip-off of Stephen King's "It" character, he was known for molesting children and hanging out in drain pipes. Give the devil his due, Doink was originally a pretty cool character and the fans at least responded to him (no mean feat at that time). It was at Wrestlemania IX that the character just became dumb and completely without merit. In a match against pineapple head, Crush, a man he hospitalized by hitting him with a loaded wooden arm, the WWF debuted Doink II to foil their rival. Deciding that one man in a ridiculous clown costume wasn't enough, WWF "creatives" felt we needed to see a second. And in the one match. That is so genius. Most fans were left scratching their heads. Not because the head lice were playing up, nor because they were confused as to the identity of the "real" Doink. They simply couldn't fathom why they were watching this garbage. Doink went on to be played by various other low-rung wrestlers, became a fan favorite and was eventually accompanied by Dink, a midget version of Doink. Eureeka! The idea was later stolen for the "Austin Powers" franchise, so I guess that proves the time-tested theory: midgets=box office. How else can you explain Danny De Vito getting acting gigs?

Goldust

Appeared: Wrestlemania XII-XV
Gimmick: Adrian Street-like character painted in gold. Made Harvey Fierstein look positively straight.
Overview: He used to be known as Dustin Rhodes, the son of the famous Dusty Rhodes, if you weeeell. However, the WWF signed him in 1995, put him in a gold costume and reasoned that the world was ready for the most flagrant (and stereotypical) homosexual portrayal in wrestling history. He fondled his opponents, rubbed his crotch on the ring ropes and made sexual advances towards a number of wrestlers. Fans were mortified. His crowning moment was at Wrestlemania XII, where he took on and was humiliated by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. The homophobic Scot relieved Goldust of his garments AND dignity, stripping him down to bra and panties. Cue the canned laughter and ready the vomit bags. This would be the ultimate disgrace for anyone, but Rhodes (real name: Runnells) was a married man with kids who just happened to be related to the most backward man in the history of the universe. He didn't really recover from the embarrassment, and wound out his disappointing WWF career trying to revive this faddish transsexual gimmick.

Tatanka

Appeared: Wrestlemania VIII,-IX
Gimmick: Chanting Native American
Overview: He had a long undefeated run, and was a decent wrestler with a decent following. At Wrestlemania IX, he had the match of the show with the legendary Shawn Michaels. However, his gimmick was a weak joke at best and an absolute insult at worst. The character came into being because Vince Mc Mahon couldn't resist transforming useful wrestlers into "homages" of movie characters. Tatanka was derived from "Dances with Wolves", war-danced (or something) his way to the ring and had an unsightly streak of red in the center of his hair. With such a limiting gimmick, Tatanka's chances at garnering any level of success were seriously hampered. He's currently spending time with Chief Rabbit Ears in some hut in the desert. At least they respect him there.

AND FINALLY

GIANT GONZALES

Appeared: Wrestlemania IX
Gimmick: Frankenstein man covered in some sort of ape-like costume.
Overview: The WWF loves to humilate freakishly large men. Bad enough that these unfortunate souls have a hard time in everyday life, the WWF figures ritual humiliation is the way to go. Such was the case with Giant Gonzales. Nearly eight foot tall and with no english to his name, Gonzales was packaged as The Undertaker's nemesis. At Wrestlemania IX, this sideshow of a man walked down to the ring in a monkey suit. He took on the Undertaker. He embarrassed himself. He embarrassed wrestling. Six months later, his reign of torture would be over..mercifully. Unfortunately, the WWF couldn't erase him from their biggest show. An utter shambles and one they'll try to forget.



If you don't like wrestling now, you almost certainly never will. There's no middle ground. And it's every bit as valid as beer-bellied men swinging bats at a ball and watching how far it goes while the waddle over to home plate. You can put a cynical slant on most sports, but people who do often miss the point. There's so much more at stake than the sport. It's the history, the feelings conjured up when you watch well-trained athletes excel at their craft.

Sometimes you stare in awe.

Sometimes you'll curse wildly at people who don't know you and never will.

Sometimes you'll just relax, letting all your problems drift away for a few glorious minutes.

Sport, so incredibly involving, can do that. And wrestling is about as involving as you can get.

To explain its appeal to the uninitiated is to deny it of its fundamental power.

As Lester Burnham might say:

You don't know what I'm talking about, but you will...

someday


The W-D Staff: Dave and Paul
feedback@whatever-dude.com


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