Retro Recap – Wrestlemania V

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WrestleMania V was the kind of the show that happens when you plan things out too well, too far in advance.  Boasting maybe his most loaded roster since he took over from his Dad, Vince put on a bloated show that came off like it was focus grouped to death inside the WWF offices and booked like none of their top tier guys could afford to get pinned in a pay per view match, unless it was to set something else up. It was also a series of squandered opportunities as matches that could have better were cut short for time and other potentially great matchups were avoided entirely.  If it weren’t for the commentary team of Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon this show would be a lot harder to watch in spots (The WWF losing Jesse in the broadcast booth after WrestleMania VI is one of the underrated events in recent history).  The main event was Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage for the World Title in the culmination of the MegaPowers storyline that ran for a year and a half as Hogan and Savage went from partners to adversaries.  Outside the main event, the card could be divided into the following categories:

  • Showcase matches for new acquisitions or newly assembled teams
  • Feud starters
  • Feud enders
  • Something for both guys to do

The show was an exercise in excess and predictability, in that every match went either exactly how you would expect it to or ended in such a fashion to ‘protect both guys’.  And because of the number of matches on the show (fourteen!) plus celebrity laden filler like Run-DMC performing and a special edition of Piper’s Pit, a lot of matches that could have gone on for an extra five minutes and been great were cut short and ended up being just ok.  So let’s get into it:

Opener: Haku vs Hercules (something to do)

OK match.  Both guys were brawlers/power guys who could have a good match with the right dance partner or an ok match otherwise.  This was the latter.  Decent back and forth, and a good enough ending for a seven minute match (which was probably the exact time to bring it home).

Twin Towers (Akeem & Big Bossman) vs The Rockers (showcase)

The Towers were a new team; Akeem was the One Man Gang repacked in one of the worst racial gimmicks ever (white guy who started dressing in faux African garb after getting some ‘soul’).  The Rockers carried this one with their double team moves and selling the Towers big man offense.  Entertaining match, thanks to Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, but everyone knew how this was going when it was announced.  Towers win clean.

Ted DiBiase vs Brutus Beefcake (something to do)

Major waste of a great talent here.  DiBiase was one of the best heels of the late 80s/early 90s and a great worker; Beefcake was ok at best but was over and could put on a decent punch and kick fest.  Good back and forth, and DiBiase made Beefcake look better than he was.  Both guys used their version of the sleeperhold to no avail, and DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil interfered on his behalf in timely fashion.  The finish was wack – Beefcake was going after Virgil out side the ring when DiBiase came outside and jumped him from behind, then both men were counted out.  What was a good 10 minute match that could have gone five more with some kind of pinfall victory (Virgil helping DiBiase or Beefcake overcoming interference) ends up being a useless contest that did nothing for either guy and didn’t lead to anything later.

The Bushwackers vs The Rougeau Brothers (showcase)

The Bushwackers were recent acquisitions from the NWA, stolen away to deplete the competition more than to help the WWE, and this match was to help get them over.  They also underwent a major personality change upon coming aboard going from brutal, cheating New Zealand brawlers to a comedy act.  The Rougeaus were good in ring workers who deserved a short tag title reign but never got a chance.  Basic 10 minute match that could have happened on a Saturday Night’s Main Event.

Mr. Perfect vs The Blue Blazer (showcase)

The Blazer was Owen Hart under a mask; after a really exciting debut in the fall he quickly became a jobber to the stars.  Vince honestly had no idea what kind of talent he had on his hands here.  Another waste of talent here as what could have been a fifteen minute classic went less than six minutes, Exhibit A of the formulaic booking that was par for the course at this time for Vince.  Had these two been on an NWA show they would have had a feud of the year over the US or TV Title; instead we get a Monday Night RAW type of affair.  Perfect had a long push up the card coming so he wins this one clean.

Tag Team Title Match: Demolition vs The Powers of Pain & Mr. Fuji (feud ender)

The Powers of Pain were, like the Bushwackers, a team stolen away from the competition to hurt them more than help Vince.  They’d feuded with champs Demolition upon their arrival the previous summer, did a double turn going heel while Demolition went face, and took on Demolition’s former manager Mr. Fuji.  This was the blowoff match and in a failed attempt at providing some intrigue this was a handicap match with Fuji, himself a former tag team champ, joining his charges in the ring.  You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Fuji would be the one taking the pin here.  Basic brawl between two teams that were blatant knockoff of The Road Warriors, nothing to write home about.  Eight minutes was about right for one team of decent workers (Demolition) vs two puffed up brawlers.  In a twist of irony Demolition would add a third member a year later and turn heel again.

Dino Bravo vs Ronnie Garvin (something to do)

Bravo had been around for a while and Garvin was another hurt the competition purchase for Vince.  Vince had absolutely no idea what to do with a guy like Garvin, a good stiff brawler and technician, so of course after a few months in the company he was off to jobbing to guys higher on the WWF totem pole.  What could have been a good ten minute match went all of three minutes with Bravo winning clean.  Uggghhhh

The Brain Busters (Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson) vs Strike Force (feud starter)

Blanchard & Anderson were of course former members of The Four Horsemen and…..wait for it…….talent signed away to hurt the competition.  Strike Force was reuniting after an almost year long hiatus that began after they lost the tag team title to Demolition.  They would also be breaking up 10 minutes later when Rick Martel walked out on partner Tito Santana to set up his heel turn and a feud between the two.  Why waste two great workers like Blanchard & Anderson on an angle builder of a match when you could have had them tear the house down against The Rockers?  Those two teams were killing it in house shows and a big showcase to blow that off would have been awesome while the Strike Force breakup could have played out just as well against the Twin Towers.  Complete waste of talent.  Anyhow, Martel walks out after a botch by Santana and leaves him to go two on one and eat a spike piledriver for the loss.

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Andre the Giant vs Jake The Snake Roberts (feud ender)

Roberts and Andre had been feuding since November; this was the blowoff match that was supposed to be a transition point to a rekindled feud between Andre and the recently returned Big John Studd, who was serving as special referee here.  Andre was on his last legs as an in ring performer, as he’d be relegated to tag teams by years end and gone altogether by the next summer.  Match was ok; Andre beat the hell out of Jake, who ocassionally fought back and got some offense in over the nine minutes they got to work.  The problem with this feud was that even in his limited state Andre was in no danger of losing to Jake.  The finish here, Jake winning by DQ after Andre attacked Studd, was bad but may have been the only way to go.  At the very least you protect Jake for future endeavors.  This is another match you could have done on Saturday Night’s Main Event.

The Hart Foundation vs Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine (something to do)

You could have subtitled this match “How the mighty have fallen”.  That Hart Foundation was in the midst of a wheel spinning two year period where they were mostly losing tag team title matches to Demolition and trading wins with other teams.  Honky Tonk Man had just a year ago been in the middle of a record long reign with the Intercontinental Title and now he was back to jobbing.  The Harts were a loss away from being relegated to full time jobbers, but thank God Vince thought enough of Bret Hart to want to keep him viable until he could make a definitive singles run two years later.  Decent seven minute match won by the Harts.

Intercontinental Title Match: Ultimate Warrior vs Rick Rude (feud starter)

This was easily the best match to date of the Warrior’s WWF career.  Up until this point he’d been in mostly five minute or less punch and kick fests, but Rude got in more offense than anyone before (along with great selling of Warrior’s offense) and even pulled out some stuff he wasn’t known for like a missile dropkick and a piledriver.  In terms of being as good as expected this was the second best match of the night by a mile.  The finish was spot on as well, with Bobby Heenan helping his man Rude win the title by interfering.  If you’re going to skim through this show you should definitely take the time to watch this one in full.  These two would continue on until Summerslam and would hook up again to fight for the World Title a year later.  They were good together in the ring and we got a nice taste of it here.

Bad News Brown vs Hacksaw Duggan (something to do)

Waste of time.  Both guys were way over and needed a spot on the show but a three minute brawl ending in a double DQ was pointless.  Brown was another colossal waste of talent by Vince; he was way over as a heel and could have easily been Intercontinental Champion or in a serious World Title program.

Bobby Heenan vs The Red Rooster (feud ender)

That sound you just heard was me throwing up.  The Red Rooster (Terry Taylor) may very well be THE biggest waste of talent Vince ever had.  Taylor was a great worker who had gone toe to toe with the likes of Ric Flair and held his own, and had developed a good heel act before coming to the WWF.  So what does Vince do?  Package him as a sad sack loser who’s no good without his manager Heenan and unable to beat anyone of note.  Taylor/Rooster finally grew tired of Heenan’s ‘help’ and turned face.  This ‘match’ was his final emancipation from Heenan and lasted all of 30 seconds as he squashed a non wrestler.  But whatever rub he cold have gotten was ruined when Heenan got beat up by the Ultimate Warrior after the I-C Title match.  So you’re a loser who’s no good without your manager and dopey nickname, and then you need a prematch beatdown to even beat him later……yeah that’s great for a career.  Taylor never recovered from this humiliation as it was impossible to take him seriously anywhere else.

WWF World Title Match: Randy Savage vs Hulk Hogan

This match was a year in the making, and when Savage won the title at ‘Mania IV I had my first real Nostradamus moment as a fan.  Before then I’d predicted some stuff here and there but I saw Hogan and Savage celebrate in the ring that day and figured out almost immediately that they’d be back a year later on opposing sides.  So when it happened I felt vindicated, but also somewhat subdued because there was zero suspense for me here.  The match itself was good, the best one Hogan had in years.  He even displayed some technical skills that he mostly left on the shelf when he was going up against the behemoth of the month.  Savage provided a perfect mix of brawling, technical wrestling, and cowardice as Hogan’s foil.

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I have to say that even with the end result a forgone conclusion these two executed great; Savage took advantage when Hogan missed on a move, and the two traded the adavantage back and forth as opposed to Hogan’s usual dominate early, go down in the middle, big comeback finish formula.  We even got some rare blood in a WWF match when Hogan got legit cut open halfway through, and Savage masterfully went to work on the eye where the cut happened.  Unfortunately all this praise is rendered nearly moot by the finish.  Nothing screwy happened, but this was essentially the mainlining of what became the extremely tired Hogan finish – strong kick out of the opponent’s finisher, no sell three or four punches, land three of his own, hit the big boot, and then the legdrop for the win.  For the rest of his WWF run this is how almost every victory of his went, and it got old quick.

Overall Grade

Two match show.  The I-C and World Title matches are worth watching while the rest of it is a big bunch of coulda, shoulda, woulda.  Vince’s talent raids from the year resulted in a bunch of guys on the roster with nothing really to do other than not be available to work for the competition.  Some of them would go on to do big things but most wouldn’t.  The next two year’s shows would be more of the same with bloated 15 match cards and only one or two matches worth rewatching.  For good and ill Vince had discovered a formula that worked and was running with it until he couldn’t anymore.   And that’s honestly a big part of how he was able to end most of his competition save WCW by 1991; whatever you thought of his product it was always functional and consistently decent with some moments of greatness, whereas everyone else struggled to maintain any kind of consistency even if their ceiling was higher.  This show’s best stuff wasn’t as good as a lot of the pay per view matches WCW had that year but the low points weren’t as low, either.  There are better WrestleManias to sit through but this one is a good representative of where the company was at from 1988 to 1991.

 

 

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