Retro Recap – WrestleMania 8

WrestleMania 8 was interesting point in WWF/E history, essentially the last days of Hulkamania as it had been known for eight years. It was a time of flux for the company’s roster; guys like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, and Roddy Piper had been around for a while and it was time to start planting seeds for the future.  Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were being primed for big runs and it was time to give them a real spotlight on the biggest show of the year.  The card also got reshuffled a bit from what how it was originally supposed to line up.  The Legion of Doom was supposed to challenge for the Tag Team Titles but Hawk got suspended and they didn’t have a match on the show.  Then the main event we’d been waiting eight years for was scrapped so we never got this:

hogan-flair-1992

At this point it looked like Hulkamania was losing some steam; Hogan’s house show matches against Ric Flair were not drawing as expected and at Survivor Series a heel Undertaker had a vocal cheering section as he faced Hogan for the title.  And the steroid police were coming, with a special aim taken towards Vince McMahon and the WWF so having a walking steroid suspect as your main man was no longer a good idea.  But before Hulk would disappear for a bit Vince needed to squeeze a payday and a WrestleMania out of him so we instead of Hogan vs Flair for the title we got Hogan vs Sid Justice (formerly Sid Vicious in the NWA) while Flair defended the title against Randy Savage.  The Hogan-Sid match was teased as being maybe Hogan’s last match – at that point it was unknown what would happen with the steroid investigations and whether Hogan, or even Vince McMahon, would be around.

The show was also different in that was the shortest card since the first WrestleMania show, only nine matches as opposed to what had become bloated cards of 15 or 16 matches.  And to be honest they could have trimmed it down even further without losing anything, but that would have meant some guys not getting a big check for working that show that a lot of them count on.  The business itself was in a different place; Vince had achieved near total victory in that all the territories were gone and his only remaining competitor was a hobbling WCW who’d done themselves no favors by firing Flair after a dispute with President Jim Herd and was running on fumes.  By the time of the show Vince had every big name working for him save Sting and was in position to deal a death blow had the steroid mess and the need to emphasize smaller guys who didn’t raise suspicions not come along.

Shawn Michaels vs Tito Santana

Tito Santana had been repacked as El Matador…….why?  Santana had been in the WWF for 7-plus years, as Tito Santana.  There was ZERO reason to give him a new gimmick or anything, especially something as blatantly stereotypical as El Matador.  And yet, Vince is gonna Vince sometimes.  Bobby Heenan’s funny-when-you’re-too-young-to-realize-it’s-racist commentary doesn’t help much when you watch it 25 years later.  Michaels was starting his singles push with Sherri Martel as his manager.  At this point you could see why he had her by his side.  He was already good to go in the ring, but he still needed some work on things like playing to the crowd.  Santana was an ace at helping get upcoming heels over by having really good midcard matches with them on his way to jobbing to them.  Good opener, these guys could have easily had a great 20 minute match on this show but here they only had 10.  Michaels wins semi dirty.

The Undertaker vs Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts

utjake

One word to describe this match: burial.  ‘Taker had turned face shortly before this match (thanks to fans who just didn’t want to boo him because he was an awesome character even then), while Jake had gone heel the previous summer.  ‘Taker no sold everything, including two DDTs from Jake, tombstone piledrives him on the floor, then pins him after all of six minutes.  Yikes….this was Jake’s last match with the company until he came back in 1996 and this was a clear ‘bury him, he’s leaving’ booking here.  Jake deserved better than that for the great run he’d had with the company for six years as one it’s best heels and faces.

Intercontinental Title Match:  Roddy Piper (c) vs Bret Hart

bret-vs-roddy

This is another match that could have been great had they gotten 20 minutes instead of 13.  It was still very good as both guys squeezed a lot of stuff in.  Bret gets busted open about halfway through, still an uncommon thing at a WWF show.  There several spots where both guys teased heelish tactics, and the pivotal one came after a ref bump where Piper stood over Bret with the ring bell and debated using it while the crowd implored him not to.  Piper puts the bell down and then we get the finish where Bret regains the title.  The finish came off rushed to me, like they got called for time and had to end it.  For a 1992 WWF match, this would be considered great but looking at it now it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen on an NWA show before.  Piper’s second WWF run from 89 through 92 could have been so much more; he was so over that he could have legit gotten the World Title for a spell.  It may have even gone over better after the fact than Ultimate Warrior’s reign did.

Virgil, Hacksaw Duggan, Big Bossman, and Sgt. Slaughter vs The Mountie, Repo Man, and the Nasty Boys

And we have the ‘find something for these guys to do on the show!’ match.  It wasn’t bad; everyone got some work in and it wasn’t too long (six minutes).  The comedy bit by special ring announcer Ray Combs (former host of Family Feud) was almost as long as the match.

World Title Match: Ric Flair (c) vs Randy Savage

flair_savage

And the first half of the Double Main Event comes……fifth on the card, with four matches to go afterwards.  Yeah that made sense.  Putting this match here was for all intents and purposes a Freudian slip by Vince showing how little faith he had in anyone other than Hogan at the top.  Flair was accompanied by Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, who was essentially playing the role that Bobby Heenan probably would have been in had he not retired from being a manager.  There was a contrived storyline tacked on about Flair having some compromising pictures of Savage’s manager Miss Elizabeth which wasn’t really necessary.  One of the best two or three World Title Matches at a WrestleMania for the first dozen or so years, easily.  When it started both guys were figuring out what to do and it was a little disjointed but about halfway through they looked like they had everything straight and from there it was really smooth sailing.  Perfect and Flair had really good chemistry on their cheating tactics, too.  They got 18 minutes and could have gone 10 more easy without losing any steam.

The Model Rick Martel vs Tatanka

And we get the cool off match.  Martel was still working as the Model, Tatanka was……..oh boy how can I say this?  A Native American that looked pretty stereotypical, but given that Chris Chavis is indeed Native American maybe he at least had something to do with the crafting of the character?  Hey you got me;  I’m not gonna defend this here.  Heenan comes again with the racist commentary; he really was the predecessor to Jerry Lawler on the mic.  Short match (four minutes and change), Tatanka wins.

Tag Team Title Match: Money, Inc (c) vs The Natural Disasters

Money, Inc was Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster (Mike Rotundo)  and were managed by Jimmy Hart.  The Disasters were Earthquake and Typhoon and had recently turned face.  Match was ok for what it was with a stupid finish after eight minutes when Money, inc. just up and left to take a countout loss.  Ugh………if you want to do a non-finish just do a DQ, will you?

Owen Hart vs Skinner

Complete waste of a minute and a half.  Hart wins with a rollup and without getting in any of the offense he was known for.  Why bother with this when you could have given more time to either of the singles title matches?

Main Event: Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice

hogan-sid

Sid Justice has to be one of the stupidest name changes ever.  He was Sid Vicious in the NWA/WCW and everywhere else before that he worked, why not go with that or just Sid?  Especially after he turned heel.  The match an OK, Hogan paint-by-numbers special.  Hogan’s true gift was making 12 minute matches like this entertaining by way of being an excellent performer to compensate for being just an ok wrestler.  The finish was completely botched as Papa Shango (you’d know him later as the Godfather) was supposed to run in for a DQ on Sid but missed his cue so Sid had to kick out from Hogan’s legdrop.  Shango gets to the ring about five minutes late and jogging like he has nowhere he’s supposed to be, then joins Sid for the two on one beatdown.  And for the save, in comes the Ultimate Warrior!  Warrior had been gone for months and was completely MIA at the time, so this was a major mark out moment then and even now to a lesser degree.

The aftermath of the show was somewhat underwhelming.  Boasting a roster that had at the top Savage, Flair, Warrior and Piper along with younger new stars Hart, Michaels, ‘Taker, and Sid they could have gone hard at WCW and put them under for good.  But they didn’t, and the vanquishing of the other companies did not provide a boost to them as you might think it would.  Similar to a lot of WCW fans in 2001, a lot of people responded to their favorite company shutting down by just tapping out on wrestling altogether.  Message: competition is good for business, and there’s plenty of room for the WWE to eat while letting some other people live.  If nothing else it creates opportunities for ‘wow, he’s here!’ moments when guys show up on RAW after working elsewhere.

Overall Verdict

Pretty good.  The World and I-C Title matches are both very good to great.  If you’re a Hogan fan the main event is up your alley, and the opener was cool if you’re looking for early Shawn Michaels matches to watch.  The Hart-Skinner and Martel-Tatanka matches could have been left off the show to be honest, but at that time Vince and co. hadn’t figured out that letting great workers go 20 minutes instead of 10 to 12 and scrapping a two to five minute yawner would be a net plus.  The crowd reactions here also suggested that people weren’t necessarily done with Hogan so much as they wanted other guys getting chances with the title.  Sadly Vince didn’t get the message and a year later we got the biggest clusterf- ending in WrestleMania history.

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