WrestleMania XI was at the height of the New Generation Era, where the company tried to show it had moved on for good from Hulkamania and was all in with new people. After perhaps the biggest course correction in ‘Mania history with WrestleMania X, it was time to keep the momentum going. Only one problem: the business was down. Bret Hart had been installed as the champ again at WrestleMania X in a great show, but even with that boost he didn’t go on to become a draw. Bret was highly respected as a worker and did have fans, but he wasn’t the kind of moneymaker Vince needed on top. That led to him dropping the belt to Bob Backlund of all people, so Backlund could lose it the next man Vince wanted to try: Diesel.
Diesel was Kevin Nash, formerly Oz and Vinnie Vegas in WCW, and went from Shawn Michaels bodyguard to his rival after a face turn. Diesel was more in the Vince McMahon mold, standing almost seven feet tall with long hair, and the hope was that going with another larger than life figure would awe and inspire the same way that Hulk Hogan did. Of course looking the part wasn’t enough; Hogan was a master storyteller in the ring and knew how to really connect with fans like few others. Diesel wasn’t that, and he couldn’t carry a match in the ring like Hogan. Needing an opponent who could do that, they went with Michaels who was coming into his own as a master seller of other people’s offense.
The rest of the card looked more like a few weeks worth of matches on RAW, save the main event. With a roster of guys who did not gain the attention of mainstream entertainment media, Vince went out and got someone who would: former NFL star Lawrence Taylor. A storyline where Taylor and WWF wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow got into it at the Royal Rumble was carried out, and the culmination was a match between the two in the main event. Yeah, it seemed bad but it brought publicity. For all intents and purposes they were back at square one but without a Hogan like figure to sell the wrestling to the masses like at the first WrestleMania. So how was it? Let’s go!
The Allied Powers vs Jacob and Eli Blu w/ Uncle Zebekiah
The Allied Powers were Lex Luger and The British Bulldog, while their opponents represented a cavalcade of characters. Jacob and Eli Blu were actually the Harris Bros., who teamed under several different guises through their whole careers, while Uncle Zebekiah was Dutch Mantell (later known as Zeb Colter). Standard tag team match here and the Blu twins did a switcheroo at one point. It wasn’t enough to stop what was supposed to be a new team on the block from getting a win. What’s really funny is Vince McMahon on commentary noting how we were sure to see a lot of the Allied Powers in the future; Luger would soon be back in WCW with several weeks of taped matches with Davey Boy in the can. D’oh! Decent enough opener.
Intercontinental Title Match: Double J Jeff Jarrett w/The Roadie vs Razor Ramon w/1-2-3 Kid
Another match with guys who would soon be competing under different names – Razor was a year and change away from joining WCW under his government name Scott Hall, the Roadie would soon be Road Dogg Jessie James of the New Age Outlaws, and 1-2-3 Kidd would join Hall in WCW as Syxx then would come back to the WWF as X-Pac. Both guys can work, and we got a really good match with some timely involvement from both the Kid and the Roadie along with Jarrett working the leg to set up the figure four leglock. They got a little under 13 minutes and could have gone five or even ten more without losing anything. DQ finish kinda sucked but doesn’t take away from the match quality.
Undertaker vs King Kong Bundy
Yeah, that much awaited King Kong Bundy comeback after seven years away was a sight to behold. Basically they needed a guy to fill in a spot as a heel worker. ‘Taker was feuding with the Million Dollar Corporation, of which Bundy was a member. The story here was that the Corporation had stolen the urn that ‘Takers manager Paul Bearer used as inspiration. No way anyone thought Bundy was going over here. To mix things up a bit, Corporation member Kama Mustafa (who would later be known as the Godfather) came out and interfered, allowing Bundy to get the advantage. That wouldn’t last long, as Taker would get up and finish him with a bodyslam (yeah, going for a tombstone on Bundy would have been a bad idea). Six minutes, about three too many. Ugh…..
Tag Team Title Match: The Smoking Gunns (c) vs Owen Hart and ??
Hart had a mystery partner announced for the match and it was revealed to be Yokozuna. The Gunns were Billy and Bart, the former of which would of course go on to be Bad Ass Billy Gunn. I was expecting a Yokozuna dominated squash but we didn’t get that. The two teams put on a real match that was pretty good. Vince on commentary can always be counted on for sheer incompetence. Here’s one exchange with Lawler:
Lawler: We saw how big King Kong Bundy is earlier, well Yokozuna is 100 punds heavier.
Vince: He might just weigh more!
Match goes just under 10 minutes and of course we get new champs. You don’t debut a mystery partner like Yokozuna just for them to not win.
Bret Hart vs Bob Backlund (I Quit Match)
Hart and Backlund had been feuding for a while, and this was the blowoff match. Roddy Piper was the special referee. Lawler tries to hint at a possible Piper turn by bringing up WrestleMania 8 where Hart beat Piper for the Intercontinental Title. Bret controlled most of the action but Backlund got some offense in, including his crossface chicken wing at one point before Bret reversed it. Backlund gives up to his own finisher…….ok, I guess. Normally these kind of matches build to the winner using his own finisher to win it and not his opponent’s. Match was ok, just under 10 minutes.
World Title Match: Diesel (c) vs Shawn Michaels w/Psycho Sid
Shawn was entering his prime where he could make anyone look great by bumping all over the place and selling everything; he was the perfect opponent to get a good match out of Diesel, who was fairly agile for a big guy and had some good power offense. But a great technician he was not. This went on about 20 minutes and it was about as good as you could hope for from him. As long as you put him with guys like Shawn or Bret, or an agile big man like ‘Taker, you were fine. So that’s what we got here, a good but not great match that would have been really bad had it been say, Bundy or Sid here instead of Shawn. Diesel would win here and continue the experiment for another six and half months.
Main Event: Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow
It’s a sign of how desperate they were that this was the main event; in previous and subsequent shows the non wrestlers would be somewhere on the midcard and not in the top spot. But they did what they had to do. Bigelow was accompanied by the entire Million Dollar Corporation stable while Taylor had a cohort of former NFL players at his side. The match wasn’t awful. Taylor learned enough before the match to put on some credible offense, and when it was time for him to take a beating he sold it well enough. But the main kudos have to be given to Bigelow. To put a non wrestler over in the main event by pinfall is a major sacrifice to ask of anyone, and could have been a reputation killer. But he came in, did the job, and was good enough a performer to eventually recover from it.
Oh boy. This wasn’t the abomination that ‘Mania IX was, but there was nothing here that warranted buying a ticket or paying to see it on pay per view. There were some good matches, but in each case there have been better ones on RAW. Hell, there have been episodes of RAW better than this show. If this show hadn’t won in a twitter poll I ran I wouldn’t have even bothered to watch it. In a word, this show was……very meh. Sticking Bret in a match with Backlund and Taker with a has been like Bundy were just terrible decisions, as was relegating 1-2-3 Kid to a sidekick role. Meanwhile there was half a Million Dollar Corporation stable that went unused. Just weird decisions all around. And in a year and a half, a large number of the guys who worked this show would be in WCW. Go figure.