WrestleMania VII…..did Vince think we were stupid? I generally believe that in the long view, Vince knows what he’s doing better than us laymen. But in the short run, like anyone else, he’s had his share of brain farts. This was one of them. Wrestlemania VII, dubbed Superstars and Stripes Forever, was a blatant, jingoistic attempt to capitalize on the more patriotic mood that was afoot due to the Gulf War. All the usual WrestleMania decor was changed to red, white, and blue like so:
Yeah, it was that obvious where they were going here. And then you had the main event where All-American icon Hulk Hogan looked to win the title for a third time from instant Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter. But patriotism came second to another motivation: desperation.
After a huge show a year earlier saw The Ultimate Warrior capture the title from Hogan, something strange happened: Warrior didn’t draw as champ. Some of it was booking (even as champ he was second fiddle to Hogan in the company), but that didn’t mean all the people who rejoiced when he won the belt should have just stayed home if they really wanted him on top. Nonetheless, the money wasn’t flowing like it was supposed to so Vince, for the first during his ownership of the company, pulled the plug on a World Champion earlier than planned. Instead of waiting until Mania to do a rematch with Hogan and switch it back, Vince made a change at the Royal Rumble. To shut down a title reign at this point was an admission of failure and a need to rebound. Enter Sgt. Slaughter.
Slaughter had recently returned to the company as a heel, reprising the sadistic drill sergeant character he’d used earlier in his career. But then the Gulf War sparked Vince’s sense of opportunism and we got…..Sgt. Slaughter, Iraqi sympathizer. And if you think that was bad enough, Vince gave him two sidekicks in the form of Col. Mustafa (former WWF champion the Iron Sheik, who we all still recognized pretty damn easy) and Gen Adnan (former AWA manager Sheik Adnan Al-Kassie). But wait, there’s more. Mustafa is from Iran and Adnan is Iraqi, but Vince just figured we’d all forget where the former Iron Sheik was from even though most of us remember seeing him in the company and knowing exactly where he came from. So yes, Vince thought we were stupid.
Anyhow…..Warrior wasn’t drawing and Slaughter, despite the blatantly exploitative nature of his gimmick, was getting crazy heat. I’m talking death threat, need security to get you to your car after the show heat. And with the plan to capitalize on the mood of the country and return the belt to Hogan as planned, we get a quick title change at Rumble. Slaughter wins the belt with help from Randy Savage, setting up both the ‘Mania main event and a grudge match between Savage and the Warrior. This whole line of planning was Vince at his worst, and like a lot of Gulf War themed events, the speed with which the actual fighting ended left a lot of people with PR egg on their faces. And deservedly so.
The show was also the beginning of changing of the guard on the WWF roster. The last remnants of the 80s tag team scene would start (or in some cases end) their final runs here, and new talent like the Undertaker would get their first showcases on a big show. It was also the first WrestleMania without Jesse Ventura on commentary as he was replaced by Bobby Heenan (and Hacksaw Duggan when Heenan had to accompany one of his people to the ring) and Heenan’s last WrestleMania as an active manager. Times they were a changing indeed. So how was the actual show? Let’s see.
The Rockers vs Haku & The Barbarian
This was the beginning of the end for one team and a foreshadowing of the future for the other. The Rockers had been together for five years plus through the AWA, Memphis, and the WWF and this would be their final WrestleMania together as a team. A year later Shawn Michaels would superkick Marty Jannetty through a glass window and strike out on his own. On the other side, Haku & the Barbarian weren’t together long here but would reform this unit in WCW years later as The Faces of Fear and have a decent run. Going in this looked like it would be your standard Rockers sell for and put over a new team of behemoths affair but it ended being ad hoc team loses to veteran unit. Match was pretty good and got about 10 minutes. Good opener.
The Texas Tornado vs Dino Bravo
Oh Vince, you and your obsession with giving people new names even though the old one (In this case Kerry Von Erich) was pretty damn familiar already. Seriously, they signed Kerry off of his name recognition from World Class Championship Wrestling and then changed his name to The Texas Tornado. Vince had to have his creative control and copyrights on everything back then. Thank God he’s changed or else guys like Samoa Joe and AJ Styles would have some awful, WWE concocted names now. Anyhow, you guessed it, this match was short and not much good. Three minutes of total unnecessary card filler. Sad to see an 80s wrestling icon like Kerry reduced to a three minute match, but at this point he really was a shell of himself do to injuries and drugs.
British Bulldog vs The Warlord w/Slick
Oh boy, more filler. Eight minutes worth. Warlord was coming off a failed singles push while Bulldog was back as a singles wrestler and getting a push himself. Standard power stuff here. Warlord was an absolutely awful wrestler. Bulldog wins. Yawn…..
Tag Team Title Match: The Hart Foundation (c) vs The Nasty Boys
The last hurrah for the Harts, as they would soon split for good and Bret would be off to singles run-ville. And as everyone one their last roundup does, you put someone over your way out. Very good match and a fitting send off for one of the better tag teams of the 80s.
Jake Roberts vs Rick Martel
This was a blindfold match, maybe the stupidest kind of match ever. Both guys have their whole heads covered under a pillowcase looking thing, and then have a regular match where they basically fish around and listen to the crowd to tell them they’re close enough to try something. I’m guessing they could see through the things but still, come on man. I mean just look at this foolishness:
After catching each other enough to get some moves in, Jake gets a DDT and wins in eight minutes. Talk about squandered opportunities….after all the work Jake put in for the company he could have at least gotten an Intercontinental Title run in late 1990 or early 1991. Instead, he got this crappy feud with Martel after a short run with Bad News Brown. Ugh…..
Undertaker vs Jimmy Snuka
This was an elevation match for ‘Taker and I remember when I first watched this back in 1991, noticing that the crowd was cheering the Deadman. If you’re wondering when Vince and Co. first noticed that had something more than another guy to build up for a Hogan victory later, it was here. Four minute relative squash, and The Streak begins.
Ultimate Warrior vs Randy Savage
Best match of the night. This was a retirement match, announced as the first in the history of the company, so whoever lost was going to get a vacation for a while. One notable thing was the Warrior walking to the ring instead of his usual sprint down the aisle; that may have been to convey seriousness or it might have been because he knew he was going 20 minutes and didn’t want to be gassed as soon as he hit the ring like normal. Warrior’s two best matches in his career come in back to back years with the best in ring storyteller of his era (Hogan) and one of the best in ring workers in the history of the company (Savage). Which was better? Hard to say. Warrior vs Hogan had more suspense as far as the outcome and had a real Clash of the Titans thing going on, but this one felt less rehearsed. And you have to appreciate the frequent interference on Savage’s behalf by Sherri Martel. Sherri was great at getting heat for her men and getting involved in their matches. This was also the first time we got both kicking out of multiple finishers before the ending. Great match, worth checking out all by itself. And then afterwards we got the tearjerker reunion of Savage and Miss Elizabeth.
Demoliton vs Geneichiro Tenryu and Koji Kitao
What on earth was the point here? Was Vince looking to do business with Japan? Actually thanks to Wikipedia, I found that the answer was yes. The WWF and the now defunct Super World Sports did some shows together in 1991. This was yet another last hurrah as Demolition fell from winning their third title at ‘ Mania VI to getting disposed of like trash a year later, and would be done as a team soon after. Four minutes and they were out like suckers in another filler match. Once the Legion of Doom, the team they copied their act from, was in the company there really wasn’t any need or use for Demolition anymore so that was a wrap.
Intercontinental Title Match: Mr. Perfect (c) vs Big Bossman
Waste of a title match here. Imagine if Jake had won the title a few months before and this was the blowoff where Perfect got the belt back before putting Bret over that summer? It would have made for a much better match here and a much better program leading up to it. Instead we get this, an ok match with a crap finish. To add to the confusion, when Bossman was down and Heenan was kicking him Andre the Giant comes down to even the odds, and 30 seconds later the rest of the Heenan stable comes down to get Perfect DQ’ed. Man, I guess…..
Earthquake w/ Jimmy Hart vs Greg Valentine
More filler……whhhhyyyyyyy? I’ll be straight up honest with you, I didn’t watch this one even though it was only three minutes. Sorry not sorry.
The Legion of Doom vs Power and Glory
Interesting story behind this match, thanks to Paul Roma’s recent appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast. He was injured pretty bad and could barely work so they had to book this as a quick squash. Back when I first saw this I was thinking they were just trying to put Hawk and Animal over big.
Virgil vs Ted DiBiase
Lackey vs former boss. Virgil was portrayed as a new wrestler but before joining the WWF he was a regular in ring worker in other companies. Match was ok, had good heat. I don’t like the countout finish (DiBiase had three straight ‘Mania matches end on countouts; weird stat there for real) but it was to build for a later match where Ted would put Virgil over in full. But why not speed up the clock and do that here? It’s WrestleMania for crying out loud. Virgil had put in over three years of work in a role that a lot of people frown on today; managers, valets, and bodyguards are as much a part of the story as wrestlers are and deserve their WrestleMania moments, too.
The Mountie vs Tito Santana
The Mountie was a repackaged Jacques Rougeau. This match only gets a minute and a half despite Tito being an ace ‘put new characters over’ guy and Rougeau being a decent worker in his own right. How about we cut some of those filler matches instead, Vince? Ugh….
World Title Match: Sgt. Slaughter (c) vs Hulk Hogan
Some big “USA!” chants to start off….mission accomplished, Vince. Apparently this was a no DQ match (I missed where they announced that), because Slaughter broke out a chair and his goons were interfering right in front of the referee. But then later on Heenan on commentary mentioned that Slaughter might be trying to get himself disqualified so who knows? Slaughter needed the help here as he was up in age (42 at the time) and pretty limited in the ring. He spent most of the first half of the match eating Hogan’s offense. He finally got control later on for the usual heel advantage sequence. To his credit when he got control he worked on Hogan’s back to set up his camel clutch finisher. Hogan got good and busted open too, the worst I’ve seen him here. The finish was a sop to the blatant jingoism of the show. I’ll just say it involved a torn Iraqi flag followed what had become the mail it in Hogan match ender. Yeah………. The match wasn’t bad other than the ending that we’ve seen a million times, but we all knew who was winning it when it was announced. Still, Hogan told a good story and Slaughter did enough to hold it together.
Bloated show, bloated as hell…..14 matches of which at least four could have been scrapped. And some real missed opportunities as far as matches that could have been. The specter of a forgone conclusion main event hung over the show from start to finish, but Hogan was good at what he does and it’s hard to hate on his in ring in big matches in hindsight. No he wasn’t Shawn Michaels but the man could tell a story in the ring and work a crowd. The Warrior-Savage match is an all-timer, and there were some other good ones on the show. But keep your hand on that skip button for real.