Retro Recap – WrestleMania 9

WrestleMania 9 was at a time of major flux for the WWF and the wrestling business, and not in a good way.  If anything it was a sign of just how quickly things can change.  When WrestleMania 8 ended the WWF roster was the most loaded it had ever been, but now…..yikes.  Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior, The Legion of Doom, Sid Vicious, Jake Roberts, and The Natural Disasters were all gone from the company after being on the show at WrestleMania 8.  Randy Savage, who won the World Title the year before, had been inexplicable demoted to part time duty and commentating.  And Hulk Hogan, the longtime linchpin of the company and half of the main event at ‘Mania 8, had been gone from active competition since that show.  That’s a major talent drain even if most of them were releases at the company’s will.  And then there was the steroid trial.

Vince McMahon was indicted in 1993 for distribution of steroids, and the year prior saw lots of guys who looked the part of a steroid user (and some of them were indeed guilty)made less visible or flat out fired while younger and smaller guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were pushed forward as the new faces of the company.  The business as a whole was under siege by the feds and it was no longer as cool to be a wrestling fan as it had been before.  Bret was putting on good matches and was a great in ring worker, but the business side wasn’t going very well anymore.  Bad times were being had all around, but there was a show to put on so they had to do something.  With the old guard gone or diminished they went ahead and showcased new arrivals from WCW like Razor Ramon, Lex Luger, and The Steiner Brothers alongside guys who were moving up the world like Bret and Shawn.  A good show here would at least have gotten them some favorable buzz going forward.

The only problem was that those guys for their talents weren’t looking like future Hogans and Savages so in order to make any money the decision was made to go back to the well with Hogan one more time.  Hogan got booked in a tag team match with his old friend Brutus Beefcake, so that there would be somebody on the show that people would pay money to see.  That summed up the state of the business pretty well – wanting and needing to move on but having to cling to the dwindling present to make any money.  Ultimately WrestleMania’s success or failure from a quality standpoint is more about roster management than who exactly is on the roster at the time, so if they played their cards right they could still come out a winner here.  How did they do?

Intercontinental Title Match: Shawn Michaels (c) vs Tatanka

Shawn really progressed a lot between WrestleMania 8 and this match. A year prior he looked like a case of trying to make fetch happen, talented but just not a top singles wrestler. Here he’d put it all together, and didn’t even need Luna Vachon at ringside (she barely did anything during the match) unlike how he was dependent on Sherri Martel one year prior.

Michaels pretty much carried this one, and made it pretty good. Tatanka was just a guy and was slow on a few spots. Bobby Heenan’s racist commentary did not help here as he dug up every Native American dig he could think of during the match. The ending was a wtf? moment. If you’re not going to do a title change and Tatanka is never gonna get the belt later just have Michaels cheat to win, ok?

The Steiner Brothers vs The Headshrinkers – I am admittedly being unfair to this match. It was good but I’d seen them both in WCW against each other and different opponents a million times so I was like ‘meh’ throughout.

Doink vs Crush – I fell asleep during this one, woke up to see a second Doink help the first one win the match. Sorry not sorry.

Razor Ramon vs Bob Backlund – Weird match here. Backlund was back in the WWF after a nine year absence and Ramon had just come in the year before. Match goes 3 minutes and change, both guys get some stuff in, and Ramon wins with a small package. Uhh…..why? It’s Ramon’s first big match and you know he’s going to bigger things, how does he not win either straight up with his finisher or in some dramatic and dastardly fashion? Maybe it got called to go home and they had to end it, I don’t know.

World Tag Team Title Match: Money, Inc (c) vs The MegaManiacs

Ted DiBiase’s promo before the match was great stuff. The match itself wasn’t bad. 4 old pros who knew each other well and they put on a good show here. Hogan gets the biggest reaction of anyone on the show so far, which is why the shows ends the way it does as you’ll see. But now the bad part.

Some wacky refereeing as Money Inc tries to leave only for the ref to decide that a countout will result in a title change. Wtf? No really, wtf? And then after some more hijinks we get a knocked out ref and a Dusty finish. It seems like this match was a cover to have Hogan in the building for the end of the show.

Lex Luger vs Mr Perfect – Yet another strange match. Luger was just getting rolling with his new Narcissist character and Perfect was in the midst of a face turn so this was a showcase match of sorts for both. Perfect played the face very well, and while it was different to see him getting more offense than selling he pulled it off well.

The match was good until the end. Luger always did well with good technical wrestlers who could sell. The finish was another ‘huh?’ moment. Luger reverses a backslide and gets the three count, Perfect’s feet were on the ropes in clear view of the ref but he counts anyway. What was the point here? Luger winning is fine, but why not with his finisher or by cheating? This looked and felt like a botch but who knows.

Undertaker vs Giant Gonzales

I was expecting a lot worse than what we got here given what I remembered about Gonzales when he was El Gigante in WCW.  Oh he was still stiff and awkward as hell, and that bodysuit he had on looked like a bad Party City costume, but the offense he did get in wasn’t the worst I’ve seen.  But however not terrible it was, the finish dragged it back down.  Gonzales gets a chloroform rag, shoves it in Taker’s face in clear view of the referee, and gets five counted before the DQ.  What in the hell, man?  I mean, this was not good at all.

World Title Match: Bret Hart (c) vs Yokozuna

The advertised main event.  We were at peak Bret here as he carried Yoko to actually halfway decent match here.  To his credit Yoko did his part; he still had good mobility at this point so his selling wasn’t bad at all.  This was about as good of a match as one could expect, and it could have gone a few more minutes and still been ok in my opinion.  But as has been the case most of the show, the finish……..oy.  Mr. Fuji thros salt in Bret’s face in full view of the ref, who of course wasn’t supposed to call for a DQ.  A quick ref bump and recovery was all you needed here.  So we get the three count and that’s it.  Yoko doesn’t look very strong at all here in victory.  There was a blueprint for how to do this kind of match and that was Vader vs Sting in WCW from the previous summer.  Now of course we’re supposed to believe that no one ever watches the competition but whatever.  Anyhow, we have our first heel crowned champion at WrestleMania and our first show that closes with a heel victorious:

Ok, not so fast.  Hulk Hogan comes to the ring to aid Bret (because Hogan and Bret have that long, storied friendship that we just never heard about) and Mr. Fuji gets on the mic and starts talking trash to him, ultimately challenging him to face Yoko right there for the title!  Now hold up…..Mr. Fuji is a veteran manager who has been on the opposite side of Hulk Hogan many times.  Even from a pure kayfabe standpoint this is illogical.  But nevermind because Hogan accepts the challenge (well duh….) and we get:

World Title Match: Yokozuna (c) vs Hulk Hogan

Worst title match in WrestleMania history.  Fuji throws the salt again but misses and Yoko gets blinded instead, Hogan clothesline and legdrop, 1-2-3.

This makes sense if you’re a Hulkamaniac or a bean counter.  The crowd loved it and went wild, more than they had all night.  Sigh……..  This was the beginning of a new chapter for Hogan, the ‘You need me more than I need you’ chapter.  Which was sad but true.  And it still stinks 25 years later.  If you think this was ok, put Brock Lesnar (part timer who moves the needle but only shows up when he wants to) in Hogan’s place, Braun Strowman (new monster that the company wants to get over) in Yoko’s and Finn Balor (great technical wrestler with a following that the company isn’t sure about as a draw) in for Bret.  You still like the way it tastes?

Other Comments

OK, I can’t argue against putting the belt back on Hogan given the response he got, and given how he was still affecting the business nine years past his first big title victory (and would keep affecting the business after going to WCW).  Bret was not drawing well as champ, period, and something had to be shaken up.  But there had to be a better way than this, right?  Then again, maybe not.  Lots of people were tired of Hogan and announcing him in the main event of yet another WrestleMania with the typical three month build may not have yielded the results the company wanted.  But then again, just a year earlier people ‘tired of Hogan’ filled the Hoosier Dome while this card with Bret headlining had to go to a much smaller venue.  With the big boss, Vince, off fighting Uncle Sam everyone else there was in an unenviable position and made what they thought was the best and probably only move.

Final Verdict

This show is a microcosm of where the company and the business were in 1993.  Things were down across the board in every company that was still running, and the old guard from the 80s and earliest 90s badly needed replacing.  But there was no one in the next wave who could pull the numbers that had been reached before and while Hogan wasn’t doing as well as he had been he still did better than the alternatives.  At the same time the ‘wtf?’ nature of how several matches ended here was a real drag on the show.  Shawn Michaels, Lex Luger, Razor Ramon, and Yokozuna all deserved stronger more definitive endings to their matches as none of them came out looking particularly great even in victory.  Vince’s absence could really be felt here in terms of the sloppiness and ‘wtf?’ nature of so many matches.  Countouts and Dusty finishes were not needed here seeing as how only one of the matches (Taker vs Gonzales) got any return bouts afterwards, but we got those and some pinfalls that made no sense in their execution.

A depleted roster, ok matches, and some really bad finishes get this show a really bad grade.  There isn’t one match on this show worth rewatching, and it’s only worth watching a first time for historical purposes.  Yes, there are some ‘It wasn’t really that bad’ takes floating around, but if you ask me that’s the rose colored lens of nostalgia at work.  If we got this kind of show now even people like me who don’t criticize much would be going all caps on Twitter in protest, so I’m not going to retroactively give them a mulligan for this one.  No they did not have a lot to work with but they still could have made some better choices and at least put on a better show than this one that I watched so you don’t have to.  You’re welcome.  Shows like this make me want to add a paypal link to all my posts…..

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