Retro Recap – WrestleMania 6

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and with ‘Mania being around the corner I figured I’d get back on the old bicycle. WrestleMania 6 was the first one that I watched live, on something called closed circuit TV. Pay per view was alive and well but the WWF decided to show this in a few locations on the big screen because of how big a deal this show was, so I went with a few friends to the old Capital Center to watch this show. The WWF at this point was running like a well oiled machine at this point.  They had a set pay per schedule and the roster had been pretty stable for the last two years.  On the other side of the road the WCW had been going through nonstop turmoil with a revolving door of guys coming in and often leaving after a few months, an ever changing pay per view schedule, and an injury to it’s top babyface Sting that would completely alter it’s booking plans for the whole year.  It really was a tale of two cities, and with everything in order it was a good time to do a trial run with someone else on top.  Enter the Ultimate Warrior.  Warrior had been on a tear since coming to the WWF in 1987 and looked to be the eventual heir apparent to the Hulkster, while Hogan himself was still going strong. It was late in 1989 when the seeds were beginning to be planted for this match. At SummerSlam Warrior regained the Intercontinental title he’d lost to Rick Rude at WrestleMania V, then began a series of title defenses against former Hogan nemesis Andre the Giant which he won in short order. That he was booked to essentially squash Andre was a sign that he was a big deal. Meanwhile Hogan was playing out the string, running back title defenses against previously vanquished rivals like Ted DiBiase, Randy Savage, and Bad News Brown.

Then came January’s Royal Rumble, and the moment that was like an alarm going off that yes this was happening. Hogan and Warrior were in the ring fighting on different sides, when they cleared everyone out and were left alone with each other. It was like Superman on one side and Thor on the other, and for the next minute we got a preview of what that kind of fight would be like in what was maybe the first truly magical Royal Rumble moment. Unfortunately it also led to what was the first of many hokey, contrived, trying too hard buildups to a WrestleMania main event as the weeks that followed had a bunch of really dopey set pieces that were supposed to introduce some kind of tension between two guys who had not been enemies but mainly stayed away from each other and fought their enemies separately. All that being said, this would be a groundbreaking face vs face matchup on top of the biggest show of the year, and without a manufactured heel turn to keep things conventional. So weird as February and March were, we just needed to get to the show and all would be fine.

As for the show itself, it was the second of three straight bloated, 14 match shows that were more an exercise in getting everyone on the show than anything else. And that made for some matchups that were made either to give both guys something to do, or to showcase someone in a new packaging or who was about to be in a feud afterwards. In fact, less than half the card had a proper feud of any kind involved. Compare that more recent cards where almost every match had some kind of story behind it. The match times kind of reflected that, too. Only two of them were longer than ten minutes and half of them were under five minutes. By contrast WrestleMania 35 had four matches that were under ten minutes but five matches that were over fifteen minutes. Gotta be a happy medium somewhere, folks.

Rick Martel vs Koko B. Ware – Two guys with nothing else to do. Koko was a JTTS (Jobber to the Stars), Martel was a good midcard heel. Quick and to the point (3:51), Koko got a little offense in but assumed the position as expected.

Tag Team Title Match: The Colossal Connection (c) vs Demolition – A match with a story! The Connection (Haku & Andre the Giant) pretty much squashed Demolition to win the titles in December of 1989, and had retained them in a series of rematches on house shows. So this was a last chance of sorts for Ax and Smash to win them back. Andre’s decline as an in ring worker came pretty quickly after the first WrestleMania and here it was clear that he was in a tag team because that’s about all he was good for. Demolition on the other hand had earned the respect of everyone after being rightfully branded early on as Road Warrior copycats; it’s a testament to not giving up on a gimmick and sticking with it to make it work. As for the match itself, it was good and one of the longer ones that night clocking in at 9:30. More importantly, after it was over Andre turned face after being berated by Bobby Heenan and not taking it anymore. It would be Andre’s last WrestleMania match, and he’d be done wrestling altogether before the year was up.

Earthquake vs Hercules – A showcase match for Earthquake, who’d come in late in 1989 and had been running through jobbers on his way up. Herc got in some offense early but Earthquake would take over and get the win in just under five minutes (4:52).

Brutus Beefcake vs Mr Perfect – Weird match here. The first half is dominated by Beefcake, complete with Perfect’s tremendous overselling, before The Genius Lanny Poffo’s interference helped Perfect get the advantage. Perfect then worked over Beefcake really good before getting caught with a slingshot into the corner for a flash pin. This was supposed to be a foreshadowing to Beefcake winning the Intercontinental Title from Perfect at SummerSlam but a parasailing accident would put an end to that before it happened. Good for what it was but the ending seemed abrupt and it felt like they could have a few minutes longer than the 7:48 that they got.

Rowdy Roddy Piper vs Bad News Brown – Ooh boy, where do I start with this. Somebody thought it was a good idea for Piper cover half his body in black body paint to mock Brown…….nope, not defending this one. Didn’t watch the match again, either. Sorry not sorry. 6:48 was about seven minutes too long for this mess.

The Hart Foundation vs The Bolsheviks – One of the greatest Mania squashes ever. Nikolai Volkoff of the Bolsheviks would always sing the Russian National Anthem before the match, and was going on the extended version when Jim Neidhart decided he had enough and attacked. Bret joined in, and 19 seconds later they hit the Hart Attack for the win.

Tito Santana vs The Barbarian

This was an attempt to showcase Barbarian as a solo act following the breakup of the Powers of Pain, and Tito was tasked with selling for him and making him look credible. Barbarian wasn’t a bad worker but he was limited and need the right opponent in a one on one situation. This match was good enough for that, but it would not matter much in the long run as he just didn’t take as a singles act. Barbarian was a good tag guy at the end of the day and there’s nothing wrong with that., the 4:33 that this match went was long enough.

Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire vs Macho King Randy Savage and Queen Sherri

I almost did not rewatch this match, but I sure am glad I did. I was a huge Dusty Rhodes fan back in the day, but was thoroughly embarrassed by his stint in the WWF. The polka dot ensemble was downright embarrassing to anyone who followed him back in the NWA, but he got it over so kudos. This was his one and only match on a WrestleMania card and he got to go with Randy Savage so that’s a good thing. But the real star of this match was Sherri Martel. Sherri had to completely carry a non wrestler in Sapphire while helping with all the dirty tricks and shenanigans that she usually did on Randy’s behalf. As a manager/mixed tag partner Sherri brought a level of physicality that few other managers did. She didn’t just trip people up or take a bump here or there; no, she would jump in the ring and attack people or do the same outside the ring. She had no qualms about getting slammed by a male wrestler as if she was no different from Bobby Heenan. And we haven’t even talked about her work with Harlem Heat in WCW! Sherri was a force of nature and truly does not get her due. This match is worth watching just to see her work. At 7:52 this wasn’t long but they got in everything they needed to do to be entertaining.

The Rockers vs The Orient Express

The Express was Akio Sato and Pat Tanaka, and were the new team in the company managed by Mr. Fuji. Yes, this act hit all the put the guys of the same ethnicity together points. Tanaka was previously in Bad Company with Paul Diamond in the AWA but for whatever reason the WWF didn’t want them as a team and put Tanaka with Sato. This was a good match during the time they got; the Rockers were old pros at this but the Express kept up with them easily. The finish was absolutely unnecessary, with Fuji throwing salt in Marty Jannetty’s eyes and causing him to get counted out. The Rockers could have just taken a pin, even a dirty one, to put the Express over a little more strongly. Another seven minute special (7:38) that could have gone a few minutes longer.

Hacksaw Duggan vs Dino Bravo

This match was short (4:15) but an interesting case of role reversal in that Bravo had become Earthquake’s sidekick after the former had come in as his heater six months prior. Duggan would win with his trusted 2×4 and then get killed by Earthquake after the bell. The purpose of the match was what happened after; the Earthquake beatdown was putting all of us on notice that he was the new hot heel coming out of this show.

Jake the Snake Roberts vs Ted DiBiase

This was for DiBiase’s Million Dollar Belt, which had become a kind of quasi title along with the King title. Ted and Jake had been feuding for a while and this was the big blowoff match. It was also the second longest match on the card (11:50) and the only one that went longer than ten minutes outside the main event. Ted and Jake were great workers and it showed here, but again we get an unnecessary wacky finish with a Virgil helping Ted get a countout win to keep the title. This was during that weird stretch where they seemed allergic to pinfall finishes, particularly clean ones, unless they absolutely had to do one. Virgil helping Ted get a pin on Jake would have been fine. Afterwards Jake hits the DDT on Ted and passes his 100 dollar bills out to some people in the front row.

Big Bossman vs Akeem

This was another blowoff match, albeit to a much shorter feud. Bossman and Akeem had been tag team partners but Bossman’s face turn put an end to that. We got a little bonus action here as DiBiase was hiding under the ring and jumped Bossman before the bell. DiBiase had been a player in Bossman’s face turn so it wasn’t too crazy for him to want a pound of flesh here. It ended up not mattering as Bossman would dispatch Akeem clean as a sheet in under two minutes (1:49). This was the kind of loss one would take if they were on their way out the door, and six months later that would indeed be the case.

Jimmy Snuka vs Rick Rude

Another thrown together match with no program behind it, this would be Rude’s last WrestleMania match and essentially a quick showcase of sorts (3:59) to get him back in front of us before he would embark on a post-WrestleMania feud with the Ultimate Warrior. Snuka at this point was there to put people over, which he would do here and the next year against the Undertaker.

And now, the main event

World Title vs Intercontinental Title: Hulk Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior

OK, before I get started you don’t have to remind me of the crap both of these guys did after their in ring careers were over. I am no fan of either of these guys outside of the ring, but I’m not going to repeat it every time I talk about them. Here I’m sticking strictly to what we see on our televisions. Hogan was still in his prime, but had gotten more formulaic than he had been. Go watch some of his stuff from 84 to 88 and there’s a stark contrast to what came after, especially the finishes. The kickout of the opponents finisher, three punches, big boot, leg drop was not always how he ended matches before but it had become the way he was ending stuff from 89 on. The silver lining to that is that it lays the perfect foundation for a swerve like we got at the end of this one.

A lot of people crap on this match now just like they crap on Hogan vs Andre at WrestleMania III (see what I thought about that show here). And the reasons are usually that Hogan couldn’t wrestle (not true), Warrior couldn’t wrestle (VERY TRUE), the match had nothing but basic moves (doesn’t matter), and that it was very rehearsed (so were a lot of your favorite matches, you just don’t know about it or don’t care because you like the people involved). Now look, if you’re a workrate snob and you count how many different moves people do and whether or not they do any highspots then yes you’re going to hate this and every other one of Hogan’s big matches. But if that’s not you and you see matches as entertainment and not moves exhibitions then personal issues aside you can appreciate what Hogan did. His timing was impeccable – when to do what move, when to take a beating, when to come back, etc. And all that stuff is more important than how many moves you can do.

As for this match itself it was right up Hogan’s alley, and he delivered on what may have been his best work. Having to carry Warrior through a match that went over 20 minutes (22:51) was no small task and to do it in a compelling and dramatic fashion that did not telegraph the ending is way important than doing a bunch of 450 splashes and suplex variations. And the way the spots were set up were built on several years of communicating to us what these two guys were about – two powerhouses that could pick up and overpower almost all of their opponents, so something like the test of strength wasn’t just a customary early match trope but a big F-ing deal. And that went for the other stuff from the clotheslines to the big boots to the bodyslams, all of them had an extra punctuation to them because of who was doing them. And in addition Hogan even broke out a few of his ‘you know, I really can wrestle ok you guys’ moves that he ususally left out.

And the finishing sequence was outstanding.  The upside to doing the exact same finish for a solid year was that it was drilled in everyone’s head and thus a prefect setup for the time that it would not go that way.  Warrior hitting his finisher, which no one had kicked out of yet, Hogan doing just and then going into his Hulk up routine was the attention grabber that it was intended to be.  Why?  Because it looked like Warrior was just going to be another victim since no one had gotten out of this spot without getting DQed for interference or something.  So when Hogan hit the big boot and hit the ropes for the legdrop it looked like the end, and when Warrior moved out of the way it was a ‘Holy Shit!’ moment because no one had done that yet.  This is why you protect your finishers, people, so that you can create an all time great moment like this when it’s time.  Had this been an NXT main event Hogan would have hit the legdrop, Warrior would have kicked out and they’d go another 10 minutes before somebody won after hitting their finisher a second time and both guys kicking out of two more killshot kind of moves.  But here they did it right and the result was magic.

Final Verdict

This was a one match show.  The rest of it was like an extended edition of Raw or Smackdown.  But that one match was an all time great that is a testament to how important it is to establish routines and protect your finishers and a real showcase of how good Hogan was at calling a match.  So definitely watch the main event, unless you just can’t watch either of those guys on principle nowadays and you can punt on the rest unless you’re just curious.