The Piledriver Report 02.15.13: The History Of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire: Part Five
The final year of the eighties saw Hulk Hogan regain his throne as the top dog in the World Wrestling Federation. The Ultimate Warrior became the WWF’s newest superhero cartoon character. Many people felt that the Ultimate Warrior was Hulk Hogan’s heir apparent. However, before the WWF would anoint the Warrior as the long-term champion for the federation, Vince had one startling revelation for the public. In 1989, Vince McMahon appeared before the New Jersey State Legislature to announce that professional wrestling was predetermined entertainment, and not a sport. Most promoters felt that Vince’s proclamation would be the death of the industry. They felt that fans went to the matches to see who could beat whom. They figured that without the illusion of wrestling being a legitimate sport, the fans would quickly vanish. This was not the case, however. Professional wrestling became “sports entertainment.” For McMahon, his announcement initially meant that they would no longer be charged at tax that is placed on athletic events. In reality, Vince’s speech did much more. By declaring themselves “sports entertainment,” the wrestling industry was no longer bound to the limits of sports. Wrestling always featured wacky, over the top storylines. However, now the WWF used more entertainment aspects to their wrestling shows, such as pyro during ring introductions.
THE RISE OF THE WARRIOR
While the WWF did feature top in-ring workers like Randy Savage, Rick Rude, Ted DiBiase, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart, the federation pushed two “entertainers” as their top champions. Hulk Hogan was the WWF’s top draw for the past six years. The Intercontinental Champion, the Ultimate Warrior, was being groomed by the World Wrestling Federation to become the “next Hulk Hogan.” On the February 10, 1990 edition of WWF Superstars, the WWF announced that Hulk Hogan would battle the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.
Hulk Hogan’s act was starting to get old in the fans’ eyes. They were tiring of the “say your prayers, take your vitamins” routine of Hulk Hogan. They were looking for a new hero. Enter the Ultimate Warrior. Their match at WrestleMania VI was supposed to represent the decline of the Hulkster, and the rise into power of the Ultimate Warrior. According to the “Wrestling Observer,” Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior would become the early nineties version of the Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund tandem of the late seventies/early eighties. Hogan was to play the role of Bruno Sammartino, who was the legendary former champion working a part-time schedule. Hogan would become more of a special attraction then the WWF’s flagship wrestler. The Ultimate Warrior played the Bob Backlund role. He was the World Champion, who despite being the top guy in the company, would never be as great as the legend he was replacing.
In theory, the matched pitted the top two babyfaces in the WWF. However, when the match was announced at house shows across the country, the fans cheered Warrior. Hulk Hogan received boos. While the WWF’s executives expected the Warrior to be the overwhelming fan favorite at WrestleMania, the Toronto crowd would prove them wrong. Hogan received slightly more cheers than the Ultimate Warrior did.
The match took place on April 1st, at the Toronto SkyDome. The WrestleMania VI card featured fourteen total matches. Rick Martel beat Koko B. Ware by submission in the opening contest. Demolition regained the WWF Tag Team Championships from Andre the Giant & Haku after the Decapitation on Haku. After the bout, Bobby Heenan started to yell at Andre. Andre hit Heenan, thus turning himself face in his final pay-per-view match. Earthquake pinned Hercules with the sit-down splash. Brutus Beefcake pinned Mr. Perfect after a catapult into the ring post. Roddy Piper fought Bad News Brown to a double count-out. Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart defeated Nikolai Volkoff & Boris Zhukov following the Hart Attack on Zhukov in 18 seconds. The Barbarian pinned Tito Santana with a flying clothesline. Dusty Rhodes & Sapphire beat Randy Savage & Sensational Sherri when Sapphire pinned Sherri after interference from Miss Elizabeth. The Orient Express defeated Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannety via count-out. Jim Duggan pinned Dino Bravo. Ted DiBiase defeated Jake Roberts via count-out to regain the Million-Dollar belt, which Roberts stole from him several weeks earlier. The Big Bossman pinned Akeem. Rick Rude pinned Jimmy Snuka. In the main event, WWF IC Champion the Ultimate Warrior pinned WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan to win the World title in a title vs. title match.
While the “Ultimate Challenge” was supposed to act as a launch pad for the Ultimate Warrior’s career, history would tell us that would not be the case. Behind the scenes, Hogan thought that it would be a mistake to put the belt on the Warrior. To his credit, despite not wanting to drop the belt, Hogan never refused to put the Warrior over. Hogan and Warrior put on a match that was better then it should have been. Besides Warrior kicking out of the legdrop for the pin, the match will be remembered for something that would arguably help show that the Ultimate Warrior was not the “next big thing.”
It was obvious going into the match to see that the Ultimate Warrior needed the win more than Hogan. Hogan was already solidified as the eighties version of Bruno Sammartino in the World Wrestling Federation. Warrior was on fire. If he would have lost to Hulk Hogan, his momentum and mystique would have been gone. After one of the better World title matches in WrestleMania history, Hulk Hogan grabbed the belt, with a sad look on his face, slowly walked into the ring, and handed the Warrior the WWF championship belt. Upon leaving the ring, the fans were watching Hogan’s exit as much as they were watching the Warrior’s celebration. It was an amazing event to witness. A man that the fans were already tiring of, now became a sympathetic figure in their eyes. It turned out that Hogan became more over in the loss, then the Warrior did by winning.
If that didn’t help Warrior’s reign jump to a terrible start, it was about to get worse. A week after their epic battle, WWF figurehead President Jack Tunney had a major announcement. He said that because of the brutality of the match where each competitor fought to the brink of exhaustion, he could not see if to every put the two men back in the ring with each other- ever. There would be no rematch. That statement was huge in helping the Warrior’s decline. First, it made the Warrior look weak, in that he wouldn’t fight Hogan in a rematch. If Warrior was so great, he should demand to fight Hogan again. Secondly, without a match with Hogan, who would be left for Warrior to fight? He already beat all of the big guns in the WWF at the time. The WWF realized that in order for Warrior to have matches that should be passable for a World title match, they would need to put him into a program against the top workers in the WWF. His first big championship feud was against the man that once beat the Warrior for the WWF Intercontinental championship: Rick Rude. The premises of the feud was based on the fact the Rude gave Warrior his only pinfall loss in the WWF. What the WWF failed to mention is that Warrior already proved that he could beat Rick Rude when he regained the WWF Intercontinental championship. The fans wanted to see the Warrior overcome new challenges, and not rehash the same old ones.
Unlike when Savage won the title, business did not increase. In fact, business started to decline. Vince McMahon realized just over the three months into the Warrior title reign, that the “Ultimate One” would not be his next big champion. By the end of the summer, Vince McMahon already knew who would take the title from the Ultimate Warrior. The man would to an old favorite, who returned with a shocking new attitude.
AN AMERICAN TRAITOR
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded the country of Kuwait. According to wilipedia.com, “The Kuwaiti Army was quickly overwhelmed, though they bought enough time for the Kuwaiti Air Force to flee to Saudi Arabia. The heaviest fighting occurred at the Emir’s Palace, where members of the royal guard fought a rear guard action to allow the royal family time to escape. Troops looted medical and food supplies, detained thousands of civilians and took over the media. Iraq detained thousands of Western visitors as hostages and later attempted to use them as bargaining chips. After a brief puppet government headed by Alaa Hussein Ali was installed, Iraq annexed Kuwait.”
The website continues, “within hours of the initial invasion, the Kuwaiti and United States of America delegations requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, which passed Resolution 660, condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. On August 3, the Arab League passed its own resolution condemning the invasion and demanding a withdrawal of Iraqi troops. The Arab League resolution also called for a solution to the conflict from within the Arab League, and warned against foreign intervention. On August 6, the Security Council passed Resolution 661, placing economic sanctions on Iraq. The decision by the West to repel the Iraqi invasion had as much to do with preventing an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia, a nation of far more importance to the world than Kuwait, as it did with Kuwait itself. The rapid success of the Iraqi army against Kuwait had brought Iraq’s army within easy striking distance of the Hama oil fields, Saudi Arabia’s most valuable. Iraqi control of these fields as well as Kuwait and Iraqi reserves would have given it a large share of the world’s oil supply, second only to Saudi Arabia itself. The United States, Europe, and Japan in particular saw such a potential monopoly as dangerous. Saudi Arabia, a geographically large nation with dispersed population centers would have found it difficult to quickly mobilize to meet the Iraqi division deployed in Southern Kuwait.”
A coalition of forces joined together in opposing Iraq. This group consisted of 34 countries: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
While the Iraq conflict was very real, and war was imminent, this global situation was looked at as an opportunity for the WWF. Since World War II, and then during the “Cold War,” wrestling has always relied on the evil “foreign” wrestlers. Men like, Fritz Von Erich, Col. DeBeers, the Iron Sheik, Ivan Koloff, and Nikolai Volkoff each spewed the propaganda of the hated nation they represented. During the Iraq conflict, Vince McMahon put a different spin on the “foreign wrestler” gimmick. Instead of finding a wrestler who looks like an Arab, the WWF decided to take the most popular American supporter that the industry has ever seen, and turn him into Iraq’s greatest sympathizer. This man was Sergeant Slaughter.
For his first few months back in the World Wrestling Federation, Slaughter fought former rival, and now-USA supporter, Nikolai Volkoff. While Slaughter was busy fighting the former Russian, the Ultimate Warrior had his hands full with a former WWF World Champion: Randy Savage. The two wrestlers fought in house shows throughout the country. Neither man was able to completely dominate the feud. After the Royal Rumble, the hatred between Savage and the Warrior was no longer about the belt, but about much, much more.
At the 1991 Royal Rumble, Sergeant Slaughter beat the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF World title. However, the Iraqi sympathizer didn’t do it on his own. Towards the end of the match, Randy Savage ran down to the ring, and hit Warrior in the head with a scepter. Slaughter then covered Warrior for the pin. In the Royal Rumble battle royal, Hulk Hogan beat 29 other men to capture the Royal Rumble crown.
The scene was set for WrestleMania, which was to be held at the 100,000 seat Los Angeles Coliseum. Hulk Hogan was going to try and capture a record third WWF World title against Sgt. Slaughter. In the other big match of the evening, the Ultimate Warrior was going to battle Randy Savage in a retirement match. WrestleMania VII was supposed to be the greatest Mania of all time. It would turn out to be one of the worst. First, ticket sales were extremely poor for the event. They were so poor that the event was moved to the smaller LA Sports Arena. Next, the event was hyped as Hulk Hogan defending America’s honor against the hated Iraqi sympathizer. However, by the time the WrestleMania publicity went into full swing, the Persian Gulf War was over. Thus the patriotic feud became a match between Hulk Hogan and an old, past his prime, wrestler. Besides the awful World title match, the seventh installment of WrestleMania included such dud matches as Jake Roberts beating Rick Martel in a blindfold match, where both men spent most of the match trying to feel their way around the ring. Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannety defeated Haku & the Barbarian by pin. Kerry Von Erich pinned Dino Bravo. Davey Boy Smith beat the Warlord. The Nasty Boys won the WWF World Tag Team championships from Bret Hart & Jim Neidhart. The Undertaker pinned Jimmy Snuka. The Ultimate Warrior pinned Randy Savage. Genichiro Tenryu & Koji Kitao defeated Demolition Smash & Crush. The Big Bossman defeated WWF IC Champion Mr. Perfect by disqualification. Earthquake pinned Greg Valentine. The Legion of Doom defeated Paul Roma & Hercules in 58 seconds. Virgil defeated Ted DiBiase by count-out. The Mountie pinned Tito Santana. Hulk Hogan pinned WWF World Champion Sgt. Slaughter to win the WWF World title.
A NEW MAN IN TOWN
On July 8th, at a taping of the “Wrestling Challenge” television show, former WCW main event wrestler Sid Vicious made his WWF debut as Sid Justice. Sid was Vince McMahon’s latest attempt at finding the next great muscleman who could lead the WWF into the next decade. At Summer Slam 91, Sid was the special guest referee in the Hogan/Ultimate Warrior vs. Sgt. Slaughter/Col. Mustafa/Gen, Adnan handicapped match. It was obvious that the Ultimate Warrior was being bumped down on the main event food chain. Sid Justice about to take the Warrior’s spot.
The Summer Slam match was the match were Vince McMahon claimed that the Ultimate Warrior held up the WWF for money the night of Summer Slam. According to “The Wrestling Observer,” there is more to the story. On July 13, 1991, Vince and Warrior reached an agreement to a notation addendum to Warrior’s current contract. McMahon agreed to pay Warrior $550,000.00 for his WrestleMania VII match against Randy Savage. Although Warrior wanted to work the same road schedule as Hogan, he was granted only one more off day then the other wrestlers. According to the agreement, he received 5% of the house show gate on cards that he appeared on. McMahon paid him the same percentage as Hogan for merchandise, 900 line royalties, and house shows. It was also agreed that he would earn the same PPV money as Hogan.
While that is the truth behind Warrior’s salary increase, it is also true that the Ultimate Warrior was fired after Summer Slam. Sid was instantly inserted into the #2 babyface spot in the WWF. Sid’s jump from WCW to the WWF was supposed to be the biggest WWF signing of the year. It was the signing that was supposed to make shock waves throughout the wrestling industry. At the time, it did just that. However, the foundation of the business was about to explode with the WWF’s latest acquisition: RIC FLAIR!
Sources that were used for this article included “The Wrestling Observer,” www.thehistoryofwwe.com, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wrestling_Entertainment.